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 »

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.

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 »

You’ve been at the grocery store. And something funny happened there, so funny that you want to tell your friends about it. It was so funny, it might be a story you tell to a lot of people. You may even use it in your novel.

So you sit around the lounge at your dorm, or the lunchroom where you work, or some other place you gather at regularly, getting ready to entertain everyone with telling this story. Your friends always like your stories, you’re a person who tells things well, people always listen because they can see you’re a storyteller.

This story from the grocery store has to do with a lady and her four-year-old. It’s hilarious.

Do you start the story like this:

 Standing in the check outline waiting for her turn to be rung up, this lady leans against her cart wearing her old work out clothes. A washed out, pale pink crop T-shirt, her midnight blue workout pants rolled down to show her stomach. Her simple white socks, extend up her ankles, in contrast to the black hair scrunchie which holds her blond bangs away from her forehead. She’s holding her son’s hand, He’s got red hair. And he’s dressed in little, brown Oshkosh bib overalls, with a yellow cowboy belt, along with black baby Nike shoes. Finally her turn at the register arrives…

 

Probably not.

There’s nothing hilarious about what they had on. The funny part was….

Novice writers open their novels with something like this example all the time. With what someone wore. Not why there are being introduced. Not the reason the character is there in the scene, doing something. No reaction from the character to some action for us to see or imagine. No purpose of their existence being illustrated. Just a presentation of the color of their hair, and sixty or more words about what they are wearing.

Novices,

if you see you’ve fallen into this default type of opening to your novel, try to re-vision your opening scene to give us why your character is there in that scene. Or what they are doing there. At the least, illustrate them so we feel we know something about their character, based on your descriptions.

Unless those workout pants and the cowboy belt are part of the hilarity of your scene, save those details, pepper them (lightly) into the action, reactions, motivations, or emotions of the story you’re showing us ‘in scene’.

Use the detail of your characters’ dress or hair color because it reveals something about them– do they consider themselves a fashion plate? That’s a perfect reason to detail their outfit.

Are they proud or vain? Okay, they show them reacting to how they feel about being dressed to the nines.

Wearing something because they just got paid and could now afford it? Did they run out to buy this thing they wear? Show us the purchase, and their feelings about ownership— don’t start and stop with the item, disclose what the purchase means to them.

Is their blonde hair jet black because they hate their parents this week? Does their makeup or nail polish show something about them beyond how they look?

Look at this example here, a few lines about sixteen year-old Cinda:

Cinda’s black bangs nearly covered her plucked eyebrows. The cap on her un-nerving black dyed hair read ‘Cin’ in red embroidered script.  She scratched at her ankle with short bitten nails painted a glossy shade of bruise purple.  A small, neat tattoo peeked out from under her busy fingertips: a tiny green frog. Her toenails were painted the same battered shade as her fingers.

This is nearly the same word count as the example above, but here, aside from seeing someone, we’re also given hints in her actions, in the verbs and adjectives used, about who this girl might be and how she might be acting. Along with getting how she wears her hair, eyebrows, and nails.

Do a search in your work – find those less than storytelling descriptions of clothes and hair color you’re telling us about.  Revise for the action, reactions, motivations, or emotions of the story you’re showing us.

Welcome to Bridge to Story

Here’s a link to my website.

(52 free writing lessons for novices writing fiction or memoir)

Take work from your mind to the page now. Coaching sharpens storytelling craft & style. See your story shine. All genres, memoir.

Novice writers spend a lot of time reading how-to books and attending workshops and classes. A lot of these offer exercises, story starters and prompts to try out your writing skills…like….

  • Write ten opening lines
  • Keep a list of unusual names for future characters
  • Write a paragraph beginning with the phrase _____

But if you exercise then set aside your resulting work in notebooks and journal you will never discover where those exercises might take you. In this lesson we’ll take the steps of looking at your own work and expanding your exercises by questioning them. The goal is reviewing with an eye for turning exercises into scenes, short stories or novels; by looking at your work and taking the next step: reworking exercises to actually writing more

Check it out now, and then contact me for one-on-one coaching.

 

A Quick Half Dozen

April 12, 2013

Narration into Scene

Narration into Scene

 

These six previous posts are a sly way of letting you see the type of coaching I offer in one-on-one session with my clients.

Work is slowing, and I could use more novices eager to learn the basics of writing well.

So check these posts out, and tell your writer friends too. Email me for rates. and Re-blog.

ej Read the rest of this entry »

First off, here’s the link for the Call for Excerpts Submissions. I’m looking for novices’ excerpts (200 words)  from your WIP for my next book, Revision for Beginners.

Now then, Today I’m talking about how hard it is to make characters life-like and less-writerly in your manuscript. If I could give every novice this writing advice, I’d be in heaven. Read the rest of this entry »