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Dialogue in translation: What’s the best way to incorporate foreign words into a book? May 29, 2011

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Panneau arrêt au Québec

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Have you ever encountered something in the course of your reading that makes you think, “Oh no! Not this again…“? Something that’s not quite a pet peeve but is a close contender and would always provoke a sort of mental debate for you? Well, foreign words in dialogue and how to translate them for readers is one such point of debate for me. I have seen it done in perhaps every single way.

The problem: How to spice up your dialogue by incorporating foreign words while also trying not to bewilder your English-only-speaking readers. Unless you live in the 19th century and can be pretty sure that your English-speaking readers will have a healthy vocabulary of French and Latin words, an author needs to provide a translation for the reader.

 To illustrate the different solutions, I’ll give an example of dialogue with a French phrase:

Solution #1, Enhanced dialogue: “I’m glad to see you, mon ami, my friend.”

This is my least favorite solution, although it does get the job done, at least. An author provides a direct translation immediately after the foreign word. This translation is provided, miraculously enough, by the character. Even if the character they are talking to is, in this case, very familiar with French already and doesn’t need a translation. This solution always jars me and detracts from the voice of the character. Would someone really say that? It makes me feel like I’ve been transported to the middle of a classroom.

Solution #2, Narrator Translation: “I’m glad to see you, mon ami.” My friend. The words rang hollow in my ear.

This is, by far, my favorite solution, as it simply translates the word outside of the quotation marks in a separate sentence. It can be a bit tricky to incorporate smoothly and works best with 1st person narration. The translation is like a thoughtful pause after the dialogue while the narrator translates for the reader, and sounds the most natural while leaving the dialogue alone. However, in order to really make this solution work, the narrator should muse on the word, or what the character just said, for a sentence or two. If the author is feeling particularly ambitious, they’ll also include a brief history of why this word is used by the character, if the character is not, in my example, French.

Solution #3, The Footnote: “I’m glad to see you, mon ami.”*

*my friend

This is also a fine solution, particularly if you are incorporating quite a lot of foreign words. A difficult decision to make is whether to repeat these footnotes (when you’re using the same foreign word) or to trust to the reader’s memory. Not repeating a translation may make your text less cluttered, but what about that poor reader who has no memory for languages?

Also, footnotes seem just a bit pompous and didactic (at least to me). It might be the academic touch. It works the best, I find, with historical fiction where an author does have the license to be a little bit didactic. If people are reading historical fiction, chances are they don’t mind learning a new language or dialect while they’re at it.

Solution #4, The Glossary: “I’m glad to see you, mon ami.”*

*Please refer to the glossary at the back for translations of all the French. Good luck finding it before you forget the plot because it’s all in alphabetical order!

Maybe it isn’t worded in quite that way, but that’s how I always perceive it. The author deviously sends the reader on a hunt for the translation and before you know it, you’ve lost your place, lost your train of thought, and have to re-read the last three pages to recover from the brief hiatus into the evil glossary. The only positive aspect of it is if you happen to speak French already, you don’t have to look at all of those unnecessary translations.

Solution #5, The Non-Translation: “I’m glad to see you, mon ami.”

That’s it. No explanation, no translation, no glossary, even. And if you don’t know French, too bad! If there’s a lot of foreign words in this sort of a book, I find it helpful to read next to the computer, where the Babelfish website is ready and waiting. However, usually, authors today at least give their readers some sort of context, such as the next example:

Solution #6: Figure-it-out: “I’m glad to see you, mon ami.” But we had never really been friends.

There is also the ultra-purist debate on foreign speakers and dialogue, which goes something like this: If your two characters are speaking in French, then the dialogue itself is a translation for the reader. Why would you fail to translate a French word here and there? That is a good point, and something that an author has to purposefully decide before adding foreign words.

But they are also fun and add some interest to your dialogue. Even if I’m not reading a historical novel, I still enjoy learning a little bit of a new language.


How to Handle the Case of the Wintry Mix February 2, 2011

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The face of a black windup alarm clock

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A few snow storms ago, I was poking through a very clever book, which is called (if I remember correctly) The Quotable Lawyer. And it was filled with inside jokes and law truisms–all much more interesting than it sounds. There was one quote in particular that caught my attention:

The lawyer’s first thought in the morning is how to handle the case of the ringing alarm clock.–Edward Packard, Jr.

 The image that first popped into my head was someone in a suit staring quizzically at a ringing alarm clock. Or something a la Sam Spade with a smoky office in black and white and a private investigator taking down a statement from someone who was awoken by their still ringing alarm.

 But, I thought, by no means is this quote limited to lawyers. You could subsitute a lot of other professions and people instead. For instance: “The writer’s first thought in the morning is how to handle the case of the ringing alarm clock.” 

If you think about it, it’s true, isn’t it?  A writer is constantly looking around for potential stories. And if one is trying to write a mystery, this quote is particularly appropriate. How could you make a mystery out of a ringing alarm clock? What if some dastardly villian set all the clocks back so that they could rob a bank?

Today, looking out at the 2-3 feet of snow that has accumulated, everyone is probably thinking “How am I gonna get out of this?” The case of the wintry mix begins. Picture a smoky office in black and white and a grizzled PI sitting behind a desk reading a newspaper while a neon sign blinks through the blinds. Someone in a heavy coat, hat, gloves, scarf (a grizzled New Englander–the kind you see out in every kind of weather) comes through the door. Behind them, snow, rain, and sleet blusters in before the door closes. The PI looks at them inquiringly and the New Englander says, “I’m in a real jam, Sam.”

Mind your Ps and Qs January 17, 2011

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I once knew where this saying came from (a long time ago in History of the Middle Ages class) but have forgotten it now. However, I thought it would be a nice introduction to my latest writing challenge. Recently, I was challenged to write a lipogrammatic short story. After a very useful session with wikipedia, I found that “lipogrammatic” means a story excluding a letter of the alphabet. Or, it could be that you are sucking a letter out of your novel to make it more slim.

Challenge accepted! I said. How hard can it be anyway? I decided not to use the letter “P” and to stick with 6 pages–complete with a beginning, middle, and end. Because “P”, I thought, isn’t that essential a letter anyway. I knew that “e” was the most common letter in the English language, and vowels would be right out–unless I wanted to write a really artsy book.

And, in fact, one can write a moderately normal story without the letter p. Difficult? oh yes! Impossible? no.

Given that my inspiration came from a tea tin, the story itself does not aspire to be anything like an “insight into the mortality of human kind”–to paraphrase a review of this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner. I’m about 2 and 1/2 pages into it and I’m getting the feeling that it might not be able to aspire to anything passing for humorous either.

Nonetheless, I will continue undaunted. I just need to add something in to spice it up a bit…like a tornado (which, conveniently, does not contain in it, the letter “P”).

Surprisingly, while writing this story, I discovered something. When you are conciously avoiding a letter, you are also avoiding certain words that contain that letter. And this means that you are thinking more about word choice. In avoiding certain words, I have found a host of MORE INTERESTING descriptions than I would have if I had written a story without sucking a letter out of it.

Finding your Inner Writer Zen January 8, 2011

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In answer to the question: “How do you stay focused on a task or activity?” the first thing that comes to my mind is “no idea.” Because living in the world of technology–even through my very un-hip, lag-behind gadgets (aka, my laptop and pay-as-you-go phone)– means that focusing on a single activity is a thing of the past. (Which, if that took up our whole time, would lead to the death of the novel.)

Fortunately, the published authors of the world (for the most part) are able to concentrate on their novel long enough to finish it. This thought prompts me to ask, “When was the last time I finished anything?” Papers, yes. My senior thesis–a MUCH longer paper–yes. But a creative writing piece? I honestly can’t remember. Not even a short story.

So, case and point, I have no magical tips on how to stay focused on an activity. But I do know WHY it’s so difficult to stay focused in your writing life. There are so many ideas buzzing around, faintly in the background, that it’s sometimes difficult to pluck one out of the air and work on it. The brain is like a field of fireflies flickering on and off. Sometimes, when you’re working on an idea, the little firefly idea turns OFF and you’re left with nothing (only to have it flash ON later only at the most inconvenient moment when there really is no pen and paper at hand…or keypad).

For instance, I just read an article that connects exactly to a book idea that I had (supplying the magical missing motive that’s always so elusive). I even wrote down my idea, with an eye to finally finishing the book that’s been buzzing around for a  few years, flashing on and off in my idea field. But then I think, “I should really wait to start writing until”…

Here’s a tip to finding your inner writer zen: IGNORE thoughts like those. They will only lead to you farther away from your goal of just finishing something.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, or correct, or even what you thought you wanted it to be. It just needs to be finished. Every time I think about this goal, I think about the novel a few of my friends wrote me for my birthday. It was, I think, the most thoughtful present I’ve gotten, and every time I think about not finishing a novel, I tell myself, “If they can do it, I can do it!”

So, channel your inner zen, ignore thoughts such as planning and procrastination, and (at the risk of sounding like a certain commercial) JUST DO IT!

And the prize goes to… January 1, 2011

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In the grand tradition of the new year, I’ve made a resolution to write more for my blog and wordpress has handed me another very nice tool called “postaday” where they give you subjects to muse about in your next blog. The one today was “who deserves more credit than they get?”

That’s a tough one, but I think that since this is a writing blog, the people who I want to acknowledge are the authors who are masters of networking, representative of public demand, and who other, snootier authors might call sacrificing of their artistic abilities.

Yes, you might have guessed it already but I’ll give you a hint: they’re romance authors. I know, everyone makes fun of them, calling their books trash, or chick lit (which always reminds me of the colorful gum). But really, we should all use those ephitets fondly because your typical, everyday romance author taps into the most profitable market in the literary world everytime she (or maybe he) publishes one of those trashy novels/novellas.

And who among us (literary snobs included) hasn’t devoured the latest Harlequin book now and again, or sat down with another Meg Cabot novel in a discreet corner of the library? Because fantasy sensations such as J.K. Rowling come only once every few years, if one sets out to live up to her publishing success in the fantasy world, one might be very dissapointed. But, on the other hand, if a writer wanted to publish their romance novel, they have at their fingertips a vast, growing market where (unlike what is commonly thought). Yes, Stephanie Myers is just one example. Her books aren’t really fantasy as much as maudlin romance novels (although the marketing for her books has been riding the coattails of the fantasy boom).

Romance authors really should get more credit than they deserve. As an English major, I know that I’m going out on a limb when I say that marketing is everything in the book world. And, as a parting thought, most of the great classics that we study now were also labelled as popular fiction, sometimes read on the sly (aka brown paper bagging), and generally were thought trashy in their day due to the mass marketing, publicity, and appeasing the public demand for sensation.

Sam the Profiteer September 12, 2010

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New York City Serenade

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This was something that I tried out a while ago. I love writing games, and this one was relatively simple to do. All you need is a dictionary and a pen and paper (or laptop as the case may be) and *POOF* your writer’s block is gone!

Disclaimer: Results may vary

The rules that I used are negotiable but once you make your own, you have to follow them to the letter:

Step 1: Obtain a dictionary…the bigger the better.

Step 2: Decide how many words you want to pick (I chose 16 as a nice, even number)

Step 3: Flip through the dictionary, stopping every so often and pointing to a random word (using words at the beginning, middle, and end of the alphabet. If you want, you can make a rule saying that every word you point to MUST be used…but sometimes this rule can be bent).

Step 4: Write down your words in the order that you found them.

Step 5: Stare at the words that you’ve written for as long as you need to in order to create a germ of an idea (no matter how weird)

Step 6: Create a story (with no editing allowed while writing it) with a beginning, middle, and end. Make sure that you use ALL the words.

When I did this, I didn’t have a particular number of words in mind but decided that I had all the tools to create a proper story when I reached 16. And these are the words I found:

Profiteer, Retch, Tariff, Misguide, Hail, Rapier, Dew, Sight, Tolerance, Diddle, Rappel, Convent, Furor, Rajah, Sought, and Vying. (This is also a very interesting way to learn new vocabulary).

And scrounging around in my pile of very messily post-it-labeled, beaten-up collection of spiral-bound notebooks, I finally dusted off the story that came out of these 16 words. I’ll give you the abridged and slightly edited version (I didn’t remember it, but it has a slightly sappy moral too):

Sam the Profiteer

Sam, the profiteer, lived in a grand mansion directly on the Southeast expressway to New York City. Misguided though he was, he was at least punctual, and came out every morning at 6 AM in his decadent white bathrobe and expensive leather loafers to visit his little booth, which automatically collected the tariff from all the vehicles that passed by. Sam considered himself to have a pleasant and, despite the noise of the expressway, a quiet life and had planned to retire to a nice beach house in the Caribbean with his butler and 29 other servants. Sam had no doubt in his mind that he was going to be a bachelor, until that fateful Wednesday morning when he met a woman who would change his life forever.

On Wednesday morning, exactly at 6 AM, Sam opened his door to the week sunshine and exhaust fumes, and started his descent towards the Southeast expressway to collect his daily stipend. His loafers squeaked on the newly polished pavement, and his white, luxurious bathrobe gleamed in the sun. [blah, blah, blah and more description]

Suddenly, he caught sight of an exotically dressed girl repelling herself down from the top of a Wonderbread truck. She jumped down neatly when the truck stopped at the tollbooth and proceeded to make her way into Sam’s front yard.

“Hey, get off my lawn!” Sam yelled. He had no tolerance for trespassers. To his chagrin, the girl ran towards him.

“Oh kind man,” the girl said, her voice trembling on the verge of tears, “please hide me from my cruel fiance. I have come to America to start a new life!” The girl looked up at Sam with large, tragic-looking eyes and managed to have what sunlight there was glint off of her long, shiny hair. Sam was struck by her beauty.

“Without paying?” He retched.

“You heartless pig!” The girl spat. “Have you no heart?” She burst into sobs. Sam felt a new magnanimity in his heart for this poor fugitive and decided to help her after all. [blah, blah, blah] And he fell instantly in love with her. This blind devotion was long forgotten the next day, however, when Sam walked down his path at his usual hour and saw who the beautiful girl’s fiance was. 

Coming slowly but steadily out of the hazy horizon came the most stately train that Sam had ever seen in all of his profiteering days. It was colorful and decked out in gold and silver. The tusks of the elephants were encrusted with diamonds and rubies, though how they managed to get an elephant over here in an ocean liner was beyond his comprehension.

Sam hailed the majestic train coming down the Southeast expressway. His first impulse was to turn over the girl and milk this rajah for all he was worth.

“Hey, over here. I think I’ve got your fiancée.”

At that, the rajah, covered with rubies and fine silks, held up his decorated hand and the train and all of the people, who barely fit onto Sam’s manicured lawn, pulled over, ignoring the obscene shouts and honking of the cars whizzing past them. At the same time, the rajah’s fiancée came running out of the house, followed by Sam’s butler and his 29 other servants.

“How dare you!” She stormed. “I thought you loved me. I shall never marry you now!”

“My darling future wife, come back to the palace and stop this foolishness,” the rajah pleaded.

“Never. I shall stay here and marry him!” the girl grabbed Sam’s arm possessively.

Sam turned to the rajah. “How much will I get if I hand this girl over?”

“Whatever your heart desires. You will receive enough to retire to a palace filled with riches beyond your wildest dreams.”

“Richer than you?”

“Well, of course not, naturally,” the rajah stammered, “but I see that you are already something of a prince yourself.”

“Don’t listen to him!” the girl said, “He will give you nothing. His plan is to kill me and inherit the richest kingdom in the world. He is blinded by greed, like you are.”

“Like I am?” Sam echoed feebly. Despite his millions, grand estate, and 29 servants, no one had ever told him that he was greedy.

“If you’re going to kill her, I won’t give her to you,” Sam challenged the rajah.

“Are you vying for her hand, then?” the rajah laughed. He jumped nimbly off his elephant, as much as jumping off an elephant can ever be called nimble, and handed his colorfully decorated coat to one of his many servants. […] Of course, Sam wasn’t planning on dying. He had a year of wrestling under his belt, and did not consider himself half bad.

“Okay, you’re on,” he said to the rajah and handed his bathrobe to his butler.

“Here is your rapier,” the rajah said as one of his servants handed Sam something that he had only seen in museums. While the rajah held his own jewel-encrusted sword at the ready, Sam caught sight of another knife in his sash, glinting in the sunlight. “Ready?” [details of sword fight].

Finally, the rajah’s sharp rapier reached Sam’s hand and Sam’s sword fell into the dew of his manicured lawn […].

“Please,” Sam pleaded while the rajah’s sword inched closer to his neck. “I–“

Before Sam could say more, the rajah fell senseless beside his sword. The butler was standing over him, holding a glass vase. Everyone fell silent and Sam let out a sigh of relief.

“That’s what he gets for diddling!” Sam said. One of Sam’s 29 servants had called the police and the rajah was taken away in a police squad car, followed by the hundreds of people and elephants, and later deported. The princess, despite Sam’s protest, decided that she would choose to give up her title and join a convent [or, in a more feminist ending, become the CEO of a very successful business].

Sam, being a changed man, decided to give away his house and retire early to that little beach house on the Caribbean. He finally took the long-since-paid-off toll off of the Southeast Expressway forever.

The End.


Go Figure! July 26, 2010

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   We might not realize it, but numbers rule our lives. Whether it’s creating a budget, calculating discounts, or even looking at the time, we inevitably incorporate them into our day (a little like the book Math Curse by Jon Scieszka). But what, might you ask, does this have to do with creative writing?

Well, recently, I’ve been putting a little star on my calendar for every day that I excercise. Simple enough. Theoretically, if I excercise frequently, my calendar will be awash with little stars giving me the elementary-school satisfaction of a job well done. But I wasn’t quite sure if this was enough to motivate me.  What if I created a chart tracking my weekly progress? The possibilities for calculation and reward whirred in my head. Because it always pays to do the numbers. Instead of vaguely saying “Well, I jogged a lot this month,” isn’t it more satisfying to say “This month, I went jogging, on average, 4 days a week”?

This inevitably reminds me of NaNoWriMo (which I am eagerly awaiting). Chris Baty has ingeniously equiped writers who sign up with a word count bar graph. In November, a writer has their goals and graphs practically handed to them. And when your word count goes up, even by a little, your graph does too! But why does this have to be limited to November? Why can’t writers use a tool like this all year long?

Writers need excercise too–as far as their writing skills are concerned. However, tracking every word might be the kind of pressure-cooker extreme only to be used in November. If someone were to, say, track how often they fit an hour or half-hour of writing into their daily schedule, they might find they write more instead of writing whenever the mood hits them. 

Because the only magic pill you can take to improve your writing is a long-term goal coated with layers of practice. And surprisingly, to make this pill less bitter, it might be nice to have a chaser of graphs, stars, and numbers.

A Fly on the 19th century Wall July 18, 2010

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George Eliot

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While looking over my last plinky prompt (the product of a burst of late night energy) I began to wonder what perspective I had been writing from. I was too tired to think up any names, so both of the characters remained nameless. However, I also wrote some of what the characters were thinking. This led me to ask the question: Where would you put this sort of dialogue in a novel?

An interesting thing that I’ve noticed about novels (and yes, the 19th century novels in particular) is that there is not always a consistent perspective. The author sometimes switches from third person limited to omniscient without another thought and sometimes even switches from first person to third person!

A dramatic example of this is in George Eliot‘s Mill on the Floss. She starts the novel with this totally ambiguous narrator in the first chapter. It’s written in the first person and someone can spend ages deciding if its Maggie, or her brother, or one of her two lovers. This is because the second chapter begins in the third person suddenly, and the reader asks the question: is the narrator really referring to his/herself in the third person? Weird. Where did the narrator go?

This is, of course, not playing by the rules. And while the students of modern literature scoff at straight-laced Victorian writing, these so-called conservative Victorians did, indeed, break all the rules of perspective that we now hold in high regard. When someone asks you what you wrote your story in, a budding novelist of today will tell you readily “Oh, third person limited” or maybe “First person, of course.” They probably won’t say: “Well, I started in third person omniscient, but then I switched to third person limited, and ended it in first person.”

Since the Victorian writers are no longer with us, the conventions/rules are that your perspective should be consistent. If you start changing it in the middle,  your readers will (supposedly) be confused and it shows amateurish writing…But not if you do it purposefully.

Let’s take the example above. How do you write a novel in third person omniscient, third person limited, AND first person?

Well, first you would start with a very sparse third person omniscient. Like a fly on the wall only with partial access to characters’ thoughts. Maybe it’s a dialogue between two henchmen:

Henchman 1: “If the boss says we take care of him, then we’d better take care of him.”

Henchman 2 shrugged as he took two guns out of the locked cabinet labeled “Cadbury Eggs.” It was time they changed the label to something classier, he just didn’t know what. He wasn’t looking forward to the job either. He had finally gotten tickets to the big game and now this would eaten into his schedule.

Henchman 2 nudged him and gestured to the fly on the fall, suspiciously listening to their conversation. “Hey, what’s that fly doing there?”

Then, it switches to third person limited surrounding the main character.

Joe Walker, successful businessman, philanthropist, and secret organizer of Project 51, sauntered across the street. He checked his watch demurely. He was already twenty minutes late to work thanks to a faulty alarm clock. But he didn’t worry about that too much seeing as he owned the company. His morning appointments would have to wait. As he waited at the next intersection, he saw two dubious characters lurking in front of his office building.

And finally, near the end of the novel, the first person narrative.

As Joe opened up his mailbox, a mysterious and very hefty letter fell out. Not wanting to stay long in the lobby of the apartment complex, Joe dashed up to his penthouse suite where he could read the letter without an attempt on his life. He had a feeling that this was going to be important and perhaps explain the events that had happened. It was from Sylvia, the maid at number 27 and a secret agent:

In these pages, I am enclosing the details of what happened on September 18th. If you are reading this, something has happened.

Then, there is a narrative from Sylvia’s perspective. Usually during this narrative, the reader forgets about Joe and for a few chapters it is essentially a first person narrative with dialogue, plot, and characters. Some of this account might even overlap with events that have already happened in Joe’s third person limited account.

This switching of perspectives always keeps a reader on their toes and is also a nice addition to a mystery novel, or even any novel. And if someone tells you that this is “just not done!” simply tell them: “You see it all the time in 19th century literature.”

A Rag-tag Team of Misfits July 13, 2010

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courtesy of amazon.com


I would just like to preface this post with the fact that I like spotting patterns. I love trends and seeing the similar in the seemingly dissimilar. In fact, the subject for my thesis arose out of this very habit. Too many times, I saw Jules Verne pitting his English characters against his French characters for it to just be a coincidence. And why was it that every single biographer called him a science fiction writer when the term did not even exist in the late 1800s?

Anyway, a little while ago, I amused myself by watching science fiction tv series…as procrastination from this same thesis. The pattern in the really good sci-fi series in space (and I’m talking about Firefly, Buck Rogers, and Farscape in particular) is that a rag-tag team of misfits outside of the law serve justice, protect the innocent, and have some pretty cool moves (not surprisingly, this also applies to westerns).

That, of course, is an easy comparison to spot. However, on closer inspection, you can see that even character roles are repeated. In these particular shows, the main character is a man with a high level of integrity and (in Buck Rogers and Farscape) is even a stranger in a strange land. Inevitably, there is the love triangle, the androgynous but brilliant sidekick (sometimes a robot, sometimes an alien), the gung-ho, trigger happy guy, and, of course, the character of the ship itself.

This pattern can also be seen in the early Star Wars movie (and by this point I think that I’ve revealed that I’m a huge geek). The rag-tag team in that example is made up of Han solo (the gung-ho trigger happy guy) the wookie (the androgynous, most alien-like one), and Luke Skywalker (debatably the main character with a high-level of integrity). And, of course, it exibits the classic love triangle with the only woman on board.

The point of this rant is that this set of patterns also occurs  in fiction (written fiction) with many different genres. Most commonly, I’m thinking of mystery. A really good mystery will throw out a red herring or two and just when you have your suspicions, the real culprit emerges–the bad guy becomes the good guy and the good guy becomes the bad guy. For me, at least, mystery is a very hard genre to write in because it takes a lot of planning ahead in novel structure–something I don’t do well. However, once you pick up on the patterns of the genre, it’s easy to have a starting point.

In later posts, I plan to look at the patterns of more genres. Please comment if you have a suggestion!

Fiction in a Flash July 9, 2010

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Ah ha! No sooner had I posted Plinky Prompts than I saw this post, also on how to use it to help the creative writing process. On the weekend (apparently when people have more time to write) Plinky users can choose to participate in the “Weekend Writing Challenges.” The first of which will be writing in the third person.

However, the post directs you to a flash fiction story, an example of what you could write in the third person. And flash fiction without a warning label would just be false advertising:

Warning: Flash fiction is not for the faint of heart. Entire story arc must be completed in a limited word count. 

While I agree that flash fiction would be very useful for this era of short/compressed messages, a writer has to put as much thought into it as a novel or short story (sometimes more). I first heard about this genre under the title “sudden fiction” and that’s an even better description. It’s speed dating for the world of fiction. The story starts out slowly but frantically as the writer adds as much subtle detail as possible. Imagine a swan swimming across the water gracefully while its feet are paddling under the surface. Then, the end pops up suddenly and the whole thing abruptly stops. If it’s good, the reader feels that the whole story was extremely clever without knowing quite what it was about.

I’m not sure if all flash fiction is written in the third person or if it could also work in the first person.

For more information on flash fiction, or sudden fiction, there is a wikipedia article on it.

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