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Fiction Writing Tips and Tricks


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NAKED WRITING: Humanize Your Characters

Posted by on Nov 24, 2015 in Free Stuff | 0 comments

Think about your favorite fiction characters. Those that most intrigue us have depth—not just depth of personality, that’s a given, but their entire persona is multilayered. On the surface, a woman, for example, might appear young, rich, privileged—a stereotype. Simply by giving her a less-than-beautiful demeanor, she becomes more human, more interesting, less of a cardboard cutout. Ed McBain, known best for his crime fiction, some 54 novels featuring the detectives of the 87th precinct, was a master at creating multilayered characters. In...

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NAKED WRITING: Dangle the Readers

Posted by on Nov 24, 2015 in Free Stuff | 0 comments

Imagine a mountain climber. A wet, freezing wind knocks him off the mountain, and he dies. Tragic. But back up now and imagine again: A wet, freezing wind blows through the mountains. High above, we see a lone mountain climber. The wind knocks the climber sideways. His foot slips. He dangles a thousand feet in the air, frantically trying to regain his footing. As his weary muscles cramp, darkness closes in. As a fan of mystery and suspense, I grew up enamored of Alfred Hitchcock, especially appreciating his knack for drawing us deep into a...

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NAKED WRITING: Variety of Voices

Posted by on Nov 24, 2015 in Free Stuff | 0 comments

Who but Yoda from Return of the Jedi would say, “stubborn you are”? Who but Sherlock Holmes would say, “The game’s afoot”? Distinctive characters not only come instantly alive and draw us deep into their story world, they also live on in our minds. We quote them, and sometimes refer to them as if they were real folks. As children, didn’t we love Dr. Seuss’s wacky rhyming? “I do not like them in a box. I do not like them with a fox.” Like other novelists, I develop character profiles, then I go a step further to create speech profiles....

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NAKED WRITING: What’s In The Box?

Posted by on Nov 24, 2015 in Free Stuff | 0 comments

There was a time when everyone had cigar boxes filled with odds and ends, crayons, pencils, bits of broken jewelry. It’s quite human to collect things. Sometimes we hide our collections away from prying eyes… in a closet, a drawer or under the bed. What do those things say about us? What do your characters collect? • Photographs? Where are they stored? Why? And why are they important? • How about ticket stubs or playbills. What performances has this person enjoyed enough to keep reminders? • String, paper clips, old shoes—why do they...

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NAKED WRITING: 5 Dialogue Tips

Posted by on Nov 24, 2015 in Free Stuff | 0 comments

In writing dialogue, it’s easy to get lazy and slip into our own speech patterns. But dialogue is perfect for showing how characters differ. Here are some ways to do that: 1. Use contrast. When two people will be interacting throughout the story, give them opposite personalities and attitudes. One might be deceitful, the other trusting. One serious, the other giddy. One aggressive, the other tolerant. 2. Maintain consistency in a character’s gestures and word choices. Playwright Sam Havens says he allots each character five words that no one...

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NAKED WRITING: 5 Dialogue Mistakes

Posted by on Nov 24, 2015 in Free Stuff | 0 comments

Dialogue is fun to write, but while some writers are naturals at it, others struggle. Either way, here are 5 excellent “don’ts.” 1. Don’t duplicate real conversation. “Uhmmm, well, okay, yeah. I think we can do that, uhh, by next week, if, well, if you think Friday’s…um… when you need it..” How about this instead: “Yeah, we can do that by next week, if you need it. Say … Friday?” Real conversation is not dialogue. In most cases, eave out the page clutter of “ums” and “wells.” 2. Don’t use stilted language patterns. “Please...

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NAKED WRITING: Surprise Your Reader

Posted by on Nov 16, 2015 in Free Stuff | 0 comments

Like other story elements, surprise has a structure—and all readers enjoy an occasional surprise. It adds spice to what might be a necessary but less than exciting part of the story. In The Phantom Tollbooth, a favorite children’s book, Norton Juster drops little surprises throughout. He describes Milo as a boy who’s bored with life. On page one, Milo’s walking home after a boring day at school expecting a boring afternoon of nothing to do, nowhere he’d care to go and nothing worth seeing. Then Juster writes… “He punctuated this last...

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NAKED WRITING: Step Sheets

Posted by on Nov 15, 2015 in Free Stuff | 0 comments

  The longer the book, the more pieces to keep track of. Did I reveal the heroine’s former lover in chapter 6 or 8? What color was that horse? One of the most useful tools I’ve developed for writing and editing is a simple chart that tracks my scenes. Not only does it provide an index for revisions later, it also helps me visualize the scenes yet to come. I use a table or spreadsheet with nine columns, assigning a row for each scene. Rarely do I know in advance how every scene will play out. Some writers do. Ridley Pearson (author of the...

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NAKED WRITING: Your Sagging Middle

Posted by on Nov 14, 2015 in Free Stuff | 0 comments

You reach the center point of your novel, 25 to 30 thousand words in to the expected word count, and the ideas dry up. It happens to most of us. What seemed like a full-fledged novel at the beginning feels more like an extra long short-story. You plod along as you try to think of “one more complication” to entangle your characters. How do you stretch the material you’ve imagined for another 30 thousand words? When I need to prop up a sagging middle, I revisit plot, character, and setting. But first I look at where I can raise the stakes and...

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NAKED WRITING: Reversals

Posted by on Nov 13, 2015 in Free Stuff | 0 comments

Some novelists prefer the screenwriters’ approach to writing scenes, which is slightly different from the Dramatic-Reflective—or Scene-Sequel—process we usually employ. You might want to try it. A scene is a dramatic unit of time, but for screenwriters it also must occur in the same setting. Every movie scene usually requires an adjustment of cameras and/or lighting. So a key practice of screenwriters is this: Whatever the situational attitude going into a scene, whether positive or negative, that attitude reverses at the end. Keep in mind...

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