15

Right now I’m doing a whole lot of revising/editing on a book I recently finished. Sometimes this is the best part of the process for me–the first draft is down, the story is told, and now I’m in the process of fixing it up and making it shine. It’s a time for clipping and adding and rearranging, and honestly, I like it a lot. Probably because in most aspects of my life I like to organize and sort things. This is the stage where I get to work on putting everything in order. It’s funny because when I initially started writing  years ago, I HATED doing edits and revision. I don’t know what led me to love it, but I’m glad I do now.

I’m finding, as I often do when I revise, that I have a bad habit of repeating myself. Thankfully, I can spot it and eliminate it as I edit, but I still get irritated at myself that I do this. To clarify: for some reason, as I write, I feel the need to keep bringing up the “point” of the story–whatever the main character’s struggle and main issue is, they keep circling back and focusing on it. I know this isn’t needed, because you really only need to say it once, and then reinforce it with the events as they unfold. Yet, I keep doing it!

I usually feel when I’m writing if I don’t occasionally remind the reader “x character feels y about this situation” that I’m either not giving the situation enough gravity, or the reader will forget. The funny part is when I revise I see these things sticking out as the unnecessary bells and whistles they are and quickly pluck them out. So why write them in the first place?! I could save myself so much time if I left them out to begin with!

I think the reasons I do this may be one of two, or a combination of both:

  1. It’s part of the process of talking myself through the story. Even though it’s a lot of useless repeating, I’m mostly talking to myself and reminding myself of plot points when I do this. It helps me stay on the path. When I revise, I can take these markers out, but during the first draft they help me stay on course.
  2. Anxiety. I feel if my character doesn’t think about the problem enough, then their journey isn’t going to seem realistic. I mean, when something big is happening to you, isn’t it all you can think about? Doesn’t it consume most of your life? If my characters don’t keep circling back to the problem, it’s not REAL.

Number one is useful, but I end up overwriting when I lean on it too much. Number two really isn’t true, because telling a story isn’t the same as living real life. The reader doesn’t need to be told every other page that the character is focused on the situation they’re dealing with, because we’re watching them deal with it. The fact it weighs heavy on their mind can be just as easily, and much less invasively, merely implied. In both cases, I need to trust myself–and the reader! I don’t need to beat anyone over the head with plot points.

Despite the fact I know and understand these things, I still catch it during revisions on every book I write. It’s almost like filler and it annoys me when I see it–even though when I was writing it, it seemed like the right thing to do. Going forward, I’m going to try to be more mindful while I’m writing. If I catch myself repeating, I’ll try to ask myself instead how I can remind the reader with actions instead. I give anyone who’s editing right now this piece of advice: look for what you constantly repeat, or draw attention to, and ask yourself why. Also pluck it out, even if it seems more “realistic” to keep bringing it up, because I assure you the story is already keeping these things in the reader’s mind.

Do you find yourself circling the same points when you go back and do your revisions? Have you managed to spot it while you’re writing and stop yourself?

10

For the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a series of posts on the conflicts that can be found in a narrative. Today is the final one! Depending where you look, and whose advice you ask, there’s anywhere from 4-10 types of conflict that can drive a plot. I’ve only covered six, though. Those being:

Character vs. Machine/Supernatural/Other

The final conflict we’re going to talk about is one that I often write, and is found in paranormal, sci-fi, dystopian, fantasy, and speculative writing. These are fantastical stories about things that don’t happen in the real world, like zombie invasions, robot uprisings, and doing battle with powerful wizards. People like fantastical fiction because it gets us away from the real world for a while. For as long as humans have been around, we’ve been telling ghost stories. As technology advances, the paranoia that it might turn against us is a common theme in society. This sort of conflict also covers things that PROBABLY won’t happen in the real world in our lifetime–like a worldwide sudden ice age, or finding aliens. This sort of conflict is a lot of “what if?”

When we see characters banding against something that we can’t even imagine happening in real life, it’s also an opportunity to explore humanity in a way we can’t in real life. The way people who are in constant conflict in the real world would band together against an “other,” outside force is interesting to think about. It can also be a way to explore how we’d get creative with our resources if something non-human threatened us. It’s a way to put ourselves in an entirely fake world and still enjoy the sort of human themes and conflicts we’re familiar with. Even if your characters are elves or aliens, they’re fighting against something, fighting for something, and desire a certain outcome. That helps us connect with fantastical fiction.

Genres like horror and sci-fi have always been big sellers, I think because those imaginary things tickle our brains. Even people who grew up fearing the monster under the bed now want to know more about the monster. Sometimes, this non-reality is actually a reflection of ourselves. Unreality can be very human.

Character vs. Machine/Supernatural/Other needs:

  • An element without basis in reality. From supernatural creatures to a fantasy world or alien planet, the story is set in some universe where these things are a fact instead of fiction, and may be a major part of the conflict. It could also be our world, after a huge disaster, natural or otherwise.
  • A conflict not based in reality. Maybe your characters have to kill vampires or werewolves, or maybe they have to stop an intergalactic force from destroying planet Earth. This sort of conflict is great for stretching your imagination.
  • Realistic motivations. No matter what your characters are, where they are, or when they are, we understand why they’re doing the things they do–we understand their struggle, and we even support it.

This is my favorite type of conflict, as I write a lot of paranormal stuff. This is also my last post on the subject! Did you enjoy this series? If you’d like to check out the other posts, click on the links at the top. Thanks for reading!

6

Concluding this week, I’m doing a series of posts on the conflicts that can be found in a narrative. Depending where you look, and whose advice you ask, there’s anywhere from 4-10 types of conflict that can drive a plot. I’m only going to cover six, though. Those being:

Character vs. Fate

A character with a destiny–it’s a story we’ve heard often. Whether it’s a good destiny or a bad one, of course, depends on the story being told. From the child of royalty set to inherit a kingdom, to someone who has to carry on a legacy, to someone who is cursed, or Neo from The Matrix, this type of character pops up often in literature and storytelling. Sometimes this story is much easier to create conflict in, because there’s already a looming villain or destination that the reader can understand. The character either has to stop their terrible fate from happening, or they have to attain what is rightfully theirs. They’re on a course they can’t easily jump off of.

If it’s a terrible fate, this is a good way to build a character. How they react to their impending doom says a lot about them. Are they fighting it with every fiber of their being, or are they simply letting themselves succumb to it? What sort of terrible things will follow for everyone else if they meet their fate? If it’s something good, this is also a way to build character, and it’s important to show us why it’s good, either to the character specifically or the whole plot of the story. The conflict can also be something standing in the way of this character attaining their good fate.

Not many people in real life are born “destined” for a certain fate, so this is fascinating to imagine. Of course, people born with inheritances or diseases that will take their life eventually know exactly what it’s like, but for most of us, our lives are pretty much up to us. It’s interesting to explore the concept for many of us–in some cases, the idea of having things planned out for you gives a sense of security, even.

Character vs. Fate needs:

  • A hard-to-avoid destiny. Whatever is in store for your character, it’s been decided for them before they even had the ability to choose. It’s a hard path to veer off of. There may not actually be a way to avoid it–the story may be in how they handle themselves until that fateful day.
  • Consequences for a fate being sealed. Whatever happens, the world will change when this character meets their fate. At least, their world will.
  • Reasons the character doesn’t want (or wants) this fate. The character shouldn’t be complacent in what’s happening, whether it’s something negative that looms ahead, or trying to fight toward what they’re owed. The conflict comes in how they face their fate and deal with it.

I do tend to like stories that show a character struggling against fate. I have no particular “destiny” in my own life, unless it was being a writer, and even that isn’t life or death for me. I like stories about people who overcome, or get what they deserve. Do you like these kind of stories? Do you write them?

42

It’s time for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop! The hop takes place the third Wednesday of every month (minus November/December) and focuses on the sharing of resources and learning tools for authors.

Stop by the hop page and check out all the participants and their posts this month! Also check out #AuthorToolboxBlogHop on Twitter.

Inside, Not Outside

If you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve probably heard the phrase “show, don’t tell” about a thousand times. This generally means instead of telling us that a character did something, you should show them completing the action. It provides more impact and makes for better reading. There’s different ways to “show,” however, that you might not have thought about before. One of the best things I ever learned from an editor is how to avoid filtering. Learning this lesson literally changed how I write.

What is filtering? Filtering is telling how a character feels, thinks, reacts, and perceives the world instead of showing it. Say you have a character named Joe. Filtering is telling us that “Joe thought,” “Joe wondered,” “Joe saw,” and “Joe heard.” If Joe is your POV character, we need to get deeper into his perspective. You should show us what’s going on in Joe’s head instead of explaining it. Here are some examples:

  • Instead of “Joe saw a dog on the street.”
  • Try “As Joe walked down the street, a brown and white dog loped past him.”

You don’t need to explain to us that Joe saw the dog. The fact that the dog is being described lets us know that Joe saw it–after all, we’re in his head.

  • Instead of “Joe heard music playing.”
  • Try “A soft melody came from the other room. Joe smiled. It was a familiar tune.”

Especially when it comes to things that involve the senses, it’s better to describe the thing that activates the sense rather than just saying the sense was activated. This puts us more in the moment, experiencing it along with the character.

This works with more abstract things like thinking and knowing as well.

  • Instead of “Joe knew something bad was about to happen.”
  • Try “A cold chill rushed down Joe’s spine. His skin prickled. Something wasn’t right here.”

We feel what Joe is feeling when the author describes what’s happening to him, instead of just telling us he senses that something is wrong. We all know what it’s like to be afraid, sick, happy, jealous, glad, and a million other emotions…and the storytelling is much stronger when the author evokes these emotions in the reader rather than telling us about them. It also helps us connect more with the character, not just because the character seems more real, but because how the character reacts tells us a lot about their personality.

A good way to eliminate this sort of filtering is to do a sweep of your manuscript and search for sensory words like felt, heard, saw, tasted, and smelled. Also look for words like knew, thought, and sensed. Of course, not every single use of these sorts of words will be wrong. No writing rule is without exceptions. There may be times where it’s very much appropriate to use filtering. But as a general rule, eliminating filtering makes a story more immediate and provoking. It’s very much a way of showing instead of telling.

Getting rid of filtering was one of the best things I ever learned to do. It made my writing a lot tighter and more like a “story.” What’s a good rule you learned that changed your writing?

5

For the next few weeks, I’m going to do a series of posts on the conflicts that can be found in a narrative. Depending where you look, and whose advice you ask, there’s anywhere from 4-10 types of conflict that can drive a plot. I’m only going to cover six, though. Those being:

Character vs. Nature

There’s no shortage of stories out there (especially in the realm of movies) where characters struggle against nature: stuck in a snowstorm, at the mercy of the sea, lost in the wilderness. There’s entire movies that are specifically about catastrophic natural disasters and the consequences for mankind. Living on this earth is a precarious thing. At any moment, it might choose to swallow us up or wipe us out. Many of us couldn’t find our way out of the deep woods even with the necessary tools. So it’s a scary prospect to have to confront nature.

This sort of conflict can also be presented as a secondary element, or a plot device: enemies stuck in a cabin during a blizzard, rival scientists having to work together to stop a volcano from exploding, characters thrown together by the effects of an earthquake or fire. The story can be mostly about the characters with the struggle against nature merely acting as the premise. It goes without saying though, you probably need some sort of subplot if the main focus of the story is a fight to win out against nature. We aren’t going to care much about flat characters with no relationship exploration just because they’re crossing a glacier. We need a reason to cheer for them to get to the other side without freezing to death.

Nature can be terrifying, as anyone who’s lived through a tornado or been swept down a river can attest. Nature doesn’t care about us and it kills indiscriminately. That’s why it can also be a thrilling thing to write about and why it’s at the center of so many adventure stories. Humans are silly, we like to court danger, and nothing is more dangerous than the very ground we live on. Of course we challenge it!

Character vs. Nature needs:

  • A strong natural force. Whether it’s a thunderstorm preventing a mother from picking up her kids from school, or a raging hurricane about to destroy a city, it has to be big and bad enough to impede your characters from what they want or outright threaten their lives. Tromping through the snow to the bus stop is annoying but it’s not really an adventure (I speak from experience).
  • A reason your character can’t win against it. You don’t want your characters to just be able to go in the house and wait until it stops raining, that’s not very exciting. Put them in a situation where they can’t easily escape nature and pit them head to head with it. Yes, most sensible people would run from a volcano about to erupt, but what if they can’t?
  • A plausible out. Unless you’re planning on killing all your characters in the end, you have to at least eventually give them some way to escape or stop nature’s fury. People love a good “triumph over nature’s odds” story.

I admit, I enjoy those “weather” moves like The Day After Tomorrow and Twister. (And Sharknado? Tornadoes full of sharks are a natural disaster, right?) They’re fun, and thrilling, and I get to stay warm and dry while I watch them. Do you like stories about the struggle against nature?