I am excited to post — with permission, of course — an article that Mary Deal has put together with her perspective on foreshadowing. I told her when she sent me the article that I love this particular literary device, and I’m pretty good at spotting it when I read. Because I can spot it so well, when I write my own stories, I try to use it with great subtlety. In fact, I like to sprinkle foreshadowing dust in my books, and then pull the foreshadowed hints together like a bunch of threads at the climax to the story. Read More
Tag Archives: dialog
Get Away From That Story
What writers visualize for a plot, and what they actually write into a story, may be two different versions.
Most writers know their stories by heart, including every single bit of researched information they learn before they write the first draft. With a lengthy manuscript, writers cannot and should not include all of the facts they hold in memory. When the writer re-reads the manuscript some time later, it is normal to wonder if readers will perceive what they, the writer, intended to say, according to the scant details they selectively included in order to write lean.
When writers write as fresh creativity flows, they visualize much more of the story in their minds than makes it to paper or monitor screen. Details crowd their thinking, yet, they actually write only carefully selected scenes and dialog that move the story along.
Writers like to think they have included all of what they have learned about their subject. They hope they are presenting the material in such a way that the reader will understand. To be the best judge of that, time away from the story allows a writer to determine if they got their point across. This is something very difficult to determine after having just completed a first draft. Reading at a later time allows a fresh view of the overall composition. The writer becomes a reader instead of the author, and determines whether the story was told as originally intended. Only then can the areas that need fleshing out, cut or re-written be seen.
Many writers may find that what was in their minds and what they actually wrote are two separate versions of the same story. Remembering all the information gained through research before the writing, and later seeing what’s been included in the story, tighter editing can begin anew. Read More
“How’d you like my story?” he asked, as I returned his edited manuscript.
We’d built up a good working relationship over the last few months but this was the limit. “C’mon, DH. You copied ‘The Horse Dealer’s Daughter’,” I said. He and I have been through this act before.
“Not really,” he said. “I saw a way to make it better.”
I almost laughed. “There’s no creativity in rewriting someone else’s stories. You copied at least one line verbatim.” He looked sheepish but shrugged it off. “Your lady, Sable Erwin, like Lawrence’s Mabel Pervin, after having been saved from drowning herself in the pond asks, ‘Who undressed me?’”
“I liked that line,” he said.
“You even used the same staircase scene from Lawrence’s story.”
“No, my staircase is on the opposite wall.” He held up his manuscript. “This is my story. All mine. And it’s better.”
“These are not yours. You simply rewrite other people’s stories by wearing out your Thesaurus. You’ve used lines straight from original bodies of work. Like…like that.” I gestured toward his manuscript. I was sickened by what he’d been doing all along. Frustrated, too, because I’d been editing his work and since I’m not as widely read, didn’t catch on right away. “When you submit these around, professional readers spot the similarities.”
“With all the writers around today, no one knows who wrote what anymore.”
“The only thing your rewriting is getting you is a reputation as the person with the most rejections.”
By now, I knew I’d better be careful of what I said. I wasn’t going to convince him of the error of his ways but I, at least, wanted to make a point. “I can’t edit you anymore,” I said. “And you needn’t continue to edit my work.”
“That’s fine with me. Your POVs are always confused anyway.”
“That’s because you read from a man’s point of view. I am woman. If I begin a story with “I” and the antagonist (opposing character) is named Bobby, and the “I” and Bobby is married, then the “I” is female. So you shouldn’t ask me to clarify “I” in the first sentence of the story.”
“Women use “Bobby.”
“Most likely spelled ‘Bobbi.’ You know I don’t write from a male POV.”
“Creativity works in many ways,” he snapped. He evidently thought the conversation on points of view too hot. “I happen to get inspired by the better writers.”
“But you’re not creating your own masterpieces. You’re just reworking theirs. That’s plagiarism any way you distort it.”
His expression told me I had said the dreaded word. “What about you?” he asked from the hot seat. “You read Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ and that’s what inspired you to write ‘Caught in a Rip.’ That’s plagiarism. The Old Man is out at sea alone talking to himself. Your Lilly character is out at sea alone talking. What do you call that?”
“Well, first of all, The Old Man is talking to his marlin and to the sharks. He’s always safe because he’s in a boat and can see the lights of Havana to guide him back to shore.” I suddenly realized I didn’t have to defend myself but it was too late. “My ‘Lillian’ is in the water, out of sight of shore and most likely caught in the North Equatorial Current with nothing to her benefit but snorkel, mask and fins. And since she’s alone, it took practiced writing skills to get the reader to know that the dialog is interior monologue that everyone probably goes through before they die.”
“Same story,” he said. “You copied Hemingway.” Now he was acting like a person who saw the end of something good and meant to have the last say, but I wasn’t through.
“I read Hemingway’s book three or four times over two decades,” I said. “While it inspired my plots, by the time I wrote “The Tropics,” it had been three years since I last read the ‘The Old Man.’ I didn’t pick up Hemingway again until I was into the third draft of my ‘Caught in a Rip’ story.” He said nothing. I couldn’t help but finish making my point. “When did you ever put a book aside and never open it while writing you own story?”
“Don’t have to,” he said. He rolled the manuscript he held into a scroll and tapped it against a palm. “My plots come right from what I’ve read. Gotta catch inspiration when it happens.” He was so in denial.
“DH,” I said. “It’s one thing to be inspired by great writers; another to write your own story without copying.”
“You think I’m not writing my own stuff?” he said, whining.
“When’s the last time you’ve written your own story to final draft without looking at anything that someone else has written?”
He fidgeted, tapped the scroll against his hand again, thinking. He honestly looked like he didn’t understand, a way of acting at which I’ve come to learn he was very good.
I was into this way over my head but I didn’t want to read any more of his copy cat stories. And I didn’t want him reading any more of my stuff. Had anything I’d written inspired him, he’d probably already rewritten it and sent it out, so my stories wouldn’t have a chance if read by a same editor. “DH,” I said. “What about your name? You admit your DH Harvey is a pseudonym. No one knows your real name.”
“You think I care?”
“Well, now that I’ve read this takeoff on ‘The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,’ I think I know from where you derived your pen name.” I smiled pleasantly when I said that. I had wanted to end this conversation shortly but my curiosity prodded me onward.
“Oh, tell me, please.”
“My guess is you fancy yourself a Chekov or a Steinbeck or any of the others you’ve copied. Now that you’ve copied DH Lawrence, you’ve given away the secret of your pseudonym. Lawrence is both a first and last name. So is Harvey. Everyone knows your name is not DH Harvey or DH anything.”
Again he hedged. “One reason people use pseudonyms is that they don’t want their identities known.” So what did he have to hide?
“Let’s just end this, okay?” I tried to soften my words because when he tries he really does do a fine edit of my work. “I don’t want to exchange edits any more.”
“Okay,” he said and shrugged. “That leaves me more time to write. I found an opening chapter that I can rewrite for my next novel.”
I dared ask, “And what are you borrowing now?”
He looked smug. “I’ve just finished reading ‘The Idiot’ by Dostoyevsky,” he said. “And I know I can make it better.”
When starting to write your story, don’t begin at the beginning, please! One of the main reasons writers fail to get their stories written is that they don’t know where to begin.
Once we have a story in mind, we’ve most likely created our fictional characters, to a degree. We know what makes them the people they are. We may even know how they will play out their parts in the plot, and therein lays the pitfall.
Many writers want to include a character’s life history. They feel if they do not include all of that information, the reader will not build empathy. This thought is a fallacy. How many times have you met a person you’d never met before? When he’s introduced, he wise-cracks, but in a manner that leads to like him right away. You don’t know his history, but you know that you and he will get along.
Thinking along the lines of presenting a character’s history, a writer may try to include much personal history, known as back story. If this has happened to you, have you asked yourself why you’re writing all this information and you haven’t yet begun the story? My advice here is that if you try to include at the beginning – don’t.
Here’s an example:
You’re writing a romance and your protagonist, a lady, is much sought after and can have her pick of suitors. But she hesitates to allow anyone to know her because she’s been jilted more than once.
So you, the writer, feel you must clue your reader about what makes her timid and hesitant before you can continue with the story you wish to tell. You think a Prologue would do the trick. Don’t even try it. Unless you’re an experienced writer with an established following who don’t care what or how you write, a prologue comes across as a new writer’s inability to incorporate back story into the plot.
Any back story included should pertain to the action of the real story you wish to write. The rule is that if whatever you include in the telling of the tale does not move the plot along, it should be cut. Since all that history stalls the plot and keeps it in the past, it has no purpose for being included.
Getting back to the example above, in this case the reader should be told what makes this much sought after beauty so fickle. The way to include relevant information is….
Let’s say she is interested in a man but fights an inner battle with fear of rejection again. The way to show your reader her fear is to have her come in contact with one of the men who jilted her in the past. This keeps the story flowing in the now.
Can you imagine the duress of her wishing to fall in love, and then at the moment of truth she must interact with the person who was the cause of her previous hurt? Are you able to see the back story coming into play when readers begin to understand her anxiety? And it didn’t take a prologue to set it up. It happens naturally in the course of the story.
Back story is easily incorporated through other characters, thoughts and brief memories, or occurrences that remind of past events. You want your story to move continually forward, not stall while you explain the past of it all. When you embed your character’s thoughts in the scenes and dialog, it keeps the reader inside that character’s head and within the resent story.
When I say don’t start at the beginning–you know your story–choose an action scene that you plan early in the first chapter. Jump into the now, the present time of that scene. Introduce your characters through their activities within the scene and let the story move on from there. You will have many chances to include memories, motivation and purpose as each new scene unfolds.
Do you know how much of your day-to-day language contains clichés and jargon? The way you speak among your family and peers defines your roots and the person you are. However, in writing, clichés make your story stale and jargon needs to suit the time period of the story.
If you are writing a story that takes place, perhaps in the 1930s or any older time period, you’ll need to capture the language of the day. Whether you have your characters speak these lines or your narrator uses them, similar phrases of the early Twentieth Century may be something like:
A penny for your thoughts
The pot calling the kettle black
Putting the horse before the cart
To include such phrases in a modern-day story tells of an elderly author who has not kept up with language changes, or tells of a younger author bound in family colloquialisms. With the exception of writing a story in a past time frame, the language you use must be the most up-to-date as possible. Read More
Author Jean Henry Mead is my special guest today. She began her career as a news reporter, later serving as a news, magazine and small press editor. The author of four novels, her latest release is a senior sleuth mystery/suspense novel, Diary of Murder. She’s also the author of eight nonfiction books. Her magazine articles have won state, regional and national awards and have appeared domestically as well as abroad. Read More