Finding Your Voice Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

writing voice, finding your voice, writing a story, jerry b jenkins, successful authorsA short while ago, I was contacted by someone working with Jerry B. Jenkins about him posting at our site. !! When a prolific and successful author reaches out to YOU, it’s kind of surreal, and you jump at the chance to learn whatever he can teach.

I wasn’t disappointed. This 40-year writer of over 190 books (including the crazy-popular Left Behind series) has put together a solid blueprint for how to write a book in twenty steps. One of the points was particularly intriguing, so he agreed to let me share it with you.

Step #13: Find Your Writing Voice

Discovering your voice is nowhere near as complicated as some make it out to be.

You can find yours by answering these quick questions:

  1. What’s the coolest thing that ever happened to you?
  2. Who’s the most important person you told about it?
  3. What did you sound like when you did?

That’s your writing voice. It should read the way you sound at your most engaged.

That’s all there is to it.

If you write fiction and the narrator of your book isn’t you, go through the three-question exercise on the narrator’s behalf—and you’ll quickly master the voice.

“Voice” is one of those things that’s somewhat nebulous and ethereal; we all know it when we read it, but few people do it well and it’s hard to say exactly how to accomplish it. Jerry’s approach makes a ton of sense to me. He goes into more detail about it in a separate post, where he describes the time he met his future wife, then drove to the gas station where his best friend worked so he could spend half the night telling him about her. He segues that narrative into how you can apply your own memory to your voice when writing a story:

Imagine yourself sitting your best friend down and demanding their full attention, insisting, “Listen, have I got something to tell you…”

THIS. So much, people. It’s about intensity. It’s about passion. The story itself is so important that IT MUST BE TOLD. Like an electrical current traveling through a wire, when the story is that important to you, the intensity and passion will pass from you through the viewpoint character(s) to the reader. (On the importance of The Reader to your story, see Step #12: Think Reader First. But that’s a post for another time.)

writing voice, finding your voice, writing a story, jerry b jenkins, successful authorsMastering voice isn’t easy. It takes a lot of research to know the characters well enough that you understand why the story is important to them personally. It takes a lot of practice to maintain that engaged tone without letting it dwindle away into blah-ness. But knowing where to start is often the hardest part. And I think this approach to finding your voice may be just the ticket.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this method. And because voice is something we all struggle with, please share any other techniques you’ve found for doing this successfully.

And while you’re pondering, you should know that Jerry’s How To Write A Book blueprint is available for free. Depending on where you are in the journey, some of it may be elementary, but you’re sure to find a few worthy nuggets to apply to your own process. Oh, and by the way, IT’S FREE. You can read it here in full or scroll to the bottom of that page to download your own copy for keeps.

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Posted in Voice, Writing Craft, Writing Resources | 4 Comments

Struggling with (and Regaining) Confidence in Your Writing

sara-letourneauEvery writer’s toolbox is unique, containing the techniques, reference books, personal library, and lessons or “best practices” we’ve acquired over time. But there’s one tool that all writers need despite their target audience, genre, or years of experience. It’s just as important as talent, industry knowledge, and a strong work ethic – and for many of us, it’s the most difficult tool to master.

Yes, I’m talking about confidence.

Writing requires us to have a degree of belief in our abilities. It asks us to be vulnerable on the page and in sharing our work. It encourages us to invent believable settings and create characters that live and breathe like real people do. It beckons us to tune out our inner editor when necessary and trust our intuition so we can work with a clear head and an impassioned heart.

confidence, self-doubt, procrastination, struggling with story

Yet sometimes, despite all our efforts, our confidence in our craft implodes – and our writing world seems to explode along with it. And when it does, we question ourselves. We might even think we’re incompetent at what we love doing most, or feel alone in our struggles. (Or, in many cases, we’ll experience both.)

Here’s the reality, though: You are never alone in your battle with writer’s doubt. Ask any writer, published or not, and chances are they’ll each have a tale or two (or more) to tell on this subject.

My Ongoing Struggle with Confidence in My Craft

Earlier this year, I received beta-reader feedback on a manuscript I’d been working on for 4 years. Most of the readers generally liked the story, but they also noted several plot and worldbuilding issues that needed to be addressed. Immediately I realized how their feedback would strengthen the story. But when I tried to envision how the scenes would play out with those changes… Well, my mind went blank. I couldn’t figure out how to revise the story further, even though I understood what needed to be done.

That, along with other sources of stress in my life at the time, sent me into an emotional tailspin. And it wasn’t the first time that my confidence in my writing had plummeted, either.

I’d like to say I’ve rebuilt my confidence in the months since then. And in some ways, I have. I’m working on a new WIP (which I’ve grown to love) with the intention of applying what I learned from this experience so I won’t make the same mistakes, and with the hope that eventually a lightbulb will turn on with the old manuscript so I can revise it with clarity and purpose. Yet some days, I find myself thinking, “I should have been able to figure out those revisions,” or “What if I’m still making those mistakes and I don’t realize it?” And then the carousel of doubts starts turning again.

 

If you’ve been struggling with confidence in your writing lately, please know that I hear you. Doubt can be a discouraging – even debilitating – mindset. And if you linger in it too long, it can become powerful enough to convince you to stop writing altogether.

I don’t want you to give up, and I’m sure you don’t want to, either. So, together, let’s pick ourselves up, dust each other off, and lean on one another as we find our way back to believing in ourselves.

Tailoring Your Approach to Managing Doubts and Rebuilding Confidence

Of course, there’s a catch when it comes to rebuilding confidence in our writing: No “one-size-fits-all” solution exists. Just as one writer’s process will differ from another’s, so will their methods in how they regain their poise and manage their doubts. If you haven’t figured out how to approach the problem or are looking for new techniques, here are some suggestions (from my own experience and from other writers’) that might help:

  • Sharpen your writing skills. If a particular aspect of writing (dialogue, description, foreshadowing, etc.) is troubling you, try studying that skill through workshops or blog posts and then practicing it on your own. Seeing an improvement in those areas can give you the boost you need.
  • Plan your writing session(s) in advance. Before your next sit-down, take a few minutes to jot down notes, organize your thoughts, and develop a “plan of attack” so you know exactly what you’ll work on. That way, you’ll stay in the flow during your writing session and be proud that you prepared for it.
  • Share your concerns with writing pals. No writer wants their peers to be discouraged about their craft. So if you have writer friends either online or in real life, talk to them about your situation. Their perspectives on your abilities as a writer, as well as any advice they offer, can help you see your story or circumstances more clearly.
  • Allow other writers to inspire you. Just as discussing your confidence issues with trusted colleagues can be encouraging, so can absorbing words of wisdom from writers who influenced you to become one yourself. Reading inspirational quotes or listening to motivational speeches can remind you of why you’re pursuing this craft and renew your enthusiasm for your current project.
  • Adopt a more positive self-perception. This might be the most challenging tip on the list, but it’s also the most essential. Self-criticism, doubt, and comparing yourself unfavorably to other writers can crush your motivation – or, worse, convince you to quit writing altogether. Hyper-focusing on the negative only fosters more negativity. Instead, take pride in your accomplishments and strengths, and look forward to improving on your weaknesses and reaching your goals.
  • Take a day off from writing. Sometimes all you need is a break. Give yourself a day or two off to exercise, socialize, read, or engage in other hobbies you enjoy. (My go-to activities on an “off-night”? Yoga, journaling, and mandala-coloring.) Doing so will allow your mind to “reset” so you can feel refreshed when you return to writing.
  • Switch to a different writing project. If you’re stuck on your WIP, taking a break to work on something else (a blog post, essay, short story, etc.) can do the trick. Whether it’s for a few days or several weeks is up to you. But by continuing to write, you’ll also continue to mature as a writer while your subconscious ruminates on the old project. And who knows? Maybe the breakthrough you need will come when you least expect it.

Regardless of what caused your confidence to waver and how you bounce back, just remember that the surest way of recovering from writer’s doubt is to keep writing. Perseverance is just as important as confidence and everything else in your toolbox. And if you have the courage to believe in yourself and persist, even when things aren’t going well, you might be surprised with how far that attitude can take you.

When was the last time you struggled with confidence in your writing? How did you overcome it? What other tips would you add to our list?

sara-_framedSara is a fantasy writer living in Massachusetts who devours good books, geeks out about character arcs, and drinks too much tea. In addition to WHW’s Resident Writing Coach Program, she writes the Theme: A Story’s Soul column at DIY MFA and is hard at work on a YA fantasy novel. Find out more about Sara here, visit her personal blog, Goodreads profile, and find her online.
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Posted in Motivational, Resident Writing Coach, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude | 21 Comments

Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Carrying on a Legacy

What does your character want? This is an important question to answer because it determines what your protagonist hopes to achieve by the story’s end. If the goal, or outer motivation, is written well, readers will identify fairly quickly what the overall story goal’s going to be and they’ll know what to root for. But how do you know what outer motivation to choose?

If you read enough books, you’ll see the same goals being used for different characters in new scenarios. Through this thesaurus, we’d like to explore these common outer motivations so you can see your options and what those goals might look like on a deeper level.

legacy, character motivation, writing, story goal, character arc

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Carrying on a Legacy

Forms This Might Take: Keeping alive a legacy begun by a respected person, organization, or culture. This could be personal (running the family business, fostering children because one’s parents did so), moral (supporting a charity organization, rallying around a topic of social awareness to right a wrong), or surrounding a passion or interest (gathering informing about a person who broke ground in an important area and sharing it with others, building upon an area of study).

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): self-actualization

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Reorganizing one’s priorities to make time for this new endeavor
  • Making necessary changes so one can pursue the goal (relocating, changing careers, quitting one’s job, etc.)
  • Allocating resources and making purchases toward the pursuit of this goal
  • Sacrificing time, money, or resources so they can be put toward the new goal
  • Increasing one’s knowledge in the area of the legacy (studying, collecting information, interviewing people)
  • Spending time with others who are involved in or passionate about the legacy
  • Gathering support from others (if this applies to the specific goal)
  • Mentally focusing on what it would take to continue this legacy

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Risk of failure (if this is something one hasn’t tried previously)
  • Giving up passions or hobbies due to a lack of time or decreased interest
  • A temporary or permanent decrease in income
  • Having to move away from one’s home
  • Growing apart from friends due to the amount of time one is dedicating to the new goal
  • Losing the respect of others who don’t understand why one is making the change
  • Stressed relations with family members who are affected by the changes
  • Heightened worry and fear about one’s capability or venturing into a new area

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • The people in one’s life who are averse to the changes that would come with one pursuing the legacy
  • A lack of necessary knowledge (having the passion but not the smarts to succeed)
  • External forces that don’t want the legacy to continue
  • Character traits or attitudes that will inhibit the hero’s success (impatience, closed-mindedness, recklessness, selfishness, etc.)
  • Those who began the legacy who disagree with one’s methods or the changes one would implement
  • Illness, emergencies, problems at home, and other difficulties that would distract one from focusing wholeheartedly on building the legacy

Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal

Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:

  • The object of one’s legacy fading away and being forgotten
  • Self-blame for allowing something important to fail
  • Social wrongs going unchanged
  • People associated with the legacy being negatively impacted when it fails to continue (those serviced by a charity, employees of a family-run business, etc.)
  • Personal discontentment and dissatisfaction due to one’s failure
  • The feeling that one has failed not only himself but the important people who began the legacy

Clichés to Avoid: 

  • The passionate believer who sacrifices everything only to fail, ending up ruined in every possible way
  • The “save the farm” storyline in which greedy corporations or neighbors sabotage one’s attempts to continue the family legacy

Click here for a list of our current entries for this thesaurus, along with a master post containing information on the individual fields.

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Making Characters Stuck in the Background Pop Out

september-c-fawkesMaybe you have had some of the experiences I’ve had when writing a manuscript, one of which is finding yourself with a character–could be a side character, a secondary character, or even a viewpoint character–who seems to be sort of stuck in the background of the story when he’s not really supposed to be. In your head, he’s a great character, and maybe you even want to showcase him, but for some reason, on the page, he just doesn’t shine. Sometimes this sort of thing even happens with the protagonist. Here are four tips to help make characters stuck in the background pop out.

Give Your Character Defined Attributes

You may be familiar with the idea of “tagging” your character–giving your character attributes or key words that are regularly referenced. For example, Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is regularly described with the color pink, wearing a bow, “like a toad,” and very short and stumpy. The Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, always has a bowler hat, and he usually takes it off and runs the brim of it through his hands.

If your character is stuck in the background, she may need some tags to help her pop out. Make sure you don’t pick tags or details that are so generic, they are forgettable. Instead, be specific and telling.

Round out Your Character

Some characters get stuck in the background because they aren’t rounded out as real individuals. I’ve seen this happen when editing manuscripts that have a heroine who is a borderline Mary Sue. Because she isn’t rounded out as a real person, she sort of blends into the background. If this is the case, you’ll need to flesh her out and give her some legitimate flaws that pertain to the story, instead of just flaws that are endearing side notes. Remember that point: give you character strengths and weaknesses that relate to the story. You can find plenty more tips online about rounding out your character.

Put Your Character in Situations that Show off His Traits and Abilities

There may be a good chance that the set-ups and situations you are putting your character in don’t show off the defining traits you’ve given her. This can relate back to my last post here in Writers Helping Writers, about giving your character some kind of contradiction. In the television show Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes is a self-proclaimed high-functioning sociopath, which means he doesn’t relate well to people. That’s a character trait that makes him interesting. But if we never put him in significant social situations and only put him in scenes where he solves cases, we never get to the depth or complexity of that character trait. It’s never illustrated in a way that fully realizes it.

Other times, it’s not so much a trait that isn’t illustrated as it is a talent or ability. In Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, one of the main characters, Violet, is an inventor. But if the plot never needed an invention to solve a problem, we’d never see how good Violet is at inventing something.

If you don’t put your character in situations that showcase her defining traits or talents and abilities, she can fade into the background.

Separate Her from “Loud” Characters

Some of your other characters may not necessarily be loud mouths (though they can be), but they are “loud” in that they beg for attention. Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of the Caribbean is a good example of this. He’s perhaps the most entertaining and likeable character in the franchise, and when he’s on the screen, people watch him. It’s like you can’t look away. You have to see what he will do or say or even what his mannerisms are. Sometimes we cannot fully appreciate Will or Elizabeth or Barbossa because we are so focused on Jack. If Jack were in every scene, we may not appreciate many of the other characters at all.

Luckily, the writers made sure to separate Jack regularly from many of the others. If you watch the franchise, you’ll see that it’s true. To make your background character pop out, you may need to do the same thing. And it doesn’t need to be elaborate. Separate your “quieter” character from the “loud” ones, so that they can get some of the spotlight, even if it’s just temporary. (This is also one of the reasons the “mentor” character often dies–so that the protagonist can step up and shine.)

If none of these methods seem to work or relate to your story, you may want to consider revamping your character so that she is more relevant, or, if you need to, cut him altogether.

september-c-fawkes_3Sometimes September scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. She works as an assistant to a New York Times bestselling author while penning her own stories, holds an English degree, and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter.

Find out more about September here, hang with her on social media, or visit her website to follow her writing journey and get more writing tips.

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Posted in Character Flaws, Character Traits, Characters, Description, Resident Writing Coach, Show Don't Tell, Subtext, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Character Motivation Entry: Helping A Loved One See They Are Hurting Themselves (and Others)

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Six Smart Ways Indie Authors Can Collaborate When Marketing

The control and freedom indie authors have can be a big asset when it comes to marketing. The problem is time. Shouldering the weight of writing, editing, researching, publishing, marketing, and promoting alone can be exhausting, especially knowing our industry is growing more crowded and competitive by the day.

marketing help, writers helping writers, writing, publishing, book marketingThere’s a silver lining here, though: Indies are business people (let’s face it, you have to be to make it in our world) who know the value of collaboration. After all, working together means spreading out the marketing load, sharing audiences, and leveraging everyone’s platform and connections.

Finding other authors to collaborate with might take some time, but it’s worth it. Look for authors who 1) write books very similar to your own 2) have a good work ethic 3) believe in give and take, and 4) have a platform and the trust of their readers (influence).

Built your crew? Awesome! Here’s six ways to collaborate.

Swap Valuable Links

Once you have gathered six or so writers who write high quality books similar to what you produce, create a What to Read Next page at the end of your ebook and then list & link each member’s book. This way you suggest a book of theirs to your audience, and they do the same for you. It’s instant exposure with new audiences who may not yet be aware you and your books. Everybody wins. 

Brainstorm & Be A Champion

marketing help, writers helping writers, writing, publishing, book marketingOnce a month, meet online (a Google hangout, a skype, etc.) and take turns running a brainstorming session that focuses on one of the team members and their book(s). Discuss how collectively you can use the next month to help raise awareness for that book, increase the author’s platform, plan marketing strategies, etc. It’s often easier to come up with ideas and a plan when it isn’t your book. Take turns sharing content and running visibility events to spread the word (without spamming of course) as part of a marketing surge. Repeat with the next member, and then the next, continuing throughout the year.

Create Team Book Pages

Have each crew member create a page on their website called “Books To Read Next.” Similar to the ebook links, you can use this to profile each team member’s books, showing off the cover, a short blurb and a link to Amazon (and make sure it’s an affiliate link, so you earn something from each sale).  If you each have this page on your blog or website, you will expose each other’s book to different audiences. You can also tweet these pages, share them on social media as “reading suggestions” with genre appropriate hashtags if needed, and even add the pages to appropriate Pinterest boards. Together, you will find new readers.

Spread Library Love For Print Books

Write down the ISBN of each member’s book and go to your local library (or visit their website) and ask them to order the books. They may or may not, but either way you gave it a shot. Again, it’s uncomfortable sometimes for an author to ask for their own book to be brought in, and so much easier to ask for someone else’s book.  If the members of your team have more than one book, you can do this a few times throughout the year to spread requests out. However (and this is important), if the library does bring the book in, make sure to check it out to read and encourage others to as well. Libraries need to see there’s an audience waiting for that book!

Share Research

Time is always in short supply when you’re an indie, so each month during your meeting, pick an area of marketing to look into. It could be advertising, books awards, Bookbub promotions, finding review sites, or understanding price pulsing. Discuss what you know and ask questions to see what others have experienced. If there’s a subject you all want to delve deeper into, divide and conquer. For example, maybe you want to focus on “audience discovery.” One of you can poke around Wattpad and bring back your findings, another can investigate the Figment community (if you are all YA authors) to see how engaged members are to see if it’s a reading community worth joining. Another can check into the conversations and groups at Goodreads. Assign each member a site to look into and share the load of research. Communicate by email to report what you find.

Host a Group Event

marketing help, writers helping writers, writing, publishing, book marketing

Try a collaborative event and work together to draw people in. Remember, the goal doesn’t have to be “buy my book,” simply to gain visibility and stand out. Yes, you can host a Facebook party, or put together a box set and promote it, but don’t be afraid to think outside the box, too. What would be fun, entertaining, and different? Things that are imaginative and either meaningful or hit the funny bone tend to get shared. That’s what you’re after–think big and try to go viral. You could host some sort of “Author Challenge” where as authors you compete against one another in a way that encourages readers to participate (voting, watching videos, sharing, commenting with feedback, etc.). Do it for fun, to raise money for a cause, or just some old school rivalry, but make it fun to watch and participate in. 

You could also host a private virtual party with fans. In fact, for a modest fee, it is possible to rent a virtual room at Tech Surgeons and host your own event, allowing you to interact with your readers. Run a giveaway for seats to the party on all your blogs, building excitement. Then, collectively put on an amazing event for the winners. This is an opportunity to get together with fans in real time, using audio, chat, and webcams. You could have prize giveaways, answer insider questions about your books, or pit authors against one another in a crazy and fun contest. Consider a theme tailored to your audience to encourage participation.    

FACT: Indies can do so much when they pull together!

It’s common to collaborate for special holidays, but day-to-day activities and support is just as important. Building your own Indie Crew will give you access to a marketing resource all year, improving your reach and visibility.

Do you have a Indie Crew? How do you collaborate? Let us know in the comments!

Psst! Need help with marketing?

Check out our Tools For Writers page.

There’s a ton of handouts and links to explore, including a live marketing webinar and Swipe File of all my marketing materials from our last book launch.

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Posted in Marketing, Platform, Promotion, Publishing and Self Publishing, Social Networking, The Business of Writing, Time Management, Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Character Motivation Entry: Avoiding Certain Death

What does your character want? This is an important question to answer because it determines what your protagonist hopes to achieve by the story’s end. If the goal, or outer motivation, is written well, readers will identify fairly quickly what the overall story goal’s going to be and they’ll know what to root for. But how do you know what outer motivation to choose?

death stakes, high stakes, stakes in fiction, character motivation

If you read enough books, you’ll see the same goals being used for different characters in new scenarios. Through this thesaurus, we’d like to explore these common outer motivations so you can see your options and what those goals might look like on a deeper level.

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Escape Certain Death

Forms This Might Take:

  • Being in an apartment building that catches on fire
  • Being imprisoned by someone (a serial killer, terrorists, kidnappers) who has no intent of letting one live
  • Being a prisoner on Death Row
  • Escaping a concentration camp
  • Being a POW (prisoner of war)
  • Escaping enemy territory when “shoot on sight” orders are in effect
  • Being slated to appear before a firing squad or hanging judge
  • Living in a land where all occupants are being exterminated (by hostile forces, aliens, etc.)
  • Discovering one has been poisoned (and in need of an antidote)
  • Being abandoned in a hostile climate (in a desert without supplies, shipwrecked, etc.)
  • Suffering torture that is growing increasingly violent
  • Suffering extreme sleep deprivation
  • Being grievously wounded and in need of medical help to survive
  • Having an infection that must be treated before toxic shock sets in
  • Suffering from hypothermia, extreme thirst, or extreme hunger
  • Begin expendable (as a slave, as a witness, etc.)
  • Being exposed to radiation or another harmful contaminant
  • Being in the path of a destructive element (a forest fire, flood, tornado, nuclear fallout, etc.)

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): physiological needs

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal:

  • Track the movements of one’s captors or gatekeepers
  • Assess the weaknesses of others, or a location one is being held at
  • Lying in order to gain support or obtain a measure of power or control
  • Obtain a map of the area
  • Push one’s body to the limits (traveling in extreme heat or cold, resisting fatigue, etc.)
  • Secure (or make) weapons
  • Scout for, buy, barter, or steal supplies
  • Prepare to fight, and if necessary, kill
  • Use one’s skills, strengths, knowledge, or sexuality to obtain what one needs
  • Steal keys, access cards, or a lock pick to escape
  • Make bargains with anyone in a position to help
  • Hold other people hostage to get what one needs
  • Cross moral lines to survive

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal:

  • Being maimed, scarred, or disfigured during one’s escape
  • Having one’s health compromised in the escape to the point where one is never the same
  • Becoming jaded by humanity based on horrors one witnesses during the plight
  • Revealing a secret or closely guarded information in order to escape, knowing it will have difficult repercussions later
  • Becoming what one hates to survive (a killer, compassion-less, a user of people, etc.)
  • Being saddled with shame and guilt for the things one must do to survive
  • Losing a limb (to frostbite, due to infection, in an accident, etc.)
  • Crossing a moral line that leaves one feeling unworthy of living
  • Sacrificing others so one may live
  • Being unable to save a loved one and oneself, and so losing them to the situation
  • Being tortured, raped, and abused as a result of one’s bid to escape
  • Causing innocent people pain or hardship in order to escape one’s situation
  • Developing PTSD

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved:

  • Too many guards and no opportunity to escape
  • Being secured in some way (handcuffed, bound in rope, secured to other people, etc.)
  • Being in a place where movement is restricted (being locked in a trunk, getting stuck in a tunnel collapse, etc.)
  • Running out of clean air, water, or food
  • Extreme temperatures or weather
  • Having an enemy who is personally invested in seeing one die to the point he goes to great lengths to bring this about
  • Running out of resources
  • Having one’s resources stolen
  • One’s transport breaking down
  • Weapons, technology, or adversaries that one is unable to counter
  • An injury that makes mobility difficult, if not impossible
  • Being responsible for the welfare of others (and having to ensure they escape too)

Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:

Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:

  • Death

Clichés to Avoid:

  • Guards who get drunk, allowing one to escape
  • Guards who put down their weapons in order to take advantage of the character (sexually, or to beat them up, etc.)
  • Enemies who attack one at a time, allowing the character to take each out in turn

Click here for a list of our current entries for this thesaurus, along with a master post containing information on the individual fields.

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One Simple Technique to Improve Your Writing in 10 Minutes a Day

Summer is a glorious time, isn’t it? Drinks on the deck, barbecues, hiking, travel, maybe a day (or three!) at the lake…it’s like a reward for working our butts off all year around. But, with more things competing for our time during these summer months, it can be tempting to put writing off.

writing exercise, storytelling, writing

This is why I love today’s post, and this exercise: it is simple to do, doesn’t take a lot of time, and will help keep your pen sharp. Please welcome Sarah Moore to the blog!

I’m always wary of promises to shatter procrastination’s evil hold, lose that pesky weight or fix your firebombed marriage in “just 10 minutes a day!” Because, come on: 10 minutes? One-sixth of an hour?

Yet here I am with a too-good-to-believe promise of my own: You really and truly can improve your writing with one short, simple exercise:

Rewrite the work of famous authors.

An Exercise in Greatness

This technique is one I’ve been using for years. Originally, in fact, I didn’t even know I was doing it. In my early 20s, when I dreamed of being the next JK Rowling, I had no idea that my manuscripts were just bad versions of Harry Potter – agents had to tell me. Ouch. Slowly, though, it dawned on me: hey, this is a fantastic exercise.

Why? Because published authors, especially the ones you love dearly, are good. They understand how the game is played. For instance, indicating the passage of time is one of the most nuanced – and difficult to nail – skills a writer can possess. But the great writers? Well, they’re awesome at it, obviously. Worldbuilding? They’re on it. Speaking to character’s deep-seated financial fears? Yep, they know how.

A lot of writing is mental muscle memory, learning the tricks of the trade and employing them intuitively. Yes, you should do this on your own as well. But by cadging the skills of the published, you can cement those skills. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Choose an Author You Love

First select the author you’re going to emulate. Obviously it’s helpful if this author writes in your genre, but you don’t always need to adhere strictly. I’m a speculative YA girl myself, but that doesn’t make Jane Austen’s incredible depth of character development any less useful.

  1. Set the Scene for Writing Well

This step is not unique to this exercise. If you want to succeed at a writing habit, you need to make a plan … not pants the job. That means picking a time and place to write, whether it’s the break room on lunch, your desk first thing in the morning, or late-night bed while your spouse snoozes beside you. Eliminate distractions with a pre-pee, a cup of tea, a Chapstick and anything else that you might “have to” get up for. Don’t forget to grab your book of choice.

  1. Select a Short Passage

Pick a chapter, a paragraph, dialogue, even a poem. Ideally you select a piece that has a strong theme, visible through multiple elements of the story: settings, description, internal and external dialogue, and events. This will help order your writing. Read through your selection a few times, noting what happens, how it happens, novel words and metaphors, and most important, what you really love about it – what makes it good writing?

  1. Put It Away

This exercise works best when you let the reading percolate in your brain, but don’t look right at it, which runs the chance of straight copying rather than inspiration. So stash it out of sight, and resist the urge to pull it out again.

  1. Rewrite However Much You Can in 10 Minutes

writing exercise, writing tip, writing

Now rewrite the selection as much as you can in the allotted time span. Keep it short; you don’t want to give up too much of your own original writing time. And don’t feel pressure to rewrite in the same form. Turn a poem into prose? WHY SURE! Don’t change it so much that you lose the original mettle of the piece, but feel free to make it your own in whatever way you see fit.

  1. Keep It to Yourself!

Remember, this exercise is definitely toeing the plagiarism line. Okay, no, it straight-up crosses it. Which is totally fine in the privacy of your own garret, but notsomuch in your submissions. Remember The Words? The main concept was just that … the “author” found a manuscript on a train, retyped the original work and passed it off as his own. Terrible regret ensued. Rewriting is almost as bad, so don’t do that. Keep the results to yourself for later reference, though.

Follow these steps, though, and you’re guaranteed a short daily habit that exposes you to great works and almost effortlessly ingrains in you the techniques of great writing. If you have any suggestions for how to improve this exercise or any variations you use in your practice, please feel free to share them with us in the comments below.

Have you ever tried this technique? Let us know in the comments!

Sarah Moore has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has worked as a professional writer for the last seven years. She is the owner and founder of at New Leaf Writing, working as a fiction writer by night and coaching others to help them reach their own writing goals through private calls and a Facebook Group. You can also find her posting cool stuff on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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Posted in Experiments, Focus, Guest Post, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writer's Block, Writing Craft, Writing Time | 12 Comments

Critiques 4 U!

Hello, lovely writer friends! How’s your summer going? My family’s working our way through our summer bucket list, which so far includes getting ice cream, picking berries, making pie, and going to the water park. We’re also getting ready to fly out of town to visit Nana and Granddaddy, which equates to children happily watching movies at 30,000 feet and uninterrupted reading time for me. That means I need some material :).

CONTEST CLOSED!

If you’re working on a first page and would like some objective feedback, please leave a comment that includes: 

1) your email address. Some of you have expressed concern about making your email address public; if you’re sure that the email address associated with your WordPress account is correct, you don’t have to include it here. But if you do win and I’m unable to contact you through that email address, I’ll have to choose an alternate winner.

2) your story’s genre (no erotica, please)

Also, please be sure your first page is ready to go so I can critique it before next month’s contest rolls around. If it needs some work and you won’t be able to get it to me right away, I’d like to ask that you plan on entering the next contest, once any necessary tweaking has been taken care of. 🙂

ONLY ENTRIES THAT FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS WILL BE CONSIDERED

Three commenters’ names will be randomly drawn and posted tomorrow. If you win, you can email me your first page and I’ll offer my feedback. Best of luck!

Posted in Uncategorized | 39 Comments

Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Finding Friendship or Companionship

Can you guys believe it’s been a year since we started this thesaurus? Yeah, we can’t, either. That means it’s time to start wrapping this one up and making room for a new idea. We’re noodling that out right now and will let you know what’s next pretty soon. But for now, we’re wondering if there are any character motivations (story goals) that you’d like us to cover before we close up shop. You can see a list of existing entries here. Let us know in the comments, and we’ll see what we can do.

What does your character want? This is an important question to answer because it determines what your protagonist hopes to achieve by the story’s end. If the goal, or outer motivation, is written well, readers will identify fairly quickly what the overall story goal’s going to be and they’ll know what to root for. But how do you know what outer motivation to choose?

If you read enough books, you’ll see the same goals being used for different characters in new scenarios. Through this thesaurus, we’d like to explore these common outer motivations so you can see your options and what those goals might look like on a deeper level.

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Finding friendship or companionship

Forms This Might Take: Making a friend or building community with others, particularly when one is new to a certain place (such as a school, neighborhood, city, or job).

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): love and belonging

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Joining a local group, club, or team
  • Joining an online meet-up group
  • Opening one’s home as a meeting place for a group
  • Finding out the interests of the people one would like to meet
  • Scouting out likely friends at the places one frequents (the gym, playground, church, coffee shop, etc.)
  • Carefully grooming oneself before an anticipated meeting
  • Setting up playdates for one’s child as a means of meeting other parents
  • Enlisting the help of people one knows to introduce one to others
  • Practicing what one will say when one meets potential friends
  • Arranging group events in the hopes of building a relationship with a particular person
  • Getting a pet as a means of connecting with another living soul on some level

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • The possibility of rejection
  • Plummeting self-esteem if the process takes too long or one is rejected too often
  • Falling in with the wrong crowd out of desperation
  • Sacrificing other people or interests due to a limited amount of time
  • Spending too much money trying to impress others

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Negative past experiences that make it difficult for one to be vulnerable with others
  • Social and mental disabilities, like anxiety and behavioral disorders
  • Flaws that make it difficult for one to connect with others (abrasiveness, dishonesty, possessiveness, being uncommunicative, being withdrawn, etc.)
  • Insecurities about one’s abilities or what one has to offer
  • Controlling family members who don’t want one to connect with others
  • Influencers around the potential friend who sabotage one’s attempt to gain access
  • Toxic past relationships that provide one’s model of friendship
  • Prejudice and biases
  • A physical handicap that others must see past in order to get to know the real person

Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal

Good Listening Skills

Gaining the Trust of Others

ESP (Clairvoyance)

Empathy

Gaming

Charm

Hospitality

Making People Laugh

Mentalism

Reading People

Skills that might ingratiate one with others (BakingGardeningMusicality, etc)

Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:

  • Feeling isolated from others
  • Falling into depression
  • Becoming bitter, angry, or vengeful
  • Developing a negative outlook toward society and people as a whole
  • Becoming prejudiced against the kind of people who have rejected one
  • Becoming reclusive
  • Discouraging one’s children from taking risks due to not wanting them to be hurt
  • Missing out on professional or self-improvement opportunities due to not having friends in certain places
  • One’s self-worth hitting rock bottom due to one’s inability to connect with others

Clichés to Avoid: 

  • The new girl at school being victimized by mean kids when she tries to join a certain group
  • Finding community by joining forces with other “misfits” because one can’t fit in anywhere else

Click here for a list of our current entries for this thesaurus, along with a master post containing information on the individual fields.

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments