Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lessons from Connie Willis

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It Gets Complicated - the middle of the novel
Plot Exposition - Where to Put It

Who is Connie Willis?
Author who "recently inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, has received six Nebula Awards and ten Hugo Awards for her fiction; her previous novel, Passage, was nominated for both. Her other works include Doomsday Book, Lincoln’s Dreams, Bellwether, Impossible Things, Remake, Uncharted Territory, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Fire Watch, and Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. Connie Willis lives in Colorado with her family."
 More Info:

Middle of Novel

The middle of the novel is very important, though it gets less recognition than the ending and far less than the beginning when it comes to writing advice. The workshop at the RMFW conference by Connie Willis on the middle was awesome. Here are some tidbits from that workshop.

The middle of the novel should follow logic in the story by keeping the conflict going throughout the middle of the novel. Often this involves the things that go wrong in the story.

Delays in the plot or the scenes can add a little suspense. Even little delays can help to make things remain interesting in the middle portion of the novel. Or have a deadline in the story (not just deadlines to write it). Different deadlines will add certain elements of emergency and time constraints to the middle section, making it less of a slum part.

In this aspect, mystery novels have a great usage of the middle part because there are often warnings or clues that exist but sometimes have been ignored by the reader. Those elements are helpful for creating the end.

Next, consider how emotions affect the plot.

Remember that with many actions and decisions made there might be unintended consequences that they character didn't consider but could complicate things more.

And a favorite "trick" used in great writing that isn't really a trick = The Reversal

Consider the movie "A Beautiful Mind" because it does this well. Another example is the movie "The Sixth Sense". I'd recommend watching those movies at least once.

How this works? The move is going along with the plot and readers think they know what's going on when all of a sudden, the story goes off in a surprising direction that changes everything the reader/watcher knew from the beginning. Yet the evidence is there; it just wasn't interpreted that way until the reversal happens. What this does is it changes the nature of the questions the readers have been asking before the reversal.

There was a lot more but those are the tips from my notes.

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Plot Exposition

This dealt with the different aspects of backstory and other explanations that could fall under the dilemma of an info dump. While some of it isn't necessary, there are different times when that exposition can be very important to the story. And the workshop gave many tips on how to do exposition without overdoing it.

One option is to give information through dialogue, but this technique can be overdone or used in the wrong way. For example, there is a character some people use whenever they want information to be given through dialogue. This doesn't work when the characters talking are both people who would already know the information. Often the dialogue starts with "As you know..." or something similar. But having someone who is new or young and doesn't know the information is a character that can be used during certain times when information is needed to be given to the reader. Also, in dialogue, arguments can be used to tell stuff that the character may already know because people will do that in fights.

Some information is more necessary than others. Grounding, for example, is the telling of key information that happens near the beginning of the novel. Information can be prioritized based upon the concept of "on a need to know basis."

Where do background and other explanations go?
They should be scattered throughout the novel in a few different methods of "telling" in order to give the information but not to dump it on the reader. This shouldn't be done at unrealistic moments, like in the heat of action. When being shot at by laser guns, most people won't go into a story about their history or about how the laser gun works. Trust me!

Don't leave/start giving the reader too many things to question that they don't have any answers for yet.

Don't directly tell the reader the character's sate of emotions. This is linked to the "show don't tell" rule of writing.

And consider indirection as a tool to show character.

Last bit of advice on getting books signed by other authors.
"When you are having a book signed by an author, always have them sign it to your real name, not your pen name."
One of the reasons was to keep the ego of the pen name separate from the rest of your life/ego. Which does make sense to some degree but I'll add a little to it. The pen name is the person's focus on writing. The books are fiction signed by other people who have already been published. Make sense to anyone else? Hope so because that's the end of this explanation.


Ariana Richards said...

All fantastic advice, but I especially liked the graph and the bit on exposition. Great advice right when I needed that kind of information. Thank you for sharing ^_^

Dawn Embers said...

Ariana - Thanks. Hope it does help you.

Shallee said...

This is wonderful advice! The middle of my current wip is really weak right now, and this helps me remember what I need to do! Thanks for sharing.

Dawn Embers said...

Shallee - I'm glad the information is useful for you. Good luck with your current wip.