Friday's Writing Tips

Friday, July 27, 2007
Are you doing some writing over the weekend?

After a long week of working, I always find it helpful to take a quick refresher course to make sure my novel is still on track. I asked Brenda if we could snag some tips off her website, and she graciously said yes. :-)

Hopefully this is the boost you need.



By Brenda Hill


Define Your GENRE

1) What is your story about? Each has its own set of rules: word count, number of pages, etc.

a) children's
b) horror
c) literary
d) mystery
e) romance--single-title; series
----1) historical
----2) futuristic
----3) contemporary
----4) paranormal
f) science fiction
g) suspense
h) teenage
----1) horror
----2) coming of age
i) thriller
----1) high-tech
----2) psychological
j) western
k) women's fiction

I've had questions concerning the difference in mystery and suspense genres.

A true mystery is a whodunit, a fast-paced puzzle of clues a sleuth, professional or amateur, works to solve.

In a suspense, the perpetrator may be known from the beginning. The protagonist's life is usually in danger and we follow along, getting more emotionally involved while he/she tries to stay alive.



2) Who is in your story? What do they want? What is as important to them as that next breath? List ten things for each. Avoid opening confusion with too many characters. Each character, except walk-ons, should have a goal, a strong point, as well as a fatal flaw. What mannerism; way of speaking, is unique to each one?

a) Star of the show - protagonist
b) Villain - antagonist
c) Love interest
d) Mentor: wise old woman, best friend, grandmother, grandfather, etc
e) Bit parts - the walk-on cab driver, waitress



3) What is the point of your story? One sentence: Romeo & Juliet--great love defies death. Stay Off Your Soapbox or you will lose your reader.

Number one rule on Theme, which is also the Number One Rule for everything in your writing:


If you absolutely must lecture on your theory of life, go to your bathroom, stand in front of your mirror and talk to your heart's content. Learn the fine art of subtlety for your novels.



Story strucutre is the stumbling block in most writers' adventure. Basic plot: character A wants something and character B tries to stop him. The story is presented in three parts, each important in laying out your story.

According to Aristotle, there are three sections of a story--the beginning, middle and end, or,

Act 1, Act 2 & Act 3

Each act has a specfic job to perform, and therefore, each act has different requirements. Do you know what they are?

Plotting Stepping Stones not only help you plot, but when they are used correctly, they increase the dramatic action for the reader. After all, a writer's goal is to keep the reader turning pages.

For more information, click on 'plotting help'.



5) Who is telling the story? Reader needs to identify with character.

a) First person narrative: I watched the boat skim the waves…

b) Second, not recommended: You are waiting for your husband/wife/children to come home and you’re checking the windows every three minutes…


----1) Single - one character all through book: He walked to the window, pulled back the drape and stood watching for their Camry to turn into the driveway. It was almost midnight . . .

----2) Multiple - two or more PsOV. Avoid scene HEAD-HOPPING

----3) Omniscient - all knowing, also not recommended as the reader can’t identify with character.



Scene is the building block of your story. Story consists of scene, sequel and narration, repeated over and over until the end. A scene is a single unit of action, taking place in real time. Each scene must have three essential elements.



Sequel is a time to reflect, to let loose the emotions from the devastating scene. Slam the door; go on a crying jag; wail and moan to your best friend. Or retreat behind closed doors, whatever is in the nature of the character you devised. However, a book full of moaning is tedious, so he/she must decide how to proceed. Therefore, SEQUEL, similar to SCENE, has it's own three vital steps in order to move the story forward.



The heart of your story--getting your characters talking. You do not want to sound like an English professor unless your character teaches English. Nor do you want them to be illiterate, unless you're writing another Grapes of Wrath. It all depends on your character and story.

Do not, under any circumstances, use dialogue to 'info dump' back story into dialogue.
Use contractions, the way people speak. Avoid dialect. Use tags and beats.



Style is more than the way you string words together. It's also how you present your story to the reader. Be sure to vary scene/chapter as well as sentence length.

Once you learn pacing, you'll be able to control whether the reader flies through your manuscript, not wanting to put it down, or whether the unfolding is so slow the reader feels close to a coma


She looks into the mirror. What will the other girls wear? She tugs at her skirt, wondering if it is too long.
b) PAST, more popular:
She looked into the mirror. What were the other girls wearing? She tugged at her skirt, wondering if it was too long.



10) Never bore them with lengthily description. Set that scene following the rule of 3.

Avoid confusion with the journalistic five W's--
Who, What, When, Where and How.


SHOW, don't TELL

The most repeated phrase in writing classes and how-to books is, "Show, don't tell." It's one of the most difficult techniques for a writer to master; it's also critical for reader identification. But what does it mean?

When you tell about something or someone, you're stating a fact. But does the reader FEEL anything? Chances are they won't. Therefore, to connect with the reader, you must learn the technique SHOWing in your writing.



Do not have your character emoting all over the page--it will resemble an old-fashioned melodrama. Remember, less is more.

Instead of saying your character feels sad, WRITE IT SO YOUR READER WILL CRY.

How to accomplish that? Craft. Technique, such as the M-R unit.



Suspense is not just for mysteries. Without some kind of suspense to your story, your reader will yawn, think of bedtime or all of the other chores he/she should be doing. The book goes down and your next one will sit on the bookstore shelf. You want your reader to stay up all night turning pages; you don't want to put him/her into a coma.

How to make your material engrossing? Technique, the craft of knowing how to create tension and suspense.



To outline or not to outline. Do you really need it? One writer outlines extensively using index cards and colored markers. Another simply lists chapters and their one-line content. One former instructor writes his story then, during revision, outlines using Stepping Stones. You must find what works for you.

Do you know what Stepping Stones are and when to use them? If not, check my Plotting Help section.



15) Your Jewel is your story condensed into one hundred words or less. It's great for query letters, blurbs. Make sure you hit the Stepping Stones so the agent/editor can see you know classic story structure.



A famous quote says, "Writing is rewriting." How long it takes you to produce a publishable manuscript depends on several factors:

a) correct grammar, punctuation and sentence structure
b) use of all five senses to give the reader the full experience of the fiction world
c) a cool-off period after the first draft
d) and, most important of all, an excellent proofreader. No one can write a mistake-proof manuscript, but a manuscript full of errors is a sure way to get it rejected. If you can't afford a professional, perhaps a retired school teacher would be willing to check your manuscript, or you might think about joining a writers' group. Most participants are willing, even eager to trade manuscripts for critiquing.



Brenda Hill is an Editor, Instructor, and Author. She offers editing and plotting assistance through her website:

WOW! had a chance to interview Brenda for our July Issue's 20 Questions Column. Check out the interview, it's not to miss! Brenda is a really great person and a sweetheart - anyone would be lucky to have her as an editor.


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