For the next few weeks, David B. Coe is blogging here at MagicalWords.Net about the writer and the reader. Misty Massey is falling in love with the new shiny.  C.E.  Murphy, our own Catie, is always doing something fantastic. Me, well, I’m thinking about swing thoughts.  

Swing thoughts are the few, important, special things a golfer keeps at the front of his brain before and during each shot. It might be, “Pick a target, let it happens.” (That’s a real swing thought as said by a caddy with a lovely accent, caught by a mic, and sent out over the airwaves. That golfer won, as my hubby recalls.) So what do swing thoughts have to do with writing? A lot, as a matter of fact, especially when they get twisted up with writing tips. For the purpose of this group of blogs I’ll be blending the concept of swing thoughts with writing tips, and will call them swing tips, just because I like the way it sounds.

These are more than just concepts and rules of writing. These are things (tips and goals) I keep close to the forefront of my mind when I write a scene, any scene, be it battle, fighting, sex, discord, discussion, fire, drowning, internal dialogue, whatever. I keep these swing tips close to my heart, like a golfer will keep his swing thoughts in mind with every swing. Why? Because I have goals for every single scene I write. 

I’m a commercial writer, not an artiste. I don’t expect people to agonize over my work, teach philosophy or ethics classes with my work, nor do I expect to win a Pulitzer. I’m a genre writer who wants to create heroes and stories well enough to make a living at my craft, well enough to have loyal readers who will pay for my work. I’d like that number to grow to bestseller-dom, yeah, that’s a goal, but I know my limits.

Because I want people to pay their hard-earned money for my books, I want to give them the best bang for their buck that I can. That is my credo, oft said, though I can’t remember using it here, oddly enough. Bang for your buck. I want readers to say, “Holy hot dang!” when they finish my books. (Or something along that vein. Be creative. I’m open to suggestions.) Swing tips help. Seriously.

David talked on Monday about trusting his reader. That’s a swing tip for him, something he keeps in the forefront of his brain when writing or rewriting.

I was asked to give my favorite writing tips (swing tips) to a writer pal for her blog and I got to thinking that I’ve not posted this year’s tips here yet. Yeah, they change every year with the market. Writing, for me, is a commercial process, so as the market changes, my focus changes. For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be enlarging on the swing tips and on the explanations, giving reasons why keeping them in mind works for me, and reasons why that might work for others. The list below is composed of my current swing tips. Explanations of the first few follow.

BIC. Hero? Intensity and POF. Kill A Character. No Duh. BS. Ruthless Words. Transitions. Five Senses. Immediacy. No Excuses. No Fear.

1. BIC: The movie Finding Forrester has this great line: “Thinking? No thinking! Later is for thinking! Now is for writing!” More than anything else, a writer must write. I call it BIC – Butt in Chair. The same tip holds true for any creative endeavor. You’re a painter? POC – Paint on canvas. You’re a dancer? SSS – Stretch, stretch, stretch. You’re a singer? ETVC – Exercise Those Vocal Chords. You have to *do* what you aspire to. Dreams are worthless without the effort and time and practice. In Finding Forrester (see it!) the two main characters are writers (Sean Connery and Matt Damon. What’s not to love?) and Sean as the mentor demands a lot from the protégée, Matt. A LOT, especially of BIC. But his demands are effective, and Matt’s work takes on a maturity and fullness that is unbelievable to his teachers. That movie came to me at a time when I was not happy with my writing career, despondent, dejected, and, well, *not happy* says it well enough. After I saw the film, for the next couple of weeks, I could feel things stirring inside that were like the rebirth of hope in my writing. I’ve joked over the years about my muse (okay, okay, I won’t describe him again) being into S&M. But that ugly, hirsute, bald muse (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) reminds me that it’s work, gritty, demanding work, not the pretty, poetic images of writing that must drive me. My muse has a whip, to remind me to, “Snap to it! Get to work!” He has boots to remind me that I have to walk the walk if I want to talk the talk, and spurs to spur me on when I want to quit. He wears a speedo so I can see all his flaws, yet know that he (and I) can be creative. But it’s all for nothing if I don’t BIC.
2. Hero? Have I Made One?: A.) For fiction writers, both literary and genre, our plot must challenge the characters’ weaknesses, which then evolve into strengths. B.)The plot must drive the weak character, then the character (changing and growing) must drive the plot. C.) Our main characters must make choices and decisions that drive the plot and their own emotional growth. Some combination of A, B, and C is what makes main characters become heroes worth remembering. Real heroes, the ones we remember long after the book or movie are forgotten, usually start off flawed or inexperienced or broken or inadequate. When life/karma/disaster calls on (or falls on) them, they rise to the occasion and develop into something far greater than they were as they solve the crisis/conflict. The flaws keep them real in the readers’ eyes, make the readers want to see if and how the characters succeed despite all that life and their own inadequacies throw at them. As I write, every scene has to meet the criteria of: Am I making a hero? Does this scene make my character have to work harder to succeed? Have I shown that my character has a lot to overcome in order to eventually succeed? Am I making it nearly impossible for him to do what I want him to do? Is there anything else I can toss at him to hurt him? And, then, Is this scene making him change? Is this awful thing that has happened making him grow? If so, then I created Bang for my Reader’s Buck.
3. Intensity and Presumption of Failure: The idea (concept) that drives a story and every scene in it must carry intensity. It has to *matter* to the reader. And it has to matter to me, right now, at this moment in this scene. By using flawed characters, they already start out with the presumption of failure. That’s a line I like because I made it up. The presumption of failure. The writer and reader and the character himself have to presume he will fail, lose, even be destroyed. In a love story, it is nearly impossible for the hero and the heroine to fall in love, and then impossible for them to end up together. However, except in the classics, they do. In a mystery, it is impossible for the protag to solve the murder. In a thriller it is impossible for the protag to survive the assault of the antagonist. And it is my job to build that impossibility and presumption of failure, and therefore the intensity so that the reader has a blast seeing how things work out. This has a lot to do with Immediacy which I’ll cover later, but creating intensity is separate and unique. If you haven’t read Intensity by Dean Koontz, then you have missed a writing lesson. It is spectacular in every way.

Enough for now.
This was fun!



  • Very informative post! Thank you for it. I especially like the idea of BIC! LOL!

  • Emily Leverett

    This was great… for me, part 2 about the hero really struck me. Thanks very much!

  • Kirby

    I seem to recall Joe Stracynzski mentioning during Babylon 5 that he had something on his wall to the effect of: “The Point of No Return. That is where your characters must go.” And it shows on screen – the characters constantly find themselves committed to truly risky actions that aren’t going to go back to the status quo, and that’s why his show was so damned good. So, a good writer’s mantra.

  • I love the whole concept of using swing thoughts for writing. (I golf a little — I’m terrible at it. But my father, who I adored and who I miss so much that it hurts, taught me to play, and so when I’m on the course I hear my swing thoughts in his voice.) As Faith says, we all have swing tips in our heads. For me: Trust your reader, Maintain forward momentum, Don’t be lazy. The first I explained Monday. The second reminds me not to get bogged down in minutia and scenes that might be fun to write but don’t drive the plot forward quickly enough. And the third reminds me to look for new and different ways to describe everything from characters to vistas to moods. It’s easy to fall back on metaphors I’ve used before and liked. But that’s lazy writing, so I try to look for new ones whenever I can.

  • One of mine is, make your audience care about your characters. There’s nothing I hate more, in movies especially, when the writer hasn’t given the character’s enough depth so that when they die it’s more of a ho-hum moment instead of an oh-no moment. The best films, and stories in general, are the ones where you actually feel for the plight of the characters and actually feel their death as something more than just a cheap chance to show some blood and gore.

    Another, I think would be, Visualize. When I write I’m seeing the scenes play out like I’m watching a movie and then I describe those scenes as best I can. If I’m having trouble with something I have to sit back and actually visualize how the scene would run if it were a movie.

    I’m sure there’s others, but those are my two biggest. I’ve been doing a lot of BIC the past week and a half and blazing a trail like nobody’s business.

  • Amy

    Cool mantra. I’ll have to remember them.

    Also, was Matt Damon in Finding Forrester? I don’t remember him, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen it.:)

  • Christina

    Actually, the other character was an African-American kid played by Jamal Wallace (according to IMBD), but the story is the same otherwise–and great movie!

    Great tips, too, Faith! I’m printing these out and putting by my writing desk.

  • Beckey, I do have to remind myself to get out of the chair and stretch from time to time!

    Emily, I’m glad you liked it. (happy grin)

    Kirby, I like Point of No Return! PoNR. Good one.

    David, that brought tears to my eyes. I sometimes hear my mother’s voice when it’s time to wake up in teh morning. She’s still with me and I keep meaning to get her voice on tape so I’ll have it.

    Daniel, I totally get the *visualize* swing tip. I do that myself a lot in workign through scenes.

    Amy, Christina, I actully looked it up online, but with my ability with names (not) anything is possible. I mostly remember Sean Connery, who will be sexiest man forever.

  • Don’t know if you’d call this a swing tip, but I recall somebody saying, “Don’t worry about making mistakes, that’s why God invented the eraser.”

  • God, you people are all so much more writerly, or something, than I am. I’m sure I’ve got swing thoughts (don’t be boring?) but I have *no idea* what they might be. Now I feel like a sham… 🙂

  • Alan, I *love* it! Perfect!

    Catie…You are no sham. Belinda and Cry to Heaven by Anne Rice were once the best, most elegant books I’d ever read.
    I added to that short list, The Queen’s Bastard. It is easily the most elegant, dark, inspired novel I have read in ten years. The language is almost poetic in its richness and the plot is so interwoven that I was wrapped into it like a silk shawl. You may not need Swing Tips. You are just that good.

  • gabriela

    hello all,

    thanks faith for the swing tip..tip. :^) mine would be “don’t give everything up on the first page” and “trust the story and your ability to right it!”

    to many new writers, imo, explain to much, too eager for the reader to ‘get it.’

  • Gabriela, these are great! I like!

    Suspence is dependant upon the writer knowing more than the reader does and giving out info only as needed. Suspence is what keeps the reader reading.

    *Trust the story* is lovely. Frankly, many writers try to write a book without knowing what their story is! Getting that right (on paper or in their heads) is essential to that trust.