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  1. #11
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    These were all of the things that went through her head as she sat in the chair in her oncologist’s office as she had received the news just minutes before. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
    This is a report, as was the first line. You, the narrator, are explaining the situation to the reader—as an outside observer. But that doesn't place the reader with her, living the scene, it places them with a storyteller whose voice they can't hear, and whose expression and gesture they can't see. And that strips the emotion from the telling because such an approach only works verbally, with a performer who can use tricks of delivery, and acting skills, to make the story live.

    The reader is informed by what you posted, yes. And you use language well. But at the moment you're thinking in terms of telling the Story—the events and dialog. That's informative, yes. But when you read for pleasure, isn't being entertained your goal? Isn't it an emotional experience you hope to be made to feel? Don't you want it to seem as if you're living the story, in real time, and being forced to make the same decisions the protagonist does, for the same reasons? History books are filled with drama, intrigue, danger, romance, and all the things our stories are. So why aren't history books popular as an entertainment? Because they dispassionately inform. There's no uncertainty. A narrator is explaining.

    See the problem? It's not a failing in you. You're writing just as you've been taught to, and your English teachers would love it because it's concise, accurate, and dispassionate, just like the book reports and essays we wrote for so many years. It's author-centric and fact-based. The problem is, fiction for the printed word is expected to be emotion-based and character-centric, two concepts not even mentioned in our school days because they're fiction related and our school days were devoted to making us useful to our future employers by being trained in the general skills they find useful.

    For example, instead of telling the reader, "She had cancer. Bleeping cancer. She was thirty two years old. Things like this just did not happen to people like her," which is a report, make the reader know who she is, where she is, and what's going on, to give context and set the scene, so the words have meaning. Make the reader know her reaction, not just the fact of what she learned. you might use something like:

    Olivia sagged back in the chair, staring at the doctor. "Cancer? Me? But...but I'm young. I'm only thirty-two." What the doctor said was impossible. Cancer? That was something that happened to other people—older people.

    The doctor didn't respond, other then to spread his hands in a "what can I do" gesture. The urge to run from the office, to deny that his words had ever been said was overpowering. But in reality, that's what she'd been doing, by pretending that nothing was wrong, during the weeks leading up to the tests, whose results rested on the doctor's desk. Beaten, she slumped, and leaned forward to rest her face in her hand, covering her eyes and locking out the sight of that damned paper as she said, "So tell me what I need to know, Doctor Nelson. When will I die?"
    Your story? No. Nor is it great writing. It's a quick illustration of another, more emotion based approach to presenting such a situation. Notice a few things:

    • I opened by placing her in time and space. In a single line the reader knows she's upset. They know where she is, and she's been given a name. In the next they know what's going on, which gives context to what follows.
    • After identifying the cause of her distress I showed her immediate, gut-level response. She knows that everyone can get cancer, and that it's not age related, but denial is her first reaction, so she snatches at them, making her human. And that's the initial cause and effect.
    • The next thing that motivates our protagonist is the doctor's reaction in not responding. And again, she has a gut-level reaction, the urge to run. But then reality intrudes, and insists on being recognized. And as part of it we learn a bit of backstory, that she's been feeling badly and tried to put off the bad news by not going to the doctor till she had to. Coupled with her urge to run, we've done a bit of character development. And because she slumps, to show her defeat, and acceptance to the doctor's words, while at the same time continuing to symbolically deny it by covering her eyes, again, character development.
    • Her words to the doctor, and her visible emotional response to the news are what will motivate him to respond to her.

    The short version: I told the story from her point of view.

    The reader, having been forced to know the situation as she views it, as against simply knowing the facts of it, will empathize, because they know how the news hit her, and why. They've been in her head in real-time. And that's our goal, to make the reader be there with the character. as it happens.

    Certainly, it's not the way we were taught to write, but you can see the difference in effect on the reader's perception of the scene. And it's not something you can't do as well as I can...if you learn the tricks of the trade.

    And that's my point. There are tricks to any trade, things that are obvious once pointed out, but invisible till then. Although we weren't aware of it, we left school exactly as well qualified to write a film script as a novel. Both are professions, and both have a body of knowledge developed by experience and experimentation, over a long period of time. So the solution is simple, though not easy. Pick up the tricks the pros take for granted and there you are. The local library's fiction writing section is a free source of such knowledge. The "not easy" part is that knowing the tricks and remembering to use them, plus becoming proficient with them, takes time and practice. But that's true of any profession. And if you truly are meant to be a storyteller the learning is fun. For more on the method I used in my illustration, try this article.

    My personal recommendation is:

    For the absolute best: Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer. It's available at any online bookseller, and is the book the article I linked to is based on.
    For a warm, gentle introduction to the profession: Debra Dixon's, GMC: Goal Motivation & Conflict. Available as a download from any online bookseller, and as a hard copy on Deb's site.
    An alternative to Swain, found in many library systems: Jack Bickham's, Scene and Structure.

    Hope this was helpful. Hang in there, and keep on writing.

    Our goal isn't to make the reader know the character is frightened, it's to terrify the reader.



  2. #12
    Rogue Mutt
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greenstein View Post
    This is a report, as was the first line. You, the narrator, are explaining the situation to the reader—as an outside observer. But that doesn't place the reader with her, living the scene, it places them with a storyteller whose voice they can't hear, and whose expression and gesture they can't see. And that strips the emotion from the telling because such an approach only works verbally, with a performer who can use tricks of delivery, and acting skills, to make the story live.

    The reader is informed by what you posted, yes. And you use language well. But at the moment you're thinking in terms of telling the Story—the events and dialog. That's informative, yes. But when you read for pleasure, isn't being entertained your goal? Isn't it an emotional experience you hope to be made to feel? Don't you want it to seem as if you're living the story, in real time, and being forced to make the same decisions the protagonist does, for the same reasons? History books are filled with drama, intrigue, danger, romance, and all the things our stories are. So why aren't history books popular as an entertainment? Because they dispassionately inform. There's no uncertainty. A narrator is explaining.

    See the problem? It's not a failing in you. You're writing just as you've been taught to, and your English teachers would love it because it's concise, accurate, and dispassionate, just like the book reports and essays we wrote for so many years. It's author-centric and fact-based. The problem is, fiction for the printed word is expected to be emotion-based and character-centric, two concepts not even mentioned in our school days because they're fiction related and our school days were devoted to making us useful to our future employers by being trained in the general skills they find useful.

    For example, instead of telling the reader, "She had cancer. Bleeping cancer. She was thirty two years old. Things like this just did not happen to people like her," which is a report, make the reader know who she is, where she is, and what's going on, to give context and set the scene, so the words have meaning. Make the reader know her reaction, not just the fact of what she learned. you might use something like:


    Your story? No. Nor is it great writing. It's a quick illustration of another, more emotion based approach to presenting such a situation. Notice a few things:

    • I opened by placing her in time and space. In a single line the reader knows she's upset. They know where she is, and she's been given a name. In the next they know what's going on, which gives context to what follows.
    • After identifying the cause of her distress I showed her immediate, gut-level response. She knows that everyone can get cancer, and that it's not age related, but denial is her first reaction, so she snatches at them, making her human. And that's the initial cause and effect.
    • The next thing that motivates our protagonist is the doctor's reaction in not responding. And again, she has a gut-level reaction, the urge to run. But then reality intrudes, and insists on being recognized. And as part of it we learn a bit of backstory, that she's been feeling badly and tried to put off the bad news by not going to the doctor till she had to. Coupled with her urge to run, we've done a bit of character development. And because she slumps, to show her defeat, and acceptance to the doctor's words, while at the same time continuing to symbolically deny it by covering her eyes, again, character development.
    • Her words to the doctor, and her visible emotional response to the news are what will motivate him to respond to her.

    The short version: I told the story from her point of view.

    The reader, having been forced to know the situation as she views it, as against simply knowing the facts of it, will empathize, because they know how the news hit her, and why. They've been in her head in real-time. And that's our goal, to make the reader be there with the character. as it happens.

    Certainly, it's not the way we were taught to write, but you can see the difference in effect on the reader's perception of the scene. And it's not something you can't do as well as I can...if you learn the tricks of the trade.

    And that's my point. There are tricks to any trade, things that are obvious once pointed out, but invisible till then. Although we weren't aware of it, we left school exactly as well qualified to write a film script as a novel. Both are professions, and both have a body of knowledge developed by experience and experimentation, over a long period of time. So the solution is simple, though not easy. Pick up the tricks the pros take for granted and there you are. The local library's fiction writing section is a free source of such knowledge. The "not easy" part is that knowing the tricks and remembering to use them, plus becoming proficient with them, takes time and practice. But that's true of any profession. And if you truly are meant to be a storyteller the learning is fun. For more on the method I used in my illustration, try this article.

    My personal recommendation is:

    For the absolute best: Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer. It's available at any online bookseller, and is the book the article I linked to is based on.
    For a warm, gentle introduction to the profession: Debra Dixon's, GMC: Goal Motivation & Conflict. Available as a download from any online bookseller, and as a hard copy on Deb's site.
    An alternative to Swain, found in many library systems: Jack Bickham's, Scene and Structure.

    Hope this was helpful. Hang in there, and keep on writing.

    Our goal isn't to make the reader know the character is frightened, it's to terrify the reader.
    Too bad she hasn't been here in six months or she'd really find that helpful. Always check the date.

  3. #13
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    I've been here a little more than a week, and because I had the gall to point out mistakes in your posted work you attacked, under the guise of commenting on a joke I did not make. Now you're lecturing me, as though I'm too stupid to notice the date on a post. I've been at this for a while. And I've been reading for more than seventy years. I noticed.

    But to respond to your comment: Although she hasn't posted for some time, Kelli's account is still active, and she may decide to check in. But more than that, the mistake she's making is one that nearly all new writers make, myself included, because we assume the writing techniques we learned in school are universal, and apply to any writing related profession. Given that, my response, which pretty much paraphrases Dwight Swain, may be of value to anyone who looks at this thread. And the idea, as I understand it, is to help each other.

  4. #14
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Don't take it personally, Jay. He attacks EVERYone. It's just his personality. Almost kind of endearing when you get used to it. Almost, lol.

    I never mind people who answer old posts, and I agree with you. The original poster may not get the benefit of your answer, but many others will read it and perhaps see something similar in their own writing that you address. I say yay.

  5. #15
    Rogue Mutt
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greenstein View Post
    I've been here a little more than a week, and because I had the gall to point out mistakes in your posted work you attacked, under the guise of commenting on a joke I did not make. Now you're lecturing me, as though I'm too stupid to notice the date on a post. I've been at this for a while. And I've been reading for more than seventy years. I noticed.

    But to respond to your comment: Although she hasn't posted for some time, Kelli's account is still active, and she may decide to check in. But more than that, the mistake she's making is one that nearly all new writers make, myself included, because we assume the writing techniques we learned in school are universal, and apply to any writing related profession. Given that, my response, which pretty much paraphrases Dwight Swain, may be of value to anyone who looks at this thread. And the idea, as I understand it, is to help each other.
    If you want to waste your time, no one can stop you. But users like that are one and done. They don't come back. I would agree that your joke shouldn't be classified as a joke.

  6. #16
    Rogue Mutt
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Oberon View Post
    Don't take it personally, Jay. He attacks EVERYone. It's just his personality. Almost kind of endearing when you get used to it. Almost, lol.

    I never mind people who answer old posts, and I agree with you. The original poster may not get the benefit of your answer, but many others will read it and perhaps see something similar in their own writing that you address. I say yay.
    You old guys got to stick together. lol

  7. #17
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Damn straight, lol.

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