Archive for the Writing Category

Simple Steps to Writing a Novel

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Typewriter for Writing a Story

So you have a story in your head and you suddenly feel inspired to write it. You sit down and you open a Word document. The story flashes through your head. The action, the heartache, the drama. But where do you start? How do you start? Suddenly you’re overwhelmed.

While some writers can simply start writing by the seat of their pants (called pantsers), some of us need a little more structure and guidance. If you are one of the later, here are some tips on where to begin.

Firefly Cast of Characters

Establish the Main Characters

If you’ve been thinking about your story for some time, you may already know who your characters are. You may also know things about them such as what they look like, where they work, their strengths and weaknesses, and so on. Either way, you need to create a character journal with all their information. The more important your character is to the story, the more thorough this journal should be.

Dwarves Bilbo and Gandalf in Rivendell Hobbit Movie

Establish the Setting

This is something else you might already have in mind. Creating a journal about it will help you fine tune it. A journal is also a great way to keep track of details later on as you write your story.

Set Up the Story Structure

If you’re having trouble just sitting and writing, having a story structure can help. The first structure you need to consider is the three acts basic acts that most good stories should have. The acts also help you determine your overall plot.

The first act establishes your setting and characters, and then brings about the inciting incident. The inciting incident is the event that rocks your character’s boat, the even that calls for his or her intervention. This incident can be something as simple as a death of a family member to something as cataclysmic as an explosion wiping out half a city. The second act consists of your character trying to resolve the situation only to find it’s not easy. Two steps forward, one step back. The third act contains the climax and the final wrap-up.

I have only given the basics of the three acts. If you’re having trouble with this, there are a ton of books and free online resources that can help.

Notecards for Writing a Story 001

Map Out the Outline

An outline is not the same thing as the story structure described above. The outline consists of the story structure, but it is much more detailed. It doesn’t just help you with your timeline, it also helps you establish important scenes, show you where gaps are, and gives you something to refer to as you write.

I have written an article previously on how using index cards helps me establish an outline – Outlining Your Novel with Index Cards. Make it fun with colored index cards!

Decide the Point of View

This can be a tricky one. Before you write, you really need to know how you plan on telling the story (or showing it, I should say). Here’s an article titled, Point of View Writing. It gives the basics and in an easy-to-understand way. The article states that Third Person, Limited is the most common point of view in fiction. I agree. And it is the point of view I use. I find it the easiest to use and the easiest for readers to fall into. But whichever you use, be sure you are consistent.

Decide the Tense

There are only two choices in writing tense: past tense or present tense. One would think that writing in present tense would be best because it establishes the immediacy of what’s happening. But past tense can work just as well. For some reason, I tend to do my outlines in present tense, but write my novel in past tense. Whichever you choose is fine, just be sure to be consistent. The Write Practice has another great article regarding writing in past tense versus present tense.

Book Time Clock Ticking

Write

This can still be the hardest part. But a friend and fellow writer posted something on her blog recently – Write Bravely. What does it mean? It means write and don’t worry too much about what others think. Don’t worry if your point of view or tense is off or whether you have enough descriptions in your scenes. Just write. You can worry about all that other stuff later.

If finding the time is a problem, make the time. Give up a television show or two. See if your significant other can help take up a chore or two. Even an hour a day is better than nothing. You’re story is never going to get written if you don’t make the time. Here are 10 Ways to Create More Time in Your Day.

Conclusion

Try not to look at novel as one big huge project. Big projects are easier to complete when you break them down into smaller projects. Use the headings I’ve used in this article as mini-projects. Even the heading Write can be broken down. Just take it one chapter at a time. One chapter at a time and you’ll get there. Good luck!

Tips for Writing Dialogue

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Dialogue

We all have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing. Me? I’m tend to be a little skimpy on describing the scenes and the characters. But I think I’m pretty darned good at dialogue. Other writers may not be so good at it. Perhaps the conversations between their characters seem too contrived. Or perhaps the characters come across as too stiff and formal. Or every character sounds the same. So here are some tips to help improve dialogue.

Get in the Characters’ Heads

-Motives

Each of your characters has a different motive. So what they say is generally going to be motivated by what they want. For example, say Jack really likes this girl, but his friend Kevin happens to know the girl isn’t really into him. So while Jack is busy talking about how great this girl is, Kevin will try to find a way to hint about the girl without hurting Jack’s feelings. Perhaps he will start out by pointing out all her flaws.

-History/Background

Another way to get into the characters’ heads is to remember they all have different backgrounds, different beliefs, different occupations, and so on. This is going to affect how they speak. Someone from the country may be more inclined to use slang. A doctor will be most likely to use correct medical terminology and medical jargon. Someone who is religious might go around blessing and praying for everyone or by often attributing things to God’s will.

-Personality

The different personalities of each character will also need to be considered. If Steve is self-absorbed, he might not care about why Sally is crying and so he’s either going to ask half-heartedly or not at all, depending on their relationship. If Joe tends to keep to himself, he’s not going to say too much in a conversation and to have him suddenly spill his heart out will not make any sense.

Grammatically Incorrect

People don’t always speak in a grammatically correct way. They might use slang or improper words like ain’t, y’all or irregardless. They might use a lot of filler words like um, yeah, well. They might use gone instead of went like, “She’s gone to the store” instead of “She went to the store.” They might use me when they should use I or I when they should use me like, “him and I” or “him and me”. They might end the sentence with a preposition, such as, “Where you at?” instead of “Where are you?” they might say should of instead of should have. The list goes on and on. And for the sake of readers, it will help if each of your characters has a different quirk. One way to get an idea for all the different ways people speak is to listen.

Be Clear About Who is Speaking

Be clear about who is speaking, but not by overusing names or by overusing tags. By overusing names, I mean by one character saying the name of the other character over and over. For example:

     “Hello, John. Good to see you.”
     “Hello, Fred. Good to see you too.”
     “So, John. How’s your family?”
     “Great, Fred. Blah, blah, blah.”
     “That’s great to hear, John.”

You see what I’m getting at. By overusing creative tags, I mean by always adding John said or Fred said. Some people get around this by using creative tags like John coaxed or Fred persuaded. This can get a little annoying for some readers. That John coaxed or Fred persuaded should be obvious by what they said and the way they said it, not by the use of a creative tag. Don’t get me wrong. Creative tags have their place. There will be times when you will want to say John whispered or Fred mumbled. But use these creative tags very sparingly and not just as a way to use something other than said or replied.

A great way to give an idea of who is speaking without the use of tags is with action. For example, consider the above conversation modified with actions:

     Fred eagerly put out his hand and grinned widely. “Hey, John. So good to see you.”
     John’s eyes lit up. “Hey! Great to see you too.” He grasped Fred’s hand and shook firmly.
     Fred clapped him on the shoulder. “Gosh. It’s been forever. So how’s the fam?”
     “Great.” John’s brows went up. “Can you believe Ashley got into Berkley?”
     “Wow! That’s great to hear.”

Action is a great way to add more feeling into the conversation. But one can overdo it on the action as well, so mix it up. Use said or replied when needed since readers find these tags less annoying. Use an occasional creative tag only where appropriate. Use action. Or, as you may have noticed in the last sentence of the conversation, use nothing. There are only two people speaking so there is no need always specify who said what. Another way you can get away with not indicating who is speaking is if your character has a unique voice. As stated in another article I wrote, there is no need to say Yoda said because everyone knows Yoda by the way he speaks.

The Conversation Has a Purpose

I can’t tell you how many times I planned for a conversation to go one way, but ended up having it go another. If you force the conversation, it sounds contrived. But if you let it flow naturally, you might end up going off on a tangent. What you need is to find a way to get the conversation to flow naturally so it goes where you want it to go. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Even though people in real life conversations have a tendency to veer off topic or quickly change the subject, try not to do this in your dialogue. Every conversation should have a purpose, whether it’s to convey information, to get an idea of the characters’ points of view, or to establish tension between two characters. For example, my sci-fi story is about the relationship between two enemies. So there is no reason to have a chapter where one of these two characters has a conversation with a third character about knitting. This is an extreme example, but you see what I’m getting at.

If you feel two characters need to have a long conversation before they get to the primary purpose of the conversation, see if you can find a way to slim it down or skim over to the good part. Although it is better to show than tell, sometimes it is acceptable to simply tell by stating they talked about this and that for a good hour while having tea or something.

Pauses, Hesitations, Interruptions

I have a bad habit of interrupting people and I’m not the only one. People interrupt other people all the time. Then there are those people who like to take the time and think about what they’re going to say before they say it. And there are people who hem and haw with filler words before they finally get to the point. Some people talk a lot with almost no pause for breath while the other party simply shrugs their shoulders and interjects a few uh-huhs and such.

Change of Subject is Purposeful and Explainable

Don’t let your characters simply change the subject without a good reason. Changing the subject without some sort of explanation can be very jarring for the reader and can make the conversation seem contrived.

Characters Lie

Have you ever asked someone of they’re feeling okay and they say yes even though it’s obvious they’re not? Have you ever spoken to someone who told you one thing but did another? Or a person who is nice to your face but gossips about you behind your back? People are not always truthful when they speak. You can make the lie obvious or not-so obvious, depending on your purpose. Just keep your purpose in mind. Let’s use the dialogue above and change it to show what I mean.

     Fred eagerly put out his hand and grinned widely. “Hey, John. So good to see you.”
     John’s eyes lit up. “Hey! Great to see you too.” He grasped Fred’s hand and shook firmly.
     Fred clapped him on the shoulder. “Gosh. It’s been forever. So how’s the fam?”
     John’s face fell. “Great.”
     “Yeah?”
     John shrugged. “Yeah. Just fine.”

John’s body language indicates things are not so fine but he doesn’t want to talk about it. Fred can be oblivious or he can pick up on it, depending on his personality, and you can reflect this in the continuing dialogue.

Conclusion

Remember, all things in moderation. Don’t have characters interrupt people all the time. If your character has a tendency to speak incorrectly, don’t force it so that every single sentence is wrong. If your character uses filler words like um, don’t interject the filler words every single time they speak. The overuse of anything can easily turn into an annoyance. Balance is the key. Balance your actions and tags as well.

These are just a few tips to help with dialogue. If you can think of some more, please feel free to comment below.

Tips to Improve Your Story by Writing Better Characters

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Toy Story on Writing Characters

I don’t care whether you have a sci-fi, fantasy, western, action/adventure, mystery, drama, or other genre. The characters in your story are just as important as the story’s plot. Without characters, you have nothing. With mediocre characters, you have a mediocre story. You could almost get away with a mediocre story if you have excellent characters. So how do you build great characters? Here are some great tips:

Write Their Backstory

When I began writing The Guardian of Destiny, I had a very difficult time writing the main character. I just couldn’t get into him. It wasn’t until I really got to know him by writing his backstory from his childhood to the present that made me really understand who he was. When you tell your actual story, you don’t have to provide your character’s entire backstory. Just include the parts relevant to the story and/or a few of the interesting parts that reveal why your character is the way he is.

Physical Characteristics

I’ve noticed some writers include very little character description and let the reader fill in the blanks. As a reader, I kinda prefer this myself. But I’ve come to realize that most readers want at least a little bit of a description. So make the descriptions unique or interesting. This is especially important when you have multiple characters. The more characters you have, the more difficult it will be for your reader to keep up with them all. So give them a unique feature or two. Perhaps one character has thick eyebrows or one has a unique color of eyes. Go beyond facial features. Perhaps one character has a limp or one is overly tall.

Ben Affleck

J.D., the character in my new sci-fi series, has a crooked smile. I like to think the smile looks a little like Ben Affleck’s. Jori has a Japanese look, though I never state this because of the genre. I try to hint at it with the color of his skin and hair, with the shape of his eyes, and with the fact that he occasionally uses Japanese words.

Gestures, Habits, and other Noticeable Characteristics

Speaking of the words a character uses, this is another way to help individualize your characters. People watching is something writers do all the time. It’s a great way to pick up on the little things people do that make them individuals. Perhaps you notice someone who taps their foot all the time or someone who plays with their hair. Habits can include someone who smokes or someone who is always drinking coffee. J.D. strokes his chin a lot. Jori and Terk curse a lot, Terk more so.

Strengths and Weaknesses

List your character’s most prominent strengths and even a few of his weaknesses. If a character has nothing but strengths, never does any wrong, it makes for a very boring character. No one is perfect, so even the best characters will have a few things they’re not good at. Jori has a lot of things going for him. He’s highly intelligent, has a lot of common sense, and is greatly athletic. He even has a tendency to be modest and considerate, though you wouldn’t know this in the beginning of the story. So it seems he’s practically perfect. But he’s not. He has a bit of a temper, which sometimes gets him into trouble. He also has a tendency to keep his feelings to himself, which makes other people think he’s an emotionless jerk.

I admit I’ve read (and liked) books where the hero seems to have no character flaws. It’s true some people like a story with a perfect white knight hero. So if this is your character, make sure your story makes up for the lack of character conflict in other ways, such as with a great plot and interesting twists.

Stand by Me Movie

Relationships

How the character relates to others says a lot about them. What are their relationships like with their parents, siblings, friends, coworkers, and others? Do they have a lot of friends, or few? Are they loyal to one spouse or do they like to sleep around? Depending on your story, you may even want to consider your character’s relationships with animals. One character I particularly like in my story is Mik Calloway. He’s a complete ass. And one way you can tell this is by how he is with his coworkers. Even though he’s hanging out with them, he only thinks negative thoughts about them. And he only admits that he’s hanging out with them because he doesn’t want to drink alone.

Occupation

Be sure to consider the character’s occupation when writing their character. Stereotypes exist for a reason, so think about the stereotypical dentist, racecar driver, jock, lawyer, cop, and so on. But be careful about making your character cliché. Even though people tend to fall into certain stereotypes, they are still individuals. Jori, for example, is immediately viewed as a stereotypical warrior with a bad attitude and hot temper. But as you will see later in the story, there is so much more to him than that. Use stereotypes to your advantage by perhaps making your characters see other characters in a stereotypical way, but then have them learn a lesson by learning otherwise later on.

Cardinal Richelieu of the Three Mustketeers

Beliefs

Your character’s beliefs go beyond just what their religious preferences are. Think about the core values of your character? Does he believe each man for himself or does he believe in helping others? Is he open-minded or stuck in his ways? Does he tend to see the best in others or the worst? Is he a strictly by-the-book kind of guy or will he break the rules to right a wrong or to get ahead?

A Character’s Journey

Whatever happens in your story, whether your hero is out to save the galaxy, meets the love of his life, destroys the evil warlord, or catches a serial killer, these events are going to change your character forever. Hopefully, they are going to help your character grow. Even the bad guy could learn something new. When you develop your story, think about what your character is going through and what lessons they can learn from it. Think about how their lives are changing and will change as the action progresses.

Create a Character Journal

I forgot where I learned this from, but it has been the most helpful piece of advice I’ve ever received when it comes to writing characters. The character’s journal consists of everything listed above, plus a few extra if you’d like. If your character journal is a physical one, cut out pictures of what your character might look like or what he might wear. If you can draw, draw the pictures. Draw his home and/or his favorite things. If your character journal is a digital one, like mine, attach images. One person I know uses Pinterest to collect pictures that fit their characters.

Conclusion

The more you think about all the aspects of your character, the better chance you have of creating a deep and memorable character. And the more memorable your character, the better chance you have of creating a memorable story. If you have any additional tips for creating great characters, please feel free to comment below.

Go Beyond Telling Your Story – Show It and Make the Reader Feel It

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2016 by Dawn Ross
Cinderella's Slipper

A talented writer can show you and make you feel this magical scene.

One of the biggest obstacles I’ve had to overcome as a writer is learning how to show the story rather than tell it. Anyone can tell a story, but not everyone can make the reader feel like they are actually a part of the story. So how does one write in such a way as to bring the reader into the story? Let me start with showing you the difference between telling a story and showing a story.

 

The prince slipped the glass slipper onto Cinderella’s foot. It fit. The two smiled at one another and then hugged. They lived happily ever after.

 

Short and sweet but not very engaging, right? First of all, it happens too quickly. I could drag it out more by describing more of their actions. But ‘dragging’ a scene out isn’t what separates showing from telling. There is so much more to it. Here is my rewrite:
The glass slipper glided easily onto her foot, sending a shiver up her spine. This was happening, this was really happening. But would he recognize her in these rags? Would he be able to see her through the soot and grime on her face?

He raised his head. Her breath caught as his blue eyes locked onto hers. Goosebumps prickled across her arms. She smiled tentatively, hoping against hope.

His eyes twinkled and a grin spread across his handsome face. Warmth flooded through her and her eyes burned with tears. He remembered her.

But no. This had to be a dream. It couldn’t be real. She looked down at her soiled clothes. Her nose twitched at her own sour scent. There was no way he could love someone like her. She was just a servant, a simple nobody.

She squeezed her eyes shut and brought her dirty hands to her face. A piteous sob escaped her throat. Her chest heaved and hot tears pushed their way out.

The warm touch of his hands as he cupped them over hers magically settled her. She let her shaking hands fall and hesitantly opened her eyes.

His face was a handbreadth from hers. “It’s you.” The warmth of his sweet breath whispered across her lips. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” His fingers gently wrapped around hers.

Dream or no, she couldn’t resist the tenderness in his eyes. She let go of one of his hands and delicately brushed his cheek with the tips of her fingers. He was real. And somehow he still saw her in the same way he had on that enchanted night.

He enveloped her into a longing embrace and she melded into the strength of his passion. All the world around her disappeared. It was just him and her, lost together in a whirl of everlasting joy.

 

This rewrite showing is obviously much longer than the telling part. But perhaps it didn’t really seem like it because hopefully you felt like you were a part of the experience. As stated earlier, it’s not because it is longer that makes it more engaging. Here are some things that helped show the story:

Emotions – Cinderella shared her emotions. And she didn’t just tell the reader she was nervous, ashamed, or relieved. She showed her emotions with her actions, gestures, internal sensations, and internal thoughts. Actions, his blue eyes locked onto hers. Gestures, she delicately brushed his cheek with the tips of her fingers. Internal sensations, warmth flooded through her. Internal thoughts, she didn’t think this was real.

Other Senses – Cinderella doesn’t just tell us what happened. She shows us what she sees, smells, and what she feels both internally and externally. Engage your readers by trying to include two or more of the five senses – sound, sight, smell, touch, and taste.

Adjectives – Adjectives have a way of putting more feeling into nouns. They help to bring those nouns to life. Consider Cinderella’s piteous sob, sour scent, and dirty hands. Consider the prince’s warm touch, blue eyes, and sweet breath. Consider their enchanted night.

Conflict – Conflict somehow has a way of really engaging the reader. Conflict keeps the reader guessing and keeps them hoping for the best. It creates setbacks and gives heroes the opportunity to show who they really are. And it makes things more real. Although the Cinderella story is a fairy tale, I’ve made her more real by showing her internal conflict. In real life, a man and a woman don’t just fall into easy love without some sort of internal doubts. Conflict can be external as well as internal. After studying how to show a story rather than tell it, consider doing some research on the many ways you can add conflict.

Word Choices – Consider the words you’re using when you’re setting a scene and showing your story. Use words that support the emotions. Consider sharp words when there is strong negative emotion or lots of action, or soft words for slow-paced scenes or gentler emotions. When Cinderella looked down at her soiled clothes, hopefully the word ‘soiled’ helped convey her doubts about herself. When she delicately brushed the prince’s cheek with the tips of her fingers, hopefully the word ‘delicately’ showed how she was still uncertain but beginning to believe. When they hugged, hopefully the words ‘longing embrace’ conveyed how relieved both of them were to be together again. Somehow, I don’t see the words ‘strong hug’ doing the trick.

Sentence Lengths – The emotions of certain scenes can sometimes be conveyed better through the lengths of your sentences. Action scenes or other scenes meant to be fast paced can be written with one-syllable words and short choppy sentences. Longer sentences help slow the momentum of the story. Love doesn’t happen quickly so love scenes like the one above do better with longer sentences.

Don’t Overdo It – Sometimes, showing can get a little out of hand. I thought about adding more to Cinderella’s doubts by having her speak back to him and being more hesitant to believe this was real. But sometimes enough is just enough. You don’t want to bore your reader with too much detail. And you don’t want to dwell on one emotion for too long.

Telling Has Its Place – Sometimes telling is actually appropriate. Telling could be used to skim over boring parts that have no real value in the story other than to get your character from one place to another. An example would be if one of your characters just experienced an event and is now telling another person. Rather than go into dialog relating events the reader already knows about, the writer can tell the reader, “Jack told her everything in a rushed breath.”

But use telling very sparingly. There are better ways to transition a character. You can end the chapter at one scene and begin a new chapter in another scene. You can have your character thinking about something important as they move from one place to another. Or you can insert a sub plot so that something happens as the character is going from one place to another.

These are just a few of the things I’ve learned about showing a story and engaging your reader. I hope I’ve covered all the points but if I’ve forgotten something, please feel free to add a comment or two.

How to Write Unique Character Voices

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2016 by Dawn Ross

Yoda and Bad Grammar

Have you ever read a book but couldn’t get into the story because the characters were so flat? There could be many reasons why a character is flat, but the one being discussed here is in regard to the way they speak. When everyone speaks in the same way, it makes it difficult for the reader to see them as individuals. It also makes it difficult for the reader to tell who is speaking if there are no tags present.

If you’ve been reading my sci-fi story, you have probably noticed that I’m in no way an expert at making each of my characters speak differently. But I’ve been studying the subject intensely and have been trying to apply what I’ve learned. Here are some general ideas on how to make each character sound unique:

Word Choice

Different people often use different words for the same things. Example 1 – One person may go around saying ‘awesome’ all the time while another may say ‘cool’ or ‘nifty’. Example 2 – One person may use a lot of big words while another person would use simpler words. Example 3 – One person could speak in a more formal manner while another uses more slang. Example 4 and the one I’ve used for a few of my characters – One person never curses while another curses all the time.

Word Order

Yoda from Star Wars would be a great example of word order. Instead of, “You have become powerful. I sense the dark side in you,” he says, “Powerful you have become. The dark side I sense in you.” Another example would be in Spanish versus English. In English, we say, “The yellow book,” but a direct translation from Spanish “El libro amarillo,” is “The book yellow.”

mordor-grammar

Grammar

Have you ever noticed that not everyone speaks in proper English? Someone had pointed out how one of my characters said, “From who?” instead of the proper, “From whom?” How many people do you know who actually say the word ‘whom’? There are a few, I’m sure. But I personally seldom ever hear the word. Also, how many people say words improperly, like ‘irregardless’ or ‘supposably’? It’s okay to have misspelled or mispronounced words when a character is speaking. However, be careful not to overdo it or it will annoy your reader. Here is a great resource for words that are often pronounced incorrectly – http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/style-and-usage/mispron.html

Idioms

If you’re writing in close-third person, even your descriptions should be closely aligned with the character. For example, one of the characters in my story describes things or uses idioms related to animals. So when he describes a color, he describes it in a way that relates to an animal. Some characters may also speak their idioms out loud, such as, “knee-high to a grasshopper” or “uglier than sin”. Keep idioms in mind whether the character is speaking them, thinking them, or describing the scene around him.

Foreign Words

One of my main characters occasionally uses foreign words. Make sure to use the foreign word so that the reader can still understand it based on its context. The reader might not know what the word ‘koshinuke’ means but in the right context they might realize it means ‘coward’. As with misspoken words, be careful not to use too many foreign words or it will annoy your reader.

Filler Words

Filler words are meaningless words. Perhaps one of your characters says, ‘um’ a lot. Or they may begin almost every sentence with, ‘Well…” Also, perhaps they also end just about every sentence with a word or phrase such as, ‘ey?’ or “ya know?’. Here are some great examples I’ve found – http://blog.brandyourself.com/product-tutorials/6-filler-words-that-wont-get-you-hired/

Other Ideas

How about a character with a lot of faith? Perhaps they say, ‘Thank God’ or ‘Thank the Lord’ a lot. Maybe they give a lot of blessings or offer prayers. Other ideas – overly polite characters, blunt characters, characters who talk a lot, characters who keep it short and simple, characters who mispronounce certain letters, characters who sigh a lot, and so much more!

Listen to how different people speak and take note of the different words they use. Does a doctor speak differently from a farmer? Does a policeman speak differently than a politician? Does someone whose native language is Chinese speak differently than someone from Australia? Listen and learn and you too can develop unique character voices.

*****

In addition to writing unique character voices, here are four ways you can show which of your characters is speaking:

Three ways to tell who is speaking:

  1. With tags like ‘he said’ or ‘she replied’. (Note, avoid using too many creative tags like ‘he insisted’ or ‘she hissed’. Readers tend to skim over the more common said and replied tags and get hung up on creative tags. Besides, the character’s actions and the construction of their speech should speak for themselves. Another point is people don’t hiss or growl words. So if you use a creative tag, use it sparingly and use it appropriately.)
  2. With actions. For example, instead of “Don’t do that,” Mike said, say, Mike shook his finger. “Don’t do that.” Incidentally, different gestures might be another way you can distinguish your characters. For example, perhaps Mary crosses her arms a lot or George twitches his mouth when he’s thinking.
  3. With the character’s unique voice. Take Yoda, for example. For anyone writing fan-fiction, there is no reason to say, Yoda said. Simply writing in the unique way he speaks will tell the reader who is speaking.
  4. With tone. Perhaps this is just my own technique, but in some situations I like to describe the tone in which the speaker is speaking. I don’t use this technique often. It’s usually only used when I want to emphasize how a character might have a different sounding voice or when my character is using a different tone than usual and I can’t seem to find any other way to convey it. For example, “If you ever do that again…” Mike’s tone rumbled from the lowest octave. Another example, “So, what’cha up to?” Jake’s voice was naturally gruff, but there was a friendliness to his tone. Here is a link I found on other ways to describe a tone of voice – http://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/thesaurus-category/american/words-used-to-describe-someone-s-voice

If you have any other ideas on how to write unique character voices or to show who is speaking in your story, please comment below.

Writing a Book for NaNoWriMo

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , on October 30, 2016 by Dawn Ross
NaNoWriMo 2016

November is National Novel Writing Month @NaNoWriMo, nanowrimo.org

Do you have an idea for a book in your head but just haven’t sat down and written yet? The prospect of writing a novel can certainly be daunting. Where do you start? How do you find the time? What if it’s bad? Here’s how NaNoWriMo can help.

What is NaNoWriMo?

November is National Novel Writing Month @NaNoWriMo, nanowrimo.org. It is a non-profit organization set up to encourage new writers to write. Signing up is easy. And it also helps you find writing groups in your area who can help give you encouragement.

Where to Start

There are two types of writers. There are planners and there are those who just write by the seat of their pants, aka pantsers. I am a planner. I have my book entire mapped out and know exactly where I’m going to start on November 1st. If you’re just now thinking about NaNoWriMo, then it may be a little late to plan. But that’s okay. Surprising things can happen with your characters when you wing it. And believe it or not, a lot of writers write this way. So don’t let the fact that you don’t have a plan stop you.

How to Find the Time

This can be a tough one, especially if you’re trying to juggle work, school, kids, home, and whatever else comes up in your life. Joining NaNoWriMo.org and finding a writing group in your area can help. They often meet for what is called write-ins where everyone sits together and writes. Having like-minded people around you can not only provide encouragement but can also make you feel accountable. Write during your lunch break. Get an app on your phone so you can write while waiting in lines. Ask your family to give you time. Find time after the kids are in bed. These are just a few ideas. You can do it! 50,000 words is 1,667 words a day, which is less than a chapter a day!

Don’t Worry About Quality

November is just about writing. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, prose, plot holes, boring parts, or anything else. Just write! Some NaNo writers have been known to get halfway through a story and realize they hate how it’s turning out so they start over. But they start over with another story. They don’t start over with their word count! Anything you write when writing your novel counts towards your 50,000 word count. Don’t cheat and write nonsense. But just write it and worry about fixing the story and editing it later. The most important thing in November is to write 50,000 words for your novel.

About Me

November 2015 was the first time I joined NaNoWriMo and it was the best thing I ever did. I wrote Book Two of the Kavakian Empire that month. No, it’s not published yet. I’m still working in fixing Book One so I can make it good enough for publishing. This November, I’ll be taking a break from fixing Book One so that I can write Book Three of the Kavakian Empire: Warrior Outcast. Find me on NaNoWriMo by searching author dawnross, all one word, all lower case.

To finish writing a novel is a very satisfying experience. Trust me. I know. So just sit down and write and you can finally get that story out of your head and on paper. Write it in November and then spend the rest of the year perfecting it for publishing. You never know, you just might be the next best-selling author!

p.s. I may or may not post what I write in November. But I will try to post something.

Rewriting the First Chapter of StarFire Dragons Novel

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 1 - Revised, The Dragon Spawn Chronicles, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2016 by Dawn Ross

Serpent Spaceship

As you may know from my previous post, I am getting conflicting feedback on the first chapter of my sci-fi novel. Many of my beta readers liked how it just jumped into the action. These beta readers were regular readers. They weren’t writers or writing experts. When I did submit my first few chapters to someone considered as a writing expert, I was told that I needed to ground my character in his normal world first and give the readers a chance to get attached to him. So which is correct? A writing expert can’t be ignored, but neither can the genre of science fiction readers.

I’ve been doing some research. Here is a site that I found the most helpful – 6 Ways to Hook Your Reader From the Very First Line. Of the four things this helpful writer’s article says they find the most annoying in the first chapter, I committed two of them. I started with dialog and I introduced too many characters at once.

One of the six things this article suggested I do to hook the reader was to begin at a pivotal moment. This seems to conflict with the writing expert’s feedback I received. How can I possibly start with a pivotal moment if I’m taking time to ground my character in a normal world?

This article on hooking the reader has other suggestions that might help. I could make the reader wonder, I can create an interesting picture, I can introduce an intriguing character, I could start with an unusual situation, and/or I could begin with a compelling narrative voice. Let’s visit each of these options.

Make Your Reader Wonder

I think chapter 1 does a good job of making the reader wonder. Why are the Tredons running from a race of scavengers? What will J.D. find on the planet?

Create an Interesting Picture

I was told by many of my beta readers that this story has the feel of Star Trek. While many sci-fi readers probably love Star Trek, is this what I want? Perhaps I should try to create a world that is at least a little different from Star Trek. But how can I make it interesting? I’m at a bit of a loss here. Really, the only thing I can think of is to make the history a little different and focus more on the characters.

To make the history a little different, I took into consideration other feedback about how I used too many Earth terms in my story. Everyone in my story is human. Earth became uninhabitable many centuries ago. The human race traveled to other worlds, terraformed them, and started over. Starting over took time. Over many more centuries, the populations on these planets grew and the people evolved (or in some cases, devolved). Although space travel had been known in the past, they did not travel during this period. It wasn’t until they were fully developed again that they began to explore and seek one another out. That’s where the Prontaean Alliance comes in.

Of course, I won’t explain all this in the first chapter. But I will hint at it.

Introduce an Intriguing Character

One of my beta readers told me that Jori is the best developed character in the entire novel and that everyone else falls short. I’ve known this and I’ve been trying really hard to make J.D. just as interesting as Jori. I did this by adding his insecurity about his new position as commander because of the Kimpke incident. However, this seems to have made him weak-minded and not very compelling. I’m still brainstorming about this.

Start with an Unusual Situation

I think I’m on the right track with this one. I’ve got the reader wondering why the Tredons are running from a race of scavengers. But I think I need to enhance it a bit more. J.D. is wondering this, but I need to put more feeling into it.

Begin with a Compelling Narrative Voice

I rewrote the first chapter at one time to set the scene. I used a lot of flowery words. But a compelling narrative voice doesn’t just mean using flowery words. Since my story is written in close-third, the narrator is J.D. and J.D. isn’t a man of pretty words. So somehow, I have to catch the reader’s attention through J.D.’s voice.

Begin at a Pivotal Moment

This story isn’t just about how J.D. and Jori evolve from being enemies to being friends. It is also about how J.D. learns to fit in his role as commander. So my pivotal moment doesn’t have to be about how J.D. and Jori first meet. It can begin with J.D. feeling out of place.

Now that I have all this information, I’m going to try and tie it all together when rewriting the first chapter. I won’t start with dialogue. I’ll only introduce a few characters rather than several at once. I’ll try to create an interesting picture with J.D. being more intriguing with a compelling narrative voice. And I will try to make the pivotal moment be more character driven rather than action driven.

Stay tuned! I will try to get the first chapter rewrite for my novel posted next week. In the meantime, feel free to comment with your ideas on how I can make this story better.