Friday, August 31, 2018

Gently Guiding the Reader Through Your Story

Photo Courtesy of VisualHunt

I was watching TV the other night when I was reminded how useful character behavior is for guiding viewers (or readers) down the path of the author’s choosing. The show was Suits, and the scene involved two characters talking. One of them (Lewis) was suffering from the psychological effects of having been mugged a few days earlier, and the other (Samantha) was helping him deal with it, revealing that she had also been mugged at some time in the past (apparently before she arrived as a character on the show). They both share the same boss (Robert). Here’s the relevant snippet of dialogue: 

Samantha: The same thing that happened to you, happened to me. And when it did, Robert was there for me. And I'm going to be there for you.
Lewis (confused): I'm sorry. What do you mean, he was there for you?
Samantha: It's not important. The important thing is that you’re going to learn self-defense. And I’m going to teach you.

Now what's so significant about this exchange, you ask? It was Lewis's response. You see, the audience (and Lewis) already knew Samantha had been working with, and been friends with, her boss for years before she arrived on this show, so the idea that Robert had been “there for her" made perfect sense. Nothing out of the ordinary. I wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but then Lewis challenged her on that point, and suddenly I wondered if there was some hidden meaning in her words, something that might surface again in a later episode. Of course, I could be totally off on this, but I doubt it. The show’s writers are good, and having a character question something is a common trick for signaling viewers/readers that they should be questioning it too.

But this trick isn’t limited to foreshadowing. It’s an excellent way of allowing the writer to lead the reader down the desired emotional path. Showing the POV character’s response to an event is the writer’s way of telling the reader how they should respond. If something happens that causes your MC to be sad, for example, then you must show them being sad, either through their actions or via internal thoughts. Don’t just set up the situation and expect the reader to figure it out on their own. Even if you’re absolutely, totally, positively sure the reader would know the character is sad, show it anyway. Trust me, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my critique group, it’s to never underestimate a reader’s ability to come up with alternative explanations for story events when left to their own devices. These days, readers are so accustomed to having the character’s actions and interior thoughts guide them down the appropriate story path that when the author skimps on them, the readers become lost.

How many times have you seen a movie character notice, or begin to question, some small detail, but before they have a chance to follow up, something distracts them and they forget all about that detail, which later turns out to have been an important clue. The purpose of that scene wasn’t to show the character failing to figure out the answer, it a signal to the viewer as to where they should be paying attention. Of course, writers sometimes use this trick to deliberately misdirect the reader away from the real clue, but that’s a topic for another discussion.

It’s a dirty little secret, but good writers lead their readers by the nose all the way through a story. The trick is to do it subtly enough the readers’ noses aren’t sore by the time they reach the final page.


Saturday, August 25, 2018

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 190

This Week's Writing Links
Photo Courtesy of Visual Hunt

I'm slowly working my way back into a regular blogging schedule. Too be honest, it's been harder to do than I expected.  It's not like I don't want to blog or that I don't have a list of things to blog about, but free time is still a precious commodity at the moment, and I'd rather work on my story than blog. If it makes you feel any better, I do feel guilty when I miss a post.

In other news, the family and I visited the Grand Canyon a couple of weeks ago and managed to hike down the Bright Angel trail for about 1.5 miles. That works out to about a quarter mile straight down, so we were plenty tired by the time we climbed back out again. (Okay, maybe our son wasn't that tired). The arrows show how far we traveled.  

It scarcely seems possible that I hiked all the way down to the bottom and back (about 20 miles) in a single day back when I was a college student. I guess if I can do that, finishing a damn book should be a piece of cake.

Enjoy this week's writing links! 


What are good character traits? 7 helpful attributes

Book Reviews: Can You Quote Me on That?

An Easy Tip for Developing Story Ideas

What’s Going On With CreateSpace and KDP Print?

Getting the Big Picture Across in Your Scenes

How to Create an Unforgettable Author Visit

Book Title Generator at Reedsy

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Planning For the Next Book In Your Series

Photo courtesy of Visual Hunt

One of the advantages of being a slow writer is that I have plenty of time to contemplate the chapters I’ve already written. It’s not at all uncommon for me to be in the middle of one chapter and suddenly think of something that should have been added to an earlier one. In fact, this happens so often, and my stories have become so much better because of these additions, that I’m almost grateful for being a slow writer. 


But all this time for reflection doesn’t just apply to the past. Looking forward can be just as important. Sometimes, during those quiet times when I’m not writing, I think about the next book in the series. Now it might seem that plotting the next book is kind of silly when I’m still plodding along with the first one, but successful writers need to think ahead. And some of the ideas I’ve developed for book two has led to a richer plot in book one. 

Knowing what the next book will be about allows a writer to know the kinds of things that should be added to the first book in order to make the transition between books easier. For example, are you going to need a new villain in book two? Then maybe we should meet them in book one, even if it’s only a cameo appearance. 

Here are some of the aspects I’ve focused on as of late. 

Future relationships: When I began my current WIP, I wasn’t planning on any sort of romance, but part way through it occurred to me the MC might be attracted to one of the characters she meets. Sparks won’t fly in this book, but who knows about the next one? I might as well plan for it now. To that end, I’ve given both characters traits that will tend to derail any lasting relationship in the future. Will they be able to overcome these problems? I don’t know, but thanks to a little forethought, the potential for conflict is now in place. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Hallmark Channel, it’s that no conflict is too big for love to overcome. 

Characters traits: I hate it when a character acts differently in the second book of a series simply because the plot requires it. Make sure you’ve already foreshadowed the reason for this behavior in book one. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone, we learn that Hagrid isn’t supposed to do magic, although we don't learn why until the second book, where it turns out to be a part of the plot. It wasn’t a huge deal, but foreshadowing these things not only makes the series seem richer, but it makes the story world seem more real to the reader. At least it does for me. 

Future goals of both the protagonists and the antagonists: Planning now can help keep you from wrapping the storyline up too quickly. In my current WIP, my original idea was to have the bad guy’s big bad plan be completely spoiled by the MC’s actions during book one. I have since made the plan more comprehensive, so that now the MC’s actions only lead to a setback, not a complete defeat. Luke may have blown up the Death Star, but that didn’t mean the Empire was finished. 

You don’t have to know every detail of your next book before you finish your first one, but a little forethought can go a long way to keeping you from painting yourself into a corner. And in my opinion, there’s no better inspiration for finishing a book than having the next book in the series demanding to be written.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Insecure Writer and Jumping Back Into the Saddle Again

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

Why am I an Insecure Writer this month?

Because I worry that after being away from writing for so long, I may never feel the urge to jump back into it again. 

Okay, perhaps I’m being a bit melodramatic. There’s no way I’m ever giving up on writing, but it’s been so long since I’ve had the time to sit down and write, I wonder how hard it will be to start up again once my schedule finally settles down. 

This has easily been the most unproductive summer of writing I’ve ever experienced. Work has been crazy and home projects have eaten up all my spare time. Throw in graduation parties, a bevy of sick cats, a road trip to Missouri to visit family, a trip out to the west coast for my niece’s wedding, and... you get the picture. I haven’t touched my WIP in a couple of months and my blog posting has been sporadic at best. 

I know many of you have even busier schedules, so I’m not complaining. Life gets in the way sometimes, and my schedule should definitely be easing up starting next week, but I’ve never gone more than a few days without writing before, so I’m approaching uncharted waters. 

By the way, I’ll be hiking on Wednesday, so I may not be able to respond to your comments and or visit your websites for a couple of days. In the meantime, can any of you guess where I am? 

Not enough for you? How about this?

Still not enough? Okay, Here's one last hint!

Have a great IWSG Wednesday!