Category Archives: Rewriting

Favorite How-to-Write Books

Sometimes, the best solution to a story or writing problem is to sit back, read a how-to book, think and then write. No one book has a solution for every problem and for that reason, I have several in my library. I find most books on writing more useful AFTER the story is written. Once you’ve read applied some of the techniques and lessons in these books to either an outline or a revision, your skill as a writer grows and subsequent first drafts become richer and better written.

My five go-to books are:

RandThe 10% Solution: Self Editing for the Modern Writer by Ken Rand
Are you saying what you intended to and are you using the best word choices? Use the ACBs of editing – accuracy, clarity and brevity. Rand lists the syllables (such as -ly) and words which may signal a writing problem. This systematic approach is good for line edits because it allows you to see the words without getting involved in the story.

21stWriting 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Story Telling by Donald Maass
This book is great for both brainstorming and examining the first draft’s effectiveness. The chapters provide a good foundation for all the questions Maass suggests writers should consider when writing about a character or scene or the plot. I must admit that it would be too much for me to apply all the questions to an entire novel, but addressing even one or two of them, I have found can enrich a scene or the story immensely.

DummiesWriting Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy
From fiction writing basics, to what makes a great story, to creating compelling setting and characters, story structure, theme and getting published, this book is a great how-to for beginners and a good reference for everyone.

 

The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! By Nina MunteanuNina
Take every workshop you’ve attended, develop cheat sheets for quick reference, and you’ve got The Fiction Writer. This book focus on the writing side of getting published with tips on everything from world building, to the hero’s journey, plotting, writing query letters and synopses to the zen of passionate writing.

BellRevision and Self-Editing for Publication: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Novel that Sells by James Scott Bell
Written in two parts, Self-Editing, and Revision, this book is a compendium of the items that are non-negotiable in writing a novel. It’s written concisely and filled with great examples. The chapter “The Ultimate Revision Checklist” has great points to strengthen beginnings, middles and endings along with scenes, setting, theme and how to polish your manuscript.

Other books recommended by my critique group (thanks everyone!):

FarlandWriting Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland
This book is part of David Farland’s Million Dollar Writing Series. Learn how to analyze an audience and outline a novel so that it can appeal to a wide readership and become a bestseller.

ThesaurusThe Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
Designed to enrich your ability to express emotions on the page, this thesaurus tackles 75 common emotions by defining them, listing physical signals, internal sensations experienced, mental responses and cues for suppressed or long term encounters with the emotion.

McKee 2Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee
It may have been written for screen writers but the elements of story, the principles of story design and the elements of craft used to tell a good story are universal. It explains the principles that shape the art of storytelling and the realities, not the mysteries of writing.

KingOn Writing by Stephen King
Entertaining and empowering, Stephen King not only teaches about writing, but provides a practical view of the craft and a writer’s life.

 

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence BlockBlock
A fun approach to writing and the writing life chapters include: Washing Garbage (revision), Creative Procrastination, and Creative Plagiarism.

 

Damn good novelHow to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling, Parts I and II by James N. Frey
Filled with down to earth basics, principles, and suggestions, this book helps writers recognize, analyze and correct problems in their work.

The Anatomy of a Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by TrubyJohn Truby
A story consultant for the film industry, Truby challenges writers to dig deep within and explore their own values and world views. From making an audience care to making characters grow in meaningful ways writers will learn how to move an audience.

BulliesBullies, Bastards and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys in Fiction by Jessica Page Monell
The title says it all! From moral codes and personality traits, every character needs a specific level of integrity, decency and honesty filled with complicated yet believable motivations.

CardHow to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
A long standing favorite, the MICE quotient – milieu, idea, character and event- will help you structure a successful story. And if it’s science fiction or fantasy you’re writing, you’ll learn enough about the genre to ensure your stories are publishable.

This list is by no means comprehensive, so please share your favorites with us. Which books do you recommend?

Cloud-Based Storage and You: How to Never Lose Your Work, Because if You Did, You Would Cry Like a Little Baby

Have you ever had a “friend” lose a manuscript, or even half a manuscript, due to a computer crash? They may describe it like a slow-motion car accident, their hope melting away with each second. Something like this.

Friends don’t let friends save work solely on their desktops. Friends make sure friends are saving their work on a cloud-based storage. I personally don’t care which company you go with, just as long as you do go with one as a back up. 

You may accuse me, by the end of this article, of using scare tactics to get you to back up your work. 

Yes, you are correct. 

In the Writing World, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. The writers who save their work, and the writers that do not save their work or have copies. THESE ARE THEIR STORIES.

1. Lord Byron. What’s worse than dying? Sending the very last thing you wrote, your memoirs, to your editor with the request he publish them after you die, and instead he rips up each page and throws it into a fire. THAT’S worse than dying, probably.

2. Sylvia Plath. How about after you die, your own husband destroys your very last works, including 130 pages of a novel you were working on?

3. Ernest Hemingway. Maybe it would be less painful if your wife took a bunch of your short stories to show them off to friends, only to have her bags stolen in the train station.

4. Edna St. Vincent Millay. Let’s say you take a vacation to Florida and bring your manuscript. When you return to the hotel after a stroll on the beach, you find the hotel engulfed in flames.

5. Author 1 (Name redacted because you’d recognize it, and he’s still alive). When this author was just starting out, he lent the only copy of his very first novel to his friend to read. She lost it. Oops!

I know what you’re thinking. But Kristin, those writers didn’t use computers. Computers are different.

OH ARE THEY?

6. Toy Story 2. That time when an employee accidentally entered the wrong code, which started systematically wiping the entire film from the database. (Guess why this is a happy ending? Somebody was smart/lucky enough to have a back-up drive at home.)

7. Author 2 (Name redacted because you’d recognize it, and he’s still alive). When this author was just starting out, he decided to write a short story every week. The first year went pretty well, so he decided to keep going with this goal. He was doing fine until his house burned down in a fire, and he lost every single story he had written over several years.

8. Author 3 (Name redacted because you’d recognize it, and he’s still alive). This author was blazing through a late and long-awaited novel. He left his office for the day, only to return the next day to find all of his computers, back up drives, and other technical equipment stolen. Because he had been in such a rush to finish the novel, he hadn’t been saving it regularly, which meant the only form he had left of the novel was the first couple of chapters, which also hadn’t yet undergone the heavy edits he had just made to them.

Let’s learn from these brave souls’ (very) hard-earned mistakes. Back up your work. One of the best, free resources out there right now is Dropbox. It’s a cloud-based application that saves your work on multiple third-party servers, which means you can access your saved work at any time from any device with internet.

It doesn’t hurt to also have a hard copy, in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Because we all know that planning is everything.

What’s the most painful story you’ve heard about a work being destroyed or lost or deleted?

Don’t say what you mean: writing conflict through dialogue

A guest post by David Jón Fuller.

There are a lot of ways to express conflict through dialogue in a scene, but it can be very effective – and a lot of fun – if it isn’t done openly.

People (and characters) hate conflict. They usually do everything they can to avoid it, unless they’re devoid of empathy. But readers… they love conflict. It makes for great dialogue, exciting scenes, and a plot that keeps moving.

I think, as a writer, it can be easy to fall into placating one or the other of those camps. You want to protect your characters from too much pain, so they work out compromises too often and no one gets hurt. Or, you throw them into the exciting drama of constant conflict, and they will die on that hill before they give in.

The happy middle ground – for characters, your story, and readers – is somewhere in between; and when I’m writing scenes, I follow some basic guidelines that govern how it plays out. These aren’t the only ways to do it, of course, but they’re options to consider.

(Also: one assumption underlying any scene I write is that the characters in it need something from each other. If they didn’t, one or more of them would just leave.)

 

  1. Characters want different things, but they don’t necessarily say so.

Conflict is more than this:

Character 1: I want the thing!

Character 2: I don’t want you to have the thing!

 

It’s more often like this:

Character 1: Say, why don’t we go outside and enjoy the warm weather? (The thing I want is hidden in the garage, and I want to get it)

Character 2: No, let’s stay in the living room and play chess! (I’ve already stolen the thing from the garage and I don’t want you to find out)

Give your characters subtext! They don’t have to say what they really want from each other. In fact, I think it’s better if they avoid doing so until they have no other choice.

 

  1. Characters want different things, but one or both of them don’t realize it.

In a different scenario, things could play out like this:

Character 3: Is there a gas station coming up soon? (My highly contagious stomach flu which I haven’t told you about is acting up and I need a washroom)

Character 4: Don’t worry about that! Even though it says “empty” here, we have plenty of fuel. (If we stop, I’ll be late for my meeting with the loan shark I owe money to)

 

You can use this to heighten tension, but be careful about confusing the reader. You can make it clear something deeper is going on by showing other details, rather than having the character say anything.

Character 3: (gripping the armrest, sweating, pale, trying to conceal a grimace) Is there a gas station coming up soon?

Character 4: (Checks wristwatch, glancing repeatedly in rear-view mirror) Don’t worry about that! Even though it says “empty” here, we have plenty of fuel.

 

  1. Characters generally want to avoid revealing deep truths about themselves. They may not know those truths, either.

It would be nice if scenes played out as logically as this:

Character 5: If you leave home, I’ll feel like a failure as a parent! That’s why I’m trying to make you feel like you’re the failure for leaving.

Character 6: If you keep me here, I’ll feel as if I’m not my own person! I need to leave so I can prove to you – and myself — I’m competent and independent.

 

Even if both characters know what the underlying issue is, they may try to frame it in a way that makes themselves look better:

Character 5: Go ahead and leave – you’ll never make it on your own! (If you leave, I’ll feel like a failure as a parent)

Character 6: If I stay here, I’ll kill myself! Is that what you want? (I need to leave so I can prove to you – and myself – I’m competent and independent)

 

  1. Try this: whatever the character says, make it the opposite of that they really feel.

Instead of a straight back and forth like this:

Character 7: I’m so attracted to you, despite many reasons I shouldn’t be!

Character 8: You disgust me, but I want to help you!

 

It could go like this:

Character 7: Get out of here and leave me alone! (I want you to stay, but I’m afraid my attraction will become too strong and you’ll see I actually love you)

Character 8: As soon as you’re done throwing up, I will! (Drunkenness disgusts me but I couldn’t live with myself if you came to harm because I abandoned you)

 

  1. This is not so much a rule, but it’s a handy tool: Characters generally won’t say what they really, desperately want or need until the climax of the story. It doesn’t have to be a speech, it doesn’t have to be that articulate – but at the climax is where they will be most honest about what they say. If that means they can’t say anything, that’s fine, too. But I generally don’t think the climax is the point at which they will be flip or indifferent – it’s cards-on-the-table time. So when the conflict of the story comes to a head, try to find a way for the characters to declare, or defend, what they love and prize more than anything else. It can be as simple as a single word, like “No.”

 

If you use any of the above strategies throughout the story leading up to the climax —showing what your characters desperately want but won’t come out and say —having them finally be open about it in the climax can be very powerful.

For examples, think of your favourite books, stories, movies or plays, where the climax was truly electrifying. Consider why that is, and whether the characters are finally revealing something about themselves. I’d bet that very often, that revelation or all-pretenses-abandoned sense of the climactic scene is what gives it its power.

There are other strategies for writing dialogue, but the above approaches are ones I find most useful when throwing characters with different agendas together in a scene.

About David Jón Fuller: 100819 David Fuller 0002
David Jón Fuller is a writer whose fiction has appeared in Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History; Tesseracts 18: Wrestling With Gods; Kneeling in the Silver Light: Stories From the Great War; and in the upcoming anthology Accessing The Future. He lives in Winnipeg, and as time allows, blogs at www.davidjonfuller.com.

Thou Shall (Not) Kill Your Darlings

Don’t you do it, George.

There is a popular piece of advice that has gone around (and around) writing circles since William Faulkner said it: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” Joss Whedon has since advised writers to cut what they love most from their manuscripts or screenplays if they’ve come up against a serious case of writer’s block. The advice is, succinctly: take out what you love the most to get “unstuck.” And writers have agonizingly cut their beloved characters and scenes out of their first and second drafts, thinking they are heeding valuable advice.

While I personally think authors like George R. R. Martin kill off beloved characters particularly well in order to elicit emotions from the reader, that’s not exactly what we’re talking about. I mean when a writer gets some alpha or beta reader’s feedback suggesting they cut a character or scene the author particularly loves. Forcing a character out of a first or second draft can be devastating to a newer writer. Sometimes, it might be necessary. But other times, it’s important to recognize when you have something special.

We can safely assume Joss Whedon has been stuck on many occasions because he’s a writer and that’s in the job description. Let’s imagine Whedon came down with a serious case of writer’s block while working on episodes of Firefly. Following his own advice, what would he take out? My favorite part of the show is Malcolm Reynolds, the captain of the firefly ship Serenity. Now let’s just imagine Firefly without Malcolm Reynolds for a minute. I can’t help but ask myself… What’s the point, anymore?

Would the show have reached its famed cult status if Whedon replaced Mal with a different, less Han Solo-esk character? Perhaps, but an absolutely vital piece of what makes Firefly so memorable, part of its magic, would have been buried in old drafts, never to see the light of day. Mal is special. He’s important to the story, and the story would be weaker without him. Imagine if we never knew Nathan Fillion as Mal because Whedon was under a deadline, or had had a bad week?

Put down the knife; back slowly away from the computer. Before immediately killing off your favorite character or deleting your favorite scene, I offer you an alternative: questions.

1. Did I develop this character to his/her full potential?

2. Is there something buried in my character’s past that could be vital to this story and increase conflict?

3. *Gulp* Is there a conflict?

4. What about my character could cause conflict with: a. others, b. his/her surroundings, c. his/her culture, or d. him/herself?

5. Did I outline this story? (Most writers report writer’s block when they skimp on pre-writing and outlining)

6. Am I holding back, or waiting to reveal something pivotal until the end? What if I put it near the beginning instead? How would that change the story, and could it make the story stronger?

7. What would make my side characters more interesting to play as a foil to the main character? Are the side characters just as developed as my main character?

8. Would taking this character out of my story make the story stronger or significantly weaker?

9. Pretend you have cut the scene or character in question. Are you just as enthusiastic about the project as you were before?

10. Are you willing to put in the time and work to fix the issue, deepen the character, conflict, or scene, in order to keep it in your project?

When it comes down to it, writers either run on enthusiasm or discipline. Ideally, at least a little of both. If the character or scene you love is giving you trouble, ask yourself if you’re still enthusiastic about the story, and committed to telling it. If it’s one of your first stories or drafts, you may find it’s better to cut your losses and either begin again or start a different story entirely. But if you love the story and are committed to telling it, there is always a way to fix the problem without resorting to cutting or killing your beloved darlings.