To restart this blog after such a long, long absence.
Watch this space.
I got home from work earlier than usual, soaked from the walk. April is one of those months when I never know whether to take my raincoat.
In the evenings, since Joanie finished with me, all I usually do is sit in and mope. I live in a ground floor apartment on the same block as the two nightclubs in this small town and there’s plenty of pretty women that walk by, so I like to watch the world from my window as my coffee gets cold.
Tonight is different. Tonight I’m going to a party, getting myself all smartened up. I’ve even washed my hair. I set off down my road and there’s Jeanie coming the other way. At least she’s over the other side, so I don’t have to speak to that ugly brute of a boyfriend holding her hand. I can’t believe she’s actually with him. They always say that looks don’t count and I guess there is the living proof of it.
I give them an evil stare and walk by.
My blog has suffered over the last three weeks. I hit a wall at Easter, travelled, drifted, lost confidence, rested, and did a whole pile of other stuff that meant the blog posts and twittering dried up. So now it’s Friday 27th April and I’m back and trying harder than ever.
Friday posts are about writing techniques for fiction. So let’s go back and cover some basic ground. One of the first things you hear about when you start on the road of writing fiction is ‘Show don’t tell’. So what does that really mean?
- Don’t explain
- Stick to the action
- Give the character thoughts and feelings as he/she would experience in real life.
- Let the reader live the story for him/herself.
Coming from a business background, much of this is counter-intuitive. Formal training teaches you to present information that explains and reports facts from an objective point of view as briefly as possible. The most efficient way to do this is simply to tell it like it is.
Fiction is the opposite. You want the reader to work it out, and to experience all the bias, feelings and emotions of the character. In order to achieve this, you have to present the evidence, rather than report the conclusion.
Examples (not brilliant examples but you get the idea):
Tell: Graham stepped out his front door. It was a windy day.
Show: Graham had to pull the front door hard against the wind to shut it behind him.
Tell: Graham’s boss, John, was angry.
Show: When Graham arrived at work, John was waiting outside his office door, pacing the floor.
Tell: Janine had a broken leg.
Show: Janine arrived later than the rest of the gang, hobbling on her crutches.
So that’s what ‘show’ means – present the evidence and let the reader work it out. It makes the whole thing much more interesting and exciting. Get inside the head of the character and present the overall dominant impression of what is happening all around, allowing the reader to experience that for him/herself.
A couple of exceptions:
If there are a series of straight-forward facts to be presented, then sometimes it is better and more efficient to just get on and tell them. It depends on the type of novel, but many historical novels have some straightforward facts that are better just presented.
If there’s a small point to be conveyed that is immaterial to the plot, then simply telling the fact is less obtrusive.
More next week – honest. I’m back on it.
I woke up in 1974 to find myself wearing platform boots, and yes, I am a man. That was 1974 for you. They were silver and made me taller by an inch. Funny thing was that everyone else in the clubs wore them too so I didn’t stand out. That and my shoulder length straight hair. Proper glam I was.
She was in the band I followed. I saw them at half a dozen gigs and had all their albums (then bought the cd’s, then the mp3’s.). Yes, I helped them make their fortunes. Now I don’t know where she is, probably some backing singer somewhere or living on her country estate making cheese. Not that I’m bitter at all, she was gorgeous and I adored her.
She wore crazy clothes. My Mum and Dad disapproved of course. They didn’t like any of my music or the bands, or the clothes they wore. They told me I looked silly in my tight silver trousers. I didn’t care. I loved the electric music, the solid wall of sound.
I went into London one Saturday and was shopping in Carnaby Street when she walked the other way, surrounded by her entourage. I couldn’t believe it. I turned and stared and luckily had the quickness of thought to ask for an autograph. I still keep that framed on my wall today. I remember that day as if it was yesterday. There she was looking as extreme as ever, frizzy blond hair. She looked really keen in her mohair suit and electric boots. I was amazed, I didn’t actually think she owned such clothes – I had only read it in a magazine.
Such a popular song so I’ve tried to make it as obscure as I can:
The houses look the same with their brick walls, white windows and front gardens freshly mown. The gravel on the drives has been swept, the hanging baskets are watered. They look empty as I walk out of the cul-de-sac where I live, everyone has gone to work in the city and I’m left here in the blue skies of suburbia.
I find a coffee shop, order my cappuccino and reflect on my success, the daily paper cast to one side, the crossword complete. I’ve escaped from my past, my past on that grimy street with its humdrum life that I grew up in, but I still feel it in my ears and see it with my eyes.
I used to watch the daily life of the people in that street and dream of another world. Now I’m in that world, and I dream of those everyday people walking my street, the bankers, the barbers, the nurses, the firemen. Everyday people of the city living everyday lives.
This week’s story from a song lyric. A bit of drama for you. Do you know the girl’s name?
We’d been going out for four months. It was brilliant. I was head over heels. She was everything to me, the girl of my dreams. We met a party and she looked gorgeous, all smiles with such a pretty face. She sparkled. She was full of life, always wanting to go out to the clubs or cinema. I couldn’t resist her. We found a lot in common, music, politics, religion(lack of), sex. Perfect.
I was the studious one, she was the party girl. At first, I didn’t mind, but as we got more serious, I found myself getting jealous. When we went to the pub, I’d be happy to sit in a booth, just us. But she wanted to be with her friends, chat to the gang, flirt with the boys. Of course, she said she only wanted me and she’d come back to me at the end of the evening so we could walk home together. But it was disturbing me.
One Friday night, she said she was going out with her girlfriends. She told me I should have a night with my mates. So I did as I was told, I was like a slave to her really, besotted. I did whatever she said. I was lost, but I was suspicious.
I made an excuse and left my mates early and went home to stew. At eleven o’clock, I went out and drove past her apartment, pangs of pain in my mind. I could see her living room window. The blind was down but the lights were on and I could see silhouettes of two people, one definitely a man.
What was going on? She was my woman.
I parked up and waited, consumed by passion. I waited and waited. The night was long and it was cold. I wrapped myself in the car rug and sat there watching her window all night long. When the sun came up, a man emerged from her front door. He was wrapped in a dark coat and strode down the street without looking back. I felt sick, my stomach churning.
I opened the glove box, pulled out the knife and slipped it into my pocket. I walked over the road and rang her bell. Eventually she opened the door, wearing her bath robe, her hair wrapped in a towel.
She was surprised to see me, and before I could say anything, she just laughed. Perhaps it was a nervous laugh or did she just not care? I think it was the laugh that annoyed me more than anything. I pulled the knife from my back pocket and it glinted under her hall light.
She stopped laughing.
This week’s story from a song lyric and, for once, you get a clue. The title begins with a C, as its also part of the atozchallenge.
Any ideas what it could be?
“If I say ‘I love you’, it’s not enough to express the way I feel about you. There’s so much more.” Charlie signed his name at the bottom of the letter, then put down the pen. He sat back, a tear in the corner of his eye. Celine was special to him, very special. He’d met her in a bar and within a month he was in deep, and loving it.
Charlie studied English at school and developed his poetry skills at university. He was tall, athletic and didn’t have any trouble finding girls. He got a kick from the way groups of them would often turn to look at him when he entered a club or pub. After two terms, he’d dated a dozen, nothing serious. Then Celine came along, even the name was captivating. He’d sit up to all hours composing verse for her.
Charlie and Celine, Celine and Charlie. He wanted more and more.
He didn’t need anyone else, and nor did she. They could do it all together, just them. He wanted to lay with her, and forget the world. So he asked her in the letter. He never mentioned that he loved her. He didn’t need to.
At that first meet in the bar, he asked her on a date. No chat up line, he just came out and asked, as he pushed through the crowd on the way to the door. He had to squeeze past her and was instantly taken. He was cheeky. She said yes. He wrote down her number. He had no idea whether they’d find anything in common, it was just her eyes that attracted him, her perfect eyes. When he looked at her, everything else disappeared, and it was like his memory was wiped clean and all he could see was her eyes.
They met the next evening to go to the movies together. They found they both liked the same things, sport, music, films. She was studying engineering. She was a car freak and wanted to design them. She was confident, calm and graceful.
Every time they met it was the same. All that Charlie could see was her. All that he was, was there in her perfect eyes.
They talked about everything, his writings, her studies, but they always ended up talking cars, their shared common love. They would just lay back, forget the world, waste their time and dream about racing each other.
I set too many scenes in a coffee bar or a wine bar. I suppose it is familiar and easy and a place where I can set people to meet and talk. But it’s lazy of me and quite boring for the reader.
So where should scenes be? I mean the average, everyday scene where there’s some development of the plot between two or more characters. I don’t mean those action-packed, death defying, life threatening scenes, I mean the easier ones where there could be some kind of discussion or some romance or some review about clues discovered at a murder scene, etc.
So, I’m trying to avoid coffee shops and bars.
One way to decide a setting is to go back a step and start with the purpose of the scene, then review the mood of the characters and how that might change during the scene. Only then, choose the setting.
Take Emma, my protagonist. Let’s work out where to set some particular scenes. Rather than randomly picking some public building or location, it is better to let the setting reflect the general mood and tone of the scene, and the job is half done for you.
Emma is about to meet her estranged husband in order to exchange some belongings.
She’s feeling gloomy. She’s down about the demise of the marriage.
So, let’s have them meet in a car-park half way between where she lives and where he lives. That symbolises an even split, and its neutral territory. Furthermore, let it be foggy, it’s just starting to get dark, and the car-park is shrouded in mist when she arrives making it difficult to pick out the silhouette of her ex-husband.
No point in it being a bright, sunny day.
I need to have ways of helping Emma re-live her childhood, some memory joggers that will prompt interior monologue about her upbringing. She had happy times being brought up by her Aunt, and sadness from the loss of her mother.
I could have her sipping at a latte, reflecting. But that’s boring.
How about setting a scene in a children’s playground. She could be sitting with a friend who has children, watching them play as they catch up on some gossip. Plenty of memory jogging opportunities about the fun of childhood, and watching how mothers are there with their kids. And it’s a sunny day.
Emma is tense. She is in conflict with her editor at the newspaper over the line a particular story is taking. They will have a row.
I could set that scene in her editor’s office. But that’s boring, and an uneven playing field.
I could set it in a restaurant or cafe over lunch. But again, that’s quite boring.
How about setting it in a more tense situation, so there’s some tension in the background that can add to the mood?
Perhaps they are in a car together and stuck in traffic, so there’s no escape from the row. To be neutral, it could be a hire car.
And perhaps there’s some possible danger in the setting. They could be so busy with their row, when stuck in the traffic, that they don’t notice that they have stopped on a level crossing (railroad crossing) until they hear the train horn in the distance. Of course, they get to safety and the shared danger helps them to rise above their differences.
So the steps are:
- Think about what the scene is for. How is it developing the story? What are you trying to achieve?
- Think about the mood of the characters, and how their moods or feelings will change during the course of the scene.
- Then decide the setting, and choose a setting that is interesting and helps you.
What do you think?
Belinda lived with Gary for three years. They met at the 25th party of a friend of hers called Emma. Gary was standing in the kitchen, tall, dark tousled hair and scruffy t-shirt with ill-fitting denim jeans. Belinda felt an exhilarating shiver the moment they touched hands and he hugged her in welcome as if he owned the kitchen and all it contained.
He asked her out a week later, an infuriating week of waiting for the call. She became instantly besotted and he moved into her apartment after six months. She was the one with the career, the success, the money. He was between projects.
Belinda preferred tidy, her clothes neatly hung, her shoes in bags sorted by colour and height. She persuaded Gary to put his few belongings in a box and keep it to the left, at the back.
They had three feverish, frenzied years of living, partying and sex. Belinda was on a high, her singing career took off. She showered Gary with gifts, smartened his appearance, bought him gold watches and paid for his car. She was worshipped by the public and when at home, she worshipped Gary.
But Gary was a wanderer, a renegade, a rebel, a womaniser. The old story, I hear you say. He remembered Emma better than Belinda did. Belinda had lost touch with her friend Emma, but Gary hadn’t. He took Emma for a spin in his car.
But here’s the twist. Belinda was besotted, but no walk-over. She found out, of course. And she hounded him out. She booked him a taxi, then stood over him as he cleared his stuff. Didn’t take long. Everything he owned was in that box on the left of the closet. She listened patiently when they were outside in the yard, waiting for the cab, listened as he pleaded his case, as he said she was the fool, that she’d never find another man like him. Ha! She could find another one in a minute, that was for sure.
“Get out,” she shouted, “and don’t go thinking you’re so special,so unique, so one-of-a-kind. You’re not. I’ll have another you by tomorrow.”
With that he was gone, no tears, no lost sleep, forgotten. On to the next.
Continuing with some techniques from a good book called: ‘Self-Editing for Fiction Writers’ by Renni Browne and Dave King.
I always thought that internal thought was called interior dialogue, but that’s probably because I like to have a conversation with myself! So, I guess it’s more properly described as Interior Monologue.
It’s very important for my novel.
In fact, I’d say it is the most important element of any good novel. All novels have characters and, as readers, we want to know what they are thinking and we want to get inside their innermost thoughts and emotions. In that way, the story is brought alive.
Interior monologue is something that good fiction can accomplish that movies cannot. No matter how good the actor is, he/she can never fully show the innermost thoughts of the character in the way a good novel can.
A good author needs to write in a way that moves from action to thought and back again without the reader seeing that as strange. In this way. the reader will begin to understand what the character is thinking and that is a powerful way to establish the character’s personality.
However, as it is so useful and powerful, it is sometimes too easy to over-use the technique. Like other aspects of writing fiction, the key is not to over-explain.
It is beneficial to start with quite a bit of interior monologue in the early chapters, but as your novel develops the reader will get to know the main character very well and be able to predict how that character will think and behave in certain situations. So it is not necessary to spell out those thoughts later on.
What’s the right amount of interior monologue? Well, as always it’s a balance, depending on scene, mood, feelings, emotions. Basically, it is impossible to say how much is right.
- Don’t use quotes, single or double. Be unobtrusive,
- Assume that the reader gets it. There’s no need to explain when it’s interior monologue and when it isn’t.
- You don’t need to have your character mutter or whisper to him/herself. You’re already in that character’s viewpoint, so it isn’t necessary (unless he is someone like me who tends to talk out loud to himself ☺ ).
- Your character will think in his/her own words, so it’ll be in the same style as the dialogue. If the person has a word or phrase that he/she uses frequently, then that will also appear in the interior monologue.
- Occasionally you may need to use ‘He thought’ or ‘She thought’ to identify the passage of interior thought, but that should be very very rare.
- Never have two characters with interior monologue in the same scene, it’ll be too confusing. I keep it simple by sticking to one viewpoint per chapter but that is not essential.
- If you’re being successful at writing intimately from the character’s point of view, then the distinction between interior thought and description will naturally blur. After all, description is coming from the point of view of your character, so it starts to become the same thing. All you are doing is drifting between the external senses and the mind of the character.
What’s your thoughts on this? Want to share them? Or keep them internal?
Thanks for listening today ☺