Archive for May, 2016

LET’S GET EMOTIONAL

May 26, 2016

 

We’ve talked about several ways to get your reader involved with the material you are writing. Staying in viewpoint, having believable characters, engaging dialogue, all these things will keep your reader reading.  Perhaps the best way to involve your reader is through emotions.  Whether it’s more recent political ads or a block-buster novel, whatever appeals to your reader keeps them involved.

For example, a recent political advertisement in my corner of the world shows a young mother explaining how the current U.S. Senator helped push a bill to speed the acceptance of new drugs to assist her son.  Yes, you are sympathetic.  It is difficult to turn away and ignore the touching story.  To reject the ad includes you in a category of insensitive and hard-hearted. So emotion can be an integral part of a nonfiction piece whether you are talking about the recent controversy over oil fracking or an historic Civil War battle, emotion can keep your reader involved.

But how can I include emotion in my fiction writing, you ask?  Readers always identify with common emotions.  If your character cries over the loss of a friend or is excited over the addition of a new pet, emotions common to your reader will keep them wanting more.

Recently the writer of the novel I was reading said of the main character “her heart was breaking…”  In the circumstances of the storyline, my heart was breaking for the main character also.

Emotion is the universal tie between all humans.  Have you noted that when you smile at others they tend to smile back? Emotion is the writer’s greatest friend.  Whether laughing, crying, being angry, loving or hating, your reader can identify.  Remember the reader’s heart is the writer’s open door.  Use emotion often in your writing.

For some solid emotion writing, I recommend A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY by John Irving or THE RESCUE by Nicholas Sparks.

Next time we’ll talk about writing style.

 

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VIEWPOINT TRANSITIONS

May 19, 2016

I’d like to cover two aspects of transitions in one blog this time.

Point of view is key to well-written prose.  Point of view (viewpoint) is the way to keep your piece showing rather than telling.  The story needs to belong to someone.  Someone needs to own the problem.  The problem owner is your viewpoint character.  You’re on a long journey with this character, so make sure you’re like them.  If you get five pages into your story and decide you can’t “stand” this person, you’re going to have to start again.

Here are several pointers about viewpoint:

  1. Short stories are not long enough to indulge in numerous viewpoints. Pick your main character and stick with them.
  2. If your main character in the short story can’t see the action you are describing—it didn’t happen.
  3. Multiple viewpoints require multiple paragraphs-one for each viewpoint. Once again, only in longer pieces, and only in longer pieces like a novel or a longer article.  Remember to delineate viewpoint shifts by a new paragraph, if not a new chapter.
  4. If not handled well, viewpoint shifts can alienate your reader. (Read that as make you reader quite reading the piece.)
  5. Numerous or poorly presented viewpoint shifts can be very disturbing to your reader. Try to avoid frequent shifts.

Dialogue transitions are another challenging aspect of a writing piece. Remember dialogue moves the story at a quicker pace than narrative.  When transitioning into dialogue, remember the dialogue is not just there to speed-up the pace; it must have something to do with the story.  Dialogue can give the main character information about action in the story that the main character wasn’t privy to.  Smooth transitions in and out of the dialogue gives the reader necessary information.

Next time we’ll talk a bit about putting emotion into your writing.

TAKING YOUR READER BY THE HAND

May 12, 2016

This time we’ll talk a bit about transitions.  I’ve alluded to this subject in a couple of blogs in the past but not really discussed them specifically.

Transitions are part of the reason your reader sticks with you and finishes your writing piece.  Transitions are important in both fiction and nonfiction, so you article writers shouldn’t go to sleep here. You have to keep your reader reading.  I know I’ve said that a million times before, but it remains an important part of writing.

Usually a context clue or two will give your reader the clue that you’re moving elsewhere in the story.  Things like “he remembered when…” or “the smell of chocolate chip cookies reminded her of…” will help your reader stay with you as you transition to a new part of the story.

Recently I read a contest entry where the transitions between time periods were so bad I had whiplash when I finished the story.  Take your reader by the hand and lead them to the next part. Don’t leave them standing on one side of the river/story while you bravely forge on.  Most readers will stop reading if they get lost.  Article, short story, or novel if the reader gets confused, frustrated, or lost; they will close the page on the piece and wander off to other pursuits.  Generally, life is too short for most of us to try and “figure it out.”

Double-double spaces will ease your reader’s anxiety and keep them on track if the material is longer than a few sentences.  Sometimes a chapter break also helps with transitioning your reader to a new time period or scene.  Don’t be afraid to write a short chapter, and then break to a new part of the story.  I remember a conference speaker saying once that everyone has to go to the bathroom sometimes.  Short chapters help with that problem.

I’m sure you’ve read pieces where you stopped and said “Huh?”  When it happened, that was a bad transition.

For some excellent transitions, I recommend reading Connie Willis’ LINCOLN’S DREAMS.  It’s an excellent book and the transitions are superb.

I’ll talk a bit more about viewpoint transitions next time.

FLASHBACKS:ARE THEY OKAY OR NOT?

May 6, 2016

 

Bits and pieces of your characters’ lives are what make the story interesting.  Are you going to begin your writing piece at the character’s birth or are you going to give  your reader that little tidbit that can explain why the main character reacts or acts the way he or she does?  Sometimes flashbacks are necessary.  If the smell of fresh baked gingersnaps reminds the main character of why he hates Christmas, it might be extremely important to the storyline of your novel especially if it sends him on a killing spree.

A brief flashback of gingersnaps baking followed by a cruel beating by grandpa will give your reader insight into the viewpoint character.  A few sentences “flashing back” to the incident allows your reader to experience the story.  It is also a perfect way to use the sense of smell to enrich your story as we discussed in the previous blog.

FORMATTING FLASHBACKS:

If the flashback is two sentences or less, it can be introduced with just a statement like “He remembered when…”

Longer flashbacks should be prefaced in the text with a double, double space going into and coming out of the flashback.  Flashbacks used to be indicated by a series of asterisks or pound signs but this technique has fallen out of favor so the double, double space is the accepted format now.

NOTES ON FLASHBACKS:

  1. Remember flashbacks help give necessary information for the reader.
  2. Flashbacks shouldn’t be inserted to “pad” the manuscript. They should be added to give necessary information.
  3. Flashbacks help “flesh out” your characters.

When flashbacks are written and used effectively, your writing piece becomes better, more interesting, and readable.