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Storytelling Technique - When to Use Backstory

Backstory isn’t to be confused with flashback. Instead, when we refer to backstory, it means the characters’ background and history – things from their past that could have an influence on the present story. This could be anything, since every character will have a past, and it’s the stuff in the past that makes them the characters that appear in your story. On a more complex scale, the more the reader knows about your characters, the more they will care about them, but like flashback, backstory should be handled properly in order for it to be effective. The reason it’s confused with flashback is because backstory – by its very definition – is the past, and if it is introduced into a story, it has to be handled correctly so as not to alter the forward momentum of the present story or interrupt the flow. Many writers make the mistake of introducing backstory from the opening chapter in the mistaken belief that the reader should know everything about the characters, their lives and their …

Storytelling Technique – Disguise and Deception

Many writers may not have heard about disguise and deception, but some genres rely on it and in particular, thriller, crime and mystery writers use this concept to build their stories. They use disguise and deception to trick the reader into believing something true within the story but is, in fact, a lie. It all boils down to manipulation. The writer has a number of ways to manipulate the reader. The truth is never always what it seems. Deception in the fictional world is all about good old-fashioned pretence. For example, a story might have the antagonist kill someone and then he lies to cover up the crime, but then he must conjure more lies and cover ever more deepening deceptions – he has to work hard to keep the deception going, thus creating tension and conflict. Or perhaps the protagonist must lie about who he really is – or disguise himself – because the truth could lead to all sorts of danger, until, of course, the deception is finally uncovered. These kinds of scenarios crea…

Stock Gestures in Fiction

It’s something so common in fiction that no writer is immune from this. But what are stock gestures and how do you ensure you don’t overuse them? Like real people, characters gesture when they act, speak or react. Writers use hand movements, facial expressions or slight body movements or ticks to add little flourishes to their descriptions and dialogue beats, which in turn, adds some depth to the characters when they’re speaking. The only drawback is that this often results is the use of repetitive and familiar movements – otherwise known as ‘stock gestures.’Just to give you an idea, these are the most common ones that can be found in just about every story: She raised an eyebrow. His face furrowed. He nodded. She tilted her head. He shrugged. She winked. She wrinkled her nose. He titled his head. These are just some of them. They are so familiar that writers don’t think twice when they use them. They are so overused that they have, like words and phrases, become clichéd. There’s no doubt that …

Keep Dialogue on the Right Path

Dialogue is one of the easiest things to write with fiction.If it’s realistic and pertinent to the story and set out properly, it shouldn’t give authors too much trouble. Many difficulties arise with dialogue because writers are not always sure how to set it out or punctuate it correctly, but that’s to do with formatting rather than anything technical. It’s when writers don’t pay attention to it that other problems occur. Dialogue has a number of important functions - it is there to impart necessary information, reveal characters and to move the story forward. It must always relate to the plot. When that doesn’t occur, dialogue can have the opposite affect – it doesn’t provide the reader with any information, it doesn’t move the story forward and doesn’t reveal characterisation. This slows the pace, distracts the reader and can prove boring. How does this happen? Expositional dialogue – or sometimes called an idiot lecture – is when one character explains to another character information…

Make Narrative Pertinent

Authors make some very common mistakes when they’re writing their stories.They write a lot of narrative, but they also write a lot of irrelevant narrative. Narrative, together with description and dialogue, is there to help tell the story – in sizeable, informative chunks that pushes the story along. Narrative is the telling part of the writing, while description is the showing. Writers use both indirect and direct exposition, but when they use unnecessary or irrelevant narrative, this has the opposite effect to what the writer wants – it doesn’t move the story forward, it doesn’t impart new information and doesn’t contain any story revelations to enhance the plot. The key word here is relevance. Things like subplot, themes and flashbacks should all be relevant to the present story. Narrative is no different; it must be pertinent – it needs to relate to the story arc. If it doesn’t, rework it until it does, or get rid of it. Narrative that has no place in the story will do the story no …

Dealing With Facts in Fiction

Fictional stories are just that – works of imagination and fantasy. Characters, situations, places and events are all made up. But even the most imaginative novels sometimes have to incorporate a sense of realism, and that means authors have to deal with facts. Facts in fiction may not seem a crucial component, but many authors omit even the basic facts. While this won’t affect the story, it will affect the reader’s enjoyment of it, because a sense of realism helps the reader to immerse themselves, it adds layers to the story. Getting to grips with facts – and what to include in your story – can be a minefield. Don’t include too many that it reads like a technical brochure, but conversely, don’t leave any facts out that the reader won’t be half as convinced as they would if you’d dropped in a few real snippets. There are a number of ways to approach how you use facts in storytelling. Often, writers use real places as their setting, but then everything else within the story is fictitious.…

Getting Into Your Character's Mindset

One important factor for creating really good characterisation is for writers to try to get into their character’s mindset. Part of creating characters that the reader will connect with and feel emotional towards is to make them so believable that they seem entirely real. And to do that, writers must feel and think like their characters – figuratively speaking they have to climb into their character’s heads and become these people. The more you truly understand your characters, the better your characterisation. It’s not just about knowing what their hair colour is or when and where they were born, but it’s how they are with other characters that the readers look for. What would the protagonist say, or do in any given situation?How would he or she act or react to people and the developing situations around them? What drives them? What do they want? Getting into your character’s head isn’t as complicated as it sounds. On the whole, writing largely depends on what we know and what we’ve exp…

Plot Structure v. Plot Points – What’s the difference?

The plot is the crux of your story – what it’s about, what it will involve and the characters it will affect over any given period of time. It’s the sequence of events that tells the story. Plot structure and plot points are different, however; they do different things. Plot Structure The way the story connects together and is laid out, the way it moves from point A to point B and so on, is plot structure.It’s a basic framework for how the characters, chapters, key scenes, themes, conflict and subplots will work.It also encapsulates the beginning, the middle and the end of the story. The structure is down to the writer how they construct it – what they want included, what they don’t and how they want it. There is no right or wrong way to structure plots (some keep it simple, others use complex diagrams and charts or mapping), as longs as the story that forms from it is logical. All plots follow the same pattern – an exciting beginning, escalating action, drama and conflict, a few twists …

The Importance of Consistency in Fiction Writing

Just how consistent is your story?
Fiction writing is about clarity and how not to confuse and befuddle your readers. That means writing a story that doesn’t detract or distract in any way, and that the choices you make for the story remain consistent.
Is it as perfect as it can be or are there inconsistencies hidden in the narrative?Sometimes it can be hard to spot these flaws because we’ve written and read our stories so much, we get a little ‘word blind’ from time to time. But inconsistencies are like little bugs that hide in plain sight and if you’re not careful, they can cause all manner of problems, especially if you need to get your manuscript as perfect as it can be for submission to agents and publishers.
Inconsistencies can be anything, which is why they are sometimes hard to spot. They can occur anywhere in narrative, dialogue and description, and it’s mainly at the read through and editing stages that they’re spotted and rooted out.
Consistent Characters
Your characters will ha…

A Distinctive Narrative Voice

This is a phrase sometimes found within publisher or agent rejections, which calls for the author to possess a more distinctive narrative voice. This can be difficult, however, especially when the author has already tried hard to develop a unique voice and style.
So, what does a distinctive narrative voice mean?
Narrative voice is sometimes mistaken for author’s voice, because people think they mean the same thing, but there’s a subtle difference between them. Narrative voice relates to the characteristic and unique way an author writes and conveys his or her words through characters (i.e. actions and dialogue), the narrative and the description, but it also refers to the point of view of the storytelling.
Author’s voice, on the other hand, refers the author’s own personality, style and tone. So although they are similar, they have different functions, and both authorial voice and narrative voice should be distinctive enough to stand out to make your writing interesting.
This is one thi…

Individual Writing Styles

The expression ‘writing style’ is found everywhere in writing, but what does it mean to have a writing style? And how do you recognise it within yourself? Writing style isn’t a complicated notion – the way we write, the tone, the way we describe and narrate, and also the way we convey what we mean to our readers, is a very individual thing. Just as each person has his or her own style of clothes, distinct things they like and dislike – the same is true for every writer. They have their own style of writing. We sometimes share similar styles with other authors, but it doesn’t mean they’re the same.Every writer is unique, so the way they write is different to the way you write. Writing styles vary – for example, some writers express themselves with gritty, raw narrative that jolts their readers.Other writers are very poetic or literary so their writing is softer and richer. Some styles are visceral and shocking, while some writers use romantic or very imaginative narrative. Many authors li…