Posts Tagged writing tips

Description—The Good the Bad and the Just Please STOP

Odin The Ridiculously Handsome Cat

Odin The Ridiculously Handsome Cat

In the last post, we talked about revisions and how often when we are making those next passes through we need to flesh, cut or refine our description. Can we be really honest about our description? Is it truly remarkable or just filling space? Are we weaving a spell that captures readers or are we boring them into a coma?

Okay, okay, do you have a point?

For those who never use description or very sparse description? Don’t fret. Description (or lack thereof) is a component of an author’s voice.

But obviously all writers will use some kind of description. We have to in order to draw readers into the world we are creating. If we don’t give them anything to sink their teeth into, they will wander off in search of something else.

So whether you are heavy or light on the description, here are some tips on how to do it well…

Avoid “Police Sketch” Description 

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 8.19.43 AM

I assume most of you have watched TV. A witness is asked to give a description of the mugger, murderer, whatever. Well, he was tall, with dark hair and dark eyes. Very muscular.

She was short, blonde and fit.

The reason I (as an editor) don’t care for this kind of description is a good writer is a wordsmith and we should be able to describe characters better than someone who’s been at the wrong end of a purse-snatching. Is there anything wrong with this description? Nah. Just it’s something anyone can do. It isn’t anything unique.

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 8.48.39 AM

Avoid the “Google Maps” or “Weather Report” Description

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 8.22.23 AM

Weather can be vital and even its own character (which we will get to). But putting in weather just to tell us it’s snowing? Again, surface. Same with describing a location. Cities, streets, stores can come alive with the right description.

For some help with finding just the right words? Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi have put together two setting thesauri, the Urban Setting Thesaurus and the Rural Setting Thesaurus.

Avoid “Info-Dump” Description

I was really bad about this when I was new. I described everything in a room. I believed the reader needed to know all the positions of the furniture, what was on the bookshelves and end tables, the colors of the walls, just to “get” what I was talking about. They didn’t need all that and likely lost interest in the point I was trying to make anyway.

I didn’t give my readers enough credit and most of that information was for me anyway. Novels are for the reader not for us, which is important to remember and easy to forget.

Good description doesn’t automatically mean MORE description😉 .

What Makes GOOD Description?

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 8.47.31 AM

Again, this is subjective, but I read…a LOT. I need a 12 Step Program for the sheer number of books I buy. Since I dig description, I often highlight it when it’s done WELL (which is why I cannot check out books from the library or EVER yell at Spawn for coloring in books).

The common denominator I see in great description is it delves beyond the surface and evokes some kind of feeling.

In this post, I’m merely giving some of MY favorite examples (from many different genres). I recommend that, if you want to use description, go to those stories that spoke to YOU. Those highlighted spots can be telling about your voice, preference and style.

You don’t need to copy, but you can deconstruct how the author did something WELL. And likely, if you are a fan of that kind of writing, others are too and you might share the same kind of readers.

Characters

For the Literary Folks I will use Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men:

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 10.12.21 AM

(Sheriff Bell) came across a hawk dead in the road. He saw the feathers move in the wind. He pulled over and got out and walked back and squatted on his boot heels and looked at it. He raised one dead wing and let it fall again. Cold yellow eye dead to the blue vault above them.

It was a big red tail. He picked it up by one wing and carried it to the bar ditch and laid it in the grass. They would hunt the blacktop, sitting on the high power poles and watching the highway in both direction for miles. Any small thing that might venture to cross. Closing in on their prey against the sun. Shadowless. Lost in the concentration of the hunter. He wouldn’t have the trucks running over it (Page 44-45).

In this story, a good lawman is after a soulless criminal who is nothing short of pure evil. This above description is important. The red tail hawk is a parallel of Bell. Bell is also a hunter who’s in danger of being so caught in the pursuit, it could get him killed.

Even though the lawman is tracking a criminal, he takes time to honor a fallen hunter even though it’s “only” a bird, something the psychopathic antagonist, who has NO VALUE for any life, would ever do.

Part of that “Show, don’t tell” thing😉. We don’t get a description of what Bell looks like, but through action, we know who he IS.

Weather/Setting/Information Without Being Info-Dump

For the sake of brevity, we’ll bundle three into one. Depp does a fabulous job of weaving weather, setting, and information in a tight cord of emotion. This selection is from Daniel Depp’s Loser’s Town.

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 10.13.58 AM

The protagonist, Spandau, is a P.I. is following a Hollywood agent to a movie set to meet a client who’s being blackmailed:

Spandau smoked, and thought the city gliding past was much like an overexposed film, too much light, all depth burned away and sacrificed. All concrete and asphalt, a thousand square miles of man-made griddle on which to fry for our sins. Then, you turn a corner and there’s a burst of crimson bougainvillea redeeming an otherwise ugly chunk of concrete building. Or a line of tall palm trees, still majestic and still stubbornly refusing to die, stubbornly sprouting green at the tops of thick dying stalks, guarding a side street of bungalows constructed at a time when L.A. was still the Land of Milk and Honey….There was a beauty still there, sometimes, beneath all the corruption, like the face of an actress long past her prime, when the outline of an old loveliness can still be glimpsed through the desperate layers of pancake and eyeliner. (page 23)

In this description, we get more than a play-by-play of the L.A. streets he passes. Additionally, I feel the description is very telling about the character. Note the contrasting biblical references or even the tension inside the character. He hates this place, but can still see the loveliness that tears at him and keeps him there, keeps him coming back.

The description is an extension of the feel of the city—no depth, manmade, hardened, lost (but still something beautiful worth staying for).

Note the description is processed through the feelings and backstory of the character.

Instead of sounding like a travel brochure, there is emotional flavor adding depth. We pretty much know the weather—bright and hot. We experience the place rather than just “seeing” it in a boring “and then he turned on this street and then that street” fashion.

The description also shows us Spandau is likely an excellent detective—he sees more than the surface and instinctively searches deeper.

Again, description—how to do it, how much, how little—is subjective.

But, I believe that good description can make the difference in a caricature verses a “person” or “place” so real we’re sad to say good-bye when the book ends. Also, I hope I’ve given examples of how we can describe a character or a place without “describing” it.

Are we describing with the same depth as any literate person with a laptop could do? Or are we digging below skin and into marrow?

What are your thoughts? Do you find yourself skimming description and didn’t know why? Do you highlight great description, too? Or are you a minimalist? There aren’t any wrong answers, btw. Who are some of your favorite authors who ROCKS description? What are maybe some tips/thoughts you have that takes description from blasé to beautiful?

Yes, my cat Odin the Ridiculously Handsome Cat has his own fan page😀 .

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Check out the other NEW classes below! Now including a log-line class! Can you tell me what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t SIGN UP.

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

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th)

This class will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that😉 .

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

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.

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

 

, , , , , , ,

43 Comments

So You Wrote a First Draft—Dear God! What NOW?

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 4.30.54 PM

Once we have that crappy first draft usually there will be two major things we need to do…fill or cut. Okay, drinking makes three. And maybe wondering why we didn’t go to dental hygienist school instead makes four….

Anyway.

While it is true that too little substance can generate confusion, too much fluff can create distraction.

There needs to be a balance between…

Enough about the damn snowstorm! and Wait? There was snow?

Thus, once we have that completed first draft and begin our read-through we need to make these refinements to see if what we created meets or exceeds our expectations.

Sadly this is usually the first draft.

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 7.49.42 PM

Much of what we will need to do is going to be dictated by what kind of writer we are. Are we a Trimmer or an Embellisher? There is a fantastic post over on Writer Unboxed that describes these two types of writers.

Some writers do a very sparse first draft that acts a lot like a frame for paper machet. It is really meant to just give an idea of the final form and serve as a guide.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Suzette.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Suzette.

Once the structure is inspected and found to be solid enough for government work, the writer then goes back through and fleshes in the work.

Other writers write super heavy then carve away what doesn’t serve the story.

And while I think all of us will identify with one type or another (Trimmer or Embellisher) it really helps to know what to add and/or what to cut.

If we add too much of the wrong thing, we can spoil the entire novel. If we cut too much of the right stuff we can collapse the story. Thus I hope today to at least give you some guidance beyond the more surface line-edit tips I’ve given before (6 Ways to Self-Edit and Polish Your Prose) though those are super helpful as well.

When I do a content edit for any writer, these are the main areas I am looking for.

What To Cut

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Jojo Nicado

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Jojo Nicado

Character Redundancy

Each character should have a distinctive personality. This personality will give them a corresponding unique purpose to driving the story forward and generating conflict.

In Lord of the Rings the main story problem is of course created by Sauron (the whole evil ring thing). But, much of the story conflict is actually created by the cast members of the various parties who all have a specific role to play.

Merry and Pippin create a lot of chaos that generates sudden changes in the plan. For instance, the plan was to meet Gandalf at The Prancing Pony NOT to nearly fall into the Dark Rider’s lap outrunning a ticked off farmer.

The duo is naive, inquisitive and we can kind of bundle them into one because they are a team in their mischief. To have essentially another Merry and or Pippin type character would be a redundancy that would be a distraction.

Ask yourself then: Do I have any characters who could be merged?

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Q Family

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Q Family

Scenes that Don’t Move the Story Forward

All scenes have one common element. Conflict. There is a goal. No goal and that isn’t a scene.

Sections of information dump, flashbacks that have no ties to the main plot problem/resolution, or scenes with no conflict (I.e. two characters merely talking about a third character)? CUT.

Lackluster Description

Many of us love description. I do. My motto? No metaphor left behind! But description can have two main problems. Either we have a lot of good description but it is SO much that it is bogging down the story. Or, we have description, but it isn’t anything remarkable and we need to replace it with something better.

Ideally, it will be description that goes below the surface and adds to the plot, sets the tone and heightens tension.

Description is more than a weather report or a police sketch.

He was tall and handsome with a chiseled chin and dark wavy hair and…

And he took your purse?

I love this line from the beginning of Prisoner of Hell Gate, which is a literary suspense and one of my favorite books. This description hooks me and sets my expectations:

Dampness prevails, as always, but at this time less from the river and more from the mugginess that weighs on everything. It penetrates the very bricks, their crumbling mortar spongy to the touch.

I don’t know about you, but I am practically wilting reading this. It works way better than:

She walked beside the river on a hot summer night.

Though obviously style will dictate how we write description, even lean writers use words that will give the most impact.

He was a boring man dressed in an off-the-rack suit.

Maybe, instead…

He was the kind of man whose face you forgot even while you were still speaking to him.

Good description is less about piling on details and more about evoking a feeling.

What to Add

Sense of Time and Place

Is this a modern story? Or one set back in time? Is there magic? Technology? What is the setting? Now drop in the details that ground us. Talking heads in a place we aren’t oriented in is jarring. If this is in the beginning of a book, often it will fail to hook.

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 7.47.12 PM

Character Nuance

If we just roughed out a bare-bones plot, we now need to go put the modeling clay on the skull.

Another one of my all-time favorite books is Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry. Now in a parallel world maybe he just wrote out that he needed “a brash bounty hunter with a red car” then later built it into this:

“It was a 1967 Pontiac LeMans Ragtop. Bloodred and so souped-up that she’d outrun any damn thing on the road. And I do mean damned thing.”

That’s how Charlie Matthias always described his car. Then, he’d give a big braying horselaugh, because no matter how many times he said it, he thought it was the funniest joke ever. People tended to laugh with him rather than at the actual joke, because Charlie had a 72-inch chest and 24-inch biceps, and his sweat was a soup of testosterone, anabolic steroids, and Jack Daniels… (Page, 24)

We learned a lot about this character from a three-sentence bit of dialogue, some power-packed description and even some narrative regarding how others responded in the company of this particular character.

This is a really short section that does a lot. It even hints at what type of book this is…a book about zombies. If we happened to pick up this story with no book cover, we’d “get” what it was about.

More Conflict/Tension/Surprise

Great stories are about one thing and one thing only. PROBLEMS. Are our characters getting what they want too easily? Too quickly? Is their action toward each goal too linear? Are there enough stakes? Setbacks? Misdirections?

Are the characters’ actions too predictable? Can you maybe do better at defying reader expectations?

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 8.02.53 PM

Are the characters acting as three-dimensional “people” who carry a lot of baggage? Or are they plot-puppets merely doing and saying things because we Author God need them to?

What are your thoughts? Does this help give you a plan of what to do with that first draft? Are you afraid of your office because your WIP might bite you and thus far refuses to be potty trained? What items do you look for? Can you add to the lists I gave?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Check out the other NEW classes below! Now including a log-line class! Can you tell me what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t SIGN UP.

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

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th)

This class will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that😉 .

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

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.

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

 

, , , , , , , , , ,

49 Comments

4 Powerful Ways to Improve Your Writing

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 9.00.39 AM

Today, copywriter and blogger Alex Limberg is back with a post that’s a bit different from his typical “how-to” writing advice. In this one, he spills the beans on how his own writing process came together. Here is the link again to his wonderful e-book that will help you create a tight and intriguing story by asking “44 key questions.” Check it out! And off we go…

***

Over the last several months, I’ve had the great pleasure of publishing ten guest posts here on Kristen’s fine blog. They were posts about all kinds of technical writing topics like characters, action scenes, how to introduce information, plot, etc… (look them up).

But for my eleventh post today, I thought it was time to switch gears.

Yes, it’s time for me to stop hiding behind the mask of the teacher and show myself to you bare-naked. But fear not, this post is still not X-rated. No need to hide it from the kids.

I’m just saying that this is a much more personal post than the ones before it.

Today, I want to report from my own writing journey and highlight for you what has advanced me most in my writing. Hopefully these lessons will help you too, especially if you are at the beginning stages of creating fiction.

Any look back on a passion project must always be personal and a bit awkward. That’s because it matters so much to you.

When you start out writing, like with any new skill, what you are doing just feels clumsy and deficient. The ugly truth is, the beginning stage is painful for novices of any field. You have no clue about anything, and you don’t even have a feeling for what’s missing. You feel out of balance, like a bear starting to practice riding a unicycle.

In my case, that clumsy bear phase began when I was 14; that’s when I started writing with serious intentions. Gladly, while writing, I didn’t realize how far I was from where I wanted to be. Like the donkey following a crunchy carrot, it always seemed to me my goal was just around the next corner.

Internet was still a few years away, and I didn’t have any information about the most effective ways to sharpen my skills. I just followed my gut and did what my passion told me: To keep writing and pushing forward.

But looking back now, I can point out the four specific things I did that helped me more than anything for my fiction writing. Let’s take a look at them.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Like always, if you want a comprehensive, no-holds-barred list about what I learned makes a good story, download my free ebook about 44 test questions to make your story great.

Putting a Lot of Hours into Writing

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 9.01.36 AM

If you take just one single thing from this post, let it be this one: You only learn by doing!

By far the most important thing you can do to get good at a skill is to practice it relentlessly.

Theory can be a shortcut, and it’s a good idea to study a bit how people more skilled than you have done it before you – but don’t get stuck with it. You will never be able to write well just from reading theory. That would be like trying to become a world-class tennis player by sitting on your couch, watching tennis and eating potato chips.

No, here is the only way to get good: You have to sit down on the cheeks opposite of your face and actually do it!

There is a rule that says you need about 10,000 hours to excel at a skill, and I found that number to be remarkably accurate: After roughly 10,000 hours of writing, I started to become really happy with the quality of my writing and my stories.

But back then, of course I didn’t know about that rule. I just knew that to have a finished book that I loved, I would need to have a finished book first.

And so I wrote. When the novel was done, I read it, and my heart sank to my knees – my writing was a lot worse than I had thought. But I still loved the story. So I wrote it again. And again. All in all, I wrote that novel four times.

And while putting in my hours and actually doing it, I became good.

Reading a Lot

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 9.05.18 AM

Just like you probably do, I loved books, I loved stories, and I loved to withdraw and immerse myself in different, fascinating worlds. I was intrigued by exciting plot, strong characters and skillful dialogue.

I had started devouring books at age 6 and never stopped. By the time I started writing, I had already been through many bookshelves worth of literature, with many more to come. I just followed my passion. But what I didn’t know was that observing my role models shaped me excellently.

When reading fiction, your subconscious automatically absorbs the language, the patterns, the three dimensional characters, the plot structure.

When you constantly immerse your brain in stories and language, you can be sure that deep down a killer instinct for writing is built. You can’t help but learn.

You will be able to draw from this reservoir for all of your writing career. Even if it’s not a career.

Being Brutally Honest with Myself

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 9.32.13 AM

 

You won’t find this one in many writing manuals, because it’s hard to do: Being able to admit to yourself what you have written is plainly bad. Admitting it is especially hard when you have no idea how to make it better and how to navigate the maze that is writing a good story.

Me, I’m a critical and sometimes too critical mind.

I’m usually able to confess to myself when work I have done sucks. To be honest, for many years reading my prose was an utterly depressing experience. My pulse quickened and my palms got sweaty when I realized everything it lacked.

What I wasn’t aware of at the time was how many people go for half-hearted outcomes, only to tell themselves it is okay and good enough. But self-deceit hardly ever leads to success.

You grow most outside your comfort zone. You grow when you set yourself goals and work towards them. And in order to establish these goals, you must admit that you are not there yet. You have to be able to take a good, hard look at your writing and realize what is missing.

Only then do you allow yourself to become better.

Knowing My Characters as Well as My Best Friends

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 9.03.37 AM

Your characters are driving your story. That also means when you have great characters, they will drive your story for you.

They will take care of who they are (characterization), what they do (plot), what they say (dialogue), and what they see (description). That’s still not your entire story (above all, you also have to learn how to handle language), but it’s a huge part of what makes your story.

Hence, if you know your characters really, really well, it will help you enormously.

Once I realized this, I started to write out long character sheets for each main character before even writing one single word of the main story.

I wrote out deep psychology, background, attitude, speech patterns and more. Then I put my characters into single scenes totally unrelated to the story, just to see how they would behave. How would they react to winning the lottery? To their brother insulting them? To gaining weight?

Minor characters would get shorter character sheets and even very small characters would have a couple of sentences dedicated to their personalities.

So write out your character sheets, and then lean back and let your characters do all the hard work for you…

In summary, follow these four cornerstones: Write relentlessly, read, be honest with yourself and know your characters like your best friends. I followed these rules intuitively, and only looking back do I now realize how important they were for my writing.

If you do just these four things, you have come a long, long way. Your writing will improve fast and the quality of your stories will skyrocket. Till one day you notice… writing doesn’t feel clumsy anymore at all.

Now it feels effortless.

****

Got it, Alex.

Kristen here. Now tell me: What do you think of these four points? Is there something else that really helped you getting better at story writing? Why can it be so brutal to read your own story? Do you ever wish you weren’t in the room when you read it? Could you maybe say you have gone outside for a smoke? Do your characters even like you?

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 JULY, 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).

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 9.23.28 AM

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 tales to greatness with his free ebook “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.

Check out the other NEW classes below! 

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

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th) will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that😉 .

We are doing ANOTHER round of Battle of the First Pages!!! August 5th

The first time we did this we had some tech issues doing this new format and we’ve since worked those out, but for now I am still keeping the price low ($25) until we get this streamlined to my tastes.

LIMITED SEATS. This is an open workshop where each person will submit his or her first page of the manuscript for critique. I will read the page aloud and “gong” where I would have stopped reading and explain why. This is an interactive workshop designed to see what works or what doesn’t. Are you ready to test your page in the fire?

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages August 12th

The first five pages are the most essential part of the novel, your single most powerful selling tool. It’s how you will hook agents, editors and readers. This class will cover the most common blunders and also teach you how to hook hard and hook early. This class is 90 minutes long, 60 minutes of instruction and 30 minutes for Q&A.

Your First Five Pages Gold Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique your first five pages.

Your First Five Pages Platinum Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique of your first twenty pages.

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

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.

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

 

, , , , , , , ,

37 Comments

It Ain’t Just Talk: 3 Crucial Elements of Great Dialog

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 8.14.11 AM

She’s baaaaack. Well, sort of. Today I have an extra special treat. This is going to sound super conceited but whatever, it is MY blog😛 . But first lemme caveat with this.

I feel I DO have a knack for predicting the next big thing. Case in point, in 1993 I was at an air show and there was an unknown all-female band I chatted with because no one was really over there. I loved their unique sound and gushed over how one member employed the banjo (an instrument forgotten at that time).

I told them I was sure they were going to be the next biggest thing in country music, and even bought some of the cheap merchandise they sold to support their music and prove I meant what I said.

That little band was The Dixie Chicks.

I’ve done this time and time again with authors and bloggers and I can tell you that if there is any sense in this world, J.E. Fishman (A.K.A. Dana Wolff) will be the next legendary author of our time. He’s already proven himself as a NYC agent and editor and he is one HELL of an author (multi-published).

Speaking of HELL, his latest release The Prisoner of Hell Gate written under the pen name Dana Wolff is by far one of the most amazing books I have ever read (and I pretty much hate everything…occupational hazard). Not only is the story sheer genius (Filed under “Stuff I Wish I Would Have Thought Of”) the prose is like fine French cooking.

If you like bare Hemingway writing with no description and lean sentences? This is not for you. But, if you are a lover of words and cannot help but GORGE on “perfect description”? Just plan on highlighting almost everything. My paper copy just became a damn coloring book. I gave up and got the audio so I would actually finish the book.

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 8.31.59 AM

In fact, I sent J.E. a message telling him I hated him. *flops on bed* I can’t wriiiiiiiite like that. I suuuuuuuck.

Seriously, I will blog more on this book later, but OMG. Get this book and if you want a MIND-BLOWING experience? Buy it in audio. Whoever did the narration? She needs to read every book I ever listen to for like…ever.

I will stop gushing now and let J.E. take over but like many of my other blogs foretelling the future (like the ones that predicted The Big Six would shrink, that self-pub would explode, that Amazon would HAVE to open a brick-and-mortar, that stretchy pants were here to stay)…one day you will come back to this blog and go, “She was RIGHT!”

Ouch! I got a cramp from patting myself on the back!

Okay, shutting up for realz now. Today, you guys get to learn today from a true master…

***

Two people are sitting on a park bench. What words do they use to talk to one another?

If you answered, How the heck am I supposed to know?, you are well on your way to understanding how to construct good dialog.

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 7.51.38 AM

You undoubtedly know, for example, that writing dialog depends upon knowing which characters are speaking, the details of their relationship, and other basic—or not so basic—characteristics they may have. What if one of these characters is mute? What if one of them is a two-year-old child?

And yet, so much dialog we see today feels so generic, so interchangeable. Why? I think that’s because dialog too often ends up working harder in service to the story—What happens next? What information does the author have to get to the reader RIGHT NOW?—than in service to the reader.

I believe that many readers want something more than only to find answers to the ever-crucial question, And then what happened?

Since our characters at times communicate directly with one another, dialog gives us a major tool that we can use to enhance our storytelling in a rounded way, not just to advance events.

Good dialog enriches the reading experience and creates greater empathy with your characters by deepening their individuality.

The main thing to remember when crafting dialog is:

Content and style are NOT two completely different things.

The way your character speaks reflects what your character wants—in that moment and in life.

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 7.57.03 AM

Here are some simple dialog techniques to keep in mind while writing. Remember, once you’ve committed to any of these for a particular character, be consistent without overdoing things:

  • Vocabulary. Big words vs small words. Technical jargon vs plain speaking. Foreign words vs straight English. Regional usage vs generic usage. Precocious vs ordinary.
  • Length. Some characters are terse and others are voluble. This distinction alone can speak volumes about personality.
  • Rhythm. This one’s a little harder to put one’s finger on. Listen to the voice of the character in your head. Some people speak fast and others speak slowly. How might you suggest this with phrasing?
  • FormalityHere’s another aspect of speech that can suggest much about your character. Does she use profanity? Does he speak in a stilted manner? Does she use a lot of contractions?
  • Verbal Tics. Maybe your character stutters or speaks with sibilance or has some other verbal tic. This can become an immediate identifier, but be careful not to overuse it.

With these tools at your command, you can begin to think about…

Three Elements of Great Dialog

#1 Your character’s fundamentals:

  • Sex. “Man or woman” might imply a generalization, but perhaps your character goes against type. That would tell us something very powerful every time she opens her mouth.
  • Age. As we all know, a five-year-old boy generally speaks differently from a 30-year-old man, etc.
  • Physical Attributes. Perhaps your character sits in a wheelchair. What verbal techniques might she have mastered to get the attention of people who tower over her?

    Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 9.22.19 PM

#2 Your character’s history:

  • Upbringing in Time. People raised at different times use different vocabularies and constructions. Someone raised in the Seventies, for example, may use a very different vocabulary from a child of the Aughts.
  • Social Status. While the whole concept of social status is a moving target, there is little question that some people play to or against their status (by affecting an upper-class accent or, on the other hand, being more “street” than expected). The way they choose to speak in relation to their standing in society can tell us a lot about their character.
  • Education. Some people are book smart and some people attended the school of hard knocks. A Ph.D. often speaks differently from a high school dropout. Although, of course, you can also have fun playing against type here.
  • Recent History. If your character recently underwent some kind of transformation (before or after the story starts), this may affect the way she speaks.
  • Relationship to Other Characters in the Scene. This element is more contingent than the others, as it depends upon who else is in the scene. A woman speaks to her son differently than she speaks to her male boss. A man speaks to his female boss differently than he speaks to his girlfriend. How your protagonist speaks with subordinates, for instance, might also be very revealing of character.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 5.50.19 PM

#3 Your character’s wants:

  • In Life and/or Story Arc. There is nothing more important in storytelling than what your characters want at any given moment and in the broader narrative arc. Therefore, it helps greatly if the nature of their dialog reflects their desires. If I kind of want a drink of water and you’re withholding it, I might be polite. If I desperately want it, I might be more direct, even rude. On the bigger canvas, if I’m racing against time to save the world from nuclear holocaust, I might choose to dispense with pleasantries. Then again, maybe not, if I have good reason to pursue another tack.
  • Mood in the Scene. None of us has just one way of speaking. How a character chooses to speak at a particular moment in the story might be greatly influenced by her state of mind.

When I’m writing, I try to hear the voices of my characters in my head and remember what makes them distinct from one another. When I self-edit and rewrite, I ask myself questions like: Would that character really use that word?

With all that said, it pays to remember that a novel is entertainment and dialog is part of the entertainment. Therefore (duh) the best dialog is entertaining. Try to be clever without showing how smart you are. Follow the above guidelines AND do so in a fresh and entertaining way. Then you’ll be well on your way to crafting memorable and effective dialog.

***

Thank you! Please show J.E. some love in the comments with any questions or thoughts. This is a really great opportunity to talk to a fantastically talented and proven Big Five author. If you want more on dialog from J.E. check out The Big Thrill for MORE!

And remember bloggers have big hearts, short attention spans and long memories. We DO remember who shows the love! And any comments for my guest count double in the contest. What contest?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 8.46.55 AM

J.E. Fishman writes screenplays and is author of 7 critically acclaimed thrillers and several nonfiction books. His latest novel, The Prisoner of Hell Gate, was written under the pen name Dana I. Wolff and published July 2016 by the Picador imprint of Macmillan.

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.

We are doing ANOTHER round of Battle of the First Pages!!! August 5th

The first time we did this we had some tech issues doing this new format and we’ve since worked those out, but for now I am still keeping the price low ($25) until we get this streamlined to my tastes.

LIMITED SEATS. This is an open workshop where each person will submit his or her first page of the manuscript for critique. I will read the page aloud and “gong” where I would have stopped reading and explain why. This is an interactive workshop designed to see what works or what doesn’t. Are you ready to test your page in the fire?

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages July 22nd

The first five pages are the most essential part of the novel, your single most powerful selling tool. It’s how you will hook agents, editors and readers. This class will cover the most common blunders and also teach you how to hook hard and hook early. This class is 90 minutes long, 60 minutes of instruction and 30 minutes for Q&A.

Your First Five Pages Gold Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique your first five pages.

Your First Five Pages Platinum Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique of your first twenty pages.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist July 29th

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.

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

 

, , , , , , , , , ,

65 Comments

Symbolism & Setting—The Perfect Marriage

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 10.00.33 AM

Today I have two very special guests. Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are here to talk about a more advanced concept in fiction—symbol. Take it way, ladies!

***

We all want our writing to be layered. Like a gourmet meal, we want there to be more to them than just what is seen on the surface. In stories, this depth can be added a number of ways—through subplots, character arc, subtext, theme, and symbolism. Of them all, I think symbolism is one of the simplest methods to employ, and it packs a serious wallop.

Symbolism is important because it turns an ordinary object, place, color, person, etc. into something that goes beyond the literal. Babies represent innocence and unlimited potential, spring is synonymous with rebirth, shackles symbolize slavery, the color white brings to mind purity.

Symbols like these are universal in nature because they mean the same thing to many people. As such, universal symbols are helpful in representing what you’re trying to get across in your story; readers see them and understand what they literally and figuratively mean.

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 10.02.47 AM

But a symbol can also be personal in nature, more individual, meaning something specifically to the character. For William Wallace in the movie Braveheart, the thistle represents love since one was given to him by Murron when they were children. To most people, love in the form of a prickly weed wouldn’t typically compute, but as it’s used throughout the film at poignant moments, the audience comes to recognize it for what it means.

So whether the symbol is universally obvious or one that’s specific to the protagonist, it can add a layer of depth to a character or story. But where do we find these symbols? How do we choose which object or thing should represent the important theme in a story? Well, it may not be the first answer that comes to mind, but…

The setting is actually the perfect place to find symbols—because they’re built into every location.

Sometimes, the setting itself can stand for something. Kristen touched on this in her excellent post last week, where she used Shutter Island as an example. The prison is a prison, yes, but it also represents the guilt that keeps US Marshall Teddy Daniels locked away inside his own mind.

Other setting symbols?

A home could stand for safety. A river might represent a forbidden boundary. A church could symbolize either hope or corruption, depending on the prevailing culture or the character’s experience. A city, a business, a natural landmark—whether you’ve chosen a rural or urban setting for your scene, the location can often represent an important idea that you want to reinforce for readers.

Sorry, couldn't resist….

Sorry, couldn’t resist….

But more often than not, your symbol will be something within the setting that represents an important idea to your character. And when you look within your protagonist’s immediate world, you’re sure to find something that holds emotional value for him or her.

For instance, if your character was physically abused as a child, it might make sense for the father to be a symbol of that abuse since he was the one who perpetrated it. But the father might live in another town or thousands of miles away. The character may have little to no contact with him, which doesn’t leave many chances to symbolize.

Choosing something closer to home within the protagonist’s own setting will have greater impact and offer more opportunities for conflict and tension. A better symbol might be the smell of his father’s cologne—the same kind his roommate puts on when he’s prepping for a date, the scent of which soaks into the carpet and furniture and lingers for days.

Another choice might be an object from his setting that represents the one he was beaten with: wire hangers in the closet, a heavy dictionary on the library shelf, or the tennis racquet in his daughter’s room that she recently acquired and is using for lessons. These objects won’t be exact replicas of the ones from his past, but they’re close enough to trigger unease, bad memories, or even emotional trauma.

Symbols like these have potential because not only do they clearly remind the protagonist of a painful past event, they’re in his immediate environment, where he’s forced to encounter them frequently.

In the case of the tennis racquet, an extra layer of complexity is added because the object is connected to someone he dearly loves—someone he wants to keep completely separate from any thoughts of his abuse.

As you can see, whatever settings you choose for your story can be mined for emotionally charged symbols and motifs. Sometimes it can be tough to figure out which one to go with, though; the good news is that symbols can be added at any point in the writing process.

If you know beforehand what your theme will be, consider choosing settings that could reinforce that idea. If your theme emerges organically as you write, you can bolster it by adding motifs later with objects that naturally inhabit the locations you’ve chosen. Either way, if you need a little help coming up with symbols for your story, you can always check out the “Symbolism and Motifs Thesaurus” at One Stop for Writers, which explores a boatload of popular themes and possible symbols that can be used for them.

The setting is such a versatile tool that most of us frankly underuse. Make it pull its own weight by unearthing the symbols within it. And for more information on making your setting work harder for your story, see our latest books, The Urban Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to City Spaces and The Rural Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Personal and Natural Spaces.

BIO:

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 10.20.26 AM

***

Thank you Angela and Becca! remember that comment love for guests counts double for my ongoing contest.

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.

So You Want to Write a Novel THIS FRIDAY!!!!!

June 24th, 7-9 EST. Cost is $35

Just because we made As in high school or college English does not instantly qualify us to be great novelists. Writing a work that can span anywhere from 60,000 to 120,000+ words requires training. This class is for the person who is either considering writing a novel or who has written a novel(s) and is struggling.

We will cover the essentials of genre, plot, character, dialogue and prose. This class will provide you with the tools necessary to write lean and clean and keep revisions to a minimum.

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

 

, , , , , , , , ,

36 Comments

Are Flashbacks Fizzling Your Fiction? Time as a Literary Device

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 9.37.37 AM

One of the most common blunders I see with new authors is they botch the “flashback.” Why? Well, for starters I don’t think subjects/techniques like these get talked about in depth very often (though I could write an entire book on just flashbacks alone). This is part of why I created this Friday’s class, So You Want to Write a Novel. All the lovely stuff English class never taught you😉 .

Additionally, many writers are mimicking what they are writing off what they “see” in movies. Problem is? Movies are a completely different medium. Film is concrete. Black letters on a white page? ABSTRACT.

But another problem with flashbacks? In my POV, the term “flashback” is far too broad.

We can mistakenly believe that any time an author shifts time, that THIS is the dreaded “flashback” I am referring to and the one I (as an editor) will cut.

Not necessarily.

We need to broaden our understanding of the “flashback” because lumping every backwards shift in time under one umbrella won’t work.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 9.36.44 AM

Seems legit.

I will add a caveat. While shifting in time can make for EXCELLENT fiction, we have to make sure we are doing it in the right spots. Most of the time, one of the worst places to have a flashback is in the first five pages of the work.

My reason is this. The first pages of our book are some of the most critical. We need to stick to ONE timeline long enough to hook a potential reader into the story and allow them to get grounded and care. If we bounce forward and backward, with a new time and new cast members and a new setting? Readers will get confused and likely put the book down.

Screen Shot 2013-08-15 at 4.54.49 PM

Can it work? Sure, anything can work. But if we break the rule, better have a good reason for doing so.

The Trouble with Jumping

Think of writing a novel like being a figure skater in a performance. Sure, figure skating is already hard. The skater might stumble in a spin or meet a wall, but usually those aren’t the high danger spots. We can tell the trickiest parts of any ice skating performance by how they are scored.

What is the make or break? Jumps. The more complicated (and dangerous) the jump, the more points.

We can add “lifts” in couples skating, but the idea the same.

But jumps are a gamble. Nail the jump and WIN! Botch the jump and maybe it costs more points than it could have gained. Or, worst-case-scenario, the jump was so dangerous, the resulting injury is a career-ender.

Um…OUCH!

Um…OUCH!

Every time those skates leave the ice is dangerous, because one tiny mistake can ruin the magic. When we decide to shift time (jump), our literary skates are leaving the ice, so execution becomes paramount to keep the performance seamless.

Also, what new skater is doing a routine filled with ten quadruple Lutz jumps? Probably won’t find many Olympians doing that either😉 .

Now you see why I want you to use jumps sparingly/strategically. Also, if we are going to jump, we better know how to execute it lest we destroy a knee our story. Jumps are also blended into a fabric of a larger performance and serve the whole or we would be left with ice-jumping as a sport.

To continue with our ice skating analogy, all jumps are jumps, but they each are different types of jump and each has a varying degree of difficulty worth a corresponding amount of points.

The same idea applies to “flashbacks.” Yes, broadly speaking, all “going back in time” is a flashback. But there are different ways of going back in time. And, within each “way” of going back in time, there is a corresponding level of difficulty (and possible payoff).

Also, some of you may have more than one time-line and more than one “protagonist” and that can and has been done, but remember that jumps now reach a new height of difficulty. Because we are balancing partners, timing must be perfect and if one partner stumbles, it brings down everyone.

Before we talk about time as a device…

The Training Wheel Flashback

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 9.33.53 AM

The training-wheel flashbacks are the ones we should learn to nix right away (and the one I see most commonly with new writers). It is weak writing. This type of flashback does what training wheels do. They artificially “prop” up the weak plot and weak characterization.

Most of us start with training wheels. It is OKAY to be new. But eventually, we look rather silly.

When I wrote my first “novel”, I had two protagonists with parallel plots. Okay. More than a tad difficult for a first-timer, but all righty. But THEN, I kept feeling the need to go back and explain. How did they become friends? How did the one character develop such bad OCD she became agoraphobic? Etc.

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 10.09.53 PM

Thing is, I had no plot. But, even if I did have a plot, these were elements I didn’t need to go back in time and explain. They were friends. I am Author God and if I say they are friends, the reader accepts that.

The one character was OCD. That was all I needed. She was just OCD. That’s all. There was nothing in those flashbacks that couldn’t have been related current-time in narrative or dialogue. I didn’t need to hop in a Literary DeLorean and explain by detailing her abusive childhood.

In fact, had I not explained why she was OCD and agoraphobic, I might have maintained/increased tension because the reader would have hoped I might reveal WHY.

Flipping back and forth in time added way too many characters, places and problems that had nothing to do with the current story problem in need of resolution.

When I took hostages asked friends and family to read my novel, the largest complaint was I confused everyone. They had no clue what my story was about (namely because I didn’t know either). I’d strung together a bunch of beautifully written vignettes all across time, propped up with training wheels flashbacks.

Ah, but pretty prose does not a story make.

Shifting in time is something that can be and is done. It might be a parallel timeline (The Green Mile, The NotebookTrue Detective).

It can be non-linear structure (Memento, Vanilla Skies, Pulp Fiction, The Murder House by James Patterson).

It can even be using true flashbacks for places in time that are critical to the unraveling current story problem (I call these Easter Egg Flashbacks). For instance, an event that happened earlier that directly relates to solving/conquering the real-time story problem that won’t work in a prologue (Love You More, by Lisa Gardner—and one of the BEST BOOKS I have EVER read).

We’ll explore all of these and ways they’ve been done well.

But, before we talk about bending time, let’s look at the inherent pitfalls to time travel (even when we do it well).

Bending Time

Back to the future, then past then future...

Back to the future, then past then future…

There are a lot of ways to bend time. But, like the quadruple axel, there are risks. Bending time is part of our author toolbox. There is nothing saying all stories MUST go from Point A to Point B in a linear, chronological fashion.

This said, we need to be careful how much we bend time and why we are bending time. Remember that every time we shift time, we can lose members of our audience. Yes, a handful of film geeks loved Memento. 

But, Memento is one of those movies that can probably only be done ONCE.

Pulp Fiction did a fabulous job of hopping all over time, but just as many people who loved the movie hated the movie and couldn’t finish. Same with The English Patient and The Hours (both the books and the movies).

We have to remember that, ultimately, stories are for the audience not for us (unless we are happy selling a book to ourselves). What experience are we giving them? Are we killing our tension and momentum because we keep jerking the reader back into a past that has no purpose other than exposition?

One of the reasons I play the Flashback Dictator, is that if I pull the training wheels away and help you learn to NOT rely on them, your writing will improve. THEN, if you do decide you must shift in time, you will be careful to do it with intention and will execute it WELL.

Instead of wobbling all over, any time shift has purpose.

A good litmus?

The PAST must be related to what is going on in the PRESENT and directly impact the FUTURE (how the story is resolved).

Some questions we might ask when tempted to go back in time.

FLASHBACK TEST QUESTIONS

Is this something that can be explained real-time?

For instance, in the series True Detective which I explored in this post, the story follows two detectives who do NOT get along. The more amiable detective is trying to get to know his tortured and gloomy partner.

Detective Marty Hart: Your mom alive?

Detective Rust Cohle: Maybe.

Just this line of dialogue speaks VOLUMES. Of course later, Cohle explains in a few lines of dialogue that his father returned from fighting in Vietnam when he was two. Mom couldn’t take it and left and he hadn’t seen her since. We didn’t need to go BACK there because Cohle’s family problems, him being abandoned as a toddler and resulting relationship with his dad, has nothing to do with the current PLOT problem…finding a brutal killer.

If I cut the flashback, does it really harm the story?

If you have beta readers, critique partners or an editor, try removing any scenes that “go back” and often they aren’t as critical as we believe. Maybe one or two we need to keep, but I guarantee most can be weeded out (unless this is non-linear plotting).

Have I started in the wrong spot? Am I telling the “right” story?

Sometimes when we get writing, our subconscious knows that the more interesting story actually happened earlier, which is why we keep going back. Often, changing WHEN the story begins helps.

Have I unintentionally smooshed TWO separate stories together?

IF we keep flipping back and forth, we might also be muddying two separate stories together. It might be we need to separate the timelines and give each story a separate stage.

Remember:

The PAST must be related to what is going on in the PRESENT and directly impact the FUTURE (how the story is resolved).

From Pulp Fiction to The English Patient to The Hours past and present are tethered and eventually the timelines converge and empty into the same gulf.

If we look and realize one timeline is going one way and another is going a different way and end in different places? A good time to cut in half and have two books😉 .

I hope this helps you guys understand the difference between the “bad” flashback and simply using time as a literary device. We will explore the ways we can bend time some more and I will work to give you tips for how to land that quadruple-axel without taking out a small village.

What are your thoughts? Do you struggle with movies or novels that bounce all over time? Have you struggled with shifting in time and maybe you were telling the wrong story or beginning in the wrong spot? Have any questions?

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 classes below and Battle of the Pages is almost full, so get your seat while you can!

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.

Again, I am trying something new and offering an open and interactive workshop. Is your first page strong enough to withstand the fire?

Battle of the First Pages TOMORROW!!!!! ONLY A FEW SEATS LEFT!

June 16th, 7-9 EST. Cost $25

This is an interactive experience similar to a gong show. We will upload the first page and I will “gong” when I would have stopped reading and explain why. We will explore what each writer has done right or even wrong or how the page could be better. This workshop is two hours long and limited seats available so get your spot as soon as you can!

So You Want to Write a Novel 

June 17th, 7-9 EST. Cost is $35

Just because we made As in high school or college English does not instantly qualify us to be great novelists. Writing a work that can span anywhere from 60,000 to 120,000+ words requires training. This class is for the person who is either considering writing a novel or who has written a novel(s) and is struggling.

We will cover the essentials of genre, plot, character, dialogue and prose. This class will provide you with the tools necessary to write lean and clean and keep revisions to a minimum.

Character & Plotting (NEW CLASS!)

June 24th, 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

 

, , , , , , , ,

27 Comments

Hate the Editing Stage of Writing? Check Out These Helpful Tools

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 8.51.04 AM

Hey guys, Today Nancy Lin is here to help us with what might just be THE suckiest part of writing. But part of being a great writer, is also learning to be at least a good editor. We all need professional outside eyes on our work, and Nancy is here to help you get the most bang for your buck.

Take it away, Nancy!

***

Editing is a necessary part of writing, but not all writers are great editors. As a writer, I find it helpful to get a second opinion, because I’m not able to see every single error. And this isn’t just me.

You might think you’re the next Shakespeare (which are pretty big shoes to fill). Once you stop basking in your own ego, you can be more realistic about your writing ability. And chances are you’re not.

Professional editors are useful, and, in some cases, they’re necessary. Hiring one may not be as easy as you think. The process can take a great deal of time, and the good ones don’t work for cheap. That’s why you need to learn to do some of the editing yourself.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 8.51.21 AM

If you learn some self-editing techniques, it could save you time, and it could even save you money. There is also the uncertainty that may come from the waiting process, and not knowing how good (or how bad) your work really is.

Believe me – I’ve been there.

There are some online tools you can use for the editing process, and they come with certain advantages. They can also be cheaper than professional editors. Some of them are even free.

It can be hard to receive criticism from a person, which is why writers cringe at the idea of hiring an editor. After the process is over, they’re sometimes left with a broken bank and a bruised ego. If you get it from a program, it might soften the blow.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 8.21.48 AM

There is another advantage to using these tools, and it’s rather obvious. You can get a better analysis than from a standard spelling and grammar checker, so you will be able to analyze your writing more effectively. This can allow you to be more critical of your own work.

There is one thing you have to remember. Like the rest of us so-called masters of the manuscript, these tools are far from perfect, and they’re not programmed to think. They will be able to identify potential problems with your writing, but you have to decide if you want to follow their suggestions.

As you’re editing, it’s important to remember the “big picture.” Think about what you’re trying to say, and be strategic about any changes you make.

I’m sure you’re dying to find out which editing tools I’ve chosen. So, here they are.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 8.20.20 AM

#1: Edit Minion

The best part about this tool is that it’s free. It may not be the best editing tool, but it will get the job done. It analyzes your writing, and it highlights words and phrases that may need correction. They’re even color coded based on the type of error. Just hover your mouse over it to find out why.

Edit Minion will analyze your writing for any of these potential problems:

  • Adverbs
  • Weak words
  • Homonyms
  • Prepositions at the end of a sentence
  • Passive voice
  • Clichés

You do, of course, have to make your own call about what you want to change.

#2: Hemingway App

This tool is also free, and it does real-time reporting as you type. It highlights sentences that may need shortening, and it points out adverbs or sentences in the passive voice. The program is easy to use, and it’s readable. By the way, there is a readability scale, and you get readability grades for your writing. In fact, it’s good for finding sentences that need simplification.

#3: AutoCrit

Unlike the last two, this one isn’t free. You have to have an account, and there is a subscription fee. But you can request a free trial.

It does a detailed analysis of your writing, and it has a “visual guide.” It will even compare your writing to other published works. What is more, it helps you with the standard edits and checks your document for repetitive words and phrases. It will even check for words that are taking too much space.

#4: WordRake

This is another paid tool, working with Word. It analyzes your writing for any redundant words, and it will suggest possible replacements. While it is not the cheapest, it can help you to shorten your sentences and tighten your writing.

#5: SlickWrite

When it comes to this tool, “slick” is the operative word. Not only is it free, but it’s also fast and easy to use. It looks for the common problems (such as adverbs, passive voice and awkward phrasing)) that can plague your writing. SlickWrite has an intuitive interface, and you can move between the five tabs located at the top.

#6: SmartEdit

SmartEdit is another tool that works with Word, but you can use it as a standalone app. It’s only available for Windows, but there may be a Mac version later on. It does 20 different checks on your writing – some which include:

  • Misspellings
  • Misused words
  • Repeated phrases
  • Adverbs

It will also check for clichés, redundancies, and dialogue tags.

#7: ProWritingAid

This tool works with a variety of writing platforms and web browsers like the following ones:

  • MS Word
  • Google Docs
  • Scrivener
  • Google Chrome

It has both a free and premium version. There are actually two premium levels. The free version will let you analyze up to 3,000 words at one time, but there is no interactive editing. The first premium level has everything in the free version, but it doesn’t have a word limit. A great bonus: The Premium+ version has a plagiarism checker.

#8: Consistency Checker

While it doesn’t do the detailed checks of the before mentioned tools, it can be useful in the editing process. In fact, it does as the name suggests. Just upload the document, download the report, and it will point out any inconsistencies.

#9: Unplag

Unplag is not an editing tool per se, but it can be helpful in the process. It’s an online plagiarism checker, which detects text coincidences in your work. It can check a few documents at once, and there is a full report showing highlighted text similarities, originality percentage, links to the original sources and other important details. The small investment can keep you from destroying your reputation and your career.

#10: After the Deadline

This tool installed in your browser checks your writing for spelling errors, misused words, and other common issues. When you write an email or new Facebook post, After the Deadline will notice any typos or mistakes immediately. The built-in AI recommends alternatives that can improve the flow of your writing, and it has a list of 1,500 words that are often misused.

Final Thoughts

Image via Drew Coffman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Drew Coffman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Editing can be a long process, but it’s a necessary part of writing. It makes your manuscripts cleaner, more concise, and more effective. You might not like editing, but using some of these tools can save you a great deal of time. Not to mention, you can save on editing costs.

Not every writer likes editing. Some of them probably despise it, but there’s no way you can escape it. It’s just part of the job. And you’re going to have to suck it up and get it done.

So, will you take advantage of these tools so you can become a better writer? What other resources you will recommend your fellow writers?

***

Thank you NANCY! And I love hearing from you! Remember comments for my guests get double weight in the contest.

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 classes below and Battle of the Pages is almost full, so get your seat while you can!

About the Author:

Nancy Lin is a freelance writer, blogger and editor from Kansas City. Her articles have appeared in a number of writing-related websites, including DIYAuthor, Cultured Vultures and Plagiarism Today. If you’re interested in getting help with your writing, you can always find Nancy on Google+ and Twitter.
I love hearing from you!

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.

Again, I am trying something new and offering an open and interactive workshop. Is your first page strong enough to withstand the fire?

Battle of the First Pages

June 16th, 7-9 EST. Cost $25

This is an interactive experience similar to a gong show. We will upload the first page and I will “gong” when I would have stopped reading and explain why. We will explore what each writer has done right or even wrong or how the page could be better. This workshop is two hours long and limited seats available so get your spot as soon as you can!

So You Want to Write a Novel 

June 17th, 7-9 EST. Cost is $35

Just because we made As in high school or college English does not instantly qualify us to be great novelists. Writing a work that can span anywhere from 60,000 to 120,000+ words requires training. This class is for the person who is either considering writing a novel or who has written a novel(s) and is struggling.

We will cover the essentials of genre, plot, character, dialogue and prose. This class will provide you with the tools necessary to write lean and clean and keep revisions to a minimum.

Character & Plotting (NEW CLASS!)

June 24th, 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

 

, , , , , , , , ,

43 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 53,967 other followers

%d bloggers like this: