Welcome to the blog of author Tricia Goyer!

Friday, July 27, 2007

35 Things you need to know about writing...

Check out 1-6 here, and 7-9 here and 10-14 here
and 15-19 here!

#20: Avoid Fiction Cliches: You know those phrases you see in fiction all the time: "he spun on his heel and left," "the door was ajar," "the pungeunt odor," "a solitary tear rolled down her cheek," and "he was visibly shaken"?

There are many more; trust me.

If you've seen it enough that you recognize it, it's a fiction cliché. Strive to eliminate all clichés from your writing.

My theory as to why authors use these tired phrases is twofold. First, I think they may actually use them in real life. It takes discipline to detect and eliminate such things from your personal vocabulary. If you, like most of us, are still on the journey to that destination, the clichés you use in normal conversation will find their way into your fiction.

The other part of it, I think, is that aspiring writers want to sound like established writers. They're finally writing a novel, for crying out loud, and they're going to use all those phrases the other authors use, the phrases they've always wanted to write in a book.

The problem with clichés in fiction is that they're stale and unoriginal. They sound amateurish. Instead of coming up with a fresh way of expressing something, they revert to the tired way of saying it.

They call it a bone-chilling screech or a blood-curdling scream, when they could've said the scream was so piercing so as to shatter bulletproof glass.

She speaks in hushed tones and his heart skips a beat and his blood runs cold, when all the time they could've been doing things that were interesting to read and sounded like the author had come up with the expression on the spot.

When you see a cliché in your fiction, cut it out. Find a new way to say it.
jeff gerke

#21: Use Circularity: Early on in my writing career I discovered something that lends an ineffible sense of completeness and poetic unity to my writing.

I was reading a book on brainstorming and netting out an idea using those charts where you start with a central thought in the idea and then you "web" out spin-off ideas from there. I don't remember what the book was called, but I remember the term I learned: circularity.

The author was saying that you should create a short story or essay from the web you come up with on the page and (and here's the key) that you should begin with your central idea and, in the conclusion, refer back to it.

So if your first thought was guitar and in your webbing you come to realize your idea is really about the influence of Simon and Garfunkel on modern pop music, when you write your essay you should begin by talking about a guitar and then move on to what the idea is mainly about. But as the story wraps up you should come back to your image of the guitar.

I have found this to be a remarkable tool in fiction. Used correctly, it gives your writing a wholistic and lyrical feeling and implies that you knew at the beginning precisely where all this was going to go. Circularity makes your writing feel intentional and nicely wrapped up at the end.

You can use circularity in an entire book (wrapping up the end by referring to the beginning), in a single scene, or even with characters and themes.

How about some examples?

I began my fourth novel, Operation: Firebrand, with this line: "Today I'm going to kill a man in cold blood."

Engaging, huh? You want to know who this person is. You think he's a serial killer or something. So you keep reading.

In the scene you learn that this character is a Navy SEAL deployed with his platoon in Indonesia, and that he is the team's sniper. Now you start understanding why he could be about to kill a man in cold blood. Ah, you think, he's a trained assassin. Interesting.

But then you begin to read that he's uncomfortable with this situation, that he's undergone a change in his life and he's no longer convinced that he should be doing this job.

I end the scene the same way I began it, with a repeat of the first line. Only when he says it this time you realize it's not the mantra of a killer but a cry for help: "Oh, Lord Jesus, today I am going to kill a man in cold blood."

Suddenly, with that last line, the scene is tied together like a ribbon around a present. You realize that the author knew what he was doing when he began this journey and that you might not always know what he's going to do but that you can trust him to drive the bus well.

I don't know what it is about referring to the beginning at the end that makes something feel complete and like a solid unit, but I'm telling you, it does.

Try it in your own writing. Write a little short story or article and be conscious about constructing your beginning in a distinctive way and make sure your ending refers back to it. Maybe write the story two ways, once with no attempt at circularity and once with it. Let someone else read both and tell you which one is better.

I think circularity works best in smaller units, like a prologue or essay, as the beginning is still in the reader's mind after only a few pages. But if your beginning is distinctive enough that the reader will remember it even at the end, then by all means refer back to it.

In the same novel, Operation: Firebrand, I end the book with a reference back to the beginning. Something like: "This wasn't where he thought he'd be, way back on that day when he went out to kill a man in cold blood. It was much better."

Whether the segment you're writing now is large or small, think about how you could add a nice dose of circularity. See if you can find a way at the end to refer back to the beginning.

Your story unit will feel whole and finished and your readers will acknowledge your all-around skilz.
jeff gerke

#22: How about Stephen King's line: The road to hell is paved with adverbs. I love that line and it is so meaningful. I put it in my book.
gail gaymer martin

#23: Number #1 writing rule: Don't bore the reader!
marlo schalesky

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