Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Butler is not always the culprit

All good stories have an element of mystery. If everything is obvious, then the writing is dull. Readers delight in surprises. Especially clever ones...

Like a good magician, unfolding a mystery takes a little "sleight of hand." If you draw attention to what you are doing, then someone will inevitably peek behind the curtain. Rather, you must distract the audience to maintain your secrets. Make sure they see only what you wish them to.

Anything can be a distraction in a story: a character's actions, words, circumstances all can lead the attention in the desired direction while you perpetrate your trickery unobserved. But cheap gimmicks rarely yield the most satisfying results. The best mysteries are the ones where, once revealed, seem so obvious. You find yourself wondering why you didn't figure it out sooner.

There is a distinct advantage the author has: they know the secrets. And thus, they can weave a tapestry with many colored threads all going in different directions. Patterns form, but the entirety of the work is not seen until the end.

In the case of a series, secrets will be revealed along the way. In a shorter work, the reveal occurs a bit sooner. But with either, there comes that moment when the cloth is jerked away and the audience "oohs" and "aahs" over the results. At that time, the magician takes a well-deserved bow.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

In review

I told a friend recently the secret to writing a good review is to FOCUS on what you like, MENTION what you don't and not SPOIL the ending. Reviews are important to authors, because no matter what is written, the fervent desire is that it be read. A review is a means of communicating to the author your impressions of their work. While readers benefit from these observations, writers live for them.

A good review does not focus on the negative. Anyone can tell you what they don't like about something. Rather, the whole point is to tell the author and other readers what you like about the work. If you have complaints, they can be noted after you give the author their due.

Readers find it difficult to write reviews and I can understand this. It is hard to put into words your reaction to a story. Perhaps, you think the author already knows what you would say. Or maybe you are afraid of spoiling the ending. While these are all valid concerns, understand that an author will not know what you think unless you tell them.

Having written many highly-praised reviews myself, I feel that I can provide a few tips in the writing of a review. One of the easiest things to mention is your favorite part or aspect of the story. If the ending is your favorite, then remember that spoiling it for others will diminish their enjoyment. Instead of that, try discussing what lead up to your favorite part without actually giving it away.

Another easy thing to mention in a review is your favorite character. Since they are the life's blood of the work, your review will come to life if you focus on them. Discuss their good qualities and even their shortcomings, all while being mindful not to give away the final consequences of their choices.

Everyone wants to be appreciated, and writers are no exception. A well-written review helps an author gauge how well they communicated and how it was received. It can also build enthusiasm for the work among the readership. So, in review, accentuate what you like, communicate what you don't and abstain from deteriorating the enjoyment of others.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

When the reach exceeds the grasp

Ideas come in all shapes and sizes. Some are simple and easier to manage. Others are grand and ambitious, sucking up every last bit of energy, leaving you a lifeless husk of author upon the floor. It is important to determine before you start the work, whether or not you will be able to finish.

Sometimes you can force yourself to complete the task, with a crack of the determination whip. But there are other times when, no matter how hard you try; you are unable to muster the creative juices necessary for the literary enterprise. Sure, you could plod along, but the thrill is gone and you will eventually grind to a halt.

When I first started writing, my ideas were big and epic! I was young and craved the excitement that only comes from the most outrageously unmanageable notions. I finally exhausted myself and ended up focusing on writing shorter works. I did eventually finish the novel, but it was years later...

If you have taken in hand to write a massive work, remember to keep your goal in sight. It is the destination you are heading towards, and be aware there will be quite a journey to reach it. Mentally prepare yourself for the task ahead in the same way you would pack plenty of provisions, proper clothing, and suitable gear for a long trip.

There are many tools to assist you: an outline, character profiles and even a synopsis. If the story is large, then the more you write about it the clearer it will be when you actually write it. The characters will be real, because you already know them.

One thing I have learned is that every story need not be an epic. There is a satisfying quality to a short story: they are brief, but enjoyable; they do not drain you quite as much; the idea is simple and the gratification immediate. There is a time for all things, but before you take in hand to construct a wonder, make sure the building materials and workers are close at hand.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Painting a picture

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and sometimes it takes that many to describe what the reader should see. Description is always a balancing act. How much is too much? You want the audience to perceive what you are trying to convey, but not end up drowning in detail.

I usually choose to give simple descriptions and let the reader's imagination fill in the rest. Some images are universal, and people will pretty much envision them the same. Others are ambiguous, and require a few particulars to give form and texture.

Just as in painting, when you paint with words, you must take great care in the rendering. Too many strokes and you will have an oily mess. Too few strokes and it looks like you were just testing the paints. Somewhere between is where true art lies.

In writing, it less important to give the details, but vital to give the feel. The description you give serves to immerse the reader in your world and give them a sense of its reality. But reading also is an exercise of the mind. With a few literary strokes, a picture forms in the mind's eye.

Often, it is best to let the reader see what they want. Their visions will rarely run completely counter to yours. Do not imprison them in details. Rather, give them what they need to paint a picture of their own.