Hints from Fiction First Aid by Raymond Obstfeld:
*The truth is the impact the events had, not what the character had for breakfast. Write the truths,
not the facts.
*Don't worry about writing a predictable plot pattern. Worry about making it your own.
*Paint with words to draw focus to the important things. Write with the senses.
*The best fiction makes reader wonder what happens next and has an impact changes (changes)
their lives. It COMPELS the reader to pick it back up.
*A good scene has rich characters, clear descriptive passages, poetic, pithy dialog that moves
plot and emotions, and has a perfect setting.
*Write past your comfort zone, don't jump over hard to write scenes. Avoid summarizing, keep it
active. Avoid author intrusion. Don't have nearsight: Forcing the scene to get to the plot point
you want to make.
* Style comments: Avoid bland phrasing, develop a unique voice that compels the story. Style is
set by the kinds of elements you emphasize in your writing. Play to your strengths.
Promise and Payoff:
*Don't let the reader down. What are the payoffs, both "informationally" and emotionally? Each
scene makes a promise (Think of a kid with a shoebox "wanna see something really cool?")
*Write promise-description-payoff-promise-description-payoff-promise-description-payoff until
the story is over.
*If there's a gun hanging on the wall, it has to be used.
*Job of the payoff scene is to reward the readers with a moment that equals or surpasses their
*The more cliffhangers to remember, the more the book feels like a test.
*Promises easy to write, payoffs don't have a formula, good ones are creative and fitting.
* Plot payoffs startle the reader with a shift in plot. Something happens to alter external
*Character payoffs startle the reader with a shift in character. Character is internally affected or
*Increase intensity of payoff by writing with heightened style (metaphors, word choice, rhythm),
graphic texture (amount of detail), unusual setting, unpredictable plot, or character revelation.
*Some general pay offs: violence, sex, romance, arguments....
General Story Set Up:
Act 1: Set up: Suspense created in act I with plot conflict (show what the character thinks will
make them happier) , character conflict: emotional problems that get in the way. Stakes: intensity
with which the plot conflict affects the characters
Act 2: Add the complication. Either raise the stakes or decrease the character's ability to reach
Act 3: The payoff.
*Cut: Does this line contributes to furthering the plot or revealing character? If not, cut it.
*Don't tack on a line at the end of each paragraph that tells the reader what to think.
*Hardest part is cutting the good stuff that diminishes the writing as a whole.
1. There is a locked room with a dead body inside. What happened?
2. Write a payoff scene five different times: style, texture, setting, plot, character revelation.
3. Copy your favorite writers, find their style.
4. Retype the first chapter of your favorite books.
5. Choose a character. Writing from his perspective finish these two sentences:
My mother always.... My father never....
6. Make a character development worksheet.
7. Read Joseph Campbell.
8. Subscribe to Writers' Digest
Drama vs. Melodrama:
Difference between drama (the human condition) and melodrama (only tugs the emotions).
Drama makes you think about the emotions on a deeper level.
Drama gives universal truths for the reader to contemplate. Addresses shared hopes and fears of
*True wisdom comes only through suffering. Drama is the exploration of that suffering of
course, not the suffering itself (melodrama).
Plot conflict affects the emotions.
*Anticipation and Unpredictability
*Use the suspense pocket: Interrupt the suspense with a distracter, an opportunity to introduce
another element, usually setting or character.
*Uninvolved characters predictable plots and low stakes all diminish suspense.
*Use a jump cut to add to suspense, not to avoid writing a scene. Don't be afraid to write the
* Character motivation is where the suspense resides.
narrative voice and descriptive texture.
*At the end, reader must feel as if she understood everything that happened.
* Must be satisfying both intellectually and emotionally.
*Must seem inevitable, without being predictable.
Theme: Why plot happens.
*Conflict must be presented in such a way that readers recognize the connection between the
characters conflicts and their own.
*The writer is a soothsayer, writing is a view of society.
*Ask yourself: Am I using or being used by the plot conventions?
*Theme focuses on universal. How does the character's story reflect on the feelings and thoughts
of all people everywhere?
*All stories (mostly) have the same basic theme: People want to be happier. As an author, ask:
What makes them happy? (Boon) What's keeping them from getting happy? (Plot conflict)