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Can I dramatise this scene? June 12, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Novel, On Writing.
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Source: mindset.yoursabbatical.com

A few weeks ago we were discussing the use of free indirect discourse in class.  I didn’t even know what it was, even though I had been using it throughout my writings for years.

Free indirect discourse is a way of representing a character’s speech or thoughts using a combination of direct discourse and narratorial commentary.  The simplest example I can think of is instead of writing a whole conversation between two people where you write down every word uttered (followed by ‘he said’ or ‘she said’), you summarise the conversation with narrative (eg, ‘They had a conversation about X’).

It’s used in just about every novel out there, but it’s something I never really thought much about before until I started struggling with my own writing.  Some conversations in my WIP novel(s) didn’t really work or dragged on too long, and probably could have been dispensed with a narrative summary instead of a word by word account.  Conversely, other conversations which I summarised might have worked better if I strung it out more to give the characters more of a voice.

The problem extends beyond just speech for me.  Looking through some of my older drafts, I tended to have a problem of not knowing how to create a scene.  I might not know where to start or where to end a sequence or a series of actions, and it ends up being a long, drawn out, tedious scene where people just do things and talk and do things and talk for an extended period of time.  The pace sags and even if a lot of things are happening it still feels slow and boring.

However, if I just summarise the scenes they end up losing life and take the reader out of the action.

So it’s a delicate balance.  Knowing when to use free indirect discourse and when to summarise scenes and when to write them out in full is a true skill, and a difficult one to master.

The way I look at it now is that I’m a director of a film, and it’s up to me to decide which scenes I want to show, which scenes I want to omit, which parts I want to spell out for audiences and which parts I leave for them to fill in themselves.  Is this scene worthy of being dramatised?  Is the scene capable of creating drama or tension or helps develop a character or reveal something pertinent about the plot?  Is there a point in the reader having to read the entire conversation or know every little thing that a person saw or did in that scene?  Is there a purpose?  If the answers to the questions are yes, then I go ahead and craft the scene in detail.  If the answers are no, then I’ll have to think of an effective way to summarise it.

Either way, it’s not easy!

 

Finding your own writing style April 1, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in On Writing, Study.
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Lately I’ve been reading and writing a lot and finding myself mimicking the styles of other writers.  Sometimes it’s intentional, and other times it is subconscious.  Either way, I end up disliking the outcome.

I think part of this trend stems from the writing workshops that have been taking place in my course.  We read a lot of “literature”, not all high brow shit, but a lot of it is “award-winning”, in my opinion, kinda snobbish stuff.  It’s a bit of a hit and miss affair, even though most of the books or extracts we read are works that have received high praise in one way or another.

I don’t have any problems with any particular style of writing, as long as it interests me and doesn’t bore me.  Usually, this means I enjoy the writers who tell a good story, rather than writers who can write brilliant prose.  I may admire their ability, but it won’t make me want to read their writing.  I’m not a huge fan of descriptions that take up half a page, or writing that uses superfluous or flowery words when there is no need for it.  I like intriguing characters and slick dialogue, but only when it’s not contrived.  And to be honest, I love action.  The mundane melodramas can sometimes hook me, but it has to be done really well.  I enjoy popular fiction.  I have no problem with commercial or pedestrian stuff.  I suppose I am the product of the short attention span generation.

Anyway, needless to say, my tastes sometimes diverge from those in my class, most of whom are older and more experienced writers.  And every now and then, I feel this invisible pull to conform, as though to be a “better writer” means to be more like the writers that we read in class.  I throw in more description, imagery and more in-depth character development into my writings.  At first, it made me feel safer, but I’ve realised that it’s just made me the same as everyone else, except not as good.

So from now on, no more trying so hard to be someone else.  I’m going to try and find and employ my own style, do what makes me feel good as a writer, and write in a way that I find interesting.  This doesn’t mean I am abandoning what I am learning in class, because every little bit of knowledge, technique and experience helps, but I have to stick to my own style.

Book Review: Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane March 11, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews.
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Nate from theninthdragonking was right.  I should have read the book first before watching the movie.

But then again, had I read the book first, the movie probably wouldn’t have been as good.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (who also wrote Mystic River) is a solid book, an intelligent, well-written thriller with slick dialogue and fascinating characters.  But it didn’t blow me away or anything.  Like I said, maybe watching the movie (which was remarkably similar) first had something to do with it.  After all, it does reveal the ending.

The premise is simple.  In 1954, Teddy Daniels, a US Marshal, is called to Ashcliffe hospital (for the criminally insane) on Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a patient.  But of course, Teddy is thrown into a wild, dangerous world where nothing is as it seems.  Will he come out of it with his health and sanity in tact?

The atmosphere is dark and suspenseful.  The plot is full of twists and turns.  The characters are memorable, especially Teddy’s new partner Chuck Aule, a funny, likable sidekick.  Lehane is a master manipulator who knows how to keep readers confused.  However, the thing I liked most about Shutter Island was the way Lehane handles the dialogue.  Each character’s voice is distinct and easily recognisable, with their own tone, style, and beat.  It’s certainly something I can learn from.

That said, there was too much dialogue.  At times it felt like that was all I was reading.  I think the story stagnated because of it. For a 369-page novel (my movie tie-in edition), I kind of expected a bit more to happen.

And really, when you think about it, the story requires a ridiculous amount of suspending disbelief.  I suppose credit should go to Lehane for making such a preposterous premise semi-believable.

Ultimately, a good read, but not as good as I expected.

3.5 stars out of 5

[PS: SPOILER ALERT – a lot is made about the book’s (and the film’s twist ending).  Yes, it’s not all that hard to figure out, but do reviewers have to keep reminding readers that a twist ending is coming?  Take for example the back cover, a review from the New York Times: “A deft, suspenseful thriller that unfolds with increasing urgency until it delivers a visceral shock in the final moments.”  Then, inside the front cover, from Washington Post Book World: “Its shocking outcome kept me awake”; from Denver Post: “And then there’s the ending.  You’re sure to talk about this one over lunch…”; from Raleigh News Observer: “leads us hypnotically to a climax that is both absolutely shocking and wholly plausible”; and the worst one of all, from Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Lehane throws in a beauty of a reversal toward the end, one as surprising as the revelation in the movie The Sixth Sense”.]

Using modern language and slang in fantasy writing? January 24, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Fantasy, Novel, On Writing.
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2 comments

dialogueOne advice I’ve read more than a few times is: avoid using modern language in fantasy writing – in particular, in writing dialogue.

I’m just trying to gauge to what extent that advice applies – and if there are any exceptions or boundaries.

Of course, I understand frowning upon the use of modern terms, ‘hip’ phrases, abbreviated words, slang, etc  in stories with a historical context – because it’s inaccurate and takes the reader out of the context – but what about in fantasy?

After all, it is a fantasy story.  If the reader can suspend their belief sufficiently to believe that a world of sorcery and magical creatures exists AND that the characters speak English, then why can’t those characters use some modern language in their conversations?  Wouldn’t the modern reader be able to associate more with the characters?

(more…)

Novel writing: is too much dialogue bad? January 23, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Fantasy, Novel, On Writing.
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I’m pleased to report that I had a very productive day working on my fantasy novel today (which means I did not do any study whatsoever) – almost 7,000 words!

However, just having a quick browse through all my recent stuff, I noticed a significant part of it is just dialogue.  All dialogue.

So that got me thinking.  Is having a lot of dialogue in a novel good or bad?  Does it kill the action?  Do I need to pull it back a little?

My protagonist has essentially just started his adventure now, but there’s still a lot about this fantasy world that I haven’t yet revealed to the reader.  Rather than using large paragraphs to spell it out, I’ve tried to incorporate as much of the unveiling of this world through discussions between the characters.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing? 

I just don’t know anymore…all I know is that I want to get to the action, and I can see it right in front of me…

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