Category Archives: Tips for Writers

Forcing Your Hero to Act

Forcing your hero to act might sometimes be tough. He may be like one of those inflatable tube men that flop around in the wind – just unable to make a stand. How do you get him to knuckle down, grow a backbone and do something for god’s sake.

First off, don’t despair. We can give that tube man some guts and a skeleton, and force him to be a real man.

Here’s how:

A Relentless Opponent

Make sure your villain is a take-charge type, with plenty of intestinal fortitude – the type that never gives up, is a manipulating bastard, and will hound the hero till he has no choice but to force the issue and take a stand. What can the villain do to do this? Plenty. Threatening the life of someone the hero loves should work unless the hero is completely lily-livered (and in that case, he should not be the her), or the bad guy could spread false rumors, tell lies or poison the hero’s pet puppy.

Bar the Doors – No One is Getting Out

Imprison your protagonist and antagonist in a room – okay, it doesn’t have to be a prison. Use your imagination and figure out how you can get them together. Maybe they’re stuck on a ship, or stranded in an elevator that’s stopped between floors or seatmates on a plane. Whatever. Only, you know as the writer, you’re not letting them leave until there is a confrontation, and your hero is forced to act in some way.

Use a Stop Watch

Literally. Forcing your hero into a time crunch will compel him to act. Just like we are forced to write to a deadline or that horrible lady sends unpleasant emails, coercing your hero or heroine into a deadline will push them to confront their fears and act. Perhaps the iceberg on which they are standing is melting and she has to tell him she loves him before they perish, or he is leaving on a jet-plane, don’t know when he’ll be back again (I know I’m dating myself with this song) and so the time for decision is on her.

 

Scene Sequels

Credit: helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com

Scene sequels are what happens after a particular scene ends.  If you’ve done your scene right and ended on a cliff-hanger, then you need sort of take a breather and forge some kind of emotional connection. In other words, make your reader care about what’s happening to your character right after you leave him hanging on the ledge.

A scene sequel does three things:

1) Gives your POV character a chance to react emotionally to whatever has happened

2) Gives him/her the opportunity to figure out how to proceed as he/she is (if you’ve done your scene correctly) in a bit of a bind – which is good. It makes your reader worry whether he/she will make the right choice

3) Sets up the next scene by making a decision one way or another

In order to write a scene sequel correctly, you have to also make sure it unfolds in the right order, because that’s the way a normal person reacts. We think emotionally, then stop to reason, consider all our options, and then carry out whatever we decide. Your character is human too (well, if he’s not, then you may be able to change this sequence of events).

1) Your character must react emotionally i.e. cry, beat his breast, chop someone’s head off!

2) Stop and review the facts – this doesn’t mean logically like Spock. It just means he tries to figure out what’s going on

3) Figure out different scenarios as in – ‘what if I did this’ or ‘what if I did that’

4) Make a decision

Think about your character discussing some terrible ordeal she’s just been through with a best friend, or perhaps praying out loud in church – going through the steps of what happened, and then coming to some kind of decision as to how to proceed. That, my friend, is a scene sequel.

Each of these steps don’t need to have the same weight each time. Maybe some times, the character is heavy on emotion, other times it’s trying to anticipate what sort of action she has to take. The only thing to remember is that these steps need to be covered.

Honesty or Whitewash

Credit: erinspain.com

Honesty or whitewash – what’s your drug? My gang of writers know that I seem to be totally incapable of whitewashing anything. I really do feel whitewash is best left for picket fences and buildings in Greece. Knowing the truth about your writing can only help to get you closer to your goal of being published.

My Online Group Experience

Recently, I met up with a couple of writers I had met. Our loose plan was to begin an online critiquing group since I wanted some input for my new story. I had taken a risk, and started a high fantasy story. It’s not my forte, but I thought I’d try something different. My usual style is contemporary fantasy. The online group started out well. They both hacked my story to bits … and they were absolutely right. It was a very early first draft, jammed full of cliches and completely pretentious. In other words – crap. And they were right.

I looked at my work, and realized that the essential bits were good, but everything else had to go. The upshot – I think my new version is working because now I’m writing my own story, not a cliched, watered down version of something else.

But the problem came with reciprocation. One writer accepted her critiques and moved on. The other tried to convince me that since she had worked in a children’s setting before, she knew better. Maybe she did. But having written for one age group does not mean you automatically know how to write for another age group. The bottom line is that if you ask for a critique, you should know how to accept honesty. If you want whitewash, well then – you should go to your mother or some other family member. Needless to say, that online group crumbled.

As writers, it behooves us to take into account what others we trust say about our work. Getting upset initially is natural. But once you get over it, honest comments can become a gift.

What do you prefer – honesty or whitewash?

You might also like these links from Writer’s Digest

Dreams, Despair and Depression

Credit: novelwomen.org

I call them the three D’s of a writer’s life – dreams, despair, and depression. First, you have a wonderful dream of writing a novel. Not just any novel – a bestseller. It will be top of the New York Times Bestselling list, will become a hit movie, and of course you will be the next J. K. Rowling aka the richest person in the world.

Hah. Reality sinks in when you start writing your magnificent opus. First draft, then tenth draft and one day you realize you are in total despair. Your characters hate you, and the feeling is reciprocal. You’ve gone through your manuscript so many times that you can’t see what the story is about any more.

That’s when depression sets in. You will never sell the stupid thing, no one will ever want to read it, and you are a total bust.

How to Help Yourself

Here are a couple of ways to help you hang on to your dream, to kick despair out of your life and to tell depression to take a hike – a really long one, far away from you.

Worm your way into a critiquing group. A good critiquing partner is worth his/her weight in not just gold – make that diamonds. He/she will quite often have far better insight into your own work than you do. It’s a weird phenomenon, but true.

The second way is to join a creative writing class or hire a creative writing coach. My gang of writers at Beyond-the-Lamppost have become sharks … and I love it. They’ve learned to glean not only the essential parts of each writer’s characters, plot and conflict, but they also offer suggestions on how to improve the work, cut out extraneous bits, and craft the work into something that stands out in quality and originality.

How do you deal with dreams, despair and depression when writing?

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Trusting Your Gut Instinct

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Trusting your gut instinct is not as easy as it sounds. Years ago, when I first immigrated to Canada I worked as a secretary in a big paper company, right in the center of Montreal in the wonderful old SunLife Building. It was a great introduction to Canada, but I hated working as a secretary especially when I got promoted to be the Big Boss’ secretary. That meant I had to make him his daily cup of soup in addition to my other work. Grr, I absolutely detested it.

My Trigger for Change

But one day I visited a school friend of mine who worked at the World Bank in Washington. It was great fun until she made me cry. Yep, she got under my skin and made me feel awful because she made me realize one important thing (which I didn’t want to hear at that time) – I was in a job I hated and which did not suit me and … I could do so much better.

Once I got over my crying jag, I realized she was right. That’s when my gut instinct kicked in. I marched into my boss’ office (I wish I could say I told him where to stuff his cup of soup, but I didn’t) and quit to go back to university and get my Bachelor’s in Journalism.

That was the beginning of my belief in gut instinct. Whenever I’ve used it, it’s never let me down. When I’ve sat there analyzing my actions and decisions, I fall flat. My decision to become a writing coach was based on expertise – yes, but it was also based on my gut instinct that I could do the job. I had the qualifications, the knowhow and the temperament but most of all – my gut instinct told me I would be good at it. And it was right.

What does your gut instinct tell you?

You might also like these links from Writer’s Digest:

The Internet and the Writer

As a writer, I can safely say that the internet is a boon and a bane to me. So easy to waste time and energy getting sidetracked by Facebook, or by some research you knew you had to do. One click leads to another, and another and by the time you’ve scrolled through umpteen pages – it’s lunch time and you’ve written but a single paragraph.

1. Research

Everything is so much easier with the internet at your fingertips. Whether it be looking up a word or synonym in a thesaurus or finding the perfect name for your character from sites like fantasynamegenerator.com

I’ve researched agents, publishers, scrolled through dozens of blogs to learn about the publishing business, or to check on my favorite authors. You want it – it’s there.

2. Agent Tracker

Looking for agents for your book just became that much quicker and easier. All you need to do is type in your criteria into your favorite search engine and within seconds you can find all the literary agents you could possibly query.

3. The Miracle of Email

Once upon a time, you had to send your query and first pages in by snail mail. Not only did it cost a bundle, waiting twelve weeks or more for an answer was completely unfeasible. Nowadays, with a click of your mouse you can send your query out to as many agents as you want. How great is that.

4. Google Earth and YouTube

With Google Earth and the ever-expanding world of travel blogs, you can journey anywhere in the world and garner some cool virtual insight into places you know you’ll never be able to afford to visit. I had to do some research on Kolkotta and while I lived there when it was known as Calcutta, there’s a lot I’ve forgotten. Somewhere, someone has visited it and uploaded a wealth of information just for you.

5. Online Forums

I’ve used online forums like Absolute Write to check what others have thought of different agents – whether they respond back or just throw your precious words on the scrap head. I’ve also answered questions on sites like Quora so that others can benefit from something I know.

Just don’t waste your time.

You might also like these posts from Writer’s Digest:

Rules for Writers

rulesRules I Agree With

Never open a book with weather – Agree (Boring)

Never use the words “suddenly”. Agree – within reason.

Winter 2016/2017
Creative Writing 101 – Tues. afternoons Jan. 10 – March 14 in Oakville – details HERE 
Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons Jan. 11 – March 15 in Oakville  – details HERE
Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons Jan. 12 – March 16 in Oakville – details HERE

Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Agree – it can become fatiguing quickly

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. Agree completely

Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK – Agree.

Carry something to write on at all times. Agree – you never know when inspiration will hit

If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick – Agree – don’t be stupid

If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page. – Agree. Doing nothing gets you nowhere

Give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Agree – it will bring your book alive

Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. Agree, within reason. If you keep changing your mind, you’ll get nowhere

A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk – Agree, or sleep on it

Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. Agree – your job is to finish your book

Keep a diary. Agree – if you don’t you’ll regret all those great thoughts or character you forgot to jot down

Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. Absolutely agree – don’t depend on just one idea

The way to write a book is to actually write a book. Absolutely agree – just do it.

Rules I Disagree With

Avoid prologues – Disagree (I read them all and find them fascinating)

Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue – Disagree – Said is one of the best dialogue tags to use, but mix it up every now and then for variety

Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” – Disagree –  They can be powerful when used with a discerning eye

Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. Bah – humbug – Disagree –  J.K. Rowling uses them by the handful – on each page

Don’t write in public places. Disagree – Write wherever is right for you

You might also like these posts from Writer’s Digest:

 

Strong Female Characters

 

hermioneTen Tips for Creating Strong Female Characters

1. Strong female characters should be people first and female second. The fact that they’re women shouldn’t get in the way of their other traits – whether good or bad.

2. All the women in your novel need not be sexy. Are all your male characters gorgeous with no other characteristics?

Winter 2016/2017
Crafting Your Novel – Tues. afternoons Jan. 3 – March 21 in Oakville – details HERE 

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons Jan. 4 – March 22 in Oakville  – details HERE
Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons Jan. 5 – March 23 in Oakville – details HERE

3. Most women are not wispy waifs or voluptuous Victoria Secret models. A woman can be attractive and not fit a stereotype.

4. Just because a woman is competent, strong and independent does not mean she has to be a Plain Jane. Think Buffy, Hermione Granger and Scarlett O’Hara.

5. Making your female character good at stereotypical boy things like an auto-mechanic in order to depict she’s a strong character is a cop-out. Sure, she can be a mechanic if that’s what she likes to do, but don’t do it for reason.

6. A lot of women will probably notice bad skin or frumpy outfits on another woman, but beyond that they won’t scrutinize the other woman too hard. They’re way more likely to notice a snooty expression or a false smile.

7. Not all women want marriage and children. Some want one or the other, some want neither. Likewise, not all women want to be CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Some want to be psychiatrists or artists or teachers or musicians…or whatever else – just like men.

8. Female characters should probably not be solely motivated by a need to have the approval or attention of a man. Or all men in general, really. Female characters who do this ought to change by the end of the story, and realize that their happiness shouldn’t depend on the whims of menfolk.

9. Avoid overly ‘man-hating’ women. Being empowered doesn’t mean she’s terrible to men just for being men—it just means she’s not stepped on for being a woman

10. Don’t have a female character just to have a female character. Make her a whole person.

You might also like these posts from Writer’s Digest:

Real People in Fiction

kim-karMany times your plot might call for using real people in your story – is that kosher? Can you do it without being sued? For example, you might want to use the crazy Hell’s Angel character who happens to live on your street or a celebrity you may have met, or know about. Would you be sued?

Winter 2016/2017
Crafting Your Novel – Tues. afternoons Jan. 3 – March 21 in Oakville – details HERE 

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons Jan. 4 – March 22 in Oakville  – details HERE
Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons Jan. 5 – March 23 in Oakville – details HERE

A Short Guide

  • Rule for celebrities are different than for us common folk. Their names and faces are worth money, plus they have the dough to sue you if they don’t like, or object to what you have written about them. If it is a dead celebrity, the rule is different, although there are exceptions (people who have died in California and some other states still have rights or perhaps it is their estates that have the right – you will need to find out about this for sure before you write about someone from such states).
  • Generally, once a person is dead, their rights die with them.spock
  • Generally, you cannot use a live person as a character in your book because it invades their privacy and there is a possibility that they could bring a libel suit against you if you have them (as your character) say or do something that goes against what they might actually do or say in real life.
  • Cameos are acceptable, especially if you use an actual event they attended or spoke at. Anything that you cull from an interview with the person can also be used. You cannot change the facts. If you say that your character looks like Paul Newman in one of his movies, that’s fine.
  • Ordinary people like your weird uncle or crazy aunt also have privacy rights. They may not sue you, but they will despise you and perhaps turn your family against you … or they could lap it up. You never know.

Strategies if you have to use a real person

  • Change their name and details so they cannot recognize themselves
  • Don’t make them look absurd or turn them into criminals. Most people would love the notoriety, but you just never know

There’s no law against using someone’s story to inspire your own. In fact, it is a common way for authors to get ideas. Alice in Alice in Wonderland was based on Alice Liddell as everyone knows and there are so many others.

In fact, we often use anecdotes and stories from our own life to kick-start our novels. And that’s great. It brings a certain veracity to your story. Just remember that there are others who are involved as well who might take exception to what you say – it is part of their life too, after all.

You might also like these posts from Writer’s Digest:

Writing Good Prose

proseWriting good prose is an art worth cultivating. Many writers are adept at it, while others aren’t so good. Develop this skill if you expect to become a published author.

You probably have one short paragraph to capture a literary agent’s attention before they toss your masterpiece aside. So what should a budding novelist do?

Winter 2016/2017
Crafting Your Novel – Tues. afternoons Jan. 3 – March 21 in Oakville – details HERE 
Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons Jan. 4 – March 22 in Oakville  – details HERE
Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons Jan. 5 – March 23 in Oakville – details HERE

Sharpen Your Writing Skillssharpening-steel-app1

An agent will be able to tell almost instantly if the writing has an amateurish cast to it. You may have the most intricate and exciting plot and a climax to beat all others but if the reader doesn’t get past your poor writing, your novel will never get published. Get rid of flat, boring writing. Juice up your prose, give your words depth and excitement. Grab them by their consonants and make them pay you for using them.

Good Quality Prose

Toss the hackneyed, trite and well-worn phrases. That means no clichés please. They’re stale, dull and often inaccurate. What exactly does ‘fit as a fiddle’ even mean? Invent your own metaphors and similes. They’ll freshen up your narrative and give it your own creative twist.

Simple and Direct

dickensLeave Dickens where he belongs – in the nineteenth century. His convoluted prose might have brought him top dollar and earned him a place in the classics but let’s face it – who talks like this anymore? “What extravagances she committed; what laughing and crying over me; what pride she showed, what joy, what sorrow that she whose pride and joy I might have been, could never hold me in a fond embrace; I have not the heart to tell.” This type of monologue worked for David Copperfield. It will not work for you. Instead, try being simple and direct. Say YES to short, active sentences and a resounding NO to passive, tortuous language.

Your Reader is Not a Fool

Hitting the reader over the hat with a fistful of adjectives will show you for what you are – an amateur writer. Good writers know to use them judiciously. Trust in your reader to use his/her head. Several adjectives in a row will most often, weaken your sentence. Delete some and see for yourself.

To Be or Not to Be

This verb, in all its different forms, can dull your prose and squash your writing. What are the different forms of ‘to be’? They are: ‘am,’ ‘is,’ ‘are,’ ‘was,’ ‘were,’ ‘be,’ ‘being,’ ‘been,’ and the future ‘will.’ Notice how often you use them and watch how they can turn a sprightly phrase into a stodgy, boring union of words.

Check out these articles from Writer’s Digest:

1. Does a High School Protagonist Mean Your Book is Young Adult?
2. Six Tips for Writing Young Adult Horror.
3. How to Write for Teens Without Sounding Like an Adult Writing for Teens.