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

Do You Have That Elevator Speech Ready?

If you don’t have that elevator speech, you need to start thinking about it. Just because your plans don’t include a writer’s conference in the near future, doesn’t mean you don’t need one. I definitely don’t want you to fall into the same trap I did. Very embarrassing 🙂

I attended a work conference with my husband several years ago. It was a great getaway for me and a chance to focus on my novel without the distractions of home. Needless to say, I was enjoying myself and making some significant progress.

The last day of the conference, I was asked to join my husband and some of his peers for supper. I was surrounded by men talking shop, so all I had to do was smile and display exemplary dining skills, or so I thought.

About halfway through the meal, one of the men looked over at me and said, “Your husband told us what you do during the day while he is at the conference. We would love to hear a little more about your book. What’s it about?”

Well, I froze. My mind went totally blank. It was all I could do to control my suddenly out of whack emotions, as I turned to face this man who had the audacity to ask me such a question.

I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t have an Elevator Speech. I didn’t think I needed one. My novel was complete, but it wasn’t ready for prime time. I was totally incoherent and presented a jumbled mess.

I have that Elevator Speech now. I felt foolish and was totally caught off guard by men who were only trying to include me in the conversation. You never know when you’ll come across someone who’ll ask you what your book is about.

I’ll be prepared the next time. Plus, it will give me practice for when I do attend that writing conference, or get the opportunity to speak to an agent/author I just happen to run into at the airport.

Some things to keep in mind :

  • Remember when you are crafting your speech, you are talking to another human being.
  • You only have 30-60 seconds. Don’t try to tell them the entire story.
  • Content is as important as delivery. It doesn’t matter if it’s well delivered if it’s boring and uninspiring. Make them want to hear more!
  • If you are attending a conference, you don’t want to accost agents/editors-wait for an invite or an appropriate opening. They know why you are there. Introduce yourself. Engage in small talk, they will usually ask.
  •  Practice, practice, practice. You don’t want to memorize every word and sound like a robot or like you’re reading a teleprompter, but you do want your Elevator Speech to flow and be cohesive. You want it to sound natural.
  • Always be prepared and show passion.

If you haven’t prepared your speech, you need to start working on it. It’s just a matter of time. Somebody is going to ask.

-Jan R

Do You Have That Elevator Speech Ready?

Unrealistic Expectations (Revisited)

expectation-vs-reality-tumblr_m60u61r61j1r9in54o1_500_large-from-weheartit-comYou’re an aspiring author. Your ultimate goal is to find a great agent and get published. Who doesn’t want to be the author of that blockbuster book/movie of the year with a million-dollar payout?

Newbies have a tendency to set unrealistic expectations. I’m not saying you won’t achieve your goal, but odds are, you’re going to have to start at the bottom and work your way up like the rest of us.

I’m not trying to discourage you. You can do this. I’m just trying to help you set realistic goals. I want you to be prepared not only for success, but the failures that you will most likely incur along the way.

There are some things you can and should be doing as you build your platform and prepare that first novel for publishing.

  1.  Get your life out of the way. You don’t have control over everything that goes on around you. We all have situations that arise. Don’t allow them to impede your daily writing time.
  2.  Find a trusted friend or spouse who will listen and respond intelligently. You need a cheerleader/an accountability partner.
  3. Until you become successful, write in one genre. Once you’ve achieved success, you can spread your wings and venture into different areas.
  4.  Don’t be picky about where you get published initially. Use your experience and publications to build on new ones. You will get there.
  5.  Learn what’s selling. You want to cater to your customers.
  6.  Develop tough skin. You will probably hear a lot of things you don’t want to hear. Everybody has an opinion. Let it roll off your back!
  7. If a bad review holds merit, adjust your writing and admit your mistakes. This is a learning process. You won’t get everything right the first time.
  8. Don’t give up! The number one characteristic of successful authors is as you probably guessed, they’re persistent. Don’t allow a bad review or hateful word to get in your way.

Some things to think about 🙂

-Jan R

Unrealistic Expectations (Revisited)

Don’t Forget Those Minor Characters!

Don’t forget those minor characters

Your main characters may need some work, but for this particular blog I would like to focus on those ‘fly by’ characters that step into your novel, do what you want them to do, and then disappear never to be heard of again.

I received a critique a while back in regards to four minor characters in my novel. “A lot of new characters have been introduced, and they all run together in my mind. I think more time needs to be spent developing these characters as individuals rather than some generic group of friends.”

The lady that provided the critique was right. I didn’t provide any description of these characters. Except for the fact that they had names, you would have had no idea which one I was using in the scene. I didn’t think descriptions were necessary. They served one purpose and one purpose only. They did their job and disappeared.

Well shortly after receiving the critique,  I bumped into an article on Minor Characters in the Writers Digest I was reading. Maybe somebody was trying to tell me something.

According to Elizabeth Sims, who wrote the article, if the person is important enough to exist in the world of your story, let your readers picture that existence.

When you introduce minor characters, you should have one or better two details.  He was as wide as he was tall, and talked with a lisp.

Even characters who exist in passing should exist in the readers eye. For a literally glancing description, make it visual. The freckle faced boy stuck his tongue out at us, then turned to go inside.

If you have a group-Pan the crowd and then zoom in. Give one or two details describing them all, and then move in to one person as the representative.  The demonstrators walked down Main street waving their signs and shouting obscenities.  “Where is  Mayor Blackman? ” shouted a tall, gray haired man at the front of the line.

-Jan R

Don’t Forget Those Minor Characters!

Ing – The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

gerund_onlyOne of my favorite posts deals with ‘ing’ words. They’re there. Sometimes they take over your story without you even realizing it, and other times they get lost in the background. Take a closer look at your prose. Especially in those areas that aren’t reading as smoothly as you would like. Maybe you will discover you are having a love affair with ‘ing’. These ‘ing’ words are all over the place.

Once I discovered my love affair with ‘ing’, I stopped the revision process and did some research on ‘ing’. I remembered reading somewhere, that the overuse of ‘ing’ words was not a good thing.

Opportunities to overuse the ‘ing’ word are boundless. There are nouns, adjectives, verbs, and even verbs masquerading as nouns called gerunds, all ending in ‘ing’.

So what’s the big deal? What’s wrong with ‘ing’ words?

The overuse of ‘ing’ words mark you as an amateur – Don’t be alarmed if you see more than a handful on one page. Do take a closer look if you see more than a handful in a single paragraph.

While wrapping a soothing sling around the fledgling’s broken wing, Diana was humming, dreaming of her prince charming. Yet troubling thoughts about his depressing friend Starling kept intruding, interrupting her very entertaining daydreams. There was something intriguing and alarming about him.

‘ing’ verbs weaken your writing and make it clumsy and hard to read .                                                                                                                                                                    Abigail was walking along the bike trail. There was a boy riding his bike. He was smiling up at her as she passed. She started wondering what the boy was so happy about.

Abigail walked along the bike trail. A boy smiled at her as he rode passed. She wondered what he was so happy about.

Starting a sentence with an ‘ing’ word is the weakest way to begin a sentence.

Hitting the thug in the face with her purse, Josie reached for her phone.

Josie hit the thug in the face with her purse and reached for her phone.

To identify overuse of ‘ing’ words in your writing, try this:

  1. Use the “search” or “find” function in your word processing app(usually under editing).
  2. Use ‘ing’ as your search term.
  3. Examine each ‘ing’ word you find.
  4. Ask whether the ‘ing’ word is essential to meaning.
  5. Determine whether a simple past or other tense might work better.
  6. Decide if a stronger word choice might be the way to go.

Once you identify ‘ing’ words, replace weak or common ones with specific, stronger word choices. Your writing will become more concise, clear, and engaging.

Remember, not all ‘ing’ words are bad. The issue is whether or not you have made the best word choice.

So much info on the internet. You get the cliff notes. Hope they help, or at least get you thinking  🙂

-Jan R

Ing – The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly