Sunday, September 25, 2011

Making time for distinguishing features

An editor, or I should say, aspiring editor, who fishes for clients on one of the message boards I peruse said that one of the reasons some writers aren't selling is because their blogs are aimed at fellow authors rather than perspective clients, and that the result is that they look unprofessional.

Well, fuck.

You know, I really don't think potential readers go to author's web sites to see how professional they are. I think they go there to get more. Get a few interesting words, for free. Some go there to get information. Maybe they're trying to find out where an author was born, or they're trying to find out if the erotica author is sexy, and does she like short bald guys with hairy backs and little dicks.

Anyway, anything other that writing that I might write about with any authority would be boring. I certainly don't want to bore readers with tales of how I mowed the grass, vacuumed, and fought the good fight against stinkbugs.

So, I was finishing a chapter and came across one of my notes about something I wanted to add. It seemed inconsequential at first. Just a little something for the protag to do in one of the slower chapters. I'm fighting against adding words at this point like a chick with bulimia fights against a Twinkie in public, but the problem is, that the more I thought about it, the more important this point became to the protag. Well, it wasn't really important to him directly, but it was important to his mother, and she is very important to him, which makes it important indirectly. That wasn't really clear at first glance. I had to get into the narrative a little to realize how the scene would develop.

It added about 400 words to the chapter, but I like the result. It closes off some things that really would have been loose ends. The seemingly gratuitous that was added to chapter four came full circle and got some nice closure.  I'll find something else to cut. Being aware that the word count is growing can't mean that threads of thought aren't followed through. Trusting that the right things will get cut in the subsequent edits means the word count, while not irrelevant during the first draft, can't limit the writer. Try to leave as little bare bones information in as possible. If it has to be indistinguishable like the skull in the picture, it's risky. It may not mean anything to the reader. Superfluous words are the enemy.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Living the character's life

The gun in the picture is my Smith & Wesson M&P15T. I love taking it to the range and shooting holes in paper targets with it. Residual childhood no doubt. When I was a kid, I loved playing soldier/Indian/cowboy/Musketeer.

That was childhood. I don't have the stomach to be a soldier in real life. I'd make a terrible one. Not only am I a coward, I'm much too squeamish to shoot anyone. I don't know, maybe in a world war I'd find some courage, but most likely I'd be a cook.

But some of my main characters are soldiers. If you're writing about characters, you have to believe what someone in that position believes while you're writing the character's narrative and dialogue. My character can't have the same fear of a bullet between the eyes or he/she would never charge the guns. He/she can't have the same reservation about shooting someone, or they'd never pull the trigger. The mentality to do that changes the persona. The whole persona. Too many Hollywood characters are cuddly and lovable except when they pull the trigger. The dynamic makes characters seem strange. Leaves the reader or viewer feeling cheated.

If your character is a soldier, make the whole persona edgy. If your character is a ballerina, make the whole persona graceful. If your character is an aspiring author, plunking away at the computer on a Sunday morning in his skivvies, make him brilliant.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Can't decide which way to go? Remember cause and effect.

I've been debating for a few days whether to put an action sequence at the beginning of the chapter or the end. I thought about putting it at the beginning to alternate it with the last action sequence which happened at the end of a chapter. You know, try to keep the reader on his toes. If action sequences always happen at the same place in a chapter, the reader might begin to anticipate when they'll hit.You want the reader to have some comfort, but not about surprises that are supposed to be surprises.

So, today I finally asked myself what triggered the sequence. Up to now, it was an attack by the antag that came out of nowhere. Yeah, it's a complete surprise at that point, but it feels at though nothing caused it. My antag is certainly capable of committing an impromptu attack, but why not give him a reason?

It just so happens that there is a convenient reason in the scene that could prompt the attack. It means moving the attack a chapter, and lo and behold, that worked out even better. The reader will be expecting an action sequence. It has been a while since I hit him with one, but this'll prolong the agony. It's a little frightening. This is a slower portion of the story, and I'm going to have to trust that the slower portion can carry the reader through two chapters. But it's worth it to have a cause and effect. It makes the story more cohesive. I'll take strategically sequenced cause and effect over giving the reader a timely adrenaline rush any day.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Reminding the reader

I have relatively few characters in the current WIP. Surprising, since I tend toward the War and Peace character theory, rather than the Robinson Crusoe. There are somewhere around ten characters that the story revolves around, and they are distinct so that hopefully the reader will have a clear and unique feel for each one early into the book.

Most authors who've been writing for more than a few months and have had interactions with other authors understand about showing rather than telling. If a character is hyper, I never tell the reader as much, but I hope the actions convey it. We know the drill.  Physical characteristics, however, are different. I go out of my way not to remind the reader of physical characteristics in the narrative, but it's a normal prat of most people's conversations to point out someone is homely or beautiful, or that their hair is red. So I have no qualms about reminding a reader of a character's appearance if the character disappears for a few chapters.

But the touchiest reminders are incidents early in the book that determine character's motives later on. You don't want to be constantly introducing new things early in a chapter and have them be relevant later in the chapter. Nor do you want to repeatedly introduce something in one chapter and have it be relevant in the following chapter. That means some things will have to be introduced early then a reminder will be given by way of brief back story dumps, maybe a sentence or two long. So, let's say Mary hates wearing hats. And in chapter 24 she breaks up with the protagonist because he tries to insist she wears a hat. That revulsion for wearing hats should be an integral part of her personality in the reader's perception of her by the time that fight rolls around. If you introduce it earlier in the chapter, it will feel forced. If you introduce it in the previous chapter, you might get away with it, particularly if the fight over the hat isn't a primary plot turner. But if this is something that makes her re-assess her life and take the necessary therapy that allows her to finally live happily ever after with the protag, then it should be introduced early, and a reminder should be given along the way.

The more characters there are in the manuscript, the more reminders the author will be forced to put in the book. Use them sparingly. It takes a deft touch. One of the most annoying things I find in the works I critique is authors who hammer the reader over the head with reminders so often and with such a heavy hand, that it spoils it for the reader when the hat argument rolls around, because the reader saw it coming a mile away.