Monday, August 31, 2009

Killing the narrator

This week I've got my gun, and I'm out for blood. The thick, oozing blood of my inner narrator. Every book I write I'm finding out what I'm doing wrong. Hopefully, I will eventually learn enough to make a book perfect, but at this rate I could be old and grey before that happens. I've just finished an online editing course by Don McNair and managed to identify another one of my writing bugbears, author intrusions.

Writing in third-person, limited viewpoint, there are loads of traps for the unwary, and I have nothing but praise and admiration for those excellent authors who avoid them. I guess really realising what the problems are is the first step to avoiding them, so here goes.

I used to be a terrible one for this type of thing:

"Why don't you leave me alone!" she shouted, casting a glance behind her as she walked away from him.

Okay, so I realise we don't need me telling the reader that she's shouting, so it would be better as:

"Why don't you leave me alone!" She strode across the room.

So there's one character filter removed but I'm still telling what my character is doing, and it still lacks punch, we've no idea what's going on inside, and I'd be tempted to add in some further info, but I'd use one of the forbidden ways to do it, by adding felt, think, thought, wondered or watched in there somewhere, eg.

"Why don't you leave me alone!" She strode across the room, then turned and looked at him, wondering why he was such a pain in the ass.

No. No. No. There it is, me telling what she's thinking, rather than letting my poor reader work it out for themselves. (Sigh).

Okay, now someone like Trish Wylie wouldn't have this problem, but I sure do.

Try again.

"Why don't you leave me alone!" She had to get out, away from his cold stare. If he wasn't even interested enough to hear her side of the story, she could do without him. One word, he only had to say one word to take away the numbing pain, but he stood silent. She turned the handle. It was over then. Time to move on.

I don't know if it's better - I think its pretty awful. Maybe I'll have to try poison instead.

Here's some good examples by good writers.
First from Claimed by the Billionaire Bad Boy - Trish Wylie

"How the hell would I know? It's a dress." And noticing one dress entirely too much as it was, not to mention everything beneath it, had translated into an irritated tone in his voice and he knew it.

From Robyn Grady from Naughty Nights in the Millionaire's Mansion

"What's that, Garret? A threat? You're going to hold that miserable clause in my father's will over my head now?"
He was conscientious like Garret, honourable like Garret, but hell, he deserved a life. He made decisions for everyone else. Surely he could make his own.

And finally from Nicola Marsh in Hot Nights with a Playboy...

"Friends, schmiends." Stabbing a hanger through an armhole with particular viciousness, she knew it was time for a little honesty.

Editing hat back on, gun loaded, poison in handy concealed vial, WIP here I come.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Show, Don't Tell ain't the only show in town

When I started writing, I did exactly that, wrote. I had a story to tell, and as I wrote my story grew and developed, and my characters started to assert themselves and write their own dialogue, it was a wonderful experience for me, and I can honestly say that some good writing resulted.

The more I wrote, the more I learnt the rules. Now, I'm not published, and maybe I don't know enough of them to be, but it seems to me that not all these rules should be set in stone, after all they're just defining what the publishing world is used to seeing, not necessarily what is best. (I'm expecting comments, people!) The first rule I learnt was 'no headhopping' or using POV (point of view). This one makes perfect sense to me. The idea is that you are writing a scene through the eyes of one character. That means that you can't magically know what is in someone else's mind (although you can guess!) and you have to work within the parameters of what a character knows at that particular moment of the story. Writing romance, I write in third person and give both the hero and heroine's POV. Trish Wylie speaks about action and reaction, and this is a valid and powerful way to develop the story.

I'm plot heavy, I know it, and so does anyone who's ever read any of my work. This means that the next thing I had to learn about was characters, and giving them a starting point (including flaws) and a finishing point where they learn more about themselves, and hopefully overcome some of their flaws. There's a ton of really well written information about this, Blake Snyder wrote about it very well in his book Save the Cat when he advised that we should all remember the covenant of the arc, which is that every character within a screenplay should arc, that is to say, develop through the story, except villians, who's inability to learn is their eventual undoing.

Okay, plot, pov and characters, I'm getting there. My next speed bump was pacing. Now I'll be honest, I haven't got this worked out yet, I'm editing and struggling and trying to make it better, and this is where Show, Don't Tell comes in. I read somewhere that Mills and Boon should be 60% dialogue, 40% other. I think it was in Kate Walker's excellent How to write romance. This means that you should have the story unfold through dialogue and the inner thoughts of your characters, rather than allowing the writer's narration intrude. I do this a lot. I have to go through and edit it, which means that my first draft is full of RUE written in the borders, short for Resist the Urge to Explain. But lately I'm coming to a realisation that there is something I've been missing.

Sometimes you have to tell, and in this post I'm bravely going out on a limb and shouting from the rooftops, I like narrative summary, and I reckon that by religiously sticking to the dictat show, don't tell, we're in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. As well as dialogue and the tags that identify the speakers, descriptions of body language to heighten the writing experience, inner reflection to show what each character is thinking, we all use exquisite writing to build the world that our character's live in, to set the scene, as it were.

Sometimes you need to speed up a scene, by fast forwarding through the action. There's nothing more boring than spelling out every step to tea making, so I'm use little patches of narrative summary to tighten things up and progress it along. I'm using Show, AND Tell. A mix between showing what a character is feeling, and occasionally explaining it, and I think it's working.

My aim is to make my writing better, so, for me, I'm writing, reading it out loud, editing it, and reading it again, until it resonates with me, and I like it. Because, when it comes down to it, I read what other people write, and make a judgement call on whether I think its good or not, and my writing deserves the same consideration, by me anyway!