3 S.R. Johannes: Nuggets of Knowledge (Part 1)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Nuggets of Knowledge (Part 1)

A while back, my friend, Lindsey Leavitt (Princess for Hire 2010) recommended a great book to me: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

I finished reading it and found it very helpful, not just for editing, but for writing in general.

Thought I would share my notes and a few "nuggets" I took away from this book (though you should still buy it!)

1) Show vs Tell
  • in long strings of dialogue - intersperse "beats" - little pieces of action.
  • don't tell feelings - she felt depressed, she was anxious. Rewrite in action.
  • use narrative scene strategically - when you purposely want to give the reader a break or when it pushes the story forward.

2) Characterization

  • Definition: process of giving character information through words, actions, and thoughts.
  • show personality traits through action (if your character is shy, show it in the action. don't say - she is shy).
  • do not summarize character up front - work it into the scene.
  • be sure you give enough description throughout to help reader picture physical traits.

3) Exposition

  • definition -inform, explain or describe plots elements in description, flashback, or narrative.
  • give only enough background as needed to the story (not entire background).
  • bring these pieces out naturally.
  • convert long narratives that describe a process into an action scene.
  • look for places where dialogue is really exposition in disguise

4) Point of View

  • First person - most intimate POV; cannot write about anything your character cant know.
  • Omniscience - when you gain perspective but you lose intimacy.
  • 3rd - a continuum in between the first 2 POVs.
  • 1st person lets you write with narrative intimacy that sometimes you can convey emotions that even the character is not quite aware of.
  • Sometimes it is more effective to stick with one POV and show other characters emotions through dialogue and actions again describing only what main POV could know.
  • establish POV in very beginning/first scene if possible.

5) Proportion

  • misjudgement - writer undermines readers with blow-by-blow. focus on major points of scene. don't need to fill in every detail, leave some to the reader.
  • too much detail - if you are writing about a hobby or interest of your character - be sure you balance what readers want to know with what you want to share.
  • cutting - don't cut too much. difference between those that harmonize with story and those that drag down story.
  • focus on what is important to story.
  • read the first 50 pages - what do you spend most of your time on?
  • if you have plot element that is supposed to be a surprise - don't focus on it.
  • makes sure most of your materials advances character or plot.

6) Dialogue

  • do not explain dialogue - "what are you talking about?" she said in astonishment. put astonishment in the action or inflection or wording.
  • look for adverbs - slowly, softly.
  • when clarifying speaker attributions, stick to said (not offered, inquired, asked). others interrupt dialogue.
  • don't need adverbs with said.
  • don't open paragraph with He said. put said at first natural break in sentence.
  • put name in front of said. David said. NOT said David.
  • decide how you are going to call character and stick with same thing for the entire scene. Hughie for scene. Next scene can be Hugh. Don't mix them up it is distracting to reader.
  • replace a said with "beats" - pieces of action, especially if more than 2 people are in the scene. (use discreetly).
  • uses dashes - (interruption) and ellipses ... (trailing off).
  • New paragraph for each new speaker.

I''ll do the rest tomorrow.

Happy writing!


Sherrie Petersen said...

Great tips! My favorite book for editing is Noah Lukeman's "The First Five Pages." He has some similar pointers. And Lindsey's blog is great!

Irene Latham said...

Good stuff! It's funny how a craft book can "hit" you sometimes and at other times not at all... I think you sorta have to be READY for the wealth of knowledge? The book that has most helped me is Sol Stein's Stein on Writing. But like I said, I think maybe it's just because it happened to be the one I picked up with my brain was most open.
Can't believe you live so close to MM House! I was with a bunch of other poets or I would have called you.
Take care!

Anonymous said...

I really liked James Frey's books on writing because he made points I hadn't heard before, and he said the stuff I had heard in a way that made me look at it from another angle. Also, he gives great examples from movies and literature and he's funny.

If you want, I'll send you the notes I took from them. Just hop on over to my blog and click the "contact me" link if you're interested.

Casey Something said...

I have this book as well as "The First Five Pages." Both are fabulous. I just wish I could keep it all in my head. I've been through both of them several times and just can't keep it in my noggin. So. Frustrating.

Great post though. It makes me want to pull this one out again. That wouldn't be a bad thing, of course.


Shelli (srjohannes) said...

Salvang - I just ordered the first 5 pages and i love lindsey's blog too :)

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

Irene - hope to see you soon. YOu comingin for springmingle?

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

Lisa - would love your notes - thanks! :)

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

Casey - what helps me is to look for this stuff AFTER the book is done n a first draft. That way I dont get overwhelmed. I went thorugh my book for each of these points at a time. Takes a while but helps you focus :)

Carrie Harris said...

Serious confession time: I have a copy of this book in my bathroom. When the kids are bathing, I sneak a look at it. I got rid of most of my how-to writer books, but this one survived, and I don't think I'll ever get rid of it. It makes me critically evaluate myself, which I think is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

#5 on Proportion has been a challenge for me. I often have to physically "get" my character somewhere when the reader does not need the blow-by-blow of how that character is showing up in that particular scene. I go back and cut but wonder if I will ever just be able to write w/o all that 'misjudgement.'