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All New and Shiny!

 Well, It’s finally up and running. A new version of my ‘Bridge to Story’ website will now include a blog dedicated to creative writing and my coaching. So this WP blog, ‘E.J. Runyon’s Author’s Blog’ is being re-potted over there. Where I hope it will grow into something even more beautiful.

One-by-one these WP posts will migrate to the new site, so you won’t lose any good, basic writing advice that’s been posted here. The Bridge to Story blog’s url is www.bridgetostory.com/blog And I hope to see you there.

I’ll also be starting up a new series there I’m calling “Your Writing-Coach-For-A-Day” where I’ll invite new and nearly published Indy writers to ask me 5 coaching questions.  If you think up five questions about your fiction or memoir WIP, feel free to email me, at ejrunyon@bridgetostory.com

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For those of you following this WP blog for my author news about any of my books, published by Inspired Quill (UK), those types of posts will now be found on the new e.j.runyon site. You can follow me there at www.ej-runyon.com

Hopefully you’ll want to follow both blogs. And of course to do that you’ll need to re-follow over at those sites, or on Twitter.

In any case, if you didn’t already know My latest book is titled –
 “Tell Me (How to Write) A Story” Good, Basic Advice for Novices Ready To Write”

Nook and paperback versions are due out soon. Until then, you can pick up  the e-book at Amazon:
US: http://tinyurl.com/kkcfsjz
UK: http://tinyurl.com/kjon5ub
CA: http://tinyurl.com/klq7ls9
IN: http://tinyurl.com/lv8wnwh

I love both sites; they are fuller and more engaging than this site has been and I hope you’ll enjoy both and tell your friends about them.

Thanks everyone,

ej

 

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

 

 

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.

When you write fiction or memoir,

what is it you truly do?

Can you list the types of writing you engage in line to line?

Do you know that there are different parts to your work?

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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.

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.

During the NaNoWriMo months of April, July and November this year I’ll get a lot of emails, Skype messages, and blog posts from novice NaNo-ing writers I follow, saying,

“Today’s word count is…!!”

Some of them are starting at zero. Some are rebelling and adding on to earlier works in progress.  Everyone has a goal. Some magic number they’re aiming for.

Size is secondaryOne wrote to me of their WIP from last year, “Turning this into a novella means adding at least 15,000 more words to it.”

And I asked, “Don’t you mean, turning this into a novella means rounding out the Female MC’s overall arc and her main problem/desire?”

Because even during NaNo months, word count, if you’re not a genuine beginner, is secondary to a solidly realized storyline.

Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

One of the NaNo participants and I worked on critiquing an excerpt of hers. She had a good start, a good story and a nice voice in telling it. So my only feedback had to do with “telling”, where she could be “showing” in her excerpt.

Once she had my feedback many follow-up questions came up.

She wrote:

Phew. I’ve never had anything critiqued before and I had no idea what to expect. Your positive comments really make me feel better about my ability as a writer, so thank you for that. I do have some questions, though. I hope I don’t come off as being stubborn or defensive. It’s not my intention.

In the first paragraph, I’m not sure why the things you mentioned need work. Maybe I’m just misunderstanding, but you seem to be saying that I shouldn’t have the descriptions in there. I thought that describing was important.

So we went back and forth several times, until finally. I showed her what I meant with a physical edit of her original version.

We started with her work- I gave the feedback right in the body of her work:

Before: with a bit too much info-dumping of the bits of story you want to get across to the reader. Look at the bits I call out in the feedback.

“I’m sorry, stepmother. I couldn’t sleep, so I came here to read, but I must have been more tired than I thought.” Genevieve said. <<Good work here, clean and storytelling in how you put this.
“Well, a volume of our victories is certainly one way to cure insomnia.” Lydia smiled at her stepdaughter sympathetically.

“It’s actually very interesting. Telling this for the reader>> [It tells of how our kingdom was born and the seven champions  who founded it all those centuries ago.”] Genevieve said, perking up and forgetting her bad dream. “I only wish I could find out more about who they were and what they did before founding this country. Especially the grand lady who became the first queen More telling things to the reader here>>[of  Catranonia alongside Rudolphus, the first king.] He loved her so much, he even named the Shire after her–”

Lydia put up a hand to stop Genevieve and laughed lightly.

“Yes, I know. I had to learn all of these things before your father would marry me, after all.”

“Oh, of course.” Genevieve looked away sheepishly. “I’m sorry.”

After: where the info is not lost, but now it’s incorporated into the storytelling, so it feels less reader-feeder-ish.

“I’m sorry, stepmother. I couldn’t sleep, so I came here to read,” Genevieve said, “but I must have been more tired than I thought.”

Queen Lydia smiled at her stepdaughter sympathetically, as Genevieve rushed on,
“It’s actually very interesting, how our kingdom was born.” She said, perking up and forgetting her bad dream. “I only wish I could find out who they were all those centuries ago, the seven champions. What they did before founding this country. Especially Catranonia, the grand lady, becoming the first queen alongside king Rudolphus… He loved her so much, even naming the Shire afte–”

Lydia put up a hand to stop Genevieve and laughed lightly. “Yes, I know. I had to learn all these things before your father would marry me, after all.”

“Oh, of course.” Genevieve looked away sheepishly. “I’m sorry.”

***********************************************************

These of course are the smallest of changes. And a majority of the original text was retained. Editing doesn’t have to mean re-writing a scene from scratch when you get feedback saying you work has too much info dumping, and not enough storytelling.

The novice I worked with wrote this once she saw the two versions side by side:

Ok, now that I’ve read your edited version, I do think I understand what you meant. Instead of separating the majority of description and such into its own clumps, I should be including it with the actions & as dialogue. Also, it should be more spread out through the scene instead of just  together in one place. I guess that’s what they call an “info dump”? I thought you were telling me to get rid of it all, but I thought I must be misunderstanding because that didn’t make sense.

The things I showed her with my feedback, calling out narration and description and such in the story, were the mixing of telling with showing in the story first.
The really good stories show us the story with less telling.
Which is why I was able to call those bits out to her attention. Because they came across as telling, and not mixed into in scene writing, and she really did have a good story going here.

How about your work. After reading these two examples of before and after clean-ups, can you see ways to bring your story’s information bits into its narration & dialogue?