Sunday, July 27, 2014

Filtering: great for your coffee, bad for your manuscript.

Filter words are those pesky things that can drive a wedge between the reader and the POV character, creating distance and lessening the impact of the scene. If you've been following my blog, you will know I hit a wall half way through my WIP where I felt as though I "lost" my main characters unique voice.

I've put it down to a couple of things, one: hitting writers block and taking a week off from writing, when I came back I felt as though I'd lost that connection with how my MC would naturally act and talk (to a degree). Two: wondering whether I should have written the whole novel in first person instead of third person, which leads me to Three: in third person I felt like I was struggling with the distance. I asked myself why, and one of the reasons I gleaned was that I was creating too much distance for the reader, and as a result it felt as though I was reporting my main characters actions, and noting her feelings instead of allowing myself and the reader to experience those things alongside Grey (my MC).

So what on earth are filter words? They are words that report what the character does and note what the character feels, and are typically the following: saw, watched, heard, felt, noticed, realized, thought, wondered, looked, decided. Even touched, tasted and smelt can distance the reader.

When you are writing in third person deep, like first person POV, you do not need to distance the reader; you are always in the main characters head for that particular scene or chapter. So, for example, when you are writing internalization, you don't need to say "she thought" at the end of the sentence, because the thought can not belong to any other character. Filter words are not only unnecessary (in most cases), but they also dull the impact of the scene by putting more distance between the reader and what that character is doing and feeling.

Lets look at a couple of examples of sentences with filter words, and then compare it to sentences where the filter's have been taken out:

"Keta flipped the page of her book. Yet another late night, she thought, cringing at how dark the bags under her eyes would be in the morning. Just one last chapter. She heard a creak break through the silence; she felt every muscle freeze as she heard the windowpane shake and groan at the effort of being pulled open after so many years. He had come back she thought."

Without the filters:

"Keta flipped the page of her book. Yet another late night, she cringed at the thought of how dark the bags under her eyes would be come morning. Just one last chapter. A creak broke through the silence; every muscle froze as the windowpane shook and groaned at the effort of being pulled open after so many years. He had come back."

Filter words can make a sentence clunky, it reminds the reader - hey, you there, yes you with the book in your hand, you are reading this! Instead of allowing them to actually experience the events alongside the MC, or allowing them to glean from their reactions how the character feels instead of being told she felt something.

That's not to say that you should necessarily go through your manuscript and cut them all out entirely, there may be some circumstances where you're actually trying to create distance or where you do need to emphasize something by reminding the reader that the MC saw something, heard something, or felt something. But if you are doing it with every single sentence as in the first example above, it can get annoying for the reader, and make them not care about your characters because of the distance created. Which you definitely do NOT want. In my first draft I let them sneak in, but cut those pesky filters out during editing.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

How I LOST my writing mojo... and what it felt like when it came back

A few posts back I talked about being in a bit of a writing slump, triggered around the middle of my novel, well, thank god, after some awesome advice from my writing bud Rosanna Silverlight who reminded me the importance of carving out time from trying to write, and with the daily inspiration of CampNaNoWriMo, I am well on my way to finishing my novel (at 72,500 words yay, first draft almost complete!).

A couple of things I have learnt about writers block:

  • It sucks the life out of you (a given)
  • You sit down to write every day, like usual, but every single word you type is like trying to scale Mount Everest with a freight train strapped to your back, and it all looks and feels like utter SHIRT (without the R).
  • It is often your novel trying to tell you something, and if you scratch beneath the surface you can learn a few things: maybe its your novel telling you it wants to go in a different direction, or in my case, that my ending needed to change to fit with who my main character had developed in to.
  • If you sit down with a pencil and paper (which I LOVE to do, that scratchy sound is like cuddling into a warm blanket on a rainy day with the fire blasting, it is so comforting) and not plan a thing to write, and just let yourself go crazy, writing whatever comes to the top of your head: you'll find some nuggets of pure gold. For me, writing in pencil takes the pressure off, I can scrub it out with an eraser and poof terrible sentence is gone; it is liberating and allows me to write with reckless abandon.
  • Coming out the other side of writers block, is like finally seeing the light after being buried six feet deep in life-sucking flimsy story-lines that make even you, the author, recoil at having to read it. But once that light shines down, and you grab a hold of that fresh idea, or sentence that made you remember why the hell you were writing your story in the first place, it breathes life into your story, and gives you the second chance to write, write, write until the story comes in a fitful of words that fly from the tips of your fingertips. And you can finally sigh a "thank god" as you realize, hell yes, it's all coming together now. 

Susan Dennard has done a fabulous series on writers block that I would recommend to all, I think the best nugget of information comes in lesson 3, where Sooz talks about the Science of Fear from the book Maximize Your Potential, which states "When we think about risks, we think about failure. When we think about failure, we start to get scared. When we start to get scare, our brains send signals to get the hell out of there."  You may think, well yeah, that's only relevant to being attacked by a lion back in the day, but no, our brain processes fear the same way for non-physical threats as it does for the physical ones! Head over to Sooz's blog to learn about recognising your fears and what you can to do about it. It will be worth your time!