Posts Tagged writing fiction

Save Money on Professional Edits—6 Easy Ways to Clean Up Your Own Manuscript

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Over my career I have literally edited thousands of works, most of them written by emerging writers. My greatest frustration always was (and still is) when I couldn’t even GET to critiquing the deeper story elements because I was too distracted by these all too common oopses.

Good editors are NOT cheap. There are also many editors who charge by the hour. If they’re spending their time fixing oopses you could’ve easily repaired yourself? You’re burning cash and time. Yet, correct these problems, and editors can more easily get to the MEAT of your novel. This means you will spend less money and get far higher value.

#1 The Brutal Truth about Adverbs, Metaphors and Similes

I have never met an adverb, simile, or metaphor I didn’t LOVE. I totally dig description, but it can present problems.

First of all, adverbs are not ALL evil. Redundant adverbs are evil. If someone shouts loudly? How else are they going to shout? Whispering quietly? Really? O_o Ah, but if they whisper seductively? The adverb seductively gives us a quality to the whisper that isn’t already implied by the verb.

Check your work for adverbs and kill the redundant ones. Kill them. Dead.

Metaphors and similes are awesome, but need to be used sparingly. Yes, in school, our teachers or professors didn’t ding us for using 42 metaphors in 5 pages, but their job was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor or simile, NOT prepare us for commercial publication as professional novelists.

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When we use too much of this verbal glitter, we can create what’s called “purple prose.” This glitter, while sparkly, can pull the reader out of the story or even confuse the reader. A while back, I edited a winner’s 20 page entry. The story began on a whitewater river and the rafters were careening toward a “rock coffee table.”

Huh?

Oh, the boulder is squarish shaped!

Thing is, the metaphor made me stop to figure out what image the author was trying to create. If the rafters had merely been careening toward a giant flat rock? Not as pretty but I could have remained in the story without trying to figure out how the hell furniture ended up in the river.

I’ve read some great books, but as an editor, I might have cut some of the metaphors. Why? Because the author might have a metaphor SO GOOD I wanted to highlight it and commit it to memory…but it was bogged down by the other four metaphors and three similes on the same page. The other metaphors/similes added nothing…unless one counts distraction.

Go through your pages and highlight metaphors and similes. Pick THE BEST and CUT THE REST. Look for confusing metaphors, like rock furniture in the middle of a river.

#2 Stage Direction

She reached out her arm to open the door.

Okay, unless she has mind powers and telekinesis, do we need the direction?

He turned to go down the next street.

He picked up the oars and pulled a few more strokes, eager to get to his favorite fishing spot.

We “get” he’d have to pick up the oars to row his boat, or that is a seriously cool trick.

Be active. Characters can “brush hair out of their face” “open doors” and even slap people without you telling us they reached out an arm or hand to do this. We are smart. Really.

#3 Painful and Alien Movement of Body Parts…

Her eyes flew to the other end of the restaurant.

 His head followed her across the room.

All I have to say is… “Ouch.”

Make sure your character keeps all body parts attached. Her gaze can follow a person and so can her stare, but if her eyes follow? The carpet gets them fuzzy with dust bunnies and then they don’t slide back in her sockets as easily.

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#4 Too Much Physiology…

Her heart pounded. Her heart hammered. Her pulse beat in her head. Her breath came in choking sobs.

After a page of this? I need a nap. After two pages? I need a drink. We can only take so much heart pounding, thrumming, hammering before we just get worn out.  That and I read a lot of entries where the character has her heart hammering so much, I am waiting for her to slip into cardiac arrest at any moment. Ease up on the physiology. Less is often more.

Get a copy of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s Emotion Thesaurus to help you vary physiology. Also, if someone’s heart is pounding, that’s okay. We assume until they are out of danger it’s still pounding. No need to remind us.

Really.

#5 Backing Into the Sentence/Passive Voice

In an effort to break up and vary sentence structure, many writers will craft sentences like this:

With the months of stress pressing down on her head, Jessie started ironing the restaurant tablecloths with a fury.

Problem? Passive action. When we use the word “down” then “on” is redundant. Either she is ironing or not ironing. “Started” is overused and makes sloppy writing. That actually goes back to the whole “stage direction” thing.

Active:

Jessie ironed the restaurant tablecloths with a fury, months of stress pressing on her shoulders.

The door was kicked in by the police.

Police kicked in the door.

If you go through your pages and see WAS clusters? That’s a HUGE hint that passive voice has infected your story.

#6 Almost ALWAYS Use “Said” as a Tag

“You are such a jerk,” she laughed.

A character can’t “laugh” something. They can’t “spit” “snarl” “grouse” words. They can SAY and ever so often they can ASK. Said used properly becomes white noise.

NOTE: Use said as a tag…just don’t get crazy. If you beat it up it gets distracting and annoying.

But again, used properly readers don’t generally “see” it. It keeps them in the story and cooking along. If we want to add things like laughing, griping, complaining, then fine. It just shouldn’t be the tag.

“You are such a jerk.” She laughed as she flicked brownie batter onto Fabio’s white shirt.

Notice how sentences like the one above also keep us from beating said to death.

I swear the funniest instance of bizarre tags was a new writer who just would NOT listen to me and she insisted on using all these crazy@$$ tags. So instead of exclaimed when her character yelled something she tagged with, he ejaculated.

*Editor Kristen falls over laughing*

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Okay y’all ALL sniggered at that one. So yeah be creative just not in the tags, ya dig? 😉

There you go, SIX easy tips for self-editing. We all make these mistakes and that’s why God invented revision (that and to punish the unfaithful). If you can get rid of these common offenders on your own, then good editors can focus on the deeper aspects of your fiction.

Have you had to ruthlessly slay your favorite metaphors? Are you a recovering adverb-addict? What are some other self-editing guidelines you use to keep your prose clean and effective?

I LOVE hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, 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).

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Why the Reader Put That Book Down

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I do a ridiculous amount of reading because it is part of my job as a writer. My job in particular because I blog about craft. I read all genres and go through anywhere from 2-4 books a week. Audible will go bankrupt if I’m ever hit by an ice cream truck.

This said, I think I’m in a fairly good position to guide you guys on pitfalls to avoid from a reader’s POV. These are the mistakes that will have me railing at the heavens and throwing a book across the room…followed by depression because I can never get those wasted hours back.

I just returned a book so bad that I cannot believe I read as much of it as I did. It is a prime example why reviews can be misleading, even good ones.

I finally had to return it because there was just not enough blood pressure medicine in the world. I’m not a reviewer. It isn’t my brand so I’m not going to name names. Also, fiction is highly subjective so this is what pulled ME out of the story. But I’m hoping the thin silver lining from this dreadful experience is maybe I can use the flaws in this book as a cautionary tale.

Good Fiction is About Problems

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First and foremost good fiction is the path of greatest resistance. NOTHING should come easily for the protagonist. This is fiction, not a frigging Barbie Dream House for a writer to play out her dream life.

The protagonist had absolutely NO resistance whatsoever. After the death of her fiancé and childhood sweetheart, she decides to open a coffee shop. Magically she is gifted almost a quarter of a million dollars at the funeral. Okay. Plausible. Then she needed a space but her credit was bad…oh but magically mystically the owner of the space and a total plot puppet visits her house and gives her the lease and tells her he won’t charge rent until she opens and to take as long as she needs.

Oh-kay.

Then her friend—a premium designer—offers to redo the space gratis. And on and on and on. She never has a setback and the world is just bending over backward to hand her whatever she needs.

Now the book began sort of interesting. A psychic shows to the funeral to tell her her fiancé is alive. Okay, cool, that is a story. But does the protagonist pursue this? Ask any questions? Maybe fly to Mexico where the love of her life disappeared to check it out for herself? Even though she is flush with plenty of cash?

Nope.

We spend I kid you not, half the book of her essentially playing literary Barbies…including Sexy Photographer Ken who is every woman’s dream and who is willing to stop globe-hopping taking award-winning gallery quality shots….to be her barista for her gourmet coffee shop even though she refuses to date him.

Whenever we write fiction, of course we are injecting our fantasies into a book but we also need to make sure that everything isn’t going so smoothly that the reader is a Fly on the Wall of NOTHING FRIGGING HAPPENING.

Characters Who Are Too Dumb To Live

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As I mentioned, the book hooked early with the promise of a faked death and a psychic. But even after a vision of her love being in danger, in water, bullets whizzing by…the protagonist never pursues the question.

What is interesting is she (Barista Barbie) is happy to keep Photographer Ken waiting on the hook for TWO YEARS while she opens her Barbie Playhouse Gourmet Coffee Shop. The protagonist cannot date him because she still has questions whether or not her fiancé is still alive….

WTH?

YOU HAVE HAD TWO YEARS!!!!! So you keep Photographer Ken on the hook for two years because you are unsure if the psychic was right? That your love could be alive? But you NEVER look into it? IN TWO YEARS?

What…is…wrong….with…you?

Even more perplexing, what is wrong with Photographer Ken? Move on. She is a game-playing b$#@!.

Every mystery masquerading as tension was something easily remedied with a google search or a PHONE CALL. When there a deep nagging questions that can be remedied with a five minute conversation, and that conversation never happens?

*left eye twitches*

The entire premise of this book is that maybe her fiancé isn’t dead. NOT ONCE does she ever ask, “Hey those remains you found and that we buried? How did they identify it was him? Dental records? DNA?”

NOT ONCE.

*shoots self*

Dumb Factual Errors

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Right now I’m writing a Western Horror and historical is a totally new thing for me. I’m constantly stopping to research my facts and I know that one day when it is in print I will have some Curator of All Things Western probably nail me on some detail I botched. But, I tried. I did my due diligence. Thing is, we probably will all miss a fact here and there and that is all right. I really don’t mind that stuff.

But when an author has an error that could have a) been fixed with simply thinking for a minute and if still in doubt? b) GOOGLING IT…it ticks me off.

So after an absurd amount of time, protagonist FINALLY takes a break from baking and making frou frou coffees to check out Mexico and maybe see if the love of her life is still alive. What a peach! She lives in San Jose and it is a NINETEEN HOUR FLIGHT to Mexico?

Whisky Tango Hotel?

You don’t even need to be local to California to know that there is no way in hell that flight is NINETEEN HOURS. She could fly to New Zealand in THIRTEEN. This was actually the point I tapped out and gave up.

Seriously, the devil is in the details. It is too easy to get most of our facts correct in this day and age so when we bungle something that obvious? It frustrates the reader.

Word/Phrase Echoes

Again, this is something all of us do, though hopefully a good editor will help you remove them. Word echoes are my super power so I tend to be lenient when reading because I know I’m trained to see these things and so I’m tougher than most. I’ve learned to lighten up. But if we have a word or a phrase that we use to the point of distraction? It wrecks the reading experience.

When reading this book, I pondered making a drinking game out of it. You know, take a shot every time a character “rounded his eyes” (whatever that is—surprise?)…but I would have gotten alcohol poisoning in less than three chapters.

We need to mix it up and if you need help? Seriously, get a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus. 

In the end, any one of these oopses might not tank a book but these are at least some good things to keep in mind when writing and later editing.

What are your thoughts? What are your pet peeves? What makes you want to punch a book in the face?

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, 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).

November’s winner of my 20 page critique is Nancy Segovia. THANK YOU for being such an awesome supporter of this blog and its guests. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.

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13 Reasons Authors are Mistaken for Serial Killers

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Today’s post is a repeat because I am scrambling to get ready to fly to L.A. for the Writers’ Digest Conference, but I think this is a truly fun post that is perfect for Halloween and also get get you guys fired up for NaNoWriMo. Writers really are a strange breed and just so y’all know? The normal ship sailed without you a long time ago so relax. Your family or friends might not “get” you but we do.

I love being a writer. It’s a world like no other and it’s interesting how non-writers are simultaneously fascinated and terrified of us. While on the surface, people seem to think that what we do is easy, deep down? There is a part that knows they’re wrong. That being a writer, a good writer, is a very dark place most fear to tread.

In fact, I think somewhere at the BAU, there’s a caveat somewhere. If you think you profiled a serial killer, double check to make sure you didn’t just find an author.

Hint: Check for empty Starbuck’s cups.

Writers, if you are NOT on a government watch list? You’re doing it wrong.

Seriously. I once spent an entire afternoon googling Fort Worth hotels to find the right one with a balcony to toss someone off of. I was like the Goldilocks of murder.

Nope doesn’t face a street.

Not high enough to be fatal.

Don’t want them landing in a pool.

Apparently “normal” people do not do this, which is why being normal is totally boring and for losers.

So before friends and family turn you into the FBI, here is a handy list of ways we writers are often mistaken for serial killers.

#1 Serial Killers Writers Need Alone Time

Generally, dealing with the public is only for a purpose (like making others think we are normal). To truly recharge and immerse in the art of what we do, we need to pull back and simply “get away.” Many writers can be found in basements, dark corners of libraries or lurking behind a desk surrounded with bear traps.

#2 Serial Killers Writers Often Hold Down a “Normal” Job

Many writers are also teachers, engineers (or likely married to an engineer—What is WITH that?), lawyers, doctors, or even librarians. We are friendly, polite and on-time and hold down gainful employment. This is what makes writers SO terrifying. You probably work with one.

You might even be married to one.

#3 Serial Killers Writers Can Look Just like YOU

When our book comes out, neighbors will say, “But she seemed so nice and normal. Really polite. Always thought something was off, but writing? Really? Who can ever know these things.”

#4 Serial Killers Writers Understand Law Enforcement

And probably dated it 😀 ….until they married an engineer.

When planning any murder or series of murders, we have to know our enemy. The cops. What are ways we can confuse them? Can we kill in multiple jurisdictions knowing the law agencies will never properly communicate and thus we can kill as many people as our plot requires? Can we run the police down a rabbit hole of distraction?

Can we evade them altogether? Get rid of ALL the evidence?

Image via Creepy Freaky House of horror (Facebook)

Image via Creepy Freaky House of horror (Facebook)

#5 Serial Killers Writers Use Terms Like T.O.D.

Throw T.O.D. around a writers’ group and no problemo. But using this term at Thanksgiving with the family? Meh. We writers know the best time of year to kill and dump the body and which season a shallow grave is an acceptable option. No writer ever sees just a freezer. Or just a car trunk. 

Trust me, we are thinking how many people we can fit in that sucker and if we’ll have to saw apart the body first.

#6 Serial Killers Writers Hear Voices That Tell Them Who to Kill

And often talk to those voices. We might be driving to Costco when the Voice visits and tells us that we really shouldn’t kill that asshat who stood us up for prom. No, the slutty cheerleader he dumped us for is a way better choice. Then, so enraptured with talking to the Voice, we find we missed the last fifty exits and have to hope there’s a Costco in the neighboring state.

#7 Serial Killers Writers Choose Victims Carefully

Generally our victims will include anyone who picked on us in high school or ever broke up with us via Facebook or text message. Victims can also include anyone who ever worked in HR or customer service for AT&T.

#8 Serial Killers Writers Plan Their Kills Methodically

Sure you might get the fantasy or sci-fi author who just exterminates an entire race, but for the rest of us? No, we thought those kills out. We can’t just kill anyone lest we be left with a pacing and plot problem.

Duh.

#9 Serial Killers Writers Have a Timeline for Their Kills

Sure the body count will rise, but during revisions? We just go back and spend quality time with the souvenirs we took off our victims. We might even take breaks between books because we can’t murder characters without a plan. Helloooo?

#10 Serial Killers Writers are Narcissists 

Seriously, we have to be. Who else can write hundreds of thousands of words just knowing the world will love every bit of what you put down? And PAY MONEY to consume it? Narcissists have a God-complex but unlike serial killers who pretend to be God?

We writers actually ARE.

#11 Serial Killers Writers Take People Apart

We crawl in your head, but don’t get too freaked out. We crawl in everyone’s head. We think like you. We become you. 

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Image via Creepy Freaky House of Horror (Facebook)

What???? Don’t judge me. You do this too! 😛

Okay so when ACTORS do this it is OKAY but a writer does this and it’s creepy? We need to know how people think, what makes them tick, what sets them off. What are the right pain points and speaking of pain…

#12 Serial Killers Writers Are Also Sadists

Excellent fiction is the path of greatest resistance which means good writers are all about exacting pain. Doling it out bit by bit. Upping the heat and making that victim and all who love him squirm, then panic, then question the very meaning of their existence. We push our victims until just before that spark of hope in their eyes extinguishes completely.

And then we give them a bone and rescue them so there. We aren’t completely heartless. Sheesh, these people are imaginary. Why so freaked out?

#13 Serial Killers Writers Struggle with Addiction/Compulsion

Drugs and alcohol? Maybe. Books and cute bookmarks we never use because we lost them and so have to use the receipt from purchasing the freaking bookmark as a bookmark? Definitely. Female serial killers writers can often be spotted wandering around a craft store talking to the yarn. Males? Computer stores.

Angels and Devils

Yeah yeah writers could be mistaken for serial killers but in the end, everything we do is for the ultimate good. We actually have to write in mistakes lest our villain remain free and that is bad fiction.

Speaking of which, have you ever created a villain so good you had to go BACK and write in some oopses? Like, “Wow, this guy’s good. Nope, they’d never catch him. Ah sh#!.”

Okay so some of you by now are either laughing and nodding…or you’re dialing an FBI hotline ready to link them to my blog. Fine, when they haul me away in cuffs, trust me I am taking notes so when I write a similar scene? I know how cuffs FEEL.

So there 😛 .

What are your thoughts? Have you ever had strangers overhear you talking about how to kill someone and you had to stop and say, “It’s okay. I’m a writer.” Do you love Discovery ID just a bit more than is probably healthy? Do you freak out friends and family because autopsies make you giddy? Are you more than a little weirded out that we all seemed to marry engineers?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, 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.

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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Adding Depth to Your Fiction—Body Language 101

Dog Body Language

Image by Gopal 1035

Today regular guest writer Alex Limberg is back with a post that will make any of your dialogue scenes sound so much smoother. His piece is about body language. Raise your eyebrows and drop your chin in delight, because Alex is about to help you get under your readers’ skin with your dialogue. Also, you should definitely check out his free checklist about “44 Key Questions” to make your story awesome. Now clap your hands: 3… 2… 1… here we go:

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“Crossing my bridge on your flying rhinoceros? You better reconsider that,” the troll said and raised his fist.

When you are reading the sentence above, you know immediately what the situation is about: The troll is threatening the other person (and a flying rhino is coming your way). And the reason you know exactly what’s up is, you guessed it, the fitting description of body language. Body language is added in just four tiny words. But those four words add a lot of depth to the scene.

The physical snippet makes your reader visualize the scene; it puts the graphic image of a big, green, threatening troll fist in his head.

It also brings some nice variation to your dialogue; it’s more interesting than a plain, boring dialogue tag (“the troll said” or “the troll shouted.”)

It introduces character and overboiling emotion – you know it’s better not to tangle with the green guy.

And finally, it adds some physicality to your story, as opposed to just “blah, blah, blah” dialogue and scenic description. It makes for well-balanced speech.

Troll Warning

Image by Gil

All of this is the power of using body language.

Here is a short Body Language 101 that will help you with “puppeteering” your characters’ bodies:

1. Use Body Language Only From Time to Time

If you use body language too much, it will become annoying and obvious and lose its subtle qualities. Instead, only describe characters’ facial expressions and postures from time to time. Make them smoothly blend in with the dialogue and the other scenic description.

Sneak your body expressions into the mix unobtrusively. Remember that you have several other options to “tag” and break up your dialogue lines:

  • You could use a dialogue tag (“Let’s go to the party then!” Sandra squealed.)
  • You could describe what the characters are doing (“Let’s go to the party then.” Sandra held the invitation out to him.)
  • You could describe what else is happening in the scene (“Let’s go to the party then!” Suddenly the doorbell rang.)
  • You could just leave the dialogue line standing alone (“Let’s go to the party then.”)
  • You could describe a facial expression, posture or movement of the character who is speaking and put it directly before or after his dialogue line, to let the reader connect the dots himself (“Let’s go to the party then.” Sandra’s face lit up.)

Try to vary these options, so none of them gains the upper hand and becomes annoying. That way you will get a well-balanced and structured scene that pays equal attention to dialogue, characters and descriptions.

When you insert body language, always do it in passing and don’t give any extra weight to what you describe.

2. No Explanation, Just Body Language

If you want to look really stupid, you could write like this:

“So surely you can tell me where you were on the evening of the twenty-second of October?” George asked with eyes narrowed to slits, because he felt very suspicious about Blake’s story.

This example does both, showing and telling. That’s one too many, and the too many one is the telling part! Cut out “because he felt very suspicious about Blake’s story.

When you write like this, you also take your reader for stupid. Let her connect the dots herself – if she has followed the story, she will know why Georg’s eyes are pressed to slits.

Try it like this:

“So surely you can tell me where you were on the evening of the twenty-second of October?” George asked, his eyes narrowed to slits.

That’s much better, now we don’t even have to go inside George’s head artificially, we can just describe objectively what the reader sees.

Whenever possible, don’t name the feeling, but just show the body language. And definitely never put both of them (body language and description of feeling) together in the same sentence.

Showing, not telling is sometimes not easy to do when you are caught up in the writing process. That’s why I created my free checklist about “44 Test Questions” to make your story great. It’s a comprehensive, no-holds-barred list about what I learned makes a good story, and you can download it right away.

Body Language 1

3. Have a Very Clear Idea of What Your Character Is Feeling

Take a look at this ambitious description of body language:

“Randy held one hand in his other behind his back, then suddenly stroked his throat while he was leaning towards Linda.”

What’s happening here? Nobody knows, Randy’s behavior is too much. As far as we are aware, it doesn’t make any sense. It seems like the writer pays attention to the undertones so much, that in the end he is not really saying anything.

Don’t write so cryptically that nobody can understand where your character is coming from. A simple description of one piece of body language at a time is absolutely enough. You, the author, always have to be clear about what your characters are feeling. And their body language has to match those feelings.

4. Follow Your Intuition When Describing Body Language

But where can you take an accurate description for flattery or envy from?

Your best bet is to take it from yourself. Imagine you feel flattered by an enormous compliment, like the best compliment ever. What expressions would your face, your arms, your body be making? Totally immerse yourself in the feeling like a good actor, and see which body expression fits.

Remember the last time you felt really envious about somebody? Use that memory to immerse yourself in the feeling for a second and ask yourself how your body would react.

Reading a book about body language is also an excellent idea. The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease is a very systematic and comprehensive guide to everything you ever wanted to know about body language. I recommend it whole-heartedly.

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5. Several Types of Body Language You Can Use

Our bodies have several ways of giving our secrets away. Here are some examples and a bit of inspiration on what’s possible:

  • Facial expressions: The human face is an endless source of expressions. Think of raised eyebrows, tightly pressed lips, blown up cheeks, wrinkled noses, wide eyes, frowned brows, poked out tongues, widened nostrils… most feelings show through several features
  • Body postures: Crossed arms, legs wide apart, foot put forward, leaned back upper body, spread elbows, locked ankles, body pointing away, tilted head… all of these have something very distinctive to say
  • Body movements: Adjusting tie, nibbling on temple of glasses, whipping foot, raising hand with palm toward opposite, flicking the hair, putting hands in pockets, grabbing the other’s upper arm, scratching one’s nose… do you know what all of these mean?

Equipped with all of this knowledge, you now have an extremely elegant and effective way to describe what’s really happening under the surface of your scene. You can now go fill your characters with overflowing emotions and life.

Once you manage to describe how their feelings subconsciously pour out of them, your figures will automatically take on a life of their own and feel like they were standing next to you in your living room. And your reader won’t be able to keep from loving or loathing them whole-heartedly.

Photo, Alex Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Polish your dialogue, plot, characters and much more to greatness with his free checklist about “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and in the movie industry. He has lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Thumbs up, Alex!

It’s Kristen again, and I’m back to ask you: Are you guilty of completely neglecting body language in your stories? Do you have a favorite body part or movement to describe? Aren’t knees so much cooler than elbows? Do you ever forget to jump up and down when you are happy?

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

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).

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!

Blogging for Authors

September 17th

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

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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26 Comments

Writer’s Block? How to Get Your Novel Unstuck

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We’ve all been there. When we started off with this brilliant story idea we just simply knew this was the one. This story we would finish. This time would be different.

*insert screeching breaks* (pun intended)

Then we hit a wall. We simply can’t seem to move forward no matter how hard we try. We might even go through the Kubler-Ross Stages of Death and Dying.

Denial

Oh it isn’t that bad. I just haven’t had enough caffeine.

Anger

What the hell was I thinking? A romance? No one wants to read about love. Love is dead. Readers want diet books and recipes with kale.

Bargaining

Maybe if I just go add in some super clever metaphors it will all improve. Can one use emojis in fiction? I find smilie faces spice up my Facebook posts. Brilliant!

Tiffany was thrilled Dane asked her to dinner 😀 😀 😀 ❤ ❤ ❤ 😀 😀 😀

Okay, not brilliant. Note to self. Tell NO ONE you thought this might be a good idea.

Depression

I suuuuuuuuuck. I suck I suck I suck. I’m never going to finish a novel. I am just a pretender, a fake. A “real” writer wouldn’t have this problem.

Acceptance

Yes. Something is definitely wrong. Back to the drawing board.

I’ve been working with plot for going on ten years and not only do I have experience with countless writers who’ve hit a wall, but been there, done that and got the t-shirt. In fact, being a person who is obsessed with patterns, my own stalling was part of why I became so fixated on understanding plotting.

It seemed like I’d always go through the same process. First, caffeine. Duh.

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Then….

0-10K Words

I am a frigging GENIUS. THIS, THIS was the idea I’ve been looking for. What was I thinking with all those story ideas?

The words just come pouring out. In fact family members might have to knock you away from your keyboard using a broomstick or a board or some other nonconductive material (similar to rescuing someone who’s grabbed hold of a live power line).

10K-20K Words

All, right. It’s a bit slower, but that is to be expected.

The words are no longer gushing forth with the force of Old Faithful, but water word pressure is still decent enough.

20K-30K Words

Wow, this is getting tough. But, persistence prevails when all else fails. Is that a plot bunny?

Hello, little fellow. Aren’t you cute? Where are you off to?

31K Words

How the hell did an alien invasion end up in my women’s fiction. Right, the plot bunny. Damn.

35K Words

Skip writing and go straight to drinking. And this idea had SO much promise. Maybe that plot bunny was onto something. Perhaps I’m a sci-fi writer. What was I thinking writing women’s fiction?

Begins watching episodes of Ancient Aliens on YouTube.

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It’s okay. It happens to the best of us, even if you happen to be a plotter. Characters misbehave, the story veers off course and now you’re so lost you have no idea what to do.

With a novel? It is tempting to just start something new, but before you give up understand there are some common reasons you might be stuck and some tricks to get unstuck.

Yay!

I don’t like it when pros claim writer’s block isn’t real. It is real. Yes often laziness is mistaken for writer’s block, but sometimes it is our subconscious slamming on the brakes because it knows there is something fundamentally wrong that needs to be repaired. It is keeping us from digging ourselves in deeper by making us stall out.

It’s a Check Engine light and ignore it at your peril.

I also don’t like it when seasoned writers or teachers give the advice to just keep writing. Yes, we need to keep writing, but sometimes that alone isn’t enough.

It’s like the time was tired and accidentally got on the tollway in Oklahoma going north instead of south. If my goal was to eventually get from Tulsa to OKC, then to keep driving north was a ridiculous plan.

Granted it sucked when I snapped to in Joplin, Missouri and I felt more than a little stupid. But the best course was simply to turn around and get going in the proper direction.

Sure if I kept driving, in theory, I could have reached OKC, but maybe I didn’t want to traverse the north and south poles and come up through South and Central America.

Why You Are Stuck

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The biggest reason you might be stuck is you are being a perfectionist. Stop it. Go find your favorite authors on Amazon and read all the one and two star reviews and then you will realize there is no such thing as a perfect book.

Perfect is the enemy of the good.

But, beyond this? Some practical advice:

The Seed Idea

The good news is it might not be your idea. You idea might be perfectly fine, it just maybe was not robust enough to support the story you want to tell. Or maybe it was confusing. It needed more focus. Maybe it was too broad or even too narrow.

This is why I strongly recommend writers creating a log-line. Tell what your story is about in ONE sentence (For more go HERE).

I.e. A fraidy cat romance author must travel to the jungles of South America to rescue her sister from murderous jewel thieves before they chop up her sister and feed her to the alligators.

You guessed it. Romancing the Stone.

When I do my log-line class (one coming up) I can simply look at a log-line and not only tell if a writer is going to have problems, but can also predict what those problems will be.

If you didn’t do one ahead of time, that’s all right. Go back and make yourself create one and then instead of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, you will actually have an actionable plan.

If you have a log-line, go BACK to it. Revisit the story you were wanting to tell in the first place.

The Cast

It might be you’ve miscast your protagonist. Maybe at first it seemed like a good idea, sort of like when the second season of True Detective cast Vince Vaughn as a hard core gangster. Was a nice try, but yeah.

Maybe go swap out some of the major players with a different type of character and see if that helps.

The POV

My first attempts at The Devil’s Dance (at publisher now) were a train wreck. No one liked the female protagonist no matter how many times I rewrote it. So? I switched from third limited to first person and the change in voice alone was enough to solve the problem.

The plot might not be the issue, rather you’ve chosen the wrong POV to tell it in. OR maybe it is the correct POV but just rewriting a chapter or two in a different POV is enough to get you unstuck.

In the end, yes keep writing. No half-finished novel even became a NYT best-seller but a lot of finished sucky ones have. But sometimes, the key to finishing is working smarter not harder 😉 .

What are your thoughts? Are you stuck? Do you have other tips for getting unstuck you’d like to share? Did you see yourself in any of this? Do you hit the same benchmarks? It’s kind of spooky isn’t it? I’ve found that it takes about 30K for plot flaws to become a game changer. If the plot is flawed we just won’t see it in only 20 pages.

If my tips aren’t enough, Icy Sedgewick has some different tips in her post How Do You Restart Your Stuck Novel?

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).

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 16th

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

Blogging for Authors

September 17th

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

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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40 Comments

Are You Botching Your Dialogue?

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Today we are going to talk about dialogue. Everyone thinks they are great at it, and many would be wrong. Dialogue really is a lot tricker than it might seem.

Great dialogue is one of the most vital components of fiction. Dialogue is responsible for not only conveying the plot, but it also helps us understand the characters and get to know them, love them, hate them, whatever.

Dialogue is powerful for revealing character. This is as true in life as it is on the page. If people didn’t judge us based on how we speak, then business professionals wouldn’t bother with Toastmasters, speaking coaches or vocabulary builders.

I’d imagine few people who’d hire a brain surgeon who spoke like a rap musician and conversely, it would be tough to enjoy rap music made by an artist who spoke like the curator of an art museum.

Our word choices are reflective of WHO we are. Dialogue can not only show age and gender. It can elucidate level of education, profession, personality, ego, wounds, insecurity, and on and on and on.

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In fact dialogue is so powerful that one way we know we have done our job as a writer is when we can remove all dialogue tags and the reader still knows which character is talking. This said, there are a LOT of newbie errors I see when it comes to writing dialogue and that’s what we are going to talk about today.

#1 Please Punctuate Properly

When it comes to dialogue, we need to make sure we are punctuating properly. This might seem like a picky matter, but improper dialogue punctuation is a quick way to end up in a slush pile. If a writer doesn’t yet know how to punctuate dialogue correctly, then most agents (or even readers) simply aren’t going to commit any more time.

Also, if you are paying good money for an editor, they have a hard time getting to the MEAT of your story if they are spending all their time fixing disastrous punctuation.

When I get samples from new writers, I see a lot of this:

“Have a nice day” she closed the door and that was when Kristen had to spend the next few hours repairing punctuation.

“Have a nice day.” She closed the door blah blah blah….

OR

“Have a nice day,” she said. She closed the door blah blah blah…

The comma goes INSIDE the end quote mark and then we add a tag. If there is NO tag word (said, asked) then we insert a PERIOD.

DO NOT use actions as tags. Why? Because actions are actions…not tags.

“Have a nice day,” she closed the door said.

For all the neat ways dialogue is punctuated, refer to a handy dandy grammar book.

#2 No Weird Dialogue Tags

This goes with the “no action tags” idea.

“I have no idea what you mean,” Kinsey snarled.

“You know exactly what I mean,” Jake laughed.

NO.

Characters can say things or ask things but they can’t smirk, snarl or laugh things. Again, when agents, editors, or even savvy readers see these strange tags, it is a red flag the author is green.

#3 Stick to Unassuming Tags

When using tags, keep it simple— said, asked, replied (maybe). Why? Well, I hate proffering rules without explanation so here goes.

Simply? When we add those creative tags on the end, we are coaching the reader. Our dialogue should be strong enough alone to convey the tone we want. When we coach the reader, we are being redundant and more than a tad insulting to the reader.

“You have some nerve showing your face,” she spat.

See what I mean? By adding the “she spat” I am essentially telling you that I worry you aren’t sharp enough to know this character is upset.

But, I am betting the dialogue alone—“You have some nerve showing your face”—was plenty for you guys to give the appropriate tone of voice in your head. I really didn’t need to add the “she spat.”

I know that keeping to simple tags seems harsh, but if we have done our job writing dialogue, the tags will disappear in the reader’s mind. The dialogue will simply flow.

Additionally, if we write using Deep POV, we don’t even need/use tags.

“I have no idea what you mean.” Kinsey refused to look at him and polished the wine glass so hard she wondered if she’d bore a hole clean through.

See how the character is DOING something that tells us the tone of the dialogue. Remember that communication is about 90% is nonverbal. Body language is a big deal.

Notice we are showing and not telling. Instead of spelling out that Kinsey is irritated, we have her DOING something that shows us she is ticked and trust the reader to fill in the blanks. This also keeps “said” from getting annoying. We shouldn’t need to tag every sentence if the writing is strong.

#4 Do NOT Phonetically Spell Out Accents

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Yes, when we dust off old volumes of literature we see that the writers (I.e. Twain) wrote out dialogue phonetically to show the accent of the character speaking.

BUT…Herman Melville also spent over a hundred pages talking about whales for the same reasons. Most people lived and died in isolation. Travel was reserved for the very rich. Photographs and paintings were rare. There was no television, radio or Internet.

Just like Melville’s readers could live an entire lifetime without seeing the ocean (let alone a whale), Twain’s audience in Europe likely would never travel to the rural American South. Thus, they would have no concept of what a Southern accent “sounded” like. Therefore, in fiction, it was perfectly acceptable to phonetically write out how someone would have talked.

These days, if we are writing a character who has an Irish brogue or a Southern drawl or a Cockney accent, we no longer need to spell it all out phonetically. The reason is that there has been so much entertainment (movies, etc.) that we know what an Irish brogue should sound like and when we “spell it out” for the reader, it makes the dialogue cumbersome.

Spelling out every single word phonetically will wear out the reader. This dovetails nicely into my next point…

#5 DO Feel Free to Use Unique Words, Expressions or Idioms

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I write a lot of characters who are Texans. It’s true I don’t need to write out the Texas accent phonetically, but I can add in some terms and expressions to keep the reader “hearing” a Texan in her head without making my dialogue weird.

“Y’all won’t believe this. Delroy got a job. A J-O-B.”

“Who’d hire him? He’s useless as ice trays in hell. ”

Feel free to use a couple of words that convey an accent—ain’t, gonna, bloody—just avoid spelling it out in entirety or risk frustrating readers.

#6 DO NOT Have Characters Constantly Calling Each Other By NAME

I see this one a lot and it is seriously weird.

“Biff, what are you doing?” Blane asked.

“Why Blane, I am making a present for Buffy. You know how Buffy is about her birthday. What are you doing Blane? Are you having lunch with Beverly?”

Okay, so I am being a bit silly here to make a point, but how often do you call the other person by name when talking? Who does this? Worse still, who does this over and over and over, especially when there is only one other person in the room? Try this in real life.

Me: Shawn, why are you home so early? I thought you’d be at work.

Hubby: I had to run an errand, Kristen.

Me: Well, Shawn I have to run to the grocery store.

Hubby: Kristen, that is…

Okay, I am giggling too much. Y’all get the gist.

#7 Do NOT Write Dialogue in Complete Sentences

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My above examples are kind of a twofer. Not only is the dialogue seriously strange with everyone using a proper name, but notice all the dialogue is in complete sentences. Most people don’t talk that way. If we do, we sound like a robot or a foreigner with a rudimentary grasp of the language.

Is it wrong to have dialogue in complete sentences? No. But usually it is ONE character who talks that way and it is an idiosyncratic trait particular to THAT character. Ie. Data from Star Trek or Sheldon from Big Bang Theory.

#8 Avoid Punctuation Props

Avoid overusing exclamation points and ellipses. Again, if our dialogue is strong enough, readers will “get” when a character is yelling or pausing. Especially avoid being redundant with the punctuation and the tags.

“Get out of my house!” she yelled.

Really? No kidding.

And remember…that…when we use…a lot….of ellipses…we are being annoying….not…….dramatic.

(And ellipses are only THREE dots and in some cases four 😉 ).

#9 NO “As You Know” Syndrome

I love David Mamet and I really love his Letter to the Writers of The Unit where he tears the writing team a new one. I love forwarding on his advice, because no one says it better and this is just as true for novels as it is for screenplays. I’ve included the best lines about dialogue:

Look at your log-lines. Any log line reading, “BOB AND SUE DISCUSS…” is NOT describing a dramatic scene.

Here are the danger signals. Anytime two characters are talking about a third, the scene is a crock of s&%$. Any time any character is saying to another “AS YOU KNOW” that is, telling another character what you—the writer—need the audience to know, the scene is a crock of s&%$*. ~David Mamet

No brain-holding. We are in the drama business, not the information business.

Later we will talk about ways that we can use dialogue to convey character. What are your thoughts? Questions? Who are your favorite authors regarding dialogue? I adore Sue Grafton. Every one of her characters just leaps off the page. I love great dialogue and have been known to highlight it just to keep it. What about you? Or am I the only dialogue geek?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, 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).

Check out NEW classes below! 

Upcoming Classes

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

 Character & Plotting (NEW CLASS!)

July 6th, 2015 7:00-9:00 P.M. EST. Cost is $35

All great plots are birthed from character. The core plot problem should be the crucible that eventually reveals a hero in Act III. This means that characterization and plot are inextricably linked. Weak plot, weak character. Blasé character, blasé plot.

This class will teach you how to create dimensional characters and then how to plot from inner demons and flaws. Get inside the heads and hearts of your characters in a way that drives and tightens dramatic tension.

This is an excellent class for anyone who wants to learn how to plot faster and to add layers to their characters.

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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98 Comments

Making Fiction Come Alive! Using the Senses for Maximum Impact

Five Senses

Image by Rob Nunn/Flickr CC

Today’s post once again is by my Writer-in-Residence Alex Limberg. After 10 posts, I’m slowly running out of witty introductions for him. But hey, if you haven’t checked out his free ebook yet, definitely go ahead and do it now. It will equip you with ‘44 test questions’ to examine your story and make it all-around tight and intriguing. This time, Alex shows us how to describe senses, so your reader feels like he is in the middle of your story. Go, Alex!

***

Do you know 5D-cinemas?

I mean these movie theatres that make your chair bump harshly, whip your ankles, and when somebody on the screen sneezes, it sprinkles your face… Yeah, they are basically legal torture chambers people pay entry for.

Why are they such a fun experience for many?

It’s because these theatres feel more real than your ordinary cinema. And that’s because they talk to more of our senses, not just 2D-seeing and hearing.

Anything that talks to our senses feels a lot more real to us. It is through senses that we experience our entire world. We crave sensory experiences. That’s why it’s so much fun when the snot of that disgusting jailor troll hits us.

Senses are even deeply engrained in our language: We believe it when we see it. We hear it through the grapevine. Something smells fishy to us. We feel for somebody. We might show bad taste.

Ultimately, evoking sensory experiences with your descriptions is one of the most powerful talents you can have as a writer.

If you can do it well, your audience will eagerly suspend any disbelieve and completely succumb to the illusion you have prepared. You will draw your readers deeply into your story and make them feel like they are right beside your characters. They will ultimately truly care about what is going on.

Because it’s not easy to craft your story as a well-rounded illusion, you can find a free download with 44 test questions here; use it to check your story quickly and easily for anything that might be off or missing.

The good news is, describing senses isn’t even that hard to do. Let’s take a look at all five senses, one by one, and see how you can best take advantage of them:

1. Seeing

That’s the most obvious one. Can you imagine even the greenest newbie not describing to the reader what he is seeing?

In fact, many writers put too much weight on this sense, at the expense of the others. Don’t overdo the visual description! You don’t have to teach your reader every single detail, it’s much better to leave something up to her imagination.

When you do describe visuals, think of the different qualities of look you could use to make your description vivid. Color is a good example. By using color, you can paint vibrant images in your reader’s mind. What do you think about this description:

“He couldn’t help but notice her extraordinarily sexy make-up.”

Bad. That’s telling, not showing.

“Her bright red lipstick immediately popped out to him.”

Much better. We have now put a colorful image in the mind’s eye of the reader. The image has a color with very specific connotations.

We have also used the word “bright,” which is yet another quality to make your visual descriptions more interesting: Shadows are eerie. Spotlights mean heightened pressure. Dimmed, soft lights can be romantic.

You can add a lot of mood to a scene or to a detail by describing light.

2. Hearing

Hearing is used fairly often as well. You will mostly describe a sound when the situation draws special attention to it: A door creaks, your protagonist turns her head.

But don’t forget that a sound can also be used for a strong effect! You can employ it to get on your reader’s nerves, to alarm or to relax him. Think of the soothing babble of a little brook. How comforting, isn’t it? Cut to the shrieking sound of nails scratching over a chalkboard. You might even be close to goosebumps now.

Your reader will hate you when you employ an effect like this. And he should, strong reactions are excellent! In the end, he will love you for putting him through all of that tingling torture.

On top of this, you can use sounds very well for a serious shock effect. How often in your life have you been frightened by a sudden sound? Certainly a lot more often than by any other sense alarming you. Those little acoustic shock effects are deeply engrained in your reader’s unconscious as well.

Imagine the sudden uproar of a roaring chainsaw. And if the guy who is carrying it wears a hockey mask too, there is no doubt anymore what comes next…

Chainsaw Image

3. Smelling

Now we are getting into territory that’s neglected way too often. Many writers like to forget smell, because when they are busily visualizing their scenes, it just doesn’t come to them naturally.

But smell can have a huge impact on your reader. To be more precise, the memory of the smell you are describing will have a huge impact on her. Smell is the sense that is most directly connected to the memory part of our brains (through the so-called “olfactory bulb;” great word, isn’t it?).

When you think about it, smell is kind of an animalistic sense – think of dogs eagerly sniffing each other’s behinds. When you describe the smell of shit, you can be sure to get stronger reactions than when you describe the look or the sound of it…

Because it’s such an emotional sense, smell can be very sensuous too. A stimulating perfume in a love scene will catapult your reader right into the middle of the action. They say that lovers can “smell each other.”

4. Tasting

In your stories, you don’t get the opportunity to demonstrate how something tastes very often. You couldn’t let your protagonist quickly lick the mask of the guy with the chainsaw, just to report that it tastes… salty? Now that would be moody, but it wouldn’t make any sense…

However, on the rare occasions your character puts something in his mouth or licks something, be sure to describe the taste. Certainly your character (and your reader) will pay attention, because taste is a sense that’s bound to get a very strong reaction.

After all, taking something into your mouth or touching it with your tongue is a very intimate act; it’s a personal thing that goes deep into the private sphere. Think of your character taking a beating and biting the hard and dusty curb or tasting a lovingly prepared dish of pulpy monkey brain. Tastes like that are hard to swallow.

You can also describe an emotion as so dense, your character can “taste” it in his mouth. Intense fear is sometimes described as a “taste of copper.” It’s like the feeling is so strong it finally becomes physical. And what does success “taste like,” can you tell me?

Taste

Image by Melissa Gutierrez/Flickr CC

5. Feeling

Finally, we have feeling. It’s a very sensual sense as well.

Like with tasting, be sure to describe it whenever you get a chance. When your character touches something, tell your audience what it feels like and draw them in. How pleasant does the soft fur of a kitten feel? And how uncomfortable is the stingy hail of a thunderstorm? You have all the power of making your readers live, love and suffer with your figures.

You can use touch especially well to describe the nature of objects or people: The silky smooth feeling of a light summer dress, grandpa’s grey and raspy beard. Just make sure you have a reason to describe how it feels; somebody touching it should be the trigger that allows you to explain.

So there you have it, the complete five senses. The sixth sense is then best suited to a Bruce Willis flick.

Now go ahead and describe away. A skillful description of sense will make your reader dive into your story head over heels… and it will feel so tickling she will never want to surface from your story again.

 

Photo, Alex Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Check your story for intriguing description, plot, characters, dialogue and any other imaginable quality with his free e-book “44 Key Questions to test your story”. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

I see, Alex.

It’s Kristen again, and I’m back to ask you: In your descriptions, do you take advantage of the big opportunities senses offer? Which sense do you tend to forget? Do you maybe employ one sense too much? Do you remember a book that totally drew you in with its sensory descriptions? If we could smell with our ears, would our nose only serve to hold our glasses? Have you ever seen a naked person that made you wish you were blind?

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, 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).

Upcoming Classes!!!

Remember that all WANA classes are recorded so if you miss, can’t make it or just want to refresh the material, this is included with purchase price. The classes are all virtual and all you need is a computer and an Internet connection to enjoy!

THIS SATURDAY!

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages MAY 14th. The first five pages are one of our best selling tools. We fail to hook the reader and that is a lost sale. In this class, we go over the art of great beginnings. Additionally, the upper levels Gold and Platinum I actually LOOK at your pages and critique your actual writing. I am offering DOUBLE PAGES for FREE so this is a fantastic opportunity to get feedback from a pro.

 

When Your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors MAY 16th. The single largest challenge all writers face in the digital age is discoverability. In a sea of infinite choices, connecting with our audience can be a nightmare. Our brand is our lifeline. What is a brand? How do we create one? How do we entice an overwhelmed and distracted audience to connect and care? How do we develop this brand over time? How can we make this brand resilient to upheavals? How can this brand then grow and evolve as we grow and evolve?

Blogging for Authors MAY 20th. Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

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25 Comments

Three Ways To Add the Sizzle to Fiction That’s Fizzled

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

I read a TON of fiction no only for pleasure, but for work. I’ve been blessed to help countless writers diagnose what’s going wrong in their fiction. The good news is that Occam’s Razor applies even to fiction that is fizzling…meaning sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one.

Often we think we need to invent a story never told, or create some mind-blowing twist-ending never before witnessed. But, while those are cool things to strive for, they aren’t necessary and can even backfire.

Truth is, there are only so many plots and if we get too weird, then readers have no basis for comparison and it’s such a mental jump that the story won’t resonate. I use my blue steak example.

Steak is wonderful and there are countless creative ways to prepare it, but if we get too weird for the sake of being different, it will make the reader lose her appetite.

BLUE STEAK. But look how CLEVER it is! Really, it's YUMMY.

BLUE STEAK. But look how CLEVER it is! Really, it’s YUMMY.

Twist-endings can have the same effect. Recently, I read a thriller by a mega-author and the book had me positively entranced. The author had created one of the most frightening killers I’d ever seen. I am an avid fan of Discovery ID and read countless true crime works and probably own every profiling book out there. To create a killer that rattled me? Pretty big deal.

So I am inhaling this book and then the ending?

I would have tossed the book across the room, except I was listening to it on my phone and really didn’t want to buy a new phone. The author actually would have had a way better ending had he not tried to be clever. I wasn’t buying the twist and it ticked me off more than a little.

When I think of some of my favorite fiction, I think of what they do well. I dog-ear and color my books. I actively study what writers do well and when a story goes sideways, I go back and try to diagnose what went wrong where so I can learn (and pass this on to you guys).

Thus, today I want to share three simple things you can check for if you have a plot that just seems to be flatter than a week-old Coke.

There MUST Be an Active Goal

Whenever I teach my log-line class, this is one of the things I am looking for when a writer is describing his work. Getting a writer to articulate what her story is about in ONE sentence is highly useful, especially when diagnosing a problem. One of my all-time favorite plotting books is Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. Brooks breaks plots into three elements.

In Act One the protagonist is usually in the dark. Something life-altering has happened but the protagonist is kind of swinging blindly or avoiding conflict altogether (Running). Act Two, the protagonist becomes aware there is a problem and begins pushing back (Warrior). Then we have the false victory and darkest moment and then the protagonist undergoes a transformation.

Act Three is when the protagonist transforms. Anyone else would have said, “Screw it” and gone home, but the protagonist presses on to solve the core story problem (Hero).

Often when I see log-lines that involve passive goals like “avoid” or “evade” or “hide” that is only part of the story. There is an incomplete plot. No protagonist can rise to become a hero by avoidance. Any plot that simply involves a character trying to stay away from something is only partway there.

While it is completely okay to begin with a passive goal, the story cannot remain there.

The protagonist must face the life-altering force (antagonist) in order to rise to become a hero. Even in literary fiction, the protagonist must face the existential enemy and come out on top.

For instance, in The Road the enemy is man’s animal nature. When faced with imminent death which will triumph? Humanity or baseness? If the Man and Boy reach the ocean by snacking on other humans, they fail.

Unlike a genre fiction, there is no Big Boss Battle with a terrorist organization, a mad scientist, a serial killer or monster. And yes, in literary fiction the antagonist can be more of an intangible, but that doesn’t mean there is no showdown. There has to be or there is no transformation/triumph and transformation/triumph is the entire point of fiction.

Stakes/Consequences

Image via Dupo-x-y courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Image via Dupo-x-y courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

What will happen if your protagonist fails? The bigger the stakes and the consequences, the better the story. This is true in life and more so in fiction (since fiction is the bouillon of life).

Case in Point

I’m a huge fan of horror. When the remake of Poltergeist came out I couldn’t wait for it to come to video (since I prefer watching movies at home). What really surprised me was that Poltergeist was such a cool story to remake and yet? The movie got terrible reviews. I didn’t read them because I didn’t want to be biased, but two stars?

Ouch.

So I watched the movie and yeah…it sucked. I wasn’t quite certain why so I rented the original Poltergeist to compare. Maybe I was just being biased?

No.

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.17.48 AM

The problem with the second Poltergeist had to do with the stakes and the consequences. See, in the original, the Freeling family is living the American Dream. They have an amazing house in a new tract home development, a development that offered many luxuries to a more working class section of society.

Steve Freeling is passionate about his development and his enthusiasm shows in his sales numbers. In fact, his bosses are SO impressed that he is offered a prime spot in the next phase of building, on a hill overlooking the development where he currently resides.

Diane Freeling is a stay-at-home mom with fantastic kids and life is not only good, it is simply getting better and better.

Until the poltergeists start disrupting their lives.

The story is so disturbing simply because this is a really likable family living a dream that becomes a nightmare. When they find out their home is built on a cemetery and no one bothered moving the bodies, it is a profound violation.

Contrast this with the new-and-not-so-improved remake.

The Griffin family isn’t living a dream at all. Eric Griffin was laid off. He’s desperate and erratic. They didn’t buy a dream home, they bought the only house they could afford because they’re broke and all their credit cards are maxed out. Eric and Amy (unlike the Freelings) are already teetering on divorce in the beginning of the story.

Thus, what the poltergeists disrupt was already cracked and failing anyway. Since there was no ideal marriage, perfect family and American Dream on the line?

Meh.

To find out the crappy house you moved into only because you could afford it is built on an old cemetery is not nearly as disruptive as realizing all your hopes, dreams and future are tainted.

Plot Stakes and Personal Stakes Are Bound Together

Also remember that there are two lines of stakes—plot and character. Both act as cogs, one turning the other. The protagonist should be arcing and that personal arc is critical for confronting the problem and winning.

In Winter’s Bone there is the land that is at stake, but Rhee is also risking her personal identity. In the beginning, she is loyal to the patriarchal family structure. She keeps her head down and avoids confrontation. But the plot problem puts her in the crosshairs of choosing the larger family structure with the nuclear family. She must defy the unwritten laws of the hillbilly culture in order to save her mother and siblings.

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.18.42 AM

She is not only gambling her own life to find what happened to her father, she is risking the lives of her own immediate family. Her very self-identity and where she fits is on the line.

Urgency

Stakes and consequences are ultimately tethered to urgency. In genre fiction, this is a bit more straight-forward. In The Black Echo Harry Bosch must uncover who killed tunnel rat and Vietnam buddy Meadows before the second heist is completed and the killers disappear forever.

In Winter’s Bone, Ree Dolly must find proof her father is dead before the bondsman takes the family land and renders them all homeless.

Even if the antagonist is not so flesh-and-blood (I.e. addiction) there needs to be some kind of a ticking clock. The protagonist doesn’t just have forever to get sober. There is some outside pressure that gives a timeline and if the protagonist doesn’t meet the timeline, she fails.

The shorter the timeline, the greater the tension. If loan sharks tell you you have the next ten years to come up with $10,000 that sucks, but is doable. But what if they give you three days?

Combine the Three for MAX Effect

Image courtesy of Iwan Gabovich via Flickr Creative Commons.

Image courtesy of Iwan Gabovich via Flickr Creative Commons.

Notice how all three of these elements dovetail into one another. In order to have stakes or a timeline, there has to be an ACTIVE goal. Then once you find that active goal, make the stakes as high as you can…then try harder. Remember that risk and reward are joined at the hip.

The more the reader is aware of what is at stake, the tighter we can wind the tension. Remember that fiction is the path of greatest resistance.

If the reader knows that Mount Doom is the destination and that Middle Earth will be plunged into darkness and despair if the Ring of Power is not destroyed…then every misstep, every mistake, every setback is enough to shred our nerves.

Additionally when you (the writer) are aware of the ultimate goal and the stakes and consequences, then it is far easier for you to generate dramatic tension instead of simply inserting bad situations.

Go over your plot and if it isn’t where you want it to be, try using these three elements as a checklist. Is the goal active? Do you only have a partially formed plot? Are the stakes high enough? Could they be bigger? Can you up the timeline and make the protagonist (and the reader) sweat?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, 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.

Upcoming Classes!

Back by popular demand! Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Beyond craft and to the business of our business?

How and WHY are we using FREE!?

Making Money with FREE! As a bonus for this class, my friend Jack Patterson who’s so far sold over 150,000 books to come and teach us how to ROCK the newsletter. This is in excess of two hours of training and the recording (as always) comes 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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42 Comments

Getting in Character—Deep POV Part Two

Image courtesy of Jules Morgan via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Jules Morgan via Flickr Creative Commons

Yes today is odd. Posting on a Sunday. We are headed into Spring Break and yeah…hard to maintain my usual schedule. Today we’re going to dive deeper into deep POV and then, later in the week, I am going to bring you guys an expert on deep POV 😉 .

Will be fun.

To accomplish “deep POV” yes, there are style changes we can make, like removing as many tags as we can and ditching extraneous sensing and thinking words. But deep POV is more than just tight writing, it’s also strongly tethered to characterization. Good characterization.

It is essential to know our cast if we hope to successfully write “deep POV.”

KNOW Your Cast

There are all kinds of ways to get to know our characters. I often write detailed character backgrounds before starting a story so it doesn’t become a fish head.

Why we need to know our characters is that deep POV is a reflection of the inner self, how that character sees the world, responds, evades, processes, etc. It is also a reflection of personal history and relationship dynamics.

*cue brain cramp* *hands paper bag*

It’s okay. Breathe. We’re going to unpack this.

Reflection of the Character

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.

Back when I used to run a weekly workshop, I had writers do a little exercise to help them learn POV and also strengthen character-building skills. I gave this scenario:

We have a family of four—Mom, Dad, a grandparent (either gender) and a teen (either gender) who has spent a year saving for a family vacation. On the way to their destination, the vehicle breaks down. What happens and tell it from the perspective of EACH family member.

Every week, writers showed with the perspective of one of the four. We had ASTONISHING creativity.

Who These Characters ARE Changes the Story AND Deep POV

When we layer in some background, the characters (and consequently the story, problems and conflict) all change drastically.

What if dad is finally home from his forth tour in Afghanistan and has terrible PTSD?

What if Mom is a closet alcoholic?

What if the teen is recently in remission from Leukemia?

What if Grandma is a tireless flirt who’s antics got her turned into a vampire and the family can’t understand why Granny wants to travel only at night?

What if the teen is an asthmatic and forgot his inhaler?

What if Granddad has early on-set Alzheimer’s?

What if the teen has been recruited for a mandatory deep space mission by the New Earth government and will never see the family again?

What if the teen was adopted and the purpose for the trip was to meet the child’s birth mother? How would this impact the emotions of those in the vehicle?

What if there used to be TWO children and one had died in an accident a year previously?

Do you see how by changing WHO these people are, this cannot HELP but affect everything else?

If Dad has PTSD, he might jump at every lump of roadkill because that’s how insurgents hide IEDs. If the family is stranded and Mom can’t get to a liquor stash, she might start getting belligerent or, left too long, start going through DTs. What would an addict notice? Likely nothing beyond how to get a fix.

While a kid in remission with a new lease on life might enjoy being broken down in the middle of nowhere (appreciating the little things in life) the addict would be hysterical.

All of this will impact Deep POV because we are in the HEAD and EMOTIONS of the character.

Let’s pick on Mom for an illustration. I’m riffing this, so the writing is just an illustration. Just roll with it.

Geiko Caveman.

Geiko Caveman.

Kidding! Lighten up. You seem tense.

Example One:

Fifi clutched the baby picture, the one she’d carried everywhere for fifteen years. She hated she was happy the old van had finally given out. Her husband stared, bewildered at the smoking engine. Other than car trouble, he seemed fine. Fine. How can he be fine?

She glanced back at her daughter, the living reflection her of all her dreams and failures. She’d wanted a baby more than life. Every night on a freezing floor. One miscarriage after another and then came a tiny bundle of everything she’d ever longed for.

That woman hadn’t wanted her. That woman had abandoned her. That woman was Gretchen’s real mother and now Gretchen wanted to meet her. Real mother, like hell. And I’m a real astronaut.

How had she failed? If she’d been a good mother, Gretchen would have forgotten that woman and they wouldn’t be here.

“You okay?” Her daughter bent between the seats and kissed her cheek. “You said this was okay, that we could do this. You’re sure, right?” A wary smile revealed new braces, the braces Fifi paid for with money she’d saved for a new van.

“I’m fine, Honey.” She crumpled the baby picture and opened the van door. She needed air.

***

Example Two:

Fifi clutched the baby picture, the one her daughter had given her a week ago for Mother’s Day when they picked her up from rehab. Ninety days clean. At least that was the lie she’d packed along with her swimsuit and the hairspray can with the secret compartment and the only pills they hadn’t found.

The pills that were now gone.

They should have already been at the resort, the one staffed with eager friends willing to help her out. Friends with first names only who took cash and asked no questions.

Fifi scratched at her arms. Millions of insects boiled beneath her skin, invaded her nerve endings and chewed them to bleeding bits. Pain like lightning struck her spine, the section crushed then reconstructed. Pain like lightning spidered her brain, frying her thoughts. She glanced again at the baby picture, then at the fine young woman in back. Her daughter Gretchen.

What am I doing?

Maybe she would be okay. Maybe she hadn’t had enough pills to completely undo her. Maybe she could ride this out. And maybe I’m the Queen of England.

Gretchen bent between the seats and kissed her on the cheek. “I love you, Mom. You okay?”

Tears clotted her throat. She nodded. “Yes, I’m fine, Honey.”

“You mean it?”

She hesitated then smiled. “Yes. Yes I do.”

She tucked the baby picture in her shirt pocket, close to her heart and opened the van door. She needed air. She also needed to change their plans. Visit somewhere with no friends. With no one who took cash.

Do you see how changing WHO Fifi is changes everything? Everything she is sensing, feeling, thinking. Being in the emotions of a heartbroken mother who feels betrayed is a very different experience from being in the head of a sympathetic addict who’s struggling to get clean and stay clean.

***

Both women are impacted by the daughter. One Fifi is hurt by the daughter, the other Fifi finds hope in the daughter. Both women are conflicted. One is tormented with feelings of failure and betrayal and the other is tormented by failure, but very real physical problems of addiction that impact the story.

Deep POV has thrust us into the head and emotions of both women. We feel what they feel. The author is invisible because there are no tags. The sensations are raw and visceral because we have gotten rid of the coaching words.

Instead of:

Fifi felt millions of insects boiling beneath her skin….

We get right to it.

Millions of insects boiled beneath her skin…

The sensation is CLOSER. There is no psychic distance. She isn’t thinking she is going to lose it. She isn’t wondering if she can keep it together. She is experiencing everything real-time and up-close.

Instead of:

Fifi thought, What am I doing?

She just does. We KNOW Fifi is thinking because we are camped in her head.

Deep POV is Akin To Method Acting

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 9.49.06 AM

Couldn’t resist. I LOVE “Tropic Thunder”!

When we know our characters, who they are, how they came to be, the formative experiences, what they want from life, etc. we can then crawl in that skin and become that person. By us becoming that character, we then have the power to transport our reader into the skins we have fashioned.

I hope this helps you guys understand the magical, mystical deep POV and now you’re all excited about writing stronger characters. What are your thoughts?

Before we go, I want to give you a heads up especially if you are thinking on attending a conference.

I’m holding my ever-popular Your Story in a Sentence class. Can you tell what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t? There might be a huge plot problem. This also helps if you are ever going to query or pitch an agent. The first ten signups get their log-line shredded by MOI for FREE.

Also speaking of FREE, I’d like to mention again the new class I am offering!

How and WHY are we using FREE!?

Making Money with FREE! As a bonus for this class, my friend Jack Patterson who’s so far sold over 150,000 books to come and teach us how to ROCK the newsletter. This is in excess of two hours of training and the recording (as always) comes with purchase.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MARCH, 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.

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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27 Comments

How to Make EVERY Page of Your Story Interesting

Golden Goose

Image by DonkeyHotey/Flickr CC

Today I have another post from that kick@$$ writing teacher I’ve taken hostage *slides food through the slit in wall*.  Actually, Alex Limberg is a friend of mine and total rockstar and seriously, check out his free ebook about “44 Key Questions” to test your story; it will help you make your scenes tight and compelling and detect any story problem you might have. Today, Alex is showing us a very interesting recipe to keep every single part of your story interesting. Frees me up to continue working out my plan for global domination.

Take it away, Alex!

****

Uh-oh! It’s showdown time.

In your heart-stopping thriller piece, Tinky the milkman has just found out who poisoned Lady Chatterbee’s canary. Now he is driving to the ash grove for the faceoff in the old mill.

Your scene before and your scene after are sweat-inducing, ear-wringing, eye-popping pieces that keep your audience glued to the page.

But this little scene in between, when Tinky is quietly sitting in his car, motor humming and wheels turning… well, there is just absolutely nothing happening.

It’s a little dull.

Sleep-inducing?

Face it. It would make a dog with rabies put on his pyjamas.

Let’s say you still want it in there. You need a connection piece, you want to slow down the pace a little to ramp it up more effectively later on. Maybe you even want to weave in a bit of backstory, so we better understand where Tinky is coming from.

But how can you do it in a way that doesn’t completely choke off any excitement in your reader?

How do you make a scene that is naturally not very exciting interesting in its own way?

This post will give you a practical roadmap for how to make the in-between sexy. Also, because I know long-winding and unmotivated story parts are often hard to detect for the writer himself, you can here download a free goodie to check your story for superfluous parts and any other imaginable weakness (it uses test questions).

This is how to keep your story fresh and exciting in every scene:

1. If You Can? Trash It

Your first choice should always be to get rid of any in-betweens that don’t advance your plot. To show your protagonist getting out of bed, showering and preparing her breakfast cereals would slow your story down ridiculously, destroy its rhythm and bore the boots off your readers.

There is a storytelling rule that says: “Get into the scene at the latest possible moment and out at the earliest possible moment.” You can observe this rule in meticulous action in screenplays and movies.

Filmmakers in particular can’t afford to bore their audience for even one second. With the ultra-short attention span of today’s YouTube culture, viewers will just cold-bloodedly move on.

Look! Emojis!

However, sometimes you will have your very own reasons to show an additional scene: You may want to show your character in a different light, display her personality or habits or slow down the rhythm on purpose. Maybe you want to give your reader a feeling for passage of time or show social surroundings, working space or landscape. There are a million possible motives.

So should you decide to hang on to your scene, here are a couple of helpful techniques to keep your audience hooked.

Garbage Can

2. Introduce Personality: Make It about Character

Instead of worrying how to fill those pages, see them as an awesome opportunity to breathe more life into your characters!

Look at it this way: In most scenes, your plot carries the burden to advance your story.

But now, in your little in-between scene, your character has a chance to fully take the stage and showcase a brand new side of herself. If the story is about her professional life, make that scene about her private life; if the story is about her bright side, make that scene about her dark side – or the other way around.

You might also use the scene to introduce new relationships we don’t know about yet. New relationships can give a deeper glimpse into your character’s personality and show her in a different light.

Each of us human beings is a complete drama on his own. We are also utterly entertaining in our own ways… Use your pages so your reader gets to know your characters better and your entire work will profit!

3. Introduce Action: Make It about Drama

Better yet, when you get several of us together, the drama is exponentiated. So you could involve several characters in your scene and use it for a mini-plot, a play within the play.

Your mini-plot doesn’t have to be connected to the main plot, nor does it have to be about some big and important theme. Depending on your genre, it could be everyday drama and as mundane as a girl forgetting her handbag on the bus.

The overarching plot plays from beginning to end of the entire novel. In turn, your mini-plot could play from beginning to end of the scene, with a similar structure; for example:

  1. Introduction
  2. Problem arises
  3. First attempt at solution
  4. New twist and problem even worsens; Climax
  5. Problem gets solved; Happy ending

If you want the complete ballad of the forgotten handbag, how about this: Girl cheerfully rides on a bus, thinking of happy days (introduction); while she is waiting for her connecting bus, she realizes she has forgotten her handbag (problem arises); she enters the first bus again, only to discover the bag isn’t there anymore (attempt at solution, problem worsens in climax); she asks the driver in desperation and learns that somebody has found the bag and taken it to a lost property office (problem solved); happily she goes to pick it up (happy end).

Of course, you can also let a character play through the whole sequence solely in his mind. For example, let him worry about horrible outcomes of the main plot. At that point, he won’t even have to interact with anybody to create drama; he doesn’t even have to move or to do anything. Just let a worst-case scenario play out in his head.

If you are bored, just make things more difficult for your characters: A nightly walk through the park is a lot more suspenseful if you are not sure if somebody is following you. If nothing else helps, you can always fall back on conflict to spice up your tale.

Make sure your mini-plot fits the kind of story you are telling and doesn’t overwhelm your main plot. A comedy with the mini-plot of a mad axe murderer can be done, but you have to make sure to hit the right note…

4. Introduce Questions: Make It about Suspense

Suspense is always about questions: Who is the murderer? Will Godzilla eat the city? What secret does Martin hide from Sharon?

Your readers will never get bored as long as there are nagging questions on their minds.

Question Garden

Image by Dennis Brekke/Flickr CC

In your in-between scene, you have two choices to raise a question.

Option one: You could spin a question of the overall plot further. For example, letting your character contemplate if Craig can even be the murderer, because he was on vacation the entire time; letting your readers know that Godzilla has just eaten another city block; hinting at that breathtaking secret of Martin’s.

Option two: Your mini-plot could create suspense by raising a question on its own. In the example above, it would be the question: Will the girl ever get her handbag back?

In the end, dealing with in-between sections is about giving your scenes a life of their own. This, of course, is something you should always do in any scene, so it’s excellent practice.

You are a storyteller, and if you want to be a really good one, know that not only the raisin parts of your story are worth telling. Any part of your story should be worth writing well and making it at least a little bit interesting.

And if you do take the effort to polish every part of your story, it will feel continuous and complete and shine on like a crazy diamond. Your story will engage your reader continuously, draw her in deeply and take her on a rollercoaster ride she will never be able to forget.

Photo, Alex Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Check how tight your scenes are and much more with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

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Thanks, Alex!

Kristen here again.

Now let’s hear it from you: What do you usually do with a connection scene? What happens in your story if nothing happens? Do you sometimes let dull story parts slide? Do you proceed to tell people the cookiemonster ate your exciting version? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if all of our scenes could be as dull as watching water condense?

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, 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).

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