Friday, September 30, 2011

Pacing Reviews

Something I’ve recently learned about when looking into the craft and techniques good writers use is that you can control the pace and mood of the reader as they go through your story by alternating lengths of sentences and paragraphs. As I just discovered the new technique, I don’t think it smart for me to try and explain it to you in a helpful way. However, I believe this to be an important technique to learn so I am going to give you links to other people who do understand this technique and can explain it to you better than I can.

K. M. Weiland’s video blog on pacing based off of chapters definitely gives me something to think about when revising my stories. For those of you who prefer reading to listening, the UTube video is also transcribed below the video box.

She wrote an excellent blog post about 5 ways to pace a story that I recommend every writer trying to capture the attention of others read. Those are some great ways to vary pacing and thoughts to remember as you edit.

Aimed more at those who want to create suspense, Heidi M. Thomas does a great job of explaining how to speed up a book. However, she gets into the basics of pacing and those of you that want to slow your story down can merely reverse her ideas

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Watch How You Tell Things

One of the hardest things to do as a writer is to balance the action with description. When I write a story, I tend to write down all the description at once. I remember reading the Babysitter’s Club books years ago and getting annoyed after the first few books because the writer always did the same thing. Whenever the Club had their first meeting in the book, the writer always spent a whole chapter describing every person at the meeting. The idea was that if the reader hadn’t read ever book in the series until that book, it wasn’t hard to meet the characters. To those that had read most or every book in the series, it was plain annoying. I quickly got in the habit of reading the first page or so of conversation and flipping through the chapter to the rest of the conversation, effectively skipping all the family and personal data of the characters I already knew. Now that I’m reading books for older people, I’m noticing a much more effective way of describing people and their backgrounds, which is in little pieces. It’s expected that when a character is introduced the writer will give a description and maybe an biographical paragraph if the point of view character knows the information. Saying the guy is tall, brown haired, and has a gorgeous smile but the character knows he’s hiding a black heart behind that smile as she used to date him often works better than having all their past history fly through her mind at the sight of him on the way to her important meeting. Although seeing him again may serve to distract her at the meeting, a long description of the past may slow down the pace for the reader.

Depending on the effect you want to create, a better way to introduce character may be more subtle like giving a brief physical description and the point of view character doesn’t realize for a few pages that his sister’s friend has lovely green eyes up close rather than the plain brown eyes he assumed because of her hair color or the friend’s dimples don’t make it into the book until he actually smiles.

As you write your story, I want you to keep in mind the different effects you can use in description and introduction of characters and settings. Think about how you want your readers to view this new place or person and what mood you have going in your story or scene. Once you know those things, you can decide how you want to craft the description to create the desired affect.

Monday, September 26, 2011

What's So Troublesome About Cliches?

As you go through and revise your rough draft or your tenth draft or any other draft you do, remember to watch out for clichés. Wikipedia describes clichés as: “an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, rendering it a stereotype, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel… A cliché is often a vivid depiction of an abstraction that relies upon analogy or exaggeration for effect, often drawn from everyday experience. Used sparingly, they may succeed. However, cliché in writing or speech is generally considered a mark of inexperience or unoriginality.” Although readers may skim over clichés in their reading, an editor or other writers will notice. Being labeled unoriginal in the writing community is laughable and until you can learn to minimize the use of clichés, or better yet: avoid them, you won’t be taken seriously as a writer and aren’t likely to get anything published.
Here is a very thorough article on clichés to involve clichés in expressions, plots, characters, and a self test on clichés. Another place to look for information on clichés is a list of clichés in alphabetical order on the

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Is It A Story Or A Report?

When you pick up a newspaper or read a news article online, you may get a lot of details and facts, but you don’t feel as if you were standing right there. News reports are designed to give a lot of information in a small amount of space; they don’t have a number of pages to write about how the scene affects all five senses or to describe the setting in thrilling detail. They can’t make the scene come alive as story writers need to be able to. People read newspapers in order to get facts about current events. People read stories hoping to be somewhere else, someone else for a little while. They don’t merely want the facts of what happened and how, readers want to feel it and sense the action or tension in the room.

The difference is in the details: how they’re incorporated in the scene and how they’re worded. Wording and timing are a writer’s best tools. Use them correctly and you may have an award-winning story. Don’t use them enough or correctly and you may not even have a good report to let others read. Which would you prefer to have at the end of your project?

Thursday, September 22, 2011


There is just one more thing I want to comment on before talking about editing your story, and that is foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is where you put hints of future events or the climax earlier in the story. Readers then anticipate the event and it adds suspense. Here are some general ideas on how to foreshadow in a story and here is a page on foreshadowing used in Star Wars.
Earlier I wrote about writing from a basic plan for your story. Foreshadowing only works well when you know how your story will end or what your next scene will be. For that reason it is probably best to save foreshadowing for the revision period of your story but if you have a plan of your story and plot, adding foreshadowing can be a lot of fun as you write.
Here is an article that explains foreshadowing and flashbacks rather well.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

All You Need To Write Your Story!

Are you planning to write that story that’s been in your head that you know will be a bestseller if you could just figure out how to write it? Well, I’ve given some pointers on creating a setting and about specific settings in science fiction writing. I’ve talked about knowing your characters and even given you a profile to use to get to know each of your characters. In my last post I wrote about having at least a basic plan of what you’re writing. You’ve done all those things, correct? Well, what are you waiting for? Sit down at your computer or notebook and start writing! Stop procrastinating and get your rough draft done. Don’t worry about writing the perfect story in your first attempt. Books go through a lot of drafts before even getting to the publisher, who usually asks for at least one more draft because the author was too close to the story to notice things. The rough draft is where you put your idea on paper and the editing process is where you adjust wording, cut paragraphs or scenes that don’t add to the story, and generally polish your story until it shines. However, before you can edit your story, you need to write it. Now, stop procrastinating!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Work From A Plan

So you want to write a novel or short story? Where do you start? I’ve already talked about creating settings and characters, so let’s assume you already know your setting and all your characters as well as you know yourself. Now you’re ready to sit down in front of your computer or notebook and start writing. Before you start, though, you should think about your plot and story. If you’re like me, you decided to write a story based on a character or a scene that’s been stuck in your head. You may even write a story because you want other people to experience a setting in your mind or you want to prove a part of society foolish, like in Animal Farm which was a political commentary. Whatever your reason for writing your story, you need at least a basic idea of your plot and story.

Many writers say you should have your story and plot completely outlined before starting stories. Other writers talk about how their characters “talk” to the writers and the story ends up differently than the writer thought it would. To be honest, my way of writing has always been to just sit down and write, making it up as I write it down. That has yet to provide a story I’m happy to let others read so I’m starting to plan out a story and plot. It’s hard to write an organized story when you don’t know where you want the novel or short story to go. As much fun as it can be to just go for a walk one day and not have a destination in mind, you get places faster by knowing where you’re heading. If you want a story about a lady rediscovering her confidence after a divorce or a man who finds the strength inside himself to leave a job he hates, you need at least a basic idea of plot points needed to get the character where they need to be. Not only does a basic plan help avoid major writer’s block in your rough draft, it also helps you keep the story focused on the transition your character makes so your reader doesn’t get confused or bogged down by long and pointless scenes you shouldn’t have spent so much time on. No matter what your style of writing fiction is having a basic plan of where you want your story to end is beneficial.

Monday, September 12, 2011

More On Characters

Since I've been talking about characters and character development these last few posts, I thought I'd finish up by posting some great articles I recently found on characters.

This is an interesting article about seven basic types of characters that may give you a different way to think about the characters you create.

While I'm talking about a different way of looking at characters, I thought this article quite useful. It's an intriguing look at character development combined with story and setting. The writer wrote about generalities on how to write an unforgetttable book with unforgettable characters using small details that had me itching for my pen in order to write my forgotten stories.

Although the writer of the previous article spent little time on specific details, this article can give you some ideas to help breathe life into your characters while this article is an excellent reminder of how important body language is in real life and therefore in fiction.

This is a useful article to keep in mind when creating your characters and here is my character profile if you still need help interviewing your characters. Feel free to add to it or ignore parts that don't apply to your particular character.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

How To Make Realistic Characters

I think Dr. Hinze said it best in the opening lines in his article on creating characters: “In 1757, in Poor Richard's Almanac, the wise and astute Benjamin Franklin wrote: "Little strokes fell great oaks." Important message to writers in that saying, because it is through incorporating little strokes (details) that writers create and develop unforgettable characters. Little strokes turn stick-characters into real people.”

Little details make fully developed characters seem real to the readers, whether it’s body language hinting at emotions or mannerisms reminding the readers about habits the character has.

Another place to remember to put details is in schedules. Whether you’re dealing with a regular day schedule for a human, an daily schedule for an alien, or a nighttime schedule for those that live at night, remember everyone has needs that need to be fulfilled. Everyone needs to eat, sleep, and remove wastes somehow or they start getting weak or sick. Even if your character is running for its life and living on adrenaline, the body can only go so long without nutrients and rest. The effects of not getting needs fulfilled can add tension to a story or scene.

However, too many details can slow a reader down and bore the reader enough to put the book away. It’s a good thing that there are many ways to show a reader your characters are real. Instead of having a scene where the character on the run steals a pie on a shelf below a window, you can mention that the character feels guilty about stealing someone’s dessert later but rationalizes that they won’t miss it with the rest of the meal the family had planned. For characters that are sitting down to a family meal while debating if they should take a job in another state, you can write in dialogue around bites of dinner. For detectives in the middle of a case, you can have them glance at their clock and debate getting lunch or having a mid-afternoon snack at the convenience store. You can have dialogue wrapped around a subtle nighttime routine before bed for some characters or let others decide to sleep after their late morning meeting or college final.

Finding that perfect balance between too many details and an unrealistic character is hard but important as many readers and critiques as well as editors will notice those things. Just remember that while plot and story may be what intrigue the readers, little details are what keep them absorbed in the book.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Character Profile

Character profiles are, in my opinion, necessary in any story. Developed at least in part at the beginning, a profile should grow as the story continues. Add items that come up during the story, such as family members or old flames or an old memory told of a vacation. Doing that will help you keep the details straight as the story progresses or if the story becomes a series and you need character details years after writing the first story. You may not put everything in this profile in your story, especially in the case of profiles of side characters such as a mentor or a roommate, but every character in your story should have a profile so you can keep straight everyone as you write.




Position in story: Is this the main character, a love interest, a sibling, a friend, or an enemy? There are many other positions a character can play in a story, such as a rival-turned-grudging-ally or mentor. What part will this character fit?

How do people view this character?: Do most people see her as the quiet one in the corner or the vibrant girl no one can control? Is he the sociopath people think is awesome or is he the gentle man everyone thinks is a freak? You don’t have to go in depth here, that is what the rest of this post is for, but it may be helpful to put down how others in your story stereotype this character.

Ethnicity: Ethnicity is a major part of character as it can dictate limits to how your character can look. It can also dictate things like language spoken or known, temperament, and influence choices such as education, career, hobbies, and where they live.

Appearance: Although you don’t need to be precice in all the questions, you should have a general idea
Skin color:
Hair color:
Eye color:
Distinguishing marks: Such as scars or moles or birthmarks

Culture: Although culture and ethnicity seem the same, culture has more influence on choices made, even if ethnicity can narrow the choices some.

What religion is your character?: Like ethnicity and culture, religion can have a huge effect on a person’s life and choices.

Style: Does your character prefer to dress up to go out or wear jeans and a tee shirt? Maybe your character prefers to stay in and wears lounge wear if it needs to leave its house. Although influenced by culture, style shows a lot about the character’s personality or the image your character wants to project.
What jewelry does your character prefer? Is there a favorite piece they usually wear?

Major places this character has lived: Along with helping to define the culture a person has been in contact with, where your character lived can influence what memories they have of years past.
Memorable places visited:

People who influenced this character in the past and currently: This can include family, friends, rivals who made your character work harder and get better, random acquaintances who had a strong influence, teachers, old lovers, children in your character’s life, or anyone else that may come up in a story. Here is one place you may not need to fill in at the beginning, but be sure to fill in anyone who may come up in the story as you write it. That way you won’t confuse people in later chapters or books.

How was your character’s childhood?: Were they well loved and spoiled or neglected and raised themselves? Did a relative die that effected them when they were young or did they have pets? Were they picked on at school, ignored or popular? What secrets does your character have? What memories do they have or stories of the past that they tell in the story?

Education: Where did your character go to school and what for?

Occupation: What does your character do for money or spend much of their time doing?

Hobbies/interests: What does your character do to relax and forget about the world or wish they had studied more in school?

Mannerisms: Mannerisms are an excellent way to show personality or past experiences. They could be anything from how a person shows emotion to addictions to posture to things they may be conscious about such as smoking when annoyed or chewing on their lip as they think.
Now that you have a good ideas about what formed your character you can explain your character’s personality and what its self image is.

Where will your character be at the end of your book or series? It’s always good to have a destination in mind as your story progresses. Although the destination may change as your character develops throughout your story, it should still be reflected in your character profile.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How Do You Create A Setting?

I’ve spent a lot of time writing about creating a setting recently, and although I believe it to be a very important part of writing an engaging story, I will only write one more piece of advice (for now). That is to know the details of your setting. If possible, visit your setting when your characters would, such as lunch at that corner diner or a stroll through the park at five in the afternoon. Notice the smells around you, the noises coming from every direction, the vendor on the street or the waitress at the counter with the funky red and black hair. Feel the humidity and notice where to take cover if it started to rain. Things like that make the story come alive to your readers.
If you can’t go to the place, such as the quarters your character has on ship, an alien ceremonial hall, or the classroom of a fictional school somewhere, draw it out. Draw out the room dimensions, where the furniture is, what is on all the shelves, what color are the walls and decorations, what plants or decorations are on the floor and walls, what pattern is on the floor and ceiling, and any smells or tastes. If you’re in an outdoor setting, try drawing a panorama of what could be seen or write a few pages of what is along the path the characters are walking. You may not use everything you think up for your setting, but the point is to make the scene come alive for your reader. How can you make the readers believe they’re somewhere else if you don’t know everything about where they are? As the writer, your job is to show your reader where they are with words in a way that they can see it in their mind. If you can’t see it, how can you describe it?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why Should Sci-Fi Writers Know The Details?

If you’re writing a science fiction book, you may think that since you’re talking about future science, you don’t need to worry about making modern science fit the science in your story. However, people tend to read science fiction stories because they love science and the possibilities for the future. They often enjoy studying science and often know how much of the science theories for the future work. Your publisher may ask to see your references to be sure yours is accurate. Publishers know that if your facts aren’t correct, they will be barraged by letters from readers complaining about inaccurate science or false facts. Therefore having accurate science is smart to have before you even start writing. Why not do the research as you go? Doing research while you write may work well for small details like what date something happened on or how far away something is, but for big items such as your star ship or your character’s job, you want to do as much research as you need to be able to do that job or understand the science yourself. If you don’t understand the item or procedure you have in your story, how can you make it come to life for your readers? Where should you look for your information? The internet is a good place to get a general overview on the item or procedure but you never know how accurate your information is. If you can find a site online put up by an authority on the subject, such as an accurate blog by a leading expert in the field, you may be able to use that as your main reference. You may be able to find books for e-book readers that were created in paperback and got converted, such as the Kindle Store which converts many of its newest books into e-books. E-books typically cost less than regular books but for research books it may be easier to find small facts you didn’t bookmark or highlight in a book you can flip through rather than waiting for pages to load. However, the notes and bookmarking ability of e-readers can be helpful. Also, many older books, such as the epic classics have been put on the internet, and you may find older reference books on things like culture and religion that don’t change too much with time. For those who can’t find the in depth information you need online, libraries or museum archives or magazines should give you information you need. Subject matter experts, such as professors or people who actually work in the field you’re researching, are probably the best bet as they can explain things they are passionate about in ways that your characters may react to them. Although face to face interviews are best for keeping the character traits and interviewing in real time, email interviews or interviews over chat may work for getting the information you need. What are some resources you use when planning your books?