Hello, dears, and welcome back to the Megalodon’s writing advice column. The topic this time around is a little bit of a throwback to Aaron’s “Opening a Novel,” but it’s often a problem writers run into somewhere near the middle of the writing process. Most fit into two different categories when they begin a novel:
The Systematic Story Teller, or the Passionate Plotter.
The notion that plot and story are synonymous is untrue once you get down to the nitty-gritty of the writing world, but luckily, it’s a notion that is easily rectified. You see, a story is a basic line of events. When readers hear a clear story, the questions they ask are “And then?”
For example, “A typhoon wiped out Atlantis.”
“And then?” asks your enraptured reader.
“And then the whole city sunk.”
That’s a story. Something that catalogs events and not much more. The plot, however, looks at the “Why?” of a narrative. Whether it’s why a character behaves the way they do, or why Atlantis’ support beams failed. A single-story can even breed many kinds of plots. For example “Why did Atlantis sink?”
“The man at the weather alert station meant to warn the city was at his son’s recital.” Or, “The beams built to support the city hundreds of years ago were eroded by a chemical spill.”
You get the idea.
There is no wrong way to begin a novel, and often writers will flip flop between the two, depending on how they feel. If you wake up with a character in your head that feels so real you want to create their own world, you’re going to be plot-focused. Do you daydream about a war-torn planet on the brink of peace that you know is going to end in exactly 48 hours? You’re going story all the way. The only danger comes from when you don’t balance the two equally. If you focus too heavily on one and not the other, you might be finding yourself with a perfectly coherent timeline, but dry characters that lack spontaneity, or vice versa.
If you’re here, however, don’t fret! Right now is the perfect time to add the things you see are lacking. Novices and even masters have a hard time being balanced from the get-go. For the future, remember to be observant to which side you lean to so you can prevent the midway struggle, but for now, rejoice! You have so many ideas and so much inspiration at your fingertips, jumping into a plot or story won’t be as monumental as you think it is. If your world and your character is near perfect, you should already feel the call of plot or story hiding behind the Tab key. In the end, my best advice is to trust your instincts. Every writer has them, and it guides us through the hiccups like the reins on a horse. More importantly, always remember that a first draft is not a perfect one.
If all you take from it is a single character, then they’re worth finding a story for.
--Chaunti T. Hatchett
Do you have specific questions about antagonists and character flaws that weren't answered in this section? Leave a comment down below and the author of this post will answer it when our next entry is posted. Note: Questions posted after 1/10 may not be included.
Questions from “Imagery Dos and Don’ts”:
When writing from a first or third person limited perspective, what aspects of imagery description should be influenced by the narrator's personality?
In a first or third person limited point of view, sight and touch should be integrated in imagery with influence from the narrator. A person’s memories and background will influence how they compare the textures of different objects, as well as how they view certain things. For example, someone from Hawaii and someone from Russia describe the sun very differently. Furthermore, someone who lives in New England and someone who has never seen snow will describe snow differently.
Before I get into the nitty gritty aspects of imagery, here are some common phrases that are often frowned upon in the literary world:
When writing, it is important to keep in mind all five senses, touch, smell, hearing, seeing, and tasting. Many writers only take into account the visual sense, but the other senses are just as important. As a guideline, having about three senses included in your piece is a good starting point to having well-developed imagery. When the reader is looking at a scene, in which multiple actions are occuring, they need to visualize it in order to understand what is happening. For example, if you are writing a scene in which a house is on fire, and all you describe are the yellow-orange flame engulfing the house, the reader cannot visualize themselves there, thus making them lose interest. But, if you describe the smell of burning wood, the echoing cries of the owners of the house, and feeling little ashes fall on your shoulders, then the reader can be engrossed into the piece.
Imagery, according to its definition, is meant to add depth and perspective to the author’s literary work. While it is encouraged to include as many of the five senses into your work as you can, do not add unnecessary details, or ‘fluff’. Every description you use should have a purpose in the story. You should also include details that are not already known by the audience. For instance, if you are describing the morning sun on a summer’s day, do not simply say it is yellow. The reader already knows this, so include something else. Maybe describe how the sun’s vibrant rays strike through your room window, or how you squint your eyes looking in its direction due to its prominence. To put it simply, do not restate the obvious. Having more ‘fluff’ will not make the piece more interesting, it will only take away from the piece’s main idea and could confuse the reader.
Do you have specific questions about imagery that weren't answered in this section? Leave a comment down below and the author of this post will respond to it when our next entry is posted. Note: Comments posted after 12/13 may not be included.
Questions from "Making a Setting a Home":
How do you properly take inspiration from other cultures for your own world-building purposes while also honoring the original real-world sources?
One word: research. Do your research, do extensive research, take notes, find the details. The best way to find the facts from the culture is from an actual person, whether an interview or a blog post. Take multiple opinions, find the parts of the culture you’d like to integrate into your own world. But, most importantly, never forget that you’re honoring a culture. Make sure that your adaptation isn’t offensive through stereotypes, and make sure it isn’t taking away from the culture by omitting a necessary element to a tradition.