Tag Archives: writing career

Fixing Split Ends: How to End a Story Perfectly

Some writers know what their ending will be right from the start. Others discover it in the course of writing the story, because even if you have an outline, things change. You get a better idea, or a character becomes more interesting than you expected. But not knowing how to end a story in a way that satisfies you (or an editor) is why many people abandon stories. What keeps going wrong?

Even well-known writers abandon stories sometimes—the feel for the story disappears, or something else seems more urgent.

Some stories are more like exercises—and don’t aim to be polished, finished works.

But if you have stories that you feel are interesting and well-executed (up until the end) and this keeps happening, let’s look at a few things you can do to break that no-ending barrier.

Identify the Problem, Then Troubleshoot:


You got through all the things you wanted to do in the story or novel, and now there’s nothing left to say.

A fairly common problem in writing stories is that the conflict isn’t visible enough. In fact, sometimes it’s hard to identify a conflict, because the focus has been on character.

Suggestions:

  • Look at what your character had to face in the course of the story and ask why and how and what changed because of it.
  • Heighten the difficulties and their implications.

You got to the big climactic scene and you haven’t a clue what to do now. What should happen?

Sometimes you can’t figure out what to do because nothing was really in jeopardy. You’ve given the main character a problem, and you’ve got to the point where the problem drives the action, but what you don’t have is how this matters to the character.

Suggestion:

  • Stop worrying about action and imagine the emotional components that brought your protagonist here. What does this conflict do to your character’s way of life?

The ending is in line with the conflict, it all makes sense, but it doesn’t have a punch.

You’ve avoided doing anything risky or unpredictable, so it’s no surprise that the ending is soft. I’m afraid you’ve got to shake things up completely in order to make this come alive—and the first thing to do is to… change the main character. You might have been coasting here because you haven’t forced yourself to actually imagine someone with different needs from your own.

Suggestions:

  • Imagine someone totally unlike you, who wouldn’t make the same choices you would make.
  • In the first big branch of the story, force your character to choose a dramatically different path from the one you gave him or her. Surprise yourself by figuring out why someone would do that different thing.

Everyone says: very nicely written, nice story; sorry but we’ll pass.

This is similar to the above, only this time the story is good but forgettable—when they put it down they really don’t have anything to hold on to.

Suggestions:

  • Shake up your story.
  • For example, about one-third of the way in, have a catastrophe happen—it can be personal or atmospheric, small or large, but what it does is create a background problem that your foreground problem has to play itself against. This automatically ramps up your story, and it forces you to reconcile both large and small issues at the end.

No one believes the ending. Which is weird, because it actually happened.

Never think that what actually happened makes for a convincing story. You’ve trapped yourself here by falling prey to determinism. The story doesn’t work because there was no free will.

Suggestions:

  • Go back one or two decisions in the plot, and change it. Whatever actually happened before you get to the end, change it.
  • Make yourself think about what’s going on and why; then write what that character would cause or do.
  • Another way to handle this is to switch the characters—have “what actually happened” happen to someone who wasn’t there. That should force you to rethink the narrative arc.

You can’t get a good last line.

What was your story’s opening line? Go back and look at it for a while. Where does that first line suggest the story is going?

Suggestions:

  • In some cases, the first line or paragraph contains the idea for the last line. (This is especially true for short stories.)
  • In other cases, you should pick up on a metaphor or image that mattered to your protagonist in the course of the book.

How to End a Story: More Tips and Tricks

Most of the time, you’ll figure out how to end a story. But what if you have a solid story but no good ideas on how to wrap it up? Nothing works in your head or on paper; you’re stymied. Are there any tricks that can help?

Return to a Backup Point

If you just can’t get it to work, go back a few paragraphs or even a page, throw that out, and start again.

Try not to re-read the part you’re about to abandon. You may have written yourself into a corner. (This can also work if you’ve stopped in the middle of a story, rather than the end.)

It can help to start in the middle of a paragraph, or in the middle of a piece of dialogue—someplace where you can pick up on the action or dialogue. Then see where it goes. You may find that the new version takes you in a slightly different direction.

Write past the End

If you know what you want to do, but somehow it just doesn’t feel like an ending (too abrupt, too inconclusive, etc.), then just assume that really isn’t the ending.

Keep going. See where it really stops. You can try different directions: what happened next, how a character viewed what happened next; what unexpected consequences resulted, etc. Picture characters or setting a week later, a year later, a decade later—does that suggest anything?

Work on Your Closing Line

If you’re stuck trying to get that last paragraph or that last, brilliant line, maybe you can pick up on a symbol or image you’ve used in the story. It can be a tree, a place, a song, a sound—something you may have used without thinking about it too much.

Or it’s something you can go back and develop (and you may find that it adds resonance, too, to the story you’ve already written). Use a recurring image to develop the character’s epiphany or the resolution of the story.

Create Closure

You can also use circularity to bring your story neatly to a close. If you opened with a character driving, for instance, to his/her plot device, you can close with a car scene and some enlightenment that goes with it.

In Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, both the first dramatic scene and the closing scene of the novel involve children flying kites: different children under vastly different circumstances.

Add an Aftermath

You can conclude with general consequences after the conflict is over—the world is better; the world is worse.

You can even demonstrate how easily the world got past the private tragedy in a story. In Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” after the grueling experience of Gregor Samsa’s transformation resulted in his death, the family is rejuvenated. The ending contrasts the new sense of life they now have, outside the constricted apartment where Gregor lived his insect life. They begin to see their futures again, symbolized by the health and vitality of their daughter (her actions are in contrast with their son’s rigid insect body): “And it was like a confirmation of their new dreams and excellent intentions that at the end of their journey their daughter sprang to her feet first and stretched her young body.”

Change Some Choices

Finally, be aware that stories that refuse to end properly may reflect a problem earlier in the story. Perhaps you went in the wrong direction and now the concept is falling apart. Perhaps your character needs to do something different, or the big conflict is the wrong conflict. You may have chosen the wrong point of view, the wrong voice, the wrong central character. What can you change about the story itself that would make you interested in it? What annoys you about the story? Remove it.

Don’t Know How to End Your Story? Keep Thinking!

Maybe you won’t always know your ending right from the start, but if you approach it thoughtfully, you’ll find it.

By Karen Heuler

Source: refiction.com

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ME, as I work on my middle grade novel.

OHI0017-WRI-4StagesWriting-v7-Handwritten-flat-600

No guarantee that my middle grade novel will ever be published; that’s out of my control.

I’m trying to focus on what I can control:

(1) Writing the best book I possibly can, and

(2) FINISHING the book.

Source: inkygirl.com

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The Truth About Believing in Yourself

Finding authentic faith in artistic expression

I remember my first “vision board.”

I spent all day feverishly cutting out photos of old bungalow-style houses with porch swings, beach vacations and strong, fit, successful women. I printed out my bank statement and added a few zeros to the balance. I typed and printed the words, “New York Times Best Selling Author, Ivy Shelden” and plastered it among the other photos and clippings.

Here we go, I thought. Now I’m ready to start believing in myself.

I stared at the board until my eyes crossed. Next to the vision board, I’d printed a list of “affirmations” to say aloud each day, until I believed them. They included statements like:

I am worthy of, and open to abundance.

I am thankful for my new job. (I didn’t have one yet)

Every morning I stood in front of that laundry room door — staring, reciting.

Strangely, nothing in my life changed. I remained terrified to sit at my computer and express myself through writing — let alone share my work with anyone.

I felt even more empty, staring into the faces of women who weren’t me, and houses I didn’t own. Uttering words I didn’t believe.

I felt defective for not having stronger faith.

I tried praying and meditating. I read every self-help book in my local library, followed every life coach’s blog. Still, no change.

I thought, Why do I still doubt my potential when I try so hard not to?

As I hovered a trembling finger over the download button to another audio book, I paused. Instead, I tossed my phone to the side and sat quietly, eyes closed.

Although my body was still, I could feel my mind screaming for more action. We need to do something it pleaded, everything we want is slipping through our fingers!

I recognized that voice in my head: Fear.

Fear of missing out.

Fear of not fulfilling my true purpose.

Fear of my talent withering on the vine.

Fear was driving my self-help obsession — my reading and podcast addictions. It pervaded the photos on my vision board — dripped from my affirmations.

My vision board felt like a highlight reel for everything I was lacking — it created distance between myself and my true desires.

There they are, and here I am. Separate. I must wish myself up to their level.

And you know what I wasn’t doing while I was creating that vision board?

Writing.

Go figure that one. I realized that my self-help gimmicks were also a convenient excuse to avoid what scares me most: engaging my gifts, and making myself vulnerable to criticism and failure.

I thought I needed to be in the right frame of mind (i.e. believing wholly in my abilities) to even start working.

No blogger or self-help book can teach you to believe in yourself. You have to pop those earbuds out, drag yourself up off the couch, and work. Day after day, no matter how messy or imperfect the result.

You must see yourself persist through fear and uncertainty, time and time again, to develop self-trust.

You don’t need a list of affirmations. You only need to believe it’s possible to make a difference in the world with your art.

You don’t have to be perfect or know everything, you just have to begin. And keep going.

Do this, and you’ll accomplish far beyond anything you could ever paste on a vision board.

By Bryan Hutchinson

Source: positivewriter.com

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Getting Somebody Else’s Town Right – Researching Settings for Your Writing

The old adage is “write what you know.” Most writers, though, have to step outside that comfort zone sooner or later.

If you are writing something set in the “real world,” you might set it in your hometown, or a town where you have lived for several years. However, you might also want to set your story somewhere else. One way, used by many, is to create a fictional town or city. DC Comics has Metropolis, Lovecraft has the infamous Arkham, and Agatha Christie has created wholly invented towns like Chipping Cleghorn.

Ah, but what if you really do want to use real-world locations? Maybe you want to set your book in San Francisco but have never been further west than Minneapolis. Or, you discover that Copenhagen is the Las Vegas of Europe and need to do a shotgun wedding.

This article has tools and techniques for writing in somebody else’s town without, hopefully, having a bunch of locals inform you that there is no such Metro station as “Cathedral Heights.”

So, how do you start researching settings for your writing?

Internet Research

Like everything else, writing in somebody else’s town takes research. For most of us these days, the first stop is the internet. Here are a few good sources you can start with:

  1. Wikipedia. People knock Wikipedia as a source, but it’s useful for basic facts about a place and as a starting point. You can usually trust it to give you such information as population and a few facts. Remember that Wikipedia is for things “everyone knows,” and may not always be accurate. I’ve found it to be useful, though.
  2. Historical weather sources. If you just want to know what the weather was like on June 21st, 1999 in London, Weather Underground is a good source (If you’re curious, it was in the 50s and not raining). If you’re just trying to find out what would be typical for London in June, though, you can literally just google “weather average for London” and it’ll give you averages by month. Another useful site is Holidayweather.com, although it only covers major tourist destinations. Which brings us to:
  3. TripAdvisor. You may laugh, but I use TripAdvisor all the time and not just to find restaurants while on vacation. Use it to look through restaurants in Helsinki to discover what Finnish people eat, to find historical sites that might end up being plot points. If you use it for travel and have an account, I recommend researching for settings in incognito mode, so it doesn’t spam your email on the assumption you are actually planning on going to Rome…
  4. The town’s own website. Most towns these days have a website, and it’s a good source of information for historical overviews, demographics, etc. Check out the chamber of commerce site too. Often, they have a list of stores and restaurants downtown (remember not to make a real business look bad in your story). These sites will also give information intended for residents. Do you need to know if trash day is Tuesday or Wednesday? Are you looking for a park to set a scene in?
  5. Real estate sites. Realtors often have useful neighborhood guides on their sites, which are aimed at people relocating. House prices can also tell you at a glance where the bad part of town is.

Google Maps and Google Street View

I have no idea how people wrote in other places without Google Maps and Street View. If you’re writing in a city you have never been to, or even one you are only somewhat familiar with, you can literally “travel” around the city virtually and move your characters from place to place. You can go down a specific street in a neighborhood and see what style the houses are. Trace your characters movements during the outline or the first draft. You can also use the directions function to work out travel time if it’s relevant.

On a related note, for big cities, do look at the transit map so you don’t make a Cathedral Heights level mistake. Unless, of course, you intend to. Check opening hours, too…

Libraries

Repeat after me, libraries are good. You might think that somebody else’s public library system is too far away to be any good. You would be surprised. More and more libraries will now give access to their electronic collections and research databases to people from out of town for a fee, which is usually $40-60 a year. This option is seldom available for people in another country. But access to a library’s digital resources can be priceless. (It might even be worth contacting the librarian and telling them you’re writing a book, they might be able to do something for you).

Local People

When the internet and library collections fail you, you may need to actually talk to real people. As a note, if you are setting your story more than five years in the past, you definitely need to find somebody who lived there at that time. Big cities, in particular, can change surprisingly rapidly. Was that park there when your characters were?

For novels, a targeted beta reader is a good idea. You can even find one by using the search phrase“sensitivity reader.” Although most sensitivity readers are concerned with demographics, location is important too. You might have to pay them, or you might be able to find another writer willing to do a trade on beta reading.

If you’re lucky, somebody who lives in the place you’re researching might be in your chain of social media friends. It’s always worth asking. Failing that, there are several sources for local experts:

  1. Librarians. Yes, we’re back to librarians, but helping with research is what they are there for.
  2. The local community college. If there’s a local community college, one of the teachers there might be willing to help you out. Or even one of the students, especially if you can send them a tip.
  3. Local government outreach. A lot of local government sites have an outreach section where you can send them a message with specific questions. You don’t have to be a resident, and the magic words “I’m writing a book” can get you a long way.

Trips: Researching Your Setting Firsthand

Needless to say, research trips can be completely out of reach for many writers. If you do have the cash, though, there is really no substitute for getting the feel of a place. Here are some tips to keep your trip within budget:

  1. Know how much time you need. Going back often costs more than staying an extra day.
  2. Go off-peak or offseason. Avoid school holidays, especially in Europe. British hotels, for example, are quite notorious for trebling rates when the kids are off school.
  3. If the town you’re researching is an expensive tourist trap, see if you can stay somewhere nearby. This may not always work.
  4. Consider using AirBnB or a similar solution rather than a hotel, especially if you’re planning a longer stay. Look for a place with a kitchen. You can learn a lot from local grocery stores.
  5. Get a VPN so you can work over hotel networks with more security.
  6. In Europe, take the train. Trust me, just take the train.
  7. Make it your family vacation anyway. In fact, you could even decide to set your book somewhere you really want to go… and use research as an excuse.

But if you can’t afford to go there, don’t be afraid to set your book (or short story, or few chapters of a book) in a city or town you have never personally visited. If you do your research, you can make it work without annoying the locals.

By Jennifer R. Povey

Source: refiction.com

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Why Humans Love Story

So, following on from last week, in our 4 post series which will be part of Harness Your Reader’s Psychology, we’re delving deeper into why readers read. This week, we’re exploring exactly why we are so drawn to narrative…and it may not be the reason you think!

If you were to ask a fellow Homo Sapien why they read, they’ll give you a variety of answers. In fact, I polled my readers, asking them this very same question, and here are some of the answers I received:

‘If I’m having a bad day or I’m stressed, I block everything out and pick up a book. I feel much better after I’ve spent a few hours reading.’

‘I read because I love stories! As a mom of five kids it is a stress reliever to be able to pick up a book and let my imagination take over for an hour or so. ‘

What’s not to love about a good book!! They offer adventure, romance, thrills, chills, and mystery!! A book offers escape from our daily grind!! You can escape between the pages for awhile!! Travel to new cities, foreign lands or briefly experience life in the past. There is no limit to what you can see or experience through the pages of a book!! I love to read!! There is nothing that can compare to a well written book!!

‘As an escape. Life isn’t easy and escaping into someone else’s “life” gives me a break from my own.’

Psychologists like to look for themes, overarching principles, so that they can understand general trends in human thoughts or behaviours. Looking at the responses above, some say it explicitly, others allude to it, but they all say ‘escapism’ in one form or the other, and they all point to reading feeling good. If you asked me that question a few years ago, I would have said the same thing. Losing yourself in a world not my own is exactly why I read. It feels good to disappear into those imaginary places.

But if you think about it, reading for escapism is actually counterintuitive.

To start with, when we dive into a story, we’re usually diving into situations that are more stressful, angst-filled, and emotional than the ones we experience in real life. Books walk us through journeys defined by heart-ache, loss, zombies, and pain. Why we don’t like to lose ourselves in stories of happy families and the mundane is something we’ll cover later. For now, appreciating that the good stories which draw us in and don’t let go are founded on struggle and stress raises a valid point.

How can that be escapism?

Secondly, losing yourself to the point where reality dissolves into the peripheral (how many of us have had toast or pasta burn because we got lost in a book?), isn’t smart. Evolutionary speaking, it’s deadly. That’s when predators pounce, thief’s see a window of opportunity, or rivals drag your partner into the night.

Evolution but doesn’t have the time or the energy to carry useless, frivolous, potentially dangerous traits through the generations. And if you think about it, getting lost in a story isn’t obviously useful: from centuries ago, when keeping an eye out for sabre tooth tigers was pretty essential for survival, through to modern times, where keeping down a job means food in your fridge.

And yet story has been so pervasive and universal that it’s survived the ruthless mill of evolution, that unrelenting process that screens out anything that doesn’t ensure our species will be here to produce future generations. If it’s not securing our survival, then its cut. Gone.

Extinct.

Why then? Why is story still around? Why is it woven so tightly into the layers of our life?

Is it possible, that story actually serves a function in human survival?

Essentially, story was, and continues to be, our first virtual reality. Just like it’s much safer for pilots to learn to fly in simulators, we get to learn the complicated lessons of life through the experience of others. In the same way pilots prefer to make their mistakes much closer to the ground, we get to see what could happen if our baby sitter didn’t turn out to be who we thought they were, how to take down a zombie, what a serial killer is capable of, or how to navigate a dystopian world, what the ripple effect of having an affair with your neighbour is. In real life, mistakes can be devastating for pilots and us alike. With story, we get to do all of this and more, all without the deadly crash landing.

In fact, readers in my poll captured it beautifully:

‘To travel, fly, love, cry and live without moving from my seat. Books are my precious friends.’

‘To live multiple lives in multiple different shoes.’

‘Reading takes me to places I haven’t been, both real and imaginary. I experience emotions that I may not have had or can empathise with. I can remember the intensity of falling in love, giving birth, loving children, the excitement of seeing wondrous places, and experience the fear and dread of experiences I hope I shall never have.’

It’s the last words that really capture that reading is about far more than escapism: ‘experience the fear and dread of experiences I hope I shall never have.’ And yet, she chooses to immerse herself in it.

When I learnt all this, as a reader I felt validated. I finally figured out why I turn up to work gritty eyed and wishing I drank coffee because ‘just one more chapter’ turned into ‘there’s only a hundred pages to go’ (and obviously, there’s no point in stopping). It’s not about poor self-control, an addictive personality or a belief I can function on three hours sleep. My brain is wired to want this! (Okay, fine…maybe self-control got skipped in my DNA…)

But as a writer I was fascinated.

Readers are unconsciously drawn to our words for more than just escapism. There are certain elements their subconscious brain is looking for, and once we know what that is…

We can give it to them.

As for what that is? That will be next week’s post 🙂

By Tamar Sloan

Source: psychwriter.com.au

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9 of the BEST Quotes on Writing Ever!

Today’s post is a fun post, a collection of quotes on writing I have been sharing on the Positive Writer Facebook Page over the last few weeks and I thought you’d enjoy them as well! These are 9 of my favorites.

 

Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the water is turned on. ―Louis L’Amour

 

If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word. ―Margaret Atwood

 

Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way. ―Ray Bradbury

 

I believe myself that a good writer doesn’t really need to be told anything except to keep at it. ―Chinua Achebe

 

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit. ―Richard Bach

 

I write entirely to find out what I am thinking, what I am looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. ―Joan Didion

 

You fail only if you stop writing. ―Ray Bradbury

 

Writing is its own reward. ―Henry Miller

 

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you. ―Maya Angelou

I hope you enjoyed these!

What’s your favorite quote about writing? Share it in the comments.

Source: positivewriter.com

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4 Signs You’re Sabotaging Your Writing (And What to Do About It!)

Oh, the lovely struggles of a writer’s life — bloodthirsty deadlines, toxic clients, lack of inspiration… These things come with the package, whether you like it or not. But did you know that you are the greatest enemy of your own work?

Out of hundreds of excuses — bad days, the dreaded writer’s block or simple laziness — you, as a writer, bear the sole responsibility for whether words appear on the page or not. It took me a while to acknowledge this and improve (a bit). Now I want to make it easier for you.

Take a look at these four signs and see whether you’re making the same mistakes!

1. You Don’t Prepare an Outline

As much as I like to get “adventurous” with my writing once in a while, my disorganized soul always craves for a grain of order and structure. It’s surprising how even a simple plan can help with all kinds of writer’s ailments.

I’ve battle-tested working without and with an outline, and the writing has always been smoother and more pleasurable for the latter. Even the roughest of rough outlines will give you a solid direction and keep your thoughts from going astray. It will also prevent you from constantly adding and changing things!

Don’t get me wrong. You probably won’t need a master plan for a simple Tweet. But as your projects get more complex and wordy, an outline will be the only thing standing between you and a rambling disaster. You don’t have to go to extremes and follow your plan to the letter; an outline is meant to give you a heading, that’s all.

2. You’re Getting Your Deadlines All Wrong

A reasonable deadline will help you to stay on track with your writing, be it your next big novel or that blog post you should deliver in two days. An unreasonable deadline will give you a headache at best.

Now, I get it. It’s difficult to set sensible timelines for your work when you’re just starting your writing career. It takes time and many finished projects before you can estimate the time needed to wrap an assignment. But are you honest with yourself when you’re setting those deadlines?

I sometimes try to fool myself that a certain project is going to take longer or shorter than it really should. I realized that I do this get more downtime between assignments or simply postpone the work as much as I can.

What to do instead?

  • If you struggle with setting attainable deadlines, review your past projects for estimates.
  • If you’re just starting delivering projects, make sure to track your project time for future reference.
  • Give yourself a small time margin for unforeseen hiccups (10-20% of the total project time).

3. You Try to Do Everything at Once on the First Draft

Do you sometimes stop writing your first draft only to improve a sentence or use a better word? If so, then you’re sabotaging your writing big time.

Silencing your internal editor may be difficult, especially if you’re a perfectionist and want to write a masterpiece on the first try. That’s what would happen to me when I was just starting writing longer pieces and delivering client work. I’d constantly halt and ruminate on a phrase or a sentence that just didn’t seem like a good fit.

If you’re like me, then the spellchecker probably drives you crazy with all those red marks popping up all over the page (Ok, if your page is covered in “blood” from header to footer then you can probably slow down, just a bit!). But the truth is, everybody gets spelling wrong on the first run, and for some, this remains true all the way till the final draft.

It’s even more tempting to combine writing your first drafts with research. Some people prefer to look things up as they go instead of digging into a topic in advance. This approach is even more destructive and totally breaks the creative flow.

If you’re still troubled by your spelling mistakes, you’ll find many interesting insights in this post.

What to do instead?

  • DO NOT attempt to fix all the flaws of your fledgling text on the first draft; your first draft should be free from criticism, both internal and external.
  • Do your research first, and don’t you dare google things up as you write!
  • Unleash your internal critic on the 2nd, 3rd and all the consecutive drafts, but not before that.
  • If the spellchecker distracts you, turn it off.

4. You Celebrate Way Too Early

There are those moments when I finish a paragraph or a substantial part of a project and think: “I’ve done a solid piece of work here…It’s time to rest now!” And so I rest…

I grab a sandwich, take a walk, read a book or even go for a bike ride. The possibilities here are limitless, and since my brain has just done the heavy lifting, it deserves some downtime, right?

While taking occasional breaks from writing is absolutely necessary to keep your mental nuts and bolts in place, I learned the hard way that short breaks tend to beef up in duration if you let them. It’s tempting to notoriously stretch break time and justify it with a flabby “I’ve accomplished something and deserve this!”

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t reward yourself for little successes and reserve some time for small celebrations. By all means, please do (a stroll in a park makes for a great brain-reset). But sometimes it’s better to be a bit tougher on yourself than to despair over a deadline that has just flashed by because you got lost in a book, again.

Does any of these signs sound familiar? Are you guilty of committing similar crimes against your writing? Let me know!

Source: littlezotz.com

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When Fiction Doesn’t Work—What Can Be Learned?

By Bonnie Randall 

Part of the How They Do It Series 

JH: You can learn just as much from a bad book as a good book.

Stephen King said “Unless you read, you do not have the tools to write.”

Books that whisk us deeply into a story, have characters who become dear friends, or use language in such a way that leaves us breathless, are powerful tools for writers, because those elements are replicable and take our fiction to higher, deeper, and more meaningful levels.

What, though, about fiction that doesn’t move you in any sort of positive way? Can writing lessons be gleaned from these pieces also? 

I am currently reading a novel that has me turning pages—but not in a good way. I am so frustrated from waiting for the reveal of the ‘Big Bad Secret’ the heroine is withholding that I am thumbing through and skimming just to get to the place where she coughs it up. The suspense is not working for me at all, and partly it’s because of the ambiguity surrounding whatever this secret is; there are no clear clues or indicators, and what is presented is vague.
Also, there has yet to be a clear reason why the character is being cagey about her secret in the first place. Additionally, while the character herself is being indirect, the plot keeps getting >thisclose< to revealing The Big Bad…and then being thwarted by convenient twists.
To add to the frustration, there are also interludes which come in the form of handwritten letters from one character to another—and said letters are heavily implied to be written by the heroine with the secret, and yet (I cheated) actually end up being written by the hero when all is said and done.

(Here’s more on What is “Bad Writing?” (And How Can We Avoid It?))

This does not feel like author cleverness to me, but instead like author trickery; it is one thing to not trust an unreliable character, but quite another to not be able to trust an unreliable author.

The take-aways from this reading experience for me are:

1. When employing the device of the ‘Big, Bad Secret’, strike a good balance that leaves your pacing on the side of suspense rather than frustration—and always have a good reason why your character is keeping their secret under wraps in the first place.

2. If you are going to use an ambiguous POV, make sure you do not leave your reader feeling tricked. There needs to be at least one Easter Egg in each ambiguous passage that raises doubt—and maybe even makes it fun—for the reader to wonder “Is this really Character X? Or could this be Character Y who is thinking / doing / saying these things?”

Now: How about you? Have you read a book that was a real miss for you, yet was still able to impart some good learning?

Please share whatever that book taught you to do (or not do), but do not reveal the title. (Because jeez…what if it’s one of my books?!) Seriously, we don’t want to book-bash, and besides: one reader’s trash is another reader’s treasure; the book I am referring to here, for example, has far more positive reviews than negative, and is selling rather hotly too (which begs the question—what the heck do I know, anyway?!)

Okay, folks. Your turn. And….GO!

Bonnie

Source: blog.janicehardy.com

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The Secret to Writing the Killer Plot Twist

A woman in Poughkeepsie plucks your debut novel off the shelf. Okay, fine. It doesn’t have to be Poughkeepsie. It can be anywhere—Marietta, Springfield, Sedona—wherever. The town doesn’t matter because your debut novel flew off the shelves in every big and small town across America. Mostly because of one big thing. You pulled off the killer plot twist.

Now everyone who reads your book thinks they’re your biggest fan. That lady in Poughkeepsie? You’re about to become her favorite author. And she’s going to hand your book to her best friend and tell her in an urgent and serious whisper, “You have to read this. I still can’t believe the ending.”

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. Because the secret to pulling off the most memorable plot twist since Psycho isn’t a magic spell. It’s the unreliable narrator.

What is An Unreliable Narrator?

Put simply, an unreliable narrator is a character who lies. Sure, sometimes he lies because he has something to hide. But the lie isn’t always deliberate. Sometimes he just doesn’t know the whole story. So how can he explain it right? Sometimes he’s too crazy (American Psycho) or too tired (Fight Club) or too drugged (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) to see the full story as it unfolds. But one thing is for sure. Regardless of the reason for his failure, the unreliable narrator’s story is not what it appears to be. And here’s the secret: it’s the gaps in his tale that leave space for the twist.

How Unreliable Narrators Set You Up for a Plot Twist

In life, we brush shoulders with killers and liars, psychos and saints. We don’t always know a killer or liar when we meet one. Maybe he’s just limping Linus from 2A who hides an unlikely amount of antifreeze under his kitchen sink. Or maybe it’s that mom who rolls her kids to the park in the double stroller. What is she really drinking from that flower printed water bottle?

Life creates a multitude of untrustworthy characters who blend with the crowd. The best fiction does too.

You’ve guessed it. Unreliable narrators feature in so many twisted plots precisely because of what they hide. It’s those missing pieces, the parts of the story they hold back, that feature in the big reveal at the end. And that big reveal? The one where we learned what really happened? It changes how we understand the whole story, doesn’t it? Hence the perfect plot twist.

Ready to see them in action?

How to Instigate Your Own Plot Twist (Two Iconic Examples)

Pi from Life of Pi is a character who keeps you guessing. His story of ship wreck and survival at sea isn’t the first of his fantastical tales. But even though his stories are tough to believe, you find that you want to. Since you don’t want to believe what you already know, you become a willing participant in the deception. So the twist surprises you all the same.

Pi is an example of The Embellisher, an unreliable narrator who tells tall tales for fun. But The Embellisher isn’t the only type of unreliable narrator. Verbal Kint from The Usual Suspects uses deliberate deception to trick you in one of the most memorable plot twists in modern storytelling.

Verbal is a Self-Preservationist, an unreliable narrator who lies to save himself. He’s the only survivor of a boat explosion. How he came to be on that boat is a mystery that investigators are determined to extract from him. Verbal’s tale twists many times before the final reveal. Surprise, in this case, is built on deception.

These are just two examples of unreliable narrators. But in 7 Unreliable Narrators to Twist Your Plot I reveal the techniques behind the Self-Preservationist and more. In this article, you’ll get seven character types to wow your biggest fans.

And that lady in Poughkeepsie? She doesn’t need to know you learned it here.

Source: mandywallace.com

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10 Reasons Why You Should be Proud to be a Writer

Sometimes I compare my job as a writer to his and I wonder if I’m bringing enough value to the world and helping enough people.

Genevieve Parker-Hill

The above quote comes from a wonderful post called Write the Book, Save the World.

In the post Genevieve wonders why she should be proud to be a writer when her husband who works with a large nonprofit organization seems to be bringing so much more value to the world?

Here at WritetoDone we believe every single writer matters. As Genevieve says:

what if your work helped just one person? What if your work connected with one person and colored their life with joy for one moment? What if it gave just one person a powerful connective experience, a sense that they aren’t alone?

Below are 10 reasons why you should be proud to be a writer in the real world, because in the real world, writing, and writers, really matter.

proud-to-be-a-writer

Let me know in the comments below why YOU are proud to be a writer.

Source: writetodone.com

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