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Friday, January 15, 2016

Tip #13 For Fiction Writers: Thrusting Your Story Forward

Tip #13: How to thrust your story forward

By Peter Gilboy

Often we think our story is in its words. It’s not. 

Yes, the words must be clear, precise and provide us with a visual of its characters and what is happening.  That’s hard enough.

But it’s not the real thrust of our story.
He says he didn't do it.Sure. 

The real thrust story is what the protagonist expects and hopes will happen when he or she does something, and what actually happens. Often it's the reverse of what he or she expects and hopes.

For example, in one scene in the fine film The Fugitive, Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford, of course) goes back to the hospital to find out who ordered a prosthetic limp like the one-armed man had.

Good, we think. And so does he. He’s going to get to the bottom of this. We’re getting there, close the end. 

We’re with Richard Kimble. We are Richard Kimble. We’re living his predicament vicariously. We want for him the same thing he wants for him—to find the one-armed man. We want Richard to succeed, and finding out who owns the particular prosthetic limb will finally do it.  The answer is at the hospital.

Not so fast.

At this point there’s, a gap between what Richard Kimble (and us) expects and hopes will happen and what really happens at the hospital. That’s the thrust of the scene. That’s the story thrusting forward.  If he finds everything he wants and resolves everything easily, where’s the story?

So, the story is not in the words on the page or the picture on the screen, it’s in the gap between what he anticipates and hopes for, and what really happens to him.
  • At the hospital, he’s found out.
  • He’s chased.
  • He’s shot at.
  • He escapes.  Whew!  

The whole The Fugitive story is itself a good example a thrusting story because in almost every instance what the character wants and expects doesn’t happen. Something else happens. And that something thrusts the story forward.  
Coming in February

  • He comes home one night. Does he find what he expects?
  • He goes on trial. Surely they’ll see the truth?  Do they?
  • After the bus crashes, he has a chance to escape. But what about the train bearing down on him?
  • When he’s chased, he can escape through the tunnels. Really?
  • He finds the crumby apartment where he’ll be safe?  Is he?
  • He goes to the hospital to get the solution to his dilemma and make everything okay. Is it?
We’re with him every moment. We anticipate for him. We hope for him. (Remember he is us.) 

In the thrusting scenes, what he wants and what we want . . . doesn’t happen. That’s how the story thrusts forward. That’s how every story thrusts forward. For Richard Kimble, It goes on and on like that, holding our attention, making us want along with the character.

Of course The Fugitive is a film. I use it only as an example of what a story is; how it works. Most of us have seen the same movie more than read the same book. The principal of a story is the same whether it’s on the screen or on the page.      

To repeat, that principles is this: Our character has needs.  Our character tries to fulfill those needs expecting something to happen.  It doesn’t.  Something else happens.  Something unexpected to the character and to us. 

That’s how a story thrusts ahead. And it makes a real good story.

What Happens with the CIA gets inside your mind.

Take your favorite TV drama. Watch it closely to see what is expected versus what happens.  See how it pulls you in.

Then, go back to your own story. See where this principle of thrusting—expectation versus what really happens, is successful. Where can it be used in other scenes?  Where can it improve an already good scene?

And happy writing!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Tip #12 For Fiction Writers: Writing with the Unconscious; How to Cook our story.

Want to Know the Truth?

Tip #12:  Writing with the Unconscious; How to cook our story. 

Peter Gilboy

 We can’t write without using the subconscious. Our very idea for the story came from somewhere. Where? And even if we do plan the story, are the actual words we type planned ahead of time?  Or do they somehow arrive as we sit there?  Where did they come from?

 Think of it this way.  You have an idea. It comes suddenly, Where did it come from? Did you say to yourself, “Now I’m going to have a great idea?”  Or did it just, somehow, come on its own?

 The subconscious is well known to psychologists and depth psychology. They know we can’t force the subconscious because . . well . . . because it’s not conscious; we're not even aware of it during our day.

But psychologists also know that things can bubble up in us. From my own experience, I know that if something isn’t bubbling up for me, then maybe what I’m writing is just another 
version of Law and Order, or some sitcom, or something else wholly ordinary.

The unconscious is not ordinary.

Many author recommend against over-planning our story.  Get a direction yes, but if we plan it all out, not only is there no surprise for us but mostly likely no surprise for our reader either. They can see the climax coming.  Our readers are always trying to anticipate the next development in our story, see ahead of us, all the way to the conclusion. Their minds are racing forward to find the possible endings before we show the ending to them. 

He said he didn't do it.
In other words, our readers are calculating. If all we do is calculate too, there’s no surprise for either of us. It’s ordinary. It’s unsatisfying to the reader.

Again: The unconscious is not ordinary.

POINT:  Resist over-planning.  Resist rushing forward. Wait. Let the story dwell in us. Let’s cook each chapter, let it simmer there. Chances are if we push ahead, our scenes and dialogues will be right off some TV show. That’s not good enough. 

So wait. Stew. Go for a run. Take a bath. Take a nap. But always take a pad and pencil or a tape recorder with you. Some of the best ideas arrive at odd times. We can’t control when.

Listen to what bubbles up. Trust it. For now, at least. 

Consider this: That our story is already there, somewhere, and we don’t have to make it up. We have to discover it. We have to discover what’s waiting there for us.  And let the unconscious find it.

Homework: So when we’re stuck, or trying to decide on the next scene, don’t fight it. Don’t force it. Let's remember that we’re not totally in control of our story. If we were in total control, it would be just another TV drama. We want our story to be different.

Before starting a chapter, why not go for a run, or undertake some other solitary diversion? Keep the story in the back of the mind, somewhere right there on the border of consciousness. Let it cook there. See what happens. Get deeper in the story. Live it. We’re one of the characters. What is he or she thinking? What is he or she going to do NOW.

That’s the same place the great works of art came from.  The great novels. The great novels weren’t wholly planned beforehand, chapter by chapter, spelled out character by character. They rose up from inside the artist.  

That’s why we should also be reading top-notch novels. Watching top-notch films. View top-notch art. Avoiding TV. Avoiding typical romance and detective stories. We want something different. We want something better.  

Ordinary doesn’t cut it.  Choose to be different.

Happy Writing

Peter Gilboy is a former ditch digger, short order cook, bartender, truck driver, soldier, counselor and academic.  He has been in jail only once. Peter almost always takes his meds.  
His website is    You can contact him at

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tip #11 For Fiction Writers: The dirtiest words of all.

Tip  #11  The dirtiest words of all.

By Peter Gilboy

  I consider the dirtiest words to be clutter words. Often they end in LY. Mostly they are adverbs. Sometimes LY words are adjectives too.
Want to know the truth?

Why are LY words dirty?  Because they say little. They’re weak. They’re just there because  . . . well, because they’re there. Sort of like when someone cusses just for the hell of it, sprinkling a sentence with unnecessary expletives.  

Yes, sometimes swear words are appropriate for our characters. They help define him or her, or help emphasize a moment.  “God damn!”  “Oh, shit.”  Here they might work. But if they’re unnecessary, then it looks like your character doesn’t have a vocabulary. You can be sure, then, that your reader will find the dialogue tedious.

-LY words are easy. They're cheap. They’re like a grinning used car salesman, or one of those 50% OFF EVERYTHING!! ads. They’re like a hooker who just lays there pretending to moan. It's a good show, but it doesn't mean anything."












…and so on.

What’s wrong with these? They’re extra. They slow down the scene. Whatever they represent might be better understood through a more carefully-placed word or a better crafting of the scene.
He said he didn't do it.

“He ran quickly.”


“He raced.”  Better, yes?

How about this line: “She was dressed beautifully.” 

Can you see her? Have an image of her in your mind? 

No. The word “beautifully” brings no specific image of her. It’s extra. It’s cheap. Why not share the colors and textures of what she’s wearing? Why not share that her gown is low-cut or rides low on her shoulders, or how it falls around thighs. Maybe include how the heels make her taller and erect, or that fabric presses hard against his breasts.

In Jodi Picoult's book Plain Truth, an attorney says this to the defendant's relative:

"I'm going to have psychiatrist come out and talk to her."
Leda blinked. "A psychiatrist?"

Note that Leda didn't say it "hurriedly," "quickly," with astonishment or anything else.  She blinked.

Can you see the image? Of course. 

“The river moved slowly through the hills.”

Why not?: “The river wandered through the hills."

"She kissed him softly." Why not put it in a fuller context?

Why not? She leaned toward him and put her lips to his.

KEY POINT: 19 out of 20 times an LY word is not needed. They hurt our writing.

You can prove it to yourself: Pick up a Steinbeck story or a Hemmingway, or one of the fine current writers like Scott Turow, Jodi Picoult, Dean Koontz or John Connolly. Look for LYs. They’re not there. Or, some may be there, but only sprinkled in when absolutely needed
What happens when the CIA gets inside your mind?

Steven King adds this:
Adverbs...seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. …With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.  On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft

Homework:  We can go to Amazon and choose a book we’re especially fond of. Then click on the “Look Inside” feature. Read the first pages or the whole chapter. Search for –LY words.  Are they there? 

Then choose 3 or 4 books at random, doing the same thing. Compare Indie novels to traditional published. Look to see if the writing provides an image without using LY, or whether LY is used when another and better word could be substituted.

And of course, we can go through our own chapters and use the Word search function to find out own LYs.  See it they are necessary. Could the scene better, clearer, with a more carefully place word?

And happy writing.

Peter Gilboy is a former ditch digger, short order cook, bartender, truck driver, soldier, counselor and academic.  He has been in jail only once. Peter almost always takes his meds.  
His website is    You can contact him at

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Tips #10 for Fiction Writers: There Must Be Resistance in Every Scene

Tip #10: There Must Be Resistance in Each Dialogue
By Peter Gilboy

Let's say you're writing your story.  And, your protagonist needs help. So he calls for help:

Mary:  "Tom, I need your help!"
 Tom:  "I'll be right there, Mary."

How was that?  Interesting. No.  Moves the story forward?  No.  It does almost nothing at all because there's no resistance in the dialogue.  No opposition.  That part of the dialogue might as well be left out. 

Our stories are about conflict. All of them. And with our stories our characters must meet resistance. Resistance moves the dialogue to a different place, and the story too. Try these instead:

Mary:  "Tom, I need your help!"
 Tom:  "Mary, I'm just walking into a job interview." (He probably doesn't care.)
Mary:  "Tom, I need your help!"
 Tom:  "Why do you keep calling?"  
             (She's been harassing him.)

Mary:  "Tom, I need your help!"
 Tom:  "Mary, I can't come every time you call."
            (There's been a long history of this."

Mary:  "Tom, I need your help!"
 Tom:  "I told you never to call me at home!" 
            (They're having an affair.)

See how the story advances? 

Point: With each and every line, a writer reveals something the reader didn't know before. And it's done through resistance. 

Here's a famous telephone scene from a film.  It's when Joe Turner (Robert Redford) calls the CIA for help. Yes, it's from Three Days of the Condor.  Joe is a reader for the CIA. That's all he does. He reads and reads looking for tips and tricks that can help the CIA.

Then one morning Joe returns to work at their downtown office- a CIA cover, and everyone is dead. Slaughtered.

          He runs out the door to a pay phone. Dials 911.
"Police Headquarters." 
(Realizing they can't help, he hangs up.) Click. (He dials a prearranged number he has memorized.)
"Hello," he says.
"This is the Major."
"This is Joe Turner.  Listen . . ."
Product Details"What? I told you, My name's Turner. I work for you. Something's happened. Somebody came in and . . ."
"What is your designation."
"This is . . . Oh! . . . Condor. Section 9, Department 17. Everyone's been hit!"
"What level?"
"Level of damage."
"Total. Everybody! Janice. Dr. Lappe, and Harold was in the--"
"Are you on a company line?"
"I'm in the street. It's a payphone near--."
"You're in violation of secure conversations, Condor."
"You stupid son of a bitch! I'm telling you, I came back with lunch, it was raining, and the whole house was murdered! Everyone's dead!"
"Right. Has the incident been discovered by anyone outside the company?"
"I don't know. I don't think so." 
"Are you damaged?"
"Damaged? ... uh, no."
"Are you armed?"
"I've got Mrs. -- what's her name? Nightingale?  She was afraid of being raped. She kept a gun--"
"Identify the armament."
".... 357 Magnum. Will you get me in? I'm not a field agent. I just read books!"
"Leave the area."
"Should I head downtown now?
"Negative. Find a secure location."
"Avoid any place where you are known. Do not go home. Repeat--Do not go home.  
"Then where? Where's secure?"
"Condor, look up an old friend."
"A schoolchum. Someone you've lost touch with, haven't been seeing. Try the phone book. Surface again and call the Major in two hours. . .that'll be 14:30 your time. Do you have it Condor?"
"Walk away from the phone, Condor. Don't hang up."
He says he didn't do it.Sure.

Okay, this is a thriller, and the conversation is thrilling.  And it's telephone conversation. But maybe it's a regular conversation, face to face, you're writing, and it's a drama, or a love story, or a comedy. Is there still conflict, friction, resistance?  Yes.  

Here's from When Harry Met Sally. (Again, I'm using a film as an example, because we've seen more of the same movies than we've read the same books.) 

You remember one of the first scenes: Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) have just met and they have to share a long drive together, from Chicago to New York.  Pretty simple, huh?  Take a look at the opposition in the scene?  What do we learn about the characters? Does this scene push the story foward? 

Product DetailsHarry: "I hope this isn't going to be one of those trips with a lot of long, awkward silences."
Sally: "Me too."
"Why don't you tell me the story of your life." 
"The story of my life?"
"We've got 18 hours to kill before we get to New York."
"The story of my life isn't even going to get us out of Chicago. I mean, nothing's happened to me yet. That's why I'm going to New York."
"So something can happen to you?"
"Like what?"
"Like I'm going to go to journalism school and become a reporter."
"So you can write about things that happen to other people?"
"That's one way to look at it."
"Suppose nothing happens to you. Suppose you live there your whole life and nothing happens and you never meet anyone and you never become anything and finally you die one of those New York deaths where nobody even notices for two weeks until the smell drifts out into the hallway."
"Amanda mentioned you had a dark side."
"That's what drew her to me."  
Even in comedy there is opposition. How much do we know now about the characters here? What kind of people are they? Do you like them?  And note how each sentence is so carefully written that we don't even have to be told who is speaking. We know from the previous sentence or because it's within the character of the person who is saying it.

Point: Opposition moves the story foward. 

Point: In opposition we learn more about each character. 

Point: Every scene should have opposition, or else it's boring. Yes, boring.  


Choose a script, any script. Just Google the script for your favorite movie. Godfather? Okay. Love Story? Okay. Shakespeare? Even better. Or choose your favorite character - Whoopie, or Denzel, or Hamlet, or anyone, and look at how the story moves on the pages. See how there's oppostion in each scene. Watch how the oppostion moves the story without the viewer/reader even being aware of it. 

Then we go back to our own writings. See where our stories aren't advance because of no opposition. Maybe people are just doing stuff. Make it better. Bring out the opposition!

  And, Happy Writing.

Peter Gilboy is a former ditch digger, short order cook, bartender, truck driver, soldier, counselor and academic.  He has been in jail only once. Peter almost always takes his meds.  
His website is    You can contact him at

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Tip #9 for Fiction Writers: When Writing Dialogue, Don't Use 'Yes' or 'No.'

Tip #9 : In Writing Dialogue, Don't Use 'Yes' or 'No.' 

 By Peter Gilboy

When was the last time you heard someone 
answer a question directly with a “yes” or “no.”

Here’s an example.
Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
 Tony: “Yes, I did.”

Would Tony really speak like that?  Probably not.

Point: People don’t say what they mean. Our characters shouldn’t either. Our characters should dance around it. Allude to it. Evade saying it. Avoid saying it. Then its real.
He said it didn't do it.

Does his answer, “Yes, I did,” push the story forward? Did it introduce new information into the story?  Not at all.

So, how can we improve it so there's new information about Sarah and Tony?

How about these?:

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
 Tony: “It wasn’t sex.”  (It was love? Something else? Now we want to know more.)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
 Tony: “If you call that sex.” (It wasn’t so good, huh?)

 Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
  Tony: “Everyone needs a first.”  (It was his first time.)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
 Tony: “You jealous?”  (They were former boyfriend-girlfriend.)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
 Tony: “There wasn’t enough time.” (He would have, but he didn’t.)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
  Tony: “Are you kidding?”  (Hmmm. What could this mean?)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
  Tony: “Like you care.”  (He’s noncommittal. He still has feelings for Sarah.)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
  Tony: “What’s that supposed to mean?” (Typical guy.)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
 Tony: “Do you know how old she is?”  (Noncommittal –new info- maybe young, maybe old.)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
  Tony: “What do you think?”  (Noncommittal – and we’ll know more about Sarah by her response.)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her?”
  Tony: “You’re the one I love.”  (Noncommittal – but we know more about them.)

Sarah: “Did you have sex with her!”
 Tony:  (Add your own answer)
Want to know the truth?

In each of these cases Tony did not say "Yes" or "No." But the dialogue was real.  And “Yes” or “No” was implied in each response as the dialogue introduced new information. It advanced the story.

Bob "Are you really quitting your job?"
Jim  "Yes."


Bob "Are you really quitting your job?"
Jim  "Can't wait."

Which gives you most information in a short space?


Look at the dialogue in our own stories.  Are there any Yes’s or No’s where there could be something better? Again, we (you and me) don’t really say what they mean. Our characters shouldn’t either. They should dance around what they mean. Evade it. Avoid saying it. The reader will understand. 

There’s the old writer’s dictum: If your characters say what they really mean, the story is in trouble.

So, really, when was the last time we heard someone answer directly? 
(Probably in a court of law.)

How do we learn to write better dialogues. It's simple. By listening carefully to the people around us. Use real dialogue and our stories will be smoother, fuller, and move much more quickly. 

 Happy writing. 

Peter Gilboy is a former ditch digger, truck driver, short order cook, soldier and academic.  He has been in jail only once. Peter almost always takes his meds.
He says he didn't do it.

Peter Gilboy is a former ditch digger, short order cook, bartender, truck driver, soldier, counselor and academic.  He has been in jail only once. Peter almost always takes his meds.  

His website is    You can contact him at

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Tip #8 for Fiction Writers: Our Protagonists Must Risk it All.

Tip #8:  Our Protagonists must Risk it All   

By Peter Gilboy

Our stories are not like real life. Our main character does not go to the bathroom twice a day. Our main character does not wash the dishes or shop for tomatoes. Or clean the fridge. Our main character probably does not wonder about the calories in his or her meal.

Why not? Because in our stories all the little things in life are pushed aside. Our story--the decisions of our protagonist--come to the front. That he or she takes risks.
Annie Taylor Discovers the darkest lie of all.
(Coming Soon)
What is the story? It always centers around a decision our main character makes. Our story centers around a dire risk that the protagonist chooses. Of course our characters each have their own desire. That’s what moves them forward in our stories. But our main character must have the strongest desire of all, so strong that he or she will risk everything.

That risk must also change his or her world. Not the planet. Just his or her personal world. And if he or she fails, it’s not regular life that returns, but a wholly different and unwanted life. Our character risks everything.

Take the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The 'inciting incident' (see previous 'tips' about this) is when Katniss' sister Prim is chosen to fight in the Hunger Games. Katniss steps forward, pulls her sister aside, and takes her place knowing she will almost surely die.  All is risked. It's all or nothing.

Or take Jodi Picoults story, Larger Than Life.  It's about a wildlife researcher in Africa who goes against every rule: Rather than let a baby elephant die as it naturally would without it's mother, she brings it back to her tent.
Product Details

Okay, that doesn’t seem like much. The researcher is not going to die, like in The Hunger Games. The world will not collapse even if the baby elephant dies. The sun will not explode. No nukes will detonate as they might for Jack Bauer. 

But within her life, within the context of her story, the risk is enormous.  If she is found out, she would lose her credentials and her career.  Her life as a research would be over. And, because she's taken this risk, we are pulling for her. We are concerned for her.  We like her and want her to succeed. Of course we like the baby elephant too.  And how the heck is she going to hide a baby elephant in her tent?  You'll have to read the story to find out. 

Or take Mildred Pierce. That’s the name of the novel by James M. Cain and the HBO miniseries. Who is she? She’s a middle class housewife in the 1930’s, a victim of the depression, who is stuck with a worthless husband, and who has two daughters, Veda and Ray.

Product DetailsWhat does she risk? She risks being even poorer by kicking her loser husband out. She risks the scorn of her children by deciding to take a menial job as a waitress. She even has to hide her uniform from priggish and abusive daughter Veda who will do everything to not be seen as “common.”

Not much of a risk, you’re thinking? Wrong. In the context of the story it is everything—the loss of the respect of her children.
What else does she risk? She risks starting a restaurant. In the midst depression.  

Okay, I understand; it's not a Jack Bauer moment where Los Angeles will blow up or the president will be assignated. But given Mildred Pierce's world, it's enough. And we feel that because the author has successfully brought us inside her world. 

And yes, Mildred Pierce's risk will evoke an opposition, an antagonism, from the world around her and its peoples. That’s what makes her risk even greater.

In short, Mildred’s risk is everything in her own world. If she fails, she’ll be worse than penniless. She’ll be in the street.  She’ll lose the respect of Veda. She’ll be left with nothing at all.

When you're reading a book or even watching a TV drama, ask yourself what happens if the protagonist fails. If he or she just goes back to the same old job and life, then the risk isn't great enough, isn't interesting enough. And it's not enough for our stories either.

What happens to Mildred Pierce?  Sorry, no spoilers here.

As you read your next novel or watch a movie or TV drama, look for the choices the characters make. Big or small to us, they will be huge to the character himself or herself. 
Adam Snow says he 
didn't do it.  Sure.
Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if the protagonist fails?” That's the question that the author of the story has already posed to himself or herself. 

The answer to that question is what draws us in. It makes us care. It will make us follow the story from beginning to end.

Summary: Our protagonist makes a choice. It could be Jack Bauer returning to save Los Angeles from an atomic bomb, or it could be Mildred Pierce taking a waitress job. 

The character takes an action hoping for success, hoping that the world will receive their actions well; but instead that same choice raises the steady forces of antagonism against them.

That’s what a good story is. 

Peter Gilboy is a former ditch digger, short order cook, bartender, truck driver, soldier, counselor and academic.  He has been in jail only once. Peter almost always takes his meds.  
His website is    You can contact him at