Shiny, glittering, distractions.
It is how magicians get away with their tricks and it is frequently how movies manage to make even the weakest of stories seem somewhat plausible.
It would seem that in writing, distractions can’t save a poorly written story because you don’t have all the shine and glitter – you certainly don’t have an amazing soundtrack and special effects.
Still, many writers seem to use a bit of shine.
Colourful humour and language to throw the reader off the scent of poorly executed scene.
Flowery language and description to gloss over the massive plot hole.
Throw another dead body into a scene that was feeling like it was going nowhere.
Introduce a new character to hide the fact that one of your other characters has suddenly had a personality transplant.
And the thing is, as an audience member, you frequently allow yourself to be distracted by the shiny because it is fun. Because even though you know that you are being had, that something is missing, what you are being given is still enjoyable and there isn’t really any fun in pulling it to pieces. You know what is going on and you let it happen. At least when it is still enjoyable.
You start to really question the shiny when that is all you are being given. There is nothing else underneath and it isn’t really going anywhere. All you’ve been given is the glossy overcoat and there is no substance. As a reader, a lack of overall substance just can’t be tolerated.
So what shiny distractions do you enjoy reading? Which ones have you used? When won’t you accept a shiny distraction?
Sometimes it is difficult to know.
What starts out as a simple search and destroy for typos can suddenly become a revision of a clumsy scene which can soon morph into an entire rewrite of an act of a novel. I think the problem here comes from not being able to focus on only one aspect of the writing at a time.
For me, I like to start with the big stuff and work my way down to the small. While I’ll correct typing errors as I see them and move punctuation that is truly being offensive, editing the nitty-gritty is kind of the last ditch run through, mostly because if I revise or rewrite I know I’m just going to put more errors into the text.
So I begin with the rewrites. I may stay in the rewriting stage for the rest of forever with some manuscripts. Rewrites, for me, are the massive changes. The adding characters, taking them out, changing direction entirely, cutting scenes, adding scenes, moving scenes. All of the things that give you a huge headache when it comes to checking for continuity errors and will usually have you rewriting chapter after chapter to accommodate the change you made way back in the beginning.
Then I revise. These are the more surgical changes. Adding an emphasis here, changing the wording of that exchange of dialogue there, altering a description in that chapter. Sometimes these have carry on effects but normally it is just tightening up the overall story that has already been rewritten (many times) and checked for continuity.
Then, should I have made it this far and not put the project aside, comes the editing.
Still, despite wanting to work from one layer down to the next, down to the next, I end up jumping back and forth between the three.
How does your process for revisions work?
I’ve jumped works in progress for the time. I wasn’t making progress on one draft and I wanted to write so I decided to have a look at an earlier abandoned project (rather than starting yet another never to be finished project). Interestingly, even though I abandoned the project because I felt it was too flat, reading it after having a fairly lengthy space, I was drawn in to the story and the characters again and when I got to where I’d abandoned the project I was disappointed that the story didn’t finish.
So working between project I am now trying to reacquaint myself with some of my earlier character creations and it is amazing how fast they come back (all giving me dirty looks and muttering about being cast aside).
One of the characters I particularly enjoyed reading about again and getting to know all over again is the sycophant. This isn’t actually his name though it may as well be. It is what he is called by pretty much all the other characters and even though he is only a minor character in the story, he manages pretty effectively to be despised in the most amusing of ways.
I’d clearly also used the thesaurus when writing the draft originally because I noticed I was very careful not to endlessly repeat the word sycophant, even though I really enjoy that word. It rolls right off the tongue and always gives just the right amount of contempt and loathing.
Anyway – alternatives to sycophant:
All of them very flattering words.
Incidentally, when introducing the character I don’t tell the reader that he is a sycophant. I have one of my other characters call him one within the first few lines of him entering the story and then back it up by having him carry out some very toady like actions. His character is established and I haven’t once said to the reader (by the way, you’re meant to dislike this character).
I’ve since also moved on from this project but I think the time will come very soon when I’m going to have to finish this one.
I was visiting Elizabeth Spann Craig’s very amazing blog when she posted a list of links that she’d posted on twitter. One of the many links that caught my eye was a link to the blog Novel Journey where Robert Liparulo was sharing his 5 tips for making fantasy fiction feel real. As an avid reader of fantasy fiction and a writer of it, I found this a fascinating read.
More importantly, his number one tip, I thought was possibly the best bit of advice that could be given on this topic. So, his number one tip for making fantasy feel real:
Characters who feel. The way to a reader’s heart is through a story’s characters. Doesn’t matter if they’re fighting dragons or stepping into the Roman Colosseum during a gladiator fight, a character has to experience fear and courage, love and heartbreak, blood, sweat and tears—all of it realistically rendered in a way the reader understands.
As I said, I’ve read a lot of fantasy and as a reader I know this to be true. The world can be beautifully structured and described but unless the characters feel real the story just isn’t going to work. And it is the way that characters react to situations that make them feel real. Stories where the characters shrug off weird thing after weird thing are really hard to connect to because you want the character to look closer at something and they don’t, and you want them to ask the right question, and they won’t. It makes it hard as a reader to really get into the story.
Thanks Elizabeth for sharing this link and thanks to Robert Liparulo for sharing some great advice with us all.