What did The Learning Curve teach me about writing this week? Week 1.

I have been trying to learn about writing for a while now. Each week I’m reading books and reading blogs and articles, trying exercises, all in the name of improving my knowledge and application of the craft of writing.

I know I have a long way to go. This is evident in many ways, such as my complete lack of grammar skills and some basic questions I have surrounding…well, every aspect of writing. If you are like me and are just keeping your head above water, you might find this new series I’m embarking upon helpful. Each week I plan to blog about what things I researched and read about in my quest for literary competency. I will cover Questions I asked myself, interesting blogs I read, and content covered in current writer-self-help book.

This weeks writer-self-help book: Writing with Emotion, Tension & Conflict by Cheryl St.John.

This weeks writer-self-help book: Writing with Emotion, Tension & Conflict by Cheryl St.John.

There will be questions I address that people know the answer to. Some questions may even seem silly. But I was once told no question is silly, if you don’t know the answer to it. I’m sure I’m not the only one learning out there.

Question: What is a dangling modifier?

I’m not sure what prompted me to ask the question, but I asked it. One concise answer comes from this nifty article: Dangling Modifiers and how to correct them.

“A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies a word not clearly stated in the sentence. A modifier describes, clarifies, or gives more detail about a concept.”

To me, the simplest way of thinking about this–now that I’ve read a few articles on the subject–is the think of the “who”.  The modifier is a word, phrase or clause that adds to description. When it isn’t clear who the modifier is in reference to, we become confused.

Consider the sentence:

Having finished the book, the review was written.

Who wrote the review? Reviews don’t write themselves.

Having finished the book, Sue wrote the review.

Or:

Though only fifteen years old, the senior team asked Scott to join.

I’m confused…is the senior team fifteen years old? Or is Scott?

Though only fifteen years old, Scott was asked to join the senior team.

I know there is more to this, but this is a start. Here’s some further reading:

https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/gram_dangling_mod.html
http://www.chompchomp.com/terms/danglingmodifier.htm
http://www.grammar-monster.com/glossary/dangling_modifier.htm
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=11210#more-11210

The last link was written by the linguist Geoffrey K. Pullman (who you may have heard of already), and his post is a touch more technical, yet also includes a paragraph on why dangling modifiers aren’t exactly ungrammatical:

“I think the grammar of English permits nonfinite clauses and predicative constituents to be used as adjuncts quite freely, and it is a matter of style and consideration for the reader that the writer should try to ensure that they will be properly understood.”

Question: What exactly is Romantic Suspense?

I often look at genre titles when I’m sussing out new authors or stalking trawling through the “How to submit” section on websites. Most of the time I’m pretty clear on what a genre might entail, yet when I read Romantic Suspense I was tilting my head. What’s that now? This question, unlike the last is nice and simple. From Harlequin:

Romantic Suspense: Hero and heroine solve a mystery and find love!

Furthermore, from Dee Savoy:

“One strand (romance or suspense) does not significantly overwhelm the other. From the beginning of the story, the reader knows that your protagonists will both a) fall in love and b) solve whatever mystery you have set up.”

And from Laura Sheehan:

“So, in a nutshell, we’ve got a central love story in which our lovers have to traverse a perilous plot of nail-biting adventures before they can live happily ever after.”

Further reading:
http://deesavoy.com/for-writers/writing-romantic-suspense/
http://laurasheehan.wordpress.com/writings/genre-explorer-romantic-suspense/

Question: What does GMC stand for?

GOAL, MOTIVATION, CONFLICT.

Now, of course I have heard of Goal, Motivation and Conflict before, yet I saw the abbreviation this week and it didn’t immediately connect in my mind. I have been reading a lot lately about these three, and my mind has become so much clearer about their meanings and use. When I read a book now, I’m able to pick these points out and marvel at the clarity and delivery of these

Goal: What a character wants (or what they THINK they want)
Motivation: What makes them want it
Conflict: What gets in the way (Includes INTERNAL [heart and mind] and EXTERNAL [plot/events] conflicts)

There are so many fantastic blog articles, books and other resources on this topic I’m not even going to pretend to give advice, I’m just letting you know what I researched this week and how that went for me.

This weeks learning-about-writing book: “Writing with Tension, Emotion & Conflict” by Cheryl St. John.

I haven’t finished the book, but I’m going to talk about one of the interesting subjects I covered this week. I have paraphrased and used links and quotes where required.

Setting

This was an interesting section to read because it isn’t something I’d considered so deeply before. Considered to some degree yes, but not in great detail. Setting is something that works so seamlessly that as a reader you don’t even realise how vital a part it can play. But once you start looking deeper, it is apparent that settings have great power for a writer. The setting has the power to deepen underlying themes, enhance plots and viewpoints, and set the tone and pace. The characters views on their surroundings adds to their personalities, showing us more about them.

Cheryl St.John asks us to consider some of our favourite books or movies and ask: Could this be set anywhere else and still work?

Let’s use the Twilight Saga for a quick example. Can we take these characters and plonk them in another setting and still make it work? What about the tropical beaches of far north Queensland? Or an outback setting with dusty roads and gum trees? Or even a bustling city? No, because the themes and the tone are intrinsically linked to the setting, or at least enhanced by them. The cloudy weather allows for the vampires to able to walk around in daylight, in their attempts to blend in. In fact, Stephanie Meyer chose the small town of Forks from a map, after her research found that the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State has the highest rainfall in the U.S. [Source] The forests and mist deepen our association with intrigue and an element of danger. The home of the Cullen’s enhances the perception of wealth, mystery, opposition to mythology. Everything about the setting helps connect us further with the story.

Other examples, given by Cheryl St.John, would be movies and shows such as Titanic, whose “viewpoint characters are connected by the ocean liner and the fate we know will befall them”; Sex & The City, Carrie Bradshaw and the gang are who they are because of the influence New York has had on each of them; The Big Bang Theory, when you picture the apartment of Leonard and Sheldon, you understand that their surroundings are a giant reflection of their personalities.

Once my mind get’s started I’m kinda on a roll: The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, McLeod’s Daughters, Grey’s Anatomy, Friends…How much does setting invoke our connection to the characters?

Some stories probably could be told from anywhere, as the characters may be independent from their surroundings (to an extent). Yet, it is still wise to consider how your setting may improve this link to the characters, improving the overall themes and tone. Even the description of a characters home and the characters emotional response to it influence readers interpretation of the character, and therefore the book.

Cheryl St.John explains this concept so well in “Writing with Tension, Emotion & Conflict” by Cheryl St. John, dedicating an entire Part of the book to setting. What I have mentioned is a tiny, minuscule, fragment of what she discusses, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. The whole book is filled with example from well known novels, movies and even her own works. I consider this a great resource and highly recommend.

This probably could have been split up into multiple posts, but I hope you enjoy it as much I have had compiling it! I’m looking forward to next weeks blog post already, I can’t wait to see what I learn, and to tell you about it.

 

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