Book Review: The Writer’s Book of Wisdom (Part 4)

Happy day after New Year’s! I just got back from a sleepover at the house of a great great great friend I haven’t seen since the end of summer/beginning of school, and soon I’m going to go to the wake of the mother of the friend I told you about.

So before I go, I figured I’d use the break to finish the review. Without any further ado…

Rule 55: Write like you talk.

…Unless the way you talk sucks. Then find a new way to talk.

I’m joking.

…ish.

But sometimes your voice doesn’t suit your content. Say an old, stereotypical history professor wanted to write a thriller scifi novel. If he uses the frivolous voice he probably talks in, no one would want to read him.

If you use stringent grammar at the cost of the prose sounding awkward, you have failed.

Here’s a good test: Read through the material. Out loud. If you stumble at any points (other than the obvious, “that was a comma, not a period. DOH!), circle that part. Because the part of your brain that comprehends reading (angular gyrus) is closely connected to the part of your brain that comprehends speaking (Broca’s area).

(Which is basically the reason it’s so easy to go from reading to speaking. Understanding language (Weirnick’s area) isn’t well connected, so that’s why it’s hard to understand a different language. Fun fact of the day.)

If you take anything away from this book, take away this rule. In my opinion, this should be number one. Way too many people take on a false voice for their writing, and it sounds awful.

Rule 56: Trust the power of your own voice.

This is an extension of Rule 55. The way you talk is usually fine. Unless someone tells you that your voice is a bad fit for your story.

Remember that friend whose story was grammar and spelling- challenged? He has a very frivolous manner of speaking. I told him that, but he doesn’t seem too interested in changing it. And that’s his choice.

Don’t feel forced to change your novel because an editor tells you. If any editor demands changes made to your story that you don’t want to do, don’t. It’s your story. Not his or hers. (More on this all the way in Rule 90!)

Rule 57: Command attention immediately.

John Doe is walking down the aisles of his local library. He looks at a section of the shelf, and your book catches his eye with a clever or interesting title. He reads the blurb on the inside cover and decides that he might like it.

But John Doe is pretty critical. So he opens to the first page, breathing in the new-book smell.

His eyes fall on to the first sentence, and he is bored out of his skull. He snaps the book shut, rolls his eyes, and puts it back on the shelf, never to touch it again.

If this happens, you have failed. With the first sentence, you want the reader to be entranced, hypnotized. And you want to be the hypnotist.

Here’s a good test. Ask a likeminded friend or relative (For me, it’s my older sister): “I’ve got a story called “____________” (For me: The Heir). It opens with ____________________ (For me: “No.” The girl tugged on her low hanging pigtail with a scowl.) What do you think?”

What do you think of mine?

Rule 58: Design your opening page for maximum impact.

There seem to be 5 important elements of a good first page of a manuscript:
• Title (On the first page? Really? Okay….)
• White space
• Hook
• Sense of conflict
• Cliffhanger

The title is supposed to remind the reader/editor what they’re reading, even if there’s a title page. But this book doesn’t. The book closest to me (Ranger’s Apprentice Book 6) doesn’t. So I don’t think this is important for a final draft. But for a manuscript, I don’t think this could be a bad idea.

White space is great. If you have a tasteful amount, it will make people think they’re reading less, since most if not all, people are lazy readers. I know I am. Read the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy in one book? No thank you.

The hook was covered in the last rule, commanding attention.

Conflict is what makes books interesting. You don’t want to hear about the exploits of Jane Doe as she slogs through her daily routine with no troubles except for that one time, last Thursday that she lost her glove on the subway. No. Harry Potter wasn’t exciting because they talked about magic. It was exciting because there was a lot of conflict. Try to have it on your first page. In my novel, you get the impression (I hope) that there’s a war going on, and it’s pretty desperate.

Cilffhanger. If you end in a happy spot, why should the reader read on? It’s pointless. If Veronica Roth hadn’t ended Divergent with Tris unsure of her role, Dauntless in shreds, and Erudite looming closer, would we have wanted Insurgent as much? I don’t think so.

Even minor cliffhangers are better than none. In my story, I ended the first chapter with the possibility of a way to turn the tide of the war, but we don’t hear about it until a while afterward.

Build up the tension.

Rule 59: Start where the story gets interesting.

Also called “In Medias Res” (In the middle of things)

If you’ve ever written anything, whether it be an essay, a poem, or a full blown novel, we all know the beginning is next to impossible. But after a page or two, we settle into the rhythm of writing, and the story or essay or poem flows more easily. Not necessarily very easy. But easier.

Don’t worry about your beginning when you start. Otherwise you’ll get
overwhelmed and won’t. Instead, just write what you think sounds good, and in the editing stage, condense the story as much as possible.

For example, in my story, I had one of the main girls, Yaviel, going to the modern world to get Rhiannon, and Yaviel watches her (Rhiannon) for a while.

But I couldn’t get that to sound right, so I skipped most of it and went right to the good stuff.

It might be hard getting rid of part of your story. It might feel like killing your firstborn child then flaying yourself. But it WILL make your story better. Just be sure that you are careful to give enough information, or the readers might get confused and just leave.

Rule 60: Never save your best for last.

The book says that you should use that best part first. But the best part of my story is that a main character dies, another gets amnesia, and the castle is being attacked. If I put that first, then I would have no story. I would just have a climax out of place with no backstory, character development, or plot.

Plus, the climax should NEVER be outshone by the exposition. Otherwise the climax isn’t the climax. It’s just a mildly exciting part of the story.

Rule 61: Master the basics of literature.

The book claims there are seven things you should pay attention to while writing, in this order.
• Quality of writing. This should speak for itself. If you write poorly, people won’t want to read you. Not even your mother or grandma. …Okay, MAYBE your grandma. Mine probably would.
• Conflict. We’ve talked about this, haven’t we? Conflict is exciting. Would Supernatural be as exciting if people didn’t die? If hunting things and killing things (you know, the family business!) were really easy. NO. It’s because these things are so hard that it’s exciting.
• Point of View. Most English students know about point of view. The book goes into a whole doozy of different kinds of point of views. Just so you know: Second person is pretty much off limits. They make everything sound like those Choose Your Own Adventure books. If you want a whole discourse on point of view, google it. Because there’s too much to cover here.
• Character. Personally, I think this should be number two, but what do I know? All I do know is that the reason I stop watching most T.V. shows or reading most books is because I don’t like the main character. But that’s just me.
• Setting. Especially if you created a fantasy world, be sure to describe it. That’s one of the main things that I have trouble doing. I’m just not good at describing setting.
• Plot. Plot is not very complicated. It’s just the actions of the characters in the story. As long as there’s exposition, a twist or two, a climax, and a good resolution, you’ve got a good plot. But even if you just had someone walk from one corner of the street to the other and back, that would be a plot. Not a good one, but a plot nevertheless.
• Theme. This is basically like the morals at the end of Aesop’s fables. If you have the idea of showing a certain idea (in my story, things are not always what they appear), just think of that while writing. You don’t need to put too much conscious effort into this, since it’ll just happen.

Rule 62: Mix description, narration, exposition, and dialogue.

Description gives images, narration creates action, and exposition gives reasons.

But other than that, the book just throws examples of authors using all of one kind. There is no example of a good mixture of the four. This could confuse readers of this book.

Here’s my own example. It’s kinda crappy, but it’s off the top of my head.

“The tall green grass bent in the wind and into the glassy, ice-blue lake. I walked towards the shore, humming a familiar tune sadly. Where had I heard it? I cast my memories back and remembered the face of a childhood friend, her giant grin missing a single canine tooth on the left side. She had danced around me, singing her favorite song.

Then I saw her face again: older, broken, bloodied, dead. And I sobbed.

When the tears wouldn’t come anymore, I opened my mouth and sang.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me……””

See how I mixed description (about the tall grasses, the glassy lake) narration (walking to the shore, crying) exposition (thinking about her dead friend, remembering the song) and dialogue (wondering where she heard the song, the song itself).

If it was all description:

There was tall green grass that bent into the lake. I walked towards the shore and hummed sadly. I didn’t remember where I heard it. So I cast my mind back. I remembered my friend’s face as she sang the song, and I remembered her dead face.

I sobbed.

When I stopped crying, I started to sing. “la di da”

See how boring it is? Some parts sound right, but a lot of parts do not. Just realize this, and you should be good. If you’re a natural English speaker, then this should come naturally. If not, then you have a good deal to learn. I wish you luck.

Rule 63: For structure, remember the golden triangle.

Okaaaaaay. Never heard of this one. And the book doesn’t explain it very well. And it only gives examples pertinent to essay writers. Remember that basic structure of an essay your teachers taught you? Introductory paragraph, body paragraphs, concluding paragraph? This is the what they talk about.

In my mind, the golden triangle for novelists is “Beginning, Climax, Ending”

As long as you have all of those, you should be good.

Rule 64: Use the classical plot outline.

Remember how I talked about the witch hat? Well, in this book it’s more like two fish hooks that meet at the climax. So for all intents and purposes, it’s a witch hat. Beginning, climax, end.

In the book, the author talks about how if you apply this into your novel, you’ll “tap into emotional wells as deep and ancient as the human race”. Technically, we’re not ancient at all. In fact, if the timeline of the world were a football field, the beginning of the human race would only start about one inch from the goal line.

But I’m being nitpicky and overly critical. It’s just that he says that you shouldn’t be superfluous, and here he is being superfluous. Oh well…

Rule 65: A more detailed plot outline provides your template.

The witch hat can only do so much. Sometimes, you want minor conflicts and resolutions .

In Alanna: The First Adventure (review coming soon!), you think that the Sweating Sickness is the big climax, and everything else is just resolution, but then we introduce Roger of Conté, and Alanna and Jon battle the Ysandir. Then everything after that is resolution.

If used properly, it can make the great big climax that much more OH SNAP!

But be careful of having too many, or the big climax won’t be that big of a payoff.

Rule 666: Allow the process of discover to happen naturally.

Where there’s conflict, there’s drama. So if you have a good conflict and a good style of story and good characters, the story should be good as well. Trust yourself.

And no, this is not Lucifer temporarily possessing Tess to make her do my bidding. Definitely not. She’s writing- I mean I’m writing this of my own free will.

Rule 67: Dialogue heightens drama.

…Sometimes. As with most things, if you use dialogue too much, it becomes annoying and pointless, and you’re probably using it wrong.

And don’t be afraid to use short sentences. Or none at all. Having one character stare at another instead of answering is arguably more powerful than having the character roll his or her eyes and huff, “that’s stupid.”

Remember, actions are more powerful than words. But words are okay, too!

Rule 68: Dialogue speeds the process of discovery.

…just don’t take it too far. If you use dialogue to explain everything (“Hey I just drank a glass of water. It was refreshing and it filled the glass halfway. Little bits of water speckled the edges.” “That’s neat! I just ate a spicy enchilada! A bit of hot sauce got into a cut on the corner of my mouth and it stung!”)

That’s boring and people see right through it.

So use dialogue sparingly, and it will really help your story.

Granted, some short stories can be made from dialogue only. Here’s an example I wrote for a fanfiction. If you don’t know Yu-Gi-Oh, it probably won’t make much sense, but you’ll get an idea for how dialogue can tell a story.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/9525445/33/A-Story-for-a-Word

Rule 69: Dialogue creates tension.

Make your characters hate each other. It’s so much more fun to watch people verbally sparring than telling each other how neat and awesome the other is.

But again, use dialogue sparingly. Even tense dialogue. Because everything except excruciating boredom gets old.

Rule 70: Use dialogue tags correctly.

Don’t worry. When we read, the words “said” “asked” “yelled” and a few others just disappear as we unconsciously process them. But when you use “odd” tags, such as “queried” “orated”, ect, our brains stop at the unknown word and try to puzzle it out. By the time we figure it out (if we do), we have forgotten the dialogue and must reread it.

One could argue that using words such as “announced” “mentioned” “disclosed” are necessary. They give a feeling for how the words are said. Just don’t over use them. (Are you seeing a pattern?)

Rule 71: Establish PoV early.

This section basically says that if your PoV is going to be able to shift, make that apparent as early as possible. And they go on about this for two pages. That’s me, Writer’s Guide, ‘Bridged.

You’re welcome.

Rule 72: Keep your characters real.

Unless your character needs to be unreal in some aspect. Then make them unreal. But while you’re making characters, give them quirks and characteristics, and you can make them very realistic.

To work on characterization, I suggest the book “The Plot Thickens” by Noah Lukeman.

Rule 73: Give the opposition quality attention.

Everyone loves a good villain. I personally love the character Thief King Bakura from Yu-Gi-Oh. He has a tragic back story (his whole village was killed by the pharaoh’s men) and is probably insane, so he commits atrocious crimes as vengeance. At times, you almost want to cheer him on. (I was actually sad when he died.

That’s the best kind of villain.

Another good example that most people know is Judge Frollo (Frodo?) from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He wants to get rid of his lustful feelings for Esmerelda, and tries to do that by killing her. In his twisted, rectitudinous (LOVE that word) brain, he’s the good guy, saving everyone else.

Another great villain.

Though just plain cold and cruel villains are fun to read about. The ones that don’t give a rat’s skinny little butt about “morals” (Loki, from Thor). But try to make them slightly realistic

Rule 74: Tell a dream, and you risk boring a reader.

Now, let’s get this in context. In my story, the dreams of one character in particular (Nari) is very important. Vital, even.

But if you have all of these bad things about to happen to your character and he wakes up to find out it’s all a dream, that’s a (pardon my language) dick move.

It’s way too Deus ex Machina, and it’s just an insult. Like you played with out heartstrings and made us care for characters (a great thing) and then just said, “eeeeh, I can’t think of a good way to resolve this. I’ll just make it a dream. That’s an easy out.”

Inception can get away with it. You can’t.

Rule 75: Setting matters.

Because it does. I have particular troubles with this. I don’t know why, I just do. I can’t translate what I see in my head to the paper well enough.

But setting is important. As the book points out, it establishes mood.

The book also says to spare no detail, but if I spared no detail, I could go on for pages about the leaves on a tree branch. So to revise: don’t spare any necessary details. While the leaves may not be important, the shape might be.

Rule 76: Allow for descriptive passages.

Realize that description can further the plot. By describing the area around the action, we can better understand the action itself. Use unusual adjectives. (In one part of my story, I wrote the phrase (about a sunrise) “coloring the sky with timid rays of pink and orange.”

I could have used “faint”, but I thought, how about timid? Because, why not? Because why not moments are the best kinds of moments, since they lend to so much serendipity.

Rule 77: Practice the elements of description.

There are two kinds of description, according to this book: Catalogues and Sketches.

Catalogues are generally considered lists. Not in a bad way. Just in a … listy … way.

Sketches are basically sketching something with words. There’s no other way to describe it.

Personally, I don’t see much use in knowing the difference. Just use good descriptions ,and your story will prosper.

Rule 78: Use images to deliver ideas.

…I…don’t understand where the book’s going with this. It says to use some abstractions, then uses an excerpt of Ursula K. Le Guin’s book, The Farthest Shore. But there seems to be no connection…

Okaaaaay…. This one’s a dud.

At this point, we go to the next (and final) part!

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