Or, at least agree that we are never done perfecting our craft.
Here’s the PowerPoint that I’ll be using as fodder for my assault against my Writer’s Workshop class: GDoc Slides I’ll continue to tweak it in the coming two weeks, but if you read it and want to add or correct something, feel free.
Here’s the text from the slides
• Writing is a skill
• • It can be learned.
• Your own author’s voice will come
• • Copy first, then strike out and stand your ground (ignore the critics).
• Thick skin
• • False praise vs scathing critique.
• Writing ruined reading
• • Analytical reading, “editor’s hat” will haunt your reading forever.
• Rules and how to apply them
• • Muscle memory, focus on a few at a time.
• First Person
• – “I shot the sheriff, but I did not shoot the deputy.”
• The Hunger Games
• The Handmaid’s Tale
• – Everywhere I go I end up in places like this. They cramp my style, or so Mickey tells me. But with my budget… Woodja look a that. Gottdamn smudged mirrors, filthy carpets, water stains on the ceiling like Matisse stood on a chair and slapped it with a coffee mop. Sometimes, not often, I find blood.
• Second Person
• – “You put the lime in the coconut, you mix it all up.”
• Few novels are written this way, but it’s good for recipes.
• – You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.
• -— Bright Lights, Big City
• Third Person
• – “He was born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year, coming home to a place he’d never been before.”
• Singular • Limited • Omniscient
• – Johnny keys the lock and throws the plastic diamond on the scared dresser. “Everywhere I go, I end up staying in joints like this.” He checks out the filthy mirror and the ceiling, stains like a map of the world. In the bathroom he scans the floor. “I ain’t used to it. But nowadays I don’t freak out—blood in the sink, in the tub, everywhere.”
• Present or Past
• – If the wind blows any harder, I’m going to have to find better shelter. A stick flies by like an arrow as I run to the overpass.
• – The wind blew harder than I could stand. I ran to the overpass and tucked up tight into the corner. There I crouched as the tornado plowed through the town.
• The Protagonist. Who is your story about?
• • Know them intimately. What do they want vs what do they need? What drives them? What secrets do they hold? Who or what is holding them back?
• The Antagonist. Who or what is your main character fighting against?
• Think “Hero’s Journey”. What is the end-game?
• Who else is part of the story?
• • They each need their own motivation, their sub-plots.
• What are dialog tags?
• • Reduce tags – use only said, told and asked (past tense), say, tell, ask (present tense).
• Use action in place of tags
• • People act while speaking.
• Internal dialog format
• • Internal dialog, quoted, italicized or plain.
• Who’s speaking?
• • Keeping track of who said what?
• Use dialog to set the pace, instill tension vs calm
• • Rhythm, cadence, natural, varied.
Dialog example – fix this
Johnny walked through the door of Mickey’s pawnshop. “How’s biz, Mick?” he asked.
“You know how business is,” Mickey sneered.
Johnny thought, what’s up with him today? “I got them containers you asked for. Where do you want ’em?”
Mickey replied gruffly, “Just leave them under the card table in the back.”
Johnny walked into the back, placed the box of snap-lid containers under the table and returned carrying a ukulele. “I used to play one of these, back in the day,” he said brightly.
Mickey didn’t care what Johnny had done ‘back in the day.’ “Put that back,” he griped. “Can’t you see that it’s signed by Ben Harami?”
“Ben Harami?” Johnny wondered.
Mickey scoffed. “Harami and his Harem? How old are you anyway?”
“Why you always down on me, anyway?”
“Where were you last night?” Mickey drilled. “I had a thick envelope right here. This morning, I can’t find it.”
Dialog tags – do not use them
accused burst out corrected gloated maintained put in seethed teased bleated retaliated started acknowledged cackled coughed greeted marveled puzzled shot tempted blurted retorted stated added called countered grimaced mentioned quavered shouted tested boasted revealed stormed addressed cautioned cried groaned mimicked queried shrieked testified boomed roared stressed admitted challenged croaked growled moaned questioned shrilled thanked bragged sang stuttered advised chatted crowed grunted mocked quietly sighed theorized brayed sassed suggested affirmed chattered cursed grumbled motioned quipped simpered threatened breathed screamed surmised agreed cheered dared guessed mumbled quizzed slurred told broke in scoffed swear announced chided decided gulped murmured quoted smiled trilled bubbled scolded taunted
answered chimed in declared gurgled mused raged smirked urged bugged tauntingly lisped apologized chirped demanded gushed muttered ranted snapped uttered concurred exploded purred approved chittered demurred hinted nagged reasoned snarled volunteered confessed exulted argued choked denied hissed nodded reassured sneered vowed confided finished asked chortled described hollered noted recalled sneezed wailed confirmed fretted asserted chorused disagreed howled notified reckoned snickered warned congratulated gasped assured chuckled disclosed huffed objected recounted sniffed went on continued gawked avowed claimed divulged hummed observed reiterated sniffled wept contributed gently babbled clarified doubted hypothesized offered related snorted wheezed convinced gibed badgered clucked drawled imitated opined remarked spat spun whimpered cooed giggled barked coached dribbled implied ordered remembered speculated whined jeered pondered bawled coaxed echoed informed panted reminded spluttered whispered jested praised beamed commanded effused inquired perplexed repeated spoke wondered jibed prayed began commented encouraged insisted pestered replied sobbed worried joked proclaimed
begged complained ended interjected piped reported spluttered yawned lamented promised bellowed complimented exasperated interrupted pleaded requested squeaked yakked laughed proposed bet conceded exclaimed intoned pled resounded squealed yelled lectured protested bickered concluded explained instructed pointed out responded stammered yelped lied provoked
Active vs Passive
• Is, Was, and Were
• – The ship was tossed about like a toy in a washtub.
• – The sea tossed the ship about like a toy in a washtub.
• Declarative (quasi-passive)
• – Jenny was counting the fence posts when a deer leapt over the wire and slammed into their car.
• – (better) As Jenny counted the fence posts, a deer leapt over the wire and slammed into their car.
• – It was a dark and stormy night. The trees were every color of the autumnal rainbow.
Showing vs Telling
• Explaining vs describing, and then there’s info dumps
• – Ben stood high above everyone’s head. He wore a too-small brown jacket whose crawled halfway up his forearms. When he walked he dragged the toes of his shoes like to leave furrows in the carpet. His favorite drink was a tequila sunrise but, mixed up to look like the sun through forest-fire smoke.
• – “There’s a lot of dust on top of your fridge,” Ben said. “Let me clean it for ya.” He stretched but his jacket bound his arms. He shrugged it off and wiped the top clean.
• – “Is that why you’re shoes are all skuffed on the front?” Sherrie said, watching him shuffle across the floor.
• – “I guess,” Ben replied, swirling his drink until the grenadine and OJ mixed to a pleasing mango color.
Showing vs Telling
• Adverbs, use sparingly
• – The porcupine walked slowly across the road.
• – Charles breathed heavily after his run up the staircase.
• – “I’ll never get a date by tomorrow night,” Mary said sadly.
• Theater of the Mind
• Don’t spoon feed your readers
• – The box, five feet by five, stenciled letters all around the outside and brown with splinters showing where the stevedores had banged it into the sides of the container, dripped a suspicious liquid from one corner.
• Invite the imagination
• – The damaged box, big enough to hold a dozen children, leaked a vile liquid.
• Angst within a character
• Character vs character
• Character vs environment
• Expand the tension, never let up
• Allusions to a dark past and premonitions of what’s to come.
• Wants vs Needs:
• What the protagonist wants is often antithesis to what he truly needs.
• – Harry Potter wants to destroy Voldemort. What he needs is friendship.
• – Luke Skywalker wants to be a pilot. What he needs is purpose and a family.
• In medias res.
• Nested story,
• • chapter,
• • • scene,
• • • • paragraph,
• • • • • sentence
• Hooks, hangers, foreshadowing, leave a reader with a sense of ennui, apprehension, unease. Never “wrap things up.”
• Sequential or Episodic
• Flashbacks to introduce backstory.
• Time accounting. Keep track! Nothing is more jarring that scenes and references out of place.
• Prologue & Epilogue
Your Writing Process
• Outline (planner)
• Wing-it (pantser)
• Session word counts
• Why novelists write fast, edit slow.
• If narrative does not:
• • move the story forward,
• • contribute to the plot or the character’s development,
• • enhance the setting, the sense of where
• • or ratchet up the tension…
• DELETE IT!
• Every time you write a “was” think: how else could I say this?
• For every quote, ask yourself: How did they say it? What was their attitude, stance, facial expression, position, activity?
• For every dialog there are emotions: Who is happy, sad, angry, despondent?
• For every passage there is a setting. What does it smell like? What does it sound like? What is the weather, the climate? What time is it? What season is it? What room or terrain are they in?
• Don’t tell or report. Show the reader what’s happening.
• Create strong, dynamic characters that will thrive in my topic.
• In what location and era will I set my characters in order to best unravel my story?
• Should my story mean something? Should it push for sociological, political, familial, ideological change? Should your story try to make a difference, have influence, change things for the better, somehow, through narrative?
• Eliminate your use of flag words: very, quite, always, suddenly, quickly, and all the tiny obvious verbs (get, got, do, did, put, walked, went, gone, run, ran, see, saw, crossed, turned).
• Consider deleting words like knew/realized/saw/heard which don’t add much to our prose. “She knew Springtime meant starvation along the river…”
More Writer’s Wrules
• Grammar & spelling must be exact.
• Active vs passive, active every time.
• Controlled use of dialog tags, use only said, told, asked.
• Describe don’t explain (or show, don’t tell, for most). Adverbs tend to tell, that’s why they’re frowned upon.
• Maintain proper POV, avoid head-hopping.
• Consistency of voice, both of the story and the characters.
• Story mechanics: time accounting, flashbacks, dreams, travel, world building consistency.
• Cycles of conflict, action, resolution, reflection…
• Character arc: hidden angst, emotion, motive, doubt, conflict, result.
• Plot design and tuning: allusion, foreshadowing, subplots, intra-themes.
• If you’re writing narrative, setting, backstory, or context, can the characters take on that job instead of the author?
• Make your characters work for a living because that’s who the readers want to hear from, not you.
• The author is done when the plot and structure is complete; it’s the characters who are now delivering the story.
• Get out of the way of the story. As much as possible, let the people talk, move, behave.
• Emotion drives the characters who drive the story. Feel these emotions, try not to control them or constrain them, let them come out in the characters’ words and behavior.
Narrative type (novel, novella, short story, flashfiction), Genre, Theme, Story, Plot & sub plots, Characters & supporting characters, Setting, Structure/Scenes, POV, Tense, Device – suspension of disbelief, Style, Pace, Tone, Climax, Conclusion, Denouement
Active vs Passive, Dialogue, Rhythm, Mood, Description (threes), Show vs tell
Voice, Diction (colloquialisms), Hooks, Conflict, Foreshadowing, Red Herrings, MacGuffins