Monday, March 30, 2020

Suspension of Disbelief

Any form of fiction is an agreement between the writer and the reader. The writer says, “I will tell you a story, and you will believe it while you are reading it.”

The reader agrees that, as long as the story remains true to its own telling and is interesting, he will keep reading and believe what he is reading. This is often called suspension of disbelief.

The writer can create the most bizarre rules imaginable for the way his world works and have creatures that aren't possible in the real world, but there are two rules he can't break.

He must have his humans behave as humans do, and he must not break his own rules. To do either ruins the story and destroys that suspension of disbelief.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Story Twist

The story twist is a turning point or new bit of information that changes the reader's perception of the story.

The twist can be at the end like in THE SIXTH SENSE where we realize that Bruce Willis' character is not only helping the little boy deal with his ability to see ghosts, Willis is a ghost himself, so we have to rethink the movie to see that this truth has been there the whole time, but we've not noticed it.

A twist can also be within the story. For example, the reader discovers half way through the novel that the hero's sidekick is really the bad guy, and everything the hero thinks he's learned or gained is now suspect.

One Agatha Christie novel has the killer as the viewpoint character and the narrator Watson to her sleuth, Poirot.  Yet it isn’t until the solution to the crime by Poirot that the reader knows.  This story narrative is brilliantly written but bitterly discussed when readers talk about a writer being fair.  If you’d like to know the name of the novel, leave a comment or email me, and I’ll tell you. Otherwise, spoilers.  

One of my favorite types of twist is the expectation reversal. Sometimes, this involves the writer using a popular story trope like the marriage of convenience.

When the reader realizes this trope is being used, she will expect it to follow the standard pattern of the pretend marriage-- the characters will avoid sexual and emotional entanglement, they will gradually become emotionally and sexually closer, then their sham marriage will become a real marriage.

With the expectation reversal, the trope is set up, but the characters will do the exact opposite of what is expected. For example, the sexual relationship they've agreed not to have may happen almost immediately when they get drunk on their wedding night.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK has another excellent example. Indiana Jones is chasing after the men who have kidnapped his girl, and a huge bad guy with an enormous sword steps in front of him. The expectation is that Indie will pull out his sword, and they will fight.

Instead, pragmatic Indie pulls out his gun and shoots the man so he can continue after the girl. The big fight trope is not only skewered, but also the viewer realizes that Indie doesn't buy into the heroic yet stupid belief that a fight must be between equals with equal weapons no matter what the cost. For Indie, the girl's life is more important than the heroic ideal of an equal fight.

One of the most important things to remember about using a story twist is that the story itself must hold together and have depth of character and plot without the plot twist. The twist is the cherry on top of the sundae, not the sundae itself.

The other thing to remember is that you have to play fair with the reader and give them bits of information that will give them little clues to the big twist. It shouldn't appear arbitrary or come from thin air.

If Bruce Willis' ghost character interacted with live people as well as with the little boy, the viewer would have felt cheated. Instead, they think back to him talking to a wife who is ignoring him, not because their marriage is in trouble, but because he is dead, and she can't see him, and the viewer will gasp with surprise and wince at missing all those clues to what was really happening.

If you can make the reader gasp with surprise and rethink what she's read, your twist has worked.

Monday, March 16, 2020

How to Show Rather Than Tell

QUESTION: Is there one hard and fast way to always show instead of tell?  

If you stay firmly in the viewpoint character's head and feel and see what she/he feels and sees, you will never tell rather than show.

Take the example of fear.  If you are afraid, you don't just think to yourself, I am afraid. If you think that, you really aren’t that afraid.

Instead, you may feel a shiver run down the spine, your heart will pick up speed, your body could tremble, etc., etc. 

If you write about what the fear feels like, that's showing.  If you just say that the character is afraid, that's telling.

How do you get so firmly in a character's head?  

Part of it is practice. Part of it is acting.

One of the most popular methods of learning acting these days is called The Method.  The actor is supposed to immerse herself into the character so that she isn’t acting, she’s actually the person.

One variation of The Method is called Being in the Moment.  I like that as a metaphor for what a writer does.

Put yourself in the moment of the scene.  

When you are ready to write a scene, close your eyes and imagine where your viewpoint character is.  What surrounds her?  Are any of the objects around her of importance?  How are they important?  What are the sounds?  The smells?  Who else is around her?  How does she feel about them?  How will she physically react to them?  

Now open your eyes and start typing.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Rewriting While Writing

QUESTION: How many times do you reread your book while writing it? I find I am constantly rereading my work over and over. I've probably reread it over a hundred times, I hope I'm on the right track.

Some writers don't reread what they've written until they finish. The advantage is they allow the story to remain organic and grow naturally.  The disadvantage is they can't correct elements of the story that no longer fit, and they may find it hard to delete those moments when they begin their first rewrites. (Sometimes, the longer a scene, etc., remains in the text, the harder it is to remove or change it.  Shrug. Human nature strikes again.) 

Some keep rereading and rewriting what they've written.  The advantage is very clean text and no loose ends.  The disadvantage is they can rewrite to the point that they’ve sucked all the life and style out of their story.  Plus, they are taking away valuable writing time to do this and may lose the desire to finish the story.  

I do a mixture of both.  I start my day's writing by rereading what I wrote the day before to get myself back into the groove of the story.  I only reread from the beginning if I've lost focus for the story.  The advantage is cleaner text, and I'm less likely to lose the main character's voice.  The disadvantage is some of my writing time is spent editing.

Every writer must choose what works best for herself.  

Monday, March 2, 2020

Dealing with the Cornavirus in Fact and Fiction

Here’s a blog on how to deal with the coronavirus in the real world and in your fiction world.

As a writing teacher, I've taught world-building for fantasy and science fiction so real world events always make me think of what those events tell us about building a fantasy world.  The coronavirus crisis shows how inaccurate the instant zombie apocalypse and other instant diseases are.  I don't think we are doomed in any of those cases.