Writing Tips From Fiction Authors

Tip1: “My first rule was given to me by TH White, author of The Sword in the Stone and other Arthurian fantasies and was: Read. Read everything you can lay your hands on. I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from Bunyan to Byatt.” — Michael Moorcock

Tip 2: “Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” — Zadie Smith

Tip 3: “Introduce your main characters and themes in the first third of your novel. If you are writing a plot-driven genre novel make sure all your major themes/plot elements are introduced in the first third, which you can call the introduction. Develop your themes and characters in your second third, the development. Resolve your themes, mysteries and so on in the final third, the resolution.” — Michael Moorcock

Tip 4: “In the planning stage of a book, don’t plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.” — Rose Tremain

Tip 5: “Always carry a note-book. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.” — Will Self

Tip 6: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” — Jonathan Franzen

“Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.” — Zadie Smith

Tip 7: “Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.” — Jonathan Franzen

Tip 8: “Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out—they can be got right only by ear).” — Diana Athill

Tip 9: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov

Tip 10: “Listen to the criticisms and preferences of your trusted ‘first readers.'” — Rose Tremain

Tip 11: “Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.” — Jonathan Franzen

Tip 12: “Don’t panic. Midway through writing a novel, I have regularly experienced moments of bowel-curdling terror, as I contemplate the drivel on the screen before me and see beyond it, in quick succession, the derisive reviews, the friends’ embarrassment, the failing career, the dwindling income, the repossessed house, the divorce . . . Working doggedly on through crises like these, however, has always got me there in the end. Leaving the desk for a while can help. Talking the problem through can help me recall what I was trying to achieve before I got stuck. Going for a long walk almost always gets me thinking about my manuscript in a slightly new way. And if all else fails, there’s prayer. St Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, has often helped me out in a crisis. If you want to spread your net more widely, you could try appealing to Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, too.” — Sarah Waters

Tip 13: “The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can’t deal with this you needn’t apply.” — Will Self

Tip 14: “Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless!” — Joyce Carol Oates

Tip 15: “The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.” — Jonathan Franzen

Tip 16: “Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.” — Elmore Leonard

Tip 17: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” — Neil Gaiman

Tip 18: “You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.” — Will Self

Tip 19: “The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.” — Neil Gaiman

Tip 20: “The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying ‘Faire et se taire’ (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.’” — Helen Simpson

Setting the Stage

snoopySetting is such a crucial piece of a story. In order to have a great story, a writer must not only have dynamic characters, but a setting to put these characters in. All stories have some sort of setting, whether it is in an imaginary land full of mythical creatures or takes place during the 1800s. Setting helps paint a picture for the reader and initiates the main backdrop and mood for a story.

Setting is broadly defined as the location of the plot or where an event takes place. Setting is both the time and geographic location within a narrative or work of fiction. This includes region, geography, climate, buildings, and interiors.

Selecting an appropriate setting for your story must go beyond just you liking it. The behavior of fictional characters often depends on their environment. Setting sets the stage for what happens to your characters. Why does the character need to be there? What part does it play in your character’s journey or their past? Characters need to interact with the setting.

When building your setting, don’t do it all at once. World building should happen over the course of your entire novel, layered into every scene. The goal is to create a well-designed background for your characters without overwhelming the scene or interrupting the story. Carefully balance introducing readers to your world while maintaining plot. Let the setting unfold as the characters move through the scene. Build in elements of weather, lighting, the season, and time. A good rule of thumb is not to spend more than 3-4 paragraphs on setting at a time. Start with the bigger picture then zoom in on the details. Don’t try to include every tiny detail in your description. Focus on things your characters would notice, keeping in mind that different characters will see and interact with the scenery in different ways.

Help the reader picture themselves in the story. Include different senses when describing the setting. In real life, we explore and experience our surroundings through our senses. Through our experiences, we respond with an emotional reaction. Your characters need to do the same.

Utilize the internet and do research. Look up maps, tourist information, and photos of specific places you’d like to include in your setting. Gather information and use some of it when writing your description. If you are able, visit these places in person. It can add depth and flair to your writing.

For more information on setting, see the links below.

Writer’s Edit

Writer’s Digest

The Importance of Story Setting

Common Setting Mistakes

Writing World

Location, Location, Location

Writing the Perfect Scene

We’ve all heard the classic writing advice, “Show, don’t tell.” But according to Dwight Swain, author of Techniques of the Selling Writer, “Most folks get ‘Show, don’t tell’ wrong because they take it literally rather than figuratively. It’s not about proof (showing sad characters cry) but about causality (revealing why characters cry). Don’t just show readers the effect of emotion, reveal the cause so they can feel it too.”

Swain further said, “Your reader reads first and foremost for emotional stimulation.”Image result for writing quotes by dwight swain

Writers invoke and shape emotions by creating scenes.

A workshop I attended recently by Damon Suede (author of  Verbalize, a new guide to characterization and story planning suitable for newbies and experts, pantsers and plotters) took a different angle to scene writing that I had never heard before. Here’s Damon’s take on writing scenes.

We’ll start by defining what a scene is: A scene is a unit of struggle between opposing forces. Scenes are clear, active steps which create problems and move the story toward its final outcome.

Every scene should lead the character to his or her objective. A character’s objective needs to be challenging enough to sustain your character throughout the story’s length, significant enough to attract character attention and to inspire escalating risks, and relatable enough that anyone can grasp the character’s need to pursue it.

A scene follows the pattern of:

  • GOAL: Specific object that drives action. The immediate gimme-gimme. Make it something you can photograph (e.g. grandkids or a bungalow in the Maldives), but avoid abstractions (e.g. happiness or peace).
  • CONFLICT: Obstacles opposing the goal. Friction between the POV character’s needs and the reality they face. This is not necessarily combat, but a force which must be tackled during the scene.
  • DISASTER: Failure to accomplish the goal. A defeat that ends the conflict. It raises the stakes and derails progress via threats, complication, or impediment. It should demand a decision.

Each scene reveals character tactics. The character makes an offer/demand which is either accepted or rejected, requiring a new offer/demand. For best results, establish time, place, point of view, and context as soon as possible. Identify stakes within the first half-page to engage readers. Keep building to hooks that make readers turn the page.

After each scene, comes the sequel. This is not a sequel as in the next book in a series. This is different. In this case, a sequel is the aftermath. It acts as a transition between two scenes. Sequels are internal and pinpoint character action. They allow adaptation/course correction after interactions to improve the odds of success.

A sequel follows the pattern of:

  • REACTION: Emotional effects of disaster. Use this to reveal character: fear/hope, virtues/failings. Make it believable.
  • DILEMMA: Situation with no good options. Review the options. Amplify difficulty by challenging habits.
  • DECISION: Choosing the best of (bad) options, which leads to new tactics. Demand sacrifice, and make sure this points directly at a new/next goal.

Sequels bridge scenes. Whatever decision the POV characters make initiates a new tactic for the subsequent scene. These tactical shifts allow POV characters to regroup.

The Overall Scene Structure by Better Novel Project

(Infographic courtesy of Helping Writers Become Authors)

Scenes drive the story forward through external action that impact characters (and readers) via tactics and objects. Sequels deepen the story through internal assimilation by characters (and readers) via actions and objectives. You must have both to wring as much satisfying emotion from the reader as possible.

-Taken from Damon Suede’s workshop, Scene & Sequel: the rhythm of fiction

 

 

Keep It Simple

Keeping it simple, imagine that. I find it funny that when we teach writing in schools, we do everything but this. We give kids lists of alternative, flowery words and phrases to use, we provide them with other words for ‘said’, and teach them the proper use of adverbs. Yet in the real writing world, the world of editors and agents and publication companies, all of this is frowned upon.

This article sums up “keep it simple” quite nicely. Enjoy!

Writing your first novel-Things you should know

fewer-wordsWhenever you write, you should aim for maximum simplicity. You want tight writing with no redundancies, flowery language, or longer than necessary words. Shun pretentious writing. It exposes your inexperience.

I borrowed the following example from a class I am taking through Udemy. It does a great job of showing what I am trying to explain. If you haven’t checked Udemy out, I would highly recommend their classes. They are informative, interesting, and very easy to follow, and are a fraction of the cost of most sites I’ve visited. Now back to my blog and the example 🙂

The specific point I am trying to make is that the colors red and gray go well together.

The point I am trying to make is that the colors red and gray go well together.

My point is that the colors red and gray go well together.

The colors red and gray…

View original post 210 more words

Ideas to Help Write Better Characters

Great tips on character development and a bit of info on an upcoming writing contest.

Rachael Ritchey

In honor of the upcoming Adventure Writing Contest that starts the end of February (click here for more info) I want to help writers by offering info and websites that will hopefully help us all be better writers.

That’s the goal.

Today we’re going to look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (click here for more detailed information from simplypsychology.org). Maslow originally published this motivational theory back in 1943, then I believe it was updated in 1954. This is a psychological look at what motivates humans from our most basic needs up.

But maybe you’re wondering what this has to do with writing fiction? A lot actually, and it could go a long way to helping write better, more believable characters whose behaviors are directly related to their motivations and deepest needs.

Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs By User: Factoryjoe (Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs.svg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The chart…

View original post 703 more words

Stop Procrastinating and Get that Story Finished

The first week of 2018 started off with a bang (literally and figuratively speaking). I finally finished my latest project, which is now in publication stage. Launching a new book is always exciting, and when you finally see it in print, nothing compares to holding a physical copy of your book in your hands. That feeling never subsides, no matter how many books you write.

But before you can celebrate the release of a new book, you have to finish writing it.

make-time

I read posts in writing forums all the time from writers who have difficulty finishing the book they’re writing. They have so many ideas and start a ton of projects, but have a hard time finishing any of them. It takes discipline and pushing your internal editor aside to get it done.

An informational meeting I attended recently focused on that exact topic. During this meeting, I jotted down a list of rules to follow that I think will help struggling writers finish their first draft. If this is you, I hope you will find this information useful.

  1. Ditch the negativity. You can’t go into writing with the attitude that you won’t finish or it’s too hard or no one will like your work. Ignore your inner demons and write.
  2. Give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft. Start by getting your ideas on paper. Anne Lamott said, “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.” Your first draft is supposed to be messy. Just get it written. first-draft
  3. Send your internal editor on vacation. I know it’s tempting to edit your work as you go. Believe me, I do it too. But if your goal is finish the manuscript, stop worrying about it being perfect and get the words on paper. You can leave a sticky note or a quick sentence to remind yourself where you left off, but NO EDITING ALLOWED! Go back and fine tune it later.
  4. Lock yourself in your room and put a do not disturb sign on the door. I don’t mean this literally. I simply mean to tell your family and friends that you love them then give yourself that alone time to write without distractions. Get off social media and turn off the TV. Absorb yourself in your ideas.
  5. Pre-plan. Have your story map, outline, character sketches, etc…ready before you start.
  6. Believe in the magic. Go in with the idea that your plan will work. Stick to the rules and stay positive (see rule number 1).
  7. Recruit a cheering squad. Set up a support system and make yourself accountable to other people. Only choose people who will motivate you.
  8. Create a great writing space. Clear the clutter, get comfortable, and have everything you need accessible.
  9. Feed your brain. Eat protein and high energy food. Stock up on those protein bars and have them handy.
  10. Take a break. Stop and stretch every 45 minutes. Get the blood pumping. Take a quick bathroom break, walk a few laps around the room, or stretch for a minute or two. Then go right back to writing.
  11. Set yourself up for success. Every time you push yourself, you create new neurological pathways in your brain. When you constantly stay in your story, you will get better and faster, and your story will become tighter. Set daily writing goals and stick to them, then reward yourself.
  12. It’s ok to get stuck. If you do get stuck, move away from the computer for a minute (see rule number 10). Concentrate on a scene with a particular character. Write a placeholder and move on to the next scene or chapter. Leave headers for each chapter then add details. Make notes of what you’d like to see happen. Time yourself – give yourself 20 minutes of hands on the keyboard. You’ll soon find yourself writing for much longer than that. Refer back to your map, outline, or other pre-writing notes. If all else fails, ask a friend to help brainstorm.
  13. Celebrate success. Yay! You did it! Now crack open that bottle of wine and celebrate. You worked hard, and you deserve it.

Now that your draft is finished, walk away from the keyboard for a few days before you go in to clean up the mess. Cleaning up the mess is an entirely different blog post.

You can do this! Just keep writing.