Monday, May 31, 2010

Creating Internal Conflict

The writer can’t just tell ... must dramaticize values, choices, attitudes via ....
  • Actions
  • Thoughts
  • Dialogue
  • Backstory
  • Exposition – explain after you have SHOWN the impact; only to show new perspective
    • May appear detached, slow the pace
    • Must punch, to elevate from surrounding story (formal, figurative) – do not break tone
  • Emotion
 Avoid character contradictions (that stretch credibility).

 Gems from Nancy Kress in Write Great Fiction.

 Write Every Day!


Friday, May 28, 2010

Portraying Emotion

Sharing more gems from Write Great Fiction.

Don't name the emotions. Make the reader feel what the character feels.
  • Action – that portrays the emotion
  • Dialogue – what a person with that feeling would say
  • Bodily sensations
  • Inner thoughts
 Write Every Day!


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Nancy Kress on Backstory

Nancy Kress in Write Great Fiction says the following about backstory:

Like a TV commercial, it lacks immediacy and interrupts the story line. What it does do:
  • Supply history
  • Forshadow
  • Characterize
  • Tantalize
    • Brief detail inserted into current scene
    • Inserted paragraph
    • Flashback
    • Expository lump
Write Every Day!


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Nancy Kress on Characters

I continue my adulation of Nancy Kress with the following gems on characters from Write Great Fiction. (Buy a copy; study it; sleep with it under your pillow.)

  •  Changers – characters who alter in significant ways as a result of the action
    • Learn or grow
    • Their evolution is the stories emotional arc (logical sequence of alterations)
  • Stayers
    • Come to grief because of their blindness
    • Locked into destructive patterns (personal/sociatal)
  • Strength of character
    • Enough variety in individual characters – Sufficiently diverse
    • Plausable
    • Interesting?
    • Have plausable scope of players?
    • Logical for setting?
  • Elements of the character
    • Name (to suggest family background, ethnicity, age, class, play against reader expectation
    • Nicknames
    • Appearance
    • Overall impression
    • Stereotypes -- to provide strong visual image – impression; imply personality, background; provoke future action – reader interest
      • Worldly, aloof
      • Gritty, dangerous
      • Appealing, unsophisticated
      • Smart, dumb
      • Thin, lank hair (nondescript personality)
      • Fat, sweaty hands (grasping person)
      • Short (napoleonic)
  • Class
    • Money
    • Education
    • Prestigious job
    • Socioeconomic group
    • Dress
    • Vacations
    • Sports
    • Pets
    • Liquor
    • Brand names – can date, stereotype, mislead
  • Make characterization count
  • Use dress to convey
    • taste
    • social status
    • personality
Write Every Day!


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What does a reader want?

Writers probably do more introspection than most any other professional. What we do for a living/avocation is marketing our immagination. We have to have a product that sells, like any other industry. You have to ask, what is it that our reader wants? Nancy Kress, in Write Great Fiction, suggests the following:

• Fast-paced exitement
• Examination of reality
• Adventure
• Characters to identify with
• Story telling
• A style of writing
• Setting

Write Every Day!


Monday, May 24, 2010

Twenty-five Rules for Good Writing

I've mentioned I love Nancy Lamb's, THE ART AND CRAFT OF STORY TELLING. Here's another reason to read/study her book, to learn more about these excelent

1. Don’t let truth get in way of a good story
2. Show, don’t tell
3. Never use 2 words if 1 will do
4. Use active voice
5. Use parallel construction
6. Keep related words together
7. Replace adjs and advs with vivid nouns and active verbs
8. Avoid qualifiers and other wimpy words
9. Avoid purple prose
10. Don’t overexplain
11. Eliminate all unnecessary uses of THAT
12. Use short paragraphs when possible
13. Write cenematically (think visually)
14. Vary your sentence structure
15. Use interesting contrasts
16. Juxtapose words/ideas to evoke humor/irony
17. Create interest by mixing ideas
18. Avoid highfalutin’ words
19. Listen to the rhythm of your prose
20. Watch for word repetition
21. Beware of “IT”
22. Write in positive form
23. Use/don’t abuse methaphors and similes
24. Write, rewrite, rewrite
25. There’s an exception to every rule

Write Every Day!


Friday, May 21, 2010

Considerations for the book opening

Picking up the pen is tough, nailing the beginning is tougher. Here are some prompts from Nancy Lamb (The Art and Craft of Storytelling—I forget who I loaned this to...but if you read this, can you consider returning :) ) that I find useful when evaluating my hook.
  • Set tone, conflict and theme
  • Appealing voice
  • State the problem
  • Reveal character
  • Posing a question
  • Hint at the conflict
  • Anchor time and space
  • Generate anticipation through mood
  • Shock
Write Every Day!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Narrative Arc

I summarize the last three posts—and my study of "beginning, middle, and end" with excellent notes from an Alan Rinzler blog on Narrative Arc. (

The “narrative arc” is a fancy way of saying that every story needs to have a beginning, middle, and end.

In a successful narrative arc, the hero or heroine is confronted with
  • Dangerous threats,
  • Seductive choices,
  • Major decisions,
  • Necessary feats of physical bravery, or
  • Emotionally powerful assaults from family or social pressure.
A good story needs to:
  • Start with a bang
  • Quickly accelerate to a level of action
  • Have moments of drama and suspense that keep rising in intensity
  • Sustain a high pitch
  • Level off
  • Gradually come down to earth in an emotionally satisfying closure and denouement
Write Every Day!


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Effective Endings

In my forteen novels, the beginning was tough—don't know if I nailed the hook on any of them—the middle coalesced by following my character. The end. Now that was tough on every single one of them. After seventy or eighty thousand words, I don't want to tell my character "Good night, Gracie." I always feel I have more story in the character. Often, I leave the reader with a hook for the sequel. Dina has turned on me and said, "That's all!" I love to disappoint when the reader wants more.

Here's notes about how one expert feels about endings.


1. Give protagonist a choice between two specific, alternative courses of action (one tough/easy)
2. Force progtagonist to choose
3. In choosing, the character must take an irrevocable action (physical action)


• Climax must satisfy the plot
• Deliver emotion
• Be logical to plot and characters

Write Every Day!


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Middle

In my last post I ranted about the importance of the beginning. On this second of three postings, I study the purpose of the middle, and how to reach your goal of fleshing out your story. I think it is rather easy to forget that every scene, paragraph, chapter, and story, needs a beginning, middle and end.

Purpose of The Middle
1. Deepen the story
2. Further character development
3. Raise the tension and conflict level
4. Enhance the sub-plots

• Analyze the stakes
• Strengthen the bonds (WIIFM)
       (What's In It For Me)
• Add another level of complication
• Add another character
• Cut the dead weight

Write Every Day!


Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Beginning

My studies today fit critically in the writing/getting an agent process. If I can't nail the beginning of a novel, chapter, or reader will not keep reading. So here are my notes for today:

Why is the beginning SOOOO important?

• Sets the tone and mood
• Avoid the circular file
• You only have 15 secs to hook the prospective reader
• Identify who the protagonist is
• Sets up the scene


• Cut the flab
• Immediate action
• Early introduction of protagonist

Six things the opening should accomplish:
1. Get the reader hooked
2. Establish a bond between reader and lead character
3. Set the scene
4. Get the conflict going
5. Describe the protagonist
6. Surprise the reader

"Start like you’re jumping on a moving train." – Alan Rinzler

Write Every Day!


Friday, May 14, 2010

Reasons a Scene May Not Work

Scenes exist for a lot of different reasons. Backstory. World building. Character building. They don't always have to contribute to the overall plot. But most should. When you edit, here are a few reasons why the scene (as written) doesn't fit in your piece.

1. The POV is muddled
2. Goal is weak
3. Goal is long-term – lacks urgency
4. Not enough at stake
5. Opposition unclear or too weak
6. Spinning wheels – nothing really happening
7. Where's the disaster?

Write Every Day!


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Five O'clock Somewhere

Cliches, all of us writers know, are evil, terrible constructions we'll go to hell for using. But I used one that gave me a chuckle. Ten-thirty in the morning, and I was thinking of that A&W rootbeer I saw in the fridge last night. The benefit of working from home, the clock is less your master. I rose to get me that cold can of refreshment. Oh, and how would it taste poured over a couple scoops a 'nilla ice cream. Hey. It's five o'clock somewhere in the world.

Write Every Day!


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Scene and Sequel

 The importance of the scene is obvious. It is the building block of your story.

But I must admit I lose the whole concept of sequel. In my humble perspective, the story falls into place without having to manipulate a reaction, explain the effect. If it isn't obvious, you're either trying to hide something from the reader, or you're failing to show the reader the way. It is all about flow. Every scene must naturally lead to the next.

One expert explains:  

  • Represent points of conflict
  • Act to set up a question and interest
  • Move the story forward
  •  Memorable scenes have
    • A goal
    • Conflict – opposition or hurdles
    • Disaster – unexpected set-back
  • Responses to conflict
  • Act to show the characters’ emotional and intellectual response and their choice of the next step
  • Represent
    • Emotion, delemma
    • Quandry – indecision
    • Decision
    • Action

Write Every Day!


Monday, May 10, 2010

Good Story Telling

The following are notes from a writers' workshop I attended. I think this is the best summary of what we writers try do do, than anything else I've ever come across. These five points are excellent reminders to have on a sticky note in front of you every time you sit down.
  • Characterization
    • Dialogue that is sharp
    • Personality that the reader can identify with
    • Senses that place the reader in the scene
  • Motivation
    • Basis for believability and empathy
  • Conflict
    • Struggle
    • Tension
    • Stress
    • Action that takes the reader scene to scene
  • Point of view
    • Place the reader in the MCs mind
    • Bring setting alive
    • Create empathy
  • Emotional inentsity
    • Create gotcha moments
    • Ahas
    • "Oh crap" events
    • Tears
    • Laughs
Write Every Day!


Friday, May 7, 2010


Balancing the level of detail that fleshes out a story is the hardest thing to do, in my opinion. Overdo it and you create purple prose. Tamper a little: literary. Depending upon the genre and scene, you keep taking out unnecessary description and backstory until you have the right balance. From my critiquing experience, I realize you can't make everyone happy. You must create your own style.

Characterization tools
  • First a brief refresher on Characterization
    • Personality traits, tics, emotions, fears—especially flaws
    • Point of view
    • Senses—touch, smell, taste, hearing, sight (thoughts)
    • Struggle
    • (Avoid stereotypes)
  • Action
  • Internal voice
  • Reflection
  • Sensory cues
  • Body language
Write Every Day!


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Archaic Grammar Rules

In my continuing studies, here is an excerpt from my most favoritist grammar and style book, Woe Is I. I love Patricia O'Conner. I snub those folks who mention these nits in their otherwise wonderful critiques, and stand fast to my staccato run-ons. I'm a radical dude.
  • Splitting an infinitive ...he decided to discreetly mention dating in the workplace.
  • Ending a sentence with a preposition
  • Plural forms of: data (datum), agenda, erotica, insignia, opera
  • Verb does not have to come after subject
  • Sentences may begin with and or but
  • While technically more correct...but stuffy...the alternative is grammatically correct
    • It is I ...It is me
    • That’s he ...That’s him
    • It’s she ...It’s her
    • I too ...Me too
Write Every Day!


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

More on Comma Rules

I've blogged about comma use before. I use the Chicago Manual of Style as my preferred grammar guide. A fellow critiquer pointed me to I excerpted the following from there. I disagree with several of the authors rules. I prefer the option, when I wish a pause for effect, where this author requires a comma.
  1. Separate a list — my husband, daughter, son, and nephew
  2. Separate two adjectives — a strong, healthy man
  3. Or an ly-adjective — lonely, young boy
  4. Separate an address — Yes, doctor, I will
  5. Separate month and year — December 5, 2010
  6. Separate city and state — Tampa, FL
  7. Separate degrees — Mac Wheeler, PhD, is a
  8. Separate interrupting passages — I am, as you see, a tall dude
  9. Separate weak introductory clauses — If not sure, drop me a note
  10. Separate introductory clauses longer than three words
  11. Separate nonessential clauses — Freddy, who has a limp, said hello
  12. Separate clauses joined with conjunctions — He did, and so did I
  13. Okay, this rule is just not needed
  14. Run-ons are caused by improperly joining to independent clauses with a comma
  15. If the subject does not appear in front of the second verb, do not use a comma (I disagree—I like the option depending on if I wish a pause for effect)
  16. Use commas with interrupting tags less than three words long — "Why," he asked, "do you care?"
  17. Separate answer from question — I can go, can't I (I disagree—depends if you want a pause.)
  18. Separate contrasting structures — It's my money, not yours (I disagree—depends if you want a pause.)
  19. Separate introductory words like well, yes, now
  20. Surround interrupting words like therefore and however
  21. Separate introductory words like namely, that is, i.e., for example, e.g.
The shorter summary I listed earlier from CMO is much easier to use. I'm just saying.

Write Every Day!


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Eliminating the Unnecessary that

...include it when:
  1. A time element comes after verb ...he said on Friday that...
  2. Point of sentence comes late ...found that the violin
  3. One or more verbs after main verb ...he thinks that the idea stinks
Read your narrative with and without the that. If it makes sense without...go with that.

Write Every Day!


Monday, May 3, 2010


Today I multitask. First, I'm looking for feedback. I have a compulsion to teach in my critiques. Is it at all the critiquers responsibility/right to teach? Or, is it the critiquer's duty to simply point out how the piece felt?

I've been writing "CPU" on my critiques a lot lately…and explain: "concise—precise—uncluttered." I get the following from my studies:

  • Use words that come naturally to you
  • Direct and simple
  • Avoid stereotypes and cliches
  • Precise – reduce confusion, get the reader to the point quickly
  • Concise – illiminate unecessary description, comparison, exposition that doesn’t add value
  • Uncluttered
    • Manage the storyline
    • Use description that facilitates the scene and mood
    • Don't interrupt the flow of your prose with unnecessary detail
  • Pay attention to word choice
    • Synonyms – use the richness of the language
    • Figurative language – to create imagry
    • Metaphors – liven up exposition
    • Similes – to create imagry
    • Irony – leverage incongruity
Write Every day!