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Monthly Archive: May 2017

Writing Large Groups

Writing Large Groups

Feeling sheepish about writing large groups?

Excuse me a moment while I scream. YAAAAAAAARRGGHHH!11!!!!ONEone. Okay, that’s better. So now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about writing large groups of characters, a topic of much hair pulling and flustered frustration.

There are a few basic ways to handle more than, say, four characters in a scene. The easiest is to simply not do it. This is normally my preferred method because I like to keep things focused on specific characters, pairings, or small events.

But there are always exceptions, and I do occasionally bite the bullet and write anything up to eight characters. Or even ten to twelve in very rare situations. So let’s go over some of the ways I handle this when necessary.

Split the Group for the Whole Chapter/Scene:

Potentially the easiest option for a large group, simply split it into two or three smaller, more manageable groups. For example, I have a group of eight characters and a part of my story demands that all eight characters be taken on a special trip/event together. So I split them into two groups: Group A, the important group, and Group B, the less important group.

Group A has the four characters this part (chapter, scene, whatever) mostly focuses on. Group B has the more incidental, background characters. By determining which were most important to this part of the work, I can easily focus on them while still keeping the others around for cross-group dialogue and events, without confusing matters by trying to have eight characters talking in one scene. (more…)

Revelation Isn’t Always Desirable

Revelation Isn't Always Desirable

Revealing the mysteries of the universe.

Mysteries can be tricksy things to handle. Reveal too much and you’ll leave nothing for later. Reveal too little and you could frustrate your audience. Similarly, some mysteries work better when left mysterious, because speculation and hype are great marketing tools. So let’s chat briefly about why revelation isn’t always desirable.

I’ll be talking about Prometheus here, in relation to the Alien franchise. First, a disclaimer: I’ve not seen Prometheus, nor am I likely to. I’m the type of person who loves lore, who enjoys reading all the history and back story and world building behind any franchise I like. Babylon 5, Stargate, Fallout (excluding Bethesda’s), Lord of the Rings, and so on. Anything like this that has a wealth of background to be immersed in beyond the immediate story is my jam. (more…)

The Importance of Word Choice

The Importance of Word Choice

So let’s discuss the importance of word choice. Today on Twitter I noticed a brief excerpt a writer had tweeted out from their in-progress work:

So why am I mentioning this? Well, the title of this post should give a clue, because choosing the right words for your scenes is important. Before I say anything further, I’ll just point out that this tweet clearly indicates a first draft, the #AmWriting tag is used by writers to share things they’re working on right now, so I’m not actually critiquing this author’s work, merely using it as an example.

With that said, let’s take a quick look at the one word I feel drags the sentence down as it currently stands: scent. Scent is more normally associated with positive smells; the scent of a lady, scented clothing, scented oils, etc. From etymology online:

late 14c., “scent, smell, what can be smelled” (as a means of pursuit by a hound), from scent (v.). Almost always applied to agreeable odors.

In the current example, the writer is using a positively associated word with a negatively associated scene such as torture. There are instances where this can work well, as it produces an unsettling dissonance that can make the reader uncomfortable, a good thing when writing horror or thriller type works.

However, in this instance I’d argue that use of a positive word like scent actually produces a less impactful scene. It’s not a strong description precisely because the word evokes a positive image in normal use, and the lingering stench of urine and copper in a dark and dank location where torture was perpetrated really requires different word choices.

I just used the word stench as one good example. Odour also works as it often has a similarly negative connotation (body odour, an odour of decay, etc.). For a first draft, a word like scent is perfectly adequate, first drafts are meant to be crap, they’re the potter’s clay being slapped onto the wheel and shaped into something basic before refining and perfecting.

But once that first draft is complete and you can start looking more carefully at word choice? That’s where the real fun begins, at least for me. Picking the right words is incredibly important for setting the scene in the reader’s mind, and a single well-chosen word can elevate a good scene to something truly great.