Sunday, 16 February 2014

Essential Writing Concepts: ADD

Courtesy of Chris Corwin at Flickr
There are many writing concepts that, once pointed out are so obvious that you are sure you knew it all along. This is one of those. It is the clarification of an idea, a marking out the boundaries of something so obvious that you will instinctual know it. However, in realising it intellectually, you will be able to assess your writing anew and with more insight. 

All prose is made up of three things: A D D (which doesn't actually stand for Attention Deficit Disorder, in case you were wondering).

Action: Mary picked up the glass and threw it at his head.
Dialogue: "You pig. How dare you bring her here?"
Description: The room was brightly lit, and the expensive sound system played hits from the 90's. Waiters with champagne glasses on silver trays paused, and peroxided ladies in glittering dresses held their breath. 

That's all there is in a novel, the combination of bits of action, dialogue, and description. Sometimes description can include action, or action description, but the division of the two is necessary for understanding pacing. Action moves a story forward, while description is pausing to look around.

At different points in the history of prose, and in different cultures, the ratios between these three things have varied. As previously mentioned, I'm working to edit and develop a piece written by my great grandfather over half a century ago. The first thing that struck me was that the manuscript has a very large amount of dialogue, and almost no description at all (which, by the way, is quite annoying as I can fill in the dialogue, but have more trouble developing the description of early 20th century Scotland.) Discussing it with my grandfather, he pointed out that it used to be considered the height of sophistication to be able to move a story along by the dialogue, without the need for description. But nowadays so much dialogue leaves no room for the imagination. 

Each genre has its own requirements for how much of each you should use. Take action/adventure, Matthew Reilly as an example. To keep the pace up, the books have large sections which are just action and dialogue, with reduced description. Then, move across to the romance genre, and say Georgette Heyer, and you get long descriptions of every article of clothing worn. 

Similarly, a writer's particular style is developed from how they choose to use these three elements.

In another post I will look at how to utilise the three in your pacing. But as a basis, writing should be made up of equal parts of the three. In peaks of tension, you might have more action and dialogue, and the troughs of your story will generally be more descriptive. However, over all, most pages should have some of all three. 

Exercise:
Now if you are editing a work, try this exercise to better understand your own writing.
Take three different coloured highlights: one for action, one for dialogue and one for description (this can also be done with the highlight feature in your word processor).
Go through your entire manuscript highlighting every part into one of the three.
Are there pages that are predominantly one colour? This is a bad sign, and you probably need to break this up a bit. (This is one of the big problems with "The Ill Made Mute", a book I loved, but there were pages and pages of nothing but description, which I ended up flicking past until I say the next set of quotation marks.)

ROW 80 Goals:
So, last Monday I set the following goals:

- Finish the first run through of Bootcamp and sent it off for a structural edit.
- Started editing After The Winter.
- Create the cover for Bootcamp (I want to play with the one I already have a bit), and start a Goodreads Giveaway for the hard copy, giving myself a deadline for when it will come out.

How much of that have I done? That would be none.
Instead I dedicated this week to getting all those other life errands fixed that require time and energy. I got my car cleaned, picked up the screws I needed to fix my desk, went to Ikea to get more storage for my room, put my car into the mechanics, finally got my hair done, and organised my little flat a bit more. And somehow that was my week gone.
So, the only solution is to try again this week. Wish me luck!

5 comments:

  1. All those other life errand can eat your thoughts until you get them done. Most of my goals list this round is to clear away some BIG life errands because they are taking up head-space that should be used for imagination and plot lines. I bet now that those details have been attended to, you'll have a much more productive week. Good luck!

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  2. Good points to remember on the writing!

    Your week sounds like mine--where did it go? Sometimes we just have to remind ourselves that it's a new week, and a new chance to meet our goal, and jump back in where we are! Good luck with yours~

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  3. It's so easy to lose our days in a flurry of errands and housekeeping matters. I swear that a couple weeks ago I lost a whole day on the phone with the bank trying to straighten out a few things. Here's hoping the upcoming week is a productive one for you! :)

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  4. Sometimes taking a "break" (mine involved a lot of tea and blankets) is required just so we have the headspace to get all that writing done. Especially when editing, because a good serious editing job requires a LOT of headspace (I love that three highlighter colors thing). So, yeah, you didn't get the ROW80 stuff done...

    You got the other stuff out of the way.

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