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.

Daily Writing Tip 63 of 100, Don’t Make Excuses

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 – Don’t Make Excuses

Source – The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack Bickham

If you are serious about the craft of fiction, you must never make excuses for yourself. You simply cannot allow yourself to:

  • Say you’re too tired.
  • Postpone work until “later.”
  • Fail to work because you’re too busy right now.
  • Wait for inspiration
  • Plan to get right at it “tomorrow.”
  • Give up because (editors) (agents) (readers) (critics) are unfair. (Fill in as many as you want.)
  • Tell yourself you’re too old (or too young) to start.
  • Blame others in your family for your lack of free time.
  • Say your job is too demanding to allow you any other activity.
  • Tell yourself that your story idea isn’t good enough.

Or any of a host of other excuses you may dream up for yourself.

No. Let’s get this straight right away: Writers write; everyone else makes excuses.

Jeebus… I think I’ve used all of these excuses in a single day.

Daily Writing Tip 62 of 100, Conflict: Coming Soon To a Scene Near You

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 – Conflict: Coming Soon To a Scene Near You

Source Beginnings, Middles & Ends, by Nancy Kress

The point to remember about conflict is that it arises because something is not going as expected. Your readers should suspect that as early as your first few paragraphs.

Calling for conflict in the opening few paragraphs of a story doesn’t mean that your first sentence must feature a body hurtling past a sixth-story window (although it might).

Yeah… that’s the ticket. A body hurtling past a window. Better get writing.

Daily Writing Tip 61 of 100, Final Words On Creating Realistic Characters

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 – Final Words On Creating Realistic Characters

Source – Mastering Point of View by Sherry Szeman

Liking your characters, allowing them to live their own lives, endowing them with good and bad characteristics, the skillful use of unreliable narrators – these are all valuable tools for creating realistic characters in any point of view. Observing human nature and becoming conscious of the techniques other skillful writers use will also help you develop your own characters, especially if you become aware of the techniques authors use in different points of view.

Tip

If your readers talk about your characters as if they were real people, e.g., Asking things like, why on earth that doesn’t Bill leave Marion? Then that’s an indication that you’ve created realistic, round characters who have psychological depth and complexity.

Yes… I think it’s very important that you like your characters. If you don’t like them it’s very hard to make them round, full, and complete.

But just because you like your characters… especially because you like them – it doesn’t mean you should be afraid to kill them. Go ahead, kill the hell out of them… kill them in some particularly horrific way.

Have some fun.

Daily Writing Tip 60 of 100, The First Draft As Generation

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 First Draft As Generation

Source – The Passionate, Accurate Story by Carol Bly

Some writing classes start, using pure critiquing – a mixed bag at best – helping one another organize even before the author has discovered the true heart of the story. In the first draft, the author should still be brooding, maundering around the material – treating it like a hypothetical first draft. It is a great mistake at that point to start applying writing skills or anything like.

Again and again and again I come across the same advice for writing first drafts. The advice is to turn off the inner editor and freely write whatever comes to mind. Only then, later, through the process of editing, this is shaped into something useful.

It’s really hard to do. Our entire lives we have had editors hovering over us critiquing what we do, critiquing what we think, critiquing… Everything.

These voices are always there – welling up from our subconscious – harping on us. Getting them to shut up is almost impossible… like nailing jello to a tree.

Daily Writing Tip 59 of 100, Beginning the Story Before the Beginning

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 – Beginning the Story Before the Beginning

Source – How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N Frey

Where, then, do you start your narrative of consequential events involving worthy human characters? Usually, you begin just before the beginning.

This is not as contradictory as it sounds. If you look at a man’s life in its entirety, there will be high spots and low spots, good times and bad. You will select from that life one particular story to tell, say the time your subject got fired from Bromberg & Bromberg and went into business for himself. You choose this story to tell because it is, in your opinion, potentially the most dramatic, exciting, and fresh.

Where exactly would you begin to relate your narrative of events? The best place would probably be just before the firing. The firing itself marks the beginning of the story. But we can’t understand the impact of the firing unless we understand what the character’s situation was before he was fired. Is the firing a good thing or a bad thing for him? If it’s a horrible job and the character should leave it, the firing is a relief. If he needs the job desperately and the firing represents impending ruin, you have a totally different situation. Events can only be understood within the context of the character’s situation at the time the event occurs; therefore it’s important to the reader to know the status quo situation, which is the state of things at a particular time.

Despite the title of the book this is particularly good advice for Short Story Writers and it is stated in a particularly good way, “Begin right before the beginning.”

No backstory, no flashback, no prologue, no nuttin’ – find the upsetting incident and go back a few beats and start typing.

Easy peasy.

Daily Writing Tip 58 of 100, The Distrust of Technique

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 Distrust of Technique

Source – The Writing of Fiction by Edith Wharton

The distrust of technique and the fear of being unoriginal-both symptoms of a certain lack of creative abundance-are in truth leading to pure anarchy in fiction, and one is almost tempted to say that in certain schools formlessness is now regarded as the first condition of form.

I’m not sure if I think “pure anarchy” is the biggest problem in fiction right now (unless you consider teenaged vampires and the like “pure anarchy”) but the advice is good, nevertheless.

What I think she is saying is that originality for its own sake is never a good idea and that some sort of form is necessary if you want to connect with the reader.

On the other hand, if you have come up with your own unique form – and you have thought it out and have an idea, a point, and a clue…. Then go for it.

Daily Writing Tip 57 of 100, Obsessions

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 – Obsessions

Source – Writing Down the Bones – Freeing the Writer within by Natalie Goldberg

Every once in a while I make a list of my obsessions. Some obsessions change and there are always more. Some are thankfully forgotten.

Writers end up writing about their obsessions. Things that haunt them; things that they can’t forget; stories they carry in their bodies waiting to be released.

Making a list of my obsessions… that actually sounds like a pretty good idea. It will have to be kept private though. I don’t want anyone to think… I don’t want anyone to know how crazy I am.

You do write about your obsessions and you are afraid that you’re the only one with those obsessions. That never happens, though. It turns out there are not as many obsessions out there as you think they are. They are common and often banal.