You spend years pouring out heart and soul and the first bit of advice many new writers hear is: "don't worry about it, your first draft is always crap." I strongly disagree. The mere fact you have completed the first draft should let you know you're a winner. I've heard it said that 80% of people living in America want to write a book. That means 260 million people who want the same thing you do. But how many people follow through? Not many. How many people start their book but never finish? Too many. So, if you have a rough draft, take a moment and celebrate... you've done something millions of people have never done.
A first draft is exactly what it sounds like, the FIRST step, not the last. If you are 200 pounds overweight, you don't expect to walk into a gym and come out healthy the next day. Congratulations, you've walked in the front door. Now what? Below are five basic steps to help you tighten that novel and get it into shape.
Step 1 - Cut the fat. The whole point of a rough draft is to get all your ideas out, so you can make the best story possible. If I write 70,000 words on the first draft I expect to lose 10,000 words in the editing process. Your results may vary, but the point to remember is never to use six words when three words will do.
Step 2 - Watch your grammar. Very few people can write like Mark Twain or William Shakespeare. Maybe after you have two or three hundred stories under your belt you can ignore the rules... but I doubt it. Yes, this means more work, but it's not something you can skip just because it's not fun anymore. Check spelling, punctuation, run on sentences, word tense and then do it again.
Step 3 - Show don't tell. Why does everybody keep saying show don't tell? Maybe because we keep telling the story. You are not a reporter, you are not a teller of tales... you are a creator of worlds. As Anton Chekhov once said:
"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."
But remember, don't throw in fancy phrases and pretend you are showing the reader something new.
Step 4 - Strong dialogue. Not every piece of dialogue must have a dialogue tag. By the time you repeat "He said" or "She said" ten times on the page, the reader gets bored. On the other hand, if you use too many different tags, you start to forget step 3 (show don't tell.) My solution is simple, whenever possible DON'T use a tag. Sure, if you have multiple characters you don't always have that choice, but the least amount of tags used, the better. Give your character a personality so the reader never has to guess who said what.
Step 5 - Keep it simple. The first time I tried NaNoWriMo (writing 50,000 words in 30 days) I failed miserably. I was overwhelmed, it was more than I could process. Many first-time writers do the same thing to their readers. They get on a role, and a few hours later, they have ten pages of grandma going to the store. This applies to backstories, secondary characters, and overly elaborate descriptions. When in doubt, cut it out. If it doesn't move the story forward, it brings it down. You must decide which words are the most important.
If you've never been in a gym before you don't start by doing 200-pound leg squats and getting on a treadmill for five miles a day. Just like your writing, you start at the beginning and work your way up. The steps above are not going to make your work look like Mr. Universe overnight, but this is where you start to make a difference. Repetition is key. You keep writing, keep editing, and practice. Do this, and one day... you're no longer dreaming about writing that great American novel... you're finishing it.
Award-winning writer/photographer Tedric Garrison has 40 years experience with various creative skills. As a Graphic Arts Major, he has a unique perspective on the visual arts and believes that creativity CAN be taught. His photography tells a story and his writings are always visual. Tedric shares his insight and perspective at http://writephotos.weebly.com
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Whether your mouth salivates over the mere thought of a thick juicy rib eye steak marinated in honey mustard barbecue sauce, or drools over a creamy rich strawberry sundae with chocolate sprinkles, you must admit, the food industry KNOWS how to get you addicted. What are they doing? You don't see people mainlining Twinkies or selling their car to get another brownie, but still, people keep buying that stuff whether they need it or not. If only we could get people that hooked on reading our books.
When it comes to junk food (defined as something people do not need but want) the food industries focus on three main areas, these being Salt, Sugar, and Fat.
Salt is highly addictive. It regulates fluids and acts as a flavor enhancer. At the top of your tongue, you have special sensors called "taste buds" which recognize sweets and other specific flavors and send out pleasure signals to your brain. Fatty foods like chocolate, french fries, and pizza interact through texture and affect how different flavors are perceived. It's not magic, it's how the brain works.
When it comes to writing a great story, there are five basic elements which include: Characters, Setting, Plot, Conflict, and Resolution. To break this down further, in this article I will focus on what makes your reader want to explore your Plot. The Plot (sometimes referred to as the story line) describes the events that make up your story. Every great plot needs three things: Questions, Engagement, and Conflict.
Questions - We are curious by nature, we want to discover things as we go. If you look at the original Harry Potter book, you find she started with many more questions than answers. Who is Harry Potter? Where did he get that scar? What happened to his parents? Who are the Dursleys? Plus, more. She does NOT start by giving you all the answers, she starts by creating intrigue and suspense.
Engagement - If a reader can not relate to one or more of the characters, they have no reason to continue. Like the first element, you do not start by giving every physical detail down to the size of his or her shoes. You want the reader to bond with your character. Whether they be the hero or the victim is not the point, does your reader have feelings for them? Important to note, the reader does not have to like them. Jack the Ripper is still a very engaging character.
Conflict - Get to the point, if the fate of the entire free world hangs in the balance, don't wait until page 63 to casually mention there might be a problem here. Conflict is the glue that holds everything together. Boy versus girl, good verse evil, life verse death all grips the reader by the throat because the reader understands what is at stake. For conflict to be effective it must come often, and it must come quickly. This is your shock factor, this is what the reader is looking for. It could be man vs man or man vs the supernatural, but this is why your reader keeps turning the page.
These three areas are what appeal to most readers. These are the promises you make to let them know, yes, it will be worth the effort. Of course, if you make a promise, you better be able to keep it. Do not raise questions with no answers. Do not make us love someone then kill her three pages later (unless that's motivation). Do not leave a conflict unresolved. It doesn't have to be happy ever after, but there must be some kind of change.
In my humble opinion, you should always start with Engagement because once they are emotionally committed, you've made it personal and they want to continue. Face it, nobody NEEDS another fudge brownie. They reach for another because they want it. Focus on making your reader want to answer the questions and want to resolve the conflict. Remember Questions, Engagement, Conflict, repeat. This is the key to a great plot, a great story, and a great writing career.
Award-winning writer/photographer Tedric Garrison has 40 years experience with various creative skills. As a Graphic Arts Major, he has a unique perspective on the visual arts and believes that creativity CAN be taught. His photography tells a story and his writings are always visual. Tedric shares his insight and perspective at: http://writephotos.weebly.com
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We've all heard of "Writers Block". It's frustrating, depressing and discouraging. It's usually defined as a temporary period when a writer cannot write. For most people, one of the major symptoms is a blank mind. You want to write, your schedule has been cleared to write, you sit with the intention to write, then... your mind goes blank. No words, no thoughts, no prompts, enter your head.
As tragic as that sounds, a few of us, have a different obstacle when it comes to writing. I refer to this ailment as "Writers Chunk". When you suffer from writers chunk, ideas are not the problem, doing something about it is. The easiest way to detect if you have a chunk versus a block is you still have ideas. You can visualize what your character is wearing, you can hear what he or she is thinking. You may even be thinking two or three chapters down the road. So, if you have all these wonderful ideas, why aren't you doing something about it?
Procrastination has killed more dreams than all wars, diseases, and handicaps combined. It starts simple enough. What is that part of a wagon called? Time for Google, oops, not a kid's wagon... I want a western wagon. OK, covered wagon does make more sense. History of the covered wagon? No, I want parts of a wagon. Two and half hours later you have dozens of pictures, videos and even a DIY blueprint of how to build your own covered wagon, but you haven't written a word.
That's only one example of course, but you can also procrastinate writing until after you go to lunch, or go to the gym, or change your clothes. If you are not writing like you want, to it could be as simple as everything else keeps becoming a priority. The solution is not buying another book on writing or taking another writing course or looking for motivational speakers on YouTube. The answer is writing. Now before you get all ticked off and say, "duh, if I could do that I wouldn't have a problem", let me clarify that statement.
The answer to writers block AND writers chunk is to form the habit of writing. This can be done in four easy steps.
The first step - set a time. When all my kids were still at home I realized if I wanted to do anything for myself the best time was to do it before they woke up. What works for me, may not work for you, but to create this new habit you must establish a set time, one with the least amount of excuses for you to do anything else.
The second step - establish a word count. This might sound like you are limiting yourself, but this is a starting point. When I tried NaNoWriMo camp for the first time I set a daily goal of a thousand words per day. I did ok for a couple of days, then I only did 500 words one day, then I skipped a couple of days. Eventually, I wrote 250 words and thought "what's the point, I'll never catch up."
If procrastination is the number one killer of writers inspiration, the second greatest evil to avoid is depression and discouragement.
It took me a while to figure this out, but even at only 250 words per day, that's still a page per day or 365 pages per year. My last book, once edited, was only 285 pages. Meaning I can still edit almost a third of my work later. The point is don't set your goals on what Stephen King can do, make your words count. (No pun intended.) Once you have the habit you can always raise your target later.
The third step - learning to write. The other bad habit myself and many others share is the tendency to edit as I write. For creating this habit - do NOT edit! If I write 250 words and edit as I'm writing, I may only end up with 140 additional words. I'm making the goal twice as hard as it needs to be and I'm setting myself up for failure. Related to that, when you do write 250 words, give yourself a treat. To avoid diabetes, I suggest it be something besides food. Even if you only meet part of your word count, something is better than nothing. Give yourself credit for everything you achieve. Save "editing" for a different habit.
The fourth step - repeat with praise. Now you're going write an easy 250 words per day (no stress), you get up early, say 7:00 am (or whatever works for you), and... you give yourself credit. Ideally, you want to do this habit for at least 30 days, but if you can only do it Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays that's still a plus. The key here is to acknowledge what you achieve, not focus on what you don't. Let your new habits work for you not against you.
Napoleon Hill once said, "Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve." Everybody has good habits and bad habits. To be a better writer you must believe you can write every day. Like a concert pianist, once you form the habit you don't have to think about which note to play next, you just do it. If you could sit down and write every day, every time you wanted, just imagine the possibilities.
Award-winning writer/photographer Tedric Garrison has 40 years experience with these creative skills. As a Graphic Arts Major, he has a unique perspective on visual arts and believes that creativity CAN be taught. His photography tells a story and his writing is very visual. Tedric shares his insight and perspective at http://writephotos.weebly.com
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Whether you consider it using flow charts, whiteboards or even just free association, Mind Mapping has been around for some time now. People have used it for taking notes, brainstorming, and problem-solving. A Mind Map is a tool used to visually organize information or ideas. As a writer, it can be used for solving writer's block or creating a workable outline. Today I am going to show you how to create a character sketch.
Character sketches can be very basic or incredibly detailed. It can include eye and hair color or blood type and your heroes first kiss. Many writers go online and look for pre-made character sketches that include hundreds of questions that may not apply to your work. This is where the idea of a mind map comes in handy.
For those who are not familiar with the process, don't worry creating a mind map is not complicated. It can be done on a piece of paper, a whiteboard or using software programs. It doesn't have to be expensive. There are several FREE programs that will do an excellent job, including xmind.net, mindmaple.com, and freemind.sourceforge.net. Some of these programs have paid versions, but as a writer, the free versions will do everything you need.
To create a mind map on any subject there are 4 basic steps.
Step 1 - Start by writing a single concept in the middle of a blank page.
Step 2 - Add related ideas to this concept and use lines to connect them.
Step 3 - Branch off each of these ideas to expand and create new thoughts.
Step 4 - Use different colors, symbols, and images to make each branch unique.
To help visualize this process I will use one of my own characters as an example. Every character you create will be different, but if you use these points as a starting place, it will be much easier.
My starting point is always very specific. I use my character's name and a photo of what I think he or she will look like. Why do I add a photo? Because as the saying goes, "a picture IS worth a thousand words." Personally, I put the name and photo inside a red circle at the center of the page, like a bullseye.
I add new ideas to focus on around my character. Each idea is placed in its own circle and connected by a wavy line. Why a wavy line? Because straight lines are boring and analytical, I am trying to tap into the creative side of my brain. I will also use a different color for each circle and the line that connects it, for the same reason.
I focus on six main points with each character. These include Family, Friends, Work, Skills, Physical and Secrets. At this point, it might be hard to come up with a photograph for each category, but you can use symbols like a question mark for the section that says Secrets.
This is where the fun begins. Under each main point listed, I include 5 additional sub-ideas. For example, under Family, I would list Mother, Father, Siblings, Other and History. Each of these would also have their own circle, and I would color that circle the same as the primary idea Family.
I can already hear someone saying this won't work for me, my character's parents are dead, or my character is an orphan. So? This is only to spark ideas. If the mother is dead, this will remind you of that and be a memory for your character to ponder about. If she's not, you can describe what he liked or disliked about her the most.
The same idea applies to Siblings, if he has them he can tell stories of when his brother did this, or his sister did that. If he never had one, did he ever wonder what it would be like to have a brother or sister?
You might wonder why I included the word Other. Whether your character's parents are living or not at some point someone else had a major impact on his life. That could be a babysitter, a scout leader or a teacher. All of us are created by those we have interacted with.
History would include things like who was the black sheep of the family, are all the women in this family short, have there always been anger issues? These are the things the character himself may not even realize affect his (or her) way of thinking.
I could write an entire article on how your character's family affects the way they act or think or believe. That's kind of the point of a mind map, you can go as deep as you want. By keeping it simple, (one word at a time) it allows your mind to keep filling in the blanks. Don't believe me? Just say the word Mother out loud and see what images and thoughts pop into your head.
Most of the categories I listed are obvious, but I do want to take a moment to talk about Secrets. Every person on the planet has them and if you think you can create a character without them, you are sadly mistaken. It could be as simple as they never learned to swim, or as dramatic as they killed their own sister. This is also a good place to include habits. For example, if you wrote Taps, it could remind you when he gets nervous he always taps his fingers. If you wrote the word Ring, you would know she twists her ring when upset. You don't have to write the whole reason why she twists her ring just write the word to keep your imagination going.
Key points to remember:
1st point - Keep is simple. One word at a time. You are not writing the story you are capturing ideas to include in the story.
2nd point - Use color. Bright, vibrant colors stimulate the mind. The more stimulated the mind, the easier it is to be creative.
3rd point - Use curved lines to connect thoughts. Why? Because if you just use straight lines, the brain gets bored quickly.
4th point - Add images whenever possible. Why? Because if a picture is worth a thousand words, then 10 pictures are worth ten thousand words. By using a word AND an image you engage both sides of the brain without limiting your potential.
Once you start using mind mapping to write, ideas will flow one after another. It's actually very hard to have writer's block if ideas come so fast you can't keep up. It may not solve all your writing problems, but it will make things easier.
Award-winning writer/photographer Tedric Garrison has 40 years' experience with these creative skills. As a Graphic Arts Major, he has a unique perspective on visual arts and believes that creativity CAN be taught. His photography tells a story and his writing is very visual. Tedric shares his insight and perspective at: http://writephotos.weebly.com
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There is a war of words going on in the writer's world. Some contend when it comes to an effective dialogue tag "he said" or "she said" is all you need. They argue the word "said" is invisible to the reader, therefore, it does not interrupt the flow of the spoken word. Yet there is a growing opposition to this rule that cannot be ignored. As proof, I ask you to type the phrase, 300 Ways to Say Said into any search engine. In less than half a second, my Google search came up with over 15 million results.
Does that mean using he said/she said is wrong? No, but let me ask you this, do you use the same exact word at the beginning of every chapter? Do you always put an explanation mark at the end of every sentence that shows action? The key is not that the rule is wrong, it's just that it's incomplete. Have you ever heard the saying, "Money is the root of all evil?" I'm not here to debate religious philosophy, but the phrase is "the love of money is the root of all evil."
Rather than saying "he said/she said is the only dialogue tag you will ever need," I would say, "he said/she said is a great starting dialogue tag." A dialogue tag is a small phrase either before, after, or in between the actual dialogue itself. Most people use it to let the reader know who is speaking, but it does not have to end there.
Dialogue is used to create action, to move the story along, not to frustrate your reader. While using the same phrase repeatedly can be irritating, using a different phrase every single time can be worse. In other words, if you have a list that says 300 Ways to Say Said, do NOT use all 300 ways in the same story.
When a writer creates a scene he writes visually, but when he writes dialogue he writes what he hears, so often we use phrases like softly, or loudly, or quietly. The problem with most adverbs is, they tell more than they show.
One of my favorite Stephen King quotes is this: I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they're like dandelions. If you have one in your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day... fifty the day after that... and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions.
Many writers agree with this sentiment, the use of adverbs (specifically "ly" words) can often become a bad thing. Some people try to overcompensate the "no-adverb" rule by pumping their verbs full of $300 words, like: "she insinuated" or "he beguiled", the problem is these also don't show us anything.
One way to avoid redundancy is to use no tags at all.
"Why are you always late?" he asked.
"Because I have more important things to do," she said.
"So now you're saying I have no life?"
"No, I'm saying you're not the only one."
Noticed we did use he said/she said to start, but with only two characters speaking you don't have to repeat it every time. The same is true of names, remember this quote from the Brady Bunch? "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha," that got old quick, didn't it?
The other choice is to use a dialogue beat rather than a tag. A dialogue beat is a clever way of breaking up dialogue by adding more details.
Jason looked out the window. "Why are you always late?" he checked his watch for the third time.
"Because... " she gazed in her vanity mirror. "I have more important things to do."
Now we're starting to move beyond words spoken by two people. Now it's starting to look like a story. I don't have to TELL you Jason was impatient, he checked his watch for the third time, SHOWS you what he was thinking.
You can use a tag and beat at the same time, it doesn't have to be one or the other.
"Why are you always late?" Jason asked. (tag) He checked his watch for the third time. (beat).
You can even use an "ly" word, occasionally, just don't overdo it. Keep it pretty and unique, like Mr. King said.
The bottom line is we want to keep the reader's attention. If the words blah, blah, blah come to mind while reading your dialogue, maybe it's time to break it up. Maybe you need to focus on showing more detail, not just reporting who said what. You can be creative without filling pages with $300 words, but you also don't want to use the same nickel and dime phrases either. Exciting plots and exotic setting might be fun, but the dialogue is what holds the story together. Your job as a writer is to keep your readers turning the page, the best way to do that is to have a more interesting dialogue.
Award-winning writer/photographer Tedric Garrison has 40 years' experience with both of these skills. As a Graphic Arts Major, he has a unique perspective on visual arts and believes that creativity CAN be taught. His photography tells a story and his writing is visual. Tedric shares his insight and experience at:http://writephotos.weebly.com
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I've been writing in one form or another for several years, but one thing I have never done is participate in NaNoWriMo. I came close November but chickened out at the idea of 50,000 words in 30 days. Then I discovered they also offer a NaNoWriMo Camp, which among other things, allows you to set your own writing goals. It starts in a few days (April 1st) so I thought it would be cool to document the journey.
How to Sign Up
When you go to campnanowrimo.org you will see several sections that you need to complete. The Account Settings section includes basics like name, email, and password. Remember to include a photo so others will recognize your posts immediately.
The Camper Info section allows you to tell others more about yourself. I would take time to plan and polish your bio section. Who knows, you might need that when you publish your story! Remember to include your website link if you have one. Some of these contacts may last longer than 30 days.
The Project Info section includes a synopsis, excerpt, and cover photo. If this is your first project you may or may not have all of this yet. But like your bio section, these things will be important when publishing later. This is where you grab your readers attention as quickly as possible.
The Cabin Settings is where you select your own support group. Depending on the information you provide, you can be grouped with up to 19 other writers within your genre or you can choose to group together with writers you may already know. Even though there may be thousands participating this is where you bond and make personal contacts.
How to Set Up
Depending if you are starting from scratch or working on an existing project, there are certain things you want to think about before day one. In my case, I started with Word originally but have been using Scrivener for the last several months. I had to make sure everything I was working on was in the right format. Decide now on your font, size of text, and how you plan to keep track of your word count.
If you have an existing starting point, read it several times before you start writing again. If you don't already have a character sketch, now would be a good time to create one. Nothing is more embarrassing than having a blue-eyed character on one page and several chapters later you describe dark brown eyes.
How you organize your story can vary greatly. Some people write down a few character names and a basic synopsis in one paragraph, others will write a 30-page detailed outline including every plot point. Personally, I start somewhere in between. I use a Beat sheet that I create specifically for that story. I use the basic three-act structure that gives me a beginning, middle and end with several key points I want to cover. The whole thing boils down to one sheet that I use as a roadmap.
How to Get Going
Setting a time and place to write sounds good in theory, but don't get so locked into a schedule, that it stresses you out. If you usually write in the morning but have a family emergency, try writing that night. It might surprise you what a different perspective can do.
The number one rule when writing is to write. I know that sounds obvious, but what I'm getting at is... there's a time for writing and a time for editing. Do NOT do them at the same time. I've been known to spend an hour rewriting a single paragraph. The goal here is not to write a completely polished, ready to publish, award-winning novel. The goal is to complete the basic rough draft. The rest you can do later.
I strongly suggest letting others know you plan to participate in NaNoWriMo. Force yourself to commit, tell everybody you know. Those who are not writers can encourage you IF they know you are doing something. Those who are writers can give ideas on perspective, characters, and storylines. The bottom line is you write alone, but you don't have to feel alone. This is supposed to be fun.
Even if you are thinking about writing a book, this will be good for you. Planning the story, writing a synopsis and expressing yourself can build your confidence dramatically. Interacting with other writers can be a great learning experience. I personally believe every person on the planet has a story to tell. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose. If you don't have the time, then at least you know writing is not for you. If you make the time this might be the start of making your dreams come true.
Award-winning writer/photographer Tedric Garrison has 40 years' experience with both of these skills. As a Graphic Arts Major, he has a unique perspective on visual arts and believes that creativity CAN be taught. His photography tells a story and his writing is visual. Tedric shares his insight at http://writephotos.weebly.com
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Many writers get crushed when their 120,000-word novel is rejected. What happens when you enter a contest that says 500 words or less and you end up with 894 words? You might spend years writing your story or hours writing an article, but that doesn't mean you're done. It means you've completed the first draft. That's great, congratulations are in order, not everybody makes it that far. Remember it's a lot easier to cut words than to add them. I can picture several of you thinking, "Yea right, my editor wants me to cut 10,000 words!"
Believe it or not, it's not as terrifying as many writers think. Let me give you an example. When I first thought about writing this article the name was: "How to Cut Your Word Count Down by 10,000 Words or More, in 3 Easy Steps." That's 16 words long, but it catches your attention, right? Then I came up with: "Three Easy Steps to a Better Word Count." When I read both to my wife, she said, "That's the same thing." She was right, except that now it was only eight words long. If you look at the top of the page, you see I ended up with "The Word Count Diet," which is only four words long. Did I change the meaning? No. Did I ruin the title? Obviously not, you're still reading it, aren't you?
One sentence is different than a whole story, but the concept is there. The more time you have invested, the harder it is to cut words from your baby. But let's face it, you want your baby to grow up someday and leave the nest, right? That's called editing. There I've said it, you don't have to hold your breath anymore. But I'm a creative soul, you think, why would I want to tear it apart?
Listen to this statement; "Editing is not destroying, it's simplifying, it's enhancing, it's making it easier to read." With that in mind, where do you start if you're not a professional editor or English major? I suggest you look at three areas that will improve your work. These areas are adverbs, adjectives, and glue words.
Adverbs are modifiers of verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. The easiest way to identify an adverb is that it usually ends with the letters LY. Why is everybody against using LY words? Many writers, editors, and readers consider it lazy writing because you don't show anything. Example: She lightly tapped on the door. The word tap means "a light knock", so it's kind of redundant. You could say: She tapped on the door with a gentle caress for fear of waking the baby. Not shorter, but it is more engaging. I also could have said definitely not shorter, but it serves no purpose. When you look at most LY words that's what you find, they don't add any substance.
The phrase 'all things in moderation' means stop using so many stupid, pointless, space wasting, disgusting adjectives. I could have said, stop using adjectives, but what fun would that be? Many writers have the mistaken idea that the more adjectives you use, the better. This is not true. It slows the reader down. Mark Twain exhorted writers to "kill" any adjectives they could catch. I don't know if I would go that far. Soft brown eyes are fine but... soft brown, glowing, golden eyes like pools of honey... is a little much, don't you think?
What exactly is a glue word? Glue words are the 200 most common words in the English language. The problem is they are so common it's easy to overuse them. Words to look out for include: like, the, so, very, and, or, but, big, tall, up, down, etc. For example, you could say, "Sally walked across the room so she could check out the full-length mirror and see how good her new dress looked." (21 words) Or you could say, "Sally admired her new dress in the mirror." (eight words) The meaning has not changed, but the word count has. The other concern with glue words is they are so vague, they don't mean anything. Don't say very sad, say depressed. Don't say really tired, say exhausted. Nine times out of ten you can remove the word that and nobody will notice. Maybe it's only a word here and there, but when you know which words to look for it can add up. Look at the title again, from 16 words to four words. Even if you only do half that good, your bloated 120,000-word novel has just become a 60,000-word best seller. Think about it.
Award-winning writer/photographer Tedric Garrison has 40 years' experience in both areas of expertise. As a Graphic Arts Major, he has a unique perspective on creativity. His photography tells a story and his writing is visual. Tedric shares his insight, experience, and skills at his
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Let’s change things up a little. For our newsletter articles, we’re going deep into creating unforgettable characters. Then we’ll provide an essential reading list for 12 different genres. You get double bang for your buck: an in-depth look at a specific aspect of character creation and a suggested reading list to help you study the masters.
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Let’s dive right in to character inventing. We’ll be referring a lot to Orson Scott Card’s Characters & Viewpoint, from the Writer’s Digest series Elements of Fiction Writing. If you’re not familiar with Mr. Card’s substantial works, read Ender’s Game before the movie comes out in March 2018. And then download Characters & Viewpoint from Writer’s Digest or check a copy out of your local library.
Get to know your characters better than you know most people
How well do we really know the people in our lives? Some we know better than others and some are merely acquaintances. But we expect to know the characters in books better than any living human being, don’t we? Characters in books give us insight into the human condition. We learn how people behave and what’s in human nature from our favorite characters in books and on the big screen.
Orson Scott Card says out of the multiple ways to get to know someone, the most powerful and the ones that make the strongest impression are:
What your character does
Think about the holiday parties you just survived. Now imagine if you’d seen a woman spilling her drink, laughing loudly, and generally calling attention to herself. You would make a snap judgment about her. It’s OK, we all do it.
What would you think if you saw a man and woman meet each other for the first time at a party and saw them not too much later intimately locked together on the dance floor? Or what would you think about the friend who told you a secret "absolutely no one else knows," only to find out several other people heard versions of the same secret?
Now think about Ian Fleming’s James Bond. At the beginning of every movie, Bond is in the middle of some intense action. He’s running from bad guys or he’s chasing bad guys. The scene always wraps up in Bond’s favor, and we see him with the Bond girl and a martini, shaken not stirred. What do we know about Bond from his actions? He’s suave, he’s debonair, he’s brave, cunning, and quite clever. And he has the best spy toys ever.
We know all that in the first 15 to 20 minutes of the movie. The writers and director didn’t tell us. We all saw it on the screen.
If your main character looks at her phone, taps in a few things, and hops in her car with an Uber sticker on it, you can assume she’s an Uber driver. Or if another character steals a loaf of bread, you assume he’s a thief, but with it being food-related, there might be extenuating circumstances. That’s where the next element comes in.
When someone steals food in a story, we wonder what’s the motive, don’t we? Almost everyone has either read or seen Les Miserables. Jean Valjean had a pretty strong motive for stealing bread, one that made us empathize with him rather than abhor him for breaking the law.
Let’s go back to our example of the woman at the party who’s making a spectacle. What if her best friend is throwing the party and in walks the friend’s ex-boyfriend, for whom she still pines? The woman may be drawing attention away from the hostess dashing from the room with tears streaming down her face.
What if you found out the friend who was telling different versions of the same secret to everyone felt horribly alone and depressed during the holidays? This was her attempt at getting close to someone—anyone—so as not to be by herself on Christmas day.
You can imagine any number of scenarios with the man and woman meeting for the first time. Maybe they’re both spies and the meeting was planned. Or their actions would mean something different if you knew she was trying to get over the loss of her baby and partner in a horrible accident while he was a player looking for someone weak to prey upon.
Orson Scott Card brought up an interesting scenario in his book. What about someone who tries to do something, but fails? Card gave the example of a man pointing a gun at the governor, but the gun doesn’t fire. And a woman dives in a pool to save a drowning man, but he’s too heavy for her to get out of the water. You would still look at the man as an assassin and the woman as a hero, even though he didn’t actually kill anyone and she never saved anyone. As Card puts it in his book:
"Motive is what gives moral value to a character’s acts. What a character does, no matter how awful or how good, is never morally absolute: what seemed to be murder may turn out to have been self-defense, madness, or illusion; what seemed to be a kiss may turn out to have been betrayal, deception, or irony…A character is what he does, yes—but even more, a character is what he means to do."
Knowing someone’s past helps us understand who she or he is today. You may meet a beautiful woman at a dinner party and only know her by her actions there. But what if the hostess told you beforehand that the beautiful woman had grown up as an ugly duckling in a cruel family and didn’t see herself as anything but ugly still?
Or what if the hostess told you she was the CEO of a major corporation who had just laid off thousands of employees right before the holidays—one of which was your partner.
And what if you found out the beautiful woman had been held captive as a slave in another country since she was a teenager and had recently gotten away from her captors?
Each of these scenarios would make you look at this woman differently, right? So people are what they’ve done, but also what’s been done to them in the past. As Card puts it:
"Our past, however we might revise it in our memory, is who we believe that we are; and when you create a fictional character, telling something of her past will also help your readers understand who she is at the time of the story."
Other elements to consider
Orson Scott Card lists several other elements you need to cover to create a truly unforgettable character:
Whew. This first post was a long one because we had a lot of ground to cover.
Now think about the first time you met your best friend or your partner. Each of the elements discussed above are different ways of getting to know people. It’s also how your readers want to get to know your characters. Cover them thoroughly in your story, and you’ll create another Katniss Everdeen, Ender Wiggin, or Anakin Skywalker.
About the Author:
Kathy Edens is a blogger, a ghost writer, and content master who loves writing about anything and everything. Check out her book The Novel-Writing Training Plan: 17 Steps to Get Your Ideas in Shape for the Marathon of Writing or contact her at www.kathy-edens.com.
This Article reposted with permission from:
I had seen the advertisements on Facebook for a Seven Day Creative Writing Challenge since it was free and I have nothing but time, I gave it a try. The aim was to write 1000 words per day for seven days. No writing prompts, no hidden agenda, just write. Sometimes we think life has to be much more complicated if we are to learn its secrets. We justify why we don't have the time, or experience, or skills to accomplish our life's ambitions.
Below is a list of seven things I learned, not by years at school, or readings hundreds of books, or becoming an English Major; this is what I learned about writing by writing.
1.) I CAN do it. - I saw people who posted they didn't write because they were sick, or they were tired, or had writers' block, or had a bad day, or they were depressed. Guess what? I had all of those and I still completed the task. Not saying that to boast, just acknowledging that the more I did, the more I wanted to do. I have been sick enough this week that I gave up on the gym because that was something I did not want to share. But I was strong enough to continue writing because that is something I wanted to share.
2.) There is ALWAYS someone better or faster. - I saw people who posted 4,000 to 5,000 words in a day. I saw people who posted 2200 words in less than an hour. At this point, the most I had posted was 1354 words for a single day and it took close to 8 hours to accomplish that. Sure some of that is because I am so weak I randomly fall asleep at times, sometimes I over think, and let's face it my typing skills are bad. It may have taken me 54 years to comprehend this, but I realized, I am not competing with the Universe, I am only competing with my own fears and doubts.
3.) It doesn't have to be ALL or NOTHING. - I am a very slow reader, in part to the fact that I avoided it for so many years. This week I also finished Stephen King's "On Writing" book, which I had only started four days earlier. For me to finish any book in less than two or three months is a major accomplishment. I guess perhaps both goals were the same (to improve my writing), but I did not feel I had to block out the world to achieve either one.
4.) Don't Limit yourself. - I consider myself a morning person, but even on the day that I started at 4:30 in the afternoon I could write. I often write with music in the background but found there were days when I was so eager to get my ideas down, that I didn't turn on the music until after I was done. I used to spend hours upon hours at my desktop and thought it was the ONLY place I could create. Since my surgeries, I have been bedridden for 20+ hours per day. Now I write both on my laptop and on a smaller tablet. This "aha" moment was reinforced because now every day the FIRST thing I do is grab my laptop.
5.) Different can be good. - Sometimes I get a little compulsive. If I decide that I want to write about a person and come up with more questions than answers, it can, and often does, stop me dead in my tracks. Learning a new program called Scrivener, I noticed it had a section for location sketches and for characters sketches. I spent three days of this challenge writing detailed character sketches. I have always been character driven, but I wrote about my settings for a change and surprise, surprise it was one of my most productive days.
6.) Do NOT give up. - I saw people post they only wrote 500 or 600 words and would try more the next day. The sad part was they posted this at 9:30 in the morning. I mean even if you work a ten hour day, you still have lunch breaks, after work, after dinner, etc. It was if they had convinced themselves they can ONLY create during that certain time of day. Yes, I've done that, been there. Don't think me heartless. I know life happens, but the one post that gave me this "aha" moment was. "Sorry, I only wrote 500 words today because my brother died last night." I was writing at the moment my wife took her last breath seven years ago. I did NOT write the next day, but it is possible.
7.) Draft mode is NOT Edit mode. - When I started this challenge I wrote as I always had. Wrote a few words, questioned if they were the right words, looked for the right words, wrote a few more words. When I kept seeing people with two and three thousand word counts, I was getting discouraged. Then it occurred to me, I was not writing a book, an article, or a short story, I was writing to be writing it did NOT have to be perfect. What I was writing about were things I would write about in the future. Another "aha" moment, if you edit while brainstorming you are only limiting your imagination.
One doesn't have to be in a contest or a class or a writing challenge to continue learning how to write better. I don't have to have the best computer or the most expensive writing software. People do not need to go on Facebook and ask everybody else what they think makes the perfect story. If you want to be a better writer, then write.
Award-winning writer/photographer Tedric Garrison has 40 years experience in both areas of expertise. As a Graphic Arts Major, he has a unique perspective on creativity. His photography tells a story and his writing paints a picture. He believes creativity CAN be taught. Tedric shares both his writing and photography skills at his website: http://writephotos.weebly.com.
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Fiction by nature is something considered, not true, or not possible. Yet some of the best Science Fiction is that which makes you suspend your disbelief. We know for example that a man cannot fly, but I've lost track of how many "Superman" movies are out there. Some rely on special effects, to ooh and ahh the viewers. Some try to impress with technical jargon and new inventions that make the impossible possible. But the best way to overcome the impossible is by focusing on reality. Real emotions, real fears, and doubts are signs of good character development. Because in the real world, people are what life is all about.
When it comes to superheroes, I like Spiderman, BECAUSE he had doubts, and was insecure... therefore I related to him the most. Not all of us will have the technical knowledge to write something as earth-shattering as Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" which many claim was the real motivation behind the first nuclear submarine. But what you do have is your own life experiences.
I wrote a short story called "Shooting Goliath" as a realistic story of what happened to me when I fell off a waterfall. BUT I also have a scene in my time travel adventure where my main character jumps off a waterfall to catch someone else's attention. Now I KNOW that's fiction... because I'm scared of heights, but I have had the experience that makes that section believable. I have a character in that book that lost their spouse after 30 years, which has also happened to me. My story is based on the concept you can't help others if you can't help yourself. Every character has doubts and fears to overcome before they can complete their assignments. I focus on what I do know, not on what I don't.
Yes, I have a character that is a writer, and I have a character that is a photographer. My stories are character driven by emotions that I understand. I'm NOT saying settings and plot are not important. What I'm saying is to use your strengths. You don't have to be a cop to solve a mystery. You don't have to fly to write about superheroes. What you must do is write about what you know to catch people's attention. Do I believe a man can fly? No. Do I believe Lois loves Clark? I have no doubt.
Use your experiences to make the story come to life. If you've been hurt, write it down. If you've been scared, write it down. If you have ever been in love, fooled, overjoyed, given birth, buried a pet, been in an accident, run a race, or had your heart broken, write it down. These are the things that will make your story worth reading regardless of what it's about. Using your imagination doesn't mean you make up everything from scratch. Just ask yourself "what if" and plug in your own experiences. This is what keeps the readers engaged, and turning page after page. Be yourself and keep on writing.
Award-winning writer/photographer Tedric Garrison has 40 years experience in both areas of expertise. As a Graphic Art Major, he has a unique perspective on creativity. His photography tells a story and his writing is visual. He believes creativity CAN be taught. Tedric shares both his writing and photography skills at his new website: http://writephotos.weebly.com
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