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Showing Your Scenes through Your Characters’ Senses

One of the reasons readers willingly immerse themselves in a story is to be transported. Whether it’s to another planet, another era—past or future—or just into a character’s daily life, readers want to be swept away from their world and into another—the world of the writer’s imagination.

It’s challenging for writers to know how much detail to put in scenes to effectively transport a reader. Too much can dump info, drag the pacing of the story, and bore or overwhelm. Conversely, too little detail can create confusion or fail to evoke a place enough to rivet the reader.

In addition to knowing how much detail to show, writers have to decide what kind of details to use. I often read scenes in the manuscripts I critique, for example, that have characters engaging in lots of gestures, such as rubbing a neck, bringing a hand to a cheek, pushing fingertips together, turning or moving toward something—all for no clear reason.

Showing body movement, gestures, and expressions can be an effective way to indicate a character’s emotional state, but this needs thoughtful consideration so that the gesture or expression packs the punch desired.

I’d like to speak to the importance of showing setting—and not just showing it in any old way. What is key to creating a powerful setting is to show it through your character’s POV and in a way that feels significant. Continue Reading…

A Deep Dive into POV

One of the most important decisions a writer has to make is regarding what POV she will use for her story or novel—not what character to write in, necessarily, but whether to write in first or third person, and if the latter, what variant of third person to use.

Sometimes the reason writers fall into the POV pit is the wrong choice of POV in the first place. They may have chosen to write their novel in first person, but their plot and premise require showing a lot of action involving other characters at times when they are not with the protagonist.

Genre may also influence this choice—for example, much YA today, especially dystopian, is in first person, present tense. This POV and tense provide the greatest intimacy with the main character, and that’s what YA readers want.

Some stories are essentially one character’s journey of deep insight and reaction to the world around her. Women’s Fiction, for example, is often told in first-person POV, for a deeper sense of intimacy. Other stories need to show multiple characters’ motivation, needs, and goals for the plot to work, and so usually the best option is multiple or shifting third-person POV. And yes—even despite all the warnings you might hear, you can use omniscient if you want to. It’s your story, after all.

But more than genre should determine the choice of POV. The primary question is “Which POV choice will best tell this story?” Often that choice is third person. Continue Reading…

Handling Backstory in Dialogue in Your Opening Pages

So many new writers start their books with pages—even chapters—of backstory. They want to tell the reader all about the creation of their fantasy world. Or they want to make sure readers understand every nuance of Mexican politics in 1956 because it will be critical to the plot on page 103. They want to make sure the reader understands every feature of time travel or cloning in the year 2133.

Then their editor suggests that instead of including all this material in the opening chapters of their book, they should just reveal the backstory through dialogue. Aha, the author thinks, dialogue—of course! After all, dialogue is a great way to open in media res and cut to the good stuff. But instead of jettisoning their precious descriptions and explanations, they essentially put quotation marks around the same ponderous material.

Problem solved, right? Wrong.

None of your characters should talk like the narrator. And readers still don’t want a backstory dump—even in dialogue. Often the attempt to stuff backstory into dialogue results in long, tedious monologues instead of more believable two-way conversation. Continue Reading…

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