Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Never Ever Be Boring

Plotting serves only one function. To organize the story events into segments that can easily be transferred into writing. There are many ways to do that and various authors have various ways to fulfilling that purpose. These vary from plot-as-you-go to detailed story boards that work out each scene before it's written.

What many writers forget, especially those who dislike plotting, is that the plot is not the story. It's just a framework for the story. The story comes about through the ways you show the events. In other words, how you write each scene, how you have your characters move through the events in your plot, the words you put in their mouths, this is what creates the heart of your story.

This heart is created skillfully using pacing, proportion and beats to reveal your story, word by word and a well-crafted story is never boring..

Pacing has to do with time and timing.  Proportion has to do with how many words, how much page space, is devoted to any given topic, location, event in a story.  These principles apply to both long and short fiction.


Scene and summary are the writer’s most valuable tools in controlling story pace.  Scene, in this context, means a finite period of story time, with a specific location, where something significant to the characters and the story occurs. Summary is a block of words that compresses events on the page and clarifies the story direction.Whenever strong dialogue and high tension are occurring your story is being presented in scene. Do not interrupt a scene in progress with summary.

When a scene reaches the end, use summary to clarify major points and to transition to the next location in time and space.  Occasionally you’ll find a need to pull all these summaries into a cohesive whole.  Save these larger summaries for after moments of high tension.  This delays the information long enough that  readers are hungry for it and also provides a breathing spell to digest what’s already happened. Don't overdo. Brevity keeps your writing from being boring.

Authors must stay aware that when you give a particular story element lots of words, readers will assume the element is important. They've been trained to expect some kind of payoff for things that have the spotlight put on them. 

If you delay your character's trip to answer a knock on the door, readers will expect some momentous event when the door opens.  If there's no payoff, it won't be long before they put a book down. Today's readers days are used to the quick intercuts of movies and television and expect it in commercial fiction as well. They grow impatient with empty words, making brevity a writer's greatest ally to making sure you aren't boring.

Save your lyrical descriptive passages and well-crafted dialogue for the people, places and things who form the heart of your story.  Aim for clarity and brevity in your exposition and introspection and you'll have proportion on your side, which always adds up to a good read.

Beats and Movements

A passage of writing that begins with the initiation of a conversation or an action and ends when the purpose is achieved (or not).  In other words, it’s a small beginning and ending.  Beats exist within beats. 

A collection of beats that created a visible change in a character or a goal.

Thus a character could walk into a store, furious, determined to get a refund on a defective toy that left his daughter sobbing.  This beat begins when Dad approaches the customer service counter and will end when Dad gets the refund or is defeated and out of options. There could be more smaller beats, but, and this is a big but, if you include too many beats on the same topic, it just gets boring.

As beats expand upon smaller beats they turn into movements.  In this case, Dad is so enraged he punches the boss, making his daughter even more unhappy.  This could pivot the story from one about a Dad defending his unhappy daughter to a man struggling to build any kind of relationship with this young stranger he fathered but barely knows. A not uncommon situation that can easily drift into cliches and become boring.

What keeps readers engaged is how tightly and precisely you carve the beats inside your movements and how well you summarize a completed movement. The hard part is that there is no cut and dried definition for when beats and movements end except that each one needs to be a complete unit of action. In this example, Dad goes to the customer service desk expecting the refund and fails to get it – the beat ends because a new action is required of him.  Movements are simply larger units of collected beats.

Understanding these principles of writing keeps you from violating the two most unbreakable writing rules:  Never devote writing space to anything that doesn’t add to tone, characterization, plot movement, or world building and . . . never be boring, which are actually the same thing. 

Mind the pacing, proportion and beats of your stories and they will always engage your reader.

Till later,
Connie Flynn
Website: http://connieflynn.com
Blog:  http://imaginationgonewild322.blogspot.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ConnieFlynnAuthor
Twitter: @connieflynn


Karen/Mom said...

Interesting and informative. Thanks Connie!

Connie Flynn said...

Your welcome, Karen. I'm glad it worked for you. Thanks for stopping by.