Posts Tagged With: story

What you shouldn’t tell me

There are things that authors shouldn’t tell me, the reader, in their books. It’s not that I’m not trustworthy. It’s just that sometimes less is more. Some things you write about damage your story.

  1. Character description: Don’t tell me everything about the character down to the last pimple. Physical description is important and the story isn’t complete without it, but don’t tell me everything. Let me imagine some, please.
  1.  Scenery description: I want to imagine your scenery, too. The only necessary scenery is backdrop for the story, where it takes place. Each sentence of extra description is icing on the cake. The thing is, most people don’t like too much icing on their cake. We can’t scoop the excess off with a fork, so keep it reasonable.
  1. Character introductions: Don’t tell me everything at once. Meeting a new character is like meeting a new friend. Acquaintances don’t tell each other every detail of their lives in the first five minutes of meeting. Just like getting to know a real person, let me in on the details of the character’s life and personality gradually, preferably as the story progresses.
  2. Romantic and sexual scenes: Intimate scenes are especially delicate when getting to know a character. I’m not a floozie, so don’t tell me about the character’s naughty thoughts and naughty bits until we get a chance to know one another better. This doesn’t necessarily apply to erotica, but I don’t read erotica anyway.
  1. Dramatic buildup: All readers appreciate the dramatic buildup to a climax. But you shouldn’t build and build, never getting to the point. At some point excitement turns to exasperation and we think you’re a tease.
  1. Technical jargon: Some jargon is good and makes us feel like we’re learning something. If you spend paragraphs educating us on technical specifications in your novel, we feel the need to check the cover to be sure we didn’t accidentally pick up a technical manual.

 

It’s painful to chop up your hard-wrought words just to please ignorant, unappreciative readers, but books are just paper (or data) unless someone reads them. None of your words have to be wasted. Spread them judiciously, saving the extra bits for more stories. The joy of sharing your work with others who can enjoy it makes up for the pain of editing.

What do you as a reader not want to hear?

What is your TMI (too much information) weakness as a writer?

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Examiner article: Formula for a vampire story

Visit my Examiner column to see my latest article, Formula for a vampire story!

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Worn-out Themes

Some themes, in my opinion, have been completely worn out. They have been used so much lately that reading/watching them has lost its original thrill for me. Here they are:

  1. The Cinderella story – Rags to riches is everyone’s dream, but this one has had too much screen time lately. From maids turning millionaire to Slum dog millionaires, this one needs a time out. Continue reading
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Official Top 5 Titles!

Here are the official top 5 titles!

Accidental Magic

Don’t Judge a Book by its Magic

How to Enchant Friends and Influence Magicians

Children of the Teimnydduus

Vrevzirma is 20/20

Also, here’s an interesting article about Pixar’s story guidelines: http://www.pixartouchbook.com/blog/2011/5/15/pixar-story-rules-one-version.html

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What To Look For When You Read

Here are some of the things I look for and analyze while reading. Keeping these things in mind has really helped me to get more out of my reading, write better fiction, and easily write reviews.

  • Why did the author write this book? At first a story may look like its face value, but there is usually a deeper story behind it. What is it really about? Why does the author tell this story other than to weave a tale? Authors are often sharing profound and personal things through their writing.
  • How does this story progress? Every form of art tells a story and has several key parts. The starting state of innocence, The problem that presents itself, the climax of the problem–often a tragedy, the creative response to the tragedy, and the resolution. Where are these in the book and what are they? These are the story’s bones and can often open up a lot of the underlying meaning.
  • What grips me about this book? Scenes, characters, dilemmas, and other parts of the story engage the reader. I try to discover what they are and why they capture my attention and emotions. (If you are having trouble with that in a larger story, reading Manga or other short story forms can sometimes give you a jump start.) Analyzing this helps you to write things that you love!
  • What universal themes does the author use? Universal themes are just themes that are common to mankind. Betrayal, loss, overcoming adversity–these are universal themes that everyone understands. Why does the author use them and how do they move the story?
  • What in the author’s or characters’ culture is the same as or different from my own? Culture isn’t just racial. Everyone has a different culture within the groups in which they live: region, religion, shared experiences, and profession are all some non-racial cultures. Understanding culture differences can expand your understanding and your writing.
  • What are the flaws in the writing? Are they my personal opinion or something others will agree on? Admit it. Writers all have them (even ME!). I’m not saying to be hypercritical, but noting where the story failed can help you learn more about yourself and avoid the same mistake in your own writing. If you overlook them, you can pat yourself on the back for being “nice” but you may not learn anything from it.
  • How would I write this differently? How would I change the story if I were the main character? This often isn’t a matter of mistakes but different points of view. I spend a lot of time pondering this when I read a really engaging book. Often you can create an entirely different story based on your differences. (But please don’t plagiarize!)

If I can think of more, I’ll make a future post. What things do you look for when you read?

Completely unrelated, I’ve noticed that a lot of my posts happen between 8:30 and 9:00. This is the sweet spot between my littlest’s bedtime and the two older kids’. Often after 9:30 my brain switches off so this works for me!

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Problems…

I am really enjoying reading all the books I bought from my followers! I am seeing some fantastic writing, and some really wonderful stories. There have, however, been some problems therein. I won’t blab who they are or tear them down in public. I wouldn’t want anyone to do that to me. The thing is that usually we can’t see a problem with our writing until someone points it out. So I will! This may or may not be your problem, but regardless, you can learn from it.

Problems:

  1. Explaining too much: This is the main reason I want to stop reading a book. When you explain everything in detail, you have to be careful not to tell us too much. Telling too much can lead to boring the reader who just wants the action to move forward, leaving no mystery for the reader to discover later on, or getting lost in scenery and description that doesn’t actually tell a story. I have read some published works by successful authors that begin with a protracted description of someone I don’t know who isn’t real and I don’t really care, so I move to the next book.
  2. Not explaining enough: There is a fine line between not enough and too much. You have to be really careful about that. A few things I read recently left me wondering what was going on and if I was accidentally starting with #2 in a series by accident. I really love the technique of experiencing the confusion of the protagonist as you move through your story, but don’t keep us confused. Make it long enough in finding things out to be pleasurable and short enough to be gratifying. Also, adding in a character with lots of back story as if we already knew them is a mistake. You should introduce characters like you introduce people. We don’t need tantalizing details about a character if you don’t intend to develop them. That makes it seem like an excerpt and not a full story. Also, we don’t want to hear their embarrassing private details just after we meet them. Later on, maybe we do, but we’re not loose, so don’t get fresh going to far too fast. I’m not that kind of girl.
  3. Unlovable characters: There are personality flaws that are endearing and personality flaws that are off-putting. You need character flaws or your characters don’t seem human. (Sometimes they aren’t human.) To connect the reader to our characters, we have to carefully choose their flaws. If you give your character too many bad flaws, then you won’t have a lovable character. Flaws that are endearing are things like clumsiness, awkwardness, chronic misfortune, and self-consciousness. They are lovable because we all have some or all of them and in a book they either harm no one or provide comic relief when they do. Flaws that nobody loves are self-pity (because if you pity yourself, we feel like your pity portion is covered), spoiled-brattiness, self-delusion, sullenness, inability to act when necessary,  selfishness, and smugness. These flaws should be used on a “bad guy” or on a main character who gets spanked and changes for the better. I read one character who essentially dared the world to disapprove of her. Bad idea. Even if we don’t disapprove, we might be convinced to disapprove on principle.
  4. Scattered story momentum: In one story I read, the writer was trying to pepper her story with scenes where the main character and the love interest were confronted with their attraction for one another. The trouble was that these were done randomly and often in inappropriate context. The scenes didn’t build in intensity toward a climax, rather the characters were flooded with a random level of attraction unconnected with the previous or following levels, and then suddenly remembering their reasons to hold back, seemed to completely forget their attraction. It was confusing and made the two characters appear mentally unhinged. Remember the flow of your story and chop out anything that gets in its way. It’s the boss, and gets to go first.
  5. Names that all sound the same confuse me!: I have a character flaw myself, and that is if you name your characters Mike, Matt, and Mitch, I will confuse them and forget who I am reading about. My own technique I use in my own writing is to always name my characters with a different first letter than all the other characters. I strayed from that pattern and confused myself in The Disenchanted Pet by naming the male brother characters James and Justus. My editor and my friends found repeated instances where I was writing about one and named the other. I had to read the whole piece through a few times to correct mistakes based on their names.
  6. The flow of the story gets lost in dialogue: Dialogue is vital and enhances a story, but when the characters just move from place to place and talk, it can bore you to tears. If you are reading a book that is supposed to be about people talking to one another in different places, that is one thing. If you are reading a book that claims to be a thrilling adventure, this doesn’t work. Move them around and do stuff to them, and let them talk about it a little.
  7. Too many feelings: I am a girl and I love hearing about people’s feelings. But even I can’t handle the level of feeling-sharing sometimes. Do share the feelings that are relevant to the action of the story as they happen. Do not share all the feelings of all the characters about everything. Some characters should be an enigma and not knowing what goes on in their head will be fascinating. Why did they do that? I don’t know! Maybe if I read more I can find out. It’s why Edward in Twilight liked Bella. It wasn’t wrong.

Don’t feel bad if this punches your story in the eye. I’ve made some of the same mistakes and a little beating does your writing technique good. If you are out to tell your story and get everyone to praise you without working at it, you had better just give your stories to your close friends who don’t criticize you. If it is your art, and you strive to make it better and more beautiful, then you’ll love and hate all the criticism, but you’ll grow from it.

Write on!

Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Don’t Be Afraid!

Don’t be afraid! Come along with me through my story. Suspend your disbelief and open your heart. Wrap yourself in beautiful words.
Don’t be afraid! Immerse yourself in the emotions of another. Make them your own, just for a little while. I promise they won’t take you over.
Don’t be afraid!
Nobody will judge you here in these pages for being too susceptible, too emotional, too gullible. If you can’t feel it, you can’t be swept up in the magic. You can’t become someone else.
Don’t be afraid!
When it’s over, you can go back to your life, your limits, your reality. But for now, let go. Let me take you on a journey of amazement using only letters and punctuation. I’ll bring you back safe, and if you want, nobody has to know you were ever between these pages.
Don’t be afraid!

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Why An American Novelist Reads Manga…

I mentioned in my chart on Me, Sleep, Caffiene, and Writing that I read Manga, and that I’d write more about that later. Well here it is!

Yes, I confess, I read manga. If you don’t know what that is, they are comics from Japan and sometimes Korea. They are posted on lots of sites online and also are the basis for Anime. These comics are not all written for children. A great number of them are written for teens and adults, and there are even labels for the age/sex group they are written for. (Shoujou = girls, Shounen = boys, Josei = women, and Seinen = men)

No, I’m not a high-schooler dressing up in bizarre outfits in public. I am a boring, slightly odd homemaker reading Manga in my spare (hehe) time.

I think it has been a big boost for my writing and here is why:

  1. It is free. (Yep. Cheap-o alert!) Surprisingly, I don’t have wads of money to spend on books and the library, though it is free, often has a waitlist for ebooks. Yeah. Cause that makes sense… Anyway, many Manga are free because they are scanned and translated in the US by people who love them and want them to be available here. Many aren’t yet (or ever) licensed here in the US, so this is 100% legal. There are scads of websites and apps devoted to reading these free “scanlations” (scan + translation).
  2. Quality varies. All the work is done by amateurs and often people for whom English is not their first language.  This is actually good because it sharpens my skills regarding what is wrong and why. If grammar is bad, or sentences don’t make sense, I can correct them in my own mind to cement what not to do myself. If they are too indecipherable, I skip them, but overall they are mostly readable.
  3. The format of Manga consolidates a single or very few ideas in the story. These aren’t classic novels here. They are cranked out by the thousands and usually center around a single concept. Often these concepts are bizarre and seem mismatched, but that adds to the interest and creativity in connecting them. Seeing these ideas highlighted is a great way to learn more about them.
  4. The ideas are universal. Marc (my hubby) and I talk a lot about universal themes. Most writing employs them and Manga are no exception. The fact that they come from an entirely different culture emphasizes that fact. Japan is a nation based on very different foundations from the Western world and yet many of the human struggles in the writing are basically the same.
  5. I’m learning a new culture. I suppose that I might not get an accurate view of American culture by reading comic books, but I do get some idea. The same goes for Manga. Also, Manga are more widely-read there than they are here and so they can write to a broader audience than we do. I absorb so much insight from their different attitude towards daily life as seen in their light literature.
  6. The light reading of simple stories fits with my busy life. I can read a manga chapter in 5 minutes and it is often just what my sleep-deprived and exhausted brain needs. I love stories–wild and imaginative stories. I can’t get them from magazines (ugh). Novels are often too much for my weakened mind to tackle, but I still hunger for the story. This is where Manga fit in perfectly.

So that’s why I read Manga, and why I think it enhances my writing!

If you’re interested in trying some Manga reading, there are tons of places online you can go to for them. There are also lots of apps for Android and Iphone that connect you directly to them! I’m using one called Pocket Manga right now.

Here are some Manga websites to be read online or downloaded:

http://www.mangafox.com/

http://www.mangatraders.com/

http://www.mangareader.net/

 

Categories: Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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