Thursday, December 22, 2016

We'll Meet Again Some Other Day

I suppose 2016 couldn't end without claiming yet another life. My sophomore year English teacher died this week. In the midst of listening to the 90's week on my local radio station, I've been transported back in time, and then dredged into the future where I basically have to say goodbye to my childhood.

I remember back in English class, I vowed that one day I would write my own book, and I would preface it with a note to readers:

Dear Readers,
As you read this, please do not try to find any symbolism in my work. Sometimes a rock is just a rock. It doesn't stand for the injustice of government or the heroine's strong will. It is just a rock.


I then joked to my friends that Mr. Dant, and his life partner, Mrs. Kearns (my Freshman year English teacher,) would analyze the letter I had written saying not to analyze anything and somehow find symbolism in it.

Unfortunately, I did not get a book published before he passed. But I wouldn't have been able to put that letter in anyway. Because he was right. There are symbols all over my manuscripts and darn it if a pile of rocks doesn't visualize the hurdles my main character has to cross before reaching her goal.

I'm sorry I never got to tell him he was right, but I think he probably knew.

John Thomas Dant

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Your Author is Showing

There are several ways you can expose yourself as an author. (And I'm not meaning literally.) I mean in your novel, where someone might say, "I was really pulled out of the story." They say that because they can see the author coming through. The curtain has been lifted. They've opened the factory doors and gotten a peek at how the sausage is made.

I see this is a lot in drafts, my own included. I've also sadly seen it in published works. In my own work, I can usually spot these glimpses into the background by an extreme lack of tension.

Mary falls into the water. The cold wraps around her, and she's strangled by heavy, wet skirts. She's drowning. Is this how it ends, she thinks?

There's no struggle. No panic. She's not even trying to fight it...because in the next scene, a handsome male hero is going to dredge her from the water.

The author knows this. She wrote the story. But Mary doesn't know that. Personally, drowning is one of the most horrifying deaths I can imagine. Mary, not knowing she's going to be saved, should rightfully be terrified.

Corrected Example:
Mary falls into the water. The cold wraps around her, and she's strangled by heavy, wet skirts. She claws at the ocean, trying to reach the surface and only sinks faster. She hadn't taken a deep enough breath before she fell. Her lungs are at the limit of bursting. She pinches her lips together and kicks frantically toward the patch of light over her head. I can't die, she thinks, not now.

I think the difference is clear. In the first example, we're not really worried for Mary. In the second, we are at the edge of our seats, wondering what is going to happen.

As I'm re-reading my second drafts, I look for these spots that feel a little flat, and I stop and ask myself a few questions.

What does Mary know at this point? Does she know there's someone around to save her? Does she think she's all alone and no one saw her fall?

Once that's been determined. I ask...

Then how would Mary feel at this moment?

I guarantee if a moment in your story feels slow or boring, it's likely because there isn't enough emotion in it. And readers can see that.