Empathy

Despite feeling sorry for a character who is experiencing, say, loneliness, the reader may not feel the loneliness itself. But through empathy with the character, the reader will feel what the character is feeling. Empathy is a much more powerful emotion than sympathy. Sometimes when a wife goes into labor a husband will also suffer labor pains. This is an example of empathy. The husband is not just in sympathy he empathizes to the point of suffering actual, physical pain. Say you go to a...

Egowriting

At a workshop I once attended in Berkeley a young writer read a touching story about a man whose wife of nine years up and left him one day, right out of the blue. The story opened the moment after the wife left, as she slammed the door on the way out. First the man wept, then he drank, then he got together with friends and tried to put his life back together. It ended with the man going out on a date a few weeks after the divorce with his former wife's sister, reconciled to the loss of his...

Sorting Out The Babble Of Terms

There's a great deal of confusion among fiction writers as to how a premise differs from a moral, or a theme. The easiest to understand is a moral. A moral is simply what a story teaches. Army training films about sexually transmitted diseases have a moral If you don't protect yourself, you might catch something horrible. Bible stories often have morals Obey God's laws or suffer the consequences. A fable has a moral Look before you leap, or Never trust a fox . Fairy tales often teach that if...

The Unreliable Narrator

All the novels used as examples in this book have been written in the voice of a reliable narrator. The contract with the reader is that all events are set down as they happened and that the author is playing fair with the facts of the situation. The narrator of a story, by the very nature of the storytellers' art, must withhold things from the reader. In the standard contract, the narrator, who knows the ending of the story, as an example, does not reveal it, but rather tells the story...

Lighting The Fuse

This is one of the most potent techniques in creating suspense. What it means is this Something terrible is going to happen, usually at an appointed time, and the characters must stop it from happening and that ain't easy. In one of the Perils of Pauline movies, the hapless Pauline was tied down to the tracks by Snidely Whiplash and the 12 10 was never late. And Dudley Doright was meeting all kinds of obstacles to getting there on time. In the Tarzan movies Jane was always clinging to a log or...

Sympathy

Sympathy is often given little more than a passing nod by the authors of how-to-write-fiction books. Gaining the reader's sympathy for your characters is crucial to inducing the fictive dream, and if you don't effectively induce the fictive dream, you haven't written a damn good novel. Sympathy is a frequently misunderstood concept. Some how-to-write-fiction authors have made a pseudo-rule that says that for a reader to have sympathy for a character, the character must be admirable. This is...

Types Of Premises

There are three types of premises 1 chain reaction, 2 opposing forces, and 3 situational. The chain reaction type of premise is the simplest to under stand. Something happens to the character that sets off a series of events, leading to some kind of climax and resolution. In this kind of story, something unexpected usually happens in the beginning. Say you have Joe Average on his way to work one day, hating his humdrum life, when he sees an armored truck careen around the corner and a bag fall...

Why Now Is The Best Time In History To Be A Fiction Writer

This is the information age, and the writer's stock-in-trade is information. In the history of the world there has never been a better time to be a fiction writer than right now. The invention of the word processor and high-speed quality printers is one reason. Editing, inserting, and moving text were nightmares when writers were writing on a clay tablet, or on paper with a quill pen, the fountain pen, the ballpoint pen, or a typewriter. Now it's just a matter of pushing a...

The Wacky Factor

Great characters are often a little wacky. Some are even more than a little wacky, they're out there on the lunatic fringe. Readers are charmed by wacky, theatrical characters. Wacky characters are often exaggerated, flamboyant, colorful, ditzy, dizzy, and contrary. When you think of the great characters of literature, who do you think of Ahab in Moby Dick comes to mind. He's colorful, all right, and a little out there on the lunatic fringe. Zorba the Greek is one of the truly great wackos of...

Character Contrast And Setting

Characters should be contrasted not only with each other, but also with their setting. The rube coming to the city, for example. A socialite going to prison. Think of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court . The spoiled rich kid on a fishing boat in Rudyard Kipling's Captains Courageous. The hip street punk McMurphy in an insane asylum in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The Kansas farm girl caught in a magical land in Frank L. Baum's The Wizard of Oz. In Jaws,...

The James N Frey Percent Guarantee Of Success

Anyone with a passionate desire will succeed if he gives himself to it fully, knuckles down and masters the craft, works hard, has good teachers and reliable readers, learns how to re-dream the dream and rewrite in answer to criticism, and actively pursues the selling of the script in a businesslike manner. I guarantee it 100 percent. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking it can't be true. Not everyone can be a novelist. But I assure you, it is true. I absolutely guarantee it. I can make...

Suspense Defined

William Foster-Harris, in The Basic Formulas ofFiction, says we do our best to paralyze the reader freeze him to the book. All quivering helplessness, he waits to see what is going to happen next. Freezing the quivering and helpless reader to the book is what a novelist lives for. To do that, the novelist tries to make his or her readers worry and wonder about characters. Worrying and wondering is another way of saying the reader is being held in suspense. Webster's defines suspense this way...

Why This Book May Not Be For

There are a scores of books for the beginning fiction writer on the bookstore shelf, most of them helpful. h few of them, such as Lajos Egri's The Art ofDramatic Writing 1946 , Jack M. Bickman's Writing Novels That Sell 1989 , Raymond C. Knott's The Craft of Fiction 1977 , Jean Z. Owen's Professional Fiction Writing 1974 , and William Foster-Harris's mighty little masterpiece, The Basic Formulas of Fiction 1944 , are extraordinary. hnd then, of course, there's James N. Frey's How to Write a...

Premise Prestidigitation

Let's examine a story and see how, if we change the premise, the story changes. A simple trick indeed. Here's our story Joe, an idealistic young man, inherits his grandfather's farm, which he is determined to make totally organic. To his horror, he finds some of his neighbors reaping huge profits by making illegal pesticides. He pretends to be one of them and in the end brings them to justice. The premise for this story Courageous idealism leads to victory over evildoers. So, this is a story...

Damn good fiction is dramatic

Fiction, whether by Hemingway or Grisham, Le Carre or Ludlum, Austen or Dickens. Despite their differences, these authors works share common elements strong narrative lines, fascinating characters, steadily building conflicts, and satisfying conclusions. James N. Frey's How to Write a Damn Good Novel is one of the most widely used guides ever published for aspiring authors who wish to write dramatic fiction. Now, in How to Write a Damn Good Novel, , Frey offers powerful advanced techniques to...

Dual Characters

Some of the most memorable characters in literature have a dual nature. They are, in effect, two different and distinct characters living within one body. Perhaps the most famous is Jekyll and Hyde. Dual characters are conceived as such by the author right from the get-go. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein monster was such a character both a ferocious killer and a philosophy-loving gentle giant. Long John Silver was a cold-blooded pirate on the one hand, and a warm and loving father...

The Ruling Passions

A ruling passion was defined in How to Write a Damn Good Novel as a character's central motivating force the sum total of all the forces and drives within him. The ruling passion defines the character for the writer it enables the writer to bring the character to life with a phrase. The ruling passion might be to commit the perfect crime, or become a great preacher, or pickpocket, or art forger. It might be something less specific, like to be a good husband, or the ultimate couch potato, or...