nanowrimo, writing advice

Dear Author…

BookSigningI am a quintessential older sister. I LOVE giving advice. Seriously, I do. When I was younger, I would fantasize about having an advice column in the newspaper like Dear Abby. It was a lovely fantasy where everyone wanted to hear what I had to say and couldn’t wait to tell everyone else about how clever I was in helping them solve their problems. AND I got paid for it!  *sigh*

Well, I may not be all that clever at helping you deal with cranky neighbors or nosey in-laws, but I love helping young writers tackle their creative writing problems. This week I got a beautiful letter from a young fan in South Dakota.

“I’ve been trying to write books for a while now but I keep running into a problem. I will have a few pages of the book done and they’ll look great, but when I stop typing for any reason my mind keeps the story going. So I will only have started the book two days ago but I’ll already have made up in my mind too far in the future. So then I will start a new story in my head the old one not forgotten but, not on my mind all the time. The new character having all the attention. And the book will be stopped. So my question is, do you have this problem? If so how do you deal with it?”

The answer: YES! I had this problem for years before I finished my first book. For me, it was a problem of planning. I was taught in school to outline your writing before you begin. So, when I had an awesome story idea, I would daydream about it for awhile until I decided it was good enough to write. Then, I would sit down and outline the entire story, start to finish. Then…I was done with it. I could NOT make myself write that story no matter how hard I tried.

This went on for ages until one day I woke up with the most incredible dream. You know the kind of dream that makes you want to cry because you can’t just go back to sleep and finish it? I couldn’t stop thinking about it! How did those two people get into that situation? How on earth were they going to get out of it? Who was the mysterious villain that was after them?

I thought about it while I got dressed. I thought about it while I poured my coffee. I thought about while I drove kids to school. I thought about it while I did dishes. And then finally, I took out a notebook and started writing just to get it out of my head. But I kept writing and three hours later I was mad when I had to stop. I wanted to know what happened! That fall my brother challenged me to write my first book for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I knew exactly what story I wanted to write. I just had to see how it ended! 30 days later I had my answer…and my first book, A Light in the Darkness. That’s when I realized the reason I was stuck after plotting out entire books…boredom. I wanted to write to see how the story ended. If I sat down and plotted out every detail then the thrill was gone, it wasn’t any fun to keep writing after I knew how it ended.

So, I write like a reader. If there is mystery in a book of mine, it was a mystery to me, too. I honestly didn’t know who the bad guy was in The Light Series until book two. NO JOKE! Once I figured it out, I was able to go back and put his name into the first book, but it was a complete shock, I swear. I remember the first time two characters kissed it was the same way. “What are you doing?!” It’s a serious rush when your story takes on a life of its own.

If you’re having trouble staying focused, maybe try writing just to see how the story ends. If another idea pops up while you’re working, jot it down in a notebook or a computer file labeled Novel Ideas and keep going. Don’t get too wrapped up in the new idea. Just dump the details so you can start with them later and keep going. I have more book ideas piled up than I could ever write and they are really fun to look through when I’m ready to start a new project. But, learning to focus on the story at hand is powerful if you’re ever going to finish one. Why don’t you join me this year for NaNoWriMo? At the end you’ll have your very first book! It’ll be a rough draft, but still, I can’t tell you how awesome it feels to type THE END on your very first book. (Who am I kidding? It never stops feeling awesome!)nano_logo

Anyone want to join us? National Novel Writing Month is coming soon! Let’s write and find out how the story ends together. I’ll be hosting a write-along all month long in November, so get your ideas ready. It’s going to be fun!

 

writing advice, YA Author Club

Word Count Madness

YA Indie CarnivalMany first time authors struggle with word count. How long should my novel be to get published? Is my novel too long? Is it too short? What the heck is a novella and what’s the difference between that and a short story? If you’re an indie author, does it even matter?

Excellent questions. The YA Indie Carnival decided to tackle this confusing topic this week in our Indie Author Series. When I was starting out, I didn’t even know it mattered. Seriously! I had no clue about things like word count and publishing industry standards. Why would it matter how long a book is? Well, like most things, it’s all about the money. Word count in the publishing world affects both the cost of the book to print, and it’s likeliness to be sold to readers. I won’t go into too much detail on this topic because my fellow indie author club member, Bryna Butler, has already covered the basics in her article Do Word Counts Count?

I’ll tell you that I really struggle to get a book over the 60K mark. My stories tend to be action packed and fast paced. My editor always turns in a stack of notes on where I can expand scenes instead of the standard cut and slash method most authors have to endure. In real life I’m obnoxiously verbose, but in my writing I tend to race from one plot point to another. That keeps my word count down. The day I finish a book above 100K, I’ll be calling it “epic” whether it deserves the title or not!

In my opinion, this is just one of the many fabulous reasons I call myself an indie author. I don’t have to worry too much about word count. I get to tell my story, mold it and sculpt it into something I can proudly share with all of you, and then set it free. I don’t have to worry about whether it is meeting some marketing team’s standard, or the printing budget. I know authors who are traditionally published sitting at their desks right now trying to find an extra 30,000 words to cram into their story or a sum of 50,000 to tear out just to meet that industry standard for a publisher. In the end I think the reader suffers most because we don’t see the story as it was meant to be. What a shame that we let business people determine how our stories are crafted. At least if it is a professional editor, we can trust that they care about the integrity of the story, but what does a CEO or a financial team know about our stories? They’re job is to watch that bottom dollar.

Let me tell you how indies are using this freedom to do incredible things for readers in this modern age. We’re seeing the resurgence of the short story and the serial novel in the literary world thanks to indie authors around the globe. With ebooks, authors can share their work so easily, that a reader can now get shorts without having to buy an anthology or search through literary magazines to find them. Some of my favorite authors are even including short stories in their marketing plans these days, fitting them in between their longer novels in a series. For instance, Aaron Pogue has published several short stories to go along with his Taming Fire series, including back story and short stories to give more detail into side characters from the series. As a reader, I love this concept! If I’m engrossed in a world of characters, you can bet I want more of it! This is an area I think I’ll be dabbling in this year as I fill in the missing years between Seen and Wandering in The Wanderer Series.

Another concept I’ve been watching is the use of the serial novel in the ebook world. Once upon a time many of the world’s best stories were written this way and published in local newspapers or magazines. Now we’re seeing this traditional form of story telling reemerge. Wool was crazy successful from author Hugh Howey, netting the author millions of dollars and a ground-breaking publishing contract. Now my friend, author Susan Kaye Quinn, has created her own incredible serial titled The Debt Collector. I’ve been watching her progress very closely as I consider how I might use that model in my own work. She’s set a crazy pace, releasing a new episode in the series every few weeks! Wow! I’m not sure I could keep up with that pace, but I’m inspired to look at my list of future writing plans and see what might work best as a serial. I especially like the value this offers both to the reader and to the writer. Readers can catch smaller chunks of a story at a low price or choose to purchase the entire series for a discount. It’s amazing how this old form is making a new comeback on the modern stage.

What do you think? Does word count matter in this modern age and in the indie publishing scene? What trends are you seeing? Do you have a word count preference? Let us know what you think and then check out the opinions of other indie authors in our YA author club.

Take a few minutes to hop around to the authors’ sites and find out their preferences as well as their rationale behind them.
1. Laura A. H. Elliott 2. Bryna Butler, author Midnight Guardian series
3. T. R. Graves, Author of The Warrior Series 4. Suzy Turner, author of The Raven Saga
5. Rachel Coles, author of Into The Ruins, geek mom blog 6. K. C. Blake, author of Vampires Rule and Crushed
7. Gwenn Wright, author of Filter 8. Liz Long | Just another writer on the loose.
9. Ella James 10. Maureen Murrish
11. YA Sci Fi Author’s Ramblings 12. A Little Bit of R&R
13. Melissa Pearl 14. Terah Edun – YA Fantasy
15. Heather Sutherlin – YA Fantasy 16. Melika Dannese Lux, author of Corcitura and City of Lights
writing advice

Right2Write

Heather headshot

Today I put the finishing touches on my presentation for Saturday’s Right2Write event at the Main Library. My three test subjects gave it 3 thumbs up! (Or is that 6 thumbs up? Hm…) Here’s a sneak peek at what I’ll be sharing at the Lit Fest workshop this weekend:

Many writers and lit professors would like to tell you the rules for writing. Although those rules seem to shift and change as time marches on, they are there nonetheless. It’s your job to sort them out and decide which rules you’ll follow and which you’ll break – or at least bend a little.

So, what are the rules to writing? I’m not sure I even want to start that conversation. There are, however, a few fundamental rules to writing success. These are universal whether you are a literary writer or a subversive genre writer. All writers who want to achieve any kind of success will find these three rules helpful. Curious?

Come see me at the Arkansas Literary Festival on Saturday and I’ll pull a few tricks out of the bag to illustrate the three universal rules to writing success. Can’t make it to the festival? Don’t worry! I’ll be back here on Monday to give away my secrets and to announce the winner of my book giveaway.

To win an ebook copy of SEEN, just add your email address to my newsletter signup. I’ll announce the winner on Monday!

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Writing, writing advice, Writing Club

Writing Club: Got Plot?

Last week I promised the coolest young writers in town that I would post our writing club lesson here. Then… well, then a lot of amazing things happened to me and I got a little distracted. I can’t divulge all of the awesomeness yet, but on Saturday I was elected president of Fiction Writers of Central Arkansas. I’m honored and incredibly excited to be leading this talented group of writers here in Little Rock. It’s going to be an exciting year! In the meantime, here is the lesson I promised you:

In writing group we discussed plot by diagramming a traditional plotline. I was surprised how many of our students were familiar with this tool and all of its major parts. Here is an example for those of you who need a refresher.

Plot Parts
Introduction – This is the beginning of your story where you are introducing your characters and the setting to the reader. You can give a little background, but the general rule among writers is to go straight to the action and fill in the backstory as the plot unfolds.

Inciting Incident – This is where the story really begins. What happens that starts the journey for your characters? The dog goes missing, the contest is announced, the dead body is discovered, boy meets girl, etc. are all moments that reveal the true goal of a story. If you do not yet know your character’s goal, then you should begin here. Define the goal and then give it a consequence. What happens if they don’t reach their goal? This is the crux of finding your plot. If you can answer those two questions, then you have a plot.

Rising Action – Here the characters move steadily toward the climax of the story, growing ever closer to reaching their goal. However, don’t make it too easy for them. Be sure to add obstacles along the way or else your story will be boring and predictable.

Obstacles – What will happen to keep your main character(s) from reaching their goal? If all they have to do is walk in and take what they want with nothing to stop them, then that isn’t much of a story at all! Show us what gets in the way. These obstacles increase the dramatic suspense, but they also offer opportunities for character development. When your characters are threatened, denied satisfaction, or in danger, we get to see a lot of how they think and feel in those situations. This will draw characters together or push them apart. Make the most of your obstacles by planning ahead and you will have less trouble with writer’s block.

Climax – This is the moment when your character(s) reach their goal. It’s the big scene, so make it count! Readers want to see the struggle, so bring on the action and the drama.

Denouement – This fancy French word is simply the period of a story where we wrap it all up nicely with a satisfying ending. That doesn’t mean it has to be a happy ending, but it should provide some closure. Love a good cliff-hanger? Go right ahead, but be sure you have thought it through and the ending leaves the reader wanting more instead of scratching their heads in confusion.

Our group had a lot of questions this week about character development and point of view. We’ll cover that in detail next week, but for now I leave you with this question:

 “What is more important, the journey or the people on the journey?” 

Happy writing!

                                             ~ Heather

Writing, writing advice, Writing Club, writing exercise

Writing Club: Describing a Setting

Yesterday I met with young writers at the Main Library in Little Rock, Arkansas for our first ever NaNoWriMo group. I was blown away by the diverse group that showed up to write with us. After a long day of school, kids between the ages of 8 and 18 trickled in to share their ideas and a little of their passion for books. I heard a fifth grader swapping book ideas with a twelfth grader and saw all kinds of genres represented from poetry to crime drama. Amazing! I know some people have a hard time working with kids, but I am constantly amazed by the creativity and talent demonstrated in some of the youngest writers. I heard a few lamenting that they are forced to write what their teacher’s assign instead of what they love, but I encouraged them to write anyway because every single opportunity to write is an opportunity to improve. Then, someday you’ll be able to write what you love all day long and that is an amazing treat!

Settings
Anyway, in our short time together I shared a few tips for description and reviewed some of the brainstorming concepts I shared with all of you here a few weeks ago. I asked them to come up with three different settings. They suggested a planet, a cave, and a battleship. We listed a few adjectives to describe each setting. Here’s what we came up with:

When I see the word “planet”, I instantly picture something else entirely. Mars with its red dirt and and expansive deserts, perhaps. A green swirling fog is so unique and utterly different from what I pictured, but isn’t that incredible? With just four words we have an entirely different picture in our minds. Now the trick is to show our readers the same image we have in mind.

Show vs. Tell
 We want our readers to be able to visualize our settings, our characters, and their actions as fully as possible so that they feel as though they were in the middle of the story with them. One way to do that is to describe the setting using your five senses. So, to our list we might add a few distinctive words describing the smell of the air, the feel of the dampness on our skin, or the shouts of soldiers on the battleship. Instead of saying the deck of the battleship was wet, we will describe how the main character nearly slips as he races across the deck or we’ll describe the spray of sea water or the raging wind and rain of an enormous storm. We give our readers clues that let them decide for themselves that the deck is wet instead of just telling them it is. This involves them in the scene as a participant and gives our writing a richer quality.

It’s difficult, I won’t lie, but something we should continue to practice if we want to be better writers. So, why don’t you give it a try? Brainstorm a few settings for the story you are working on and list as many descriptive words as you can using your five senses. Then, use those words to help you create sentences to show the reader how it feels to stand in your setting. What will they see, hear, smell, feel as they enter your world? When you’re finished, come back and leave us your favorite sentence. I would love to see what you came up with as you try your hand at the Show vs. Tell technique.

                                                                       Happy Writing!

                                                                                                                ~ Heather

Indie Authors, inspiration, writing advice

Author Inspired: S.R. Johannes

Happy Monday, readers! This morning we have a fabulous treat for all of you joining us for the Uncontrollable Blog Tour. S.R. Johannes is sharing  some fabulous insight and advice for the writers among us. So, without further ado, here’s the good stuff:

Writing is hard. (duh right?!)

I never thought that until I started. All you need is love to GET started. But, if you want to stand out you need more, you need to study the craft and be a sponge for learning. Jump in. There are so many online workshops, conferences, and books. Join critique groups, get critiques, and soak up whatever feedback you can’t. Do it all. You can only get better. You can never learn too much.

That is one thing about me. When I jump in I immerse myself and like a sponge soak up what I can.

I have not always been writing fiction, but I have always written. I’ve been a copywriter for over 15 years writing marketing copy for various products. I didn’t start writing fiction until my daughter was born and I actually had time off to play around. Studying my craft, getting critiques, and joining SCBWI were the best things for me and helped moved me forward as a writer.

If I could go back, I think I would have gotten an MFA instead of a MBA. Since I can’t, I have to find other ways to learn and grow.

The biggest thing I have learned during my last 8 years of frustrations, queries, rejections, agent representation, acquisitions, revisions – is that – if you get rejected or don’t sell your book, it DOES NOT mean your book is not good enough. Publishers and agents look for what is “marketable” and what they think will “sell”. It doesn’t mean your work is not great or sellable. I never realized this until this last year and I wish I knew it sooner because it would have saved me a lot of tears.

I hung my talent on every rejection and every no. I took feedback to heart and kept telling myself I wasn’t good enough. I beat myself up every time a no came across my desk. It wasn’t until I let all that go and had faith that my book was where it needed to be – that I realized I was good enough and was actually better than I thought.

I fretted over pieces and parts of Untraceable for so long only to find out those pieces are what readers love about Untraceable.  Who knew? So try to have confidence in your work to keep going or else it can paralyze you. Take criticisms as opportunities to get better not as roadblocks to your success.

Find out what you love and what you are good at and go for it. Get to be the best at it. Do one genre awesome. I am good at thrillers. I could probably write other stuff but it is not my strength so why force it? I love thrillers and they work well for me.

But most importantly, don’t give up! Keep plugging along and eventually you will find your way.

Now, it may not be the way you had planned or envisioned, but you will find your own way when you are supposed to.

Happy writing!

 

Uncontrollable is coming soon! If you haven’t read Untraceable, grab your FREE copy today & catch up on all the excitement. Now we want to hear from all of you: What issues keep you paralyzed, unable to finish or publish your work? What inspires you to push ahead and keep trying? Please leave us a comment.

Christine Locke, Indie Authors, inspiration, writing advice

Friday Friends: Christine Locke

Christine Locke, author of Open Door, is our guest today. She shares her tips for making your stories unique and exciting.

All my kids are writers—well, all the ones over the age of 10.  There’s something about being young and exerting your personal power through words that resonates with a bright, creative soul.  Our oldest crafted realistic fiction peopled with her friends & acquaintances; her sister wrote poetry.  Our older boy wrote a fantasy fiction series set in “Dragon World.”  My younger two girls write realistic tales about young people, one in the vein of Christian fiction and the other creating screenplays for videos she acts out using her dolls and stop-motion techniques.  I can’t wait to see what my youngest two will write!

Heather has asked me to describe my own process for young writers seeking inspiration.   I’d love to help, so here are three goals I strive to meet to make a story original and entertaining.

 

 1. Make it different.

There are so many stories out that that you already know and love; how do you make your story different?  You’ve probably heard that all good stories start with the question, What if?  That’s important to ask; just don’t stop with the first twist.  Take your favorite story and give it the “What if?” treatment.  We have a name for this now: fan fiction.  It’s a great thing that sometimes leads to new writing careers.   But I encourage you to take the story born from your first What if? and ask again, What if?  Do this enough times and your favorite story and its characters drop away while an original one with new people moves in.  This story is all yours: your plot, your characters, your setting.

For Open Door, I did this with the twin ideas of power and evil (and, ok, at first my process involved a certain popular vampire storyline…).  How does power become evil?  Is power evil in itself?  Even more interesting, how does something evil get powerful?  I went on to ask, What if evil did not wear a human face?  Voldemort, Darth Vader, and Angelis: these are fantastic fictional examples of evil, but all have a familiar, distorted, almost-human form.  What if evil were just as real, but more a potential than a personification?  What if the physical form that evil wore was NOT human-like in any way?

2. Make it Personal

Only you can decide how to make your tales personal.  For Open Door, I cast a young girl as my heroine.  I’m in the middle of raising 5 of them.  I remember feeling alone, confused and isolated when I was my character’s age.  I also set my story in the 1980’s (my own adolescent years) partly to help myself remember those feelings.

Then, I decided to use a real city as my setting.  I love writing about my native Arkansas, but for Open Door, I wanted a unique location.  It had to be isolated, recently a wilderness, full of natural beauty, and a place respecting individuality and creativity.  It delighted me to “find” Eureka Springs, AR a few years ago.  Since then, I’ve visited as often as I can (you will have seen it if you watch the show “Ghost Hunters”).

The small city of Eureka Springs looks, feels, and smells like a place where magic lives.  I read somewhere that Eureka Springs is the only city in the United States where no two roads meet at right angles.  I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s believable.  When we stood in the parking lot of the hotel and looked at the church next door, we were actually looking at the church’s roof.  That’s how steep the hills are there, and it seems every structure is on the side of another hill.  To get to the church next to our hotel, we walked down steep flights of stairs built into the hill on which both the hotel and the church stand.  It’s beautiful, unique, interesting, and mysterious—and it’s great exercise!

 3. Make it perfect.

When I say to make your story perfect, I mean come as close as you can to a grammatically and visually perfect manuscript.  You want your creation to be a pleasure to read: the reader won’t notice how different & personal your story is if there are too many typos!

 

I hope you have the chance to read Open Door, and I hope you love it.  I want to wish you the very best of future success with your own tales.  Above all, I urge you to keep those pens moving across paper, those cursors blipping across screens, and those stories flowing from your own heart out into the waiting world.  Good luck and happy writing!

Friday, Indie Authors, Roger Eschbacher, Writing, writing advice

Ask an Author: Roger Eschbacher

Ask an Author by Roger Eschbacher

Hey you guys! My name is Roger Eschbacher and I write cartoons for a living. These days I’m working on two shows – The Littlest Pet Shop and Scooby Doo, Mystery Incorporated. I have a lot of fun writing animation, but I have even more fun writing books for kids. I’m a published picture book author and just this past fall I published my first middle-grade fantasy novel, Dragonfriend.

Over the years I’ve been asked to do signings and readings at book fairs, book stores, and in classrooms. When I’m finished reading from my books, I’ll take questions from kids in the audience. Here are three of the more popular ones –

Q: I want to be an author. How do I get started?

A: Before you become a writer, you need to be a reader; a hardcore reader. Reading needs to become one of the things you like to do as much as playing video games, riding your bike, or baking cookies. I call this kind of reading “pleasure reading” as opposed to the kind of reading you have to do in school. When I was a kid, I was seldom seen without a book. I loved reading then and I love reading now. Without exception, every author that I’ve ever met or read about is an avid reader who both loves books and reads for fun. They’ve been this way ever since they were kids, too.

Why is it important to be a hardcore reader before you’re a writer? Because you learn how to write your stories by reading how skilled authors write their stories. You learn what good dialogue looks like because you read books where you like what the characters are saying and how they are saying it. You learn how to describe a location or an action sequence because you read books that do this so well it’s almost like having a movie playing in your head. You learn what you like to read and why you like to read it and after a while you develop the confidence necessary to give writing a try yourself. It’s as simple as that. Not all readers become authors, but all authors are readers.

Q: Do you make a lot of money writing books?

A: Some authors make a lot of money, most do not. While I would certainly like to have the kind of success that J.K. Rowling has experienced, that’s not the reason why I write books. I do it because I have no choice. My head is full of all kinds of stories and the only way I can get them out of there is to write them down. I love to write and I love the idea that people out there, total strangers, will read my stories and, hopefully, enjoy them. That’s what keeps me writing despite the fact that I can’t afford a castle in Scotland. Not yet, anyway.

Q: Books (novels) are long! I don’t think I could ever write anything that big. How do you do it?

A: You’re right. Books, especially novels, can be very long. The way I handle the writing of a novel is to be organized and disciplined. Once I come up with an idea that sounds fun, I write a one or two page outline. I don’t go crazy into detail, just some descriptive paragraphs that help me figure out the beginning, middle, and end of the story. I list characters that come to mind and interesting settings in these paragraphs, too. These are notes to myself about what I want to write.

Then, I divide the outline up into chapters (usually 20-25). I’ll have a paragraph or so of description in each of these chapters. If this is sounding complicated to you, it really isn’t. By breaking a big thing like a novel into smaller, manageable bits, it makes it easier to give yourself permission to start writing. Writing little bits at a time isn’t as scary as the idea of writing a full novel. Everyone can write little bits.

When you’re first starting out, you don’t need to know everything about being an author or how to write a book. You just need to be brave and start writing. You’ll learn by doing, by figuring out what works and what doesn’t work as you go along. It’s okay to make mistakes. If you learn from them, mistakes help you to get better.

Then, I start writing. The way I motivate myself is by setting word count goals. My every day, non-deadline goal is 1000 words a day. This sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. A thousand words usually works out to around four double-spaced pages (I use MS Word). You could choose a smaller goal of fifty or one hundred words a day and still make some very good progress.

In a recent interview with famous author Stephen King, famous author Neil Gaiman summed it up nicely:
“I think the most important thing I learned from Stephen King I learned as a teenager, reading King’s book of essays on horror and on writing, Danse Macabre. In there he points out that if you just write a page a day, just 300 words, at the end of a year you’d have a novel. It was immensely reassuring – suddenly something huge and impossible became strangely easy. As an adult, it’s how I’ve written books I haven’t had the time to write, like my children’s novel Coraline.”

In short, if you write enough little bits, you can eventually string them all together and end up with a big old honkin’ book. That’s how I tricked myself into writing my first novel.

You can find out more about Roger Eschbacher and his books at his website, TheNovelProject.com

 

Writing, writing advice, writing exercise

Writing Exercise: Describing a Setting

I had a friend ask me today, “How do [writers] come up with all the details? When I’m reading something and the author is describing every last little detail about something, I’m just in awe because I never would have thought of it.”

What a wonderful question!  I think there are probably several good answers to this one because writers don’t all write the same way.  Still, I am happy to offer two ideas here for you who are interested and I’ll challenge you to try a little exercise with me at the end.

1. The Movie Reel

So far, in my own writing, I find that scenes appear as a sort of vivid movie in my mind.  I work as frantically as I can to describe what I’m seeing as the movie plays on, trying to capture it all while it’s fresh in my mind.  This is both good and bad.  It means that my scenes are vivid and often filled with natural movement or dialogue.  The hardest things, then, are trying to translate the emotions I can feel coming from my characters and also trying not to rush through it.  I often have to go back and do several revisions trying to fill in the blanks because I was hurrying the first draft as I attempted to capture it before the movie moved on without me.

There is a calmer way to do it, and if you aren’t lucky enough to see movies in your head, then it is how you will want to describe your scenes.

2. Twenty Questions

As a writing teacher, this is what I tell my students.  When you are describing a scene, ask yourself a few questions.

  • How does it feel there?

Weather can affect this, but so can other forces like housekeeping or strong emotions.  Ask yourself, Is it windy, warm, mild, sweltering, stuffy, scary etc.  Make a list of the words that come to mind as you imagine how it feels.  Textures can be good in a description, too.  For instance, the wall paper was smooth, the car’s paint was shiny, the cat’s fur against my cheek was soft, the carpet was thick and fluffy, etc.

  • What does it smell like?

Most every where we go has a distinct smell or two, especially when you first arrive somewhere or when something special is happening.  Does your character smell flowers, fresh bread baking, the sweat of a dog or a person, a cloud of perfume, fresh laundry, cookies in the oven, dead fish?  Just this short list of phrases draws to mind a set of images!  Imagine how describing the smell of your scene could help your reader to see your story better.

  • What do you see?

If you were standing in your character’s shoes, what would you see?  Take a look around.  Describe what would stand out to that character.  If they walk into a new house and are thinking about buying it, they will look at the details differently than if they are walking in just to deliver a package or watch some t.v.  So, try to think from your character’s perspective and ask yourself What do I see?

  • Do you hear that?

The tiny buzz of a gnat, the drip of a faucet, the whir of a fan trying to cool a room.  These are sounds that could help the reader to understand your setting better.  What does your character hear?

Try to focus on giving the reader just a few very strong visuals like these as you describe your setting.  It shouldn’t be pages and pages of you describing in painful detail every single thing you would hear, see or smell in a setting.  Just choose the ones that you think would best give the reader a real feel for the place.

Now, Try This:

Choose a setting and place a character there.  If you have a story you have already worked on, then choose one scene and try this with your character.  Close your eyes and enter the scene in your mind.  Take a good look around.  What does it feel like?  What do you smell?  What can you see?  Did you hear that?  What was it?  Then, make a list of your observations.  Choose three or four that you like best and put them together into a short paragraph, describing the scene from your character’s point of view.

Gotta Write,

Heather

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S. M. Boyce is sarcastic, gooey, and laughs too much, but her friends seem to hang out with her anyway. She’s also a fantasy author and novel editor who recently published her debut novel, The Grimoire: Lichgates. It’s the first in a young adult fantasy adventure series called The Grimoire Trilogy.
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Hey gang! Thanks for having me today. I wanted to talk about two important factors in any writer’s life: writer’s block and story ideas.
I’ve hit road blocks plenty of times while writing. Over the years, I tried writing through writer’s block, writing stream-of-consciousness journals to get the gunk out, and watching TV instead of writing anything at all. None of these techniques really worked—for me.
The thing with writer’s block is that it’s different for each person. How you overcome it is all going to depend on your creative style. That’s exactly what you wanted to hear, right? Haha. Well, the good news is that I have some ideas for helping you figure out how to overcome writer’s block.
All you have to do to get some ideas of your own is to Google “overcome writer’s block.” Every writer I’ve ever met has encountered it at some point, and it’s a popular subject. The downside is that sorting through the endless pages can actually add stress, instead of easing your worry.
So let me tell you what works for me.
Before I even write a chapter, I plot it out. Sometimes, I go so far as to add dialogue, which gives me an idea of the characters and how they will interact in this particular chapter. That way, even if I don’t feel like writing or don’t know what to write, I at least have a place to start. Often, the inspiration comes back to me if I re-read the plot outline I made.
Other times, I have to get out of the house. I spend a lot of time in my office, and spending too much time in your creative place can actually stifle creativity. So I’ll walk the dog in the nearby woods, or go for a short drive. Getting some fresh air can get those creative juices flowing again.
A very popular method of getting over writer’s block is actually to start a writing journal. There are two kinds I’ve heard of.
The first writing journal is a daily journal. Every morning, as soon as you wake up, you write non-stop for ten minutes. Just go. Whatever you want. You can even write “um, um” until you come up with something. The point is that you’re writing and “cleaning out the cobwebs” so to speak. This one doesn’t work for me, but it has helped many writers I know.
The second writing journal is the one I keep. It’s a whenever-journal, one I keep close for when I get spurts of inspiration. Sometimes I just write a character sketch, or a line of dialogue. Other times, it’s an entire story idea. That’s how the Grimoire Trilogy came to be.
Whatever you do, keep a pen and paper with you at all times. You never know when inspiration is going to strike.
I heard once that you become a master at something after practicing the art for 3 hours over ten years. So never stop writing! It just takes time, practice, and a bit of patience.
What’s your favorite way of overcoming writer’s block? Share in the comments!  One lucky reader will win a FREE ebook copy of The Gimoire: Lichgates.  Don’t forget to share this link with your literate friends.  Just click one of the buttons below the post.

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