Tag Archives: Writing Toolbox

Toolbox 20: Say, what?

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.

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Does anyone else have trouble finding/sharing/maintaining a narrative voice?

It’s supposed to be familiar. Similar to our speaking voice.

Easily recognized by tone, phrasing, and specific word choices.

Some might recognize our voice by the abundance of profanity—think Margo in The Magicians—or lack of it. Professor McGonagall, I’m talking about you. We may get louder the closer to heart we are, or in some cases quieter.

We might color our language with our own kind of slang. I’m thinking TV’s Buffy and Firefly. Joss Whedon was a master. Some people still use the term ‘Scooby Gang’.

Unless they’re doing a Lemony Snicket, the writer shares as much about their likes and dislikes as the characters. Examples: Love of Scooby Doo, or the colorful addition of human or fairy anatomy.

Whether we mean to or not, our voices can add our assumptions and prejudices. Personal perceptions can be in every descriptor. Pet peeves or favorite outlooks influence our themes. Not intentionally but naturally. The words flow from our fingers like magic because we see the world uniquely and we feel the inner need to share what we believe in.

We feel. We color. We decorate our work.

And it is glorious!

Don’t edit it out. It may bring on feelings of insecurity, a need to pull back, or worry about going too far. It’s natural because if the voice is too close to home, we feel vulnerable.

With our voice out there for everyone to read, it could be criticized. Takes bravery to put our work out there as it is.

It’s hard to stick to our decision when we seek out feedback.

But should their opinions or our inner editor squash the nuance of voice? What would Joss say to that?

“What! No Scooby Gang.”

We may choose not to be the next Joss, or Lemony. Many authors use a more neutral voice. That’s fine too. Whatever works.

You want to use your own voice? Then give yourself the freedom to say it how you see it.

Any other voices out there? How about books on the subject? Feel free to share.

Gleaned from:

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Toolbox 19: Building Scenes

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.

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When I started writing, it was about escape. I’d leave my daily troubles behind me and visit a far off land with some far out characters. I never considered conflict or tension or any other writing convention.

I felt it was time for me to review building a basic scene. Many of you won’t need a refresher, but I did find some golden nuggets that might help any one of us.

…scenes strung together like beads on a wire, with narrative summary adding texture and color between.”

quote from Writer’s Digest.

A function of a Scene is to:

  • move the story forward
  • show cause and effect
  • reveal dilemmas and consequences
  • ensure the story is easy to follow

its Building material:

Paragraphs must not be ignored. Each starts with a topic sentence and is followed with sentences that add details, imagery, impact and emotion.

Each paragraph builds a scene block by block to its crescendo.

One Method of Writing a Scene:

1. Imagine the scene and let it play out. Do this several times increasing the tension between the players. Do not write a word until satisfied with the outcome. Make quick notes to capture the important points.

Look for the emotion driving the scene.

2. Using your emotion: Even if you’ve never experienced what is happening in the scene you’re building, there must be something somewhere that prompted a similar emotional reaction. Use it. Fill the pages not with your personal experience, but with the equivalent emotion that filled to you to bursting. This is not a time to hold back.

An example: Everyone has lost someone in some way. In your scene there is a sense of loss. Pull from the moment you discovered your loved one rejected you/died/moved away. Imagine the moment building. Feel the feelings. Let those feelings drizzle out in the scene in front of you.

3. Beginnings: As we do with sentences, changing length and style changes the pacing’s rhythm, some start organically. Many start at medias res, however, it is recommended to occasionally change-up the starting point.

Late starting points create urgency. Early starting point can create a slow burn. And jumping to a beat before the end can shock, surprise or incorporate the rule of cool.

4. Balance of action, narrative and dialogue. The balance of these elements engages the reader. However, balance is used loosely here. It may not be an exact split.

For example: A shouting match between two characters will lose its sense of urgency if its broken up with equal parts of description and narration.

*Inner thoughts—my Achilles heel—falls under this section. A personal reminder to me that unlike many authors that naturally include this, I must pepper my scenes with inner dialogue.

5. Pacing: short sentences for faster pace and urgency; longer ones for a more relaxed and slow burn. Whichever you choose keep it tight—no confusion, meandering, or overdoing it.

There is a perfect pace for each scene.

6. Endings: They can include disaster, a terrible/astonishing discovery, an unexpected chain reaction, unanswered questions or a straightforward solution. However, one player’s logical solution can easily become another’s horrific problem. Often endings take one step forward and two steps back.

This may leave an obscure future–with or without clear repercussions. The anticipated fallout encourages the reader to predict what may happen next. To find out if they are right, they  must turn the page.

All Scenes Should Have:

  • A clear goal (for each player)
  • Obstacles
  • Threat of disaster
  • Outcome that urges the reader forward

Some scenes are weak. I suggest taking a hard look at whether any scene should be deleted, or chopped up and interspersed elsewhere.

It must be revised/removed if it doesn’t:

  • Have conflict
  • Built tension
  • Have direction
  • Move the story forward
  • Contain an emotional impact
  • Show believable motivations
  • Change the overall situation

how to strengthen a Weak scene

Answering these questions may help:

  • What is the overall purpose of the scene?
  • How can the scene impact the narrative (subtle or not)?
  • What players need to be included or excluded to create tension?
  • Can changing setting (for example: marriage proposal moved from restaurant to seaside cliff) increase tension?
  • What twists can the scene produce?

Anything you’d like to add? All comments are welcome.

Gleaned from:

Toolbox 18: Third-Person Omniscient Point Of View

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.

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While I was soul-searching and reading about writing the mystery genre, I discovered several explanations of third-person omniscient pov.

The pros of third-person omniscient pov:

  • Narrator knows all: which is limited only by the pacing of shared information over time
  • The use of summaries, transitions and bits of telling are acceptable and encourage to maintain reasonable word count
  • Conflict shows each character’s deepest expressible traits during a scene or dramatic moment.
  • Small spurts of backstory—personal or worldwide—can introduce or quickly explain character behavior and social climate within scene.
  • The biggest advantage of the objective point of view is it allows the reader to make up their own mind about the unfolding events within the story.

Cons:

  • The lack of connection and sympathy for the characters because inner thoughts are used sparingly if at all.
  • Depends completely on descriptions of body language, dialogue, and reactions to concrete details to express each character’s emotional state.

Other Cons and their solutions:

  • Head hopping an be avoided by sticking to the narrator’s pov.
  • Info dumps can be avoided by using using restraint when including transitions, backstories, and summaries. Less is more.
  • Psychic characters. Writers must remember that the narrator knows all—not the players.

Objective vs Subjective

Objective (dramatic) third-person omniscient pov is more of a fly on the wall narration. Think of watching TV or a movie. The narrator’s voice is nonexistent. Character’s emotional state is shown through stage direction, body language, concrete details, foreshadowing, flashbacks, and dialogue. No internal thoughts are shared. Emotionally charged words like felt/assumed or angry/sad are avoided.

Therefore, the reader has to determine what each character is feeling and thinking through observation alone.

Subjective point of view has a strong narrative voice. It is intrusive and can be anyone: a child, pet, ghost, etc. The whole story is filtered through the narrator’s tone, attitude and the judgment of the players.

There is less distance, because it is possible for the reader get close to and/or sympathize with the narrator. Especially when done with a slice of comedy.

Omniscient vs Limited pov

Although both are similar enough to be used (almost) the same way during a dialogue heavy scene, they have quite different advantages.

Third Person Omniscient’s descriptors are slightly different in a tell-y kind of way. They can simply state what kind of person a character is: weak but honest, harsh and cruel. It allows for quick explanations. The showing is focused on body language, dialogue, and reactions to concrete details.

Third Person Limited has more show-y descriptors. They are the observations of the protagonist and reflect as much about the person sharing as it does about the character being described. Inner thoughts are deep and limited to the observer comments.

Why consider using omniscient pov at all?

Plot driven stories aren’t completely dependent on the reader-character connection. Depending on the scope of the story your trying to tell, it may help with an unacceptably large word count. Summaries and transitions allow the reader to traverse time and space quickly and easily. It also allows the reader to engage with the story without getting confused or lost in its enormity.

Is there anything I’ve missed? Please share, I’m glad to learn more.

Gleaned from:

Toolbox 17: Tracking Timelines—Story and Reference Material

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.

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Whether telling a story chronologically or not, there should be a record of what happened and in what order.

It simplifies things.

I started writing a little document for each story about how the suspects knew each other before the inciting incident (usually murder in my case) and their motives behind their behavior afterward.

This evolved into other reference documents.

historical event timeline:

Whether in bullet form or in a short description, the incident must have a detailed timeline. Because it is in these facts, the murder and its motives are rooted.

The frenemies of the suspect pool share a common point in their histories—a wedding, a funeral, a picnic, etc. Something happens there and this historical event changes all of them to some degree.

Whatever the occurrence, it is the source/motive of all their following interactions… with the murder victim as the linchpin in both events.

Because the relationships between the characters were solidified long before they met again, their resulting interactions are more organic.

Think of a family stricken by a death and the member’s individual reactions. Some may feel guilt or react so strongly they that it can’t be contained. Words are said that can’t be forgotten, and/or forgiven. Violence may break out.

Just as likely,  a love affair may be abandoned because of the event. Leaving one of both lovers pining or dreaming of what might have been.

Everyone goes back to their usual life, but their feelings rub raw over time.  These rifts, bonds, scars, obsessions, and unfinished business overflow into the story timeline.

historical event touches the story Timeline

Later in the story, the characters will reveal certain events which may not be correctly remembered by everyone or had festered within one individual, warping their memory. No matter what happened, however, these recollections are up to the reader to interpret when the frenemies finally have it out.

The chaos between the suspect pool provokes fake alibis, lies, motives to kill, and deep dark secrets revealed.

MURDER Timeline

In theory every suspect should have had an opportunity/means/motive to harm the victim. Only one commits the crime unless it’s an Orient Express retelling.

Again, whether in bullet form or not, a copy of the murder must be written down for reference.

Why?

Because if something in my mystery timeline prompts a change, I can easily update all my reference material.

Story Timeline

In MS Word, I use the chapter/scene headings and table of contents to track my timeline. In each heading I note the day and time. As I re-rearrange my work so it will read better, I update the table of contents which supplies a new list of headings.

Reading it, I can easily see if something needs to be fixed.

In Scrivener, I use the meta-data or scene/chapter synopsis section and track my timeline from there.

For both, I simply use: “Day One AM” or Day One PM”. I break it down further only if necessary.

My motives are simple. These three documents help me keep the facts in order so I won’t paint myself into a corner. It gives me an opportunity to update one central document as I rewrite. It also helps me find plot holes and gives me an opportunity to look objectively for plot twists.

I hope I’ve made my thoughts clear. If not, I welcome questions? Feel free to ask away.

Toolbox 16: Engaging the Reader

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.

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I don’t know about you but I’ve been asking myself this for some time. What engages a reader? That fell flat on its face, so I move on to why do I read.

  • Biggest reason is I’m looking for the next big story.

While I’m looking I’m okay with:

  • visiting to another world (fantasy or not)
  • enjoying a good laugh, surprises, crazy antics
  • solving mysteries

I thought long and hard about what makes up a great story. The Five (TV Series) comes to mind. It blew my mind, but I’m not talking. You’ll have to watch it yourself.

And The Magicians + the Wayward series (the books) were definitely good.

I Googled it. Online says its all about the characters. I’m not sure it is only the characters, but I have to start somewhere.

WHAT MAKES CHARACTERS COMPELLING?

My problem is don’t necessarily connect with the characters immediately but I do accept them. I’m like that with the people I meet as well. Be warned: it’s a personal thing that may slant my point of view.

Online suggests to write a compelling story, we must start with a compelling character.

Some traits to include:

  • well-rounded and random characteristics from all walks of life
  • a driving need, desire, ambition or goal
  • a deeply hidden, possibly shameful, secret
  • coping/not coping with a contradiction and vulnerability (ex. bravery = deep need vs fear)
  • showing vulnerabilities beneath a tough exterior (to the reader at least)
  • the constant pressure of the consequences of success and failure
  • the drive to face an opponent that has a better chance of succeeding than they do

What’s a hero without a villain

Something I love to see the protagonist and antagonist are both sympathetic characters. I love understanding and even agreeing with both sides. It makes for an undetermined outcome. (Rarely found in a mystery.)

Lets say we’ve done all this and the readers are still not connecting. What then?

Characters carry the reader with them throughout; but occasionally, it takes time to get to know them. Stalling for time….

The world

We might have a very strong woman on a vestroid in the Asteroid Belt. We don’t know why she’s there.

Why do we care?

We might not. But hey! we are experiencing the Asteroid Belt. Hopefully that’s cool enough until the reader gets into the murder, industrial espionage and characters.

I’m thinking of the Magicians and Wayward. Sometimes the world can draw a reader in.

The Stakes

It isn’t the actor as much as what they face that brings out the egads in us.

Our actor faces an incident that could shatter their outer world as well as their inner reality, leaving them changed forever. The consequences leading to something more unimaginable. And will not only destroy the protagonist, but everyone else in their world.

For example check out an episode of Manifest.

Whether or not we used the stakes as a draw, we need to express them as early as possible.

OUR MISSION AS WRITERS

All of us need to find a way to engage our readers. They’ve checked out our cover, and read the blurb. They’ve scanned the first few pages. Lets not lose them now.

Anything you’d like to add? I’m all ears.

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