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Sunday, February 17, 2013

WANT A GOOD NOVEL? BREATHE!

{"A good novel tells us the truth about its hero;

but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author."
~G.K. Chesterton.}


You heard of Dick Tracy's Crimestopper's Tips?

Well, I have my GOOD PROSE TIPS.

GOOD PROSE TIP #1: Your story has to breathe:
J R R Tolkien said there was an exhalation and inhalation to the flow of his novels.

I. Breathing in a novel that seem natural takes labor :

A.) Inhale - Setting the scene.

B.) Exhalation - Conflict or action.

C.) Try only one or the other and ...

it is the reader who will suffocate. You need both for a healthy novel that breathes life in the mind of the reader and in the flow of the story.


D.) To set a scene takes detail :

1.) The ghoul is not lovely ...

No, rather Alice has eyes of blue fire and skin born of moonbeams.
Her beauty is of a fae princess whose last breath has just escaped her still lips.


2.) Father Renfield is not a scarecrow (too much of a cliche) ... rather he is so skinny you can almost smell his bones.

II.) Conflict is not always action but will pitted against will,
goals striking sparks from one another like slashing sabers.
A.) Sometimes Lucifer has a point:

The world your reader lives in is not black and white.


There are shades of gray. The right path in life is seldom posted. And many times in our lives, the road signs lie.

A good conflict is when your protagonist must fight someone whose case he can understand but must resist due to the methods of the antagonist.


B.) There can be only one:

Often in real life two goals can exist that are both valid, both necessary --


 but the existing resources or the reality of the situation mandates that only one goal can succeed.

III.) For your novel to breathe, your characters must seem real as the breath in your readers' lungs.

A.) Torn between two lovers:

If your conflict involves two worthy adversaries that might, in different circumstances, have been friends --


then whatever conflict you place them in is notched up in the hearts of the readers.

B.) Sometimes the good guy is a prick.

The sergeant bellowing orders at you is an ass.


But he gets the job done with the fewest casualties -- not because he cares but because he has a reputation to uphold.

Suddenly, he is wounded.

The rest of the squad leaves his butt on the battlefield.


You're tempted to as well. But you know it is his experience and skill that will get all of you out of this situation alive.

You go back for him to the outcry of your teammates and the insults of the sergeant.


A grudging friendship develops between you and the sergeant.

A chasm gets wider between you and your former teammates.

You begin to realize that their sullen insistence


on refusing to acknowledge the sergeant's attempts to be a better leader, a better man makes them worse than the sergeant ever was.


C.) Your characters must talk the talk.

They must speak in believable and absorbing dialogue :

1.) Speak Easy --

Speak your dialogue aloud. You'll hear flubs in the flow of the words you never would otherwise.

2.) Speak True --

Each character has their own distinct past and status : make their words reflect that.

What shows would they watch? What food would they like?


What has their past done for the way they view life and others? Their words must reflect the answers to those questions.

3.) Say What?

Have fun with the dialogue. Aim for the reader to have fun as well. Does one of your characters get all the great lines? Change that.

In real life, everyone comes up with a great zinger once in awhile.

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*** For smart zingers, you can't do any better than LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN. Listen to the vibrant life of the dialogue from this trailer :



Listen to the first version of THE THING (Yes, it's was a League of Five favorite):

everyone gets in a great line all through the movie. So the fear and tension is highlighted by a three-dimensional cast of characters.

And in the following trailer for said movie, watch how the captain revealed his quiet cool and compassion without saying a word

but merely kindly taking a gun from a hysteric soldier.

(Also it's a bit amusing as well for those who take notice of details.)

It's a bit of understatement we all should aim for in our novels:


7 comments:

  1. "Sometimes the good guy is a prick."
    Been there done that. Excellent example for that one.

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  2. Thanks, Alex:
    Byron has his rough edges, but deep down, he is solid. I wish you luck in the last of your polishing on his next adventure. :-)

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  3. Some really excellent advice here. Your descriptions are really helpful. I love the "so skinny you could almost smell his bones". Wow. I've seen some unrealistic dialogue lately and I know reading aloud would have helped.

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  4. Shell Flower:
    I'm so glad my advise helped in some small way. Father Renfield isn't happy with my description of him! LOL.

    Reading aloud my dialogue helps me I know. Have a great new week, Roland

    ReplyDelete
  5. "...have fun with the dialogue."

    Dean Koontz comes to mind, for regardless of his character(s) plight, the communication tends to remain lighthearted, even witty at times.

    Great advice, Roland ;)

    El

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  6. Wendy:
    Thanks for thinking so! :-)

    Elliot:
    Depressing and morose dialogue weighs down the reader's heart. I let life do that. My prose hopefully counters that! :-)

    ReplyDelete