Daily Writing Tip 68 of 100, How Setting Acts As Your Story Backbone

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – How Setting Acts As Your Story Backbone

Source – Setting, How To Create and Sustain A Sharp Sense of Time and Place in Your Fiction by Jack M. Bickham

A common problem in writing a long story, especially something as lengthy as a novel, has to do with story unity or cohesion. “I have six subplots going, and how do I keep a sense of unity in my story was so many?” A writer may ask. Or: “I simply must change viewpoint several times, but what can I do to maintain a sense of coherent, cohesive story line?” Or (scariest of all): “My story seems to be flying all to pieces and I don’t know how to hold all the diverse elements together.”

Expert use of setting can often provide an answer to such questions.

Setting – especially the concrete, physical setting experienced through the senses of the characters or described in an occasional panorama by the author – can provide a constant, stable, reassuringly familiar backdrop against which all manners of diverse plot developments can be played out.

There are so many works of fiction that seem to be completely integrated with their setting (Moby Dick, The Shipping News, Heart of Darkness, anything set in London or New York)- that their setting actually becomes another main character – often the most interesting one.

Daily Writing Tip 67 of 100, Speech in Narration

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Speech in Narration

Source – Dialogue How to get your characters talking to each other in a way that vividly reveals who they are, what they’re doing, and what’s coming next in your story by Lewis Turco

“A tag line is a couple of words or a phrase that tells you who is speaking. The simplest and least obtrusive tag lines are ‘he said’ and ‘she said’ or minor variations like ‘he replied’ or ‘he asked’ as in this conversation between a man named Horace and a woman named Gail”:

“Hello,” he said, “my name’s Horace. What’s yours?” he asked.

“Hi,” she replied, turning in her chair to look at him. “I’m Gail Adams.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Horace said. “I’ve been watching you for about an hour.”

Fred looks thoughtful. “That’s kind of blah it seems to me. Can’t you just set up a bit?”

“Sure,” The Author replies, “but it’s best to keep things simple. Using adjectives, adverbs, and fancy verbs to describe tone of voice or show what’s going on just gets in the way of the action and characterization. This is what can happen”:

“Hello,” he croaked nervously. “My name’s Horace. What’s yours?” he asked with as much aplomb as he could muster.

“Hi,” she squeaked uncertainly, turning in her chair to look at him. “I’m Gail Adams,” she said, blushingly.

“Pleased to meet you,” Horace declared, “I’ve been watching you for about an hour,” he offered with a quaver in his voice.

Author Intrusion

Fred nods. “I see what you mean. The dialogue looks sort of amateurish, too – stilted and forced. What’s the reason for that?”

“It’s called ‘author intrusion.’ The wish of a modern author generally is to create the illusion of reality, to make the reader forget he or she is reading a story rather than a living it. Therefore, an author tries to hide himself, to make the story seem as natural as possible. Adjectives and other sorts of descriptions tend to remind the reader that somebody’s controlling his or her interest.”

It is hard when writing to simply say “he said” or “Nancy said” over and over. Harder still to go over a section of dialog and remove all tag lines that aren’t absolutely necessary (if there is any way the reader can figure out which character is talking through context – take out the tag line) and reducing all the others to ‘she said.’

It looks terribly plain and boring.

But then, pay attention to yourself when you are reading. All the “he said” and “she said” – simple tag lines – completely disappear from your consciousness. They don’t even register – no matter how repetitive and boring they appear to the author that has to type them in over and over.

There are other ways to make dialogue interesting (read the rest of the book).

So, keep those tag lines simple and remove them if they aren’t necessary.

And for God’s sake – get rid of any word ending in “ly.”

Daily Writing Tip 66 of 100, Exploring a Story’s Meaning And Purpose

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Exploring a Story’s Meaning And Purpose

Source – Developing Story Ideas by Michael Rabiger

Structural and effectiveness analyses only begin to uncover a story’s meaning. These further questions will help you decide how a story acts—or might act—on its audience:

  • What genre is this story and under what rules does its world usually run?
  • What patterns can you see that might be significant to the story’s meaning?
  • Who is the point of view (POV) character (meaning, through whose feelings and viewpoint do we mainly experience the events)?
  • What forces does the story make this character (or these characters) confront, and why?
  • What are the qualities of the main characters and what can we expect of them at the outset?
  • Does anyone in the story develop (that is, learn, change, or grow)?
  • When you compare the story’s end with its beginning, what major changes have taken place and what do they signify?
  • Does the story stay within its genre or does it break out of that genre in any way?
  • Taking the story as a whole, How does it want to act on us?
  • What does it say about the individual in relation to the way the world works? (This is often expressed as “the individual in relation to the laws of the universe”).
  • What is the story’s premise (that is, what is its content and purpose expressed in one or two pithy sentences)?
  • What is its theme? (That is, what embracing truth does it seek to establish? Examples: “Crime doesn’t pay” or “Women don’t make passes at boys wearing glasses.”)

There are these and so many other questions that need to be asked and answered in the story crafting process. I think it is very important to not ask these questions until the first draft is finished. Otherwise, at worst you will be intimidated into never writing the damn thing – at best spontaneous creativity will be suppressed.

Remember – writing isn’t writing, editing is writing. Save all this boring crap for the second through tenth drafts.

Daily Writing Tip 65 of 100, Subtlety and Misdirection

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Subtlety and Misdirection

Source – Conflict Action & Suspense by William Noble

A car engine breaks the stillness of the night… The smell of seaweed intrudes on an afternoon chess game… And unopened letter slips behind couch cushions….

These are what we might call “plot-hypers”, in that they add an element of uncertainty and tension. They create a rise of anxiety by injecting an unexplained event or circumstance. What makes plot-hypers especially useful is the relative ease with which they can be used and the impact they can have on the story.

Unexpected elements in fiction – we need to remember to sprinkle them, but with discretion. I’ve always said a story can have one extremely unlikely coincidence (they do happen, and without this coincidence you wouldn’t have a story) – but only one. Two extremely unlikely coincidences strain credulity past the breaking point.

You can have a character randomly run into one character from their past (“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine”) but that’s it… no more. If you don’t believe in the story, there is no uncertainty and tension – it’s just letters on the page.

Daily Writing Tip 64 of 100, The Unreliable Narrator and Character Voice

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – The Unreliable Narrator and Character Voice

Source – Voice & Style by Johnny Payne

For a fiction writer, the advantage of implementing an unreliable narrator is to keep the reader off-balance in strategic ways, so that character motives can be entered into more deeply and more unexpectedly. Too much sympathy can preclude a thorough inspection of human perversity.

I have always loved fiction with an unreliable narrator. There is the mystery, the surprise… and, of course, the feeling that the narrator and I have something in common.