Sunday, 26 March 2017
Every writer has a different way they approach writing. Some like to edit as they go, while others like to wait until that first draft is done before so much as changing a word.
Since there are no hard and fast rules, best practice is usually the way to go. There are pros and cons for editing during writing or at the end of this process, but when it really comes down to it, many experienced writers choose the latter method, simply because the benefits far outweigh any negatives. Of course, it's down to each writer in the end.
Editing During Writing
How many writers stop what they’re doing and go back a few chapters to edit stuff?
This might seem a great idea, but the stop-start nature of this process means that the narrative suffers because all the writer is doing is slowing down the writing process and making it painful and drawn out. By continually going back to edit, writers lose focus on what is important within the narrative they’re currently writing, so some things go off on a tangent, sub plots suffer, they don’t keep an eye on continuity of events and characterisation can suffer because the writer has taken his eye off the ball.
The outcome of this is a process that takes longer than a normal draft would take, since the toing and froing between writing and editing means that two single tasks are swallowed up into one and any cohesion and clarity is blurred because the constant stutter causes the narrative to suffer and story focus is lost.
Not only that, but writers may end up making more mistakes by switching back and forth between writing and editing, because they are not concentrating on what is fundamentally important – writing the actual bare bones of the story. This is especially compounded if the story itself is complex.
Another major problem is that the writers don’t allow enough time from writing to editing, to allow the mind a break from the story and characters and the glaring errors, and that means they won’t distinguish between narrative mistakes and the deeper, complex ones; they just won’t see them. They’re too involved.
The complex stuff is exceptionally important. For example, you may not spot the plot flaws as easily as you would if you treated the editing process as a single task undertaken weeks after the writing process. You may not spot characterisation problems, or you may not realise that what you’re writing doesn’t actually make much sense. That’s because you’re too busy editing the previous chapter, and so on.
Editing as you go can cause all manner of problems with chronological events. If writers edit the previous page or chapter, they may cause plot problems later down the line with events that are yet to happen, and characters are to act and react with continuity. Something in chapter 30 might relate back to chapter 2, but you’ve already edited chapter 2, so now it doesn’t make sense. You’ll end up editing it all again anyway, which is inefficient and time consuming.
The other way of looking at it is “interfering” as you go. In other words, the urge to go back and interfere with the previous chapters to tweak things can cause problems with the entire storyline, since how can a writer know what will be written later in the story if he keeps interfering with the earlier story? The answer is you can’t.
Many writers do come to realise that the creative side of this process – writing – doesn’t always gel with the deconstructive, practical part – editing. You’re giving free range to your creativity on one page, but then constricting it and changing it on the next. To create and deconstruct at the same time can be destructive – it’s a volatile coexistence and rarely works.
That’s why they are two separate tasks within the writing process. Doing both at once isn’t conducive to flow, clarity, continuity or cohesion, not to mention all the other complex aspects that go make up the writing process.
That’s not to say that this doesn’t work for everyone. Some people like to edit as they go, and that’s entirely up to them. The end result is that the entire thing will still need to be edited properly anyway, several times, so in terms of efficiency, it’s not always the best way to approach things.
In Part 2 we’ll look at editing after the first draft has been written, and whether this is a better process for the writer.
Sunday, 19 March 2017
There’s a lot to be said about character traits – they’re as individual as fingerprints and can be very revealing to your reader in ways that help them understand your characters on so many different levels.
Your can use character traits to show the reader what your character is feeling, without having to directly tell them. By establishing character traits early on in the story – the earlier, the better – you can use them to show the reader at key moments how your character feels, the emotions he or she has and the thoughts they have in any given situation.
Behaviour plays a big part in character traits – how we behave effects how others perceive us and react to us. Sometimes we act predictably, while at other times we do something that is considered “out of character”, depending on what is it we’re reacting to.
The thing about character traits is that you don’t have to fling everything at the reader in one foul swoop. If you do that, you’ll have nothing else interesting to reveal to the reader as the story progresses. Instead, it’s better to intersperse relevant characteristics at opportune moments, to drip feed the reader in order to main the interest.
Writers use the following ways to show character traits:
- Body language
- Dialogue & Voice
What we do and how we do it can speak volumes about who we are and how others perceive us, and that’s true of our characters. But the way we show readers is what makes this work, rather than what we tell them, for example:
John slammed the door. He often got angry whenever people let him down. It always raised his hackles and so he always resorted to slamming things.
This is telling the reader what they don’t particularly want to know – not what they need to know. This is a missed opportunity for writers. They can show the reader the kind of person John is without having to tell them. That’s because the art of revealing character traits is all about subtlety, instead of the obvious. When rewritten, the example reads differently:
John’s senses tautened and he slammed the door, yet in his head it sounded like an angry growl of thunder and immediately he shrank from his anger, afraid to let it spill over.
This rewritten example shows John reacting to his anger. He shrinks away from it, he realises his aggression, which reveals to the reader that he doesn’t like getting angry and could be afraid of showing it.
Actions show the reader the kind of characters you’ve created, especially within confrontational situations. Conflict creates actions and that creates plenty of opportunity to reveal character traits.
Body language is very revealing. It’s a trait we all possess, and the best writers tend to be the most observant, because they use things like nose rubbing, ear scratching, curling hair around fingers, finger tapping and chin rubbing for their characters, which makes them that more interesting and rounded.
Imagine a character that always plays with their earlobe if they’re lying. Or a very wily, clever character who has a habit of stroking his chin when he’s deep in thought. Small, almost unnoticeable movements can give the reader insight into your characters. Readers will pick up on these subtleties without any effort.
Watch other people; gestures and body language may not appear important, but they are, because without them we wouldn’t have much in the way of expression.
How we react to things can be just as revealing as how we are with actions. That’s because reactions show the reader hints of behaviour that is unique to that character. How would your character deal with being accused of something? Will he react with anger, will he be dumbfounded or will he be evasive, perhaps afraid to show guilt?
If a character has been wronged or betrayed, how would he or she react? How does your character reaction to something someone says – something bad, mean or insensitive? How they react can reveal more to the reader than simply telling them. Readers don’t want to be spoon fed. They want to find out for themselves.
Reactions, like actions and body language, can help them do that; anything that helps to bolster characterisation.
Dialogue & Voice
What your character says and how he or she speaks can help the reader formulate the kind of character they are. Some people love the sound of their own voice; others don’t like to say a lot. Some people stutter, others don’t know when to shut up, especially if nervous. Some people have loud, commanding voices; some have quiet, shy voices and some have flat, monotone voices. All these tell us the kind of person they are.
Tone, pitch and elevation define certain characteristics, so don’t miss the chance to use them. Dialogue is a clever way of revealing character traits without being obvious, particularly as emotions play an extensive part in how the reader sees your characters, and many emotions are often found in dialogue.HDialogue can show a character’s feelings through tone and pitch and the way those words are spoken, especially when reaction to another character. Sometimes it’s not how much characters say, but what they don’t say that tells the reader about the kind of characters they are. Character traits might seem trivial, but they aren’t. They’re exceptionally important if you want to show your characters in a multidimensional light.
Next week: Is it better to edit during writing, or at the end?
Saturday, 11 March 2017
In part 1 we looked at various ways to engage the reader with your writing, such as using conflict, emotions, hooking the reader and vivid descriptions etc. There are, of course, several more ways to a writer can keep the reader hooked, aspects which writers are not always familiar with, or never utilise. So let’s look at some more.
Tease and tantalise the reader at every opportunity. Readers love to second guess things. They love to try to figure out who the real bad guy is, or “whodunit”, or figure out whether certain characters can be trusted. Readers also love to be teased and tantalised with the promise of things to come further in the story, or revelations that could shock and decisions that could have dramatic effects.
It’s the “what if” and “what happens next” that keeps the reader glued to the action. Never miss an opportunity to tease and tantalise.
Pacing is crucial. It’s what fools the reader into thinking that things are racing along with excitement and exhilaration and action, interspersed with quieter, slower moments. It’s obvious why action scenes – and faster pacing – engage the reader. Writing that is quick, dynamic, dramatic, tense or full of conflict form all the ingredients that keep the reader turning the page to find out what will happen next.
Pacing can create a sense of trepidation and excitement, so use it wisely.
A lot can be said about the level of characterisation. A character that the reader can relate to means they will connect with and care about that character throughout the story. Real, believable characters keep the reader engaged, because they often recognise such character traits within themselves.
Great characters have a combination of traits, flaws and behaviours that we all recognise. But most of all, make sure that the reader connects with your character emotionally. That is what will keep them engaged. Shared emotional experience.
Foreshadowing is another way to raise the level of interest for readers. It’s a way of showing the reader what’s in store, what’s to come, the things that could happen. It’s the “storm clouds” on the horizon way for writers to subconsciously plant ideas into the reader’s mind, without the reader actually realising; not at first anyway.
Writers use all manner of ways to foreshadow. It could be a black crow watching from the trees. This might foreshadow death the looms later in the story. It might be the cold brightness of a full moon that signifies an important event. It could be description of weather. It could be a description of a character being cruel to an animal, thus foreshadowing an even deadlier act later in the story.
Foreshadowing is often overlooked because writers don’t really understand it or they aren’t too sure how to show it. But it’s worth reading plenty of books to gain an insight how other authors approach it, if only to get a better insight on how it works to keep the reader engaged.
Themes – they bolster the underlying emotions on the surface and help the reader understand the motivations and actions of your main character. Every story has a theme or two. While they may not seem important, they are fundamental to engaging your reader, because your themes are the invisible life blood of your story.
Themes such as betrayal or revenge are very emotive, and most themes will provoke the reader, since they will undoubtedly have felt such feelings in their own lives and therefore they’ll create emotional connections.
Lastly, the story itself should make sense, be logical and believable. Any story that fails to make sense, isn’t that logical, is too hard to read or too over the top to be believable, won’t capture the reader’s interest. You can’t expect a reader to engage with the story if it’s poorly written.
The best way to engage the reader is to involve them at every opportunity by using everything at your disposal. Hooking them, maintaining their interest and their emotional involvement is the key to engaging your reader every time.
- Hook the reader
- Make the opening count
- Start the story in media res – the most vital point.
- Construct a water tight plot.
- Use captivating subplots
- Create conflict
- Use emotion
- Create tension
- Use vivid description, well written dialogue and informative narrative
- Tease and tantalise
- Use pacing
- Create believable, solid characters
- Create foreshadowing
- Use themes to bolster the story
- Make sure the story is logical and believable
Next week: Revealing character traits
Sunday, 5 March 2017
There are umpteen tricks and ways available to writers to engage the reader from the first page of the book, to the very last. That’s because there’s a vast arsenal of literary devices, tricks and strategies at the writer’s fingertips, but how a writer uses them is the real key to engaging the reader, and keeping them engaged.
A book that works is a book that speaks to the reader, one that involves them on a psychological and emotional level, one that creates immediacy and empathy and makes the reader want to care enough about the characters that they feel almost real.
Engaging the reader isn’t about standing on the sidelines and simply narrating or reporting that this or that happened. It’s about pouring your heart and soul into every word – that’s what draws the reader, that’s what fires their imagination and helps them identify with the characters and the story.
Engaging the reader is all about involvement.
So, what are the magic ways – those tricks, strategies and literary devices – that keep the reader so engrossed? There are countless ways, but the main ones writers need to focus on are the most simple of elements, thus:
Hook the reader from the outset with an intriguing premise. The first line of your first paragraph of your first chapter is the delicate precipice from which everything balances. Get that right and half the battle is won. Hook your reader with the promise of an amazing story – let those first few lines grab them by the scruff of the neck and never let go.
Be vivid, colourful, gritty, raw, real...whatever your style, whatever your voice; grab the reader’s attention. Make that opening count.
Start the story at the most vital point. Don’t start the story with a boring three page backstory. Don’t start it in the run up to the moment your character is involved with the story. Instead start it at that crucial moment, start it with a bang, start it at the moment your hero’s life falls into the toilet, start it at the point your heroine might die; start with danger or excitement or tension or conflict. Or all of them.
A tight plot without flaws is better than a poor plot riddled with faults. We all know how important it is to have a fully realised and well thought out plot, but it’s even more important that it is reader-proof. In other words, a reader will spot a plot hole – no matter how small – and that can have an effect of the reader’s enjoyment of the story. If you want to engage the reader, make sure that the plot is fault free and watertight.
Other clever strategies include intriguing and captivating subplots. Related to the main plot, sub plots are smaller story threads that run parallel to the main story and involve other characters. Subplots create intrigue and suspense and raise questions that the readers just love to answer. This is the epitome of reader involvement.
Create conflict and emotion if you want to involve the reader. No book can exist without these. Real lives are full of conflict and tension, so creating these elements is one of the easiest ways to engage the reader and ensure they identify with the characters and their ongoing struggles to reach their goal.
Nothing grabs the reader more than emotion – it’s the one real thing that they will absolutely identify with. Everyone has emotions, everyone has feelings and everyone will have gone through similar emotions to your characters – grief, sadness, loneliness, joy, fear, anxiety and so on. If there is little emotion in your story, then you won’t engage the reader on any level.
There are similar elements to conflict and emotion, and that is to create tension, atmosphere and mood in all the right places. These elements keep the reader on the edge of their seats with intrigue, trepidation or dread. What might happen next? What could possibly go wrong? What lies in the darkness ahead? How will the characters get out of the situation?
These things cause the reader to react with certain emotions, and that means they’ve become involved. And that’s the whole point.
What about the actual stuff that is the story, the description, the narrative and the dialogue? A balance of all three is a good way to involve the reader; it means you can’t go far wrong. In other words, don’t overdo it on description and leave dialogue languishing. Or don’t write too much narrative and leave the description wanting. Look for a balance of all three.
Dynamic description should always show rather than tell. Narrative sections should be brief and informative without turning into info dumps. Dialogue should inform and move the story forward.
Equal amounts of all three elements make the book a much better read.
There are so many ways to get the reader involved in the story, so in part 2, we’ll look at more literary devices, elements and ways to engage the reader and keep them engaged.
Next week: How to Engage the Reader – Part 2