Tips for Using Foreshadowing in Your Fiction

June 13, 2017

One tool fiction writers use is foreshadowing (hinting to the reader about something that’s coming). If you use foreshadowing, you’re setting up an expectation with your reader and you absolutely need to meet that expectation before the end of your novel.

Here are some tips to help you make sure you create a good relationship with your reader so he/she trusts you’ll deliver what you promise in your foreshadowing.

  1. Make sure you’re working from a detailed outline that lays out these things: each character’s role, how each character affects the overall plot, and how each character ends up at the end of the novel.
  2. Be aware that you may decide to change your story as you write (one mystery author I know told me that one time the character she expected to be the killer simply wouldn’t do it, so she had to change the story). If you do change directions in your story, make sure you map out the change in your original detailed outline so you can see if the change makes sense with the rest of the story.
  3. Create a series of questions about your novel so you can critique it once it’s completed. Feel free to use these questions as a starting point: (1) Did the characters meet their goals or explain their failures? (2) Which destinies of which characters were left unanswered (if any)? (3) Which plot activities were not completed (things like a love attraction, a crime committed, etc.)? (4) How clearly did the plot and any subplots merge by the end of the story? (5) How well did things like dialogue, actions, etc. move the plot along (you don’t want to lead your reader down blind alleys or dead ends, which will only frustrate your reader and cause him/her to distrust you as an author)?
  4. Find a few readers you trust to read your manuscript and offer you honest feedback. Encourage them to share questions with you that they may have thought about during the reading. You, as author, know what you mean, know what you think, and know what you intend. Your reader, however, only has your written story to go by, so you’ll do yourself a big favor by learning about any holes in your story before you try to get it published.

I’ve written both fiction and nonfiction, and I think fiction is much harder to write because you’re creating the entire world the story lives in. You make a promise to your reader that your novel will be entertaining and worth his/her time to read. I hope these tips help you keep that promise. Happy writing!


Reveal Character in Snippets

March 2, 2017

Today’s society runs 0n sound bites and 140-character postings. Few of us have the luxury of sitting down for hours to enjoy reading fiction. Instead, we claim our reading time while riding public transit, waiting for appointments, or at the end of  a long, busy, exhausting day.

Authors need to be mindful of how readers read. When introducing your reader to your characters, it’s best to remember what it’s like when you first meet a person. You don’t get that person’s entire backstory all at once. The longer you know a person, the more you learn about him or her. Here are some tips to help you reveal your characters in snippets.

  • Consider what the person’s name tells you about the person. Is it a common first name? Surname? Does the surname remind you of certain countries? Ethnicity? Is the first name a family name or unusual in some other way?
  • Describe how the person dresses (you may include jewelry choices in this also). Is the person in uniform? Casual? Dressy? Flashy? How comfortable does the person appear in that attire? Clumsy? Tugging at what he or she is wearing? Picking lint off a shirt? Wearing a wedding ring?
  • Notice how others interact or react to the character you’re introducing. Do you sense respect? Tolerance? Admiration? Frustration?
  • Listen for any speech nuances. Does your character have an accent? Speak with sophistication? Use street talk? The dialogue you write can help here.
  • Take note of the character’s table manners and types of food he or she prefers. Does the character know when to use a salad versus a table fork? Where did that knowledge come from? Does the character prefer finger food? Fast food? Fine dining? Desserts? Why?
  • Give insights into the character’s class status by offering what the parents do for work (professional, trade, business owner, etc.). Can also give insights into where the character lives or has lived growing up.
  • Offer insights into the character via his or her inner thoughts, comfort level in different situations,  personal strengths or insecurities, etc. Share what in the character’s background contributed to character feeling this way.

Your readers want to get to know your characters, but not all at once. You don’t know everything about everyone you meet right away. You learn a little at a time. So it should be with  revealing your characters to your readers. Weave the backstory into your writing a little bit at a time using dialogue, observation, and action. Happy writing!


Tips for Improving Your Fiction Writing

September 9, 2016

It’s a given that writers depend on creativity. But it’s also important to understand good writers depend of studying and working on the craft of writing. Consider these tips as you work on your fiction writing.

  • Develop your characters.  While it’s true genre fiction follows formulas and readers expect the author to write somewhat formulaic, it’s also true readers expect to think about what’s going on in the story, expect substance, and expect to feel something (could be positive or negative) about the characters. You do your reader an injustice if you rely only on plot or fast-paced action in your fiction writing.
  • Take the time to research and learn grammar, punctuation, correct word usage, etc. I’m not saying you need to understand all the rules, but I am saying publishers (and eventually readers, if you get  published) will appreciate reading good writing that isn’t full of errors. You may think you can rely on your publisher’s editors to fix things for you, but you’d be incorrect. They do good work, but you, as author, are ultimately held accountable for the quality of your writing.
  • Strive for quality. The previous tip is a lead-in to this one. Writing is a craft, and you need to constantly work at improving your output. Clearly you want to develop your own voice, offer a good story, and create a reader fan base, but none of these things will happen for you if you don’t offer a quality novel or story.
  • Understand all writing requires editing. You draw on your creativity when you begin writing fiction, but you also need editing before you’re ready to offer your fiction to an agent or publisher. Start by letting your manuscript cool off at least a day, then re-read what you’ve written to see what needs correcting, clarifying, or deleting. If you’re really lucky, you can join a writers group that will give you honest feedback on your writing. After all, you know what you intended to write, but it takes other people to read your writing and let you know if you successfully accomplished your intent. Finally, you can hire an editor to help you, but make sure you hire an editor who edits what you write. Hiring an English teacher/professor or well-read friend doesn’t necessarily get you the quality of feedback/correction you need before offering your fiction for publication.

When  you write fiction, you create the entire world, including the people, the setting, the experiences, and the closure to the story. It’s not easy writing, but it can be rewarding if you work at it. Happy writing!


Common Problems Faced in Writing Romance Novels

February 22, 2016

Even the most seasoned author faces problems when writing. Each genre carries its own set of rules, and authors who don’t follow the rules face problems. Here are the common problems (and solutions) faced in writing romance novels.

  • Stay true to the romance plot line. The basic plot line is simple. Girl meets boy. Girl loses boy. Girl reunites with boy. They end up happy. The problem arises when the author deviates from the plot line by putting the girl in some crisis to be rescued, or by inserting some other dire situation as part of the main plot instead of a subplot.
  • Make sure your heroine is likeable. Avoid making her pitiful, wimpy, whiny, stupid, or a victim. She’s the heroine so make sure you emphasize her courage, ingenuity, or warmth instead of her destitution.
  • Offer an attractive hero. He doesn’t have to be drop-dead gorgeous, but he does have to be someone of good character. No bullies, brutes, or bad boys and no wimps. You need to offer a hero who complicates the heroine’s life, but doesn’t try to deliberately make her miserable.
  • Make the initial attraction between heroine and hero believable. It’s not realistic that the initial chemistry reaction to each other kicks in during a dire circumstance.
  • Make every word spoken in dialogue count. Listen to real people talk and you’ll have a good model of how to write dialogue.
  • Write the romance novel you would want to read. If you want to read it, there’s a good possibility the editor and publisher will see its potential in the marketplace and consider publishing it.

Remember that romance novels provide readers with an escape into the world of romance. Romance novels aren’t boring. Instead they offer some fun, some thrill, a lot of romance, and pure entertainment. Happy writing!


Good Stories Require Conflict

February 9, 2016

Whether you’re writing a fiction story or a nonfiction story, you need conflict to create a good story that keeps the reader’s attention. By definition, there are two sides to every conflict. Your job is show the conflict so well that your reader has someone or something to root for.

Simply put, conflict is confrontation–tension between characters or tension between factions of the environment or tension between characters and the environment.

What you’re really striving to write is action and suspense, better known as drama.

Here’s the formula: Effective drama creates exciting conflict that eventually develops robust action and substantial suspense. You instinctively knew that already, but now that the formula is simplified for you, you’re more apt to notice it in your own reading.

As always, you want to show, not tell, your reader what’s happening. When your reader creates the mental image of what’s going on in your story, he or she becomes more engaged and willing to root for one side or the other in the conflict.

Basic story plot requires someone wanting something (a goal). Something gets in the way (conflict). That something creates trouble for the character or for what the character wants or for the way the character can get it.

Characters get into trouble by something they do or by something done to them. Show the reader how the character solves the problem. If there’s action involved, show the character’s feelings (fear, anxiety, anger). If there’s suspense involved, show the character hiding, waiting, feeling dread of being caught.

Sometimes a character’s trouble comes from within. Show the reader how the character struggles with a problem such as betrayal, feeling too strongly (love or hate), or dealing with other internal conflicts. Show the reader the choices the character faces, then show the reader the action the character takes to move in the direction of one choice or the other. Keep the reader guessing about which way the character will finally go.

Keep the reader in the action of your story. You can do this by writing in present tense. Another way is using language that creates images in the reader’s mind. Active verbs help this. Which of the following two sentences creates a better image for you? He drank his beer. He guzzled his beer. A third way to keep your reader in the story is to appeal to the reader’s senses. Choose words that remind your reader of how something feels, smells, sounds, tastes, or looks.

Good stories require conflict. I hope these ideas spur some drama in the stories you write. Happy writing!

 


Two Classic Plot Structures to Consider in Writing Fiction

October 20, 2015

There are several classic plot structures used in fiction. Here are two you might consider.

Chase/Rescue

This plot structure is based on  a person or group pursuing another person or group. You can tell it from the point of view of the pursuer, of the pursued, or alternate between the two.

You get to decide which (the pursuer or the pursued) is the good guy and which is the bad guy.

You get to decide whether the pursuer is successful or the pursued escapes.

If you expand the chase to become a rescue, the pursuer needs to either rescue the one being pursued OR save someone from the one being pursued. Thus, you really have three dynamics going on–the pursuer, the pursued, and the victim in need of rescuing.

Here are some things to consider for the Chase/Rescue plot structure.

  • Who is pursuing whom?
  • What caused the pursuit in the first place?
  • Who do you want your readers to sympathize with?
  • What happens to the pursued if the pursuer catches them? If the pursuer doesn’t?
  • How will you handle the final outcome–do you demonstrate the catch or imply the escape?

Search/Quest

You may see similarities between the chase/rescue and search/quest plots, but there is one huge difference. The search/quest plot is about something (not someone) being sought.

That something could be an object, place, or it could be an obsession with something such as fame, mastery, the answer to a consuming question, or imposing one’s will.

Here are some things to consider for the Search/Quest plot structure.

  • What is being sought?
  • Why is it being sought?
  • What obstacles need to be overcome in order to find it?
  • Who else is looking for this thing and why?
  • What price is your character willing to pay to find this thing, place, or satisfy this obsession?
  • Will your character eventually find this thing?
  • If so, will it be found where the character expected to find it or somewhere else?
  • What will your character do upon finding the object, arriving at the place, or satisfying the obsession?
  • If the character is looking for a place, will your character stay in the new place or try to go back home?
  • How will others in the story react if the object is found?
  • How will you conclude your story?

Think about some of the best known fiction and you’ll see many use one or the other of these two classic plot structures. Why not try one yourself? Happy writing!


Point of View Primer

September 16, 2015

When I belonged to the Minneapolis Writers Workshop, the critique fiction writers heard most often dealt with point of view errors or inconsistencies. With that in mind, I offer a point of view (POV) primer. Think back to basic pronouns and you’ll see the differences among first person, second person, third person, and omniscient points of view.

First Person: The first person character uses the “I” viewpoint. Since the reader gets the story exactly as the character does, the character has to be present at all important story happenings.

Second Person: The second person character uses the “You” viewpoint. This is a difficult point of view to write because your writing has to constantly help the reader figure out who “you” refers to.

Third Person: The third person point of view can be limited to one character or it can be used with multiple characters. However you decide to use it, third person characters use the “He” and “She” viewpoint. The advantage of third person is that the author is not limited to one person’s head (as in first person). The author can share the story from one character’s view, then see the story from a different character’s view (but you can only be in one head at a time). For example, one character may be visual while the other may be more auditory. They both experience a concert, but the visual character sees the stage, costumes, lights while the auditory character hears the melody, beat, and various instruments. CAUTION: Be kind to your reader and try to limit your writing to one POV character per chapter, or at least per scene. Let your reader know which character’s head you’re in for that chapter or scene. You can do that by starting the scene with that character’s thought or action. Also, be careful that you give all your main third person characters equal presence in the story.

Omniscient: This point of view has no single character. Instead, it relies on author comment to help the reader follow the story that jumps from point of view to point of view. Readers don’t get the opportunity to relate well to any character, but the author can easily make major points in the story.  CAUTION: While the omniscient point of view may look easy, playing God and jumping from one character’s head to the next, inserting judgments, and keeping reader attention can be more challenging to you as author (to write) than any of the other viewpoints.

If you’re a fiction writer, I trust this point of view primer will be helpful. Happy writing!