Keep Your WIP Moving With Secrets And Motivation

 

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Keeping plot, action, and dialogue fresh can be a challenge. but Sol Stein can help you with that.

Who is Sol Stein, you ask?

He’s the writer of a great book on craft techniques and strategies, both fiction and nonfiction, and beyond. It’s titled, Stein On Writing. And why wouldn’t it be?

He suggests to spice up your drama, dialogue and plot, maybe give each participant a unique secret, kind of a whisper in their ear. Something that relates to the story, yet only is known by the person speaking. It may be a motive for a particular action, a desire for a specific result, a reason for having a lively conversation in the first place, etc. Provide something unique to each person that only they know to fuel their actions, motive and personal stance within your WIP. And no two characters get the same information at the same time. Intriguing for sure.

But it makes total sense, doesn’t it?

I mean, isn’t that what happens in real life? We take the bits and pieces of available information that specifically pertains to us and use that as our motivation in our conversations and dealings with people. Now, whether any of that information is accurate is a totally different story, but nonetheless, it affects us in everything we think and do.

From his book, Sol Stein says:

“That’s what happens in life. Each of us enters into a conversation with another person with a script that is different from the other person’s script. The frequent result is disagreement and conflict–disagreeable in life and invaluable in writing, for conflict is the ingredient that makes action dramatic. When we get involved with other people, the chances of a clash are present even with people we love because we do not have the same scripts in our heads. And the tension is even greater when we are involved with an antagonist.”

So there ya go, the secret to keeping your dialogue and plot action-oriented and full of drama.

Just like we want it to be.

 

#AmWriting

 

 

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All The Words – NaNoWriMo

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Every November, we get deluged by the NaNoWriMo craze. Maybe I shouldn’t call it a craze, because it is a thing, and well, sometimes we writers need a good ol’ kick in the posterior to keep things moving along, right?

Many proudly proclaim on social media that they are “doing it” this year, meaning writing 50,000 words toward their novel in just 30 days. They register on the NaNoWriMo website, where they’ll be tracked and held accountable. A great feat indeed,  if done properly.

Wait a minute, I said properly, didn’t’ I?

What, did you detect that sarcasm in my typing?

Weelllll, that may be because I’ve already heard the “plans” of some on how to achieve this task, and it seems to me that they’re perhaps more interested in the achievement rather than the actual purpose. And I mean that they’re gonna get those 50,000 words no matter what, because if they get a little hesitant in their storyline, they plan to just start typing random things, like a grocery list, a to-do list, or maybe a blog post. You know, things that aren’t necessarily related to their WIP, but are valid words nonetheless, and when plugged into that word tracker, count towards their 50,000-word goal.

Hmmm…

That’s when my eyes tend to want to roll a bit and a whisper of Whatever! flies through my head. I just don’t see the point of that.

But, I’ve never officially signed up for NaNoWriMo so I may play the same game if I was to put myself in that pressure situation. I can be realistic enough to realize that with everything else going on in my life right now, there is a very good chance that I would not be able to average the 1667 words a day needed to complete this challenge. Oh, I can likely get the words alright, but they would not all be written for a single novel, in the true sense and purpose of the challenge.

That being said, with all the hype that goes along with NaNoWriMo, I do renew and increase my commitment to write more regularly, with more frequency, and be more productive with my writing time, to build better habits if nothing else.  If I happen to hit that 50,000-word benchmark, then good for me. But otherwise, maybe I can start a National Writing Productivity Month, you know, NaWriProMo.

Anybody with me?

PS: If you’ve signed up and are participating in NaNoWriMo, what are you doing reading blog posts. Get to writing! 😎

Seasons Change, And So Do I…

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Well, here we are, back at that dreaded daylight savings time, or maybe a better name would be the daylight shifting time. Apparently it’s not enough that the sunlight naturally dwindles a bit each day now, because we feel theneed to manipulate our clocks to better match the lighting patterns of the sun.

Shouldn’t we at least get to vote on this?

It really doesn’t matter, I suppose, because I can’t really do anything about it. I just accept the fact that I will, through no fault of my own, lose an hour of my preferred daylight time while some others may benefit from the change.

But does it affect you? More specifically, do your writing habits change with daylight savings time? With the seasons in general?

It does for me, I know that. Being someone that loves to be outside, including being able to sit out there and so some writing, you betcha it changes things. It brings me inside, of course, but it does so without the benefit of natural light. There I sit, darkness the backdrop out of the window, soft light glowing at the desk, and it puts me in a different mood. A wintertime, sluggish, less aware mood. If I liked locking myself in a room to write, I would love this time of year, because that’s what I feel. It’s more of a job than an activity, and it’s harder to get up and get outside to stretch the bones and mental processing.

But here we are, and theres nothing to do but sit my posterior down and put words to paper, whether hot or cold, sunny or darkened.

And you know what? Even if it does feel like more of a job during this time of year, what a wonderful and fulfilling job it is.

Happy writing to you all!

 

What’s Your Why, And How Does It Affect Your Writing

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We hear the phrase a lot.

What’s your why? Why are you choosing to do what you do? Specifically, why are you writing?

So here’s your chance to explain yourself. What’s your why when it comes to your writing? I mean, you’ve got a reason for putting pen to paper, don’t you? Sure you do, or else you wouldn’t put yourself through the headaches, backaches, and mental struggles of finding that perfect word or phrase to get your point across.

Say, for example, that you write because that’s what you get paid to do. Perfectly legitimate reason, and a fine reason to put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard. I do it myself, and know that deadlines, contracts, and pending payment are fine motivators. Fine motivators, indeed.

Let’s say you write because you have a message or sales pitch that needs to get out. Again, a perfectly fine reason to write and get that message out to your targeted audience. This, seemingly, is one of the main reasons that articles and web content are splattered about all over social media, sometimes over, and over, and over, and, well, you get the picture.

“Because I have a story to tell, Jerry. That’s why I’m writing”. Excellent. Write that story and get it out there. Tell those that should know, and those that you think will have interest, and then sit back and be satisfied that you got your story out there as desired.

“I shall be rich and famous, revered by all for my literary prowess, leaving a legacy of the written word that shall carry over into the history books. I shall please everyone with my words, and everyone will buy my books”. Okay, here is where I must pause and turn away while laughing so hysterically that my eyes turn red, coffee shoots out of my nose, and I need an inhaler to regain my composure. Aack!

Come on now, you don’t really believe that one, do you? I mean, if that happens, kudos to you. Honestly, congratulations! But writing just usually doesn’t work that way. When you’re trying to please a certain group, person, or genre, the words will reflect that in an almost sleazy, sales pitchy way. Good for those used car salesman, but bad for a writer.  In fact, for creative story or novel writing, it’s tough to completely narrow down your genre before writing your story or novel, because you have to be continually aware of the parameters and various rules you need to remain in your predetermined genre classification.

I have a different idea.

You’ve got a pending story or idea for a story in you. And for one reason or another, (the why), it needs to come out. Whether it’s a story that you’ve been thinking about, pouring over, and painstakingly working on every-single-day, or it’s an article that you’ve been commissioned to write, just write it. No immediate rules, no confining parameters. Just write it as you see it, because you know what?

You can shape it, edit it, and transform it later, after the original draft is written without the predetermined rules. This will ensure that the article, short story, novella, or novel will be written in your voice, ultimately satisfying your why. It doesn’t matter who you think the audience will be, or what the genre was going to be. Those things will be revealed naturally as your story evolves.

Happy writing.

Fixing Boring Fictional Characters By Looking Into Their Real Lives

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There’s always a lot of discussion about characters in writing, as should be. I mean, without the characters, your story is just a long narrative on scenery and background. But hey, sometimes even with characters, your story is just a long narrative on scenery and background. And that sucks.

But maybe your characters are just boring or too predictable throughout your work. Do you, as the writer, really know who you’re writing about? Are they shallow because you haven’t developed them enough throughout the story, or shallow because they indeed, are just that type of person? Do you have any idea about their upbringing, their values that they hold true, or their innermost beliefs? Do you know their favorite expression, hobby, favorite music, or most hated food?

I’ve found an interesting way to find answers to questions like these and likely others that you haven’t even thought about through a fun and simple writing exercise.

Drop those characters into situations that they would never encounter in your story or novel. Put them in scenarios that they would likely never encounter in their real lives. Yeah, I said it. The real lives of your fictional characters. Go ahead and take a minute to think about that one. Because there’s a lot of character development to be had when diving into the real lives of your fictional characters.

Are the characters from your story rural based? Take a few minutes to magically drop them into a Hollywood red carpet event and write down their personal thoughts and their conversations with others at the event. How do they react? What do they whisper to each other? How would they respond to the extravagance, and sometimes arrogance, of Hollywood life? How do they react to the reactions of others to them? You can bet that there will be some basic beliefs and values that come out in those thoughts, conversations and inner reflections from that event. And they’ll help you determine their actions and the reasons for those actions throughout the scenes in your story.

Maybe your characters are top of the line, successful detectives, complete with all of the latest tech gadgets, information processing, and social media skills that help them solve or even prevent crimes. What if these detectives were all of a sudden swept up and relocated to a time period without all of the current technology or sophisticated cellphones? What if these detectives, armed with all of these savvy skills, were dumped into a scenario where people didn’t have or know of such devices? What would those conversations be like? Would the detectives be deemed crazy? Would they have the patience to deal with problems in the old-fashioned way, using old-time detective work and personal interaction? Their acquired and innate personality traits will ultimately determine their actions and reactions, which will be the same traits that are the basis for their actions in your current work in process, both in their work situations and in encounters with others, positive or negative.

These traits, recorded from the unexpected, uncomfortable situations that you put them into are the true traits and beliefs of your characters. Traits that were either acquired along the way or taught to them long before they became a character in your manuscript. You brought them into the reader’s world to share a story about a particular time or event in their life, so it’s your responsibility to show the reader the character’s true personality, which hopefully evokes love, hate, or at least a rooted interest, positive or negative, from your readers.

Which is infinitely better than a reader putting your book down before finishing because of boredom.

Hello New, Old Friend. I Think I’ve Missed You.

view of tunnel

Hello there old friend. Why, those are some attractive accessories you’re sporting these days, and may I say you’re looking sleek and confident. Have you lost weight? Indeed, it shows. Come, let’s sit, talk, and get reacquainted, shall we?

Ah, nothing like getting used to a new piece of equipment after your old one just decides to die, right in front of you, leaving you hurt, angry, speechless, and also wordless, which some clients don’t always like to hear. But it happens, and we must move on, learning yet another, newer, and supposedly better way of doing things, even though the old ways were perfectly fine, dammit!

Back from the depths of technology hell, where glitches are said to be caused by outdated operating systems, leading to operating system updates that lead to bigger glitches, system crashes, damaged hardware, and well, you can figure out the rest, I suppose.

But when new, out of the box equipment starts acting up, and technicians on the phone explain it away calling it yet another glitch, I start really, really hating the word glitch and move on to frequently using a new word, aggravation. So two days and two marathon phone conversations later, after that innocent little glitch renders a new laptop unusable, I returned the laptop to its rightful owner, the store where I purchased it, and came home with another, again all bright and shiny computer with again, promises of a beautiful relationship experience.

We are celebrating a couple of months together now, and while catching up with work, moving a website to a new server, drinking to ease the pain of moving a website to a new server, and the setting up of this machine to my liking, I can say that we’ve already been through a lot of aggravation, turmoil, but also some relatively good times and none of those pesky glitches. Still, as much as I need technology to do what I do, I sometimes hate this technology that I need to do what I do.

But, because the assumption is that opposites attract, I can only conclude that this machine and I are indeed made for each other, as things are now getting done on time, with little interruption.

And, I really do believe that I’m starting to see that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

Unless, well, you know.

 

Writing Fiction With A Nonfiction Brain

 

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Just The Facts Ma’am

It’s a learning process, that’s for sure.

I was trained to see and report the facts, and only the facts. News reporting, community happenings, and numerous city council meetings meant digging for, uncovering, and reporting only the facts, in succinct, short, quick to the point sentences and fragments. It was mandatory to clearly share point after point after point while fitting the necessary information into a specific number of column inches. It would become the way I saw and remembered everything.

But now, in creating fiction, I felt like that dog that carelessly gets adopted and confined to an apartment bathroom, only to be finally let out into the world to be in awe of everyone and everything around me.

World building, descriptions, fictional details all available to me to complement my story? Descriptive and creative license available at my every turn? Turns available at every twist? More twists at those turns?

“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” as I go screaming around the house.

What I’m trying to say, as you can gather by now, is that it’s a different set of skills to learn how to write in a fiction setting vs a nonfiction setting. And therein lies the constant struggle in my writing psyche. For so many years, and even continuing to this day, much of my writing is based on facts, research, and numbers. The creative part is me just trying not to bore you to tears while providing all the necessary information for the article or study. But whilst brandishing that fiction pencil, all options are on the table. That can be daunting, and certainly demands a reset of my brain processing function.

How do you perform that mind reset?

Well, that’s a good question, and in all likelihood has as many unique answers as there are writers. For me, I have to be consistent in reminding myself to have fun with the words, since I have the luxury to make things happen as I want them to happen. It can be raining or not. It can be a cold day in winter, or a perfect beach day across the continent. Characters can be fashioned after anyone walking, running, strolling, skipping, or driving down the street. I can still write as if it’s a news story, but I have the creative license to go back and fill in the story with details, descriptions, and dialogue as I see or hear them. There are no fact checkers for these events, because I am my only source, leaving no one to refute my findings.

I know what you’re thinking, and it has to do with editors. That’s a damn fine point, but  more to do with the consistency and believability of the story, not my self witnessed, fictitious facts. As Stephen King says,  “The job of fiction is to find the truth inside the story’s web of lies”.

So whatever you need to do to flip that switch in your brain from fact based, nonfiction writing to fiction genre storytelling, do it on a consistent basis and pretty soon it’ll become as natural as sitting here cursing while watching those damn chipmunks dig up my yard everyday. The fiction writing mode of thinking will fire up more readily and allow a pretty cool working relationship with the rest of your mind.

And although I’m sure there is a statistic that would sound very official about this whole psychological matter, I’m forcing myself not to do the research and report back, because thankfully, I’m getting better about this whole switch flipping and brain resetting myself.

Damn chipmunks!

Hey! Who Is Gonna Take Care Of That Fictional Dog You Just Put Into Your Story?

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It was an easy decision at the time.

I’ll add a cute dog in my fiction. Who doesn’t like dogs, right? It’ll be a great secondary-type character to add to the story, one that will pal around and help show the emotions, attitudes and thoughts of my characters.

A dog will coexist perfectly with the characters, their personalities, where they live, how they live, and so on. It’ll be that little extra that adds another layer of reality to my story.

But then another reality hit me, and while looking around, I shouted, mostly to myself, “Hey! Who the heck is gonna take care of this thing?”

The more I started thinking and writing, the more I realized that I had to account for this fictitious, yet needy canine companion. The characters have to consider the dog when they do things, when they go places, and the length of their absences. It’s going to be there in the evening and overnight. It’s going to be hungry in the morning, and well, it will have to go outside and do it’s thing, which means somebody has to clean up after it does that thing.

My make believe dog is beginning to be just as time-consuming as the real thing, so now I’m wondering if its even a good thing to do, meaning adding a fictional dog to your story. Will there be fictional slobber in my shoes? Will there be fictional chew marks on our fictional furniture? Do I have to spend a couple of hours to find a fictional vet for my fictional dog? Just who is going to take care of this dog? And for crying out loud, what is his name?

As I turned away from writing this, I thought about that old cardboard box graveyard of old, dead Tamagotchis, GigaPets, and Nanos that we once had, way back when, and I feel a sudden, irrational fear and anxiety that my fictional, yet unnamed dog may suffer a similar fate, caused by inattention or just plain forgetfulness later in my manuscript.

Should I adopt this dog, even in a fictional world?

These decisions about getting pets are tough, even in a make-believe world.

He Said, She Said: Dialogue Tags Are Killers

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So I finally worked up the nerve to have the first 3000 words of my WIP read out loud and critiqued at a writing conference.

Gasp!

Yeah, I know, but there I was, in the crowd, waiting for my page to be drawn and read out loud by an actual publishing person, and then judged by other prominent publishers, writers, and agents. And I’m talking about a couple of heavy hitters in the room, recognizable by face as well as name. When I heard my working title read, I tensed, trying to not look too guilty of being the creator of this passage, even though I may have noticeably readied myself a bit more for taking notes. I’ve hesitated to do this in the past, but after revising it a few times based on other classes and advice I had gotten from reading and researching, I felt pretty good about letting this one be judged. Hey, we need to get used to being judged in public settings anyway, right? Why not here, where the learning, and the help, is readily available?

The instructions from the reader to the panel were to listen and read along, and raise their hands when running across anything that would make them stop reading, things like poor flow, bad grammar or vocabulary choice, a boring scene, non believable actions or situations, etc. If during the read, the panel showed three raised hands, the reading was stopped and then discussed. If the reading was allowed to finish, the panelists all took turns critiquing the work, both for what they enjoyed and where the improvements could be made.

Gulp!

My words were read out loud, and I could feel myself silently reciting the chapter with the reader. One hand went up. My eyes caught the motion of a hand being raised. I hoped for an instant that they just had an itch on their head, but no such luck. I panicked a little and started scanning the panel and hoping that there would be no more. The judges remained looking down at their copies of the transcript, intently reading along. No hands seemed ready to bolt up, and as the read was completed, they all seemed intent to listen to more. A big sigh escaped my chest.

But…

Something wasn’t right. While having someone else read my words out loud, I noticed it. So did the judges, by the way, who were all in agreement. Dialogue tags. Too many dialogue tags. The story was good, and the setting built the level of suspense that I had hoped. But the story read choppy, because of all the “he said, she saids” I had inserted. They were killing my pacing while adding extra, unnecessary words to the chapter. I had two people conversing in the entire scene, so there was no need to keep telling the reader who said what. I can achieve that through voice and proper dialogue, which I was glad to discover and learn in a separately offered class within this same conference.

But if it wasn’t for hearing a professional in the writing industry read my words for a set of equally professional judges and experts, I may not have caught this fault until further down the path in my WIP, and that wouldn’t have been good news for writer or reader.

He said it, she said it, they all said it. And I listened.

Good writing!

 

Crayons, Pens, Butcher Paper or Tablets, A Writer Is A Writer, No Matter The Method

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There’s always talk about writing methods, and how to stay organized while telling your story. But I’ll tell you a little secret. I hate outlining. Hate it. Always did, and as far as I can tell, I always will. It just seems repetitive to me. I mean, if you know enough to thoroughly outline a story, why the heck wouldn’t you just write the darn story in the first place?

Does this drop me into the “pantser” category? I suppose, to some extent. But since I know where I want to go, or at least where I want to end up when writing a passage or story, am I a “plotter” also? How do I find out? Do I need to know? Will the discovery of a tag for what I do change me in any way? Would it change you, your habits, or the way you approach writing?

I doubt it. After all, our style of writing is our style of writing, no matter what it’s called. It’s all about the journey, and staying on the path unless the characters in your story tell you otherwise.

I know where I’m starting, and I know how and where I want this thing to end. But the path to get to that point may not be so clear that I can write down a logical series of steps needed to get there. But I know the events that will, and should, happen along the way, including confrontations and character traits and backgrounds, and who I can trust and who raises my suspicions. Is that outlining? Plotting? Just plain old brainstorming? I write down notes and jot down events and scenes, just not in a thorough, step-by-step format with color coded highlighters, stickers, and exclamation points.

I guess that’s why I enjoy writing with Scrivener, even with the tedious, and endless learning curve associated with it. It allows me to write in scenes or separate, divided mini-stories, sometimes, okay mostly out of order, and then put them together later like a giant puzzle that culminates with the end passage delivering the reader where I want and need them to be.

And even better, with a process like this, on those days that I wake up in a mood that mirrors or lends itself towards the specific traits and characteristics of one of my characters, I’m going to be much more in tune with writing about them on that particular day, no matter where their appearances or particular actions appear in the story.

But then, I’m sort of, kind of, outlining in my head aren’t I, since I seem to have some idea of where they are going to appear and with whom they will interact with in this story? Wouldn’t I have to at least know a little about the plot, then, to know the different scenes that are going to occur?

Do I need to sit down and make a quick sketch or diagram of my habits and tendencies, just to make sure I haven’t wrongly categorized myself?

Are you getting as confused as I am about all of this? Should we even care what category we fall in to?

How about we just write as we see fit and are accustomed to?

I say whatever gets you ending the day with words on the paper, screen, or tablet is the type of writer you are, and that’s just the right type for you. (I’m thinking there’s a Dr Seuss saying in there somewhere)

Besides, there really is no category for those of us that sit on the floor, surrounded by sheets of white butcher paper and 64 count boxes of crayons, humming the theme from The Three Stooges while spinning around, jotting down situations for our characters to work through.