by Jenny Hansen
It's been a while since I posted a "Top Writing Success Tips" post here at WITS. Previously I've offered tips from the likes of Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Maya Angelou. Since I don't think any of us can ever have too much writing wisdom, I've gathered a few stellar tips from a writer I respect a hell of a lot -- Nora Roberts.
Even if you don't read romance, mysteries, or YA (she writes all three), she has tons of wisdom to offer. She is an "Every Damn Day" writer who has earned her place on the bestseller charts with a diligent work ethic that boggles the mind.
Nora Roberts' Top Bits of Writing Wisdom
In an article last spring, titled Here's How I Work, La Nora distilled her writing advice down to these three things (language alert):
Stop making excuses and write.
Stop whining and write.
Stop fucking around and write.
She ended this section with: "I take my own advice." Here are some of my thoughts on her advice.
1. Stop Making Excuses
I am the champ at excuses when it comes to writing, so believe me I am not pointing fingers here. I love that a New York Times bestselling author has such a refreshingly no-nonsense point of view.
We own this. Our writing, our dreams, our stories. We don't always own our time -- we have families and jobs and bills. But we can own our writing. We can give our writing dreams top billing.
Sometimes we simply aren't able to do as much as we'd like. We have kids and parents and jobs that need our focus. Heck, last year every bit of my life force was focused on surviving to this year's January 1. To put it in perspective -- as bad as this pandemic has sucked, it hasn't been as excruciatingly difficult for me as 2019.
This time last year, I told my BFF: "Some years you are the dog, and some years you are the fire hydrant." (Whichever one you are right now, it passes. I promise.)
Last year I didn't write much, by choice. I couldn't bear for the most joyful thing in my life to be tainted by drudgery and depression. This year, my energy (and therefore my writing desire) is back, and I've eased back into the joyful end of the writing pool.
Whether you are the dog or the fire hydrant, whether you are writing scads of pages or none...our writing is a gift and a choice. Own it. Do as much as you are able, without excuses.
2. Stop whining and write.
Nora Roberts works for 6-8 hours on the writing and works out for 90 minutes every day. Although she's more disciplined than the half the writers I meet, there's a lot to be said for routine. Routine can pull a writer through some hard times. Nora prizes her routine but she also credits the Catholic nuns she was schooled by - she says they taught her to just put her head down and do the work.
Our own Laura Drake is similar. Up at the butt-crack of dawn to write, a few hours on Facebook, more time for the online classes she teaches, time with her hubby and early to bed to do it all again.
Setting a routine, and putting your head down to do the work, is a winning combination to finishing books. It also gets you past the scenes when the writing is hard (aka when you want to whine).
As you might know from reading my Bikini Wax Theory of Writing, writing is not always a Disney frolic through the pages for me. I tend to write humorous books with really tough story themes. Tough themes equal tough writing. But those are the stories that come to me, so those are the stories I write.
3. Stop effing around and write.
Many writers are easily distractable. *raises hand* They get caught up on social media, the internet, the laundry pile. There's a lot to be said for just getting your writing done and out of the way first thing in the day.
If your elusive quiet time doesn't happen until the end of the day, you might have to wait until then to get your writing done. I knew one writer who was a full-time newspaper reporter, who finished her entire first book at the lunch table in the courtyard outside her offices.
Let's revisit the "make a routine" advice up above. No matter what time of day your brain clicks into high gear, building a routine around that time. Steven Kotler calls this state "Flow" and defines it as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.”
Figure out your "flow" time, stop dinking around, and write. That linked Kotler article offers many examples of what "flow" looks like, and how to get that state of creativity.
Here are a few more posts I came across in my research:
- 27 Hard-Won Lessons about Writing from New York Times Bestselling Authors
- How Nora Roberts Taught Me To Be More Prolific
- Nora Roberts' Top 7 Tips for Writers and Authors
Which tip resonated with you? What no-nonsense tip keeps you going in your own writing life? Tell us all about it down in the comments!
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By day, Jenny provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.
by Eldred "Bob" Bird
In my last two posts here on WITS I talked in general terms about building your author platform, both online and offline. Today I’m going to dig a little deeper into building a long-term relationship with your readers. This is an important part of succeeding as a writer, but how do we accomplish the task? Like any other relationship it involves a little give and take.
How Does This Give and Take Work?
One key piece of information we ask potential readers to give is an email address. This allows us to keep them up to date on new releases, share our creative process with them via newsletters, and send the occasional promotional mailings. But what can we give them in return for this valuable piece of information?
Like many authors, I’ve been giving readers a free story download in exchange for signing up for my newsletter (I admit I stole this idea from the great James Scott Bell). You might think managing all those download requests will eat up most of your writing time, but the good news is the process can be automated.
I've included the steps below. This small bit of initial setup work will save you a lot time in the long run.
What You Need to Automate the Process
Before we get too deep in the process, you’re going to need to have a few things handy.
A Reader Reward
The first thing you need is something to give your readers. What would make them squeal with joy? Okay, maybe not squeal but you get the idea. Do you have the first chapter of an upcoming book you want to promote? How about a worksheet or tool you can share from a resource? Do you have bios of your characters or an extra scene that may have been cut from your novel?
I usually use stand-alone short stories for my giveaways. It’s a great way to give readers a taste of my voice as a writer. I also suggest saving the file in PDF format rather than EPUB or MOBI. PDF files are more universal and can be viewed on any device the reader may have handy.
A Place to Host Your File
Now that you have something to give to the readers, you’re going to need somewhere in the cloud to store it where it can be easily accessed and distributed. There are many cloud storage providers out there, but Google Docs is probably the simplest solution. I have a specific folder where I upload and store giveaway files. This helps keep things neat and tidy and makes getting the download links a snap.
A Way to Collect Addresses
You’re also going to need a way to collect and manage the email addresses you receive. You’ll also be using this same application to automate the delivery of your file. Two of the most popular solutions are Mailchimp and MailerLite. Both are free up to a certain number of subscribers, and both offer delivery automation. I’ve found MailerLite to be the most flexible and robust at the free level, and a good fit for most authors, but do your research and decide what works best for you as you scale up and move toward achieving you ultimate goal as a writer.
Putting it All Together
Okay, you’ve got your giveaway file uploaded to cloud storage and your mail management account is setup and ready to go. What next?
Create a Signup Form
The first thing you will need to do in your mail management account is create a signup form. Most sites have a wizard to accomplish this or predesigned templates you can customize. You need to decide what information you want from the subscriber and add fields for each piece. At a minimum, I would suggest first name, last name, and email address. You can add fields for a mailing address, but I would make those fields optional as they may scare some people off. What we really want is that email address.
Create a Confirmation Letter
Next, you need to create an email confirmation letter that will be sent to the subscriber when they enter their information and hit the button. Again, most services will provide a template, but take the time to customize the letter to your specific brand. By this time, you’ve probably developed a style you’ve applied to your website, social media headers, and communications. Make sure to carry that look over to your confirmation letter as well.
Create a Thank You Letter
Your Subscriber has confirmed their address, so now it’s time to deliver the goods! The thank you letter is where you’re going to give them the link to get their prize. Choose a template to customize and again, be consistent with you branding. Get a share link to the file from you cloud service—if you’re using Google Docs, right-click the file and copy the link—and create a button for the link. If you’ve created a cover image for the giveaway file, the thumbnail image makes a nice action button.
Putting Your Signup Button to Work
Now that we have all the pieces in place, it’s time to put them to work and that means asking for those email subscriptions. So, where do we do that?
The most common place to put a signup button is on your website. MailChimp and MailerLite both provide plug-ins and copy-and-paste code for websites. These plug-ins allow you to imbed your forms right on your site, as well as customize how your it appears and acts. You can choose to have a static form or a pop-up, and where the form will appear, if you want a delay on the pop-up, etc…
Your Social Media
Don’t have a website? Don’t worry, you mail management provider will also give you a URL that links directly to you signup form hosted on their site. You can add this link to your social media profile pages, as well as your posts.
Add a signup link to your “About the Author” page at the back of you eBooks. Put a button below your bio with your email and social media links. Don’t have an “About the Author” page in your books? You really should. It’s great opportunity to further connect with your readers. They’ve just finished you book and are probably looking for the next one to devour.
Some Final Thoughts
The fine details on how to accomplish the tasks above will vary depending on what service you elect to use, but the general idea is the same. For specifics on your chosen platforms, I suggest hitting YouTube and looking for the latest tutorials. Be sure to check the dates on the videos. Software interfaces and functions are always being updated (anyone who uses WordPress can attest to this), so you want the latest information you can get your hands on.
Setting these automations up can feel a little technical, so take your time, be patient with yourself, and break it down into bite sized tasks. If I can do it, I know you can. The good new is that once you have it working, changing your giveaway file in the future is a snap.
What other methods have you used to get email signups? What worked for you? What didn’t work? Share your ideas in the comments below.
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Eldred Bird writes contemporary fiction, short stories, and personal essays. He has spent a great deal of time exploring the deserts, forests, and deep canyons inside his home state of Arizona. His James McCarthy adventures, Killing Karma, Catching Karma, and Cold Karma (available for pre-order on Amazon), reflect this love of the Grand Canyon State even as his character solves mysteries amidst danger. Eldred explores the boundaries of short fiction in his stories, The Waking Room, Treble in Paradise: A Tale of Sax and Violins, and The Smell of Fear.
When he’s not writing, Eldred spends time cycling, hiking and juggling (yes, juggling…bowling balls and 21-inch knives). His passion for photography allows him to record his travels. He can be found on Twitter or Facebook, or at his website.
By Lori Freeland
Edits. Suggestions. Comments. Recommendations. Advice. Assessment. Evaluation. Feedback. Constructive Criticism. Not-so-constructive criticism. A knife twisted into your gut that burns like a thousand suns and leaves you bleeding out and crying in a corner.
No matter what you want to label it, all those things mean the same thing—what other people have to say about what you have written.
Why is what people say so hard to hear?
Refer back to that last part about the knife and your gut and the crying and the corner. Oh, and don’t forget the burning suns. It’s hard to hear because it hurts. We’ve poured out who we are into each of one of those words someone else is critiquing.
- If they say, “it’s good,” we wonder why it’s not great.
- If they say nothing, we fill in far worse than they probably would’ve pointed out.
- If they say, “it sucks,” we die a little inside.
Artists are an interesting bunch. We tend to doubt our ability to be good at what we do, and that leads to a meltdown in our confidence.
In my post 12 Survival Tips for a Creative’s Anxiety, I talk about how the very things that make us good writers—empathy, sensitivity, being observant, and the power to picture everything in IMAX—also give us massive anxiety.
Sometimes what other people say becomes too much noise. And that noise drowns the creative voice in your head until you’re left in a writing drought.
Why You Need Critique
Here’s why you need to hear critique: fresh eyes. A different set of eyes can offer a new perspective and knowledge you may not have, find questions your readers will ask that you forgot to answer or something offensive you didn’t intend to come across that way and see the gaps you thought you already filled in.
Everything you’ve written makes perfect sense to you—because you created it in your head. Sometimes that means parts of it stay inside your head even when you meant to bring them to life on the page. Telling a good story is all about clarity. Readers have to hear your message to be moved by it. They have to see what you’re trying to show them. If you want to dig deeper there, check out Down With The Rules.
But all that being said, you shouldn’t just listen to anyone about everything. It helps to know when to tune in and when to tune out. To do that, ask the following questions:
- Who’s talking?
- What are they saying?
Someone in Your Audience
The world is not your audience. But there will be people out there interested in what you put out there. Your crowd might be big and eclectic, or it might be small and niche-y. It’s okay that not everyone will like or even want to read your stuff. Someone’s personal taste is not a reflection of your writing. Look up Harry Potter on Amazon. Even that got bad reviews.
You can’t appeal to every reader. And it will just drive you crazy to try. Be true to your heart. The heart wants to write what the heart wants to write. Yes, you want to have an audience. And maybe whales in space won’t get there. But that’s another post.
In a critique group, someone once pointed out a comparison I’d made in a story. She told me to take it out because no one was going to know who I was talking about. The “person” I referenced was Snow White. And because that lady had grown up somewhat secluded and not in the United States, she’d never heard of her. But she was not my audience. The women reading the type of book I was writing probably knew their Disney Princesses.
Someone Who Reads or Writes in Your Genre
Historical fiction has a much more formal style than a picture book. You’ll find different story issues in women’s fiction than in urban fantasy. And the expectations for a thriller are different than for romance.
I love to read and write YA (young adult). One of my characters, a smart and sweet girl, has a rocky relationship with her dad and acts accordingly. That bothered one of my critique partners. A lot. As a great dad himself, he didn’t understand why she couldn’t go to hers when things got rough. He wasn’t thinking about the genre. He was thinking about being a dad.
Teens typically don’t go running to their parents as a first option. And it’s not the expectation in YA. The idea is that they’re supposed to figure things out and “save themselves.” But that wasn’t on his radar because he writes something completely different.
Someone Interested in Representing You or Publishing You
This can be hard. Someone trustworthy who has experience, a good track record, and knows the industry is a great resource for feedback. At the same time, no one can see the future of what’s actually going to sell and what’s not. If you’re asked to change things for an agent or editor, weigh all the options. Only you can make that choice.
The kind of changes suggested can be a huge factor. Strengthening a few character motivations and scenes here and there to make the story better is one thing. Rewriting the entire thing because its set on the ocean in 1865 and someone asks for it to be set in space in 2054 is another. Especially if the odds of the rewrite getting you that agent or publisher are low.
In other words, think through the return on your investment. If someone’s really interested in you and your work, go for it. If not, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons. Again, this is the place to follow your heart and decide what you really want.
“What are they saying?”
The Rule of 3 (or 5 or 7)
Back to Snow White and my conundrum. If one person has a problem with something, it may be their issue. If other people chime in, it’s your issue.
Here’s something to watch out for. Sometimes what people are trying to tell you doesn’t come across clearly. Sometimes they don’t know what they’re trying to say other than “this doesn’t work for me.”
If someone hates a character, don’t automatically assume you have to reconfigure that character’s DNA.
- Ask questions.
- Get specifics.
- Nail down a reason.
If you get feedback that “she’s not sad when her mom dies,” that’s the problem. That she’s not sad. That’s different than an overall unlikeable character. And all you have to rewrite is that scene. Even if she isn’t sad, and you don’t want her to be, there are ways to soften that by showing motivation and internal thought.
Find the Nuggets
There’s some truth to every statement. It could be 1% or 100%. It’s your job to figure that out. We can learn from everything even if we’d rather not. It might be that you learn never to say something to someone else quite the way it was said to you.
Similar to the “hated character” example above, I had someone say my main character was a brat who deserved no empathy. At first, I got mad. Because, of course, that’s our auto-response to criticism—go on the defense. But when I thought about it, I realized she was right. Sort of.
My character wasn’t a brat. She had a horrible mother who’d treated her terribly. But at that point in the book, that backstory was all in my head. Yeah, there’s where that clarity comes in. I forgot to put that part on the page.
To fix it, I had to do more than tell my reader that her mother was bad. I had to show it. Readers believe what they “see” for themselves. They like to come to their own conclusions. Once I showed the mom treating the daughter badly on the page, my character was no longer a brat.
Be Aware of Personal Bias
Everyone comes to the critique table with a past. Yep, agents and editors and your best writing friends too. Life experiences shape us into who we are and teach us how to see and react to the world. You’re writing out of those experiences and so I am I. But they may be vastly different. And that’s okay. Just factor that in when you receive feedback.
The book I have on Radish right now, The Accidental Boyfriend, would’ve scored an A back in its contest days—if it wasn’t for one of the five judges. It’s a YA romance, and the first time my main characters meet, the guy kisses the girl without permission.
That moment triggered that judge. Something must’ve have happened to her in the past because, starting with that paragraph and moving throughout the fifty-page entry, she only had bad things to say about the guy. He’s disrespectful. He’s untrustworthy. He’s a jerk. Not only that, but it was also underlined in red pen. Keep in mind, four other judges gave me a close-to-perfect score.
And . . . when that kiss happened, my characters were in a crowded lobby, there was an obvious reason and purpose to the kiss, and I’d made sure to give the guy internal thought to show his harmless motivation. None of that mattered. Nothing I changed would’ve mattered. This book was never going to be for her because of her personal bias.
Now that you have some ideas on tuning in and tuning out critique, be kind to yourself. When the noise gets too much and you’ve listened to those “fresh eyes” and figured out your issues, give yourself permission to blow off the rest. At least until tomorrow. Because sometimes your own fresh ideas will give you a different perspective.
If you’re looking for people to tune in and are considering finding some writer peeps, there’s some helpful hints in The Up and Down Sides of Critique Groups. In the meantime, I’d love for you to share the kind of feedback that’s put you on the sidelines and the feedback that’s helped you the most. Leave a comment below.
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An encourager at heart, author, editor, and writing coach Lori Freeland believes everyone has a story to tell. She’s presented multiple workshops at writer’s conferences across the country and writes everything from non-fiction to short stories to novels—YA to adult. When she’s not curled up with her husband drinking too much coffee and worrying about her kids, she loves to mess with the lives of the imaginary people living in her head.
You can find her young adult and contemporary romance at lorifreeland.com and her inspirational blog and writing tips at lafreeland.com. Her latest release, The Accidental Boyfriend, is currently free on the Radish app.
by Kris Maze
Writing is hard work and it can take a toll on our well-being unless we advocate for better self-care. My recent experience of neglecting my healthy routine to focus on deadlines ended with ice packs and an avoidable headache. So, my writing peeps, here is a reminder to take care of yourselves. Be kind to you!
We create worlds out of nothing and breathe life into characters that didn’t exist before, but writers can forget to propagate this magic into their own lives. Stories take time and a tremendous cognitive load that our acquaintances may not fully understand. Emotional health is important for all people, but especially for creative, sensitive writer types.
Take some time to check in on yourself - you won’t regret it. *applies menthol to lower back*
My assumption is that, if you read articles in Writers in the Storm, you understand the importance of writing communities and their value in keeping your writer's perspective fresh. This rich tapestry of friends and resources is essential to a thriving writing life. Find those relationships that both bolster and push you further in your career.
Today I'm sharing five (5) practices for Writer Self Care that have made a difference for me personally. My hope is for you to add your own suggestions in the comments below.
I urge you to be gentle on yourself and tend to your most important creative tool: your well-being!
1. Create a positive mantra.
Get crafty and focus your intention with a few sentences to describe your desired outcomes.
- Include words that describe yourself as the successful author life you strive for.
- Describe what work you do and how it brings you and others joy.
- Be specific, name what you want your work and life to be like and be extravagant.
Say it aloud. Write it with a fancy marker and feel it flow from your pen. Put it in a journal or a bathroom mirror where you can see it daily where it can draw you back into your writing flow. Come back to your mantra before writing and built it into your routine for added encouragement at any stage of your writing career. You deserve to rewire your thinking to be your optimal Writer Self. You may find your goals are not that far out of reach.
Looking for inspiration? Don’t have the energy to form your own saying? Here is a Goodreads list full of positivity.
2. Avoid getting overwhelmed.
Take bigger tasks and break down your work into smaller goal chunks. I add these to a checklist where I can mark off one or two goals I accomplish each day. Here is a blog post on time management tools to stay on track with writing projects. The article provides descriptions of technology used by many writers with pros and cons for each.
3. Celebrate Small Successes.
Find the little ways to make daily progress in your writing and reward yourself. Perhaps buy yourself a treat to celebrate - a special coffee mug that feels just right in your palms or soft slippers that feel so inviting they summon you from your bedside. Another writer treat might be a notebook with a funny saying or paper you can’t resist.
Your reward doesn’t have to be something purchased. The gift of time to read your favorite book or enjoy a phone call to a friend is rewarding. Are you a writer who gets up early to write in the wee hours? One way to appreciate your work is to enjoy the sunrise. Take a picture and send it to me! I am addicted to sunrise (and sunset pictures) and can feature them in a future post on my website.
4. Feed Your Creativity.
Find podcasts on writing or online shows that provide an audio version of writer advice. One that I often listen to while walking my dog is from DIY MFA where they have author interviews and craft lessons available. Pressing play while walking lets my brain relax and washes my mind with writing ideas. Your mind will begin to chew on these ideas and add substance to your writer’s life.
Feed your mind with author news, craft building ideas, and other author methods that you can glean from. Some will inform your work and improve your own life.
5. Take care of your body.
Find a physical activity and build it into your daily routine. Here is my Writers in the Storm post on writer stretches to help prevent injury from repetitive actions. Don’t deny yourself a few neck rolls or a quick stroll around the living room.
Listen to your body and it will help you write more!
Writers under intense deadlines need stretch breaks, but rest periods away from writing are beneficial also. Longer periods of exercise are opportunities to resolve plot issues and character development. A few of my writer peeps claim that training for Ironman Triathlons or taking extending bike rides improves their writing. Brain science studies also show that physical activity boosts mental health.
Many writers also use their physical hobbies for inspiration in their writing. Many went outdoors to recharge their creativity.
- Henry David Thoreau contemplated many essays walking around Walden Pond.
- Beatrix Potter, well known for her garden setting illustrations in Peter Rabbit, studied botany with scientific precision.
- Agatha Christie worked on archaeological sites that inspired many of her mysteries, including Murder on the Orient Express.
How are you finding energy for your projects? Do you have a writer's well-being tip to share? Add to the comments below and share with our Writers in the Storm community.
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Kris Maze writes empowering, twisty stories and also teaches Spanish. After years of reading classic literature, mysteries, and legal thrillers, she sought to publish her own books. Her first Science Fiction novella, IMPACT, published through Aurelia Leo, is now available in PRINT COPIES!
Kris Maze is fascinated with strong characters like her protagonist Nala Nightingale, a teen journalist who reluctantly works with a crazed scientist Edison to survive an incoming asteroid implosion. For more information on her book, look here.
Check out her newly revised website and say hi! While you are there sign up for her newsletter for updates on blog tours and media takeovers during the next couple months. There will be free resources for Writer Wellness Resources available during the month of August. Sign up at her website here!
by Laurie Schnebly Campbell
WHAT’S GONNA HAPPEN?
We might have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen in a story when we pick up a new book. Most of the time, we can judge that book by its cover – or if not, then by its reviews or word-of-mouth from friends.
Even if nobody else has read it yet, we feel fairly certain that a book showing a rancher and a schoolmarm in a chaste embrace will likely end with the couple getting married. Or a book showing a police badge and some crime-scene tape will likely end with the detective taking the killer to jail.
So if we already know the ending, how can there possibly be any page-turning tension along the way?
The only way it can happen is if the writer has used some great techniques to keep us wondering what’ll happen next. Even if we feel confident that the main Story Question will be resolved in the final chapter, what about all the other questions on the way to that final chapter?
That’s where you build the tension.
Maybe your character is facing a choice. Say, Allegra is torn between marrying Carrick or becoming a nurse. Or Jemmy can’t decide between the red or the yellow lollipop. Or Pat doesn’t know whether to rescue Hobson or Sophie.
How will they choose?
Or maybe your character isn’t sure what lies ahead. There are unsubstantiated rumors of danger. A friend might or might not have betrayed their trust. The long-awaited day could be sunny or stormy.
What to expect?
Maybe the reader suspects something, or knows something, that the character doesn’t. A surprise package is on the way. The supposed butler is actually the duke’s illegitimate son. There’s a terrorist planning to bomb the factory.
What’ll happen when the truth is revealed?
Maybe there’s some dissonance between the setting and the story line. A Wall Street trader is plunged into a war zone. A shy librarian has to seduce a raucous World Series pitcher during the seventh-inning stretch. A malicious wizard is disguised as Santa’s head elf.
Something doesn’t quite fit.
Those questions are just the beginning.
There are all kinds of situations that provide fertile ground for building tension. Just grabbing random titles off the past decade of Publishers Weekly lists, you can see the kind of story questions that keep readers intrigued in books like:
- Crazy Rich Asians
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid
- The Fault in Our Stars
- A Gentleman in Moscow
- Girl on the Train
- Go Set a Watchman
- The Goldfinch
- Gone Girl
- Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone
- The Help
- The Hunger Games
- Me Before You
- Where the Crawdads Sing
Some of the above story questions include...
Who will survive?
What will it take for them to survive?
Can they do it?
What’ll happen if they fail?
Is it worth the struggle?
Those are just a few sources of tension that build throughout these bestselling reads. Regardless of the audience or setting or characters or struggle at hand, the stakes are always high...for the characters, and thus for us readers.
And you’ll notice that while in some cases a life-and-death struggle is literally about avoiding the loss of life, it can just as well be a struggle to avoid the loss of social approval. Or of true love. Or of freedom, family, friendship, a favored outcome for a quest...or any such threats endangering not the main character, but those they love or their entire society.
When the stakes are high, so is tension.
Or at least, it SHOULD be. That’s where we get into techniques (beyond the classic “ticking clock”) for building it...sustaining it...increasing it...occasionally relieving it for a moment or two...and then bringing it back even stronger.
Those are what we’ll talk about next month in “Building Tension,” but you’ve already seen how some of your favorite authors do that. If you’re not on the edge of your seat over Jimmy’s choice of a red or yellow lollipop, that’s okay! Whatever writer uses YOUR favorite kind of tension is one who’ll have you turning pages long past midnight.
Which books have done that more than once?
The reason this matters is because it provides a hint regarding what kind of tension works best for you. That’s also the kind that’ll work best for your readers, because they’re the ones who’ll appreciate your style of writing...your storytelling voice.
Sure, readers also like wondering which of a character’s most valued people, or beliefs, or practices will matter the most. And what’ll happen if the character has to choose between Love or Prosperity, Justice or Comfort, Saving Their Child or Saving Their Continent?
Millions of characters have faced such compelling choices. But you sure don’t remember every single book in which a character had to decide between, for instance, Fairness and Kindness. It’s only a few that stand out as particularly engrossing. What stories are those?
Our prize-drawing question
Somebody who answers, with either the book title/s or a description of what contributed to the tension in a beloved story, will win free registration to my August class that goes into more detail on such contributions. And if your response contains something quotable, you might very well get credit for providing a Reader Opinion...so let me know if you’d rather stay anonymous!
[Laurie, figuring one less-than-expert way of building tension is mentioning that the winner will be announced this Saturday and I can’t wait to see whose name gets picked by random-dot-org.]
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After winning Romantic Times' “Best Special Edition of the Year” awards over Nora Roberts, Laurie Schnebly Campbell discovered she loved teaching every bit as much as writing...if not more. Since then she’s taught online and live workshops for writers from London and Los Angeles to New Zealand and New York, and keeps a special section of her bookshelf for people who’ve developed that particular novel in her classes. So far there are 48 titles -- will yours be next?