Tag Archives: writing goals

How to Get Past Excuses and Finish Your Writing!

Do you struggle with finishing? Believe me, I’ve been there.

Perseverance has never really been my thing.

I was the one in school that could easily write papers, finish assignments, and obtain excellent grades with very little effort.

But as soon as something difficult came along, I would give up. Any iota of resistance would stop me in my tracks.

Sound familiar?

In 2008, I decided to write a book.

I was fairly young and had absolutely no clue what I was doing, but I managed to eke out a completed manuscript. It took me about a year to figure out what I wanted to write about and get past the first page, then another year to complete the first draft. It was hard, but fun-hard, and I loved it.

Then the editing began.

And it was just plain hard-hard. I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to crawl in a hole, pay someone vast sums of money to edit it for me, then have a bunch of people pay me thousands of dollars to read my perfect words.

Sounds like a dream, right?

But here’s the thing: it’s not that easy.

Though I labored over the manuscript for eight years (eight years!) through multiple revisions and changes and got absolutely frustrated with how long it seemed to be taking, the time spent was absolutely necessary to the process. I was honing my manuscript, discovering what it was meant to be, similar to Michelangelo sculpting David:

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Michelangelo

My book was inside me; I just needed to write it. Even though it wasn’t what I first wrote (or even what I wrote second or third), eventually the story was exactly what it was supposed to be.

I had people telling me I wouldn’t ever finish it, had my own voice inside my head telling me it wasn’t worth the hard work, had family who wouldn’t read a single word.

Yet I managed to keep going—the person who would never stick with anything—and somehow ended up with a completed manuscript.

But it wasn’t by accident, and it doesn’t have to be for you, either.

So how did I get past all the excuses I made up in my head and the doubts others threw my way to stick with it until it was done?

I stopped letting the negativity and the doubts take hold in my mind, taught myself to follow these five excuse-eliminating tenets, and finally stepped into the writer I was meant to be.

  1. Believe in Yourself and the Work Only You Can Do

Even though it sounds cheesy, a strong belief that I was given this story and needed to get it out into the world helped me through many hard days. If you have a passion for writing, don’t let other people or excuses you make up rob you and the world of your voice. Somewhere, someone needs to hear what you have to say in the way only you can say it.

Be brave, and believe in yourself and your work.

  1. Let Go of What Others Think About You

I know this is a hard one, but too often we give in to the opinions that others speak into our lives. When we do this, when we let this poison enter our minds, we eventually find ourselves living lives we don’t recognize. Show love to others, but don’t let their opinions of who you should be dig roots in your mind.

Only you truly know who you should be. So live YOUR best life.

  1. Give Up Your Feelings of Inadequacy

You are enough. Just you. Hone your craft, develop it like any other muscle, but you are a writer the moment you write a single word. Don’t let anyone—most importantly, yourself—convince you otherwise.

  1. Write Even When You Don’t Feel Like It

There will be minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months you won’t feel like writing. Do it anyway. You won’t get any better by not writing. The book won’t get done any quicker, either. I wish I would’ve taken this to heart sooner!

  1. Learn as Much as You Can

Writing may feel like a lonely profession, but there are scores of writers on social media and in your community who you can connect with to develop a network of like-minded people. Learn as much as you can from each other. Learn the craft, the community, the best practices, take the courses and then… learn how to break the rules. That’s my favorite part.

Have you let the excuses you make up in your head hold you back from completing that blog post, that manuscript, that series? Have you listened to the voices of others telling you you’ll never finish?

Resolve today to give up that mindset, ignore those lies, and step into the truth that you are a writer, you are enough, and you have a story that the world needs to hear.

By Bryan Hutchinson
Source: positivewriter.com

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Your Book Isn’t for Everyone

Think for a moment about your work in progress. How should your book be marketed? What kind of reader do you want to attract? Who is your book for?

Why, it’s for everyone! you exclaim.

After all, who wouldn’t want to read your fabulous plot, compelling characters, and engaging writing voice? Perhaps a few doltish persons on the fringe, but anyone with good sense and a love of good story would like your book.

Sorry, but nope.

Some people won’t want to read your book. In fact, some people might hate your book. And that’s a worthwhile reality to consider when we writers send our manuscripts into contests, open ourselves to outside critique, and read through reviews. Sometimes you’ll get feedback that you can simply shrug off with, “My book wasn’t for them.”

It isn’t personal (even though the comment might sting), but rather a mismatch between author and reader. We simply can’t write a story that every single person will adore. Your book, and my book, is not for everyone.

Yet that simply puts us in good company. I like to turn to the world of authors and see what wisdom they can offer. Check out these reviews, followed by the book that sparked them.

“…no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that…” – The Chicago Tribune

“…an absurd story, whether considered as romance, melodrama, or plain record of New York high life.” – The Saturday Review

THE GREAT GATSBY, F. Scott Fitzgerald

“…no better in tone than the dime novels which flood the blood-and-thunder reading population… his literary skill is, of course, superior, but their moral level is low, and their perusal cannot be anything less than harmful.” — in The New York Times

THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, Mark Twain

“The book as a whole is disappointing, and not merely because it is a reworking of a theme that one begins to suspect must obsess the author. [The main character] who tells his own story, is an extraordinary portrait, but there is too much of him.” – The New Republic

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, J.D. Salinger

“These are one-dimensional children’s books, Disney cartoons written in words, no more.” – The Guardian

HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, J.K. Rowling

“How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery.” – Graham’s Lady’s Magazine

WUTHERING HEIGHTS, Emily Bronte

“the plan and technique of the illustrations are superb. … But they may well prove frightening, accompanied as they are by a pointless and confusing story.” — Publisher’s Weekly

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, Maurice Sendak

But you know what? Just take that last one. Sendak didn’t write this book for everyone. It found its way into the hearts of children, of all ages, over the years.

Here’s how the Library Journal described it: “This is the kind of story that many adults will question and for many reasons, but the child will accept it wisely and without inhibition, as he knows it is written for him.”

Knowing who your book is for can help you figure out how to distribute and market it to the right audience, as well as how to handle the negative reviews that inevitably come in. When that happens, remind yourself that you’re in the same circle with the likes of Twain, Rowling, and Bronte. Not such a bad place to find yourself.

By Julie Glover
Source: writersinthestormblog.com

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How to Write in a Conversational Style That Will Connect with Your Readers

The other day, I was checking my email when I came across a suspicious looking message. It began with the line, “Dear Sir/Madam”.

The first paragraph read,

Please pardon me if I intrude into your privacy, and may I humbly solicit your confidence in this transaction. I came to know about you in my private search for a reliable and reputable foreigner to handle this confidential transaction.

Wow, that writing sounds like something straight out of a Dickens novel. I quickly clicked delete, suspecting that this was a phishing scam.

You’ve probably received emails like this too. And maybe you’ve also chuckled at their standoffish, overly formal tone. It seems to be a trademark of these types of spam emails.

However, not too long ago, no one would have laughed at that style of writing. It’s the style most people would have used if they wanted to come across as polite and professional.

In fact, your English teacher probably taught you a similar academic style when you were in school. Flowery language. Long paragraphs. Precise grammar. No contractions.

And then came the Internet. Over time, everyone from bloggers to big corporations realized that a conversational style of writing is a much more powerful way to engage and connect with your audience.

Formal writing hides your personality and can make your audience doubt your sincerity. It sometimes comes across as pretentious and is also plain difficult to read.

If you want to connect with your readers and get them to trust you, talk to them as you would to a good friend.

Kurt Vonnegut once observed,

The writing style which is most natural for you is bound to echo the speech you heard when a child…I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am.

The good news is that writing in a conversational style can be a lot of fun. The bad news is that sometimes it can be difficult to unlearn the style you were taught in school.

That’s why in today’s post I’m sharing with you my 8-step checklist to conversational writing.

It’s the same checklist I use to make sure my writing sounds like I’m having a conversation with a friend at the local coffee shop, not like I’m delivering a college lecture or trying to scam my readers out of their life savings.

You can use this checklist when you’re writing a blog post, an email, copy for your website, or, really, anytime you want your writing to resonate with your readers.

The 8-Step Checklist to Writing Conversationally

1. Write to a single reader

The first step to making your writing sound more conversational is to imagine you are writing to a single reader, a close friend, not to a crowd of people.

Compare, for example, the difference between these two sentences:

  1. “For those of you who are interested, you can learn more details here.”
  2. “If you’re interested in learning more, you can get all of the details here.”

It’s only a subtle change, but the second sentence sounds much more personal and friendly than the first one.

I learned this tip from John Steinbeck who advised,

I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

And, yes, that means to never open an email with the words “Dear Sir/Madam”. 😉

Bonus tip:  Think really hard about who your audience is. What are their hopes and fears? What do they struggle with? What kind of jokes or cultural references would make them laugh? After all, you’d probably talk differently if you were having a friendly conversation with a group of retirees at a resort than with a group of young startup founders at a conference.

2. Use the words “You”, “We”, and “I”

Since you’re addressing your reader as an individual, you should use the personal pronoun “you” as much as possible and also refer to yourself as “I”.

Usually, it’s obvious where you can use these personal pronouns. But sometimes it’s a little more difficult to spot.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you wrote a sentence like this, “Often people find it difficult to move forward in situations like these.”

You could make this statement more compelling by bringing the reader right into the sentence: “Often you might find it difficult to move forward in situations like these.”

Words like “might” or “probably” can help you qualify the statement so you don’t come across as preachy or lecturing.

In fact, depending on the context of the paragraph, you might want to include yourself along with the reader in the sentence: “Sometimes we might find it difficult to move forward in situations like these.”

This makes you sound even more like a friend to your reader.

3. Eliminate passive sentences

Passive sentences are one of those tell-tale signs of academic and technical writing. If your high school grammar is a little rusty, you can read a quick review of passive sentences here.

Essentially, in a passive sentence, the subject receives the action rather than performing it.

For example, politicians and business executives like to use the passive voice when they want to avoid claiming responsibility for a mistake. They might write, “Mistakes were made.”

It’s a neat little trick because this sentence avoids taking responsibility by failing to tell us who made the mistakes.

Note that you can’t fix a passive sentence by tacking the subject onto the end. “Mistakes were made by all of us” is still passive.

So how to fix it?

Just write, “We all made mistakes.” Now the sentence is active.

If you have a WordPress blog, I highly recommend installing the Yoast SEO plugin. It will point out your passive sentences when you write your posts. If you’re not writing on a WordPress blog, you can use the Hemingway App.

4. Use as many contractions as you can

If you’ve ever wondered what English would sound like if we talked without contractions, check out the film adaptation of True Grit starring Jeff Bridges (Amazon affiliate link). The movie is set in the Old West, and most of the time the characters avoid using contractions when they speak.

It sounds unusual to say the very least. Just imagine if you tried to go a whole day without using a contraction when you spoke. Yup, it would probably be quite difficult.

So if we want our writing to sound like everyday speech and not as if we’re stuck in the Old West, we should use words like “you’re” and “I’m”.

Even if you’re already using contractions in your writing, it’s a good exercise to run through your article one more time to see if there are any more you can add.

5. Engage your readers with rhetorical questions

Imagine you’re talking with a friend. You probably look for cues that they’re listening to what you’re saying. Maybe they nod their head or murmur an approving “mmhmmm”. You might even try to get an immediate response from them by asking a question like, “Don’t you agree?”

When used correctly, questions are a fantastic way to draw your readers into your writing too.

First, don’t go overboard when you use them or your reader might feel like they’ve been hauled into an interrogation. Second, try to avoid lazy, open-ended questions. For example, if you’re writing a recipe post and ask, “Who likes spaghetti and meatballs?”, your reader can sarcastically answer, “I don’t.”

Instead, ask rhetorical questions that have an obvious ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Here’s an example: “Wouldn’t you love it if you got home after a long day at work and there was a warm, home-cooked meal waiting for you?”

One of my favorite ways to turn a sentence into a question is to just add “right?” onto the end. For example: “No one likes waiting in line for hours at the DMV, right?”

6. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short

Long blocks of text are intimidating to read, especially if you’re reading on a mobile device. I try to write paragraphs that are no more than three to four sentences long.

And, hey, that’s usually the way we talk too. Ever heard someone who just talks and talks, never letting you get a word in edgewise, and never taking a breath? It’s exhausting listening to a person like that.

Look through your writing to see if there are any long-winded sentences that you can shorten or divide into two sentences. Are there any long paragraphs that you can separate into multiple paragraphs?

In conversational writing, it’s okay to break grammar rules occasionally. Sometimes sentence fragments can give your writing an added punch.

7. Choose your words carefully

As an extension of tip #6, try to make your sentences as simple and clear as possible by carefully choosing your words.

For example, instead of padding your sentences with extra words like “by examination of the following situations we see that…” you could just write, “The following situations show…”

In his Six Rules for Writing, George Orwell observes,

Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out…Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

Additionally, depending on your audience, you can use popular slang to make your writing sound “on fleek”. Yeah, you do need to be careful with that one. It might make your readers roll their eyes.

Remember that the goal is to mimic your voice, not a random teenager’s. Think about what phrases or slang expressions you use when talking with friends or that your audience uses.

Bonus Tip: You can use the Yoast SEO pluginthe Hemingway App, or Readable.io to check your writing’s readability score. A readability score tells you roughly what level of education someone would need in order to read your piece of text easily. A lower level will be more conversational compared to a higher level that would be understood only by graduate students.

Read my post here for more tips: How to Edit Your Writing: An Effective 7-Step Process

8. Become a storyteller

When we talk with our friends, we share stories about our personal lives. Even something as mundane as missing a subway connection can become a story that makes us laugh together.

Sharing personal stories in our writing helps us connect with our readers and show them there’s a human behind the screen. In the digital age, human connections are more valued than ever. That’s why sites like Humans of New York are so popular.

When you use stories in your own writing, make sure that you hone in on a theme that elevates your story from being just about you. A universal and uplifting theme will make it relevant to your readers as well. Show them how the story can apply to their own lives.

I’ve written more about how to tell powerful stories here: 8 Tips from The Memoir Project That Will Make You a Powerful Storyteller

And I recently wrote this post about how you can use stories to illustrate complex and abstract concepts in your writing: The Two Magic Words That Will Strengthen Your Writing

The Takeaway: Inject Personality Into Your Writing

The novelist Elmore Leonard once noted,

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

That’s a good rule of thumb to follow as you edit your article to try to make it sound more conversational. I recommend reading it out loud since you’ll quickly be able to see if there are any sentences that sound unnatural and stilted.

Are you using words that you’d never use if you were talking to your friends? Are there any places where you can include a bit of humor or a story? A funny gif?

Or maybe you can drop some pop cultural references?

For example, all of your friends might know you stayed up late watching the Olympics last week  — why not let your readers know that too? (Well, actually, the men’s curling gold medal match was on way too late even for this night owl, and I had to DVR it to watch the next day. 😉 ).

The bottom line: have fun with it, let your personality shine through, and try to sound like your readers’ best friend.

By
Source: nicolebianchi.com

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How to Stay Motivated When You’re Not Making Progress

Writer’s block is real. Every writer, at one point or another, has experienced this debilitating inability to make any real progress in his or her work.

Note: This is a guest post by Jordan Conrad, he’s the founder and publisher of WritingExplained.org. With free articles on English usage and basic grammar, Writing Explained is an essential resource for editors, freelancers, and authors alike. Connect with Jordan on Twitter at @Writing_Class.

Like a 17th century galleon in the equatorial doldrums, we endure a bout of creative stillness, when productivity starves to death in a windless mental seascape where nothing is visible on any horizon.

Well, maybe that’s a little melodramatic. Nevertheless, a lack of progress can be discouraging for anyone, and sometimes it’s difficult to maintain the motivation needed to complete a long project.

If you’re not feeling motivated, it’s not a reflection of your abilities as a writer. Creativity can seem to ebb and flow according to its own schedule, and we all have to find a way to cope with the slow periods in anticipation of the next big spark.

What to Do When Progress Eludes You

Let’s take a look at a few ways to deal with writer’s block. Whenever I feel less than inspired, I start here.

I hope you can use these same strategies to stay motivated in your own writing when it seems as if you aren’t making any progress.

Strategies for Staying Motivated

Take it one day at a time.

Try to write every day, even if it’s only a small amount. It doesn’t have to be your best work—you can always go back and revise it later.

Sometimes it only takes one tiny, unexpected breakthrough to get back on track. These breakthroughs will come much easier if you’re actively writing.

Remember that progress is a relative term.

You don’t have to write an entire book in a single day. Progress can be measured in small amounts.

Even if you only write a few words or sentences, you are still making progress. Those are sentences that you hadn’t written at the beginning of the day, so even if it’s only a little bit, you’re that much closer to being finished.

Set manageable goals.

Too often, writers get bogged down by word counts and page numbers. If you wanted to be at 3,000 words and you’re only at 750, those last 2,250 probably aren’t all going to come at once.

Likewise, the page number indicator at the bottom of your word processor window can sometimes do more harm than good. If your page count is far behind where you expected, it might be better not to look at it—or to find a way to turn it off.

You can’t finish an entire project in one sitting, so set small goals for yourself. You’ll get a confidence boost when you achieve them, and that little boost can keep you motivated to reach your next goal.

Try writing 500 words instead of 5,000, or a single page instead of ten.

Try working on something else for a while.

This works best if you, like many writers (including this author), always have multiple projects running at the same time.

Stuck on one project? There are probably five or ten more that could use your attention. Pick one you’re excited about and work on that one for a while. That should get your creative juices flowing again, and you might be able to transfer that excitement back over to the one that has you at a standstill.

The new project doesn’t even have to be in the same medium. Are you also a photographer, a musician, or a maker in addition to being a writer? Take a break from writing and shoot some portraits, or learn a new song, or 3D print something.

Take a break and do something fun.

Your brain is like a muscle—if you strain it for too long, you will use up your cognitive resources. It’s important to take breaks every so often to give your mind a chance to recharge and rebalance.

Try doing something you enjoy, even if it’s not productive. If you enjoy video games, devote half an hour to one of your favorites to reward yourself.

Breaks can quickly become distractions, though, so set strict time limits and stick to them.

You can combine this technique with setting manageable goals to build a contingent reward system that will keep you motivated. Alternate periods of productivity with enjoyable activities, so that you make progress without wearing yourself out. Like a carrot on a stick, contingent rewards can help you boost your productivity without burning out and getting discouraged.

End Note

There are times in every writer’s life where progress seems to come only in short fits and spurts, and projects come grinding to an unexpected halt. This is part of the natural creative cycle for many writers, and it’s usually just a matter of time before the juices start flowing again.

Still, a lack of progress is never enjoyable, and there are strategies you can use to stay motivated when your work isn’t going how you planned.

The above are all strategies I use personally, but there are many more out there. Don’t be discouraged if progress eludes you—if you’re patient for long enough and keep these tips in mind, it’s only a matter of time before you’re up and writing again.

By Bryan Hutchinson
Source: positivewriter.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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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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