Friday, July 20, 2012

Writing Tips from a Personal Hero

Like a lot of people—like a lot of writers*—I'm a bit in awe of Joss Whedon. He makes complex writing look easy, fully flushed-out dichotomous characters appear natural, and weaves a fine balance of action, thrill, humor, and romance in ways that delight mass audiences. Much to my disappointment as an audience member, but my secret envy as a writer, he's ruthless with characters, and even favorite cast members aren't safe from death (so not Star Trek here, folks!).

Which is why, when I found his Top 10 Writing Tips, I felt disproportional glee when I read this:
Structure means knowing where you’re going; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people . . . but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes? The thrills? The romance? Who knows what, and when? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around: the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.
I agree wholeheartedly. I need the structure. In editing my latest novel, I realized I need to add additional structure to the beginning, story-building phase. I need yet another round through the outline where I check to see what hasn't been revealed—that absence of information that keeps the reader interested and engaged in the story.

I think I could benefit from plotting out the humor, too. I can see where that would be a lot easier in the outline phase than from the back end, reading through the story and realizing all the humor comes in two chunks or that the level of humor doesn't carry through the novel.

I'm especially taken with the advice to build your structure around the way you want your audience to feel. Not just around the plot or the characters and what's happening to them. I could write the same kidnapping scene to be funny, scary, horrifying, or romantic, depending on the tone of voice and word choice. Always keeping in mind the generic reader is key.

Thanks for the advice, Whedon. But one question for you: Are you British? What's with "coloured"?

*Yes, I know writers are people, too, in case there's any confusion.

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