How Women and Men Yak

Do women and men talk differently? Do they use different types of words and phrases, or speak about different topics? More importantly to you fiction writers, should you have your characters speaking differently depending on their gender?

women-and-men-yakkingThis blog post comes with a giant disclaimer. I’ll be discussing general tendencies, not rules. Rather than concentrating on having a female character “talk like a woman,” focus instead on having her talk consistently with her personality, age, nationality, time period, upbringing, geographical location, and gender. In other words, the way your characters talk depends on a lot more than gender.

Let’s examine those tendencies:

Women characters tend to:

  1. Commiserate, sympathize, and seek to understand the emotions, when speaking about another person’s problem, to help the person not feel alone in suffering;
  2. Establish, when speaking to another woman, the degree of closeness (horizontally), to seek areas of agreement, perhaps by revealing a secret about herself, or a personal story, demonstrating her willingness to be vulnerable;
  3. Interrupt, when the other person tells a story, to ask questions to push the story forward, or even co-author the story;
  4. Ask more questions;
  5. Explain or justify their actions and decisions;
  6. Describe things and scenes by emphasizing appearance and other senses, using a full palette of color words;
  7. Look or ask for validation, approval, or agreement periodically as they speak; and
  8. Look directly at the face of the person they’re talking to, or listening to, alert for nonverbal emotion cues.

Men Characters:

  1. Offer a solution when discussing another person’s problem;
  2. Seek to establish the relationship, when speaking to another man, in a (vertical) hierarchy, through mild insults, jokes, and one-upmanship;
  3. Interrupt to tell his own story, when the other person tells a story;
  4. Make more suggestions and assertions rather than asking questions, but when men do ask questions, they’re specific and focused, not rhetorical;
  5. Talk about what they did or decided, without offering explanations or justifications;
  6. Describe things and scenes according to functions, directions, and numerical distances and quantities;
  7. State their facts directly without seeking approval or agreement, without significant concern about the other person’s reaction; and
  8. Gaze elsewhere when speaking or listening, rather than looking at the other person’s face.

Which gender talks more? Apparently, studies are inconclusive. Therefore, it makes sense to let a character be talkative if it fits that character, whether male or female. You can have interesting combinations of chatty characters paired with silent ones, or two loquacious ones, or two quiet ones.

For further information, there are some great blogs and articles out there, like this one by Kimberly Turner, this one by Rachel Scheller, and this article in Salon by Thomas Rogers.

Let me reiterate the disclaimer. Everything I’ve noted above is a general tendency, not a strict rule. Use the information sparingly and for guidance so your fictional characters sound realistic. If you carry this too far, you’ll end up with stereotyped characters. Let their speech style flow from who they are, rather than just their gender. It’s easy to find examples today of people who speak with the tendencies of the opposite gender without anyone else noticing, let alone caring.

I know this is a touchy subject. Still, if I’m to bring you the best guidance possible to aid you in your writing, I can’t shy away from controversy. I must boldly provide this information without worrying about charges of sexism. I cannot do or be otherwise; I must be—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Dumped in the Middle of the Road

You’re reading along down the story highway, racing through action scenes, taking the dialogue curves at a good clip, the wind of the story’s world in your hair. All of a sudden, a truck up ahead upends its load and a pile of text pours onto the pavement, right in your path.

You’ve been stalled by an infodump.

Infodump

You come to a stop to decide what to do. You could plow right through it at slow speed, but you hate that. You could drive around, avoiding it entirely, but some of that text might be necessary to understand the story. If you’re in an angry mood, you could forget the whole book and move on.

An Infodump is one of the Turkey City Lexicon terms. It refers to a passage of text used to explain things and give background information to the reader. It can be one paragraph, or go on for several pages. It’s most common in science fiction and fantasy, where the story’s world is unlike our own, and you need to immerse the reader in it.

From a writer’s perspective, it seems so necessary to convey that information. The reader needs to understand certain things so later events in the story make sense. Many of the great writers of the past used infodumps; Herman Melville spent whole chapters that way, and it hasn’t hurt his sales. Oh, perhaps the writer could think of clever ways to work the information into the story, but who has time for that?

Better make time, you Twenty-First Century Writer, because readers these days don’t want to slow down and plow through your dump.

Here are some techniques:

  1. Delete it. What does that info add to your story, anyway? Do readers really need to know it? Are you dumping that load to help reads understand, or to show off your research or add credibility? If you can delete it, do so. If you can delete most of it, do that, and use other techniques to convey the rest.
  1. Work it into dialogue. Readers speed through your characters’ dialogue pretty fast, so inserting some of your infodump into their speech is one way to avoid slowing readers down. Caution: there’s danger here. You must not swerve into the As You Know, Bob lane. Make sure the dialogue is realistic as well as explanatory.
  1. Work it into the action. By ‘action’ I don’t necessarily mean fight scenes or car chases, but any passages where characters are doing things, moving about, or actively interacting with their environment or each other. It’s characterized by action verbs. It can be interspersed with dialogue, and often serves as a ‘dialogue tag,’ letting the reader know which character is speaking.
  1. Make it entertaining. If you can turn those smelly tons of interfering text into pure, golden fun, readers will actually enjoy the interruption. By ‘entertaining,’ I don’t necessarily mean funny, but humor is a great way to accomplish this, if you can pull it off. This method calls for considerable creativity and skill.
  1. Make it short. As a last resort, keep the infodump, but reduce its length. Readers may forgive a short, explanatory passage here and there.

I struggle with infodumps in my fiction, but it’s important to eliminate them where possible. Dump trucks are fine in real life, but when they drop their load in the middle of your story’s road, it really ticks off your readers. Not good.

Doing my part to beautify the nation’s literary highways and byways, I’m—

Poseidon’s Scribe

What the *Bleep*?

It’s been fun, interviewing the other authors with stories in Avast, Ye Airships! Perhaps in the coming weeks, I’ll be able to interview the rest. In the meantime, I’ll resume my normal Sunday postings of writing advice, and today’s topic is profanity in prose, damning in dialogue, characters who curSwearing in dialoguese.

Considerations

Before letting one or more of your fictional characters cuss, there are some thing to consider. First, does swearing fit that character? In real life, some people swear often; some reserve swear words for unusual situations; and others never utter any profanity. It can depend on a character’s background, upbringing, the character’s present company, the character’s age, the character’s feeling, and the situation.

Another consideration is your audience. Some readers get turned off by too much swearing. Some will even put down the book at the first curse word. Others read right through them without being fazed.

You should also think about the level of intensity of the swear word. Yes, they have levels of offensiveness. These levels are subjective, so what’s low on your list might be higher up for others. As an example, the “c” word for vagina is usually consider much more offensive than the words “damn” or “hell.”

It’s interesting to note the categories of swear words, and what it would say about your character if she uses words from one category only. Swear words seem to be broken down by (1) body parts, actions, or emissions, (2) races, (3) genders, (4) ethnic backgrounds, (5) religions, and (6) occupations.

Consider, also, the country and time period of your story. Swear words vary considerably by nationality and over time.

Methods

If you’re going to allow a character to swear, here are some ways to make it effective in your story.

First, don’t overdo it. For most people, swear words average 0.3 – 0.7% of the words we use, though for some the frequency is 0% and for others up to 3.4%. Overuse of swear words can turn off readers, and give the impression that the author doesn’t have much to say.

Consider the deeper meaning of Lord Byron’s quote, “He knew not what to say, so he swore.” (I swore less frequently after my mother-in-law referred to that quote.) Among other things, swearing can be a sign of low intelligence.

As an alternative to using swear words, consider using regular words in a way that accomplishes the same thing. I’m not talking about silly, substitute swear words like “freaking.” I talking about using regular words in imaginative, creative ways. My Dad said his Marine Corps drill instructor could chew out the platoon for ten minutes without using a single swear word, but every Marine felt he’d been cussed out. Here is a website with some great insults using no curse words at all.

Use swear words to reveal something about the character who speaks them. You can even make certain swear words into a character’s catch phrase. That can help orient the reader as to who is speaking when there’s a long string of dialogue without tags.

Be consistent. If a character swears once, have him swear throughout, though you can change swearing frequency or words as a way to emphasize a change in other aspects of the character.

In summary, don’t be afraid to let a character use profanity, if it’s right for that character and right for your story. But don’t go overboard. I’m damned right about that. I swear, or my name’s not—

                                                            Poseidon’s Scribe

Words You Hate…and How to Love Them

Hated WordsAdmit it. There are some words and phrases that irritate you. Words you wish others would stop saying. Words that shouldn’t have become trendy, but did, without anyone asking your permission. Words you think should be banned.

This blog post might cause you to think about those words in a different way.

First, what sort of words am I talking about? Some are used to fill up silence with sound, but don’t mean anything. Some occur at the beginning of sentences, others at the end. Some convey a meaning, but either the meaning is stupid, or the word’s trend has run its course. In the following sentences, the hated word is italicized:

I was actually so mad I could spit.

Anyways, that’s what I heard.

Anywhoo, I figured I’d head out to the park.

Duh.

Then I go “what?” and she goes “you heard me.”

Honestly [or To be honest], he was really mean to me.

Like, my math teacher is crazy.

When I said that, his head literally exploded.

Meh.

I know, right?

Say, are you doing okay?

See [or You see], it was like this…

So what are you doing today?

That was totally the best.

Then the, uh [or um or er], transmission thing failed and I had to pull over.

Well, I don’t know about that at all.

It was, you know, the funniest thing I ever heard.

Some of these may not bother you at all. Others may drive you toward causing great bodily harm. (My current pet peeve is starting sentences with ‘So.’) Each of us has different reactions to these words.

How is my blog post going to make you love these words? Simple. If you’re a writer of fiction, you need to understand that people really say (or used to say) these words and phrases in conversation.

For you, the words can serve several purposes. They can:

  1. Help distinguish one character’s speech mode from another—very helpful to a reader confronted with a long string of dialogue;
  2. Lend realism to your dialogue;
  3. Establish the historical timeframe of your story;
  4. Emphasize an age difference between characters, as when an older character uses “Well,” and the younger character uses “Like;” and
  5. Increase the hatred you (and possibly some readers) feel toward your story’s antagonist.

Let the debate rage here and there on the Internet about which is the worst word on the planet. You can even leave me a comment about your own personal, hated-word list. But you have to admit, those hated words can be useful to you.

So you’re actually starting to look at those, um, hated words in a different way, right? You’re starting to love them, aren’t you, as much as—

Poseidon’s Scribe

January 11, 2015Permalink

Your Writing Voice

Writers VoiceWe call it laryngitis when you lose your voice, but what if you never found it in the first place? To be clear, I’m not writing about a medical condition of the larynx, but rather about your writing voice.

Definition

What is a writing voice? I liken it to your vocal voice in that it is distinctively yours, an individual indicator like your fingerprints, your retina patterns, and your signature. It’s a marker that can be used to identify you.

In other words, a few paragraphs could be taken at random from your published stories, and a reader might be able to recognize that you’re the author.

Is your writing that identifiable? Is it unique? If not, how can you get to that point?

Two Elements

Before we arrive at a way to answer those questions, I’ll cover what I believe to be the two elements of a writer’s voice.

The first is the subject, the topic about which you commonly write. This can take the form of a genre or themeSomeday when you have compiled a full body of work and your name comes up, if people say, “That’s the author who writes about ______,” it’s that ‘______’ that forms part of your voice.

The other element has to do with style. It’s not just the subjects you write about, it’s how you do it. The Wikipedia article on Writer’s Voice suggests that this element; a combination of character development, dialogue, diction, punctuation, and syntax; is all there is to a writing voice. I’m not willing to discount the subject/topic element, though.

Discovery

How do you find your voice? This marvelous blog post by author Todd Henry provides a great way to help you find your voice by answering ten questions. These questions help you reach your inner passions and hopes. In this way you’ll touch the deep emotions and motivations inside.

Why does that method work, for discovering your voice? Certainly the answers will help you determine the subject half of your voice. The answers will suggest topics you should write about or genres to write in. Only by tapping in to your central core of strong enthusiasms will you be able to sustain the discipline to complete what you start to write. If you work at it, those deep hopes and passions will become evident in your writing.

What about the style element? How are you supposed to discover that? I’m not sure answering Todd Henry’s ten questions will answer that. I believe your writing style is a matter of imitation early on, then leading to experimentation, and finally perfecting.

No Guarantee

Let me set some expectations about this process of finding your writing voice. In the end, you’ll have a unique voice, one recognizable as you. That doesn’t mean anyone else wants to hear it. This isn’t a recipe for fame or financial success in writing.

I’ll write a blog post sometime laying out the sure-fire, step-by-step formula for how to become famous and rich by writing.

Sure. Keep checking back for that one.

What’s the point, you’re asking, of this voice discovery process? Why go through it? I’d answer that all the authors who are famous, or rich, or whose writing is considered classic, all of them have a distinctive writing voice.

I think finding your voice is necessary, but not sufficient, for success. You might discover your writing voice only to learn it’s not marketable. If high sales numbers are what you’re after, experiment more. Try slight alterations of voice until you hit the combination of subject and style that sells.

Best of luck to you in finding your writing voice. Still searching for mine, I’m—

Poseidon’s Scribe

October 19, 2014Permalink

Keep Up the Pacing

Today we’ll tread through the topic of pacing in fiction. If you’d like readers to maintain interest in your stories, you might want to step along with me.

PacingThe term ‘pacing’ refers to how fast the reader is reading, and the speed at which the story’s events take place. A good writer not only controls the pace of reading, but also varies that pace throughout the story. Fast-paced scenes are followed by slow-paced ones, and then another fast scene, etc. Jamming too many fast scenes together leaves a reader overwhelmed and lessens each scene’s impact. Slow scenes that are too long or not separated by a fast intermediate scene can bore the reader.

Even within a scene, some pacing should occur. There will be slightly fast moments in a slow scene and slightly slow moments in a fast one. Pacing relates to rhythm, and it’s important to keep varying it.

            Fast

Use a fast pace for action-packed portions of the story. Examples of emotions felt by characters in these scenes are anger, fear, energy, excitement, joy, and surprise.

Create a fast pace with short sentences and short paragraphs. Keep the writing plain, free of modifiers. Use brief and impactful verbs. There should be more dialogue, and it should be snappy. Some sentence fragments.

In other words, you’re maximizing the “white space.”

            Slow

A slower pace allows the reader to catch her breath and more fully absorb what happened in the faster scenes. A relaxed tempo serves to emphasize important points, let characters to refresh and recharge after action sequences, reveal character backgrounds and motivations, and permit characters to react and reflect on moments of high drama as well as to plan for future events.

The slow paced sequences allow better expression of these character emotions: anger, fear, astonishment, awe, and disbelief. Yes, anger and fear can belong in both the fast and slow parts.

To slow down the pace, stay with more narrative and less dialogue, make use of longer sentences, and embellish the prose with descriptions. Don’t overdo any of those, however; your aim is to keep the reader interested, not bore him.

Alternating

As mentioned, my advice is to alternate the fast and slow sections. Also alternate fast and slow paragraphs, and sentences within a paragraph. Such variation avoids monotony and keeps the reader intrigued enough to stay with your story.

This isn’t the only fine blog post about pacing. You can find others here, here, here, and here.  Thanks for striding along with—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Don’t Touch that Dialect!

As you write your fiction, should you have your characters speaking in dialect? By this I mean the purposeful misspelling of words in a phonetic manner to indicate how your character is speaking them.

The study of dialect is fascinating and, as a fiction writer, you should be familiar with the dialect used by your characters. But the question is whether to indicate some or all of the character’s word pronunciations to the reader phonetically.

One good reason for doing so is to show authenticity. Writing in dialect gives readers a great feel for the character, since you’re depicting the speech as it would really be. Also, the use of dialect allows you to distinguish characters from each other. If each character has a distinctive way of pronouncing words, that’s a help to the reader in telling them apart.

There are significant dangers in using dialect in your writing, though. First, it can slow down the reading process. Readers get annoyed having to stumble over your strangely-spelled words. Worse, they can get confused if you do a clumsy job of it and they have to stop and puzzle out what a character is supposed to be saying.

Worse still, you can offend a reader. These days, offended readers might not merely chuck your book, they can post scathing reviews which can really cut down on sales.

There are degrees of offense, of course. And attitudes change with time.  Just after Mark Twain wrote Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, readers were more put off by its crude and mildly obscene language. Now the main criticisms involve its depiction of the black slave character, Jim. In fact, it’s hard to even read the book these days because it comes off as racist by today’s standards. It helps, just a little, to realize that Jim is, in fact, a noble character. And ennobling, in the sense that he forces Huck to struggle with the values of the society he lives in.

Jar Jar BinksHowever, a worse example of offending an audience with dialect is Jar Jar Binks in some of the Star Wars movies.  Since Jar Jar is an alien, (a Gungan), writer and director George Lucas could have gotten creative and invented a new and distinctive dialect. Instead he chose to give this character a dialect nearly identical to that of Jamaican English. To aggravate the offense, he made Jar Jar a comic relief character, bumbling and rather stupid.

Getting back to the question of whether to use dialect in your writing, I suggest you use it sparingly, while being sensitive to the problems of confusing or offending your readership. There are other ways to convey the distinctiveness of a character other than dialect. These include word choice, grammar, idioms, slang, gestures and other actions, and clothing choice. I think writer Jennifer Jensen has some great advice on dialect here.

The story in which I used dialect to the greatest degree is “The Six Hundred Dollar Man.”  Only you readers can decide if the cowboy dialect of 1870 Wyoming was rendered well in that story by—

                                                           Poseidon’s Scribe

15 Writing Virtues

Many people believe you aren’t just stuck with the way you are now, that you can better yourself by persistent act of will.  I’m one of them, but let me just focus on self-help as it applies to the writing of fiction.

Benjamin_Franklin_1767Benjamin Franklin was an early example of someone who developed a program of self-improvement.  His method was to list thirteen virtues along with a brief description, then he would set about to focus on one virtue per week.  Franklin actually kept a log of this, giving himself a black mark on days he fell short.  Presumably, by focusing on one virtue at a time, it did not mean he was abandoning the others during that week.

Examples of his virtues include:

1. Temperance.  Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

4. Resolution.  Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

In the spirit of Benjamin Franklin’s list of virtues, I’ll offer some virtues of writing fiction.  I’ve grouped them into ‘process’ virtues dealing with how you write, and ‘product’ virtues dealing with aspects of the manuscript itself.

The Poseidon’s Scribe 15 Virtues of Fiction Writing

Process Virtues

1.  ProductivityFill hours with writing, not researching or time-wasting activity.

2.  Focus.  Turn off your inner editor during the first draft.

3.  Humility.  Seek other trusted people to critique your work; be receptive.

4.  Excellence.  Only submit work you’re proud of.

5.  DoggednessBe persistent in submitting to markets; be unshaken by rejections.

Product Virtues.

6.  Relevance.  Ensure your work passes the ‘So What?’ test.

7.  AppealHook readers from the first paragraph.

8.  Engagement.  Put your characters in conflict with something or someone; make the story about conflict resolution.

9.  Empathy.  Create vivid, engaging characters.

10.  Action.  Weave logical, interesting plots with appropriate causes and effects.

11.  Placement.  Provide clear but unobtrusive descriptions of the story setting, without overshadowing character or plot.

12.  Meaning.  Ensure your story’s theme explores eternal human truths.

13.  Style. Seek your own voice, then follow it.

14.  Communication.  Ensure your characters’ dialogue is appropriate and advances the plot.  (Mentioned here, here, and here.)

15.  Skill.  Salt your tales with symbolism and appropriate metaphors.

Your list would likely be different.  One way to go about it is to examine critiques of your fiction you receive from members of your critique group, from editors, etc.  Are there repeated criticisms?  Turn them around and express them as a positive affirmation or goal, not as a negative to avoid.  Those goals represent things to work on, and would be on your own list of virtues.

George Carlin fans would likely point out to me that there’s no such thing as self-help.  People who get their list of virtues from their critique group, or from this blog post, aren’t exactly engaged in self-help, since they got help from others.  Moreover, if beginning writers truly helped themselves get better, then they didn’t need help.  Witty gags aside, it can be a comfort to a struggling writer that there exist methods for improvement, but all I offer is a framework for starting; the writer must shoulder the burden of actually doing the work to improve her writing.

I’d love to hear if you’ve found my list useful, or if you’ve developed your own list, or even if you’ve embarked on a completely different method of improving your writing.  Let me know in your comments to this blog entry.  For now, back to improving his writing goes—

                                                            Poseidon’s Scribe

Giving and Receiving…Critiques

‘Tis the season for giving and receiving, so I thought I’d discuss critiques of fiction manuscripts.  Last time I did so, I said I’d let you know how to give and receive critiques.  My critique group meeting 2experience is based solely on twenty years of being in small, amateur, face-to-face critique groups; not writing workshops, classes, or online critique groups; so the following advice is tuned to that sort of critique.

First of all, to give the critique, keep the following points in mind:

  • Read the submitted manuscript straight through once, and just note where you were “thrown out of the story” for some reason.  Jot down why and come back to those points later.
  • Re-read the manuscript again. You could mark some of the grammar or spelling problems, but don’t concentrate on those.  The author wants you to find the bigger stuff.
  • Where there are stand-out positives (“Eyeball kicks” in TCL parlance) note those and praise the author.  The word critique should not have solely negative connotations.  A positive comment from you could keep the author from later deleting a really good description, metaphor, or turn of phrase.
  • Be clear and specific in the comments you write; avoid ambiguity.
  • Look for the following story elements and comment if they’re not present or they’re weak:

1.  Strong opening or hook

2.  Compelling, multi-dimensional, non-stereotypical protagonist with human flaws

3.  A problem or conflict for the protagonist to resolve

4.  Worthy secondary characters, different from the protagonist, who do not steal the show

5.  Vivid settings, not overly described

6.  Consistent and appropriate point of view

7.  Appropriate dialogue that moves the plot and breaks up narration

8.  Narration that shows and doesn’t tell.

9.  A plot that builds in a logical way, events stemming from actions that stem from understandable motivations

10.  A story structure complete with Aristotle’s Prostasis, Epitasis, and Catastrophe (beginning, middle, and end)

11.  Appeals to all five senses

12.  Active sentence structure, using passive only when appropriate

13.  Appropriate symbolism, metaphors, similes

14.  A building of tension as the protagonist’s situation worsens, followed by brief relaxing of tension before building again

15.  An appropriate resolution of the conflict, without deus ex machina, resulting from the striving of the protagonist, and indicative of a change in the protagonist

  • If your group shares comments verbally, do so in a helpful, humble way.

You think all that sounds pretty difficult?  Ha!  It’s much harder to receive a critique.  When doing so, here are the considerations:

  • Submit your work early enough to allow sufficient time for thorough critiques.  Be considerate of your group members’ time.
  • While being critiqued, sit there and take it.  No comments.  No defensiveness.  Just listen to the honest comments of a person who not only represents many potential readers, but who wants you to get published.

So, when it comes to critiques, is it better to give than to receive?  In contrast to most gifts, it’s harder to receive them, but it’s still a toss-up which is better overall.  But perhaps both are just a bit easier for you to deal with now, thanks to this post by—

                                                      Poseidon’s Scribe

December 30, 2012Permalink

Sorry, New Rule. You Can’t Do That!

In the original Star Trek TV series, there’s an episode where Captain Kirk invents a card game called Fizzbin in which he makes up the rules as he goes along.  The comic strip Calvin and Hobbes featured a game called Calvinball which may never be played by the same rules twice.

If you’re a writer of fiction, you might consider yourself to be playing such a game, too.  According to W. Somerset Maugham, “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”  With apologies to the famous novelist, I’d say the game has too many rules to memorize and they change with time, according to the tastes of readers.  Only by playing the game well can you can make money selling books.

You might try to emulate great writers of the past and imitate their writing styles, in an effort to achieve success.  Bad idea.  The rules were different in their time.  Let’s cover some of those former rules.

1.  Take all the time you need to create a vivid description, to ‘paint’  with words.  Writers of the 19th Century and earlier used extensive portrayals to convey the appearance of a scene or character, multi-paragraph descriptions abounding in adjectives.  That worked well in an era without movies or TV, but readers won’t wade through such long-winded descriptions today.

2.  Adverbs exist for a reason; use them.  Authors once used adverbs with abandon. Adverbs modify adjectives or verbs and often end in ‘ly’ like ‘crazily.’  These days it’s considered lazy to use too many adverbs, a sign you didn’t take time to select a powerful enough verb.

3.  Demonstrate your skill as an author in your narrative paragraphs; dialogue only interferes with that.  At one time, fiction was mostly narration, with occasional dialogue.  We’re now in an age of character-driven stories, and readers want characters to talk more.  No long, boring narrative paragraphs, and less narration overall.

4.  Incorporate a rather dull character who needs everything explained to him (even things he already knows); that’s a clever way to explain things to the reader. There was an era when authors could use this technique even if it strained the conversation a bit.  These days, that’s no longer tolerated and there’s even a term for it–As You Know, Bob or AYKB.  AYKB’s are tempting, an easy trap to fall into even if you make every effort to avoid them.

5.  Bring the narrator in as an entity the reader can trust, as one who helps foreshadow future events.  In a bygone past, writers could have the narrator speak directly to the reader.  And now, Gentle Reader, let us discover what Annabel must be thinking about this latest development.  That voice could be used to foreshadow future events in an ominous tone.  Little did Frank know, but his secure life would soon be altered forever.  Understand, it’s still okay to use foreshadowing, but do it with subtlety, and not with the narrator speaking to the reader.  Today that’s referred to as narrative intrusion.

6.  Find clever new ways to express your ideas.  As centuries of writers did this, many of the word combinations they used were so good the first time, they got used again, and re-used many times over.  And became clichés.  Now you don’t get to use those clichés, unless you add some twist on them.  Go think of your own clever word combo that might become a future cliché.  This rule didn’t change, but sorry, you can’t use the same tired clichés.

7.  Ease into your story by introducing the reader to the setting, time period, and major characters before any action occurs.  Readers in those times had nothing to compete with books for entertainment, and had the time to curl up near the fire and read a cozy story by its light.  Times are different.  You must grab your reader by the throat with a first sentence or paragraph that demands attention.  It’s called a hook, and stories without a good one stay un-bought.

So, are you up for a game like Fizzbin or Calvinball?  May the best writer win!  Unfortunately, the game’s rules aren’t known by you or—

                                                                    Poseidon’s Scribe

 

November 25, 2012Permalink