Bungee jumping, sky diving, secret mission, Indy 500: how do these events compare to the art of fiction writing? Each one brings to its ‘doer’ an element of anticipation, exhilaration, unfamiliarity, and adventure. A pure adrenaline rush. And as a writer of fiction, this is the plateau you want your reader to experience.
Straying from the anticipated ending to a twist makes for good reading, pleasing the editor, and upping your chance of getting accepted. But be wary. Your twist should conform along the lines of the story you have crafted thus far. Not an easy task to accomplish, but plausible.
For example: fifteen-year-old John stole the answers to his exam from his teacher’s desk. Throughout the storyline, John has been portrayed as a ‘bully’ but every so often the writer has offered either flashbacks or little inconspicuous hints into John’s childhood. The reader assumes that John will either get away with it, or get caught and suspended. The author has gripped the reader into continuing the book to see where this will end up. Here comes the twist.
Because of these rare flashback insights, we’ve seen another side to John that, although subtle, it’s still there. So when John ends up placing the answers back with no one being the wiser, the reader is stunned, surprised, but content with this twist ending because it has been subliminally build into the plot.
If the writer’s portrayal of John had been exclusively ‘bullish’, mean-spirited, unfriendly throughout then the reader’s reaction would have been stunned, surprised and obviously, left cheated with an ending that holds no basis with the rest of the storyline.
This is called character reversal, when the character reacts different than what the reader expected. And to pull it off, you must have planted subtle seeds along the way.
Does this affect your plot down the line? In certain circumstances, yes. For example:
Bruce is a studious clean-cut senior high school student. He’s portrayed as the ‘geek’ for most of the story, not a main character at all. Then the writer decides to spruce things up and throws a dare at Bruce. Bruce accepts. He takes his friend’s ID and goes to a ‘Rave’. Big mistake, but a twist for the reader. The ‘Rave’ is raided, Bruce ends up in jail because his friend is wanted by the police and he’s holding the fake id. He escapes and now tries to clear his name that somehow has crept into the police files. A sedate YA high school book has now turned into a suspense novel all because of a character reversal.
When writing up your character(s) sketch, try to include opposite reactions, as well. By doing this, you can easily plot foreshadowing more convincingly ahead of the game.
Remember that fiction is often, if not all the time, crafted out of real people, real situations or real events. So think of a ‘real’ person and envision his reaction to several possible finales to a ‘dilemma’. Then start crafting the ending with one of these ‘reactions’ while dropping subtle hints to a totally different ending than what your reader is expecting. Try to use this character reversal for a completely out of this world ‘awesome ending.’
Make sure your story propels forward, making your reader want to turn the page. Bungee jump them out of a plane into a secret path that will drive them to the finish line.
(c) Lea Schizas
One of the nice things about being an author is that we can break any rule we want. (I just did.) It’s part of our job description. Language changes through usage -- definitions, spelling, grammar -- and authors can help it do this. But on the other hand, we have to have some sort of agreement on the language or we won’t be able to talk to each other.
When we as authors break a rule or two, it’s not because we’re ignorant. It’s because we have reasons to break them. That’s one of the joys of writing.
Having said that, now I’m going to explain some rules. There are two types of writing in your novel. There is your narrative and there is your dialogue. The rules for the two are not the same.
For example, comma use. In dialogue, it’s not so difficult. Put in a comma wherever your speaker pauses in his/her speaking. In narrative, you have to consult the style guides and hope that you and your editor, working as a team, can sort it all out.
A cop thriller like my Vigilante Justice has a simple set of rules for the narrative portion. Third-person, straightforward writing, light on adjectives and adverbs, easy to read and grammatically correct. Sentence fragments are acceptable if communication is achieved, and you’ll note that I use them often in this article. Why? Simply because it’s more effective that way.
To a degree the genre will help you identify what’s appropriate. For a cop drama, write in the dry style of a journalist. For horror, a bit of hyperbole may be acceptable in the most dramatic sections. For romance (not my genre), you can probably use lots more adjectives (swollen, heaving, throbbing, etc.) than you’d normally dare.
When I wrote Rising From The Ashes, the true story of Mom raising my brother and I alone, I tried to adopt a “childlike voice” early in the narrative. As the character of Michael the storyteller grew older, I abandoned that childlike quality. (An entire book of that would get old fast anyway.)
When I wrote An American Redneck In Hong Kong, the humorous sequel, I once again used first person narrative. But the narrative of Rising is first person only in that it uses “I” instead of “Michael.” It still follows all the rules of “conventional” narrative. In Redneck, I threw most of the rules out the window.
I used what one author referred to my as “conversational” tone to maximum effect in Redneck. This fellow author felt like he wasn’t so much reading my book as just listening to me tell some stories over a few beers. That’s exactly what I wanted.
In Rising, while I was the “first person” character, I wasn’t really the book’s focus. In Redneck, I am. Center stage, in the spotlight. Using more of a “dialogue” style in what should have been “narrative” allowed me to focus the reader’s attention on the first person to a greater degree than simply describing him ever could. You may love me or you may hate me, but you’ll know me and you’ll laugh at me.
If you want to see such a technique used to maximum effect, I recommend A Monk Swimming by Malachy McCourt. (I read it after writing Redneck, by the way.) It’s about an actor who gets drunk and does very bad things to himself and his family, and it’s amazing just how much I laughed out loud reading about it. Doesn’t sound like a funny subject, does it? It’s not, and yet it is, thanks to his unconventional narrative style.
To tell you the truth, I don’t even think McCourt “wrote” that book. I think he just said it all into a tape recorder and transcribed it later. It reads that much like “a guy at the pub telling a tale.” If he used the grammar checking function in MSWord, I bet it underlined every sentence. And, bright fellow that he is, he ignored them all and didn’t change a word.
If you’re going to use a more conversational tone in your narrative, don’t think that means you just write something down and don’t have to edit it. You still have to organize your thoughts, and that means rewriting. While your style may be unconventional, you have to make the ideas easy for the reader to follow.
(I’m not entirely serious when I say McCourt just spoke into a tape recorder, and even if he did that doesn’t mean the rest of us can get away with it.)
I originally wrote Redneck in chronological order. It worked for Rising, and it works for memoirs and novels in general, right? Well, in the case of Redneck, it was a disaster. Way too much “remember what I said before about…” and so forth. So while it was accurate, and while it was conversational, it stunk. I changed everything to more of a “theme-based” approach and that did the trick. Still conversational and accurate, but organized. The ideas are as easy to follow as the writing style, and that’s always the goal. Ease of reading.
In the case of narrative, you have the choice. If you want to spotlight the storyteller to maximum effect, you can go with first person and let the storyteller’s narrative and his dialogue read the same. If you’d prefer to “move the camera” back a bit, make the narrative conventional in contrast to the dialogue. As a rule, this reader likes contrast, because he gets bored reading the same thing over and over again unless the style is really special. Or perhaps you can find a point somewhere between the two.
Every story has a way that it should be told for maximum effect. Maximum effect in the author’s eyes, of course, as it’s a subjective thing. Keep it in mind as you write. Make the call, stick to it, change it if it’s not working. It might even be okay to be inconsistent, but only if you do so deliberately. Just keep stuff like “ease of reading” and “maximum effect” in mind and go be creative.
Have you ever read a book where the narrative and the dialogue read the same? I hope you haven’t. But as an editor I’ve seen such things, and they’re very ugly.
Do you know why they’re so ugly? Because they remind the reader of the one thing an author does not want to remind the reader of. Namely, that every character on the page is a puppet under the author’s control.
As readers, we put that thought aside so we can enjoy reading. “Willing suspension of disbelief,” to quote the phrase an English teacher used when describing the performance of Shakespeare’s plays. If the author ensures that the reader can’t suspend disbelief, the book will not be read. Stilted dialogue is one of the quickest ways to make that happen.
I’ve decided that writing dialogue is the hardest thing we do. It’s certainly not the something we can go look up in a style manual like Strunk or Turabian.
What are the rules? “Make it sound real.” But with the corollary, “not too real because people always say um and er and crap like that.” Oh yeah. That explains everything! End of my article, right?
Nope. I’m still writing it.
Ideally, the greatest of the great creators of dialogue will have every character “speaking” in a voice so distinctive that he/she need never identify the speaker. Okay, that’s enough fiction. Back to reality. None of us are writing dialogue that well, are we?
People use a lot more contractions in speech than in writing. They’re faster. More sentence fragments, too. People very often use the wrong version of lie/lay or “who” instead of “whom” in speaking. (Personally, I never use “whom” in speaking or writing because I want to see that distinction scrapped, but that’s another story.)
The dialogue portion of Vigilante Justice isn’t difficult to describe. The hero is a self-destructive cop named Gary Drake. He is based on a real-life cop, my little brother. So his dialogue was easy because, in my mind, I always heard Gary speaking in Barry’s voice.
For my other characters, I had to find some other voice. For example, the voice of Doctor Garrett Allison is, to me, that of Michael Jordan.
That’s right, people. When I write, I literally hear voices in my head.
As a beginning writer, and not a very good one, I read some advice somewhere saying you might want to cut photos out of magazines and use them when writing your physical description, in case you can’t get a mental picture together of your characters. I’ve used this technique, and with some modification I’ve extended it to voices.
As an author, you should always play to your greatest strengths while working to improve your weaknesses. I know many authors who think visually, and I envy them that. I’ve read some stuff that can make you feel you’re skiing down a snow-covered mountain when it’s actually 85 degrees in your flat and you’ve never skied in your life.
One author told me that when he writes, he literally sees movies in his head, then just has to type them really fast because that’s how they’re playing. Lucky him! My novels first come to me in snippets of dialogue. Every character has the same voice at that stage. (My voice, of course.)
Tight dialogue is one thing I enjoy when I read. Here are the characters at some sort of verbal showdown. I know them, I know their motives, I can read between the lines and know what’s being left unsaid. I can just feel the tension in the air. I’m not so much mentally picturing bulging veins and angry glares as I am just feeling the spoken words.
I also have an excellent memory of voices. I always have. Like a dog remembers scents or an artist colors, it seems, I can remember voices. If I hear an unfamiliar song on the radio but I’ve ever heard that singer before, I can tell you who it is. I can tell you that the guy doing the voice of Gomez Addams in the original “Addams Family” cartoon is now doing one of the voices in the Tazmanian Devil’s cartoon series. I can spot an actor like Andreas Katsulas no matter what species of rubberized alien he’s playing, because I recognize his voice, although really that’s no great challenge in his case.
(For the record, if you’ve read The Chronicles Of A Madman, Ahriman looks and sounds like Andreas Katsulas. Clyde Windham is Dennis Franz. Wendy Himes is some girl who sold me some horse feed about ten years ago.)
But just “hearing” the voices (if you’re able) isn’t enough. The words themselves will be different depending on who’s speaking them, even if they’re relaying the same information.
To get back to Vigilante Justice, Gary Drake doesn’t use a lot of words. He almost never describes his own feelings, and if he does he always feels guilty about it. He speaks with a Southern drawl. He tends to use a single swear word, and that word is “fuck.”
Marjorie Brooks, on the other hand, mentions feelings and uses whichever swear word is the most accurate, except that she never says “fuck.” Doctor Allison doesn’t use as many contractions as the rest of us do. These are things I kept in mind as I wrote their dialogue.
Who remembers Mr. Spock? His speech sounds like written language, very grammatical and correct, and that’s deliberate. He’s a scientist, he’s logical, and for him language is only one more tool to be used with as much precision as possible. That isn’t just a different style of dialogue; it helps define his character.
In my The Chronicles Of A Madman, Ahriman used fewer contractions than the rest of us and he avoided sentence fragments. He probably even knew the difference between who and whom or lie and lay. That’s because he’s intelligent, you see. It kinds of goes with the territory when one is evil incarnate.
During an edit I did of a sci-fi book, I saw where the author wasn’t using enough contractions. I made many suggestions that he change the dialogue of the humans to use those contractions, except when military officers were giving orders, because order-giving officers tend to be more “serious” and “thoughtful” than folks just being regular folks.
I also suggested to this author that he change nothing about the “stilted” speech patterns of his aliens. English isn’t their native language, you see, and one thing I’ve noticed from living in China is that the locals don’t use nearly as many contractions as I do. So I thought that added realism. Plus, the contrast should help keep the readers keep everybody straight even if they aren’t consciously aware of why.
I remember in one edit where I read some character saying, “I am an historian.” Oh, I hate that phrase. I hate anyone ever putting “an” in front of a word that begins with the consonant “h.” Correct or not -- and that’s debatable -- it’s terribly pretentious and I don’t like it. As I kept reading the book, I quickly learned that the character in question is terribly pretentious. Nobody else in the book was throwing “an” in front of “h” words. It was a deliberate contrast on the author’s part, and it worked quite nicely.
I suppose the point of all this is, remember the difference between narrative and dialogue.
In the case of narrative, you’re simply trying to describe what happens. There is a famous quote of some sort that says, “Great writing is like a window pane.” Stick to that maxim unless you feel you have a good reason not to. If you’ve got what it takes to make your writing style superior to the conventional, and if your story allows it, let that style be an asset of your writing. Otherwise, just stick to the rules until you master them.
In the case of dialogue, you’re trying to write something that sounds like what the characters would actually say, but a bit more organized because “real” speech can be boring. Give every character his/her/its own voice.
Am I joking when I say “its?” Not entirely. The Chronicles Of A Madman contains a short story, written in first person from my dog’s viewpoint. But then again, I would never call Daisy an “it.”
There’s a stylistic decision you can make in narrative, by the way. I always refer to animals as “he” or “she.” Some authors always use “it.”
In dialogue, you can let some characters always say he or she, and let others always say it, to contrast the feeling with the unfeeling. (My heroes never call an animal “it.”)
In the end, the goal is always the same. Make your writing as easy to read as you can. Keep that in mind, and always keep learning, and you won’t go wrong.
Copyright 2001, Michael LaRocca
Michael is an American living in Hong Kong. He has been working as a full-time author for over two years and as an editor for over a year. He has 4 novels scheduled for publication. He’s proud of the fact that he rarely writes in the same genre twice. One of his novels is an EPPIE 2002 in the Thriller category.
This week, I was interested to read about brain waves and how they work, and apply what I could glean to writing.
Here's the basic info:
In our normal waking lives our brain waves pulse quickly, at between 14 to 100 Hz. These are called Beta waves and are good at keeping us awake and attentive enough for our daily tasks - working, playing, eating, socializing and watching TV and movies.
Curiously Beta waves aren't that conducive to prolonged study or activities like factory or office work because at the Beta level, the brain is looking for more stimulation. It's as attentive as a butterfly, constantly vigilant for more stimuli and easily bored by monotony.
Gamma waves pulse at a higher rate - from 24 to around 70000 Hz and are normally associated with a 'higher state of consciousness' in that they seem to give us an increased sense of meaning and connectedness to the world around us. Commonly, during times of inspiration and joy, or playing sports, gamma waves are pulsing through our heads.
Curiously again, though Gamma waves are great for coming up with ideas and getting ourselves motivated and busy, they're not totally wonderful for sitting in a chair and writing or studying for long periods.
Experiencing long bouts of Gamma waves is ultimately tiring for us.
Now these are the cool guys.
Pulsing at around a low 8 to 14 Hz, Alpha waves kick in when we're relaxing, staring into space or engaged in long periods of gentle, soothing activities like lying on the beach or meditating.
The brain finds this state of consciousness very satisfying. Not only are you able to rejuvenate yourself during Alpha wave activity, you're also able to access the subconscious and get in touch with who you really are - and, to an extent, 'reprogram' your thinking.
For instance, if you're unhappy or depressed, Alpha wave time will help you to change your mood. Or if you're stuck on a problem or suffering from ennui, a short period in Alpha mode will help 'clear your thoughts', so that when you return to Beta, you're more able to work productively.
Theta waves are associated with REM - Rapid Eye Movement - sleep, in other words when we're dreaming. The pulsing of these brain waves is shallow, around 4 to 7 Hz per minute.
Dreaming is the brain's way of collating information, making sense of it and filing it away in the subconscious. This is all very necessary. Simply put, if we didn't dream, we'd probably go insane.
The Theta state also produces catecholamines in the brain, which are associated with learning and memory.
Because the conscious and subconscious are communicating well at this level, our creativity is probably at its most active - and many of your best ideas will probably arise at this time - though of course remembering them later is often a problem. There again, the brain probably does this deliberately so that you don't get too overwhelmed by creativity!
One digit up from dead, starting at 0.1 up to 4 Hz, Delta are very long, slow brain waves linked to dreamless sleep. During the sleep cycle, we can take anything up to two hours of REM sleep to get to this level.
Curiously, experiencing Delta waves is necessary for the production of human growth hormones that regulate our health.
This is the real reason why, when we don't sleep well, our health and mental state deteriorate.
Have you noticed how children generally sleep more deeply than adults? It's crucial that they do, in order to grow and repair their minds and bodies.
As adults too, especially when we're stressed or unwell, or indulging in drugs or alcohol, a good night's sleep, as the cliche goes, can do wonders for our health and well-being.
Preamble over. Now the important question:
How Can This Help Your Writing?
Once you understand how brain waves work, then you can use this knowledge to your advantage.
Have you ever started a writing project with a passion and then wonder why you can't get back the enthusiasm to write more later?
Simple, when you started you were in a Gamma State, which can't last that long. You need to get yourself into a more relaxed state to write well for longer periods.
Contrary to logic perhaps, the best state to write in is somewhere between Alpha and Beta. You need to be able to work steadily while your brain is in Beta (work) Mode - but also to regularly dip into the more relaxed Alpha (trance) State, where you can assimilate information, improve your focus and get access to your more creative subconscious mind.
In my Easy Writing System I recommend that you rely heavily on your subconscious to not only come up with ideas, but also, to an extent, write for you.
We all know that the conscious and logical Beta State likes to regularly criticize our writing - and undermine our confidence. That's its function. But in order to write for long periods, we need to switch off the inner critic and 'go with the flow' of the subconscious.
You can do this by relaxing, even meditating, for five or ten minutes at regular intervals during your writing.
Some people might regard this time as wasted - after all, staring into space is frowned upon at school and work. But this is to misinterpret what's going on when the brain retreats to the Alpha State.
Time spent relaxing, clearing your thoughts and essentially day dreaming is good for you - and very good for your writing.
I hope this info helps you.
(c) Rob Parnell
For many writers getting ideas is actually the easier part of the creative writing process. From overhearing a conversation on the train or bus, reading something in a magazine or newspaper, to your own life. However, taking that idea and forming a short story or a novel requires a lot more work.
There are integral aspects that must be followed if you want your short story or novel to stand a chance of being published.
So you have got an idea. It could be anything, for example a woman wanting to flee from an abusive marriage to an idea about a haunted house. The first thing you need to create is a main character that is strong enough to carry your plot/story right through to the end. This is vitally important when writing novels as it is obviously a longer piece of work than say a short story, therefore you need to keep your readers turning the pages.
It is worth spending a large proportion of your time creating the main character including as much detail as possible. Treat it as if you are constructing a real-life person, that includes personality traits, looks, family background, career, relationships, everything you can think of. The more you know about your main character then the easier it will be for you to write convincingly about them.
Once you have developed your main character then you need to create minor characters to support or oppose your main character and thus move your plot along. Although minor characters do not need to be as thoroughly constructed as your major character it will still pay off well the better you know them.
When writing a novel or short story you will need a clearly defined plot. This what your story is essentially about so it is vitally important to devise your plot before you actually start writing. More experienced writers for example Stephen King, write without detailed planning. However, for the novice writer a plan will help with the structure of your novel and will tell you before you start any major work whether this particular idea can be made into longer fiction. If you find that your idea is not strong enough to sustain a full-length novel it can be turned into a shorter piece of fiction such as a novella or a short story.
When writing fiction it may be useful if you see your main character as wanting to achieve something, but something else, usually the antagonist, prevents them from achieving this. Conflict is a vital element of all good fiction and is the reason why your readers will want to read to the end. If we use the above example of a woman wanting to flee an abusive marriage. The woman’s desire is to leave, whilst her husband wants to prevent her from doing this. What happens in between and the eventual resolution is your story and if written well, should produce an engaging piece of fiction.
(c) Sharon Wilson
Sharon Wilson is an aspiring writer who is serious and passionate about the art and craft of creative writing. She has undertaken several courses in this field and has gained extensive knowledge of writing novels and short stories. Sharon has a keen interest in poetry and is an avid reader. Her blog is dedicated to all writers, especially the new writer: https://sharonswriterstidbits.wordpress.com/
We all have different tastes in what we like to read. Some have a particular taste for horror, while others prefer romance or fantasy or crime stories, etc. My favourite genre in short stories is horror, so once the title grabs my attention, I will enthusiastically read the story.
You may want to leave your readers in no doubt of the type of story you have written. That’s fine. You want to grab all the fans out there and/or recruit new readers into the genre you are so fond of writing.
So, how do you select a title that reflects your story?
Should the title always reflect the story?
Not always. But your title must have some sort of connection with your story.
Is There A Connection Between Your Title And Your Story?
If you choose not to have the title reflect the story that’s fine too. But there should be some relevance between them.
If, for instance, your story is about a man walking on the moon, then it wouldn’t make sense to title it, ‘Walking on Mars.’
If your story is an uplifting tale about two characters finding love, then your title isn’t going to mention death, unless of course one of the characters’ die.
At first your title may not give away the nature of your story. But once having read the story, the reader will understand the connection. Let me give you a few examples…
‘The Fire In The Sky’
This can be the title of a story in which an airplane explodes in midair or a story about a meteorite on its way to earth, etc.
‘An Angel Amongst Us’
Can be the title of a story about a person with extraordinary kindness or about an angel that leaves the heavenly realm to reside on earth, etc.
You can be ambiguous in your title if you wish. Your title doesn’t always have to reflect your story. Having more than one possible meaning intrigues the reader but remember…
There has to be a connection between your title and your story.
(c) Nick Vernon
Besides his passion for writing, Nick Vernon runs an online gift site where you will find gift information, articles and readers’ funny stories. Visit http://www.we-recommend.com