Archive for the ‘#writingtips’ Tag

Improving My Craft   6 comments

What are your favorite writing-related blogs?

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I don’t write about writing.

There are countless blogs and so-called experts online with advice. While some of it can be helpful, I’m going to be honest and say outright that I don’t really spend a lot of time on writing blogs. I’d rather spend time writing.

Some people might think that sounds arrogant, but truthfully, I’ve worked as a professional reporter/writer and I’ve been writing creatively since I was 12. When it comes to the technical tips on writing these blogs provide, I tend to want to see something I don’t already know and that’s not going to happen very often. I go to writing blogs for marketing and formatting tips, not for writing advice, though I do occasionally pick up a useful tip.

Consequently, I spend a lot more time on blogs about ideas having nothing to do with writing. Lew Rockwell, Foundation for Economic Education and Mises Institute are far more helpful to me as a novelist than any of the writing blogs.

That doesn’t mean I don’t check them out occasionally. So which ones are my “favorites”? I have no idea, but here are a few that are saved to my favorites bar.

The Book Designer

Joel Friedlander is responsible for The Book Designer, which is one of the truly great writing blogs. He was who I turned to to learn to format for print. He provides a helpful view of the publishing aspects of being an author and writing for a living. He offers sound advice to help you get turn your manuscripts into published novels.

The Book Designer covers a wide range of topics, include self-publishing, marketing, and general writing tips. And one-stop-fits-all is worth my limited attention.

Every Writer

Richard Edwards’ Every Writer presents information on many helpful tools for authors, from building a website to starting a literary magazine. Edward provides information and tips to escape writer’s block and increase your productivity!

Jerry Jenkins

I’ve been a fan of Jerry Jenkins’ blog since before I started publishing. I originally was attracted there by his Christian insights, but he also provides tips and resources for authors.

Over the last half century Jenkins has been an editor, a publisher, a nonfiction author, and a novelist. He offers a 20-Step Guide on How to Write a BookHow to Develop a Great Story IdeaFind the Right Writers Group and How to Write Dialogue

Become a Writer Today

Through his blog Become a Writer Today, Bryan Collins focuses on the needs of new writers. I’m clearly not in that category, I still learn something from my occasional visits. Bryan is a non-fiction writer, blogger, and podcaster, and also focuses on self-publishing. He’s written two 3-book series, “Become a Better Writer Today” and “The Power of Creativity.”  A team of writers cover the business side of writing and such topics as writer’s block, formatting, and best practices. 

DIY MFA

DIY MFA serves as a do-it-yourself manual for the equivalent of a Master of Fine Arts in writing without the expense. It centers on writing with focus, reading with purpose, building your writing community, and how to discover available writing tools.

Founded by author and podcaster Gabriela Pereira, the site posts on everything from play-writing to surviving rejection, travel writing, and numerous other writing topics. She offers a writer igniter that generates writing prompts. 

Writing Tips are Great. Ideas Are Better

Pereira’s prompts generator is well worth visiting. While these are ones I’ve been impressed with enough to save to my favorites bar, there are many more that I’ve stopped into, gotten what I needed from them and moved on. As I said, I don’t blog about writing. I write about other ideas. So it makes sense that I’m not spending a lot of time visiting writing blogs.

Posted January 27, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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What Tools Do I Use?   4 comments

October 9, 2017 – My favorite business resources.

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“Real” businesses have resources and business plans. For my husband’s maintenance company, the resources are, largely, his skills and licensing, his truck, and a Google ad. He asks me to do flyers for him occasionally and he has his business card pinned in places where people might be looking for companies that do maintenance. Above all, he tries to treat his existing customers well so they will keep calling him and let their friends know that he does good work.

Image result for image of writers resourcesA lot of people feel authors are not “real” businesses. I struggle with this concept too, because although my books (mostly) pay for themselves, I’m investing my own money in getting them going. Still, I am a business … or my books are. What resources do I have and use and which are my favorites?

First, there are the resources I really can’t stand. Twitter. Ugh! But it does sell books, so …. I am marginally less turned off by Facebook, but …. It’s not that I hate the people I interact with on social media. I actually enjoy interacting with fans and friends when there is interaction. It’s that I hate the time sucks both represent. But they are necessary for marketing books in this day and age, so ….

Amazon is probably my most useful resource. KDP allows some promotion and, hey, self-publishing is the greatest resource an independent author has. I try to ignore the exclusivity required of KDP. I would like to be all over the self-publishing spectrum, but I’ve discovered it is harder to sell books that way than it is to be exclusive to KDP. If I ever have a book that doesn’t sell through Amazon though ….

Anthologies are a great resource. Rather than look at them as time sucks and distractions, I see them as marketing tools. Write a short story, get it accepted into an anthology and sometimes other authors’ fans will discover you next to their favorite author and now you’ve made a few new fans who might come buy your full length books.

Thunderclap.it – I don’t have a big advertising budget. I have to do it myself with limited funds. I’ve built my social media network up to 18,000 now, but with Thunderclap.it, I can borrow the social media networks of hundreds of other authors and market my books to many, many more potential readers than I can alone. All it requires is that — ugh — time-sucking interaction. But it’s worth it.

My local writer’s guild. I get great ideas from them because some of the writers there have been self-publishing for decades and know a thing or two about how to market in ways I have never even thought of. And, we hold our monthly meetings in a local art gallery, so it’s a visual feast as well.

That’s probably about it. I could list a bunch of little stuff, but those are the big resources that I use.

Learning From History   3 comments

September 25, 2017 – Tell us your biggest business lesson learned. If you were to start your writing career all over again, what would you do differently?

Image result for image of adventure canoeingHere in Alaska’s Interior, some rivers meander through gently rolling hills, occasionally changing their courses, creating slow-moving sloughs with a trickle of water flow that eventually become oxbow lakes stranded from the main channel. Other rivers run through the broad, mostly flat Tanana River valley in miles-wide multi-channeled braids, occasionally divorcing sloughs that might only have water in them every decade or so. When you’re canoeing or riverboating, sometimes you end up going down a slow-moving slough and get stopped by a big logjam or gigantic beaver dam, so you have to turn around and paddle back upstream to take another route. What does this have to do with our OP? It’s a metaphor.

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My writing career has been long and varied and I’ve learned a lot from the many mistakes and writing sloughs I have taken. I started out as a creative writer, scribbling for my own pleasure in elementary school and junior high and then submitting to school literary publications in high school. But I knew that I couldn’t make a living doing that, so I majored in journalism in college. Newspaper reporting was fun, low-pay and frustrating as the politics of the editorial staff began to dictate what facts were allowed to be reported. Throughout the rest of my career, I’ve done a lot of technical writing – editing grant documents, producing newsletters and excelling at desktop publishing. Different kinds of writing are useful in different parts of my life, so I can’t call any of them “sloughs” or “mistakes.”

Image result for image of alaska braided riverThroughout all of it, I’ve always written for my own amazement and I am now mining my back catalog of tales written for myself to publish.

I have no regrets writing-wise, although if I had to do it all over again …

  • I’d have jumped on the self-publishing bandwagon sooner. It doesn’t mean my books are lesser quality. It just means I have a smaller advertising budget.
  • I’d have embraced Facebook and Twitter for marketing sooner.
  • I’d have started socking small amounts of cash into my Pay Pal account earlier so that I would have a larger cash-flow stream now.
  • I’d have paid closer attention in art class to improve my book covers now.
  • I’d have worked harder at teaching myself to write Alaskana – it sells, but I struggle with it (which is why I haven’t published any … yet).
  • I’d have not taken a 25-year hiatus from writing short stories. They’re a great marketing tool for the novels if you can get them into good anthologies.

Overriding lesson – write for your own amazement and you might find other people enjoy it as much as you do, but also do things sooner, don’t be so slow to adopt great ideas … be adventurous. You’d think an Alaskan would already know that lesson about adventure.

 

Posted September 25, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Discover Writers Can So Outline!   3 comments

There’s a myth that you are either a plotter or a pantser as a writer.

Plotters outline. They know where they’re going before they even start. Many of them know exactly each step they’re going to take in the journey to THE END before they write the first word. They are generally plot-driven. Occasionally, they might deviate from their intended course if a plot element presents itself that must be included, but they like order and so any deviation is a carefully-thought-out deliberate choice.

Pantsers thrive on spontaneity and discover. They tend to be character-driven. After introducing themselves to their characters, they let the characters navigate. Discovery writers seek to be surprised by the words as they fall from their fingers, discovering new insights about their characters and their world as they go along. At best, they sketch a few guidelines in advance, maybe have an idea of what the end point will look like, but generally, they don’t want to be constrained by an outline.

Related imageI am definitely a discovery writer when I draft. Even writing a series where I know what the change points of each book are going to be, I generally don’t want to know how my characters intend to get there. That would be boring and I suspect self-defeating. It would feel too much like work to me and a large reason why I write is to entertain myself. If you can produce a good book that way (and who am I to argue with the likes of Stephen King), more power to you, but I prefer to allow my creativity to take lead. I get a better draft that way.

But that doesn’t mean I never outline.

What? How can I say that? You’re either an outliner or a discovery writer. You can’t be both. Right?

I outline after the draft is finished.

Writing 100,000 words for a book is often a series of sprints. I tend to work on a scene at a time. I don’t always work in chronological order. Sometimes I work on scenes later in the book before I work on scenes at the start of the book. I may sketch out a few guideposts in advance, maybe identify some oncoming conflict, but overall, I let the characters lead me through their lives and tell me their story.

When I complete a draft, I then write a chapter-and-scene outline of the completed manuscript. This is where plotters are frowning in confusion. Why would I do that? It makes no sense to them.

Bear with me.

I’ve just written roughly a 100,000 words that are like a puzzle that still needs to be fitted together. I need to step back and see how that puzzle looks when all the pieces are put together, and a scene-by-scene outline lets me do that. I assign one bullet point per scene, and then I can see the whole puzzle in a few pages.

Where are the rises and falls, where is the climax, where is the inciting incident or incidents, where is the resolution? Is there a ton of backstory, delivered too early? Is there not enough conflict?

Image result for image of a road mapWhen you look at your book from a macro perspective, you can see big-picture flaws like abandoned plot threads, unnecessary scenes, missing or unbalanced elements, the place a faulty ending really began to go wrong, etc. I use different highlighting to note these types of problems on my outline so I fix them early on.

It’s easy for rewrite to become about fixing wording, grammar, punctuation and countless other details. Those errors need to be fixed before publication, but that’s proofreading. Why do that if you might later delete the entire chapter? Evaluating your manuscript via a scene-by-scene outline helps cut out some of that superfluous editing of words and commas.

I have a friend who actually prints out her outlines and cuts them up by scene to pin to a big corkboard, but I prefer to do my moving around on the computer. What if you moved the gas station scene to the next chapter? What if the father’s backstory went after the funeral instead of before? What if you cut chapter twelve, except for the fight?

Where are you heavy or light, long or short? Is your book dark except for a couple of humorous scenes? Okay, but did you realize all those scenes were within a few chapters of each other? Is your book almost all loud moments? Is it too quiet throughout? A big-picture view is invaluable in making these determinations.

Once you see an outline you like, you can revise your manuscript with a plan in mind.

By outlining after writing, discovery writers can draft in the manner that allows our creativity to lead while still making use of the organizational benefits of outlines. Also, you’re not locked into your original outline. You can revise the outline after each major revision, then take a step back to see how things look through a wide-angle lens. Your characters will thank you for the freedom you’ve given them, and your readers will be grateful for the extra steps you took to ensure your story works on every level, big and small.

And, finally, there’s a last advantage to this. If, like me, you give your chapters titles, your outline makes a handy way to do the table of contents. I’ve had author friends complain that this is an annoying process of going back and forth between the written chapter and the front matter and it was for me the first time, but then I recognized I could do the TOC in the outline and it eliminated all that bouncing back and forth. I could just run the two documents and go back and forth between them. I intend to borrow my son’s computer for a night to do this with two screens this time around. I suspect that’ll be so much easier.

You learn as you go along as a writer, and I have certainly had plenty of lessons.

Posted September 14, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in writing wednesday

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Was   Leave a comment

No matter how much time and energy we authors put into querying agents and editors (or conversely learning the ins and outs of self-publishing) it’s all wasted if we don’t have a polished piece of work. One way to make sure your book is the best possible product is to brush up on your nuts-and-bolts writing skills. This also saves money in editing fees.

Image result for image of past perfect tense

I’m pretty sure everyone has been in a critique group, had a beta reader, or listened to a creative writing workshop where somebody lectured you about avoiding the word “was.” We are routinely told to eliminate all forms of the verb “to be” from our prose.

Well-meaning mentors tell us “was” is “passive,” so we must avoid it at all costs, along with adverbs, run-on sentences, and naming all of your characters the similar names.

These experts were repeating “The Rules” they heard from their own critique groups, beta readers, and workshop leaders when they started writing.

Sometimes “The Rules” are wrong.

This particular rule has good intentions, but shows a lack of understanding of grammar. The verb “to be” has many functions in modern English and some have nothing to do with the passive voice.

I’m old enough that I actually received an education in English grammar, but I think it may not be a major focus in most schoolrooms because I find a lot of writers have not been taght the basics.

Past tenses in English

  • Simple Past
  • Present Perfect
  • Past Continuous (or “Progressive”)
  • Present Perfect
  • Past Perfect (or “Pluperfect”)
  • Past Perfect Continuous.

Some of these tenses are created by using various forms of the verbs “to be” and “to have.” They’re called “auxiliary verbs” (sometimes helping verbs) when they are used this way.

Simple past:

I threw up.

Present Perfect:

I have been throwing up since I ate that chicken.

Here an action starts in the past and comes up to the present.

Past Continuous:

I was throwing up when Mrs. Smith arrived to invite me to tea.

A continuous action in the past gets interrupted by the simple past. “Was” is necessary to create this tense with the verb “to throw up.” “Was” in this auxiliary function has nothing to do with the independent meaning of the verb “was” meaning “existed in the past.”

Past Perfect:

I had threw up right before she came to the door.

An action happened in the past BEFORE the past of the story. “Had” is the auxiliary verb that creates this tense. This is different from the stand-alone meaning of the verb “had” meaning “possessed in the past”.

Past Perfect continuous:

I had been throwing up for hours.

An action happened in the past over a period of time until it got interrupted by another action. The verbs “to have” AND “to be” are combined with the primary verb “to throw up” to make this tense.

These tenses have nothing to do with the Passive VOICE

Throwing up was caused by chicken.   In the passive voice, we use forms of “to be” when the object of the verb becomes the subject of the sentence.

Or, as my college English professor would say:

The passive voice is avoided whenever possible by good writers.

Then, just to be confusing, we have the Subjunctive MOOD.  (Sometimes called the “Unreal Conditional” tense.)

If I were smarter, I’d have brought my own lunch.  

It also uses the auxiliary verb “to be”. Are you starting to see what a multi-purpose word “was” is? The word “were” doesn’t put us in the past. It tells us he’s not actually smart.

But what about this?

If I was even smarter, I’d have shot my uncle instead of the bear.

This is incorrect grammar, because the subjunctive uses “were,” not “was.”

So “was” should be eliminated here, right?

If you’re aiming for grammatical prose, absolutely, but if you’re writing fiction, it’s probably just fine. You don’t want all your characters to sound like college professors.

What does this all mean?

Sometimes “was” and “were” are absolutely necessary for meaning and by no means “passive.”

I was just sitting there when the bear mauled me.

This means something different from:

I just sat there when the bear mauled me.

Eliminating “was” changes the meaning from “the bear mauled me with no provocation,” to “I didn’t react when the bear mauled bit me.”

However, your critique group didn’t steer you totally wrong when they told you to be wary of “was.”

This isn’t because the word is always passive, but because it can be part of lazy sentence construction.

Beginning writers tend to write flabby sentences like this:

There was a squirrel sitting on the picnic table and he was eating my peanut butter sandwich. He was looking at me like I was nobody to be scared of, so I decided it was time to get my shotgun.

That can be cleaned up by using simpler verbs:

A squirrel sat on the picnic table eating my peanut butter sandwich. He looked me in the eye without a speck of fear. I went for my shotgun.

That’s easier to read and gives a stronger, clearer image.

Another note on past tenses

Most readers say they prefer reading a book written in the past tense, but writing in the past can be difficult when you decide to do a flashback. Yes, you could just not write flashbacks, but sometimes the story absolutely requires one. That’s when you go into the past perfect tense. But you don’t have to stay there, because it sounds awkward.

He hated squirrels. Last summer, he had been walking in the park when he had run into a gang of squirrels who had attacked him with giant acorns.

Actually, you only have to use the past perfect (the “had” construction) once or twice to introduce the flashback, then continue in the simple past and readers will automatically adjust.

He hated squirrels. Last summer, he had been walking in the park when he ran into a gang of squirrels who attacked him with giant acorns.

It’s all in the distant past, but we know that without all the extra “hads.”

Sometimes it’s best just to trust your readers.

So, when you’re doing your edits, a search for “was” in your manuscript can help clean up your prose, but we’re not looking to eliminate “was” because “was” is “passive” because that’s a clunky use of grammar. Maybe we’ll look at passive voice in the near future.

First Chapters   Leave a comment

Let’s face it: first chapters are hard.

Other writers know what I mean. You sit there staring at the first page … the blank computer screen … trying to figure out how to start.

When writing your first draft, you’re writing for yourself—getting to know your characters and their world. You should let everything spill out on the page free of your inner editor’s censorship. You have to get it out and onto the page.

The Willow Branch: Book 1 of The Daermad Cycle by [Markham, Lela]Revision is a different story. There’s a whole lot that ends up in that first-draft chapter that was extraneous info-dump that needs to be cut, but not deleted, because you can enrich the story later by scattering it through the book.

You’re going to end up with an opening chapter that’s much different from the one you started with. It’s possible your entire original Chapter One may end up being one of those darlings you have to kill.

I usually write the final draft of my first chapter last. That’s because I won’t know exactly what needs to be in there until I’ve got the ending all polished up, but I didn’t know that when I first started writing.

An ideal first chapter should do the following things:

1) Introduce the main character(s) 

Most writers start with an opening scene involve the protagonist on the assumption that whoever the reader meets first in a book is the character they’ll bond with. They don’t need to know a huge amount about the MC right away, but they need to know enough to care. We probably need to know gender and approximate age, but most of all, we need to know the emotions the character is feeling in the scene—preferably something the reader can identify with.

Here’s how I started Life As We Knew It:

She stood before the safe, one hand beckoning, the other holding the cloth-wrapped bundle. Her face hid behind the veil, but her large dark eyes were sad and angry. Shane slid up the wall, bracing himself in the corner, scrubbing tears from his stinging eyes with the heels of his hands. Time had come.

It had been years since he’d thought about God, let alone prayed. His heart had been certain that there was no god. Yet a verse floated up from some long-forgotten Sunday School.

… your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

“This is my kingdom come,” Shane whispered. “What I earned on earth and in heaven.”

Her eyes demanded his obedience and his legs complied. The locked safe was no deterrent as he knew the combination. Guns on the right, clips on the left. The 9mm felt light in his hand. Unloaded! He always unloaded when he came home from a trip. The clip slid easily home and the gun felt right. Heavy. Final.

She stood to his left as she had that night, clutching the bundle to her chest. Shane raised the gun as if to fire at her, but then turned it, put the barrel up under his chin, deep in the curve of his jaw and pulled the trigger.

I haven’t used any description of the protagonist, but we can tell he’s

  •  male
  • someone very familiar with guns
  • distressed about something to do with a Muslim woman
  • has some religious knowledge, but is not religious himself
  • is suicidal
  • and we can infer from the clues that he was probably a soldier in the Middle East

We can also identify with his distress at dealing with a horrific memory. My brother tells me that he HAD to KNOW what was coming in the paragraph that followed. And that’s what makes Shane a powerful character and gives a shove to the first chapter.

2) Make us care enough to go on a journey with that character. 

This is trickier than it sounds. What makes us care? There’s no formula and no one thing will work for every reader in every genre.

Agents and editors are always telling us they want a “sympathetic” protagonist, but that doesn’t necessarily mean somebody you’d like to have as a friend.

Shallow, narcissistic Scarlett O’Hara has fascinated readers for nearly a century. Would you want sociopathic serial killer Dexter Morgan as your best friend? Sherlock Holmes frequently drives John Watson to distraction. Even Jane Austen’s Emma is tart-tongued.

You don’t have to present us with a protagonist as flawed as those characters, but perfect characters aren’t that much fun. Characters need to have weaknesses. I led with Shane’s weaknesses in Life As We Knew It because those weaknesses make his strengths all the more powerful.

You can’t please everyone all of the time. Some readers like a kick-ass-first, ask-questions-later character, while others prefer a more thoughtful, honorable hero. It will depend on genre and tone. It’s probably best of avoid an arrogant, whiny victim “hero”. A hero needs to be brave in some way, so let us see the potential for that right away.

3) Set tone. 

You don’t want to start out a romantic comedy with a gruesome murder scene, or open a thriller with light, flirtatious banter. You want to immerse your reader in the book’s world from the opening paragraph. Since novelists don’t have music and visuals to set the scene, we need to use words to convey tone.

Long descriptions of weather or setting aren’t in fashion these days, but broad descriptive strokes can offer a lot in terms of setting the mood of your story. In Mirklin Wood, I set the mood with a rainstorm of epic proportion that makes it clear that magic is imposing a negative effect on the physical world. It conveys a heavy, oppressive mood that draws the reader into the world of Daermad.

 

4) Let us know the theme. 

If you’re going to be dealing with a particular theme, you don’t want to hit readers over the head with it. Foreshadowing  can provide hints from the first sentence.

Look at how William Gibson began Neuromancer, the novel that defined cyberpunk: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” Gibson lets us know from the get-go this is about the dark side of technology.

 

In Madeleine L’Engle’s The Young Unicorns she begins by setting the stage:

Winter came early to the city that year. Josiah Davidson, emerging from the subway, his arms loaded with schoolbooks, shivered in the dank.November rain that blew icily against his face and sent a trickle down the back of his neck. He didn’t see three boys in black jackets and moved out of a sheltering doorway and stalked him.

You know right away we’re dealing with an urban environment, adverse weather and threatening thugs.

5) Let us know where we are.  

Readers don’t need a ton of physical description, but they need to know what planet/historical time period we’re in.

 

World building is absolutely critical in science fiction and fantasy, but in the first pages limit it to the absolute necessities and fill in the details later. Most new writers tend to tell us way too much about their fantasy world up front. You want to tell us just enough to allow us to picture the scene that’s taking place, but not bog down the action.

6) Introduce the antagonist.

An antagonist is someone/something that keeps the protagonist from his goal. You may think that an antagonist is not necessary if you’re writing a romantic comedy, but there is a difference between an antagonist and a villain.

 

An antagonist can be a whole society, an addiction, a judicial system, or anything that might thwart a hero from achieving his goal. A particular villain embodied as an individual Big Bad doesn’t not need to exist in a many plots, but something has to trip up your protagonist in order for his/her story to be interesting.

7) Ignite conflict.

We need conflict not only in the opening scene, but we need to see an over-arching tension that will drive your plot.

In the Hunger Games, the burning question in the opening scene is who will be chosen for the games. But the larger conflict is with the Hunger Games themselves. When the conflict of the opening scene is resolved, we still keep turning pages because of the underlying tension from a bigger story question—how will Katniss survive?

Conflict does not have to mean an actual battle. In fact, starting in the middle of a battle can be awfully confusing for a reader. It’s better to start with something like the heroine preparing for battle by stealing her brother’s armor after her father forbids her to fight.

8)  Give us a goal: tell us what your protagonist wants.

Readers need to know pretty early in the story what your hero’s ultimate goal might be. In The Willow Branch, we know that Padraig’s ultimate goal is to find the One’s True King. In Life As We Know It, the ultimate goal isn’t stated, but you can infer that Shane wants his family to survive the apocalypse.

The ultimate goal doesn’t always show up in Chapter One, but we do need a goal in chapter one that will lead to the ultimate goal. Shane has to survive his suicide attempt if he’s going to save his town and family, for example.

9) Present an exciting, life-changing inciting incident.

This incident has to cause something to happen that will propel us to the next scene—and the one after that—and through the entire book. Think of it as the explosion that launches the rocket of your story.

This one is easier for some genre writers.  If you’re writing a mystery, you can find a dead body and the story is off and running. In a romance the female protagonist meets the object of her future affections and absolutely hates him, vowing to keep him from whatever his goal might be.

In other genres, it may be tough to get the inciting incident close to the opener. I couldn’t end the world as we know it in the first chapter of Life As We Knew It, because I needed the readers to care about the characters and I couldn’t figure a way to do both at the same time. Just remember, most readers aren’t going to admire your lovely prose until you’ve got a story going.

10) Introduce the other major characters. 

“Major” is the key here. Don’t let minor characters upstage the hero in the opener. You’re probably better off without any minor characters in the opening scene. We’ve got so much stuff to cram in there, we don’t have much room for the maid/sentinel/pizza deliverer character who opens so many dramas.

The Willow Branch operates in two time periods. In the first scene of the past timeline, Prince Maryn is killed, leaving Lord Deryk, who is a major character in that timeline. In the first scene of the present timeline, I introduce Padraig and Ryanna, main characters of that timeline. I needed to enter a minor character, a seer whose prophesy sends Padraig on his quest for the king, but pretty much everyone else in the opening chapter is faceless and voiceless because they aren’t all that important to the future plot.

I like colorful characters and they show up from time to time in my books, but I try to keep these minor players out of my opener, so that readers don’t end up expecting them for the rest of the series when they will only be there for that brief time.

We have all ready a bestseller or a dozen that doesn’t follow these rules. Don’t ever take something I suggest as a hard and fast rule because what works for me may not work for you. These rules are suggestions. If your prose are so mesmerizing the reader doesn’t notice that you info-dumped them in Chapter 1, lovely. Most writers, however, are just not that good.

If your opener doesn’t do any of the above suggestions, just try this experiment. Ignore chapters 1 & 3 and look at Chapter 3. Does Chapter 3 give you a better beginning? Start there. Then feed readers the info from the first two chapters a little at a time later on in the book.

Posted December 28, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in writing wednesday

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Deep Point of View   1 comment

Hey, writers. Perhaps you’ve heard that deep point of view is all the rage. Agents and editors want it and readers, supposedly, are begging for it.

Deep point of view is intense. It not only represents the sights, sounds, and actions filtered through a point of view character, but goes deeper into emotions and the character’s unique worldview. The character owns the page and the author becomes nonexistent, which allows the reader to live vicariously through the actions, reactions, and emotions of a character.

Image result for image of deep point of viewIf you’re like me, you don’t instinctively know how to go deep.

The key to deep point of view is understanding the rules, the tricks, and the tips for getting deep and then using deep point of view to empower your story.

Make your tags disappear

While speech tags clarify a speaker, they are blips on the deep point of view radar, reminding the reader he is reading and not living a story. In deep point of view tags are often replaced by action, body language, voice description, and emotion.

Replacing your tags makes the story feel genuine. How the words are said and the actions behind the words act as subtle cues to reveal more about a character, his emotional state of mind and the story.

Consider the more familiar distant point of view. A character is upset about something:

“Let’s not talk about it,” he said.

You really can’t tell much about the character’s state of mind. He could be serious. He could be lying. He could really want to talk, but wants to be convinced. We just can’t tell.

In a deeper version on distant point of view, the character might say:

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said, shredding the napkin.

 

Shredding the napkin gives a clue that whatever he doesn’t want to talk about is upsetting him. However, that he said isn’t only a blip, reminding the reader he is reading. He said also becomes redundant. Reading rules tell us that if dialog is in the same paragraph as the character’s action, then the action character is also the speaker. You don’t need both.

But we can go even deeper:

“I don’t want to talk it.” He tore a long strip from the edge of the napkin, turned it 90 degrees and tore another strip from the new edge. He did this repeatedly until a pile of paper curlicues rested on the tabletop.

This POV tells a lot more. The character is focusing on something other than the person he’s talking to. He’s creating a mountain between them. Time passes in silent contemplation. It sets a mood and a pace.

Make your thought  and sense words disappear

Everyone tells you to get rid of those filter words, but they rarely say why. Thought and sense words are telling words. They pull bac the curtain of author string-pulling. They also create a distance between character and reader. They are disingenuous to the “real life experience” of deep point of view.

Most of us never think I’m thinking or I’m wondering if I’ll get a raise. If you’re truly in deep point of view, your character won’t either. He will think. He will wonder. He will see, hear, feel, but he won’t add the filter words. He’ll just do it.

In the distant point of view, a character feels the pain shoot through his gut and wonders if he was going to die. The reader remains distant. He hears what the character’s thoughts are but doesn’t feel what the character feels. He doesn’t think what character thinks. He is told about these feelings and thoughts and as a result there is a filter between the reader and character … hence, they’re called filter words.

Deep point of view would put the reader inside the character’s head.

Pain shot through his gut, and he clutched his stomach. This was it. He was going to die.

There’s no thinking or wondering. The reader knows what’s happening and is pulled in deep.

Understand your POV character

This is the best trick at all. The writer knows their character better than anyone else. We know our character’s voice, their favorite phrases, their unique worldview, their body language and their trademark rabbit-chases. Make use of that. Sit down with your character and see if you discover anything new.

How does she carry herself? How does she walk? What chair would she chose? How does she sit? Note her body language. Think about what this is telling you about the ‘who’ of this person.

Is she approachable? Will you dive into your questions or ease into these questions? How does she make you feel?

Ask her the following questions and write down her answers. Try writing the answers in her voice, capturing her words, her phrases, her syntax, her unique world view. Pay attention to her body language as she speaks.

  • Who are you?
  • What do you want more than anything?
  • How far would you go to get it?
  • Why is what you want so important?
  • How do you feel about the people in your life? This could be story time people or past people. Both will reveal a great deal about the ‘who’ of the character.
  • How do you feel about the people in your life?
  • How do you feel about yourself?

Understand your POV character’s worldview

 

A worldview is shaped by experiences and expectations of self, life, and society. In any given situation a person/character brings those aspects to life in facing a new situation. How he will face or describe each situation or place will be colored by his worldview.

Let me give you an example. Several years ago, my husband and I went to dinner with my sister-in-law in Boston. He and I had two distinctly diffrent experiences that night based on our different backgrounds.

I was thoroughly captivated by the city — the colors, the tall buildings, the lights, the crowded sidewalks … it was a thoroughly fun experienced until we neared the MTA station and a group of about seven men were hanging around in the shadows. The man sitting out in the light asked Brad for some change and he reached into his pocket and realized that he didn’t have anything to give him. Suddenly, the dark shadows moved toward us and for a moment, I thought we were going to die.

Brad, having grown up in New York City, actually spent most of the evening with his head on a swivel, concerned about the dark corners and people who had absolutely no sense of personal space. As we approached the MTA, he saw panhandlers … not thugs. And when he realized he didn’t have any money to give them, for a moment, he thought he might have to fight for our lives.

He looked right at the leader of this squad and said “I don’t have any money, but you really want to let us go.” At that moment, I felt the energy of the little plaza turn. The leader of the panhandlers had his power taken away and somehow Brad became the commander because he knew that projecting an image of the willingness to go kamikazi would be enough to scare away a group of panhandlers.

 

My worldview was one from a society of politely armed individuals. Muggings are rare in Alaska because you never know who is concealed carry. We worry more about bears and wolves. My husband exists quite happily in this environment, but once in the big city, he dredged up his more jaded, paranoid persona and viewed many of the exact same things completely differently than I did.

Similarly, each character comes to a page with a particular worldview and by knowing that worldview you can manipulate the reader’s emotions and reading experience.

Keep in mind there are many more ways to explore deep point of view and there are many reasons to break the rules. That’s the great thing about writing. There isn’t just one way to tell a story. Explore the tips and tricks, discover more and then use what works for you and your story.

 

Posted December 21, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in writing wednesday

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