Everything has a purpose

In today’s episode, I’m sharing an important tip about how to write a great story.

As I work through the second draft of my novel, I discovered (more than once) a scene for which I couldn’t answer the following question, Read more

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Revise this paragraph

Today, I’m giving a small example of editing a paragraph. I’ll show you the before and after in hopes that the revised paragraph is somewhat improved. The point is that when you revise your stories, really analyzed each paragraph, sentence, and word. Find ways to really help your reader see the scene as you intend them to see it. Maybe they won’t picture/imagine exactly what you do, but you want to be sure your intended message is clear.

Before:

A few minutes later the Kelly, or was it Kelsey, comes back with a syringe. It’s a sedative. She gives me no choice, insisting that I need rest to heal. I don’t bother to fight it. Within minutes I relax into the stark white sheets. My eye lids are heavy. I’m sinking, sinking. Hospital noises meld into a single sound echoing a hundred miles away.

An analysis of the paragraph showed me words and phrases that could be revised (bold).

A few minutes later the Kelly, or was it Kelsey, comes back with a syringe. It’s a sedative. She gives me no choice, insisting that I need rest to heal. I don’t bother to fight it. Within minutes I relax into the stark white sheets. My eye lids are heavy. I’m sinking, sinking. Hospital noises meld into a single sound echoing a hundred miles away. (65 words)

A few minutes later: Sounds like telling instead of showing. Boring.
Comes back: Dull verb. Punch it up.
It’s a sedative: Telling. Embellish a little.
Gives me no choice: Dull. Embellish a little.
I don’t bother: Telling. What did I really do? Show it.
Relax: regular every day verb. Melt is a little more descriptive.
Are heavy: Telling. Simply describes a state of being. What really happened?
Sound: dull noun.

After:

Before I have a chance to quench my dry mouth, Kelly, or Kelsey, returns brandishing the dreaded syringe, the sedative I told her I didn’t want. She firmly grasps my arm giving me no choice, insisting that I have to rest if I expect to heal. I give in. I’m utterly exhausted. I can’t argue. Within minutes, I melt into the stark white sheets. My eyelids sag shut, blocking out the fluorescent lights overhead. I’m sinking, sinking. Hospital noises meld into a single hum echoing a hundred miles away. (91 words)

Maybe the paragraph could be improved even further, but this is a good start on punching up some dull verbs, showing instead of telling, and generally painting a clearer picture of the scene in the reader’s mind. Notice that the revision has a few more words, but I’ve described a little better how the character is feeling and what’s going on.

~~~

Change your protagonist

My mind wanders into unexpected places sometimes and makes the oddest connections. Yesterday as I walked in the wood, I found myself observing the first changing leaves of autumn. The changing leaf colors brought me back to my writing (in a round about sort of way).

Change is what we must create in our characters. If our protagonist stayed the same throughout our story, it would be pretty boring, wouldn’t it? So you have to make them become something they’re not by the end of your story.

Like the changing leaves, your character changes are often so subtle that you barely notice. For a while, she may stay the same, or she may fight the changes. But situations will eventually ensure the changes happen, just like the changing weather in September and October force the leaves to change.

Just as the leaves inevitably change in autumn, so must your protagonist.

Sometimes the changes appear to occur overnight. As a leaf drops from a tree, so too your character might drop some of his traits. As new leaves develop in the spring, so too may your character acquire new traits.

For example, you might have a weak woman, always taken advantage of by men, become a strong woman who finds a secure partner who brings out her strengths. You might have an extroverted, type-A guy suffer a terrible tragedy. He winds up giving up the bustling city, corporate life to live a life of solitude in the mountains where he can find his true spirit.

Now, in order for your character to go through this metamorphosis, something must happen. You have to have a trigger event, followed by situations that require certain reactions from your character. The reactions, in turn, help them to grow or change in the way you expect them to.

FYI, this change is called character arc.

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How to foreshadow events in your story

Have you ever watched a movie and near the end something happens and you say, Oh, I remember something about that? Character Jimmy said this would happen or Character Jane dropped that cell phone behind the sofa earlier.

What Character Jimmy said didn’t mean much to you at the time, but the writer was foreshadowing, hinting to you about what will happen, reoccur, or become clear later in the story.

In writing any story, everything must happen for a reason. It is either part of the current drama, it is providing back story, it is developing your knowledge of a character, or it is hinting at something to come. As the author, if any passage doesn’t have a clear purpose, then quite likely you should consider deleting it.

Many techniques for foreshadowing exist, but in this article I discuss six of the most common ones. Read more

Exploring the past

Click here for a brief introduction to Baggage & Backstories.

Journal3jpgMaisie has always been fascinated with the past. Until now, however, she’s been afraid to really examine hers. She had good times growing up, yet there were painful times too. Now that her Gran has passed away, she understands, perhaps too late, just how important the past can be to understanding who she is. Why didn’t she ever push Gran to answer her questions?

Maisie hasn’t reached her thirtieth birthday yet, but suddenly she realizes that she has no one anymore to ask questions about her family. Charlie, her brother, never wanted to visit the past. He told her the past is the past and dwelling on it isn’t going to get you anywhere.

Now, Maisie reflects on things that happened that no one could never talk about, Read more

Baggage & Backstories

Baggage&BackstoriesExcerpt

In this section, Baggage & Backstories (see menu at top of page), Caerlynn discusses issues and topics that arise in her writing and sometimes in life in general. She is fascinated by the past and how it affects our lives today and makes us who we are. These articles cover issues she thinks about and wants to explore to help her develop her characters and plot lines.

By spending time examining the past as objectively as we can, we can learn much about ourselves. As we get older, we often tend to become more introspective, and we become more aware of who we really are, our purpose on this earth, and what’s important to us.

We all have baggage and backstories. It’s normal and it’s okay. These articles give insight into the characters in Caerlynn’s novels and maybe even into her readers’ own lives.

Enjoy reading these posts and feel free to participate in discussions.

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11 tips to craft the perfect story opener

Many blogs, books, and web articles talk about crafting that perfect hook to start your story. I envy anyone for whom the task comes easy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changed mine trying to improve it. I think it takes a real talent and much effort to craft a flawless opener that will make your reader want to devour the remainder of your story.

Why is the hook so important?

Now that you can peek inside many books on Amazon to peruse the starting pages, I find myself doing so for two reasons:

  • I want to know if the first few sentences and/or paragraphs can grab my attention (the hook).
  • I want to know what is the writing style like. Is this a story telling done in such a way that I’m confident I’ll be able to stay up late reading?

Here are some of the top tips I’ve gathered that might help you when you start your next great novel or short story.

  1. Start in the middle of the action.
  2. Avoid back story right away; however, if you feel it necessary to provide some clarification, keep it to a sentence or two in the early paragraphs and pages.
  3. Hint strongly as to what the story will be about—that is, the plot.
  4. Introduce your main character, the person whose story you are going to tell. Give an indication of your point of view
  5. Leave questions in your reader’s mind. Give only enough information to make your reader curious as to what is going on now, what will happen next, and what will happen throughout the story, and why.
  6. Be very careful if you start your story with dialogue. It can work, but it might also confuse your reader.
  7. Return several times and review your opening sentence and paragraph. As you develop your story, you might find the opener needs additional polishing.
  8. Make your reader react to the character you are introducing. Maybe they’ll fall in love with her or maybe they’ll hate him, but you hope your reader will have some visceral reaction that will entice them to read further.
  9. Don’t overwrite. In my opinion, don’t write flowery prose unless you’re seeking a specific audience who’s looking for a poetic kind of story. Get to the point to let you reader know what’s going on and who’s doing it.
  10. Try to set out the stakes. What forces might keep your main character from attaining his needs or wants? The stakes can be anything from life-threatening to simple obstacles that keep her from reaching her goal by the end of the book.
  11. Try to make the reader feel the character’s emotions (fear, excitement, confusion, etc.)

Read what you write

License: wpclipart.com
License: wpclipart.com

What are your favorite books? Do you lean toward a particular style, such as young adult, romance, historical, sci-fi, murder mystery, psychological thrillers, or westerns?

I don’t necessarily agree that you should always write what you know, but it sure helps. How many authors today actually Read more

Describing characters: When is enough enough?

idea_have_write_downBWAuthors use varying degrees of physical description for their characters. Look at ten books and they’ll all handle character descriptions differently. It seems that in days gone by, it was typical to be very detailed. These days many authors opt for minimal descriptions, preferring to leave more to the reader’s imagination. Maybe it’s because we’re inundated with characters in TV shows, movies, video games, Internet, and so on, Maybe we can more readily build a picture in our mind of a sloppily-dressing detective, a handsome rock star, a stately queen, a satiric talk-show host, or a perfectly primped soap star.

…while I’m reading, the character is mine, so I create my own picture in my mind.

My preference is for minimal descriptions. It’s always interesting when a book I’ve read is made into a movie and the characters are nothing like I imagined (and even more amazing when they are similar to what I imagined). But while I’m reading, the character is mine, so I create my own picture in my mind. Here are a few tips for handling character descriptions. Read more