Writing Tip: Research the Obvious

Photo © 2009 Thomas Heyman CC BY-NC 2.0
Click here for the original image.

Let’s say you’re writing a scene in your story, a scene that takes place in a beauty salon. Now, if you yourself have spent 20 years working in beauty salons, maybe you can write that scene off the top your head. But if you’re like most of us, you have only passing exposure to life in a beauty salon. And if you’re like me, you’ve never actually gone inside one.

The classic way out of this, of course, is to “write what you know.” So if you don’t know beauty salons, don’t write them…

Yeah, right. <sarcastic sneer and rolls eyes>

Don’t get me wrong: it’s nice when you can write in a field in which you have some expertise. But if you plan to write more than one or two stories, you’ll need to get into the details of many fields and situations, settings and cultures, in which you have little or no direct knowledge. To some extent, this is always true of a fiction author, because you’re writing events that never actually occurred, in places that may not exist, in cultures that you may have made up, using technology that may never be developed, in times that have not even happened yet. How, pray tell, in the nature of reality do they expect you to “write what you know”?!

The best that we can hope for is to get it as close to plausible as we can.
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What Is a #CharacterStory (and the 2 Laws of Character Action)

Photo © 2005 Sylvia Wrigley CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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I found this photo on Flickr. Entitled “The Problem with Character-Driven Stories,” the photo had an amusing story to go along with it.

As the story goes, there was a writer who was auditioning characters for her next novel. Characters lined up all the way out the writer’s waiting room and around the corner. And most of them, unfortunately, were about the same as all the others. Here’s an example that exemplifies what I’m talking about:

A character named Jean entered, sat down.

“Okay, then, Jean,” said the writer. “Tell me about yourself.”

“I’m 24. I have medium-long mousey-blonde hair. I drink vodka and Coke. I’m pretty boring.”

“And you’d like to be in a story?”

“Yes, please.”
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Monday Morning #CharacterStory Writing Prompts 2011/06/13

Photo © 2011 Lina Hayes CC BY-NC 2.0
Click here for the original photo.

  1. A photo: see the top of this post. (Click for a larger view.)
  2. A personality type: ESFJ.
  3. A need: the need for security.
  4. A quirk: Names his many tropical fish all after characters from his favorite novel.

Feel free to comment below with a link to your story if you use any of these prompts. (Or even if you don’t.) You can also submit your story to the Carnival of Storytelling, which is posted on Thursdays. And whatever you do…

Keep writing!
-TimK

On Plagiarists and “Real Writers”

Image © 2009 ViaMoi CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Click here for original image.

Holly Lisle in her writing tips newsletter today wrote about plagiarism and being a “real writer.”

I put “real writer” in quotes not for sarcastic effect. I put those words in quotes because those are the words Holly herself used, and I agree with them completely. She talks about some would-be aspiring authors, as it were, looking for an easy way to rip off 100,000 words of others’ work, run it through an automated computer program, and come out with a supposedly original story. These are not “real writers.”

Then Holly said, “People who live their lives always looking for ways to get their hands on things they have not earned never do anything worthwhile. Never create anything worthwhile.”
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Carnival of Storytelling – June 9, 2011

Welcome to the June 9, 2011 edition of Carnival of Storytelling.

Thanks to everyone who submitted a link at BlogCarnival.com. Please browse their blog posts, and share your own favorite posts from your own writing blog for next week’s carnival.

Enjoy!
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How to Write: Show and Tell

Photo © 2008 Jervis Salvador CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Click here for the original photo.

“Show; don’t tell.” Writers take great pride in passing on this standard advice. But what does it mean to “show” instead of “tell”? What does “show don’t tell” look like? And is that a hard-and-fast rule or just a rule of thumb? Are there any situations in which you should “tell,” not “show”?

If you’ve asked writers these questions, they may have left you more confused than when you started. But I don’t think the topic needs to be couched in secret knowledge and disclaimers of “It depends.” Here is my attempt to demystify the topic.
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Monday Morning #CharacterStory Writing Prompts 2011/06/06

Photo © 2010 Brandon Christopher Warren CC BY-NC 2.0
Click here for the original photo.

  1. A photo: top of this post, which the artist has entitled, “Please Don’t Go.” (Click for a larger view.) Of the photo he says, “This was a shot I took during Alyssa Barajas’ production of a music video for the song ‘Please Don’t Go’ by Barcelona. It was an amazing night, so many emotions and a ton of inspiration in the air. Cali Lowdermilk was the model for the shoot.”
  2. A personality type: ESTP.
  3. A need: the need for alone time.
  4. A quirk: Sleeps on a polyphasic schedule.

Feel free to comment below with a link to your story if you use any of these prompts. (Or even if you don’t.) You can also submit your story to the Carnival of Storytelling, which is posted on Thursdays. And whatever you do…

Keep writing!
-TimK

Carnival of Storytelling – June 2, 2011

Welcome to the June 2, 2011 edition of Carnival of Storytelling.

Thanks to everyone who submitted a link at BlogCarnival.com. Please browse their blog posts, and share your own favorite posts from your own writing blog for next week’s carnival.

Enjoy!
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The Novelist’s New Clothes?

Photo © 2006 Volker Neumann CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

They say that novelists write millions of manuscripts each year. I’m not sure what the exact number is. But I might believe any number between 1,000,000 and 25,000,000. Of these millions, less than 100,000 will make it to print.

That’s when the real fun starts. Of those, only a fraction will end up on the shelves of the local book superstore. And out of those, only a portion will sell enough copies to make any money. And out of those, only a handful of authors will be able to sustain a writing career. And those who do, they spend years working to push their books, for the privilege of handing over their copyrights to the publisher.

Given the odds, you are more likely to die from a lightning strike than to “make it” as a published author.

Why, then, does just about every writing book, resource, author, and coach out there promise to help you “get published”?

That’s like promising to help me “get naked, drenched in honey, and sit my bare butt down on an anthill.”
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Monday Morning #CharacterStory Writing Prompts 2011/05/30

Photo © 2011 Andres G CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Click here for the original photo.

It’s Memorial Day (here in the US). That’s not a story prompt, just a note. Here are today’s story prompts. Use one or all of them to inspire a story.

  1. A photo: top of this post, part of a group of photos the artist has entitled, “Mis 25: Pasando la franja etaria.” (Click for a larger view.)
  2. A personality type: INFP.
  3. A need: the need for community.
  4. A quirk: no matter how different she is, perceives commonality with everyone around her.

Feel free to comment below with a link to your story if you use any of these prompts. (Or even if you don’t.) You can also submit your story to the Carnival of Storytelling, which is posted on Thursdays. And whatever you do…

Keep writing!
-TimK