20 Comments

Keep the Obstacle Course Out of Your Fiction #ROW80 Update

Overall Goal: Figure out my writing process

Goal Pieces:

1. Read more books in my genre.

2. Read more books on craft and apply the lessons to my writing.

This week I continued reading Techniques of the $elling Writer by Dwight V. Swain. I tend to read craft slower than fiction, so it’s nice to have ROW’s accountability to motivate me to read this more.

I’m in the section on expressing character emotion. It’s fairly large and covers a lot. One of the big eye openers for me was the emphasis on breaking up the actions of characters.

In real life, it’s rare for a person to do one thing at a time. You could have a conversation as you take a drink while rubbing your temple. But in writing, “as” and “while” can make an obstacle course out of your sentences the reader won’t appreciate.

Instead of having your character take a drink while rubbing his temple, the author wants you to break up these actions and give them separate motivators. So in one line of dialogue, the character’s best friend tells him his wife is cheating on him and he rubs his temple. Then he finds out its with his best friend’s wife (We’re going to assume he’s the type of guy not excited by this.) and he takes that drink.

The point is to keep it simple. One motivation to one reaction.

Of course if you look for examples of how this doesn’t apply, you’ll find them. But I suspect every one of them was done by an author with enough experience to break the rule while still adhering to it. For little old rookie me, I’m sticking with one motivation to one reaction until it’s second nature.

I did some writing and outlining too, but blah, nothing interesting to say about that. Maybe by Wednesday.


20 comments on “Keep the Obstacle Course Out of Your Fiction #ROW80 Update

  1. Pulling for your “by Wednesday”! I’ll be looking for your check in then!

  2. Thanks for the tip, I’ve not come across that one before. Sounds like you’re moving right along.

  3. Yeah, I read a lot (on craft books) about characters doing things they can’t at the same time.
    For example: As he closed the door, he walked across the room.
    I know, lame example (sorry, brain is not working this early on Sunday morning lol), but you get what I mean.
    Craft books are a must and it’s nice to see you’re planning on reading and learning with them!
    Good luck =)

  4. That does sound like a good technique. I think I use “while” and “as” too often.

  5. I started out with Randy Ingermanson who is a big fan of Dwight Swain. While I haven’t read Swain’s book yet (its in the TBR pile) I have studied his technique and like it. Jack Bickham details the same technique in Scene & Structure, one stimulus, one response. Love this method!

    Have a great week, Andrew ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Fascinating tip, Andrew. When you explain it, not only does it make sense, but I remember all the times I’ve felt that I needed to map the action in order to follow a scene I was reading. It did affect my feelings about the work, and the author.

    I’m glad that you’ve rejoined ROW80 on this round. Have a great week!

  7. interesting am going to re read some of my stuff see what I do – never thought of it before – thanks

    all best for next week

  8. Hi, Andrew,

    One of my goals this round is to read books on developing my writing skills. I need the accountability, too. I just posted on this fact, as I tend to cheat on my non-fiction reading goals with a good novel! Now, I have a goal I have to report on. Ha! Best of luck with this goal. ~ Nadja

  9. That’s a great tip and I will definitely keep it in mind while I work on my story.

    Good luck with your goals!

  10. I don’t usually read craft books, but I read blog posts that teach about writing, so it’s kind of the same thing…only in smaller doses and by different people. LOL

    One of the things I’ve learned by reading these posts is not to use the word “that” when it’s unnecessary. If you read your work out loud, you can really tell where the unnecessary “thats” are.

    You’re right…trying to have a character do too many things at once can make for some awkward writing.

  11. @Julie- Thanks! And crap! I’d better have something to report.

    @Katy- You’re welcome, Katy. I’m sure the book will be filled with lots of cool stuff like that and I’m happy to share.

    @Juliana- It amazes me how plotting a story is like construction. So much has to line up or it’ll all come down. I’m looking forward to what else I’ll learn.

    @Nicole- Great! Glad I could help.

    @Gene- Thanks, Gene! It’s almost so simple it’s stupid, but I wouldn’t have figured it out on my own. And I wouldn’t discovered this book without Kait and Susan.

  12. @Elizabeth- That’s happened a lot, where I wasn’t aware something was bothering me until I read about it in a book. Then I had a name to give it, so yay to helping you name the problem you were seeing.

    Feels good to be back.

    @Alberta- What I wrote about was from a small section of a chapter in the book. Since you found this tip helpful, you might consider picking up the book. It’s also Kait and Susan approved!

    @Nadja- Ha! Now we’ll be watching each other.

    @Komal- Thanks! And awesome! Hope it helps.

    @LL- Yes, “that” is another of those obstacle course inducing words. Adding it to The List.

  13. Andrew,

    Nice to see you back on the ROW80 Train!! Figuring out the process is the biggest hurdle of all – good for you. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Looking forward to many weeks of encouraging each other!

  14. Glad to see you back doing row80. Great tips and good idea reading more books on craft. Have a great week.

  15. Thanks for sharing this tip, Andrew. It’s definitely a useful one to keep in mind.

    Glad to see you around this round!

  16. Hello Andrew!

    I came across your blog through Twitter follows. Thank you for the interesting information about as and while. Im going to go back to my scene drafts and revise them.

    Best,
    Suma.

  17. HI! I love that you have 2 goals. I have far too many. Though we share one in common; getting better at our crafts. I’m learning something similar right now by going through Margie Lawson’s ECE lecture on character emotion. I have a buddy (Jody Moller) doing it with me so we can compare notes and talk about what we’ve read.

    Have a great week!

  18. Those are awesome goal pieces. Very sensible and flexible. ๐Ÿ™‚ Nice to see you’re continuing your upward trajectory. Good luck with this round!

  19. Jenny, Robin, Lena, Suma, and C.M.s, thanks for the encouragement. It’s nice to be back in ROW and I’m glad what I learned is helpful.

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