I’ve spent quite a bit of time this week judging contest entries.
We’re talking genre fiction, not literary works. I’ve been judging as a reader. Clean, smooth prose is good, but it should be a delivery vehicle for strong storytelling.
Many of the pages I’ve read have been thrilling. The heroine has a strong, active role – she’s a bodyguard, or a firefighter, or sniper, or a PI, or whatever. The world-building has on the whole been convincing and the writing sound.
So it pains me to say I would not have bought any of the stories I read, nor even bothered to read on if the author had given them to me gratis.
The problem, I think, was that not one of these strong, active heroines had a goal. They had expertise, they were parachuted into action-packed scenes, and they responded as they had been trained to do. They saved themselves, children, cute puppies and even hunky heroes. Things happened to them, and they reacted. Boom! Pow! Continue reading
What are your go-to references for improving your chosen skill–creative, mechanical, sporting, whatever’s important to you?
I decided a while ago that I wouldn’t spend any more money on writing craft—no books, workshops, courses or conferences—unless I come across something exceptional. It’s not that my writing is so good I don’t need it, but that I already have a great collection of resources at my fingertips and I’ve only scratched the surface of most of them.
Even if I write for another 20 years (and I intend to), I bet I could find the answers to 99.9% of my craft problems on my current bookshelf or the internet. My challenge is to digest all that great advice, evaluate it, select the bits that I need most in order to power up my strengths, bolster my weaknesses, and widen my skill-set, and apply those lessons until they become second nature.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in this post that I was surprised to discover how much I’ve absorbed about the process of self-publishing. I’ve also learned that some craft resources hit the spot for me, while other famous names slide through my brain and out again, leaving no trace. I had fun choosing my favorite indie publishing resources, so I decided to play the same game with the writing craft references. I found it surprisingly easy to pick the ones I believe will support my writing journey all the way to the pearly gates.
Your mileage may vary (I’d love to know!), but here are my choices: Continue reading
Conflict? Mmm…perhaps. (Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin in “The Princess Bride” (c) 1987 Act III Communications)
Welcome to Part 3 of Fiction Fundamentals. In Part 1, I discussed character goals. In Part 2, I covered a character’s Motivation…the “why” of what they want to do in your story. Last time, in the first of a two-parter, I talked about the Big Enchilada that ties it all together and makes for a good read: Conflict.
This week, I’m delving a bit deeper. I’ll discuss scene- vs. story-level conflict, the difference between conflict and trouble, and those pesky “misunderstandings.”
Scene-Level (or “Mini”) Conflict
Let’s be clear about one thing: conflict must be in each scene in your book. Every. Single. One. However, that doesn’t mean the conflict had to be between your protag and antag relative to their goals, nor does it have to be massive, big-stakes stuff. It can be smaller. Call it mini-conflict, or that which does not directly affect your character’s goals. Said another way:
The conflict in each scene doesn’t have to be directly related to the protag or antag’s stated goal.
Here’s why: Continue reading
Welcome to Part 3 of Fiction Fundamentals. In Part 1, I discussed character goals. Last time, in Part 2, I covered a character’s Motivation…the “why” of what they want to do in your story.
This installment (the first of two) is about the Big Enchilada that ties it all together and makes for a good read: Conflict.
Before getting into the meat of this, let’s set some expectations about conflict:
- Conflict is necessary in commercial fiction. Period. No conflict? No story. People don’t want to read about characters who get what they want with no issues or impediments. They want to see characters suffer and earn their rewards.
- Conflict is a struggle to reach a goal and should have the reader wondering whether or not the character will achieve it.
- Conflict is bad things happening to good and bad
- Conflict must be clear, but not overwhelming. It can be too big/too much, drowning your reader in seemingly insurmountable problems.
- Conflict doesn’t necessarily have to be one person pitted against another. Sometimes the conflict is circumstances.
Debra Dixon, in “GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict,” makes it very clear:
“If conflict makes you uncomfortable or you have difficulty wrecking the lives of your characters, you need to consider another line of work. In commercial fiction you need strife, tension, dissension, and opposition. If you omit these elements, you won’t be able to sustain the reader’s attention. Even in romance novels – known for their happy endings, sufficient conflict must exist to make the reader doubt the happily-ever-after.”
The net-net? Continue reading
One of things we learned in the McDaniel program was that many of us, to one extent or another, struggle with some of the same writing issues. One of the earliest elements of our manuscripts we addressed was identifying our protagonists’ goals. While a few of our classmates had chosen concrete, positive, workable goals, many of us were in a very different boat. It was leaky boat with a broken paddle. We agonized and strategized and each of us found (or continue to search for) our own paths to creating strong goals for our characters.
In my WIP, I didn’t just have a negative goal; I had three. Continue reading