Write powerful Fiction – Article Nine

Write powerful Fiction – Article Nine

Remember as you read this, it’s written looking at the western and historicals as examples, however the rules, unless otherwise stated, apply to all genres….

PACING: A quick look at pacing before we begin to write. If readers want conflict, give them conflict! A story with high emotion. But, caution, no one wants a single emotion read. By that I average your plot has to have pacing. If your hero wakes up facing a band of hostile warriors, escapes them to run into a grizzly, escapes it to be chased by wolves-it’s a single-emotion read and will be no more powerful than the cattle excursion where nothing happened.

You want to build emotion throughout the novel to the climax. A series of conflicts is fine, in fact necessary, but interspersed with a few relaxed reflective moments at the campfire. He’s (or she’s) in trouble, he’s out, he’s in deeper, he’s out, he’s in deeper however, until the conclusion when he’s home free. A great method to create powerful reading is to regularly throw your hero into deeper and deeper trouble, but paced with reflective scenes in between action.

Kat and I both subscribe to the Syd Field method of pacing. Field has a great book on how to write a screenplay and Kat and I have attended his screenplay seminar-and I suggest any writer of screenplays or novels do the same, presuming he’s nevertheless teaching. If not, find a good screenplay teacher and invest in yourself. Much of what Syd teaches is applicable to the novel. He structures screenplays into segments, with the part break being a “plot point.” A plot point is a major change in the direction the action is moving, generally as it directly affects your hero.

In An Officer and a Gentleman the first plot point (almost always about 27 minutes into the movie) is when the hero is accepted into the service, and the second major plot point (27 minutes from the end of the movie) is when he decides to quit. Just about the time the viewer can become bored with the chain of events, which are slightly continued, the writer throws a zinger at him, and his interest is renewed. You can take almost any successful movie and with stop watch in hand see that it follows Field’s paradyne-a theory I’m sure he developed from doing just that, watching successful movies. There are many other rules to follow, including the mid-points, the beginning ten minutes, etc., etc., but I’ll let his book teach you those. Here’s how it applies to your novel.

Just about the time your reader is in the grove-the hero and heroine have fallen madly in love and are to be married tomorrow, then it’s time to have her kidnapped and dragged away. A major change in events, a shock to revive reader interest.

Pacing is all important to powerful writing.

CHARACTER NAMES: Just a quick observe about character names. I don’t know about you, but most people have a pre-conceived concept of names and the characters they’re attached to. I wouldn’t name my hero Percy. Not that Percy’s not a nice name. But it connotes an English butler to me-unless my hero’s an English butler, then Percy is fine.

Another hint about names that’s important. It’s tough enough to follow a novel, particularly one you pick up and put down, without having an author name a associate of dominant characters Eloise and Elliott. Use the alphabet and don’t set out to confuse readers. Make it as easy on them as you can by naming characters with easily identifiable handles. Name them Able, Bart, Charles, Darwin, Elliott, Ferdinand….get the picture.

If you’re writing historicals, use names from the time. Jed and Isaac, for example, were shared names in the mid 1800’s and connote a feeling of time and place to the reader.

LET’S WRITE: The scene below is an example of a piece (intended to be a genre western) in the early stages of writing. As this manual proceeds, we’ll look at some improvements. And the end of the manual, I’ll offer a polished version. But every novel has to have a beginning:

The town, and the saloon, looked friendly enough. But looks deceive.

Ethan dismounted and loosened the cinch so the lathered roan could catch its breath. Mopping the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand, Ethan glanced at the afternoon sky. Indian summer, nevertheless no sign of storm. But it would come. Digging a handful of grain out of a saddlebag, he offered it in his palm. The big roan mouthed it as Ethan scratched the horse’s ears with his free hand. All the while, he listened for sounds from inside the Laramie Queen.

A cool beer would suit him, before he re-supplied at the mercantile with his last three dollars then rode on out of town to camp alone on the edges of the Laramie River. With luck and easy country, tomorrow he would make the edges of the Medicine Bow.

Luck hadn’t been exactly doggin’ his trail for the last thousand miles. He’d been gnawing the last of his venison jerky and drinking trail coffee made from scorched, stone-ground mesquite beans for two weeks.

Getting some real grub would suit him fine. But trouble wouldn’t suit him, and trouble had a way of following him.

No sound came from inside, so Ethan tied the roan to the hitching post near a wooden water trough and watched as the big horse muzzled aside some floating green moss and began to drink deeply. From habit, Ethan hoisted the heavy old Walker Colt.44 an inch, making sure it rode free and easy in its holster. He knocked the dust, billowing into the nevertheless air, from his breeches with his general brimmed Palo Alto hat. Only then did Ethan clank across the board porch and go into the bat wing doors.

The jingling of his big roweled Spanish spurs and the echoing of his footfalls on the mud, smashed-egg- shell, and broken-crock-covered floor announced his entry. The room reeked of dust, sweat-soaked men, and cigar smoke.

From across the rough plank bar, the bartender gave the dusty stranger a tight smile. “Beer?”

The trail-tough cowhand rubbed the black whisker stubble on his chin with a knotted callused hand. “That’ll do,” Ethan said, and laid a nickel on the rough plank.

A horse-fly buzzed around inspecting the coin as Ethan waited.

The bartender set the mug in front of him without comment then snatched up the nickel. As Ethan took a thorough draw, he heard shrill drunken laughter from a table in the back of the tall thin room. Backhanding the foam from his handlebar mustache, Ethan cut his eyes.

Four men sat playing poker under a wafting cloud of cigar smoke. One of them, the cackler, was the Bantam rooster who had-with five riders to back him up-forced Ethan to backtrack twenty miles and ride around the Lazy A.

That’s a beginning, of sorts. Not the best beginning, not the worst. Your hero walks into a Laramie saloon alone and moving West, and is goaded into a gunfight by the town tough. He kills the young tough in a shoot-out. The youth turns out to be the son of the most powerful man in the county. The hero was in trouble when the tough began goading him now he’s in deeper trouble. The friendly saloon girl informs him that the sheriff is due back anytime, and the sheriff is the cattle baron’s nephew and the cousin of the man he killed. He’s in deeper and deeper. already though he was in the right, he’d better run. He gets away but, sitting high on a ridge, spots a large group of riders coming his way. A posse. Deeper and Deeper. he didn’t have a chance to re-provision in town, he’s low on beans and bullets. Deeper and deeper. The first storm of the year is rolling in, and he can’t light a fire. Deeper and deeper and deeper.

You get the idea.

And this method works for sci-fi-watch any Star Trek episode-for romance, for horror, for historicals, and on and on.

Characterization is equally important. For the reader to get involved in and care about your plot, he has to care about your characters. Caring is emotion. Love or hate or something in between. Generally, you want your reader to love or certainly admire and respect your hero; and hate, or dislike your villain. But more about characterization later.

As I said earlier, a novel has a beginning, middle, and end.

The above beginning is not perfect. I’ll never be a good enough writer to make it perfect. Before it’s ready for submission, it needs to be re-written several more times, and I’ll point out a few of the mistakes as we go along.

Don’t let rewriting frighten you. Seldom is a rewrite a complete toss and start over. It’s polishing. Was my change smooth? Is there a better verb? Do I need that adverb? Is the syntax correct? Was my P.O.V. correct? Am I in active voice? These are some of the questions you’ll know to ask when you finish this manual, and you have to know the questions before you can search for the answers.

We’ll dig deeper into the above questions in the following articles.

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