Writing Techniques: How to Create and Sustain Tension

December 2, 2015

"How do you create tension in your writing?" is a question I am continually investigating. I'm not certain there is a simple formula, but there is certainly a single, unavoidable truth: If you want tension in your story you have to 1) create it and 2) sustain it. Creating it is easier than sustaining it. Sustaining tension for me becomes exponentially more difficult the longer I try to sustain it, and the stronger the tension that I am trying to sustain. I am often wrestling with a variety of techniques in order to try to push my tension higher or sustain tension through a longer scene. I feel like I'm only at the beginning of my understanding of tension, and I still have many secrets to unlock. But for what it's worth, here's my take on how tension works, and some of the ways to create it and sustain it[...] read this post

Writing Techniques: How to make dialogue more dynamic – using the topic pattern

November 18, 2015

One way to make flat dialogue seem more dynamic is by changing what I call the "topic pattern". THE TOPIC PATTERN When people talk naturally, they usually talk about one topic first, then switch to another topic. Ann: Talks about topic A Lee: Talks more about topic A Ann: Introduces topic B Lee: Talks more about topic B You can think of this as a typical AA BB topic pattern. Ann: How's the weather outside? (TOPIC A) Lee: It looks like it's raining. (TOPIC A) Ann: By the way, that's my turtle, I'm keeping him in my office (TOPIC B) Lee: What do you feed him? (TOPIC B) Changing the order in which the topics are introduced from AA BB to something different creates a sense of the unexpected that can make dialogue feel more dynamic. For example, here is the same dialogue in an AB AB pattern: Ann: How's[...] read this post

Writing Techniques: How to solve the problems that are stopping you from writing

September 12, 2015

Writing a book is difficult, and there are no shortcuts. You have to change yourself from someone who can't write a book into someone who can write a book, which means overcoming obstacles like lack of time, lack of money, lack of ideas, lack of self-belief, procrastination, self-sabotage, lack of skill sets, and everything else standing in your way. This is the technique that I found most useful in helping to solve the problems that were preventing me from writing, at a time when I was struggling to produce my first manuscript. I first heard about this technique from Penni Russon, and modified it with my writers group. We all did it together, and I found that doing it as a group was powerful in its own right, kind of like an anonymous self help group any group pledge can be. Sharing our answers and suggestions with each other was[...] read this post

Writing Techniques: How to create minor characters

September 12, 2015

I find character creation one to be of the hardest parts of writing and I don't have a very visual mind, so one of the worst moments in writing for me is when I need to introduce a minor character or write a crowd scene, and I realise I have to stop and make this huge effort of imagination to think up some character and give them individuated characteristics, even though they're only going to be in the book for one scene. I use this technique to help with that moment, but of course this technique can also be used to create more major characters as well. Creating minor or background characters Find an image bank of pictures of people. This could be: a book of photographic portraits, a street fashion blog, a book of portrait paintings, or some other reference. Set aside some dedicated time, and go through your[...] read this post

Writing Techniques: How to start creating characters

September 12, 2015

Some people find it easy to generate original characters. I know these people exist, because my friend Anna Cowan is one, she has the magical (to me) ability to spontaneously generate unique, dynamic characters that feel instantly alive on the page. If you're one of these people, this technique is probably not going to be very useful to you. But if you're like me and your imagination doesn't attach to new characters instinctively, this technique might help to start redirecting the tributaries of your imagination towards character creation. Similar to the How to start writing a book when you have no ideas technique, this is a technique to use at the very beginning of character creation, when you don't feel inspired, and you just don't know what kind of character you want to write about. This technique can appear to be a bit derivative, as it uses pre-existing characters as[...] read this post

Writing Techniques: How to make exposition suspenseful

September 12, 2015

Exposition is the relaying of information, be it description, explanation, or background information. I've found the most useful way of thinking about exposition in written narrative is by thinking about it in contrast to exposition in visual narratives such as, for example, comics. In a comic, the character has to be drawn over and over and over again, in every panel in which they appear (just as the location has to be drawn over and over again). In a written narrative, once you have described a character once, you don't have to describe them over and over again, continuously, forever. The character's name becomes a signifier, carrying the description along with it in the reader's mind. The only reason to describe them again would be to draw attention to their appearance for a particular reason, or if something has changed. This demonstrates that the best time to include exposition is[...] read this post

Writing Techniques: How to start writing when you have no ideas

September 12, 2015

This technique is for generating the earliest ideas for a book, when you have nothing, no ideas, no concept, no nothing. A lot of writers that I've met get stuck at this stage, 'I want to write a novel, but I don't have ideas, I don't know where to start, or what the novel would even be about'. This is the stage that is ignored at every writing class I've ever attended. As a result, lots of talented people who want to write never understand that their inability to come up with ideas doesn't mean they are not a writer, it just means they have not yet learned techniques or a process for coming up with ideas. This is the technique I personally use now to cope with that stage, in the earliest beginnings of writing a book – before plotting, before character creation, before everything. Finding your Ultimate Book[...] read this post

Writing Techniques: Master Post

June 23, 2015

In this series, I share writing techniques on various topics. I think it's important for writers to share knowledge with each other, since in most of the creative writing classes that I've attended . . . I wasn't really ever taught any writing techniques. If you've ever attended a creative writing class you'll know this phenomenon. A friend once described it to me perfectly: In a cooking class, you are taught how to make a soufflé during the lesson. In a creative writing class you're usually asked to make a soufflé at home without a recipe, then bring it in to class, and then everyone sits around and critiques the soufflé, and there's always someone who says things like, "This isn't a good roast chicken". Sometimes you will even discuss soufflé theory. But at no point does anyone ever actually teach you how to make a soufflé. So writers are[...] read this post