Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Revisions -- Make it Shorter or Longer?

Revising is a painful process. It's like performing major surgery (removing what may seem to be vital organs) to hopefully come up with a better product. So, prepare for the pain, if you want to improve your work. Remember, anything great comes from hard work. And great writing is indeed hard work.

There are many advice books on writing, and many of them quite useful, too! Some authors will give you guidelines, such as Stephen King (yeah, I know...I keep referencing him, but he really does have a lot of great things to share!) who advises the author to cut 10 percent from the original manuscript. Why ten, I'm not sure. But who knows? Maybe he's studied the numerous books he's written and the average amount he slashed and dashed is ten percent. Whatever the amount, it makes a point. This tactic encourages you to use more effective vocabulary, thus tightening your writing, keeping a steady pace throughout the story.

Now, just when you think you've got it, that you totally understand what's needed to revise and create the perfect novel or story -- well, I'm about to confuse you. In Manuscript Makeover Elizabeth Lyon advises you to expand on characters or scenes when you see they are lacking clarity. (See my previous post -- Revising and Fuzzy Details) So, now you need to add more to your revisions!

Bottom line, when you are revising: 1) get rid of the empty words and passages that don't add to the plot and 2) clarify the scenes that just don't make sense or lack impact. It's not easy. Nobody ever said it would be. But if you truly have a passion for writing, you will stick with it, and keep on revising until you've got it right! To be noted, this is only one aspect of revising. There are obviously many other points and features to address. Check out the many books available with advice on revising. And good luck. Let us know your experiences with revising. Maybe you have a few great advice books you'd like to recommend. So, let's hear what you have to say.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mix and Match -- P.O.V. and Verb Tense

Creating your story: when you first bring your ideas to the table -- plot, plot line, characters, character problems... it may not occur to you that P.O.V. and verb tense should be given just as much consideration as those other elements. Now, some of you may decide that point of view, for instance, doesn't need to be discussed when choosing your options. After all, if you've always written in the third person, then why change? Or, maybe you believe that it is the best and most comfortable match for you. I'm not going to try and change your mind. Instead, why not consider the following information like a buffet -- lots of dishes to choose from? Even if you always go for the chicken, maybe today you will decide to spice things up a bit and pick out seafood. Who knows?

3rd person/past tense: If you choose third person and place the story in the past tense, you will achieve a certain distance from the character's actions and thoughts while creating a definitive account of events as they happened. It's very natural in its effect, rather like you observing someone you know or learn about and watching what happens to them. The disadvantage may be lack of character development where the character is rather flat and lifeless. Caution in this situation would be to make sure and have that balance of inner thought and outer action I previously posted about. The use of past tense, while the most common and natural, can be flat. The advice would be to make sure your dialog is lively and your narrative scenes should use vocab to address those sensory details such as seeing, hearing, etc. Have others read your work and then ask them what emotions they felt, if they felt close to the character, have emotional investment in that character.

1st person/present tense: First person is difficult to pull off successfully. At least that's what I keep reading and hearing. I personally enjoy reading and writing in the first person. First person point of view lets you know the character's most intimate thoughts, like you are inside them. Add to that the present tense, and you have a very upclose, intensely powerful story. It's a very immediate account of events. Just how immediate and intense you make it is what will determine how successful you are. Too much internal thought, too many "I this" and "I that" can result in major irritation for the reader. Sometimes the writing may even sound fake, unrealistic. In fact, the use of the present tense can have such a loud and powerful kick that it may tire your readers and they will quit reading out of shear exhaustion! Still, I think this combination, or even 3rd person/present, is well suited for short stories. I have written shorts with 1st/present and kept the story in a very brief time frame. It works when done well. Although I think the 1st person/past tense brings a better balance to it.

There are more combinations, but I will keep it to the ones I have stated above. So lets sum it up:

1st person: intimate, very close and personal view; careful of too much intimacy

3rd person: more removed, less personal, more natural; careful of flat, lifeless characterization; use internal thoughts along with outer action

Present Tense: immediate, intense, but can be too powerful or intense - reader becomes worn out; may want to change some passages to past tense

Past Tense: somewhat distant, natural, authentic; can be mediocre, needs imagery, great dialog and action scenes to liven it up

I hope this helps. I won't tell you one combination is the overall key to success. If only it were that easy! It's an individual decision. based on your taste and thought. Whatever works best for you and depending on what type of story you are writing -- you decide! Let me know your thoughts and comments. What kind of story do you enjoy writing and is your p.o.v. and verb tense choice a perfect match? Hope to hear from you :-)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Character's Need for Problems Part II: Outer Action/Inner Reaction

Do you enjoy writing action scenes? I know I do. It's exciting to get one's characters moving and conquering their obstacles, defeating their demons, whatever it takes to achieve their goals. However, as they struggle or battle their way along, don't forget to bring their thoughts along with them. After all, they are human and you need to let your readers see this. If you don't include those inner thoughts and reactions of your characters, they will seem mechanical and robotic. These emotions can be external, visible reactions to a situation or internal thoughts, unseen emotions.
The ability to successfully balance the mixture of outer action and inner reaction takes practice. Study your favorite authors' works and see if you can pick out the use of action and reaction of the characters, how well they blend the two components. Now, mentally remove all the inner thoughts/reaction of one of those characters and see how much of a difference it makes. More than likely, you will be left with a mechanical, robotic shell of that character. And finally, take note of your own writing. See if you can identify where you used reaction along with your action. Then, let me know what you discover. Hopefully, it will be great news!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Character's Need for Problems - Part I

Of course, any story should have conflict. And the characters will work their way through them, battling the obstacles, be they external or internal. The question for you as the writer: how many and what kind of problems do you want your characters to face? A clear focus is essential. Your reader should understand what the main problem for your protagonist is in those first few pages of a novel or first page of a short story. It is essential that the reader immediately have a stake or investment in what he/she is reading or interest may be lost. Another concern to address is the choice of problems you want your characters to face. If you include too many major ones, the story becomes overwhelming, and often unbelievable, unless your protagonist is like Superman or Wonder Woman. For example, let's say your main character needs to find a missing relative. In the search this character has to battle against a crime lord and his thugs single-handed, find the antidote for a lethal injection, battle a tsunami and so on. Too much? You bet it is. Conflict is healthy in a story; it keeps the reader's interest. And you should keep a regular and frequent dose of it throughout the story. Just be sure not to go overboard with too much and too big. So, to clarify: 1) make the problem/goal clear, consequential, realistic; 2) make sure the goal is a good fit with the character, i.e. should the character have an investment in solving the problem? Would it matter enough to get involved?; and 3) avoid cliches, those trite, overused situations and problems. I know you can't reinvent the wheel, but try to come up with some original combination or approach.