Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Resisting the Urge to Explain

Way back when I first got into this whole writing thing, one of the first rules I learned was “Resist The Urge To Explain.” To be honest, I didn’t really understand the rule at first. I thought it was an admonition not to bore the reader with too many details. Don’t explain how a certain gun works, for example, just have the character pull the trigger. Don’t explain why a particular bus never seems to arrive at the bus stop at the proper time, just have it be late and let the character grouse about it. In other words, Keep the Story Moving. It wasn’t until much later that I realized RUE had more to do with not telling the reader something that would be better shown. Let the reader work it out for themselves.

A month or two ago, during a four hour car trip to my mom’s house in Missouri, I listened to “The Pathfinder” by Orson Scott Card. The story has plenty of novel elements, and I recommend the book if you’re into sci-fi, but I was struck by the amount of explanation scattered throughout the book. Each new concept or revelation was explained in intricate detail, often via a character’s internal thoughts, and, in my opinion, often at the expense of pacing.* I began punching the fast forward button more and more often, skipping through the explanations, especially if it seemed another character had already adequately covered the concept. Obviously, Mr. Card’s books are well respected and liked, so I suspect the “Resist the Urge to Explain” rule, like most other rules of writing, is rather subjective.

I bring this up because I’m struggling with a similar issue in my current WIP. I’m at the point of my story where the protagonist is finally being given answers to some of the peculiar things that have been happening to her up to that point, but deciding how much to reveal and how quickly I should reveal it sometimes leaves me scratching my head. If I explain everything too soon, it may come off as an infodump, but if I take too long, I may irritate the reader. And based on the comments of my crit partners, I have yet to hit that sweet spot. Some of them think I’m giving out too much information, while others want me to explain even more. Arg!

So what’s a writer to do? In my case, I’m going back through my CPs’ notes to find out which of the explanations they’re most eager to learn and making sure I cover them  first. Once that initial curiosity is satisfied, I can dribble out the rest of the information over the course of the story. 

What have YOU learned about writing this week?

ChemistKen .

*Disclaimer.  I was listening to the book, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about audiobooks, it’s that any perceived problems with pacing are magnified tenfold. Perhaps I wouldn’t have even noticed the explanations had I been reading the book instead.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 73

Not much happened this week, but I'm still looking forward to the weekend.  Hopefully the temperature won't still be hovering around the freezing point.  If it does, perhaps I can use that as motivation to stay indoors and write.

Have a great weekend and enjoy the links!


How to Use Pinterest to Communicate with Your Cover Designer

Creating Tension with Lizard-brain Writing

Sponsorship At Writers’ Conferences: A Question of Awareness

Keywords for Visibility

How to Spot a Rights Grab

Action vs. Decision

Integrating Tone into Dialogue

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Trick I Use For Writing Narration

Last week I promised I’d explain the new technique I’m using to help overcome some of my writing insecurities. So here it is. Consider the following lines from Brandon Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law.

He opened his eyes, and rested his hands on the balcony railing to look out over Elendel. It was the grandest city in all the world, a metropolis designed by Harmony himself. The place of Wax’s youth. A place that hadn’t been his home for twenty years. 
Though it had been five months since Lessie’s death, he could still hear the gunshot, see the blood sprayed on the bricks. He had left the Roughs, moved back to the city, answering the summons to do his duty to his house at his uncle’s passing. 

A nice mix of narration and exposition that fits perfectly into the flow of the scene. Although it’s not clear whether the character is actually thinking these things or if it’s the author telling us these things, the passage works because it’s in the character’s voice. All well and good. However, when I try writing passages like this, I’m immediately plagued with doubts. Am I telling too much? Does it sound like authorial intrusion? Am I distancing the reader?

I have no problem looking at someone else’s words and deciding if the narration is good, but when I stare at my own passages I have no idea if they work or not. I simply have no feel for it—like a color blind person trying to decide if a shirt and tie match. And this indecision really kills my creativity.

So I’ve spent a lot of time studying as many stories as I can, searching for that elusive “rule” that would allow me to “know” whether a passage of narration works or not. Since my stories are in third person, I’ve focused on stories written in that POV, but lately I’ve been studying stories written in first person and I think I finally stumbled upon my “a-ha” moment.

Writers who write in first person don’t worry too much about authorial intrusion since the narrator and the character are one in the same. As long as it sounds as though the POV character is telling the reader stuff in their own voice, most of the concerns about “telling” and “distancing the reader” go away. It’s still possible to do too much telling in first person, of course. You don’t want the POV character to tell us“I was scared,” but it’s perfectly acceptable to have the character tell us “I hadn’t felt this scared since that time I bungy-jumped off Lover’s Leap.” 

And then it occurred to me. What if I wrote my story in first person, letting the character tell the reader what’s going on in his/her own words, and then rewrite it in third person? Looking back at the narrative passages I’ve admired in third person stories, I see how this technique could have been applied when writing them.

So that’s my trick. Perhaps you think it's silly.  Or perhaps everyone else in the world already knew about it, but I had to figure it out on my own. It might be a month or so before I know if it helps, but for now I’m hopeful. 

P.S. In case some of you are wondering why I don’t just write the story in first person and be done with it, I have two responses. First, I prefer writing in third person, at least for now, and second, I think my current story works better in third.

Doesn’t mean I won’t be writing in first person in the future, though. :)


Friday, April 17, 2015

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 72

I'm really looking forward to a nice relaxing weekend.  The Midwest Media Expo is over and my taxes are finished.  Woohoo!  Time to catch up on some sleep!

The Expo was fun, although tiring, especially since I  helped my daughter carry parts of her Enderdragon costume around with her all day.  But it was all worth it in the end.
I'm happy to report she won an award for her costume.

The Enderdragon costume with retractable wings
My son as Balloon Boy from Five Nights at Freddy's

Happiness after the award.

And to top it all off, I think I'm finally making some progress on the chapter that's been plaguing me for weeks.  Good news all around!

Have a great weekend and enjoy the links.


Afraid Your Book Is Boring? Your Characters May Not Be Doing This One Important Thing

Eleven Things You Should Know About Query Letters

Does Your Author Website Have The Essentials To Attract Readers And Sell Your Books?

Making “Sense” of Your Characters

The Two-Edged Sword of Backstory in Dialog

3 Ways to Use Pinterest to Promote Your Book

Indie authors: are you making these mistakes with your print books? How to look professional on the page

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Guilty Pleasures of Fan Fiction

If you’ve read my bio, you might know I tumbled into writing somewhat accidentally. While speculating how J.K. Rowling might go about starting up another series based on the Harry Potter universe, I discovered how much fun it was to write fantasy. So for the last six years, I’ve been working on my Hogwarts story, learning everything I could about writing to make the story the best it could be. Six years may seem like a long time for a book, but I had a LOT to learn, and each new rule I discovered often meant a major rewrite. And a couple of years ago I decided I should also start working on my own stories, so my time has been split between multiple manuscripts.

To be honest, working on my Hogwarts story often feels like a guilty pleasure. Rowling didn’t worry overmuch about telling vs showing, employed a distant narrator who knew things Harry sometimes didn’t, and seasoned her story with plenty of colorful dialogue tags. (All supposed no-nos in writing) And since I made the decision to match her style of writing in my fan fiction, I don’t obsess too much over these rules, which means the writing comes naturally.

But when I work on my own stories, the feeling is completely different. Rowling might be able to break the rules and be successful, but that doesn’t mean I can get away with it, so I’ve made it a point to follow the rules as best I can. So I cut back on my telling, shifted to a closer POV, resisted the urge to explain, and tried to follow every rule I've read.

And it’s like slogging through molasses.

I often spend more time worrying about the rules than I do on the story itself. Heck, it often feels as though someone is staring over my shoulder while I write, prepared to make rude noises whenever I break a rule. As you might expect, this puts a real damper on my creativity. And based on my CP’s comments, some of which I’ve mentioned here over the past two months, my chapters have been a disaster. I’m so afraid of telling, I leave out information the reader needs to have, often confusing them. My characters seem like robots and the words don’t flow. Arg!

The good news is that I’m slowly figuring this all out, and next week I’m going to tell you about a new strategy I’ve come up with to solve the problem.

At least I hope it does!


Friday, April 10, 2015

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 71

This weekend, my daughter, son, and I have tickets to the Midwest Media Expo (a poor man's ComiCon?) and I'm already girding my loins in preparation.  My wife and I have spent a lot of late evenings this past week helping our kids prepare their costumes for the event, so besides being tired and sleep deprived, I'm also worried that my daughter's costume (which involves moving parts) may not survive the ordeal.  I don't even know if it will survive the first day.  Wish us luck, please!

Assuming I survive the weekend, all I have to do is worry about is filling out my tax returns and then I can finally get around to worrying about the simple things again.  Like how my protagonist is going to get out of her most recent jam.

Have a great weekend and enjoy the links!


How the Rule of Three Can Help Writers Avoid Backstory Slumps

3 Ways For Self-Publishers to Break Into the Public Library Market

The Big "W" and Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey Story Arc

Three Techniques for Building Great Set Pieces

Study the Pros: Map Your Favorite Novel

Bad Emotions Made Good

Spotting—and Avoiding– “Pay to Play” Publishing Contracts

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Review of Zombie-saurus Rex

Today you'll find me over at the SheraHart blog, reviewing Zombie-saurus Rex, a paranormal YA written by Mark Souza.  If you're interested in zombie stories, you should stop by and check it out.


Friday, April 3, 2015

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 70

Not much to say this week.  The two events I mentioned last weekend, my son's play and my daughter's forensic competition, went quite well and I've finally been able to relax for a bit.  And the weather's getting warmer, too!

Now if only I could get some writing accomplished, all would be well with the world.

Have a great weekend!


Authors: 50 Fabulous Ways To Kickstart Publicity

The Importance of Grounding Characters in the Reader's World

How You Can Help Your Favorite Authors

How to Improve Your Amazon Book Description & Metadata

Part 3: The Protagonist Enters An Unfamiliar Situation

Part 2: The Protagonist WANTS Something

Art Holcomb on Rewriting Your Novel or Screenplay

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

How Many Blog Posts Does It Take Me To Finish A Chapter?

Today is April's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

Why am I an Insecure Writer this month?

Because I didn't realize this was the first Wednesday of the month until about 2 minutes after I posted this.  But that's okay.  I didn't have to make many changes.  This post is just as much about my writing insecurities as my usual IWSG posts.

Patience is a necessary virtue for writers. At least it is for slow writers like me. Hey, what can I say? I’m a plodder. I edit extensively during the first draft. I jump back and forth between chapters as my muse takes me. I restructure the story several times throughout the first draft. Everything I’m told I shouldn’t do. Finish that first draft quickly, they say, before I get bored with it and run out of steam.

I’ve never found that to be much of a problem. Once a story has grabbed hold of me, nothing short of Armageddon will keep me from finishing it. All I need is patience, and I have plenty of that. Still, that patience can be tested at times when I see my writer friends releasing books at rates I could never hope to match.

Overall, I can’t complain about my progress so far this year. In fact, I’ve never been more productive. But every once in a while I hit a chapter where progress grinds to a halt. Like my current chapter, for example. What I thought would be a relatively simple chapter has turned into a major hurdle as I keep re-imagining the scene in order to make everything happen in a logically believable way.

I can always gauge my progress (or lack thereof) by checking the number of blog posts at the beginning of my chapters. You see, I tend to write my blog posts at the beginning of whatever chapter I’m working on at the time, bouncing back and forth between them and the story as my muse dictates. If my chapter is progressing along at a good clip, then I might write only one or two blog posts before moving on to the next chapter. But if my progress is slow, there'll be more. My current troublesome chapter includes five posts—two I’ve already posted on this website, two partially finished ones for the future, plus the one you’re reading right now. And to be honest, I have no idea how many more posts I’ll have added before this %*#@$& chapter is finished.

Takes deep breath…

Feeling better…

I’ll eventually get past this chapter—I always do—but every time I glance at the calendar, I’m reminded how much longer it will be before I’m a published author. Patience is my most important attribute.

So what do you do when you get stuck on a chapter? Do you stick it out and grind through it, or do you jump to something else for a while?