Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tip O'Day #438 - More Writing Rules

Author, blogger, columnist and writing teacher HMC is today’s guest blogger on “Don’t Tell Me What to Write” (Part II of II).

Killing a New Scene: Do you want to be the next Scorsese? No? Then here is how to move away from dialogue overkill. Atmosphere is crucial.

Before my students write a story (oh, I’m a teacher by the way, can you tell?) I always get them to imagine. I ask where they are and get them to write everything that they see, then hear, smell, taste, touch and feel. If you are ever stuck on describing a setting, this is a wonderful exercise.

Setting: Graveyard

See: stone, grey, cracks, shadows.
Hear: wind, trees rustling.
Taste: salt from tears.
Smell: damp earth.
Touch: hard and smooth.
Feel: sorrow, mourning, heavy.


Long shadows were cast over the stone graves, and I could taste the salt of my tears as I mourned for my father. The wind rustled the trees. I smelt the damp earth underfoot. Cracks formed in the older graves, but his was smooth and new. The heaviness of his passing weighed a tonne upon my shoulders and it was difficult to drag myself away.

Building Suspense with a Packed-Punch: Ever feel deflated by a climactic scene? Perhaps the story was there, but why did the suspense not quite peak as it should have? It could be to do with the sentences — shorter, sharp sentences pack-a-punch. Also, try to end some sentences with a strong word. Take a long, descriptive piece and slash it. See what happens.

The corridor seemed endless and he could hear the soft engines of the station wagons, work-utes and family vans that purred along the street in front of the old, Fairholmes, arcade building. Perhaps he could make it out in time, and perhaps the daylight would be his saviour from the man who was chasing him. Close now, he could feel a rush of adrenaline, but it was too late; the man was gaining on him now. Damon wrapped an arm around his throat and took him to the ground, scattering the resident cockroaches.
‘Relax, Doc. I’m not gonna hurt you. We just have some questions for you.’ The doctor’s body went limp and he let his assailant win the battle.
The corridor seemed endless. He could hear the soft engines of the station wagons, work-utes and family vans. They purred along the street in front of him. If he could just make it out into the daylight, visibility might be his saviour. Close now, he felt one last rush of adrenaline. Too late. He felt the heat and smelled the sweat of the man gaining on him. Damon wrapped a strong arm around his throat and took him down. The two men grappled, raising clouds of dust and scattering the resident roaches.
‘Relax, Doc. I’m not gonna hurt you.’ His body went limp. Damon won the battle. ‘We just have some questions for you.’
Streamlining Sentences: I’ll be the first to admit that I have to work hard at my writing. Stories come to me easily, though, which is lucky. Some people are the other way around. My sentence structure often needs work as I am a waffler. It’s why I received mixed marks at uni — some liked my waffling, others didn’t. As a rule now, I check each sentence and remove excess. Streamline is the word my editor uses, and I love it.

Freddy started to sneak out the door to evade any trouble that would come, if Anne were to notice them missing, but Sam caught him.
But before he could make good his escape, Sam caught him.

You see, the readers already knew that Freddy was sneaking around and that Anne might catch him. So the first sentence is not only confusing, it’s redundant. Using ‘started to’ or ‘began to’ is useless… either they are doing it or they are not. These tentative words bog writing down.

Well, that’s all for now. I could keep going, but I’ll pass it over to you. If you have any more that you know of, please, add them to the comments section!

You can learn more about HMC at her website http://www.hmcwriter.com/ with links to her blog as well as the trailer for her thriller White Walls, which is having its online release during June 21-23.
As a reminder, guest bloggers wanting to share tips or stories of their writing triumphs/ordeals are always welcome. Please email me at montananovels@yahoo.com

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