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Monthly Archives: April 2009

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3 Things to Avoid Even If You’re a Bestselling Author

In my early 20’s I discovered historical romances and fell in love with them. I quickly found some favorite authors and devoured everything they wrote. As time went by, I drifted away from them and only recently found some new books by those favorite authors. This time around, my reading experience with them has been different.

I still enjoy the stories, but now that I’ve been writing myself for a number of years, I notice a lot more about the writing technique used in the books I read.

A Lump of Backstory

I discovered that one of my most favorite authors is quite fond of backstory, delivered in a huge lump at the beginning of the book. One book had 40 pages… yes, you read that right. 40 pages of backstory to begin the book. I quickly found myself skimming and flipping page after page to get to the actual story with the hero and heroine.

Instead of dumping a lot of past information at the very beginning of the book, she could have included it throughout the story as the characters interacted. As the reader, I would have questioned some of the behaviors of the characters without the backstory, but posing story questions (Why did she react like that? What is the secret he doesn’t want to talk about?) and not answering them right away would keep me reading through the book to find the answers.

Realization #1: A glob of backstory is not a good start to your book. Backstory should be used like salt… a sprinkle here and there throughout the story as seasoning. Too much salt and the resulting story is inedible (or unreadable).

Missing Action

Another author was fond of leaving out details of the story action. For example, “Hero turned away from the stairs, deciding he’d wait to talk to Heroine after supper. He turned back at the noise and started up the stairs.” What noise? Where’s the explanation of what he heard? In this case, we later find out the noise was Heroine having a huge cat fight with her sister. Why couldn’t the author just say that Hero suddenly heard screaming and loud crashes from upstairs?

Realization #2: It’s not clever to leave out details of the action as if they are implied by the character’s reaction to something. It’s just confusing and confusing your reader too much will cause them to stop reading your book.

Important Scenes Happening Off Camera

This technique seemed like a cop-out and an incredible missed opportunity. The author skipped over scenes that could have provided heightened suspense or revealed the inner qualities of the characters.

For example, Heroine is kidnapped by train robbers because she has seen their faces and can paint likenesses for the local sheriff to put on Wanted Posters. Hero rides after Heroine, worrying about her. After riding a full day and spending a fretful night beside a campfire, Hero finds Heroine hidden in a haystack in a barn. She falls into his arms, trembling from the kidnapping ordeal.

Wait… where’s the scene of the Heroine bravely standing up to the train robbers? Even a scene of her cowering and afraid of them as they threaten to kill her? It took an entire day for the Hero to get to her location. What was happening to her during that time? Where’s the scene that explains why she’s hiding in a haystack with the train robbers mysteriously vanished?

These were prime opportunities to show us more of Heroine’s inner strength in the face of danger, her intelligence in trying to find ways to escape. Even an opportunity to paint the train robbers as a real threat so that Hero’s eventual rescue of Heroine is truly heroic. But instead, the author chose to skip over the scenes and instead have the Heroine tell the Hero that the train robbers had stashed her in the haystack for the night so the wife of one of them wouldn’t realize they had kidnapped anyone. (Okay, this was a HUH? moment in itself.) The Hero doesn’t even get a showdown with the train robbers. Instead, he takes Heroine back to her family and the sheriff rounds up the train robbers, again off camera, so the threat is suddenly, and easily, eliminated.

Realization #3 – Don’t leave out the best scenes. Use the action scenes to give the reader better insight into your characters. Use them to raise the tension in the story and increase the danger to the characters. Leaving out scenes like this only robs the reader of the chance to really fall in love with your characters and to be enthralled with your story.

What I’ve Learned

Though the books had flaws, I still enjoyed them. I’ll continue to read these authors, though I’m not as awestruck by their talent as I once was. Instead, I realize now how difficult it can be to write a great story.

The craft of writing a great story is a lot harder than most people realize. When you get all the pieces right, it’s magic. When you don’t… well, you’re providing a learning opportunity for us other writers out there. And I’m going to keep reading and keep learning from every book I read.

Feeling A Little Tense?

Step right up and spin the wheel, was it past, is it present or will it be future?  Sister Sara—yes, my fellow blogger and Saturday Writers crony—and I got into the discussion of which tense we prefer to use and or read.  She backs the past and usually I do too…that is until lately

In my WIP–those of you who follow me on the social networking sites have herd me whine and complain about Disenchanted–I’ve used present or should that be, I use?  I started out with past tense, but it wasn’t working, yet I couldn’t let it go.  I reworked and rewrote but nothing seemed to help, it still didn’t ‘feel’ right.  One night–I’d like to say it was one stormy night but it was only your average beat your head against the keyboard night–it became easier.

The next day I read what I’d written.  Someone flipped the switch, the lights where on and I was home.  Where it began to make sense and look like something was where it changed tenses!  So I reworked the rest and continued on, who am I to argue with the muse?

Now back to the previously scheduled program, as I was saying Sara and I were discussing tense.  Basically how my choice of present was driving her insane, not that she didn’t like what I’d written, more along the lines of it being so different.  My stance is different is sometimes good, great even, especially when I’m looking for new books.  I like new, exciting ideas, twists on old ideas and ways of presenting them.  Moral of the story different strokes for different folks.  I’ve said many times, if we all liked the same thing, we’d be fighting over the same book.

Am I telling you to switch the tense of your story?  Hell no, but I will suggest trying out a tense you haven’t used, even if it’s just for a writing exercise.  Go ahead, expand your writing skills and your mind, try something different.  I dare you!

Synopsis Secrets

For the past few weeks I have been attempting to write the synopsis of the story I am currently working on.  I thought it would be simple.  Was I wrong.  So I did some research.  Everyone has a different opinion of what a synopsis actually is, when to write it and what should be included.  I presented the question to my writing group last Saturday which helped me narrow down what I exactly needed to do to complete my synopsis.  Here is what I learned.

 

What is a synopsis?

Webster defines it as “a shortened statement or outline, as of a narrative.”  A synopsis is primarily a condensation, an outline or a short presentation of an article, of an essay or of a book.  This is your chance to tell your story from beginning to end.  Your synopsis should focus on the main characters, the main plot and the main conflict.   What would you tell someone if they asked you what your story was about?  That is your synopsis.

 

How long should my synopsis be?

One author I recently had the pleasure of meeting, Lois Greiman, shared with us her rule of thumb for the length of a synopsis being 1 paragraph for each 10,000 words.  If you can summarize your story in 1 or 2 pages that would probably be an appropriate length for a synopsis.  That doesn’t mean it can’t be longer or shorter.  Your synopsis can be whatever length it takes for you to tell your story.  When you are ready to submit your synopsis to an editor or agent you might want to check their guidelines and edit your synopsis to meet their requirements.

 

What should I include in my synopsis?  Should I give away the ending?

A synopsis should tell the entire story from your beginning which hooks a reader to your shocking ending.  Your synopsis is not what is going on the back cover of your book so you aren’t giving away the plot.  A synopsis is used for submissions to an editor or agent.   You want them to want to read your story.

 

When do I write my synopsis?

This is the questions I have been asking myself and have yet to come to an adequate answer.  Would it be easier to write the synopsis before you begin your story?  This way it would help you stay on track as you write.  Or would it be better to keep a pen and paper handy and write down highlights of your story as you go?  Then you would have somewhat of a synopsis when you finish.  You can also wait until you finish your story to write your synopsis so you don’t feel obligated to stay on any one train of thought or story line, so you can venture off where ever your story takes you. 

 

How should my synopsis look?

Your synopsis should look professional. You should use quality white bond paper, 1” margins all the way around.  Double space your synopsis and use a standard font such as Courier New or Times New Roman in size 12 font.  Create a header listing your name, the title and the word ‘synopsis’ in the left corner and page number in the right corner.

 

Now you should be able to take on the task of writing your synopsis and have something worthwhile to show for it when you are finished. 

Art in its Many Forms

     I am an artist.

     At least, I like to think I am. I have the Bachelor’s Degree with a fancy piece of paper describing me as Magna Cum Laude hinting that I’ve applied myself.

     My college art professor always told me I would never be taken seriously in the art world – he said I was too “puppies and kittens” because my artistic creations weren’t graphic manifestations of inner turmoil from the demons destroying my tumultuous ravaged soul…or something like that. My art didn’t – and doesn’t – contain parts of my own flesh and blood either. Evidently, my childhood was not dysfunctional enough. Real supportive, huh?

     He was wrong.

     I am an artist.

     I am also a writer.

     Both are true art forms.

     The fact that I hadn’t suffered for my art – in his eyes – made me a target of the professor’s disdain. My being female didn’t win me any awards in his mind either. But do you think that has stopped me from pursuing what defines me?

     A big fat “NO” on that one.

     By the way, I had a wonderful childhood. Tragic, huh? All sarcasm aside, we didn’t spend a lot of money on commercially manufactured toys and mass produced goods. To some people, that may sound as though I was deprived.

     Not true.

     I was rich. Maybe not in money, but in what really counts. I was raised to use my brain and skills to create what I needed.

     So I painted, sculpted, stitched and sewed. I played the violin, piano, and clarinet. I dabbled a little bit in drama. And I wrote stories.

     Oh, the stories I wrote as a child! “What an imagination!” my teachers would tell my parents. “What a delight she is to have in class,” they’d say. Well, I don’t know about that, but…whatever. I was probably a handful, never knowing when to shut up.

     Now, here I am. All grown up and still don’t know when to shut up.

     Am I happy when I get to write, paint, and create? Darn right!

     Never let anyone shut down your creative ablilites. Never let the critics tell you to give up. If you have a story to tell, tell it. You’ll be glad that you did.

It’s all about me! (or you? or them?)

Yesterday at our monthly Saturday Writers meeting we got into a really interesting conversation about point of view, as in “writer’s point of view.” Jean (you know her; she was one of our bloggers until recently when life got in the way – Hi Jean!”) decided she’s going to write in a new point of view, which is what prompted the discussion. And in the process, we learned a couple of things, including the fact that I can’t say the word “Omniscient.” (You try it. Not that easy!) There are three primary Points of View (and a few twists on each of them, as well):

 

First Person – “I” point of view. Seen strictly from inside the protagonist’s head.

Third Person – “He/she” point of view. Seen from one or more characters, one at a time, and experience only what that character experiences.

Omniscient or Narrative– A narrator, who can be external or a character in the story, presents the tale to the reader. They can show us anyone’s thoughts or actions. It’s the most difficult POV to master.

 

Personally, as a reader and a writer, I’m a big fan of third person omniscient. I like being able to tell my story through the eyes of a number of characters (with appropriate scene changes and indicators to keep the reader following along nicely). I think this form has a number of benefits; it gives the narrator (me!) reliability because it’s clear I know everything. It lets the writer layer experiences and views, creating a rich landscape. And it covers more ground, because the writer doesn’t have to wait til the one-and-only viewpoint character comes across something to share the information. And make the POV universal omniscient instead of third-person – and things become tricky: I the writer can share with the reader things my characters don’t know.

 

There’s been a POV trend for the last decade of so – first person narrative. The story is told exclusively through the protagonist’s eyes. What he/she doesn’t see, neither does the reader see. What he/she doesn’t know, neither does the reader know. In some ways it’s more person… we’re living with and through the character, so we’re as closely “along for the ride” as we can be. But it’s also very limiting, in my opinion. It prevents a story from having all the layers it might have with the addition of other characters viewpoints. Often I won’t purchase a book that’s written in first POV because for me they tend to drag a bit. But I’m trying to broaden my horizons, and I just finished Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris, and I admit, I liked it. I’m also reading Lois Greiman’s Unzipped, another 1st person POV, and I’m enjoying it, too. So maybe as with all things, it’s the writer’s ability to handle the technique well.

 

So, I’m going to give in and test it for myself. Sometime this week I plan to rewrite Gemma’s opening scene in first person, and see if it improves, or doesn’t change at all, the strength of the piece. It should be an easy scene to experiment on, since it’s relatively short, somewhat active, and full of emotion.

 

I’ll let you know what I come up with.

 

In the meantime, what POV do you find yourself most easily immersed in? 1st person? 3rd? Omniscient?