Dashiell Hammett – A Famous Complicated Writer

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Dashiell Hammett is considered the first of the hard-boiled fiction masters. He wrote over 80 short stories and 5 novels. He wasn’t a prolific writer but he is considered one of the greats because he defined a new genre. Are his books great reads? Well… they are worth reading. The problem with being first is that others will follow in your path and write differently. I’ve read 4 of Hammett’s 5 books and would class them as pulp fiction.

There’s nothing wrong with pulp fiction. It’s the basis of all action driven novels. In pure pulp fiction, the characters are all stereotypes. Writers of action novels that want to write beyond pulp go deeper into character to create better quality stories. Dashiell Hammett created realistic characters too.

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Haruki Murakami’s Writing Success Story

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Haruki Murakami is not a prolific author. He is a great author. His books will still be read 100 years from now. While getting tips from prolific authors is great, we want to learn more than how to write a pile of novels. We want to write interesting stories worth reading again and again. Murakami writes those kind of stories.

Haruki Murakami is one of those authors whose writing was a hit from the very first novel. He didn’t write anything until he was 29 and then decided he could write when inspiration hit him at a baseball game.

His books are best sellers and have been translated into 50 languages.

I’ve read most of his novels more than once. They are not copy-pastes of one another. This is not an author who gets the job done by imitating himself. He seems to be trying to give us something about culture and relationships within the context of mystery stories. When I say mystery, you think of a crime story and the search for the culprit. These are not that kind of mystery. You’ll need to read him to find out exactly what I mean, but I’ll try to explain.

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Imagination Comes from Within

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Every writer knows they need life experiences to write their stories. You never write a story completely from imagination. For example, consider the story of a squirrel who has an adventure in an abandoned building. You know what a squirrel looks like and have probably watched one or more at some time. You know what an abandoned building looks like because you’ve been in buildings. The story will be a combination of life experience and imagination.

Everything we write is based on life experience plus imagination. Even non-fiction works this way. We learned the subject before writing about it and we make what we write our own through our experiences with it and our imaginations. We write fiction based on our relationships, our work, our education, and our adventures.

We don’t need to have had every experience we put into our fiction. If we’ve worked in one trade, we know how all the trades work. If we can cook our own breakfast, we can write from the perspective of a cook. If we mowed lawns one summer, we understand what a person in a lawn care job does. Education is similar. Get a degree in one liberal art and you understand all liberal arts. Get a degree in one science and you understand all the sciences. Have enough relationships and you can understand what others are talking about when their relationship are going well or bad or weird. That goes into your fiction too. Where am I going with this?

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Ursula Bloom’s Prolific Writing Method

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Ursula Bloom wrote 560 books, the first when she was seven years old. We can see already that she had one of the traits of many prolific authors – starting early.

A family friend, who was a well-known author, encouraged her to write more.

For someone who made the Guinness book of world records for her writing output, there’s not a lot of information about her writing method. Maybe that’s because her romantic novels were based on her own life and we can read about her there.

We would not be reading autobiographical material. Instead, we would discover the life she wished she was living. She was disappointed with her social status and fantasized about a more interesting life in a higher station. At least, her novels are about a more interesting life in a higher station. And that seems to be one of the “secrets” to her prolific writing – her imagination. She enjoyed writing about an imaginary life and when you enjoy what you are doing it goes much easier.

Many authors write about an imaginary life that has more excitement than their real world. It’s much safer to write about the life of a detective, street racer, bank robber, or lion hunter than to actually do it. You don’t need to be rich to write about jetting around the world or creating businesses. The space program doesn’t need to take off for you to take off to distant worlds. You don’t need to wait for the future before writing about it. You don’t need to time travel into the past to write historical fantasy. Vampires and Gods don’t need to exist for you to make up stories about them.

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Don’t Forget the Subplots

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I tried to make a list of all the books I’d read once. It was over 2000 titles long when I realized there was a problem. There were some authors where I’d read dozens of their books and didn’t recognize a single summary when I looked them up. For other authors, I remembered every single book. What’s the difference between the two? That’s hard to say given I don’t remember one type, but I’ll make a guess.

There are some authors whose books you can read very fast because the story is simple. We follow one character or group pursuing a single goal. All the story complications have to do with that single goal. You can zip through the story quickly and forget it just as quick. Nothing wrong with that. Some authors build successful careers on that writing style. I’m not even suggesting you shouldn’t use that style.

There are other authors whose books you can’t read fast. The people in their stories have their own motivations and don’t cooperate with the central story. In other words, the novels have subplots. These are the 2000 plus books I remembered well. Sub-plots make a story unique and more realistic.

Nobody has a favorite book that has no sub-plots unless it’s a favorite book from childhood. Adult novels that are simple quick reads are too much like other books in their genre. They are forgettable.

As an example, I’d like to talk about the plots of a few favorite books. Recent research has found that knowing the plot of a story doesn’t ruin a story. Even knowing the ending won’t stop you from enjoying a book. Still, I will hold back the endings.

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The Easy Way to Detect Passive Voice

The Easy Way to Detect Passive Voice

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Passive voice weakens clarity. The difference between active and passive voice is the difference between things happening to a character and the character making things happen. You should write in active voice with only a few exceptions. What does this mean? Is there an easy way to detect passive voice?

Examples

First, some examples of active and passive voice.

Active: “The cook chopped the mushrooms.”
Passive: “The mushrooms were chopped by the cook.”

In the active voice, the subject is doing something or being something.

In the passive voice, the subject is being acted upon or having something done to them.

A longer example might help. Wally can’t get the internet to come up and destroys his computer system.

First, in passive voice.

“The internet wasn’t coming up for Wally. None of his links would load. The three hole punch was in his hand before he could think clearly. The speakers went flying. The keyboard got smashed and several letters flew off. The monitor cracked as the end of the punch hit it dead center.”

Now, in active voice.

“Wally couldn’t get the internet working. He clicked links that didn’t load. He had the three hole punch in his hand before he could think clearly. Wally smashed the speakers off the desk. He smashed the keyboard and letters went flying. He smashed the end of the punch into the monitor and cracked the screen.”

Mixed Active and Passive

Beware of mixing active and passive in the same sentence.

“Jim picked up the laundry and plans were made for the day.” The second part is passive and needs to be re-written. “Jim picked up the laundry and made plans for the day.”

When is Passive Voice Okay?

Passive is okay when what is acted upon is more important. “The warehouse was burned down sometime shortly after midnight.”

Passive is okay when the actor is unimportant. “The tidal bore can be seen at 8am and 8pm.”

Passive is also okay in technical and scientific papers where the person doing the acting is not mentioned. “The test was given to 452 subjects. Non-lethal doses of cyanide were injected in half the subjects. Sugar water was injected in the other half.”

Passive voice is also useful when an object becomes a subject. “The gamers decided to go with the SWAT team format for their new game design. The SWAT team concept had been written by Kyoshi.”

The take-away from this is to be sure the subject of a sentence is the one taking action rather than receiving it and you will easily detect passive voice.


Article by Ivan Izo.

Lester Dent’s Prolific Writing Method

Lester Dent's Prolific Writing Method

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Lester Dent wrote hundreds of books and short stories. He is best known for the 159 Doc Savage books he wrote under the pseudonym Kenneth Robeson. While we have to guess the methods of many prolific writers, Lester Dent told us his secret.

Lester Dent’s Formula

Dent used a Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot which he claimed was good for any story of 6000 words. The link I had to the full text now gets flagged as a risky site by Firefox, so I’ll summarize it.

Start with a different murder method, a different goal for the villain, a different location, and always have a threat hanging over the hero. You need at least one of those differences to start your story. Get the hero in trouble immediately and have him take action. Within the action, introduce all the other characters as soon as possible. Keep the story moving with more action, complications, and plot advancement. Have a surprise plot twist at each 25% mark in the story. In each quarter, pile on the trouble, the complications, and keep moving the plot ahead by having the hero figure out more and more of what’s going on. The plot needs to be written in a way that causes the action to be continuous. In the third quarter, the hero needs to have a serious defeat and appear to have failed. The final surprise plot twist leads into the final quarter of action, complications, and everything is coming to a head. Bury the hero in trouble and have him escape using his skills. Wind up the story with one more twist as all questions are answered and the hero defeats the villain in a final great conflict. Be sure the story leaves the reader with a good feeling.

While researching Dent, I’ve found his plan adapted for screenwriting and video game design. I’m sure it’s been used for full length novels as well. There’s enough going on in his plot to fill a novel.

Barbara Cartland, author of over 700 romance novels, used the same basic outline for all of her novels. Not Dent’s. Her own. I wonder how many of the other authors who produced 100s of books used formulas.

I also wonder if we can dump the pulp element.

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Your Outline Starts as a Guideline

Your Outline Starts as a Guideline

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As you know from reading the blog, I’m all about learning to write faster. One way to accomplish that is avoiding re-writes. My current novel is at about 107,000 words instead of falling short like earlier ones. I give all the credit to writing an outline first. The recommended outline length is one tenth the length of your novel. The original outline for “Book 5” came to about eight thousand words, so the novel was a little short in the early revisions. What have I learned about planning a novel? What’s my plan for the next novel?

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Foreshadowing Important Events in Your Novel

Foreshadowing Important Events in Your Novel

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Foreshadowing is when you plant clues early in a story to give readers some idea what’s coming up. They can’t be certain the clues mean something because everything brought up early isn’t foreshadowing a future event.

Foreshadowing can be as vaporous as mentioning knives a lot early in a story and then having someone killed by a knife at the end. In more definite foreshadowing, you may only mention one particular knife and it becomes the one used in a murder.

Foreshadowing can also be heavy. Your novel could open with a serial killer at work on a seemingly random victim. As the novel progresses, the victims come closer and closer to the protagonist.

Foreshadowing doesn’t require that the reader gets any kind of clear idea that it was put there for them to see what’s coming.

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A Good Story is Like a Good Bowl of Chili

A Good Story is Like a Good Bowl of Chili

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What’s the best chili? It’s chili that tastes like chili but has something different to it. A twist that makes it your chili. Chili is one of those dishes that can be made many ways. You can change the meats, the cheeses, the vegetables, the beans, and the spices. Stories are similar.

The best stories are ones not quite like any you’ve read before.

How do writers come up with this unique mix? They make changes to one or more of the five main elements of a story: theme, setting, characters, conflict, and plot.

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