Tag Archives: improve your writing

How to Refine Your Raw Writing Talent – by Jerry B. Jenkins

Discouraging, isn’t it?

You write a few blog posts and friends sing your praises. You dream, Maybe I’ve got what it takes to score a publishing deal.

But then you run your idea and your samples past an agent, an editor, or a published author, and the music screeches to a halt. You interpret their “meh” as a scathing critique and you’re rudely awakened from your dream.

Special Note: This is a guest post by New York Times Bestselling author, Jerry B. Jenkins. Jerry’s one of the most successful authors of our time with over 70 million copies of his books sold. Visit: jerryjenkins.com

Unfortunately, I’ve seen it over and over.

Writers ask me for feedback. I believe they want real input, but when they see my suggested edits, their faces fall.

I know they were dreaming I would say, “Where have you been? How has a major publishing house not found you yet?”

They weren’t really looking for input—they were looking to be discovered.

You might have a boatload of talent—enough to tell compelling stories in fresh ways. But if you can’t accept criticism from those in the business, you’re not going to succeed.

I’ve written and published 195 books, including 21 New York Times bestsellers, yet I still need fresh eyes on my work. And I’ve had to become a ferocious self-editor.

Writing is a craft.

That means you must build your writing muscles and learn the skills.

Writing is a craft. That means you must build your writing muscles and learn the skills.

Regardless how talented you think you are, writing takes work. Many talented athletes never become pros because they believed raw talent alone would carry them.

That doesn’t have to be you, as long as you cultivate your skills.

3 Ways to Hone Your Talent

1. Read, Read, Read

Writers are readers. Good writers are good readers. Great writers are great readers.

Writing in your favorite genre? You should have read at least 200 titles in it. Learn the conventions. Know the rules you plan to break.

You’ll become aware of what works and what doesn’t. And you’ll likely see a vast difference in your writing.

2. Write, Write, Write

Dreamers talk about writing. Writers write.

Don’t expect to grow unless you’re in the chair doing it. 

Write short stuff first. Articles, blogs. Learn to work with an editor. Learn the business. Get a quarter million cliches out of your system.

3. Welcome Brutally Honest Feedback

The fastest way to shave years off your learning curve is to seek real input from someone who knows.

But be prepared. Your ego may take a bruising.

Yes—the red ink hurts. During my early years in the newspaper and magazine business, editors tore my work apart.

But it made me the writer I am today. Without that scrutiny I don’t know where I’d be, but it wouldn’t be on any bestseller lists.

Expect to be heavily edited and learn to aggressively self-edit.

Take advantage of every opportunity to grow. Assume there is always room for improvement.

I am still learning and trying to sharpen my skills, after over 50 years in this game.

By Bryan Hutchinson

Source: positivewriter.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

The Ultimate Guide to Editing a Book

Congratulations! You’ve finished your first (or second, or fourteenth) draft, and now your baby is ready for those polishing touches that will make it truly shine. It’s time to edit your novel.

Ah, self-editing. Some writers swear by it, some writers swear it will kill them first. Either way, it must be done. Or mustn’t it?

Should I Bother Self-Editing My Book?

If you plan to self-publish, the answer is, absolutely.

If you plan to publish traditionally, the answer is, definitely.

Here’s why.

Self-publishers:
No one can truly edit their own work. Spare yourself the 1-star reviews, and have your novel edited professionally before you publish it. However, self-editing your book first helps cut down on rates. The more you do yourself, the better quote you’ll receive.

Submitters:
Yes, you will likely be assigned an editor before publication. But in order to get there, you have to catch the publisher or agent’s attention. To that end, your manuscript has to be as clean as you can make it on your own.

Before we sit down to work, let’s go over the different types of editing a book might require.

Types of Editing

A lot of work falls under the word “editing” or “revising,” but it all comes down to three types: developmental editing, line editing (also known as copyediting), and proofreading.

It’s important to identify the types of editing your novel needs–and do them in the right order. Developmental editing, for example, will probably make you revise huge blocks of text. There’s no point proofreading before you do that, because all your effort and time will go to waste.

The correct order is as listed above: developmental editing first, then copyediting, and finally proofreading.

If you’re self-publishing, you’ll need all three. If you’re submitting your manuscript, all three should be provided to you at no cost by the publishing house.

Here’s what each of them means.

Developmental Editing

Developmental editors take a deep look at the novel structure. They look for plot holes, character development, pace and suspense, tight scenes, and other story-level details.

Self-editing on this level is almost impossible. It’s the Curse of Knowledge: you’re too close to the narrative, you know the facts too well, and you can’t imagine how new readers would perceive the story. Is it clear enough? Entertaining? Suspenseful? Engaging? You’re the wrong person to answer these questions.

You can find professional, hand-vetted developmental editors over at Reedsy.

If that option for editing your book is a bit too pricey for you, you can find developmental editors on non-vetted platforms such as Guru, Upwork, and Fiverr.

Either way, be careful to interview your candidates and make sure they are masters of your genre.

Developmental editing rates for fiction manuscripts run anywhere from $0.03/word to $0.90/word. Some editors quote by page. The standard page has 250 words, so costs are usually $7.50 to $22.50 per page.

For example, a YA Fantasy manuscript usually runs about 60,000 words. Be prepared to spend at least $1800 on developmental edits.

Pricey? Yes. Worth it? Oh yes. The right developmental editor can make or break your novel.

Line Editing / Copyediting

At this level of editing the manuscript, story is no longer an issue. Language is. But not usage and spelling issues. Copywriters look at your voice, word-choice, paragraph and sentence structure, readability, and so on.

This is something you can and should do on your own! Do it before you send your book to be professionally edited, and all the more before you submit your novel anywhere.

Expect to pay $0.012/word to $0.02/word. Per page, the cost will be $3 to $5.

For a 60,000-word manuscript, that’s about $1,020.

Proofreading

The last but not least editing pass will weed out grammar and spelling errors, typos, inconsistency in names, and the likes. It’s a language-only pass.

Expect to pay about $0.01/word to $0.015/word. That would be $2.50 to $3.75 per page.

The same 60,000-word manuscript would cost about $720.

Some professional editors will lump line editing and proofreading under the same service. This combined service should cost about $0.02/word to $0.03/word. That would be $5 to $7.5 per page.

Getting Ready to Edit a Novel

Four more steps before we tackle the checklists.

  1. Let your manuscript breathe. Put it aside once you finish writing it (Stephen King recommends 6 weeks). This pause will let you come back to it with a clearer view. Instead of remembering what each word should say, you’ll be more able to see what each word actually says. Then you can judge if it works or not.
  2. Arm your vision. Install Grammarly, ProWritingAid, or a similar piece of software to help you catch grammar and spelling issues. They’re not enough, but they’re absolutely a good beginning. (Both Grammarly and ProWritingAid have free versions, but ProWritingAid’s is more limited.)
  3. Arm your ears. Install or bookmark a text-to-speech service to help you catch spelling errors, typos, repetitive sentence structure, overly long sentences, and so on. Natural Reader is a good free choice, for example.
  4. Pace yourself. Don’t attempt to edit huge blocks of text every day. The more tired you are, the more issues you’ll miss. Then you’ll just have to re-edit your work on the next day. Take frequent breaks to stretch, close your eyes, or do some deep breathing. This will boost your efficiency.

Now that you’re ready, let’s get to editing!

Self-Editing Checklist for Line Editing (Copyediting)

  • In every scene, make sure the reader knows who the POV character is, what characters are present, and where the characters are situated in relation to each other. Don’t dump this information in bulk. Instead, sprinkle it over some dialog and action.
  • If you’re writing a limited POV (first person or third-person limited), stop after every sentence and ask yourself: Can my POV character know/hear/think/see these details? For example, a character cannot see the color of its own eyes or the expression on its own face. Edit out whatever your POV character can’t perceive.
  • When you write a description, make sure it plays on all five senses (unless your character can’t sense that way). Go for the unusual details: the smell of dust in the air of a construction site; the cool, dry air of a well-maintained library; the explosive taste of sun sugar tomatoes on a pizza.
  • For limited POV, ask yourself after every description: Would my POV character notice these details? Would my POV character care about these details? Edit out or downplay whatever your POV character won’t bother focusing on. For example, if your POV character is fashion-blind, he probably won’t notice someone’s blazer cut—he might not even know it’s a blazer rather than a jacket.
  • Also for limited POV, make sure you describe objects and places not the way they are, but the way your POV character would perceive them. For example, if someone at a café is working on a new laptop, a poor character wouldn’t describe its model and maker. She’d describe it as a sleek laptop she could never afford herself.
  • Make sure each paragraph has a single key idea. If there’s more than one idea in a paragraph, break it into as many paragraphs as needed.
  • Generally speaking, keep the page “airy” with white space. Huge blocks of text scare away readers. To avoid that, vary your paragraph length, and use large paragraphs sparingly.
  • In dialog, start a new paragraph whenever someone begins speaking. Different speakers should not be in the same paragraph unless they’re talking at the same time, kind of like this: “I know what you did,” Jeremy said at the same moment that Louisa said, “I don’t care.”
  • If your dialog runs long, break it up with action that reconnects the characters with their environment. Otherwise, you’ll get the “floating head” syndrome, where the reader loses all sense of the scene except for the dialog itself. Have your characters interact with objects around them as they talk. We humans rarely remain at complete rest during conversation.
  • Destroy all exclamation points outside of dialog. An exclamation point, as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, is like laughing at your own joke.
  • Use varying sentence lengths. Keep most of your sentences short-to-medium, with only the occasional long, winding sentence in between.
  • Use varying grammatical structures. “He verbed” can only get you so far. But steer clear of the “Verbing, he verbed” structure (for example, “Sitting, he looked at…”). For one, it sounds amateurish. For another, if you use it a few times, it sounds conspicuously repetitive.
  • If you do use “Verbing, he verbed,” only do it when the two actions are supposed to happen at the same time. That’s what this structure means. If one action is supposed to take place before the other, use a different structure.
  • In 99% of all cases, use the active voice: “I ate the cookies,” rather than, “the cookies were eaten.” Apply the Zombie Test if you’re not sure—try adding “by zombies!” after the action. If it sounds right (albeit hilarious), that’s the passive voice. Change it to the active.
  • Use a word frequency counter to weed out overused words. Readers will start noticing these after a while, and it will throw them off. You can use a free online counter such as Word Counter.
  • Weed out most adverbs and replace them with stronger verbs. If he talked loudly, he shouted or called out. If she walked quickly, she strode. If he ate fast, he gobbled down the food. In addition to manually catching adverbs, run a search for “ly” and double-check those words.
  • Weed out weak words such as very, almost, nearly, suddenly, started to, began to, really.  They add little to the narrative.
  • Weed out weak sentence structures. Watch out especially for sentences that begin with “There was,” “There is,” “It was,” “It is,” etc. Use them sparingly.
  • Weed out filter words, such as “think,” “see,” “hear,” etc. when they are outside of dialog. Instead of “Johnny heard her scream,” use simply, “She screamed.” The fact that you mention it implies that Johnny is hearing it.
  • Weed out 99% of “that,” “things,” and “stuff.” Use precise words instead, unless you deliberately want to sound vague.
  • Watch out for “Saidism,” the excessive use of “said” synonyms. Use “said” or action tags most of the time. Only when the tone cannot be inferred from the words, consider using a different verb. For example, Nicky can say, “To hell with you!”  There’s no need to shout it, because the exclamation mark is enough of a shout.

Self-Editing Checklist for Proofreading

  • Start by running your manuscript through Grammarly, ProWritingAid, or the like. Don’t automatically accept every suggestion, but do consider every suggestion to see what’s unclear about your phrasing.
  • Next, run your manuscript through the text-to-voice software of your choice. Listen to the narrator closely. If you find it hard to focus on sounds while you read, put away the manuscript and just listen. If there’s anything that sounds even a bit off, pause the narrator and check your manuscript. Keep an ear out for overly long sentences, too.
  • Search for known trouble-makers:
      • Their (belonging to them) / they’re (short for “they are”) / there (that way, in that location)
      • Farther (more distant) / further (more advanced)
      • Affect (a verb meaning “to influence”) / effect (a noun meaning “a result”)
      • Who (like “he”) / whom (like “him”) / whose (like “his”) / who’s (short for “who is”)
      • Its (belonging to it) / it’s (short for “it is”)
      • That (refers to inanimate objects) / who (refers to people)
      • Then (“at that time,” or “next”) / than (used for comparison)
      • Lose (the opposite of “to win”) / loose (the opposite of “tight”)
      • There are no such things as “alot” (it’s “a lot”) and “infact” (it’s “in fact”).
      • There are many more. If you’re unsure about any word in your manuscript, look it up in the context of a sentence example to make sure you get it right.
  • Search and replace all double spaces. They are relics of a publishing world long-gone. In your word-processing software, start a new “Search and Replace.” In the search phrase box, hit the spacebar twice. In the replace phrase box, hit the spacebar once. Select “Replace All.”
  • Print out the manuscript and read it carefully. Highlight errors and typos. Write comments on post-it notes and stick them directly onto the relevant page.
  • Mind how you capitalize and punctuate dialog.
  • Keep your tenses consistent. If you’re writing the story in the past tense, present-tense verbs have no place in it.
  • Scene break? Use an extra empty line, or centered asterisks (* * *), or a single centered pound sign (#).

A Note on Editing a Book

Remember, no one can completely self-edit his or her own manuscript. You’re bound to miss things. That’s okay. Self-editing is not meant to replace professional editing by a fresh set of eyes. Its job is to increase your chances with traditional publishers–or to save money when hiring a professional editor for self-publishing.

And finally, learn to enjoy, or even love, editing. Think of it as a golden opportunity to squeeze the most juice out of every word you use in your novel, or to sharpen the arrow which you will fire into your readers’ hearts. Make the most of it, and it will make the most of your novel.

By Tal Valante

Source: refiction.com

 

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

How to Unleash the Writing Genius Inside You

The biggest enemy any writer faces is one’s self and often appears as writer’s block.

If left untreated, it can be devastating to your output and your writing career. Nobody wants that, so let’s solve this problem!

Maybe you’ve heard of writers who get up every morning and put paws to the keyboard for an hour or two before breakfast. These are the people who churn out three or four novels a year like it was nothing (it’s not, of course). If you’re not doing the same, your gut reaction is likely to be jealous – crazy jealous.

How do they do that anyway? Do they add a magic potion to their morning coffee? Do the writing gods live in the spare bedroom of these high producers? Are they directly related to King Midas so every book they publish turns to gold?

It’s an entertaining notion to think successful people are born with innate talent that you don’t have. That lets you off the hook and justifies your complaining.

But it doesn’t get your book written.

If you suffer from any kind of writer’s block, you know all too well it’s a real thing. Sometimes it feels like a writer’s wall that is so high all the ideas on the other side are trapped there, forever out of your reach.

Unleash the genius one block at a time

Writer’s block doesn’t have to be forever.

Seth Godin makes the bold assertion that he never has writer’s block. To him, writing is another form of talking, and he is never at a loss for words.

If you’re an introvert, that might not comfort you much.

The truth is, words are readily available. You just have to reach out and grab them. The Muse loves the chase, and you can’t catch her by complaining about not being able to catch her.

In this post, you’ll learn how to hunt her down and make her do your bidding.

First, let’s identify the common blocks we writers face every time we sit at our desks.

Perfectionism. “If it’s not perfect, it’s not worth doing,” you might say to yourself.

Really? What is “perfect” anyway? Compared to what?

Everybody’s definition of perfect is different.

Aim to be effective instead.

Procrastination. “I’ll get started writing the moment this episode of Game of Thrones is over.” Or right after you unload the dryer. Or as soon as you wake up tomorrow.

The longer you wait, the easier it is not to start at all.

When you finish reading this post, you’ll face every blank page with confidence.

Fear. Someone might criticize you. Someone else might leave a nasty comment. Or worse, nobody will read your work at all.

Fear makes you freeze. Breathing is hard, and thinking becomes impossible. Except for worst case scenarios. Amazingly, you can come up with an endless supply of those.

What if you could blast past all your fears and tap into the writing genius inside you? What would that do for your production? Your confidence? How would the quality of your writing improve?

Forget about fear for 30 minutes a day

When we don’t want to do something, we do something else.

The dishes are piled up in the sink. But it’s been a long day and you’re tired. So you watch an episode or two of Black Mirror on Netflix. After that, you’ll feel more like dealing with the dirty dishes.

But you fall asleep on the couch instead.

What if you just went into the kitchen right after dinner and loaded the dishwasher before you plop onto the couch? Sure, it’s not fun dealing with the dishes. But it won’t be later either. Just get it over with.

When you’re done, you can rest in peace.

Dorothea Brande taught writers to get up and spend the first 30 minutes of the day writing “as fast as you can.” She gave that advice in 1934 and it as sound today as it was then.

Why did she recommend writers do this?

Because for those 30 minutes, you’re focusing on writing and nothing else. You’re ignoring everything in the universe besides putting words on paper. Call it freewriting, a stream of consciousness, a brain dump, or whatever you want.

How to make freewriting work for you today

It might sound crazy to have rules for “free” writing. But there are a few important ones.

And don’t worry, they won’t hamper your creativity at all.

First, set a timer. It can be for 5 minutes or 5 hours. You choose. If you’re just starting out, 5-10 minutes is plenty of time.

You might want to use the first 5 minutes to warm up your writing muscles. You can write about anything you want:

  • What you dreamed about last night.
  • The weather yesterday, today, or tomorrow.
  • How sleepy you still feel.
  • How stupid this seems.
  • How much you enjoyed watching Black Mirror last night.

The point is you’ll be putting words on paper. Set the timer again for 10 or 20 minutes and you can get more focused. Start with a prompt and write whatever comes to mind about it.

Second, don’t edit as you go. Please. You’ll be using both sides of your brain at once. That’s like drawing a picture, and erasing it at the same time.

The main reason you don’t want to edit while you write is that you risk wiping the flavor out of it. Try this instead. Write for 30 minutes or an hour. Take a break. Go walk. Load the dishwasher. Watch an episode of Breaking Bad. After you’ve put some space between you and your writing, then come back with a less critical eye.

Maybe you can even pretend your best friend wrote it.

Third, make sure you’re totally isolated when you write. Turn off the internet. Don’t answer the phone. Turn off the TV. Let your loved ones know not to bother you because it’s “writing time.”

If you need noise, listen to your favorite music. Just make sure it puts you into a peak state so you write something awesome.

When the timer stops, you have to stop, too.

If you can’t, I say keep going until you exhaust your idea mill.

If there’s one rule you can break, this is it.

Fourth, set a time limit for editing, too. Why edit forever? The more you slice away, the blander your writing becomes. Decide what you want to achieve and edit for that. Leave the spice in.

Proofreading doesn’t count as editing. Of course, you should do that, too. Fix the typos and read your work aloud. Does it sound human and conversational?

Perfect.

And I mean perfect by anyone’s standard.

Especially the reader’s.

In the end, the reader’s opinion is the most important one.

Now go pour out your soul on paper

We don’t want another “me, too” writer. We want you at your gloriously imperfect best. Entertain us with your wit. Dazzle us with your insights. Be bold in your creativity and share the story only you can tell.

If you’re not freewriting already, today is the day to begin.

If you are, share your experience in the comments. Pass this post to your friends who struggle with writer’s block. Let’s start a movement of creative geniuses changing the world with their words!

By Frank McKinley

Source: positivewriter.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

5 Super Powerful Ways to Mine Your Own Life for Writing Inspiration

One of the most challenging parts of being a writer is keeping things fresh. You always need new ideas and new things to write about.

Staying inspired can be tough.

Thankfully, you have access to unlimited writing inspiration when you look to your own life. Your life is full of inspiration, you just have to know how to uncover it.

Before you read the rest of this post, I highly recommend you grab a notebook and a pen. You’re going to start digging right now.

Ready?

Here are 5 ways to mine your life for writing inspiration:

1) Write A Sentence A Day

You’ve heard of keeping a scrapbook or photo book of memories, right? Well this is a similar thing, only you write the memory down.

Grab a notebook or journal and put it by your bed. Then right before you go to sleep every night, write one to two sentences about your day. Be sure to add the date for reference purposes.

This is an opportunity for you to reflect on your day and keep track of key moments in your life.

Here are some ideas for what to write down:

  • The best thing that happened to you that day
  • The worst thing that happened
  • What you learned
  • Your favorite moment of the day
  • A memory from that day you want to remember
  • What you did that was fun
  • Something that inspired you

Do this consistently for several months and when you look back you’ll have a collection of memories you can expand on for your writing.

2) Keep Track of Your “Most” Moments

You know your “most” moments? Everyone has them.

The most inspiring thing that’s ever happened to you. The most fun you’ve ever had. The most afraid you’ve ever been. The most happy. The most loved you’ve ever felt.

I can keep going, but I think you get my point. We all have “most” moments in our lives and these moments are ripe for writing inspiration.

Grab your notebook and write “My Most Moments” at the top of the page. Then make a list of all the “most” moments you can think of from your life.

Add to the list when another “most” moment happens or when something bumps another “most” moment from its spot on the list.

Refer back to this list anytime you need writing inspiration.

3) Recall the Transformations You’ve Made

If you’re alive, you’ve grown at some point in your life. Growth is the basis of making a transformation.

And transformations are perfect inspiration for your writing.

When you make a transformation, there’s always something you learned or got out of it, and that’s what makes good writing. There’s also a potential “how to” in there.

Get your notebook out, open to a new page and then divide the page into three columns, vertically.

At the top of the left column write, “Transformations I’ve made.” At the top of the middle  column, write, “How I did it.” At the top of the right column, write, “What I learned.”

For example, did you lose 100 pounds? What specific steps did you take to do that? What did you learn from making that transformation? Write that all down in the designated columns.

Readers want to be inspired, entertained, educated or all three. Writing about a transformation you’ve made, how you did it and what you learned is a great way to deliver all three of those things.

4) List Out the Lessons You’ve Learned

Piggybacking off the transformations you’ve made, I’m sure there are all kinds of lessons you’ve learned over the course of your life from what you’ve experienced and been through. Well, that’s all writing inspiration too.

Grab your notebook again. Open to a new page and then draw a line down the center of the page, vertically.

At the top of the left column, write “Lessons I’ve Learned.” At the top of the right column, write “How I Learned This Lesson.”

Take some time to brainstorm the lessons you’ve learned, along with how you learned them.

For example, did you learn that “you have to stand up for yourself” after being in a relationship where you never stood up for yourself? Write that lesson in the left column and the specifics about “how you learned it” in the right column. Now you have a lesson along with a story you can write to inspire your reader.

I recommend spending some serious time on this one. We often forget how much we’ve learned in our lives and how we learned it. This is a simple way to keep track of that stuff and have a well of inspiration for your writing.

5) Think Back On Experiences You’ve Had

The final way to mine your life for writing inspiration is to think back on the things you’ve experienced. You’ve done things, been places and met people who are worth writing about.

Grab your notebook one more time. At the top of the page, write: “Experiences I’ve Had.” Then make a list of all the experiences you’ve had that stand out to you.

For example, maybe you met the love of your life while standing in line for coffee. Write that down. Maybe you traveled the world for a month and experienced a wide array of places and cultures. Write that down.

We often discount our experiences and consider them “normal” or “average” because we’re the ones experiencing them. Yet so many people have never done what you have, which means your experiences are worth writing about and sharing with others.

Whether you’re writing a blog post, a memoir, a personal essay or even fiction, mining your life for inspiration is the perfect way to always have something to write about.

Now that you have a few ideas on how to mine your life for writing inspiration, well, then, let’s get to it! 

By Bryan Hutchinson

Source: positivewriter.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

Nail Your Literary Voice with Powerful Word Choices

“It was a pleasure to burn.” The first line of Fahrenheit 451 is a zinger, and it sets the tone for the entire piece of dystopian fiction. It gives us, in five words, all we need to know about Montag, our protagonist turned unlikely hero.

Understanding Tone, Mood, and Literary Voice

The concept of tone, and its sister element mood, can be hard for new writers to capture, and this often can lead to inauthentic writing, i.e. It was a dark and stormy night. Mastering these elements allows writers to develop their own personal style or literary voice.

Word Search: Learn about Tone and Mood from Good Writers

I often tell my students (who range from 6th graders just beginning their writing journey in a middle school reader/writer workshop, to adults in the creative writing workshops I teach) to look at the words and phrases an author uses. This is where we’ll find the tone. How do those words and phrases make you feel? That’s mood. These elements join together to create an atmosphere. Atmosphere becomes part of the author’s literary voice, or personal style.

Let’s dissect Bradbury’s opening line, “It was a pleasure to burn.”

The key words here:
#1 – Pleasure
#2 – Burn

Holy smokes, no pun intended, but let’s just let those key words sink in. Say the key words out loud, paying attention to where your mind goes.

This is what happens for me:
Pleasure – I see images of contentment, happiness, even rapture.
Burn – I see fire, smoke, destruction.

In this short line, I am momentarily content, then quickly drawn toward imagery of flames; a pull that leaves me feeling conflicted, maybe a little icky.

This, for me, is how a writer gets tone and mood right. Bradbury both intrigues and disturbs his reader in one sentence, which is just perfect.

Bradbury continues: “It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history.”

At this point, I would ask my students to underline the words or phrases that evoke the tone. Answers may vary here, but generally, their work should look something like this:

“It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history.”

Again, Bradbury starts with the word “pleasure,” and not just any old pleasure, but a special pleasure. Then he jumps back to a dark place; destruction and danger, images of snakes and pounding blood, but also power, with the choice of the words “conductor” and “ruins of history.” I read this passage, and I feel like I’ve had a shot of espresso.

Let’s look at another author. This passage is from Marie-Helene Bertino’s 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas:

“Madeleine stares through the window into the courtyard. On most days she feels something staring back: a God or a mother-shaped benevolent force. Today, nothing reciprocates. The streamers on the chained bicycles lift in the indifferent breeze. She is alone in old stockings she’s repaired twice but still run. Life will be nothing but errands and gray nights.”

Bertino’s somber tone brings us inside the mind of her lonely protagonist. Though Madeleine often sees comforting images when she stares out the window, through the key words I’ve underlined in the second half of the passage, we feel her utter loneliness, and in the final key words, her hopelessness about the future.

Finally, Tim O’Brien expertly captures the secrets and deceit of a troubled marriage in In the Lake of the Woods:

“All around them, the fog moved in low and fat off the lake, and their voices would seem to flow away for a time and then returned to them from somewhere in the woods beyond the porch. It was an echo. partly. But inside the echo there was also a voice not quite their own – like a whisper or a nearby breathing, something feathery and alive.”

Something is coming for this couple; it’s wrapped in fog and echo, and it’s not going to be good.

Use Your Words: Applying What We’ve Learned

Try these exercises to strengthen tone and mood in your own fiction.

Exercise 1:

Select a short passage from something you’ve written. Read it over. What words and phrases jump out to you? Circle or highlight them. What tone is evoked? What feeling do you get from this tone?

If you prefer not to analyze your own writing, you can complete this exercise with a peer.

Exercise 2:

Listen to a piece of atmospheric music of your choice and jot down 5-10 words or phrases that come to mind. Then use one of the words or phrases to create an opening sentence. Write a few paragraphs, trying to incorporate your chosen words/phrases into your writing.

You might also add a photo. I paired a photo with a piece of music in order to introduce tone and mood to my sixth graders. The photo prompt I gave them featured three pre-teen boys skipping rocks on the surface of a pond. I asked students to look at the photo while listening to a happy instrumental tune I found randomly on Spotify, a piece with jingling piano keys playing high notes.

One student wrote down the following words: “calming, relaxing, damp, trickle, water.” Check out the opening paragraph from her story about bird brothers, Perry and Stu:

“The leaves were still damp from the morning dew as Perry awoke from his nest bed high in the treetops. He leapt from branch to branch until he reached his brother, Stu. Stu was sleeping peacefully. Perry and his brother Stu lived with both parents in the depths of a rainforest, but it wasn’t always as relaxing as it sounds. There was always the hustle and bustle of everyone trying to get where they needed to go before the morning downpour, and every animal had to learn their place. Today was the students’ turn to earn their wings. Perry flew his little brother down to a clearing in the forest where all the other birds had gathered. ‘Settle down now. Settle down,’ said their teacher Mr. Cloud. ‘You’re all here to earn your place in the rainforest by graduating from flying school. Today you’ll be flying around this forest. Our volunteers will show you the way. Good luck! On your mark. Get Set. Fly!’”

Two things I’ll point out about this student’s writing: the first is that the story doesn’t have anything to do with the photo prompt. This isn’t the intention of the exercise; the students use the words that come to mind to create the story. If the photo were to creep into their subconscious, that’s fine too, but in this case the story took a whimsical turn. The second point I’ll make is that this student recreated the lighthearted atmosphere of the photo and the jovial piece of music just by incorporating the words she’d written down. Other words she used, like “peacefully,” “leapt,” and “fly” contribute to the tone she’s set.

Exercise 3:

Watch a no-dialogue short film like this one and recreate it in short story form. Pay special attention to the background music, props, setting and the movements of the character. How do these elements come together to create the tone? How can you capture that tone and the overall mood of the piece?

Final Word: How Is This Going to Make You a Better Writer?

The act of being aware of your words is what gives the words power. I’m not saying that you have to write this way all the time, hyper-aware of your feelings and anticipating the readers’ reactions. Not at all. But atmospheric writing comes with practice, and will often happen in the revision process; this is all part of how you develop your distinctive literary voice.

By Kristen Falso-Capaldi

Source: refiction.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

How Characters Change in Stories (And How to Write Believable Change)

You’ve probably heard this one before: Your character must change throughout the course of your story.

I see a lot of confusion over this concept. Writers can normally nail the change (weak to strong; bad to good; cynical to optimistic) but it often comes from a weird place that doesn’t sit quite right with what we know about the protagonist. Or it’s too big of a change (or too much of a “fairy tale ending”) to be believable.

Let’s take a look at how writers should deal with character change.

No one likes change

In real life, people change in small ways, but they’re resistant to that change. Change happens slowly, in a sort of cocooned metamorphosis, like a caterpillar to a butterfly. It doesn’t happen overnight, it rarely happens without lapses into previous behavior, and there better be a good reason for it to happen to begin with.

The thing that makes change in stories so fascinating for people is that, despite loathing change, humans want to believe we’re capable of changing, preferably for the better.

So your characters must change in order for the story to be worth reading. But they don’t have to like it.

Think of this: Your character changes because of the things happening around him/her. Not because they want to. Your character is forced to change by circumstances they can’t control. To survive and/or thrive, they must change to combat those circumstances.

Events trigger change

Character change is triggered by an event. A big one. It doesn’t have to be “big” as in a death or massive explosion (but it definitely can be!). It can be something smaller, like hearing your friend’s parents are getting divorced or your oldest child graduating from preschool.

Note that your character doesn’t choose this event. It’s an outside force that’s thrust upon them.

Then more events happen throughout the second act that force your character forward in a struggle toward transformation.

The triggering event is proportional to your character’s change. Something small shouldn’t send your character completely overboard. Something large shouldn’t have them shrugging and going back to normal.

Change should be believable

Do I really believe Scrooge woke up with a personality completely opposite from the one he had when he went to sleep? Not quite. I tend to think ole Scrooge went back to his miserly ways right after the shock of the ghosts wore off. Maybe not quite as miserly, but still.

That’s why aiming for a more subtle change often makes more sense within the confines of your character’s personality.

If a timid man is forced to defend his friends and family, that doesn’t mean he’s going to start playing a superhero all over town. That means he now knows he’s capable of stepping up with the going gets tough.

A grumpy teen might change her attitude and treat people with a little more respect, but that doesn’t mean she’ll suddenly become a do-good saint. It most likely means she’ll just stop snapping at her parents.

Of course, maybe the opposite is true. Maybe your timid man becomes the new Batman. Maybe your surly teen goes off to build houses in Haiti. It’s possible. But remember, the more massive the change in your character, the more important and life-altering the triggering event must be to them.

You should know your character better than anyone, so make sure their change happens in a way that’s realistic for them and proportional to the size of the trigger.

Realistic is better than drastic

You know your character has to change, but your readers aren’t going to empathize with that change if you step outside of bounds. Keep your change realistic and in line with your protagonist’s personality. And be sure to check out this article for details on moving your character through each step of change throughout your story.

What’s the protagonist’s change in the story you’re currently working on? Let me know in the comments!

By Sarah Gribble

Source: thewritepractice.com

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My No-BS Guide to Confidence

f I had to pinpoint one trait that all successful freelancers have in common, can you guess what it’d be?

It’s not intelligence… Or experience… Or a high degree of skill… Or even education.

The one trait I’m talking about is: Confidence.

It’s incredibly simple: If you think you can’t do something — you can’t.

Without confidence, you may be able to make some headway, but it’s like paddling upstream…  At best you end up working too hard to achieve too little — and at worst you end up exhausting yourself and going backwards.

Ultimately, no amount of effort or skill can fully compensate for not believing in yourself. Your subconscious mind — the director of the “movie” you call life — will find ways to help you sabotage yourself and turn those deeply held negative beliefs into reality.

This is what Carl Jung meant when he said, “Until you take what’s in your subconscious, and make it conscious, it will rule your life, and you will call it ‘fate.’”

As someone who’s been on both sides of the fence — having gone from having very little confidence, to understanding how to feel confident in many situations (even if that confidence sometimes seems “unwarranted”) — I’m in a unique position to give you a good insider’s perspective that might help you turn things around.

1. You don’t need to reprogram yourself

A lot of people put time and energy into trying to “reprogram” their brain to be more confident.

But you don’t need to do that.

You just need to deprogram it.

You came into this world pre-equipped with an enormous amount of confidence. You don’t need to add any — you just need to remove the mental junk that’s currently blocking it.

This is great news! Instead of rewriting the code in your brain, you just need to delete some, which is infinitely easier.

Think of when you first learned to walk…

You had no “proof” you’d be successful.

In fact most of the evidence pointed in the opposite direction of success — you’d spent weeks or months crawling on your hands and knees, even falling right on your ass.

Did you beat yourself up about it?

Did you hire a coach? Do affirmations?

Did you think about quitting because it wouldn’t work?

Obviously you didn’t do any of those things. You kept on smiling and having a good time because you knew it was going to work.

As you got older, the people around you helped condition you to be less and less confident over time through criticism, presenting their opinions as “facts” you needed to abide by, and even pushing their preferences onto you as the “right” way to be, do, or live.

In spite of everything that’s gotten in the way before now, it’s still relatively easy to get your inborn confidence back any time you want to. You can probably even do it fairly quickly if you’re focused about it.

You just need to erase, and from now on tune out, the critical noise that started blocking it in the first place.

2. Choose to be responsible for your own confidence

Let’s start off with a simple decision you can choose right now, this minute.

It’s just a choice — I’m not asking you to suddenly be confident, or even to picture yourself as confident — only to decide that you are going to take responsibility for your own confidence.

Allowing your confidence to be dictated by other people’s behavior towards you, or by the circumstances and events that happen around you, ultimately leads to misery (usually sooner than later).

That’s because you have no control over those things — you’re reduced to being a helpless passenger along for the ride (which usually doesn’t go where you want it to).

If you want strong, lasting confidence, you need to decide that it will come from you, and only you.

That way, it’s no longer at the mercy of what’s going on around you. You are always in control of your own fate.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to do to get your confidence up and running again just yet. All you need to do right now is take responsibility for it. By doing so, you’re giving yourself a solid foundation to build on.

3. Realize confidence (or lack of it) comes from your thoughts

People sometimes say to me, “But Danny, how can I be confident when my boss is a jerk? Or when my spouse yells at me right before a big presentation? What then?”

If you look for reasons to not be confident, you will always find them.

But the opposite is also true: If you seek out evidence of your own awesomeness and personal power — regardless of what others are doing — then that is what you’ll find.

For example, imagine if, after being yelled at by your spouse right before a big presentation, you decided that their lashing out was just a result of them having a stressful week at work and a few sleepless nights.

In other words, it had nothing whatsoever to do with you.

Notice how nothing has changed, other than your own thoughts.

Yet if you consistently practice reframing techniques in the way I just showed you, over time you’ll notice that instead of taking other people’s behavior personally and letting it decimate your confidence, you become impervious to it and let it all roll right off your back.

If this seems like some sort of mind trick, or intellectual dishonesty, consider this: I promise you that there is nothing more dishonest — and no bigger piece of mental trickery — than letting someone else’s mistreatment of you make you feel bad about yourself.

4. Give yourself more credit

There’s a reason I’m always telling people “my story” — that I have no college degree, held menial dead-end jobs until I was 34, and so on: If I could be a total screw up for decades and still turn it all around, why not YOU?

But even though I tell these stories all the time, people still email me in disbelief, arguing that I must have had experience, must be exceptionally organized, must have been born with a high IQ, etc — even though none of those things are true.

This is a weird thing that humans do. We project advantages and amazing qualities onto people we see as “experts,” even when we have no idea if those observations are real or imagined. Psychologists even have a name for this behavior: the halo effect.

The truth is, even the smartest people know surprisingly little.

For example, I once watched two Harvard law professors arguing about whether something was illegal.

Just think about that! Two of the smartest legal minds in the world — from the same Ivy League school, no less — holding literally opposite views on whether something is legal or against the law.

Do you realize what that means? It means that the world’s dumbest person can choose either side of that debate, and still have the exact same chance of being right as both of the two legal geniuses who are arguing about it!

The line between average and great is much, much thinner than you think. It’s mostly just a choice you make.

5. Be nice to yourself

Imagine having one or more employees working under you… Would you expect them to do amazing work if you were verbally beating them up all the time?

Not only would they be miserable, and produce poor work — they’d probably walk out on you.

Yet we beat ourselves up all the time … and then we wonder why we’re not getting to where we want to be in our careers, our fitness, our relationships, or our finances.

The key to stopping this self-defeating behavior is to realize that doing it doesn’t just feel bad… it’s also standing in your way of making progress.

It might seem like you can beat yourself into being better, but I’ve never found that to work, especially in the long term.

You can absolutely succeed regardless of what others do to you, but you cannot succeed without YOU in your own corner. If you want to be confident and successful, constant self-criticism is a behavior you cannot afford to keep.

6. Starve what you want to die

Sometimes a negative thought pattern has picked up so much momentum over time that it’s hard to stop.

It’s a lot like putting the brakes on a train that’s been moving full-steam ahead for a while — it takes some time and effort to bring it to a full halt.

Similarly, if you’ve been beating yourself up about something for months or years, it’s hard to change your thoughts about it on a dime.

If you find yourself in that kind of situation, you can at least distract yourself from the negative mental loop

In other words, while you may not be able to change the negative thought into a positive one right away, you can at least “starve” it by not giving it as much attention.

You can do that by adjusting your thoughts about it a little at a time, or even distracting yourself from it completely.

For example, if you’ve been struggling to lose weight, you can adjust your mental story from “I’ll never lose weight” to “Maybe I’ve just been too down on myself — I think I can make this work if I start small and build up my confidence. This week I’ll take the stairs instead of the elevator…”

There’s also nothing wrong with avoiding the mirror or the scale for a while, if those things only seem to lead to negative thoughts that keep you programmed for failure.

Over time, that negative thought pattern will become weaker and weaker, and you’ll be able to notice a negative thought and change it to a positive one with very little effort. And if you keep practicing that habit, you can even eliminate the negativity completely.

7. Don’t listen to “realists”

People love to try to convince you you can’t do something because it’s not “realistic.”

But have you ever thought about what reality actually is?

The word “reality” is just a way of describing what has been true up until this point.

It says little — or nothing — about the future.

By definition, growing and improving means that you’re doing something you’ve either never done before, or that no one else has ever done before.

If everyone listened to the “realists” about what’s possible, everything would always stay the same.

We probably wouldn’t even be here since the world as we know it likely would not have developed. Nothing good in this world was created by a “realist.”

Steve Jobs explained this very well in a short video that completely changed my life when I watched it for the first time about 7 years ago — I suggest you check it out too:

8. What you say is as important as — and maybe more important than — what you do

This is controversial, but in my experience it’s absolutely true.

In the Netflix special Miracle, Derren Brown coaches a woman through her first time eating glass.

His advice to her would shock most people: He spent a few seconds on the technical instructions of how to chew up the glass — and the rest of the time focusing on positive self-talk.

This scene illustrates a fascinating phenomenon: When you say something to yourself (whether out loud, or even in your thoughts), your subconscious mind can take it as a sort of “command.”

If the glass-eater had “prepared” by telling herself it would hurt, do you know what would have happened? It would have hurt.

Whenever, and I mean whenever I get an email from someone who has repeatedly failed at freelancing, despite having “tried everything,” I always look for — and virtually always find — sentences like this within their email:

“I’m very frustrated…”

“I’m so overwhelmed…”

“It seems like nothing works for me…”

“I can’t make it work…”

Feeling this way is understandable. And everyone needs to vent sometimes.

But I’m telling you right now that talking this way repeatedly for prolonged periods of time — whether out loud to others or in your own head — is the same as asking for more failure.

I know it doesn’t feel that way, but that’s what’s happening.

You need — need — to find a way to start to turn those thoughts around.

I’m not suggesting you outright lie to yourself, since pure denial can backfire.

For example, waking up one morning and saying to yourself “My confidence is soaring, I’m sure I’ll get a promotion today!” — after years of telling yourself you’re the worst employee at the company — probably won’t work.

Your subconscious mind is a tricky thing, and it can reject ideas that are too far off from what you’ve been telling it for so long.

However, you can start to soften these thoughts, and over time you can replace them completely.

It’s a lot like taking a blow torch to metal: First you have to heat the metal up, then you can bend it, and eventually you can mold it into whatever you want it to be.

I’ll leave you with a few examples of how you might start to soften your thought pattern:

“This has worked for others. Maybe it can work for me too.”

“I can find a way to do it.”

“I’m worthy of success and I deserve good things to happen in my life.”

“I’m sure there’s a better way to do things I haven’t thought of yet. I’ll read some blogs to see what I might be missing.”

“Maybe my negative attitude has been affecting me more than I realize. A good night’s sleep can help me feel more confident in the morning.”

These are just a few examples off the top of my head — you can use whatever thoughts feel good to you.

More importantly, do you feel the relief in those statements?

That relief is your original self-confidence — the same amazing confidence you were born with — starting to reset to its original factory setting.

If you re-create this confident state of mind by making a habit out of being nice to yourself, before you know it you will feel damn near invincible.

By

Source: freelancetowin.com

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How to Be the CEO of Your Life

Photos by Megan Tsang Hand

May 24, 2019, was my last day as a high school English teacher. Last week I gave myself a bit of a vacation as my husband and I spent time visiting his family and friends in Virginia and lounging at the beach. So I consider today, June 3, 2019, my first day of work as my own boss.

Related Reading: So…I quit my job!

I’ve dreamt of being an entrepreneur since before I was old enough to correctly pronounce the word. But juggling my writing business with my teaching career for all these years has taught me that whether you are self-employed or not you do have the power to be the CEO of your life. And if I don’t hold on to those lessons that I’ve learned I won’t truly live the life of an unbossed woman even as a full-time freelancer and entrepreneur as I could easily run myself ragged trying to meet deadlines and care for clients. So let’s discuss how we can all truly live like a boss.

Know thyself.

First and foremost, I’ve learned that to be the CEO of your own life you have to know yourself. Alyssa Mastromonaco agrees with me. Alyssa has worked for Bernie Sanders, John Kerry, and President Barack Obama and in the June issue of InStyle magazine, she offers advice on how to be your own chief of staff. She says, for starters, you must ask yourself some essential questions:

When do you function best? Are you cool as a cucumber or prone to bouts of anxiety? What are your priorities? Are you goal-oriented? How do you keep track of impending tasks? How do you fuel yourself? Do you need to eat healthy? Sleep a lot? Work out?

I know I function best early in the morning. That’s why I’ve spent the past several years getting up at 4 a.m. That’s how I managed to freelance for several publications, blog, and run See Jane Write while also teaching full time.  That’s why I will continue to be an early riser even now that I’m self-employed.

Maybe you work best in the morning, too. If so, you’re going to have to put your big girl panties on and set that alarm for an hour earlier so you can work on your writing before you head to your day job. If you work better late at night, turn off the TV and get to work.

If you’re as cool as a cucumber I salute you. I envy you a bit, too. I have wrestled with overwhelming bouts of anxiety since I was a child, anxiety that can send me into full-blown panic attacks, anxiety that could easily keep me from getting things done. But I see my therapist regularly and I plan, plan, plan. I know that having a plan for my day, my week, and even my month calms me.

I fuel myself with prayer, exercise, and quality time with my husband and my closest friends. So when I skip my morning quiet time or my daily workouts or go weeks without a date night or girl time I start feeling like my whole world is crashing around me. Therefore, I must make these things a priority.

Alyssa Mastromonaco’s book So Here’s the Thing is out now and is definitely on my TBR list.

Be a goal digger.

If you want to be an unbossed woman, if you want to be the CEO of your life you also need goals and a plan for achieving them.

To set my goals for June I first reviewed my goals for the year. What things do I need to do this month to move closer to achieving my 2019 goals? And what goal will be my top priority?

My #1 goal for the year was to quit my day job, which I’ve done. But to make sure I don’t regret this decision I need to keep growing my business. So my top priority for this month is to increase my monthly recurring revenue by $1,000.

Another goal for the year is to write for 10 of my favorite publications. So this month I will send pitches to two of my favorite media outlets.

I want to reach 10,000 followers on Instagram this year, so I’d like to increase my IG following by 1,000 this month.

Because I want to go to Dubai at the end of the year, I need to renew my passport this month.

And to help with my goal of losing 40 pounds I plan to walk/run 100 miles this month as I do every June.

Other plans for the month include three speaking engagements and booking a venue for my husband’s 40th birthday party. I also want to read Elaine Welteroth’s forthcoming book More Than Enough and see her speak in Atlanta.

So, let’s review…

June 2019 Goals & Plans

GOALS

#1 Priority: Increase my monthly recurring revenue by $1,000

Send pitches to two of my favorite media outlets

Increase my Instagram following by 1,000

PLANS

Renew my passport

Book venue for Edd’s 40th birthday party

Speak at the Southern Christian Writer’s Conference, The Women’s Network June meeting and the American Advertising Federation Montgomery June meeting

Read More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth

See Elaine Welteroth speak in Atlanta

What are your goals and plans for June? What changes will you make this month to be the CEO of your life?

Source: seejanewritebham.com

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Seven Common Problems Writers Have With Characters

Most writers love creating characters and writing about them – but it can be a struggle to get characters right.

If you’re normally quite plot-focused, you might find yourself creating characters who are lifeless “pegs” that fit into the right-shaped spaces in your plot.

If you’re much more character-focused, you might struggle with the size of your cast (more isn’t always better!) … or you might find it really difficult to let your characters suffer and struggle.

In today’s post, we’re going to look at seven common problems that writers struggle with … and some ways to get past them.

Problem #1: Creating Characters Who Are Three-Dimensional

If you’ve been writing fiction for a while, you’ve probably come across the advice to avoid writing “flat” or “two-dimensional” characters. These are characters who don’t really seem to come alive. They might seem a bit boring, thin, or shallow to the reader: there’s no real depth to them.

This can be a tricky issue to spot in your own writing – but if you’ve been told that your characters seem “flat” or unengaging, or if you suspect that characterisation isn’t your strong point, you might want to:

  • Spend some time really thinking about your characters. Who are they, deep down? What’s happened in their past that’s shaped them? How have the events of your novel impacted them?
  • Let your characters have moments when they act in ways the reader doesn’t expect. Maybe your sweet, nice protagonist gets pushed too far and shouts at someone; maybe your grumpy mentor figure shows their kindly side.
  • Show your character changing throughout your story. Perhaps your protagonist really is shallow and boring at the start of your novel – but the things that happen to them, and their reactions, lead them to grow as a person.

Not all characters need to be well-rounded, of course. Characters who only appear briefly and aren’t important to the plot shouldn’t be too fleshed-out (or your reader will start to think that the taxi driver or waitress or bank manager are more important to the plot than they actually are). In some genres, too, flat characters make sense: comic characters might be known for one or two funny or exaggerated characteristics, and don’t necessarily need to be rounded out.

Further Reading: Three-Dimensional Characters: 3 Ways to Create One, Writes With Tools

Problem #2: Juggling a Cast of Multiple Characters

Some stories have a tight, focused cast of characters – but others are sprawling epics. (Game of Thrones, anyone?)

If you’ve got lots of characters – particularly lots of main or viewpoint characters – then it can get tricky for your reader to keep track of everyone. It can also create problems with the reader’s engagement: perhaps they really enjoy reading about two of your characters, but they’re not very interested in the other six that you keep bringing in.

To thin down your cast a little, it’s worth asking yourself whether you really need so many characters. Do you have to bring in two brothers for your protagonist, or would one be enough? Does that grumpy woman who lives down the hall have any real impact on the plot?

Walk-on parts don’t count here. No-one’s going to be bothered by you having a taxi driver to get your characters from A to B, or a bartender to serve them, or a cashier at the bank to tell them they’re overdrawn. Avoid naming these characters, and readers will assume they won’t recur (and thus won’t need keeping track of).

If you do need to stick with lots of characters, it helps to:

  • Introduce them in small batches. Don’t open your novel with a huge party scene where you introduce all ten of your key characters – the reader’s going to end up confused and overwhelmed.
  • Group them together in some way. It can be easier for readers to remember and keep track of characters if they’re partnered up or in small groups (e.g. perhaps a married couple, a family unit, colleagues, and so on).
  • Give a bit more information when characters reappear than you normally would – e.g. you might need to remind us that Jason is Sarah’s colleague, for instance, or have characters referring back to the incident that was taking place in the last scene in which we saw them.

Further reading: The 10 Rules of Writing Large Casts of Characters, K.M. Weiland, Helping Writers Become Authors

Problem #3: Letting Characters Solve Their Own Problems

This is can be more of a plot issue than a character one, in terms of your writing. If your plot involves your characters being rescued by coincidence, an outside force, or someone who isn’t in your main cast, then your readers will feel frustrated or even cheated.

This is particularly true at the ending of your story. We want characters to earn their happy ending: we don’t want the hero to succeed simply because the (normally competent) villain makes a blindingly stupid mistake.

If your characters are constantly being rescued by other people, or if their successes rely on a change of coincidences, look for ways to let them solve their problems through their own strength or wit.

This problem might be related to the next one, too, if you hate to let your characters struggle.

Further reading: How to correctly use a “Deus-Ex-Machina” and not die trying, Duilio Giordano Faillaci, Medium

Problem #4: Making Bad Things Happen to Your Characters

Without your characters facing problems … there’s not much of a story. Your main characters, particularly your protagonist, need to go through some difficult, sad, or downright painful events.

Depending on your genre, this could mean a lot of different things. The heroine in a romance might not suffer any physical injuries – but she might well be upset or hurt by a love interest, or might be distressed by a broken-off engagement.

In many genres, there’ll be all sorts of bad things that happen to your characters. They might be hunted by a serial killer (crime), they might be haunted by something strange and inexplicable that’s happening to them (mystery), or they might be running for their life or trying to save the world (adventure).

As a writer, it can be difficult to allow anything bad to happen to your characters. Remember, though, that if your characters effortlessly sail through the story without any sort of upset or harm, readers aren’t going to find it particularly engaging.

Let your characters get hurt, let them be miserable, and especially let them face up to the consequences of their actions.

Further reading: Making Bad Things Happen to Good Characters, Ali Luke, Aliventures

Problem #5: Giving Characters Realistic Flaws

I hinted at this in the last section: your characters, even the good ones, should have flaws that cause them to do things that complicate the story for them. This can often be a core part of your character’s growth.

If you have an irritable protagonist with a hair-trigger temper, perhaps they snap at their best friend one too many times … and their friend stops speaking to them.

If you have a character who’s a daring adrenalin-seeker, perhaps something goes wrong with their motorcycle stunt – and they get hurt. (Or worse, someone else does.)

Flaws also make your characters more realistic, and they help us empathise with them. Characters who are too perfect are usually two-dimensional (see #1) and they can be annoying or just hard to engage with.

Further reading: How to Craft Brilliant Flawed Characters (a #StorySocial recap), Kreisten Kieffer, Well-Storied

Problem #6: Allowing Characters to Strive for a Goal

Your characters, particularly your protagonist, should have a goal that they’re trying to achieve. This might be something fairly small – and, if something bad has happened right at the start of the novel, it might simply involve returning to the status quo.

Often, your character’s initial goal isn’t the one they’ll end up striving toward during the rest of your novel. Perhaps they’re chasing a promotion at work, or trying to pass an exam, or preparing for a trip abroad. Their goal might be ditched or superseded by the events of the plot (e.g. the exam suddenly seems much less important when the person they love most falls mysteriously ill, and doctors are at a loss to help).

Make sure your character has something that they want to achieve (or to avoid – e.g. getting fired) right from the start of your story. This helps us to root for them – and encourages us to keep reading to see whether they get the thing they want.

Further reading: Most Common Writing Mistakes: Characters Who Lack Solid Story Goals, K.M. Weiland, Helping Writers Become Authors

Problem #7: Reining Characters In

Finally, this is a problem that some writers can have – particularly those who don’t tend to create an outline. (Not that I’m knocking that: my first drafts are very exploratory and I pretty much never have a full-blown outline in place.)

Some writers feel that their characters “take over” or “come alive” and send scenes spiralling off in unexpected directions. While that can be a fun way to write – and potentially a great way to come up with new ideas or plot twists – it can also end up with your scenes devolving into a bit of a meandering mess.

If you feel that your characters take over in this way, it’s worth drawing a clear distinction between bits of writing you’re doing that are intended to be exploratory, and bits that are part of the plot. Maybe you have a rough draft of a scene where your protagonist goes off in a direction you really didn’t plan – that doesn’t mean you have to stick with it!

If it becomes clear that your original plan wouldn’t be in keeping with your character’s personality, then you might need to look for ways to nudge them back onto the “right” path. This could mean throwing extra complications into the mix – either to prod them toward further action (if your characters mostly like to sit around, drink tea, and have a nice chat) or to rein them in (if your characters tend to do outlandish things that are hard to come back from).

Further reading: When Characters Go Their Own Way, Juliet Marillier, Writer Unboxed

Getting characters right can be really hard – but also very much worthwhile. I’m sure you can think of characters who’ve stuck with you for years after you read about them – characters who you loved like friends.

Source: aliventures.com

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Storytelling Exercise: Three Acts

Today’s storytelling exercise is an excerpt from my book, Story Drills, which is filled with fiction-writing exercises that impart basic techniques of storytelling. Today’s exercise is from chapter forty-five. It’s called “Three Acts.” Enjoy!

The three-act structure is one of the simplest and most effective ways to outline or analyze a story and its structure. The three acts are as follows:

  1. Setup
  2. Conflict
  3. Resolution

In the first act, the plot and characters are established, and we learn what the central conflict is. It’s roughly 25 percent of the story, but this is a guideline, not a rule.

The second act is the longest of the three acts, usually about 50 percent of the narrative. In the second act, the story builds up to a climax in which the conflict hits a boiling point.

Finally, the third act resolves the conflict. The third act is usually about 25 percent of the story.

Study:

Choose five stories you’ve read, and break them into three-act structures by identifying the setup, conflict, and resolution for each one. Summarize each act in just a few sentences.

Practice:

Create five story premises, and quickly draft three-act outlines for each one. Use a single sentence to describe each of the three acts. A couple of examples are provided below.

Natural Disaster:

Act I: A natural disaster is impending.

Act II: The natural disaster claims the lives of half of Earth’s population. The other half struggles to survive.

Act III: Earth’s survivors rebuild.

Romance:

Act I: A teenager from a prestigious family falls in love with someone from the wrong side of the tracks.

Act II: The couple tries to hide their relationship, but eventually they are outed.

Act III: The teenager is forced to choose between love and access to the family’s wealth and support.

Questions:

Why do you suppose the three-act structure is universally applicable to almost all forms of storytelling? Would it be possible to write a story with no setup, or with the setup at the end or in the middle? What happens if the three acts are rearranged? Can any of the acts be left out of a story?

By Melissa Donovan

Source: writingforward.com

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