Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Saying for Writers #65

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) inspire you to write:

"If you tell me, it's an essay. If you show me, it's a story." - Barbara Greene

I ran across this quote recently and really like it. There's a somewhat controversial Canadian politician by the same name (who also teaches media & English lit) but I'm not sure this is her.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tip O'Day for Writers #80

Guest blogger P.D. Allen dispenses concise, joyful advice.

"Focus on publication with as much joy, enthusiasm and creative intent as you focus on writing."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Saying for Writers #64

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) inspire you to write:

"The most valuable of talents is never using two words when one will do." - Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tip O'Day for Writers #79

Guest blogger Ray Garton says textured characters are essential.

No matter what genre you write in, no matter what kind of story or novel you're writing, a reader will not come back for more if you don't give him characters he recognizes, can connect with emotionally and will want to follow to the end. Your reader doesn't have to like all of these characters, but they must ring true to him. He must be able to feel they are in some way like people he has known, or at least like people he could know.

This should be true of both protagonists and antagonists. If your villain is simply villainous, he will be flat, unbelievable and uninteresting. But if he has human characteristics that are likable -- even admirable -- his villainy will be more effective because it comes from a well-rounded human being and has understandable motivations. If your hero is only heroic, he will not ring true. His flaws and weaknesses will make him far more appealing to the reader, because we all have those and must overcome them.

Even if you are a master of plot, nothing will bring a reader back faster than characters with depth, flaws, strengths and familiar experiences and emotions. A great example of this is Stephen King. Sure, he writes books that twist reality in creepy ways and sometimes involve strange creatures or people with bizarre abilities. But they are populated with characters who resonate with readers, and those characters make all the weirdness much more believable. Having written mostly horror fiction in the last 27 years, it seems natural and perhaps even cliched for me to use him as an example, so let me recommend another.

John Irving, the author of THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, has created some of the most eccentric characters since Dickens. But no matter how odd they are, they are still recognizable as human beings and their quirks are understandable. We may not like all of them, but we recognize the humanity in them and we enjoy getting to know them and following them through Irving's novels, which tend to span generations.

Plot is only part of the battle. Nothing will make your plot sing more beautifully than a cast of fully-fleshed characters with whom your readers can make an emotional connection. If your readers care about those people, it will make your plot more riveting, more compelling, and your readers will come back for more.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Saying for Writers #63

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) inspire you to write:

"I never spent less than two years on the text of one of my picture books, even though each of them is approximately 380 words long. Only when the text is finished ... do I begin the pictures." - Maurice Sendak

We've all met people who say, "I've been thinking about writing a children's book. Twenty pages, how hard can that be?"

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tip O'Day for Writers #78

Guest blogger Dave Jeffery advises on writing dialogue.

Dialogue fulfills two important roles: it perpetuates the story and gives shape to your characters. Stilted and unrealistic dialogue distracts the reader and yanks them from the world into which you are trying to immerse them.

I tend to follow this process:

a. What message are you trying to get across?
b. Distill the message to its essence
c. Think of your characters
d. Ask yourself the question: "How would these characters put their messages across, given their personality?"
e. Write the dialogue with this in mind.

Giving your characters some vocal inflections, using slang, and providing other unique ways of expression can easily add shape to them. If done correctly, the reader will be able to tell who is speaking by the way a sentence reads on the page. This is particularly useful for short story writing where word count is a factor.
UK bestseller Dave Jeffery is author of NECROPOLIS RISING. He writes adult and YA supernatural and horror, as well as YA adventure, and nonfiction on mental health issues. His website can be found at http://www.davejeffery.web/

Dixon says - Many beginning writers struggle with writing dialogue, and try to avoid it, but few other aspects of fiction add the energy, mood and immediacy of dialogue. Instead of avoidance, plunge in!

Read authors who are known for their dialogue, and study their techniques. In crime fiction, Elmore "Dutch" Leonard, Richard Price and the late Robert B. Parker are masters.

Another great way to study dialogue is reading screenplays because they're... well... pretty much all dialogue.

After some of this study, sit down with a yellow pad and write a complete two-character scene that's all dialogue - no attributions, no action, no descriptions. Make it at least 3-4 pages handwritten or 2 pages typed double-space. Then show it to your critique group (if you have one) or share it with a few writer friends. Consider the advice you get, and then try to rewrite the scene in a way that is more dramatic, humorous, mysterious, or whatever message you were trying to get across. (See Dave's a thru e above.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Saying for Writers #62

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) inspire you to write:

"This is always the key: you have to write the book you love, the book that's alive in your heart. That's the one you have to write." Lurleen McDaniel

This is the absolute truth. We all hear so much about the latest trends - sensitive vampires, zombie romances, yada yada yada. The characters that keep you sleepless and the plot that distracts you while your wife is telling you what the kiddies just did in the yard, those are the stories you need to bring to life.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tip O'Day for Writers #77

Guest blogger Tod Langley comments on setting tone and foreshadowing.

I checked out your blog. I thought some of the discussions were extemely valid. One that I remember still sticks in my mind, and I try to think about it during every chapter re-write: the importance of establishing tone, scene, and POV within the initial paragraph.

You could also make the argument that the first sentence of the first paragraph is the most important of the chapter. This is especially true for the beginning of the novel, but I use the premise for every chapter.

I also like to use the scene setting within the initial paragraph to foreshadow the rest of chapter - sometimes hinting at something dire occurring later in the book.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Saying for Writers #61

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) inspire you to write:

"Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space." - Orson Scott Card

Dixon says - This brings something else to mind. I keep hearing writers dismissing a line of dialogue because 'Oh, that's such a cliche.' But having someone speak largely in cliches can be very revealing about character.

Also, a cliche can convey a great deal of information in just a few words. If Joe says of his romantic rival, "He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth," we know precisely the image Joe wishes to communicate.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tip O'Day for Writers #76

In only 25 words, M.L. Hamilton dispenses some brilliant advice.

Write because you can't stop. Write because your characters want life.
Then try to get published because there is absolutely no reason not to try.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Saying for Writers #60

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) inspire you to write:

"Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

In my local critique group, the Grammar Nazis (myself included) will ROUGH YOU UP if you put more than a couple exclamation marks in each chapter. If you are using powerful words and creating dramatic scenes, those marks are unnecessary!!!

(Along with all caps and boldface. We'll let you use italics to emphasize a word or phrase, as long as it's not overused.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tip O'Day for Writers #75

Nicholas Royle & Shaun Jeffrey say “talk to yourself.”

Nicholas Royle: My tip is to read your work out loud. Never consider it done until you’ve read it out loud to yourself. You will catch all sorts of hidden problems – linguistic infelicities, awkward phrasing, unwanted repetition – that you will otherwise not notice. Read it slowly, out loud, with the proper enunciation, as if you were giving a public reading, and highlight problems as you go.

Shaun Jeffrey: Read your work aloud and it will allow you to spot things that don't sound right.

Dixon says - there are a few alternatives. It can be just as helpful to have someone else read your story to you. Maybe your local critique group would consider helping with that, or a writer friend you could swap services with.

Also, if you have a Kindle, you can send your work to that device from your computer. After it's downloaded, use the read-back feature. You have the choice of a male or female voice, and most folks find the male voice sounds more natural and conversational.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Saying for Writers #59

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) inspire you to write:

"A writer's job is to imagine everything so personally that the fiction is as vivid as memories." - John Irving

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tip O'Day for Writers #74

A guest post from Blake Crouch on minor characters.

Many times, when I’m stuck on a scene, I realize after the fact that the reason is because I haven’t truly thought through a new character I’m introducing. Every character, no matter how small, should steal the show.

Dixon says: Robert B. Parker had a special touch with those walk-on characters. Even if it's just a pizza delivery boy or a waitress bringing over a cocktail, everybody in the Spencer, Paradise or Sonny series got a few words of description. More than that, their descriptions and their actions/dialogue would subtly reinforce some aspect of the setting, the mood or the story.

To me, a story full of faceless tertiary characters smacks of lazy writing and missed opportunities. Unless they're zombies.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saying for Writers #58

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) inspire you to write:

"Writing is rewriting. A writer must learn to deepen characters, trim writing, intensify scenes. To fall in love with the first draft to the point where one cannot change it is to greatly enhance the prospects of never publishing." - Richard North Patterson

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tip O'Day for Writers #73

Three writers on the value of criticism.

Alex Ryder: Take criticism to be a positive thing and review your work accordingly. They may just have a point, or they may not. Be objective and then you can decide.

Margaret Callow: When others read your book, there is often conflict when it comes to a possible weakness. It can mean you end up altering something on one piece of advice and then having to change it again later. Now, I wait before making changes and then, if several people point out the same thing, I seriously consider and probably end up agreeing they could be right. If so, I make the change.

Dixon Rice (your genial blog host): I relentlessly search for criticism, because I don't recognize my own faults. Everything I write is golden. Then a member of my critique group asks if action ABC is consistent with how character XYZ acted in previous chapters...

Damn. Why didn't I see that? Thank you, guys.

Like Margaret, if just one person makes a comment, I may take it with a grain of salt. If a couple readers have the same criticism, it definitely must be taken seriously. That doesn't mean I'll make a change but I will certainly consider it. Sometimes the greatest value of a critique is forcing you to look at your work with fresh eyes and review the decisions that led to the incident in question. Then, if you decide to stick with it, you can do so with confidence.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Saying for Writers #57

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) inspire you to write:

“You don't write because you want to say something; you write because you have something to say.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tip O'Day for Writers #72

Guest blogger Joan Connor believes random thoughts can benefit your prose.

I keep a writer's journal. When I am writing I open it at random and make myself choose one word to incorporate at that instant. It makes the writing a little less overdetermined.

For example, I was writing an essay about horseback riding lessons with my son, opened my writer's journal and found this snippet a colleague mentioned in a meeting -- we need to cover bird cages at night because they don't think the day is ending; they think the world is ending. (HOWEVER did she know this?) At that point in the essay I had to seek the connection between the horseback riding lesson and the bird lore and it pitched me into unexpected metaphoric discovery.

That's an interesting way to keep your writing fresh and spontaneous.

I like to put my characters at a crossroads where a decision is necessary, and push them in a counter-intuitive direction. For example, the guy who's been a plodding CPA all his life runs away with a hooker. Or the politician on the brink of election as governor betrays his mentor in order to help a homeless illegal immigrant.

However, the counter-intuitive moment must be believable. What has been simmering inside the CPA over the years, to make him recognize the promise within the whore? After a lifetime of compromises and back-room deals, what made the politician take a moral stand, regardless of the consequences?

Surely there's a reason. But can I make it part of the story through "showing, not telling?"

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Saying for Writers #56

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) inspire you to write:

“Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what it is one is saying.” - John Updike

When I started doodling on MONTANA IS BURNING, I had a vague concept that it would be interesting to plop a Born Again cop from the city into a rural police force made up of coarse, heavy-drinking rednecks. Then the characters I had created decided they had a different story to tell, and dragged the novel off in unexpected directions. My subconscious mind has been very, very busy, and I'm still figuring out what I'm trying to tell myself.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Tip O'Day for Writers #71

A brief yet poetic comment from guest blogger Christine Columbus.

My advice on writing…quit worrying about every leaf on every tree and enjoy the forest. A novel is more than one word, comma or misplaced modifier. A forest is more than a branch on a tree.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Saying for Writers #55

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) inspire you to write:

“If you haven’t got any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.” - Bob Hope

Kindly keep that in mind when you critique other writers. A dash of charity and a dab of diplomacy make any dish better.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tip O'Day for Writers #70

Guest blogger Franz McLaren says “Less is more.”

Over the years I have had many valuable tips from notable writers. However, one stands out above all others. This one came from Del Howison (author, actor, Stoker-winning editor, and co-owner, with his wife Sue, of Dark Delicacies). His tip can be boiled down to three words; Less is More.

It is true that most classic literature is drowned in adjectives. But there is a reason. A century and a half ago few people could afford books. When they did manage to grab one they wanted it to last. Hence Dostoyevsky. Few modern publishers would consider publishing him. Today there are far too many distractions available and writers must cater to a general ADHD if they wish to survive. A faster pace creates a sense of tension between the author and the reader drawing them on before they can set themselves and prepare for the next revelation.

Less is more also applies to how much an author should convey. The great draw of reading, over any other form of entertainment, is that it allows the reader to create the scenery. No matter how we try as authors, the book will always be in the mind of the reader. Take the following example:

"Through heat shimmers, a dozen silhouettes rose above the horizon. They were coming and, out here, there was no place to hide."

Twenty-two words that describe little. However, most readers will develop an inner view of this world and what is happening.

For me, the most important part of editing is in removing that which adds less than it provides. The object of a well written line is not in how much of the author's perspective it portrays, but in how much it allows the reader to become a part of the tale by making it their own.

There's another reason classic authors like Dickens threw buckets of adjectives into their works. They were paid by the word. So you might see a sentence such as:

"He was a large man, a really, really, really, really large man."


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Saying for Writers #54

Another Quotation which Might (or Might Not) inspire you to write:

“Success isn't a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.” -
Arnold H. Glasow