story craft #19 Weight in a Name

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You’ve probably heard of the callback, a technique comedians use to get fresh mileage out of an old joke, often with exponentially uproarious results. Here’s a callback in Seinfeld: Seinfeld did these a lot, in this case it was a callback and a kind of catch phrase linking back to a previous episode, that when repeated multiple times, only gets …

story craft #17 Thin vs. Fat Stories

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What is the right balance of thin vs. fat in a fantasy or sf story? I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. I’ve had a few story sales to the pro and semi-pro markets now (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, Ideomancer, etc..), plus dozens of rejections, and been trying to deconstruct the patterns that work. I think I’ve found the/a …

story craft #16 Flash-forward Openings

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What do you think about stories that open with flash-forwards? Consider the movie Fight Club. Ed Norton brandishes a gun and conducts a bizarre conversation with Brad Pitt. They are in a dimly lit skyscraper looking out over a city’s night skyline. We are totally engaged and intrigued. What the F is going on? Who are these guys, and why …

story craft #15 Acts of Invention

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26. That’s how many acts of invention a story needs. We can look at any story, any story that is a story, at least, and reel them off. Without fail, they’ll be there. They are all discreet. They all require a new idea, or the development of an old idea into a new idea. They are the ingredients in the …

story craft #14 How Not to Threat

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There’s a killer on the loose. He killed five people already. He cuts them to pieces and eats them- yuck. You get home, and the door’s been forced. There’s blood on the floor. Your heart yammers. He’s there, you know it. You round the hallway for the bedroom, and he leaps out, wielding a hatchet, wearing somebody else’s face. You …

story craft #13 Going Hot

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Going hot is a term Orson Scott Card uses (in his book Characters and Viewpoint) to describe entering a character’s stream of consciousness. We go into their head and work through their motivations and drives alongside them. It’s something I’m dealing with a lot now in the (third?) redraft of my fantasy book Dawn Rising, learning how to add it …

story craft #12 Kill All Wimps

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I`m over the first hurdle with Dawn, into the second half of the first book*, and find myself dealing with a spate of wimps. My characters are so shocked by what happened in the first half that they stand around gawping, lost in self-pity, filled with indecision. They don`t know what to do and don`t know how to do it. …

story craft #11 Cover Letter Mistakes

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This week I went to the Tokyo Writer’s Workshop for the first time in years. I took with me 8 pages of the first Dawn book, plus its cover letter to agents, hoping to get advice on how to make both more eye-catching and intriguing. The feedback I got was incredibly valuable, and pretty darn surprising. In short, they really …

story craft #10 Ethics of Plagiarism

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Recently I’ve been looking to borrow quotes. None of the sources are from authors still living, indeed most of the people I’m looking to borrow from have been dead for hundreds if not thousands of years. They include passages from the Book of Revelations (up there with Ecclesiastes as my favorite Bible book), quotes from ancient translated Indian caste law, …

story craft #9 Completion Euphoria

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I just wrote the final scene for the first part of the first Dawn book, and I’m feeling euphoric. I want everybody to read it right now and be moved! It may only be redraft, but its a complete redraft, a ground-up re-write that I’m feeling very good about. It follows the principles I talked about in Writing Blog #1 …

story craft #8 Tapestry Narratives

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I`m a fan of convoluted narrative styles. I like stories that are chopped up and remixed, especially those chopped and remixed on the basis of character. LOST did this over 6 seasons, Magnolia did it in a 3-hour movie, Orson Scott Card did it between Ender`s Game and Ender`s shadow, David Gemmell did it across fantasy eras. The effect is …

story craft #7 The Engine of Fiction

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Everybody knows, it`s about conflict. Without conflict a story has no reason to be, it`s just a pretty picture, a post-card. I think about this a lot with regard to the Dawn book I`m working on. I went to a writing group on Sunday and took along three different potential opening scenes. They each belong to three separate drafts, and …

story craft #6 Building the Maze

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I was writing several scenes (of my first Dawn book) set in a graveyard recently, trying to get across the wealth and variety of gravestone types within it, but not really succeeding. I got frustrated and disappointed. If I couldn`t show-case the bizarre variety of an ancient and storied graveyard, how could I expect to sell people on a whole fantasy world?

story craft #5 Make Them Real

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I just saw the movie Kickass, and loved it. Of all the superhero movies out there, it was the one that most made me actually get up on the edge of my seat as the main guy goes into battle. He seems real, and it seems like he could get hurt. He of course does, quite a lot.
At the same time, you`ve got Hit Girl bouncing around like your traditional super hero, just about impervious to damage, killing dudes in their slews. The film-makers get to have their cake and eat it too.

How is it done?