Paragraph Construction

Thank you in advance for reading my very first blog.

As a pre-published author, my goal in blogging is to provide free writing tips so you can improve your writing skills. 

Pre-Blog Warm ups:

Show, don’t tell.

If you are writing in the third person point of view (POV), do not use the following “Tell” words:

  • Thought
  • Remembered
  • Imagined
  • Felt
  • Saw
  • Heard
  • Smelled
  • Knew
  • Decided
  • Understand
  • Realized
  • Reminded

 Instead, show the reader what the character experiences:

Incorrect:
The pink rose in the garden reminded Sarah of her grandmother.
 
 Correct:
The pink rose lay draped across Sarah’s palm, the edge of each individual petal kissed in a dark salmon hue, like the color of her grandmother’s lipstick.
 

Weak writing can be another form of telling.

Incorrect:
As Sarah meandered through the garden, she treaded lightly on the creaking planks arching Cripple Creek.
 
 Correct:
Sarah meandered through the garden, treading lightly on the creaking planks arching Cripple Creek.  
Or: Sarah meandered through the garden. She treaded lightly on the creaking planks arching Cripple Creek.

Avoid using the word “it.” Instead, rewrite the sentence to define the object .

Incorrect:
Only the bridge’s railing kept Sarah from falling on it. (Ask yourself if the word “it” is referring to the railing or the bridge?  If you can’t tell, then rewrite.)
 
Correct:
 Sarah gripped the railing, her tight hold keeping her from falling on the bridge.

Check when starting your sentence with words ending in “ing.” The “ing” can mess with the order of action and can make events physically impossible .

 Incorrect:
Jumping over the log, Sarah kicked off her shoes.
 
Correct:
 Sarah jumped over the log and then kicked off her shoes.
 
 Also Correct
 Blood pumping, Sarah jumped over the log.

Redundant words: (More Redundant Words Link)

Scan your document for the word “that” and remove if the sentence still makes sense .

 Incorrect:
Sarah understood that patience is a virtue.
 
Correct:
Sarah understood patience is a virtue.

Breathe…  

Incorporating what we learn from others and applying these edits to our manuscripts (MS) takes time, patience, and perseverance. If you are currently working on a MS, don’t go back to the beginning and make these changes. Press forward until the end of your story and then incorporate what you’ve learned during the edit process.

***********************************************************************************************

Ready, set, blog…

As a civil engineer, I crave order and hardcore facts and examples. I’ve found I can apply rules of math and physics to my creative side: Plot, Character Arcs, Red Herrings, Themes, etc.

Newton’s Third Law of Motion says: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

You may be asking yourself already: Why is Newton’s Third Law of Motion important to writing?

Let me explain. There are many parts to a great novel. High Concept, Theme, Goal, Motivation, Inner Conflict, External Conflict, and Disaster, Character Arc, Motto, Name, Dialogue, etc., and I will be touching these topics in the future or sending you to others who teach these concepts well.  My point is this: all the understanding in the world will be wasted if the execution of your scene is unclear.

Paragraph construction:

One of the most helpful tools I’ve found is developing and presenting a  series of action-reaction segments until the scene is completed (ending in disaster for the POV character. Disaster: Future Topic).

 These segments are always described by the POV character. If your POV character is bending over, he’s not going to be able to describe another character’s facial expressions. He will be able to describe feet shuffling (movement), groans (sound), and other senses. (Eleven Senses—Who Knew?, by Marilyn Kelly, is a must have for fiction writers). Paragraph construction is best explained as follows : 

1.  Action/Motivation/Stimulus. This is what triggers the POV character to react .

2.  Reaction: The character’s response always follows this order, although segments can be removed).

  • Visceral reaction (instinctual).
  • Physical decision/movement.
  • Deep third (internal dialogue)
  • Voice (speech).
 3.  Repeat.
 
Example:
 ACTION:
The door squealed open and a blast of air rushed up Blake Corbit’s bare backside. “Mr. Corbit!” the nurse’s echoed.
 
 REACTION:
His body jerked upright. He spun around, grabbing the nearest object within reach—a Sacramento Magazine depicting his rival’s newest monstrosity, all thirty-two stories of the beast. He mashed the photo against his privates, backing up slowly. He couldn’t help that nurse-o-raptor had walked in on him stumbling around for his clothes. If he’d been born rich, he wouldn’t have busted his leg wide open fighting the low-life catcallers he worked with. He had to protect Sarah’s honor, that angel-in-the-flesh, and he had to make amends with her father—if his tight-ass boss would even let him back on the jobsite. He couldn’t risk never seeing her again by losing his contract.  He was breaking out today, regardless if his damn clothes were playin’ hide-n-seek; streaking was a risk he was ready to take. “Just using the john .”

 REPEAT UNTIL THE SCENE IS COMPLETE.

 CONFLICT!

Every scene has to have conflict, both external and internal.

 Let’s use the segment above to explore this scene’s conflicts .

 External Conflicts:

Nurse, hospital room, lack of clothing, his injury/weakness, his boss, and the guys he works with.

 Internal Conflicts:

  • Includes lies he’s told himself and believes and are those he will either come to accept or reject by the end of the story. (Character Arc: Future Topic).
  • He believes if he’d been born rich he wouldn’t have to work so hard for what he believes in. In this case, he is striving to protect Sarah’s honor and is risking losing his job fighting for what he believes.  He thinks if he doesn’t beg for his job back she will never see him again.
  • He also has a negative way of describing  people he doesn’t care for by using labels: monstrosity, nurse-o raptor, low-life and tight-ass. He displays the opposite view in describing people he likes: angel-in-the-flesh.
  • You can tell by the way he talks he’s a blue collar worker with integrity. He sees himself above the other workers, maybe even thinks he has a chance with the boss’s daughter. He doesn’t like being tied down or told what to do. He is  a critical thinker who understands order and honor. He is also frustrated with the world and believes that others are in control, often overreacting to situations by becoming aggressive or lying.
  • Ask yourself, do you care about this character in one paragraph? The answer should be “yes” enough to read the next segment. (Likeable Characters: Future Topic).

 Bonus: Scene Components

Each scene must have the goal clearly stated as well as the POV character’s motivation for the goal, and each scene must end in disaster for the POV character.

 Goal:  Blake’s goal in this scene is to get out of the hospital.

Motivation (micro): Blake has multiple motivations:  getting his job back, proving to others he’s the better man, and seeing Sarah.

Motivation (macro): To be good enough.

Disaster: In this scene, Blake’s boss ultimately takes him back, but he’s demoted and must work under the guy who beat him up.

Character Arc: What Blake’s true arc should show him learn by the end of the novel is he is good enough without the job or the girl or how he perceives other people think of him.  Of course, if this is a romance, bare minimum he’ll win the girl. He might even take over Sarah’s family business, get a key to the city, and be on the cover of the Sacramento Magazine. He will have grown.

Showing what’s happening to your point of view character, creating strong action-reaction paragraphs, and structuring scenes around goal, motivation and disaster are the basics that will help you create a solid storyline with a compelling character.

Check back on May 15th, 2011 when I’ll be talking about character’s goals and motivations, both at a micro and macro level. I’ll also present how and when to introduce your character’s desires.

Thanks for stopping by.  Please leave your name under Contacts if you’d like to receive future topics on how to improve your craft.

 Happy writing, Cyndi Faria

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14 thoughts on “Paragraph Construction

  1. Cyndi, excellent! I’ve bookmarked this page, and I’ll be referring it not only to my fellow writers, but referring for myself as great examples. Sometimes when we hurry, we lapse into weak writing. Well done!

  2. Yea, Cyndi.
    Very nice. I love blogs that help me write. Even if we think we know something, I find that I often pick up a tidbit or two that I hadn’t thought of before.
    Keep blogging.

    Kathye

  3. Cyndi,
    No doubt I can easily connect to your blog because I like writing–though I consider myself a poor fiction writer–and we share the “engineering mind”.

    I really like the examples; they help a lot. During my deconstruction of a Mary Higgins Clark novel, I noted her use of “mixing” Description, Action, and Dialogue to show (or tell) about Characters, Setting, and Plot. Now I have a better understanding of action/reaction, especially the order (Visceral, Physical decision/movement, internal dialogue, and speech).

    Thanks

    Ken

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