Friday, January 29, 2010

Explore Effective Writing Techniques

Before I get into the exploration of writing techniques, I must ask, again, please....please...please do not submit single space manuscripts. It is difficult to edit. Publishers will not even bother to read them. Single space manuscripts create problems from the start. One: your quote of the page count will be inaccurate. That's because a properly spaced (double spaced) manuscript is twice as long.

'...and please..please, please start chapters on the right hand page. Never mind there is space at the bottom of the left page. No problem.

I've been up since 5:30 a.m. editing book manuscripts. Two are from famous authors. I can hardly believe the transition errors they're making. Look, they are doing many things well, but that's not what they pay me for. We learn from our mistakes...our failures....therefore, I point them out.

Double space your manuscript and know your word count. Word count is more important than page count. For example, there are roughly, 250 words to a double spaced page. If you have 200 pages, you have approximately 50,000 words.

Now, let's explore some writing techniques.

Transitions and Point of View. This is a major challenge to most writers, beginners and experienced writers alike. I've committed this error many times over the past. I did so in writing my most popular book. I've received many notations from editors and publishers such as, "C'mon Barry, whose speaking here? Whose point of view is this? How much time has passed in this story since we heard from this character?"

I have since become much better. It's all about writing experience, folks. Anyway, I just finished editing a fine manuscript. It will make a fine book. It is a fantasy...a grown-ups Harry Potter, if you will. I am not yet authorized to mention its title or author, although, the manuscript has a copyright. But here's the point.

Let's call the writer, "Randy." Randy is a good writer. He created a wonderful love scene. He writes romance well. Randy, however, had the female lover killed, and dismissed the event as just part of the story. This happened one or two paragraphs after the reader fell in love with her.

That's a no-no. Never. Never say never? I'm saying it, loud and clear. N-E-V-E-R! Once the reader falls in love with your characters (whether you're writing romance, mystery, Suspense,etc.) do not kill strong characters, too soon, and casually dismiss them. Prepare the reader for such a tragic event. Treat this "good" character like a protagonist. Make the reader cry.

If she must die, do so cleverly and with great drama. Exploit the reader's emotions in the scene. For example: ....he returned to the picnic area. He saw Mary, there on the blanket. Mary was not moving. "No," he whispered to an evil thought. A most dreadful point bothered him. His heartbeat hesitated. He stooped. He hoped his actions were simply paranoia. That's all. He felt her wrist, and then her throat for a pulse. No.No-no!

Mary. God help. Mary, Move. Do something. Mary did not move. A most horrible reality flirted with the peripheral of his mind, snatching the handle of his heart. He breathed heavily, frozen in place. This was not happening to Mary, but there was no pulse. God don't let it be so. She can come back. Give her back. God. Please!

Mary was dead!

His Mary. Dead.



Now, having said that, if it is necessary that Mary dies, let her be killed by the villain, or let her die at the fault of someone else. Maybe her husband was supposed to bring her medicine and failed to because he rushed away to the picnic or to a televised football game.....his favorite team played.

The point is, we need someone to blame. It's easier to blame a killer, the villain. If we lose the romantic character to a death, we must have a foundation for revenge in the same space and time in which we lost the character, otherwise, the story will not seem plausible. The reader wants revenge. What a statement it makes about mankind. God help us!

When creating serious suspense, you may have to break the rules of English composition, grammar and everything else that makes English professors moan. Technically, they're right, but we write to snare readers.

Let's take good suspense writing a step further. Let's pretend Mary's mother insisted that Mary's husband take good care of Mary by giving Mary her daily dosage of medicine. Let's say we created a real cliff hanger at the end of the last chapter. It should go something like this: ....his phone rang. The phone was now an alien alloy mechanism in his hands. He dropped Mary's wrist. No pulse. Again, the phone rang. It was Mary's mother.

Let's Create even more suspense. Let's make the husband do the wrong thing. Let's write it so that he does not answer the phone. Later, the mom will wonder why he didn't bother to answer or return her call. What if someone sees it as a suspicious death? Maybe they think the husband, intentionally, left the medicine at home. What if the couple were unhappy? What if Mary had a large life insurance policy? What if her parents were well off and he was broke? What if one of them were cheating?

Let's start a new scene in a new location. It may read something like this:

She was awakened not by a sound, but by a relentless feeling that something had gone wrong. Her daughter, Mary had said something important during the dream. Mary's mother sat erect on the sofa. She focused and remained still, as if any slight movement might displace the details of her dream. Every day she took a nap, but nothing ever bothered her the way this dream had. This dark thing in her mind meant something.

The point of view must be obvious in the reader's mind, as demonstrated above. I will write more about POV, later.

Until then, write.

I think you get it.