Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How To Make Your writing Pop

By Ruby Johnson
In the beginning, I was a pantser. I would start with the H/H, a beginning and an end, then let my muse lead me straight through a maze going up and down  paths ending in corners. Then I had to write myself out of the corners or finally I gave up and put the manscript aside. If I managed to reached the destination, problems abounded: sagging middles, too much backstory, lack of emotional content, and flat characters. My stories popped, just not in a good way. So, I decided it was time to attack the problem in a different way. I decided to take some classes, do some research, read some books and find a critique group. When the critique group kept pointing out that my characters lacked emotion I read a couple of books and took a class on breathing life into characters.
I still start with the H/H, a beginning and an ending, but now I plot and that keeps me on track. I also  include notes of the middle, the steps on the ladder from beginning to end- not just for the action, but for the emotional arcs (which used to be flat lined like a cardiac arrest on an EKG monitor). My writing might not be there yet, but it's much much better than three years ago.
Some of references I have found helpful:
Story Sensi, Kamy Tang's blog - excellent information on all aspects of writing fiction.
story sensei

Writing the perfect scene -this is the small unit structure of writing paragraphs and action similar to Kamy Tang's advice but you  will learn how to write an MRU!
"Save the Cat" - by Blake Snyder - his model of a three act play with "15 beats" and other helpful information on writing. Designed for scripts but also useful for writing novels. There are breakdown's of this 15 beat theory for movies here.
The Hero's Journey is another story structure, since not all stories fit the 3 act play:'s_journey.htm

Margie Lawson has Lecture Packets designed to help balance dialogue, narrative, exposition, emotion, body language she calls the EDITS system.

I've just read the craft book called From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction by Robert Olen Butler. One of the reasons I read the book was  because it contains a great section on how to express character emotion in writing.

How do we express emotion? How do we engage our audience in our character’s feelings? According to Butler, there are a number of ways in which our characters can experience emotion on the written page. They are as follows:

1)An  Unseen or Physiological Response Inside the Body - Your character feels emotion immediately through his or her body. This could be an increase in heart beat, a change in temperature (hot or cold) stomach clenching, breath coming faster.

2) A Sensual Reaction Outside the Body – Your character will also express emotion through his or her body language. Your character will start by feeling the emotions (and sensual reactions) inside the body first, and then translate that emotion into the physical. The body will react. Think about your character’s posture, facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, teeth chattering, throwing something.

3) Emotional Flashes in the Present- a detail that symbolizes memory or emotion in the present (imagery with worlds like) or  a lover's scarf with their smell on it .

4) Emotional Flashes of the Past - memories connecting to deeper emotion in the past. When humans experience emotion we reference moments from our past in our minds. Small flashes of memory show up in our consciousness. These moments don’t come as ideas but as vivid images. These images could include memories of similar emotion, people, environments, etc. Think about what your character’s triggers are from his/her past, and how they may surface in the present.

5) Emotional Flashes of the Future - Similar to flashes from the past, a character can also flash forward to the future during an emotional moment. These flashes show what the character desires, his future goals, dreams, fears, or consequences as these flashes have not yet come into existence.
6) Sensual Selectivity – Consider your character’s surroundings at the moment of emotion. At any given time your character will be surrounded with hundreds of sensual cues. But the mind cannot process everything at once, the character will select certain elements in his/her environment with which to focus upon. Often one is not conscious of this selection, instead one’s emotions hone in on something deeper, that the character is not aware of. The emotion (in a way) makes the selection. Use your landscape to help reveal character.

7)Each Situation Should have Internal Dialogue questioning or responding to the situation and external dialogue questioning or responding to the situation.

8) Each Situation Should  Have a Physical Response to indicate a decision or acknowledgement of future action (hand tightening on a knife in decision).

For further study on emotions these are also excellent resources:

Breathing Life Into Your Characters-How To Give Your Characters Emotional and Psychological Depth-by Rachel Ballon, Phd. has a good chapter on how villains think and how the writer can think like a criminal and write one.

Getting Into Character-Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors by Brandilyn Collins shows how actors get into the character and show emotions. She uses this to show writers how to do the same thing.

Thanks for reading with us, we appreciate your support!

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