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

Say What You Mean!

Organize-Your-ThoughtsIf you find yourself reading a sentence more than once, or adding information for clarification, that’s a red flag.

Your reader has less information than you. If you are confused by your work, you can only imagine what your reader is going through. I love a great mystery, but my writing shouldn’t be one.

It’s not the reader’s job to interpret your work. You should be clear and concise.  If your writing causes a pause something isn’t working.

I have to admit I love dangling modifiers though. They are some of my favorite mess-ups. I even wrote a blog entitled ‘just for laughs’. They are funny, but not in the middle of a serious scene. You don’t have to try to hard to imagine how quickly they can pull your reader out of their suspension of disbelief.

Dangling modifiers occur when the modifier has no clear referent, and twist the meaning of your sentence in an unintended fashion.

  • I saw a tree walking down the street. Who knew a tree could walk 🙂
  •  The babysitter handed out sandwiches to all the children in Ziplock bags. I just want to know how those children got in those bags 🙂

Misplaced modifiers are similar but not nearly as fun to read. As with dangling modifiers, there is no clear referent, which can lead to a clumsy and confusing sentence.

  • Lucy carefully studied the situation.                                                                                 Lucy studied the situation carefully.

Another mistake new writers make that isn’t always as obvious but makes for a clumsy sentence that will cause a pause is comma splicing.

Comma splicing is when two sentences are linked by a comma but they don’t really work because they’re two separate ideas.

  • John saw the rabid fox and ran to the house to get his gun, he forgot to eat lunch and his tummy rumbled.

What about ambiguous sentences? The sentence is grammatically and structurally sound, but the reader has no idea what you are talking about.

  • My older students know I’m extremely careful with my language. Is the teacher referring to age or length of time the students have been in his class?

Be clear and concise! Say What You Mean!

Something else to think about.

-Jan R

 

Say What You Mean!

Thursday Thoughts

headercreativeexercisesToday’s readers want less description and more action. The strongest stories start with a bang. Readers are drawn to stories where authors pose a question, establish a dilemma, or otherwise inspire curiosity right from the start, creating the turn-the-page urgency that readers crave.  Jane K. Cleland Writers Digest

Something to think about.

-Jan R

 

Thursday Thoughts

Strong Nouns (Revisited)

untitled.pngWe’ve talked about weak and strong verbs, but did you know the same holds true for nouns? I never really thought about it, until I took an online class that talked about strong and weak nouns. My first thought on weak nouns; the instructor has to be referring to pronouns. Well, he wasn’t and that is a subject for another day.

Strong nouns can help your reader picture what/who the writer is talking about immediately. The author doesn’t have to describe the person, place, or thing. We get it. The more specific the noun, the clearer the picture.

If I wrote a city, dog, or car in a sentence, you would picture your version of the city, dog, or car in your mind. While these nouns aren’t bad, they could be made stronger. An upgrade would be; New York City, German Shepherd, or Ford Mustang. While you may want to make that mustang candy apple red, it doesn’t need much more detail to get a clear picture of the author’s intent.

Names are also strong nouns. Cinderella, Clark Kent, and Harry Potter, all conjure up strong images in your mind.

Weak nouns require additional information to create a clear image in your mind.  The weaker the noun, the more information you will need to provide.

Most weak or dead nouns end in ‘tion’. Examples would be publication, devotion, recitation, adaptation.

These nouns tend to way your sentences down and as stated above, require more detail to produce a clear image. The best way to address these weak nouns, is to change them back into verbs, and rework the sentence.

The couple’s separation occurred at the end of the year.

The couple separated at the end of the year.

Just something else to think about while you’re writing that best selling novel 🙂

-Jan R

Strong Nouns (Revisited)

Thursday Thoughts

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer makes all his sentences short, or that he avoid all the detail and treat his subject only in outline, but that every word tell.”

William Strunk, Jr.

-Jan R

Thursday Thoughts