Tag Archives: Nichole

A Reader, First

By Nichole Jarnagin

I think every writer remembers books from their childhood that were life altering; books that made us love reading, long before we ever became writers. Let me start by saying I’m probably the odd-ball here. As a child, I didn’t immediately love reading. I was active (probably hyperactive) and I had far better things to do than to SIT STILL and read a book. Yet somehow, a handful of books made it past my limited attention span and pickiness in general. In particular, three books changed my life. They had such a profound influence on me as a reader that I’ve never forgotten them. I still love them. In fact, I bought used copies off of Amazon with the exact same covers—just like the ones I used to have.

I NEEDED to eat cinnamon toast every time I read The Trouble with Miss Switch by Barbara Wallace Brooks. I yearned to scientifically prove that my teacher was secretly a witch. I was enthralled and maybe even jealous of Rupert P. Brown’s science experiments, his eggshell collection, his methodical deductions and his talking guinea pigs.

Like Lorna and Jamie, I too dreamed of living in a farmhouse called Windy Hill (The Ghost of Windy Hill by Clyde Robert Bulla) with its six bedrooms, a springhouse and a tower for spying. I wanted to toss coins to Bruno who begged on the side of the road and I was afraid of his mean father. I loved being scared—just enough—wondering who or what the ghost might be.

Whenever I’d read The Boy Who Saw Bigfoot (Marian T. Place) I’d wish for my own Bigfoot sighting. I’d get lost in the Washington woods, hiking and fishing with a woman named Sara Brown who wore flannel shirts and loved her foster kid, Joey.

While these books are somewhat obscure and pretty darn old (and more than likely came from a garage sale) they are part of me. As a writer, I think I revert to those things that originally intrigued me as a reader—mystery, humor, adventure, believing good would prevail. And even though it’s silly, every once in a while when I crave that time in my life when things were simpler, I reread one of my favorites and remember how good it felt to be nine.

What books from your childhood have left an imprint on you? How have they impacted you as a writer?

How Music Can Improve Your Writing, Part 3

By Nichole Roundy Jarnigan

The brain emits four types of waves: Delta, Theta, Alpha, and Beta. Your state of consciousness determines the phase you are in. For example, when you’re in that unconscious state of deep sleep you are emitting delta waves. Theta waves occur during periods of deeper sleep and meditation.

Our normal day to day routines are governed by beta waves. It’s our logical, rational, “left brain” thinking that gets stuff done. Beta brain has an important role in writing— forming an outline, revising, correcting grammar and punctuation. Think of it as that pesky internal editor.

Of particular interest to we as writers are alpha waves—those associated with creativity, intuition, and those “aha” moments. It occurs during that initial phase of writing where you rely on a flow of ideas such as brainstorming, free writing, or getting down that first draft. Part three of my music series focuses on cuing our brains to switch from beta state alpha mode.

Classical music, Baroque in particular, induces what’s called Alpha State. When alpha waves are stimulated on both the left and right hemispheres, it allows you to access both intellect and creativity at the same time. In other words, by luring your brain into a state of relaxation you get the best of both worlds.

If you find writing while listening to music distracting, try listening beforehand. The tempo will slow down those crazy, busy brain waves and put you in a writing state of mind. What I like about this method is there’s really nothing you have to do because it happens subconsciously. It’s working smarter, not harder.

How Music Can Improve Your Writing Part II- Creating a Playlist to Influence Mood and Tone

By Nichole Roundy Jarnagin

It’s no secret that music can evoke strong feelings. Movie producers use this technique all the time. In battle scenes, notice how the music rises and falls to match the intensity of the fight. Horror flicks are ten times worse than they really are simply because the music crawls up your spine one creepy chord at a time, cueing you that something horrible is about to happen. And the movie Jaws? Two notes, people!

Music can literally get a physical response out of you. Unlike a movie, your book probably won’t come with a soundtrack. Dang. But you can (and should!) use music to create powerful emotions while you write, which will come through on the page. This part of my series focuses on how music can help you do that.

Orion is the 17 year old male siren in my current WIP. He’s bitter and jaded, a loner. To help me get inside his head I have to think like him, feel what he feels, and view the world as he sees it.

So how do I (a middle-aged mother who lives in the Utah “bubble”) channel my inner 17 year old male siren? Easy: The Veer Union, Breaking Benjamin, Anberlin.

The best way I’ve found to “become” my character is to create a playlist of songs that mirror him or his mood in the scene I’m working on. Whether it’s the tune or the lyrics, I find songs that my character can relate to. I listen to the playlist while I write to evoke the thoughts/feelings/mood of my character so what I write feels authentic. It helps me stay inside his head and keeps the voice consistent.

If you find it distracting to write while music is playing, try taking a moment beforehand to meditate and listen to the playlist you’ve created. Really allow yourself to get inside the head (and heart) of your character. Use the music to your advantage— squeeze out every ounce of emotion; resentment, bitterness, loneliness, desperation, etc. When you find yourself lost in those thoughts, start writing.

I like to have a playlist for every major character in my book. Also, I find it helpful to create a playlist for specific scenes—action sequences, battle scenes, romantic interludes, etc. It provides inspiration and keeps me grounded to the scene.

Here’s one of the playlists I use when writing Orion’s POV. Word of caution, while there are no explicit lyrics (I’m pretty sure), this playlist is not for the faint of heart.

How Music Can Improve Your Writing—A Three Part Series

By Nichole Roundy Jarnagin

Part I – Learning From Songwriters and Lyricists.

Have you ever got into your car, turned on the radio, and ended up at your destination but don’t remember how you got there? Sometimes I find myself so caught up in the “story” of a song, it takes me to another place entirely. So how does this pertain to us, as writers?

Songs are amazing if you think about it. The average song is only 2-3 minutes long. Each detail revealed—or NOT revealed—is critical. Not a single word can afford to be wasted. A songwriter does in five stanzas what a novelist does in three hundred pages. When this hit me, I realized I could learn a thing or two about writing by studying song lyrics. Granted, not all songs tell a story, but the ones that do are worth your time and attention.

Here’s a great example. Prince has a song called Raspberry Beret (1985) . . . moment of awkward silence while you laugh and make fun of me. Okay, moving on. Prince has a song called Raspberry Beret that is basically brilliant from a storytelling standpoint. Let me quote the first two stanzas.

“Seems that I was busy doing something close to nothing
But different than the day before
That’s when I saw her, ooh, I saw her
She walked in through the out door, out door

She wore a
Raspberry beret
The kind you find in a second hand store
Raspberry beret
And if it was warm she wouldn’t wear much more”

This short segment of lyrics reveals a plethora of information about these two characters. We’re going to focus on the female, dissecting it line by line. Here’s what we learn:

“She walks in through the out door.” This is the kind of girl who defies rules and social expectations. Does she do it for attention or because she’s a rebel? Or maybe she’s lazy and the “out” door was closer. Regardless of her exact motivation, the simple act of her entering through the “out” door is revealing.

“She wore a raspberry beret.” Why would she choose a beret? You wear a baseball cap to keep the sun out of your eyes or to support your favorite sports team. You wear a beanie to stay warm. So why did she choose a beret and a raspberry one at that? What does this say about her? Is she eccentric? Is she attention-seeking? Maybe both. I get the feeling she’s her own person. She knows who she is right down to her toenails and she isn’t afraid to show it.

“The kind you find in a secondhand store.” If I remember correctly — and I do — it wasn’t super cool to thrift shop in the 80s. Maybe the beret was a little shabby looking. Or maybe it was just barely out of style, enough to make it a fashion faux pas. This detail shows us she doesn’t care what anyone thinks. She’s fearless. Rock that D.I. beret, Prince girl!

“And if it was warm she wouldn’t wear much more.” This line adds impact to what has already been established. She’s a free-spirited, slightly rebellious but self assured girl who isn’t afraid. She’s exposed, open, yet vulnerable. It leaves us wondering what’s in store for these two.

Listen to the song in its entirety to get to know these two characters better. They are a book in and of themselves.

When dissecting lyrics I try to pay attention to what’s IMPLIED as well as what’s stated. Sometimes you can convey meaning in fewer words by using this method. Here’s an example from a Diamond Rio song called, Two Pump Texaco.

“He was wipin’ motor oil off her dipstick
She was pullin’ on the hair that got caught in her lipstick
And with the smell of her perfume he forgot the smell of gasoline
As he was toppin’ off her tank she said, “How far to Abilene?”

He sees ’em come
He sees ’em go
From the island of his
Two pump Texaco”

Here are some details I see, even though these things are never directly stated:

• It’s a small town in the middle of nowhere (two-pumps as opposed to six)
• The gas attendant is thoughtful—pondering the comings and goings of the people he services (It’s from his POV)
• He’s a dreamer (he lets her perfume distract him as an escape)
• She’s driving a convertible, or at least her window is down (hair caught in lipstick).
• It’s a nice day outside (again, convertible or window down)
• She’s beautiful (wearing lipstick and perfume)
• She’s wealthy (convertible and she’s using full service gas station)
• They’re in Texas (otherwise she would have said “How far to Abilene, Texas” and not just “How far to Abilene?”)
• She has blond hair. Okay, I totally made that one up but you get the idea.

Using only select words, the songwriter has painted a picture in your head, and yet you filled in most of the details yourself. Notice how the songwriter never mentioned one word about the weather and yet we can see as plain as day it’s not raining or snowing or gusting wind. Therefore, we can picture blue, sunny, skies.

As writers we need to pick and choose what to say and what to withhold. I firmly believe what you withhold is as critical as what you reveal. Just know you’re reasons for doing so.

What are some of your favorite lyrics or songwriters? (Sting is my absolute favorite — he’s a great writer.) What songs or songwriters have inspired your writing? How do you personally translate their techniques into your writing?

The next two segments will focus on creating a playlist to inspire mood/tone in your novel and using music to stimulate your own alpha brain waves to be more creative.

Looking Back and Moving Forward – Another New Year for the Writing Snippets Crew

Hello wonderful followers! This post marks the two year anniversary of Writing Snippets. We’ve gone through lots of changes in these two short years, and we’d like to send a hearty THANK YOU to anyone who was along for the whole ride, and an equally hearty THANK YOU to anyone who hopped on board more recently. We love you all!

In the new year, due to time restraints and logistics, we’ll be spending more time blogging and less time podcasting. We hope you’ll enjoy our written words as much as you’ve enjoyed our spoken words.

As this anniversary passes and a new year begins, members of our crew are looking back over what they’ve learned this past year and what lies ahead for them. Here are their thoughts – please share your own in the comments.

Ava Mylne

I think the single thing I have learned this year about writing is that there is no single thing I need to improve on. But my biggest lesson is this: I have more to learn than I have learned in the past, and I know when I have learned everything I think I need to learn right now, that I will have miles more to go. I want to start learning how to logically follow a story, so that I can find plot holes and character inconsistencies — big picture problems — that I haven’t been able to see before.

I think it odd that when we are learning to write, most of us focus first on grammar and punctuation; but grammar and punctuation are the last things to be fixed in a serious edit. If you fixed the grammar first, you would have to fix it again with every subsequent edit. Why torture yourself? I want my stories, my characters, my thoughts, to live and breathe in book form. That means I have to perfect the characters and the story before I perfect the words that create them. It feels backwards somehow.

I can read your thoughts. You’re thinking, “Good luck with that perfection thing.”

Oh, well. I’ll never get there in this life, but think of everything I’ll learn along the way.

Alice Beesley

What I’ve learned in the last year:

Some of the things I’ve learned this year are how to plot a novel. I was more of a pantser to begin with but I’ve found that I end up having to do too many revisions that way and I’m not a super fast writer so it takes too long. I tried several plotting worksheets I found on line and they’ve helped me do loose outlines of my stories. I also started doing character sketches to help me get to know and develop my characters better since that’s one of the things I struggle with and it’s made a difference. For me character development usually comes last after I’ve got my plot and story figured out and have done several revisions. Emotion is another thing I’ve worked hard to portray in my stories this year and I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of it and be able to incorporate that more into my stories.

Writing goals for 2013:

Publish a novel and find an agent. I have two novels out with editors who have expressed and interest in them. I’m doing a revision on one of the novels, and I’m going to start querying agents for another one. I’m having a third novel critiqued by our writer’s group and some other writers I trade books with. After that I’ll do more revisions on it, then I’ll query agents with it. I also plan to plot out and write sequels for two of my novels.

Jocelyn Nash Carlin

The biggest lesson that I’ve learned this year is that I don’t function well as a writer unless I have a structure – and after having a baby a year and a half ago, my structure completely fell apart. If I don’t have a fixed writing schedule and goal, the work doesn’t happen. If I don’t have an outline, the work is three times as hard. That novel I wanted to have finalized by Christmas 2011? Still not done. Why? Because I wrote it by the seat of my pants. Every time I go to work on more edits, I curse myself for not outlining beforehand.

I’ve also learned that I enjoy writing short fiction from time to time. I’ve completed several short stories this year, which are making their way through the rounds of submission to various publications and contests. Writing them was a wonderful palette-cleanser from my endless novel edits.

In this new year I’m working with my spouse and children to get back on a fixed writing schedule that works for the whole family, and that the whole family will respect. I plan on trying my hand at more short fiction, redoubling my efforts at submitting regularly, and outlining my next novel before diving in too deep.

My only measure of success will be: Am I happy with what I write? Sometimes, after writing slumps, that’s the goal that matters the most.

Lillian Banks

Lilly decided to share her thoughts in a vlog:

Nichole Jarnagin

In 2012 I learned a valuable lesson — or at least that’s when it finally sank in. The concept is this: From the very first page you set up an expectation for your reader, a promise, and it’s a promise you must keep.

For example, if you’ve written a blossoming romance set in regency England, you can’t introduce aliens in chapter five. Okay, that’s a big jump but you get the point. In the case of my work in progress, I was aiming for a YA paranormal romance but in trying to add depth to my characters, I’d inadvertently written a gritty contemporary. The “issues” my main character struggled with were distracting and prevented the story from moving forward. I’d mislead my readers, switching the focus entirely. Readers couldn’t get past my main character binge drinking and cutting herself to focus on the important parts of the story — the discovery of a gorgeous male siren. Forehead slap. I had taken my story in the wrong direction because I failed to keep the promise I’d made. The good news. Once you’ve grasped this concept and stop fighting against it, it’s much easier to delve into your story and take it where it needs to go.

In light of the New Year my writing goals for 2013 are as follows:

1. Schedule and honor time to write as follows: every other Tuesday and Thursday from 9:00am -noon. Every Friday from 7:00am- 10:00am OR 10:00am-1:00.
2. Edit and polish Allure by March 15th
3. Submit query letter to dream agent C.D. by March 30th
4. Research and compose list of backup dream agents just in case 😉

Now you’ve seen our New Year’s thoughts – don’t forget to share yours in the comments!

Raising the Stakes

Once you’ve finished writing a scene it’s important to ask yourself: How do I take it to the next level? How can I take the tension up a notch? Your craft can always be improved and finding a way to raise the stakes is worth exploring.

Character and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card, identifies several things you can do to raise the reader’s emotions.

1. Suffering — Pain, either physical or emotional

“The most powerful uses of physical and emotional pain are somewhere between the trivial and the unbearable.”

When the suffering isn’t great enough, the reader isn’t emotionally invested. When the suffering is too great in fiction, the reader withdraws, unable to cope. Fictional pain CAN be too difficult to bear and a reader can only stand so much before he withdraws and put the book down—permanently. Finding that balance is key.

“Suffering loses effectiveness with repetition.” Too much can lose its impact and/or be interpreted as whining. No one wants to read about a whiner. Card recommends leaving out sobbing, moaning, and too much gore for that very reason.

“If your characters cry, your reader wont’ have to; if your characters have good reason to cry and don’t, your readers will do the weeping.” And that my friends, is a golden nugget. Write it down.

2. Sacrifice

Agony which a character INFLICTS ON HIMSELF can make a scene utterly unforgettable. This means that random things aren’t only happening to a character, but he is making CHOICES based on what’s happening. Having a character choose between something good and something better (or the opposite) is a powerful tool, especially when he is losing something because of his choices. I see this a lot. Things are happening but the main character is not making choices about them. Everything is just happening TO him, not because of him or in spite of him. It’s frustrating. To care about a character we have to see them make difficult choices and we have to see the consequences—good and bad.

“Sacrifice, in other words — is far more intense than pain alone.”

3. Jeopardy

Jeopardy is anticipated pain or loss. Sometimes the ANTICIPATION is more potent than the actual pain or loss. The dentist is a prime example.
“When a character is threatened with something bad, the audience focuses on him. The more helpless the character and the more terrible the danger, the more importance the audience will attach to the character.”

I like that quote but I think I would have replaced the word “helpless” with “vulnerable.” Regardless, that quote illustrates the importance of proper pacing, building the tension, adding obstacles, making your character more vulnerable in order to increase the threat and possible loss.

I love Dan Brown and in my opinion he’s an expert at jeopardy. In The Lost Symbol, many of his characters experienced unbearable physical pain (a hand being cut off, drowning, a woman left to die by having her blood drained) and yet they all had something greater to lose.

4. Sexual Tension

“Sexual tension is related to jeopardy. In fact, you could call it “jeopardy of sex.””

An audience loves to root for two characters that have romantic potential. Card recommends making them “equals” whether it be in attractiveness, talents, social position, etc. It needs to be a good match. Think Peta and Katniss in Hunger Games. At first they were unequal on many levels—economic status, looks, physical capabilities—and yet Suzanne Collins found a way to make them equals, endearing one to the other. They made a good team.

Now the tough part. Once characters come together sexually, the tension part is over.

“Sexual tension intensifies the audience’s involvement with all characters involved. However, as several TV series have discovered to their sorrow, tension dissipates when characters come together in sexual harmony.”

This will be your call and I’ve seen it done both ways. I will admit I’ve read a 600 page book waiting for two characters to finally have sex already, and they never did. I sort of felt cheated, but honestly if they’d succumbed on page 32 I would have stopped there. Minus the sexual tension, it wasn’t that good of a book. This illustrates how sexual tension can pull readers forward.

5. Signs and Portents

“Another way to increase the reader’s intensity is to connect a character with the world around her, so that her fate is seen to have much wider consequences than her private loss or gain.”

I like to think of this as the universe either working towards or against your character, often in physical ways. Your character is trying to flee from her captor and it starts raining, making her mountainous climb treacherous. Card uses the arc of the covenant in Raiders of the Lost Arc as an example — its opening unleashes the power and wrath of God to the unworthy, demonstrating there are other forces at work.

“Even when you’re trying for more subtlety, however, signs and portents are still vital tools in drawing your reader more intensely into the tale. You simply disguise the cosmic connections a little better. The great storm becomes a gentle drizzle; the flaming sky becomes a sweltering day; the roll of thunder becomes a distant siren in the city; the famine becomes the wilting of a flower in the window.”

Quotes taken from Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. This is a great book by the way; a wealth of usable information.

by Nichole Jarnagin

Writing Prompt: Spicy with a chance of indigestion.

Bullying. We hear a lot about it. We’re all against it. And more than likely, most of us participate in it. Me? Not me. I’m educated. I’m civilized. I’m a good person! And yet . . . if you’re being completely honest with yourself, you may just be a bully. Even on a minor scale.

In this exercise we’re going to downplay the act of “bullying” and call it “social conditioning.” Now before you start sending me hate mail, let me state my official opinion: I am strongly opposed to bullying. I don’t know how I made it to the ripe old age of . . . ahem, 25 (hehe) without the safety and protection of the anti-bullying bubble. HOWEVER, somehow I survived the isolated incidences that might have been considered bullying by today’s standards. Back then we called it . . . wait, we didn’t call it anything. We just had to deal with it.

“Social conditioning” is a necessary part of life. Whether we like it or not, it ensures people conform to social norms. Rules. Expectations. Standards. You want to go a week without bathing? Too bad. You WILL get shunned. You want to monopolize every conversation by bragging about all your accomplishments? Go ahead. You WILL be loathed. You want to wear a suit made out of fur? Real fur? You MAY instigate a demonstration. Sure, all you really want is to “be yourself.” That would be nice, wouldn’t it? But the truth of the matter is, without social conditioning there would be way too many freaky people out there.

Your job: Take the stance I’ve just developed and run with it. Put your protagonist in a difficult situation and force him to face and/or reveal his tolerance, his support of “social conditioning” —through action and dialog, of course.

Done? Surprised? I thought so.

By Nichole Jarnagin

Writing Snippets Episode Four: Writer’s Block

Join today’s hosts, Jocelyn, Lilly, Ava, Lauren, Alice, and Nichole as we discuss Writer’s Block.

Writing Snippets Episode Two: Writer’s Groups

Join your hosts, Alice, Ava, Elissa, Jocelyn, Lauren, Lilly and Nichole as we discuss Writer’s Groups. Have you ever thought about starting, or joining a writers group? Listen as we share our experience with writer’s groups, what works and what doesn’t and how our  writer’s group evolved into the manuscript-making machine it is now- with a lot of laughter along the way. Write in the comments section below your Writer’s Group stories, the good, the bad, and THE ugly, and what has worked for you.

****Leave a comment about your New Years Writing Resolutions to be entered in the drawing to win a Writer’s Digest Writing Planner. The winner will be announced on Monday, Jan. 31st.

Writing Snippets Episode One: Writer New Year’s Resolutions

Welcome to Writing Snippets!
Join your hosts Alice, Ava, Jocelyn, Lauren, Lilly, and Nichole in our first podcast as we discuss our Writing New Year’s Resolutions. We will explore why resolutions haven’t worked in the past, and tips on how we can succeed. Write your own resolutions in the comments below and add them to ours. We will track them throughout the year as we go on the 2011 journey together. And as always, no words were harmed in the making of this podcast.
Writer New Year’s Resolutions


****Leave a comment about your New Years Writing Resolutions to be entered in the drawing to win a Writer’s Digest Writing Planner. The winner will be announced on Monday, Jan. 31st.