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February 2013

Who’s That Lady? (Creating Characters on a Deadline)

First of all I want to thank the amazing Jeanette Grey for swapping days on the blog with me so I could vacation last week. On my regular day I was busy doing this:

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It was fun, but not very informative about writer life for all of you bad girlz of the world. *grins* Now that I’m settled back into the real world, I want to discuss something that’s on my mind this week as I stare down the beginning of another book: creating characters on a deadline. Yes, I said the second most dreaded word in the writer language next to synopsis—DEADLINE!

Sometimes in the writer biz you can’t sit around waiting for inspiration to come and fill in the gaps of your knowledge of a character. So, what’s a girl to do?

• Begin with what you know.
Whether you’re starting with a totally new set of characters or finishing up a series, chances are you have some concept of who your main characters are. Begin there. Use what you know of your character as well as your plot to sketch over the holes. Logically, if the hero of this story achieves ___ in the plot, he is a _____ sort of person and has issues with ____. Then ask why. This will help deepen the POV of the character you’re writing. Always ask why. Always! You don’t have to tell the backstory, but you do need to know it.

• Feed your muse. Nom, nom, nom.
Now you have a sketchy idea of your character in an afternoon, but you have to start writing tomorrow to meet your deadline. Don’t panic! This is the fun part in which you get to look at pictures of hotties. Once you know the archetype of your character, try to think of some similar characters in movies, concepts from songs, or hotties in magazines. Spend the evening soaking it all in. Ahhhhh. This sounds like procrastination, but it can keep your mind from swerving off into the dangerous waters of character recreation and self-doubt. Most writers I know will watch a certain movie or listen to a particular song over and over while writing a character. It feeds the muse, and keeps the writerly thoughts from having a paper jam before they can make it into the story.

• Be organized.
In whatever manner you want to keep your character notes, just keep them together. It helps to look back over notes later when writing, so if you write ideas on napkins and the back of grocery lists use a stapler or a binder clip or a shoebox…whatever just don’t lose your notes. I scribble ideas throughout writing the book and keep mine in a spiral bound notebook. When I have writer’s block it helps me to fill a page with useless information about the character as fast as I can write it. From favorite food to hobbies, write, write, write! But, I digress…

• Roll with it.
You’ll learn who your characters are through writing their stories. You can always fix inconsistencies in edits, so go for it and write the book!

I have to keep reminding myself of this last part. It’s alright not to know all the details. Life will continue if the first few scenes need more attention during edits. And, the book will not magically write itself while I fret over the characters for another month. So, off I go to begin my next book. The characters are sketchy, but they’ll be colored in by layers and layers of words. I’m not going to panic; instead I’m going to roll with it.

How long does it take for you to craft your characters? If you had to, how fast could you create them?

xx- E. Michels

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A Few of My Favorite “Writing” Things, Volume I: Plotting Aids

I can’t tell you the number of hours I’ve spent searching the internet for agents, trying to remember what napkin I wrote that idea on, or looking for the perfect piece of advice on how to write a great query letter.  But I can tell you one thing – they were all precious hours I could’ve spent writing.

Over time it’s gotten easier and faster, partly because of good advice/bad advice but mostly due to trial and error.  I had to learn what worked and didn’t work for me.  So I thought I’d start a new series to share all those little things I’ve found, and hope that you can share what’s helped you as well.  For today’s installment of A Few of my Favorite “Writing” Things, let’s talk about plotting aids.

I’m pretty old school.  I don’t use any fancy software other than excel when I’m plotting out my manuscripts, and I like to have everything in front of me at once for quick and easy changes.  Here are a few items I find helpful with this:

1. Foam Boards

I use these as my plot boards.  You can also use regular poster board, but I like the foam because I can stand them up against the wall without pins or tape, which usually don’t go well with kids.  I divided my boards up into squares a little bigger than a sticky note and labeled my chapter numbers across the top.  In the boxes below it I keep track of my turning points, my scenes, my character arcs, everything.  With the aid of my next item, I use one box to note where my turning points are, 4 or 5 to layout my scenes, and the last to track my character arcs.

2. Colored Sticky Notes 

I pick a different color for each of my plot lines, one for my character arcs, and one for my turning points.  In pencil, I then write a quick description of each on the appropriate color and stick it to a box.  When I have my boards filled up it’s easy to glance across and see where I might need to add a blue sticky or a yellow sticky, hence filling in my holes.  And if you change a plot thread or remove one, it’s much easier to find all the little stragglers this way than hunting them down in a 300 page document.

plot boards

 

3. A Small Notebook or Journal

I tend to do a lot of my plotting in the car when I’m sitting in traffic, so I keep a little 4” notebook that I bought for a quarter in the inside pocket of my purse.  When I get to a safe place (please don’t attempt to do this when you’re driving!) I write what I need to down and then know exactly where to find it.  I’ve also heard of people carrying tape recorders around, or using the recording features on their phones to keep track of these bursts of ideas.

notes

Even if you’re a pantser, I’d recommend finding some way to track your plot as you write to save the valuable time you can spend hunting for that one scene you wrote a couple weeks ago, or weeding through the holes.  Maybe you prefer to use excel or a plot tracking software – find whatever works for you and do it!  It will save you time and a huge headache!  And, by all means, share them with us!  I’m always looking for a way to be more efficient!

Hugs!

Jenna P.

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Mary Sue Ain’t a Song by Buddy Holly

“Oh Mary, my Mary Sue-oo-ooh……” No, wait. That’s not it. So who the hell is she, then? You may not have realized it at the time, but you’ve met her–we all have. You may even have written her.

When I started writing, I had never heard this term before. I know, I know. But  I don’t read sci-fi/fantasy, and I had no clue fan fiction existed. I knew there was such a thing as the internet, but its function for me was primarily shopping. So when I began researching craft and frequenting the various writer’s websites for critique and submission advice, I kept running into the term.

When I discovered the meaning, I got scared. Were my beloved characters Mary Sues? But my awesome characters were awesome, weren’t they? Weren’t they? My super sexy hero who doesn’t realize he’s hot, my naive but lovable heroine, the wise-cracking-yet-truly-wise grandpa, the sassy gay best friend? Not the sassy gay best friend! Nooooo! How could I save them–and save myself from being a newbie laughingstock in the process?

Here is a detailed definition.  In a nutshell, a Mary Sue is an overly idealized character who resembles or serves as a stand in/wish fulfillment for the author. This term originated in fan fiction, but is now well-established literary criticism for original fiction, too. That’s where it becomes tricky, especially in these three ways:

First off: wish-fulfillment. Aren’t we, as writers, trafficking in wish-fulfillment every time we put fingers to keyboard? Even dark and angsty stories with problems we’d never want to see in real life serve some internal purpose for the writer. And what about the fun stuff? I’ve got a story where much of the action takes place on a sailing yacht in the Florida Keys: um, yes, please!

Secondly: Idealized characters. We all want our characters to stand out in some way, be it physically, mentally, or supernaturally. Brilliant detectives, spunky heroines, shape-shifting Navy Seals, whatever. We write them larger than life because they are larger than life–and that gets readers to respond. But go too far, and the only reader response you’ll get is a gigantic eye roll. Surely, the most truly authentic characters will be everyday Joes and Janes who overcome (or don’t overcome) their real-world life, love, and money problems–but in what percentage of books you’ve read lately do those characters dominate?

Third: Author similarities. One of the quickest ways to have your character pegged as a Mary Sue is to have too much in common with him/her: hobbies, profession, beliefs, and/or physical appearance can all bite you. This is especially tricky for us writers of contemporary fiction who have been told over and over again to “write what you know.” It’s probably a good thing to make your main character look physically different from you, if only to retain a crumb of dignity when your relatives read your book and get to the sexy parts. I also believe that this is the reason why natural redheads in Fiction Land are so much more prevalent than they are in real life. But dang, what about those of us with the dominant hair/eye color on the planet? What if I want a main character with dark hair? Maybe the redheads get to write the brunettes? I don’t know.

Mary Sue-isms are subjective, and the triggers are different for everyone, but some things are universal: your character is awesome because you say she is, not for reasons discernible by the reader. Or she’s sooo perfect you just want to puke. She’s good at every damn thing in the world, and, of course, modest about it. Her “flaws” are about as flaw-like as “working too hard” when asked your biggest weakness in a job interview. You think she’s the bee’s knees, but your reader is totally rooting for the serial killer. We’re hard on our female characters, aren’t we? But Mary Sues aren’t just females. There are plenty of Gary Stus out there, like James Bond, the granddaddy of them all. If your hero is a walking catalog of desirable male attributes but he’s aw, shucks, too shy around girls to find love (except for the heroine who sees the real him, of course)…. then he might be a Gary Stu.

The problem is, despite these and other, way more thorough guidelines (try the Mary Sue Litmus Test and you’ll see what I mean–and you’ll have yet another sweet internet time waster in your life), it’s subjective. Sort of like pornography: hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Trust your instincts, gauge your crit partners reactions to your characters and try not to get mad. If you do get mad, that may be a sign your precious character hits a little too close to home. As for me, I’m off to write a story about a David Bowie-hating redhead!

So go on, don’t be shy: what are your Mary Sue moments, as a reader, or a writer?

 

 

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Kernels of Writer Wisdom from the Messy Desk of McGovy

Welcome to the second installment of kernels of writer wisdom. I’ve picked up these tiny hints at various workshops and via editors red marking my work. I can’t guarantee I (or you) will never make these same mistakes again (Isn’t that a song lyric?), but I hope it will help us avoid making them all the time.

1.       NAME DROPPING IS TACKY.

Avoid overuse of your main characters’ names.  Particularly in romance, the reader wants to feel like they’re IN the book they’re reading. They want to be the hero or heroine and they want to be the one on an adventure or falling in love.  Once you set up the scene, transition into she or he instead of using the character name over and over. It jolts the reader out of the story. 

Example #1:

Kinsey sighed, knowing this was a losing battle.

Sawyer cleared his throat and opened his mouth wide.

“Okay, okay!” Kinsey stuck her Be Right Back sign in the window and locked the door. 

Sawyer helped her up into the carriage and climbed in behind her. “Don’t forget your kiddy drink,” he said, passing her the neon green cup with pink swirly straw. He sat back beside her, legs sprawled out in front of him and sunglasses on as he sipped away. Sawyer might as well be on a beach somewhere.

“I knew you were going to do this,” Kinsey told him.

“You’re a smart woman.” Sawyer grinned, his pretty teeth, tan face and sculpted arms perfectly suited for the late day Charleston sun.

 

Tedious, right?! Yes, I over killed it on purpose, but check your own work for name dropping.  Try it this way instead.

Example #2:

She sighed, knowing this was a losing battle.

He cleared his throat and opened his mouth wide.

“Okay, okay!” She stuck her Be Right Back sign in the window and locked the door. 

Sawyer helped her up into the carriage and climbed in behind her. “Don’t forget your kiddy drink,” he said, passing her the neon green cup with pink swirly straw. He sat back beside her, legs sprawled out in front of him and sunglasses on as he sipped away. He might as well be on a beach somewhere for how relaxed he looked.

“I knew you were going to do this.” She sat arrow straight.

“You’re a smart woman.” He grinned; his pretty teeth, tan face and sculpted arms perfectly suited for the late day Charleston sun.

 

2.       GRAMMAR KERNELS

Know the difference between these words and when to use them:

Further/Farther:  Both are an adjective or adverb relating distance. Further is used for figurative distance and Farther is for actual, physical distance. (ie. That statement couldn’t be further from the truth. VS Columbia, South America is farther than Columbia, South Carolina.)

Hanged/Hung:  Hanged is the past tense and past participle of hang when someone dies by hanging. Hung is used every other time. (ie. The man hanged himself. VS The man hung the picture on the wall.)

Dove/Dived:  Past tense and past participle for dive. For centuries it was dived and only dived. Dove is “recently” in fashion and now neither is frowned on in use. It will depend on the taste of your editor/publisher. YAY! An easy one!

Whale/Wail:   Whale is a sea mammal. Wail is a high pitched cry. You wail on the guitar or wail on someone if you’re beating them up. The blue whale is the largest living mammal.

Sneaked/snuck:  Past tense of Sneak and both are acceptable in modern times. They’re also a great excuse to include this clip:

Bear/Bare:  Bear means to support, to bring forth, to hold up underneath something.  Bear is also a furry mammal that lives in the woods. Bare means without covering, open to view.  It is very important your characters NOT “Grin and bare it” unless they’re going streaking or about to have fun naked times. I’m totally for that by the way. More characters should grin and bare it!

Hope you enjoyed this installment of kernels for writers. What kernels would you like to share with the class? =)

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The Zen State of Reading

Would you believe this is actually the third topic drafted for my blog post today? The spazziness that has been my mind this week has been, well, uhm, spazzy. Finishing up the last few scenes in a novella, shopping around another, social media, emails, critiquing, and trying to decide on my next project. I love my ADHD medication, but it can only handle so much.

To be the most productive and happiest me that I can be, I want to be like this…

Chakra Agua

[Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender, trying to unblock his chakras.]

No, I don’t mean I want to be an adolescent boy with a giant blue arrow on his head. I mean I want to feel all calm and… zen. Instead I have so much going on inside my brain that I’m more like this…

tumblr_m4y4nynRZ21rxph3eo1_500[Dar’s Brain – Squishy jelly legs and all.]

But before I begin studying up on Mahāyāna Buddhism, I’m going to share what I’ve done the past two days and how it helped clear the mental clutter to give me peace of mind.

First, I took two days off. In these two days I continued to make notes on CP’s manuscripts, answer emails, and scribble down whatever notes came to me. I didn’t fall behind on that and I still did my super fun day job. What I didn’t do was keep up with the 1.5-2k a day pace I’ve been setting for myself since I recovered from two weeks of flu/throat/fever misery.

At first this made me itch. I need to write or I’ll go crazy! But then I went out and foraged for a few good reads, returning home with a nice big bag of books. Bookstore. Used bookstore. Library. All the usual habitat of books. Wonderful, wonderful books. (I was in the mood for paper, but shhhh, don’t tell the iPad!)

Reading on a regular basis is important for writers, but there’s reading and then there’s reading. For lack of a better word, I tend to devour books. Three, four, five, six at a time and I’m a fast reader. I get my reading high on. Yes, I said reading high. This may be kind of judgmental of me, but anyone who doesn’t get ‘ermagerd man pass the doritos and check out that prose man‘ after a reading sprint of epic proportions must be doing it wrong. *wink*

After giving in completely to the need to read, I feel rejuvenated. Refreshed. Clear headed and ready to go.

Have you ever binged on books and come up with the same results? Did you feel better after a day or two of letting yourself go in a book or three?

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Special Bulletin: #PitchMadness!

Bullseye-Red-Red

 

Twitter + Writers = True Love, or as the priest in The Princess Bride would say, ‘twoo luuuuve.’ It’s how I get all my good gossip and news on awesome upcoming events. *greedily rubs hands together and laughs evilly*

Enjoyed Pitch Wars? Missed out? No fear! A new fun contest begins March 1st. More details are upcoming, but you can find the contest’s schedule and entry form on the fab Brenda Drake’s blog. The one stipulation is that you must have a completed manuscript to enter.

Now go get those entries ready or I’ll be giving people the stink eye!

princess bride gif

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Sorry, I’m Not in the Mood!

Have you ever felt or heard someone say, “I have to be in the mood to write?” Lately I’ve been wondering-what mood is that exactly? Would that be a creative mood, or an imaginative mood, or maybe an artistic mood? What if you find that you’re not in any of those moods at all? In fact, you find yourself in a really bad mood, pissed off at the world. All you want to do is climb in bed, bury yourself under the covers and cry a river from here to the coast. Does that mean you shouldn’t write?

Maybe someone at work stabbed you in the back and you’re feeling that raw emotion of betrayal. Or maybe your husband forgot to stop by the store on his way home and pick up the aspirin he was getting for your pounding head. You’re so aggravated because you know you would never forget if he was the one who needed it. But now you’re head is hurting and your feelings are too. What do you do? Are you in the mood to write? Of course not, but should you? YES!

Instead of running for the comfort of those covers, run for your laptop instead. Go to your story and write that scene where your heroine’s mother-in-law just stabbed her in the back, telling her son something that your heroine wasn’t ready for him to know. Or go to that scene where your hero just got whacked in the head and he’s in so much pain that all he can do is lay there praying to die. Let that genuine emotion translate through in your words. Describe firsthand that pounding ache in your head that has you feeling so sick you’re trying not to barf up your lunch. Tell us what you’re going through; what he’s going through.

Trust me, I know when you’re in the middle of some crisis or you don’t feel good, the last thing you want to do is sit down and write, but I’m encouraging you to try it. Instead of going to the phone and calling your best friend and relaying all the details of your crappy day, pass it along to your characters. Describe her crappy day. How is she feeling about what just happened?

Don’t just try it with a bad mood or a sad mood. Try it while you’re in a good mood too. For instance, maybe right after you’ve just had the best sex you’ve had in a while. What a great time to write a love scene as the details are so fresh in your mind. Or it could be something as small as having a great lunch with your BFF, when you walk away with a warm feeling in your heart. What better time to describe the bonds of friendship? Illustrate the elated times as well.

When your own life has calmed back down, go back and read your work. See if that part of your story has more emotion, more passion, more detail of the truth. Did it make a difference? If you feel it didn’t work, you can always take it out. But you just might find that your characters sound more believable. You may think, “Wow, I can really relate to what she’s going through.” Sure you can, you just went through it yourself.

I love to read a good book when the characters show authentic emotions and have real feelings. How about you?

Remember to dream big!

Lori

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A Girlz Guide to Social Media, Vol. 3

There’s always someone. You’re FaceBook friends with him because he’s your third cousin one removed, or you follow her on Twitter because you love her books. But here’s the problem: They’re into politics. Really into politics. And more importantly, you disagree with every single thing they believe in. You don’t want to unfollow/unfriend them because you’d still like to interact with them, but something has got to give before you smash in your computer screen.

What’s a girl to do? Well, outside of taking a deep breath and striving for Zen, not much really. But what you can do is not become like them. Which brings us to the third installment of our Girlz Guide to Social Media series:

How To Have An Opinion About Politics Without Alienating Your Followers
(Or Coming Across As A Giant A**hole)

The thing is, if you’re using social media as a writer, chances are you’re doing it to make connections with fellow writers, interact with agents and editors, and learn about the industry. The focus should be on writing. But you can’t connect with people if you don’t let some of your personality show through, too. Some people recommend staying away from anything even remotely controversial and to not touch politics with a ten-foot pole. Personally, I think it’s artificial to never say anything about politics if that’s part of who you are, but there are ways to do it that aren’t alienating, or, well, you know. Dickish.

Here are some quick tips for sticking your toe into the murky waters of talking politics without damaging your brand:

  1. Moderation. If writing is your focus, then politics isn’t. The end. Keep political status updates and tweets to no more than 10% of your total social media presence. (Yes, I just made that number up, but it seems reasonable, right?) That’s one in ten. More than that, and your focus is slipping.
  2. Facts. Check them. Nothing gets my bile burning faster than someone I disagree with spouting off on a political rant about things that aren’t even true. There are a lot of handy-dandy graphs and figures floating around on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter. Check the source, because for all you know, some nutter in a tin-foil hat made the graphic with absolutely no factual basis. If you can’t find at least something to back up the numbers, don’t share, reblog or retweet.
  3. Talk about the issues, not the idiots. There’s so much temptation to label the people who disagree with you as stupid, foolish, sheep-like or intent on destroying the country. I have a fair number of friends who are on the other end of the political spectrum from me, and by talking with them (not at them), I’ve learned that they all have the best interests of the country in mind, they just think we should take a different path. They’re not stupid. They’re not evil. We simply disagree.Try making your statement more about, “I believe ______ about _____ issue,” and less about, “ALL PEOPLE WHO DON’T BELIEVE _______ SHOULD DIE AND STOP DESTROYING AMERICA!!!”, or, “I CAN’T BELIEVE THOSE F**ING IDIOTS ACTUALLY SUPPORT THAT NEO-NAZI FASCIST [insert politician’s name here]!!!”

    This is not to say that you can’t use snark or wit – just don’t demonize or demean the opposition. Even beyond the fact that some of your potential readership might include people who disagree with you, it’s really the decent thing to do.

I truly believe that by keeping a close eye on the frequency, accuracy and vitriol of your political statements, it’s possible to both express your opinion and keep from alienating your readership.

Now if only my third cousin once-removed would get the memo on this…

(Special thanks to Elizabeth Michels for swapping blog dates with me while she’s out of town, and for letting me chime in on this series. You’re the best, EM!)

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Bigger Isn’t Always Better, or Writing Short Fiction for Fun and Profit, Volume 3: Determining Your Story’s Scope

short-fiction2

There are so many different ways to categorize writers. Pansters and plotters, monogamists (writers who are more faithful to their one true manuscript than most people are to their spouses) and polygamists (writers with a girl—er, manuscript—in every port). And then there are what I like to refer to in my head as apartment-dwellers and land barons.

You know the types. Apartment dwellers, in the writing world, keep things simple. A kitchen, a living room, a bedroom and a bath. A hero, a heroine, an antagonist, and maybe the heroine’s best friend. One or two major plot lines, clean, simple character arcs. Everything is streamlined, because goddamn it, there’s just no room under the bed for anything else.

Land barons, on the other hand, inhabit sprawling estates, with multiple buildings, parlors on every floor, twelve guest rooms, maybe a stable for the horses, and a barn. Their manuscripts have a whole world of supporting characters, with everyone from the cashier at the grocery store to the kindly old lady in the house next door having a name, a goal, and an arc. Seven different plot lines interweave and intersect; subplots and themes lurk inside every page. There’s just so much room to spread out and stretch your legs!

And one of the easiest, fastest ways to tell which kind of writer you’re speaking to when it comes to this is to ask them if they write short stories. Your apartment dweller’s eyes will light up and she’ll go on and on about how they’re so much easier than novels! Your land baron, on the other hand, will bury her head in her hands and curse the gods.

Here’s the reason: apartment dwellers already know the secret to writing good short fiction, and it’s not just being less wordy. It’s this: simplify your scope.

The cold, hard truth is that a short story is not the place for intensive world-building or a large cast of characters or a plot that spans multiple decades. None of that is to say that you can’t immerse your reader in a unique world or have multiple characters or convey an arc that takes a little time. But you have to be judicious about it and narrow your focus to a few key elements and a few key scenes.

Everyone’s different, and writers whose styles tend toward the wordier side will not have the same results as writers who typically write more sparely. But in my experience, you can only afford a specific amount of complexity for any given format of shorter fiction.

Let’s follow my metaphor to its illogical conclusion, and compare these formats to apartments:

Studio Apartment (aka Flash Fiction – fewer than 1000 words): KISS, KISS, KISS. Keep. It. Simple. Stupid. You’ve got room for one to three characters and only one scene (maaaaaaaybe two, if you’re really compact) to get across whatever you need to say. Pick one point you want to make, one theme, and illustrate it by showing how it plays out in this tiny snippet of your characters’ lives.

One Bedroom (Short Short Story – 2000-4000 words): Okay, you have a little more room here, but you’re still going to have the most success with two to four characters, one to three scenes, and one major plot line / theme / conflict.

Two Bedroom (Medium Short – 5000-8000 words): Two to six characters and three to five scenes. Two characters can have real (if simple) arcs, and you can probably even fit in an internal and an external conflict. There’s really only room for one (maaaybe two) turning points, but you can actually start to do some more involved story-telling in this range, so long as you don’t get too ambitious with your scope.

Three Bedroom (Novelette – 10,000-15,000 words): Personally, I love this length, and I think you can do a lot with it. I’d still keep it to a couple major characters and a small handful of supporting ones, if you like, and only a couple of major conflicts and arcs. But you can really build up to a good climax and dark moment, and still pull everything back together before you type ‘The End’.

Townhouse (Novella – 18,000-40,000 words): Another favorite of mine. As long as you limit yourself to a handful of main characters and a only couple of turning points, you can do just as much with this as you can a full-length novel. There’s plenty of room for well-fleshed-out arcs, complex themes, and genuine conflict.

If you’re an apartment-dweller kind of writer, you already know what I’m talking about with all of this. If, on the other hand, you’re more of a land baron, consider trying your hand at shorter fiction as an exercise in learning compact story-telling and limiting your scope. Carve out just that part of your story and your world that encapsulates the very essence of what you need to say. No extras, no side plots, no characters that do not contribute directly to the heart of your message. I think you’ll be surprised by just how much you can do and how much your writing can benefit from letting all the extras go.

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Tighten It Up Volume III: Perk up Those Double D’s

I mean Description and Dialogue, of course.  So if you’re looking for a way to tame the girls, this probably won’t be helpful.

Descriptions and dialogue can eat up word count in any manuscript, and if you’re not careful you’ll end up with a third, not so nice D – Drag!  For the next volume of my blog series, I thought I’d give some tips on how to make sure those double D’s are putting their best foot forward!

Descriptions

Descriptions come in all shapes and sizes.  Character descriptions, setting descriptions, wardrobe descriptions, weather descriptions etc…  Some readers believe descriptions put them in the story, while others believe it kills their imagination – but she was supposed to be rescued by Johnny Depp, not Brad Pitt!  Personally, I like to have enough description to get a general idea and then move on.

But no matter what level of detail you write descriptions at, you don’t want them to drag.  Dragging descriptions can throw off the pace of a story and distract the reader from what’s truly important.  Here are a few ways to avoid this.

1.  Know the requirements of your genre.  Readers who pick up fantasies and paranormals are looking to be immersed into another world, which requires a good deal world-building.  Readers who pick up a contemporary romance typically don’t read it for massive descriptions of the seascape or the forty-two types of flowers that grow on the hillside.

2.  Make sure your descriptions are necessary.  Do you really need a three page description of what your characters ate for dinner or what was around every turn as they traveled to work?  If you don’t, why waste the space?

3.  Combine your descriptions with action to avoid stalling.  In Example A below, I am stopping the pace of the story to state a bunch of facts.  Whereas in Example B, I am maintaining the action and embellishing with my descriptions.  See the difference?

Example:

A.  Harriet had red hair and wore hoop earrings.  When she talked she sounded like a man, and when she laughed resembled a hyena.

OR

B.  Harriet laughed, her masculine voice transforming to a hyena’s cackle as the large hoop earrings tangled into her red mane.

Dialogue

As a woman, I love to talk.  As a writer, I love to write dialogue.  I believe that witty banter can make a scene, as well as encourage your readers to fall in love with your characters.  In fact, there are many times when a scene comes to life through some strand of dialogue bouncing around in my head.

Like descriptions, if dialogue isn’t added properly it can end up sounded stilted and breaking up the flow of your scene.  Here are some tips:

1.   Understand the difference between dialogue and conversation.

Example:

“Hello.  How are you?”

“I’m fine.  How are you?”

“Good, but it’s hot out today.”

“It’s supposed to cool down tomorrow.”

This is conversation, not dialogue.  It tells me nothing about the story and nothing about the characters.  Dialogue is more important than that.  It’s used for a purpose, not to fill space with politeness.

2.  Ensure your dialogue sounds the way someone would speak.  Think about the age and gender of the character – is it the way a fourteen year old boy would express himself?  If not, your characters won’t be believable.

3.  Add action or introspection to denote pauses and eliminate boring tags.

Example:

A.  “Only one person knows what happened that night.  And it’s time for her to talk,” Greg said.

OR

B.  “Only one person knows what happened that night.”  Greg removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose.  “And it’s time for her to talk.”

See how the middle sentence in Example B adds a bit of drama while denoting a pause in Greg’s speech?

Remember – you only have so many words to tell your story.  Make sure they’re the right words!  Do you have any other tips to share?

Hugs!

Jenna P.

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