Saturday, November 28, 2009

Writer's Cramp

Been busy over this Thanksgiving break, but have managed to get some writing done. Unfortunately for this blog, the majority of that writing has been for my novel, which is just for fun. It's fan fiction which means it uses a setting which has already been established. Legally, this means I can write all I want as long as I never make a penny off of it, which is fine by me.

To that aim, I have also been reading a book which has given me great insights into the art of writing fiction. It's called Make A Scene, by Jordan E. Rosenfeld, and I have been engrossed in the incredible insights it has into making fiction *good* fiction. For any aspiring writers out there, let me mention a few ideas I have gleaned:

1. Every scene must have a purpose. It must reveal information or tell us something about the characters that is pivotal to the plot. The main character might be fascinating to you, but the fact that his boyhood dog broke its leg or is repelled by acorns is irrelevant and will bore the reader.

2. Keep them wanting more. Don't reveal everything at once. Make it a MYSTERY. Why does the main character become stone cold silent when his past is mentioned? Why are he and the antagonist sworn enemies? This allows you to feed it to the reader in bits, like a trail of bread crumbs, with the pastry or danish along the way as a reward.

3. NEVER reveal plot secrets through narration. Always reveal the answers to the stories questions through action or dialog. Let me give a familiar example that will help explain.

Luke sat at the desk in his study. There had to be a connection. Why was Vader interested in *him* of all people. And why did *he* have the force being just a poor farm boy from Tatooine? "Of course!" he thought as he smacked his fist into his hand. Darth Vader was his father!


Darth Vader loomed above Luke on the small platform, the wind swirling his black cape. Luke hung on beneath him, the depths spiraling down below. "LUKE. I AM YOUR FATHER. Join me, and together we'll rule the galaxy as father and son!" Vader leaned over, extending his open hand towards his son. Luke's face contorted, twisting in rage and anguish. "NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!" he screamed, the truth slicing him to the core of his soul. He looked up one last time, then in defiance, consciously let go of the handhold, falling to his certain doom.

Now THAT'S drama, baby! Basically, its just more effective to reveal plot information through action and dialog because it allows characters to respond, and the reader to respond along with them.

4. Vary the pace. Action. Suspense. Conflict. Followed by a slower pace. A time for rest. Then speeding things up again. Yes, its the same dramatic formula that is used in every professional wrestling bout, but it works. Here are two examples of how not to do it:

In the TV show 24, many times the action gets so very hectic that it takes 3 split screens to show all stuff going on, simultaneously. It's action overload. Then, it never stops. The characters continuously whisper to each other until it gets so annoying that I start rooting for the bad guys to win. WILL YOU JUST KILL THEM SO THEY WILL SHUT UP????? They are seriously insulting my intellect by expecting I suspend my disbelief.

In Asimov's Foundation series there is a serious lack of action. many of the events are just intellectual excursions. hundreds and hundreds of pages of narrative, discussing thoughts that are a work of genius, but lacking any action whatsoever. the pace stays the same. It just goes on... and on... and on... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.................

5. Start the story with something interesting, which will have the reader asking questions. In movies, this is called the "teaser." It's meant to grab their attention and keep it. It does not have to be a chase scene like in the Bond movies, but it should center on some kind of action and tell us something about the main character.

6. The middle of the story is meant for conflict. Throw that hero into the fire! (figuratively) Then once they are out of the fire, throw them into the bigger one you have planned! Let that villain triumph and sneer with contempt as he throws the switch (or does whatever he would do considering the characters, revealing the hero's secret, beats the boxer to a pulp, steals the boyfriend/girlfriend, etc.)

7. The end of the story should always be the highest point of tension in the novel. Use that foreshadowing you planned earlier. Put in a twist or two- then wrap it up, tidying up the last loose ends.

These are some of the many of the changes I have planned in my first rewrite which will make the novel a much more compelling and tightly woven story. Make a Scene is everything I have been looking for in a book about writing fiction, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who writes fiction for creative satisfaction.

armchair coach
amateur historian