Category Archive: creative writing

Jan 28 2015

Most Important Advice for Fiction Writers

ink pen

After writing a short story and handing it over to my seventh grade Literature teacher for grading, she returned it with one sentence of advice written over the black text in big cursive red ink:
Make your reader like your characters before killing them!

 

This piece of advice stuck with me through all my fifteen-plus years of writing fiction. In other words, I needed to make my readers care about my characters enough to worry about their wellbeing.

That’s the stuff of fiction, isn’t it?

If readers don’t like your characters, can’t relate to or empathize with them, or refuse to find justification in their motives, traits, or behaviors, the reader wouldn’t care what happens to them.

And the common denominator in great fiction is great characters. Yes, even the unlikable antagonist can be a great character. The trick is to make your main characters three-dimensional, believable, and have a plausible motive.

  • Three-dimensional: Develop their background, a list of fears, wishes, flaws, and successes. Determine why they are the way they are by asking what special event in their life influenced them.
  • Believable: Build their character and have them stay true to it. When changes occur to their character, which they should over time, those changes should make sense and be influenced by the complications they encounter throughout the story.
  • Plausible motive: Give them a good reason for doing what they do, even if what they do is bad. Even the bad guy has “good” intentions.

 

If the reader does not care about your characters, they will not continue the story. If you lose your reader’s interest, you run the risk of losing that reader for good.

I admit, it’s hard to remember almost anything from my seventh grade Math class, but my Literature teacher’s valuable advice about good storytelling will forever stay with me.

What’s the most important piece of writing advice you received as a fiction writer? Tell me in the comments.


[Image credit: Dinuraj K]

Jul 30 2013

Simple Solutions to Ten Common Writing Roadblocks

help

Writers are as different as the stories they tell or the expert information they provide. Even so, many things we share are the problems that plague us as creative individuals. Here are ten of the most common challenges writers face at one point in their career. But, fear no more. I’ve got the solution to all ten of your writer issues.

Lack of Ideas

Where do you get your ideas from? Almost all artist have been asked that very question. The reason this is a popular question is because people are always looking for ways to be inspired. Coming up with creative ideas can be a tedious process.

Ideas for stories, characters, settings, plots and even articles come from everywhere. Here’s a list of places to look for some creative inspiration:

  • News stories. Everything from the weather (for apocalyptic tales) to announcements of the latest lottery winners (for tales of cursed families) can be a source of inspiration. News stories are often so fantastic that you don’t have to stretch the imagination much to plot a story.
  • Past experiences are not just a good place to look for writing your memoir. We all have a past, and by choosing specific and emotional parts from your experiences, you could spin it into an inspiring, entertaining, and memorable story.
  • Strangers. Play the guessing game. Guess a stranger’s life story, occupation, ambitions, secrets, etc., just by the way they look, sound, what they’re wearing, what they’re doing, or what car they drive. When you play the guessing game it helps your mind invent some great characters and their motives.
  • Entertainment. Movies, books, poems, music, paintings, pictures, and even food can give you some great ideas. Their themes, messages, or the emotion they incite in you can be a powerful tool for gathering ideas.
  • Secrets, fantasies, and daydreams. Some of the best tales come strictly from what’s hiding in the deep, dark corners of our minds. Things that we’d rather not say or do ourselves but can allow our characters to say and act out, sometimes make for the most fascinating characters, situations and plot lines.

Lack of Originality

Has every idea that pops into your mind been overused, overwritten, and overworked? Even plots twists and character quirks are turning into clichés?

Put your own flair on clichés so the idea would be appreciated instead of being boring. Use clichés to your advantage.

  • Combine and create. Take multiple clichés and combined them to create something new (i.e. the popular high school jock also happens to be a lonely computer geek at home).
  • State the obvious. Purposely set up a cliché scenario and have the characters point out the cliché. By crafting your story using this technique, you say what the reader is thinking so they’re less likely to call you out on it. it’s also a good way to incorporate some humor.

Lack of Inspiration

Sometimes it’s a combination of lack of originality, rejection and self-doubt that can make us feel uninspired, or causes the fierce determination we once had to dwindle. Here are some ways to get back that motivation.

  • Go back to the beginning. Remember the reason you wanted to start the project in the first place. Reliving that passion might reignite the flame.
  • Envision the end. Imagine the sense of accomplishment you’ll get once you’ve finished your project. Imagine the rewards you might receive (i.e. the ability to share your work, the inspiration you’ll give to others who read your work, the amazing feedback, the fan letters, etc).
  • Surround yourself with positive things. Decorate your office or writing space with your awards, fan mail, and other accomplishments and achievements. This should remind you of where you came from and where you’re headed, and encourage you to reach your goals.

Rejection

If you haven’t experienced rejection in your writing career, prepare to. Rejection is the most common experience writers share. Be it manuscript rejection from an editor or agent, or rejection from readers in their reviews of your book. One way or another, you will experience rejection. The trick to getting through this is to understand how rejection can help you.

  • Rejection helps you understand where you need to improve. It sets you up for later success by giving you an advantage on your next project. At least now you know what areas you need to focus on and develop in the future.
  • Rejection, and handling it properly, helps you develop a thick skin. No matter what, rejection hurts, but over time you will learn to take it in stride. Let it work for you, not against you.
  • Rejection happens to us all, even to the best of us. Stephen King’s bestselling novel Carrie was rejected thirty times before finally getting published, becoming a worldwide bestseller and made into the classic film, and later, a couple remakes. Understanding rejection is a part of the business–and that it happens to the best of us–will prepare you for it and help you handle it successfully when it happens. Never allow rejection to keep you from pursuing your goals.

Self-Doubt

Self-doubt is a big one, and can usually come about because of our experience with rejection or not enough experience in writing or publishing in general. We tend to doubt that we have what it takes to accomplish our goals. “Do I know what I’m doing? Will I ever be published? No one will read my work. Who in their right mind would take a chance on me?” The list goes on and on.

Some of us struggle with self-doubt in many areas of our life, but the trick to overcome this debilitating power is to focus on your worth, your accomplishments, and your good qualities instead of dwelling on your failures and weaknesses.

  • Find your strengths. What are you good at? What can you do flawlessly? What are you most proud of? What have you accomplished so far?
  • Discover your value. What makes you noteworthy, respected, unique, or attractive?

Answering these question can help you rid yourself of that pesky self-doubt and bring back your confidence.

Poor Time Management Skills

Falling behind on projects? Find yourself being late or having to postpone obligations a lot lately? You find yourself not following through on commitments you’ve made? You may have poor time management skills. It can get the best of us, from the established writer to the beginner. Here’s some things to keep in mind.

  • Keep a schedule and adhere to it. Create an online editorial calendar (or update your smartphone calendar or even tack up a wall calendar) to keep track of deadlines, dates of submissions and other important dates, and never trust your memory to do the job for you.
  • Plan ahead. Managing a blog? Take advantage of your blog’s “Schedule Post” option. Write your blog posts ahead of time and schedule them to publish at a later date.
  • Integrate social media. Use social media integration to cut back on the time it takes to market your work and projects to your online social network sites. So when your latest blog goes live it automatically shares with your followers on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. This is another way to automate your life.

Catch-22s

You want to pitch an article to a publication, but the editor requests published clips. However, you won’t ever get published clips if you can’t land a gig. Or maybe you need a published book to attract a platform, but you need a platform before you can sell your book.

These are just a couple of the many paradoxes writers have to grapple with. So what do you do? How do you get through it?

  • In need of some clips or writing samples? Pluck an article or blog post from your own blog, website or use a guest blog post in the related subject.
  • Can’t get website visitors to sign up to your mailing list or newsletter? Offer something of high value for free in exchange for them signing up. Offer exclusive information to subscribers. Give away highly valued information or secrets that will help your audience.
  • Need to build your writer platform? Write free guest posts in your field. Give away some great tips and advice to help build a following and a reputation, all with the help of another expert’s established platform.

There are many ways around the inconsistencies you might face in the publishing industry. Just use your creativity to think outside the box and get the results you crave.

Procrastination

One surefire way to avoid putting off writing, marketing or other duties is to avoid distractions and temptations. What you don’t do today may not always get done tomorrow, especially if you keep adding to your to-do list. Here’s how to keep procrastination from taking over your time.

  • Make a vow. Commit to a specific time frame or time of day to write. Vow to write at the prearranged time every day.
  • Stay motivated. Motivate yourself with incentives. Set small goals and reward yourself as you hit each goal.
  • Avoid distractions. Isolate yourself away from distractions while you work. Turn off the phone and internet, unplug the television, and put your tablets and reading devices away. No checking emails or status updates. Focus solely on writing for the allotted time.
  • Prevent interruptions. Make sure your family members have everything they need before you sit down to write, to limit interruptions, and that includes taking care of your own needs as well.
  • Do it now. Don’t put it off. Bestselling science fiction author Hugh Howey’s secret to success is “When I see something that needs doing, I do it.” Simple as that.

Fear of Failure

Just like rejection and self-doubt, the fear of failure can hold us back from what we could accomplish and often does. Fear is a powerful emotion, and the sense of failing can be just as powerful. So how do you combat this common writer problem?

  • Accept that you can’t win at everything. Understand that failure is an option but not the end all. You may have failed at one point in your career and will probably fail again sometime down the road, but you can handle it.
  • Imagine the worse possible outcome and come up with a plan to counter it. Come up with a just-in-case scenario. Having a plan will help you move on, but gives you the courage to confront and overcome your fear in case it manifests.
  • Live it and let it go. Imagine the worse possible outcome, live it in your mind, realized it’s not the end of the world, and get it out of your system. The fear wouldn’t hold as much power over your productivity.

Writer’s Block

Lastly, the infamous writer’s block. We all claim to suffer from this ailment from time to time. Sitting at our desks and staring at a blank document on the screen is nothing more than the result of the above plagues in many combinations; self-doubt, fear of failure, a little bit of procrastination, a sprinkle of poor time management, etc.

Writer’s block does not exist. That’s right. It’s only a name we give to the act of not being able to creatively produce. We should not give power to the illusion. Here’s how to break free.

  • Do not acknowledge writer’s block as anything else but an excuse not to craft. Definitely do not give it a name. Call it exactly what it is. Instead of believing you have some sort of mystical block and waiting around for a magical veil to lift and eliminate it, admit the true problem (i.e. I can’t seem to come up with any fresh ideas today). By understanding the underlying issue, you know how to better tackle it and resolve it.
  • Start somewhere. Anywhere. Start or continue writing your project at a more interesting part of your story or scene, like a love scene, the climax or ending. Or add a surprise or plot twist. Or simply start on the next chapter.  Add a new character or get rid of one. Write something. Anything.
  • Eliminate all distractions. No TV, no music, no phone, no checking emails or text messages, eat before sitting down at your desk so you are not distracted by hunger, etc.
  • Motivate yourself by setting a goal. Set a writing goal for the day or hour and reward yourself when you hit it.

 

Follow the solutions for these ten common writer problems and you’ll be back on track and on your way to making your writing dreams come true. Defeat your writer issues, don’t let them defeat you. Which writer roadblock have you recently hit or overcome?

 

Jan 18 2013

How I Will Use My Talent and Desire to Change My World

Back in late 2009 when I was very active on Hubpages, writing posts about the craft of writing, I met a wonderful person who went by the name Scott Life. He would leave comments on almost every post with encouraging words like,

“See you could have charged 50 dollars just for that consult. You’re onto something here I’m telling you. You’re building a career…Is it obvious that I’ve been on my computer for three days straight?”

He knew my potential before I even knew!
And this very touching comment.


“You should know that most of my books success and structure I will attribute to you and your advice in these Hubs.”


Looking back to where I was then and seeing where I am now, it seems fit that I attribute my successes to Scott Life and the other Hubpages followers and commenters.

It really didn’t hit me that my articles were truly helping and inspiring others. After all, that was my goal, what I set out to do. However, I used to think that I had to “become somebody” before my advice mattered. I was wrong. In fact, I wassomebody then. I was the expert those readers were looking for way back then in 2009. Since then I’ve grown tenfold because of their support.

Scott Life and I were thisclose to working on a project together when I submitted a short essay for inclusion in one of his projects which unfortunately fell through. Still, I should’ve known then that our meeting was fate, letting me know I was on the right path just by the title and content of the essay (below).

I lost touch with Scott a couple years ago, but I appreciate all of his encouragement even more now than ever. Thank you to all who encourage me and believe in me! If you’d like to include how you will use your talent and desire to change your world you’re more than welcome to.

How I Will Use My Talent and Desire to Change My World

My world is full of people from both ends of the writing spectrum who are in need of some inspiration. At one end, there is the aspiring writer. On the other end is the successful established author. Even though I place myself somewhere along the middle of this spectrum, I believe my writing talents can offer that inspiration and motivation to writers on all levels of the spectrum. 

Story telling alone is enough to transform an individual. Exploring the fantastic worlds of fiction is a magical experience that often inspires one to create their own fictional world to explore, as it did for me. Story telling is one way my talents will change my world.

Sharing useful knowledge about writing and publishing is easy for me. Like most writers, I have had my difficulties regarding writing and publishing, and I continue to learn new and exciting things regularly that I enjoy sharing with aspiring writers. I am confident that my words will put that adrenaline rush of creativity into those who read them. In my world, everyone needs a little push in the right direction. This world, mostly filled with dreamers, is also flourishing with an abundance of dedicated writers in need of inspiration every now and then from a fellow dreamer. I am that dreamer.

Inspiring, motivating and enlightening dreamers to improve creatively are ways my writing talents will change my world.