Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Is your writing contrived?

We've been hitting craft this week, and I'd like to continue it by talking about contrived writing.

Contrived writing essentially means that something happens in your story suddenly and oh so conveniently, with no build up or realistic connection. It could be a coincidence, like having your historical heroine in desperate need of apples for her homemade pie, and then she looks up and she's standing under an apple tree. Bo-Ring.

We're all guilty of it! The important part is that you recognize it, and then know how to fix it! :)

But there's another layer to the contrived thing that's harder to recognize than a mere coincidence. Let me try to explain.

Have you ever been reading a novel, and suddenly something like this happens: You just started chapter 13. The hero is a cowboy, out on the range, rounding up cattle and thinking about the heroine and how he totally screwed up when he kissed her a minute ago, and suddenly - snake. Right in front of him.

And freaks out.

He admits through his panic, in his internal thoughts, that he's deathly afraid of snakes beacuse he almost died from a snake bite as a child. Or maybe he watched his best friend die from a poisonous snake when they were kids. Whatever the reason, he's freaking out as most cowboys wouldn't do.

If we are only learning about his phobia of snakes in that moment, we lose the connection. The reader thinks him a pansy or a wuss and doesn't care if he gets bit or not. In fact we'd think he deserved it.

But if you had started weaving that phobia into the earlier snippets of his story, dropping hints in Chapter 3 and then another hint in Chapter 8, maybe a sentence of dialogue in Chapter 11...we'd be totally on his side in Chapter 13. We'd be like, as a reader - "OH NO! A snake! That poor sexy cowboy!" And would want to leap into the book and save him.

You see how it changes our connection?

It's because cowboys are heroic. Most cowboys wouldn't think twice of a snake. They'd either shoot it or calmly back away and go a different route. They're used to it. My husband, a country boy, caught a snake as a teenager and actually grilled it over an open fire pit.


But if there's a REASON for his fear, a relatable way for us to connect with him as a person, then it's okay. But beware - there has to be more than just a reason, there has to be a BUILT UP reason.

It all goes back to weaving your storyline and writing with a purpose. Every scene should move the story forward, and not be episodic (as in, writing something fun just because it pops in your head but has nothing to do with the story or character's growth)

Any questions? :)

1 comment: