Thursday, December 10, 2015

Three Buds

Zestful Blog Post #136

The most recent two issues of Writer’s Digest magazine include articles by me. November/December contains “Make a New Commitment to Your Writing,” which has moved more readers to get in touch with me, either via email or social media, than any other piece I’ve written for the magazine in the ten years I’ve been doing it. The article is a bouquet of encouragement, drawn from my insights, woes, and successes. From the response, I realize that while writers can always use help with technique, they thirst as much or more for help with heart and guts. Here’s one of my favorite passages from the article:

Rekindle the spark by simply moving full-on into the unknown. Whatever you doubt you can do on the page, choose that thing. In our increasingly cautious world, “For the hell of it,” has too often been replaced by “Better not.” It’s up to artists—that is, you—to throw away caution and leap. You might attain remarkable new heights.

I want to keep helping writers this way.

[For the hell of it: trying to fit into a mockup of the Mercury capsule at NASA. Real dimensions. The Mercury 7 astronauts all were shorter than me. The thing is terrifyingly tiny. This is the best I could do for an illustration for this post.]

The January issue features a more workmanlike piece: “Power Tools,” which shows how to use arc and pace to fix just about any problem in fiction writing. And here’s an excerpt:

Often dialogue doesn’t work because the author was afraid to move too fast. But fiction, almost as much as stage drama, relies on dialogue for vigor and movement.

Arc and pace together, when injected into dialogue, can transform it from weak to strong. In fact, a small dialogue exchange can have a microarc all its own:

“No, because I don’t think you can keep a secret.”
“Oh, yes I can! Try me.”

I just turned in a chapter for a new Writer’s Digest book on dialogue, set to come out in 2016. My assignment was to write something on internal dialogue, or the inner voices of characters. It’s funny, I’ve always represented my characters’ thoughts intuitively, but researching and writing the chapter made me realize how complex the whole thing can get, when you try to nail down absolutes. For instance, is this passage in present tense or past?:

I should hold up that liquor store tonight, he thought.

Truly, you can argue that one both ways. And truly, it doesn’t matter! If you have a basic grasp of how it works, you can’t go far wrong. All you really need to attend to is consistency. For instance, if you use the above construction in a story, you should not later use something like this:

I’ve got it made now, he thinks.

Once you see it explained, you’ve got it.

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