This month surprised us. We opened up submissions and we got a quick influx that we never expected. So quick, in fact, that we had to shut down submissions for the month, a week earlier than we’d planned. That has never happened before. As such, we will be buckling down this month, and trying to churn out a few more analyses than we normally handle, if possible. In the meantime, please enjoy the tips we gleaned from our work on our monthly lottery winner’s work. We hope you find our tips helpful, and you continue to stick with us on this journey.
Sometimes, we create sentences because of the ebb and flow of words, the effect of them when we think them in our minds, but when we get them down on paper, they don’t necessarily convey the same meaning or provide the same effect they have in our heads. There are a few instances that can cause this, but in this case, I want to talk about the use of added connective tissue in sentences, as well as sentence fragments.
Both of these can be used to create tension or to convey a point. However, in the case of connective tissue (Ands, Yets, Buts, Sos, Becauses), sometimes they are just excess words that don’t change the meaning of the sentence they find themselves attached to. One of the challenges of writing any story, especially one that contains worldbuilding, is the need to keep the word count down and the storytelling tight. Any unneeded words should be cut out to make sentences flow smoother.
As for the issue of sentence fragments and hyper short sentences, these are not a problem in and of themselves, but when dealing with these, the writer needs to insure they are using them for a specific purpose. The flow of the sentences impacts the feeling of the scene. Short, choppy sentences work well for action, to maintain a fast pace. Longer sentences with connected clauses, read at a more normal, conversational pace. When used at the wrong times, sentence fragments can give the narrative a choppy, start-stop, kind of motion, like you’re braking a car too abruptly. If used correctly, they can create an effective high tension scene.
Characters cannot exist in a vacuum, they must feel like real, three-dimensional people. Accomplishing this in minor characters is difficult and often overlooked, but that’s understandable. It not so easily ignored in the main character. Developing a fully-fleshed out character, one that is tangible to the reader’s minds, usually requires two things: description and emotional depth.
While it’s true that physical descriptions are not always necessary--and a description that is overly long can break up the narrative and draw the reader out of the story--it does help the reader to connect with the character to have some idea of what they look like. It helps if the descriptions are inserted seamlessly throughout the narrative, rather than simply dumped onto a page. Without at least a few details, the reader may have trouble visualizing the character, and thus have trouble connecting with them.
More importantly, however, the character must have emotional depth. To create a more realistic character, the reader must be able to see them as more than just a collection of actions or words. Many times the writer can use these actions and words to convey emotions without actually having to state it (example: He listened to the other man in silence, fists balled tight under the table, knuckles white from the effort), but eventually further insight will be needed to put the character’s actions into clearer context. If not, their actions might seem detached or inconsistent, and might confuse the reader.
As with physical description, providing emotional insight need not consist of a long ramble. That would draw away from the narrative and feel forced. Subtlety is best. You don’t want to sacrifice the narrative to hammer home a point.
When it comes to stories that involve world building or back story, a writer must find the balance between sharing too much and sharing too little. In order to draw a reader in to whoever your main character is, you need to show the reader who they are. You don’t need a long winded exposition in your opening pages, but you need snippets, fragments, a thread for the reader to pull themselves along for the ride. Revealing too much or too little can harm a story, both from a reader’s perspective and a professional one.
Often for editors and agents, you have three chapters to grasp their attention and hold it. If they don’t know enough about your main character, they can’t get lost in the story. Questions will interrupt their read. Who is this character? Who are they in relation to the people around them? Why are they important? You want your main character to have a presence and there are several ways to do this. Add a thought, a motive for an action, an emotion. Instead of saying, “They hated Billy,” try something like “They remembered what Billy did, the jokes, the taunts that never ended.” In this example we not only get a hint of anger, but we get a reason and a glimpse of who the character is.
As readers, this is relevant because we want to be grounded enough in a story that we can follow the main character. We don’t have to trust them or even like them, but we need the right footing so their journey becomes immersive. If we don’t know enough, questions can outweigh interest and that is the last thing you want.