Writer's Tips and Guidelines

On Characterization:
If you are not one of those writers who believes in keeping complete, detailed character sketches for your main characters, at least keep a "cheat" sheet nearby that lists each character's appearance, main traits, and general background. By having that information always at hand, you will save yourself lots of wasted time and effort searching through your manuscript just to rediscover exactly what color your heroine's eyes are or whether that tiny scar is above the right or left eye.
Also, when you go back for that final edit, having the cheat sheet nearby helps to make sure your hero's hair remains the same color throughout the book. Take it from someone now working on her thirtieth novel, no matter how well acquainted you think you are with your characters, there will be days when such things a middle name or the exact location or the unique shape of a certain birth mark will elude you.

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On Dialogue:
A good function of dialogue is to give the reader needed information about the characters involved. Never fall into the trap of feeding information to your reader through long, drawn-out narratives when you can give them that same information through lively exchanges of dialogue. Let your characters inadvertently tell your reader what it is you want them to know.

By eavesdropping, the reader not only gains better insight into the characters themselves, the reader can also be informed of the weather, how something happened, what sort of person old so-in-so is, or what type of mood they are all in and why. The reader has more fun "discovering" story details.


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On Conflict:
The internal and external conflicts must feed off each other. It is the external conflict that can cause the two main characters to come together long enough for the internal conflict to take hold. It is the external conflict that usually does not allow the internal conflict to separate the two immediately and send them on their way.

The external conflicts can force the two main characters toward actions or decisions that directly affect the internal problems. In turn, those effects influence the external conflict as the story goes along---thus both conflicts feed off each other.


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On Scene and Sequel:
Occasionally new writers have a real problem coming up with the sequel part of what many writers call "scene and sequel". One way to overcome this is to pause after writing those always easier to write action scenes (and I don't mean a scene full of lots of action, a scene that moves the plot forward with either action, real or inert, is an action scene) and ask yourself, "How did this last scene change things? How does it affect everyone? Who is effected the most? Do I want the reader aware of that yet? If so, what would be the best way to make the reader aware of the results? If I don't want the reader to know the full effects yet, what can I let the reader know? What other reactions were important? Would it be better to go with one of those instead?"

Then give the reader a chance to learn whatever you've decided should be revealed, however you think that information should be delivered. If it is an important change, or throws the situation into a particularly profound quandary, then consider giving the sequel more "stage time". If it is minor or if you don't want the reader to think much about a subtle change, then keep the sequel a short one or focus on other effects. I've been known to skip the sequel all together for the effect I want. (Granted, it drives my reader nuts, so I have to be careful).

I do this by having a chapter end with an action scene, then I jump to another action scene (usually involving an entirely different character) at the opening of the following chapter, thus I leave the reader hanging on purpose. Sometimes I come back and give the reader the missing sequel later on, but if it is something I don't want the reader to know because it adds to the mystery or whatever to keep it a secret, then I skip that sequel altogether. Not every scene has to have a sequel, but if you don't produce a sequel, have a very strong plot reason not to.

How's that for confusing you?

Examples? You way you want examples? Okay, let's say a huge dam breaks and an entire lake comes crashing down a mountain on a likable preacher who has just gotten the courage to ask the woman he loves (who just happens to be a wayward nun named after your sister-in-law) to marry him, and he's on his way to tell her. The wall of water takes him by surprise, pulls him under, and his last thoughts are of the nun, then he blacks out.

A plausible sequel would have been to have him wake up and realize how his close call to death has made him even more determined to marry the flighty nun, which would lead to the action of his later storming her house and her heart.

OR I could have had the preacher decide that the Johnstown Flood was a sign from God--you don't mess around with his nuns. You leave them be. And the resulting action could have been to tell her he can't continue being alone with her because she's too much of a temptation.

OR a plausible sequel could have been to have the nun, as she finds his body, realize just how much she loved him and would have loved to be a closer part of his life and realize she's not really suited to be a nun, which would lead to the action of her giving up her vows.

So many sequel choices, depending on what I wanted the outcome to be.

Instead, in this particular case, I had no sequel. The next scene involving him was a few chapters away. It was a scene during which his body is discovered by the now-searching-for-bodies heroine, who loved him like a brother. That scene did have a sequel. A very long and very sad one.

As for those writers who spend too much time in sequel mode and tend to have their characters analyzing certain actions to death because they just don't know what comes next, consider this: after you've let the reader know the affect of the last scene in the strongest way possible, if the next action doesn't come immediately to mind, then sit back and ask that character in a loud, angry voice, "So, now what are you going to do about it?" Sometimes it might not be what you expected. That can be a bit scary but fun...


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