Tips and Links on Writing Fiction

I took in as many writing workshops as I could at this year’s Hal-Con science fiction/ fantasy/ gaming convention. Many of the writing tips apply across fiction genres, so I thought I’d share some of my notes:

From C. S. MacCath: a great overview of open-source (or minimal cost) software for things like organizing notes, story creation, mind mapping and backups. See her Technology for Writers page on her website.

From Matt LeDrew and Ellen Curtis of Engen Books:

  • Sometimes, instead of a villain, you need a foil for the main character.
  • Find out who your characters are outside of the story.
  • If your characters are too similar, let that type be your main character (MC); designate another to always agree, another to always want to prove MC wrong, and another to have yet a different quirk. (Not to create plastic characters, but to train yourself to write with variety. You can edit any stiffness out later.)

From Elizabeth Moon (who was not at the convention, but whose novel, Engaging the Enemy, I slipped off to read between sessions):

  • Two characters had different strategies to understand their enemy. Both points made good sense for a writer presenting a character:
    • “What he does tells us who he is, what he’s really like.”
    • “What he wears tells us who he thinks he is.”

From Brandon Sanderson:

  • Revolve your plot around conflict.
  • Don’t make your main character an observer; make her the centre of the conflict. She needs to make the plot move, although the story opening can be a call to action where she’s pushed into the plot.
  • Story structure needs to maintain a good sense of progression on multiple levels; the reader’s feeling of movement is what keeps him turning pages.
  • What does the character want, and why can’t he have it?
    • what does he want = larger than this story’s plot
    • why can’t he have it = plot
    • Be intentional in your story opening about the promises you make; fulfill them.
      • genre/ feel/ style
      • make sure your ending wraps up what your opening raised
      • Nest multiple plot threads by priority (start the most important first, end it last)
      • Videos of his 2012 writing lectures are posted at Write About Dragons.
      • He’s one of the team at Writing Excuses (podcasts and news updates). I love their tag line: “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”

Random bonus photo: Hal-Con’s mascot, Nelson, with my Adventure Sheep, Acton, at a Hal-Con fundraising barbecue hosted by the fine folks at Giant Robot Comics.

Hal-Con's Mascot, Nelson, with Acton the Sheep

Hal-Con’s Mascot, Nelson, with Acton the Sheep


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