Monthly Archives: September 2016

Why Conversational Writing is the Hot Trend

 

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For the past number of years, I’ve seen commercial writing shift from third person point of view to first person. At first, I couldn’t stand first person. It seemed somehow less than third. Perhaps this was because in some ways first person is more limiting than third person.

Third person point of view allows readers to see more of the world. They’re not trapped in one person’s mind. However, first person allows for an in-depth view of that individual. Plus, readers get to experience every facet of that individual’s personality.

Riding along with first person point of view was a more conversational tone. The writing was less formal; instead opting for writing that sounded the way people would speak. This meant stretching or breaking some grammar rules, which for a person who spent much of school studying Romanticism and learning about various style guides from APA and AMA to MLA was more than an irritation. This breaking of the rules would chuck me headfirst out of a book.

But, somewhere along the way, I began to enjoy the more conversational writing style. I discovered that I enjoyed breaking the rules—if there was a specific, vital reason—on occasion in my writing.

I found that conversational writing has some enormous advantages.

  • It’s easier to comprehend. While I’ve read and enjoyed many dense and literary books, I often find I develop a headache while reading them. My mind has to constantly work to understand the subtle messages buried in layers beneath the overt descriptions and statements. A conversational writing style foregoes this. Instead, it conveys the message directly to readers. Readers are able to more readily enjoy the book, and in today’s world, where fast reads are popular, conversational style is key.
  • It creates an instant relationship with readers. Since conversational writing often occurs with first person, readers feel like the protagonist is talking directly to them. They feel that they can relate to the protagonist as an actual person. With so many people stating that they read to escape reality, being able to relate quickly to a character is vital in drawing readers into a story. Plus, readers are much less likely to put down a book, if they feel they share commonalities with the protagonist.
  • Readers see it as more credible. A conversational style is almost like the protagonist is talking to a close friend. The protagonist is confiding all her thoughts and emotions to readers. Oftentimes, what the protagonist thinks is also what readers see on paper. Readers become an integral part of the story. They’re connected through the protagonist’s natural, authentic voice.

One of the best ways to create a conversational writing style is to speak aloud what you’re writing. If the words feel awkward on your tongue, then they’re going to be even more blatant on paper. However, one word of caution is to watch out for being too conversational. Many times in conversation people jump around from topic to topic. We’d probably all experienced having a conversation with a friend, where we’d talked for an hour or so, and then have no idea how we got onto the topic we finished the conversation with.

In writing, there has to be a clear line connecting bits of conversation. When readers become confused, they’re pulled out the story. Each time a person is jolted from the story, she is likely to put the book down, instead of continuing reading.

What are your thoughts on conversational writing?

(Photo courtesy of aj-clicks.)

Making Sure Your Protagonist Beats Out Others

The protagonist is one of the most important attributes of a story. If someone doesn’t like your protagonist, for whatever reason, it’s highly unlikely that person will finish your story.

We all can probably conjure up a few short stories or novels we haven’t finished because of our dislike for a protagonist. The most immediate one that comes to my mind is from a young adult science fiction novel, where the protagonist consistently made the opposite of intelligent decisions and yet somehow survived and was lauded as a hero. It didn’t matter how many times other people were injured, captured, or died because of the protagonist’s terrible decision making skills, or how many times the protagonist had to be saved by others, the protagonist was still considered this fabulous, fantastic person, instead of the fool.

Other times, while the plot and backstory may have holes in it, the story can be immensely enjoyable because of the protagonist. One book I read was a young adult dystopian novel where the backstory was horrendous. There were too many inconsistencies to count, however I liked the book because of the protagonist. I found the protagonist funny and relatable. I couldn’t put the book down.

So, how do you create a protagonist that isn’t a flat cliché or someone that people would like to shove off a cliff?

One way is to make sure that the protagonist is integral to the story. That sounds obvious, right? But many times I’ve seen the protagonist being dragged by the story, instead of forging it ahead. While having a reluctant protagonist is one thing, the protagonist must have something else that makes him stand out from all the other potential protagonists for your story.

There’s a reason the protagonist is the protagonist. The story is best told from his point of view. In fact, the story couldn’t be told from any other person’s point of view without diminishing the story in some way. A few years ago, I read a book where one of the secondary characters stole the spotlight from the protagonist. I didn’t care about the protagonist; I wanted to know what was happening to that secondary character. The author might have been better suited using that secondary character as the protagonist.

Another way is to have the protagonist be more than the standard hero-type. When the protagonist takes on the role of hero and goes on a quest to fulfill his hero nature, the writing can turn shallow. It’s fine for a character to be the hero. The vast majority of protagonists end up saving someone or something. However, by avoiding using terms like “hero” and “quest,” you give yourself room to explore your protagonist more in-depth. There’s always more to a character, and every hero is not perfect. People have flaws, goals, dreams, problems…they’re a mixture of virtuous and selfish and driven and condescending and a whole bunch of other stuff that makes them this extraordinary puzzle to piece together.

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Have you ever heard a person in real life state that they’re going on a quest? I’m not talking about children playing make-believe. I’m talking about individuals that are firmly grounded in reality.

It’s rare to hear someone declare they’re going on a quest or that they’re going to be the hero. Most often, people become heroes because a situation demands it. There’s a quote from the TV series Lost Girl. It’s when Kenzi is talking about her personality. She states, “General cowardice with moments of crazy bravery.” This quote holds a lot of meaning because Kenzi sacrifices herself for Bo, the series’ protagonist, on multiple occasions. Kenzi is an incredibly caring and giving individual, but she’s also sarcastic, dramatic, a bit selfish, and a thief. She’s complex, and in the end, she’s also a hero. One that people can relate to.

Having a phenomenal protagonist means delving into the core of human emotion. It doesn’t matter if your story is based in the ABC Galaxy that was discovered in 2206 and was colonized in 2447, and you’re protagonist is a dog-bee-human hybrid. Human emotion and strife and success is essential to a protagonist. The common ground that readers and fictional characters connect on is what makes readers respond to characters.

(Photo courtesy of Courtney Wright.)

Why Writing for Yourself Isn’t Always the Answer

When I began writing, I couldn’t decide whether to write for the audience or myself. Writing for myself meant exploring content that was important to me. I believed that by writing for myself I would create intensely honest and captivating work. By writing this way, I wouldn’t feel like I had to impress anybody. I wouldn’t be hindered by the constraints of genre or age group. As Cyril Connolly said, “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”

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However, I wanted to get published. And, when you’re trying to get published, it helps to know your audience. It helps to write for your audience.

I’m not saying to give up your unique voice, writing style, interests, etc. All those are important in creating a compelling piece of work that differentiates itself from what’s already been published. What makes your book unique will be what ultimately gets you a book deal.

But you need to write for someone. Too often, when you write for yourself, the plot, characters…something ends up being inconsistent. You’re too close to the story to realize that there are plot holes or other aspects of your work that weaken it.

At the same time, simply saying that you’re writing for young adults, military personnel, or housewives isn’t enough. Why? Because these are generalizations of people. They’re too vague. Think about housewives. They come in all different shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Their life experiences differ vastly. Let’s compare two housewives:

Housewife A: Her name is Aubrey. She is 24 years old, was born in Louisiana to a white mother and a black father. Her father died of lung cancer when she was 17 years old. She started college with her long-term boyfriend and was majoring in English—she wanted to be a middle school English teacher—when her mother was in a car accident and was paralyzed from the waist down. Aubrey dropped out of school to help her mother recover. Her boyfriend graduated and proposed to Aubrey. They married and Aubrey’s husband moved in with Aubrey and her mother. Aubrey was planning to go back to school, when she found out that she was pregnant. Aubrey is excited to be a mother, but while she loves the idea of being a stay-at-home mom, she hopes to one day go back to college and receive her degree.

Housewife B: Her name is Mary. She is 47 years old, was born in Connecticut to a white mother and father. She grew up wealthy, attended boarding school, and knew that she would be a housewife just like her mother. She graduated college with a degree in sociology, but was more interested in field hockey and her sorority. Those were the girls she’d know for the rest of her life. She ended up marrying her college boyfriend, who came from an equally wealthy family of doctors, who served on hospital boards and had stakes in three hospitals. They both signed prenuptial agreements and their parents bought them their first house, in Connecticut, as an early wedding gift. Mary has three children: two boys, both who play lacrosse at their boarding school, and a girl, who plays field hockey and tennis at her boarding school. Mary loves her life of private clubs, yoga, and martinis with the girls, but she secretly wishes that she had a more exciting sex life.

These housewives are extremely different. If you tried writing for both of them, your work would turn out inconsistent. So, choose one of the housewives to write for.

Whenever you’re writing something, choose a person that you’re writing for. Maybe this person is real or maybe it’s a persona you created. Ask yourself who this person is, what this person wants, why this person want what he wants. Learn about this person well enough that you know him inside and out. Then, write a story for that person. This will help you stay focused and consistent. This will keep readers invested in the reality you created, instead of being ripped out of it by some inconsistency.

When the writing and revisions are completed, you’ll have a piece of work with a firmly identifiable audience, and a work that has a great chance of grabbing an agent or editor’s attention.

(Photo courtesy of victorio marasigan.)

Why Reading Only One Genre Hinders Creativity

 
In order to be a good writer, you must be a good reader. What do I mean by that? I mean that you need to read a wide-range of creative pieces.

17318222086_ce8de2611c_o.jpgWhile it’s important to read books in the same age group and genre you write in, it’s also vital that you read outside what you write.

I’ve met countless individuals, who adamantly refuse to read outside a limited range of writing. One such conversation I had with another person, when like this:

Me: I just finished a fantastic book!

Person: Yeah? What’s it about?

Me: These shadow divers—deep wreck scuba divers—who discovered a mysterious sunken German U-boat about two hundred thirty feet deep and some thirty miles off the New Jersey coast. No one knew the U-boat was there, and no one could identify it. That U-boat was considered one of the last great mysteries of Word War II.

Person: Wait. Are you talking about a non-fiction book?

Me: Yeah. It’s incredible and hard to believe that something like losing a U-boat could happen.

Person: I only read fiction. I like books that allow me to escape.

It stung to hear that person say that to me, mainly because a few years ago I’d have said the same thing. I was adamant that because I was a fiction writer I couldn’t learn anything from non-fiction. After all, fiction, especially fantasy and science fiction, wasn’t grounded in reality. Non-fiction was, and it was often dry and hard to get through.

I was wrong on multiple counts. One: Fiction is based in reality. The story may be situated on a different planet or have supernatural creatures, but the core of the story is grounded in human traits and emotions. Fiction is often used to explore controversial topics that are occurring in reality.

Two: There are many aspects of reality that are unbelievable, so much so that they seem to be fiction. Some of the atrocities I’ve read about in non-fiction have inspired my fiction pieces.

Another example conversation occurred during a writing workshop and went something like this:

Person: [shuffling my submission given to them the previous week] I don’t read fantasy or young adult, so my feedback probably won’t be any good. [A few others in the room nod in agreement.]

Me: That’s okay. I’m sure you’ve provided better feedback than you believe.

[Person stifles a frown.]

The person in this conversation was someone who only read and wrote literary pieces. More so, this person looked down on people who wrote fantasy and young adult. That translated into every interaction I had with that person, and that person’s attitude made it difficult for me to remain objective, when critiquing their pieces. I’m not a huge fan of literary works, however I still read them and try to glean the message beneath them.

While literary fiction holds value, so does fantasy, science fiction, contemporary, adult and young adult. Every story introduces you to a new interpretation of an aspect of reality. When you dive into a story, you put yourself in the characters’ shoes. You never know what you’re going to learn or what’s going to inspire you.

Fiction and non-fiction—any well-written story—can deliver meaningful lessons that have a powerful and lasting impact on readers. Don’t limit yourself because of pre-conceived notions about what you believe is good and what isn’t.

What do you think about reading widely?

(Photo courtesy of Isabelle Blanchemain.)