Kress (center), with Delia Sherman (left) and Ellen Datlow in 2007
|Born||Nancy Anne Koningisor
January 20, 1948
Buffalo, New York, US
|Pen name||Anna Kendall|
Fantasy (as Kendall)
Michael Joseph Kress (1973-1984)
Words change over time. 'Condescending,' for instance, was once a good thing to be. It meant that a person was willing to interact politely with people of lower social ranks. In Jane Austen's world, a lady praised for her condescension was receiving a sincere compliment.
Every story makes a promise to the reader. Actually, two promises, one emotional and one intellectual, since the function of stories is to make us both feel and think.
Pace, like everything else in writing, involves a trade-off. If you're not offering the reader a lot of action to keep her interested, you must offer something else in its stead. Slow pace is ideal for complex character development, detailed description, and nuances of style.
Conflict drives fiction; no one wants to read a four-hundred-page novel in which everything rolls along smoothly.
A true epilogue is removed from the story in time or space. That's the reason it is called an 'Epilogue'; the label serves to alert the reader that the story itself is over, but we are going to now see a distant result or consequence of that story.
In fiction, a reaction shot is a brief portrayal of how your character reacts to something that someone else has done. In contrast to more direct character building, your guy doesn't initiate the sequence; he completes it. Exactly how he completes it can tell readers a lot about him.
How many times have you opened a book, read the first few sentences and made a snap decision about whether to buy it? When it's your book that's coming under this casual-but-critical scrutiny, you want the reader to be instantly hooked. The way to accomplish this is to create compelling opening sentences.
Questions that require answers are what keep readers going – and the place to start raising those questions is with your very first sentence.
The most-asked question when someone describes a novel, movie or short story to a friend probably is, 'How does it end?' Endings carry tremendous weight with readers; if they don't like the ending, chances are they'll say they didn't like the work. Failed endings are also the most common problems editors have with submitted works.
All writers, in all viewpoints, must choose which information and scenes will be presented, and in which order. In that sense, the author is always represented as a point of view in a work of fiction. His hand can always be detected by the discerning.
The parallels between a stage and a book are compelling. You, like all authors, create 'characters' in a 'setting' who speak 'dialogue' encased in 'scenes.' Most importantly, you – like the playwright – have an 'audience.'
A brief short story may require only a few paragraphs after the climax. On the other hand, in his massive novel 'The World According to Garp,' John Irving's denouement consisted of 10 separate sections, each devoted to an individual character's fate and each almost a story in itself.
The reader is going to imprint on the characters he sees first. He is going to expect to see these people often, to have them figure largely into the story, possibly to care about them. Usually, this will be the protagonist.
Novels have much more space than short stories, which gives you more leeway with the number of characters you can include. Even 'furniture' characters can be described and given speaking parts to develop background or atmosphere.
The process, not the results, have to be the reason a writer writes. Otherwise, creating a four-hundred-page novel is just too daunting a task.
When a story is flying along, and I'm so into it that my 'real' world goes away, it can feel magical. I cease to be, my desk and computer ceases to be, and I am my character in his world. Psychologists call this a 'flow state,' and it's better than publication, money, awards, fame.
If you're writing a thriller, mystery, Western or adventure-driven book, you'd better keep things moving rapidly for the reader. Quick pacing is vital in certain genres. It hooks readers, creates tension, deepens the drama, and speeds things along.
A stereotype may be negative or positive, but even positive stereotypes present two problems: They are cliches, and they present a human being as far more simple and uniform than any human being actually is.
Your opening should give the reader a person to focus on. In a short story, this person should turn up almost immediately; he should be integral to the story's main action; he should be an individual, not just a type. In a novel, the main character may take longer to appear: Anna Karenina doesn't show up in her own novel until chapter eighteen.
Slipstream fiction is usually defined as fiction with a contemporary setting in which story elements are mimetic (that is, seem real) – except for one or two eerie strangenesses. Unlike outright fantasy, these are not explained or integrated into an alternate-reality setting.
Readers want to see, hear, feel, smell the action of your story, even if that action is just two people having a quiet conversation.
Before the scene, before the paragraph, even before the sentence, comes the word. Individual words and phrases are the building blocks of fiction, the genes that generate everything else. Use the right words, and your fiction can blossom. The French have a phrase for it – le mot juste – the exact right word in the exact right position.
For the professional writer, stories must be presented as a series of individual scenes, each one dramatized with dialogue and telling descriptions of who is present and what they're all doing.
Surreal fiction is a sophisticated art form. Events happen divorced from conventional logic, as events in a dream may happen. But unlike dreams, everything in the story contributes to an overall coherent point, impression or emotion.
You have considerable choice in how you end your fiction. For all stories, the basic rule is the same: Choose the type of ending that best suits what's gone before.
There are writers whose first drafts are so lean, so skimpy, that they must go back and add words, sentences, paragraphs to make their fiction intelligible or interesting. I don't know any of these writers.
As a writer, you must know what promise your story or novel makes. Your reader will know.
Overpopulated fiction can be so confusing that readers put the story down. Under-populated novels can seem claustrophobic or boring. You want the right number of characters for your particular work.
If your reader has been given a rousing opening, he will usually then sit still for at least some exposition. But be sure to follow that chunk of telling with one or more dramatized scenes. That's much more effective than being given section after section of telling.
The worldview implied by literary fiction is complex and ambiguous, trying to be faithful to the complexity and ambiguity of life.
All nonmimetic fiction is a balancing act between 'reality' and the obviously unreal, with no attempt by the author to make the latter seem like the former. Sometimes it's not an easy tightrope to walk. But when it succeeds, such fiction can brilliantly illuminate the human condition.
Even if your novel occurs in an unfamiliar setting in which all the customs and surroundings will seem strange to your reader, it's still better to start with action. The reason for this is simple. If the reader wanted an explanation of milieu, he would read nonfiction. He doesn't want information. He wants a story.
In one sense, every character you create will be yourself. You've never murdered, but your murderer's rage will be drawn from memories of your own extreme anger. Your love scenes will contain hints of your own past kisses and sweet moments.
Exposition has legitimate uses. It's the most efficient way to summarize background information, including necessary information about a character's history. It can set the stage well for a major dramatized event.
The truth is, you have about three paragraphs in a short story, three pages in a novel, to capture that editor's attention enough for her to finish your story.
You do not have to dramatize everything. In fact, you usually can't, not without ending up with a half-million-word novel.
Words that add no new information or aren't repeated for emphasis are just padding. A sentence may carry three or five or eight of them, each one as unnoticeable as an extra two ounces on your hips but collectively adding up to a large burden of fat.
The climax is the place where the opposing forces in your story finally clash. This is true whether those opposing forces are two armies or two values inside a character's soul.
Many novice writers try to avoid using 'said' by substituting synonyms: 'he uttered,' 'she murmured,' 'he questioned.' It's true that any word repeated too often becomes monotonous, but substitutions for 'said' can be worse than its repetition.
If you consistently write 'The sun set' rather than 'The sun sank slowly in the bright western sky,' your story will move three times as fast. Of course, there are times you want the longer version for atmosphere – but not many. Wordiness not only kills pace; it bores readers.
In general, fiction is divided into 'literary fiction' and 'commercial fiction.' Nobody can definitively say what separates one from the other, but that doesn't stop everybody (including me) from trying. Your book probably will be perceived as one or the other, and that will affect how it is read, packaged and marketed.
Readers want to visualize your story as they read it. The more exact words you give them, the more clearly they see it, smell it, hear it, taste it. Thus, a dog should be an 'Airedale,' not just a 'dog.' A taste should not be merely 'good' but 'creamy and sweet' or 'sharply salty' or 'buttery on the tongue.'
Should you create a protagonist based directly on yourself? The problem with this – and it is a very large problem – is that almost no one can view himself objectively on the page. As the writer, you're too close to your own complicated makeup.
For commercial books in a genre, readers' and editors' expectations may be fairly rigid. Some romance lines, for instance, issue fairly detailed writers' guidelines explaining exactly what must happen in a book they publish (and what must not).
Every drama requires a cast. The cast may be so huge, as in Leo Tolstoy's 'Anna Karenina,' that the author or editor provides a list of characters to keep them straight. Or it may be an intimate cast of two.