Quick Tips

Quick Tips: Scene Breaks

Posted by on Jul 7, 2014 in Quick Tips | 2 comments

Quick Tips: Scene Breaks

Quick Tips: Scene Breaks   Ah… the mystery of scene breaks and what to do with them. It’s such a little thing, and yet its impact on the flow and pace of a story is important.  Scene breaks are a lot like commas: everyone needs them but the rules of use can be vague. So what’s a writer to do? Glad you asked. First let’s address what scene breaks are used for. Most authors use them to indicate one or several of the following when a new chapter is not needed. Shift in point of view If your story is not told from a single point of view, the scene break can be used to indicate a change of the point of view character. There are a few guidelines when changing point of view. First, let your reader know early who the new point of view character is. Don’t leave them guessing or they will stop and reread to figure out what they missed, thus pulling them out of the story. Second, avoid changing POV within a scene. Third, avoid repeating the same scene from another point of view. Fourth, never change POV in the middle of a paragraph. This is particularly hard for authors writing in third person. For a more detailed article about point of view shifts, check out Jen Matera’s article “Writing Pitfall #5: Head Hopping.” Change in setting When the setting changes from one location to another, a scene break is often used. So what should you do if your character goes from the kitchen to the living room? Take the reader with you and leave the scene break for a bigger change in setting, such a shift from the board meeting to the BBQ in the neighbor’s backyard. If the change in setting is minor but is combined with a time shift, a scene break is appropriate. Time shift Speaking of time shifts… Scene breaks are used to move the story along and skip the day-to-day activities that don’t have an impact on the story because a story is simply a string of scenes that move the plot from point A to point B. Some authors find it difficult use time shifts, believing (incorrectly) that they must account for every waking moment of the point-of-view character. This is not so. It’s not important to the plot of story to detail a shopping list or show the character cleaning unless it is pivotal to the plot. Mundane lists of the character’s morning routine of showering, getting dressed, styling hair and makeup, eating breakfast, etc. will only slow down the pace of the story and give the reader an unnecessary info dump. Readers will assume that the character has gone through the accepted social norms of hygiene before they appear in the scene. Pacing changes Scene breaks can be used to slow down the pace of a story, insert a cliffhanger, switch to another subplot, increase suspense, or any number of reasons to increase reader involvement. When you should use scene breaks for pacing is not as clear-cut. Much of this comes down to what feels right, author intuition, or a gut feeling. Knowing when to use these will come with experience. Finally, I’d like to touch on the basic foundation of how to build a scene. Ideally a scene is written to give the reader necessary information and move the plot along. A scene is finished when everything important has been said. The real trick is knowing when to come into a scene and when to leave. There’s a popular saying scriptwriters use that I feel can be applied to fiction writing as well. In late, out early. What this means is your scenes should start when the action is already underway, skipping all the greetings and mundane details of your character’s arrival on the scene, and then leave your scenes early before it gets bogged down by the good-byes, mundane details, or the temptation to summarize scene for your reader. When it comes to scene breaks and when to use them, much of it comes...

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Quick Tips: Start From The End

Posted by on Jul 1, 2014 in Quick Tips | 0 comments

Quick Tips: Start From The End

Quick Tips: Start From The End   I was talking to an author today about overcoming mental blocks. Every author feels these mental blocks while writing from time to time. Sometimes it’s because they haven’t written out a detailed outline or no outline at all. Maybe they are comparing themselves to other authors they see on social media who can pump books out the wazoo while they struggle to write a chapter a week. And oftentimes it’s because the muse they had when they thought up that best-selling plot bunny vanishes quicker than water in a desert. These mental blocks shouldn’t translate into authors thinking they shouldn’t write or they aren’t as good as other authors. Perhaps it means that different people need different forms of inspiration or encouragement to get their words on paper. My advice for this author was to start from the end. The author already had a good idea where the arc and ending would end up so I advised them to try to step away from their comfort zone and write the ending to change things up. Writing out of sequence is not new for many writers. In fact, I know many that rely on writing out of sequence more often than not. They find that having a clear ending pictured helps them with the first parts of their stories. It’s like seeing the finish line in a race. You’re running for your goal and you see the end in the distance. Would you stop when the end is so close? Nope. Why give up when the finish line is within eyesight and within your grasp? So if you’re stuck, try starting from the end and see where it takes you. Happy Writing!...

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Quick Tip: Hindrances to Developing Your Writing Talent

Posted by on Jun 24, 2014 in Quick Tips | 0 comments

Quick Tip: Hindrances to Developing Your Writing Talent

In today’s article, I wanted to discuss those things that hinder our ability to improve our writing. While practice is key to becoming a better writer, I’ve found that there are certain attitudes that can do much to keep us from reaching our full potential. And I think these are the things that keep a good writer from becoming a great writer. So let’s get started. #1 Inability to Recognize your Weaknesses No one likes being told they suck, whether the claim is valid or not. This can lead to a propensity to avoid critique and negative commentary. Let’s call it “fragile ego syndrome” and as a writer, it does you no favors. You will avoid reading your negative reviews, discount employing the services of a talented yet tough editor (or reject any negative feedback they give you), and choose people to pre-read your manuscript whom you know will give you nothing but positive feedback. Don’t fall into this trap. It will keep you caught in a cycle of mediocrity. To improve, it’s necessary to know what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. Negative reviews and critique are not a personal affront, they are a tool. You just have to have a right attitude. But be careful. There is another side of fragile ego syndrome, and this is when you believe every negative thing said about you or your story is correct. This is just as harmful as burying your head in the sand. So how do you overcome this? In the writing stage, you have to learn to listen to your heart and your muse. Your journey to becoming an author is for naught if you lack confidence and trust in yourself and your characters. In the pre-editing stage, you need to surround yourself with people that you trust. Don’t only pick people who will tell you every word you write is gold. Every writer needs the following on their side: a ball-busting critic, a cheerleader, and a voice of reason. In the editing stage, you need an editor that understands you, your characters, and your story. And above all, this editor needs to have no compunction about telling you the cold, hard truth. Anything less is a waste of your time and money. #2 Over-trusting Your Talent This is the point in the article that I tell you not to fall into the trap of believing your own press. Yes, 90 percent of reviewers may think you are the bomb-diggity, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have room to improve. This hindrance becomes especially detrimental when an author chooses to believe twenty “OMG! This the bestest thing I eva red!” reviews and not listening to their editor. As an author is is important to have vision, voice, and to know the ins and outs of your story backward and forward. But don’t let your confidence in your skills override good advice. If you  find that you are choosing a specific sentence construction because you like the flow it adds to your words but your editor is constantly revising it because it is ungrammatical, don’t reject those changes out of hand. Instead it would be better to work with you editor to include the flow you are looking for in a grammatical way. If you have a writer’s tic and you editor points it out, correct it. Don’t leave it in your manuscript because it appeals to you. Trust me, after the five hundredth use of “whoa,” you’ll be inviting reviews full of mocking gifs. Just saying. And this is going to be the moment that the excuse, “but this is just my style,” won’t fly any longer. #3 Laziness This one takes on a couple of forms, but my favorite is this one: I’m a writer; I don’t need to learn proper spelling, punctuation, or grammar. That’s what editors are for. To coin a phrase, good grammar is for everyone. If you choose to be an author, if you make this your career, you have the responsibility to put words on the page...

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Quick Tips: Speak Your Dialogue

Posted by on Jun 17, 2014 in Quick Tips | 0 comments

Quick Tips: Speak Your Dialogue

Speak Your Dialogue   Have you ever had one of those great writing moments when everything flowed out of you so fast you felt as though you were simply the stenographer sitting in a courtroom and doing your best to keep up with everything as it was thrown at you? Yeah, me neither. But for those who have, there comes that time when you go back to what you’ve written and read it over. Mostly you’re happy with what you have, but why does everyone sound exactly the same, especially in their dialogue? If this has ever happened to you, you may recognize that you lost track of the voice of your character in the haste to get the words down, and now you have to go back over all your dialogue and re-create your characters’ voices. So how do you do that? Well, I was kidding before; this actually happened to me with my first story, and in the rush to get the words from my head out my fingertips and onto paper, my characters all started to sound… well, sorta like me. And that was bad. None of my characters was anything like me in the slightest, so you can see the problem. What I found helpful was to actually speak the dialogue as if I were the character. It may sound overly simple, but you’d be surprised when you put yourself inside the head of your alpha male protagonist how written dialogue can sound so wrong once it’s spoken. For example, is your protagonist going to walk into the house and say, “Good gracious, what is that smell?” Maybe not… but I probably would. No, your alpha male is going to stalk in to the room and ask, “What stinks?” Speaking your dialogue aloud will help you to identify when you’ve set your character on overly formal by mistake, as well. This happens sometimes when writers stop listening to their own characters talk, and they start using five-dollar words no one understands but them. Another thing that happens with dialogue—especially back and forth between a male and a female character—is that the female characters can grow to sounds almost masculine, and the male characters sound more feminine. By speaking their dialogue, you can hear where you may have shifted your character’s voice and fix it. These are just a few examples of reasons to read your dialogue aloud. Plus, it’s fun to get into the head of your characters that way. You never know what else you might learn. Happy...

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Quick Tips: Adverbial Dialogue Tags

Posted by on Jun 10, 2014 in Quick Tips | 2 comments

Quick Tips: Adverbial Dialogue Tags

Adverbial Dialogue Tags We’ve all see it and a good number of us are guilty of it. That’s right. I’m talking about adverbial dialogue tags. I know some of you are thinking this is another article about creative dialogue tags. Well, it’s not. This quick tip is about using adverbs to describe how dialogue is said. Aside from the obvious advice to minimize your use of adverbs by choosing stronger words, the use of adverbial dialogue tags presents the reader with a weak description and oftentimes results in telling instead of showing. Take the following example: Cassidy pushed the solid oak door open with her foot and wrestled an oversized teddy bear into the kitchen. “Why did you leave without telling me?” Damian asked petulantly. “You said you didn’t like garage sales,” she retorted angrily. In this example an adverb (petulantly) is used to describe Damian’s tone of voice and indirectly tells the reader how Damian is feeling. The issue here is that by adding this to the dialogue tag, the author tells the reader how Damian feels and shows nothing. Furthermore, the passage tells the reader that Cassidy is angry, but doesn’t show anything. Because the adverbial dialogues tag tell the reader how the characters are feeling, some authors will neglect to fully develop the scene by showing through behavior, dialogue, and body language what the characters are feeling. This can lead to anemic scenes. Instead of telling the reader how the characters are speaking, show what they are doing and let their actions fill in the blanks so that the reader can see what’s going on and decide how the characters are feeling. Cassidy pushed the solid oak door open with her foot and wrestled an oversized teddy bear into the kitchen. She almost knocked Damian off his stool. “Watch it,” he said, grabbing the edge of the counter. “Oops, sorry.” She started to grin but froze about halfway between full grin and polite smile, stopping somewhere around pained. Damian glared and slid off the stool. “Why did you leave without me?” He was a full head taller than Cassidy, and with his arms folded across his chest, he was downright scary. She opened her mouth, snapped it shut, opened it again, and took a deep breath before sighing. “You said you didn’t like garage sales.” She dropped the teddy bear on the yellowed linoleum with a soft thud. By striking adverbial dialogue tags from your manuscript and replacing them with narrative full of action and emotion, you will make better word choices and fill out those scenes with the visual cues to keep your reader engaged with your story. You will also use fewer adverbs, which is always a bonus in my book. Now… go write...

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Quick Tips: Knowing When To Step Away

Posted by on Jun 3, 2014 in Quick Tips | 0 comments

Quick Tips: Knowing When To Step Away

Quick Tips: Knowing When To Step Away   Writing a book is hard work. I know this as an editor and as an author. I have written about a bajillion words (okay, not a bajillion, but many, many hundreds of thousands of words) on my own stories, blog posts, reviews, articles, etc. So it’s safe to say I know the amount of blood, sweat, and tears that goes into every word we as authors put on paper (or a Word doc, if you want to get technical.) I have talked about self-editing on the blog before and how it can more hamper your work more than progress it. Now only if I would take my own advice. I have been writing a couple of different stories this year but none seem to be flowing like I have wanted them to. I have these great ideas and get super excited to put them down in a doc only to peter out around chapter four and wonder what the heck happened to me. For one, I’m self-editing too much. *slaps my own wrists* And I’m not looking at the big picture of what my story is and wants to be. I get confused and I start thinking too much. What about this? Or that? Is this too much or not enough? The only answer for me is to take a step away and think about what I really want to write. Stepping away is not giving up. It’s taking five and reevaluating what you really want out of your work. I’m very determined to finish what I have started, but the break helps me clear my head. It also helps me get over myself. My work is not going to be perfect right off the bat. I know this, but try telling that to my fragile author brain. I’m constantly comparing myself to other people too. Why can’t I write as fast as so and so, or is my stuff as good as theirs? How do they come up with that? Is my writing as smart as other people’s? You can pull your hair out obsessing over these questions. In the end, all it does is hold you back. Stepping away from what you’re working on is vital if you want it to make it to a finished book. What I like to do is try to write small blurbs based on prompts or pictures to get my juices flowing. Write Divas have prompts every week that you can check out. So if you are having trouble with your manuscript, the elements of your story aren’t lining up correctly, or the muse has hit that dreaded brick wall, take some time  to think about what you really see coming out of your project. The introspection may be enlightening....

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