What Did You Learn?

November 19, 2009

General Writing: Revealing Character

Filed under: Character, General Writing — Tags: , — ax20 @ 12:41 am

I’ve talked about character a number of times in different places. While when writing a book you aren’t as limited in amount of pages as you are with a script or play, you still don’t have forever. The average number of words per books varies depending where you look but I’ve seen them estimated as low as 40,000 and as high as 150,000. General advice, unless you really need the 150,000, you probably don’t want to write that much. It’s a real turn off, particularly when you’re a new author. (Notice how Harry Potter started relatively short and grew in size as the series continued.)

So, after all that, the question is, how do you reveal as much about your characters as possible without solely using exposition?

details: how do they dress? what type of body do they have?
dialogue: how do they say things? do they have an accent or weird phrases? what do they like to talk about? what do they avoid talking about?
posture and body language: how do they stand? what do they do with their hands? what facial expressions are they making?
observations: what do they notice about other people? (the things characters notice about other people says something about themselves)
interactions: how do they behave around friends? family? superiors? inferiors?
behavior: what do they do when there is a need to delay gratification? what do they do when they think no one is looking?

These are only a few things to think about. Some of them are even small, easy details to add that don’t require elaborate scenes or paragraphs of exposition. Try to put as much about a character into as little space as possible so the body of the novel doesn’t get pushed aside by the need to make the character real.


Writing Exercise #6- Details

Filed under: Writing Exercises — Tags: , — ax20 @ 12:20 am

It’s the small details that make a story come to life, using the five senses is an important element of every story. It can be the different between the reader feeling like they’ve entered the story and the reader being unable to get immersed.

If you find your writing lacking,try this:
Go into a crowded/noisy room (this could be a busy store, a restaurant during lunch hour, a bar, a gym, whatever) and write all about it. Use all of the senses if possible (for example, if you are in a bar, what does your drink taste like, what are people wearing. If you are in a gym, what does it smell like, what are the sounds around you).

You can write it in the form of a story or you can just write it out as a detailed description. If you don’t write it into a story now, you may find it usable for another story in the future. What you may want to do is try this exercise twice, first without a full story and second with one.

November 15, 2009

General Writing: The Rules of Fantasy

Filed under: General Writing, Genre — Tags: , — ax20 @ 7:06 pm

One of the fun things about fantasy is that all these things that could never happen in real life can happen in fantasy. You can apparate or channel or fly…all the things you wish you can do are possible and it feels like all the rules of nature go out the window. The key in that sentence: “it feels like.”

Any good fantasy writer knows that while magic changes the rules, it doesn’t mean there are none. I’ll give you some examples:

Harry Potter– as any Harry Potter fan knows, JK Rowling set up an extremely intricate world of magic. JKR spent five years developing the laws of magic. For example there are the “Principal Exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration” which are the five things that cannot be done by magic (such as conjure food out of thin air).

Sword of Truth– in Terry Goodkind’s books, magic has a different set of laws. There are two distinct types of magic, additive and subtractive. Zed, possessing only additive magic, can create, but not destroy, so while he can make a beard grow, he cannot make it vanish.

Narnia– if you remember, Aslan could only come back to life because he willingly sacrificed his life for another. (I take issue with this only because he knew the old laws and so it isn’t a sacrifice because he knew he’d come back, but you get the point.)

Percy Jackson and the Olympians
– in this series, mortals as a whole cannot see magic and generally cannot be hurt by magical items. For example, Percy’s magical sword, Riptide, cannot kill a regular person but can destroy monsters.

To go even more old school, Achilles was unassailable, except for his heel, which was his fatal weakness.

There can be loopholes of course, but those loopholes must fit in with the established system, because if anyone can do anything, then everything becomes ridiculous and there is no longer any dramatic tension. (Read more about this on this Wikipedia page.)

Additionally, people take magic pretty seriously. So the things in the story need to make sense not just be convenient for you. How do characters learn magic? Can anyone do it? Do you need to attend school for it? Or be an apprentice? Is it inborn? The details of acquiring magic are key. So if you have a character who wants to curse somebody, simply saying “well, his uncle knew magic and he gave him a book with an evil curse that let him do whatever he wanted” isn’t enough. A scene like this calls up questions: Is the uncle evil? Would he give someone a book of strong magic to someone who knew nothing of magic and its consequences? Would he even have such a book in the first place?

There are a lot of things to think about, such as the dangers and consequences of using magic. The Sword of Truth series discusses consequences a lot. In the first book they defeat the bad guy only to discover that the way they did it actually caused an even greater problem. In the Sword of Shannara Series by Terry Brooks, magic is scene to have negative consequences as well, corrupting and often hurting those who use it.

The rules, and the weaknesses, are as important as any other aspect of the story. They are what make it any good instead of just another story any five year old could have thought up.g

General Writing: Period Pieces

Filed under: General Writing, Genre — Tags: , — ax20 @ 6:40 pm

Think of the movie A Kid in King Arthur’s Court. The story begins in the present and then goes to the past. There would have to be an obvious distinction in the way the past and present are presented to show how different the two time periods are. In the movie, for example, he uses phrased that they do not understand to show that he is out of place. We see metalsmiths working on things that we don’t really use today, torches used to light the room, etc. The exact details of the scene are what make us feel like he has actually gone back in time.

Whenever you want to write something historical, you have an extra struggle to contend with. For one thing, you need to do enough research to make your story believable. Clearly if you have someone driving a car in the 1500s people are going to know something’s up. But it’s not just the general details you need to research, but the tone and speech and manners as well. Dialogue, for example, is tough, since someone a hundred years ago won’t be “messaging” anyone or saying “cool.” This is a hard thing to research since you can’t just listen to people around you to figure out how things are said. The best way to do this is to watch movies, read books, read old diaries, etc to get used to the way people spoke during the time period you are writing about.

Whatever you do, make sure you get it right. There is nothing more irritating than reading a book where it takes place a few centuries ago but the people talk like they’ve grown up in the 21st century. If you do not feel prepared or comfortable with older dialogue, phrases, etc, then you might want to consider another story.

Writing Exercise #5- Dialogue

Filed under: Writing Exercises — Tags: , — ax20 @ 6:31 pm

An important part of writing is getting the dialogue correct. It needs to sound natural. So, one good way to work on this is by taking a pen and paper and sitting in a place like a crowded cafe. Write down a few different conversations you hear (try to include accents, exact wording, etc). Include the pauses, the umms, the ohs, the likes, etc. Now take the dialogues you have transcribed, and write them into a story. An important thing to do here is remember that you want to keep the dialogue natural but also keep in mind that readers don’t want to read the word “like” a hundred times, even if the real person says it. It’s about finding a balance between what people really say and what will make the story good.

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