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The Wicked Writing Blog

Welcome to the home of writing award ideas and practical advice for story contest success. Fun and sheer tomfoolery are never far away. Feel free to add your comments. (To comment on a post, or see the comments there, simply click on its title.)


Six Fast Ways To Sharpen Your Stories

October 17, 2014

Have you ever been reading a novel when suddenly the author drops in a slab of background or technical information? And it knocks you right out of the story? Or maybe he/she tries to sneak in some info via dialogue, only it's really a monologue in disguise and… a character lectures us for half a page?

How can you fix that? Ace copy editor Jodie Renner reveals six fast ways we can sharpen our stories - while still dropping in all the information that the reader really needs.

Modern fiction readers won't stand for heavy-handed, clunky ‘information dumps’.

We want to be swept away by a compelling story. We don’t want to be stopped and filled in on a topic. It not only jars us out of the story, it also slows down the pace and bores us. If readers want to find out more about a subject, they can do that through internet searches.

Savvy authors know that we choose fiction to be entertained.

Okay, maybe yo
u’re writing historical sagas like those of James Michener - or New York or London by Edward Rutherfurd. Their readers welcome background info on historically relevant times and locations. But if you’re not? Fiction is not the place for it.

Even if you are writing a saga, it's best to include the info in a natural, character-specific way, so it doesn’t come across like a history textbook. (How do you do that? See below!)

For the same reasons, a novel is not the place to get on your soapbox about a topic that's dear to your heart or makes your blood boil. Readers will feel annoyed, patronized or manipulated. They’re reading your story to be entertained - not indoctrinated.

Four reasons why an information dump is a really, really bad idea.

Here’s why most readers of contemporary fiction (folk like you and me) don't like having their story interrupted by author explanations:
  • It takes them out of the character’s viewpoint, so the illusion of being right there in the story is shattered.
  • It creates a jarring interruption to the story line, which you - the author - then have to re-establish, to hook your readers back in.
  • Readers may feel you’re lecturing or preaching to them. That’s impertinent!
  • And, of course, it’s distracting, annoying, and often boring.   
But what about info that is essential or relevant to your story?

Here are six ways to avoid an information dump.

These ‘pro’ techniques will help you to slip in vital information without interrupting the narrative flow. Try them and see:
  • Your viewpoint character has to recall some critical information she once knew, and works to remember or find it.
  • Your protagonist asks another character (or several) to fill him in on some info he’s fuzzy on. (BTW: be sure this happens in a conversational way, and keep that transfer of information as brief as possible.)
  • Your protagonist is deliberately researching critical information on the computer or in the library. Show the reader what she learns by means of her thoughts or dialogue - but only what’s essential for the plotline. And show her emotional reaction to what she’s learned. How will that new info change the plot line - or her life?
  • Your character is interviewing people to solve a problem. Show some of that interview in real time, with dialogue.
  • She’s reading the newspaper or watching the news or other TV show, where she learns some new information on a subject.
  • Use flashbacks to give us information in depth - but animate them in a dramatic way, and, to enhance the drama, present them as if they’re happening at the present moment.   
And of course, don’t let your characters lecture or pontificate in their dialogue, either.

It’s just not natural, and will bore the readers just as much as an author aside or intrusion.

In real life, no one likes to be lectured to in a casual conversation. Replace long monologues of information with questions and answers or a lively discussion, and keep the dialogue relevant to the scene question.

Here’s a key tip.

Be sure to insert some tension in that give-and-take. Have your characters argue a little (or a lot) about the facts or their significance.

When pro authors need to give their readers some background or essential information, they work it in as they go along, in natural, brief, interesting ways, unobtrusively - with lots of interaction plus drama or out-and-out conflict.

Above all, ask yourself the question: do you really need to impart that information? Is it (truly) critical to your story? If readers forget all about it one page later, does it matter? Will it affect their enjoyment of the story?

Leave the lectures for the classroom, articles, or manuals. The goal of fiction is to entertain!

Readers, what are your thoughts on this. Do you agree? Or disagree? And why? Writers, what techniques have you used successfully to impart information to your readers without interrupting the narrative flow? Please leave a comment below and share your ideas. Every comment will get a fast, helpful - and even erudite - response!

Besides publishing her popular craft-of-writing books under the series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction, the award-winning Fire up Your Fiction and Writing a Killer Thriller (and the upcoming Captivate Your Readers), plus her just-out, handy, clickable e-resource, Spelling on the Go, Jodie Renner is a sought-after freelance fiction editor and author of numerous blog posts on writing captivating fiction.

Find Jodie at her author site, on Facebook and Twitter.

Writers' Block? How To Turn It Into Story Gold!

October 10, 2014

Remember writer’s block? It afflicts every story writer sooner or later. Or does it? Not if we learn this simple way to bypass it entirely - using a faculty we all have but rarely use. Memory expert Anthony Metivier shows us how to make that wretched ‘blank page’ syndrome a thing of the past - and craft stories that almost write themselves.

What? You still believe in Writer's Block?

Well, okay …

It's understandable. Anything spelled with capital letters must be true. Except ...

When it...

Continue reading...

How To Power Your Life And Achieve Your Goals - By Writing Stories

October 3, 2014

When we write a story or novel, we're writing about ourselves. Aren't we? However well we disguise our fiction. But how can we use that fact to change our lives, and for the better? In this provocative guest post, novelist and writing coach Cathy Yardley suggests that our story is the journey of our own life. And as we travel through our fiction, we can enhance our life as well.

The heart of every character-driven novel is its protagonist - that one person who drives the story. As writer...

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How To Sell Your Story: The Zombie Ice-Cream Wagon Gambit

September 26, 2014

You’ve tweeted and blogged and networked till you’re blue in the face but you still can’t get people to read your stories. What do you do? Author Nigel da Silva suggests you slap yourself around the head, gently - and take a radically new approach.

Do you agree with his ideas? Or not? Please leave a comment!

One rainy afternoon I was watching a Clint Eastwood movie  - Magnum Force I think it was. After the umpteenth gun fight, the last body has slumped to the ground and the explosi...

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How To Open Your Story: Three Dynamic Ways

September 19, 2014

‘My life began the day I shot my psychiatrist and started an illicit relationship with the bishop’s tortoise.’

Are you still with me? Of course, you are. A story that opens with an intriguing mystery (let's call it the Tortoise Trick), is a story that gets read. And we don’t have a second chance. The first paragraph is the advertisement for our story.

Imagine if an advertiser started with his name, the dimensions of his factory and the biography of his parents. Would we buy his p...

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Writing Rules: Should You Ignore Them?

September 12, 2014

There’s only one thing wrong with the Great Rules of writing. They don’t work. Or so suggests author Reen Collett. In this provocative guest post, she argues that we all pay too much attention to the ‘rules’ of writing, at the expense of our writing. Do you agree or disagree? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Who was that person who first said "Rules are made to be broken"? She can come right over here so I can shake her hand!

We novice writers are unnecessarily cowed...

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How to turn a mid-book crisis into a writing triumph

September 6, 2014

Have you ever faced a mid-book crisis? You’re halfway through writing a story and you realize it’s going nowhere. So how do you rescue it? Writing coach Renee Vaughn reveals a simple secret for turning a so-so story into a literary classic - but it’s a secret you might not expect!

It happens to the best of us. Has it happened to you?

What starts as a great idea for a book with an intriguing plot full of complex characters, lyrical language, tantalizing twists and incredible imagery ...

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John Yeoman

Dr John Yeoman, MA Oxon, MPhil, PhD Creative Writing, FSRS*  is a UK university tutor in the short story. He has 42 years experience as a successful commercial writer, newspaper editor and one-time chairman of a major PR consultancy.

He has published innumerable works of humour, some intended to be humorous.

* Founder, the Society for the Rehabilitation of the Semi-colon