William Noble’s “‘Shut Up!’ He explained”

Make every word your characters speak count

I reviewed William Noble’s Make That Scene on both Goodreads and in a bit more detail on my blog. That book was a gem, so I picked up Noble’s Shut Up! He explained and settled in for some good learnings.

Truth is, I’ve read the book twice in two years and will easily read it twice if not thrice more in the next few years. It’s that good.

Truly amusing to me is how little I retained from my first read. Of all that’s in the book, I locked on the gem about having characters ask each other questions to keep dialogue interesting, engaging and moving. Probably because I was writing lots of dialogue for a work-in-progress, Ritchie and Phyl (A Celebration of Life). That wonderful piece of advice became my big hammer for several dialogues in several works-in-progress. It’s an incredible tool all by itself and worth the price of admission.

But that, as noted, was what stuck with me from my first read. My second read had me dog-earing pages starting at 5 and several pages in each chapter thereafter.

For authors working on realistic, believable character exchanges – the book covers more than dialogue but dialogue is the main focus – it’s a must.
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Tension

Like a tightrope. Around your neck. Cutting off your air. Your eyes popping out. Your brain screaming for oxygen? That’s what you want your readers to feel.

What is “tension”?

Noun: tension
1. (psychology) a state of mental or emotional strain or suspense
2. The physical condition of being stretched or strained
3. (literature) a balance between and interplay of opposing elements or tendencies (especially in art or literature)
4. (physics) a stress that produces an elongation of an elastic physical body
5. Feelings of hostility that are not manifest
6. The action of stretching something tight

Verb: tension
1. Put an object in tension; pull or place strain on

(from WordWeb.info)

 
Have you ever read James Blish’s short story Surface Tension (originally published in the August 1952 Galaxy Magazine and muchly anthologized)? It deals with people striving to break through the surface of water. Any liquid creates a surface where it meets something other than itself. This surface creation is why two drops of water meeting bond into a larger drop rather than staying separate. The permeability of the surface is called “surface tension”. Doesn’t seem like much of a story, does it? People? Water?
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Dean Koontz’s “How to Write Best Selling Fiction”

Lots of reading suggestions, lots about the business of writing, but…

This book is an interesting read and dated, both in a number of ways. The two main takeaways seem to be “Publishers are Evil…but not all” and “Read! If you want to write, read!”
There’s no question that Koontz is a bestselling author so one would think he’d have a lot to offer. I didn’t find much revelatory in this book. Definitely a lack of advice re technique, character, plot, dialogue, … Definitely lots of suggestions for whom to read to learn technique, character, plot, dialogue, …
There’s a lot about the business of writing in the book, specifically how bad publishing drives out good publishing (read “lots of bad books drive out good books”) and he gives several examples of poorly written, edited, printed, …books taking up bookstore shelves so there’s less room for accomplished writers to put their wares out.
Makes one wonder what he’d have to say about the self-publishing industry.
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Heartbeats

Characters come to life when we give them reasons to live

I demonstrated creating memorable character names in Naming Names with Lucky Jones, the one-eared wonder. If creating memorable character names were enough to make characters memorable I wouldn’t be writing this post as a follow up.

Lucky Jones became the memorable”Lucky Jones” because I gave you a reason to remember him; I placed him in a dangerous situation with obvious conflict and obvious threats:
Lucky Jones backed away from The Swede as soon as the knife came out. It didn’t matter that The Swede was as big as any Viking Jones could imagine, it mattered that the knife looked as long as a battleaxe. The Swede swung but Jones was already making for the door and the only thing The Swede caught was Jones’ ear, which the police found the next day under The Swede’s body. Albert Swanson Jones became Lucky Jones and a wanted man that same day.
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Naming Names

Why did Inez Cloud change her name to “Skippy RunningCloud”? So she’d be remembered!

Ever get stuck naming characters? Oh, how science fiction authors must long for the days when they could name a character “X7” and get away with it. My job title use to be CRO, Chief Research Officer, and I got that title when there were few Chief Research Officers around. People would ask me, “What is your proper title?” and I replied “My proper title is ‘Princess Feldspar of the Tree People’, but I tell most people it’s ‘Chief Research Officer’.”

Most people could remember “Princess Feldspar of the Tree People” more easily than they could remember “Chief Research Officer” and the reason why can help authors create names for characters.

We remember the tangible and the unique better than the intangible and the common.

 
We want readers to remember our main and primary characters, some secondary characters and perhaps even a minor character (if they provide a plot point) because readers tend to like memorable characters. The first step towards aiding reader memory is to give the characters names that are 1) easily remembered and 2) give us a hint as to the character’s character (what kind of person that character is).
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