The fourth sea on our course is CONTENT. Exactly what is content? This is one very large sea to sail since it is the bulk of the story. Content. This is where you tie it all together: concept, character, climax, and conclusion.
BUT, don’t be fooled, it is the one difficult sea, the hardest to sail, for this is what the reader will view as you weave your character’s tale.
In “Sea of Regret” I introduce a new element…
Hanson grabbed an apple and bit it firmly. The rot wasn't too bad yet.
"What does that taste like?"
Hanson scrambled to sit up. Two days of floating had drained him. He was tired. He now regretted not listening to the older sailors tell their tales of woe when stranded at sea; perhaps he would have gleaned a tidbit to help him. Still, a voice had called to him. He frowned.
"I asked how that tastes." The voice was clear.
"Who said that? Who's there?"
"I did," the voice said from just beyond the bench on his left.
"Who are you?"
"I am Ayala," she replied. "What is your name?"
"I am called Seaman Second Class Hanson. How did you get here?"
"I live here." She giggled.
"Where?" He strained to see land when his makeshift rig crested again.
"Here," Ayala repeated. "I live in the sea. I am a mermaid."
Expanding the story further...
Hanson eyed her through the bars of the bench. A mermaid. He could be hallucinating. Yet, being a mermaid, that would account for her pallid skin. It was stark, framed by the long, wet, dark hair with a greenish cast but it was her eyes that caught his attention. They were the same ice blue as Shara Ki's and a tear welled in his eye as he remembered his long lost love.
"You don't look comfortable Seaman Second Class Hanson," Ayala chimed. "Are you hungry? I have watched you for two days now. The only thing you've eaten is from that there." She pointed at the box of fruit.
"I have this apple," he replied and held it up for her to see.
"What a strange thing," she said. "May I taste it?"
"Sure," Hanson answered. He locked his legs around the pole for stability, placed one hand on the pole and then gently tossed the apple. "Here."
He watched her as she grabbed the object from the air, turned it over and over in her hands then finally brought it to her mouth. Teeth, a complete row of finely pointed teeth glistened as she chomped a bite from the apple.
As part of the content, the character's entrance is important and must be subtle but thorough. Which is better?
Example 1: It became quiet then Ana saw him. An elderly clergyman dressed in white walked toward them. He wore a gold cross.
Example 2: A hush passed through the bar, which caused them to look up from their conversation. A striking figure had entered and was headed directly toward their table. Medium height, athletic build, he walked in a male's grace. It was difficult to know his age. From a distance, Ana would have said twenties. As he approached, his eyes aged more, revealing their truer age of early fifties. He was dressed in tropical white, from his shoes to the clerical collar turned up at his throat. A gold crucifix with a sole ruby in the center broke the purity of his white shirt.
Before I forget, there is one character many writers tend to ignore or blissfully short-change. This is the The Scene, The Location. In my story "Sea of Regret" I describe the surroundings.
Seaman Second Class Hanson straddled his floating island of debris. The ship had exploded, that much he remembered and also grabbing a piece of wood as he sputtered when he surfaced in the water. He was alone. He'd shouted for any companions but was met with somber silence. The frigate had been carrying linens and furniture before it went down. Hanson gathered a wooden bench, three chairs and a lanyard pole with a small amount of rigging rope. He used the rope to hold his bounty together. He'd also found a floating wooden galley bin partially filled with assorted fruits. The salty water didn't help to preserve the last few remaining apples as they quickly rotted in the hot, tropical sun.
Another example, this one from "Ancient Blood: The Amazon."
The gentle sounds of running water surrounded them as their eyes adjusted to the filtered low light caused by the lush jungle growth and intertwining vines. Pools of various sizes filled the large tree-formed grotto. At the far end, the smooth and rippling giggles of a water cascade splashed into a knee-deep bathing basin. Steam rose from some pools. Others shimmered, crystal clear in their depths, deep enough for swimming. Here and there, gigantic leaves hung over the hidden grotto’s waters, dripping moisture from the collecting mists and steam.
Another aspect of content is "How much content?" A story’s length (content) is decided by the story itself. To condense it is to cheat the reader of the details and to expand it too far is to bloat and fluff the tale making it a boring read. You, the author, must decide if what you will create is an article/short story, a novella, or a full-blown novel. Content is where you unfurl the mast rigging and allow the sails to billow out; this is the plot.
Another point when discussing Content is Voice. It comes in two types: Active and Passive. I've discussed this aspect several times so I won't rehash it again. Just remember, Active Voice is the preferred voice when writing.
Dialog is critical to Content. I've stated several times that "said" will disappear when reading BUT I've also mentioned that "said" will get very repetitive when you read the story aloud. Again, I've written prior tips regarding this. To refresh yourself, please check those earlier tips.
Needless to say, POV (Point of View) is also important to Content. Again, I've discussed this before so please feel free to review those tips.
Now for the guts of Content. The Plot. Exactly what is the plot? Simple. It is the meat of the story; the substance. The start of a plot is the exposition to relay the information needed to understand the story.
So what is plotting? This is the weaving of the tale, adding subplots and red-herrings to keep the reader off-balance but on target for the climax. By adding complications, the author injects the catalyst to begin major conflict.
Later we will discuss Conflict, Climax and Conclusion which rounds out the remainder of plotting.
Remember: Never, ever mislead your reader.
Major Plot Decisions: Many writers, especially pantsers, don't like to think about plot development until they've written most of the first draft, preferring to let the ending evolve organically out of what comes before. Others may plan an ending ahead of time, but they prefer to rely on instinct, feeling, and a lot of trial and error rather than any kind of theory.
I believe, however, that you can save yourself a lot of time and effort in the long run by making a few decisions about how your plot develops and the nature of your story early on. That includes having some idea what the ending will be. A good sense of where you are going increases your chance of getting there successfully.
Of course, your ending must make emotional and logical sense. It should be surprising, yet so connected to the novel as a whole that, in hindsight, it seems inevitable to the reader. Fortunately, certain plot development tools, called story dynamics, can help you create a great ending. It's simply a matter of answering a few questions, such as ...
Will Your Novel End Happily? Unhappily? Or Somewhere In-between?
You may find this hard to believe, but – without becoming formulaic – story endings generally fall into four different categories. Just two simple yes/no choices determine which category your novel will fall into.
1) Spelling: Today word processors are easily and readily available for the writer to use. Most come with a built-in Spell-Checker. USE IT! Of course, the dictionary is still a viable option. I have one on my desk.
2) Punctuation: Learn to use proper punctuation. Know when to use a colon vs a semi-colon vs a comma vs a period. Each of them have a purpose and reason. Avoid ellipses… As well as em dashes—. Strangely, there are even rules about quotation marks and how punctuation works within them. Capitalization can be haphazardly if not watched closely. Learn how to address titles of people, books, magazines, and don’t forget brand names. You can’t xerox a copy, it is illegal, nor can you Xerox a copy. Make a copy or deal with copyright/trademark issues.
3) Word choice: Homonyms: Homophones – Homographs. Witch word due I use four my sentence? Don’t let them trip you up, you may find that fabulous sentence is now either totally meaningless or an embarrassment. Another area of word choice mistakes is to re-use the same word repeatedly. Or to start the sentences with the same structure and/or word usage. Spice things up, find other words to say the same thing differently. Enter Mr. Thesaurus.
Content is a large sea and includes many different aspects of the writing skill.