Fiction Tip #116: Writing Style

How do you write? Are you a planner or a fly by the seat of the pants writer? Perhaps you are bit of both. The great thing about writing is there is no right or wrong way. Writing is a very personal process. I must admit I have tried all of the above at different times and with each I have found benefits and struggles. Let’s take a look at the different styles.

Pantser – writing without a plan

A pantser can range from having absolutely no idea what they are going to write about, thus writing a sentence off the top their head only to be followed by another, to having a general idea about a character or situation but no specific plot in mind. This can be a fun way to write because the story unfolds in a very natural way, one thing leading to another. The problem I’ve found with this type of writing is that it generally requires a lot more revision because the plot often makes large shifts in different directions before the real story is discovered. So if this is how you write be prepared to put in more revision time than some of the other styles.

Plotter – planning out the plot prior to writing 

A plotter can range from having all the details thought out in advance, down to the smallest, to only having the general goals and obstacles determined. Planning ahead definately makes the revision process easier since there is already a structure and story in place. Personally if I plan too much I’ve found it to stifle my creativity causing my story to be flat, but everyone is different. If this is how you write, look for ways to keep the creativity and spontaneity alive during the planning phase so that it shows in the finished story.

Hybrid – a little planning but open to new opportunities

A hybrid method allows for some general planning, usually on the light end of a plotter, but allows for shifts along the way. Plotters often find themselves moving into this category as they write, but not always. I’ve found this method to be quite useful since it provides just enough structure to help reduce the revision process, but doesn’t restrict my creative process when a new, more exciting idea comes up along the way. This style will require a little more revision than the plotter, but less than the pantser. If this is how you write just be sure to fix the areas you wrote before the shift so that they fall in line with the new direction of the plot. 

If you haven’t figured out which style is best, try them all. I tend to prefer the hybrid or pantser styles myself, but what matters in the end is what works best for you. Your readers won’t care what your writing style is, only how your finished story reads. 

Memoir Prompt #115: When and How to Use Flashbacks

Flashback, moments when your character remembers a person or event from the past, often trip up new writers and their readers. The reason for this is that flashbacks are often over used or used incorrectly. So when and how should you use flashbacks? Here are some guidelines.

  1. Only use a flashback when it is relevant to and intensifies the current scene; providing insight into the character’s emotional state or motivation in the current scene.
  2. Add the flashback in the thinking portion of the transition because that is when a  past memory of a person, place or event would naturally occur.

In most cases, you will have your character summarize the flashback as they are processing the current situation and looking at their options. There are two reasons for presenting most flashbacks this way:

  1. The majority of your word count should be used for the current story and present action. Using your space to flashback to the past often slows down the forward momentum of the current story.
  2. Moving from present to past and back again smoothly is often difficult to pull off. If the transition isn’t smooth the reader is pulled out of the current story and the thrust back into it which disrupts the flow of the story.

However, there are times when inserting a flashback as a scene can be quite powerful. If you choose to do so remember that:

  1. The flashback must be relevant to and intensify the current scene and provide insight into the character’s emotional state and/or motivation in the current scene.
  2. The flashback should fall in the part of the transition when your character is reviewing all that has happened and looking at his/her next steps.
  3. You must craft smooth transitions into and out of the flashback for your reader. You want it to be seamless.

Fiction Tip #115: Using Flashbacks

Flashbacks, moments when your character is thrown back into an old memory, often trip up new writers and their readers. They are either over used or used incorrectly. Based on the last several posts about transitions, the flashback is best used in the phase of the transition where your character is thinking about all that has happened and his/her next steps. It would be during this phase of human behavior that we might be struck by some past event or memory that relates to the current situation in some way. Which brings me to the next point. A flashback should only be used if it is relevant to the current scene and will intensify the current scene and help the reader:

  1. Understand the character’s current emotional state,
  2. Understand the character’s motivation in the current scene.

A flashback is not always a scene. In fact, choosing to present a flashback in the form of a scene should be used sparingly for the following two reasons:

  1. The shift from the current scene to a past scene and back to the current scene again can be difficult for the reader and actually take them out of the story,
  2. Using too many flashbacks can slow the forward movement of the story causing the reader to put down the book.

Saying that, there are times when a flashback scene can be quite powerful. So if you choose to insert a flashback scene remember that:

  1. It should fall in the thinking portion of the transition,
  2. The flashback must be relevant to and intensify the current scene and provide insight into the character’s emotional state and/or motivation in the current scene,
  3. You need to transition to and from the flashback in a way that is smooth for the reader.

Most of the time, the flashback will be summarized by the character as they look back over the current situation and make their plans to move forward. This is allows the author to focus the majority of the writing space to the current story and it will be easier for the reader to follow.

Memoir Tip #114: Keeping Your Reader on Edge Part 2

In Memoir Tip #113 we discussed techniques to keep your reader on edge during the scene portion of your story. Today I want to discuss some techniques you can use to keep your readers on edge during the transition phases.

Conisder using the following options:

  1. Did your protagonist have a limited amount of time to decide how to move forward? If yes, let your reader in on this fact, it provides the same benefits in transition as it does in scene. It doesn’t matter if the time limit was set by the protagonist, by another character or by the circumstances.
  2. Was there a point when your character had an ah-ha moment during while thinking about their situation, the thought portion of the transition, which brought to light new complications or a new insight about his/her current situation, things he/she hadn’t thought of before? If yes, let the reader in on this insight so that they too feel the added pressure.
  3. Was there a point where the character’s emotion controlled his/her decisions? Generally, this would leave him/her moving forward in inadequate ways, possibly with poor judgment.
  4. At some point was the protagonist diverted from their new goal, in the early stages of the new action portion of the transition, forcing him/her to veer from their path in order fight this new battle? Use it, and only after  he/she resolves that fight can return he/she refocus on the next scene and goal.
  5. Have the protagonist come to a decision, which they inform the reader they have made, but don’t share what that decision is, thus holding it back from the reader. This is used when shifting to a different viewpoint or subplot and the decision is picked back up later so the reader is not left hanging in indefinitely.
  6. Was there a point where an outside complication forced the character to stop in the middle of the transition process? Let this diversion work for you. Of course once that complication is handled, the character must pick back up where they left off in the transition process.

Again, you can see where each of these adds tension to the situation the protagonist faces and by doing so adds anxiety to the reader’s experience.

Fiction Tip #114: Techniques To Keep Your Reader On Edge Part 2

In Fiction Tip #113 I talked about techniques you could use to keep your reader on edge during scenes. Today I want to talk to you about some techniques you can use to keep your readers on edge during the transition phases.

Conisder using the following options:

  1. Limit the amount of time your character has to decide how to move forward. This has the same effect as the time limit in a scene. This time limit may be set by the character, by another character or by the circumstances.
  2. Let your character have an ah-ha moment during the thought portion of the transition which brings to light new complications or insight about his/her current situation, things he/she hadn’t thought of before.
  3. Allow the character’s emotion to control his/her decisions which has him/her moving forward in inadequate ways or with poor judgment.
  4. Insert a new obstacle in the early stages of the new action portion of the transition, forcing him/her to veer from their current goal in order fight this new battle, only after which he/she can return to focus on the next scene and goal.
  5. Have the character come to a decision, which they inform the reader they have made, but don’t share what that decision is, thus holding it back from the reader. This is used when shifting to a different viewpoint or subplot and the decision is picked back up later so the reader is not left hanging in indefinitely.
  6. Throw in some outside complication that forces the character to stop in the middle of the transition process. Of course once that complication is handled, the character will pick back up where they left off in the transition.

Again, you can see where each of these adds tension to the situation the protagonist faces and by doing so adds anxiety to the reader’s experience.

Memoir Tip #113: Techinques to Set Your Reader on Edge

We’ve talked a lot about keeping your reader on edge throughout your plot. We want them stressed, wondering what will happen next and worrying about the protagonist reaching their goal. To this there are some techniques you can employ as you craft each scene and transition. Today I want to talk about the the techniques you can use when crafting your scenes.

For scene consider the following options:

  1.  What does your antagonist know at this point that your protagonist doesn’t; something that will be detrimental to his/her plans and goal. Now let your antagonist share bits and pieces of this information with the reader prior to the protagonist finding out. This sets the reader on edge until the protagonist learns of this obstacle and deals with it in some way. Just be sure you do eventually have the protagonist face it at some point.
  2. Likewise, let the antagonist share a piece of information the protagonist didn’t know early during a new scene; a piece of information that has an impact on the protagonist’s current scene goal. This forces your protagonist to shift his tactics and possibly even his scene goal, but in either case your protagonist is now at a disadvantage which leaves your reader distressed.
  3. During the scene show your reader that the information your protagonist received, and upon which he/she formed his/her scene goal, was inaccurate and thus forces him/her to shift his/her scene goal. In this case, the information received may or may not have been intentionally shared incorrectly, but it still has an impact on how he/she moves forward.
  4. Was there something that imposed a time limit on the scene giving your protagonist a limited amount of time to reach their goal? If there was, then use that by letting the reader be aware of the restriction which amps up the pressure on the protagonist and stressed out the reader.
  5. Increase the stakes in the scene by revealing information that either makes the protagonist’s goal even more appealing so he/she absolutely must succeed or which makes it harder for the protagonist to reach his/her goal.
  6. Allow your viewpoint character to have a hidden agenda that is subtly suggested to the reader through internal thoughts or through dialogue. This must fit the demeanor of the character, usually a more reserved and cold demeanor, and the information should not have been revealed in a previous scene or transition.

As you can see, these techniques have the ability to really shift the way your reader perceives your viewpoint character’s current position which in turn puts them on edge.

Fiction Tip #113: Techniques For Keeping Your Reader On Edge

We’ve talked a lot about the need to keep your reader on edge, guessing, wondering what will happen next, and worrying about the protagonist’s goals. Now let’s take a look at some techniques you can employ at the different points: scene and transition. Today we will look at scene.

For scene consider the following options:

  1.  Let your antagonist know something your protagonist doesn’t; something that will be detrimental to his/her plans and goal. And don’t only let the antagonist know this piece of information, also let the antagonist share bits and pieces of it with the reader prior to the protagonist finding out. This sets the reader on edge until the protagonist learns of this obstacle and deals with it in some way. Just be sure you do eventually have the protagonist face it at some point.
  2. Let the antagonist share a piece of information the protagonist didn’t know early on in a new scene; a piece of information that has an impact on the protagonist’s current scene goal. This forces your protagonist to shift his tactics and possibly even his scene goal, but in either case your protagonist is now at a disadvantage which leaves your reader distressed.
  3. During the scene show your reader that the information your protagonist received, and upon which he/she formed his/her scene goal, was inaccurate and thus forces him/her to shift his/her scene goal. In this case, the information received may or may not have been intentionally shared incorrectly.
  4. Set a time limit on the scene giving your protagonist a limited amount of time to reach their current goal.
  5. Increase the stakes in the scene by revealing information that either makes the protagonist’s goal even more appealing so he/she absolutely must succeed or which makes it harder for the protagonist to reach his/her goal.
  6. Allow your viewpoint character to have a hidden agenda that is subtly suggested to the reader through internal thoughts or through dialogue. This must fit the demeanor of the character and the information should not have been revealed in a previous scene or transition.

As you can see, each of these has the potential to turn up the heat for your protagonist. And by turning up the heat on the protagonist you set your reader on edge; even when your protagonist isn’t aware that the heat was turned up.

Memoir Tip #112: Tips to Building Suspense with Plot, Scene and Transitions

Over the past several weeks I’ve talked about how to create scenes using conflict and how to connect them using transitions, today I want to talk about the different ways you can use those tools to create a more dramatic story that holds your reader’s attention. Although it can be argued which aspect of story (i.e. Characterization, theme, stakes, etc.) is the key to captivating writing, in the end plot and structure are the keys to making each and all of those elements work. Your goal is to show the reader these aspects of your story by presenting the necessary information in the most interesting and suspenseful way possible.
One of the best ways to create an interesting and suspenseful plot is to build the action up from the first scene to last. Which means that each scene creates a situation that is more intense, poignant, and involved that the scene that preceded it. To accomplish this, the viewpoint and goal must be clear so that you, as the author, can determine the best way to increase the pressure on the viewpoint character and the goal he/she is hoping to attain. Below are some options to consider when reviewing how your situation unfolded (scene/conflict and transition). Each one provides its own way of building pressure on your character. Use these as a guide to help you determine the best way to unfold the information to your reader, thus building the heat and pressure on your character and building the intensity of the plot over the course of the story.

  1. Was the character taken farther away from one easy solution to their problem after another, thus taken farther away from their overall goal with each failure?
  2. Did the character face one new problem or disaster after another, which did not appear to be related to their goal, but still complicated them reaching that goal, thus adding more pressure and issues to his current problem?
  3. Was the character faced with a short-term unrelated goal that they had to resolve before they could return to resolving their overall goal?
  4. Where did the main goal/plot interweave with subplots (either related to the overall goal/plot or where unrelated situations occured in the same time and place as the main plot)?
  5. Was there a time limit or deadline the character had to reach his/her goal where something terrible would happen if they missed said deadline?
  6. Did the character have a limited number of options open to them, thus leaving them with fewer and fewer options as they tried and failed at each one?
  7. Are there previously unknown plots, complications, or information you can reveal to the reader at a later point in the plot which makes the situation more dire for the character at that point in the story?

Fiction Tip #112: Plotting For Maximum Effect

Now that we’ve talked about how to create scenes using conflict and how to connect them using transitions, let’s look at the different ways you can use those tools to create a more dramatic story that holds your reader’s attention. Although it can be argued which aspect of story (i.e. Characterization, theme, stakes, etc.) is the key to captivating writing, in the end plot or structure are the keys to making each and all of those elements work. Your goal as a writer is to show the reader these aspects of your story by presenting the information in the most interesting and suspenseful way possible.

One of the best ways to create an interesting and suspenseful plot is to build the action up from the first scene to last; where each scene creates a situation that is more intense, poignant, and involved that the scene that preceded it. This means the viewpoint character and his/her goal must be clear so that you, as the author, can determine the best way to increase the pressure on this character and they goal he/she is hoping to attain. Below are some ways you can build the heat and pressure on your character, thus building the intensity of the plot over the course of the story.

  1. Each scene takes the character farther away from an easy solution to their problem, thus compounding over time to take them farther away from their overall goal.
  2. Each scene creates a new problem or disaster for the character, which do not appear to be related to the overall goal, thus adding more pressure and issues to his current problem.
  3. The character is presented with an unrelated short-term goal that they must resolve before he/she can return to resolving their overall goal.
  4. The main plot interweaves with subplots, either related to the overall plot or unrelated situations happening in the same time and place as the main plot, adding interest and information to the overall story.
  5. There is a time limit or deadline by which the character must reach his/her goal or there will be terrible consequences to face. 
  6. There are a limited number of options for the character, thus as he/she goes through each option his/her options become more and more limited.
  7. Previously unknown plots, complications, or information from the character’s backstory or a hidden story can be revealed to the reader which makes the situation more dire for the character.

Memoir Tip #111: Transitions Part 6

We are now at the last step in a complex transition; action. The emotions led to thought, which led to a decision, and now it is time for your protagonist to take the first step toward this new decision/goal. This first step may be calling a friend for advise, researching hospitals that specialize in your particular illness, or driving to confront someone. The important thing is that your protagonist takes some step(s) that lead them into the next conflict/scene and while doing this they restate the new goal so the reader understands where they are going and why.

Some things to remember about the complex transition:

  1. There is no set length. The length will depend on the story being told, the impact of the conflict/scene on the overall goal, and the character. 
  2. The goal of the complex transition is to guide your reader from an external conflict through and internal process which then takes them to another external conflict. This is cause and effect at work and the reason it works so well is because the physical/external action connects to the psychological/internal emotions and thoughts which then connects once again to the physical/external action. 
  3. You may run across some scenes where the conflict and emotion/thought/decision/action is so obvious that there will only need to be a few sentences for the complex transition. And occasionally you may not need one at all.

Areas of caution:

  1. If you are someone prone to internalization, you want to make sure you don’t replace scenes with complex transitions. The complex transition is not intended to replace a scene.
  2. Saying that, more experienced writer’s may choose to do this when a scene is tedious or they want a more subjective view. If you choose to do this be very cautious and plan it using the scene to complex transition process.