Some things I do to build scenes in my novels

A novel is more than a story. It is about the way a character interacts with things around them. I remember when I was high school I was taught there are three themes in literature:

  • Man vs. Man
  • Man vs. Nature
  • Man vs. Self

I am not sure if they’ve revised that to include Man vs. Technology yet [or zombies], but I would think that is coming soon.

The background—or scene—is critical to building a story. Likewise each individual scene of the story [separate from background] needs to have a purpose and build the book. For that reason I’m going to share a few things I do to build both kinds of scenes—background and story scene. I am listing them here. If you have questions on one of the points

Building the Background Scene

Your book will be REALLY boring if you try to tell me every detail of every place your character goes in the book. Also, it will slow your story down unnecessarily. Instead the key to building your background in to your story is to determine the key elements that are relevant now or will be later in the story. I have a 50 gallon fish tank in my living room. It is something I wanted for a very long time and found at a garage sale for $40 about 3 years ago. When I was a kid my step-mom had a large fish tank like this and I found the fish relaxing. I didn’t think I’d be able to afford a tank like that ever. If I were a character in your book you could develop me by sharing the story of the fish tank.

Maybe it is dark and I’m walking through my house and suddenly notice the humming, gurgling sound of the bubbler and filter have stopped and that is the first thing to alert me that the prowler has cut the power to my house?

Or if it was a more emotional book it could be the tank takes on a particularly significant role to the character throughout the book. In that case the story may circle back to it at various stages and the tank could mean different things to the character at different times indicating a change in that person.

Or maybe you don’t want a focal object, instead you want to have different things in the scenes evoke images. In that case it isn’t practical to talk about everything, instead you want to key up on the things that will do the best job of creating that emotion that will engage the reader.

 

Creating a Scene that moves the story forward

That leads us to the next point which is creating a scene that will move the story forward. I like to outline my books by writing the scene number [ex: Chapter 2 Scene 4 would be noted as Ch 2.4 in my outline]. I write the POV character, a 2-4 sentence description of what happens in that scene and how that impacts the plot or character. I think this is the most important part because it is the impact of the scene on the plot or character that will determine its relevance.

That means the key to creating scenes that move the story forward is to ask that question: How does this impact the character and/or the plot? If you cannot explain what it does then maybe you don’t need that scene? It is at least worth considering. You can leave it in your outline in case a plot twist later makes it more relevant, but the scene would have a question mark next to it on my outline.

Do you still have questions on this topic? Send them to me using the contact page on my website.

I have recently released my first novel coauthored with Kevin Beringer. I am offering the first 4 chapters free as a download. You can download this for yourself or to pass along to others by clicking here . If you’d like to feature this book on your blog or website, contact me and I will provide you with a link for your readers to download free. And if you’d like to be an ambassador who distributes printed versions of the first 4 chapters, bookmarks, or other promotional material, contact me through my website. This link allows you to download the book without registering in any way. If you love it and want to order it, you can contact me or use the ordering information at the end of the sample.

In the month of December I will answer questions on writing, publishing, being a writer, self-publishing vs. traditional….pretty much any question you have. Email them to me through my website [by clicking this link]. I look forward to your questions and feel free to email a few. I will answer as many as I have time for. I need all questions by November 25, 2014 if they will make it on the blog.

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Some things I do to plan characters for my novels

I love creating characters in my books. I think I like it most because it gives me an opportunity to explore a variety of different people and sometimes even act out the “what-ifs” of my life. What if I’d chosen a different career path or if we’d moved across the country? That isn’t to say that the characters I my stories are all version of me [nor should all characters in your book all be versions of you], but they are unique creations based on research, thought and planning.

So, how can you plan a character? The most obvious way is to decide what kind of character you will need in your story to begin with. The setting and plot [as well as genre] of your book will help you determine what kinds of characters will live in this world.

Next, consider what is going to happen in your book. Characters are like people. They will change based on what happens during the course of the book BUT you can have a few basic ideas of what these characters will encounter.

Finally, I think about the way this character will change during the course of the story. This is called a character arc. Even the villain in stories change during the course of the book—normally they will become more hardened or determined in their goals.

Those are some basics. There is a great deal more that I could cover. If you have a specific question email it to me using the contact page of my website and I’ll address the question on my blog.

I have recently released my first novel coauthored with Kevin Beringer. I am offering the first 4 chapters free as a download. You can download this for yourself or to pass along to others by clicking here . If you’d like to feature this book on your blog or website, contact me and I will provide you with a link for your readers to download free. And if you’d like to be an ambassador who distributes printed versions of the first 4 chapters, bookmarks, or other promotional material, contact me through my website. This link allows you to download the book without registering in any way. If you love it and want to order it, you can contact me or use the ordering information at the end of the sample.

In the month of December I will answer questions on writing, publishing, being a writer, self-publishing vs. traditional….pretty much any question you have. Email them to me through my website [by clicking this link]. I look forward to your questions and feel free to email a few. I will answer as many as I have time for. I need all questions by November 25, 2014 if they will make it on the blog.

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I learned to write tight so how can I write an entire novel?

This question was sent in from a blog reader:

I am a former columnist and women’ editor for a small daily. The rule was to keep it short. Now I am having trouble getting enough words for a published novel. Is there a magic trick to bridging this gap?

Tiffany Says: This is not an uncommon problem. I cut my teeth writing articles for a few local papers. Each month I had to write very tight in order to stay within the word count they gave me. It seemed overwhelming to try to condense an hour of interviews, background information and other things in to 500 words or less. When I started writing books this led to some real challenges. One of them was learning to show rather than tell. In my articles I was talking TO or AT the reader—even if I was telling them a story. I was essentially summarizing things. When you’re writing a book after you’ve summarized you need to elaborate [when writing non-fiction].

If you’re writing fiction, you need to do a different exercise. In previous blogs I’ve talked about the different between being in a car accident and hearing a news report on it. I would hazard to guess that I your first drafts you’d write more of a summary or account. Maybe something like this.

Jody had a tendency to climb trees to escape the pain in her life.

That is a great sentence. I have information. I now know that if I see Jody climbing a tree she might be upset. This is a line I would expect to see in a human interest piece of column in a magazine. By contrast, in a book we could learn about it this way.

Jody didn’t look back but she climbed higher in to the branches of the Maple tree. Its limbs like great arms that hugged and protected her from the pain of the adult world. The rough bark scraped her scarred arms and legs, but still she climbed. Somehow the further she got from the earth’s surface, the safer she knew she was. She climbed still higher, the leaves now obscuring her view of the ground. Thankfully it was summer when the big green leaves could shush her and sooth her. She hugged the tree and wept. Depending on how mean he was and how hurt mommy was she would have up to an hour hiding here before mom would come to the base and call up to the branches and Jody would have to climb back down. She didn’t want to think about that part yet. Right now she would stay here in the soothing comfort of her tree where the hurt of life couldn’t follow her.

Now, this may not be the greatest writing you’ve ever read, but do you see that the longer version sought to show her motivation for running. It showed a single instance but certain sentences—particularly near the end—made it clear that this was a regular habit. To write the second I tried to imagine who this fictitious “Jody” was and how she felt and why. That will help you a bit. My best advice is to write it first and then have a professional editor help you deepen and develop things like this so the reader lives this and SEES it, rather than hearing about it. I hope that helped a bit.

There are many techniques to do this. This is only one way. Another would be to explore more issues or plot twists or deepen the personality of the characters. If you have more questions, email and I’ll answer them. [Details below]

I have recently released my first novel coauthored with Kevin Beringer. I am offering the first 4 chapters free as a download. You can download this for yourself or to pass along to others by clicking here . If you’d like to feature this book on your blog or website, contact me and I will provide you with a link for your readers to download free. And if you’d like to be an ambassador who distributes printed versions of the first 4 chapters, bookmarks, or other promotional material, contact me through my website. This link[https://gallery.mailchimp.com/be5a7d58cda36e183b67eed5d/files/Sample_Book_Renwarr_Final_10_29_14_v_2.pdf] allows you to download the book without registering in any way. If you love it and want to order it, you can contact me or use the ordering information at the end of the sample.

In the month of December I will answer questions on writing, publishing, being a writer, self-publishing vs. traditional….pretty much any question you have. Email them to me through my website [by clicking this link]. I look forward to your questions and feel free to email a few. I will answer as many as I have time for. I need all questions by November 25, 2014 if they will make it on the blog.

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Fear of letting others see your writing

Last week I talked about bad writing and in that blog I suggested you work with a writing coach or have a critique partner read it. That is really important in writing. You need to get feedback from other people in order to improve your writing. What I didn’t address was the fear many writers have about letting others read their work.

When I speak at conferences, and to a lesser extent with my clients, I often find people who say, “You are the first person other than my [best friend/spouse/parent] who has ever seen anything I’ve written.” To be honest, sometimes this makes ME nervous. Suddenly it is my words that could encourage a person to keep writing or make them decide to never write again. This is a VERY daunting position. What I say will have a huge impact on this person.

Other times, I see it as a wonderful opportunity to mentor a new writer who is just starting out.

I cannot give you three steps to make showing your work to others easy. This is just one of those things that you will have to do if you’re going to become a writer. In fact, this NEVER gets easy. If anything it gets harder. Sorry guys, can’t sugar coat this for you. If you want proof, go on Amazon and look at books with 1 star ratings. Then looks at some of the VICIOUS things people write up there. The criticism is much more public than it was when just that writer and a good friend were drinking coffee and talking about their work. The only way to do it is to expose your writing to criticism, learn to take the constructive criticism and toss the meanness.

If you want a way to move in to this smoothly I suggest starting to submit work to writing contests with the purpose of getting feedback rather than winning. This is a safe, private way to start to learn to listen to others. Find the bigger contests so you have anonymity and a higher likelihood of people who are professional writers and not just members of a writing club.

Then go to a critique group and/or hire a professional CONTENT EDITOR [not grammar, but story development].

Then start to pitch your writing. If you’d like help on pitching it to editors this short audio is only $1.99 and you can download it right now using this link.

It is a process, but like anything else difficult the sting softens over time.

Best of luck and keep sending your questions!

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What if what I’ve written is total junk?

It happens to every writer. You’re typing words on the page and you just don’t feel like you’re in the zone. You are certain that each and every word you’re putting on paper is complete junk. You wonder why you’re wasting your time. You keep writing only because you’ve set the goal of writing X number of scenes for the day.

Then when you look at it during revisions you realize it is so much worse that you’d thought. It is complete and utter garbage!

That is great, okay, great is too strong of a word. That is actually fine. That is what revisions are for. Never fear revising. Never fear putting words to paper. See, many writers—myself included—go through a period of time where they aren’t writing their best. For many writers this is where they stop and “wait for the feeling to strike”. That is a surefire way to become a FORMER writer. Instead, you need to write through these times and allow yourself permission to put junk on paper and then get it in revisions.

Now, what if you think that an entire work is junk? I would love to tell you not to worry, but the fact is…sometimes something we write is complete junk. I have a few manuscripts that I’ve abandoned and won’t mess with again. The writing is bad. The characters are flat. There is no real plot. It crosses a genre in bad ways. There is just nothing redeeming. That is what I call “practice” or rehearsal writing. You have to accept that not everything anyone writes is always good. There are some manuscripts I write just because the characters wouldn’t shut up and I needed to give them a voice. Much like a writer doodles on a notepad when they’re bored. If every artist felt they had to make a beautiful painting or every musician only played the well constructed melodies of others there would never be creativity or new concepts.

The same is true of writing. Sometimes we’re only “doodle-writing”, and that is okay! And sometimes that needs to be an entire book of doodles. Fine!

If you have something you’d really like to keep, pull that from your doodle-writing and build on it. Have a writing coach talk through the issues and then see how you can make parts work and what needs to be thrown out. Sometimes we write good stuff and sometimes we write total junk. That is life.

So, I guess the answer to the question I posed this week, “What if what I’ve written is total junk?” would be, don’t publish it and start writing something else.

Do you think you need some writing help? I have two great resources for you this week: craft blunders and ways to avoid them for $1.99 at this link. The other resource is my character coaching system $5.99 [4 audios = an hour of coaching plus worksheets to apply what you learn to your writing] which you can download now at this link. As always, you can sign up to share this product information and earn each time someone you refer decides these resources will help them too.

I’ll see you next week.

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Does anyone really care what I have to say on the subject?

While last week I talked about wondering if anyone really cares what we have to say, this week I want to address a very common fear among writers: Fear of Marketing. Basically, this comes down to you wondering if anyone really cares about what you’re saying.

This is a very common insecurity among writers. In fact, I study successful people and I find this is a common insecurity among people in general—particularly those trying to grow a platform. While people on social media posting pictures of their dinner may make you say, “Tiff, people don’t worry about this at all. They assume we care about EVERYTHING.” The fact is, there is safety in posting the banal. You really don’t care if someone “likes” your cheeseburger picture. However, when you post something that is really meaningful to you, that is a whole other matter.

AND, to be truthful, asking this question is critical to marketing. It is really a question you must seek to answer.

So, I don’t actually know if someone cares. You need to take time and find out if they do, who they are, where they are, why they care and then set out to reach those people. Answering this question will tell you if this is a book marketable to major publishers or best reserved to a niche press or even self-publishing. The fact is, since you care others might. It is your job to find out.

One caveat here…If it is a very highly personal specific thing like, “How my life was so hard and you should feel bad for me”…there may not be a market. While you guys like me, it is very highly unlikely that you would want to read a book about my life listing one story after another. It would get old. If, however, I pulled specific lessons from my story which would help you to live a happier, better, more productive life, that is something you might want to read. So, remember that when you’re trying to figure out if there is interest, consider how you might be able to shift the focus of your work slightly in order to make your story more interesting/useful to people without changing the meaning and without “giving the truth scope” as Chaucer said in the movie “A Knight’s Tale”.

So, I guess more than answering a question this week, I pose one to you. Does anyone care about what you’re writing?

This week I want to tell you about my “Earn More with Your Writing Bundle”. It includes audio and print media to help you look at your writing and marketing an entirely different way. It is only $5.99 as a digital download by following this link. As with my other digital products, you can earn money by letting others know about them on your own blog or website.

See you next week.

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Do I have enough to say to fill a whole book?

This week I emailed one of my devoted readers and asked him what questions he had that could be addressed on my blog and he gave me some great ideas. [Thanks again, Kevin.] Based on the things he said to me for the next few weeks I’m going to give some tips on common questions and fears writers have. This week it will be the fear of actually writing an entire book.

The truth is that writing a book can be a pretty intimidating task. There are lots of things to consider beyond how to put 65,000-85,000 or more words on a page without degenerating to writing the same sentence two or three time. In fact, those longer genres—like speculative fiction—lend themselves to books of over 100,000 words on a consistent basis. That is a considerable amount of writing!

Then you add to that the story itself, craft, character arc and character development…wow!!

And if you’re not writing fiction you’re still on the hook for about 50,000-70,000 words that need to be informative without turning in to a book that sounds like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon.

So, here are some dos and don’ts for getting those words on paper and overcoming the most intimidating pieces of tackling a book:

-Don’t say stuff just to say it.

By this I mean don’t waste the reader’s time with filler. Don’t elaborate unnecessarily just because that blinking cursor is making you question yourself. Instead, look for stories that succinctly illustrate your point [in non-fiction] or a plot twist that helps to deepen the character in order to lengthen your book.

-Don’t look at the book as a whole, look at each part

Whether a novel or a non-fiction book, that long word count is made up of a series of smaller pieces. Concentrate on your immediate task and let the book form naturally. That means if you are writing a scene in a novel, know how that scene is advancing the plot and concentrate fully on developing that scene. If it is a non-fiction book, then concentrate on illustrating that point and building clear take-away for your reader.

As you make each of these points, you will start to create a longer work.

-Make sure you know enough about your subject area to connect fully with readers and if you don’t, stop and take time to learn.

Sometimes it is because we’ve run out of information and feel like the topic—or scene—isn’t complete so we sit there and stare. Rather than do that, write down in REALLY poor writing [what I call “vomit on paper”] the point you want to make and then take time to research and then go back and revise.

Are you still not fully convinced this will help you? Well, let me illustrate this way. On this blog for the year 2014 I have posted something nearly every week. I keep these blogs in a single file on my hard drive so I can quickly scan them and make sure I’m not repeating myself and to have a backup record. The total word count for these blogs to this point is almost 17,000 words. That is between 1/3 and ¼ a standard non-fiction manuscript. And I wrote them in under 30 minutes a week. While there is more time that goes in to researching and preparing, the reality is in about 1 hour a week focusing on specific take-away I have written 1/3 of a novel in about 9 months.

So, instead of feeling overwhelmed by the volume, focus on the point. And if you’re still low on word count, find a good content editor or critique partner to go over your writing and help you clarify and expand.

If you have questions you’d like me to answer on the blog, never hesitate to use my contact page to ask things that could be addressed on the blog. Just let me know that this is a blog question and not a personal one. And if you would like to know more on this topic I have an audio teaching titled, “How am I supposed to write 60K words?” available for $1.99 at this link. Remember, by signing up to be an affiliate you can help me spread the word about writing and earn money yourself. A win-win. For details follow the product link and look at the bottom right side of the page.
Spend some time this week writing and I’ll see you same bat time, same bat station next week!

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You know this is the key to great writing: Show don’t tell.

This is the last week of our Back to School blogs to help you change your mindset and take you a grade higher in your writing. If you’ve enjoyed this focus on writing craft, go back and read some of the other blogs for the month of September [or any of them really, just click the category "Craft" on the website home page.]

If your character cannot see a way out then that becomes her truth, so you state it as truth, not conjecture.

(Source: Wisdom from Writing Career Coach: Vol I. pg. 56)

Okay, all of my current and past clients are likely nodding their heads right now. They’ve seen me say this more times than they’d even want to count. Look at what this comment is saying. If you have an opinion that you view as fact, in general, you don’t say, “It is just my opinion…” or, if you do say that, you don’t mean it.

We each see what we say as truth. It is our truth. Whether that truth is that orange is an ugly color for wallpaper or the age a child should be left home alone for the first time, you are stating something that guides your life and actions. That means don’t say, “There didn’t appear to be a good way to do this.” When the character really believes, “There is no way out.”

Wait, scratch that, look what I just said. Do you see a circumstance where you COULD do that? What is it? If you are trying to reveal something about the character’s lack of honesty. If they are saying one thing and believing another, that is a useful bit of character development. You can use it that way…but you can’t use it for all characters.

Remember, if I think a dress is ugly my thought—my private thoughts—will simply be, “That is an ugly dress.” They don’t need to be italicized. They don’t need to be articulated. Simply let them be put in narrative summary when you are in that character’s POV [point of view]. Now, go write!

If you’re interested in owning the full book and having dozens of tips like these you can purchase a digital copy of Wisdom from Writing Career Coach for less than $3 by following this link. Or You can get a print copy for only $10 which includes shipping by clicking this link.

Or you can reread these same lessons over and over for free here on the blog. Revisit them often and see how your thinking changes over time as you develop as a writer. See you next time.

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Have you ever had feedback like this on your writing?

My goal with the lessons from this month is to try to help you think about writing a bit differently. I hope when you look at your manuscript you’ll start to recognize ways to strengthen your writing because of the tips in my book that I’m offering here. I also hope you start to notice these things in the writing of others when you read.

Today our lesson includes some general feedback I’ve given on a number of manuscripts. How can you use it to improve your writing?

Try to use active verbs as much as possible. When you say, “The cat was put down gently” you give me information. When, “She placed the tiger kitten on the blanket and tucked the edges around it.” You come closer to experiencing the moment.

(Source: Wisdom from Writing Career Coach: Vol I, pg 42.)

***

We all have experience with recognizing something but not knowing why. I suggest playing with that in your writing. It is a very human quality and makes us—as humans—try to solve the mystery too.

(Source: Ibid, Pg. 43)

I wanted to share two different things in this lesson because this is an example of the kind of feedback I give clients when I review their manuscript. The first comment is about showing and deepening the motivation of the character to help us learn about that character without saying things directly.

The second reminds you to play on common human experiences to help connect with the reader. This is a wonderful writing technique. In fact, I just watched a documentary on Jane Austen and one thing the experts said time and again was the reason she was able to connect with the reader was her universal themes and her ability to connect to things we all have in common. Do that in your writing too.

If you’re interested in owning the full book and having dozens of tips like these you can purchase a digital copy of Wisdom from Writing Career Coach for less than $3 by following this link. Or You can get a print copy for only $10 (which includes shipping) by clicking this link.

Next week we’ll look at another lesson. See you then.

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The key to getting new readers is to craft a strong opening.

This week we will continue the lessons to help you improve your writing. You want to have a strong opening to each book, each chapter, and each scene. Remember the first page of every section should make the reader want to keep reading. The first page is about getting them to buy the book. The first page of each chapter/scene should make them say, “Okay, I can read just a few more pages before I put it down.”

You have to SHOW the reason for the reaction before you show the reaction. When writing an opening, however, you can sometimes play around with this by showing a reaction to something “off camera” that a reader doesn’t yet see.

If it is off camera then the reader needs to be brought in on it eventually, but that can be an effective introductory question—if written right.

(Source: Wisdom from Writing Career Coach: Vol I. pg 41)

Admit it! You like to throw the rules out the window and do things your own way. This lesson tells you that you can do exactly that…sometimes.

If you’re interested in owning the full book and having dozens of tips like these you can purchase a digital copy of Wisdom from Writing Career Coach for less than $3 by following this link. Or You can get a print copy for only $10 which includes shipping by clicking this link.

Next week we’ll look at another lesson. See you then.

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