Category Archives: Craft

Foreign Phrases in Your Novel


by Joanna Maciejewska

Sometimes a foreign character wanders onto our pages, and they simply insist on speaking a phrase or two in their native language. But even if you’re lucky to know several languages, they might not be the ones you need for your current work-in-progress. With the limited time in any writer’s life, it’s impossible to start learning foreign language for the sole purpose of inserting a few flavor lines. At the same time, giving up on making the character more real is not an option. What to do then?

Should you use Google Translate for your foreign phrases?

I’ll be completely honest with you. I love Google Translate for the easy access to content in languages I don’t understand. It’s great when I have an article in French, and I want to have an idea what it is about. But if you ever used it this way, you surely noticed how choppy and somewhat chaotic the translation is. Now imagine, that your perfect phrases in English get translated the same way! If you haven’t come across it yet, go ahead and give it a try! Paste a paragraph in a language you don’t know and press “translate!”

Google Translate has limited context and not all the languages behave the same way. If you’ve ever a bit of Spanish, you know adjectives got after the noun, not before it. This is a rather simple example that Google Translate could handle, but there are many more complex issues that you might not be aware of. Proverbs, slang, lack of context, and so on.

Also, some foreign phrases might be translated correctly, but they aren’t used in common speech. If you character speaks this way, they’ll sound unnatural.

Let me give you an example. I speak Polish, so let’s assume that you want a simple phrase, “thank you” translated into Polish. Google Translate will promptly give “Dziękuję Ci” as an equivalent, and even though it’s not incorrect, it’s not used in common speech. We simply use “dziękuję” (it still means “thank you”, not “thanks” which would be “dzięki”). Saying “Dziękuję Ci” would make the character sound… artificial or even passive-aggressive. On top of that, “Ci” is only capitalized in letters, emails, and direct messages, when it’s directly addressing recipient. In fiction, it’s not.

Is your head spinning already? And I’ve only taken a very simple phrase! Imagine the pitfalls of the whole sentence translated by the machine!

What can you do instead?

The Internet gives you a lot of options that are much easier and cheaper, than hiring a translator.

First, you can search for “common phrases in…” and you might find websites that already list what you need. They’ll be the equivalent of the tourist phrasebooks you can pick up at stores. Those might be an option too, but depending on which language you need, it might not be easy to find one in your local bookstore.

If you belong to any writers’ groups, especially the online ones which usually gather writers from across the world, you can ask for help there. If it’s just several foreign phrases, someone will likely volunteer to help you. If you can, search for the native speakers, because they’ll be aware of various slang expressions, commonly used phrases, or even if something has a double meaning you’d prefer to avoid.

Twitter is another good place to ask. Even if you don’t have anyone among your followers who could translate the foreign phrases you need, they might know someone who does. Or they might retweet your message, because some of their followers might now. This way, you can reach out to people you wouldn’t have found on your own. Once, I had three followers of mine tag me in a thread by some author I’ve never met who needed help with some expressions in Polish, so I can attest it works!

Foreign Phrases in Your Novel

What if your foreign phrases are in a language that doesn’t exist?

This gets a bit more tricky, and it actually is a topic for a separate post, but let’s cover some basics.

I mentioned above that languages (especially languages that aren’t from the same family), don’t behave the same way. Which means that replacing English words with made up words won’t do, and applying the same grammar rules will make the made-up language feel unbelievable.

Once, I was beta-reading a story where there was an alien word for orphan. Let’s say it was “dadala”. The author promptly created “orphanage” and “dadalage” which suggested that aliens from across the aliens from across the galaxy used English grammar. And even if you look at the Earth languages, the word creation differs. In Polish, an orphan is “sierota”, but there’s no “sierotage”: there is “sierociniec” for orphanage.

I could point out more examples how different languages can be. In Polish, all verbs are conjugated to point out gender, so pronouns aren’t often used. Which means that Polish “went to the store” will tell you whether it was I, we, he, or she who went to the store. Meanwhile in Japanese, when you want to do something, for example go to the store, you’d attach the suffix -tai to the conjugated verb. So in a literal translation it would be something like “I to the store go-want”. (Yes, they have a different word order too!)

So, unfortunately, you need to study languages a bit. Mix and match different grammar rules, and keep track of what rules you’ve applied so far to keep consistent with any future foreign phrases. It might seem tedious, but at the same time, it can be very rewarding if you get into it.

Is inserting foreign phrases worth it?

When done in moderation, interesting sayings or foreign phrases can add a lot of flavor to the character, but at the same time it might feel like it isn’t worth the effort. After all, you don’t want to overwhelm your readers, so you won’t be using too many of them. Every writer can decide for themselves how much time they’re willing to devote to them, but with the easy connection the Internet offers, it seems like a good opportunity to get the foreign phrases right. Not to mention of possibly making some new friends along the way.


Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science-fiction writer who was born in Poland, spent a little under a decade in Ireland, and now resides in Arizona. She had stories published in Polish magazines (“Nowa Fantastyka”, “Science-Fiction Fantasy i Horror”) and anthologies (Fabryka Słów, Replika, Solaris), and she also writes in English (“Fiction Vortex”, “Phantaxis”). You can find out more about her and her stories at melfka.com or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

A Better Toolkit: The Value of Practice Writing


by Christine Hennebury

Note: I know that a lot of people don’t like to do writing exercises, or in fact,do any writing that isn’t their WIP. If that’s the case for you and things are going well, carry on! However, if you are finding it hard to get your writing done, you might want to consider the benefits of practice.

Writing is like any other skill, it improves with practice. You can get practice by regularly producing stories and articles, but there is also value in deliberate practice for practice’s sake.

I’d like to see more writers carve out a little time to write for the sake of practicing, without a ‘product’ in mind. Writing for practice sharpens our skills, hones our ability to write on demand, and improves our regular writing habits.

Practice gives us better tools. When we use those quality tools in our stories and our articles, we will be far more effective as writers.

If the idea of writing for practice seems odd to you, consider how practice works in another context. In Taekwondo, for example, I spend a lot of time practicing.  For patterns,  I break them down  into smaller ‘fundamental’ movements and do them over and over again. Then,  I slowly go over the whole thing, figuring out how the different sections fit together. For kicks and punches, I end up doing each one hundreds of times and I work on specific parts of the motion.

In the last few years, I have come to accept the value of doing the same thing with my writing. When I joined the 10 Minute Novelists 365 writing club, I got into the habit of writing every day which felt great. Despite feeling great, I still had some frustration because I felt that I wasn’t doing anything with my writing. It was just sitting there.

That’s when I realized that ‘doing something’ with the writing was not where the value of daily writing was for me. it was about establishing a pattern, it was about practicing. It was about learning how to get my brain into writing mode.

Ever since that first year with the group, I can now ‘force’ myself to write. I can choose to bring my focus to the page – a skill I developed in the 365 group – and just start writing. No matter what the topic,  the skills I developed though practice always see me through to a finished product.

That’s just one benefit of writing practice.

Practicing All The Pieces

Being able to choose to get down to work is not the only way that practice is helpful. When I write for writing’s sake, I practice things like character development, opening sentences, descriptions, and transition lines.  It’s just like when I break down my TKD patterns into chunks – that kind of practice is not intended to be visible to others. I never write a story by saying ‘Here is my opening sentence, here is my transition, now I will add my character.’ I don’t need to consciously choose each of those story aspects because my practice has made me confident about them.

It’s much like when I do my patterns for a competition, I don’t name each move in my head. I just let my body take over and pull the practiced pieces together. When I’m writing, my practice with the bits and pieces means I have lots of skills to apply quickly to a story or article.

“Writing is like a sport – you only get better if you practice.” – Rick Riordan

 

Good Use of Writing Time

I know that a lot of us are strapped for time. When you are short on time, it might seem counterproductive to use some of it practicing. However, any time that we spend practicing makes us better at our craft. That, in turn, means that, we will be able to write more quickly and be more effective  in writing our WIP. We will have a sort of ‘muscle memory’ for better writing.

 

Ways To Get Some Practice In

  1. Substitute – Pick one of your short writing sessions each week to dedicate to practice instead of your WIP.
  2. Warm up – Start each writing session with a few minutes of practice.
  3. Pick a Time – Choose a specific time each week/month/quarter to practice your writing. Choose exercises ahead of time and dive in.
  4. Find the cracks– Keep a ‘specific practice notebook in your bag or in your car.  Do practice exercises in little crevices of time in your day.
  5. Talk it out – Try describing things aloud as you drive. Dream up good opening lines and say them to yourself while you make supper. You are still practicing, even if it’s not written down.

 

Writing for practice is a very different thing than writing for a specific purpose. Practice writing may not produce publishable material but it will make you a sharper writer.

When you get lots of practice, you will find it easier to get down to work, and you will have a very effective set of writing tools at your disposal.


Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her  hand. Luckily, her skills have improved since then. Christine makes up stories, shares stories, and coaches other people who are working on stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Find out more about her writing & coaching at www.christinehennebury.com  or visit her on Facebook .

 

Great Advice for Writers of Short Stories

By Rebecca Dempsey

After more than a decade of writing short stories, here is what I have learned. 

  • Write. 
  • Read short stories. Read across genres, authors, places and times. I recommend Jorge Luis Borges, Arthur Conan Doyle, Carmel Bird, Ambrose Bierce, Etgar Keret, Tim Winton, DH Lawrence and Flannery O’Connor etc.
  • The shorter the work the keener the focus is on how it is written. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation matter. There could be as little as 10 words to grab and hold someone’s attention so errors are distracting.
  • Don’t have a cast of thousands, or a story crossing continents or time periods when there are only 500 words to do it in, it’s too difficult and rarely convincing. A short story is a moment, a slice of something, or an episode, or an event, yet always complete in itself.
  • Anecdotes are not stories. Real life is rarely story material, because life is just one thing after another. A story should have some kind of start, end and finish, with an arc or revelation to give it meaning or value.

  • Work on the ending. The ‘it was all a dream’ ending should be banished to the sixth circle of Dante’s Inferno unless you make it freaking A M A Z I N G.
  • Almost always use said or says rather than he ‘exclaimed proudly’ or she ‘enunciated snidely’ – we should understand tone and attitude from the context and the words said because there should be no wasted words in a short story.
  • Give speech context:  ‘You’re always so right,’ said Evie, before slamming the door in his face. Brian heard her turn the key in the lock and something inside him turned. He pounded the door. ‘No lock’ll stop me, Evie.’  Not my best effort but the attitude and emotions of Evie and Brian are conveyed by their actions rather than me interpreting how their words are said.
  • Write how people talk but providing a taste of an accent will do. Don’t overwhelm.
  • Stories can take minutes or years to finish. They can be five words or 7,000 plus long. Time to produce does not equal length.
  • Structure is everything. It affects tone, pacing, how the piece looks on the page and how people will read it.
  • Look at sentence construction. Look at the start of each paragraph and if the first word is the same for each change some.
  • Look at point of view and be prepared to change it. Should it be from Brian or Evie’s perspective?
  • Break up long sentences if you have many, or insert a long sentence in if your writing is always punchy.
  • Make repeated phrases or words meaningful. People see meaning in repetitions because they are word symbols and readers are always looking for clues. If repetitions are accidental, cut them out, as they are a distraction.
  • Be prepared to break rules.
  • Be prepared to defend your artistic decisions to editors; however, recognize when they are right. Editors are not killing your baby but saving it. For your story to thrive, you must let it go. Really, step away and let people read it and have opinions about it.
  • Don’t trust the opinions of those who are obliged to love everything you do.
  • Nothing is original except you. Work on your voice, rather than your ideas. If you don’t know what voice is in writing then you’re probably still developing yours. And that’s ok.
  • Expect that not everyone will love your story. Expect that you won’t either if you go back to something written a while ago. The writing hasn’t changed, you have.
  • Contests can be difficult to win and costly to enter. Try sending a story to a journal and getting a response from an editor.
  • Rejections are not about you. Sometimes they are not about your work. If they are about your work, edit it. Or send it elsewhere. Maybe the publication was wrong for your story or maybe your story isn’t done.
  • Write, finish and walk away. Come back to your story later. Read it with fresh eyes. Then edit.
  • Draft. Draft. Draft. Send. Draft. Draft. Send. Repeat.
  • Keep a database of titles, submissions, acceptances, costs, dates, earnings etc.
  • Most publications will not take submissions that have been self-published. Beware vanity publishers.
  • Celebrate your publications or milestones.
  • Short stories don’t have to be training wheels for potential novels. Nobody is forcing you to be a novelist. Especially with the return of the novella and digital media looking for short form stuff.
  • For novelists, just because you can pump out 100,000 words does mean a short story is a cake walk. Short stories need a deft yet delicate touch to contain their potential for power.

Rebecca Dempsey has been writing short stories since 2003, with works in print and online from New South Wales to Nevada. She holds a Masters in Writing and Literature from Deakin University, and a Bachelor of Arts, Honours in Humanities. Rebecca has written for newspapers and journals and keeps a blog at writingbec.wordpress.com.

More Questions To Ask After That First Draft Is Done

Your first draft is done!

And trust me when I say this, it is not ready to be published! 

How do you know this? No one writes a perfect first draft. You don’t either. Before you let your mom, your best buddy or the pizza guy read this draft, make sure it’s the best you can make it.

15 More Questions To Ask After That First Draft is Done by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelists

Here are questions you can ask about this draft.

Go on! Take your time to think about it! Make notes!  Each change you make will probably be for the better. And if you are serious about getting this published, then you’ll be far more marketable and competitive in this saturated markets. Your pizza guy? He probably won’t notice the changes precisely, but he probably will enjoy the pacing, characterization, and conflict. Make sure you tip him well.

Are there believable surprises in your story?

Your reader needs to be surprised, so think of ways to put the unexpected in. What if the sidekick decides to betray our main character? Or what if the getaway is interrupted by a car crash? What if the protagonist is recognized by the guard? Or what if the love interest is really that bully from her childhood? What if his food allergies give away his identity? It’s hard when you’ve read your work a million times to see a surprise (that’s where a beta reader could come in) but keep thinking! Surprises keep your readers turning pages long after they should be in bed!

 

Do the supporting characters contrast the main character enough in what they do or say?

When creating your cast of characters, think of the supporting cast as an ensemble. They should have different personality types, different life experiences, different points of view. And they should never get along perfectly. The main character could take turns listening to each one and yet changing his loyalties. What do you have in this draft? Consider each one carefully and make necessary changes.

Is every supporting character necessary?

Can you cut any out? When creating characters, think about variety and roles that each character plays. Just like our main character, each of the supporting cast should have desires and objectives. To make good conflict, you don’t want them to perfectly align with your protagonists. But if they are too similar, you may have a problem.  If you have characters that are too much the same either make one an extreme exaggeration or eliminate one altogether.

Do you have a subplot or two that can divert the reader from the main story, just for a moment?

A good subplot harmonizes with the main plot, it doesn’t compete with it. If you don’t have one in this draft, now’s the time to add one.  That’s why a romantic subplot often works in books that aren’t necessarily romances. Cutting away to the subplot, right when the tension in the main plot is high, is a good strategic move for story telling. Your readers will be invested in both if you do this right, and they’ll keep reading.

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Is your antagonist too much of a cartoon?

It’s really easy to take a villain and put a mustache, beard and black hat on him. You can do that in the first draft. But the more you make him like a cartoon the less serious he will be to your reader. Have you taken the worst of your antagonist and exaggerated it to the point of caricature? It may be better to work with their nuances, their personalities, and their worldview rather than their quest for “one meelion” dollars.

Is your antagonist’s objective clear?

Does it oppose your protagonist enough? Do you want to have your antagonist monolog to reveal all of their intentions to your good guy? Or would it come up some other way? Antagonist development is really important. The richer you make this conflict between him and the protagonist, the more interesting your story.

Is your dialogue distinctive between characters?

The voice between the characters should be so distinctive that you could remove the dialog tags and still know what’s going on. If you don’t see any distinction, this could mean that you have too many characters or too many that are alike. Consider merging a couple together or killing a few darlings.

What do all of the characters learn by the end?

Every character needs to have some sort of arc. This means that by the end of the story everyone has had a change for the better or for the worse. The change could be a physical change, or it could be financial, spiritual, emotional, academic or professional. The point is that growth is evident to the reader.

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Do you add in touches of sensory description in each scene?

Sensory descriptions can make the scene come alive. Consider using three descriptors, but not too many more. A scene that’s too heavy handed with description can be boring, so take care that you don’t get carried away.

Is the mood and tone of the story consistent with the theme and the genre?

Tone is the emotional weight of the narration. For example, thrillers are mostly serious. Romances are more light-hearted. Comedies, regardless of their setting, are the lightest of all. If you’re writing genre fiction, you want to sound like all of the other books in your genre. If your tone is too different from what is expected, you may turn off some readers.

Do your scenes feel like they build with excitement like the tension is increasing as the story plays out?

Each scene requires a push or a pull, toward the main character’s objective or away from it. There should be a sense of more gained than lost, and each scene is more treacherous than the last.

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Do your protagonist and antagonist have a final conflict where something unexpected happens?

This should happen late in the second act. There should be a point when all hell breaks loose and your protagonist and your antagonist are at each other’s throats. You’ve seen this scene in countless movies — the final showdown. Now, if you do this well, you don’t make it last too short or too long, you give the villain the upper hand for just a second and then BAM! Something unexpected helps the protagonist out and your bad guy gets the Disney accidental-death-by-falling-which-technically-doesn’t-make-your-good-guy-a-murderer. Okay, maybe that’s a big much for your romance, but you get what I’m trying to say.

Does your protagonist make a choice between two mutually exclusive desires?

This conflict is one of my very favorite things to create for my characters. They’ve have wanted to get to A for a long, long time — say 250 pages — and here they are, just about to touch it and have what they want but then, THEN, they realize they’ll lose B if they do! B?? B?? Oh, not B! This is good conflict. Set your characters up to make them choose!

Is your ending predictable?

This is the funny thing about endings: the need to be believable and probable, but not completely predictable. Before you write that conclusion, make sure you’ve considered all of the options. Make a list, if you have to, of what could happen and then choose the most ridiculous, most mind-boggling or most odd. Your reader would prefer a good surprise rather than an “oh, I saw that coming!”

Does your third act bring all the characters to a new, permanent place that makes sense?

Your third act is where everyone cleans up the mess of the climax and goes on about their lives. If you’ve done your job well, then each character has a new, permanent change in their life. Third acts should be much shorter than the second act, and maybe even shorter than the third. Don’t over do it. Just sum it all up in a tidy bow and write The End.

Your first draft is certainly something to be proud of, but a well-crafted novel is even moreso. Use these questions to make your draft the best it can be.


Did you like this post? You may also like:

Twelve Questions To Ask Yourself After That First Draft Is Done and 16 Questions About Body Language & Appearance For Your Character


 


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Twelve Questions To Ask Yourself After That First Draft Is Done

You’ve finished your first draft!

You are so, so, so proud. This is an accomplishment worth celebrating!

And in the midst of your hard work, you’ve fought all kinds of self-doubt and torment. The quoted author was right, you really did just open a vein and bleed. 

But you’re not done. Please, for the love of all that is super easy publishing, please don’t think you’re done. If your goal is to be a serious writer, to be a viable literary force in your genre, to be a legitimate player in the world of books, please don’t stop with your first draft. You’ll need to improve on it.

Here are twelve questions to ask yourself as you go back and improve.

12 Questions To Ask After That First Draft is Done by Katharine Grubb

 

Have you captured the readers’ attention from the first page?

You know that you do if your main character takes action. The scene needs to be active and visual so that your reader can see well what is happening. If you have an inciting incident, then you’ve created a trigger that will get the story flowing. If you introduce an idea to your main character, one that could be interesting and adventurous, then you’re getting him ready for launch into the next couple of chapters.

Have you created a picture within the first two pages that the reader can visualize?

You can do this with specific description abut not too much. Also, you can do this by adding in sensory details, but not too much. You should also give plenty of clues to the time and place of the story so that the reader can be intrigued.

Is your inciting incident obvious and require the main character to react?

This is an event that begins the story. Everything that happens could be a result of that event. This incident may reveal the character and desires of the main character to the reader. You may not have done this with the first draft. No worries! Now’s the time to fix it!

What mysteries did you introduce in the first act that have been revealed in the third?

This could be something obvious, like ‘who killed Kevin?’ or it could be something more subtle. This will depend on your genre. Your main character may want answers and spend the whole book getting them. But this unanswered moment can potentially capture the reader and draw them in enough so that they want to know the answer the question and they keep reading. And now that you’ve completed a draft, you know where you’re going. You can go back to the beginning and scatter hints in the first act that will lead up to the third.

The FIRST EVER Conference for 10 Minute Novelists will be held August 9-11, 2018 in Cincinnati, OH. We’re featuring Donald Maass, James Scott Bell and Janice Hardy! Come and learn with us!

Does your protagonist go through a literal or figurative gateway about one-third of the way in?

This can be the set off to a grand adventure. It can also be taking a chance on a new romance. It could also be literal– your character flies to Bermuda. Everything that happens before this point is an introduction. Everything after is really what the story is about. Not sure if your draft has three acts? You can brush up on story structure here. 

Does your protagonist go on a literal or figurative journey after that point?

In this type of plot, a character needs to be curious too. He/ she needs to discover the world around them, get lost, misunderstand some sign posts and correct himself. This journey is the gist of the second act. Don’t hesitate to give him a lot of conflicts, dangers and moments in which he has to make decisions. All of this is what makes up the meat of the story!

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Do you have a character that exposes your main character’s secrets?

We are not angels. Our characters should be either. You could either give this job to the antagonist, which of course would make the reader love/hate him all the more. Or you could give the job of secret-revealer to a trusted friend who doesn’t realize what they are doing. Either way, allow exposure to be a problem for our main character. This will amp up the conflict and that’s what good storytelling is all about.

Does your main character have enough hindrances to their goal?

Besides the secrets exposed, you should also throw in a lot of obstacles in their way. Make some of it physical, like the car won’t start, they ran out of Omega 3 crystals for the transponder, or Hurricane Katrina is barreling into New Orleans any day now. But you could also make it from their own inner lives: they have a PTSD episode, the ex shows up with an engagement ring, or they get the call from a casting agent at the totally wrong time. All of these things add more layers of conflict!

Is your main character blind to major character flaws that are holding them back?

What if your main character has intimacy issues and pushes others away? What if they can only talk about themselves? What if they hate their appearance? This also can create some good conflict especially if the people they are pushing away are the very people they need to meet their goals.

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Does your main character make mistakes that cause the reader to want to read more?

You want to bring your reader to that happy balance of them cheering for your main character and then also wishing they get it right next time. This is tough to do, and in my humble opinion, likable protagonists are overrated. What ISN’T overrated is the need for a reader to want to follow a character’s choices without getting exasperated by them. If you want to get me started, ask me about my love/hate relationship with Rory Gilmore!

Does your main character show something positive in their personality within the first two or three pages?

Blake Snyder calls this the Save the Cat moment. In the first few pages, your reader needs to see your main character do something really good — like saving a cat. This moment should be altruistic, humble, kind, and compassionate. Your readers need this so that they know that your main character is not just the good guy (he isn’t, necessarily) but that he’s worth following on an adventure. This goodness should be enough to get your reader motivated.

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Toni Morrison

Have you revealed to your reader what your main character fears most of all?

Personally, I think that real honest to goodness fear isn’t tapped into enough with main characters (but that could just be me, the PTSD survivor talking.) I think that well-drawn main characters have a foundational fear — if this should happen, then they believe that their whole world will fall apart. A good author should figure this out, have it revealed subtly in the first couple of chapters and then put their poor main character through the wringer as they face that fear over and over again in the story.

Now, these are just a handful of the questions that you should ask.

And ideally, the questions should prompt you to make a few notes in your first draft and fill in holes, move things around add in stuff and take stuff away.

Don’t freak out.

You’re supposed to have more than one draft. Some writers have dozens. Do what you need to do to make your story sing, even if it means getting to eight or ten drafts.

It’s well worth the time and effort to make your story great.


If you like this post, you may also like:

10 Writing Prompts To Help You Unstick Your First Draft and Five Signs To Keep Writers From Going Wrong


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

How The “There Are No Rules” Rule Can Set You Up For Failure & Mockery

I’m not sure who started the “there are no rules in writing” rule.

It certainly wasn’t an English teacher.

There ARE rules.

Rules for grammar, spelling, and punctuation bring order and dignity to our language. There are also rules for storytelling, rules for submissions, rules of common sense, rules of general communication that YOU MUST follow if you want to be taken seriously.

How The "There Are No Rules" Rule Can Set You Up For Failure & Mockery

 If you are a writer then your job is to communicate to your reader.

If you are deliberately being sloppy, apathetic or lazy then the message you’re sending to your reader is “I’m above the rules” or “You’re too stupid” or “Conventions aren’t for geniuses like me.”

In my humble opinion, I'd like to earn credibility, communicate well and set myself up for…

I also think that if you ignore the rules, then you’re setting yourself up for failure, obscurity and it’s very likely other writers will make fun of you.

This is why:

Rules restrict the chaos.

Have you ever been in a car accident because someone ran a red light? Traffic rules are there to keep everybody safe. Now, it’s is unlikely that a lack of grammar and spelling rules could send you to the emergency room, but nonetheless, if we didn’t have rules for grammar, spelling and punctuation, we’d have a mess on our hands.

 

Rules are like personal hygiene for the written word.

You know that guy, that guy, who thinks showering is optional, who believes that toothpaste and deodorant were invented by capitalists who have conspired to convince America about the necessity of their “products.” That guy is not the guy you want to share an elevator with, right?  If you’re a writer, then if you avoid “the rules” it’s like you’re walking around with body odor. Do us all a favor — check your spelling before you leave the house. We will take you far more seriously if you keep your words tidy.

Rules separate the hacks from the professionals.

If you are serious about your writing and have aspirations to be published, then you should take care to follow not only grammar, punctuation and spelling rules but also rules in story structure, characterization, plots, and genre. Then, if you do that and expect to be noticed by agents, publisher, and editors, then follow their rules too!  Pay attention to submission guidelines, write a decent query letter, act professional!  If you really think that your talent is so brilliant that you don’t have to play the game, then you won’t mind the cobwebs in your inbox. Rule followers get in the door. Rule breakers don’t.

Rules are the first gatekeepers.

With all of the millions of books for sale, a reader is far more likely to pick up a polished one than one that thinks “rules are for losers”. You are not e.e.cummings. Yet. Until you earn notoriety and readers, don’t even think about breaking the rules because that’s what you think the cool kids do. The cool kids shine and polish their work because they respect the time and money the readers will invest.

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Rules are your friends: without rules, you can’t be a good communicator.

The rules are not put there by “the man” to “bring you down”. Whether they are GSP (grammar, spelling, punctuation), storytelling or submissions rules, they are there to enhance your talent, to be your tools in your artistry, and to put your readers at ease. Imagine this blog post without nouns or commas or nice and tidy paragraphs: it would be a hot mess. I chose to follow the rules because I want to engage my readers and make this blog enjoyable.

Rules are not meant to be broken.

I’m all for imaginative writing. I love reading a story that’s innovative and creative. There aren’t enough fresh stories around!  But the very best of these new, exciting works are successful not because they broke rules, there are excellent because they used the rules to their advantage. Rule-breaking in the name of creativity or passion is often rebellion and anarchy with a better agent.

 

Deliberate rule breakers will not go far in this business.

Show me a new writer who says idiotic things like, “there are no rules!” and I’ll show you someone who is going to have a hard time receiving the fact that his thriller is a hot mess, that his characters are not deep enough and his endings are predictable.

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Writing is an art.

Just like any art, there are conventions and disciplines set up for a reason. Fresh, innovative, creative works are always welcome. Anyone can break a rule and call it “genius”, but true genius comes from those who see rules and works with them.

My suggestion for all you rebels out there who want to be that romantic, passionate, non-conforming writer that shows the world you’ve got what it takes?

 Sit down. Be quiet. Put in your 10,000 hours. Read every craft book you can get your hands on. Write regularly.

And more importantly?

Be Teachable!

Your talent, your art, and your readers deserve excellence.


If you liked this post, you’d probably also like:

Never Say Never: Writing “Rules” That Beg to Be Broken or,

Eight Ways You May Be Bungling Your Dialogue In Your Novel


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Top 10 Ways To Improve Your Writing

You want to improve your writing? It’s oh, so easy and oh, so hard.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that if you are reading this blog then you are a writer. Even if you don’t think you can call yourself that, you probably have aspirations for literary greatness, fame, or fortune.

The right kind of greatness, fame, and fortune only comes from those writers who spend their time improving their craft.

By becoming the best writer you can be, then you're more likely to attract readers, agents, and…

How do you get better? Glad you asked!

Top 10 Ways To Improve Your Writing

Top 10 Ways To Improve Your Writing

1. Read, read, read.

Read in your genre every chance you get. Try reading the Classics. Read your writing buddies’ stuff. Or read those literary giants that you hated in high school. Don’t just read, breath in language deeply and frequently so that beautiful words are a part of you like oxygen. Need ideas on what to read? This Pinterest board is all about books! 

2. Write. That means write a lot.

Write every day.Make it a ten-minute exercise or 1000 words but have a daily goal and meet it. Rewrite best first lines. Create new characters. Retell an old story. Just write. Need a prompt? This Pinterest Board can help! 

3. Observe.

Sit at your favorite coffee shop and write about every detail you see around you. Or you look at a person and describe them or try to tell their story. Describe the objects around your home. Keen observation skills will make you a great writer. Guess where you can find tips on great observation? 

4. Get a Mentor.

In Online Writing Groups, such as Facebook’s 10 Minute Novelists, you can meet people who are little further ahead of you in your writing journey. Ask them questions. Get them to read your stuff. Receive their feedback graciously.

5. Join A Group.

By hanging around writers who have the same goals as you, you will learn a lot about craftsmanship, character development, plot and setting. Also? Hanging out with other writers is just fun. They rejoice with you when you succeed and buy you drinks when you don’t.

6. Take a Class.

Check out your local library, community college or adult education center for writing classes. Some are even online! By working with an instructor, you will be able to get important feedback and grasp concepts you might not through just educating yourself.  This link has a list of free and not-so-free writing courses!

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7. Read books about writing.

Many famous authors have written books on writing. Check out Robert McKee’s STORY, Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, or Stephen King’s On Writing. All of them are my favorites and have helped me improve too.

8. Watch videos.

YouTube has several video classes on creative writing. And K.M. Weiland’s is probably the best. These are an affordable and convenient way for you to improve your story telling skills.

“Make the most of yourself….for that is all there is of you.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

9. Be humble and teachable.

No matter how much you’ve written or how many books you’ve sold, there’s always room to improve. And even if you were Pulitzer worthy, you’d still need to know about publishing, marketing, and social media. Be open to learning all you can. Arrogance doesn’t go far in this field.

 10. Expect excellence from yourself.

Creative writing is an art. Show respect for what it is,  respect to other writers and respect the readers by doing your best to be excellent in all you do. That means learn the rules of grammar & spelling and taking the creation of stories seriously.

You can become better. Your dreams deserve it.


If you liked this post, you may also like:

A Writer’s Guide To Ruthlessly Killing Your Darlings or

Beginning Badly: Eight Awful Ways To Start A Novel


 

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Why Mutually Exclusive Desires Make Great Conflicts

 

Your story should be jammed packed with conflicts.

You should have conflicts about the setting, like the tropical storm that’s been seen down south is heading north and could turn into a hurricane. Or, you could have conflicts about every day life, like maybe the cat is missing and he has a history of getting caught in small spaces. Also, you could have conflicts involving sickness, like a character with Crohn’s disease can’t stop eating animal crackers. Or maybe a conflict regarding money: the bank may foreclose on the family homestead any minute now.

A great story has many kinds of conflicts all layered on each other, each eating away at the main objectives of the main character.

Why Mutually Exclusive Desires Make Great Conflicts

But the best conflict -- the one that will keep your reader turning pages is on that pits two…

Mutually exclusive desires are when our character, let’s say, Steve, wants to do one thing, but he also wants to do something else.

He wants to provide his family with a good home and oboe lessons for his daughter but he also wants to play the ponies at the track. Another example could be that Steve wants more power and responsibility in his neighborhood gang, but he also wants not to whack his best friend for ratting out.

Good mutually exclusive goals can work side by side for a while, but then, somewhere about 2/3 of the way into the story, Steve has to choose.

He realizes that if he takes what he wants all along, then he’ll have to sacrifice something that he wants even more. This is the hinge on which the entire second act sits. It’s this moment that sets up the climactic ending. The reader understands that he can achieve only one of these goals. This is the type of stuff that your reader will eat with a spoon. This is the type of story telling that keeps those pages turning. WHAT WILL HE DO?

But let’s back up a minute. How did you get to this point in your story telling? How have you set Steve up so that he can get into this great climactic situation?

You start with Abraham Maslow.

Maslow was this scientist in the 1930s who came up with this hierarchy of needs for individuals in society. He was not a novelist. I’m not even sure he knew how to create a character. But what he did do was articulate how people get their needs met.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Most of this is going to make a lot of sense to you.

You’ve been in those places where you yourself had mutually exclusive needs and it caused conflict. Conflicts are not so much fun when they happen to us in real life — but they are great fun in stories. If your character, say, Steve, wanted to have this one thing in his life. But then it threatened another equally important desire. He would have to make a choice on what to do about it.

While you are plotting, consider all the needs that Steve has:

Are they at the bottom of the pyramid? He needs to maintain his immediate food, clothing and shelter needs. If your story is a wilderness adventure story, this will be obvious. Steve has to find a place away from the elements to sleep tonight. He’s not sure he has enough jerky for one more day. He also thinks he’s being followed by a bear.  If he stays here, he’ll certainly die from exposure. If he travels on, there is no guarantee of shelter. What will he do?

Or are they on the next level up? If your story is a thriller, Steve wants to keep the Soviets from destroying the military installation in his hometown. Steve is worried not just about his family, but also his neighborhood and maybe if he’ll lose his job at the bank to the communists. If he confronts the Soviets, then they could kill him. But if he doesn’t they’ll destroy capitalism anyway and he won’t have a job, but he’ll be alive. What will he do?

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Or do things get a bit complex with Steve’s relationships? If your story is a family saga, Steve’s issues may be harder to find. He may want to pursue his lifelong goal of touring with a traveling bassoon ensemble. But he’s worried what his father will say. He could lose this opportunity to play or he could lose the family fortune. His band adores him. They can’t function without him. But a cool ten million could buy him friends. What will he do?

Or Is it really all about Steve’s inner life? In the next level, Steve’s quest for significance could come from his life’s work: A book Amish Zombie Princesses. His manuscript has been stolen. The low life who stole it is really his loyal writing coach. These aren’t life and death stakes, but they are gripping nonetheless. He could fight for his book, after all it took him a whole week to write! But then he loses a friend and a mentor. What will he do?

And as for the upper level? To be honest, few books are written with those kinds of needs– the need for self-actualization. Les Miserables is one of the few novels I can think of that touch on those needs. You may find that your readers identify more with the needs on the lower levels.

And that fine, the lower the level, the more likely you have hand-to-hand combat and that’s always fun to read.

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All of this is well and good but unless you put your character in a position, about 2/3 of the way through the story, in which he has to choose between two needs.

He can also choose between two needs that are on two separate levels. Many of the great books you’ve read or films you’ve watched have this kind of choice. A great storyteller will bring his reader along for the ride. But then, a choice must be made, and to the reader it is excruciating.

What does Steve choose?

Steve makes a choice that is not necessarily predictable, but the one that makes the most sense. He can choose a third option that satisfies neither needs. He can come up with an option that satisfied both. The final choice he makes is the climactic moment. After that choice is made, the results should be final and permanent. Hopefully the reader will say, “Of course! That’s the only real choice after all.”

In your story, make sure you have many layers of conflict, but for your main character, develop his needs intentionally.

He’s going to have to make a choice. It doesn’t have to be the right one, but it does have to be the best way to end a story.


Did you like this post? Want to read more like it?

Try this:

Top 10 Questions To Ask About Authority Figures That Could Beef Up Your Conflict

Or,

Top 10 Things You Can Do When You Are Stuck, Either Literally or Figuratively


 


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Why Your Spell Checker Is A Shifty-Eyed Hack

You can’t trust your spell checker.

Generally speaking, a spell checking feature on a word processing program will do a fair job in finding words that are misspelled.

That’s all it’s capable of doing. If you think that an automatic spell check will do enough work to make you a good writer, then you are mistaken. Your spell check is a hack — in that, it only does what it is programmed to do. And I’d even go as far to say that it’s shifty-eyed (if it had eyes) because good writers know not to trust automatic editing tools completely.

You’re going to need a bigger and better self-editing tools, or a human helper if you want to really get all the mistakes.

Why Your Spell Check Is A Shifty-Eyed Hack by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

Editing is far more than spellchecking.

Written communication doesn’t just need excellent spelling. It needs consistent grammar, active voice, clear nouns and adverbs, logical thought and your unique voice. If you are only using your built-in checkers to guide you in your writing, it’s like you’ve asked the cashier at Walgreen’s to diagnose your aquagenic urticaria.

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”…

Your spell checker knows nothing about purple prose.

The words, they come, they dance along the barre of your mind, pirouetting here and there, leaping and landing in a performance of grace and goodness in which every reader watches in amazement. There’s not a spell checker in the world that can keep you from over-writing, over-comparing, or over-describing. This is a shame. The world could stand a bit less nonsense and more straight talk. Does your self-important work get a little carried away with it its own verbosity? Find a good, honest friend and have them sit down with you and have a little intervention. You may want some of this. 

Your spell checker knows nothing about verb tenses.

You may have a verb tense problem when some sentences have past tense and some have present. It happens to the best of us. The solution? Read your piece out loud. You’ll probably hear where you messed up and can fix it easily. Or, if you’re a little nervous about someone overhearing you, read through the entire composition and circle the verbs.  From there change the passive ones to active one, the weak to strong and the vague to clear. And if you can, avoid the “be” verbs. They really aren’t your friends. Also check out Grammarly’s help here. I know that when I start thinking Grammar is like math, I feel a lot better about tenses.

Your spell checker knows nothing about punctuation.

Few of us have trouble with periods, question marks and exclamation marks. Our trouble comes with commas, colons, semi-colons, and possessives. A way to beat these issues it just to review the rules about them on great websites like this one. Or you could invest in Grammarly, which points out your errors for everything web-based that you write, like blog posts about punctuation. Or you could keep your sentences so short and boring that you have no need for commas. And really, people who use semicolons are just pretentious, aren’t they?

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Your spell checker nose nothing about homophones.

Do you see what I did there? Homophones are the wurst. If we get all excited about putting our thoughts down, we may go so fast that we put down one word when we really mean another. A spellcheck won’t help you here, because it’s not a spelling error you made, it’s a usage one. One way to combat this is to read your work aloud, but even then that’s iffy because your mistake may sound right. Get another set of eyes to review your work. And if you’re really diligent about this, do a little find/replace of common homophones. This is time-consuming, but anything that helps you correct mistakes before your readers laugh at you is worth doing.

Your spell checker knows nothing about filter words.

Filter words are sneaky little devils. They are the words that you may use habitually even though they add little value to your prose. In fiction, the worst filter words are those that do more telling than showing. Your characters may think, realize, feel, decide, look, start doing something, or believe. While all of these can be grammatically correct, spelled correctly and used correctly, they make your story weak and flabby. Your spellcheck can do nothing for you here. How to get rid of them? Do a find/replace. Or read you manuscript for the ten millionth time. Determine how necessary they are. Omit if you can. Substitute in vibrant verbs. Your story will be more interesting, I promise.

Passive voice is also one thing that your spell checker knows nothing about.

Do you see what I did there? Passive voice means that you have designed a sentence in such a way that the subject is not active. Rather, the subject is having something done to it. Simplified, the cat chased the mouse is active. The mouse was chased by the cat is passive. But I’ve learned with great apps like Hemingway, that I can write some might fancy-schmancy passive sentences. How do you get rid of them? Hire a pro editor to help you spot them, use apps like Hemingway to highlight them. And practice writing. I’m so much better than I used to be at avoiding passivity.

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Your spell checker knows nothing about your personal quirks and foibles.

These are the little writing habits that only you do. And as confident as you’d like to be, they probably shouldn’t be categorized as “personal style.” Instead, hunt down those repeated words or phrases — I often said my characters “sighed” — and get rid of them. Your spellcheck can’t find these, of course. The best way to minimize your personal quirks and foibles is to read your work out loud. You may be surprised what you discover. And paying a good, reputable editor is always recommended.

In my WordPress app that I use for blogging I downloaded Yoast and found it to be very helpful in making my prose better. You get a little dot at the top of your draft — red, yellow, or green — and if you get green, you’re good!

Now I’d like to think that I was a strong writer anyway, but with these tools, reading aloud, and my editing buddies, I’m far more likely to spot my mistakes and learn from them.

That spellchecker of mine is a shifty-eyed hack.

I don’t need him and neither do you.

 


Did you like this article? You may also like:
Seven Reasons Why You Should Read Your Manuscript Out Loud
Or, Top 10 Signs You’ve Given TMI & Need to Cut The Dickens Out Of Your Backstory

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Eight Reasons You Should Write Every Day

 

Did you write today? Are you going to?

In the book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg said, “Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits. And though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, the meals we order, what we say to our kids each night, whether we save or spend, how often we exercise, and the way we organize our thoughts and work routines have enormous impact on our health, productivity, financial security, and happiness.” I think if you write every day, you can become a happier, more confident writer.

Eight Reasons You Should Write Every Day

 

1. You have mental muscle memory.

If you write every day, your mind is prepared to express itself on a regular basis. You are no longer in that wishy-washy state of, “do I feel like writing today?” With a daily habit you don’t give that ol’ liar writers’ block a foothold. You have a habit of writing, so you sit down and you do it. There’s no mental discussion. There is no woe is me feeling. A habit can be freeing.

2. You resist the inner editor better.

If you are in the habit of writing every day, you become less and less attentive to that little voice that tells you you’re doing it wrong. You may learn with a daily habit that speed is more important than perfection. As a result, you’ll spend less time backspacing and more time building up your word count.

3. You gain words.

If you are a writer that tracks your word count, then a daily writing habit is a must. I know that I can write around 500 words in a 10-minute increment if all is going well. So if my daily goal is around 1500 words, I have an idea of how long that will take me to get.

4. You can de-stress easier.

When something happens to me I can get that icky feeling out of my system faster if I write. Say I have a negative encounter with another driver in the supermarket parking lot, I have a tendency to rehash every word until I can write it all down. The words then are on the page, not in my head, and I can get past the event.

5. You can practice writing.

No one would expect a concert musician to play Carnegie Hall without years of diligent practice. The same can be said about great writers. They, like the musicians, have put in their time daily. Successful writers have stretched, practiced, and reviewed. They grow in confidence. They know the fundamentals and are willing to advance their skills. Writers should do the same. A daily writing habit can make an amateur writer a pro with time.

6. You can practice observations.

With a daily writing habit, a writer can grow in observing the world. Flannery O’Connor said, “The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.” A good writer focuses on the sensory observations around him, tinkers with them until they are perfect, and learns to put them into his work.

7. You now have a draft, no matter how bad it is.

When I was setting my timer for 10 minutes a day, I kept going because I knew that something was always better than nothing. A blank page can’t be edited. And after you’ve been writing regularly, you grow less and less intimidated by that blank screen. Daily writing habits build courage.

8. You may impress yourself.

It’s easy to second-guess your work, but with time and consistency, you’ll be able to judge better what is good. Sometimes you may even create something excellent. And when that comes, all the practice will be worth it.

I agree with Charles Duhigg. Habits are powerful and my writing habit is one I love.

In my life, my habits become touchstones to my day and week.  I like that I always make the same Tex-Mex meal every Friday night. I also love the habit of going to church with my family every Sunday. And I also love the habit of saying good night to each of my children. I’m not crazy about the habit of picking my cuticles while I watch Netflix. And I wish I had a more regular habit of exercising.

My daily writing habit (or almost daily) has become an indispensable part of my life and I’m glad I have it.

Do you know someone who needs to be encouraged to have daily writing habit? Send this link to them!

 


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Never Say Never: Writing “Rules” That Beg to Be Broken

By Jennifer Worrell

How many of you have heard the old saw, “Write it your way!” or “Write the story you want to read!”

And so you do. And then you’re told…you can’t do that. Only {insert bestselling author names here} can do that. But no one explains why. How did successful writers get that privilege, and who gave it to them? Creative writing is nothing without artistic expression, but that’s impossible to achieve if you’re imprisoned by arbitrary rules.

In search of a like-minded community, I joined far too many online writers’ forums. A lot are great (especially this one!) and can help you through many a muddy spot long into your career. But the winding path to success is unfortunately lined with cracks and road apples. Some advice is so fantastic you’ll want to sing the giver’s praises, while other suggestions will make you wonder if they’d ever read a book. Any book.

For instance, a member of a group I used to frequent asked for guidance on using multiple POV. That’s a tough thing to get right, but plenty of writers have done it successfully, and it’s often the best approach to achieve the greatest impact. (It’s especially popular in Romance and Fantasy.) Though it’s not a technique you’d learn in English 101, it’s not rocket science. It just takes time to finesse and a maybe a few passes out loud to make sure the characters aren’t head-hopping. Yet the first response this poster received was, “That’s not for beginners to try.”

No explanation. No alternative. Just don’t do it.

Never Say Never: Writing Rules That Beg To Be Broken

You know when a cartoon character gets angry and its neck surges red like mercury rising and steam blows out its ears? I was convinced that was about to happen to me. Comments like these are debilitating and should be thrown out the window, impaled with a harpoon, and lit on fire. But first invite me over so I can watch. (I’ll bring marshmallows!)

The fundamentals of fiction writing are invaluable, but too many people use them like walls to box you in.

Our most revered writers kept pushing themselves, playing with fresh ideas until they had something unique, twisting words until they drummed new rhythms into readers’ heads.

If someone has ever tried to crush your spirit by telling you “no,” there’s good news:

  • You don’t need anybody’s permission to write.
  • You don’t need random strangers deciding when you’re ready to take your writing to the next level. That’s your job.
  • You do need decent critique partners/beta readers to tell you if your baby needs its diaper changed. (But hopefully in a much kinder way than that.)

I still struggle with that last one. The wait is nerve-wracking. Receiving harsh criticism, especially when it’s unexpected, will make you question your talent, instincts, and sanity. If “writing is show business for shy people” as crime novelist Lee Child says, then presenting stuff for feedback represents stage fright.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a shot, despite what detractors say. So what do you do?

  • Don’t shoot for gold.
    Looking at a complex maneuver as a whole can be daunting. Dismantle it into smaller and smaller pieces until the path becomes clear in your mind. Then put it back together at a pace you’re comfortable with. Pretend it’s a relay race. Even though the athletes aren’t running at once, they’ll eventually reach the finish line. The outcome matters more than the time it takes to get there, since that’s the only thing your readers will see. There’s no need to overwhelm yourself. No one creates a novel in one go; they write it a little at a time, tweaking along the way. (Read Anne LaMott’s Bird by Bird, considered a sacred tome by many novelists, for more such advice.)
  • Stretch your writing muscles.
    I took dance classes for a number of years. Once, the instructress threw in an advanced step at the end of our set. “You can throw this little thing in here,” she said with a wink and a shrug. No biggie. Just this beautiful flourish you make with your body…meh. Naturally, everyone wanted to give it a whirl. Any idiot could have pegged me as a beginner, but considering I couldn’t pull off a three-point turn without tipping over and hitting the wall, I did a surprisingly decent job at this one move I never knew existed. Maybe the sophisticated technique nagging at you is something you’re just naturally good at. How else will you know?
  • Cut loose.
    If you stick with the basics, eventually a regular reader will tell you, “This sounds like something you’ve done before.” Why not try something different, crazy, weird? If nothing else, it will be a fun exercise. Attempting new things will contribute to your growth as a writer…even if you fail. You’ll soon discover you excel at and what you need more experience in. Writing in a new style never hurt anybody. Upside: if it does, you can write about it!
  • Enlist a posse of betas who can deliver the truth in one breath and cheer you on in the next.
    Having a strong support system is important. If a reader can explain why you didn’t pull something off, consider it a victory. Though it’s no fun admitting you fell short, once you know what the problem is, you can work on fixing it. It may take a while to find your tribe, but trust me…they’re out there. And they’re priceless.

Don’t take no for an answer.

Keep searching until you find a source that can teach you what you want to know. Writing isn’t an exact science. If it were, we’d all have an easier time. But we’d sacrifice poetry, passion, style.

Remember, no one has to see your work until you feel it’s ready.

By then, you’ll have had a lot of practice polishing it up and a lot of chances to study how established writers have nailed it. And isn’t that how anyone masters anything?

Jennifer Worrell is the Assistant to the Dean of Libraries at a private university. She’s convinced being surrounded by books revived her love of writing. In decent weather, you can find her banging away (sometimes muttering profanity) in her “office”: a lawn chair pulled up to a cement wall with a truncated view of Sears (yes, Sears) Tower. Her fiction appears in Literary Orphans Journal, 72 Hours of Insanity: An Anthology of the Games vol. 2, and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. She’s working on her first novel. You can follow her unchecked blatherings on Facebook (@JenniferWorrellWriter) and Twitter (@PieLadyChicago).

Seven Reasons Why You Should Read Your Manuscript Out Loud

 

Have you ever read your work out loud?

Long before you submit your work to your beta readers, before you assume that you’re done, before you start thinking about renting that billboard to advertise your latest literary genius, you should read your manuscript out loud.

Start at page one. Finish at “The End.” And listen. And keep a red pen handy to make notes.

I’m completely convinced that you’ll make a lot of notes. I’m convinced that you’ll hear far more errors than you’ll ever see. Reading aloud reveals everything.

Seven Reasons Why You Why You Should Read Your Manuscript Out Loud

This is why you should read your manuscript out loud:

You’ll hear words repeated. We all have writing habits that need to be broken. We may use “just”  or “some” too many times. By reading aloud, you’ll be able to see patterns of filter words that need to be eliminated. Make a note in the margin, or highlight your offensive word so you can do a “find” and “replace” later.

You’ll have a better sense of the story’s pacing. When we are writing, we have everything going on in our heads. It may never occur to us that the interior monolog is too long or that exposition needs a trimming. By reading aloud, you may catch these things.

You’ll catch bad blocking. If you are reading aloud, you may be better in tune with what is happening in the scene. This new, fresher, multi-sensory experience may reveal some errors or inconsistencies that need correcting. Fix them now. They can embarrass you later.

Need help? As a fan to sit and listen to you. Record your reading. Put on a play.

You’ll hear the clunkiness of poorly written sentences. Passive voice, for example, is more offensive to the ear than to the eye. If you’re reading aloud, you may come across a sentence that doesn’t sound right. Maybe it needs a rearranging. Or cut them out entirely.

You may notice unnecessary character ticks. Do your characters “sigh” or “smile” or “roll their eyes?”  If you read your manuscript aloud, you may see how often they do this. These aren’t necessary. If it is so important that your character reacts, come up with a less predictable way to express it.

You may find spelling mistakes that spellcheck won’t notice. There is a magical process going on in our brains when we read aloud. We experience a cognitive hey day when our brain, mouth, and eyes are all stimulated at once. I think, and I say this without being a neurosurgeon, that this makes us more alert.  This is helpful with those pesky homophones. Have a red pencil ready and mark all you see.

You may hear inconsistencies in the dialogue. In your novel, you want each of your characters to have a distinct sound. You won’t know if you’ve really pulled this off until you hear your characters come to life. Act your characters, don’t just read their lines, and see if you need to strengthen dialogue.

This is going to take time. So get comfortable, get a big glass of tea (or whiskey if the book is really bad) and start talking to yourself.

Your manuscript will be all the better for it.


 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Eight Ways You May Be Bungling Your Dialogue In Your Novel

 

“I’m not bungling my dialogue,” you say to yourself.

But you’ve had a few complaints from your beta readers about how they don’t like the characters. You’ve been told the story feels dead. While your plot is tight and your pacing is perfect, the characters themselves feel off. The trouble could be your dialogue. Dialogue is the soul of the characters. Dialogue is what brings the story to life for your reader. Are you bungling it?

Eight Ways You May Be Bungling Your Dialogue by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelists

You may be bungling you dialogue if . . .

 You’ve forgotten about the influence of setting.

Your story’s setting may play a role in the way that your characters speak. But too much dialect, slang or exaggerated speech can distract the reader. Dialogue brings action to the scene. You want your reader to focus on the words and actions of the character and allow the scene to flow smoothly. Anything that weakens the meaning, slows the pacing down or confuses the reader is working against you. How to fix this? Read the dialogue out loud. If you stumble over it, then you’ve put in too much regional nuance. If you can’t detect any hint of setting, consider adding a “Ya’ll” or a “Fo-gettabout-it”.

You’ve put in way too much exposition.

In some writing circles, they call this the “As you know, Bob,” mistake. This is when an author uses dialogue to pour out the background information in the conversation. While you do need some sort of exposition, it’s better to err on the side of not enough than too much. How to fix this? Highlight everything that is exposition and then read the draft out loud, skipping the highlighted parts. If you can tell what is going on without info, leave it out. Only put the least amount back in.

“[A]lways get to the dialogue as soon as possible. I always feel the thing to go for is speed. Nothing puts the reader off more than a big slab of prose at the start.”
P.G. Wodehouse

You use dialogue tags too much.

He yelled loudly. She whispered. He stuttered nervously. Now, there’s a lot of opinion about this. Some would say that the only tag you should ever use is said. And I can see that the simplicity of said allows it to be almost invisible to the reader. That’s a good thing. You don’t want to cause attention to anything except the story. But I would also argue that a well placed dialogue tag can create a visual image for the reader, as long as the verb was strong and possible adverb behind it was omitted. I’m also a fan of using a character body language to reveal the emotion. Like this: “I wish I knew more about Chad,” Cora bit her lip and twisted her hair. I’m hoping that Cora’s actions revealed her anxiety about a matter.

You’re just a little too formal.

Dialogue is where we can throw grammar rules out the window. A character wouldn’t always have their subjects and verbs agree. They may speak in sentence fragment. They probably use contractions. The best dialogue is loose and indicative of the complex person that it represents. And people are really emotional! Make sure that their true feelings are coming through somehow — even if they have something to hide! How to fix this? Read your dialogue aloud. Does it feel wooden or stiff? Rewrite it so that the true personality of the character is shining through.

You write the exact way that people speak.

This may seem contradictory to the previous advice, but one is about regional influence and the other is about unnecessary words. People speak poorly. Their conversations are full of empty words, stops, starts, repetitions and omissions. When we listen to a speaker, we take in the information of dialogue as a whole. We never focus on one word at at a time. We gather information from the tone and the body language. Good listeners can glean an immense amount of meaning from subtle cues. Few of these cues can be translated to the written page. How to fix this? Cut out everything that’s unnecessary.

“Dialogue concentrates meaning; conversation dilutes it.”
Robert McKee

You have no distinction between the characters.

Ideally, you want your characters to be so distinctive that you could take away the tags and have a clue on who was speaking. But that’s not always possible. The key to having distinctive dialogue is developing all characters well. The more you know your characters, the more their voice will come through. How to fix this? Spend time writing a perspective of the story from that character’s point of view. You’ll be acting as if you are that character. After a few hundred words, you may sense what they sense. As you craft their dialogue, try to slip back into that character. You’ll probably see a difference.

You ramble on and on without a break.

It is so true that there are people out there who do not know how to shut up. If rambling is boring to listen to, then it’s doubly boring to read. If your character really does have a long speech to give, figure out a way to break it up for the sake of the reader. How to fix this? Have someone interrupt and ask question. The speakers should cough and need water. Have the listener notice something and reflect for just a moment. Describe what they are doing with their hands. Or maybe describe their appearance while they speak. Describe their sweaty forehead, their great haircut, their wrinkled clothes or the way they are standing.

You forget about subtext.

Subtext is what is really being said between the lines. The couple might be speaking in hushed tones, nose to nose, about how much they like cheese, but they’re really flirting and are seconds away from a kiss. Then six scenes later, the same cheese issue comes up, but they are on opposite sides of the room, not facing each other and she’s whimpering. What is really going on? How to fix this? Make a note at the top of each scene describing what you want to accomplish in each scene. Also note the emotional temperature of each character. Use their body language to communicate one thing even if their words say something else.

Every word that you write must be carefully scrutinized.

The challenge (and the fun) of writing dialogue is that it’s not just your words that you’re writing, but you’re also giving your character words to say. With thoughtfulness and deliberate choices, your dialogue will not be bungled. And your story will come to life for your reader.


Want more articles about great dialogue?

Check out Top 20 Things You Can Give Your Characters That Will Make Them More Vivid

and

Top 10 Questions You Could Ask About Your Authority Figures That Could Beef Up Your Conflict!

Thanks for stopping by today!


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Ten Questions To Ask Before Writing An Interesting Scene

In a novel, what is a scene?

A scene is a small increment of the story that progresses the story forward. A novel is full of them. And while this may seem obvious, they ain’t easy to write.

Have you written a scene and not known where to start?

10 Questions To Ask Before Writing An Interesting Scene

Ask yourself these ten questions!

The purpose of a scene is to put the characters in a new situation in which they are either pushed toward or pulled away from their objectives. Your scenes are the necessary steps that the characters take for the advancement of the story. Your characters could be in the scene deliberately, say Betty and Veronica arrived at the coffee shop to meet the woman with the dog for sale. Or they could be in the scene accidentally, say, they were pushed into the back room of the coffee shop by an armed intruder who was taking hostages.

1. Who will be in the scene? At the top of a piece of paper, make a list of characters that are absolutely necessary for this scene and no more.

2. What does each character do? Each character should have an objective in the scene. It may mean they have to keep a secret, deliver a note, or make dinner. They need to be busy with a particular purpose. Betty is there to speak to a dog owner about buying a poodle. Veronica is there because she’d rather help Betty than go home to her deadbeat boyfriend.

3. What are the consequences if the character doesn’t do what they are supposed to? If you write this down now, you can see what options you have for the scene. The more interesting the consequences, the better for this scene. Betty’s wanted a dog for a long time, ever since Foo Foo died, so if this doesn’t work out, she’ll be all the more depressed. If Veronica can’t decide what to do about her bf, Harold, then she’ll have to pay his rent again.

“Every scene should be able to answer three questions: “Who wants what from whom? What happens if they don’t get it? Why now?”
David Mamet

4. What is the emotional temperature of each character? Whatever you do, don’t make them content! They need to irritated, sleepy, hungry, impatient or exasperated. They need to be fearful or stressed or in love. Whatever their state, they have to be in tension. The purpose of the scene is to either increase their tension or decrease it. Betty is on the verge of tears, she misses her old dog so much. Veronica keeps rehashing all of Harold’s sins and gets angry.

5. What do you want the final outcome of the scene to be? Next to every character make a positive + or a negative – sign. For those that will end positively, come up with at least six things that can be done or said that can bring them to the end of the scene with hope. For those that will end negatively, come up with at least six things that can be done or said that will pull them farther away from their goal. This is where their main objectives of the story may change. Betty’s change may be that she no longer wants to buy a poodle off Craig’s List, she just wants to survive. Veronica is so angry with Harold, that she has no trouble standing up to the gunman.

“[T]he success of every novel — if it’s a novel of action — depends on the high spots. The thing to do is to say to yourself, “What are my big scenes?” and then get every drop of juice out of them.”
P.G. Wodehouse

6. What gift are you giving your reader? Each scene’s purpose is to give the reader more information, to have them pulled one way or the other, to reveal more secrets, or to have them grow in empathy for your main characters. If your reader isn’t coming away with a “gift,” or better still, a “surprise” in one of these things, then the scene isn’t necessary. Cut it now not after you’ve been sculpting that 3000 word monster for a month. For example, the gunman IS HAROLD! This infuriates Veronica. She takes the gun from him and forces him to his knees.

7. What is the pacing of the scene? If there is a lot of action, then your sentences should be short and your verbs vibrant and active. If you want a slower, more descriptive or contemplative scene, then choose longer sentences. In the beginning, when Betty is missing her old dog and Veronica is just a bit miffed, the sentences could be longer and reflective, but as the gunman enters and forces everyone to the back room, the action kicks in gear. The sentences are shorter. The dialogue is sharp and to the point. Betty whimpers. Veronica is enraged.

“Structure isn’t anything else but telling the story, starting as late as possible, starting each scene as late as possible. You don’t want to begin with “Once upon a time,” because the audience gets antsy.”
William Goldman

8.How does this scene play with the scenes around it? You should be taking your reader on an interesting ride. This means that the scenes should alternate in action-packed and more passive. The emotionally gripping scenes should have a breather between them in which the main character (and the reader too) can stop and catch their breath. The scene before this one was when Betty finally got dressed and decided that a new pet would get her out of her funk. Or, the scene before this one was when Veronica had chewed out Harold for the millionth time. The scene after? Veronica is at the police station, giving a statement. Betty has snapped out of it, she’s the best attorney in the state!

9.How much attention do you need to the setting? Probably not much, unless it’s critical to the objective of the scene. Go easy on the description. Keep it to only a handful of sensory descriptions. In my example, we don’t need a detailed description of the coffee shop. You could say “hipster” and “reclaimed wood” and “chalkboard menus” and every reader in the world would know what you were talking about. With your setting description, keep it simple too.

10. What would happen if this scene got omitted? Be brutal. Unless the action or the emotion of the scene is critical to the next scene, don’t bother. Without fully knowing all of Betty and Veronica’s saga, we don’t know whether this scene is important or not. If the story is about the true love between Veronica and Harold, then it’s probably important. If the story has to do with Betty’s law career, maybe not. Take a step back and looking at the entire book before deciding.

Answer these questions before you draft!

If can adequately answer them, and then keep your notes with you, the actual drafting should be easier. It could also be that once you answer the questions, the draft takes you on a different tangent altogether — like the poodle seller is a spy, or the coffee shop owner has been in love with Betty for years.

Scene creating is slippery, but perhaps with these questions, you can get a good handle on the creation of them for your novel.

Need more help with scenes? Try these 14 Easy Ways To Bring Your Scenes To Life or What To Do When A Scene Isn’t Working


 

 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community.