Monday, July 16, 2018

Life Experience and Writing

QUESTION:  Do I really need real world experiences to write fiction?  In other words, can I write a fight scene if I’ve never hit anyone or been hit?

Real life experiences can certainly inform your fiction and give it realism, but I don’t think it is absolutely necessary.

I have written space battles without being an astronaut, diving scenes and I can't swim, and fight scenes using swords, fists, and futuristic weapons, and I have never used any of them.  (I am a pretty good shot, though.)

I've never had the first reader tell me that I got any of my fight or action scenes wrong.

I have never been punched, but I used to ride.  I have had a horse smash her head into me. I've been kicked and knocked into a tree.  I’ve also had a six-hundred-pound horse fall on me then step on me when she was getting up.  

All that has given me more than enough visceral information about taking physical abuse to use in my writing.

I got my diving scene right through research, then I ran the scene past friends who do dive to check for accuracy.  

However, the more you write about something in particular, say your main character is a diver who spends much of the novel underwater looking for a treasure, the more important having personal experience is.  This is particularly true for a real-life task that readers may have experienced themselves.

As a non-swimmer who has never dived, I would never choose a main character who spends important parts of the book underwater because no amount of research will keep those scenes as authentic as they need to be.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Making Your Characters Sound DIfferent

QUESTION:  My critique partners say most of my characters sound alike in dialogue.  Help!

Cast all your characters with actors you are very familiar with so you can hear their voices when you write dialogue.  Unless you have a tin ear for speech, you will rarely have two characters sound alike.

When you pick your actor, consider what part of the country or country of origin your character is from.  Make sure their voices reflect that. You don’t want an actor from DOWNTON ABBEY to play a cop from Philly.

Writing dialogue as what it sounds like rather than the proper spelling is frowned upon these day unless used very sparingly so don’t go overboard with phonetic spelling ("Yo' ole father doan' know yit what he's a-gwyne to do. Sometimes he spec he'll go 'way, en den agin he spec he'll stay.”--from HUCKLEBERRY FINN) or apostrophes to show words that are slurred together. (“If’n you think, I’s stupid.  You be wrong!”)

If you aren’t that familiar with a region’s speech, be very careful how you write it because it’s easy to stereotype or get it wrong.  For example, most of us in the Southern US don’t use “y’all” that often, and when we do in very informal speech, it’s plural meaning more than one “you.”   (Jennifer turned to her cousins and smiled sweetly, “Y’all come home with me and have some supper.”  Her voice turned frosty as she glared at her brother.  “You don’t come, period.”)

You should also consider social class and education.  Someone with a college education and an upper middle class background won’t sound the same as someone who never finished high school whose parents never finished high school.

Read your dialogue aloud or in your head to see if you’ve got different voices, or ask a few friends or family to read your dialogue like a play to see how it sounds.

Another good test is one line of dialogue that isn’t attributed to who is saying it.  If a reader can tell who is saying it by how and what is said, then you’ve succeeded at your task.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Adding a Romantic Partner

QUESTION:  I’m writing an action adventure novel and someone told me I needed to add a girlfriend for my hero so he could save her and win her love.  What do you think?

One of the problems with the hero getting the girl/love object in the end is that it harkens back to the idea that the girl is only a sex partner/thing to be won, not an active participant who deserves the happy ending.  The passive love/sex partner really annoys most readers who find it either sexist or boring.  

If you put the girl/sex partner in, you have to make this character a participant in the story in a very important way, and she must be more than a sex object/prize.

My own advice is that it isn't romance but love that makes a novel stand above others.  The main character must love— be it a romantic partner, his family, or some ideal like his country.  That love must drive what the character does and what the character is, or the novel lacks the something that makes it more than a quick read that is quickly forgotten.