Questions Wanted

Hey out there! Hope you are all having a fine morning. Just wanted to pop in to say, I hope you are enjoying the “Tips and Tricks” series. I have a lot of ideas for what to write about next, but I really want this series to be helpful to YOU. So I was wondering if any of you had any questions or specific difficulties you’re struggling with in your writing… and just feel like it would be nice to have some idea of how to get past this particular difficult spot?

If you’re like me, then having someone say, “Do you have any questions?” is a sure-fire way to make your mind go blank. So here are some topics to help spark ideas… feel free to ask any of these questions, or come up with your own!

–The editing process

–Character development

–Writing descriptive passages

–Dialogue tags

–Strengthening plot arcs

–Connecting your reader to your story emotionally

–Killing characters

–Plot holes

–Picking a point of view character

–Formatting

–Publishing

–Marketing

–Anything else…

I am by no means an expert in any of these things, but I have done all of them, and I’ve learned a lot and am still learning. I am more than happy to pass on what I’ve learned, as well as learn from you, dear Writer!

~ jenelle

Getting Unstuck

Tuesday Tips (1)

Welcome back to another Tuesday Tips and Tricks! Today we are going to talk about the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of writing a novel… finishing it.

The number one thing that will prevent you from being an author is not finishing your story. This difficulty will plague you throughout the writing process. At some point, you may get stuck. You may get struck with the dreaded writer’s block. You may have difficulty moving to the next stage of your story until you’ve edited and re-edited the bits you’ve already written. Perhaps you struggle with endings, or middles, or you realize that something is wrong with your story and you’re not sure how to fix it. You might find yourself suddenly paralyzed by doubt… worrying that your story is boring or just deciding you don’t like it after all and you want to scrap the whole thing. Maybe you just get distracted by social media (raises hand on all counts). Whatever the struggle, it can be difficult to push through and move on. But this is where it becomes extra-important to JUST KEEP WRITING.

So here are some methods that might work for you when you’re stuck:

Write Out of Order: If the scene you’re working on has you stuck… maybe you just need a break from it. Why not pick a different part of the story and work on that, instead? In the past, I have always written my stories straight through from beginning to end. I have a hard time writing out of order. However, this often leads me to some timeline issues, as I’ll have Group of Characters A who are doing their part of the adventure over here that takes them 6 months to complete, meanwhile Group of Characters B is over THERE doing their part of the adventure that only takes 3 weeks to complete… but somehow they are starting and finishing at the same time. This is a problem. So… with my current WIP I’ve hit upon a gem that works really well for me (and utilizes the awesomeness of Scrivener) where I have folders for each character-arc where I can write their scenes in order, and I’ll go back later and weave them all together into each other’s stories. This might be something that works well for you, too.

Mix It Up: Try giving your brain something else to distract it. Turn on some music (I recommend instrumental Christmas music… or finding some multiple-hour-long mixes on Youtube of whatever style of music goes well with your story). Go for a walk. Act out your first scene (or whatever scene is giving you trouble). Speak the dialogue out loud (this is a good rule to follow always, as you will notice if it comes out sounding unrealistic!!) Go for a bike ride. Do something adventurous. Do something that your character will do… if my characters are stuck camping in the rain… I like to go out in the rain (if a rainstorm happens to be obliging… which it sometimes does) and wander around getting soaked and maybe try to eat a sandwich or something so I can get a feel for just how miserable they probably ought to be.

Push Through: Sometimes you just need to force the words. I wouldn’t recommend doing this for long stretches, because if you have to force the words out maybe the creative side of your brain is trying to tell you that this is the wrong direction and you need to try something else. But sometimes the block isn’t the story… it’s me and my lack of motivation, and I just need to set down and write my way back into the zone.

Talk it Out: Maybe you need another “set of eyes” on the story. Try to find someone who is willing to discuss your story with you. Sometimes you just need to explain it to someone else to spot the reason behind the problem. Other times, you might just need an idea to come from outside your own head. Talking through various plot points and character arcs with my husband is my number one method for getting unstuck.

Change the Boundary Conditions: One thing that my husband has been teaching me with this latest WIP is that when I am really stuck on a plot point or how to get the story from point A to point B, I need to examine my “boundary conditions” and see if they are as rigid as I think they are. For example: I recently had a group of characters trying to rescue someone who had been captured. I was struggling with how to get the rescue accomplished. My husband challenged the boundary condition that the character would get rescued. “Do they have to succeed at rescuing her?” he asked. Once I started thinking about it, I realized that, no, it was not crucial to the story that this character be rescued at this point, and that a failure would actually do a lot more to move the story along. Another time, I had characters travel quite a ways to find a witness to a murder they are trying to solve. Everything was going along just fine, when suddenly the travel time became a major issue and deterrent to the story’s progression. We challenged the boundary condition: “Does this character have to live THAT FAR from the city? What would change if they just lived a little ways outside the city?” and voila! Problem solved. Changing your boundary conditions might require some re-writing of things you’ve already written, but it is worth it to keep the story moving towards that finish line!

Set Goals: Even if your goals are small, like “Write for 10 minutes every weekday this week.” Setting goals can be a powerful motivator to prevent your story from sitting untouched for weeks on end. Give yourself rewards. “I will do a ten-minute sprint, and then I can have a cookie.” “If I write 1,000 words today, I can watch the next episode of my new favorite show.” Having a deadline is the only way I ever get anything done.

Turn Off the Internet: And by this I mean: GET OFF SOCIAL MEDIA! For me, the biggest obstacles to getting writing done are always facebook, twitter, instagram, and this blog. If I spent even half as much time writing as I do on social media, I could have probably written 2 books this year already. Of course, marketing is also important… so I do need to be online a little bit… but not nearly as much as I actually am. Something I am trying hard to work on this summer.

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And those are a few of my tips for staying strong and finishing your novel. What do you think? Have you used any of these? Do you have any tips to add? Do any of these sound like they might help you? I’d love to hear from you!

~ jenelle

Just Write It

Tuesday Tips (1)

Last week I promised some tips for actually writing down your ideas. Ideas can come with every gust of wind, but actually turning them into a story… that’s work.

“If you want to be a writer, you should be writing.”

For me, that has been the single most useful piece of advice I’ve ever received in my writing career. It was the moment when I realized I had to make a choice: I could continue to dabble with poetry and half-finished stories and book reviews, or I could become a writer.

God gave me a talent for writing, and a passion for it. To not utilize or hone that talent would be to squander the gift I have been given. I don’t know where my writing will take me, or if any of my books will ever be best-sellers… those successes in the eyes of the world can only come from God (and I’m bad enough at marketing to ensure my inability to ever take credit for that sort of rise to fame). But that’s not what I’m striving for with my stories. I only hope to inspire others, to point to my Savior, to entertain, and to tell good stories that families can read and enjoy together. If I can achieve that, then I have done what I set out to do. If I achieve more… then to God be the glory! (To God be the glory either way, of course, as I can do none of this on my own, and He is the Author of all authors).

Before you begin, it might be worth thinking through what you want to accomplish with your gift and talent. But you don’t have to have it all figured out before you put words on the page. I still don’t have it all figured out! We’re in this together, dear Writer.

Different stages of the writing process are going to be difficult for each writer. Some writers love the outlining process, others love that fast and furious drafting stage, still others most look forward to the painstaking edits and polishing. Your favorite stage may be someone else’s least favorite stage… and vice versa.

However, when it comes down to it, regardless of how it looks or which aspect of writing is your favorite or which one you dread the most… every writer trods the same basic path that leads us from idea to creation to finished product.

But how do I get there?

That is entirely up to you. Your process is not guaranteed to look the exact same as any other writer’s. But I can give you a few tips and tricks to help you get started!

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Outlines: Outlines are honestly one of the places where I struggle the most. I was the student who finished writing their papers early so that I could create the outline. I pantsed (wrote by the seat of my pants) my way through King’s Warrior. Since Second Son is a prequel, I had at least a basic built-in outline that helped me stay on track with where the story was going. By the time I got to Yorien’s Hand I had done some editing and rewriting of King’s Warrior and realized just how much rewriting I had to do when I wrote a 140K-word novel without bothering to know where the story was headed first! So… slowly but surely I have begun teaching myself to work with at least a basic outline. Some people need detailed outlines with every scene worked out ahead of time. Other people don’t like outlines at all. For me, I like to have a very basic outline for each main character’s story arc, but I keep it short and allow it to be fluid if necessary… because the best part of writing is when the characters decide to take the story out of my hands, and I like being flexible enough to follow them when they do. But my first tip for getting started would be: Try an outline. Let it be flexible if you need to… don’t think of it as a shovelful of dirt that smothers your creativity, let it be as basic as a compass – just pointing north. It doesn’t have to be super detailed or complex with every stop along the journey plotted out. (It can be if that’s what you need) Simply try one… figure out what sort of outline works for you.

Just Write It: You knew you’d find the post title in here somewhere, right? So you’ve tried an outline and you love it or hate it or feel very meh about it… and now that blank page is staring at you… it’s intimidating… overwhelming… what do you do? Well, to paraphrase something a popular sports brand is fond of saying….

Just Write It!

Just begin. Sit down, put your fingers on those keys (or grab that pencil/pen/crayon) and start writing! Remember last week’s tip? This is where you have to really buckle down and block out the whisper in your ear that it’s not good enough, not original enough, not … enough. Because this is your ROUGH DRAFT. They use the word “rough” for a reason. You do not have to be Mozart… you can be a brilliant author AND still need to edit your work later. For me, Word Sprints have been a huge help this year when it comes to getting my rough draft on paper. I sort of figure out what the basic gist is going to be of the next scene I’m going to write, set a timer, and then I type as fast as I can until the timer stops. Then I reward myself with a cookie, or a few minutes on facebook, or jumping jacks (whatever works, right?) I have been using this method since March and I cannot even express how helpful it has been! In the past three months, I feel like this method has actually helped train the creative parts of my brain to turn on when I sit down to write.

For more information on learning how to write by sprinting and training your brain to get into the creative mode, I highly recommend the book 5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter by Chris Fox. I don’t do everything he suggests, but I do feel like I learned a lot and his methods I have implemented into my writing process have been invaluable and have enabled me to write 95,000 words over the past 3 months – only writing on weekdays.

Draft Zero: Maybe the idea of a rough draft is still too intimidating. Maybe you need to allow yourself to be extra-messy with the first things you put on paper. My friend Deborah came up with a Draft Zero approach to writing that she describes brilliantly in THIS POST. Definitely recommend reading it!

Half Draft: I do something between Zero Drafting and Rough Drafting these days. Because I can’t really allow myself to completely ignore typos/capitalization/punctuation errors… but I have also enjoyed the freedom of writing super fast for word sprints without being too concerned about whether or not those errors are happening without me noticing… I do something I like to call the “Half Draft Approach.” I start with a SUPER basic outline/story arc, and then I word sprint my way through scenes. If I notice myself making a typo I allow myself to fix it, but I also don’t let myself get bogged down in the minutiae of precision, as I know that I will be word-smithing in the coming drafts.

Also, Scrivener! Such a great tool for drafting. I love it to pieces. It definitely took some getting used to, but now I can’t imagine not having it. I love how I can keep ALL my bits and pieces and ideas and character sheets and even inspiring images and things in the same file and don’t have to go hunting through my folders wondering, “What did I call that document when I named the currency for this world???” It also makes converting my files into pretty ebooks super easy. (I do not work for Scrivener, nor am I getting anything out of recommending it to you. I just really like it).

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What do you think, dear Writer? Do you think any of these tips or tricks might work for you to help you begin putting those words down on the page? Have you used any of these ideas? Which ones work well for you? Do you have any other ideas or tips that you have found useful? Do you have any topics you’re really hoping I cover in this series of posts? I’d love to continue the conversation in the comments section below! 

~ jenelle

Journey From Skioria

Tania is lost, shipwrecked on an unfamiliar shore. With no friends or family, the nine-year-old girl must make her way through the realm of the woodland people to a town she’s never heard of. With unexpected allies from the forest, Tania departs on a wild adventure where storms rage and the forces of nature do their very best to end her journey before it has truly begun.

I’ve been wanting to read one of Ms. Wyatt’s books ever since I had her character from her Dragon Courage series, Mere, over for an interview a while back.

This was a cute story about a young girl who gets separated from her parents on a boating trip and washes up on the shores of a land filled with small folk from three different races. Despite the fact that these three races do not usually get along, Tania’s new friends all pledge to do everything in their power to take her safely home, but it is a long journey and many dangers lie in their path.

I liked the premise of the story and enjoyed the various characters. It is a light-hearted romp of a tale, and I believe it would be excellent for younger children. I’m fairly certain that my daughters (ages 9 and 6) would enjoy it very much. In this story, there are difficulties to be faced, but no serious dangers. There are obstacles to overcome, but friends to help each other through them. And while Tania does encounter some people with gruff personalities, nobody is truly unkind and there are no darker themes.

With the exception of one of the characters who has an ability to fly (that is a racial trait of his people, the Avarians) there is no magic in this fantastical tale, either, so for those who love fantasy but have an aversion to magic, this one might be up your alley.

Personally, I never really felt emotionally gripped by or invested in the characters. For an adult reader, the story was fairly simplistic, and I felt that much of the adventure was much too easy and straight-forward. However, I do think that had more to do with the fact that I am much older than the target audience for this book (the MC is only 9 years old, after all). I enjoy MG fiction upon occasion, but I find that I am pickier about it than I am about YA. If I had read this particular book as a kid, I think I would have loved it to pieces. I gave it three dragon eggs because I honestly liked it, but I can’t say that I loved it.

However, I am still very interested in this author’s other books, and plan to read Dragon’s Future next. From what I have seen of the first few pages of the prologue, I think I’m going to enjoy it quite a lot!

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~ jenelle