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About Writing Right: The Blog


A fairly thoughtful writer asked the other day when it's necessary to develop a second character in a novel. Here's what I said.

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Good question. Complex answer. Let's see if I can nail it for you.


All novels require at least "a" well-developed secondary character. And sometimes several. That's because all novels have conflict. Your protagonist doesn't float through life without a care, or it wouldn't be much of a story. As a protagonist, he or she needs full development so that the reader will empathize with him and want to learn more—including what happens to him in the end.


The same is true for the antagonist. The reader has to find out enough about him to want to continue reading, to try to figure out what motivates him, to feel some sort of empathy toward him, as rotten as he may appear to be. Readers thirst for the knowledge of what motivates various characters to act. As an author, you have to provide that knowledge for them without revealing too much.


One of the largest failings of novelists, both established and newbies, is to paint their antagonists with the broad brush of negativity. He's harmful because he's pure evil. He eats, sleeps, and drinks evil. He worships the devil. He reeks of bad breath and alcohol. After all, we want the reader to know who the good guy is versus who the bad guy is, don't we? Read More 

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Someone wrote in the other day to ask for my tips on how to write the details of a chacter without getting bogged down and turning the reader off. Here's what I had to say on the subject.

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Easy-peasy. Here are the best ways to detail a character—most of them unknown to mere mortals and virtually universally unpracticed by anyone, sad to say.

  1. Devote an entire paragraph or even a page or more to a character's description so you're sure to get everything you can think of down on paper all at once—not! That is the numero uno mistake that most writers make, including so-called professionals. Approaching character description in that way is totally amateurish and self-defeating. Instead, incorporate bits and pieces about the character over the first several times he appears in the book. Then, add additional tidbits as the opportunities present themselves later in the book, dropping another detail here or there. Think of your description as a series of building blocks. You add one here; you add one there. In time, the building is complete. But you never try constructing the entire building all at once.
  2. Have other characters drop bits and pieces about your Character A for you. You know: "The thing I like most about Jack is that he's reliable. If he says he's going to do something, he does it." Cross one character trait off your bucket list! I used just such a technique in Solid Stiehl—The Death and Life of Hymie Stiehl, in which a student points out the great man to his college journalism instructor. Stiehl and the teacher soon become close friends and go on to solve a series of bizarre murders together. Of course, you can also have multiple characters talking about Character A, too. You know, as in one charcter likes this about him but hates that, while another character thinks he's too conceited and a third likens that "conceit" to self-confidence. The possibilities are endless. Read More 
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The topic of my preferences in writing books came up the other day when someone asked if I do one book at a time or several, and why would I recommend that to others. Interesting. Here's how I replied.

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Aside from being an improperly crafted question (does "to do" mean "to read" or "to write"?), it's also petty silly, which I have a feeling you already know. The only answer is actually a non-answer. You "do" whatever works best for you. Doesn't that make sense? If not, keep on asking strangers how you should govern your life. I'm sure you won't lack for suggestions.


What worked for me as a novelist when I began my literary career half a century ago was writing one book at a time. I had neither the skillset nor the ambition to tackle more than that. Today, I have numerous novels underway at any given point in time plus countless ideas for more, although I normally work, again, on one at a time. When I'm satisfied that that work is finished, I tackle one of the others in my stable. Read More 

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Have you ever wondered how you can create a unique book when it's eerily similar to another book that's already been written? Good question.


First, ignore the similar elements between your book and any other, and see your story in your mind as if it were playing out as a movie on a screen. Describe it to yourself. Fine-tune it. Flesh out the weak spots and trim the dead weight. Then, push the original story as far from your mind as possible. After all, there's a reason for the phrase, "There's nothing new under the sun." That applies to books as well as life in general. Get used to the fact that your book, no matter how unique you think it is, will be "similar" to another book or two or ten thousand in one way or another. So?


If you're still concerned someone may compare your work to a previous tome, emphasize the differences. After all, you're the author; you can write whatever you want. Be more detailed. Place your book in a different part of the world. Populate it with different characters, different places, different descriptive narrative, and different dialogue. Set it in a different time period. Use your own literary voice, of course, and not the other author's. (Which, I would hope, you're beyond temptation to do in the first place.)


For instance, you're writing a book about the Civil War and how your main southern belle falls in love with her cousin's fiancé but marries a scallywag who abandons her to her beloved Tara in the end. Oops. Let's revisit that one a bit. Read More 

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Someone new to writing asked on Quora the other day what the rules are for using mythology in fantasy fiction. Here's what I told him.

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Good question. When it comes to writing fantasy and using mythology within your novel, you need to pay attention to the three Cardinal Rules of Inclusion. They are, in strict numerological order:1. Write correctly (grammatically); 2.Write effectively (phrasiologically); 3.Create the best damned, riveting, can't-put-it-down book you can possibly write (storyologically).


That's it. Also sometimes known familiarly as The Holy Trinity, those are the only rules you have to follow in writing fantasy while employing mythology as a literary tool. Wait a minute! On second thought, those are the only rules you have to follow in writing any fiction—period!


See, fiction is fiction because it's not nonfiction, poetry, or an aardvark. It's made up. It may be based upon a true story or true incidents, but it's still primarily manufactured in the writer's mind. That's what makes it so enjoyable. Both to write and to read. If it had a bunch of stodgy old rules bloating it, it would no longer belong to the writer but, rather, to a board of semi-retired, semi-cognizant rule-making academicians sitting around a big walnut table somewhere, deciding on what the writer can and can't do. If that were the case, we would never have been blessed with one thousandth of the great works of art that have graced our tables over the eons. Read More 

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