Tag Archives: writing tips

8 Steps To Analyse A Successful Story

Bang2writers have been asking me how to analyse a story to help their writing. It’s something I recommend, because it gets us into the analytical frame of mind. This in turn helps us think about our own stories and what they need. You can read all my #B2WReviews here. 

But how do we get into this mindset? It’s worth remembering that emotion and anticipation go together. This means, the more you know (or thinkyou know), the more likely you are to be disappointed by a story. It’s just the way it goes.

Disappointment can breed negativity and that’s rarely productive for our writing. Analysing a story is neither about emotion or anticipation. Here’s the dictionary definition:

Analyse (verb): to study or examine something in detail, in order to discover more about it. 

There are some obvious key words there, in bold. Analysing a story is to look at all its parts and make a decision on how successful it is, based on the evidence available to us. Let’s go!

1) Empty Your Mind Of Preconceptions

If you want to analyse a movie, book or TV series effectively, avoid doing lots of research about it beforehand. Try not to watch trailers, or get into lengthy threads about it in advance. Empty your mind of preconceptions. Show up solely for the story and characters.

Obviously in the age of social media this will be more difficult for some stories than others. But don’t forget you can ‘mute’ key words and users. I do this all the time. I must have had about 100 social media accounts and sites muted in the months running up to Avengers Endgame being released!

2) Engage With It Alone The First Time

Lots of writers watch or read stories ‘for work’, then don’t actually do any work.! They let the story wash over them while they’re on the phones, talking, eating etc. They don’t give the story their undivided attention. OI, WRITERS, NO!

But we need to concentrate if we want to analyse. It helps then if you engage alone, at least until you get into the swing of analysing stories. If you really must go to the cinema or stream something with a friend or partner, make sure they know you’re working.

By the way, on social media watch parties, tweet-alongs and book debate threads are a thing. These are fun and the discussion they create can be really useful … IF you have watched/read the story before. Try not to do them the FIRST time, though.

3) Watch/Read In One Sitting

If you’re watching a movie or TV episode, this is obvious. Try and stay ‘in the moment’. That doesn’t mean peeing your pants if you’re desperate, but try not to leave the cinema or pause your Netflix.

The same goes for reading screenplays. Books are more of a challenge. Most need between four and six hours’ reading time, sometimes even more. If you can dedicate that amount of time, great. Do it. If you can’t, that’s obviously okay, but do try and keep your reading bursts close together so you can stay as connected to the story as possible.

4) Make Notes

I don’t mean write in-depth observations, just reminders. Stuff like:

  • Character names and role functions
  • Interesting and impactful scenes or moments
  • Genre or plotting conventions or twists you notice
  • Snippets of dialogue
  • When you feel bored

Whatever you like. The key is not to get carried away, just write ‘notes to self’ for later.

 

5) Initial Thoughts

With the story still fresh in your mind, take another look at your ‘notes to self’ from watching. Now is the time to write down  any strong emotions you feel about the story, positive or negative. I like to do this straight after finishing the movie, TV episode, script or book. Some people like to wait an hour or two. Try not to leave it any longer than this though, so it doesn’t affect the next step.

6) Revisit Those Initial Thoughts

Any strong emotions you felt about the story have probably dissipated by now. You may have changed your mind completely, or you still like or dislike it. You may discover you feel neutral. Ask yourself WHY your feelings may have changed, or stayed the same. Anything that occurs, along with anything else that may seem relevant now.

7) NOW Do Research

Now is the time to do some research on the story you’ve just watched or read. You may want to consider things like …

  • Craft. How does it bring concept, character and plotting together? Is it ‘good writing’? If so/if not, how do you know? What evidence can you provide? Maybe it is ‘bad writing’, yet it is still dramatically compelling or interesting. Maybe it breaks those supposed writing rules, but in a good way. Or maybe it appeals to some kind of universal ‘thing’ people can’t resist. What is it?
  • Who is this for? Perhaps you have watched or read something that is not ‘for’ you. But just because you did not enjoy it, does not mean it has zero value. So consider who it is for, instead. Why would the people in that target audience enjoy it?
  • Thematics & voice. What is the message, theme or point behind this story, do you think? Why o you feel this way? Is the writer well-known for a particular type of story, style or message and if so, why?
  • Production /Writing. Were there any problems in the production or audience reception of this story? If you liked it and others hated it (or vice versa), what were their reasons? Are these reasons backed up with emotion, or analysis? Were there any big changes or constraints that meant writers and filmmakers had to go another way from what they first intended?

8) Make Your Conclusion

Those who have taken B2W’s Breaking Into Script Reading course will know I believe there are two essential questions in script reading. These are ‘What’s working?’ and ‘What needs further development?’ I think this is a useful way of thinking about produced and published content, too.

With the above in mind then, I ask myself:

  • Do we know what this story is supposed to do?
  • Is it successful at what it’s supposed to do?
  • Why / why not?

I then utilise my ‘notes to self’ and initial thoughts and research to make my conclusion.

To Analyse = Evidence over Emotion

Obviously I am not saying you can’t get emotional about storytelling. As writers, we love movies, TV and books. It would be nonsensical to say we have to leave our emotions at the door. They are the lifeblood of all good storytelling.

But good analysis is about reason, not emotion. If you want to analyse a story of any kind, you must resist the urge to get angry or squee all over the place. Instead, you must collect the evidence and make a conclusion based on these things. Only then can you analyse effectively.

Here’s some B2W movie analysis to help you get into the swing of it:

25 Years Of Jurassic Park: What Can Writers Learn?

How Blade Runner 2049 Confuses All Its Critics

6 Important Writing Reminders From The Shape Of Water

How Wonder Woman Proves The Power Of Untold Stories

How IT Demonstrates The Enlightening Power Of Subtext

Why Paddington 2 Is The Best-Written Family Sequel, Ever

Good Luck!

 

By Lucy V Hay

Source: bang2write.com

 

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

The Ultimate Guide to Editing a Book

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

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

Should I Bother Self-Editing My Book?

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

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

Here’s why.

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

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

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

Types of Editing

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

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

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

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

Here’s what each of them means.

Developmental Editing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Line Editing / Copyediting

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

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

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

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

Proofreading

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

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

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

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

Getting Ready to Edit a Novel

Four more steps before we tackle the checklists.

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

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

Self-Editing Checklist for Line Editing (Copyediting)

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

Self-Editing Checklist for Proofreading

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

A Note on Editing a Book

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

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

By Tal Valante

Source: refiction.com

 

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Want to be funny? Here are 5 simply ways to mix humor into your writing!

Creating content that puts smiles on the readers’ faces can be very challenging. Not only is humor very subjective but you also need to know how to use just the right dose. This doesn’t mean that you are facing an impossible task. It means that you’ll need to add a bit of strategy to your creativity.

Depending on the type of content you want to produce, there are different ways of incorporating humor. For some inspiration and motivation, the following five ways of incorporating humor in your writing will give you some helpful ideas.

How to do it without overdoing it?

What you need to understand about humor is that not everyone finds the same jokes funny. That is actually not your problem, but what can be your problem is if you cross the line and offend your readers.

So, how to avoid such an inconvenience?

Here are some don’ts that you should keep in mind before you risk getting chased with pitchforks and torches:

  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Putdowns
  • Dark humor
  • Corny, used-up jokes
  • Bashing your competition

Now that we know what type of humor should be avoided, let’s get to the useful tricks.

1. The joke is on you

Show your readers that you are not a sensitive little flower and that you can handle a good joke. According to a study (HSQ; Martin, Puhlik-Doris, Larsen, Gray, & Weir, 2003), people who make themselves the butt of their own jokes actually demonstrate greater levels of happiness and self-assurance.

Self-deprecation is a safe choice, meaning that you won’t risk offending anyone and you’ll portray yourself as a confident individual.

Who knows you better than yourself? Take all those funny and cringy stories, stereotypes, and flaws and use them in your writing.

There is more to it than just making people laugh by joking about yourself. Readers will be able to relate and create a connection with you if you open up. It shows that you are honest and willing to accept your flaws.

Of course, if you don’t feel comfortable with this type of humor don’t force it. It is important that you truly feel good about yourself and are ready to share with the world some of your embarrassing stories and insecurities.

2. Are you ready to compare?

Those of you who have read Robert Schimmel’s book Cancer on $5 a Day (Chemo Not Included) might have noticed the following part:

This stupid hospital gown is riding up my ass. I try to pull it down and it snaps right back up like a window shade. I cross my legs and suddenly I’m Sharon Stone.

When using comparison it is crucial that you use situations that are generally known or popular. Like Robert did with Sharon’s famous scene in Basic Instinct.

Writers are used to using comparisons and metaphors in various styles so this shouldn’t be a difficult challenge.

Just think through what depicts the situation that you want to describe. Is it painful, sexual, embarrassing? Then brainstorm and wait until something valuable comes to your mind. It should just come instinctively.

3. Get playful with words

Jazz up your writing with simple word twisting or word tweaks. Whether you want to use the already existing ones or make something up, it is up to you. The choices are endless.

For example, what do you find to be funnier skedaddle or hurry? A promiscuous man or a mimbo?

Using simple but funny words will give a humorous tone to seemingly ordinary sentences.

You can even make some of your own word combinations. Go wild and come up with new words that can add that something extra to your writing. Who knows, maybe it will even end up in a dictionary one day. Dare to dream!

4. Go big or go home

A little exaggeration can’t hurt anyone, can it? This has always been a popular technique among comics and humor writers and for a good reason.

There are writers who base their work on exaggeration. Just look at the work of Dave Barry, a Pulitzer Prize winner for humor writing. He is the master of exaggeration, but don’t take my word for it. Let his work speak for himself:

  • Eugene is located in western Oregon, approximately 278 billion miles from anything.
  • I have been a gigantic Rolling Stones fan since approximately the Spanish-American War.
  • If you were to open up a baby’s head – and I am not for a moment suggesting that you should – you would find nothing but an enormous drool gland.
  • It is a well-documented fact that guys will not ask for directions. This is a biological thing. This is why it takes several million sperm cells … to locate a female egg, despite the fact that the egg is, relative to them, the size of Wisconsin.

Is this enough to convince you?

5. Get down to details

Besides helping the readers to really picture what you are describing, including all the small details can sprinkle some humor on any situation.

Think about these two examples:

  • She was holding an old, rag doll.
  • She was holding what seemed to be an old, rag doll. However, it was more like a yellow ball of fabric with two black-ish patches for the eyes and a crooked smile (maybe it had a stroke, who am I to judge).

The more details you give, the scene will look more absurd and comical. Really picture all the little things that make that specific thing what it is.

I’m not saying that generalization can’t be funny, but when you really get down to specifics that is when things get spicy.

Joke ahead!

Hopefully, the above-mentioned tips have given you some inspiration and ideas on how to add that humorous effect to your writing.

It is up to you in which direction you will go, but as long as you don’t hold back, I’m sure that you will manage to create something great and worthy of every laugh.

What’s the funniest piece you ever wrote? Is it published on a website or on your blog? If so, link to it and share it with us in the comments below!

By Bryan Hutchinson

Source: positivewriter.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

How to Always Have a Bagful of Exciting Writing Ideas

How intimately do you know the blank, virginal screen?

Do you have a love-hate relationship with it?

On the one hand are many writing options, waiting to unfold.

On the other, a dread of the unknown that freezes your fingers.

And always, that vast, nagging question: what shall I write about?

Take heart!

You’re surrounded by brilliant writing ideas waiting only for you to grab them and transform them into riveting pieces.

Whether you write a blog, fiction, or non-fiction, inspiration is all around you. Here are some ways to make your daily life an endless source of writing ideas.

1. Mix Up Topics

Interesting things happen when you choose a topic you care deeply about, and then combine it with something completely outside your experience.

For example, perhaps you are pro-life, with strong opinions about abortion. Let’s combine that with something you know absolutely nothing about. Say, motorcycles.

You could write a book about the member of a motorcycle gang whose girlfriend is pregnant. She doesn’t want the baby; he already visualizes it developing in her womb.

When the baby is born, she disappears into the smog, and the biker is determined to raise the child himself. He wants his son to experience the world as he never had the opportunity to do. So he sets off on a journey across the country with his toddler.

This can be a heartwarming novel, a hopeless tragedy, or even a comedy. It’s up to you. The possibilities are endless, even within this one scenario.

2. Be a News Hog

The news offers exciting possibilities.

Make a habit of reading about what’s going on around you, especially the slice-of-life articles. You can build on these stories, making them your own.

Some ways of doing that are:

  1. Imagine where the story could go next, and create a new ending of your own.
  2. Imagine alternative beginnings to the story. What could be the background of the characters involved?
  3. Change one major detail in the story. How would it impact the story? What new possibilities would that create?

Last week I read about two burglars who broke into a private residence and stole jewelry worth thousands of dollars. Did they get away with it?

No.

They were quickly apprehended because one of the felons was caught staring straight into the house’s security camera, revealing his unmasked face.

This seems to be an open-and-shut case. And yet, it made me wonder…

The burglars were obviously experienced. They broke into the house without a problem, and they searched it systematically for valuable goods. It was clearly not their first job.

So what caused the rookie mistake of not wearing face masks?

Could it be that the burglar caught on camera was distracted as he was making his preparations for the robbery, and so forgot to cover his face? What could have distracted him? Was it a subliminal desire to quit this dark line of work?

What made him go into house-breaking in the first place? And how did he feel when he looked directly into the camera, and probably realized he was in trouble? Why not try to deactivate the camera or find out where it was transmitting to?

Don’t get me wrong.

The true answers to these questions are probably boring: he was becoming overconfident after a long run of successful jobs and forgot to cover his face, or some such thing.

But the possible answers are much more interesting. I can almost feel the conspiracy thickening around this man.

Or maybe it’s a comedy of errors?

What would you make of his circumstances?

3. Capture Your Dreams

Dreams can be a fertile ground for inspiration. They are the essence of imagination run amok.

Your sleeping mind thinks up ideas that your waking mind might reject before you’ve even had a chance to register them.

These ideas can be precious writing material.

Your dreams are a gold mine, but so are other people’s dreams. When friends, family and strangers tell you about their dreams, that’s your chance to listen carefully.

A friend of mine received the inspiration for her entire novel from a dream her husband had. (Her story wasn’t based on his dream, but relied on the unreal atmosphere it created.)

Children’s dreams, in particular, are rich and free of filters. For example, your son’s dream about purple, diesel-drinking plants may inspire you to write the environmentally sympathetic version of The Day of the Triffids. How cool is that?

4. What If?

This is probably my favorite question ever. I turn to it whenever I’m out of ideas.

  1. What if time travel were possible? Where would my character go?
  2. What if three sisters decided to assassinate a tyrannical African despot? How would they do it?
  3. What if my husband decided that we should buy a motorhome and live on the roads for a year?

Try it!

Put together a long list of what-ifs.

There’s nothing more liberating for the imagination than that little two-word phrase.

5. Journaling—The Straight Way

Keeping a journal of your thoughts, feelings and experiences can help you capture great ideas from your own life.

Write To Done has already covered this subject with two fascinating articles: How to Journal and 5 Ways Your Journal Can Take You Deeper Into Your Story.

These will set you on the road to journaling success. And great story ideas.

6. Journaling—With a Twist

What if you hate journaling? What if you think your life isn’t interesting enough to write about?

Well, make your life more interesting!

What is a writer if not an astute liar, at the end of the day?

Start with the truth—always a good place—and then embroider.

Suppose you stood in a long checkout where the sales person was rude and obnoxious. In truth, you may have done nothing but await your turn, bear it, gather your groceries, and leave.

But what would you like to have done?

Don’t write the truth. Fantasize, fabricate, lie. Re-create yourself as a character you’d like to read about.

And think how surprised and impressed your children or grandchildren will be when they discover your journal!

Life is full of opportunities. Don’t let them pass you by!

Try one of the exercises above and see where it takes you. Make it a habit to do a few exercises every day and you’ll never again lack writing inspiration.

What do you do when you’re looking for fresh writing ideas? Share in the comments, please, and help inspire others as well!

By Tal Valante

Source: writetodone.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

How to Unleash the Writing Genius Inside You

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

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

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

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

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

But it doesn’t get your book written.

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

Unleash the genius one block at a time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody’s definition of perfect is different.

Aim to be effective instead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forget about fear for 30 minutes a day

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

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

But you fall asleep on the couch instead.

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

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

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

Why did she recommend writers do this?

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

How to make freewriting work for you today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe you can even pretend your best friend wrote it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfect.

And I mean perfect by anyone’s standard.

Especially the reader’s.

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

Now go pour out your soul on paper

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

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

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

By Frank McKinley

Source: positivewriter.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

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

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

Staying inspired can be tough.

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

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

Ready?

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

1) Write A Sentence A Day

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

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

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

Here are some ideas for what to write down:

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

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

2) Keep Track of Your “Most” Moments

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

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

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

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

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

Refer back to this list anytime you need writing inspiration.

3) Recall the Transformations You’ve Made

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

And transformations are perfect inspiration for your writing.

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

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

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

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

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

4) List Out the Lessons You’ve Learned

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) Think Back On Experiences You’ve Had

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Bryan Hutchinson

Source: positivewriter.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Professional Athlete

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Occupation: Professional athlete

Overview: Professional athletes play a sport for a living. They make money off of ticket sales, medals and top placements they receive in sporting events, endorsements, corporate sponsorships, grants, merchandising, book sales, and by working part-time jobs to cover the bills. While most athletes don’t reach the millionaire level of fame and fortune that star players do, many can make a living as long as they stay healthy and on top of their game.

While much of an athlete’s time is dedicated to practicing their sport, their workday might also be spent reviewing footage of past performances, analyzing an opponent’s practices, working out, adhering to a fastidious diet regime, participating in promotional activities, and attending meetings with agents, coaches, and team members. Players of certain sports can live where they want and travel to and from sporting events. Athletes who can be traded at the whim of management may need to relocate multiple times throughout their career.

Necessary Training: Professional athletes only reach their level of skill through extreme discipline and years of diligent practice. Many work with private coaches to speed up the learning curve. Most athletes begin playing their sport as a child and continue honing their abilities through high school and college. While some athletes begin their professional careers directly after high school, most are drafted out of college, so they must have the academic foundation to get into a university and succeed there as they wait for the right opportunity to arrive.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: Basic first aid, high pain tolerance, promotion, strategic thinking, super strength, swift-footedness

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Ambitious, analytical, confident, cooperative, decisive, disciplined, enthusiastic, focused, inspirational, passionate, persistent, responsible, studious, talented, uninhibited

NEGATIVE: Confrontational, obsessive, perfectionist, workaholic

Sources of Friction: A nagging or career-ending injury, having a bad day when an important scout is present, negative social media interactions being resurrected and tainting one’s reputation, trusting the wrong people (a greedy agent, friends who are only interested in one’s fame or money), failing a drug test, being replaced by a younger and more talented athlete, pressure (internal and external) to perform and succeed, a crisis of confidence, being traded and having to move one’s family to a new location, falling into temptation while on the road (one night stands, drugs, etc.), an unfavorable change in management or coaching staff, a coach that plays favorites, making poor choices with one’s vast amount of money, being accused of sexual harassment or fathering someone’s child, being sexually harassed on tour, losing a key sponsor or endorsement opportunity

People They Might Interact With: Teammates, competitors, coaches, agents and managers, personal trainers, nutritionists, doctors, physical therapists, fans

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Esteem and Recognition: An athlete who is unable to deal well with the constant criticism inherent with this career may quickly find their self-esteem bottoming out.
  • Love and Belonging: Athletes who have to travel a lot or move away temporarily from family members may find it hard to maintain loving and loyal romantic relationships.
  • Safety and Security: Most career athletes last less than 20 years in their sport due to injury (this varies, depending on the sport). Career-ending and dangerous injuries, such as concussions and the like, can present a safety threat for professional athletes.
  • Physiological Needs: Athletes have been killed while competing, so while it’s unusual, it is a possibility.

Common Work-Related Settings: Airplane, airport, archery range, black-tie event, bowling alley, fitness center, golf course, green room, gymnasium, hotel room, house party, mansion, marina, outdoor skating rink, penthouse suite, skate park, ski resort, sporting event stands

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype: Stories about athletes typically involve the underdog hero going up against the well-funded, well-connected, legacy-type antagonist. Keep this in mind and switch up your characters to bring something fresh to the page.

Also consider the sport your protagonist will pursue. Popular sports are, well, popular for story fodder, but what about the less-romanticized activities? Sports like skeet shooting, equestrian dressage, fencing, wrestling, rowing, and paralympic events can provide the same competitive and stressful environment while allowing you to cover new ground for readers.

By BECCA PUGLISI

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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101 Sci-Fi Tropes For Writers

Writers Write is your one-stop writing resource. Writers can use this list of 101 sci-fi tropes to add some Zap! to their writing.

Science Fiction is the computer geek of the fantasy genre. It is also filled with tropes.

What is a trope?

A trope is a commonly used literary device. It can be a cliché and it can be used well.

Sci-fi tropes are everywhere. For example, “beaming” up to the Enterprise in Star Trek is a Trope used by the writer of the show, Gene Roddenberry, to save money on expensive space shuttle sets. It has become iconic and people would miss it if it was taken out of the show.

How is it used?

Tropes are used as shorthand to explain complicated things. For example, Light-Speed is used to explain a complicated way of travelling through space very quickly. If you do this you don’t have to waste words trying to educate your reader when you want to get on with the plot.

101 Sci-Fi Tropes Writers Should Use

These are very common Sci-Fi tropes used in successful books and series. I have taken them from TV shows you may know and 100-year-old books you probably won’t. Regardless, many of these are used every day to make the books and TV we all love to read and watch.

By reading these, you will be inspired to create your own work. You should add a twist to any old idea to make it seem new. But, old tropes die hard and that’s because they are too good to be forgotten.

  1. Faster than light is the bread and butter of all space travel in Sci-Fi. Breaking the rules of physics is often the best way to get your character from planet to planet.
  2. Techno Babble is speaking in high-tech tongues and it solves any problem the crew is currently having. “Reverse the polarity, the Glib-Glops are weak to theta radiation!”
  3. All artificial intelligences are evil. Especially the good ones.
  4. Chekhov’s Egg is like Chekhov’s Gun but directed by Ridley Scott. If you introduce an alien egg to the story it must hatch and eat someone by the third act.
  5. Alternative universes want to invade our own.
  6. Alternative universes contain evil versions of your characters.
  7. Alternative universes warn your universe of a devastating threat.
  8. Travelling to distant stars is very difficult and takes generations.
  9. Travelling to distant stars is very difficult and requires Cryosleep to get there.
  10. Travelling to distant stars is very difficult and is done by AI and robots while the humans sleep.
  11. Someone always wakes up to early from Cryosleep. Asteroids are usually involved.
  12. A ship is found with people who have been in Cryosleep for thousands of years adrift in space. Because they crashed into the asteroid.
  13. A ship is found where people have forgotten how their technology works and must be saved.
  14. The people who wake up are evil, but seem nice at first.
  15. The people who wake up are the last survivors of a once great civilisation and impart wisdom.
  16. The survivors of the once great civilisation die from the common cold before telling anyone the meaning of life.
  17. Space travel is very easy and takes no time at all.
  18. Space travel is very fast, but is very dangerous.
  19. Space travel is dangerous because it passes through an evil realm filled with monsters.
  20. Space travel requires a navigator to have magical powers to plot a course. Possibly, to avoid deadly asteroids.
  21. Space travel requires a navigator to take drugs to see the future. These drugs only come from one planet. Everyone is fighting over them.
  22. Space travel needs a special kind of computer or droid to plot a course and it takes time to calculate.
  23. Ships travel faster than light speed through real/normal space.
  24. Ships travel though hyper-space which is another dimension.
  25. Ships use Warp gates to travel through wormholes.
  26. Warp Gates were created by a long dead civilisation.
  27. Humans discover these gates and have adventures through them.
  28. Aliens are kind, intelligent push-overs and humans are destroying their worlds.
  29. Aliens are evil, brutal godlike beings trying to enslave humans.
  30. Aliens want to eat humans.
  31. Aliens want to lay eggs in humans.
  32. Aliens want humans to help them with a problem they are too “evolved” to solve.
  33. It turns out humans were the aliens all along.
  34. Humans were the aliens all along but they evolved into a different species.
  35. Humans use technology to evolve into a post-human civilisation.
  36. Humans use technology to ascend to a state of pure energy.
  37. Humans use spiritual nonsense to become beings of pure light and love.
  38. Humans use psychic powers to become one godlike over-mind.
  39. Humans once had these great powers, but lost them when the war with the robots/aliens happened.
  40. They now live under a god emperor keeping them from evolving too fast.
  41. The god emperor was an alien all along and the humans must rebel!
  42. The god emperor was a super-computer the humans forgot they made and they must figure out why.
  43. The super-computer had to do whatever the humans wanted it to do all along.
  44. The super-computer was keeping them safe from aliens.
  45. The super-computer was built to keep aliens safe from humans.
  46. Two species of humans evolve and are at war.
  47. They are fighting over ancient crimes.
  48. They are fighting over philosophical points.
  49. One is racist.
  50. One eats the other.
  51. One is technological and the other is super-religious.
  52. Space is empty and humans are the first species.
  53. Space is empty and humans start filling up the galaxy.
  54. Humans make aliens.
  55. They must fight these aliens. Possibly because they didn’t do a good enough job making them.
  56. Space is filled with aliens.
  57. Most are like humans with funny ears.
  58. Most are horrible eldritch monsters humans can’t even begin to understand.
  59. Turns out the humans are the real monsters. The aliens were just trying to save our environment.
  60. Humans and aliens hate each other and do nothing but have never-ending wars. Usually for the god emperor’s glory.
  61. Humans and aliens live together, drink together and have mixed species children. He becomes the captain’s pointy-eared best friend.
  62. Humans are less advanced then other races and are treated like children.
  63. Humans resent aliens for treating them like children and start a galaxy wide genocide using the aliens own technology.
  64. Humans work hard to be as advanced as the other species and become accepted as part of them. Perhaps in some sort of commonwealth?
  65. Space is full of Pirates.
  66. And Smugglers. The Important difference is that smugglers make better anti-heroes.
  67. Space pirates are a plague and the heroes must fight them.
  68. Space pirates are cool and help the rebels fight the evil Empire.
  69. Humans use nano-technology to make very small useful robots that can do anything.
  70. Oh, No! They became sentient.
  71. They want to replicate, consuming all matter they come into contact with.
  72. They want to be more human and build human bodies and start pretending to eat avocado toast.
  73. The humans defeat them using an ancient weapon left by a long dead race.
  74. The humans program them to be nice and become friends.
  75. Humans make copies of their minds.
  76. Humans clone themselves.
  77. Humans put their minds in the clones to live forever.
  78. Something goes wrong. Humans can’t have children anymore because of too much cloning.
  79. They must find non-clone humans to fix this. But that was thousands of years ago.
  80. They need time travel to fix this.
  81. They go through a wormhole/black hole to go back to the past.
  82. They recalibrate the deflector dish to emit tachyons to travel back in time.
  83. They can only send their minds back in time.
  84. Going back in time cannot change the future and they can do whatever they want.
  85. Going back in time means they have to be careful not to change the future.
  86. They change the past and come back to a different future.
  87. They must go back and fix their mistake.
  88. The space senate has blockaded all time travel.
  89. The heroes must get past the blockade in a stolen ship.
  90. The stolen ship turns out to be alive.
  91. It’s also pregnant and needs their help to save its child.
  92. The heroes must argue about the ethics of what they are doing until they are forced to take action.
  93. They turn out to be right and everything works out.
  94. They are wrong and they just helped an evil space wizard start a galactic civil war.
  95. The heroes spend the whole show arguing about ethics and nothing happens.
  96. The heroes decide that other races have different ethics and they should not interfere.
  97. They say ‘Screw their ethics. Ours are better!’ and interfere.
  98. This fixes the problem and the space people are happy with their new American constitution.
  99. The space people start a holy war to kill all humans.
  100. The space people and the humans fight until they have destroyed each other and nobody left alive remembers what happened.
  101. The war between the space people and the humans turned out to be a cold war allegory all along. They eventually make up over some red space wine and a plate of gross space worms.

I hope you had fun reading this list of sci-fi tropes and that it gives you ideas for your books.

By Christopher Dean

Source: writerswrite.co.za

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Nail Your Literary Voice with Powerful Word Choices

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

Understanding Tone, Mood, and Literary Voice

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

Word Search: Learn about Tone and Mood from Good Writers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use Your Words: Applying What We’ve Learned

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

Exercise 1:

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

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

Exercise 2:

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

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

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

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

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

Exercise 3:

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

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

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

By Kristen Falso-Capaldi

Source: refiction.com

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

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

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

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

No one likes change

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

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

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

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

Events trigger change

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

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

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

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

Change should be believable

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

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

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

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

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

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

Realistic is better than drastic

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

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

By Sarah Gribble

Source: thewritepractice.com

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