Tag Archives: writing goals

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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Good Grammar 101: The Essential Guide

Good Grammar might seem old fashioned in a day and age when LOL shows up in newspapers, when best-selling authors regularly splice their commas, and where your Facebook wall is filled with seventy-two misused ellipses.

However, agents and editors still care about grammar, and they will reject you if you show you don’t understand grammar rules.

With this Grammar Guide, you will have the chance to use The Write Practice’s model of deliberate practice to improve your grammar skills in less time.

10 Steps to Keep Your Editor From Killing You

Good grammar is like good hygiene.

Often, the last person to know why people are complaining about the dead dog in the room is the person who stinks.

Fortunately, we’ve created this course of ten lessons to help you impress your readers and editors with how good you smell… oops, I mean spell.

To show you how much we care, we’re throwing in a bonus lesson, The Case Against Twilight (or why Stephenie Meyer needs to hire a copy editor).

Grammar Rules

In this tutorial, we will go over some of the most important (and most often neglected) grammar rules in a way that’s both fun and practical. Remember: good grammar is hot!

Grammar Exercises

In every lesson, you will be challenged with grammar exercises to help you cement what you’ve just learned into your daily practice.

Source: thewritepractice.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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The Bi-Cultural Writer

I’ve spent my life living between India and the U.S.A. One blog post can’t begin to describe the challenges, privileges, lows, and highs of it all. I can, however, talk about being a bi-cultural writer and writing in various global dialects through one language. I am a weird kind of third-culture kid. I was born in the U.S and finished elementary school there. Then I did middle and high school in India and returned to the U.S for another 8 years where I finished college and my Master’s degree. I’ve since been back to Bangalore, India since 2011.

First, let me tell you about my accent. I code shift – my accent and cultural references can change according to country, and who I’m talking with. I still get teased about it.

Because of my experience, I see English as two very different kinds of languages: Indian English and American English. On the macro level you might think it’s just the accent that’s different, but there are more nuanced differences that are a result of specific cultural backgrounds and responses to very different realities and environments. I admit, it’s easier for me to write for a specific cultural audience. That’s why I’ve been involved with the way I think about writing for a global audience. How do I hold a place in a specific narrative and allow for people from all kinds of backgrounds to find a point of similarity to their own reality?  Over the years, I’ve done a lot of relearning and decolonizing. Here are 3 important things I have learnt as a bicultural writer.

Letting Go Of Italicizing Culturally Specific Words

Growing up, I’d read Indian authors italicize or explain very Indian terms in strange ways. I acknowledge that for many non-Indian readers, if I made one reference too many to terms or concepts uniquely Indian, I would risk losing them, and worse, boring them. That said, using western-centric explanations and using italics takes away from the authenticity of the environment. I’d read ‘samosa’ with descriptions like seasoned potato filled pastry, and I’d chuckle. This is not because the description is inaccurate; in fact, it is probably the best way to explain what it is in English to a western audience, but it’s not how people raised in India would think of it.

I found authors who were owning their language with the English they spoke, offering more of a realistic picture of life in such a setting. Many Indians grew up reading British and American books with descriptions of food items we had never tasted in the 80s and 90s, and we had to make do with the names and imagine what they were. In fact, my father had grown up reading Archie Comics in India and assumed pizza to be a sweet dish. When he came to America in the late 70s he was shocked that pizza was savory! We never got explanations and we’re probably all the richer for it. While the world is a lot more globalized now and many readers are more exposed to cross-cultural habits and foods, there are still things that will be very specific to a culture and environment. It’s also the age of the internet where terms and cultural usage are just a Google search away. As long as you are being sensitive to your readers there is no reason to exoticize the culture you are writing from with explanations and italics. This however, is a strong stance to take and I know there are people who disagree, it’s just my evolving opinion of the matter.

Knowing When to Use Culture-specific Idioms and Expressions

 Some idioms and expressions in English have become universal, especially classic ones like ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’ or ‘cool’. That said, your character, their environment, and socio-economic background determines a lot of how they process the world around them. It’s good to get some culturally specific expressions in your narrative as long as you are being true to your character map. Sometimes I slip and write a dialogue that would seem more authentic to someone living in the U.S rather than India. For example ‘nah, I am good’ in response to being asked if a character wants a snack would be more authentic to the U.S rather than India. There are exceptions for everything of course, but it’s always good to check your character’s language in context to their lived experience.

Checking Social Privilege

This one can get me very disoriented at times. When I am in the U.S, a lot of people put me in the bracket of POC woman writer and therefore a marginalized voice in the U.S. All things considered, this is accurate and true. However, I don’t at all speak for all Indians, no one can. There are far too many stories, realities, and social cues at play to represent one country. In India, I am very privileged, by class as an example of visible privilege, but also by invisible ones like caste, these elements give me more access and network to the world. This means I’ll have several blind spots to many marginalized communities that live in India. I must acknowledge the responsibility I have to keep educating myself on how my privileges play a role in a grossly unfair world. I have to find a balance between creating, and using my imagination while still not attempting to be the ‘voice’ or ‘savior’ for people that don’t need me to represent them. When you have social privilege, you want to be able to do the best you can with your writing career and remember to make space for others.

How do you look at bicultural realities? Being bicultural is definitely not limited to just living between countries, many experience different forms of culture living in the same country or even city/town. How do you negotiate your curiosity and experience of our world in your writing?

By

Source: writerunboxed.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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How to Captivate Your Readers with Seeds of Curiosity

Have you ever become so engrossed in a TV show that you spend hours binge-watching the episodes? (My weakness is British murder mysteries.)

Maybe your friends told you it was an amazing show that you absolutely had to see. So when you finally have free time on a Saturday evening, you decide to put on the first episode.

At first, you’re leaning back in your chair and enjoying the show, but you have one eye on your phone as you scroll through social media. (Yes, I’m guilty of this.)

And then: Bam! The unexpected happens.

A plot twist changes everything.

You put your phone away, and you’re now on the edge of your seat.

Before you know it, you’ve finished episode five. It’s late into the night, but you can’t tear yourself away from the screen.

You have to find out what’s going to happen next. Is your favorite character really going to get killed off? How will the screenwriters tie up all those loose ends?

Okay, maybe you’ve never binge-watched a TV show, but perhaps it’s happened to you with a good book.

The story pulls you in. Even though you keep telling yourself, “Just one more chapter,” you can’t put the book down.

It’s like the author’s put a spell on you.

Imagine if you could captivate your readers in the same way.

You capture their interest so completely that they read from the first sentence to the last without their minds ever beginning to wander.

In today’s post, I’m going to show you how to do just that with a copywriting technique called “seeds of curiosity”.

No matter whether you’re writing a blog post, an email, a sales page, or a story, this technique will help you keep your readers glued to the page.

Read on to discover exactly how you can use it in your writing to mimic the spellbinding quality of your favorite books and TV shows.

What are seeds of curiosity?

Legendary adman Joseph Sugarman coined the term “seeds of curiosity” in his book Advertising Secrets of the Written Word.

Sugarman explained that good writing is like a slippery slide:

As you start to slide down and build momentum, you try holding onto the sides to stop, but you can’t stop. You continue to slide down the slide despite all your efforts to prevent your descent. This is the way your copy must flow.

The headline must be so powerful and compelling that you must read the subheadline, and the subheadline must be so powerful that you are compelled to read the first sentence, and the first sentence must be so easy to read and so compelling that you must read the next sentence and so on, straight through to the end of the copy.

Wow, that does sound like quite a challenge, doesn’t it? Easier said than done, right?

Thankfully, Sugarman gives us the super easy-to-use seeds of curiosity technique that will help us make our slides much more slippery.

He explains,

At the end of a paragraph, I will often put a very short sentence that offers the reader some reason to read the next paragraph. I use sentences such as:

But there’s more.
So read on.
But I didn’t stop there.
Let me explain.
Now here comes the good part.

These seeds of curiosity cause you to subconsciously continue reading even though you might be at a point in the copy where the copy slows down.

Sugarman doesn’t explain why he calls this technique seeds of curiosity. Maybe because you’re planting curiosity in the reader’s mind or maybe because you’re enticing them to read further like you entice a bird with seeds.

Other copywriters refer to this technique as “bucket brigades”. Before modern fire engines and hoses, people would put out fires by filling up a bucket of water and passing it down a line. They were called bucket brigades.

Essentially, they kept the bucket of water moving all the way down the line just as these transition sentences keep your reader moving all the way to the end of your copy.

Sugarman points out that this technique is used a lot on TV. For example, before a news show cuts to a commercial, the host will often tease an upcoming story and tell you to stay tuned to find out more. Your curiosity is piqued so you suffer through the commercials.

And that’s what those captivating books and TV shows do too. A chapter or an episode ends without fully satisfying your curiosity so you have to keep reading or watching.

Now here comes the good part. (See what I did there?)

I’m going to show you several easy ways that you can use seeds of curiosity in your writing right now.

5 Ways to Use Seeds of Curiosity in Your Writing

1. Ask a question.

When your readers see a question, their brain is eager to discover the answer, and so they keep reading.

Here are some examples:

  • What’s the bottom line?
  • Want to know the best part?
  • What does this mean for you?
  • So what’s the point?
  • Can I be completely honest with you?

You can also use seeds of curiosity when answering a question:

  • Yes, you’re right. Here’s why.
  • No, that’s wrong. Here’s why.
  • The correct answer might surprise you.
  • Here’s a clue.

2. Create an open loop by holding back information.

Mention a benefit or payoff you are going to reveal later on in your piece. The reader has to keep reading in order to get to the punch line.

Of course, always make sure that you close the loop or your readers will be very angry with you. (Just like you get angry when a TV show doesn’t bother to resolve a supporting character’s predicament. Ugh, I hate that.)

Here are several examples:

  • I’ll explain how to do this in a minute.
  • Read on to find out what I discovered.
  • You’ll never believe what happened next.
  • I’m going to share a secret with you.
  • More about that later.
  • Don’t worry. There’s a solution.

You can also tease that there’s danger ahead. Our brains have a greater sensitivity to negative news rather than positive news. So signaling a problem will catch your readers’ attention:

  • A word of caution.
  • But first, beware.
  • But there’s a catch.
  • It just gets worse.

3. Simplify a difficult concept.

When writing about a technical or complex topic, it’s easy to fall into the trap of crafting dry paragraphs. Technical terms often bore readers to tears or worse confuse them.

Use seeds of curiosity to make sure you don’t lose their attention (these seeds can also be an excellent way to transition into an example):

  • Stay with me. This gets interesting.
  • Let me explain.
  • Here’s what that means in layman’s terms.
  • Here’s an example.
  • Here’s another way to think about it.
  • Picture it this way.

4. Get into readers’ heads.

You can use seeds of curiosity to speak directly to your readers. This is a fantastic method to use on sales pages to anticipate objections a person might raise about your product or service.

Here are examples:

  • It’s easier than you think.
  • You might be wondering…
  • Let me guess.
  • I know what you’re thinking.
  • But why should you trust me?

You can also use seeds of curiosity to show empathy with your readers and transition into your personal story:

  • I’ve been there too.
  • I know what that feels like.
  • Maybe you’re like me.

5. Build suspense in a story.

Stories are a fantastic way to capture the interest of readers. (I share more about storytelling here and here.) But, of course, a boring story is going to put your readers to sleep, not convince them to keep reading.

Use seeds of curiosity to add suspense and make your stories compelling:

  • Then it hit me.
  • I couldn’t believe my eyes.
  • You won’t believe what he told me.
  • I was soon to find out.
  • That’s when everything spiraled out of control.
  • But something was wrong.
  • It gets better.

The Takeaway

When you sprinkle your writing with seeds of curiosity, you not only grab the attention of your readers, but you also make your writing more enjoyable to read.

They add a touch of suspense that quickens the pace of your writing and leads your readers along just as if you were holding their hand.

But be careful not to sprinkle your writing too liberally with seeds of curiosity. You’ll end up with an overgrown garden rather than a beautifully planted one.

Too many short sentences will disrupt the rhythm of your writing, just like too many long ones. The best method is to read your writing slowly and look for natural places to add a transition.

Is there a place that’s a bit boring? Where the pace of your writing slows? Where you could add a bit of tension?

Use the example seeds of curiosity in this blog post as inspiration. You can copy them or come up with your own that fit naturally into the flow of your paragraphs.

Your reader will slide all the way to the bottom of your piece and thank you for the thrilling ride.

How will you use “seeds of curiosity” in your own writing? Let me know in the comments. And if you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend who you think might find it helpful too. Thanks for reading!

 

By

Source: nicolebianchi.com

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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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Magic Without Rules

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Margaret, and Howard

When we say “without rules” we’re talking about stories whose magic is not held under logical scrutiny for the reader. There are lots of reasons why you might do this, and in this episode we’ll talk about not just about the why, but also the how.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson and mastered by Alex Jackson

Play

Take a story with rule-based magic. Now have the rules all go wrong, the characters realize they don’t really understand the rules at all.

Source: writingexcuses.com

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