Welcome to my Writing blog. If you're interested in my comments about "My Favorite Things," my articles for yourLDSneighborhood.com, and Life in general, click here. For a direct link to my website, click rondahinrichsen.com.
If an author cares whether or not his manuscript is read and/or
bought, he must instantly catch the reader’s attention. For that reason, until
the last year or two, I wrote with the belief that all stories must begin with a
scene which shows what happens to the main character on the day everything
changes, i.e., the inciting incident. By contrast, I also believed beginning a story with
long, detailed descriptions of the setting killed the story, for people, especially me, either immediately closed the book or fell asleep reading
about sunsets and mountain peaks.If you’ve had those same beliefs, listen up.
Yes, action, as I earlier described, is an important element of a good
beginning, but I now realize setting is too, only, and here’s the critical
part, that setting needs to be included within the action.
Why? Because a well-drawn up setting helps transport readers to your character's world. Don't believe me? Consider the following first paragraphs from two of my favorite best-selling novels: In each case, the characters are in the middle of a physical action on the day everything changes.
Princess Academy, Shannon Hale
woke to the insistent bleat of a goat. She squeaked open one eye. Pale yellow
sky slipped through the cracks in the shutters. It was day—the very day trade
wagons might come to carry her off. She’d been expecting them all week with
both a skipping heart and a falling stomach. Strange, lately, how many things
made her feel two opposite ways twisted together.
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking
Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must
have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is
the day of the reaping.
In each paragraph, the author slips the setting into the action in such a way that we hardly notice it, and yet we get a clear picture of what is happening in the story at that moment. We are also immediately drawn into the character's world. The main tool the authors use to accomplish this are specific details. Details, details, details. We hear that phrase all the time, and yet it truly is the key to fleshed-out writing. And those details are not limited to the physical. Both of the above examples also incorporate a detail from at least one other of the five senses. Also, and perhaps most importantly, those details hint at the POV character's current emotion.
With that understanding, now look at those same two paragraphs. Only this time, I've highlighted the specific setting details.
Princess Academy, Shannon Hale
Miri woke tothe insistent bleat of a goat. She squeaked open one eye. Pale yellow sky slipped through the cracks in the shutters. It was day—the very day trade wagons might come to carry her off. She’d been expecting them all week with both a skipping heart and a falling stomach. Strange, lately, how many things made her feel two opposite ways twisted together.
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is theday of the reaping.
In the example from The Hunger Games, I highlighted "our mother" and "day of the reaping" because, to me, they add to the setting; but I highighted it with a different color, because you may not agrree with me. However, whether you agree with me or not does not matter nearly as much as whether or not you understand that Beginnings do begin with Setting. And character. And action. And emotion. With all of them working together to pull readers into the authors' worlds.
"My parents never really cared about me," Allie said. "All my life they saw me as a disappointment, a waste of space. I was always the butt of their jokes. And no one really noticed. I was always last place, as far as they were concerned. I had a really difficult childhood. . ."
And it went on like this for about a paragraph or two.
I could see that the writer wanted to foster sympathy for the character, wanted to explain how the character felt about her upbringing.
But ultimately, it made her sound whiny--and I could tell that wasn't what the author intended.
At first I was a little sympathetic to the character. . .then after several sentences, the writing just felt sentimental to me, meaning, I felt like the writer was trying to coax me to feel a certain way, like I was being controlled, rather than letting me feel for the situation myself.
It's a good idea to want your readers to connect with your characters' hardships, but it can backfire if it's too sentimental or sometimes even when it's sympathetic.
Instead, when you want to impact the reader, strive to create empathy.
Usually when I hear empathy, I think of someone who is in pain, going through a lot of difficulty, but really, it's a level of deep understanding--whether that's an understanding of fear, bravery, or obsession.
Here are two examples to illustrate empathetic writing.
In The Maze Runner, I got to a scene where James Dashner wanted to show that his main character, Thomas, was a hero with a good heart--but I could only tell because I'm not just a reader, I'm also a writer. He didn't write about it sympathetically or sentimentally, he created empathy simply by putting us in Thomas's head and showing us what he did in a given situation.
When at twelve I first decided I wanted to be a writer, I had no idea that meant I would have to learn more than writing skills to accomplish that goal/dream. I'd also have learn business and marketing skills. And this post, my friends, is part of that marketing side of things. As you know, I've recently released 101 Pocket Writing Tips & Techniques To Inspire Your Fiction and Strengthen Your Craft, and I'm now in the process of revealing it to the public--i.e., marketing. As part of my marketing plan, I have included it in this awesome five day sale which is quickly coming to a close. If you love to read, or if you want to get 101 Pocket Writing Tips at the low price of .99--check it now. The sale ends tomorrow.
Today I contributed to Josi S. Kilpack's post on Writing Spaces; i.e., where is the best place to write? The answer comes down to what works best for each individual. For me, I need quiet and comfort. Others write best when they're surrounded by noise--do I hear music, anyone? And still others write wherever they are and whenever they can possibly grab a moment to do so. Since Josi's post aptly applies to this blog, I thought I'd share the link here.