Tag Archives: novel writing

Easy and Simple Aren’t the Same for Motivation

Recently someone asked me how she could motivate herself more. That’s not a rare question. Many people ask themselves how they can be more motivated to lose weight, run faster, eat better, get that job promotion, finish a novel… I’ve asked myself countless times how I can be better motivated.8078194256_db53b66f8d_k

Lately, something I’ve struggled with is going through beta reader feedback and editing. I keep finding other things to do. I realize that I’m making excuses, but even though I acknowledge this, I can’t bring myself to focus on editing.

That’s unusual for me, so when someone asked me how to improve motivation, I thought about what I’d want to hear. Better yet, what words would work to motivate me?

I’ve never been the type to seek out motivational quotes. More often than not, I roll my eyes at inspirational sayings. They seem cheesy and hollow. They don’t resonate, and when something doesn’t resonate, how can it inspire?

I started searching for the right way to answer the question of motivation. How could I inspire this person?

There wasn’t a correct answer. Each solution was personal. I couldn’t give that individual what she wanted. Because I could talk and talk and talk to her about inspiration and do anything and everything I could to motivate her, but the bottom was that she had to find what worked for her.

All I could tell her was the words that inspired me:

“When you get into a tight space and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”

— Harriet Beecher Stowe

Life isn’t usually easy, but think of the things you’re proudest of. Were they easy accomplishments? Or did you struggle and persevere?

Was the effort worth it?

(Photo courtesy of Luke Kondor.)

When the Ghouls Come Out to Play: How Plague Victims Became Vampires

Between Halloween rapidly approaching and recently burying my grandmother’s ashes, death and what lies beyond has been on my mind. Are some of those who’ve passed away still around? Are all those we bury truly dead?

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Throughout history there have been stories about the dead coming back to life or the spirits of the dead haunting the living. One of the most notorious myths of the undead is the vampire. In modern society, the vampire is seen as a romantic, gothic figure, whether you’re examining Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Anne Rice’s Louis, or Stephenie Meyer’s Edward Cullen. Each of these vampires is tortured in some way, while being irresistible to mortals.

However, vampires weren’t always seen as beautiful, tormented creatures that have a soft spot for particular humans. Vampire lore originated from superstition and misunderstandings about post-mortem decay in the middle ages.

Between 1300 and 1700, plagues swept through Europe at an alarming rate. At the time, people didn’t understand how disease spread or how decomposition worked. They believed that dark, evil forces caused plagues, namely vampires.

Sometimes mass graves would be reopened to add more bodies and gravediggers would stumble across corpses that were “bloated by gas, with hair still growing, and blood seeping from their mouths.” These gravediggers would think these corpses were still alive. The corpse had been possessed and had become one of the undead, a “shroud-eater,” whose purpose was to spread disease throughout all the corpses, until the vampire had gained enough power to rise from the ground.

The only way to prevent a vampire from rising was to exorcise it. When a person died, a shroud would be laid over his face. The person would be buried with the shroud, and as bacteria ate away at the shroud, it would appear like the corpse had eaten through the shroud, hence the name “shroud-eater.” This shroud would be removed from the corpse’s mouth and a brick would be jammed between the corpse’s teeth. This would prevent the corpse from being able to spread disease to more corpses and gain enough strength to rise from the ground and spread plague to more people.

While today we know how disease and decomposition work, it’s fascinating to discover how people explained horrific events before they were scientifically understood. And while vampires and other supernatural creatures are considered hot in modern literature and film, it’s beneficial to know how supernatural myths came about. In writing, even if you’re writing about sparkling, vegetarian vampires, knowing what humans would have considered vampires as a hundred(s) years ago is vital to understanding that vampire’s character.

Expanding beyond vampires, knowing a character’s history is important to comprehending that character’s personality. Knowing where a character comes from and what that character’s been through before page one of a novel or short story allows you to understand what that character wants and why that person behaves the way he does. If you don’t appreciate a character’s background, that character’s personality will shift unnaturally and readers won’t make connections with why that person makes the decisions he does.

Have a wonderful final week before Halloween, and, remember, if you’re going to a midnight graveyard reading, watch where you step. You never know one-hundred percent what’s laying beneath the ground.

(Photo courtesy of Otto Magus.)

Squeezing Creativity From a Dry Spell

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Creativity is the life force of writing. It’s what makes readers feel alive, and is what captures and keeps their attention. Without creativity there would be no stories. So, what happens when creativity suddenly refuses to strike?

Writers can’t write.

They must find a way to reinvigorate themselves, or their work will come out feeling stilted and forced.

How do writers recover from a dry spell? Over the years, I’ve picked up a lot of different ways from a number of writers.

  1. Free write. Write down anything and everything that comes to mind. Verbal vomit, in many ways, can lead to new ideas, even if the free writing itself isn’t all that great.
  2. Gain a writing persona. Create a separate writing personality, someone other than you to write for a bit. Your hands will still be doing the typing, but you’ll be on a beach somewhere, while your persona gets the creative juices flowing.
  3. Learn something. Pick up gardening, astronomy, cooking, yoga, Russian, anything that might interest you. Read a few textbooks too. The more you learn, the more information you have to create from.
  4. Meet someone new. Each new person you interact with comes from a different background, and has a unique perspective. Never been far away from home? Go someplace utterly different and strike up a conversation.
  5. Keep a journal with you at all times. You never know when inspiration will strike. Perhaps the sun glinting off a rusty sign, or a man weaving straw hats on the boardwalk, can be used as part of a scene.
  6. Time yourself. Give yourself a set amount of time to focus on writing. It can be fifteen minutes a day, or thirty minutes every other day.
  7. Get outside. Yes, allergies can be a pain in the butt, but being outside can breathe creativity back into you. Go for a hike or a jog, or find a bench by a river and people watch. Heck, stare at the way the sun highlights the green in the trees’ leaves.
  8. Be in the zone. This term is usually applied to athletes, but it works great for writing too. When you’re writing, focus all your attention on writing. In fact, with whatever you’re doing be in the moment, whether it’s reading a book, washing the dishes, or participating in a conversation.
  9. Be open to everything. Judgment hinders creativity because it limits how you view the world. There’s a reason the saying, “Never judge a book by its cover,” has stuck around.
  10. Screw it. Not everything is going to always work out perfectly. There will be roadblocks, hiccups, and mountains. Recognizing this will allow you to move past the traffic jam. One of the great aspects of writing is that you can go back later and edit, so let a chaotic mess crash all over the page. Who knows, something great may come of it.

Have more ideas? Post them in the comments section

(Photo courtesy of subflux.)

That Critical First Page: Grabbing Readers Attention in Seconds

The first page, whether it’s a novel, short story, research paper, proposal, etc., is extremely important, if not the most important page in a piece of writing. The first page paves the way for all the other pages. It’s what grabs readers’ attention, or turns them off.

The first page sets the stakes, tone, pace, voice, and setting. It lays out the mood for the entire piece of writing. If you’re writing about a world that has magic, the first page will have magical elements to it.

Similar to how agents spend about three seconds reading a query letter, readers spend seconds on the first page. If the story hasn’t grasped their attention by the end of page one, they’re unlikely to keep reading.

The first page should:

  • Set up point of view. Is this first person, third person, second person? Is there one point of view, two, three, more? (If you are writing a multiple point of view story, it’s usually better to write in third person.) Is the point of view more limited or omniscient?
  • Article Lead - wide62398472115ew6image.related.articleLeadwide.729x410.115eyw.png1413437505967.jpg-620x349Show setting. A story begins where and when it does for a specific reason. If the opening page shows your protagonist standing, staring out the fourth floor window of a hospital, while it’s raining and the entire world seems a wash of gray, why is she there?
  • Give conflict. This is what’s at stake for the main character. Without conflict there is no story.
  • Establish the protagonist. Is the protagonist female or male? How old is the protagonist? What’s her name? Age? Why is she the protagonist? You don’t have to get into the specifics of what the protagonist looks like on the first page, but readers should know what the protagonist looks like very early on.
  • Present the tone. Is it unhappy, comical, sassy, peaceful, depressing, angry, or hopeful? There can be layers of tone within a story, especially in novels, but the overall tone remains consistent.
  • pacing trIntroduce pace. Pace is the speed at which a story occurs. Look at detective novels, events in that type of book moves quickly. However, in historical fiction, the pace is generally slower. In Young Adult literature, the pace tends to be fast, while in adult works the pace can be a little more unhurried. Does the novel jump straight into action and drama or does it meander there?

Since the first page is so crucial, it won’t be perfect the first time through. In fact, writing the best first page possible probably won’t happen until you know the entire story. So much of making a story suspenseful and surprising is hinting at what’s to come. Sometimes the foreshadowing is obvious, while other times it’s very subtle, but it’s there. And the only true way to hint at what’s to come is to know the entire story, and the better you know your story, the clearer picture you have of all those elements the first page should contain.

How do you go about writing first pages?

(Photos courtesy of The Sydney Morning Herald and Fiction University.)