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Freshen up your manuscript with this exercise

You may already know I’m a big fan of the online Lawson Writer’s Academy. When I earned my MFA, I was a poet learning how to write prose and put together a complete manuscript. Mission accomplished.

And now, through Margie Lawson’s academy, I’m learning writing craft I didn’t learn in my MFA program: How to develop deep point of view, what makes a scene click, the importance of MRUs (motivation response units) and having them in the right order, how to use dialogue cues (Margie’s term) that evoke emotion in the reader, how to use body language effectively and many other aspects of a well-written novel.

In a recent post, Margie writes about the importance of writing fresh and shares some great examples.

After reading her post, I found several places where I could freshen up my own writing. Here are some examples (I bolded the trouble spots):

Example 1:

Before:

“How are you getting home?” Noah frowned and I found my eyes tracing the outline of his lips. Lips I’d recently felt pressing against my own. Lips I’d recently tasted.

“I’ll get a ride from Lily…”

After:

“How are you getting home?” Noah shot me his I-think-you’re-making-a-big-mistake scowl.

I loved the way his lips puckered when he did that. Lips that had recently pressed against my own. Lips that tasted of sea and mountains and home.

I cleared my throat, struggling to dial down my hormones. “I’ll get a ride from Lily…”

Comment: in the before example, “frowned” is boring and overused and doesn’t describe much. The following bolded phrases, “I found, I felt, I tasted” are all filter words…it’s much better to just give the reader the experience.

Filter words are words that remove the reader from the action and filter the character’s experience through the writer’s point of view. Instead of seeing the action through the character’s eyes, the author is filtering it first. Examples from first person point of view: I saw, I thought, I felt, I heard, etc.  Read more

Five ways to build your curious nature

I’m a curious person.

My intense curiosity propelled me into a writing career. So when I read Bernadette Jiwa’s post, The Relationship Between Curiosity and Business Growth, my curiosity meter spiked into the red zone.

Jiwa tells about going to her local florist one Friday night and being surprised by the sheer number of roses she found in the shop. Buckets of roses filled almost all the floor space. She assumed they were for a wedding the next day and questioned the florist. The florist explained that the roses were for a customer who bought 110 bunches of 10 roses every Friday evening. The florist didn’t know what the customer did with them.

As a person who lives a life of curiosity, I could hardly stand not having the answer to this question.

Curiosity is what drives children to develop skills, scientists to devise groundbreaking inventions, and writers to write best selling novels by asking “why,” “how,” and “what if.”

The good news is we’re all born with this trait and developing and embracing it can make us better writers. Exercising our creativity can help us be attuned to story ideas, build out better characters, and think of more creative plots.

Make a practice of pursuing your inquisitive nature each day with these tips: Read more

Fast first draft writing advice from author Ian Fleming

Congratulations to all the NaNoWriMo Writers who have completed their challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November! I wasn’t able to participate this year due to family concerns so I decided to do my own challenge in December. My goal: finish the first draft of my manuscript-in-progress.

I’m putting together my plan and compiling bits of inspiration to help me stay focused (they get printed out and pasted around the house). I came across a great quote on how to write fast by author Ian Fleming.

Confession: I haven’t followed his advice in the first half of my book–I’ve been doing A LOT of editing and fixing which is probably a bad idea until the entire story is finished. In my defense, the time and attention spent on the first half has made me a stronger writer and craftsman. Maybe it will all wash out in the end and the second half’s first draft won’t come out sounding like a drunken chipmunk? Oh, a girl can hope!

So…on to Fleming’s advice that I think is spot on:

In the May 1963 edition of the long-running ‘Books and Bookmen’ periodical published by Hansom Books, Mr. Fleming penned an essay describing his creative process for the James Bond novels.

Here’s his advice for writing fast first drafts:

“I never correct anything and I never go back to what I have written, except to the foot of the last page to see where I have got to. If you once look back, you are lost. How could you have written this drivel? How could you have used “terrible” six times on one page? And so forth. If you interrupt the writing of fast narrative with too much introspection and self-criticism, you will be lucky if you write 500 words a day and you will be disgusted with them into the bargain. By following my formula, you write 2,000 words a day and you aren’t disgusted with them until the book is finished, which will be in about six weeks.”

Read the full essay.

 

Dialogue tips: the fastest way to improve any manuscript

In this 30-minute video below, author Joanna Penn interviews author and writing teacher James Scott Bell about his book on dialogue, “How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript.”

Bell gives some great tips to make your dialogue sing and catch the eye of an agent, publisher and reader:

  1. Characters shouldn’t be feeding each other information they already know. Example: Brother to sister: “Look sis, our mom, Linda who is a school teacher is home.”
  2. Don’t hide exposition or backstory in dialogue. Readers are savvy, will pick up on it, and won’t be happy. Bell says if you must convey the information, try turning the exchange into a confrontation. More information tends to be exchanged when people are confrontational.
  3. How do you differentiate dialogue between characters? Bell suggests keeping a voice journal for each main character. For more on this, see my earlier post, “Use a voice journal to capture your character’s original voice.”
  4. When using an action beat instead of the dialogue tag “she said or he said,” make sure the action is integral to the story — otherwise you’ll wear out the reader over the course of a novel.
  5. Read your dialogue out loud. Make it snappy and vital. Make it sing. Also read dialogue out loud from other novels and screenplays.
  6. Think subtext—what are the characters really saying underneath the words they speak?

For many more great tips on using dialogue to quickly improve your manuscript, watch the video here:

For you Nanowrimo peeps, try this exercise to increase your word count: Dive deep and write some dialogue runs between characters down the page without any tags or actions. Just straight dialogue. See if you can get into a rhythm and keep going. You can clean it up and add actions and attributions later.

Start a project notebook for NaNoWriMo and beyond

Part of my love (vice) of books includes an addiction to notebooks and journals. I imagine it goes along with my deep need to write, which showed itself on the walls of my childhood home. (Sorry mom.)

For each new writing project, I like to select a notebook to track my wild digressions, character ideas, and anything else that could be important for building in themes, plot, or subplots. When I was writing my memoir, I kept a list of research and ideas I wanted to pursue and questions that I needed to answer. I used my project notebook as a place to park them so I could free up my brain for the task at hand.

A NaNoWriMo notebook is especially helpful because in the heat of writing 50,000 words, the ideas will be springing out of your brain and you likely can’t address each one in the month of November. So having a place to track them will free up your brain. And if you freeze up somewhere along the 50,000 mad word dash of NaNoWriMo, you can look in your notebook for a jolt of inspiration.

If you’ve been writing your ideas on scraps of paper, just tape them onto a page of your notebook. Once you finish your draft and are ready to go into revision mode, your notebook entries create a sense of direction. If you come to a place where you aren’t sure what to do next, you may find a clue in your notebook.

I like to pick a notebook that has a distinctive color or style, so I can spot it in the avalanche of paper that can accumulate on my desk. It helps if you can carry the notebook around when you go out, so pick a size that suits you, whether it needs to go in a pocket, purse, or computer bag. Many of my best ideas and insights happen after I’ve stepped away from the keyboard.

Do you have notebook love? What is your current favorite notebook? Describe it in the comments below.

For more NaNoWriMo tips, check out Three posts to keep the words flowing.

Three posts to keep the words flowing

If you’re one of thousands of writers joining in National Novel Writing Month, you’re likely knee-or-neck deep with ideas and currently in that wonderful zone of writing hot. You’re 8,000 or so words into your story and everything’s flowing until…well…until it’s not.

But not to worry. When you reach that point where your brain has turned to mush, when you’re asking yourself what the heck you’ve gotten yourself into and where did your normal, real life go….that’s when it’s time to take a deep breath and read these posts below for inspiration in getting back on track—or on an entirely new track–but hey, words are words, right?

Three posts to help you find your flow:

Four quick tips to increase your NaNoWriMo word count

A little inspiration for NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo or not, boost your word count

Try this mental trick to combat blank page freeze

Fight the blank page!

In previous posts, I’ve suggested ways to pre-plan for National Novel Writing Month, where writers strive to produce a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. While some writers create an outline, nail down character sketches, devise a story question, and outline their novel’s setting, others like to dive in on day 1  and just start typing.

Regardless of where you’re at, the blank page can be a terrible thing.

You may be saying, “How can I not have a blank page? It starts out that way — blank.” True. But just don’t let it stop you.

Don’t let the blank page stay blank for more than a second. Type something. Anything.

  • The date
  • A random sentence
  • A description or a few words of the setting where your novel begins or your first scene takes place.
  • A list of your characters’ names
  • A working title for your novel
  • A logline if you’ve created one.

By the way, this mental trick can be a great way to start any writing project. A letter, an essay, a marketing piece, a work assignment, or a blog post. Write something that you already know will be in the piece, even if it’s just a paragraph or a random idea about the project. If you don’t know the beginning, start in the middle or the end. You’ll come back later and fill in the gaps, because every piece of writing begins as a draft.

Don’t let the blank page deter you from your NaNoWriMo or any other writing goal.

Now type.

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