Home of Ane Ryan Walker, Teller of Tall Tales, Writer of Short Stories

Category: how to structure fiction. (Page 1 of 2)

On Writing

“My words sound better coming from my hands than from my mouth.”

Unknown

I cannot tell you a story. Well, I could, but the significant question is can I keep your attention? Maybe, maybe not.

When you’re a writer you learn how to write a hook, and that you should use a hook at your chapter ending. It’s part of the structure you need to put together to keep your reader engaged. Sometimes writing to the structure goes beyond your writing voice.

Once you’ve written about a million words, you start to see and hear your unique writing voice. It’ s something you worked to achieve and you do not want to do anything to jeopardize it. Authors struggle against the editor who tries to edit it out of the story. But how exactly do you allow editing without jeopardizing your voice?

Truth be told, it’s damn difficult.

Most of us find the zone when we sit down to write. If you need to warm up, and I often do, you slip right into the zone somewhere around the second or third page. It’s different for each of us. But once found, the zone is the heaven where all good stories reside. They wait for us to trip into the garden of paradise and enjoy the moment. Because, that’s what it seems like, a moment in time.

When we read–and most authors are avid readers–we become lost in the story. At least that is the goal of every author for each reader to find his own way, at his own pace, with a separate interpretation. What a story means to one of us will not resonate with every reader. Like small hidden gems, the “moments of universal truth” shine through in varied places for each reader.

Each chapter should be formed to build on the story that comes before it. Not in an episodic manner, but rather as a new layer of character, influence of backstory, or personal insight as to why our characters become who they are meant to be by the story’s end.

So many of the “writing rules” are really guidelines meant to improve our writing. But even viewed as guidelines, they confuse the beginning writer. It’s as if you’re juggling, with too many balls in the air.

Show don’t tell.

Anchor the reader and your characters in time and place.

Don’t give too much backstory too soon.

Begin with a hook.

End with a hook.

The best advice for new writers? Write the damn book. You will quickly learn, good books are not written but rewritten

Writing from the heart

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

― Antoine de Saint-Exupery

This advice comes under the admonition of “write what you know”. Some of the best and worst advice aspiring writers ever receive.

When you are told to “write what you know” it is always difficult to discern what exactly that means.

Perhaps you need to engage the reader with more emphasis on relating your personal experience with emotional issues. Sadness, joy, anger, revulsion. Any of these emotions are felt in the core and should be transferable to the page.

For Example: anger,

Jolie’s shoulders tensed, apprehension ripping through her. Her clenched hands dropped to her sides, the fists so tight her nails in the palms almost drew blood. Why didn’t people listen to her?

Can you see it in your mind’s eye how angry she is? Have you ever been there? Standing in front of someone you disagree with, and who is not listening to your input, and your anger takes on this physical aspect?

Or how about revulsion, ending in physical pain

Her fingers, twisted and arthritic, removed the cloth from the box. Mesmerized, the memory fleeting beyond her grasp, she pulled the drawer open at the base of the cabinet and memory flooded her like a landslide.

She groaned.

The horrific cold of a thousand dead hands assaulted her, astounding her, stealing her breath. For a moment, she thought she simply forgot to breathe. Then the pain exploded in her chest. A hundred blades of precision surgical steel knifing into her heart and radiating out to her shoulder and jaw. She struggled to take in air. Clutching, reaching for her son, she toppled the tea-table.

I’ll bet you have. I’m going to go out on a limb and bet you know exactly what the author means, when they write she was angry. That’s telling, and when the author shows you the characters physical reaction to something that happens “on stage” in the story, that’s writing what you know.

Translating your emotion into words on the page, sadness, desire, longing, and any other emotions we are all privy to, is the essence of writing what you know.

Where does your story start?

There’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question.

I know many authors in various stages of their careers, and not a single one willing to say, “I know exactly where my story begins.”

Once in a rare while we know where to start the story, but not often, and certainly, not always.

As writers we have so many things to agonize over, such as “who does the story belong to?”, and “who will be the primary character?”

We need to decide so many things when we start a new story that we often overlook the obvious when we decide who will tell the story. For Romance writers, we know the story must be told by both sides, the “he said, she said” that keeps romance readers coming back. They love (no pun intended) a gripping story and so of course, they want to know why she behaved that way, and what he thought about it, and why he put the time and energy into winning her back. Did she make it worth his time?

If you have an audience that comes back again and again, you know you’re probably telling the story correctly. But how much do you agonize over the very beginning of the story? How do you decide when you’re just starting out who the story belongs to and how it should be told.

A general rule of thumb is when things change, the story begins. Always a good place to start. Change brings conflict. Conflict and its resolution or lack thereof, is often what keeps readers reading. But, unless we can identify and sympathize with the primary character, then you, as the reader are not likely to buy in for the long haul. And believe me, 400 pages is the long haul.

You must create and open with a character we love, or at least can identify with for the duration of the story. This simple direction is indeed a tall order.
How do I make you love my character? Or at the very least, how do I get you to accept him for who he is, like you but not like you, and still make him interesting.

In a word, backstory.

All of the things I, as the writer know, about the character, who he or she is, how they came to be in the moment fraught with conflict and change, and I must make you care about him and want to know why that happened.

You can love him or hate him, but he must arouse your curiosity, make you ask why? and also wonder, what happened next?

If you fail to incite this interest, you haven’t found the the right character, or the true beginning of your story.

How does that sound?

More on naming your characters.

The sound of a name says it all. For the strong, alpha, bad boy, totally masculine character you will probably want a name that sounds sharp, short and strong. Names that garner attention.

Bad boys, particularly villains, who deserve as much attention as heroes, have specific name needs.No villain should be Snidely Whiplash. Too routine, too ordinary, too boring. In fact, you might say “cookie cutter”.

The real bad boys in fiction, whether leading men, alpha heroes, or second fiddles have sharp, snappy, memorable names. Especially the anti-hero. Names that sound sharp, snappy or have sizzle built-in.

Count Dracula, the primary bad boy of fiction has a sharp sounding name. Count–with the k sound for an opener–followed by Dracula–another definitely sharp sound. The D defines and the k is repeated in Drac, brings in another sharp k. Hard edges are defined by the name. You know instinctively this guys going to be a problem.

Sometimes the sound is suspicious. Le Stat, another vampire of literary fame. The s sound is slithery, and sneaking. This character is not at all what he seems. Tah Dah! He is conflicted. Suspicious. This character is unpredictable, no one can say exactly what will happen with him next.

Long after the story ends, writers are remembered for their compelling characters. Often the properly named character is remembered once story specific are long forgotten. So make sure you ask yourself, “what’s in his name?” before you name the character.

This is one place where the use of subtext is not acceptable and encouraged.

 

About Writer’s Block

  “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”

― Shirley Chisholm

Writers write. Ask any writer. If they could stop writing, they probably would stop writing. For the rest of us, we write to still the voices in our heads. We write to get our stories out into the world.We write, publish, and repeat the process. Endlessly.

If you ask me about that thing known as “writers block”, I’ll tell you it doesn’t exist. I can pretty much prove it. No other profession allows its practitioners to claim that no work can be accomplished today, tomorrow, this week, next week, or anytime in the near future, because they are suffering from a “block”.

Plumbers block? No. Dentist Block? No. Nurses Block? No. Accounting Block? No.

Trust me, if you are a writer and you’re not writing it’s because you choose not to write.

But wait, you say. I really do have writers block. What can I do? The answer is simple. It’s a choice you make, either a form of procrastination to avoid criticism, rejection, or some other form of negativity. So, you ask, how can I fix that? Start writing. Yes, that’s right. Make a plan and stick with it. Just start writing.

Writing when you have fear is difficult. Fears need to be faced in order for you to overcome them. So of course, the answer is simple. Start  writing.

Having difficulty with your story? Keep writing. Many writers know, you can not fix a blank page, so fill the page, then worry about fixing it later. Nobody–or let me say rarely–does anyone love a first draft. Usually it takes a lot of work, self editing, story restructuring, critiquing, and professional editing to get a story into decent shape.

Did I mention the upside of continuing to write in the face of adversity (i.e, laziness, fear, procrastination, martyrdom, or anything else that prevents you from writing)is you will find your true voice and your writing will improve if you just keep writing.

Write What You Know

  “Both desire and imagination are stored in the mind of the individual and when stretched, both have the potential to position a person for greatness.”

― Eric Thomas

Storytellers who write what they know…what they have experienced, what they have observed in others, what they have lived through, and what they deal with on an ongoing basis are the people who write what they know.

You can tell as soon as you start reading, you’re engaged in the story. This person is someone who writes from their soul. Their grammar and punctuation need not be perfect, but still,  you get them. More importantly, they get you.

When, as writers we reach down to the core of who we truly are, we find the truth of our existence. What we call our core story. No matter how many ways we find to tell our story, successful writers never search for a theme. They know their core story and they are successful because they tell it over and over again.

So, how do we recognize our core story? We know it, instinctively from our formative years. Think about it. When you first became interested in story. As children, we all had our favorites. Stories, that is. We had one thing we couldn’t get enough of, a book or story or a type of story we would read over and over again and again.

For many mystery writers it was Nancy Drew, or the Hardy Boys. For me, it was Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. For writers who pursue adventure stories it was usually something like, Robin Hood. Our taste in reading is often a hint to our preference in writing–the type of story that we know and love to tell, over and over again.

Truth or Power?

  “All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche

So all the rules you can’t seem to help breaking today which will land you in plenty of hot water maybe perfectly acceptable tomorrow.  Just go with it. Things change. If you can wait around long enough.

When we begin our trip down the path to published author, we first need to learn the rules. Excellent advice. I cannot stress how important it is the know the rules before you break them. Only then can you justify the unique twist applied to individual voice.

My best advice is to go ahead and write through to the end. The end of the first (rough) draft.

Then, when the first draft is complete your real work begins. What do I mean by real work? Well, for starters, editing. What kind of editing you ask? Good question. Editing in and of itself, can be considered an art form.

There is Developmental editing. This editing looks at the overall story. How did you structure the story you wrote? Is it logical? Does it follow a linear timeline? Does it make sense? Does it have all the components of a good story, in a logical fashion which will most likely cause your readers to pick up your book, and keep reading through to the conclusion.

Developmental editing is very expensive, and it is not the kind of editing you can do for yourself. Often we ask critique partners to assist us with line editing, and Beta reads. Not your best choice. As far as critique partners go, they make great critique partners or we wouldn’t keep them as critique partners. Most writers–especially those who take themselves seriously–have beta readers lined up. Those are folks who 1) like to read, 2) will be honest about the material they read, 3)have some idea of what makes a good story. At least look for Beta readers who have a clue about what makes a story good and what make it fail story-wise.

Line editing is exactly as it reads. An editor, who you pay, or your publisher pays, goes through your manuscript line by line looking for typos, grammar errors, (such as their for they are, or where for wear, etc.)and other inconsistencies. A character who is short  in chapter one who towers over others in chapter three, or might have blue eyes for several chapters which mysteriously change to green eyes in the end of the book.

Copy editing is done by the truly anal retentive. A copy editor’s job is to make sure you adhere to the house style designated by your publisher. Check submission guidelines. Submission guidelines as laid out by the publisher, will commonly indicate “house style”. Often the Chicago Manual of Style is indicated as the standard. The copy editor is the one who will help you to “tighten” your story. They help you to remove the unnecessary words, those which drag your manuscript down, making it harder to read, or slower to read.

Acquisitions editor is the employee of the traditional publisher who sees your project (book) through to completion. They buy your book. Which means, they sold your book to the sales team and the editorial board,but that’s a story for another time, another blog.

That’s about it for now, unless you plan to use and editor for SEO. For those of you scratching your heads, Search Engine Optimization. Because, when someone goes looking for your book, you need to help them find it.

Secondary Characters

How important are secondary characters?

Very Important. Think for just a minute how you might see The Harry Potter series without Neville Longbottom. Or perhaps Pride and Prejudiced with Jane Bennett.

Not so interesting, huh?

Important to remember the names for secondary characters. They should not be similar to the hero or the heroines name. The first names of these character should never start with the same letters. Names that sound similar or start with the same letter can be confusing to your reader. You don’t want the reader to confuse Crissy the servant with Sissy the villain. That would not be good. Remember, sound alike–Katy, Kathy, Cody–can confuse as well.

Where some writers will provide a full interview to get to know their primary characters, it isn’t always necessary for secondary characters. Does that mean they are less important? Less well-developed? No.

While they may not require the same depth of development, secondary charterers require the same amount of attention to the in development. Supporting characters who are well-developed are those who provide the proper support for your hero and heroine. Their development provides depth for the story and layers of interest to your novel.

Secondary characters provide a unique perspective through which the main characters can be viewed. What they see, hear,  and think about your hero or heroine and the behavior gives additional insight to the main character.

Characters, like people, are often judged by the company they keep. If you wish to define a characters moral core, the companions they choose are a good gauge of moral compass.

Sometimes the secondary character allows us as readers to compare and contrast the desirable qualities between heroes and secondary characters.

Secondary characters can contribute to a story by the use of valuable dialogue. They will know–and so will your editor–which questions should be asked and which subjects the hero wishes to avoid, but shouldn’t. They hep to increase the conflict by introducing the taboo subject, and sometimes outrageous behavior.

Secondary characters are not held to the same high standards which we impose on our heroes. They do not benefit when they advance to primary status in follow-up stories. And be assured, romance readers love to see the secondary characters follow-up with their own story.

 

 

How do I make that hero shine?

Interviewing the hero is a good start, if that works for you. If not, I’m going to give you some guidelines about what a hero should–and shouldn’t be, and how he might act.

Remember, writing doesn’t have a lot of “rules” per se, but if you want your hero to be likable, you will at least consider the following things:

  1. Heroes are strong people, not only physically, but emotionally. They don’t hold other people to blame for every misfortune in their lives, but they do hold the people in their lives accountable. So if your heroine makes a promise or a commitment to the hero, he expects the promise to be kept.
  2. Heroes have an excellent sense of humor. They do not make jokes in poor taste or at the expense of the weaker characters, but they often exercise a dry wit, and they know how and when to be able to laugh at themselves.
  3. During social encounters heroes are aware of their surroundings, and are not likely to be the center of attention, but are aware of the tensions in the room or situation. They are often the person who will diffuse a tense situation or control activities which have the potential to get “out of hand”.
  4. They do not wear flashy clothes or make odd or awkward fashion statements, but have a classic, quiet,  dignity which is always in style.
  5. While the hero is often aware of what others think of him, his actions, his choices, the opinion of others has no effect on the hero’s behavior.
  6. True heroes know the art of romance. They always treat women like ladies, regardless of age or station in life. This behavior towards women is what starts the ordinary man down the path to true hero.
  7. Heroes don’t typically seek out others to help them. They like to resolve their difficulties alone, but are strong and secure enough to ask for help when they need it.
  8. Heroes know how to say no. The have mastered the art of saying no rather than the art of apology. No means no.
  9. Heroes know what they want and are focused on getting what they want. They pursue their desires by doing what is necessary to achieve their goals.
  10. Heroes are decisive, not reactive. No knee jerk reactions. No panic. Again, heroes know what they want and focus on making their desires their reality.
  11. Heroes command respect. Others follow the hero because his is to be admired, not feared. He earns the respect of others by demonstrating the qualities of a true hero. Not by instilling fear into the weaker of the species.
  12. Heroes are problem solvers. The others in their social circle, friends and family know they can count on the hero in their time of need. Heroes are reliable.
  13. Heroes exhibit a calm and serene dignity. The trick to this is not to react, but rather to collect all the available information before making a decision, whether it is personal or advice to a friend or loved one. A calm and serene demeanor is the face a true hero shows the world.
  14. Heroes do not hesitate when a decision is needed. They assess the situation, and make a decision based on the need at that moment in time. They do not hesitate. They are not afraid of failure.
  15. Heroes command the attention of everyone when they enter a room. The exhibit excellent posture, make eye contact, give a firm handshake when introduced to others and always exhibit confidence. Their body language–confident, competent–tells everyone who they are as soon as they arrive in a room.
  16. Heroes know the secret of good communication. They speak less and listen more.
  17. Heroes assume the leaders role rather than wait for others to offer it to him. He is not a jerk, and is not aggressive, but he will stand up for what is right. Every time.

Defining Characters

There are a lot of questions you’ll be asking about developing any character. Some writers like to sit down and “interview” the characters they’ll be working with over the course of a story.

I am not one of those writers.

Is is wrong to interview characters? Yes, and no. If you use this method to delay writing, yes. If you really want to get to know the character before you leave on the story journey, then no. It matters only if you use the interview, or the excuse of the interview, as a delaying tactic to put off working on the story. If the character interview is working on the story, then knock yourself out.

Some of the things you’ll need to know, or will want to ask those characters are what motivates them. In other words, why do they do what they do? In your story, each and every character has a reason for their behavior. That reason is motivation, commonly referred to as the cause and effect of the story. This is part of the conflict that drives your story forward. Characters, no matter how well crafted, are not believable without the proper motivation. For example, the work obsessed tycoon, who is ruthless in business dealings may come from a background of poverty, in which he never knew if he would get another meal. The background of extreme poverty of this type might cause a person to be judgmental of those who waste anything.

If you start out interviewing the character and find the process difficult, just hang in there. It becomes easier as the character takes root in your subconscious

Keep in mind, when the interview ends, the information is for the writer to use as needed. It should not be disposed of in an”information dump” on unsuspecting readers. This interview provides the background that allows you to show us, rather than tell us how a character grew into his role for this story. Like an iceberg, if we see the tip, we know the danger is there without having to view the 80% of the danger which remains hidden.

« Older posts

© 2021 Her Story Called

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑