March 7, 2012

Advice vs. Experience

Posted in Creativity, Fiction Writing, flow in writing, writing techniques tagged , , , , , , at 1:26 pm by Rebecca Hein

When I was younger, I dutifully read books on writing, and still remember those passages about observation and detail: “Go out into the rain. Notice everything. Notice how the puddles look on the sidewalk with the raindrops spattering into them. Notice the people with their umbrellas, hurrying home.” And so forth.

Fifteen years later, my reaction was identical when one of my cello teachers said, “Listen to your playing and try to get a better tone.”

I froze. Shut down in both cases by direct instructions, I could hardly move or think.

But why? I certainly needed the information. Writers do need to observe and note details; musicians have to develop their tone.

My problem was in the way the advice was delivered. It was too direct. Trying to do what I was told, rather than immersing myself in the experience, removed me several steps from the very sensations that could have helped me progress.

Now I know how to deal with direct advice: take it in, do nothing about it, and let it float to the back of my mind, where it mixes with other information to ultimately produce ideas I can work with.

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November 8, 2011

Conveying Necessary Information

Posted in Fiction Writing tagged , , at 10:12 am by Rebecca Hein

Cellists learn to move from one note to the next without disrupting the flow of rhythm and melody. We want the audience to notice the music, not the technique that brings music alive.

A good story is the same. Moved forward with certain techniques, it captures our attention and we don’t notice all the devices the author uses to convey information. For example, early in The Forgotten Door, a young adult novel by Alexander Key, Mary Bean is talking to her husband, Thomas, about two minor characters. She tells him, “They’re related, you know.”

The setting makes it obvious that Thomas would already know this; therefore Mary wouldn’t need to say it. Yet we take in the information without realizing that this comment is implausible.

Key has already created enough suspense in his plot, as well as sympathy with Jon, the protagonist, that we’re wrapped up in the story. Thus a simple, artificial device works because the “music” of this tale is louder than its technique.

November 2, 2011

Fiction Writing: Specific Devices

Posted in Fiction Writing tagged , at 1:40 pm by Rebecca Hein

In cello playing, as we have seen, changing bow direction must be disguised because it breaks the sound. But we also have to move our hands up and down the fingerboard to switch from one note to another, otherwise known as shifting.

In a good shift, the landing point is perfect, like hitting the bullseye in archery. You can make this easier by slowing your bow stroke as you approach the moment of change, and waiting until your left hand is on target, or so close that it might as well be there.

Planned and calculated, this is a straightforward technique for clean shifting. In writing, you can also plan and calculate to move your story forward, and one of the simplest devices is the exchange of information between two characters.