Category: Fiction Fixes (Page 1 of 2)

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

Ditch This Lazy Simile

There is one simile that mutters lazy. It’s more thoughtless than the most common of cliches. It’s so bland and pointless it has no business even calling itself a simile. It evokes less than nothing. It’s boring. Dull. Dried up like a dog turd on concrete during a drought.

It sucks the life out of whatever you’re trying to convey.

A simile should be evocative or convey a new dimension to whatever you’re describing. Trite or cliched similes are bad enough, and those should be avoided as well. But I’d argue this one simile is not only hackneyed but worse than your average cliche.

Ditch this empty simile every single time it turns up in your writing. The only time you should ever use it is as a placeholder when you’re breezing through a first draft and don’t want to pause to think of something better on the fly. But you must replace it with something stronger, richer, more colorful and more creative. Or just leave it out altogether, because it’s better to use no simile at all than this lifeless, lame, zombie-brained excuse for a simile.

Continue Reading Ditch This Lazy Simile

Do, Say, & Think

The three pillars of characterization

Good characterization is a matter of discipline. Regardless of how you go about creating fictional characters, it’s their behaviors, thoughts, and actions that convey their characterization. If you tell the reader your character is a deep thinker with a goal of spiritual growth, then portray her as preening, superficial and manipulative in her actions, dialogue and thoughts, nobody is going to buy it.

Do, Say, & Think are simply a way to boil down action, dialogue and interior dialogue/narrative in a character’s point of view (POV).

I can tell you that The Dude in The Big Lebowski is “so laid back,” but nothing conveys that as well as his introduction. He shuffles in slippers and a bathrobe through a grocery store, drinks milk straight from the carton, then attempts to pay for it by check. I can tell you Walter Sobchak is temperamental, but nothing will convey that quite like him pulling a gun on a fellow bowler for letting a toe slip over the line. I can tell you Donny is a clueless nitwit, but nothing conveys it better than him piping in with the non-sequitur “I am the walrus” while The Dude and Walter try to discuss Lenin (not Lennon).Continue Reading Do, Say, & Think


Monday Evening, 62°F and partly cloudy
Listening to Tame Impala—H.F.G.W. (Canyons Drunken Rage)

I’m begging you, dear writers, beware of the scourge of Thesaurusitis. Symptoms include reader head scratching, books being flung against walls, and misuse of new-to-you vocabulary words. If you’ve noticed any symptoms of Thesaurusitis, it’s essential that you set aside your thesaurus and take several giant steps away from it. I’m not saying you should burn it (well, maybe, but let’s not be too hasty).  For now, simply put it down and take some time to consider how you’re using the thesaurus, and why.

A thesaurus is a powerful tool when used properly. But abuse it and it will ruin your writing and out you as an insecure rube with a weak vocabulary and possibly an inferiority complex. Never attempt to use a thesaurus to make your writing more interesting or make yourself appear more intelligent and well read. It will do neither. A thesaurus can’t give you anything you don’t already have. But it can give your writing a rampant, itchy case of thesaurusitis.Continue Reading Thesaurusitis

I Answer the Most Annoying Questions about NaNoWriMo

Saturday Afternoon, 34°F and foggy
Listening to Emerson, Lake & Palmer—Tarkus

A confession: The first time I heard about NaNoWriMo I was skeptical. I had been fussing over a manuscript for more than a year and couldn’t imagine what anyone would get out of writing a novel in 30 days.

Then, on November 2, 2007, I made the irrational decision to give NaNo a shot. I won. I now understand that’s not the norm for first-time “WriMos” but I was already serious about writing and had a consistent writing habit.

However, “steaming pile” is not too harsh a description for the resulting manuscript. I disliked the protagonist. There was not enough tension. It was 100% seat of the pants and lacked a few important things, like a plot.

Yet it was worthwhile. Writing that first steaming pile of 50,000 words in 28 days gave me some useful results.Continue Reading I Answer the Most Annoying Questions about NaNoWriMo

How not to tag dialogue

Wednesday evening, 25°F and cloudy 
Listening to The Nice, War & Peace

Please, fiction authors. I am begging you. Learn how to properly use dialogue tags. It’s not that hard, I promise. The bad dialogue tags in self-published fiction make my eyeballs spurt blood. I’ll be covering several varieties of bad dialogue tags and what you can do to fix them. If you’re not sure how to properly tag dialogue, keep reading. If you think you’re sure but are using dialogue tags other than said or asked more than once every 5,000 words, keep reading.

Said and asked are your dialogue tag MVPs

You could write a 150,000-word novel using no dialogue tags other than these. It doesn’t mean you have to, but they should make up the majority of your dialogue tags (not including properly used action tags or “beats”). Said and asked are your go-to tags because they are practically invisible.Continue Reading How not to tag dialogue

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