Dont Assume You Know Look It Up

All of us go through life assuming we understand some things that we really don't. You may think you know how to change a tire, but until you've had to do it on the side of a narrow road in a driving rainstorm, you can't be sure. Similarly, you may think you know all about some factual material that you're putting in your story, but-again -maybe you really don't. Gee, but I want to write fiction so I don't have to mess with facts you may say. Nope. Wrong motivation. If you get a fact wrong in...

Dont Be Afraid to Say Said

There was another point to be made about student Wally's dialogue as shown in the preceding chapter. It's such a basic point-but one so often misunderstood - that it deserves a chapter of its own. How do I say somebody in my story said something students ask again and again. Use the word 'said, ' I usually tell them, and for heaven's sake put the noun or pronoun first. In the example in Chapter Eighteen, Wally violated both rules. He used every word but said as an attribution verb, and for some...

Dont Chase the Market

As a professional writer of fiction, you can go crazy trying to out-guess the editors trying to figure out where the market might go next, or just what such and such publisher must really want. You can waste far too much emotional energy trying to get out in front of the latest trend. Having said that, let me quickly add that you must, of course, do everything in your power to keep abreast of trends in the sales of fiction. If you're working in the shorter lengths, you should maintain close...

Dont Criticize Yourself to Death

One of the hardest things a writer has to do is to learn how to be self-critical (which leads to improvement) but not picky, worrisome or fretful. For all those negative, self-doubting attitudes are self-destructive. Sure, you should-you must-look at your copy with a critical eye, always trying to see flaws and problems that need improving. But you must be aware of the danger of going too far, of getting stale and scared and beginning to beat up on yourself rather than trying to help yourself...

Dont Describe Sunsets

Readers need description in the stories they read to visualize settings and people - really get into the action. But sometimes writers get carried away and go too far in trying to provide such descriptions they stop too often to describe such things as sunsets, thinking that pretty prose is an end in itself-and forgetting that when they stop to describe something at length, the story movement also stops. A friend of mine, the late Clifton Adams, was an enormously gifted writer of western...

Dont Drop Alligators Through the Transom

Disasters-those bad twists that end scenes with an unhappy answer to the scene question -often are very bad indeed. But sometimes the use of the word disaster confuses a new writer, and she thinks any kind of really bad thing will work at the end of a scene. It is said that somebody once provided a disaster at the end of a detective-client scene by literally dropping an alligator through the transom. In the fabled detective yarn, there sat our Sam Spade clone, interviewing his beautiful client...

Dont Duck Trouble

In fiction, the best times for the writer- and reader- are when the story's main character is in the worst trouble. Let your character relax, feel happy and content, and be worried about nothing, and your story dies. Pour on all sorts of woes so your poor character is thoroughly miserable and in the deepest kind of trouble, and your story perks right up - along with your reader's interest. The moral Although most of us do everything we can to avoid trouble in real life, we must do just the...

Dont Expect Miracles

A doctor spends five to ten years learning how to be a doctor. Why, then, do people think they can learn how to be a professional writer of fiction in a week or a month-or even a year The writing of fiction is very deceptive. Like riding a bicycle, it looks easy until you try it. But whereas the bicycle gives you quick and painful proof that riding it isn't quite as easy as it appeared, writing is more subtle your very first story may look good to you-even though it's almost certainly...

Dont Fail to Make the Viewpoint Clear

Let's suppose you're writing a story about bob, and you have decided that he is the viewpoint character. How do you make sure that your handling of his viewpoint is as powerful as it can possibly be The first thing you must do is imagine the story as it would seem to Bob, and only to him. Here you really get to exercise your imagination. As you write the story, you the writer must become Bob. You see what he sees, and nothing more. You know what he knows, and nothing more. You hear only what he...

Dont Forget Sense Impressions

Wally, my problem student, brought me some story dialogue the other day. It read like this Don't make me go any closer Annie cried. There's nothing to fear, Joe soothed. See That's easy for you to say quoth Annie. Is that better asked Joe. Oh, yes murmured Annie. Much Annie, you do love me, after all I'll spare you the details of the real-life conversation that then ensued between me and Wally. However, the gist of it from my standpoint was that I as a fiction reader didn't have any idea of...

Dont Forget to Let Your Characters Think

In youranziety to build your story in a straight line, with tight scene plotting, you may run the risk of plotting action so tightly that your characters never have time to catch a breath. Are your stories like that Did anyone ever frown and admit that your story confused them just a little If so, the chances are good that your story problem lies in your failure to provide time and structure for your characters to breathe and think. Most writers build components into their yarns to provide this...

Dont Give Up

Giving up comes in many forms, if you are to have a good career as a professional writer of fiction, you have to beware of all of them. Here are some of the ways people give up, and so end up failures They always put off new work, fearing new rejection. They always seem to be just too busy today. They claim they have too many distractions. They get discouraged, lose confidence, and let fear block them. They get angry and decide a cruel world is against them. They imagine a conspiracy against...

Dont Have Things Happen for No Reason

One morning not long ago, my student Wally came by the office with part of another story. Sipping my second cup of coffee, I read what he had brought to me. Wally, I said finally, this story doesn't make sense. What do you mean Wally asked. I mean your characters don't seem to have any background motivation for their story intentions here, they constantly seem to be running into other people and information strictly by coincidence, and they often do or say things for no apparent immediate...

Dont Hide From Your Feelings

Closely related to frightened self-criticism and worry about family or friends is a more subtle fear that some writers carry to their work without ever realizing it. That is the fear of strong emotional feelings. I have met several enormously talented students who never sold their stories because their copy was devoid of real emotion these writers feared strong feelings in real life and simply couldn't face such feelings in their writing. If you want to succeed as a writer of fiction, you must...

Dont Ignore Scene Structure

The tense, conflictful sections of your story are the parts that most excite and intrigue your readers. For that reason, you should play out those parts of your story for all they're worth. How do you do that You put it onstage in the story now, and you develop the action between the characters moment by moment, with nothing left out you follow the rules of cause and effect, stimulus and response. To put this another way you make sure that you never summarize during a high point of conflict in...

Dont Lecture Your Reader

There you are, deep in your story somewhere, and you realize that there's some vital information that your readers really ought to know. So you write something like Charlie had no way of knowing this, but it is a well-documented fact that Type A personalities suffer a high incidence of heart attacks, and his enemy Sam was definitely a Type A personality. Sam's troubles had begun early in his life, and an examination of his early background provides an interesting example of how compulsive Type...

Dont Let Them Be Windbags

In the last chapter we warned about letting characters for the sake of piling information into the story. But that's not the only way writers sometimes mess up their dialogue. Sometimes, without realizing it, they let their characters talk on and on, boringly, becoming windbags. A windbag, in old-fashioned slang, is a person who talks and talks and talks and talks some more and never lets anybody get a word in edgewise. Windbags in real life are colossal bores. That's important to remember,...

Dont Let Your Characters Lecture Either

As discussed in chapter fourteen, it isn't a good idea to dump factual information into a story via the author-intrusion route. Sometimes writers realize this, but unfortunately decide to use their characters as mouthpieces for the desired data, making the characters lecture at one another in a totally unrealistic way. Usually dialogue is not a good vehicle for working in research information. Characters tend to make dumb speeches for the author's convenience, rather than talking like real...

Dont Make Excuses

Writers are a favorite subject for cartoonists, from Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame to those who contribute to The New Yorker. (You can't blame them for picking on writers we are sort of weird) Over the years I've haphazardly collected such cartoons, and some of my favorites are taped to the door of my office. One of these shows a nonwriter telling a weary novelist at an autograph party, Gosh I know I could write a novel too, but I've just never found the time Another, in two panels, is titled,...

Dont Pose and Posture

Your style and attitude in your stories should be like a clean pane of glass through which the reader sees the action. If you pose and posture in your copy, you'll draw attention to you as a writer, rather than to what's happening on your page. And that's always bad. The two kinds of posing and posturing that seem most widespread these days are Both are phony. Both may be sick. Both wreck fiction. To make sure you won't do either of these acts, let's look briefly at each of them. The frustrated...

Dont Show Off When You Write

If you have a special area of expertise - If you're a nurse, for example, or a lawyer-your specialized knowledge may be a gold mine you can use as background for your stories. Fiction readers love learning about new things as they read a good story. If you have a rich and extensive vocabulary, that may also prove to be a useful tool. Or if you happen to be a widely read person, or more cultured and schooled in the arts than the average citizen, this too may help you when you write your fiction....

Dont Worry About Being Obvious

Student writers often worry about being too obvious. They seem to believe that they should be as subtle as possible in describing characters or defining story goals. Nothing could be further from the truth, and professional writers know it. Every time you try to be subtle, you run the risk of losing your reader's understanding. If you ever do happen to be too obvious in an otherwise excellent story, you can be sure that an alert editor somewhere down the line can trim a few words or phrases to...

Dont Worry What Mother Will Think

In the last chapter we pointed out how unhealthy frightened self-criticism can be for the fiction writer. Closely related to this kind of worried hang-up is concern about what other people might think of the writer once her story is published. Usually the feared future critic is mother. Sometimes it's a husband or wife, a child, or even a dear friend. (I spent some time during the early years of my writing career worrying what a sainted aunt would think.) Such worries are normal, but you must...

Forward

The preliminary section of a book is often labeled a foreword. But in a book involving fiction technique, the word ought to be Forward. Why To emphasize two vital points All good fiction moves forward all good fiction writers look ahead. In more than twenty years of teaching courses in professional writing at the University of Oklahoma, I think I've encountered almost every difficulty an aspiring writer might face. (Once, I had a young male student who was both deaf and blind. He required a...

Dont Prejudice Your Editor

It stands to reason that you want to get your editor to read your story. Therefore, it's obvious that you want to present her with as attractive a package as possible. How do you accomplish this By following standard literary manuscript form. Put your story in the proper manuscript form, and you won't prejudice the editor at the outset. Entire books have been written on manuscript form. You probably know as much about the subject as I do. However, just to be sure you don't make a ghastly...

Dont Wander Around in a

Wait a minute I don't know what's going on here. Did you ever read a short story or novel that gave you this feeling partway through Worse, did you ever write a story where you suddenly started feeling that way It's a pretty bad feeling when it comes during a story you're reading. But it's far worse when it happens during your writing of a story. In that case, it probably signals potential disaster. Of course all of us experience times during first draft when things do not seem to be going...

Dont Write About Wimps

Fiction writers too often forget that interesting characters are almost always characters who are active-risk-takers - highly motivated toward a goal. Many a story has been wrecked at the outset because the writer chose to write about the wrong kind of person -a character of the type we sometimes call a wimp. He's the one who wouldn't fight under any circumstances. Ask him what he wants, and he just sighs. Poke him, and he flinches-and retreats. Confront him with a big problem, and he fumes and...

Dont Ignore Professional Advice

In the previous chapter we warned against taking too much advice from fellow amateurs, and noted that one day you may get lucky enough to have an editor fall in love with your work and give you sound guidance. There is also another possible source of good, face-to-face advice on your own work, and that's study with a published author who also knows how to teach his craft. If you can find a professional who knows how to teach the craft of fiction, you should, therefore, go out of your way to...

Dont Mangle Characters Speech

There was a time, not so long ago, when fiction writers strove for authenticity in some of their stories by attempting to imitate regional and ethnic dialects and pronunciations by purposely misspelling words in their dialogue. Today such practices have fallen into disfavor. For one thing, it takes a very high degree of skill to depart from standard English in dialogue without unnecessarily distracting the reader. For another, styles simply change, and stories using such devices today often...

Dont Consider Yourself Too Smart

It's possible to sabotage your fiction by being too smart for your own good - by being a smart aleck. Even before you begin writing your next story, you should examine your attitudes toward yourself your readers, your own work and contemporary fiction. It could be that these attitudes are damaging your work without your realizing it. Ask yourself Do you consider yourself more intelligent than most of the stories and novels you read Do you believe contemporary fiction is sort of beneath you in...

Dont Waste Your Plot Ideas

This section is aimed primarily at novelists. If you've never written a book-length story before, one of the many interesting and possibly dismaying things you'll learn during construction of the first draft is simply how many incidents and events you have to dream up in order to make length. It's possible to write a one-idea short story. But even the shortest novel contains dozens of plot ideas, subplots, minor incidents, and significant events. One of your first creative jobs as a novelist,...

Dont Forget Stimulus and Response

Story logic goes deeper than providing good background motivation and avoiding coincidence. Even if you're an ace on these matters, your copy still may be flawed in terms of having things happen for no apparent reason. That's because fiction readers may need more than background and good motive for what their characters do in a story. Readers will also usually need to see a specific stimulus that causes a given response right here and now. The law of stimulus and response dictates that your...