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Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Becca Puglisi of The Bookshelf Muse, a Top Ten Blog for Writers.
We all know that fiction isn’t truth. That’s half the reason we read it, to leave behind the real world for one that we know is someone else’s imaginative figment. But fictional worlds still need authenticity, and as everyone likes to say, the devil is in those details.
Research is the key to building believability, whether you’re writing a historical fiction epic set in the Black Plague or a contemporary YA with a ballerina as the star. Resources on effective research tips abound. We’ve all read about how to research using the Internet, and the importance of using primary sources when possible. So instead of covering old ground, I’d like to share some tools from my own bag to help with the research process and bring credibility to your story.
2. Interview “Unlikely” Experts
3. Start With A Good Book
4. When It Comes To Beta Readers, Throw Your Net Wide
5. Experience As Much As You Can Firsthand
For my June manuscripts, I was editing a potentially good story, but the writing makes it bad. I’m not talking about grammar technicalities; I’m talking about the author’s style. Obviously, she loves talking; and it reflects on her writing.
We preserve the author’s style as much as we can, but…
I’ve always been a big nerd. But for one shining moment, one GLORIOUS MOMENT, when I finished writing my book, OH BOY, YOU’RE HAVING A GIRL: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters, I felt like a complete and utter badass. Here’s why.
A few reasons you should feel good about yourself this weekend…and why you should strive to finish your novel.
I felt like adding a few:
No one can write your novel like you can. Even if you’re sharing a similar idea with a popular novel, what you write IS YOURS. Don’t be discouraged when someone says your novel sounds like something else. They won’t be the same.
A lot of writers never finish. You probably shouldn’t be encouraged by this fact, but you should feel good about finishing a book. It’s very hard to do and it’s extremely satisfying. Once you do, you’ll be able to encourage other authors to do so.
You stayed on track and you accomplished something you promised yourself you would. That’s reason enough to celebrate.
What is it about characters from literature who are awful, miserable, hideous people? What makes them so awesome?
The answer is: Brilliant writing.
(That and the fact that they’re fictional, as opposed to being the people who live next door!)
Writers who ask readers to pal around with hideous characters—especially when said characters are MAIN characters—are asking a lot. So there must be a serious payoff to make the reader invest in the misery of hanging around with unlikables.
What techniques do authors use to create characters and antagonists we LOVE and HATE with equal fervor?
Cause and effect are important in plotting a story. If you rewrite one element of a story, a series of plot changes may be required. Write a paragraph or two about what changes might be necessary in “Cinderella” if you remove the glass slippers from the story.
If there is no glass slipper left behind at the ball…
I have two unrelated characters that I’ll call T and A. T is a teen who has taken English classes for a few years, and speaks English rather poorly from having little practice and exposure to the language outside the classes. A is an adult who speaks…
Just do it, unless you want to make yourself look ridiculous. Even if it’s for something as useless seeming as a school system, look it up. Go to Yahoo! Answers, even! I don’t want another ‘prestigious London boarding school’ that holds the quality of American schooling. As for asylum roleplays,…
Being able to identify what prevents you from moving forward is very important when you’re a writer. It’s easy to become distracted, especially when we’re not sure what distracts us. This weekend, focus on what slows you down or diminishes your motivation.
Short fiction is the “garage band” of science fiction, claims Tor Books editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden, so it’s time to step on that fuzzbox and thrash as hard as you can without knocking over your mom’s weed-trimmer. Actually, I think Nielsen Hayden was referring to the fact that you can try more crazy experiments in short SF than in novels, because of the shorter time commitment of both writer and reader. But how can you become a super-master of the challenging form of short fiction? Here are a few suggestions.
Backstory, or a character’s past, is often necessary to explain a character’s motivations. It can add insight on personality or create reader sympathy.
However, you should try not to present it in the first chapter. When opening a novel, your reader cares more about what’s going on right now than what happened in the past. At the start of a book, the reader isn’t invested enough in the character to care about what happened to them previously, but later in the story, the reader will be intrigued enough by the character to want to know. As a writer, you need to be careful when and how you bring backstory into the story.
When you do need to present backstory, there are several ways:
Finding what point of view (POV) to write in is an important step before you even begin your next project. There are many different options depending on what you’re writing and what you feel most comfortable doing. Once you understand what the different types of POV are, you’ll be able to decide…
Writing dialogue is one of those key elements of fiction that a lot of writers struggle with. Here are 5 ways to write realistic dialogue.
Never use dialogue as an information dump. Too many writers rely on dialogue for story exposition—that is to say that they relay details about plot or backstory through the things their characters say. The result? Writing that sounds completely fake or is what is often referred to as “on the nose dialogue.” Like this: “As you know,” Dr. Constance said, “I’m a forensic specialist, trained by the FBI in DNA analysis, so I’ll take this sample back to the lab for testing. (For more about writing realistic dialogue that doesn’t sound stilted like the previous example, I recommend this free article from Jeff Gerke [excerpted from his book The First 50 Pages: Engage Agents, Editors, and Readers, and Set Up Your Novel for Success.])
Use simple dialogue tags. Fancy dialogue tags like she denounced or he proclaimed might seem like a good way to show off your writer’s vocabulary, but in truth they draw attention away from your dialogue. She said or he said is almost always your best choice. Let the characters’ words speak for themselves.
Use dialogue beats to help with story pacing and to convey information or emotion. Dialogue beats are brief depictions of character action inserted in between dialogue that help bring the scene to life. Like this:“Nah, I don’t mind,” Dan shrugged his shoulders and grinned as he wiped a dirty bandana across his forehead, “Let’s do this thing.”
Remember that often less is more. When you write dialogue look back and see if there are words you can leave out or there is a shorter way to say what you just wrote. People often say things the shortest way possible in real life.
Be careful when writing dialect. Many writers think that giving a character an accent or a drawl is a great way to make the character come to life—and it can be. But if done in a way that is too heavy handed it can turn your character into a stereotype or a joke. Or even worse, you can offend or annoy readers. So, keep in mind that when it comes to dialect, a little goes a long way.
1. Characters describing themselves in mirrors 2. Broadcasting an upcoming plot twist 3. Blaming bad behavior on bad parenting 4. Too many inside jokes/references 5. The chosen one 6. Countdown clocks 7. Veiling your message in a dream 8. Using sex as wish fulfillment 9. Magical Negroes and Noble Savages 10. Knocking characters unconscious for plot convenience
Follow the link to find out why you shouldn’t use them.