Tag Archives: craft

Top 10 Signs You’ve Given TMI & Need to Cut The Dickens Out Of Your Backstory by Katharine Grubb 10 Minute Novelist

You are not Charles Dickens.

As much as you may want  to be Victorian, champion for the London’s most needy, and father 10 children, that doesn’t give you the right to overwrite your novels.

That is, if you intention is to sell them in today’s market, you may want to reconsider how much backstory you have and how you may want to cut it.

In today’s market, there are general guidelines for genres. Writer’s Digest has a nice article that breaks it down for your use. But these are general guidelines. Anyone who self-publishes can basically do whatever they want. And if you look hard enough, you’ll find exceptions to nearly ever rule. Harry Potter, anyone?

I’d like to suggest that as you are sculpting your novel, you do take into consideration its length. Look specifically at all the backstory you may have included. Then cut it.

Top 10 Signs You've Given TMI & Need To Cut the Dickens Out Of Your Backstory by Katharine Grubb 10 Minute Novelist

You May Have Too Much Backstory If . . .

1. You have told your reader how everyone is related to everyone else in the first two paragraphs. Save all familial connections for your own notes. Then only give the reader the information in organic ways, slowly, across several points in the first act. There’s  a big difference between these connections being interesting and being relevant. If any cut makes a difference to the story when it’s gone, put it back in. 

Top 10 Signs You've Given TMI & Need to Cut The Dickens Out Of Your Backstory by Katharine Grubb 10 Minute Novelist

2. You’ve listed three items on your main character’s resume early in the book. Where they went to high school, what kinds of grades they earned and where they worked the summer of 1988 is all critical character development and needs to be kept in a back room. This is like the family information — needed only in your notes. 

“There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.”
Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

3. You’ve mentioned you protagonist’s high school experiences and your main character is 27. We’re all shaped by our experiences as youth. But only mention them if they are pivotal to the events that are currently happening between the covers of this book. If something happened in Miss Simmon’s English class that was that significant, either mold the plot around it or write a prequel. 

4. An old boyfriend makes an appearance and your MC flashbacks to the break up scene. This is a lot like the high school trauma. For your own notes, you may want to know that your main character got dumped by the academic team captain the night before the big match, but unless it’s part of the current story it shouldn’t be mentioned. Everyone has a heartbreak.

“Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings

5. It’s in the first chapter. You should never, ever have backstory in the first chapter. No. Don’t do it. First act? Yes. Your first chapter’s purpose is to set the tone, identify the setting, introduce your main characters to your readers, touch on the big objective and themes of the book and hook your readers so they want to hear more. Your first chapter should be full of action in that it thrusts the story forward. Backstory is usually passive. It can’t thrust anything, except my eyelids to lower. Think about moving it to chapter three after you’ve cut it down. Way, way down. For the reader this can be as ill-fitting as the Artful Dodger’s found wardrobe.

6. You defend yourself by saying that Dickens  did it so you’re doing it too. No! A thousand times no! We don’t read the great authors of the past so that we can create dictums for current discipline in our writing. We read great authors of the past because their work has lasted a long time, because they are a part of our literary culture and because it’s good for us. The demands of today’s market has nothing to do with past books. If you want to sell to modern audiences, you need to be approachable, sophisticated, and savvy, not dated or old-fashioned. Unless you don’t want to sell books at all.

“I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

7. When you get carried away. You’ve stopped the big action between the dragon and the knight  to tell the reader how the sword the knight is using was forged by the elf who was once engaged to the driad, who died of a curse from a witch, who lives in the hut in the enchanted forest, that is full of fairies who sing in a full moon, which only comes out once a year because this story takes place on another planet in another galaxy that was formed billions of years ago. What I’m trying to say here is that backstory kills action. If you have an important action scene, you need to complete the scene before you throw in the backstory. Backstory is passive. Backstory drags down pacing. Whenever you put it in, put it between big action scenes so your reader can catch their breath. But even then, make sure it’s not that long because you don’t want to calm your reader down so much that they go to sleep.

8. When you’re overly proud of your research. You catch yourself saying, “but I RESEARCHED the slums of 1840 London! My reader needs to see how hard I worked!” This is a hard truth in writing, especially if you write historical fiction: your research work shouldn’t be too obvious to the reader. Your research is for your artistic and integrity and accuracy. Historical fiction fans will love that about you. It’s not though, for showing off in the story. Save your most interesting finds for the author’s notes. That way readers who are really into it can appreciate your hard work. Better idea? Create a blog about your research topic! You’ll find new fans for your work!

“You are in every line I have ever read.”
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

9. When you believe that every work that comes out of your keyboard is golden and precious and can’t be omitted. Now this may be true during Nanowrimo when you just need to pad that word count. But in a novel, you need to be brutal with excessive words.  Brutal like Bill Sikes’ attack on Nancy. Your objective as a writer is to communicate clearly and excellently. That will require you to cut out what is irrelevant, unnecessary, tangential, dull, passive, overwritten or inconsistent.

10.  You’re so into telling, rather than showing, that you named your main character William Tell. He lives in Tell City, Indiana, he has a job as a teller, and for vacation he goes to Telluride. My point? Show. Instead of telling us that Mr. Tell is angry, show us that he threw the mug across the room. How do you know if you’re telling? If your words create a visual image of action, then you’re showing. If your words feel like a list, or your reader’s mind has a mental gray space where the action should be, or you are imprecise in what is happening in the story right now, or your verbs are weak, then you may be telling. Get a good beta reader or critique partner and let them mark up places that need to be written more interestingly. You can find one in this group on Tuesday’s Buddy Day. 

“It’s in vain to recall the past, unless it works some influence upon the present.”
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

 Not convinced? Here’s more Signs You’ve Given TMI, Need to Find A Sharp Instrument, & Cut The Dickens Out Of Your Story

You may have too much when you feel like there’s a pause button because you need to explain something.

You may have too much when you think that detailing people’s opinions of other characters is an excuse for head hopping.

You may have too much when the details that you have to share reveal a secret, which, would be best suited saved until much later.

You may have too much when you’ve decided that a little backstory is easier to write than action or dialogue.

You may have too much when you have referred to childhood trauma way too early.

Backstory does have its purpose.

As a writer, you need to spend time developing the pasts of all your characters so that you can define their desires and goals. Each character should make decisions based on the composite of their past experiences. But these experiences aren’t always welcome in a narrative. You also need to be thorough and diligent in your research. This adds credibility to your story and integrity to you as a writer. But just because you thought it, doesn’t mean it needs to be written.

Editing all those words is more painful than Scrooge following around the Ghost of Christmas Past, but if he can be honest with the mistakes that he made (and make big changes) so you can you!

How to Write Foreigners in Dialogues


by Joanna Maciejewska

Last month I was writing about how to insert foreign phrases in your novel, but what if your character doesn’t speak perfect English? How do you write foreigners to reflect their struggle with English?

There are many ways you can convey foreigners through dialogues, and since I’m a second language speaker myself, I tend to notice my fellow non-native speakers’ struggles (not to mention my own experiences in the matter!), so I’d like to share some of them with you.

Articles

For a native English speaker, there’s a clear difference between “I saw a cat outside” and “I saw the cat outside”, but it’s not necessarily the same for the non-native speakers. Many languages don’t have articles or use them in a different way and for different purposes, so beyond knowing the school-taught rule that “a/an is for singular, and the is for plural”, your foreign character is ready to mess it up. This might lead to some confusion and make mundane exchanges between your characters more interesting.

“I saw a cat outside.”
“So what?”
“It was the same cat we saw at the murder scene.”
“What?! You saw THE cat?!”
“That’s what I said.”

Some characters, if their command of English is rather simple, might even skip the articles altogether, making an opening for some unintended humor.

“Can you give me address?”
“Why do you need a dress?”

Prepositions

Another great way to show your character making mistakes in English are prepositions as often they don’t translate directly. I’ll give you some examples from my native language. In Polish you don’t say that you see something “in the picture”. You see it “on the picture”. You also wouldn’t say “welcome to New York”, but… “welcome in New York”.

Of course, research will be necessary to make sure your “messed up” articles match your character’s native language.

“There’s coffee on the picture.”
“What?! I told Matt to be careful and not spill any!”
“No. I mean, the girl on the picture is drinking coffee.”

Phrasal verbs

If you’re a native English speaker, you’ve likely never heard about them, but phrasal verbs can be a real struggle for second language speakers. If you look it up online, you’ll learn that “phrasal verb” is an “idiomatic phrase consisting of a verb and another element” (often a preposition). They come to you naturally, because you’ve been surrounded by them all your life, but the second language learners have to actually memorize them. To them, “knock down”, “knock out”, and “knock up” can be very confusing. Moreover, if they hadn’t come across a particular phrasal verb, they might not be able to figure it out without context.

Foreigners are also less likely to use them when they speak if they struggle with English. They won’t ask you to “put out” the fire: they might say “extinquish” instead. This is something that doesn’t require foreign languages study or research. You just need to find a replacement for a phrasal verb.

“We will have to hit him unconscious.”
“He’s too big. There’s no way we’re going to knock him out!”

 How to Write Foreigners in Dialogues

Idioms

Since I mentioned phrasal verbs, I should cover idioms in general. They are always a great way to show the character’s struggle with the language. If you watched NCIS and got to know Ziva, you’ve probably witnessed her language slips more than enough. Sadly, throughout the seasons, it was very inconsistent from perfectly done to artificially made up, so if you want your character sound real, there are few things to remember.

Even though some second language speakers might use a similar sounding word, it’s not that common. It’s more common to use a word with a similar meaning. Second language speakers are more likely to say “don’t beat around the thicket” than they are “don’t beat around the plush”. To give you another example (it’s one of my own slips), once I said “the coast is free” instead of “the coast is clear”. I remembered the idiom had something to do with the lack of obstacles, but I couldn’t nail the right word.

Literal translations

If you’re willing to do a bit of research, using idioms can be a lot of fun. Did you know that in Polish, when someone is going to try something out on you, you won’t become their “guinea pig” but an “experimental rabbit”?

Also, people in Poland and Scandinavia don’t cross their fingers for luck, but instead they wrap other fingers around their thumbs. It’s literally “holding my thumbs”. Of course, experienced second language speakers will know idioms don’t translate directly, but if your character struggles with English, it’s a perfect opportunity to add a bit of flavor to their speech.

“I’m going in. Wish me luck.”
“You can do it!” Bartek raised his clenched fists, almost like in a boxing stance. “I’m holding my thumbs for you!”

Not all of the expressions will be good to use, as they might not be obvious, even in the context. I mentioned “don’t beat around the bush” above, and using Polish equivalent, “don’t wrap it in cotton”, would be confusing for a reader. But it’s definitely worth exploring.

False friends

Did you know that some languages have words that sound the same or similar, but mean something else? In second language learning, these are called “false friends” as they seem familiar to a learner. In English, “transparent” is adjective meaning something is see-through or clear, but in Polish this is the word for a… banner. Similar goes for “sympathy” which in English is most commonly used to describe the feeling toward someone based on relating to their misery. While in Polish, “sympathy” would be a noun and an old-fashioned word used for a person who’s an object of one’s crush.

This is a relatively easy way to mess up your character’s English as the Internet is full of “false friends” lists for various languages. There are also some available on Wiktionary (like those for Polish and Spanish), so all you have to do is get creative with it.

Lost words

It probably happened to you more than once to have a word on the tip of your tongue, but you couldn’t remember it? The same happens to the second language speakers. It’s no surprise, since they had to memorize all the words in English and their meaning in the first place. What’s interesting, it happens to even more advanced speakers. But while the basic learners will just get stuck, the advanced speaker will try to ask for the right word.

“Is everything ok?”
“I ate too much for lunch and now I have… What’s the word for when your food is in your stomach and falls apart?”
“Digestion?”
“Yes, this one! I have digestion problems.”

As a downside, this will only work with characters that are supposed to be smart and knowledgeable, because they need to be able to describe the words they’re looking for. On the other hand, you don’t need to know any second language to make it work.

Foreigners in dialogues

The speaker’s origin influences the mistakes they make, so depending on their first language, the way they speak English might differ. It’s not only about the accent and pronunciation of the words, but also about mistakes they make. If you’re lucky to have second language speakers around, you might take this opportunity to listen to how they speak and what are the mistakes they most commonly make.

But what if you don’t have any foreigners to listen to? You can always go online and read through posts on forums or social media. You can also make friends with someone who speaks English as a second language and ask them what they found different about English language or what were they struggling with the most when they were learning it. They’ll likely provide you with a plethora of examples.


Joanna MaciejewskaJoanna 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 FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

Top Eight Things Future Best-Selling Authors Are Doing Right Now

 

Someday in the future, maybe five years, maybe ten years, maybe twenty years from now, the best-seller lists will name authors that no one has heard of now.

Those future best-selling authors don’t spring up out of nowhere, they’re alive and breathing as we speak. They’re out there, right now, getting kids ready for school, driving to the day job or composing another blog post.

Future best-sellers also working on their craft. They’re hard at work, making the most of the time they have to create the art that someday will be acknowledged by the world.

Top Eight Things Future Best-Selling Authors Are Doing Right Now by Katharine Grubb

What exactly are they doing then?

They probably write every day. If they don’t, then at least they write regularly. They treat their art with respect and understand that it takes a lot of practice to be excellent. The most successful authors of the future aren’t afraid to put in the hours to achieve their dreams.

They take their social media seriously. The future best-sellers understand that engaging with others on social media is important. Social media connections aren’t as important as writing, but it is important to meet reader after reader, to learn the ins and outs of various media platforms, and to update it regularly. The publishing teams behind these authors will be more enthusiastic  about supporting these future successes because they’re active now.

They’re reading craft books. If they’re not reading craft books, future best-selling authors are reading craft blogs, or taking classes or looking for ways to improve their art. Future best-sellers understand that there’s always something to learn and they’re looking for as much wisdom from the world of writing as they can. This diligence will show up in their art. They’re counting on it.

They aren’t afraid of criticism. Tomorrow’s best selling authors are sitting in critique groups today asking for feedback. They are pondering word choice, point-of-view, how many adverbs are too many and which dialog tags to drop. Future best-sellers are willing to listen to other authors around them and make necessary changes. A  writer who can’t handle constructive criticism won’t go far in this industry, and certainly will have trouble becoming a future best-seller.

What else do they do?

They’re learning how to be organized. Future best-selling authors take care of business well. Even though this may not come naturally for them, they keep good records. Successful writers need to file taxes, track expenses and stay on top of invoices. If you are a writer and you aren’t willing to take care of the business end of things, you probably can’t hope to be nothing more than a hobbyist.

They don’t make excuses. The best-selling authors of the future make writing a high priority. They don’t wait for “inspiration to strike” or “the perfect two hours”.  These writers push themselves when they don’t feel like writing, when the words don’t come or when their confidence is shot. This willingness to override excuses gives them a perseverance that often separate the professional from the amateur.

They are accessible to their readers.  I’m not a prognosticator, but I’d guess that in five, ten or twenty years the book market will be even more saturated. That means that it will be all the harder for writers to stand out. One of the ways that they can is to engage with readers now. A wise author builds relationships with their readers and in the future, these readers may turn into raving fans.

They don’t dwell on failure. Every single one of us is going to fail, that’s a given. But the most successful of us will look at our failures as opportunities to learn and become stronger. Future bestsellers will have a history of ups and downs, piles of rejection letters, embarrassing anecdotes, and spelling mistakes. But the best of us will refuse to let those failures become our identity.

Future best-sellers are all unique and have their own figurative and literal stories to tell.

Some future best-sellers will have to write thirty books before their big national break. Others will break-out with the second or third book. Some will become commercial hits. Others will find notoriety in more critical circles.  But all of them worked hard, all of them overcame obstacles and all of them weren’t afraid to learn.

I may never be a world-wide best-seller, but even if I’m not, I’m going to do everything on this list. My goal isn’t fame nor fortune, it’s being the best writer I can be.

Are you a future best-seller? Do you know what it takes to get there?

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 FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

How To Develop Your Writing Voice

(Author’s Note: For June, July & August, this blog will be posting on Mondays & Thursdays only!)

A writer’s voice is a complex, hard-to-describe thing.

I think it could be compared to a rich cheese, a well-crafted symphony or a good wine.

The complexities of each of these come from a variety of sources —  Cheese, music, and wine are complicated. Voice is complicated too. 

How To Develop Your Writing Voice by Katharine Grubb

A writer’s voice can be influenced by many different things. 

Each of my children could re-tell me the story of The Three Pigs, but they would all do it differently. The differences between their interpretations will lot to do with their individuality. The distinction between the different presentations would be their voice.

So how does our voice develop? I’d like to suggest beginning novelists tinker with influences. Show me a writer with a rich voice, and I’ll show your someone who has read great books most of their life. A writer with strong voice studies voice either consciously or subconsciously, and this is reflected in the words they put down. You can also find some practical tips here. 

How do you find your writer’s voice?

 A writer with a strong voice will be one who writes often. He is at ease with a variety of words. He may understand the use of grammar rules and manipulates the rules to serve his purpose.

To find you voice, you must have three things: Exposure to beautiful words, regular writing practice, and time.  There is no short cut.

Exposure to beautiful words:  You need to read. Read as many books as you can. Read your genre, but don’t be snobby about other genres. Try reading the classics, and try to figure out why they are so great.  Read writing blogs but always be reading and thinking about what you’re reading so that the words settle into the climate of your subconscious just perfectly. Then when the atmospheric conditions are perfect, you have a storm of words that is wonderful and dramatic and maybe even scary.

Regular writing practice: Developing strong voice is much like developing muscles for great athletic accomplishment.  If you sit at the keyboard repeatedly and daily put your thoughts together in a coherent way, you get better at it. You may  be able to train yourself over and over to see grammatical errors, then you’ll get better and more efficient at spotting them. With practice, you can say things more clearly and precisely.  Make a daily word count goal and keep it. Or plan to write a half hour each day. Find the way that’s best for you and do it!

And then there’s time: It’s common to suggest that after 10,000 hours one has mastery of a skill. You may not be able to track that in this lifetime. Don’t worry about it. Instead, focus on what you can to in the next ten minutes. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish. Believe this: no time is ever wasted. What may look like a loss is really life experience. You can make up for lost time. YOU CAN.

A writer with a great voice will also know their strengths.

Are you funny? Encouraging? Are you really good at analyzing LOL cats? Put your energy into this! You’re probably passionate about it too. And people will notice that you are good at it and they will want to hear more from you. Become an expert. Read everything you can get your hands on about your favorite subjects.  Apply the principles in new and exciting ways.

It is voice, I would like to argue, that carries the most artistic weight of our storytelling.

The nuances, the experiences, and the complexities make us who we are. Thus, our stories will be unique to all of us. Look for ways to enjoy your life, read and write and you’ll be working on your voice.

You won’t be able to help it.


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.

Life Lessons Gleaned from Novel Writing

By Carolyn Astfalk

After I’d given birth to my first child, I vowed I’d never allow any task or experience to intimidate me again.

After all, despite my worries and fears, I’d just delivered a little human being, sans medication no less. If I could do that, I could accomplish anything.

But time has a way of dulling memories, especially those surrounding childbirth. (Thanks be to God.)

When in November of 2010, I decided to give National Novel Writing Month a shot, I was intimidated.

Surely fifty thousand words in thirty days would be less daunting than childbirth, right? But the bold sense of empowerment I’d felt after my son was born had faded. And childbirth had a clear advantage when it came to completion. A healthy pregnancy culminates in birth at the appointed time without much determination on my part. Birthing a novel? Those words weren’t going to write themselves, pushing themselves out of orifices and spilling onto a page in a coherent format, i’s dotted, t’s crossed, plot threads wrapped as neatly as a swaddled newborn.

Completing a novel may be a monumental task often compared to birthing a child, but the truth is, it takes a different set of life skills.

What I discovered, however, after completing those fifty thousand words and several books worth more, is that those skills and habits translate well into other areas of life. The lessons I’ve learned can be applied to a variety of tasks, projects, and seemingly unattainable aspirations. Put simply, writing novels taught me how to accomplish big goals over long periods of time.

Here are the universally-applicable life lessons I’ve learned:

  • Never stop learning. However much you may know or think you know, you’ve not learned everything there is to learn. However skilled you’ve become, you can improve. Whether it means taking classes, skimming blogs, listening to podcasts, attending workshops, or reading books, others have lessons to share with you. Be a ready learner, easily teachable and eager to improve.
  • Be patient. Big tasks take time, particularly those that involve big changes and new ventures. The world is not waiting for your success. Often what you see in your mind’s eye is a streamlined path to success and completion, free of barriers, setbacks, or a realistic assessment of how much time things take to come to fruition. Do not rush to the finish simply in order to check an item off of your list. Take the time to do things the correct way, even if it adds weeks, months, or years to your plans. Things worth doing are worth doing right.
  • There will be setbacks. There will be sick children, family emergencies, death, births, vacations, and celebrations. Your pace will slow or you’ll backslide. Your motivation will wane. Your time will ebb. Your feelings will change. Persistence is imperative. Don’t worry so much about your rate of progress so long as you resume moving in the right direction, however slow your progress,
  • Get over yourself. Humility is an underrated virtue. Yes, you are unique and special, and perhaps your accomplishment is stellar. But there are millions of other unique and special people on the planet who have also done great things. Maybe things much greater than your thing. Don’t let pride creep in, preventing you from accepting constructive criticism or the simple fact that everyone has an opinion and you’ll never please everyone. You can accept that even if what you’ve done isn’t the best or greatest, it has value, if not for others then at least for you.
  • You have unique value independent of whatever you do or don’t do. You may fail. You may succeed. You’ll probably do both many times over. Regardless, you retain your dignity. Don’t confuse who you are with what you have or haven’t done.
  • Don’t go it alone. Even the most introverted of introverts can’t go it alone. We’re meant to live in a community. You’ll need others, even if only a few trustworthy allies, to offer a listening ear, a helping hand, or a commiserating (maybe virtual) hug. Learn from others’ mistakes and successes, and then share your experiences with others. Having trouble staying motivated? Your compatriots can offer accountability too.
  • Just because you can’t do a lot doesn’t mean you can’t do anything at all. It’s the old “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” So, you’re only able to make minimal progress. Maybe your rate of success is abysmal. That does not negate the value of what you’re doing. Small steps, small increments of time, and little acts, however seemingly insignificant, have purpose and meaning and will eventually grow into something much larger.
  • Don’t make your ambition your life. This thing you hope to accomplish, it’s not everything. Balance your life as best you can, being sure to care for yourself as well as the important people in your life. Make relaxation and your spiritual life a priority. You will be better off for it. Time spent outside of the relentless pursuit of your goal is not wasted time. Time spent re-charging or re-fueling, or sometimes, doing nothing of consequence, is exactly what you need.

Success – let’s be real, getting by – in some areas of our lives comes easier than others.

You may not need reminders or lessons in some disciplines. Because I had the necessary drive to write that first novel, I hung in there long enough to learn these lessons. The challenge is to apply them in cases in which my natural motivation is lacking.

With fourth births and three published novels behind me, I hope I can take these lessons and apply them to other areas in my life. Maybe I could apply them to the neglected areas I choose to avoid or ignore for the same reason that so many people set aside the seemingly impossible idea of writing a novel. Things like adding exercise to my routine, keeping up with the housecleaning, de-cluttering neglected areas of the home and garage, losing weight, and on and on. Surely you have a similar list. (Please say that you do.)

I’ve written a novel, but that was just the beginning. The lessons I’ve learned will help me accomplish my other goals too.


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Top 10 Ways Good Marketing Is Like Good Parenting or,

What’s Your Definition of Success?


 

Carolyn AstfalkCarolyn’s debut novel, Stay With Me, will be released on October 1, 2015. At that time, she hopes to earn a few pennies to contribute to her family’s wealth and offset the time and financial drain of her word habit. Until then, you can find me playing with letters and words at My Scribbler’s Heart Blog. Carolyn resides with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Five Reasons Why I Would Write Series Fiction (And One Reason I Wouldn’t)

What to read?

I’m at the library, looking for something to check out and I see a row of similar-looking spines, books all by the same author, some with numbers on them. It’s a little army of series fiction! (And almost always one of those numbers is missing!)

Five Reasons Why I Would Write Series Fiction (And One Reason I Wouldn't)

I have an irrational insecurity around serial fiction as a reader.

I feel like I have to start at book one if I’m going to start at all, and then, I wonder, will I feel compelled to read all the books in the series? What will I miss out on in the literary world if I get to the end of Adam Dalgliesh’s career?  I skip over the series and go to a stand alone instead. As a reader, I think I want the whole story wrapped up in one tidy package. And I want my literary diet to be broad. If I pick up the first Harry Potter, for example, I feel, and I’m sure that’s just me and my neurosis, that there’s an expectation that I have to read all of them. I don’t want that kind of pressure. Maybe I’m not a series type of reader? Not all of us are. But, if I’m going to be a successful novelist, then there’s some good reason why writing a series is a great idea.

Series novels are good fits for plotters who love details.

Every successful series writer must plan their little hearts out. They aren’t planning the events for 300 or so pages, they are planning for 3-8 times that amount. All that planning allows for the plot bunnies to come around to book five. This planning allows for the backstory to weave its way in and out across many plotlines. This is a complicated process and there are some authors who love the freedom that comes with many books in a series.

Series books don’t wrap things up neatly.

This is also a good thing for novelists who like to meander. Most novels have restrictions to them: that every little tangent needs to serve a purpose. But not a series. What is left undone in book 1 can be explained in book 2. If this is done well, then the reader is interested and wants to find out more.

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!

Series books can provide rich character arcs.

If the main character is a teenager in book one, and a father of six in the very last book, then you can assume some changes happened in their life. This long arc creates a beautiful canvas on which the author can create some interesting art. The character development itself becomes as important as the plot. And it’s this character that the reader may fall in love with and want to know more with subsequent books.

Series books can show off all the characters, not just the big stars.

Sometimes those secondary or tertiary characters are appealing in their own right. A series allows a writer to delve into their secrets and experiences. Complicated characters that intertwine together can make for some great stories. These background characters are perfect for creating new plot lines, falling in love with and making framing for a murder. What is your protagonist’s ally in the first book could be their betrayer by book seven.

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Series books do require a great deal of commitment.

Series books are challenging for the author! But the best reason of all to stick with it create a series is that once the first book is successful, the subsequent books have built-in readers. These are the fans you can reward with consistent references and hints of the past. Multi-book ideas can be a rich experience for the writer and the reader. Maybe I’ll get over my literary neurosis and commit to writing (and maybe even reading) a series.

And that one reason? I’m afraid to be tied down to one genre.

I’ve hopped around the genre spectrum to know that there’s fun in creating a fantasy world, developing a romance and crafting a mystery. It’s all the fear of missing out, see, and maybe that’s what makes me a neurotic human.

So, if you’re a reader or writer, consider series fiction.

You may find it well worth the hard work.


If you like this post, you may also like:

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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.

12 Reasons You Should Go To a Writers Conference

 

One way to grow as a writer is to attend a writers conference!

Now, I’m not a writers conference junkie, but I’d like to be. I know enough about them to understand that if you are in a climate controlled hotel ballroom, surrounded by writers from all over the world, with speakers and experts in front of you, then you’re in a great place to grow.

12 Reasons To Go To A Writers Conference by Katharine Grubb

Why?

You need to meet other writers in person.

In my limited conference experience, I’m always amazed at the diversity of the writers that I meet. They all aren’t bloggers like me. My writer friends don’t all have tendencies to publish quirky comedies like me. They may not know the first thing about writing a novel in 10 minutes a day. Because I do get the honor of meeting them, I expand my horizons. I’m encouraged by what they tell me. I’m interested in their projects and check them out. And I alway come away with new friends.

You need to practice your pitch.

Even if you never sit down with an agent or publisher, you will meet other writers who want to know what you write. You’ll need to be able to tell them in just thirty seconds. This takes practice. At a conference, you’ll have plenty of it.

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!

You need to learn at the feet of experts.

Any conference worth the price of admission will have speakers there who know more about the various aspects of writing than you do. Hopefully, you’ll get the chance to ask questions of these experts. You can find out how they came to their conclusions and what advice they may have for you. Take advantage of any down time that you get to pick their brains and learn.

You need to get away from your life for a while.

At the last conference I attended, I got to spend fourteen glorious hours alone in a hotel room. I really loved it. For the first time in history, I ordered a pizza and ate it alone. I watched a Hitchcock movie and I wrote 3000 words without anyone interrupting me. It was heaven. I felt so refreshed the next day when I had to fly home.

You need to get some perspective.

If you are discouraged about your writing for whatever reason, a conference may have the people you need to encourage you. Many times we need to know that we aren’t alone in our professional struggles. Sometimes we need the brutal truth. Sometimes we need to look at our careers, not our current project. I think that getting out of one’s own setting can make a big difference in how we see ourselves.

You need to have one on one time with an agent.

Agents often don’t sign authors unless they have met them first. This is, in reality, a business relationship and many agents want writers that they can click with. Even if you aren’t quite ready for an agent, it wouldn’t hurt to get to know them, practice your pitch and get some questions answered.

You need to get advice.

Conferences are great places to get advice. Sometimes this advice comes from the speakers and workshops. Sometimes it comes from who you sat next to at lunch. None of us are so together that we can’t use a little insight. You can also eavesdrop if you want. Your neighbor may have asked the question you’ve always wanted to ask.

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You need freebies.

Depending on the size of the conference, sponsors will hand out swag. At the last conference I attended, there were t-shirts, coupons to local businesses, and other things that were given to the coordinators just for the attendees.

You need to find out more about your genre.

Conferences are great places to buddy up with people who know your genre inside and out. You may gain fresh insight and advice for your genre in a way that you could never have online. Some genres have their own conferences — like ACFW or RWA. Check out this list of conferences and see if your genre has an event you can go to.

You need to be a bit more humble.

Besides wading through the endless bins of used books at my local library’s annual sale, nothing makes me more humble than meeting a bunch of writers. Many of them have been writing longer than I have. Many have bigger platforms than I do. When I’m at a conference, especially a big one. I’m a pretty little fish. This is good for me. The day that I’m too big to go, or too important to engage, or too accomplished not to attend will be a sad, sad day.

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You need to get feedback.

Many conferences have contests or critique opportunities. These are good for you! You can learn where your weaknesses lie. Also, you can gain wisdom from the more mature and experienced. And you can even win something grand if you’re good enough.

You need to feel that you are not alone.

Writers, as tempting as it is to wrap yourself up in a solitary, lonely world with just your characters and your computer as your companions, please don’t neglect the importance of community. Reach out to other writers. Do this with online groups, local groups or conferences.

Conferences have the potential of making you a savvier, stronger writer. As you plan your 2017, make a commitment to get better and invest in yourself.


If you liked this post, you’ll like:

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Top 10 Pro Tips For Attending A Writing Conference


 

a href=”http://www.10minutenovelists.com/img_7013/”>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.

Shipping: 14 Ways To Develop Romance In Your Story

Man, do I love a good, believable romance.

I like the slow kind, where looks are exchanged, where she ignores him, where he adores her, where their journey leads to something beautiful and long-lasting. I like the kinds of romance where the undercover action is a result of commitment, not the possibility of it.

Good romance stories, in my opinion, have the reader fully engaged in the feelings of the couple long before they figure it out themselves. I didn’t know there was a term for this.

Oh, this is why I write fiction!

I can get emotionally involved in the romance of characters without actually getting emotionally involved! And that’s what we want as writers, we want our readers to push our awkward heroine into the arms of the tall, dark stranger who happens to have a soft spot for kittens.

Shipping: 14 Ways To Develop Romance In Your Story

Let’s just put a caveat out there: I’m assuming that this romance that you’re writing is the journey of two people who fall in love and decide they can’t live without the other. If you’re writing the kind of book that, ahem, is only interested in the physical rewards of a relationship, without the nuance, the subtext, and the mature emotional growth, then you don’t need any help. You just need a Barry White soundtrack.

If you’re interested in something more story-like, more journeyed, and more character-driven romance, keep reading!

But how do we do this? How do we “ship” our characters? Can we toy with the feelings of our readers enough that they are rooting for the couple long before the couple is rooting for themselves? How do we pace this romance in such a way that our readers want to see what happens next?

The following suggestions are only that, suggestions. Perhaps you can use a couple to more couple your couple.

Put them together. If they are going to fall in love, then they need to be in each other’s company, in a variety of settings. Maybe the settings could be more formal, intentional dates. But maybe, they wouldn’t have to be. Maybe they work together, or maybe they are neighbors. I think the best stories of true love have a lot of conversation. Now, your reader may not need to read every bit of it, but you can’t build a foundation of a relationship if they never spend time together. As sweet as Sleepless In Seattle was, it kind of drove me crazy that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan weren’t in the same room together until the very, very end.

Go slowly. No matter how you feel about “love at first sight,” it can feel forced in writing. It may be better for one character to have some sort of emotional response to the other — and it doesn’t have to be a positive one. He accidentally trips her and she calls him a jerk. She gets his coffee order wrong and he snaps at her, not because he’s a big meanie, but because he just lost his job. This emotional response, positive or negative, is the spark. Something needs to be ignited at that point.

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Show that they like being together. Now, there is probably going to be that tease factor — where she picks on him and he picks on her. They do kind of need to annoy one another. But deep, deep down, they like having the other person around. And it may be that they don’t know why. I’m not convinced that you need to figure it all out completely either — it could be that he’s that stable male figure she’s been longing for. It could be that she’s got a quality or skill that reminds him of his mother.

Make them need each other for practical things. Now we all need each other. We need our cars repaired, we need our taxes done, we need our trash picked up. Perhaps your characters could have occupations that provide legitimate, non-erotic services that would benefit the other. I say this, but I have seen way, way too many stories about a young, probably awkward and klutzy woman who just bought the inn/B&B/old house/coffee shop and is dependent on the boyishly good-looking contractor/handyman/plumber who is charmingly annoying. If you want your romance to stand out, be creative with your occupational choices for your characters. Need ideas? Try looking here. 

Demonstrate how confused they are. Our hero and our heroine need to be in conflict between their reason and their heart. Your reader needs to see this. She says she doesn’t like him or care about him, but that’s not what her actions show. He says that she is nothing special, but he lights up when she comes in a room. Friends may ask them about their googly eyes, and this is when they deny everything. You could have them lose sleep, have trouble eating, or find themselves distracted.

Give them a chorus to argue with. You hero and your heroine need to spout off about each other to someone. They need coworkers, BFFs, a sympathetic sister, a nosy aunt, someone, that they can talk about their love interest with. Of course, the friends see this relationship blooming more clearly than our hero and heroine do. These friends will have the job to give warnings, remind them of other decisions, tease them, manipulate the circumstances, and perhaps create conflict. The more complicated you make the supporting characters, the more drama you can create, and this is a good thing. Make sure these character and their motivations are well understood by your reader.

Create a pursuit. It could also be that one of them has more interest than the other. There should be decisive action by one to get the attention of the other. If you are going to tease the reader, you need to take your time with this. One of your main objectives is convincing your reader that they will get together, and the matter of when will keep them turning pages. In the pursuit, the pursuer needs to make some big mistakes. The pursuee should be offended, insulted or ignorant. Don’t make this easy. Put as many obstacles as you can in the path of the pursuer. But, don’t go so far as to discourage your readers or make your pursuer look like a weirdo. (Unless that’s your intention, which means you may be writing an entirely different genre altogether.)

Give them a clarifying moment when all could be lost. Your hero finds out that he’s being transferred to Poughkeepsie. Your heroine calls her local convent to ask if there’s an opening. The Ex shows up and wants to reconcile. You need to create a moment, I think late in the second act, in which it really looks like a permanent move is going to made by either one. What will happen next is critical.

Your hero and heroine realize that there are legitimate feelings here. Someone will have to make a dramatic move — either confess your feelings for this love interest of yours or lose them forever. Oh, this should be awkward, cringe-worthy and blubbering, but it must be done. This is the moment if you’ve been building this up all along, that your readers have been waiting for. Possibly, this is the moment that all of the friends have been hoping for. This is the moment in which they acknowledge to each other that they love each other.  And then? A permanent decision has to be made — you get to decide what that is.

Keep their actions and their analysis consistent. If you want him to be introverted, kind of geeky and OCD-ish, he may be much better at following directions than improvising. If you want her to be an extrovert, lively and free-spirited woman, then don’t make her too analytical about his intentions. The best way to create believable reactions in romance is to have thoroughly drawn characters. You need to really know them so that they are convincing.

“We are all fools in love”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Make him want to “rescue” her. Please don’t think that I’m trying to stir the pot in 21st-century culture. But I believe that deep, deep down, a man in love wants to “rescue” the woman he admires. Back in the day, that rescue could have been from a dragon, starvation, the plague, or various Barbarians. But your tough-as-nails, feminist heroine is not perfect. Or at least she shouldn’t be. She needs to have weaknesses and make mistakes.

This is where your hero comes in. He needs to do something, big or small, that helps her out. We all need help from each other and this couple will need each other too. I think the best way to ship this is to create two or three of exchanges in which he “saves the day” for her. Make the first one an accident, but then make the next more deliberate. This will get her attention. She’ll be grateful. And if you really are going to put them together, then have her express her gratitude to him. Your readers will eat that with a spoon!

Make her want to get his opinion. A woman’s heart goes to the one she respects. He has a point-of-view on a particular issue — it could be something simple, like how to plant daisies. It could be something complex, like the US’s relationship with Sweden, but regardless, he has to have opinions that she respects. And she’ll seek it out. His viewpoint will be elevated above all other viewpoints in her mind. She may not do this deliberately, but she’ll do it just the same. Again, I’m not trying to appear to be overly Puritan, but he will need encouragement to pursue her. The best way for her to encourage him is to express respect or admiration. Make her see him as a hero. Your readers will too!

“The best love is the kind that awakens the soul and makes us reach for more, that plants a fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds. And that’s what you’ve given me. That’s what I’d hoped to give you forever”
Nicholas Sparks

Make them both want to improve for the other one. She attempts competency, intelligence, or sophistication to get his attention. She may not even realize she’s doing this. All of a sudden his opinion of her matters and she can’t explain it. He has standards in something that she thinks is beyond her. She may sense this most acutely when some other girl is better than she is at something. Our heroine may find herself reacting to this emotionally. This reaction, of course, is noticed by her friends and the reader. This is so shippy, you’re going to have to call the harbormaster.

Make him willing to be uncomfortable for her sake. This is where the seeds of true love germinate: when we are willing to put down our own desires for the benefit of someone else. He may not even realize he’s doing it. Or he may deliberately choose to be uncomfortable for her sake. If you want to plot a developing relationship, brainstorm for ways that he would sacrifice for her. Start small, in subtle ways that he doesn’t know about. Then move to the bigger things. This list could be a great outline for you. Even if you aren’t writing from his point of view, having him do this, and then have others notice, especially your reader, will ship this like crazy.

Consider making them both cowards. They both have to be afraid of dealing with the issue. Even if they are brave in every other area of their lives, they need to be fearful of rejection. I think that a reader who recognizes this cowardice will identify with it. I also think that your reader could cheer on a character who kind of freaks out about the possibility of romance. Now, this will only work if it’s consistent with your character’s personality. I’m going to bet though, that of all the couples you know, one of the pair is the neurotic one. I saw my husband’s when I looked in the mirror this morning.

Admittedly, all romance stories are unique.Or at least the good ones are.

I believe that the uniqueness can come in the setting or the quirks of the characters. But the story of romance itself is an old one. It’s a literal or figurative dance between two people who balance each other out and eventually get on each other’s nerves.

If you’re a romance writer, maybe this little list will help you and those crazy kids you have falling in love.

There’s no ship like a relationship!


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.

 

What to be a Better Writer? Think Like A Sculptor!

When I was a new writer, I had a lot of misconceptions of how writers wrote.

I had a mental image of a writer sitting in front of a typewriter with a stack of blank paper next to them.  Wasn’t that was how all writers worked. I thought that the first sentence I read in a book was the first sentence that the writer wrote. And I thought that the first thought was the best one. I thought that writers had to have everything in their story figured out long before they sat down to write it. Foolishly, I thought writers who were good enough to be published never had to rewrite, revise, edit, proofread or question themselves.

As I learned more about writing, I saw how wrong I was.

I learned that process of writing was hard, that it required heartbreaking and soul-crushing determination at times. And I learned that the search for the right thought, the right word or the right image was a common one. Also, I learned that great writers were willing to work and suffer for the sake of excellence and that craftsmanship was a process.

Most importantly, I learned that the final story represented only a small fraction of the work that was done by the author.

Now that I’m a little more experienced, I understand that page 1 of a novel is hardly the beginning of a writer’s journey. The mental image of a puzzled writer sitting at a typewriter isn’t an accurate one to me.

Writing A Novel Is More Like Sculpting A Fine Piece of Marble

What to be a Better Writer? Think like a sculptor!

Like a sculptor, writers start with a big hunk of nothing and end up with something beautiful.

 Good sculptors don’t start whacking and hope for the best. Marble is expensive; a good sculptor would plan the moves of his hammer and chisel carefully. A good sculptor has a plan; he may spend hours consulting experts on proper form, on proportion, on style.  A good sculptor would practice by making sketch after sketch, filling notebooks with different perspectives of ideas. Before a sculptor ever lifts his hammer for that first big wallop, he’d know what he was doing and why.

An experienced sculptor takes big moves in the beginning of his creation. He pounds big chunks away at first until he gets a very rough shape of the idea in his head. Then, his moves become finer and more delicate. Smaller tools are used to make rough shaped recognizable. Soon the sculptor is able to use tools like files and knives to create the detail. Each curve, each muscle, each surface is carefully and slowly handled. Over time, the sides of the sculpture are shaped. It may be a while before the viewer can understand the vision of the artist.

But the sculptor is not yet done. The finest details must be attended too — textures, eyes, fingernails. No detail must be ignored. The sculpture is not finished until every square centimeter of that creation is buffed by the creator.

What Can We Learn From The Sculptor?
  • A sculptor learns from the experts. As writers we need to take the time to learn our craft from experts around us. Our art deserves attention to plot, structure, character, description, dialogue and point of view.
  • A sculptor sketches his ideas in advance. Lucky us, our media, ink and paper, is so cheap enough that we don’t have to worry about our mistakes. But that shouldn’t stop us from practicing.  We should write regularly and grow in skill and confidence so that when we do sit down to draft the novel, we are at our best.
  • A sculptor understands that work that is rushed will show. Good writers are patient writers. They take the time to craft their work well and don’t rush in to publishing just because it’s easy. Our art and our readers deserve to have quality work from us.
  • A sculptor moves around his sculpture, focusing on facet at a time. His work is circular or spiral, not linear. He is free to travel from section to section, improving it as he is inspired.
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Now, when I start my novels, I want to think like a sculptor.

I want to review my notes and instruction from coaches. And I want to spend time with the outline, the character development, the plot, long before I ever draft a word. I  want to “swing that hammer” with confidence and that only comes with learning. Probably, I’m not going sit down with my art and think linearly. Instead, I’ll move from big idea, say the plot and move into the smaller details, like line-editing.

I had plenty more misconceptions as a writer, but envisioning correctly who I am in the process of the art has been encouraging and helpful.

Writing is art. And the more I work in the process, the more artistic I become.
What do you think? Is the sculptor a good metaphor for the writing process?

Did you like this post? You may also like

16 Simple Things To Do To Be More Creative or

Top 10 Ways To Make Your Words More Beautiful


 

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.

Free & Not-So-Free Writers’ Conferences For The Poor And Anthropophobic

 

It’s Conference Season!

Another spring has arrived and you will not be going to a writer’s conference. I’m so sorry. I’m not either.

I’ve been trying to get to the ACFW conference in September every fall for the last ten years and I’m not any closer now than I was ten years ago.  I did, however, get to go to the Mountain Valley Writers’ Conference in Lake Guntersville, Alabama a few weeks ago. And I have the bug to go, and speak, at another one. But it may not be for a while. I loved speaking to a group of writers. But then I had to talk to them and that was scary!

Because I can’t go to writers conferences, I can do one of two things. One…

The other option, and the one that is a lot more entertaining, IMHO, is to create my own conference!

You can do this too!

Free and Not So Free Writers Conferences for the Poor and Anthropophobic

If you do your own conferencing in the privacy of your own home, it’s free and there’s the added bonus of not actually having to talk to people.

For us financially strapped anthropophobes out there, this is a win-win.

I’ve created a list of some of the hundreds (if not thousands) of free resources for writers online.

This is NOT exhaustive. But it will certainly get you started if you can’t afford to go out to learn how to be a great writer. There are blogs, websites, videos, virtual conferences, podcasts and groups you can participate in. And DON’T forget your local library (although you should put clothes on to go there, and you may have to actually speak to someone!)

Need To Feel Like You Are Actually At A Conference?

Colgate Writer’s Conference on YouTube, Or The Thriller Online Writing Conference or the Science Fiction and Fantasy Conference.

Need To Listen To Celebrity Authors Talk About Writing?

 Anne Rice on YouTube, Susan Conley at TedTalks, Rick Riordan,  Need more? How about the 15 Best Youtube Channels for Writers?

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General Fiction Writing Tips and Strategies?

Start here: Inside Creative Writing, episode one from Florida State University, then, you can YouTube search: fiction writing. Or try Gotham Writers Workshop!  You will find DOZENS of videos to watch. Watch them all!

Need Ideas For Marketing?

 Eighty-nine book marketing ideas that will change your life. And Five Easy Ways To Publicize and Promote Your Book or, if you’re a member of the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook Group, you can read the feed of the chat we had a few weeks ago “Messy Mash-Up Marketing Marathon: My Notes From The MacGregor Literary Seminar”.  What? You’re NOT A MEMBER OF OUR FACEBOOK GROUP?  You can click here and join!

Getting restless? Wanna actually do some writing?

 Here’s a link to 10 Universities that offer free writing courses! FREE EDUCATION!  All you poor impoverished xenophobes out there don’t even have to get dressed!

Other things you can do!

Listen to podcasts. Here’s a link to the best podcasts on writing. 

Sign up for writers groups. Here are online writers groups that can help you!

Read everything about writing you can get your hands on at your library. Here’s a list of the best books on writing! 

Find a coach or mentor. This article tells you how to do that! 

Read agents’ blogs. Read editors’ blogs. Ask authors if you can interview them.

Don’t forget to write!

And Follow Our Pinterest Boards!

10 Minute Novelists have over fifty writing related boards on Pinterest that link you to hundreds of resources on craft, marketing, social media, writing prompts, structure, character, everything!

And if you are willing to attend a live one, make it this one. We’d love to have you!

Yes, I have to stand next to the financially strapped and anthropophobic writers this year, but that’s not an excuse for not learning all I can about how to write well. If I can do it, you can too! 

13 More Mistakes You Could Make When Creating Narrative Voice

 

Who is telling your story anyway? What is the point of view?

You’ve had a story in your mind for weeks.

Maybe you’ve twisted it, pounded it and cut it to pieces. You’ve already made many decisions on how it is to be told. But, have you put thought into the narrative voice?

The narrative voice is the voice of the point of view character that tells the story. With a well-drawn point of view character, a story can be rich and interesting. You want to take the time to get this right.

But be careful, many novelists make big mistakes in creating that narrative voice.

Last week, I blogged about 12 big mistakes that you can make in creating a narrative voice. This week? I have thirteen more potential mistakes. Never fear, there are plenty of ways avoid them.

13 More Mistakes You Could Make When Creating Narrative Voice

You may make your character sound too much like you. Many new writers create these characters that are really ideal images of themselves. They have few flaws and are a little too perfect. The words these characters say sound suspiciously similar to those that the author would say. Ask a reader who knows you well to evaluate if you’re putting way too much of you in your narrative voice.

You may get the gender wrong. In broad, sweeping, general strokes, men react differently to situations than women. Of course, there are exceptions — so if you are writing in the opposite gender, make sure your voice is authentic. As much as I liked A Fault In Our Stars,  I thought John Green could have made his teenage girl worry a little more about her appearance. Teen girls do that.

You may make them all strength and no weakness. Authentic, three-dimensional characters are those that feel real. Don’t be afraid to have your character make mistakes, offend another character or fail. Potentially, a balance of strengths and weaknesses will endear your character to your reader. They’ll identify with them more strongly and want to see them through to the end.

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You may get the tone wrong for the genre. Are you new to the genre you’re writing? Make sure you’ve read a few books in it. Specific genres have tones that readers expect. You don’t want your hero in your thriller to be too flippant or sensitive. You don’t want your romantic comedy to be bleak and morbid. Study the genre and shape your narrator accordingly.

You may sound too much like your favorite author. While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, in your own work, your own voice is critical. You develop a voice, both your own and your narrator’s, through practice. Write as much as you can and read as much as you can from a variety of authors to find words that are uniquely yours.

Your prose may be a touch too purple. Even if your character is a boa-wearing, poodle-holding, cigarette holder-clutching, frosted blonde, middle-aged, has-been diva, don’t overdo the descriptions, observations , and meanderings. Your first goal should be clarity. Simple writing, light on the adjectives and adverbs, will make your narrative voice stronger.

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”
Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

You may sound dated. Fiction has trends just like everything else. The common narrative voice of most chick lit in the ’90s has a distinct sound that you may not want to replicate in your chick lit book. Read and study the current books in your genre so that you can know what is expected. If you read only older fiction, your voice could be unappealing.

Your sentences may not be varying enough. Shorter sentences are quick and denote action. Longer sentences take their time and are good for description and observation. Make sure in your prose that your narrator has a variety of sentence lengths to add interest.

You may have forgotten the sensory experiences of your character. What your character sees, tastes, touches, hears and smells is all important to the narration. By adding these experiences, you are reinforcing your setting and creating a potential for conflict. Sensory description can make your story come alive. Don’t neglect it.

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You may be too shocking. Writing fiction is art and art can be anything, but if you purposefully intent to shock and offend with graphic profanity, violence, or anything else that may make readers uncomfortable, especially in the beginning, you may find you will lose interest early. It’s better to use the narrative voice to ease them into the story and save more shocking narration for the moments that you need it.

You may be too sexy. This problem could fall into the too shocking argument. In writing romance, I’d suggest that more provocative talk escalate organically. Admittedly, I’m not a reader nor a writer of steamy romance, so I may have this all wrong. But in my humble opinion, your narrative voice needs an arc. By seducing your reader too soon, you’ll have nothing to woo them with in later acts.

“I will go to my grave in a state of abject endless fascination that we all have the capacity to become emotionally involved with a personality that doesn’t exist.”
Berkeley Breathed

You may not react enough during the inciting incident. Structurally speaking, something big needs to happen in the first few pages to get the story moving. Your narrator interprets this event and must make decisions regarding it. Make sure that their reaction handles the situation plausibly so that the reader wants to follow them on their adventure.

You may not be interesting enough and the reader doesn’t care. This is a hard one to fix. The narrative voice must come from a well-developed character. The more you work on your characters depth, the more it will show in your narration. Take the time to make your characters rich and three-dimensional.

The best narrative voices come from well-drawn characters.

The more time you spend in every aspect of your character’s life, the potentially richer your narrative voice could be. Who knows? Maybe you’ll wind up with a Jane Eyre or a David Copperfield?


If you liked this post, consider reading these about character development:

7 Defense Mechanisms You Could Give To Your Character or, 5 Super Powers & 5 Sources of Kryptonite for Abused Characters


 

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.