I recently taught a Danish creative writing class, and it forced me to outline some of the many pitfalls of writing to a very varied audience in terms of age and writing experience. While this is not exactly a woe of writing, I will nonetheless share the material of the class on here in the vague belief that somebody may benefit from it – by happy mistake or otherwise.
Everything is based on my own experiences, which is the only way I believe that writing (and every other creative art) can be taught – Jedi-Padawan style!
*Curtain parts, lesson starts*
Why do we write?
We have something to say – to ourselves and to others.
When we choose a genre, we work with different elements and rules, but every genre tell the same story – the story about you, and I, and us.
Active & Passive
Always, always write active sentences.
This is the most basic rule that makes for good writing. I knew about it for long, but I never implemented it into my routine until recently – that was a mistake, I tell you.
Active sentences stay on eye-level with the reader. That is to say, they engage with the reader by offering more clarity and more emotional impact/investment than their passive counterparts. Therefore: always use them.
How to spot the difference?
If you can add “by” to the sentence, it’s passive.
Passive: “She was killed by the falling tree.”
Active: “The falling tree killed her.”
Saidisms & Purple Prose
This is best explained with an illustration:
Don’t dumb down your reader by explaining every single nuance of your characters’ dialogue. No one likes to be spoon-fed a book. Rather, write the dialogue well enough that you won’t need to clarify it. Then in the rare cases when you do choose to clarify, it will have a much stronger effect on the reader.
Writing is all about effect – about affecting your reader…
As an extension of saidisms, also be aware of excessive use of adverbs.
Purple prose… is not necessarily a bad thing, but it should be approached with caution. Jane Austen and Edgar Allan Poe and F. Scott. Fitzgerald, for example, are masters of this and their novels are literary classics that should be on every bibliophile’s shelf. Purple prose is, however, something that can quickly become an unintended crutch to lean on.
So, what is purple prose?
Purple prose = flowery, ornate, extravagant writing
Why can it become a crutch?
Because it may take the reader’s focus off the plot – indeed, it may even take your focus off your plot – and you will lose your reader along the way if your novel is pretty packaging without proper content.
Microtension & Macrotension
Here it goes, simplified to the extreme:
Macrotension = plot, plot, plot and plot
Microtension = line-by-line-by-line basis
Microtension is what captures and holds the reader in the moment. It’s what makes them turn to a new page. Unfortunately, it’s often overlooked by the writer in favor of macrotension, of the important and exciting bits of your novel that you’ve been just dahhyying to write…….
Don’t do that, please.
Microtension is so, so important if you don’t want to lose your reader.
Here’s a couple of examples on how to implement microtension:
Character-based: a sudden change or contradiction in the protagonist’s emotions
Setting-based: the protagonist is in conflict – add a thunderstorm, kettle boiling over, knock on door etc.
Grammar-based: carefully consider the arrangement of your paragraphs. Think about the (sometimes) poor timing of subtitled TV-shows where you end up reading the joke before you hear it spoken aloud. Does the joke not lose impact/tension/effect because of this? This is the same with paragraphs. Move your protagonist’s realization of unrequited love to a new paragraph; don’t let it lose impact by bundling it together with the mundane tasks of checking emails and making breakfast.
Consider the paragraph work below, and tell me which one have the most impact?
She was afraid of what she had done. A proper person would stand up and face the consequences, but Juliette had never been a proper kind of person.
And so Juliette ran.
Consequences be damned.
When she finally stopped running, she was too far away from home to make it back in time for the funeral, which was really just as well, wasn’t it?
She was afraid of what she had done. A proper person would stand up and face the consequences, but Juliette had never been a proper kind of person. And so Juliette ran.
Consequences be damned. When she finally stopped running, she was too far away from home to make it back in time for the funeral, which was really just as well, wasn’t it?
I admit that these two examples are both extremes, but they serve the purpose of explaining, do they not?
If you remind yourself to consciously work with microtension, you will not only have a better text for a final draft, but you will also have less overall editing to do.
This… is not a favorite technique of mine, though I do find myself intrigued by the idea and the lesson that lies therein.
What are thought verbs?
Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires etc.
What’s the problem with them?
Crutches and spoon-feeding, again.
Just like saidisms and purple prose, these so-called thought verbs run the risk of “saying too much”, and you thus run the risk of losing your reader along the way. Again, put your trust in the reader. They understand more than what you think they do.
*Curtain closes, lesson ends*