Every year I try and read a couple of books on the writing craft. I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but, honestly, I love reading stuff on how to write fiction. Here is what I read in 2015:
Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir
by Hank Quense Quense offers practical tips on how he writes his novels. What I want is something I haven’t heard before, and that’s what I got with this book. At the beginning, he suggests the reader to just take what he or she needs. Good advice. Not everyone thinks the same way, and, also, who wants to read the same thing over and over?
Structuring Your Novel
by K.M. Weiland Weiland shows how to make the most of using the three-act structure as you write your novel. She has become sort of an online tutor/mentor to me because books like this one answer my questions about writing fiction.
Your Guide to Scrivener by Nicole Dionisio Scrivener is a program to help writers organize their projects, both fiction and non-fiction. I can’t praise the software enough. There are dozens of books out there to show the writer how to use Scrivener, and I picked this by Nicole Dionisio. I admit I selected because it was the cheapest ebook on the subject I could find. But it’s all okay, because she did a great job and the book is short, so you can learn Scrivener quickly.
Here is my review of Hank Quense’s Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir as it appears in Goodreads and Amazon:
I’ve read many books on writing fiction and after a while I see the same theories and best practices over and over. This is not necessarily a bad thing because a reminder is always helpful. However, when I come across some new best practices for writing a novel, I feel like I’m getting the most out of my time and money spent.
In his Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir, which is part of his Fiction Writing Series, Quense offers practical tips on how he writes his novels. That’s what I want—something I haven’t heard before, and that’s what I got with this book. At the beginning, he suggests the reader to just take what he or she needs. Good advice. Not everyone thinks the same way, and, also, who wants to read the same thing over and over? Quense’s recommendation to use Scrivener, his practice of mind-mapping, and the idea of a plot cloud gave me some new techniques to incorporate into my writing disciplines. Of course, he also touches on fiction elements I’ve read elsewhere, but his succinct style on concepts like “character arc” proved to be a great review and motivator.
So if you are looking for some fresh ideas on writing fiction, I recommend this book. He includes lots of resources in the Appendices. The reader may or may not decide to use Quense’s ideas, especially if the person prefers to write without planning, but as he says about his mind-mapping technique, “Ultimately, you have to decide whether to use this method or not.”
I’m definitely going to check out his other books in the series.
In one of my favorite books on graphic design, The Non-Designer’s Design Book, Robin Williams presents the concept of being able to name something so that you can own it. A person may recognize good design in a poster or a brochure, but not be able to know why it’s good design. In her book, she claims to present four basic design elements to master–contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity–so that a potential graphic designer will understand why an item has good design.
The same thing sort of just happened to me when it comes to writing dialogue.
Author K.M. Weiland recently posted an article on her blog, Get Rid of On-the-Nose Dialogue Once and For All. In this article she presents three ways to make boring and obvious dialogue more interesting by including subtext, irony and silence. I already knew about these methods, but Weiland presented them in a simple way and even used one of my favorite–if subtle- scenes from the movie Gladiator as an example. Now I feel like I can own these methods when writing dialogue for my own fiction and point out when they are and aren’t being used in novels I am reading.
Let the story unfold like a snowflake. When writing the discovery draft of a novel, I like to use the snowflake method. This is a method created by writer Randy Ingermanson. I mentioned in my last post how writing this novel was like peeling an onion; this is part of that metaphor. Here’s how I’ve adapted it: first, write one sentence for each scene; next, turn each sentence into a five sentence paragraph; then turn each paragraph into five paragraphs. I use the snowflake method software to develop my characters, but then I jump to a text document and let the story develop. I read about a similar method in a book that is out of print called One Way to Write Your Novel by Perry Dick. You may want to use your own version of this method.
Write a scribble for each scene. Many different methods float around the internet on how to write a scene for a novel. I’ve come across this list of tips for writing scenes, and the item on this list that I find helpful is write a scribble version (of the scene). Here is an example of what a scribble version looks like (Scroll down a little.). Usually, I write a scribble version for a scene when I turn scene from one sentence into a paragraph. So, a scene is first written out as a scribble, then I expand it with dialogue, action, narrative, inner emotion and inner monologue.
None of the main characters in my story are married or in committed relationships. They are all in their early twenties, with one exception. I’m beginning to think this could be marketed to young adults.
In further rewrites, I will be able to see where I can change things. As I write the discovery draft, I make notes about things that have already happen that I can change and strengthen. This includes: characters idiosyncracies; dialogue changes; inner emotion additions; jacked-up conflict; additional sub-plots. I also will be taking out some dialogue in my opening scene in which the antagonist reveals too much about himself too soon–I hope this will create more suspense as in “what’s he up to, anyway?”
I write a series of scenes that go together and break them into chapters. I write scenes and then break them into chapters. Supposedly, fiction is written as scenes in the same way nonfiction is written as a paragraphs. A chapter in fiction may contain several scenes, or only one–it’s up to the writer. I may cut a scene in half by ending a chapter in the middle of it to create a cliffhanger.
Writing action scenes is not the same thing as action scenes on the screen. An action scene need not include every punch, kick or jab. Every car chase scene need not include every screeching turn around a corner. Actions scenes are an opportunity to reveal character, among other things. Here are some articles I’ve read recently on writing action scenes I’ve found helpful: 5 Essential Tips for Writing Killer Action Scenes (Chuck Sambuchino) The Kung Fu Panda Guide to Writing Action Scenes(K.M. Weiland) Writing: Action Scenes (John Rogers)
Just Google “writing action scenes” and you’ll find these articles listed as well as many more.
I’m avoiding infodumps. I’m writing a science fiction series with certain “rules of the universe” in which the stories take place. With this draft, I’m avoiding infodumps about this crazy place I’ve created–for now. When I rewrite, I’ll need to explain a few things as briefly as possible. How I will do that, I’m still deciding. Should I even do it at all?
Dialogue is never the best the first time around. When I rewrite, I will be hammering the dialogue to make it stronger in an attempt to give each character his or her own “voice.”
Writing about the progress of my novel, like this, is helpful. More lessons appear to me as I write and I hope to continue chronicling those lessons in this blog in an attempt to improve my writing and storytelling. Wish me luck.
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:
Rob Parnell says in Finding Your Writing Voice: “You should always write in the style that is most natural to you. It may well be different from your speaking voice but should always reflect the way your mind works. Write how you naturally write; if that’s quirky, be quirky; if it doesn’t fit the industry standard, don’t give up, you can find a way. Your writing voice is the deepest possible reflection of who you are.”