Monday Musings: January 14, 2019

There are a few things that annoy me in my writing. One of them is the way I write first drafts. Should every sentence begin with a “he”, “she”, or a character’s name. It seems terribly uncreative to me.

The problem arises when I start revisions. Let’s be real here, I hate revising as much as the next person. It is a necessary evil. However, as I go through my (usually splendid) writing, I find this common thread. Stupid names and pronouns.

I’m trying to find coping mechanisms, but it’s difficult when a small child clearly conveys his opinions and stories better than I do.

I know we’ve all been through it, but in reality it still hurts. I’m trying to be better, but feel as though I’ve regressed.

How about you? Do you have any weird writing habits you wish you could kick? I’d love to hear your stories about them.

As time is short today, I’ll leave you with one last thought. What fun would writing be if we didn’t grow during the process?

Hmm… I know I’ll be pondering that one all night long.

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Why You Should Hide Fluff Inside Action

Something I have learned recently: hide fluff inside action.

Let me clarify. It isn’t exactly “hiding”, but rather inserting in the middle. Still confused? I’ll explain.

I have recently fallen down the K-Drama wormhole (don’t judge, we all have one quirky obsession), and it has actually been very good for my writing. Being a writer, I watch with an eye toward what the writers were thinking when they pieced the story together. One of the first things I noticed is how hard I began to ship characters. (For those of you who don’t speak the language of “ship”, let me know and I’ll write you a post.)

I digress. When I started to realize how squeal-worthy these shows were, I (naturally) began to dissect WHY. I discovered something particularly interesting.

Generally, when you learn to write, you start to break down what needs to happen into scenes and the like. You ask, “what is the purpose of this scene?” and break it down into Action, Love, Filler, Plot, etc.

But what if you didn’t have to? What if one scene could serve multiple purposes?

You see, that’s what I began to discover. I shipped these characters so hard because their lives weren’t dissected into different categories. Everything intermingled. Everything in their lives touched.

And the best part? The most squeal-worthy fluff scenes weren’t fluff scenes at all.

My favorite scenes began to take on a pattern. Anyone who knows me also knows that I LOVE ACTION AND ADVENTURE AND DANGER. Hands down one of my favorite things to read, watch, or write. It’s so exciting! So, naturally, my favorite scenes had danger and action. But then I realized, right in the middle, the writers would throw in a sprinkling of fluff.

A kiss before the hero runs into certain death.

A heroine reaching for her hero’s hand when she gets scared or injured.

A simple confession of “I like you” as they realize they may never get to say it again.

And then, right on with the action and adventure. As if nothing ever happened. (*Cue me, screaming at the screen* YOU CAN’T JUST LEAVE US LIKE THAT! THAT’S CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT!)

Thus, they have created the need for more. As writers, I think that’s a cue we should learn from. Sometimes, less is more. People want to push characters into a relationship. We’re hard-wired to think two people in the story should end up together. If you give them an inch, your readers will take it a mile.

I personally believe — after much trial and error — that fluff as its own scene can be grating. However, if you give a taste of fluff inside a much richer, fast-paced scene, people will come back for more. They’ll crave that relationship and all it entails.

Raise the stakes, my friends. Let your purposes intermingle and bleed into each other. Life is messy, so why can’t our character’s lives be a little more realistic in that way?

When Disaster Strikes

We all know the feeling, right? That little moment of panic when something doesn’t work right or… you know… at all.

Guys, I have to tell you because I promised to be open and honest. I totally panicked last night. Why, you ask? Let me tell you a little story.

It was a normal Monday evening. I had prepared myself to head downstairs to fetch dinner, and everything was going swimmingly. I had written 1,500 words (my goal for the day) and clicked save on the 53,000 words (or so) of my current WIP.

Then, it happened. I set the computer down and it slid from the edge of the bed. With a cry of “No!” That would have made Luke Skywalker proud, I snatched for it. But, alas, it was too late.

This would not have distressed me so, except for one little detail. When the computer landed on the floor (mind you, it did not fall more than six inches, the bed is just a mattress on the floor), it landed on the side I keep my flashdrive in. Yes, folks, that’s right. The drive I use to hold ALL MY WORK bent.

It isn’t funny, and it isn’t fixable. When I plugged it back in, it would not pull up. At. All. That’s when I panicked. Years of work, all my finished projects, everything I need for my upcoming Kindle projects (more on that later), all reside on that drive.

There is exactly a 50/50 shot that the computer tech will be able to pull the data off of it.

In normal writerly fashion, after I freaked out for a good hour to two hours, I sat back and thought about how I felt at the moment of panic. “Not good” was the first thought that zipped through my brain, but then I took the time to psychoanalyze myself. (Yeah, I do that. Blame the writer thing.)

I realized that, if I ever get the data back (and I’m praying fervently I will), I will possibly be able to accurately write a moment of disaster even better than my previous attempts.

Why?

I’m so glad you asked.

Writing is all about the emotion, and any writer will tell you that in order to write emotion well, you have to experience it. Loss, panic, fear. Take your minuscule situation and amp it up a hundred-fold.

That, folks, is how you make a reader feel the story. How you make your readers cry. Honestly, who doesn’t dream of writing something that will evoke emotion from their fans? I know I do.

Emotion comes from experience and, sadly, experience happened to me yesterday. I need that data back, guys. When the story is complete and I have my answer, I will be in touch with the (hopefully) good news. Thanks for listening to my rant, all!

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UPDATE!!! We were able to retrieve the data from my flash drive. WIPs not lost. Praise Jesus!

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Biggest disaster and panic moment you’ve ever had. I want to hear about it!

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

Why I LOVE NaNoWriMo

Okay, I admit, this is not one of my typical posts. And yet it is, in a way. Whatever, it’s confusing, moving on.

I’ve read both good and bad things about NaNoWriMo. Some people say it’s a horrible idea to try to write a complete novel in only 30 days. Others say it’s the ONLY way to write a novel. Some hesitant, on-the-fence people say they can see it either way.

I think NaNoWriMo rocks.

Why?

Because it’s actually a really good idea, and there are multiple reasons why.

Reason 1: Writing a novel in 30 days is the best thing that ever happened to me.

And why is that, you ask? Because I stopped second-guessing myself. I stopped over-analyzing. I stopped telling myself that there was “no way” I’d ever write something good enough. I just wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

Because I had to write so many words per day and had so few days to write it all down, my inner editor shut up and let my creative genius shine through. My first NaNoWriMo was 2014, and that novel – the one that came out of my creative side, not my formula side – is still one of the best pieces of work I’ve ever done.

Reason 2: Writing a novel in 30 days stretched all my creative muscles.

The first five (or so) days were awesome. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Finished a few chapters. And then it happened. I got stuck. Suddenly, I had no idea where the plot was headed. I had no idea what happened next. I was only about 5,000 words in. No! I couldn’t fail! This couldn’t be happening!

Needless to say, I didn’t have weeks to ponder and work through my writer’s block. I had hours. Maybe.

So I did what any self-respecting novelist would do.

I freaked out. I ate half a pan of cookies. And some chocolate. And a couple caramels. I paced my room for a while.

And then I sat back down at my computer, re-read the last few sentences, and pushed on. It was painful, not knowing where the story would go next. And some characters died in the process. But I did it. I stretched that creative muscle and overcame writer’s block in record time. And, as much as I loved them, I see now those character deaths were necessary to progress the plot.

Reason 3: NaNoWriMo is just plain fun!

Who cares if anyone else ever reads your NaNo Novel? The journey from blank page to 50,000+ words is FUN!

Whether it’s hanging out with the Word Sprinters on Twitter, joining a virtual write in on Youtube (via Google hangouts), or actually meeting up with fellow WriMo’s in your area, it’s nice to know that there’s an entire community of writers around the globe backing you up.

If for nothing else, join the NaNo community for one month and get some advice from writers around the world. You never know if they’ll have a different perspective on writing that you’ve never thought of before. It could be the best experience of your life. But you’ll never know unless you try.

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So… Are you planning on joining NaNoWriMo this year? Why or why not?

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

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Writers are Weirdoes

Is it just me, or do people think writers are really weird?

Point and case:

“…and then, (insert character name here) just turned on him. And I was like ‘whaaat’?!”

“Wait, who’s (character name)? I don’t know anyone by that name.”

“Oh, s/he’s my newest character.”

“…But don’t you control what they do?”

Silly normal person! They should know better, right? Which is why we have friends that are also writers because we can talk like that with them and they UNDERSTAND! This is why it is important to have those friends. (Also point and case, my friend Amy L. Sauder has a blog where she is asking her characters how to solve life’s problems. You should check it out.)

Another dilemma: our overexuberant love for notebooks and pens. We see the aisle, we get distracted, we come home with fourteen sacks full of writing tools. It’s a thing, and I know I’m not the only one who does it. I have it narrowed down to the best kind of pen and the perfect width of lined paper.

Still more writerly quirks: Our excessive and often unfettered adoration for all things both lyrical and well-writ.

To be honest, I can probably blame Shakespeare for this one. I love to write with big words and in Old English. I understand the meaning of words such as “anon”, “Heretofore”, and “wherewithal”. Seriously, I sometimes read Shakespeare’s plays for fun. Because I love them. Call me crazy, do what you will, but it’s true. (Shout out to “Much Ado About Nothing”, especially Beatrice’s “if I were a man” speech. And the “dear lady disdain” argument! Anyway, moving on.)

I’ll write about one more insane quirk. Here it comes… The things we’ll do for research.

“Why are you jumping out of a plane with a parachute full of holes?”

“… … … -shrug- Research.”

OR

“Is that a leech in your refrigerator?”

“No, don’t touch that!”

“Why?”

“Research.”

We are worse than Sherlock Holmes when it comes to research experiments. We will subjugate ourselves to terrible pain and sorrow to find out what it’s going to be like for the characters we love so dearly. Oh, and did I mention that the more you love that character, the more you torture them (and, by proxy, yourself)?

Some wacky (not as bad as the examples) things I’ve done for research:

1. Googled “how to make a bomb”, “how to make poison look like an accident”, “how to commit the perfect crime”… seriously, if anyone looks at my Google history, it will be questionable.

2. Stood on the edge of a table to see how it feels to be on the edge of a roof.

3. Used Nerf guns to try out a theory I had for a fight scene. (My brother was the guinea pig)

4. Played with knives in the kitchen.

5. Other extraneous questionable methods.

So, writers are weirdoes. So what? Be weird. Do the zany stuff that makes you stand out. One day people will speak of your genius! (Again, I’ve been watching Shakespeare)

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What crazy things have you done in the name of research?

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You

38 Questions to Ask Every Character

You’ve probably seen a TON of lists of questions that demand “These questions NEED to be asked”. And what’s on them? Mostly stuff that you don’t really need to know to unfold a great character. (NO offense, seriously. I just wish people would stop telling me I need to know what kind of underwear my character wears.)

This list is different.

I know because I read all those other lists out there and picked the things that (I think) every writer should know about their character. Some of them are just for fun, but most really help me narrow down how I’m going to write a specific character. I thought it would be nice, while we’re working with character development, to share these with you.

They’ve helped me build characters, as well as stories. They dig deep into the character’s psyche, so you know where s/he is coming from. And they SERIOUSLY reveal character.

I will also share some of my favorite answers, after the list. So, without further ado, let’s begin.

38 QUESTIONS TO ASK EVERY CHARACTER

1. How old is s/he (physically AND mentally)?

2. Did s/he have a happy childhood? Why or why not?

3. What are their past and present relationships and how do they affect him/her?

4. What does s/he care about?

5. What is s/he obsessed with?

6. What is his/her biggest fear?

7. What is the best thing that ever happened to them? Worst?

8. What is their most embarrassing moment?

9. What is his/her biggest secret?

10. What is the 1 word that defines him/her?

11. What do you know about him/her that s/he doesn’t?

12. What music does s/he sing when no one else is around?

13. What is his/her favorite movie?

14. What is his/her favorite piece of clothing? Shoes?

15. Who is his/her favorite person?

16. What calms him/her?

17. Does s/he play any instruments?

18. What is his/her catchphrase?

19. What is his/her favorite excuse?

20. What is his/her favorite song?

21. What annoys him/her?

22. What is the most beautiful thing s/he has ever seen?

23. What is the worst injury s/he has ever sustained? (in the past)

24. Has anyone close to him/her died?

25. What would s/he wish for if s/he found a genie?

26. What is the most frightening handicap s/he could sustain? (in the present or future)

27. When and where was s/he happiest?

28. What is something s/he can’t resist?

29. What is something people misunderstand about him/her?

30. What is his/her favorite holiday?

31. What are his/her hopes and dreams?

32. What would s/he die for?

33. What would mentally destroy him/her?

34. Why would s/he defend a stranger?

35. What does s/he lie about?

36. Does s/he have a positive or negative body image?

37. What object will s/he never give up?

38. What can s/he do at the end that s/he can’t do at the beginning?

A lot to take in, I know. Let me explain how this works.

It’s OK to think outside the box. Sometimes the answer will just pop out of nowhere, sometimes you’ll really have to think hard to get to the heart of the issue. (P.S. This list is also great to help create backstory).

I’ll give you some examples of some of my characters’ answers. They’re…. interesting, to say the least.

We’ll start with a question where my character dropped a quote in my lap that completely answered the question.

Q: What is his biggest fear?

A: “I am in the desert… This. This right here is my biggest fear.” (He’s afraid of dirt.)

Sometimes, the way your character thinks about something will come out in their answer, or even the way they talk. Like this answer from a Texas boy character.

Q: What is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen?

A: A Texas sunset by the Gulf beach.

Not how I would have put it, but characters do that sometimes.

Sometimes an answer can be as simple as…

Q: What is one thing she can’t resist?

A: A good churro.

Sometimes, your character’s answer will be symbolic. Usually of something in their own life. LIke…

Q: What is her favorite holiday?

A: New Year’s. New beginnings.

(Talk about backstory!)

Lastly, sometimes your character will give an answer that completely shapes how they see themselves, other people, or even the world.

Like this fragile flower:

Q: What was her most embarrassing moment?

A: Found boyfriend with her best friend. On date night.

Ouch. That probably shaped how she views guys and herself. Because of this, she doesn’t have great self-worth. Think about those kinds of experiences. Why the character is who they are.

Do that, and your characters will end up pretty amazing.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

Blah, Blah, Blah… (a guide to writing dialogue that won’t put your readers to sleep)

What makes good dialogue? When do you know you’ve spent too much time telling people things they never needed to know? Have you ever read a passage of dialogue and thought to yourself, “Oh, come on! That is so fake!”?

I know how you feel. Dialogue like this often suffers from a lack of studious editing. When it comes to writing dialogue, you should write from your heart and edit from your head. (This is also called “write hot, edit cool” and you’ll see it mentioned in a TON of creative writing courses, books, and blogs. It’s good advice.)

Dialogue writers also tend to give too much exposition, all at once. It’s an illness that is common among writers, but I am starting (right here, right now) a campaign to end it.

Overexposition sounds a lot like this:

“Who are you?”

“My name is Jane. I’m new around here, so you probably haven’t seen me before. I just moved in from Texas, but I must say I’m really enjoying this weather. I haven’t been in weather so nice in a long time, ever since my (brother/cousin/sister/parent) died in a car crash. It was raining that night, I remember that much. I almost lost it after that. Depression, suicidal tendencies, the works. Thankfully, I’m better now and looking forward to my new job. Did I mention I’m going to work at (insert local company)?”

First of all, all the first character asked was “who are you?” People usually aren’t so gushy around people they don’t know. And, depending on the situation, they may not want the other person to know who they are. There are 3 correct responses to the first question.

#1 = “I’m Jane.”

#2 = “Who wants to know?”

#3 = “You don’t need to know.”

So much simpler.

The second thing I saw in this generous amount of exposition (that’s putting it nicely) is that it’s too much, too soon. Where’s the characterization? Why aren’t we revealing this tragic backstory in bits and pieces, forcing the reader to keep reading to find out what really happened? Things to keep in mind as we move forward.

Okay, so you have the overexposition illness. Don’t worry, there are things you can do to fix it. So breathe, put down the cake you’re gorging yourself on, and listen to the rest of what I have to say.

Dialogue is a learned craft. A craft that takes time to perfect. However, I can give you a kick start.

People who aren’t good at dialogue can learn a lot from movie/screenplay writers. For examples:

“Are you giving me attitude, Spock?”

“I am relaying many attitudes. To which are you referring?”

or…

“I am a god, you dull creature!”

or…

“What was that?”

“You gave me the nod.”

“Yeah, the punch him in the face nod. Not the ‘throw him off the building’ nod. At most… at most that was a break his fingers nod.”

or…

“Do you know what the preservation room is for?”

“Delicious jams and jellies?”

Okay, so now that we’ve seen these golden gems of Hollywood genius, let’s talk about why screenwriting dialogue works and what we can learn from it.

Point #1 – Dialogue should expose true character

What?!?

Let me break it down.

Whenever someone talks, they tell us a little more about themselves, even when they don’t mean to. It’s the same with your characters. They’re people, right? So whatever they say should give some insight into what they’re all about. The “I am a god, you dull creature!” example (from Marvel’s The Avengers) is a prime example of this. Obviously, this guy is full of himself and that’s why he thinks that.

So, what can your character say that points to what they’re really like?

Point #2 – Dialogue should NEVER be “on the nose”

Unless you are writing a character who only says what they really think (like Spock, and even he isn’t “on the nose”) then you shouldn’t write what that character is actually feeling. Real people lie all the time. “How are you?” “I’m fine.” Things like that.

Characters lie too. They avoid questions. “Do you know what the preservation room is for?” (National Treasure)

Instead of answering “no”, Riley avoids the question with sarcasm of his own. People do this in real life, which makes it so much more believable on screen or in print.

Point #3 – Dialogue should elude to backstory

You’ll find that I am a HUGE fan of backstory. Dialogue is my favorite way to elude to an interesting story in the character’s past. Example:

“I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Why?”

“Because I won’t be like him.”

Him? Who is him? Why doesn’t he want to be like him? WHYYYYYY?!? (I know, of course, because I wrote it. Sorry to leave you hanging.)

When writing dialogue, ask yourself this: What happened in this character’s past and how does it apply to what he’s doing now?

Point #4 – SUBTEXT

I admit, subtext is a lot like backstory, but it IS different. Trust me.

Subtext is a helpful tool to help you avoid saying something too bluntly. Subtext is when you say something without really saying something. It’s difficult to master, but once you do you’ll find that it’s totally worth it.

Let me just say: “You were my new dream” (instead of plain old “I love you”) in Tangled. So much subtext! And then, tears. Okay, I’m done gushing now.

(Hint: classic lines are usually full of subtext)

I hope you found this helpful to help you craft dialogue for your character. It’s really important that they say what they mean, but in an interesting way. Never forget, they are your creation and your friend, so give them the treatment they deserve.

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Stay tuned for next week’s exciting conclusion to the 4-part character series!

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.