"Since we now have the telephone, we do not stay in writing shape; most of us are quite sluggish with the written word, and when we are on the page, we feel awkward and brittle, like an unskilled skater on ice." That's Josip Novakovich writing in the introduction of his book, Writing Fiction Step by Step.
Here are some steps Novakovich recommends for staying in fiction-writing shape:
Character motivation rules the world of characters, but don't forget to add the flaws and oddities that make them real. Pick three people you know and construct one character from them, which Novakovich calls the fusion method. Use their most dramatic traits, their most unusual features. Incorporate a distinctive voice, and you have a realistic, multi-dimensional person.
Setting. It's best to give descriptions of setting while the action is taking place, in bits and pieces rather than pages of history. As you follow your protagonist — a doctor, let's say — in a walk to the office, you could give us that perspective on the smells, sounds and images of a hospital. You must bring us into a place so we can see it. One exercise Novakovich recommends is to walk through a forest and describe what it feels like, using all the senses. Forests are wonderful, diverse places. You'll need this diversity to hold readers' interest, especially in a novel.
Dialogue. Among Novakovich's tips:
- Strike a balance between realism — with repetitions and false starts — and idealism, with everyone speaking correctly and always to the point.
- Vary sentence lengths. Both half-liners and sermons become monotonous.
- Let the characters say something surprising — to surprise not only each other but also you. It's healthy to have characters say something outrageous now and then. To get started in this, try writing a dialogue between two liars trying to outdo each other. Start with mild exaggerations and gradually shift to outrageous boasting.
For more advice on crafting fiction, with myriad exercises that will help you stay in writing shape, check out Josip Novakovich's Writing Fiction Step by Step.