When I was a new writer, I had the good fortune to join a critique group with seasoned writers. They’d point out fixes and I’d think, “How the heck did they do that?” These days, I’m a judge for a couple of fiction contests, and I love helping the writers learn how to make their work more readable.
Writing Tip for Today: As we get nearer to NaNoWriMo, I’d like to offer a few simple ways to take your fiction to the next level.
- Draft in Narrative, Revise in Scene. Many writers do a first draft of an important scene (aka plot point) that reads like a good outline. In fact, that’s what these writers are often doing–setting up a scene by “telling” how it goes. It’s OK, really. Just don’t leave it there. Let the draft rest and then go back and bring it to life with a scene, where characters are moving, talking, doing.
- Don’t Make Dialogue Do All the Work. Many early efforts are dialogue-heavy. You may have heard of this as “talking heads,” or “speechifying.” This too is OK. As before, don’t leave it there. Add in layers of setting, concrete sensory details (CSD), action and emotion. Think of this as your movie. You don’t want the reader to see an empty set with nothing happening. Bring it to life with a full three-D experience. Use the Rule of Three to remember not to speechify.
- Get Out From Behind the Table. I have students who, each time they talk to me, bring up this little pet peeve I have about setting a lot of scenes around a table. In real life we do a lot of eating and drinking. And talking. But when you bring a scene to life, a table setting means readers only see characters from the waist up, moving their lips and/or taking a sip. Get your characters doing something besides sitting around.
- Remember the Cold Mashed Potatoes Rule. If you use flashback (back story) as you inevitably will, limit it to a few sentences or paragraphs. The rule of three is helpful here too. The reason? Let’s say that in the “real time” of the story, a character is eating nice warm buttery mashed potatoes, when she starts thinking about yesterday. For every moment you spend in flash back, the mashed potatoes are getting cold. Don’t stay in flashback so long that the reader forgets where they were in real time.
- A Draft is a DRAFT. This last one, if implemented, catapults you from amateur to pro writer. An amateur finishes a draft and says, “Wow! I finished a novel! Now I can get published!” The pro writer says, “Wow! I finished a draft of a novel. Now I can get to work.” Writing is rewriting, gentle readers. Embrace it!