Showing posts from March, 2007

Increasing your climactic conflict

When I took a seminar taught by New York agent Donald Maass, the one thing I took away was that most of the manuscripts he sees don’t have enough Conflict with a capital C. There are lots of ways to increase conflict, but the biggest is to make it the climax of your story. It’s easy to do—ask yourself, what’s the absolute worst thing that could happen to my character? Then have it happen and ruin your character’s life right at the climactic moment near the end. I can see you cringing, but it must be done. Grow a backbone. Sock it to your character. If your heroine is afraid of death, have it stare her in the face in the climax. If your hero wants to save his ranch, have a tornado destroy it. If your heroine needs a heart transplant, have her donated organ arrive unviable. If your hero is trying to catch the serial killer, have him realize he’s been after the wrong suspect the entire time. Be brutal! Be ruthless! Be evil! You’ll discover how absolutely GREAT your book’s climax can be if

Learning to get into the writing zone

Before, I talked about left and right brain roles for writing . Left brain is more analytical, right brain is more creative. For some people, it's very difficult to switch between the two completely. Usually when I switch from analytical to creative, I'm not 100% into my creative mode--there are vestiges of analytical thinking going on. That's why for some writers it's difficult to be as creative when you switch between editing and writing, editing and writing. The analytical side--editing--doesn't fully relinquish brain energy to the creative side for writing. However, switching quickly--and more importantly, more completely --between sides can be trained, to an extent. This is especially important for busy writers who juggle different duties and tasks. Set an alarm clock (your watch alarm, phone alarm, PDA alarm) at odd hours during the day. When that alarm goes off, drop everything and write for 8 minutes. Grab whatever's handy--pen and paper, computer

Separate right and left brain activities

Ooooh, that’s a nice description. Oh no no no, that’s a terrible way to put it. Oops, you wrote a passive verb. Hey, you just laid down three adverbs in a row! The right word just isn’t coming to me . . . Sound familiar? That pesky internal editor. Most writers say to lay down a bad first draft and edit later. There’s actually scientific reasoning behind it. Right brain is creative stuff like writing prose and brainstorming. Left brain is editing your prose and sifting through which brainstorm ideas you should keep or chuck. When you use both at once--like brainstorming and editing at the same time--the brain can't keep up with the switching back and forth. Your creativity can stall or your analysis can be way off. This is why many writers recommend turning off your "internal editor" when writing the first draft. Don't correct, don't second-guess that word, don't fiddle with that phrase, don't decide that action is too bland, don't stop and do


Sometimes called “off the nose” dialogue, subtexting is a character saying what he wants to say without actually saying it. It’s when characters talk about one thing, but they’re really talking about something beneath the surface—sometimes fencing with their words, or avoiding the subject while yet hitting it dead on. One of the most recent and more memorable instances of subtexting was a scene from near the end of the movie Serenity . (Don’t worry, I’ll try not to spoil anything, but if you haven’t seen Firefly and Serenity , go rent it now! Great instances of characterization and innovative dialogue.) Mal is talking to his first mate Zoe, and the actual dialogue is discussing the ship and how she’s taken a few knocks, but she’ll run true. In actuality, they’re discussing the hard knocks the crew has gone through in the movie, but that they’ll still fly true. Subtexting adds depth to your dialogue. Is there a scene where the characters are just explaining things to each other? Or may

Too many action beats

The writing book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King (second edition), suggests eliminating dialogue tags in favor of action beats. For example, instead of he asked, she said, he demanded, replace the dialogue tags with action beats whenever possible. I've mentioned this before, but I thought I'd use a few more examples. Sometimes we writers go overboard on the action beats. For example: “How have you been?” He tucked in his tie. “Fine. How are you?” She fidgeted with her necklace. He sipped some water. “Work’s been busy.” “How’s the new manager doing?” She wet her lips and glanced around at the other diners in the restaurant. He looked up. His eyes pinned her to her seat, while his smile reminded her of Hannibal Lector. “He’s doing fine, just fine.” Only keep in the action beats that do something for the scene. If an action beat indicates emotion, or if you’re trying to convey a character’s personality in the beginning of the manuscript, then le

Interview on writer's voice

Kaye Dacus interviewed me about writer’s voice. The interview is below. You can also go to her blog for more answers on writer’s voice by Gail Martin and Shelley Bates . Kaye: How did you find your unique writing voice? Did you struggle to find it or did it come easily to you? Camy: Both, actually. When I first started writing, my voice was very muted because I didn't understand what a writer's voice was. Then I started to realize that each writer needs to let her natural "voice" come out in order to distinguish herself from every other writer out there. If you pick up an Amy Tan book, you can tell the writer's voice is very different from Helen Fielding's (Bridget Jones). You'd never mistake one for the other. I wanted my voice to be distinctive like that. Once I figured that out, I let go of all inhibitions and wrote exactly how I wanted to write, regardless of rules, etc. I fixed things up in revisions, but my voice was there on the page, uninhibited an