Module Eight: Further Considerations
Your activity for the previous lesson was to write the first two chapters. After reading the notes for this lesson, go over what you have written and, if necessary, revise it.
1) Writing for an identifiable market
a) A writer who aims to cater for the popular market must read plenty of best sellers. As you read, ask yourself questions such as, Why are they popular? and, What do they have in common?
b) Words communicate, therefore must be meaningful to the reader. You must ensure that the words you use can be understood by an average reader.
- Avoid using long, complex words which the reader may not understand.
- Except within dialogue, NEVER USE JARGON or technical words.
- If technical words are used in dialogue, the writer must let the reader know what they mean. This must be done as part of the story – never obviously, as in a factual book.
c) The popular readership requires easy entertainment, therefore aim your level at a thirteen to fourteen reading age.
- Use short paragraphs, words in common usage and simple phrases.
2) Use of words and parts of speech
a) Do not use excessive adjectives or adverbs. If one descriptive noun or verb will replace two words, use it. It is usually better to say, ‘he sauntered’ or, ‘he dawdled’ rather than, ‘he walked slowly’.
b) Make sure descriptive words suit the character. For example, you might say, ‘foraging like a dormouse’ but not, ‘foraging like a dormouse, displaying her prowess’ (‘prowess’ is a word associated with lions – not dormice).
c) Avoid clichés or hackneyed phrases.
- Be original, do not even use your own word or phrase too often.
- Use graphic, emotive words. Expand your repertoire by the careful use of a Thesaurus.
The difference between metaphor and simile is that a simile will state that something is like something else and a metaphor will say that it is something else. ‘The river curved through the desert like a vast silver snake’, is a simile. ‘The river curved through the desert – a vast snake,’ is a metaphor.
e) Do not mix metaphors.
‘He was skating on thin ice and would soon find himself in hot water.’ This is an example of mixed metaphor. Mixed metaphors make writing amateurish.
a) Dialogue can make or break your novel. Its correct usage cannot be overstressed.
- Characters are best depicted through dialogue. If you wish to assess a person’s character, listen to what they say.
- A conversation must be real. It is not like an expert game of tennis, where the ball goes from one to the other and never bounces or is missed. It is like a game where the players are faulty and out of line. Listen to conversations. Often a question is asked and never answered, or answered in a roundabout way.
b) Social and cultural differences can be explained through dialogue. The following passage, from The Flame Trees of Thika, by Elspeth Huxley, illustrates excellent use of dialogue. Prior to this piece of dialogue, Hereward had called the African women ‘shameless’ because they bared their breasts. With this in mind, note the last comment.
‘Do you suppose,’ Lettice mused, ‘that one day they will become adept at water-colour sketches and German Lieder?
‘It seems unlikely,’ Robin reflected, watching a procession of three (African) women, bent under their loads, plodding past us. . .
‘Surely that’s the whole point of our being here,’ Tilly remarked. ‘We may have a sticky passage ourselves, but when we’ve knocked a bit of civilisation into them, all this dirt and disease and superstition will go and they’ll live like decent people for the first time in their history.’ Tilly looked quite flushed and excited when she said this, as if it was something dear to her heart. . .
‘Mr Crawfurd hasn’t given an opinion,’ said Lettice.
‘Well, as to that, I don’t think Ahmed is at all likely to follow our lead where women are concerned. In fact, if there’s one thing that really shocks him, it’s the way our women behave.’
‘It hardly seems his place to be shocked,’ Hereward said.
‘He’s horrified, if that’s a better word, first of all at the way they answer back, and secondly at their idleness. To see a man working while a woman lolls about offends his sense of decency. And as for the way in which wives mix with other men, he thinks it’s quite shameless.’
Hereward went rather red and looked as if he was going to splutter like a firework, but so many things occurred to him to say at once that he said nothing.
c) ‘Don’t tell – show.’
- A writer can show the attitudes, ideals and morals of a community or person through the medium of dialogue. The above passage is an example of this.
4) Descriptive narrative
a) Some are more expert at this than others. Unless you are skilful in using description, do not use too much, it will bore your reader.
b) Suggestions for the use of descriptive narratives.
- Include action in descriptive narratives.
- Employ all physical, spiritual and psychological senses. Describe colour, smell, light and dark, atmosphere, spiritual awareness etc.
Mentally, visualise the scene being described.
- Collect words and phrases from other writers which appeal to you.
The following passage, from ‘River God’ by Wilber Smith illustrates a description from an accomplished writer of popular fiction. (Elephantine is an island in the Nile.)
‘Elephantine was shaped like a monstrous shark pursuing the shoal of lesser islands up the narrows. On either side of the river the encroaching deserts were distinct in colour and character. On the west bank, the Saharan dunes were hot orange and savage as the Bedouin who were the only mortals able to survive amongst them. To the east, the Arabian desert was dun and dirty grey, studded with black hills that danced dreamlike in the heat mirage. These deserts had one thing in common – both of them were killers of men.’
Although there is no action as such, the description contains plenty of action words and phrases. E.g. ‘shark pursuing’, ‘encroaching deserts’, ‘savage as the Bedouin’, ‘hills that danced’ and ‘killers of men’.
5) Suspense and how to create it
Many who enjoy a peaceful, ordered life indulge in adventure through the reading of novels. Build up tension over several paragraphs, or a whole chapter. The following, suggests how this can be done.
- Initially, drop hints to indicate the coming suspense.
- Then begin to create a situation of danger.
- Through the mind of the viewpoint character, show gradual awareness of danger.
- Increase the danger in outward circumstances.
- Solutions may not always follow. It is very effective to leave the reader at the end of a chapter without knowing the resolution to the problem.
- If suspense is created quickly, and within a short space of time, use short sentences. This will alert the reader.