As a joke I’ve said that I’m a literary slut – I’ll read anything. I know. That sounds trashy. LOL. But I’m also a literary…(um, how do I say this to bring this post back in line with the high moral tone of this site…? Ah!) And with my writing I’m also a literary call-girl – I do it for money. Sorry. Couldn’t resist!
Not that I view my writing as cheap or something to be abused in the name of the dollar (or gold, as the dollar is worth nothing these days). It is totally creative. But it’s also a creative way to make a living. Writing is my job. I get up and go to work pretty much 9 to 6 PM, just like anyone else. (Of course I work in my PJs half the time, though not silk PJs like a call-girl. Today I haven’t even combed my hair and I have toothpaste splattered on my sleep-shirt.) I have deadlines like any one else. (Of course, I sometimes work in manic bursts at 2 AM, like that call-girl, but never in stilettos. Bunny slippers, maybe.) I have bosses like anyone else. (Of course, the people who pay me live a thousand miles away and don’t care when I get my work done or what I look like doing it.) But it is a job. Really. Hang in there, this is going somewhere.
I view every bit of my own writing with an eye to meeting certain, specific goals. I keep those goals close to my heart, like a golfer will keep his swing thoughts in mind with every swing. My swing tips are my writing tips. Without them I screw up.
Once again, the list below is my swing tips. Explanations of this week’s follow.
Big List: BIC. Hero? Intensity and POF. Kill A Character. No Duh. BS (not what you’re thinking). Ruthless Words. Transitions. Five Senses. Immediacy. No Excuses. No Fear.
Week before last week I covered: BIC. Hero? Intensity and POF (presumption of failure).
Last week was: Kill Off A Character. No Duh. BS.
This week: ). Ruthless Words. Transitions. Five Senses.
1. Ruthless Words: Word are my tool not my captor. I use them, not get bound up by them. That is a hard thing to keep in mind when the words are flowing and the plot is moving along. But what happens when I get lost on a tangent and can’t find my way back to the original plot line? The writing is sooooo good, that I can’t toss it and go back to the place where I got off track. I can’t! Wrong. I can and I must be ruthless. What happens when a scene just flows off my fingers onto the file? When it is pure poetry, but isn’t right for the novel I’m writing. For whatever reason, the words, while brilliant, are not right, right now. That is when I use Ruthless Words. Unless I intend to self publish (and we have agreed that there are places and people for whom self publishing is the best method,) I need to keep in mind that a book is a one-size-fits-most product. Catie has, brilliantly, been working on this aspect in her blogs. I’ll say it in a more unsympathetic way. This manuscript? It ain’t my baby. It doesn’t live, it doesn’t breathe. Not really. If I want to make it in the commercial market, I have to get over thinking of my manuscript as a living being, and start thinking like a business peson. Writing is a commercial endeavor. A book is a product. It will be rewritten a dozen times according to the specifications of others. I have to be ruthless with my words. I have to be willing to cut and slash and burn them when they don’t work. I have to change the flow with proper punctuation. Not punctuation the way they taught it in school. (Sorry teachers.) I have to be willing to use the skills taught there and whip them and twist them and break them into what I want, with ruthless abandon. Punctuation becomes (within limits) improper in order to meet a specific goal—the emotional impact of a scene. But I have to be ruthless even there. Too many ellipses…? Cut them. Too many dangling fragments and participles and whatever? Cut them. Be ruthless. Make your prose clean and sharp as a blade. Really good prose cuts like a knife. Be ruthless.
2. Transitions: Are the most overlooked part of any book length manuscript. I must never ignore how my character gets from point A to point B emotionally, mentally, or physically. Showing the journey *is* the plot process. And it has to be logical!
a. Emotionally, I have to take a character from one feeling to another in a logical manner. That seems backward, but it isn’t. Most people in RL (not all I grant you) move from emotion to emotion for reasons that—if they really want to—they can eventually trace back to a motivational event (or series of them). A really good psychologist can take years working through some tangle of emotions to his client’s causative event(s). When they get there, it is a huge breakthrough. We have to be both our characters’ creators and their counselors, making their emotional paths clear to the reader. Unless you are writing a character who has a mental or emotional problems, the why (motivations), and the changing whys (motivations) of their actions, have to be logical.
b. Mental transitions are similar except it is easier to allow your character to make mental leaps, especially if the character is created that way in the first place, like the brilliant detective who looks at crime scene evidence in a different way, makes mental leaps, and solves the crime. But even here, it can’t be magic. The character has to see or understand something in way none of his coworkers do. It is still logical.
c. Physically, there have to be ways and means for a character to get from place to place, and his environment has to be logical. David has talked here at MW about horses and their stamina. In one of his worlds horses didn’t get replaced or changed out soon enough. There was a logical disconnect. Misty’s world is always about water. Her boats and ships and methods of transport have to make sense in terms of water. The closed environments of her ships and boats have to be self contained with everything she needs right there. I’ve had a problem writing a scene that takes place in the deep of the bayou. My character needed a lot of gasoline for the big scene to work. Well, she had to set a bayou on fire. It took a lot of gasoline. I had to find a way to get the gas where it needed to go. Logic, everywhere, in every transition, is a writer’s goal. And yes, even in a fantasy.
3. Five Senses: A writer’s world is—or should be—fully functional in terms of its physicality. Yet the senses are often overlooked in scene setting and, when added in, can bring a scene to life. The way the light and shadows interact, the sounds that a character would hear, the way the air tastes on his tongue, the *feel* of the place in terms of temperature, humidity, etc. all impact on how a reader perceives the writer’s world. The most overlooked sense is the sense of smell. The scents that are unique to a place, make me know I am there, with the character, experiencing it all. The scents draw readers in, make them one with the story. Like the memory of fresh baked cookies, the aroma warm and cozy on a winter’s day. Or the milky breath of a baby or a puppy. The evergreen scent of a forest on a snowy day. The unwashed body smell of a street person. You smell it, and it has impact. As writers we have to be aware of e senses.
Once again, do any of you have comments or swing tips you’d like to share? Post them here and let’s chat!