Category Archives: Fiction

Make Plotting Fiction Easier: 3 Ideas For Settings And Moods

Make Plotting Fiction Easier: 3 Ideas For Settings And Moods

Before I begin intensive plotting for any piece of fiction, I like to brainstorm settings and moods. It makes plotting easier. Just as movies have location scouts, you can scout locations for your scenes too.

New fiction authors tend to use just a couple of settings, so their fiction is less exciting than it could be.

Plotting and place: everything happens somewhere

Unlike a playwright, or a movie director, novelists don’t have to worry about a budget. They can set their scenes anywhere their imagination takes them — on a lonely island in the Pacific, or on Mars.

Aim to develop settings which will indicate a mood, because this will affect your characters, and intensify their emotions.

You could set a scene in which your main characters are out in a small boat in a storm for example. Set the scene on a cruise ship on a sunny day however, with your characters sipping margaritas, and the mood would be very different.

Let’s look at some ideas for plotting with settings and moods.

1. Enhance your plots: brainstorm locations

Having a variety of settings makes plotting easier.

For example, let’s say that you’re writing a contemporary romance, which is set in your home town. Why your home town? Because you know that location well, in every season of the year, so it cuts down on research time.

Your main character is an artist, who owns a gift shop. Without brainstorming, your locations might be: her home, an old Victorian house; her gift shop; a coffee shop.

All fine, of course. But what if your locations included:

  • The courthouse, where your heroine works as a sketch artist during a trial;
  • The local museum, where she’s commissioned to paint a mural;
  • The local spa, where…
  • And so on.

Without thinking about it too much, you can quickly come up with a number of settings which will set a mood, and help you with plotting.

2. Pantser? Develop settings while you’re writing

Although it’s easier to develop settings while you’re plotting, before you start writing, what if you’re a pantser?

In that case, opportunities to vary your settings will present themselves, if you’re looking for them. Keep asking yourself: what if…?

  • What if I set this scene on a deserted beach, rather than in their kitchen?
  • What if the murder happened on a plane, rather than in an office?

3. Better settings: change your scene locations when you’re editing

Let’s say you’ve written the first draft of a novel, and you’re concerned that the settings are generic. You can change them when you’re editing.

You needn’t change every scene. Look for a scene which needs a little extra punch — you’re sure that you could do more with this scene.

Brainstorm locations. You’ll able to revamp the scene, changing the setting and the mood, without too much effort.

Keep a “settings” file: it makes plotting easier

When you become aware that settings and mood can enhance your fiction, you’ll want to develop a “settings” file.

I keep a Settings notebook in Evernote. If I’m out and about somewhere, and think “oooh… fascinating”, I’ll snap a couple of photos. When I get back to my car, I write a few sentences about the location.

At home, I’ll transfer the idea, as well as the photos, to Evernote. Then I brainstorm how I could use the setting. The brainstorming is important, because ideas tend to be as hazy as dreams. Unless you cement your idea, it drifts away like smoke.

Have fun with settings — you’ll find plotting easier.

Yes, You’re Creative: How To Unlock Your Imagination And Build The Writing Career Of Your Dreams

Yes, You’re Creative: How To Unlock Your Imagination And Build The Writing Career Of Your Dreams

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In this book we'll aim to increase your creativity to unlock your imagination and build the writing career of your dreams.

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Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

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I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly.

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Writing Fiction: Stop “Writing”, Create Experiences

Writing Fiction: Stop “Writing”, Create Experiences

You’re writing fiction. You’ve published one, or several novels. Perhaps you’ve yet to complete your novel.

Wherever you are in your publishing career, you want one thing — the same thing every other author wants. You want your novel to sell because you want readers.

So, how can you be certain that your novel will sell?

There’s only one way.

When you’re writing fiction, stop “writing”

To sell, your novel must entertain readers.

Unfortunately we authors often lose track of the “entertainment factor.” It’s easily done. We’re writers, so we concentrate on the writing. We want to write well — but when that shows, it’s fatal.

if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it

In New Novelist: Write A Selling Novel With One Simple Strategy, I shared my favorite Elmore Leonard writing tip:

My most important rule (for writers) is … if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Similarly, you may have heard the advice to “kill your darlings.” It’s the same thing. It’s “writing”, so you’re not entertaining readers.

Next time you read something in your fiction which gives you a warm glow, stop. Are you thinking, modesty forbids… but that’s quite good? If you are, ask yourself: am I creating an experience with these words?

The easy fix for “writing” syndrome

There’s an easy fix for “writing”. Here it is. Stop focusing on the words. Focus on what’s happening in your novel instead.

Unfortunately, this can be a challenge, especially if you’re a new author. You’ll get better at recognizing “writing” problems as you gain experience.

In your first draft, only fix obvious problems.

When you get around to editing, rewrite when you find anything which bores you. Ask your beta readers to identify any scenes in which their attention wandered.

Tip: entertain yourself first

If you’re not having fun with your writing, your readers won’t have fun either. Boredom is always a clue.

When boredom hits, try this simple exercise.

Set a timer for five minutes.

Start writing with this phrase: Here’s how to make this scene exciting…

Then follow your own advice. Make writing fiction fun for yourself, and you’ll entertain your readers.

Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

eBook: $5.99

I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly.

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Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

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Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 3
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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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Writing Fiction: How Much Dialogue?

Writing Fiction: How Much Dialogue?

When you’re writing fiction, how much dialogue do you need? a student in a recent class asked.

Great question.

Dialogue happens in scenes, so pacing might be your first consideration. Scenes heavy in dialogue read quickly, so you might avoid writing three or more chatty scenes in a row.

(On the other hand, you might not — “how much dialogue?” is a stylistic choice. Your choice.)

Next, consider your genre.

A psychological thriller might have less dialogue than a romance novel, or a mystery, for example, because the psychological thriller is concerned with characters’ state of mind: their thoughts.

Most importantly however, think about your readers’ entertainment.

Entertainment trumps all other considerations.

When you’re writing fiction, you’re creating an entertaining experience

In revision, look at each scene of your novel. Is the scene entertaining? (Ask your beta readers.)

All scenes can be improved, so check:

  • Your transitions, into and out of each scene;
  • Scene setting: is it clear who the viewpoint character is, and why he’s there?
  • Have you given a nod to time and place? (Check your timeline for continuity);
  • Who “wins” the scene (does every character in the scene have a goal?)

I like writing dialogue, so if a scene’s flagging, I’ll kick it along by adding dialogue, or spicing up the dialogue — anything to add entertainment value.

In revision, look at each scene of your novel. Is the scene entertaining?

What’s your style?

How much dialogue? is always a matter of style. You’re the boss; it’s your style for that novel.

The first time I read Robert B. Parker’s Western novel Appaloosa, I was struck by the amount of dialogue: that’s Robert B. Parker’s style.

As we’ve said, novels with lots of dialogue read more quickly than novels with extensive narrative. Done well, these novels are page-turners. Unfortunately, if the dialogue’s done badly, readers won’t finish the novel.

Tips for better dialogue

Let’s look at some tips to help you to write better dialogue.

1. Focus solely on your dialogue for a scene first (this helps you to write more dramatically)

As I said in this article:

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.

When you write “business” — the action part of the scene, description and other narrative — with the dialogue, your dialogue can fade into the background. You pay less attention to it.

Try writing your dialogue first: your readers will pay more attention to it than to anything else in the scene, so you should too.

2. Avoid repetition: it waters down your dialogue

As I suggested in 3 Fiction Writing Tips: Editing For Story Flow:

…when you’re lightly editing for flow, look for any “as you know” constructions, such as: “As you know Bob, my wife Tiffany is an accountant.”

Basically, avoid repetition. Nuke repetitions when you find them.

If you’ve spent three paragraphs describing the sun setting when you open the scene, avoid the sunset as a topic in your dialogue.

3. Keep your dialogue in character

Not easy, but necessary.

From John Sandford’s Silken Prey:

After a couple minutes of silence, Virgil said to Lucas, “At least we know he’s not lying to us now.”

“How’s that?” Lucas asked.

“His lips aren’t moving…”

From Philippa Gregory’s The Queen’s Fool:

I showed him a sulky face. ‘I am commanded by the king, I am commanded by the Duke of Northumberland, I am commanded by his son Lord Robert Dudley, I am commanded by my father; you might as well join in. Every other man in London seems to think he can order me.’

In summary…

Generally speaking, novels today feature more dialogue than novels written even a decade ago. Always however, the amount of dialogue is up to you. Have fun. 🙂

Self-Publishing Strategy Made Easy: How To Market Your Books In 15 Minutes A Day

Self-Publishing Strategy Made Easy: How To Market Your Books In 15 Minutes A Day

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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

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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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