Writing–It’s Our ‘Normal’

All of us have had those days when we’re just going through the motions and dragging our feet—lethargic. Dishes in the sink are piling up. You might be working two or three jobs just to keep afloat, and the drama at the office is wearing you out. Drama at the home isn’t much better. You’re pulled in a million different directions, and everyone wants your attention. You might be going through an emotional low point and can’t motivate yourself to do much, and writing is far down the to-do list. You might be sick—with a fever or something worse.

How am I supposed to write in this condition?” Because your conditions aren’t ‘normal’, you allow yourself to slack off with writing. However, we encounter a lot of difficulties in life:

  • Growing up
  • Relationship/heartbreaks
  • Going to college
  • Tests
  • FINALS
  • Performances and parades
  • Roommate drama
  • College graduation
  • Car accidents
  • Horse accident
  • Trips across the U.S.
  • Trips overseas
  • Living in a foreign land for several months
  • Living with a family of three small children
  • Having three or five children of your own plus numerous of pets and a spouse to care for
  • Fevers, colds, all sorts of illnesses
  • Work — long commute
  • House maintenance and remodeling
  • Family drama
  • Visitors—who stay a year
  • Heart surgery (or any kind of surgery)
  • Death in the family
  • Watching a loved one endure unspeakable back pain
  • Betrayal and backstabbing from those considered friends

And so on and so forth.

The point is even with all this we still write. Why? Because writing is what is ‘normal’ to us. The world can be crashing down around us. We can find ourselves sitting in the waiting room of a hospital not knowing what news we will hear next, but instead of pacing and over-thinking the unchangeable situation, we write. It brings an indescribable peace to us, and it pulls us out of ourselves and helps us see things from a different perspective. It calms us and passes the time more swiftly, so when the doctor comes in with news, we can look up expectantly but not overly anxious because you know being anxious doesn’t help the situation—having a clear mind does; at least that’s how it works in your stories, and you know your life is one big story. What kind of character do you want to be?

So, what if you’re down with a fever? The last thing you want to do is look at a computer screen—especially a blank page that won’t write itself. Not only that but your brain won’t stop thinking! You can’t complete a thought without another thought interrupting! How are you supposed to write anything that makes sense? The amazing thing is, once you focus, the thoughts seem to complete themselves, and they do make sense. As for not wanting to stare at the computer screen—well, a lot of people can type without looking at the screen—only opening their eyes when they think they’ve made a mistake and need to backspace.

A lot of people put off writing when life interrupts, but to me, writing is what is normal. When I can’t write or don’t write, something is seriously wrong—that is abnormal. Sure, I might not be able to reach my 1,000-2,000 words a day that I like, but if I can write at least 250-500 words, I’m satisfied because I tried.  Some days are harder than others. Sometimes you may suffer Writer’s Block in addition to everything happening in your life, but you need to determine where on the scale of importance does writing rank in your life.

So, is writing your normal?

The Fundamentals of Timing in a Story

Timing is everything. It is simple and yet complex.

When you write, if you use poetic elements, there is a rhythm and therefore a pace. When you have a pace in a story, there is an element of timing. 

What is timing? How are you supposed to keep an eye on it and make sure it runs smoothly? Here is a brief scene I wrote specifically for this post. Notice the purposely delayed introduction of a character as well as the deliberate diversion of the conversation:

Janet waited in her darkened kitchen sitting at the island with her hands around her now-lukewarm coffee mug. She heard her husband’s car pull into the drive, and then he slammed the car door as he got out. Though she couldn’t hear his footsteps, she counted the seconds until the side door creaked open, and he stepped in—still wearing his gray business suit with his coat draped over his arm, and he carried his briefcase.

He looked at her—surprised to see her. “Sorry I’m late. Meeting ran long and traffic was a pain.” He closed the door with his foot. “Why are you still up? You never wait for me.”

He was right. She usually went to bed at nine o’clock whether or not he was home. Her daily headaches hindered her staying up later than that, but this evening was different. Her headache still split her skull, but a more important matter kept her awake—the man sitting in the chair in the shadows behind her husband. He came for answers—of a life her husband knew nothing about. She had intended to tell him one day—today even, but she saw the exhaustion in his face. He faced his daily battles at work, and he didn’t need to come home and stress some more. Home was to be his haven, and if she could give him one more night of peace, she would.

I was just worried about you.” She smiled as she rose to her feet and went to him, kissing his cheek. “But of course there’s nothing to worry about. Why don’t you go upstairs and freshen up? I’ll be up there soon.”

Yeah—sure.” He bobbed his head as he headed for the stairs. When he moved passed her, Janet locked eyes with the silent man in their living room. She would give him the answers he wanted, but just one more night of peace in the comfort of their routine.

The man nodded but remained seated. He had time—he always had time.

In real life there might be a time when you have to tell someone something important, but you wait for the right time to tell them. This can be applied to stories. Just like Janet knew of the silent man’s presence in the house and the importance of her husband knowing, she also knew her husband didn’t need to know at that specific time. It’s okay for characters to keep information to themselves so long as they know why. This tactic builds tension and adds another dimension to the scene as well as depth to the characters.

Another element of timing is literally the passage of time. As writers, we can fast-forward and rewind time at will. We can travel hundreds of years to the past or to the future. Due to this ability, we might forget how important it is to simply let time move naturally in the story. For instance, I was revising a historical fiction novel of mine and realized one chapter took place in December and the next chapter occurred in June. I had compacted the scenes so tightly together, I couldn’t pull it apart without causing havoc. However, the passage of time was a complete wreck. In order to give the feeling of time passing, I took the opportunity to weave into the story a new important subplot between the two chapters. This slowed down the pace, gave the reader a chance to breath and reevaluate the status of the story, and it gave me the chance to add another element to the entire overarching story. This isn’t recommended, but sometimes you have no choice, and you have to be careful when you apply this tactic.

Another way to keep time moving naturally in a story is to take advantage of multiple subplots and use a circuit from plot to plot before circling back to the original plot. This strategy is best used when writing third person, but it can be employed when writing multiple POV-first person. Let me give you an example. Here are the players: Leo, Vivienne, Anna, Todd, Liam, Irene and Isabella.

  • Leo and Vivienne go into an operating room.
  • Anna goes to find Irene and Isabella and take them where they need to go.
  • Todd and Liam go to find Richard.
  • Vivienne leaves Leo to join Anna, Irene, and Isabella.
  • When Vivienne arrives, Anna goes to join Todd and Liam.
  • Richard isn’t responding well to Todd and Liam, so when Anna arrives, Liam asks her to take Todd aside.
  • While being operated upon, Leo uses his magic to discover all isn’t what it seems.
  • Vivienne, Irene, and Isabella are the distraction and pick a fight with Sebastian and Abraham to get the Guardians’ attention.
  • Liam talks with Richard, trying to figure out his angle. Something isn’t adding up.
  • Todd and Anna finally have a meaningful conversation in which a lot is revealed.
  • Leo makes a startling revelation.
  • The Guardians finally get involved in the fight, and Vivienne manages to unmask one of them—and in doing so, she’s surprised by her discovery of the origin of the Guardians.
  • Anna is upset with what Todd has told her, and they argue, but then she storms away.
  • Liam has learned Richard’s real motive, and it is disturbing. Just as he leaves from talking with the man, Anna storms pass him, and Todd is close behind. Liam knows the conversation did not go well.
  • They all come back together, and the game has definitely changed.

Now, take a closer look at how these scenes worked. First it was Leo (with Vivienne), then Anna (with Irene and Isabella), then Todd and Liam. Then Vivienne joined Anna, Irene, and Isabella, and Anna left and joined Todd and Liam, and eventually Todd leaves with Anna. We have a circuit of scenes: Leo, then Vivienne (with Irene and Isabella), then Liam with Richard, then Anna with Todd, and then it circles back to Leo, Vivienne, Liam, and Anna, and so forth.

Leo is first, and by the time we get back to him after going through all those other scenes, he’s had enough time to discover something else. This applies to all the other characters as well when you have this kind of circuit working for you. This technique is often fast-paced, but it allows to time to pass realistically through the scenes.

Timing is important for the pace and development of a story. It allows you to slip a major but not-yet-introduced character into a scene, so when he is introduced, you already have a lot you can work with regarding the character. It also gives you the ability to create misunderstandings and miscommunications by having a character refrain from saying something at a specific time just because the timing was wrong. You can slow down a scene and bring into focus the little details, or you can speed it up in an organized though somewhat chaotic manner much like a camera in cinema.

Stories have their own sense of timing, and for the most part all you need to do is let it run at its own pace. However, sometimes a story may demand a specific tempo at a certain part, and you need to be ready to change the pace for that scene before reverting back to the normal speed of the story.

Be aware of timing in your story. If you’re writing a medieval story and a character sent a message to a land far away, you’ll have to speed up the time in order to show the other character receiving the message. It’s not like they can send or receive a text message or email. Likewise if you’re writing modern stories or science fiction. The technology is different, so it allows for a different pace.

Don’t rush the story—otherwise you may completely miss a plot of gemstones buried beneath the levels of different scenes. Be aware of time in your story, and go ahead and experiment with it–use different techniques. You may discover an entirely new depth to your writing voice. 

Elements of Poetry

Go ahead—groan. As soon as I say the word ‘poetry’, almost everyone closes up because they’re thinking of the common,

Roses are red

Violets are blue

Sugar is sweet

And so are you!”

And that is not what I’m talking about.

What I’m talking about is rhyme and rhythm—subtlety done. Putting poetic skills into play with poise. For some people, this comes naturally. For others, it will take practice.

Poetry offers a very important and ancient element to writing. In the days of old when stories were told orally, poetry was the most common form because it was easier to remember, and who doesn’t like a good story?

When you’re sitting around a camp fire at night and someone is telling a story, would you rather listen to a monotone story of how a group of people once went into these woods only to disappear, or would you rather hear the rise and fall of the voice, the suspenseful pauses, the use of the environment (such as throwing a firecracker into the fire the moment a gunshot goes off in the story), and the speed, then slowness of the voice? Which would you prefer to hear? Which one would you remember for the rest of your life?

Poetry is the only key to ancient storytelling that translates into modern day writing. Sure it gets complicated—look at Shakespeare if you want a reminder, but it doesn’t have to be. The primary use of poetics in prose is to paint a picture.

Here is something I had written, but we’re going to dissect it, so you can identify the poetic elements:

Wind raked across the darkened barren winterscape as he trudged through the knee deep snow through the mountain terrain. A wolf’s howl caused him to halt and look around, then up at the sky at the full moon’s pale face; wisps of clouds passed swiftly across the bright night sun.

Knowing the wolves were of no threat to him, he tugged the edges of his hood closer to his face and hugged his cloak around him as he ducked his head and pressed on through the skin-biting wind, step by step through the snow, ice, and rock. Even in these night hours, he knew this path well―having worn it well during the years of his childhood. If he lifted his head, he knew he would see the impressive sight of Nirrorm’s castle jutting out of the mountain at the end of the valley―its sharp towers a contrast in the night and an imposing, frightening sight to the unfamiliar, but he kept walking―one step at a time.

At last he came to the castle walls, and the honorable watchmen saw him before he saw them. “Halt! Who goes there?”

He stood at the foot of the wall staring at the structured stone. His journey had drained him, and he did not wish to speak above a whisper, for he had little strength. He knew he could conjure a magical orb that would answer the watchmen’s question, but he was familiar with the laws of Nirrorm.

Magic was forbidden here.

Sighing, he lifted his chin and looked up, up, up to the top of the wall where the watchman leaned over to see him―and aim their arrows at him. As if that would harm him. A small smirk touched the corner of his pale lips, but he swallowed and forced his voice to be heard. “I am Prince Lorrek of Cuskelom, and I seek sanctuary.”

All right, so on the surface it looks like a normal intro to a story, but let me take it apart for you, so you can see the elements of poetry at work here. Let’s draw out the sounds of just the first paragraph:

‘A’: Wind raked across the darkened barren winterscape as he trudged through the knee deep snow through the mountain terrain. A wolf’s howl caused him to halt and look around then up at the sky at the full moon’s pale face; wisps of clouds passed swiftly across the bright night sun.

‘A_E’: Wind raked across the darkened barren winterscape as he trudged through the knee deep snow through the mountain terrain. A wolf’s howl caused him to halt and look around then up at the sky at the full moon’s pale face

‘AIN’: he trudged through the knee deep snow through the mountain terrain.

‘D’: Wind raked across the darkened barren winterscape as he trudged through the knee deep snow through the mountain terrain.

EE’: he trudged through the knee deep snow through the mountain terrain.

‘H’: A wolf’s howl caused him to halt and look around then up at the sky at the full moon’s pale face…

‘IGHT’: wisps of clouds passed swiftly across the bright night sun.

‘K’: Wind raked across the darkened barren winterscape…

‘L’: A wolf’s howl caused him to halt and look around and then up at the sky at the full moon’s pale face; wisps of clouds passed swiftly across the bright night sun.

‘O’: Wind raked across the darkened barren winterscape as he trudged through the knee deep snow through the mountain terrain. A wolf’s howl caused him to halt and look around and then up at the sky at the full moon’s pale face; wisps of clouds passed swiftly across the bright night sun.

‘R’: Wind raked across the darkened barren winterscape as he trudged through the knee deep snow through the mountain terrain…

‘S’: Wind raked across the darkened barren winterscape as he trudged through the knee deep snow through the mountain terrain. A wolf‘s howl caused him to halt and look around then up at the sky at the full moon’s pale face; wisps of clouds passed swiftly across the bright night sun.

‘T’ & ‘TH’: Wind raked across the darkened barren winterscape as he trudged through the knee deep snow through the mountain terrain. A wolf’s howl caused him to halt and look around and then up at the sky at the full moon’s pale face; wisps of clouds passed swiftly across the bright night sun.

This is the poetic element in its basic form. We use alliteration to make the first letters of the words to rhyme such as the ‘T’ and ‘TH’ here: ‘he trudged through the knee deep snow through the mountain terrain’. Rhyming occurs at the end of the word such as ‘ bright night‘. Assonance also comes into play, and this makes the middle of the words to rhyme, as it did here: ‘…the full moon’s pale face.’

The use of sounds via letters is important, but the use of sounds via repetition is also a tool.

At last he came to the castle walls, and the honorable watchmen saw him before he saw them. “Halt! Who goes there?”

Now, I could have said “the honorable watchmen noticed him before he saw them” or the other way around, and my editors and proofreaders would recommend I change it, but it just sounds right. For an example of one that doesn’t sound right, here:

Even in these night hours, he knew this path well―having worn it well during the years of his childhood.

The use of ‘well’ doesn’t flow easily, and it doesn’t sound right to my ears. I would probably rephrase one or the other so I don’t repeat that word. It can work the way it is, but I don’t like the sound of it.

Here’s another example of the use of repetition to stress a point:

Sighing, he lifted his chin and looked up, up, up to the top of the wall where the watchman leaned over to see him―and aim their arrows at him.

Sure, he lifted his chin, so we automatically know he’s looking up, but I wanted to stress just how close to the wall he was and how high the wall was, so I repeated the word three times. Very rarely do I use a word more than three times when doing this, but it’s not unheard of.

Using repetition creates a sound—a rhythm. Another example of repetition this way is with the use of the word ‘and’. In the text above I don’t have an example, but it’s something like this:

He went up the stairs and down the hall and through the chambers and into the last place her saw her—the hanging gardens.

The use of ‘and’ here is deliberate. It sets a rhythm, stresses a point, and draws out the systematic way he searched for her.

Repeating little words to form a rhythm or set a pace to a story is often frowned upon by editors. In their mind you’re supposed to use the word once in a sentence/paragraph because it’s more professional that way—more proper. However, if you deliberately used those words, don’t back down just because someone disagrees with you. Show them why you did what you did. This is why it is very important to know why you must choose every word that you write with care.

So check your own style. Does it use any elements of poetry that I’ve explained? Does it use sound as I demonstrated? Sure, it might not be your style, but it’s worth experimenting with. Applying these tools properly takes practice. That is why it is important to read and write poetry even though you may never publish it or allow anyone to read it. Study the sounds, observe the structure, and it will slip into your writing, adding an extra depth to your words, sharpening those images, and strengthening those sentences.

Summary of Former Blog Posts

Today’s blog post is going to be a recap of all my previous posts with links to each one. People ask me about specific elements of writing, and I realize I’ve already discussed those elements, so I direct them to that post. Here’s a chance for everyone (including myself) to get caught up on the different topics I’ve covered. I may do these kinds of posts periodically to keep everything in perspective.

Post 1: Let’s Talk About Telling – This post discusses what exactly ‘telling’, so it’s easier to identify in your own writing in order to help you ‘show’ better.

Post 2: How ‘Said’ is Redundant – The common dialogue tag is ‘said’, but due to punctuation, it is also redundant and lends itself to telling rather than showing.

Post 3: More on Dialogue Tags – Dialogue tags have their place in writing, but these days they are often used as a cheap way for the writer to write a conversation between characters without putting much effort into it. However, the writing can be stronger and much more vivid by using body language in place of the tags.

Post 4: The Adverse Adverb – Stephen King says, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” While I wouldn’t go that far, most of the time adverbs only weaken the structure of a sentence and the writing. They can be replaced by more concrete words therefore creating a stronger experience for the readers.

Post 5: The Playground Experience – In order to know anything, you have to learn about it. Sometimes you learn the hard way, but sometimes your learning experience can be fun. The ‘Playground Experience’ is writing stuff that you never intend to publish only because you’re writing it for the practice.

Post 6: Practice Makes Perfect and then Publication – With writing, we’re not immediate masters of the craft, and we need to recognize that. Instead, we need to take the time to stretch ourselves in writing different things in order to learn this or that element of writing rather than the sole purpose of writing for publication.

Post 7: The Personality of Writing – If you ignore your writing obligations or skills, writing will give you the cold shoulder when you turn back to it. The longer you go on ignoring it, the harder it will be to write when you finally decide to pick up the pen. Is it worth it? Absolutely. The persona of writing simply wants to make sure you have the commitment to sit down and write before it floods you with ideas and inspiration.

Post 8: Paint Pictures With Words – ‘Show, don’t tell’ is the common rule among writers, but are you supposed to show every single detail?? No, and this post shows you how to determine what to include in description and what you could leave out.

Post 9: Movement in Description – There should be motion in the words that describe the scene. To me, the scenes play out like a movie scene, and the camera is always moving—in a logical manner that doesn’t sicken the viewers. The description of writing should reflect that, but how? This post shows.

Post 10: Shifting Points of View (POV) – Writers are commonly encouraged not to switch POV in the middle of a scene. While I see their point, I disagree. Multiple POV’s in the same scene takes practice to master, but it must be practiced (and therefore allowed) in order to master. Once this tool has been well-refined, it can show the scene in ways that limited POV cannot, and this broadens the horizon of the story.

Post 11: The Key to Dialogue: Listening – A lot of people struggle to write dialogue. One way to overcome this is to listen to others talk. As writers we tend to get caught up in our own thoughts and not pay attention to what is being said around us, but we write about people, so we should take the time to stop and watch them and listen to them. Pay attention to their speech pattern, choice of words, etc.

Post 12: Speaking of Dialogue – There are some elements of speaking which do not transfer well in writing, and this limits your audience. We discuss it in this post.

Post 13: Necessary Narration – ‘Narration’ can be another word for ‘telling’, and because of this, a lot of people won’t talk about it since you’re not supposed to ‘tell’. However, narration is important. Through this tool, we can get inside our characters’ minds, feel their emotions, and relate to them. The key is to balance the ‘telling’ with the ‘showing’.

Post 14: The Origin of the Narrative – Most writers begin their writing career as a child writing in their diary. This means they start writing in ‘first person’, and when they finally begin writing actual stories, those stories tend to be in ‘first person’ as well. Eventually they may dabble in ‘third person’ writing or may opt to stay with ‘first person’. All of this determines the narrative of the story.

Post 15: Punctuation of Cinemagraphic Writing – How should punctuation be used today? The semicolon is losing ground. The ellipsis should definitely be limited as should the colon. The one that’s gaining more ground surprisingly is the dash, and this post goes into more detail in it.

Post 16: Determining the Person – Should your story be written in first person, second person, or third person? Here we discuss the pros and cons of each one.

Post 17: Overview of the Different Tenses – Usually most writing is done in ‘past tense’, but it is becoming more and more common for stories to be written in ‘present tense’. However, there are more tenses than merely ‘past’ and ‘present’, and this post discusses them.

Post 18: Flashbacks and Tenses – Flashbacks are tricky, but with the proper use of tenses, the transition between past and present events can be smoother.

Post 19: Author-Based Characters – Due to the fact that most writers begin by writing in their journals then transfer over to story writing, they usually write the main character as themselves. This is dangerous because readers can sense it, and it will turn the readers away from the story.

Post 20: Author/Character Relationship – There are two kinds of authors: Interactive and Static. Interactive authors are constantly communicating with their characters throughout the process of writing, but Static authors are set in their way of how they’re going to write, and the characters must do their will.

Post 21: Describing Your Character Upon Introduction – When your character is first seen in the story, natural instinct is to pause the flow of narration to give a full description of your character. This disrupts the story and can be jarring to your readers. There is a smoother way to bring your character to life.

Post 22: Notice What You Notice – In order to write description of a scene better, it’s important to recognize for yourself what you notice when you walk into a room. This helps you write more realistically.

Post 23: Immortal Words – Our words have a lasting effect, especially those printed on paper. Yes, there are ways such words could be destroyed, but if preserved, they could essentially last forever. It’s important remember the far-reaching effect your story may have on future generations.

Post 24: Plot: The Spine of the Story – What is the story about? Sure, we can have fantastic characters, but if we don’t have an actual plot to follow, the story won’t be memorable.

Post 25: Different Kinds of Outlines – Outlining a story is one way to stayed organized and motivated to write, but there are different approaches to outlines.

Post 26: Timeline Outline – This specific outline draws everything on a horizontal line rather than vertical. It helps keep dates straight as well as what’s happening where when there are multiple plots to a story.

Post 27: When TO Use an Outline – Outlining isn’t for every writer, so there is a time to outline and a time not to use an outline. This post discusses the proper time when to use this tool.

Post 28: When NOT To Use An Outline – A continuation from the previous post, this one focuses on the other side. It discusses when it’s proper not to use an outline.

Post 29: When To Step OFF An Outline – You might have completely outlined your story, but then the story decides to change direction on you. This is all right, and you should heed the direction of the story even through it takes you off the outline you had planned.

Post 30: Production Writer’s Block – Unofficially there are two kinds of Writer’s Block, and here we discuss the first kind which is ‘Production Writer’s Block’. It can also be described as ‘In-Progress’ writer’s block. It’s when you’re working on a story and hit a brick wall.

Post 31: New Project Writer’s Block – The second unofficial Writer’s Block is when you’ve finished your story and now aren’t sure what to write next.

Post 32: Always Try To Write Your Best – There are a lot of influences out there in the world, and there’s a lot of pressure of how you should conform your writing to what’s acceptable and marketable. However, you should only write the best you can at that time in your life. Always try to sharpen your skill. As time goes on, you’ll look back with fresh eyes, and you won’t be happy with what you wrote, but at that time you wrote the best you could write.

Post 33: A Method of Revision – When you go back to your old work and decide to finally do something with it, the work will need some polishing up, and the first thing you need to do is revise it. This post discusses an approach to revision to help familiarize you with the process.

Post 34: Steps To Editing – The next step of polishing your work is to edit it. This post goes into detail of how to approach editing.

Post 35: An Approach to Proofreading – The final step of polishing your work is proofreading, and this post shows how proofreading differs from editing and gives a warning that most writers don’t consider when they’re polishing their work.

Post 36: The Etiquette of Readers Part 1: Casual Reader – Sometimes we all need encouragement and motivation. What we really need is a cheerleader. We don’t need them to criticize us when we make a mistake but to cheer us to get back up and keep going. This is where the Casual Reader comes into play.

Post 37: The Etiquette of the Reader Part 2: Beta Reader – Unlike the Casual Reader, it is the Beta Reader’s job to critique our work. It’s not fun, but it’s an important step.

Post 38: Emotions: Let Your Characters Feel – Emotions are fundamental to human life, to our experiences, and how we react. Due to its great importance in real life, emotions shouldn’t be skimmed over in significant scenes of our stories. It might make us feel uncomfortable, but we need to let our characters feel.

Now we are entirely up-to-date.  I have a lot more material to cover, but you’ll just have to wait until next week to see what will be discussed next. Thank you for your patience. See you then!