Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Similarities? Speech or Novel - The Same Rules Can Apply

I always enjoy Yvonne Perry's blog. She provides lots of helpful information to those of us who promote on a 'shoestring'. Today, she posted someone's advice on how to prepare an interesting speech. As I read through it, I was struck by how the same advice also applies to writing...well most of it anyhow. It gave me an idea for my own post. I hope Yvonne doesn't mind that I borrowed the headers from her. I've changed LISTENERS to READERS.

1. How do you want your READERS to react?
This is a question easily answered. Naturally, you want your readers to love what you write so they will purchase future books. You want them to turn that last page and feel that their money wasn't wasted and even better, you gave them a temporary escape from reality.

2. Who is your audience? What do your READERS have in common?
In fiction, most are looking to be entertained. In non-fiction, they usually want to learn something. The biggest commonality is they've spent money on a product and expect to get something for their investment. It's the author's job to make sure that happens.

3. Grab their attention.
This has been hammered into most writers from the beginning. When you query an agent or publisher, if the first three chapters (even the first one, really,) fail to entice the person to turn pages, then your manuscript is returned with a polite "no thanks." As a reader, I'm annoyed when I'm compelled to turn pages to find a redeeming quality to the story. But, as a writer, it's so difficult to find that spot in your own work that's guaranteed to snare the reader's attention. When you apply all the rules that govern good writing these days, it's even harder.

4. Cut to the chase.
This is definitely a good idea as long as you leave enough description and dialogue to involve the reader in the story. There's nothing more distracting than having every piece of furniture in a house described down to the fabric if it does nothing to propel the storyline. If a character is sitting or reclining on it, then it's important. If it's off in corner and never used.... who cares?

5. Make your STORY easy to follow.
This usually happens if you stick to one character's POV in a scene rather than head-hopping or switching from one point of view to another. The secret is to make it easy to understand who is speaking to whom without using tiresome tags: Carleen said, Fred said, Jack yelled. If someone has to go back and re-read a paragraph or sentence, then you've failed this part.

6. Keep sentences short and words clear.
Good idea even in writing. No one likes sentences laden with commas and so long that one has to go back and start over at the beginning because they lost their train of thought. Shorter sentences, especially in pivotal points of your story, create more tension.

7. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
NOT IN WRITING. Word echoes in the same paragraph or scene become tedious and show a lack of vocabulary. Check out the wonderful little thesaurus on your computer. It provides a world of comparison words to give you options. Which would you rather read:

John yelled for Karen to join the party.
She appeared in the doorway. "Don't yell, it isn't polite."
John shrugged. "I only yelled because the music was so loud."
"Karen, come join the party." John tried to be heard over the music.
She appeared in the doorway. "You don't have to yell."
John shrugged. "Sorry. It's so loud in this place, I wasn't sure you'd hear me.

Okay, maybe it isn't the best example, but you get the idea. Why limit yourself to the same words over and over when you can dazzle your readers by finding new words to use?

8. Keep your READER involved.
Good idea. If you lose your reader, you're sunk. There are so many ways this can happen: Poor plot, unlikable characters or ones with whom the reader can't identify, head hopping (unless of course you're an established and well-known author like Nora Roberts), passive voice... the list goes on and on. The best way to test your story is to involve yourself in a good critique group and get the opinion of people other than friends and family. You know, the ones who won't lie to you to save your feelings. :) I've certainly learned a great deal from my involvement with other authors via chapter exchanges.

9. Know when to quit.
This is especially important when judging the length of a chapter. You don't want each one to be considered a book in itself. It's important to find a critical point in your story in which to end one chapter and begin another. It's called a hook--something that guarantees the reader will have to read one more page before turning out the light for sleep or moving on to something else. It's the lure that brings them back because they can't wait to see what happens next.

10. Call to action.
This applies to me. It's really easy to point out all the pitfalls and traps of writing, but to avoid them and incorporate only the strong points in my own writing is far more difficult. It's always easier to spot mistakes in someone else's work or tell others what to do. The test is practicing what you preach. I learn something new every day so each new book is a testament of one thing I've perfected. I'm looking forward to the book that demonstrates I'm finally a pro. I hope I live that long. :)

Again, my appreciation to Yvonne Perry and her guests who stimulate the desire to continue to improve my craft.
Yvonne's Blog


Unknown said...

Ginger, that is a great parallel you made! Thank you for the wonderful comments about me!

Megan Johns said...

These are really practical and useful guidelines, Ginger. Thanks for sharing

Angelika Devlyn said...

Great article, and I love the way you mention Nora Roberts. :)

Michael said...

Excellent article. Very informative and full of good tips, especially #4 - "Cut to the chase" and #9 - "Know when to quit." Good advise that we all should follow. Nice work.

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