A SHEEP OR A ROCK?


A SHEEP OR A ROCK?

Lynnette Jalufka

Comparisons are a useful way to create imagery in a story. My friend considers a well-written novel to be full of metaphors. In the book Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively, Rebecca McClanahan states, “An effective metaphor or simile is significantwhen it calls forth an image that reinforces the overall description.”

Beware of mixing your metaphors. For example: “The fluffy sheep grazed in the pasture, a black rock in knee-deep grass.”

Wait. Rocks are solid and unmoving. The sheep is soft and in motion. Which image am I suppose picture in my mind?

Every word you choose is important. They should work together to create one solid image to immerse your readers into your world.  

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THE NOTEBOOKS


THE NOTEBOOKS

Lynnette Jalufka

My weakest part of writing is descriptions. I’ll rather write dialogue and get to the action. But meager images shortchange my readers by not putting them into the story. Several years ago, author Cecil Murphy gave me this advice. He told me to write down the descriptions I found in the books I read. By doing so, I will get a feel for how to do them.

This technique has improved my ability to describe, though it’s still a challenge for me. As an added bonus, I now have notebooks filled with these passages. I read a page before I write to get me into author mode. If you are having trouble with descriptions, give this method a try.

JUST ENOUGH


JUST ENOUGH

Lynnette Jalufka

Characters don’t exist in a vacuum. You must describe them, the world they live, and the atmosphere that surrounds them. So, how much description do you need to put in your book? The short answer is enough to make your readers feel a part of the story, but not so much that it causes them to stop reading, roll their eyes, and skip to the next section of dialogue.

Today, pictures are everywhere. Most readers will already have an image of what you are trying to describe. They have imaginations. You don’t need to go into excessive detail unless it is an important element of the story. Even then, be careful. I once read a novel which used a lengthy paragraph to describe a tiger, an essential character of the book. Every single hair was mentioned. I like tigers, but I got bored in the middle of it.

Don’t get carried away with your descriptions. Just make sure you include enough to anchor your readers in your story’s world.

 

BACK TO THE FIRST RULE


BACK TO THE FIRST RULE

Lynnette Jalufka

 

The more you read, the more you get the feel for how a story is structured. An exercise I learned in a workshop was to pick up a book you’ve read and open it to the middle. There should be a major turning point in the story. I’ve often found it to be true, no matter if the book was about 200 pages or 870 pages.

Think about your favorite books. Where are the turning points? When do they occur? Open one up and see if there is a major one in the middle. Doing this helps you to know where to put them in your own story. No wonder the first rule of writing is “read, read, read.”

WHERE ARE YOU GOING?


WHERE ARE YOU GOING?

Lynnette Jalufka

 

To me, plot is the road map of your story. It’s how to get from point A to point B to point C, and so on. Therefore, it’s helpful to have a general idea of how you want the story to go. Write it down. Keep it where you can see it, so you won’t get off track.

In editing my novel, I noticed that I could have a romantic mess between my heroine and these three men in her life. She could be forced to marry one and secretly in love with her best friend’s betrothed, while the last one tries to get her attention because he’s in love with her. But I’m not writing a romance. It’s not the purpose of the book. It’s about her pleasing her father when others think she’s crazy to do so.

In writing, nothing is set in stone. You may change your mind in the middle of the book, or your characters may change it for you. But knowing where you want the story to go helps with plotting, like a map helps get you to your destination.

THE TORTURE CHAMBER


THE TORTURE CHAMBER

Lynnette Jalufka

 

Novelist Angela Hunt once said, “Take a character and torture him for 300 pages.”

When I consider Hunt’s words, I think of Harry Potter. He dealt with the everyday challenges of growing up: schoolwork, competitions, and relationships. But he also had an evil villain who vowed to kill him, which greatly complicated his life. Throughout the series, Harry faced one obstacle after another, both physical and emotional, in his efforts to stop Voldemort. They increased in difficulty until Harry is left with one heartbreaking decision.

I’ve noticed in my own stories that I love putting my favorite characters into dangerous situations, including hanging off the side of a cliff. I can imagine one telling me, “You don’t like me very much, do you?”

Don’t make life easy for your characters. That’s boring. Readers want to see them overcome their situations. The more you throw at them, the richer your story.

 

THE LAST TAG


THE LAST TAG

Lynnette Jalufka

 

“There’s been much talk about dialogue and tags on this blog, eh?”

“Aye, my lady. But you can have a block of dialogue without tags.”

“True, it creates action. But if ’tis too long, I forget who’s speaking.”

“Then you have to go back and reread to figure it out.”

“Oi, at that point, I’d rather plunge a sword through the manuscript than reread it.”

“Or tie it to a pole and charge at it with a lance.”

“Good idea, Sir Knight. That’s much more fun.”

“Aye, but we’d be destroying countless hours of hard work.”

“The author deserves it for taking us out of the story.”

“Besides, even dialogue gets boring after a while. That’s why you need tags. How else would the readers know how we’re reacting to each other? You could be laughing or giving me that look.”

“And what look is that, Sir Knight?”

“The one you’re giving me now, my lady. The point is tags are important to the story.”

“So long as they’re not overdone.”

“Aye. Where are you going?”

“To find a book worthy of a lance.” She turned back to him. “Coming, Sir Knight?”

“As you wish, my lady,” he winked.

A LESSON FROM THE MOVIES


A LESSON FROM THE MOVIES

Lynnette Jalufka

 

Sometimes I think I should write screenplays instead of novels. Screenplays are mostly dialogue, and dialogue is my favorite part of writing. You can learn a lot about dialogue by watching movies: flow, tension, emotions. The main difference between it and a book is that the audience can see who’s speaking and their reactions, which help convey the emotion of the scene. In a book, you don’t have that luxury. You convey emotion through tags and action beats. And stories are all about emotion.

Here’s an exercise for you: take a piece of dialogue from a movie and write it as if it was in a book by adding tags and action beats. Write so that a person who hasn’t seen the movie can get the emotion of the scene.

SAY WHAT?


SAY WHAT?

Lynnette Jalufka

 

Characters are supposed to sound different from each other, but if your readers have to reread the dialect to understand what’s being said, you’ve taken them out of the story. But how can you write a dialect and still make it readable?

One way is shown in Sharon Ewell Foster’s novel, Ain’t No River. In this example, Garvin, a female lawyer in Washington, D.C., is having a conversation with Miz Maizie, a janitor, in the ladies’ restroom:

“You let me know, now. I’ll call for some help.” The “I’ll” sounded more like “Iya” and the “help” sounded more like “hep.”

“No, Miz Maizie, I’m still above rim.”

“You know, Garvin, I heard of lots of little children—” Garvin heard chirren—”falling into them old-fashioned outhouses, and you ain’t too much bigger than they were.”

Foster does not spell out what the words sound like in the dialogue. Instead, she describes how certain words sound to Garvin. Otherwise, she uses word placement to convey Miz Maizie’s southern dialect, and this technique continues throughout the book. This way makes the dialogue easier to read while still maintaining its uniqueness.

WHAT DIALOGUE CAN DO


WHAT DIALOGUE CAN DO

Lynnette Jalufka

 

Look at this section of dialogue from Brian Jacques’ The Legend of Luke,part of the Redwallanimal fantasy series. How many characters are speaking? What can you learn about them and the plot? I’ve removed the tags and numbered the lines for reference.

 

  1. “Et be a gurt pity, ‘cos we’m be orfully near ee seashores. Oi cudd feel et in moi diggen claws.”
  2. “But we can’t go any farther now.”
  3. “…Cheer up, pretty one, or you’ll have it rainin’. Leave it to me, I’ve got a plan!”
  4. “You’m got ee plan, zurr?
  5. “Why d’ye think they call me Prince of Mousethieves? Of course, I’ve got a plan, you ole tunnel-grubber!”
  6. “I hope ’tis a plan that’ll work, matey?”
  7. “Oh indeed, an’ did you ever know any o’ my plans that didn’t work, O swinger of swords?”
  8. “Aye, lots of them, O pincher of pies!”
  9. “Well, this won’t be one of that sort, O noble whiskers!”
  10. “It had better not be, O pot-bellied soup-swigger. Now tell on.”

Dialogue has two purposes: to advance the plot and show characterization. The above passage does both. How many characters did you count? There are four. Dinny speaks lines 1 and 4; Trimp, 2; Gonff, 3, 5, 7, and 9; and Martin, 6, 8, and 10.

What did you learn about the characters? Dinny seems a little slow by the speech pattern and is equipped for digging tunnels. (He’s a mole.) Trimp is beautiful. Gonff is an overconfident, plump mouse who steals pies. Martin knows how to use a sword and has whiskers. (He’s also a mouse). Martin and Gonff are good friends.

What’s going on? The characters are going to the seashore, but something has prevented them from continuing their journey which requires a plan to overcome. (They must travel through a wood filled with savage killers.) Do they make it? You’ll have to read the book.

Here’s an exercise for you. Look at the dialogue passages in your favorite novels, block out the tag lines, and see what you can learn from them.