Calming Your Inner Critic (Revisited)

47010682-businessman-get-confused-flat-design.jpgIf you are constantly looking over your shoulder, you may not finish your novel. You will be too busy battling the thoughts of it not being good enough. No one wants to be humiliated or rejected. Your inner critic will paralyze you by telling you just how bad your writing is (even if it’s not).  This is another obstacle that I have had to overcome. It hasn’t gone away, I’ve just learned to deal with it.

I did a Bible study a while back on the battlefield of the mind. Though it’s primary purpose was dealing with spiritual warfare, it also pertained to many of the issues that we deal with in our everyday lives. Our mind is a battlefield. In writing, for example, all of us worry about looking dumb and never getting published. Fiction writers make a business out of being scared, and not just looking dumb.

It took me six months from the time I started writing my novel, to tell my husband what I was doing. When I finally told him, I was a mess. I knew he would be excited for me and encourage me in my endeavor, and I didn’t want to let him down.

For the longest time, I’ve treated my novel as a hobby. That’s not a mindset that will get you published. When I finished and sent it out to the first few agents, I was more than a little anxious. The first few rejections confirmed my beliefs. I just wasn’t good enough.

Note that I said I wasn’t good enough. Well, that’s not exactly true. The truth is the novel wasn’t good enough. The fact is, it was filled with grammatical and structural errors, there was some serious head hopping going on, and my on-the-nose dialogue was all but bringing the story to a complete halt. If you are not familiar with these terms you should be. Go back and read the posts I have written addressing them.

I don’t know that the inner critic will ever go away. So how do you combat it? You keep moving forward and growing in your craft. Don’t stop writing. I still question my novel, but I know that I know that I know, that it’s a lot better than it was after the first draft. I’ve learned the hard way and hope to help you avoid some of my pitfalls.

Some professionals recommend the following exercises to help you move forward when the inner critic tries to stop you.  I do my own variation but never really thought about it.

  1. The five-minute nonstop-Write for five minutes nonstop without thinking about what you’re writing.
  2. The page-long sentence-Choose something to describe and write a page long sentence about it.
  3. The list maker-Whenever you’re stuck for an idea make a list. Brainstorm the ideas and use the best.

I just pound away at the keyboard and concentrate on what I’m writing about until inspiration kicks in, and it will. Just don’t quit.

-Jan R

Calming Your Inner Critic (Revisited)

2-Sentence Hook?

Can you actually hook a reader in two sentences? I have problems with my elevator speech and that’s a lot longer than two sentences. However, the answer is yes, and I know from experience, you had better hook your reader, or literary agent, right away if you want to make a sell.

The next question for me, is how do I write a 2-sentence hook? My story is complicated, and I don’t even know where to begin.

A 2-story hook has three components. These not only provide the gist of your story, but also an abbreviated outline of what you are trying to accomplish.

  1. Character –  Who is your hero or heroine? You don’t want to give that character a name in your 2-sentence write up. Give them an identity.                     Not Anne, but a young orphan girl.                                                                                Not James, but a young boy born into slavery.
  2. Core Desire – What does your character really want? To be loved, respected? To become famous or rich? What is motivating your characters actions? This is something I’ve discussed in previous blogs. It has to be relatable.
  3. Obstacle – The inciting incident threatening the core identity of your hero/heroine. It doesn’t have to be a big problem, but it does have to be big in your character’s mind.

You can embellish your hook by adding more description or upping the stakes (the clock is ticking).

A young corpsman involved in an IED explosion in Afghanistan loses his memory and struggles to regain his identity.  He is misidentified and placed in the home of total strangers.

My first attempt at a 2-sentence hook. It leaves a lot of questions, but I guess that is the hook. Hopefully your reader will want to know more.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

 

 

2-Sentence Hook?

Avoid Speed Bumps

1490400252235When you’re writing a novel, you want your story to keep moving forward from beginning to end. If your reader stops at any point while reading, you have set up a speed bump and created an opportunity for your reader to slip out of their suspension of disbelief.

You want them to continue at a nice, smooth pace until the end, accepting every coincidence and slightly questionable story line. They should be lost in the story not in your words.

Common Speed Bumps of Aspiring Authors

Beautified Prose/Written-eese

“The firedrop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

Now that was a pretty sentence, but you can’t tell me it didn’t slow you down and make you think about what the author was actually trying to say. If you’re like me, you had to read it several times

Trying to impress others with your words is not the way to go. Be natural, be yourself, and it would probably help if you closed the thesaurus as well.

On-The-Nose Writing

Prose that mirrors real life without advancing your story.

Paige’s phone chirped, telling her she had a call. She slid her bag off her shoulder, opened it, pulled out her cell, hit the Accept Call button and put it to her ear.       

“This is Paige,” she said.

“Hey, Paige.”

She recognized her fiancé’s voice. “Jim, darling! Hello!”

We don’t need to be told that the chirp told her she had a call, that her phone is in her purse, that her purse is over her shoulder, that she has to open it to get her phone, push a button to take the call, identify herself to the caller, be informed who it is.  I think you’re getting the point.

Narrative Dumps

Prose that comes out of nowhere and does nothing but describe, is known as a ‘narrative dump’. It can bring your story to a stand still and pull your reader out of the action. Instead of progressing through your storyline, they find themselves on the outside looking in.

I’m not saying you can’t use description. Description is good and helps your reader visualize characters, settings, and much more. But it should be used sparingly. It should add to and enhance your sentence, not distract and overtake it.

One word of caution when using research material to make your story more authentic, remember your research and detail are the seasoning for the story. Don’t make them centerstage. You don’t want to overwhelm your readers with unnecessary information.

Head Hopping

If you switch POV characters to quickly or dive into the heads of too many characters at once, it can Jar the reader and break the intimacy with the scenes main character. In other words, going back and forth between POV characters, can give a reader whiplash. You should never have more than one POV character per scene.

You should also avoid run-on sentences, close the thesaurus (I think you know what I’m getting at), and purchase a copy of ‘The Elements of Style’ by Strunk and White-I’m just saying 🙂

-Jan R

Avoid Speed Bumps

Remember – Pacing Is a Tool!

Pacing sets the tempo of your novel. How fast or slow it moves depends on the function of the scene and the intent of the author. As discussed in a previous blog, you can speed your story up or slow it down depending on how you use exposition and action.

Intensely dramatic or violent scenes can be either fast or slow depending on your intent. If you slow down the scene, you can ring out the last bit of suspense and mystery, as well as heighten the drama by stretching out something that occurs in seconds.

Sudden shifts in pacing from slow to fast can shock your reader and make your book memorable. Nicholas Spark’s books are a great example of sudden shifts in pacing. In his books, Message In a Bottle and The Best Of Me, he uses the entire book to build a relationship between the main characters only to kill one of them off on the last page. I was totally shocked and a little mad after reading those books. I like happy endings. But he achieved what he set out to do. They evoked strong emotions and I’ve never forgotten them.

Tolkein’s, The Lord Of The Rings vacillates between exposition and action. The varied pace and information provided, allows us to visit middle earth and participate in its history.

Remember, fast pacing is action-packed leaving your reader breathless, and slow pacing is meditative and dramatic.

While I love action-packed, fast-paced books, I realize we need exposition to give the reader a breather and prepare them for what comes next. Balance is the key.

Pacing is an important part of your novel, and if you are a novice, it’s something you probably haven’t given much thought too.  I know I didn’t. I love to read and knew that some of the books I read were more fast-paced than others, but didn’t stop to think that the author intentionally wrote them that way.

When you begin the editing process, pacing is another fundamental to add to your list of things to review.

Hope this helped.

-Jan R

Remember – Pacing Is a Tool!

Common Mistakes New Authors Make

  1. Leading with the setup. If you’re like me, you thought you needed to give your reader some information up front so they could better understand your characters and what was going on. I guess it was a little boring, but my reader was well prepared for the good stuff they never got to 🙂 Setup, regardless of how well written, is boring. Try to weave in small amounts at a time.
  2. Telling too much. Yes, I’m guilty of this one too. Remember backstory and passive voice distance the reader from the action. If your reader’s sense of immediacy is lost, meaning she can’t visualize the events as they occur, you may lose her.
  3. Scenes that lack conflict. You probably guessed I was guilty of this one too 🙂 I had scenes that were nothing but backstory and setup. I really feel bad for the family members and friends I asked to read my finished manuscript.
  4. Writing unsympathetic characters.  Yes, I got this one right 🙂 Readers want to connect emotionally with the heroine and hero. They want to root for them, laugh with them, and cry with them. Clearly establish the character’s motivation for behaving in any manner that might make them appear unsympathetic.
  5. Giving the reader a reason to stop reading. Don’t allow a chapter or scene to end in an anti-climactic moment. Always end scenes/chapters with a hook. And yes, I’m guilty of this one too 🙂

Something to think about!

-Jan R

Common Mistakes New Authors Make

Are You Sure It’s Ready?

Everybody wants to get published. Once my first manuscript was completed, I didn’t hesitate to send it out. I knew it had a few grammatical and structural errors. There’s no way you can catch them all. That’s what an editor is for, right? My story was so good, or so I thought, an agent would jump on it and have their editors correct my mistakes.

Well, that wasn’t exactly what happened. I’ve written numerous posts outlining the errors I made in that first very, very rough draft. When you begin your writing career, odds are you don’t know what you don’t know. Writing a publishable piece of work isn’t easy.

I received a rejection letter from every agent I submitted to with the exception of one, who I like to think saw a promising new author in that mess somewhere. She did reject my work as well, but instead of sending a form letter, she praised what was right and pointed out what was wrong.

Her list was long, and I was more than a little shocked once I realized how rough that first draft really was. She used words like head-hopping, writtenese, and dragging dialogue. That didn’t even include the grammatical and structural errors. You know, the ones the editor was going to correct :-), although she pointed those out too.

Do your homework and remember, that first draft is the first draft. Get it done, then get it good.

Something to think about!

-Jan R

Are You Sure It’s Ready?

You Can’t Do This Alone!

I remember my middle sister as a child. She would often be found sitting in the corner with her nose in a book. She didn’t play well with others. Well to be honest, she didn’t want to play with anyone at all.  Her friends were imaginary. I always thought that she was a little strange, and she probably was, but she is also one of the most talented writers I know.

You haven’t heard of her or read any of her work. Why? Because she writes in a vacuum. I have encouraged her for years to reach out and join the writing community.

She is an introvert, like most of us who seem to enjoy the keyboard much more than a group of pretentious people. I would be okay with that if she belonged to writing groups, or had people she related to that could help motivate her to move forward with her craft.

You don’t have to interact with others face to face, at least not at first. If that’s not your cup of tea, go online. Join writing groups and form relationships with other author want-to-bes. There are some great ones out there that cater to just what you’re looking for.

Critique groups:

  • Scribophile.com
  • AbsoluteWrite.com
  • CritiqueCircle.com

I am a member of Scribophile. It’s a great site to seek critiques and suggestions from fellow writers. Members on this site operate at different levels of expertise. I have gotten some great feedback, but I have also received feedback that was not up to par. I was pleasantly surprised at the community in the group and the willingness of total strangers to help me with my work.

Genre-Specific groups:

  • Romance Writers of America  rwa.org
  • Mystery Writers of America    mysterywriters.org
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America   sfwa.org

I think you’re getting the picture. I was a member of Romance Writers of America and need to renew. You can get excellent information and discounts from these sites. They will keep you informed on contests, conferences, writing groups/forums, what’s selling, agents looking for new works, and information on how to improve your craft.

Remember, you can’t do this alone!

Something to think about.

-Jan R

You Can’t Do This Alone!