Monday, November 11, 2019

Noun or Pronoun

QUESTION: When should I use the character's name and when should I use the personal pronouns "he" or "she?"

Name repetition reminds the reader that he is reading about a character, and it jerks him right out of that viewpoint character's head. For this reason, you should use the character's name once at the beginning of the scene, then you don't use it again except for clarity.

Moments when it's needed for clarity include scenes with more than one person of the same gender. 

In crowd scenes, I've always found that it's better to be a bit boring using the character's name, which the reader will skim, than to confuse the reader as to who is doing what action. This stops the reading process completely which is the one thing a writer should avoid at all costs.

As in real life, you shouldn't overuse characters' names to address each other in dialogue, either. 

Names are most often used at the beginning of a conversation as people greet each other. "Hello, Mary, how are you?" 

Or they're used to impart important or emotional information. "He's dead, Jim."

Or to direct conversation at one person in a group of people. "What's your opinion about this, Fred?"

Monday, November 4, 2019

Stop that Reader in Her Tracks!


Don't you just hate it when someone keeps reading your book?  

Me, too! 

Here are a few tips on how to stop that reader before the end of the first chapter. Heck, if you do it right, most readers won't read more than a few pages.

1.  Start your story off with

* your main character eating popcorn and watching a movie or TV show in their living room.  Give details of the movie's plot.

*your main character waking up, getting breakfast, and dressing for the day.

*your main character at her workplace or job doing something mundane that has nothing to do with the plot.  Be sure to go into great detail to insure boredom!

*your main character running into a hot former flame but immediately leaving then spending many pages remembering how screwed up their relationship was.  Whatever you do, don’t let those ex-lovers talk about those old times!

*a prologue that has little to do with the rest of the novel but gives lots of back story the reader will never really need.

*so much information about your worldbuilding and character's magical abilities that the reader is totally confused.

*introducing so many characters that the reader becomes hopelessly confused.

2.  Make sure your first chapter has the right percentage of dialogue, narrative, and introspection.  

10% or less:  Narrative which includes action (John flinched as she wagged her finger in his face.), immediate emotional comments (Mary fought her desire to strangle him with his tie.), and description (Clothes littered the room like confetti at a ticker tape parade.).

10% or less:  Dialogue, particularly dialogue that gives information ("I know that Mary murdered John!  I hope they hang her."), shows conflict between characters ("You're a liar.  Mary loved him.  She was framed."),  or moves the story forward.  ("And I'll prove she didn't do it.") 

80%  or more:  The viewpoint character's introspection about the past.  Give that reader back story, internal whining, and emotional navel gazing until she is screaming for mercy and throwing that manuscript down!

3.  Have the main character or characters wander around aimlessly with no goal or motives.

4. Have such poor grammar and spelling that no one can understand half of what you write.

5. Love your writing so much that it is impossible to cut out anything. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Stupidity as a Plot Device

Writers often use character stupidity as a plot device.  In some cases, usually in humorous writing, the character is ditzy (charmingly stupid).  That’s fine if that’s what you are writing, but it doesn’t work in most fiction.

Even smart people do stupid things on occasion.  We run the yellow light when it’s turning red or open our mouth when we should keep it shut at work or in social situations.  Momentary stupidity is common in life, and it can be used sparingly in fiction without the reader rolling her eyes.

Stupidity where the character has a chance to think about what’s she’s doing but does the stupid thing anyway always fails as a plot device.  The heroine who has been in hiding for years won’t choose to be at a televised event where she’s likely to appear on camera.  

If she does and the mob realizes she’s alive and comes after her, that’s a plot contrivance, and the author has failed.  

If, however, she’s on the scene of a horrendous car wreck and is caught on someone’s cell phone camera pulling a child out of a burning car, and that video appears on YouTube or the local news, then the writer has created a legitimate reason for her to be found.

Writer laziness disguised as character stupidity is never acceptable.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Suddenly, a Pirate Ship Loomed Over the Horizon

QUESTION: In action scenes, I use the phrases "suddenly" or "all of a sudden" a ridiculous amount of times when describing fast-paced action scenes. What other words or phrases can I use?

If you write the scene correctly, you don't need "suddenly" or any other synonym or phrase. The reader is smart enough to know the fighters in a physical battle are moving fast so everything is "suddenly" unless we say otherwise.

The trick is to get into the head of one of the characters and stay there. Let the reader see what the character sees and feel what the character feels.

You don't say, 

Suddenly, the other fighter pulled out his knife and jabbed at him.

You say, 

Sam dodged the other man's fist. The hand that should have been blocking his next blow moved downward toward the man's knife sheath. 

A flash of steel. 

Throwing himself backward away from the other man's knife, Sam slammed into the ground on his back. 

Or, if you are describing a battle of many men, you don't say 

Suddenly, a line of cavalry surged over the top of the hill toward them.

You say, 

On the hill just above the soldiers, the drumming of many horse hooves and the Rebel yell of hundreds of men warned them.

The Yankees spun around as the Confederate cavalry charged toward them.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Creating Emotional Reactions to Action Scenes

To make an action scene work, you must not only detail what the characters are doing with their bodies and weapons, you must also include the viewpoint character's emotions and senses.

Adding emotion isn't an either/or situation. It's just as vital to add emotional layers to the physical action as it is to have brief moments of introspection when the battle isn't going on. 

Characterization isn't just introspection. It's characters interacting with each other and revealing themselves in bits and pieces. 

Your band of adventurers may not sit around "sharing their feelings" in touchie-feelie moments like a Dr. Phil show, but they've been around each other enough to know that one hates the bad guys because they murdered his wife and kids, and he's liable to attack without thought and ruin their surprise attack. 

He may be clutching the sword at his side, his other hand opening and closing in nervous energy, and another adventurer may warn him to relax and may mention the wife and kiddies. 

The image of his wife's raped and brutalized body could flash through his mind, and he fights his raw anger and lust to kill. That won't slow the action down like having a long interior flashback of him finding his family's bodies, and his vow of revenge. 

Instead, it adds to the excitement of the coming action because the reader now questions whether this guy will lose his cool and get everyone killed.

An even better way to present this information is to put it in an earlier scene that isn't action intensive so the reader will know the details and will only need a slight reminder of this character's motivation and tendency to attack without thought.

After some rewriting, if you still aren't happy with the emotional content of your story, you may want to look at the central story idea. Do your characters have a real emotional reason to be doing what they are doing? 

Their hunt for the lost treasure should be as much about their emotional reason for needing the treasure as it is about simple greed. That emotional reason should be important enough to make the reader want them to succeed as much as they do.

Maybe the main character is after a magical sword which is the only weapon which will kill the dragon currently ravaging his homeland, and he doesn't really care about other treasure and the life of drunken decadence and dancing girls it promises the other characters. 

Maybe the other characters have laughed at him, but they've admired him and gradually they have been drawn into his quest for the sword, and in the end, they'll choose to get the sword with him and lose the other treasure. 

Maybe the one who laughed the hardest and made the main character's life hell along the journey will be the one to sacrifice himself so that the hero can rescue a homeland the scoffer has never had, but now wishes to have with his whole heart.

If you make your character emotionally invested in each action scene, and make your reader emotionally invested in your story, you’ll have a story no one will put down.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Creating the Characters' Physical Actions

When I write physical fights like a sword battle, I picture the fight like it's a movie. I see what each character is doing and what is happening around them.

I also get up from the computer and pretend I'm holding a sword, imagine the opponent's move, and block it noting my balance, what I'm leaving open, and the possible return blow. 

To vary the fighting, I use the physical location of the hero. The floor may be bloody from his first opponent so the hero or villain may slip and fail to parry a blow, etc. If more than one good guy is fighting, the fighters may affect each other as an enemy steps into the hero's range, or he falls beside him. 

I rarely write out blow for blow because I think that's boring. Instead, I'll give occasional overviews of what's happening while staying in the character's viewpoint. For example, the hero is thinking about how his body is learning the rhythm of the fight, or he's aware of other fighters around him.

I try to avoid using technical terms to describe the fight because I'm writing as much for those unfamiliar with swordplay as those who are, but I try to be accurate about how to use the weapon, and I use a sprinkling of correct terminology to make it seem more realistic. 

I've never fought with a sword, but I've held a number in my hand, and I've watched others fight with them. I try to remember the weight of the weapon, the sound a fighter makes as he swings the heavy sword, and the sheer weariness of the weight of fighting something or someone above you. 

I also include different senses in the description. What is the character hearing? Feeling? Smelling? Tasting? 

This method also works with fist fights and other man to man combat.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Choosing Fighting Skills and Weapons

Once you have figured out what the characters have to lose in a fight scene, you must decide on each character's special abilities, weapons, etc. 

Your viewpoint character/hero's special abilities, weapons, and skills should have been set up long before this fight scene so it won't look like you pulled new abilities or weapons out of the air for your own convenience. 

List the special abilities of the viewpoint character then give his opponent a skill or weapon that is equal to or slightly better than his. Equal powers make interesting contests. Extremely unequal powers make for a dull fight.

Now, you can map out the coming fight. Remember that the hero must barely survive each kind of attack, and he must start running out of options. 

Especially in the final showdown, the hero must be forced to go beyond his abilities and must face some element of his ultimate fear. He must do what he considers unthinkable or impossible to win.


Next up: Writing a Character’s Physical Actions