My Top 10 Writing a Novel Posts from 2019

Since this is the beginning of the year, I thought I would recap some of my better posts about writing a novel from 2019. To read the actual post, simply click on the link after the opening paragraph.

Super Easy, Barely an Inconvenience

Six years ago, I wrote about the question why and how it can improve your storytelling. As in why are your characters doing this? Why are they going here? Why would he do/say/think that? (To read more, click here – and yes, this post is about how the YouTube/Screen Rant Pitch Meetings can help your writing.)

Finding time to write

Finding time to write is always my biggest challenge. In fact, I have written about this topic many times but since it is always a concern, I figure what is once more. And I am not the only one with this problem. Many authors who don’t write full-time struggle with this same issue. (To read more, click here.)

How long does it take to write a novel?

Many aspiring authors might wonder how long it will take them to write that novel they have running around in their head. That could depend on quite a few things. (To read more, click here.)

The ups and downs of writing

If you are a follower of my blog, you undoubtedly noticed that for most of May, I have not posted my weekly writing/publishing post. I really was just too busy. And for once, I wasn’t just busy with non-writing stuff (PTA, work, kids’ end of the school events – though I did have these things too), I was actually writing on my current work-in-progress, which I had been neglecting.

But I don’t want to get away from writing on my blog so here I am. For today’s topic I thought I would talk about the ups and downs of writing. (To read more, click here.)

Looking at how long it takes to write a novel

Last week I wrote about the ups and downs of writing. Sometimes I am cranking out the words and other days I am struggling to find time to write. As I read about the experiences of other authors, I hear about authors who write thousands of words a day. (To read more, click here.)

Cutting unnecessary scenes from your novel

Every author at some point will write a scene that just doesn’t really need to be in their novel. The scene might be rehashing something the characters or reader already know. Or maybe it is connecting two scenes that could have been connected another way such as with a chapter break.

Every scene in your novel should be an integral to the story arc. If it isn’t, then it doesn’t belong in your story. (To read more, click here.)

Challenge your character

The other day as I was struggling to write a scene, I realized the scene wasn’t working as it didn’t have any tension. Now not every scene needs to be tense or full of conflict, but one useful tip to give your characters challenges. Nothing should come easy for them. This advice helped me to fix the scene. (To read more, click here.)

Killing off a character or two

Image result for murderLooking to add conflict or tension to your novel? You might consider killing off a character – or depending on the type of novel more than one character. (To read more, click here.)

Sometimes writing goes in a different direction

Sometimes things don’t turn out like you planned. And when it comes to writing that is often the case. Sometimes what you think you are going to write goes a total different direction. (To read more, click here.)

Using timelines to organize information for your novel

Timelines can help you keep track of your information as your write your novel. These can keep your story consistent. A timeline suggests a past, present, and future or in the case of a plot, a beginning, middle and end. we can see cause and effect. We see patterns and turning points. (To read more, click here.)

2020 New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

Image result for new year resolutionsWe are 9 days into the New Year, and if you haven’t made your New Year’s Resolutions, it isn’t too late. Here is a list of resolutions for writers.

1.) Start (or Finish) your novel – Have you been kicking around the idea for a novel? Or maybe you have already begun one but haven’t finished it up. This is the year to get motivated and start writing. (For tips on starting a novel, click here. And for tips on dealing with writer’s block, click here.)

2.) Stay on task – Do e-mails and Facebook distract you from working? Or maybe you get caught up in marketing your books? Can you find any reason to procrastinate? Make this the year that you learn to stay on task. Make your resolution specific. Don’t just say you will “procrastinate less.” Resolve to set a timer for 20 minutes and work until the timer stops. Or vow to write for an hour BEFORE you do any marketing or check email.

3.) Find time to write/Write more – Maybe distractions such as Facebook and e-mail aren’t your problem. Perhaps it is the fact that you are working a full-time job, raising a family, doing charity work, volunteering at your kids’ school, taking care of your elderly parents or a host of other responsibilities we all take on as adults. It often becomes hard to find time to dedicate to writing, but most of us can easily carve out 30 minutes to an hour for writing. Get up earlier or dedicate the time after the kids are in bed for writing. Even a few minutes here and there can add up. The more you write, the better you become as a writer.

4.) Set a realistic writing goal – To help you stay on task or find time to write, you may want to set a writing goal. You might set an amount of time you want to write or set a number of words to write per day or week. Check out how to set realistic writing goals and stick with them!

5.) Become a better writer/Read more – You are never too old to learn something new. Even if you have several published books under your belt, there is always something new you can learn. Take the time to read a blog or a book on writing. Heck, just take the time to READ! The more you read, the more different styles and genres you read, the better your own writing will be.

6.) Increase your marketing – Sometimes promoting your novel (and yourself) is hard. Many of us would rather be writing…or heck even editing – than figuring out how to effectively market our book. Now is the time to plan your Facebook page, blog or web page or to set up a marketing campaign. Again, be specific. You want to post twice a week, send out 10 tweets or appear on 4 blogs a month or whatever you think will help your marketing plan.

7.) Improve your social media skills – Social media is a great way to interact with readers and build your audience. This year set your social media goal to join a new platform or increase your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter reach. And don’t be afraid to drop platforms that aren’t working for you. You can use the time you spend on these for other marketing methods.

8.) Take a break – Sometimes you just need to take a break from writing, editing, or marketing. Consider this time to refresh yourself so when you do come back to these tasks, you come back with more creativity and energy. This break could be just a walk around the block, an afternoon at the movies or a weekend getaway. While a break is good, don’t let it go on too long. Remember, writers need to write.

So, whatever your writing resolutions or goals, just make them simple and realistic. And most importantly, write them down and keep them posted above your computer so you follow through! Happy New Year everyone, and may 2020 be an awesome year for you and your writing!

Using timelines to organize information for your novel

Timelines can help you keep track of your information as your write your novel. These can keep your story consistent. A timeline suggests a past, present, and future or in the case of a plot, a beginning, middle and end. we can see cause and effect. We see patterns and turning points.

Characters

The most common timeline author use is to keep track of their character’s past. Charting their backstory helps you understand the character’s current attitude/characteristics. Or it can simply help you keep track of their past events or even the lineage of the royal family. If you keep timelines of your main characters, you can make sure the events work with one another.

Plot

Timelines can help with story planning. Or it can keep track of plot sensitive events like the order of battles or clues your mystery sleuth uncovers. You can track your hero’s movement as he journeys place to place. It can also help you plot storylines for dual protagonists or a protagonist/antagonist combo.

Pre-Planning

If you are a planner, instead of using an outline, you may want to plan out everything on a timeline. The benefit of the timeline is you can see at a glance what happens when. If you are unsure of when events need to happen, you might put the information on note cards which you can move around as you plan out the order of your story events.

Methods

There are many options on how to create your timeline and will depend on what type of timeline you are creating. For characters, you might be able to do something in Word or Excel. There are even programs online that can help you such as Timeline Maker, Timetoast and Timeglider.

When working on where my characters are since I often have multiple characters in different locations, I find Excel works well. Each column is a different character with each row being a different day. At a glance, I can tell where everyone, and it makes it easy to keep track of how long it takes to travel to the different locations. (I’m writing fantasy, so they are either riding horses or dragons to their next location.)

excel travel

If you have not tried timelines, give it a shot. You might just find that it keeps you organized, and your story flows better because of it.

Scenes of a Novel

I’m currently busy writing my sixth book, so I decide now was a good time to do a review of some of my previous posts on writing a scene in your novel. I have covered everything from starting the scene, ending the scene, adjusting the pace, and even specialty scenes. Hopefully you will find something here to help you with your writing.

Deciding how to begin a scene in your novel 

The goal of the beginning of a scene is to draw the reader in. It must make the reader want to read more. A few months ago, I wrote about writing the opening scene of your novel. That crucial scene is often where readers decide if they like your book or not. (Read more here)

Writing the opening scene of your novel

(Excerpt from my short story The Search) And thus begins my short story, The Search. I started with an action scene to draw the reader in. And that is the point of the beginning of your story. You want the reader to be hooked and want to keep reading. (Read more here)

Prologue and opening scenes

The very first words, sentences and paragraphs are some of the most important. This is where you are going to hook your reader into wanting to keep reading. (Read more here)

Finding the perfect ending to your scene 

cliff hangerEvery scene has a beginning, middle and end. The ending moments complete the scene and should leave the reader wanting more. It should make them eager to begin the next scene. (Read more here)

Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

Last week I wrote about one of the most crucial scenes in your novel – the very first scene. But there are still many more scenes to write. And each scene of course has a beginning, middle and end. Here are some tips and ideas on how to begin and end a scene in your novel. (Read more here)

Romance and sex in your non-romance novel

As a writer of fantasy novels, romance is not in the forefront of my plots. So when it comes to writing a bit of romance into the story, I begin to wonder how much to include and what exactly to do with the sex scenes if any come about. (Read more here)

Creating Fight Scenes

Since I write fantasy, I guess it is expected that at some point there will be a sword fight or other battle taking place. With each additional book in my trilogy, there seem to be more battles.  One of my reviews for Summoned said that I wrote, “awesome fight scenes.” I don’t know if that is true or not, but I do have a few tricks that I use when developing a fight scene. These hold true whether it is someone using a knife, a sword or their fists. (Read more here)

Writing a night or low lighting scene

So I was recently writing a scene that took place in a darkened street. A battle ensues and a chase. There is a lot of hiding out and sneaking down alleys. The fact that this takes place in a world without street lamps only makes the writing more difficult as I focus on what my characters would be able to see. (Read more here)

The importance of tension in your novel

Tension is the element of a novel that evokes worry, anxiety, fear or stress for both the reader and the characters.

One way to think about it is you are raising the stakes for your character, so he or she has to work to get what he or she wants. And this shouldn’t be easy. Basically, you want to keep saying no to your characters so that the conflict appears unsolvable. The more at stake for your character, the more emotions he feels about situations and events. (Read more here)

Not too fast…not too slow – it is all about the pace

Pace is the speed in which events happen in your novel. You need to balance the pace of your writing. If your scenes drag on and on (slow pace) then you lose or bore readers. If it is too fast, you will leave your readers unsettled and it won’t be a comfortable read.

The trick is to get the balance just right. And there is no one out there that can tell you what that balance should be. (Read more here)

Cutting unnecessary scenes from your novel

Every author at some point will write a scene that just doesn’t really need to be in their novel. The scene might be rehashing something the characters or reader already know. Or maybe it is connecting two scenes that could have been connected another way such as with a chapter break.

Every scene in your novel should be an integral to the story arc. If it isn’t, then it doesn’t belong in your story. (Red more here)

#TBT – A Halloween Story

It is Throw Back Thursday…and Halloween, so I am going with something I posted 6 years ago on Halloween.

One October about 8 years ago, my my local newspaper issued a challenge to write a Halloween “story” on Twitter using only 128 characters. (Their designated hashtag took up the remaining 12 characters.) They published the top entries which included two of mine. Here is one of my entries expanded into a 500-word short story.

The original tweet:

His fangs lock on the zombie’s neck. Growling, he thrashes his head as he saves me. Never walk in a graveyard without your dog.

The new short story:

It was a dark night. The moon hung high in the air as I took my evening walk. I had been pouring over the books for so long that I walk in the brisk air was just the thing to clear my head. Dexter, my Irish wolfhound, padded silently beside me. His ears twitched as he listened to the night sounds.

grave1My path took me by old village cemetery. It looked creepy enough in the daytime but now in the dim moonlight the bare branches looked like gnarled hands reaching down toward the graves. They shook slightly in the wind.

I smelled freshly turned earth which seemed odd since there had been no recent burials that I could recall. I stopped and surveyed the scene. It was then that I noticed the figure coming toward me. He walked with an unusual gait dragging one leg behind him as if it was heavier than the other.

Dexter gave off a low warning growl as the dirt on the nearest grave began to move. I stared in horror as a hand shot out from the ground. The dirt tumbled away as a figure arose from the grave. I took a step backwards, tripping over a large stick. As I scrambled to my feet, I grabbed it. Immediately, I liked the way it felt in my hand. I gave a practice swing like a batter warming up before the game.

When I looked back up, there were now three of them, one blocking my escape. Dexter sprang into action. His large paws hit the closest figure in the chest. The creature hit the ground hard. I caught a whiff of decaying flesh. The smell caused my stomach to lurch. I swallowed hard as I hefted my club over my shoulder. I swung with all my might at the closest figure. The creature grunted as the stick hit its chest. It reached out. A clammy hand brushed against my arm. Goose bumps prickled my skin. I swung my stick again, aiming higher. This time my aim was better. I hit the creature’s head with such force that it sailed through the air landing in the brush some distance away.

I turned my focus to the last creature, a mere three feet from me. Before I could move, Dexter bound forward, crashing into the figure. They landed on the ground. irish wolfhound grey dayDexter’s sharp teeth sank into its throat, his fangs locking onto it as if it was his favorite bone. Growling, he thrashed his head side to side, tearing the flesh.

“Good boy,” I whispered as my legs felt weak.

Dexter let go of the creature’s neck and lumbered over to me. He brushed up against my leg. My fingers curled into his rough fur. I patted the side of his body as I turned for home. As we trudged home, I remember my grandfather’s warning – never walk in a graveyard without your dog.

 

Sometimes writing goes in a different direction

Sometimes things don’t turn out like you planned. And when it comes to writing that is often the case. Sometimes what you think you are going to write goes a total different direction.

This happened to me twice in the past week. The first time was when I was writing my post for this past Monday. I planned to write about an incident regarding a stranger approaching a student on his way to school. Since there has been an increase in stories of human trafficking in my city, I figured that is what I would be writing about and even looked up some facts and statistics.

But when I began writing, I realized my reaction to this incident was not the same as those of my neighbors who were more alarmed than I am. They resorted to ultra-protective parenting mode and declared that our children need to be protected and shouldn’t be walking to school. Once I realized this was what I felt passionate about, I addressed that rather than writing about the possibility of human trafficking happening in my neighborhood (which I am by no means worried about).

The other incident happened as I was finishing out a scene in my latest work in progress. One of my main characters is worried about not being able to protect his friends from a dangerous situation. I wanted a conversation between him and another character which I hoped would reassure the main character that he is doing as much as he can.

Now, I don’t follow a strict outline so I began writing with just that vague idea of where I thought the conversation would go. I figured it would be brief, but you know you can’t predict what characters will do if you give them free rein. I let the conversation flow, going further than I expected and revealing a bit of backstory. But the conversation felt natural, like this is what the characters would actually say.

As the writer, I could have forced the conversation to be what I thought it should be. But it would feel contrived and in the end, I probably would have had to re-write the section as it would have an “off” feel. I let the characters be their true selves and that should make the story better. I’m still on my first draft so I’ll leave in the scene as it developed. Whether it stays that way in the final draft is yet to be seen.

What these two incidents reminded me of is that you can’t always plan your writing. Sometimes you just need to write what works for you. Sometimes you need to throw your characters into a situation and see what happens and not stick with what you think will happen. You never know where it will lead you. And it just might turn out better than whatever you had imagined.

Challenge your character

The other day as I was struggling to write a scene, I realized the scene wasn’t working as it didn’t have any tension. Now not every scene needs to be tense or full of conflict, but one useful tip to give your characters challenges. Nothing should come easy for them. This advice helped me to fix the scene.

In reviewing another scene, I noticed the protagonist did something the first time he tried. And that reminded me of another blog I wrote recently called “Super Easy, Barely an Inconvenience” which is a phrase used in every Pitch Meeting on the Screen Rant YouTube Channel. In this series by Ryan George, a pitchman (Ryan) presents movies to a studio executive (also played by Ryan). Whenever the studio exec questions a plot area that might cause the protagonist trouble, the pitchman explains that that the protagonist has no trouble doing it hence the phrase “Super Easy, Barely an Inconvenience.”

Once I realized my character wasn’t having to jump a hurdle or struggle to do something, I knew I needed to rewrite the scene. Characters need to face obstacles. How they overcome these challenges is what makes the story compelling.

Making characters suffer or struggle can help advance your plot or can reveal something about their character. It creates tension. It makes readers want to keep reading to see what happens next. Will the character survive or how will they get out of this scrape? Maybe this will be the event that tells the reader what the whole story is about. The only way they will know is to keep reading.

The challenges and hurdles you throw at your characters can be physical or emotional. It could be overcoming an obstacle like a steep climb up a mountain or it could be emotional when they must face one of their fears to get what they want. Perhaps the action is putting a loved one at risk. This can weigh heavily on your character especially if they are the reason that person is in danger.

Writers can’t afford to be nice. Characters need to experience both ups and downs. They are not real, so it is okay to make them suffer. Have them fall from grace and then restore them. Push your characters, test them, dare them to do more than they ever imagined being capable of doing. Conflicts test your characters’ resolve or can add battle scars that shape future decisions.

So next time you are struggling with a scene, step back and see whether there is tension or conflict or if this is just a passing the time type scene. If it is the latter, you need to eliminate it or rewrite it until it has that edge your readers want.