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Writing “Personal” Description through Your POV Character

This month our editors are tackling Fatal Flaw #10 – Description Deficiencies. Too many manuscripts are lacking essential description–of characters, setting, time or day and year, how much time has passed from scene to scene. These make for weak scenes and weak novels. Today, editor Rachel Starr Thomson begins our examination of this very fatal flaw of fiction writing:

I love description. Yes, I know, lots of people quit reading in school because the books they were forced to choke down had “too much description.” And I like a fast-moving plot as much as the next girl. But even so, there is nothing I like better than to be immersed in another place or time through words.

More than any other element of fiction writing, description creates immersion. But too little description leaves readers either confused or unengaged—or both. And too much irrelevant description bogs down pacing and kills tension. So how’s a writer to know just how much is enough? And just what kind of description is best?

This month our editors will be examining this topic from various angles. I want to concentrate, in this post, on visual details and what they can reveal—not just about the physical characteristics of a person, place, or thing but about the story underlying them. Continue Reading…

Check Your “Underwriting”—10 Key Questions to Ask of Your Story

We’ve been looking at the many ways writers tend to underwrite in their fiction. Choppy narrative that “magically” moves characters around. Dialog that seems to be missing something. Action that has characters behaving in confusing ways. Characters lacking the natural process of emotional response to things that happen to them.

These issues are especially endemic to first novels, and when pointed out to authors, they then seem so obvious. Writers will say, “Why didn’t I notice these problems?” I’ll tell you what I think is the main reason most writers can’t see the obvious flaws in their scenes.

Because of lack of adequate writing experience, helpful critical feedback, and sufficient skill development and training, writers don’t realize they aren’t showing enough—and especially in a scene’s opening paragraphs—to help readers picture where a character is and when the scene is taking place in the story.  Writers can imagine all the action taking place, the details of the setting, the sounds and smells their characters are experiencing. But they forget that readers aren’t mind readers. Continue Reading…

How Writers Can Avoid “Underwriting” Emotions

This month our editors are tackling Fatal Flaw #9—Underwriting. Too often necessary information is left out of a scene, leaving readers scratching their heads. This may pertain to narrative, dialog, setting—every and any component found in fiction. Today editor Robin Patchen continues our look at “underwriting” by showing how we sometimes fail to explore and reveal the emotions our characters are experiencing. (Be sure to read all the prior posts to know how to conquer this fatal flaw, starting with this one!)

Show, don’t tell. That lesson is drummed into novelists’ heads, and for good reason. Readers don’t want to be told stories; they want to experience them. They want to charge into battle with your hero, face down the enemy with your heroine. They want to be in the action, not just watch it from the sidelines. They want to feel your story.

And great writers oblige, moving from scene to scene quickly, including vivid details to help the reader imagine the settings, filling each moment with tension and conflict. But sometimes, the emotions get lost along the way. And this can lead to “underwriting”—what we’ve been looking at all month. Leaving out important pieces that are needed to engage your readers. Continue Reading…

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