Tag Archive - Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing

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…

How Novelists Can Say More with Less

Less is more. More impacting. More riveting. More intriguing. Throughout history, marriages have failed and wars have been won or lost over a mere word or two. Jesus said, “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.” Simply stated, as was his style.

I often share with my clients something my eleventh-grade English teacher used to spout frequently: “Say what you mean. Don’t say what you don’t mean.”

The best way to say what you mean is to use only the words you need—the most appropriate words for your context—and discard the rest. Think of the pages of your novel as expensive real estate. Writers who want to write well should aim to be as picky about the words they string together as the foods they eat or the clothes they wear. Pickier.

Bogging Down Your Writing Is a Bad Thing

Your novel’s pacing will be greatly affected by word choice. If you bog down your sentences with unnecessary words, your scenes will drag. In addition, using boring, flat, or weak verbs and adjectives will make the reading dull, no matter how exciting your plot might be.

Take a look at this Before passage and see if you can spot some of the problems. Then read my revision and compare. Continue Reading…

How Writers Can Spot Those Pesky Flaws in Their Fiction

All I see are a bunch of trees.

That’s what a lot of my clients say to me.

Well, actually, no one has ever said those exact words to me. But, in essence, that is what they’re saying.

And when I peered deep into the editing forest, after a number of years of working as a copyeditor, that a lot of the trees looked the same. I kept having that dreamlike sensation that I’d been there, in that same spot, many times before.

Truth is, I had. Waaaayyy too many times.

All this to say: novelists make a lot of the same mistakes. They have a lot of the same weak components in their writing. They can’t seem to see those glaring mistakes—because those darn redwoods are in the way. Continue Reading…

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