Happy Freezy Friday, Book Worms!
It is unbelievably cold here! A great time of year
to stay in with a good book (Reading or writing! Your Choice!).
Today January's featured Author Hank Quense is Guest-Posting with some very interesting info for writers and writers-to-be. Basically he's giving you a bit of an inside scoop form his own experiences. Read and learn, booklovers! Read. And. Learn.
Hank Quense is a Satirical Fantasy author who takes some of your favorite stories and turns them on their heads! King Arthur? Shakespeare? They've all been re-imagined in intriguing and hilarious ways!
FEATURED SCHEDULE for January 2015January 9 - Guest Post by AuthorJanuary 16 - Author InterviewJanuary 23 - Character InterviewJanuary 30 - Giveaway Winner Announcements
FREE FICTION WORKSHOPS
by Hank Quense
Visit Hank's website!
(Note: this article was originally published online in December of 1999 in the now-defunct Writer Online e-zine)
Successful story telling requires a skillful blending of many writing techniques. Beginning writers struggle to learn these procedures and experienced writers need occasional memory joggers on the importance of them. I recently discovered a free "fiction writing workshop" that can assist both groups by illustrating what happens when these writing techniques are ignored.
I work from home and write fiction every morning while, in the afternoons, I do a number of chores, both in and out of the house. Last fall, my mother-in-law moved in with my wife and I. The woman is ninety-three and watches hours of soaps every day with the volume cranked to the max because of a hearing problem. If I’m anywhere in the house, I hear the soaps. Listening subconsciously one day, I noted the soap opera had just ignored a hoary writing axiom. Soon after I noticed a different violation. I began listening more intently and realized the soaps provide an invaluable learning tool for fiction writers.
The purpose of this article is not to disparage the script writers for the soaps. To produce a script every day is beyond my capability and I have nothing but respect for their ability to do this. Nevertheless, the pressure to meet the daily deadline means they don’t have the luxury of leisurely revisions that other writers have. Many of the problems discussed below crop up in my early drafts, but are eliminated through revisions, an advantage I have over the script writers. On the other hand, the soaps use sound and color to supplement the scripts, an advantage they possess over novelists.
A word of caution; the trick is to not to watch the show. By only listening, the writer will reproduce the experience of a reader. That is, you will be using only a single sensory input, but it will be audible instead of visual. If you watch the screen, you will encounter a variety of sensations. These include the spoken word, music, sound effects and color in the beautiful costumes and settings. These multiple inputs will prevent you from getting the point of the illustration.
I’ve grouped these examples under the headings: Story Design; Story Telling and Characterization
Plots. The essence of a good story is a plot that hangs together and convinces the reader that these events could happen. This dictum essentially rules out unbelievable happenings and coincidence, either of which will force the reader to stop her suspension of belief and to put down the book. Yet, the plots in the soaps are incredible. A woman falls out of an airborne balloon and suffers only a damaged hair-do. A long-lost object, the subject of a weeks-long futile search, is found with a single phone call to an obscure part of the globe. To a TV-watcher, a plot weakness is not obvious because it is covered by the other presentation elements. By listening only, the weakness becomes apparent as does the danger in designing a story with an unbelievable plot.
Never-ending scenes. Once a scene comes to its natural conclusion, fiction writers are urged to move on to the next scene. The soaps won’t give up a good scene without a fierce battle even if the scene is finished. Some scenes are duplicated over a course of several days with almost no change in scripts. Each day, the same plea/order/advise/command/request/chastisement is repeated. In one soap, a character held several other characters hostage and waved a gun at them for an entire week. Every afternoon, she gave the same reasons for her actions in virtually the same words. It’s a wonder her hand didn’t get tired from holding the pistol that long.
Unnatural dialog. Stilted or unnatural dialog is a death-knell to a written story. Many novice writers have trouble understanding just what constitutes this type of dialog and the soaps can provide examples. In them, the characters routinely give long-winded speeches punctuated with words that no one uses in ordinary conversations. Regularly, one character will lecture a second character about an aspect of the plot that the second character already knows. Known as expository dialog, this should be avoided by writers. Another facet of this subject is dialog that often clashes with the character’s persona. A character portraying a blue-collar worker will suddenly spout obscure words that make a listener wonder if the character understands what he just said.
Dialog accents. Have you ever wondered why writing instructors warn about the danger of giving a character an accent? The reason is that the accent soon becomes irksome to the reader. For proof, turn to the soaps where several characters have foreign accents. These accents are so wretched as to make the characters amusing to hear, for a while. A better method of portraying an accent would be to allow the character to speak normally and sprinkle the dialog with foreign words to illustrate their background.
Clichés. Curious about the hazards of clichés? Every writing manual cautions against their use, but it’s hard to see the damage done by an appropriate cliché. The soaps provide a ready answer. The dialog is studded with clichés of every imaginable flavor. To listen, is to understand the prohibition against clichés.
Character Reactions. Writers are urged to make our characters portray a range of reactions in order to make them more believable to the readers. For beginner writers, the advice is clear, but the dangers of ignoring it are not. The soaps provide ample illustrations of this precept because the characters use only two reactions: hostility and hysteria. Frequently, a simple and friendly greeting by one character is met with a torrent of abuse from a second. The characters constantly argue, whine or threaten. Listening to them becomes irritating and demonstrates what a reader will experience if we also use limited and repetitious character reactions.
Multi-dimensional Characters. Major story characters need multiple dimensions to hold a reader’s interest. Flat, single-dimension characters grow stale and detract from other elements in the story. However, the soaps specialize in single-dimension characters. None of them display variations. They all proceed day after day to use the same unchanging characterization. The same sentiments, the same dialog and the same verbal mannerisms are endlessly repeated. Of course on TV, the daily characterization may be the same but the costumes are different as is the setting and the background music so it doesn’t appear as unchanging to a watcher as it does to a listener.
High Tension and Drama. Soaps use a code to tell the viewer when a scene of high tension or deep emotion is taking place. The characters whisper their lines whenever the script calls for grief, terror, consternation, fear, love, dread, shock, surprise, apathy and any other strong emotion. This code has an advantage to fiction writers because we can listen to the effect of uniform emotional responses by characters. It’s not very entertaining and neither will be a story that uses this unvarying approach.
To offset the soaps, the writer can listen to (no peeking!) Law and Order. Like the soaps, it rarely has an action scene and is essentially all dialog. Unlike the soaps, the characters show a range of emotions, speak naturally and don’t use clichés. The plots are consistent and build tension. Contrasting this show with the soaps will provide writers with a wealth of examples to improve their writing.
TV shows and printed stories are quite different from each other. One reason that soaps have such large audiences is that they aren’t just a written word. The beautiful people in the cast, the gorgeous clothes and the background music provide enough sensual stimulation to hid a weakness in a single area. Bundled together, these elements provide a popular entertainment medium.
In contrast to this, fiction writers must convince a reader that our characters are worth caring about by using only words. In a novel, there are no colorful or picturesque backdrops to see, no soundtrack to hear and the characters can’t model the latest fashion designs. The reader must use our words to build her own mental images of the setting and the characters.
While the soaps and novels have very different presentation formats, the script elements of the soaps offer a method for fiction writers to hone their writing skills. Once a writer has sampled the soaps, she can listen to other TV shows for variety. Try the nighttime situation comedies. To listen is to be amazed.
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