Posts Tagged writing tips

Kiss Your “As” Goodbye: A Simple Grammar Trick for Better Fiction

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Today, AWESOME W.A.N.A. International Instructor and author-editor-teacher-extraordinaire Marcy Kennedy is here to guest post about a dreaded topic—GASP—grammar. Yes, I admit it. I’m a Grammar Nazi. I remember correcting my eldest nephew when he was learning to talk. Steaks are good, people are well. Chickens are done, people are finished. We raise crops, and rear children. 

This was being a good auntie.

Then he went off to first grade…

His teacher asked him if he was done, and he matter-of-factly replied, “Chickens are done, people are finished.”

So yes, I’ve had to learn to not be a jerk about grammar (and gently correct the kiddos even though I was cheering inside). But take heart, if a Grammar Nazi makes an error, we get 543 e-mails correcting us.

Even Grammar Nazis oops. We need refreshers and ALL need a fresh set of eyes on our work because a lot of subtle grammar bugaboos can still slip through even the most highly trained filters.

Proper grammar, spelling and punctuation are critical for all books. Maintaining the reader’s fictive dream is paramount. Few things can slam the brakes on flow like poor grammar. Think of it this way. We could be wearing the latest, greatest design by Versace, but if we have the back tucked in our underpants or our fly open? Tough for others to see and appreciate our “fashion.”

This said, the best person I know to teach grammar is Marcy, so take it away!

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A good grade in a high school or college English class doesn’t necessarily translate into the ability to write great fiction, so it’s easy for us to mistakenly think understanding grammar isn’t important for fiction writing at all. Isn’t that what a copy editor is for? Won’t they fix all your mistakes?

A copy editor will fix our actual errors, but some of the rules we were taught in English class will actually hurt our fiction writing, not help it. And some easy grammatical tricks that our copy editor won’t do for us can improve our fiction.

In my work as an editor, one of the most common mistakes I see made by fiction writers is the reversal of the necessary order of cause coming before effect, action coming before reaction.

When we reverse the two so that the effect comes first or comes at the same time as the cause, our readers will feel thrown off-balance and disconnected from our writing, even if they can’t always explain why. In real life, cause always comes before effect. The effect can’t come before what caused it. They expect the same in fiction (unless we’re writing a science fiction story with a temporal paradox, of course).

Let me show you what this cause-and-effect problem looks like in our fiction, and then I’ll give you a super-simple editing trick that will help you catch it and kiss it goodbye.

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Example #1:

As the shot rang out, Ellen covered her ears.

The word “as” is used as a connection between things that are supposed to be happening at the same time.

But in the example above, the shot and Ellen covering her ears aren’t happening at the same time. They can’t happen at the same time. Not unless she’s psychic. She couldn’t have done what the sentence says because, until she heard the shot, Ellen had no reason to cover her ears.

Here’s what the sentence might look like if we fixed it.

The shot rang out, and Ellen covered her ears.

Example #2:

He blushed as he realized his fly was undone.

Blushing is the result or effect of realizing his fly is undone. He realizes his fly is undone, and as a result, his face heats. This sentence feels odd because the cause and effect are flipped.

So what we’d actually want to write is something like…

He realized his fly was undone, and heat rushed up his face.

(Realized is a dangerous word in our fiction as well, and was only used here to help with this example. In a real book, we’d want to show him realizing his fly was undone rather than telling the reader he realized. If you’d like to learn more, check out Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction: A Busy Writer’s Guide.)

Example #3:

We took cover when we heard him entering the building.

“When” works similarly to “as.” It suggests that the two things happened simultaneously.

The problem is that they didn’t take cover at the same time as they heard him entering. Until they heard him entering, they had no reason to take cover. First they heard him entering, and then, as a consequence of hearing it, they took cover.

Here’s one way we could fix this.

The heavy metal door rattled on its hinges, and the sound of footsteps ricocheted around the hangar. We dove behind a stack of crates.

A related problem is when we create a sentence where we’re not suggesting things are happening at the same time, but we’ve still reversed the natural order of cause and effect in the way we’ve structured the sentence.

Example #4:

My mouth went dry and a heavy weight settled in my chest as he led me down the hall to meet my birth mother for the first time.

Technically, this can happen at the same time. This is one of those situations that can justify breaking the linear rule because walking down the hall takes time. There’s time for something to happen as she’s walking.

Here’s the problem. Our sentence structure still needs to reflect the natural order. Even if we want to express that something is happening at the same time, when we write it, we need to give the reader the cause before we give them the effect.

In the above example, we find out our narrator’s mouth is dry and she feels a heavy weight on her chest, but the reader will feel ungrounded because they have no idea what’s causing it. Any time the reader loses connection to the POV character and immersion in the story, it’s a bad thing.

We’ll find this in our writing when our words express that one thing happened temporally before the other, but in the sentence we’ve reversed the order in which we tell the reader about them. So we’re meaning “A happened before B,” but in our sentence what we’ve written is “B happened because of A.”

We need to write down the cause (A) before the effect (B).

Before I give you the editing tip, let’s quickly go back to the example above and see one possible way we could rewrite it, keeping this in mind.

He led me down the hall to meet my birth mother. My mouth went dry and a heavy weight settled in my chest.

Most of these mistakes happen when we’re trying to vary our sentence structure. Variety in sentence structure is good, but not at the expense of making sure each sentence is also structurally sound.

Quick Editing Tip

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Image courtesy of Hyperbole and a Half (http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com)

The easiest way to spot this problem is to look for the words as, while, and when. This is where the Find and Replace feature in your word processing program will become your best friend.

In the Find box write as, and in the Replace box write AS. Make sure to select the option of “Find Whole Words Only.” If you wanted to get fancy, you could even use the option to bold the AS, but capitalizing it is enough to make it stand out on the page. Do the same for while and when.

Now you can skim through your book and quickly check each instance to see if it should stay or if you’ve reversed your cause and effect.

Want More Help With Grammar for Fiction Writers?

Check out my book Grammar for Fiction Writers: A Busy Writer’s Guide. The world of grammar is huge, but fiction writers don’t need to know all the nuances to write well. In fact, some of the rules you were taught in English class will actually hurt your fiction writing, not help it. Grammar for Fiction Writers won’t teach you things you don’t need to know. It’s all about the grammar that’s relevant to you as you write your novels and short stories.

Here’s what you’ll find inside:
Punctuation Basics including the special uses of dashes and ellipses in fiction, common comma problems, how to format your dialogue, and untangling possessives and contractions.
Knowing What Your Words Mean and What They Don’t including commonly confused words, imaginary words and phrases, how to catch and strengthen weak words, and using connotation and denotation to add powerful subtext to your writing.
Grammar Rules Every Writer Needs to Know and Follow such as maintaining an active voice and making the best use of all the tenses for fast-paced writing that feels immediate and draws the reader in.
Special Challenges for Fiction Writers like reversing cause and effect, characters who are unintentionally doing the impossible, and orphaned dialogue and pronouns.
Grammar “Rules” You Can Safely Ignore When Writing Fiction

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THANK YOU, Marcy!

We love hearing from you! Are you a Grammar Nazi? Do family members weep with jubilation when you mess up and they finally can correct YOU? Do you struggle with grammar? I confess, the whole “lay vs. lie” thing twists my brain in a know and I STILL have to google it (or usually simply rephrase).

I love hearing from you! Comments and questions for guest count DOUBLE, so I hope y’all will show Marcy some love.

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Marcy Kennedy, WANA Instructor Extraordinaire

Marcy Kennedy, W.A.N.A. Instructor Extraordinaire

 

 

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Back to School!

Going Pro Series NOW Available ON-DEMAND

 Going Pro Craft , Going Pro SocialMedia/Branding and  Going Pro Business  or ALL THREE! W.A.N.A.’s bundle deal, Going Pro All the Way! . Use WANA15 for $15 off individual classes. Recording and detailed noted come with purchase.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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Multi-Tasking vs. Multi-Focusing—Be Fruitful Not Busy

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I know people are being polite when they begin messages/conversations with, “Kristen, I know you have been busy but…” Lord, I work hard not to be busy. I don’t believe humans are called to be busy, rather we’re called to be fruitful. 

Now, I’ll warn you. The world will relentlessly preach the opposite—namely because the world has something to sell to make us “more productive”…and then, when we have a nervous breakdown from doing a thousand things at one time, there are meds, vacations and Snuggies for sale.

The Hard “Science”

Laundry multiplies when left alone too long. My inside sources (The Dust Bunnies) tell me the dirty laundry, when left too long to their own devices start forming cults, particularly “The Whites.” According to The Bunnies, laundry apparently must sacrifice a sock to their god—Dry-Ur—every load so Dry-Ur will not smite them.

Um what else did you think Dry-Ur lint was made from?

With the proper sacrifice, the laundry can be fruitful and multiply. “The Reds” have been known to give a blood sacrifice on occasion. Yes, your husband’s undershirts will be pink, but the laundry is then blessed with more generations of progeny.

The Dust Bunnies swear on their lives this is true, so they’ve bought a little time. That and the vengeful monster-god Vah-COOM has been satiated with enough sacrifices of left earrings and Cheerios that he told me to take a day off.

Aside from the occult activities happening in your hamper and under your couch, there are a lot of other distractions in life. Namely? LIFE.

No one gets out alive.

Don’t you have days that you’re simply exhausted? You’ve been running, running, running all day, but feel you have nothing to show for it? There’s a difference between busy and fruitful. Here’s some tips for being fruitful.

Multi-Tasking vs. Multi-Focusing

“Experts” claim people can’t multitask. That’s bunk or no infant or husband would have survived the first generation of humans.

I do a lot of multi-tasking, but it needs to be one “thinking activity” and one “mindless.” We can multi-task. We cannot multi-focus.

I make the beds and pick up toys while checking in with my mother each morning. Relationships take effort, and so does keeping the bottoms of our feet from being shredded from matchbox cars and Legos. This is being fruitful. Listening to a sermon or self-help podcast while dusting? Fruitful. Folding laundry while watching movies (good for writers–clean clothes and stories)? Fruitful.

When I get into trouble is when I try and do two “thinking” activities.

I once accidentally drove to Missouri. TRUE STORY.

I was in sales, and I did a lot of driving, about 1500-3000 miles a week. I had a nine-state territory and Northern Mexico, meaning I drove to Mexico about every six weeks. So I was on the road most of the time, and often quite tired (and bored). I had certain “routes” I drove. I’d drive to Wichita, Kansas, then work my way down. Next day Tulsa, next day OKC, then back to Dallas.

This particular day, I finished my morning appointment in Kansas and then my late afternoon appointment in Tulsa and ate dinner. By seven I was on the road. I was really fatigued, but I wanted to get to OKC by around nine so I could pass out and be rested for my early morning meeting.

Ah, add in a cell phone.

A customer called as I was headed for the Interstate and instead of waiting? I answered and was handling business questions while navigating. Once on the highway, I knew I was in for a long stretch of NOTHING, so after I hung up with my client, I called Mom. Unbeknownst to me, during that first critical interruption, I’d gotten on the turnpike going north instead of south. So I’m talking away for mile after mile then finally I see a sign, “Joplin 20 Miles.”

Joplin? Joplin, Oklahoma? That doesn’t sound right.

Since I was really tired, I said to my Mom, “Joplin? Joplin’s not in Oklahoma.”

“Baby, you’re in Missouri.” *head desk* #epicfail

I finally made it to OKC at 2:00 in the morning, since I had to drive all the way to Joplin to escape the turnpike and turn around, then drive from Missouri back to OKC.

Yes, I have peeled the banana, kept the peel and tossed the banana. I’ve put my cell phone in the freezer, my keys in the fridge. But accidentally driving to Missouri? I think I get bonus idiot points for that.

Multi-tasking is fine. Listen to music on a long drive. Muti-focusing? For the most part, it can just make a mess. So, yeah, fold towels while talking to loved ones…just don’t put the towels away. They could end up in the garage.

Make Lists

Write out a list of the most important things you need to accomplish. Lists help us focus. They also help us see the most efficient way of doing things. Can we pick up the cleaning on the way to pick up kid from school, then stop by pharmacy on the way to the grocery store, then swing by the post office on the way home?

Fruitful.

….And Goals

If we sit down and just write, that’s good, but word count or page count goals are better.

Set a Routine and GET SLEEP

When I get out of my routine, everything just seems to go sideways. I write at the same time every day. I find when I don’t stop working by a certain time, it affects my sleep. I refuse to look at e-mail after 5:00 P.M.

If I stick to my routine, I wake up refreshed. If I don’t?

This stuff happens.

I lost the nacho chips. Why didn't I think to look in the REFRIGERATOR?

I lost the nacho chips. Why didn’t I think to look in the REFRIGERATOR?

So WANA MAMA Says…

Eat good stuff, drink water, get enough sleep, multi-task away (but multi-focus at your own risk). Make lists so it’s easier to be efficient and prioritize. Otherwise, life will feel like you are strapped to Hell’s Tilt-A Whirl.

What about you guys? What are some of your multi-focusing mishaps? Bet you can’t beat accidentally driving to MISSOURI. What tools do you use to be productive instead of just busy?

Oh, and meet Vah-COOM…(there are kittens involved).

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Back to School!

Upcoming Classes: NEW!!! Going Pro Series

 Going Pro Craft is CLOSED, but with the bundle you will get the recoding and notes in On-Demand format, then Going Pro SocialMedia/Branding ALSO CLOSED but also offered on-demand, and TOMORROW EVENING Going Pro Business September 10th, Going Pro All the Way! (ALL THREE). Use WANA15 for $15 off individual classes.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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5 Tips For Long-Term Writing Success

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The Internet is overflowing with all kinds of “guidance.” Often, we have to learn by trial and error. What’s sound and what’s a shill? Being a Fort Worthian, I’ve learned that comedian Will Rogers nailed it when he said, “There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by readin’. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

Assuming y’all can delay any plans for peeing on the literary electric fence, I’m here to (hopefully) shorten your learning curve in regards to going pro as an author.

Choose Company Wisely

Mirroring is built into the human brain. Great writers are exemplary at mirroring. This his how these authors can create characters so real they might just have a heartbeat. That’s the good news.

Maybe you find your mannerisms, body language, pace of speech or even your accent changes depending on the group you’re in. It takes all of three minutes in NYC for me to sound like I’m a native (Mom being from NY probably compounds this). Yet, put me on a plane to LA? Within the hour, I sound like I’m from Orange County.

While mirroring is great for socialization and writing, we must be careful. Attitudes, negativity, and belief systems can stick like a BP oil spill on a sea turtle.

Original image courtesy of NOAA via Flickr Creative Commons.

Original image courtesy of NOAA via Flickr Creative Commons.

I’m an extremely loyal person. For years, I refused to let go of certain childhood friends even though they consistently made epically DUMB life decisions. I kept believing I could “help.” What happened? EPIC STUPIDITY rubbed off on ME. I had to break away. I wouldn’t change them, they were changing ME (and not for the better).

If you’re a natural giver? Takers and users can smell generosity like blood in the water. This is why learning to set firm boundaries is vital. Ditch complainers. Lose the lazy. Psychic vampires will not stop until we are emotionally drained and dead. Avoid those who live off excuses.

Conversely, seek out excellence. Search for those who work more than talk about work. Choose friends who give generously with no strings attached.

Remember, character is contagious.

Be a Finisher

No unfinished book ever became a NYTBS. Finish first. Refine later. If we’re trying to shape facets into a diamond not yet dug out of the ground, we’re wasting valuable energy for no payoff. The more we projects we finish (even the crappy stuff) the more we learn, the faster and more efficiently we work. Confidence comes from work, from finishing.

Write What You Love

We can’t predict trends. My POV? I’m convinced a part of every writer’s soul dies every time someone mentions the awesomeness of Fifty Shades of Grey. But, thing is? The book was finished. Our writing can’t catch fire in the collective consciousness of our audience if NO ONE CAN READ IT.

Ann Rice was told time and time again that no one wanted to read a book from the perspective of a vampire. She ignored the naysayers and persisted because she was passionate. Interview With a Vampire became a super success and is largely responsible for creating the vampire craze of the past thirty years.

Tom Clancy invented the techno-thriller because he wrote what he loved.

These authors didn’t write to trends, they created them.

Slow and Steady

Original image courtesy of Flickr Creatinve Commons, courtesy of Ali Samieivafa.

Original image courtesy of Flickr Creatinve Commons, courtesy of Ali Samieivafa.

There are no real “overnight successes.” Shortcuts are a lie and there are those who profit off selling them. WANA ways are not overnight tactics to build a strong platform. I believe in relationships and roots. Many author-bloggers give up after a couple months because they aren’t as big as Guy Kawasaki. I blogged a YEAR AND A HALF before anyone other than the man-part enlargement bots cared.

Then suddenly….

If we look to authors who seem to blaze in from nowhere like comet, it’s easy to believe the “instant success lie.” Yet, look closer and most of those writers were at it for years or decades and no one cared.

Stephen King wrote from the time he was a kid. He had so many rejections with Carrie that he finally tossed the manuscript in the trash. It was his wife who rescued it and told him to keep on. Carrie was the work that launched him out of obscurity and into the stratosphere. It’s how he became the legend we admire today.

This isn’t to discourage you. But if you’ve been at this a while and feel like you’re stuck? You probably aren’t. We grow roots before shoots ;) .

Dreams are Still WORK

With greater success comes increased responsibility. When we’re new, we might think, “I’ll be happy when…” When I finish the book. When I land an agent. When I get a book deal. When my book is on Amazon and selling enough to write full time.

Yeah. Not reality.

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Be happy during all of it, because a new level only means a new devil. This is why yesterday’s post emphasized ignoring feelings (because most are pathological liars). This is why learning self-discipline and how to be self-motivated is so crucial to becoming successful.

In the beginning, we don’t have a paycheck to validate our blood, sweat and hard work. We can’t point to a book on display. We can’t even count on friends and family to be supportive (and outside validation can be a dangerous addiction).

Yet, even when we DO get to the point where we’ve written and sold books or even made a best-seller list, each work is a brand new battle. We also have new jobs piled onto the writing like taxes, running a business, travel, branding, etc.

I’m blessed to know many NYTBSAs and while all are grateful for “making it”, each new book is nerve-shattering. Can this book do as well? Better? Will it tank? Expectations are much higher, so obscurity can have benefits.

Kids don’t want to go play and take a nap. They want to make their own decisions. Adults would sell a kidney for a nap, three months of vacation and a DAY of making NO decisions.

Same in writing ;) .

What are your thoughts? Have you had to change friends or writing groups because they were affecting you negatively? Have you had to let go of friends or even family members? What ways do you seek inspiration? Are you getting better at working even when you don’t “feel” like it? Are toxic people contaminating the muse? Remember, it is better to be respected than popular.

I love hearing from you! And here is some fun for FRIDAY! Warning, it’s PG-13.

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Back to School!

Upcoming Classes: NEW!!! Going Pro Series

 Going Pro Craft is CLOSED, but with the bundle you will get the recoding and notes in On-Demand format, then Going Pro SocialMedia/Branding September 6th TOMORROW, Going Pro Business September 10th, Going Pro All the Way! (ALL THREE). Use WANA15 for $15 off individual classes.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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67 Comments

How to Intensify Conflict & Deepen Characters—The Wound

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Hmmm, what’s the story behind THIS?

There are all kinds of arguments about which area of craft is the most important for creating great fiction. Plot? Character? Voice? Theme? My opinion. They’re all organs in one body. Our brains will still work if our lungs have bronchitis, but maybe not at an optimal level. Similarly, there are people with brain injuries who have a strong heart. A body can “live” without everything operating in concert, and so can any story.

It’s ideal to hone our skills in all areas, and our goal is to be skilled at all of them. Can we be equally skilled? That’s another debate for another post.

I will say that plot (skeleton/brain) is very important. Our characters (heart) are only as strong as the crucible. Ultimately, all stories are about people. We might not recall every detail of a plot, but we DO remember characters. Ah, but here’s the sticky wicket. WHY do we remember characters? Because of plot. Stories are more than about people. Great stories are people overcoming great odds.

We don’t remember Luke Skywalker because he hung out on Tatooine waxing rhapsodic about his plight as a moisture farmer. We remember him and his allies because they went up against seemingly unbeatable odds and WON.

Yet, even if we come up with the coolest plot in the world, there are elements of character that should also be in the mix, lest our novel can become the literary equivalent of a CGI Star Wars Prequel NIGHTMARE. Characters should develop organically or the reader will call FOUL.

Additionally, if our characters are as deep as an Amarillo puddle, it will be virtually impossible for readers to emotionally connect.

Among many other reasons, I think this is why the Star Wars Prequels were like a bad acid trip at Chuck E. Cheese. Anakin was utterly unlikable and unredeemable simply because the writers were more focused on how many characters they could make into McDonald’s Happy Meal toys instead of sticking to the fundamentals of GOOD storytelling.

But Obi-Wan doesn’t take me seriously. Whaaaaahhhhhh! *SLAP*

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If we’re missing emotional connection between the audience and our characters, our story loses critical wattage. What are some ways we can help form that connection? Today…

The Wound

Real humans have wounds that drive our wants, needs, perceptions, and reactions and so should all our characters (even the Big Boss Troublemaker-Antagonist). Recently, I was helping a student of my Antag-Gold class plot her novel. She had a good protagonist who was a control freak. My question: WHY?

Yes, genetics will have a role in forging our personality, but genes do not a good story make. Having a character be a certain way simply because we need them to be or act that way will work, but so will a heart with damaged valves.

Wounds drive how we perceive our world, what we believe we want, and how we will (or won’t) interact with others. This is critical for generating story tension and character arc.

For instance, my father abandoned us, my mother was chronically ill, and my little brother was legally blind. I was left to grow up too fast and take care of far too much way too early. THIS is why I struggle with being a control freak. From MY wound, %#!* didn’t get done unless I did it.

Additionally, because I grew up in the wake of constant broken promises, I’ve had to work hard to trust. It’s been a challenge to delegate and allow others to fail or succeed without my meddling. Also in my growing up years, achievement=love/attention. That wound drove me to seek dreams that weren’t mine to please others. I had to “arc” to walk away from people-pleasing if I wanted fulfillment.

Wounds Don’t Have to Be Big to Be BIG

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Thomas Ricker.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Thomas Ricker.

Often, new writers will default to wounds like rape or death or some big tragedy to create the wound. To be clear, I am not saying these aren’t viable wounds, but never underestimate the “smaller” and more relatable emotional injuries. The more a reader can empathize with one or more characters, the deeper that connection becomes.

Not everyone has lost their family to a sudden alien invasion— ;) — but they can empathize with maybe never living up to expectations, being bullied, or not fitting in. LOTR rests on a small band of Hobbits who believe they are too little to make a BIG difference.

Perhaps the character is the invisible middle child trying to forge an identity, the eldest trying to hold the world together, or the baby who “got away with murder” and “was handed everything.” Never underestimate family dynamics as sources for realistic and powerful psychic wounds.

For instance, my father was all play no work. Unfortunately, we suffered the consequences. Ironically, my grandfather was all work no play. Doubly ironic, my childlike father created a workaholic daughter (me); like thread, one loop feeding into the next weaving the “pattern” until someone changes “the pattern.”

Arc.

I’ve had to learn to lighten the hell up and balance The Force. But my workaholic, overachieving nature served up far more thorns than fruits.

Wounds Will Distort Happiness

Wounds generate illusions. Because I grew up poor and lived hand-to-mouth all through college, I “believed” that money and financial security would make me happy. At 27, I made more money than any person in their 20s should make…and I was miserable. I was eaten alive with emptiness. I’d achieved all that should have filled that hole—the college degree, the premium job and premium pay. And yet?

I was the person stranded in a desert gulping sand I believed was water from an oasis.

Am I "there" yet?

Am I “there” yet?

Character arc comes when a protagonist is placed in a problem strong enough to challenge the illusion and break it. The protagonist believes X=happiness/fulfillment. It is only through the story problem that the protagonist rises to become a hero, a person capable of realizing they were wrong and that they’d been coveting a shill at the expense of the gold.

Thus, when creating characters, keep the wound at the forefront of your mind.

How does it affect what he/she believes about their own identity? What do they believe will make them happy? What is it that you (Author God) know that’s really what will make them happy? What needs to change for that character to lose the blinders? What is the perfect problem (plot) to force the protagonist to see the hard truth of the unhealed wound?

What are your thoughts? Writing can be healing and therapeutic. Have you ever siphoned from your own hurt-reservoir to deepen your characters? Can you think of how even small hurts can become super-sized? What are some ways you’ve witnessed wounds driving people in wrong directions toward false happiness? Have you been there, done that and earned the t-shirt?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Winner for August is Lara McGill. Lara, please send your choice of 20 pages (5000 words) in a WORD document to kristen at wana intl dot com. You can also choose to send a query letter (250 words) or a synopsis (up to 750 words). Congratulations!

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Back to School!

Upcoming Classes: NEW!!! Going Pro Series

TONIGHT is Going Pro Craft, then Going Pro SocialMedia/Branding September 6th, Going Pro Business September 10th, Going Pro All the Way! (ALL THREE).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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74 Comments

How To Become a Lean, Mean, Writing MACHINE

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 8.31.06 AM

In my most recent branding and social media book, I talk about blogging and teach how to do it well. I’m a HUGE fan of the blog for a number of reasons. Blogging is fabulous for platform-building, cultivating a readership, and streamlining our writing. Blogging is the most stable form of social media.

Unless the Internet implodes? Blogs will remain. But blogging offers writers a significant edge beyond the platform.

Getting in THE ZONE

When we’re new, it’s tough to filter out the world and “get into the zone” where words begin to flow. We might futz with the coffee machine, check e-mail, tidy the kitchen and do everything but write. If one looks at a lot of the big name writers, many were originally doctors, lawyers and journalists.

Blogging is journalism of The Digital Age.

Many of the most effective, prolific and most highly awarded novelists began in journalism—Jack London, T. Jefferson Parker, Jonathan Maberry are the ones that quickly come to mind.

Journalists possess unique skills that can make us stronger and more successful writers. A journalist can’t wait for the muse to visit to write about that big chemical company fire. They write whether they feel like it or not. They aren’t playing for fun, they’re “playing” for keeps.

Image courtesy of Reuters.

Image courtesy of Reuters.

Many of us are working multiple jobs and serving in numerous roles—caretakers, employees, spouses, parents, grandparents, etc. The world’s job is to stop us from writing. Our ego is our enemy. Our insecurities would love to burn us and our dreams to the ground. Friends and family are often enemy agents. Not being a pessimist, just a pragmatist,

Steve Pressfield calls it The Resistance. Seth Godin calls it Retile Brain. When I started blogging, it took HOURS. I perfected every word, every line. I had the attention span of a gnat with a bad crack habit.

Now? I homeschool, have four cats and a dog and run two companies. When I’m writing, I’m present, vested and bulletproof. I’ve literally continued writing with a kitten scaling my back and Spawn whacking me with a NERF sword while Dora the Explorer blares in the background. It no longer matters.

Right now? I have Shingles. Does it hurt? Like hell…but not right now. I’ve blocked that. I’m writing.

Did this happen overnight? NO. It took practice, but this is why I’m fond of blogging. It can be a warmup. It’s running lines or spending time in the batting cage. It hones our focus and trains us to put on our game face instantly and remain fully in the zone until the play is complete.

Journalists get the story. They can think when bombs are going off and gunfire is all around. They can be pushed, shoved, beaten and only the story matters. When they’re on, they’re ON.

Tighten the Writing

Great journalists learn to hook early, get to the point ASAP, captivate attention completely and then end. We can take a lesson. If we can say it in one sentence, we don’t need five. One powerful word is better than three inferior ones. Journalists cut the fluff and go for the guts. So do superior writers.

The car hurtled west towing a swirl of black exhaust into the light of day. It was low and old, with Baja plates and a loose muffler that dangled and sparked on the dips. ~T. Jefferson Parker Iron River

Look at HOW MUCH information we glean in TWO sentences and how many questions are raised in the reader’s mind. Why are they speeding? The condition of the car. Location. Time of day. Something important is making the driver ignore a muffler that would make the rest of us stop and find a coat hangar or a mechanic. But not THIS driver.

Why?

We are ALL works in progress. I’m always hunting for ways to streamline and say more with less.

Journalists also see details others miss, meaningful details. Blogging will make you notice people and the world in a whole new way. While other writers offer the obvious—“He had dull brown hair, glasses and wore a polyester suit”—we’re offering the meaningful. “He had the kind of face you forgot even while you were still talking to him.” (Daniel Suarez, Daemon).

The Office

The Office

Immaculate Deception

Journalists make deadlines. They ship. Perfection is an illusion. We could all edit our WIPs forever and someone will not like our work. No work will be “immaculate.” That’s a lie. We cannot write books (or blogs) by committee. It’s a good way to go crazy. Just accept not everyone likes what we have to offer. Not everyone likes my blogs (GASP!). They’re too long, too short, too conversational, etc.

I got razed on a Huffington post because I used the word “awesome.” Really?

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Am I going to quit using the most awesome word in this awesome world because one person thinks the word awesome is “unprofessional”? Nope. I think that they should find another awesome blog and have an AWESOME time reading something that appeals more to their ridiculous and boring preferences.

Blogging builds rhino skin and fires out perfectionism. Writers that make a living write a lot. Let go, move on, write more. The great part about blog-training is you’ll write leaner and faster and only get better over time. The last book I wrote? The editors I hired were thrilled because they could edit the meat of my work because the draft (although imperfect) was already clean. 

Yes, there are other ways to train/hone the same skills, but I am all about doing MORE with LESS. Blogging builds the platform, reaches readers and cultivates new fans, all while helping us become better today than we were yesterday.

What are your thoughts? Are you struggling with getting in and remaining in the zone? Find it difficult to filter out distractions? Are you seeing ways you can hook earlier, end stronger? Say less with more? Are you improving when it comes to procrastination or excuses? What other ways have you trained yourself to be a better writer?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Back to School!

Upcoming Classes: NEW!!! Going Pro Series

Going Pro Craft, Going Pro SocialMedia/Branding, Going Pro Business, Going Pro All the Way! (ALL THREE).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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111 Comments

3 Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing & Increase Sales

Image from the movie "Office Space"

Image from the movie “Office Space”

Today, I’m going to give you three ways to instantly improve your writing and sell more books. I’m blessed to have a broad base of experience/expertise which includes corporate consulting and branding. I also spent years in sales and can honestly say, Coffee is for closers. 

What Do You DO?

Last year, I accepted a leviathan project to redo copy for a website and rebrand a struggling company. I first explained my plan and reasoning in a detailed SWOT analysis. The owner was on board and signed off. The existing copy was outdated, bloated, confusing, and failed to appreciate the vast changes in our millennial culture.

I hacked through, reduced as much as possible and reshaped until the site showcased a truly fabulous company. To my horror, the owner came back and wanted me to add a deluge of changes which included mass amounts of extraneous information, charts, etc. and all of this content grossly deviated from the agreed rebranding.

I politely declined and we parted ways.

***What’s funny is the owner never got around to changing the site from my version and was recently approached by a Richard Branson-type investor for potential partnership. Ironically, part of what piqued his interest was the site ;) . Unlike the competition, the site I designed was visual, brief, and powerful, whereas the competition was like reading Wikipedia Articles from Hell.

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This desire to cough up too much and “oversell” is common (namely because regular people believe writing is easy and fail to hire a pro). Business owners are passionate and so they want to tell EVERYTHING about their services, industry, product, whatever. Also, overselling is a mark of the insecure. Think “padded resume.”

Attention spans are shrinking. The average time spent on a website is roughly 3.5 minutes. I’d wager most people give a website 3.5 seconds to catch their attention and that 3.5 minutes only applies to those browsers who happen to stay.

We can apply these business lessons to our writing, because we writers also have something to sell.

Our job is far tougher because 1) discoverability is a nightmare 2) less than 8% of the literate population are devoted readers 3) the remaining 92% equate reading with homework and a chore. Thus, we have the task of convincing 92% of the population to spend time they don’t have engaged in an activity they believe they dislike…and spend money to do it.

The other 8%? Sure they like to read books, but why yours?

Omit Needless Words

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. ”~ Strunk and White

Trust the reader. If a character opens a door, we know he “reached out his hand” to do it. We assume he isn’t blessed with telekinetic powers unless we’re told otherwise.

Resist the Urge to Explain

Image via "Office Space"

Image via “Office Space”

This tenet applies in a lot of areas. We don’t need flashbacks or lengthy details of why a character thinks or acts a certain way. The more we leave to the imagination, the better. Hubby and I have fallen in love with a new mini-series Defiance. We ate through Season One and began Season Two.

Interestingly, Episode Zero was a compilation of all the flashbacks cut from Season One—the explaining how and what and why…and it was painful. I just wanted to hit stop and move onto the new episodes. The flashbacks added nothing and only wasted my time. The series was better without backstory being spoon fed to me.

I got it.

This over explaining happens a lot with characterization, but sci-fi and fantasy can be particularly vulnerable. I recently had a client who took four hours to explain all her world building. Most of this information was for her, not the reader. She didn’t have to explain how this world had humans and elves.

It just did.

Think about cartoons. Kids accept that a group of dogs can be public servants, talk and operate heavy equipment (Paw Patrol) or that a sponge with tighty-whities can work a burger grill at the bottom of the ocean (Spongebob Square Pants).

Belief is already suspended.

Value the Reader’s TIME

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 9.51.29 AM

Get to the point quickly. The first sample pages of any book are our greatest selling tool. When I hear, “Oh, well the story really gets going by page 50″? My instincts tell me we probably need to cut 49 pages.

Remember earlier I mentioned that we’re artists, but we also have a product to sell. In fiction, we’re selling escape. So think of it this way. How are you helping your customer escape reality?

Route One

First, my dear (potential) reader, I need you to pack this list of gear, then sync this app on your smartphone. After that is downloaded, I’m going to text you coordinates for a geocache. Use the app to locate the cache, dig up the key, catch the L Train, wait for a guy with a blue hat and the code phrase is, “Duck, duck, goose.” He’ll then hail a cab and take you to a wonderful place you will enjoy.

Route Two

Open a wardrobe and step through.

Which would you choose?

What are some ways you refine your work? Are you guilty of overwriting? I know I’m working super hard to lean down all my writing. It is NOT easy. Are there areas you could condense? Stage action or explaining that could be chipped away?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Back to School!

Upcoming Classes: NEW!!! Going Pro Series

Going Pro Craft, Going Pro SocialMedia/Branding, Going Pro Business, Going Pro All the Way! (ALL THREE).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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89 Comments

Professional Authors Need H.E.A.R.T.—What It Takes to Make It In The Digital Age of Publishing

Image with Twig the Fairy

Image with Twig the Fairy

Sorry I’ve been lax about posting. The Attack of The Peanut cascaded into a splendid ER visit and a bad case of Shingles. Nothing to make a gal feel young like a case of Shingles. I now need denture paste and glitter. I am sure there is some mayhem I can create with that ;) . Oh, and I want an obnoxious pink cane with a tennis ball on the end so I can sit in my driveway and yell at people that they’re driving too fast.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah, was going to chat some about writing (in this weird gap I get between waking up and pain meds kicking in). No precise time when THAT happens so should be FUN. Being laid up in bed doped on pain meds gives you LOTS of blog ideas…and seriously weird dreams. How does one translate competing in ice skating against Nancy Pelosi and she wins because she has the better Monster Truck?

I REALLY want a Monster Truck.

Anyway, WRITING.

Today we will use an acrostic because they’re cool and keep this ADD teacher/blogger on SQUIRREL! …um, task.

Writing takes H.E.A.R.T.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons. Bansky's "Peaceful hearts Doctor" courtesy of Eva Blue.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons. Bansky’s “Peaceful hearts Doctor” courtesy of Eva Blue.

Hard Work—Yep, no magical program that can whip out a NYTBSA. But frankly, would we want one? Those in writing for the wrong reasons (make a quick buck) abound. Some succeed but they’re rare. Most of us do this writing thing because of LOVE. We love to write, to teach, to share, to tell stories. We are explorers who can venture into the human mind or into galaxies never before imagined. And no matter where we go, there is coffee.

That’s a perk *bada bump snare.*

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One thing that CAN feel weird though is often what we do doesn’t feel like work so it freaks us out that we’re being lazy. No, trust me. Reading books, watching movies, series, TV IS work. We’re studying the craft. And others can laugh at you, but who mocks the NFL player who watches the same football replays over and over? Or plays Tic-Tac-Toe and no one wins? I have yet to see them draw a line through any of the Xs or Os. *rolls eyes*

Ok. We laugh at them. But they don’t care and make millions for throwing a ball. Take a lesson.

We might be weak at something. Remember that our greatness is only limited by our strongest weakness. We can be a pro at dialogue, but if we have no clue how to plot effectively? We can limit how well we connect to the reader. Still focus on your strengths, but acknowledge and develop your weaknesses so your writing is balanced.

Allies—Again, this is why I started WANA. I knew what it was like to be completely alone trying to do this writing thing. I might as well have told friends and family I was pursuing a career in coloring books.

What a WANA Coincidence! (Susie Lindau, Moi, Julie Hedlund, Piper Bayard)

What a WANA Coincidence! (Susie Lindau, Moi, Julie Hedlund, Piper Bayard)

The world oddly devalues what we do, yet they spend most of their disposable income on what artists create—music, movies, books, video games, TV, TV series. Writing changes the world. It’s ended slavery, given hope to the hopeless, been the greatest catalyst for equality and often is the spark that lights the scientific innovation. *cough* Star Trek. Thank Gene Roddenberry for that smart phone the world is addicted to.

But you will need others to remind you that what you are doing is important. Also, learn to spot allies versus energy vampires. We all have them. People who have problems they want us to solve and then they do what they were going to do in the first place.

Use those words wasted on someone who won’t listen anyway and put them on a page. Also, learn to say NO to time-suckers and YES to allies. No is rarely popular, but I’ve learned I would rather be respected than popular.

Empathy—The mark of an excellent writer is how well she can get in a character’s skin/head. Study people. Listen. Pay attention. Get in another person’s head/heart for real. What would they think, say, feel? If we fail to do this authentically, readers will spot it.

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Rhino Skin—I wrote an old post about critique groups someone stumbled across. I mentioned that we gutted each other’s work. This vexed the commenter, but why? I would rather someone be hard on me in private than get slayed in reviews that are for public view permanently. And even if the person is a total jerk? Great training for this thing called reality. There are some reviewers who will post venom for the sole purpose of being mean. I don’t know why. But bullying has always been around and likely not going away. Though I’ve been blessed with wonderful, thoughtful reviews on Amazon, there are people on Goodreads who clearly never read my book who gave me one star just because they could.

Image courtesy of the generous Schristia via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of the generous Schristia via Flickr Creative Commons

But, if you’ve been in a critique group of respectable peers who give tough love? @$$clowns are easier to write off (or write INTO a novel).

If you can possibly find and join and RWA group? DO IT, even if you don’t write romance. This is the greatest collection of pros you can hope to find.

We have to develop discernment (which comments are crap and what’s worthy of looking into), but even if it’s pure jealous hate B.S.? Still useful. Hey, we always need someone to shame/torture/kill in our next novel, right?

I won’t sugar-coat. If you write anything, especially anything worthwhile? The haters will flock to you. You are the light that reveals their fear and suckiness. Actually hate is proof we are doing something right. But it will still hurt. I’ve been in martial arts my whole life and getting hit in the face still hurts. I just no longer take it personally.

Same with writing. Feel the sting, then let it go….until you can create a plot involving a serial killing H.R. Manager with tragically small man parts or a former coworker with terminal cellulite.

Time—Rid THIS phrase from your lexicon. “I can’t find the time.” Time is not the remote control hiding in your couch cushions. Pros don’t find time, we make time. You are a priority and so is your writing. Again, it is better to be respected than popular. I’m not saying these can’t coexist. But, those close are NOT writers. They do NOT understand us and won’t. Most people have no clue why anyone would write anything unless there was a grade at the end or a boss expected it.

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We will have to say NO. Guard your gift because I can’t do it for you. No one can. As the late great Robin Williams said, “It’s like partial circumcision. Either go all the way or $#@%#@$ forget it.”

Before we go, I AM going to mention a series of classes I have coming up in early September. I call them the Going Pro Series. Back to School for AUTHORS. There’s Craft, Branding/Social Media, and Business (which publishing path might be the best fit for YOU/your work). Often we make stuff too complicated. Hey, we are writers. It’s our thing. I am here to help.

These classes are designed to streamline ALL you do. In craft, you will learn essentials, how to plot leaner and meaner and write better and faster than you might believe you can. Branding/Social Media? It’s simple and doesn’t take nearly as much time and effort as some might tell you. Business? We writers are in the Entertainment BUSINESS. Which path is a good fit? Not all writers were meant to self-publish. Not all works are good for traditional. This series is a guide to help you accomplish much more with far less effort. Feel free to take one (use WANA 15 for $15 off), but if you take all three in the BUNDLE? The cost is a lot less (and notes and recordings are provided for free for all classes).

Anyway…

What are your thoughts? Which parts of the H.E.A.R.T. are hardest for you? Do you put everyone and everything ahead of writing? Are you feeling pressured and strapped for time? Need help going a thicker skin? Feel at war with family or friends over your desire to write?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

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52 Comments

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