We’re Almost There….

October 25, 2013

HELP quoteMy New Author’s site is nearly up and running, I figure another week or two and things will be ready. Until then, let me set the way-back machine to an old post you might enjoy, titled: ‘Let Your Story Tell the Reader About It◄ Click to read

For some of you recent followers, it may be brand new. Either way, feel free to re-blog it or post a comment. Happy Writing everyone.

And remember, there’s a new book out:

Gotta e-reader? pick up “Tell Me (How to Write) A Story” Good, Basic Advice for Novices Ready To Write. By EJ Runyon
US: http://tinyurl.com/kkcfsjz
UK: http://tinyurl.com/kjon5ub
CA: http://tinyurl.com/klq7ls9
IN: http://tinyurl.com/lv8wnwh

 

 

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Cat at laptop, writing fiction

Mitten’s 2013 Camp NaNo effort

 

At the next stop sign we pass a junkyard. Rusted body parts, strewn all around the yard, lean up against the chain links like they’re begging for release.

Can you see that the use of like here isn’t a clichéd simile (like a flash, like a hurricane) or an average description (Rusted body parts are strewn  around the yard)? Read the rest of this entry »

Telling sentences begin like this:  I stand…  Sara looks around…  He waits with a…   We wish …   I sit here…Bob looks to the …

These are forms of you the writer telling the reader about the character. We can hear you saying these words. Your voice is at the forefront.

That may be fine for one line of narration. But to slip into scenes that show you  have to make a shift in your writing.  A writer’s voice needs to fade into the background. She needs to narrate her story from there. Read the rest of this entry »

You can begin your first draft like this:

Joseph stood on her front porch but didn’t knock. The wind as it was coming from the east, made his eyes squint.

She opened the door. Saw him there, and she nodded and smiled.

 In one way, it’s a nice way to start. You aren’t over using state-of-being verbs, like was or were, or the helpers words like as and had been, too much.

The verbs here are stood, knock, was, coming, made, squint, opened, saw, nodded, and smiled. But it is a lot of stage direction for the wind, Joseph and someone named she.

 ON second glance, you have to admit, these lines are mostly story facts. The ‘Where folks are’, the ‘What they did, movement wise’. There’s not a lot of storytelling here yet.

 

We aren’t given many suggestions about anyone’s emotions, or motivations, there’s no hints at why we should be watching these folks, yet. It seems like first drafts fall into the trap of ‘get the movements down first’. And they read like ‘story-notes’ more than they do first tries at storytelling.

What is Joseph feeling as he stands there?

What about the wind is so evocative that you felt it needs mentioning?

This she you are telling us about, what’s making her smile and nod at seeing Joseph?

 

Did you write up scene notes before you began writing? If you did, what kind of verbs did you use in those notes? Are your notes writing in strong, active verbs?

Or like this:

Joseph will be at the door. Mary will be glad to see him.

If you didn’t write up scene notes at all, you may be writing by accident.

 

Let’s say you did write up some notes about the scene. But they were very ‘will be’ style. How can we fix that opening now that it’s on the page?

 

Well, we can go back to questions like above, about emotions, or motivations, or reactions.

What is Joseph feeling as he stands there?

What about the wind is so evocative that you felt it needs mentioning?

This she you are telling us about, what’s making her smile and nod at seeing Joseph?

 

Ask yourself some questions about what you want to show us. Go beyond the telling us stuff of story-facts and movements. Get into the why of things.

            Joseph’s nervous that’s why he doesn’t just knock.

I’ll show that by how the wind makes him react.

Mary, at the door, won’t unlatch the screen, but she won’t be able to stop from smiling because he’s there.

 

Now you have something to work with for showing us the story behind these two folks at this door, on this porch.

 Look a this compared to what we began with:

Joseph stood on Mary’s front porch, feeling like a soggy morning paper, limp and forgotten there.  He wanted so much to be braver than he felt, but he couldn’t get himself to knock. The wind, from the east, felt like an icy finger poked into his ear, it made his eyes squint and tear. At least he told himself that was why his eyes felt wet.

She opened the door, surprised, but didn’t automatically reach for the screen’s latch like she would have yesterday. Though Joseph could see in her eyes, the secret smile as she nodded. Maybe there was hope after all

 By taking the original lines, asking the why behind it, and then using commas to expand your thoughts you end up bringing in the story to mix and mingle with your story-facts.

Joseph is feeling like a soggy morning paper, limp and forgotten there. This tells us there might be a problem somewhere.

The wind, an icy finger, poked into his ear, making his eyes squint and tear, is now nearly an inanimate character that makes Joseph react. The line that then follows makes sure we know there’s a problem here.

We then see Mary though Joseph’s eyes, not through the narrator’s eyes, this is a great way (reaction) to show rather than tell the reader stuff in a storytelling way.

Then, we see what Joseph’s thinking about when he sees Mary’s eyes. And we see that the problem might be solvable.

 

Story-facts into storytelling.

Try this type of questioning with your story-facts. What did you mean behind the movements of your characters?  Figure it out, add it to what you began with, and expand your stage directions.

Bring in the story.

I advise my coaching clients to read often and widely. I offer them novel titles and examples from novels when I want to broaden what I’ve taught them. Because if a writer has moved you with their way of setting words on the page, then that is an author to study.

If a coaching client is trying a scene with an element of narration told in summary, or of horror shown in common objects, or of emotional upheavals, extensive fighting action, dialogue where no one is saying what they really mean, or any other bit of  writing done well, I turn to novels for examples of how that can be done.

They are a novice’s best textbook.

Even novices who are attempting genre work can use an extensive reading-base to learn better writing. Moving your reading lists to outside your own genre is a smart move. So don’t stick to what you write. Go wider and deeper, use what you read as a textbook for what you want to try, or want to try avoiding in your writing.

I even show some clients the ‘Click to Look Inside’ feature on Amazon, to show them the opening pages of some self-published novels that I feel have just missed the mark of what their author may have intended. Because there are also things to learn from work that is not as stellar as its author could have it. And unfortunately, more and more Indy publications seem to fit that description in our rush to self-publish.

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Want one-on-one coaching or story edits in this and other craft elements?

See the side panel for my contact info.

Make you writing all it can be before you send it off for self-publishing.

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If you like the way something is written, then take notes about what you liked. These can serve as prompts to your own writing.

Example:

Let’s say your note from your reading says:

Look how this author stopped the scene on a flat phrase. There’s no reply, but I can tell what would have been next.

Then the next scene comes in on them in action.

You can use that note to build two scenes of your own, one that will end on a flat phrase, and one that will start in the middle of the action that follows.

Your story notes have just gotten a bit more precise. You have a plan now, and an example of what that plan looks like in action, there on the page. It’s almost like the textbook novels you read and take notes from are training wheels that help you get rolling with your own story.

Try it. Stop writing accidentally. Read something from an author you admire to learn how to better your writing. Open all those Look Inside views of books that are self published, take notes on what works for you. And what you see that doesn’t, that might be done better. Use that info to make your own writing stronger and cleaner.

Let’s hear from you in the comments.

Do your novel’s characters seem bland? A bit too average? Nothing setting them apart from anyone else you have walking around in your pages?

Want to work on that?  Here’s how.

The trick here (and for novices it is tricky) is to come at this problem backwards.

Don’t say to yourself, Humm, I need to make this gal or guy more quirky.  They just do the same old things everyone does. How can they be more I don’t know, better? This character needs more—umph!

Instead, work from what you know.

Don’t think of your characters at all yet. Just think of things you know about people.

What do you know about boys, girls, men, or women?

Not what we all know – that general stuff, those are just clichés that society knows about people.

I’m talking about what you’ve personally experienced in your life about boys, classmates, brothers, girls, cousins, men, nieces, women, or ex’s.

These are the bits of knowledge that bring your writing up a notch, and bring your characters to life.

The tricky part is that what you know is applied randomly.

So don’t ask yourself  What do I know about private investigators, or single dads, or bad boyfriends?

That’s coming at things head on.

We’re trying for tricky here – and what needs tricking is your preconceived notions of what you think you know about boys, classmates, brothers, girls, cousins, men, nieces, women, or ex’s.

For instance: I know that an old friend of mine, when he cooked, would talk to himself in a low voice all though the prep; lovingly narrating every move he made.

That quirk of self-talk in the kitchen is something unique that I can take from my actual life knowledge and use as a character’s quirk— in any of my novels. Luckily, it could be used differently on any PI, or a single dad, or a bad boyfriend character I write.

Drawing on character knowledge of this sort will work far better than those societal clichés we all assume we know about people. He is a silent type. She can be a harridan. Teens are disgruntled or sullen.

Those things are rather abstract. The act of self-talk in a character is a bit more concrete.

Now, if you feel you’re not a novice, perhaps you’re a 2nd Tier writer, there is even more you can do.

Ask yourself how this character’s quirk would differ from character to character? That is refining uniqueness for the needs of your story. It also exercises refinement of how you might use the character trait in your character.

How can it be applied on that investigator? How can it be switched up so that it’s nothing as how it would be used for a single dad, or a bad boyfriend? How can you do some serious writing to find what’s uniquely characteristic about your characters?

If all three of these characters are in your story, and you run this exercise for all three of them, one will work a lot better than the others and that is who you’ll give this quirky habit to.

To find that out you’ll need to put that found quirk into a unique circumstance or scene. It doesn’t have to do with your plot (though that’s good if it does); it is there to heighten your characters’ uniqueness so that the reader sees him as real.

Example:

Private investigatorhe’s contemplating going to AA and the self-talk he does waiting in his car while on a case is his way hearing what he’ll sound like if he ever gets up the courage to go to a meeting.

 Single dadHe’s outside the kid’s room, in the hallway, and overhears his two sons mimicking that self-talk Dad does and in a flash, realizes he’s doing okay by them after all, no matter what anyone says.

 Bad boyfriendHe’s there on the couch after a fight, doing that self-talk thing again. But this time your character hears him running baby names options, mixing them with his last name, then a hyphenated version of the FMC’s and his. For one moment in your story, this person is more than a clichéd version of all those other bad boyfriends.

Here’s the final tip of the day:

This is what the experts mean when they tell you that you need to write what you know.

My Call for Submissions for your 200 word excerpts is still open.

Click the link to find out about it.

A Hint Will Do

May 18, 2013

Novices sometimes fall into shorter lines that only tell where their characters are standing. They only tell the reader ways that characters are moving. It’s all very stage direction-ish. These underwritten shorter lines don’t help tell the story.

There are conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet & so), and there are punctuation marks (commas and semi-colons) that you can use to make a simple sentence more robust.  These revision helpers bring more story to your stories. Read the rest of this entry »

Novice writers sometimes focus on the wrong Who, What, Where, When, and How’s in their story. In all my coaching, this is a big thing I teach novices about news ways to write and better editing skills.

You can write about how your characters are feeling, or reacting to the happenings in your story. Showing.

Or you can describe to the reader how they are moving. Telling.

This is where the over-use of prepositions and prepositional phrases come in. Read the rest of this entry »

My Life’s Work

May 6, 2013

Attention, Sweden, Netherlands and Finland readers,

 In the last 30 days, my blog’s received 36 views from your countries. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

For the interest, and the return hits. I work often with international clients.

Feel free to contact me for coaching and story-editing services.

Now, on to today’s post:

In my opinion, I’m reading too many self-published novels that could have used some editing before their authors let their work out in public.

When we’re the only arbiter of what is ready for print we can allow our less than best efforts to be published. I think the problem is we don’t look hard enough at our own work. It may be the fact that self-publishing novice writers are in too much of a hurry to think beyond ‘getting it out there’.

Unfortunately, the whole idea about writing novels isn’t getting it out there – it’s writing something that won’t disappoint your readers with its level of craft or skill.

Look at these blog reviews for my short story collection, Claiming One:

What struck me first about the writing is the narrative voice.  It is distinct, commanding, and engaging… The triumph of their stories was due in part to the writers’ craftsmanship and vision, but also to the honesty of the narrative which grounded the fictive worlds deeply in reality.

–         Roof Beam Reader blog

 They were all hard hitting in their own way, each of the characters touching and affecting, which I loved about the book.  The writing was very tight, not overly descriptive, but each of the stories painted a picture in my head that stuck with me.

–         Indie Reviews blog

 The stories in this collection are intimate and reflective. They will leave you with a sense of wonder when you finish each one. As with all short stories, there is a sense that you’ve been left to ponder that there is more than what is on the page. The characters came alive in most of the stories… I usually only read “The Greatest American Short Stories” and “The Greatest American Mystery Short Stories,” so she had a very high bar.

–         Book End Babes blog

To receive reviews like this you need to do the work. You need to not settle for just good enough, common effort. Are you doing that extra work with your writing?

I don’t like having book purchases disappoint me so often. I want every great story idea that the book blurb promises delivered between the covers. I want to see great writing.  This is why I coach 1-on-1 and offer story-editing services.

Aside from being a writer myself, I also want to stop and engage each new writer long enough to help clean up their manuscripts.  To be over-romantic about it, it’s my life’s work; helping new writers to be better than what I now see offered in the self-published fiction and memoir market.

 Novices have great ideas, they want to build wondrous worlds, and accomplish their brave plans, I know I do. But not everyone has enough practice to recognize when their stories have too much summary narration. When there is clunky dialogue on the page. When their overuse of cliches is ruining those great ideas, and brave plans.

That’s what story editors are for. That’s what you learn from coaching. That’s why I want to help.

My blog posts here, and my website with the 52 lessons, are a start. But 1-on-1 work is also offered. I’ve worked well with writers in the US and internationally.   Contact me, don’t let your potential readers down.

 

I coach novice writers, offer services in story editing (content – not proofreading). And though folks like these posts just fine, I could use more clients.  Here’s what I teach new writers in my 1-on-1 coaching, and what I  offer as editing suggestions in my manuscript editing.

Anyone can write first drafts:

Jeri sat at the bar’s table, and picked up the drink. She paused for a second. The smell was awful. But she drank it down, hating the taste.
Laughing was heard behind her, as she sat with eyes closed. Opening them, she gave a look at her companion who was chortling to himself.

Tom teased her about the drink. And it made her defensive.
“It is…offensive,” Jeri  the android replied. Since she’d been discharged and graduated from the Group home, she found still she had trouble eating and drinking.

This is a writer telling the reader things. It’s a great start because the writer got some words down on the page. But it’s only story facts being told to the reader, so far. Very little is shown; we see almost nothing physical, visual, visceral. We can’t see much of what this bar, android, or her friend looks like or feels ‘in-scene’. We can’t hear the sounds in this bar. She must feel how her body is reacting to that drink, she must feel something about being laughed at, and a reaction might be in order because of that laughter.

You write well when you look at the first draft and then try showing a reader that stuff by making edits. And the best edits use senses to show more.

Take a look at the First round edits in the paragraph below. Again, like with most writing advice— This topic is aimed at Showing and not Telling: Telling is saying your character is in a seedy bar, having a drink she doesn’t want. And further, that she is not used to solid foods or drink for that matter. Everything in these paragraphs tells right now, and with the five senses they can show us instead.
IF you show it with senses then the extra words can be removed, which leads to a faster, tighter read: right now, these words tell but they are not visual words that show.

First round edits. Trying to show more:

Jeri sat down at a table in the dim bar, picked up the drink before her and took a deep breath. She paused for a second once it reached her lips, already able to smell it. Gathering herself she tipped it down her throat, baulking at the taste.
The sound of laughter filtered through to her as she realized she had scrunched her eyes shut in disgust. Opening them she shot a withering look at her companion who stood chortling to himself.
“That is their mildest drink, and still you can’t hack it,” noted Tom with a shake of the head.
“It is…offensive,” Jeri replied, looking at her glass. It was nearly a year since she’d been discharged and graduated to human interactions from the Android Group home and still she had trouble with simple things like eating and drinking.

Can this be made even more visual, physical and visceral? Here is a sample list of the senses.

Visual – What does this place we are in look like? Colors, textures, shadows, light. Mix it into the narrative – be sparse in this but show it to us in small ways and do that right up front, don’t keep us waiting. Use the senses to show the reader dimness, or silence, or the feel of residue of old, past spilled drinks on the table or the glasses. The time of day.

Smells – the same as above, is someone taking a drink? Don’t tell us that, “Jeri took a drink.”— have the character smell that drink: not in words like acrid, show us the reaction of acrid. Also, smell that ‘seedy bar’. The sweat of the unwashed patrons – machine oil and welding fumes. The amber lights, that conceal in their shadows – what?

Touch – Is a fan blowing? The air still? Is the glass in her hand cool? The bar none to clean? The bar or table where they sit – is it still damp from a rag carelessly swiped before she sat down?

Tastes – not in words “The drink tasted awful.”— in motion — Show us the reaction of the word acrid. Mime to yourself drinking and hating it. Pushing that swallow down. Then write that for us. What did your body do as it mimed? Put this in new ways. Not the tried and true [acrid stench] but in your words for a mouthful of something you’d rather spit out. Write that feeling. Show us. (Remember your verb exercises.)

Sounds – Did ice tinkle when her friend laughed? Did she slam her drink down in disgust? Did her strength of her grip make the glass squeak as she shuddered from the taste? Did she stifle a noise? Is there music playing, have they heard that song before? Is the music from this galaxy or from back home? Have they heard this song 50 times before, this month alone? Make this place come alive. Then do this for every instance when we are now in a new location of your story. Show it to us.
Second round edits. Writing for senses:

Jeri sat down at a table in the dim bar, her shoulder blades meeting tightly as she hunched, she picked up the unwanted drink before her and took a deep breath. She paused for a second once it reached her lips, already able to smell its inevitable stench, like some caustic chemical stored in drums in the mechanic’s bay. Gathering herself she tipped it down her throat, her shuddering intake of breath bringing its fumes into her sinuses, so that the torture lingered.
The sound of laughter filtered through to her as the noises in the bar bounced and magnified, mingling with the jukebox tunes; the rough scuffing of stools and the angry click of pool cues on ivory. She realized she had scrunched her eyes shut in disgust. Opening them she shot a withering look at her companion who chortled to himself.
“That is their mildest drink, and still you can’t hack it,” noted Tom with a shake of the head, his eyes on his own sweaty drink.
The burning sensation had reached an area just behind her sternum. “It is…offensive,” Jeri replied, looking disdainfully down at her glass, her elbows tight at her sides. It was nearly a year since she’d been discharged and graduated to human interactions from
the Android Group home and still she had trouble with simple things like eating and drinking.

 

What can you do with your own paragraphs? Give it a try, rewrite it using senses and showing verbs. Do it quickly and with the best word choices you can. Don’t be heavy handed with it. If you come up with five ideas for each sense, select the best of the 25 ideas and add those to your first round edit.

Worried that you need a second opinion for your work? Contact me. My rates are low.

We added maybe 80 words or so to our example, but in the final expansion, we also showed much more of this world via senses in the writing that weren’t there in the first draft.

Take any one of your own paragraphs and try this exercise. Make additions that will show us what you see when you visualize your story in your head. The goal is never just MORE WORDS.

If you think coaching will help, I can walk you though these steps in real time.