Monday, October 26, 2020

When a Simple Story Stops Being Simple

 A few times a year, I receive an email from someone who has read one or more of my writing articles.  This person is just getting started with her writing, and she suddenly realizes that writing that story isn’t quite as easy as she thought.

All those professional writers she loves have created stories that seem so simple on the surface but are not so simple when the new writer starts to see all the elements of craft involved and how each must do certain things perfectly so that the story can be told correctly.  

Writing dialogue, creating plot, constructing sentences and paragraphs that pull the reader in and doesn’t confuse him, breathing life into characters, and all the other elements of telling a good story become so overwhelming a task that the new writer panics and sends me a call for help asking how she can become a stronger writer.

Here’s what I always tell this person.

I can't wave the magic wand of a few words of advice over you and make you a stronger writer, but here are a few things I can suggest to help you begin to make yourself a stronger writer.  

Read what you want to write.  Study your favorite writers to see how they do what they do.

Find good writing teachers to help you with the basics of writing.  Read books on writing.  Find other writers and critique each other.

Sit down at the computer and write and write.  If you want to be a professional writer in a traditional market, be prepared to be sitting there for years before you can start selling your work.

And, most importantly, enjoy the writing.  If there is no joy in the journey, the destination isn't worth it.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Paragraph and Sentence Lengths

 QUESTION:  What is the correct length of a paragraph and a sentence when you are writing fiction?

There is no average length for paragraphs, but a really long paragraph is off-putting to the eye on paper and even more off-putting when you are scrolling on a small screen so shorter paragraphs have become the norm for current narrative.

When the average person looks at a page, they want to see some space, not a massive block of text.

The best way to do paragraphs, as a writer, is to vary the paragraph lengths on the page.

The same is true of sentence length.

Both sentence and paragraph length are also influenced by what is being written. A narrative description can have a longer length for both, but an action scene would have a shorter length for both.  

Some writing teachers suggest varying between long sentences and short sentences in the same paragraph.  

If you are unsure about how your sentences work with your content, read the sentences aloud.  Sentence problems usually show up while doing this.  

A good critique partner helps, too.  

Monday, October 12, 2020

Writing the Same When You Are Different

 QUESTION: Why don't authors keep writing the same kind of book? Some of my favorite romance authors have switched to different genres, and I HATE it.

There isn't a simple answer. Here are a few.

* Failing markets. The writer's genre starts losing readers so publishers want fewer books, and fewer books are sold. An example is historical romances.  Its established authors branched out into contemporaries, paranormals, and suspense novels to continue making a profit at their writing. 

* Respect. Romance authors, in particular, get no respect from their non-romance peers, and this gets really old. Non-romances also have more professional cache. 

* Authorial control. Romance editors exert more control over the final product than in any other genre so the final product is often more of a collaborative effort. At a certain point in a writer's career, this can get really old, particularly when some kid in their first editorial job decides she knows better than an established writer.

* Boredom. An author spends months writing a book that takes you an evening to read, and she then starts another book. If every book is exactly like the last as some readers want, this process can become boring. The creative juices dry up. If the author doesn't change gears, the readers will be the next to be bored.

* Innovations. Genre, as a whole, doesn't stay the same. Romances have changed dramatically over the last twenty years, and woe unto the writer who doesn't change with it. 

* Bandwagon Syndrome. Some authors see a trend become popular, and they absolutely must write to this trend. 

* Changes in an author's life. Writing is an emotional process, and sometimes, things happening in an author's life make them change the direction of their writing. I have had friends going through an ugly divorce who could no longer write about everlasting love when their true love proved to be a cruel, manipulative jerk. One writer lost her young son to a sudden illness. When she started writing again, she turned to novels that expressed her faith in God. 

As much as writers want to please their readers, sometimes, they simply must change direction with their writing. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Real World Research

 I recently read a blog which discusses research in writing mysteries and doing real-life research in the field.

Here’s my comment:

Research in a novel is an iceberg.  There's a lot more under the water than is showing.  Insert metaphor here about the book being the Titanic if that research is wrong.  

The more the research appears on the page in the form of your main character/s, the more you need personal experience.  You can fake a SCUBA scene with research but not an entire book if your character spends a decent chunk of the novel underwater.  If needs must, have an expert read your book.  

If your personal life experience doesn't remotely connect with police work, a police procedural probably isn't the best mystery subgenre to write.  An amazing variety of mystery types and main characters are out there, and your own life experience and interests can enrich your books.  Find a genre that fits.  Your own emotional references should be considered, as well.  You may very well regret spending months or years in the viewpoint headspace of someone who is your polar emotional opposite.   

WORST RESEARCH SOURCES:  TV shows and novels.  

A RESEARCH SOURCE I LIKE:  If you need to write horses, Judith Tarr's column at  Search the label with her name or "SFF Horses."  

THE MOST INTERESTING OVERHEARD RESEARCH: Many years ago, pre-9/11, Mom and I were at a hotel restaurant on the NC coast, and the room was full of high-ranking officers of all the military branches, and they were chatting away about military things that should not be said in public.  I wasn't stupid enough to ask them questions and would never use that info, but dang!  


Years ago, I had a chat with a weapons and combat expert about fighting. (Science fiction and fantasy conventions are filled with military, police, and scientists who love to answer questions.)  I asked him who was the most dangerous opponent in a one-on-one physical fight.

His answer-- “In a bar fight most men will keep fighting until they go down. Later, they’ll get up, and we might have a beer together. A small man doesn’t do that.

“To him, it’s not a fight, it’s survival. He’s fighting to kill because he knows he might not survive otherwise. If he goes down, he doesn’t stay down. He comes right back up and keeps fighting until he takes you down.

“He’ll use any weapon he can find to kill you, too.

“Never pick a fight with a small man.”