Category: Fiction Fixes (page 2 of 2)

Ideas and opinions on storytelling, characterization, scene setting and tight prose.

Peeve of the day: the “late” opener

Monday morning, 20°F with snow flurries
Listening to Tame Impala, Skeleton Tiger

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. —W. Somerset Maugham

The story begins with the main character alone and late for work, school, or a date. She has overslept. Curse you, malfunctioning alarm clock/newfangled smartphone! She hurries to get dressed, and rushing about, she stubs her toe. Curse you, secondhand ottoman! She runs her pantyhose. Curse you, patriarchy! She spills her cereal. Curse you, Count Chocula!

While all this is going on, she’s fretting about how disappointed/angry/annoyed her boss/teacher/date is going to be. Or worse, ruminating about her backstory (because it’s just fascinating that she grew up an awkward and bookish only child in Poughkeepsie, but moved to the Big Apple after graduation to pursue her dream of blah blah blah, and if only her stupid boyfriend hadn’t blah blah blah, and back when she was in 10th grade in Mrs. Fitch’s honors English class she should have blah blah blah).

And then, oh, the humanity, her car refuses to start. Curse you, Detroit!  Continue reading

The big-ass Mary Sue

Friday evening, 13°F
Listening to Tame Impala, 41 Mosquitos Flying in Formation

Sometimes I lay awake at night worrying about all of the poor, innocent pixels being inconvenienced by online discussions of what does, or does not, make a Mary Sue character. Many of these conversations revolve around the accused Mary Sue’s looks and talents. I contend that those things alone are not what make up a Mary Sue.

The one and only Greg Lake of ELP.

Despite what you may have heard, the problem with a Mary Sue isn’t that she’s* precocious, ridiculously beautiful, has remarkable hair, is phenomenally talented, sings like an angel, or is lusted after by all. If those factors alone made a Mary Sue, then the biggest-ass Mary Sue who ever lived was 1971 David Gilmour. Or possibly 1971 Greg Lake. And if you call either of them a Mary Sue, we will surely come to blows, my friend. Continue reading

Why You Should Interview Your Characters

and how to do it.

Thursday evening, 7°F and starry
Listening to ELP, Take a Pebble

As a writer, you may find yourself stuck at certain points in your story. Maybe you know that things go from point A to point C, but you can’t figure out what point B looks like. Maybe you know that a certain thing happens but you’re not sure exactly how it happens. Or one of your characters does something that doesn’t add up, and you can’t figure out why.

Here is what not to do. Don’t go to your favorite writers’ group and ask the other members “Why would my character do this?” or “How exactly could this have happened?” or “What’s a plausible reason for my character to say/think X?” While other writers can explain the difference between active and passive voice, or show you how to properly use a semicolon (or mount a silly argument against semicolons)  it’s always better to get your story specifics straight from your characters. Continue reading

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