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Share writing techniques you use with a specific intention in mind (1 Viewer)

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Ajoy

Senior Member
What are some things you intentionally do with writing style or grammar or word choice, either in general or in a current work, to achieve a specific desired effect (maybe to create a feeling or develop a character or drive home a plot point)?

I'm hoping that learning about what others do will either 1. help us recognize and analyze things we are already doing or 2. give a place to learn about different writing techniques to try out!

Examples from my current work:
(disclaimer - I've only had one reader, so I'm still not certain these have achieved my desired effects universally yet!)

1. I like to have characters say phrases or lines that mean one thing in the moment but something else in the larger context of the plot yet to be discovered (typically the character is not aware of the larger meaning) - definitely from the foreshadowing realm. I only do this a handful of times in my 130K word WIP, and I honestly don't know if anyone else would catch it, but I enjoy it.

2. In my current work, every time my character has a vision (which is her primary magic, so it happens throughout), I write the vision in present tense (as opposed to past tense like the rest of the narrative). My intention was to create a sense of in the moment thinking and experiences for the reader and character. I've tried to write it with a natural feel for the reader, but I've also been holding onto the thought that I might have to go through and change it all to past tense if further feedback tells me it didn't work. (1/1 neutral feedback so far - reader didn't notice)

3. This one, inspired by the Head Hopping thread, also inspired me to write this thread (One point that I generally agree with from the Head Hopping thread is that POV changes are best done at scene or chapter transitions.) :
Because my MC has visions, I use POV changes in each of those visions - this sometimes breaks the one per scene advise because she's sometimes intentionally moving from a vision of one person to another to another, which means doing a partial POV change with each one. They're partial POV changes because my MC is the POV the whole time, but her physical experiences changes depending on the body she's inhabiting and the event that is occuring. This has been a challenging technique to use because it takes a lot of care to keep it clear, but one thing I did was build up to the fast POV changes over the course of the story. In the beginning, it was only one per scene or chapter, but late in the story, when she knows what she's doing, the partial POV changes are pretty fluid. I intentionally played with POV in this situation to develop my character and manipulate plot delivery. I've been playing with the specific POV experience within each vision to create an effect showing her confusion as well (while attempting to not confuse my reader) - before she knows she's having visions, she uses the I voice a lot in her visions, later at times when she's super connected to the person or event in her vision, she uses the we voice, and then at other times, when she's super aware of the fact that she's having a vision she uses the he/she voice. This technique is literally the backbone for one of my major plot arcs and it defines a major part of my character's experience, so I need to make sure it works and works well. (1/1 positive feedback so far)
 
Hi Ajoy,

I didn't want to read, and feel rude not to reply. At the moment I have a few WIP projects as I haven't mastered how to manage the fluctuations in the mind and the discipline to edit my novel is painful and sometimes a detour of creating short stories diverts the old head and when I go back to my 2nd draft it is in a much clearer focused state. To answer your question in my novel there are hidden dialogues at the early stages. I am only a beginner so I don't know if this is correct, but it felt right. In all the research and advice I looked up, there is always an insistence of 'baiting' (is that a correct terminology?). It is to drop some information for the reward and payoff later, in my novel, there are reveals that doesn't make much sense, but blends into the general theme of the story, only to have a much more important 'reveal' later, so I guess that is similar to your tactic?

I haven't attempted anything in regards to head hopping, but I plan to write a few in the opposite sex as part of a series and just for fun in short stories too
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Apart from the obvious techniques everyone uses, I don't have anything I could quantify in any helpful way. I have 'voices' related to mood and tone, word choices and rhythm. In order to latch onto those voices, I have to imagine myself a different person and to do that I use over the top traits. Once I have a page written, I can ease up a little and settle into the style. I'll then layer in another characteristic such as sarcasm or cynicism or whimsy and use those (along with the character) to select sentence structure, wording, tone, etc. If it all works out well, I'll keep the name of the character's voice and use that character for other stories, just changing their name. I have three main characters I use now:

Jacobs: Cynical, dark, gritty. He has growl and punch.
Josephine: Still cynical but a little less, whimsical with dark humour.
And me: The undercurrent of the above or the thrust of the full voice.

I have another more playful voice but I have never given it a character name. Not yet anyway. The idea of this is to work with all four separately and eventually form a whole that becomes my own voice without having to think of the characters. That's what I'm doing now until next Feb. At the moment I'm working on dense, and chunky wording to hopefully create a sense of gravitas and weight, but the next story I'm going to flip that and write more lightly with plenty of free space.

This all sounds rather pretentious, but it's how I work. It may lead to what I want or it may lead to me falling on my ass. We'll see next Feb!
 
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Matchu

Senior Member
I thought ‘voice’ was more the identity stamp we bring by way of our different brains...rather than something we consciously reach for - in/from our quiver cupboards. ‘Today I shall write as Charles,’ but y’know we do know & expect appreciate that it is @AZEternalBazpony guiding from under the wig & cloak.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
One I can think of is including tension breaks.

I'm writing adventure of various sorts, and I have bad guys constantly plotting, trying, or doing bad things to innocents and my protagonists. In my own reading and viewing of tense stories, I find I enjoy them more when tension breaks are included.

I'll give an example from film:
In Michael Keaton's first Batman film, Keaton is playing a very serious character. Nicholson is playing a deranged mass murderer. Taken at face value, that's grim stuff, and it goes on from beginning to end. But you get frequent tension breaks. The reporter says amusing things. Keaton practices revealing that he's Batman, The Joker says "Where does he get those WONDERFUL toys?!" -- many others. There are so many light tension breaks some might consider it a dark comedy instead of a super-hero action thriller.

Compare this to "The Dark Knight". Similar story ... the origin and depredations of the Joker. Heath Ledger gives a tour de force in the role. There are NO tension breaks in an approximately three hour movie. It was a great movie ... once. I was so emotionally exhausted at the end I never wanted to watch it again. (Similar feel, to me, for "Saving Private Ryan").

So I think tension breaks are important.

In the first person I just finished, my hero is self-deprecating and I have him utter quips in that manner even in the middle of life and death struggles. (Of course, since it's first person, the clever reader should guess he's going to survive. ;-) ) In between instances of individual or mass murder by the bad guys, my protagonists get some time to relax, have a meal, be seduced, appreciate scenery. Give the reader time to recover from the last tension before piling on the next. I don't write ANYTHING without including some humor, or at least I hope I do--what amuses me may not amuse you, at least all the time. Anyway, I'm in there trying.

Plus, I think quiet scenes are the best measure of a writer. Engaging a reader with action and suspense is far easier, but also taxing for the writer. How long can you keep that up and keep it fresh? At some point you've got to break for a quiet scene. I've always said that a great writer can write about the hero eating breakfast and make it entertaining. So the quiet scenes become opportunities to hone our narrative skills and show off.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
Today I switched a few phrases to an older grammar to make my character's poem seem more like a poem. (I was never told --> Never was I told)

More generally, my grammar book talks about using grammar for action scenes, frenetic-ness, sexual scenes, and probably a lot of other effects. I especially like using grammar to show transitions, like in:

Days and weeks and even months filled with nothing, then more nothing -- the mad ol' ape inside start to leer and gibber and prance -- some of the best of us show signs of going trigger --
Then, WHAM! We're called up. We cross the vac. We drop. It gets real. All the shit happens at once, in a bloody, grinding flash -- ...
(KillingTitan, Bear)
 

JBF

Staff member
Board Moderator
Even though I seldom use a present-day setting, I try to divorce historical characters from the major tropes of their era (my going project at the moment runs approximately 1985-1992) because while it's set then for a reason, I don't necessarily want readers picking it up as some kind of nostalgia piece. Popular culture of any period already has its footprint and I'd as soon that not overwhelm the particulars of a story I'm looking to tell. A similar execution would be the book and movie for No Country for Old Men - it's set in the same decade, but it doesn't beat the audience over the head with the fact.

My characters generally don't talk much. There are exceptions, but this springs from my burning hatred for expository dialogue and so, rather than explain things already shown I tend to keep dialogue to either the bare essentials or lightweight chatter that people usually carry on. They also tend to avoid pop culture references for the same reasons listed above.

By and large, I want characters with a certain detachment. Not so much because the setting and society aren't important, but because I like the idea of a protag who's more than a little rootless; if John Holland Wolfe wasn't going to South America to shady things in 1987, he'd be just fine fighting the Comanche in the 1870s or running guns for Pancho Villa. You could drop him into any era and sooner or later he'd find a niche doing interesting things (to him) somewhere out of the spotlight.

So...stuff like that. Unless I misread the intentions of the thread, in which case disregard.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
A character makes a reference to an earlier part of the story. The result is sometimes satisfaction for the reader. It can also communicate a happy/gently witty attitude.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
It becomes increasingly as irrelevant to metaphor a superhero movie as any 19c novel that nobody's read.
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
Plus, I think quiet scenes are the best measure of a writer. Engaging a reader with action and suspense is far easier, but also taxing for the writer. How long can you keep that up and keep it fresh? At some point you've got to break for a quiet scene. I've always said that a great writer can write about the hero eating breakfast and make it entertaining. So the quiet scenes become opportunities to hone our narrative skills and show off.

I really appreciate this example. I realized as soon as you mentioned it that I also value the tension breaks and have put a lot of effort into adding them throughout my WIP, but I hadn't really consciously thought about doing it until you shared. :) I also love your point about good writing showing in the quiet scenes!
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
Apart from the obvious techniques everyone uses, I don't have anything I could quantify in any helpful way. I have 'voices' related to mood and tone, word choices and rhythm. In order to latch onto those voices, I have to imagine myself a different person and to do that I use over the top traits. Once I have a page written, I can ease up a little and settle into the style. I'll then layer in another characteristic such as sarcasm or cynicism or whimsy and use those (along with the character) to select sentence structure, wording, tone, etc. If it all works out well, I'll keep the name of the character's voice and use that character for other stories, just changing their name.

I like your approach to developing multidimensional characters - in layers. It's interesting, and how they're becoming sort of template characters.


Your writing plan reminds me of a writer version of like an athlete in training. It'll be fun to see your reflections after you move to your next step after February. :)
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I like your approach to developing multidimensional characters - in layers. It's interesting, and how they're becoming sort of template characters.


Your writing plan reminds me of a writer version of like an athlete in training. It'll be fun to see your reflections after you move to your next step after February. :)

It's a difficult one to explain. They're not the characters in the story, they're the character writing the story. When I write as Jacobs, I have a different vocabulary. When I write as Josephine, I use more adjectives and whimsical imagery. I'm terrified of next Feb! I need to write a few with my more lyrical voice though (the one I have no name for). I find it the hardest to achieve without it looking flowery at some points. It's a more plaintive voice though and I like that. Then it's a matter of letting them all come together to create certain effects WITHOUT looking like I've shifted styles in the piece. That's the bit I'm terrified of.
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
Then it's a matter of letting them all come together to create certain effects WITHOUT looking like I've shifted styles in the piece. That's the bit I'm terrified of.

I am having a hard time imagining what this looks like as a finished piece, but I'm interested. Are you imagining something with multiple POV and each of those written in the voice of your developed characters...or something more subtle?
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I am having a hard time imagining what this looks like as a finished piece, but I'm interested. Are you imagining something with multiple POV and each of those written in the voice of your developed characters...or something more subtle?

Naaa, it'll just be a style. Imagine playing a piano for two or three years and all you allow yourself to do is play chords one week, scales the next week, trills the following week and so forth. You don't try to create a finished composition, you take each element and perfect it as best you can. Then, at the end of it all, you let your fingers play.
 
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