Four quick reads on writing

When I was on vacation earlier this month, I read some e-books on writing. Even though these gems were inexpensive and quick, they provided me with some valuable lessons to apply to my writing craft.

Here they are:

  • 2940045351874_p0_v2_s192x300Self-publishing a Book
    By Hank Quense
    Quense has a great series on self-publishing and this is the second one I’ve read. He’s great about explaining why he does it the way he does, but let’s the reader know everyone needs to self-publish the way that is best for himself. Good advice on what publisher to use. I will be coming back to this book as a reference.
  • 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love
    2940152280371_p0_v1_s192x300By Rachel Aaron
    I loved Aaron’s Eli Monpress series and I can’t wait to read more of her stuff. She gives advice on how to increase the amount of writing that gets done during a writing session by applying her triangle of knowledge, time and enthusiasm. Now, if that sounds vague, she does get specific about what they mean in this book.
  • Writing from the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone In Between
    By James Scott Bell
    9780910355117_p0_v1_s192x300I love Kill Zone, a blog for which Bell contributes as part of a community of writers. This book provided a fascinating piece of advice about character development for novel writing: the “Mirror Moment.” Once again, it’s something I knew already, but didn’t know I knew. This quick read will change the way you plan your novel–and it’s easy to apply to a draft you’ve already started.
  • Scrivener Superpowers: How to Use Cutting-Edge Software to Energize Your Creative Writing Process
    By M.G. Herron
    2940157649920_p0_v1_s192x300I already read several books on Scrivener when I first learned to use it. The difference between those books (although they were wonderful and helpful) and this one is that Scrivener Superpowers gets into the nitty-gritty of not just learning to use it, but how to use is as a writer. His No-Nonsense Novel Template is also great.

So if you’re looking for some quick lessons for improving your fiction writing with maximum impact, you should check these books out. I highly recommend them.

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Fiction Writing Workshop: Action Scenes

kick-fighting-1528974

He extends his sword and then utters these words:

“My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.”

The most memorable part of this fight scene are these words. But why?

To find the answer, I wanted to know more about writing effective fight and action scenes. My novel has several of these scenes, so I did some research to maximize their punch.

I found some great articles on the web and as I read them, I kept coming across some recurring themes.

  • Action scenes in books are different than action scenes in movies. A blow-by-blow fight between characters doesn’t come across as exciting on the page as it does on the screen. Describing every detail bores the reader.
  • Action scenes must further the plot. They should do this in both movies and books.
  • Action scenes must advance characterization. Why is the protagonist fighting? The fight, the action must relate to the character’s goals.
  • Action scenes should increase the suspense, the tension and up the odds. Writer John Rogers says, “… this is one of the reasons The Matrix still holds up, and the sequels are two of the most boring movies I have ever, ever, ever seen.” I have thought the same thing over and over since I saw those last two movies.
  • Action scenes should be unique and have interesting settings. One fight scene looks like another. An interesting setting can make it more memorable.

I also found some contradicting advice. Writer K.M. Weiland says:

“Make sure you use [dialogue] to your advantage by breaking up descriptions of action with story-advancing (and perhaps scintillatingly witty?) dialogue.”

While writer Alan Baxter says:

“There is no dialogue while fighting. It never goes like that. You don’t have time, although there may be a few sharp words but no conversation.

Remember Montoya’s famous piece of dialogue? It’s totally appropriate. It had been repeated throughout the story and when he finally finds his father’s actual killer, it’s thrilling. Also, he says it before the fight begins, so it serves as a war cry.

Both of the writers I just quoted suggest using short sentences and one or two word pieces of dialogue. Good advice for fight scenes.

Here are the excellent articles:

Writing exercises:

  • Comb through your story or novel and analyze each fight or action scene. Does it develop character? Does it advance the plot? Is dialogue used appropriately? Does it create suspense?
  • Find a favorite novel and go through it looking for action scenes. Do they work? Could you improve upon them?
  • Do more research and find more articles on writing action scenes. Do you see recurring advice? What other tips can you find for writing these scenes?

See other Fiction Writing Workshops from this blog.

Fiction writing workshop: story structure

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The three-act-structure uses the idea that every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. These are simple but effective building blocks for planning your novel.

When planning a novel, the most helpful tool I’ve found is a thousands-year-old recipe called the three-act structure. It’s helped me plan out my novels more effectively than any fiction writing software.

What is the three-act structure?
Greek philosopher, Aristotle, came up with this structure. He said a good story has three acts: a beginning, middle and end. Simple, right?

Act I: In the beginning, otherwise known as the setup, the writer introduces the characters and sets the tone for the story. This is also the time for the writer to tell the reader about the setting, at least for the beginning of the story. In Act I, a situation happens, an inciting incident, kicks off the story. This incident usually hints at the conflict that permeates the entire novel. Act I is roughly the first quarter of your novel and at the end of it is the first plot point. This plot point shows the reader a situation thrusting the main characters away from their normal lives into the conflict that changes their destiny.

Act II: This is the middle part of your novel and it takes up roughly fifty percent of your novel. Act II is where all the main confrontation occurs. Your characters find themselves facing a series of obstacles in which they keep getting deeper and deeper into trouble. They are prevented from reaching their goal. Roughly around the middle of Act II–the middle of the novel–everything changes. Your protagonist’s goals are shattered. Or they realize they can obtain the goal, but at a great cost. It might be a reversal of fortune. Whatever, the middle of the novel is where your protagonist and other characters start to change, really change because of the situation. By the end of Act II is your second plot point: everything is at stake. It’s do or die.

Act III: In the last quarter of your novel, the protagonist fights the battle that wins or loses everything. This scene, be it a literal or figurative battle, is the climax. A surprise or twist can make the ending of your novel a satisfying experience for your reader. The sub-plots involving all your minor characters are also resolved in the third act after the climax. In this resolution part of your story, you may hint at the future of your characters. What possibly happens to them after the last page is read? Here’s the main thing to pay attention to as your plan your novel: how are your characters, especially your protagonist, different than they were from the beginning of the story?

Project
Plot a novel using the three act structure. You probably should have several characters already developed. It also helps if you know how the story is going to end, but you may want to discover that for yourself if you plot from scratch. Write one sentence for each of the main scenes in each act. Use the descriptions of the acts above to guide you.

If you already have a first draft of a novel or have already plotted a novel, try and break it down using the the three act structure. Does it work?

Read more on the three act structure:

See other Fiction Writing Workshops from this blog.

 

Fiction Writing Workshop: Voice

738760_99599951What is voice?

Everyone pretends to understand what he means when he mentions voice in writing. I call terradiddle on that. When it comes to prose, I think people have a hard time telling the difference between voice and other elements like style and tone. I do.

For now, let’s see how some writers define voice:

  • Larry Brooks in Story Engineering–Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing: “Voice is your particular way of putting words together. It’s your attitude. It’s your personality, turned into words.”
  • Ginny Wiehardt in an article about voice on About.com: “Voice is the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character . . . Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of a first-person narrator; a persona. Because voice has so much to do with the reader’s experience of a work of literature, it is one of the most important elements of a piece of writing.” See her complete article here.

The word that keeps popping up is personality. It is also known as a writer’s persona.

How do you find your voice?

One way to find your voice is to ask who you are. Meg Rosoff, in her interesting blog entry on voice, defines it as: “What You Have To Say That’s Different From Anyone Else.” She talks about writers seeking voice as “not what their sentences look like” but who they are.

Another way to develop our voice is to listen, especially to the prose of other writers. TL Costa says in this blog entry that “if we really wish to master the voice of prose, first we may have to open our ears.” But how is this done? Costa says, “Through the manipulation of words, of dialect, and of punctuation used to appropriately reflect your character(s), their thoughts and their emotions . . . The Catcher in the Rye, for instance, has a very distinct voice, and it’s the word order, the rhythm behind the thoughts, that so clearly demonstrates Holden’s state of mind, that grabs the reader and takes them along.”

How do you develop voice?

Once you begin to find your voice–finding your voice is a gradual process–you can incorporate ways to develop it in your writing. Here are some things to keep in mind for this:

Voice in writing is not something you can force. Let it happen naturally. Read the articles I’ve linked to in this blog entry and try some of the suggestions given.

See other Fiction Writing Workshops from this blog.

 

Fiction Writing Workshop: Conflict

786038_28568432When a writer pays attention to conflict, she charges her story with a powerful energy. I believe The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins rocked the world of publishing–and the world of movies–because she charged the novel with maximum conflict.

How can a writer maximize conflict in her story? First, give the protagonist a goal. Then put an obstacle in the way so the protagonist can’t reach the goal. Then put another obstacle. Then another. And another. And so on. This is a watered-down formula for creating conflict. In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen has a goal to survive and win the 74th Hunger Games. She faced myriad obstacles: fighting against the environment rigged by the government; other competitors who wanted to kill her; committing murder herself; killing not just strangers, but people she cared about.

Do you know, really know, the goals of your characters?

These were external goals and obstacles. Creating conflict also includes the internal goals of the protagonist. For Katniss, that included the fate of her mother and sister. What would happen to them if she didn’t survive the Game? In the latter books of the series, she also struggled with her feelings on being a symbol of a rebellion. She feared for her safety and those she loved. Internal goals can also include the romantic. Two male characters, Peeta and Gale, competed for her heart. Whom would she end up loving?

Do your characters also have internal goals?

Using conflict wisely can pull the reader into the story, and you can do this by introducing conflict as soon as possible. Make sure the reader knows what the main struggle is going to be about sooner, rather than later. As you journey through the middle of the story, keep asking, “How can I keep things worse for my characters?” –out of the frying pan, into the fire, so to speak. Finally, one thing to ask yourself when it comes to the end of your story: how is the character affected by the resolution of the conflict? A big part of storytelling is how a character changes by the end of the tale.

Here are some articles I’ve pulled out of my archives on conflict:

See other Fiction Writing Workshops from this blog.

Fiction Writing Workshop: Character

1424341_10944053My friend, Rachel, has two Shih tzus who are her babies: Marley and Rosa. Rachel also has dozens of toy balls of assorted colors laying around the house. Marley has no interest in the toy balls; those belong to his sister, Rosa.

Rosa loves playing with the toy balls. When I visit, she’ll immediately bring one up to me so that I will throw it for her to chase. When she goes for her walk, she’ll hold a ball in her mouth like a pacifier. At the dog park, she’ll find an abandoned toy ball and add it to her collection. She’ll just sit in the grass with two or three toy balls between her front legs.

You see, Rosa is a hoarder. A toy ball hoarder.

I, too, am a hoarder, but in only one area of my life:  blog articles on writing fiction.

I subscribe to only eight hundred and thirty blogs on writing. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but many articles about writing pop into my news feed everyday. I pick out the ones I like. Sometimes I read them right away; sometimes I save them for later. I save the ones I like. Thanks to Microsoft OneNote, I have saved articles on all aspects of fiction writing in tabbed off sections, ready for me to peruse again and apply to my own writing. The problem is, I’ve gathered so many, the task of going through them is daunting. Like Rosa, I have many toy balls, I don’t know what to do with them. So I sit with them between my front paws.

Here’s what I’ll do. I’ve decided to go through the articles a few at a time each day. I’m inviting you to read the articles, too. Every few days,  I’ll post a few related to a fiction writing element. Today I’ve selected some archived delights on characterization in fiction.

This is the tip of the iceberg:

See other Fiction Writing Workshops from this blog.