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Brush is to Canvas as Keyboard is to Computer Screen

September 29, 2014 creativity, Fiction, Writers, Writing 4 Comments

 

 

Brush is to Canvas as Keyboard is to Screen

by Charles Garabedian

A blank computer screen

A blank canvas

Both are calling me on a rainy Saturday morning in September as I sit at my desk with a cup of steaming French Roast coffee, freshly brewed. The sun hasn’t risen yet; it’s too early. My mind is beginning to wake up as I stare straight ahead at the computer screen without a word on it. And through the corner of my eye, I can also see the stark white canvas on the floor illuminated by the computer’s backlight. It’s been years since I painted landscapes, but I keep a blank canvas in my study in case I ever get the urge to crack open my box of oil paints again. I turn back to my computer and type the first few sentences of a new novel-in-progress, knowing some or all of the words will likely be deleted or revised in a few minutes, hours, or even by the end of the day.

False starts are common for me when I begin a new chapter, let alone the first paragraph of a new novel. One of the most difficult tasks is writing down these first few words, sentences, and hopefully, paragraphs. For me, it’s like pumping the gas pedal and hoping the car will start, getting on the elliptical at five in the morning—half-asleep—and hoping my body will loosen up by the end of the workout, or getting on a bike for the first time in years and hoping I’ll remember how to pedal and brake properly. Once the momentum begins to flow, once the first few words get typed on the screen, the easier it becomes for me to tackle the other paragraphs and fill the blank pages with a scene.

 

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20 Fiction Writing Renovations in Super-Short, Simplified Format

GettyImages_80604906

By Randy Susan Meyers

During my (self-guided, self-nagged) courses in my ‘Homemade MFA’ I did many things: I read stacks of books, I read multiple favorite novels with an analytical eye, I participated in multiple writer’s groups and revised, revised, and then revised some more. And, I wrote ‘papers’ for myself, in an attempt to distill down all the fantastic advice I’d gleaned from those book stacks.

What I couldn’t learn from the books was ‘voice,’ ‘passion’ or ‘perseverance’ — that required mining my own soul and level of commitment; what I could learn was those all important, and too often ignored, techniques that make one’s prose more sophisticated. Gathering from all the sources I could find, I make my “Cliff Notes for Fiction Techniques” otherwise known as Common Fiction Issues in Super-Short, Simplified Format.

What’s below isn’t prettied up or served with garnish–it’s my original ‘just the facts, mam.

1) Showing or telling? How much narrative summary do you have? Do you write “He was fuming” or “He kicked the wall?”

“Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.” Mark Twain

2) Characterization? What’s going on with your character? Can we see her worries, fears, and hopes? How many? We seldom feel one thing at a time. Have you tried a little tenderness? Shown the characters vulnerability? Readers like vulnerability, but beware showing pain laced with self-pity: readers dislike weakness and self-pity; show pain subtly and whenever possible, with humor.

Avoid thumbnails sketches and let character unfold before the reader. Don’t define everything about them the moment they come on stage, start with a bit of looks, and let character’s personality reveal the character, rather than relying on physical sketches. Watch ‘looking in the mirror’ descriptions. Have your characters misunderstand each other at times. Have them answer the unspoken question rather than the one asked aloud. Have them hedge, talk at cross-purposes, disagree, lie, sound human.

What does your character(s) want? What’s the obstacle to the want? What action has your character taken to overcome the obstacles? Are things too easy for your characters—thus tamping down tension and conflict?

“Readers want to be haunted by characters” Jessica Morrell

3) Is your point of view pitch perfect? Keep the camera angle straight. Keep description and observation within character’s point of view: is your Hell’s Angel guy describing the sunset too poetically? Nasty Jack rode along a sunshine drenched highway vs. Nasty Jack rode along the heat-choked highway.

monkey on bike jpeg

4) Does your dialog hold interest and is it sophisticated? Dialogue: Watch tagging – use the invisible ‘said’ most often. Watch ‘ly’ adverbs or emotional attributions. Replace “Do you still love me?” Maria asked nervously with “You still love me, right?” Maria gripped the steering wheel with both hands.

Could you use more contractions, more sentence fragments, and more run-on sentences? Is stiff dialog really exposition in disguise? Avoid dialect and weird spellings.

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