Simple Writing Tricks

Some writers, when they start a new book, write pages and pages of description about the major (and some of the minor) characters.  This might include entire biographies, lists of jobs the characters have held, relationships they’ve had, triumphs and failures, their favorite colors and foods.  Most of what they write they never include in the story.  It’s background that helps them create well-rounded characters, with the additional advantage that you know your character so well, you rarely get hung up trying to put them through their paces in the actual story.

It’s also a lot of work.

I’ve done it this way a few times, though in typical Sam fashion I usually do it when I’m halfway through a book and have discovered that the characters aren’t being led to slaughter quite so happily as I’d like.  But I’ve also figured out a shortcut that works almost as well: the One Word Description.

It’s amazing how well this works.  For one thing, it forces you to focus on what’s important.  You can cut right to the point.  If Dogged has a scene with Devious, you know how it’s going to play out before you’ve written the first line.  Likewise, it helps you realize before you actually write the scene that having Greedy do something because she thinks it will make her famous is probably going to make your readers throw the book across the room in disgust.

Basically it’s a shortcut to motivation.

It doesn’t always work, of course.  Nothing ever does.  And sometimes half the fun is finding ways to make a character do something that runs contrary to their primary motivation.  Depressed becomes Happy.  Tender turns nasty.  Good fiction needs unexpected twists. Not to mention that people, and characters, are going to surprise you, no matter how much you think you’re in charge.

Anyone else out there have any good writing shortcuts they want to share?

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There are 4 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Mary

    Neither trick would work for me. I have to set them in action to see who they are.

  2. 2. S.C. Butler

    That’s basically my problem as well. But sometimes the shortcut works.

  3. 3. Elias McClellan

    Sadly, I tend to be the type to work this bass-aackwards. Just read ‘American Terrorist,’ and other works not fit to mention all to conclude my nexus-character, (between my antag and protag) my white-supremacist, ex-con, biker, is ‘needy.’

    Thinking if I ever publish, my author’s bio can be simply ‘dizzy.’

  4. 4. S.C. Butler

    Elias – I think mine would be ‘old-fashioned’.

Author Information

S.C. Butler

Butler is the author of The Stoneways Trilogy from Tor Books: Reiffen's Choice, Queen Ferris, and The Magician's Daughter. Find out what Reiffen does with magic, and what magic does with him... Visit site.

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