Friday, April 15, 2011

5 Fatal Setting Mistakes

Of all the story elements, there is one that is often overlooked, ignored, downplayed, forgotten about, mistreated, degraded and discredited.

It also happens to be the hidden rocket-fuel to launch your book to bestseller status.

The Hidden Powerhouse of Setting

Think about it: setting frames, shapes and backdrops the action in your story. Without setting you have a time-less, place-less series of actions. Imagine a movie without scenery, a blank canvas upon which characters interact. Setting is the vehicle that moves, highlights, and focuses action, that brings meaning, that adds realism, and that draws the reader into the fictional world of your novel.

The 5 Fatal Mistakes

  1. Choosing settings at random. Some authors take the "Quick and Easy" approach to setting. They simply use the first setting that comes to mind, or use the city they live in as a default setting for every novel. This approach is actually the "Quick and Easy" way to rejection and floundering in the wasteland of the unpublished author. This fatal flaw is often revealed when the setting either distracts from the story, or doesn't add anything to it. When choosing a setting, be as selective as choosing a life partner. Ask many questions of your potential setting, challenge it, see how it feels in the story, test it out and be extra picky. When choosing the setting for your story, or for an individual scene, consider how the setting relates to character, plot, conflict, theme, symbolism and the overall story goal or question.
  2. Only Using Setting in One Way. The second common fatal flaw is a temptation even for the most practiced writer. To be sure, this flaw is a step up from the first, but not very far. In this flaw, the author carefully selects a setting that somehow adds to the story - but only in a single, limited way. Instead of pumping the setting for all its worth, the author parks the setting after it has been used only once. To avoid this fatal flaw, try to find at least three ways to use the setting in your story. Consider how your setting can reveal something about the characters that live in it. Ask yourself how your setting can challenge the characters. Perhaps your setting can trap the characters and force them to stay in the narrative fight of your story. The possibilities are endless. Repeat this process with each setting in your story, as well as the overall setting.
  3. Not establishing setting early enough in the story or scene. If you wait too long to describe setting, you risk reader confusion, and confusion is an easy transition to closing your book and never coming back. Readers want to be mystified and intrigued, not confused. There is a difference. A significant one. Confusion is often the result of a writer poorly guiding readers through the story with few, if any, details. The balance of which details to reveal and which to withhold separates novices from pros. Read bestselling novels and pay attention to how they handle this important topic of writing. You'll soon discover a pattern that works for you. A good rule of thumb is to give your reader at least three details about setting in the first few paragraphs of a story or scene. The earlier usually the better. Once a reader is grounded in the "place" and "time" of a story, they are free to release their imagination to your loving care.
  4. Dumping Setting on Readers all at once. This fourth fatal flaw is really the opposite extreme of fatal flaw number three. In an effort to reveal setting, some authors spend pages cataloging every nuance and pinpoint of light in a their setting. This "setting dump" is an easy way to alienate, frustrate and bore readers. Boredom is confusion's uglier cousin, and both lead to the reader walking away - sometimes for good. Instead of dumping all the setting details in at once, take a more patient (and longer) approach of dribbling details in here and there, just enough to fend off confusion, but not enough to make readers think your story suddenly turned into a thesis on architecture. Setting should be subtlety felt, but not overtly noticed.
  5. Not Evoking Emotion with Settings. Settings in bestsellers heighten emotion and deepen feelings, both for the characters in the story and the readers, too. This fatal flaw leaves readers disappointed, even if they don't know why. Committing this fatal flaw is akin to fighting with swords when an arsenal of guns hang unused on the wall. Why not use the firepower you have available to you? Setting underscores emotion when both the conflict in the scene and the setting both elicit the same type of feelings (i.e., two soldiers argue during a firefight or an abandoned child is lost in the woods at night).

Knowing these fatal flaws, and avoiding them in your fiction, puts you on the path to bestsellerdom.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Touch Secrets of Bestselling Writers

Bestselling Authors and Touch

What if you uncovered how bestselling authors view touch differently, approach touch differently, and apply touch differently than unpublished and even mid-list authors? What if you could pull back the veil on this set of powerful sensory secrets?

Now you can.

How Bestselling Authors View Touch

Bestselling authors view touch as a visceral portal to a reader's imagination, a kaleidoscope of kinesthetic opportunities to reveal character traits, relationships and changes in the story.

How Bestselling Authors Approach Touch

Bestselling authors not only view touch differently, they approach the sense of touch differently in the story. To a bestselling writer, touch offers a playground of opportunities. Touch is a versatile sense that can be engaged in a variety of ways in stories. Touch is a powerful scene builder and story changer. Bestselling authors know this and, therefore, approach touch with thought and care and much deliberation.

How Bestselling Authors Apply Touch

Here we get to the meat of the article, where theoretical understandings of touch meet the written page. Bestselling authors apply touch in a plethora of ways in the story to accomplish multiple story goals.

Touch reveals character traits.
Bestselling authors use touch to reveal information about a character. Instead of simply telling the readers that "Joe loves his son" we see Joe hugging his son and teaching his son how to hit a baseball. We learn about the father, Joe, through the way he physicaly touches his son. In another story, we may learn that a character is aggressive and abusive when he or she threatens, grabs, pulls, or slaps another character. Touch helps us "show not tell" who characters are in the story.

How does the main character in your current story touch others? What does that reveal about him or her? Somewhere in your story, find a place where you reveal a character trait through touch.

Touch distinguishes characters. The way someone touches others can distinguish one character from another. For example, one character may be very "touchy feely" and always be touching others. Another character may be standoffish and hardly touch anyone at all.

How do different characters in your story touch others? Do they all touch people the same? How can you make the differences even more clear?

Touch reveals character relationships. By watching how couples touch (or don't touch) we learn how close or distant they feel to each other. Think about it. Characters who hold hands, hug and kiss each other affectionately probably have a close, meaningful relationship. Couples that don't look at each other, who stand far apart, and who don't touch probably are in serious trouble.

How do the characters touch each other in your story? What does that say about them? How can you more clearly reveal relationships through touch? Try to come up with five times in your story where touch speaks to character relationships.

Touch reveals relationship changes.
As people grow closer emotionally, they tend to also grow closer physically. They touch more frequently and more lovingly. Bestselling authors often show relationships changing by how touch changes over the course of the story.

How does touch change in your story? Does the way two people in love change in your story? (grow closer or farther apart)

Touch reveals character change.
Bestselling authors also apply touch to show a character arc in full swing, such as when a cold-blooded killer first slashes his way through a upper-class neighborhood, then eventually hesitates before he kills, and finally leaves a survivor.

How can you use touch to show how a character changes in your story? Try to insert three (or more) paragraphs or entire scenes in your story where the way your characters touch others communicates internal personality change.

Extra Tips on Touch

1. The way a character touches any object (i.e., washes a car, punches the wall) broadcasts internal feelings about the object, or emotions in general
2. Characters can move from positive to negative or from negative to positive touch
3. Characters may touch differently in differently situations (i.e., at the gym, at home, at the office, etc).
4. Figure out what your character would never touch and then force him or her to touch it in the story.