20 Things I've Learned by James Dasher

Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Okay. So I've been a slacker about posting my notes, but I've repented and am striving to do better. Below follows, almost word for word, the handout James gave us. (Be forewarned, I'm not going to do a big edit on this. It's too long. So if you cannot abide a misplaced modifier, move on).

Differentiate your characters.
  • know their background
  • Think of something horrible that happened in their past
  • Something that makes them happy when they remember it
  • Give them a dirty secret
  • Make sure all your main characters don't sound exactly the same

Plot--at least a little

  • I challenge you to know how it bends before you begin. It will give you a destination to work toward. This doesn't mean you have to be stagnant. You can change whatever you want, whenever you want but start with a path.

Use all five senses in description

  • Don't forget smells

Avoid one-dimensional villains

  • create empathy for them
  • make the reader feel somewhat guilty for hating the villain

Try to eliminate as much of these as possible:

  • That (Bad=He knew that he needed to kill her. Good=He knew he needed to kill her.)
  • Was xx-ing (Bad=He was standing in the road. Good=He stood in the road.)
  • Would (Bad=Every few seconds, a blade would pop our of the robot's chest. Good=Every few seconds, a blade popped out of the robot's chest.)
  • Seem (Bad=Everything about him seemed to be hard and cold. Good=Everything about him was hard and cold)
  • Same words close together (word echos).

Semicolons. I love semicolons! (This is where James and I differ. For the most part, I like unadorned sentences.)

  • Okay= His back struck a hard metal wall. He slid along it until he hit the corner of the room.
  • Better=His back struck a hard metal wall; he slid along it until he hit the corner of the room.

Chapter structure can do wonders

  • Short, but not too short. My rule of thumb: 1500-2500
  • Intriguing endings but don't pull cheap tricks.
  • Bad=She opened the door and gasped
  • Good=She opened the door and gasped. There lying in a pool of dark liquid, sat a lumpy bag with her name scrawled across the front.

First lines. You must have an awesome first line and first page.

Set writing goals and track yourself. Be nerdy about it.

Dialogue. Read it out loud. Have writing groups read it. Make sure it sounds natural and true to each individual character. Use dialects if it makes sense. Maybe a character has a quirky word or phrase or way of speaking. But no matter what, your dialogue must be strong

Take your time. Develop things. Describe things. Give lots of internal thoughts. Envelop the reader in a journey, not just a step by step narrative.

Be original in your similes and metaphors, and use lots of them. As you go through the day, look for things that make an impression, writ them down, the use them in your writing.

Read like crazy--don't let writing lessen your reading time, AT ALL. I've learned more from reading Stephen King than any class or workshop I've ever taken.

Do research or people will catch your mistakes.

Story. It's all about story. Make it compelling, make it exciting, make it terrifying, make it full of conflict. Have your characters suffer sacrifices before they win. Have surprises and plot twists. The writing will come and should always improve. But first and foremost, make sure it's an awesome story.

BE creative in how your mysteries evolve. Even simple events and revelations can be tweaked to turn into a mini mysteries that intrigue the reader.

Avoid cliches like the plague (get it?). Don't write a book about a farm boys in a fantasy land trying to obtain a magical object to save the kingdom. If not exactly an original idea, at least put a new twist on it.

Rewrite. It takes work. A first draft is not publishable. Neither is the second. Probably not the third. Devote yourself to working hard on the revisions.

Make your characters strong. Act, instead of react. However, they do need flaws. Have them do things that makes the reader temporarily dislike them.


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