In today’s Journal
* My Best Advice for Fiction Writers, Part 3
* Of Interest
Here at the GoodHovel SnakeBeGone the snake is, um gone. My wife and I moved things around, shifted desks, etc. and found 2 very likely and 3 plausible avenues of approach by which rodents or reptiles might relocate themselves to Inside the Hovel from Outside the Hovel. We assume our visiting snake poured himself back through one of those avenues while I was out.
We went to our friendly Ace Hardware store where we purchased moth balls and coarse steel wool. We (by which I mean “she” since if I get into any of the required positions I might never get up) shot a few mothballs along each hole and then stuffed between two and five pads of steel wool into it.
Unless the next snake, mouse, or packrat is packing dynamite, he ain’t gettin’ in. Anyway, after all that, I took the rest of the day to do nothing.
My Best Advice for Fiction Writers, Part 3
It dawned on me this morning that at the outside this series of posts is useful as a list of possible terms for you to type into the Search box on this hestanbrough.com, harveystanbrough.com or in the Journal archives. Anyway, here we go.
5. Pacing. Pacing, pacing, pacing. Sentence structure and paragraphing goes to pacing. Pacing dictates how fast or slowly the reader reads.
A few notes on sentence structure—
Longer, less-punctuated sentences (think flow) convey stronger emotion or convey emotion more strongly. Always. This is not opinion. It’s fact.
Shorter sentences evoke drama and tension. Always. (However, overuse dilutes the intended effect.)
You may also insert dramatic segments into longer sentences through the appropriate use of punctuation.
It’s insane to me that most fiction writers do not intimately know punctuation and how to wield it as a tool to direct the reading of his or her work.
To be frightened or unsure about one of the major tools in your writers’ toolbox is just silly. If you have ANY questions about punctuation in fiction, pick up a copy of my Punctuation for Writer 2nd Edition.
Yes, I’m speaking to your conscious, critical mind here. Your conscious, critical mind is valuable in two ways:
1. It protects you from harm. (Hence your fear-based reaction when you think about writing without knowing in advance where a story is going.)
2. It enables you to learn. You learn with your conscious mind. Then your creative subconscious absorbs what you learn. Then you forget about it and apply what you learned with your creative subconscious as you write.
6. Cliffhangers. Put one at the end of every major scene and every chapter, period.
Most often, if you trust your characters and write into the dark, the appearance of a cliffhanger will startle even you and mark the end of a scene or chapter.
Emotional or psychological cliffhangers are more prevalent than physical cliffhangers, but any will do.
The cliffhanger is what makes the reader turn the page. Think of the cliffhanger as the near end of the hook.
7. Hooks. The hook isn’t only for the opening of the story.
Yes, it’s important to hook the reader physically and/or emotionally at the beginning of the story. But you also want to hook the reader at the beginning of every major scene and chapter. (See Grounding below.)
Think of the hook is the other end of the cliffhanger.
8. Grounding. Grounding also isn’t only for the opening of the story.
Ground the reader in the setting BEFORE you get anywhere near the character actually doing anything (action).
Let the reader see, hear, smell, feel, and taste the setting and hear or see the POV character’s opnion of that setting (or part of it). That’s how we pull the reader into the story.
On that “POV character’s opinion” thing—
For example, some POV characters, if they step outside and it’s raining, will frown or say, “Aw man” or “Bummer” or “Damn it.” Both the frown and the comment are expressions of an opinion.
Other POV characters (or the same POV character at a different time), if they step outside and it’s raining will smile or say, “Oh, what a great day!” or “Cool!” etc.
Again, facial expressions, body language, and comments are expressions of an opinion.
9. Don’t Start with the Action. To be clear, the stuff up there in Grounding means don’t start with the action.
Note that the segment above on Grounding had nothing whatsoever to do with “plot.” The plot is the result of events happening and the characters either causing or reacting to those events. Don’t attempt to plot or plan anything in advance.
Likewise, starting with the action is another myth. Yeah, I know. You’ve heard it forever. Just like you’ve heard forever that you have to plan (plot) the story before you write a word, and you have to revise, and you have to rewrite, and you have to seek critical input or “a second pair of eyes” or whatever.
Bovine excrement, folks, all of it.
If you just crossed your arms, absolutely determined that what I deride as myths really are necessary to writing good fiction, I probably can’t help you. Only you can do that.
If there’s any spark of the confident You still in there, the You who believes in yourself and can do things without a lot of unnecessary handholding, stop reading this right now and go back to the beginning of Part 1. Then read it all slowly, absorbing it and making sure you understand each point before going on.
But if you have chosen to be irretrievably lost to the unreasoning fears (fears that have no actual real consequences) and the myths that spring from them, I suggest you stop reading this and go find something fun to do.
Again, the effectiveness of everything in this article relies on your ability to understand the difference between Your story and your Character’s story.
If you’re steeped in the myths, I promise, you do not understand that difference.
And if you’re invested in them, you can’t understand that difference.
But I like starting with the action—Listen, if you really want to “start with the action,” go ahead and do that. Then back up. You’re the writer, so unlike the reader, you’re unstuck in time.
Start with action. Zero description. Have your faceless, clothingless, bodyless character with no name and no history race into a plain white room with no dimensions to defuse an explosive undescribed something and somehow narrowly escape getting blown to smithereens.
The ask your characters what happened in the few seconds or minutes or hours or days leading up to that action? Write that first and use it to ground the reader—that’s your opening—then get into the action.
As an interesting aside, most best-selling books that you believe started with action actually didn’t. Most started with grounding the reader in the setting. But they did it in such a way that it drew you (the reader) into the story. The writer hooked and grounded you, and then the action started.
But don’t believe me. Check for yourself. Use Amazon’s Look Inside feature to read the opening of some novels.
10. When writing slows or bogs down, trust your characters.
Just write the next sentence, then the next and the next. Soon the story will be racing along again. Yeah, I now, but it really is that simple.
a. If “Just Write the Next Sentence” doesn’t work because there is no next sentence, read back a few paragraphs. Usually you’ll find that you’ve written past the end of the scene or chapter. If that happens, start a new scene or chapter and Just Write the Next Sentence, etc.
b. If you’re near the end of a novel, same thing. Read back a little. Usually you’ll find that you wrote past the end of the novel. This has happened to me on three occasions. Same advice. Run a spell check, send the manuscript to your first reader, then start the next story.
That’s more than enough for today. Back with Part 4 and some recommendations for reference and craft resources tomorrow.
Talk with you again then.
See “Intellectual Property Valuation Basics” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/intellectual-property-valuation-basics/.
See “How to Write that Last Chapter: 8 Tips for Ending your Book” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/how-to-write-that-last-chapter-8-tips-for-ending-your-book/. Or you could, you know, let it end the way it ends. Still, learn with your conscious mind, apply (write) with your creative subconscious.
The Journal…………………………………… 1420 words
Writing of WCG 7 Santa Fe 2 (novel tentative title)
Day 10… 2524 words. Total words to date…… 27438
Total fiction words for December……… 43852
Total fiction words for the year………… 258826
Total nonfiction words for December… 16820
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 214900
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 473726
Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 4
Calendar Year 2022 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2022 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 70
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. Because It Makes Sense, I trust my characters to tell the story that they, not I, are living. This greatly increases my productivity and provides the fastest possible ascension along the learning curve of Craft because I get a great deal more practice at actually writing. It will do the same for you if only you trust it.