Formatting Dialogue

A reader has a question about formatting dialogue in a novel: I have some confusion regarding speakers when writing dialog, and when you should start new lines. The logic I remember being taught is that every time the speaker changes in a story we should start a new paragraph. Is that always the case, or … Read more

Five Terms Related to Submitting a Manuscript

A reader asks about some terms: I’m confused: What’s the difference between Submissions and Query Letters and Cover Letters and Biographies and Resumés? As these terms are often used interchangeably on writing sites, the reader’s confusion is understandable. Perhaps the following explanations can help. 1. Query Letter A query letter is a one-page letter intended … Read more

A Sample of Amateur Writing

At a recent writers’ conference I heard a successful self-published author say, “Readers are not looking for great writing; they’re looking for a great story.” Does that mean that taking pains over grammar, diction, and syntax is a waste of time? Certainly not! Just because readers are not looking for “great writing” doesn’t mean that … Read more

Naming Babies

Throughout history, cultures have attached great importance to names. In some cultures people, like cats, have secret names known only to themselves. Most parents I know spent hours, days, even months writing down possible names, doing the best to ensure that their final choice would go with their surname and that the child’s initials wouldn’t … Read more

Parataxis and Hypotaxis

When a reader asked me to write about “the terms parataxis and hypotaxis and how they relate to Beowulf,” I had to laugh. Don’t get me wrong. I’m quite a fan of Beowulf. Wearing my academic hat, I’ve written more than one essay about this treasure of English literature, but somehow it doesn’t strike me … Read more

Showing Dialect in Dialogue

A reader asks how a writer wishing to create “a redneck swagger” would rewrite the “regular English” sentence “You’re surprising to me.” He offers the following options: “Y’a surprisin’ t’a me.” “Y’ah surprisin’ t’ah me.” “Ya surprisin ta me.” “Yah surprisin tah me.” Note: You can find my thoughts on the use of the term … Read more

Start Your Novel

Writers can be insecure creatures. For many, the thought of beginning a novel, a project requiring the production of from 60,000 to 100,000 words, can be overwhelming. For the writer who tends to linger over every sentence, the prospect can be especially daunting. This year’s NaNoWriMo has already begun, but it’s not too late for … Read more

Answers to Questions About Writing Fiction

Here are three questions from DailyWritingTips.com readers about aspects of fiction writing, each followed by my response. 1. When it comes to fiction dialogue, do any grammatical rules apply? Generally, dialogue in fiction should be consistent with the speech patterns and habits of the individual characters; that’s one way to convey their personalities, and such … Read more

5 Tips on How to Run a Writing Group

You’ve got your writing group up and running. All the hard work’s over, right? Wrong. Just like any smooth-running machine, a writing group requires maintenance. Here are some tips for tender, loving care: 1. Construct Criticism Model proactive and up-front critiquing etiquette. Advise everyone to start positive with a compliment, then offer honest but objective, … Read more

7 Types of Narrative Conflict

Every work of literature, and much nonfiction narrative, is based on at least one of the following conflicts. When you write a story or a biography, or relate a true event or series of events, you need not focus on such themes, and there’s no reason to state them explicitly (except in passing, perhaps, to … Read more

Writers Can Learn from Middlebrow Masters

After several years of intending to read through Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series of seafaring novels, I’ve finally embarked on that voyage, and I’m delighted to note that O’Brian proves that writers can draw lessons in technique from fiction that doesn’t necessarily make it onto too many Great Literature reading lists. O’Brian wrote twenty novels featuring … Read more

10 Rewards and Risks of Self-Publishing

Some time ago, I wrote a highly skeptical post about self-publishing. I stand by my concerns, but I realize my initial assessment could have been more open-minded. Here’s a more neutral evaluation of the pros and cons. Rewards 1. Autonomy In self-publishing, writers control the publishing process. In traditional publishing, the final edit, the cover … Read more