06 December, 2006

Some Answers To Those Fiction-writing Questions

Lindsey has some questions about fiction writing. Brittney echoes them over at NiT.

I'm going to give my personal answers here, but I realise that every fiction writer/reader's tastes are different. And since I've not had any fiction published it's not like I'm some huge authority or anything. I'm just saying what works for me.

• How do you decide what POV to use? First-person is so hip and visceral, but third person gives you all sorts of possibilities with that nifty omniscience thing...

I try to write with the same POV that I enjoy reading. Over the years I've realised that of my four favourite books, three use limited third person narrative. It seems that's the easiest way for readers to relate. Framing the story from the protagonist's point of view puts the reader directly in Harry Potter or Laura Ingalls' shoes, but keeping the third person voice gives the narrative a sense of rooted power. It also allows for vivid descriptions that make the protagonists' world come alive. Too much description in First Person voice sounds stilted and false, in my opinion.

• How do you pick a tense and then stick with it? Why is it that I am constantly morphing into present continuous?

Writing exercises. For your main work, stick to the tense you've picked. But when you have a"stuck" writing day, write in that other tense as an exercise apart from the body of the story. It puts you inside your characters' head, allows you to work out motiviation and movement and keeps you involved in the crafting of the story. You can then rework that portion into the main body in the chosen tense. It'll make your work feel richer and your characters more alive.

In short, if you're writing well, go with it. You can work out the details later.

• How can I make dialogue seem less manufactured and more fluid?

This is a biggie. I was fortunate enough to take a writing class with a playwright. What she taught me about dialogue has vastly improved any that I write. I'll try to summarise here:

When people talk in real life there are always things going on in the background. In real life you have five senses that are always picking up things. Fold that into dialogue and voila'! Realism.

Two examples:

"I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse!" Susan exclaimed
"I know what you mean," answered Ted. "I haven't eaten since breakfast."
"What do you want to order?"
"Probably the whole menu."
"Sounds good. Let's just cut loose and do it." Susan giggled with anticipation.


Kind of dull, I think.

Now this:

"I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse!" Susan exclaimed. She emphasised her claim by throwing her purse into the diner's cracked vinyl booth and shrugging out of her coat.

"I know what you mean," answered Ted. "I haven't eaten since breakfast."

Susan's carelessly-wiped menu was sticky with something that may have been soda, and greasy with something she couldn't identify. That didn't matter. Her hunger, combined with the joy of finally seeing Ted after a long day overrode any sense of disgust at the diner's less-than-spotless atmosphere. She peeled open the menu in anticipation of a good meal full of bad-for-you foods. "What do you want to order?"

"Probably the whole menu." Ted's passion for Susan was equalled only by his passion for greasy food. He figured if he was going to indulge in one, he may as well have the other.

"Sounds good. Let's just cut loose and do it." Susan giggled with anticipation.


In the second example you are there in the diner with Ted and Susan. You have not only a sense of the diner, but a sense of what's going on in the heads of the characters. Much more interesting.

How can I convey accents without seeming like a total moron?

Don't. Allow your reader to infer accents, rather than writing them out in Pidgin. You can start off by saying
Joe's musical speech gave him away. It was obvious from his languid cadence that he hailed from New Orleans.
or
Tammy's Bronx-tinged speech had a hard edge that matched the glint in her eye.
or
The sisters' conversation made it clear that they hailed from that part of New York City locals refer to as Lawn Guyland.

The reader can then overlay the accent in his or her head and you can keep the dialogue clean.

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There you have it. My personal answer to these questions. Of course, it's all a matter of taste. So ultimately you just go with what works for YOU. Fiction is a creative exercise. Be creative.

3 Comments:

At 2:28 PM, December 06, 2006, Blogger theogeo said...

Thanks, Katherine!

 
At 9:31 AM, December 07, 2006, Blogger Rob Robinson said...

Great tips. Thanks, Katherine! I especially like the use-all-senses advice. The difference in your examples is remarkable.

 
At 9:52 PM, December 09, 2006, Anonymous whosyourhuckleberry said...

"I know what you mean," answered Ted. "I haven't eaten since breakfast."

Susan's carelessly-wiped menu was sticky with something that may have been soda, and greasy with something she couldn't identify. That didn't matter. Her hunger, combined with the joy of finally seeing Ted after a long day overrode any sense of disgust at the diner's less-than-spotless atmosphere. She peeled open the menu in anticipation of a good meal full of bad-for-you foods. "What do you want to order?"

"Probably the whole menu." Ted's passion for Susan was equalled only by his passion for greasy food. He figured if he was going to indulge in one, he may as well have the other.


Wow, congrats on destroying any potential flow the dialogue might have possessed. With overwrought and extraneous mummery at that...

Brilliant.

 

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