Wednesday, February 3, 2010

More Middle - imagination (believability)

I've touched on today's topic before (Today's topic? Sounds like there is a list of planned posts - there isn't) ... today's topic is scattered throughout other posts. It is part of character development, fleshing-out a scene, and perhaps a bit of POV - point of view.

We focus much of our writing energy on our MC and their antagonist. For a moment think of the cast of extras in a film. Also think of being behind the movie camera viewfinder.

We decide our MC needs to be in a highly populated place for some reason important to our story line (plot). However, we often forget to put the people there that were the reason we chose that setting for a particular scene. In essence we have the reader focusing on a tight shot, a head shot, of the MC/Antagonist for the whole scene.

Maybe we realize it at the last minute and comment in our booming narrator's voice, "Oh yeah, and the place was full of people, nameless - faceless people." Well yeah? Consider this, did all these people suddenly appear at the end of the scene? Or in the beginning and "poof" disappear?

The reason we call news broadcasts (especially in the US) talking heads is we see their head from every view possible, and not much else. It isn't until the end of the show while the credits roll that the camera pulls back and shows us the whole on-camera set and full body people.

We want to avoid talking heads in our writing. Even when we have two people seated at a coffee shop chatting, we want the reader to have a sense of that person as a full person, best yet is to take it a step further and give that person an inside - emotion, thought, sometimes even physical pain - a gut ache perhaps.

It is a building process since we don't have the visual advantage of film. We constantly add layers and body parts to the character and keep them attached. It isn't much good to go to all that work and let it fall off straightaway.

If you study film - watch several in your genre - you will see the seamless change of camera angles that we accept as natural occurrences. Grab a DVD and look, not at the story, but at the camera angles.

When a person arrives, there is a wide shot. It might pan the building, often shows the valet parking as a scene setter, and a sweeping view of the extras on set. By all means, keep it brief.

If the specific architectural elements are not important to the story (say it with me) "Leave it out." That telling business stops the story - goodbye reader. No, keep your character moving into the scene. Tighten the camera angle and keep moving.

Then alternate between the two principals in the scene. Think of the rule of a new paragraph for each dialogue as switching the camera between the two people talking. That is the cue to the reader that we are looking back and forth.

I'm not going to go into dialogue tags in full here, but part of pacing is to write a short section of he said/she said volley back and forth with little more than their spoken words. If it gets very long (look at what you can cut, tighten), or there are more than two people, or they don't take turns in order, then tags and some prose might be required. To slow the pace or intensify the emotions, add prose to the dialogue exchange.

When the scene is finished move to the next scene. Make a bridge. Give the reader an idea of where the next scene will be so they anticipate and keep turning the pages, especially if it is going to be a new chapter.

The whole point to writing a novel (not a journal) is to share it with a reader - hopefully millions of readers. Write so they can dispense with disbelief and get lost in your story.

None of what I say are hard-fast rules. These are guidelines. Do I write perfectly every all the time, no. Do I strive to constantly improve, yes.

If I had only one book on writing, this would be it: The Complete Book of Scriptwriting By J. Michael Straczynski. There is so much in this book that can be applied to any creative writing project. It is on page three of my Amazon store.

Seriously, go read about it. Better yet, go buy it. It is the best money I've spent. I noticed that it is only available on Amazon from a used book seller. It is no where to be found on Barnes and Noble's site. So don't delay. Don't ask to borrow my copy, it ain't happening.

FTC thing: Mr. Straczynski gave me nothing to include his book in my post. As far as I know, he doesn't know I exist.


  1. What an interesting post. I learned a lot here. The book sounds like it is definitely worth getting. Thank you!!


  2. Good stuff. Always bears repeating. As a publisher as well as a writer, I can tell you, it's easy to spot the authors who pay attention. Their work shines.

  3. Hello all. Goodness, Glyn, you inspire me to work harder to get these posts right. Carla, Welcome. It does take a village to 'raise' a writer, doesn't it? Joy, thanks for your ongoing support. You are 100% correct, the amount of effort shows. Readers deserve nothing less than our best effort.

  4. Very interesting. I need to go back and read some of your other posts.