How to Use Comedy and Tragedy for a One-Two Punch

In his “Letter to a Young, Talented Author,” dramatist William Saroyan offers this advice: Remember to be good-humored. Remember to be generous. And remember that in the midst of that which is most tragic, there is always the comic, and in the midst of that which is most evil, there is always much good. Nothing […]

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How to Keep the Wrong Subplots From Sinking Your Story

Subplots are vital for many reasons. They can deepen your story’s plot and theme. They can provide contrast and resonance for the main plot. And they can give your characters and their world a feeling of verisimilitude. The wrong subplots, however, can water down your plot with parenthetical information. Writers must realize not every moment […]

How Inception Raises Its Stakes

In order to be good to their readers, authors have to be pretty nasty to their characters. An epigrammatic writing prompt once suggested: Think of the worst thing that could happen to your character. Then think of 10 ways to make it worse. That is how you up the stakes—by presenting your characters with hefty odds […]

6 Do’s and Don’ts of Creating Mystery in Your Novel

Creating mystery in your novel is important in every type of story, not just mysteries and suspense. The last time you stayed up into the wee hours of the morning, what was it that transformed your normally practical, serene self into an obsessive page-turning maniac? I’m willing to bet this month’s royalties it was something […]

How to Spot and Leave Out the Parts That Bore Readers

Skipping the parts that bore readers should be a no-brainer. And yet this a surprisingly common pitfall. Why? To some extent, writers struggle with know what will bore readers—mostly, because we don’t all agree on what is boring. Lengthy battle scenes turn some readers off, long descriptions are dreaded by most, and I even ran across one reader […]

Take Full Advantage of Your Story’s Premise

How many times have you been thrilled by a book’s amazing plot idea—only to be disappointed because the author never took advantage of the full potential of his story’s premise? Coming up with plot ideas? Easy. Setting the characters in motion? Also easy. What’s also regrettably easy, however, is watching helplessly (and sometimes obliviously) as the […]

The Top Trick for Heightening Story Suspense

Giving your characters a deadline—and suitably disagreeable consequences if they fail to meet it—ups the ante and keeps readers glued to your story suspense. Even better, it’s a super-easy trick to apply to your story! Your hero’s goal is what shapes your story. Without something he needs or wants, your hero just an interesting personality […]

Plot vs. Character: Which Is More Important?

Authors debate plot vs. character, as if the two were gladiators, waging war on the sands of the Coliseum in some winner-take-all death battle. Both sides of the debate claim a definitive superiority for their chosen gladiator, and for the most part, the battle splits nicely down the lines of literary and commercial fiction, the […]

6 Things Your Characters Want–and 4 Ways to Keep Them Frustrated

We authors are pretty mean folk. Here we are, creating characters whom we love almost as much as our family and friends–and yet every day, on every page, we make them suffer. We figure out what characters want and then refuse to give it to them. Actually, truth be known, we kind of enjoy making […]

Three Easy Ways You've Never Thought of to Keep Track of Time in Your Novel

Three Easy Ways You’ve Never Thought of to Keep Track of Time in Your Novel

Do you know, without looking, how much time your novel covers? If the question has just pushed you into the predicament of either scrunching up your face or staring at the ceiling in an effort to tally up your various scenes and arrive a reasonable figure of days, then the answer is probably an unqualified, […]