Tag Archives: WIP

Finding the Hate–I mean Conflict!

2 Jun

by Kat Zhang

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A little while ago, Biljana wrote a great article on how a writer needs to “Find the Love” in each scene. I totally agree. But maybe because I’m a cynical, sarcastic, loveless little creature :D, I tend to think less about finding the Love and more about finding the Hate.

Or…maybe I should just call it finding the Conflict. That makes me sound like less of a misanthrope, right?

But think about it—conflict is what drives every story. Just about every plot can be boiled down to this essential ingredient. The hero wants something. For whatever reason, he can’t get it–Conflict!

Let’s try out a few:

Harry Potter: boy wants to live normal life (emphasis on live)

Obstacle: Voldemort

Conflict!

Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship wants to destroy the Ring

Obstacle: Sauron has other ideas…

Conflict!

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: the Pevensie kids want to all go home safe and sound

Obstacle: the White Witch has Edmund

Conflict!

Twilight: Bella wants to stare at Edward’s perfect chest for all of eternity

Obstacle: Pre-marital sex is a no-no

Contraception!

…just kidding. Kinda.

But you get the point, right? You need to know the central conflict in all your stories, not only because it helps you write, but also because this is exactly what agents want to know when you query. And the larger the conflict, the more gripping the story tends to be. Say the conflict is: man at a drive-through wants sandwich with mayo; deli ran out of mayo.

Unless that man really wants his mayo, there’s not much of a story going there. But make it so that the conflict is: man wants sandwich with mayo because his car just got hijacked and a man’s sitting in the backseat with a gun to his child’s head, hissing—you get me that mayo or else—then we have a story.

Okay, so now that we’ve covered conflict on a macro scale, let’s tackle the micro. Not only should conflict drive your overall plot, it should be the motor behind every scene. Conflict makes things interesting. What holds your attention better, a regular conversation or an argument? Two people standing calmly next to one another, or a fist fight?

Of course, your characters can’t spend every moment of the story screaming their heads off or attacking one another (trust me, I’ve tried), just like how every story can’t be about a life or death situation. Conflict can be more subtle as well. It can even be internal.

Conflict in character relationships is also important. Literary fiction lives off this, but commercial fiction can fall flat without it as well. People simply don’t always get along—their ideas don’t always mesh—their goals are different. Bringing this sort of conflict to the forefront in your stories will give them another layer of authenticity, plus add some excitement!

So to sum everything up: Love may make the world go round, but Conflict does the job just as sound—at least in storyland. Are you stuck writing your current manuscript? Found a dull part while revising? Add a pinch (or a dash—or a whole heaping tablespoon!) of Conflict and watch the gears start turning!

~~~

Kat Zhang is an English major with a concentration in Creative Writing. She spends most of her free time either preparing to query HYBRID or pounding out the first draft of her work in progress. Both are YA novels. You can read about her writing process and thoughts at her blog.

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Mission: Description

29 Apr

Hey all, just a quick reminder, we are still having a Comedy Contest, the deadline for which is May 1st (this Saturday!). We’ve got some entries already, so crack open your arsenal of hilarity and crack our ribs in the process!

And another reminder for the fantabulous Book Cover Contest which is also still running! The deadline is this Saturday, May 1st as well, so break out the colored pencils and flaunt your visual art skills!

~~~

Vanessa Di Gregorio
~

As with dialogue, description is where you’ll often find overwriting and underwriting. Most people, however, will underwrite their description; it isn’t often that you see description that is overwritten anymore. But be aware! There should be a decent balance to your dialogue and description.

So, what is the point of description? Like dialogue, it often helps advance the plot with the actions of your characters. But it should also help readers visualize the people and places in your manuscript.

Picture Perfect

The best way to go about writing description? Visualize it! Where are your characters? What is surrounding them? Are they in a lush tropical forest, surrounded by greenery? Or are they riding a camel through the desert, surrounded by endless mounds of blowing sand for miles and miles? And don’t feel that your description needs to be in huge chunks happening before and after your dialogue. Incorporate your description into your dialogue as well. Think of a movie (or heck, real life!) – people aren’t standing stock still when speaking. What are your characters doing? What is the setting? Are they walking, sitting, or lying down on the bed talking over the phone? Then picture what a movie would do. What might they be doing then? They might fiddle with the phone cord, wrapping it around their fingers as they lay in bed on their stomach. They might be standing but decide to sit down. Do they ever get distracted during the dialogue? If they do, what is it that distracts them? A black cat? A knife being suddenly thrown at them? A flash mob? Do certain things in their setting make them talk about certain things? Ask yourself a lot of questions – especially when you’re struggling with something.

Make Sense of Everything

But visuals aren’t EVERYTHING. Not only do we see, but we touch, taste, hear, and smell as well. You need to include all the senses in your writing. I’m not saying to always include all 5 senses all the time; that’s a bit extreme. But every now and then, stop to consider it as well. If we go back to the tropical forest, what is it that you would smell, taste, touch, or hear? Perhaps you would pick up on the sounds of the rainforest, such as the constant buzz of insects, or the sudden bird call. And when I say touch, I mean, what do your characters FEEL (and not just with their hands)? Perhaps the oppressive heat bearing down, or the sweat trickling down their neck.

Show, Don’t Tell

Often, a lot of writers will begin to tell us things that have happened. Instead of TELLING us that something happened, SHOW it actually happening. Use action to convey information instead of just stating it. For example: If a mother and daughter get into a fight, don’t just mention briefly that they fought (especially if it is integral to plot/character development). Try showing the actual argument itself, dialogue and description and all. Another example (but much more basic):

Elena was agitated.

-> Elena drummed her fingers on the table.

See how even with something so simple, you can still flesh it out to tell us rather than show? Picture what your character does when agitated, or annoyed, or upset. How can you convey that visually? Go through the first few pages of your manuscript; do you have lines like that? Can you visualize an action instead?

What’s Your Tone?

Description is a great way to set the tone and atmosphere. When choosing words for your description, always keep in mind what kind of tone you’re trying to set. Is the sewing and thread shop full of cobwebs and creaky floorboards, with boarded up windows and candles? Or is it bright and cheery, with dolls lining the shelves and bright-colored threads everywhere? Description doesn’t have to be boring; it can keep your readers on the edge of their seat as well.

Details, Details…

But remember: don’t go overboard! Don’t write five paragraphs of detailed descriptions. Sure, little details are great; maybe one character fiddles with their wedding ring a lot. But pacing is important. The little details become a bit irrelevant in a chase scene, for example. Running through alleyways and swerving around cars while your character is chasing a criminal works for a scene like that; but mentioning how much graffiti is on the alleyway wall and the wafting smell of the Chinese restaurant probably won’t work in that chase scene. You need to target what you want your readers to focus on. Again, consider your pacing and your tone; if a lot of action is going on (and I mean heart-pounding, edge-of-seat action), you probably don’t want to mention all the little details. It’ll slow everything down. But the little details are great in the calmer scenes.

Editorial Trick of the Trade

Not sure if you have enough description of your characters or settings? Try this: Make a list of all your characters, and go through it, highlighting or writing down what you are told about them. Write down physical description and well as family relations, and anything relevant to their character development. Then look at your list. Is your character described only visually? Or only through important events? Do you think what you have makes them in-depth enough? And with setting, try making a map of a certain scene. Does it make sense? Can you map it out roughly? Or does it not make sense at all?

Write Away!

My best piece of advice? Practice. Take a notebook with you everywhere you go, and observe people. Are you drinking coffee at a small little café? Or on the subway heading to work? Jot things down; how would you describe the place, such as the café or the subway? And then take a look at the people around you. How would you describe them? What are they doing? Writers are observers; so pull out your little writers notebook, and write away.

Some Prompting

Instead of coming up with brilliant writing prompts myself for you to do, I thought I’d share some great descriptive writing prompts I found. Try it HERE!

I suggest at least doing the first one. It takes into account that everyone has a different writing style (so some of you might write more detailed description, and others will be very sparse). Let me know if you tried them out, and if they were at all helpful.

And if you really want to practice writing description some more, try writing a description of a tropical forest setting, and use at least one sense other than the visual. Try to incorporate some sort of tone and atmosphere as well (perhaps go dark and scary like Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now, or perhaps have a hunter who feels at home – go nuts).

So, get to writing! And have fun!

~~~

Vanessa is an intern at The Rights Factory, a literary agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program, and is trying to figure out where in the world of publishing she wants to end up in. Currently, she is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

Sex and Violence: A Writer’s Worst Nightmare

25 Mar

Vanessa Di Gregorio
~

If there is one thing I’ve been taught, it’s that sex scenes and fight scenes are the parts you keep an eye on, as both a writer and an editor (or crit partner). Why? Because sex and violence can make people uncomfortable. Because those scenes with sex and violence are difficult to write. It’s what most writers dread having to write sometimes.

So, we’ll start off with violence in books; specifically, those dreaded fight scenes. Chances are, if you’ve never written a fight scene before, you will write something nonsensical. People reading it might be completely lost and unable to visualize the scene at all. The flow and pacing might be too slow. It might lack the OOMPH you’re looking for.

The best way to remedy this? READ FIGHT SCENES IN BOOKS.

Don’t copy word for word, but take a look at how some books portray fight scenes. Heck, make some notes. If you read a book with a great fight scene, place a sticky note or a bookmark there; use it as a reference. But, some books might also have some awfully lackluster fight scenes; and I’m sure you all have come across some not-so-great scenes at some point in time. Writing a fight scene is so much more difficult than one would think. Watch fight scenes. Act them out in your living room. Think of how a body moves during a fight scene, and be varied. Don’t keep having them swinging punches; mention body weights shifting, balance; whatever you feel is necessary to make the scene not only make sense, but more engaging for your readers.

A fight scene consists of Action and Reaction.

He kicks, she stumbles back.
The action should come before the reaction.
She stumbled as he kicked her hard in the chest. While not a bad line, and certainly understandable, it might be more effective to write it this way: He flung his leg out, kicking her hard in the chest. She stumbled backwards, winded.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m brilliant at writing action scenes, but you get my point. The pacing is just that much more intense when the action comes before the reaction. If we find out that the character stumbles before getting hit, the pacing is different; the fight scene is no longer as intense, and it doesn’t impact a reader the same way. We can visualize it, sure (which really is the first goal of a fight scene; to have it make sense); but you also want to consider how tense your fight scene should be.

Short sentence are key. Long sentences in a fight scene can make it too complicated/convoluted. So, stick to the short and sweet. But be careful; you need to vary it a little bit. Don’t have all the sentences the same length.

Bad: She kicked. He blocked. She punched. He ducked.
Okay, so maybe that was a bit extreme. Here’s another example:
Bad: He could hear her approach. He turned and they faced off. She suddenly rushed at him.
Better: Footsteps echoed in the alley. He whipped around. A woman rushed at him, throwing a wild punch.

Vary your sentence lengths. Yes, the shorter the better; because then the flow and pacing is quick, as it should be for a fight scene. But you can see how having different sentence lengths makes it more interesting. If all your sentences are the same length, it can also interrupt the flow by being too staccato.

Now that we got through some violence, let’s talk about love (or lust) – and the even more dreaded sex scenes. Whether you are writing YA or Adult Fiction, chances are you might try to write a sex scene. My first suggestion? DON’T MAKE IT CORNY. Your readers should not be snickering while reading a passionate (or perhaps not so passionate, depending on the type of sex scene you are writing) love making session. It shouldn’t be painful to read unless you’re trying to make it awkward.

Writers often fall into the use of clichés, or use inappropriate names for body parts that can either be completely and utterly ridiculous, or just plain offensive. Sex can be both, if it’s your intention to do so. But most authors trying to write sex scenes aren’t trying to make you squirm in outrage (or laugh outright). So here is a list of things to consider when you come across an intimate scene between your characters.

Avoid euphemisms. They can end up being really tacky, funny, and just plain awful. Unless you are trying to be ridiculously funny, avoid body part euphemisms. In fact, why mention the naughty bits at all? I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but really, there are so many other body parts. What about the small of her back, or some trembling hands? You could even just say that she reached for him and you would get the point. So, if at all possible, avoid words that might make you laugh. You can be explicit without being… well… explicit.

Make your sex realistic. Are two teens going all the way for the first time? Well, I’m not sure if you remember what your first time was like, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the greatest session of love-making ever. Sex can be boring or unsatisfying for your characters. It doesn’t always have to end with the ultimate climax. But when a sex scene is earth shattering for your characters and boring/unsatisfying for your reader, well… you have a problem.

People do not talk like porn stars
. Unless you are writing about porn stars, your characters should in NO WAY sound like them. Again, it is tacky. And funny (in a sad, this-is-hilarious-even-though-it’s-not-meant-to-be sort of way). No one talks like them during sex; porn is over-the-top. Your sex scenes shouldn’t be.

Don’t forget to use all the senses. Sex (like any intimate scene) shouldn’t just be purely physical. There are sounds and scents and tastes. And it doesn’t have to be obvious, like a shuddering moan or something. Think of all the little details: her strawberry lip gloss, or the sound of the bed sheets ruffling.

So now, hopefully when you go off to write about sex or violence, you’ll find some of these tips helpful. Have your critique partners pay particular attention to these scenes when they read your work. And just keep writing them. Don’t shy away from these scenes because you don’t know how to deal with them. Practice writing; you don’t necessarily have to show it to anyone, but the more you practice, the better. Once you feel comfortable, then write the scene for your manuscript. Look over the scenes after; often, these are the scenes a writer will write, and then not edit/revise. Sure, it might be embarrassing, but if you can’t read it, then why would anyone else? Believe in yourself and your skills as a writer; you never know what you can do until you try.

~~~

Vanessa is an intern at The Rights Factory, a literary agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program, and is trying to figure out where in the world of publishing she wants to end up in. Currently, she is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

Guest Post: Biljana Likic on The Importance of Reading WIPs

27 Jan

Today, we have the pleasure of Biljana Likic guest-blogging for us! Biljana is a fellow FictionPress.com author, and is in the middle of revising her first novel. She’s an amazingly talented writer, and a bit of a prodigy, too–she just turned eighteen! Keep your eyes peeled for her name, because we just KNOW she’s going places!

Take it away, Biljana!

~~~

Hi, everyone!

So, as we all know, reading books is an integral part of learning how to write. When you read only good ones though, it’s easy to forget that even they’ve had coarse and sketchy drafts. And while a great deal can be learned from reading good books, they often won’t tell you how to write well. Sometimes it’s the novice that will teach you the most valuable lesson, and reading a work in progress can act like a workshop. It can teach you the process of building an original universe.

A Work in Progress, or WIP, has a vulnerability exclusive to its kind. It’s a writer’s brainchild, and it can have an enormous amount to grow. In the past year, as I began to take writing more seriously, this growth and process has become fascinating to me.

Expressing my honest opinion to an author has led me to revelations that I’ve later been able to take back to my own writing. These revelations were always something that I knew in the back of my head, but was never able to consciously pinpoint. So, I thought I’d explain to you guys some of the key things I’ve learned and explored this past year through reading various WIPs.

1. Word Choice. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But there have been many times that word choice made the flow stumble. Find your voice and keep it consistent. Always use words that you think best describe what the protagonist is going through, and use variety. Nothing is more boring that a page full of  “hot’s”. But if you substitute them with “blistering” and “torrid” and “sweltering”, the reader suddenly feels like they’re in an oven. A pickier point would be also not to use distinct words more than a few times. If you use a word like “piquant”, the reader will notice if it appears again a short time later. The thesaurus is your friend.

2. Awkward Phrasing and Over-Describing. Another obvious one. Personally, awkward phrasing is a nightmare to me. The key, I found, was to make it simpler. A lot of the time (and I’m very guilty of this, too), an author will try to make something sound more inspiring by giving it a different sentence structure or packing it down with too much description. Scrap it all. You don’t need it. If it needs to stand out, simplicity might even help it. If a big secret is being exposed, too many words will make us care less. And that is the last thing you want.

3. Repeated idioms/analogies. Unless it’s part of the character, or unless it’s frequent appearance is used in some ironic, funny, or deeply meaningful way, there is nothing more annoying than repeating an idiom or analogy. Some people even find idioms lazy, and think it’s just the use of common imagery to avoid the work of coming up with something new. I personally have nothing wrong with it, as long as I never have to see it again in the rest of the book. Think about it: how annoying was Sarah Palin with her stupid “pit bull with lipstick” spiel she’d throw every time somebody questioned her? The same can happen in writing. Once again, if it’s there for characterization, it’s fine.

For example, in Casablanca, Rick’s frequent “I stick my neck out for nobody,” turned into something heartbreaking by the end of the movie. That’s fine. What you don’t want is to repeat, “She was the apple of his eye,” every time you reintroduce a couple. Instead of endearing, as it may have been the first time, it becomes cheesy to the point of being painful. If you want to use an idiom or analogy, find a good, strong place to put it, squeeze all the juice you can out of it once, and then never use it again.

4. Transitions and flow. You can have great, amazing, stupendously awesome paragraphs, but if you don’t connect them well, they’ll sound like crap. Alright…that’s a little bit of an exaggeration. But transitions are really important. They are what ultimately keep the reader reading. A bad transition to the next section can turn a paragraph that’s great and exciting into one that’s anti-climactic. Almost every time you finish a paragraph, you have to go out with a bang because that’s what the reader will subconsciously remember when they think about how great the book was. You need dozens upon dozens of satisfying “endings” so that when you get to that most important one, the lead-up makes it explode into greatness. That said, however, you don’t always have to use powerful wording and creative punctuation. Find a medium, and exploit it.

5. Understating to Avoid Predictability. Painful predictability is every author’s hidden fear. Here’s a way I found to avoid it: understatement. A story’s ending has to make sense. Sometimes you’ll want the ending to be shocking. But you don’t want it so shocking that it’s completely unbelievable. You want to give the reader just as many hints as it takes to put the thought in their heads, but not enough to make them too suspicious. It’s just a matter of playing down the issue and making it subtle, manipulating the phrasing to focus on everything but the suspicious stuff. If the reader ever reads the story again, they’ll pick out these hints and simply marvel at how masterly your plot-weaving skills are.

And that’s all, folks! All that made clearer, just from reading Works in Progress. Makes me want to weep. Of course, there’s more. There always is. There’s continuity, pacing, dialogue… It never ends. But hopefully you now have a greater understanding as to why it’s important to read and critique other people’s works, and you have a few hints of how to better your own writing. Good luck!

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She’s in her final year of high school, waiting and waiting to graduate, finish university, and finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here, and check out her work on her FictionPress account.