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How Fiction Writers Can Use Sensory Detail to Set Mood

Vivid sensory detail is what brings stories to life. Sadly, many writers ignore sensory detail, for the most part. They’ll show a few things the POV character sees, and, on rare occasion, might note what the character hears or smells.

If you want to write compelling fiction that transports readers into your story, you need to maximize bits of sensory detail for the best effect.

That doesn’t mean you cram full every paragraph with smells and sounds and textures. What it does mean is to strategically put in details that not only enhance the mood of the character but are things your character would actually notice.

Staying in deep POV is essential. When writers drop in sensory details that wouldn’t be on the character’s radar, that’s author intrusion. But the greater travesty is leaving out what a character would obviously notice.

Here’s an example: a character walks into a diner and sits at a table. She picks up a menu and sips cold water from a glass, waiting to order. The author fails to show us the smells that hit her when she walks in, the sounds of people talking and eating (silverware clattering against plates, etc.), the feel of the air and the lighting (temperature, humidity), the feel of the wet, cold glass in her hand, the coolness of the water going down her throat.

Yes, you can go overboard with sensory details, but your character is a physical body in the world, and she perceives through her senses. Continue Reading…

Strategies for Novelists Who Are Writing a Series

I’m reposting this article from some years back, as many fiction writers plan a series but often don’t know the best way to lay out plot over multiple installments.

Many authors plan to write a series, but I’ve noticed when critiquing and editing novels that are part of a series, they often fail to keep in mind important elements that may not pertain to a stand-alone novel. Navigating through a series can be a kind of obstacle course, keeping focus through the many story developments to reach the finish line.

I’m not talking about a series of stand-alone novels that just feature the same character(s) but in different situations, such as in a mystery series showcasing a particular detective. In novels like those, just as with many TV series episodes, the plot is set up, developed, and resolved all in one book.

However, even in such series, you’ll often see characters grow and change. There may be long-term overarching storylines involving the characters that play out over many books.

There is no hard-and-fast rule regarding how to craft a series, but there are some things a writer should be careful to do.

Each Book Must Have a Plot That Resolves

Just as with a singular work, a first book in a series needs to present the characters and their goals and needs. The basic novel structure applies—a protagonist going after a goal, with him either reaching or failing to reach that goal at the climax.

When writing a book series, it is important to know that each book must have its own plot, one that is concluded by the end of the book. You can’t assume readers have read your first book. And even if they have, it may have been a year ago, and they aren’t going to remember all the details. Odds are they will end up confused and frustrated if you make that assumption. Continue Reading…

The Punch at the End of Your Novel Scenes

I’m sure you’ve heard people tell jokes. Whether you’ve listened to stand-up comics on a stage who are masters at joke-telling or a friend at a party or coffeeshop, you know what they’re all about.

The punchline.

The genre of joke-telling is all about the last line. Everything builds to it. Listeners are eagerly awaiting that last line because they know that’s the payoff. They expect a twist, a surprise, a pun … something entertaining that makes the whole joke worth listening to.

If you’ve ever listened to a  joke that doesn’t deliver–that leaves you puzzled or disappointed because the last line is dumb or flat or obtuse–you would say the joke failed. And the person telling it is assessed as a not-so-great joke-teller. You may not pay a lot of money to go see that comedian again. Or watch a movie she’s featured in.

Thankfully, most of us don’t have to make a living telling jokes–because it’s hard to do well. We greatfly admire comedians that can tell a great joke or anecdote that builds to a terrific punch at the end. Continue Reading…

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