Thursday 28 March 2013

Lost In Transitions


When a character is focused on a single objective, the flow of the story is fairly easy to maintain. Detective Sherry Sharp is after the psycho who killed her sister. She hears about another victim found downtown and she’s in the car on her way, enraged and determined.

How you get Detective Sherry from one place to another, and how you manage her emotions from one state to another will more or less take care of itself.

If, however, you have various objectives and storylines to contend with, things can get tricky.

Monday 25 March 2013

A Good Solution Needs A Good Problem


For a character’s story to be interesting, they have to do interesting things.

Activities and pastimes we enjoy depend on our personal preferences. A writer’s passion can make a subject matter more accessible, but you need more than that to engage a reader fully, regardless of their personal preferences.

The tale of Jack Jackson who went surfing for the weekend and had a really fun time catching awesome waves is only going to be of interest to Jack Jackson and people who are really, really into surfing. And who can also read.

When it comes to stories, interesting means something different.

Thursday 21 March 2013

Tell The Reader Why Part 2

In the last post I took a look at making it clear what was behind a character’s actions and suggested that in most cases it's preferable to just tell the reader what's going on up front.

In this follow up I will attempt to clarify how and when to use telling to get the most out of a scene. As with any technique, a lot still depends on how well you execute it, but knowing the advantages and disadvantages should help.

For the purposes of this, the example I’ll be using will be a man breaking into a house.

There are three ways to do this in terms of character motivation.

1. I don’t tell you why he’s breaking into the house and either let you figure it out for yourself or reveal his reasons after the fact.

2. I show you in a previous scene why he needs to get into this house.

3. I tell you his reasons as he breaks in or just before.

Monday 18 March 2013

Tell The Reader Why

While showing, rather than telling, is an excellent technique when it comes to moments of action, drama and emotion, there are times when telling is a far more useful and efficient approach to take. 

One of those times is when dealing with motivation. Why a character does what he does is going to be a key part of any scene.

Thursday 14 March 2013

The Little Reasons A Story Works


It’s not enough to have something dramatic happen in a story. The reason why it happens is also important.

In terms of impact on a reader, there’s a big difference between a character getting upset about losing their house to the bank and getting upset because their favourite tv show got cancelled.

What happens keeps the reader interested in the short term. Why it happens is what keeps them interested over the course of an entire novel.

Monday 11 March 2013

When To State The Obvious In A Story

Not only is it difficult to know how much information to give readers so they know what’s going on, it’s also tricky knowing when to give it to them.

There are many ways to do it right, but there are two very specific ways to do it wrong.

One is signposting, where you say up front what’s about to happen, and then it happens. You end up stealing your own thunder.

The other is burying the lead, where you put off mentioning the elephant in the room, so that when you do eventually bring it up not only is everyone taken by surprise, but now it appears to be a teleporting elephant.

Thursday 7 March 2013

The Perfectly Balanced Story


When you tell someone a story in person, you probably know the person you’re talking to. You will at least have a rough idea of how familiar they are with the people and places you’re referring to. And if you misjudge, they can always ask you questions.

In fiction, it’s much harder to know exactly how much information a reader needs or wants. And even if you did, it would be impossible to provide since you’ll have more than one reader, and each will have different requirements.

You can’t get the balance right, because there is no way to please everyone.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get it wrong. You may not be able to please all the people all the time, but you can certainly piss them all off.

Monday 4 March 2013

Worst Case Scenario Is Something To Aim For


Sometimes in life we get worried and worked up about something and it turns out not to be as bad as we had feared. The terrible thing we were convinced was about to happen doesn’t materialise. It’s good when it turns out that way. In real life.

In a story, however, that kind of build up and release is not rewarding, it’s disappointing.

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