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  1. #1
    Alien In Disguise
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    What keeps your reader awake?

    What you add to your scenes to make them more interesting?

    Possible examples: Plot twists and surprises. Questions and mystery. Imagery (beautiful, exotic, memorable, what?). Neat dialogue.

    When I'm just writing, I produce utter garbage, very boring stuff. I don't have much style. So I want to improve that as much as possible.

    When I began to investigate how good writers do it, I found myriad things. However, I think I can't quite be sure which findings are important and which are just minor style details.

    I have been reading quite many textbooks about writing, but they're nor much help here. They take too much for granted. Some texts about old "pulp writers" have been illuminating, but basically there's not much useful.

    I do not need exact advice, but more like what could be good idea to think now and then when my text is going to that "utter drivel" class again.

    (If this is hard to understand, sorry, English is not my native language.)

  2. #2
    Registered User Scorpion's Avatar
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    Hello MuchAdo,

    Welcome to the forums!

    What do you add to your scenes to make them more interesting?
    I think that's a very broad question. And the first answer that comes to my mind is: your story itself needs to be interesting and hook readers - not just the single scenes. If you're writing about a boring and trite topic, then even adding twists or beautiful imagery won't make it (much) more interesting. Of course, others will say now that there are great writers who can make the story of a bin bag's miserable life interesting and exciting, but such a thing would have to rely heavily on metaphors, other writing techniques and possibly humour.

    I once read somewhere that a mystery and crime author, when he doesn't know what to do next, simply writes something like: "Josh opened the door. He found himself looking down the barrel of a gun."

    To each his own. But I can only cringe at the thought of it.

    Scenes are interesting because of the characters that drive them. They have to be emotionally engaging and believable, which naturally entails good dialogue (internal and external).

    Plot twists are exciting for readers, if not overdone. If you twist the plot all the time, then the readers won't be surprised any more - they'll just expect the unexpected.

    Threat and danger - how will the characters survive the next one hundred pages?

    Questions and mystery can be achieved with a good story outline. If you plan a complex novel and feed the answers only gradually to the readers, it will keep them reading to find out the why and how.

    Imagery? It needs to fit the situation, fit what you're writing. Are you trying to build a scary atmosphere? Or did the characters just enter Grandma's living room and you need the readers to feel that heart-warming coziness, smell the cookies...

    Um, I think I'm really just stating the obvious. But I wouldn't know how else to respond to the question. I certainly don't "add" anything deliberately to the scenes, just to try and make them more spicy. I try to write spicy scenes, not boring ones that I try to save with a poor plot twist.

    Are you sure you produce utter garbage? Follow the general advice: write something and edit it to the best that you can. Then, don't touch it for 6 weeks. Read through it. Is it really that bad?
    Style develops over time and you cannot force it. The fastest way to acquire your own style is by writing as much as you can. You may imitate other authors at first, but soon you'll find the voice you want to write in.
    Also, a good way to improve is through workshops, either in real life, at the sffworld.com workshop, at the sffworld flash fiction contests, or at critters.org

    Happy Writing!
    Last edited by Scorpion; January 15th, 2010 at 05:21 AM.

  3. #3
    Alien In Disguise
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    Thank you, Scorpion, that gave me a lot to think about.

    Basically, I think, my problem is same as the difference between a random guy telling a joke and a professional stand-up comedian. I can tell the best story in the world in very boring manner.

    I think anticipation, action and plotting are wonderful ways to keep the reader interested, but I think my problem is more in the micro level.

    Humor is good idea, if it fits the atmosphere. Certainly it makes the style more interesting.

    I have found that thriller writers use very strict structure inside scenes. Also they have groups of scenes that follow a certain pacing, scenes have some kind of "roles" inside of a certain "cycle" which repeats...

    Kind of paint-by-numbers, I know that most people hate it when they realize it, but it seems to work very well for some well known authors...

    I admit that I have no terms, words or names for these... Things. But maybe you understand what I'm talking about?

    I certainly know that there are authors who can make very bland developments very interesting... It's just that the prose itself elevates them.

  4. #4
    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
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    keeping the reader awake

    Quote Originally Posted by MuchAdoAboutSFF View Post
    I have found that thriller writers use very strict structure inside scenes. Also they have groups of scenes that follow a certain pacing, scenes have some kind of "roles" inside of a certain "cycle" which repeats...
    You're right, but why call it "paint by numbers?" It's just good building technique, no more of a cliche than putting a house foundation under the house rather than on the roof.

    You have, in fact, zeroed in on a prime structural element of engaging prose. If we execute each discrete scene (often a chapter) in a similar fashion as we execute the over-all story, we're far more likely to grip the reader.

    My favorite scenes generally (but not always) cleave to the viewpoint of a single character. We know what that character wants. We feel that character's fear. We sense that character's disappointments as he/she meets with obstacles. Perhaps the biggest difference between scene structure and the over-all structure of the story is that a single scene rarely resolves the conflict ... it's more likely to end with a tension-heightening cliff hanger (set-up for a following scene).

    When the scene employs multiple viewpoints, the goals are the same as when it employs only one: To move the story forward and to heighten tension. Imagine a scene employing alternating viewpoints between Wyatt Earp and one of the Clancy brothers during the shoot-out at the OK Corral. In this hypothetical scene, it would be thrilling to leap back and forth from the protagonist's head to the antagonist's -- kind of like a chess game. In fact, spectator sports of all kinds employ multiple viewpoint ... but the scene structure is similar.

    As you've accurately pointed out, there are many aspects to engaging prose. Structure is just one. I hope this helps a bit, even though I'm simply expanding on information contained within your question.

    Keep on typin' -- WB

  5. #5
    Alien In Disguise
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    Exactly, Window Bar, you said it perfectly; this kind of "building techniques" I'm trying to learn. They're a lot more efficient than I can come up with my own inventions.

    I read Michael Moorcock's and Jack Vance's thoughts some time ago and they show why many things are in the prose. It's quite funny to find out that many obvious things are meaningless when I have always thought they are the gist of it. Moorcock said that most of action is unimportant, that I find funny, because those novels I have read from him seemed to contain a lot of action... They actually don't.

    There is quite a lot smoke and mirrors there, I want to learn from as many word-magicians I can!

  6. #6
    Be careful when doing imagery. When do you most often skip through pages in a book? If you're like me and many others, it's when the writer goes overboard on imagery. My own rule of thumb, show what needs to be shown. Then get back to your plot.

  7. #7
    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
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    WindowBar hit it on the nail as to what keeps readers awake at night, desperate to read just one more chapter - structure.

    Before I started to write (and take a bunch of writing classes), I thought it was magic the way a writer could build a story with such intensity that I just couldn't put the book down.

    Now I know how they do it! Scenes and sequels.

    I'm not saying that I can do it, but I think I understand how they do it, and it all has to do with the scene/sequel thing and placing the satisfying sequel not at the end of the chapter, but at the beginning of the next chapter. So that you just have to turn that page and find out how the character reacts to what just happened in the scene. Often times, the chapter breaks are not defined until much later in the process of writing the draft to maximize that effect (at least, that's what I have been told and a few books I've read lately seem to follow that logic).

    Not everyone writes that way, but some writers do and are quite successful at it.

  8. #8
    aka. Stephen B5 Jones MrBF1V3's Avatar
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    ... I think some of my readers stay awake at night worried that I might write something else.

    OK, maybe not, (hopefully not). There's a lot to not being boring, which is your question. Part of it is having a good rhythm to your work, keeping the story moving with pauses at the right times. Dialogue helps, having the characters interact with each other and talk instead of a long exposition explaining something which may or may not be important. Don't write the parts that people are going to skip anyway.

    Get lots and lots of feedback, some of it from people who don't care about your feelings.

    B5

  9. #9
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    What others have said, but also...readers are glued to your story by two basic things, a character they really care about, and that character being in an unstable situation (so you want to know what happens next to that character.)

    Boring character in a suspenseful situation...who cares? He could fall off a cliff, the train could run over her, the team of ninjas could crash through the door and send a hail of throwing stars and chains and knives at that character and you would not care. Bleh. Not even disgusting and o-good-he's-dead, but just...bleh.

    Interesting character in a stable situation...well, you'll be interested for a few minutes, but if the character doesn't transition to an unstable situation of some kind--if he's not worried, scared, concerned, startled, anything but peaceful and content--you won't keep reading.

    Boring character doing nothing, you don't even get past the first page.

    But a character you care about doing things that put him in an unstable position--whether at the bottom or the top of the roller-coaster ride--will glue your reader to the page.

    How do you start? Dump your character into trouble. How do you continue? Every time his head comes above water, push it back into trouble. Trouble can be various: emotional trouble, job trouble, physical trouble, political trouble, nuclear-blast-that-ends-civilization trouble. In fact, it's useful to give your character multiple sources of trouble, so readers don't get bored with the same kind of trouble. (Most of us deal with the same kind of trouble over and over again in real life. Fiction does it better.)

  10. #10
    Edited for submission Holbrook's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by E_Moon View Post
    so you want to know what happens next to that character.)
    To me this is the most important thing in a novel. I have read books that had wonderful "structure" and obeyed all the so called rules of story telling, yet reading them was like eating dry cream crackers!


    I have read others, where the construction was a bit off, things could have been knitted together better, yet the emotional link with the characters and their unfolding situation was so strong that you over looked the faults and really enjoyed the book.

    Without giving the reader an emotional connection to the character and their situation, then all the correct structure in the world won't give you a page turner.

  11. #11
    Alien In Disguise
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    Yes, character is certainly the most important ingredient. Exceptionally interesting characters are really good way to keep the reader awake.

    I also admit that the sense of urgency is very important, although there are some small exceptions (um, I said I read Vance...). Basically, anticipation is more important than the action itself.

    I'm not disagreeing in any basic principles. But I think that sometimes nice little things, like structural texture, style or something else also makes the prose more fluid. It's often quite invisible effect, if I'm not specifically paying attention to it. Some old Aldiss story had such a strong atmosphere, that I was compelled to read it on one sitting. Afterwards I figured it was mostly style tricks, kind of ways to direct the focus of the reader. Lovecraft also had quite unique styling in some stories. They were also very intense experiences.

    It might be that I'm completely on wrong track, but testing this assumption is a way to get more prose done, so there's nothing but benefits, if I try!

  12. #12
    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MuchAdoAboutSFF View Post
    But I think that sometimes nice little things, like structural texture, style or something else also makes the prose more fluid. It's often quite invisible effect...
    MuchAdo-- Yes, there are a million secrets, and those who develop their own brew for excellence are far more likely to hook readers. Like you, most of us are either beginners or intermediates in our development, and we, too, are seeking our individual recipes.

    One strong stylistic device you might work on (perhaps you already have done so) is the use of precise, strong, evocative verbs to describe the situation. Verbs carry deeper emotion and sensuality than do adjectives. Here are some examples:

    Weak: He smelled as if he had ridden a wet horse.
    Strong: He stank of wet horse.

    Weak: She wished she could see her young man soon.
    Strong: She yearned for her lover.

    Actually, these examples gain strength via two devices: exact verbs and brevity.

    Truly, your inquiry is so broad that we could throw rocks in almost any direction and be certain to hit something! It would be interesting to know your own favorite means for achieving a compelling tale.

    --WB

  13. #13
    Alien In Disguise
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    I think I'm not quite capable in carrying the torch yet, but I think I'd search scenes with rich imagery, which contain developments in the beginning and revelations, mysteries or small scale surprises in the end.

    That, in addition to strong characters and good plotting might be the goal.

    Why I'm even thinking this? Just because you can't write plot. Or character. You can only write scenes, which reveal something about plot or character. If I'm not good in scenes, much will be lost.

    Of course this is oversimplification. I'm good at those...

  14. #14
    Possible examples: Plot twists and surprises. Questions and mystery. Imagery (beautiful, exotic, memorable, what?).
    For me, it's the imagery leading to a specific scene; whether it be action or a simple conversation.

    For example, in my first book there was a scene where the warrior monk was about to be attacked by a warrior's wolf. Rather than diving right into the sequence of the fight, I began to describe her actions and motivations. "She tightly gripped her staff and raised it to a position where any strike was achievable," or "her first thought of action was to side step the beast's lunge and crash her staff into its spine, hoping to quickly end the fight".

    I know it sounds a bit cheesy, but my intention is to bring the thoughts of my characters, not just their actions, into the minds of the readers. Its almost as if I desire for the reader to connect with the character, while still being in a distant fantasy world.

    I wish you the best of luck...

  15. #15
    Alien In Disguise
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    JT Billow, that sounds like a nice way to immerse reader. I thought that good connection between characters improves connection between the prose and the reader, but that's something I am struggling with. It seems so easy in others' texts, but it's quite hard for me to write.

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