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November 17, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Eight: Impossible Resolutions

This is the eighth blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of all kinds of subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important common mistakes. Today we’ll look at “Impossible Resolutions.”

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

H’m, impossible resolutions…. Maybe we need to define resolution before we go any farther. In my WORD dictionary in my computer, the word “resolution” has 13 different definitions, one which applies directly to writing. Definition number 11 states: “part of the narrative when the conflict is resolved.”

Now, I learned way back in third grade never to define a word with its own word. So let’s just say that our definition of “resolution,” for clarity’s sake, is coming to a satisfactory conclusion after the characters reach the climax of the story arc. But if the story has no satisfactory conclusion but rather has an impossible ending that frustrates the reader, we have a poorly written manuscript and a disappointed reader, who’ll never look up that author’s work again. And remember, a satisfactory conclusion doesn’t always mean a happy ending, but it has to fit with the story like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

So, what are the characteristics of an impossible resolution? Let’s discuss a few examples by first changing the endings of some classics or best-selling books (or movies) and analyzing how impossible these endings would have been:

LASSIE, COME HOME – what if Lassie never would have “come home?” What if he would have drowned?

GONE WITH THE WIND – what if Scarlet would have married Ashley?

THE WIZARD OF OZ – what if Dorothy would have stayed in Oz because she liked it better than “home?” She certainly loved her three comrades dearly.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL – what if Scrooge hadn’t reformed after the spirits visited him?

YOU’VE GOT MAIL – what if Joe Fox had decided not to pursue Kathleen Kelly because his father’s multiple marriages all ended in failure?

JURASSIC PARK – what if the main characters would have, somehow, killed the T-Rex, and the last scene would have the characters all standing around the dead T-Rex?

KING KONG (the original) – what if King Kong would have kidnapped the screaming babe one more time and would have tromped out of New York City, destroying everything in his path, and headed for the woods?

CAMELOT – what if Lance and Guenevere would have married each other, King Arthur would have forgiven them, and they all would have sat at a dinner table together in the last scene?

Well, you might say, all these books and movies could have ended as I’ve suggested. Not so. Not with the earlier parts of the script written the way they were. These endings would have been IMPOSSIBLE? But why?

Follow the beginning of the stories to the end as the conflict develops, as the tension increases in each, and as they reach the climax. The stories were written so you’d be rooting for a certain character to be successful (if a hero-type protagonist) or for a negative antagonist character to meet his/her just rewards at the end.

So why are we satisfied that King Kong met his death at the bottom of the Empire State Building but the T-rex in Jurassic Park wasn’t bumped off?

Although both are important primary characters, the sympathy in King Kong lies mostly with the screaming babe. Yes, King Kong does have his moments where the reader or viewer feels sorry for him but not so much that he could keep kidnapping the babe. It would have been too much for the reader/viewer to tolerate. It would have been an endless boring plot.

On the other hand, in Jurassic Park, the dinosaur is such a major player in the book and film, killing him off would have been very disappointing to the reader/viewer. And…another very important factor to consider is whether the book/movie has sequels. What would Jurassic Park’s sequels have been like without the gigantic T-rex that delights in eating people popping up every now and then?

Thus, to have these books/movies end as I’ve suggested, the entire manuscript would have to be rewritten with different tension, conflict, climax, and resolution. The primary characters in many cases would become secondary characters and vice versa.

Remember, everything that happens and everything the characters do in a story MUST work together like that gigantic jigsaw puzzle, all driving forward toward the climax and resolution, which must fit together perfectly on the last page. The story MUST center on the main characters, who either get their just reward or meet their doom at the end.

Next time, we’ll look at Mistake Number Nine: Redundancy.

Happy writing!

Today…

Marsha Hubler:

We salute our vets and we salute you, Charlie Bear!
Bailey and Skippy

Originally posted on Taylor's Tips:

Charlie Bear here.

What is today?

Charlie Bear with American Flag 009

Veterans Day. It’s our day to honor those who have helped to keep our country safe.

I especially appreciate that. Can you just imagine a place where you had to hide from attacks? Where you had to scrounge for food? Where you didn’t know where you would sleep at night?

Some of that is what I experienced in my formative first year on the streets in Los Angeles. I had to hide from big dogs who I thought were going to attack me. It’s what makes me bark so ferociously whenever I see them on the street. Hopefully they get scared of me before they decide to run up and attack me.

Then there’s the scrounging for food part. I had to look in all the dumpsters and trash cans I could climb into. Mostly, I foraged for leftover wrappers from fast food restaurants…

View original 179 more words

November 10, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Seven: Weak Transitions between Paragraphs

 

This is the seventh blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of all kinds of subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important common mistakes. Today we’ll look at “Weak Transitions between Paragraphs.”

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

If you’ve attended any writers’ conferences for any length of time, then you’ve probably heard this statement more than you care to recall: “Your manuscript must FLOW.” Okay, your manuscript must “flow.” Does that mean you have sad scenes that make your readers cry? Or happy scenes that make your readers laugh hysterically until the tears stream down their faces?

Really, making a manuscript “flow” has nothing to do with the actual storyline. Rather, it has to do with the author’s clever use of words and sentences, resulting in strong transitions between paragraphs and moving the scene forward. So what happens when a smooth transition is not feasible?  Then it’s time for a scene break or a new chapter.

As is my method to discuss fiction weaknesses, let’s look at some examples. We’ll analyze a few weak transitions and see how they can become strong transitions. (In case you haven’t noticed, I like to “show” not “tell.”)

Example One

Weak Transition

Homer read the hand-written note taped to the lid. “You always seemed to know what was important. That’s why I’m counting on you to take care of this for me.” And it was signed, “Jake.”

His mouth went dry and his ears grew hot when he lifted the cover. “Oh, God,” he prayed, closing his eyes. “Don’t let it be…let it be anything but—”

Well, his intentions had been good. Every year, like clockwork, he’d typed reminders into his daily planner: “Call Jake” on a January page. “Drop note to Jake” in June. “Jake’s b-day” every August, and “Send Jake’s Christmas card” in December.

Strong Transition

Homer read the hand-written note taped to the lid. “You always seemed to know what was important. That’s why I’m counting on you to take care of this for me.” And it was signed, “Jake.”

His mouth went dry and his ears grew hot when he lifted the cover. “Oh, God,” he prayed, closing his eyes. “Don’t let it be…let it be anything but—”

When he opened his eyes, Homer saw a golden wing tip, partially hidden beneath a layer of wrinkled white tissue. Hands trembling and heart knocking, Homer admitted what it meant:

Jake was dead. He never would have parted with the angel for any other reason.

(From “A Promise to Jake,” a short story by Loree Lough in MARSHA HUBLER’S HEART-WARMING CHRISTMAS STORIES, © 2014 Helping Hands Press, p. 19)

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Have you spotted what makes the first part of this sample a weak transition? The problem is between paragraph two and three.  Homer closes his eyes and prays. In the next paragraph , Homer’s intentions are discussed without addressing Homer’s closed eyes! Did he finish the scene with his eyes closed? Review again how Loree Lough handled the transition from the second to third paragraph. She opened Homer’s eyes and then continued with the scene.

Example Two

Weak Transition

Skye’s attention shifted to the barn and riding corral straight ahead. “I just can’t believe that serving the Lord could ever be like this. I mean, like, Morgan and me together in the same bunkhouse! And on top of that, Champ and Blaze could come too.” She glanced at the trailer hooked to the back of their truck.

“Did I hear my name?” a man’s voice called from inside the barn. A large door slid open, and a giant of a man walked out with a belly that looked like he had swallowed a watermelon—whole.

Strong Transition

Skye’s attention shifted to the barn and riding corral straight ahead. “I just can’t believe that serving the Lord could ever be like this. I mean, like, Morgan and me together in the same bunkhouse! And on top of that, Champ and Blaze could come too.” She glanced at the trailer hooked to the back of their truck.

Neigh-h-h! At the mention of his name, the sorrel Quarter Horse whinnied and pawed the trailer floor. Blaze nickered.

(From SUMMER CAMP ADVENTURE by Marsha Hubler, © 2009 Zondervan, p. 10)

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What’s the obvious weak transition here between the paragraphs? When you read that first paragraph, it leads you to expect something to be said about the horses in the next paragraph. But in this weak transition, a man speaks, which at first, might make the reader think one of the horses is talking! In the actual strong transition example, the expected result of the good lead in the first paragraph is another paragraph about the horses in the trailer.

Example Three

Weak Transition

That evening, Nellie insisted that everyone sit down to have Christmas Eve supper together as Douglas seemed much better and had fallen asleep. Margaret placed a centerpiece of fresh greens on the table she and Nana had arranged, along with gold napkins folded into stars. George thanked God for the food and prayed for Douglas’s healing.

Nellie gave each of them a candle and turned out the lights while they sang “Silent Night.” Just as they finished, a bell tinkled from Douglas’s bedroom.

Strong Transition

That evening, Nellie insisted that everyone sit down to have Christmas Eve supper together as Douglas seemed much better and had fallen asleep. Margaret placed a centerpiece of fresh greens on the table she and Nana had arranged, along with gold napkins folded into stars. George thanked God for the food and prayed for Douglas’s healing.

After supper, Nellie gave each of them a candle and turned out the lights while they sang “Silent Night.” Just as they finished, a bell tinkled from Douglas’s bedroom.

 

(From “Hobby Horse Faith,” a short story by Patricia Souder in MARSHA HUBLER’S HEART-WARMING CHRISTMAS STORIES, © 2014 Helping Hands Press, p. 121)

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The difference between the weak and strong transitions in these two samples is as obvious as the nose on your face. In the first example, the very important transitional words “After supper” are not included. Thus, as you read that passage, it appears to the reader that Nellie gave everyone a candle, they turned out the lights, and they sang “Silent Night” at the supper table.

In the strong transition example, you can easily see how important those two little words “After supper” are to the flow of the story and the overall flow and tone of a good short story.

So, there you have three examples of weak and strong transitions. Take a look at your manuscript, especially the transitions between paragraphs. If your writing leaves the reader wondering what in the world is going on, then it’s time to rethink your “flow” and do some revising. The dots have to connect, even in a good piece of fiction.

Next time, we’ll look at Mistake Number Eight: Impossible Resolutions.

Happy writing!

October 27, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Six: No Significant Conflict

 

This is the sixth blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of all kinds of subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important common mistakes. Today we’ll look at “No Significant Conflict.”

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

There’s nothing more boring than a “slow” book. What do I mean by that? A slow book is one in which the plot never quite develops with significant conflict either within the primary character’s inner being or between the major characters. So, when should conflict arise?

If possible, on the first page or, at least, in the first chapter, preferably somewhere on the first few pages.

As an editor for a small press the last year or so, I’ve read quite a few manuscripts that have been submitted for consideration. I need to read only one to two pages to decide if I want to keep on. Why? There has to be a significant “hook” right up front to draw the reader into the character’s life and “issues.”

Today’s readers in our fast-paced society want a quick read. Oh, the book might be three hundred or more pages long, but the action starts on the first part and is non-stop until the very end. Gone are the days that an author needs to take five chapters to “explain” what’s going on. Have you ever heard this statement from a speaker at a writers’ conference, “Show, don’t tell”?

Fifty or a hundred years ago, much of our classic literature was written this way. Life moved at a slower pace, there were no computers, and going back farther there were no radios or TVs. What did folks do? They played table games or they read. So picking up a book that took the first sixty pages to describe the characters, their attitudes, and the world around them was really a ticket to an exciting adventure. But today, many classics from yesteryear are a difficult read because of the lack of continual dialogue and action.

So, how can we develop a story with significant conflict in the plot? Believe it or not, a skilled writer can take ANY idea and develop a page-turner.

Instead of my attempting to “tell” you how to do this, I’ll “show” you by comparing a few examples. We’ll look at boring ho-hum beginnings and then their significant conflict hooks to start the manuscript on the path to success:

Example One (Article):

Ho-hum : A while ago, I interviewed Clyde Peeling, the owner and curator of Reptiland in Allenwood, PA, on route 15 near Williamsport. Reptiland is loaded with all kinds of wild animals, including alligators, snakes, and other ugly creatures.

Significant conflict immediately:   How would you like a frozen mouse for lunch?  If you would, then join dozens of snakes, alligators, and other reptiles at Reptiland, a zoological park at Allenwood in central Pennsylvania.

(From “Lizard Man”- Boys’ Quest; Aug/Sept.02)

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Example Two (Short Story):

Ho-hum: My eight-year-old son had been sick for some time. We finally found out he had cancer and wouldn’t live much longer.   One thing he wanted to do was see snow, but we were having a warm autumn in central PA.

Significant conflict immediately:   “Dad, I-I want to see the first snow,” he said, forcing the words out with jagged, tired breath. “D-do you think I’ll see it, the way I am and all?”

“Colton, son, you’ll see it. I promise. We’ll see it together,” I assured him.

(From “First Snow” – Inside PA Mag. Dec. 08)

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Example Three: (Juvenile Fiction):

Ho-hum: Skye Nicholson found herself in juvenile court for the umpteenth time in her thirteen short years.  She sat in the chair and just stared at the judge. She was as mad as a hornet and in no mood to appease anybody.

Significant conflict immediately:   “Young lady—and I use that term loosely—I’m tired of your despicable behavior. I’m sending you to the Chesterfield Detention Center!”

Skye Nicholson looked cold as an ice cube as she slumped in the wooden chair and stared back at Judge Mitchell. Most thirteen-year-olds would have been scared to death as a hearing with an angry judge yelling at the top of his lungs. But Skye was no “ordinary” thirteen-year-old.”

(From A HORSE TO LOVE, Book 1 in the Keystone Stables Series – Zonderkidz; 2009)

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Example Four (Romance Fiction):

Ho-hum: As Louellen Friesen dusted the chandelier in the dining room, she lost her footing and slipped off the chair she was standing on and went sailing toward the table where Dr. McAndrew sat drinking his coffee.

Significant conflict immediately:  “Watch out!” Dr. McAndrew yelled, and in an instant, Louellen Friesen found her slender frame in the man’s embrace, his strong arms breaking the fall that would have landed her face first in his afternoon coffee.

(From Love Song for Louellen, vol. 3 in THE LOVES OF SNYDER COUNTY AMISH/MENNONITE FICTION ROMANCE SERIES, Helping Hands Press; 2012)

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So, there you have four examples of developing conflict right on the first page, in fact, in the first few sentences. If you start your action immediately like these samples and keep it going by slowly building to your climax and ending with a dashing resolution at the end of your story, you’ll have yourself a page-turning manuscript and possibly a best seller. It’s important to remember that your use of exciting dialogue and excellent descriptive words in narration can make or break your story.

And above all, remember to show not tell!

Next time, we’ll take a look at Mistake Number Seven: Weak Transitions Between Paragraphs.

October 16, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Five: Stilted or Unnatural Dialogue

 

“Wally, let’s go outside and play football,” said Beaver in the boys’ bedroom.

“No, Beav,” Wally said. “I have to do homework.”

“But it is Saturday,” Beaver said. “You don’t have to do homework on Saturdays.”

“That is incorrect, Beav,” Wally said. “I have a big report I must do, and our father said I have to get that done before I do anything else today.”

“Well, Wally, I guess if you cannot go out, I will have to go out and play by myself,” Beaver said.

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Are you groaning at this fictitious dialogue between Beaver and Wally? You should be because it’s absolutely awful. If you want to know how NOT to write good dialogue, use this as your prime example.

This is the fifth blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of all kinds of subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important “common” mistakes. Today we’ll look at “Stilted or Unnatural Dialogue.”

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

STILTED OR UNNATURAL DIALOGUE

Let’s analyze the sample of dialogue that started this blog.

First, let’s look at the tags (Wally said/ Beav said) and the beats (none) and see how we can improve the passage. Obviously, there are only two characters in this scene: Beaver and Wally. In such a scene, it’s not necessary to keep repeating “Wally said” and “Beaver said.” (Unfortunately, the early TV shows in the 40s and 50s often had poor script writing like this.) Also, the characters keep saying each other’s names when addressing one another. How boring is that? Once the characters are introduced with their initial dialogue and a tag, the dialogue will flow much smoother by deleting most of the tags and name calling. So what about adding some beats? In fact, what are beats?

Beats are sentences added to a line of dialogue that adds action and detail without using the word said, asked, or any other overused tag. Let’s compare two examples:

 

“Where are you going?” Ben’s mother asked him.

“Where are you going?” Ben’s mother anchored her fists on her hips, and she scowled.

 

Now, in sample one, all we know is Ben’s mother wants to know where Ben is going. There’s no sense of any emotion at all. It’s what we’d call “stilted” writing. Most newbie writers would tend to add a sentence after the tag to “tell” how Ben’s mom feels instead of “showing” it.

In sample two, the tag is not there; instead, we have a beat that describes exactly how Ben’s mom feels about him leaving. This sentence clearly “shows” action; it doesn’t “tell” it. This sentence moves the action along beautifully.

Next, let’s look at unnatural dialogue. What’s unnatural dialogue?

It is extremely important for a fiction writer to KNOW his characters, their backgrounds, social temperament, and language colloquialisms. Experienced writers will spend time developing character description files for the main characters in his/her work and get to know those characters almost as if they are real people. Those writers will also study language patterns, listen to folks who resemble their characters, and take lots of notes. They’ll also develop a unique dialogue for each of the main characters so the reader will be able to tell who’s speaking even without a tag or a beat. Each character should have his own style, vernacular, and possibly slang words (if any at all.) There’s nothing that speaks to a beginners’ work that reading dialogue that just doesn’t match the character’s age, sex, ethnicity, social status, or background or reading dialogue of several main characters who all sound exactly the same. Thus, reading an Amish fiction book in which the main character would say, “Hi, dude!” is as ridiculous as reading a book about inner city violence in which one of the street gang members says, “Thank God you are safe.”

In this passage with Beaver and Wally, we have several examples of unnatural dialogue. Let’s look at them:

 

“But it is Saturday,” Beaver said.

“That is incorrect, Beav,” Wally said. “I have a big report I must do, and our father said I have to get that done before I do anything else today.”

“Well, Wally, I guess if you cannot go out, I will have to go out and play by myself,” Beaver said.

 

In the first sentence, Beaver said, “But it is Saturday.” In the last sentence, Beaver says, “Well, Wally, I guess if you cannot go out, I will have to go out….” Here are three prime examples of unnatural dialogue that most newbie writers abuse over and over. In natural dialogue, contractions are used, which helps the dialogue to flow much better. We speak contractions in our everyday speech, so why not write them?

In the second sentence, we have two violations. Wally said, “That is incorrect.” Now what kid is going to talk to his brother by saying, “That is incorrect.” As a teenager, Wally would probably say, “As usual, you’re wrong” or maybe another smart remark.

The other violation in this second sentence is when Wally calls his dad “our father.” Sheesh, he’s not praying! What would a teenager call his father? Dad? Pop? Hopefully not “The Old Man,” unless the writer is portraying a rebellious child.

All right, we’ve shown what not to do with dialogue. Let’s rewrite this passage and see how we can improve it and make it flow much better and keep the reader’s interest:

 

“Wally, let’s go outside and play football,” Beaver said in the boys’ bedroom.

“No,” Wally said. “I have to do homework.”

“But it’s Saturday. You don’t have to do homework on Saturdays.”

“Wrong, little brother.” Wally flopped on his bed with his notebook and pen. “I have a big report to do, and Dad said I have to get that done before I do anything else today.”

“Well, I guess if you can’t go out, I’ll have to play by myself.” Beaver grabbed his football and hurried out the door.

 

There you have the finished product, revised with most of the tags deleted and two beats and contractions added. Now we have natural dialogue that flows and is quite believable.

So what do you think? Which dialogue about Wally and Beaver would you rather read?

Next time, we’ll discuss No Significant Conflict. Happy writing!

Sept. 29, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Four: Infallible or Underdeveloped Characters

This is the fourth blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of all kinds of subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important “common” mistakes. Today we’ll look at “Infallible or Underdeveloped Characters.”

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

We’ll define infallible characters this time then move on to a more in-depth study of underdeveloped characters in the next blog. So let’s look at our first character type.

It’s quite the temptation to create a character who is infallible, reasoning that every reader will love your hero and, thus, love the book. However, it’s also quite impossible to write an exciting story arc with a breath-taking climax and resolution if you don’t build in any tension or conflict that your main character sees through his/her eyes and even might have been caused by one of your hero’s flaws or his/her flawed reaction to the crisis. We’re all aware that the definition of “infallible” is incapable of making a mistake. So, if we create infallible characters, we are creating impossible characters…unless we’re writing about God.

A clever author will work hard to plug in something irritating, a little quirk or a bad reputation from his past or whatever, just to make the person human. Your readers will enjoy your story much more. Why? Because they’ll identify with that character’s weakness in some way, possibly even feel sorry for him, and root for him to get the upper hand at the end of the book.

Let’s look at a few super heroes (in books or movies) and see if we can identify at least one weakness in their characters. Remember the weaknesses are evident; yet, the authors cleverly imbed them into the characters’ personalities so the readers still have a sense of pity or good will for the heroes, hoping that “all will be well” at the end of the book or movie.

What most evident weakness or flaw do you recognize in these characters? Or can you name more than one flaw but you still liked them or rooted for them all the way through the book or movie?

Captain Ahab in MOBY DICK

King Arthur in CAMELOT

Judah Ben-Hur in BEN-HUR

Scarlett O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND

George Bailey in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

Indiana Jones in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK

Kevin in HOME ALONE

Professor Higgins in MY FAIR LADY

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Okay, let’s see if any of your flaws match my choices:

Captain Ahab – has a big-time bitterness problem (against an animal, no less!) that turns into a hatred onto death (unfortunately, his own death)

King Arthur – violates his own code of righteousness with indecision and concealing his wife and his best friend’s infidelity

Ben-Hur – another man with a root of bitterness that drives him to kill…that is, until God impacts his life

Scarlett O’Hara – yes, dear Scarlett, the conniver who schemes her way through every facet of her life

George Bailey – has a stroke of cowardice that almost costs him his life and almost destroys his family and business

Indiana Jones – an impatient thrill seeker who endangers the lives of friends around him

Kevin – disobedient and impertinent that causes unparalleled angst for his family and does untold damage to his home (Yes, I agree; it is a funny movie. We’re just “analyzing” here.)

Professor Higgins – arrogant as all get out and is blind to the emotional needs of others

So, how’d we do on our flaw matches? Remember, I only named one or two flaws for these characters. Some of them, like Captain Ahab and Scarlett O’Hara, probably have a list of flaws longer than their redeeming qualities; yet, we have read or watched on the edge of our seats, hoping the heroes or heroines would win in the end.

It would be worth our while to study the authors’ techniques that created these fascinating characters and take special note of how they so cleverly incorporated flaws and shortcomings as well as the characters’ “good side” that made all of them unforgettable. Of such, best-selling classics are made.

Next time, we’ll take a look at stilted or unnatural dialogue. Happy writing!

Sept. 22, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Three: Writing a Negative Tone throughout the Story

This is the third blog discussing these common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of all kinds of subgenres:

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

Of the twelve common mistakes we are reviewing on this list, the negative tone or mood is probably the one that needs the least explanation. It’s quite the simple matter.

Developing your own tone or mood in your manuscript really involves your careful choice of words, mostly adjectives. If your goal is to create an antagonist as a main character, then you’ll have to take care to use numerous negative adjectives in your description of that character. You will also have to develop some positive quality in that main character that will make your reader like or, at least, tolerate him/her, or your reader won’t finish your book.

Think of some excellent books you’ve read or movies you’ve seen where the main character is hateful, murderous, or just downright nasty. How about Scarlet O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND? KING KONG? GODZILLA? THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME? As much as we disliked these main characters when we met them, there was something, if only one quality, that made them endearing so that deep down in the recesses of our hearts, we were hoping they’d win in the end. Now, analyze why we as readers or movie viewers felt like that.

The reason we had not written these characters off in the first scene and either threw the book away or walked out on the movie is because of the clever writing by the authors or playwrights. We don’t have the time or the space to take excerpts from these writings and study them. But if you do your own research in any books you read, you’ll soon find either clever writing that wins you over or flat writing that fails to develop a character’s full “character.” If you fail to insert, even in the least bit, something positive about your main protagonist or antagonist, you’re also going to fail to arouse the desired emotion you are seeking, possibly compassion for the Scarlet O’Hara in your book. If you want your reader to hate your main character, then trash your main character, but be careful. Many fans of fiction are not fond of hateful characters with no redeeming qualities.

Now, if your hero is fighting against a hateful, murderous antagonist, and your hero must win, then you need not present any positive qualities for that antagonist. In plots like this, make your antagonist as hateful as you can. That only adds to the positive qualities your hero will portray in his quest to defeat his hated foe.

Concerning plots and story endings, again, choosing the proper words will set the tone or mood for your world.

In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in “dark” characters and plots in both books and movies. I don’t care for that genre, so I can’t comment on any such as THE HUNGER GAMES or all the vampire books and movies like TWILIGHT. But, if you’re a fan of such, again, analyze how the main characters are portrayed. Do you develop a fondness for them even though they are evil or do you hate them to the death and cheer when they meet their end?

It all depends on the choice of words the authors have used to describe them.

So, do some analyzing of best sellers then spend some time on your own works. Decide what kind of mood or tone you want and dig out your thesaurus.

P.S. For a list of positive and negative mood and tone words, check out this website. It might just give you some fuel for the fire you’re setting under your next hateful antagonist.

http://ourenglishclass.net/class-notes/writing/the-writing-process/craft/tone-and-mood/

pen and quill

 

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