1. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Taking a break from action and dialogue

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by OurJud, Sep 5, 2015.

    I first aired these concerns in another member's thread, when that member asked how to avoid page after page of 'I did this, then he did that...'

    I'm now starting this thread in the hope I can get some concentrated advice on the matter.

    As I said in the other thread, I'm at my most comfortable when writing action, dialogue and describing scenes, but I can't write 70,000+ words of this stuff, as I'm already starting to feel like the pattern is getting very monotonous. I'm getting tired of starting sentences with 'I [insert adjective]...'

    Of course I'm not suggesting every sentence I write starts like this. As I say there's dialogue and descriptions in there too, but it's starting to feel more like a film script than a novel.

    How do I write the abstract stuff? The introspective stuff? Exposition? Or more to the point, what am I supposed to be achieving with these other elements?

    I need to stop and let my MC think, reflect on things, and then paint those elements for my reader, but this doesn't come as easily to me. Even though I know, more often than not, what will happen next in the adventure, it's like I don't know what he's thinking or how he's feeling. He's more like a mechanical device for my story than a living, breathing person.
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2015
  2. nastyjman
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    nastyjman Contributing Member

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    Check out Techniques of a Selling Writer. In it, Dwight Swain talks about the Motivating Stimulus and Reaction Units, or MRUs.

    It helped me a bit to sequence my beats. Basically, something happens and your POV character reacts. The something happening is called Motivating Stimulus whereas the POV reacting is called Reaction Units.

    The Reaction Units are broken down to three components. They are Feelings, Action and Speech. He Swain said that Thought is part of Speech since Thoughts are internal speech. So with that in mind, the Reaction Units are Feelings, Action, Thought and Speech. I remember it by calling it "FATS."

    With the Reaction Units, you don't need to use all four. Sometimes you only need the Action and the Speech. Other times you'll do Feelings and Speech. However, Swain says that you cannot rearrange the sequence. For example: the Motivating Stimulus is a car hitting a child; your reaction will be the feeling of dread, running to the child, thinking of calling 911 and then shouting for help. In reality, if we had witnessed this accident, we will feel these sensations happening simultaneously, although the Feeling will always come first before Action, Thought or Speech. Since we're writing, having this order is easier to comprehend as a reader.

    Check out other writers and analyze how they arrange this sequence. Right now, I'm rereading some Vonnegut, and I'm seeing the same sequence: something happens outside the character, then the POV character reacts.

    I also found out that the character's own memory can be a Motivating Stimulus. Ever had that moment where you randomly thought of an embarrassing memory? You feel gross and yucky, your body cringes, and then you say or think, "Damn it!"

    That's it. When I'm stuck in writing a scene, I remind myself of what the Stimulus is and what my POV's Reaction will be--FATS! Hope this helps or gives you an idea.
     
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  3. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks, nastyjman.

    The thing is, that's pretty much what I'm already doing. Something happens and my characters react. I think, perhaps, I haven't explained myself very well.

    When I read other novels, it's not all action and dialogue. There's internal thoughts in there, exposition, abstract stuff... long passages of these elements which give the reader a break from the action.

    It's this that I want to get as comfortable at writing, as I am the action and dialogue, but to do that I need to know where it comes and why it comes.
     
  4. dreamersky1212
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    dreamersky1212 Active Member

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    The only advice I can offer is to pick a book that does what you are looking for, and copy their techniques. Not the words, but the way of getting them.

    For example, when I started writing again I wrote about 4 chapters straight before I paused to reread and edit. When I did, man I never knew that I could write so many "I" statements.

    I thought about...
    I nodded...
    I grasped for...

    But then I took a break and read a novel, my first since I had started writing again. When I picked up the published story, something was different. I could hear/see it. I could see how the author minimized all of the "I" statements.

    Instead of "I" it was "me" and "my".

    My mind wandered with thoughts of...
    My head bobbed in a single jerky nod ...
    My trembling hand grasped the page....

    Now, to over use "me" and "my" is not good either. Mix and match. Write a paragraph and then go back over it to see what can be changed so that it flows better.
     
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  5. nastyjman
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    nastyjman Contributing Member

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    Internal monologue, thought abstraction and recollection should fall under Thought. Anything that happens inside the character's head I consider as Thought in the Reaction Units.

    And thought is not limited to the "he/she thought" like "I should call 911, he thought." Sometimes you can dramatize the thought like this: "He had no time to take his phone out and call 911." In this sentence, we can assume that the character had thought of calling 911.

    As for where and why thought happens, it's borne out of the Motivating Stimulus. Search for your favorite short story or novel and pin-point the area where internal monologue, abstraction or recollection occurred. Once you find it, look for the cause of that thought.

    Finally, I think I had over-simplified the FATS. Feeling and Action happens sequentially, but Thought and Speech sometimes can be interchanged, so FATS can be FAST. Sometimes people blurt out stuff without thinking about what they said (see Politicians).

    I'm not doing the Motivation Reaction Units any justice. If you can buy the book, get it. Otherwise, borrow it from your library.
     
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  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do you mean, what it's good for? Why it has value in a book? I'm still not quite clear on the question.
     
  7. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    What is the POV? I am not sure how to do it in third person. Though I am not really that knowledgeable as I am 'green' to writing. What I try to do is give a little bit of action and then a little bit of internal dialogue (thoughts) and then a little more action. Trying in essence to convey the mood of how the character is in the moment while delivering a beat down, or even simply going about normal activities (though when not in dialogue I tend to focus more on their thoughts, since their physical actions are not as interesting in mundane activities (exercise, walking somewhere, working on something, and so on). I try to add a bit of the action elements back in so there is not a loss on what they are doing besides thinking. Like I said I am 'green' so I don't know to much, still figuring stuff out.
     
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  8. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe you just need to read more books to get a better grasp of this?
    I also suggest that in order to avoid starting meanings with "I" or "My", make the character focus on what happens around him instead of what's happening to him or inside of him. That is also a good way to avoid monotony. You don't have to filter everything through the character (I felt, I saw, I heard etc). Just write WHAT he sees, hears, feels. It takes a little getting used to, but to me, learning this really transformed my writing. That and learning how to mix dialogue, action, thoughts and narrative. Reading a lot can give you a better feel for how to do that.
    If you already do this, just ignore my advice :)
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2015
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  9. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, neither am I :meh:

    Perhaps I simply need to study other novels, as suggested by Tesoro.

    I'm not suggesting people have failed to understand, here, but how else can I put it?

    When I read novels - regardless of POV (1st or 3rd) - I'm aware, albeit unconsciously, that what I'm reading isn't all action. The author will often climb inside the head of the MC and let you share what's going on internally (thoughts, feelings, memories, philosophies, opinions, views). Then, after a few passages or even a page or two of this stuff, he'll dump you back into the action and tell you, in real-time, what's 'happening' in the story.

    Funnily enough, what this discussion has revealed to me is that I know what I need to be including as a means of breaking from the action, just not how to write it.

    I suppose it's just one of those areas I need to practice at - my Achilles' heel.
     
  10. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you want, you can try this:
    Take a couple of highlighters and pick up a book you really liked, preferably similar to what you want to write yourself (buy a used copy if you don't want to ruin your hardcover copy) and then use one color to highlight all the dialogue, another for narrative, one for thoughts and one for action. This makes it easier to see how the author uses each element and how it affects the rythm etc.
     
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  11. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's a brill idea!

    I shall do this.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    On "how do I write," I tend to write this stuff in a sort of free-association, freewriting kind of mood. I'm freewriting in the mind and mood of the POV character, but all the same, I generally don't think of the purpose and value of the character musing while I'm writing it. Only afterward (perhaps minutes afterward, perhaps days) do I realize, "This is a complete waste of space," or, "Oh, that's what this is good for."

    I realize that doesn't actually answer the question. I guess I'm just suggesting that if you usually do a lot of planning, maybe try abandoning that planning and let yourself babble on sometimes. If what you created is useless, you can always cut it.

    If I were actively trying to get myself to write more of this, I could imagine this mental dialogue with myself:

    "Why is Jane's dialogue so brief and curt here?"
    "Because she hates Andrew."
    "Even though he came to do her a favor?"
    "Still hates him. Hate isn't rational. She feels guilty, but she hates him."
    "OK, let's explore that for a while. As she looks at him, what reminds her that she hates him?"
    "The clothes. He came to help her move, but he's dressed like..."
    "Stop talking to yourself and start writing it."
     
  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Why not take one of the scenes you've written that disturbs you this way, and play around with it a bit? Isolate it, and think about it. Look at what you've written, and then (without writing anything, unless you're just scribbling notes to yourself) ask yourself:

    What is my POV character thinking about and feeling while this scene is happening? When you speak to somebody or do something yourself, you have an inner life happening at the same time. You're enthusiastic, or bored, or on your guard, or sorry the person you're with isn't the person you'd rather be with, or you're worried because you're late for something else, or trying to think up something to say that will impress them, or you're anxious because you think they don't like you.... Create this kind of inner life for your characters.

    What is going on around him/her while these things are happening? What does my POV character actually NOTICE about what is going on around while these things are happening? What does this notice tell you about his/her state of mind?

    What does the POV character want most to happen, right now? What is the POV character afraid of in this scene (if this is relevant.) Are they letting their desires or fears show? If so, how? If not, why not?

    If there are other characters in this scene, do the same thing for them. Ask the same questions for them. However, also keep in mind that because you're not using their POV, you can't tell the reader the answers. However, you can make them do stuff or say stuff that will let the POV character guess what they are thinking.

    Once you've got these details fixed firmly in your mind, then go back and add them in to your scene. I don't mean you have to make a big deal about each one, but let what you've just learned about your characters inform how the scene plays out.

    I think sometimes new authors get so intent on making stuff happen, that they tend to gallop from one event to another. And often there is far too much reliance on dialogue to tell a story as well. For some reason, this is considered 'good' in that it moves the story along rapidly, and makes it a 'page turner.' In fact, it can become tiring to read, and if it's just rapid-fire dialogue—often pages and pages of it—the inner stuff, gets glossed over and the story reads as if it's shallow. Don't be afraid to slow down and take your time with your story. Make it as rich as you can. Give it depth and detail as well as speed and excitement.

    The trick isn't really in the writing. It's in what you envision. Take your time to think about what's happening in your story, and then communicate those thoughts to the reader. Thinking time is not time wasted, when you should actually be writing. Letting a story gel in your head, details and all, is part of the writing process, really.
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2015
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  14. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I tend to feel that exposition and introspection are a step away from the moment into the past or theme - it's kinda like when you're arguing with someone and you're going to another place in your head to figure out how you got here. The moment becomes an extension and a play with time. There's memory involved, old injustices, truths, metaphors, symbols to be taken notice of, dreams gone sour, dreams still to be fulfilled - etc. It's a way of creating a layer - now layer= story, thought/dream/notice layer = theme.

    I don't find that these moments always come about in first draft, though. Because the idea of them can imbedded ( sometimes in dialogue or place, or action or object.) I sometimes have to extended and redo the scene to include something turning whole blocks of dialogue into exposition and tells.

    I try and slow my roll and take notice of things - objects, situations, gestures things I can extend. If I can't extend them presently I jot them down best I can and leave it for the next draft.
     
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  15. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is great ammunition. Thank you.

    Thanks to everyone else who's replied. too. It's all been very helpful.
     
  16. General Daedalus
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    General Daedalus Active Member

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    I think that was my thread from a few days ago you're referring to :)

    Since then I've been going over a lot of my work (in fact I just hit 40000 words today) and twisting things around a little. I've noticed that because of my plot a lot of the abstract stuff comes naturally to me. My MC (as you probably already know due to my numerous self-absorbed posts around the site) is a struggling alcoholic, drowning in a sea of problems, which gives me a lot of opportunities to present his internal dialogue. The narrative in my novel is from a sort of omniscient point of view, so I don't necessarily need a thought pattern or a physical speech. If your character has any unusual mental traits, exploit them. I talk a lot about my protagonist's morality, which is relativistic at best, and his world views. This gives you a good opportunity to add in some abstract paragraphs.
     
  17. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're either a very fast learner, GD, or a walking contradiction.
     
  18. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    There's something else described in Techniques of the Selling Writer that helps"join the bits together" which is what I think you are trying to do. @Sack-a-Doo! or someone mentioned it but I am darned if I can find it.
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2015
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  19. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    Found it:
    Is this what you're talking about here, @OurJud? ( I said it definitely is but changed it to a confirming query :D)
     
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  20. General Daedalus
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    General Daedalus Active Member

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    I think most of it showed up during the editing stages but I feel that I'm getting the hang of it now, I know I was complaining about it but on a complete read-through it actually isn't as much of a problem as I originally thought.
     
  21. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    This has been a really interesting thread. I try to avoid 'Thought.'. Or rather, I only include it when it's absolutely necessary and I can't think of a way to show those thoughts through action or dialogue. I wonder if that's a mistake.
     
  22. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's a perfectly valid style choice, but it's one that tends to leave me cold. I like to have some access to the POV character's mind.
     
  23. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    How much of it do you like? I appreciate that's a hard question!
     
  24. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hmmm. It's very "I know it when I read it." American Gods was just about right for me. Robert Barnard's Death of a Mystery Writer and Death of a Perfect Mother were a little too distant, while his Masters of the House and many of his others are perfect. The books by the author of Gone Girl are a little too close for me. Josephine Tey is always perfect. Agatha Christie is sometimes too distant.

    But that's not helpful unless you've read the books. Also, being close to a likable protagonist is much more enjoyable than an unlikable one. Which is part of why those two distant Robert Barnard novels probably had to be distant--almost everyone was unlikable.

    I have no really coherent answer.
     
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  25. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Where's that thread DC? I need to check my replies to it so that I know it's the one.

    Never mind. I found it and it is the one. Just ordered it. I feel I really need it because like Sack-a-doo who recommended it to me, I really have no idea how to connect one scene to the next. I hope reading it is like sticking my finger in a plug socket, too!
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2015

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