Writing What You Want

Friday, April 30

I've repeatedly said in posts that "You are the author. The decisions are up to you. It's your book, do whatever you want..."
But sometime you have to sacrifice what you want for what makes sense.

I've developing another rough draft on the side. In it, I want the main character to fall in love with this girl. But that messes up my plot and destroys the personality I've created for my character. As much as I'd love a love story, I can't do it while retaining the character's true form (and the girl doesn't deserve him anyway.)

R.L. LaFevers, when writing Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist, created a character that she didn't want. On her blog, she said;

While I was writing the first book I ran into the problem of Nate and Aunt Phil having to travel all over the world...and how to make it interesting rather than episodic or a simple tour guide recounting. Drama, I thought! I need to increase the tension! Make Nate proactive!

So I had Aunt Phil send Nate out on the wing to go up to the propeller and see what was gumming up the prop...
And much to everyone's surprise (not the least of which mine) it was a gremlin who was gumming up the works and out she popped into the story.
B-but . . . I didn't want a gremlin in the book! It didn't work! It mucked up the world I was building and mixed mythologies and . . . and . . . No, I wailed!
But try as hard as I might, I simply could not write the book without her. And if you know how life works, it is probably not surprising to learn that for many readers she is one of the most popular parts of the book.
Sometimes, no matter how badly you want something, your book must come first.
Hey, no one ever said writing a novel was easy.


Elements of Fiction: Conflict

Monday, April 26

Conflict is what drives the plot.
One has to keep in mind though, that while problems create tension and drive, the conflicts are a result of your character's actions. Problems should never be inflicted for the sake of problems. Your character is not a leaf being blown from action scene to action scene. The situation must result from their own actions.
There are several ways to torture your character.

Man vs. Self
This is the internal struggle your character faces. I believe this should be prevalent in all stories. All of us have felt confusion, guilt, or hesitation. Your characters should too. However, conflict of this nature usually stems from other sources.

Man vs. Others
Most stories involve a human antagonist. They dislike/hate each other for various reasons. Usually, it comes from one trying to control the other. This is the frequent conflict found in books and can lead to other tension.

Man vs. Society
One of the toughest problems to face is the world's idea of what's right. Society and government try to force characters to conform to set standards. This includes, but isn't limited to, racism and sexism.

Man vs. Nature
Characters in this situation fight against animals, natural disasters, or the weather. This can include becoming stranded, lost, or a victim of a natural disaster. It can be anything as small as a simple inconvenience, such as getting caught it the rain.


Writing Dialogue: Brackets

Friday, April 23

Brackets are adverbs that describe how a character said something. They have a tendency to be over-used. Brackets should only be used when the tone is not completely evident.

"I love you," she whispered quietly.

'Quietly' is unnecessary. We already know that she's speaking softly because she 'whispered.'
 Let's take a couple more examples.

"It's a book," she stated.

It's obvious that she's making a statement. We don't need to use 'stated'.

Back in fourth grade, your teacher probably told you that 'said' is boring and you need to replace it.
This isn't true.
The word 'said' blends into the background. This is a good thing. If characters are in the middle of a heated argument, you don't want to break the pace.

"I don't need your help," he hissed.
"Oh, I think you do," she remarked.
"I can take care of it on my own. I don't need you to look after me," he countered.
"Look, I'm coming with you," she snarled. "You be dead within ten minutes by yourself."
"Fine," he conceded. "But don't slow me down."
"I won't," she spat.

While some of these verbs are good, the argument itself is choppy because of all the words.  Brackets themselves should only be used when the verb is contrary to the tone.
"'I hate you,' she said angrily" has an unecessary bracket. However, "'I hate you', she said teasingly" tells us that she doesn't really mean what she's saying.
Let's try the argument again, and add some brackets;

"I don't need your help," he hissed.
"Oh, I think you do," she said.
"I can take care of it on my own. I don't need you to look after me."
"Look, I 'm coming with you," she snarled. "You'll be dead within ten minutes by yourself."
"Fine, but don't slow me down."
"I won't," she said smugly.


Elements of Fiction: Mood

Tuesday, April 20

Mood creates a tone for a particular scene. Mood is usually created to foreshadow events that will soon occur. Without mood, the story fails to excite emotion. There's a couple ways to create mood.

Actions and Thoughts
No matter how dark the alley, if your character is whistling cheerfully, completely unnerved, the scene will end up far from sinister. To create mood, use a character's actions and thoughts to reflect future events. Example;

Jack glanced up furtively, drawing his coat closer. Why did I come? He asked himself silently. He stamped his feet against the cold and peered down the darkening street. Jack fingered his knife's bone handle. If Michael doesn't arrive soon...
The sound of voices made him start. Jack pressed himself against the worn wall, gripping his blade tighter. Kill first, ask questions later.

We can tell that the character is wary, even desperate. This sets the stage for suspense.

The setting itself can add to a scene's atmosphere. By highlighting aspects of a character's surroundings, you can manipulate the mood.
"A cold wind nipped at his coat like a stray dog" conveys a different emotion than "A cool breeze playfully tugged at  his coat."
Let's try the same paragraph, but focus on the character's surroundings.

A cold wind blew back his coat, revealing the knife tucked in his belt. His footsteps echoed down the darkening street. The noise startled two ravens, which leapt to the skies, cawing. A tattered flag writhed atop a roof, declaring the building below to be the inn he was searching for.

The way you describe a setting greatly influences the mood.

Now let's try combining the two methods and see the effect.

Jack glanced up furtively. A cold wind blew back his coat, revealing the knife tucked in his belt.He quickly drew his coat closer, fingering the knife's bone handle.
His footsteps echoed down the darkening street. The noise startled two ravens, which leapt to the skies, cawing. He glanced up, pausing. A tattered flag writhed atop a roof, declaring the building below to be the inn he was searching for. Jack ducked onto the doorstep.
Why did I come? He asked himself silently. He stamped his feet against the cold. If Michael doesn't arrive soon...
The sound of voices made him start. Jack pressed himself against the worn wall, gripping his blade tighter. Kill first, ask questions later.


Showing Not Telling: Action

Friday, April 16

Sometimes we all get so caught up in the showing not telling rule that we become obsessed with it and reject anything that doesn't hold true.
There are exceptions. Action scenes are one of them.

Several aspiring writers I've talked to all claim they're terrible at writing an interesting action scene. When I ask why, most shrug and say that they just don't "have the knack for it."
What I've discovered is that most fear telling too much.

When writing an action scene, feel free to tell. It's dastardly difficult to show all the time; impossible in some cases.
Let's examine an action scene;

Max yelped. The bullet had hit him. He stumbled. He clutched his shoulder and ran. More shots echoed from behind. One narrowly missed his heel and sent sparks flying from the concrete. Max dove to the side and under an overturned car. He fumbled with his own gun and tried to take of the safety with one hand. Another shot slammed into the vehicle above his head. Max ducked.

Now let's try to add some showing to the scene;

Max yelped as hot lead seared his flesh. He stumbled, using the hand not clutching his shoulder to stop his fall. More shots echoed from behind, forcing him into a run. Sparks flew up from the concrete as a bullet narrowly missed his heel. Max dove to the side and under an overturned car. His free hand fumbled to take his own gun off safety. Max ducked as another shot slammed into the vehicle.

If you'll notice, not every sentence is showing. But there's enough sprinkling of it to make it interesting while maintaining the pace.


Writing What You Know

Monday, April 12

I've often heard the phrase, "write what you know." Until recently, I didn't understand what that meant.

This "rule", when taken literally, would prove too limiting. After all, how many of us have been kidnapped, fought a dragon, flown to the moon, traveled back in time, or saved the world? Not many.

You don't need to experience something to write about it. The whole story does not have to be familiar to you. But, as a human being, there are some things you do know.

We all feel. You know what it's like to be furious, depressed, and euphoric. You can take this knowledge and use it to gage your character's reactions.
What's it like to lose a loved one? How did you feel?
If your character is going through the same ordeal, you can describe the pain and loss because you felt it.

In Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, the reader is given a glimpse of Phoenix, Arizona. This was something Meyer knew well, since she grew up there.
Granted, you don't have to live somewhere to write about it. But we can draw conclusions based on what we do know.
For example, I've never been to New York City. But I know what it's like to be in other cities, therefore I can assume its loud, busy, crowded, and vandalized.

For fantasy writers, writing what you know can seem impossible. You don't know what it's like to stand by a river in a fictional world. But you do know what a river is like. You know the feel of water, the gentle pull of the current, the muddy bottom. We can base our impossible worlds on things that we know from this one.


Choosing a Notebook

Friday, April 9

Your writing tools are the keystone of your creativity. The notebook and pen you choose are important.

I like to choose a cheap  spiral notebook. For me, those fancy moleskin notebooks put too much pressure on the writer. You feel like every word has to be brilliant. But brilliance is impossible in a rough draft. Save your money. A notebook from Walgreens works just as good, and you feel more relaxed scrawling in it.

The paper quality is also important. There's nothing so frustrating as erasing a hole in your masterpiece. Choose paper that won't tear easily.

I would suggest getting a thick notebook. When I started writing in my three subject notebook, I thought there was no way I would fill all those pages.
I did.

On the subject of composition notebooks; just say no. The paper comes out too easily. If that's the way you like, than fine. But be sure to number your pages or it'll all be a mess. I chose to write my 1st novel in a composition. After the binding broke it took me two days to decipher my handwriting and put my worn novel back into chronological order. (I'm still not 100% sure it's right.)

Depending if you're spatial or not, the color is relatively important. I try to choose a color that matches the mood of the story I want to write. (Hence, black notebooks tend to lead to YA fiction.)

But the most important aspect of a notebook is that it has to work for you. You're the writer. Try to find a notebook that makes you excited every time you see it. A notebook that you can carry around without feeling stupid. A notebook that reflects your personality. A notebook that will inspire you.


Finding Time to Write

Monday, April 5

It's a problem every writer will face. There is no magic solution. You need to change something; you need to make time, or find time.

Writing entails using every available moment. There are times when you're sitting around doing nothing. Use that time. Utilize your lunch breaks, time in the waiting room, the bus, or the dull parts of a professor's lecture. And if you think it looks lame walking around with a notebook, there's nothing stupid about an intelligent person fufilling their dreams.

Or make time. Clear out your schedule. Hey, instead of spending three hours on Facebook, why don't you write? Decide not to watch that movie, and use those two hours to your advantage.
I'm not saying cut all communications with family and friends. You have to gage for yourself if a certain activity is worthwhile.

In addition to all that, set aside a specific time to write each day. Try to write daily, even if you're not inspired, even if you'll end up trashing everything you wrote anyway.

It takes dedication.
How badly do you want to get it finished? To get it published?
Only the most determined of writers succeed. Decide now to be that writer.


Arming your Character

Friday, April 2

Picture by YagaK.deviantart.com

Whether villain or hero, characters need the means to defend themselves.
Or attack.

Who uses this: Physically weak people, cowards, those confident enough in their mental strength, characters not used to weapons.

Non-violent defenses are primarily based on wits. Rather than use weapons or brute strength, these characters rely on their intelligence and cunning to get themselves out of trouble.

Examples: Planning, lies, persuasion

Who uses this: Characters who are strong, bloodthirsty, skilled, or have no other choice.

These weapons are are used to cause physical damage. Often, the weapon your character prefers represents their personality.

Knife/Dagger: Sleek, careful people favor this. It's easily hidden and practical for small, quick attacks.

Sword: This usually brings to mind  a well-built, often noble, character. While the sword can do more damage, it's not as easily secreted as a knife. The thickness of the sword depends on th character. Are they one to use a heavy broadsword or a lithe rapier?

Axe: Only the strongest can weild this. Very obvious and dangerous. Tends to result in a bloody scene.

Bow/Crossbow: What better way to attack an enemy than from a distance? While the bow is easy to carry, It's effectiveness depends on the archer's skill. A crossbow is heavier, but can be used by the untrained to deliver heavy blows.
Quick, wiry characters are most often seen with a bow while the crossbow is more for the strong character.

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