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Showing posts from May, 2012

Two Ways to Immediately Improve Your Fiction

I've been ruminating on some writing advice and thinking of the best advice I could give a beginning fiction writer. Something besides "Show Don't Tell" or "Write What You Know." In reading through some recent samples on Amazon, I've found plenty of good writing, but even good writing isn't enough to hook a reader. So here's two tips that I think will improve your fiction immediately.

1.  Start your story with the moment of change, threat, or crisis. By this, I mean when the characters' lives will be forever changed by a story event. There is no going back. Here's some examples:

In Jaws, Chrissy is attacked by the shark in the first few minutes of the movie. The shark has shown up and things won't be the same for Amity until the beast is killed.

In Super 8, 14-year-old Joe has just lost his mother in an industrial accident. His world has changed forever.

In The Stand, King opens with a man frantically waking his wife. The superflu bu…

Six Writing Prompts to Ignite Your Fiction

From time-to-time, I like to post some writing prompts. Do with them what you will.

As he was mowing the lawn, Jerry came upon an enormous hole. It hadn't been there the last time he'd cut grass.

The odd snow continued to fall, black as coal dust.

She saw him across the hotel lobby and knew he was the man she'd marry.

A character comes home to find a sticky note on his/her fridge. It's from a family member and says: Help us. No Police. Call this number.

As the Detective looked down at the corpse he thought: I've never seen that done to a human being before.

She heard the thud. Once. Twice. With a creeping fear in her belly, she was quite certain someone was in the attic.

Straying From the Map

I'm not a fan of writing detailed plot outlines, but I do like to have a list of scenes ready to go when I write. I like to know the ending and approximately how much material I will need to complete the book. I'm currently working on Plague, the second book in the Dead Land Trilogy. As the action is unfolding, I'm finding one of the main characters separated from the group. I didn't plan for this to happen, but I like the possibilities. Can he survive on his own? Will he be reunited with the group? How will it happen?

Don't ever be afraid to take a detour from your outline. It can take your story in new and exciting directions. And if you're surprised and delighted at the turn of events, it's a good bet the reader will be, too.

Building Your Characters (And plot, too)

Whether you're a plotter or pantster, at some point you have to create story people to do all the cool stuff you have planned in your novel. I've created a list of questions to ask yourself when working up characters. You can either do this before writing, or on the fly. I think you'll find it will also generate plot ideas and send your story galloping off in new directions.




Physical Characteristics

Manner of Dress

Political Beliefs

Hobbies (Can you make these relevant to the story?)

Childhood (How does this affect the present story?)

Skills/Talents that are relevant to the story

Religious beliefs (Could this possibly create conflicts within the story?)

What's the catalyst that changes the character's life? (Good stories start with a change or on the cusp of one. Put the character in some sort of trouble)

What does the character want more than anything?

Who is opposing the character?

What's the worst thing that could happen to the character …

Random Stuff

Plague, Book Two of The Dead Land Trilogy, continues to move along. The zombie virus is spreading and things are starting to break down. Destroying the world is sort of fun. In a fictional sense. I've been getting 1000 words a day, which is a respectable pace. For those of you who don't think you have time to write, 1000 words per day (which should take about an hour) equals at least three novels per year, depending on length.

I have a number of books that I'm currently reading. I tend to switch back and forth between books, eventually finishing all of them.

The Frenzy Way by Gregory Lamberson

Under the Dome by Stephen King

Sick by Brett Battles

Throttle by Joe Hill and Stephen King

On a side note, I've been listening to Hold On by Alabama Shakes quite a bit. If you like Southern Rock, you owe it to yourself to check them out:

The Power of What If

One of the concerns I hear from beginning writers is that they will run out of ideas. When this comes up, I tell them two things:

1. It's pretty much impossible to run out of ideas. Most professional writers have more ideas than they have time to write.

2. Once you get into the daily habit of writing, ideas will start coming at you. In line at the grocery store. In the shower. Your brain will start to make connections and twist things into story ideas. Trust me, it's like opening some weird pipeline to the Muse.

But one tool I like is to ask "What if?" For some reason, going on vacations seems to spur ideas for novels. Perhaps because a new and different setting offers story possibilities. No Escape came about when we were vacationing up in the Thousand Islands. To access the island we stayed on, you had to drive over a dam. I thought: "What if something were keeping us on the island? And we had to fight our way off to survive?" Bam. Story idea. The park we…

Sketch of The Voodoo Child

I've been playing guitar for around twenty years, and I've recently made an effort to get in more playing time. Between a full-time job, family, and writing, that usually amounts to only 15 minutes a few times a week. I decided to learn Jimi's Voodoo Child. Years ago I learned the wah-soaked intro but never got any farther. So I got the inspiration to sketch the master. When I first started playing, my guitar teacher was trying to show me "Catfish Blues", which Hendrix did on his live Radio One album. My teacher commented "he's such a snake", meaning Hendrix was all over the place and hard to figure out. He meant it as a compliment.

And the master at work: