Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Let’s Talk about Writing: Part Three – Climax & Conclusion

Let’s Talk about Writing:
Part Three – Climax & Conclusion
Continuing in my three-part series focused on getting back to the basics of writing, in my last post I focused the importance of language and dialogue. 

Now that you have strong characters and your use of language and dialogue add to your story, you will need to continue to develop the plot and move the story along to its natural ending.  With each new event in your story, the excitement builds as you get closer to revealing the dramatic payoff for the reader.  A story's climax heightens when it seems like all is lost and the protagonist isn't going to win.  This is when the main character has to make their big decision.  At this point, the reader should be on the edge of his or her seat, wondering what the protagonist will choose to do and what will happen after the choice is made.

Just when the protagonist is about to make his or her final decision, an idea might come to mind that he or she hadn't considered before, or the antagonist makes a fatal error, or perhaps there's a loophole the character conveniently leaps through. This is the point where things are turned around for the protagonist character, and either they are about to achieve an ultimate goal, or the character realizes something that ends up being more important than achieving the goal.   At this point in your story, the goal has been either resolved or abandoned, depending on your plot decisions.

While it may be convenient to allow someone or something to come in and rescue the protagonist; the protagonist must be the one to take care of his or her own problem.  This is where the character learns something important about himself or herself.  Someone who was meek might discover that she has strength. A pessimist might find himself a little more optimistic.  This growth is the payoff for your reader.  

As you relate events that occur after the character achieves his or her goal, you are entering the falling action and you are now ready to write your conclusion.  As a reader, I personally don’t like everything tied up in a perfect little bow, but I do appreciate it when I can see how each of the events of the story all come together for a larger meaning.  It is important to come back to any unfinished business earlier in the story.  The conclusion of your story needs to let the reader know how your character has changed. In fact, the last sentence is just as important as the first sentence of your story. Your job is to end the story with something the reader will carry long after she has finished reading it.

It all sounds so very simple....but as any good writer will tell you, it is much easier said than done.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Let’s Talk about Writing: Part Two – Pacing, Language & Dialogue

Continuing in my three-part series focused on getting back to the basics of writing, in my last post I focused on the story basics of developing a clear plot and strong characters. 

Once you have identified these story basics, it’s time to begin the actual writing.  The very first paragraph needs to capture the reader's interest right away. You don't want to take a long time to build up the action. If you introduce the protagonist's problem or goal right away, you will jump right into the action without having to overthink it.
Just as your high school English teacher told you, a strong first sentence should "hook" the reader. The best type of sentence surprises the reader, or makes him or her curious to know more.

Building tension and creating conflict keep the reader engaged in the story and its characters. There are many ways to build suspense and heighten tension.

The most obvious way is when your character attempts to solve a problem for the first time and fails. As your character continues to try and solve their problem, remember that Pacing is important to a story. If your story moves too slowly, your reader will lose interest. If it moves too fast, it will lack tension. You need to focus on your character, the character's emotions, and moving toward the story's climax. You don't want to spend pages on needless dialogue and an excess of description. But you also don't want to throw action scene after action scene at the reader. You want to give the reader time to absorb the action and its implications. 

Just when it seems like all is lost for your character, this heightened tension is your story's climax. There are several ways to create tension: Allow the reader to know something that the protagonist does not, shorten the deadline of when the goal must be achieved or you could give the protagonist an inner conflict that interferes with his or her solving the main problem.  Remember that good tension adds drama to your writing, but don’t overdo it and cause fatigue in the reader. 

Being a writer is a delicate balance.  Your use of language brings your story to life. The way your character uses language says a lot about him or her as well. If your character approaches his school and calls it a prison, then he or she sees it much differently from another character that views school as his or her private sanctuary away from home.  The way your character describes others tells the reader about his or her attitudes — whom he respects, admires, detests, or distrusts. We can tell if your character is intelligent and witty, or dull and withdrawn. Even a small word change can make a huge impact.

Besides making sure that your pacing is effective and your language descriptive, you need to write dialogue that sounds natural. Each character has a particular way of speaking, including repeated phrases that are unique to him or her. Check your dialogue by reading it aloud to ensure it sounds like natural speech.  Poorly written dialogue can detract from the overall writing. 

...my next and final post will explore the climax and conclusion of your story.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Let’s Talk about Writing: Part One – Plot, Characters & Point of View

In the process of trying to write my stories and reviewing stories written by other authors, I started to notice some common errors.  Somewhere along the way there are some of us who forgot about the rules of good writing, so I decided it might be a really good idea to get back to the basics of writing that we all learned about in school. 

First, there are different types of narrators you may use to tell your story. You might have a narrator outside the story observing events as they unfold or you might use a narrator who relates the story as personal experience; each one has advantages but it is important to have a clear understanding of WHO is telling your story when you start writing.  You may also have more than one narrator telling the story. It is important to think about which narrator you want telling the tale and why that narrator is the best choice.

Once you have decided on your narrator it is time to think about their point of view.  A story narrated in the first person is told as if the character is relating it personally, for example, "I did this, and then I did that."  The second-person point of view is not used often in fiction. In this type of narration, it's as if the character you're talking about is the reader. For the second person, you would use language such as, "You did this, and then you did that."  The third-person limited is similar to the first person where a narrator who knows exactly what one character is thinking and feeling is telling the story. The third-person limited is when an outside observer is telling the story, and he can only guess what the characters are thinking and feeling, as he is not in their heads. On the other hand, a third-person omniscient narrator sees and hears all. When using the third person, you will write, "she did this" or "he did that". 

Once you've established your main character and the type of point of view you will use, you want to invent a plot. Seems simple enough, right? In every plot there has to be some sort of problem involved. Your main character has to want something, and someone, or something, has to stand between the main character and that thing he or she wants. If you've got that, you've got a story.

If you remember English class back in school then you know that a basic plot consists of an introduction to the problem, action leading up to the climax, the climax, the falling action, and the conclusion.

To make writing your plot idea easier, think about these three parts to your story:
1         The character's goal (the problem that needs to be solved)
2         What gets in the way of the character achieving his or her goal
3         What the character does so that he or she achieves the goal or what happens to the character when the goal is not achieved

Your main character, the one who wants something, is the protagonist. The person or thing in the way is the antagonist. Now that you have an idea of who your protagonist is and what he and she wants to achieve, and you know who your antagonist will be, it's time to think about what the antagonist will do to keep the protagonist from achieving his or her goal.  A writer has to make sure that the strengths and weaknesses of the protagonist matches the strengths and weaknesses of the antagonist to keep the story balanced.  If the protagonist is too weak the story will be frustrating to the reader, if the antagonist is too weak the story will be boring and lack drama. 

Like a good chess match, for every idea the protagonist has, the antagonist counters with a move of his or her own that prevents the protagonist from moving ahead. This creates conflict, which is essential to every good story. Without conflict, we can't root for the protagonist to succeed.

One big pitfall for me personally is consistency in the timing of the story.  Your story will be written in past, present, or future tense.  If you choose to write your story using the past tense, then your narrator is relating events that have already happened. If you would like to write your story in the present tense, your narrator is relating events as they are happening.  It can get very confusing for a reader if your story jumps back and forth from present to past tense.  Be consistent. Some stories do effectively use flashbacks to the past, but be careful to clearly identify when your story has jumped to the past.  I have seen some stories do this by using italicized font or some other indicator to help the reader make the transition.  

Now that your story has a basic pot, in the next blog post I will explore the use of language and dialogue in your story.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

My Never Ending Battle

Dog Hair!  It is an essential element in my home.  We have three large dogs so cleaning up after them is a never ending battle, and I am losing the war. 

Full disclosure – I am not a very good housekeeper to begin with, but once you add three big dogs in the mix, the level of dog hair reaches apocalyptic levels.  Using the vacuum for just a few short minutes in my house fills the canister to the brim, requiring a stop to empty the volumes of collected hair.  I am fairly certain that over a lifetime I have ingested pounds of dog hair. 
Any item of clothing I own is covered in hair, and there is no hiding from it.  When I wear dark colors, the white hair of our big Great Dane Lab mix shows up like an accessory, and if I wear light colors the dark hair of my Shepherd mix adorns my clothing.  In either case the hair of our Border Collie is both black and white, showing up on both light and dark colored clothing that I wear. 
I know that all dog families struggle with excess dog hair, but when you have three big dogs you have to try and deal with three times the amount of hair – and frankly it’s a battle we are losing.  I wish I could come up with some sort of positive use for all this hair.  If it were longer and IF I had the talent I could weave all that hair into a useful rug or blanket. 

If anyone has any ideas for a useful purpose for all this dog hair please let me know, and in the meantime I have to go vacuum again.