Tuesday, June 15, 2021

3T Writing Tidbit

 I pick up a lot of storytelling ideas from television. After all, the writers of the best shows are telling stories that enthrall millions of viewers, so they must be doing something right.

This one's from NCIS. I don't have a specific example, but once I give you the gist, you'll see it in many of their episodes and other television shows, too.

Insert an emotional key in the first half of the story, either before or after the inciting incident, but fairly early on. Have a couple developments throughout the story. Then, at the very end, turn the key for an emotionally wrenching/satisfying sendoff.

The beauty of this tip is that the key does not have to be plot-related. Of course it's better if it is. But it can be a B or even C storyline. The important thing is that it's an emotional hook, tension, and release that will leave the reader satisfied.

Published since 2009, over the years I've accumulated various items of writing wisdom. The Third Tuesday Writing Tidbit showcases these items in no particular order. Click here to see all 3T Tidbits.  

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

2T Repeat Performance - Editing the Muddled Sentence

 I've done a number of blog tours over the years, posting on different sites. Now I'm bringing them to you!

Originally published November 17, 2010 for the Samhellion

One Writer's Journey: Picking out a muddled sentence

Come with me on a writer's journey.

Writing is a journey. The grail might be writing the One True Prose on the first try, but I don't know anybody who's achieved it. Especially not me.

So I plan, then I write, then I edit. Then I read. Then I plan, write and edit some more. A key aspect of self-editing that I've discovered is the ability to see the problem in the first place.

One of my problems is the muddled sentence.

I’m taking my example from Biting Nixie (it's handy, and I know how it got changed for the better. Always good to have the answer book :)  ). Bo's a male vampire, friend of the hero Julian.

The scene: Chaos.  Violence.  Screams. 

Gaunt, fiery-eyed men rampaged outside.  Skull-headed, unnaturally fluid men with teeth like jagged glass.  Evil-looking men, seemingly hundreds of them.  A knot of red fire and flashing knives, surrounding... Surrounding Julian and Bo.

Here’s the original next paragraph:

Bo held a limp bundle, fought ferociously with one bare hand.  The bundle seemed to have two blonde heads.  Then I realized it was two people, one a child.  Both were as limp as puppets.  Neither moved.

Here are the revised paragraphs:

Bo held a limp bundle in one arm.  The bundle had two blonde heads.  I realized it was two people, one a child.  They seemed unconscious...or dead.

Bo fought ferociously with one hand.  He wielded what looked like a long knife, or a sword.  The blade whistled through the air, forcing the gaunt men back.

First, how did I know there was a problem with the original? Well, it feels muddled. It takes a bit of thinking to picture what's going on. Something--language, sentence structure, something--has come between  the reader and the story.

Once I know something's wrong, it's a matter of figuring out exactly what it is. In this case, there's two different things going on in that first sentence. "Bo held a limp bundle," and he "fought ferociously". The tension surrounding Bo’s limp bundle is lost because you're immediately distracted by his fighting. To fix it I used a variation on the old bra slogan--Separate and Lift.  First paragraph talks about Bo's limp bundles. Second brings in the fighting.

Clarity is vital in writing. Actions convey emotion to the reader. For greater impact, the actions (and thus the emotions) must be clear, discrete-- separate. Kind of like color pixels separated by black on a high def TV gives you a better picture.

This isn't the One True Prose. But it's a step on the journey to get there.

What about you? Do you have a favorite book on writing, or a writing gotcha to share? Or a special writing tic?

Happy writing!