Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Diagnosing Realism

Every story is created in a manner that the author is comfortable with presenting to their audience. It is wholly their creation and their perspective on a world of their own devising.

Their own creations may represent their unique perspective but every narrative that has ever been presented to the world has been subject to both editors and publishing guidelines. A filter is applied to their work so that it can be presented to their audience.

One short-hand method for authors to add tone or apply a 'gritty-realism' to their work is to utilize elements of everyday life from gut-wrenching violence to sex scenes so detailed an artist could count the freckles to extensive use swearing that could put a sailor to shame. These elements bring the audience into a 'real world' and pull them in with their spell.

Or do they?

In many instances authors may use these elements as a means to apply realism to the world but are they really necessary? The power of writing is that it lets the audience take control with their imagination. The audience is what truly brings the piece to life. If too many of these elements are laced within the narrative what does it accomplish? Interestingly enough, not what one would think.

As these elements of 'gritty realism' are laced throughout the piece it may assist in world building but as the levels of these elements increase the author is actually decreasing their potential audience. In most instances of 'harsh language' it is actually superfluous. Much like adding extensive dialect to a piece, adding language is the same as repeating a detail. Not only can the audience already understand the details they may actually grow tired of it. This is why editors and publishers may filter these elements. They want a piece to reach as wide an audience as possible.

Adding 'gritty realism' to a piece can work really well but the levels of these elements will actually dictate the potential audience. Is it really wise to keep reducing the size of that audience?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Objective Struggle

Endeavor, Strive, Struggle....

As a writer crafts their story from the void of blank pages they maintain narrative cohesion through the basic elements. They keep the piece focused, driven with deep motivations for each of the characters. They gradually escalate the pace to keep the story moving forward. The subplots are interwoven with the story in such a precise manner that the main plot would fold without them. The reader can not resist, they are pulled into the narrative and swept away by its spell. They hurry to the completion of the story but begin to wonder. The spell draws to a close and the audience is released but they soon forget about it. 

What happened?

Far too often a writer will forget one of the most important elements in a story. A point.  An objective.

As the creator perfects their premise they need to have an objective in mind for the premise. The point of a narrative is not only to capture their audience with an elaborate and entrancing spell but to alter the characters within the piece. Every step along the journey, every character caught up in the primary premise and even the premise itself should have an objective.

In the narrative the journey is broken into scenes and chapters, stages along the way that push the characters towards completion. It is here that many will often falter. There are scenes that must be enacted to progress the overall premise but they should each have their own objective. This is also where objectives can become confusing. Introducing a new character or exploring the recently introduced characters can be a piece of this objective but not the entire objective. These stages of the journey can envisioned as primary objectives and sub-objectives. In a mystery this would be a pivotal clue that is discovered while a couple of secondary characters that are pivotal later are introduced would be a sub-objective of a chapter.

Just as every stage of a story is assigned an objective, every character that is introduced must also serve a purpose. Sure there are characters that can be introduced whose objective may seem missing to the audience but if they have a solid objective, then it will be apparent later. Nothing can be more jarring for the audience than being introduced to a character that does not serve a purpose. Now whether these characters support the main characters or have their own agenda is irrelevant. They must have their own objective in the story. An objective can be as simple as adding background details in a piece or as complex as expanding on the details of the primary premise.

The largest error for most writers, most spell-crafters, is failing to address an objective for the primary premise. The creator was a genius spell-crafter capturing the attention of their audience and keeping their attention but when they reach the end of their piece the audience should not be left wondering what was the point of the story. There are many different objectives that can be assigned to a premise but the end result of a narrative is that the character that the audience followed is no longer the same as they were in the beginning of the piece.

As a story is crafted it is necessary for the writer to not only establish the world, characters and premise but to establish the objectives for every element of the piece.

What are your objectives for your characters? Chapters? What about your plot?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Orchestrating the Thriller

Regardless of the chosen direction for a narrative, all works at their core are an amusement ride. An attraction that an audience wants to experience. A thrill.

Every piece contains three primary elements to compose the ride; suspense, tension and excitement. Infusing the elements into the piece in varying amounts can dictate the ultimate direction for the narrative and define its very genre.

A narrative begins with a solitary question. A singular hook that draws the audience in and drives the individuals in the piece forward. In a mystery it is often a crime scene and the question is 'why?' In a thriller it is often the same question, the same 'why?' However, it is also often accompanied by a consistent threat. A 'who's next?' that the audience continually asks. While for a romance or drama it is 'will I find love?' or 'will I ever break from this routine?' This question is imperative, it's the start of the ride.

Once the audience is on the ride it becomes a matter of alternating elements to maintain their interest. Like a roller coaster ride, the more unpredictable the journey the more the audience will be captivated.

In a thriller, the audience is given an event that captures their interest, an event that serves as a form of excitement. These events come in the form of close calls, near-death experiences and quite often fight or chase sequences. The excitement of these events is used sparingly like dramatic drops on a roller-coaster track.

All of the radical drops in a coaster would not matter were it not for the tension that comes from the rise to the top of each or the suspense of not knowing when the drop will occur. In a narrative, the characters are led from one event to the next under intense pressure. Whether it's an investigation or characters clamoring for survival, the pressure keeps the story moving.

While there are only certain elements that can be used to perpetuate the story, there are a multitude of ways that they can be implemented. The intervals between the elements can leave room for unpredictably or a rapid pace that leaves the audience breathless. The elements can even be hidden, revealed only at the last possible second to enhance their impact.

All narratives are inherently thrillers to a degree, the audience is driven forward by the events, the climbs and the drops of the ride. How do you keep the thrills coming?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Diagnosing Dialect

In crafting a narrative it is imperative to draw the audience into a world that is both believable and relatable for those observing the narrative unfold.

The primary means of creating believable worlds are the details that are infused into the world. Details that range from the style of vehicles to the very culture that the protagonist experiences. Every detail has it's place in creating the world. The more details that are explored the more believable the world becomes while setting the tone of the piece.

An often used technique to infuse detail is to add dialect into both dialog and perception of the individuals in the narrative.

The use of regional specific phrases or words in a narrative can add a sense of realism to characters. It can add depth and even set the tone. Used properly, it is an ideal means to reiterate the setting without actually stating the details time and again. Adding an Irish accent, British slang or even a southern drawl can add that touch more to the world. No longer are characters disconnected, one piece of dialog can evoke a sense of culture and a place within that world.

That is, if the dialect is applied to the narrative properly.

More often than not, the use of dialect in both dialog and perceptions is misused. Dialect becomes both a distraction and detracts from the narrative, jolting the audience free of the creator's spell.

Once the culture and setting have been established it is desirable to sweep the audience away into a wave of ever increasing developments. Adding dialect to every other line or even in some instances, to every line of dialog is no different than infusing every line with repeated setting or cultural details.

Reliance on the use of a dialect for perception and dialog usually results in poor character development. Interjecting a thick accent of an over sampled region or culture often conveys 'stereotype' to the audience. As that interpretation is absorbed by the audience it becomes drastically difficult to convey any further character development for that character.

A common practice for adding dialect is to add improper grammar and misspelled words to emphasize a dialect. This creates a secondary problem. Not only does your audience rapidly grow tired of reading this approach but most will outright reject reading this style.

"...There's ain't nuthin I's can do 'bout that, she's busted mistah"  The grungy mechanic smiled at me through his crooked yellow teeth.
"Ser I dun think ya understan meh, I's needs to get ta the mill, liken ta hors ago..."

In this style it doesn't seem too bad but when you read page after page of this, an audience is more than likely to drop the narrative and find something more enveloping. Not only will this likely melt your processor and make finding real spelling errors neigh impossible but it's not very engrossing because the audience needs to constantly assess what they are viewing and translate it into what they understand.

"...There ain't nothing I can do about that, she's busted mister." The grungy mechanic smiled at me through his crooked yellow teeth. His accent was so thick it took me a moment to understand.
"Sir, I don't think you understand me. I need to get to the mill like two hours ago." I pleaded.
In this variation the dialect is clear but also audience friendly. If the setting and dialect is established early in the piece then there is no need to reiterate the dialect except in the more 'drawn' situations.

Whether it's a regional piece using accents or even a historical period piece so long as the dialect is established with the world early in the piece there is no cause to constantly re-state the detail.

Do you use dialect in your piece? How do you implement it?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Abstracting the Threads

Paths, lines, strands, threads....

In every narrative there is a primary premise that the creator wishes to convey but a narrative is not confined to the limits of its creator. A narrative is a web of lives, individuals with their own motives, aspirations and obligations.

As a writer begins to define their piece, they reveal the individuals that are involved in the primary premise. The main individual who the audience will follow is brought forward and the writer gradually exposes the intricacies of the individual's life. Their job, aspirations, personality, psychology even their pets are introduced to give the audience a clear portrait of them.

Revealing the individual's portrait in such detail assists the audience to sympathize and ultimately identify with the individual. This may be a conscious effort on the part of the creator however, this portrait is needs to be created with such detail because it will be the foundation of the primary premise. This one individual's life is the core on which the story rests. While the primary premise will eventually consume their life it is important to note that their life is it's own unique thread.

Every individual is their own unique thread, their own life, and as each is introduced to their place in relation to the main individual their thread is woven into the whole. As the individuals are introduced and new dynamics explored, new aspects of the primary individual are revealed to paint a truer portrait. Each strand, each life that is revealed is woven together with the primary thread to strengthen the whole.

While many writers distinguish plots and sub-plots that are woven into a story it is imperative to identify that every individual, every life has it's own plot, thread, and a fate. It is the act of twining the threads of fate that drives a story forward.

In crafting a story are you 'adding sub-plots' or are you twining the fates?

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