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By: B Y Rogers,
The Redundant, Revenant Recidivist
"Despite its tireless narrative energy, despite its relentless inventiveness, the book is bloated, grown to elephantine proportions... Repetition is the problem; the same stories are told several times, accruing more dealt in with each telling. Also, the principal characters have a way of regurgitating what they've learned, even through the reader was with them when they learned it."
Patrick McGrath, in a New York Times review of The Witching Hour, by Anne Rice.
The problem Mr. McGrath describes is one we see regularly in the writing of both novices and professionals; unintentional repetition.
The repetition of an effect can be just as problematic. Whether it's two sentences that convey the same information, two paragraphs that establish the same personality trait, or two characters who fill the same role in a plot, repetition can rob your story of its power. In fact, repetition is likely to weaken rather then intensify the power of that effect.
When you try to accomplish the same effect twice, the weaker attempt is likely to undermine the power of the stronger one.
One form of repetition that we've seen more often in recent years is the use of brand names to help characterization. The mention of what type of scotch hour hero drinks or what kind of car your heroine drives may help give your readers a handle on their personalities. But when all your characters glance at their Rolexes, then hop into their Maseratis to tear out to the house in the Hamptons, where they change out of their Armanis to pour themselves a Glenliovet-you've gone too far.
Interior monologue is also prone to needless repetition.
Keep an eye out for unconscious repetitions on the smallest scale-especially repetitions in which the repeated word isn't used in the same sense as the original word. ("She heard a sharp crack, the loud spring of her bed springs.")
A fringe benefit of getting rid of unnecessary repetitions is that it frees up the power of intentional repetitions.
As you come to see what each element of your story-each sentence, each paragraph-accomplishes, you can learn o accomplish more than one thing at a time.
If each element of your story accomplishes one thing and one thing only, then your story will subtly, almost subliminally, feel artificial. When everything seems to be happening all at once, then it will feel like real life.
Another way in which the writers indulge in the large scale overkill is in the creation of the characters.
Then there is repetition on the largest scale, from book to book...of course, there is room in the world of fiction for the formulaic novel, it's been said that every James Bond novel has the same plot. (Oh, don't get me started. IF any of you EVER think that I am writing the same plot, over and over again, by simply changing the character names and the location, then, please, do not shoot me in the ass. Aim higher and put an end to my drivel.) (I refuse to read formulaic novels.)
Thanks for following (Get the hint?). I hope this is helpful to someone out there. It has certainly improved my writing. Please comment and share the blog. Who knows, it may make the difference to someone.
By: Deren Hansen,
by Deren Hansen
There's an entire set of words and phrases which have come down to us from Latin that we're slowly losing because a knowledge of ancient languages is no longer a hallmark of a good education. Even Harry Potter
hasn't been able to resurrect more than a few spell phrases from that dead language.
It's unfortunate because some ideas are best expressed in other languages. For example, sine qua non
is a Latin legal term that we must translate into the more awkward, "without which it could not be." Sine qua non
, captures the notion of something so necessary it's definitional.
I thought of that phrase when in a comment on Non-character Antagonists and Conflict
, Anne Gallagher said:
Sometimes I think dealing with internal conflict makes a better story. Character driven narrative rather than plot driven.
I'm also under the impression (in my genre I should clarify -- romance) there ALWAYS needs to be internal conflict for either the hero or heroine. One must always be conflicted by love.
Anne is right: internal conflict is the sine qua non
Some of you, particularly if you equate internal conflict with navel gazing or whiny teenagers, may roll your eyes at that assertion. You may say, for example, that your story is about action and plot and your characters neither want nor need to take time off from dodging bullets to inventory their feelings.
I understand your objection, but answer this question: what's the common wisdom about characters and flaws?
If you said (thought) something along the lines of flawed = good (i.e., relatable and interesting), perfect = bad (i.e., boring or self-indulgent), you've been paying attention. (And if your answer includes, "Mary Sue," give your self bonus points).
So why do we like flawed characters?
Is it because they allow us to feel superior?
No. It's simply that flaws produce internal conflict. That's what people really mean when they say they find flawed characters more compelling than perfect ones.
Internal conflict gives us greater insight into character. There's nothing to learn from a perfect character: if we can't compare and contrast the thought processes that early in the character's development lead to failure and later to success, we can't apply any lessons to our own behavior.
Internal conflict also creates a greater degree of verisimilitude (because who among us doesn't have a seething mass of contradictions swimming around in their brain case).
Internal conflict and the expression of character flaws arises from uncertainty. If your characters are certain about how to resolve the problem, you don't have a story you have an instruction manual.
Ergo, conflict is the sine qua non
That said, stories where conflicts at different levels reflect and reinforce each other are the most interesting because their resolution can be the most satisfying.Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at dunlithhill.com.
By: Bruce Luck,
The local chapter of SCBWI sponsored an event last night where three dozen writers listened to Carol Lynch Williams discuss the art of critiquing. Carol knows her stuff. She writes, she blogs, and is a creative writing instructor at BYU. Carol heads up the annual WIFYR conference. In her quiet but humorous style, she shared her thoughts.
The purpose of critiquing is to improve writing. We get too close or so attached to our own work that we can’t see the flaws. We need fresh eyes to look at it and that is what a critique group can provide. It is a mutually agreed upon thing. You will look at another writer’s story and try to make it better, trusting they will do the same for you.
It is important to find the right people with which to form a writer’s group. There is a lot of trust involved, not only that each member will dedicate their time to your work, but also they will do so in a positive, yet constructive manner. Ask not only what your critique group can do for you. Ask what you can do for them. It usually is the same things.
The rules and expectations should be clearly laid out ahead of time. Dates for submissions and meetings should provide enough time for all participants to read through and make comments. Obviously the faults of a work must be pointed out. A mention should also be made of the positive points, the things that worked well. Carol says the one being critiqued should remain silent, that if there is anything they need to explain, it should have come out in the writing.
Some writers fear a critique. They spend hours on a piece, massaging it to perfection, then don’t want to share with others who could find its flaws. An ideal critique group will treat your precious baby with tender care, offering suggestions for its growth and development.
Ultimately with a critique, you are the writer. Your group can make suggestions but it is your work. It is your story, your vision, so go with your gut.
Carol said there were four steps to do before sharing with a writer’s group. You should first read your piece silently on the computer and make changes. Then you should read it aloud on screen and make changes. Then print the piece and repeat the steps. I’m okay with the silent reading. It’s the reading out loud that struck me as problematic. Not sure the rest of the family wants to listen to that and I don’t feel like sitting in my car doing so. Yet as a teacher, I’ve asked my students to do the same. I made little reading phones out of PCV pipe. Kids can whisper their story without much disruption of the rest of the class. It is amazing the mistakes you find when listening to your own writing. I may have to pull one of those things home.
If you want a pat on the back, go somewhere else. If you want to improve your work, take it to a critique group. Then be willing to listen with an open mind.
Matt Kirby once told Carol that he would rather not be published at all if his work were not the best writing he could produce.
by Scott Rhoades
Yesterday, my friend Kimpei in Japan asked me for information about the progressive tense (as he called it), and whether there is a point when something will be too far in the future to express it in a present tense form. Because writers should at least have a basic understanding of why certain grammatical things that we do naturally are done the way they are, I thought I'd share my response, modified for blogginess.
Kimpei's question is a very good one, and I can see how it can be confusing to non-native speakers. In fact, most English speakers wouldn't even be able to explain beyond, "It just feels correct."
English tenses can get complicated. The present simple and the present continuous (also sometimes called present progressive) tenses are used when there are definite arrangements or plans in the future, or when you want to express a hope for the future in a way that makes it sound definite. The time must be included.
I'm skiing in Canada next February
This is good usage, as long as you have definite plans.
At this time next February, I'm skiing in Japan.
This is technically correct, but to a native speaker, it sounds a little bit off. I think it's because the continuous is less formal, and "At this time next February" feels formal.
As long as you have a definite plan, intention, or opinion and you mention the time time, you can use one of these tenses.
I am watching Team USA play baseball tonight.
I am going to Japan in 2015.
There's a wrinkle with less definite times. It's also OK to say:
Someday, I am going to Japan.
That has a meaning of "I don't know when exactly, but I am definitely going to go."
Often, for intentions or hopes, or for a future event that is less certain, we would use "be going to." For example:
The USA is going to beat Japan in the WBC final.
I am going to eat a hamburger for lunch.
The difference is, this shows intention, but is less definite. Maybe the USA won't win. Maybe I'll have spaghetti for lunch. I can express either one in more definite terms, if I'm absolutely sure, or if I want to emphasize my desire to eat a hamburger or for the USA to win. By using the present, I'm saying that I am either absolutely sure those things will happen, or I'm expressing that I desire those things to happen so strongly that I can say them in a definite way, or I'm predicting that it will definitely happen.
So, you can say the same thing in these ways, each with a slightly different meaning:
I fly to San Francisco next Wednesday. (My personal, definite, plans, or somebody else's arrangements for me.)
I am going to fly to San Francisco next Wednesday. (My personal intentions)
I am flying to San Francisco next Wednesday. (My personal definite arrangements)
It might sound difficult, but the good news is, most English speakers and listeners are not so precise. If you are planning to visit your friend in September, you can say so in any of these ways (and probably a few others) and still be perfectly correct and understandable. There might be slight differences in meaning, but you can communicate perfectly well without being to concerned about those shades of meaning. Most English speakers don't consciously recognize the differences.
By: Deren Hansen,
by Deren Hansen
In a discussion about narrative conflict, someone suggested that there are only three kinds of conflict: inner, personal, and universal, where personal is conflict between persons and universal is conflict with forces larger than your social circle.
As I played with the idea, I hit upon the exercise of characterizing the kinds of stories you get when the protagonist and antagonist come into conflict in terms of the nine combinations of the inner, personal, and universal dimensions.
In the following table, read from the protagonist's row to the antagonist's column. For example, if the protagonist's concerns are primarily internal and the antagonists are personal, you have a coming-of-age story or a story about establishing one's place and identity.
|Inner||Psychological||Coming-of-age; Establishing one's place and identity||The socio-path or super man|
|Personal||Intervention and healing||Romance, mystery, thriller, speculative fiction, etc. (i.e., Most kinds of narrative conflict)||Rebels and underdogs|
|Universal||Fatalist and extremists||Order vs. chaos (anti-rebellion)||Epic and political struggles|
What I found most interesting about this exercise is that the primary locus of conflict in most stories falls in the center square (personal vs. personal). Many other stories fall on the diagonal (inner vs. inner or universal vs. universal). Asymmetric stories (e.g., personal vs. universal), are rarer.
I suspect this is because as social animals inter-personal conflict is the easiest to understand. Even if your story depends on another kind of conflict, your narrative will generally be most effective if you can put a face on the enemy for your readers. Your band of freedom fighters may be up against an empire, but your readers will identify with the dark lord who makes finding them his personal quest than with the legions of faceless soldiers he deploys. Similarly, readers will find a psychological struggle more accessible if there are other actors who symbolize the inner conflict.
It's also interesting to consider where different genres cluster in the matrix. For example, romance and mystery generally land in the upper left quadrant while speculative fiction and thrillers land in the lower right (with all, of course, overlapping in the middle).
Stories, clearly, aren't limited to one kind of conflict, so this analysis is only useful when we're considering the primary mode of conflict. Still, the moral of this story is that conflict is best when it's personal.Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at dunlithhill.com.
By: Julie Daines,
By Julie Daines
I've seen a lot of blog posts recently with writers complaining about how hard it is to find time to write, or how they've been working on the same story for YEARS and just can't quite get it right.
Here are my thoughts on that subject:
EVERY writer struggles with those same problems.
SUCCESSFUL writers spend less time complaining about it, and instead, learn how to FIX IT.
The reality is that if you are serious about getting published and being successful as an author, you have to figure out what areas you struggle with, and fix them.
When an agent or editor calls, interested in your manuscript, you can bet they will be asking some probing questions. "How long did it take you to write this story?" "What else are you working on?" "Do you have other manuscripts completed?" They don't want authors that can't get the writing done.
Take a step back and look at your writing life through an objective lens. What is it that's holding you back? And how can you fix it?
No time to write? Find some. Get up earlier. Set aside a little chunk of time everyday, and, as Martine Leavitt would say, chip away, chip away, chip away. Make that time count.
Bogged down trying to get your story just right? Find a good critique group--and LISTEN to what they say. Move on. Maybe that story just doesn't work and it's time for something new. Set rules about how much time you can spend editing each day--maybe only allow yourself to re-read the one page previous to where you left off. Five minutes tops.
Plot going nowhere? Try pantsing. Try outlining.
Embarrassed by a hideous first draft. Welcome to the world of writing. That's why I prefer the term rough draft.
Discouraged by negative feedback or a lot of critique from your writers group? Step away. Let their comments percolate. They're not trying to be hurtful, they're trying to help your story. EVERY writer--no matter how good--can still improve. If you need warm fuzzies, ask your spouse to read it and have them tell you only the things they liked.
My point is, to be successful in this business, you have to be able to get the manuscripts written. Written, polished, and ready to go.
Figure out what's holding you back, and FIX IT.
DON'T compare yourself to other authors, you aren't them. Experiment, learn, and find out what works for you.
By: Bruce Luck,
The level of children’s writer talent in the Utah is notable. Publishers in New York refer to this phenomenon as the Mormon Mafia. One of those responsible for setting the bar high, then pulling writers up to it is Carol Lynch Williams.
Carol is more than just a remarkable writer, though an amazing writer she is. Waiting and Miles from Ordinary: A Novel are her most current books. My favorite, however, is The Chosen One, a look at the world from the eyes of a girl in a polygamous community.
She is more than a teacher. Carol teaches creative writing at BYU. She has nurtured and fostered the creative genius of numerous writers who respect and admire her.
What elevates Carol to goddess stature is the annual gift she gives the children’s writing community. Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers, or WIFYR
, is an amazing place to mingle and learn with fellow writers at all levels. Now in its 14th
year, Carol consistently pulls in a cast of talented faculty members willing to share their expertise. These published authors conduct morning workshops and speak at afternoon breakout sessions. Carol pulls in agents and editors from the publishing houses seeking to tap into the Mormon Mafia talent base. They respect what Carol does and appreciate the commitment these writers show with their attendance at such an event.
This summer she will bring the magic again. Registration is open now and the conference is set for June 17-21 at the Waterford School in Sandy. (Click here for registration info
The SCBWI is presenting an opportunity to meet her. Carol will be speaking at the Provo City Library this coming Friday at 7:00 pm. (Details are here.) In her talk, titled Critique 101, she will discuss how to best critique and be critiqued. You will enlightened and entertained. And you will come to see the brilliance of this amazing woman.
by Scott Rhoades
I really enjoyed Deren's post about organic conflict on Wednesday. I was about to comment on it when I decided to use my comment for my post this week.
So here it is:conflict, protagonists, and antagonists explained in 35 words.
We are both nice people. The last cookie is sitting on the counter. You want it. I want it. Boom: conflict! In my story, you are now a villain because you want what I want.
You are no longer a nice person because you are trying to keep me from getting what I want. In your story, our roles are flipped. All because we want the same thing. We're both being selfish, looking after our self interests.
OK, that example fits Deren's example of a contrived conflict, but it's not really about the particular object of desire. It's that we both want it, and that puts us at odds. The higher the stakes, the richer the conflict, and the better the story.
Stay tuned for the rest of Deren's series of posts about conflict. Based on his first one, I think we'll all really know what we need to know about conflict.
By: B Y Rogers,
"It's like a woman with a dead baby inside her."
Got your attention, didn't I?
Before I write about the next chapter in Self Editing for Fiction Writers, I HAD to share this metaphor. It is a pericope in the book and when I read it, I was so stunned, I knew I had to include it when I blogged tonight. In fact, the skin on my forearms turned to goose flesh. I put the book down and just sat there for about ten minutes, pondering the depths.
The character who speaks the metaphor is a man who is losing his faith in God. It if from Fredrick Buechner's Treasure Hunt. It reads: "You don't know how it feels to say things you don't believe any more. It's like a woman with a dead baby inside her."
I am terrible at metaphors. I struggle with them and as a result, I probably do not use them often enough nor effectively. If anyone out there know of a good website or book on how to write and use metaphors, please leave me a comment. I could use the help.
In my book, this metaphor is the best I have ever read.
For those who are just now finding my blog (and thanks to those from the Kindle Community who faithfully follow) I have been 'reviewing' Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. It is quite a remarkable book and I have learned much. You can surf my blog to find the previous eight chapters (and some worthless stuff as well).
What follows are the highlights that caught my eye in Chapter 8. I do not want to put too much of the book here, because I really think every aspiring writer should have this book right next to their computer or Royal typewriter. So, if the highlights do to make sense, buy the book. It's that simple. My thoughts are in parenthesis. Enjoy.
Another editing technique produces the dramatic difference between the two versions (two pericopes precede this highlight): the first is a single, page long paragraph; the second has been broken up into more manageable chunks. The second version has white space.
Whether it's because readers feel lectured to, or because they feel crowded, or simply because some white space on the page is visually inviting, lengthy unbroken chunks of written material are off-putting.
Paragraphing frequently can also add tension to a scene.
A novel that is basically a page-turner beginning to end is more likely to leave its readers feeling weary-and manipulated-than satisfied.
The leisurely and soft-edged tone to the details help lull the reader into a relaxed moment- to a purpose, since we are being set up.
Be on the lookout for places where your characters make little speeches to one another. In formal dialogue, characters often string together four or five complete, well-formed sentences. In real life, few of us get that far without interruptions. (I detest be interrupted when I am speaking! But it is true. Homework assignment: During the day tomorrow, count how many times you are interrupted when you are speaking AND count how many times you interrupt someone).
If the scene or chapter remains steady while the tension of the story varies considerably, you are passing up the chance to reinforce the tension your story depends on. You are failing to use one of the simplest of storytelling tools.
By: Deren Hansen,
by Deren Hansen
Some time ago Julie Danes pointed out that conflict should not be contrived
What is a contrived conflict?
In comic books, bad guys are bad because they're bad. Slap on a label like, "Nazi," or, "Terrorist," and your job is done. Other examples include oppressive clergy, greedy corporations, and government conspiracies. It's conflict by definition, which is the height of contrivance.
Another kind of contrived conflict is what I call irrational conflict: characters at loggerheads whose differences could be resolved with a rational, five-minute conversation. Romances are particularly liable to this kind of contrivance when the author can't think of a better reason to keep the leads apart. Yes, misunderstandings occur in real life, as do coincidences, but as a general rule (because you don't want your readers rolling their eyes) you're only allowed one of each.
Of course, it's not that some kinds of conflict are contrived and other are not. Any conflict where the reader sees the puppet strings, or worse, the puppeteer (author), is contrived. Readers need and want to believe that the conflict in the story arises organically from the mix of setting, plot, and characters, and that the conflict couldn't have played out any other way.
When I think about organic conflict, whether it arises from characters or plot, I imagine the parties to the conflict as forces of nature. Picture what happens when a surge of the restless sea meets the immovable cliff. Or when the speeding car meets the brick wall.
The most compelling conflict feels inevitable: notwithstanding everyone's best efforts, the collision occurs.
Unlike the watered-down food label, "natural," organic conflict is a much healthier, and a much more satisfying choice. Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at dunlithhill.com.
By: Bruce Luck,
I’m still working on a story I began in November. Most people called it quits on November 30, but for me I’m still on NaNoWriMo, about day 120.
Writing in NaNo style is kind of fun. The goal is to slap down a story rough draft in thirty days. You just write. You send the internal editor out of the room and just write. I’ve had a problem shutting that guy up so ignoring him was a joy of NaNo.
My normal style is to obsess over every little sentence. I can’t move on to chapter two until chapter one is perfect. It was so freeing in November to let the story just flow, with a note here or there on how to fix it during the next draft. My problem was I didn’t have it roughed out in my head so at times I wrote aimlessly, going around in circles. But when I had direction, it was liberating to lay the story down in a quick fashion.
Now I am trying to finish that first draft, the first 50,00 words for NaNo and again, I fall back into old habits of obsession over perfection. My critique group pointed out the problem and said to return to NaNo style. I’ve done that, but internal editor man still manages to pop up, even though I’ve told him to leave me alone.
A couple inspirational posts have appeared on this blog. Julie Daines commented that the first chapter can never be perfected until the entire story is complete. That makes a lot of sense. You need a beginning and it can have direction. But there’s no need to fixate on it when it’s going to change anyway to accommodate the path it takes.
Scott Rhoades had a great post last week with his truth about first drafts. “Books don't escape the mind fully fledged and ready to fly,” he said. That brilliant idea in your head can look so flawed in the first draft. No matter how ugly that first attempt is, the writer must persevere and tell the story, then come back and make the repairs.
Scott offered a quote from Terry Pratchett that echoed what my critique group said. "The first draft is just you telling yourself the story." I like that little line and it has carried me all week long. You may have a general idea of the plot and the characters who live it, but you really don’t know the story for sure until you tell it to yourself.
So I’m telling myself a story. Maybe one of these days I’ll finish my NaNo project.
by Scott Rhoades
There are enough obstacles to writing that it sometimes seems like a miracle that we can get anything done. Time, family, jobs, church, and other obligations, combined with personal issues like confidence, laziness, and a myriad of other mental obstructions, all work together to stifle the muse.
Many people can add the lack of a comfortable workspace to the list. Ideally, we have a quiet personal space that we can set up in a way that helps us overcome some of those obstacles. We can decorate in a way that relaxes or inspires us, and have a place where we enjoy spending hours of our time.
Not everyone has that. An extra room we can call our own is not always realistic. But it doesn't have to be an entire room. It can be a converted closet, or even a small desk in a (hopefully) relatively quiet part of the house. For me, it helps to have a place that is all mine, where nobody moves things or leaves things on my desk, with a computer that nobody else uses. Not everybody has those space issues, but I do, and it makes a difference for me.
Many people cannot afford a computer of their own. Even if you have your own computer, chances are it's not used solely for writing. But there are things you can do to create a writing space of your own on your computer, even if you share it with other family members (or even just with yourself).
They key, of course, is creating a comfortable workspace that you enjoy using and that minimizes distractions. I'm going to give you some tips that apply to a Windows 7 computer, but you can do most of these things on a Mac, and you can do many of them better on a Linux computer.
Let's start with your desktop. You use your computer for a lot of things, so there are many icons and other things that have nothing to do with writing. Getting rid of all that stuff is not realistic. Your computer is not likely to ever be the dedicated writing space you want, even if that's what you envisioned when you bought it. But there are free programs that can help you create a dedicated space by creating a virtual desktop, a desktop you set up for only one purpose. I use Dexpot, a Windows-only virtual desktop utility that allows more customization that other free alternatives. With Dexpot, you can set up multiple desktops, each with its own wallpaper, icons, and screensaver (which of course you won't need, because you'll be too busy writing for the screensaver to start). If you want to keep people out of your writing space, you can even protect it with a password. Max OS X 10.5 and later allows you to do this with Spaces. I don't think you can customize your space as much in Spaces as in Dexpot, but I can't test it myself. However, Spaces has a cool feature that lets you assign certain apps to a space to help keep your workspace tidy.
Once you have your desktop set up, you want to make it easy to use by putting your most used programs within easy access. You have your word processing program, maybe another app where you keep notes, possibly one of those fancy writing programs where you can create characters, plot scenes, and outline your story. You probably want a link to your submission tracking tool, whether it's in Excel or a program dedicated for that purpose. Maybe you have a link to a favorite online dictionary and thesaurus. You might even use one of those writing tools that blocks out all the distractions on your computer. You want all of those within easy reach. If you tend to open multiple programs at once when you write, you can make opening them easier with an app like 7APL, which lets you set up your computer to launch multiple programs at once with a single keystroke. Some of those launchers can even open folders and websites when opening your other programs, so everything you need is right there and you don't have to spend your time going through the routine of opening all of the same stuff separately. If you have a Mac, you probably have Automator, which can do the same thing.
Whatever you can do to make your writing space more comfortable, more personal, and more enjoyable will help you want to spend your time there. Whether your space is a separate building, a room, a converted closet, a small desk, or just a workspace on a shared computer, you can make that space work for you by customizing it so that the tools you need are handy and distractions are minimized.
By: B Y Rogers,
As usual, my thoughts and comments on in parentheses. All the other kicks are just there, man.)
Beats are the bits of action interspersed through a scene, such as a character walking to a window or removing his and rubbing his eyes- the literary equivalent of what is known in the theater as 'stage business'.
As with interior monologue, it's very easy to interrupt your dialogue so often that you bring its pace to a halt.
As with the Fran Dorf example at the beginning of the chapter, there is wonderful dialogue in here (another example)-surrounded by so many beats, both internal and external, that its effect is lost. The fact that the beats themselves are interesting and well written doesn't keep the constant interruptions from irritating the reader.
As with physical description, some writers may overuse beats because they lack confidence. After all, if you show every move your character makes, your readers are bound to be able to picture the action you describe...when you describe every bit of action down to the last detail, you give your readers a clear picture of what's going on but you also limit their imagination-and if you supply enough detail, you'll alienate them in the process.
Of course, it is possible to err in the other direction and include too few beats. Page after page of uninterrupted dialogue can become disembodied and disorienting after a while, even if the dialogue is excellent.
What's needed are a few beats to anchor [your dialogue] in reality.
The idea is to strike the right balance between dialogue and beats.
So what's the right balance? (see page 149!)
Knowing where to put your beats is not as important as knowing what beats to insert.
Beats can be pointless, distracting, cliched, or repetitive.
So where do you find good beats? (Oh, the tip offered here has kept me busy all week. Page 152 folks!)
(The last two pages of the chapter consist of an example with and then without beats.) The scene is still moving-the dialogue effectively conveys what's going on and its importance, and it's easy to tell who is speaking. What is lost is a great deal of resonance, the deepening of the emotional content. You need beats for those.
By: Deren Hansen,
by Deren Hansen
A writer considering a new project and a reader considering whether to read a new book are both confronted with the same question: "Is it worth my time?"
For the reader, it's only a matter of eight to ten hours. For the writer, the number of hours is on the order of thousands. How can you get some reassurance that your project is worth all that writing time?
Think about the way you answer the analogous question as a reader. If someone recommends a book, your first question is likely, "What's it about?
While it doesn't guarantee success, if you can answer the reader's inevitable question, "What's it about?" (and if the answer is more interesting than, "a total and utter yawn-making bore of bores,"*) you might have something worth undertaking.
The holy grail of what's-it-about-ness is a single line that captures the essence and the enticement of the book. You might have heard it called a one-line-pitch, a log-line (from film), or a hook. Beware, though, because the kind of hook we're talking about has more than one sharp edge. First, like poetry and other concise art forms, they're hard to do well. Second, if you do come up with a stunning hook it's hard to resist the temptation to think your job is done. (Snakes on a Plane
, need I say more?) Third, you may come up with a line that's perfect--if you already know the story--but doesn't say a lot to new readers. (You could, for example, say Harry Potter
is about a lightning-shaped scar: that line packs loads of meaning if you know the series, but won't rate as appetizing if you know nothing about the story.)
You're on firmer ground if you can work out a synopsis, outline, or even a story bible. But these exercises come with the attendant distraction of all the cool things you're going to include in the book, and you're liable to sound like a four-year-old when you talk about it ("... and it has this, and this, and this, and this ...). Once again, you'll miss the what's-it-about mark, this time with too much information.
Caveats about it's reliability aside, my favorite framework is Wikipedia, specifically the notion of writing a Wikipedia entry for your book. To be clear, this is a completely private exercise: it's only value is to help you think clearly enough about your book that you can zero in on the one or two paragraphs that explain what your story is about (i.e., the introductory paragraphs that appear above the contents box in a Wikipedia entry).
How do you do it?
Like artists who trace the masters, find a few entries that do a good job of capturing books with which you are familiar and emulate them.
Let me reiterate that while you may be able to use some or all of these exercises when it comes time to market the book, their primary value is in helping you to develop a clear and compelling mental model of the book. Your sense of what it's about will guide you as you work through the project, even it if changes over time.
The goal is to discover the glowing ember--the combustible combination of concept and passion--that is the essence of what it's about.* Thank you, Vicar of DibleyDeren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at dunlithhill.com.
By: Julie Daines,
By Julie Daines
I've been thinking about physical clichés a lot lately. And by thinking about I mean battling with.
There's this kind of evil Catch 22 thing with show don't tell. We don't want to say our character is mad, that's telling. (I was so mad = telling.) So we try to show it. But then we're stuck with a physical cliché. (I clenched my fists = physical cliché.)
So we swing back to the telling, only we try to make it sound better. (Red hot anger pulsed through my veins = fancy telling.) What's a writer to do?
I wish I had an easy answer. But writing is hard. And good writing is really hard.
We've got to figure out how to show our character's emotions in other ways that are subtle and yet get the point across.
Here are a few ways to accomplish that, but they are NOT the easy answer we're all hoping for.
- Well written dialogue can carry a lot of emotion.
- Well written interiority will open the door to a ton of emotion--especially if that interiority includes motivation. If the character's motivations are clear, we will already know exactly how the character will react to any situation.
- Use an objective correlative. See my post here. If you don't know what that is, you really need to, so go read the article. But like most things, less is more, so don't overuse the objective correlative.
- Avoid naming emotions. See more tips about that here.
- Read. Read the good books that expertly accomplish the show don't tell rule. And look out for physical clichés and other forms of telling as you read.
- There is a place for some description of physical emotions. Just be sure to use it sparingly and judiciously. And avoid the really overused ones. (Stomach, jaw, or fists clenching, tears, all manner of breathing and heart pounding...) On the Bookshelf Muse blog, they have an Emotional Thesaurus. This can be useful for finding a less cliché way to show a physical reaction.
Those are a few I thought of off the top of my head. What are your suggestions for avoiding physical cliché?
By: Bruce Luck,
Mark your calendars. June 17-21 is the date for this year’s Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers, a.k.a. WIFYR. See details here: http://www.wifyr.com/index.php
WIFYR is an incredibly inspiring conference. It is a chance to learn and be pushed. It is a place to relax and mingle with other like-minded people. There is an aura to it. It is filled with people who want to make your story and their stories the best they can be and people who can help them do that.
I take my WYFIR full on. The morning workshops are phenomenal. Nationally acclaimed and other talented and published writers and illustrators head up the faculty. This link displays the faulty biographies: http://www.wifyr.com/fac.php
You and a dozen or so others spend five mornings, four hours a day together going over manuscripts. Not only does your work get thoroughly critiqued, but also you learn as you participate. Not that every instructor runs it the same way, but I have found most faculty members have participants share and critique the work of each other. You may be asked to prepare critiques ahead of time. Then, taking turns, the whole group discusses each story. Having your work critiqued can be intimidating real growth comes from it and it is usually done in a kind and caring manner. It is possible to have two critiques done of your work. The morning sessions are spent in critique yet there still is time for agent and editor visits and lesson on the craft from your faculty member. It can be an intensive week. The mental satisfaction, however, is well worth the price of registration.
If time constraints are an issue, WIFYR offers just afternoons. There are a wide variety of topics and presenters during the breakouts. These sessions come on the heels of the keynote and plenary speakers from the likes of the agents and editors invited each year and are part of the package the morning workshop people receive.
New, this year, are mini one-day morning workshops in addition to the weeklong ones. This URL can give you more information on the mini workshops: http://www.wifyr.com/mini.php
Carol Lynch Williams is the mastermind behind this annual event. She pulls in talented people as faculty, speakers, or presenters. Carol has an MFA in Writing for Children and Adolescents from Vermont College and she teachers creative writing at BYU.
The Waterford School campus is an ideal setting. But what makes the conference is the collegiality. People from novice to published attend and share and mingle and grow together.
Hopefully this is your year to blossom as a writer. A week at WIFYR can help realize that dream. It is a magical experience.
by Scott Rhoades
"The first draft is just you telling yourself the story." --Terry Pratchett
The first draft is the most dangerous part of the writing process. It's dangerous for a number of reasons. Among them are that the first draft can become the catalyst for you hating your writing. It's also dangerous because it could make you fall in love with your writing.
Most first drafts are never finished. Writers become discouraged when the brilliant idea in their head lands on the page with all the beauty of (crap) on toast. This almost always surprises new writers, and sometimes it surprises experienced writers. How can something that was so engaging and exciting when it was in your brain be so boring and stupid when it comes out?
If we are to finish the first draft, we have to realize that this is normal. Books don't escape the mind fully fledged and ready to fly. They come out all scraggly with more pink, bumpy skin than feathers, and even the feathers that are there are useless and ugly.
Believe it or not, the picture to the right is a newly hatched bald eagle. If it survives, it will become one of the most beautiful, graceful, and powerful animals on the planet. But if it's not nourished and allowed to develop, it won't. Just like your story.
It's so easy to look at all the problems in that first draft and decide you cannot write, that you are obviously a hack, or worse than a hack. Your characters lack depth. Your plot is full of holes. Brilliantly conceived scenes work as well as a tricycle on a freeway. So you quit. Your eagle dies.
Another danger of the first draft is that you will fall so in love with it that you can't see its flaws. You love your characters and your prose and your plot and everything as perfect. The moment you finish that beautiful draft, you rush out a query or you self-publish your work before its ready, mainly because you don't want it to be messed with by editors and others who you see as negative and critical because all they do is suggest things that can be improved.
You bounce from critique group to critique group, looking for the group that appreciates your genius rather than pointing out all of the imagined flaws. Don't they see how each change destroys the rhythm of your perfectly crafted sentences? Are they too stupid to recognize the symbolism of your images? OK, maybe some things could be changed, but then the work is no longer pure, like it was when it flowed forth from your brain.
The truth about your first draft is this: it is not finished, no matter how proud of it you are. And, it might be terrible, but it can be fixed.
Going public with your first draft is like moving into your new house after it has been framed. If you understand this, you can get past the first problem. So what if your characters lack emotion in the first draft? It doesn't matter if the plot twist you couldn't wait to write fell flat. Your new house isn't very useful when all it is is a frame. But if you keep working at it, it will become not only useful but something that you enjoy for many years, and that becomes an important part of your family and the memories that are created as you grow up together.
I'm struggling, as I always do, with the feeling that my first draft is pointless and useless, that it's a disaster, and that I'd be better off abandoning it and moving on to one of the brilliant ideas bouncing around in my head. Fortunately, I know that those ideas will also come out like crap on toast. And that I can fix my current draft. I've surrounded myself with supportive people, including a writing group that sometimes seems to have more faith in me than I do.
I understand that revision is, for me at least, a long, drawn-out process. For me, it works better to fix one issue, and then the next, and on down the list of things I always do wrong until it's time to do it again. It's not as much fun as that euphoria you get as you're enjoying that creative energy of letting the story pour out through you. But if you work hard, and listen to supportive critics (and ignore your own rather less supportive inner critic), your story will, eventually, after a long period of development, grow up to become this:
By: Deren Hansen,
by Deren Hansen [The following is some of the material I'm going to cover in my presentation on Verisimilitude at Life, The Universe, and Everything (LTUE) 31, on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 1:00 pm.]
," coined by Stephen Colbert
, "was named Word of the Year for 2005 by the American Dialect Society and for 2006 by Merriam-Webster
." (see Wikipedia
I certainly enjoyed the humor of truthiness, but there's a perfectly good, albeit venerable, word who's original sense means the same thing: verisimilitude. Verisimilitude is "the state of quality of being verisimilar; the appearance of truth; probability; likelihood." (Webster 1886)
Having the appearance, but not the substance, of truth is generally not considered a good thing. Fiction, however, is an exception. When you're dealing in something that in absolute terms is a lie (because it never happened in the real world), verisimilitude is a virtue.
There is an art to giving readers enough of the appearance of truth in your story that they are willing to suspend their disbelief. Howard Tayler
is fond of saying, "Explain the heck out of something small, then wave your hands over the big things." In other words, show your readers you know what you're talking about in one case and they're more likely to assume you also know what you're talking about in others.
More generally, verisimilitude depends upon patterns and precedents, not arbitrary assertions.
Consider, for example, the recent bumper crop of dystopian novels.The societies in which the stories take place tend to cluster around the ends of the spectrum between order and chaos. At one level, this clustering is simply classic extrapolation: taking an aspect of current society, amplifying it, and working out its ramifications. But at another level, we're in the midst of creating dystopian tropes and, soon, clichés, because some authors commit a sin with their society that they would never commit with their antagonists: stereotying.
There's no room in modern literature for characters who are purely good or evil. Characters, at least the ones who ring true, are more complex. Indeed, the best villains sincerely believe they are the heroes of their own story and the fruit of their labors will be a better world.
So how do you avoid stereotypes, like a definitionally oppressive government, when developing your dystopian society?Socrates
set the precedent way back when, in The Republic
, he suggested the way to understand personal virtue was to examine virtue on the scale of a state. In other words, approach your dystopian society just as you would an antagonist.
Just like good characters, societies need back stories that outline a plausible path to the present. People generally don't wake up one day and decide to be evil. Similarly, whole societies don't turn to oppression overnight. The good news is that a society showing the lengths to which reasonable people can go is far more frightening than one that's just bad because it's bad.
The proper study of how societies change over time keeps an army of sociologists, anthropologist, and historians busy. A short note like this doesn't begin to do justice to such a rich field of study. But one key to creating believable dystopian societies is to remember that there are always winners and losers: one person's dystopia is another's utopia. And the real engine of any society is the much larger group in the middle: people who are neither winners nor losers, but buy in to it because they believe they can be winners too one day.[If you'd like more on this topic, you may be interested in my book on verisimilitude in writing.] Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at dunlithhill.com.
By: B Y Rogers,
(Same guidelines as previously. My wayward thoughts and comments are in parenthesis.)
Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 7, Interior Monologue
One of the greatest gifts of literature is that it allows for the expression of unexpressed thoughts: interior monologue...allowing your readers to see what your character is thinking is a powerful, intimate way to establish that character's personality.
Constant interruptions are just as annoying on the page as they are in life, and this writer (from an example in the book, which you need to purchase anyway) has interrupted her dialogue with interior monologue over and over again.
So how do you know you've gone too far with interior monologue? (See answer on page 118)
It is also possible to have too little interior monologue.
(A one page example of dialogue, between a husband and wife, without any interior dialogue, then:) But her (the character in the example) exhaustion and intimidation need to be present in the scene as well as in the context. She doesn't stop feeling these things while she is on the phone with him. Because she's too intimidated to confront him, the writer can't show her feelings in dialogue. It would be difficult to work Nia's specific feelings into emotionally weighted descriptions without breaking up the rhythm of the dialogue.
So what's the right amount of interior monologue? (See answer on page 122)
(Throughout the book, there are several cartoons to emphasis a point. In this chapter, there is one that I found especially humorous. In the single panel, we see two women, sitting at a table, in a very sparse room. The caption reads exactly as follows: "So far all her dreams have not come true but she wants high romance and a baby while her husband want to be, and is, a very successful broker, who takes graduate courses at night and wants no baby and at the same time she has more or less recovered from being in love with the well-digger who dug her well, which is good since he is married with three children and is a drug addict and an alcoholic and he claims he's dying, although there are no signs of this and she says once she finds an outlet for her unrequited love she will lose eighty-five pounds. I enjoyed that sentence." (Get it?)
(Oh, here is a great one:) It's rarely a good idea to have your characters mumble to themselves or speak under their breath.
How to handle your interior monologue depends almost entirely on your narrative distance. (I am still trying to wrap my mind around 'narrative distance'. I will work on it more the second time I go through this book.)
Thinker attributions. Whenever you're writing from a single point of view-as you will be ninety percent of the time-you can simply jettison thinker attributions.
Another technique for setting off interior monologue sharply is to write in the first person (often with italics) when you narrative is in third...Effective as this technique can be in letting readers into your character's head, be careful not to use it too often.
Interior dialogue can easily become a gimmick, and if overused it can make your characters seem as if they have multiple-personality disorder.
Generations of hacks have used italics to punch up otherwise weak dialogue...frequent italics have come to signal weak writing. (In other words, don't use italics.)
How do you set off your interior dialogue when you're writing with narrative intimacy? (See answer on page 128)
(I failed to mention that this book is the 2nd Edition. I needed to clarify this so you understand the final paragraph.)
We have noticed since the first edition of this book came out that a lot of writers have taken our advice about showing and telling too much to heart. The result has sometimes been sterile writing, consisting mostly of bare-bones descriptions and skeletal dialogue. Yet fiction allow for marvelous richness and depth, and nowhere more so than through interior monologue. You have to be careful not to go overboard, but interior monologue gives you opportunity to invite your readers into your characters minds, sometimes with stunning effect.
B Y Rogers
by Scott Rhoades
Yesterday as I was chatting with my friend and fellow writer Cliff at a cafe in San Francisco, the subject turned, as it always eventually does, to writing.
Cliff and I met back in ancient times when he was the tech writing manager at Atari and I was an ex-Atarian making some extra cash on the side by contracting for my former employer. We also both write fiction and other fun stuff while working at tech writing gigs for major companies. We were lamenting the current state of computer and software manuals compared to the good old days of thorough (if not always good) printed manuals, when Cliff made the comment that writing--and by extension writers--has become marginalized.
It's true, and not just in the thrill-a-minute world of technical writing.
Being a writer used to really mean something, back when literary writers and popular writers were often the same people, when an author could become a celebrity and writing a book was an accomplishment beyond the dreams of most people.
Of course, we still occasionally see authors become celebrities, but more often we see celebrities become authors. Certainly, people like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling and John Grisham prove that writers can still become Somebody. I also don't want to minimize the effort involved in writing a book. Whether an author pens the Great American Novel or the worst first draft ever or something in between, completing a manuscript is something to be proud of. A number strikingly close to "all" people who at one point or another start writing a book never finish a first draft. Finishing that draft, no matter how bad it is, puts the writer so much closer to a dream shared by millions than the humongous majority who never finish or even start that book they are "going to write someday."
But being a writer doesn't seem to carry the same cachet it once did.
Maybe because technology has made it easier. Word processing software and the relative ease of self-publishing means that anybody with the drive to write (admittedly, as I've shown, a small number of people) can publish a book. I'm trying to be careful here. Please don't take this as a knock against self-publishing. I think, in general, the ability to self-publish is breathing a new different life into the book industry, as it has in music, and that it's one of the great advances of our time, for better and for worse.
More importantly, though, I think the marginalization of writers is tied more closely to the marginalization of books. We have so many more forms of entertainment today than the generation before us did. Take that back two or three generations and it's really astounding. A new book once had the same impact as a new blockbuster. That's not so much the case anymore, with very rare exceptions. Even major newspapers and magazines have reduced or eliminated the space they use to devote to the latest books.
The college student I sat next to on the plane this afternoon, a nice, intelligent kid from Berkeley City College talked to me about how people don't read much anymore, and when they do it's in smaller chunks. That's not news to us who have been around a while, but it was a great revelation to Edwin when it was talked about in class, and something that is increasingly more true all the time.
In a world of instant gratification and realistic sound and graphics, where computer graphics can bombard our minds without requiring a lot of effort or imagination on our part, working through a book for a couple weeks appeals to an ever-decreasing audience.
I don't think this marginalization signals the downfall of Society. It's just the way things go. We seldom crawl into hard-to-access caves to paint pictures of animals and hunters these days. And when was the last time you read a hand-copied illuminated vellum manuscript? We've already witnessed the demise of poetry and short stories as profitable enterprises. Magazine and newspaper markets are drying up. Technical manuals are almost non-existent. The novel is likely to follow some day. When I was younger, everyone wanted to write a novel. Then it was a screenplay. Now that it's easy to work out our writing fantasies and our need to express ourselves online and through self-publishing, anybody can say they write, even many who shouldn't but do. There is, ironically, probably more public writing happening now than ever in our history. When anybody can do it, and when much that is produced is somewhat lacking in quality, there is very little mystique left to being a writer. And so we are sent to the margins.
I'm just glad that those of us who participate in this blog, as writers or readers, are actively involved in bucking the trend. We write and we read and we value words. We enjoy the patience required to page through a thick book to find out what happens in the end. We love the pictures words form in our heads, and how deeply involved we ca become in characters' lives when we live with them for the time it takes to read a book.
We also understand that being in the margins isn't all that bad. In fact, the margins are where many of the great writers in history, like other kinds of artists, come from. Artists, and that includes writers, have rarely come from the center of humanity. It takes a special kind of weirdness to bring our subconscious to consciousness and to share our waking dreams with others. Whether writing continues to be marginalized until it is no longer valued, or it makes a comeback somewhere down the road, we will always have storytellers, even if the means of delivering the stories changes.
So bring on the margins. Anybody who has ever worked with an editor knows that the margins are where many of the best ideas take form.
Blog: Utah Children's Writers
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, Cheryl Klein
, John Truby
, Alane Ferguson
, Mathew Kirby
, Martine Leavitt
, The Anatomy of Story
, Ann Dee Ellis
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By: Bruce Luck,
I think I’m studying this thing too much. When I first began writing, I wrote carefree, jotting down events as they came to mind. Then I was introduced to WIFYR and became aware that there are formats and procedures and formulae to follow. More and more, I began to research what the experts were saying on writing. Now I’ve got so many “do this, don’t do that” things going on in my head, I’m bound to go against some expert’s opinion with every sentence I write.
Cheryl Klein, Martine Leavitt, Alane Ferguson, Ann Dee Ellis, Mathew Kirby, Kathleen Duey; these are some of the gurus to whose savvy advice I try to adhere. The latest is John Truby. I recently caught up on some back copies of the SCBWI journal when I ran across an article in the November/December issue. It talked about Truby’s book, The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. Silly me. I went out and purchased it.
I’m not sure which of the 22 steps I’m on, as they are not readily laid out in the table of contents. Truby addresses story anatomy from a screenwriter’s perspective but his concepts can be adapted to any fiction writing. I’m on the chapter about story structure. Truby says story structure is how a story develops over time.
He says your MC must have a weakness and a need. The weakness could be the character is arrogant or selfish or a liar and the need is to overcome the weakness. Then there must be desire, which is not the same as need. Desire is what the character wants. It is the driving force in the story and something the reader hopes he attains. Need has to do with a weakness within the character and desire is a goal outside of the character. The hero must, of course meet an opponent. Truby says the opponent does not try to prevent the MC from accomplishing their goal as much as they are in competition for the same thing. In a mystery story, it would seem the protagonist is opposed to the perpetrator of the crime. Under the surface, however, they are both competing for their version of the truth to be believed.
This is where the conflict is with my work-in-progress (my incredibly slow work-in-progress). It’s a middle grade book, so the story is not as intricate. Do kid characters need the complexity of adult characters? I get it that you can’t make them too sterile, too one-sided. Should a middle grade MC be arrogant or a liar?
Likewise, I’m having trouble with the opponent aspect. In my story, there is no real antagonist. There is a mystery the MC is trying to solve, but no person is preventing him.
The experts say do this or do that. My gut tells me different. What’s a poor writer to do?
Family life is important. It can be a challenge to keep your family strong, write a book and keep all the other balls in the air that add to the juggling act. I’ve heard many successful writers say that their greatest accomplishment is their family.
How does a writer keep it all in perspective and prioritize effectively? It can be stressful to spend time with a child struggling with homework, when you have a writing deadline. But remember, you can never get that moment back. You may never have another opportunity to teach that child what can be taught only in that moment.
Scheduling your time helps a lot. But as the mother of six children I've found a few other tricks that can help too.
Writing in timed segments can be effective, especially if you have small children. Be sure children have something to do, then set a timer for a chunk of time and let children (large or small) know that you are writing. Explain that when the timer dings, you will be able to listen again, but you need this focused time to write. Even small children can learn to understand this at an early age (if the writing segments are short).
Sometimes small segments of time don’t do it though, and you need some focused writing time. That’s when it’s time to escape. Leave somebody else in charge and find a quiet library or motel room. I’ve even take my laptop and parked in a less-than-easy-to-find parking lot where nobody would find me. Accomplish what you can in that focused time and then enjoy your family when you return home.
That delicate balance between family life and writing and the rest of life can be found.
By: Deren Hansen,
by Deren Hansen [The following is some of the material I covered in my presentation on Verisimilitude at Life, The Universe, and Everything (LTUE) 31, last week.]
In a post on the Guide to Literary Agents
blog by agent Jon Sternfeld called, Engaging Your Audience
, he said:
"What ‘engage’ means here, and it may come from my teaching days, is give your reader something to do. Readers are not passive vessels looking to be dragged somewhere and told a story. They’re looking to get involved in a story—caring about the protagonist, wrestling with any issues that the narrative brings up, and most importantly, guessing what happens. This is not just an issue with mysteries or thrillers but with all narratives. All genres are mysteries, in one way or another; don’t forget that.
"A reader that is not doing anything is a bored reader. Not only should a reader never be ahead of the author, he/she should be engaged in a back and forth with the author. Readers want to take what is there on the page and extrapolate, use their imagination, draw conclusions, make assumptions. It’s why they’re reading a book and not watching a movie."
The idea of giving your readers something to do nailed the issue for me. I trust if you've read a few of my posts here you won't be at all surprised if I confess that I like to think about things. Much of the enjoyment I get out of a good book comes from all the things it gives me to think about, not only while reading but during the times in between when I can't read.
Boring a reader by not engaging them is bad enough. But letting a reader get engaged and then invalidating their efforts with a sudden twist borders on the criminal.
You may object that such things happen regularly in the movies. If so, reread Sternfeld's last line in the quote above.
I have good reason to suspect the books I've read that failed to engage me were written by authors who looked to movies for their inspiration. I like a book with a cinematic feel, but there are important differences between the experience of watching a movie and reading a book. It all comes down to respect: crafting your story so that it is, in effect, a conversation with your reader (the back and forth Stenfeld mentions).
Engaging you reader, however, goes beyond simply giving them something to do. When a reader is engaged with your story, they will feel it has a greater degree of verisimilitude--they will judge it to be a better story--because of all they contribute to the experience of reading the story.[If you'd like more on this topic, you may be interested in my book on verisimilitude in writing.]Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at dunlithhill.com.
By: B Y Rogers,
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Two weeks ago, a fellow author from Virginia asked me to guest post on her blog. I have done several such posts and was expecting it to be some sort of author interview. She explained that she was involved in a blog tour and requested I write a 500 word flash fiction piece involving four elements. She said I have until March 18th to complete my little piece. The story had to include a dead gypsy, a swordfish, a jug of moonshine and a 1959 ZIL III.
I went to bed that night pondering how I could incorporate the elements a five hundred word story. I had no idea but the challenge was intriguing. I fell asleep with no idea what to do. Luckily, I thought, I had plenty of time.
The next day I was still at a loss. As I considered the elements, I decided I had better make sure I knew exactly what is a 1959 ZIL III. I googled it and had the entire story in my mind a minute later. Seriously, only a minute. I took about 5 hours to write and polish it. When I was finished, I found a strange satisfaction for what I had created in such a short period of time. I read it once again and smiled, amused at the creativity. I emailed the piece to her and I am interested to how she uses it but I will have to wait another month.
Then, and this is the really exciting part, in an unguarded moment last Wednesday, my muse Ida (named after Ida Pierpont, my English teacher at Pleasant Grove High School back in the 60's) did another drive by dream drop and flew away in the same breath. She does that. What if I created a blog using the Iron Chef format, but for writers. I would invite four writers to compete each week, using four random items, with a time day time limit to complete a five hundred word flash fiction story. I did a quick internet search, using 'the iron writer' and found not only the url was available, but no one had created a blog or website with that theme. Nothing. I was surprised, considering all the reality shows on cable. $18 and two days later, I had the blog up and running. It is not polished yet, but it a beginning. I posted it on Facebook, tweeted about it and blogged on it on my writing blog.
If you write and are interested in taking the challenge, just email me using the link on the web page and sign up. This could be fun. If you are a reader, I hope you find the flash stories amusing and maybe a little challenging. It is a great way to bring your creativity from the back burner.
The Iron Writer Challenge
Hope to see you there.
B Y Rogers