Saturday, August 10, 2013

Novel Writing Techniques from 2013 Willamette Writers Conference

Snappy blogpost title, huh? The titles of my posts are beginning to sound more like newspaper headlines than hip blogger riffs. Which gets me closer than ever to trying to push out my self-help book (**) about publishing--how we're all doomed to failure in this venture called novel writing. So, maybe a few of these tricks might help you. Won't hurt.
Not enough coffee in Portland for a 10-day rewrite.

Plagiarized Writing Technique #1

(BTW I misspelled plagiarized on first pass)
It's not plagiarism when a writer gives a workshop about revising a novel and uses another writer's advice about how to revise. (I exaggerate. You know my MO by now.) Confused? Don't be.

The workshop I attended at #WWcon13 called The Ten-Day Revision presented by Laura Whitcomb (her website) included her own techniques and those of other writers. Here's one that sounded fun to me. She credited Donald Maass, (his website) who wrote The Breakout Novelist. Ask yourself before each scene: What is the motivation for each character? Then, write those ideas down. Five for each. Then flip motive #1 with another motive, make it interesting. Meaning, pick an edgier motive, or the motive at the bottom of your list, to guide your character's actions.

For instance, I've been struggling with a scene in my third novel. In it, the main character has just shared an intimate moment (read: stolen kiss) from his best friend's girlfriend. Oops. They realize their misdirected affections, but ... The next scene is him pursuing the woman he thinks he wants to marry. What are his motives for making a beeline to her? Because he's:
1. hot and bothered from having kissed the wrong girl
2. not in love with his best friend's girlfriend
3. wanting to take control of a situation that is out of control
4. directionless
5. really in love with his best friend's girlfriend

Okay, #1 was my original thought going into the scene, when the better answer is #5.

Plagiarized Writing Technique #2

Laura Whitcomb credited Noah Lukeman (his website) for this technique: change the major words in a paragraph without changing the meaning. Here's another way of saying it: rewrite a passage but make it mean the same as before. (There, I just did it.) Or more precisely: change a word from green to chartreuse. A few of those changes will stick and make the story stronger. Also while you're at it, get rid of all the adjectives and adverbs in a paragraph and see how it sounds.

Plagiarized Writing Technique #3

This is Laura's own technique, which she calls Shortcut to a Scene. She says it helps her write scenes faster. First, quickly outline what must happen in the scene. Second, make some quick notes, your best guess, on dialogue but don't bother writing the attribution/dialogue tags/dialogue beats, just the give-n-take. Finally, write a "heartstorm" (really love that word). Meaning, as fast as you can, write about what the scene feels like, sounds like, looks like, in 10 minutes or less. Now, write the scene from your notes.

Plagiarized Writing Technique #4

This technique is from a session with Danny Manus (his website), who consults on screenplays. Akin to interviewing each of your characters, he suggests:
1.Write five adjectives/traits that define your protagonist and antagonist.
2. Describe how each of these traits are shown in your characters.
3. Outline five ways your character(s) came to be on Page One.
4. Write five ways your characters will change by The End.
5. Describe your main character's instinctual response to conflict.
6. Write five "deal-breakers" for your character and break at least one of them (ie: Character B won't go on the mission with A, therefore A can't go for some reason).

Plagiarized Writing Technique #5 and final

If you have two or more instances of serendipity, rewrite those plot points.

Got all that? Okay, go write. Easy does it.


  1. I like these ideas and going to share them with my husband. He's always starting different plot lines, some I'd really like to read as novels. These points would definitely help. Thanks.

    1. These are handy techniques to put in a writer's toolkit. A little more advanced than the average noveling pitfalls of newbies. For instance, is noveling a verb? Probably not.


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