Thursday, April 10, 2014

RT's Talking on Corners: Five Pointers to Better Writing

I will begin this blog with a disclaimer. I am in NO WAY qualified to give any kind of ADVICE on writing. That is best left to the established kings and queens of literature, in all its various forms and genres. I won’t even claim to have followed most of what the established kings and queens do tell me on how to write.
For me, as I have always maintained, writing is an instinctive, creative process. Hard, arduous and fun, precisely because of that X factor: that mysterious alchemy between getting an idea and turning it into a full-length first draft.
But, I will try and demonstrate; whatever I have learnt so far from writing practically all my life. Be it scribbling on the backs of schoolbooks, textbooks (defacement!) computers and tablets and smartphones. I sincerely hope, dear reader, that you find this information useful. And apologize if you don’t agree with my methods. I warn you in advance. They are quite mad.

1.       Show, Don’t Tell: I was in my second year of Mass Media (Journalism) when my favorite subject finally cropped up. Creative Writing. I was ecstatic. I was going to nail this subject and all of its assignments, just like that. Imagine my horror, when the very first assignment on a Character’s Monologue came back with a D. And an expression from my professor, SHOW, DON’T TELL, Aarti.
It’s very simple and very difficult to show and not tell. Because description comes very easy when you’re writing. So remember it a different way. ACTIVE not PASSIVE voice.

Eg: If you have seen any Brad Pitt movie, especially the critically-acclaimed Moneyball¸ you will notice something very peculiar. He is ALWAYS DOING SOMETHING. If he is talking, he isn’t just talking. He is eating. If he is working out in the gym he is also listening to match commentary. If he is talking to his daughter, he is scooping out ice-cream.
SHOW, DON’T TELL in ACTIVE VOICE with Adjectives.

How would you put this in practice in writing?

Example one: The night was dark. Adele had made up her mind to go out to the abandoned mansion. She wore her dark raincoat because there was a good chance of rain that night and got into her car.
Example two: It was dark when Adele determined to get into her car and go to the abandoned mansion. She decided to wear the dark raincoat because there was a good chance of rain.

2.       He Said, She Said: Fast-forward four years later and I am now in Lit-Fic seminar in my MA course and it is time for my short story to be workshopped. And again, I see in bold red letters. DIALOGUE? I didn’t understand what the good professor meant by dialogue, so I asked her and she said, “Don’t use adjectives and adverbs at the end of your dialogue. Let the characters speak for themselves.”

Eg: The incredibly talented Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments Series is what I read (in a wounded state of mind) after that bloodbath of a workshop. And I noticed ALL her conversations ended with he said, she said. What he said; wasn’t said sadly. What she was not said excitedly.  At least, not every time. (NOTE: This rule is a bit flexible, so if you feel your character just HAS to be excitedly saying whatever he says, then let him. But don’t make it he exclaimed excitedly. Retain the said.)

How do you put this in writing?

Example One:
“I love you,” he said.
“I love you too,” Adele replied.
“I thought you didn’t love me,” he said, with feeling.
“How could you be so daft?” she said, with a sigh.
They kissed.

3.       Follow The Rule of Candide: Candide is a story archetype, where the heroine Candide has to go through a series of obstacles in order to emerge a clear winner. Candide suffers, perseveres and, finally, exults in her triumph. Follow this rule when writing your character. The harder your character falls, the more rewarding it will be to see them when they are lifted up and they become the true hero of their story.

Eg: JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings’ Frodo, Robert Langdon in DaVinci Code, even Archie in every story with Reggie as his antagonist. These are clear examples of how the rule of Candide works.

How to put this in writing?

Example: Adele was a reporter who was nearly fired by her newspaper editor for believing that the abandoned mansion at the edge of town was haunted by a persecuted witch who visited her in dreams. She was thrown out of her apartment and her parents wanted her to get therapy. But she didn’t give up; she followed up at the local library often sleeping there, and, with the help of her detective dude friend finally managed to prove her absurd claim and publish an award-winning story.

4.       Keep Plot Simple, Silly!:  DRUM these four words into your head, O aspiring writer. Just like ALL writing follows the rule of KISS (Keep It Simple, Silly) every good, SALEABLE story also has a similar guideline. Keep the plot simple. As simple as possible. Then, when you add the complexities, twists and turns and the gut-wrenching, spine-chilling climax that will make your novel stand out, it will all work, because of the simple plot. Your characters will be enriched by being in a setting that is clear, concise, well-thought out and WORKS!

Eg: Katniss Everdeen is a sixteen-year old girl who has to kill 23 other kids in a games arena in post-apocalyptic America to become the winner of a deadly contest. Only problem is, she really doesn’t want to. But she doesn’t want to die either. What does Katniss do?

How to put this in writing?

Example One: Adele is a features reporter at The Herald. She sees the ghost of a witch and is convinced she can be set free from the abandoned mansion at the edge of town. No one believes Adele so she decides to do this on her own. How does Adele manage this?

5.       Write What You Want To Know About: This is me own little amendment to the Golden Rule Write, What You Know! I don’t know much about anything, but that shouldn’t necessarily keep me from writing about it now, should it? Isn’t that why being a writer is so creatively rewarding? Because of this sheer freedom of being practically anyone you want to be. Be it a lawyer or a dragon-tamer. Now this does not mean that you write about a lawyer without knowing the first thing about what one does. A lawyer does not, for instance, work in a circus. Do your Groundwork, your grunt work, READ, RESEARCH, ASK! Never be afraid to ask whoever knows about the thing you want to know about. Most people are nice. They will gladly share information if asked. No story has not benefited from an excess of research.

Eg: For my Harlequin India debut “Kingdom Come”, I decided to tackle the gruesome, ugly world of spies, bombs and terrorists. It was a terrible ordeal to pore through reams and reams of websites that described the different types of bombs and the people who used them. It was hard to watch The Hurt Locker whose hero is an Ordnance Disposal Expert like my hero Krivi Iyer. To read up on torture treatments and rendition. But, in the end, all of this helped mold my story in a way that was better than I could have hoped.  

How to put this in writing? 

Example One: The writer makes Adele a journalist of a small-town, so she begins by reading up on the kind of news Small-town newspapers publish regularly. She is a Pinball expert too, and knows everything there is to know about arcade games. Read up on arcade games on Wikipedia and search for external links there. And so on…

I began this blog with a disclaimer that I am not qualified enough to give advice on how to write. But I will say this one true thing from personal experience. If you want to be a writer, un-procrastinate, WRITE! Write Now. Write Daily. And before you know it, you will be a writer.


Aarti V Raman aka Writer Gal

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