Read it. Whether you are a traditionally pubbed author or an Indie, like me, your work will benefit from the knowledge contained in these 267 pages or 280 pages if you count all the back matter.
And who would have thought to put cartoons into a nonfiction piece? Evidently Browne and King. I adore the George Booth cartoons! What a stroke of brilliance to add them and what a stroke of genius on the artist's part to portray the author's mentality in one frame. Beautiful minds at work.
Here are some highlights which spoke to me specifically or are those universal tips that need to be mentioned again for all of us:
- Names of People and Places. Connect with your readers by naming characters and locales. My writing is contemporary in that anyplace-will-work world. Still...I find myself reading others' works and wondering about the setting. Details help with the mood, too. I'm lean on description to the point of morphing my generic city to no place, a nonexistent nowhereness. But these co-authors have made me rethink that position.
- Show vs. Tell. There's a place for both. Exposition/narration (maybe backstory?) engages your reader's intellect. But you want to engage their emotions with scenes incorporating action and thoughts and dialogue.
- Contrast. This can be on many levels, in assorted applications. Like using tell not show as a transition to link two scenes that are aided by the contrasting pace. You can also pit two unlike characters in a chapter to highlight their differences.
- Backstory/Answers. You don't want to give your readers info; you want to give them experiences. Resist the urge to explain. Make the reader wait for answers. Spread them out over the length of your novel.
- Deep POV. This shows the world as your character sees it, through his filters and his beliefs and his experiences. Masters at this move the reader effortlessly from seeing the world through the character's eyes to seeing the world through the character's mind and back again. Seamless transitions. Thoughts as if dialogue.
- Diversion. This is such a great tool that I am failing miserably at using. Thanks to this wonderful book, I have been reminded. Misdirection falls in here, too.
- Copyediting Tips. Cut out LY words. Stick to "he said" or no dialogue tags at all. Reduce italics. Per Browne and King, avoid ING and AS phrases since they tend to remove the reader by lessening this action plus can cause logistical problems. At least, vary the positioning of the ING phrases. Move them to the end of the sentence or the middle.
- Beats. This equates to action in its many forms. Yet too many are what Margie Lawson calls "walking the dog" and what these authors call condescending to your reader. Too little are disembodying and disorienting. Beats can also be used for pacing but don't be interruptive with too many. Utilize beats for deepening the emotional content. Especially when in contrast to what is said via dialogue. Browne and King give a great example of a unique beat: blew his nose on a sheet. I have a vivid mental picture of this guy from one minor act that spiderwebs in my mind into so many other details about his person and personality.
- Conflict. As Donald Maass says, have conflict on every page. Which these authors state is one of the simplest storytelling tools: to reinforce the tension of your story.
- Repetitions. This can occur on many levels: by word, phrase, sentence, body language, chapter info, plot device. Vary your sentence constructions. What out for those repetitive paragraph/chapter beginnings and endings. Cut those reps! We are creative folks. Surely we can find another word or many more verbal tics or visual tells for our characters to act out. And we don't need three scenes among different parties that tell our reader the same thing. Once your reader knows, skip the retelling in whatever form.
- Multiple Uses. If each element of your story accomplishes one thing only, then your story will subtly, almost subliminally, feel artificial.
- Style and Voice. These authors note style and voice are not interchangeable. Every author has or can have a literary style, but by no means does every author have a literary voice. Again the way to develop voice is not by working on your style. When your style overshadows your story, it's defeating its purpose. Your primary purpose as a fiction author is to engage your readers in your story the best way you can. That's voice.
This book also has many checklists or exercises at the end of its chapters along with a recommended reading section at the back. Do yourself a huge favor. Read this!
Denise Barker, author + blogger + copy editor