Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

Story Construction

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

This material is taken from Chapter 2 of my book on fiction writing advice: Build a Better Story.

Plotting and story construction are very closely linked. While they are related, they are quite different. Both have to be done to get a finished story.

How-to-books sometimes allude to this subject, but they don’t emphasize a very important fact about story construction: a skill in story construction is completely independent from good writing skills and is at least as important if not more important. Why? It is easy to find published novels and short stories that not well written, but you’ll be hard pressed to find one that is badly constructed. Editors buy solid stories (i.e stories that have a superior construction). Editors do not buy stories that are written well. If the solid story they buy is also well-written, that is a bonus.BABS cover

My belief is that writers have to resist the urge to start a new story draft as soon as they get an idea because the process of constructing a story involves a great deal of work that must be done before writing the manuscript. Writing a first draft is on the order of ten to fifteen percent of the total effort involved in constructing a story. However, writing the initial draft is the last step in the process, not the first. Think of the manuscript as the roof on a new building. The builder can’t start the roof until the foundation and walls are in place. Similarly, a writer shouldn’t start the manuscript until all the elements — plot, character descriptions, scene outlines, etc. — of the story are finished.

While I’m struggling to find the ending, I work on building my characters, thinking up settings, such as a golf course or a tavern, where some of the action can take place. Once I know the ending and have developed a plot, I can start developing scenes. For a short story, I’ll need six to twelve scenes. For a novel, why over a hundred. For each scene I’ll write a short paragraph or two outlining the action that takes place in that scene. I’ll also add a list of characters and where the scene takes place. Sometimes, it is important to add when the scene takes place. An alternative to this scene development is to write a storyline. This is a one page (maximum!) synopsis of the story. Previously, I wrote storylines, but migrated to scene development instead. Use whatever seems more natural to you. Both methods accomplish the same thing.

This subject is explored in more thoroughly in Build a Better Story. In it, I detail the steps I go through to construct the story. It also has the forms I have developed to assist me. These forms are for plot development and character development. One copy of the form is annotated to explain how I use it. A second copy is blank. It can be printed and used by others. Other copies are taken from my stories and are filled out so you can see how I use them.

Any comments or questions?

Empty Words

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

This paragraph is taken from Build a Better Story, my ebook that contains my fiction-writing articles and advice for beginning writers.

These are words such as: very, even, ever, really, still, just.  In many cases, they have no individual meaning and only increase the word count.  In our real-world conversations, these words are used almost as punctuation marks and that usage carries over into our writing.  The test for an empty word is to remove it from the sentence and see if the meaning changes.  It doesn’t change than there is no need to include the word.  This advice applies to exposition, not dialog.  Since these words are sprinkled throughout our normal speech, a few appearances of these words make dialog sound more natural.

Here is the Table of Contents for Build a Better Story:

  • Story Construction
  • Motivation
  • Patience
  • Character Development
  • Plotting a Story
  • Daytime TV
  • Writing humor
  • Writing a scene
  • Point of view
  • Setting
  • Getting Started
  • Writing Tips
  • Odds & Ends
  • Story Construction Flow Chart
  • Books on Writing
  • Writing Forms
  • About the Author

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Death to Adverbs

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

This short essay is take from Build a Better Story my collection of fiction writing articles and advice:

Many stories overuse adverbs to a point where it is almost impossible to read the story.  In these cases, the abundant -ly words give the writing a sing-song aspect.  Adverbs should be restricted to one or two words per story.  Even then, ponder whether the adverbs have to be used.  One reason to avoid their usage is because many applications of adverbs are violations of the “Show Don’t Tell” rule of writing.BABS cover

Consider this example:

[ 'Blab, blah, blah,' said character M, nervously.]

Here the author tells the reader about the mental state of character M.  Revised to omit the adverb, the example looks like this:

['Blah, blah, blah,' said character M as she shredded a paper napkin.]

Now the author has shown character M acting nervously.  This is a big improvement over the adverb example because it forces the reader to use her mental powers to understand the character’s emotional state.  Readers love to do this so why deprive them of the pleasure by using adverbs.

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