Monday, December 12, 2011

More tips for snappy fiction


  •      Who is the story about? What is at stake?
  •      Each main character badly wants something. Focus only on these totally involved characters.
  •      Narrative voice: the “extra” character who tells what happens in the story.
  •      You are writing biography: a detailed exposition of your characters' thoughts and words                         and actions, their past, and their motivations (desires and fears). Scene by scene,  let the characters reveal themselves through their thoughts, words and actions.
  •      Make sure the hero has some flaws and the antagonist is not a cartoon villain.
  •      Each character is unique, rounded with distinctive details.
  •      Lots of dialogue, and keep the action on stage—as if it’s a play or a movie.
  •      Weave information and setting into the ACTION. Everything must move the story forward.
  •      Describe the setting through a character's emotions/senses, rather than neutrally, through narration.
  •      Surprises create suspense. The best surprise is an unexpected obstacle.
  •      Suspense builds when information is withheld and troubles are not quickly resolved.
  •      Write a number of big scenes: episodes that radically change the destiny of one or more characters (reversals, revelations, twists, complications, etc.)
  •      As the plot unfolds, the hero’s problems must become greater, not smaller. Seek discomfort—THINGS MUST KEEP GETTING WORSE. (Just say “No.)
  •      Highs and lows, not plateaus: comic relief and pleasure relief. The pleasure set-up. “Go where the pleasure is, go where the pain is; go where the passion is.”  (Anne Rice)
  •      Vary the levels of penetration.
  •      Diction and status items define a person’s level of income, his education and background.
  •      OBSERVE THE DETAILS! Sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures in every scene.
  •      Abstraction is the enemy of good writing. Nouns and verbs tell the story. Adjectives and adverbs bog it down. The power of detail and action is provided by nouns and verbs.
  •      Specifics are more interesting than generics. “It makes a horrible noise.”— “It scritches like fingernails on a chalkboard.” Even metaphors should be specific: “She eats like a bird.” What kind of bird? A sparrow, an eagle or a vulture?
  •      When to show, to tell, to ignore.

 Ø  Transportation: Getting there isn’t half the fun, it’s boring. When moving characters from one locale to another, write about how they got there only if it’s critical. Think of the movies—two lovers are in bed; next we see them in a little bistro, yakking over a glass of Merlot. Who cares how they got from bed to bistro? Avoid showing a character on stairs, elevators, sidewalks, subways, planes, trains, cars, unless the trip tells us something we need to know about the story or character.

Ø  The phone rang. Lara crossed the kitchen and snatched it from its wall cradle on the fourth ring. “Hello,” she said.
“Hello,” said a male voice with a nasal tone. “Is this Lara? It’s Barry.”
“Barry. Silverberg. You know—we met at your brother’s bar mitzvah.”
She cringed. The guy who threw up on her sister. “What do you want?”

The phone rang. Some guy with a nasal voice named Barry, said they’d met at her brother’s bar mitzvah. Lara cringed. He was the skinny kid who threw up fizzy champagne on her sister. “What do you want?”
  •      Omit needless words. Delete all redundancies (totally obliterated, high-powered rifle, brutal murder); also the modifiers: still, quite, so, very.
  •      Replace weak verbs, and all verb forms of to be (there is, there are, there was...)
  •      Purge your brain forever of stale and imprecise language. Don’t use lazy phrases yanked straight off the cliché shelf:

Ø  Better (worse) than ever
Ø  For some curious reason
Ø  A number of…
Ø  As everybody knows
Ø  She didn’t know where she was
Ø  Things got out of hand
Ø  It came as no surprise
Ø  It was beyond him
Ø  He lived in the moment
Ø  Little did I know
Ø  There was a…
Ø  As Fate would have it
Ø  Needless to say
Ø  Without thinking
Ø  He was in over his head
Ø  Well in advance
Ø  An emotional roller coaster

  •     Don't bury the jewels: Place the most important words at the start or end of a sentence or phrase.

Which sentence is stronger?

Throw your sainthood away.

Throw away your sainthood.

  •      Write for radio (read it aloud to make sure it rolls off the tongue and pleases the ear).
  •      Fiction is art, not life.

·        Concrete plot: A hero with a concrete problem he struggles to solve (or concrete goal he fights to obtain). NOT vague, abstract goals, like “searching for happiness” or “peace on earth.”
·        Likable heroes: not negatrons who are guilt-wracked, deformed by self-hate, emotional cripples; but characters who like themselves and have a sense of humor and a love for others and for life. Even anti-heroes must possess some sympathetic qualities.
·        Active heroes: who jump up and do something to get what they want.
·        No victim-types: such as women who put up with alcoholic, abusive husbands.

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