“Watch this” Wednesday: author Dan Wells on story structure

This week’s “watch this” is part one in an engaging five-part series on story structure by horror novelist Dan Wells.

Dan is one of the talented quartet behind the brilliant podcast Writing Excuses, which also features Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Tayler.

Bonus:  Brandon Sanderson has posted the complete video footage of his 2012 creative writing class at Brigham Young University online. Check it out.

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Carver on eschewing tricks

“I hate tricks. At the first sign of a trick or gimmick in a piece of fiction, a cheap trick or even an elaborate trick, I tend to look for cover. Tricks are ultimately boring, and I get bored easily, which may go along with my not having much of an attention span. But extremely clever chi-chi writing, or just plain tomfoolery writing, puts me to sleep. Writers don’t need tricks or gimmicks or even necessarily need to be the smartest fellows on the block. At the risk of appearing foolish, a writer sometimes needs to be able to just stand and gape at this or that thing – a sunset or an old shoe – in absolute and simple amazement.”

― Raymond Carver, Fires: Essays, Poems, Stories


Watch Wednesday: Eight essential writing tips from Kurt Vonnegut

“When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”
― Kurt Vonnegut

Despite feeling as inept as the rest of us Kurt Vonnegut is known as one of the 20th century’s great writers, penning classic novels like Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle. He was also a noted journalist and a prolific short story writer.

Watch the clip below for Vonnegut’s eight pithy tips on writing a great short story. You can easily apply them to fiction of any length, his own work shows Vonnegut surely did.

My own favourite Vonnegut story is “King and Queen of the Universe” from the posthumous collection of unpublished works called Look at the Birdie.

Do you have a favourite Vonnegut story or novel? Please tell us in the comments.


“Watch this” Wednesday: James Scott Bell on how to be a prolific writer

Many writers, including me, own at least one of James Scott Bell’s best-selling books on the craft of writing–Plot and Structure is my favourite. But did you know this former lawyer, Writers Digest columnist and award-winning novelist also has a YouTube channel where he doles out his terrific writing advice in 90-second chunks?

Here’s one of his best sound bites on how to become a prolific writer:

Be sure and check out the rest of Mr. Bell’s On Writing clips. He also posts Sundays at the The Kill Zone collective authors blog, a favourite haunt on my morning blog stroll.


Is your dialogue in sync with your characters’ body language?

According to experts, our body language and tone of voice convey a lot more to others than the words we speak. Some say up to 70% of communication is non-verbal. What we say isn’t nearly as important as how we say it.

Non-verbal communication is just as powerful in fiction. As writers, we need to consciously and carefully pair action with dialogue to reveal character and deliver our intended emotional punch. It’s all part of making every word count.

When I look back at my first writing efforts, the movements of my characters read like stage directions. He crossed the room, he ran his fingers through his hair, he picked up a glass. All boring and cliché bits of business there to identify who was speaking and little else.

More experienced writers know how to put body language to work for them. They know how action and other nonverbal cues can change the tone of a scene, add emotion, illuminate character or add tension.

Author Hallie Ephron has some examples and tips on adding emotion through body language here.

And, today, I stumbled across some great examples of how body language is commonly interpreted over on the blog of artist Ron Huxley—a fount of inspiration and creative distraction. 

I started using the power of body language more consciously in my own writing after taking psychologist and popular writing teacher Margie Lawson’s Empowering Characters’ Emotions course. Margie also offers a self-guided study packet on body language and dialogue cues.

Margie is a very engaging instructor, and I can recommend her courses to anyone looking to learn more about this topic. Classes also provide opportunities for peer feedback.

Photo Odin Fotografia