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Can I Write? Part 4

| Aug 31, 2015
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Rule 5: Realistic is not necessarily real

What do I mean?

Have you ever read a book, or seen a film that stretched disbelief too far that it is so silly as to be unreadable/unwatchable?

The trick with fiction is that it is exactly that — fiction. However, being fiction means it is not real, but make it as realistic as you can. If it goes beyond realistic, then you need to qualify the situation so the reader can suspend disbelief. They way you do that is to make the characters as real as they can be in an unreal situation. The Torc is a science fiction book, with quite a weird premise — extra-terrestrial technology that can alter someone’s appearance. Not uncommon in TG work, but one has to believe the unbelievable by believing in the characters and the story-line.

I have written several war books, both on the First and Second World Wars. At no time did I suggest that these were anything other than fiction. I named real individuals, and even had Winston Churchill and others appearing to bolster the appearance of being realistic. However, by extensively researching the period, location and whole atmosphere, I hope that I was able to capture the realism of the setting, so as to make the story-lines believable.

In A Chance Would Be a Fine Thing, the main character — William Knox, was a British army officer who had struggled with his inner urges and conviction that he should have been female all his life. Indeed, I opened the book when Knox was on the brink of death — as an old man. Yet, during WWI, he was a young officer who is cut off behind enemy lines and is forced to disguise himself as a woman to avoid capture. The story wasn’t real, but due to trying to make the setting as realistic as I could, and by researching which military units were where, and the places were all as they had been, I’d like to think that it could have been real.

But, I hear you say, I haven’t got time to do that amount of research.

Fine, so write about places and things that you know. Or, write science fiction so the universe you write about is of your own making and you make up the rules as you go along.

Now two tips that I have discovered the hard way.

1. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

Very early on, I used exclamation marks like confetti. If I thought the person was making a point, BANG! In went an exclamation mark. Don’t do it, it really isn’t necessary. It almost makes the story unreadable.

2. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Oh dear. I’m a Scot, and many of my characters are Scottish. It is very hard to put across the Scottish accent in plain English. In Beginning’s End (another war book) I introduced young Willie Salmon. He was a little man from the bad end of Glasgow, recruited by the military as he was adept at escaping from incarceration. He was a slum dweller who found the well-spoken army officers alien creatures in manner and speech. I just had to give his accent some release, otherwise RULE 5 would have been broken — he would have been too unrealistic.

However — avoid slang completely, unless it is unavoidable to build a character, but always explain in a footnote or in brackets. I am (as I said) Scottish, so my readers in North America (and elsewhere) need help to translate my English to their version of English. I was also a police officer for 30 years. Many of my books involve police officers, their language, culture and acronyms. For the uninitiated, I always added a glossary of slang terms and police jargon.

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Do you ever skip paragraphs when reading a book?

I do, frequently — usually those heavily descriptive passages that are relatively irrelevant to the plot. What I like to call padding. The book is 450 – 500 pages long, so the author can charge £20 for it. However, 25% of it is irrelevant padding and can be skipped without losing anything of the plot. Think about it — Reader’s Digest have been thinning out well-known and good sellers by famous authors for years in their compilations. Most books are anything from 10% – 35% less in volume, and yet they still read just as well.

When you read through your finished book, ask whether you’d skip anything. If so, would it change the book. If it wouldn’t then do you really need that bit in?  I have often thinned out several paragraphs to leave a couple of sentences that say what I need to say but don’t waffle on and become boring.

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Category: Transgender How To

Tanya Allan

About the Author ()

Tanya Allan is a prolific writer of various works, including novels, short stories and poetry. Some of her work, relating to transgender issues, may be familiar to those who feel that perhaps life would have been easier had they been born with a body and mind of the same gender. Her other - non-TG work has also been published, but under a different name. Tanya is now settled in the southern half of the United Kingdom (sometimes known as England). Born and educated in Scotland, and having experienced over a half century of life, in a myriad of guises, mostly involved keeping the realm safe and secure from enemies, both domestic and foreign, Tanya has a more sedate life now, concentrating on grandchildren, dogs, travel and writing.

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