Writing Tips

Write Successful Fiction and Nonfiction Openers

Captivate Fiction & Nonfiction Readers from the Start
A lot rides on the opening, which determines whether—or not—readers will commit to your book. For this reason, it’s best to leave writing the first chapter in polished detail until you’ve completed the first draft.

Here’s some tips for ways to achieve a memorable opener:

Set up the situation at hand: including setting, time period and the ‘inciting’ incident that kicks off the story.
Introduce an intriguing protagonist.
Start on the cusp of action, or in the thick of it, with minimal back story. You need to know all the background details, but […]

Choosing a point of view and tense for writing

The Writer’s Stance: Point of View and Tense Options
Fiction and nonfiction writers often simply fall into a point of view (POV)—the narrator’s stance—on an intuitive whim, adopting either first-person (the I-position), second-person (addressing a ‘you’); or third-person (the all-knowing off-stage persona.) But at some point in the drafting stage it can be illuminating to test an alternate POV, to see if another approach might better serve your story.  Review your options:

First person restricts the piece to one set of feelings, and limits the action to that character. This POV, with its immediacy and intensity, gives readers access to the […]

Writers Need to Know How Stories Impact Our Brains

How Stories Impact Our Brains
Crafting a memorable fiction or nonfiction story requires compelling characters with unmet desires, specific and sensory details that fire the imagination, tension, setbacks, a tangible setting, and a delivery with universal appeal. It also requires an understanding of how stories impact the human brain.

Neuroscientists have found that audiences attending a power point presentation experience minimal brain activity. Word recognition centers are activated—and not much more. But when the drama of a well-crafted story unfolds—complete with sensory details—the full frontal cortex lights up. Participants are right there with Eve, tasting that juicy, red cheeked apple. And […]

Writing Scenes in Fiction and Nonfiction

Scene Writing in Fiction & Nonfiction
A scene unfolds in the moment, dropping readers into the thick of a critical interaction or experience. Something important takes place and if there’s dialogue, it reveals characters’ strengths, weaknesses, and goals. There’s sure to be conflict, and something changes, perhaps irrevocably.
Scenes Rely on ‘Showing’ 
The old writerly adage “show, don’t tell” is vital here. Let readers see, hear, taste, touch and smell things. Paint the setting vividly, to provide context; and reveal characters’ personalities and dynamics through their actions, as well as their words.

There’s usually tension, which escalates as the scene unfolds, and […]

When and How Should the Nonfiction Writer Offer Insights

When Should the Nonfiction Author Interrupt a Story to Offer Insights?
Readers of nonfiction want glimmers of author interpretation, either within an underlying narrator’s ‘voice’, or overtly in first-person—but doing so in my current piece, a history of a privately-owned 694-acre island, is difficult. Lots of ‘facts’ have been lost and I’m not comfortable about speculating—though I do have educated guesses. Instead I left readers to their own conclusions in a first draft that chronicles the stories of aboriginal people, European royalty, an heiress, and a murder victim.

But reviewers of that draft have wanted more. “You write the story without […]

Tips for organizing research materials

Tips for Organizing Research Material for a Nonfiction Writing Project
Nonfiction projects, whether it’s a memoir, an essay about a natural disaster, or a community history, are backed by research. For memoir there are clippings, journals and contemporary accounts. The essay involves interviews; as does the history, along with archival records. And each of those research forays adds to a growing stack of digital and paper documents.
Techniques for Creating Order Out of Chaos

For many writers this log jam of details becomes a troublesome impasse. Here’s some techniques for organizing that paper stack, based upon my current history project. Twin Islands, […]

When is a draft manuscript ready for review?

When is a draft manuscript ready for feedback?
Writers ache to share their literary darlings with others, but therein lurks danger. To the writer, those first few chapters—or even a first full draft—are loaded with the sparkle of a rough-cut gem. But that’s not how an unskilled test reader will perceive it. Much of its strengths still remain in the writer’s imagination, in what Ann Lamott calls The Shitty First Draft, in her witty essay of that title. What will stand out like inflamed scars to a spouse or friend are grammar issues, a bumpy story flow, and characters lacking […]

Publishing a memoir may require buy-in from others

Is Consent Needed from Others for Personal Writing ?
Many personal writing projects get shelved at the concept stage because of fears about how others portrayed might respond. What’s lost is not just a writer’s search for personal meaning, but insights for others too—in that premature decision. Premature, says writing instructor Annette Yourk, because the time to consider others is years down the road, after a second, or even a third, draft is complete. Lots of things will change in the process. You’ll cut some stories (and some people) during redrafting, and one of your subjects may no longer be […]

The opening of both fiction and nonfiction requires skillful crafting.

The Complex Craft of the Opening Paragraph in Fiction & Nonfiction 
The first paragraph of a piece of writing must be impeccably crafted. And that’s just the start of what’s required to draw readers in. A structure and purpose should be evident, promising revelations ahead. Period and place is established to ground readers in the situation. Tension, which may be as simple as an underlying narrator’s need to know why, simmers just below the surface—and there are hints of more ahead.

And that’s not all. Whether readers know it or not, they seek connection with a central character from the outset, […]

Choose Words that Breath Life Into Writing

Specific Details Fully Engage Readers’ Minds
Deliver need-to-know background details at a rapid clip, but for transformative drama slow the pace and inject life with the sparkle of sensory and specific details. This is the passage readers will remember years later because it lit up the frontal cortex of their brains, where experiences are processed.

Show (rather than simply tell) fiction and nonfiction readers what a character experienced as he paddled up a river.  Be specific. It wasn’t just any river. It was the Courtenay River on the BC coast in the fall of 1862, when the water was alive with the […]