Today I am continuing my Saturday theme on the writing life. This is the third in a series of posts about the writing tools in my work shed. I call the series Weapons in my Armoury. The first of the series was about the value of writing prompts, the second was about platform and branding, today is about the actual craft of writing.
I have found there are many aspects of the writing life that I have to learn and apply to be a published author. Anyone can be a writer, but to actually publish and achieve any level of success I must go beyond just putting stories down on paper. To write stories that people will want to read, and which will make them come back for more, I have to work at the craft of writing.
Four aspects of the writing craft which are foundational to storytelling are the subject of this post. The following are not in order of importance, but they do all work together to form the whole.
1. Plot – This is the vehicle by which the story is told. A story can be plot driven or character driven. When a story is plot driven something happens to disrupt the norm and the characters must work to resolve it and return life to an even balance.
The elements of craft that make a plot work is in how to tell the story in such a way that the pace carries the reader through each event. Pacing is very important to plot. There has to be a balance between suspense and lulls in the story, otherwise, the reader will either be exhausted or bored.
In my current project, I am trying to find this balance. It starts off with a good level of action and suspense which pulls the reader forward wanting to know more about what happens to the main character. I am working on having moments of calm where the reader’s interest and empathy for the characters will cause them to care what happens to them during the course of the whole story.
2. Character – A character-driven story is about the character’s journey, something happens to them and how they overcome. It is more of an internal examination of that character and how the events of the story cause them to change and grow.
My current project is definitely plot driven. A tragic event causes the main character to uncover a human trafficking ring. While on the run from both the authorities and the criminals involved, she is helped in unexpected ways by other characters who cross her path.
3. Dialogue – Dialogue has to be believable, not just give the reader information. That type of dialogue is called an information dumb or exposition and should be avoided at all cost. It is also a sure sign of lazy writing. A lazy writer doesn’t take the time to disseminate information through action. Beginning writers constantly hear: Show, don’t tell. This is one of the hardest aspects of writing. This applies to everything aspect of storytelling, but especially dialogue.
I had some feedback on a scene in an early draft of my current project. It wasn’t a very positive review in that my dialogue wasn’t very good. But, it was positive in the tips and points that the reviewer gave me. He said to always keep in mind the characters and what kind of a conversation they would have. Two grown men would have a completely different conversation than two teenage boys or girls. It isn’t just about getting the characters to move the story along by giving the reader information. You can’t just put research into dialogue form. Which is what I had done.
Dialogue needs to reveal more about the characters as well as furthering the plot and action. Something I need to focus on in the draft to come.
I am constantly trying to figure out a better way to write conversations between the various characters that reveal who they are as individuals and takes the plot and action into consideration. I have even taken to eavesdropping on conversations in cafes as part of my learning process. It is all about translating a sense of reality into fiction.
4. Revision and Editing – When a writer gets the first draft down on paper the real work begins. It is in revision and editing where plot, character, and dialogue are woven together.
I can honestly say some days it is endlessly tedious. Other days, I am inspired and can see clearing how all the parts fit into the whole picture. Then I am interrupted by something else that needs my attention, such as the need for food or sleep and the momentum is lost. Sadly, the tedious days outnumber the inspired days at present. Maybe this is why it is taking me longer than I had hoped.
When I was an undergrad, one of my professors often said, “Easy reading is hard writing.” He was so right.
One day I hope I can say I’ve mastered the craft of writing. But not to the extent that the process loses its magic for me. The mastering of craft is my responsibility to my readers.
I too am a reader. And as a writer, reading is also a form of learning. I have read books that aren’t very well written, but the story and characters are good. Some books have amazing descriptions and character development, but if the plot doesn’t create enough tension or interest, I may lose interest and not finish reading the book. It is truly a treasure to find a book where there is a perfect combination of plot, character, and dialogue. A truly well-written book that makes me want more, not just of that particular story, but also more from that particular author. This is what I am trying to achieve!