I Feel the Need, the Need For the Careful Build of Momentum

Print

You’ve finally finished your latest piece of fiction. Congratulations! Once you’ve stuck a feather in your cap and given your back a big, hearty slap, you pass your gem along to a trusted reader… and the notes you get back are, “the story feels uneven/ seems melodramatic/ lacks momentum/ becomes anticlimactic” and you haven’t got the foggiest how that could be possible. You made sure your writing has all the basic components a story of this type should have, so where’s the problem?

The simple and direct answer to that would be pacing, my friend.

Proper pacing is one of the critical elements needed to keep your audience actively engaged and as a writer you must develop structural and word choice skills and use a variety of devices to control the speed and rhythm at which your plot unfolds.

Here are a few tips to start you on your journey:

1. The most obvious momentum control is length.

When writing a tense scene—filled with action, danger or crisis—you want your audience to experience feelings of speed and intensity. There’s no room for distractions here, just the meat of the nutshell, which is accomplished by keeping your descriptions and sentences concise, and if there’s any dialogue, have your characters spit it out at a rapid-fire tempo.

During the times when you need to establish a character, place or event in order to build a foundation for your story, longer scenes with more descriptive sentences, character thoughts, richer dialogue and transitions, come into play.

2. Give your audience a chance to catch their breath.

Let’s say one of your strengths is creating sharp, high-tension scenes. You trim the fat off sentences, annihilate unnecessary prepositional phrases, and swap out passive linking verbs for active ones like a pro. In fact, you’re so good at it that it becomes your default style of writing. That’s great. I’m pleased as punch for ya. Your audience—not to mention your characters—however, will need a breather between high conflict points, which means you must vary your pacing by providing a slower, more introspective scene. Balancing your story with intentional calm moments also ensures your electrifying scenes maintain their power.

3. The devil—and a slower pace—is in the details.

I’ve mentioned in other posts that you should always plant your feet firmly in the soil of your story, and if you can accomplish this, it pays off during scenes when something extremely dramatic is about to happen. This is where you take your time and describe everything in detail so that your audience feels the full impact.

4. Remember the advice, “show, don’t tell?” Well, it doesn’t always apply.

Yup, I know, it’s been drilled into your head countless times and I’ve even written about it (see: Skip The Tell And Bring On The Show) but there are always exceptions to the rules. Tedium is the primary cause for this rule break, as your intention is to keep your audience’s focused on the important and interesting matters. By telling rather than showing, you can skim over unimportant scenes that you don’t want to linger on.

5. Become a master manipulator (of word choice and sentence structure)

You don’t need me to tell you that words are the tools by which you control the worlds you create, and those same words—both singular and in groupings—are your first best means of managing your story’s pace. But the manipulation of the length of words, phrases and clauses to control the ebb and flow of sentence and paragraph structures, isn’t the only way deal with pace. You also have allies in cliffhangers and prolonged outcomes.

Now that I’ve mentioned cliffhanger, you’re no doubt thinking, “oh yeah, naturally…” because as an avid reader, you know first hand that you hate being left in the lurch and will quickly flip the page to discover what happens next. Your job as a writer will be to introduce that uncertainty in the form of an impending threat, an interruption in the action, unfinished business, or a dangling peril.

Prolonged outcomes, on first thought, might appear to require a slower pacing, but the reverse is actually true. When you prolong an event, the story speed increases because you’ve piqued your audience’s interest and they’re eager to discover how the events play out and pay off.

As with all my posts, this is simply rudimentary information, and you will come to notice that each story you write has its own unique pace. Some will speed along fast and furious, while others will make their way unhurriedly to the end. What’s important is that you’re not only aware of the message your story’s pace conveys to the audience, but are also in absolute control of it.

Sally forth–at the proper pace–and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Advertisements

Unlock Your Inner Story

Photo: Unlock your inner story ...

They say, “Everyone has at least one good book in them” and while I think book might be a bit of a stretch, I wholeheartedly believe that everyone has at least one good story in them. The natural length—the pure story without padding or the encumbrance of unnecessary detail or description—of which can range from flash fiction (under 1,000 words) to short story (under 7,500 words) to novelette (7,500 to 17,500 words) to novella (17,500 to 40,000 words) to a proper novel (over 40,000 words).

No matter how non-creative you believe yourself to be, your brain is nonetheless gifted with the special ability of imagination, and regardless of how infrequently you put it to use, you still are able to dream up intricate realities, despite your age or IQ level. Haven’t we all, at one time or another, projected a new reality in our minds in the form of daydreaming our desires? And no two daydreams are exactly the same since we each possess unique preferences, points of view, wants and needs.

Yet, even armed with the knowledge of this gift, we, as writers, tend to suffer because we either do not fully believe in or properly comprehend our true nature as creators. Sure, we continue to imagine “what if” scenarios but sometimes we find it difficult to allow those thoughts to flow through us—the conduit—and blossom into the stories they need to become.

The following list isn’t a step-by-step “how to” guide, because no one can tell you precisely what you need to do to access your inner story. You are a totally unique entity, after all. View it more as a broom to help you sweep away the clutter piled up on the footpath to your personal tale.

1. Examine your self-image.

The first battle you must face is the one against your self-image. You are more than pen and paper, more than a keyboard, more than “just another writer” or more than whatever obstacle your past or conditioning has placed in your path. The main reason why most writers fail to connect with their inner story is because of their limited knowledge of who they truly are.

As flawed human beings we are so engrossed with the perceptions of who we are that we fail to see that we are usually the source for the reality we have created for ourselves. Sure, the walls of the prison may have been constructed by events of the past, by family, peers or environment, but we continue to fortify the walls and never once open the lock–the key is always in our possession–push the cell door to step out into freedom.

This in no way suggests you have to deconstruct your self-image–unless that’s your goal, then by all means, have at it. You’re merely peeling away the layers of the identity you’ve created for yourself for societal purposes and exposing your core self, the real you. Don’t worry, it’s only for the exercise of writing. You can reapply your layers once you’re done.

Your secret identity is safe with me.

2. Take note of your gifts.

Different from writer traits–talent, the hunger for knowledge, and diligence–a writer’s gift can range from an eye for detail, to a flair for description, to a talent for dialogue. Or, you might not even be aware of your talents, so I want you to grab a piece of paper and something to write with and in 60 seconds jot down a list of what you’re good at. Don’t think about it. Simply jot down, off the top of your head, the things that come easiest to you when you write.

All done? Now take a long, hard, honest look at your list. The things you don’t concentrate on, those bits and bobs that just sort of come naturally to you when you write… those are your gifts. You’d be surprised to discover how many writers aren’t aware of their innate skills because they aren’t utilized in their everyday work lives and wind up being placed in the “Hobby” category.

3. Exploit your strengths. 

Since you’re bothering to read this, my guess is that you’ve written a couple of pieces already and maybe even finished a few of them. Now, if you’re an avid reader, you will have no doubt compared your piece to your author idols, and have developed the brutally honest ability to cast a critical eye upon your own work and spot areas in your writing that aren’t as strong as others. And since the writing isn’t perfect, you are therefore a horrible writer who should no longer legally be allowed to string a sentence together in an email, let alone write a story.

Maybe it’s true. Maybe you really are a bad writer–hey, they exist–but that’s not my call to make. I don’t know you, so I’ll assume you at least have some fundamental writing potential. However, no matter how good you are, there is one basic truth you must learn to face: Your writing will never be perfect. Why? As stated in a previous post: Because wunderkind wasn’t conveniently inserted into your backstory, and perfection isn’t DNA-encodable at this point in time. Still, you should always strive to get your writing as close to perfection as you can manage, and accept the fact that: It. Will. Not. Be. Perfect.

Maybe you can’t write a convincing love scene. Maybe you struggle with organic dialogue. Maybe you get stumped when attempting to create a character’s internal arc. Maybe you’re rubbish at tying up all your story’s loose threads. Console yourself in the knowledge that you wouldn’t be the first. A few of these “weaknesses” and more are true for authors of published works, some of which even make bestseller lists.

And because, as a writer, you are always a student and ever pushing yourself and learning new ways to hone your craft, you will eventually learn to strengthen your weaknesses. In the meantime, put all of the aspects of your writing into perspective, make a deal to stop beating yourself up so much, and focus on your strengths. They’re your “A” game.

4. Gird your loins against the enemy.

In addition to dealing with possible self-image barriers, there are other obstacles that can block your path: Fear, intimidation, procrastination, and self-doubt. The problem with these buggers is that they often take the form of lies you tell yourself. And they happen to be effective as hell because they insulate your brain from facing unpleasantries, in this case the difficult portions of the writing process that you need to slog through in order to strike gold.

The biggest lie you can tell yourself as a writer is, “I’ll do it later.” It’s a dishonest postponement because later never comes. If you don’t confront the enemies that keep you from your writing and tamp the bastards down long enough to complete your piece, then you don’t have what it takes to be a writer. Staring into the gaping maw of the harsh realities that terrify you is one of the most important parts of the process.

Slap a “H” on your chest and “Handle” it.

5. Identify your genre.

At this point, you arch an eyebrow and ask, “Rhyan, how can anyone not know the genre of their story?”

The answer lies within the fact that writers are creators. Some are resistant to the notion of placing labels or classifications on their work. For others, classification difficulties arise when their piece contains elements from several genres as some writers disagree with the act of limiting creative freedom in order to adhere to strictly delineated genre segregation.

For your audience, knowing the genre sets not only the stage, but their expectations as well, and puts them in the proper mindset to both understand and accept the rules of your story.

At this stage in the process, the importance of identifying your genre has to do with story mechanics. Certain elements step to the forefront and operate differently depending on genre, so you should be aware of the rules of the category–even if you decide to break them because of the maverick you are–as you’re arranging your idea into the proper story structure (see: Simple Anatomy of a Plot Outline).

6. Plant your feet firmly in the soil of your story.

This is your story. First and foremost, it must feel natural to you. No matter how fantastical the environment, how outrageous the yarn you’re spinning, if you don’t feel confident in the pocket dimension you’ve created, there’s little chance of you selling the story as being credible. Your job is to take utter nonsense and portray it with as much authenticity as possible.

7. Go with your gut.

Some people seek permission to write. Thinly disguised under the “Oh, it’s just an idea I’m toying with” veil, they will ask family and friends if they should write about such-and-such or if this-that-or-the-other-thing would make an interesting topic.

I urge you not to be this person.

I’m reminded of a quote by Jerome Lawrence, “The whole point of writing is to have something in your gut or in your soul or in your mind that’s burning to be written.” So, if you can actually feel inspiration or instinct churning like hot snakes in your gut to write, forget the opinions of those around you, disregard the idea of “should” and just go for it.

Never live with regret, if you can help it.

8. Do it now. No better time than the present. 

To snatch a line from Pixar’s Ratatouille “Why not here? Why not now?”

By now you know you must show up for writing everyday, and there’s no time like the present. So, why not find yourself a quiet spot, practice listening, and trust what you hear. That’s your inner story talking to you, and it not only has to be unlocked but it must be accessible at will.

I know it’s become hackneyed to instruct you to follow your bliss, but if you deny your instincts to do what you truly want to do, then the problem becomes one of trust. Do you trust the voice within you or do you trust reality as you are made to perceive it? Or, are you willing to trust the voice and write what you hear, no matter how crazy it sounds?

You have to learn to be compassionate with yourself, as well as having compassion for yourself. Especially during the vulnerable times when you’re blocked and can’t bring yourself to write because you’re scared you’ll be rejected. Take some small comfort in knowing you’re not alone in this.

Since all art must be criticized, every single published author had to overcome fear of rejection. What you need to keep in mind is that your audience–human, just the same as you–can only relate to your writing from their own experience, and sometimes their feedback will be negative. That doesn’t necessarily indicate problems in your writing, and may simply reflect a varying viewpoint.

But fear of rejection has no business rearing its ugly head right now as it’s time for you to honor your inner story by listening to the words it shares with you and writing about it. Trust me, if you’re willing to enjoy the process, you can write damn near anything.

So, why not sally forth and be inner story writeful?

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Famous Thoughts on Grammar and Usage

1. “You can be a little ungrammatical if you come from the right part of the country.” — Robert Frost

2. “Word has somehow got around that the split infinitive is always wrong. That is a piece with the outworn notion that it is always wrong to strike a lady.” — James Thurber

3. “It is indeed acceptable practice to sometimes split an infinitive. If infinitive-splitting makes available just the shade of meaning you desire or if avoiding the separation creates a confusing ambiguity or patent artificiality, you are entitled to happily go ahead and split!” — Richard Lederer

4. “When you catch an adjective, kill it.” — Mark Twain

5. “The adjective is the banana peel of the parts of speech.” — Clifton Fadiman

6. “The adjective is the enemy of the noun.” — Voltaire

7. “If the noun is good and the verb is strong, you almost never need an adjective.” — J. Anthony Lukas

8. “Don’t say it was ‘delightful’; make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers ‘Please will you do my job for me?’” — C.S. Lewis

9. “Forward motion in any piece of writing is carried by verbs. Verbs are the action words of the language and the most important. Turn to any passage on any page of a successful novel and notice the high percentage of verbs. Beginning writers always use too many adjectives and adverbs and generally use too many dependent clauses. Count your words and words of verbal force (like that word “force” I just used).” — William Sloane

10. “The editorial ‘we’ has often been fatal to rising genius; though all the world knows that it is only a form of speech, very often employed by a single needy blockhead.” — Thomas Baington Macaulay

11. “Only presidents, editors and people with tapeworm have the right to use the editorial ‘we.’” — Mark Twain

Writing Joke of the Day: Comforting a Grammar Nazi

Q: What do you say when you are comforting a grammar nazi?
A: There, Their, They’re

English Professor

“In English,” he said, “A double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative.”

A voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right.”

Library

A Texan was visiting Harvard University, and was lost. He stopped a student and asked, “Do you know where the library is at?”

“I sure do,” replied the student, “But, you know, you’re not supposed to end sentences with prepositions.”

“What?”

“Prepositions. You ended your sentence with an ‘at’, which you aren’t supposed to do.”

“Oh, ok,” said the Texan, “Do you know where the library is at, asshole?”

Grammar walks into a Bar

Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They Drink. They Leave

A comma splice walks into a bar, it has a drink and then leaves.

A dangling modifier walks into a bar. After finishing a drink, the bartender asks it to leave.

A Question mark walks into a bar?

Two Quotation marks “walk into” a bar.

A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking a drink.

The bar was walked into by the passive voice.

The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar. It was tense.

A synonym ambles into a pub.

A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking to drink.

A hyperbole totally ripped into this bar and destroyed everything.

A run on sentence walks into a bar it is thirsty.

Falling slowly, softly falling, the chiasmus collapsed to the bar floor.

A group of homophones wok inn two a bar.

Panda

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“I’m a panda,” he says at the door. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

“Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Writing Joke of the Day: Heaven or Hell?

A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell.

She decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.

“Oh my,” said the writer. “Let me see heaven now.”

A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.

“Wait a minute,” said the writer. “This is just as bad as hell!”

“Oh no, it’s not,” replied an unseen voice. “Here, your work gets published.”

Writing Joke of the Day: Change a light bulb

How many screenwriters does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer:  Ten.

1st draft:  Hero changes light bulb.
2nd draft:  Villain changes light bulb.
3rd draft:  Hero stops villain from changing light bulb.  Villain falls to death.
4th draft:  Lose the light bulb.
5th draft:  Light bulb back in.  Fluorescent instead of tungsten.
6th draft:  Villain breaks bulb, uses it to kill hero’s mentor.
7th draft:  Fluorescent not working.  Back to tungsten.
8th draft:  Hero forces villain to eat light bulb.
9th draft:  Hero laments loss of light bulb.  Doesn’t change it.
10th draft:  Hero changes light bulb.

How many science fiction writers does it take to change a light bulb? 

Two, but it’s actually the same person doing it. He went back in time and met himself in the doorway and then the first one sat on the other one’s shoulder so that they were able to reach it. Then a major time paradox occurred and the entire room, light bulb, changer and all was blown out of existence. They co-existed in a parallel universe, though.

How many publishers does it take to screw in a light bulb? 

Three. One to screw it in. Two to hold down the author.

How many mystery writers does it take to screw in a light bulb? 

Two.  One to screw it almost all the way in, and the other to give it a surprising twist at the end.

How many screenwriters does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Why does it *have* to be changed?

How many cover blurb writers does it take to screw in a light bulb? 

A VAST AND TEEMING HORDE STRETCHING FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA!!!!

Famous Authors Reveal Their Writing Secrets (go on, you know you wanna look)

1. “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” — Mark Twain

2. “People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.” — Harlan Ellison

3. “The secret is to start a story near the ending.” — Chris Offut

4. “The secret of successful fiction is a continual slight novelty.” — Edmund Gosse

5. “The big secret is the ability to stay in the room.” — Ron Carlson

6. “The secret to being a writer is that you have to write. It’s not enough to think about writing or to study literature or plan a future life as an author. You really have to lock yourself away, alone, and get to work.” — Augusten Burroughs

7. “It’s hard to explain how much one can love writing. If people knew how happy it can make you, we would all be writing all the time. It’s the greatest secret of the world.” — Andrea Barrett

8. “Composition is a discipline; it forces us to think. If you want to “get in touch with your feelings,” fine—talk to yourself; we all do. But, if you want to communicate with another thinking human being, get in touch with your thoughts. Put them in order; give them a purpose; use them to persuade, to instruct, to discover, to seduce. The secret way to do this is to write it down and then cut out the confusing parts.” — William Safire

9. “The secret of it all, is to write in the gush, the throb, the flood, of the moment – to put things down without deliberation – without worrying about their style – without waiting for a fit time or place. I always worked that way. I took the first scrap of paper, the first doorstep, the first desk, and wrote – wrote, wrote…By writing at the instant the very heartbeat of life is caught.” — Walt Whitman

10. “If there is a secret to writing, I haven’t found it yet. All I know is you need to sit down, clear your mind, and hang in there.” — Mary McGrory

Stop making that face. Did you really think you were going to uncover some magical shortcut to get you through the sometimes torturous process of writing? Ain’t I done learnt y’all better’n that? You go on now, here? And enjoy your weekend.

Sally forth and be secretly writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys