The Fiction Writing Process — For Beginning Authors #4 The Basics – Hone Your Skills

I’ve been writing books for eight years now. I followed the basics in the beginning, and I still do. There are certain things readers expect from a good read, and the last thing you want to do is disappoint your readers.

When I first started writing I sought advice from experts, and I researched websites and blogs that gave excellent information about the craft. The best blog I found was “All Write” by AJ Humpage.

http://allwritefictionadvice.blogspot.com/  It’s all in the posts – everything from grammar to plot twists.

Humpage’s blog mentions hundreds of topics, but I’m going to mention and expand on a couple that I think are especially relevant.

Head Hopping. So, you’re reading a book and it’s from the protagonist’s POV. You’re really into it and then suddenly – in the middle of the chapter – the protagonist is thinking about something the villain is thinking about….  Oh, wait – it jumped to the villain’s POV. Annoying, right? Nobody likes to stop mid-chapter and try to figure out who is thinking what or what is happening.

Having said that head-hopping is no-no mid-chapter, it can work if you break up the POVs with chapters or other breaks in your book that are clearly labeled so that your reader is in the loop. I’ve done this. Just try to be consistent and always keep your reader in mind.

Dialogue Formatting. Sounds boring, I know – but it’s important! When you self-publish on Amazon, there are thousands of readers out in the world that are incentivized to find mistakes (typos, bad grammar, misuse of commas, improper dialogue formatting, etc.) Every month or so you will get a list of these mistakes… even if you have a rock star editor. And if you don’t fix these mistakes (and you have enough of them) Amazon can take down your book.

And so, that’s why this is important. Back to dialogue formatting. It starts simply, by putting quotation marks before and after a quote.

EXAMPLE:

Dialogue tag before: Gerard whispered, “We have to get out of here.”

Dialogue tag after: “We have to get out of here,” Gerard whispered.

Use of the exclamation point, question mark, or ellipsis: “We have to get out of here!” he said.

Notice the “h” in here is in lower case when using the “!.”

The first letter after the quote is also in lowercase when using the “?” and the “…”

What if there is action happening before or after the dialogue? This is one that many people slip upon.

EXAMPLE:

Daniel gasped. “What are you doing?”

Sometimes you may use a quote within a quote. If you do, use single quotation marks.

EXAMPLE:

Daniel’s face reddened. “When you said, ‘I hate you!’ it made me question everything we had together.”

When a new character is introduced in the conversation, start a new paragraph.

EXAMPLE:

“Harry, I don’t like the way you installed these cabinets. They’re crooked,” Kim explained, motioning her hand toward the lopsided walnut door.

“I think they look fine,” he said, looking down at his watch.

Kim took a step toward him. “You’re not even looking at it!” she felt her teeth clench. “Look, I paid you a lot of money. I’m going to need you to fix this.”

“Yeah, I hear you,” Harry said. “Let me take a look at my schedule and I’ll get back to you.” He spun on his heel and headed for the front door.

If an action happens at some point during the dialogue, use a lowercase letter at the beginning of where the dialogue picks up.

EXAMPLE:

“I can’t imagine,” he sucked in air, tension overtaking in his body, “what you were thinking. Do you realize we could have lost the whole squadron?!”

If a quote is long, it may require breaking it up into paragraphs. Place opening quotations marks at the beginning of each paragraph, but only place closing paragraphs at the end of the quote.

EXAMPLE:

Mark paced nervously moments before he began his presentation. “This is how to write a book 101. Head Hopping. So, you’re reading a book and it’s from the protagonist’s POV. You’re really into it and then suddenly – in the middle of the chapter – the protagonist is thinking about something the villain is thinking about….  Oh, wait – it jumped to the villain’s POV. Annoying, right? Nobody likes to stop mid-chapter and try to figure out who is thinking what or what is happening.

“Having said that, head-hopping is no-no mid-chapter, it can work if you break up the POVs with chapters or other breaks in your book that are clearly labeled so that your reader is in the loop. I’ve done this. Just try to be consistent and always keep your reader in mind.

“Dialogue Formatting. Sounds boring, I know – but it’s important! When you self-publish on Amazon, there are thousands of readers out in the world that are incentivized to find mistakes (typos, bad grammar, misuse of commas, improper dialogue formatting, etc.) Every month or so you will get a list of these mistakes… even if you have a rock star editor. And if you don’t fix these mistakes (and you have enough of them) Amazon can take down your book.”

Now, let’s move on to foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing is a practice that authors use to indicate to their readers an idea of what is to come. If done properly, it is subtle, yet evident. Mysteries use this technique a lot, although it is a practice that is ideally used in all genres of fiction writing.

Foreshadowing is a way to build tension and suspense. It also can act as an emotional buffer for your reader so that he (or she) does not feel let down or unprepared when something “big” happens.

So, how do you introduce foreshadowing in your book? Let’s get to it.

Dialogue. A character may reveal something in dialogue that acts as a set-up to an event that is uncovered later in your book. It might be the way the character says something, an action the character is doing while he is saying something, or it may be the words themselves. The idea is to plant seeds, not to drop a 10-foot tree.

Title. A good book title can sell a book. Some examples of this type of foreshadowing are Murder on the Orient Express, One Little Lie, The Last Thing He Told Me, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Love in the Time of Cholera. You get the idea. There is a hint of what’s to come.

Setting. It’s an overcast rural town with boarded-up houses and shut-down factories. It’s a seaside town with quaint coffee shops and cobblestones streets. It’s a dimly lit submarine with the stale smell of Old Spice. Every place is the setting the stage for the story to come.

Metaphors or Similes. Quick explanation: metaphor is a comparison without using the word “as” or “like.” A simile is a comparison using the word “as” or “like.”

Kenny was a caged animal. This metaphor may be a clue of a blow-up to erupt at a later time.

Greg behaved like a silly lap dog, without a care in the world. This simile could be a set-up for something more stressful down the line.

Is it difficult to tell how these could be clues? Think about breadcrumbs. You don’t just drop one and expect to figure out how to get to the end. It takes little pieces of information dropped in the right places to make foreshadowing successful.

Character Traits. Is your character self-assured to the point of being cocky? Maybe it’s a set-up for him to take a fall. Is your love interest recovering from agoraphobia? It could be that the only way she can survive is if she is forced to leave her house.

You’ve seen these plot formulas a million times. They are played out in slightly different ways and in slightly different environments.

The word “formula’ has a negative connotation to it. It’s repetitive, done again and again. The truth is formulas are used constantly because they work. Just like math, you will get the answer you are looking for if you follow the formula. Book writing is no different. We, as authors, want to be creative. But we also want to engage our readers.

The techniques and practices that I have written about in this post are great formulas to follow. Use them and see what happens. You might be surprised by how much room is left for creativity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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