It’s almost winter, so here once again are my top 10 writing tips. Except different. Every year I post my latest distillation of best fiction strategies. Why do I change my mind from year to year? Because I’m still learning–often from great novels I read–or workshops. Life-long learning is one of the joys of the writing life. You can always tell a more compelling story!
Kay’s top ten, sure-fire, fiction writing tips:
1. Work harder on an original premise: The Napoleonic wars with air power from dragons; a murdered girl relates her story from heaven; forbidden love between a modern witch and a powerful vampire. Respect your ideas, but deepen them.
2. Reinterpret story ideas. Keep an idea file, whether they catch your attention for a few seconds or are abandoned stories. After a few years you’ll have a totally different view of them and the idea might be a launch pad for a new interpretation. Recently I looked through my file and an older idea jumped out at me, begging for a fresh spin. I’ve re-worked the plot and now am on page 275 of a novel I love.
3. Heighten the consequences beyond the personal. How does the story problem affect the community, say, or an important institution or the larger world?
4. Develop a memorable opposition. Problems arise from conflict, often conflicting agendas. Which suggests that you should really nail the forces of opposition. Enrich the antagonist and their helpers with deep motivations and the competency that makes them a worthy adversary to your major character.
5. Escalate events and tension in the middle. Grow the major character and the forces of antagonism so that they force each other to increase their efforts. Let each side become more adept and determined as they up the ante and must escalate actions to succeed. Rising tension can save the middle of the novel from sagging.
6. Create turning point scenes. (Otherwise known as plot points.) Shape your story by sketching out “hinge” scenes that transition the major character into a more capable, committed actor in response to the plot challenges.
7. Plan reversals. Readers like to be surprised. They’re trying to figure out what will happen, but they don’t like to succeed! Confound readers’ assumptions. Add to that: plan for at least one game-changing piece of information somewhere in the middle. (Ideal at the midpoint.)
8. Make smart use of backstory. If a past event motivates a protagonist, try to avoid bringing on stage that scene from the past, at least at too much length. Flashbacks slow momentum. Instead, reveal the backstory in tight flashback increments or weave it into narration. Another way to keep backstory in present moment is to disclose it in dialogue.
9. Cut the fat. Edit out wandering and (most) low-tension scenes, pace-killing detours, heavy ruminations, ramp-ups to scenes, and over-description.
10. Deepen the climax. Strategic thinking about your climax can save it from being just a bigger obstacle-and-resolution scene to something that challenges your protagonist internally at the most profound level.
That’s it for 2021! And if so inclined, let me know what tips you would add to the mix.