Coming To Terms With Writing Terms
Today, my husband Doug and I are both writing our takes on some novel-writing terms we learned a lot about at the American Christian Fiction Writers conference last week. For the most part, we took the same workshops. But we aren’t reading each other’s blog posts until after we hit “submit.” Any guesses about whether or not we came away from the classes with similar understanding about the essential elements of a novel? Leave your comments here, or over at Marginal, or both.
Noble Goal: As a writer, I have one main noble goal with each manuscript I write: To Get The Book Published. You may be wondering what makes me so certain my goal of being published and making a ton of money selling a gazillion books is noble. That’s easy. I am a good person, a noble person, if you will. It should go without saying that Noble People Have Noble Goals. It is possible that some of the characters I create in my novels also have a Noble Goal, but I wouldn’t count on it if I were you.
Conflict: Conflict in a novel cannot and should not be confused with tension. Of course, confusion itself—especially when it’s between the two main characters—can cause conflict, thereby raising the level of tension, which is not the same thing as conflict, as I’m sure you remember. One does lead to another, though. There’s no denying that. Sometimes conflict leads to tension, but I believe it’s more often true that tension leads to conflict. As long as the writer does her job in keeping the two concepts (and executions of the concepts) distinct, the reader will have a good experience with the story. Especially if it includes an actual execution. When heads roll, tension and conflict both increase exponentially.
Tension: Tension occurs often and early. In the very first sentence of the novel, really. Even before that, preferably. The title itself should make the reader go, “Yes! There’s a question in that title—-it makes me want to keep reading to find out what happens next!” Your goal as an author is to create a new generation of insomniacs who must turn to sleep aids after the page-turning experience your Tense Titles lead them into. Remember, tension and conflict are two very different things. VERY different.
Micro-tension: This is what the main characters in a novel experience in a pub. Of course, there must be tension on every page, but when your protagonist and antagonist order micro-brews on tap, the tension subsides a tad. This allows the reader a little breather between the more intensely tense scenes that occur, presumably, sans beer.
Dark moment: Dark moments routinely occurred in all “commercial” or “popular” fiction until recently. (Literary fiction is a different bird altogether. Every moment in a literary novel is a dark moment.) Now, sadly, our good friends the Brits have dictated that in order to avoid offending people, even people who weren’t offended at all until these new rules came out, all of us including authors must avoid words like “dark,” “darker,” “darkest,” “black,” “grey” (wouldn’t want to annoy those in the midst of a heart attack, now would we?) and etc. Since it would be very hard to write a novel scene which illustrated bleakness by referring to it as the “utter-absence-of-light moment,” we authors have now banded together and decided to forget dark moments completely. We hope we haven’t stepped on any readers toes, but that’s the way the PC cookie crumbles.
Denouement: From the French, obviously. This is the part of the novel that happens after all the good parts have been read. As a reader, you could skip it, actually, and you’d have the gist of the story, but since you’ll probably want to stick around for the Epilogue (which happens after the boring stuff that happens after the good stuff…), why not tough it out? Especially since the author goes to so much trouble to get the French translation of the word down-pat and make sure your experience of the Denouement is top-drawer. First, you’ll recall that when you find “ment” at the end of a French word, it’s the equivalent of us using the “ly” construction to form an adverb. For example, we write “absolutely.” The French, in an effort to approximate English as closely as possible without copying us verbatim, write “absolutement.” So, right off the bat a writer knows that the word Denouement is an adverb. It’s plain to any armchair linguist that the remaining two syllables can be translated as they are spoken, especially since the French are known for dumbing down their language for the sake of Americans. Therefore, we have “duh” + “new” + “ly.” A denouement is successfully written when an author writes an apres-climax winding-down section that is new (duh!) and contains more adverbs than allowed in the rest of the novel.
Epilogue: Back in the day, I owned an “Epilady” depilatory system. You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s not just an electric shaver for women, it’s one of those torture gadgets that yanks (or burns, not sure which) the hairs out at the root level, so that you don’t have to shave again for a few weeks or longer. In many ways, an Epilogue is just like an Epilady. Once you read it, at the very end of the novel, you feel like the story is finally blessedly over and you won’t have to think about it again for a long time, if ever. The Epilogue nicely ties up any loose threads (hairs…), and may even cause you to look forward to the Prologue in the series’ next title. But for the time being, you’re just happy it’s finished. You can unplug the darned thing and shove it in the closet, or add it to the pile being donated to the library. Whatever.
So, dear fallible ones, tell me: Which one of us, Doug or me, got the most out of the writing conference? Think we got our money’s worth?
Check out the Doug’s “Marginal” take on these terms.
Posted by Katy on 09/25/09 at 07:59 AMFallible Comments...
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