Monday, April 27, 2020

Should You Kill a Secondary Character

QUESTION: Should I kill an important good-guy secondary character? 

It depends on what genre you are writing.

In romance a writer shouldn't kill off a favorite secondary character unless it's absolutely necessary. Romance is essentially the fantasy of happily ever after, and the death of a beloved character jars the reader's expectations. 

If a nice character dies, it should be a noble death to save someone else's life, not a senseless death. The finest example of this is Sidney Carton in Dickens' TALE OF TWO CITIES who died so the love of his life and the love of her life could find happiness. 

Science fiction, fantasy, and mystery have a harder edge, and readers are more willing to accept a character's death. In fact, if no one dies, many sf and fantasy readers consider that a flaw in believability.

I must admit to an intense dislike of having the major character's longtime love interest in a series killed, not only because I become attached to the character, but also because this is often writer laziness at its worst. 

Usually, the love interest softens the major character, and the writer doesn't want any softness or mushy stuff. (Oh dear, someone might think I write those stupid romances so I'd better kill the love interest!) To bring the main character back to the way he or she was at the beginning of the series, the writer kills the love interest. 

Of course, the most suicidal thing a writer can do in any genre novel is kill a beloved fictional pet or child. That will definitely drive readers away in droves.

As a good rule of thumb, I always try to remember an unspoken law in romance writing— “Never waste a perfectly good hunk.”  In whatever genre you write, readers love sequels or new adventures with the secondary character as the hero.  

Monday, April 20, 2020

Making a Long Story Short

QUESTION: My novel is way too long. Someone suggested I cut four lines off every page instead of trying to cut whole chapters, etc.

Anyone who can do that needs to work on their writing skills because they are writing weak, bloated prose.

There are other ways to cut length.

From working with writers over the years, I'd say that the primary thing most writers need to cut is writer information. We sometimes do our thinking on the page before we write down what the reader needs to see, and we fail to cut that out.

Writers also tend toward too much introspection. If all a character is doing in a scene is thinking about other things, get rid of that scene and insert that information into dialogue.

The great Phyllis Whitney once said that the only reason a character should be folding laundry and thinking is so an ax murderer can sneak up on her, and the reader knows this through subtle clues.

There's also the rule of three. If a scene doesn't contain at least one or two plot points (information or events which move the plot forward), and one or two character points (important character information) so that you have at least three points total, then it should be tossed, and whatever points included in that scene should be added to another scene.

Another way to consider the value of a scene is to ask yourself if it moves the main character toward his plot or emotional goal.  If it doesn’t, that scene can be removed.  

For major cuts, you can also consolidate several secondary characters into one character, or a subplot can be simplified or removed if it doesn't influence the major plot or the influence can be moved to another subplot.

Happy cutting!

Monday, April 13, 2020

Creating Emotional Resonance

QUESTION: What is emotional resonance, and how do I create it in my story?

Emotional resonance in fiction is the emotion shared between the reader and the character or characters in the story.  At its best, the reader not only feels the character’s emotions, those emotions and goals matter to the reader, not just in the moment of the scene, but through the book and beyond.

To give a scene resonance, you must offer visual and emotional cues in the use of your words and images as well as the five senses of the viewpoint character.  Vivid sights, sounds, and other senses are described which put the reader firmly in the character’s head and world. 

You can also use archetypal images or metaphors which have a strong emotional resonance for humankind. The archetypal image can raise the hackles (absolute darkness), slow the heartbeat (a babbling brook), or turn the stomach (maggots on a rabbit's carcass). The archetypal image can help push the reader's emotional buttons so you can make them feel what you want them to feel. 

Horror writers, for example, use the fear archetype to great effect. Stephen King can go for the archetypal jugular vein with relentless certainty. It is his greatest strength as a writer. His layering of images provokes an emotional response greater than mere words.

The archetypal image can also express changing emotions. In an unpublished novel of mine, the hero and innocent heroine end up in bed. Afterwards, the hero sends her a dozen white roses, the symbol of pure love and innocence. 

As the days pass and the hero doesn't get back in touch, the heroine watches the roses fade as her hopes fade.  When she finally realizes that the roses that meant “forever” to her mean “thanks for the great sex and good-bye” to him, she smashes the vase. 

Her innocence and love have faded completely; her heart is as crushed as the roses on the floor.

To create emotional resonance through the book you must give the main character a worthy goal for the book.  If that goal is emotionally important to the character and the reader, emotional resonance will be achieved.

In other words, if the main character must save his daughter from a horrific fate, then the reader is invested emotionally.  If the main character is just doing his job and the results aren't important, no one will give an emotional damn.  

That goal must remain the focus through every scene, or the reader will lose that investment in the outcome.  The character must also actively work toward that goal, despite outside interference from the antagonist and interior emotional interference.  He must overcome his enemy and his own weaknesses.  

To create the strongest emotional resonance, the hero must also lose something of great value to win.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Maintaining Tone

QUESTION: I have very abbreviated writing time so I can only work in spurts so my mood comes into the text sometimes. How can I stop that? 

The trick to holding the tone of the scene is to remember that you are the viewpoint character. You are seeing what she sees and feeling what she feels. Writing character is like immersion or method acting where you become the character.

This takes a bit of practice, but after a bit, you can switch between characters and personalities with ease as you change POV for a scene, and you can also inhabit the other characters in the scene so they continue to act as you've conceived them, and their dialogue is in character.

You also have to remember that your character should be reacting to what is happening at that moment rather than constantly sliding into introspection about the rest of her life. If you and she remains in the moment of the scene, neither of you will lose the right voice or tone of the scene.