Monday, September 30, 2013

Writing Tips - How to Set Your Story

The definition of setting is "a backdrop against which your characters perform."

When writing your story, you must make sure there is a sense of place. It's essential. Setting denotes time, establishes mood and provides atmosphere.

As a writer you must make sure that your setting isn't simply paragraphs of description. Interweave with your characters and their actions.

Helen Haukeness writes in "Setting Your Novel Straight" that many writers who can write well about plot and character overlook the significance of setting.

She has identified eight problems that you, as a writer, may encounter and the solutions.

Let's begin.

1. Failure to Understand the Depth of a Setting.
Setting is more than buildings and roads, trees and flowers, or mountains and valleys. Setting means detail. Remember this word: specificity. When creating setting, involve all the senses: furniture, weather, people, tools, toys, clutter, lighting, odors.

As a writer, you want to elicit a response from your reader. You do this by creating a reality for them with your writing that is plausible.

2. Using Stereotyped Descriptions.
Create a sense of place with your writing. Either write what you know using environments you are familiar with, or do the research necessary to become familiar with unfamiliar settings. Ms. Haukeness suggests that writers keep a notebook of rile folder of brief descriptions, observations, and evocative images. Listen and observe wherever you are in order to absorb your environment through your various  senses.

3. Failure to Use Words as Symbols of Atmosphere and Mood.
Infuse life into your words when describing setting. Create an atmosphere that bursts into your reader's imagination with wondrous colors. Detail is important, but don't overwork your reader when they read your narrative. A smart reader will know when you're writing is overdone and no longer involves them in the story.

4. Failure to Evoke All the Senses in Descriptions of Setting.
When you think of setting, it brings to mind a picture. However, the visual image is only part of what you have to use to create a sense of place. Use all the senses available: sounds, smells, references to taste. Make the reader actually live your story instead of being an innocent bystander. Once again, let me remind you to not overdo it. Let your words build your background in your reader's mind.

5. Failure to Write Scenes Through the Character's Eyes.
You are not a character in your story. You are not the main focus. Let your reader experience your story and setting through your character's perception.

6. Failure to Change Setting Throughout an Entire Novel.
Your character doesn't stay the same throughout your story. Your character evolves, changes, and has moods. As a writer, you must make sure that your setting does the same thing. As emotions conflict in your character, so must your setting contrast. If your character is indoors, take them outside. If your character is in the woods on a rainy day show the colors, scents, surroundings to your reader.

7. Using Fictionalized Geographic Names That Don't Sound Authentic.
Be creative when using the names of cities, towns, places, and such in your story. Use your imagination or if you'd like, mix and match names of cities and states.

8. Isolating Descriptions From the Narrative Line.
If you write a lot of narrative in your story, more than likely, the reader is going to skip over it to get to the action - The dialogue of your characters. Don't end up using all your narrative to set your scene. According to Ms. Haukeness, "let the background of your novel come to life through your characters' thoughts, dialogue, and actions."

Did you learn something new about how to set your novel? Did you learn what not to do?


Resource Used: The Writer's Digest Handbook of Novel Writing

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Going with the Flow

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about Going with the Flow. Do you go with the flow like a river and adapt to your surroundings? Can you be still and adapt? Maybe you can be like a tree - willing to adapt to the different season of your life yet still maintain your beauty and strength along the way.

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Were you able to discover that you can or cannot go with the flow? Are you a river that adapts to its surroundings or a rock that is immovable? Were you able to relate as a tree that adapts to the different seasons? 

Why or Why Not?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Writing Tips - Character Motivation

How well do you know the character you are writing? Do you understand his/her wants, needs, desires, motivation? Have you delved into his/her background and found out all the secrets, the sorrows, and the loves found and lost? What makes your character do what they do? What stops them from doing something?

Do you understand your character's motivation?

Can you take an event from real life and put it in your story? What makes people believe a real life event but not when they are reading it?

I'll tell you. Because, in real life, people see the event happening. They accept it as a part of life. However, if you drop a "real life" event into your story, the reader will not accept the event because they didn't see it coming. The reader doesn't believe your character is capable of the actions you make them take.


Character Motivation.

You must build your character throughout your story. This gives your reader the ability to understand and empathize with your character. The reader gets to know your character and understands your character.

In order for the reader to understand your character, you must. If you don't know why your character acts like they do, how will you convince your reader to finish reading your book?

"In order to give your characters adequate and believable motivation for everything they do, therefore, you must give them the most typical and logical motivation - the thing most people would do under those circumstances." says Scott Meredith in his book, Writing to Sell.

Sott Meredith goes on to write, "It is only when the character's motives and actions are different from the norm - when he does something for an inadequate reason, or when he does exactly the opposite of what a normal person in that position might be expected to do - that it is disbelieved."

What happens when a person acts like they do in real life is acceptable. Make sure your character's actions are acceptable as well.

The only way to do that is to develop your character throughout your story and make their actions believable to the reader.

If your character is the hero of the story, then build your story around how brave your character is. If, three-quarters of the way through your story, you suddenly show that your hero acts in a timid way and doesn't rescue the girl, or punch the bad guy, then you've given your reader a reason to not believe in your character anymore and they will probably end up closing your book in disgust.

But, if you've developed your hero and shown the character's background as having a moment in their life that identifies why the hero didn't rescue the girl, then your more likely to keep the reader reading.

For example. Your hero wants to rescue the girl, but she's surrounded by snakes. And, in your hero's past he experienced a frightening time when he was trapped in a well as a child and the well was filled with snakes. You show in your story that the hero must fight with his internal conflict of being afraid of snakes and his external conflict of needing to save the girl. When you do so, the actions of the hero then become believable.

"Your motivation, in short, will be sound only if the character always acts typically - always acts like the kind of person you have shown him to be." writes Scott Meredith in Writing to Sell.

Now, let's take your snake-fearing hero. He sees how the girl is disgusted at his cowardice and so he's forced to be heroic. He overcomes his fear of snakes, rescues the girl, and they live happily ever after.

You've made your character act "drastically" different in a way that shows a change in character the reader can believe. You've given your character a way to reasonably manage his conflicts and change his character motivation.

In doing so, you've written a book with characters the reader can relate, believe in, and grow to love.

So, I will ask you again:

How well do you know your character?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Deepest Passions

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about your Deepest Passions. Do you know what your deepest passions are? Are you too stressed, tired, or busy completing the daily to-do list to search for your buried passions? Has your writing turned into endless deadlines instead of time for discovery?

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Were you able to discover your deepest passions? Were you able to set aside the busy parts of your life and dig deep to find out exactly what your deepest passions are? Can you change your writing from just meeting deadlines to discovering the joy of writing?

Why or Why Not?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Writing Tips - Understanding Point of View

What point of view will you use when telling your story? Do you know that there are different kinds of point of view? Do you know what they are and how to use them correctly? If not, continue reading and we'll learn more about point of view.

Determining point of view is an important decision. It will affect nearly everything in your story. It also affects how much the readers can believe in your story.

When telling your story, you have three choices to make when considering point of view.

First Person
Second Person
Third Person

Rarely, would an author use Second Person because "you" aren't a character in your story and your reader knows "you" aren't a character in your story.

From here on, we'll consider First Person and Third Person point of view.

First Person
This is a great way to write a story because your character is telling his or her own story. The biggest advantage of First Person narrative is that it can promote an almost instant identification between the reader and your protagonist.

However, not every story can use First Person point of view. It has limitations. How are you going to get the reader information that the protagonist doesn't have access to?

Describing your character seems like an easy thing to do, but when you are using First Person point of view, if you have a heroic protagonist it just sounds like bragging when he or she describes themselves as brave and courageous.

So, let's learn about Third Person point of view which is usually the better choice.

Third Person
There are at least four kinds of third-person narratives: Omniscient, camera eye, single point of view, and sigma character.

This is the least restrictive point of view. The author writes as "God". The author can comment on what's going on in any character's mind, can discuss action "off stage", and warn the reader of future events.

While Omniscient is tricky and attractive to the writer because it offers the most freedom, it's not as popular as it used to be.

Camera Eye
This point of view is opposite of omniscient. The story is unfolded in front of the reader as if the reader were watching a movie or television program. The reader has no insight into a character's mind.

Camera Eye is a very limiting way to tell a story. It distances the reader from the protagonist.

Single Point of View
This viewpoint is a good compromise between Camera Eye and Omniscient. You are able to convey to your reader not only your protagonist's actions but what they are thinking as well. It's important to remember that you must only write from the one character's point of view. Do not slip thoughts of other characters into your story. Your readers will notice.

Sigma Character
This unusually named point of view is simply this: use multiple view points but only one view point per scene. You can write from a different character's view point either in separate scenes or separate chapters. Your readers may enjoy this because they are not in the head of one character the entire book.

Do you understand Point of View a little better now?

Great, now go write that story!

The resource used to write this blog post was The Writer's Digest Handbook of Novel Writing.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Receiving the Liebster Award

I’d like to thank Trinity Grace from Transition to Victory for nominating me and my blog Your Writing Coach for the Liebster Award.

The Liebster Award is given to fellow bloggers with less than 200 followers who are forthcoming in the blogosphere.

So, this is how it works.

1. You must link back to the person that nominated you.
2. You must answer the 11 questions given to you by your nominator.
3. You must pick 11 bloggers, each with under 200 subscribers, to be nominated for the award.
4. You must come up with 11 questions for your nominees to answer.
5. You must go to their blogs and notify your nominees.

I was asked by Trinity to answer the following questions:

1. What is your favorite drink? Sobe Lifewater
2. What is your favorite food? Mexican
3. If you could travel to any place in the world (all expenses paid), where would it be? The Greek Islands
4. If you knew you would be on a deserted island for a week, what two beauty products would you take along? Aveeno Positively Ageless Moisturizer and Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion
5. If you could spend the day doing anything you wanted to do, what would it be? Have a special “me” day with a massage, pedicure, and manicure. Then get my hair cut and styled.
6. What is your dream car? When I was younger it was a Jaguar. Now, it’s a BMW.
7. Do you prefer to go to the movies, or do you prefer to wait until the movie is on DVD? I much prefer watching movies at home, because I can pause it any time I need to for a bathroom break.
8. Do you like you water icy cold or at room temperature? Depends on whether or not I’m hot or cold. If I’m hot and sweaty, I like cold water. Otherwise, I drink it at room temperature.
9. When it's cold, do you prefer an extra blanket or thick pajamas? I actually prefer both!
10.          Hot or cold cereal? I like oatmeal for breakfast. I eat it every day. So, I guess, hot cereal.
11, Computer (online) or TV? Definitely TV.  It’s my special treat to myself after I’ve gotten my online computer work done. I watch re-runs of Friends or Grey’s Anatomy.

The nominees I’ve chosen for the Liebster Award are:

Your Questions:
  1. What is the first thing you notice about people?
  2. Who was the last person you talked to on the phone?
  3. If you were a crayon, what color would you be?
  4. Scary movies or happy endings?
  5. What book are you reading now?
  6. What is the least favorite thing about yourself?
  7. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off?
  8. If you were another person, would you be friends with you?
  9. Would you bungee jump?
  10. What is your favorite cereal?
  11. What is the farthest you have been from home?

 Thank you, Trinity and good luck to all the nominees.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Self-Discovery

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about Self-Discovery. Write about the pure joy of looking into your soul and being excited about who you are. use the writing process to explore the uniqueness of your existence.

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Were you able to open up and look into your soul? Were you excited about who you are? Did you explore the uniqueness of your own existence?

Why or Why Not?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Writing Tips - Advice from Robert Newton Peck

According to Robert Newton Peck, the author of many fiction and non-fiction books, "Writing is not an art. It is a craft. And the more you work at it, the better you become." I met Mr. Peck on several occasions and his directness and sharp insight made his message all that more poignant. Of all the books, Mr. Peck as written, I'll always treasure the one he signed for me, Secrets of Successful Fiction.

This book is meant to be a toolkit for writers. I've read it. And, I'd like to share some of Mr. Peck's more important messages with you. Even though it was written in 1980, the information shared is well worth the read.

Humor is a big part of Robert Newton Peck's life and work. If you ever get a chance to read this or any other book he's written, you'll be amazed at how he can infuse humor in nearly every situation.

1. An amateur writer tells a story. A pro shows the story, creates a picture to look at instead of just words to read. A good author writes with a camera, not with a pen.

2. Flowers belong in gardens, not in books. As a reader, I can't stand flowery writing. Writing is not description. It is action. Writing is not a butterfly collection of adverbs and adjectives. Good fiction is a head-on crash of noun and verb.

3. Resist beginning your story with a description of the setting. This is the trademark of the amateur. Instead, start your book with a combination of talk and action. Nouns and verbs.

4. Writing is not a shotgun. It's a rifle. Zero in. Get dirty. Do your research. Focus on the story.

5. A plot is two dogs and one bone. A plot is merely a dramatic situation where a character 1. wants something, 2. tries to get it, 3. And is opposed. It boils down to want. Mother Nature, in her wisdom, created all living things to want something. The want-syndrome is observed, understood, and practiced by every savvy writer.

6. Where's the camera? Point of view is knowing where the camera is that records the action, dialogue, and thoughts. Point of view is determined when the author decides which character is going to tell the story. Does the camera always, in every book, have to be in just one person's head? No. To write a book in which your characters think secret thoughts about each other, you must use multiple viewpoints, with the camera inside the heads of many. But remember this: there is only ONE camera.

7. A writer must learn to stick to the here-now of an established situation, and not go gallivanting off to Topeka, Valdosta, or Flashback, Wyoming. Don't wander. Stick with the action that you have taken the time and trouble to establish.

8. Humor is necessary to any good book. To lighten the lyric. For pace. Humor is a bridge, a connection, a sudden span that unites two previously disassociated entities. It is that surprising arc-jump of light that flashes between anode and cathode. Comedy is a marriage of two things, two ideas, two beings that were never before connected.

9. Before you begin Chapter 1, be sure to outline all your characters so that you know them inside and out. If you get to know your characters, they will help you write your book. Get to know them so well that they begin to talk to you. To say things. Do things. Want things.

10. If you have a hero in your book, pour two ingredients into your mixing bowl: good and bad. Make him real. Rub some mud on the guy. Get him dirty. No one is nice all the time.

11. Read  a lot of stuff. Browse in bookstores. See what's being done, sold, and then go do it yourself. Borrow.

12. Amateurs worry about overusing the word "said" when two characters converse, so much so that they herd in every substitute for "said" they can muster. Worse than that (if anything could be) the amateur seems compelled to describe "how the obvious was stated ... by adding useless ly adverbs following each "said". Don't be afraid that you've said "said" too often. Nobody reads it.

13. Avoid exclamation marks !!!

14. Quit underlining every other word because you think it's important.

15. Avoid cliches.

16. Make your character care. As soon as you make your character care for someone, or something, the reader begins to care about what happens to the character. But the care must be for something or someone other than himself.

17. Sound is one of the spices of fiction, to perk a reader's ear (and eye) and make him fell he's really there. Use sound effects.

18. Hook the reader with the opening of a chapter. A page in a novel is not a block of text. Readers hate this, and have since childhood, because it reminds them of textbooks. Learn to open up your pages to welcome the reader's eye. A book page must not only read well, it must also look inviting. Open, like a panoramic painting. Be generous with your white space.

19. Titles are darn important. Here's why: For every one person that reads your current novel, there will be a thousand who will just read your title. And (you hope) remember it. And maybe even say, "Yes, I've heard of that book." Titles, like you and me, are born.

20. Remember that committees of people don't (or shouldn't) write books. One person does. That's you. Editors suggest changes. Then, it is up to you as an author to measure the worth of those suggestions and act upon them. Very few authors can edit their own stuff. A good editor tightens as book. He gives a manuscript polish. Be easy to work with. Be flexible.

 A lot of great advice, eh? If you get the opportunity, read the book.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Wisdom

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about Wisdom. Write about an insight that you gained as a result of a mistake you made in your life. Did you accumulate knowledge that serves your life purpose today? Reflect and write about the enlightenment that occurred. Did the past mistake resurface as wisdom?

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Were you able to find and write about that moment you became aware of a mistake you made that helped you accumulate knowledge that serves your current life purpose? Did the past mistake resurface as wisdom?

Why or Why Not?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Writing Tips - Writing Humor Tips from Patrick McManus

Patrick McManus is one of the best humorists in the world. His humorous essays always leave me smiling and most times laughing. He's well known for his books, some of which are: They Shoot Canoes, Don't They, Never Sniff a Gift Fish, Real Ponies Don't Go Oink!, and Into the Twilight Endlessly Grousing.

For humor writing tips, I'm dipping into McManus' book, The Deer on a Bicycle - Excursions into Writing of Humor.

Rules of Writing Humor

1. Never write about real life humor.

2. Write about your bad experiences, not your good ones. Write about serious events, not funny ones. Write about your failure, not your success. Write about your fear, not your courage. Write about the negative, not the positive. Write about the bad, not the good.

3. Write out of your own experience. When I write about my mistakes and stupidities, my readers recognize them as authentic, because they have done the same dumb stuff.

4. Use the reader's imagination. The idea here is to provide a few clues about a scene or situation and then let the reader fill in all the rest of the details.

5. Beware the logic of humor. Even if the story is totally absurd, certain rules of logic apply. No matter how absurd, humor still requires its own particular kind of logic.

6. Be careful with exaggeration. As you are aware, exaggeration is one of the main tools of humor writing.

7. Do't use a "funny" voice with a tone that keeps saying, in effect, "what I'm telling you is really funny." It's hard to describe, but I'm sue you've heard such a voice. It has a giggle tangled up in it, almost as if the writer is going "hee-hee" every few words.

8. Use scenes and characters. For me, the funniest humor arises out of characters and situations. The greater our familiarity with the character and the situation, the greater the comedy.

9. Write within a comic idea.

10. Never write a list of anything that consists of ten items. Invariably you will run out of steam at item nine.

There you have it, some great tips on writing humor. I highly suggest you read his book, The Deer on a Bicycle for more information.