Leverage the Power of Story

In fiction writing, we often say “story is king.” Remember how I define that:

Character + Plot = Story

To make your nonfiction engaging, use stories either on a small scale, like anecdotes, or on a large scale, as in a memoir.

A story may be brief, like Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus. Continue reading

Use dialogue to move story forward

Back in my college days, I had the great opportunity to take a writing course from TV comedy writer Danny Simon. He taught us a lot in that class, and I’ve probably forgotten most of it, but I kept my notes, so I can always go back and check.

One thing I don’t need to check is this: “Leave out the orange juice talk.”

What he meant by that is the boring conversations we have every day. Continue reading

Logical Flow Propels Pacing

As we look at this item about pacing, it may sound familiar, because it is related to plot:

Events flow logically in cause-and-effect relationships.

That is, each scene doesn’t just happen after the prior scene, it happens because of the prior scene.

When events flow from one to the other in a cascade of causes and effects, you have a plot that is profluent. We did discuss this idea before, especially under the organic model proposed by Steven James in his book Story Trumps Structure. Continue reading

Don’t rush the ending of your novel

I’ve spent a lot longer on this matter of the satisfying ending than any other point on the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist. That’s because it’s so critical. A bad ending can ruin an otherwise great book. But I’m nearly done with endings, and next time we’ll move on to Structure.

Don’t rush the ending

The pacing of a novel should increase as we approach the ending. Within reason.

But there’s a fine balance between speeding up the pace and rushing through to the end. Continue reading

The end of your novel is about characters

Lots of stuff is going on at the end of your novel. There’s action and revelation and emotional upheaval. But it all must be presented in terms of what’s happening to the people.

Ideally, your characters will be proactive. There’s probably a whole other blog post in that. Characters who have stuff happen to them are far less interesting than characters who make stuff happen. So, as much as possible, rely on character action and agency rather than circumstance and accident. This is true throughout the story, now that I think of it, but it’s especially important in your climax and denouement. Continue reading

Understand the difference between a twist and a trick

Your novel’s ending must be inevitable, but preferably not predictable. Yeah, that’s easier said than done.

This is hard to plan for as you’re writing. Editing is the place to make it happen. Because once you’ve written the ending, it’s much easier to go back and layer in the plants that need to be present to make the payoff believable. That’s what makes a twist ending satisfying.

Too many writers aim for a twist and wind up playing tricks on their readers instead. Continue reading

Avoid late character introductions

There’s a lot that goes into crafting a satisfying ending to a novel. So I’ll take a little longer covering this point than some of the others.

One problem I sometimes see, even in published books, is a new character suddenly introduced near the end for no apparent reason. Any new character who shows up at the end had better be a bit player, or had better have an organic reason for being there. Preferably both. Continue reading