Category Archives: Story Tips

Thesaurus to the Rescue

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Although I often tell people to come up with a great adjective for each character mentioned in the logline, I don’t often have a ready supply of good adjectives. And that’s okay, because this is the 21st century and anybody reading this blog post can easily go to and find words.

But perhaps you’re skeptical, or you’d just like a few more details about my process. Very well. Step this way. Continue reading Thesaurus to the Rescue

Reader Question: Fictional Character <3 Historical Figure

It’s time for a reader question! Rebecca W. wrote to me with this:

Would a book sell with the main fictional character becoming romantically involved with a real historical figure, but this romance used only to represent a theme, and would in the end not go anywhere? Would it be too unrealistic, or could the writer shape this romance so that it fits with the story, is not historically inaccurate, and is believable. I’m not saying that the character would end up marrying the historical figure, but there would be a romance. Would this work?

What a doozy! Let’s see if I can shed some light on the subject. Continue reading Reader Question: Fictional Character <3 Historical Figure

A Synopsis Is Not an Information Dump

Every now and then, I come across a synopsis that feels like an information dump. It seems to happen most often when the story in question is a fantasy or science fiction tale that involves a lot of world-building. Unfortunately, these types of synopses often leave me with a spinning head. The synopsis feeds me a lot of names, places, and so on with very little to relate to. It’s a deep world, which means for me to get it, you’re going to need to take the time to explain it like you would in the actual story. And therein lies the problem.

You see, you can’t take your carefully planned introductions to five nonhuman races, a few magic properties, and a land that is decidedly not earth and put them into the five or so paragraphs you get on the back of the book. Instead, you need to get us interested right now. If you try to tell us all about the world in that little space, you’re going to both confuse us and not have room left for the story. There’s a reason you have more space in your book to introduce all those world-building elements.

How do you fix the synopsis? Bring out your logline! Continue reading A Synopsis Is Not an Information Dump

Show, Don’t… Kiss?

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard the old writing adage of “Show, don’t tell.” Maybe it’s used by screenwriters more than novelists, but we writers all know that it’s better if we can show what’s going on. Nobody wants to wade through piles of on-the-nose dialogue (my favorite term for blatant telling) to find the story beneath. We can evoke far more emotion with a well-crafted scene that shows what’s going on.

I’d like to apply this principle to another area of writing. To those of you writing anything that involves any kind of love story, I offer the following question: Can you do it without the kissing?

I say this as I’ve noticed that many writers base an entire character’s perception of a relationship on whether or not he or she has kissed so-and-so. (The Hunger Games, I’m looking directly at you.) It’s to the point where characters can’t make up their minds about whom they truly love until they’ve had a kiss first, and then they’re suddenly sure.

That’s pathetic and lazy. Continue reading Show, Don’t… Kiss?

Successful Book & Reader Break-Ups: Writing a Good Ending

This is a guest post by Michele M. Reynolds of the Writer + Wilderness Girl Under it All blog. She’s a self-published author with three books in print and another coming Summer 2013.

Breaking up (a reader from your book) is hard to do. Sometimes readers are able to limp through a book’s rough beginning. At times the bibliophile will still hang on through a weak middle. Even a bibliomaniac will not forgive a bad ending. The ending is what he/she was running toward the whole book. Don’t have your reader running toward the finish line with no tape, cheering fans, or ride home waiting for them. One of the biggest complaints from editors and readers is an unsatisfying or bad ending.

Steps toward a Good Ending:

3 Signs of a Good Sequel

It never fails. There’s a great story out there, everybody likes it, and then comes the sequel. We all feel obligated to read/see the sequel because we liked the first one, and more often than not, we’re disappointed.

And yet, we writers are just as prone as anyone else to venture into sequel territory. It’s inevitable when we’ve gotten to know our characters and world so well. We want to go back there and see how everyone is doing. But how do we avoid the yawn-inducing sequels that we despise?

I have a few things to consider before starting the sequel. These should help us make sure it’s a good one.

Were you planning on it from the start?

If your story is one of a planned series, you’re very much all set. Your sequel isn’t the product of wishing to go back to a world you left. Rather, it’s a premeditated act of sequelness. Pick up where you left off in the previous installment and get to it. Seriously. You have people waiting for this one. Continue reading 3 Signs of a Good Sequel

When Series Types Overlap

In my book Finding the Core of Your Story, I talk about how to write a logline for a series. I note that there are a couple different kinds of series. One is “Continuing Adventures” and the other is “Serial.” The first is the idea of episodic installments, where you could pick up anywhere and understand what’s happening. The second is a series where each installment builds on the last, creating an overarching story.

Soon after my book was released, I received this question from Katie Daniels:

You say there are two kinds of series – serial series and continuing adventures. But what about series that are both? Actually, this being the 21st century and all, most continuing adventure shows also have an overall arc. Often times the first season will be all standalones, but the more sure a show gets about it’s viewership the more they’ll bring in longer storylines, and oftentimes they turn into a serial series. Should these simply be considered a Serial series? But what if they’re still standalones?

My answer turned out to be instructive, so I thought I’d share. Continue reading When Series Types Overlap

Conflict and Consequences

When I’m helping people write loglines, I often run into a little problem. Someone will hand me a logline for an epic story that just doesn’t quite feel compelling, usually for a very simple reason: they haven’t told us about the consequences.

Loglines and stories need conflict, as I’ve said in the past (and explained in my book), but sometimes it’s not enough to just include a situation with conflict. You need to make sure that we know what’s going to happen if the hero doesn’t succeed.

This is often more of a big epic story thing. When the story is huge and involves the fate of the city, the world, the galaxy, or the universe, it can often fall flat on its face without a little tiny bit more.

And yet for some reason, this is a sticking point for so many people. They figure they have a bad guy and he’s in the logline, so that ought to be plenty, right? Nope. And worse still, when pressed for more details, many writers panic and say, “I don’t really know what should go in there!”

Luckily, there’s a simple, powerful question you can ask yourself to figure out what consequences belong both in your story, and also help your logline: Continue reading Conflict and Consequences

How to Use Alternate Languages in Your Story

Gryxle blewph cothip wu’dop^

That means, “Welcome to my latest blog post!” in the fantasy language I’m creating for a book I’m writing. I know, it’s a little rough right now, but I’m working on it. My favorite part is using the ^ symbol in place of the exclamation point.

I’m pretty excited about this. Soon it will catch on with my readers like such classics as Klingon or Elvish.

Okay, so maybe I’m a bit delusional. The point here is that we fantasy writers are often a little too eager to delve into language creation. We jumble letters together and write glossaries, but often we are only annoying our readers with our jaunt into world-building.

I’m convinced that in most cases, such stuff isn’t entirely necessary. As I’ve been annoyed by stories that do this, I’ve come up with a set of guidelines for alternate languages. Continue reading How to Use Alternate Languages in Your Story

How Your Pitch is a Promise

It’s very important to make sure that what you’re promising in your pitch is actually true of your story. A good pitch can mean the difference between somebody flat-out hating your story, merely liking your story, or becoming its next big fan.

You see, your pitch gives us cues about what kind of story you’re telling. The events you pull out to focus on, the storylines you say are important, and the characters you tell us about, all of these contribute to our expectations. And when your audience has expectations, you’d better believe that you want to meet them.

Of course, you can take it further and own their expectations. You can purposely create expectations that match your story’s content. That’s why novelists have back cover copy and filmmakers make trailers: to manage expectations.

This was brought home to me by a movie I recently saw for the second time. Let me show you how a pitch gave me expectations that changed my perception of a story. Continue reading How Your Pitch is a Promise