Tuesday Tip

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tip#1Saturday, I encouraged you to write even when you don’t feel like it, but I didn’t explain how exactly. It’s easier said than done, and there isn’t one answer. There are more than one ways to start a fire.

Identify why you don’t feel like writing. For some of you it will be easy to pinpoint the cause.

  1. You just don’t know what to write
  2.  You had a bad day at work
  3.  You had a fight with a spouse, sibling, or parent
  4. You are experiencing a loss or illness.

While it would be nice to put writing on hold until all your problems sort themselves out, you have to keep going. You do have to face your problems, but writing can be the perfect distraction from the things distracting you from writing. I know that sounds like a tongue twister, doesn’t it.

Outline

To get back into writing, start with an outline. You can outline the entire book, a chapter, or just what is going to happen in the scene you need to write.

Example: Buttercup goes on a horse ride and encounters three strangers on the road claiming to be lost circus performers.

I can hear your collective groans. I know a lot of people hate outlining. If you don’t like to outline, just call it summarizing. Same thing really.

Get some rest

It’s hard enough writing when you don’t feel like it. Now try forcing the words with no energy. If the thought of writing with no motivation makes you want to lie down and take a nap, go right ahead. Take a nap or a quick break. Once you’re recharged, get back to it.

Skip to the good parts

Someone once told me I had to watch “Brokeback Mountain.” I didn’t feel like watching it, so I skipped to the good parts. You know which parts I’m talking about. Don’t make me go into detail. It was a long movie, and I was just curious to see how Hollywood was going to pull that off. So I watched, collectively, about twenty minutes of the movie.

Sometimes, I feel this way about my own writing. I don’t want to write a particular scene because it’s boring. You can identify, I’m sure. Maybe you don’t want to write at all; perhaps it’s just the scene you are working on.

I prefer to write linearly from the beginning to the end. This is also how I eat cake and pizza. I start at one end and work my way back. Some people like to eat the icing-covered edge first or the crust of the pizza. They may even eat the bubble out of the center or scrape the icing off the top. This is how some people write. Feel free to skip to a scene you could feel motivated to write.

Play a movie or music

Whether it’s your inspiration, background noise, or the soundtrack to your novel, a movie or music can help you write. I like Pandora and YouTube. I created a separate playlist for each character.

Read to write

Reading can be very relaxing, inspirational, and motivating. A good habit to start: Read before you write. Everyday, I read ten minutes before I start writing.

Write

That’s right, just write. The very act of writing will help your writing flow. Be prepared to write utter crap. Be prepared to only write a hundred words.

There are numerous other ways to force yourself to write. Force is such an ugly word. How about motivate. Do what works for you. You must write. Remember you can’t wait for things to get better, for more time, or for more motivation. If you wait, it may never happen.

You, that’s right, you, staring at your computer screen. You’re reading this blog, you’re on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, IWasteSoMuchTime.com. Close the extra browsers, like or comment below, and then get back to writing, right now.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1We all have our own personal strengths and weaknesses as writers. For instance, my sister is a dialogue guru. Her characters all sound unique, the dialogue sounds natural, and she uses dialogue tags successfully. Believe it or not, my sister and I don’t share talents. My dialogue is not only stilted and sometimes forced, but my characters often go pages without talking to each other. It’s safe to say, this Tuesday’s tip is not going to be about how to write good dialogue–not until I master it anyway.

My point is we all have weaknesses–areas that are holding us back from mastering the art of writing. My tip this Tuesday is to practice what you aren’t good at. It may be you need some practice showing instead of telling, or using active voice instead of passive. You might need to practice writing dialogue, like me. Maybe you aren’t good at describing settings, action scenes, or sex scenes.

Identify your areas of weakness

For some of you, this will be easy. How honest are you with yourself? Let’s be honest, as writers we either think our writing is gold or crap. If you aren’t sure, have someone else read a sample of your writing to locate areas where you need a little polishing.

Research

Find resources that will help you master your flaws. After all, you’d never try to make a car repair or try a new hairstyle without looking up a YouTube tutorial, right?

  • Go to the library. You know, that place that has books. Does anyone go to the library anymore? I’ve found dozens of writing resource guides at mine. I also owe them money. Curse you, late fees!
  • Hire or talk to an editor. Editors can help you resolve grammar, syntax, and content issues.
  • Enlist some help from beta readers. Chances are, if you have a flaw in your writing, your beta readers (not family or friends) were the ones who called you out on it. You can ask them for advice on how to resolve your writing issues.
  • Talk to other writers. Find someone who excels in the area you flop. For instance, my sister forgets to describe scenery. I help her by letting her know, as a reader, what I want to have described.
  • Lastly, never underestimate the power of Google.

Practice

The dreaded P word. We all just want to magically be good at something, don’t we? Well, we can’t be. I’d love to just pick up a violin and start playing, but I’m going to have to practice . . . and purchase a violin and hire an instructor. Off topic. Anyway, say you are practicing writing dialogue, you can draw a comic of your characters and put their dialogue in word bubbles. No artistic skills necessary–just draw stick figures. If you’re practicing writing descriptions, start by writing a description of your bedroom, your office at work, or your cat.

How often should you practice? This is entirely up to you. I recommend a few hours or a day each week–whatever you have time for. Take a few hours to locate a new weakness and polish it until it becomes a skill.

You’ll never get good at something if you don’t do something about it. I could go on tirelessly about my forced, practically non-existant dialogue, or I can find ways to improve it.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1

Contractions are common place in speech. If you say “can’t” or “wouldn’t” in conversation, you aren’t likely to be called out for being “too informal.” However, contractions are still a little controversial in writing. So, how should you use contractions in writing? There isn’t one correct answer, because it all depends on your personal style, your publisher’s house style, and your audience. You’ll get a lot of contradictory advice from editors and writers. After all, you can’t say contradiction without contraction. Some claim that if you use contractions in the narrative, you have to use it in dialogue and vise versa. Others say you can’t use contractions at all. So what is a writer to do? Here is some advice on using contractions correctly.

Examples of common contractions:

  • I’m: I am
  • Isn’t: is not
  • Can’t: can not
  • They’d: they would
  • Won’t: will not
  • Wasn’t: was not
  • Shouldn’t: should not
  • Wouldn’t: would not

An apostrophe is used to replace all omitted letters.

Example: Do not = Don’t

The apostrophe replaces the extra “o” which is the only sound you don’t hear.

Example: Can not = Can’t

The apostrophe replaces the “n” and the “o” because an apostrophe can replace multiple letters.

Using contractions in dialogue

Most editors and writers will agree, contractions can (and often should) be used in dialogue. They make dialogue sound more natural by mimicking how people actually talk. They can also be used for accents and dialects.

Using contractions in narrative

This is where the controversy starts. There are a lot of people who say you can never, never use them in narrative, but that simply isn’t true. Many authoritative sources have used, or suggest using, contractions in narrative. Famous authors, like Ray Bradberry, have used them. Writer’s Digest uses them. Even the Chicago Manual recommends using them to enhance flow. You just have to consider your audience. If your audience is a college professor, do not use contractions if you want a good grade.The more formal the writing, the less you should use contractions.  If you use them in narrative, make sure you are consistent. Never use them where the meaning could be unclear.

Example: “I’d” could be “I never” or “I would never”

Unless the context is clear, don’t use I’d.

Hint: If you use contractions in narrative, make sure you use respected, legit contractions. The list of acceptable contractions is long, so I’ll just give you an example of one that is not. That contraction is “ain’t.”

Rules for Ain’t

I recommend avoiding “ain’t” except for dialogue, because its usage is generally disrespected. It’s a fairly new contraction, but that isn’t the reason it’s so controversial. Using “ain’t” is confusing, because it has a variety of meanings depending on context. Originally created to replace am not, it is now also used to replace are not, is not, has not, and have not. It just causes more confusing than it’s worth. Personally, I don’t like it. I don’t think it even follows the rules. Shouldn’t it be an’t? Where did that “i” come from?

Common mistakes

Its and It’s

Its is possessive

Example: The cat ate its food.

It’s means “it has” or “it is”

Example: It’s going to rain, It’s been awhile

They’re, Their, and There

There is an adverb that shows a place or position

Example: He went over there

Their is possessive

Example: Their car is in the shop.

They’re is the contraction for they are

Example: They’re a cute couple.

Placement of contractions

Another common mistake writers make is where they place contractions in a sentence, especially when they place them at the end of sentences. They look terrible and are confusing at the end of sentences.

Example: That is what it’s.

Correction: That is what it is.

Example: He is not, but they’re.

Correction: He is not, but they are.

These tips should help you decide if you will use contractions in your own writing and how to use them correctly. Do you use them in your narrative? How about dialogue? I’d love to hear from you.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#2When we meet someone for the first time, we ask questions to get to know them–unless you’re Toby Keith and you just wanna talk about you. Asking questions is a great way to get to know your characters.  But who do you ask? Characters aren’t real people; they can’t talk . . . or can they? For my second Tuesday tip, I’m going to talk about one way to get to know your characters.

Character interviews are a fun way to discover what you know–or don’t know–about your characters. By the end of the interview you should establish these things: origin, back story, family, physical appearance, talents/skills, personality traits (both good and bad), and goals/obstacles.

You can pretend you’re Oprah Winfrey or Stephen Colbert. Just make sure you are in the character’s mind frame when you answer the questions. The easiest method for a character interview is to prepare the questions in advance and answer them as the character. Helpful hint: use a friend as an interviewer so your answers will be more spontaneous. Below are some questions you should ask your protagonist as well as your secondary characters. Feel free to post your answers in the comment section below, I’d love to get to know your characters.

Start with Basics

What is your name? Any nicknames? Who gave them to you?

What do you look like? What is your most distinguishing feature?

What are you wearing right now?

What do you do for a living? If you could change jobs, would you?

Where were you born? Do you live there now? Where would you like to live?

What impression do you make on people? Does this attitude change as they get to know you?

Do you have family? Do you get along with them?

Let’s Dig a Little Deeper

What is your greatest fear? Who have you told this to? Who would you never tell?

Do you have a secret? Does anyone know?

What is your greatest achievement?

What is your greatest characteristic? Your worst flaw? Does this flaw get in the way of your goals or keep you from being who you want to be?

What do you do when you’re angry? When you’re happy? Which of these do you feel more often?

Are you in love? Have you ever been in love? Have you had your heart broken?

What is your greatest regret?

What is your best talent? What talent would you like to have?

If you were cleaning your house, what would you have a hard time getting rid of?

If you had one day to do whatever you wanted, what would you do?

Who is your best friend? Worst enemy? Which would you like to know better?

What is the worst thing that’s happened in your life? The worst thing you’ve done? Did you learn anything from it?

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1Happy Tuesday, everyone. Does anyone look forward to Tuesdays? At least it’s not Monday, right? Tuesdays seem to be a little underrated. We like Wednesday because it’s halfway through the week, Friday because it marks the end of the work week, and Saturday because it is the weekend (unless you work Saturdays like I do). There just isn’t anything special about Tuesday except for  Blu-ray and DVD releases. Here’s something new to look forward to. Beginning today, I’m going to start giving out writing and editing tips every Tuesday.

For my first Tuesday tip, I want to talk about sentence variety.

With over a million words in the English language (approx. 1,025,109.8 according to the Global Language Monitor), how is it possible that sentences can become redundant?

It’s always a good idea to start at the beginning. So, let’s look at the first word of the sentence.

Opening words

Here’s a quick exercise you can do with your writing. Pick a chapter, any chapter. Circle or highlight the first word of every sentence. Do you see a pattern forming? Do you notice a lot of repeating words such as the, it, I, in, he, she, or this.

While a strong sentence often starts with an article or a subject, a good writer uses a variety of sentence openers. The solution is to rephrase or rewrite the sentence so that the article, name, or pronoun doesn’t come first. No one likes rewrites, but small changes can have a big impact. Below are some suggestions for rephrasing.

Example: Bob walked down the street and waved at the dancing children.

*This sentence starts with a subject. If you’re tired of reading Bob’s name, take the action Bob performs, add -ing to the word, and place your new word at the beginning of the sentence.

Revision: Walking down the street, Bob waved at the dancing children.

IMPORTANT: These types of sentences are tricky because you can accidently create dangling participles. Remember this trick: The subject following the comma is the person or thing doing the action.

Example: Walking down the street, the  children were dancing.

*This is wrong because the children are not the ones walking down the street. Bob disappeared entirely from this scenario. This sentence implies the children were dancing while they walked down the street.

Another way to add variety is to start your sentences with transitional words or phrases such as a prepositional phrase.

after all, afterward, also, although, and, but, consequently, despite, earlier, even though, for example, for instance, however, in conclusion, in contrast, in fact, in the meantime, indeed, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, regardless, shortly, still, that is, then, therefore, though, thus, and yet

 

Example: The cat sat on my book.

*There’s that pesky the at the beginning.

Revision: When I sat down to read, I noticed my cat was on my book.

Revision: Even though my cat has a bed, she sat on my book.

Now that articles and names aren’t  always at the head of the line, let’s look at your sentences to eliminate repetitive sentence length.

Read your sentences out loud. Do you sound halting and choppy like you’re talking in Morse code? Or, do you need an inhaler at the end of your long-winded sentences to catch your breath? Alternating long and short sentences throughout your manuscript is a great way to add rhythm and sentence variety.

Example: I went to Walmart. My family came with me. I was looking for bananas. Walmart did not have bananas.

*Too many short sentences.

Revision: I went to Walmart with my family to buy bananas. Alas, there were none.

*By following the long sentence with a short one, the sentence flows and sounds more natural.

If you have too many short sentences, combine them to make longer ones. Don’t forget your conjunctions (and, but, for, or, so) and subordinate connectors (after, although, as, as if, because). I also recommend combining sentences when several sentences are about the same topic.

Example: McDonald’s has a high turnover rate. McDonald’s doesn’t pay employees enough money.

Revision: McDonald’s has a high turnover rate because employees aren’t paid enough money.

You can also use relative pronouns (which, who, whoever, whom, that, whose) to combine short, choppy sentences, or sentences that give away redundant information.

Example: My car caught on fire. I got it for my birthday.

Revision: My car, which I got for my birthday, caught on fire.

There you have it–multiple ways to add some variety to your sentence wardrobe. Please check out my blog next Tuesday for another tip.