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

Write What You Mean-Be Concise!

Are you writing what you mean? Is your prose concise and easy to understand? You may have one thing in mind when you write that sentence, only to discover it’s ambiguous, misleading, and sometimes quite humorous.

Dangling modifier- When a sentence  isn’t clear about what’s being modified it dangles. Keep in mind modifiers should be near what they modify. These are probably my favorite messed up sentences. While I hope I haven’t written or submitted any for publishing, I’m sure I’ve dangled a few in my time. They are confusing, but on the bright side, very funny.                                                                                                    The company’s refrigerator held microwavable lunches for 18 employees frozen in the top compartment.

Misplaced modifier- A phrase or clause placed awkwardly in a sentence so that it appears to modify or refer to an unintended word.                                                                                                                                                              Lex called to talk about the meeting yesterday. Did Lex call yesterday or was the meeting yesterday? I’m confused.

Ambiguous writing– It’s not spelled out. You didn’t provide enough information for your reader to understand what you were trying to say. Ambiguous writing can leave your reader more confused than a misplaced modifier .               My older students know I say what I mean. Are the student’s older in age or have they just been in his class a lot longer? It could mean either of the two.

Make sure you are saying what you mean. Be concise!

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Write What You Mean-Be Concise!

Sentences-Long Or Short?

Have you ever read a sentence and thought that is way too long? The author lost you two commas ago, and now you have to go back and read the whole thing again to try and figure out what’s going on.

Or maybe you read a short sentence, followed by another short sentence, and another, and you’re thinking whoa, slow down.

There’s not a set rule for short or long. The sentence length you choose depends a lot on what you are trying to accomplish. There are good reasons for those long, lost me a long time ago sentences, and short, what just happened sentences. It’s up to you to decide when to use them, given the context of your writing.

What do short sentences do?

  • Create tension-When an author starts using short sentences, it’s usually a sign that something is about to happen.—-The dog growled. His teeth flashed. Jake turned. It was too late.
  • Call the attention of a reader to a significant detail—She walked past Central Park in Manhattan with her head held high. Gorgeous woman. Long blond hair. Blue eyes. Impeccable taste.
  • Present sudden events-Out-of-the-blue actions that no one was expecting.—-We sat quietly enjoying our meal at the local fast-food restaurant. Boom! “What was that?” I turned to see people rushing toward the gas station up the street.
  • Summarize the ideas presented in the long paragraph or sentence.

What do long sentences do?

  • Develop tension-While the short sentence is imminent, culminating with the actual event being acted out, the long sentence adds to the suspense, hinting at a situation in the process of developing.
  • Give vivid description-depicting a setting, love scene, or someone’s appearance.—Autumn came without special invitation coloring the trees in orange, yellow and red, whispering the cold in our ears and hiding the warm sun rays from our eyes.
  • Investigates arguments, ideas, or facts thoroughly.

Although long sentences have the smell of the old-fashioned 19th-century romantic prose, the usage of the long sentence in modern creative writing has its place. When it comes to writing artistic literature, fairy tales, ghost stories, or mysteries, don’t underestimate the effects of short sentences.

Hope this didn’t confuse you too much. To sum it up, there’s a time and place for everything 🙂

-Jan R

Sentences-Long Or Short?

Do You Have Unrealistic Expectations?

You’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 successes 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

Do You Have Unrealistic Expectations?

Underlying Elements

Yes, I have written about this before, but these elements are important and deserve a second look. There are four main dramatic elements to your novel. You probably never thought about it, but if you did it right, they are there. If they’re missing, you need to revisit your work and make some adjustments.

That’s one of the nice things about writing. Nothing is set in stone, and when equipped with time and knowledge, you can change anything.

So back to the blog and the elements that I was referring to.

  1. Passion – yours not the Novels. Write something that you are passionate about. If you’re not passionate, it will come through. What’s important to you?  What are you trying to get across? What do you want to be the takeaway?
  2. Theme – what your reader takes away from reading your story.  Yes, the theme and passion can be the same thing and probably are in a great many cases. Examples of theme would be, belief in yourself or all things work for the good of those who serve the Lord. 
  3. Flaws – your character must have flaws. They don’t have to be exaggerated or grotesque but face it, nobody is perfect. Talk about a boring read. The flaw could be as simple as a lack of confidence or the inability to put the past behind them.  The character doesn’t have confidence,  so the theme would probably be, believe in yourself. Note how they can work hand in hand and build on each other.
  4.  Premise – What if a (flawed character)(encounters some problem) and had to (overcome the flaw) to (solve the problem). You know your story. Fill in the blanks. Does it make sense? Is it enthralling or boring?

One of the things that the agent wrote to me after rejecting my work, was I had a great premise. It was a silver lining to a dark cloud that sprung up after the initial shock of being rejected. And while I thought the passion and theme were there, my characters were not flawed, which means that my passion and theme were probably weak.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Underlying Elements