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Bringing English 101 To Your Novel, by Beth Revis

I love finding meaning in literature. It’s like a puzzle for me – piecing together the symbolic clues the writer has left in the text. My favorite classes in high school and college were the literature interpretation ones.

That said, a lot of times people hate those classes. Some people hate all those literary devices and all that analysis (I don’t know why!).

The thing is, a lot of those things we learned the definitions of in English 101 are really essential to a story. Some of it’s vital and some of it contributes to what I call the re-readability factor, when readers only see the depth of that part of the story on a second read-through of the novel.

Here are some of my favorite literary devices to read and write:

Foreshadow: This one is so easy. I fall into the Kurt Vonnegut camp. Something from the first chapter should reflect the rest of the story. More than that, you should think about making it work for the whole series if you are writing a series. Consider JK Rowling: minor mentions in early books have huge importance in later ones (polyjuice potion, anyone?).

Symbolism: Do not place too much emphasis on this. Nothing kills a story like heavy-handed symbolism. The story is the most important thing here. A few subtle details and symbols can really help make a story important. Think about the movie The Sixth Sense: the color red was subtle, but tipped the viewer into a whole new understanding.

Homage/Easter Eggs: This is my favorite thing to add to a story: little nods and details to other books or movies. They don’t change the story but they can make a reader sit up a little straighter when they notice. For example, in my novel Across The Universe, Amy is frozen in cryogenic chamber #42: a nod to Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

Circular Structure: Essentially, circular structure is when the story comes full circle. JRR Tolkein did this in The Hobbit - Bilbo starts the novel at the hobbit village and ends the novel there. Of course the characters changed – but there’s a parallel, circular aspect to the story. When thinking of your own novel – particularly if it’s a series – see if you can use circular structure to bring the reader back to the beginning.

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Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com

Beth Revis’s bio page

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Across the UniverseA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)    The Night She DisappearedBlack Storm Comin'GenesisHurricane Song

Writing Teen Novels
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Tips For Writing Page-Turning Novels, by April Henry

Here are some tricks I’ve learned over the years about writing page-turners:

Act first, explain later

Many writers mistakenly think the reader needs to know all the backstory at the beginning of the novel. The problem with this approach is that it makes the real “now” of the story feel less important. Or writers think the reader will like the characters only if they spend a lot of time showing their normal, everyday lives. The problem with this is that the reader feels no urgency to continue. It’s much better if a novel starts on the day that everything changes.

Create a ticking clock

In a mystery or thriller this can be a literal bomb that the reader can’t stop worrying about. It could also be an ultimatum. Other ticking clocks could be the scheduled execution of an innocent man, the day the ship is supposed to land on Mars, the approaching prom, summer ending and the girl going off to college, the hurricane forecast to land in three days, or the lead actress for the big show coming down with mono leaving no one to play the part.

Play on common fears of readers

Common fears include: darkness, wild storms, something crawling on the skin, objects that cover other objects, a small sound when there should be silence, being alone, being helpless or unable to act, something under the bed, closed or partially open doors, hallways or tunnels that lead to the unknown, cramped spaces, basements, attics, heights, crowds, disease, death.

Give characters specific phobias

Give your characters phobias or fears – and then make them face those fears. Afraid of heights? The final confrontation should take place on a rooftop. Afraid of repeating the same terrible mistake? Give them the opportunity to get it right.

End each chapter with an unresolved issue

Have a character open a door, answer the phone, be confronted by someone with a gun, receive a mysterious letter, or make a decision not revealed immediately to the reader.

Cut filler

Look for passages that describe the weather, the landscape, the aftermath, travel, characters eating meals or drinking coffee, a character just sitting and thinking. Then cut them – or at least cut them back.

Hurt a main character

Hurt a main character early so the reader knows no one is off limits. Even better, kill the character – preferably a likable character. Readers will be on the edge of their seats, knowing that anything at all – even something very bad – could happen.

Make choices painful

Force the character to make a choice between two things she wants or to choose the lesser of two evils. Two loves. Two people to save (when only one can be). Addict/temptation. In a relationship/temptation. Maybe the main character knows brother will keep killing, but if she turns him in, he’ll go to death row.

Raise the stakes

Our main character was already nervous about singing in class, but now he has been asked to sing at the stadium. Or for a more mystery-related example, not only will someone die if our main character doesn’t catch the serial killer, but the next victim could be his girlfriend. Or it’s not just a child who will die – it’s a whole kindergarten! Ask yourself, “What could make it worse?” And then make it happen – even if you don’t know how your character will get out of it.

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

April Henry’s bio page

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The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock Point     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The HuntingProject 17

Writing Teen Novels
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Techniques For Overcoming Writer’s Block, by Beth Revis

Writer’s block is a common malady – or is it? I always struggle when people ask me what I do for writer’s block, because I don’t think I’ve ever really felt it. I’ve gotten stuck, yeah, but I’ve not gotten truly blocked. So, on this subject, my first instinct is to analyze what’s wrong. I think, however, being blocked or stuck is individual to each author. For me, when I’m stuck, it means I’ve gone down the wrong path in writing and I need to backtrack and figure out what the story should be. So, the first step is to figure out what your individual problem is. In most cases, however, what’s needed to get over writer’s block is a few simple steps.

1) Identify the problem: In some cases, being stuck means you’re just bored. Find a way to spice the story up – if you’re bored writing it, the reader will be bored reading it. In other cases, being stuck means that your characters have come to an impossible situation – or just the wrong one. Solving this will mean backtracking, possibly restarting the whole novel. Really sit down and brainstorm where things started to go wrong – then you can identify how to fix it.

2) Change methods: I usually write on my computer, but when I get stuck, I switch to a legal notepad and a good pen. Something about switching the method in which I write gets the words flowing. Sometimes I just write out a “mind map” – just ideas, linked with arrows. Eventually, I start writing the scene – and when I get to the point where I can’t write fast enough by pen, I can go to the computer and pick the story back up.

3) Change location: This is my other secret to success. If I’m not writing well, I change location. At home, I tend to write either on the couch or at my desk. If I peter out on the couch, I move my laptop to the desk, and vice-versa. But if I’m really stuck, I will often leave the house entirely – a coffee shop is a safe bet, or, if the weather’s good, I’ll go outside. Going somewhere else to write puts you in the mindset that when you get there, you need to write – and so you do.

Stop writer’s block before it starts: A lot of time, for me, I get stuck because I’m lazy. This is usually when I’m at a hard part to write, or when I feel tapped out. In order to stop myself from getting to that point, I do these two things:

1) Use a timer: When the going gets tough, the tough get a timer. This is a trick I picked up from PJ Hoover, author of Solstice. I use just a simple egg timer – I tend to set it for about an hour. During that hour, internet’s off. The only thing I can do is sit in front of my computer. Stare, if that’s all I can handle. But usually, that gets words going.

2) End mid-scene: Another trick I picked up from someone else (but I can’t remember who!) is to stop writing for the day before I run out of steam. Don’t end the chapter or scene you’re working on – leave it a little bit before you finish. Then you can easily pick back up the next day.

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Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com

Beth Revis’s bio page

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Across the UniverseA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)    In Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's StorySaraswati's WayDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)Angel Dust

Writing Teen Novels
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Using Your Character’s Senses To Show Your Story-World, by Kashmira Sheth

As a writer, many of us see the story unfolding in our head. When we start putting those scenes down on the page most of them are written out as what our main character or our narrator ‘sees’. I love what eyes can see and the type of sensory details it can provide the readers but it is important to remember the four other senses too.

In real life we experience many things with sight but at the same time we also gain knowledge of our physical world through the other senses. It is important to write stories that not only use the sense of sight but also employ sound, taste, smell and touch to make the physical world of the protagonist richer and more complete.  For example, if there is spilled sugar in the kitchen our character may not see it but will experience it with other senses. How she discovers it could depend upon if she is walking barefoot or wearing shoes.  If barefoot she may notice it by feeling it on her feet but wearing shoes she might hear the crunch first.

Rich sensory details bring multiple layers to a story. A misty, foggy March morning with beautiful imagery is good. But if we take the same scene and add the sound of a bird, say a cardinal, piercing though the mist it could add a new dimension. The reader hasn’t seen the cardinal, and yet the sound can bring the image of red crested bird ready for spring. By adding sound we give an impression that beyond the veil of mist there is a world out there, a world of sound, color and life.

Similarly, the sense of touch brings texture to the story. Just observing that a wool shawl looks soft or rough doesn’t create the same image as adding how it feels to the touch. That the wool shawl felt smoother than my furry kitten or that it felt like I was holding a prickly pear gives a fuller, more accurate and vivid description.

Taste is one of the most important and indispensable tools for fiction writers. If you are writing about food, no matter how much you describe it just doesn’t do it justice. It is like going to a restaurant and getting a dish that looked lovely. The presentation is great but what you are after is the taste. Are the green beans crunchy and flavorful? Is the dressing tangy? Is the crust melt-in-your mouth flaky?  In my writing, I use the foods and spices of India to bring out the flavor of Indian dishes.

Last but not least is the sense of smell.  Smell is probably the most evocative of all the senses. You may visit a beach that you used to go as a child after twenty years. You may notice that half-a-dozen new resorts have been built, changing the look of the beach. Yet you might feel that there is something very familiar about the place. It probably is the scent of the salty, moist air. It is the scent that will take you back to your childhood of building sand castles and wading into the water.

Using all the senses to describe the place your protagonist inhabits is critically important in a YA novel. It immerses your reader fully in the scenes and settings of the story. As writer, it is satisfying to make the world come alive, one sensory detail at a time.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

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Keeping CornerBoys without Names     TracksAuslanderThe Traitor's KissCleopatra ConfessesAcross the Universe

Writing Teen Novels
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