How To Become a Better Writer

Image result for be a better writer

There is so much writing advice out there from people who claim to be experts. As writers, it’s sometimes hard to wade through the information and decide what’s important and what’s not.  Despite the endless pool of writing advice offered by everyone under the sun, one fact remains. Your ultimate goal is to become a better writer.

I’m sure you’ve read and heard a lot of advice about writing. Some advice is useful. Some, not so much. Over the years, I’ve taken all the advice I’ve accumulated and compiled a list that encompasses the six main things that seem to be consistent no matter who is offering advice.

  1. Invest in some reference books. Get a dictionary, thesaurus, and a book on basic grammar. Have them handy and use them.
  2. Expand your vocabulary. I’m not talking fancy, flowery words here. This is more about using the vocabulary you already have and expanding it. For example, how many synonyms can you come up with for the noun plan? There’s program, itinerary, scheme, design, blueprint, agenda, and outline to name a fewStop and think about other words or word combinations and insert them into your writing.
  3. Read. Reading expands your vocabulary and helps you see how words can be arranged to communicate subtleties or express emotions. Read books in your genre and books outside your genre. Listen to the sound of language as you read. Read critically and look upon all you read as a writing lesson.
  4. Take writing classes.  There are a lot of creative writing courses and various writing workshops you can find online or through your local adult education extension programs. Find a few and work to improve your writing.
  5. Make time to write. Choose a time and place, and just write. You can’t improve your writing if you don’t write.
  6. Write for yourself. Write a story that scratches an itch inside you.  Don’t write to please the masses, write to please yourself. If you aren’t fully vested in the story, you won’t survive the criticism that comes with all published work.

Writing the Perfect Scene

We’ve all heard the classic writing advice, “Show, don’t tell.” But according to Dwight Swain, author of Techniques of the Selling Writer, “Most folks get ‘Show, don’t tell’ wrong because they take it literally rather than figuratively. It’s not about proof (showing sad characters cry) but about causality (revealing why characters cry). Don’t just show readers the effect of emotion, reveal the cause so they can feel it too.”

Swain further said, “Your reader reads first and foremost for emotional stimulation.”Image result for writing quotes by dwight swain

Writers invoke and shape emotions by creating scenes.

A workshop I attended recently by Damon Suede (author of  Verbalize, a new guide to characterization and story planning suitable for newbies and experts, pantsers and plotters) took a different angle to scene writing that I had never heard before. Here’s Damon’s take on writing scenes.

We’ll start by defining what a scene is: A scene is a unit of struggle between opposing forces. Scenes are clear, active steps which create problems and move the story toward its final outcome.

Every scene should lead the character to his or her objective. A character’s objective needs to be challenging enough to sustain your character throughout the story’s length, significant enough to attract character attention and to inspire escalating risks, and relatable enough that anyone can grasp the character’s need to pursue it.

A scene follows the pattern of:

  • GOAL: Specific object that drives action. The immediate gimme-gimme. Make it something you can photograph (e.g. grandkids or a bungalow in the Maldives), but avoid abstractions (e.g. happiness or peace).
  • CONFLICT: Obstacles opposing the goal. Friction between the POV character’s needs and the reality they face. This is not necessarily combat, but a force which must be tackled during the scene.
  • DISASTER: Failure to accomplish the goal. A defeat that ends the conflict. It raises the stakes and derails progress via threats, complication, or impediment. It should demand a decision.

Each scene reveals character tactics. The character makes an offer/demand which is either accepted or rejected, requiring a new offer/demand. For best results, establish time, place, point of view, and context as soon as possible. Identify stakes within the first half-page to engage readers. Keep building to hooks that make readers turn the page.

After each scene, comes the sequel. This is not a sequel as in the next book in a series. This is different. In this case, a sequel is the aftermath. It acts as a transition between two scenes. Sequels are internal and pinpoint character action. They allow adaptation/course correction after interactions to improve the odds of success.

A sequel follows the pattern of:

  • REACTION: Emotional effects of disaster. Use this to reveal character: fear/hope, virtues/failings. Make it believable.
  • DILEMMA: Situation with no good options. Review the options. Amplify difficulty by challenging habits.
  • DECISION: Choosing the best of (bad) options, which leads to new tactics. Demand sacrifice, and make sure this points directly at a new/next goal.

Sequels bridge scenes. Whatever decision the POV characters make initiates a new tactic for the subsequent scene. These tactical shifts allow POV characters to regroup.

The Overall Scene Structure by Better Novel Project

(Infographic courtesy of Helping Writers Become Authors)

Scenes drive the story forward through external action that impact characters (and readers) via tactics and objects. Sequels deepen the story through internal assimilation by characters (and readers) via actions and objectives. You must have both to wring as much satisfying emotion from the reader as possible.

-Taken from Damon Suede’s workshop, Scene & Sequel: the rhythm of fiction

 

 

10 Things Every Writer Needs To Know

“Writing is hard work, not magic. It begins with deciding why you are writing and whom you are writing for. What is your intent? What do you want the reader to get out of it? What do you want to get out of it? It’s also about making a serious time commitment and getting the project done.”― Suze Orman

I’ve spent five of the last seven days in various training sessions, workshops, and conferences. Some were about writing, some were education related. A few covered both topics simultaneously. One such workshop was presented by Jeff Anderson, Middle Grade novelist and author of 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know.

Here’s a basic overview of the ten things he feels every writer needs to know.

  1. Motion. Writing is not magic. It’s hard work. But it can’t happen without motion. Put your pen to paper or tap your fingers at the keyboard.
  2. Models. Writers need models – mentors who offer a vision of what writing is and can be. Get inspired by writers you love and learn from them. Every encounter with text is a writing lesson. Learn to read like a writer.
  3. Focus. Writers are called upon to control their ideas – the writing is neither too large or too small. It’s just the right size. Writing must be clear and build upon the scope of the topic or genre.
  4. Detail. Details should be plentiful without being flowery or overdone. Choose well-selected details and use sensory images that explain without boring the reader to death.
  5.  Form. Writers arrange and rearrange words in surprising ways. This creates the perfect structure that makes your writing easy to follow. Everything you write reflects your purpose and your audience.
  6. Frames. Beginnings and endings frame our writing. Lead with enticing introductions that take the reader on a journey then put on the finishing touches that, in the end, leave the reader satisfied.
  7. Cohesion. Cohesion holds writing together. It brings unity to our writing and eases transitions from one point to another. The progression from point A to point B is effortless and clear.
  8. Energy. Good writing is all about style. It sizzles and gets straight to the point. The words move in rhythm and come alive. Every page flows, and the entire manuscript provides variety to the eyes and ears.
  9. Words. The words we choose to combine offer crisp language. They bring our thoughts to the page and allow the reader to visualize. Good writers use fresh metaphors and provide enough vivid nouns and verbs to carry the message clearly and cleanly.
  10. Clutter. Remove clutter from writing so the message shines through. Delete redundant words and phrases or any passages and paragraphs that don’t move the writing forward.

10-things-every-writer-needs-to-knowThat pretty much sums up Jeff’s take on writing. For more detailed information, get his book.

“Write as much as you can, as fast as you can, as well as you can.” ―Leif Fearn

Character Archetypes – How to Create Dynamic Characters

With the current chaos going on in my life right now (new job in a new grade level in a new school, getting a new AC unit installed in my house, going solar powered, working on new WIP, etc…), I haven’t written a new post in a while.  My brain has been going 100 miles an hour lately, and I haven’t been able to put anything comprehensive down on paper in weeks. Let’s see if we can fix that today.

Although I’m not a traditional romance writer, about a year ago, I became a member of my local chapter of RWA. This fabulous group of people consists of all walks of life, and not all members are romance writers, myself included. Men and women, both published and non-published, make up this group: Indie authors, traditionally published authors, screenwriters, teachers, students, former attorneys and active military members, technology gurus, mothers, fathers, real-estate agents, and even a woman who writes for Harlequin and had one of her books turned into a movie. Needless to say, the writing expertise within this group is pretty well-rounded.

I originally joined this group for the insights they offer about the craft of writing. Regardless of genre, the information obtained from the many seminars I’ve attended through this group have helped me become a better writer.

The last seminar I attended focused on archetypes. For those of you who don’t know what that is, an archetype is a pattern of behavior that is universally present in characters in classic storytelling. It can be better summarized as the universal personality traits of a character. These personality traits are pretty standard, regardless of whether it is a character in a movie, book, or play or a person in real life.  As I review each one, you’ll probably get images in your head of people you know or literary/ movie characters you’ve seen or read about who portray these characteristics.  Let’s get started, shall we?

There are female archetypes and male archetypes, some of which are interchangeable. Every archetype has positive and negative personality traits, but the best characters do not fall under one specific archetype. They are made up of a combination of these traits.

I’ll go over the female archetypes first.  There are 8 main ones.

  1. The Boss. This girl is a real go-getter. She climbs the ladder of success. Queen Elizabeth is a good example.
  2. The Seductress. She’s an enchantress. She charms those around her to get her way. Scarlett O’Hara is a classic seductress.
  3. The Spunky Kid. This is a woman who is gutsy and true. She’s a loyal friend to the end. Pretty much every character Meg Ryan has ever played can be classified as a spunky kid.
  4. The Free Spirit. This is a person who is an eternal optimist. She dances to her own tune. Phoebe from the TV show Friends nails this archetype.
  5. The Waif. She is the damsel in distress. Sleeping Beauty, Bella from Twilight, and Audrey Hepburn to name a few.
  6. The Librarian. She is controlled and clever. She doesn’t have to be a bookwork or a scholar though. Hermione Granger from Harry Potter and Belle from Beauty and the Beast are librarians.
  7. The Crusader. She is a dedicated fighter. She has a cause and fights for the greater good. Katniss from the Hunger Games and Wonder Woman are crusaders. Go girls!
  8. The Nurturer. She is serene and capable. These are people who nurture the spirit of others (can be animals and plants too).  One person comes to mind with this one: Julie Andrews. She played a nurturer in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music.

Let’s move on to the male archetypes now.  Again, there are 8 main ones, and you’ll find that some are similar to their female counterparts.

  1. The Chief. He is a dynamic leader and wants to be in charge. He is goal oriented and has time for nothing but work.  Michael Douglas in Wall Street or Captain Picard from Star Trek exemplify this archetype.
  2. The Bad Boy. He’s dangerous to know simply because he walks on the wild side. Danny in Grease or Prince Harry would be considered bad boys.
  3. The Best Friend. He’s sweet and safe and never lets anyone down. Patrick Dempsey in Enchanted and any Tom Hanks character.
  4. The Lost Soul. This man is a tormented being.  He’s a recluse and lives in solitude. The Beast in Beauty and the Beast, Shrek, and Wolverine are lost souls.
  5. The Charmer. He’s a smooth talker. The fairy tale Prince Charming. George Clooney plays these characters. Jack from Titanic was also a charmer.
  6. The Professor. This guy knows all the answers. The Professor from Gilligan’s Island, Frasier, and Sherlock Holmes are considered professors.
  7. The Swashbuckler. This is Mister Excitement. He’s an adventurer and often breaks the rules. Indiana Jones and Han Solo are swashbucklers. (Hmmm, Harrison Ford seems to play these characters a lot). Maverick from Top Gun is also a swashbuckler. I would say Will Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean is too.
  8. The Warrior. He is a noble fighter who acts with valor. Superman and To Kill a Mockingbird‘s Atticus Finch are warriors.

You’ll notice that some of the female/ male archetypes are similar. And there are some male characters who fit into the female archetypes and vice versa, like nurturer. Newt Scamander from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Mrs. Doubtfire, played by Robin Williams, are both nurturers although they are male characters.  The best characters are dynamic and complex. They don’t fit into one generic mold. They are a combination of one or more of these archetypes, just like each one of us is.

This is a guideline only. Not every character you write will fit perfectly into a specific archetype, but neither do we. As writers, we are observers of life. Use the people around you as inspiration.

Making Your Novel Great

Featured Image -- 6779I attended a seminar recently with author Sophie Jordan.  The session was entitled, How to Take a Good Book and Make it Great. She offered a lot of worthwhile information to consider when writing a novel, and I’m going to share some of those ideas with you. Hopefully you will find them helpful.

  1. The craft. Build your craft by reading and writing.  Write distinctly, read books on writing, and designate time for writing.
  2. The voice. Your voice evolves as you write. Own it and be conscientious of it.
  3. The market. Read everything you like and everything the world is talking about. Stay up to date on what’s hot in the market. Watch the latest movies, mini-series, and TV shows. Stay informed.
  4. The id. Write like no one’s reading. Write what’s deep within you. Fantasize, break away from the guidelines. Find that pleasure principle and entertain yourself.  Your audience will be there.
  5. The identifier. Make the reader identify with the hero/ heroine. Make the characters bad, but not too bad. Give them redeeming qualities to make them likeable. Bad choices make good stories, but the characters must have a reason for making those bad choices.
  6. The concept. Take a familiar concept and turn it on its head.  Think: If your book was a movie trailer, what three or four sentences would you get out of it?
  7. The beginning. Pull the reader in within the first ten pages. The beginning should be memorable and have high impact. Make the shit hit the fan right from the start.
  8.  The black moment. Make bad things happen.  Make the character’s goal seem impossible to achieve. Create that moment when all is lost, that moment when their is no chance they will ever meet their goal.
  9. The love scene. If your book has a love scene, make it uniquely personal between the characters.
  10. The dialogue. Dialogue must reflect the characters and build their relationships. It should expose them.
  11. The ending. Let the reader know what happened to these people. Give them that breath of fresh air.
  12. The packaging. What do people see when they look at your book? They will judge your book by the way it is packaged.

Author Confessions Round 2

Day two of the 31-day author confession- What is your biggest writing challenge?

My biggest writing challenge is describing character expressions without sounding monotonous or repeating myself constantly.  This has always been a challenge because there are only so many ways to express a character’s feelings before a word or phrase is repeated. I don’t want to lose my voice or my style while describing facial expressions and body language, but I also don’t want to sound like a broken record. I’ve discovered a few useful resources which have helped to alleviate this problem.

I’m doing my best to grow as a writer. It takes time, but I’m getting there.

 

Four Different Types of Writing Styles

Written by Millionaire’s Digest Staff Member: Amber M. Founder & Owner of: A Not So Jaded Life Millionaire’s Digest Staff Team, Author, Successful Living and Writing Writer A writer’s style is a reflection of his or her personality, unique voice, and way of approaching the audience and readers.However, every piece writers write is for a […]

via Four Different Types of Writing Styles (6 min read) — The Millionaire’s Digest