C. L. and I were watching the latest episode of Supernatural the other night. It was one of those that revisited characters we haven't seen in a while, Jodie Mills, Alex Jones, and Claire Novak to be precise. As the episode went on, C. L. expressed his surprise at the behavior of the two teen girls based upon where the series left them last. He expected both would behave the exact opposite of how they were, and at first glance, that'd be an easy assumption to make. Yet, if you take a deeper look, the psychology behind the way the two girls were written is sound.
When creating characters and directing them through a story, how big of a role does psychology play? Is it beneficial for authors to study psychology?
New? Begin with lesson one.
So you've made your way through writing, editing, proofing, and publishing your work. Now what?
First off, congratulations. Now you get to start dividing your attention. You might think now's the time to kick back for a while, but it's not if you want a career in writing. If all you ever wanted to do was have a book in print, maybe, but don't expect to make much if any money from it. The upside of the self-publishing bloom is the market is wide open these days, but this also means each individual sale is more difficult to make than ever. You not only need to get the attention of potential readers, you need to earn their trust in order for them to take the risk of buying your book.
There are a couple more things you need to keep an eye out for when you're in the rewriting phase: dropped plot lines and info dumps. Even though we've talked about what info dumps are before, they can be sneaky things that pop up even when you've been trying to prevent them. Not to worry, rewrites are a perfect time to correct both issues.
How do I know if I have a dropped plot line?
Is there a part of your story left hanging at the end? If so, you have a dropped plot line.
When it comes to handling the rewriting phase, issues don't come much easier to fix than inconsistencies and repetitive material. Yet, they can cause a lot of problems if left unattended because it can give the reader a sense the author didn't care enough to double-check their work.
But what if I need them to serve a purpose?
To be clear, I'm not talking about things like an unreliable narrator, red herrings, themes, or any other instances where these things are included purposefully. The inconsistencies and redundancies I'm talking about today are the ones that happen by mistake. Changing your mind while drafting a story, having new ideas that don't mesh with established material, or simply forgetting you've already included something happens. It's part of the writing process. It's just one reason the rewriting and editing stages are so crucial.
The biggest things you will need to fix during the rewriting phase is filling in plot holes and correcting sequences that are out of order. No matter how throughly you planned out your story, they're still bound to turn up during the drafting phase. As you write, new ideas form, old ones shift, and characters take off in unexpected directions because your subconscious mind is always working ahead and making connections you might not see consciously.
It is to be expected, especially when writing your first few stories. It's a natural part of the creative process, and this is one reason rewrites and edits are essential steps. Plot holes and trouble in the sequence of events aren't disasters at this stage. All it takes is a keen eye to find them and a bit of work to make these changes fit into your narrative without lapses in logic or flow.
Whether you set about to purposefully set the pace of your story or not, it will have one. It's a natural result of the structure of language used. Knowing what factors go into the rate your reader will experience the events happening adds one more tool to your box, allowing you to speed or slow the pace of the narrative to suit your design.
Shouldn't all work aim to be fast paced?
I can see why you'd think so with society's tendency toward sound bites these days, but no, not every piece needs to speed by without slowing down. Life has an ebb and flow to it. Your story should have the same unless your purpose is to create a sense of rushed stress or slow realization for the reader.
Perhaps one of the most important elements of writing a draft is deciding which point-of-view to use. It flavors your word choices throughout the piece and determines both the timing and scope of the events you describe.
Start by considering the scope of your story.
Does the plot impact an entire society or just one character? The larger the scope of your story, the more likely it is you will want to shift point-of-view at some point in the narrative. When events happening all over a particular city, nation, world, or worlds impacting the plot, being able to write chapters from the perspectives of different characters allows you more freedom to show those events than sticking with the protagonist's point-of-view alone.
I know action, setting, and characterization in description seems like a bit much for one lesson, but the topic is simpler than it sounds. We've already covered the creation of setting and characterization. Today we'll just discuss how to work them into the story itself.
Today's topic is all about making your words earn their keep. To make the cut, each sentence, each word, needs to add something to the story whether it be to plot, setting, characterization, or background. There's a reason you don't usually see small talk in books. It's boring, and it rarely contributes anything to the story.
Strong, natural dialogue is an invaluable tool. Characters come to life through the conversations they have with other characters and internal monologues. Actions might "speak louder than words," but personality, beliefs, and emotion shine through well crafted dialogue. Plus, it breaks up "walls of text," which can make your story easier, more interesting, and less intimidating for the reader.
When, where, and how should you use dialogue? How can you make it sound natural instead of wooden and awkward? How do you make each character have a unique voice without resorting to catch phrases every third sentence? If you can find a way to answer these questions, you're well on your way to creating dynamic characters and a story that moves along.
When, where, and how should dialogue be used?
One of the best places to compare and contrast work by beginning and experienced writers is actually fanfiction.net. For a lot of beginning writers, familiar worlds and characters create a safe haven to explore the craft, and posting fan fiction is a quick and easy way to get feedback. So, it's a good place to find examples of first works. Some are also content to stick with creating stories in their favorite fandoms, so they continue writing and posting when seasoned. Given fan fiction's reputation, you might be surprised by the quality writing you can find if you look hard and long enough to uncover it.
You will run into two extremes when reading work by new writers.
The first avoids dialogue at all costs or has no idea how to format what drips and drabs of it they include. The result is a "wall of text" with few to no paragraph breaks. It becomes easy to lose your place within these stories, and the pacing is difficult to discern. Many readers will even go and comment they didn't read the story at all because there was no way they were going to attempt working their way through such an enormous block of words.
The second writes all dialogue with no description. More often than not, this devolves into what is referred to as "talking heads," that is to say a string of dialogue with no clues as to who is speaking to whom. This produces an image of two faceless figures standing and talking at one another without doing anything else. No matter how engaging the topic might be, this tends to get tedious if not confusing after a few lines.
The trick is leaning how to balance dialogue with description. Stories need both unless your protagonist is the only sentient being left alive. Think about what your characters are doing. If they gesticulate, show it. If they're working or traveling while talking, give your readers clues to this. Give them snapshots of the character's surroundings. You don't have to include a tag with every line of dialogue, but make sure to include one often enough to keep who is speaking clear for the reader.
How do you make dialogue sound natural?
Have you ever come across a story or movie where the characters sounded more like robots than people? Natural sounding dialogue can be a difficult thing to write. Most beginning writers either write everything in their vernacular or err on the side of being formal at all times. This results in a monotone script where there's no difference in the patterns of characters or between speech and exposition.
So, how do you avoid this?
It's confession time. I've always found dialogue the easiest part of writing, so I'm not sure how effective of a teacher I'll be here. It's always felt more instinctive than anything to me, so this is the first time I've ever tried breaking it down.
However, after giving the matter considerable thought, I've come to the conclusion this is the result of my personality. Being a curious but painfully shy child, I spent the majority of my childhood and adolescence in silent observation of those around me. For as long as I can remember, I've connected words and speech with music, from singing in church to comparing touch typing to learning to play the piano. Each language, accent, and individual has a distinct rhythm to it. Reading aloud makes these apparent. Poor grammar, clunky phrasing, and hiccups in word choice ring out like sour notes once your ear is trained to hear the melody of the language.
I'm unsure if any of what I just said will make sense to you. Chances are much of it is an artifact of how my own mind works. However, I still urge you to spend time people watching. Give active listening a try when people are speaking to you or conversations are happening around you. Internalize how real individuals communicate, then apply this to your characters. Imagine them as real people, and they're actions and speech will begin to sound more natural.
When you go back to edit, read the dialogue aloud. Does it sound like a conversation between two people? Does the word choice, rhythm, and formality match your characters? If not, try swapping a couple of words for synonyms, adding or subtracting contractions, use a descriptive phrase to create a natural pause, or cut extraneous words to speed things up.
How do you make characters sound like individuals?
Another thing that gives new writers trouble when writing dialogue is not making it sound like someone's talking to themselves when it's three or four characters speaking. How do you change it up without resorting to catch phrases?
This question goes hand in hand with the last. Part of making dialogue sound natural is creating an individual voice for each character. Once again, get a firm idea of your characters. Imagine them as real people while you're writing, and they'll begin to differentiate in your subconscious.
If you find you need more help, the editing phase can be your best friend. You'll find almost everyone has verbal ticks they aren't aware of having. I'm not talking about having actual catch phrases, but we all have certain words we're overly fond of using. Chances are, you'll find yours when you begin editing your manuscript. Pick one or two and assign them to a particular character you're having trouble giving voice to, and then ruthlessly slash those words from everywhere else in your manuscript but the instances it already exists within that character's dialogue. There you go, instant voice.
If you have any questions about writing dialogue, please speak up in the comments below. It is an extensive topic, and I realize only the tip of the iceberg has been touched on here. We will most likely touch on this topic once again in the editing phase of the course, but you don't need to wait until then if you have questions, comments, or concerns.
Continue on to description.
This wasn't the first "writing tool" I planned to write about in this phase of the course, but since it's been on my mind a lot lately, I decided to change the order a tad.
Anyone who has read much, especially the early works of authors, has come across at least one or two examples of the dreaded "info dump." As a matter of fact, if you actually read any of the books assigned in your high school literature classes, you've seen one. They were all the rage in the early 1800s. Virtually any novel written and printed in the first half of the nineteenth century begins with chapter upon chapter of endless description and back story, the very definition of an "info dump."
In addition to working as a freelance writer, A. B. England is a novelist, all around geek, avid crafter, and a homeschooling mother of two.
She is an autistic creator with a love of mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
Yekara Series Book 2
The Icarus Project
Rough Draft Progress
77384 / 75000
Myth & Science Collection
Icarus Series Book 2
Sketched w/ Some Drafting
Yekara Series Book 3
Myth & Science Collection 2
Intent Only at this Time
Icarus Trilogy Book 3
Supers Collection 2
Intent Only at this Time
Yekara Series Book 4