Writing Techniques with Examples


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Writing Techniques with Examples

Sometimes I get the itch to post fiction here on OL, but I am still learning many techniques.

Besides, I have a writing blog I want to do before too long. Something not mixed with philosophy or politics. (It's way overdue.)

So I have come up with compromise to myself.

I will make posts in this thread about a specific technique, explain it, then provide an example from my own writing or provide and example from others to demonstrate what it looks like.

I want to take my time with this, so don't expect this thread to grow quickly. But grow it will.

 

So here is the first technique with example. I just now wrote the example in my Writing Journal. It took me about 45 minutes or so.

The technique is called Image Moment and I learned it from Method Writing by Jack Grapes.

The idea is to interrupt action and present a still image. It functions in the reader's mind like a small stretch of slow motion.

Jack comes from a poetic and theater background. That makes his rules workable and standard--I like them a lot. So here is how you do an Image Moment.

First find a single action in a passage. Interrupt the motion, then describe the following in any order you wish. (There are other flexibilities, but this is the version I used here.)

Set
Set dressing
Prop
Mood
Character
Costume
Comments

Each of these elements means something specific and has its own rules and limitations. If anyone is interested, I will explain them. The major thing is that no movement can happen during this Image Moment unless something was already in motion before and it is in the background (running water, traffic in the distance and things like that).

After you describe the moment, you resume the interrupted action and continue.

 

Here is my example. Please remember that it is a first draft. If I ever use this in a work, it will probably look different.

I put the Image Moment in bold and italics so you won't miss it. But that is only for this post. Also, there is nothing special or meaning-laden in this example. I am using normal situations on purpose when I do these practice exercises. Learning to crawl before I walk, so to speak.

My interrupted action is the guy rolling toward the hole. I also included the briefing I always give myself before I write a passage. It will not be included in the finished work, of course.

 

Quote

BRIEFING

It’s a cliché situation, but this is what is in my mind right now. The main character, Jerry, is running through the woods at dusk, not dark but dimming light. Jerry is unarmed except for his wits and will to live. He is being pursued by a person with a gun. He doesn’t know who or why. 

My Image Moment happens when he is forced to stop and hide as the person passes by not noticing him. The action the narrator will interrupt will be the moment he sees a place that looks so ordinary it is easy to miss, but decides to hide there, and starts toward it.

 

IMAGE MOMENT

Jerry was more tired than he could remember but he was scared. Pure adrenaline was fueling him. 

He saw woods and more woods. Who was shooting at him? Why?

He didn’t know. All he knew was that he had to keep running and death was the answer if he stopped to find out. His arms and face were scratched and cut from low branches and high weeds. He didn’t think when he chose a new direction. He saw. He went. He was terrified.

He only saw the fallen branch when he tripped over it. As he fell, he noticed, off to the side, a hole the size of an open grave covered by bushes and weeds. He only saw it because an animal, it looked like a fox, came running out. 

He got up. From standing, he could no longer see the hole, only woods. Hide there! How? The crashing through the underbrush behind him was enough. He fell to the ground and started rolling his body toward the hole. No noise, he thought. No noise.

The sky dripped light through the leaves above. There were six trees close to him him, different sizes. They looked like they were raising their arms to grasp the dripping light. So much green and dark, the blur of the fox, the smell of the fresh earth. No time to notice. Not even the small dirty stone he was clutching for some damn reason.

And human feet in the distance. He saw feet in boots. Dirty well-worn boots. The boots of a hunter, one who knew what he was doing. The boots were coming his way.

He realized he was under a thick bush covering. Damn it! Why didn’t he make it to the hole yet? 

He kept rolling and the hole appeared. He lowered himself in without a sound, then threw the small stone toward the fox blur.

He only saw dirt, but heard the stone bounce. Then the boots hastened by. He waited until he heard no more.

Then he let out his breath, looked around and saw three fox pups at the other end of the hole. They looked at him and snarled, “Oh shit,” he thought.

END IMAGE MOMENT

 

Not great, but not bad for pulling it out of my ass in 45 minutes. 

I cannot recommend this Writing Journal for practice idea enough.

This is more than learning how. This is ability in the making.

I get a kick out of my growing skill.

:) 

Michael

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I want to add a comment to the post above.

That little thing I wrote also included two techniques I needed to learn just as much as a child needs training wheels to ride a bike.

I've always been good at memoir writing, but I was winging it. When I had to write fiction from scratch, I would choke. And I didn't know why.

Now I know. In a memoir, the events already existed. In fiction, I had to create them from nothing. Learning the two techniques I used were part of the way out for me. There are other techniques I do, too, but these two are biggies.

 

1. The character goal. Most fiction passages have to have a character goal to hold the reader's interest and the goal has to be physical. Not mental. Not emotional. Physical. In the case of the passage I wrote, the goal of the main character is to escape and the goal of the pursuer is to shoot him.

Those are simple, physical goals. Easy to imagine with a character in action. 

But a character goal can be a lot of things. I didn't realize what a blank I had in my head about this until I started looking and making a list of them. Here are just a few physical character goals I listed for myself: perform or finish a task, travel to some place, solve a puzzle, call attention to himself or herself, confide in someone, kill a person, adopt a role, and so on. In my example, the goal was to escape, first by running, then by hiding. That comes to one goal divided into two forms as the story went along.

There are a bunch of character goals I have listed for myself.

 

1a. Note that this does not exclude other elements in a passage. The best term for these other elements I have found so far is "Dramatic Content." This means emotions, descriptions, character arc development, seeding or finding clues, style, and so on. But most passages without a physical goal are boring no matter how good the Dramatic Content is, so character goal is fundamental and all the rest is secondary.

(The only exception is a character coming to a decision, that is the most goal-oriented thing a character does mentally. And those scenes are the minority, by far, in a story.)

 

2. The next technique is one I struggled with for years, but I finally found it. A screenwriting teacher named Eric Edson came up with the term. It's called "Fresh News."

This is not just something new that pops up. It is tied to a character who is dealing with a goal, generally a secondary goal. Once the character attains the goal or fails at it, meaning pursuit of that goal can take a pause in the reader's mind, something happens that creates a new character goal, generally a secondary one.

In my passage above, the immediate goal of the character was to escape, first by running, then by hiding. Once he was more or less successful at hiding, he sees the fox pups snarling at him. That is Fresh News. It's a new situation that creates a goal that needs to be dealt with like now. :) 

Fresh News also takes many forms: reality turns out to be different than imagined, permission is granted to the character to do something, the character is falsely accused of something, the character gets smitten by a love interest, hidden or unexpected stakes are revealed, a danger appears (like in my example) and so on. Fresh News can be a cliff-hanger, but it does not have to be. Since it prompts the character to deal with a new goal, this automatically keeps the reader turning the page.

This little thing may seem obvious, but I didn't see it for years. And there's a little present that comes with groking it. I discovered that it is one of those things that, once you get it well got, you can't not see it, like, everywhere. It's similar to the Jeep Kat and I own. Before we got the Jeep, we never saw one on the roads. Ever since, we see a bunch of them. 

 

Believe it or not, I can talk about the neuroscience involved in this stuff, too.

Right now, I am writing examples that are mundane on purpose. It's not because I want to write mundane things or I want to automate mediocrity or hack situations.

It's because I want to hone in on keeping to the character goal and keeping it tight, making sure the Fresh News is interesting and compelling, getting the Image Moment right, and the other stuff I do. It's like I used to do when practicing scales on my trombone back when I learned it.

Speaking of Image Moment, in keeping with the emotion of the situation, I would probably now change the part about the sky dripping light through the trees and the trees lifting their arms to grab at the light, to something more ominous and tense. Something like this. The sky stabbing rays of light through the leaves on high and the trees lifting their arms to ward off the stabs.

That feels right to me.

 

The point is, once I am able to get all that stuff right (and several other techniques), I feel I will be able to crank out stories and novels and know they are good. Then I can put in philosophical messages, moments of transcendence, and other goodies I have in my notes.

I hope this helps you if you want to write fiction.

If not, I am still fine with writing it because I know that I. myself, will use it. 

:) 

Michael

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Here is an Image Moment I did today--I did it in about 45 minutes. I'm putting it here because I like this one.

The end might seem off because this is a part of a story, not the whole thing. 

Basically, a relationship problem happens, then the man, Jerry, sees a snake. The snake comes out of nowhere when this passage is the only context. One of the reasons is that I did not write any foreshadowing. In a wider context of a more complete story, the snake becomes a metaphor for the poison in the relationship in addition to raising the stakes for Jerry.

Still, if I use this passage later, I might keep the snake, or add foreshadowing, or eliminate it, or who knows? 

It is definitely Fresh News as I mentioned above. And as Fresh News, I'm leaving it as it is right now because it clearly shows how Fresh News works. After all, it is new and Jerry is going to have to deal with the damn thing. But the abruptness and sudden danger in the middle of heartbreak also makes it feel off. And that shows the danger of letting story elements in the same narrative get too distant from one another.

Unless you are writing pulp fiction and hit a dry spot in the story where it is getting boring, things have to jive with each other. We don't want the reader to become confused or think the story got silly, do we? Of course not.

But what about that dry spot? I don't remember who gave this advice, but there is a pulp fiction fix. If the story is slowing down, make a corpse fall through the roof. That will liven up any story for the reader. 

:) 

 

Anywho, enjoy. Or not.

This is only practice. The Image Moment is in bold and italics.

As for me, I'm having a ball writing these things.

Quote

Jerry and Raquel got out of the car in front of Big Discount Foods. Raquel had been complaining that Jerry did not pay enough attention to her.

“Let me go get a cart,” said Jerry. He wanted to get away from her nagging. But a lady was taking a cart back and offered it to him.

Jerry took it, both hands on the handle and turned the cart toward Raquel. She said, “Do you know what Irving asked me today?”

“No.”

“Go on, take a guess.”

Jerry was getting annoyed. “Irving again? Really? What’s with all this Irving stuff?”

“He’s my friend.”

“Yeah? And how far have you gone with this friend?”

“All the way.”

Jerry looked at her. “I’m serious,” she said.

Jerry started pushing the cart toward an aisle. His mind became a blur of white as his hands gripped the cart handle and tried to squeeze it to death. His arms felt like electricity was running back and forth between the cart and his spinal cord.

Raquel stared at him stone-faced. Her thumb was rubbing the diamond engagement ring on her finger. She did not notice that a couple of buttons had opened on her loose white blouse.

Big Discount Foods was famous for its large spaces. It was airy and pleasant. A background of light blue and soft orange let the aisles highlight arrays of sparking colors on the products. But the jumbled arrangement sucked out all long-term feel and interest.

Jerry looked at the children monsters on the yellow cereal boxes of Sweet Poppers. He wondered, what are those idiots grinning about? They were right next to a display of red licorice. What was that doing in the cereal aisle? 

And that round blue gumdrop on the floor? That’s got to go. 

Jerry knew he had to get that damn gumdrop off the floor. If only he could do that one thing, everything else would fall into place. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. He did not notice the tears dripping off his face.

Just get to that gumdrop, he thought. 

He plowed into a display of Fancy Tarts. As they fell all over the place, Jerry saw a dark green snake on the ground right where the center had been.

 

Who knows? After I grow up, maybe I can do soap operas, too.

:) 

Michael

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