Archive for the ‘Advice’ Category
I hope you all had a nice week off! Finals are over and we’re back in business–albeit, a bit late today. There was nothing recent that just resonated with me, so here’s an older blog post that I think is just as beneficial! When we’re all in the querying stage, this is the one thing we’ll need to pay attention to–I’m sure these Agent Pet Peeves apply to more than just the ones on the list.
Read and enjoy! (There’s even a part two.)
Last week I read two great posts. One was from Guide to Literary Agents. Chuck has doing an “Agent Guest Column Month” for November and I found the guest column by James M. Tabor gave me a bit of an ah-ha moment. In it he points out that the best way to get a good start on writing is to go out and live your life.
It might seem like a silly thing, but I know that I have a tendency to delve into what I’m doing and I’ll forget about the outside world. I’ll put off cleaning my room or vacuuming the house to stay in front of the keyboard and hash out whatever I can of the next scene I’ve got. (Homework is my exception.)
I think that this advice is true. It wasn’t until a road trip with Jessie last summer that she and I began writing novels with the purpose of getting them published. Going out and seeing new sights can inspire and get the creativity flowing. At least, that’s the way it is for me.
What do you think? Does getting out of the daily grind inspire or damper your imagination?
Each day I go through fiction press.com and try to find interesting stories to read and review. Of course, sometimes I’m not in the mood, or there isn’t anything near 1000 words (my minimum) and sometimes I just forget. I try do 2-3 reviews and I try to be as constructive as possible–it’s good practice for critiquing. A skill that I definitely need to hone more, but that’s off topic. As I go through, I’ve noticed that there are quite a few people that forget apostrophes, spaces, hyphens and more. I think it’s common to do that at times (Jessie’ll be the first to tell you that I’m horrible with let’s vs. lets and it’s vs its.)
So, just to get it out of the way (and to show I really do know!) let’s vs lets. Let’s is a contraction of ‘let us’. Lets is the present tense of the verb let, which has quite a few meanings! The best way to make sure you’ve got the right word is to undo the contraction and see if it works. Ex: “Let’s go to the store.” –> “Let us go to the store.” Or, you can check and see that it’s wrong. Ex: “She let’s go of him.” –> “She
let us go of him.” Let’s doesn’t work there, so it has to be lets.
It’s is the contraction of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. Its is possessive. Just like with let’s/lets, you can use the same trick here! Ex: “It’s a tree.” –> “It is a tree.” Wrong would be: “It’s face.” –> “
It is face.” That isn’t English, so you know it has to be its.
Sometimes we all forget, or don’t press the apostrophe key down and we end up with a word completely different than what we were going for. I often see “wont” and “cant” in the place of “won’t” and “can’t.” Wont means accustomed or used to, where as won’t is will + not. Cant is whining or begging and can’t is cannot–notice it isn’t can + not. Cannot is one word. (Also take note that can + not is legal, but it doesn’t equal the contraction “can’t”.) These seem like silly mistakes, but people make them a lot.
Speaking of a lot…
I’m going to bold this sentence because this really is the most common mistake I’ve ever seen. There is a space between the A and the word Lot. Alot isn’t a word! (Allot is, but that’s not what we’re talking about.) A friend showed me this lovely post about the wonders of Alot. Hopefully it will remind you Alot lovers that there is a space.
I could go on and on about more things like these, (like their, they’re and there, which has been beaten in since elementary school) but these are the biggest things that I see. I hope this helps at least some of you!
I asked a question to the ladies at Edittorrent awhile ago and Alicia Rasley answered it last week. My question was a simple one and something all of us writers have:
How much back story should there be?
Alicia does a great job addressing the topic, including how much to reveal, what is back story (in comparison to extraneous information), and when to introduce it.
I’ve taken up a position of “less is more,” but my wonderful critters keep mentioning all the things that I’m lacking that I think has a lot to do with this issue. If you tell too much, your story isn’t set in the present anymore! If you don’t tell enough, your characters lack some emotion and motivation.
Just like all things in life, there’s a happy medium! And I haven’t found it yet–but someday.
This past week I read a post from Write a Better Novel about free-writing. It really helped me out with my own writing, because I’ve been getting quite a bit of writers block–or lack of motivation–lately. I’d heard of free-writing before, as I’m sure most of us have, but I never actually knew more than just not stopping your continuum of thoughts. After reading this, I tried some of the techniques. They worked! (Hurray~)
While it did work, it sadly didn’t get any more of the scene I’m working on written. This helped me out a lot and I hope it helps you out, too. Never doubt the benefits of free-writes! Be sure to check out part two, too. Happy free-writing!
Last week, I asked the lovely ladies at Edittorrent about different languages in a book and what the best way to represent that while writing. I think her answer and the comments on the post are super insightful! You can check out the post here.
On the other hand, sometimes people write books and all of the characters are meant to be talking in a totally different language than what it’s written in. Some books are written in the past, like the Victorian era, or in the future. Just like with portraying the use of another language, as a writer, you need to show your readers that they aren’t speaking like we do in modern times!
Mondays are for what gave us an a-ha moment. I was shown this post from J.A. Souders’ blog about senses. We’re all used to the five senses, but she introduces you to six more you can use in your writing. The six other senses to enhance your stories are: Time, Temperature, Pain, Balance, Motion and Direction
She went through an exercise to practice this and I think it can only help to do it too! I didn’t follow her example to a key, but here is my try.
Logan teetered on his feet, passing his thumb through the flame of his lighter. His skin sizzled, his mouth easing into a smirk as flames encompassed the house and the wood siding crackled in the heat. A scream rose above the flames and dissipated into the night. Only twenty minutes to ruin someone’s life–twenty minutes to provide hours of entertainment.
The fire licked at his skin and the thick, black smoke burned his throat–tasted like cheap cigarettes and dark roast coffee. He’d hoped for something more exciting. The acrid scent of cedar and boiling paint was nothing. He turned to the left and dropped his lighter on the ground. Whoever said revenge was best served cold was a complete liar.
And to break it down for the six new senses, here they are in plain sight! (Just in case you missed it in the paragraph.)
- Time: twenty minutes
- Temperature: heat.
- Pain: sizzled
- Balance: teetered
- Motion: passing, turned, teetered
- Direction: to the left
Now that I’m aware of them, I can tell my writing will be that much better! What do you guys think? Try it out and post it up, I’d love to see your take.
Last week we tackled point of view for our lesson. We weren’t the only ones! Theresa Stevens from Edittorrent wrote about point of view as a sliding scale over at Romance University. You can’t even imagine how quickly I read this post (and reread) because it gets straight everything I’ve been uncertain on.
A professor of mine recently told me that I was writing too objective for what I was trying to do. He wanted more than what my characters were doing, he wanted to know what they were thinking. I thought being subjective meant that everything was merely colored by my main character’s perception.
It’s a bit more than that. Readers won’t know if it’s through your main character’s viewpoint if you never make it explicit from the start. They’ll likely think your narrator is jumping out and making some kind of comment. So here’s a few things I’ve learned to get your point of view straight:
- Start objectively. This allows you to describe what your main character looks like. A lot of books do this! And it’s okay to!
- Slide into subjective by showing your main character’s thoughts.
You can do it in single quotations. ‘Hmm,’ she thought, ‘that’s not right.’ Or perhaps you’re better acquainted with italics: Hmm, that’s not right, she thought. Or you can be sneaky and perhaps slip completely into the brain of your main character, almost as if you’re slipping into first person entirely (She dropped her fork with a gasp. I can’t believe what I’m seeing).
- Slide in and out of objectivity and subjectivity. Be conscious of what you’re writing.
You need to equally show actions (objective) and thoughts (subjective) throughout your book. Some scenes will require more objectivity and less subjectivity, or vice versa. No one wants too many thoughts, it slows down the pace–but when you want to slow things down, throwing in thoughts (even stream-of-consciousness can be fair play depending on your writing) can help you.
- Never, ever switch viewpoints. You can’t be in one person’s head and then another person’s head when you’re writing subjective. That’s omniscient. (Tricky, isn’t it!)
- Once you’ve gone into someone’s head, you can’t come out of it. If you’ve given us a taste of their thoughts, you have to let us take nibbles the entire book. We’ll remember what it tasted like, we’ll never forget it, and we won’t forgive you from withholding it from us.
Point of view is a tricky subject. I hope this post can bring another round of clarity!
I’ll be honest: I didn’t pay much attention to the blog world last week. That doesn’t mean I didn’t come across something worthy of sharing, though–contrarily, I have some fabulous advice from an English professor. I’ll try to be short and sweet (since I am often bitter and long-winded):
Each scene should have emotional movement.
What does this mean? Not only does each of your chapters and scenes need to move the plot forward, but they need to start in two different places emotionally. Perhaps you start with happy and end with sad. That’s fine. Or maybe you start with happy, have a bit of confusion, and then have some anger. The point is that there needs to be change. It doesn’t have to be drastic, but think of it this way:
Your reader needs to feel something different at the end of the chapter or they’ll be bored. I don’t want to read about someone who’s happy through the entire chapter. I don’t want to read about someone who angsts during the entire scene, either. Someone who was happy and then angsts because of some twisted plot development? YES. Sign me up!
There was a little blogothon about how to write compelling characters. I didn’t get a chance to read what everyone had to say about it, but I did read what Elana Johnson had to say about it. Oh, and it made sense.
She highlights six things to exaggerate humanness in your characters.
This is what I learned:
Your character has to have flaws to be human, or they’re perfect and not worth reading. We don’t want to read about someone who’s perfect, that’s boring. This doesn’t mean they’re clumsy or bad artists. It means they have a deep character flaw. Something that gets in their way. It’s a limitation or an imperfection. It could be a problem or a deficiency. It doesn’t mean that they can’t be super successful, it just means that underneath that success, there’s some deep, underlying flaw that makes them human and accessable.
Your character will also have secrets or things that they don’t want other people to know about them. No one reveals everything about themselves–their past, maybe their emotions, or maybe their fears. People are very scared of being vulnerable and will often lie or cover themselves in order to appear as perfect as possible.
Humans fear. We fear death, we fear love. Someone who often appears unafraid in real life is often very afraid. There is no such thing as being unafraid. The opposite of fear is courage: looking fear in the eye and facing it. Facing fear and being unafraid are not synonymous.
Your character needs to be afraid of something. It could be loss. Your character could be afraid of being alone. But this fear needs to drive their actions to some degree. It adds dimension to your character. They aren’t sitting with that big group of people just because that’s what the writer decided, but because they’re afraid of not fitting in.
Even if your character is stoic and unemotional, they have emotions, they just don’t show it. If your character is not feeling any emotions, then we’re reading about a robot. Sometimes people want to read about a robot, but only if they’re warned!
People are often guided by emotion and this might drive them to make mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes are because of emotion, or fear, or because their judgment was clouded by something in their past. It could just be because they aren’t perfect. Either way, mistakes are what we want to read about. We want to see someone make a mistake and fix it–so we can have the courage to do the same in our own lives.
Finally, your character needs to grow as a person. We are never the same when we go through something big! And something better be happening in your book. Most books are about your character finding out something about themselves (they’re secretly an alien, they actually really want to be an astronaut and not a lawyer) or learning how to do something new (love, trust, make their own decisions, etc). Books are often about self-discovery and so if your character is the same at the end of the book as they were at the beginning, then there’s a problem.
The key takeaway is this:
You want your characters not to be a “character” but a human.
You want people to relate to your character, to cry with them and love with them and sympathize with them. If your character isn’t human then we aren’t going to feel anything for them.