I am relaunching my weekly Writing Tips blog by reposting the original posts from 2008-2009. These posts will be polished and refurbished before posting and there will be some new material, too.
Today, we will start with what started it all, my Writing Tips. These are tips I jotted down for myself, to remind myself of things I had learned while writing. But others have found them useful, too.
Two Strings: Every scene needs two separate ideas going on at the same time.
The Trick: Raising expectations in one direction only to have having the story go in the opposite direction.
The Foil: The Trick applied to people. In particular, using other characters to showcase the strengths of your main characters and to make them seem extraordinary.
Senses: Add three to five senses to every description.
Interior Dialogue: Readers don’t trust what is said in dialogue. Have your characters think, and have what they think be juxtaposed to the dialogue, showing a new angle.
Open active: Start scene changes underway and then explain how you got there…unless the change is significant.
Measurements by example: Tall as a man, rather than six feet high—where applicable.
Romantic Tension: To make a character seem attractive to another character list a character trait of character A and an emotional reaction to this trait from character B.
(Example: she had an air of mystery that intrigued him. Or, her shy retiring manner made him wish he could protect her.)
Payload: Every scene/fight/sex scene should have some moment that moves the plot along or heightens awareness, drawing the reader into something greater.
Villains should reveal something important during a fight, and romantic partners should learn more about each other or reveal secrets.
Also, every character should have at least one paragraph/scene where they reveal their secret inner motivation.
Dicken’s Trick: Using action in description: “There is not just a kettle on the fire, it is boiling over.” "Horses at the cab stands are steaming in the cold and stamping. When people enter a room they are sneezing or hiding something in their pockets."
Ping Pong Dialogue: Have some dialogue go back and forth quickly, taking less than one line on the page – leaving white space – to increase readability.
Pink passages: Add visceral reactions – physical involuntary reactions that mention a specific body part, such as shivering, gasping, heart thumping, hand clenching – to heighten connection with reader…but not too much. Too much becomes distracting.
For more on ‘pink’, see the works of writing teacher Margie Lawson. http://www.margielawson.com/
Character dynamics: To make a character come to life, give him two conflicting goals. Also, add a scene where he shows a trait at odds with his main traits—this has the same effect in print that shading does in an illustration. It adds a sense of three-dimensionality.
Raise the Stakes: To hook readers’ interest, make sure that some clock is ticking throughout the story, to keep the action moving. Check for public and private stakes. This means that both the character himself and his society should have something to lose if he fails.
Italics thoughts: Emphasize certain emphatic ideas with a brief word or two in italics at the beginning of a paragraph.
Extend the Angst: When a character has emotional troubles that could be cleared up by talking to another person, have dramatic plot events intervene that keep them from reconciling. This way the emotional plotline is extended and the action sequence is tenser for the addition of the unresolved emotional issues.
But…it must be involuntary. If the characters could talk and don’t, that is annoying rather than poignant.
Checklist – To check every scene:
What does it look like?
Senses…what does it smell/sound/feel/taste like?
What is the character thinking?
What is the character feeling?
What is the character doing to express this?
Is there pink (nonverbal reactions)?
What Visceral reaction can the character have?
Is some of the dialogue ping-pong?