Sleep-deprivation and characters

Funny that I just found this today, on a weekend when I’ve been recharging my batteries by spending lots of time in the sun and getting massive amounts of rescue sleep. I left my take on sleep deprivation on the thread. As an insomniac who runs on 2-4 hours of sleep per night for weeks at a time, this is a post I can appreciate.

Taylor Grace

I’ve done it. Notably, I’ve just done it with my current hero, Klias. He’s sleep-deprived in a big way. And still, he handles stressful situations without a hitch. Not a single consequence from his lack of sleep.

Oops.

I’ve noticed it before in books I’ve read. Characters who haven’t slept in days and they still manage to function better than I do with my eight hours. When I don’t get enough sleep, I get crabby and cranky and grumpy…I’m pretty much miserable to be around. A couple of times, when I’ve had insomnia and I haven’t slept at all for a couple of days, I felt like the walking dead. Barely awake, barely able to function. Surprisingly, I was able to get through the day without killing myself or someone else but it was close.

I thought the less sleep I got, the worse I’d be able to function until, eventually…

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A to Z Day 25: Yarn

I can’t do any better for a definition of Yarn than Dr. L. Kip Wheeler of Carson-Newman University:

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YARN (Old English gearn): An informal name for a long, rambling story–especially one dealing with adventure or tall-tales. The genre typically involves a strong narrative presence and colloquial or idiomatic English. The tone is realistic, but the content is typically fantastic or hyperbolic. Cf. the Chinese p’ing hua and the Russian skaz.

When I think of yarns, I think of Mark Twain stories, Davy Crockett, and Paul Bunyan. I loved a good yarn as a child — that’s probably one of the sources of my love of stories and storytelling. Here’s what makes a good yarn. It’s a story you tell in conversational language, and you tell it as though it’s true. But at the same time, the actual events you’re narrating are so fantastical that no one could possibly believe them. The effect is usually humor.

Some people limit yarns to campfire stories and shaggy dog stories. Include folk tales in them, so long as they’re long-winded, exaggerated, and use colloquial language. In other words, I don’t think a story necessarily has to be pointless or anti-climactic to qualify as a yarn.

Feel free to drop the titles or links to your favorite yarns, or yarns you’ve written, in the comments in this next-to-last day of the A to Z Challenge.

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A to Z Day 16: Pacing

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Pace refers to the speed and rhythm with which an author moves from point-to-point. Well-paced writing flows like speech; poorly-paced writing tends to either drag or sound awkward. Lots of things affect the pace of a piece of writing; here are a few that I think are especially important.

 

Word Choice

A text that’s loaded down with obscure, archaic, or constructed words is more difficult to pace than a text written in more everyday language. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a rich vocabulary, but choose these sorts of words carefully, and know why you’re using them when you do. Specific, active verbs are a must. Adjectives and adverbs should make whatever you’re writing more vivid and immediate to your readers; if they aren’t doing that, just take them out.

Grammar

I could write a whole post just about the importance of this one. The three most important things are keeping passive voice sentences to a minimum, being aware that prepositional phrases tend to slow a piece of writing down, and being consistent with your point-of-view and verb tense (don’t switch from past to present in the middle of a passage). Here’s an example to illustrate the problems with passive voice and prepositional phrases. Compare these two sentences, which say the same thing in different ways.

  1. We were taken by the guard to the palace of the king.
  2. The guard took us to the king’s palace.

Which is better to you? I think the second one is.

Sentence/Paragraph/Chapter length

I include these all under one heading because I think of them as units or building blocks of text. As a general rule, long units of text slow a piece of writing down. As with most other rules, it’s important not to take this too far. If you use only short sentences and paragraphs, you’re likely to end up with a very choppy piece of writing. The trick is to find the right balance between longer and shorter units to establish a rhythm. I talked a bit about the importance of varying your sentence lengths on Day 5; that advice applies here, as well.

Expostion .vs Detail

“Show, don’t tell” is one of the most elementary pieces of creative writing advice, and it’s important. It’s critical to master writing without a lot of exposition, and to learn to be alert enough not to lapse into exposition for no good reason. But, at the same time, sometimes a little exposition – say a paragraph or two – is just the thing to move a story along or transition from point to point.

There are lots of other topics I could cover here. I haven’t even touched on action .vs dialogue, the importance of good scene cuts, suspense, or plot hooks at the ends of chapters. All those things can affect the pace of a piece of writing. I encourage you to look into them, especially if you’re trying to improve your fiction or narrative nonfiction.

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