An even richer source for surprise than setting is your cast. You can of course use the same techniques for creating surprises in characters as you do for settings. You can for example make a character a bit strange or grotesque. In The Godfather, we are fascinated by Don Corleone because of his strange nature—he’s powerful, seemingly warm-hearted one moment and unbelievably vicious the next.
Part of what makes an epic an epic is that the reader tries to get a panoramic view of life, to experience a wide range of human emotions. I think that Tolkien handled this well in LOTR. He has a lot of warmth and humor and nostalgia in early parts of the story, but then he builds up to terror, despair, and horror. There is some triumph and tragedy and a lingering sense of isolation and remorse for our hero, too.
As a storyteller, I make my living as a tour guide of sorts, escorting my audience through vivid dreams. As a guide, I create the setting, with its landscape, history and its wonders. I may suggest entire cultures with imaginary languages and customs. I might develop characters with their own unique habits and ways of […]
Many new writers figure out how to write great descriptive scenes, but they don’t know very well how to link them together. Let me give you an example. Let’s say that you open a novel to a scene ten pages in that starts, “Let me explain this to you just once: you stay away from […]
One of the most common problems I see with new writers is a “mistake in tone.” You know what I mean if you’ve ever played in a band. A new kid comes in, you’re trying to play a song, and he blats out a sour note on a trumpet. The same thing happens in writing. […]
Unfortunately, there is so much covered under the umbrella of style and tone that it would take a good long book to deal with it. In fact, I’ve read several good books on the topic, and I can’t cover much here. The word “style” when used in literary circles refers to all of the unconscious […]
Every story needs three basic elements: a character, in a setting, with a conflict. Most instructors will talk about a number of possibilities when choosing a conflict for a story: man versus nature, man versus self, man versus man, or man versus society. Years ago, a Hollywood script doctor named Michael Hague pointed out that […]
Author Mike Resnick won more Hugo Awards for short stories than any other author. So a couple of years ago, I asked him, “How do you know when you’re writing a story that it is going to be Hugo- or Nebula-award worthy?” His answer was so basic, it surprised me. He said, “Usually, somewhere […]
Have you ever wished that you could have a “Do Over” in life? Maybe you missed out on a nice business opportunity, or you really wanted to make a great impression on a date and you just blew it. A lot of authors have expressed that desire. A book launch can fail for dozens of […]
Over 20 years ago, I was writing some little Star Wars adventures for Scholastic Books, and the president of the company became a fan of my work. She knew that I was the lead judge for a huge writing contest, so she asked if I would look at some of her inventory and see if […]