September 14th, 2018

4 Easy Edits That Make Your Story Flow Better

As a copy editor, I’ve learned a lot about improving the flow of my own writing as I’ve tweaked the manuscripts of others. Today I want to share five easy edits you can make yourself that invite the reader deeper into the story and provide the impact you want to have.

1. Eliminate crutch words.

Crutch words are words we lean on too much in our writing — used when unnecessary, repeated too often, diluting the point. Like many definitions, it’s easier to understand when you see examples. Here are a few: just, so, definitely, really, very, suddenly, and (at the beginning of sentences), smiled, shrugged, knew, saw, heard.

Adverbs are most often the culprits, but you might wonder what’s bad about knew, saw, and heard. Nothing is wrong with any of these words used well, but we tend to misuse or overuse them. It’s a crutch when you write, “I knew I was going to be in trouble,” when “I was going to be in trouble” is the same thing and a deeper point of view (POV) anyway. The same is true with saw and heard. If a POV character says a bell tolled, we know they heard it.

Bonus thought: Curse words can easily become crutch words too. Make sure you treat each like you would other words; that is, imagine substituting another common word in its place. If it feels overly repetitive, you have too many instances of that curse word — it’s become a crutch and can interrupt the flow of the read.

2. Finish strong with sentences and paragraphs.

Way back when I was in college, I learned about the recency effect. Psychologists have shown that we remember what we heard or write mostly recently better than what’s in the beginning and especially the middle. For this reason, deleting or moving around a few words in a sentence can make a real difference in the impact they have on a reader.

Let’s take a quick example. Which do you think would have the recency effect a writer desires?

“No one seemed to know if the spell had any real power in it.”

“No one seemed to know if the spell had any real power.”

“In it” doesn’t finish strong the way “power” does. Ditching those two words can give the sentence the impact it deserves. Here’s another example, with moving words around:

“As I stared at the knife raised above my heart, regret was my strongest emotion.”

“As I stared at the knife raised above my heart, my strongest emotion was regret.”

The second clearly lets the word regret linger in the reader’s mind. Look for places where removing a few words or moving them around draws attention to the words you want to echo in the reader’s mind.

3. Substitute action or description for he said/she said.

“I loved him like a brother,” she said. She placed a rose on his grave and wiped away a tear.

Why is she said included? A dialogue is needed to tell us who’s talking, but in this case, the next sentence gives that information. The action fills in that information, so that she said can get nixed and nothing’s lost:

“I loved him like a brother.” She placed a rose on his grave and wiped away a tear.

Sometimes you’ll have a double-hit like the example above, but other times a writer has missed an opportunity to give more information about a character by using he said/she said instead of describing their body language, vocal tone, actions, or appearance. Just compare the strength of these two options:

“I loved him too,” he said. “Or I did until he backstabbed me.”

“I loved him too.” He clutched his rose tight to his chest, crushing its petals with his grip. “Or I did until he backstabbed me.”

Door number two, anyone? Simply run a manuscript-wide search for those he said/she saids and see if you want to make any deletions or substitutions.

4. Break up some paragraphs.

When I edit my own books, one run-through always involves putting the book on my e-reader so that I can see it the way a reader would. The prose appears very different in this format than on a computer screen, and it’s easier to see large, clunky paragraphs that need to be broken up.

Your book needs white space — that is, areas without text — to prevent the reader from being overwhelmed with the busyness of the page. Without sufficient white space, reading a book can feel like searching for Waldo; your brain gets overwhelmed.

What’s the right size for paragraphs? It depends. What genre do you write? Historical will have longer paragraphs than thrillers. What’s happening on the page? Description tends to have longer paragraphs than dialogue. Who’s talking? An erudite POV character will have longer chunks of thought than a street thug. So you have to make that call.

Regardless, make sure no page is so overwhelmed with text that it’s difficult for the reader’s eyes to focus.

With so much of writing a book being hard, it’s nice to learn about some easy ideas for improving the flow of your story. These four easy fixes can help you achieve the impact you want to have on the reader.

What other easy edits do you suggest for making a story better?

ABOUT JULIE

Julie Glover writes mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.

Julie is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. You can visit her website here and also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

September 12th, 2018

WITS Top 20: Tools for Writers at Every Level

Top 20 List

I was looking up some stuff on the back end of Writers In the Storm the other day and it kind of blew my mind. As I scoped out traffic and posts and fixed old links, the walk down Memory Lane made me nostalgic.

Here’s what I learned about WITS.

We’ve been around since May 2010, which was kind of a shock to me — this blog is the same age as my daughter! We’ve had some changes to our team, our site and content since then, but what hasn’t changed is how much we enjoy our readers and our contributors.

We do this labor of love because:

  • We all love to give back to other writers.
  • We learn from the contributors and from each other.
  • We have so much fun with the readers down in the comments section.

Below are our top 20 posts of all time. Strangely, they fall into three categories: getting published, writing craft and practical tips. Enjoy!

Publishing Your Story

Submission Tip Checklist: Double-Check These 16 Things Before Sending Your Book Out

The Ultimate Writers’ Guide to Twitter Pitch Contests

How to Pitch Your Self-Published Book to an Agent

Genres Explained: Insights, Tips and Definitions From Literary Agents

14 Agents Seeking Science Fiction Novels NOW

13 Agents Seeking Southern Fiction NOW

4 Ways Besides Query Letters You Can Contact Literary Agents

Exclusive Requests From Literary Agents—What Are They and How Do They Work?

 

The Craft of Writing

Diving Deep into Deep Point of View

10 Tips to Writing from Multiple POVs

5 Techniques for Amazing Internal Dialogue

What Type of Secret Does Your Character Keep?

Let’s Get Down To It—Writing the Sex Scene

Sexual Tension: It’s all in your head

Writing About Hair: The Thick and Thin of Descriptions

Are Your Characters Stylin’? Descriptive Fashion Phrases and Terms

 

Practical Tips for Writers

Five Comparisons NOT to Make for Your Book

Organize Your Novel With Excel

Top 10 Scrivener Features for Writers

The 12 Best Hashtags for Writers

 

How long have you been with us here at Writers In the Storm? Do you remember what got you here, or what post/contributor/topic has stood out as your favorite? Please share with us down in the comments!

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About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for small businesses. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or here at Writers In The Storm.

September 10th, 2018

Have You Lost Touch With Your Avid Inner Reader?

Writing on Paper

From our earliest moments, most writers are avid readers. We devour books — for story, for craft, for new worlds and new ideas.

I don’t know if we become students of the written word because we love to read or if we read because we were born to love the written word. All that chicken-and-egg Zen is well beyond me.

Every writer I know just flat-out loves books. You might even describe us as “obsessed with the printed word.”

And then we write for a while…and our thoughts about books change.

Suddenly, great story is not enough to sustain our Inner Reader through bad craft. Reading can become a to-do list item. Worse, we don’t feel we have time to read because now we have kids and day jobs and deadlines.

This post is about helping you remember the magic of a great story. To remember that avid Inner Reader who could get through anything life threw at them as long as they spent time each day inside the magic of a story.

Here are ten things I know about your Inner Reader that you might have forgotten.

1. You get uncomfortable when you are “bookless.”

If you are stuck somewhere without a book, you will begin reading any words available — shampoo bottles, food labels, billboard signs. Whatever. Books and magazines are preferred, but in a pinch, any words will smooth your soul. (I keep a bag of books in my car trunk for Emergency Booklessness.)

2. You read by flashlight in bed at night when you were a child.

When your person-in-charge confiscated it, you waited 5 minutes before pulling the back-up light from its crafty hidey-hole. If they were on to you and confiscated the back-up, you tilted the pages to try to read by the light from the hall or the glow of the streetlamp outside.

3. When a book touches you, it is a safe bet that you will not only remember the details of that story, characters, etc. You will also remember where you were the first time you read that book and what you were doing that day.

4. Some of your best childhood friends lived inside of books.

I hung out in my head with Jo March from Little Women for hours. I found mischief with Anne of Green Gables. I crept through the wardrobe door to Narnia. I’ll bet if you pondered your early BFF list, at least half of them would be book characters or authors.

5. You have different books for different moods.

These are your go-to books when you’re in the grip of overwhelming emotion. You keep reading through that stash of books until the feeling gets a little more manageable.

6. Piles of free books by your most cherished authors give you that same zing of attraction that you felt the first time you saw your true love.

Yes, that’s Jenny and Laura with NORA!

7. You have a physical reaction when you meet your favorite author(s). 

When you go to a conference or a book events attended by your favorite author(s), they are like celebrities to you and you are delighted when they consent to a selfie with you. Your tongue gets tied in knots. Frogs jump in your belly. Confession: I blush, nearly every time, which is a surprise to everyone who knows me.

8. You have rituals associated with your books.

Whether it’s the way you clean them, sort them, store them or lend them, there is something particular you do with your books. And it makes you feel happy and peaceful when you look at your books after you’ve done it.

(For me, it’s the way I order them and which shelf or room they’re in. My husband knows: don’t be moving my books without telling me, or I will turn into Devil Wife.)

9. You are somewhat touchy about who you loan your books to.

I know that when someone borrows a treasured book from you and doesn’t return it — or worse, passes it on to someone else without asking you first — your friendship with them changes. You’re probably  still their friend, but you’ll either “forget” to loan them books in the future or you buy a copy from the used bookstore as a back-up and loan them that. There is an A-List of book-borrowers in your life, and you love to have coffee with these people.

10. When a book touches your spirit and transports you to a place you’ve never been, it’s not uncommon for you to read the last page, turn the book over, and start at Page 1 to figure out how the author did that.

Stephen King recommends that we never stop reading, both in and out of our genre. Remember the love of words that inspired you to become a writer. That love will help you yank your stories from your heart onto the page.

Here’s hoping your “reading mojo” remains strong!

Do you read differently now that you are a writer? What are your book rituals? Which of the ten “habits” describes you? What is the last book you read that put you in touch with your avid Inner Reader? Please share with us in the comments!

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About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for small businesses. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or here at Writers In The Storm.

September 7th, 2018

What You Can Accomplish with Determination

Orly Konig

This post isn’t about writing. Well, yes but in a roundabout way. Hang with me for a few minutes, and it’ll make more sense.

When I started writing, I didn’t know anything about the industry. Or writing for that matter. The teacher of the workshop I was taking at the time suggested I join a writer’s association. I did. And then I joined another one. And then, because none of those felt right, I helped start a writer’s association. (You can read my post on finding the right fit in a writing organization here).

In two days, that new association turns five! Not only is the Women’s Fiction Writers Association turning 5, it also reached the membership milestone to 1,000 members earlier this year.

I learned a lot about myself from the experience of launching WFWA (you can read about that here). But it’s the members of WFWA that continue to inspire me.

WFWA is a volunteer-run association. Everything that happens is organized and overseen by authors who have to carve out time for writing. Many hold other jobs as well; all have families and outside lives. Each year, new programs are launched, old programs are improved, new volunteers step up, new authors join. But what drives all of the them is the determination to succeed in their writing career.

Photo credit: ©dmitry_dmg

On days when I’m frustrated with sales or reviews or the painful slog up the word-count mountain, I go to the WFWA Facebook group and read some of the posts. From the members who participated in the agent pitch party and received offers of representation, to the posts encouraging members after a painful rejection, to writing advice on any number of topics, the overwhelming desire to help each other blows me away.

Writers, and I don’t care if it’s in the confines of a writer’s association or a Facebook group or a coffee group, are a generous and tenacious breed.

We’ve chosen a hard road, one that’s filled with rejection and desperation, but also accolades and joy. We’ve come together in search of therapy and support, laughter and understanding. And we’ve come together through the sheer determination of wanting to succeed.

I never thought I’d be able to lead a writer’s association, and I had doubts that I’d become a published author. I owe the founding partners and the members of WFWA a huge thank you. Their enthusiasm fueled my determination.

What fuels your determination? What gets you through the doubts? What have you accomplished that you didn’t think possible with the help of your writing community?

About Orly

Orly Konig is an escapee from the corporate world where she spent roughly sixteen years working in the space industry. She is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, a member of the Tall Poppy Writers, and a quarterly contributor to the Writers In The Storm blog.

She’s the author of Carousel Beach (May 2018) and The Distance Home (May 2017).

Connect with Orly online at:

Website: www.orlykonig.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OrlyKonigAuthor/

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/orlykonig/

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/orly-konig

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/orlykonigauthor/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/OrlyKonig

September 5th, 2018

5 Conflict-making Choices Characters Can Make (Part Three)

The final post in this series will explore the ways your characters can be derailed by consumption and comfort. If you missed Part 1, which explored the need for control,  you can read it here. If you missed Part 2, about conceit and coveting, you can find it here. As a reminder, while reading The Five Thieves of Happiness by John Izzo, I wanted to share how his ideas could be applied to my characters to create more conflict in my WIP, hence this series. 

Consumption is about acquiring material things. Consumption powers our economy, makes us want to buy in order to be happy. Consumption puts a price on happiness, setting up an elusive out there. Consumption is at odds with contentment, which is a decision to be at peace, according to Izzo.

How can this affect your characters? 

We throw all kinds of obstacles and twists between the first page and the last. If my main character all of a sudden realized that happiness is a choice, my story would be over. However, the journey to that satisfying point of self-discovery is why readers read our books. If we let them feel our character’s pain, angst, and indecision along the way, they can glimpse how those ideas may work in their own lives. For someone who is not plagued by consumption, they can still enjoy seeing a character work through solving the problems created by believing happiness is just around the next acquisition, whether it is a new car, a new estate, or a new love.

But possessions require a trade—of money, time, relationships, routine. How your characters handle these transactions can bring conflict—or contentment—into their lives. 

In my first book, my male lead character wanted nothing more than to acquire a shipping contract for Earth’s best energy source. He left Earth to travel three months to pitch his proposal. He won the proposal, but then wondered why he wasn’t happy.

In my WIP, he’s back on the planet. His entire life has changed because of his initial desire for that contract. Now he’s going to have to fight for his life, literally, after giving up every credit he’s earned. He’s going to be broke. Flat broke, after living a life of privilege and luxury. And guess what? He’s happy. Because he’s doing what he wants to do. He’s made the choice to pursue his own life.

How did he get there? Over and over, in small ways at first, he chose contentment over consumption. He stopped thinking I will be happy if I get whatever he wanted at the time. He realized that enslavement to things wasn’t making him happy, and that it wasn’t the things that were the problem, it was his relationship to those material things. 

Comfort keeps us stuck in the same routine. It’s like watching TV but not changing the channel to another program because we’d have to get up to retrieve the remote. It’s like we’re on autopilot. That doesn’t move us ahead in life. It doesn’t help us make order of our world. And, as humans, we need to make order from chaos. This snippet from Izzo says it all: Our minds are hardwired for routine but excited by change. 

What a great quote to remember to create conflict for our characters. No wonder females are attracted to the “bad boy.” No wonder we want to leave what happens on vacation, well, there. We crave our daily habits, but we love to shake things up every once in a while. New situations excite us. Historically, new information was important for our survival. “Don’t go into that cave. A bear lives there,” could save our life.

When we’re excited by change, our happiness revolves around those new experiences, resolving new challenges, learning new skills. And that’s exciting. Stories from veterans returning from war support the research that shows many relationships forged in danger deepen faster, are stronger, and last longer than others. 

No wonder bonds are formed quickly in suspense thrillers. We recognize real life and believe people connect more quickly. In romance, real and fiction, extended routine and comfort can damage or kill that romantic spark. But something new, a surprise, an unexpected gift, or a special message breaks the routine and strengthens the romance. 

(An aside from this brain research geek: The more you move out of your routine, say drive your car a different way home from work, the more we engage our brains, we stimulate brain cell growth and activity. Your brain actually grows from new experiences.) 

Can you see the potential for this in a novel? If you want to, spend a few minutes and see how breaking out of your comfort zone has spurred you on to new adventures. Maybe at the time they didn’t seem so exciting or successful. Use your own experience to inform your writing. Infuse your characters with your hard-earned wisdom.

A character’s tendency to keep everything the same, to remain on cruise control, can force her to hang on to old patterns. Patterns that may be unhelpful for her current situation. At this time your character wants to protect her routine, whatever the cost. It’s hard, and scary, to take back the wheel and drive on her own. But that, too, can make for a compelling story.

Show your character struggling with the effort of changing his life, waffling back and forth between the familiar routine and reaching out for the change that will stimulate growth and the happiness to follow.

We all go through periods of comfort and routine, when we consolidate what we’ve learned from new experience and challenges. That’s normal. But at some point, we, like our characters, must break through that comfort and routine for new experiences and new challenges. 

Not all routines are helpful. If your character is mired in a pattern based from childhood neglect or abuse, or a recent relationship issue, those patterns must be broken to establish healthy relationships. Fear of a new way of thinking is normal. There is much possibility for showing emotion and taking your reader on the ride in this scenario.

Comfort can make us feel safe, but surprise brings excitement to our lives. Changing old habits offers the opportunity to to find a way of life that works for us. The same is true for our characters. This is the basis of a character arc.

Your character might decide to try one new thing a week. (Lots of comedy possible in this!) Your character could resist all change that would pull her out of her comfort zone. Your characters can challenge every pattern that no longer works in their current situation. Lots of drama and conflict possibilities with that. 

Between all five thieves of your characters’ happiness, you should be able to inject enough real conflict into your stories to provide your readers with a thrilling experience, no matter your genre.

What thief have you used successfully in your writing?

Which one would you like to add to your WIP or build a new story around?

ABOUT FAE

Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.

Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.

A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard, putting the finishing touches on P.R.I.S.M. Book Two.

P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, lies, and love.

When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com  or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen