Thursday, June 09, 2005

Exclamation Points and Learning the Craft

Howdy, BGs. I’m continuing with a couple questions from Tuesday.

1. Becky asked about marketing books. This is a topic that will require a blog or two. I will deal with it . . . um, sometime. Soon. Becky, don’t let me forget.

2. C.J. asked: I was hoping at some point you could discuss writing action/fight scenes. I know you covered some of this in your how-to book, but I'm always looking for ways to improve my action sequences.

C.J., how ’bout sending me 1-2 pages from one of your action scenes? I’ll post it and then we’ll edit it, talking about technique points as we go. I realize you gotta be mighty brave to be publicly edited, so if you’re unsure about this, no worries. Perhaps someone else will step up to the plate if you decline. But I wanted to give you first dibs, since it’s your question. (It really is OK to say you’re too timid to do this.)

3. D. Gudger asked: An editor mentioned that he will toss any manuscripts with italics, underlined words, bold print, or even exclamation marks. His point was if you had to use a visual cue that strong emotion was being emitted from a character's mouth, then your words are weak. ??

I agree with this editor only to a point. (haha)

The problem lies in the way he stated it—making the forbidding of exclamation points and italics sound like a hard and fast rule. "Simply don’t, never, nada." I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules in fiction except for—uh, write good. (Well if you’re an English teacher.)

I’m thinkin’ this editor, in trying to make a point, exaggerated a bit.

But this editor’s goal is sound—that is, trying to achieve emotion without using a lot of visual cues. Bottom line is: if you need the visual cue to get your point across, your writing is weak. But if the visual cue merely enhances emotion that’s already there, it’s OK to use it. In some cases the lack of an exclamation point could actually detract. If a character's screaming across a canyon, it's gonna look a little odd not to use one. But if you keep using 'em line after line as the screaming continues, they'll lose their effect.

Same thing for italics—use them with caution. Think twice about it first.

Becky asked: You said you didn't have the advantage of the internet community of writers when you started, and I get the impression that you would have done some things differently. If you were just starting out, what would you change? And what do you think has been the most helpful thing or things in learning your craft?

First, all you BGs are taking advantage of what I didn’t have when I first started out—the Internet and instant communication. So you’re way ahead of me. In general, here are things that will help you learn your craft. You may not be able timewise or moneywise to do them all. Just do what you can, and don’t beat up on yourself for those you can’t. (We writers tend to be hard on ourselves.) These are not in any particular order.

A. Join ACFW ($40/year) and take advantage of topic discussions and particularly the online classes (usually about 10 a year). $40 a year is a pittance for the training you can glean from this organization, if you’ll make the most of it. (Which means you can’t spend too much time on the idle chatter part.)

B. Attend at least one highly rated writers conference a year. Expensive, yes, but it’s excellent training packed in a few days. And the networking with editors, agents and published authors is priceless.

C. Read novels. Lots of them. Particularly in your genre. Read with pen in hand, marking up the book. (If it’s from the library, take notes.) Note techniques like POV, transitions, how a flashback is used, how the story is built, etc. You will learn as much from reading as you do from writing. We learn how to speak from listening to people talk. Same relationship applies between writing and reading.

D. Read how-to books. These, you need to buy so you can mark them up. You can start with broad category books like Stein’s Stein on Writing or Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. Also Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. Then you can narrow your focus from there. These books work best when they’re not just read straight through, but when you take a chapter, read it, then work the techniques into your own writing. One caution, however—you’ll see varying opinions from various teachers of writing. In the end, you have to take what works for you.

E. Go to highly praised movies—or rent them. In two hours you can experience a complete story. Watch everything—camera shots, even the typeface used in the opening. Movies are especially helpful for learning about symbolism and dialogue.

F. Oh, yeah. Write.

G. Give yourself time. Know that you’re on a long journey.

H. Watch life! Watch people’s emotions, listen to people talk. You have to do this in order to learn about human passions, which drive your stories. Notice how one emotion leads to another, how none of them is an island.

I. Pray. Keep your head on straight, your feet on God’s path. Don’t get cute and step off of it. You’ll be sorry.

J. Read Forensics and Faith blog. Every day.

Hey, who stuck in that audaciously self-serving one?

Tomorrow—perhaps that action scene to edit. If C.J. runs and hides (which I probably would do), one of you other BGs can send me something.


Grady Houger said...

Here's another one; K. Print out a certain blog so you can underline parts and stick it on your wall. ;-)

Come on C.J., it won't hurt too bad! Which brings up a question, how much is a page? 8x11 12pt? 300 words? 800?

I'd send a couple pages to anyone who will say more than "That's nice."


Linda said...

I second Grady, C.J. At a Write for the Soul conference, Jerry Jenkins shredded ... er, I mean, critiqued (in public) a few pages of my WIP. A little Neosporin, a few stitches here and there, and the wounds heal in time. :o)

Lynette Sowell said...

Great tips! :) I would only add a dose of persistence to the mix. I guess that goes along with "give yourself time." Talented writers abound. Many give up too soon or else they lose a teachable spirit.

C.J. Darlington said...

Lol, guys. Okay, okay. I'll do it. Gotta develop that rhino skin sometime now, right? :-) Seriously, I welcome the constructive criticism of my stuff.

C.J. Darlington said...

Oh, and Linda, I just had some stitches yesterday so I'm totally understanding your analogy.

Becky said...

Brandilyn, I will be glad to nag ... uh ... remind you about the marketing question. ; )

I'd also like to take this opportunity to say how much I appreciate your "soft sell." I loved your quip about reading F & F everyday (as if we don't already do it. Hahah) Yet you passed on an opportunity to add Getting into Character by Brandilyn Collins as a must-read how-to writing book. I, for one, appreciate that approach so much more than packing commercials into every post--something I've never seen you do.

So here's the unsolicited version. Getting into Character is an excellent how-to book, an especially important one because developing well-rounded characters is a key to the success of the entire story. If you're serious about the craft of writing fiction, this is one book you must have.

BTW, C. J., Brandilyn critiqued me several times at Mt. Hermon 2004. As you would expect, her insights are excellent, and I lived to tell about in. Hahah!