Part 4 of Writing Skills : Style and narrative.

You’ll have noticed that so far, I haven’t really talked about the actual content of your novels. That was quite deliberate. all that I wanted to do so far was try to help you to avoid the common pitfalls. Now you should have an idea of the basics, so we can go a little further.

In one sense, when you get the fundamentals right, there is no hard and fast set of rules to follow. A lot of it is down to yourself as an individual. Nevertheless, I feel that I should offer some tips. Remember that some of this is my own personal preference.

Speech Marks.

Firstly, how to express speech and thoughts. I sometimes feature telepathic communication and consider this to be a third category.  So long as you are consistent with how you indicate these three things, it does not really matter how you do it, but don’t mix them up.  I prefer double quotes for speech, single quotes for thoughts and if a speaker is re-quoting another character within a sentence. For telepathy, I have used several methods, but I like the method that I used in Summoning empire best. Here’s what I mean :

Expressing ordinary speech.

Malachi looked around at the sea of expectant faces which surrounded him. He gulped nervously. “I know you want a speech,” he blurted out,”but I don’t know what to say, really. My Captain once said this. ‘The victor has no need for speeches, yet they insist on delivering them. The loser has every reason to make an apology, but prefers silence.’ I think I agree with her. We won, end of story.” He wheeled around and strode from the hall.

Expressing thoughts.

Malachi looked around at the sea of expectant faces which surrounded him. He gulped nervously. ‘I can’t do this,’ he thought nervously. ‘Why can’t someone else do the fancy speaking?’ He plucked up courage and began his address. “I know you want a speech”, he blurted out, “but I don’t know what to say, really. My Captain once said this. ‘The victor has no need for speeches, yet they insist on delivering them. The loser has every reason to make an apology, but prefers silence.’ I think I agree with her. We won, end of story.” He wheeled around and strode from the hall.

Expressing telepathy.

Malachi : So you want me to deliver a speech? I’m not very good at them, you know.

Audience, in unison : Speech!

Narrative.

Some people use richly detailed narrative, others are more succinct with their descriptions. Sometimes, you can mix this up. Paint lengthy pictures to build up the scene, but use punchy descriptions to add a sense of urgency or drama.

Here’s an example, sticking with Malachi…

Malachi inched cautiously forward through the frosted tangle of undergrowth. Overhead the stark bare branches of the trees glistened in the moonlight, reaching desperately out, reminiscent of the dying hands of drowning men. The hairs at the nape of Malachi’s neck stood to attention, like rows of skeletal prisoners awaiting the displeasure of a Death Camp commandant. Malachi winced inwardly every time his sturdy black boots crunched on the powdery snow beneath his feet. Somewhere ahead past the silent guard of gaunt trees lay his destination. Already he could sense the emanations from the stronghold, unless the creeping sense of a cold more bitter than the frigid winter’s night were just his own fear. It was far too cold for him to perspire, even dressed as he was in thick furs. No saline fluid leaked from his skin, but fear oozed like sweat from his whole body.

Malachi froze like the trees around him, as a nerve-jangling screech ripped through the icy air ahead of him. It was followed by another from his left, seconds later. He tried to tell himself that the noises were just the eery calls of hunting barn owls. Deep down he knew this was not true. The sounds were made by hunters, but these creatures sought man-flesh. They were were-beasts, men that had been distorted cruelly by the necromancers of the North. Were they aware of his presence, or was this a routine patrol? A third cry tore through the forest, this time from the rear and much closer. He felt the shock tearing through every nerve as he twisted around, half expecting to see the creature rushing towards him, mouth gaping to reveal carious, dripping fangs. ‘Be calm,’ he told himself. ‘Sound travels far on such cold nights. That call was a long way off. The night is calm. Maybe they haven’t smelled me.’ His body paid no attention to the reassurance offered by his mind. Adrenaline flooded through him and it was all he could do to resist from fleeing headlong through the trees. Malachi was a brave man. He was also petrified.

That’s just a sample of how I like to use narrative. I’ve used sounds, smell and emotions in addition to the visual description. Also, to build a bit more drama, I’ve described the trees and the hair on Malachi’s neck in ghoulish fashion. If he had been wandering through the wood to visit his lover, I’d have used different similes. The trees silvery branches would have been like the open arms of his lover, waiting to caress him. The hairs on his neck may have risen in a thrill of anticipation. Note the shorter sentences at the end of the second paragraph. The staccato feel that they give to the reader helps to brew up the sense that there is something really bad out there. I think that this is because we talk in just that fashion when we are scared ourselves. Longer sentences are calmer.

I did not have to use Malachi’s thoughts, but doing so gives us an insight into how he is handling the experience. Likewise, the imagined were-beast springing towards him, yellow fangs bared , adds a bit of fear. Remember that your reader doesn’t have a clue how Malachi feels about what is happening. By describing his emotions and sensations you help the reader to understand what is going on and to get involved with the story.

Summary.

I have to stress that you will develop your own style and that I am just giving you a few ideas. Do try to engage all of the senses and emotions, though. we all have them and use them even if we are sometimes not aware of the fact. Adding sounds and smells and feelings really helps to bring each scene to life.

Next time, I’ll be looking at proof-reading and editing, because

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