icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

About Writing Right: The Blog

PLOTTING PROBLEMS

When someone posed the question on line as to why he is able to create good characters but can't create a decent story to save his soul, the Internet lit up with do-gooders, not the least of whom was one of my favorite spreaders of online misinformation. Here's what I told him.

*     *     *

First, assuming the Queen of Wrong can read (which may be a stretch), I'm not sure why she feels you are only interested in the characters "as they are, not how they got to where they are now." You stated in your question that you're good at characterization, so what's Queenie's beef?

 

And, as for her implication that you need a course on "plotting," let me say that plotting isn't the be-all and end-all she apparently thinks it is. Plotting is storytelling, plain and simple. If you can tell a good story from beginning to end without losing your listener's interest, a plotting course will only slow you down in your development. Ask Herman Melville or Uncle Remus or even Beatrix Potter if they'd taken many courses on "plotting" throughout their lives. Uh-uh? That's what I thought.

 Read More 

Be the first to comment

STARTING A NEW NOVEL

A newbie author interested in knowing how to begin his new book made the mistake of asking for advice online. As usual, some of the answers were anything but inspiring. Here's how I replied.

*     *     *

You should start your book with a BANG! That doesn't necessarily mean you must start with your main character at the peak of his crisis, as some genius has suggested. In fact, that may turn into one of the weakest, most predictable formulaic openings you could craft. In fact, some of the most successful novels ever written don't introduce the main character or the primary action at all until later in the book. Want a few examples? I'm happy to oblige.


In the book The Mynah's Call, author Paula Favage begins the story with someone who kills herself before the real action begins. That, in turn, acts as a catalyst for what becomes the book's devastatingly delicious plot in a story that spans the globe from the United States to Afghanistan and back.

 

It's an unusual treatment, producing an introductory chapter of a scant five pages in length. But, Favage's opening gambit pays off. The reader is hooked from page one. By the time the real story begins, he or she can't wait to find out how the author is going to top that opening. Surprise! She really does. Her opening is a genius ploy because it works. It does exactly what the author wanted it to do. Read More 

Be the first to comment

A PAEAN TO HARD-BOILED CRIME

What, you ask, is hard-boiled crime, anyway? Well, if you've never seen the film The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart playing detective Sam Spade, you should. Once you do, you'll know the answer to that question. And, become a lifelong fan of H-B crime.

 

Wikipedia defines hard-boiled crime roughly as a literary genre that shares some of its characters and settings with crime fiction (especially detective and noir fiction). The genre's typical protagonist is a detective who battles the violence of organized crime that flourished during Prohibition (1920–1933) and its aftermath, while dealing with a legal system that has become as corrupt as crime itself.

 

Notable hard-boiled detectives include such super-sleuths as Dick Tracy, Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, and dozens of others.

 

The genre of hard-boiled fiction is nothing new. It made its debut into society in the form of early detective stories appearing initially in the "pulps" or populist magazines of the mid-1920s. The most successful of these publications was Black Mask, in which writers were influenced by the preexisting conventions of the western, nineteenth-century, urban drama. Adapting those conventions to the modern city, innovative novelists such as Dashiell Hammett and Carroll John Daly used the genre to explore the angst created by Prohibition and its resultant wave of crime, particularly organized or Mob crime. Read More 

Be the first to comment

Creating "Memorable" Characters

If you think back to all the stories you've read over the years, you'd be hard pressed to come up with more than a handful of memorable characters. That's because most writers don't take the time or the energy to create living, breathing, multi-dimensional people to populate their books--not even the most successful of writers. And that's a bad thing.

But if you think back to all the real-life people you've met in your lifetime, you'd remember a few doozies! The reason is simple: memorable people are memorable because they are real characters. They stand out in a crowd. They break from the mold. They literally knock your socks off. And that's a good thing.

 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Creating "Round" Characters

Think about one of your favorite classic stories in fiction. Something you enjoyed reading more than anything else as a child, over and over again. Was it Alice in Wonderland? Treasure Island? Black Beauty?

Now, ask yourself why you enjoyed reading that story so much. The answer is nearly always the same. The main characters.

Characters are what the reader identifies and empathizes with; they are what the reader loves to love ... or hate. Many great stories with weak plots, shoddy descriptive passages, and marginal dialogue have relied for their greatness solely on characterization. If you don't believe me, go back and read Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises or The Old Man and the Sea. Papa's works are notoriously weak on story line and only marginal on description and dialogue. Where Hemingway works his magic is through his characters. When he writes about Ezra Pound or Gertrude Stein, about F. Scott Fitzgerald, we develop a love/hate relationship with those characters that is strong enough to keep us coming back, looking for more pages to turn.

 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Creating "Flat" Characters

Characterization. The word, itself, strikes fear into the hearts of trembling young novelists. What I'd like to know is ... why?

The characters in your fiction make the whole thing work. It doesn't matter how brilliant a plot you construct or how lively the action. It doesn't mean a thing if you paint the most glowing descriptive passages ever. The whole book isn't worth a tinker's damn if your characterization is flawed. Here's why.

People care about people. Or, at least, they want to. They may love them, they may hate them. But the bottom line is they're empathetic toward them. Even books that have non-people as their characters (remember Christine?) embed those non-humans with human-like characteristics, making them, in effect, people.

 Read More 
Be the first to comment