Tag Archives: Write Practice

Resolving My Cheater Shame: Listening to Books Instead of Reading Them

Today’s guest post is by author Kristen Tsetsi, who is a regular contributor to this site through the 5 On series.


When I told my husband, Ian, several weeks ago that I’d finished reading Andre Dubus III’s Townie, I corrected myself by hastily adding air quotes.

“I mean, finished listening to it,” I said, feeling like a poseur.

“Whatever,” he said. “Same thing.”

“You think?” The hope in my voice was embarrassing. I so wanted them to be the same, wanted to be authentically “well read.” Surely, though, the passive act of being read to by someone who’d decided for every listener where to inflect and what tone to apply to each line of dialogue wasn’t the same as determining those things for myself.

Author Betsy Robinson confirms the value disparity between reading and listening in her Publisher’s Weekly piece, “Look, Read, Listen.” In it, she cites the research of cognitive psychologist Sebastian Wren, who found that reading uses more of the brain than does listening. When listening, Wren claims, we don’t use our occipital cortex to visualize as we do when reading.

Cognitive psychologist Daniel T. Willingham, “Ask the Cognitive Scientist” columnist for American Educator magazine and author of The Reading Mind, among others, notes another difference: “[Reading] requires decoding and [listening] doesn’t.”

“Reading” it would be, then, air quotes and all.

(But only with Ian. No one else had to know I was cheating to build my “read” list.)


I’ve been air-quoting “reading” since my first legitimate introduction to audiobooks this past winter. Before then, the only time I’d heard a book—well, part of a book—was in a hot car during a summer visit to Minnesota in the eighties. It had put thirteen-year-old me to sleep, and so it had also put me off audiobooks. But exactly thirty years later, Ian would get an Audible account to ease the pain of stop-and-go work commute traffic, and not long after that, on a drive to Litchfield, Connecticut to do some Christmas shopping, he’d convince me to listen to J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy.

I warned him that I might fall asleep.

I didn’t. I was captivated, fully immersed in the narrative flooding the car as we slipped into the snowy beauty of a winding country road.

After our Christmas shopping, Ian pulled into the garage, turned off the engine, and still had the rest of Hillbilly Elegy to listen to the next time he got behind the wheel.

I had no Hillbilly Elegy, and I suddenly very much wanted not only Hillbilly Elegy, but other books. I’d had so little time for reading for such a long time that listening to a story unfold had made me realize how desperately I’d been missing the electrifying magic of other people’s words.

Too, audiobooks had worked so well for Ian and his traffic problem that I thought they might kill the monotony of the twice daily dog walks I’d been taking for two years. Music wasn’t cutting it, anymore. As audible scenery went it held all the excitement of the dull evergreen shrubs Lenny and I passed on Hackmatack every afternoon.

I added the Audible app to my phone and chose my first book, watching with Christmas-morning impatience as the files downloaded, downloaded.

The first month of mobile “reading” was dedicated to some books Ian had already bought. Barry Eisler’s John Rain series filled my head for weeks, Eisler’s voice accompanying me as Lenny and I stepped through and over Hackmatack’s sidewalk snow.

Because Eisler reads his own novels (and with such skill that AudioFile Magazine has twice awarded him the Earphones Award), while I may have been denied the freedom of my own interpretations, I was at least hearing the words in the precise way the author intended. It was no different from being at a (very) long author event, really, which even literature professors would agree is an acceptable way to be read to.

When my Eisler stash was gone I considered other fiction, but I chose nonfiction, instead, believing listening to it would be not only educational, and therefore justified, but also every bit as harmless as listening to authors read their own work. After all, how many literary or tonal nuances could possibly grace the biography of Walter Cronkite? Or the history of human evolution, as chronicled in Sapiens?

My first exposure to a novel read by someone other than the author came only after I’d exhausted the list of available, and interesting (to me), nonfiction. In a “why not?” moment of reckless abandon, I downloaded Liane Moriarity’s The Husband’s Secret.

Reader Caroline Lee was utterly fantastic. By the time I finished, I was ready to listen to virtual stacks of novels not read by their authors, and one after another they engrossed and delighted. I was insatiable!

And then came a jarring confrontation with the other power of a voice.

The book’s synopsis promised a suspenseful page turner. I pressed “play” the moment I stepped outside with Lenny. As the woman read, I noticed that my pace slowed. Five minutes in, I was getting distracted by things to kick on the sidewalk—acorns, small rocks, a clump of dirt. Ten minutes in, I yawned, bored almost to the point of feeling anxious by the slow, spiritless voice in my ear buds. I pressed “pause,” switched apps, and listened to music.

There, then, was another critical difference between reading and listening: the wrong voice/tone/energy could murder an otherwise absorbing book.


I was thinking about the unfairness of it all—poor writers, losing readers for reasons other than the writing!—when author Ian Thomas Healy, in the course of my 5 On interview with him, suggested that I have my own novel adapted into an audiobook. He’d had a few of his adapted, he said, and he’d seen an increase in sales as a result.

“Reading” someone else’s work, pressing “pause” and returning a book if I didn’t like the voice or reading style, was one thing, but I certainly didn’t want anyone doing that with my book.

I also shared Betsy Robinson’s sentiments about the desired nature of the writer/reader relationship: “[W]hen I spend four years honing a novel, I’m not imagining some intermediating interpreter conveying it to a reader,” she writes in “Look, Read, Listen.”

When I ultimately decided to go ahead with the audiobook, it was because of the important words Healy had used: “increase in sales.” I swallowed any discomfort—discomfort that can pull like sickness when it’s a fear of your hard work being misrepresented—and began the process.

In the months since, the audiobook has been published and I’ve thought a lot about the artistic conversion from text to voice. While Willingham does say reading requires more decoding from the reader than does listening, he adds, however, that “…most of what you listen to is not that complicated. For most books, for most purposes, listening and reading are more or less the same thing.”

Decoding is more important for those learning to read, he explains. Those who have been reading for some time are generally already fluent at it.

Well, whew! That eliminated some of my own cheater guilt, but as it happens, listening to a novel is valuable even for those who don’t read text well. Educational website Reading Rockets lists among the benefits of listening to audiobooks that listeners gain access to work above their skill level, they’re given a model for interpretive reading, and they’re more likely to explore new genres.

For the seasoned reader of text, audiobooks also help develop critical listening skills, according to Reading Rockets. I can attest to this—it definitely takes concentration and a commitment to pay attention.

I was surprised as an audiobook listener to not miss what Robinson describes as the “full-sensory and gloriously autonomous experience of a direct hit from words on a page,” or even the hours of visualizing my occipital cortex wouldn’t be doing.

Instead, when “reading,” I delighted in the sound of the poetry of words where such poetry existed. There was also an unanticipated side effect: memorable scenes attached themselves to my exterior sensory experience. When Lenny walks and I huff up a steep path where, months ago, I was “reading” Suki Kim’s Without You, There Is No Us, I’m transported to a Pyongang school cafeteria’s obedient students and nervous, secretive teachers. A love-lock fence section of Main Street plops me in the middle of a military school dorm room, where emotionally stunted and lovable cadet “Pig” lectures his paisans about what they’d better not say in the presence of his girlfriend’s picture in Pat Conroy’s Lords of Discipline. I can still hear John Rain/Eisler in my head, still taste a sip of whisky in a Tokyo bar, when I walk down Hackmatack, and an image of the snow covered trees on the narrow road to Litchfield watermarks my memory of Vance’s description of Appalachia.

The writer in me is now grateful for the audio option less for sales potential than for the ability to reach others who “desperately want to read, but no time, no time…” As much as I feared the influence of someone else’s voice, I—like every writer—had to accept that writing will always be interpreted, correctly or incorrectly, by the silent reader, the listening “reader,” the voice reader, or the literature professor who, more often than not, will just tell students how to interpret the work. Admittedly, I’m also comfortable with it because I was paired with Nila Brereton Hagood, an insightful voice reader. She incorporated personal interpretations that got me to laugh or made me mad, and in places I as the writer should have been immune to. She was also eager to collaborate, which meant there were two of us who wanted the story to be told right.

The book lover in me, though, is even more grateful for the audio option. In just eight months I’ve been able to “read” thirty-eight books I otherwise wouldn’t have. I’ll still use air quotes around “reading,” but only for the sake of accuracy. My cheater shame has been edged out by the conviction that writers write in order to have their words experienced, and that readers and “readers” alike just want to experience them. Period.

“Comparing audio books to cheating,” Willingham writes, “is like meeting a friend at Disneyland and saying ‘you took a bus here? I drove myself, you big cheater.’ The point is getting to and enjoying the destination. The point is not how you traveled.”

Source: janefriedman.com

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The Two Scenes in Your Novel That Will Need the Most Rewriting

Novels are tricky. There’s so much to juggle that no-one gets it quite right the first time round … and most authors end up doing wholesale rewrites, rather than just making a few editorial tweaks.

I’ve come to accept that rewriting is just part of the process of creating a novel. Each time I start work on a new book, I want to be a more efficient writer – and while I have found some things easier, I still end up doing a lot of rewriting and reworking.

Maybe it’s the same way for you.

Whether you’re working on your first draft of your first novel, or you’ve completed a bunch of novels already, there are two scenes that you’re likely to spend a lot of time rewriting:

  • The opening of your novel
  • The climax of your novel

However hard you worked in the first draft, and however much you planned, these are just really difficult scenes to pull off well.

But the good news is – even if your first draft doesn’t quite hang together in these key areas, rewrites can fix anything!

Why Your Opening Scene (Probably) Needs Rewriting

The first scene of your novel needs to do a lot of heavy lifting. It has to get the story going – no mean feat! – and it has to establish your main character(s). At the same time, it needs to set the tone for what’s to come and it has to “hook” your reader.

Plus, unless you draft your book patchwork-quilt style, working on scenes here and there and stitching them all together at the end, the opening scene is probably the very first thing you wrote when you began your first draft. Chances are, your ideas have shifted a bit (or a lot!) since then.

The first scene of my novel Lycopolis went through about a dozen rewrites. I had several completely different versions of that scene – in the very first draft, for instance, I went with an omniscient perspective dipping in and out of all my different characters’ viewpoints. It soon became clear that this wasn’t going to mesh well with the limited close third-person perspective I ended up using for the rest of the novel!

If the current draft of your opening scene isn’t quite working, you might want to ask yourself:

  • Have I started this novel at the right moment? Would it be better to skip the preamble and jump straight into the action? (Or, conversely, do you need to backtrack and start a little earlier?)
  • Does this scene introduce my main character(s)? If not, is there a good reason – or would it be better to start with them?
  • Is there a “hook” in this scene … something that would capture readers’ interest and keep them turning the pages? (It doesn’t need to be something huge and dramatic, unless your genre requires that!)
  • Does this scene fit well with the rest of my novel? You could write a brilliant first three pages for a competition or an agent … but if they seem to belong to a different book altogether, they’re not going to get you far!

Why the Climax of Your Novel (Probably) Needs Rewriting

The climax of the novel is the high point of tension/action where everything comes together. Your protagonist, after the greatest trial yet, finally wins what they were after all along. (Or, in a less happier novel, your protagonist finally fails irrevocably.)

The climax, like the opening, needs to do a huge amount of work. It has to pull together lots of different threads from your novel, and potentially quite a few different characters. In many novels, your hero has to face what seem like insurmountable odds … and s/he needs to triumph regardless. But that triumph must be earned, and convincing.

Invariably, I find that the first time I draft this scene in my novels, it falls a little flat. The action isn’t dramatic enough. The very real possibility of danger isn’t potent enough. The characters don’t struggle enough. With each rewrite, the climax involves more tension, danger and drama.

Occasionally, after the first draft, I find I’ve changed my mind about how it should all end. This happened with my second novel, Oblivion, which took a long time (my kids were both born along the way!) and where I realised that I wanted the novel to end quite differently from how I’d originally planned.

If the climax of your novel isn’t quite coming together, you might want to ask yourself:

  • Is my protagonist struggling (and even suffering) as much as they should here? How could I make this harder for them?
  • What price does my protagonist pay for success? If they haven’t already sacrificed something to get to this point, maybe that should happen during the climax.
  • Have I tied up various loose ends from the novel? (It might well be fine to address some of these after the climax, in the final pages of the novel – but be careful it doesn’t end up dragging on too long.)
  • Does the victory come because of the protagonist’s actions? Be careful if not: if someone else steps in to save the day, or if the protagonist wins through a stroke of luck or an act of God, the climax might feel unsatisfying to you readers.

If you find yourself rewriting your opening scene and the climax of your novel multiple times, don’t be surprised or dismayed – it’s perfectly normal to end up reworking these a lot. Other scenes in your novel might need much less attention, because they’re neither so complex nor so crucial.

With my own novels, I’ve definitely had times when I felt like I would never get these scenes finished to my satisfaction. Eventually I did! If you’re at that stage right now, hang on in there – take a break or get someone else’s input if you can, and then get back to the rewrites. Good luck!

By Ali
Source: aliventures.com

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6 Tricks to Help You Finish Your Work in Progress (WIP)

We all want to finish the books or short stories we start, but sometimes we struggle. We could spend months or even years working on the same project and feel as though we aren’t making any headway. I did a poll once in the Goodreads book club I run for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, and “I won’t ever finish WIP” tied for third place as the biggest insecurity our members had.

Note: This is a guest post by Chrys Fey, she is the author of Write with Fey: 10 Sparks to Guide You from Idea to Publication and an editor for Dancing Lemur Press. Visit her blog, Write with Fey, for more tips and connect with her on Twitter. Enter her Rafflecopter giveaway by July 6th for the chance to win a writer’s notebook, coffee mug, and tote bag.

Many writers share this fear. It’s normal until it becomes a serious fear and doubt weighs you down.

Don’t let doubt extinguish your sparks!

If this sounds like you, here are five tips to help you finish your WIP.

1) Set a daily and weekly writing goals.

With a manageable weekly goal, you’ll be able to strive toward a specific page/word count by the end of that week. The key, though, is to set a realistic goal. I see many writers beat themselves up for not meeting a goal that was rather grand and out of their scope to begin with. This isn’t healthy.

Set a goal you know you can meet. Then tack on an additional 10% to that page/word count to give yourself a little bit of a challenge, which is always good practice. I can usually write 1,000 – 2, 000 words in a single day. For a week, that could be 7,000 – 14,000 words. Incredible, right? And that’s not even tacking on the extra 10% to give myself a push.

In the beginning, it will be difficult to write each day and meet your goal, but as long as you stick to it and DON’T GIVE UP, it’ll become easier. And, believe it or not, your daily/weekly writing goals will suddenly seem too easy. Yes, really.

If something crops up that makes it impossible for you to write one day, that is okay. I’ll say it again…THAT IS OKAY! Don’t punish yourself for not writing because of other responsibilities. And some days, you may only be able to write a few hundred words. If that happens, pat yourself on the back, because although your day was crazy or you were mentally exhausted, you still WROTE.

2) Schedule Writing Time

I know you’ve heard this tip before, but it’s an important one.

Whatever your writing goals are, schedule writing time to get some work done. Do you have a lunch break? Pack your lunch and bring a notebook to work so you can write. Can you write after dinner? Or while yours kids are doing their homework or after you tuck them into bed? What about early in the morning? Find the perfect time for you and stick to it. All you need is a good thirty minutes here and there throughout your day.

However, you don’t need to write EVERY day. I know people suggest that and I often say it, but some writers only have the weekends. Great! Follow these tips so you can make the most out of your weekends. If you can slot out time every day, give yourself a day or two to relax and rejuvenate. This is important. You don’t want to burn yourself out.

Maybe you are a full-time writer and have long chunks in the day that you can dedicate to writing, like I do. Something that a full-time writer can struggle with is getting started. Those long stretches of time when you “should” be writing can be daunting. Start by sitting down telling yourself you only need to commit to thirty minutes of writing. That’s it. And who knows? You could end up writing long past that.

But what if you draw a mental blank, you ask?

Let’s see tip #2.

3) Be a plotter.

Pantsing, sorry to say, can slow your progress if you don’t know what to write next. Try plotting out your book. Or be a pantser who plots. At the end of every writing session, plan out what you need to write next. This will help you to get back into your story faster and provides you clear map of where you need to go.

4) Limit how much you edit as you go.

So, you have your word count goals, you schedule writing time, and you plot out what you need to write next, but you still write too slow. Let me ask you one thing…do you edit as you go?

Editing as you write can hinder your progress, and this is coming from someone who does edit as she writes. Restrict how often you do this. Don’t read back through a paragraph you just wrote. Instead, wait until you complete a whole page, and then don’t read the entire thing but rather the last few sentences you added. By doing this, you’re not slowing your progress. And reading over the last few sentences you did can help you to figure out what to write next.

5) Dedicate a month to finish your WIP.

You can join NaNo, National Write a Novel Month in November, or pick another month that is more convenient, and challenge yourself to write anywhere from 20,000 words (which is about 100 pages) to 50,000 words (which is a good-sized novel). Or if you have a certain number of chapters left, aim to complete them by the end of the month. Whatever you need to write to finish your WIP, that’s your goal. Before you begin, create detailed chapter outlines, write don’t edit, and schedule time each day to pound away at your keyboard.

If a month is too much, dedicate a week to writing. This was what I did at first when I had to get back into writing after a heavy doubt of depression. I focused on writing every day for one week. That single week turned to two weeks. And in those two weeks, I wrote over 20,000 words!

It is possible, which leads me to…

6) Believe you will.

Mind over matter, right? If you believe you’ll do something and do whatever you can, you will achieve it. So many of us doubt ourselves. No wonder we struggle to write or meet a goal when we’re always knocking ourselves down, saying we write too slow, we’ll never finish, our writing is awful, and worse. Work on developing the right attitude. Repeat mantras daily to motivate yourself and especially when negative thoughts creep in. A simple mantra like “I will finish my book” can boost your confidence. Eventually, when it’s meant to be done, you will finish your book. Believe it!

Sometimes, the reason we struggle to write is completely out of our control, such as a health issue or depression. Last year, my depression went to an all-new level, impacting my health and my creativity. I couldn’t write and didn’t write for 7 months. That is a long time for a writer to not do what brings her life and joy. First, I had to get back to a positive state of mind and wrestle my way out of depression. I did this by reading a lot of non-fiction books, feeding my mind, and seeking new faith. When I finally felt like myself again, I still struggle to get words down.

So, what did I do to finally write? Well, I started with tip #1. Then I worked my way down the list until I was incorporating all of these tips.

With these tricks under your belt, you’ll surely be able to finish your WIP.

By Bryan Hutchinson
Source: positivewriter.com

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5 Things a Writer Needs to Know About a Character with a Mental Illness

To make a character real, they need to mirror the reality that we experience. This is a challenge, because the world each person lives in is highly individual and deeply diverse. As a psychologist, working with people affected by mental health diagnoses is what makes my job so challenging and yet so rewarding. As a reader and an editor, I love to read characters living with these backgrounds. I love it because I learn something new every time. But when it isn’t captured authentically, if the character is the stereotypical depressed mother who can’t get out of bed, or maybe even absent, then I wish they knew the following:

  1. It’s Everywhere

About 1 in 5 adults will experience a mental illness at some stage of their lives. Mental health issues can affect anyone, irrespective of gender, race, culture or socioeconomic background. If you haven’t experienced mental health challenges yourself, then someone you know and love has.

As a writer, this means it wouldn’t be uncommon to find a character dealing with something similar in your book. It can be your protagonist dealing with anxiety, your villain having a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, or your hero’s mother suffering from Munchausen’s by Proxy. In fact, because of its prevalence, the inclusion of some sort of mental health challenges for a character in your book will lend your story authenticity.

  1. Stigma is Alive and Well

We’ve all read the articles or seen the Facebook clips, heck, I personally advocate the message that mental illness are legitimate as a physical illness; they can be chronic, debilitating, and treatable.

But the reality is that gender equality, acceptance of diverse sexual orientations, and equal opportunity for those living with disabilities has been something people have been fighting for a long time, and we’re not quite there yet. Mental health stigma is a very real experience for many sufferers of mental illness, but what amplifies these adverse effects is the internalising of mental health stigma.

The belief that there is something fundamentally flawed with you because you aren’t able to ‘snap out’ of it tends to be incorporated into a person’s self-concept. It can be a barrier to help-seeking and treatment and can undermine your self-esteem. If you have a character with a mental health diagnosis, then be cognizant that it’s hard to feel good about yourself when you’re fighting a pain no one can see.

  1. Each diagnosis is a snowflake

The diversity within any single mental health condition is significant, and every writer needs to be cognisant of this. A label such as obsessive compulsive disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is going to give you a broad understanding of what you’re going to see in your character. But what that looks like for your particular person on the page is going to be a nuanced product of their history, biology, and social context.

It’s considering each of these variables; the interaction of their psychology with the environment that has moulded them (and will continue to do so), is how you’ll move away from stereotypes and two-dimensional characters.

  1. Mental Health is a Roller-Coaster

If you have a character living with a mental health condition, then the usual ups and downs that life likes to pitch at you are going to be amplified. Your key refusing to slot into the keyhole of your front door can feel like the last, fragile straw that breaks you; whilst a smile from a stranger can be enough to bolster your plummeting self-esteem.

Mental health conditions take what our brain does in its everyday life (feel worried about something that could happen, feel sad at the prospect of tomorrow, believe that our workmate doesn’t like us) and dials it up. The emotions are stronger, the thoughts are more powerful, and the urges they provoke are harder to resist. This can vary from the desire to eat an entire New York Cheesecake to desperately needing to control your world to plotting a way to end the prime-minister’s new immigration policy.

Incorporating these challenges authentically can be tricky as some of the choices these characters make can be difficult to understand. Understanding the emotional and cognitive foundation of your character’s mental illness is essential.

  1. Great Characters do Great Things

For all their challenges, mental health diagnoses are a painful opportunity to discover some amazing things about ourselves. The darkness they bring only makes the light brighter. People that live with mental illness need to learn to be flexible, self-aware and resilient, and if that doesn’t capture a character arc, I don’t know what does. If you drag a character into some deep wells of sadness, fear, or disillusionment, then you’ve just created a moving contrast for the heights that humanity can reach for. What’s more, these challenges (like any) are a wonderful way to explore the power of connection. There are supports out there. There are people passionate about helping. So remember, capturing the hardships of mental illness is only the half the picture. It’s the stories of human triumph over adversity that is the other side of the mental health label.

What’s your thoughts? Do you have a character with a mental illness? How did you make sure they were authentic and realistic?

By Tamar Sloan
Source: psychwriter.com.au

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Grammar Rules: Fewer vs. Less

It’s a battle between words: fewer vs. less. Are they interchangeable? Do these words have different meanings? How can we use them correctly?

Many people don’t realize that these two words do not share the same meaning and therefore cannot be used interchangeably. As a result, both fewer and less are often used incorrectly.

The difference in meaning may be subtle, but it’s significant and remarkably easy to remember. Let’s see what Dictionary.com has to say about these two words:

fewer: adjective 1. of a smaller number: fewer words and more action.

less: adjective 1. smaller in size, amount, degree, etc.; not so large, great, or much: less money; less speed.

The grammar rules are clear; let me break them down for you.

Fewer vs. Less? Which is Correct?

Fewer and less respectively refer to a number of items or an amount of something. The easiest way to remember which of these adjectives to use in a given situation is this:

Fewer should be used when the items in question can be counted:

He has fewer books than his best friend has.

Less is used when the amount of something cannot be counted:

He has less interest in reading than his best friend has.

Note that books can be counted item by item. However, interest is not a thing that can be counted, although we can discuss how much of it someone has.

The basic difference here is countability. Use fewer for countable nouns like individuals, cars, and pens. Use less for uncountable nouns such as love, time, and respect.

Do note, however, that there are some sticky spots to watch out for when determining whether you should use fewer or less. For example, you might need less paper but you will need fewer sheets of paper. You have fewer pennies but less money. You want fewer chocolate bars but less candy.

Fewer or Less

Now you know how to tell the difference between fewer vs. less.

Do you have questions about correctly using fewer or less or any other word
pairs? Maybe you have something to add to this linguistic look at tricky adjectives. Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and let’s discuss.

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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36 Tips for Writing Just About Anything

There’s a lot more to writing than typing words.

Writing well takes years of study, practice, and experience. It requires diligence, attention to detail, and dedication to the craft. Each project has a unique set of requirements and different types of writing have different rules.

For example, when we’re writing fiction, we have one set of concerns (character, plot, and setting, to name a few), and when we’re writing poetry, we have en entirely different set of issues to deal with.

Writing becomes natural with practice, but there are countless elements to deal with in any given project.

Tips for Writing

Here are thirty-six tips for writing just about anything. You can use this as a checklist when you start a new writing project and refer back to it whenever you get stuck. However, keep in mind that these tips don’t address the specifics of fiction, poetry, or nonfiction; they’re general tips for writing anything rather than specific tips for form and genre.

  1. Start with a plan. To reach a destination, you must know where you’re going. We can freewrite in our journals and jot down ideas on scraps of paper, but bigger projects will go more smoothly if there’s a plan in place.
  2. Be prepared. What do you need in order to complete this project? Set up a space and schedule time to work on the project. Gather any supplies, materials, and resources you’ll need.
  3. Eliminate distractions. It’s impossible to write if you’re interrupted or distracted every few minutes. Turn off your phone, close your browser, and let others know you’re working.
  4. Know your audience. This is one of the most common tips for writing, and while it’s not mandatory, it means less revising once you’ve completed your first draft. Are you turning in this piece to an instructor? Submitting it to a magazine? Self-publishing? Who will read it?
  5. Be familiar with your genre. Sci-fi fans don’t want to read a book written by someone who’s never read any sci-fi books. If you don’t know your genre, you can’t possibly know your audience. Besides, if you don’t read a particular genre, why would you want to write it?
  6. Choose a style guide. There’s one style guide for journalism, one for medical writing, and another for everything else. If you’re submitting this project to a target publication or an agent (or if you’re self-publishing it), make sure you know which style guide you should follow.
  7. Brainstorm and outline. Nothing ruins a good writing session like realizing you have no idea what you’re trying to accomplish. Take a few minutes to jot down all ideas related to the project, and then spend some time drawing up an outline. You don’t have to follow it to the letter, but it will come in handy as a kind of road map.
  8. Conduct credible research. Most writing projects require some research. Whether you need the population of a city or the distance to another planet, check your facts and make sure your logic lines up. Also, make sure your sources are credible.
  9. Take breaks and stay healthy. If you’re writing for long periods, take a ten-minute break every hour. If you’re working on a long-term project, make sure you stay healthy by eating nutritious foods and getting plenty of exercise. It might take time away from your writing, but it will also make your writing better.
  10. Don’t procrastinate, and reward yourself when you reach goals. Writing requires a tremendous amount of discipline. It’s easy to procrastinate if there isn’t a boss hovering over your shoulder and pointing at the clock. Establish milestones for your project and reward yourself whenever you reach one.
  11. Stay inspired. Passion ebbs and flows, and so do ideas. But you can keep yourself motivated by figuring out what inspires you and regularly imbibing in it. Maybe books on the craft of writing keep you excited about your project. Reading or watching movies in your genre might help you stay motivated and inspired.
  12. Think about voice. In writing, voice is the tone of a piece — the author’s unique style. A children’s book shouldn’t sound like it was written by a college professor, and an academic essay shouldn’t sound like it was written by a child. Is your narrative dry, witty, humorous, self-depreciating, or cocky?
  13. Complete a rough draft. While you’re drafting, turn off your inner editor and don’t scrutinize every word or sentence. Let the ideas flow and let the scenes and ideas move forward. You can fix it up later.
  14. Keep it simple: Use clear, concise writing. For some audiences, you might ignore this rule, but keep in mind that the simpler and more accessible your writing is, the more people it will be able to reach.
  15. Use the active voice. Passive voice sounds old-fashioned and outdated. Apply the subject + verb + object construction to your sentences so they are clear and direct.
  16. Use vivid language. Avoid boring, meaningless words (like nice and very) and opt instead for words with pizazz. For example, don’t write very good. Write excellent.
  17. Know when to show and when to tell. The most important parts of a story should be shown. Don’t tell the reader the character was tired if her exhaustion is critical to the plot; show her yawning.
  18. Choose the best possible words. Vivid language helps readers visualize the narrative. You should also choose the most precise, accurate words possible. Don’t say dark red if you mean burgandy.
  19. Let it sit. Once you complete a draft (and after every revision), let your project sit for a while. Short pieces can sit for a few hours. Longer pieces (like a book) may need to sit for a few weeks. Then you can revise with fresh eyes.
  20. Read what you’ve written. Before you revise, save a copy of your original draft and read through the whole thing once. If it’s a book-length manuscript, take notes about major changes that you need to make.
  21. Chop it up. You may need to move large portions of text around. The opening scene might work better at the end. Your thesis statement could be misplaced somewhere in the middle of your paper. Use cut-and-paste with total abandon. Tip: open TextEdit or NotePad in the background and use it to store large chunks of text that you need to move around.
  22. Delete the excess. You may need to delete entire scenes if they are not relevant to the plot. In fact, you may need to delete some of your favorite sentences and paragraphs. Get rid of anything that isn’t essential to the project’s thesis, objective, or plot.
  23. Insert. You may find gaping holes in your draft. Be prepared to add new sentences, paragraphs, even entire chapters.
  24. Rewrite. Depending on how messy your first draft is, you may need to do multiple rewrites. A lot of writers get worn out by this process, but remember — your writing improves with each revision. So dig in and keep rewriting until it feels right.
  25. Edit. Once you have the main structure and concept down, you can edit for detail. This is where you make your sentences clear and concise. Look for grammatical errors, awkward wording, and vague phrasing.
  26. Eliminate unnecessary words. If you can delete a word without affecting the meaning of a sentence, then delete it. Often, articles (a, an, the) can be deleted as can pronouns.
  27. Get rid of the clichés. Better yet, don’t use them in the first place. However, when you’re editing, do your best to weed them out.
  28. Look it up! If you’re not sure about a word’s meaning or spelling, look it up. If you’re not sure whether you’ve structured a sentence correctly or used proper punctuation, look it up. Do not rewrite to get around the rules. Just learn them.
  29. Review the transitions. Each paragraph focuses on a different idea, but each paragraph should also flow naturally from the paragraph that precedes it.
  30. Check for repetition. There’s good repetition and bad repetition. Using the same word or phrase over and over, unnecessarily, is bad. Repeating themes, symbols, and images can be powerful.
  31. Make sure the sentence structures are varied. Sentences should vary in length and structure. Don’t start every sentence with “I” (a common mistake that young and new writers make). Follow long sentences with shorter ones.
  32. Read for flow. After editing, read it again. Does everything make sense? Does the entire thing flow naturally and smoothly? If not, go back and edit some more.
  33. Format your document. Formatting can be done at the beginning or toward the end. I usually format at the beginning, except when writing a long project, like a book, in which case, I wait till the end. Tip: don’t just learn how to format documents; instead, become a master of formatting. For example, if you use Word, learn how to use the Styles feature. You should know how to set spacing, indentations, font face and size, how to align text, and apply bold and italics.
  34. Proofread. No matter how strong your writing skills are, typos will slip past you. When you proofread, you’re looking for basic mistakes and typographical errors. Recommendation: proofread each piece until you can’t find any typos at all.
  35. Get a second opinion. Even though you proofread until you couldn’t find any typos, there are probably a few lingering around. There’s a scientific reason for this, but it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you get someone else to check your work. If necessary, hire a professional.
  36. Final polish. Ideally, you’ll read through it one last time (after letting it sit again) and you’ll find it squeaky clean. This means it’s done and ready to be served.

And that’s not all…

This list might seem overwhelming, but it covers only the basics. If you’re writing fiction, there is a whole other set of things you need to do. If you’re writing for business or academia, there are additional rules to follow. Remember, there are many considerations for each form and style of writing. That’s why knowing your form and genre is so important.

But these tips for writing are a good start. Not only will they help you write, they’ll help you write well.

Do you have any tips for writing to add to this list? Share any tips that writers can use by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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Do You Need a Creative Writing Degree to Succeed as a Writer?

Young and new writers often ask whether they need a creative writing degree in order to become an author or professional writer.

I’ve seen skilled and talented writers turn down opportunities or refuse to pursue their dreams because they feel their lack of a creative writing degree means they don’t have the credibility necessary to a career in writing.

Meanwhile, plenty of writers with no education, minimal writing skills, and scant experience in reading and writing are self-publishing, freelance writing, and offering copywriting services.

It’s an oft-asked question: Do you need a creative writing degree to succeed as a writer? Is it okay to write and publish a book if you don’t have a degree or if your degree is in something other than English or the language arts?

Before I go further, I should reveal that although I did earn a degree in creative writing, I don’t think a degree is necessary. But there is a caveat to my position on this issue: While I don’t think a degree is necessary, I certainly think it’s helpful. I also think that some writers will have a hard time succeeding without structured study and formal training whereas others are self-disciplined and motivated enough to educate themselves to the extent necessary to establish a successful writing career.

Do You Need a Creative Writing Degree?

First of all, a degree is not necessary to success in many fields, including writing. There are plenty of examples of individuals who became wildly successful and made meaningful contributions without any college degree whatsoever: Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, and Walt Disney, to name a few.

In the world of writing, the list of successful authors who did not obtain a degree (let alone a creative writing degree) is vast. Here is a small sampling: Louisa May Alcott, Maya Angelou, Jane Austen, William Blake, Ray Bradbury, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, Edgar Allen Poe, Beatrix Potter, and JD Salinger.

So you obviously do not need a creative writing degree. After all, some of the greatest writers in history didn’t have a degree. Why should you?

A Creative Writing Degree is Not a Bad Idea

On the other hand, the degree definitely won’t hurt your chances. In fact, it will improve your chances. And if you struggle with writing or self-discipline, then the process of earning a degree will be of great benefit to you.

A college education might indeed be necessary for a particular career, such as a career in law or medicine. In fields of study where a degree is not a requirement, it often prepares you for the work ahead by teaching you specific skills and techniques and by forcing you to become knowledgeable about your field.

However, there is an even greater value in the the process of earning a degree. You become knowledgeable and educated. You learn how to learn, how to work without close supervision, and you are exposed to the wisdom of your instructors as well as the enthusiasm and support of your peers. College is a great environment for development at any age or in any field.

Earning a degree is also a testament to your drive and ability to complete a goal without any kind of immediate reward or gratification. College is not easy. It’s far easier to get a full-time job and buy lots of cool stuff. It’s more fun to spend your nights and weekends hanging out with your friends than staying in and studying. A college degree is, in many ways, a symbol representing your capacity to set out and accomplish a long-term goal.

Know Yourself

If you possess strong writing skills and are somewhat of an autodidact (a person who is self-taught), then you may not need a degree in creative writing. For some such people, a degree is completely unnecessary. On the other hand, if your writing is weak or if you need guidance and would appreciate the help of instructors and peers, maybe you do need a creative writing degree.

If you’re planning on going to college simply because you want to earn a degree and you hope to be a writer someday, you might as well get your degree in creative writing since that’s what you’re passionate about. On the other hand, if you hope to write biographies of famous actors and directors and you already write well, you might be better off studying film (and possibly minoring in creative writing).

You may be the kind of person who needs the validation of a degree. Maybe you’re an excellent writer but you’d feel better putting your work out there if you could back it up (even in your own mind) with that piece of paper that says you have some expertise in this area. Or you might be the kind of person who is confident enough to plunge into the career of a writer without any such validation.

You might find that time and money are barriers to earning a degree. If you have responsibilities that require you to work full time and if you’re raising a family, obtaining a degree might not be in the cards, either in terms of time or money. You might be better off focusing what little free time you have on reading and writing. But there are other options if you’ve got your heart set on a creative writing degree: look for accredited online colleges, find schools that offer night and weekend classes, and open yourself to the idea that you can take ten years rather than four years to complete your higher education.

Finally, some people have a desire to get a degree but they feel they’re too old. I personally think that’s a bunch of hogwash. You’re never too old to learn or obtain any kind of education. When I was just out of high school, I attended a college with many students who were middle-aged and older. I had tremendous respect for them and they brought a lot of wisdom to our classes, which balanced out the youthful inexperience of my other, much younger classmates. I don’t care if you’re eighteen, forty-two, or seventy, if you have a hankering to do something, go do it!

Making Tough Decisions

Ultimately, the decision rests with each of us. Do you need a creative writing degree? Only you can answer that question.

If you’re still not sure, then check with a local school (a community college is a good place to start) and make an appointment with an adviser in the English Department. If you’re in high school, get in touch with your school’s career counselor. Sometimes, these professionals can help you evaluate your own needs to determine which is the best course of action for you. But in the end, make sure whatever decision you make about your education is one that you’ve carefully weighed and are comfortable with.

And whether you earn a degree in creative writing or not, keep writing!

By Melissa Donovan

Sources:

Most Successful People Who Never Went to College
Famous Autodidacts
 

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Writing Sleuths – Pet Detectives

In a recent fiction novel, a neophyte private investigator (PI) grudgingly took on pet cases, from finding an African Helmeted Turtle to looking for her neighbor’s nasty-tempered dog. Tracking down these lost pets provided funny subplots, although a writer could also build a more serious story starring a PI who specializes in finding animals. This article defines the role of a pet detective, their skill set and tools, and techniques writers can apply to develop such a character.

What Is a Pet Detective?

Pet detectives are trained to find (or enhance the chances of finding) lost or missing pets. They use a mix of profiling, search-and-rescue, surveillance, even grief counseling techniques. They often use high-tech tools, from night-vision binoculars to motion-activated surveillance cameras. Their strategies have reunited thousands of lost pets with their human companions. There are even professional organizations, such as Pet Hunters International and Pet Detective University, that train PIs to become certified pet detectives.

Bloodhounds and other dogs can also be trained to assist pet PIs. Just as trailing dogs like German Shepherds, bloodhounds, and Border Collies can follow a human scent, they can also follow the scent of a pet from something like the cat’s bed or a dog’s favorite chew toy. Also, some search dogs are trained to detect specific animals, such as cats, while others
serve to attract other canines.

Tips for Writing a Pet Detective

If you’re writing a story with a sleuth who finds lost pets, think about the following questions:

  • Does he/she own a search dog?
  • What tools does your pet PI use? For example, night-vision binoculars, motion-activated surveillance cameras, a bionic ear to amplify sounds?
  • In real-life, a pet PI can make a lucrative living, from set fees of $300 to $1,000 a day. Does your character charge similarly? If so, his/her lifestyle will reflect a high income (unless they’re not very good with money or they have other financial obligations).
  • What investigative traits does your fictional pet PI use? As with other PIs, they might rely on their reasoning, analysis of physical evidence, interview and interrogation, and surveillance techniques to recover lost pets.
  • Where did your fictional pet PI learn about animal behavior-for example, in college, in a veterinarian’s office, or while growing up on a farm?

There’s one last point about writing a pet detective: he/she probably has a big heart. After all, animals possess all that is best in humans.

About the Author:

Colleen Collins-Kaufman is a professional PI and multi-published author. She and her business partner also teach online classes for writers developing sleuths and detective fiction. For more information, go to http://www.writingprivateinvestigators.com

Source: freelancewriting.com

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15 Ways to Make Your Characters Suffer (for the Good of Your Novel)

Note: This post was originally published in 2016, and was updated in June 2018.

Do your characters suffer enough?

Even if you’re writing a light and fluffy romance, at some point, someone in your novel is going to need to get hurt.

I’m not suggesting all-out graphic torture here, obviously – unless that suits your genre. Suffering comes in a lot of different forms – and I’m going to go through a bunch of those in a moment.

In general, making characters suffer should do at least one, ideally both, of these:

  • Advance your plot: bad stuff may well need to happen in order for your heroes to get to (and earn) their happy ending. Often, some degree of suffering is what drives the plot: the protagonist is unhappy with their life as-is and wants to change things.
  • Deepen or reveal character: either we see who someone really is when they’re hurt (someone who seemed a bit of a wimp turns out to have hidden strength; someone who was nice on the surface reveals a vindictive side) … or it’s part of their character arc.

Any and all of your characters can get to suffer: heroes, villains, and those with walk-on parts. The main difference is in how the reader will respond.

Our natural reaction to seeing someone hurt or in pain is to feel sympathy towards them. If they’re a particularly nasty character, though, we might well feel they’re getting their just deserts. The more awful they are, the less likely we are to feel sorry for them – even if their suffering is pretty extreme (think Ramsay in Game of Thrones, for instance).

If a minor character suffers, the importance of this may well be how the hero (or villain) responds: do they help? Are they distressed? Amused? Indifferent? Introducing someone who’s in some kind of pain can also be a good way to instantly get the reader’s sympathy.

15 Ways to Make Characters Suffer

There are some fairly obvious ways to hurt your characters: physical violence being pretty high on the list. However, that won’t always suit your novelistic purposes (sure, you could break your protagonist’s legs, but that may make the rest of your story fall apart) – and it’s not appropriate for every genre.

Keep in mind, too, that suffering and misery alone aren’t going to make for a very interesting story: what’s important is how these alter the characters and the plot (generally, if something’s impacting one of those, it’ll impact the other).

If you’re a bit stuck for ideas, though, or you feel like your characters should go through a bit more misery but whacking them around in a fight isn’t going to quite cut it … here are different ways to make your fictional people suffer.

This is not, I suspect, an exhaustive list – please do add your ideas in the comments! I’ve split these into “physical” and “non-physical” (though obviously there’s an overlap in many cases); other than that, they’re not in any specific order.

Physical Suffering

#1: Sleep Deprivation

As any parent of small children can tell you, this can be pretty horrific! 😉 It brings together physical exhaustion and emotional/mental difficulties too, so it could be a handy one to go for if you’re avoiding outright violence, or if you want something more emotionally draining than purely physical pain.

The cause of the sleep deprivation is (or should be!) significant; if nothing else, these will impact on how the character feels about it (and how easily they can solve it). A young baby? A snoring partner? Insomnia? Deliberate torture?

Handy for: plot complications (character may be unsafe to drive, operate machinery, etc); seeing who a character is / how they respond under pressure.

Example: Season 4 of Dexter begins with Dexter and his wife Rita pretty sleep deprived due to baby Harrison crying at night – this kicks off the plot as Dexter accidentally brings the wrong file to court, resulting in a violent killer going free.

#2: Hunger

A character who’s hungry has a very basic, pressing need to fulfil. This might be a temporary situation (they’re stranded somewhere with no food and possibly no water) or a more ongoing form of suffering that drives the whole plot.

Handy for: pushing characters into making tough decisions (anything from “steal to feed a child” to “resort to cannibalism”).

Example: In The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (as you might guess from the title) hunger drives the plot. Teenagers compete in annual “hunger games” to win food for their communities.

#3: Health Condition

Any long-term physical health condition could impact on (quite possibly drive) the plot. It doesn’t necessarily have to have a constant presence: for instance, if a character occasionally suffers strokes or migranes, that could be a source of stress and conflict but not something that limits them at every moment. It could be anything from minor to debilitating.

Handy for: (if the condition exists from page one) limiting a protagonist who might otherwise be too powerful or succeed too easily; (if the condition arises during the novel) forcing a protagonist to come to terms with the loss of their hopes or dreams – or even to face their own mortality.

Example: One of the main characters in Linda Green’s And Then It Happened ends up in a coma, due to a head injury, part way through.

#4: Pregnancy

While it felt awkward to count this as “suffering”, pregnancy will at least limit a character – morning sickness and exhaustion in the first trimester; increasing size and tiredness in the third. There’s also the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy, and how your character reacts – which quickly shades into more mental types of suffering. In some romance novels, pregnancy (particularly accidental pregnancy) can be a source of conflict and story tension.

Handy for: other characters’ responses (e.g. concern for pregnant character and unborn child); racking up the tension for the reader if the pregnant character ends up in a dangerous situation; possible drama surrounding any complications, or simply the labour and birth.

Example: Intelligence operative Angela Burr in The Night Manager is pregnant with her first child – this doesn’t have any particular dramatic impact on the plot, but does make her more potentially vulnerable, particularly as she gets more involved in the action towards the end of the series.

#5: Long-Term Injury

A broken leg or arm, or a serious wound, can limit a character’s actions for a fair amount of time. These aren’t necessarily going to cause continuous pain (a broken limb will be very painful in the immediate aftermath, but assuming it’s treated and the character has painkillers, it’s going to be more like an inconvenience than a source of agony).

Handy for: keeping a character on the sidelines during a particular part of your plot; other characters’ reactions to the injured one; how the character reacts to having to rest and recover; initial drama and conflict as the injury gets seen to.

Example: In The Accident Season, a YA novel by Moira Fowley-Doyle, various characters suffer injuries – when the story opens, Cara (the narrator) has sprained her wrist, and her older sister Alice has fallen down the stairs.

#6: Short-Term Injury

This doesn’t have to be minor (it might well be life-threatening), but it should be resolved fairly quickly with minimal lasting effects. E.g. if someone has lost a lot of blood, they could be bandaged up (and possibly treated in surgery) but back on their feet after a couple of days.

Other short-term injuries might be painful (bruising, burns) but not incapacitating.

Handy for: immediate pain and trauma; getting a character back into the plot quickly; potentially changing the relationship between the injured character and character(s) who help; works well in light/comic novels too.

Example: In Off to be the Wizard, a comic speculative fiction novel by Scott Meyer, the protagonist Martin suffers a number of fairly amusing minor injuries, particularly in the early chapters.

#7: Incarceration

A character is – rightly or wrongly – imprisoned. The suffering here could simply be the loss of their freedom, or that could be compounded by other types of suffering (separation from their loved ones, being ill-treated or tortured, hunger…) If the incarcerated character is a more minor one, then the protagonist might be pushed to rescue them, particularly if they’re in danger or being used as leverage.

Handy for: getting them out of the way; giving them time to reflect on how they’ve screwed up; furthering the plot (e.g. through their escape attempt); could easily be part of their character arc.

Example: Tony Stark in Iron Man is captured by terrorists early on during the narrative: this is a hugely important moment in both his character arc and the plot of the whole Iron Man series: he invents the Iron Man suit in order to escape.

#8: Torture

The character is deliberately and repeatedly hurt (physically, but you can bring in psychological angles too) by another character. This is – at least ostensibly – usually for information but it could be a form of punishment … or, if your antagonist is particularly heinous, just for “fun”. It can potentially have a medical component: the torturer isn’t causing them pain for pain’s sake, but because they’re testing the character in some way.

Handy for: making your villain pretty darn unredeemable; pushing good characters to their limits; blurring the moral lines (under what circumstances would the mostly-good guys torture someone?); causing your protagonist a great deal of anguish if someone else is being tortured in order to break them.

Example: Firefly’s Mal (Captain Reynolds) and Wash, in “War Stories” are tortured by bad guy Niska; significant primarily for the character development / interaction between them (and to some extent for other characters too, particularly the relationship between Wash and his wife Zoe).

Non-Physical Suffering

You can put characters through hell without a single cut or bruise. Here are a few ideas:

#9: Financial Problems

Money (as most writers notice at some point!) can be a massive source of stress. This can work for almost any character, however well-off – e.g. they lose all their money, or they go through an acrimonious divorce, or money is a serious source of relationship stress.

Handy for: putting pressure on a relationship; forcing difficult decisions (especially if physical suffering – e.g. hunger – is on the horizon); conflict between characters.

Example: The gulf between rich men and their (usually female) assistants, who are paying off student loan debt, kicks off drives the plot in The Assistants by Camille Perri.

#10: Losing a Job

On its own, this isn’t necessarily a form of suffering – but assuming the character wanted or needed the job, then it’s likely to lead to financial or social difficulties. They may face a crisis of self-identity.

If losing a job is a bit drastic, an explicit or implied threat to a character’s job can be a milder way of achieving some of the same effects. In children’s or YA fiction, expulsion from school, or the threat of it, can work in a similar way to an adult losing a job.

Handy for: relationship problems (with spouse, former co-workers, etc); character blaming themselves; freeing up a character to have more time for interesting things than going to work every day!

Example: A fairly large source of tension in Season One of Marvel’s Agent Carter is the gulf between Peggy Carter’s work in law enforcement and the highly illegal activities she’s undertaking on the side in order to protect Howard Stark (who she believes – rightly – is not guilty of the crimes he’s been accused of).

#11: Social Problems

Perhaps your character is rejected by their community, or is misunderstood or vilified. They might be at fault or they might be blameless – or perhaps something in between. The pain this causes could range from feeling a bit lonely to being devastated; if you’re writing something fairly dark, it could well lead to the character being hunted down and physically attacked.

Handy for: questioning identity, potentially striking out in a new direction, feeling like they have nothing else to lose, potentially making some bad choices

Example: In K.M. Weiland’s Storming, Hitch, the protagonist, returns to a close-knit community that he left years before – and there’s a lot of animosity towards him (particularly from his sister-in-law).

#12: Bereavement

One particularly effective, if horrible, way to make your character suffer is to kill someone they love. This might be part of the plot (the antagonist murders their best friend) or it might be part of the back story (their spouse is dying or has died before the story begins).

Handy for: deep distress and despair; questioning of their purpose; potentially strengthening their resolve to succeed in reaching their goal.

Example: Detective Jamie Brooke in Joanna Penn’s Desecration has a terminally ill 14-year-old daughter who passes away part-way into the novel: a huge source of grief for Jamie, but also a critical part of the plot, as the body is stolen.

#13: Mental Illness

There’s a whole range of potential suffering under the broad umbrella of “mental illness” – depression, anxiety, eating disorders, drug addiction, PTSD, etc. You might have a protagonist with a backstory of mental illness – or your protagonist might have a friend or relative suffering with a particular mental health difficulty. I’m sure it goes without saying, but do approach these with a bit of caution and sensitivity.

Handy for: starting off the novel with a character already facing a difficult struggle; introducing mental health problems part way as a result of traumatic plot events.

Example: Jessica Jones, in Marvel’s Jessica Jones, is suffering from a form of PTSD (plus, if not outright alcoholism, at least alcohol abuse) from the first episode.

#14: Esoteric Suffering

I’m using this as a catch-all for types of suffering that might crop up in speculative fiction, horror, and some thrillers. Think psychic powers or super-powers: pain or suffering caused by something at least somewhat supernatural, which could be anything from some kind of advanced technology to magic-wielding humans to an evil demon.

Handy for: something painful (quite possibly cripplingly so) that doesn’t have lasting effects; showcasing antagonist’s power even at a distance; creepy or unsettling effects; causing or interacting with other types of suffering.

Example: The Hunter in Ceila Friedman’s Coldfire trilogy can inflict this sort of pain, particularly in the form of nightmares.

#15: Fear

One fairly simple (but often potent) form of suffering is to have a character who’s afraid. This doesn’t necessarily have to result in any eventual injury or harm: simply having them really scared can ramp up the tension, and can potentially push them into difficult or bad decisions.

Handy for: increasing tension without increasing the body count; keeping scary things just slightly off the page (often scarier!); pushing characters into a corner; making them make a brave decision (or live with the fact they didn’t).

Example: Five-year-old Jack in Emma Donoghue’s Room goes along with his mother’s plan to free them (which involves rolling him up in a rug and pretending he’s dead) despite being understandably scared.

 

And in case that list isn’t quite enough for you, here are some bonus ways to pile on the suffering:

  1. Your character’s own stupid decisions caused the Bad Thing to happen to them.
  2. Your character’s brave, heroic act caused the Bad Thing: they stood up for justice, and it go them shot / arrested / etc.
  3. Your character isn’t the one suffering (or not the only one) – someone they love is in pain.
  4. It looked like something was finally going to go right for your character … but then it all came crashing down.

If, like me, you’re sometimes a bit of a wimp when it comes to letting your characters suffer … write the first draft as lightly and fluffily as you want, then pile on the suffering in subsequent rewrites. It’ll make for a stronger, more compelling novel.

By Ali
Source: aliventures.com

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How to Make Your Sentences More Descriptive

Today’s guest post is by Jordan Conrad.

The purpose of writing is to communicate information. This is true for writing of all types—for fiction and nonfiction, for creative and technical, for business and legal.

A work of fiction communicates information by telling a story, while an email to an employee communicates information in a much more direct way.

In either case, the author accomplishes the goal of information sharing by using descriptive language to convey detail.

Here is a passage that isn’t very descriptive:

  • Beth first met her spouse in California.

The sentence is fine grammatically, but it isn’t very interesting. What were they doing in California? How did they meet? Did they fall in love head over heels, or did their relationship grow over time as they got to know one another?

All of these details are interesting—and possibly important.

I will include a caveat, though. You don’t want your sentences to be too descriptive, or they will be equally as boring, like this sentence:

  • When Bethany first met Elijah at a rooftop cocktail party at the Standard Hotel in downtown LA, he was wearing polished leather penny loafers with beige argyle socks, dark-blue jeans from GAP that looked brand-new and a crisp, a white cotton dress shirt that he accentuated with a 1970s-era stainless-steel Tissot Chronograph watch that made him look like an off-brand Bond villain from a film that had been disowned by its director and credited to Alan Smithee.

Who needs all that detail? At some point, you probably thought, Stop telling me what Elijah is wearing; I don’t care anymore.

Good writing is about balance. It is possible to be too descriptive, and your writing will suffer just as much as if you aren’t being descriptive enough. With that cautionary tale in mind, here are a few tips for making your writing more descriptive.

Tools of Description

Verb choice. Selecting colorful verbs is one of the easiest ways to make your writing more interesting. You don’t even have to add extra words; your sentences need verbs anyway, so just choose good ones.

  • Did someone walk across the room, or did they stumble across the room (maybe in a drunken haze)?
  • Did someone laugh at a funny joke, or did they giggle, or chortle, or guffaw?

English is full of descriptive verbs, and they can make your writing more colorful. Be careful, however, not to use verbs that are too uncommon or strange, or you run the risk of losing description and creating distraction.

Eliminate adverbs. One of the oft-cited rules of fiction is that you should never use adverbs. Stephen King once said, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

The thinking is that adverbs modify verbs, but your verbs should be strong enough by themselves such that they don’t need to be modified. In other words, to say eliminate adverbs is just another way to say use strong verbs.

Consider this example:

  • A deer ran across the road furiously, and I hit the brakes immediately.

In this sentence, the adverbs are being used to create the effect of descriptive verbs. They act as sprinkles on an otherwise mundane sentence.

Let’s try eliminating them:

  • The deer sprang across the road. I smashed the brake pedal and swerved to avoid it.

The verb choice here puts more detail back into the sentence.

Adverbs also have the tendency to weaken writing by adding unnecessary qualifiers, such as usually, generally, mostly, and oftentimes. In many cases, these words are used to obscure writing, not make it clearer or more descriptive.

Intentional use of adjectives. Whereas adverbs modify verbs, adjectives modify nouns. This is probably the most direct way to make your writing more descriptive, since adjectives exist for the express purpose of being descriptive.

This is where many writers fall into the trap of being too descriptive, though. The cautionary example sentence above contains eighteen adjectives, which is at least fourteen too many.

Stick to one adjective per verb most of the time. Stick to a maximum of five or six nouns per sentence too—any longer than that, the sentence should be split.

Analogies and Metaphors. Comparative language is incredibly powerful in its ability to describe. By comparing one thing to another, you bring to mind everything associated with that subject or idea you’re comparing—and these feelings can be powerful.

Analogies and metaphors are the standard-bearers of comparative language. Analogies help clarify complex topics and make them relatable, and metaphors can add a bit of elegance or flair to your writing.

Consider a famous metaphor from Picasso:

  • “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

The imagery that this evokes in the mind of the reader is deep—in some sense literally. It brings to mind waves crashing over a shore and is much more descriptive than it otherwise could be, as shown in this example:

  • Art makes life more interesting.

In some sense, this sentence says the same thing as Picasso’s quote, but it’s obvious which is more descriptive and meaningful.

As with any bit of description, metaphors can be overused, and they aren’t always helpful. In everyday business communication, it’s probably better to eliminate unnecessary metaphors and other figurative language.

Conclusion

The beauty of descriptive writing is that it bridges genres and mediums. Being descriptive can benefit your business communications just as much as it can benefit your next novel.

Remember, however: good writing and good description is about balance. If you are too descriptive, your readers are likely to get bored or overwhelmed. If you aren’t descriptive enough, you risk boring your readers.

Source: livewritethrive.com

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