Friday, January 16, 2015

0 Craft of Writing: Best Craft Tips from 2014, part B

Last week we posted the first part of our look back over our 2014 craft posts and highlighted some of the best tips that we found to be fresh and useful. The quotes below come from the second half of 2014 and cover aspects from Pacing and Plot to Voice to Editing Tips. We hope you'll find a snippet that speaks to you and then click the link to read the full article.

Also -- don't forget our new monthly Ask a Pub Pro column where you can ask a specific craft question and have it answered by an industry professional. So, get those questions in! Or, if you're a published author, agent, or editor and would be willing to answer some questions, shoot us an email as well!

Craft of Writing: Best Craft Tips from 2014, part B

Pacing and Plot:

Pacing and plot are two entirely different things, and a common problem is when a writer plots a novel with plenty of surprises and cliffhangers and threads that all lead to a crescendo in the denouement and thinks this means that the novel will thus avoid pacing problems.

Remember, pacing is all about reader perception. If your plot demands a secret conference between all the rival kings to get to a key plot point, and the only relevant piece is that key plot point, then all the give and take and discussion in the scene may bog your story down until you get to the big “reveal.” This leads to skimming and comments like, “Get to the point already!”
(from Dealing with Pacing Problems by Jake Kerr on 12/12/14)

Character Development:

...But I also think those kinds of stories can be really valuable, particularly at a time when “strong” still seems to mean “masculine” or “physically badass” to many. Being strong isn’t about wielding knives or a witty barb; it’s about how your characters respond to the challenges life throws at them. A girl in a wheelchair, overcoming discrimination and dismissal is damn strong. A woman moving past bullying or rape, a girl defying stereotypes to become a scientist in a male-dominated industry – these characters are no less strong for not wielding a sword or a gun.
(from What Does Strong Mean to You? by Tracy Banghart on 12/19/14)


What is it that makes a character likable? Some of the common denominators in likable characters include making sure that she (or he):

  • has something she loves.
  • has something she fights for.
  • is willing to sacrifice for something.
  • has some special skill or ability.
  • has some handicap or hardship that makes her an underdog.
  • has a flaw that readers can relate to and forgive.
  • operates from motivation the readers can see and understand.
  • has wit, spunk, or a sense of humor.
(from Unlikeable Characters and Mary Sues: Do We Give More Leeway to Male Characters than Female Characters? by Martina Boone on 7/10/14)

World Building:

On Important Objects/Mechanics
For example, in Lord of the Rings, there is the one ring and the lesser rings, the Wizard’s staffs, etc. Harry Potter has many as well: the sorcerer’s stone, the sorting hat, the Sword of Gryffindor, etc. If you have these objects, try to have them serve another purpose besides a plot device. Rae Carson does an excellent job of this in The Girl of Fire and Thorns. The Godstone is crucial to the plot, it connects history to the present and informs the reader about the people. These objects should not be a crutch, but should add richness to the novel.
(from World Building Tips by Erin Cashmanon 10/24/14)

Editing Tips:

1. Make your manuscript’s font small and single-spaced so you can see the big picture of the book for pacing and repeated scenes; lay out the pages on the living room floor so you can see it all at once instead of trying to scroll through hundreds of pages on a computer screen.

2. Change the font and formatting by moving margins and using a different font that mirrors a published book. The story will suddenly look and read differently. You’ll find yourself tightening and editing in a whole new way.

3. To get the *big* picture of the entire novel, write down each chapter in 1-2 lines and watch for the story’s plot ARC and the character’s individual ARCs.

4. READ your manuscript aloud. You’ll catch clunky sentences and rhythm and repeated words, too!
(from Micro Level Revision – AKA “Line-Editing” by Kimberley Griffiths Little on 11/7/14)

 Learning from Positive Reading:

...The advice this professor gave me was to forget “good.” It wasn’t my job to determine whether or not a book, poem, story, etc. was worth reading. Other people with far better credentials had, in fact, already determined the work was “good.” It had made its way into the literary canon. It was a classic. My job, as a literature student, was to figure out why. What separated this work from its contemporaries? Why did it survive while others produced in the same vein were forgotten?

When I graduated and was up to my eyeballs in rejections, I returned to that lesson. I checked out piles and piles of contemporary juvenile literature from my local library and attacked each book in the same way I’d once attacked the works I’d read for my literature professor. I went at it thinking, “Okay, somebody—an agent, an editor, a publishing house—has already decided this book is good. Why? What does this book have that made it a work to be acquired? What are this author’s strengths?”...
...Then challenge yourself. Figure out how to incorporate other authors’ admirable qualities into your work in your own way. I contend it’s far more useful to try to emulate something positive than it is to avoid something negative
 (from Positive Reading Challenge by Holly Schindler on 10/10/14)


For me, voice is telling. To be true and genuine, voice has to take us by the hand and lead us into the magical world of the character, or the narrator. But beyond the facts or emotion that the words convey, voice is about the selection of the words themselves. It's that indefinable quality of rhythm and sentence structure and elegance of expression that elevates writing above the ordinary.
(from What Is Voice In Fiction? by Martina Boone on 7/12/14)

On Writing Dialogue:


Read play scripts. Remember, plays are almost all dialogue. Not film scripts, watching and reading those are totally different experiences, there’s nothing but stage direction in a film script and very little dialogue, despite my film examples. The plays the thing. Heh. If you’ve never read a play and Shakespeare or Marlowe aren’t your jam (though you may love it and no one writes better dialogue than those guys) there are a million amazing contemporary playwrights (Mary Zimmerman or Sam Shepard, Tom Stoppard, Edward Albee, Wendy Wasserstein, Paula Vogel, John Patrick Shanley to name just the big ones) who all write dialogue that will set your brain on fire. Feel the rhythms, feel how the conversations make the story unwind and let tension grow, feel the quiet moments and the fighting, it’s a really unique experience. Full-length plays, when read straight through, can be consumed in like, an hour.
(from A Diatribe on Dialogue by Jennifer Longo on 8/8/14) 

On Outlining a Novel:

An outline helps you to summarize the story in your own mind. It sounds like an obvious point, but knowing exactly what your story is about -- in as few words as possible -- helps you to write it better. An outline helps crystallize your themes, your characters' goals, attributes and shortcomings, and the obstacles standing in their way. Being able to easily put a finger on these things lets you write your first draft much more efficiently.
(from The Craft of Outlining by Kiki Sullivan on 9/12/14)

-- Posted by Susan Sipal

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