Sunday, 23 December 2012

Giving Your Writing Emotional Impact

Eliciting emotional responses from your readers isn’t as easy as it sounds, because the right emotive reaction from them is what makes novels and stories so appealing.

But to get that kind of response, the writing needs to be emotional, it needs to be arousing or moving etc - without being schmaltzy to the point where your reader might gag on the syrupy, soap-style sweetness of it all.  Conversely, you don’t want the writing to lack that important emotional punch either.  Little or no emotion in the narrative will produce a rather boring, flat read.

Emotion within the story creates a sense of immediacy with the reader, a unique closeness that makes the reader empathise, understand and care about the characters.

How to create emotion

Firstly, you need a character that the reader will identify with, one that is fully realised and rounded, one that the reader will recognise and care about from the outset.  If you have a reader that does that, then it will be much easier to elicit emotional responses from them.

And a fully rounded character is much easier to work with because the character and the reader will share those emotional responses and sentiments.

Secondly, the quality of writing really does count.  If the writing isn’t strong enough, then the narrative won’t be strong enough either and it will therefore lack that emotional punch.  For emotion, the writer must always use the right exposition – in other words ‘show, don’t tell.’  This is so important.  Showing strengthens a story.  Telling weakens it.

If a writer resorts to ‘telling’ his or her way through a scene, then there will be zero immediacy, zero connection with the scene and therefore zero emotion.

Thirdly, if you want to create varied emotional impacts, your characters need to face adversity and danger, they need to face seemingly impossible obstacles, or they should go through physical and emotional trauma, because whatever they go through, the reader also goes through it with them.

The act of overcoming those obstacles, and facing those traumas and the adversity, creates different emotions – thrills, sadness, excitement, sympathy, dislike etc.  And the situations within the story make for powerful emotional moments, the kind that the reader remembers; the kind that satisfies the reader’s need for an emotional connection to the story.  Love and joy, death, pain and loss, deception and dishonesty, thrills and fear…they all thrive on emotion.

The best way to illustrate this concept is to think of soap operas – they always have emotive storylines, and we become involved with our favourite characters’ trials and tribulations, and that’s because we care about what happens to them, we have a connection, there is immediacy.

As writers we should always exploit those moments, for example, what if your main character discovers a secret letter that hints at betrayal? Or the main character’s wife/husband/son/daughter etc. is killed in an ‘accident’, or the main character is in such a dire situation he or she has to make a terrible decision that will affect them for the rest of their lives?

All these are very simple examples, but written well, they will draw out a multitude of emotions to build around the narrative.  And of course, there could be many of these scene set ups within the novel to keep the reader’s emotions on a knife edge.

And of course, no story has emotion without that staple of all stories – conflict, especially when you have characters you love and characters you hate (the dynamic of protagonist and antagonist). Conflict creates an endless list of emotions.

The story themes might also create emotion, whatever the genre.  Some themes in particular are very emotive – war, love or betrayal, for instance.

And no writer can write without looking inward.  The most painful of memories, the joyous ones, the scary ones, the thrilling ones…our own bank of recollections can provide the catalyst of emotion to our writing, and sometimes it makes it easier to write, because we have experienced them.  And because we have experienced them, we can also share them.

Writing is about exploring human nature.  We’re social, emotional creatures, and things make us irritated, or angry, things makes us cry, some things hurt us, some makes us laugh, some fill us with happiness, some things scare us.  Every day we experience them.

The fictional world is no different.
Creating emotion within the narrative:
  • Excellent characterisation is essential – create immediacy and a connection to the reader.
  • Show, don’t tell.
  • Emotive themes make for emotional writing.
  • Conflict & overcoming obstacles provides emotion.
  • Quality of writing counts.
  • Look inward for own experiences.
Thanks to everybody for stopping by throughout the year to read some of the articles and hopefully become better writers.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone.
AllWrite will return in the New Year.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Twist in the Tale Stories

Continuing the theme of constructing short stories, one of the most popular styles of short story telling is the twist in the tale, especially within speculative fiction and horror genres.
Not all stories have to have a surprise or sting at the end – most stories don’t need it, but the thing about the twist is that if done correctly, it makes for a great story; hence they enjoyed by readers.  It also represents a writer’s ability construct the story in quite a clever way.

The premise of the twist in the tale story is very simple – the writer deliberately misleads the reader during the narrative, leading the reader to believe they might expect a certain ending, only then to be wrong-footed at the last possible moment to a shocking or surprising conclusion, one they ‘never saw coming’. 
It sounds easy, but these types of stories are anything but.  And that’s because the twist – that moment you pull the rug from beneath the reader – happens only once and it must happen at exactly the right moment to have the greatest effect.

It’s All About Deceit
It’s the one time the writer sets out to trick the reader.  And the ones that work the best are the ones that fool the reader throughout the story.  At no point should the reader discover the pretence or deceit, despite the subtle clues.  This is where a clever writer excels.

In truth, the writer is creating an illusion within the narrative to fool the reader.
Where to Start?

For once, with this type of story, start at the end.  In other words, have some sort of ending in mind, even if it is roughly sketched out, and then work backwards to fill in the rest of the story. 

Because these stories need to be meticulously constructed, I would advise some planning at least, so that you have an idea of your beginning and your middle section, too, and not just that all important ending.
It sounds crazy to work backwards, but that’s how twists need to be constructed.

For example, in a short story I wrote for the anthology Obsession (Static Movement, 2011) called ‘Watched’, the central character is shown as an obsessive who lives in an apartment opposite a provocative, flirty woman.  The main character has been watching her for some time, and the story is told through first person POV for immediacy. 
The clues in the narrative lead the reader to believe the woman is a prostitute, and she invites the man into her apartment for a good time, knowing he’s been surreptitiously watching her from across the street.  She is shown playing up to him and leading him on – after all, it’s just a job to her, it pays the bills, even though he is not quite her ‘type’.  And he’s shown enjoying her flirtations, and wanting to get intimate with her, just like any red-blooded male would.

She undresses and runs a bath for them to share some fun, and tells her visitor to leave the money – payment for her services - on a table.
But the rising tension in the story is what the mysterious ‘watcher’ wants with this woman, and what he subsequently does to her in the bath, and it’s not until the final moment of the story, when the main character looks in the mirror, that the twist is finally revealed – the attacker isn’t a man. 

It’s a woman.
The story is about sex and obsession, and it fools the reader into believing the main character is a man – without actually revealing this, or even the character’s name – therefore it misleads the reader to envisage an ending and dupes them at the end because they don’t expect the cold, obsessive killer to be a woman.

A real life event inspired the story.  Its construction started with the main character – female rather than male – expressing behaviours more associated with males, so I knew the final reveal would provide an effective sting.  From that I had an idea how the story would end.  And because I’d seen something that had sparked the story to begin with, I also had a beginning. 
So I then had to work backwards from the ending to infill the details and construct the whole story – in other words I had to construct the ‘middle section’, which contained the action and tension and the clues etc.

Lead a Merry Dance
You have a beginning, you have the twist ending, and you’ve got your middle section sketched out.  This middle section is where, proverbially, you lead your reader on a merry dance.  This means you have to guide them into the illusion in order to fool them at the end.

To do this you have to plant subtle clues and hints within the narrative, and not make them so obvious that the reader will guess the outcome. 
For instance, with ‘Watched’, the many clues were delicate and indirect:

She loosened the belt on her bathrobe, gazed at my tall shadow.  “You’re not what I expected.”
That’s what they all say. I shook my head; slow, deliberate, intuitive. “No, I guess I’m not.”

It doesn’t give anything away, but the clue is there.  The guest isn’t what the woman expected, because the ‘guest’ is a woman, not a man. 
This is how hints and clues should be.

The Final Reveal
This is the moment the writer yanks away the fictional rug from the reader.  It has to be right at the end of the story in order to affect the greatest impact.  Reveal too early and the effect of surprise or shock is lost. 

If you make the final reveal, and then go on for another half a page of narrative, again the effect is completely lost.  The final reveal should signal the end of the story.

  • Work backwards from the ending.
  • Plant subtle clues and hints – delicate and indirect.
  • The reveal must happen at the right moment for maximum effect.
  • Happens only once

Next week: Giving your writing emotional impact.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Getting to Grips with Short Stories Part 3

Structure - The ending

Endings are just as important as the openings of stories. That’s because the ending of a story performs more than one function.

A good ending is when the crux of the story reaches its pinnacle; that final moment before the climax. Everything in the story leads up to this moment.

More importantly, the ending of a story is formed from the natural progression of the narrative.  You should never force an ending, otherwise you run the risk of demolishing the fabric of the story and thus ruining it for the reader, but also because they will see that it is contrived and forced.

As with novels, short stories don’t have to have a happy ending.  Depending on the type of story you are writing, you can have a dramatic ending, a sad ending, a happy ending, or you can have the twist in the tail type of ending (these need careful consideration and construction in order to work – more on that next week).

But whatever the genre, the ending needs to be natural and satisfactory.  But what exactly does that mean?

In essence, the ending should leave the reader satiated, that on the whole, they agree with the final outcome you’ve constructed, that they have a sense of ‘oh that was great’, or ‘I didn’t see that coming’ or ‘that was so moving’ etc.

In order to achieve a natural and satisfactory conclusion, firstly the latter half of the story should to tie up any loose ends prior to its finale (e.g. don’t leave the reader guessing what happened to John Doe, last seen dangling from a cliff in the middle of the story, but then completely forgotten at the end).  This does happen with story construction, where writers become so engrossed in writing it that they sometimes forget what some characters were doing, so it’s important that these glitches are sorted.

In addition to that, any questions raised by the story need to be answered, so don’t leave them unanswered, otherwise the reader will become annoyed and frustrated.

Something else to consider is this: why is your character doing what he or she is doing? – remember motivation – and how have they overcome the barriers in their way?  How have they got to this high-point in the story?  What is the likely conclusion? 

The ending evolves through the main character achieving his or her goal.  They have overcome all obstacles to get to the climax (whether it’s a good, bad, sad or an indifferent ending).

The Climax

This is sometimes misunderstood by writers, who assume they must have lots of action and excitement to finish the story, but actually, a short story isn’t like a novel or an action movie.  It doesn’t have to be about explosions and mayhem and non-stop action.  A short story ending can be subtle or gentle; it can be thought provoking or it might even shocking and abrupt. 

In other words, it’s how the writer constructs the ending that gives it the greatest impact.

And of course, it should never drag on. The ending should be swift for maximum effect.

In essence, the conclusion of your short story needs to achieve several things:-

1. It needs to provide a satisfactory ending.
2. It needs to answer questions posed in the narrative.
3. The protagonist/antagonist achieves his/her goal.
4. It is a natural progression of the story and isn’t forced.
5. It is swift and effective.

And just to make sure certain elements are not forgotten, a simple checklist helps with construction.

Short story checklist:

·         Have you planned the story?
·         Whose story is it?
·         What is it about?
·         What is it trying to say?  What is the theme?
·         What kind of action is there?
·         Is there a varied pace?
·         Do you have at least one of the three unities?
·         Is there conflict?
·         What is the character’s motivation for his or her actions and subsequent actions?
·         Is the ending satisfactory?
·         Does it flow naturally?
·         Is the ending swift and effective?

The most important thing, however, is to take the time to think and plan the story, to ask questions, to know the story you want to tell.  It’s better to know where you want to place key scenes, to know what will happen to the main character and to know the kind of conclusion the story needs before you start writing.

Next week: How to write twist in the tale stories

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Getting to Grips with Short Stories Part 2

With your opening and your hook in place, your characters introduced, and the tone and crux of the story set, it’s time to look at the middle section of the short story structure.  This section is where the bulk of the story takes place, where conflict arises and pacing plays a vital role, and where key scenes happen.

Structure – The Middle

On the whole, the main portion of action happens in this section.  And just as you would construct narrative, description and dialogue in a novel, the same is true for short stories, where a balance of these three elements is crucial to the short story composition.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because it’s a short story that you have to scrimp on description and replace it with lots of dialogue, or replace any dialogue with constant action.  You don’t.  You need both in a balanced, equal measure.

Set out the Character’s Motivation

This section is where you show the reader the motivation for the main character’s actions in the story.  In other words, show the problem you character faces, and how the character will overcome that problem, despite the many barriers in his or her way.

The motivation is what drives the story – the very reason for your character’s actions, reactions and subsequent actions.  This is the section where the writers poses the ‘what if?’ and ‘what next?’ kind of questions for the reader.

Without motivation, the character has nowhere to go and nothing to do, and therefore there’s no story.


It’s part of every story.  You must have some sort of conflict happening between your characters, or the characters and their environs or with themselves, because conflict is the catalyst to providing the reader with tension and atmosphere.  Without it, there is no story.   

Think of your favourite TV dramas – there is always conflict of some description to maintain the viewer’s interest and that sense of ‘what will happen next?’ 

Conflict promotes tension in many ways, while added description within the narrative bolsters the atmosphere.

The Three Unities

I’ve touched on these in previous articles, but these are specifically important to short stories because you are working with a limited amount of words, so these unities provide the reader with what they need to know in terms of time, place and action.

Unity of Time – Short stories tend to take place over a short period of time, as opposed to novels that can cover days, months or even decades.  The time frame tells reader when the story is happening.

Unity of Place – This tells the reader where the story is taking place.  Unlike novels, where there may be a multitude of place settings, a short story usually has just one place where all the action takes place.

Unity of Action – This tells the reader whose story it is – so the story is told from one viewpoint throughout.  (It is of course quite acceptable to have several viewpoints in a short story, however they should be carefully considered before starting the story).

There’s no golden rule that says you have to have all three unities, however having more than one helps make the story stronger, so aim to have at least two.

Vary the pace

Peaks and troughs – that’s the best way to describe what you should be aiming for in the narrative.  Small bouts of action/tension balanced with gentler/softer moments so that the pace is balanced.

If nothing happens in the story, the pace will be static, and it’s likely you will bore your reader.  If the narrative races along at breakneck speed without a pause, this too will put the reader off.  There will be moments when you want the reader to slow down and reflect – even in short stories – so always look for balance when pacing the story.

 Aiming for the Crescendo

The middle is also the section where you build the momentum of the story as it heads towards its conclusion.  The character overcomes the barriers you place in the way, and the climax approaches.
It doesn’t have to be action all the way – which some writers wrongly assume they have to provide – but instead it can be a gradual build-up of tension or atmosphere that leads towards a crescendo.

Next week: Getting to grips with short stories Part 3 - Endings

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Getting to Grips With Short Stories - Part 1

Writing a short story might sound easy – after all, it’s only a few thousand words, right?

Actually, the process is just as complicated and as technical as writing a full length novel.  It still needs a lot of thought, planning and preparation. 

Short story writing doesn’t come naturally to some writers.  This might be because they’re not sure how to even tackle one, and because some have never written a short story, they naturally think they’re no good at it.  That means lots of opportunities like short story competitions and submissions for magazines pass them by, simply because they won’t attempt to write one.

Sometimes they’ve failed to get to grips with it for one reason or another, and subsequently they translate that as not being able to do it.  And of course, to a writer, not being able to do it automatically means failure.

But it’s mostly to do with fear.  Some writers just fear tackling the short story.

These are common psychological barriers. To overcome them, writers first need to stop fearing the short story and instead tackle it, because by understanding how to plan and structure the short story, writers break the fear.  It then becomes a pleasure to write them, rather than a chore.

So, how do you tell a story in, say, 1000 words?

The same as you do in a 90,000 word novel.  That’s because the principles for planning and writing a short story are the same as a novel, but they’re just merely condensed.  That means you take an idea and roughly chart a beginning, a middle section and an ending, and then add some prospective key scenes/ideas. 

With a novel you simply have more pages at your disposal to tell your tale; you have more tools and writing devices and you have more time to explore your themes, your characters, their situations and subplots, and you have more time to cover a lot more description and narrative.

With a short story, however, these types of writing devices are somewhat limited. But it’s what makes up the short story that counts - how it’s written, and the most important thing with short stories is getting the structure right. 

As with novels, balance is key to a good story structure, and that means using the right amount of description, narrative and dialogue.  It also means you should roughly sketch out the following as part of your planning and preparation:

·         Whose story is it? Who else is involved?
·         What is the story about?  What themes are there?
·         Why is it happening? What is the meaning behind the story?
·         Do I have ideas on key scenes?  What sort of action do I want?
·         What happens in the end?  What happens to my main character?
·         Is it a happy/satisfactory ending?

So, set aside the fears of the dreaded short story, and let’s take a step by step walkthrough.

Structure - The Beginning

The Set-up

The beginning should start right in the heart of the action or intrigue, or an important moment in your protagonist’s life, or a crisis point, just as a novel would do.  But you don’t have the luxury of the amount of words that a novel affords, so it’s important to set the scene from the outset so that the reader has a clear understanding of what the story is about. 

This is the basic premise of the set-up.  You need to set up the theme and tone of the story straight away.  This can actually be accomplished in a couple of lines or a paragraph, for example:

Fuel dripped from the ruptured petrol tank. The flames grew; he knew he had to escape from the wreck before it exploded.

From the outset the tone is clear, and the set up is established – a man trapped in a car wreck, desperate to escape before it explodes; leaving the reader to wonder whether he will make it in time.

Had there been any more tears, Annabelle would have cried.  But she didn’t.

This type of first line poses the reader questions: Why doesn’t she have any more tears?  What has happened to her and why?

Great First Liners

It’s also important to hook the reader from the first line, if possible.  A great opening line does this effectively.  It might pose a question, it might lure, it might intrigue, it might horrify or pique the reader.  It might make them laugh, or it might move them to tears. Whatever you choose, think about your opening line and what you want to convey.

Once hooked, then the rest of the narrative should ensnare your reader.  Great opening lines can be a few words, or even one word.

Here’s some first lines from some well known short stories:

‘It was late and everyone had left the cafe except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light.’ - Hemingway’s A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.

Hemingway also wrote the shortest story of his career, at only six words long: ‘For Sale: Baby shoes, never Worn.’  There are countless questions that need answers, just from these six words.

‘There aren’t many hitchhikers on the road to Hell.’ - Dead Run by Greg Bear.

Introduce your main character straight away and drop them right into the action (and other characters where necessary) so that the reader can immediately get to grips with who your characters are.  You want the reader to get to know your character from the outset.

Even though you are writing a short story, a good writer will ensure that the reader identifies and empathises with the character, just as they would with a novel.  If you achieve that, then the reader will want to know what happens next and therefore will keep reading until the end of the story.

Don’t spend 600 words describing something in great detail and then introduce the main character halfway through, (especially when you only have 1000 words or so to write the story), otherwise you risk ruining the story completely and thus putting the reader off.

Set the Scene

Something else the beginning should do is set the scene so that the reader feels part of it – where is the action taking place?  What can the character see?  What are they feeling? What is the conflict in their life?

This is where the use of colours, aromas and sounds can convey the atmosphere of the opening scenes.  And the weather also adds to the overall effect, so don’t neglect it.  It can add important layers to your description.

Once you’ve got your opening line, set the scene, introduced your character(s) and jumped right into the action with the hook, you’re ready to move into the middle section, which we’ll look at next week.

Next week:  Setting to grips with short stories - part 2

Saturday, 17 November 2012

How Writing Evolves

As writers, we never really think too much about how our writing develops or progresses as we write, but it does. 

Writing is an ever changing, continual fluid process; there is always something new to learn, there are better ways of approaching writing and there are always different ways to improve our skills. 

But how does how our writing evolve?  Do we notice it?

Over the course of writing a novel, for instance, you will notice how your writing develops during this process if you were to compare later chapters with your earlier chapters.  You will see a significant difference between them – the writing at the beginning might seem raw and unstructured or a little less cohesive, but towards the end it is much better – it has better structure, it’s more unified and more refined.  Descriptions might seem fuller, characters might seem deeper and more complicated, dialogue has improved and the general writing structure is enhanced. 
Also, you will notice that more complex things like metaphors, similes, symbolism and subplots have emerged.

This happens because in the time it has taken to write the novel – anything between 12 months to several years – the standard of writing has visibly improved because of this ongoing fluid process of writing, learning, improving and therefore evolving. 

Even over the course of writing a short story, your writing still evolves. That’s because everything develops naturally, and writing is no different.  So over the course of many years, the quality of writing and the standards of practice get better as you learn the craft and thus become more proficient. 

As well as the need to learn and progress, the other thing that helps writers evolve is constant writing. This helps you find out what works and what doesn’t, it helps you settle into a rhythmic ‘voice’ that is unique to your narrative; it also helps you understand the limitations of your writing.
And just like anything in life, it’s true that the more we do something, the better we become. 

Therefore it makes senses that the more flash fiction and short stories or poetry we write, the better we become in general.  The standard improves and the writing becomes better.  And that’s what every writer should aim for.

Think of it as a painting – the more brush strokes you add, the more layers you include to the overall effect, which eventually creates a beautiful picture.  You want to achieve the same with your writing.  Lots of brushstrokes and layers.

Compare the standard of writing when you first started to write, to the standard now.  There will be a significant difference between your first attempts and the writing you produce now, and it may surprise you.  If the standard hasn’t changed, however, then there is something fundamentally wrong and your writing skills need to be addressed. 
This often happens when writers don’t want to learn and therefore they never really improve their writing skills. The reason for this is simple arrogance – some writers think they already know it all, and are not open to advice and skill sharing. 

These writers will never evolve.

Writing is a constantly changing subject – it never stays static – because there are always new things to learn, new avenues to take, new ideas to explore and better writing to accomplish. 

As writers, we all start in the same place – at the bottom – but where you want to go is down to the writing.

So in order for your writing to evolve positively:-

·       Take on board good advice
·       Take the time to learn about the craft
·        Read as many authors as you can, learn from the best
·        Write constantly – short stories, flash fiction, poetry etc.  Practice makes almost  perfect.

To evolve is to improve.  It’s entirely down to writers whether they want to.

Next week: Getting to grips with Short Stories


Sunday, 11 November 2012

General Fiction Cliches

We’re all aware of different narrative clichés which creep into our writing, and we know ways to avoid them - phrases and words such ‘all of a sudden’ or ‘or hell broke loose’, ‘just then’ and ‘suddenly’ etc, but there is also another kind of cliché which crops up from time to time without a writer even realising.  These are general fiction clichés.

So what are they?  Unlike the usual hackneyed words and phrases, these general clichés can be situations, characters, places, events or even set scenes.  The best way to illustrate this is to give you some examples of common fiction clichés:

a) The creepy/haunted house/log cabin in the middle of the woods or near a lake, enveloped by a ghostly where have we seen that one before?

b) The hard-bitten cop with emotional problems, who doesn’t conform to the many books and movies have this kind if main character?

c) The woman alone in her house, who for some inexplicable reason forgets that the light switches work and instead insists on using a torch while calling out, ‘Hello?  Who’s there?’ Like anyone lurking in the shadows is going answer her, and why would anyone ask such stupid questions to a lurking burglar/murderer/,monster etc, in the first place?

d) The climax of the story always takes place in a factory or foundry, a warehouse or docks...always somewhere where all the workers have mysteriously vanished into a fictional black hole, so there is no one about while the bad guy and the hero slug it out.  Sound familiar?

e) The antagonist corners the hero, it looks like he’s going in for the kill...but then spends the next four pages explaining why he’s so evil and horrible and intent on taking over the world, and then goes into great detail about how he’s going to kill the hero.  Why do the bad guys always insist on telling the hero everything beforehand?  If you are a cold calculating killer, you kill; you don’t hang around chatting happily to your victim.

f) The main character tells his girlfriend to stay put while he goes to investigate the noises what does she do?  She stupidly ignores him (obviously) and goes off on her own and quickly (here’s a surprise) gets into trouble...

Which then leads us to probably the worst cliché in the history of fiction – women ALWAYS need rescuing from danger by the hero, because they’re weak and pretty dumb and can’t do things for themselves, and more importantly, they’re there to make the hero look...well, heroic. 

If your story has any of these, especially the last one, it really needs some brutal editing and maybe a dose of reality.

These familiar examples are all fiction clichés and happen with regularity.  Why must a creepy or haunted house be in the middle of nowhere?  Why must your crime novel have a cardboard-character cop so predictable that the reader will see through him?  Why do TV series, movies and books always have characters searching through a house with flashlights when most of the time they can just throw a light switch?

And why are women portrayed so dismally in fiction and with such stereotypical influence? 

Writers settle into these clichés too easily, and without realising it, so to avoid them is to be different in your approach.  It is a matter of carefully reading through your story and being able to spot obvious these types of general fiction clichés, and if you do spot them, be judicious with your editing.

Think carefully how the story begins, how it will open out and how it might end.  Think about how your characters fit and work together into this framework.  If there are female characters, have you made stereotypes from them?  Why not switch the gender roles and have the female rescuing the male, for a change.

Don’t be afraid to be different with your characters so they are not so predictable or turn into cardboard cut outs. Be different with your settings - set your ghost story somewhere other than the clichéd creepy forest/lake, and instead choose the middle of a bustling town or city, or perhaps it takes places on a ship or in a factory.  Challenge your reader with unpredictable events rather than predictable, hackneyed ones.  

Try to be different with as many aspects of your writing as you can, this is what makes ideas fresh and inventive, but be different, especially when it comes to fiction clichés.

Next week:  How your writing evolves.


Monday, 5 November 2012

Are there such things as Flashforwards?

We all know about flashbacks – the often used device for writers to tell a back story or fill in gaps of information for the reader by dipping into the past, but what about flashforwards?

The case of the flashforward is debatable among writers. But there are such things.

Flashbacks tell us what has happened in the past. Flashforwards, on the other hand, tell us what happens in the future, but since most writing takes place either in the first, second or third person, flashforwards should not exist because you can’t predict what might happen in the future. Or can you?

This is the sticking point. Logic tells us that we can’t talk about the future, simply because the future hasn’t happened yet, so how can writers write about future events that are yet to take place without making the story sound trite and over the top?

There are some circumstances where a flashforward is desired and wouldn’t seem out of place – science fiction and fantasy writing for instance.  
These genres allow the writer to bend the rules where fiction is concerned, because sci-fi and fantasy relies on that ‘out of this world’ element, where the normal binds of reality don’t exist, so there could actually be a sequence where a character sees into the future, i.e. a time-traveller story maybe, or perhaps there is a dream scene where the character imagines the future. Or you might have a scene where the character who possesses the gift of prophecy  ‘sees’ into the future.

Within these genres, the flashforward is not out of place.
Of course, in most conventional genres however, the writing doesn’t contain flashforwards, simply because those events have not yet happened - the events largely take place either in the present or the past (i.e. first person or third person), and writers who try to attempt to do it risk making a complete mess of the whole thing unless it’s skilfully done, it’s pertinent to the entire story, it’s logical and it’s necessary and believable, and most of all, it’s expected.

If it’s none of the above, then it isn’t going to work.

Many writers also confuse foreshadowing with flashforward. These are not the same devices. They work on separate levels. Don’t confuse one with the other.

Foreshadowing simply hints at things that might happen later in the story, where the writer plants clues or uses symbols or metaphors. The flashforward is a specific moment in the future that the writer focuses on within the narrative, which, like flashback, still logically tells part of the story.

Unless you are writing a science fiction based or a fantasy based story, steer clear of trying to insert a flashforward into the narrative because while flashbacks can be notoriously difficult to write, think how strange flashforwards might be, where you are writing about events that haven’t happened yet.

If this kind of literary device is necessary within your story, then study other writers who have managed this – Flashforward by Robert J Sawyer, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol or the Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, to name just a few.  

So, there are such things as flashforwards, but only in special circumstances.

Next week: Avoiding fiction clichés.