Starting this week, coincidentally beginning with the resurrection of the school year, we're going to be "studying" the ABCs of writing. :-)
Each week I'll focus on tips such as A for "action," B for "back story" and C for "character." We'll work our way through the alphabet as best we can (not sure about Q, X, Z) until we've completed our ABCs.
Let's start at the beginning: A.
ACTION is essential in every story. Action shows the reader what is happening rather than telling him. Action is much more exciting and engaging for the reader than narrative is. Example: Harry thought the joke was funny. (telling; no action) Harry laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks. (showing; lots of action)
ADJECTIVES (and adverbs). Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. Strong nouns and verbs make for better story telling.
AUDIENCE. Remember who your audience is and write appropriately. Your voice, the words you use, the way you unfold the story should be suitable to your genre readers.
On to B
BEGINNINGS must hook the reader. They must be provocative and engaging. If the reader is bored by the opening lines, paragraphs, pages, why would he continue reading?
BACK STORY. Giving too much back story up front will bore a reader, maybe even irritate her. Filter in back story a little at a time as needed for clarification, characterization or any other reason which is necessary to the plot. Do not give background information just because it interests you. Back story must have an influence on the character or the plot or it is not needed.
BRIDGES. Make transitions from one scene to another, one point of view to another, etc. as clear, smooth and easy to follow as possible.
And, finally, C
CONFLICT. Without conflict there is no story. Who cares if Mary has a crush on John, and he likes her back? However, if Mary is in love with John, and he is married to Mary's sister we have conflict. And when Mary starts to plan how she is going to get rid of her sister so she can have John for herself, we have more conflict--we have a story we can sink our teeth into.
CHARACTERS. As with conflict, we have no story without characters. In the above example, if we were to write Mary's and John's story, we'd need to clearly identify who Mary, her sister and John are. Unless we know these people intimately, we writers would have no idea how they would react in whatever circumstances they meet.
CLICHES do not belong in stories, most of the time. We're writers. We ought to be able to come up with better phrases than "quiet as a mouse," "hard as a rock," or "cool as a cucumber." However, our characters may not be as clever as we are, and, once in a while, our stories may contain people who use cliches rather liberally because that's just who they are.
We've got a good start now on our ABCs. Next week, in part two, we'll cover D-F, including dialogue, editing and flashbacks.
Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author