Tag Archives: Writing process

Getting Back in the Saddle

Getting back into the writing saddle can be difficult. I just finished a writing break and I found the hardest part about saddling up the writing horse was not getting up and falling off, but that I wouldn’t ride with the skill I once had. I feel writer’s block is more of an emotional issue than a physical problem, and usually that emotion is fear. Fear. I heard this acronym once, and it stuck with me. False Evidence Appearing Real.

In my case, my fear stemmed from a belief that I had lost my writing skills from lack of use. Could I prove that as a fact? No, because I hadn’t tested that theory, I was too scared. Losing my skill felt like it could be real. Haven’t you heard the saying, Use it or Lose it?

Based on that belief system, I am right.

Answer?

Aside from letting go of that belief system and choosing a new one? Preferably the one that states it’s just like riding a bike. In other words, once you get going, it all comes back to you.

Don’t buy into the fear, get writing. Write when were and how you can. Don’t let you stop yourself with excuses. I have heard this one a lot lately, “I don’t have the right equipment.” Go outside, find some dirt, pick up a stick- equipment- and write.

Write for yourself, write to change the world, write for fun, write to get the voices in your head out on paper. Just write!

How do you know if you are improving?

I am here to tell you that the more you write the more you will improve, but not without some sort of feedback. Moms and significant others don’t count. Sorry. They are great for support, but don’t count on them to be completely honest, or even trust them to know the writing business or what they are talking about. And in some cases, they can do more harm then good. One aspiring writer I spoke with gave a worst case scenario where family took her story and tried to make it their own and she lost her voice in the process.

I don’t let my supportive hubby read my work. I bounce ideas and brainstorm with him, and he is great for that, but he is not my critiquing buddy.

Honestly, the best choice I ever made for my writing was joining a writers group. I actually have a hard time reading another aspiring writer if they have never been in a writers group. The difference can be staggering between novice writers that are in a group and a writer that has never dared show another person what they write.

Find a good writers group. Whether locally or online. Try a few of them on until you find the right fit for you.

I am lucky to have an awesome writers group. One where each person actively tries to improve and learn more about the craft and trade. We get together and share our knowledge. We find strengths in each other, and find weaknesses too. I learned by being critiqued what they have an eye for, and I rely on their eye if it is in an area I need improvement.

I’ve learned that anyone can get published, as long as they are trying to improve and they never give up.

Don’t let FEAR ever stop you. Keep writing and keep smiling, and for the record, it is like riding a bike.

By Lillian J. Banks

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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


World, Character, or Plot? Why do you read and write the way you do?

I once participated in a discussion where someone posed the question: why do you read what you read? Do you read for the world, the characters, or the plot?

In the course of discussion, someone suggested that perhaps people who are “world” readers will prefer genres like fantasy and science fiction, people who are “character” readers will prefer more realistic fiction, and people who are “plot” readers will enjoy genres like mysteries, thrillers, and adventure stories.

Obviously this is a flawed look at the nuanced ways people choose their reading material (or other media entertainments). But I think this idea does hold a grain of truth for both what people choose to read, and for what writers choose to write.

In my own entertainment choices, I prefer stories that employ a good blend of world building, character and plot. However, when I examine my favorite books, films and television shows more deeply, I’ve found that I’m willing to forgive shallower or less interesting characters if the world building and plots are really cool. On the other hand, I can also forgive plot-holes, weird time lines, etc. if the characters and world building are really great.

The one thing I have trouble forgiving is shoddy, poorly thought-out world building.

Give me a rich and engaging world, whether it be a fictional small town in America, the supernatural underworld in a big city, or a medieval kingdom filled with monsters and magic and if the characters and plot are at least somewhat engaging, I’m sucked right in.

So that makes me a “world” reader first and foremost. But character is a strong second place—the books, films and shows that I turn back to over and over again inevitably have strong characters to go with their engaging worlds.

So how do these reading preferences influence my writing?

Just as you might guess, I spend a lot of my time as a writer thinking about world building.

I’m curious if this pattern holds true for other writers out there. Do you write like you read? And are you a “world” person, a “character” person, or a “plot” person?


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.