The idea that the more words used the clearer the meaning becomes is one that trips up a lot of writers.
Not that additional details are always a bad thing, but the ‘a little more information couldn’t hurt’ approach is very definitely wrong. It can very much hurt.
If I want to visit you then there is a minimum amount of info (street and house number), and an optimum amount (best route, which exit to take) that I need. And then there’s an excessive amount (the name of your neighbour’s dog).
On the other hand, what difference does it make if you mention the neighbour’s dog? It’s not going to make the address harder to find.
There are no weapons more lethal, no formulas more potent, no roses sweeter, than words. The power of communication is the power of relationships, the power of conflict and resolution, the power of progress, growth, evolution just as it is the power of repression, corruption, and injustice. This is the power that has made us the dominant species on the planet.
There will be times when we know exactly what story we want to tell and the story just happens. There will also be other times when the plans we had made just aren't going to work. The key to solving these issues is to not panic and keep your eyes open. Sometimes, the answer is right in front of our face. We just were looking in the wrong place.
Here’s the thing about a powerful theme. It’s not black and white. It’s not the moral of the story. It’s not an answer–it’s a question. And here’s the thing about questions: they very often have more than one answer.
A great song plays on the radio. As soon as the last chorus fades, we wish we could hear it again. A plane touches down on the runway and we’re relieved that we’ve made a safe journey. We wave goodbye to a good friend. We wonder when we’ll see her again.
It’s all about anticipation
Every day we experience a lot of little endings and exciting new beginnings. And life throws bigger stuff at us once in a while. We’re at a beloved grandmother’s funeral. Our heartache tells us this’ll be the last goodbye. We get a promotion at work and wonder–What next?
When a man like Joss Whedon talks, you'd better be prepared to listen. The amazing director that gave us the gift ofThe Avengers knows his stuff and, luckily for us huge Joss fans, he gave a talk to share his wisdom!
So, how do you do it? How do you motivate yourself every day to drag your sluggy body up to the keyboard and headbutt the keys until a story is made? Day after day, one month, two month, six month, a year if that’s what it takes? As the actor is wont to ask the director:
Everyone has their hot buttons topics--the ones that get their blood boiling, or makes their skin crawl, or triggers an inappropriate response to the situation. While this isn't much fun to encounter in real life, it's a great way to create conflict and tension in a novel. Pushing someone's hot button (either accidentally or on purpose) can cause a character to act in ways they otherwise wouldn't.
It's no secret that I have a major soft spot for procedural dramas. And, I've recently become rather obsessed with CBS's Criminal Minds. I'm talking binge-watching-the-first-9-seasons-in-a-matter-of weeks obsessed. There are so many things this show does that make it a superior example of the genre. The plotting, the writing, the acting -- it's all laudable.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the show, the one that makes it so uniquely tantalizing, is the very nature of the Behavioral Analysis Unit. The show's not a classic sense of "whodunit" -- but why. This delving deep into the minds of the "unsub" each week is what makes it worth watching. And, I think there are a few lessons that we writers can glean from those BAU profilers about how to craft our characters:
One of the common myths about a story’s theme is that it must also be the story’s “moral” or “message.” Because theme always deals with fundamental truths that inevitably affect human morality, it’s easy to assume a story’s theme must always be specific and applicable to the readers.
Suspense builds up to conflict by causing heroes and the audience to worry about the outcome. It serves as a warning that can drive the characters and plot. Conflict that comes without that warning is jarring. While it can also be useful, it’s more likely to rattle your audience too much. Instead of pushing your audience off a cliff, imagine a hill that gets steeper the closer it comes to the climax. Suspense is a way to control the incline of that climb. Many methods build suspense, each with their own advantages.
What makes your protagonist interesting? Sparkling blue eyes? Rippling muscles? Brains? Money? Clothes?
Let's reword that. What makes a real flesh-and-blood person interesting? All of the things I mentioned above could be part of what draws your attention in the first place, but they aren't what holds your attention.
None of us start out as experts at writing. We all have to start at the beginning and learn and grow as writers, but there are many ways writers can improve their writing skills. Some of them are very simple.
I was a mystery writing pantster. I was rather proud of it.
This approach worked enormously well for me. Until, one day, it didn’t.
I was on a deadline and realized the book had several huge plot holes that I’d not seen until close to the end. I pulled some all-nighters and initiated a writing schedule that made NaNoWriMo look tame. I hit my deadline, but it was enough to shake me up. It shook me out of my complacency.
One of Elmore Leonard’s ten rules for writing was “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Excellent advice that makes very good sense, only exactly which parts are those?
On the surface it would seem obvious—the boring stuff, the longwinded explanations and unnecessary interludes, right? We all know what he meant. But when it comes to recognising the skip-worthy in our own stories it’s never quite so clear cut.
Scenes that are really going nowhere and have no purpose being in the story aren’t too hard to spot, but the bits that are just bland or that we’ve convinced ourselves have to be there for the story to make sense, they can slip through draft after draft.
So how do you spot the skippable parts and skip them before the reader gets a chance to?
There have been eloquent points made over the last couple of years about the “likeability” of female characters – notably by Roxane Gay and Claire Messud. In an interview with Publishers Weekly, novelist Messud responded spectacularly to a question about whether she’d want to be friends with her latest narrator Nora, given that Nora’s outlook was “unbearably grim”. Messud said: “For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert?” before reeling off a list of classic male anti-heroes and concluding: “We read to find life in, all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t ‘is this a potential friend for me?’, but ‘is this character alive?’”