Friday, July 28, 2006

Writer Tip #2 -- Placing Your Reader

When you write a book, you are inviting your reader to enter a world of your own creation and asking them to believe that what you're telling them is either real or could really happen. You create this atmosphere through your choice of words and rely on the reader's imagination to provide the picture. You and the reader work as a team to form the entire scope from what the city/town/planet looks like to how the characters' voices sound.

Within the first page or two of the book, your reader needs to know where they are so they can start creating this fictional world in their minds. If they don't know they're supposed to be in an office and ten pages into the story, a character turns around and puts a document in the Xerox machine, and the reader was imagining a forest, it will throw them completely out of the loop and make them feel unsure about their footing. If your story is taking place in the past, make sure your reader knows this immediately.

Bad Example #1: Yasmine sighed as she looked at the calender that hung on her brown paneled office wall, thirty stories above the Manhattan shopping district, and noted that it was January 18th, 2006.

We can see through this example where she is (in her office in Manhattan) why she's there (she works there) and what day it is (1/18/2006) But do we care? I don't know about you, but I don't, and I wrote the thing! If anyone should care, it's me!

Sometimes the simplest way to establish a date, especially if you're writing historical fiction, is to include the date in the chapter heading. Otherwise, you're stuck doing stuff like:

Bad Example #2: George couldn't believe it had been a whole year since the assasination of Martin Luther King.

Okay, this gives us a time frame, but if Martin Luther King doesn't immediately play into the story or into George's life, don't use this as a time frame just to get the reader to know the date. It's a stiff ploy.

So here's a good rule of thumb: Take a look at the first two pages of your manuscript. Who is your character, where are they, and why are they there? Nichole Giles over on LDSWritersBlogck wrote a great blog on this topic called "Giving it Away."

In summary, if your reader doesn't know where they are in your story almost instantly, you need to rewrite. Imagine if you had been blindfolded, shoved in a van, driven around for an hour and then dumped in a remote location, not knowing one thing about your new surroundings. Don't do this to your reader. Provide their surroundings immediately so they can start to feel at home in your story.


Anonymous said...

I hate books that do this to me--I feel tricked. Thanks for the advice, this will help me a lot as I write historical too and sometimes forget that not everyone has done the same research I've done.

Jeff Savage said...

Good points Tristi.

I like to use setting to create a mood. For example in your office setting:

Scary: Lighting crashed outside the port hole sized office window, alternatly casting the faded panel walls from a dank purple hue to a flash-fried yellow. It was the kind of day that only appealed to psychos and people with something to hide.

Romantic: What her office needed (other than a hunky 6'2" body builder with dashing blue eyes and a strong chin) was a window with a view of the Seine. Or a cascading waterfall. She'd even settle for a couple of trees and a water fountain. Anything but the soot-coated brick wall, and the trash filled alley. How were you supposed to day dream about discovering the love of your life when you the most exciting thing you saw all day was Sam the sanitation man with the glass eye and pants that hung halfway down his considerable back side?

These descriptions pull you into the story instead of slowing you down and they set the pace.

I hate descriptions that repeat something the character knows so we can learn it.

"As you know, tomorrow is the day of the big parade."

Tad thought about the fact that it was only three days till Christmas.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Jeff, you're a master at great beginnings. Thanks for these examples. And may I just say, I hope to never meet the real-life inspiration for Sam the sanitation man?

Keith Fisher said...

in order to put a link in just go to the site you want to link to, right click the address line, pick copy and then position put your curser in the position you want the link Right click and pick paste it will usually appear:
if it appears like this one did then all the person has to do is hight light it and right click copy and follow the process in reverse. good blog. one thing about the last one though consider it this way? the force is the holy ghost or the still small voice. A jedi is everyone who is trying to serve GOD.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Thanks for the link info, Keith.

As for the Jedi thing -- that's pretty much what I was getting at but you said it better. You should be a writer. :)

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