Thanks to everyone who contributed to last week’s thread—I hope you’ll all continue to do the ‘homework’ and to add your valuable insights to each lesson. Quick Take: The words ‘effect’ and ‘affect’ are often misused. While they each have multiple meanings, in their most common usage…
effect is a noun, meaning ‘result, consequence’
affect is a verb, meaning ‘to have an influence on, to produce a change in’
Here they are in sentences:
No matter how much I scold my cat, it has no effect on her behavior. She still flushes the toilet if I leave the bathroom door open.
The high price of caviar may affect the menu for the FaithWriters brunch.
HOMEWORK: Here are four sentences that use either ‘effect’ or ‘affect’ (or forms of those words). Two of them use the definitions I’ve provided above, and two of them use additional definitions for those words (so you may have to look them up). If you don’t have a ‘real’ dictionary, use this one.
1. It always has an __________ on Susan’s mood when she hears “Purple People Eater” on the radio.
2. The psychiatric patient’s symptoms included a flattened __________.
3. Babies are not generally __________ by normal household noises.
4. If you want to __________ change in your community, you should vote in local elections.
The third criterion for judging the Writing Challenge is “How well crafted is this entry, including predictability?”. For this week, I’m just going to focus on the last part of that criterion: predictability.
With a few exceptions, if your reader thinks she knows what’s going to happen in the next paragraph, there’s little reason for her to continue reading. True, there are some readers who are so fond of particular genres of fiction that they want the novel or short story to follow a predictable pattern, and they’re disappointed when it doesn’t. That’s okay—but we’re going to push past them, and give some tips for writing entries that will score well in the ‘not predictable’ category.
Oh, I should add that there’s a bit of overlap—this lesson meshes well with both ‘out of the box’ and ‘creative, unique, fresh’, and will also touch on the future lesson for ‘ending well’. If you haven’t read through those two previous threads, it might be a good idea to do so.
1. Know the expectations of your particular genre
—and fiddle with them
. Here’s an example from the romance genre, which often follows this formula: single girl—meets single young man—there is conflict (he is somehow unsuitable) or misunderstanding—conflict is resolved—they live happily ever after. Of course, in a full length novel, there will be additional plots and subplots, but in ultra-short fiction like the challenge, that’s the romance formula.
One more example, from a different genre—let’s take science fiction. Here’s a typical series of events: scientist introduces promising new technology—there is positive change in people’s lives—something goes wrong—there is a scramble to fix it—crisis is averted and a lesson learned.
Again, I know that I’m being overly simplistic, so bear with me. One of the things you can do (if you tend to write for an identifiable genre) to make your writing less predictable is to take one of the steps of your genre’s formula and do something different there.
Take a look at Catching Flies With Vinegar
for an example of how I played with the expectations of the romance genre.HOMEWORK: Take some other genre of fiction and reduce it to just a few simple events, as I’ve done above. Give an idea of how you could do something unpredictable in one step of that series. (Example from my story above: the main characters were middle-aged, they didn’t live happily ever after).
This is getting longish already, so I’ll spend less time on the remainder of the list. The general idea is the same, though—be aware of expectations or stereotypes, and deliberately do something different
. Here are a few of those expectations or stereotypes to keep in mind:
2. Characters—try not to write characters who can be described in a few words.
The Wise Grandpa. The Rebellious Teen. The Long-Suffering Wife. The Precocious Child. The Cuter-Than-You Best Friend. The Charming Stranger. Admit it: with each of those descriptors, you formed an immediate mental picture, perhaps even created a whole back story. That’s because you’ve read them all before.
for an example of how I tweaked The Charming Stranger.HOMEWORK—List a few more recognizable character types, and give an idea of how you might fiddle with one of them.
3. Certain situations show up frequently
in challenge stories—often with great similarities. I’ll list a few of them here to give you the general idea, and follow each with a story that goes in the unpredictable
direction. (These are all my stories—not because they’re better than anyone else’s, but because they’re available to me, and I’m familiar with them. Please don’t feel as if you have to read them all.)
If there has been a separation, either physical or emotional, there will be a reunion or a reconciliation. A Kind Woman Lives Here
If there is a young woman and a young man, there will be a romance. One Week in Dr. Lipinski’s Laboratory
If there is a medical condition, she will either get better, or will die in grace. WhispersHOMEWORK: Write out a few similar situations that usually resolve in a predictable way.
4. Christian expectations deserve their own subheading: If there is a non-Christian character, he will be saved.
Even on a site like FaithWriters, where one of the rules for the Writing Challenge is “entries…should reflect a Christian viewpoint…”, it’s not necessary to have all the non-saved characters at the altar at the end of the story. That’s the predictable route; I’ve written several stories in which this doesn’t happen. Please note that I’m all for people getting saved—of course!—and that in many cases, there’s a glimmer of hope at the end of the story. The big event just doesn’t happen in those 750 words that you read in the Challenge. Take a look at a few of these, to see some different ways of handling non-Christian characters.Ilapa Dances Behind My EyesBrilliant Plan, Mr. DomingoAlmost Missed ItShouting at the CeilingTerrorizing RachelWhenever I See That ScarHOMEWORK: Write one idea of how to combat the predictable in Christian fiction, or read one of the stories above and tell how it was accomplished there.
5. Here’s one for the poets
--in traditional, rhymed poetry, there are times when a sing-song-y meter can send your poem into a predictable bah da BUM, bah da BUM, bah da BUM.
Find a way to break out of a predictable meter: if you write in quatrains, add a 5th line with only 4 syllables, or with 14. Use the meter of limericks (2 long, 2 short, 1 long), and add two little 3-syllable lines between each stanza. Go really crazy, and write couplets in iambic pentameter followed by quatrains in dactyls (and if you’re a poet who doesn’t know what those are, you have some additional research to do). Just don’t let your poems become predictable, even in meter.HOMEWORK: Write a stanza in an unusual metric pattern.Please don’t feel as if you have to do all of the ‘homework’ exercises. Choose one or two that touch on areas where you need work. And as always, whether you do the homework or not, please leave a comment or a question so that I can give you some input.