One lucky reader of The Writing Road will win a copy of Writing Fiction for Dummies just for leaving a comment on Monday or Tuesday. Please join me in a visit with Randy Ingermanson.
- Co-author of WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES
-- Award-winning novelist
-- The Snowflake Guy
-- Popular Writing Instructor
-- Active ACFW enthusiast
-- Guru who publishes the Advanced Fiction Writine E-zine with 18,000+ subscribers
1. With all the writing craft books on the market, why did you decide to write one? Or how did you pitch WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES to your editor?
RANDY: It wasn't my idea. An editor for the Dummies trade series noticed that they didn't have a book on how to write fiction, while their competitors did. So she asked one of her writers, Peter Economy, to write a book named WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES.
Peter is an experienced writer, with about dozen Dummies titles to his credit. But he's not a fiction writer. He Googled "writing fiction" and found my web site. It didn't take us long to agree to work together. Peter is a very nice guy and we've gotten along extremely well the entire time we've worked together.
Of course, we then had to write a proposal, but the editor did most of the work. (A luxury to have an editor do that.) Peter and I worked on a number of drafts of the Table of Contents and we wrote a sample chapter. Our editor then took that to the publishing committee and they accepted the project. So we were launched.
2. What's different about WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES?
RANDY: It's the only book on fiction written by me. That's not a joke. I have a peculiar and very strange way of looking at the world. Some people apparently like my twisted view of things, because I've got quite a following out there on the web.
Our book gathers together everything I've been teaching on fiction for the last nine years into one handy volume of 384 pages. It covers everything I believe is essential for a novelist to know. The book focuses on the craft of writing, but it always, always, ALWAYS keeps an eye on marketability. The art of writing well is the art of entertaining the reader. If you do that, then your books will sell.
3. You create strong, 3-dimensional characters in your novels.
Please share the WFFD strategies for creating great characters.
RANDY: I can't share it all here, because I spend two full chapters in the book teaching how to write characters, and I don't have the word count here to do that. But I'll teach you ONE very important aspect of characters that I believe is absolutely critical to creating deep characters. I stole this idea from Brandilyn Collins, but I think I've added a bit to it myself.
When you ask a character why she did something, she'll give you a reason. When you ask for the "reason behind the reason," she give you a deeper reason. If you keep doing that, eventually you'll push your character back to bedrock--some core truth that the character believes deeply, but which she can't give a reason for. She'll insist that it's "obvious."
When you've reached this point, you've hit what I call a value--by which I mean, some core truth that is self-evident. A character should have several values, and a deep character should have values that are in conflict. By which I mean that they can't both be true, even though the character believes with perfect faith that both are true.
An example that I give in WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES is Don Corleone, the Mafia gangster in THE GODFATHER, by Mario Puzo. Don Corleone believes very deeply that "Nothing is more important than respect." But he also believes equally deeply that "Nothing is more important than family."
Don Corleone's troubles begin when his oldest son "Sonny" stupidly shows the Don disrespect in front of another Mafioso who's trying to interest Corleone in a business partnership. Now what will Don Corleone do? Will he punish his son--or accept his disrespect? Corleone chooses to let the disrespect go unpunished. Not long after, the Don is shot in the street by rivals eager to get rid of him so they can deal with Sonny.
The clash in values drives the conflict of the story. That's a very deep principle of fiction.
I believe that every interesting character has clashing values. That's what makes fiction deep and characters unpredictable.
OK, I've told you less than one percent of what I know on characters, but it's probably more than you wanted to hear.
4. I'm a romance writer. Often romance novels are often accused of being formulaic. What are your secrets to writing a multi-layered plot?
RANDY: I believe that every new character creates another thread in the plot. So my secret to a multi-layered plot is simply to have several characters--each of whom believes that he or she is the protagonist.
Here's the thing. If all your characters are just filling in roles in your heroine's story, playing their parts as "Best Gal Pal" or "Evil Boss" or "Other Love Interest" or whatever, then your story is always going to be JUST one plot thread that revolves around your heroine.
BUT, if your characters all have actual lives of their own, and if they all believe that THIS IS THEIR STORY, then they're going to fill out your story with their own plot threads.
It's as simple as that. When a romance novel (or any novel) only has one real plot thread, it's going to feel thin and formulaic. But that's not a weakness of the romance genre or any genre. It's just a weakness in the characters.
I believe that great plots depend on great characters.
5. You have mastered the high-concept storyline. I love the one you wrote for your novel
RANDY: I'm glad you asked! I devote a number of pages to writing the storyline in WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES. I include about 20 examples from best-selling novels, because I think one of the best ways to learn is to see some strong examples.
Let me give you just one of these examples. My editor specifically asked me to show an example from Christian fiction. I chose Ted Dekker's novel BLINK (the original version that came out several years ago, not the revised edition that appeared recently).
Here's my summary of the storyline for BLINK:
"A young Saudi woman on the run from her family links up with a Berkeley physics prodigy who is just discovering that he can see the future."
Is that a good high concept or what? I LOVE that storyline. (And not just because I got my Ph.D. in physics at Berkeley.)
Here are several of the things that make this storyline work:
* No names for the characters. Instead, we give their roles. "A young Saudi woman" is immediately intriguing because most of us don't know any Saudi women. Likewise, "a Berkeley physics prodigy" is intriguing, if maybe a bit nerdy.
* Whenever you have a man and a woman in your storyline, that suggests the possibility of romance. Romance ALWAYS improves a story. (Unless the author is truly awful.)
* The woman is "on the run from her family." That immediately creates sympathy and interest. Will she get away? Why is she on the run? Questions are good.
* The storyline is backloaded with a paranormal element: "he can see the future." Now that's a bit weird, but it's OK because physicists are weird people.
The combination of all of these elements is a great storyline. It's a bit longer than I usually like--it's 27 words. But notice that most of the words are simple, short words. Notice that the story question is defined but not answered: "Will this woman escape with her life or won't she?"
There's a bit of magic in creating a good storyline, but practice does make perfect--or at least pretty good. And pretty good is usually good enough.
6. I understand you found writing terms that are commonly used to
be ambiguous. Please explain an example of your new terminology in
RANDY: Uh-oh, that would take too long to explain. Can I just give an example of what was ambiguous before?
I've often taught about the three components of a Sequel: a Reaction, a Dilemma, and a Decision. Each of those is a specific part of a Sequel.
I've also often taught about the two parts of Motivation-Reaction Units (a term made popular by Dwight Swain). An "MRU" has a Motivation and then a Reaction.
Now this is where people get confused. They assume that the Reaction in the Sequel is the same as the Reaction in the MRU. But they're different things.
So when I wrote WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, I decided to come up with new terms for both halves of the Motivation-Reaction Unit. ("Motivation" is also an ambiguous term.) But it would take too much explanation to give you the new terms I had to invent.
7. The cover of Writing Fiction for Dummies advises writers to
choose a creative paradigm. Will you elaborate on that?
RANDY: That's a whole chapter in WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, so it's too long to explain here in detail. What I'll say is that my well-known "Snowflake method" is one of four common "creative paradigms" that writers use to create their first drafts. The others are "seat of the pants" writing, "edit as you go" writing, and "outlining."
"Which one is the one right way to do things?" my editor asked me.
I told her that they're all right for some writers and wrong for others. You have to choose which one you'll use. But before you can choose, you have to know what the menu is. So Chapter 4 explains what the options are in quite some detail.
8. Can you tell us a little about your next project?
RANDY: I'm hoping to complete my series of writing courses on my web site. I've got FICTION 101 and FICTION 201. Both of those are very popular. I'd like to get FICTION 301 and FICTION 401 done soon.
There are some tight constraints on my time which make it tough to schedule things. My in-laws are in failing health and moved in with us about a year ago. And I have a part-time position as Director of Software Engineering for a small but very agile biotechnology company in San Diego, where I direct the development of the company's flagship product. I also teach at about half a dozen writing conferences per year and run my e-zine and my blog. And I have some plans to launch a new web site with my long-time friend and collaborator John Olson.
All of this means that I have less time for writing than I'd like. My hope is to free up some time for writing in the next year. We'll just have to see how that plays out in practice.
9. What's a "book rush?"
RANDY:My coauthor and I are running a "book rush" for three days, from December 7 to 9, 2009.
If you buy WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES during this time (or if you have already bought it), then you're eligible to get a number of free electronic downloads. For more information, visit http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com/blog
Thanks so much for joining us today, Randy!
DON'T FORGET: To win a copy of Writing Fiction for Dummies, leave a comment here.