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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!


It really helps to read writings out loud April 18, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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The other day I finally got to workshop a chapter of my novel in my creative writing class.  I was a bit nervous (as I always am when getting other people to read my writing), but this was a little different.

This was a genuine first draft, and it wasn’t the type of writing the class was seeing.  The style was chatty, colloquial, and very light on description.  There was a lot of telling, not a whole lot of showing.  It was my attempt at something new in order to try and establish the voice, the most important part and what I’ve been struggling with.

If I learned one thing that night, it’s that reading your writings out loud really helps.  As I said, this was a first draft, but I did have a read over it to correct typos and spelling/grammatical errors.  But I read it over in my head, and to me, it all sounded fine.  I thought it was good enough.

When I read it out loud in class, however, it was a different story.  The story itself was not problematic but there was something about the rhythm to the narrative and the voice that were just a little…off.  There were moments when it sagged, when it didn’t sound right.  It was a flaw my lecturer picked up and said it was particularly important in comedic pieces (which this was) to have the right beats.  I hit some and missed some in this draft.

There were various other tips and recommendations from my classmates (including, of course, trying to ‘dramatise’ the ‘telling’ a bit more), but this was one thing that stood out the most.  Reading my writings out loud helped me to capitalise on the problem immediately.

From now on, that’s what I’m going to do with every draft and redraft.  Read it out loud and see how it sounds!

Beautiful Writing vs Storytelling April 12, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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My creative writing class regularly features workshopping of pieces written by my fellow classmates, and it’s always interesting to see the range of writing that gets churned out.  Even more interesting for me is the reactions they have to the work of their fellow writers.

I am someone that can certainly appreciate good writing at the sentence level.  Sentences that touch on the senses and evoke vivid imagery.  Sentences with a strong voice, with realistic dialogue.  Sentences that are rhythmic and lyrical, maybe even poetic.  You know, the type of stuff you see in award-winning literary fiction.

I have classmates that can write bloody good sentences, and I have other classmates that gush over those sentences.  But to me, writing is much more than just putting together beautiful sentences.  I get impressed by them as much as the next person, but to be honest they can have the tendency to bore me sometimes.

That’s where good storytelling comes in.  I know in writing we are taught to show, not tell, but it’s actually more complicated than that.  If all you do is show, all you end up with is a list of descriptions and the pace sags.  If all you do is tell, you don’t get any visual images and the narrative loses its allure.

I think sometimes beautiful writing is overrated and masterful storytelling is underrated.  Guys like John Grisham are considered good ‘storytellers’ rather than good ‘writers’, but is that really a fair label?  They’re all good writers to me as long as they create enjoyable stories.

I’ve been struggling lately with the beautiful writing vs storytelling conundrum.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve been too focused on writing pretty sentences, but recently it feels like my writing goes nowhere.  It’s nowhere near as fast-paced as I want it to be and significantly slower than what I used to write.

The last couple of days I told myself to forget about the bloody sentences and just write whatever came to mind.  Forget about the descriptions and just focus on telling a story.  To my surprise, it worked well.  I now have around 4000 words of almost pure storytelling, which feels good but is still problematic.

The next step is to try and find a balance between the two.

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