Bookism: The Silent Threat to Good Writing

When creating fiction, writers will inevitable have to learn how to write dialogue. I have never read a novel without it though I suppose one exists somewhere out there. One vital key to good dialogue is attributing the spoken words to the proper character, so readers instantly know who is saying them.

We do this by using dialogue tags: “The last time I heard this song by Charlie Rich,” Liam said, “you were young, adventurous and in love with me.”

The words Liam said is a direct dialogue tag. It tells the reader without fuss or doubt that Liam said those words inside those quotation marks.

Another method of informing readers of who said what is through an action by the character. This is technically not called a dialogue tag, but it does the same job.

For example: “This was my favourite show when I was a kid.” Judy grabbed the clicker and turned up the volume. “My brothers and I watched it every Saturday morning.”

Both these methods of indicating who said what are clean and non-distracting. Readers often won’t notice them, which means they won’t be nudged or jerked from the story, but will continue to read without interruption.

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In What Other Direction Might You Go?

Sometimes we add words after verbs to help further clarify the meaning we want to convey. For years, I wrote without giving these extra words a thought. And then I was asked a blunt question that made me stop and think: In what other direction might you go?

Rising Up; Rising Down

Let’s look closer at these sentences.

Isla allowed the anger to rise up until it added strength to her muscles.

Before she could rise up, the door was slammed shut and locked.

The question in these instances would be: In what other direction would they rise? A character would never rise down, rise left or rise right. The verb rise indicates up. Adding the word up is redundant and states the direction twice.

The sentences can easily be writing without up.

Isla allowed the anger to rise until it added strength to her muscles.

Before she could rise, the door was slammed shut and locked.

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Constructing Paragraphs in Fiction

Last week, I discussed writing nonfiction paragraphs. Many of the rules that apply to this type of paragraph also apply to fiction paragraphs. Descriptive paragraphs within fiction can often be written in the same style as nonfiction paragraphs.

Usually, writing factual or descriptive paragraphs is not a problem for most writers. However, the same cannot be said for writing fiction paragraphs involving characters. Although the same rules apply, they are slightly different.

A Few Rules for Writing Fiction Paragraphs

  1. They should contain only one idea.
  2. Each time a different character speaks, acts or thinks, a new paragraph must be started.
  3. They should be no longer than 1/3 of the page and preferably shorter.

Regarding Rule #2, if a new paragraph is not started when a different character speaks, acts or thinks, readers will be confused and not know who is doing or saying what. Here’s an example of what could happen if this rule was not followed.

Wilma was one day away from retirement and walked with a spring in her step towards the bus stop. When she spotted her friend Rose, she waved. “How are you this morning,” said Rose. “Happy. Excited.” She hugged her friend. “I bet you can’t wait to leave on your around-the-world trip.” “I stayed up half the night packing.” She looked to see the bus approach. “We better hurry. I don’t want to be late for my last day at work.” Rose looped her arm with hers and tugged her forward. “It would be a bad omen for your retirement.”

Writing like this confuses readers, and it wouldn’t take long before they dropped the book and went onto something else, like cleaning out the chicken coop.

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Constructing Nonfiction Paragraphs

Constructing the ideal paragraph can be difficult. That’s why teachers start discussing the mechanics of it in elementary and continue right on through to grade 12. Solving the mystery behind paragraphs is a vital step in writing books.

A paragraph contains one subject only. This one subject is introduced in the first sentence, supported in the body and concluded in the final sentence.

  • The introduction sentence introduces the topic in a general manner.
  • The supporting sentences are where the meat of information is located. It contains specific facts.
  • The conclusion sentence wraps up the idea and summarizes the topic of the paragraph in a few words.

An Exercise for Creating a Nonfiction Paragraph

First Sentence: Introduce subject by answering: What is a chicken?

Points to Cover in the body of the paragraph:

  • Chickens are domesticated birds that lay eggs.
  • Female chickens are hens.
  • Male chickens are roosters.
  • Hens lay eggs.
  • What do they look like?

Last Sentence: Conclusion: And that’s what a chicken is.

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The Controversy Between Shined and Shone

Writing TipThe English language is always evolving. Just when I feel I’m confident in a rule or spelling, something pops up to make me question my sanity—I mean my writing.

Two scenarios—when discovered—that cause me confusion with rules

  1. An old rule I didn’t know about because I had been originally taught the new rule (one developed in the past few decades).
  2. A new rule brought in by popular demand I didn’t know about because I used the old rule.

In the case of shined vs shone, I was using a rule that was relatively new. I didn’t know another existed. But it does and in some circles, it is still used.

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Making a Mountain Out of a Mole Hill

Writing TipAll my life, I’ve been told to not make mountains out of mole hills. Why? Because situations are usually not that dramatic or life-threatening. If we can stop and evaluate the situation, we often find we can deal with it without creating too much anxiety.

However, as a writer, you should get in the habit of making mountains out of mole hills in your fiction. They make for interesting stories, ones readers can’t put down.

We all have stories in our lives—real stories. We go through our day doing small and medium sized things. We get the kids up and ready for school, we clean up the garden to prepare for planting, we drive to work through heavy traffic and so on. All of this doesn’t sound very interesting, but if you let your imagination run wild—and mine often lives on an open plain—we can turn a simple outing to a park into a story others might want to read.

We can also take that little scene and drop it into the middle of a larger story. Here’s how it works. Below is a simple story, one that actually happened to me. The names of my children have been changed.

We walked away from the SUV, and I looked back at it, cursing. Why had it failed to start at the end of a dirt road, miles away from houses and the main road? Glancing at the sun, I determined we had about four hours of daylight left. It’d take us over half of that to reach the first house where we might find someone at home to drive us the rest of the way to our camp.

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