Previously I talked about how I was going to start doing bad things to good characters in my writing after taking a class at The Loft. I’ve since taken a couple more of the short, two-hour classes and I discovered another good tip: green means go, red means stop and revise.
What this refers to is scene versus summary. After you finish your first draft, print it out and highlight all the active scenes in green and all the summaries in red. You should have more green than red. Brian Malloy, the teaching artist for this Fiction Basics course, said he likes to have green, green, green, red, green, green, green, red, etc.
I do sometimes suffer from too much babbling summary, so this idea of highlighting it to see it first hand is really great. I have a feeling there will be a lot of red when I’m done, but I’ll deal with it then. The first draft is supposed to be bad.
According to Malloy, I probably also suffer from too much dialogue and not enough “stage direction,” what he calls the “he said” and “she said” text after someone speaks. My dialogue tends to look like Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” which Malloy hates. He wants more “he said,” “she said,” and stage direction showing her getting frustrated or fidgety. I still can’t believe Malloy hates “Hills Like White Elephants” because I love that dialogue, but I can get past him being wrong. And don’t think I’m comparing my dialogue to Hemingway’s. I wish. I just don’t like all the “he said” and “she said” stuff. I skip over them when I’m reading, so why include them at all? I can understand adding more stage direction about a facial expression or someone moving a certain way or what they’re seeing as they’re talking, so I suppose I could add more of that.
What my stage direction will not look like will be the crap I read in Dead Until Dark, the first book in the Sookie Stackhouse series (a.k.a. the “True Blood” books). I have been a fan of the HBO’s “True Blood” for awhile now, although this season sucked (except for Eric reading in the last episode, am I right, ladies?), so I figured I’d try the books. The books are awful, or at least this first book is. It’s not written well and the stage direction is full of adverbs: “Bill said gently” or “I said cautiously” or “I said wearily” or “I said, very quietly but very sharply.” Stephen King would hate this book. I recently read an article quoting King’s crusade against the adverb: “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” He basically says using adverbs is based in fear. Fear of making the audience understand what your character is doing or meaning with his words when you should be relying on the words themselves.
So I could add more stage direction, minus the bad adverbs, and I need to make sure my writing includes more action scenes and less summary. I learned more at the writing classes I took, but these things were on my mind as I was working through a scene that included a lot of dialogue. More on the classes in the future, but for now, back to writing.