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Basic tools for writing fiction

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This is a reprint of a post printed seven years ago. If you’re a science fiction writer, you need to get the 12 Fatal Flaws of Writing Fiction. With dozens of other Before and After excerpts and expanded content, this #1 best-selling must-have resource should have a prominent place on your shelf. However, be sure to pull it out and refer to it as you work through each scene of each novel. Buy it in print or as an e-book HERE.

Let’s talk about the mechanics of writing. I guess one can only expect that a book written by editors will have some guidelines for writing correctly. So, someone should mention the obvious: in order to write flawlessly, a writer must learn to write grammatically correct sentences.

Don’t panic – this isn’t going to be a grammar lesson. If you want to take the time to learn about grammar, there are many books and blogs that can help (esp What to say? A Science Fiction Writer’s Guide to Grammar, Punctuation, and Vocabularyanother book in The Writer’s Toolbox series).

But really, every writer should spend time learning the tools of their craft. We use words, and a lot of them. We writers must master them both creatively and correctly.

We’ve all heard it said that before you can (or should) break the rules, you have to learn them. I agree, for the most part. Some writers have a great style that doesn’t follow a lot of grammar rules. Some of these writers bring an ethnic flavor to their prose, or, in POV, the first-person narrator is uneducated (think of Mark Twain’s characters, for example). There are times when intentionally breaking these rules works.

But an entire novel with a disjointed or chaotic sentence structure will give most readers a headache.

Sentence, to me, is the foundation of all prose. I love a beautifully designed sentence. I like to surprise with an unusual, unexpected word. The placement of each word in a sentence can be carefully chosen for a particular impression or impact. Moving a single word to the beginning or end can change the feel or meaning of a sentence, even slightly.

Every word counts

The one-eyed witch in my novel The Wentwater puzzle warned: “Watch your words. They have consequences.” My heroine must bring each word back to existence after the spell breaks and causes the world to disappear. And every time a witch receives a word in payment for a spell cast, she puts it in a jar and puts it on her shelf. Since then, this word no longer exists. The whole story is about how important every single word is.

Words have the power to heal and hurt. I wonder how many wars have been started, marriages destroyed, murders committed with one word. Writers, as creators of words, have a serious charge. You may not see yourself in that capacity, but what if you do? What if you count every word? Instead of counting words?

Writers these days seem to be everything word count. About quantity over quality. About typing the minimum number of words each day instead of searching for the perfect word or working to create the perfect sentence.

This may seem off-topic as we wind up with our latest fatal flaw in fiction writing, but it seems to me that there are drawbacks to a writer’s desire to write five thousand words on paper or on a computer screen in record time—all for for her to experience the meaning of pleasure (or to post her great achievement on Facebook).

Slow down and smell the words

I would encourage the writers to slow down. As we move at breakneck speed in our daily routines, it takes a (sometimes gigantic) effort to slow our brains to a crawl. We need to crawl if we want to notice our world. Maybe even stop completely, in a place of complete silence, to indeed notification. How can we write about anything if we don’t take the time to experience life through our senses? These sensory details – the things we observe, smell, taste, touch – are processed, chewed and digested as fodder for creativity.

I remember hearing lines like “You’re too young to be writing a novel. You have not lived long enough and experienced enough of life have something significant to say.’ Now that I’m well past the middle of my life, I get it. But just because we’re old doesn’t mean we’re paying attention.

Writing can be a lot like life. We get used to certain things, fall into routines, like comfort and don’t challenge ourselves. We don’t want to take any chances or stress too much with age. We love this old chair. Every year we rest in the same place. Familiarity comforts.

But it can seep into our writing and affect our creativity. With the attitude of “I need to hurry and write a lot of words” because our time to write is limited or our lives seem too short and “I’m too comfortable and settled in my style and I don’t want to impose myself”, our writing can begin to ossify.

Attitude and writing mechanics

So really, my focus in this latest post on the mechanics of writing is all about our attitude. Are you always looking for the perfect word? A perfect sentence? Is your goal focused on making sure you meet the word count or writing the best story possible?

Attitude greatly affects the mechanics of writing. If we approach writing time with a sense of impatience and an expectation of a word count, how likely are we to write well? no.

Some people, like me, work best under deadlines. I myself set ridiculous deadlines for my projects. If I don’t, I won’t write and publish my books. I think it’s a holdover from all the newspapers I’ve worked on. Many a night, editors were breathing down my neck—literally—as I stood and rolled waxed sheets of paper on a whiteboard as the clock ticked down to print time (I worked in the compositing department that “composed” the paper, back in the day before computers). But despite the fact that I impose such a deadline on myself, I never rush to write.

Rushing and gushing

It’s an attitude. There’s nothing wrong with setting out a scene, writing everything down before the ideas slip out of your ears. Sometimes it seems that you rush, and not pour.

But there is a difference.

Writers rush to finish a draft, rush to publish before taking the time to carefully read every sentence and question every word. In their haste, they don’t bother editing, don’t bother finding the right word usage, don’t bother getting constructive feedback from readers. Sure, go ahead and gush, but then come back, slow down, and start sifting through your words.

I see this often with my editing clients. Some want to get on the publishing bandwagon yesterday. They’ll let me know that their book is listed for sale on Amazon, but they haven’t had the time or money to edit it. Other clients come to me with the proverbial tail, admitting they’ve done the above, and after a few sales and negative feedback (mostly about how sloppy the writing was) they now want to slow down, get help, learn how to write the perfect sentence and the perfect book (in a conversational manner).

How much better it would be if they ignored the word count and focused on the words. Ignoring the whistling of the wind urging them to hurry, they simply plopped down on the ground, closed their eyes and listened to the sound of the wind. Then they would be in a much better place to describe the wind—and everything else.

I have no before and after passages in my section of this fatal flaw. Instead, I’d like you to think about your own “Before” and “After”—when you sit down to write at the time you set aside, and when your time is up and you’re done for the day.

Don’t look at the clock. Don’t count the words. Make your words count. This is the heart of the mechanics of writing.

In conclusion. . .

Words, sentences, paragraphs and scenes. These are the ingredients of history. As in any profession, writers must learn to own and master the tools of their trade. Work on becoming an expert wordsmith. Language is our realm, and words are the building blocks for every tree, flower, and character.

Spend time reading beautifully written novels, poems, and short stories. Slow down and try the words; roll them around in your mouth. Give words the honor they deserve and work with them respectfully.

Also take the time to learn the mechanics of writing to say what you mean and not say what you don’t mean. Strive for perfection, precision, creativity. Don’t stop at what hits the page first. Go back and make them better. Ideally, if possible.

Often the difference between a good writer and a great one is the mechanics of writing. Don’t let laziness or a lack of interest in grammar and vocabulary make you succumb to this fatal flaw in fiction. You have to do this to yourself and your readers to master it.

Share your thoughts on rushing and fountaining in the comments. Did this year’s course help you become a better writer? We hope so! We’d love to hear what handicap has been your biggest challenge and what tips we’ve provided in the section of this blog that have helped you overcome it!


Are you ready for success? Ready to get serious about writing and creating great books?

Don’t waste your time getting confused. Getting professional help is the ticket. I wrote novels for decades and couldn’t sell them without realizing what I was doing wrong. I wish I had someone like me to point out my flaws in my plots and structure so I could fix them.

Learning how to write a craft book 5 editors tackle the 12 fatal flaws of fiction writing it’s a smart way to improve. But getting personal help is even better.

Make the decision to get exactly the help you need to become the best writer you can be!

My recommendation? Get either a ten-page or a fifty-page critique. You will immediately see what you need to work on. Get feedback on these opening scenes and see how well you set up the premise, plot, and characters. I make it easy for you.

Need an edit? If your novel has been critically acclaimed and you think it’s ready for the next step, hire me and my team of editors to help you! I provide a unique editing service that consists of two parts: content editing and proofreading, and I team up with another editor (also a published author), so you get two sets of professional eyes on your project! The editing couldn’t be more thorough than this.

Want more information? Tell me about your project, how far along you are and what your editing needs are. Let’s get started and get your book in top shape! Contact me here.

Selected photo of the author Isabella Kronemberger on Unsplash

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