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We’ve likely all heard the phrase, The truth shall set you free. Truth is critical in all areas of life, yet we’re often afraid—okay, terrified—of truth. It’s dismally human to eschew truth because truth often hurts.

A lot.

Truth and pain are inseparable, which is why great authors (or great people in general) are probably masochists.

What separates the amateur from the professional is the person’s willingness to face truth and embrace pain. If we think about it, authentic triumph always follows on the heels of pain.

Ask anyone who’s finished a marathon, completed an advanced degree, paid off a mountain of debt, or wriggled into max-control Spanx without losing consciousness….

Ask your mother about pain. Well, maybe not…

Ironically, the more pain involved, the greater the victory on the other side. Yet, how many of us long for victory…just without all that ‘pain’ stuff?

Truth increases self-awareness. It makes us face aspects of our character we’d rather hide in the bathtub with the piles of dirty laundry.

Don’t you judge me O_o ….

Today, I’m going to toss down some truth bombs. I’d love to say that I knew this stuff all along and am some mystic sage imbued with super powers.

But that would totally be a LIE (thus, likely unhelpful).

Truth About Time

One phrase I recommend banishing from your lexicon: If I could only find the time. Here’s the deal, we don’t find time, we make time. Time isn’t hiding in the couch cushions with the remote control.

Time isn’t wandering around crying until mall security hands it a balloon. It isn’t buried in the woods like some stash from a bank robbery. There is no map, GPS, or time-sniffing dogs to help locate time because time isn’t lost.

It’s right there asking us all, ‘Hey, buddy, what would you like us to do today?’

We choose. If we hope to find any success in life we must realize we are ultimately responsible. Everything else is an excuse. Why so many of us feel guilty that we haven’t done X, Y, and Z is we know we could have.

We simply chose NOT to.

*winces*

I know, but don’t worry. It’s cool…

We’re All Human Here (Mostly)

What fascinates me is how closely great stories mimic great lives. This is why humans have loved great stories from the invention of fire until today.

Here’s the thing, though. No one likes a ‘story’ about a character whisked along passively caught in the riptide of bad stuff happening. Great stories involve choices, forks in the road, decisions…tough decisions.

Decisions we KNOW we could never make…so we read about/admire OTHER people who do .

We admire people who’ve made the brutal choices, choices involving time, effort, focus. This is why athletes, activists, authors, innovators, scientists, entertainers, and people with immaculate closets fascinate us.

As writers, we of all people should appreciate the power of words. When we keep espousing time ‘can be found,’ it’s a self-delusion, a cushion from reality.

Truth is, life is suffering. There is no way to escape suffering, but we can choose our suffering. If we are going to suffer anyway, why not be in control?

Truth About Talent

I wrote a post a while back asking the question all writers ask (or should). Do some people simply lack the talent to become authors? I would say talent is highly overrated. This goes back to our overall theme of truth, time and suffering. When I began blogging over a decade ago, I was clueless. There were so many bloggers who were better than me, BIGGER than me.

OMG, if I could ONE DAY get five-hundred unique visits, I would, like totally DIE.

***Probably good I didn’t.

When I decided to blog for real, I was thrilled when I got my first comment—A FAN!

I was so excited, I even commented back to my new fan knowing one day we would be best friends and maybe…meet in person! Squeeeee!

Of everyone who said I was an idiot for becoming a writer this one lone angel saw what no one else did (other than me and my mom).

This commenter found me and believed…in…me.

*moment of reverent silence*

My commenter’s name was *deep breath*…Akismet.

Odd name. Is that Russian, Albanian, Indian?

I ACTUALLY THOUGHT THIS!

Of course, when Akismet was so rude as to not reply I shrugged it off. Imagine my mortification when I learned Akismet was WordPress’s spam filter, and I’d tried to befriend an automated message.

And also been hurt when I was ghosted by an automated message.

I CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP, PEOPLE!

Truth About Blogging

The truth is? I was a raging idiot (if you haven’t already figured that out). Like one of those people who is so stupid they can’t see HOW stupid they really ARE? Yep…me. With writing, blogging…life.

I was a raging idiot because I began as an unteachable know-it-all. It was only through a lot of failure and stupidity (like trash-talking my ‘fake friend’ Akismet) that I eventually saw myself for who/what I truly was.

And it stung…a lot.

When I finally faced my true character (or lack thereof), that’s when my life started making authentic progress. I began blogging for the wrong reasons (affirmation of how AMAZING I was), but found something vastly different.

See, I’d been told my entire life I had talent, that I was a fantastic writer, and maybe that was true.

Problem was, I had the skin of a grape and no self-discipline. When everything wasn’t immediately stars and fame and unicorn hugs…I quit. I was lazy, self-absorbed, insecure and wanted to be a writer for all the wrong reasons—a desire for affirmation, approval, fame, glory, and more approval.

Did I mention needing approval? That’s okay, right?

Once these truths slapped me in the face like a school of dead fish, I had some tough choices to make. Where would I dedicate my TIME? Would I give up or press on? If no one ever read my blog, would I be okay with that?

I could continue choosing the pain of never finishing anything I started, OR I could push through and see what might be on the other side of that pain.

Initially, I blogged for fame. Then, I changed my reason and blogged to improve my character. Blogging trained me to hold myself to self-imposed deadlines. No one was going to arrive and toss me in ‘blogger jail’ if I failed to post. This helped me overcome perfectionism and SHIP.

Since I had no fans, if I didn’t post, the only one I’d be letting down was myself.

The Truth About Myself

As mentioned (a lot), I was addicted to approval. Could I keep posting when there was no chorus to sing my praises? Then, once people actually did begin reading, could I stick to my guns and keep blogging despite a long line of people telling me I was a hack, poseur, amateur, idiot, etc.?

I was addicted to perfection, always revising, redoing, tweaking. Blogging taught me to let it GO. Perfect is the enemy of the finished. Thus, when feedback inevitably slammed into me like a boomerang I’d forgotten I’d thrown, I saw stars (not the nice ones).

Initially, my voice was too preachy, so I lightened up. Followers responded far more favorably to my humorous side. Once I gained more confidence, I eventually let the comedy FLY! It was fantastic and fun and…

#Oops

Ah, but then my jokes got SO good, readers didn’t realize I WAS joking…which I found out when I unintentionally started a panic.

When G+ launched, I wrote a hysterically funny parody MOCKING Facebook for copying Twitter. I say this humbly.

*gets cramp patting self on back*

Anyway, I blogged about Facebook’s new function Twit+ (a term I TOTALLY MADE UP )…and fielded emails for weeks from hysterical writers who couldn’t locate the Twit+ function on Facebook.

SHE TOOK IT TOO FAR!

Yes…yes I did. And I eased back on the throttle. But, blogging allowed me to hone my skills and my voice. By trial, error, and unwittingly starting a digital stampede—or ten—I learned more by DOING in a year than decades of ‘thinking about doing.’

Truth Revealed

When we choose our suffering and then dedicate TIME to that endeavor, eventually this reveals truth. The more ‘novels’ I wrote (and failed to finish), the more it became seriously clear I needed to do more studying.

With every blog, I gained progressively thicker skin and increased confidence. I learned that what had been true about me in 2004 was no longer true by 2010 and certainly isn’t true here in 2018.

Over a decade later, most of the bloggers I aspired to be ‘one day’…have quit. The critics who blasted me about the future of publishing, ‘experts’ who called me lots of names for suggesting writers needed a platform and brand? Most are no longer around.

The trolls who blasted me for calling out the exposure dollar SCAM, who rallied their platforms to flame me when I suggested writers needed to be PAID? They’re now…

…oddly quiet.

Why is La Cucaracha playing in my head? Go ahead, throw a shoe at me! I’ll be waiting for you in it in the morning *evil laugh* Oh, and I licked half your Cheetos while you were sleeping. Which half? I’ll never tell.

MUA HA HA HA HA *coughs*

Sally forth.

Truth About Motivation

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It’s Cait Reynolds blog time, which, as you know, is probably both a blessing and a curse. Haven’t blogged for a while but, it’s like the old Country & Western song: How Can I Miss You if You Won’t Go Away? But yes, I’m back which might be a blessing or a curse.

Speaking of curses, that’s what I’m here to talk about today.

Writers tend to be a superstitious bunch, much like runners. Even the most skeptical among us can tell when the stars are not aligned on a writing day. Runners can feel when their bodies just aren’t hitting on all cylinders.

From drinking the same tea while writing to wearing lucky socks for race day, many of us can’t help but look for and cling to signs/omens/Tarot readings for encouragement.

Because we ALL need encouragement.

But, sometimes, there comes a moment when it feels like all the forces of nature are against us. No amount of stretching our prose or IT bands seems to make any difference. It’s positively spooky how blocked we get.

Now, living in Boston and being both a runner and a Red Sox fan, I consider myself something of an expert in curses. I mean, it took Bruce Springsteen’s rock n’ roll exorcism during his concert at Fenway Park to lift the curse of the Bambino…and that year, we finally won the World Series.

You can’t tell me that ish doesn’t work.

Do you know how hard it was to find funny Boston memes without the f-bomb for this post? DO YOU?!! DO YOU F*$#@*&* APPRECIATE WHAT I DO FOR YOU????!!!!

I also happen to be descended from a long line of eerily prescient/omniscient/ohnoshedidn’t Slavic women who can look right into your soul and see you didn’t wash your hands after using the public restroom.

Yeah. I know my curses.

Now, settle in, my loves. Ignore the goat demon in the corner. He’s harmless. Mostly. Oh, and careful with the salt circle. Summoning with a smudged salt circle can be…messy.

29 and Feeling Fine

Like all curses, the Mile 25 Curse begins with the seduction of possibility, invincibility, and a good pair of running shoes.

We get the Big Idea. Get all excited, develop characters, settings, plot, outlines. When we jump in, it’s both feet first and hit the ground running like we are our very own NaNoWriMo on meth.

The words are flowing. It’s easy. Effortless. This time…this time is gonna be different. We’re going to ride that wave of effortless all the way through to THE END. It’s just gonna flow.

It’s like that first run, when we blast our way through 1.5 miles at a blistering 14:06/mi pace. Hardcore, man.

We blow through the first 29,000-30,000 words of a full-length novel in record time. And it’s good work. Some of our best. We’re in it to win it, and this is rocking!

We’ve reached the end of Act I, and now, our characters are on their way. Only, the yellow brick road turns out to be paved with the broken backs of melting Peeps, and now, we’re running on a road that’s slow, sticky, and somewhat distressing.

Welcome to HELL…or Act II. Too many writers mistakenly believe writing a novel is a sprint or a fun run. No, it’s a marathon that requires training, preparations, patience and a very high pain tolerance.

Because all novelists will eventually hit…

The Heartbreak Hill of the WIP

But hey, we’ve got a plan. We’ve got an outline. The fresh idealism of the first 30,000 words has worn off, but we kinda knew this was going to happen. We had hoped it wouldn’t. But, it did. Just like we wish training for a 10k simply felt like training for two 5ks…but it’s sooo not.

So, it’s not totally shocking, and while it may take a few days to resign ourselves to the fact Act II will always be a slower, harder slog, we’re ready to soldier on.

The first stirrings of real unease might pop up around 40,000-45,000 words. We feel a little proud we’ve gotten this far. That’s a lot of words, probably around a halfway point for the whole book.

It’s also the Heartbreak Hill of our story.

Heartbreak Hill is the cruelest mile of the Boston Marathon. It’s a steady 3.3% incline for more than 2 km. Now, that may not seem like much, but remember, runners have already done 20.6 miles. There have been shorter, steeper climbs and longer, quad-punishing downhills.

Boston Marathon sign at Heartbreak Hill

Runners are caked in salt, blood, and sticky dried Gatorade. It could be beating down icy rain or unseasonably hot. Healed injuries are tweaking, threatening to unravel. The playlist is failing to inspire. Even the kisses and oranges from the Wellesley College girls (both offered freely to all) can’t quite distract from the pain.

All the cowbell in the world can’t help you now.

2014 Boston Marathon: the famous Wellesley kissing line. Wellesley College student Lauren Dow solicited and RECEIVED kisses from the passing runners. Section: Sports, Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Writers and runners slow and walk a few steps, cry a little, then grit their teeth and get back in the game. Because it’s only 5.6 miles or 45,000 words to the finish line. This is the hardest test of what we are made of. Can we ENDURE?

We got this….*weeps*

The Mile 25 Curse

I used to live right at mile 25 of the Boston Marathon, which is just before Kenmore Square (mile 25.2), where the crowds really start going wild. From Kenmore, it’s just one more mile to the finish line.

But there’s one last nasty surprise for runners. To get to Kenmore Square, they have to run over the I-90 overpass, a mini-Heartbreak Hill. It’s the psych-out sucker punch. CURSE it ALL!

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Last time, I brought up a subject I never believed would warrant discussing—cockygate.  I wish this was the first time a writer did something epically misguided to gain advantage. Some drama to sell their ‘story.’ But, I’ve been around too long. Seen too much.

Yes, I was there for the BIG BANG (dot.com implosion). I also witnessed Web 2.0 shoot out of the dying Web 1.0’s ribcage then skitter up into the vents.

Where did it GO? What is it up to? What does it WANT?

Good Question

As early as 2004, I projected the digital tsunami that was going to obliterate the world as we knew it.

Why is ‘Age of Aquarius’ suddenly stuck in my head?

Anyway, it began with Napster and Tower Records, then Kodak, blah blah and starting in 2006 I began blogging and predicting the next industry to fall…and the next…and even how and roughly when it would happen. All along I insisted publishing and writers needed to be prepared because we were also in its path.

Over the course my first years as a ‘social media/branding expert’ (an occupation widely regarded as a made-up job like ‘unicorn groomer’) I noted a trend.

Pretty much every year, new and evolved ‘bright idea fairies’ (BIFs) hatched with frightening regularity. This trend continues because shortcuts are tempting. Um…cockygate.

Enough said.

BIFs masquerade as a super cool idea, when in reality they’re total gimmicks that do more harm than good.

***Which is why I dedicated a year of research to write Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

Social platforms change all the time.

Know what never changes? People.

Just read Shakespeare, watch Dateline, or go look up your ex on FB. People don’t change. This is why I wrote Rise of the Machines to be evergreen.

Only now I may need to update because cockygate sucker-punched us all. I feel like Proctor & Gamble now having to warn teenagers not to eat Tide Pods *sighs*.

Story Matters

Yes, really.

We writers are wise to remember a few fundamentals. Stories are for the reader. Story is our product. Readers are our customers who pay money for our product. Readers want a good…story. They really want a superlative story.

Far too many authors don’t need better marketing skills, they need better storytelling skills.

This is simple, though simple is rarely easy. Superior stories are more crucial than ever if we take a quick peek at our industry.

See, when Amazon scope-locked on publishing, they knew exactly how to dismantle the establishment. According to the ancient self-help inspirational guru Sun Tzu, there are only two forms of warfare—direct and oblique.

Amazon is all about the oblique.

Who wanted to go head-to-head with The Big Six? Like, be a real publisher who discovers and cultivates awesome books? How derivative *flips hair*.

Nope. Amazon was not about to face off with NYC where legacy publishing had over a century of dominance. Besides, too much work. Instead?

Get rid of gatekeepers. Open the market to anyone who wanted to string a bunch of sentences together and call it a story. In turn, they get to call themselves ‘published authors.’ Win-win!

Not all of it was bad.

Amazon was banking that excellent books had fallen through the traditional model cracks (very true). They also gambled that some authors not only had a good book, but also possessed sound business skills (also true). Then, there were all these hungry, innovative writers eager to be cut loose and try new ideas like the blog-to-book.

The Martian never would have happened under the old regime.

There were also plenty of traditionally published New York Times best-selling authors and USA Today best-selling authors with HUGE backlists…that NY mothballed. #OUCH

Paper was heavy and expensive and the big-box-bookstore only had so much shelf-space. This meant making royalties off only the most recent title (instead of compounded royalties off 10, 20 or 50 titles).

Amazon offered a place to get these already vetted stories back into reader hands.

The only major advantage traditional publishers ever had was distribution. Yet, in a world of 0s and 1s, this advantage disappeared.

Tough truth.

Amazon doesn’t invest in authors or books. They don’t make money off one book selling a million copies. It’s far easier to make money off a hundred thousand ‘writers’ selling ten books. And, Laws of Probability dictate that, out of that hundred thousand writers, a runaway hit will emerge and with that?

A DREAM.

Between mid-list defectors and undiscovered gems, Amazon has reinvented the American Dream for writers. They also reasonably wagered it would only take a few years before legacy publishing would no longer be the first choice for many emerging authors.

The lure of these success stories would be too much to resist.

Problem was, this meant the slush-pile landed square in the readers’ laps.

Story Solutions

In this new business model we do have options. We can chase the next ad/promotion/algorithm/writing gimmick like a cat after a red dot. Or we can get back to basics, the ‘stuff’ that’s worked since the beginning of time.

Earlier I mentioned humans don’t change. If we fully grasp this, building a platform becomes far easier. So does writing.

Humans have longed for great stories since the HUGE stick and ‘ability to make fire’ was the most advanced tech available.

Sadly, in the digital age, too many writers rush, either out of newbie enthusiasm or veteran panic. Emerging authors often rush the learning curve (how to actually WRITE a good story). Veteran authors who know how to write, frequently cave to rushing the process.

Faster isn’t always better. It’s like microwaving a turkey. Takes only a fraction of the time, but who wants to eat THAT?

Tips for Better Stories Ditch the Derivative

Readers want the same but different. Bad copies of stories that are ‘hot’ are simply bad copies. My challenge is for all of us to use that robust imagination for the powers of good. Amateurs retool stories. Artists reimagine them .

A Thousand Acres—King Lear on an Iowa farm.

Wicked—The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West—There’s always more than one point of view. Let’s hear from the ‘other’ side, shall we?

The Wife Between Us—Fantastic mind-bending story. It’s as if the famous play (movie) Gaslight and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train had a baby. But namely, it’s Gaslight reimagined in the modern world.

There are way too many tired tropes so have fun. Can you change time, setting, perspective or characters and create something fresh and new, but rooted in pedigree? What about a new story that gives the ‘real’ scoop on an old one?

Jack the Ripper as a female, a virtuous wife betrayed. The killings are motivated by a woman scorned and shamed. Could happen .

Cinderella as a serial killer. Red Riding Hood as an Old West outlaw. The Little Mermaid as a vengeful stalker (Fatal Attraction) *wink wink*. ALL THE FUN!

Y’all get the gist and Cait has a class coming up that can teach y’all how to think in new and perverse…creative ways in her class Once Upon a Plot: Retelling Myths & Fairytales.

Leave the Low-Hanging Fruit

All stories need some amount of description. Yet, I’m challenging ALL OF US to try harder. I see all kinds of samples where the hero/heroine has emerald, jade, amethyst, sapphire, onyx, (pick any precious or semi-precious stone) eyes. Hair color is like a bad drop-down menu—raven, copper, spun gold, etc.

Her eyes were blue as the Western sky.

Never read that before *rolls eyes*.

To an extent we ALL do it. I’ve done it, too. So one judgy finger pointed at y’all and THREE back at me. Yet, here’s the thing.

We are wordsmiths, and wordsmiths should be able to write a better description than any random non-writer challenged to pen a description.

His eyes were like dazzling emeralds.

Wow. Bet that burned some brain cells to come up with.

Dig deeper. Sure, sometimes we want to keep it simple so we don’t wear out a reader being super clever all the time. On the other hand, can we do a better job than penning a description we might give to a police sketch artist?

He had a shaved head, scars, big nose and ears…

Be CREATIVE!

He had the face of a man who loved to pick fights, but wasn’t any good at fighting.

Just leaving that there .

Throw a Wrench in Everything

Stories are about problems. PERIOD. Three hundred pages of pretty sentences is not a novel. It’s three hundred pages of pretty sentences. Using a crap ton of fancy words only proves we know how to use a thesaurus…and maybe should be banned from owning one.

Description is not story.

Everyone getting along is not story…it’s a sedative.

All stories have ONE core problem that must be resolved. Until that happens? Welcome to hell. No one agrees and nothing comes easily and anything that can go wrong does…twice. The MC must solve the core story problem and the crucible is never curved.

No one respects someone who wins without working for it in life…or fiction .

***Scroll down to On Demand classes for hardcore storytelling training from MOI!

What Are Your Thoughts? I love hearing from you!

Do you struggle being a sadist to your characters? Did you do like me and look at your descriptions and go, ‘Wow, I should totally try harder’ *face palm*?

Did I maybe get the brain percolating? Mine is.

I now want to write Hansel & Gretel in the 1920s as Bonnie & Clyde-style gangsters and candy is a metaphor for BOOZE and SEX….

*Cait slaps me hard*

OWWW! *rubs back of head*

Or not.

What do you WIN? For the month of MAY, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Also NOW OFFERING MORE CLASSES PLUS ON DEMAND… Retelling Myths & Fairytales Instructor: USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds
Price: $65 USD Standard (Cool Upgrades Available)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY May 25th, 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

Myths and fairytales are as fundamental to human existence as communication itself. We grow up hearing these stories, being formed by them, and often rebelling against them.

One of the hottest trends in publishing right now is bringing these stories back and giving them new life with creative interpretations and retellings.

Done right, a retelling can capture the public imagination, give us new insights into our society and ourselves, and sweep us away to a time and place where everything, including justice and happy endings, is possible. Get your spot today! HERE.

The Yarn Behind the Book: Backstory

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $55.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, June 1, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Behind every good book is an entire story that happens before the reader ever opens to page one. This is the backstory, and done right, it is what sets the stage, provides clues and cues, and rescues you from writer’s block.

A good backstory will help with logic and consistency in the plot, developing complex motivations for characters, and sorting out exactly what needs to happen going forward as you either plot or pants your way to the end.

This class will cover the following topics – and much more:

  • The elements of a backstory;
  • How to take your current plot idea and work backwards into a backstory;
  • Integrating character profiles and the backstory;
  • How the backstory relates to the logline and synopsis;
  • Using the backstory to dig yourself out of corners and shake off writer’s block;
  • Why a backstory is crucial to writing a series.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.

On Demand Training! Ready for Book Beast Mode? I Live to Serve…Up Some TRAINING!

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I..

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For most of my life, being ‘right’ was my single greatest priority. Years ago, I believed I knew everything. Okay, that’s a lie. More like a couple weeks ago I believed I knew everything.

More lies. Dang it!

Truth is, this morning I knew everything then got some caffeine and realized I was completely full of it. It takes work for me to stop and ask the hard questions daily to keep me grounded.

What if I’m wrong? Why am I really doing X? What is my motive? Am I afraid of something? Do I really believe what I’m saying I believe? Where are my pants?

Calm down.

I don’t spend vast amounts of time gazing into my navel searching for the Lint of Truth…especially since everyone knows the dryer has the Lint of Truth (left by socks who’ve achieved enlightenment and thus shed corporeal form).

#Duh

Self-examination is still important. Alas, it’s also a tricky tightrope to walk, and takes years of practice not to fall on your head with a pole jammed somewhere painful.

We can lean toward questioning everything so much we become paralyzed neurotics incapable of making any decision. Conversely, if we don’t stop to examine what we’re doing and why? Let’s just say…

Persistence is a noble quality, but persistence can look a lot like stupid. The Priority Problem

If I could boil down the essence of modern human angst into one core idea, I’d say we’re all facing a priority problem. We’re being relentlessly told we can have it ALL, when no…no we can’t.

I’m from Generation X, and people my age have lived fully in two completely different worlds. We were the bridge generation from the industrial world into the digital world. We played the first video games, but also remember being…bored.

I’m old enough to recall a time when if you missed a T.V. show, well sucked to be you. Television stopped at midnight only to resume at 5:00 a.m. with morning news, faith healers, and Captain Kangaroo.

Back in my day *waves cane* the phone would ring and we had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA who might be calling. The highlight of my preteen life? When I got a phone cord long enough to extend the ENTIRE PHONE SYTEM UNIT into my room.

Cordless phones? Witchcraft.

I mostly played outside in the dirt. We slinked through barbed wire to traipse through rattlesnake infested fields searching for buried treasure—finding only fire ants, rusted tools, and the joy of bull nettle.

Under my cult-leader-type influence, we set way too much stuff on fire (using that Chemistry set I got for my birthday). Being a super non-PC generation, we killed a lot of imaginary Russians, made ashtrays in art class for Mother’s Day, and we all wanted to be Bruce Lee.

***True Fact #1: Once knocked myself out with nunchucks. True Fact #2: Eventually got pretty good at nunchucks. True Fact #3: We all wanted ninja throwing stars for Christmas, and 98% of parents did not find this at all odd.

Yet, I also played a lot of Atari. I even created multiple small business ventures using child labor (little brother and friends). We pulled weeds, washed cars, picked up dog poop all to score enough cash to imbibe in Pac Man and ice cream at the corner store….

Until we ran out of money and the clerk kicked us out. Then we had to resume being bored.

In school, teachers introduced us to computers that didn’t do much of anything useful…except allow us to die of digital dysentery.

Life was comparably simple for kids and adults. Get up, do your job, stay out of trouble, and go to bed. Rinse, wash, repeat.

Mom was awesome keeping up with bills because there were only like…five of them. Television had three channels. People didn’t expect you to be accessible 24/7. If you called and no one answered?

You called…back.

Later.

Overload

Contrast my life in 1988 with 2018? It takes everything for me not to pack up and move to Alaska. Except I’m too lazy to pack, hate being cold and never developed a taste for moose.

But seriously. Not only are we bombarded with calls, ads, emails, real mail and junk mail, but we can’t seem to escape.

Ever.

Which is not exactly what’s so bad. What’s insane is we believe there’s a way to actually keep up with all this crap. But we can’t, because our world isn’t real.

When I was a kid, I spent time at other kids’ houses daily. Not BS ‘play dates’ where everyone dresses in ‘real clothes’ and cleans the house like it’s friggin’ Thanksgiving. All this so two sticky kids can whack each other with Jedi light-sabers that LOOK like actual light-sabers…instead of a stick.

The on-line world is filtered. Since websites thrive when people click, only the extremes are ever represented. Extremes get more clicks.

We’re deluged with the extremely beautiful, thin, fit, smart, talented and the teenager who’s now a billionaire because he invented an app that makes a thousand unique fart noises.

On the other end of this spectrum sits the nine-hundred pound man, the hoarder whose home is crammed with toaster pizzas and feral cats, and the dude who believes he’s really a unicorn and suffers profoundly because he needs an implant (a horn) in his forehead to feel ‘whole.’

I have no idea what should be important when everything is important.

I’m supposed to make millions of dollars, write books that fundamentally change the global culture, never age, have six-pack abs, a perfect marriage, rescue animals, save the rainforest, all while keeping a house so clean one could perform surgery in my bathroom.

The bathroom I refurbished myself using recycled tires, wire hangars, and wooden pallets. All held together with unenlightened dryer lint and non-GMO, vegan, eco-friendly glue I made…in my ‘free’ time.

Priority? Save the planet THEN show off on Faceplant, Flitter, Sintrest and Instasham.

Busy, Busy, Busy

I’m from the buckle of the Bible Belt and we have a saying. If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.

I’ve noticed that, unless I am mindful to unplug, get quiet and recalibrate, it is super easy for me to lose my way. Why? Everything is overwhelming. I hate my phone, am afraid of my mail and won’t shop until we’re down rationing toilet paper.

Every store is a mega-store with a zillion choices. This means I go all white girl and ‘literally can’t even.’

As an introvert, I’d choose being water-boarded to shopping. This puzzled me, but then I thought about how it was when I was a kid in the 80s. Stores were smaller and there weren’t a hundred choices in pasta sauce.

Michael’s (a craft store) was the size of a CVS (corner drug store). By the time I wended through sixty-two aisles to find ONE pair of knitting needles, it was time to go to Costco…which is the size of an aircraft hangar.

Then there’s the grocery store (for the stuff I don’t want to buy in BULK) and it has fifty aisles which include toys, clothing, and shoes.

SHOES? IT IS A GROCERY STORE.

Sure, I went out to do five things. By the time I got home (nine hours later) I’d walked seven miles. I was exhausted from the mental onslaught of trying to pick between seventy-five varieties of gluten-free rice. All these stores, in order to provide everything and save time…are the largest time-killers I must contend with.

Though if I grew my own tomatoes this wouldn’t be a problem. TP is a definite priority, yet a tad more challenging. Corn cobs? Maybe grow corn, too.

Priority Parallax

Objects on ‘To Do List’ might actually appear more important than they really are. When everything is a priority, nothing is. Ironically, I actually don’t engage in a lot of social media, which is weird because I’m an expert and write blogs and books about it.

Yet, unlike other experts who claim we must be everywhere all the time and endlessly entertaining (and promoting), my priority is to write more books, not be a mega-marketer.

It’s why I created a social media/branding system based on quality, with a focus on meaningful interactions. Author engagement over author omnipresence. A brand is vital and so is social media, but our PRIORITY is to build a brand and still have time to write great books.

But social media isn’t the only place insanity can take over. I can have a Pinterest worthy home…or go to jail for murdering my family. Life is about choices and I’m pretty sure prison white not my color (and I’d miss my family).

Every day is a habit or waking, taking QUIET time to reflect, then whittling everything down to what TRULY matters.

Because ‘having everything’ is playing life like Pac Man instead of chess.

In Pac Man you never win. It just gets faster and faster and harder and harder UNTIL YOU DIE. Chess? There is strategy, patience, willingness to ‘let go’ of even ‘important’ pieces to protect the most crucial one. In chess, you CAN actually win!

Go fig.

Entropy is real and alive and a beast in the digital age. Much we can’t control. Trust me. Target gives no figs I really don’t want eighty aisles of STUFF…especially when they only ever have two checkout lanes open, despite having forty.

*wonders if thirty-eight of the registers are real or props*

Only So Many Figs to Give—If It Isn’t TRULY a Priority?

We might want to have everything, but everything is a lie. We can’t make all things a priority because then, well…welcome to Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl.

Back to those crucial questions I mentioned in the beginning? If we’re exhausted, strung out, and feeling like losers, it’s time to stop for a priority check (and a dose of reality).

The media is a lousy measuring guide because we will never be enough. If we were, they couldn’t sell us more STUFF. They sell us crap we don’t need by making us feel like losers, that we are missing out on the AMAZING…when we really aren’t.

Most of life is in the average. We’re only capable of being remarkable in a couple places. Why? Because being remarkable takes focus and a LOT of hard work. So choose the PRIORITY, then learn to be cool with the rest.

My home is clean…enough. It’s covered in cat fur but that’s because I value my pets more than the opinion of others. If they don’t like the cat fur, feel free to come over and clean. I’ll cook .

A final caveat on this? If I want my writing to be exemplary, where does it rank on my ‘list?’ Is it a priority? Since I’m OCD and a neat-freak, I know NOT to clean anything until I write. I must do this because my PRIORITY is to be a superlative author/blogger, NOT Martha Stewart for an hour before my kid and cats destroy everything.

If my writing keeps ending up at the END of my list, more hard questions.

Why am I procrastinating? What am I afraid of? Is my writing always last because I believe I don’t have what it takes? Remember noble distractions can mask as..

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There is one word known to strike fear into the hearts of most writers. Synopsis. Many of us would rather perform brain surgery from space using a lemon zester and a squirrel than be forced to boil down our entire novel into one page.

Yes one.

But alas we need a synopsis for numerous reasons. First and foremost, if we want to land an agent, it works in our favor to already have a FABULOUS synopsis handy because the odds are, at some point, the agent will request one.

Sigh. I know. Sorry.

A Quick Aside

When it comes to synopses, I lean toward the, ‘Better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission’ camp. This is where already having a seriously spiffy synopsis helps.

Think of it this way. E-mail is necessary, but also tedious. Getting lots of email and having to juggle it all, frankly, sucks. Agents get a lot of email. Since I’m also a person who gets a ridiculous amount of email, I LOVE people who save me work. They save me time when they save needless steps.

Most queries these days are via email and since agents don’t like getting their computers crashed by a virus? This means the query will be pasted into the body of the email (no attachments).

Believe it or not, agents like writers. In fact they need writers. They don’t get paid without a writer (who has a book). Last I checked, agents also really like being paid in money—not adorable pigmy goats. Trust me, you will only make THAT mistake once.

To Boldly Go…

So we are clear, agents need writers. Their goal is to make the authors they represent as successful as possible. When the author wins, so does the agent. This is why they’re very picky who they add to their cadre. Just as much as agents are looking for reasons NOT to read our book, they’re simultaneously looking for reasons TO read our book.

I know it’s a paradox much like time travel. Don’t think about it too long or your brain will cramp.

In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with ending your query with: I have taken the liberty of pasting the one page synopsis of my novel below for your convenience.

Worst case scenario? They don’t scroll down. OMG!

But best case is they DO scroll down and they like it! Better yet, you are off to an awesome start because you just saved them a crap-ton of time. Proper initiative is a great way for us (the writers) to make a good impression. Yes, agents want to discover that fabulous book, but it’s even better if that fabulous book comes with an author who makes their life/job easier.

Why Do We Need a Synopsis?

If you don’t want to automatically include the synopsis that’s fine, but if you write a really good one (which IS possible if the story is strong)? Why the heck not?

All right, so what if you aren’t brave enough to include a synopsis and are praying that the subject never comes up and the agent skips all this and asks for a full. Okay, great! Problem is, if you do get a book deal, often the editor will want you to write a synopsis for the book you’re writing next (for approval of course).

Ugh, so if you go traditional, really no dodging it.

Some of you might be saying, Oh, but Kristen! Traditional is sooo yesterday and I am self-publishing. I don’t need a synopsis.

Technically correct, but actually I do recommend a synopsis for all the reasons writers loathe writing them.

Why All the Angst? Dramatization of writers off to work on a synopsis.

A big reason writers hate writing synopses with the power of a thousand suns is because we believe every word is precious and every character vital and necessary. We lack perspective, especially if we haven’t had any time or distance away from the work.

This is normal.

But a bigger reason many writers hate writing the synopsis (particularly for first-time novels) is the synopsis makes it painfully obvious we have no story or a terribly flawed story.

The synopsis strips away our pretty prose and all our verbal glitter and it lays our story bare.

Today I want to talk about the BIG PICTURE stuff. What is it our synopsis is really out to reveal? If we don’t first grasp that, no amount of tips I give for writing a great synopsis will help.

Synopsis as Skeleton

The synopsis is the skeleton of our story. What do skeletons do? They support everything else. The skeleton is the guidepost for all that is to come.

We can see the skeleton of a fish and ‘see’ the fish even without benefit of gills and scales. We can see an elephant skeleton and get an idea of scope and size and finished ‘entity/product.’

But most importantly, we don’t have to be a doctor to look at a skeleton and tell that something is horribly wrong.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

We don’t need a lot of imagination to see how this skeleton above is going to flesh out, pardon the pun. We can see at a glance that this human skeleton is going to have a lot of problems because of the various deformities.

The same holds true with a story skeleton. If the narrative orbital sockets are located in the posterior, we don’t care how pretty the eyes are if they are in the @$$.

There is no amount of witty dialogue or clever prose that is going to rescue a plot that is missing vital parts or has them in the wrong place.

Yes, we are sending a synopsis in hopes of selling a story, but how is the synopsis doing this? Plain and simple? The synopsis is letting the agent see if the skeleton is solid, symmetrical and is of a creature that is rare, cool and maybe never seen before.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Steve Starer.

An agent is also looking at a synopsis because she knows it is the fastest way to reveal terminal (deal-breaker) errors.

***For the self-published folks. Technically you don’t need to write a synopsis, but if you can’t for any of these reasons below, the novel might not yet be good to go and this could save a bunch of nasty reviews.

Is the premise weak?

I get pages all the time from ‘finished novels’ but there actually is no story. Just because we have 80,000-100,000 words doesn’t mean we have a story. It means we have a lot of WORDS.

Is it really a novel or just melodrama?

Do we have a solid plot or is it ‘scene’ after ‘scene’ of bad situations?

Does the ‘plot’ rely on trickery? Gimmick? 

Often writers are having a panic attack about writing the synopsis because the entire book rests on a ‘clever’ twist ending that really isn’t a twist but rather a gimmick.

I.e. It was all really a bad dream.

No.

Does it require deus ex machina to resolve?

The protagonist endures plight after plight and all seems lost when she finds…………a journal!

No.

Does it actually resolve?

New writers often don’t understand structure, which naturally means they don’t yet understand that series follow similar structure guidelines to a singular novel.

***And btw, it is OKAY to be new, so breathe!

Even series still follow three act structure. But say the story follows four or even five act structure. Doesn’t matter. The story is not over until the core story problem introduced in the beginning is resolved.

Every book in a series must read as a standalone. Readers should be able to pick up Book 5 in a series and enjoy a complete story and understand what’s going on without having yet read Books 1-4.

If Book 5 blows the reader away, she’ll want to go read Books 1-4. However, if Book 5 makes no sense at all without first reading Books 1-4? We’ll pass.

We read for entertainment, not extra homework.

NO BATMAN ENDINGS.

Stay tuned for next week book!

Often I get, Oh well the reader will have to read the next book to know if she lives. Nope, not how that works unless we write for Days of Our Lives.

No matter the structure we use, our story must come equipped with a satisfying resolution, or that story is missing legs.

In the case of a connected series, often a gatekeeper to the Big Boss is defeated but the journey continues toward that final showdown. No being clever by withholding a resolution.

Is the writer breaking genre constrictions in unforgivable ways?

For instance, romance comes with an HEA (happily ever after) or the more modern HFN (happily for now). No HEA/HFN? It ain’t romance.

If the author is selling the manuscript as romance in the query, but the story ends in a breakup? The agent knows this is a new writer who doesn’t understand genres have rules and expectations.

Is the story just not all that remarkable?

Once the plot is laid bare, is it truly anything unique? A fresh twist on an old idea? Or is it really more of the same?

My book is about a thirty-eight-year-old female executive who decides she wants to have a baby and the struggle of being an older mom.

Okay *falls asleep*.

My book is about a thirty-eight-year-old female executive who finds out she’s pregnant with her first child at the same time her teenage stepdaughter reveals she, too is expecting.

*perks up* Hmmm, interesting.

The Good News

When we can write a concise and interesting synopsis, it shows our level of skill and the strength of our story. If we can write tight and clean here, it bodes well for the book. If your brain is in knots writing your synopsis, relax.

If the story is there the synopsis is too. It’s only a matter of unearthing it. I love hearing from you!

(And am not above bribery.)

What are your thoughts? Have you been struggling with the synopsis and think it’s because there might be bigger issues going on? Are you a more seasoned writer and remember the nightmare of trying to fit a first-time “novel” into a single page? Any thoughts? Questions? Suggestions?

What do you WIN? For the month of April, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Heads Up! If you need help, on May 3rd 7-9 EST I’m teaching Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS.

****Free recordings are included with all classes.

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, after reading this post, you now know why this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

Also NOW OFFERING…
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A fallacy among many emerging writers is that authors only write the books. Then, once finished, agents will fall in LOVE and someone else will do ALL the editing.

*clutches sides laughing.*

Yeah…no. And woodland creatures don’t help with housework. Sorry to break the news. Bummed me out, too.

The hard truth is the onus is on us (writers) to make certain our manuscript is properly edited before sending a query. Remember, agents are actively searching for reasons to STOP reading. Self-editing skills can mean the difference between a sweet deal or a spot in the slush pile.

Even if the story is amazing, agents know editing is time-consuming and costly. This means they’re more likely to wait for another ‘amazing story’ that doesn’t cost as much as a Caribbean cruise to get bookstore ready. They’ll be far more likely to sign an author who possesses solid self-editing skills.

But what was that old saying?

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Applies to agents and to readers.

Self-publishing is a whole new level and new devil. If we’re doing our job, the self-published novel should be at least as good as anything legacy published. This means we bear the burden (and cost) of making sure our manuscript is the best it can be.

Superior editing makes the difference between releasing a novel versus unleashing one. Many emerging writers—once the novel is ‘finished’—make some major errors when it comes to ‘editing.’

Here are a few biggies:

  • The writer actually believes the novel is finished and hits PUBLISH (Ahhhhhhh! NO!);
  • Emerging authors fail to understand proofreading is NOT synonymous with editing. Proofreading is merely one type of editing;
  • New authors don’t research how much good developmental editors/substantive line-editors charge for services.

The above guidelines are from the Editorial Freelancers Association.

Since all novels require editing, the more we know how to do ourselves, the lower our costs will be. Trust me. Y’all do not want to pay a developmental editor to turn a 90,000 word mess into something readable (forget publishable).

Feel free to do this, but be ready to cough up a few thousand dollars and part of a kidney.

A more cost-effective option is to understand plot and the mechanics of story so we can repair the flaws ourselves. Sure, a good developmental editor will spot the massive plot holes and guide us how to repair them, but (again) it’s gonna cost us.

A lot.

Additionally, we can pay someone to insert all our proper punctuation and correct poor grammar, OR we can learn how to do this stuff ourselves. Then we’re only paying for a proofreader to catch what we missed or goofed.

Trust me, no matter how good the writer, we ALL miss/goof stuff.

Self-Editing and ‘Cost vs. Value’

As I already mentioned, good editors are NOT cheap. There are also many editors who charge by the hour. If they’re spending their time fixing oopses we could’ve easily repaired ourselves?

We’re burning cash and time.

Self-editing can be a real life (and cash) saver.

Yet, correct the problems we’ll be discussing today, and editors can more easily get to the MEAT of our novel. This means you will spend less money and get far higher value.

Over my career I have literally edited thousands of works, most of them written by emerging writers. My particular specialty is content and developmental edit. Though I’ll correct punctuation and spelling as I go (because I am OCD and generous) MY job is to make a STORY the best it can possibly be.

Problem is, most of the time I can’t even get to the story because it’s obscured under layers of bleh the writer could have removed in revision.

#1 DIY Adverb Removal

Despite what you might have been told, not ALL adverbs are evil. Redundant adverbs are evil. If someone shouts loudly? How else are they going to shout? Whispering quietly?

***Wow, glad the author explained how ‘whispering’ works.

Ah, but if a character whispers seductively? The adverb seductively gives us a quality to the whisper that isn’t inherent in the verb. Check your work for adverbs and kill the redundant ones.

Either we need to choose a stronger verb, or we’re treating the reader like an idiot.

If a character walks quickly to the train platform, then choose a verb that means ‘to walk quickly’ (stride, jog, hurry) and use that one instead. If a character yells loudly, ditch the loudly. 

We understand how yelling ‘works.’

#2 Cut the Cray-Cray

First and foremost, readers want a STORY. Stories are more than loads of ‘pretty writing’ using thousand-dollar words. Stories are about problems. A character thinks life is fine, then PROBLEM. The character then must struggle, grow, evolve, make choices to eventually SOLVE the problem (win, lose, draw).

Pretty description is optional. Big words are also optional. Alas, if we want to be a writer who uses description then we need to wield with economy.

Few things make me as giddy as a glorious line of description or a new vocabulary word. Many readers (and writers) are like crows.

We see the shinies and tuck them away because they’re THAT cool. The last book I read was The Devil in the White City.

When describing a miserable afternoon in late 19th century Chicago, the author had many options of how to do this. Instead of, ‘The day was humid and stifling,’ Erik Larson wrote, ‘The air hung with the heavy stillness of a tapestry.’ 

There’s nothing, per se, wrong with the first description. But Larson’s line was far more visceral because he made use of multiple senses simultaneously.

But some writers take similes too far.

I’ve seen writers who’ve used so much ‘wordsmithery’ that I had no idea what the hell they were even trying to say. The goal of a novel is to hook readers into a dramatic narrative, not prove we own a thesaurus.

Exhibit A:

***Word on the street is the NSA is contemplating either revoking Sean Penn’s permission to own a thesaurus OR they want to weaponize his writing.

Metaphors and similes are fantastic literary devices, but need to be used with intention. Yes, in school, our teachers or professors didn’t ding us for using forty-two metaphors in five pages, but their job was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor or simile, NOT prepare us for commercial publication as professional novelists.

When we use too much of this verbal glitter, we can create what’s called ‘purple prose.’ Go through your pages and highlight metaphors and similes.

Pick THE BEST and CUT THE REST.

Any kind of description must serve the story and propel the dramatic action forward. If it doesn’t do this? CUT!

#3 Cut the Stage Direction

Again, the more time an editor devotes to a project the higher the bill. Also, if an editor charges by the page, we could be paying for a lot of filler we could have removed ourselves.

Alfred Hitchcock said, ‘Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.’ Readers don’t need every single step of a day. We live it, why would we read it?

Yet, I see a lot of samples like this:

Fifi opened her eyes at dawn. She pulled back her covers and placed her feet on the floor. Padding across the room, she reached for a robe hanging on her door. Her stomach growled, so she went downstairs and opened the fridge for the carton of orange juice, then grabbed a glass from the cabinet. Turning around, she searched for a granola bar….

OH, GET ON WITH IT!

An editor is going to cut all of this because NOTHING IS HAPPENING. Also, readers pretty much know how the whole ‘getting juice’ phenomenon works. They don’t need a blow-by-blow.

Fifi reached out her hand to open the door.

NO KIDDING.

Unless Fifi has telekinetic powers, do readers need the direction?

Filler pads the word count, but it also pads the editing bill. The verbs turn, look, grab, pull are possible red flags you’re doing too much stage direction. My advice is to do a Word Find and search for these verbs and their variations (I.e. look, looked, looking). See if the action is necessary or if you’re holding the reader’s brain.

If you’re holding the reader’s brain? Return it, please.

#4 Beware of Painful & Alien Movement of Body Parts

Her eyes flew to the other end of the restaurant.

His head followed her across the room.

Um…ouch.

Make sure your character keeps all body parts attached. Her gaze can follow a person and so can her stare, but if her eyes follow? The carpet gets them fuzzy with dust bunnies and then they don’t slide back in her sockets as easily.

#5 Ease Up on the Physiology

Fifi’s head pounded. She ran for the door, her heart hammering and wild pulse beating relentlessly in her head. Her breath came in choking sobs. All she could do was gasp. Panic made her throat clench and stomach heave. Mind numb, she reached for the door, fingers trembling.

GET TO IT ALREADY!

After a page of this? I need a nap. After two pages? I need a drink. We can only take so much heart pounding, thrumming, hammering before we just get worn out. That and I read a lot of samples where the character has her heart pounding so much, I’m waiting for her to slip into cardiac arrest at any moment.

Physiological reactions can become echoes. If every page the character has her stomach churning, roiling and rolling, our reader will need an antacid before finishing the chapter (provided she finishes at all).

I strongly recommend a copy of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s Emotion Thesaurus to help you vary physiology. Also, if someone’s heart is pounding, that’s okay. We just don’t need to be told this over and over and…over.

We (readers) assume the character’s heart is still pounding until she’s out of danger.

No need to remind us.

Really.

#6 Odd Sentence Construction

In an effort to break up and vary sentence structure, many emerging writers will craft sentences like this:

With the months of stress pressing down on her head, Jessie started ironing the restaurant tablecloths with a fury.

First, this is backing into the action. Though technically correct (enough), it’s easy to lose a reader if we have too many sentences like this. Active sentences are the easiest on the brain and keep the reader immersed in the fictive dream.

Then there are the picky issues with the example above. For instance, when we use the word ‘down,’ then ‘on’ is redundant.

Also, Jessie is either ironing or not ironing. ‘Started’ is overused and makes sloppy writing (this actually goes back to the whole stage direction thing).

Jessie ironed the restaurant tablecloths with a fury, months of stress pressing on her shoulders.

Another way writers will vary the beginning of sentences is they’ll default to what’s known as passive voice.

Passive:

The door was kicked in by the police.

Active:

Police kicked in the door.

If you go through your pages and see WAS clusters? That’s a HUGE hint that passive voice has infected your story.

Many writers end up with strange sentence construction because they realize every sentence is starting with the character’s name or the appropriate pronoun. They’re trying to ameliorate the repetition of Jessie, Jessie, Jessie, she, she, she. The problem, then, is not sentence construction, rather the writer needs to open the lens of the storytelling.

Remember our character doesn’t need to be the subject of every sentence. We’re telling a story. This means we can work with setting, other characters, etc.

#7 Get Rid of ‘Clever’ Tags

Ideally, if we do a good job with our characters, the reader should know who’s talking without tags because speech patterns differ. If all our characters ‘speak’ the same way, that is an issue we need to remedy.

Yet, we can’t always do this, which means we can use a tag. Tags are fine, but keep it simple. This isn’t the place to get clever.

‘You are such a jerk,’ she laughed.

A character can’t ‘laugh’ something. They can’t ‘spit,’ ‘snarl,’ or ‘grouse’ words either. They can SAY and ever so often they can ASK. Said used properly becomes white noise.

NOTE: Use said as a tag…just don’t get crazy. If you beat it up it gets distracting and annoying.

But again, used properly readers don’t generally see it. It keeps them in the story and cooking along. If we want to add things like laughing, griping, complaining, then fine. It just shouldn’t be the tag.

“You are such a jerk.” She laughed and flicked brownie batter onto Fabio’s white shirt.

Notice how sentences like the one above also keep us from beating said to death.

I swear the funniest instance of bizarre tags was a new writer who just would NOT listen to me and she insisted on using all these crazy@$$ tags. So instead..

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