I rock. At least in my house where I hold the dubious title of Bop It Queen. I’m also the reigning Scrabble Champion (DH actually marked the calendar the ONE time he beat me) and a pretty mean contender when it comes to Trivial Pursuit.
Give me a basketball, however, and I’ll stand on the free-throw line for two years before sinking a shot. Celebrity trivia will trip me up every time and I stink at Rock, Paper, Scissors. I’ve had to pick the kids up in the cold and dark so often after losing that I just grab for the keys instead of debating my “move”.
We all have strengths and weaknesses, and it’s a good thing to know what they are. Especially for a writer. If we fail to properly assess our techniques, we will find ourselves
Up Submission Creek without a PADDLE.
PLOT: Even the most rudimentary writing needs a plot. The story must go somewhere, or there is no purpose. Not for our MC, not for our story and certainly not for our readers. The Encyclopaedia Brittanica states that plot is ” …the structure of interrelated actions…”
James Scott Bell writes about his LOCK system in regards to a satisfying plot. Lead Character. Objective. Confrontation and Knock Out. These same components have been summarized in many different ways, but in essence they all mean the same thing. A reader wants to be transported from Real Life into a story that has conflict, a climax and a resolution.
AUDIENCE: Writer, know thy audience. After hanging out on writing forums for a year and engaging face to face with other writers and their work, I have learned that we often fail to understand who we are writing for. I have seen YA’s written with picture book themes and manuscripts for adventure-seeking men obviously penned by women.
Each age group and genre has vastly different expectations. As a rule, men do not want to read touchy feely dialogue and teens no longer care about talking bunnies in search of their mommies. Not sure what you’re writing? Check out Anne R. Allen’s Blog . Once you know your audience, read a couple dozen books to get familiar with the style and language they seem to like.
DEVELOPMENT as in Character: Flat Stanley is an awesome book. Yet most writers should strive hard to make their characters anything but flat. To keep our readers invested, we need characters they care about. Lynn Price tells how.
DIALOGUE: Kill me now if your characters hold actual conversations. Readers DO NOT want “Hello.” “How are you today?” “Good.” “Great.” “So…it’s cold outside. Did you get the driveway shoveled?”
Repeat after me. “Ninety percent of what we say in life is really boring.”
The key to great dialogue is imparting character, not information. It moves the story forward. Don’t make your characters talk the same. Likewise, don’t let them all have quirky speech patterns. Keep in mind things like age, sex and genre when writing. For a giggle, read here.
LANGUAGE: This goes hand in hand with dialogue and audience. Write for your readers, not at them. Don’t condescend and don’t use big words you yourself had to look up. Both of these will kill a reader’s love for you faster than dumping your spouse for the waitress on your tenth anniversary.
Sentence length and structure, as well as paragraph development, belong in this category. Don’t confuse your audience with poorly constructed writing and Harvard words. Rather, gently stretch their skills. Teach, don’t preach.
EXPOSITION: AKA, back story. If you have never heard of an information dump, now is the time to learn that agents, editors and the reading public despise this technique. Why? Read for yourself.
So how does one provide necessary information? Artfully, I suppose. I should be able to show you it is cold, the wind is blowing and a storm is moving in without telling you. An example:
She shivered and zipped her jacket against the wind. Her tears froze on her cheeks as she screamed at the snow-filled sky.
I have no sympathy for the villian explaining his evil plot to the tied up victim. I’ve had an entire novel to show my villian’s motives through action, character development and dialogue. He had forty-seven chapters to visit his mom’s grave, sift through his old diary, threaten his shrink for saying the wrong thing and generally act unstable in certain situations. If I haven’t managed to convey the message by chapter forty-eight, my book shouldn’t be in your hands.
If you’ve made it this far up Submission Creek with only one paddle, I’ll throw you another one to make your trip a little easier.
SETTING: Description of characters and places often comes in the form of exposition. A good writer can bypass this tendency by choosing his words carefully. Adverbs and adjectives do not create setting, nor do they qualify as good descriptors. In fact, they can detract from our writing significantly.
Not sure what I mean? Robert K. Lewis will explain.
So there you have it. Two paddles to help you navigate the publishing waters. Plot, Audience, Development, Dialogue, Language, Exposition and Setting. The key to making it work, however, is knowing how to use them.
What are your writing strengths? Do you consiously tackle your weaknesses? If so, how?