Friday, May 20, 2011

Scoring a Well-Rounded Manuscript: Writing Techniques

This final post of the Scoring a Well-Rounded Manuscript series deals with the back row of pins a bowler is trying to knock down. Or, in writing terms, more important techniques that can be employed in your story. Like in the game of bowling, these elements of a story might be small elements or not as readily thought of, but they're just as important to creating a well-rounded manuscript. (If you want to read the other posts in this series, you can check out Voice, Characters and Plot, or Setting, Backstory, and Hooks.)

Pacing

Dictionary.com says simply that pacing is a rate of movement. It's the tempo of a story, combining chapters, scenes, paragraphs and so on to relate the story at a certain speed. And hopefully that speed is satisfactory, slowing down when necessary and speeding up when necessary - a pace that keeps a reader reading.

Tips on pacing:

* Put in plot changes, large revelations, etc. at strategic times, spreading them throughout your novel. Or, in smaller doses, give a scene with some action, followed by a scene with some reflection or smaller revelations, and so on.

* Utilize hooks and read-on prompts in scenes and chapters to keep the reader reading.

* Use techniques like narrative to slow down the pacing, or dialogue and action to speed it up.

Sentence Structure

This element is on a smaller scale, pertaining usually to paragraphs and individual scenes throughout the entire manuscript, but keeping sentence structure in mind is a great way to get a more well-rounded manuscript.

Tips on sentences structure:

* Vary sentences in paragraphs, alternating and changing up subjects and nouns, etc. so the story doesn't sound monotone.

* Utilize individual sentences. Making an impact with a single sentence separate from a paragraph changes pacing, like talked about above, and keeps the sentence structure looking and sounding varied.

* Try posing questions for thoughts and don't be afraid of fragments every once in awhile.

Strong Verbs

Giving a manuscript as much as you can will get you further with agents, editors, and readers. Sometimes this includes small things like verbs.

Tips on strong verbs:

One thing we all know is to avoid the passive. Particularly the word "was". Sometimes it's necessary and that's fine, but if it's not, replace it with something else. You can do a search for passive verbs and try to find new ones that will make sentences stronger and make more of an impact on readers.

Avoid cliches if you can. These aren't necessarily the same in everyone's writing, but there are particular phrases that are either very common in a lot of work you read or very common in your own writing. Try narrowing those down - i.e. his eyebrows rose, she grinned, she was so scared her knees shook - and replacing them if you can. Use an arch of an eyebrow or a quirk of a lip, anything that puts a new spin on an old take.

Read other books. Sometimes simply reading other books and examining the verbs another authors uses and how they work with their story will help spurn some extra creativity.

Tone/Theme

Another great element of a well-rounded story is that it serves a purpose in some way. This can come in the form of a particular overall tone or a theme.

Tips on tones and themes:

Ask yourself if you're trying to teach a lesson or have a moral for the story in some way (which doesn't have to be over or preachy). Sometimes the theme of a story is forgiveness or unconditional love. Decide if this is a direction you want to go in before or as you write the story so it can be a subtle thread throughout the book. Sometimes these are even based off of Bible verses.

Giving your story a particular tone, a way you want it to make a reader feel, is another thread that can unwind throughout a book. Adding in particular scenes or certain vocabulary (for a darker or lighter tone) are great ways to make the reader feel something.

Knowing your reader or the publisher you want to submit to will help you understand the writing style, even tones and themes that will appeal to that particular market.

These final elements are great ways to help round out a story, or get that strike. You can help your manuscript be fuller and more appealing to readers. Are these techniques ones you focus on when writing/editing or are there others you feel are especially important to making your work shine?

9 comments:

Sherrinda said...

Well done, Cindy! I especially liked the part about strong verbs. I tend to write passive and have a tough time thinking of great active verbs. I'm still on a big learning curve, I'm afraid, but I'm slowly finding out how to do it.

Great series!

Sarah Forgrave said...

Wow, what a thorough post, Cindy! Excellent! :)

I'm all about pacing on a sentence-by-sentence basis too. I read everything aloud to make sure it has a nice sound and doesn't come across clunky.

Mary Vee said...

You certainly pack a powerful strike with this useful information!
I especially appreciated your suggestions where to find help if the reader has the issue. Sometimes it's difficult to think of a new phrase that isn't a cliche or a new verb to clarify a thought-reading books is a great way to expand our choices.
Thanks:)

Faye said...

Very helpful advice! I need to be reminded so often!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi Sherrinda, I know what you mean about active verbs! There are people who do it so well! I am grateful to be able to see what other authors do so I can utilize that in my writing.

Sarah, it's amazing how much our processes changes the more we learn about writing, right? Reading things aloud is a great way to catch what we might have missed otherwise.

Hi Mary! Oh my gosh, I am QUEEN of the cliches! :D I agree, it is often difficult to think of a new phrase. When I read other authors books I sometimes wonder how they can be so creative to think of a new way to say the same thing I say without much variation :)

Hello, Faye! Yes, reminders are so helpful! I love coming across other writers ways of working through techniques like these because it seems like I always learn something new or something helpful. Have a great weekend!

Angie said...

Such great advice! Thanks Cindy!!

Jeanne T said...

Hi Cindy, what a great, and thorough post! I gleaned much from it, and I'm going to have to re-read it. A couple of times. I really appreciated the thoughts you shared on weaving a tone or theme into the story. Not something I've been doing much. :) Thanks so much! I plan to go back and read your previous posts in this series. Thanks again!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Of course, Angie :) Fun posts for me, too, because I'm learning a lot!

Jeanne, so glad the post was helpful! I love the idea of a tone or theme--especially as a writer. I think it's a great way to guide our characters in a particular direction and help determine what place we want them to be in emotionally, spiritually, etc. at the end of a story. Hope you have a great weekend!

Pepper said...

Wonderful post, Cindy.
About moments of action followed by moments of reflection - DiAnn Mills calls those - Scenes & Sequels. I thought that was kind of catchy.

I've read that we shorten our sentences when we heighten action or suspense - and we may lengthen them as our emotions cool or relax. Also, I guess character makes a difference in sentence length and structure too, don't they?

I think it's pretty amazing when you write the book and look back to see how God's created a theme in your writing that you didn't even know existed. Maybe an extra one you hadn't planned to write.
Okay - sorry to ramble. It's bedtime and I get all chatty when I'm tired :-)