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.

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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.

Finding The Time To Write Usually Means Making The Time To Write

 

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Sure, we all have the same amount of hours in the day. That’s been the retort when complaining about not finding time in the day to get some quality, uninterrupted writing done. But everyone has their own individual priorities that have to be completed, based on work, family, or even health situations.

So I always roll my eyes when I hear about that go-getter that writes a sentence at traffic lights, jots down a few ideas that they’ll get back to in the next book while bouncing around on the metro, comes up with another hundred words while waiting for the barricade to rise at the parking garage, and then successfully finishes that integral  paragraph while waiting for the elevator.

I mean, can they be a legitimate writer?

By all accounts, at least from what we’ve seen on the internet, those statements just can’t be true, because we know that real writers act like now, don’t we? Being the cerebral sort, we writers, according to social media, obviously need a pre-writing routine to even think about getting words down. We have to endlessly organize and reposition things on our desk. We need to have just the right coffee cup, with just the right saying on it, in just the right spot on our desk. We have to arrange our favorite pens in just the right order, even if we write exclusively on our computers or laptops.

All the legitimate writers start their day by browsing through the wonderful and inspirational quotes from other writers and stare longingly at rustic cabins in the snow or sexy little shacks on pristine beaches so that we may have glorious words flow like spring water from our wonderful creative minds out through our fingers that are sparking along a keyboard or traveling side to side through a leather bound journal.

And last, but not least, how the heck can we be writing if we haven’t even proclaimed to the world by way of social media that #AmWriting?

So I ask you, how can we believe these stories of spontaneous yet connected words being written during the awkward pauses of life’s moments to be true?

How is one supposed to find the time to passionately pursue their writing?

The only way that I know, and it works pretty well, is to put your sitter-downer in the chair and start pecking on the keyboard or scribbling on a legal pad. I do like to always have a pen and some sort of paper with me to jot down thoughts and ideas, even unrelated to my current work, because as soon as I think I’ll remember it later, it’s gone, and trust me, it’s just as hard to make out those ink smudged words when they are written on your sweaty palms.

To find the time, you have to make the time. (Somewhat inspirational quote)

PS  I wrote this short blog, sentence by sentence, while gargling mouthwash, waiting for the dog to hack up whatever is stuck in his throat, and pausing to pick up the paper off of the front lawn, because #amwriting.

Wait, What’s Your Name Again?

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The name game.

Do you have a process for choosing your character’s names? Are there reasons behind the choices? Family? Acquaintances? Bullies from grade school? Coworkers?

I think we all have somewhat of a process. You know, we likely all have that one person we secretly would love to see on the other end of some bad karma, so BOOM, there’s your antagonist, villain, or adversary. Likewise, our protagonist might conjure up thoughts of goodness and all that’s right with the world, leading us to name them along those ideas. Friends, family, and past and present acquaintances all leave impressions on us throughout our daily lives, and subsequently leave an impression on us that is associated with their name, whether good, bad, or indifferent.

Others spend a lot of research on the naming of their characters, intensely digging and uncovering the meaning or origin of the name, the qualities that a person with that name might exhibit, and if they are historically accurate. The characters may even be assigned an appropriate birthday so that their horoscope reveals a supposed set of personality traits that matches their desired name choice.

I personally just go with the flow while writing until I think to myself that this person is sure acting like a …(insert appropriate name here). And I’ve changed the names on my characters more than once to, in my opinion, better match the situation and story. And geez, don’t even set me started on last names. That’s a bigger issue for me than the first names.

But I do tend to stay away from any iconic names, you know, like those that are so strongly associated with someone who it would be impossible to form a new and unbiased opinion of the character. So I won’t ever tell you that her name is Beyoncé, or that Elvis is the owner of the corner grocery store, especially if the story is set in the early 1900s, OK?

OK.

Any process or method you use is fine, by the way. There is, by no means, a right or wrong way to discover and decide upon the names of your characters. When it’s all said and done, you gotta do what works for you.

And right now, I gotta get back to writing about ol’ whats-his-name.

Good Writing!

 

 

Want To Move Forward? Just Look Back

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You’ve heard it many times. We all have.

Don’t look back.

Never look back, they may be gaining on you.

Keep your eyes forward: What’s in the past is the past.

Honestly, I think that’s about the biggest pile of bull byproduct that I’ve ever heard. I mean, c’mon, are we supposed to forget about everything we’ve just done or gone through. Should I forget that I just typed this sentence? Should I forget that I just typed this sentence? Should I forget that I just typed this sentence?

Hehe, just having a little moment there, but you get the drift. If we refuse to look back, we may repeat things we don’t necessarily want to repeat.

If you refer to that picture up top, you’ll see one of the most powerful forces among us, water. Oh it’s beautiful, no doubt, and very relaxing with the waves and the sounds of the water hitting the beach. It also possesses the force to cut through mountains of rock, wipe out cities, and take lives, but does the water only move forward? Of course not. It reaches a point, then retreats and regroups, gathering the strength to come again, many times faster, harder, and longer. Then it goes back again. And again. And again.

Why shouldn’t we be like the water, going back just a bit to regroup while striving to be better and stronger the next time?

As writers, I believe its essential to look back, so that we see what has worked for us and what hasn’t. We need to see where the opportunities for more success are located, and where we have become stagnant. The only way to do this is by looking back and recognizing not only our successes, but our failures.

So go ahead and look back, adjust, regroup, and then move forward with a clearer vision, hitting it harder and more successful than the last time. Over a length of time, just as the ocean waves do, you will see a continuous rise in production and progress.

Good Writing!

That’s It, Write It Down

One thing that I have learned over the years is that it can be pretty dang hard, if not impossible, to edit something that’s not yet actually written.

Yeah, brilliant, I know, but for many years I wrote, trying to edit at the same time. And while typically driving me to drink, that process really…slowed…down…my…writing. I’ve heard the old idea over and over, “Just get the words written. Get that first draft down, and worry about editing later”.

Well, you know what? That’s true. True as can be. Start writing the words, even if you have to make up some new ones to finish the article, feature, chapter, or book. Because you can’t edit what isn’t finished.

I’m not saying it’s easy. No sirree! I’ve fought the urge to go back and rewrite some things in this little passage already. I have to constantly tell myself that I can do it later, after everything is written. It’s a mindset that I have to continually focus on. The first draft is just that, a first draft. Don’t expect perfection. Don’t expect a polished piece of prose that rolls off the tongue. Do expect to edit and polish later, at a more appropriate time.

More importantly, in a novel scenario, I know that no matter how many times I edit that first chapter, and no matter how perfect it is, it means nothing without all of those subsequent chapters. So I better get those down so I can edit those, don’t you think?

Let’s get after it!

So This Is How It Ends? No, Probably Not

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“So this is how it ends” I mumbled to myself.

Admittedly, I was caught off guard, because I knew what the ending was going to be. Or what it should be. Or what I was going to make it be. Or what I wanted it to be. And dammit, I’m the one writing this stuff.

But it’s not going to end that way at all, and I’m just going to have to live with it. You see, the good guys (or gals), aren’t so good. And the bad guys (again, and gals), may not be that bad after all. Because as the story unfolds, I find out more about them. Things that I didn’t know when I started writing this tale. Things they’ve been through, things they’ve been led to believe, and things they’ve just flat-out been lied to about will all change my, and hopefully your opinion of them as the story unfolds.

It’s great to have an outline, if you’re one of those writers, or even a broad view of where you want your characters to end up, on the good side of the fence or the wrong side of the tracks. I generally know my beginning, a bunch of middle stuff that I’ll put in order and decipher later, and an ending with the outcome of my choice. I’ve found that this type of thinking is more of a general vision than a true plot or rigorous outline.

So I keep in mind, as you should, that a vision, no matter what it pertains to, is just that, a vision. Let your characters dictate the story as they see it, according to their experiences, beliefs and views, and you’ll end up with an ending that’s believable, no matter the twists and turns you’ve put the reader through to get there.

And right now, I’ve envisioned this post ending exactly this way, so I’ll leave before something changes.

Good writing!

Excuse Me, Do I Even Know You?

I’m saying that to my fictional characters these days. You see, I had it all planned out, how they talked, acted and interacted with one another, down to thoughts, beliefs, and expressions. But now here they are, darn near every one of ’em, going off on their own little tangents and disrupting my story. The characters that I thought were decent, good people, aren’t that way anymore. The antagonist is just a victim of circumstance, the poor guy.

Who knew?

I thought I did, but as someone who is considered a “pantser” more than a “plotter”, the characters in my story just showed me who is in control. That’s why I spontaneously  pushed my chair back from the desk, looked at the words on the page and said, rather loudly I think, “Excuse me, do I even know you?”

And then there’s a vision of all the characters turning, in unison, and looking towards me, smiling, saying, “No, but you will”.

That’s when I finally realized what published authors are talking about when they say that their characters take on a life of their own within a story. The writer is merely there to record the events, as true as they can be within a fictional setting. Quite crazy, isn’t it?

I’m just happy to be a part of it.

After Just One Writing Conference, I Was Hooked

All Write Now Conference
Brian Klems – Writer’s Digest

Yep, I’m hooked.

And now I wish I would’ve gone to them a long time ago.

It took me several years to finally get the courage and confidence to get myself to a writing conference. Oh, I heard about all the benefits. Over and over again, I was told how it would be a great place to make contacts and spend time with like-minded people. I also was reminded though, how pricey some conferences can be, and that fact alone sometimes kept me from pushing that button and buying my ticket.

Until this year.

I finally made my way to the Missouri Writers Guild annual conference. I didn’t really know what I would experience on this weekend long event, and frankly, I was a little apprehensive at first. But let me tell ya, I was immediately converted, and never looked back. So much so, that I signed up and attended 2 more conferences through this year.

It’s not just about the classes folks, although those are pretty darned informative. It was nice to hear firsthand from editors and agents about what they actually want, are interested in, and looking for in a manuscript. It was helpful to be able to ask a question specific to my work-in-process and hear thoughts from professionals and peers about a possible solution. And it’s nice to interact and exchange contact and social media information with those same professionals and peers. Friendships are forged with like-minded people and all of a sudden you have the makings of a great support group, consisting of authors, writers, editors, agents, and publishers. What’s not to like about that?

And those stories about the after hours conversations and meet ups in the hotel bar, lobby, or common areas just happen to be true. When the formal classes end, don’t hibernate in your room. Instead, get out and mingle with the folks you follow and read on social media. Sharing writing related conversation over a drink or appetizer is priceless.

Ask questions. All of them. All those questions you’ve had in the back of your mind for months, or years. The writing community is extremely supportive, and everyone I’ve encountered is interested in helping as much as being helped.

There’s nothing quite like informally talking to an editor, agent, or publisher face to face with no agenda. The information, guidance, direction, and renewed motivation you’ll gain can make all the difference between just wanting to be a writer and getting your posterior in the chair and being a writer.

And the friendships made are pretty cool too!