Five Fab Fiction Writing Tips

Iceland Poppy

Since we’re starting NanoWriMo this month, a lot of writers may be looking for tips that can save a lot of rewriting later. While it’s true you just want to get to that 50,000 word mark by Nov. 30th–nobody said it’s National GOOD Novel Writing Month–you need to be able to maintain your passion for the story if it’s going anywhere besides the file drawer.
Writing Tip for Today: I always advocate JUNKING IT THROUGH (not trying to implement rules, tips or edits during creation), but in case you’re wondering how to kick your fiction up a notch, I thought I’d offer these tips:

  • Get OUT of Her Head. As I’ve stated before, it’s difficult to build tension and action when only your main character (MC) is on stage and she’s sitting and thinking. Readers quickly feel trapped in the mind of this person, and sympathy can give way to scorn if MC is perceived as navel gazing, self-pitying or stuck in the past (a lot of times MC is thinking about what has already happened, i.e., flashback). One easy remedy is to get another character on stage for MC to interact with. This forces you to employ dialogue–and with any luck, a feeling of energy and tension.
  • Get IN to the Action. Writers often hear “begin in the middle of the action,” or in media res. This means you often don’t need to show us how MC got somewhere–only that she did. Scenes like this are sometimes called “driving to the story.” Usually, you can safely leave out these types of throat clearings, where little happens besides transporting the MC from one place to another. Go ahead and draft all this if you wish, but later on you can tighten up scenes by starting them after the main action/purpose has already begun.
  • Get UP from the Table. Look through your WIP. How many of your scenes feature MC and another character sitting at a table, bar or sipping a beverage in a cafe? The reason I advocate changing some of these scenes is that readers only see the characters from the waist up. And action is often limited to lifting one’s glass or mug to the lips. Be creative–could you enact the scene’s purpose elsewhere as MC does something besides sit? Maybe two pioneer women are hand washing clothes, or modern-day MC argues with his wife as they paint the house. Get your characters out from behind a table, and see if they don’t feel more “real.”
  • Get BACK to the NOW. Flashbacks or back story, causes writers so many headaches! On one hand, they need to show a character’s emotional motivations. On the other, flashbacks stop the action while the mind “reels back.” I suggest you try the RULE OF THREE. After three sentences of back story, evaluate whether you’ve given enough info. Consider at least touching back to the present to avoid the COLD MASHED POTATOES problem.
  • Get DOWN to the GUTS. Finally, no matter how quickly you rack up the words during Nano, I suggest you keep a short list of questions for your MC handy. Ask questions such as, “Why does this matter?” “Have I told the truth about this?” “How does MC feel? Why” The more you attend to the character’s emotions, the more you will grab readers and force them to care deeply. Go write some words!
Do you have a specific fiction problem you’d like me to address? I’d love to hear from you!

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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