Sunday, August 28, 2011

Writing Tip ABCs, Part 3, G-I

This week's Writing Tip ABCs proceeds to letters G, H, I.

We might as well get right to the tips!

G is up first.

GESTURES a character makes tells a reader something about him, his mood, his attitude, etc. If a character raises his middle finger toward another character we know he's made a disparaging remark, whether any dialogue is involved or not. If we read that a civilian character has given a proper salute to an army colonel, we could conclude this person has a military background.

All main characters in a story must have GOALS. Story is about characters attempting to achieve goals. If a book stars two protagonists with opposite goals, the story will be more compelling. For example, in my book "Laura's Lost Love," a love story which is set in the early 20th Century, the unmarried heroine's goal is to take in a little girl from the orphan train. The hero is tasked with denying placement of orphan train children with anyone who is not married. Hero and heroine goals are exact opposites.

Sometimes a GLIMPSE into a character's past can tell a reader all she needs to know. There is no need to do a complete psychological study on why a character won't go on picnics when all a writer needs to do is let a thought cross the character's mind. "'You want me to go on a picnic?' Joe asked. 'No thanks.' He hadn't been on a picnic since he was five and his brother Harold hid a handful of ants in his pork and beans." If the reader doesn't need to know the character had nightmares for years or that the experience caused a bed wetting problem why bore him with unnecessary details?

Up next, the letter H.

HEROES in all genres are larger than life, but they aren't perfect. Give them flaws. Make them human.

HEROINES may be demure or kick-butt women, pretty or average looking, but they, like heroes, have inner strength and human flaws.

HUMOR livens up the most serious of scenes or stories. Remember the scene in "Goldfinger" when James Bond is about to be sawed in half? Bond says to his nemesis who is watching as Bond's life is in jeopardy, "I suppose you expect me to talk." And Goldfinger replies, "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."

And finally, the letter I.

INTERVIEW characters while fleshing them out in pre-writing creation. Learn everything about them so you'll know exactly how they'll react to the problems they'll face in your story.

Readers love characters who can IMPROVISE. Think James West of "Wild, Wild West," James Bond and MacGyver. A character who creatively improvises in sticky situations adds a new dimension to your story.

An INCITING INCIDENT happens near the beginning of a story. This event causes havoc in the protagonist's life and puts his/her life terribly out of kilter. It is because this event happens that the hero/heroine sets goals which are probably different from the goals he/she had when the story opened. For example, a tornado carries Dorothy's house to Oz. (The inciting incident.) Dorothy sets her goal: she wants to return to Kansas. (Before the inciting incident, Dorothy's goal was to save Toto from Almira Gulch, the nasty lady on the bike.)

If you'd like more Writing Tip ABCs, visit my Twitter page at

Next week we'll take a look at tips starting with J, K, and L.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

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