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

What’s The Draw?

What’s the draw? What makes you pick up a book and proceed to the next step? Most likely the first thing that catches your attention is the cover. At least that’s the first thing I notice. I do look at the title, but unless it’s something totally overboard, it doesn’t stop me from taking the next step.

I was at a discount store this past week looking at books. An employee had put the price tag over the face of the heroine on a book that I was interested in purchasing. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted so bad to yank that tag off.

The cover matters, and yes, that tag could have been a deal breaker. I did see enough of the cover to know that it was an inspirational romance set in the civil war era. That was a plus and enough to encourage me to read the back cover to determine the premise of the story.

I know some people read the first couple of pages, but I have to admit that is not something I do when determining my selection. Maybe I’m shallow. I have no doubt I have missed out on a lot of great books because the cover failed to get my attention.

I can tell you this, the process of determination I use to choose a book appears to be the norm based on my observations of others in book stores. The author’s name may catch a customer’s attention, but when they pull that book off the shelf, they look at the cover and then read the summary on the back before deciding to purchase.

Just something to think about as you prepare to publish your work. What’s important to you. What compels you to choose one book over another?

-Jan R

What’s The Draw?

Writing Seamless Dialogue

Any one that follows me, knows I write blogs on the issues I am having. I figured that if I was having problems with a certain aspect of writing, my readers probably were too. Especially the newbies like myself.

Well one of the areas I experienced problems with was dialogue. I had an agent to return my work and tell me my dialogue was dragging. What was that suppose to mean? My people were having conversations and I thought they were pertinent to the story.

At any rate, after doing some research, and reading novels with my attention focused on the dialogue, I think I cracked the code 🙂

Dialogue should be seamlessly integrated into the story.  It should flow. If you can feel yourself reading, stopping for a brief conversation, and then reading again, something isn’t quite right.

Conversation works best when combined with thoughts, actions, and settings.  Don’t separate them but interweave them. People don’t stop to talk, they keep doing what they are doing unless it’s something really important that demands their full attention.

You can integrate by using setting, thought, and action in combination with dialogue.

Example:

The day had been crazy but it wasn’t over yet. Walking into the conference room, Mark  found Ellen sitting at the head of the table preparing packets for their upcoming meeting.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said walking over to offer assistance.

Handing him a few, she looked him in the eye, anger and disappointment written all over her face, “Isn’t that your norm?”

Mark grasped for something to say that would ease the tension between them and get him through this day. Staring at the packets he was at a loss. What she said was true and he couldn’t explain why. At least not now.

Easing herself up, she walked by him without saying another word.

“Well that didn’t go well at all,” he said quietly to himself as he continued to prepare for the meeting. He would attempt to smooth things over with his secretary later, but for now he had a business to save.

By interweaving thought, action, setting and dialogue, the scene moves forward seamlessly. I hope 🙂

If you just use dialogue you are witnessing a conversation. When you begin to interweave thoughts, actions, settings and dialogue you are pulling your reader in and making them a participant.

A really good exercise to help understand and follow this concept would be to write a simple conversation with no tags or anything.  Read it. Now go back and add tags. Read it again. Now go back and add more tags or actions. What was the person doing during the conversation? What about setting.  Where were they during the conversation?  You can even add thoughts. These aren’t conveyed through the conversation but because we are on the outside looking in, we can get a better idea of where the character is coming from.

Hope this series on writing dialogue helps you in your endeavors.  Would love for you to join me on this journey. Please consider pushing the follow button and you will receive a notice any time I write a new blog. Also if you have any comments or questions I would love to hear from you.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Writing Seamless Dialogue

Don’t Rush To Get Published

If you’re new to the process, you’re going to make mistakes. I’ve made them all. Well, I haven’t tried to self-publish so maybe that was an over-exaggeration, but not by much:-)

Everybody wants to get published. Once my story was written, I didn’t hesitate to send it out. I knew it had a few grammatical 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 make sure mistakes were corrected so it was ready for publication.

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

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 rejected my work as well, but 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 was. She used words like head-hopping, writtenese, and dragging dialogue. That didn’t even count the grammatical and structural errors. You know, the ones the editor was going to correct 🙂

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

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Don’t Rush To Get Published

Write!

I took a few month break from my blog. It was a mistake on many counts. What started out as a need to get away from everything turned into several months of doing nothing.

When I first started this blog about five years ago, I never missed a post. It wasn’t until this year that I got slack and decided it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I skipped a week. Well if you’re following me, you know that week turned into months. The more I skipped the easier it got.

Writing novels, poems, songs, whatever you’re interested in, can become the same way. Especially if you’re dealing with discouragement due to writer’s block, or rejections. If you’ve been around for a while, you’re going to face both of these dilemmas.

One of my favorite blogs is Battlefield of the Mind. I got the title and idea from a Bible study I participated in years ago. The study was wide sweeping, covering every aspect of life, whether you were a Christian or not.

The reason I brought this blog up is our mind is where it all begins. Not just our story ideas, but our motivation and ability to complete what we start.

What is your mind telling you? You’re not good enough? You’ll never have an agent? You might as well give up? It’s okay to take a break?

The problem with taking the break, is you get slack. It’s easier to skip the next time, and the next time, and the next time. Before you know it, you’re not even thinking about that blog or whatever else you’re writing, it’s been put on the shelf to gather dust.

Don’t give up! Keep moving forward! Write! Write! Write!

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Write!

Narrative Versus Exposition-They’re Not The Same (Revised)

NARRATIVE4I remember when I first started taking my writing seriously. I did a lot of research and read a lot of information on how to write a publishable novel. Somewhere along the way, I missed the part were narrative and exposition were not the same. As a matter of fact, I used the two interchangeably.

In response to one of my earlier blogs, a fellow blogger commented that she thought I was wrong in reference to a statement I had made concerning exposition and narrative. She, of course, was right, and as a result, I took a closer look at these two concepts.

Narrative

  • Narrative is your voice as the writer sharing information with your readers.
  • It tells the reader instead of showing.
  • Narrative lets you set the scene and give background information.
  • Used for transitions, it moves the reader from one scene to another.
  • It slows the pace.

Exposition

  • Exposition provides the detached, third-party perspective on a story.
  • Shows the reader what is happening, doesn’t tell them.
  • Uses description to inform and move the story forward.
  • Exposition gives the reader more information, more emotion, and helps with active scenes by quickening the pace.
  • Allows us to hear character thoughts.

In a nutshell, narrative is telling, exposition is showing. I found the following example during my research and thought it did a good job of showing what I am trying to explain.

Exposition: Brian stopped and reached into his pants pocket. He pulled out a lighter. Then, he reached into his lapel pocket for his pack of cigarettes and took one out. He placed the cigarette between his lips, cupped his hands, and lit it. After putting his lighter back in his pants pocket, he resumed walking.

Narration: Brian stopped to light a cigarette and resumed walking.

So much info on this subject. It still can be confusing, and it seems everyone has a different opinion. I would encourage you to do your own homework and think twice about using the two concepts interchangeably. They are not the same.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Narrative Versus Exposition-They’re Not The Same (Revised)

Friends Are Friends – Not Editors

download (3)In a recent blog, Maybe You Should Consider Biting The Bullet!  I talked about my experience with agents and my journey towards getting my book published. Needless to say it was disheartening. The response I got back, was it just wasn’t ready.

I thought about using an editor in the past, but didn’t really think I needed one. I’m very bright. I know how to read and work things out, so why should I  pay someone to edit my book for me?

I had friends read my work and point out mistakes.  After all, everybody knows you need another set of eyes besides your own. You are so close to your work, and have reviewed it so often, the mistakes are all but invisible.

If you have a friend that’s trained and knows how to review and edit manuscripts, that’s awesome, but most of us don’t. Those wonderful friends of ours who have volunteered their time, can read our work, and say yay or nay on the premise. They may catch a couple typos, misspellings, or missing commas. They may offer a suggestion or two to make the story a little more interesting. But it’s not fair or realistic to expect them to churn out a publishable piece of work.

I tried this route for years. I would get friends to read, go in and make the corrections they suggested, along with the ones that I found while making their suggested corrections and would send it in again.

As you probably guessed, it still wasn’t ready. It wasn’t until I got the chapter back from a professional that I realized why the agents, who took the time to comment, were saying it wasn’t ready. It wasn’t.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

 

Friends Are Friends – Not Editors