Monday, June 4, 2012

Give Your Writing Punch - Make Your Reader Believe!

Today's advice is pretty basic, but I think it needs to be pulled out and examined again anyway.  How many times have you as a writer been told to 'show' don't 'tell'. 

Well I wrote a blog post on that some time back so if you've read that (and you still can by going into my archives here) then you know where I stand in general on that statement.  Yes, there's a lot of legitimacy to it, but not exclusively.

That said, let me tell you there needs to be action in your writing. I don't necessarily mean blowing things up or crazy chases, but action, movement, things happening.  It can't simply be two people talking to each other. It can't be you, the writer, describing everything you 'see' in the story without creating sharp dialog and throat-grabbing scenes.

So, consider this. If in your narrative you state John Smith is a brutal, homicidal maniac with wind-whipped scraggly hair and ice water for blood, but he loves his cat, your reader  may buy it or more likely may well think, 'yeah, sure."

On the other hand if you take a different approach if you set the scene (and remember books are built out of scenes, one stacking on another) in which John is striding down a wind-swept beach, the sea mist wetting his hair into scraggy dreads twisted on the wind while he carries a knife tucked up his sleeve so we see only the glinting silver tip, the reader becomes involved. 

If you continue with John until he trips over a guy in the sand, whirls on him, stabbing him with the suddenly hand-held knife, then kicks him in the ribs for good measure when he's down, the reader is gripped by this study of violence and accepts the ice water in John's veins.

And if John casually tucks the knife away and retreats to his cottage on the beach where his cat awaits to wind lovingly back and forth between his legs until John scoops him up in a loving embrace and the cat purrs like a fur-wrapped jack-hammer, well, now the reader believes! And, in believing, the reader wants more and reads on, turning the page.

So you've got them believing and reading.  The next step is a readable novel. Keep those scenes stacking, building and keep painting your word picture with strong, simple, natural sentences. Occasionally a story requires a longer, more involved sentence, but generally, to hold attention, KISS - the old Keep It Simple Stupid. 

Because - if you're creating descriptive and powerful scenes, you don't want to wander off into what was long ago known as 'purple prose'.  Few things can distract the reader and distract him or her from the crisp, potent images you create as fast as that stabbing scene with John enveloped in a lengthy and flowery passage about the lyrical beauty of the sea and sand.

If you must put that lyrical, flowery bit in, do -- then brutally exorcise it from the manuscript at final edit. No excuses, do it.

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