Writing Recap and Resolutions

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During the first week of a new year, I tend to get a little retrospective before moving forward. So much happens, a lot changes, and there’s so much left undone–unless you’ve been avoiding life for the last 12 months in a  basement or bomb shelter, or you are a cat.

Personally I’ve changed a lot in 2014. The reflection I see in the mirror everyday is starting to deviate from my drivers license photo, which was only taken a little over a year ago. Hair makes a difference, I will say that. I started growing out my hair in 2014 and it went from a bob to past my shoulders in a year.

But physical changes don’t matter as much as personal growth or life changes. This year I ended a relationship and moved into a new house. Shortly after my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I just felt powerless, like someone who has been buried to their neck so people can throw stones at them. I’d say 2014 was the year that taught me life is not fair and bad things can happen to you. But in all fairness, it’s also the year that truly taught me how to be strong.

It’s also the year I found a balance between life and writing. I mean the scales are still tilted in favor of life, but I’ve come to terms with that.

I really feel like I rang in the New Year right because I spent it with people I love doing what I love: writing. I re-re-re-wrote the beginning of my current fantasy novel. I’ve been working on it for roughly a year or two now, and though it is a long way from being done, it has come a long way.

I Changed the Beginning

This time last year, the beginning of my book was a giant info dump. Although it established the conflict, it had way too much information for a reader to digest in one chapter, which was told by a secondary character no less.

My novel now begins with the main character and introduces him, his goals, his fatal flaw, and the conflict. I’m still not completely satisfied with the beginning. I don’t know exactly how it should start. I’m sure I’ll rewrite it a few more times, but it’s come a long way, and that’s what I remind myself when I feel down about it.

I Removed a Main Character

For those of you who read my Tuesday Tips, I take my own advice. Remember how many times I’ve encouraged you to remove or change characters who don’t function with your plot? I ran into a character like that. Her name was Elewyn. When I planned my story, I thought she’d be helpful to the plot, but in the long run, she was just extra noise. The only downfall is now I have a lot of rewriting to do.

I Finished the First Draft for Book 2

I only wish I could say the same for book one. I really wanted to release the first book in 2015, but I may have to wait until 2016. My goal was to have the first draft of book one, book two, and the prequel finished before publishing book one (that way if I make any major plot changes in any of the books I still can go back and make changes in the previous ones). With book two already drafted, half of the prequel drafted, and book one off to a good start, I may still be able to get something out this fall.

I Came Out of the Closet

This year I not only started calling myself a writer, I also discussed my current project with someone other than my sister. Telling my coworker that I wrote fantasy was like pulling teeth, but telling all of my followers on WordPress and Twitter about my novel was a walk in the park. In prior post, I barely teased my WIP until my sister invited me to participate in her blog tour. Not only did I have to discuss my novel’s plot, but I had to describe characters and scenes. Before I was always too uncomfortable to talk about my WIP in great detail. Now I know it’s not that scary.

Writing Resolutions for 2015

Now that I’ve recapped my WIP’s progress in 2014, what is in store for 2015. Again, I’m pretty sure publishing is out of the question, but this is the year I’d like to share my writing with readers and get feedback. I’d also like to have it fully edited and formatted so it’s ready to go at the end of this year or beginning of next.

I’m really looking forward to sharing more about my novels in the new year. Thank you all for reading and sharing in 2014.

Tuesday Tip

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After several weeks, I’m finally going to revisit the editing checklist. Remember that? I posted it back in October. It’s a long inclusive list, and I haven’t even touched mechanics and grammar yet. To see the full editing checklist, click here.

Moving right along, it looks like next on the list is editing characters. You might notice after your first draft that some or many of your characters just don’t work. They may need tweaking or to be cut entirely.

Remember, these are all tips on how to go back and edit existing characters, not how to create them from scratch. That’s for a later post.

Make Sure They Have Motivation

Poor motivation, or none whatsoever, is often the culprit if you’re character is falling flat. Goals, dreams, wants, desires drive every action your characters make. Your characters’ motivation can be simple or complex, as long as it’s the driving factor.

Examples of Character Motivation

Troy

I chose this movie because A. I just watched it and B. there are so many characters with motivations that clash and cross I just had to use it.

Achilles: To be remembered forever and ever and ever and ever

Paris: To be with Helen

Helen: To be with Paris

Hector: You know what, I’m just going to use his own words: Honor the Gods, love his woman, defend his county.

Agamemnon: Take over Troy

Menelaus: Get his wife back from the Trojans and regain his honor.

Odysseus: Not die and go home to his wife

Patroclus: To fight

So how do all of these varying motivations come together? Well, they weren’t randomly selected. The movie differs from The Iliad slightly, and for this example, I’m using the film.

Agamemnon wants to take over Troy and finds an excuse to attack the city when his brother Menelaus comes to him asking him to fight with him so he can get his wife back from the Trojans and regain his honor. Helen left her husband to be with Paris who sneaks her into Troy so they can be together. Agamemnon is going to have a hard time taking the city because it is protected by high walls and Hector, the prince of Troy and the city’s mightiest warrior. Of course we know his motivation: defend, honor, love wife, etc. To insure victory, Agamemnon hires Achilles, the supposed greatest warrior of all time, to fight for him. Achilles, though he hates Agamemnon, agrees to fight because he knows anyone who fights at this battle is going to be remembered forever and ever and ever. He really doesn’t have a personal stake in the battle, which is why towards the end he decides to go home, taking his fleet with him; however, his cousin (in the book he’s just a friend) Patroclus wants to fight, so he steals Achilles’ armor and fights the Trojans. He’s slaughtered by Hector who thinks he is Achilles. Enraged by his cousin’s death, Achilles returns to the battle and kills Hector. Greek victory, right? Wrong. There are still those high walls. They aren’t simply going to crumble just because Troy lost its prince. Odysseus knows that they can’t take the city, and they will all die trying. He does not want to die. He wants to go home to his wife, so he comes up with the plan to turn the ships into a Trojan horse so they can invade the city. The rest is history.

Edit for Function

Your character’s function is to serve the plot. When you designed your main character, hopefully you didn’t just pick random traits. Design a character with your plot in mind. Chances are, when you’re planning your story you had some idea of what the plot would be or at least what would happen. Give your character attributes (strengths, weaknesses, fears) that will aid your plot.

Example: Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes. This would be a pointless fear–distracting from the plot even–if it wasn’t for the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where, in order to find the Ark, he must pass thousands of snakes in the Well of Souls. His fear is not pointless or random. It was a character trait designed to give him something to overcome. It also happens to make him more relatable and believable.

Edit for Consistency

Inconsistencies are very distracting. Make sure your character is consistent throughout the entire book.

name: This is very important. Readers are ruthless when they find mistakes, don’t make a mispelled name one of them. First things first, decide on a spelling and keep a sheet where you list your characters’ names alphabetically. If you’re not sure how you spelled a name in chapter one, refer to your sheet. If you change the spelling of a name, or the name entirely, simply use the search and replace feature to correct it.

physical appearance: I’ve read books where a character has green eyes in one chapter and then brown in another. It doesn’t seem hard to keep these facts straight. Again, instead of planning your characters as you go, plan them beforehand. Even if you never describe the color of your characters’ eyes or hair, decide what they are just in case you do. Draw a picture, cut out clips from magazines, or write out a description. Refer to it whenever you need to describe your character in narrative.

personality: It’s not enough that your characters look consistent but that they act consistent. If your character is a pessimist, it would be character assassination for them to look on the bright side of a bad situation.

To make sure all of your characters’ attributes are consistent, create a character sketch for each one. Not a drawing per se, but a list of traits or a brief description. In this include their goals and conflicts. A character interview is a great way to get to know your character. For tips on this, see Tuesday Tip #2.

So you can see what a finished character sketch looks like, this is my character sketch for Thaolas.

Thaolas is one of four children. He is blond with blue eyes. He has the body of a warrior, but he doesn’t want to fight. He was his mother’s favorite, but he is despised by his lord. He was born the night of a red moon, which is considered an unfavorable sign where he’s from. He is not his father’s heir, not suited to be a soldier, and his brother does not want him as an advisor, so he has a hard time finding his place. He is a thinker, self-punisher, and avoider of conflict. He is also very curious and likes to learn, which means he ask a lot of questions.
Too Many/Not Enough Characters

Your problem might not be the characters you created, just the number. Maybe your main protagonist spends too much time in thought because you gave her no one to talk to. Perhaps there aren’t enough background characters to make your world believable.

To know for sure if a character is hurting or helping your novel, simply ask yourself , does this character enhance or distract from the main protagonist or the plot. For more detail on this, check out this post where I discuss multiple POVs.

My number one tip when it comes to characters, plan them in advance. This will cut down on edits and rewrites.

I hope you find that helpful. Please comment below. What are some helpful tips you have for keeping character traits straight?

Tuesday Tip

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We have no control over the delineation of time in real life. An hour-long meeting on a Monday morning can feel like an entire day; however, an entire day can seem like only an hour when we’re having fun. The only time we can control how fast or slow time goes is in our novels. This is called pacing.

How to Pick up the Pace

For some scenes, you’ll want to step on the gas: cliffhangers, action scenes, fight scenes, arguments, climaxes. To make sure your reader keeps turning the page, eliminate all but the following

  • immediate action
  • exposition
  • descriptions
  • immediate dialogue
  • internal dialogue
  • sensory details

You’ll want to keep description brief. Likewise, only describe sensory details your character would notice at that moment. Perhaps he taste blood in his mouth during a fight or hears a gun shot.

Summarizing

Some scenes just drag. Travel scenes are infamous for this. Describing every detail of every day of a long journey can be exhausting and pace-killing. Summarize slower scenes so you can get back to the action. Think of it as the literary version of a montage. Tolkien does this quite a bit in “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.” For instance, the dwarves stay in Rivendell for 14 days. During this time they rested, studied their map, and learned the origins of their weapons. What could have taken several chapters is condensed into one paragraph.

Eliminate Unnecessary Dialogue

Dialogue can be used to hasten or slow the pace of your writing. To speed things up, cut out all boring or unnecessary dialogue.

Example: “Hi, Bob. How’re you doing?”

“I’m good, Ted. How about yourself?”

“Fine.”

“Did you hear about Jim?”

“Yeah, his wife told me he died Saturday.”

“Well, she should know; she killed him.”

Instead

Example: They exchanged greetings.

“Did you here about Jim?”

Shorten Sentence Length

Long, detailed sentences take longer to read than short, choppy sentences. To quicken the pace, use short sentences or sentence fragments–that’s right, you can get away with these, but don’t overdo it.

You can also eliminate adjectives and adverbs.

There’s a lot of hate for adjectives and adverbs. I never understood why until I read Karen Miller’s “The Falcon Throne.”

Let’s look at Chapter one.

“Brassy-sweet, a single wavering trumpet blast rent the cold air. The destiers reared, ears flattened, nostrils flaring, then charged each other with the ferocity of war.

“Huzzah!” the joust’s excite onlookers shouted, throwing handfuls of barley and rye into the pale blue sky. The dry seeds fell to strike their heads and shoulders and the trampled, snow-burned grass beneath their feet,. Blackbirds bold as pirates, shrieked and squabled over the feast as children released from the working day’s drudgery shook rattles, clanged handbells, blew whistles and laughed.

Karen Miller does to her books with adjectives what my sister once did to my soup with paprika–ruined it!

These sentences are heavy and cumbersome. She uses description in excess during the joust as well: every noise, every sound, the light shining off of armor, exposition, the character’s thoughts,etc. All this description makes the scene drag. Even though these are very pretty sentences, they make you tired reading them. The excess of adjectives and adverbs can blur a sentences’ meaning, while tripping the readers eyes. I know I had to go back and re-read several of them.

Describe only what Your Character would Notice

When writing an action sequence, like a battle, fight, or chase scene, don’t use as much detail, inner dialogue, or description.

Describe only what your character would see. For instance, in a chase scene, everything blurs as you run. Are they looking for a place to hide? They won’t notice the trees are beautiful, only that they are too skinny to hide behind. This is not the time to stop and describe the roses.

I read a book that began with a chase scene. The main character is running for her life when suddenly she falls. As the character is laying exhausted on her back, the narrator went into a detailed description of her clothes, hair, the scenery, and exposition.

So many problems with this scene. Where to start.

Firstly, she would not notice anything serene or pretty, like how the light shines through the trees. She is running for her life. She is focusing on survival, not the scenery.

Secondly, the exposition in this scene slows the action. The reader might want to know why she is running, but this is a horrible time to bring up all the events and politics that lead to her escape. It also kills the suspense. If the character had this much time to reflect, she didn’t need to run now did she? What probably was only supposed to be a brief moment in the story felt like an hour.

Lastly, the description of her clothes was pace-killing, and jarring. Description needs to fit into the narrative smoothly without disrupting the flow.

For example:

She ran, not caring that her new boots were ruined.

Her velvet dress hindered her in the brier patch.

She could hide, but her red hair made it impossible to blend in with her surroundings.

Create Rapid-Fire Dialogue 

Minimize dialogue tags, reactions, and attributions so your dialogue is short and snappy. This will give the impression that your characters are talking quickly in rapid-fire succession. This is great for arguments. Some authors believe readers rely heavily on dialogue tags to know who is talking, but as long as you make it clear who is speaking to start with, and as long as there aren’t too many characters in one scene, it will be understood.

How to Slow Pacing

Have you ever heard the expression, don’t rush the good things. Maybe it’s a Tina Turner song and not an expression at all. Anyway, sometimes it’s better to slow the pace. This is good for slower scenes, character development, or romantic scenes.

There is a difference between slowing the pace and killing it. Let’s look at some tricks for slowing pace. You might assume you can take the tips from above and flip them. You’d be correct. It really is as simple as that.

To slow pacing include:

  • descriptions
  • inner dialogue
  • exposition
  • all those things we crossed out from the list above

Avoid

  • info dumps
  • redundancies
  • being over descriptive
  • too much inner dialogue or dialogue that rambles

Be Descriptive

Just like the fast scenes, focus on what your character would notice. In a slower scene they might have more time to reflect on their past, focus on setting, or stop and smell the roses.

Dialogue

In a slower scene, you can use more dialogue tags, actions, reactions, and inner thoughts than you could in an action scene. This does not mean you should have wasted dialogue. Whether the pacing is fast or slow, dialogue should start with the introduction of the important information and end when the characters conclude the main point. Don’t let them meander too long. Leave out lengthy introductions, greetings, and small talk. Let’s return to that first example. For starters, you would still leave out the “Hi, Bob.”

They exchanged greetings.

“Did you hear about Jim?” Bob spoke into his coffee cup as he took a drink, his voice suddenly lower as if there was someone else in the break room who might overhear.

Ted rubbed the back of his neck. He almost wished someone would interrupt. “Yeah, his wife told me he died Saturday.”

Bob slammed his mug down. “Well, she should know; she killed him.”

So there you have it, just a little advice on pacing your narrative. Hope you found that helpful!

 

 

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1It’s Tuesday again, which means it’s time for another Tuesday Tip. Going back to the editing checklist, let’s take a closer look at style.

photo provided by instyle

photo provided by instyle

Not that kind of style–writing style.

The trouble with giving advice about style is that it’s subjective. What one person likes, another won’t. However, writers tend to prefer styles that are clear, concise, and easy to read.

Personal style

Style is simply how something is written. Everyone’s personal style varies. Your writing will convey your voice and personality. Everyone’s voice is different; everyone’s style is different, so how do you know if your style is good . . . or bad?

Potential Problems

1. Passive Voice

Passive voice is not grammatically incorrect; however, many readers prefer books written in the active voice. Sentences contain nouns and verbs, subjects and actions. A sentence is considered passive when the action comes before the subject doing the action.

Example:

Passive: The chair was sat on by the boy. (action comes before subject)

Active: The boy sat on the chair. (subject comes first)

Technically, the first sentence is correct, but the second sentence is easier to read and understand. That is the problem with passive voice; readers get confused trying to decipher the meaning of passive sentences. For clarity, use active voice. To identify and eliminate passive sentences, highlight all to be verbs in your sentences (are, am, is, was, when). Make sure actors come before actions.

2. Too Wordy

Good sentences are clear and use strong, concise wording. Wordy sentences can bore, challenge, or confuse your reader. To cut the clutter, you first need to identify why your sentence is wordy.

  • Too many qualifiers–or what I like to call filler words (very, often, hopefully, mostly, practically, extremely, somewhat)
  • Prepositional phrases (on, in, for, of, from, with, about)
  • Redundant wording (advance warning, 7 a.m. in the morning, a brief moment)

Now that we’ve identified some problems that might be weakening your style, let’s look at some ways you can improve your writing style.

1. Sentence Variety

Instead of rewriting or paraphrasing, please check out my first Tuesday Tip, which was about sentence variety. To read that post, click here.

2. Clear Concise Words

Choose your words deliberately. Use specific words, nouns, and verbs instead of vague or wordy ones.

Example: He is aware that his dog is sleeping on the bed

Correction: He knows his dog is sleeping on the bed.

3. Connect Images, Ideas, Chapters, and Sentences.

When you think of connecting sentences, commas and semi colons probably come to mind. There’s another way to connect your sentences, paragraphs, even chapters. You’re not connecting them with commas, but images. Repeating ideas and images will help your sentences flow and improve your writing style. Before you start the next sentence, look at the last one. Do this with your chapters as well. Look at the last four sentences of your chapter. What is the image, theme, message? Carry this image in the next chapter. Think of it like the transition of a movie. Have you ever seen a West Side Story? Before the dance, Maria is spinning around in her room and the camera blurs on her dress. When it refocuses, she’s spinning in a ballroom. In A Christmas Story, a bathroom scene cuts as the boy opens the toilet lid to the boy or mom opening the lid to a pot of red cabbage. Repeated images make transitions less jarring and help scenes flow.

Example: Your chapter ends with a fire or a character blowing out a candle. The next chapter starts with a sunrise.

Example: You end the chapter with someone screaming. You begin the next chapter with someone singing.

See how these images or ideas repeat. Look for these connections in the book you’re reading or the movie you’re currently watching (when you should be writing). You’ll start to notice the transitions aren’t random.

I hope you found these tips helpful. Choose your words and connect your sentences wisely so your writing style will not go out of style.

 

Rising with the Moon For the Sake of Writing Research

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Not one of my pictures, though I took a lot.

Not one of my pictures, though I took a lot.

There are very few things I’m willing to get up early for: McDonald’s breakfast, garage sales, and Black Friday, to name a few. This morning (even though 4 a.m. feels like night), I got up early to see the second and final total eclipse of 2014.

For those of you who follow me on twitter, you’re probably thinking “Shut up about the blood moon already!”

After today, I promise I will, but getting to watch the lunar eclipse (from start to finish) was an important moment for me for several reasons.

A lunar eclipse is a rare phenomenon on its own (2 a year on average), but several total eclipses in a six-month period is even rarer. This was one of four total eclipses in what’s known as a tetrad. The last will be in Sept 2015. Red moons occur every 2-4 years or so, and there have been at least a dozen tetrads in the last 500 years (which still makes them pretty rare). Whenever a triad occurs, it’s interesting to note, it is usually followed by a religious movement–possibly because they are mistaken for a Biblical sign or a warning of doom. I guess we’ll have to wait until September to find out if this tetrad will cause any religious upheaval or “the end.” To be continued . . .

The last red moon I tried to witness was in April. I really wanted to see it. I set an alarm, got up early, went outside in the cold, looked up at the sky, and saw nothing but clouds. I was so disappointed. I had to wait five months to see the next one. Last night, or morning I should say, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so I was able to see this rare event before 2015.

The main reason I wanted to see it was because I have a blood moon in my book, although I don’t call it a blood moon. This isn’t the scientific name. I’m not really sure when people started calling it that–could be a Twilight thing for all I know. Without giving away too much of the story (spoiler alert), one of my protagonist is born under a red moon, which is unfortunate for him because his culture views red moons as an unfavorable sign. All of the societies that I’ve created view celestial events from a different cultural standpoint, whether it be a falling star or a lunar eclipse. Some of them view it as a natural occurrence, while others see it as being a bad omen. As a result, this character is considered ill-fated because of a red moon.

For those of you who didn’t see it, it was spectacular. The moon during a total eclipse looks red because the way the light from the sun bounces off the earth. So technically I saw the light of sunrise and sunset at once. How cool is that? I took pictures and notes, naturally. It was worth losing sleep for.

You might call me crazy; you might call me dedicated. I woke up at 4:00 a.m., stood outside in the cold for two hours, and got weird looks from the neighbors, all for the sake of writing research.

What’s the funnest, oddest, or even most dangerous thing you’ve done to connect with your story? Did you travel somewhere your character has been? Try a new or exotic food? Stare at a moon?

What Would Your Book Be Banned For?

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imagesCA49UIDNHappy Banned Books Week! For those of you who aren’t familiar, this week falls on the last week of September and is dedicated to raising awareness and celebrating freedom of speech in literature. To be honest, most of you have probably heard of Banned Books Week, or at least you’ve read a banned book (either because it was banned or simply because it was an awesome book). Some of you may have even written a book that would top the Banned Book list. For fun, please take the poll below. If you could have your book banned for any reason, what would it be?

Tuesday Tip

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Let’s start at the very beginning–a very good place to start–but also the hardest place to start. If you’re like me, the beginning of your novel is the first and the final chapter you write. I’ve rewritten the beginning of my WIP three times already, and I may rewrite it again. The beginning is the most important part of your book. This is the chapter that introduces your readers to your story. It’s how you say hello and how do you do. If done right, the reader will do that one thing we want them to do more than anything else in the world: turn the page. Here’s some advice about what should and shouldn’t be in your first chapter.

What needs to be in the beginning

By beginning, I mean chapter one. A lot of stuff has to be in the first chapter, if not the very first paragraph. When baking bread, if you forget an ingredient, it won’t rise. Similarly, if you miss an ingredient in your first chapter, your story will fall flat. I’m not a very good baker; I once made cookies that tasted like shrimp. When it comes to writing, I always measure my ingredients carefully. So how do you make sure you don’t leave anything out? There are a lot of elements that need to be in the beginning, so to make it easy, they’ve been condensed to this very handy mnemonic device.

The three C’s: context, character, and conflict

  1. context Give the reader a sense of where they are. I’ve read a lot of books lately where I don’t know where the characters are or even who they are. It’s like trying to read a hand-made map written on a sticky note. If you’re wondering what you should tell your reader, think of the five W’s from elementary school (who, what, when, where, and why). You don’t want your readers to be disoriented, but this doesn’t mean you have to explain everything upfront or else your first paragraph becomes a major infodump. Establish only what the reader needs to know to enjoy the ride. Like a roller coaster, give them a handle bar and a lap belt so they don’t fly out of the cart on the loops and dips.
  2. character The reader will assume the first POV is the main protagonist. It’s kind of like how baby ducks assume the first thing they see is their mother.This doesn’t mean the first POV is the main character. There are exceptions to the rule, but it is a good idea, when you can, to start with the main character. Once you introduce them, you need your reader to connect with them. Make them care. Many beginner writers start with the least important information: what they look like. The most important information is what they want. Also what are your characters main positive and negative traits. These are important to know because they are the traits that will influence the character’s decisions. They  may be his foible, his downfall, what he must overcome, or how he achieves his goal.  If those are the only three things your reader learns about your character in the first chapter, that is fine. Physical appearance and back story can be sprinkled in later.
  3. conflict Conflict is simply what’s at stake. Whatever the main conflict in your story is, it should come out in the first chapter.

The hook I can’t type this without thinking of Mr. Krabs from Spongebob. Many of you have probably heard about hooks, but may not know what they are or how to include them in your opening. To quote Mr. Krabs,

 “They dangle down and draw you close with their pleasing shapes and their beguiling colors . . . they grab you by the britches . . . “

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I don’t think I could explain it better than that, especially that last part. That’s essentially what you want to do: Grab your reader and not let them go. It’s like snapping your fingers to get someone’s attention. Where do you put the hook? Why, the very first sentence, of course.

Types of hooks

  • scenery
  • action
  • foreshadow
  • dialogue
  • philosophical statement

how not to start your novel

Recently I reblogged an article about this subject. There are a lot of things you want to avoid, but based on my research, these seem to be the most unpopular beginnings.

  • starting with a dream sequence.
  • too much exposition and description (info dump)
  • starting too slow
  • starting with the wrong POV e.g., a one-time POV to introduce the main character
  • too little or too much action

I’d like to elaborate on this last one because it’s a pet peeve of mine. Action doesn’t always mean a battle. It just means the characters should be doing something. I’ve read a  lot of books where, way too early on, things start exploding, characters are dying, and cars are going through billboards. I don’t even care because I’m not invested in the characters yet. This would be like starting “The Lord of the Rings” with the scene where Frodo is being chased by the Nazgul out of the Shire. Do you know how confusing that would be? Who is Frodo? Why is he being chased? Who are these people with him? What is a Hobbit? Why do I care?

On the flipside, it’s aggravating when a story starts off too slow, like a Jessica Black song. Consider how bored you would be if the author described their character waking up at  7 a.m.  in the morning, getting dressed, going downstairs, eating a bowl of cereal, and going to the bus stop. After all this, her biggest conflict is whether to sit in the front or back seat of a car. Very little payoff.

Now you’re ready to tackle your beginning. Grab your readers by the britches and don’t let them go.

 

What Do I Write?

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Looking back at my archives, I think it’s clear what my blog is about: Writing, of course. But is it important for my followers to know what I write? I’m curious to hear from you. Based on the overall look of my blog, what genre do you think I write? Please take the survey below. Also comments are welcome. Do you think the genre should be incorporated into the theme of the blog?

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1This week, I really didn’t know what to write about, which gave me an idea. Ironic, yes? I thought, many of you could be facing the same dilemma, so what would I tell you to do? This Tuesday, I’ll discuss how to find topics for blog post.

I wish it was as easy as having manatees select idea balls from different tanks and putting them together. Those of you who watch South Park will totally get this. Unfortunately, it takes a little more effort than that.

When fishing for ideas, sometimes it takes awhile to get a nibble. I typically run out of ideas about halfway through the month. I’ve been blogging about a year (anniversary in September), and I write an average of 11-15 post a month. Many of you I follow write even more than that, making me look lazy. So how can you keep wood on the fire? Where can you get ideas that are fresh.

Take notes

Instead of counting on your brain to remember all those spontaneous (and hopefully genius) ideas, keep notes. For instance, I carry around a notebook to record ideas. I also have an app on my phone to record thoughts when I’m in public. Whenever I think of something to write about or discover something I want to research, I write it down. How many ideas have you lost to short-term memory?

Check out other blogs, Twitter, Pinterest, or Facebook

To be clear, I’m not instructing you to steal someone’s idea, but to look for inspiration. Do not copy a post word for word, change the title and call it your own. Follow or find people in your niche. Chances are they will cover a topic you want to write about, a book you’d like to review, an author to interview, a trend you didn’t know about. You may even come up with a better idea than them or a different angle to tackle it from.

Go online

Google (old reliable) is my go to. If you blog about writing, check out Writer’s Digest, Goodreads, and other sites dedicated to the craft. Websites are usually up to date on the latest news and trends. You can also look into new search engines like Bottlenose, Quora, or Topsy. These real-time search engines follow what’s trending on social media sites, which helps you come up with fresh material.

Bounce ideas off of a friend

If your brain isn’t working, go borrow someone else’s.This is easy to do. Just tell your friend you need something to write about. Unless they are in the same rut, chances are they’ll give you some ideas or a starting point. I don’t know how many times my sister has asked me for an idea and vise versa. Usually we don’t know what we should write, but we know what our sister should.

Read a magazine or a book

Next time you’re at the doctor’s office, don’t ignore that old pile of magazines. My last post idea came from reading a magazine. The article was about weight loss, but I thought the information was pertinent to writers.

Find experts in your niche

If you don’t have something to say, find someone who does. Interviews make great blog post. If you blog about writing, talk to an editor, published writer, or publisher. Twitter is a great place to find professionals and experts in your niche.

Hopefully, that gave you a starting point if you’re still bashing your head against a wall. Leave a comment below. How do you get ideas?

 

Writers: What You Can Gain From Studying Weight Loss

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SIMMONSOne of my reading goals, aside from finishing my Goodreads list, is to get through a stack of magazines my mom gave me. I skim the pages in search of healthy meal ideas, ways to boost energy, and other ways to keep healthy. I was not expecting to get some great writing advice.

I’m not dieting, and I certainly don’t need to, though I could afford to up my exercise. I do what’s known as deskercizing, but that’s getting a little off topic. I do, however, like to read about dieting breakthroughs, because I know people who struggle with their weight. (Although I’m sure the last person someone wants weight loss advice from is a popsicle stick). Back to the point, recently I read an article about dieting that claims people lost more weight and kept it off longer when they set subsequent small goals in place of one large one. The overall goal might be to lose 200 pounds, which sounds really daunting. Instead of throwing in the towel for some cookie dough, what they would do instead is break that down into five-pound increments.

This method worked for people wanting to lose weight, so I thought why can’t it work for people wanting to add word count. NaNoWriMo works like this in a way. You have a 50,000 word goal by the end of the month which is divided into a daily goal. You can see your progress on a line graph or a bar chart, so you see where your at. So if your goal is 80,000 words, why not break that down into chapters or a certain word count. This works for editing too. Instead of making your goal finish editing book two, your goals might look like this.

  1. finish editing chapter one
  2. finish editing chapter two
  3. finishing editing chapter three

Why big goals don’t work

Setting large goals leads to failure, explains Robert Maurer, Ph.D., because setting goals or making life changes can activate the amygdala, the area of the brain that processes fear and anxiety. People often respond to fear by slipping into old or bad habits, which in turn makes us feel like failures.

Large goals also cause people to binge. This isn’t just a diet thing. Think about it. You really want to finish your book. You’ve got 80,000 words to write, so you dive in. By the time you reach 20,000 words, you feel so far from the goal you may just quit. You might write hard and heavy for a week, feel like a failure, quit, and come back to it hard and heavy again. But this doesn’t encourage anything long lasting or consistent. If your goal was 1,000 words a day, you are more likely to meet your goal and feel successful. Smaller goals help achieve steady progress. You’ll write more words and improve your writing habits.

So whether you’re working on the book of your dreams or the body of your dreams, taking small steps towards the top of the hill instead of one leap is the way to go.

Do you break your writing goals into steps? What’s the best advice you ever got from a magazine? Was it related to writing? I’d love to hear from you.