Tag Archives: story writing

Thoughts on Writing – Transitions and Adding Emotion to a Scene

Every couple of weeks, my husband and I meet with the local writing critique group. While there, everyone shares relevant announcements, and we usually critique a small section of each other’s work.

Last week I brought in an episode of The Multiverse Chronicles. My husband plots and writes the first draft, which I then polish. Most of the other episodes haven’t been too problematic, but this particular episode was giving me issues. I’d already tried editing it a few different times, but it still sounded… flat. I knew the transitions weren’t quite working, but something else was missing, too.

Once I read the piece aloud, the group pointed out that it lacked the usual description and emotion I tried to invoke. Thus, having someone who is familiar with our work can be helpful.

Critique partners can see the things which usually embody our work, even if we can’t.

So, after applying the basic suggestions the group made, I went back and sought ways to deepen the emotions of the main character, along with boosting the imagery in each of her “flashbacks” so that the reader would feel better grounded in the reality of the story.

For example, this is what one section looked like while I was still having difficulties editing it:

Trish had been at camp for seven days now, and thus far her training had consisted of textbooks, tests, practicing basic commands with her pterosaur (which, she noted as she stared at the starry sky, still remained nameless), and meeting with Colonel Pearson.

 

The meetings were the worst.

 

“Ivers, you seem to be making good progress,” the colonel would say, trailing his finger along a clipboard of notes, “but—” Always, that annoying ‘but.’ “—you need to work on your skills. Have you remembered to meditate with your drake?”

 

She flexed her shoulders. Maybe he never mentioned meditating with the pterosaur, but he usually gave her some unimportant task that she needed to complete.

 

“Ah-ha! Now here is a test that will measure your skills on meditating. Don’t forget to read chapters seven through nine of The Honor of Tactical Flying.”

 

Trish sighed and bit off another chunk of her granola.

 

The camp had only one copy of each book, which meant Trish had to go to the quartermaster to check them out.

Not only does the scene need a bit of tweaking in regards to transitioning the flashbacks, it also lacks a sense of the surroundings, and the emotion behind it feels dull.

This is what the section looks like now that I’ve added more description and focused on the emotion:

This was her seventh day at camp, and thus far her training consisted of textbooks, tests, practicing basic commands with her pterosaur—which, she noted as she stared at the starry sky, still remained nameless—and meeting with Colonel Pearson.

(Note that using em dashes instead of parentheses have improved the flow of her thoughts)

 

She inhaled the brisk air at let it out slowly, counting down from ten to relax her thoughts.

 

The meetings were the worst thing about being here.

(We’re starting to get a sense of her impatience)

 

The colonel would trail his finger along a clipboard of notes, tap his chin thoughtfully, then meet her gaze with his piercing blue eyes. “Ivers, you seem to be making good progress, but—”Always that annoying ‘but’ “—you need to work on your skills. Have you been meditating with your drake? Surely you haven’t forgotten.”

(The use of ‘would’ following colonel suggests that she’s thinking about this, not that it’s happening right now. Plus, ‘piercing’ eyes (however cliche) denote that she’s uncomfortable). Adding ‘Surely you haven’t forgotten’ gives her that feeling of being put on the spot. Already, we’ve got a lot more emotional details and descriptors to ground us in the scene)

 

Trish flexed her shoulders. Maybe Pearson had never mentioned meditating with her pterosaur, but he usually gave her some unimportant task that she needed to complete. Like checking the feed levels of the other pterosaurs, or cleaning the cages while the riders were out, or reading.

(By saying ‘Maybe Pearson had‘ shows that we’re back in the present. And the list of complaints continues to show mounting agitation)

 

So much incessant reading.

 

“Ah-ha!” Pearson had exclaimed upon skimming through a tiny red booklet that Trish was fairly certain should have been titled A Thousand Ways to Torture Private Ivers. “Now here is a test that will measure your skills! Read chapters seven through nine of The Honour of Tactical Flying, then report back for your next assignment.”

(By having the line ‘So much incessant reading’ on it’s own line, and then going to ‘ “Ah-ha!” Pearson had…’, we make room for another flashback. The choice of ‘incessant’ further shows Trish’s annoyance. And then we have ‘A Thousand Ways to Torture Private Ivers.’ She feels she’s being treated harshly.)

 

Colonel Pearson had grinned, tossed his clipboard on a stack of papers, then dismissed her to her chores.

(I’m debating on the phrasing of this, but currently, saying that Pearson ‘had’ done this cues that we’re coming back to the present)

 

Trish sighed and bit off another chunk of her granola.

(Yay, monotony…)

 

On the bright side, she didn’t have to go through all the same physical drills as the other riders. She got her exercise from running tent-to-tent, trying to locate the miscellaneous items she needed to please her superior officer. The camp had only one copy of each of the primary textbooks, which meant Trish had to go Corporal Smith, the quartermaster, to check them out.

(Adding the bits about her having to run from tent-to-tent and locating miscelleneous items adds to the feeling that she doesn’t think this is important… especially since she doesn’t bother to consider what those miscellaneous items are)

Overall, I think the edited section reads more like the other scenes now. The flashback transitions read smoother, and there’s enough detail to ground me as a reader in what is happening. Plus, we now have a sense that Trish is genuinely annoyed and impatient, rather than just ‘ho-hum’ about her daily life at camp.

I’m still in the process of editing the rest of the episode, but now that I know where to go with it, I think editing will go much smoother.

If you’re in a problem spot, see if you can find a trusty beta reader or critique partner to take a look, even if it’s just a small scene. They may be able to see what you’re missing, especially if they’re familiar with your work.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Have you found any tricks to adding emotions to a scene or transitioning flashbacks?

***

By the way, author Jordan Elizabeth was kind enough to feature my book on her blog, Kissed by Literature. Check it out to find another sneak peak of Magic’s Stealing, and to see what other books she has featured. 😀

Also, Cathleen Townsend has written the first review of Magic’s Stealing! Find it (and other reviews) at her blog, The Beauty of Words. 😀

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Thoughts on Writing – Character Motivation

Today I’m talking about  how a character’s backstory influences their actions.

In the first draft of Magic’s Stealing, I never really explained why the main character, Toranih, didn’t like magic. She simply didn’t. But stories generally read better if the author knows why a character behaves a certain way, even if they never explain this directly to the reader. So, in order to add credibility to Toranih’s character, I began to explore her motives.

From Dictionary.com (a really useful resource when double-checking that a word means what you think it means), motives are “something that causes a person to act in a certain way, do a certain thing, etc.”

To see why Toranih acts so paranoid/distrustful of magic, while being so interested in learning how to effectively wield a sword, let’s take a look at her world. Toranih is the youngest daughter of the Lord of the Armory, so she has plenty of access to swords and the people who can teach her. In regards to magic, the kingdom has a high number of ribbon mages, so magic is common. However, the ability to see magic is not. Neither Toranih, nor her older sister, Siklana, can see ribbon magic, though her best friend can.

In the original draft of Magic’s Stealing, Toranih did not like magic because she felt like it was all tricks and illusions. (A side note: the trouble with using the term ‘illusion’ with magic is that if you actually have magic doing something, the illusion of something happening is no longer an illusion. I’ve been slowly weeding this word from the story). So my first idea for why Toranih didn’t like magic was that maybe a bad event scared her in the past. She gets her first glimpse of magic at a parade when she was little, and it overwhelms her. Thus, she’s been wary ever since.

However, my husband pointed out that a parade with a lot of colorful, fluttering ribbons is likely to be awe-inspiring to a four-year-old, not terrifying. While I still feel that everyone has different reactions, so what some kids like, others are terrified of (for example… clowns), I started looking elsewhere for answers. Toranih doesn’t like magic, and to the extent that she is paranoid in earlier drafts, there seems like there might be a bit more to her paranoia. So I cut the bit about the parade (keeping the event, but not having it terrify her), and considered Toranih’s distrust of their mythology. There are already several references in the current draft which lends itself to this theory.

For example, after an event involving Toranih being magically called to do a task she wouldn’t otherwise do:

Old fables flitted to the edge of her mind, haunting melodies of immortals and creatures whose very power was that of magic’s lure, the power to call and demand, to whisper in a person’s ear and convince them, without fail, to do their bidding.

In something of a flashback, Toranih’s sister tells her about life and death magic:

Once, long ago, when Siklana showed Toranih how to use her crystal, she’d convinced a couple of the servants to come stand in front of them. One had magic, the other did not. And she’d pointed to the one with magic and all the ribbons, and explained what ribbon magic was and how it worked.

 

Then Siklana pointed to the other servant, and said that even though he wasn’t a mage, he still had magic. Everyone had magic, but it was difficult to see because it was closer related to string magic, but couldn’t Toranih see it? There were two thin strings running through his body, each entwined and almost impossible to spot.

 

Siklana had adjusted the crystal to make them more visible. “That’s the only string magic visible to a ribbon mages,” she’d said. “One strand is life, and the other is death. Everyone has them. If you don’t, then you’re dead. That’s how the gods made us,” Siklana had continued, much to Toranih’s dismay. “But only the really powerful gods can manipulate those strings, so there’s nothing to be scared of.”

 

That memory had stuck with Toranih ever since.

In a conversation with Aifa, the Matchmaker goddess:

Aifa rolled her eyes. “Such a harsh tongue, tut-tut. Dear, I’m the goddess of relationships, not all-powerful. But if you don’t mind your manners, you’ll find yourself mute.”

 

Toranih swallowed hard. She had heard tales of citizens who’d crossed the gods in older times. Citizens who found their love lives broken or their ability to communicate… impossible.

Toranih has plenty of reason to be uneasy about magic and the gods’ use of magic. However, we can take this a step further. We know that Toranih is very interested in swordsmanship, and wants to be a guardsman except that her father doesn’t think that position befits her station. This is especially problematic when her sister, Siklana, reveals intentions to marry into a different estate, thus leaving Toranih as the sole heir.

Her father handed one of the servants his empty plate and rested back in his chair. “Understanding self-defense is important, but you’re taking these studies a bit far. There are more important subjects for a young lady to—”

 

“Siklana is much more adept at those studies,” Toranih interrupted. Her scone crumbled and she swept the crumbs into a napkin before he could get onto her about that, too. “Let’s be honest. When inheritance time comes around, she’ll inherit the estate. She’ll master magic at the academy, and she’ll be the one to win the hearts of the city and lead them in her wise, older age.”

 

Siklana ducked her head behind her bangs. Her dark brown eyes shown through. She was smaller in stature than her younger sister, especially since she lacked the muscle that came from Toranih’s years of swordplay. “What if I marry into a different house?”

 

Toranih turned sharply. Her sister… marry? Of course she would, she had always been interested in the attention of suitors, but Toranih hadn’t thought she would try to climb the social ladder through marriage.

 

If she married into a higher class, she would leave behind the Covonilayno estate. “I’d be the heir,” Toranih whispered, stunned.

 

Her father nodded. “The rights would fall to you. As is custom.”

 

Toranih glared at her sister. “How long have you been planning this?”

 

“I’ve been thinking about it for a year,” she admitted coyly. “I’ve already passed the academy’s first year exams, and I’m well into my second year. Our inheritance is decent, but there are a few worthy suitors who could help me further my education once I finish in Cirena City. With a decent suitor’s allowance, I could travel to the Islands. I’ll make sure that’s part of the contract. I might even learn word magic.”

 

Toranih swallowed hard. While having at least some degree of ribbon magic was common, word magic was practiced by very few. Anyone could learn it, so long as they knew how to pronounce the spell.

 

But say just one syllable wrong, and any number of horrors awaited the practitioner. Setting ones’ self on fire, opening a portal in the middle of a crowded city and killing anyone in its path, trying to heal someone and killing them instead… and a particularly powerful spell could bind a target to do the mage’s will.

 

Toranih shivered. Unlike ribbon magic, word magic was invisible. No crystal could reveal words the way it could reveal ribbons.

My husband pointed out that maybe Toranih doesn’t like magic because, unlike her sister (and most every other mage in the kingdom), she never really became adept with magic.

As a young child, Toranih saw her sister and Daernan surpass her with flying colors while she struggled to control ribbons for even basic tasks. At the same time, young noblewomen were taught basic self-defense, which is where she excelled. She threw herself into the study of swords and knives, hoping to become a weapons master. In the meantime, she became more and more resentful of magic. She eventually understood the basics (which we see her using in Magic’s Stealing), but she never quite comes to terms with the fact that she’s been left behind by the mages.

The result?

She can’t easily control magic, so she doesn’t trust it, and (as the current blurb says) she would rather have a sword in her hand than use her powers to heal and throw fireballs.

And now we have the reason that Toranih doesn’t like magic. We can see why she might, at times, lash out or vehemently deny anything to do with being a mage.

But she lives in a world so saturated with magic that she can’t ignore it, and so she still uses the magical light crystal her sister gave her. She still changes into an owl when Daernan convinces her to go to the parade. She still tries to save people who are dying when their magic is stolen. But she has a flaw, and because of that flaw she doesn’t always use her powers when she should, and her unwillingness to try could cost her the people she loves.

Now I’ve just got to make sure that is apparent within the story, even if I never come outright and say this is why she acts the way she does.

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂

Have you found any books where character motivations were well-done, or where they were lacking?

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Using “How It Should Have Ended” to catch your own plot holes

Taking another week for story-writing related posts. 🙂

For a while now, my husband and I have enjoyed watching a series of Youtube shorts called “How It Should Have Ended” ( http://www.youtube.com/user/HISHEdotcom ). The premise is that they take a popular movie (For example, the Star Wars movies, Hunger Games, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Iron Man, etc…) and look for those little ridiculous plot holes that like to throw a wrench in the whole plot. These are usually simple things, (like the Emperor asking very specifically that there is not a hole large enough for a spaceship to fly through on the second Death Star) that we generally overlook for the sake of the story.

However, keeping this kind of premise in mind when plotting for your own stories can be a useful tool (and a fun procrastination device, while you’reat it). Having watched several of the How It Should Have Ended episodes, my husband had quite a bit of fun finding numerous points where our current manuscript series could have ended quickly. A place where a villain looked back and considers, why didn’t they beef up security if they were trying to capture a high profile target? and etc. While we enjoyed coming up with the ideas, it made me think of how using this technique could help in writing. For one– you look for plot holes. Then you can address them. You can make sure that there’s a logical reason something happened, not just for the sake of the plot.

If you haven’t already, check out the episodes. They’re typically quite humorous. 🙂 In the meantime, have you ever run into any plot holes in your writing that you realized needed to be fixed (or otherwise might have thrown a kink in your story?)

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