The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Twenty-Eight
Happy New Year
Installment Twenty-Eight is here, ringing in the New Year of 2015. Welcome to you all! I hope you not only survived the holidays but enjoyed them greatly. The tree has finally been taken down, the presents are all unwrapped and put away, the final turkey leftovers have been eaten, and now it’s time to get back to work.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m a writer, and for me, writing isn’t work. I’m lucky enough to get up every day and get paid to do something I love doing, and that is writing. What a great life I have! I hope you feel the same way about writing.
Let’s get started, shall we? I’ve got a bag full of questions to answer, so let’s dive in and find out what treasures await.
Fiction Vs Nonfiction Grammar
From Bradmaster: “Are there different rules of grammar for writing fiction versus nonfiction?”
This is a really interesting question, and I had to stop and think before answering….which I don’t always do. J
Grammar is grammar is grammar. That is my spur-of-the-moment answer. The rules of grammar don’t change just because the genre is different. The proper use of adjectives, adverbs, nouns and verbs is consistent no matter what you are writing.
Having said that, I think fiction allows the writer to suspend the rules of grammar if it helps with the flow of the story, and rarely do you see grammatical rules suspended in nonfiction.
If I am writing dialogue, the grammar within that dialogue may be improper, but the way it is presented on the page, the use of quotation marks and other punctuation, should always be consistent with the rules of grammar.
Does that make sense?
I also think, for the most part, that voice is different when writing nonfiction as opposed to fiction, but voice really isn’t a grammatical issue.
I’m sure my friend Jaye will be by with something to add. She’s the expert and I’ll bow to her.
From Janice: “How does a writer make each character sound unique in their speech patterns?”
Another fantastic question, and this is something every writer of fiction must work hard at. If you listen to people in everyday life, you will notice they all sound somewhat different in their speech patterns. Sometimes the difference is slight; sometimes it is very noticeable.
Just as normal people sound different, so, too, must your characters when writing fiction.
Let me tell you what I do. I’m sure other writers have other techniques, but I can only tell you what works for me.
When I write a short story or a novel, I am not concerned with different speech patterns in my first draft. I just want to tell the story that first time through. It is in the second draft that I individualize my characters and give them specific ways of speaking. One might speak with a liberal amount of slang. Another might have a slight stutter. One might speak with an abundance of cuss words. Another may be prim and proper and never use contractions.
The difference does not have to be huge, but there should be a difference. Remember that a work of fiction is really just a reflection of real life as seen through the eyes of the author.
One trick I have learned to use is to take a tape recorder (digital recorder) to a public place. There I will record casual conversations I hear. I then refer to those when I’m writing dialogue. I find it helpful.
From Bob: “How do you set the mood for a story?”
We are really delving into the meat and potatoes of fiction writing with these questions. If you are considering trying fiction, pay close attention to the last three questions, because they really are quite important to a writer of fiction.
Setting a mood is as simple as providing sensory details that support that mood. Let me give you a couple examples.
If I want a dark and foreboding mood, I might put my character on a desolate highway in the middle of nowhere. The rain is crashing down, the thunder is roaring and the lightning is threatening. Every shadow seems to be dangerous. Every stranger appears sinister.
If I want a cheery mood, that same character will be driving on a sunlit day, the wind is in his hair, the soft breeze is caressing him, and strangers are helpful and friendly.
Remember that your readers all have the same senses, and their past experiences will help them to clue into the mood if you play to those senses and sensory memories.
Time Is on My Side
From Brenda: “Where do you find the time to do everything you do?”
I’ll tell you something that few people know: I made a deal with the devil a long time ago, and extra time is what I get out of that deal.
Kidding! Please know I’m kidding.
It’s all about organization, scheduling and singleness of purpose. Memorize those words and put them into practice.
I don’t allow things to distract me from my work day. I sequester myself in the writing studio by seven each morning, and I surface from that studio around three or four each afternoon. I have my writing day scheduled by the hour, and I stick with that schedule. It really is as simple and as complicated as that.
Those Dreaded Endings
From Putka: “I’m having trouble with the ending of my novel. How does one write a satisfying ending?”
The word “satisfying” has me a little stumped, but let’s ignore that for the time being, and concentrate on the simple task of ending a novel.
The ending should conclude the conflict that was happening in your story. Readers need closure, and although that is a highly overused word, it is true in this case. We, as writers, have taken our readers on a 300-page journey, and that journey needs to have a conclusion that ties up all loose ends. To do otherwise, I think, is to cheat the reader.
The main plot, and the subplots, need endings. You can’t take a reader through a tumultuous adventure and then leave them hung out to dry without satisfying their curiosity. That should always be the first goal of an ending.
As for satisfying, that really is in the eye of the beholder. What is satisfying to one reader may not be satisfying to another. We can’t please all of our readers no matter how we choose to end our novel or short story. I think the ending should be interesting. I think it should inspire thought and strong reaction…but don’t worry for a second about satisfying every reader because it won’t happen.
Easyonlife asks: “How long do you think it should take a writer to find success?”
I don’t even know how to answer this one, and I’m not being mean when I say that. What does success mean? It seems to me it means something different for every writer.
I suspect this question has more to do with financial success, so that’s how I’ll answer it. I hate to be difficult, but what does financial success mean? If your goal is to make an extra couple hundred dollars a month, then I think that is very doable in six months. If your goal is to be a well-known author with a bestselling novel, then I think you better get comfortable and plan on five-to-ten years, provided you have talent.
That’s the best I can do with that one.
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- William Holland | Helping Writers to Spread Their Wings and Fly
Tips, suggestions, and discussions about writing
More Next Week
The questions are still pouring in so we’ll keep this series going for another week. Thanks to those who asked questions this week. I’m enjoying them and I hope you are getting something out of the answers.
Feel free to ask your own questions in the comment section below, and if you have anything to add to the discussion, toss that in as well. Join me on my writing blog at www.williamdhollandauthor.com for more discussions about the Art of Writing.
Have a great week of writing!
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”