Just Tell A Story

Hey Folks,

So many of us have forgotten that our primary purpose is to entertain, first ourselves and then other readers. Entertainent really is the sole purpose of writing fiction.

We get wrapped around words. Yet in and of themselves, they just don’t matter. Words really are only tools, like nails to a carpenter. (If the carpenter drops a nail, does he stop the project? Uh, no.)

We get wrapped around sentence structure, or about whether a group of words constitutes a complete sentence. (Never mind that most of the world, in either narration or dialogue, doesn’t speak in complete sentences.)

We get wrapped around characterization and scene and setting. We get wrapped around “plot” and “theme” and all manner of other things.

Those things DO matter, but the story will provide all of them if we just trust it.

Should we learn those things? Absolutely.

But once we learn about words, sentence structure, characterization, plot and all the rest, it becomes part of our subconscious.

Learning is conscious-mind stuff. It’s what we do in classrooms, physical or virtual. Learning is why I visit Dean Wesley Smith’s site every day. Learning is why I read fiction by other writers, and if it blows me away, I read it again and study it.

And learning is why I practice, practice, practice. And by practice, I mean I write.

Writing is an endeavor of the subconscious. It isn’t learning. It’s practicing what we’ve learned. It’s playtime. Fun time.

And as we write (as we practice), what we’ve learned about words, sentences, plot etc. dribbles forth without effort or thought through our fingers onto the page or screen.

Consider, do you stop and think about whether to put a period at the end of a sentence? No. If you’re writing by hand, do you stop and think about whether to dot an i or cross a t? Of course not.

Because you learned all of that long ago. It’s natural to you, and you trust it.

At your current level of skill, the words, plot, characterization etc. are natural to you as well. You just have to learn to trust it.

I don’t hover over one story in an attempt to make it “perfect.” Like artists in all other art forms, I practice. I write a story, publish it, and move on to the next one.

Some will say when I cycle back over the last 500 to 1000 words and allow myself to touch it, that’s hovering. It isn’t. Cycling is all done with the subconscious mind. The conscious, “thinking” mind has no place in the practice of writing.

When we sit down to write, maybe we decide we’ll practice a particular technique in the current story. Maybe we’ll decide to practice setting.

But once we start writing, we should no longer be thinking (conscious mind stuff) about any of that.

When we sit down to write, we should Just Tell A Story.

If we trust ourselves to just tell a story, everything else comes along of its own accord.

Now, twenty-seven novels and over 180 short stories later, I’m finally fully understanding the purpose: Entertainment. I’m writing solely to entertain, first myself and then others. In other words, my only task is to Just Tell a Story.

And that understanding is incredibly freeing. That’s what it’s all about.

Back in the day, writers “had no training that stories had to be perfect. [The stories] had to be nothing more than good stories readers would enjoy.” (from DWS’ post)

There you go.

Just. Tell. A. Story.

Tell it as if you’re chatting with a friend over a cup of coffee. Or as if you’re leaning to one side on a bar stool, an old-fashioned glass of Who Hit John in your grasp. Just tell a story.

If you don’t already fully realize this, when you do “get” it you’ll be amazed at how much fun writing will be.

‘Til next time, keep writing!

Harvey

On Pacing and Paragraphing

Hey Folks,

A few days ago as I write this, I was reading one of my magic realism stories to my grandson. “The Storyteller” by Gervasio Arrancado.

I wrote the thing several years ago, and I knew nothing about pacing. Or paragraphing, for that matter.

As I read it aloud to him, I got bored. Massively bored. I know it’s a good story, yet I found myself wondering what reader could possibly enjoy wading through this thing.

My pacing sucked. My paragraphing sucked worse. The two go hand in hand.

I thought I knew paragraphing. I did know what I’d learned in every English, English Comp and English Lit class I’d ever taken.

But no, I didn’t know paragraphing. And I had no clue about pacing.

The bare bones of pacing is this:

Especially when action is occurring, hit the Return (Enter) key more often.

Shorter paragraphs (smaller blocks of text) are easier and quicker to read and understand. So are shorter sentences and sentence fragments.

And all of those move the action along.

Shorter sentences and sentence fragments also convey a sense of drama and emphasis. If they aren’t overused, that’s a powerful tool.

Especially if they’re used in their own paragraph.

In an action scene, those shorter paragraphs force the reader’s eyes to catapult across the white space from one paragraph to the next in an attempt to keep up.

So even as the action is racing, the reader is racing right along with it.

But maybe the character moves into a new setting, one where he’s going to be for awhile and where action is not immediate.

For example, maybe he’s lying in wait for a victim or a perpetrator. Maybe he’s sitting with a colleague in a coffee shop discussing an interesting turn of events. Maybe he’s visiting family in Hoboken (or wherever).

That goes to pacing too.

In those circumstances, while he’s “resting” from the action, you can slow the reader with more detailed description and longer paragraphs.

So what about description? How much description of the setting is necessary?

Ask your character. He’s the one who’s actually in the story.

What does the character notice if he’s panicked and busting through a door to escape a fire?

What does he see, hear, smell, taste, touch when he’s immediately involved in a fist fight or a shootout as he enters a room (saloon, library, grocery store, airport, etc.)?

Maybe it’s all a blur. Maybe one aspect or two of the setting stands out for him.

Now, what does he notice (again, see, hear, smell, taste, touch) when he is admitted to the home of a victim’s relatives to inform them he’s found the body of their son?

What does he notice in the hospital waiting room as he awaits word about his colleague?

What does he notice when he joins the rest of his extended family for Thanksgiving dinner?

I ask “what does the character notice” because if you want to ground the reader in the scene (and you do) ALL description of setting MUST come through the character’s senses of the setting as expressed in the character’s opinions of that setting.

Think about it. He probably won’t notice a lot about the setting (but maybe some) as he’s busting through a door to escape a fire or suddenly being involved in a firefight.

He might notice a great deal more about a setting in which he’s relaxed or in which he’s spending some time as he awaits the next action scene.

When we’re bored or otherwise unoccupied, we tend to pay more attention to sights, sounds, smells, etc.

So do characters. Describe the setting accordingly.

Pace the scene accordingly.

‘Til next time, happy writing.
Harvey