Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Fiction should sound real!
This great advice is from Barbara Warren's February newsletter! Very good advice!
WRITING TIP OF THE MONTH:The writing tip this month will actually be a list of tips. Things we may know but need to remember.
Fiction is not reality, but it should sound real. We are asking the reader to suspend belief to accept what we write. If we do a good job, readers will believe, at least until they finish reading the story, that there really is life on some far out planet and they will identify with it. The reader will accept that animals can talk, that elephants can fly, or dinosaurs can be created with DNA from a fossil. But what we write must seem to be realistic. You, as a writer, are asking the reader to believe in something impossible, and that's fine, but those talking animals must have a human quality the reader can recognize and identify with. There must be universal feelings we all know and perhaps have experienced. If your reader identifies with your character he will care about what happens to this fictional person, even if the "person" is a robot, or an animal, and keep on reading about him. That's what we all want.
Don't be afraid to let your characters talk, and know them well enough you have some idea of how they sound. Your book needs to be at least ½ dialogue. Listen to the way people talk. Write down distinctive phrases and words. Don't let your characters speak perfect English. Let them talk the way you and the people around you talk. Resist the urge to have a character make a speech. Most of us don't hold forth sentence after sentence, unless we're angry and lining someone out. (in that case, I can go on for thirty minutes without taking a breath) Break up long passages of dialogue with action or another character speaking. Dialogue reveals what your character is like. So turn them loose and let them talk.
Don't have your character walk into a room and then stop while you, the writer, describes every stick of furniture, every ornament, and even the pattern in the wallpaper. Your reader will probably skip this. Instead have the character sit down in the red leather chair and pick up a letter opener and start opening the stack of mail. Let the canary in the cage by the window overlooking the river start to sing. Let your character glance at the gold-framed mirror and brush back her honey gold hair. Don't do all of this in the same paragraph of course, but pick two or three details and show them through your reader's actions.
Try not to have a grocery list of every thing the character does. She opens the door, walks down the steps, turns right at the sidewalk, walks to the car, opens the door on the driver side and gets in, turn the key, starts the motor and drives away. Just have her walk out, get in her car and leave. Let the reader use her imagination to fill in the rest.
Write for the eye. Before writing is read, it is seen. Long paragraphs of description or introspection, or even dialogue signals to the reader that this is something he can skim. Do you read every word in a half page paragraph? I didn't think so. So give the reader some white space. Break up those long paragraphs. Don't give that reader the slightest reason to skim one word of your wonderful prose.
And above all, keep writing. Try to write something every day. Don't write one book, send it out, and then never write again until you sell that one. The only way to keep our writing muscles in shape is to exercise them. Put the seat of the pants in the seat of the chair and pound that keyboard. That's the way to grow and develop your writing talent.
And read, read, read. Read books on writing, read in your genre, and read nonfiction to enlarge your perception of the world. God gave us the talent. Our job is to develop it.