Friday, 1 March 2013

7 Ways To Keep Your Writing Rich

That's rich like a good coffee, sumptuous chocolate or the deepest red of a velvety rose, not rich as in financially overflowing (although that one would be good too). How do you achieve and maintain that quality within your writing?


1. In the competitive world of Nanowrimo-esque word counts, it can be tempting to write as much as possible in one go. This can be a useful approach when creating a first draft or tackling NaNoWriMo, just getting the words down, but there is another option that I've recently found to serve me much better. Try to write a little at a time, concentrating on those words, until they are as 'right' as they can be at that moment. I've taken to writing 3-500 words in one sitting, taking my time to reach the correct tone. That might only be a handful of paragraphs but there is nothing to say that you can't have more than one session like this in a day.

2. Don't 'info dump'. Do you like that phrase? I recently came across it on the Magical Words site. To quote Faith Hunter from Magical Words, info dump means,

"...the places in a novel where a writer dumps way too much info on to the page, thinking that the reader needs all this stuff to understand what is going on. In the writer's head, they are paramount to the reactions of the characters and the forward motion of the story".

I've been guilty of this myself. What I do in that situation is put my 'play writing' head on. When I write my murder mystery plays, I make a list beforehand of what I need to reveal (mainly motives for doing away with one of the characters) and then find a way to work this information into conversations and actions in the script. Similarly, in my novel, I find a way to portray what I need to reveal through conversations and the characters' actions rather than through a narrative voice. Rather than say, "Steve didn't want to be there", I suggest his reluctance and nervousness through his actions, (pulling at his collar, fidgeting, etc). I suppose this comes down to 'show, don't tell'.

3. Reading through the first draft of my novel, I came across a number of scenes that do not move the story on. They are mainly 'resting' scenes where the protagonists and supporters gather their thoughts but don't do much else, perhaps have a meal and a drink, but nothing truly constructive. All that this does is interrupt the flow of the story (and perhaps give the impression that several of my characters have serious drinking issues). Ensure that each scene you write aids in the progression of your story in some way. It may only be a tiny piece of information that will prove instrumental in your protagonist's journey or it could be a massive turning point. What matters is that it is adding to the equation of your novel.

4. Cut out unnecessary words. All too often we find ourselves including words in our writing that serve no purpose. We are blinded to them because they are so mundane - 'had' is a perfect example, 'began' is another. These words make our writing bland. "He began to feel sick" is weak and non-involving whereas "His stomach churned" is stronger.

5. Use alliteration. Now, I know that alliteration is generally thought of in connection to poetry and tongue-twisters but it can work wonderfully in prose. From Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway,

"A breeze flaunting ever so warmly down the Mall through the thin trees, past the bronze heroes, lifted some flag flying in the British breast of Mr Bowley..."

Can you see how that adds to the flow of reading? In my third draft, I have a "curious crowd", a "peeling painted sign" and "powdery plaster".

6. Ensure that each character has a unique voice. This is another lesson I learned from writing plays. When I think I have finished a play, I will read it with the characters' names covered up to ensure that I can tell who is speaking by their words alone. Listen to conversations you hold, or conversations around you, and you will notice that most people have something individual about the way they speak. It could be a mixed accent or particular words or phrases they use. Apply that to your characters. Make them sound individual.

7. I'll leave this one to novelist, Sue Grafton to explain because I couldn't say it any better myself.

"You've got to write and revise every sentence, every paragraph, and every page over and over until the rhythm, the cadence, and tone are properly attuned to your inner ear."

4 comments:

  1. Great tips! I love alliteration and hate info dumps.

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    1. Thanks, Kelly. I'm a big fan of alliteration.

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  2. These are wonderful tips, Fi! I have this hunch, and correct me if you disagree, that most of these--info dumps, characters not having unique voices, "resting" scenes--come from a writer not yet knowing exactly the story/characters they are writing.

    I used to have tons of these; it was almost like the first half of the book or the first draft was just me getting to know my world, story, characters. Once I started constructing careful character sheets, plotting, heavily outlining in advance--a lot of this stuff melted away.

    As for #1, I find that I write much better in long stretches--the story stays prescient in my mind, and everything flows much more smoothly when I hammer out a book in 2-3 weeks. The ones that I stretch out over months, I forget about things that happened earlier in the novel and either a) don't resolve open threads, and/or b) repeat details/character information.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Kiersi. That's an interesting conclusion to come to but no, I know my story well and the characters have been with me for years, although the storyline has developed slightly between drafts. Wow, can't imagine writing and finishing a book in 2-3 weeks but I appreciate that there are writers like Terry Brooks who only write a couple of drafts because they fully form the idea over a period of months before writing.

      I think what's important as writers (and in all parts of our lives) is to find the method that suits us. Writing less is obviously the way for me. Thanks again.

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