Monday, July 28, 2014
Scenes to Summarize (or even skip!).As I've said before, you can usually skip over or summarize with a sentence the things we all do every day: hearing the alarm clock, smelling coffee, showering, getting dressed, etc. UNLESS one of these actions is crucial to the story. Readers assume your character won't go to work in his underwear. Don't waste readers' time with coffee sipping, newspaper reading or breakfast eating. You can safely omit these "morning" rituals.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Writing Tip for Today: Identifying three important levels where pacing is crucial can help you make your novel much more readable.
Main Plot Forward Movement
In each chapter you write, no matter how many scenes it contains, must advance your main story (what the Main Character wants more than anything, the identified goal or how the journey proceeds) or it will feel repetitive or worse, stagnant. Take a look at every new chapter and analyze it by identifying exactly how the main plot line is acted out therein. Compare this movement (or lack thereof) to both the previous and the following chapters. Think of your novel as a giant board game. Every chapter is a roll of the die to see how many spaces your character moves, if he gets sent back to "Go" or if she's collecting rent on Boardwalk Ave. Every chapter must advance the story, even if the progress seems backward. Toward the beginning, these "reversals" and "complications" occur more often and after the halfway mark, the character doesn't encounter many new problems but works to solve the ones which already exist.
At the chapter level, you as writer decide how many scenes to include. A general rule is that you break a chapter at the end of a scene, and not usually in the middle of one. Cliff hangers are best revealed by leaving an important question unanswered until the reader turns the page and a new chapter begins. The pacing of a chapter will vary by genre, but in general, a more literary work might have lengthy chapters, whereas murder mystery chapters are often shorter. Some believe that chapters should all be about the same length. I don't mind a short chapter unless it's short for no apparent reason. A brief chapter should signify high tension or drama. My chapters tend to run between 2500 and 4000 words, which is a typical length. Pacing at the chapter level also deals with patterns. Readers look for patterns. If all the chapters except a few are the same length, readers wonder why.
The most important pacing occurs at the scene level. Pacing here involves length of sentences, ratio of action to narrative and range of emotions, to name a few. Be sure you act out the really important and tense moments where there's something important on the line. This is the reason writers are advised to skip over travel from one place to another, introductions and chit-chat. If you act out tedious or mundane stuff (getting out of bed in the morning, sipping coffee) readers will flee. By skipping or using brief narrative summary (He drove to McDonald's.), you control the pacing.
Monday, July 21, 2014
A writer I once taught was working on a novel about war in the Middle East. The characters were well-drawn and the writer was skilled in writing dialogue. The problem was, instead of actual battles, the scenes were about what the military guys were planning to do. The officers stood around in the "situation room," moving the little toy tanks and ships on a map. But really, they weren't doing much except for talking.
Writing Tip for Today: Here's why it often makes no sense to write (or keep) "situation room" scenes:
Where's the Tension?
Writing a scene where your character makes plans to do something is difficult to keep taut. Often, it's a lot of hot air. And if the next scene plays out those plans, what purpose does the previous scene play? The only way to justify a "planning" scene is if you keep your characters at odds. If one character is opposed, you might be able to reveal character and move the story forward with a short scene acting out the objections. But if your "planning" scene is similar to the actual doing scene, my feeling is that it's better to dramatize the ACTION and save the planning for a brief narrative summary. (EX: I asked him for a date next Saturday. He said yes.)
Don't Make Readers Suffer.
Sometimes we write scenes where the character suffers from boredom or annoyance or other unpleasantness such as waiting on a long line. If we give a blow by blow account of hearing a baby cry or of standing in line, our readers may be tempted to flee.Don't be tempted to act out the scene in a way that forces the reader to suffer in the same way. Instead, give the FEELING of these things without actually making readers go through every minute of some awful or repetitive event. The Rule of Three may be handy. After the third mention that the film was long and boring, the reader gets it.
Mine the Action Gold.
Generals love to strategize (blab) in the "situation room," but readers want ACTION. That is, the reader feels more satisfied with actual events than with lip service to events that may or may not occur. By resisting the urge to write "Situation Room" scenes, you are also Resisting the Urge to Explain (RUE). Write these scenes if you must to tell yourself how the story goes, but upon revisions, omit them and go with scenes where something actually happens and the tension rises.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
We spent last post discussing what qualities make a character unforgettable--the main character. But what about the story's "baddie" or villain?