Tag Archives: pace

Jun 08

Details! Details! “Unseen Background Details” by Mary Deal

Unseen Background Details
Mary Deal

As a writer, you may find that TV characters can be emotionally flat time and again. What sets them apart, even what gets the viewer to like them, is that we can see them. We see their facial expressions and how they react to other people and occurrences. We see their actions, which express motivations and emotion. We see the background scenery and how they act and react in such a setting.

What we see on TV or in a film is exactly what many writers fail to include in their stories. What we see in a picture doesn’t have to be explained because we see it. When writing our stories and books, we have to describe most of this for the reader.

A simplified example: If the reader doesn’t know the character is caught out in a rainstorm, how will the reader know anything except that the character is walking down a street?

We must describe the setting. If it was raining, don’t stop there.

Was it a thunderstorm or simply sprinkling?

Did the character get caught without a raincoat and umbrella?

Was the sky dark, or was the sun shining through the rain?

Was the wind blowing?

Who else was nearby and how did they react to the rain?

We writers have to include in our written works anything that might otherwise be seen when viewing the same scene on TV or in a film. Yet, we cannot over-do the details by stopping the story and describing the background.

Every detail necessary should be woven into the action. Which do you prefer?

The sky was dark. Lightning lit up the distance sky. Thunder rolled. The wind was fierce. It bent her umbrella backwards. She discarded it. Rain pelted down. She wore a raincoat but was still caught in the rain.

Or this:

When lightning flashed and thunder rolled again and the deluge came, she grabbed the collar of her raincoat, drew it up around her neck, and began running. Her umbrella bent backwards as the wind tore it from her hands. Her hair hung in loose wet ringlets as water streamed off the ends and ran down inside the coat. How did she ever let herself get caught alone on a dark street with wind strong enough to blow her over the side of the bridge? And why had that dark sedan slowed its speed to keep pace directly behind her?

The rule is never to stop the story to describe the background or scene, but to include the surroundings among the action performed by each character and as it affects that character.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Dec 15

“Sentence Structure” does not mean “20 to Life,” but it does mean …

Sentence Structure

We’re all told that when we write to simply let the words flow uncensored. Never mind punctuation and sentence structure, just get the words and ideas out. This method works for me and many other people. Still others plan out their sentences in their minds before writing or they edit each sentence written before going on to the next. With any way you choose to write, you will find yourself editing your sentences to make them grammatically correct and to fit the pace of your story.

In order to write the correct sentence for the “moment” of that part of the story, a writer must understand the differences between simple, compound and complex sentences. When I talk about a particular “moment” in a story, a writer needs to know how to use those sentences to pick up the pace of the action or slow it down. Sentences can make a reader breathless and keep turning pages, or they can cause the reader to read more slowly in order to understand a more difficult passage.

Simple Sentences

These are also known as independent clauses and are short and to the point. When we first learned to read, we read sentences that, to an adult, seemed more like bits and pieces. “Jack ran away.” “The ball rolled away.”

As we advanced in our reading skills, sentences became longer, though probably remained simple: “See where the ball rolled into the pasture.”

Simple sentences need to be paced, that is, interspersed among compound and complex sentences. Simple sentences can have a staccato effect between absorbing the action and meaning of a story.

A simple sentence contains a subject and a verb. Simply, a person or thing and the action they perform. Use simple sentences to quicken the action. However, too many short sentences, one after another, can make your story seem juvenile.

Compound Sentences

Compound sentences contain two independent clauses which are joined by:

for – a preposition
and, but, or – conjunctions
so, yet – adverbs
nor – a conjunction and an adverb

A comma always precedes the word that conjoins the two independent clauses making them a compound sentence.

An example:

~ I went to the store, and my friend went to the Post Office.

Complex Sentences

Where a compound sentence contains two independent clauses, a complex sentence has an independent clause joined by one or more dependent clauses. A dependent clause completes the action, but cannot stand alone as a whole and complete sentence.

A complex sentence always uses one of these words to join the two parts of the sentence: after, when, although, because, since, or the pronouns who, whom, which, that, they.

When a sentence begins with any of the words from the first group, a comma is inserted at the end of the dependent clause before the sentence finishes. Note this example:

~ After Rita helped me with the dishes, she and her boyfriend went out.

When one of the connecting pronouns is used, no comma is included. Example:

~ Rita and her boyfriend went out after they helped me with the dishes.

It is advisable to study the choice of words used to connect parts of a sentence. In some cases, the insertion of the wrong word can change what you imply with the sentence.

Short sentences can quicken the pace of the story for the reader. Longer sentences can slow down the pace and offer a lot more information. It is important that you have a balance of each as you write.

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Dec 01

Mary Deal Discusses Plot Driven versus Character Driven Stories

Plot Driven or Character Drive


Mary Deal

A book writing format includes numerous topics and fine points, many of which I have already written about. However, two writing objectives include knowing if your story is plot driven or character driven. Writing topics can sometimes dictate this but the story itself will identify into which category your story fits.

Plot Driven – We mystery writers or genre writers create plot driven prose. Early in the story, the mystery is introduced. Readers know that ultimately the mystery will be solved; it’s how the writer brings this about that drives the plot.

A recent example of a plot driven story is The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Another example from a little while back is Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton.

Putting the characters through their functions is what adds suspense and tension to the story. Whatever the characters stir up or endure all feeds into the plot. In order to keep these stories from feeling one or two dimensional, the writer must make the characters exciting in such a way that the information about each character enhances the plot. You can enhance your characters all you want, but if the information doesn’t enliven and enhance the plot, cut it. Find other ways to make your character three dimensional and that also make the reader feel they needed to know this or that about a particular character in order to further understand the plot.

Character Driven – Most nonfiction writers produce character driven fiction. Whatever the character says or does directs the story and the action. The character leads. You’ve heard the saying that the characters wrote the story, right? That is character driven. We are more concerned here in what the characters do and say that propels the story forward and creates new action. A plot may or may not exist, except to be created by the main characters actions and responses to story developments.

A good example of a character driven plot was Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden.

The fine line between the two – plot driven or character driven – is that plot driven contains a predetermined plot with the characters interacting in the story line and the story comes to a conclusion. In this sense, since no one knows how the characters will react, the characters lend a blend of character driven action to a plot driven story.

In nonfiction, even literary fiction, the story evolves from the character’s thoughts, emotions and decisions and where he or she will take the action. If the desired ending is strong beforehand, this lends itself to a bit of plot driven scenario, though character driven stories usually find their own endings as the story evolves.

A problem with character driven plots is that a writer may proceed to a certain point and realize they want the story go proceed toward a certain ending. From this point all the characters follow or feed into that end. This has a tendency to distort the part of the character because it’s easy to have your character do something that isn’t cohesive with the personality you’ve established for them. If at some point in the story, you see the ending and you make all the characters move in that direction, your story then becomes plot driven.

One of the main problems I’ve seen in some of the stories I’ve edited is the inclusion of a prologue. First, this represents the writer unskilled enough to work back story into the present plot. But more than that, plot drive stories don’t always allow for the characters to contemplate or think through their actions. Plot driven usually moves at a fast pace and characters react spontaneously or compulsively.

In character driven stories, characters are contemplative. We get to know their inner thought processes. It might be easier to work prologue into these types of stories because showing a person’s inner workings allows us to realize their back story and resultant motivations.

So the problem I recognized while editing is that writers do not know if their stories are plot driven or character driven. Understanding the difference between these two categories will make writing a lot simpler.

Distinct differences exist between plot driven and character driven. In actuality, a polished writer will create a unique balance of the two.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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