Writing Hits in the D’s and C’s: What Not to do Writing Fiction
There are many guidelines and concepts authors must consider when writing. The D’s and C’s described below are a twist on the golden rules of writing.
The written story whether simple or elaborate, becomes compelling and memorable when the author brings the readers into the life of the characters and takes them along on the journey resolutely. When this journey is satisfying, memorable, an experience, the story is rewarding and is known to be worth the time and choice to read it.
The D’s and C’s, here, are the elements of mediocre writing and help explain what not to do along with suggestions for rising above mid-level to create worthy reads – the juice comes later.
Delivery of Dialogue
Delivery of dialogue – as said by the characters – can be described with adverbs, but this can be tiring and is very often overdone. It also limits creative ways of showing characters’ conflicts and the story’s tension.
“No,” he said meekly; offers so much less information than, “No,” he said in almost a whisper; then, he clasped his hands in front of his lap, looking down at the ring on his finger. Now the reader knows he has hands, he is probably sitting down, he wears a ring on his finger and he did not say, “No,” in a loud or firm manner.
Occasionally using adverbs is acceptable, as in the case that it be truly important that the word no was said meekly; but overuse or even reliance upon them, makes dialogue tedious to read and talks down to the reader. Readers would rather have detailed information and then put the story together in their minds as they read. If described with enough detail, the reader can arrive at the idea of meekness – and even broader concepts akin to meekness – without being told flat-out with adverbs limiting nuance and conceptualization.
Description – Liven Up a Story
Description is another way a story comes alive to a reader. Indepth description is not always necessary, rather well chosen description which paints a precise picture in the readers’ minds. Also, descriptive words which resound in the readers’ memory of a place, a situation, or a feeling, bring emotion to the story and reconnaissance within the reader’s mind. If the reader knows this feeling, place, or well described situation, the reader ‘connects’ with the story and the author.
A very good example comes from The ABC’s of Writing Fiction, by Ann Copeland, paraphrased here from page 46:
“I am in the world of tow heads and Nordic cheekbones, wall-eyed pike and Chippewa pride, the world of Paul Bunyon and Lutheran piety. There are 7 Lutheran churches in this town. These are merely impressions. This is the North Country, 5 hours south of Winnipeg, 5 hours north of Minneapolis (where the action is), smack dab between Grand Forks and Grand Rapids (what’s this need to name them ‘Grand’?) Here the waitress brings you coffee sans cream or milk, unless you specify. Submarines are hoagies.
All parts of the university are linked by tunnels to protect students against bitter Minnesota winter. Cars can still drive on the Lake, though from shore it looks perilous. The season of legal ice fishing is here. Dressed up means fresh jeans. Occassionally I see a tie. Jack pines abound…. Downtown a café has a stagecoach painted on one wall. I’m told Minot, N.D. is where the hats change – from baseball caps to cowboy hats. Here they use sacks instead of bags, and everyone seems to say git.”
Chances are, from this description, any reader who’s been out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of winter ‘connects’ with this description in the story. Details bring this town, the café, and the clothing of the townspeople alive. It might bring a smirk, or an ‘Aha!’, and readers might even fill in little details in their minds eye, from places they’ve been or imagined, so that the story becomes an experience and the time spent reading becomes of value. The writing is worthwhile.
Depth: Story Layers
The number of things going on at once give depth to a story. This is not limited to actions. Obstacles placed in characters’ way, conflict (inner and between characters) and conflict resolution are all things that can be ‘going on’ in a story all at one time. Readers understand these things when they are defined with vocabulary depicting the particular characters, surroundings, tension, and conflict. In other words, simply stating: He was conflicted doesn’t bring the reader into the conflict with the character. Let the conflict build in the reader’s mind as well as in the life of the character on the page. This brings an element of depth to the story for the reader. As conflicts are resolved, the reader has also resolved them, thought them through, and possibly felt emotion or connections with the character’s story while reading it.
The author is the director, and so can write as though characters must be told what to do, at times. If all characters behave exact and perfectly, there are is not much reality to the story. Think about what the character is to do, and then ask what would happen if the character did the opposite, reacted too quickly or too slow, wouldn’t do as first thought the character must in order to regain the intention of the story. The characters who come from places authors don’t like are sometimes the most fun to manipulate.
While the author gives direction to the characters, the characters do not give direction to the author. Sometimes, however, as with Lemony Snickett the perceived author (the narrator) of The Series of Unfortunate Events, the author gives a bit of direction – or advice – to the reader. He warns his readers, he sometimes commiserates along with them how sad the story has become. It’s a rather unconventional thing to do and was probably even once a strict rule, somewhere, NOT to do – but thanks to Mr. Snickett defying the rules and defying them well, it has become a charming narrative piece of proof that creativity can not be forced to always follow the rules, and that is because the rules of creativity are merely guidelines set up to help until somebody does the work better by defying those guidelines. That is how new genres, new ‘rules’, and new ways of thinking come about, (like ending this sentence with a preposition).
Don’t rely too much on coincidence in a story and steer away from coincidence being the entire resolution of a story. It is often a let down if all conflict and drama of a piece is solved by coincidence. The reader does not get inspired by the will or fortitude of the characters, nor problem solve along with the author, and so the story may fall flat and be unsatisfying and not worthwhile to the reader. Say, if the Box Car Children found money that fell from the sky. There wouldn’t have been any broken china tea set from which Violet poured tea for all her siblings, which she found and brought back to the box car to share, no disagreements with unsuitable parental substitutes either, and the reader would not think to themselves just what would they do if their parents died – how would they survive?
Young readers instead problem solve through the crises of the box car children – often as if it were them – in the gentle grasp of a compelling story along with believable resolutions and inspiring ideas from the author. And so, it becomes a classic – a much loved story that children connect with at a particular stage in their youth.
After reading these D’s and C’s of writing – what not to include –take a look at how to apply them in recent writing or start fresh considering these concepts. Keep in mind the guideline idea, too, as they should serve to better and flourish creativity and creative outcomes from start to finish rather than restrict the author to a bound set of guidelines. So read and employ them, but do not suffer over them nor stifle the creativity inside. A finished piece of work is better than a stressed over unfinished piece simply because it is a complete story even if it D’s or C’s it is closer to an A than if left undone.