Posted by: Jodi | December 17, 2014

Working with Reflexive Emotions

Yesterday morning I woke up tired, I’m not really a morning person to begin with but this was above and beyond your usual closet-variety tired.  This was the coming down with a cold, three nights of insomnia, sleep interrupted by kids kinda tired. This was the kinda tired that coffee mugs make fun of.  Needless to say I was withdrawn, didn’t want to talk, and was bothered by bright lights and loud noises.

CoffeeMugHumor

Enter my children getting ready for school.  They are still at an age where they can’t really do the getting ready for school thing on their own, so every step still needs to be coached, breakfast needs to be made, and fights broken up. This tends to be loud even on the calmest mornings. Yesterday morning it was the equivalent of a brass band marching through the house.

Normally I have the reserves to deal with this kind of noise and still be a functional human being and sometimes even pleasant about it, but yesterday, when all I wanted to do was curl up in a dark quiet place and wait for the world to disappear, it was misery.

Feeling one emotional or physical state, like being extremely tired, and being faced with the opposite, let’s say rowdy and loud, causes a universal reflex of discomfort. Everyone has felt it, including your characters. This knowledge can be used to increase tension in a scene without making dramatic changes to the story line.  And we all know that tension is the key to creating edge of your seat, compelling writing.

Let’s see some examples:

  • Jenny’s favorite uncle died in a tragic car crash and she is reeling in shock, she feels numb, she can’t think clearly, and she needs time to process what has happened. Her dear friend is trying help her cheer up by talking to her in a very upbeat almost sing-song voice. Not only is this not helping Jenny, it is making her feel worse.  How dare her friend be so chirpy and happy at a time like this? Doesn’t she understand? Even though it’s coming from a friend she trusts she still can’t help but feel angry and alone.
  • Mark has dreams of becoming a astronaut and has done everything possible to make himself the ideal candidate for the space program. Months ago he submitted his application and that morning he found the large envelope in his mailbox. Unable to wait another second, he ripped it open right there. He had been accepted and life couldn’t be better. He ran back to his apartment to tell his buddy Dean. However, when he gets there he finds Dean still face down on the couch. His girlfriend had broken up with him the night before and he hadn’t moved since then. Instead of being happy with hearing the good news, Dean is sullen and doesn’t want to talk. Mark is so frustrated that he wants to put a fist through the wall.  Why can’t his friend pull it together? He knows how important this is for Mark but he is too wrapped up in his own hurt to care.

When we feel something strongly we unconsciously want those around us to feel the same way.  In therapy this is called mirroring, where one person tries to match the emotional state of the other in order to better understand. Everyone craves understanding regardless of the situation. The same is true for fictional characters, they have the same drive to be understood as well.

Next time you are writing a scene that needs more tension, try adding a reflexive emotion. It might be just the thing you needed.

Posted by: Jodi | December 10, 2014

Writerly Quote – Holly Gerth

writewhatscaresyou

“Be courageous and try to write in a way that scares you a little” – Holley Gerth

When it comes to putting words on the page, finding the right ones that will engage the reader and make your story compelling and vibrant can be a huge challenge. Ofttimes we as writers know what needs to be said, or what angle needs to be used, but we hold back because walking into that area of our minds scares us a little.  I’m not talking about writing things that are immoral or distasteful, although it takes courage to write that as well. I’m talking about the things that bring us pain or forces us to relive a part of our lives that we would rather forget.

Everyone has raw emotions about past events, things that are too difficult to face head on so instead they are tucked away into our subconscious with the hopes that they will all be forgotten. Pulling these experiences forward and facing them while we work on bringing our fiction to life is often enough to daunt even the bravest writer.

Do it anyway.

Writing that comes from reliving real experiences, especially hard ones, is some of the best writing there is out there. It also is an effective way to face those demons of the past and conquer them.

Posted by: Jodi | December 3, 2014

5 Ways to Bring Your Writer Friends Joy

‘Tis the season to give and show gratitude, and for those of you with a writer in your life, now is the perfect time to make an extra effort to bring them joy.  Writers and creative people tend to lead isolated lives and they are easy to overlook.  They are quiet and spend their free time typing or painting or welding away at their latest creation.

While a writer can feel great satisfaction in working and completing a project, there is only so much satisfaction one can feel all by themselves. It takes the proverbial village to bring them true and lasting joy.

Here are five things that you can do for the writer in your life -

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Image credit: “Professional chef preparing Baked Salmon” by stockimages at freedigitalphotos.net

 

1. Be a reader. Although it seems a bit obvious, writers love and appreciate those who love to read.  Think about it. Imagine you are a world class chef and your specialty is cooking sublime and delicate fish dishes.  If a patron comes to your restaurant and declares that they hate fish, you would feel rejected and have a hard time truly liking that person. Writers love to talk about books and stories and crave someone who can do the same.

2. Buy their books. With eBooks and so much content on the internet that’s free, people are reluctant to spend cash on books – or they want to only spend .99 cents.  It doesn’t make sense.  For the price of a fancy drink at Starbucks you could have supported a friend. A drink will last minutes and give brief refreshment and enjoyment.  Reading a book brings hours of entertainment and can reread or passed along.

3. Write good reviews. When I say good, I don’t mean that every word has to be gushing and glowing (although those are nice).  A good review is fair, polite, and honest. Getting real reviews is tough. Everyday I hear stories of authors intentionally sabotaging other author’s books by leaving scathing reviews. It’s wrong and it hurts people. If you feel a book was worth your time, gave you insight, made you think, made you smile, made you feel, then that book deserves a good review.

4. Be a good listener. Often writers are full and overflowing with ideas and questions about the story they are working on or about the book they are reading.  Let them talk without changing the subject. Ask questions that make it sound like you are paying attention and are interested. Give suggestions and advice with extreme caution, they usually aren’t asking you for your help with the story. Discussing booky things helps them unravel tangled ideas and paves the way to even better writing.

5. Give them time to work. Writing takes time – lots of it, oodles of it. I estimate each page of anything I’ve worked on has taken between one to three hours to complete and countless hours floating around in my head growing and taking shape. A thirty page story would take anywhere between 30-90 hours to complete.  When writing is a full-time job this isn’t a huge problem because it is understood that those daytime and evening hours are being used for writing.  However, when writing is a hobby and those hours are harder to come by, even the shortest of stories can take weeks or even months. This is frustrating in the extreme for writers who have a story that is burning to come out. One of the nicest things you can do is arrange things so that your writer has a few undisturbed hours to work.

***

Thank you for reading, now go and make a writer happy!

 

 

Posted by: Jodi | November 26, 2014

NaNo 2014 – Finishing up!

Alrighty writing world, good news – for those doing NaNoWriMo, there is only 4 days left of insanity before time’s up.  This means that this is the last NaNo post I will be doing for the year and we will be going back to standard My Literary Quest topics.

Yay!

Ideally you NaNo’s out there are pulling into the final stretch and are in the resolution phase of your story. If you are, all that needs to be done is tying up all the loose ends and giving your characters their “Happy Ever After.” Or, if you write like me, rounding things out so your readers don’t want to punch you in the face.

However, if you are any bit like me you might have fallen into one of the following two problems.

1. You’re behind and still working through the climax.  Good thing this is a holiday weekend.  You might be able to squeeze in a handful of hours here and there that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Think early mornings and late nights and anytime in between.  You might need to sacrifice some of the holiday fun and, say, not watch football or take that post turkey coma-like nap. Even short 15-minute writing dashes can net you extra wordage.

2. You’ve finished the story but you need more words to make your goal.  Breathe – this is easier to fix than you think. Start with analyzing your story, does your main character pass through the try/fail cycle at least three times? If he only fails once before achieving his goal then the goal was too easy for him. Add another failure.  That should get you several more thousand words right there.

Other ways you can sneak in more words is to make sure that you have taken a moment to describe important people and places as they are introduced. One of the biggest faults of most first drafts, especially those written on the fly, is that they lack description.  Go back and plug more in.

funny-writing-meme-twilight-writer-jokeCongratulations – even if you haven’t met your goal of 50,000 words you have done far more than you would have done had you not written at all and that’s worthy of praise!  Here’s to you for giving it your best shot.

Posted by: Jodi | November 19, 2014

NaNo 2014 – Keeping Momentum

Congratulations, if you are still keeping up with NaNoWriMo you are entering the home stretch. For those who are keeping up with the daily goals, today you should be passing the 31,000 word mark – way to go!

If you are behind, don’t despair, don’t stop. There is still time to catch up.  Find yourself a few undisturbed hours and crank out as much of the story as you can, remembering not to stop and edit. Your goal is to create a complete story, not Shakespeare.

Today we are going to talk about keeping momentum. If you have survived the first two weeks then you are doing well, but chances are you are starting to get tired of forcing the writing process day after day.

It’s the same with any project or goal – think New Year’s resolutions. The first week you are still motivated to see things to the end and have the energy to do so, you reach or even exceed your goals. The second week is when you start slipping and cheating a little, you still reach your goals or come very close but it’s harder. Here in the third week is when many people quit, either because they have fallen behind and don’t feel they can catch up, or they have simply run out of energy.

The third week has other challenges as well.  In a 50,000 word book this is when the main character is starting to gear up to face the climax of the story.  If you are plotting the key points of your story using the Hero’s journey as your template, your main character will be entering the part of the story when he must face daunting challenges that change his outlook and transform him so that he can face his final battle.

In Frozen, this is when Hans reveals his true sinister nature and Anna must find another way to survive. In Cars, this is when Lightning decides to stop being a jerk and do a good job fixing the road.

While this is tough writing, it is also rewarding because this is when the character goes from interesting to awesome.

So keep going!  The work you do this week will be hard, I’m not going to lie, but it is definitely worth it. Identify how your main character must change, and place him into a scenario that forces the change to happen. Only 11 days to go, you can do it.

Gif created by nulty102 at deviantart.com

Nail it like Anna nailed Hans! [Gif created by nulty102 at deviantart.com

 

Posted by: Jodi | November 12, 2014

NaNo 2014 – Beating the Murky Middle

Saturday marks the halfway point for all you NaNo writers out there, that means you should be nearing or hopefully passing the 25,000 word mark in your new drafts.  It’s usually around now when the story starts falling apart and writers get frustrated. It even has a name, the murky or muddy middle.

There are several reasons this can happen.

The first of these reasons is poor planning. Now I know that there are lots of people out there prefer to create as they go, and there is no problem with that. Many best sellers out there do the same thing. This becomes a problem when we reach the middle and need to know where the story is going, so we can figure out how to get there. Without an ending there is no goal to be reached and the characters simply don’t know what to do.

Another reason the middle gets murky is when there isn’t enough conflict. The main character has overcome the initial conflict and it’s not quite time yet to build up to the ending climax in an interesting way.  There has to be some problem that the character needs to overcome in order to be ready for the ending conflict.

The last reason has nothing to do with the story, but with the writer.  It is typically around this point in the story where the excitement of the story has worn off and the writing starts to feel like work.  The momentum slows down and self-doubt creeps in. We start wondering why we even started the project in the first place.

There are a few things that you can do:

In your story -

  1. Introduce more conflict! Kill someone off, get lost, get stuck, get in trouble, find a way to challenge your character.
  2. Change the setting into something more intriguing. Drop your characters into a lion den, a mad scientist laboratory, or a zeppelin and see how they react.
  3. Write from a different character’s point of view, perhaps your villain. What do they have to say about the situation?
  4. Go to Random Topic Generator and write a scene about the first prompt that comes up, if anything it will give your character something to do.  Use your creativity to make it work in your story.

As a writer -

  1. Write somewhere else.  In you have a laptop or tablet, grab it and go somewhere new. A change in your writing atmosphere is often all it takes to get the wheels turning.
  2. Challenge yourself to a writing sprint – set the timer and go for it.  Many times writer’s block is not because we are stuck but because we are reluctant to write what needs to be written.  We worry that it won’t be good enough so we put off writing about it.
  3. Enlist a friend, ask them for some advice. A fresh perspective can be all you need to take off once more.
  4. Take a break and read a chapter from a favorite book. Our creativity needs time to recharge and reading is a great way to do it.

writing

 

Posted by: Jodi | November 5, 2014

Inspiration for all those NaNo’s out there

It’s day five of NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) and it’s fast approaching the time when people are starting to fall behind and get discouraged.  I’m here to pick you up by your bootstraps and give you the support and encouragement you need.

My NaNo journey this year is different, like I said in the last post. I’m in the process of revising my novel so that I can present it to beta readers and get that crucial feedback. It needs one additional pass after this one before I can feel comfortable with doing that. My goal for NaNo is to get in at least one hour a day and push through the draft one tiny piece at a time.

I know this sounds like small peanuts, it is.  My kids are off track and still too young to leave me alone for longer than a few minutes at a time. I get this hour in twenty minute chunks.  If I’m lucky I’ll only get interrupted one or two times during each chunk. It’s a perfect recipe for insanity.

Even still, with these micro chunks I’m doing more every day than I’ve done in the past because I’m actually working on it. Sure, having several hours to work is fantastic, euphoric even, but if I have to wait weeks to get one then I forget what’s going on in the story and have to spend valuable time rereading and backtracking and double checking before I can even start.

I almost wish I was writing a first draft…

But you, dear NaNo writer, dash out the words like a crazed mad man. Find every minute you have and just let it flow out.  Don’t look back, don’t worry about the stuff you might be messing up.  The purpose of a first draft is to find the bones of the story, not create a masterpiece.

With that in mind, here’s your inspiration:

dragons

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Now get off of the internet and get writing!

Posted by: Jodi | October 29, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014

NanowrimoThe time has come for writers the world over to decide if they will take part in this year’s NaNoWriMo, National November Writing Month.  This event encompasses sheer lunacy, the over consumption of coffee and chocolate and the wearing of comfy pants while desperately trying to reach that golden apple of writing the first draft of a 50,000 word novel.

Have I done it? Yes. Once.

Four years ago when I thought I was invincible and could do anything in terms of writing, I set out to write an urban fantasy thriller.  I got my 50,000 words by the skin of my teeth, punching in the last few thousand on the last day, at the last-minute. It was a huge educational experience. Not only did I learn that it was possible to do it, but I discovered that when you are forced to write so much in such a little window, the story and the characters tend to stay alive in your mind during the entire month. They have to because your every thought during each waking moment centers around what is going to happen next in the story and how to translate those thoughts onto the page.

So, am I going to take part in NaNoWriMo this year? No and yes.

No, I will not be thrashing out a first draft of a new idea. Although the idea of doing so is enticing, I really need to get through this current draft of work in progress.

Yes, in honor of NaNoWriMo I want to finish what I started last year when I set out to finish the revisions of my WIP.  I’ve been chipping away at it ever since.  My goal last year was to get through the first 50,000 words of the revision during the month.  I wasn’t successful. Turns out revision takes a whole lot more time than barreling through a first draft. However, I did fix all the broken bits in the first 30,000 words, which was a massive feat.  I had made more changes to the characters than I realized.

During this entire last year I’ve been trying to work through the rest of the manuscript and I would love to finish it this November.  There are still around 40,000 words left that need revising and it will be a lot of work to get through it all. The current total word count sits around 125,000 words.  It’s been a very long process bringing this story from concept to finished story.

Will you be participating in NaNoWriMo this year?

Posted by: Jodi | October 22, 2014

The Art of the Short Story with Paul Genesse

CrimsonPact1This month I attended a lecture presented by the animated and hilarious Paul Genesse, editor of the Crimson Pact Anthology series and author of the Iron Dragon series.  In this lecture we learned the ins and outs of how to create a successful short story, and he should know, he’s had over a dozen published.

Here are some of highlights from the lecture:

First and foremost – the story can’t suck. The reader must feel engaged and emotionally connected right from page one. This might seem like stupid advice until you read several dozen stories that don’t capture the imagination.  With books, readers are more willing to read several pages to see if they are going to like it. They have made an investment in either purchasing or finding the book at the library and because of this will try harder to like it. Short stories on the other hand, are short. If the first page isn’t interesting, chances are the rest of the story won’t be either.

One of the best way to engage the reader from the first page is to start the scene during a critical moment.  If your story is going to start with a truck bashing through Stanley’s bedroom wall, you could start with Stanley waking to the noise and seeing the truck coming at him.

Stanley rested peacefully when suddenly he heard a terrific crash.  There, coming through his poster of Van Halen was the front end of a truck. He struggled to free himself from the tangled bed-clothes but was too late. The truck lifted his bed and him and crushed them through the wall and into the adjoining bathroom.

Or, you could start here -

Gypsum dust and chunks of drywall rained down and the air smelled of diesel. Stanley tasted blood and when he wiped at the wetness on his head his hand came away red. A crumpled bumper hung inches from his face and someone he couldn’t see cussed and spat.

The two moments happen within moments of each other, but the second example strips away the fluff and buries the reader in the middle of the action. The second also pulls in the senses of sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound, which also makes for better, more immersive, reading. The goal is to make the reader care right from the beginning.  It has to be immediate, drawing, and fast.

Although this is true with all writing, in short story writing it’s even more important to avoid telling and show everything. Become a “was” Nazi.

The beauty of short stories is that they are short and they can be FINISHED. That said, the first draft is going to stink, and that’s okay.  One of the perks of short stories is that you can have lots of drafts.  Think of your first draft as a summary, not a story.  It tells you where everyone needs to go and why.  In subsequent drafts you can go in and bring it all to life.

During the writing process be sure to consider the following:

Scope: Can your story be told within the confines of a short story or is it meant for something longer?  If you need to go longer than your word count allows, double-check with who you intend to submit your story to if it’s alright. Usually they will be fine with longer stories if you have a good reason and they have room in the book.

Hooks: After the story is all figured out go back and tweak and add a few hooks to increase tension and keep the reader engaged.

Conflict and Tension: This has to be on every page, no exceptions. If there are passages that don’t further the story they have to go. This can’t be wishy-washy, it should be gripping.

Ending: These are tough.  They can’t be predictable, too stupid, or silly. Plan on tweaking it over and over again until it reads right. That said, in horror writing you can get away with really horrible endings.

Number of characters: There should only be a handful, ideally 2-3.  If there are too many characters, the reader can’t keep track of who is who. Also, each character needs space within the story to be introduced and described. It’s possible to have one character, but it’s hard.  They won’t have anyone to talk to.

Point of View: A short story is a great place to experiment with a POV that you don’t usually write in.  There is a greater emotional punch in writing 1st person which is why most shorts are written in it. The other option is 3rd person limited.

Try/Fail Cycle: Yes, this still exists in short fiction, it’s just condensed. If your character succeeds right away then the problem was trivial. Ideally there should be three failures before your character solves his problem.

Get Feedback: We write in a bubble and sometimes our ideas don’t transfer to the page as well as we think they have. This is where getting outside feedback is crucial.  Readers will catch what you can’t because they can’t imagine anything than what’s written on the page.  This feedback will open new opportunities for growth in your story.  If you can’t get another reader to give feedback, the next best thing is to set the story down for a while and then read with it with fresh eyes. It is guaranteed you will find things that need tweaking.

To write short fiction successfully you must read it.  Go to your library and find anthologies and educate yourself on what makes the stories successful. Think about short stories you’ve read that have stuck with you over the years.  I’m sure everyone remembers the Little Match girl.  It sticks with you because SHE DIES. One of the stories that has stuck with me ever since I read it is Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron.

You have to know what you want from your story.  How do you want the character to change? What do they need to learn?

In the end it all comes down to one thing – writing the story that you want to tell.  Write to please you, no one else matters. If you aren’t excited with your own work, it will show.  Find that passion, that jewel of an idea, and go make something awesome.

***

PaulGenesse

Paul Genesse: I’m a fantasy author and registered nurse. My first novel, The Golden Cord, Book One of the Iron Dragon Series came out in hard cover in April, 2008 and became the bestselling novel my publisher has ever had. Book Two, The Dragon Hunters came out in May of 2009. I’ve sold a dozen short stories and counting, such as The Nubian Queen in Steampunk’d from DAW Books, and Almost Brothers in Fellowship Fantastic also from DAW Books. I’m also the editor of The Crimson Pact anthologies. Visit my website for all the gory details and to see maps to where the bodies are buried.

Just for fun, Paul was kind enough to hook us up with a free short story!  Here’s the opening:

When I was a young man I sold a pair of Tasmanian tigers to a woman claiming to be the fourth wife of the Turkish emperor. Selling them was the worst moment in my life and I have often wondered if the price of my soul was indeed fifteen thousand British pounds. If I had kept the animals in Australia, perhaps I would not consider myself the man most responsible for the extinction of the entire species, though that is not the worst of my crimes.

To read the rest, go here!

Paul also has some terrific stuff on his website and blog, go check them out!

Posted by: Jodi | October 15, 2014

Debate: Linear vs. Non-Linear Writing

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Does your story look like this?

There are several debates when it comes to drafting a novel. The most well-known debate is usually between plotters and pantsers. Plotters being those who outline and plan each chapter in advance and pantsers being those who wing it and see what comes out.  Turns out most writers I know do a bit of both.

A lesser debated issue is that between linear and non-linear writing.  Linear writing is when a writer starts at the beginning and plows through to the end without going back to change or fix things. Non-linear writing is when the story is written out-of-order. The writer might have a stroke of inspiration and envision an awesome climax and write that first and then they go through and write the events that lead up to it. Non-linear writing also includes writers who start at the beginning and then loop back to fix or adjust earlier scenes as the writing continues.

There are pros and cons to each style of writing.

Linear writing tends to be the more standard approach to novel-writing.  It tends to be more organized than non-linear writing and will create a finished product in less time.  Because it forces the writer to figure out all the ins and outs of their story as they go, there tends to be less massive revision and changes.  However, since the writer needs to work where they are and not skip ahead, when inspiration strikes for a different scene they tend to wait until they get there to write it.

Non-linear writing is a slave to inspiration.  This is when the writer gets a brilliant idea for a scene and writes it and then has to to build a story around it.  Writing when fueled with inspiration lends itself to awesome prose and satisfying creative experiences.  However, a non-linear writer will shy away from scenes that they don’t feel the inspiration to write and stick to the ones they are passionate about. When it comes time to assemble these scenes into a story there tends to be a disconnect between them and it takes lots of hard work to bring the story to completion.

I’ve been both.  Back in the day when I started my story and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I didn’t know where I was going with it and so I wrote it in a non-linear style.  It was fun and self-indulgent and I felt like I was putting some terrific words to paper.  It wasn’t until almost a year into the process that I realized that I had many major problems that had to be fixed before the scenes could be strung together.  It’s taken ages to correct the problems I caused for myself.

I learned my lesson and now work strictly from beginning to end.  This way it’s clear when a draft is completed.  When I find a problem I flag it for the next drafting pass.  I know when a story is getting close to being finished when all the problems have been addressed.

What experiences have you had with linear vs non-linear writing?

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