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 46 of 100, The Border of Actuality

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 Border of Actuality

Source – Elements of Fiction Writing – Plot by Ansen Dibell

Plot is the things characters do, feel, think, or say, that make a difference to what comes afterward.

If you once thought about dying your hair pink but never acted on the thought, that tells something about your psychology, but it’s not a potential story plot. If you really went ahead and did it, that not only tells about your psychology but creates repercussions, like a stone tossed in a pond. That might become the basis for a story like Fizgerald’s “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.”

Thought or emotion crosses the line into plot when it becomes action and causes reactions. Until then, attitudes, however interesting in themselves, are just potential, just cloudy possibilities. They’re static. They’re not going anywhere. Nothing comes of them.

No thought, in and of itself, is plot. No action, however dramatic, is plot if the story would have been about the same if it hadn’t happened at all. Any action, however seemingly trivial, can be vital and memorable if it has significant consequences and changes the story’s outcome.

Plotting is a way of looking at things. It’s a way of deciding what’s important and then showing it to be important through the way you construct and connect the major events of your story. It’s the way you show things mattering.

That’s a nice distinction – about when thoughts become plot. I wish more writers would take her advice and cut out the stuff that doesn’t matter. Life is too short.

Daily Writing Tip 7 of 100, Character Is Action

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 – Character Is Action

Source – “10 Tips And Tricks For Creating Memorable Characters” by Charlie Jane Anders.

This is the maxim that I’ve basically tried to live by for the past few years, and I kind of want to get it made into a banner that I can hang over my computer. Your characters can be witty and spout interesting philosophies, and have cool names and awesome fashion sense — but in the end, they are what they do.

We have all come across fiction where the characters rarely actually do anything. This can be truthful, of course, because real life is full of people that don’t do much of anything. The world splits open with knowitalls that talk and talk and don’t do squat. But that’s why we read, to escape from that dismal reality.

Fiction is all a lie, but good fiction is a beautiful lie and great fiction is a lie that transcends the real world. So get your characters, the good ones, and especially the bad ones, out there and doing stuff, all kinds of stuff, to each other and to the world around them.

We get out of bed every morning and realize that we are all helpless and mostly hopeless – everywhere except sometimes between the pages. So don’t disappoint.