Quick Q & A on Craft


I have fallen super behind on questions and I apologize for that. Today, we’re discussing pacing, sentence structure and craft mechanics – all things on craft. I’ll be running a few of these in the future on a variety of topics just so that I can answer some things quickly and get to more questions than just one or two a day. 

Anonymous asked: “I tend to have trouble writing scenes where there’s a lot of action. I don’t know how to vary my sentence structure. Do you have any tips for this?”

The only way I know of to naturally break out of the habit is to get into the right mindset. I try to read a bit before I start writing, either from what I’d written previously, or from a book. Reading something and seeing an example of what you’re striving for at least in my experience is the best way to break the habit.

 Anonymous asked: “Do you have any tips on pacing? I don’t want my story to go too slow but I also don’t want it to go too fast, you feel?”

Pacing I think is something you figure out while editing – or at least that’s how I figure it out anyway. While reading over your work, you’ll get a sense of how fast scenes are moving. When I’m writing, I’m too close to the project to get any sense of timing. It takes stepping back and acting as a reader to figure that out. You might have a scene that felt slow while writing, but once you go back and read it, it’s really not so slow-moving at all – or at least, that’s a frequent occurrence for me. Sometimes too, you can work on pacing with a critique partner or beta reader. They will be able to tell you which scenes felt long or which scenes moved too quickly. 

Anonymous asked: “Unlike the anon asking about dialogue, I am the opposite, I focus too much on the thoughts going inside the characters head, and I struggle with the dialogue! Is it okay to focus on this side more, and describe emotions and thoughts in detail? What is the right balance?”

Some writers don’t like dialogue and that’s okay. Hemingway was great with dialogue and known for it, while other writers like Lovecraft, not so much. Make your stories play to your strengths. If you’re great with introspection, use it. It doesn’t mean that you can’t write dialogue at all if you’re self-conscious – it would be really hard in my opinion to write a whole story without dialogue. But there are stories that don’t have a ton of it and they don’t need dialogue. I say, don’t shy away from trying your best, but also, do what you do best. 

Anonymous asked: “Do you have any tips for writing story summaries without giving the whole plot away?”

I was told that the first half of the book is fair game. I’m currently reading Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese and the main characters implied from the back summary have only just been born. I’m 150 pages in – in context, it’s over 600 pages. 

The summary should either suggest the premise or show the inciting incident that kicks off the story. It shows conflict and builds intrigue. If you’re struggling with them, I suggest going to a bookstore (or even just Goodreads). Read the summaries of books you’ve read and read the summaries of books you haven’t read. What are they pulling off? What’s cool about these summaries? Try to break it down to basic components: characters, setting, conflict – how do those things appear in the summary? 

Anonymous asked: “When I get ideas, I know what it’s going to be about, but the plot, what actually happens and causes the conflicts, is blank. Example: dreams become real, and they start to predict your future. But what actually happens? What does this character start to dream about? What is the cause of this and does it need to be stopped? Coming up with ideas like this drives my motivation best, and helps me focus on originality and avoiding clichés. How do I decide on themes and genres?”

I’m not actually sure what’s being asked here. 

If you want to know about genre, it’s a marketing tool. It’s more for readers than writers. In general, even when your book crosses genre lines, it probably fits into one better than others. There are certain expectations with a genre. Picking your genre is picking your intended audience. Most of the time, first-time authors get their genre wrong when labeling it themselves, unless it’s obvious like YA Fantasy or a very particular niche. If you intend to publish through the traditional route, you likely will have some help figuring out what genre you’re writing in. I say just try your best to get it right. An agent will look at it and know what genre it is in about ten seconds anyway. Most mistakes come in around literary fiction. I say don’t worry about genre. It’s a label. Focus on telling the best story you can. 

Theme is even easier. I might be getting this wrong, because – forgive me – it’s been a few years since I’ve even thought about theme, but theme is just kind of what a story’s about, isn’t it? I found this page helpful as a refresher. I don’t think anyone favors one theme over another, so write the story you’re passionate about. 

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