Ever heard of the literary term "foil" before? It doesn't have anything to do with fencing, or headgear worn by alien conspiracy theorists. The word foil comes from the old practice of backing gems with foil in order to make them shine more brightly, and in stories, foils are characters that contrast with the main character to emphasize their traits. In the Shrek movies, Donkey is a perfect foil to Shrek's character. Donkey is small, talkative, optimistic and annoying, a perfect contrast to Shrek's brawny appearance and cynical personality.
Recognize that failure can be a beautiful thing as long as we use it to learn. Many of us let fear of failure hold us back. If you try to reach your goal and fail, you’re back in the same place as if you’d never tried. So not trying doesn’t protect you; it keeps you stuck. In fact, if you don’t try, you’re actually further behind because you haven’t learned the lessons failure taught.
There’s one tool available to writers that I find is often underused: reaction. This is a missed opportunity. Even if you’re in third person but especially if you’re in first person, you need to highlight big moments in your story and call attention to emotion and character relationship by making sure each noteworthy exchange or event lands with your character.
How your character reacts to something gives your reader valuable clues as to how they should be reacting, what they should be learning from whatever just transpired, and how significant it is to the overall story.
Sometimes when we write, we become so obsessed with the characters and events unfolding, we forget to pay attention to the Setting. Conflict and Action are important, don’t get me wrong, but Setting is no wallflower. Used correctly, it becomes a powerful amplifier for emotion.
This was a discussion panel chaired by Harry Bingham, founder of the Writers’ Workshop, and featured panellists from various areas of the publishing industry: a British agent, an American agent, a publisher, and self-pubbed author David Gaughran. As can be expected, the debate swung towards traditional versus self-publishing, and it was a fierce one. Here are just some interesting points raised:
Lately the question I’ve been asked most often is, “What’s the biggest mistake writers make?” It’s a great question, especially since the answer is surprising: they don’t know what a story is. So even though they have a great idea and their prose is gorgeous, there’s no story, thus no sense of urgency, and ultimately, no reader. It’s as simple – and heartbreaking – as that. And it’s extremely common.
If you’re a writer, you’ve probably been exposed to the classical mythology of the publishing industry. No, we’re not talking about editors with winged sandals shuttling manuscripts between city skyscrapers, or publishers sitting like Zeus with his thunderbolts in the clouds, looking down on the helpless little writers of the world.
We’re talking about the myths that writers and others in the publishing industry perpetuate about books and literary journals, even though they are mostly inaccurate.
Good stories relate more than an outer journey that the Hero embarks on in pursuit of a difficult but worthy goal. Hollywood screenwriting consultant, Linda Seger, reminds us that something more meaningful has to occur to deepen and universalise the story – the story has to address some aspect of the human condition and the values that underpin it.
[S]uspense isn't only about Thrillers and Who-dun-its...every book and genre has it's own brand of suspense, meaning catching and keeping the reader's attention requires some serious skill. Donna has 8 great tips for building suspense...
Why does a powerful story grip us? A tale that gives our feelings a roller-coaster ride will certainly keep us turning the page but will we remember it a year later? Perhaps not. Yet another tale might linger in our memory for a lifetime. Why? Because it has a strong theme.
Starting a new novel is both exhilarating and frustrating. There's the excitement of the fresh idea, the promise of the characters, the snippets of cool scenes popping in and out of your head. Then there's the hard work of actually getting it all down on paper. Figuring out where to start, what to do before you actual begin writing, what process you want to use. Even with three published novels under my belt, I'm no different than any other writer when it comes to first drafts.
As with All-Things-Writing, I’d love to alight upon your shoulder like a weirdly-bearded bird and whisper in your ear the SECRET RULES TO WRITING GOOD CHARACTER, but in truth, no such rules exist. Writing works when it works, and sucks when it sucks, and what works for Mary Lou Monkeyballs doesn’t work at all for Big Danny Doucheballoon. Writing advice is only as good as the words you get from it.
Still, I can ramble and slur my way through some thoughts on how to build — and then describe — good character. And you’ll stay and watch because, hey, who doesn’t like it when I blog my way into a corner?
Plot is the most basic outer-story structure your book can have. Fiction and memoir plots are all about action--what happens, where it happens, who is involved. It's always external, never inside someone's head. We see plotted events onstage, in front of us.
If you're a writer ... in any stage of the game ... you've likely stressed out about that ominous and all-important first chapter. It's easy to get stuck on page one, but these tips should help get you thinking and planning your way through it. With some effort, you'll soon be on your way to chapter two, then three, and beyond.
Subplots are subordinate plots weaved into a story to enrich the reader’s experience. Not to increase wordcount, or stick some personal vendetta into an otherwise unsuspecting story, and for crying out loud pleeease not to shoot the reader point-blank between the eyes with An Important Point you itch to make. Subplots exist only to make a story richer and provide depth, add some umph and kick, some pow and a couple of oh-my-gawds, you know, give it some curves and a nice hair-style, not infect her with an alien virus that has her turn into Cthuhu by the third act.
Subplots come in different shapes and sizes, and should you decide to have one or two in your novel, here’s what you oughta consider.
You’ve been slaving for months, maybe years, on your manuscript. You’ve read about belonging to a critique group to help you hone your work and took the advice to heart. You have also listened to the advice about submitting your manuscript to an editor after your critique group is done with it, and after you’ve meticulously self-edited it. Now, you’re ready to begin submissions.
There's nothing quite like being in the throws of a good horror-- whether book, TV, or movie -- and having all the creepies ruined with a terrible ending. In extreme cases, the disappointment is so great that all the amazing potential you felt for the book or film seems to magically disappear, ruining its chances at making itself a new favorite.
As a writer I find the idea of hooking an audience like a boss-wizard, only to let them down in the end, just as nauseating as if there had been no hook at all. Pop, fizzzzzz.
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