Continuing with Dean Koontz’s, How to Write Best Selling Fiction…
In the chapter on Background (Ch. 9) Koontz gives several useful pieces of advice about how to incorporate background material (what might be called milieu) into a story. He goes into the advantages and disadvantages of using contemporary vs other types of settings. He also gives good advice on research.
The most important piece of advice is that details make the story authentic and I have to agree. Stories sparse on details tend to be a boring conglomeration of dialogue and action, the cardboard characters in a white room that are such a pet peeve of mine.
He goes into how to make even a mundane setting interesting and how to get readers to accept speculative elements.
He obviously wrote this before the “crime” of “cultural appropriation” was invented because he says (quite correctly) that no geographical or cultural element can be exhausted (not by one book or a hundred).
Certain people will insist that readers are tired of certain settings (countries, cultures) and only “marginalized” cultures and peoples are worthy of further exploration. The implication is that you as a writer, as a unique human being, cannot bring your own point of view or perspective to a story. How insulting to dehumanize the most relevant minority on Earth–the individual.
Chapter 10 –Grammar and Syntax– talks about the importance of getting two things right: background details and a respect for and knowledge of basic grammar. These are two mechanical elements not subject to taste. Koontz insists that since they are both skills that can be self-taught, they are not part of the mistakes for which a new writer should be forgiven. And don’t expect your copyeditor to fix it.
It should be noted that when he speaks of respect and knowledge of basic grammar, he is not speaking of syntax and style, both of which make your writing voice unique and should be left alone.
In Style (Ch. 11) he covers the differences between real-life dialogue and fictional dialogue and the pitfalls of making your fictional dialogue sound just like the dialogue you’d hear in real-life. He also covers how to make your dialogue better (so it’s a must read), including the pitfalls of using creative dialogue tags [I covered the same material in this blog post].
Cliches, simplicity and transitions are also covered in this chapter, as well as viewpoint. However ,due to its importance, I will save covering viewpoint for the next entry.