Armed with dialogue, suspense, world building, and reverie, as well as all the other craft elements related to those, I write stories. I have used reverie in both first person and third person point of view narratives. In the first person, reverie can stand alone without the use of a dialogue tag such as ‘she thought.’ It can be a standalone sentence, italicized or not. However, using close third person point of view, a standalone sentence of thought next to the description of a character’s action, will allow the reader to infer as to whose thoughts they are a reading. For example, in my current writing project I recently wrote, “Kirsten was now certain Ryan was acting differently. He had never been the flirty type, what had gotten into him? Maybe this was ‘off campus’ Ryan?” Even though I did not use a dialogue tag or italics, because of the lead sentence about Kirsten’s certainty, the next two sentences stand alone as reverie of Kirsten’s thoughts.
When it comes to dialogue, and dialogue attribution, I take Stephen King’s advice in On Writing to heart. “When debating whether or not to make some pernicious dandelion of an adverb part of your dialogue attribution, I suggest you ask yourself if you really want to write the sort of prose that might wind up in a party-game” (126). King’s example, “’Put it down!’ she shouted menacingly” (126), is just more interesting to me with description instead of an adverb. “Put it down!” she shouted, a knife gripped in her hand. As a writer (and reader) I want to know what made her shout menacing. The adage “show, don’t tell” applies to many craft elements, not just exposition, so I don’t want to be told how she shouted, I want to be shown.
Building suspense is another craft element I’m currently working to improve. I want to keep my reader turning the pages from the very first page, maybe even the first line. With my first novel (written in 2009), I once caught myself apologizing to a potential reader (a personal friend). “It’s twenty chapters long, but I think it really gets going on chapter eleven, if you can make it that far.” I cannot believe I’ve actually said that! The problem is my potential readers cannot just start to read my book on chapter eleven, as much as my insecurity at the time might have wanted that. The first ten chapters had built the world, built the plot, and most of all, built the suspense. I think what my younger self meant was that the suspense starts to pay off in a big way around chapter eleven. I know some stories unfold out of order in time, but when it comes to building suspense, there is a method of building that suspense that rises above the order of the timeline of the story. It would be take a lot of rewriting to reorder the suspense if, after the fact, a writer wanted to reorder their sequence of events. Myself, I usually write in a linear sequence of events, each scene building on the previous. The first line of a novel can have a ‘hook,’ a provocative line of writing that sparks the reader’s interest, but so can the last line of each chapter, and so can the last line of a scene. Suspense can be built with multiple hooks of provocative statements, leading to what occurs next. I prefer using subtle hooks or hint, rather than obvious ones, to build suspense. In my current writing project, I want to be building suspense, but I’m not always deliberate about it. I’m not tackling my writing armed with forethought along the lines of, “I better insert a hook in here soon.” It usually happens more organically. I’ll write a line, and then think, ‘hey, that sounds like a hint of something deeper.’ And then I think, ‘hey, maybe I should end the chapter here.’ But not always. For example, “But something about Ryan enthusiasm for the specifics of this particular incident was still surprising, especially considering it happened, wasn’t it ten years ago?” This didn’t end the chapter, but at the time I was writing it, I didn’t (and still don’t) know Ryan’s motivations. Therefore, his obsession over something that happened almost a decade ago feels like a hint, I’m just not sure exactly what it is hinting just yet.
Exploring the craft element of world building reminds me of discussions concerning genre. In my current project, my imaginary landscape is located close to our world along a spectrum, where at one end is the world in which we live, and the other end is a world that has never existed or never could exist. In a world which resembles ours so closely, I struggle with knowing where my work falls in terms of genre. Is this speculative fiction or not? I sense that this world is different than ours, but I don’t know yet in what way. Maybe it is something metaphysical that is different, rather than physical. I am just like one of my characters. They sense something is wrong, something is different, but they are not sure what it is yet. As I am not big on plotting everything out ahead of time, I’m just as uncertain as my characters, which makes writing this story just as revealing as reading it would be. However, I am throwing off some of my early constraints with world building, and allowing my characters some freedoms I do not currently feel I have, for example,
“Suicide could be a touchy subject, but within this group of friends she felt she could safely express anything. That was one of the reasons their disparate group seemed to work. They allowed each other to say the things, the not politically correct things, that they weren’t allowed to say in class or anywhere else. Even though the university advertised their campus as a place for freedom of thought and expression, in just the three short years they’d been attending this school, she had already noticed an increasing shift towards censoring what was allowed to be said.”
A craft element related to world building can be the setting. I’ve been told that it is not a good idea to use specific places (when writing about planet Earth, at least), so that your reader can transpose your setting to anywhere in their own imagination. For a North America audience, I could have my characters inhabit a fairly generic contemporary town where they go to a motel and a dollar store, for example. Or I can send my characters to the Thunderbird Motel and the Lucky Dollar Plus, in Hope, British Columbia, where they filmed Rambo: First Blood. I am getting really specific which, I believe, will ultimately contrast with what I figure out is different with this world.