When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.
I have a huge bookshelf of self-help books for writing. If I get stuck, I roll my chair around to face my floor-to-ceiling shelves and explore tips from Donald Maass, Bob Mayer, Strunk and White, James Frey on whatever my problem-du-jour is (last week, it was ‘story arc’ because my agent said he was rereading my mss to review the story arc.). These books are a wealth of information and take a long time to digest. I thought I’d take a few of my favorites and distill their highlights.
Today, I’ll focus on the highly-respected Janet Burroway Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft (Longman 2003), the first book I ever purchased on how to write. It’s full of ideas, suggestions, and tips, so I’ve picked eleven that made a difference to mean. If you enjoyed this book, please add the thoughts that grabbed you by the throat and inspired your writing under ‘comments’:
- The process of discovering, choosing, and revealing the theme of your story begins as early as a first freewrite and continues …beyond publication.
- John Gardner points out that theme ‘is not imposed on the story but evoked from within it–initially and intuitive but finally an intellectual act on the part of the writer’.
- Very few writers know what they are doing until they’ve done it.
- Novelist John L’Heureux says that a story is about a single moment in a character’s life that culminates in a defining choice
- Mel McKee states flatly that ‘a story is a war. ‘It is sustained and immediate combat.’ He offers four imperatives for the writing of this ‘war story’: 1) get your fighters fighting, 2) have something…worth their fighting over, 3) have the fight dive into a series of battles with the last battle … the biggest and most dangerous…, 4) have a walking away from the fight
- A story is a series of events recorded in their chronological order. A plot is a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance.
- Generally speaking…almost every occurrence of such phrases as ‘she noticed’ and ‘she saw’ should be suppressed in favor of direct presentation of the thing seen
- Your fiction must have an atmosphere because without it your characters will be unable to breathe
- It’s the job of the writer to create a world that entices you in and shows you what’s at stake (from fiction writer Nancy Huddleston Packer)
- One of the most economical means of sketching a character is simply to show readers a personal space that the character has created, be it a bedroom, locker, kitchen, hideout, office cubicle, or even the interior of a car.
- Rather than thinking of point of view as an opinion or belief, begin instead with the more literal synonym of ‘vantage point’. Who is standing where to watch the scene?
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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-sixth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.