Oct 02

Fiction Writing – 5 Top No-Nos

Fiction writing mistakes to avoid.Fiction writers who are good at what they do, enjoy what they do. They like creating something from nothing . . . well from an idea. They enjoy the craft and the process.

But, with that said, there are 5 top mistakes these writers make.

1. You make the beginning of your story all roses.

While we’d all love to live in a peaceful, happy land, readers need something to sink their teeth into, especially at the beginning of the story.

The beginning of your story is the hook. It’s where you GRAB the reader and make her have to turn the page and want to know what’s going to happen to the protagonist.

Here are a couple of examples of ‘hooking’ beginnings:

“I have noticed that teachers get exciting confused with boring a lot. But when my teacher said, ‘Class, we have an exciting project to talk about,’ I listened away.”
“The Talented Clementine” by Sara Pennypacker.

“My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.”
“Because of Winn-Dixie” by Kate DiCamillo

These two examples of children’s writing give you a good idea of what it takes to ‘hook’ the reader.

2. The dialog is weak, fluffy.

Having weak dialog can kill your story. You need your characters to have passion . . . to have life.

You want dialog that is strong and tight. You want the emotion (the conflict, the tension, the passion) to come through the words. And, you want to say it in as few words and as realistically as possible.

You want the reader to feel what the character is feeling at that moment.

If Bob is angry in the story, show it through his dialog:

“WHAT! Who said you could take that?!”
“Hey! What are you doing?!”
“No! You can’t. Now get lost.”
“Get your hands off of me!”

The tight, strong dialog goes for exchanges also:

“Hey! What are you doing?!” Bob yelled.

Gia spun around. “Oh, ugh, nothing.” Her eyes darted to the door then back to Bob.

3. The story is predictable.

You’ve got to have some surprises in the story. If you don’t, it will make for a rather dull, predictable story.

For this aspect of your story, think questions.

– Why is the character in that situation?
– How did he get there?
– What must she be feeling, seeing?
– How can see get out of it?
– What might happen next?

Try to come up with four or five options as to what might happen next.

In an article at Writer’s Digest, the author advises to “Close your eyes and watch your scene unfold. Let the characters improvise. What are some outlandish things that could result? If something looks interesting, find a way to justify it.” (1)

Let your imagination run wild.

4. Your characters are one-dimensional.

For readers to become engaged in a story, they have to develop a connection with the protagonist and other characters. In order for this to happen, the characters must be multi-dimensional.

Characters need to be believable and unique. You don’t want them to be predictable or a stereotype.

According to “Breathing Life into Your Characters” by Rachel Ballon, Ph.D., “The essential components for creating successful characters with emotional and psychological depth—feelings, passion, desires, psychology, and vision—reside within [the writer].”

So, think about it. What conditions or characteristics does your character have?

– Does he have a personality disorder?
– Does he have phobias?
– Is she dysfunctional?
– Is she a troublemaker or bully?
– Is he anxious?
– Does she have an eating disorder?
– Is she fearful?
– Is she a risk taker, fearless?

And, keep in mind that the more stressful an ‘inciting incident’ or event, the more reaction and/or adjustment there will be.

For example: If a child lost a pet, it wouldn’t be as severe as losing a parent.
If a woman became separated from her husband, it wouldn’t be as severe as having her husband suddenly die.

So, using your experiences and innate characteristics, along with research, you can create multi-faceted characters.

5. You dump information into the story.

This is more of a mistake that new writers may make. I had a client who created the entire first paragraph of her middle-grade story with ‘information dump.’

She had the protagonist talking to a stuffed animal, in a pretend interview. She gave backstory and other details she wanted to convey to the reader through the interview. She didn’t realize that this information needed to be layered or weaved into the story, not dumped in one big truck load.

You might also use a prologue to give backstory.

While there are other things to watch for in fiction writing, these are five of the top no-nos.

Reference:
(1) 5 Biggest Fiction Writing Mistakes and Fixes

MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

Writing – 6 Essential Steps to Publication
Why Hiring a Ghostwriter for Your Children’s Book is a Good Idea
Submitting Queries – Be Specific and Professional

Apr 03

Writing – Let Tom Swift Guide You

Learn the craft of writingGuest Post by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Ever heard of Tom Swifties?

Maybe you’re too young to be familiar with the classic Tom Swift adventures for boys. Or maybe you’re a girl who never read a Tom Swift book nor cares to.

Tom Swifties are one-line jokes lampooning the style of Victor Appleton, the author of the original Tom Swift books. People started making jokes about his overuse of adverbs and the unnecessary taglines he wrote into his dialogue. Like the Polish jokes, they were so much fun that that a whole series of them became available for the pun-loving. The author of these classics, of course, laughed all the way to the bank. But that’s a lesson for one of my marketing seminars, not this article on writing.

Tom Swifties were then. This is now. I haven’t dared to go to the new books in the series but I assume that this outdated writing has been eliminated from them.

You’ll want to minimize tags and adverbs in your writing, too!

An example from one of the Swift books will suffice to let you know what to watch for.

(Thank you to Roy Peter Clark for the example.)

“‘Look!’ suddenly exclaimed Ned. ‘There’s the agent now! I’m going to

speak to him!’ impulsively declared Ned.'”

Even authors who swear that adverbs are always very, very good things to use and are reluctant to give up their clever taglines can see how, well . . . .awful this is. In fact, I have to reassure people the quotation is real! Some of the writing that comes to the desks of agents and editors looks almost as bad. Here’s how you can make sure yours doesn’t:

1. Use taglines only when one is necessary for the reader to know who is speaking.

2. Almost always choose “he said” or “she said” over anything too cute, exuberant or wordy like “declared” and “exclaimed.”

3. Cut the “ly” words ruthlessly, not only in dialogue tags but everywhere. You will find specific techniques for strengthening your writing in the process of eliminating adverbs in The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. This book will also give you some computer tricks for making these edits easy.

The Frugal Editor is available for sale on Amazon.com. Until you get the book, you don’t have to know the reasons or the techniques for making the “ly” and tagline edits easy. As Nike is fond of saying, “Just do it!”
—–

Carolyn Howard-Johnson, award-winning author of The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won’t and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. The former is the winner of USA Book News “Best Professional Book” award and the Book Publicists of Southern California’s coveted Irwin Award. Learn more at http://www.howtodoitfrugally.com

MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

8 Top Fiction Writing Mistakes to Avoid
Storytelling – Don’t Let the Reader Become Disengaged
Writing for Children – Character Believability and Conflict

Need Help With Your Story

Let me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. I can turn you story into a publishable and saleable book.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line). Or, you can give me a call at 834—347—6700

Mar 20

8 Top Fiction Writing Mistakes to Avoid

Writing mistakes to avoidThere’s a great article in The Writer, April 2012 issue (1). If you’re able to get your hands on a copy or find it online, it’s worth the read.

Delving into this article, I did some additional research and came up with eight elements that are probably the most common fiction writing mistakes.

1. You start your story too soon.

The very first on the list of writing mistakes to avoid is beginning your story too soon.

To give you a rough idea of what this means, suppose you start the story with the protagonist waking up. She brushes her teeth then gets dressed. After that she makes herself breakfast (coffee and a bowl of oatmeal with raisins and almonds). Suppose again that this beginning scene takes a paragraph or two. Then she get a phone call. The coffee mug drops out of her hands. Her knees go weak.

Are bells and whistles going off here?

Do you think an acquisitions editor will bother reading to the good part where the protagonist gets that phone call that shakes her world?

Nope!

Start the story at the phone call. Start your story where the action begins.

This goes for self-publishers as well. You may not have to get past the publishers’ gatekeepers, but you do want to be recognized as a good writer. You don’t want the reader to say, “What the heck do I care about her morning routine.”

For more on the gatekeeper, check out:
How Do You Make a Good Story Worthy of Getting Past the Gatekeeper?

2. The plot can’t be found. Where’s the plot? There’s got to be a plot.

Every story needs a plot. It’s the reason why the story is being told.

Literary Devices says, plot “describes the events that make up a story or the main part of a story. These events relate to each other in a pattern or a sequence.” (2)

Think of the plot as the foundation of a pyramid. It’s the base of the story. It’s the basis for the other elements, such as the characters and settings to be.

There are five basic elements to a plot:

– At the bottom left point of the pyramid is the introduction, which is called the exposition. You can think of it as a landing.

– Going up the left side of the pyramid will be rising action and enhanced conflict.

– At the peak of the pyramid is the climax.

– Going down the right side is a decline or falling in the action.

– At the bottom right side is the resolution. At this point, the story, all the conflicts and loose ends, are all tied up. (Hopefully, the protagonist is triumphant!)

Keep in mind the resolution evolves from the falling action and could take a while. Or, it can be sudden, like when Thelma and Louise drove off the cliff.

3. The protagonist’s conflict isn’t strong enough.

Let’s go back to Thelma and Louise. Once Louise shot the man who attempted to rape Thelma, they chose to run rather than call the police and face the consequences. After that the stakes and rising action kept on coming. Events kept piling up to the point of ‘do or die.’ At least in their eyes.

Suppose they had called the police. They’d be arrested and go to trial. The story would be about them fighting a murder conviction.

If the second scenario was used, the story wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting and ‘heart tugging.’ The reader wouldn’t have had the same emotional connection with the main characters.

Bottom line, make your protagonist squirm. Put the pressure on. Don’t play it safe.

4. The point-of-view (POV) isn’t clear.

Whose point of view is the story being told from? Is it omniscient? Is it third-person?

The POV helps the reader make a connection to the protagonist. Your story needs one POV. Choose the one you’re comfortable with and the one you think will resonate best with your readers and keep it focused.

If you mix up your POV, your reader will most likely become confused.

There are four basic points-of-view in writing: (1) first person, (2) second person, (3) third person, (4) omniscient.

To clarify these POVs, here are examples:

First person: I should go for a walk. (The protagonist is telling the story himself.)
Second person: You should go for a walk. (The narrator includes the reader in the story.)
Third person:  Joe should go for a walk. (The narrator tells the story.)
Omniscient: Joe decided to go to the gym. Mary also decided to go to the gym. They ran into each other at the gym. (This may be a bit crude, but you get the idea, the reader is privy to everyone’s thoughts and actions.)

According to an excerpt from “Elements of Fiction: Characters and Point of View” by Orson Scott Card, with omniscient “you can show the reader every character’s thoughts, dreams, memories, and desires; you can let the reader see any moment of the past or future.”

In regard to which POV to choose, Robert J. Sawyer puts it best, “The rule is simple: pick one character, and follow the entire scene through his or her eyes only.” (3)

Remember, clarity rules in all writing, so choose the one that will allow the reader to easily know who’s telling the story.

5. Not all scenes are active.

What keeps a reader reading?

Action. Whether it’s physical (the protagonist is running from a barrage of bullets), mental (he’s figuring out a mathematical problem that will bring him closer to resolution), or emotional (the journey or obstacle is causing emotional upheaval), every scene needs to let the reader think the protagonist is trying to answer the current question or overcome the current problem.

6. You’re not taking the time needed to do it right.

While you may want to get your story finished. You need to take your time. When writing my middle-grade fantasy, Walking Through Walls, I took two years. And, I’m antsy – if it could be done yesterday that’d be great. But, some things take time.

First, if you’re an outliner, you need to create your outline.

Next up is your first draft, but this is just the beginning.

You need to read that draft for clarity, tightening (including dialogue), enhancing plot and characters. This will lead to another draft and probably another.

7. You still have loose ends.

This one has to do with subplots or even things you might have mentioned within your 80-100,000 word novel. All loose ends must be tied up.

I’ll use “Walking Through Walls” as example of this. When the protagonist, Wang, reached what he was looking for, a mystical temple, a black bird was circling above his head. The bird was again mentioned in two other scenes.

Why was the same bird in at least three scenes? Even if the bird had been specifically mentioned once, there should be a reason.

In another scene, the Master Eternal, who Wang was learning from, told him, “Today you begin a new life. Take an axe with a purple tip.”

Why did he have to take one with a purple tip? If it wasn’t significant why was it mentioned?

If it’s mentioned in the story, it must be relevant to the story, and any questions or loose ends pertaining to it must be answered / resolved.

8. There’s no take-away value. The theme can’t be found.

After you’re finished with the initial revisions and edits, you need to determine if your theme is clear. If you didn’t have one when you started, see what take-away there is in the story.

If you’re not familiar with ‘theme,’ it’s what gives your story meaning. It’s what the reader can relate to in his own life. According to an article at Writer’s Digest, “Theme is the relevance of your story to life.” (4)

For more on theme, you can check out:
Theme and Your Story

References:

(1) The Writer, April 2012, “9 Writing Mistakes.”
(2) http://literarydevices.net/plot/
(3) http://www.sfwriter.com/ow07.htm
(4) http://www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/exploring-theme-a-key-component-to-successful-writing

MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

Submitting Manuscript Queries – Be Specific and Professional
5 Must-Know Tips on Writing a Powerful Thriller (and most other fiction stories)
Characters or Story – Which Comes First?

Need Help With Your StoryLet me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. I can turn you story into a publishable and saleable book.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line). Or, you can give me a call at 834—347—6700.