Workshop 26: Writing 101: Overcoming Fiction Foibles
A foible is a minor failing or weakness. In their high-energy ACFW conference workshop Overcoming Fiction Foibles, Karen Ball and Tamela Hancock Murray offered great tips on how to avoid such shortcomings in writing fiction.
The character’s voice
Illustrating what deep POV (point of view) should sound like, Ball described an asthma attack with such vividness I found it hard to breathe. “One of the mistakes writers make is they don’t understand a character’s unique voice and, therefore, don’t write it well,” she said.. “Get to know your characters before you try to write about them.” She encouraged authors to fill out a Character Worksheet to find an authentic voice that fits the character.
Murray advised giving each character a marker that sets them apart from other characters in the story, and encouraged using descriptions to give readers a peek into the likes and dislikes of a particular character. “Be creative. Let your character do something that will make them unpredictable,” Ball added.
The power and purpose of dialogue
Another foible that keeps fiction from being its best occurs when a writer doesn’t understand the power and purpose of dialogue. Ball and Murray agreed that the main purposes of having characters talk is to advance the plot, break up the narrative, develop character, and present information. Writing effective dialogue is essential if our stories are to grab an editor’s attention and a reader’s heart.
“When writing dialogue for a character be very careful of dialect,” Murray said. “Don’t overdo it.” Ball suggested that if one character uses foreign phrases, have another character respond by restating in English what that character just said. For instance, one character might ask in a foreign language, “Why did you wear that jacket?” The other character would respond in English, “I wore this jacket because I like this jacket!”
Ball and Murray’s one resounding piece of advice about speaker attributions: Don’t get cute. When Ball tried to “choke out” a word, her point was well illustrated. They advised primarily using the invisible attributions “he said” or “she said,” but with the counsel that even those should be used only when necessary—which is not as often as many writers think. Instead of an attribution, a good writer will use an action beat to show a character’s response. These beats have the added benefit of delivering information and giving readers a look at the place and people involved in the scene.
Dialogue image courtesy of adamr/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net