Monday, January 21, 2013

My Three Golden Rules

I’m coming around to the idea of having a blog.  To me, blogs are a way to make people look more important than they really are and I’m not much into that whole ‘tooting my own horn’ thing.  Don’t get me wrong; if someone is educated and trained to give proper advice on the topic of their column, it can be very beneficial.  It only took me about an hour to set up my blog which means anyone can do it and that’s what I have a problem with.

I am not a best-selling author.  It’s still hard for me to consider myself an author because I’ve only written a handful of pieces, most being shorts.  It seems self-righteous (is that the right word?) of me to call myself something other people may not consider me.  I’m not even really that smart or witty.  I don’t claim to be at professional anything.  The only things I do claim are my own experiences.  That’s basically what I’m presenting here.  Whether it’s right or wrong, whether it works for you or not, take it or leave it.  It’s all just advice and a few pennies for your thoughts.  Personally, I would have loved to stumble across something like this when I first started writing, but again, I don’t want to talk myself up.  I’m not that special, contrary to anything my mother would tell you.

As a writer, I'm always struggling to make sure my stories touch on a few key points.  I always focus on relevancy, whether or not the plot/scenarios are believable, and ensuring to keep the reader's attention.  When it comes to relevancy, it's not hard to reach that goal, but it is very easy to be redundant.  I've had ideas for stories before and as soon as I start writing, I trash it because the idea has been done before.  I know there are no new ideas under the sun, but that doesn't mean I can't make an idea my own and present it in a way that no one else has.

If you say something in a way no one's heard before, they'll listen.

Keeping a story believable is probably one of the hardest feats to reach when writing.  I find it even more difficult when I write thrillers and action sequences.  On top of that, there is nothing worse than getting sucked into a good, solid story that is riddled with cheesy dialogue; the kind of dialogue that makes you cringe out loud "no one talks like that"!  And at that point, you've lost all desire to continue on, no matter if you're only a few chapters away from find out who the killer is or whether or not the ambiguous couple will finally reveal their feelings for each other.  If they don't hold real, relevant, and believable conversations, you've lost your audience.

This is where talking to myself comes into play or as I explained before, talking to my imaginary friends.  Talking out loud and converting verbal conversations to written dialogue is one of the best ways to sound believable on paper, or at least in my opinion this has worked wonders for me.  I usually talk to myself in the car or when I'm cleaning, even in the shower.  My problem was, I'd have a great conversation with myself, but I wouldn't remember exactly how it went so I started carrying two things with me at all times.  A tape recorder and a notebook.  I use the tape recorder primarily in the car, for safety purposes of course.  The notebook I keep in my purse. You never know when you'll be inspired, maybe by a conversation you have, a video you watch, something someone else says, anything can set my imagination off so I want to always have one or the other (recorder and notebook) at my disposal at all times.

Research is another way to stay believable.  In my story Evol, the first part of the story is set in London.  I've never been to London and don't know anything about it aside from what I've seen of it on TV so a lot of research was required to help make the story believable.  I used Google maps to get an idea of what the area looked like and proximity to certain real-life structures I referenced, I searched for certain businesses, laws, and even found a British English to American English slang translator online to help the dialogue between two Brits sound authentic.  I'm sure it's not spot on, but close enough to pass.  You can find almost anything you need to know if you just take the time to look for it.  Research is half the battle, but a very important part of the story-telling process.

If you manage to defeat the relevancy and believability road blocks, you've pretty much been able to keep the reader's attention.  The rest is using the roller coaster method, as my mentor Frank called it.  You want to go up and down and up and down with your action.  If you give the reader non-stop action, they'll get overwhelmed and exhausted by it.  If you give them too many lows, you'll lull them to sleep and eventually drive them to close the book and leave it that way.  There's a particular balance of these elements that keeps them interested, even in the slow moments.

One of the tricks I use for this is narration changes.  In Evol, I wrote most of the story from the heroine's perspective, but there'd be moments when you'd get a glimpse into the mind of the villain.  Even though these glimpses may not have been full of action, they're still exciting because in a way it's like getting insider information, without giving too much away.  It opens another dimension of anticipation.

Again, I will reiterate.  I was not taught these methods of writing by an accomplished author or some college professor.  These are my own tricks of the trade that helped me get to be the author I am today.  These may not work for you, but they’re something to consider if you’re looking at improving your writing.

Hope it helps!  Until next time, Angel Faces,

- Jess

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