Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Power of Suggestion

 Tastes change. Nudity has replaced Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, heavily cloaked in evening wear, yet dispensing rhythmic sensuality visceral enough to inspire shivers. Perhaps we lost something along the way, and as a novelist, you can restore some of that: Not with what you say but what you don’t.

Tip: Most readers welcome at least some inference.

So look for what you might suggest rather than state. Covert glances might substitute for body parts. Some sentences might go unfinished. Threats might occasionally stay implicit. Jump-cuts might replace some of your transitions, and you might gleefully risk someone missing your point instead of being offended by your over-clarifying it.

Implication can strengthen all of these fictional elements:

v     Theme
v     Humor
v     Sex scenes
v     Foreshadowing
v     Clues
v     Emotion
v     Setting

It’s harder to imply than explain, to insinuate rather than expose. It takes extra effort. Aren’t your readers worth that?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Seeing in Scene

Most of us move through the world noticing what interests us—and missing much of the rest, whether that’s architecture or botany, sports, science, and even human emotions. We develop coping strategies to compensate for everything we’re missing, and although this sometimes annoys our life partners, it mostly works fine.

This isn’t true of our novels, though. To truly enter a fictitious world, readers need a comprehensive picture of external and internal. They need the whole picture from close up to far off. They need miraculous and timely delivery of the kind of details unavailable to us in reality. What is she thinking when she smirks at him like that, and how bitter is the wind outside while, snug in the living room, the couple grits their teeth at each other?

Tip: To give your readers the whole scene, you must first see the whole scene.

This doesn’t come automatically to every novelist, or even every talented one. So complete a little homework before beginning the next scene. Make sure that you’ve imagined all the details for every aspect of the scene, perhaps especially those likeliest to escape your attention normally. Then choose the very best ones so your readers can enter that world: so they can truly see your scene.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Verb Verve

Novelists must keep many balls in play—not just character, plot and scenario, but managing pacing, dialogue, setting, point of view and so on. With all that to juggle, it’s no wonder that novelists sometimes forget the power underlying the words used to make that happen.

For writers, words start with verbs. That’s the reasoning underlying the endless warnings about the “is,” “be,” “am,” “are,” “was,” “were” list, otherwise known as the passive culprit. Such words tempt us because the modifiers that follow them are tantalizingly convenient, abundant, available and seemingly efficient.

They’re not. They clog and clutter. They pull readers out of scene. They drag down and mess up. Writers benefit from abandoning these false friends.

You don’t need a vocabulary class. Just start noticing your verbs—and everyone else’s. The more you notice, the more attuned your ear becomes and the sleeker your words get.

Tip: Scrutinize the words you select. It seems foolishly obvious. But those individual words along with how you string them together are the source of your novel’s world and thus the pleasure that world gives your readers.