Category Archives: Reviews

What is the toughest job the fiction writer has? Emotion.

Getting an emotion reaction from her readers.

A good story has several key elements–all of them are challenging:

  • Character. You need to create characters your reader will relate to and care about.
  • Plot. Your protagonist has to want or need something. And if you are good, you provide a steady diet of hurdles, surprises and interesting situations along the way.
  • Setting. The story must take place in a specific time and place, the more vivid and interesing the better.
  • And emotion.

MY focus here is on emotion.

How do you get your reader to feel your story, be emotionally affected by what’s happening on the page?

By showing how your character is feeling. How she reacts to what’s happening in the story.

If you are constructing your story well, you’ll have: a good plot–a goal for your character to achieve and conflict, things in the way of attaining that goal–and a character the reader can relate to and care about, in a setting that seems real to your reader. But for your story to be moving, your job is also to portray what your characters (major and minor) are feeling.

If you do that, your reader will sympathize and feel those emotions himself

Emotions move us. Readers want to experience emotion while reading. Make them feel, and they will love your story.

But portraying those emotions is not easy.

It’s way too tempting to take the easy, lazy route and just tell,  just name the emotion.  “He got really mad.” Instead of: “His face was a raging fire out of control, and he clenched his fists so fiercely his knuckles looked like they would break.”

One of the finest resources in print that you should have readily available is The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. It is a well indexed listing of human emotions with  accompanying words and phrases to describe them. To me it’s indispensable. In the introduction, the authors describe the keys ways to portray emotion. Here is a brief summary:

1. Outward physical signs. You describe what  you would see in another person that would tell you what they are feeling. “Her face looked as if it has lost the last drop of blood.”

2.  Mental responses.  You describe what a character is thinking about what is going on.

3.  Mainly-internal Physical Sensations (Visceral responses). These are basically involuntary, raw and uncontrolled reponses–like: heavy breathing, a rapid hear rate, dizziness, and so on.

A balance is always advisable.

The authors also point out that you can err in two ways. Having too much emotion in a scene or having too little. And overusing visceral reponses can make your writing melodramatic.

I highly recommend this book. I have reviewed it here before, but my re-reading the intro today prompted me to share it again.

Another book.

…is The Definitive Book of Body Language  by Allan and Barbara Pease. This book is primarily aimed at business people or anyone who wants to learn to read other peoples’ body language more accurately. I wish the writers would have provided an index in the back of the book of all the types of messages that can be sent, which would have made it more useful. But the table of contents does arrange and categorize the content by means of the  different areas of the body that send the signals. 

So, to make this book useful to you, it’s a good idea to at least scan it to familiarize yourself as to what’s where.

Do you have any practical advice on portraying character emotion in words? If so, please share.

P.S. I want to mention once again K. M. Weiland’s excellent and helpful book , just published, Structuring Your Novel. It’s the clearest and most useful description of story structure I have found. You want a good plot/structure? This book can help a lot. And her section on scene structure and options is super-helpful too!

 

K. M. Weiland’s just-out book on Novel Structure is not to be missed

Katie's new bookDo you struggle with structure when writing a novel? Do you find the subject confusing at times. If so, here’s a book that can help.

I have read the first two chapters and have spot read here and there throughout the rest.  Enough that I can confidently highly recommend this book to all novelists, beginning or otherwise.

K.M. writes with a reader-friendly clarity and a lovely prose that is a joy to read, and there are significant insights on every page.

I have read awesome books on structure.

For example, John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story, with its 22 steps and abundant detail–like reading an epic–and Larry Brook’s  Story Structure–Demystified and his Story Engineering. These books are on my shelf or in my Kindle.  Both are brilliant and complex. But Weiland’s book adds a lot of important points and perspectives.

Plus, Ms. Weiland has a gift for making the complex readily-understood.

Her book has come along at the time that I am preparing for a thorough rewrite of my novel, so just in time. My reading of her introduction and first two chapters have excited me about how much her book will contribute to my writing success.

Throughout this book she uses two novels and two movies as examples to further clarify the content of each chapter.

Those are: Pride and Prejudice, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and the films: It’s a Wonderfuol Life and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. This is important because these well-known and fleshed-out examples help to further make plain and practical the content of each chapter.

The first half of the book (a bit over half) addresses structure, and covers each key point thoroughly, including the all-important First Plot Point, each major section, and also Pinch Points (in which the antagonist, person or force, gets center-state-emphasis in a well built novel).

The second half of the book deals with scene structure (scene and sequel) and at the end even some on sentence structure.  Both contain helpful  wisdom from a practicing novelist. I especially am glad Weiland deals with sequel because I consider it a tricky element of scene work. Contemporary novels and stories, as I have read them, do not devote a lot of space to sequels, wherein the protagonist ponders his next move.

So to all you novelists, published or not, and first timers: I highly recommend this book.

P.S. You can download the introduction and first two chapters from Amazon to your Kindle here: http://www.amazon.com/Structuring-Your-Novel-Outstanding-ebook/dp/B00EJX08QA/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1378071848&sr=1-1&keywords=structuring+your+novel

You can also read a summary of her main novel structure points here at the Write to Done blog: http://writetodone.com/2013/08/29/outline-secret-creating-story-structure/

 

What do you do with all the Information?

Writing is all about information, getting it, understanding it, communicating it to others.

How do you get your information? And how to you record it so that you can find it later?

My own scenario often goes like this: I come across a juicy piece of info I want to keep, remember  and find later. My favorite mode is eclectic, gathering it from wherever. But when saving it, I  often take the easy route: I put it in a Word file and save in in a folder on my hard-drive.  I have a large hard-drive, so If I don’t name the file and/or folder in a findable way, it can be like figuring my way through a maze later to re-locate it.

That can really knock me out of my writing zone—especially if I can’t find that info after looking for it for a while.

Back to you.

You’re coming across information all the time, some of it you want or even need. What do you do with it? Can you find it next week, two months from now, a year?

Even though I often yield to the temptation to just chuck it into a file and save it, I do like to organize it. So what are the options? And what’s good about each?

Here are my thoughts–along with the pros and cons for each:

1.  Save it in a file

Pro: This makes the info available and easy to clipboard and manipulate here and there when writing, or otherwise. It’s usually nicely readable too.

Con: But, as I mentioned above, can I find it quickly and easily later? Sometimes, too, it’s all-too-easy to delete it when that’s the last thing I want to do.

2.  3 x 5” cards (or a notepad)

Pro: No batteries. Easy to carry, quick and easy to use. Later, cards can be shuffled easily into different arrangements to choose the best order for writing. And they can be physically filed. In fact, they are electronically undelete-able.

Con: If you like things in your computer so that you can work with them there, you have to type the cards into files. Also, you can misplace or lose them. And, if you’re in a hurry and/or your handwriting is poor (like mine), they can be hard to read after the fact.

3.  Use a “notes” program, like Evernote or Microsoft’s OneNote or similar.

Pro: These programs have indexing and notetab features that make your info pieces much more findable.

Con: It can be either hard to take them with you or at times, when you can, you do not have them with you.

4.  Your smart phone.

Pro: Easy to carry, and you usually have it with you. Your notes are downloadable.

Con: Unless you’re a texting whiz (I’m certainly not), recording your inspirations can be slow going.

5.  TheBrain–now this is different…

.Pro: It not only can help you organize your thoughts in an organic-outlining fashion, it’s one of the easiest to learn and use brainstorming programs I’ve found.  You can record your ideas, then copy them and next output them via your clipboard into Word, for example, where they wind up in a neat outline format, then further develop them–if you want.

Another key feature is that ability to attach files from your computer and links from the Web–to any thought (a “thought” is an individual  idea written onto TheBrain screen). This creates a little icon at the left end of the thought. Then merely clicking on the thought’s icon opens the file or webpage in its own window.

A couple cons: (1) the notes feature is a bit awkward to use (but works), and you can open any note in its own window. (2) And, to keep attaching files after the 30-day pro-version trial period, you have to buy the pro-version (there are several options for this), which is rather expensive.

But here’s some key  info:

If you use DropBox to store you most-used files, you can go online to your DropBox account and drag and drop files/folders (their URLs) onto a thought on TheBrain screen. They are then clickable just like a weblink. (You can continue attaching weblinks even on the free version, which you get to keep).

I love my “TheBrain.” I get to keep the free version, which is quite powerful, forever.  I downloaded one to my laptop too.  I use it for brainstorming scenes, recording webinar notes on the fly, and noting down my ideas and developing them.  ALSO, it’s become an updated index to my hard drive, at least for the files I use most often.

I’ll leave the many other features (including in the free version) for you to discover if you download it. What the heck–it’s free! And it’s handy software to have. (You can get it free at www.thebrain.com.)

So those are some of my ideas on organizing information.

Do you have any ideas to can add?

 

 

Do you copy your favorite authors?

Do you mimic passages from your favorite authors?  Here’s a link to a Write To Done post I heartily agree with and that advocates doing just that.

http://writetodone.com/2013/05…..g-authors/

I think some of us worry too much about originality and a unique voice.Your own recognizable and mature voice comes from a lot of writing–miles of digital paper. That and only that. Write enough and your own unique voice is inevitable.

Meanwhile, learning some stylistic ways and means from your favorite authors and copying the ones you particularly like can provide you with a few potentially-quantum boosts on the learning trail.

It will not– repeat: will not–damage your originality, even if you slavishly copy another’s words, word for word for a time. Even then, with time, your own personalilty will have its way. You’ll wind up writing like you.

It’s a good article, Check it out.

 

Do you write by the rules?

A review of the “Simple Writing, Straight Talk for Smart Writers” blog.  http://simplewriting.org/

Do you want good advice?

Do you feel you need good advice about writing? Would you welcome a skilled editor’s help now and then.  I know I would.

I appreciate the fact that there are available right now excellent books and blogs on writing well. When I started writing years back, there weren’t that many really good books on the subject to be had.

First, I forget most of the rules.

Often I do not write by the rules. That is in my first draft, when I dash it off rather intuitively, when I don’t want to be inhibited by worrying about getting it just right. Not at first. But when it comes to good writing advice, I always welcome it.

Revising is another story.

To me, I need those “rules”–call them guidelines–when I am editing my writing. I can’t go out every other month and hire a pro editor to read my writing and offer advice. So for the most part, I need to know what to look for in my writing that stands in need of careful revision or downright re-writing. Nevertheless, I am in favor of hiring a good editor to checkout any serious writing for publication.

Back to the blog: the Simple Writing blog offers sound and sensible tips and techniques that make for good writing. It is primarily focused on nonfiction writing, although much of the content certainly applies to fiction writing too. I find its balanced and knowledgeable approach practical and pleasing. We all need to know to write well, of course, in whatever niche we target, including nonfiction.

Why bother with another blog on writing?

I have been writing for a while, and if you are reading this blog, you probably have been too. So why bother with a blog that calls itself “Simple Writing”? I can‘t speak for you, but I find that when I am tempted to think I don’t need more writing advice, that’s when I seem to get into the most trouble. Like when I have reached the point with a writing project where I can’t figure out how to improve it more. Hence, I like to read sensible and reliable sources that reinforce essential points re good writing in my memory.

Need to improve your blog writing?

The Simple Writing blog is a fine one for improving your own blog writing too, which is essential to developing a platform, which in turn is essential  to getting published or self-publishing successfully these days.

Here are some of the recent post titles:

  • “25 editing tips for your writer’s toolbox”
  •  “41 Hot Blogs Every New Blogger Should Know”
  •  “Personification: good for writing not weather”
  •  “The only way to get over fear”
  •  “3 great ways to get those creative juices flowing”

About the blog’s author…

The author is Leah McClellan is  a writer and copyeditor who’s mission is to help other writers develop their craft. She offers a free 6-week mini writing course: “The Fast Track to Polished Prose.” I checked it out, and it looks good. In brief, she knows her stuff.

Her course  will be a good refresher for me and could be for several of you, my readers, too. Wink

Highly recommended.

What advice would you offer to a writer young in her craft?

Fiction Writers: Check out this not-to-be-missed Blog

Fiction Writing is a vast realm.  I’ve likened it to a PhD or two, maybe three.  I find, in fact, that I need to review several knowledge/skill areas frequently as I’m planning or writing a story or novel–just so that I don’t forget some aspect I need to include in  my work.

K. M. Weiland’s Wordplay blog should be read by all fiction writers. Truly, a not to be missed blog.

Ms. Weiland helps me stay fresh and sharp with my fiction writing skills.  Her posts are brief and meaty and quite often consist of a video clip accompanied by a transcript.  So if you prefer to read, you can read. If you prefer to watch the video, you can do that.  I like to do both–helps me remember her points better.

For signing up to follow her blog, you can download an excellent and free book that summarizes key characterization know-how.  I have the link to it on my desktop so that I can open it and refer to it quickly when I sense the need.

The author has published novels and short-stories to her credit. If you’d like to check out her work, she has a page at Amazon.com.  My favorites are her novel Behold the Dawn and her short-story “The Memory Lights.”  Powerful stories. Downloadable to Kindle. Her novels are also available in paperback.

I also keep handy her book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, which covers the range of fiction technique well from an outlining standpoint.

For two years in a row, her blog has been among the top ten blogs for writers at Write to Done.

Weiland’s knowledge of fiction-writing art, skills and techniques is thorough and well-worth reading. I save every one of her posts to my hard-drive.

Highly recommended.

Here’s one of the Best Books on Novel Writing and Structure

A review of Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. ISBN 1582979987

This book brings a clarity to the fiction writing process I have not found before. I have read a lot of excellent how-to-write-fiction books, at least over 30 and took thorough notes from most of them. I have also completed two lengthy  courses on fiction writing. Yet I found this text super-helpful.

The “Six Core Competencies” of story writing
That’s what Brooks calls the major topics of his book.  They are:

  • Concept
  • Character
  • Theme
  • Story Structure
  • Scene Execution and
  • Writing Voice

And he covers them all–and more–in only 278 pages. Good news, since most of us writers are already up to our eyebrows in reading material. Yet he does a thorough job of explaining his points.  Plenty clear enough to put them to work in your planning and writing right away.

This isn’t the only book you should read to perfect your fiction-writing skills, but it is really a good place to start!

Clear Guidelines are essential
All of us who write fiction, whether we are beginners or pros, whether we are striving to write the great American novel or just to get published, can benefit form insightful, well-written guidelines on how to go about it.  I, for one, need constant reminders of the many aspects of story-writing I want to keep in mind.  This book provides those guidelines.

A good story idea is not enough
I also need a game plan, a well-thought-out procedure for building that idea into the novel it can become.  I need to consider topics this book covers as I plan and organize my ideas.  Not formulas, but the big picture and what needs to go where and why. Formulas can be rigid. But the principles the author includes are flexible, and rather than inhibiting creativity, they encourage it.

Brooks provides this key information in detail with clear explanations, illustrations from contemporary novels, as well as rather amazing and entertaining analogies.

My favorite portions
The chapters on story structure and theme are among my favorites (although you couldn’t pry any part of the book away from me).

Get published sooner?
Would you like to publish a novel? Would you like to do that in a few years rather than ten or twenty? I cannot guarantee you’ll be published, of course. But assuming you have that potential, I think this book can hasten your victory.

P. S. If you haven’t visited Larry’s blog http://storyfix.com/ I recommend you check it out. I’ve read quite a lot of his posts, and each time I came away with something new or something that needed reminding.

Related posts:

http://www.dailywritingtips.com/how-to-structure-a-story-the-eight-point-arc/

http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/write-first-chapter-get-started/4-story-structures-that-dominate-novels

http://storyfix.com/a-guest-post-about-story-structure

http://storyfix.com/how-to-learn-story-structure-in-two-minutes-or-less

http://storyfix.com/another-1-5-minute-workshop-on-the-six-core-competencies

The Best Book on Revising Fiction-Period

Courtesy Cohdra @morguefile.com

Best-selling author James Scott Bell has written a gem of a book with his Write Great Fiction: Revision & Self-Editing, Techniques for transforming your first draft into a finished novel. In fact, it’s like a one-volume manual for fiction writing.

A Comprehensive Overview with a lot of Details
From the introduction: “Beginning writers will therefore find this an essential overview of the craft of novel-length fiction.” But Bell is also careful to admit that entire books have been written on the subjects he covered. So this is not an exhaustive treatment of the know-how necessary to write a competent novel. You should read other books too. Nevertheless, Bell does an admirable job of packing this book with key advice, over and over again.

Some books meander all over the grid before getting specific about what to look at, what to do, and how to do it. So what’s good about this book? In a word, everything! It’s readable and quickly zeros-in on the many targeted techniques. And its instruction is well-organized, systematic, and easy to follow. In fact, it’s like a training manual for novelists.

Still impressed
I’m re-reading it. When I first read it a year and a half ago, I was impressed with its rich content and sound advice.

Good value for your money, and then some…
The introduction “On Becoming a Writer” and the “The Ultimate Revision checklist” near the end of the book are easily worth the price of the book alone. But there is a wealth of information on the pages between–detailed by a writer who has been in the trenches, fighting hard for years to win the wisdom he shares.

It’s divided into two main parts.
Part One: Self- Editing goes over the major aspects of fiction writing, like characters, plot & structure, point of view, scenes, dialogue, show vs. tell, and so on. Each chapter is a jewel that covers key techniques for the novelist and all or certainly nearly all the essential need-to-know points. Most chapters have helpful exercises at the end, and some have more than one exercise.

Part Two: Revision prepares you the reader for tackling serious revision after that first draft has cooled off sufficiently. Topics include: “A Philosophy of Revision,” “Before Your Revise” and “The First Read-through.” Then comes one of the most useful sections of this book…

“The Ultimate Revision Checklist”
This brilliant 38-page  section is really, to me, the heart of the book. It contains spot-on and penetrating questions the novelist can profitably ask herself as she prepares for and goes about re-writing. These questions are grouped, each in its own section with titles like Character, Plot, The Opening, Middles, Endings, Voice, Style & Point of View, Setting, Dialogue Theme, The Polish.

A Few of the extras…
Throughout there are pithy quotes from well-known, successful, published authors that underscore the many points. Bell even included answers to the exercise at the end of several of the chapters.

It’s a Tough Job but…
Revising the first, or second, or third draft can be tough. The key is to identify those things that need fixing, ways to make your novel better. Bell provides not only a workable plan but also the tools to do just that.

From page 215: “The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.”  –Robert Cormier.

Highly recommended.

Other helpful books on revising fiction:
1. Immediate Fiction, A Complete Writing Course by Jerry Cleaver.
2. The Elements of Fiction Writing: Revision, How to find and fix what isn’t working in your story and strengthen what is to build compelling, successful fiction by Kit Reed (available used).
3. The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them) by Jack M. Bickham
4. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, How to edit yourself into print by Renni Browne and Dave King.

The Best Book on Revision, Period

Courtesy http://www.sxc.hu

If you’re up early to get that post fixed so that it’s ready to publish, but you can’t seem to get the wording quite right.  Here’s a book that can help:

Getting the Words Right: How to Revise, Edit & Rewrite by Theodore A. Rees Cheney.

There are a number books on writing well  that include the topic of revision among others that I find helpful.  Several of them focus on fiction-writing.

Why then this book? Because Cheney gets down into the word-for-word, phrase-by-phrase, sentence-after-sentence trenches.  His focus is not on fiction-writing techniques  but on all writing and, as his title implies, on “getting the words right.”

Here are a few choice quotes:

“Diction lies at the heart of style.”

“A process central to writing—careful thought”

“Are the words together that belong together?”

The book lives up to its title. Plus, I think Cheney included just about every revision and rewriting technique in existence for improving my writing. So it’s very useful to me for recalling all the things I can do when editing. and also for reminding me of some  techniques I can profitably use more often.

I can thumb my way through my thoroughly-underlined and highlighted copy of this book and more often than not discover what is wrong with that piece I’m working on.

Theodore Cheney was an interesting guy.

At 17 he traveled to the Antarctic with Admiral Byrd, the pioneering American aviator and polar explorer,  and later returned on excursions of his own to polar regions. He earned degrees in geology and geography. He published books and earned an MA in communication. He held a position as a senior scientist at a “think tank.” And he conducted writer workshops and was the director of the Writing Concentration Program at Fairfield University.

This book has come out in a newer edition: Getting the Words Right: 39 Ways to Improve your Writing. I prefer the older version, previous title above.  Both are available at online bookstores.

Mr. Cheney also wrote Creative Non-fiction Writing that details how a writer can use fiction devices to add drama and vividness to her non-fiction work.

Highly recommended

What books on writing have you found helpful, including those that cover revision? Please feel free to comment and share.