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- Don’t overdo it. That is honestly the number one problem I’ve seen in other people’s writing and in my own. You try to hype it up as much as you can - hey, it’s dramatic - but then you end up with this big ball of cheesiness. Stick to simple descriptions, avoid prolonged metaphors, and don’t add anything that doesn’t belong there.
- If there is a monologue, a) give it some foreshadowing, and b) remember the other people exist. Point A: not all the information should be brand new. The reader should have been able to guess about half of it from hints you have subtly inserted into the text. If you don’t foreshadow, all this information is coming out of nowhere. It would just feel out of place. B) Monologues tend to go on and ON and ON as the character tries to get out what they need to say as fast as possible. I get that you want to get the whole story out. But just remember there are other people around and they will deny, interrupt, gasp, cry, scream, etc. They won’t just sit there and stare at whoever is talking. People receiving bad news tend to shield their bodies with their arms or curl their shoulders defensively. Angry people throw their chests out and hold their arms a little away from their sides. Write them doing that. Plus, it breaks up the long text and gives the reader time to digest information.
- FORESHADOW. Nothing in your story can come out of nowhere. Nothing. That includes dramatic reveals. It’ll seem forced or contrived if you don’t foreshadow.
- Drama is more than the right words. It’s also how people react to the words. (This is sort of related to point 2B.) Drama is about the way she instinctively pulls him close when he tells her he failed. Drama is about how parents exchange a strange but meaningful glance when their son comes home with a new friend. Drama is about really screwing around with the connections people have with each other. Action is BAM! The evil villain has risen! KA-POW! Hero vs. outside threat. SHAZAM! We must rescue the princess! Drama is oh, god, will anything ever be the same again? Drama is what is happening to us? Drama is what is this emotion? Drama is I love you and I hate you. Drama is breaking bonds or forging new ones. Drama is internal and, as a result, you need to remember to involve the emotional and physical side to your writing. No straight dialogue. There needs to be action and reaction.
- Write angsty. Pick a day when you feel closest to the emotion you’re trying to replicate in your scene. Then sit down and write. Let the words come to you and don’t stop until you’ve gotten everything down. Then give yourself time to calm down, go back, and edit. It’s sort of like what Hemingway said: “Write drunk, edit sober” except you’re drunk on emotions. Getting in the mood can help your writing a lot.
iwritewewrite asked you:I have just started my first larger writing project. The main character has a brother, who is rather important to the whole story,love developing those to characters. I am just scared that there relationship will take up to much space and screw the pacing/ action. Any tips?
I can totally relate to this, wow. Character development is so much fun that we pretty much let ourselves get carried away with it. But that’s cool, and let me tell you why.
Write freely. If you seriously enjoy writing out these characters and their relationship, you should seriously write it. Seriously. You write because you want to write, first and foremost. Write the story you want to tell, and don’t worry about what it’s supposed to read or look like to everyone else. Write the story you enjoy telling, even if that story is full of “filler” scenes.
Allowing yourself to write freely means you’re conquering those limitations that our inner critic likes to assert on us and our creative process. Listening to that inner critic all the time can be harmful, taxing, and make us fear putting even a single word down. This is when the volume of the inner critic has turned itself up to screaming – we can’t help but to listen until our ears bleed.
But having the inner critic in your head isn’t a bad thing, as long as the volume’s turned down to something that allows us to create without fear. It’s good to look at our work critically as long as it doesn’t interfere with us achieving our goal. As soon as that angry little voice stops us, we need to turn the volume down.
So, if you really enjoy writing character development, but you also really enjoy writing a fast-paced story, here are some things to keep in mind while you’re writing:
- Exploring characters. Sometimes filling out endless character charts or face casting isn’t enough. Often what really gets us into the brains of our characters is actually writing them, and not just writing them outside the story, but within the context of the plot. Characters begin developing from the first page of the story, so those tidbits you might have written outside the story don’t show where your character is at the moment the story begins. Writing out the scenes that may be removed from the final product later is perfectly fine, as it only helped us explore that character further and portray them more accurately in the scenes that are kept.
- Character arcs. In that same vein, remember that the character arc is just as important as the plot arc. The usual idea of “action”, such as fists flying or car chases, isn’t the only thing that drives pacing. Character arcs can also have rising action, inciting incidents, twists – all that same fun stuff. And also in that same vein –
- Keep the plot in mind. When the plot develops, so do the characters. And when the characters develop, so does the plot. Think of how these development scenes bleed into each other, how you can tie what’s happening with the characters with what’s happening in the plot. Some of the best development happens when the plot happens to the characters, or the characters happen to the plot.
- Thinking of pacing. How much of these development scenes are just idle chatter and playing around, and how much shows tension and active evolution? There’s a difference between characters sitting around discussing inconsequential life things, and characters sitting around discussing something that’s related to the plot, making those connections and unpacking details – even revealing how they feel about what’s going on, which is just as important as any action scene. Many things drive pacing aside from simply action, and oftentimes one of those many things can simply be a character with agency.
- The first draft is the first draft for a reason. The first draft is throwing darts and hoping each one strikes the bull’s-eye. Well, that’s not how things work out. Some darts don’t even stick, especially if we’re working on our first novels and the process is still new. Some darts will bounce off. Some darts will strike measly points. Some darts’ll even strike the wall three feet away, or knock off other darts. It’s all a part of the process.
- Perfection is the enemy. Writing is both trial and error. Don’t be afraid of the error.
Revise wisely. This means, of course, finding the best approaches to revising (as in, the approaches that work best for you). This also means it’s time to turn that critical voice up a notch, to focus those analytical eyes on what scenes are carrying their weight, versus what scenes aren’t.
When paring down a narrative, you never want to strip it bare. The plot isn’t the only critical element of a story, after all, and if you carve out all of that necessary in-between, what you end up with is just a skeleton with no soul. A plot, not a story.
But that doesn’t mean you should feel intimidated about doing any major renovations or overhauls. When considering how much of the character “filler” is too much, think about these things:
- Eliminate scenes. Cut and paste them into a separate file so you don’t have to lose them entirely (“deleted scenes” are little fun things that you might use later). It might be that the events that took place in this scene still happened, even if the reader doesn’t get to see it. Sometimes a summary of what happened does the job in fewer words. Or, if there’s an event that takes place, or some sort of critical piece of information that’s revealed, but it still doesn’t need an entire scene, you might consider –
- Combine scenes. It might be beneficial to have multiple important things happen in one scene, as opposed to multiple scenes where only one thing happens. Be careful about this, however, because you don’t want to strain “convenient coincidence”, as in the characters discover they need to find this elusive thing that no one has ever found before, and—oh, look at that, they find it on the first try in the same scene.
- Cut passages. This post, under “Transition”, briefly discusses what I mean. If there’s padding between scenes that feels superfluous or extraneous, or delaying the continuation of the story without reasonable cause, such as when characters have inner reflection, cut it or summarize it.
- Trim dialogue. Sometimes characters get away from us and segue into conversations that they weren’t supposed to get into. Mom talking about dishes? Dishes not critical to the plot arc or character development arc? Cut it or summarize it.
In the end, you’ll get a better idea of what your story looks like after you’ve written it. Then (after you’ve stuffed the story out of sight for a while) you’ll get a much more accurate idea of what the story reads like, or what the story even is, and you can also have your writerly friends read and give you their own opinions.
So, in short, write all that stuff. During the writing process, it’s important. Once you hit the revising process, grab your axe.
Writing non-fiction is a whole different thing than fiction, and while I too have an interest in it, I’m not an expert on it. Hopefully these links can help you out.
feel free to add in any links!