Friday, September 21, 2012


If you’re looking for a warm-up exercise here’s a good one that I use to get my creative writing class started sometimes. I think I got it from Pamela Painter’s book WHAT IF. Start with a sentence that begins with A. Then make the next sentence begin with B. Work your way through the alphabet. Sometimes this kind of forced writing path will give  interesting results. At any rate, fun warm-up.
Some thoughts about Show and Tell:
 Novels are made of scene and summary. If you think about a novel in this way, simple though it is, you see that it is the interplay of showing and telling that gives your novel its rhythm and structure at both the local level of a scene and the global structure that begins with word one and ends with THE END. There is summary between scenes and summary within scenes. So it’s complete nonsense to say a writer must always show.  A writer must show and tell and it’s the choices the writer makes—when to show and when to tell that contribute to the work’s success or failure.
Show the interesting moments, the dramatic ones, the ones that reveal character and push plot along in a dynamic way. Show what needs to be shown. Good. Show the boring, show too much. Not so good.
Tell character back-story or summarize some bit of action that isn’t important and so on. Often in first drafts I summarize too much. I'm telling because I'm trying to figure out bits of my novel. I try to be aware of this so I can cut in revision. 
Picking the right time to show and the right time to tell is essential to pacing and rhythm and many other aspects of writing a good story.
Or so I think today.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

character as plot

You’ve probably heard this before but I’ll say it again:
     The way to a character’s heart (and isn’t that where we, as writers, are trying to get?) is through the things he or she wants/needs/desires and the things he or she fears. The acts that the character does in order to get what he or she wants and to avoid what he or she fears create character. These acts in the main characters also often drive the story.
     Kind of a big deal, really.
     Throw in an antagonist or two, mix well, and you’ve got a story.
     Thinking about this in early drafts might help you decide what happens next or how a scene should work.  SO you focus on character desire as a way of moving plot and not just as a way of developing character. Thinking about this in later drafts might help you select what should stay and what should go. You can see where you wander away from the struggle and need to cut.
     Another huge advantage to this approach is the story evolves from the inside out and you aren’t looking at it from outside and trying to make it fit some outline or formula, which never works for me. The story evolves organically.