How Not To Write Talking Heads

How Not To Write Talking Heads

Dialogue is a crucial element in fiction. A writer uses it to convey information, reveal character, or show conflict. But the characters delivering that dialogue should feel like real, physical people in a physical world. In other words, they shouldn’t look like talking heads. Action tags Typically, writers try to avoid talking heads by interspersing character actions between the lines of dialogue. For example, the characters may be sharing a meal, so they take a drink or cut a slice…

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On Book Clubs

On Book Clubs

Until recently, I’d never belonged to a regular book club. When I lived in Iowa, I did belong to one sponsored by the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, but the members were all writers who were interested in discussing technique, so I thought they probably weren’t typical. When I moved to Illinois, though, the building complex I live in turned out to have two book clubs, and I was invited to join both. I read all the time,…

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Writing During a Pandemic

Writing During a Pandemic

You want to know what I’ve learned about writing during a pandemic? It’s hard. And for me at least, maybe impossible in any sustained way. That’s what I’ve learned. For the first couple of weeks, I felt guilty because I had all this extra time while I was locked down at home, and yet I was producing nothing much longer than a tweet. But then, last night, at my weekly writer group meeting, now conducted on Zoom, someone else said…

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Overcoming Writer’s Block

Overcoming Writer’s Block

Sometimes writing is easy. You’re in the zone. The words pour out. Good words! But sometimes, writing is so difficult it feels impossible. You have the dreaded writer’s block. There can be different reasons for writer’s block, and overcoming it depends on why you have it. Fear, boredom, and unarticulated problems with the book can all play a role. Here are some suggestions that have helped me manage to keep writing. Fear Writing sometimes feels like undressing in public. You…

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How to find an agent, publisher, short story site

How to find an agent, publisher, short story site

One of the questions I’m commonly asked is how I found an agent, a publisher, or a venue for a short story. Today’s post is meant to share some of the resources I’ve found to be useful, all of them free. Short story sites For short stories, I use the Submission Grinder. You set the search terms for genre, length, and several other factors, including the minimum payment you’re willing to accept. For some reason, if you just want to be…

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Rejection: A Writer’s Least Favorite (but inevitable) Event

Rejection: A Writer’s Least Favorite (but inevitable) Event

Writers get rejected. They get rejected all the time. It’s not an exception. It’s the norm. Gone With the Wind was rejected 38 times. Gertrude Stein submitted poems for 22 years before having one accepted. I’ve written before on writer anxiety, which is a related but not identical to fear of rejection. Writer anxiety comes from how you judge your own writing. You think it’s terrible. You feel like an imposter who’s going to be found out any day now. Fear of rejection, on…

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Character-Driven versus Plot-Driven Stories

Character-Driven versus Plot-Driven Stories

You sometimes hear people talk about character-driven versus plot-driven stories. Generally, plot is more important in genre fiction, though I would say that character is important in every story. I like plot. I miss it in a novel that seems to drift along. But it’s character that makes me love a book, remember it, reread it. That being said, the difficulty of creating a good plot is underestimated. Part of the difficulty is just coming up with something unexpected and…

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A Visit to the Sixth Grade

A Visit to the Sixth Grade

I recently visited the sixth grade at a school in Cedar Falls, Iowa to talk about being a writer. Ninety eleven- and twelve-year-olds sat on the floor in the central area of an open space classroom while I gave a talk I ambitiously called “From Idea to Book.” Ninety Sixth Graders? Help! I won’t lie. Ahead of time, I found the event a little scary. In all my years teaching, I never taught anyone under 18. Even among readers of…

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Ghost Cakes: A Short Story

Ghost Cakes: A Short Story

The blog will be on hiatus until January because between now and then, I’m traveling with only sporadic internet access. As a going away present, I leave you with a Halloween/Day of the Dead short story about Cade, the central character in Finders Keepers. Ghost Cakes By Dorothy A. WinsorWhat form does courage take? What is the shape of love?–Myst, the shapeshifter god The carved horse teetered on its three legs and clattered over onto the table. I prodded its belly….

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Can I use that word?

Can I use that word?

Traditional fantasy sometimes runs up against the question of what words it can or can’t use to fit into the story world. In my experience, critique groups most commonly question the use of slang. They almost never mention words derived from names, but I wind up questioning myself about those. Slang Here’s my theory about slang. Whatever language the characters are speaking, it isn’t English. What we’re reading is a translation of their language. Like any language, theirs will have…

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