Showing posts with label amwriting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label amwriting. Show all posts

Saturday, October 3

Free Indirect Discourse: What it is and why you should care


What is Free Indirect Discourse and why should you care?

Do you have a favorite author, one who is able to grab you on the first page, immerse you in their story world and release you only when their tale is over? For me, that author is Stephen King.

That was how I read The Dead Zone, It, Carrie, The Stand and many of King’s other novels. Misery was a bit too much for me -- the scene where fan Annie Wilkes hobbles Paul Sheldon did me in for a while but I couldn’t stay away for long.

My question: How does King do this? How does he immerse readers in his world so quickly and so totally? Here’s what I think: It’s his use of free indirect discourse.

What is Free Indirect Discourse?

Free indirect discourse is a way of presenting a character’s voice in such a way that it is partly mediated by the voice of the author or narrator. Or: It is where the character speaks through the voice of the narrator.

There are two things here. First, free indirect discourse has to do with the way in which the thought is expressed and, second, it also has to do with the narrator’s voice bleeding through. 

Let’s take a look at each of these.

1. No reporting clause.

Let’s look at free indirect discourse by contrasting it with different modes of writing:

Quoted/Direct Speech: The child lay on the mat and asked, “Where’s the cat?”

Reported/Indirect Speech: The child lay on the mat and wondered where the cat was.

Free Indirect Speech: The child lay on the mat. Where was the cat?

As you can see, there is no reporting clause in the last example, we are presented with the thought itself in all its naked glory. (Also, the tense is shifted from the present tense to the past tense.)

2. The narrator’s voice intermingles with that of the character.

Free Indirect Speech blurs the boundaries between the character’s thoughts and the narrator’s report. As a result, the reader feels as though they are being given direct, god-like access to a character’s mind, to their motivations.[2]

As Jen Miller writes in her article, “Teaching Under the Dome”:

“Such a technique provides a very useful shortcut for giving readers the personality of a wide range of characters in a short period of time.”[1]

Free Indirect Discourse in Graham Greene’s Short Story The Basement Room

A friend, RLL, recently introduced me to the work of Graham Greene by way of Greene's short story, The Basement Room. What drew my interest was how quickly Greene immersed me in the story, how quickly I bonded with his characters. In fact, my reaction to this story made me think of my reaction to Stephen King’s work.

Briefly, The Basement Room is about a child of seven who is left on his own for a fortnight with only Mr. and Mrs. Baines -- the butler and his wife -- to mind him. The child, Philip, has been looking forward to the freedom this arrangement will bring. Unfortunately, Philip soon learns that Mrs. Baines is worse than an entire gaggle of nannies. She becomes a jailor and he and Mr. Baines are her prisoners.

It seems to me that Greene uses free indirect discourse to overcome some of the limitations imposed by seeing much of the world through the eyes of a young child.

For example:

Philip took the slice of Dundee cake in his hand and munched it round the room. He felt very old, independent and judicial; he was aware that Baines was talking to him as man to man. He never called him Master Philip as Mrs. Baines did, who was servile when she was not authoritative.

Baines had seen the world; he had seen beyond the railings. He sat there over his ginger pop with the resigned dignity of an exile; Baines didn't complain; he had chosen his fate, and if his fate was Mrs. Baines he had only himself to blame. (Graham Greene, The Basement Room)

Here it seems to me that we’re not just getting Philip’s thoughts, we’re getting the narrator's -- and possibly the author’s -- as well. Philip’s thoughts seem to be viewed through the lens of a more mature mind. 

Here it seems that Greene has deliberately run his character’s thoughts, Philip’s thoughts, together with the narrator’s report in such a way that it is difficult to tell which it is. As a result, we get a more intimate peek inside of both Mr. Baines and Philip.

Free Indirect Discourse & Stephen King

Let’s look at another example, this time from The Shining by Stephen King.

Jack Torrance thought: Officious little [so-and-so].

Ullman stood five-five, and when he moved, it was with the prissy speed that seems to be the exclusive domain of all small plump men. The part in his hair was exact, and his dark suit was sober but comforting. I am a man you can bring your problems to, that suit said to the paying customer. To the hired help it spoke more curtly: This had better be good, you. There was a red carnation in the lapel, perhaps so that no one on the street would mistake Stuart Ullman for the local undertaker.

As he listened to Ullman speak, Jack admitted to himself that he probably could not have liked any man on that side of the desk- under the circumstances.

Ullman had asked a question he hadn’t caught. That was bad; Ullman was the type of man who would file such lapses away in a mental Rolodex for later consideration. (Stephen King, The Shining)

At the end of the second paragraph we get this sentence: “There was a red carnation in the lapel, perhaps so that no one on the street would mistake Stuart Ullman for the local undertaker.” This is obviously Jack Torrance’s thought filtered through the report of the narrator and, because of this, it tells us quite a bit about Jack Torrance and gives us a sense of intimacy with the character.

Here’s another example from the same book:

"Your daddy may not be back until suppertime, doc. It’s a long drive up into those mountains."

"Do you think the bug will break down?"

"No, I don’t think so." But he had just given her something new to worry about. Thanks, Danny. I needed that.

The last sentence seems to be a direct report of the character’s thoughts without a reporting clause. As a result, it has an immediacy, an intimacy, it would otherwise lack. We are, essentially, getting a first person report but with all the flexibility that writing in the third person provides.

Free Indirect Discourse in More Recent Work

I peeked at the books at the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list. Most of them had been written in the first person, but there was one, “Total Power” by Kyle Mills, that began like this:

A light mist condensed on Sonya Vance’s windshield, turning the forested mountains around her into smears of green. Clouds had formed beneath the bridge she was driving across, dense enough that it looked like they would catch her if she jumped. 

Tempting.

"Tempting" -- the sole word in the last paragraph -- is an example of the character’s thought merging with the narrator’s voice and, in so doing, it reveals to us Sonya’s mental state. Precarious. 

Tips For Using Free Indirect Discourse in Your Own Work

1. Third Person Perspective

In order for a character’s thoughts to merge with the narrator’s you -- of course! -- need a third person narrator. But you can use either a limited third person or omniscient viewpoint. Of course an omniscient viewpoint, while it gives you the greatest flexibility, also gives you the most rope to hang yourself! 

2. Season to taste

I’ve been scouring my favorite books looking for examples of free indirect voice. It seems authors use it to heighten intimacy with a character who might otherwise not be as transparent (for example, a young child or someone with an unusual viewpoint) or someone unpleasant like Jack Torrance in the Shining. 

Also, if you are using a limited third person viewpoint and your character is on the verge of becoming unconscious, using free indirect voice might help add intimacy and richness of detail.

Do you use free indirect discourse? What do you think of the technique? 

Notes:

1. Teaching under the Dome: Life in a Small Town, Characters, and Narrative Point of View, Site: Fantasy Matters

2. Baktin talks about heteroglossia which is the “presence of two or more voices or suppressed viewpoints in a text or artistic work.”

Bakhtin argues that the power of the novel originates in the coexistence of, and conflict between, different types of speech: the speech of characters, the speech of narrators, and even the speech of the author. He defines heteroglossia as "another's speech in another's language, serving to express authorial intentions but in a refracted way" (1934). (Wikipedia, Heteroglossia)



Monday, October 31

Preparing For NaNoWriMo



Every day in November I’m going to lay out the structural bones of a crucial story scene.  I'll then break this scene down for three genres: Action, Romance, and Mystery. Then I'll talk about the different requirements of each. Today I'm kicking things off by talking about what we can do to prepare for the insanity that is NaNoWriMo.

At least, that’s the plan! This is going to be an adventure for me as well since, over the month of November, I’ll be blogging a book, only a non-fiction one. That’s something I’ve never done before!

My hope is that my daily blog posts will provide you with a seed, a start, something to hang your story ideas around—if you want it. Folks have been writing stories for millennia without all this explicit talk of story structure, so if you don’t feel you want or need it, that’s great! Go you!!

But, if you’d like to get an idea regarding what you might want to write on any particular day, or if you want to read something that might help get you started, then please drop by, pull up a seat and let’s write! :-)

Planning for NaNoWriMo


Here are a few things to consider as we head into the month of November (I expand on each of these, below):

1. What is your writing plan? How many words would you like to write a day?
2. What point of view will you write from? First, second or third?
3. What is the core of your story?
4. What is the essence of your protagonist and antagonist?
5. What genre, or genres, will you write in?
6. What is the setting?

1. Designing a Writing Plan.


How many days per week do you want to write?

For instance, you might want to plan on writing six days a week so you can have one day of wiggle room. Life has a way of derailing even the best laid plans, so giving yourself one day off a week isn’t a bad idea. That would give you 26 days to write 50,000 words which means your word count per writing day would be 1,924 words. This is what I did when I participated in NaNoWriMo and it worked out well.

On the other hand, if you plan on writing every day, your word count per day would only be 1667 words.

2. What Point of View Will You Write From? 


Will you write from the first, second or third person perspective? If you choose the first person perspective (which is my favorite!) then, although there are exceptions, you will likely have one viewpoint character throughout. Many of the first person perspective narratives I’ve read include short chapters written from a third person perspective featuring an important secondary character, but this is the sort of thing we’re not going to worry about on the zero draft.

If you choose to write from the third person perspective, then although one character will be the protagonist/hero, you will often have multiple viewpoint characters. For instance, many romance stories involve two viewpoint characters—the two lovers—and alternate their viewpoints every second chapter. Generally speaking, the point of view you open your story with will be that of your protagonist.

3. What is the Core of Your Story?


Generally speaking, a story is about a person (the protagonist) who wants something desperately but is repeatedly prevented from acquiring it by a person/force (the antagonist). Finally the matter comes to a head and the protagonist and antagonist face off in a final confrontation that will settle things once and for all.

If you would like to read more about story structure, here are a few articles:

A Story Structure In Three Acts
STORY STRUCTURE: 10 Simple Keys to Effective Plot Structure
Short Story Structures: Several Ways Of Structuring Short Fiction
Short Stories And Their Structure

4. Character Development


Let’s start thinking about our characters:

  • Who is your protagonist?
  • What does he/she do for a living? What would he/she like to do for a living?
  • Is he/she romantically involved with anyone? Does he/she want to be romantically involved with anyone?
  • Does he/she have children? If so, how many and what are their ages?
  • What is his/her biggest fear?
  • What is his/her darkest secret?
  • Is he/she an optimist or a pessimist?
  • Does he/she have a hobby?
  • Is he/she obsessed with anything?
  • What does he/she fear above all else? What does he/she love above all else?
  • Is he/she religious? Superstitious?
  • Does he/she own a vehicle? If so, what kind?
  • What special skill or talent does he/she have?
  • What could he/she NOT do, even if their life depended on it?

Here’s the most important question of all: What does this character want more than anything else? This is important because it determines the story question that everything else revolves around.

The character's main desire could be something your character doesn't know they want. For example, in the movie Titanic, Rose wanted freedom more than anything else, though I'm not sure she was aware of this at the beginning of the story. On the other hand, Frodo knew exactly what he wanted: to return the One Ring to Mordor.

After you’ve answered these questions with reference to the protagonist, try to answer them with reference to the antagonist.

Keep in mind that the goals of the protagonist and antagonist must be mutually exclusive: if the antagonist gets what he wants then the protagonist can't. Similarly, if the protagonist gets what he wants then the antagonist can't.

Here are additional questions that can help you get to know a character:

Character Question List
Character Checklist
Writer’s Digest: A Checklist for Developing Your Hero and Heroine

5. The Genre


Let's take a look at what Shawn Coyne has to say about genre:
"A Genre is a label that tells the reader/audience what to expect. Genres simply manage audience expectations. (The Story Grid)"
If you're writing a love story then your readers are going to expect a first meeting between the lovers, a confession of love, a first kiss, a break-up, and so on. (See: 6 Scenes Any Love Story Must Have)

In this sense a genre is a bit like a promise you give your readers. If your title is, "Murder at Whitemill" and the back blurb identifies it as a cosy then no matter how inspired your prose your readers are going to come for you with pitchforks if, say, no murder occurs or no one is brought to justice for the crime.

This is why it's important to know which genre, or genres, you are writing in and what the conventions of that genre are. That is, what readers of that genre will expect of your story.

6. The Setting


What is the setting? Where do the events of the story take place?

For instance, in The Matrix the Ordinary World is an illusion—an illusion of cities and office jobs and juicy steaks—and the Special World (reality) is one of human batteries and war between humans and machines. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone the Ordinary World is (roughly speaking) England and the Special World is Hogwarts.

The world of the adventure (this includes both the Ordinary and Special Worlds) is sculpted by the writer to provide a crucible for the protagonist. The setting is a cauldron, a crucible, designed to test the main character’s strengths and force him to face, and overcome, his weaknesses. Or, if it’s a tragedy, to fail and die.

Rather than go into this now, here's a post I wrote on this topic: Mind Worms and the Essence of Drama.

See also:
How To Give Your Character Meaningful Flaws
The Key To Making A Character Multidimensional: Pairs of Opposites

Just Breathe


If thinking about all this makes you hyperventilate, don’t worry about it! NaNoWriMo is about writing a zero draft, so it is about creativity and discovery.

I think the object of NaNoWriMo is to get as much of your story developed as possible in the month of November.

For some of us, that will involve writing 50,000+ words. For others, it will mean writing 40,000 or 30,000 or 20,000 or 10,000 or 5,000 or even just 1,000 words. And that’s okay!

If you develop a plan for your story, and begin implementing that plan, then you’ve won in the sense that you've pushed your story forward. If participating in NaNoWriMo gets you to write even one word more than you would have otherwise then, in my books, you’ve won!

For tomorrow: Try to figure out what it is your protagonist wants more than anything. Try to figure out the story goal.



Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

For a different perspective on NaNoWriMo here is the excellent, No Plot, No Problem!, by Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo. From the book blurb: "Chris Baty ... has completely revised and expanded his definitive handbook for extreme noveling. Chris pulls from over 15 years of results-oriented writing experience to pack this compendium with new tips and tricks, ranging from week-by-week quick reference guides to encouraging advice from authors, and much more."



That's it! Enough preliminaries and preparation! Got your writer's cap on? Awesome! Know what your character wants above and beyond all else? Excellent! I'll talk to you tomorrow. :-)

Monday, August 15

Write Now: 4 Tips For Growing A Readership


We talk, tongue-in-cheek, about the cult of Apple.

Of course Apple isn’t a cult, though it does have certain cultish aspects. Take myself for instance. My computer was made by Apple. My phone is an iPhone, my tablet is an iPad. I don’t have an Apple Watch—I have a Fitbit Flex (which I love)—but if and when my Fitbit needs to be replaced, I’ll likely buy an Apple product.

Why?

Because I trust Apple to make beautiful, quality, products that are both fun and easy to use. (I’m not sure a product could be fun if it _wasn’t_ easy to use. But we could debate that. What do you think?).

There are two Apple Stores in my area and they are both packed whenever I go shopping. There is also a Samsung and a Microsoft store in my area. Both are usually empty.

This got me thinking about what business principles I could glean from my (meager) knowledge of businesses such as Apple that might be able to help writers connect with their readers.

1. Core Readers Understand Your Work AND Love It


Personally, I don’t know of a better compliment than when someone reads a story of mine and says, “That was a good read.” Those people are special. They get your work AND they like it.

Some folks will read your work but don’t really understand it. Other folks understand it but it leaves them cold. And that’s okay. They’re not your target audience. Other folks though—and these are the ones you want to cultivate like they’re your long lost twin—both understand your work and love it.

I think of these folks as my core readers.

2. Understand Your Core Readers


Chances are—even though your core readers are unique, distinct, varied—the more you know about them the better you are at picking up on the kind of stories they would love to read.

Chances are these folks are a bit like you and many of the stories they’d love to read are also stories you’d love to write. Win-win!

The trick is to find out who these people are, to connect with them. What do they love? Hate? Fear? Desire? What makes them scared to get up in the middle of the night? What other authors do they understand and love? What other stories do they read?

3. Make Your Readers Feel That They Belong


What do you like to do? What are your hobbies? Do you hike, climb, garden or cook? How do you like to relax? Did something funny happen to you as you were jogging? Did you see something interesting and take a picture?

Why not share it with your readers?

I find it’s often the little things that connect us to others and doing these little things often takes only a few moments of our time.

4. Let Your Readers Know Why Do You Do What You Do


Simon Sinek’s famous TEDx talk, Start With Why, is awesome. Everyone should watch it at least once .

Briefly, Sinek talks about the importance of understanding why you do what you do. He draws a circle and puts “why” in the center. Around that circle he draws another and in that circle writes, “how.” Around that circle he draws another circle and in that one he writes “what.” He calls this the Golden Circle.

Simon Sinek's Golden Circle

The WHY is about your purpose. What do you believe? Why do you write? Why are you passionate about crafting stories others will want to read? Why should anyone care about what you write about?

The HOW is about how whatever it is that you sell is created.

The WHAT is about what it is you actually sell, its qualities and characteristics, it’s selling points.

Generally speaking, we all know WHAT we’re selling. Further, we more or less clear on HOW we write our stories. What we’ve often far less clear on is the WHY.

What Is Your Why?

What folks of any stripe are often unconscious of is WHY we do what we do.

Someone might be thinking: Well, I do it for the money, to pay the rent. At least, that’s what I was thinking, but Sinek calls that a result.

Sinek gives the example of Apple. Here’s what Sinek gives as Apple’s why:

“In everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently.”

Here’s Apple’s how:

“The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, easy to use and user friendly.”

And, finally, here is Apple’s what:

“We just happen to make great computers.”

The Takeaway


There are a lot of great, wonderful, powerful readers in this world. Take Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame. Her prose is like a sucker punch, or at least it can be. Wonderful, wonderful book. (I listened to it as an audiobook first and recommend the experience. I loved hearing the voices change between the two narrators, I loved hearing the change in the tone of their voices as the plot progressed and we, the readers, received new (and surprising) information that transformed our understanding of the story. It was an incredible experience.)

I love Ray Bradbury’s books. I love reading his novels, his shorts stories. His prose has the power to weave a spell around me and change the world in which I live. Further, this experience doesn’t end with the story. The change seeps into my bones and transforms me a little bit. It leaves something with me. It’s special.

I guess what I’m trying to say is something you all know, that writing is magic! Part of that magic is finding your core readers, the people who can be—who will be—changed by your spell. And as you get to know them, you might be changed in return.

Well, that’s it for today! I’ll talk to you again on Thursday. Till then, good writing!

Other articles you might like:


How To Get Your Readers To Identify With Your Main Character
7 Secrets To Writing A Story Your Readers Won't Be Able To Put Down
Connect With Readers' Emotions: How To Make People Cry

Saturday, October 18

How To Give Your Character Meaningful Flaws

How To Give Your Character Meaningful Flaws


Let’s talk about blind spots.

We’re often told that protagonists need to be likable but it’s just as important that they have flaws.

I’ve just finished reading “Falling Angel” by William Hjortsberg. In that book the protagonist loses everything, even his identity. Which is a tragedy. He was courageous, resourceful and generally likable. It’s easy for the reader to identify with him, and if this was true for the reader I imagine it was true for the writer as well. But Hjortsberg resisted the impulse to coddle his protagonist and the book was better for it. 

That said, Hjortsberg didn’t give his protagonist, Harry Angel, just any flaws, he gave him flaws that seemed to grow organically from the core of his character. Giving a character blind spots is one way of achieving this.

What are blind spots?


A blind spot is a flaw, a weakness. For example, I have a friend who often complains about not being able to lose five pounds while she’s eating a bag of crunchy, vinegary finger-licking-good potato chips.

What creates a blind spot?


Desires create blind spots. Specifically, desires which fly in the face of strongly held beliefs either about ourselves or the world around us.

In my example, above, the desire being indulged was of the potato-chip-eating variety and the strongly held belief was that my friend was doing everything she could to try and lose weight. 

Taking this to a more serious level, a person might have a strong desire to learn the truth about a particular situation but not be able to get past the strongly held belief that their friend (or sibling, or mother, or father) is a good person and would, therefore, never do certain things.

Denial and unconscious defense mechanisms


I would, of course, never be this bold (or foolhardy!) but were I to call my friend on her chip-eating-duplicity and say, “You’d lose five pounds if you stopped eating potato chips,” what do you think her immediate reaction would be?

Yep, anger. Then she would try to justify her behavior. She would try and explain how her behavior really did, despite appearances to the contrary, fit with her desire to lose weight. 

Most folks, when it’s made clear to them that one or more of their behaviors flies in the face of a real or stated desire will attempt to justify it rather than change. “Oh this package of potato chips is so small and it’s only one bag. It’s not like I have one every day.” Or, “You’re right! This will be my last one, I’ll stop tomorrow.”

How to make bad things happen to good characters


Writers have to be the bad guy. They have to be mean to their characters. (Don’t Flinch)

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, one of the ways we can lead our characters to ruin is by giving them blind spots.

The ones I’ve talked about so far are relatively mild. To show you the kind of blind spots that can make for great literature let’s take another look at “Falling Angel.” Here the protagonist, Harry Angel, has a core belief, one you and I likely share: I know who I am. Harry couldn’t have been more wrong. 

When Harry Angel finally realizes he has been blind, that he has believed a lie, it is far too late for him to save either himself or the girl he has come to love.

Creating Character Flaws: How to Use Your Character’s strengths against them


I’d never thought much about blind spots and how they can be used to create tragedy until I sat in on a workshop Bob Mayer taught at the Surrey International Writing Conference. Mayer gave some wickedly useful examples of how your character’s strengths can suggest desires which can, in turn, be used to create character flaws.

An Example: Loyalty


Loyalty is an excellent trait for a protagonist to have. Since we, as humans, tend to believe that other people are like us—that they have the same desires and strengths and weaknesses we ourselves do—people who are loyal tend to believe that other people, especially those they consider their friends, are loyal as well. (Also at work here is the principle that it’s much easier for a person to believe a statement they want to be true than it is for one they want to be false.)

Underlying need/drive/desire:
- To trust others and to be trusted in return.

Temptation:
To see the world as you would like to see it, not as it actually is. This can lead to (at least) two weaknesses:
- Gullible. The need to trust others can make a hero gullible. They want to trust others even if, deep down, they know they shouldn’t.
- Unreasonable skepticism. Often when a person has trusted someone when they shouldn’t have—and been harmed because of it—they can swing to the other end of the spectrum and not trust anyone, even someone who has proven themselves trustworthy.

Blind Spot:
- Here is the loyal character’s blind spot (or at least one of them): Even though he’s let me down in the past, this time will be different.

Another Example: Competitiveness


Let’s say a character is naturally competitive. That can be a very good thing.

Underlying need/drive/desire:
- To achieve, to conquer.

Temptation:
- To achieve and to conquer no matter the cost, no matter who it destroys in the process.

Blind Spot:
- My drive to achieve isn’t hurting anyone.

In conclusion


If you ever have a chance I highly recommend Bob Mayer’s writing workshops. I haven’t read it (I’m still snailing my way through Robert McKee’s excellent book, “Story”) but his book The Novel Writer’s Toolkit comes highly recommended.

What blind spots have you given your characters?

Photo credit: "Cat's shadow" by Marina del Castell under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, May 15

What Do Aaron Sorkin, Stealing, And Advice About Writing Have In Common?

What Do Aaron Sorkin, Stealing, And Advice About Writing Have In Common?
"Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal from them outright," Aaron Sorkin.

What do Aaron Sorkin, stealing, and advice about writing have in common?

Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Yesterday Gwen sent me a clip of Aaron Sorkin's cameo appearance on 30 Rock where he pokes fun at himself, at his quirks.

After I watched the clip I thought, 'Huh, I wonder if Aaron Sorkin has written anything about the art of writing?' And, guess what? He has!

In How to Write an Aaron Sorkin Script, by Aaron Sorkin Mr. Sorkin gives advice about how to introduce crucial (but possibly boring) information and make it all seem interesting and clever rather than contrived and boring.

BUT, before I get to that, I'd like to talk about stealing.

And by "stealing" I don't mean plagiarism—which is bad, very bad—but the sort of outright stealing Aaron Sorkin was talking about in the quote at the beginning of this article.

In her post Develop Your Narrative Voice By Stealing From Bestselling Authors, Elise Abram teaches writers how to steal. But first, a caveat. Elise writes:
How I found my voice was by “stealing” from other writers, trying on different points of view, tones and styles until I found one that was my own.

Note: Modelling, which is what I mean by “stealing”, is very different from plagiarism. Plagiarism is defined as using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization, and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own.
So, plagiarism is nasty while 'creative stealing' or modelling, is perfectly fine.

The other day someone compared modelling to the way a musician learns to play an instrument. They play a song someone else wrote over and over again until they get it right, then move on to another song. This is the writer's version of that.

I'll leave you to read Elise's wonderful article, but I would like to share her #2 way of stealing.


Steal the setting


Elise writes:
[A] way you can model is to use a setting from popular literature.

As you read these passages, see if you can spot the similarities:
“A large cask of wine had been dropped and broken, in the street…the cask had tumbled out…the hoops had burst, and it lay on the stones just outside the door of the wine-shop, shattered like a walnut-shell…The rough, irregular stones of the street, pointing every way, and designed, one might have thought, expressly to lame all living creatures that approached them …Some men kneeled down, made scoops of their two hands joined, and sipped…Others, men and women, dipped in the puddles with little mugs of mutilated earthenware, or even with handkerchiefs from women’s heads.”
And…
“The driver had been coming out of the turn on the inside when the wagon had tilted and gone over. As a result, the kegs had sprayed all the way across the road. Many of them were smashed, and the road was a quagmire for twenty feet. One horse…lay in the ditch, a shattered chunk of barrel-stave protruding from its ear…Wandering around the scene of the accident were perhaps a dozen people. They walked slowly, often bending over to scoop ale two-handed from a hoofprint or to dip a handkerchief or a torn-off piece of singlet into another puddle. Most of them were staggering. Voices raised in laughter and in quarrelsome shouts.”
Did you catch the comparisons?
.  .  .  .
The first passage is from a scene in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, the second from Stephen King and Peter Straub’s The Talisman. In the modelling of this passage, King and Straub use Dickens’ setting, making it their own by serving it up with the dark and graphic horror their readers know and love.

Aaron Sorkin on How To Steal From Aaron Sorkin


Which brings us back to Aaron Sorkin's article in which he, basically, invites us to 'steal' one of his tricks, which is how to give an information dump--or a 'fact-dump' as he calls it--but make it witty and interesting. He writes:
A song in a musical works best when a character has to sing—when words won't do the trick anymore. The same idea applies to a long speech in a play or a movie or on television. You want to force the character out of a conversational pattern. In the pilot of The Newsroom, a new series for HBO, TV news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) emotionally checked out years ago, and now he's sitting on a college panel, hearing the same shouting match between right and left he's been hearing forever, and the arguments have become noise. A student asks what makes America the world's greatest country, and Will dodges the question with glib answers. But the moderator keeps needling him until...snap.
And then comes a fact-dump/information dump, but it works and it's interesting.

In his article Aaron Sorkin demonstrates what he means by giving a short scene with commentary both about the effect he wants his words to create in the audience and how he creates that effect. It reminds me of a magician giving away one of his tricks. A wonderful read.

Who is your favorite author to model? Is there anyone you're currently modelling?

Other articles you might like:

- 4 Ways Outlining Can Give A Writer Confidence
- 4 Things To Keep In Mind When Choosing A Title For Your Book
- Beware Damnation Books

Photo credit: "Burglar Alarm Box" by taberandrew by Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, December 8

12 Tips On How To Write Antagonists Your Readers Will Love To Hate

How To Write Antagonists Your Readers Will Love To Hate

Who is the most important character in your story? Your protagonist, right? Wrong! It's the antagonist. Or at least that's what Jim Butcher says. He writes:
One of the most critical skills an aspiring writer needs is the ability to build a solid villain. Even the greatest protagonist in the world cannot truly shine without an equally well-rendered opposition. The converse of that statement isn’t true, though—if your protagonist is a little shaky but your villain absolutely shines, you can still tell a very successful story. (How To Build a Villain, Jim Butcher)
Whichever is the most important, the protagonist or antagonist, the protagonist needs a strong adversary. Here are 12 tips for ensuring your antagonist is in tip-top shape:


1. Spend As Much Time Developing Your Antagonist As You Do Your Protagonist


Your antagonist needs goals and obstacles, hopes and fears, just like your protagonist. As Jim Butcher says, arguably, having a strong antagonist is more important than a strong protagonist. (See: Ten Tips for a Terrific Antagonist)


2.  Antagonist and Protagonist Have Conflicting Goals


If the antagonist gets their way the protagonist doesn't and vice versa. For instance, in Lord of the Rings, if Sauron gets the One Ring then Frodo has failed to destroy it in the fires of Mt. Doom.


3. Antagonist and Protagonist Have Conflicting Characteristics


In Die Hard protagonist John McClane (Bruce Willis) cares about other people, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) not so much. John McClane cares most about his job and his family, especially his estranged wife. Hans Gruber cares most about the millions of dollars he's going to steal from the vault. And so on.

It's interesting that in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone many of Severus Snape's (also played by Alan Rickman) characteristics were the opposite of Harry's and this was partly why it was so easy to think he was the one out to get Harry.


4. The Antagonist Drives The Conflict


Without the antagonist's dastardly plans, the hero would have nothing to do.

For instance, before Changes begins Harry Dresden's having a grand old time. This peacefulness is shattered when his ex-girlfriend calls and tells him (surprise!) he has a daughter and that she's been kidnapped by Red Court vampires.

If the Red Court hadn't taken Harry's daughter he'd have had time for an afternoon nap and a leisurely dinner at McAnally's. But that wouldn't have been terribly exciting.


5. Outline Your Book From The Antagonist's Point Of View


Kathy Steffen writes:
As Donald Maass suggests in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, outline your book from the antagonist’s point of view. Not every scene, but give him an outline with steps throughout the story so you clearly see the path he will take through your book. Whether you do it at the beginning, middle, or end of writing your book, this is a wonderful way to strengthen conflict in your story.  (Ten Tips for a Terrific Antagonist)


6. The Antagonist Is The Hero Of Their Own Story


Many antagonists think they're the good guy. Like Col. Jessep in A Few Good Men, the antagonist does terrible things to protect the group. He is the necessary evil doing what needs to be done for the greater good.

Or not.

Hans Gruber in Die Hard was motivated solely by the bottom line. He wanted money, lots of it, and didn't give a fig who he had to kill to get it. Different strokes. But I bet in Gruber's own mind having a lot of money made him a success and, at least in that minimal respect, we could relate to him.

I think what matters is that the antagonist is as fully fleshed out a character as your protagonist. That means giving her goals, motivations, fears, likes, dislikes, phobias, and so on. She has to have both strong points and faults, likable qualities and detestable ones.

Once your antagonist has fears and hopes and weaknesses it's hard to see them as pure evil. But that's good because it's much more interesting.


7. Don't Make Your Antagonist Too Powerful


If they are too powerful it's difficult to relate to them. Give your antagonist at least one weakness.


8. Don't Make Your Antagonist Too Weak


If they are too weak then there isn't enough conflict. We're not really worried for the protagonist. There's nothing to root for.


9. Have A Moment Of Connection With The Antagonist


Even if he's a complete jerk, find one point of connection, one point of contact, between your readers and the antagonist. Find the last surviving ember of his humanity. Fan that ember to life and show it to your audience.

Chuck Wendig says it best:
[M]ake me connect with him: something he does, something he believes, should be something I would do, something I believe. Or connect me to his past — help me understand ... (25 Things You Should Know About Antagonists)

10. Give The Antagonist An Arc


Just as your protagonist changes through the course of your story, so should your antagonist. For instance, at the beginning the antagonist might be a careful planner, over-confident and jolly and at the end she is paranoid, reckless and vindictive. (Though I guess it's not paranoia if everyone is out to get you!)


11. Give Your Antagonist A Kick-The-Cat Moment


This point comes from Chuck Wendeg:
In Blake Snyder’s books, he speaks of giving the hero a “Save the Cat” moment — meaning, we get to rally behind the protagonist early on as we get to see just what he’s capable of because, y’know, he rescues the cat from the tree (metaphorically). Antagonists need the reverse: one requires a “Kick the Cat” moment (see also: “Detonate the Puppy,” “Machine Gun the Dolphin,” or “Force the Baby Seal to Watch a Marathon of the Real Houswives ...). We need to see just why the antagonist is the antagonist — show us an act that reveals for us the depths of his trouble-making, his hatred, his perversion of the ethical laws and social mores of man.
Just as we need to show that our protagonist is a good guy by having him do something good, so we need to show that the antagonist is a bad, bad person, by having him (or her) do something horrible.


12. Let Your Antagonist Win Occasionally


Let the antagonist win. Sometimes. He's going to lose at the end, and lose big, so give the guy a break and let him (or her) win every onece in a while. Besides, it'll keep your readers guessing and interested.


13. Make An Antagonist Your Readers Will Love To Hate


The goal of writing is to create stories that move your readers emotionally.

Your antagonist can help you with this, but it all depends on your readers truly hating him. And not just hating him, loving to hate him. If your readers don't despise your antagonist as the lowest form of pond muck then, chances are, they won't like your protagonist much either.

Check Wendig writes:
[T]he biggest and best test of an antagonist is that I want to a) love to hate them and/or b) hate to love them. Do either or both and it’s a major win. If you make me love them and I feel uncomfortable about that? You win. If you( make me despise them and I love despising them the way a dog loves to roll around in roadkill? You win again. I hate that I love Hans Gruber. I love that I hate every Nazi in every Indiana Jones movie. ... [M]ake me feel something. (25 Things You Should Know About Antagonists)

Further Reading:

- Jim Butcher: How to Build a Villain
- Chuck Wendig: 25 Things You Should Know About Antagonists
- Kathy Steffen: Ten Tips for a Terrific Antagonist

Other articles you might like:

- Editing & Critiquing
- The Albee Agency: Writers Beware
- Connie Willis And 11 Ways To Write Great Dialogue

Photo credit: "Who dressed YOU?" by juhansonin under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, November 26

11 Steps To Edit Your Manuscript. Edit Ruthlessly & Kill Your Darlings

10 Tips For Editing Your Manuscript: Tip #1: Edit Ruthlessly.

The Key To Good Writing Is Re-Writing


We're nearing the end of November and beginning to think abut life after NaNoWriMo. (When we'll actually have that thing known as spare time!)

Soon you'll have a (more-or-less) completed first draft of a novel or novella. (40,000 words seems to be the upper end for a novella, at least according to Ian McEwan, so you'd have to trim 10,000 words, but that would likely make your story stronger. (See: Ian McEwan Believes The Novella Is The Perfect Form Of Prose Fiction)

You've probably heard this expression before: The key to good writing is re-writing. That's not to say a writer couldn't get it right on the first draft. Some writers can sit down and produce a publishable story in one draft--or one draft and minor cleanup.

I admire them! But many of us--perhaps MOST of us--aren't like that. Stephen King for instance.

How Many Re-Writes Are Enough?


Many professional writers say that three re-writes does it for them. Stephen King writes:
Now let’s talk about revising the work—how much and how many drafts? For me the answer has always been two drafts and a polish (with the advent of word-processing technology, my polishes have become closer to a third draft).

You should realize that I’m only talking about my own personal mode of writing here; in actual practice, rewriting varies greatly from writer to writer. Kurt Vonnegut, for example, rewrote each page of his novels until he got them exactly the way he wanted them. The result was days when he might only manage a page or two of finished copy (and the wastebasket would be full of crumpled, rejected page seventy-ones and seventy-twos), but when the manuscript was finished, the book was finished, by gum. You could set it in type. Yet I think certain things hold true for most writers ... If you’re a beginner ... let me urge that you take your story through at least two drafts ... (On Writing, Stephen King)

Whatever works for you--whether it's 1 draft or 21, that's okay. The important thing is that we finish. As Neil Gaiman says, "You write./ You finish what you write (Advice to Authors).

Advice on Editing


An integral part of re-writing is editing. For advice on editing I've turned to Ray Morton and his wonderful article, Rewriting is Writing.


1. Walk Away


Ray writes:
The single most important tool you will need to do a successful rewrite is perspective—the ability to see your work for what it is, rather than what you hoped it would be. Perspective is impossible to attain when you are caught up in the frenzy of the creative process. So, once you have finished your initial pass, walk away from it for a week or two, or five. This break will ensure that when you return to your work, you will be able to view it with fresh, objective eyes.
Stephen King agrees. He writes:
Now let’s say you’ve finished your first draft. Congratulations! Good job! Have a glass of champagne, send out for pizza, do whatever it is you do when you’ve got something to celebrate. 
.  .  .  .
You’ve done a lot of work and you need a period of time (how much or how little depends on the individual writer) to rest. Your mind and imagination—two things which are related, but not really the same—have to recycle themselves, at least in regard to this one particular work. My advice is that you take a couple of days off—go fishing, go kayaking, do a jigsaw puzzle—and then go to work on something else. Something shorter, preferably, and something that’s a complete change of direction and pace from your newly finished book. (I wrote some pretty good novellas, “The Body” and “Apt
Pupil” among them, between drafts of longer works like The Dead Zone and The Dark Half.)

How long you let your book rest—sort of like bread dough between kneadings—is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks. During this time your manuscript will be safely shut away in a desk drawer, aging and (one hopes) mellowing. Your thoughts will turn to it frequently, and you’ll likely be tempted a dozen times or more to take it out, if only to re-read some passage that seems particularly fine in your memory, something you’d like to go back to so you can re-experience what a really excellent writer you are.

Resist temptation. (On Writing, Stephen King)

2a. Reread Your Script


I would add: DO NOT EDIT! Read it through once and take notes on what needs to be added, deleted and changed in a separate file or on a pad of paper. And NO going back or skipping forward. Read it through from first to last.

This can be painful. You'll see constructions that are, to say the least, infelicitous. Resist the urge to change them. Why? Because if you're anything like me once you start editing you just won't be able to stop and what you really need to do is re-load the entire story back into your head.

If you begin changing your manuscript before you've fully reacquainted yourself with the story you could make disastrous mistakes. For instance, once I forgot where I was going with a particular arc and wrote (what I thought was) a beautiful scene which took one of my main characters in a completely different direction. As a result I either had to change a major aspect of the plot or throw out one of the strongest scenes. I elected to put the book aside while I pondered the delemma. I still haven't picked it back up!


2b. Ask The Following Questions:


"Is the premise of the piece understandable and established early on?"


Ray writes:
The premise is the seed from which the rest of your narrative grows and must be clearly set up in the opening pages of your ... [novel]. If you have reached page 15 or 20 and it is still not obvious what your story is about, then you have some work to do.

"Does the ... [manuscript] tell the story that you intended it to tell?"


Ray writes:
When deeply immersed in the writing process, it’s easy for a writer to get carried away by subplots, wander off on tangents, and become enamored by a single scene at the expense of the overall narrative. If that happens, use the rewrite to get your tale back on track.

"Are there any elements in the ... [story] that do not directly support the central theme or narrative?"


Anything that does not serve the story gets cut. As Stephen King says: Kill your darlings!

"Is the protagonist’s primary goal clear and does his pursuit of that goal drive the narrative?"


Ray writes:
In dramatic storytelling, a protagonist has a strong objective that he/she sets out to achieve. All of the choices the protagonist makes, every action he takes and obstacle he overcomes should bring him closer to accomplishing that goal. If they don’t, then you must redirect him.

Is every single piece of backstory "vital to the narrative or theme of your piece"?


If not, you know what to do.

Is it the right genre?


Ray writes:
Does your story fulfill its genre expectations? In other words, if it’s a comedy, is it funny? If it’s a horror film, is it scary? If not, then a major rewrite is in order.

3. Revise Your Story


Now that you've reacquainted yourself with the story and you have a list of things that need to be deleted or changed, get to it!


4. Repeat Until Done


Just as you need a break between the first and second draft, so you need to take a break between the subsequent drafts, but perhaps not as long of a break. Take a day or so off then continue the editing process.


5. Get Feedback


Depending on your process, you might have let someone, or perhaps even a few people, read your manuscript after the first draft.

Regardless, at some point your manuscript will reach a finished stage and then you'll send it out to your beta readers. At this point I would give my manuscript to my critique group and to other writers I've met over the years and ask them for feedback.

Ray cautions:
Choose folks who can analyze your piece with an objective eye and who will give you honest and constructive criticism. Seek out fellow writers and industry colleagues—people with a grasp of the nuts and bolts of screenwriting ...
I would add that you should choose readers who are familiar with the kind of book you've written. For instance, if it's a paranormal romance, don't ask someone who only reads science fiction to critique it. They'll proably hate it, but that's okay, they'd probably hate the best paranormal romance.

This also goes for reviews. In general, you don't want a review from someone who dislikes, or who is completely unfamiliar with the genre your book is from.

Ray continues:
Once all of your analysts have responded, analyze their analysis. If one person takes issue with some aspect of your script, then it could just be that person’s problem. However, if a number of people have the same problem, then it’s likely that the fault lies with the script and will need to be addressed.
Excellent advice.


6. Listen The The Feedback


Feedback doesn't do any good if it's ignored.


7. Rewrite Again


Do another rewrite. By this time it'll probably be physically painful to go back to your book and make changes, but you're almost done.


8. Hold a Reading


Ray is giving advice to scriptwriters but I'm passing it on because most of it applies to novelists. Most of it, this is one thing that's different. A screenwriter can throw a party and ask his friends to each take a part and help read the script, but this would be more difficult for a writer to do. For starters, novels are generally much longer than screenplays!


9. Proofread


Get someone else to proofread your manuscript. If you can afford it hire a copy editor to look for grammatical mistakes, logical errors, typos, misspellings, etc. If you absolutely cannot afford a copy editor then strike a deal with one of your writing friends, get them to line edit your manuscript and in return you can line edit theirs.


10. Don't Rush


Ray advices:
[T]ake your time and put as much care into the rewriting of your work as you put into the initial writing. It may take more time in the short run, but the long-term rewards will be worth it.

11. Celebrate!


I added this point. As soon as you've either sent your manuscript off (whether to your editor or to a self-publishing platform) you owe it to yourself to relax and celebrate your achievement.

Well, that's it! If you only remember one thing from this post I hope it's this: Whatever happens, even if you think it's hopeless, finish your story. Later you'll be glad you did.

#  #  #

NaNoWriMo Update: Only 900 and some words to go! My manuscript is at 49,104 words so I'm hoping to be finished tonight. Yes!! So happy. :-)

Other articles you might like:
- NaNoWriMo: The Homestretch & Kindling The Will To Write
- Using Pinterest To Help Build Your Fictional Worlds
- How To Become More Creative: Nurturing Your Muse

Photo credit: "Bialetti Robot" by _Zeta_ under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, November 25

NaNoWriMo: The Homestretch & Kindling The Will To Write

NaNoWriMo: The Homestretch & Kindling The Will To Write

We're pulling into the homestretch of NaNoWriMo!

Exhaustion is setting in. I feel like a marathoner nearing the end. I've seen pictures of runners near the finish line reaching out for a tiny paper cup of cold water, dumping it over their heads with an expression of ... well, not ecstasy, but close.

That shock of cold gives them the impetus they need to keep going, to find the will to finish.

This morning I found my impetus in the form of Kathy Steffen's article, 10 Quick Tips to Get Your Writing Back on Track! It gave me the jolt I needed to keep putting one word after another.

Below are 5 of Kathy's 10 tips:
3. Print out motivation quotes or writing affirmations and tape them to your computer so you will see inspirational words every day. We all can use a cheering section. Make your own.

6. Collage your book or your writing goals. Visuals can be inspirational and bring a different motivational aspect to your writing. Don’t like glue stick? Have you tried Pinterest? It’s more than pinning recipes. I use Pinterest to make WIP boards. This one comes with a warning. It can be a huge time drain, but only if you let it. Just be sure to set a timer and limit your time on the site, and stick to your WIP board. Later, as a reward for writing, give yourself a little “fun” Pinterest time.
I love this tip! Just yesterday I wrote about using Pinterest to help organize research for your work in progress. (See: Using Pinterest To Help Build Your Fictional Worlds)
7. Make a writing sound track. Whether it’s for a specific book or just music that inspires you to write, make the soundtrack and play it! And write.
Kim Harrison is someone who does this, she can tell you what sort of music each of her major characters from the Hollows likes. She's even made playlists for them! (See: Writing To Music: Knowing Your Characters)
8. Set a timer for ten minutes and write a journal entry about what writing means to you. Inspire yourself by putting words on a page and remember what writing brings to your life. Remember why you love to write and write about it.
This exercise is how I worked through a particularly bad case of writer's block. Well, this one is similar. All I did is write for four pages or 8 minutes, whichever came first. In my imagination I re-entered the first scene of my last story and wrote about what I saw. That's it. The damn burst and words spilled out of me. (See: Vanquishing Writer's Block)
9. Hook up with a critique group or partner. Being accountable is a terrific motivator and a deadline every week  (or even every month) will keep your eyes on the prize, as they say. A group or partner will force you into writing consistently, and before you know it, sitting down to write will be second nature! This one keeps providing motivation, long after you’ve begun.
Great advice! I speak from experience. Here is what Kim Neville has to say about it: Lessons learned: Why I love giving critiques.

Kathy's article was published on the How To Write website. If you haven't visited them yet I'd highly recommend it. They have great articles about every aspect of the craft of writing.

#  #  #

NaNoWriMo Update: As of last night my manuscript was at 47,025 words. Only two NaNoWriMo writing times to go!! :-)

Other articles you might like:
- Using Pinterest To Help Build Your Fictional Worlds
- How To Become More Creative: Nurturing Your Muse
- For NaNoWriMo: 10 HarperCollins Books On Writing For $1.99 Each

Photo credit: "Mumbai Marathon -011" by through my eyes only under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, November 22

Robert J. Sawyer: Showing Not Telling

Robert J. Sawyer: Show Don't Tell

Robert J. Sawyer & Dirty Harry


For my second post today I want to share my notes from a workshop I took with consummate science fiction novelist Robert J. Sawyer.

The first time I heard Mr. Sawyer speak was on the first stop of his book tour for WWW: Watch last year. If you ever have the opportunity to hear Robert Sawyer talk--whether it is a keynote address, a book launch or a workshop--I'd advise you to grab it. He's a terrific speaker.

Here's an example: Mr. Sawyer's workshop was held on the morning of the third day of the conference and everyone, including Mr. Sawyer, was tired. I think we all wished we'd had one more cup of our favorite caffeinated beverage.

Dirty Harry and Backstory


Regardless, Mr. Sawyer gave a great talk and, at the end, opened the floor to questions. Someone asked him about backstory, how much was enough. Here's what he said (this is from my memory and is not verbatim):
Great question! You want to put backstory in when its relevant to the other characters. For instance, perhaps you all remember a scene that goes something like this:
Here Mr. Sawyer assumed the manner and voice of Clint Eastwood and proceeded to act out the iconic scene from Dirty Harry:
I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking "did he fire six shots or only five?" Now to tell you the truth I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow you head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself a question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk? (Memorable quotes for Dirty Harry)
But of course that's all backstory. Or an information dump, but that's what a lot of backstory is. The scene only works if the reader/audience understands that Harry doesn't remember how many bullets he has and what will happen to 'punk' if there's even one left. That information is critically important to 'punk'. That's why the scene works, and works beautifully.

I'd never thought of it that way before.

That's the sort of thing I've come to expect from Robert Sawyer. He's knowledgeable, witty, a great teacher, and knows how to make a crowd laugh, even first thing in the morning on the third day of a conference!


Show Don't Tell


RS's example of what telling versus showing:

Telling:
Mary was old.
Showing:
Mary moved slowly across the room, her hunched form supported by a polished wooden cane gripped in a gnarled, swollen-jointed hand that was covered by translucent, liver-spotted skin. (Robert Sawyer)
When we 'tell' we're using straight expository text. What is the big difference between the examples above? In the "showing" example RS didn't use the word "old". The reader inferred it.


Interactive Reading


Prose fiction is a form of interactive media. Lectures are boring, books shouldn't be. Make your stories interactive.

What is our goal? Why do we write? We want to ENTERTAIN readers. You want to engage your reader, you want to bring their cognitive functions to the story.

Convey information actively. You want your readers to find your work EVOCATIVE.

How do you do this? Look for TELLING DETAIL.

Telling:
Singh had a reputation for being able to cut through layers of bureaucracy and get things done. (Robert Sawyer)
Showing:
Chang shook his head and looked at Pryce. "All this red tape! We'll never get permission in time."

Suddenly the office door slid open, and in strode Singh, a slight lifting at the corners of his mouth conveying his satisfaction. He handed a ROM chip to Chang. "Here you are, sir — complete government clearance. You can launch anytime you wish."

Chang's eyebrows shot up his forehead like twin rockets, but Singh was already out the door. He turned to Pryce, who was leaning back in his chair, grinning. "That's our Singh for you," said Pryce. "We don't call him the miracle worker for nothing." (Robert Sawyer)

Showing is PARTICIPATORY and VIVID.

Showing is descriptive. Dialogue by its nature is telling. But you can still show some things. For instance, through the words used. Is the person speaking educated, uneducated? Do they speak with an accent? What kind?

One caution, though. Avoid being offensively steriotypical.


Show Using Action


Let's say you want to introduce the information that a character is an engineer but you don't want to outright say, "Mark is an engineer".

RS gave an example--which I didn't have time to write down in detail--in which a person walks into a boardroom, sits down, his iron ring clicks against the glass of water as he takes a sip, etc. The point is that we use the (more-or-less) well-known fact that engineers wear iron rings to actively (ring pinging against the side of the glass) plant the idea that this character is an engineer.

It's always more interesting to receive information in an active way. The next time you're watching a movie notice how often the characters will be walking around, doing something active, while receiving the obligatory information dump. And it makes a difference. The same applies to writing.


When Telling Is Okay


You don't always want to show rather than tell.

a. Don't bother showing if it's not on the test.


If you spend a lot of time describing something, if you show something, that lets your reader know it's significant. On the other hand, if you tell them something that lets the reader know it's not significant.

RS said this is how he thinks of it: Is this on the test? If you're wondering if it would be okay to tell something rather than show it ask yourself: Is this on the test? Will this be important later? Is it important to the story? Does the reader need to know this in order for the resolution to make sense? If it doesn't then you can tell it.

For instance, if your story hinges on it being the dead of winter then you'll want to spend several paragraphs describing this. If it doesn't then you won't.

Also, pay attention to imagry.

Spring --> rebirth
Fall ---> crumbling decay
Winter --> dead, depressed, stalled

You don't have to show everything, you don't have to show something if it's not on the test.

b. Don't bother showing if you're on the first draft.


When you're writing the first draft you don't know what the next twist is.

If you're only writing in declarative prose then if you have writer's block you can go back and write a previous scene in detail. Flesh it out.

For instance, in Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury could have written "It was summer" and then gone back and wrote "I remember a summer that would never end".

c. Don't bother showing in your outline


It's okay to write in your outline "and then an epic battle occurs". You'll fill this in when the time comes. And if your outline changes it will save you wasting time on a scene that will never make it into the final draft.


Audience Questions


i. Description in adult versus young adult literature

One of the questions Robert Sawyer was asked was whether there is a difference in Young Adult literature regarding how much description you should give. Mr. Sawyer said you might want to be sparser in your description. You can't put in as many details. You can't list 20 things about the old church on the hill, you can only list 3 so you have to be careful you make those three do the work of 20.

ii. Too much specificity can hinder reader identification

For instance, if you want your reader to identify with a character you could write, "A beautiful woman walked through the door" and leave the reader to fill in the details. What color her hair is, how much she weighs, how tall she is.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, what you consider beautiful might not be what another person does.

#  #  #

That's it! I'll try to remember to put up my notes from Robert Sawyer's other workshop, The Intimately Human and the Grandly Cosmic. There he spoke about what Science Fiction is, what genre is. Also, I sat in on Anne Perry's workshop, Where Did They Come From (about characters and characterization) again this year and, again, it was wonderful.

 Have a great Thanksgiving! :-)

Other articles you might like:

- Happy Thanksgiving, Battlestar Galactica & Kris Rusch
- 8 Do's And Don'ts Of Writing Fiction From Neil Gaiman
- Writers: How To Use Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales

Notes:
- All the examples, above, of showing versus telling are copyrighted by Mr. Sawyer.

Photo credit: "I Love October" by Pink Sherbet Photography under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, November 21

Creating Memorable Supporting Characters

Crafting Memorable Supporting Characters

I try and do two posts a day and my previous post--Using Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales: Part 2--took up most of my blogging time.

But that's okay! Because I know what I want to talk to you about. I found a TERRIFIC post over on the wonderful blog The Other Side of the Story entitled 5 Tips for Developing Supporting Characters.


How To Develop Memorable Supporting Characters


Nancy Parker writes:
Some [writers] spend far too much time developing their supporting characters, and some spend far too little time doing so. Achieving a balance between the two, while difficult, isn’t impossible. 
Here are two of Nancy's 5 points:
 3. They need a little personality. 
You should always give your supporting character her own personality so that your readers remember who she is. This is especially important in books that have a wide range of characters, because if the supporting character lacks a personality she’ll end up getting lost between the pages. Whether that means that she’s the witty one, the one who is always forgetful, or the one who fulfills the role of the snarky sidekick is all determined by what void you want her to fill within the story.

4. You can have too many supporting characters. 
You also want to stay away with placing too many supporting characters into your novel. When too many of them are running around it starts to get confusing and hard to follow, and readers have to spend too much time trying to remember who did what and why they’re relevant. 
Great advice! To read tips 1, 2 & 5 click here: Guest Blogger Nancy Parker: 5 Tips for Developing Supporting Characters.

Other articles you might like:
- Using Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales: Part 2
- How To Design A Great Looking Book Cover
- Pixar: 22 Ways To Tell A Great Story

Photo credit: "Greetings!" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, November 19

Outlining: Kim Harrison's Character Grid

Outlining: Kim Harrison's Character Grid

A few days ago I wrote a post about how to use MS Excel to outline a novel. That post grew out of my own need for a visual structure, a way to see my novel in front of me all-at-once. (See: Using Excel To Outline Your NaNoWriMo Novel: Defeating the sprawl)

Today I want to talk about another way of using Excel to outline your novel: The Character Grid.

This method comes from Kim Harrison, author of the Hollows Series. Let's dive right in.

"My rule is no more than one scene shift per chapter, and try not to stay in any one place for more than two consecutive chapters," (Kim Harrison, Character Grid)


In the following, knowledge of the world of the Hollows is plus, but you can get the gist without it. The following should give you something of a feel for Kim Harrison's process. She writes:
Yesterday I rewrote my plot to take out the demon plotline and expand two others of crime and love. It made a much more tidy story and I was able to dig deeper into the relationships instead of skimming over them.

My one page synopsis turned into a 13 page synopsis, casually broken into maybe-chapters. Today I’m going to begin to break this up into clear chapters so I can better balance the entire work as to pacing, place, and characters.

I don’t want to spend too much time in the church, or be moving from place to place in any given chapter. My rule is no more than one scene shift per chapter, and try not to stay in any one place for more than two consecutive chapters. Same thing with characters.

Variety keeps the reader interested and the story moving. So to better see the patterns that the story is taking and head off any potential problems, I have come up with a character grid. It’s about the only piece of “software” that I use, and it’s just an Excel spreadsheet that I’ve modified to my needs. Here’s the one I used for ODW [Outlaw Demon Wails] [see Figure 1, below]. (I inserted the paragraph breaks) (Kim Harrison, Character Grid)
Here is Kim Harrison's Character Grid:

Figure 1 (Click to enlarge)

(Here is a link to the original character grid.)

Kim continues:
Characters are down the side, the locations of the scene are on the top, and the action is at the bottom.  (this is an early version, so it might not dovetail perfectly into the published book) The color shift is an indication of a change in day (which can be seen by the dates) and the chapter numbers are under that.  The Xs are when a character is an a chapter, and sometimes I use an O to indicate that they are in the chapter by way of phone or scrying mirror.  I usually have the month and day the book takes place in across the top, and the sunrise and set and average temps at the bottom, but I recently had a software upgrade, and I lost my headers and footers in Excel.  (sucks big time)

My character grid is how I first realized that Jenks was in almost every chapter in the earlier books, and I’ve become better at getting him out so other characters can shine.  It’s also how I know if I have a character who is needed for a crucial scene, and yet is not introduced anywhere until that scene.  Very bad.  Same thing with the bad guys.  I try to have them show up early, and then at least one more time before the end.  Another rule of thumb is don’t introduce too many characters in the same scene, even if they are returning characters.  I like to have only two at the most, and will break a chapter just to avoid this.

A character grid of some sort is also a great way to make sure that your male to female ratio isn’t wildly out of balance.  Mine usually slant to the male end of the ratio, but since Rachel is female it works out.  Oh, and when you go to rewrite and need to add something that revolves around a character, it’s really easy to go the grid, see where they are, and place your clue instead of spending an hour thumbing through the file and guessing where to put it is. (Kim Harrison, Character Grid)
Kim Harrison's post is one of the best I've read on plotting and structuring your work-in-progress and it's part of a series.


Kim Harrison's Series On How She Plots A Novel


1. Where you at in NaNoWriMo?
"Today, in my official Not-NaNoWriMo, I have again procrastinated with other work, confining my rough draft of book ten to ideas in my head. Tomorrow, I will pick up my pencil and write something down. Promise. How about you? Where you at?"

2. Writing starts with “I want”
"I’ve been developing my writing style for over a decade, and this is what works for me. There’s no wrong way to do it as long as you’re making progress.)
I want. . .
That’s what it’s all about at this point for me. What do I want to see or accomplish in this 500 page monster. So today I’ll be sitting down with about ten sheets of paper and a pencil."

3. Procrastination: I’ds da queen
"My word count is still zero, but I’m almost ready to start writing. My post yesterday gave you some indication of how I went about organizing my thoughts for a new book. Well today, I’m going to tell you exactly what I did."

4. Day Two Of The Plotting
"Well . . . I took my six pages of notes from Thursday and wrote up a free-flowing, one-sentence brainstorming list of “ways to start” and a list of ”ways to end.” I still don’t have a good way to start the book, and I won’t until I have the end, but my goal is to have in the first five pages the hint of the problem that is settled in the last so to make a full circle."

5. Character Grid
"For those of you who haven’t been to the drama box in a few days, I’m taking the opportunity of NaNoWriMo and me just starting rough draft to detail out my plotting process. Disclaimer:everyone writes differently, there’s no wrong way to do it. This is what I’ve come up with over the last ten years or so, and what works for me. It’s a process that’s still evolving. Oh, and my word count is still zero."

6. And on the fifth day . . .
"So far, while using my character grid, I’ve found that I’ve got a slow spot, and I moved some things around to quicken it up. I also named a new character, learned a few things about him, and Rachel has told me she likes him better than the guy I thought she’d be interested in. He kind of likes her, too, or maybe he just likes the way she makes him feel. (Be smart, Rachel.) I’ve also learned what the story is about besides solving the crime and settling the love interest. (By the way, it’s not settled.) What I’m talking about here is the character growth, I suppose. And without character growth, not only would the story be stale, but I’d be bored to tears writing it."

7. And now . . . it begins
"... again. (grin) Last night, I finished breaking my 13 page synopsis into chapters, using it as a guide to write about a page of handwritten notes about each chapter, being careful to include who is in it, where to begin, and what poignant thought to end it with. It’s here that I usually find my hook into the next chapter that gets you to turn the page instead of turn off the light and go to bed."

8. Last day to send me your costume pictures
"Yesterday I finally finished my plotting and started actually writing the thing. Taking my one page of notes on chapter one, I spent the morning writing out the dialog, then in the afternoon, I turned it into prose. Today I’ll take my one page of notes on chapter two and do the same, and in about three to four months, I’ll have turned my 27 pages of notes into a 500 page manuscript."

How do you plot your novel? Does it look anything like Kim Harrison's method? Thanks for reading!

#  #  #

NaNoWriMo Update: I'm at 35,528 words, so I caught up last night and did an extra 500 words. That makes me happy. Hopefully I'll be able to get up to 38k tonight. (fingers crossed)

Other articles you might like:
- Vanquishing Writer's Block
- How To Design A Great Looking Book Cover
- Using Technology To Sell Books: Quick Response Codes (QR codes)

Photo credit: "I Want To Believe … In Fairies" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.