Surprise! There's one last guest post that deserves to be shared, thanks to Libby Heily. She's quite to prolific writer, tackling stage and screenplays on top of novel writing, and she has an excellent post about a little word some of us in the writing community find evil.
Again, I wish to thank everyone who was kind enough to volunteer their posts for the last few weeks. If there is any way I can return the favor, you know where I am (In a totally non-creepy way, of course).
Take it away, Libby!
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One of the best bits of writing advice I ever received was given to me while I was studying acting in college. After a sloppily delivered monologue I was grilled by my acting professor. He asked me questions about my character like who she was and what she did. That was easy, I had all of that information from the play. Then he asked about her background, her childhood, her relationship with the other characters and how she viewed them. Okay, I had those answers. I did my homework, wrote my character journals. Then he asked about my character's body and I said she had arthritis. He asked me where and I looked at him blankly.
“She just has arthritis.”
He smiled in that “gotcha” kind of way. We had a conversation in front of the class about how any person that has an ailment can tell you all sorts of information about it, at least how it relates to them. Where it's located will adjust how I move, how I move develops the character. Do I mask the pain or do I exaggerate it? How do I, as the character, interact with my ailment?
This degree of specificity is important. I call it “Eliminating the Just”. It really means making a conscious effort to remove arbitrary thought. In writing, things can't just happen, even if your plot needs it. Any event has to be motivated. Your characters can't just do anything, it has to fit them as individuals. This doesn't have to be explained thoroughly in your story, but you as the writer have to know the motivations and reasons.
Say you have a character that has a cold. Okay, what are their symptoms? You write down a list of possible symptoms and then you choose a few. How do those symptoms change the scene you're writing? If she's on a date, is she struggling mightily to suppress a cough so her date won't hear her hacking? How does she manage to blow her nose inconspicuously? Are her ears blocked up, can she not hear the other characters well?
This applies to more than illness. Where do they work? What type of office? Who do they have lunch with? How do they entertain themselves when they're not busy? What's their favorite office snack? Coffee or tea? You don't have to know everything of course, but if their job is prevalent in the story, then you'll want to know as much as you can to give those scenes life.
This is more easily said then done. A good way to pick up on it is if you are asked about your story and in the explanation you use the word “just”. That word is an excellent indicator that you're thinking in general terms.
This is a lesson that has greatly informed my writing. I have no idea if it's useful for other writers. We all have our own process and our own way of arriving at the story we're trying to communicate. This is just something to think about while you work on your next piece.
I'm Libby, and remain in doors.
I'm Libby, and remain in doors.