Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Why Did You Add That To Your Story?

I started thinking about this as I was reading a recent submission where the author was really going heavy on the swear words. This was a romantic suspense and it really had me questioning. Why was it that the author was so determined to have that many swear words in the story? And then it extended to really wondering what authors were thinking about many things in stories.

Let's start first with the swearing. I used to teach creative writing to junior high and high school students. When we first start, some of the first questions I get are "Can we swear in the story." There is a giddy excitement that now they get to actually say those things they get in trouble saying. My answer always shocks them. "Sure, as long as it is necessary."

I always like to give two examples here. The first came from my American Literature instructor at the University of Puget Sound. He was a Vietnam lit specialist. He would note that the door gunner had the worst life expectancy rate out of many of the soldiers. But he would also go on to describe the world the military were having to live in. He would note that, after hearing all of what they were going through, it shouldn't shock a reader to know that the language level in this literature was pretty dang high.

The second example is more designed for those of you with kids, or who have been around kids. Have you ever stepped on a Lego with bare feet? In this case, you will know that the word "Ouch" just doesn't sum up the pain. In this case, that four-letter word is probably more descriptive.

I do believe that many authors add the language to their stories in an effort to "create a mood." Unfortunately, this is not going to do that. The language the characters use will shape the way we see the character, but the mood is based on the narrative you put around the dialogue. It comes from the descriptive phrases and paragraphs you add to the story.

I think another element I often question in the stories is the addition of unnecessary sex. This becomes especially true when authors want to create a "hotter" story. The result, however, of adding in those unnecessary scenes, is the creation of unrealistic characters. True sexual tension comes from holding off getting those characters together as long as you can. It is like blowing a balloon up to that maximum capacity, right until the moment it pops.

These are just two examples, but it might give you something to ponder as you work on your story today. Always ask yourself, "Why am I putting this in the story?" Does it really add to the story, or is it just a plot device because you think it is necessary for the genre? Is it really driving the story forward, or is it simply adding word count? These are important decisions to really create strong and powerful stories.

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