Writing for the Busy Parent

Welcome to another Feature Friday…sort of. As always, the days are just whizzing on by. I’m doing something new for this Feature Friday. It’s my first collaborative post. I’d like to welcome Dillon, from over at From Rad to Dad.

Why thank you Corey! It’s a pleasure to be here! Hi, new friends!

dillon-fam-4A little intro about my family! Korina (my wife) and I are both 26 years old, and at the time I’m jotting this down our son, Killian Jaymes, is 10 months old. I work a normal 7 to 4 Monday through Friday job while Korina runs her amazing nerdy crafting business from home while taking care of Killian, whose occupation is currently pooping his pants and chasing our dog Lupin around.

We run a small Youtube channel where we document our life in weekly videos. Korina and I also both write our parenting blogs and work on our modern fantasy stories! Well, when we find the time to write on the side, which is actually what this blog post is about.

So writing is tough, we all know that. And parenting is tough too, even folks without kids can fully acknowledge that. But what’s it like trying to be a writer and a parent at the same time? That’s what Corey and I have teamed up to shed some light on!

With that great introduction, below are the five questions we are addressing. If you are tackling the challenge of being a parent and writer, feel free to Contact Me with some answers to the questions and we will link you into this post and point people to your page. If you’d like a photo(s) included, be sure to attach them. The parenting struggle is a bit easier when it’s shared.

Now to the questions.

  1. How do you balance work, home, writing, love, and life?
  2. How has becoming a parent changed your outlook on writing and reading?
  3. What’s the biggest misconception you’ve faced with stay-at-home parenting, or parenting in general?
  4. As a parent, where do you go to write? When is the best time for you to write?  
  5. Why do you write, and how does that reason impact your writing?  

QE’s answers:

family-11.) For me, scheduling is the single most important thing I do. I’ve found I have to constantly tweak my schedule as life changes (Thor grows). Allocating my time prevents me from over-committing to a single project and leaving others lagging behind. When Thor’s awake or my wife is home, I typically don’t spend too much time writing or editing and instead try to take advantage of the time as a family.

2.) When I became a stay-at-home dad, losing my work identity was hard. As Thor grows, he’ll never look at me as “His dad who was in the military or who was a cop.” I think children having a way to identify their parents to others is important. Dedicating my time to writing and reading lets me share stories with him, but also helps me feel confident he will know his dad “does” something other than just take care of him.

3.) The biggest misconception I’ve faced is that because I’m a stay-at-home dad I have tons of time and don’t really have any commitments. Most laypeople don’t look at writing and editing as a real occupation. When people ask what I do (which inevitably comes up), I tell them I write and edit books. This is usually answered with an awkward smile and look that says, “That’s not really a job.”  

img_23344.) I have a study where I write and edit. For me, having a space dedicated to work helps me focus in on what needs to be done and not get distracted. I usually work while everyone else sleeps, or during my son’s naps. Right now, I only sleep 4-5 hours on normal days. When my wife is home for her weekends, I try to catch up on sleep and recharge.

5.) I write because I love reading stories and have always enjoyed telling them. Reading stories to my son is one of my biggest joys. Even though he’s too little to understand them (almost a year old), he still stops what he is doing and listens, as if he’s trying to understand. I write with my son and family in mind. I don’t tailor the stories to them, but knowing they will read them is very empowering. Knowing after I’m long gone my son might have a book I wrote on his own shelf is even more inspiring.

Dillon’s answers:

dillon-fam-21.) In short, an unhealthy amount of coffee. Outside of work, my schedule changes frequently and I spend as much time with my family as I can. They recharge my batteries and motivate me to be better than I am — they are my greatest inspiration. I give myself every opportunity to write, I have Google Docs on my phone, so I squeeze in a few lines, or outline points while in line at the post office or even in the bathroom. I make small time throughout my day burst-writing as much as I can, and then I spend time editing in the same fashion. Piece by piece!

2.) My outlook on everything changed the day I found out about Killian. I wanted to write, not for fame or glory, but to simply have him look up at me and say, “my dad is cool, strange, but cool.” I want to write interesting things, motivational words to help him in the future when the rain pours down and I may not be there. I want to read so I know how to answer those questions that he’s going to come at me with. I want him to know there are a million ways to be creative and he can chase any of them.

dillon-fam-33.) Parents trying to be perfect. I thought, for a brief moment, that becoming a parent would make me picture perfect. It did anything but. So many parents have picture perfect Facebook lives, and that is garbage. We fight, we cry, we make mistakes, we show up late, we forget the diaper bag, we don’t read bedtime stories every night, we forget to write, we are tired and no one ever talks about all of that being okay. And IT’S OKAY, we are not supposed to be perfect. We are supposed to be human.

4.) I don’t have a dedicated place or time, a lot of my writing is done on my phone in lines or on my lunch break at work. Even though I don’t carve out dedicated time, I still write, I still edit, and I still post. Getting something done when you can is better than not ever getting to it. If I’m gonna pick a time, I really like writing in bed later at night with my wife sitting beside me and Killian sleeping in his crib. A small cup of coffee beside me as I type and a flurry of grammatically horrible words strung together is where I always end the night. Usually followed by me saying, “I’ll fix it tomorrow!”

dillon-fam-15.) Two reasons: To motivate other parents, and to remind us all it’s okay to fail and make mistakes. We are not perfect; we are parents. I love being a dad and I want to share the stories of how it’s changed me and hopefully help at least one parent out there not feel so worried about it all. As for my personal writing: I am a genuinely curious day dreamer, and when a character walks into my head I want to chase them down the rabbit hole and see where they go and how their story unravels. I have to know how they end up. I guess I just want to share these stories on both the blog and in my personal writing. I want people to be happy and confident.

question markThat’s it for today! Again, if you’re a parent, grandparent, or parent to fur-babies—we’d love to hear from you. How do you manage the madness?  Contact Me and I’ll update this post with your answers and link your blog into the post as well. Every now and then, Dillon and I will recycle this post on our pages and put our feelers out for more struggling writers/parents. From Dillon: Thank’s for taking the time to read! Hopefully you picked up some tricks for your own crazy writing style! Thanks Corey for having me!

Until we all cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp! As Dillon likes to say on his page, “You’ve got this!”

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Tics and Tells to Show not Tell

A WaterlooTics and tells are a fun way for you to “show” how a character is feeling, or who they are, without having to “tell” the reader. Yes, the quotation marks were purposeful.  The concept we’re going to discuss today builds on the foundation of showing versus telling, which I’ve talked about before. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, I encourage you to click on the hyperlink. It includes some other great references for you to check out beyond the meager offering I wrote.

Tics and tells help you avoid poker-faced characters in your story. A poker-faced character would be a character who delivers dialogue, but reveals little in the way of body language. It’s also a means to help your characters not fall into the void of floating head syndrome.

Depending on whether you outline or not, the time to consider tics and tells will change. For outliners, you can include some of this info in your character sheets. For you “pantsers,” just see if anything happens organically and try to be consistent. Regardless, pantsers,  you might want to consider examining this aspect during your first revision/rewrite.

There are three things I like to think of when I shape this aspect of my characters: physical traits, items worn, and dialogue tics. This list is incomplete, for sure, but it’s a good jumping-off point.

Da_Vinci_Vitruve_Luc_Viatour.jpgWhen it comes to physical traits, I’m thinking beyond just the basic height, hair, skin, gender, and eye color.  The basics are a good place to start, but dig deeper.  Don’t just think of normal or beautiful traits, find the flaws too.

While this may seem unnecessary, this front-end work pays dividends down the road. A person with a giant Adams apple may swallow when nervous. It’ll look like a golf ball bobbing up and down in their throat. A person with narrow eyes may look like they have them closed when they are lying. The gap in someones two front teeth may be on display when they chew their lower lip while thinking.

This level of description saves you from having to pepper your dialogue attribution with adverbs to tell the reader information. If you build the blocks early, they will know the second eyes squint, nostrils flare, or foreheads wrinkle that [insert emotion] is being felt. The best part is it only requires a short sentence and you are moving from telling into showing territory.

broken glasses.jpgKnowing what your characters are wearing and have on their person is a useful tool. Understanding how they interact with these things is even better. It can also be of use when anchoring readers in your chapters. I’ve talked about anchoring before, but the concept is to reorient the reader in the beginning of a chapter.

If the chapter opens with a character cleaning his/her broken glasses with a torn and bloody shirt, you’ve opened the chapter with action, zoomed in on POV, and zapped the reader into who this chapter is coming from (unless all your characters are wearing broken glasses and ripped up shirts). If you’ve layered in the idea that this character cleans their glasses when they are nervous, you’ve stacked yet another layer of complexity.
Night_vision.jpgHere’s an example from my military days. Even from behind in the pitch black with night vision goggles on (which aren’t as whiz-bang as Hollywood would like you to think), I could tell who was with me on a mission by how they were acting. How are they holding their rifle? Are they constantly messing with their helmet straps? Are they constantly moving? Are they constantly leaning on something? These observations allowed me to take green and black humanoid blobs and know who they were.

We can apply this to our writing. Our characters wear clothes (hopefully), and they might have some external items with them too. Take a moment to consider how they interact with these items in different situations. Take the list of adverbs you might use (nervously, excitedly, boringly, furiously..and the list goes on) and write how they would manipulate their clothing or worn items in those situations. Again, now you can show instead of tell without bumping the word count up too much or bogging down attribution tags with adverbs.

Mannerisms tie into physical appearance and character possessions, but they can also be hidden within dialogue. Perhaps when a character is lying, they s-s-stutter, add many unnecessary and useless words to increase the length of what they are saying, or perhaps they become concise.  This can be a slippery slope (accents come to mind).  If it’s a fail, your alpha and beta readers will likely clue you in.

question-markThat’s it for today. What suggestions, additions, or ideas would you add to this list?  Do you use any of these concepts in your writing?  I’d love to talk about it and broaden my depth of knowledge.  Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Non-Fiction Writing Books: Suggestions?

libraryMonday is the day I usually share a book about writing with all of you. You can find examples of this in my reads category.  While I still have plenty of books to talk about on the page, I recently finished reading the last one I have in my possession. Instead of trusting Amazon or Goodreads, I thought I would take a day to see if any of you would be kind enough to offer me some suggestions.

To avoid replication, a while back I posted the last twenty books I had read that examined some aspect of writing. Since then, I’ve added a few to the list:

Editors on Editing, by Gerald C. Gross
Cryptozoology A to Z, by Loren Coleman & Jerome Clark
Developmental Editing, by Scott Norton
Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury
The Sense of Style, by Steven Pinker
Archetypal Patterns in Fairy Tales, by Marie-Louise von Franz

question-markSeeing all of this, what am I missing out on? I’d love to snag some more great books. If I’m not doing self-study in my limited downtime, I’m usually doing something less than productive. Help ol’ QE out! [Note: If you’ve suggested a book in a comment to me, I’ve likely ordered it already and am waiting for it arrive.] Until our quills clash again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Rolling the Dice and Creating Chaos

predictable plot.jpgHow many books have you read where you can guess exactly what is going to happen to the characters?  I know as a reader and editor I’ve been through a few.  It’s not that the characters are bad; they just don’t follow Murphy’s Law.  I get it.  Your character is the fastest gun in the land.  He/she can outdraw and outshoot anyone.  That can get pretty boring.  Or, you have to create insanely elaborate situations for them to navigate to challenge their prowess and entertain the mob (your readers).  Here’s an idea, instead of writing what should happen, leave it to fate.

This concept is pulled from the Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) realm.  For those of you who aren’t giant nerds like me, D&D is basically a game where one person creates a story and friends come and navigate it.  Each role-player has a character they created and they use dice to determine the effectiveness of their characters actions throughout the story.

The transition into using this in your own writing is simple.  Roll a die and let that determine how effective your character is at dealing with a situation. After all, even the fastest shooter in the world is still impacted by luck.

dice.jpgTake a die.  It can be a six-sided die like you find in a board game, or go to a hobby shop and grab a 20-sided one.  If you roll a one, that’s the worst possible thing that could happen.  If you roll a six (or twenty if you are using the 20-sided beauty) that’s the best outcome that could happen.

Here’s the application.  Let’s use my own character, Drake Nelson, from my upcoming book Wastelander: The Drake Legacy.  Drake is chilling out in a settlement and needs to go to the bar to quench his thirst.  He walks in.  Sitting at a table is notorious bad guy #3.  Notorious bad guy #3 smacks women around, steals milk from babies, and once killed a man for his horse only to let it run off into the sunset for dramatic effect.  Drake looks up at me and I know—notorious bad guy #3 must die.

Now Drake has ninja speed with his pistol.  If I stuck with his character blueprint, this would be an easy confrontation for him.  Especially because bad guy #3 is just a lousy thief, not an experienced gunfighter/renegade maverick like Drake.  So instead of sticking with the boring, I let the dice decide.

Critical Hit.JPGIf I roll a high number, the normal thing would happen.  Drake doesn’t say anything, he simply shoots the man in the face and notorious bad guy #3 falls backwards out of his chair.  Everyone in the bar cheers.  Women throw panties at him.  The bartender pours him a drink.  It’s kind of funny, but it’s also kind of boring.

If I roll a middle number, it can go either way.  Drake pulls the pistol from his hip.  The iron sights flash into focus for a millisecond and he begins applying tension to the trigger.  The town drunk, Steve (it always has to be Steve doesn’t it), stumbles into the bar and bumps Drake in the back as the gun recoils.  The bullet punches a hole in the ceiling and chunks of plaster land on notorious bad guy #3’s head.

Critical Fail.JPGIf I roll a low number, (say a one) that would be a critical fail. Drake doesn’t just fail, he fails miserably.  Drake grips his pistol and pulls it from the holster.  His hand moves so fast it’s a blur of black and silver.  Unfortunately, a bird had shit on his pistol handle earlier.  The feathered feces is still glistening and fresh. The slickness causes the pistol to fly from his hand.  It sails across the bar and smacks the unaware bartender in the forehead. Worse, the bartender is the mayor’s brother.  Now Drake has revealed his intention to notorious bad guy #3, disarmed himself, and assaulted the mayors brother.

Try it out for yourself.  Mix a little luck and chaos into your writing.  While I obviously don’t recommend you use this to drive all action (or even major plot points), it is a fun way to create an unexpected turn.  It’s especially useful if you aren’t entirely sure how your character is going to deal with a situation and your writing is stalling because of it.  This tool allows you to write some potential outcomes and if you feel they are lackluster, blame the dice and bad luck.

question-markIf you give it a try, let me know how it goes.  It usually is amusing to say the least.  That’s it for today.  Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Feature Friday #6 (Bloggers & Books)

feature-friday

Where the heck did the week go?  I feel like I was writing a Feature Friday post yesterday.  Regardless, it’s always a good day when I’m writing about other bloggers and writers. For all of you NaNoWriMo heroes and heroines—I hope you are beating your keyboards into submission.

Speaking of NaNoWriMo, this is quickly shaping up into my favorite month to read blog posts.  There is a tantalizing mix of hope, despair, fear, and excitement bouncing about the blogosphere. As I treat this website as a time capsule of sorts, let’s snag some of my favorite posts from the day and wish these writers well on their journey.

spotlight-facing-rightThe first blogger and blog post I wanted to talk about encapsulates the many emotions these intrepid writers experience.  Linda Smith wrote the post, The Month of Living Dangerously.  It’s an honest look at the topsy-turvy world many of these writers are living in right now.

Linda does a few things that really caught my eye in this post.  She writes honestly, talks about setting realistic goals, and is including her family in the process. The last part of the post where she talks about her granddaughter being hit by a lightning bolt of inspiration still has me smiling.  Great stuff!

spotlight-facing-rightThe next blogger I wanted to spotlight is Patricia M. Robertson.  Patricia’s post, Ready, Set, Stop! NaNoWriMo is What You Make It, is a great breakdown of what the month is all about.  It’s about more than just pushing out words, it’s about growing as a writer.  For those of you who are unsure about all this NaNoWriMo hullabaloo, give her post a read.

What I really enjoy about Patricia’s post is her ability to address the “big picture” in her writing career.  Much like her, I enjoy the excitement radiating off of other writers.  It’s a contagious thing.  Though she may not be able to partake in the insanity of NaNoWriMo, she is still using it to charge her writing.  In my opinion, that’s a win!

spotlight-facing-rightThe last spotlight is for Austin Ezell.  If you needed a no-nonsense description of the what NaNoWriMo is about, he’s got you covered with his aptly titled post, National Novel Writing Month.  There are a couple reasons I linked Austin’s page.  First, I wanted a solid post detailing what the month is about.  Secondly, checking out his “About” page I realized we are conjoined spirit writing animals.

If his schedule is any indication of what we can come to expect from his blog page, we are in for series of fun posts.  Fatherhood, check.  Dungeons and Dragons, check.  Gaming, check.  Sharing tips from his own experience as a writer, check.  Sneak peaks into his future books, check.  It’s many of the elements I look for when I search out a blogger.  If you’re a regular reader here at QE (thanks), I imagine you are going to want to follow Austin as well.

thanksI wanted to take a moment to thank all three of these folks for (1) being a source of inspiration, (2) taking life by the horns, and (3) making me smile.  It’s people like you who make me happy to spend a chunk of my time here in the blogoverse.  Best of luck to you all!

hourglassThat’s it for today!  I’ll be happy if I never type “NaNoWriMo” again (all that shift+letter nonsense is making crazy!). If you would like to be featured next Friday, contact me.  It always helps if you let me know what specific post you would like to be featured.  My goal with Feature Friday is to connect like-minded individuals with one another.  The blogoverse is a giant place, and it’s nice to be able to provide some navigation. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Checking Your Book Into the Library

LandscapeOne of my clients suggested a blog post about getting your self-published book onto the shelves of a library.  After a brief flashback to tiny drawers packed with musty index cards and the confusing Dewey Decimal System, I decided to look into it.  There is something magical about libraries for me. Thinking of someone walking out the door of their local library clutching a book with my name on it is pretty exciting.

Outside of being fun idea, it’s a smart move.  According to the American Library Association (ALA), more than 60 percent of American’s have a library card. (I’m not sure of the stats for my non-American friends). Contrary to popular opinion, people still frequent libraries for their book needs.  While there seems to be reduction in people using libraries for reference materials (thanks to the interwebs), many people still turn to those dusty shelves for their fiction needs.

library.jpgI think of libraries as a passive method to generate potential book reviews, as well as readership.  Now that most libraries have transitioned their paper records to digital, a person wouldn’t have to search a genre long to stumble across your book (at least I feel this method is simpler than using a gazillion index cards).  Sure, you won’t be making money for every read, but in my opinion, having people simply read your story is rewarding.

Additionally, depending on your genre, you might even be able to host book readings at the library at little to no cost.  I mention genre because the libraries are going to be more accommodating to certain ones.

library win.jpgThe first place I went to look for information was the ALA. I found a resource called, Marketing to Libraries. This is a long article embedded with a metric clickload of links to check out. They also offer some resources for donating books to needy libraries—what a great way to outsource some of those extra books you aren’t selling!

I was interested to see the criteria for submitting to libraries.  I was also surprised to learn not all libraries are the same.  Much like bookstores, each library’s needs will vary. Some will have more of one genre than another, and thus, only accept certain types.  There are also submission guidelines to consider, and these are not always standard.  The ALA link I offered above spells out some of this information.

Another resource I found comes from The Book Designer website.  If you’ve never cast your peepers on this page, I recommend it.  It’s listed as a Writer’s Digest Top 101 websites for writers.  The specific article I read is called, 9 Steps to Getting Your Self-Published Books into Libraries. It’s written by Amy Collins, and it’s very intuitive.

library poster.JPGAgain, I found many gems of information I was completely clueless about here. I didn’t know many libraries work with specific wholesalers and by getting your book listed by these wholesalers (both digital and physical versions) you can increase the odds of your book being accepted by a library.  This apparently is a way to streamline the process.

I also didn’t know the library would look at multiple reviews to determine whether your book can grace its shelves or not. According to Collins, priority is placed on certain review authorities (I won’t list them because the original link I provided has it all hyperlinked). It might be wise to send your books to some of these reviwers if you plan to approach libraries.

question-markThat’s it for today. This is a brand new concept for me, and one I’m very interested to learn more about.  I wanted to drop a line into the water and fish.  If you’ve had success conspiring with librarians and navigating this topic—please share your story or even whatever links you know of that are useful. I’ll copy your comment straight into this blog post and link people to your page if the information is solid.  Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Writing a Monster into Existence

dragon.jpg

[Editor’s Note]

The QE household has prepared itself for the onslaught of sugar-craving children.  I figured today (Halloween) would be a great day to repost an older blog about monsters to free me up for pumpkin carving and other fun things.  Since writing this post, I purchased Cryptozoology A to Z, by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark (thanks to a suggestion offered by Dillon, over at From Rad to Dad). It’s a very organized glimpse into the monsters of all shapes and sizes.

While I love reading most genres, few things give me more pleasure than reading about monsters chowing down on unfortunate locals.  It can be zombies, aliens, rodents of unusual size,  or anything else you can think of.  I enjoy it even more when the writer creates a new beast for me to add to my bestiary archives.

I‘m currently working with a couple writers who both have monsters in their books.  The human chomping freaks are terrifying and enjoyable to learn about.  One issue we have been sorting out together is how they can describe the monsters clearly.

This lack of description becomes a larger issue when you have spawned a new breed of monster.  When you say dragon, I know what you are talking about.  At the very least, I have an idea of what you are talking about.  But if you go springing an ancient force hell bent on sucking out my eyes and using my spine as a fiddle bow, then I need to some details.

writing monsters.jpgI recently snagged Philip Athans’ book, Writing Monsters, to help me find some creative solutions to provide.  By recently, I mean it came in the mail yesterday.  I sat down to read with a highlighter in hand and a notepad ready to jot down ideas.  My plan was to pull all the pertinent information from the book and compile a list the writers could use to beef up their monster description.  I hit page eight, and bang, there was a goldmine.

Athan had created a template called, “The Monster Creation Form.”  I’m not going to reproduce that simple, but genius, form here.  I think that level of borrowing would border on copyright infringement.  It did get me thinking about a similar form I used to play with a lot – a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) character sheet.  I’ve done a blog post on character sheets before, which has examples.  You can check that out here.  If your monster is quasi-human, you might be able to use one of the templates I provided there.

monster manual.jpgI also ordered the D&D Monster Manual (the version I linked).  I could remember a younger version of me flipping through one of these and marveling at both the written descriptions, variety, and artwork.  I figured the older version of me could use another point of reference.

After the euphoria of my Amazon impulse buy wore off, I began searching for D&D type templates to build monsters.  After some internet scouring I ended up right back here on WordPress.  I found a blogger, OldDungeonMaster, who has a literary ton of great D&D related materials.  One such item was a monster sheet for a Cranium Rat.  You can look at the image below.  I also linked this image to his/her page so you check out the rest their content (for you aspiring D&D players and Dungeon Masters).

cranium_ratI combined some elements from the monster sheet above, and some elements from Writing Monsters, and created my own Bestiary of Destiny.  You can use this template to sketch out your monster and assign elements.  While I’m no artist, I sometimes find even a crude drawing helps me better understand how something looks.  It helps pull the description out of the creative whirlpool in my head and give it shape.

Bestiary of Destiny

If you click the image it will send you to my Flickr page where I uploaded this image in higher resolution.  Print it in landscape and have some fun.  As with anything I create for the blog, it’s free to share and use for whatever nefarious purpose you have in mind.

 

Many times when I talk to writers about description, they know all the answers.  I’ll say something like, “It was great when Zolgorg the Mighty ate that guy.  What does Zolgorg look like when he eats someone?  Does he tear them in two and go into a blood frenzy, or does he carefully quarter them?”  Usually the writer will launch into a five minute description-fest explaining the ordeal in fine detail.

griffin.jpgWhen they wrote the scene, the information was clear in their head, it just didn’t make it onto the page.  In my own writing, having visual references (like character sheets and templates) reminds me to include those descriptions.  I make sure to stick the papers up on the wall in front of me, or somewhere I can see them.  This way when the time comes for juicy description, a glance at those papers zeroes me in on important descriptive elements.

If you are having issues being consistent with description, or generating a clear picture of what your monster should look like, I encourage you to try this tool.  Worst case scenario is you have a crudely drawn picture, but a clearer mental one.

 

Oftheunicorn.jpgThat’s it for today.  I hope you found some useful tools to create your own monsters here.  I’m sure as I continue reading through Writing Monsters some more nuggets of information will accumulate.  You can look forward to some posts about flesh chewing chinchillas and what not.

Do any of you have effective ways to create new and terrifying monsters?  Or know of good books on crafting monsters?  If you are willing to share I would love to hear about it.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Self-Editing: Fighting Emotion with Logic

locked.jpgYou’ve written your book.  The masterpiece has been marinating in a drawer (or buried on a hard drive) for weeks.  Somehow, you managed to not tear into it early, despite it whispering into your ear at night.  Let’s face it, you both needed some time and space from one another.

The time has come.  You unlock the drawer, or click the icon, and staring you in the face is months worth (maybe more) of semicoherent words. The manuscript gazes back at you with worried eyes.  It knows.  You are about to tear it to pieces.  Now the question becomes—will you tear yourself to pieces in the process?

Many people think writing a book is the hardest thing you can do.  Then an editor comes along and breaks your heart.  As an editor, telling a writer to cut something from the work is akin to telling them to sacrifice a cute little fuzzy kitten to the writing gods.  Much of this heartbreak would be avoided if writers would practice more thorough self-editing prior to submission to an editing service.

The goal of this post is to give you some basic guidelines to sharpen your self-editing chops.  Go grab the garden sheers and put on a rubber apron…this might get messy.

chainsaw

Print first—word process later. I believe in this concept so much I wrote an entire blog post about it (located here). Because it’s linked, I won’t go into this.  I do encourage you to give the post a glance if you haven’t seen it before.

Work big first, then get small.  We typically write our first draft in a hurry, tired, and running on three gallons of caffeine.  There are going to be large chunks of exposition and rambling.  They served their purpose.  The purpose was to help you continue writing and bridge gaps in the story.  Additionally, when we are writing the first draft we make assumptions about what is going to be important later on.  We tend to over describe certain items, places, and people.  Now that you know all the punchlines, it’s time to gauge their worth.

editing.JPGRoy Peter Clark in his book, Writing Tools, recommends that you, “Cut any passage that does not support your focus.  Cut the weakest quotations, anecdotes, and scenes to give greater power to the strongest.  Cut any passage you have written to satisfy a tough teacher or editor rather than the common reader” (p. 51).

It’s good advice, but it’s hard to follow.  The reason is emotion versus logic.

Here’s a real world example.  One of the people I edit for wrote a beautiful, page long description about a set of revolvers one his minor characters carries.  After reading it, I could picture every line and blemish on the them.  He told me he did extensive research to make them feel real, and it was truly great writing.  I bit my lip and recommended he cut it.

Why?  Well, it was placed in the middle of a heated interaction.  Everything was building, the action was coming, and boom—we interrupt this gunfight to bring you a dissertation on handguns in antiquity.  Worse even, the character wielding the pistols is only in the book for a handful of pages.

The takeaway here is this: no matter how slick the dialogue or description is, if it isn’t pushing the story forward, it’s got to go.  Your readers want to read your story, don’throw down roadblocks.

Redundant Meme

Get rid of all those redundancies.  I already wrote a post on redundant prose, so I won’t go into this too much.  The only additional piece of information I’ve found since then is an interesting rule.

This comes from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, written by Renni Browne and Dave King.  The rule is  1+1=1/2.  They explain that, “When you try to accomplish the same effect twice, the weaker attempt is likely to undermine the power of the stronger one” (p. 178). It’s a great tip and something to look for when you are going through with the hatchet.

Syllables—check those big words.  If you really want to wear your reader down, use words with a ton of syllables.  Conspiratorially.  Automatically.  Conversationally.  Many of these big beasts tend to be adverbs, but not always.  Look for those five-dollar words and ask yourself, Will the average reader know what it means?  Will something shorter work in it’s place?  Am I using this for effect?

Regarding effect.  I’ve heard this rationale used before,  “My character is a smarty pants so he/she uses big words in a condescending sort of way.”  Cool!  I’m all for it.  Just know there is only so much the reader can take.  Also, if this is the only tool you use to enforce this character trait, the character can feel one-dimensional.

measure twice cut once.jpgMeasure twice, cut once. Anyone who has done construction, or is a DIY weekend warrior, has likely heard this advice.  The concept is simple.  Ensure you know where to cut before you drop the blade.  I encourage you to do the same when you are self-editing.

William Zinsser, in his book On Writing Well, offers a brilliant bit of advice he developed while teaching his students at Yale.  “I would put brackets around every component in a piece of writing that wasn’t doing useful work” (p. 15).

Writers who edit onscreen (using a word processor) have a tendency to prolong editing time because they are constantly doing the, backspace, rewrite, backspace, rewrite, tap dance.  A way to defeat this is to utilize the tool Zinsser is describing.

Print out the pages then read through them silently, and then aloud.  Go slowly through the words and decide what is doing work and what isn’t.  Be realistic.  Throw those words, phrases, and pieces of dialogue into brackets.  Once you are done, read the copy and omit the bracketed words.  Did it flow faster?  Was it smoother?

copy editing_2

[Editor’s Note]

This is a timely re-post for me as I recently reopened the first draft of my book up and started rewrites.  I can tell stepping away for more than a month (as painful as it was) has really opened my eyes to some major issues.  It’s a good feeling catching those mistakes now and knowing readers will never see them. I’m also glad to be back with Drake and playing in the wasteland.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for stopping by and reading.  As usual, I only scratched the surface.  Do you have advice or ideas you use during self-editing?  Please share them.  I’m always looking to toss more pencils into my writing toolbox.  Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Writing Tools: Book, Blurb & Collage

Writing Tools Collage.jpg

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, Writing Tools, written by Roy Peter Clark. A great tool for any writer looking to hone their craft.  High-res version of the image is right here.

 

Another book read, another set of shiny pencils to toss into the toolbox.   Writing Tools, written by Roy Peter Clark, is a book I would highly recommend.  The book provides you with, 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (which is emblazoned on the cover).

writing tool book.jpgEach strategy is a chapter/section of its own, and I found them to be very easy to read and understand.  Clark uses examples from published works to emphasize points and support his writing.  The quotes I placed in the photo are some of the one-liners he provides at the opening of his chapters.

Additionally, this book offers some really interesting tools and tips to work through common issues writers face.  I have referenced his work in past blog posts—most notably his strategy for busting up clichés (located here).

Perhaps my favorite aspect of this book is the sheer amount of well-written content.  Many of the non-fiction writing books I own have twenty chapters or so.  Some of those books stretch out concepts to fill space (at least that’s how it feels to me sometimes).  This book is very concise with information because it tackles fifty topics.

Topics range wildly but are organized into four main parts.  Starting with the basics of grammar, punctuation, syntax, style, and usage, the author then begins to build on those basics.  Showing you how to achieve effects with these rules and make them work with you.  The idea is you need know the rules so you can manipulate them.  I love this kind of thinking.

[Editor’s Note]

This book continues to be a staple for me both as a writer and an editor.  When I work with clients, especially when they are working with a new manuscript, I like to address issues with potential solutions.  This book is handy because the material is condensed and easy to share.  I’ve used the contents within this book more than once during video and phone conversations with clients to help them understand why certain things they are doing go against the grain.  I’ve also used it to illustrate stylistic opportunities they could take advantage of to enhance their story.  It seems easier for folks to accept advice when the viewpoint is reinforced by other professionals.

question-markThat’s it for today.  If you are curious about some of the other writing books I have read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here.  I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same.  If you have a book recommendation, I would love to hear about it!  I’m always looking for more books to devour.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Floating Heads and Writing Desks

floating heads.jpgHave you ever heard of floating head syndrome?  I’ve heard it called talking head syndrome too.  It’s when the characters in a book are exchanging dialogue, but the author rarely mentions where the speakers are or what they are doing.  Without these little descriptive beats sprinkled in it feels like the characters are floating in the void while having conversations.

It’s a tap dance we do with the reader.  Give too many beats and the dialogue doesn’t flow, don’t give enough, and the reader doesn’t have a clue what the characters are doing while they are talking.  There’s a few ways to tackle the problem.

First, read the dialogue aloud and see how it flows. Next, you could also open some of your favorite books and look at how the pro’s did it.  If you are still undecided, ask someone to read a chapter or section. Once they finish, ask them what the characters were doing in the chapter.  If they’ll oblige you, ask them where the characters were as well. If the reader just shrugs their shoulders in response—it might be time to tweak those beats.

While this is good to know, it’s not why I’m writing today.  Sometimes I feel like we are all floating heads when I read blogs.  Even my own.  “Who is this writer?  Where are they writing from?  Is this blog written by a person or a futuristic artificial intelligence?” Corey wondered as he swiveled in his black office chair.

writers desk

So today I thought I would share where this blog gets written from—my writing desk.  It’s a normal desk, in a normal house, manned by a normal adult male.  However, it has the ability to let me reach out and touch the other side of the planet with my words.  It’s also the place where I create worlds, and if I want to, destroy them.  Pretty neat.

[Editor’s Update]

Writing Desk.jpgI wrote this post months ago and things have moved about in my study.  I didn’t like the cramped feeling of being surrounded.  The photo below is my new setup. It lets me spin about in my chair like a madman without bashing my legs. I also like how much it opened up the room. I wrote a post about how a writing environment can alter your productivity a while back.  This shift really bolstered my own process.

Whats your writing desk look like?  Do you have one?  Or are you a mobile master taking your work with you wherever you go?  Until tomorrow.  Keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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