What Did You Learn?

May 30, 2010

General Writing: Everything for Its Purpose

Filed under: General Writing — Tags: — ax20 @ 2:31 pm

I’m going to bring in a word of religion here, but only because it is relevant to what I’m about to say. In Judaism, it is believed that no word in the Torah is wasted. There is a reason for each one and so when there is something strange, or seemingly pointless, it is meant to teach you something. (For example, when you find two separate locations with the exact same words, you are meant to draw a connection between those two places.)

Any good writer looks at the book they are writing in the same way: nothing wasted. Every word, section, scene should be important in some way, whether it moves the plot, reveals something about the character, explains a relationship.

When writing, you have to think, what am I writing about? I’ve recently come across an example at work that particularly exemplifies this need. Whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction, you have to keep the larger goal of your story in mind at all times. The particular story I was looking at is a memoir. Memoirs are tricky because many people writing them think the point of a memoir is to write their life story. I’m telling them right now, they are wrong. They are telling a specific part of their life story.

Sickened, for example, tells the story of a girl who grew up with a mother who had Munchausen’s by Proxy. Every scene relates to this in some way–her mother taking her to the doctor, her getting sick, her dealing with the mental ramifications…Always related to this particular experience.

When you write, you need to think about our purpose and then make sure that every scene moves the story forward. If nothing changes (or the audience does not learn something important), then there is no purpose for the scene and it shouldn’t be included.

Always keep that in mind.


May 25, 2010

General Writing: Who’s Perspective?

Filed under: General Writing — Tags: , , — ax20 @ 5:01 pm

One of the choices you have to make as an author is the point of view. Whose perspective will you tell the story from? Who is the narrator? There are a lot of different options and each choices comes with pros and cons and you have to decide which one will be most effective for your story.

For the purpose of this post, I will use the names Mark and James whenever it would be helpful to have character names.

First Person– telling the world through someone’s eyes. This perspective is limiting in that you can only tell people how that character actually feels. If you are writing from Mark’s perspective, you cannot say how James is feeling (you can guess, make deductions, make observations, assume, but you cannot know). You are also limited in what you show. If you are writing from Mark’s perspective, you cannot write a scene that Mark is not present for. (Some people get around this by having different scenes/chapters told from different characters’ perspectives–I would be wary of this approach though because you have to make sure that each character comes off sounding unique, meaning each section/chapter will require different writing styles.) What you do get is a very good sense of exactly what Mark is feeling. (Beware though! First person narratives can get too analytical and bogged down in what a character is thinking.) You do not have to say things like “I thought” and “I watched” because the very implication of writing in first person is that whatever is being said or written is what the narrator saw or thought. First person can make a reader feel very close to the action and the main character (memoirs are typically written in first person since they are an intimate account of the writer’s life).

Second Person– this is a rare form of narration, typically used for choose your own adventure books and guidance books. This form is meant to insert the reader into the story. This allows for an accusatory tone (you did it all wrong!) or an imperative tone (you do this now). To me this form has always felt very removed (despite its intention being the opposite) and slows down the action.

Third Person– this allows you to jump from one character’s perspective to another, so you can tell a scene with Mark in it and then a scene with only James in it, if you wanted. You can jump to a scene following the antagonist and then go back to the protagonist. There are many choices for types of third person narratives:

  • Third Person Objective– does not share characters thoughts and feelings (usually told as though the situation is being observed by a “fly on the wall”)
  • Third Person Subjective– reveals character’s inner thoughts (usually but not always the main character)
  • Third Person Limited– may know absolutely everything about a single character and every piece of knowledge in that character’s mind, but it is “limited” to that character—that is, it cannot describe things unknown to the focal character
  • Third Person Omniscient– has complete knowledge of time, people, places and events (creates a reliable but more distant narrator)

Every option has value. Be sure to know what you want out of your narration and story in order to know which perspective is best suited for your story. Really utilize the advantages while minimizing the disadvantages to the POV that you choose.

General Writing: Heightening the Tension

Filed under: General Writing — Tags: , — ax20 @ 4:23 pm

Tension is a key part of any story. Who wants to read about nothing but happiness? It’s just not that interesting.

One way that you can heighten the tension is to build detail in a scene. The particular details are key of course–the feeling in the air, the expression on someone’s face, the way they are standing, noises in the air, the weather, etc. Shorter words and sentences speed up the pace.

Another option is to create danger. This could be literal danger (explosions and bullets) or it could be something more subtle (like a character’s secret is close to being discovered). This forces your character to act–desperately, usually.

Small spaces are also a good idea. What would be most tense–being stuck with an ex outdoors, in a room, or in an elevator? The less space, the less ability to hide and/or escape.

Time limits are another a excellent way to increase tension. When time is running out, everything gets the sense of now or never.

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