Tag Archives: characters

Writing is a river

We’re paddling downstream, to our right are boulders, sand bars and thickets full of snags. To our left, a mud bank that stretches on for miles. Sometimes the water is deep and dark, others times shallow. Sometimes it’s clear like glass or muddy and polluted. There are rapids and smooth stretches; occasionally a waterfall rumbles in the distance.

As writers we must traverse this river ever trying to maintain a steady, center-stream course.

Setting is the thickets, woods and reaching branches. Too much description of the place or environment—that is, info dumping—and our readers will get snared, get trapped by the empty details.

Characterization is the sand bars, slips of river sand that will capture our boat and bog our readers down. Too much depiction of a character’s appearance, demeanor, or behavior—telling us about them, not showing—will disturb us and invite our readers to leave our foundered boat.

Events are the boulders, the cliffs and caves, that must come in cycles. Pacing of happenings is crucial: too much and you wear out your reader, too frequent and you fail to give proper due to the build-up and crescendos that events engender.

Along the left bank, the muddy slick that offers few rocks, little sand and only a bush or two, our readers will become bored, leave us, skipping forward in search of an entertaining feature in the landscape.

As writers we must navigate between these banks.

The plot is the river features, the rapids, and quite runs, the boulders, sand bars and submerged snags. The story is the bends and turns, the camping spots, the portages, the beginning and the end.

And the water? The water is dialog. It carries us along the story. It runs fast and slow, dirty and clear. It gives us cause to learn about the characters, care about them as they encounter the obstacles along their route. And remember them when our journey is complete.

Too much setting, characterization or cascading events will capsize our reader. Too little will induce sleep and abandonment. Too little water will ground us in the gravel. Too much and we’ll drown.

Writing is a river, steer well young captains.

 


Writer’s Log: 1522 Staying on the Clock

One of the more difficult aspects of writing, I find, is remaining cognizant of clock and calendar time within the story.

Imagine if your story’s internal time frame spanned only a single day. But, it took you a number of months to write it. Here you are on chapter 7, maybe 30,000 words in and yet it’s only noon on your tale’s wall clock. Keeping a consistent understanding of the passage of time is hard.

My stories tend to take 2-3 months to unfold, internally. By the time I’ve reached 3/4’s of the way through, I get a bit lost as to how much time as elapsed; has it been a week since the rock slide destroyed the cabin? Or was that two weeks ago? Did the main character break that window only yesterday? Whoa, three thousand words later it feels like last month (and it may have been, physical writing time-wise).

Stretching out the calendar writing process, over months (if not years), disconnects my head with how fast things have happened in my stories. Time and time again, I’m stunned, as I start a new scene, to realize that the story, within itself, is only a few days old. Hell, I’ve been writing for two weeks, and my characters have only gotten to the end of the second day?

Clock time is easier than calendar time. And I’ve found that year-spans are easier than calendar too. She was twelve. Now she’s fifteen. But days, weeks and months? If you’ve read the Harry Potter series then you’ll notice Rowling uses holidays to mark calendar time. Seasons can help too. But if your story takes place over, say, summer, then you have to find another, event oriented, time division mechanism. First came the flood, then the crickets, then the tornado, then a fall down the cliff, then the forest fire, and now the harvest.

And here’s the rub: Calendar time often represents the duration in which you want to mold and change your characters. He starts out shy, but by the end of the summer winds up confident. She begins distant but  learns, over the weeks, and months, to be caring and involved.

Calendar time will divide the development of your characters into segments so that you can show their progress (for better or for worse). And that is the challenge, to manage your character’s evolution — in time.