I got an email from one of our co-conspirators who wanted to know about writing styles and start dates, expectations for completion…
Hmm. Okay, I should probably address that stuff.
First off: style/voice
Using the “fat outline” and the brief story segments I wrote, you should have an idea of the style and voice I used, and what I’m looking for. Don’t try to be me, though. Be you. (I have to be me, though. I can’t be you.)
Through editing I think we’ll arrive at a uniform and consistent style and voice. Also, since each story segment depicts a different time and different setting, different circumstances for the different characters, different styles and voices may lend themselves well to that!
HOWEVER, there are some things we will all want to avoid. A bunch of good tips, really. This is the list I used to greet people into my critique group. Read through it and you’ll see the types of things I’ll be editing for.
These will be the things that are going to jump out to me and could make the overall story’s voice inconsistent throughout. We should avoid the same things. Dialogue tags for example. If you have to write with them, that’s fine – just look for the editor to make a suggestion later on how to change it. Same thing with adverbs.
But don’t worry. I’m not going to mark up your paper with a red pen and say “Danny doesn’t pay attention in class.” No I’m not, Mrs. Vido!! I’M NOOOOTTTT!!
(She was a great teacher, though. Eventually. After the trauma subsided.)
I think the first round will be seeing the individual styles and stories. Things will come together with some input and then after that everything will go smoothly.
I KNOW MOST OF YOU KNOW THIS, BUT here’s the list of things to watch for and watch out for.
Don’t be thinking, gee, Dan has a lot of rules. I had to learn these, too. Benefit from my years of toil.
- Punctuation – I make typos, too. Do your best not to.
(If the editing team spends their time addressing little typos that are easy to catch, they’ll use up all their energy on that and not helping build a better story.)
- Input – my style is to emphasize what you do well, and I think most of you are already great writers. When we need to suggest a change, we’ll be nice about it, so don’t worry.
Keep in mind that each reader brings their own likes and dislikes to your story, and not everyone will get it. What appeals to a custom cabinet maker in California may not be what appeals to a retired chemistry teach in Michigan, but they both might read your story.
- With that in mind, THANK YOU! Not everybody can do a project like this. I’m glad you volunteered.
Not everyone can write a decent story; it takes something extra to put your written stuff out there for others to see, and you want to do that. If you can consistently do it in an interesting and readable fashion, you’ll be better than 90% of the writers out there!
- GRABBER OPENINGS
I like a “grabber” opening to a story or chapter and a cliffhanger ending. Stories that hook a reader right away and keep the reader turning pages are stories that get read and receive comments like “I couldn’t put it down.” Of course, that’s not always possible or even desirable. Most authors bury the really interesting stuff a few paragraphs in, and they should usually end their chapter a few lines before they actually end it.
- DIALOG TAGS
Going tagless is the preferred way of writing these days, so little phrases like “he said” are to be eliminated. What I do is, I write what I want, and then I go back and look for all the “she said” or “he exclaimed” stuff, and just replace it with some small action (called a beat). Like a game. A few tags aren’t a big deal, and sometimes they’re completely necessary. The point is, we know people are talking, we just need to subtly know who, and since nobody sits around JUST talking, the little actions make them more alive – and therefore a better story. You delete needless words and enhance your characters, a win-win. So it can be this way
“You gonna go back home?” I asked him.
I looked over at him. “You gonna go back home?”
I looked back down the street. “You gonna go back home?”
See? I think it’s worth removing most of them simply because they aren’t needed, and because replacing them with little actions makes the story read better.
- LONG DIALOGS OR SPEECHES
Long strings of dialog/conversations/speeches are a good way to explain things or show your characters, but they also convey telling actions. People don’t just speak back and forth, they move. They listen and react, shift their weight, drop their jaw, scratch their face, that sort of thing. They have thoughts about what’s being said. If they like what they hear, they might smile; if not, they might bite their fingernails. Let them do this. It tells us more while keeps the story flowing and interesting.
Stephen King hates them, saying they make the story weak. Whenever the world’s most popular writer gives you writing advice, take it. Usually you can replace a –ly word with a better verb choice or phrase.
We won’t deal much with this, but in your other stories consider whether you need a prologue at all. My guess is you don’t. You can reveal the information there over the course of the story, through dialogs and other ways, and you may not need it at all. Maybe you as the author needed to write it as a reference for yourself, but we readers probably don’t.
- READING FEEDBACK
My plan is to make a great story together, not put people down. We’re a team.
- Action scenes
Action is tough to write, but don’t shy away from it or emotional scenes. Go DEEP. With action, we try to put things into one long sentence to show the speed at which they happen. That tends to make us the reader have to think about it more, slowing things down. Our brain needs it to come to us in smaller, choppier sentences so it can digest them faster. It usually reads better that way, but only for action scenes. Chop it up and it will read better. (It will look a little odd to you, but we readers know you don’t write everything that way.)
- Emotional scenes, Romance scenes: GO FOR IT
This is absolutely going to be an emotional read. Tell us readers what your characters are feeling, but show it. Go big. Break hearts. Swoon. Cry. Be passionate and don’t be afraid to push beyond your comfort level. Mark Twain said: Go out on a limb, that’s where the fruit is.
We’ve all fallen in love, we’ve all had our hearts broken. Tell me your story through your characters. Make me cry with them. We’ve all had our hearts sink like they were at the bottom of an endless well and the world would be forever dark. Write from the heart and it will be true.
Consider this rough sketch for a scene, possibly the WWI lovers:
She is walking to the market and he has jumped out along the path to surprise her but to talk to her and she has to hurry, pretending she does not have time for him. So he dances around for a bit as she walks.
He says something romantic to her.
“Ha. You talk like a poet.”
“You do that to me. You make me want to talk that way. And you make me crazy with desire.”
“You’re just horny. You’ll run off and leave me pregnant.”
“Would that be so bad? The two of us having a child?”
She is shocked by this statement.
“A family? A place of our own, lives of our own? Would that be so bad? Sounds like heaven. Absolute heaven, to me.”
When she reacts, he is encouraged.
“I would, you know. Say the word and I will run and get the Parson and have him marry us tonight down by the creek. Where we used to play when we were kids.”
He looked at her, cheeks red from being out of breath and possibly from blushing. His breath came a short gasps. “Say the word. Marry me.”
“You’re crazy. You don’t – ”
He stops her and takes her hands in his.
“I do. I love you. I love everything about you. Your face, your eyes, your hair. Most of all I love your beautiful heart. You are the first thing I think of when I wake up, and the last thing I think of before I go to bed. You fill every waking hour in between. I want to hold you in my arms every night until we’re old and gray, and I want to be saying I love you when I die in your arms as an old man, surrounded by our family. I know what Love is. You. That’s what Love is to me.”
She shakes her head. “Johnny, we can’t.”
“We can. Say the word and I’ll marry you right now.”
THEN, when he lies wounded on the battlefield and struggles to pull out the faded photograph they took together, he whispers “I love you” while gazing at her as he dies, your reader will die right along with him. I would. Go there. Bring it.
- The word START – as in, she starts to sob
The argument goes, we just do something, we don’t start to do it. I can see it both ways, and I see their point as a way to make for better overall writing and a smoother story, not just an arbitrary rule. There’s a time for both. I can start to wash my car by gathering a sponge, a bucket and some soap. But the rationale is, you’re doing those things in preparation to wash the car, so say that, not that you’re starting to wash the car.
- CANADIAN/BRITISH/AUSTRALIAN SPELLING
I’m American, folks. Using Canadian/British/Australian, etc. spelling can affect the use of certain punctuation like single quotation marks, double quotation marks, and word spellings. I won’t be mentioning this unless something really jumps out at me, but the end result will be in American. If you can do that, great. If not, we’ll Americanize it later. Don’t let it slow you down, just realize we’ll want to make it uniform and the only way I can do that is to make it read like we do in the good ol’ U S and A.
- COLLOQUIAL TERMS
Using colloquial terms and phrases – generally it is okay for a character to say them but not the narrator.
- SHOW DON’T TELL
This is a biggie. Let the reader see it. Describe it. When you show what’s happening, you are putting us there in the moment as readers, using our senses; we get a better feel for the story and characters. We are part of the scene as it is happening, and we immerse ourselves more in your story – making it more interesting and harder to put down. An example is when Chekhov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” If your search for the term “show versus tell in storytelling,” you’ll get a lot of articles that explain this in better detail and that give examples. Then you can decide which is better for your style. It isn’t always necessary.
That was a lot if stuff! Don’t worry, you already knew most of it.Use this as a reference guide but don’t let it slow you down. These are the main things we’ll be looking at when we edit and create a uniform voice, but also good things for most of your writing.