Saturday, August 28, 2010

Writing Adventures ~ A Summary

Writing Adventures
~ A Summary ~

Note: This is the summery of a huge article I found about seven years ago on the ‘net. Unfortunately, I didn’t bother to record the actual name of the article or the author’s name. I was more than a little lax about how I collected information back then. Worse still, the bulk of this has been removed, rewritten and/or paraphrased for brevity and easy grasping. If you happen to know where this came from, please let me know!

• The STORY is the single most important thing.
No one is going to read a book that doesn't have a bold, fast-moving story with a clear course of action that comes to a satisfactory conclusion without too many dangling ends. Any mystery has to be solved; any goals should be achieved; and most characters have to be given what they deserve.

• Don’t be BORING - for more than half a page (125 words) at most.
Ahem... A properly formatted manuscript page is 250 words.

NO: lectures on the rules of magic or astrology - for more than half a page
NO: artistic description - for more than half a page
NO: descriptions of machinery not necessary for the story - for more than half a page
NO: loving re-creation of how it felt to be in, say, 1920 AD or 2000 BC- for more than half a page. Unless this is demonstrated in narrative, it is just a history lesson.
NO: social documentary lectures - for more than half a page
NO: preaching - for more than half a page
NO: general ranting of any kind - for more than half a page
NO: extensive soul-searching - for more than half a page
NO: long exposition of ANY KIND that is unbroken by action - for more than half a page.

• What interests Kids – STILL Interests Adults
DO: cars
DO: guns
DO: computers
DO: gadgets
DO: expertise
DO: frightening things
DO: witches, wizards and magic, but don’t repeat what has already been done. It’s BORING the second or fifth time around.

Give the Reader an experience they can get no other way.

• Offer HOPE.
If your desire is to give a detailed account of bullying, or drug addiction, or parental abuse, fine, but it does no good just to do ONLY that. ‘Readers’ in these situations know all about them, better than you probably do, and will find such narratives boring, while ‘Readers’ who don't know are going to find them either glum or repulsive. You have to show someone handling these situations or, better, overcoming them.

We are programmed to like puzzles, and try for solutions. The best plot for (any) book distances the Reader from her or his problems, so that they become puzzles that the Reader can turn this way and that, and follow with the author to the solution. Do that, and you have made a blueprint for living.

• It is very unimaginative to discourage (anyone) from aiming as high as they can.
It is better to show someone aiming at the moon and only getting halfway than to show them trying to climb to the roof and only getting to the bathroom.

The PLACES where your story happens are as important as the story itself.
Visualize. See the place in your mind, as wholly and exactly as you can, as if you were standing in the place yourself, and then simply write the story that happens there.

Don’t foist on the Reader a loving description of something that has NOTHING to do with the story.

• Beware of making absurd random changes.
Unexplained random changes destroy any feeling of the reality of the story, such as Toad in The Wind in the Willows who is sometimes frog-size and sometimes human-size.

• Use DYNAMIC Characters
The people in your book make the story happen. It follows that they usually have to be fairly strong, dynamic characters, and some of them have to be people that the Reader would follow willingly into the action - likable, understandable, a lovable rogue and so on. 

Before you start writing, you will need to know your characters so well that you can hear their voices - then what they say will come out right without you really trying - and see details that won't get into the book, like the way they walk and what they habitually wear.  

• Never actually specify the character’s actual ages.
No one is more humiliated than the 12-year-old who eagerly follows the adventures of a strong character, only to find that this character is five years old.

• Make your Villains HATEFUL.
EVERYONE likes to have a good hate. Understanding the baddies may seem politically correct, but is not recommended. Children, rightly to my mind, regard this sort of milky tolerance with contempt.

You can ache with sympathy for your villain and delicately comprehend exactly what childhood trauma caused her or him to be such a nasty piece of work, so long as you also remind them that they are also really quite hateful.

Simple Words are NOT always the Better choice.
It is not necessary to limit yourself only to easily-understood words. After all, how else are the Readers going to learn new words unless they read them? On the other hand, almost anything worth saying can be said in short, simple words, and tends to make a greater impact if it is. The advice here is not to start your book with a string of unusual words, which will be off-putting, but to include them by all means when the context makes it clear what the words mean.

• Your sentences must be constructed so that readers will not lose their way in them.
If you are in any doubt, read the sentence aloud. This will almost infallibly show you if it is right or wrong, because you will get in a muddle if it is wrong.

• Clichés make your book very Ordinary.
Clichés are not only found in descriptive passages, but in whole Stories as well, such as when our romantic heroine dislikes a tall dark stranger on sight and then marries him in chapter 30.

Take the time to actually describe the actions and situations. Take the time to make your passages and story DIFFERENT.

• Watch for the Inner Squirm
Good enough is NEVER Good Enough.

• Don’t Leave Anything Out
Every story has to have reasons for the things that happen in it. Make SURE you include the Reasons for those happenings!

• When you End your story, make sure all the important facts are accounted for.
Like explaining why the villain did what he did, or making sure that Jack is not still buried alive in a mineshaft.

• Finally, Don’t end it as a dream.

Morgan Hawke

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