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

Speculative, Upmarket, Dystopian?

huhI’ve been reading literary agent biographies and blogs in an attempt to narrow my search and find a few I think would be a good fit for my novel.

While researching, I found myself going on-line and doing searches for words and abbreviations that were totally foreign to me: MG, Dystopian, MS, Upmarket, and so on. I guess I still have a lot to learn.

At any rate, I thought I could save you some time by sharing a list of not so common words and abbreviations that I found during my research.

  • MS:  Abbreviation for manuscript (the plural being MSS).
  • MG:  Middle grade-ages 8-12.
  • YA:  Young adult-ages 12-18.
  • NA:  New adult: features a protagonist 18-25 and focuses on the first struggles of adulthood.
  • Speculative Fiction:  Fiction that encompasses supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements.
  • Upmarket:  Fiction with a commercial appeal (book clubs) particularly women’s fiction.
  • Dystopian:  A futuristic, imagined universe, in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technical, moral, or totalitarian control.
  • Literary Fiction: Serious fiction, style and technique are often as important as the subject matter.
  • Commercial Fiction:  Written with the purpose of attracting as wide an audience as possible. It includes westerns, romance, mysteries, and horror genres.

I’m sure I missed a few. Who knew there were so many different categories?

I guess I’m old school. In my day it was westerns, romance, mysteries, comedies, and horror. Oh yeah, you can throw children books and youth in there as well.

-Jan R

Speculative, Upmarket, Dystopian?

Don’t Put Them To Sleep!

sleeping-in-classWhen you’re writing, you need to mix things up.  You don’t want to be the one that puts your reader to sleep.

You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all had teachers or sat through sermons that literally put us to sleep. How embarrassing! You can’t hide the little jerk of the head when you catch yourself and attempt to shake it off. You know what I’m talking about.

There are many different things you can do to add a little excitement and keep your reader’s attention, but one thing you have to avoid is monotony. Change those sentences up.  Use structure and length for change of pace to slow down or speed up your prose.

WHAT NOT TO DO!

Suzie entered the boutique. She looked around for dresses. She walked over to the semi-formals. The store owner said hello. She picked the one she liked. She walked over to the counter. The owner rang her up. She handed her the money. She left with a smile.

Now there’s a lot of things wrong with this paragraph from the style perspective, but there are no grammatical or structural errors -I hope :-). It has strong verbs and nouns. They are both good and necessary elements, but something isn’t quite right.

It’s a string of segregated sentences that can stand on their own. It’s also composed of sentences similar in length and cadence.

You need to vary the length. Change the beat every now and then. 7-14 word sentences are recommended as they feel more natural. Nobody talks like that paragraph was written. Well, nobody except that boring teacher or preacher that put you to sleep 🙂

By the way, did you finish reading that short paragraph? 🙂

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Don’t Put Them To Sleep!

Are You Providing That Emotional Experience? (Revisited)

forbetterforworseimageI can’t count how many times I’ve heard the phrase, ‘show don’t tell’. We all know you’re suppose to show and not tell. Why? You want the reader to experience the scene as if they are one of the characters walking through the story with the hero/heroine.

If you’re like me, you know what you’re supposed to do, but you don’t really understand what to do to make it happen. How do I show and not tell? It’s a lot harder than it sounds. Once you start writing that novel, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

There are 5 tools for showing:

  • Dialogue
  • Action
  • Interior dialogue
  • Interior emotion
  • Description-Sensory

If you’re doing anything that’s not one of these 5 things, you’re not showing.

Why is it so important to show versus tell? Showing provides your reader with a powerful emotional experience. If you want to be a best selling author, that’s what you have to do.

It doesn’t matter how great you do everything else in that novel if you’re missing that emotional experience, you lose. If everything you do is bad, but you have a great emotional experience, you may still win.

It all comes down to the takeaway. Every great novelist will tell you, you have to give your reader that powerful emotional experience or they won’t be coming back.

Something to think about 🙂

-Jan R

Are You Providing That Emotional Experience? (Revisited)

Writers Live The Life – Right? (Revisited)

read on beachMost people think writers live the life. Writers lay around in pajamas writing stories and making millions of dollars. They control their schedule, and of course, travel to exotic places all over the world.

I can picture it now. I’m sitting on a lounge chair, drinking a cold glass of lemonade, and looking out as the waves roll in before I turn my attention back to my computer and start typing my flawless manuscript. I can’t believe I got it perfect the first time 🙂

Only a handful of writers live out even part of that scenario, and that’s because they have become so successful they can afford to visit or live at those exotic places, and of course, sip their drink of choice while laying on the beach typing their next bestseller.

For the rest of us, reality is very different.  If you want to become a writer, it’s a tough road.  I wanted to take a few minutes to give you a reality check.  I have listed a few things a writer has to do other than writing.

  • Writers are continuously reading books in their genre and how-to books/tips on writing. We analyze what works and what doesn’t work. How can we use this information to improve our own writing?
  • Writers have to plan. What other books are we going to write? What’s next? We develop a strategy and create outlines for our books.
  • Writers have to do research, especially if the storyline takes place in a different time period or location that we are unfamiliar with.
  • Writers have to network. Someone’s eyes, other than our own, must read our work. This is accomplished through participation in critique groups and attending conferences.
  • Writers edit, analyze, eliminate redundancies, and then edit some more before they even send work out to critique groups.
  • Writers have to market and promote their work. Another reason to attend conferences. You will also find writers on Facebook, Twitter, and keeping up with an active Website.
  • Writers have to learn to accept rejection. Unfortunately, it’s a major part of the business. Writers receive many more rejections than acceptances.
  • Also just like everybody else, Writers live. They have families and many have full-time jobs.

So if you’re thinking writers live the life, think again. Writing has to be your passion. It’s the motivator that will get you through and ensure your success.

-Jan R

Writers Live The Life – Right? (Revisited)