Archives for category: Writing Tip

11.19.13cube

Writers usually have a clear idea of what their characters look like but it’s a good idea to weave description in, if at all. That is, you don’t need necessarily to describe a character physically at the beginning of your story.
Numerous editors complain that many a writer starts out: “Her windswept blond hair surrounded her lovely face…” or have a character looking in a mirror, “I saw in the glass my windswept blond hair surrounded my lovely face.”
Don’t do that!
For one thing, not everyone likes blond hair or beautiful characters.
For every rule of writing, there are exceptions that disprove the rule. My prime example is the first page of Gone With The Wind where Margaret Mitchell starts out, “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom noticed that.” She takes the entire page to describe Scarlett’s hair color, eye color, physiognomy, and especially her demeanor. The latter factor—Scarlett’s feisty, flirtatious character—saves this page from cliché.
Romance books often depend on hair and eye color because, I suppose, people, especially young people, often fixate on those features. I knew a young man in school who was blond, and he only wanted blond girlfriends. For others, it’s just the opposite—dark-eyed, dark-haired people want a blond.
Don’t be that shallow person. Or that shallow writer, unless you have a point to make about a shallow character.
Some books never describe the physical appearance of characters, depending on the reader to create the character in the reader’s mind’s eye. I’m lukewarm about books like that.
Describing a character through another character’s eyes, though, can be an intriguing way to share that description with the reader because the other character will have a reaction to that person’s appearance and demeanor.
Now your description has narrative power.
Take this example from Ethan Frome, by one of my all-time favorite writers, Edith Wharton, also on page one:
“It was there (in Massachusetts) that, several years ago, I saw him for the first time; and the sight pulled me up sharp. Even then he was the most striking figure in Starkfield, though he was but the ruin of a man. It was not so much his great height that marked him, for the ”natives” were singled by their lank longitude from the stockier foreign breed; it was the careless powerful look he had, in spite of a lameness checking each step like the jerk of a chain. There was something bleak and unapproachable in his face, and he was so stiffened and grizzled that I took him for an old man and was surprised to hear that he was not more than fifty-two.”
In the next paragraph, on page two, a villager tells our narrator “He’s looked that way ever since he had his smash-up. And that’s twenty-four years ago….”
I read this novella (it’s only 181 pages) in high school and reread it periodically. Wharton’s tight, bold prose influences me to this day.
Are you drawn into the character after an introduction like that and, on page two, an inciting incident like that—the smash-up that left him emotionally damaged and physically lamed?
Absolutely!
My dark fantasy story, “Aurelia,” published in the January-February 2018 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has my point-of-view character describe the character of Aurelia the first time he sees her in his sophisticated downtown law office:
“She sat in the gleaming lobby, cross-legged in a chrome-and-leather chair, rocking back and forth. Wet hair hung in strings around her face. Had she just come from a workout at Gold’s Gym down the block?
Then Robert noticed splashes of mud on her bare legs.
Mud? The morning was clear and fair. California was in the middle of a drought.
Her pale gold dress looked as thin as antique silk. Her broad features seemed inbred. A crooked eye beneath one feathery brow higher than the other. A pointed nose above a supple pout. She sniffed—or was she nibbling?—at a Gerbera daisy she held pinched between her thumb and forefinger. Her fingernails were filthy.”
Once again, this is description from another character’s point-of-view and raises a bunch of story questions. But we know little about how Robert looks, his hair color or eye color, except that he easily picks up women, even after he’s married. We know him by his actions and we can well imagine him.
In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins’ wildly successful YA, the author barely mentions the character’s appearance other than she’s small and dark like most of the people in her district. The spare description was so powerful, though, fans of the book strenuously objected to the actress Jennifer Lawrence, tall and blond, playing Katniss.
So there you have it. I prefer a vivid description but couch it in a way that reveals plot and inner emotions. You can’t go wrong with that!
Please join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 help me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve posted brand-new stories and previously published stories, book excerpts, writing tips, movie reviews and recommendations, and more exclusively for my patrons. You can also make a one-time pledge, if you like.
From the author of CHROME (five-stars) an ebook on Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo. And on US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, India Kindle, Germany Kindle, France Kindle, Spain Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Japan Kindle, Brazil Kindle, and Mexico Kindle. IN PRINT at U.S. print as a beautiful trade paperback. Also in U.K. print, in German print, in French print, in Spanish print, in Italian print, and in Japanese print.
Summer of Love (a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book). On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle worldwide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. BACK IN PRINT! Find the beautiful trade paperback at https://www.amazon.com/Summer-Love-Travel-Lisa-Mason/dp/1548106119/ or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/summer-of-love-a-time-travel-lisa-mason/1104160569.
The Gilded Age (a New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book). On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle worldwide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. BACK IN PRINT! Find the beautiful trade paperback at https://www.amazon.com/Gilded-Age-Time-Travel/dp/1975853172/ or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-gilded-age-a-time-travel-lisa-mason/1106038566.
The Garden of Abracadabra (“Fun and enjoyable urban fantasy . . . I want to read more!) On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle worldwide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. NOW IN PRINT! Find the beautiful trade paperback at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1978148291/ or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-garden-of-abracadabra-lisa-mason/1108093507
Arachne (a Locus Hardover Bestseller) is an ebook on US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle worldwide in France Kindle, Germany Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Spain Kindle, Mexico Kindle, Brazil Kindle, India Kindle, and Japan Kindle. Back in Print! Find the beautiful trade paperback at https://www.amazon.com/dp/198435602X or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/arachne-lisa-mason/1000035633.
Cyberweb (sequel to Arachne) is on US Kindle, BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also Kindle worldwide on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Brazil Kindle, France Kindle, Germany Kindle, India Kindle, Italy Kindle, Japan Kindle, Mexico Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, and Spain Kindle. Back in Print at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1984356941 or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/cyberweb-lisa-mason/1001932064
Strange Ladies: 7 Stories (“A must-read collection—The San Francisco Review of Books). On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle world wide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. NOW IN PRINT at https://www.amazon.com/Strange-Ladies-Stories-Lisa-Mason/dp/1981104380/ or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/strange-ladies-lisa-mason/1115861322.
One Day in the Life of Alexa (“Five stars! An appealing narrator and subtly powerful emotional rhythms”). On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle worldwide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. Order the beautiful trade paperback NOW IN PRINT at https://www.amazon.com/One-Life-Alexa-Lisa-Mason/dp/1546783091 or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/one-day-in-the-life-of-alexa-lisa-mason/1126431598.
Celestial Girl, The Omnibus Edition, A Lily Modjeska Mystery (Five stars) On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle worldwide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. SOON IN PRINT!
Shaken (in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.
Hummers (in Fifth Annual Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror) On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.
Daughter of the Tao (in Peter S. Beagle’s Immortal Unicorn) on US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in AustraliaFrance, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.
Every Mystery Unexplained (in David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.
Tomorrow’s Child (In Active Development at Universal Pictures) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.
The Sixty-third Anniversary of Hysteria (in Full Spectrum 5) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.
U F uh-O (Five Stars!) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.
Tesla, A Screenplay on US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.
My Charlotte: Patty’s Story on Barnes and Noble, US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Netherlands, and Mexico.
“Illyria, My Love” is on US Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Germany Kindle, France Kindle, Spain Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Japan Kindle, Brazil Kindle, Mexico Kindle, and India Kindle.
Please visit me at Lisa Mason’s Official Website for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, and blogs, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!
And on Lisa Mason’s Blog, on my Facebook Author Page, on my Facebook Profile Page, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on LinkedIn, on Twitter at @lisaSmason, at Smashwords, at Apple, at Kobo, and at Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
If you would like to receive Lisa Mason’s quarterly newsletter, New Book News, please respond by email to lisasmason@aol.com, enter “Add Me” on the subject line, and it shall be done. You may unsubscribe at any time.
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Thank you for your readership!

TRArt1BIG

I’ve read and presently read all kinds of stories and books—mainstream like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edith Wharton, historicals like Gone With the Wind and Wolf Hall, mysteries like the Raymond Chandler books, romance like the Nora Roberts books, high fantasy like The Mists of Avalon, urban fantasy like the Kim Harrison books, science fiction like Hyperion and Dune, and creative nonfiction like The Devil in the White City.
But my favorite books remain the books I read as a child—Charlotte’s Web with talking animals, all four of the Mary Poppins books with talking animals, and Kipling’s Jungle Books, also with talking animals.
I suppose the talking animals ruined me in my childhood as a reader; I grew weary of mainstream writers obsessing about their problems with their families and their love lives and struggling to put a beautiful spin on every word. My mother gave me her own 1936 edition of Little Women. At eight years old, I hated that book, in spite of Jo. Now, years later, when the new film of Little Women was released, I tried the book again. I couldn’t get past the first thirty pages. In spite of (or because of) Jo.
I found compelling reading in the bold, tight style of a Chandler or even a Wharton (though Edith obsessed too much about bad marriages). I actively disliked and was put off by some writers’ overwrought style. (Still am.)
And I welcomed worlds other than our own, mind-boggling ideas, philosophical ideas, and offbeat characters.
Which brings me to Jo Walton’s blogs in the mid-2000s about genre books, some of which are collected in What Makes This Book So Great.
Walton is a book commentator and a fantasy writer herself; her blogs and commentary about books appeared on the Tor website. Her collection of blogs was reviewed in Locus Magazine and points she made about genre books—especially the use of metaphor—became emblazoned on my reader’s (and writer’s) mind.
From Walton’s Blog:
“I was reading A.S. Byatt’s The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye. This is a mainstream story in which a female academic buys a bottle containing a djinn and gets it to give her wishes. It’s a mainstream story because she finds the bottle on something like page 150 of 175. In a genre story she’d have found the bottle on the first page. It has mainstream pacing and expectations of what’s important. The story is really about how simple answers are not fulfilling. The djinn is a metaphor in exactly the way Kelly Link’s zombies aren’t a metaphor. People talk about SF as a literature of ideas, as if you can’t find any ideas in Middlemarch or Rainbow Six! I don’t think [science fiction] is so much the literature of ideas as the literature of world-building.”
What does Walton mean?
The world-building in science fiction and fantasy is the overarching metaphor—you don’t fly in the space of your mind (mainstream), you actually really fly in space (SF/F). You don’t confront the dragons of your emotional demons, you really mount a dragon and fly (SF/F).
So genre readers are accustomed—and expect—to enter an entire metaphorical world. Genre readers take literally anything that happens in the world.
And so. You, as a writer, may write “literary” metaphors in your genre fiction at your peril. Everything is REAL to the genre reader and a misplaced metaphor—when absolute fidelity to your world is crucial—can throw your whole story off.
Before I delve into some examples from recent SFF stories I’ve read, I’ll add one more observation from Jo Walton. She’s talking about how naming characters can go wrong, but her example is appropriate to my criticism below.
From Jo Walton:
“This led me to pondering that common pitfall of making up fantasy names: hitting on something that already means something else, and is thus inadvertently funny. “Mein” to me means “noodles” as in “chow mein” and “lo mein.” I don’t know if it’s authentic Chinese or Western restaurant Chinese. Because I’m aware it means noodles, I find it hard to take it entirely seriously as the name of an evil enemy. Next, bring on “the war with the linguini!” and “the war with the tortellini!” Fantasy names create atmosphere, and this is not the atmosphere you want…”
Point taken. Now on my specific observations about the use of metaphor in genre fiction and in a published story I recently read.
To read the rest of my critique of a SFF story I recently read that misuses metaphor, please join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve posted brand-new stories and previously published stories, book excerpts, writing tips, movie reviews, and more exclusively for my patrons. You can also make a one-time pledge, if you like.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, beautiful covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more!
From the author of Summer of Love (a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book). On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle worldwide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. BACK IN PRINT! Find the beautiful trade paperback at https://www.amazon.com/Summer-Love-Travel-Lisa-Mason/dp/1548106119/ or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/summer-of-love-a-time-travel-lisa-mason/1104160569.
The Gilded Age (a New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book). On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle worldwide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. BACK IN PRINT! Find the beautiful trade paperback at https://www.amazon.com/Gilded-Age-Time-Travel/dp/1975853172/ or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-gilded-age-a-time-travel-lisa-mason/1106038566.
The Garden of Abracadabra (“Fun and enjoyable urban fantasy . . . I want to read more!) On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle worldwide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. NOW IN PRINT! Find the beautiful trade paperback at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1978148291/ or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-garden-of-abracadabra-lisa-mason/1108093507
Arachne (a Locus Hardover Bestseller) is an ebook on US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle worldwide in France Kindle, Germany Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Spain Kindle, Mexico Kindle, Brazil Kindle, India Kindle, and Japan Kindle. Back in Print! Find the beautiful trade paperback at https://www.amazon.com/dp/198435602X or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/arachne-lisa-mason/1000035633.
Cyberweb (sequel to Arachne) is on US Kindle, BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also Kindle worldwide on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Brazil Kindle, France Kindle, Germany Kindle, India Kindle, Italy Kindle, Japan Kindle, Mexico Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, and Spain Kindle. Back in Print at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1984356941 or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/cyberweb-lisa-mason/1001932064
Strange Ladies: 7 Stories (“A must-read collection—The San Francisco Review of Books). On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle world wide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. NOW IN PRINT at https://www.amazon.com/Strange-Ladies-Stories-Lisa-Mason/dp/1981104380/ or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/strange-ladies-lisa-mason/1115861322.
One Day in the Life of Alexa (“Five stars! An appealing narrator and subtly powerful emotional rhythms”). On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle worldwide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. Order the beautiful trade paperback NOW IN PRINT at https://www.amazon.com/One-Life-Alexa-Lisa-Mason/dp/1546783091 or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/one-day-in-the-life-of-alexa-lisa-mason/1126431598.
Celestial Girl, The Omnibus Edition, A Lily Modjeska Mystery (Five stars) On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle worldwide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. SOON IN PRINT!
Shaken (in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.
Hummers (in Fifth Annual Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror) On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.
Daughter of the Tao (in Peter S. Beagle’s Immortal Unicorn) on US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in AustraliaFrance, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.
Every Mystery Unexplained (in David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.
Tomorrow’s Child (In Active Development at Universal Pictures) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.
The Sixty-third Anniversary of Hysteria (in Full Spectrum 5) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.
U F uh-O (Five Stars!) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.
Tesla, A Screenplay on US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.
My Charlotte: Patty’s Story on Barnes and Noble, US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Netherlands, and Mexico.
“Illyria, My Love” is on US Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Germany Kindle, France Kindle, Spain Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Japan Kindle, Brazil Kindle, Mexico Kindle, and India Kindle.
Please visit me at Lisa Mason’s Official Website for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, and blogs, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!
And on Lisa Mason’s Blog, on my Facebook Author Page, on my Facebook Profile Page, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on LinkedIn, on Twitter at @lisaSmason, at Smashwords, at Apple, at Kobo, and at Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
If you would like to receive Lisa Mason’s quarterly newsletter, New Book News, please respond by email to lisasmason@aol.com, enter “Add Me” on the subject line, and it shall be done. You may unsubscribe at any time.
If you enjoy a title, please “Like” it, add five stars, WRITE A REVIEW on the site where you bought it, Tweet it, blog it, post it, and share the word with your family and friends.
Your participation really matters.
Thank you for your readership!

TRArt1BIG

Beginning, middle, and end.
The three act structure.
Sounds simple?
It should be. Storytellers sitting around a campfire in a prehistoric cave followed this natural progression of a story. You, the writer, should too. You, the reader or viewer, should look for that. If you’re having problems liking a film, story, or book, the first suspect is a writer who doesn’t understand three-act structure and doesn’t shape her/his material to follow it.
This is why Quentin Tarantino’s film, “Pulp Fiction,” profane and violent and experimentally plotted as it is, works. Even though plots are left in mid-stream to be finished later and a number of “chapters” are labeled, the film rigorously follows three-act structure.
And this is why Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, “Once Upon a Time….in Hollywood,” is in my opinion a failure. Aside from the fact that the film leads the viewer on a manipulative mind-tease about the real-life horrific, brutal, senseless murders of Sharon Tate, her unborn baby, and six other people (and the many other objections I have), first and foremost, it is a meandering mess.
This is why “Captain Marvel,” which I analyzed in detail here and on my Patreon page, earned worldwide box office of over a billion dollars. Because the screenwriter rigorously followed the three-act structure, even with a complex plot with a lot science fictional material happening, plus a moving personal story.
Beginning, middle, and end.
Many storytellers do this naturally, but if you’re struggling with a piece, look first to this problem.
Sounds simple, but what do I mean, exactly?
Many how-to-write experts will tell you to start with “an inciting incident.” An action-packed opening that draws the reader in, wanting to know more.
That’s good advice, as far as it goes. Five bad beginnings, as I saw in a recent how-to-write article, are (1) having your character dreaming some action sequence and then waking up to find, well, it was all a dream, (2) a description of the weather, (3) a description of an impossibly gorgeous character, (4) having your impossibly gorgeous character look at herself or himself in a mirror (5) having a character furiously being chased through a woods, precariously climbing a mountain, or whatever.
In good hands, any of these may work (Gone With The Wind springs to mind, “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom noticed that” and then Mitchell goes on for the first entire page to describe Scarlett’s looks), but you don’t want to tempt fate.
But wait, isn’t the inciting incident supposed to be exciting?
In a writing workshop I attended years ago, the teacher read the action-packed opening scene of a mountaineer scaling a treacherous mountain, slipping, falling, continuing to climb. The problem? It was boring! Boring because we readers didn’t connect with the character.
I’ve seen this same problem in many, many YA books.
Whatever ordeal or ordinary situation you put your character through in the inciting incident, you must make the character believable and sympathetic. You must connect the reader to the character in an emotional way so that the reader cares what happens next—to the character, first most, not necessarily the plot.
Even in a prologue—like in Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen—that skips ahead to a later point in the plot, you must connect to the characters to the reader in a sympathetic way.
I’ve often told writers seeking advice, you have no plot without character.
But the beginning is just that—a set up of characters, time, place, and yes the initial glimmerings of a plot.
The beginning should take up about a quarter of your screenplay, story, or novel during which you should plant plot points of what is to come later. I always admire a good setup and good plot points that are then later “paid off.”
You reach the end of Act One, and initiate Act Two with a surprising plot twist that sends the action spinning in an unexpected direction. Take all your characters set up in Act One and send them on a quest, into a war zone, into betrayal by a lover, into a problematic marriage, into capture by hostile aliens.
The choice is yours, but make it a doozy.
To read the rest of the February Writing Tip, about Act Two and Act Three, friends, readers, and fans, please join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me after the Attack. I’ve posted delightful new stories and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes and health tips, and more exclusively for my heroic patrons! I’m offering a critique of your writing sample on Tier Five.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!

 

10.18.17.TGOA.BOOKS

You could pay $4K for some “legendary” how-to-write racket. Or you could pick up writing tips from an author who has been publishing stories and books since 1987 (that would be me). You could pay ME $4K, too, but you don’t have to. You could join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/lisamasonfantasyandsciencefictionwriter?alert=2.
It turns out that writing can be a tricky business. You wouldn’t think so, in these days of push-button churning out of words and push-button editing.
But perhaps it’s trickier than ever, now that we are wedded to a keyboard and not writing by hand in pen or pencil on recycled trees, otherwise known as paper.
Some writers—Jennifer Egan springs to mind—claim they write first drafts by hand, then transfer the words to a computer. I have been known to apply this technique myself, especially with stories. But also with key parts of novel.
Others swear by read-throughs, which is always a good idea since then you can hear the sound of the language. When you are speaking spontaneously—not a rehearsed speech—you seldom think about your word choices. The words just flow. But when you write for publication, suddenly word choices become significant. And oddly, sometimes difficult to control.
You want to have a Voice. You want to have a distinctive sound in your written work. See? That was a repetition—“You want to”. A deliberate repetition.
I’m talking about inadvertent, unconscious repetitions of words, usually distinctive words beyond the usual “but” and “and” that are only too easy to write. Those repetitions detract from the bold, precise language you want to use.
A writer in a workshop I once participated in called it “writer’s echolalia.”
I see inadvertent repetitions frequently in published fiction. These are words that have been through several pairs of professional eyes—the writer herself, an editor, a copy editor, and a proofreader.
But even a team of the pros often can’t catch it.
The longer the manuscript, the more difficult it is to catch this stuff. It’s only when you boil things down for print publication, are down to the wire, need to blow through 130,000 words in a few days, not a few years—when you see those clean, shiny proofs ready to go off to the printer—that you can spot writer’s echolalia.
Sometimes.
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