Posts Tagged ‘words’

When I present a talk on novel writing, I often ask the audience for their input on the basic elements of fiction, and they come up with several immediately: plot, setting and character.

Plot, according to James Scott Bell in his excellent how-to book Plot & Structure, is:

“1. A small piece of ground, generally used for burying dead people, including writers. 2. A plan, as for designing a building or novel.”

Plot is what happens in our stories:  the beginning, the middle and the end; with a story arc that takes the reader from one part to the next with compelling situations.

Of course, every story happens somewhere, so setting is essential to story. Characters should not interact in empty space without background or props…or reality. Setting takes us from the details of a room to the description of a village, city or fantastic new universe. It’s up to us to choose the setting, as long as we make it believable and stick to the rules we set up.

When something happens (plot) somewhere (setting), there are characters who experience it or tell about it. Perhaps we choose our characters to show various levels of society or to parallel a person we know or have heard about. There are countless reasons for character choice, but a writer must know the characters intimately in order for them to appear realistic and three-dimensional.

These are the three elements most often suggested by readers. Before reading further, see if you can list a few more…

Dialogue goes hand in hand with character. A novel needs dialogue to bring it to life, and a character needs distinctive dialogue in order to be memorable and unique. In brief, dialogue has two main functions: to move the plot forward and to reveal character.

Another element is point of view. Through whose eyes will we be telling the story? Will there be more than one viewpoint? Will it be first person (“I have always loved the colour red”) or third person (“She had always loved the colour red”)? The choice is up to us, but consistency is essential.

Another facet of novel building is voice. What’s the difference between voice and style? Check out the explanation on my blog: https://janicedick.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/its-who-you-are/.

It’s also important to include literary features in our writing. Similes, metaphors, personification, onomatopoeia and other such features give visual quality and richness to our work. We need to delve into the beauty of crafting words into phrases, sentences, paragraphs and scenes that will impact our readers.

Another aspect of crafting a novel is what I call PUG: punctuation, usage and grammar.  Check out English Grammar on Facebook at http://www.englishgrammar.org/or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GrammarUpdates. If we want our manuscripts to make it to an editor’s desk, we must make sure we’ve done all the necessary work. If you aren’t a grammar guru, find someone who is.

I write historical novels, so research is the foundation to a credible story, but research is important in any and every story. If our details are accurate, then the reader can trust our content as well.

And don’t forget the polish. Every manuscript must be carefully and conscientiously checked for everything from the flow of the writing to PUG to the correct meaning of words (or their connotations) to the amount of white space on the page.

This is a summary of the various aspects of crafting a novel. In subsequent blogs I will expand on these features. Until then, happy writing.

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Last weekend I was privileged to present a workshop on “editing for submission” at our annual His Imprint Christian Writing Conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I used an idea from a workshop I’d attended at the InScribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship in Wetaskiwin, Alberta this past September, and revised it for my purposes (with permission from the original presenter, Susan Roberts Plett).

The objective of the class was to help participants understand the rationale behind editors’ decisions so writers could learn to submit more successfully. For the first few minutes we discussed the importance of editing as well as practical ideas about how to implement effective edits before submission. In the second portion of the class, I distributed packets of submissions I had gathered—articles, short stories, inspirational thoughts and poems—tweaked to fit my purposes (again, with the permission of the original authors), and a brief list of guidelines to work from. The participants’ job was to choose the best prose and poetry under the specific guidelines, and to do so in a limited time and for a limited print space.

As the participants shuffled through the packets, the rustle of paper and the occasional soft self-whispers floated to me like music: the music of the working writer. To those of us who have given ourselves to the world of words and the expression of ideas, the rustles and whispers are a sweet counterpoint to the clacking of keys or the scratch of a pen. We hear the heart of the universe in the semi-silence.

Writers are a breed apart from the ordinary man or woman. We breathe the same air and walk the same ground, but our heads are often caught in a world between, one of shifting papers, scampering words and phrases, constantly changing manuscripts, new and creative ideas. In the words of American philosopher Henry David Thoreau, “If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.”

For me, the take-away value of the workshop was the connection of minds in the room, the realization of sharing time and talents with kindred souls, and that we work to the subtle sound of rustles and whispers.

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