And why detectives need to be careful writing Detective Fiction, etcetera. Experts tend to fill their novels with esoteric information that gets in the way of the story, so choose your atmospheric/tech descriptions wisely.
Okay, Isaac Asimov had a PhD in Biochemistry. He was a genius. But I think it is safe to assume that you’re not. And if you are, you shouldn’t be listening to me anyway. Go away and create a brave new genre, and leave us plods in the dust trying to explain why you are so successful.
Asimov’s genius was in using his scientific background to make his Sci-Fi believable, but not letting it become the be-all and end-all of his work.
That is the bane of science fiction writers. So many of them think that they can create all sorts of verisimilitude by having wonderfully accurate science in their stories. And they are wrong. Because what the vast majority of people want is good stories. They couldn’t care less about the science. Readers want realistic characters, not realistic science.
I’ve talked here about pacing before, but that was about the pace of the story arc over the entire book. Today I’d like to get a little more specific about writing for pace in a particular sequence of events in a story, and also about emphasis.
Writing is nothing more than stringing together a bunch of words: verbs, nouns, pronouns, conjunctions. But when we are writing, our task is more than simply providing information to our readers. In fiction, especially, it’s all about recording and eliciting emotion. Giving our readers a sense of the timing of the action is a great way to support that emotion.
Let’s say my character, Hector Human, is running from an unknown pursuant down a dark street. The chaser is dangerous, deadly even — a predator. Hector is running for his life, even though he doesn’t understand why. He only understands the danger. How might we convey that? Continue reading “Writing for Timing and Emphasis”
Pacing in writing is essential. It can make a story or break it. Good pacing can tune a good story into a masterpiece, or bad pacing can reduce it to caterwauls.
Some months back, I read a new book by an author I like. I expected good things. Unfortunately, the pacing of the story left me frustrated and just anxious to get the durn thing over with. The protagonist, an investigator, was frequently approached by a mystery woman who may have had information he needed. The meetings usually consisted of her appearing suddenly, saying she needed to tell him something, then leading him to a small café or down a deserted alley. She spoke cryptically; he asked questions which she danced around, they both became angry and she rushed off. Over and over.
The author may have thought the emotionally-fraught meetings were adding tension to the story, but they added little else. They added no additional information. They did not move the story forward. Their only purpose, that I could see, was to frustrate me and make me less inclined to care if I finished the book or not. Continue reading “Pacing…in Writing…Is…Everything”
Having dwelled, last month, on several posts about “rules” and concepts I advised writers to ignore or at least salt down, I thought I should balance it with some more positive material; tips to help writers work better. It surprises many to learn that I actually have a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. From the University of Washington, to be precise: Go Huskies! But I learned more while writing for a living: meeting deadlines for newspapers, pressure to write better than the staff on magazines, measuring copy against sales figures for catalogs. And in all those classes and decades of exposure to pro writers, I only picked up a bare handful of tips that I feel are useful enough to pass along to others. So, since I rate in top echelons of truly wonderful guys, that’s what I’m going to do. These are things that actually help and actually work. They are additive, rather than prohibitive tips, ranging from truly simplistic to fairly arcane. And both kind of mystical.
I’ll start out at the simple end of the scale, with something that might just seem silly to many. But for some reason it works. I first heard it from the editor of an Army newspaper, and later, almost word for word, while interviewing a great American writer, the late Ross Thomas. Here goes. Continue reading “MOVE IT OR LOSE IT”