- by Judy Griffith Gill
Narrative— This is when one of your People is telling the story. Actually, it’s you telling the story, but if you do it right, the reader thinks it’s one of your People, and that’s what it’s all about, tricking the reader into believing you’re not even there. If you are there, and they notice, it’s you they get mad at, not the character and that’s not a very good thing. You see, you want the readers to love you, even if they hate your characters so they’ll come back looking for more or your immoral words. Or should that be “immortal’? I always get the two mixed up. I know for sure I’m one, but not the other, and can’t recall which it would be best to be. I would have asked Robert A. Heinlein, but he up and died, the rotter! At any rate, even if the reader, bless her/his sweet little buttons, hates your character, it’s because you have made that character so unlikable as to be hateful. And that is a very good thing. If, indeed, that was your intention. If not… Well, what can I say? You screwed up, your agent will quit owing you money, your editor will never look at another word you write, and your fan list will consist of you sister’s nail-technician and your mother, unless your mother throws up her hands, making you wonder why she ever ate her hands in the first place. If I threw up my hands, that’d be why. I have a very uneasy tummy.
Opinions— (Personal) Something you can sneak in under the guise of Advancing the Plot if you’re careful and feel you absolutely must impart an important message to your readers, otherwise known as “editorializing’ and not something you should do unless nobody suspects. For instance, you might have one of your People say something like, “Logging in watersheds is a terrible thing!” to which another of your People might ask “why?” Then, through the one who made the original statement, you can explain your personal views on logging in watersheds—so long as, somewhere in the story, someone is going to get chained to a tree in a forest in a watershed to stop the loggers from earning what they see as their honest living because logging pays more than flipping burgers for tourists who come to see, of all things, trees! (Probably because those in their own locale have already been logged off to build houses, schools, churches and boats. Not to mention signs decrying the actions of anyone of whom it is PC to disapprove that month. Even if the signs are made of biodegradable paper or cardboard, guess where that biogradable paper or cardboard comes from? You got it, TREES!). Editorializing? Me? I was not!
People— These usually consist of the hero and heroine, as opposed to those mouthy, opinionated taxi-drivers who cause readers to say, “Oh, what a character!” They are widely used by writers of all manner of fiction. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are so mediocre your editor will probably just scratch them out because they don’t advance the plot and you’ve used them simply for fillers like sawdust in hamburgers. Hmm…anyone want to hazard a guess as to where sawdust comes from…?
Plot— This is the stuff that hangs your story together, sort of the way a clam-shell suspends a slimy little gray and greenish blobby thing inside on some kind of ligatures that break more easily when the clam has been cooked in boiling water. With your plot, though, you don’t want the ligatures to break, so whatever you do, don’t cook it. This is equivalent to saying “your goose is cooked” if you do. (See clichés.) An example of a simple plot is: Boy meets Girl. Girl won’t have anything to do with him because he’s been drinking red wine and eating garlic and forgetting to brush, floss and rinse with a decent mouthwash that kills 99.9 % of halitosis-causing germs as well as gingivitis. Boy finally goes to see his dental practitioner with whom he develops a liaison and Girl is reduced to waiting for nasty little men with raincoats to jump out of the shrubbery if she wants any action at all. (Shrubbery is like trees only smaller, just as what the nasty little man exposes when he whips open his raincoat and exposes what the Girl will cleverly say “Oh, isn’t that cute. It looks just like a penis only smaller” Whereupon the raincoat guy will blush and run away if he doesn’t slit her throat instead for making fun of him. It could go either way, so beware. However, the dental practitioner turns out to be a spy for the Workers’ Compensation Board and threatens to turn in Boy for malingering, claiming his back injury must be a sham because his um, gymnastics, tell him otherwise. Oh! You thought the dental practitioner was another woman? Uh-uh. Nope. Nevertheless, Girl comes to his aid and reveals that his back injury is a direct result of spending too many hours, at $8.00 per, acting as a spy for the Department of Health in downtown roach hotels. Boy says, “Oh, Girl, how could I have been such a fool!” And Girl says, “Why, because you’re a Boy but that’s what I love most about you.” And they all live happily ever after.
Plot Outline— See above, but when submitting it, don’t use quotation marks. You get around this by rewording. e.g. Boy wonders how he could have been so stupid and girl reminds him that he lacks the all-important double X chromosome, which contains the intellect, but since he has that Y chromosome with that little dangly-down thing that looks like what the nasty man in the raincoat exposed, only bigger—much bigger! which is what she loves most about him, she’s willing to forgive.
Plot twists—When you get your reader believing “A” is the reason one or more of your People will act in a certain manner, then surprise them by having the People do “B” which is exactly the opposite. e.g. Have your own Dirty Harry lie down, cover his head with his arms and burst into tears begging, “Please, please, I want to live!” Then, when the Killer comes close to see what the hell is going on, have DH jerk his head up, whapping Killer in the you-know-whats and pistol-whipping him until he’s the one begging for mercy. I mean, after all, Harry has a reputation to uphold.
Point of View— Like, when you’re four years old and can stand with your head and your feet all on the floor at the same time, looking between your legs and the piano appears to be upside down. Otherwise known as looking at the world through a specific character’s eyes, usually that of one of your People. No one else can see exactly what s/he is seeing, or how, therefore no one else knows the thought-processes going through that Person’s mind. Jumping from the POV of one to another, especially in the same paragraph, is definitely frowned upon. Try to maintain one POV throughout each scene, unless it’s a very sexy love-scene, then at least begin a new paragraph when you switch. Switch POV, that is. Not to the dental practitioner’s side of the closet, unless you’re writing that kind of book, then you can have everyone switching back and forth and sideways and having a whole lot of fun with both plot and Point of View. Take it from me. That kind of book sells like hotcakes, but they all too often wrap them in brown paper covers with innocuous titles like “How to Manage a Recalcitrant Donkey,” or sell them strictly on-line as secret, private, non-embarrassing downloads you can read while you’re hiding in the shrubbery waiting for a Girl. Or a Boy. Or both. Or either. Whatever. It’s a free country and we’ve all be liberated. Thank goodness.
Procrastination— Watching golf or bowling on television, washing the dishes, changing the cat litter, painting the garage (the one down the block, that sells gas and genuine imitation big-name automotive parts and has three different guys wearing greasy coveralls, all of which have the name “Bob” embroidered on the pocket. None of the guys is actually named Bob, of course, but it saves fights over who gets to wear which set of coveralls.) instead of sitting down, butt in chair, and writing your immoral or immortal prose to earn a couple of gazillion dollars. Another form of procrastination is spending time writing silly articles instead of the stuff for which a writer might, conceivably, after Roberts, Grisham, and Steele retire, get paid.
Protagonists—The correct word for the People in your novel, most commonly known as Hero and Heroine. See beginning for the antithesis: Antagonists. Whaddya mean, I’m showing off? Everyone knows what “antithesis” means! Everyone I know. But I hang out with a lot of writers.
Quitting— What real writers do when their eyes are crossed, their hands are about to fall off at the elbows and they reach the end of their book, whichever comes first. Really experienced writers have learned to differentiate between the two. When they quit, having reached the end of the book, they, if they value their sanity and their carpal tunnels, take a rest, usually of three to five minutes duration or however long it takes to run to the store for chocolate and for Mr. Coffee to brew a fresh batch, before beginning the next book.
Quotation Marks— Those squiggly, sperm-shaped little things writers put around sentences or sentence fragments to indicate that someone, usually a People, but frequently a Character, is speaking. e.g. “Woof!” followed (in a new paragraph of course): by “Shaddup!” Exercise: Which of the two in the example is a People, which is a Character. Why have you reached that conclusion?
Quest—Often the driving force for the People in your novel, the need to find something important before the end of the story. Similar to Goal, above, and Motivation which I can’t recall mentioning before but should have if I didn’t.. Frequently, the subject of the Quest is not what the People think they were seeking at the beginning, which leads to a Plot Twist also as above. Not to be mistaken for Crest, which is the majority of dental practitioners recommended in some little Podunk town where there are only two dental practitioners, but one has a split personality and recommended it twice.
Next month we continue, beginning with that all important subject— Readers.
And hey, don’t forget to visit Novelists Inc. on Facebook! There, you can see a photo of my all too good-looking grandson with the best bedroom eyes in the world. Remember, though, he’s only twenty.