Of Writers and Prose: The 3 F’s of Writing.

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxWe’ve all seen those writers who claim their story idea is ‘a million dollar idea’, and we quietly snicker behind their back in haughty derision at their inflated egos, but I think we could all stand to take note of their self-confidence. These are people who, for better or for worse, ignore that negative voice that tells them their story isn’t as good as everyone else’s; they ignore the possibility that their novel won’t be read or that their writing is crap. Now I’m not saying get all egotistical about our work, but learning to love our writing is a hard thing to do, especially when we read other people’s books and we see such a perfect story.

F #1 – Frustration: Frustration comes when we constantly compare our work to other writers. I’ve talked about this before (as have others) how we must NOT compare our writing career with other authors. Whether it’s style, ability or even financial, they’re not us and we’re not them. I dislike hearing new writers say they want to write like Stephen King, or Anne Rice or whomever they idolize. They set lofty goals, and when it’s not achieved, they fall into depression. That’s when those nagging voices take over. You know the ones. The voice that says we’re not good enough.

F #2 – Fear: Fear comes when we’ve convinced ourselves that our work will never be as good as the author we’re trying to mimic. I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t worry about my writing. I worry no one will read it or that my stories aren’t good enough. Notice the present tense? That’s because this is something that’s with me all the time, but I don’t give into that fear. I accept all the fear and the worst case scenarios. Unlike frustration, fear can be an easy thing to dispel. If you’re afraid your writing isn’t good, then do what you need to improve it. Read more or take a class on creative writing. Talk to other writers, and you’ll see you’re not alone. If you’re afraid no-one will like your book, understand that no one can write a book that relates to everyone. If you’re afraid no one will read your book, join the club. That is a fear that we all have but if you write what you would like to read and I can guarantee someone will read it.

F #3 –Fulfillment: Fulfillment is like a breath of fresh air to a writer. It can start out as a small thing, like writing for an hour a day, and slowly increasing to encompass a lofty goal like getting an agent or publishing a book. Fulfillment’s grow and change over time and we have to make sure we grow and change with them. We must push ourselves to the next level once a fulfillment is complete. We grow each time we succeed, and even if we fall back into an old pattern, we can’t let that keep us from achieving our goals. We can’t let ourselves go backward and give into our fear or frustration, otherwise we’re f*****.

A Company of Writers: Writing those first few pages.

companyofwritersOpenings suck. Seriously, they do. You always hear “Don’t worry about the opening, just get the story out!”, but any writer will tell you that once the story is ‘out’, the opening line of your manuscript becomes the do-or-die moment. As a matter of fact, the whole damn first paragraph, page, chapter fall into this category as well.

No pressure. Really?

This is evident in a series of tweets I recently saw. If you’re on Twitter, I suggest you save the hashtag #tenqueries. Some agents ask for a first chapter sample with your query and every so often these agents will give their first impression of the subbed chapters. Their comments can be a real eye-opener, especially when the reasons for rejection are easily fixable.

I’ve beta-read a lot of first chapters. Sometimes that’s as far as I can get, and sometimes that’s as far as I want to get because I now the author will make the same mistakes throughout the entire novel, and if I’ve picked up on that, you can bet agents and publishers have too.

Many times, first chapter problems are a result of the writer’s over-enthusiastic prose. They want to ‘set the tone’ or ‘mood’ for their story, but instead, bore the reader with info-dump and back story that drives the reader away. I once read a chapter where the author wrote three pages on the political climate of an alien race to explain the reason the MC was making a brief stop at the planet. Nothing in those three pages had anything to do with the plot. All irrelevant backstory.

Another problem I’ve come across is this need to outline the MC’s entire day. What they did, wore, ate from the moment they got up. Unless there are elements of foreshadowing, it’s pointless to keep it in your story and they you will lose the reader’s interest. I’m not telling you to throw it out, just don’t put it in your story. All this information is useful to YOU, just not always useful for the reader. Back story can be used SPARINGLY; a brief glimpse into what may be motivating your character to take the action she or he does.

The first few pages must grab the reader; make them want to know why your MC is doing what they’re doing. It doesn’t have to involve a lot of explanation, just enough to pique the readers interest. Once they’re interested, they’re all yours.

Of Writers and Prose: WARNING! YOU’RE LOSING MONEY BY NOT DOING THIS ONE THING!

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxDid I get your attention? Of course I did. No one can resist clickbait and if you say you don’t fall for it, I call bullshit because you just did.

Just like clickbait, writers need snappy titles on their blog posts to attract potential readers. It’s hard enough to come up with original material on topics that have been done a gazillion times before, but trying to put your personal ‘spin’ on them can be even harder. Maybe that’s why writers have let their blogs fall by the wayside over the last couple years.

When I first started blogging way back in . . . (I can’t even remember) people blogged about all sorts of things, and then someone realised you could sell more books with your blog and (I feel) it went all to hell from there. Just about every writer out there started their own blogs and wrote about writing and their books. It became more about the number of subscribers and ‘hits’ than making a connection and or discussions. Naturally, people got bored of re-reading the same stuff, stopped reading and suddenly . . .

BLOGGING IS DEAD!

It isn’t dead. It just got bored.

I’ll admit, in the early years of my blogs (at one point I had three), I was one of those people who wrote only about the industry, and then I read an article about how writers needed to expand topics and attract readers who weren’t writers. We were trapped in this bubbled known as the ‘writing sphere’ and in order to to increase your readership we needed to step OUTSIDE of the sphere.

Wait? You mean promote to ACTUAL PEOPLE?

Here is where a new age of blogging begins; a renaissance even. Blogging was once about important global conversations that had to be said; opinions that needed expressing. Now it’s personal. It’s about the smaller, but just as important events that happen in our lives. Non-writers read books too, but we need to connect with them on a different level; a more personal level but that doesn’t need to be a scary thing. You don’t have to blog about every part of your life, but we should include other aspects of our lives on our blogs. Hobbies they like, or shows/movies they watch. A multi-topic blog can (in theory) bring new readers; readers from OUTSIDE the writing sphere. This is where our audience waits for us. Let’s connect with them again.

In the Company of Writers: A Guide to Writing Realistic Dialogue.

companyofwritersDialogue can be one of the hardest things to learn in writing. You express much with prose, but to make your characters come alive, they have to talk, and making your characters stand out from each other can be done easily when they speak.

Some things to keep in mind when writing dialogue:

  1. Speech patterns: How do your characters talk? Accents? There are countries where a person’s social status is determined by their accent.
  2. What genre is the story? Fantasy stories, especially high-fantasy may have a more formal feel to the dialogue.
  3. If it’s a historical novel use speech patterns and language attributed to that era. Research is highly recommended for these novels.

This online article has good examples of dialogue problems.

https://blog.oup.com/2017/02/how-to-write-dialogue/

Stiff dialogue can be another problem. Long winded conversations can bore a reader especially when the dialogue is either retelling what the reader already knows or is explaining a situation. Known as “Well You Know Bob”, it’s easy to make this mistake.

http://authorkristenlamb.com/2013/12/do-you-have-as-you-know-bob-syndrome-how-writers-can-butcher-dialogue-how-to-fix-it/

In the same area is dialogue that gives too much away. This is a particular problem when the writer is working on a mystery of some kind. In reality these conversations would never be spoken as most of what is in these long speeches could easily be written or shown in the story.

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/keep-it-simple-keys-to-realistic-dialogue-part-i

Dialogue tags are meant to only distinguish who is saying what. If you have only two characters in your scene you can get away with pronouns (especially if they are m/f) or by occasionally mentioning the character’s name. Your dialogue tags should NEVER get in the way of the dialogue, or pull a reader out of the story.  If6

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/keep-it-simple-keys-to-realistic-dialogue-part-ii

Here are other great links on writing dialogue:

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2011/07/05/25-things-you-should-know-about-dialogue/

http://www.nownovel.com/blog/fantastic-dialogue-writing-advice/

http://www.nownovel.com/blog/how-to-write-dialogue-tips/

Of Writers and Prose: Do All Stories Need Romance?

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxI once had a beta ask me when two characters were ‘getting together’. It caught me by surprise because I had no plans for any romance to take place between these two, and I didn’t think I’d written anything to suggest there would be. Naturally, I started playing around with the idea that maybe a romance should happen. After all, romance is a big seller and there’s nothing wrong with a little nookie every now and then, right?

Uh . . . maybe?

Look, I have nothing against romance (I used to DEVOUR Harlequin novels), but I don’t/can’t/won’t write it (I’ve tried), and I HATE it when it’s forced on characters simply to make a sale. Romance in a non-romantic story needs to be organic; a secondary element that doesn’t overshadow the plot. Is the main character in your crime drama falling for a suspect? That’s an awesome tension-builder and can cause conflict between them, but you need to remember why he/she is there – a crime. I’m not a fan of any romance in zombie/end-of-world scenarios either, at least not during the mayhem that reigns supreme in the first few weeks/months of said apocalypse (don’t get me started on the whole Carol/Daryl thing). For me, the idea that life as we know is on the verge of going bye-bye is NOT a good time to hit that ol’ charm button for another survivor. Would YOU be thinking sex during an apocalypse?

I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, just realise that if romantic feelings do occur between your characters, make it valid and not something you think will let you sell more books or list your book in more categories. Allow them to flirt a little or look longingly when they don’t think the other is looking. Better yet, if they do end up getting close, have them in a platonic relationship. Two people who become good friends is just as good as plausible as romance. As a matter of fact, it might be a breath of fresh air.

A Company of Writers: Organizing your story plot ideas.

companyofwritersIt’s a great time to be a reader. There are so many books out there, in every possible genre and sub-genre that it would take several lifetimes for you to read them all. It’s a great time to be a writer too. Every day more aspiring authors take the leap and follow their dream, only to learn that it isn’t as easy as it looks. There are many things that new writers need to learn if they want readers to keep coming back. One of the biggest obstacles is a plot that makes sense and that doesn’t veer off and away from the original story. I know a few writers who are ‘pantsers’ and that’s wonderful (each writer is different), but even a pantster needs to plot out their story for a synopsis, and so the idea for this post.

I’m an outliner. I outline just about everything for my novels. It helps to keep me on track, but it’s an organic outline; something that changes with a new plot element. There are writing programs that can keep things in order (like Scrivener) or if you’re like me, you have a dozen word files going for just one story.

I’ve put together a small list of online sites that can help you figure out just where you want to go with your novel. Some of these are for world building too.

Story Plot

Writer’s Digest:

http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/write-first-chapter-get-started/how-to-organize-and-develop-ideas-for-your-novel

Life Hacker: (for Scrivener users)

http://lifehacker.com/how-scrivener-helped-me-organize-all-my-writing-1599446028

Write Non-Fiction Now: (specifically for non-fiction writers)

http://writenonfictionnow.com/12-ways-to-organize-your-book-ideas-before-you-start-to-write/

Snowflake Method:

http://selfpublishingadvice.org/writing-how-to-use-the-snowflake-technique-to-write-a-novel/

99U:

http://99u.com/articles/6969/10-online-tools-for-better-attention-focus

Word Hunter: (story structure)

https://hunterswritings.com/2016/09/16/7-point-story-structure-resources/

(another link on story structure)

http://channel101.wikia.com/wiki/Story_Structure_101:_Super_Basic_Shit

 

Brainstorming Techniques:

Blog Entry by Tina Hunter:

http://www.tinahunter.ca/2011/10-resources-for-writers/

Women Writers: (useful article on keeping everything on track)

http://channel101.wikia.com/wiki/Story_Structure_101:_Super_Basic_Shit

 

Women Writers: (link on POV)

http://booksbywomen.org/whose-point-of-view-is-it-anyway/

As I stated earlier, every author is different and will have their own way of writing novels, but there’s nothing wrong with stepping out of your comfort zone for a moment if things get stuck.

Of Writers and Prose: Putting ourselves into our novels.

Quill-And-Ink-Line-Art-300pxI finally watched the last two episodes of THE CROWN. In the ninth episode where Churchill is having his portrait pained, he gets into a rather deep discussion with the artist about his work. Churchill, trying to find some fault with the man and his work, cajoles him on the bleakness of one print in particular. The artist agrees, stating that it was painted during a mournful time in his life; right after his infant son died and then retaliates by pointing out that Churchill has painted one particular scene a multitude of times; a pond located on his property. The artist says he sees something in the way Churchill painted the water; something painful; emotions that lay deep under the surface. Churchill clams that he paints it often because he cannot get the look of the pond just right; that it eludes him. After a fashion, the statesman acknowledges that he built the pond short after his own young child died, and realises his own grief may be the reason he constantly paints this particular scene. It’s a beautifully poignant moment.

As artist, writers pour their hearts and soul into their work so it’s not unheard of that pieces of our lives, emotions or experiences also end up in there too. Even our hobbies can be added to give our characters a more realistic feel to them and possibly connect with readers. Sometimes, like Churchill we unconsciously add details about our lives into our work. For example, I worked at several restaurants in my youth and therefore I understand that particular world and what goes on behind closed doors. Just about all my stories have a scene where the characters are eating or at a restaurant. Even my short stories have a brief moment of foodie love in them. These are easy references that I am knowledgeable about, so I have no problem including them. This is how we make our characters more ‘real’ or three-dimensional. Every writer has some real life experience they can include in their stories to bring their characters to life and connect with readers. Bad experiences as well. Last summer I got into a fight with a bus stop sign and had a nice trip to the hospital via an ambulance. You can bet that at some point, I’m going to use that experience in a story. Everything about that day it etched into my memory; the way I felt, the ride, even my experience in the emergency room is still fresh. My only regret is that I should have asked the nurse to take a picture. Apparently I looked like I’d been in a horror movie.

Life experiences can add a world of colour to our stories, no matter what genre you write. Don’t be afraid of including even painful experiences. Chances are you’ll connect more with your readers, and in the end isn’t that what we all want?

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