Top Three : Most Often Confusing Items
- Not knowing what to show. Why would a writer pick certain details instead of others?
- Not knowing why structure is important -- it's for readers -- and considering structure as something to be abhorred by fiction writers.
- Talking about the story versus showing it play out.
I know these all too well, because I remember the attempts I made at fiction writing when I was much younger and these are what I stumbled upon.
Not Knowing What To Show
This one could also be stated as, "Not writing the story as a series of scenes".
"If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the
following one it should be fired." ~Anton Chekhov
Inexeperienced writers often think something like,
"I'm writing a story about a hero who saves a girl."
Then, they sit down and start writing and wonder where to start. Having no idea about what adds up to the main character being a hero they start out at the beginning and you get something like:
"Tom Johnson's alarm sounded and he rolled over and hit the snooze
Readers don't care about how he wakes up. Unless... Unless he levitates over to the alarm clock and smashes it with telekinetic powers which he will later use to fight the evil villain and save the damsel in distress. Then, it might make sense to show that alarm clock scene.
So, which details should the new writer (and all writer's) pick?
1. The ones that specifically go into telling the exact story you are telling or
- display the nature of the character who is acting out the story.
If you're writing something else in your story, then you better have a great reason or be the greatest writer on earth to keep your readers reading. Otherwise, chop it out. When you become a world-famous author, you may be able to keep those other parts in (but still, maybe not).
Point: Stay focused!
Well, that leads naturally into our second point:
Understand How Structure Is Important
Unfotunately, many young writers have often been abused by some secondary school English teacher who beat her over the head with blunt outlines.
Then, when the young writer steals away into the work of creative writing there are other victims cowering in the dark corners who have been abused by secondary school Monster Outlines and they whisper to the newly initiated:
"Just sit down and start writing. That's all you do in creative
writing. It's freeing and good and you'll go far. Outlines are evil!!"
But the extremes are always* wrong!!!
Yes, that's an extreme statement.
How To Teach Structure
A young writer should be taught, very gently, that a very simple outline provides a structure which the reader will appreciate and follow and will make the young writer's story far more clear and it will provide a loose way of guiding the writer to the story she is trying to write.
An Example : Prototype
The young writer could write the entire 80,000 word novel without nary a thought of structure or scenes or anything. Then come back and notice that the readers cant even tell when something is happening or why the goat which was shown in scene one and talked about for seven pages even matters.
Outline As Prototype
Or the writer could use one or two sentences to imagine each chapter in a novel which would move the main character toward the goal (and away -- creating tension) and would get a quick view of the entire thing with very little detailed writing.
Outlines are good as long as they're not used as weapons to prove someone is incompetent (as they've often been used in the past).
Finally, young writers often write about what they are writing instead of writing the story itself.
Here's an extreme (and terrible) example:
Joe was sad. He sat in his lovely home and cried all day. He was sad
because his girl did not love him. It was unrequited love and dog
gone it he had to do something about it. He decided to go and get
rich then he'd show her. He'd get rich and buy the entire town and
that stupid little drug store where Sally Mae worked and then he'd
fire her. He'd fire her and he'd fire that no good for nothing
manager, Jim Bob, who had taken Sally Mae from him. That's it. He'd
go and do it.
Here's something better because it shows doing something Joe. It tells a story by showing things happen.
Joe fell down into a seat at Sully's bar and the waitress walked over.
"What'll you have, honey," the waitress asked.
"I want three shots of whiskey with beer chaser."
"Look, I'm not allowed to serve you that many drinks at once. I'll
get one shot and a beer chaser." She turned to walk away.
"That's a load of crap," Joe said. "You're all just alike.
Manipulating and sour. Can't even think of someone else for once.
Just thinking about yourself. Just like Sally Mae."
The waitress paused. Shook her head and then continued to the bar.
"That's right," Joe said. "Keep on walking. You bring them drinks
back and I'l just make you go back for more."
The bartender looked up. "What're you yappin' about fella?" Joe
looked down. "Nothing."
"Well, keep it down and don't be treating my help that way."
Joe muttered to himself. "You can't tell me what to do."
Not great, but better. It takes a lot more writing and a lot more mental energy to see this stuff and write it out.
These are the three main things that ought to be taught more fully to beginning writers.