14 June 2020, Writing - part xx255 Writing a Novel, Don’t Tell about Characters
Announcement: Delay, my new novels can be seen on the internet, but my primary publisher has gone out of business—they couldn’t succeed in the past business and publishing environment. I’ll keep you informed, but I need a new publisher. More information can be found at www.ancientlight.com. Check out my novels—I think you’ll really enjoy them.
Introduction: I wrote the novel Aksinya: Enchantment and the Daemon. This was my 21st novel and through this blog, I gave you the entire novel in installments that included commentary on the writing. In the commentary, in addition to other general information on writing, I explained, how the novel was constructed, the metaphors and symbols in it, the writing techniques and tricks I used, and the way I built the scenes. You can look back through this blog and read the entire novel beginning with http://www.pilotlion.blogspot.com/2010/10/new-novel-part-3-girl-and-demon.html.
I’m using this novel as an example of how I produce, market, and eventually (we hope) get a novel published. I’ll keep you informed along the way.
Today’s Blog: To see the steps in the publication process, visit my writing websites http://www.sisteroflight.com/.
The four plus one basic rules I employ when writing:
1. Don’t confuse your readers.
2. Entertain your readers.
3. Ground your readers in the writing.
4. Don’t show (or tell) everything.
4a. Show what can be seen, heard, felt, smelled, and tasted on the stage of the novel.
5. Immerse yourself in the world of your writing.
These are the steps I use to write a novel including the five discrete parts of a novel:
1. Design the initial scene
2. Develop a theme statement (initial setting, protagonist, protagonist’s helper or antagonist, action statement)
a. Research as required
b. Develop the initial setting
c. Develop the characters
d. Identify the telic flaw (internal and external)
3. Write the initial scene (identify the output: implied setting, implied characters, implied action movement)
4. Write the next scene(s) to the climax (rising action)
5. Write the climax scene
6. Write the falling action scene(s)
7. Write the dénouement scene
I finished writing my 29th novel, working title, Detective, potential title Blue Rose: Enchantment and the Detective. The theme statement is: Lady Azure Rose Wishart, the Chancellor of the Fae, supernatural detective, and all around dangerous girl, finds love, solves cases, breaks heads, and plays golf.
Here is the cover proposal for Blue Rose: Enchantment and the Detective.
The most important scene in any novel is the initial scene, but eventually, you have to move to the rising action. I am continuing to write on my 30th novel, working title Red Sonja. I finished my 29th novel, working title Detective. I’m planning to start on number 31, working title Shifter.
How to begin a novel. Number one thought, we need an entertaining idea. I usually encapsulate such an idea with a theme statement. Since I’m writing a new novel, we need a new theme statement. Here is an initial cut.
For novel 30: Red Sonja, a Soviet spy, infiltrates the X-plane programs at Edwards AFB as a test pilot’s administrative clerk, learns about freedom, and is redeemed.
For novel 31: Deirdre and Sorcha are redirected to French finishing school where they discover difficult mysteries, people, and events.
Here is the scene development outline:
1. Scene input (comes from the previous scene output or is an initial scene)
2. Write the scene setting (place, time, stuff, and characters)
3. Imagine the output, creative elements, plot, telic flaw resolution (climax) and develop the tension and release.
4. Write the scene using the output and creative elements to build the tension.
5. Write the release
6. Write the kicker
Today: Why don’t we go back to the basics and just writing a novel? I can tell you what I do, and show you how I go about putting a novel together. We can start with developing an idea then move into the details of the writing.
To start a novel, I picture an initial scene. I may start from a protagonist or just launch into mental development of an initial scene. I get the idea for an initial scene from all kinds of sources. To help get the creative juices flowing, let’s look at the initial scene.
1. Meeting between the protagonist and the antagonist or the protagonist’s helper
2. Action point in the plot
3. Buildup to an exciting scene
4. Indirect introduction of the protagonist
Ideas. We need ideas. Ideas allow us to figure out the protagonist and the telic flaw. Ideas don’t come fully armed from the mind of Zeus. We need to cultivate ideas.
1. Read novels.
2. Fill your mind with good stuff—basically the stuff you want to write about.
3. Figure out what will build ideas in your mind and what will kill ideas in your mind.
6. Make the catharsis.
The development of ideas is based on study and research, but it is also based on creativity. Creativity is the extrapolation of older ideas to form new ones or to present old ideas in a new form. It is a reflection of something new created with ties to the history, science, and logic (the intellect). Creativity requires consuming, thinking, and producing.
If we have filled our mind with all kinds of information and ideas, we are ready to become creative. Creativity means the extrapolation of older ideas to form new ones or to present old ideas in a new form. Literally, we are seeing the world in a new way, or actually, we are seeing some part of the world in a new way.
I’ve worked through creativity and the protagonist. The ultimate point is that if you properly develop your protagonist, you have created your novel. I should move back to the initial scene, but I’ve been writing about showing and not telling in my short form blog, and I want to expand that out a bit in this blog. Let’s move on to perhaps the most important feature of the novel: showing and not telling.
Novelists are not storytellers. Novelists are story-showers. I hope you have heard the fiction writer’s adage: show and don’t tell. This is the most important aspect of the internal construction of the novel.
I will reveal that in reviewing a recent self-published author’s book, I was compelled by the wholesale telling in the book, I can’t call it a novel, that I had to address each area where the author failed to show. That’s where I came up with the following list:
Show and don’t tell.
Omniscient voice is poop.
Only write what the characters saw, tasted, felt, smelled, heard, said, or any action.
Identity is a problem.
It’s all about dialog.
Perfect tense can be a problem.
It’s all about the senses.
Don’t be boring.
Eating is living and dialog.
Creativity and senses.
Start with scene setting.
Make it sense setting.
So just what does it mean to show and not tell? This seems to be a very difficult question for new writers as well as a source of contention for experienced writers. It seems that many writers can’t agree or even concede on what showing vs. telling really means. Not to worry—I have the answer.
Show the setting. The setting is the time, place, characters, and stuff on the stage of the novel. Show only what the reader and characters can see, hear, smell, taste, and physically feel on the stage of the novel. When I write show, I mean specifically, describe only what the reader and characters can see, hear, smell, taste, and physically feel on the stage of the novel.
Don’t tell us what the characters think, or what they feel, or what they did in the past. This is telling. Don’t tell us what we can’t see, hear, smell, taste, and physically feel. So, let’s say you need to show us about a character’s background. First of all, think this, is it necessary to know? If it is necessary, how should I reveal it? The novel is a revelation of the protagonist. This idea should be revealing in itself. The author should not regurgitate their background notes on the protagonist at the first meeting and description—that is telling.
Don’t tell. Well, then if I can’t tell, but I need to get the information about a protagonist or a character to the reader, how do I do it. That’s called writing, and it’s a skill, but I’ll show you. You need to show us. The very best way is through dialog, but you can also use action description. For example, if you want to show us that your protagonist is a great golfer, have her play a game of golf—that’s just what I did in Blue Rose: Enchantment and the Detective. My protagonist is a great golfer, in the second scene she, Azure Rose, is waylaid by her headmistress to play nine before school. They bet on the game and Azure Rose wins handily. Due to the protagonist and the headmistress’ conversation, we learn a lot about the characters, but even more because the headmistress forces Azure to be the topic of their discussion. Can you see how this works?
If you want to reveal to us anything about any character, show us. The best way to show is to set up a situation that reveals the information. You might say, but that takes time and effort. Exactly, that’s what a novel is all about—it is the revelation of the protagonist. That’s exactly what your job is all about.
So, if you want us to know your protagonist is a very great nuclear physicist, you need to show us. Put your protagonist in the lab or in a classroom. Put them at a job interview or at a symposium. If you don’t understand what I am writing about, you shouldn’t be writing about a nuclear physicist in the first place. Let’s say you want to have a protagonist who is a decorated military officer or member, show us.
I’m not a big fan of flashbacks, but that is one method of showing. I have used the flashback in my writing. A better means of passing this information is through dialog or showing the activities of the protagonist. Background information comes out naturally when characters are discussing their pasts or the “good times.”
The point is this. You must show the revelation of your protagonist (and all the other characters). There is some information you can legitimately pull out of the point of view of the protagonist or the point of view of another character, but I also recommend you show this and not tell it.
The beginning of creativity is study and effort. We can use this to extrapolate to creativity. In addition, we need to look at recording ideas and working with ideas.
For more information, you can visit my author site http://www.ldalford.com/, and my individual novel websites:
fiction, theme, plot, story, storyline, character development, scene, setting, conversation, novel, book, writing, information, study, marketing, tension, release, creative, idea, logic