Three Secrets to Great Storytelling!

Whispering

 

 

 

3 SECRETS TO GREAT STORYTELLING as presented on Writer’s Digest. I found this article by Steven James helpful in forming the structure of scenes.  (this is a re-blogging from 2014 but I thought it deserved a revival now, because it is simple, straightforward, and to the point.)

As a novelist and writing instructor, I’ve noticed that three of the most vital aspects of story craft are left out of many writing books and workshops. Even bestselling novelists stumble over them – Steven James But they’re not difficult to grasp. In fact, they’re easy.And if you master these simple principles for shaping great stories, your writing will be transformed forever. Honest. Here’s how to write a story.

Secret #1: 
CAUSE AND EFFECT ARE KING.

Everything in a story must be caused by the action or event that precedes it.  As a fiction writer, you want your reader to always be emotionally present in the story. But when readers are forced to guess why something happened (or didn’t happen), even for just a split second, it causes them to intellectually disengage and distances them from the story. Rather than remaining present alongside the characters, they’ll begin to analyze or question the progression of the plot. And you definitely don’t want that. When a reader tells you that he couldn’t put a book down, often it’s because everything in the story followed logically. Stories that move forward naturally, cause to effect, keep the reader engrossed and flipping pages. If you fail to do this, it can confuse readers, kill the pace and telegraph your weaknesses as a writer.

Secret #2: 
IF IT’S NOT BELIEVABLE, IT DOESN’T BELONG.  

The narrative world is also shattered when an action, even if it’s impossible, becomes unbelievable. In writing circles it’s common to speak about the suspension of disbelief, but that phrase bothers me because it seems to imply that the reader approaches the story wanting to disbelieve and that she needs to somehow set that attitude aside in order to engage with the story. But precisely the opposite is true. Readers approach stories wanting to believe them. Readers have both the intention and desire to enter a story in which everything that happens, within the narrative world that governs that story, is believable. As writers, then, our goal isn’t to convince the reader to suspend her disbelief, but rather to give her what she wants by continually sustaining her belief in the story. The distinction isn’t just a matter of semantics; it’s a matter of understanding the mindset and expectations of your readers. Readers want to immerse themselves in deep belief. We need to respect them enough to keep that belief alive throughout the story.

Secret #3: 

IT’S ALL ABOUT ESCALATION.  

At the heart of story is tension, and at the heart of tension is unmet desire. At its core, a story is about a character who wants something but cannot get it. As soon as he gets it, the story is over. So, when you resolve a problem, it must always be within the context of an even greater plot escalation. As part of the novel-writing intensives that I teach, I review and critique participants’ manuscripts. Often I find that aspiring authors have listened to the advice of so many writing books and included an engaging “hook” at the beginning of their story. This is usually a good idea; however, all too often the writer is then forced to spend the following pages dumping in background to explain the context of the hook.

IN CONCLUSION

By consistently driving your story forward through action that follows naturally, characters who act believably, and tension that mounts exponentially, you’ll keep readers flipping pages and panting for more of your work.

 

Jami Gold’s Resources for Writers

My Writing Articles by Jami Gold

I’ve written over 700 posts on my blog, most geared toward writers. Sign up for my newsletter to receive new blog posts every Tuesday and Thursday. The links below highlight some of the most useful and helpful posts so far (or use the search box in the sidebar to find information about a specific topic). https://jamigold.com/for-writers/

Favorite Writing Blogs and Resources

  • Fiction University by author Janice Hardy (excellent writing craft advice) and her team of guest authors (for more writing and publishing advice), including the Indie Author Series, where I’m a faculty member/guest blogger
  • Writers Helping Writers (The Bookshelf Muse) by authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (home of writing thesauruses for brainstorming unique emotion, settings, weather, and sensory information, etc.)
  • One Stop for Writers by Angela and Becca, the same team as above and the authors of the fantastic Emotion Thesaurus, created an online version of all their thesaurus collections and tools
  • Writer’s Knowledge Base by author/link-collector Elizabeth Spann Craig (the search engine for writers)
  • storyfix.com by author Larry Brooks (great breakdown of story structure; author of Story Engineering)
  • warriorwriters by author/social media expert Kristen Lamb (fantastic advice about writing and publishing industry; home of #MyWANA)
  • edittorrent by editors Theresa Stevens and Alicia Rasley (writing advice and publishing news from editors)

Favorite Writing Tools and Resources

  • OneNote: A free, full-featured application for saving research notes, planning our story, capturing photos and ideas, etc. And everything is searchable. Squee!
  • Dropbox: Never lose your writing! Internet-based, password-secure storage to access your work from any connected device (computer, phone, tablet). Ta-da! Instant backups. *smile*
  • Evernote: A great little access-anywhere note-taking application. I use this for everything from grocery lists to remembering that cool name for a character I saw in a movie’s credits.
  • Scrivener: Writing tool for planning, drafting, and ebook formatting. I mostly use this for drafting, but the possibilities are endless. (For Windows and Mac)
  • TechSurgeons: Need a (better) website/blog? TechSurgeons specializes in author services (and understands our neuroses!). Super reliable, kick*ss support, and technical geniuses. (Why yes, they’ve saved my site more times than I can count. *smile*)

Favorite Writing Craft and Reference Books

Click here for a listing of writing craft and reference books I’ve used and/or discussed on my blog

The Writing Craft: Novel Openings to Avoid by Jami Gold

Jami Gold has the most complete Writing Tips, Writing Resources, Editing Resources and they are all unbelievably wonderful! I am posting one of dozens of great writing tips, plus so much more. http://www.jamigold.com  I discovered Jami Gold on Anne Allen’s blog and she also presents wonderful writing tips!http://www.annerallen.com 

I found the following writing tip to be exactly what I needed to know and so interesting – who knew?  Jami did!

 

 

 

Novel Openings to Avoid:

1)     Weather reports: the famous opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night” may keep contemporary audiences aware of Lord Bulwer-Lytton’s otherwise forgettable 1830 novel, Paul Clifford, but not in a good way.  Opening with meteorological events isn’t only a problem with people who’ve read too much Victorian literature. Our television-saturated brains tend to think in terms of the “establishing shot” of a screenplay. But, a novel needs more than pictures to connect with the reader. It needs human emotion.

2)     Morning wake-ups: showing your character waking up or getting ready for work/school hits the snooze button for readers. In a movie or TV show, you can show one character getting ready for work and it’s interesting. In the cable TV series, Dexter, the serial killer/protagonist’s morning ablutions open every episode. But in a book, where you couldn’t have the creepy-comic music and double-entendre blood orange shots, the same scene would bore us silly.

3)     Dreams: some people call this the “Dallas” opening, because of the TV soap that got written into such a corner the writers had to pretend a whole season was “just a dream.” Writers sometimes try to hook readers by opening with a scene of surreal horror—but if it all turns out to be a dream or a video game on page three, the reader feels tricked.

4)     The death of the protagonist: This is apparently very, very big with the paranormal/horror crowd. If your MC is a zombie, vampire, or other member of the undead community, think of something else. This has been done, um, to death.

5)     Trains, planes and automobiles: if your character is en route and musing about where he’s been and where he’s going, you’re not into your story yet. Jump ahead to where the story really starts.

6)     Funerals: Slush readers say a huge number of manuscripts—especially memoirs—start with the protagonist in a state of bereavement. But most readers aren’t eager to embark on a literary journey with a miserable MC.

7)     “If I’d known then what I know now…” starting with the conditional perfect may seem clever to you, but unfortunately it does to a lot of other writers, too. This is cliché territory—don’t go there.

8)     Personal introductions: starting with “my name is…” has been way overdone, especially in YA. Again, not a bad idea, but too many people thought of it first.

9)     Minor characters speaking or thinking. The story-telling old man, the child—any detached observer telling the tale will only distance the reader. Whoever/whatever we meet first becomes foremost in our minds, and readers will want to go back to that character. Make the first person you meet an important member of the cast, not a spear-carrier.

10) Reader-Feeder dialogue, also known as “As you Know, Bob.”

“I must retrieve the elusive magical jewelry item,” says Bob. “Without it, I cannot access my rightful powers—and my evil Uncle Murray will usurp my domain.”“But as you know, Bob,” says Sidekick. “The magical jewelry item is in the hands of the four skanky queens of the Bingo Borogroves and guarded by the Dire Dragoons of Doom. We will be risking our very lives.”  Sidekick is not saying this for Bob’s benefit. He’s saying it for ours. Conversational info-dumps are never a good idea.

11) Group activities: don’t overwhelm your reader with too many characters right off the bat. It’s like meeting a bunch of people at a cocktail party: you don’t remember anybody’s name if you hear too many at once.

12) Internal monologue: Musing is boring. Especially reader-feeder musing. “Back when I was younger, I would have slain the dragoons with my magic sword, but when my parents were killed in that chariot crash on the way to get Borogrovian take-out, and my Uncle Murray had me locked up in the Dark Tower of Doom, the skanky queens stole my magic sword and melted it down to make a necklace and a pair of matching earrings…” We don’t need to know this all on the first page. Bring in backstory later.

13) Too much action: Writing gurus keep telling us to start with action, action, action, but this isn’t actually such good advice. We need to be emotionally engaged with a character before we care how many dragoons of doom he slays.

 

***

A Good Review is Hard to Find – Part 2

Part 2 of A Good Review is Hard to Find reveals the truth about who decides whether a book is good or not and I agree. This is a great overall depiction of the importance of getting critiques and reviews prior to publication of a book.

 https://journieswithliz.com/2018/01/12/a-good-review-is-hard-to-find-part-2/

 

Liz Leighton Writing Adventures

Who decides if a book is good? I’ll give you 3 guesses and the first two don’t count. I’m certain you don’t need 3 guesses. Just in case you’re exhausted, running a high fever and the walls are talking to you, or you just woke up from surgery and you’re still groggy from the anesthesia, I’ll go ahead and say it very clearly. The readers. The readers ultimately make that decision.

You can write that first book that you think is great. You can market the hell out of it. You can learn all the tricks to get that book to top ranking on Amazon and you can even use all the ways to manipulate that book to the NYT Bestseller list. In the end, if readers that love the genre(s) of your book don’t like your book, that may be the only one you ever sell.

What does any of…

View original post 635 more words

The 5 Secrets to Developing Better Characters | BookDaily

The 5 Secrets to Developing Better Characters | BookDaily #AuthorTips

By TA Sullivan

November 8, 2017

The 5 Keys to Character Development

My friend wanted me to attend a writing seminar with her, so I agreed to go. However, the summary said it was geared more for novices, so I didn’t really expect to learn much. Boy, was I surprised.

The instructor, a creative writing instructor from one of the top schools in the south, came in and took her place at the podium. After introducing herself and giving us a brief synopsis of what the presentation was to be about, she asked us to take five minutes to describe her as if she was a character in one of our stories.

The results were pretty much as expected. Most of the attendees gave similar descriptions to this:

Melanie is a 30-ish woman with brown, shoulder-length hair, dressed in a gray suit with a lacy, rose-colored blouse.

She told us to hang on to those descriptions, and then she went on to give us her presentation. That’s when we all learned how wrong we had been in actually thinking we had described a character. What we had described was a one-dimensional, uninspired, and uninteresting person.

A story character should be as varied as someone in real life. They should have substance, not just a description. They should come alive for the reader and become someone that the reader can actually believe in. The 5 primary attributes that each character needs in order to achieve this kind of depth are:

Mannerisms/Traits: These are the tics or compulsions that a character displays consistently. For example, the character paces when nervous or agitated, chews gum or tobacco, hums to him- or herself, blinks excessively, clicks a pen without realizing it, taps the end of a pencil on desk all the time, bounces his or her foot, plays with his or her hair or runs his or her fingers through his or her hair, chews his or her fingernails, rubs at a scar on chin, cheek, nose, etc., stutters, or laughs inappropriately.

Behaviors/attitudes: These are how the character displays his or her feelings. For instance, the character might be belligerent, argumentative, disagreeable, a yes-man, Polly Anna-like, naïve, happy, bland, or teasing.

Scents (what smells are associated with the character, if any): Most memories are related (and often triggered) by scent. Yet, as authors we tend to forget about the smell-factor. Perhaps, because books (even electronic ones) don’t yet include the ability to smell our characters or their surroundings. Still, even a description of an odor or an aroma can evoke a sense memory and help our readers remember and relate to our characters. So, include references to scents whenever possible. As it is, most people have a particular scent, and those that wear perfumes or aftershaves, or use perfumed dryer sheets, usually have a cloud of odors surrounding them. Or perhaps, your character forgot to bathe, was climbing about in a dumpster, or lives with a herd of cats.

Sounds (what sounds are associated with this character): Sounds are another overlooked, yet memorable way to help your readers remember and relate to your characters. Perhaps your character whistles, imitates bird calls, makes clicking sounds (of fingernails on a desktop or keyboard, of tongue against the roof of the mouth) or tapping sounds (of shoes or cane or fingers while texting), drags his or her foot, is associated with a rustling (of petticoats, silk fabric against skin), snapping (of cape or of gum), clomping (of boots or shoes), or wheezing (due to asthma or being overweight).

Looks: Physical attributes are the easiest to describe and usually what we (as authors) tend to focus on. However, since most readers are inclined to let their own imaginations flesh out the character, this is where the author needs to be more sparing. Include only a few basics and let the reader do the rest. For instance, relate your character’s hair color, hair style, eye shape and color, colors worn (bright colors, dull colors), clothes styles, height, weight, or unusual physical features (scars, nose size, ear shape, piercings, missing limbs, or tattoos), but describing the shoe size, exact height, and a detailed discussion of the character’s wardrobe is rarely useful and is, most times, distracting.

With all this new information at hand, she again asked to describe her as if describing a character in one of our stories, and the results were profoundly different. For example:

Melanie, our instructor for the day, was a professional-looking woman, who paced the stage in her enthusiasm. Our eyes followed her tapping heels, while her down-home voice engaged our ears. She was a southern lady, from her warm smile to the hint of jasmine that surrounded her.

Now, which description makes you feel as if Melanie was, or could be, a living person? Which description helps you connect on all levels with this person?

So, the next time you need to describe a character for your story, remember there is more to people than just how they look. Ask yourself: what does the character sound like, smell like, and act like. Add each layer to that character until you have someone so real you can see them standing in the room with you. That’s a character that your readers will remember. That’s the type of character you need to help you tell your stories.

So, how about you? How did you make your characters come alive?

WANT TO SHARE THIS TIP? TWEET THIS:

🐦CLICK TO TWEET🐦 #Authortip from @BookDailycom: 5 Secrets To Developing Intriguing Characters by @tasinator

About the Author:

TA Sullivan was born in the back of a cab in Chicago, Illinois, and she has continued to be unconventional in all that she does.

For over thirty years, she has made her living as a technical and marketing writer and editor in such diverse industries as manufacturing, cellular technology, and computer software. She has become quite proficient in turning boring into something readable and entertaining.

Her first book, “Escorting the Dead: My Life as a Psychopomp,” is an autobiographical look into the world of death escorts and near death experiences. It won praise from critics and readers alike.

Her next book, “On Dreams and Dream Symbols,” strove to expand people’s awareness of their dreams and what those dreams might be trying to tell them.

The first book of her fantasy series, “The Starstone,” came out just last year, and she is readying her second book, “The Globe of Souls,” for release this summer.

You can find out more about her on her website and on Twitter

How to Collect Writing Ideas While You’re Procrastinating Online

    writes, “I love the web. In fact, I think it’s the single greatest invention of the twentieth century. It allows people to meet, connect, conduct business, and gather information quickly and easily, all from the comfort of…well, anywhere. It’s also an entertainment mecca. All that art! Music! Films! Literature! And games. The web is an enormous resource center, playground, and time suck.”

Distractions Abound Online

Distractions affect everybody, but writers are especially susceptible. As we sit crafting our prose, sometimes the muse escapes us and we’re tempted to venture away from our writing to find her again. The strongest among us will be able to resist the alluring pull of the Internet’s dazzling distractions. But most of us, in moments of great weakness and in times of desperate procrastination, will succumb to the clicking, often forgetting about the muse completely.

Now, I’m not going to encourage anyone to dawdle. But a little procrastination can be helpful. In fact, I’ve come up with lots of great ideas for blog posts while watching interviews on YouTube. I’ve concocted story ideas from images I perused on iStockPhoto. Tweets on Twitter have inspired poems. There is no limit to the writing ideas that can be found while randomly surfing around the Internet.

Mostly, I’m pretty good about restraining from distractions, but when I do succumb, I put procrastination to work for me!

I Made a Stash File

As I navigate around the Internet while avoiding inevitable tasks, I come across fascinating stuff — stuff I’d like to use — but later (because, you know, right now I’m working on something, sort of). In the past, I used my web browser to bookmark interesting sites so I could revisit them later. Eventually I switched to social bookmarking.

Things started getting spread out. If I wanted to go back to an illustration of an alien I saw three months ago or a mesmerizing poem I found a few weeks back, I would have to scroll through all my browser bookmarks, and then log in to three or four different accounts looking for the item of interest. The system wasn’t working for me.

Then I made a stash file.

Sometimes the Simplest Solutions Are the Best

It started with a text file. I found a particular site that I wanted to use as inspiration for a poem, but I didn’t want to lose the URL or forget where I’d stored it. So, I opened my text editor. I copied and pasted the URL along with a quick note to myself and saved the file to my desktop. Later, when I was ready, I knew exactly where to find it.

I started using that same file for other writing ideas that I found online. Then, I decided to expand my stash file. I created a folder on my desktop and moved the text file into it. Now I could save images to the folder. But for some of the images, I wanted to make notes. So I added a Word document to the folder (Word lets you copy and paste images directly to the document).

Now my stash file is bustling with writing ideas. I still use my other bookmarking systems, but for ideas and inspiration, I strictly use my stash file, and I love it. Sure, paper notebooks feel like home, but when you’re collecting ideas in the digital realm, you need a digital way to store them. I mean, who wants to hand-write URLs?

Tips for Stashing Your Collection of Ideas and Inspiration

You’ll need the following:

  • A desktop folder containing a text file and an MS Word file
  • The ability to copy and paste
  • Some time to waste

Over time, I’ve found a few ways to make this little system quite effective. For example, once I use an idea, I can delete it. This keeps the files short and easy to peruse. I’ve also thought about creating a third document that I can label “used ideas.” Then, I can just move stuff to that document and it will be there in case I need to refer back to it later.

My favorite feature in this system is that I can easily search through the material to quickly find what I’m looking for. It doesn’t matter if my documents grow to 10 pages or 100 pages because I use the Find feature. That’s when you hit command-F (control-F for Windows users) and then enter a word or phrase to search for. Within seconds I can find an item that’s buried in a document. Easy as pie.

How Do You Harvest and Store Writing Ideas?

I’m always looking for efficient ways to keep track of all the great writing ideas I come across. How do you do it?  https://www.writingforward.com

Adventures in Writing The Complete Collection

HOW TO CRITIQUE YOUR MANUSCRIPT

On Victory Crayne’s website, a complete version of, How to Write a Critique is available. This site has many wonderful ways to improve a writer’s writing skills.  I critique my own writing, using this form. I find it essential in developing better writing skills.  Go to Victory Crayne’s website for more ways to improve writing skills or just brush up on the great writing skills you have acquired.

http://www.crayne.com/howcrit.html

Opening

Do the first few sentences or paragraphs of the story grab your attention? Do they present the protagonist’s main problem? Remember how you judge a book or story when you first see it in a bookstore. Don’t we often base our decision to buy or not buy upon those first few sentences? Did this author grab your attention fast enough?

Conflict

By conflict, I do not mean lots of slam-bam action. Conflict is “The mental or moral struggle caused by incompatible desires and aims. That is the kind of conflict that makes stories vitally alive.” – Ben Bova in “The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells”.

Is there emotional conflict WITHIN the main character? Between the main characters? Emotional conflict is part of what gets readers interested. For example: love vs. loyalty; greed vs. duty; fear vs. desire; revenge vs. self-doubt. Is there enough conflict between the characters? Is it expressed through action, dialogue, attitudes, or values? Were the characters sufficiently contrasted? Or did they seem to be totally satisfied with their roles? Did they have the potential to transform each other?

Plot

Was the main plot clear and believable? Did the main character have a clearly defined problem to solve? Did you feel by the end of the piece that this problem was solved or did the character become resolved to live with it? Were you able to determine the time and place of the story quickly enough? Did the story start at the right place? Did it end at the right place in the plot? Are there scenes which do not seem to further the plot? Were there too many flashbacks, which broke your attention? Was every subplot useful? Did it add to the overall story or did the author seem to stick it in just for complexity?

Pacing:

Did the plot/subplots move fast enough to keep the reader’s attention? Resolution of conflict: Did the conflict and tension in the plots and subplots come to some reasonable ending? Or did the author leave us hanging, wondering what happened? When you finished, were there things that you still felt needed to be explained? If the author did leave some conflict unresolved, did they indicate somewhere that future stories are pending?

Setting

Is there enough description of the background in the story to paint a picture that seems real enough for the reader? Did you feel that you were transported to ‘that time or place’? Was there too much description so modern readers might tend to become bored? Was the description written with clichés? Did the author use good enough names for people, places, and things? Names help set the tone for a story. Were some names of people hard to keep track of? Did some names seem inconsistent with the character? Were the names too stereotypical.

Timing

Is the timing and order of events in the story consistent? For example, did John drive his new car on his vacation in chapter six but it wasn’t until chapter ten that he bought it?

Characterization

Did the people seem real? Or were the main characters stereotypes or one-dimensional cardboard characters? Were the facts about the characters accurate and consistent? People do not exist in a vacuum. They have family, friends, a job, worries, ambitions, etc. Did you get a sense of enough of these, but not too much, for the main characters? Did you get a good picture of the culture, historical period, location, and occupation of the main character? Did you get enough of a sense of paradoxes within the character? Enough of their emotions, attitudes, values?

Backstory: Were you distracted by too much background information of a character at one time? Did the author seem to dump a lot of information on the background of a character in one or two long speeches, or did we learn about that character here and there in smaller pieces? Did the protagonist undergo some change in the story? Does each chapter/page have enough sensory description? Can the reader easily sense what is happening physically to the main character? Were there enough words of sight, sound, touch, smell, or taste? If the story used a person as the antagonist (villain), did they seem real too? Or did they seem so evil or one-sided that they were more like ideal villains? Did they have some redeeming qualities too? Did the villain seem to be a hero in their own mind?

Dialogue

Did the words from the mouths of the people in the story seem consistent with their personalities? Was there too much or not enough dialogue, in your opinion? Usually writers err on the side of not enough dialogue. Did any character tend to talk in long monologues?

Were you able to sense the conflict, attitudes, and intentions of each character in their dialogue without the author telling you of these directly? Were you able to detect any exchange of power that is sexual, physical, political, or social? Did the dialogue seem easy to speak? Can you ‘hear’ it? If it sounds unusual, you might suggest that the writer try reading it aloud. Does each character have their own speech rhythm, accent (if necessary), vocabulary, and even length of sentences?

Point of View

Was a given chapter or section written from one person’s point of view? Are there too many points of view in the story? Did the story skip around between the first person or third person point of view (POV)? Were the changes in POV signaled clearly?  If the story was written in the third person POV, as most stories are, did the story stick with the omniscient (all knowing) POV, use a limited POV (where we don’t know everyone’s motives except by clues from their words or actions), or did the author mix the two? Did the author’s choice seem right to you?

Show versus tell

When in the POV of a character, did the author describe what his/her senses showed, e.g., sight, sound, smell, touch, taste? Or did the author just tell you the dinner was very good? Did the author describe exactly how the people acted? Was there too much abstract language where specific details would have made a greater impact on the reader?

Format of the text

Was it easy to read or were the paragraphs too long or the lines too long (not enough margin)?

Would it help to put blank lines between paragraphs? If the piece is to be read on a computer monitor, adding a blank line between paragraphs will make it much easier for your critics to read. Note: when you submit the final version to print publishers, it is best to adhere to their manuscript format (no blank lines between paragraphs).

Grammar and spelling

Was the English readable? Were there too many grammatical errors, misuse of punctuation, run-on sentences, etc.?

Did you point out any typos or misspelling? How many times have you missed that in your writing because you passed over it without seeing it? Were there so many such errors that they made reading the piece difficult for you? Did the author use too many exclamation points (one of my weaknesses)? Were there any cliches in the narrative? For example, I once wrote “fruits of mother nature” and “thoughts burning in his mind”, both of which are cliches. In dialogue cliches are okay if the character would speak that way.

Style

You may wish to comment on the style the story was written in, e.g., humorous, wordy, sparse, literary, homespun, technical, etc.