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Results 1 - 25 of 369
1. How to Ruin Your Novel’s Opening with a Few Wrong Words


The Girl, the Gypsy & the Gargoyle by Darcy Pattison.

Choosing the right set of words–the diction of your novel–is crucial, especially in the opening pages of your novel. Novels are a context for making choices, and within that context, some words make sense and some don’t.

A novel sets up a certain setting, time period, tone, mood and sensibilities and you must not violate this. If you are writing a gothic romance, the language must reflect this. For thrillers, the fast paced action demands a certain vocabulary. Violating these restrictions means a bump in the reader’s experience that may make them put down the book.

Let’s look at some examples. This is from my book, SAUCY AND BUBBA: A HANSEL AND GRETEL TALE.
S&B COVER3-CS.inddJust from the title you know that this is a contemporary retelling of Hansel and Gretel and this sets up expectations for the language that will be used. This is a first look at Krissy, the stepmother.

Krissy was singing to herself. Gingerbread days were filled with music, too. Once a month, Krissy made a gingerbread house and took it into town to sell to the bakery for $200. The bakery displayed it in their picture window for a month, and then donated it to a day care. Each month, Krissy checked out a stack of architecture books and pored over them.

Let’s substitute a couple words and see if it bothers you as a reader:

Krissy was caterwauling to herself. Gingerbread days were crammed with music, too. Once a month, Krissy slapped together a gingerbread house and took it into town to peddle to the bakery for $200. The bakery displayed it in their picture window for a month, and then dumped it off at a day care. Each month, Krissy checked out a stack of architecture books and flipped through them.

I’ve been extreme here in word choice, of course. The key is to listen to your story. Where are the places where a single word might interrupt the narrative? Work hard to control your word choices and the overall diction of your story. And I’ll stay with you for the whole book.

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2. Idea to Book: Outline + Character


The Girl, the Gypsy & the Gargoyle by Darcy Pattison.

How do you take an idea to a book? I am just starting the process again and every time, it overwhelms me. I know the process works, but it seems so daunting at this first stage. So, I only look forward to the next task, knowing that taking the first step will lead me onward.

For this story, I’ll approach it on several levels at once:

Outlining. This is the fourth book in an easy-reader series, so I know the general pattern that the book will follow over its ten chapters. Chapter one will introduce the story problem and chapter ten will wrap it up. That leaves eight chapters and each has a specific function in this short format. Chapter 2 introduces the subplot, chapter 4 intensifies it and chapter 6 resolves it. That leaves chapters 1, 3, 5, 7-10 for the wrap-up. Chapters 9 and 10 are the climax scene, split into two, with a cliff hanger at the end of chapter 9. In other words, I can slot actions into the functions of each chapter and make it work. Knowing each chapter’s function makes it easier–but not automatic. I’ll still need to shift things around and make allowances for this individual story.

Character Problem. Making my characters hurt is the second challenge. Squeezing them, making them uncomfortable, making them cry, dishing out grief and mayhem–it’s all part of the author’s job. I tend to be a peace-maker and find this to be quite difficult. But if I can manage to bring my character’s emotions to a breaking point by chapter 8, I’ll be able to move the reader. I’ll be searching for the pressure points for the character as the outline progresses. Hopefully, the emotional resolution in chapter 9-10 will be a twist, something unexpected by the reader.

Back and Forth Between Outline and Characters. The nice thing about focusing on just this much at first is that it is interactive. I’ll go back and forth between plot, character and the structure demanded by this series until the story starts to gel. Will it be easy and automatic? Oh, no. I’ll be pulling out my hair (metaphorically) for a couple days. But by the end of the week (I hope) there will be progress.

How do you start your story? Do you free-write, create a character background, or outline? Which parts interact as you create the basis for a new story?

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bk/12392396893/

What Character Are You? Click to Enlarge. Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bk/12392396893/

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3. Begin in the Muggle World: Opening Scenes

  1. How many pages are in a typical children’s picture book?
  2. Who is the audience of a children’s picture book? Hint: It's not just kids.
  3. Are there restrictions on the vocabulary you use in a picture book?
  4. Do I have to write in rhyme? Do manuscripts written in rhyme sell better?
  5. Do EPUB books have to the same length as printed books?
Don't start writing that picture book until you know these crucial concepts. GET THE ANSWERS HERE.

Where should your novel begin? The Harry Potter series doesn’t start with the death of Harry’s parents, because Harry wasn’t old enough to remember that. It doesn’t start with the first day in Hogwarts School because it wouldn’t bring us into Harry’s world with a strong enough sense of character and a strong sympathy for Harry.

Instead, JK Rowling begins the whole series in the Muggle world, with a misfit Harry trying to survive while living under the stairway.

Build Sympathy. One crucial goal of openings is to create sympathy for a character that will carry through many challenges and events. An orphaned child who is forced to live with disagreeable parents will most certainly get sympathy. Poor thing, to be treated so shabbily; it’s not fair. We love our underdogs, don’t we?
Start with the Normal World. For Harry and for the reader, the normal world is the Muggle world where there is no magic. It’s the right place to start, but the wrong place to linger. Readers should understand exactly what the normal situation is before something comes along to shake up the world of the story.

Start with a Day that is Different. Harry’s under-the-stairs world is normal, but it doesn’t stay normal. Immediately something is different. It’s a delicate balance to make sure the contrast is set up between normal and the exciting world introduced in the story. You want enough of the normal to set up the contrast, but too much gets boring. Normal is boring. Think hard about where you might start the story and what are the first small inklings (or big huge inklings, if you choose) of change. Start there or a bit later.

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4. 13 Blast it Out of the Park Posts of 2013

Yes, Darcy! I want to share the story
of the Oldest Wild Bird in the World
with a special child(ren).

"On Dec. 10, 1956, early in my first visit to Midway, I banded 99 incubating Laysan Albatrosses in the downtown area of Sand Island, Midway. Wisdom (band number 587-51945) is still alive, healthy, and incubating again in December 2011 (and in 2012 and in 2013). While I have grown old and gray and get around only with the use of a cane, Wisdom still looks and acts just the same as on the day I banded her. . .remarkable true story. . . beautifully illustrated in color." -- Chandler S. Robbins, Sc.D., Senior Scientist (Retired), USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD.
the story of the 63-year-old bird
in your favorite store.

It’s a time to look backward. What are the 13 most popular posts on Fiction Notes in 2013? Here’s the countdown!

Posts Written in 2013

13. 63 Character Emotions to Explore When your character gets stuck at sad, even sadder and truly sad, explore these options for more variety.

12. 5 Quotes to Plot Your Novel By. We always like to know what other authors think about writing and how they work. These quotes are a tiny insight into the writing process.

11. 5 More Ways to Add Humor. Ever popular, but hard to get right, I always need help being funny.

10. Nonfiction Picture Books: 7 Choices. What types of nonfiction picture books are popular now, especially with the Common Core State Standards.

9. Why Authors Should Believe in Their Websites. This was a response to a posting on Jane Friedman‘s website that challenged why authors need a website at all.

8. Help Me Write a Book. A list of suggested resources that will help you write a book.

7. 7 Reasons Your Manuscript Might Be Rejected. A discussion of the rejection cycle and how to defeat it.

c.2013 Dwight Pattison. All rights reserved. My favorite picture that my husband took this year. Pelicans along the Arkansas River

c. Dwight Pattison. My favorite picture that my husband took this year. Pelicans along the Arkansas River

Classic Posts

6. 9 Traits of Sympathetic Characters. How to make that protagonists a nice-guy or nice-girl.

5. 29 Plot Templates. Lost on where to start plotting? Consider one of these options.

4. 30 Days to a Stronger Novel. This series continues to be popular. It’s 30 days of tips for making your novel into the story of your dreams.

3. 30 Days to a Stronger Picture Book. Likewise, 30 days of tips for writing a picture book is hugely popular.

2. Picture Book Standards: 32 Pages. The most frequent question people ask about picture books is how long should they be. Here’s the standard answer, with explanations for why 32 pages is the standard.

1. 12 Ways to Start a Novel. 100 classic opening lines are categorized into twelve ways of opening a novel.

This list reflects the range of topics that consume me and that I want to write about. But it’s not just about me. Please leave a comment with one topic you’d like to see discussed this year.

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5. Writing Out of Sequence

Yes, Darcy! I want to share the story
of the Oldest Wild Bird in the World
with a special child(ren).

"On Dec. 10, 1956, early in my first visit to Midway, I banded 99 incubating Laysan Albatrosses in the downtown area of Sand Island, Midway. Wisdom (band number 587-51945) is still alive, healthy, and incubating again in December 2011 (and in 2012 and in 2013). While I have grown old and gray and get around only with the use of a cane, Wisdom still looks and acts just the same as on the day I banded her. . .remarkable true story. . . beautifully illustrated in color." -- Chandler S. Robbins, Sc.D., Senior Scientist (Retired), USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD.
the story of the 63-year-old bird
in your favorite store.

An odd thing is happening on my current WIP: I am writing the story out of order.

Here’s the process for this story–which will change, of course, for the next story.

  • Jot down rough ideas for the story. This project is book 3 in a series, so I knew the characters and setting. I just needed to sketch out the main conflict and how it fit into this world.
  • Check continuity issues. Of course, this mean that I had to check continuity issues. What was the name of the homeroom teacher and how is she described. In other words, I had to dip back into the previous stories and re-immerse myself in the milieu.
  • Expand the ideas. Next, I expanded the ideas to a paragraph or more for each of the ten chapters.
  • Check the narrative arc and strengthen. At this level, it’s easy to see flaws in plotting: not enough tension, not enough suspense, not enough at stake, etc. I worked with story line, actually struggling for about two weeks, trying to get all the elements to work together. The result was about ten pages, or one page per chapter. These consist of snippets of setting, dialogue, or character emotions. I know roughly what story beats will be involved, though each chapter needs expansion.
  • Creative Commons; no changes.

    Some sequences are easy to write out of order; some sequences must be written in order or the author gets confused.

  • Expand. With that foundation, I am now writing out of order. The narrative arc is strong, so I’m confident that the planned scenes will actually fit into the story about where I have them now. I am confident of the content that belongs in each chapter. I’m not worrying about fine-tuning each scene, I just want something down and I can turn to any chapter/scene that I want at this point.
  • Integrate. I have about six of the ten chapters written and already much has been revised. I reread the whole thing each day and find weak places to edit and continuity issued to address. This time, I mean continuity within this novel, not necessarily within the series. But I am also going back to Books 1 and 2 to change things for series continuity.
  • Repeat steps as needed. I am working all over the landscape of this short novel and it’s interesting to see it unfold and how connections are creeping into the draft, making it stronger.

Will I use this process again? I don’t know. Maybe for Book 4 of this series, but maybe not for another genre or other series. Usually, each project needs its own trajectory and working method. All I know is that this is moving me forward. For now.

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6. Novelists: You are Gifted & Talented

MIMS HOUSE: Great NonFiction for Common Core Prewriting for the Common Core

The story of the oldest known wild bird in the world. At 62+, she hatched a new chick in February, 2013. Read her remarkable story. A biography in text and art.

Gifted and Talented

If you have finished a draft of a novel (however messy!), you are Gifted and Talented.

The fact that you are Gifted and Talented has an important implication for revising your story.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrphotoshop/3425641634/GT Learners. First, I’ve talked with Gifted and Talented Teachers about how their students learn. When they learn something new, there’s a stage where they are very uncomfortable. Usually, GTs learn quickly and easily; they catch on. But sometimes the material is more difficult than usual, or more complex, or more puzzling. For some reason, they don’t catch on. They are unsure of what to do next.

At that point, GTs get uncomfortable and since they are rarely uncomfortable with learning, they often bail out. Anger, frustration, fear, impatience–do you experience some of these emotions when you face a revision that just doesn’t seem to be working?

The very fact that writing well is a process of revision is frustrating to a GT. They are used to getting things right the first time around. Maybe the first obstacle is embracing writing as a process.

Once you accept the process, though, you must also accept that facing difficulties in the revision process is normal! But if you’re a GT (and you are!), then it’s doubly frustrating because you so rarely face things that are hard. When I do the Novel Revision retreat, I warn the writers that they may hit a brick wall sometime during the weekend. The process of thinking about revision may start to overwhelm them.

Forewarned is forearmed. I try to head off the problem of frustration by warning that it is inevitable. When revising your story, you will face difficulties. This is normal! Let me say that again: Difficulties are normal. To be expected. Inevitable. A normal part of the process.

You have two choices: face them squarely and deal with them; avoid them and quit. And of course–you can’t quit!

As a GT, you are uniquely qualified to solve difficulties in revising because you do catch on quickly. You know how to locate and use resources that will help. You absorb information from a wide variety of sources. Given a day or so, you could probably tell me 30 ways that others have solved similar problems.

If you have a complete draft of a novel done, you are Gifted and Talented. That’s good news. It might mean you have a lower threshold for frustration, but in the end, it means you’ll make it through the writing process in great shape.

Perseverance or just plain Stubbornness

http://www.flickr.com/photos/myworks/1948152277/We’ve heard the stories: Dr. Seuss? first book, To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937) was rejected twenty-eight times. Neil Simon, in Rewrites: A Memoir tells of over twenty drafts needed for his first play.

Most of us would have to agree with Vladimir Nabokov, “I have written–often several times–every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasures.”

Or Dorothy Parker, “I can’t write five words but that I change seven.”

Or John Kenneth Galbraith who jokes, “There are days when the result is so bad that no fewer than five revisions are required. In contrast, when I’m greatly inspired, only four revisions are needed.”

Or Truman Capote, “I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”

We understand that revising means doing it again until it’s right. But psychologically, that means the best trait a writer can have is stubbornness. On days when there is no hope sheer perseverance takes over.


On those days, I highly recommend Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It?s my favorite books on the psychology of making art and goes into much more detail on many more subjects than I can here in five days. There have been days–like when I got that rejection of a novel after two revisions and fourteen months of dealing with an editor–that all I can do is sit at my desk and cry and re-read this book.

And start again.

Perseverance comes in two forms: revising until the story is right and making your art your way over a lifetime. It took Dr. Seuss twenty years after his first book to write The Cat in the Hat. ( 2007 annotated version). It often takes the work of years to hit your stride and produce your best work. We are in this for the long haul and this current book is just one of the waystations. Think career. Get stubborn. Persevere!

How do you deal with those deadly rejections?

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7. Rudolph’s Top 5 Writing Tips

MIMS HOUSE: Great NonFiction for Common Core Prewriting for the Common Core

The story of the oldest known wild bird in the world. At 62+, she hatched a new chick in February, 2013. Read her remarkable story. A biography in text and art.

Happy Holidays

Just got an e-newsletter from the North Pole and Santa passed along these writing tips from the Frosty the Snowman, posted for the young-at-heart who are writing novels this year.

Back by popular demand is my series on writing tips from popular Christmas figures. First published in 2007, they are updated here for your Christmas cheer.

Santa Claus’s Top 5 Writing Tips
12 Days of Christmas Writing Tips (live on 12/3)
The Gingerbread Man’s Top 5 Writing Tips (live on 12/4)
Frosty the Snowman’s Top 6 Writing Tips (live on 12/5)
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer’s Top 5 Writing Tips (live on 12/6)

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’s top 5 Writing Tips

Merry Christmas from Rudolph, Fiction Notes and Darcy Pattison

Image by Richard Clifford

  1. Unique characters. Give characters a tag, a physical or emotional something that makes them stand out from the crowd. That red nose, in the context of a reindeer herd, is absolutely astoundnig.

    Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
    had a very shiny nose.
    And if you ever saw him,
    you would even say it glows.

  2. Conflict. The conflict here is the usual playground teasing and bullying of someone who is different. It’s a classic theme because we can all identify with it on some level. Don’t’ be afraid of classic themes; just use them in unique ways.

    Also, pile on the conflict. The other reindeer do three things to Rudolph, each an escalation: laugh, call him names, exclude him from games.

    All of the other reindeer
    used to laugh and call him names.
    They never let poor Rudolph
    join in any reindeer games.

    Poor Rudolph. He must have felt All Alone: “I’m All Alone” from Monty Python’s Spamalot

    If you can’t see this video, click here.

  3. Turning point. After the set up and the conflict, comes the turning point. The crisis here is that Santa must deliver the toys to the children around the world, but the weather isn’t cooperating.

    Then one foggy Christmas Eve

  4. The unusual characteristic becomes a blessing. Again, this is a cliched way of handling a conflict and crisis, but it still works. The very thing that sets the character apart, that makes him/her different and weak, is also the very thing that makes the hero able to save the day. Of course, this means we are matching up conflict and resolution, too. Santa also functions as a sort of mentor here, one who is able to recognize the unique qualities of Rudolph for what they are.

    Santa came to say:
    “Rudolph with your nose so bright,
    won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

  5. Rejoice. It’s not just the climax here, but also the concept of a celebration of successfully completing a quest. Give characters a moment to celebrate. This often comes after a big battle, or a big effort to overcome something.

    Then all the reindeer loved him
    as they shouted out with glee,
    Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
    you’ll go down in history!

    Darcy’s Best Writing Advice: Fiction Notes Books

    And, of course, you must end with the famous cowboy Gene Autry, singing Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer in 1953. His original recording hit the top of the charts in 1950.
    If you can’t see this video, click here.

Think the story is still a little slight for todays’ market? Here’s why.

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8. 2014 Cover Revealed: The Girl, the Gypsy & the Gargoyle

MIMS HOUSE: Great NonFiction for Common Core Prewriting for the Common Core

The story of the oldest known wild bird in the world. At 62+, she hatched a new chick in February, 2013. Read her remarkable story. A biography in text and art.

Here’s the cover of my new book that will be out in March 2014! Wahoo! Only 90 days or so till you can read it.
And for your pleasure, here’s the recipe for Cranberry Tea Punch that we always have during the holidays.

Cranberry Tea Punch

1 cup sugar
2 cups Pineapple
4 cups Cranberry Juice Cocktail
4 cups brewed tea (I use Luzianne Decaf)
Cinnamon stix, cloves.
I also like to float slices of lemon and orange.

Warm it up and have it close while you read a book.

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9. I Don’t Like Your Story

MIMS HOUSE: Great NonFiction for Common Core Prewriting for the Common Core

The story of the oldest known wild bird in the world. At 62+, she hatched a new chick in February, 2013. Read her remarkable story. A biography in text and art.

What do you do when your friends or your editors don’t like your story?

This has indeed happened to me several times, the most recent on a current WIP. One of my reliable first readers has been hesitant to say much about this story and I realized that it’s because she doesn’t like it. The story is a tragedy and while I soften the blow at the end, it does end tragically. READER said that the ending was a “sharp left turn.” But for me, it’s a straight arrow right to the heart of the story.

What to do? Revise to please my reader, or keep it “my way”?

I would be a fool to ignore feedback! Of course, I need to know how others view my stories and where the communication breaks down. I will always revise to make sure I am communicating clearly. What is in my head needs to be clearly reproduced in the reader’s head through the medium of words. That’s communication through writing.

But that’s not the case here. Instead, there’s a gap in vision, or an honest difference in how another person view story and how a story should unfold. READER wanted a happy ending.

There are actually four ways a story can end:

  1. Happy/Happy. The protagonist gets what s/he wants and that makes him/her happy.
  2. Happy/Sad. The protagonist gets what s/he wants and that makes him/her sad.
  3. Sad/Happy. The protagonist fails to get what s/he wants, but in the end, that makes him/her happy.
  4. Sad/Sad. The protagonist fails to get what s/he wants and that makes him/her sad.

My story is the third kind. The protagonist does not get what she wants, but in the end, her goals are accomplished in a different way and she is content and peaceful about it all. I actually think this is a more realistic ending, more true to life. How many times do you get what you want, exactly how you want it? Not often! Yet much of literature is the Happy/Happy kind of ending. That’s great: I do those endings most of the time, too. But this ending satisfies my ideas for this story.

You can't get a Happy Face from readers all the time.

You can’t get a Happy Face from readers all the time. But I always need a Happy Face from myself.

I won’t change it. It makes me sad that READER doesn’t like the story because I chose to end it in an unusual way. I want READER to always like my story. But even when she doesn’t, we remain friends. Instead, I need to realize that my friends, family and even critique partners or editors are not always the best audience for a particular story. And that’s OK.

The post I Don’t Like Your Story appeared first on Fiction Notes.

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10. Get Your Tone Right

Now available! Start Your Novel

“Young man, don’t speak to me in that tone of voice!”

When you see that bit of dialogue, you know that a boy is talking sarcastically or disrespectfully. We understand that it’s not just the words said, but it’s how the words are used that conveys an attitude.

Humor, irony, satire, pleasantness, excitement, righteous indignation–the audience’s anticipated reaction is what determines the tone with which you write a particular piece. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown has a soothing tone; Captain Underpants by Dave Pilkey has an irreverent, comical tone; Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse has a spare, restrained tone that matches the mood of the Dust Bowl.

I’ve been dealing with tone because I’ll have a nonfiction piece, “Don’t Lick That Statue,” in the June 2014 issue of Highlights Magazine for Children. When you turn in this type of manuscript, they require a letter from your sources that states the article is “appropriate in tone and content” for a young reader. Content is easy: just check and recheck your facts, ma’am. Tone is not so easy. What does it mean, anyway?

Definition of Tone of Voice

Darcy at the Alamo

How would you describe the tone of this photo taken at dawn near the Alamo?

Tone is the atmosphere that holds a story together; it permeates the narrative, setting, characters and dialogue. It can also shape a reader’s response. In a mystery with a dark, gothic tone, the reader is meant to be on the edge of fear.
Tone gives the author subtle ways to communicate emotional content that can’t be told by only looking at what words mean. We also need to look at connotations and how words work within the context of the story.

One of the first ways to get a handle on controlling the tone of voice is to look at the adjectives and adverbs within your story. Specific details can fill the reader’s head with clues about how to interpret the story, but without a physical voice. The tone can be cued by adjectives or adverbs: quietly, he said; angrily, he said; sadly, he said. More experienced writers can convey the same tone with connotations of words and not have to rely on these adverbs.

In other words, the missing words–quietly, angrily, sadly–are communicated by every tool in the writer’s arsenal. That’s a frustrating statement for beginning writers: it’s too abstract. Let’s make it a bit more concrete.

Creating Tone of Voice

Before you begin writing, you should have a tone of voice in mind, so you will be consistent. The tone of voice should shape the story at all stages.

The opening, especially, should begin with the right tone, so the reader knows what sort of story will follow. Descriptions, dialogue, or even first-person statements are all welcome. The opening scene should give the reader a feel for the book that will be consistent throughout. A dark, gothic mystery should never morph into an action/adventure or a fairy tale. Within the dark, gothic mystery, there is room for variation, but there are also boundaries for when it moves outside the right tone. Set your story’s tone early and stick with it.

Recognition and Consistency

Once you have something written that captures the character, the voice of the story and the tone of the story, then you must do two things. First, recognize when that voice and tone is present and working; second, learn to be consistent with the voice and tone.

Put the work aside for as long as you can stand it, then read it with an eye toward where the voice, tone and character are working or not working. Read it out loud, and pay attention to places where there’s a “bump” for some odd, almost indefinable moment. That’s probably a tone or voice problem. Changing mood is fine; changing tone is not. On a very simple level this means that you can’t start a story with a dreamy stream-of-consciousness and end with an action-packed thriller.
Consistency is important even when a story has multiple points of view. For novels that switch back and forth between male and female characters, the tone must still be maintained.

Crafting your Story’s Tone

While much of the discussion about tone of voice revolves around abstract issues, there are some concrete things that can be considered.

Choice of details. Choose the sensory details that bring a story to life. Does it matter that Dracula wears black? Of course! Be sure to include as many senses as possible, pulling in visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory and tactile details.

Plot and organization. Often, picture book stories have simple refrains—which present a reassuring tone by suggesting that there is order in the world. The organization of the text always returns to a phrase that is important; the child knows you’ll get to that point again in the story and feels the ordering of events in the story, which reinforces the tone.

Language and vocabulary. The language and vocabulary used must also support the tone of a story. Choosing the right word is paramount, but also consider how the words work in context. Connotations are words speaking to other words in a story. You may want to alliteration, assonance, or other literary techniques to make certain words resonate. But the technique should be subtle enough to work without calling attention to itself.

Dialogue. Dialogue can carry tone of voice, too. Avoid stilted and extended sections of talking heads. Instead, work for a snappy exchange—or whatever is appropriate for your tone. Sometimes, it helps to be intentional and say to yourself, “My story’s tone is XXX and that means my dialogue should be XXX.” Then evaluate to see where you need to adjust.

Write Your Story Your Way!

If all the above feels too abstract, if you want more detailed how-to instructions, if you have trouble recognizing voice much less tone of voice, you aren’t alone. Yet, editors and teachers of writing can’t be more specific. “It depends. . . ,” they say. It always depends on the story, the characters, the setting, the author’s intent, and so many other minor and major decisions about a story.

The tone is the end result, but it is also the beginning. The author must solve the problem of tone of voice in different ways for each story they tell. You have an arsenal of weapons: setting, characterization, language, rhythm, vocabulary, plot, organization. In the end, there are no right or wrong answers; there are only stories that work or don’t work.

Can you suggest stories that portray a certain tone? How would you describe the tone of IVAN, THE GREAT AND MIGHTY? Of HUNGER GAMES?

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11. Revising Bird

Now available! Start Your Novel

Guest post by Crystal Chan

Crystal attended a novel revision retreat a couple years ago and the result is this amazing book, her debut. Here, she talks about her revision process. –Darcy

The biggest editing challenge that I encountered my forthcoming novel, Bird (January 28, 2014, Atheneum. PREORDER NOW!) was trying to put too much “stuff” into the story. The protagonist, Jewel, is mixed race, in Iowa; her Jamaican side/grandfather believes there’s a duppy (read: ghost) roaming around the house; she was born on the same day that her brother died and there’s a load of unresolved grief in the family; a new boy comes to town with the same name as her dead brother and looks a little like how he would have looked like had he lived; and this boy is unsettling the layers of silence in the family. Enough, right?

Wrong. I really wanted to add some cool stuff with the mother’s backstory, and I wanted to do so to highlight the mixing of cultures that Jewel needed to wade through, as well as to explain why Jewel’s mom was so emotionally distant. For those who care to know, Jewel’s mother had an aunt in a small town along the Texan border, and years ago this aunt, right after she gave birth to their first child, realized her husband (the mom’s uncle) was cheating on her, and she ran out of the house in grief, and they found her, dead, along a riverbank. The baby died soon afterward. The townspeople said that her aunt had turned into the Llorona, a Mexican banshee who drowned her children, regretted it, and goes around killing adults in revenge (I’m skipping a lot of details here, bear with me).
Bird cover image
Anyway. This backstory, as interesting and pertinent to Mexican culture as it might have been (the Llorona is well, well known among Mexicans), was simply dragging down the story line, and much worse, muddling the story line entirely. I tried to make this work for at least three drafts, as I really wanted Jewel’s Mexican side to also get a showing in the story, but eventually (and with the utmost blessing of my editor) I opted to cut it out.

And I watched the story shine.

I found other, more subtle, ways to bring out Jewel’s Mexican heritage and explain her mother’s emotional distance – which was a lesson for me. There’s no one right way to make a story work. If one way is stuck, there’s always another way. But that requires being willing to backtrack, look at options, go back to the drawing board if necessary – which is scary (and humbling), since we invested so darn much in what we’ve already created. But then again, the question begs to be answered: Why are we writing? To push what we want, how we want it? Or to tell a story in the best way it needs to be told? Yes, sometimes writing that story means bearing down and slugging through the next version of the manuscript. Other times, though, it means opening our hands and letting go.

Crystal Chan

Crystal Chan

:) www.crystalchanwrites.com

PS – and good news! Bird just sold in Romania!

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12. Point of View: Inside a Character’s Head

Now available! Start Your Novel

How does an author take a reader deeply into a character’s POV? By using direct interior monologue and a stream of consciousness techniques.

This is part 3 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Read the whole series.

  • Outside
  • Outside/Inside
  • Inside
  • Going Inside a Character’s Head, Heart and Emotions

    IvanOmniscience.Jauss says, “In direct interior monologue, the character’s thoughts are not just ‘reflected,’ they are presented directly, without altering person or tense. As a result, the external narrator disappears, if only for a moment, and the character takes over as ‘narrator.’” (p. 51)

    Here, “. . . the narrator is not consciously narrating.” In much of IVAN, he is consciously narrating the story. Sometimes, it might be hard to distinguish the difference because the character and narrator are the same, and it’s written in present tense (except when he is telling about the background of each animal). This closeness of the character and narrator is one reason to choose first-person, present tense. But there are still times when it is clear that IVAN is narrating his story.

    But there also times when that narrator’s role is absent. In the “nine thousand eight hundred and seventy-six days” chapter, Ivan is worried about what Mack will do after the small elephant Ruby hits Mack with her trunk:

    “Mack groans. He stumbles to his feet and hobbles off toward his office. Ruby watches him leave. I can’t read her expression. Is she afraid? Relieved? Proud?”

    The last three questions remove the narrator-Ivan and give us what Ivan is thinking at the moment. The direct interior monologue gives the reader direct access to the character. With a third person narrator, those rhetorical questions might be indirect interior monologue; but here, because of the first person narration, it feels like direct interior monologue.

    Or, in the “click” chapter, Ivan is about to be moved to a zoo:

    The door to my cage is propped open. I can’t stop staring at it.
    My door. Open.

    The first two sentences still feel like a narrator is reporting. But “My door. Open.” feels like direct access to Ivan’s thought at that precise moment. He’s not looking back and reporting, but this is direct access to his thoughts.

    A last technique for diving straight into a character’s head is stream-of-consciousness. Jauss says, “. . . unlike direct interior monologue, it presents those thoughts as they exist before the character’s mind has ‘edited’ them or arranged them into complete sentences.” (P. 54)

    When Ivan is finally in a new home at a local zoo, he is allowed to venture outside for the first time. The “outside at last” chapter is stream-of-consciousness.

    Bird. . . .

    What the reader feels here is Ivan’s wonder at the great outdoors. It’s a direct expression of Ivan’s joy in being outside after decades of being caged. We are one with this great beast and it gives the reader joy to be there.

    Or look at the “romance” chapter, where Ivan is courting another gorilla.

    A final note: Sometimes, an author breaks the “fourth wall,” the “imaginary wall that separates us from the actors,” and speaks directly to the reader. This is technically a switch from 1st person POV to 2nd person POV. But it is very effective in IVAN in the second chapter, “names.” Here, Ivan acknowledges that you—the reader—are outside his cage, watching him. It was a stunning moment for me, as I read the story.

    “I suppose you think gorillas can’t understand you. Of course, you also probably think we can’t walk upright.
    Try knuckle walking for an hour. You tell me: which way is more fun?”

    Do stories and novels have to stay in one point of view throughout an entire scene or chapter? No. Not if you are thinking about point of view as a technique to draw the reader close to a character or shove the reader away. You can push and pull as you need. You can push the reader a little way outside to protect his/her emotions from a distressing scene. Or you can pull them into the character’s head to create empathy or hatred. You can manipulate the reader and his/her emotions. It’s a different way of thinking about point of view. For me, it’s an important distinction because my stories have often gotten characterization comments such as , “I just don’t feel connected to the characters enough.” I think a mastery of Outside, Outside/Inside, and Inside point of view techniques holds a key to a stronger story.

    In the end, it’s not about the labels we apply to this section or that section of a story. These techniques can blur, especially in a story like IVAN, written in first person, present tense. Instead, it’s about the reader identifying with the character in a deep enough way to be moved by the story. These techniques–such a different way to think about point of view!–are refreshing because they give us a way to gain control of another part of our story. These are what make novels better than movies. I’ve heard that many script-writers have trouble making the transition to novels and this is the precise place where the difficulty occurs. Unlike movies, novels go into a character’s head, heart and mind. And these point of view techniques are your road map to the reader’s head, heart and mind.

    This has been part 1 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Tomorrow, will be Inside: Deeply Inside a Character’s Head. Read the whole series

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    13. Point of View: Outside/Inside a Character’s Head

    Now available! Prewriting for the Common Core

    Partially Inside a Character’s Head: OUTSIDE AND INSIDE POV

    How deeply does a story take the reader into the head of a character. Many discussions of point of view skim over the idea that POV can related to how close a reader is to a reader. But David Jauss says there are two points of view that allow narrators to be both inside and outside a character: omniscience and indirect interior monologue.

    This is part 2 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Here are links to parts 2 and 3.

    These posts are inspired by an essay by David Jauss, professor at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, in his book, On Writing Fiction: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom About Craft. I am using Ivan, the One and Only, by Katherine Applegate, winner of the 2012 Newbery Award as the mentor text for the discussion.

    IvanOmniscience. Traditionally, “limited omniscience” means that the narrator is inside the head of only one character; “regular omniscience” means the narrator is inside the head of more than one character.

    I love Jauss’s comment: “I don’t believe dividing omniscience into ‘limited’ and regular’ tells us anything remotely useful. The technique in both cases is identical; it’s merely applied to a different number of characters.”

    He spends time proving that regular omniscience never enters into the heart and mind of every character in a novel. A glance at Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE, with its myriad of characters is enough to convince me of this truth.

    Rather, Jauss says the difference that matters here is that the omniscient POV uses the narrator’s language. This distinguishes it from indirect interior monologues, where the thoughts are given in the character’s language. This is a very different question about POV: is this story told in the narrator’s language or the character’s language?

    In IVAN, this is an interesting distinction because Ivan is the narrator of this story; it’s told in his voice. But as a narrator, there are times when he drops into omniscient POV. In the “artists” chapter, Ivan reports:

    “Mack soon realized that people will pay for a picture made by a gorilla, even if they don’t know what it is. Now I draw every day.”

    Ivan tells the reader what Mack is thinking (“soon realized”) and even what those who purchase his art are thinking (“even if they don’t know what it is”). Then, he pulls back into a dramatic reporting of his daily actions. Notice, too, that he makes this switch from dramatic POV to omniscient POV within the space of one sentence. And the omniscient POV dips into two places in that sentence, too.

    Because Mack is Ivan’s caretaker and has caused much of Ivan’s troubles, the reader needs to know something of Mack’s character. This inside/outside level is enough, though. The author has decided that a deep interior view of Mack’s life isn’t the focus of the story. It’s enough to get glimpses of his motivation by doing just a little ways into his head.

    Indirect Interior Monologue

    Another technique for the narrator and reader to be both inside and outside a character is indirect interior monologue. Here, Jauss says that the narrator “translates the character’s thoughts and feelings into his own language. “ (p. 45) The character’s interior thoughts aren’t given directly and verbatim. This is a subtle distinction, but an important one.

    Interior indirect monologue usually involves two things: changing the tense of a person’s thoughts; and changing the person of the thought from first to third. This signals that the narrator is outside the character, reflecting upon the character’s thoughts or actions.

    They are all waiting for the train. (dramatic)
    They were all waiting reasonably for the train. (Inside, indirect interior monologue)

    The word “reasonably” puts this into the head of the narrator, who is making a judgment call, interpreting the dramatic action.

    Interior indirect monologue most often seen with a third-person narrator reflecting another character’s thoughts. But in Ivan, we have a first-person narrator. Applegate stays strictly inside Ivan’s head, except for a few passages where Ivan reports indirectly on another character’s thoughts. Because the passages are already in present tense, she doesn’t have that tense change to rely on.

    Here’s a passage that could have been indirect interior monologue but Applegate won’t quite go there. Stella is an elephant in a cage close to Ivan.

    “Slowly Stella makes her way up the rest of the ramp. It groans under her weight and I can tell how much she is hurting by the awkward way she moves.”

    By adding “I can tell. . .” it stays firmly inside Ivan’s head. He tells us that this is true only because Ivan makes an observation. The story doesn’t dip into the interior of the other characters.

    But there are tiny places where the interior dialogue peeks through. This from the “bad guys” chapter. Bob is Ivan’s dog friend; Not-Tag is a stuffed animal; and Mack is Ivan’s owner.

    “Bob slips under Not-Tag. He prefers to keep a low profile around Mack.”

    Ivan can only know that Bob “prefers” something, when he, as the narrator, dips into Bob’s thoughts.

    But indirect interior monologue is also used by a first person narrator to report his/her prior thoughts. When the first person narrator tells a story about what happened in his past, he is both the actor in the story and the narrator of the story. Ivan tells the story of his capture by humans over the course of several short chapters. It begins in the “what they did” chapter:

    “We were clinging to our mother, my sister and I, when the humans killed her.”

    While Ivan’s story is most present tense, this is past tense because Ivan is reporting on prior events. Even here Applegate refuses to slip into interior indirect monologue. Instead, she just presents the facts in a dramatic manner and lets the reader imagine what Ivan felt. It’s interesting that withholding Ivan’s thoughts here evoke such an emotional response in the reader.

    On the other hand, in “the grunt” chapter, Ivan tells about his family. Again, he is the narrator telling about a past event when he was a main character of the event:

    “Oh, how I loved to play tag with my sister!”

    This could be called direct interior thought, but because he’s narrating a past event, it’s indirect interior thought. Otherwise, he would say, “Oh, how I love to play tag with my sister!”

    Or from the “vine” chapter, where Ivan talks about his thoughts after being captured by humans:

    “Somehow I knew that in order to live, I had to let my old life die. But sister could not let go of our home. It held her like a vine, stretching across the miles, comforting, strangling.
    We were still in our crate when she looked at me without seeing, and I knew that the vine had finally snapped.”

    If this was direct interior, it would be:
    “Somehow I know that in order to live, I must let my old life die.”

    Applegate could have chosen to stay inside Ivan, but here, she pulls back so the reader isn’t fully inside this emotionally disturbing moment. She uses indirect interior monologue, instead of direct.

    As Jauss says about a different passage, but it applies here, “This example also illustrates the extremely important but rarely acknowledged fact that narrators often shift point of view not only within a story or novel but also within a single paragraph.” (p.50)

    This has been proclaimed a mistake in writing point of view, but Jauss says it’s a normal technique. We dip into Mack’s point of view, but then pull back to a dramatic statement about what Ivan is doing.

    Indirect interior monologue often includes “rhetorical questions, exclamations, sentence fragments and associational leaps as well as diction appropriate to the character rather than the narrator. “ (p. 49) In one of my novels, I used a lot of rhetorical questions as a way to get into the character’s head and an editor complained about it. Now, that I know why I was using it (as a way to manipulate how close the reader was to the character), I could go back and use a variety of techniques. Knowledge of fiction techniques is freeing! Tomorrow, we’ll look at how to go deeply into a character’s head, heart and emotions.

    This is part 1 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Join us tomorrow for the final part of the series, Inside: Going Deep into a Character’s Head.

    This has been part 2 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Tomorrow, will be Inside: Deeply Inside a Character’s Head. Read the whole series.

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    14. Chris Baty, Founder of NaNoWriMo: “Anyone Can Write A Book”


    Chris Baty started a writing movement by accident. At the time, he figured it was just another one of his bad ideas and convinced five of his friends to join him in writing a book. Today, there are more than 226,000 participants signed up for NaNoWriMo, hoping to crank out a novel before the month’s end. Here, he discusses the catalyst for his success, what he’d like his legacy to be and why he believes anyone can be a writer:

    The NaNoWriMo concept kind of suggests that anyone can write a book. Do you think this is true?
    Oh my god, yeah. And I think everybody can write dozens of novels. You look back to the time when we were kids, and if you gave me a stick that I could make into a toy, I was basically good for seven hours. We were all so imaginative at a young age, just sort of running amuck in our imaginations and pretending. All of that is still in us. When we hit puberty, we start to do this thing where we ask, “Am I good at this?” We’re looking around and we’re seeing other people who are better than us at these things. That’s when we start to shut down those parts of ourselves.

    For more on NaNoWriMo and Baty’s tips for novel-writing success, read: Hey, How’d You Start A Fiction-Writing Revolution, Chris Baty, Founder Of NaNoWriMo?

    – Aneya Fernando

    The full version of this article is exclusively available to Mediabistro AvantGuild subscribers. If you’re not a member yet, register now for as little as $55 a year for access to hundreds of articles like this one, discounts on Mediabistro seminars and workshops, and all sorts of other bonuses.

    New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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    15. 3 Reasons to NaNoWriMo

    Now available! Prewriting for the Common Core

    Are you ready to write 50,000 words in one month flat?
    I am.
    For the first time, I will be participating in NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month.


    Why this year? Here are 3 good reasons.

    • Timing. My work schedule has some lag time about now and it’s convenient. That is, I want a new novel done some time next year and by banging out 50,000 words now, I’ll have a rough draft next summer instead of start from scratch. I can’t spend more than a month right now.
    On the other hand, I do have other projects scheduled and I don’t have more than a month to spend on a new project. And I want to maximize my time and effort. Pouring out a full draft in a month sounds exciting.Because this is going to work really well (do you hear my optimism?), I will also be in better shape next year, when I have time to return to this story. I’ll have a draft, and revisions will be faster for the work done this year.
  • Trust the process. Learning to trust the process must be a life-long project for writers. Because this writer is having to do that over and over this year. So, instead of fighting the process, I’ve decided to embrace the writing process for the month of November.
  • Taking creative risks. Writing a novel is always a risk. In novel revision retreats, I have people walk around and congratulate each other on writing a full draft of a novel. It’s an amazing accomplishment. Each time I start a new novel, I am very aware of the risk, that this novel may be one that lands in a file drawer, or that I will abandon it and not finish. And yet, to be creative means to take risks, to reach for something new and different, and to go where “no one has gone before.” If I’m not taking risks in my work, then I’m going nowhere. But risks are scary and uncomfortable. NaNoWriMo is a contained risk: I only have to write 50,000 words and it’s only for a month. It’s risky, sure. But there’s support, others to follow, inspiration and there’s a definite end to it. I am very glad there will be an end to the month of NaNoWriMo.
  • Of course, getting ready for this, I’ve been reviewing my book, START YOUR NOVEL. I need to take my own advice!

    Are you NaNoWriMoing? (How’s that for turning an acronym into a verb?)
    Any words of encouragement for me?

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    16. Anamika Mishra

    The young author, Anamika Mishra, was born and raised in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh (known as the Manchester of North India). She is presently working as a writer for several communities and websites.  Her debut novel, Too Hard to Handle, was released in July this year.

    Hi Anamika, please tell everyone a little about yourself.

    AnamikaAnamika: My name is Anamika Mishra. Writing is my first love, second is travelling and photography. I have done Bachelors in Computer Applications and Masters in Journalism & Mass Communication. Too Hard to Handle is my debut novel. I am highly spiritual and believe in miracles. I am an animal-lover too, especially dogs. I am an active member of ‘People For Animals’ NGO, in India. I love interacting with people from all across the world and inspire them to live with a positive perception.

    When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?

    Anamika: Well, I remember when I was in class six while reading Heide by Johanna Spyri, I went near my mom and said that I want to write a novel just like this one. I think that was the time when I was being bitten by a writing bug. General fiction and fantasy are my kind of genres.

    When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?

    Anamika: I have a dream to write at least one novel of each genre. Readers, please keep on supporting my goal and I promise I won’t let anyone’s expectations down.

    Briefly tell us about your latest book. Is it part of a series or stand-alone?

    Too Hard to HandleAnamika: Too Hard to Handle is a stand-alone novel. It is about a girl named Anushree, who is happy-go-lucky in nature. It is about what a common girl faces during her college and school life, series of misunderstandings, betrayal from friends, innocent crushes, stupid decisions etc. till she finds the love of her life. It is also about how fate turns up out of the blue and changes one’s life forever.

    How do you develop characters? Setting?

    Anamika: I first try to decide how the lead character would be and then I create the plot and other characters accordingly.

    Who’s the most unusual/most likeable character?

    Anamika: Vivaan. He is a ‘Mr. Perfect’ kind of a guy. People, especially girls, would love him for his small, lovely and romantic surprises, his behavior and his personality.

    Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?

    Anamika: No. I don’t have any specific technique to maintain the course of the plot. I like keeping it simple and try to maintain the interest by adding some ‘wow’ and ‘aww’ moments in it.

    Share the best review that you’ve ever had.

    Anamika: Best review was given to me by my mother, she said “this story is really inspiring and she never thought that I would be able to write such a deep and intriguing story. I am really proud of you.” And she hugged me tightly.

    What are your current projects?

    Anamika: I am presently working on my second novel.

    Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

    Anamika: All folks can directly connect with me on twitter ( www.twitter.com/anamikawrites ) which I think is the easiest way or on facebook ( www.facebook.com/anamika.mishraa ) or they can get in touch by sending an e-mail to me on mail@anamikamishra.com . I shall be highly obliged in hearing something from all the readers.

    Thank you for joining us today, Anamika.

    Anamika: Thanks for the questions.

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    17. How to Eliminate Distractions – Digital and Otherwise

    Focus is at the heart of success. Unfortunately, we do not live in a world that nurtures concentration and single-minded devotion to one’s art. So, how can you minimize those pesky interruptions that keep you from writing?

    Digital Distractions
    Let’s start with all things online – they are just beckoning for your time and attention. Luckily, there are some tricks to reduce your susceptibility to those online Sirens.
    1. Only check email, social networking and news sites once or twice a day. If absolutely necessary, check every hour but only for five minutes
    2. Turn off email and smart phone notifications of any sort while you are writing
    3. Close your Internet Browser while you’re working – do your research beforehand
    4. If feasible have a dedicated computer or lap top that is strictly for writing – nothing else, not even checking the weather
    Activity Distractions
    Of course, not all activity distractions are digital. You may be pulled in by your favorite TV show or sidetracked by the need to clean the house from top to bottom. It’s also not unusual that cravings for ice cream or potato chips supersede the writing process (I’m in the potato chips category). Here are some tips to minimize the temptation to self-interrupt:
    1. Create a very calm and nurturing writing environment
    2. Remove TVs from your writing area
    3. If at all, only keep very small amounts of snack food in your writing area
    4. Leave all reading material that is not immediately related to your novel outside your writing space – read for fun in other areas of the house that you can’t see from your desk
    People Distractions
    While you have quite a bit of control regarding the Internet and activities that pull you away from your novel, people distractions are a little bit more complex. Setting boundaries can be challenging.

    First of all, decide on the people who are allowed unlimited access to you – such as small children. Then list the people who are very dear to you but would be fine with you being unavailable at times. In these cases, telling people in advance when you are busy is most helpful – especially when you live in the same house.

    People on your periphery are much easier to deal with. A simple, “Sorry but I am really busy right now. Can we do this later?” usually does the trick. In addition,
    1. Turn off your cell phone while you are working – or at least your message notifications
    2. Assign a gate keeper if you are living with somebody - that person can screen phone calls and visitors for you
    3. Protect your writing time with velvet fists
    4. Practice saying no to anything you don’t really want to do
    No more distractions – let the words take over!

    Renate Reimann, PhD (bottom photo) is a co-instructor in the upcoming class, WRITING YOUR NOVEL FROM THE GROUND UP: How to Build Your Story While Building Yourself as a Writer for Long-Term Success–In Two Parts. Part I starts on Tuesday, September 17, 2013. For more information, visit our classroom page.

    8 Comments on How to Eliminate Distractions – Digital and Otherwise, last added: 9/12/2013
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    18. Burlesque in New York: The writing of Gypsy Rose Lee

    By Noralee Frankel

    In celebration of the anniversary of the first burlesque show in New York City on 12 September 1866, I reread a fun murder mystery, The G-String Murders, by Gypsy Rose Lee. “Finding dead bodies scattered all over a burlesque theater isn’t the sort of thing you’re likely to forget. Not quickly, anyway,” begins the story.

    The editors at Simon & Schuster liked the setting in a burlesque theater and appreciated Gypsy’s natural style, with its unpretentious and casual tone. Her knowledge of burlesque enabled her to intrigue readers, who were as interested in life within a burlesque theater as in the mystery. Providing vivid local color, the novel describes comedic sketches, strip routines, costumes, and the happenings backstage. In a typical scene in the book, Gypsy muses about her strip act: “The theater had been full of men, slouched down in their seats. Their cigarettes glowed in the dark and a spotlight pierced through the smoke, following me as I walked back and forth.” Describing her band with precision, she wrote, “Musicians in their shirt sleeves, with racing forms in their pockets, played Sophisticated Lady while I flicked my pins in the tuba and dropped my garter belt into the pit.”

    Gypsy worked as hard on her writing as her stripping, and The G-String Murders became a best seller. “People think that just because you’re a stripper you don’t have much else except a body. They don’t credit you with intelligence,” Gypsy later complained. “Maybe that’s why I write.”

    Gypsy Rose Lee, 1956

    Gypsy Rose Lee, full-length portrait, seated at typewriter, facing slightly right, 1956. Photo by Fred Palumbo of the World Telegram & Sun. Public rights given to Library of Congress. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

    The G-String Murders briefly describes Gypsy’s career as a burlesque queen at a fictitious theater, based on those owned by the Minsky family, in New York City. In the book someone strangles a stripper, La Verne, with her G-string. The police turn up an abundance of suspects, including Louie, La Verne’s gangster boyfriend; Gypsy; and Gypsy’s boyfriend, Biff Brannigan, a comic working in the club. After someone tries to frame Biff by placing the lethal G-string in his pocket, he aids the police in solving the crime. He’s also concerned that the police suspect Gypsy and he wants to clear her by finding the actual murderer. After deducing the identity of the murderer, Biff proves his theory by suggesting that Gypsy act as bait and remains in the theater alone to tempt the murderer to strike again.

    More than just a page-turner, Gypsy’s novel stresses the camaraderie among the women. Sharing a dressing room, they throw parties with everyone contributing to buy drinks and food. The women joke, drink together, and confide in each other. The women also sympathize with each other over man problems and working conditions. Gypsy describes the strippers’ dressing room with a complete lack of sentimentality. The cheap theater owner is indifferent to the disgusting condition of the stripper’s dressing room toilet. To help the women, the burlesque comics pool their meager resources to buy the strippers a new toilet.

    Gypsy expressed her conviction in the importance of organized labor through a character in The G-String Murders: Jannine, one of the strippers recently elected secretary to the president of the Burlesque Artists’ Association. When the strippers receive a new toilet, the candy seller suggested having a non-union plumber install it to save money. She refuses, forbidding any non-union member to enter the women’s dressing room. She snapped, “Plumbers got a union. We got a union. When we don’t protect each other that’s the end of the unions.” She reminded the other strippers of conditions before they joined a union, when they performed close to a dozen shows without additional compensation.

    In the novel, Gypsy provided Jannine with another opportunity to talk about solidarity among burlesque performers and the unequal class structure in the United States. In a tirade against the police over the treatment of the strippers during the murder investigation, Jannine raged that the performers, both the strippers and comedians, might squabble but they were loyal and do not inform on each other. When a police sergeant tried to interrupt her, she retorted: “It’s the social system of the upper classes that gives you guys the right to browbeat the workers!”

    Gypsy peddled the G-String Murders in the same clever ways that she publicized herself. In a prepublication letter to her publishers, she offered to “do my specialty in Macy’s window to sell a book. If you prefer something a little more dignified, I’ll make it Wanamaker’s window.” In an interview, she joked that if people did not know her in bookstores, she would remove an earring and ask, “Now, do you recognize me?”

    As an added bonus, Gypsy put a lot of herself into this book, so the reader learns quite a bit about her burlesque work life, her sense of humor, her political beliefs, and sense of independence. Spending time with this mystery is a perfect way to celebrate a New York City burlesque anniversary.

    Noralee Frankel is author of Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee. She recently co-edited the U.S. History in Global Perspective for National History Day. Dr. Frankel is a historical consultant and can be reached through LinkedIn or Facebook.

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    19. Timelines: Plotting


    Six Winning Steps Toward a Compelling Opening Line, Scene and Chapter
    Start Your Novel by Darcy Pattison
    • 29 Plot Templates
    • 2 Essential Writing Skills
    • 100 Examples of Opening Lines
    • 7 Weak Openings to Avoid
    • 4 Strong Openings to Use
    • 3 Assignments to Get Unstuck
    • 7 Problems to Resolve
    The Math adds up to one thing: a publishable manuscript. Download a sample chapter on your Kindle.

    When you are deep into plotting a new novel or especially, a series, timelines are your friends. It’s a tool that will help straighten out the details and create order.

    Obviously, a time line lays out the time period of your novel. Does it take place in 24 hours or does it span 24 years? Within that time span, you’ll want to slot events, reactions, and characters.

    Backstory. Using a time line to plan a story probably means you’ll want to include back story events. You can do as much or as little as you need here. Maybe you want to include a character’s birth, baptism or bar mitzvah, high school graduation, or other major life events. You’ll also want to include other major events: parent’s divorce, house burned down, moving to a new school or city, first job and so on.

    You can choose to do a separate time line for each person, but I like to have a master timeline where each character’s events are included. If you like, you can get fancy with this and do it on a spread sheet with each character getting a column or a certain color row.

    Plot Events. When the events reach the story’s opening, it’s time to start imposing some structure. Dividing the time line into Act 1, 2 and 3 (and 4, if you use that paradigm), makes sense. You’ll want to make sure the story’s time line provides characters a great stage entrance, then introduces events that keep the story rolling. Here’s a great place to start tweaking the pacing of your story.

    Ticking Clocks. Speaking of pacing, try introducing a ticking clock: some event must be completed by midnight or unspeakably bad things will happen. If Sherlock Holmes doesn’t solve the crime by midnight, beautiful Aurelia will be the victim of Poe’s pendulum (to mix up a lot of things!).

    Edit and Revise. This is also a place where you should edit drastically. If you think up a scene, but can’t decide where to put it–cut it. It’s probably not important to the story anyway. Each scene or event should serve a definite purpose that pulls the reader toward the climactic ending. Some events will have a quiet purpose like characterization or setting p the next scene. OK, as long as there’s some purpose to the scene. Time enough later to Kill-Your- Darlings when you revise the novel.

    Messing with the TimeLine. Now that you have the time line laid out, you can actually mess with it, if you like. You could present scenes out of order, with back story coming in as a flashback or even more drastic manipulations of time. The movie, Memento, is about a character with a short term memory problem, which lead to strange time manipulations. If you want to do this, be warned: the younger the audience, the more likely you are to confuse them. Telling a story with a jumbled timeline makes it harder for your reader to understand and enjoy. So, if you decide to go this route, use your best storytelling techniques. Read about flashbacks here or here.

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    20. 5 Quotes to Plot Your Novel By


    Six Winning Steps Toward a Compelling Opening Line, Scene and Chapter
    Start Your Novel by Darcy Pattison
    • 29 Plot Templates
    • 2 Essential Writing Skills
    • 100 Examples of Opening Lines
    • 7 Weak Openings to Avoid
    • 4 Strong Openings to Use
    • 3 Assignments to Get Unstuck
    • 7 Problems to Resolve
    The Math adds up to one thing: a publishable manuscript. Download a sample chapter on your Kindle.

    I am currently slogging through plot development of a new series of novels. Here are some helpful quotes.

    1. “A plot is just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what.” Margaret Atwood.
      It is hard to narrow down the possibilities of a story to a particular “WHAT happened next?”. It is a tricky process of going back and forth between character and interconnected events, refining both at the same time you make a decision about WHAT. Because I am planning a series, I am writing three plots with the same characters, which gives each character an internal conflict arc for individual books, as well as for the series overall. If an individual plot line doesn’t give me an idea for WHAT, I switch to series conflict; or I switch to a subplot.
    2. Terror: The Doorway to Great Plots

    3. “Real suspense comes with moral dilemma and the courage to make and at upon choices. False suspense comes from the accidental and meaningless occurrence of one damned thing after another.” John Gardner.
      In the midst of all the WHAT, I am constantly searching for the moral dilemma. Versus. Good versus good. Understandable versus understandable, even if you might disagree. Moral dilemmas make for great plots.
    4. “Writing about writing, Checkhov instrucs us that no gun should go off unless we have first shown it hanging on the wall: every surprise must have its sublimated genesis.” Cynthia Ozick.
      If WHAT happens at the end of Book 3, how can I prepare the reader for it and surprise the reader at the same time? How needs to remain unstated in Books 1 and 2? In Acts 1 and 2 of each book?
    5. “Years ago, someone said to me, ‘Jackson, your books must be printed on scar tissue.’ I was pleased.” Richard Jackson
      Beware of characters who are too perfect, of plots that fit together too neatly. Life is messy and while art works to make sense of that mess, if it is too structured, it fails to connect emotionally. Embrace the scars of your characters. Embrace your own scars as a writer, as a person.
    6. “Get your character in trouble in the first sentence and out of trouble in the last sentence.” Barthe DeClements
      Pacing of plots is crucial; never give the reader a place to put the story down. This focus on tension on every page begins at the stage of slogging out a plot and continues till the last copyedit.

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    21. Keeping Relationships Consistent


    Six Winning Steps Toward a Compelling Opening Line, Scene and Chapter
    Start Your Novel by Darcy Pattison
    • 29 Plot Templates
    • 2 Essential Writing Skills
    • 100 Examples of Opening Lines
    • 7 Weak Openings to Avoid
    • 4 Strong Openings to Use
    • 3 Assignments to Get Unstuck
    • 7 Problems to Resolve
    The Math adds up to one thing: a publishable manuscript. Download a sample chapter on your Kindle.

    On my current WIP novel, I am revising to make sure the character relationships are consistent. The main character has three main relationships in the story, with a friend and traveling companion, with her father and with the villain.

    Among other things, a first reader pointed out some inconsistencies in these relationships. I agreed and decided to tackle this. The first thing I did was the re-read the manuscript and find the places where the main character interacts with each of the others.

    It was actually fairly easy because each interaction had about three chapters each, at least in the first half of the novel that I am working on. I physically separated these into three stacks of paper and then marked them up. I was looking for emotional content, reactions to each other, all those small things that create a relationship. Surprisingly, these can be a small part of chapter/scene. You’ve got to have the action going along and the plot will take up a lot of space. There’s description and dialogue. Some of the emotional stuff is in all of this because you can and should color any of it with an attitude.

    But surprisingly little of it directly reflects the relationship between these two characters.

    Now, I just need to decide on what the relationship should be–actually the hardest part of all. For a father-daughter relationship, should the father be wishing for a son, instead of a daughter? Or does he support his daughter in all her hopes and dreams? Of course, we know what the perfect father would do. But this is fiction, which about dysfunctional families, and the ways in which relationships can get tangled up. Once I decide where it should go, then it will be easy to see where to revise.

    Then, I just need to repeat it for the other two relationships.
    For me, it is easier to gain consistency by pulling out chapters like this to look at a specific aspect of the story.

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    22. Cloak, Cape or Hood: Writing Consistent Fiction

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    Giveaway ends October 01, 2013.

    See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

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    In this January 6, 2013 NPR interview, John Sandys talks about inconsistencies in movies that were released in 2012:

    Well, I think ’cause “Men in Black 3″ travels back and forth in time, it means you’ve got a whole host of factual mistakes as well, which it opens itself up to. One which jumped at me was in Cape Canaveral in 1969, we see the flag of Spain waving, but it’s the wrong flag. It’s the current era flag, not the 1969-era flag. I mean, it’s hardly a major research job. I don’t know whether they thought it wasn’t worth looking into or they just thought, well, no one will care.

    This week, I am doing a final pass through of a novel and finding tons of inconsistencies.

    For example, the main character shows up in a cloak and a scarf wrapped around her head. But at the beginning of the next scene, which is a direct follow-up, she throws back her hood and takes off her cloak. In another scene, she is described as wearing a cape.

    (I know: Capes are soooo out of style.)

    Reading and revising for consistency of details is different than reading for story. Here are a few tips:

    1. Put on your editor’s hat. This isn’t the time to worry about the story line, characterization, plot or those other big issues. Instead, you need to be very logical and you need to pay attention. That requires a different mindset.
    2. Take notes. I use sticky notes, but you could use just a sheet of paper to jot notes. As I read along, I jot down anything that sounds fishy to me, or I am uncertain of consistency through out the manuscript: numbers, names, eye color, hair color, peculiar or unusual wordings, etc. For complicated books or series, some suggest a Story Bible, or a place where you record all such details. For this story, I didn’t feel the need for something that structured. But in an upcoming series, I will definitely go that route.
    3. Timeline. Lots of what I am doing this week is tightening the time line. I had to cut some scenes and that left my character at a loss for an afternoon and evening. So, I moved some scenes to fill in those spaces. Often, I will literally fill in a calendar for the final timeline (after the major revisions), and often it will be hour by hour. I know I planned it all out before, but the revisions make a difference. So, I do it again.
    4. Words and phrases. I also make sure I haven’t repeated a word or phrase too often. It’s hard to describe how this one works, but you sorta have a watcher in your head paying attention to how a story is told. And it will go, “Whoa! Stop right there, little missy.” So, I stop and correct. It’s paying attention to the difference between work table and workbench.
    5. Logic. It’s important for every action to be in the correct time order and to be logical. Clarity rules on this pass through. You can’t hit a ball with a bat if you haven’t picked up a bat first.

    Of course, I am making these types of decisions as I write the manuscript, but I’ve found I need one last run through. What else do you check for in your last pass through a manuscript?

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    23. No Words on the Page, But I’m Still Writing

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    Start Your Novel by Darcy Pattison

    Start Your Novel

    by Darcy Pattison

    Giveaway ends October 01, 2013.

    See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

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    Today, there are no words on the page that I can point to and say, “I wrote that today.”
    But it was still a successful writing day.

    I reread the first book of a series and got the voice and characters back in my head. In the early stages of prewriting, I need to see what went before and how I can play a variation on the them for this new book.

    I worked on new characters and situations for the second book. And it will take me a couple more planning days, as I try something, reject it, and try something new. The firs things that come to mind are likely the weakest and I need to push past those cliches to something more fun. Unfortuntately, that means there has to be something there to push past. Which means grunt work of writing bad ideas to reject, so the good ideas can come forward.

    I set up a folder for Book 2 and added two documents to it. Getting organized mentally, getting files organized, setting up work folders–all of that prepares me mentally to work. I am setting myself up for success. I will have all the tools and processes in place.

    I decided to start on this next Tuesday, September 3. By setting up a “trigger,” or a deadline, it gives me a mental head start on what I need to get done before then and encourages/forces me to make decisions this week that will create a successful start to a new project.

    I also set a deadline for finishing the first draft of the project. By adding the end-date to the project, it also sets me up to be professional in the writing, to set a goal of writing a certain amount per week.

    In everything I do this week, I plan to set myself up for success. What are you doing to set yourself up for success?

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    24. Excitement: Starting a New Novel

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    Giveaway ends October 01, 2013.

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    There’s an excitement in the air! I’ve started a new novel project.
    Here’s what I don’t want to happen:

    I don’t want the excitement for this project to get bogged down and dribble away. It happens too easily, as life issues take over, as problems arise with the project, or just as the work drags on.

    I don’t want to talk bad about this project to anyone. Sometimes, I fall into the habit of complaining. This chapter or that character just aren’t cooperating! Why is this so hard? ARGH! I hate this project because it’s not going like I want. Nope. None of that this time. I love this project and I’m excited about it. I think my readers will love it, too. Hurrah! It’s such a joy to be working on such a great project.

    I don’t want this project to drag on forever. I have scheduled two months to get a first draft done and I’m working hard on keeping to that schedule.

    Here’s things I want to happen:
    Joy. Excitement. Productivity.

    Scheduling the Project

    When faced with a big project, how do you break it down into manageable pieces?
    I’ve already gone through the process of deciding what kind of novel this will be. Now, I just need to write it.

    Here are the steps I plan to follow:
    One page synopsis. I’ve written a one-page summary of the story, knowing full well that it would need to be fleshed out when the time comes. Now that the time is here, it’s easy to see where I want the story to go. There are huge gaps in the story, of course, but the one-page synopsis grounds the story in some particular issues.

    Subplots to Detailed Plot.I am taking a day to flesh out some of the subplots. For example, one subplot will involve kids planning a parade. I spent today researching fun ideas to add to the parade and parade planning. Did you know that some parades these days require horses to wear diapers? It’s true. Horse poop on city streets–though once the norm–is now a no-no. There are special bags which are strapped to horses to catch their “meadow muffins.” (Now, see, isn’t that great language to use in a book? Meadow muffins. Horse apples.) Real life can be stranger than fiction: horse diapers.

    I’ll take a day to research the other subplots and layout some ideas for developing the plot lines. Then, I’ll spend a day picking and choosing scenes to include and weaving them into the main plot line to create a detailed plot. That breaks the task of plotting into steps that I can manage. By approaching it from the subplot angle, I am free to make leaps and make errors: it doesn’t matter, it’s just a subplot. But in the end, I am sure that I’ll find some unique things to add to this story to make it more fun and funny.

    WARNING: THIS 24-SECOND VIDEO SHOWS A HORSE POOPING. Your kids will probably love it!

    If you can’t see this video, click here.

    Characterization and character continuity. With a detailed plot in hand, I’ll double check the characterization needed. Because this is a second book in a series, much of the characterization is set up and I’ll need to continue it on, create an emotional arc for this book and make sure there is continuity. The first step will be the emotional arc for the character. I’ll need to make sure the external plot echoes the internal arc. This means a detailed summary of the story that includes the plot, subplots and character issues.

    Revise. With a very long, detailed synopsis of the story, I’ll look for holes in logic, characterization and plot.

    Write. Finally, I’ll use the synopsis to create a full draft–by Halloween.

    This is a slightly different process for me, with more upfront planning. I’d like the full synopsis to be about 1/3 of the finished book, which will be enough detail to help me get the whole story done.

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    25. Trust the Writing Process: Of Anteaters and Spider Webs

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    by Darcy Pattison

    Giveaway ends October 01, 2013.

    See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

    Enter to win

    I am working on a first draft of a story and am reminded of a couple things.

    First, you must write the story. You can plan all you want, but the story comes alive in the actual writing. A small thing this week: my main character is afraid of all bugs. That includes insects and anthropods (spiders)–anything that crawls or flies. So, there they are, the Main Character(MC) and Best Friend (BF) sitting in art class and painting. Guess what the BF paints? An anteater! It’s a perfect addition to the story but I hadn’t planned on it. It came about simply because I wrote the first draft of the first chapter. And there it was.

    We don’t know what we think until we write.
    We don’t know what the story is until we write.

    It’s like sports. You can predict who will win or lose a game, but the teams must still play the game. And there are always surprises.

    Write your story. It will surprise you.

    The second thing that is happening is not as nice. The story is boring.
    I am still feeling my way through the story to find the line of tension, the exciting bits. I’ll keep writing even if it’s boring, because I am digging up anteaters. To use another bug metaphor, I’ve spun a web and I am sitting like a spider monitoring the web for the slightest hint of movement. When the movement–or story excitement–happens, I’ll be ready to pounce. It’s called trusting the process. It’s the most exciting and satisfying thing about writing, when a story comes together on many levels. It’s also scary: I KNOW this is a boring chapter, too full of static action and talking heads. I KNOW it’s bad. I could throw up my hands and just quit. Instead, I’ll plod along and write through the problems until I find something exciting. I can delete this boring chapter later (and, I will!). For now, I am trusting the writing process to get me to a stronger story. And it will.

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