Saturday, 19 September 2015

Can Internal Dialogue Make Your Novel Better?

Firstly, what do we mean by internal dialogue?
Internal dialogue is the name we give to the technique used when writers show their character’s thoughts, as opposed to actual dialogue denoted by quotation marks. It’s also known as internal thought or inner dialogue.
With inner dialogue, the reader is privy to your character’s thoughts, but of course, the other characters will not know what your character is thinking. This makes for a really interesting perspective within any story.
Why is it used?
Internal thoughts are a great way of revealing character. It lets the reader become part of the character’s personal and intimate thoughts and therefore they learn what your character is really like, what they truly think and feel, but it also gives the reader their true motivations.
These thoughts give the reader some insight into the character that wouldn’t normally be revealed in the narrative. Often they can reveal the real character – deep personality traits emerge, inner emotions are revealed and a different side to your characters can be shown.
We also use inner dialogue to raise the emotional level of the narrative, all from a personal viewpoint. For example, when we see the terrible effects of war through the eyes of a character at the gates of Auschwitz, we hear his thoughts, we feel his pain and loss and his fear. As readers, we get to understand the character from a different and personal perspective.
More importantly, internal thoughts create immediacy. If you want to make a connection with your reader, then internal thoughts will do just that.
Another thing it does is allow the reader to see any conflict the character might have – since conflict is the fuel of every novel – whether that conflict is between the main character and others, with outside forces or whether the conflict is simply with him or herself. That conflict can be revealed within their thoughts.
Writing Inner Dialogue
There is a lot of conflicting advice regarding how internal dialogue should be written, but there is no hard and fast rule on this, other than to always be consistent.
There are plenty of ways internal thoughts can be shown to the reader, however, they should never be enclosed by quotations marks, simply because the use of quotation marks denotes vocalised speech.
Also, beginners tend to make the mistake of writing dialogue tags even after telling the reader who is doing the thinking. For example, you need only write ‘he thought’ rather than ‘he thought to himself’ or ‘she wondered to herself’.  Adding the tag ‘to himself’ or ‘herself’ is unnecessary because the reader will know the character is thinking to him/herself.  He thought or She wondered are adequate.
The most common way of presenting internal thoughts is by using italics, which differentiates between Arial or Times New Roman font used for narrative and dialogue seen in most books. This acts as a visual marker to the reader. Once it is clear who the viewpoint belongs to, the reader will know who is doing the thinking by the use of italics, for example:
He stood huddled with the rest of the men, fearful, fragile, and saw the guards moving a line of bedraggled people towards a line of buildings.
No! What’s happening…where are they taking the women?
Here, the character is fearful about what is happening and sharing his thoughts with the reader. This gives a personal viewpoint and it lends perspective, depth and emotion to the story. You will also notice that the thoughts are presented as present tense. The character is presently thinking – it’s an action not consigned to a past action, therefore it must be shown as present tense.
If the character was recounting what had happened to someone, i.e. something that was in the past, then the thoughts would be presented as past tense:
He had stood huddled with the rest of the men, fearful, fragile, and saw the guards moving a line of bedraggled people towards a line of buildings.
No! What was happening…where were they taking the women?
The example shows that it’s a past recollection by using ‘He had’ at the beginning, which tells the reader it’s something that occurred in past. The rest occurs in past tense to keep it consistent.
The same general inner dialogue guidelines also apply if you are using first person, for example:
I stood huddled with the rest of the men, fearful, fragile, and saw the guards moving a line of bedraggled people towards a line of buildings.
No! What’s happening…where are they taking the women?
You will notice that italics were not necessary in this example – you don’t have to use italics if you’re using first-person narration, simply because the reader will already know who is doing the thinking – it can only be the main character whose viewpoint is the basis of your novel.
Another way to show thoughts to not use italics at all, but to simply use a thought tag to denote who is doing the thinking, for example:
He stood huddled with the rest of the men, fearful, fragile, and saw the guards moving a line of bedraggled people towards a line of buildings.
No! he thought. Where are they taking the women?
The only thing to look out for if you use this method is that it’s wise not to pepper your narrative too much with ‘he thought’ or ‘she thought’, but instead use them sparingly, especially if you have multiple POVs and you have to differentiate between a number of characters for your reader.
How They’re Presented
The examples used here show the internal thoughts on a new line, like speech. Many books do this as a standard way of presenting thoughts. This simply makes it easier for the reader; however that’s not to say it can’t be included within narrative, because it can, as long as it’s set out properly and you identify who is doing the thinking, for example:
God, it’s so cold, he thought, as he stood huddled with the rest of the men, fearful, fragile. He saw the guards moving a line of bedraggled people towards a line of buildings. No! What’s happening…where are they taking the women?
Or this example:
God, it’s so cold. He stood huddled with the rest of the men, fearful, fragile. He saw the guards moving a line of bedraggled people towards a line of buildings. No! What’s happening…where are they taking the women?
These examples show how thoughts can be included within the narrative. They work just as well as thoughts that are set out on new lines. Whichever method you choose, the key is always to remain consistent throughout the story.
There are, of course, some things that writers should be aware of, so that errors don’t occur.
Don’t head hop. You don’t have to write the thoughts of every character in your novel. Just stick to the most important main characters, the ones the reader is truly interested in.
The reader doesn’t need to know every unimportant thought from your characters. The reader only needs to know the thoughts that move the story forward and advance the plot.
Always be consistent.
So, can internal thoughts make your novel better? They are a versatile tool for the author, they add depth, emotion, they reveal character, they create immediacy and they make it personal to the reader.
Internal thoughts add that extra dimension to your writing, so don’t forget to make full use of them!

AllWrite will be taking a short break and will return 10th October

Sunday, 13 September 2015

How to Build Your Strengths as a Writer

Writing is a constant learning process. It is always evolving and therefore writers also evolve.
Being a good writer isn’t enough. We all have our own strengths where our writing is concerned. Some of us are brilliant at description. Some of us can do realistic, snappy dialogue. Some of us are meticulous plotters and planners and some of us are good at all aspects of writing. But whatever that strength is, there is always room for improvement.
Writers are always striving to be better, so how can you build on your strengths as a writer?
Read – a lot
The more you read, the more aware you become aware of writing techniques, individual voice and styles and the way writers set out their narrative and dialogue. Reading other famous authors is still the best way to gain an insight into how it’s done. Long before the internet was invented, most writers learned their craft by reading lots of different books.
The more you read different genres, the better your understanding of fiction writing becomes. Not only that, but reading will also increase your vocabulary and your awareness of narrative and dialogue. By reading well established authors, you will also get to understand the how differently they approach writing; it will give you a greater appreciation of fiction writing and will no doubt inspire you.
Always Plan
At every opportunity in the story writing process, much of a writer’s strength will come from planning – everything from chapter breakdown, plot, characterisation, themes, subplots, setting and so on.  Planning is advantageous because it acts as a guide and directs the writer where to go next. It can also prevent writer’s block or other writing problems.
Become a novel planner and you immediately build on your strengths as a writer.
Criticism and Feedback
Criticism – a word that makes most people shudder – is something every writer needs to face. Why? Because even if the criticism levelled at us seems unfair and unwarranted, it has an uncanny knack to build our resolve to push us to do better, regardless.
Sometimes the criticism is right and necessary – perhaps someone points out that a particular scene doesn’t work, or maybe the characters seem flat and uninspiring, or maybe the story has the feel of a limp lettuce.  A good writer will recognise and understand those criticisms and do something about it. They can correct those weak aspects or errors and thus learn from it so that they don’t repeat the same mistakes.
There are also times when criticism can be unwarranted and unfair. Sometimes those who criticise are the kind of people that have no knowledge, experience or expertise a writer or the publishing industry as a whole. Sometimes the critique comes from someone who has never faced the scrutiny of an editor or been traditionally published. (Self publishing doesn’t count, since there are no quality controls in place to sort the good from the positively awful, and the majority is badly written).
The other thing that helps a writer is constructive and positive feedback from editors, publishers or other readers who can point out the areas that you are good at, but also highlight the areas where you are weakest. This is where feedback is essential for new writers in particular - it means they can then concentrate on the weak areas of their writing and improve their skills.
Rejection can work in the same way – it allows writers to accept any criticism, learn from and improve because of it.
Attend Workshops/Writing Courses
Workshops are another good way to learn more about writing, particularly as there are plenty of shared resources available to help. You can also talk to other writers, share advice and experiences and further learn from any writing courses on offer.
Join Writer's Group/Writer’s Forum
Writing groups or forums can be beneficial to budding writers because they are often made up of a range of people with differing levels of experience and skills.
Sometimes, speaking with people who have the experience of being traditionally published can help because they have a wealth of knowledge and experience and can offer advice that is tried and tested, but also offer various levels of support, and often there are usually people there who have expertise in certain areas of writing.
Learn to edit
Don’t assume that once your magnum opus is written that all responsibility for it can be dropped and it can be dumped in an editor’s lap for them to sort out. If you do, then don’t become a writer – as part of the skill set of a writer you should learn how to edit to a sufficient level that you learn about your writing, you learn what you’re doing and you spot your own mistakes.
Editors can help with grammar and syntax, characterisation and sentence structures etc, but they can’t tell you about voice and style or interfere with the true sense of the work. Don’t expect others to wipe your backside when you can do some of it yourself.
Write, Write, Write
It goes without saying – the more you write, the better you become.  Everything you write is considered practice, of sorts.
Not everything we write will be perfect – far from it. Every first novel is dire. That is until we start learning and improving until we gain confidence and the skills to make that novel into something that someone will want to read.
And don’t stop at novels – short stories and flash fiction are a great way for writers to improve and hone their skills.
But the best way a writer can improve on their strengths is to listen to feedback, learn from it, read voraciously and keep writing.
Next week: Can internal dialogue make your novel better?

Sunday, 6 September 2015

How Many Storylines Can a Novel Have?

This is one of those questions that writers – particularly beginners – always ask, but the answer can depend on the type of story you are writing and the amount of characters you have.
Firstly, writers should understand what we mean by ‘storyline’. A storyline is another word for plot, which is at the heart of your story. The plot is the main storyline; it’s what your novel is all about. A novel will have one main plot and several smaller storylines to accompany it.
Think of these little storylines as story threads.
Character Storylines
Having more than one storyline is not uncommon – in fact, your main characters will have their own storylines within the overall plot. If they didn’t have their own stories, the novel wouldn’t be as fully fleshed out as it should. Important characters will always have their own story to tell and certain parts of the novel should reflect this.
For instance, one character might have a particular background story that relates to the main story, or perhaps one of the other main characters has a story that intertwines with the protagonist’s story in such a way that it requires further attention in order to develop the story arc.
You can have as many storylines – or threads – as required, since there are no rules on this, however it’s wise to keep things simple and uncomplicated, especially if you are writing your first novel. That means you don’t have to write a storyline for absolutely every character. Writers tend to concentrate on just one or two key characters, otherwise too many character threads and subplots will just make things messy, because for every subplot you create, you must satisfactorily resolve it by the end of the novel. And if you have too many, it could cause problems.
In fact, the amount of storyline that you write for the each character will depend on how important each thread is to the main plot, so for instance, if one of your main character’s storyline is closely entwined with the main story arc, or closely related to the protagonist, then you should develop it accordingly.
If, however, the storyline is secondary or not as essential to the plot, then it should warrant only a small amount of attention by comparison. 
Your primary storyline will always be about your protagonist. It’s their story, their journey, and finding the answer to the main character’s goal is the driving force of the story. The rest of the characters just happen to share lots of experiences with main character along the way.
Subplots are another word for storylines. These refer to the mini-stories that are related to and run parallel to the main plot. Hence the name sub-plot. (‘Sub’ in Latin means something that is beneath, below or behind – so a subplot is a storyline that is below or considered behind the main plot).
If, for instance, you have a hero who falls in love with the girl, then there will be a sub-plot to support this. In addition, there might also be the girl’s own storyline. Both these will run parallel to the main story. Or you might have the hero and another character working together, away from the other characters and the story, which again, could form a sub plot. And that other character could also have his or her own storyline, too.
It may sound complicated, but in truth it isn’t. If you think of each main character having their own little storyline, then in addition to that you might have a sub-plot involving one or more of the characters that revolves around the main story, then the process will become clear.
In truth, a novel can have many storylines. Obviously, the downside is that if it has too many then the novel will become overcomplicated, hard to follow and a chore to read. They should never overshadow the main story plot and never become too many that they swamp the main story entirely.
In fact, writers don’t have to have that many storylines in order to write a good book. The idea is to keep it fairly simple and easy for the reader to comprehend – this makes for a much better novel to read, and a much easier one to write.
Next week: How to build on your strengths as a writer

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Tricks to Use to Pace Your Novel

When it comes to pacing a novel, plenty of writers are unsure how to achieve it, especially when we think of pace to mean the speed of something. But of course, in reality the actual pace of the novel never changes, but rather the perception of pace does, and that’s what writers want to achieve.

Pace isn’t just about the rate at which the story is told, it’s also a clever way of blending action, emotion, atmosphere and tension. The way to accomplish that is to choose the right words for the right scene. Writers also use the affectionately named 'elastic band' method - if you stretch an elastic band, it becomes taut and tense, but if you slacken it, it becomes relaxed and soft. This is how narrative should be, so the important elements of the story – crisis points, action scenes and conflict scenes – are tautened, and the pace alters to reflect that. This means the writing accelerates. Softer, reflective scenes or gentle emotional or romantic scenes represent a slower pace (and a slackened elastic band) and so the writing is more descriptive and full with flourishes, which decelerates the speed of the narrative and alters the perception of pace.

So what tricks can writers use to increase or decrease pace?

Use the Right Words in the Right Places

Since it is the perception of pace you are changing, then one of the best ways to do that is to use the right words in the right places. Every scene will be different, so consider the kinds of words that would best serve the pace – short, staccato words, particularly verbs like shunt, shove, snap, rip etc., shorten the entire sentence structure, therefore shortening the time it takes the reader to read it – it gives the perception of increasing pace.

These word structures are very good for quickening the pace for action scenes or when you want to push the narrative that little bit more.

The same is true if you want to slow the pace. Longer, rounded words trick the reader into thinking the story has slowed down – and that’s because the chosen words are designed to lengthen the reading time, thus giving rise to the idea the pace has slowed.
These word structures are great for decreasing the pace and allowing the reader to take a breather and reflect; great for descriptive scenes, emotional scenes, love scenes etc.
One word of warning here - keep away from adjectives in your sentence structures; they don’t help the narrative and they certainly don’t help the pace.
Compare these two examples:
John hit the button on the elevator panel, spun round to face the assailant. He snapped a closed fist hard into the stranger’s face.The impact rocked the man’s head and he stumbled back…
This example clearly sets a pace by using words such as hit, spun, snapped, hard and rocked. It takes next to no time to read these paragraphs. The brevity of the words fools the reader into thinking the momentum has increased.
John pressed the button the elevator panel and waited. He noticed a skewed reflection in the chrome plate, knew someone was standing just a few feet away from him; just visible over his shoulder. He took in a controlling breath and turned around to face the stranger, but to his relief, it was Jeff, his work buddy, who had crept up behind him…
In this second example, the pace is neither slowed nor quickened. The pace remains even, thanks to longer words such as pressed, skewed, reflection, visible, and controlling.
The right words in the right places make all the difference.
Lengthen or Shorten sentences and paragraphs.
This is another one writers use to fool the reader. Using shorter sentences or paragraphs tends to quicken the pace, while using longer paragraphs with more description and detail obviously decreases pace.
Again, the same principal applies as using the right words.
Lengthen or Shorten Chapters
The same rule applies. Shorter chapters fool the reader into thinking things are moving along quickly, while longer chapters tend to make the reader think the pace has decreased.
Use of Dialogue
Even dialogue can help give the impression things are either moving quickly or slowing down. That’s because it words exactly the same way as using the right word structures. In other words, short, snappy dialogue helps to quicken the pace, especially when combined with short, tight action scenes.
Conversely, you can also slow things down a little with use of longer sections of dialogue between characters.
Jump Scenes
This one is less well known, but still another way to alter pace and speed things up.
The writer jumps to new scenes – in other words, going from one scene to another in a short space of time gives the impression that things are moving quickly. That doesn’t mean you can do this all through the novel, because too much use has the opposite effect - it confuses or disorientates the reader.
Jump to different scenes only when the pace dictates, especially if you are pushing the story forward with two or three key characters.
Another trick – this one slows the pace – is to concentrate for a short while on your main character, with emotions or inner dialogue and description based around them and their thoughts. This slows things down a little and allows for more reflective scenes.
To summarise:

  • Use the right words in the right places to increase or decrease pace.
  • Lengthen or shorten paragraphs to increase or decrease pace.
  • Lengthen or Shorten Chapters increase or decrease pace.
  • Use dialogue increase or decrease pace.
  • Jump scenes to spee3d things up.
  • Use more description and detail to slow things down.
  • Use emotions and inner dialogue with your main characters to slow the pace.
Remember that different pacing helps with atmosphere, tension, emotions and conflict. Nothing stays at the same pace; life moves at varying speeds, and as writers we have to fool the reader into thinking the pace of the novel is always changing.

Next week: How many storylines can a novel have?

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Problems with Multiple Viewpoints

There are a lot of writers out there that have still not got to grips with multiple POVs and are therefore still making avoidable errors such as switching POVs mid scene and having every character in the novel have a viewpoint. It might seem that multiple POVs are complicated, or they present the writer with all sorts of complications because of dealing with many characters, but that isn’t really the case.

They are not complicated to deal with, if you know what you’re doing. It’s how well the writer approaches multiple viewpoints that matters.

POV errors happen – and keep happening – because writers are not taking the time to learn about them and understand how they work. Fiction writing isn’t just about writing a story and self-publishing it on Amazon. Writing is complex. That means all the elements that go into writing are also just as complex.

One of the faults when dealing with multiple viewpoints in a novel is the inability for the writer differentiate between characters clearly enough, because having lots of characters and therefore writing from more than one POV can be distracting and sometimes confusing for the reader, as well as the writer. It goes without saying that the main character always has the strongest viewpoint.

Readers tend to like as few character viewpoints as possible – it simply makes it easier to follow the story that way – so when presented with lots more character viewpoints, they have to concentrate and focus harder to stay with the story. This is why writers should handle multiple POVs correctly and carefully by using few rather than many.

Another problem is that the writer wrongly assumes that he or she has to write from the POV of every character in the novel in order to tell the story. This simply isn’t the case. Not every character is important enough to warrant his or her own POV. Instead, by concentrating on the main characters, and a few key secondary characters, the writer can focus the story properly, on the characters that matter.

Writers also have a tendency to switch from one character to another every other scene, or within scenes. You have to remember that when you are in a character's point of view, the reader is also in that character’s point of view, so every time you change that viewpoint, the reader changes with it. The constant switching can leave the reader confused as to whose story it actually is and eventually they will give up reading it.

Also, if the writer is often flicking between characters, he or she hasn’t thought about who the best character is to carry the scene or tell that part of the story. That means the focus of the story is lacking.

There is also a tendency with multiple POVs that the writer doesn’t pay attention to the story arc, so characters and scenes end up meandering without any cohesion. That makes it hard for the reader to understand what is happening with the core of the story.

Avoid the Problems

Writing multiple points of view is all about how you create them, how you write them, and how you switch from one to another in order for them to be effective and easy to follow for the reader.

Firstly, determine if your story needs multiple POVs. If it’s the kind of story that can benefit from multiple POVs, then by all means work with it, however, if the story is better as one or two perspectives at most, then carefully consider the pros and cons of each one before you start writing.

You need to decide whose POV best carries each scene, because it’s wise to remember that not every chapter (or every other scene) will be from a different character each time. That’s just overkill, and it shows a lack of understanding of fiction writing.

You have to decide which character is best for that part of the story. If it really needs another character perspective, then make the switch, but think about it carefully and ask the following questions:-

  • Does switching impart necessary information?
  • Does it show and build characterisation?
  • Does it move the story forward and expand the story?

If switching achieves these, then change POV. Do not switch character point of view because you think it’s another character’s turn to take the spotlight. If you read your favourite authors, you will notice that multiple viewpoints don’t expand beyond the main core characters. That means it’s far easier for the author to control, and easier for the reader to follow.

Careful and strategic switching between certain characters helps strengthen the story (rather than weaken it), because it helps the reader understand characters better, it helps them feel more involved with the story and that’s because the story will be told from different perspectives for the reader.

Change POVs the Right Way

Never switch POVs mid-scene. Doing so shows the reader, editor or publisher that the writer doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing. Ignore this advice at your peril.

If you must switch POV, wait for a new scene or chapter to do so. This helps the reader keep track of characters and their perspectives.

Every character in the novel does not need a POV. Just concentrate on the most important characters; those who can help tell the story. Think of a movie – it’s told through from the perspectives of two or three characters at most.

Your novel is no different. So don’t overcomplicate things.

Next week: Tricks to use to pace your novel

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Where Exactly Should You Start Your Story?

The beginning isn’t necessarily the beginning.
That might sound crazy, but there is a lot of sense in it. It means that authors don’t actually start their stories at the beginning. If anything, they start them part way through – what would normally be chapter three.
The advice sounds contrary, but it actually isn’t. It means don’t start the story at the beginning, i.e. don’t spend time writing several pages of introduction to your characters and the background and the set up, way before you get to the core of the story. Start it at the core.
In reality, the beginning would probably be chapter three or four, when things usually start get interesting in the story – but that’s where the story actually begins.
Every writer wants to make an impact with their novel or short story, and that impact starts at the opening paragraph. There is no shortage of advice on how to make that impact – starting with a bang or an important turning point – but often the writer has to decide exactly at what point in the evolution of the story it should actually begin.
Many writers make the common error of writing too much narrative and exposition at the start of the story. There is always an urge to tell the reader absolutely everything about the story from the very first page, in the belief that doing so is the only way to give the reader all the information required to understand the story. It’s the same if you have written a prologue – they also have a tendency to kill any interest with the reader, because they are one huge info dump. All this stuff will slow down pace and bore reader to death.
The opposite works far more effectively – do away with prologues and lots of narrative explaining things. Start where it needs to start. There is plenty of time to introduce your main character and show the reader the story set up once the story has shot from the starting blocks and gained momentum.
The old adage is right – less is more. Trim the fat and keep things lean. In other words, drop all the stuff you think the reader needs to know in favour of the stuff the reader absolutely must know.
It’s what they don’t know that keeps them turning the page, after all.
Compare these two examples of story openings:
He had shot and killed his own son. Blown his brains out.
The memories and images would not go away. They remained scrawled against the inside of Xavier Koslov’s skull like constant, piercing reminders of what he had done.
He had destroyed the most precious thing to him and forgiveness seemed as far away as redemption, and yet it had had brought him to this moment, to the gates of Berlin...
Does the opening immediately set the scene? Yes, because we learn immediately the character has killed his son. Does it grab the reader’s attention? It grabs the attention in way that lures the reader in to wondering why he shot his son. What impact does it make? It’s an emotional and shocking impact because the story starts in the right place - it starts at a pivotal moment, it starts where it needs to start; at an interesting moment in the character’s life.  
Now compare it with this kind of opening, which is not uncommon, especially with new authors:
Xavier Koslov peered into a piece of broken mirror and gauged his reflection. For the first time in over twenty years, he had shaved his bushy beard, desperate to rid himself of the man he once was. Now a trim, chiselled face stared back at him. His frame was much leaner, too.  As a member of the Partisans, they had covered the forests on foot, pushing through dense woodland for many hours at a time, day after day on the march through Poland and as a result he had become fitter than he’d ever been in his life, though he retained his broad, muscular shoulders...
Unlike the first example, this one makes the mistake of starting with irrelevant narrative, thus lessening any impact and the chance to grab the reader. It’s a mini info dump of exposition and is sure to bore the reader after a while.
If you have a story and you are not sure where to start, it’s wise to start at the turning point in your character’s journey, instead of writing three or four pages introducing said character before any of the action actually starts.
Imagine the reader is a passerby on the street and something has just happened – the idea is to immediately make the reader get involved, to wonder what’s happening and not to miss any really good bits, instead of them simply walking by and ignoring the scene because they’re just not interested. Make them want to be caught up in the action.
That’s why you have to create an impact; you have to start at a turning point or defining moment in your character’s life, which is key to the entire story. Don’t info dump, just get straight into the story.
And remember, the beginning isn’t necessarily the beginning. Examine your novel

Next week: Problems with multiple viewpoints