The Craft of Writing by Randall ‘Jay’ Andrews | All the Things to Consider-PACE-The waterfall vs the river.
If you’ve spent any time around me, you have heard me say that your words should read like a waterfall and not a meandering river. The greatest compliment you will ever get in your work won’t be it was fantastic, because that’s a subjective observation. The real compliment will be that it reads fast. For it to read fast, you have must have clarity, and you must have pace. Clarity is achieved through good mechanics. How you use your punctuation, using the correct form of a word, not writing passively.
However, pace is a little different animal, and it is something that takes time to learn. The first rule is to know the value of words. Nouns and Verbs are worth a lot. Adjectives and Adverbs, not so much. However, even with those under wraps, you can still have poor pace, and sometimes when using them you can have good pace.
What creates pace? Pace is an imaginary line that doesn’t have peaks and valleys, or more importantly, it doesn’t have stops and returns. What does that mean? That means when you stab at the heart of what you are saying, it will be swift, but if you meander with preps, certain conjunctions, superfluous words, it will drag.
Example. “He went down to the docks on the lake to check on his boat.” The sentence has several preps. (down to the docks) (on the lake) (on his boat) One of those drags the story and is a given. The entire sentence creates an undulation, and undulations are bad. Learn to make your narrative not stick out. Let the action be swift, and let the action get us from one dialogue or plot point to the next without intruding. To revise that sentence is to write: He went to the dock to check his boat. Docks are on water, so we don’t need that prep. The reader knows. Also, we just took 14 words and turned it into 9 (I cut out DOWN as well, it’s unnecessary.)
This lesson will serve you well as a writer. It will make readers continue reading your work because it won’t lag.
There is an adage that if you can make yourself cry, you can make the reader cry. Understanding what exposes the raw nerves of emotions is part psychology, part life experience, and part understanding how to transfer that to the page. Being able to make your character three dimensional requires that you develop the ability to put on paper emotions that you know are universally experienced.
Writing isn’t about unique qualities in characters, it is about qualities that readers can identify with, and if you can make your readers identify with your character, you will own them.
That’s where raw emotion can serve you well. The ability to give the reader a taste of something they have shared in their life is an art form that you must be able to achieve if you are going to take your storytelling to the next level, because you can become the best writer in the world, but storytelling requires tears, laughter, hatred, love, jocularity, etc.
Spend time journaling your experiences. Write at the valley of despair and the peak of joy. Write within moments of a death, and right after a birth. Let tears hit the keyboard and blur your vision as you write. Give your writing a direction.
Above all, be willing to rip the skin off your body, expose your nerves, and bleed all over the floor.
Everything Has a Reason
If there is one rule to the structure of a story, one that stands out above all others, it is that what happens now must be more interesting than what just happened. The goal of your story is to move your reader with emotion, and if the story becomes more compelling with each page, your book will succeed.
Everything has to happen for a reason, and that reason must spring forth from your protagonist’s desires. Without a clearly defined motivation (objective) for your protagonist to achieve, the story will flop. (That’s why “walking in the park” attempts to write stories don’t work) It is also why I say, “WHY” a lot. Why am I writing this scene? What does my protagonist want here? If I ever answer it, “I don’t know,” I am dead in the water.
Your conflict must build. Each set of circumstances must be bigger and more intense so make sure you don’t blow the wad in the opening scenes or you will find your readers thinking, “Well, he already went through worse.” The idea is: how can you top the last crappy thing you did to your character?
Whatever you do, don’t tread water. Each scene needs a new catalyst. It may be a new character to help our protagonist, a new tool to help our protagonist, or a new problem (worse than the last) to stick our protagonist in.
Remember the simple rule of THREE. The life he had in the beginning. The life he has in the end. EVERYTHING in the middle that gets him to that end result. It’s really quite simple: wrestler wants to be state champion. In the end, he’s standing on the platform holding his medal high. EVERYTHING in the middle that it took to get there.
Don’t forget the opportunity in your story. Your protagonist, in the opening, will have an event that opens their desire and sets them on the road. Our wrestler, as a little boy, watches the Olympics and sees Dan Gable win the gold medal.
A tree grows from a sapling, and so too should your protagonist. When they discover their desire, they have to understand the full impact of it, and that can be a slow eye opening experience. Our wrestler tells his father he wants to be a state champion, and the Marine his father is, begins to put the boy through daily exercises that would make an enlisted man cringe. We will get to the goal as we pursue the maturation of our protagonist. It goes with the obstacles.
All this leads to the arc of our protagonist’s growth. The character and courage our protagonist develops as he matures will allow him to face the adversity we put in front of him with more determination. Our wrestler may break an arm in a match and wonder if he should wrestle. He may face an opponent he doesn’t think he can beat. Whatever you do, mature and strengthen your protagonist.
If you are in third person, letting your reader know something your protagonist doesn’t know, builds suspense for the reader. Our poor wrestler doesn’t know that the kid he’s about to wrestle has never lost a match. Oh no, what is going to happen? If it is first person, “I didn’t know what I was about to face.” Oh no, what is it he’s about to face? CREATE TAUT MOMENTS. It’s about your reader WANTING to turn pages to find out.
Your job as a writer is to make believe everything that is happening is really happening, to make the reader believe it is real. They WANT to suspend disbelief, and you have to enable them to do that by having your characters behave in consistent, credible ways. Give your readers credit, they are smart, and they picked up your book because they want to be entertained. They will embrace new worlds and fantastic events; HOWEVER, KNOW THIS, they will only do so IF YOUR CHARACTERS ACT THE WAY PEOPLE IN THE REAL WORLD WOULD. It doesn’t matter if your hero has super powers, they have to show vulnerabilities like we do in the real world.
This is a great guideline for the tools of setting up your story.