Note: This is the sixth of six parts. Click here to read from the beginning.
By Kayla Fontaine
In “Liars, Criminals, and Lovers: The World of the Story/Fiction 101,” author Lisa C. Taylor encouraged writers to seek out the flaws in their characters and embrace them, emphasizing that patience is a critical part of writing a story.
She had many tips, in fact, for us would-be writers in the audience. Here are some of her pointers:
- Make each character’s voice distinctive.
- Add in a gesture, habit or quirk to help your characters jump off the page.
- Read widely—everything from young adult to poetry to thriller to character-driven fiction. Reading improves your writing.
- Fix your stories in a place and time you know or have researched.
- Edit out clichés, unless your character speaks that way.
- Try to avoid the overuse of adjectives and adverbs that can weigh down a story.
- Don’t be afraid of leaps, risks and unlikeable characters.
- Develop a writing discipline—even if it is 10 minutes a day.
Lisa stressed that character development is crucial to writing a good piece of fiction: random circumstances are what generally inspire a good story, and thus the urge to tell them. She suggested these random circumstances that could inspire a story or a writing exercise:
- A character receives a plane ticket in the mail
- A character is the only witness to a crime
- A character finds out they were adopted
- A character is mistaken for someone else (secret agent, celebrity, royalty…)
Writing a good story takes a little more than just a good circumstance for your character to fall into, however, and the way the story is told is the means to how the reader will ultimately react.
Lisa said a few good things to keep in mind while writing are the word choices made (conveying attitude), the white space (what is left unsaid), the sound, voice, or tone that is implied, and the syntax and word order. It’s a lot to consider, but nevertheless significant to a brilliant piece of written work.
According to Lisa, good writing often has the following:
- Imagery—words that make you visualize something.
- Metaphor—comparing one thing to another—i.e. my grief is buried within me like the earth under a layer of permafrost.
- Irony—will your piece have irony? Is it effective?
- How do you pace your fiction or nonfiction?
- Are there musical elements like assonance (like vowel sounds) or consonance (like consonant sounds)?
- List the levels of your story—literal meaning, figurative meaning (text or subtext in fiction), use of pacing, action, dialogue, resolution, and conflict.