Showing posts with label elizabeth craig. Show all posts
Showing posts with label elizabeth craig. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 20

6 Ways To Get Rid Of Infodumps At The Beginning Of A Story

6 Ways To Get Rid Of Info Dumps At The Beginning Of A Story

There are two entrenched ways of thinking about story openings.

Folks either think a story needs to open with setting and a detailed introduction to the characters or they think that any description in the first, say, quarter of the story should be bare-bones and that backstory (/infodumps) should be kept, by and large, for the last half of the story.

I tend to agree that infodumps should be avoided at the beginning of a story but that often leaves the writer with a problem. How do we work in backstory when it's needed at the beginning to set the stage?

John Yeoman (@yeomanis) has written what has to be hands-down the most useful article on how to work backstory in at the beginning I've ever read. Which comes as no surprise since he was guest posting on one of my favorite blogs--Elizabeth S. Craig's blog, Mystery Writing Is Murder.

6 Ways To Work Backstory In At The Beginning

1. The naive stranger

A favourite device is to have a stranger ask a naive question. “‘Sir, why is the village school built next to a jail?’ Old Tom smiled. ‘It’s a long story,’ he began...”

Only, don’t make the story too long!

2. The helpful gossip

Whenever that great rival to Sherlock Holmes, Dr Thorndyke, was presented with a village mystery he - and his foil, Jervis - would dine in the local pub. Inevitably, a garrulous maid or landlord would volunteer a vital clue.

Postal workers, shopkeepers, doctors, priests and other community insiders are great volunteers of background ‘stuff’. (But avoid prurient old ladies who lurk behind curtains. The world has room for only one Miss Marple.)

3. The ‘official’ tour guide

If somebody is playing host, they can plausibly entertain their guests with anecdotal histories. A tree on a hill, a book upon a shelf, any object that draws attention to itself can provoke a story.

‘My grandfather carried this with him at the Somme...’

A tourist brochure, newspaper clipping or public poster can also disclose 'stuff' in a casual way, without disrupting the narrative. ‘Official’ information appears to come to the reader unmediated by interpretation, so it has a high truth value.

This can usefully mislead the reader - say, in a mystery story - where the official information, accepted by everyone, turns out to be wrong.

I have just had great fun writing an historical mystery tale (soon to be on Kindle, Amazon permitting). It proves, indisputably, that Queen Elizabeth I of England was not a red head. The records are wrong.

4. The chance remark

.  .  .  .
[L]et the background details unfold in dialogue, by way of chance remarks.

“‘You don’t want to go there,’ the garage attendant said as he checked my oil. ‘They never did find her body.’”

Further remarks can develop that back story - and any small event whatever can cue a chance remark.

.  .  .  .

5. Break it up with action

If granny really must dump the whole history of the family on the reader, break it up. Add conflict or action. Perhaps an exasperating child keeps changing the subject. Or a pet cat gets tangled in her knitting.

While granny copes with the distractions, the reader will stay with the story - if only to see the wretched child or cat get their comeuppance. (Five Ways to Handle Stuff and Other Nonsense)
John Yeoman closes by writing:
‘Stuff’ doesn’t have to be nonsense. We need ‘stuff’ to create a context. What the reader doesn’t need is a lot of digressive details that are unrelated to the plot and that they’ll never remember anyway.
I hope John Yeoman won't mind if I add a sixth way:

6.  Honored, yet grumpy, guest/Talk to a reporter

This is similar to John Yeoman's #3, the official tour guide, but I thought I'd include it anyway.

In one of my works-in-progress, I needed to insert an information dump at the beginning. It didn't work--I knew it didn't--and if there had been any doubt my beta readers firmly, but kindly, removed it. (Love them!)

Then I read a novel in which the protagonist talked to a reporter and necessary information was introduced. I thought the devise worked. (This demonstrates the importance of reading like a writer.)

In my WIP my protagonist, a zoo director, gives the Mayor a tour around the zoo and has to explain no end of things. I also use this tour to set up the Mayor as an antagonistic force which allows me to introduce one of the core problems facing the protagonist.

There are many different ways to sneak information in at the beginning of a book. Which ones are your favorites? 

Other articles you might like:

- 8 Tips From Chuck Wendig On How To Read Like A Writer
- Author Solutions: The New Carnys?
- Structured Procrastination: Procrastinate And Get Things Done

Photo credit: "read on the wall" by MarioMancuso under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, September 29

Save The Cat! The Importance Of Sympathetic Heroes

Save The Cat! The Importance Of Sympathetic Heroes

I love Blake Snyder's book Save The Cat so I was delighted to read Elizabeth Craig's blog article on the subject. When I first came across the book I wondered about the title. It seemed like an odd choice for a book on screenwriting. Here's how Wikipedia describes it:
The title Save the Cat! is a term coined by Snyder and describes the scene where the audience meets the hero of a movie for the first time. The hero does something nice—e.g. saving a cat—that makes the audience like the hero and root for him. According to Snyder, it is a simple scene that helps the audience invest themselves in the character and the story, but is often lacking in many of today's movies. (Wikipedia, Blake Snyder)
Elizabeth Craig writes:
Snyder said that it was incredibly important for your audience (he, naturally, means filmgoers, but it works for readers) to like or at least pull for your protagonist. He casually mentions the importance of making your protagonist do something likeable in one of the first scenes of your film/novel.

This sounds incredibly simple (and is incredibly simple), but I’d never thought of it in such a concrete or deliberate way before.
.  .  .  .
But you want readers to at least pull for your character. You don’t want them to give up on your book. So, Snyder’s advice is to throw in a scene that displays the protagonist in a good light….early.

So, when readers are trying to decide if they want to invest their hard-earned free time with your character for the next few days or week, we’re giving them a reason to stick with them.

Before reading this book, I’d definitely thrown in a scene or two with a softer Myrtle at some point in the mystery. But usually it wasn’t near the start of the story.
Excellent advice! Red the rest of Elizabeth Craig's article here: Save the Cat

Other articles you might like:
- John Locke Paid For Book Reviews
- Tips For First Time Writers
- 19 Ways To Grow Your Twitter Following

Photo credit: Unknown

Sunday, May 27

How Many Books A Year Should I Write?

Author Elizabeth S. Craig talks about how many books a year she writes (3 or 4), why she writes at that pace, and what her schedule is like.
I just don’t think we can make a living off a book a year if we’re midlist authors. (Actually…I know we can’t. Unless your book deals are a whole lot better than mine are.)
Elizabeth's article is fascinating on its own, but especially when read in the light of what Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith have been saying for years, that in order to make a living as a writer one needs to write more than one book a year, a lot more. But, practically, what's that like?
I wanted to let you know that writing several books a year doesn’t take that long. As I mentioned in this post, if you can write 3 1/2 pages a day, you can write three or four books a year. Even if it takes you a long time, thoughtfully considering each word and making each word resonate with meaning, you can probably manage a least two if you stay focused during your writing time.
Good to know!
So what’s it like to write that many books a year? I can let you know what it’s like for me. This is the first time I’ve really analyzed it, so it’s interesting to break it all down (for the record, since the start of 2012, I’ve written one full book and I’m now passing the halfway mark of the second. I do edit quickly and I do have either my publisher’s editors or freelance editors go over my work after I edit it.)
Elizabeth even gives us a list of pros and cons:
Good things
*You write every day and you don’t lose any story continuity.

*You don’t forget or stumble with your character’s individual voices.

*You think about your story more during the day. Plot ideas, small scenes, even just words occur to you during the day in reference to the story.

*You don’t ever get bored with what you’re writing.

*You just jump right into the story every single day. No wondering where you left off. No feeling like you’ve lost the story thread.

*Frequently you’ll get story ideas for the next book in the series while writing the book.

*Readers don’t have to wait very long between books.

*Obviously, your income is higher.
For her lists of not so good things and downright lousy things, read the rest of her article, here: What Happens After Writing 3 or 4 Books a Year

Related reading:
The Business Rusch: The “Brutal” 2000-Word Day

Monday, May 14

Great Writing Blogs

I owe my thanks to a number writers who give up their valuable time to maintain writing blogs that both instruct and inspire. Today, to help celebrate the release of The Emotion Thesaurus, The Bookshelf Muse has declared this Random Act of Kindness Day, where writers (and anyone else!) are encouraged to thank those who have helped them.

This is a great idea, and a wonderful way to launch a book! In that spirit, here are blogs I have found invaluable:

1. Elizabeth Spann Craig (blog: Mystery Writing is Murder)
One of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Spann Craig, not only has a blog chalk full of great advice for writers, she also has an amazing Twitter feed (@elizabethscraig). I love the links she tweets, they both inspire and instruct. I highly recommend her writing.

2. Joe Konrath (blog: A Newbie's Guide to Publishing)
If anyone is the father of the indie publishing movement, it's Joe Konrath. Whether or not you agree with his perspective, his blog posts are timely, instructive and witty. Joe doesn't post as regularly as he used to, but when he does I do a little happy dance.

3. Kristine Kathryn Rusch (blog: Kristine Kathryn Rusch)
I thought I knew a bit about the business of publishing before I starting reading Kristine's blog. It turns out I didn't. Kris Rusch knows the business of writing from the perspective of a writer, an editor and a publisher. For anyone who would like to be a professional writer Kris' blog is a must read.

4. Dean Wesley Smith (blog: Dean Wesley Smith)
This is another great blog on the business of writing. Dean has written a number of series on both writing and publishing that are well worth the read.

5. Passive Guy (blog: The Passive Voice)
Passive Guy is a lawyer who specializes in contract law, especially as it relates to the publishing industry. He has a knack for finding great articles about writing and publishing and, occasionally, talks about what to look out for in contracts -- he calls them gotcha clauses. A must read for anyone seeking to be traditionally published.

These are five blogs among dozens that inform and inspire me every day, I hope they'll inspire you as well. Cheers!

Photo credit: What Orli Did