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1. The Secret to Creating a Really Good Bad Guy

12 pillarsBecca and I are welcoming Susanne Lakin today, who is a writing coach, author and editor all rolled into one. Susanne is our go-to expert for all things editing, and has a great new book out called the The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction: Your Blueprint for Building a Strong Story (The Writer’s Toolbox Series). I’m reading it now and am far enough in to say this is a book that you want to add to your collection. Susanne does a great job of showcasing each critical piece of storytelling, and explaining how they all fit together to frame the structure of a compelling and meaningful novel.

Today she has some great thoughts on how to build an memorable antagonist, so please read on! FleuronDon’t you just love to hate really great bad guys in novels? A list of the most intriguing villains in literature includes characters such as Moriarty in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Long John Silver in Treasure Island, Edmund from Shakespeare’s King Lear, and Hannibal Lecter in Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.

Not every novel has a villain. Often many characters take on the role of an antagonist at various times —someone who stands in the way of your protagonist. They may be well meaning or not.

But if your novel features one specific character providing the central source of opposition for your hero or heroine—in other words, a villain or bad guy—take the time to craft such a character so that he or she will be believable and memorable.

hannibalThere are countless varieties of bad guys, but the best ones are memorable because of four specific traits:

  • They aren’t stereotyped. People are complex, fickle, selfish, self-sacrificing, and fearful. Depending on the situation and mind-set when something happens, each of us might react in an unpredictable way. The temptation, especially with a nemesis character, is to defer to stereotype. To make bad guys really bad to the point that they are comic-book cutouts. How can writers avoid the stereotype? Read on . . .
  • They have a reason they’re bad. Great villains are passionate about what they believe. They go after a goal much in the way a protagonist does, and believe that what they are doing is the right thing in the circumstance. They aren’t just bad to be bad. All characters, whether virtuous or villainous, need core motivation based on how they were raised and treated throughout their life, the lies they believe about themselves and the world, and the deep-seated fears that frighten them and cause them to act as they do.
  • They show a glimpse of vulnerability and inner conflict. The best villains in literature are the ones you almost like (but would never admit it!) and find fascinating. They are usually complex, full of inner conflict, but have moments of grace or kindness that seem contradictory. Those moments, though, turn a predictable stereotype into a riveting, believable nemesis. Give your bad guy a moment of doubt. Let your readers feel sorry for him . . . for just a second. Then get them back to hating him.
  • They are flawed, and they usually know it. Often a villain’s awareness of his flaws is what motivates him toward his goals. He overcompensates for those flaws with his negative traits: pride, impatience, cruelty, heartlessness, greed, lust—to name a few. Because he is unable to love, he hurts others. Because he lacks true self-worth, he hates to see others succeed and attain happiness. What has been denied him, he denies others.

Push Beyond the Stereotype

Life is messy, difficult, stressful. Everyone reacts to stress differently and often inconsistently. You may want to make your role as writer easier by manufacturing consistent, predictable, stereotyped characters, but I would like to encourage you not to.

Push yourself to create believable characters that are complex and sometimes unpredictable. If you can create a moment in your novel in which the hero and the villain agree on something and realize what they do have in common, you can have a powerful moment.

Likewise, those moments in which the bad guy is actually vulnerable and/or empathetic can go a long way to making your story feel authentic.

How Bad Guys Are Good for Your Story

 Even if you don’t have one classic villain in your story, be sure you have one or more antagonists in your novel in some form or another.

Antagonists are so useful in many ways. By providing opposition, the hero can voice and demonstrate what he is passionate about, what he’s willing to risk, and why he’s after that goal. Nemesis characters provide the means to amplify and showcase the themes in your story, for they often take an opposing view on issues.

Your nemesis character does not want your hero to reach his goal. He himself should have needs, fears, and goals he is striving for based on what he believes. He may be evil, greedy, psychotic, or a sociopath. Or he might instead be a friend who is fearful of losing something precious to her, and who believes with all her heart the protagonist must not reach his goal. It depends on your story.

If you don’t have anyone opposing your protagonist, spend some time thinking how to create someone. Make his needs and goals clash with your hero’s. Make him believe he is right and has the right to his belief. Then readers will really love to hate your bad guy. Which is a good thing!

Who are your favorite bad guys in literature and why? Do they show a glimpse of vulnerability or some empathetic quality in the midst of all their evil? Share in the comments.

susanne S. Lakin is the author of sixteen novels and three writing craft books. Her award-winning blog Live Write Thrive gives tips and writing instruction for both fiction and nonfiction writers. If you want to write a strong, lasting story, check out her new release The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction, part of The Writer’s Toolbox Series, which provides a foundational blueprint that is concise and practical, and takes the mystery out of novel structure.

The post The Secret to Creating a Really Good Bad Guy appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS™.

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2. Vulnerability: The Key to Compelling Romantic Relationships

loveThe connection between two characters is one of the most magnetic forces in storytelling, especially in romance novels.

Whether they welcome the relationship, fight it, or fall somewhere in between, emotional friction creates an energy that leaves readers anxious to see what will happen next.

Building a compelling romance is not easy, and to make the pairing realistic, a writer must know each character down to their bones, including any past hurts experienced at the hands of others. Pain is a necessary component of any fictional romance. Pain? I know, it sounds crazy. Here’s why.

1) Romance isn’t simple.

You can’t throw two people together and expect pheromones and sex drive do all the work. Readers have expectations that a rocky road lies ahead, because obstacles, suffering and hardship are what makes a romance so satisfying. Characters willing to walk through fire to be together convinces readers they belong with one another. Love is powerful, and there is great beauty in the struggle to obtain what the heart wants most.

2) Healthy relationships (especially romantic ones) require vulnerability.

To really dig into this, we need to first look at vulnerability in real life. It’s usually cast in a negative light, used in the context that if we don’t avoid it, bad things will happen. If we don’t lock our doors, we’re vulnerable to thieves. If we don’t protect our personal information, people may steal it. Negative experiences teach us to be wary of appearing vulnerable, so we take care in who we trust and what we share. We dress a certain way, act a certain way, hide our hurts and pretend we are strong.  Characters, to be realistic, should think and act the same way.

But there is another powerful side of vulnerability: acceptance.

When a person accepts themselves, faults and all, they are able to show their true self to others rather than hide it. This openness, this sharing of one’s innermost feelings and beliefs, is the foundation of all meaningful relationships. Being genuine and honest allows a person to connect with another on a deep level. In romances, characters who are willing to be vulnerable and put their true feelings out there open the gateway to love and intimacy. Without vulnerability, a romantic relationship reads false.

So where does the pain come in?

Being vulnerable is not easy, especially for characters who have been hurt by those they once loved. A character’s past is often a quagmire of painful events making it difficult to let down one’s guard and trust.

For example, if our protagonist was manipulated by an abusive ex-husband, her painful experience with him becomes a wound she can’t forget. She will harden herself, maybe push people away, using emotional armor to keep from being hurt. But this also blocks any new trusting relationships from forming, something she may deeply want. Even when she finds a man to love, it is a difficult process to strip oneself of that armor and be vulnerable enough to forge a strong relationship, risking hurt once more. The character’s desire for the relationship must outweigh her fear of being hurt.

As writers, the need for vulnerability creates a giant obstacle. Why? Because it is our business to create characters who are broken, jaded or struggling in some way. Yet somehow we must show them it’s okay to trust. We must find a way to give them the strength they need to let go of their fears of being hurt and open themselves up to another. The question is, how do we do that?

1) Hone in on the desire for “something more.”

A common need we all have as people (and therefore all characters should have it as well) is the desire for growth and fulfillment. Fears hold a character back and leave them feeling unfulfilled, affecting their happiness. They must realize this, and yearn for something to change. This is the first step.

For example, if your character is having a hard time with trust and openness, have her look within and see the dissatisfaction she feels at not having close relationships, or people to hang out with, trade gossip or confide in. This realization will lead her to probe for what she truly wants (genuine friendship and connection) and create the desire within her to obtain it.

2) Create positive experiences for vulnerability.

There are many times when opening up and being genuine pays off. It feels good to tell someone a secret fear only to find out they understand because they fear it too. Or asking for help and then getting it. Even when we share a problem, we feel the weight of it lift because it’s no longer ours alone. Experiencing love, intimacy, trust, and friendship are all positive experiences that can build a person up, encouraging them to be more open and vulnerable with others.

3) Showing how the past has affected your character but having them see how negativity is holding them back so they can take an important step forward.

In the example above of the woman seeking friendship and connection, it will take time to learn how to trust and feel comfortable sharing details about herself, but if the desire for change is strong enough, it can be achieved.

The path to vulnerability is often the meat of a romance, so it’s important to get a good grasp on it as it plays into the obstacles, hardship and struggles that must be overcome to end with a deep, loving connection.

Image: PublicDomainPictures @ Pixabay

 

The post Vulnerability: The Key to Compelling Romantic Relationships appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS™.

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3. The Art of Story: When Telling Trumps Showing

Show, Don’t Tell. This is something we say quite a bit at WHW. As most of you know, our thesaurus collections are packed with inspiring ways to help you ‘show’ so you can craft compelling fiction that readers feel they can almost see, hear, taste, smell and touch.

informationBut while showing is key to writing a great story, telling has its place too, and so it’s important to know how to do both well. Becca has written a great 2 part post on Showing vs. Telling HERE and HERE, so I won’t reinvent the wheel. If you like, check them out!

So, back to TELLING. When is it okay to Tell instead of Show?

High Action or Fast Pace

When there’s a lot going on in a scene, like your hero is running pell-mell through the woods to evade an axe-wielding maniac, or you’re neck deep in a scene where a frantic flight attendant is trying to land a plane during a terrorist takeover, then pace is king. Slowing down to describe the soft melody of crickets and scent of pine needles won’t fit with scene A any more than play by play description of a passenger helping by giving CPR to a pilot fits with scene B.

This is not to say high action scenes are all tell, no show, because they aren’t! Only that word economy is important, and doing more with less is key. We maintain the intensity by choosing what is important enough to show, and what can be told.

Fight scenes are an excellent example of this. Describing every blow, dodge, twist, kick and stab in micro movements will cause readers to skim. Instead, we want to only show details that give the fight scope and intensity, and tell the bits that need to be conveyed quickly for readers to keep up and “see” what’s happening. Let’s say there’s a brawl going on between fueding brothers in the kitchen. If our hero Josh grabs a chair and smashes it over Tim’s head, readers really don’t need to know that it is a cheap wooden chair with one wobbly leg, or that Josh was actually aiming for Tim’s left shoulder, but because his brother shifted mid swing, it cracked him on the head instead. These details slow the scene down. Instead show us one swift image that paints the action unfolding: Josh hooking the chair with his boot to drag it close, and then swinging it at Tim’s head. BAM.

Time, Location or POV Leaps

Stories, by nature, often jump around, chopping out the boring stuff between critical scenes. If our main character Betsy went to sleep at the end of one scene and nothing important happens to further the story until she leaves for summer camp the next afternoon, we don’t need details of her waking up, eating breakfast, and the rest of her usual routine until the bus finally shows up at her door. Use narration to summarize the time between going to sleep (all full of nerves over a week at summer camp!) and pick up again when her butt hits the unyielding plastic bus seat the next day.

A single line of transitional telling can help readers skip the boring stuff and anchor them immediately into a new scene. The same goes for shifting the POV (after a scene or chapter break,) or if the story leaves one location for another. If it has no bearing on the plot, readers don’t need to read about a character getting in their car, starting it up, fighting rush our traffic and nearly getting rear ended before they meet someone at the library. If a bit of telling summary like, Jenny drove to the library to meet Amy helps tie those location shifts together better than showing can, do it.

Revisiting a Static Setting

If your story involves the character returning to the same setting repeatedly, you do not need to freshly describe the location each time. Consider a main character who runs a pharmacy checkout. If nothing has changed since the last time she worked a shift, don’t gob up the page with redundant setting description. Instead, focus on the action. (The only time this doesn’t apply is if the setting has changed significantly from the reader’s last visit. If for example, a car has driven through the pharmacy storefront creating a tsunami of pill bottles, condom boxes and maxi pads, then this is something that must be shown.)

High Emotion that Endures

Any scene that is packed with emotion can be a descriptive minefield. Too much showing can cause melodrama to rear its head, but too little and the moment can flat line. Whenever emotional tension goes on for an extended period of time, make it a jagged climb. This means showing readers a range of emotions, not just one, and to mix showing and with tiny (TINY!) bits of telling to give the moment scope and allow readers a chance to catch their breath. If an extended emotional scene is all show, show, show, you run the risk of confusing or overwhelming readers.

Details that Do Not Further the Story

When it comes to description, a scene should have color, but too much and the story canvas becomes a runny technicolor mess. Identify which details matter, and which do not. If something furthers the plot, provides needed characterization or helps the reader feel more deeply part of the scene, then show it as needed. But if a detail is more instructional or better served by telling, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of narrative to explain it so we can then focus on what is really happening.

What other situations can you think of where Telling might be better than showing? Let us know in the comments!

 

Image: Geralt @ Pixabay

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4. Personality Traits: Building a Balanced Character

Thesaurus PairIf writing the Positive Trait & Negative Trait Thesaurus books have taught me anything, it is that compelling characters are neither good nor bad, perfect or fundamentally flawed.

Instead, they are all of these things. Each has a set of good, admirable qualities, even while displaying frustrating or off-putting flaws. They have strengths and weaknesses in different areas, making them both skilled and inept at the same time. But that’s the point, isn’t it? The best characters are realistic and believable because they are just like real people. Like you or I. They have a balance of positive and negatives that give them a wholly unique viewpoint, attitude, belief system and personality.

Some writers want to create characters that ONLY have the best qualities, ones that prove they are good human beings that readers will admire and root for. They find it easy to create a blend of traits like loyalty, helpfulness, intelligence and determination, forming a true hero that can handle anything. But when it comes to choosing flaws, they pull their punches, worried that if they add a trait like selfishness, perfectionism, or impulsiveness, readers will view them as unlikeable.

Other writers EMBRACE the flawed character. They pile up flaws, forged by a hard past filled with emotional wounds that refuse to heal. They add layers of negative traits like suspicious, mistrustful and erratic, all carefully planned around an elaborate backstory that supports the necessity of emotional armor (flaws) that make them who they are.

But when it comes to admirable traits, they struggle. What positive traits would logically survive such a painful past? If say, the character was a victim of horrible abuse and to cope, they became a mistrustful, anti social liar, how can they also be friendly or kind? How can they logically be generous or carefree while harboring such deep flaws?

These are not simple questions to answer. Character creation, when done well, is not an easy process. Too many flaws (or even choosing the wrong type of flaw), and a character becomes unlikeable. Too many positive attributes, and they come across as altruistic, unrealistic or even (yawn) boring. So how can we achieve balance?

balanceUnderstand Who and What Shaped Your Character

Just like every one of us, your character has a past. And while yes, backstory turmoil and pain should be exploited to create conflict and tension in the present, there is always good mixed with bad. In real life, the good experiences (and people) are what keep us going no matter how bad it gets. So think about your character’s positive experiences and past influences along with negative ones as you dig around in their backstory. Understand what the character learned from both past trials and successes, and how each lesson will help to shape his personality.

Uncover Your Character’s Moral Center

Every character has a set of moral beliefs, even the villain. Think deeply about the moral code your character lives by, and what lines he will not cross. (HINT: the “why” of moral choices will be embedded in his backstory, and who/what helped shaped his view of the world.) Morals are the pulsing heart of motivation and action, so determine your character’s sense of right and wrong. (Read more about determining your characters morality HERE.)

Prod His Wound to See What Hurts

Nothing modifies behavior like pain, so understanding what deep emotional wounds your character carries is key to knowing what he also yearns for more than anything (Acceptance? Love? Safety? Freedom?) This wound and the fear that it can happen again is what causes deep flaws to form. They act as “false protection” to keep the hurt from reoccurring, and usually hold people at a distance. Here’s a helpful list of Common Wound Themes.

For example, a character who experienced rejection might close himself off from potential lovers because of his fear of being rejected again. How would flaws “help” him by pushing women away? Is he arrogant? Promiscuous? Uncommunicative? Dishonest?

And what attribute, if nourished, might grow strong enough to vanquish these flaws that hold him back from connection? Respectfulness? Honor? Loyalty? Empathy? Finding a major flaw’s opposite is the pathway to balance & resolving Character Arc through personal growth.

Give All Characters The Chance for Redemption

Some characters are intentionally unbalanced. If you have a character who leans one way more than the other (such as a villain or anti hero) by story necessity, then make sure you also build in something that suggests no matter how flawed or terrible, there is a chance they can change or be redeemed.

Every negative has a positive, and no matter how dark or skewed a character’s view is, or what he feels he’s better without, there will always be a flicker of light that can help him find his way back to becoming whole and complete. Show this to readers, be it a motive that is pure, a relationship with someone that is on some level healthy and good, or a positive quality that is admirable.

Balancing your character’s positive and negative sides means some deep brainstorming! If it helps, here are some more ideas on how to plan a character before you start writing.

How do you create balanced characters?

Image: Bykst @ Pixabay

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5. Writing Patterns Into Fiction: Scene and Sequel

Hi everyone! Welcome back from a wonderful break. I imagine, like us, some holiday rest and relaxation was just what the doctor ordered, but now you are getting a bit itchy, ready to jump back into the fray. To start things off right in 2015, we are diving right into the thick of writing technique with a guest post by author Raven Oak, who is joining us to talk about the successful pattern of Scene and Sequel.  This is a must read, especially for those who do not know about this technique. Trust me, your writing will thank you!

Scene and Sequel

ravenWhen I began writing seriously—not the scribbles in a notebook of plots I’d write someday or the half-started, never-finished stories I cranked out, but the “I want to write novels for a living” point in my career—my first completed book felt juvenile. Portions dragged. And those that didn’t, sped through the action without anyone stopping to smell any proverbial roses. So how does one develop solid pacing through a novel while building tension, developing characters, describing setting, and advancing plot lines? The answer is a little trick called Scene and Sequel. Why? Because humans like patterns.

Scene and Sequel is a technique developed by Dwight Swain in his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer. (If you haven’t checked it out, I would strongly suggest doing so as he covers a wide range of simple tricks writers can use to develop better stories.)

Readers pick up a work because they want a powerful and emotional experience. It’s an escape from the drudgery of the real world and a way to live vicariously through others. As a writer, you must create and maintain an illusion strong enough to fool the reader. Pacing helps create and maintain this illusion.

Novels are typically comprised of chapters, which are often made up of scenes. To keep the ebb and flow of a novel going, each scene should then be identified as being a scene or a sequel.

A scene has the following pattern:

  1. Goal—what the character wants. Must be clearly definable
  2. Conflict—series of obstacles that keep the character from the goal
  3. Disaster—makes the character fail to get the goal

And a sequel has the following pattern:

  1. Reaction—emotional follow through of the disaster.
  2. Dilemma—a situation with no good options
  3. Decision—character makes a choice (which sets up the new goal).

18. a christmas carolTo understand how this works, let’s look at A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

 Chapter 1 is a SCENE

  1. Goal—Scrooge wants money and to be left alone.
  2. Conflict—When the charity solicitors and Scrooge’s nephew visit, they stir up feelings in Scrooge and memories of his sister, Fran. As Scrooge arrives home, he sees his old business partner’s (Marley’s) face in the doorknocker, and then later in the pictures in his fireplace mantel. Scrooge tries to dismiss the conflicting emotions/thoughts this stirs up.
  3. Disaster—The disaster is when Marley’s Ghost arrives to warn Scrooge that three ghosts will visit him. Each one has a lesson to teach him. If he doesn’t heed their lessons, Scrooge’s afterlife will be full of pain and misery.
  4. Scenes tend to be full of action and tension that push the plot forward. Remember, every scene you write must further the plot and/or further the character development.

 Chapter 2 is a SEQUEL

  1. Reaction—Scrooge’s initial reaction is to write off Marley’s visit as the result of some bad food. When the Ghost of Christmas Past arrives, Scrooge tries to send him away. He claims he doesn’t want or need the lesson, but having no choice, Scrooge accompanies the ghost into the past.
  2. Dilemma—As Scrooge journeys through quite a few joyful and painful memories, he begins to doubt the decisions he’s made. Scrooge faces a dilemma: whether or not to believe himself guilty of bad judgment and humbug, or whether to continue avoiding Christmas, its joy, and his family as he has for many-a-year. Neither are good options, so he picks the option he thinks he can live with.
  3. Decision—Scrooge decides the past is too painful, because it’s made him doubt himself. In anger, he decides to extinguish the light given by the Ghost of Christmas Past, and thus, his own light. At least momentarily.

 What a sequel does is give our character(s) an opportunity for reflection and self-introspection. The decision will lead us into our next scene, where the character(s) develop a new goal. In the case of Scrooge, Chapter 3 (scene) begins with a new goal: Scrooge reacted rashly in extinguishing the light. At the sight of the Ghost of Christmas Present, he decides he will go with him willingly and see what there is to see. And if necessary, think further on his own attitudes and prejudices. He’s not ready for a huge change yet, but change is happening—as change should be happening to your characters as well.

Scenes and sequels should continue to alternate the entire length of the novel, and in doing so, they’ll create a natural flow for both plot progression & character development. Many authors plan or outline the sequence of events using scene & sequel on index cards before writing.

Just about any novel you read will follow this rhythm. It seems simple, but structure usually is. Pick up a book and give it a flip through—I bet it follows the pattern!

 Do you use Scene and Sequel, or is this something you’re planning on testing out? Let us know in the comments!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000447_00014]Guess what? Raven’s Epic Fantasy has just released, so please enjoy this blurb, and if you like, add it to your Goodreads List, or snag a copy from Amazon.

Her name was Adelei, a master in her field, one of the feared Order of Amaska. Those who were a danger to the Little Dozen Kingdoms wound up dead by her hand. The Order sends her deep into the Kingdom of Alexander, away from her home in Sadai, and into the hands of the Order’s enemy.

The job is nothing short of a suicide mission, one serving no king, no god, and certainly not Justice. With no holy order to protect her, she tumbles dagger-first into the Boahim Senate’s political schemes and finds that magic is very much alive and well in the Little Dozen Kingdoms.

While fighting to unravel the betrayal surrounding the royal family of Alexander, she finds her entire past is a lie, right down to those she called family. They say the truth depends on which side of the sword one stands. But they never said what to do when all the swords are pointing at you. 

Want more Raven? Catch her on Twitter, Facebook or visit her at her website!

The post Writing Patterns Into Fiction: Scene and Sequel appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS™.

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6. 10 Reasons Why Your Hero Needs Flaws

Hi everyone! Because it is crazy town in Angela’s house as she tries to keep up with deadlines and prep for Christmas, she’s giving a past Seekerville post some new love. Please read on to better understand why compelling Heroes (and Heroines!) MUST have flaws!

hulk fistsWhen we see the word Hero, we think heroic, which is ironic because our protagonists are usually anything but at the start of a story. Instead they are often jaded, lost or incomplete in some way, toting along a collection of flaws and false beliefs about the world and themselves. But that’s okay, because characters that fascinate readers most are layered, complex, and most of all, human. Brainstorming flaws can be difficult—which faults to choose, how many to give them and why, but here are ten reasons why all heroes need them.

1) TO CREATE REALISM AND EMPATHY:

In real life, people have faults-no one is perfect. It stands to reason that for a character to be believable, he also must be flawed. Readers are people too, ones who are as prone to poor choices, mistakes, and overreactions due to their shortcomings as our hero is. When they see the fallout created by a character’s faults,  they empathize, knowing just how it feels to screw up. And as the character learns more about himself and works toward overcoming his flaws to reach his goals, the reader will cheer him on because the desire to achieve self-growth is universal.

2) TO UNDERSTAND BACKSTORY:

To write a compelling character, it isn’t enough to slap a few attributes and flaws into their personality and then throw them at the story. Fascinating characters come about by understanding who they are at their core. If you know a character’s flaws, you can brainstorm their past to better understand what experiences made these negative traits form. Backstory is valuable to know (for you as the author, not to dump into the story) because it helps you plot out what motivates them, how they will behave (their choices, mannerisms, pet peeves, etc.), and what they avoid to keep from being emotionally hurt. Knowing these details means you’ll be able to write them authentically, making them real to readers. (If you would like help brainstorming your character’s past, I recommend trying the Reverse Backstory Tool.)

3) TO CAUSE RELATIONSHIP FRICTION:

When everyone gets along, a story flat lines. Flaws act as sandpaper in a relationship, rubbing characters against one another to create delicious friction. A flaw vs. flaw (sloppiness pitted against a perfectionist) or a flaw vs. an attribute (inflexibility vs. free-spiritedness) both build tension and conflict which draws readers in, quickens the pace and raises personal & relationship stakes. For more detail, here’s an article on How to Create Friction In Relationships.

4) TO CREATE CONFLICT:

Flaws mean blind spots, biases, pet peeves and irrational emotional reactions to name a few. All of these things cause the hero to mess up along the way, creating conflict. A story road paved with mistakes, misjudgements and poor choices amp up tension at all levels, and make it even harder for the character to succeed. The antagonist can turn the hero’s mistakes to his own advantage, becoming an even greater threat.

5) TO PROVIDE A BALANCE:

If a hero has too many strengths (positive attributes), not only will he come across as unrealistic, it will be too easy for him to succeed. This makes the story predictable because as conflict pops up, there are no flaws to hamper the hero’s efforts or create setbacks, and he will always win. Readers want to see a hero struggle, because it makes the victories so much sweeter. Failure is also important to a character’s  arc: he must hit bottom before he can succeed.

6) TO REVEAL EMOTIONAL WOUNDS:

Flaws bloom into being as a false protective measure when a person suffers an emotional wound. Why false? Because while they appear to “protect” a person from bad experiences (emotional pain), they actually hold back growth and damage relationships. Take a girl who grows up with parents who have high standards. They only bestow affection when she proves herself to be the best and so later in life, she equates anything less than perfection as failure. She may become a workaholic, inflexible, and overachieve, all to protect herself from feeling low self-worth at not measuring up (thanks for that, Mom and Dad!). Flaws are guideposts to these deep emotional wounds, something every author should know about their characters as it ties directly into Character Arc (see below).

7) TO GENERATE INNER CONFLICT:

Inner conflict is the place where the characters faults (flaws) and negative thoughts (I’ll never be good enough, I’ll never find love, I’m not worthy, etc.) reside. Good story structure dictates that a protagonist’s flaws should be counterproductive to achieving his goal and that his negative thoughts should sabotage his self-worth. These things are what the hero must face about himself and change. Only through subduing his flaws will he have a chance at achieving his goal.

8) TO BE A FORCE FOR CHANGE:

Flaws get in the way at the worst times, pressuring the character to act. Let’s say our hero is determined to take control of his family’s struggling company, but he’s notoriously irresponsible. To keep the business afloat, he must apply himself. His desire to not disappoint the people counting on him force him to take a hard look inward at his own irresponsibility, which he must change to succeed.

9) TO ENCOURAGE SELF-GROWTH:

As I mentioned before, one of the core needs of all people is to grow as a person. Growth is tied to happiness and fulfillment, so if your characters has flaws, small ones or big ones, showing him overcome them allows him to feel satisfied and happier, and will resonate with readers who are on their own journey of self-improvement.

10) TO COMPLETE THE CHARACTER’S ARC:

Flaws shouldn’t be random—each flaw forms from a negative past experience. In Character Arc, there should be at least one core flaw that stands in the character’s way (see inner conflict) of achieving his goal. For the character to win (his outer motivation) he must face his fears, deal with the emotional wounds of his past, and see that achieving his goal is more important that the risk of suffering another emotional wound. Only by subduing his core flaw and banishing his negative thoughts can he be free of fear. This necessary self-growth will help him find the strength needed to achieve his goal.

What types of flaws do you burden your character with? Is it a challenge for you to find a way for him to overcome these flaws?

 

Image: PublicDomainPictures @ Pixabay

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7. NaNoWriMo Prep

TypewriterAre you participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year? It starts this Saturday (November 1st) and is a mad dash to write 50,000 words of a novel in one short month! I participated for the first time last year and loved it. It’s true, I was a big snob about NaNoWriMo before I tried it, but now I’m a complete convert.

If you’re taking the plunge and trying NaNoWriMo this year, I have a few quick suggestions that I learned from my experience last year. Hopefully these will help you stay on track and reach your 50,000 word goal.

1) Make an Outline

Make a list of scenes you want to write for your novel. This doesn’t need to be fully formed outline. All you need is a list of events or moments that you think might be a part of the book. The fun thing about NaNoWriMo is that you’re writing so fast that everything you try counts toward your 50,000 word! Even if you cut it later, you can try it now and it’s productive. You can pick a scene to write each day and see where it takes you. If it doesn’t go anywhere, try another scene on your list. You’d be surprised to see how many scenes will snowball into whole sequences, chapters, and eventually full novels! An outline gives you a place to start each day, and a new scene to jump to if the one your working on isn’t going anywhere.

2) Create Scene Cards

After you make your outline, create scene cards for each of your scenes. These cards outline the major action and emotional change of the scene. This will help you to make sure you have a plan and direction when you write. This way you won’t sit down and stare at a blank page. When I re-read my novel after NaNoWriMo, one of the big things I learned was that scenes I had a plan for were worth keeping. Scenes I didn’t use a scene card for often got cut. Read more about scene cards and see examples here: Scene Cards Blog Post.

3) Don’t Edit

I know it seems counter intuitive to not edit. Part of writing is choosing the right phrase and sentence to communicate your ideas. But when the end goal is word count, editing is your worst enemy. NaNoWriMo is about getting your ideas on the page and moving forward. It isn’t about writing a masterpiece in the first pass. That’s what revision is for. Who cares if you’ve added adverbs everywhere. Who cares if you spend half a page describing a character’s hair style. This draft is about creating the raw material that you can shape and mold later. It’s easier to revise a novel once you have that raw material to work with, rather than trying to come up with a brilliant and perfectly crafted page out of nothing. Yes, your NaNoWriMo novel isn’t going to be spun gold. That’s not the point. The point is to get material on the page that you can revise with.

nanowrimo-poster

4) Write the Fun Scenes First

We often think we have to write in linear order. We also think we have to finish scenes. I give you permission leave scenes half-finished and to write out of order! Write the scenes you’re most excited to write first. Those scenes are going to have the most energy and excitement behind them. They’re going to create inertia that gets you excited to get up and write again tomorrow. If a scene isn’t going well, don’t finish it. Leave yourself a big note that says: finish this scene later and move on. Don’t worry about it right now. There are going to big plot holes, sure, but you can fix them in revision. Focus on what is fun and keeps you excited to keep writing this project. That’s the trick to writing faster than you should. Have fun and forget all the rules you’ve made for yourself in the past. Create, enjoy, and fall in love with your story.

5) Write in the Morning

Not everyone is a morning writer. I understand that. But personally, I’ve have found that writing in the morning during NaNoWriMo keeps me motivated. It allows me to get through my 1600 words a day early on. This also means any additional words I write that day are a bonus and help get me closer to 50,000 words faster! If you get behind in NaNoWriMo it can be discouraging. So don’t wait. Write first thing and make it a habit. One of the great side effects of this exercise is the way it motivates you to work on your project every day.

Looking for more tips to help with National Novel Writing Month? Try these:


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8. 9 Reasons Your Reader is Bored

cheese-classic-lDon’t give your reader an excuse to put your book down! Make sure your book looks more appetizing than a cheese sandwich by avoiding these nine pitfalls.

1) Leisurely Descriptive Passages

Ever read a book where the author spends multiple pages describing a house? Or maybe it’s a spaceship, or the way the light plays upon the windows of a city. Snooze fest!

Of course we need settings so the action doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but we no longer live in a time without photographs or television. Back in the day when we’d never seen an elephant before it was great to spend a whole page describing the lumbering and exotic animal. But you don’t have to describe everything in extensive detail anymore.

2) Leisurely Passages of Back Story and Flashback

One of the easiest ways to get your reader to tune out is with an extensive passage of back story. As authors we need to know all the back story, and we spend countless hours creating it. And because we’ve put in so much time creating the back story it’s tempting to want to share all of it with our readers. But that’s like forcing your reader to look through all 1000 photos from your vacation. They’re going to tune out pretty quickly.  Back stories can help us relate to characters, and many details are necessary, but keep them in shorter passages.

3) Scenes Where the Plot is Not Moving Forward

Plot is a shark, if it doesn’t move, it dies.

It’s tempting to include scenes that explore character, relationships, or mood, but if they don’t move the plot forward, they’re going to bore your reader. Do double duty with your scenes and interweave character development, mood, and themes into your plot-driven scenes.

4) Overstatement or Over Description

Imagine a nervous character who does too many actions to display his nervousness: puffing away on cigarettes, jiggling his legs, spilling his coffee, and twitching. Suddenly the character has turned into a caricature and not a real person. The over abundance of detail can annoy the reader and pull them out of scene. Once the reader is disengaged, you have to work extra hard to gain their attention again.

my-mr-man-book5) Neutral Information 

Sharing history that doesn’t have an impact on what’s happening in scene is the perfect way to distract your reader from the story. Yes, that fight is happening in the story, but hold on a sec while I tell you all about steam technology. This is particularly tricky for a novel that you’re doing research for. Be careful about how much you explain. All information should be on a need-to-know basis.

6) Telling the Story in Retrospect 

It can be hard to keep tension in a scene that’s told in retrospect. Because the event has already happened, the character isn’t in the moment anymore and is telling rather than showing. Consider re-writing the event in-scene to engage the reader.

7) Gratuitous Use of Disasters

One car wreck will grip a reader and put her on the edge of her seat. But gratuitous car wrecks, hurricanes, abuse, or explosive fights will desensitize your reader. Ever watch an action film with fight scene after fight scene, but it doesn’t really impact the story? It’s boring.

Disasters seem like prefect dramatic fodder, but are difficult to pull off. Disasters only create real tension if they’re truly interwoven into the story, characters, and situations. Otherwise they feel like a false tension used to deliberately manipulate the reader.

8) Resolving Problems Too Quickly

Did you spend a bunch of time setting up a problem only to remove the tension of that problem in the next scene? We’re told to torture our characters, but often we like to bail them out as fast as possible. Make your hero struggle and be uncomfortable. This is how he’ll grow. Show what he’s capable of and your reader will become more involved.

9) You’ve Created False Tension

Don’t deliberately crank up the plot at the end of your novel and create false tension. The plot’s tension needs to be there, in some form, all along. If you’re having trouble with the last act of your book it’s because you haven’t set up the conflict and tension correctly in the opening. Look back at the beginning, rather than forcing false tension at the end.

Interested in more topics like this one? Take a look at:


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9. Metaphorically Speaking

“Metaphor lives a secret life all around us. We utter about six metaphors a minute. Metaphorical thinking is essential to how we understand ourselves and others, how we communicate and learn, discover and invent.” – James Geary

If you haven’t watched James Geary’s brilliant TED talk about metaphors, you should! Ten minutes might break open everything you think you know about this topic.


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10. Emotional Description: 3 Common Problems with Show & Tell

Writing compelling emotional moments is the lifeblood of any story and the key to building a relationship between characters and readers. Yet steering clear of the show-don’t-tell pitfalls requires practice and skill. I’m reposting this from where it originally appeared at Romance University to shed light on three scenarios that challenge writers as they search for the right balance of emotional description.

Telling

Telling is a big issue, especially when writers are still getting to know their characters. Often they do not yet have enough insight into the hero’s personality and their motivation to really be able to describe how they feel in a unique way. Instead of using a vivid and authentic mix of body language, thoughts, dialogue and visceral sensations, writers convey emotion  in broad, telling strokes:

EXAMPLE:

Bill had to steel himself emotionally before entering the church. He’d managed to avoid his family for seven years, but his father’s funeral wasn’t something he could blow off. Anger and jealousy welled inside him as he thought of his two older brothers, the ones who always impressed Dad by being just like him: athletic, manly, hard. Now he would have to face them, and hear once again how he was a failure, a disappointment, an abomination that should have done the world a favor and hung himself from the Jackson family tree.

What’s wrong with this passage?

While the above alludes to an unhealthy relationship between brothers and conveys that Bill is the family misfit, the emotions are TOLD to the reader.

Bill had to steel himself emotionally… What does that look like? Does he sneak a slug of whiskey in his car before going in? Shuffle around on the church step, tugging at his starched cuffs?  Something else? With emotion, the reader should always get a clear image of how the character is expressing their feelings.

Anger and jealousy welled inside him… This again is telling, simply by naming the emotions. What does that anger and jealousy feel like? Is his pulse throbbing so loud he can barely think? Are his thoughts boiling with brotherly slurs that show his jealousy: dad’s golden children, his perfect prodigy, etc. Does his chest feel stuffed full of broken glass, and with each thrum of the church organ, the pain drives itself deeper?

Showing and Telling

Another common snag is showing the character’s feelings (thoughts, actions, body language, visceral sensations, etc.) but then adding some telling just to make sure the reader ‘got it.’ This often happens when a writer doesn’t have confidence in their own abilities to get emotion across to the reader, or they question whether they’ve shown the character’s feelings strongly enough for the situation.

 EXAMPLE:

Dean Harlow finally called Tammy’s name and Lacy’s breath hitched. Her daughter crossed the stage in her rich purple robe, smiling and thrusting her arm out for the customary handshake. Warmth blurred Lacy’s vision and she swiped at the tears, unwilling to miss a second of the graduation ceremony. Her calloused fingers scraped beneath her eyelids, a reminder of long hours at the laundry, all to ensure Tammy would have opportunities she herself never did. 

When her daughter accepted her diploma, Lacy shot out of her seat, clapping and cheering. She had never been so happy and proud in all her life. 

What’s wrong with this passage?

Emotion is shown clearly through Lacy’s hitching breath, the warm rush signaling tears, her rapt attention and then finally jumping up to cheer her daughter on. But that last line: She had never been so happy and proud in all her life. This unnecessary explanation of Lacy’s happiness and pride is like hammering a nail long after it’s flush with the board.  In the book, Description by Monica Wood, there’s a great rule of writing called RUE: Resist the Urge to Explain. So when it comes to emotion, remember RUE.

Over Showing

Over showing is when a writer gets caught up in the moment and goes too far by showing everything. Too much emotional description can slow the pace of the scene, create purple prose or clichés, and come across as melodramatic.

EXAMPLE:

Finn huddled behind the rusted oil drum, dripping with cold sweat as she tried to control her loud, rasping breath. The sound of Alex scraping the crowbar along the warehouse’s cement floor turned her heart into a jackhammer. A scream built up in her throat and she clamped her teeth tight, converting it into a nearly soundless whimper. Her body trembled and shuddered in the dark, and a cascade of thoughts piled up like shoreline debris– the odd things he said, the strange gifts and creepy poems, his interest in seeing blood—why didn’t these things didn’t send off air raid sirens in her head before tonight? 

What’s wrong with this passage?

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000046_00058]In some ways, this is a great moment showing fear. Body language, thoughts and visceral sensations all work to bring about intensity, but because there is so much of it, it feels overblown. Emotion doesn’t just build here…it roars. As a result, clichés form (the jackhammer heartbeat) and purple prose emerges from too many fanciful ideas (cascading thoughts, shoreline debris, air raid sirens, etc.) The combination of too much description creates the flavor of melodrama, which can cause the reader to disengage. Showing is great, but in moderation. Sometimes an author can say more with less.

Getting the right balance of emotion on the page isn’t easy, so I hope this helps! And if you would like to read about these common problems in more detail (or the other issues with writing emotion), you can find in depth information in the “Look Inside” sample of The Emotion Thesaurus at Amazon. Feel free to take a peek!

~~~~~~~

Also, Becca’s at Rebecca Lyndon’s blog today talking about characterization techniques writers can steal borrow from the stellar cast of Finding Nemo. If you’ve got time, please stop by and say hello!

The post Emotional Description: 3 Common Problems with Show & Tell appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

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11. Immersion: The Writing Process

We each have our own writing processes, and every book demands to be written differently. While participating in the #writingprocess blog tour last month, I talked about how my current WIP has been a difficult project to wrap my brain around. I said:

“This book demands immersion. She demands focus for hours at a time. And I’m not talking half-assed freewriting or NaNoWriMo first draft word-puke. This novel wants my blood. I do the best I can to keep myself immersed in this novel as much as I can, because she likes to hole up and shut me out for weeks if I’m not diligent.”

I haven’t been diligent. I’ve allowed this project to hide in the back of my mind. I’ve been avoiding it.

So after failing to immerse myself in this novel, I’ve decided to dive in 100% and go for it. There’s no time like the present. I just dropped my fiance off at the airport and he won’t be back for five days. Which means I have five days without distractions. It also means I can turn my writing studio (which happens to be in our living room) into a shrine to this project.

And that’s exactly what I’ve done. Say hello to my workspace this week:

SAMSUNG

Yup, I’ve covered the walls with all of the brainstorming I’ve done on this project: character sheets, outlines, mind-webs, questions I need to answer and more.

Workspace

I’ve been working through John Truby’s 22 Steps of Story Structure:

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I’ve collected setting and location images:

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I’ve created character sheets with photos and lists of controlling beliefs, external goals, fears, moral needs, self revelations, and distinguishable traits.

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As much as I’ve been avoiding this project … I can’t anymore. Not if I have to look at this every morning!

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Lets hope this keeps me motivated!

I wish you all happy writing this week and the next. And if you have images of your work spaces, I’d love to see them!


8 Comments on Immersion: The Writing Process, last added: 6/20/2014
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12. Immersion: The Writing Process

We each have our own writing processes, and every book demands to be written differently. While participating in the #writingprocess blog tour last month, I talked about how my current WIP has been a difficult project to wrap my brain around. I said:

“This book demands immersion. She demands focus for hours at a time. And I’m not talking half-assed freewriting or NaNoWriMo first draft word-puke. This novel wants my blood. I do the best I can to keep myself immersed in this novel as much as I can, because she likes to hole up and shut me out for weeks if I’m not diligent.”

I haven’t been diligent. I’ve allowed this project to hide in the back of my mind. I’ve been avoiding it.

So after failing to immerse myself in this novel, I’ve decided to dive in 100% and go for it. There’s no time like the present. I just dropped my fiance off at the airport and he won’t be back for five days. Which means I have five days without distractions. It also means I can turn my writing studio (which happens to be in our living room) into a shrine to this project.

And that’s exactly what I’ve done. Say hello to my workspace this week:

SAMSUNG

Yup, I’ve covered the walls with all of the brainstorming I’ve done on this project: character sheets, outlines, mind-webs, questions I need to answer and more.

Workspace

I’ve been working through John Truby’s 22 Steps of Story Structure:

SAMSUNG

SAMSUNG

I’ve collected setting and location images:

SAMSUNG

I’ve created character sheets with photos and lists of controlling beliefs, external goals, fears, moral needs, self revelations, and distinguishable traits.

SAMSUNG

SAMSUNG

As much as I’ve been avoiding this project … I can’t anymore. Not if I have to look at this every morning!

SAMSUNG

Lets hope this keeps me motivated!

I wish you all happy writing this week and the next. And if you have images of your work spaces, I’d love to see them!


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13. 4 Tips for Writing Great Scenes

We all want to write scenes that grip our readers and keep them glued to the page! Easier said than done, right? Well, here are four tips that I try to keep in mind every time I sit down to craft a scene. They aren’t 100% fool-proof, but they often help me find that extra oomph to make my scene’s sing.

ptsd-soldier-crying1)  Make Sure Your Scene Has Dramatic Action.

The number one reason a scene falls flat is because it doesn’t have any dramatic action. Dramatic action is the action the protagonist takes to resolve the problem he has suddenly been faced with.

In STORY, Robert Mckee talks about dramatic action as “story events” and defines them as an event that creates a meaningful change in the life situation of a character and is expressed and experienced in terms of a value and achieved through conflict.”

Well plotted stories are built on stringing together the scenes that have dramatic action. These are the important moments within the character’s life that move the plot forward. For example, we seldom see a character go to the bathroom or sleep, because there’s no dramatic action in these moments. Instead, we pick the scenes that are the most exciting and meaningful for the reader to read.

smiley face images2)  Is There a Significant Emotional Change in the Scene?

A great way to tell if your scenes have dramatic action is to check and see if there’s a significant emotional change. If the character starts the scene happy and leaves it happy, nothing has happened. But if a character starts happy and leaves sad, then something has happened in the scene to change their life situation and make them sad.

You can track the emotion of your scene by drawing emotion faces (happy faces, frowning faces) at the opening and closing of your scenes. The emotion should reflect the emotion your character carries into the scene, and the emotion the character carries out of it in when it’s over. If the emotion-face is the same, for example both are grumpy faces, then you don’t have any dramatic action in the scene. This indicates that the scene may need to be cut or revised.

expectations-a-poem-by-pooky3)  Set Up Reader Expectations

Setting up expectations helps the reader to feel the emotional change in a scene. If we know what a character wants and expects as she enters a situation, the reader becomes more invested. They want to see if the character succeeds or fails. You won’t have any reversals and surprises if you haven’t set up any expectations for the reader.

It’s much more exciting to watch a scene where a character scales a cliff if we know he’s afraid of heights, or we know his family is trapped at the top, or we know he thinks he can’t do it. It’s rewarding to see the character defy his fear. It adds tension if we know each misstep means he’s one step further away from saving his family from that fire-breathing dragon above (of course … you’ve got to set that up that dragon!).

Protecting4)  Stop Protecting Your Characters

Even though we’re told to “torture our characters” it’s really common for us to protect them instead. Have you ever written as scene and decided to:

  • Have an important conversation interrupted by another character/event.
  • Had a character freeze up and avoid talking about their feelings in internal monologue.
  • Had your character avoid asking an important question? Or had another character avoid answering it?
  • Hinted to something, not once, but over and over and over again, and never unveiling the truth until late in the book.
  • Bailed your character out of a situation before it reeeeeeally got tough?
  • Avoided writing a scene because you the author felt uncomfortable?

All of that, is protecting your character (or in the example of the last one, yourself). The most common culprit is interruption. What’s happening is we start a scene, but the second it gets to the tough questions or uncomfortable conflicts, we bail our characters out of the scene and ask our readers to wait.

Sometimes we think we’re creating mystery and tension by drawing out the answers to questions, or avoiding the main conflicts. In real life we absolutely avoid questions and conflicts. But in drama … well, we want the drama!

Don’t cut off the scene before it gets going. Don’t avoid the dramatic action!

Stop protecting your character by allowing her to wander, avoid, and be bailed out of situations. Lock your characters in a room and make them deal with their conflicts! Be brave and get to the guts of the scene.

Happy scene-writing everyone!


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14. Transitions in Time

The landscape of time can be a ticklish beast, particularly when writing. We live our lives in a linear fashion, always moving forward, never backwards or sideways. Our characters often live their lives linearly as well. In fact, books themselves must be read in a front to back fashion where chapter one leads to chapter two and so on. Yet time – or story time – is more malleable in a novel than it is in real life. Engaging a reader in the whole history of a world and character requires flashbacks, summarization of memories, and whole scenes that make us time travelers. Or as my favorite time traveler Doctor Who would say:

As authors, the question is how do we deal with all this wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff without disorienting our reader? Jumping around in time is a luxury we can explore, but walking blindly into a flashback, without any cues to the reader, will break the fictive dream and draw attention to itself. It will commit the cardinal sin of writing, which is to remind the reader that they are reading.

One of the best ways to transition a reader in time is through the careful crafting of language. Words are our tools and used craftily, that can lull a reader through an invisible portal from one time space to another.

Let’s look at four techniques to help a reader flawlessly transition through story time.

mango1) Word Repetition

Create transitions through the repetition of sounds, syllables, objects, and words. In the excerpt from The House on Mango Street below, the repetition of the words know and because are used as a portal from one time period to the next. The words move us from the present day story space to a new location in Mexico, and then back again.

“I have never seen my Papa cry and I don’t know what to do. I know he will have to go away, that he will take a plane to Mexico, all the uncles and aunts will be there, and they will have a black-and-white photo take in front of the tomb … because this is how they send the dead away in that country. Because I am the oldest, my father has told me first and now it is my turn to tell the others.”

2) Sentence and Phrase Repetition

Create transitions through the repetition of phrases, images, and sentence structure.

In this second example from The House on Mango Street, the repetition of a sentence structure creates a rhythm and punctuation to the paragraph. It is the repeating words along with the repeating rhythm that transitions the reader from impression to impression.

In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine … It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings … songs like sobbing. It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine.” (The House on Mango Street)

humanbraincloud_shot13) Word Association

Remember being a kid and playing the word association game? The mind likes to make connections through visual images evoked by single words. You can also use this technique to create transitions in time and space.

The word association game begins with hair in the example below. It then riffs off of imagery to transition from hair to bread, thus moving the reader into a memory.

“But my mother’s hair, my mother’s hair, like little rosettes, like little candy circles all curly … sweet to put your nose into when she is holding you… is the warm smell of bread before you bake it, is the smell  when she makes room for you on her side of the bed … the rain outside falling and Papa snoring.”  (The House on Mango Street)

wordUp-44) Question and Answer

You can also use a question to transition the reader from one time to the next. The question creates curiosity in the reader’s mind and the answer works as a transition into the new time space.

“No address. No Name. Nothing in his pockets. Ain’t it a shame. Only Marin can’t explain why it mattered … but what difference does it make? He wasn’t anything to her. He wasn’t her boyfriend … Just another brazer who didn’t speak English. Just another wetback … How does she explain it?  She met him at a dance. Geraldo in his shiny shirt and green pants…” (The House on Mango Street)

There are a lot ways to transition between time and space in a story. In later posts we can discuss things like: cause and effect, causality link-chains, or pause button violations. For now, focus on the magic of phrasing and how your words can makes a transition seem inevitable, natural, and invisible.

See these time transition techniques (and more) in practice by reading and studying these awesome stories:

  • How to Tell a True War Story by Tim O’Brien
  • The House on Mango Street by Sanda Cicneros
  • Small Damages by Beth Kephart

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15. 5 Important Ways to Use Symbolism in Your Story

So many elements go into a truly good book. When we turn that final page with a satisfying sigh, it’s often hard to identify just what made it a success. But many times, symbolism is one of the things that ties the whole work together. Done sloppily, it’s heavy-handed and forced, and turns the reader off. And when it’s done well, symbolism is one of those elements that the reader doesn’t notice; they just recognize that everything worked. It’s an important element, but really hard to do well. That’s why I’m glad to have K.M. Weiland here today. Symbolism is just one element that she tightens the focus on in her latest release: Jane Eyre: Writer’s Digest Annotated Classics. I had the pleasure of reading this arc, and it was so incredibly interesting, seeing a classic analyzed to see what made it a success. It frankly would have scared the poo out of me, being the one to pick apart such an iconic, well-known novel, but Katie totally nailed it. So rather than blather on, I’ll just turn things over to the expert ;).

Symbolism can sometimes be a tough concept for authors to get their heads around. How do we come up with the right symbols in the first place? What should they be symbolic of? And how do we incorporate them into our stories without making them so obvious we lose all their symbolic value?

Symbolism offers one of the richest opportunities for writers to deepen their themes, past just the conscious appreciation of the readers and right into their emotional and subconscious cores. That’s a lot of power right there. And we’d be crazy to leave it on the table.

V8374c_JaneEyre.inddCharlotte Brontë’s classic masterpiece Jane Eyre (which I analyze in-depth in my book Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic) is a wealth of symbolism. You want to know how to do it right? All you have to do is learn at Brontë’s feet. Following are five methods of symbolism she used to enhance every aspect of her story—and which you can use too!

Symbolism Type #1: Small Details

You can include symbolism in even the smallest of your story’s details. The colors your characters wear. The movies they watch. The pictures they use to decorate their apartments. All of these details offer the opportunity for symbolic resonance.

In the first chapter of Brontë’s story, Jane Eyre is reading a book called Bewick’s History of British Birds, which features significantly bleak and desolate descriptions of the English landscape. On the surface, these descriptions have no connection to Jane’s world—except that, of course, they do. Brontë could just as easily have given Jane a cheery romance to read. Instead, she used the bleak descriptions to symbolize Jane’s bleak life as an orphan living with her cruel aunt.

Symbolism Type #2: Motifs

A motif is a repeated design. In a story, a motif is an element repeated throughout the narrative, often to obvious effect. Sometimes, however, it will be used in a less conspicuous way that infiltrates the readers’ subconscious with a web of symbolic cohesion.

The concept of orphanhood is prominent throughout Jane Eyre, most notably in the main character’s own status as a loveless orphan. Indeed, the concept of love and what people have to do to earn it is central to the entire story. Brontë reinforces the obvious aspects of this motif time and again throughout the story. Consider just a few examples:

  • Early on, a servant sings a song about an orphan girl.
  • Adele, the child Jane is hired to look after, is ostensibly an orphan.
  • When Jane encounters the Rivers family, late in the story, she discovers they are newly orphaned themselves, after the death of their father.

Brontë never draws attention to the motif by directly comparing these examples to Jane’s own orphaned state. Rather, she simply allows their presence in the story to reinforce the overall effect.

Symbolism Type #3: Metaphors

Motifs can also be metaphors. Indeed, some of the best symbols in literature are visual metaphors for thematic elements. You may choose to use fire to represent a character with a hot temper. Running water may become a symbol for purification. Illness might represent sin or corruption.

The main metaphoric motif in Jane Eyre is that of birds as symbols for captivity and freedom. Brontë uses the bird metaphor throughout the story to symbolize the relativity of every character and setting in relation to this fundamental theme. Small, plain birds such as sparrows represent Jane. Birds of prey refer to Rochester. And Thornfield—Rochester’s prison and Jane’s sanctuary—is frequently described in terms of a bird’s cage.

Often, strong metaphoric language will emerge naturally while writing a story. In the rewriting, see if you can identify any recurring motifs that crop up. Can you strengthen them to better represent your theme? Try to figure out ways to use different aspects of the same motif to describe varying characters.

Symbolism Type #4: Universal Symbols

Some symbols are ingrained so deeply in our social psyche that they are used in practically every story. The power of these symbols lies in the fact that they will already have been accepted deep into your readers’ subconscious minds. (Their potential weakness, of course, is that their very prevalence can make them seem like clichés.)

Weather is a particularly good example. Thunderstorms are often used as the background for a character’s defeat—or as a contrast to a seeming victory. When Jane accepts Rochester’s proposal, the lightning that strikes a tree in the garden isn’t just a random happening. It’s a portent of the dark revelations that will soon sunder their love.

Symbolism Type #5: Hidden Symbolism

Some types of symbolism will be so deeply buried within your story that your readers may not recognize them at all. Obviously, the value of hidden symbolism is significantly less than that of other types. After all, what good is something if the reader never notices it?

For example, Rochester’s horse is named Mesrour. Very few readers will catch the significance of this: Mesrour is the name of the executioner in Arabian Nights.

Why name the horse this at all? Why not Blackie? Or even O Beauteous One? For starters, both of the latter names would have been a poor use of our Symbolism Type #1. “Mesrour,” even without explanation, enhances the already dark and mysterious tone of the novel. And for those readers who do catch the obscure reference, the symbolism will only be that much stronger.

Symbolism is a delicate dance. But authors can’t afford to overlook it. When choreographed correctly, it can spell the difference between a three-star novel and a five-star novel. Just ask Jane!

K.M. WeilandK.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

The post 5 Important Ways to Use Symbolism in Your Story appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

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16. Transitions in Time

The landscape of time can be a ticklish beast, particularly when writing. We live our lives in a linear fashion, always moving forward, never backwards or sideways. Our characters often live their lives linearly as well. In fact, books themselves must be read in a front to back fashion where chapter one leads to chapter two and so on. Yet time – or story time – is more malleable in a novel than it is in real life. Engaging a reader in the whole history of a world and character requires flashbacks, summarization of memories, and whole scenes that make us time travelers. Or as my favorite time traveler Doctor Who would say:

As authors, the question is how do we deal with all this wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff without disorienting our reader? Jumping around in time is a luxury we can explore, but walking blindly into a flashback, without any cues to the reader, will break the fictive dream and draw attention to itself. It will commit the cardinal sin of writing, which is to remind the reader that they are reading.

One of the best ways to transition a reader in time is through the careful crafting of language. Words are our tools and used craftily, that can lull a reader through an invisible portal from one time space to another.

Let’s look at four techniques to help a reader flawlessly transition through story time.

mango1) Word Repetition

Create transitions through the repetition of sounds, syllables, objects, and words. In the excerpt from The House on Mango Street below, the repetition of the words know and because are used as a portal from one time period to the next. The words move us from the present day story space to a new location in Mexico, and then back again.

“I have never seen my Papa cry and I don’t know what to do. I know he will have to go away, that he will take a plane to Mexico, all the uncles and aunts will be there, and they will have a black-and-white photo take in front of the tomb … because this is how they send the dead away in that country. Because I am the oldest, my father has told me first and now it is my turn to tell the others.”

2) Sentence and Phrase Repetition

Create transitions through the repetition of phrases, images, and sentence structure.

In this second example from The House on Mango Street, the repetition of a sentence structure creates a rhythm and punctuation to the paragraph. It is the repeating words along with the repeating rhythm that transitions the reader from impression to impression.

In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine … It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings … songs like sobbing. It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine.” (The House on Mango Street)

humanbraincloud_shot13) Word Association

Remember being a kid and playing the word association game? The mind likes to make connections through visual images evoked by single words. You can also use this technique to create transitions in time and space.

The word association game begins with hair in the example below. It then riffs off of imagery to transition from hair to bread, thus moving the reader into a memory.

“But my mother’s hair, my mother’s hair, like little rosettes, like little candy circles all curly … sweet to put your nose into when she is holding you… is the warm smell of bread before you bake it, is the smell  when she makes room for you on her side of the bed … the rain outside falling and Papa snoring.”  (The House on Mango Street)

wordUp-44) Question and Answer

You can also use a question to transition the reader from one time to the next. The question creates curiosity in the reader’s mind and the answer works as a transition into the new time space.

“No address. No Name. Nothing in his pockets. Ain’t it a shame. Only Marin can’t explain why it mattered … but what difference does it make? He wasn’t anything to her. He wasn’t her boyfriend … Just another brazer who didn’t speak English. Just another wetback … How does she explain it?  She met him at a dance. Geraldo in his shiny shirt and green pants…” (The House on Mango Street)

There are a lot ways to transition between time and space in a story. In later posts we can discuss things like: cause and effect, causality link-chains, or pause button violations. For now, focus on the magic of phrasing and how your words can makes a transition seem inevitable, natural, and invisible.

See these time transition techniques (and more) in practice by reading and studying these awesome stories:

  • How to Tell a True War Story by Tim O’Brien
  • The House on Mango Street by Sanda Cicneros
  • Small Damages by Beth Kephart

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17. Five Things I Learned From Doing NaNoWriMo

It’s been nine months since I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and wrote 50,000 words of a novel in under a month. It’s one thing to bask in the manic euphoria of pounding out 50,000 words like an intense sprint around a track. But it’s completely different thing to step back and look at what you’ve written and see if it’s worth anything. Yes, I braved reading my NaNoWriMo draft, and I’ve even begun to draft revisions. But what I’ve discovered in the post-NaNo-creation glow is pretty surprising…

First draft button

1) My First Draft Isn’t Shitty

First off, I’m not a fan of the term shitty first drafts. Yes, it was created to help us deal with our need for perfection in the first draft, but I also think it creates a cycle of negativity. The idea of telling ourselves our drafts are shitty, only reinforces the negative feelings we already fear about our work. Sure, a first draft may not be publishable, but honestly, I never think they’re shitty. However, if there was any instance where my theories on shitty first drafts would be overturned it would be NaNoWriMo … after all, I pumped out this draft in 2 ½ weeks. Only…

My NaNoWriMo Draft isn’t shitty!

Sure, it’s not polished gold, but there are so many important discoveries in it, explorations that led to new plot points, beautiful lines, sassy sections of dialogue, and even entire scenes that are good. Not scenes that are okay… but good!

My point is: we should trust our first drafts more. Trust the joy and the positive energy that can come from freeing yourself up and writing quickly. Trust the fact that you do know what you’re doing and your writing is better than you think it is!

female-empowerment2) Revisions are Empowering

Okay, so my first draft isn’t complete crap, but there’s still plenty of work to do. The second great discovery about writing a quick first draft is that when you approach revisions you immediately know what to do to make the book better. Revisions don’t become nail-biting, hair-pulling, exercises in frustration. Instead, revision become empowering!

For me, it can be the despair, the sense that I don’t know what to do, that makes writing so hard. But revising this novel has been invigorating and fun. There’s power and purpose in sitting down with raw material and knowing exactly what to do to shape it. It helps me to see how much I already know about crafting good stories, and that I’m able to do it with intention.  

old chronometer3) It Doesn’t Take as Long as I Think to Write a Novel

Looking back at my NaNoWriMo time sheets, I’ve discovered that I spent an average of 1½ hours writing per day. Yes, there were a few days where I put in 3 to 4 hours in a sitting. But mostly it was 1 ½ hours a day. As I’ve moved on to revision, I’ve also put in an average of 1 1/2 hours per day. By keeping a time sheet I’ve started to see how much I can accomplish in a short amount of time. In fact, I haven’t even put in a full month’s worth of work into this novel yet!

One of our big struggles with writing is finding the time to get it done. But I’ve been floored to discover how much I can accomplish with only 1 ½ hours a day! I bet most of you could find 1 or 2 hours in your day to write.

no_plan_road_sign4) Scenes That Went Nowhere…

Not every section of my NaNoWriMo draft works. But, I discoverd a pattern to the pages that fell flat or went nowhere. These scenes were searching for direction, and without it they floundered.

In my pre-planning stages I outlined and created scene-cards for the scenes I knew existed. I did, however, leave a few blank. I made the excuse that I’d figure it out later, while writing. It turns out that every scene I promised to figure out later on, didn’t go anywhere. Sometimes I’d know the general action of a scene, but the things that really killed my momentum were not knowing what my character wanted in the scene, or what his or her emotional change would be. All the scenes with a clear character goal and emotional change came alive on the page. Perhaps this is the through line I needed to guide me while writing really fast.

blinders5) Everything You Think You Know is Wrong! Or… Don’t Put On Writing Blinders.

I was certain that NaNoWriMo was going to be a huge failure. I had some snobby ideas about how a novel should be written. I was certain those participating in NaNoWriMo were wasting their time. But boy was I wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

I don’t think I will write every novel in my future this way. But I do think it will be a great way to write some of them. But man, if I’d stayed in my stuffy singular way of looking at things, I would have never discovered this amazing tool and these important lessons.

So get out there and try new things with your writing. Try things you’re certain will not work. Allow yourself to fail. We never know what will work until we put it into practice and give it a whirl.

What Did You Learn from NaNoWriMo?

Did anyone else participate in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you re-read your work? Started revisions? What discoveries have you made?


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18. Five Things I Learned From Doing NaNoWriMo

It’s been nine months since I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and wrote 50,000 words of a novel in under a month. It’s one thing to bask in the manic euphoria of pounding out 50,000 words like an intense sprint around a track. But it’s completely different thing to step back and look at what you’ve written and see if it’s worth anything. Yes, I braved reading my NaNoWriMo draft, and I’ve even begun to draft revisions. But what I’ve discovered in the post-NaNo-creation glow is pretty surprising…

First draft button

1) My First Draft Isn’t Shitty

First off, I’m not a fan of the term shitty first drafts. Yes, it was created to help us deal with our need for perfection in the first draft, but I also think it creates a cycle of negativity. The idea of telling ourselves our drafts are shitty, only reinforces the negative feelings we already fear about our work. Sure, a first draft may not be publishable, but honestly, I never think they’re shitty. However, if there was any instance where my theories on shitty first drafts would be overturned it would be NaNoWriMo … after all, I pumped out this draft in 2 ½ weeks. Only…

My NaNoWriMo Draft isn’t shitty!

Sure, it’s not polished gold, but there are so many important discoveries in it, explorations that led to new plot points, beautiful lines, sassy sections of dialogue, and even entire scenes that are good. Not scenes that are okay… but good!

My point is: we should trust our first drafts more. Trust the joy and the positive energy that can come from freeing yourself up and writing quickly. Trust the fact that you do know what you’re doing and your writing is better than you think it is!

female-empowerment2) Revisions are Empowering

Okay, so my first draft isn’t complete crap, but there’s still plenty of work to do. The second great discovery about writing a quick first draft is that when you approach revisions you immediately know what to do to make the book better. Revisions don’t become nail-biting, hair-pulling, exercises in frustration. Instead, revision become empowering!

For me, it can be the despair, the sense that I don’t know what to do, that makes writing so hard. But revising this novel has been invigorating and fun. There’s power and purpose in sitting down with raw material and knowing exactly what to do to shape it. It helps me to see how much I already know about crafting good stories, and that I’m able to do it with intention.  

old chronometer3) It Doesn’t Take as Long as I Think to Write a Novel

Looking back at my NaNoWriMo time sheets, I’ve discovered that I spent an average of 1½ hours writing per day. Yes, there were a few days where I put in 3 to 4 hours in a sitting. But mostly it was 1 ½ hours a day. As I’ve moved on to revision, I’ve also put in an average of 1 1/2 hours per day. By keeping a time sheet I’ve started to see how much I can accomplish in a short amount of time. In fact, I haven’t even put in a full month’s worth of work into this novel yet!

One of our big struggles with writing is finding the time to get it done. But I’ve been floored to discover how much I can accomplish with only 1 ½ hours a day! I bet most of you could find 1 or 2 hours in your day to write.

no_plan_road_sign4) Scenes That Went Nowhere…

Not every section of my NaNoWriMo draft works. But, I discoverd a pattern to the pages that fell flat or went nowhere. These scenes were searching for direction, and without it they floundered.

In my pre-planning stages I outlined and created scene-cards for the scenes I knew existed. I did, however, leave a few blank. I made the excuse that I’d figure it out later, while writing. It turns out that every scene I promised to figure out later on, didn’t go anywhere. Sometimes I’d know the general action of a scene, but the things that really killed my momentum were not knowing what my character wanted in the scene, or what his or her emotional change would be. All the scenes with a clear character goal and emotional change came alive on the page. Perhaps this is the through line I needed to guide me while writing really fast.

blinders5) Everything You Think You Know is Wrong! Or… Don’t Put On Writing Blinders.

I was certain that NaNoWriMo was going to be a huge failure. I had some snobby ideas about how a novel should be written. I was certain those participating in NaNoWriMo were wasting their time. But boy was I wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

I don’t think I will write every novel in my future this way. But I do think it will be a great way to write some of them. But man, if I’d stayed in my stuffy singular way of looking at things, I would have never discovered this amazing tool and these important lessons.

So get out there and try new things with your writing. Try things you’re certain will not work. Allow yourself to fail. We never know what will work until we put it into practice and give it a whirl.

What Did You Learn from NaNoWriMo?

Did anyone else participate in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you re-read your work? Started revisions? What discoveries have you made?


0 Comments on Five Things I Learned From Doing NaNoWriMo as of 8/11/2014 6:27:00 PM
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19. Call for Submissions on the Theme of Disobedience: Poemeleon: A Journal of Poetry

Poemeleon: A Journal of Poetry is now accepting submissions for our next issue, Volume VII, The Disobedient Issue. We are leaving the interpretation of the concept of disobedience open, but know that this issue was inspired by reading Poetics of Disobedience by Alice Notley and by necessary acts of civil disobedience everywhere. Please send only your best work, any length, any style.

Deadline for this issue: January 31, 2015

Expect a response within 1 - 3 months after close of submissions. If you have not heard from us after this time period please feel free to inquire.

The details:

- Please submit 1 to 5 poems, 1 craft essay, and/or 1 book review, using the online submission form.
- Please include a brief third-person bio in your cover letter.
- Simultaneous submissions are fine as long as we are notified promptly when work is accepted elsewhere, but please no multiple submissions. The only exceptions to this rule is if you are submitting both poems and an essay, or both an essay and a book review, or both poems and a book review.
- Previously published is also fine, as long as it was in print, not online, and as long as you as the author retain all copyright. Because we strive to be the first online publisher of your work, if it has appeared anywhere that is publicly accessible on the web (including on your blog) then it is considered previously published. Please feel free to contact us and we will provide clarification on a case-by-case basis.
- We acquire one-time, non-exclusive rights to publish your work, at which time all rights revert back to you as the author. If we should ever decide to create a print anthology and would like to include your work, we will contact you.
- If accepted for inclusion you may be asked to provide a brief contributor's statement exploring your view of disobedience in literature . (See past issues for examples of what me mean.)
- Please note that we are a non-paying market.
- No snail mail submissions. All submissions must come through our online submissions manager.
Upload your submission here.

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20. Call for Submissions: Mason's Road: A Literary & Arts Journal

Call for Submissions - Mason's Road: A Literary & Arts Journal

We are pleased to announce the opening of our next submissions period! We are now accepting your best Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, Poetry, Drama, and Craft Essays. The theme for Issue #10 is “Memory,” and we are looking for unique and arresting takes on this topic.

Our submissions period runs for three months: August 15 – November 15, 2014. There are two ways to submit to Mason’s Road. You can submit for free any time during our submissions period, and your work will be given thorough consideration for publication. Or, you can submit with a $10 fee, and your work will also be considered for our Mason’s Road Literary Prize, which includes publication and a $500 prize to the best entry we receive. Please visit our website for submission guidelines.

In our just-published issue, we feature work by prize-winning authors, including Jay Kidd, Nicola Waldron, and Stephanie Dickinson .We also have interviews on craft with poet Cynthia Atkins, screenwriter Tom Grey, and novelist Therese Anne Fowler. We are proud of the excellent array of work we selected from over 500 submissions, including the short story, “Formication,” by Patricia Canright Smith, winner of the Mason’s Road Literary Prize. Visit our website to check out all of the current issue’s works.

Sponsored by Fairfield University’s MFA in Creative Writing, Mason’s Road is an online literary journal with a focus on the lifetime learning of the writing craft. It is run by the program’s graduate students, and its goal is to be both educational and inspiring. Anyone in the literary community is welcome to submit, comment on the current selections, and engage in a dialogue about our craft.

Thank you in advance for helping us spread the word among your creative writing students, faculty, and contacts!

The Mason’s Road Editorial Team


MEMORY
Marcel Proust once said, "Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were." Such is the mystery and miracle of memory. Virginia Woolf believed that emotions cannot be fully developed in the moment, rather, only by remembering them in the past. Perhaps that is why, while we exist in the present, we have a tendency to live in the past, feeding on memory and experience to inform our future. Literature, especially, has all to do with memory. It is no coincidence that the majority of prose is written in the past tense as if being recalled from somewhere, and we even have a whole genre of nonfiction dedicated to memoir--a word derived from the French and Latin words for memory. Poetry is very often reflective, and even futuristic drama has an organic way of telling a story of the past. Why are we so tied to memory, and perhaps more curiously, why do we feel compelled to share memories with others? Mark Twain said, "A clear conscience is the sure sign of a bad memory." The implication is that alongside our memories of happiness and joy, there must surely be memories of sadness and regret. What value does this add to the human experience? How can literature help us to answer these questions? The editors of Mason's Road look forward to reading the creative ways in which our contributors delve into the eerie abyss of Memory. As Aldous Huxley puts it, "Every man's memory is his private literature." We are excited for this opportunity to read so many chapters of so many different stories.

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21. Kick it up a Notch: Top Tips on Writing a Page-Turning Novel

We all want to write an engaging, page-turning story. But that’s harder said than done, as is proven by the number of times I leave a movie complaining that it was one long bull crap moment. There are tips and tricks to successfully writing a can’t-put-it-down book. Eileen Goudge is here today to share some of them with us…

3024760675_c49e59b0d3_o

Courtesy: Sam Beckwith at CC

If you’ve watched the hit TV show “24”, you know that every day in the life of hero Jack Bauer is a really, really bad day. When he’s not hunting terrorists he’s saving a major city from total annihilation. Is any of it remotely believable? Hell no. But we watch anyway.  Why? Because the action moves at such a rapid clip, we don’t pause to reflect on the gaping plot holes until the credits are rolling.  (Seriously, a middle-aged guy singlehandedly taking out a dozen armed terrorists?)

It’s the same reason authors like Stephen King have legions of fans. King is a master of plot and pacing.  He knows that to create a novel that’s addictive you have to “kick it up a notch,” in the words of chef Emeril Lagasse. King’s current bestseller, Mr. Mercedes, had me at page one. It was off and running when I still had one foot on the ground climbing into the passenger seat. (It contains some Jack Bauer-like heroics, is all I can say without being a spoiler.) Is it the kind of stuff that would ever happen in real life? Doubtful. But who cares? We get enough real life in our own lives, and it’s usually pretty tame compared to a day in the life of Jack Bauer. Whether it’s a novel or filmed entertainment, fantasy or reality-based, we all want the same thing when reading a book:  to be swept away.

So how do you accomplish this when you’re writing a novel? How do you take a low-octane plot and kick it up at notch?

Don’t be afraid to be over the top. Your plot doesn’t have to be in the realm of the probable, just believable enough to keep readers from rolling their eyes in disbelief. The only rule is that it has to make sense in the context of the story so it doesn’t seem out of character.

When I first started out as a writer I made it a practice to keep up with what was selling by reading at least one book by each of the authors whose titles frequently appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. If you want to understand the perennial popularity of a Danielle Steel, check out Palomino. The heroine is not only dumped by her cheating husband, an anchor on the local news channel, she then has the torment of watching him and his now-pregnant girlfriend/co-anchor on TV every day. And that’s just the first chapter. Before she’s paralyzed in an accident.

You may roll your eyes at this plot line, but in the hands of a skilled writer like Steel, it’ll have you turning the pages too fast to think, “Please. Like this would ever happen!”


In my first novel, Garden of Lies, which was a New York Times bestseller, my doctor heroine is faced with an unwanted pregnancy as a first-year intern. She agrees to end the pregnancy only if her doctor boyfriend will perform the abortion. She wants him to know it’s a big deal, not the minor procedure he seems to think it is. In ending a life they’re both scarred for life. And that’s just one of the subplots. The main plot is the classic tale of babies switched at birth with a twist: It’s the mother of one of the babies who consciously makes the switch.

Create high stakes. It’s one thing to have the protagonist lose his job or have the bank foreclose on his house. We read about this sort of thing every day in the news, so it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary; we feel for the person crying on TV because they lost their house and wish him or her well. With fiction, we want the exact opposite: more pain and suffering. If the protagonist is thrown into hot water, we want that water to be scalding.

Take The Firm, for instance—the novel that launched the mega-bestselling John Grisham’s career. The protagonist, Mitch, not only suspects there’s something fishy going on at the law firm that’s just hired him, but he notices the mortality rate among junior partners is unusually high. Soon he’s on the hit list and being chased, not only by the crooks, but by the mob and FBI. Who cares if that’d likely never happen in real life and you wouldn’t survive to tell the tale if it did? It makes for a compulsively readable novel and was made into a film that was a box-office hit.

Make us care before you toss your hero into hot waterThere’s a reason you don’t see a dead body in the opening pages of my newest title, Bones and Roses (Book One of my Cypress Bay mystery series). I wanted readers to first get to know my amateur sleuth Tish—a recovering alcoholic who lost her mom at a young age—so when the corpse does turn up, they’d understand and appreciate the impact it has on her.


In opening scenes, suspense should come from the protagonist himself (or protagonists if it’s a multiple-viewpoint novel). Readers will want to know more about this character, so they’ll keep turning the pages to find out what happens next. If the author fails to create reader sympathy for the protagonist before he or she is put in a tight spot or a tight spot becomes even tighter, the reader won’t care whether or not he or she finds a way out.

Take The Shining, by Stephen King. King foreshadows the horrors to come in an opening scene in which down-on-his-luck protagonist Jack Torrance is interviewing for the job of caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. You care what happens to Jack and his wife and son, and you suspect it’s not going to turn out all hunky-dory when he gets the job.

In short, if you haven’t developed reader sympathy for your protagonist, the sledgehammer blow on which the plot hinges won’t have as much impact.

Keep up the pace. Remember when you were a kid and your big brother would twist your arm behind your back until you cried “uncle”?  There’s no crying uncle in a taut, fast-paced novel. As you build toward the climax, it needs to be fast and furious with no letting up. In Michael Kortya’s masterful suspense novel, Those Who Wish Me Dead, a wilderness guide is leading a group of at-risk youths—among them, a kid who witnessed a murder and is being hunted by killers. Throw in a former U.S. marshal who has her own reasons for finding the kid, a forest ranger with a tortured past, the hero’s plucky wife back at the ranch, and a couple of really scary psychopaths, and you have a potent blend that’ll get the reader’s pulse pounding like a triple shot of espresso.

You write romance? Same rule applies as with horror and suspense novels: keep those pages turning with memorable characters and a compelling plot. Will Scarlett find happiness with Rhett?  Will Bridget Jones get over herself and get with Mr. Darcy? These questions keep the plot bubbling and the protagonist stewing to perfect, delicious done-ness.


These are just a few of the basics. For more about how to write a page-turner, I recommend Writing the Blockbuster Novel, an excellent how-to written by my former literary agent and ex-husband, Albert Zuckerman. As someone who’s published a novel of his own and shaped countless others (including those of bestselling author Ken Follett), Al really knows his stuff.

Eileen authorNew York Times’ bestselling novelist Eileen Goudge wrote her first mystery, “Secret of the Mossy Cave,” at the age of eleven. She went on to pen the perennially popular GARDEN OF LIES—which was published in 22 languages around the world—and numerous other women’s fiction titles. BONES AND ROSES is the first book in her Cypress Bay Mysteries series. She lives in New York City with her husband, television film critic and entertainment reporter Sandy Kenyon. Online, you can find her at her website.

The post Kick it up a Notch: Top Tips on Writing a Page-Turning Novel appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

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22. Kick it up a Notch: Top Tips on Writing a Page-Turning Novel

We all want to write an engaging, page-turning story. But that’s harder said than done, as is proven by the number of times I leave a movie complaining that it was one long bull crap moment. There are tips and tricks to successfully writing a can’t-put-it-down book. Eileen Goudge is here today to share some of them with us…

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Courtesy: Sam Beckwith at CC

If you’ve watched the hit TV show “24”, you know that every day in the life of hero Jack Bauer is a really, really bad day. When he’s not hunting terrorists he’s saving a major city from total annihilation. Is any of it remotely believable? Hell no. But we watch anyway.  Why? Because the action moves at such a rapid clip, we don’t pause to reflect on the gaping plot holes until the credits are rolling.  (Seriously, a middle-aged guy singlehandedly taking out a dozen armed terrorists?)

It’s the same reason authors like Stephen King have legions of fans. King is a master of plot and pacing.  He knows that to create a novel that’s addictive you have to “kick it up a notch,” in the words of chef Emeril Lagasse. King’s current bestseller, Mr. Mercedes, had me at page one. It was off and running when I still had one foot on the ground climbing into the passenger seat. (It contains some Jack Bauer-like heroics, is all I can say without being a spoiler.) Is it the kind of stuff that would ever happen in real life? Doubtful. But who cares? We get enough real life in our own lives, and it’s usually pretty tame compared to a day in the life of Jack Bauer. Whether it’s a novel or filmed entertainment, fantasy or reality-based, we all want the same thing when reading a book:  to be swept away.

So how do you accomplish this when you’re writing a novel? How do you take a low-octane plot and kick it up at notch?

Don’t be afraid to be over the top. Your plot doesn’t have to be in the realm of the probable, just believable enough to keep readers from rolling their eyes in disbelief. The only rule is that it has to make sense in the context of the story so it doesn’t seem out of character.

When I first started out as a writer I made it a practice to keep up with what was selling by reading at least one book by each of the authors whose titles frequently appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. If you want to understand the perennial popularity of a Danielle Steel, check out Palomino. The heroine is not only dumped by her cheating husband, an anchor on the local news channel, she then has the torment of watching him and his now-pregnant girlfriend/co-anchor on TV every day. And that’s just the first chapter. Before she’s paralyzed in an accident.

You may roll your eyes at this plot line, but in the hands of a skilled writer like Steel, it’ll have you turning the pages too fast to think, “Please. Like this would ever happen!”


In my first novel, Garden of Lies, which was a New York Times bestseller, my doctor heroine is faced with an unwanted pregnancy as a first-year intern. She agrees to end the pregnancy only if her doctor boyfriend will perform the abortion. She wants him to know it’s a big deal, not the minor procedure he seems to think it is. In ending a life they’re both scarred for life. And that’s just one of the subplots. The main plot is the classic tale of babies switched at birth with a twist: It’s the mother of one of the babies who consciously makes the switch.

Create high stakes. It’s one thing to have the protagonist lose his job or have the bank foreclose on his house. We read about this sort of thing every day in the news, so it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary; we feel for the person crying on TV because they lost their house and wish him or her well. With fiction, we want the exact opposite: more pain and suffering. If the protagonist is thrown into hot water, we want that water to be scalding.

Take The Firm, for instance—the novel that launched the mega-bestselling John Grisham’s career. The protagonist, Mitch, not only suspects there’s something fishy going on at the law firm that’s just hired him, but he notices the mortality rate among junior partners is unusually high. Soon he’s on the hit list and being chased, not only by the crooks, but by the mob and FBI. Who cares if that’d likely never happen in real life and you wouldn’t survive to tell the tale if it did? It makes for a compulsively readable novel and was made into a film that was a box-office hit.

Make us care before you toss your hero into hot waterThere’s a reason you don’t see a dead body in the opening pages of my newest title, Bones and Roses (Book One of my Cypress Bay mystery series). I wanted readers to first get to know my amateur sleuth Tish—a recovering alcoholic who lost her mom at a young age—so when the corpse does turn up, they’d understand and appreciate the impact it has on her.


In opening scenes, suspense should come from the protagonist himself (or protagonists if it’s a multiple-viewpoint novel). Readers will want to know more about this character, so they’ll keep turning the pages to find out what happens next. If the author fails to create reader sympathy for the protagonist before he or she is put in a tight spot or a tight spot becomes even tighter, the reader won’t care whether or not he or she finds a way out.

Take The Shining, by Stephen King. King foreshadows the horrors to come in an opening scene in which down-on-his-luck protagonist Jack Torrance is interviewing for the job of caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. You care what happens to Jack and his wife and son, and you suspect it’s not going to turn out all hunky-dory when he gets the job.

In short, if you haven’t developed reader sympathy for your protagonist, the sledgehammer blow on which the plot hinges won’t have as much impact.

Keep up the pace. Remember when you were a kid and your big brother would twist your arm behind your back until you cried “uncle”?  There’s no crying uncle in a taut, fast-paced novel. As you build toward the climax, it needs to be fast and furious with no letting up. In Michael Kortya’s masterful suspense novel, Those Who Wish Me Dead, a wilderness guide is leading a group of at-risk youths—among them, a kid who witnessed a murder and is being hunted by killers. Throw in a former U.S. marshal who has her own reasons for finding the kid, a forest ranger with a tortured past, the hero’s plucky wife back at the ranch, and a couple of really scary psychopaths, and you have a potent blend that’ll get the reader’s pulse pounding like a triple shot of espresso.

You write romance? Same rule applies as with horror and suspense novels: keep those pages turning with memorable characters and a compelling plot. Will Scarlett find happiness with Rhett?  Will Bridget Jones get over herself and get with Mr. Darcy? These questions keep the plot bubbling and the protagonist stewing to perfect, delicious done-ness.


These are just a few of the basics. For more about how to write a page-turner, I recommend Writing the Blockbuster Novel, an excellent how-to written by my former literary agent and ex-husband, Albert Zuckerman. As someone who’s published a novel of his own and shaped countless others (including those of bestselling author Ken Follett), Al really knows his stuff.

Eileen authorNew York Times’ bestselling novelist Eileen Goudge wrote her first mystery, “Secret of the Mossy Cave,” at the age of eleven. She went on to pen the perennially popular GARDEN OF LIES—which was published in 22 languages around the world—and numerous other women’s fiction titles. BONES AND ROSES is the first book in her Cypress Bay Mysteries series. She lives in New York City with her husband, television film critic and entertainment reporter Sandy Kenyon. Online, you can find her at her website.

The post Kick it up a Notch: Top Tips on Writing a Page-Turning Novel appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

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23. Call for Submissions: 2016 Writer's Market and 2016 Poet's Market

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: 2016 WRITER'S MARKET

Until 11:59 p.m. (Atlanta, Georgia time) on October 20, 2014, I'll be accepting pitches for articles in the 2016 Writer's Market. Sometime in the end of October, I'll start making assignments. If you're interested in pitching an article idea or three, read on.

What I Like
So, what do I prefer? The best way to figure that out is to read a recent edition or two of Writer's Market. (Order the 2015 Writer's Market here). Anyone familiar with the book will know that I'm looking for articles that will help freelancers find more success from a business perspective.

Previous articles have tackled queries, book proposals, taxes, record keeping, business management, and more. If you're an experienced source and can interview other sources, that is ideal. However, I'm unlikely to assign featured interviews with writers (as I tend to tackle those myself).

I'm also not interested in articles on the craft of writing. While I think those pieces are extremely valuable, they're just not a good fit for Writer's Market. If you're in doubt, go ahead and pitch it. Read the full guidelines to learn how.


CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: 2016 POET'S MARKET

 
Running until 11:59 p.m. (Atlanta, Georgia time) on October 15, 2014, I'll be accepting pitches for articles and original poems in the 2016 Poet's Market. Sometime in the end of October, I'll start making assignments. If you're interested in pitching an article idea or three-or submitting original poems, read on.

What I Like
As with Writer's Market, the best way to figure out why I like is to read a recent edition or two of Poet's Market. (Order the 2015 Poet's Market here). Anyone familiar with the book will know that I'm looking for articles that will help poets find more success, including articles on business, promotion, and the craft of poetry-which is one major difference between the two books.

Here's another major difference: I'm seeking previously unpublished poems! Yes, I want article pitches, but I also want poems. I will choose between 10 and 20 to publish.

So get together your article ideas, dust off your previously unpublished poems, and start submitting. But first, read the full guidelines to learn how.

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24. 4 Types of Prologues

Satellite View Of StarsThere’s an ongoing debate about prologues. Do you need them? Are they superfluous? Do they set up the story, or should you cut ‘em and get to chapter one already?

Plenty of opinions exist, and many opinions have to do with taste. So, before we jump on the “prologues never contribute to the story” bandwagon, I think the first step is to identify what kind of prologue one is writing and the objective of that prologue. We need to know what we’re writing and why, before we let  the opinions of what’s “in vogue” influence our writing decisions.

Let’s take a look at four different kinds of prologues.

1) Future Protagonist

This prologue is written in the same voice and style as the main story and from the POV of the same protagonist. When done really well, this kind of prologue changes everything the reader thought. As the reader continues with the story, there’s a point when he will come to understand why the prologue was included. When this reason becomes clear, the reader’s perspective of the story undergoes some kind of change. The reader has an “Ah-ha!” moment. An example of this type of prologue can be found in Unleaving by Joan Paton Walsh.

2) Past Protagonist

Something happened to the protagonist in the past that the reader has to know. Batman’s back story is an example of this. You have to know that his parents were murdered to understand the story and his motivations. This type of prologue usually includes a strong emotional event that starts off the story. Examples of this type of prologue: Pixar’s Up, The Scorpio Races, Smoke and Bone, and Batman.

3) Different Point of View

This prologue is not told from the POV of the protagonist. In this case, the writer has to justify this switch; the relevance MUST be made clear and the pay off has to be worth the disruption of the narrative voice. A successful example of this would be Boy in the Burning House by Tim Wynne-Jones.

4) Background Prologue

This is the kind of prologue that gives prologues a bad wrap. This  prologue somehow explains setting and back story. But It can also be a “bit of a trudge.” The writer has to be careful to make sure that the information shared in a background prologue is relevant to the story. It’s not an excuse to share exposition, which is often found in science fiction and fantasy novels that start with trudging prologues. This information has to be truly necessary.

A spin-off of this type of prologue is the background montage, which in effect, is a back story prologue in a film. You see these in movies and television shows like: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Hobbit, Amile, Pushing Daises, and Maleficent. This technique is often more successful in film due to the short time frame. Where as, an author has more time and opportunity to share back story and exposition in a book. The film viewer tends to be more forgiving of a background montage than the reader is of a background prologue.

Looking for more resources on prologues? Try these:


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25. Call for Submissions: Glassworks

Glassworks, the literary magazine of Rowan University’s Master of Arts in Writing graduate program, invites writers to submit work to be considered for publication.

Glassworks publishes nonfiction, fiction, poetry, hybrid pieces, craft essays, new media, and art both digitally and in print. We are currently reading until December 15, 2014.


More information about the magazine, sample issues, and our submission manager can be found at our website.


Submissions link.

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