Lights! Camera! Action!

One of the first rules of writing, is to begin your story, chapter, or scene by dropping your reader into the midst of the ACTION.

You ask, “But, what about the backstory?”

Well, you tell me. Which is more exciting? The beginning of Story A or Story B?

A)  Claudette, a forty year old nurse, was born in Kansas City, met and married Charlie right out of high school. Together they had three children, a cat, and a dog. Her husband died last year, her parents the year before that.

B)  Claudette crept from behind a cluster of large oak barrels on the deserted wharf. It would soon be dark. If she was going to attempt an escape, she would have to do it soon. With the gag still in place, she couldn’t scream for help. Her wrists were raw where she  strained against the ropes binding them. Surely those hoodlums had mistaken her for someone else—someone rich and famous. Charlie would never be able to pay such a high ransom. He didn’t do well in stressful situations, anyway. No, if she was going to get out of this alive, she’d have to do it herself.

My point is, that once you drop your reading audience in the midst of the story with your character, you’ll have plenty of time to feed them the backstory, a little at a time, in the form of ACTION.

I find it easiest to accomplish this kind of writing by VISUALIZING my characters DOING: talking, moving, reacting. It’s a book, but the characters still have to be SEEN in the readers’ internal eyes.

In a movie, actors SHOW us what they are doing. However, in a book, it is the author’s WORDS that help readers SEE what is going on. If they are just sitting there on a sofa, it is likely the book will soon be tossed aside. (Would you want to watch a movie where the character didn’t say anything, talk to anyone, express any thoughts??)

I have made myself lists of verbs, adjectives, exciting phrases, facial expressions, and so on. These are displayed on huge poster boards hanging inside my office closet.

I refer to the board, often. If I use a word or phrase from my list, I put a mark beside it. I strive not to use it again in the exact same way in that particular book. I mean, do you want to read “huge crocodile tears ran down her cheeks” every time Mary cries? It takes some creativity, but it IS possible to say the same thing in a variety of ways.

So, there you have it. A book is really a movie, in a different format. If you are a screenwriter, you can count on actors and actresses—even animation—to make your story come alive. But, a writer?  Well, you must rely on your words—actions verbs, colorful adjectives, emotionally laden. You’re a “one-man-show.

When you write this way, not only is the book a more exciting read, the entire writing process becomes more exciting for you, as well. There are actually times I feel my heartbeat and breathing accelerate along with my character’s. My mouth goes dry when his does. My hands really and truly shake on the keyboard.

Now, that’s action!

And this is “a wrap!”

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Similar, but Different

I recently shared with someone that I am a writer, but later I asked myself if I really understood the difference between being a writer and an author. I decided to find out.

I discovered that although the words might be used interchangeably, they really are different.

An author creates the idea or content of what is being written, whereas a writer uses someone else’s ideas.

But it’s not that simple because a writer can be an author if he/she is expressing his own thoughts or ideas.

And there’s more.

As pertaining to writing books, even if you develop the plot and write your own ideas, you will be known as the author only when it is published.

Even if you write A LOT, but never get anything published, you will be known as a writer—and there’s no shame in that. Lots of good work, great ideas, and a wealth of information/enjoyment comes from writers.

I’ve had a lot of fun writing skits for various groups, poems for friends’ birthdays, etc. That kind of writing is self-rewarding in that it doesn’t need to be submitted and I know it won’t be critiqued. I do it for pure enjoyment. I bet you do, too.

However, if you do have aspirations of being an author, follow these 2 steps:

  1. Write, using your own ideas.
  2. Publish your work.

Balancing Act

If you’re anything like me, you have a stack of books somewhere in your house that keeps getting taller. It seems like every book you read is replaced by one or two more!

The fact is, writers like to read. Need to read.

I’m not just talking about pleasure reading, which is a “given”. Every writer I have ever met has told me that it was the love of reading that sparked within them the desire to write.

No, I’m talking about reading about writing. The craft. Punctuation and grammar to be sure, but also reading about genres, point-of-view, voice, character development, plot and hundreds of more things we need to consider—need to master—in pursuit of excellence.

Once I started writing, I quickly realized the necessity of erecting two stacks of books. One I dubbed “Pleasure”; the other, simply “About Writing”. I have a rule concerning these books: Read from both stacks, simultaneously, so that I fulfill my need for learning AND for enjoyment.

So, what’s next on my stacks? James Scott Bell’s How to Write Dazzling Dialogue and Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro are on top of the “About Writing” stack. And for pleasure, next up is Chapel Springs Revival by Ane Mulligan.

So, whether you keep an actual physical stack of books, like I do, or simply a list of “Must Reads”, my suggestion is that you try to balance your reading. After all, didn’t you hear this expression as a child? “All work, and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.”

 

Please visit http://www.spiritual snippets.com and http://www.5scribesandtheirstories.com to see what is going on there.