Tag Archive - Christy Distler

Avoiding Underwriting-Induced Magic

This month our editors are tackling Fatal Flaw #9—Underwriting. We looked at the perils of overwriting early in the year, but underwriting is another problematic area for novelists. 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 Christy Distler dives into the “wrong” kind of magic underwriting can create. (If you’ve missed the first two posts on the topic, click here and here.) 

Magic has no doubt played a huge part in fiction over the years. In the past we had classics like C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and a score of fairy tales. More recently, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books and Diana Galbaldon’s Outlander series have garnered millions of readers. The truth is, magic sells. But it doesn’t belong in all fiction—and sometimes it doesn’t even belong in fantasy and speculative fiction.

Why? Because sometimes a character’s “magical powers” result not from special abilities but from underwriting in the story. Meaning, certain events or actions seem to occur “out of thin air” without proper setup, and this becomes a fatal flaw in fiction writing. Continue Reading…

Unnecessary Discourse, Talking Heads, and the British Butler Syndrome

Today editor Christy Distler tackles further pitfalls of dialog in our month-long look at Fatal Flaw # 8: Flawed Dialog Construction. If you’ve missed the first two posts, read them here and here.

Ah . . . dialog. Considering that we humans spend a lot of time talking, one would think that dialog would be easy to write. We speak and listen to others speak all the time. But writing great dialog isn’t always easy, and some writers find it to be one of the more difficult aspects of fiction writing.

At the same time, dialog plays a critical role in a story. A literary agent once told me that when she reviews a proposal for a novel, one of the first things she looks at is the characters’ dialog. “Even if the plot is interesting and the narrative is well written, if the dialog is lacking, the reader will quickly lose interest,” she told me.

This month we’ve been talking about common pitfalls in writing dialog, and today I want to cover three that I often see as an editor: unnecessary discourse, “talking heads,” and what I call “British Butler Syndrome.” Continue Reading…

Tension and Pacing Through Conflict and Emotional Narrative

This month we’ve been attacking Fatal Flaw #7—Lack of Pacing and Tension. Tension is crucial in a story. Without it, readers will stop reading. Pacing is linked to tension, and there are many ways to ensure strong pacing in a novel. Take a look at what editor Christy Distler suggests to create strong pacing and tension through conflict and emotional narrative.

This month we’ve been talking about tension and pacing in fiction. As a quick review, tension is what motivates your reader to keep turning the pages of the story. It grabs their attention and makes them want (or, even better, need) to know what’s going to happen next.

Pacing is the rate at which a story is told, and it can vary from slow to fast depending on several factors—for example: the characters, the setting, or the scene’s action (or lack of it). While pacing is always present and tension isn’t, both require good storytelling if they’re to work in a writer’s favor.

Two great ways of keeping up the tension and pacing are through the use of conflict and emotional narrative. Conflict, or a character’s opposition with other characters or circumstances (or both), keeps a story interesting. Emotional narrative invokes readers’ interest by allowing them to get to know a character and care about what happens to him or her. If a character’s inner thoughts and motivations aren’t shown, he or she seems more like a puppet just going through the motions. Continue Reading…

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