Archive for the Writing Tips Category

Fine Tuning Your Story – Openings

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One of the hardest parts of story writing can be the beginning.

Think about what you do when you introduce two friends.  Ideally you tell each who the other is, where they live and work/go to school and you may mention something that is interesting about each one that could spark a connection between them.

An effective opening in a story usually does two things:

1.  Introduces us to the main character and the situation he or she is in, (the main conflict in the story.)

2.  It gets us interested in the story

It is as short as possible so the reader can get on with the action.  Effective openings must create suspense and make the reader want to read on.

The best way to get a feel for how this can be done is to READ a lot of good stories.  Which ones got you hooked right away and how did they do it? Which ones left you yawning and not wanting to finish? Why?

If nothing happens until page 50, look to see if  you can begin the story there.

Fine Tuning Your Story – Cutting what’s not essential

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Simply take away everything that isn’t the story ( you may have to add some stuff later.)

Look for BIG blocks of stuff that are not necessary. I’m talking about whole scenes or sections of scenes, entire characters (often minor ones), rambling dialogue, anything that doesn’t move the story forward or have any impact later  in the story.

One of the reasons I find this hard to do is because sometimes I think I have written something absolutely brilliant and I don’t want to get rid of it.

But you must ask yourself does this reveal anything about the main characters, does something happen later because of this? If your answer is no, then take it out but keep it for something else. Sometimes I get a new story idea from something I have scrapped previously.

When submitting articles to a magazine or a contest there is always a word maximum. I can honestly say every time my story has been over the word count and I’ve  had to eliminate words, I’ve  always felt I ended up with a better story. One that  moved faster, and flowed better.

Adding what’s essential

Remember it’s not the reader’s job to fill in the blanks, that’s the writer’s job. It’s  the writer’s story and the writer’s characters. What a reader wants to do is read something that allows him to use his imagination as he wanders through streets in Paris or the land of another planet.

Watch for too many scenes in which characters never talk. Direct dialogue is always more dynamic than a whole page of inner thoughts or strictly narrative information. There is a time for character thoughts when we want to portray personality, (but you don’t  need every single bit of dialogue.)

Look at your scenes with this in mind:

Do my characters need to talk more? Do more? Think more? Be described more? Live in a more vivid scene?

Fine Tuning Your Story – Weasel Words

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There are some some words that are simply space fillers, like the “uhs,” “wells,” and “you knows,” in conversation. These words seem innocent enough but are often very unnecessary. Watch for:

about,   exactly,  simply

actually, finally, somehow

almost, here, somewhat

almost like, just, somewhat like

already, just then, sort of

appears, kind of, suddenly

approximately, nearly, then

basically, now, there

close to, practically, truly

even, really, utterly

eventually, seems

How do these weasel words work? Consider the following paragraph:

The man was there in the bushes, waiting. When Joan was just three feet away, he kind of tensed, then leaped out and grabbed her. Joan struggled, but it seemed he was just too strong for her, and finally they fell down. She actually screamed, and even scratched his face.

All the bold words aren’t necessary. They create mushy prose. Take them out and see how much more dynamic the writing becomes.

The magic of a computer makes this an easy editing job. In most programs just go to edit, and then find. Type in your word and the computer will take you to the first one. Read your sentence and evaluate whether that word is “really” needed.

Fine Tuning Your Story – Unnecessary Words

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Some words and phrases are unnecessary. It is one of the most common mistakes a writer makes and once you realize it, you can spot it and fix it easily. For example:

She looked up at the ceiling. (You don’t look down at a ceiling)

A small frown appeared on her face. (Where else do frowns appear?}

He squinted his eyes. (With what else do you squint?}

She shrugged her shoulders. (With what else do you shrug?}

The child nodded her head. (With what else do you nod?}

After he pulled up the chair he sat down on the seat. (Where else?}

He held the bird in his hand. (Unless he’s holding it with something like tongs, he’s probably using his hand)

An unknown stranger appeared at the door. (Are there any known strangers?}

Their voices echoed back and forth. (That’s what an echo does.}

When he was alone he muttered to himself. (Who else is there?}

“Come into my parlor,” the spider whispered in a soft voice. (Whispers are soft)

That’s right, she thought to herself. (Who else do you think to?}

The horseman disappeared from sight. (How else?}

A black and white penguin trundled across the snow. (Aren’t they all black and white?}

“I’m through with you!” Joyce yelled. ” You are -”

“Don’t say that,” Kevin interrupted. (We’ve just seen him interrupt, why tell us too?}

The police officer put his key in the drivers side door, opened the door and sat behind the wheel. He put the key in the ignition and turned on the lights. He put the car in drive and pressing on the gas pedal the moved the car forward out of the parking lot. (Simplify this. What do we already know has to happen before you do something? What do we really need?}