Friday, November 04, 2011

30 days of literary techniques to increase word cou ... er ......

... the literary value of your NaNo!

A new literary technique to goof with every day of NaNo :-) Some of these you will not want to do in a publishable novel so here's your chance to get them out of your system!

Last year I posted new description challenges each day. So if you don't like the day's technique, here's some alternative suggestions to try: A month of NaNo prompts.

Most of these came from Wikipedia's List of literary techniques. There's an even larger list at Literary Devices. Some are a bit obscure, but the most common are listed on the left.

  1. Infodumping and Incluing -- Write out all you think your reader needs to know about your characters and world to understand your story. (Infodump) Then set it "aside" (at the bottom of your NaNo of course! Don't want to lose all those words!) And then reveal it slooooowly (Incluing) as part of the story. As you're writing your novel, don't break to spend several paragraphs describing the purpose of something. Show your characters using it. Show what it does. This will actually increase your word count. It takes far more words to reveal things slowly than all at once! :-)

  2. Cliffhanger -- End your current chapter, even better, every chapter, on a cliffhanger. Dare to be hamfisted and literally hang your characters from cliffs or build up to a big secret reveal. Or more subtly leave the reader wondering what's going to happen next, how they'll get out of the current pickle, get the next clue, get the kitten out of the tree so they'll have to start the next chapter.

    (Cliff hangers were originally devised when novels were serialized monthly in newspapers to bring readers back. In The Perils of Pauline, a weekly silent movie serial, they became an expected part of the story. And then took off in modern day as a staple of TV season endings when the whole country spent the summer wondering Who shot J.R.? on Dallas. Which led to annoying the bejeezus out of fans when a favorite show ended the season on a cliffhanger ... and then got canceled over the summer!)

  3. Tragic flaw -- Have your character's main weakness drive him to make a choice that he must but that takes him further from his goal.

    If your character is flawless so far, there's Chaotic Shiny's Motive generator, Death Quaker's Big List of Merits and Flaws (scroll down, there are more lists :-) and Dark World's 123 Character Flaws to give you some ideas.

  4. Bathos -- Begin with a glorious, noble, exalted description of someone or something, then bring the description splashing down to pig-wallow level. Try humorous analogies combined with purple prose (elaborate and ornate descriptions which is great for word count!).

    Some examples:

    "The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't." Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

    "The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant." Jennifer Hart, Arlington. From a Washington Post contest where there are more examples.

    (Another definition of bathos is when something intended to be serious is unintentionally funny. But it's kind of hard to intentionally be unintentional!)

  5. Defamiliarization -- Describe something that's so familiar that we hardly notice it in a way that makes people look at it in a fresh way. One way is to describe an adult-familiar object from a small child's point of view. Or an animal's. Or an alien's. For instance a gun might be an object for hurling bits of metal at a moving object to stop it.

  6. Ironic Juxtaposition --Have your character interact with his or her opposite, to emphasize or shine a different light on certain traits. It could be a mirror opposite friend, pet, coffee shop, snack ....

    Note: If the character is unaware, it's called juxtaposition. If the character realizes, it's called torment. ;-)

    For some visual examples, there's The Most Horribly Awkward Billboard Juxtapositions. (If that site disappears Google "billboard juxtapositions).

  7. Alliteration -- Have the next character you introduce speak alliteratively. Props if it's a major character! :-) Could be a spell or a condition that strikes under certain circumstances. Or a paragraph of description that's alliterative.

    The most common alliteration is initial sound (Kathryn's Crazy Corner Kazakhstani Cafe). But it can also be repeated consonants (consonance) or vowels (assonance) in the first accented syllables. (Examples from Wikipedia: "some mammals are clammy" and "yellow wedding bells".) Which should be easier but it probably takes some practice to get your brain to organize words like that. :-)

  8. Aphorisms -- Begin with a pithy observed truth that a character has realized. Have others argue about it. (Maybe you'll find your novel's theme or underlying story among them. :-) (Subscribe to Aphorisms Galore and get an aphorism in your mail every day.)
    • "I have learned to use the word 'impossible' with the greatest caution." -- Werner Von Braun
    • "Too much of a good thing is just that." -- Brian J. Dent
    • "Love your enemies: they'll go crazy trying to figure out what you're up to." -- Unknown
    • Egoist: A person of low taste, more interested in themselves than in me." -- Ambrose Bierce
    • Pretty much all of Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary is witty, pithy aphorisms.

  9. Plot twist -- By now you can probably see where your story's headed. Which in week 2 can feel like nowhere! So twist it. Have characters not do what's expected. Have them make entirely different choices. Have the mellow character shoot the character you hate. Have the workaholic take Friday off to cosplay (a different character everyday) at the weekend SciFi Convention. Have the least colorful character go home to draw some more erotic scenes in their popular online comic series Ninja Pirate Babes in Space.

    Okay, that's stretching plot twist a bit! :-) Plot twists are surprising turns that you then realize make sense. But the beauty of writing is you can go back later and sprinkle in the clues that lead up to one or more of these events as if you had planned them all along!

  10. Dialogue or Interview -- Take a side jaunt in your story and have the POV character's parents -- or ex-girlfriend, former cell mate, previous owner -- talk about him or her.

  11. Anthropomorphism aka Personification -- Give an animal or object human-like desires. Like the controlling alarm clock that won't shut off until it's assigned human is upright. An animal who wants to take its bad mood out on the next human that wanders by.

  12. Back-story -- Reveal the back story of the location your character spends the most time in. (Or the oldest or most interesting if they're usually in a brand new place.) How it began. The scandals, the romances, the tragedies that have given it the personality that it has. The more you can find to tell, the more words. (Words are good.)

    Keep writing and you'll uncover the unexpected connections with who your character is, their flaws, and what they desire, which is why they go there in the first place (even if you didn't know ;-).

  13. Motif -- Bring back an object, event, place, personage type (like a teacher, a cat, an old man smoking a clay pipe) that felt connected to your character. Bring back multiple things. (More words!) Play with them until you find the things that resonate with the story for you. (And you might actually be uncovering a theme. Whoa, heavy duty literary technique! :-D)

    Little soap box moment here. What bugged me about the way literature was taught in school was teachers implied great writers had memorized all these techniques and why and how they worked and then applied them. But great writers write by what feels right. In their early years, they played. They tried things out. They found things (by reading other writers, by trying things) that sort of felt right and played some more until they felt better. The resulting greatness is way more by feel than by applying "expert" knowledge.

    Motif (and theme) especially seems like one of those "How could someone possibly know what will work before they write?" Except for the scarlet letter in The Scarlet Letter, mostly writers don't. So go play with stuff. And let the playing generate lots of words. :-)

  14. Metonyms -- Get your fangs over here, park your butt on that seat, to give an eyeball to my fingerwiggle about name changing metonyms.

    A metonym calls one thing by a related thing. (Nicknames are often metonyms.)

    For the next 1667 words try naming people, things and actions by something related.

    There are loads of different kinds. The details may be inspiring or paralyzing depending on your personality so proceed with self knowledge :-)
    • Coke for soda, Googling for searching, dishes for everything used to prepare and eat a meal (specific kind for general kinds)
    • cat for lion, bug for any creepy crawly (general kind for specific kind)
    • police for police officer (whole for part)
    • wheels for car (part for whole)
    • crown for ruler, ear for listen, New York for someone from New York, pink slip for being fired (related thing for the thing)
    • steel for sword, "paper or plastic?" for grocery bag (material for object)
    • (And more :-)

    There are lists -- which of course you'll resist visiting until you have today's word count achieved ;-) -- at List of metonyms and Synecdoche.

  15. Speech patterns -- I came across these at The Handbook of Rhetorical Devices (where there are lots more devices useful for speech patterns, though mixed in with devices not as useful. <-- An unintentional litotes!) These would have been more useful at the beginning of NaNo when new characters popup like dandelions. Sorry I didn't find them sooner!

    Litotes (I keep wanting to "depluralize" it to LIGHT TOTE, but it's LIGH TOE TEEZ) -- Have the next character you introduce frequently negate the opposite of what he means when he speaks. That is:
    • good becomes "not the worst"
    • unintelligent becomes "not a rocket scientist"
    • old becomes not as young as she once was"
    I didn't even know there was a word for that but what a handy way to increase word count :-)

    Epizeuxis (I haven't even tried to pronounce that one) -- repetition of one word for emphasis:
    • The best way to describe this portion of South America is lush, lush, lush.
    • What do you see? Wires, wires, everywhere wires.
    • Polonius: "What are you reading?" Hamlet: "Words, words, words."

    Hyperbole -- Exaggeration to evoke strong feelings
    • "Why did I not know of this majesty before!"
    • "I can die happy now!
    • I think I just gave myself a brain anurism laughing. That's like... all of my favorite things. Right there."
    (All cribbed from my daughter who is The Most Amazing Hyperbolist EVAH!!! 8-D) Perhaps another character takes all the hyperbole as literal statements.

  16. Letter - Write a letter from you to your POV character or a favorite character. (To make it part of your novel, it can be an anonymous letter they receive.) Tell them what you love about them. Tell them what irritates you. Tell them what potential you see in them that their author has yet to capture. If they are a minor character, perhaps how they deserve a better role and what that could have been and how things would change.

  17. (Idealized) Author Surrogate -- Have you created a Mary Sue/Gary Stu, eg, a thinly-disguised (to everyone else) wish-fulfillment fantasy version of yourself? There's still time to kill them off if you have! And still time to create one to kill off if you haven't.

    To check if you have a Mary Sue, or help in creating a really bang-up one, there's The Universal Mary-Sue Litmus Test. The last part provides some De-Sue-ifiers that you could employ on your Mary Sue instead of death. Both equally guaranteed to add to word count.

  18. Oxymoron -- two words stuck together that seem to create a contradiction. Make up your own or use some generated at Serendipitous Oxymorons. (Each guaranteed to provide at least two words for your NaNo!)

    If you'd like a whole bunch to work into your NaNo, there's Jim Wegryn's handpicked list of oxymorons and a "complete" list of oxymorons.

  19. Apostrophe -- Apostrophe is when a character directs speech at an absent person, an abstract concept, or an object. So let hem have a heart to heart with hatred, the Fates, their adversary, the ficus plant.

  20. First person narration -- Write in the first person for a scene. It can be the main character, one of the side characters, an animal, the ficus plant from yesterday You only get to pass on to the reader what your POV character/object can know.

  21. Parody -- Have your character(s) attend a play that's a parody version of the story they've experienced so far. Paint those characters and situations broadly. It's an opportunity to take it over the top in places where you played it too safe. After the play, do your characters recognize themselves and their situation? Do they each see themselves as the most sympathetic character in the play but easily identify others?

  22. Pathetic fallacy -- The name doesn't sound much like what it is. Perhaps let the phrase inspire your NaNo until it runs out of steam. Then give human emotions to nature (or inanimate objects or animals). Bring on the cruel winds, smiling suns, the weeping clouds. Have the environment respond to your character's trials and tribulations with sympathy or callous disregard.

  23. Break the fourth wall -- Allow a character step out of the story and address the reader directly. Let him or her give their frank opinion about what's going on, about the other characters, about how they're being portrayed.

  24. Simile -- No, not smilies. They might not count as words. A comparison using “like” or “as”. "She felt as stuffed as the turkey after finishing Thanksgiving dinner."
    Metaphor -- A comparison not using "like" or "as" when one thing is said to be another. "He is an eating machine who can devour and entire turkey dinner in under three minutes."

  25. Deus ex machina -- Did you introduce some event or element into your NaNo that's gumming up the ending? What simpler way to fix things than a Deus ex machina, a god in the machine. Or a crocodile n the machine. Or an alien body snatching. Or roving band of ninja pirates. Or a sonic screwdriver.

  26. Cliché -- Expressions that are as worn as an old shoe. So try some fresh alternatives at Cliché modifier.

    Snowclone -- Have a character who speaks by using cliches as a template such as:

    In your X, Ying your Z.
    X, X everywhere.
    X is the new Y.
    I'm a doctor, not a X.
    Have X, will travel.
    The X from Hell.
    I'm not an X, but I play one on TV.
    Not your father's X.
    The mother of all X's.

    There's a bunch more, listed by century at List of snowclones (sandbox) (still being refined for Wikipedia) or List of snowclones (the eventual final resting spot).

  27. Eulogy -- Did you kill off significant characters, places, things, ideals? Then have friends, enemies, acquaintances, their third grade teacher, give a speech at their funeral or at a memorial service. Strictly speaking a eulogy is in praise, but characters often don't care about definitions and will say what they want to say ;-)

  28. Onomatopoeia -- words that represent the sound of something. Have lots of sounds in the following scene! Lots of pops and whooshes and words you totally make up on the spot. Unless you're writing a comic book script, or poetry, this would generally be a No. But since it's NaNo, it can be a Yes. :-)

  29. Anecdotes, Fables, Parables -- If you're struggling as the finish line looms, give your characters' inner storyteller free rein as they huddle around the campfire awaiting the final showdown. Let them tell tales of their youth, or couch the lessons they've learned over the past few thousand words in stories where those involved are thinly disguised as anthropomorphized animals or objects.

  30. If you've finished your story but not your words ....

    Prologue -- Go back in history to the genesis of the problem.

    Character directory -- list all your characters and a brief description of their important characteristics and role in the story. If you still need words, describe the important places.

    Chapter titles -- That are excessively long and descriptive. Chapter Seventeen: In which Stoen and Roc invent fire and discover it's a bad idea to bring it in to heat the tent at night.

    Table of contents -- Including all your chapter titles, of course.

    Blurb -- Some gripping text for the back of the book.

    Narrative hook -- Now that you're nearly done and have all those words to give you a better understanding of your story, write a narrative hook for the first chapter to grab the readers. Since the first chapter is the most important you should spend very little time on it at the beginning. How can you write an effective beginning until you know the story?
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