I have a new short story published in Short Fiction Break:
It’s called The Olympics 400 metre sprint
“Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet.”
Becoming a talented writer is a hard job. It’s not easy to figure out how to write a plot with the perfect twist, characters so vivid they could walk off the page, dialogue with ironclad believability, all with a voice that captures readers and keeps them coming back for more.
Maybe you have days when you think about all you’ve written and wonder whether it’s all doomed for the rubbish pit. Having days when you question whether writing such drivel is worth it, or whether you should simply throw in the towel now.
Here’s the thing, though: the key to becoming a skilled writer is to write.
Wishing you were better won’t cut it. Neither will waiting until some future time when you hope you will be.
Want to be a good writer? Close Facebook, Twitter, and all those other pesky internet distractions. Shut the door so you can’t hear the TV blaring in the other room, or the clanking of pots and pans. Sit down. Moreover, just write.
I’m on day 75 of 100 while writing my first novel, in first person point of view. I’ve just spent about two and a half hours writing a scene where my private investigator has discovered a dead body and another character who was this woman’s partner has also arrived. So, crying and tears were all over the place.
I have to say as I was writing this scene putting down the dialogue and facial expressions, body movements and emotions, it has affected my own current state. I do feel some of what I’ve just written. I know it’s fiction and I’ve only made it up. But, it’s real to me.
It’s interesting how writing fiction scenes of sadness can affect your own emotions. I’m going to get on to the triumphant ending in about two weeks time so that, I hope, will generate happier internal feelings.
The dramatic question is probably the single most crucial element in an entertaining story. It lies at the heart of suspense.
The dramatic question centres around the protagonist’s central conflict. Here are a few examples of exciting questions:
Is Odysseus ever going to make it home from Troy?
Will Romeo and Juliet get together?
Is the old man, Santiago, ever going to catch another fish again?
Will Michael Corleone save his family?
Is Captain John Yossarian ever going to be able to go home from world war II?
The writer’s job is to pose the dramatic question, to make the reader want to answer “yes” to the problem, and then to create suspense by raising obstacles to the question.
One genuine way to build suspense is to have a false success, where the protagonist thinks they’ve answered the dramatic question, they’ve saved the world, they’ve solved the murder. Let your protagonist revel in their success for a while.
But, then, pull the rug out from under them. It always works…
“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”
― Franz Kafka
As writers, we can come up with some unique ways of looking at the world.
A man wakes up to realise he’s turned into a monstrous insect. A man attempts to interact with a strange, unknowable bureaucracy. Kafka imagined unconventional ways of interpreting the truth of reality.
We too have a unique perspective on the world. It might not be as bizarre as Kafka’s, or in many cases, it might be even more so.
Either way, merely own it. Don’t hold back—explore your ideas to their fullest degree. You can pull it all into shape in the, undoubtedly long editing process.
So just for now, follow all your crazy ideas as far as they’ll take you.
Today, let your book take an unexpected turn. Have you been wondering what would happen if your character said something extreme, or if they were faced with an unforeseeable plot twist?
I’ve discovered I’m drifting off into the Pantser’s world. So, take the risk and do it!
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”
In an earlier Blog post, I told you that to show and not to tell, and you need to be specific.
That’s true. The more you replace blanket statements with specific detail, the more you’ll immerse your readers in the scene.
However, on the other hand, you don’t need to describe everything. Including too much detail will distract your readers and derail the pace of your story. It could even make it more difficult for your readers to envision the scene in their minds—there won’t be any gaps for them to fill with their imagination.
If you were in the scene you’re writing, what remarkable details would you notice? So include those in your story.
Mention distinctive features of your character’s appearance. Describe vital aspects of the room in which your scene is taking place.
Leave the unimportant things to your readers’ imagination. As describing too much could turn us underwriters into overwriters, and the editing process would still be on the full side of things.
Submitting around 5000 words every Friday and critiquing at least three other people’s submissions. Just reading 15 to 20,000 words of other people’s first drafts, it does highlight things about the craft of telling a story that you had not yet considered.
Of course, there’s point of view, past tense, and for myself, there is the grammar: Ending sentences with prepositions and seeing comma splices all over the place, for me does produce an irritation, but there’s also dialogue.
When reading dialogue that someone else is saying with either profound accents or under some considerable stress, and reflecting this in the text does cause the flow of reading to have a hickup. Alternatively, even stop and have to go back and reread it, as I did in one case:
“Brian, I’m sure,” said Tom. “Pwease ret me goooooo!” answered Brian.
I’m not trying to say this is horrid, but my attempt to show this would be:
With maximum command in his voice, Tom said, “Brian, I’m sure,” as he held Brian’s neck as tightly as he could. Brian then struggled to answer, with much distortion in his voice, he said, “Please let me go!”
Concerning accents: One of my characters in my novel is from the south of France and in the UK. I do know a Southern French woman and can say that her English is remarkably good. Much better than my two to three phrases of French. Her accent is still profound, as is the character in my novel but I’m not adding any difference to the English text but using the description of the way she said it as I found in this link here; Writing dialogue.
I started off, a week before the start of the 100 days by finishing my outline of the whole novel and submitting it to the group on the WritePractice. On day 1 I started off with the confidence an outline supplies. Day after day passed and the few thousand words per weeks I was knocking out were getting critiqued.
100 days equates to 14 and a half weeks, with a Friday deadline each week for the 4500 words.
By the 6th week, I was already towards getting to the end of Act 2 and becoming ready for the shorter Act 3 finally. However, I still had 8 and a half weeks more time and words to produce. What was I going to do?
At week 6 of 14 and a half weeks, I sat back and realised I am an underwriter and not the prefered overwriter. I have been whipping through the story at a rapid pace just writing what the scene was and the dialogue that was needed. I knew where I was in the story and also knew where I wanted to be for the final scene.
So week 7 started my pantsing. I slowed everything down and went into detail about body movements and facial expressions, showing and being specific about things that were only needed for the story plot to proceed; everything else was up to the reader’s imagination to produce. From this pantsing, I have developed the story into what appears to me to be a much better style and complex narrative.
I would now say regarding outlining, it is much better for me to do a broad minimal outline with the start, middle and end. However, then leave space for my imagination to take hold of the narrative at the time I am writing it.
This is however, after all, just my own opinion.
The most straightforward rule to remember if you’re trying to show is merely to be specific. Specificity will fill in the gaps from your telling and bring life to your scenes.
Here’s a very tell-tale example:
They went to New York to see Cats. They both enjoyed it very much. When they tried to go home, their flight was delayed because of the snow, so they stayed another night and decided to see the musical again.
That’s a fun story. It’s all pretty vague, though, isn’t it?
Who is “they”? At what theatre did they see Cats? Why did they enjoy it? How did they feel after their flight was delayed?
Here’s that same example with some of those questions answered:
Tanya and James flew to New York City. “I can’t wait to see the show,” Tanya said as they checked into their rooms. “You’re going to love it.” James shook his head. “I don’t get it. It’s about cats who sing and dance? Sounds sorta dumb.” Tanya smiled. “Just trust me.”
Their hotel was just a few blocks from the Foxwoods Theater, so they walked. James had never seen any buildings so tall or so many people walking on the street before. When they got to the theatre, Tanya noticed his eyes were a little more full, his mouth a little slacker.
Those two paragraphs are not perfect, but it’s a little better. Instead of “they,” we now see Tanya and James. We know a little more about them, that Tanya is a little more cultured, while James is more wary of it.
Some suggestions on how a conversation operates in actual life:
When actual people say things, they look for a response. On the other hand, when they hear things, real people don’t always answer.
For example, someone will say something like, “Oh, it’s a beautiful day, today!” and then wait for the other person to return. Ordinarily, the other person says, “Yeah, it’s gorgeous, right?” But sometimes the other person doesn’t say anything at all. They grunt or roll their eyes or stare out of the window.
People learn how to do this as teens, and it’s a beautiful way to show underlying tension.
But, this isn’t fundamentally the end of the conversation, because actual people talk when no one is listening. Even when people don’t reply; real people keep talking a lot anyway.
This behaviour is an exceptional way to show annoyance if your character’s addressing someone, or insecurity if they can’t stand the sound of silence. It can even show some social clumsiness if they can’t pick up on some social signals.
On the opposite side, there are times when someone doesn’t talk at all. Sometimes, real people are too mad or too nervous or too moody or too much of a youngster to speak.
Don’t make your characters talk if they don’t want it!