Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Conflict: Finding the Correct Balance

It’s strange that conflict, so divisive in the real world, is absolutely essential to your novel. Rather than tearing the story apart, it pulls it nicely together. However, problems can arise when writers insert too little or too much conflict.

Too Little Conflict
Too little conflict makes for a lackluster book. Not surprisingly, few of these books get all the way to the bookshelf, although some do. However, even if you haven’t read those sickly sweet novels, where the main character gets along with everyone and nothing much happens, you might’ve written such a story.

What’s wrong with people getting along? Nothing—and that’s the problem. The entire structure of a story is built around solving at least one main problem. That’s what draws us to stories in the first place. The main character doesn’t have to be a mean person, but they must face conflict throughout your story.

Something else you might have noticed if you’ve read my blog before this: Those sweet scenes I mentioned? They’re filler. So baking with Mom is only a scene if say, the book is about how a daughter deals with her mother’s cancer, and during this pleasant baking scene, Mom breaks the news. And chatting with coworkers is only a scene if your main character finds out from the conversation that his job is going to soon be eliminated.

What these examples demonstrate is that something problematic needs to happen. Otherwise, there is too little conflict, and your readers may lose interest.

Adding in a Subplot
Writers can easily fix a problem of too little conflict by adding in a subplot. Perhaps if the novel is about how that daughter deals with her mother’s cancer, the author might insert a subplot that focuses on the trouble the daughter’s having with her work life. There is now a whole new dimension that this story can cover, and it can add depth to your novel while also solidly engaging with your readers.

If you are at a loss on how to insert more conflict into your story, adding a subplot is a great idea, and it often tightens a book further.

Too Much Conflict
Yes, you can have too much conflict, although this is much more preferable than having too little conflict.

Too Much Emotional Conflict
I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read that have too much emotional conflict. This is also a subject that dips into strong and weak characters, since weak characters tend to be overemotional. These are stories where the character’s mood is constantly fluctuating, taking the reader on an exhausting rollercoaster. Most often this occurs in romance novels, where the main character feels hot and cold about the relationship throughout the story.

Ironically enough, excessive emotional conflict usually stems from too little external conflict. If nothing is happening to the character, then the conflict must occur within the character. This almost always backfires on the writer, since readers don’t have much patience for these types of characters. And readers are entitled to feel this way, since many times the tumultuous relationship stagnates—it can’t progress when one (or both) of the individuals won’t let it.

The solution is to add in more external conflict. If your main character has to focus on staying alive, or graduating from law school, then they will have something else to focus their attention on, and as a result, the emotional highs and lows should die down a bit.

Too Much External Conflict
Like having too much emotional conflict, there is such a thing as too much external conflict. Readers can be put off for one of two reasons. One, too much external conflict can make a book highly unbelievable. And two, too, lots of back-to-back external conflict can be just as exhausting as too much emotional conflict.

A great way to balance out too much external conflict is to add in more sequels. Sequels make sense of the previous scene(s). These are rest periods for the reader, places where they can regroup. You might want to look into writing a few of these if you pride yourself on how action-packed your story is.

Conflict is the essential ingredient in any story, and ultimately you’ll want to find that pleasant medium between too much and too little conflict. Once you do, you’ll have a solid foundation to work with.

Happy writing,

Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Free Books, Author Promotion, and More!

Do you like free stuff? Do you like opportunities? Today’s blog post offers all of that! I have some great updates on the clients and publishers I work with, so read on!

Dan Rix

For the next four days my client Dan Rix’s book, Entanglement, is FREE on Amazon! Here’s a sound byte:

“Entanglement is about a world where every human is born with a soul mate whom they meet on their eighteenth birthday, and the one boy who is the exception.”
—Dan Rix

So far the book has received high ratings and hundreds of download, and it’s steadily climbed the rankings. It will only be free until Wednesday morning, so if you’re interested then click here and download it while you can.

The Blue
P.L. Jones

The Blue has been making headlines in Edmonton, Alberta, where it’s made staff picks at a local bookstore, and the book and its author made it into UNA magazine!

If you are in the area, first of all, stay warm. But right after that, check out P.L. Jones’s book signing tomorrow—Monday, January 28, 2013—at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, Edmonton, Alberta. If you are not in the area, but are still interested in the book, you can find it in both print and ebook format on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Summer Anthology
Lastly, if you are a writer, make sure to check out The Elephant’s Bookshelf, a traditional publishing house. They are currently accepting submissions for their summer anthology. For more information click here!

Interested in the publishing houses previous anthologies? Check out The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse and Spring Fevers.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Show, Don’t Tell

Okay, so we’ve been hearing this line since we were in grammar school: don’t tell the readers, show them. I’m not sure about you, but I always remembered being confused over this little line. After all, if you are writing, then surely you are telling someone something.

But this phrase appears over and over again because it is key to making decent writing great writing. So today I’ll flesh out what this line means and discuss areas of your manuscript that you should take a second look at to make sure you are showing rather than telling.

Show, Don’t Tell
So, what does this phrase actually mean? Think of it as watching a movie versus getting a recap of it from a friend. Showing moves the reader closer to the action.

For those of you who read my post on summarizing, you are one step ahead of the rest. Summaries are the perfect example of telling the readers information. Showing is a moment by moment narration of the events unfolding. Readers are thrown into the experience as it is unfolding, not given a recap. Summarizing, on the other hand, is a concise retelling of events. Like I mentioned in my earlier post, summaries have their uses. Just make sure they don’t take over your story.

Not sure what the difference is? Here’s an example:

Telling (Summary):
That evening I ate in the mess hall and chatted with Ace and Spider. Afterwards I went back to my room.

My cheap plastic tray slapped against the table as I sat down.
“Hungry much?” Ace eyed my heaping plate.
“What can I say, it’s hard work teaching snotty kids how to shoot an arrow.”
“Do you hear that?” Spider cocked his head. “Sounds like the world’s smallest violin is playing for you.”

Did you notice the difference? One briefly retells the events while the other puts the reader right there in the action.

This is perhaps the most common and most lethal area where writers tell rather than show. You’ve all come across these books. The ones where each character is introduced, along with a mini history. Sometimes these backstories apply to terms, sometimes to settings, but in every scenario, the writer is telling the reader important background information on the subject.

He was introduced to Janna Callahan. Heiress to a hotel empire, Janna had few qualms about money and many about her men. She was known for her quick temper and her love of the limelight. In the last week alone she was featured in two separate magazines.

 To some of you, this looks okay, to others, this looks silly. Despite your various reactions, writers do this all the time, and it gets old quickly. The problem with backstory (such as this example) is that it halts the book’s momentum, and it can lose reader attention. 

Instead, a much more intriguing and skillful way of inserting this information into the story is slowly letting it unfold, either over time, or through observations. For example, if Janna is such a celebrity, maybe paparazzi are trailing after her—and maybe she’s throwing smiles their way. Perhaps she’s holding shopping bags or wearing a shirt that says “Thank God I’m Single.” Whatever it is, showing this information is far better than stating it.

Alice felt awful.
Frank looked like he was in pain.
Elated, Katie jumped up and down.

These are all examples of telling the reader an emotion rather than showing it. I’ll be the first to say that yes, it’s okay to tell an emotion—you are not an amateur for doing this.

However, the true reason that showing is so much better than telling here is that by showing an emotion, you come up with more original and more believable reactions. Think about it—everyone feels awful at one point or another, but not everyone demonstrates it the same way. The same goes for pain. Maybe Frank, from the example, is sweating and cringing, or biting his lip. Or maybe his face is red. Besides being original, readers will learn a lot more about your character personalities if you can manage to show, rather than tell, these emotions.

None of what I mentioned is an absolute, and I barely scratched the surface of this discussion. But hopefully you have a better idea of how to enrich your text by minimizing those areas that you tell rather than show the reader.

Happy writing,

Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services

Friday, January 18, 2013

Clarifying Point of View

Recently I’ve come across quite a few of you who have had either questions about or problems with point of view in your novel. So today I’ll be delving into a subject that’s drier than British humor, but more fundamental than many of my other posts.

Type of Narration
In order to understand a character’s viewpoint, you must know the different ways of narrating a book. Below are the three types of narration:

  • Fist Person Point of View
  • Third Person Point of View
  • Omniscient Point of View

All three types of narration fall on a continuum from the most intimate to the most objective perspective.

First Person Point of View
First person is considered the most intimate of viewpoints, but loses objectivity, as the world and people around them are filtered through your main character’s perspective.

Omniscient Point of View
Omniscient narration falls on the other side of the continuum. As you word nerds might have already known, this is an all-knowing narrator. Different industry insiders debate whether, in order to be classified as “omniscient,” the narrator has to be completely outside of all characters’ heads or if the narrator can jump between characters within a scene. Regardless, omniscient narration is the most objective and least intimate point of view.

Third Person Point of View
This falls somewhere in the middle of the continuum, depending upon the writer. It’s not quite as intimate as the world framed by “me,” as we see in first person narration, but it’s also not nearly as objective as omniscient narration.

Writing Multiple Points of View
Now that you know the different narrative frameworks, lets talk about writing multiple points of view in your manuscript.

There are some obvious benefits with switching the character viewpoint in a novel. Often writers need to insert information into their story that the main character does not know about. This is the most obvious benefit of adding in a scene or scenes narrated from another perspective.

There are a number of problems that can arise from shifting the character viewpoint. For one, overuse can weakened the amount of empathy readers feel towards the main character.

Two, too many points of view can become confusing. Confusion is never good, as it can often lead to frustration, which can then lead to a bad overall impression of your book.

Three, writers sometimes do not have a great enough grasp of each character’s personality to accurately portray them. This only gets worse as writers include more and more points of view. Readers can quickly spot a writer who has a bad grasp of their characters personalities. This is also bad, for if your reader feels the portrayal is unnatural, then they might find other, resulting aspects of the story to be unnatural as well, and you the writer will lose credibility.

Lastly, and this is the biggest mistake I see, writers get sloppy. Many times I’ll be reading a scene told wholly from one individual’s perspective, and then it will shift for a line or two, and then back again. This is neither an omniscient point of view, nor is it first or third person point of view. And often this POV switch is not necessary.

How to make it Work

Visually Set POV Apart
It’s extremely easy to change the point of view by visually setting it apart. Insert a line space between the two points of view to offset it.

How Many Points of View is too Many?
This is one of those vague questions that does not have a single answer. It depends on several factors. For instance, thrillers are often excellently crafted when the point of view switches between several people. Outside of this genre, that number should be a bit smaller.

Two points of view is often the safest number, but three won’t confuse anyone if you make sure to be clear. Having four or five points of view is venturing into rocky territory, and if you must include all of these personalities, then I suggest focus at least an edit or two developing their characters.

A Few Last Words
In conclusion, if you are going to break the rules, make sure you do it consciously. The point of view of a story is a fundamental building block, and once you understand its basic features, you can utilize it to create incredible narrative effects.

Happy writing,

Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services