Tag Archives: writing tips

Writing Fiction Made Easier: Get Out Of Backstory Hell

Writing Fiction Made Easier: Get Out Of Backstory Hell

I’ve just looked at this blog’s stats for the past 12 months, and this post on backstory (kill it) is by far the most popular post. I’m not surprised. When you’re writing fiction, backstory is a challenge for new authors.

To reiterate from that post:

Resist the Impulse to Explain

New writers start off great. They get the woman in the trunk of the car (or create some other hot action which starts things off.) Then they feel they need to explain who the woman is, and how she landed in the trunk of a car. They go on for pages and pages. RESIST! Please do not do this.

How to manage backstory: remove it when you’re editing

Important… Don’t worry about backstory in your first draft. Just write.

Remove ALL backstory when you’re editing.

You can add backstory into your novel/ novella/ short story, very carefully after your “slash and burn” editing fury. Restrain yourself. Only a sentence or two at a time. And only if you must add it for the story to make sense.

Here’s what a new author’s backstory hell looks like

I work with lots of writing students, so I may be more sensitive to backstory hell than most.

Here’s a common problem I see — messed-up scenes.

Not only does the new author cram backstory into a scene until the scene’s mangled beyond repair… he crams yet more backstory into the backstory.

Here’s what that looks like:

  • the scene starts. You settle down for an enjoyable scene between two characters, then the author inserts…
  • backstory 1, of one of the characters…
  • in the middle of backstory 1, you get backstory 2, the backstory of the other character…
  • Finally the author remembers he’s writing a scene. So you get a snippet of the scene (by this time the reader’s head is spinning like a top). After just a few paragraphs of the scene, the author inserts…
  • something or other, which may be backstory, or maybe it’s a flashback, who knows?

Sadly, readers have long-since stopped reading.

Forget backstory, PLEASE

Just kill it wherever you find it.

Keep your story moving forward.

Write in scenes, remembering that a scene happens in the present moment, just like a movie scene. There’s no room for backstory in a scene.

I blame advice like “write a character bio” for backstory hell. As I said in Kill Your Backstory:

If you’ve been happily creating character bios, and other junk, stop it. Who cares what flavor of ice cream your main character prefers?

The best way to create character bios is to do it while you’re writing. Yes, you need to remember that your main character’s eyes are brown, not blue, and that he lives with his Uncle Jake, who’s going out with Selma from the diner.

I copy and paste all this must-remember material into a single “characters” document in Scrivener. Then I open that document in Quick Ref while I’m writing the novel.

If you’ve been creating lengthy character bios before you start writing, STOP IT. Otherwise you’ll be tempted to insert all this junky material as backstory while you’re writing.

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

eBook: $5.99

Your readers want to enter your novel's world. They want to experience your book -- they want to live your book with your main characters.

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Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

$5.99
Author:
Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 3
Genre: Writing

How To Write Novels And Short Stories Readers Love: You're about to discover the easiest, fastest, and most fun plotting method ever. You can use it for all your fiction, whether you're writing short stories, novellas or novels. Take control of your fiction now, and publish more, more easily.

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Resources to build your writing career

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Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check out Angela’s books for writers.

4 Fiction Writing Tips: Write Great Dialogue

4 Fiction Writing Tips: Write Great Dialogue

Writing dialogue should be easy. We all talk, don’t we? Unfortunately our challenge is that in fiction writing, the best dialogue isn’t anything like real life conversations. It’s much, much better.

From Deadline by John Sandford:

“Maybe you should have been a cop,” Virgil said.

“Nah. I couldn’t put up with the bullshit,” Clarice said.

“You’re living with Johnson Johnson, and you can’t put up with bullshit?”

“Got me there,” she said. “He is a bullshit machine. But he gets things done.”

To improve my dialogue, I’ve studied plays and TV scripts. Unfortunately, scripts don’t help. Scriptwriting isn’t fiction writing. Check out The Importance of Being Earnest — not much help there, right?

What helps, is to listen to people’s real life conversations, and then do the best you can when writing dialogue. And of course, you can study how the authors you love use dialogue.

These tips will help too.

1. See it, hear it: write your dialogue first

We’ve talked about writing in scenes. When I write scenes, I write the first sentence, and the last sentence of the scene. I also write down what effect I want from the scene.

Here’s the graphic from the How to Write Scenes in Novels and Short Stories article again; writers tell me it’s very useful.

How to Write Scenes in Novels and Short Stories

Before I start a scene, I muse a little about the characters in the scene, and what they want. I try to visualize them. Then I write the dialogue. Nothing else, just the dialogue.

Then I go back and add dialogue tags, physical actions, the point of view (POV) character’s thoughts, and other information. I’ll edit the dialogue as needed.

Focusing on dialogue first means that you’re focusing on what matters. You’ll get your scenes written faster, and they’ll be more dramatic too.

2. Use character catchphrases, but don’t overdo it

Do all your characters sound the same? Try giving them catchphrases. You’ll find that this will make a character more real to you — and you’ll write his dialogue more easily.

If you’re not writing a humorous character, limit the number of times the character uses his catchphrase.

3. Forget the dialogue tags, they’re distracting

Avoid overusing dialogue tags: “he said” etc. In our snippet above, from Deadline, Sandford’s over-using his tags to achieve an effect. Virgil Flowers is a laconic cop; Sandford’s voice in the Flowers’ books conveys this brilliantly.

Vital tip: if you need a dialogue tag, use “said.” Please don’t grab a thesaurus to find synonyms — hissed, whispered, groaned etc.

Worse — please don’t tag an adverb onto “said”.  As in “he said harshly.” If he says something harshly, make the dialogue harsh. As Stephen King pointed out:

“The adverb is not your friend.”

4. When you’re writing dialect, avoid making readers think

You write fiction to make readers feel. If you make them think, you drag them out of the fictive dream. That’s the danger when you use heavy dialects.

From Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander:

‘But it was a risk to you,’ I said, persisting. ‘I didn’t realize you’d be in danger when I asked you.’

‘Ah,’ he said noncommittally. And a moment later, with a hint of amusement, ‘Ye wouldna expect me to be less bold than a wee Sassenach lassie, now would ye?’

There’s enough dialect in Gabaldon’s novel for verisimilitude; it’s not distracting to most readers.

Writing dialogue is fun: play with it

Have fun with your dialogue. When your characters become so real to you that you can hear them speak, they’ll be real to your readers too.

Updated: January 8, 2017

Blurbs Sell Your Books: Craft Irresistible Blurbs, And Sell More Fiction And Nonfiction Today

Blurbs Sell Your Books: Craft Irresistible Blurbs, And Sell More Fiction And Nonfiction Today

eBook: $5.99

You can, when you discover the secrets of writing blurbs (book descriptions) which sell.

More info →
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Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

eBook: $5.99

Your readers want to enter your novel's world. They want to experience your book -- they want to live your book with your main characters.

More info →
Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
Buy from Scribd
Buy from Kobo
Buy from Apple iBooks
Buy from Amazon Kindle

Resources to build your writing career

Get daily writing news and tips on the blog’s Facebook page.

Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check out Angela’s books for writers.

Power Up Your Writing: Just Write

Power Up Your Writing: Just Write

If you want to turn your writing — whether you’re writing books or something else — into a full-time career, there’s a huge pitfall you MUST avoid.

It’s this.

When your writing doesn’t work (or sell) — write anyway

You know that I’m always encouraging you to write, write, write, because when you do that, you will improve. You’ll sell, and then you’ll sell more, because you’ll know that it’s all about the time you spend writing.

Important: it doesn’t matter what you’re writing, Markets go up and down. Business is always cyclical, just like the rest of your life.

The only writing “trick” you’ll ever need to develop a satisfying career

Think of your writing as… writing.

It’s all just writing. If you’re looking for tricks, you may find them, and if you devote too much time to a trick it could be disastrous, because everything ends. What sold yesterday may not sell tomorrow. That’s OK. It doesn’t mean you stop writing.

Markets always change

Way back in the late 1990s, during the dot com boom, I was writing tech articles for magazines. It was a golden age, and it shut down FAST. From one day to the next. Everything was rolling along, and then it rolled right over the edge of a cliff.

For many writers, ebooks have rolled over a cliff too. Because they focused on tricks, rather than on writing. Apropos ebook sales declining, from Business Musings: The Hard Part:

”It always comes down to writing a lot of good material, be those serials or linked short stories or large novels. Fans like what fans like, and will follow those series or those writers as long as the entire project remains fresh.”

Kris Rusch’s article about the “troughs” of writing is spot-on. Your writing career goes up and down. This is also known as the “feast or famine” syndrome of the writing life. Take heart. Famines always end, just as the feasts do. The only trick to making consistent money writing is knowing that after a famine comes another feast, during which you prepare for the next famine.

When the dot com boom went bust, I pumped up my copywriting business, and kept writing.

Keep writing: diversify now

I’ve always been a “writer”. Rather than classifying myself as a novelist (as I did when I started writing), or a copywriter, or a magazine writer, or a blogger… or anything else, I just kept writing.

Over the years, that’s paid off. I’ve always got another string to my bow. I encourage my students to diversify too. Just keep writing.

Write what you WANT to write

Recently, a reader told me she wanted to know what to make the “most money” in writing. Although I was tempted to respond with the old “ransom notes” gag, I suggest that she write what excited her most. She’s a new writer, but that advice works for professionals too. Go where your energy is. If you force yourself to write something, and hate it, it will be the hardest money you ever earn.

You have the power: it’s writing. Use it

I always tell my students that their writing will take them wherever they want to do. I’ve just published How To Win YOUR Writing Game on the freelance blog. You will find it useful. It’s always Self 1 which gets in the way of doing — Self 2.

When you integrate both Self 1 and Self 2, you’ll win the writing game. Our new program, Authentic Writing 2015, will help.

Win your writing game: make winning automatic

Writing Process: Authentic Writing

Everything you need to win the inner game is packed into Authentic Writing 2015. It includes two programs you’ll love, my Top 70 Writing Tips — essential to making winning automatic, and our upcoming Journal Dynamite workshop. (Your entree to the workshop is included free.)

, on Twitter: @angee, and find Angela on Pinterest, too.

How to profit from your writing: online store.