Home of Ane Ryan Walker, Teller of Tall Tales, Writer of Short Stories

Category: Writing Fiction (Page 1 of 6)

How old is too old to start?

Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.

― Samuel Ullman

Is it too late to start writing that novel you always dreamed about? I don’t think so. In fact I know it’s never too late, unless you’re dead. Once that happens there isn’t much to be done. Unless you believe in reincarnation, or you plan on becoming a Zombie or a Vampire. Who knows, maybe you do plan on one of those two things happening to you.  If not, you may be wasting your time.

I truly don’t think Dracula will be around to revive you once you have infinite amounts of time on your hands.  Really, even if you have all of eternity at your disposal, you will most likely find a way to squander the time, just like you did in real life.

For most of us, aspiring writers that is, we tend to fixate on all the wrong things, thus delaying our inevitable success.

No Fear?

Know Fear!

That’s the aspiring authors beginning motto. We become so entrenched in the things we don’t know, (shameful at your age) that we fail to realize what we do know. What is that, you’re asking? Life!

There are stages to life beyond growth and development, the same way mourning has stages to get us to our end result.

In your 2o’s: Too busy having fun and thinking I already know everything I will ever need to know, plus enjoying the delusion of immortality.

In your 30’s: Very busy convincing yourself you have barely scratched the surface of life and have nothing to gain by introspection.

In your 40’s: 1st OMG moment. I have a family, and husband, children and other extended family members and they all want something from me. What was I thinking?????

In your 50’s: I will be able to retire in a mere 10+ years and then my time will be my own. I can travel, sleep, eat, enjoy fine wine, and I will not have to answer to anyone.

In your 60’s: 2nd OMG moment. This is all falling apart! I didn’t realize the government wants me to work until I’m decrepit at 67+ years old. I didn’t start saving for my retirement when I was young and had money. I will now be too old to do anything I want to do and will probably become a Greeter at Walmart for the paycheck.

In your 70’s: If I had written a single page a day for a single year I would have finished a book by now.

Life lesson?Image result for clip art halloween

Yes! It is never too late to start (unless you’re already dead).

Some Free Advice

“There are no monsters under the bed…

I’ve been having some difficulty with critiquing. Please don’t misunderstand. All writers—whether aspiring or accomplished need critique partners.

It is not easy to find what works for you and to identify what will work for others as well. Over the years I’ve been involved in multiple groups, where the support and assistance are invaluable. The people who are willing to tell you what’s wrong, and help you figure out how to fix it, are like a cool spring in the middle of the desert.

Sometimes, even constructive criticism is hard to hear.

The inability to perceive the construct in the criticism is typically due to our unwillingness to listen. So, here are a few tips that may help if you’re having difficulty getting to the heart of making the writing you’re working on saleable.

When you receive a critique don’t plunder into the material without thought. The person who provides the critique has spent their time, normally their writing time, to help you with your work. Typically to receive service in kind. So be thoughtful when you provide a critique as well.

Begin by setting aside time to review the work and do nothing else. Turn off the phone, shut down the internet, and focus on this task.

Be sure you’re open to new information. You may have planned exactly what happens next, or already written it down, plotted it out. Take this opportunity to be open to new ideas. Remember, writers are also readers. Be willing to let go of the old ideas and form some new ones. See if those are better.

Be in the moment. Think about the information offered. Do you need to ask questions? Is there something more to be accomplished with the give and take critiques require? Are you open to the discussion on improvements or clarifying points in the work?

Approach the critique with the positive intention. If you find the criticism confusing, or it seems odd, clarify. Make sure you and your critique partner are both speaking the same language.

Be persistent when working on your critique. Do not let your mind wander, or race ahead to parts plotted but not yet written. Push through and consider the advice you’re given. Sometimes it’s difficult for writers to see the tree in the forest. Occasionally others bring better ideas to the table.

Take the lead and thank the critique partner for their time. Be specific. “I appreciate your suggestions and am considering some minor rewrites.” Or “I need to set up the next event more clearly. Thanks for pointing that out.”

  Respect the time and energy the critique partner put into making the MS readable, and well-paced. Their writing may be meant to elicit emotions other than those you’ve targeted. But their input is always valuable.

When critiquing face to face, remember to look for body language clues that your partner feels underappreciated, or insulted by your “blow off” of their suggestions. Read the language you incorporate into your characters to avoid demeaning the work they did for you.

Remove ego from the communication. Be humble about the information you receive (and with the information you provide). You can pay attention to the details of the work if you do not equate ego with success.

Remember, stress or tension, such as that of first-time participants, can get in the way of effective communication. Stress affects the ability to listen. Again, read the body language if you’re given the opportunity.

Mirror the others communication skills. Being in sync with their style make it easier for them to listen and understand. Choose a similar rhythm to communicate effectively.

When you ask for help with a newly completed work, such as a beta read or a critique, the most important thing is to narrow your focus to what’s at hand.

Sometimes self-awareness means biting your tongue.

Happy Critiquing!

On Writing

“My words sound better coming from my hands than from my mouth.”

Unknown

I cannot tell you a story. Well, I could, but the significant question is can I keep your attention? Maybe, maybe not.

When you’re a writer you learn how to write a hook, and that you should use a hook at your chapter ending. It’s part of the structure you need to put together to keep your reader engaged. Sometimes writing to the structure goes beyond your writing voice.

Once you’ve written about a million words, you start to see and hear your unique writing voice. It’ s something you worked to achieve and you do not want to do anything to jeopardize it. Authors struggle against the editor who tries to edit it out of the story. But how exactly do you allow editing without jeopardizing your voice?

Truth be told, it’s damn difficult.

Most of us find the zone when we sit down to write. If you need to warm up, and I often do, you slip right into the zone somewhere around the second or third page. It’s different for each of us. But once found, the zone is the heaven where all good stories reside. They wait for us to trip into the garden of paradise and enjoy the moment. Because, that’s what it seems like, a moment in time.

When we read–and most authors are avid readers–we become lost in the story. At least that is the goal of every author for each reader to find his own way, at his own pace, with a separate interpretation. What a story means to one of us will not resonate with every reader. Like small hidden gems, the “moments of universal truth” shine through in varied places for each reader.

Each chapter should be formed to build on the story that comes before it. Not in an episodic manner, but rather as a new layer of character, influence of backstory, or personal insight as to why our characters become who they are meant to be by the story’s end.

So many of the “writing rules” are really guidelines meant to improve our writing. But even viewed as guidelines, they confuse the beginning writer. It’s as if you’re juggling, with too many balls in the air.

Show don’t tell.

Anchor the reader and your characters in time and place.

Don’t give too much backstory too soon.

Begin with a hook.

End with a hook.

The best advice for new writers? Write the damn book. You will quickly learn, good books are not written but rewritten

What’s in a name?

I recently had a visit from a long time friend I had not seen in several years. During the catch-up phase of our conversation, she informed me she had rescued two dogs. Being a dog lover myself, of course, I needed more information. “What breed,” I asked. She replied, “mixed.”

Finally, she got to the point and told me the mix of breeds–Chihuahua, and Yorkie. “Chorkies,” she declared.

I thought about it for a few moments, all the time wondering to myself who chooses how names are combined to determine a mix of breeds. Chorkie is a fine choice, but what’s wrong with Yohuahua? Isn’t that also an acceptable combination of Yorkie and Chihuahua?

Other options for mixed breeds, such as Labrador retriever and Poodle, are Labradoodle. Let me offer another option; Poodor retriever. After all, the dog is probably still willing to retrieve things.

Some other options I think may need revision.

  • Bogle – Beagle and Boxer. My suggestion, Beaxer, pronounced Beazer. Much more interesting.
  • Bugg – Boston Terrier and Pug. My take is Terrug. Interesting.
  • Cheagle – Chihuahua and Beagle. much like the Yorkie mix, I would go with Behuahua. Sounds like Bwaaahhhaaaa!
  • Golden Dox – Golden Retriever and Dachshund. Or a Golden hund, you pick.
  • Horgi – Husky and Corgi. This is just mean, who would be so mean to a Husky?
  • Jack-A-Ranian – Jack Russell Terrier and Pomeranian. How about PomTerr?
  • Lhaffon – Brussels Griffon and Lhasa Apso. Laff off, just for ridiculousness.
  • Cavachon – Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Bichon Frisé. Charles Frise’. It’s a little more personal.

So thinking further on the subject I began to wonder, what’s in a name?

Romance authors choose Hero names with a sharp sound, Brick, Dirk, Clint, or Zack, no Tommies for us. We like real men with hard-sounding names who are durable and dependable.

And for Heroines, we choose languorous, sleep-inducing, sloe-eyed names with a musical lilt, Harmony, Cherie, Susannah. The more ladylike and sultry the name, the better for our heroines. Sexy, huh?

Anewyn, Gaelic for the blithe spirit, gets shortened to Ane and many people spend years pointing out your name is spelled wrong. Over the years I respond, my parents needed the second “N” for another child. Because of obvious criticisms from people you don’t really know, who are not in possession of all the facts, this is annoying at best. You should try to meet these situations with humor.

Generally, I do.

See the list of mixed breed names, revised.

 

 

Courage

  “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

― Anais Nin

Seriously, do you know what constitutes courage? Some people think of it as the absence of fear. Some people say it is the ability to face the very thing you fear. But I often wonder if the ability to face fears can sometimes be a foolish pursuit.

When it is not in your best interest to buck the system, fear can become embedded in the operational psyche.

I don’t believe this. I am of the school of thinking where facing your fears reduces them, allowing you to overcome obstacles in your path enabling you to eventually move on.

Assuming this take on the things you fear is the expansion Anais Nin is referring to, then the inability to face our fears must cause our personal universe to contract. Not good.

Sometimes fears are not meant to be dealt with in so cavalier a fashion.

Who will decide which fears are worth facing, and which should be circumvented?

Like most writers, if you are introverted, you avoid walking into a room of people you do not know, it’s too scary. Even when you seek a group of like-minded people, you can still find a situation like this paralyzing.  Seeking out other aspiring writers, or accomplished writers in pursuit of a mentor is a challenging task. If shyness (fear) prevents you from joining such groups or even seeking them out, how your attempts to join such a group are received are critical to how you deal with these situations in the future.

Most of us, as members of RWA, are often assured a welcome in each chapter of the overall parent group. But that is not necessarily the case. Even chapters which claim to promote aspiring writers by mentoring, and use that as their basis for excellence, often forget that common courtesy is everything.

Recently I attended a chapter meeting for an RWA chapter where I am not a member. I have been a member of RWA since 1993, and I do know the “rules.” You should greet new people and make them feel welcome. This is a hallmark of a chapter that aspires to excellence. It certainly should be a given for a chapter that RWA claims are “excellent.”

But no matter, I attended with notice by emailing and letting them know I planned to attend. I confirmed the date, place and time. When I arrived on site, I made myself known by introducing myself to the first two people I met. They gave me their names and shook hands. Then turned away to speak with friends and others they knew in the arriving group. In the meeting, a woman I’ve known for many years, who belonged to another chapter and who I had hosted numerous times in my home was present. She did not speak or acknowledge me until I was on my way out of the meeting.

Now, I could be wrong, but this behavior does not constitute either the principle of RWA’s inclusion or excellence. Sound like they pissed me off? They did. I have belonged to numerous chapters. I have gone out of my way to welcome those not known to the group or still new enough to not be recognized by other members. Making it my business to make time to answer questions, help the newcomers find a seat and get comfortable. At the very least, introducing them to at least two additional people.

This type of isolation and poor reception by a “peer” group could be enough to keep some writers from joining, or even encouraging them to leave RWA. Me, I’m not that dainty. But I will never forget the shabby treatment by this group and I will not recommend them to any writer, aspiring or otherwise. I will not attend any meeting or presentation for or by them in the future. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Something we should never forget.

 

Writing from the heart

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

― Antoine de Saint-Exupery

This advice comes under the admonition of “write what you know”. Some of the best and worst advice aspiring writers ever receive.

When you are told to “write what you know” it is always difficult to discern what exactly that means.

Perhaps you need to engage the reader with more emphasis on relating your personal experience with emotional issues. Sadness, joy, anger, revulsion. Any of these emotions are felt in the core and should be transferable to the page.

For Example: anger,

Jolie’s shoulders tensed, apprehension ripping through her. Her clenched hands dropped to her sides, the fists so tight her nails in the palms almost drew blood. Why didn’t people listen to her?

Can you see it in your mind’s eye how angry she is? Have you ever been there? Standing in front of someone you disagree with, and who is not listening to your input, and your anger takes on this physical aspect?

Or how about revulsion, ending in physical pain

Her fingers, twisted and arthritic, removed the cloth from the box. Mesmerized, the memory fleeting beyond her grasp, she pulled the drawer open at the base of the cabinet and memory flooded her like a landslide.

She groaned.

The horrific cold of a thousand dead hands assaulted her, astounding her, stealing her breath. For a moment, she thought she simply forgot to breathe. Then the pain exploded in her chest. A hundred blades of precision surgical steel knifing into her heart and radiating out to her shoulder and jaw. She struggled to take in air. Clutching, reaching for her son, she toppled the tea-table.

I’ll bet you have. I’m going to go out on a limb and bet you know exactly what the author means, when they write she was angry. That’s telling, and when the author shows you the characters physical reaction to something that happens “on stage” in the story, that’s writing what you know.

Translating your emotion into words on the page, sadness, desire, longing, and any other emotions we are all privy to, is the essence of writing what you know.

Where does your story start?

There’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question.

I know many authors in various stages of their careers, and not a single one willing to say, “I know exactly where my story begins.”

Once in a rare while we know where to start the story, but not often, and certainly, not always.

As writers we have so many things to agonize over, such as “who does the story belong to?”, and “who will be the primary character?”

We need to decide so many things when we start a new story that we often overlook the obvious when we decide who will tell the story. For Romance writers, we know the story must be told by both sides, the “he said, she said” that keeps romance readers coming back. They love (no pun intended) a gripping story and so of course, they want to know why she behaved that way, and what he thought about it, and why he put the time and energy into winning her back. Did she make it worth his time?

If you have an audience that comes back again and again, you know you’re probably telling the story correctly. But how much do you agonize over the very beginning of the story? How do you decide when you’re just starting out who the story belongs to and how it should be told.

A general rule of thumb is when things change, the story begins. Always a good place to start. Change brings conflict. Conflict and its resolution or lack thereof, is often what keeps readers reading. But, unless we can identify and sympathize with the primary character, then you, as the reader are not likely to buy in for the long haul. And believe me, 400 pages is the long haul.

You must create and open with a character we love, or at least can identify with for the duration of the story. This simple direction is indeed a tall order.
How do I make you love my character? Or at the very least, how do I get you to accept him for who he is, like you but not like you, and still make him interesting.

In a word, backstory.

All of the things I, as the writer know, about the character, who he or she is, how they came to be in the moment fraught with conflict and change, and I must make you care about him and want to know why that happened.

You can love him or hate him, but he must arouse your curiosity, make you ask why? and also wonder, what happened next?

If you fail to incite this interest, you haven’t found the the right character, or the true beginning of your story.

Writing Rules

“Habits are safer than rules; you don’t have to watch them. And you don’t have to keep them either. They keep you.”

― Frank Crane

That’s the truth. Anyone who has been writing for a long time, and hopefully some of those writing for a short time know this to be true. There are no real rules.

Well, maybe a few. In Romance, you always get a happily ever after, and when you don’t get that, you get a happy for now ending. NB, Nicolas Sparks doesn’t write romance. He does write wonderfully compelling stories about love and redemption, but those stories are technically not romance.

There are a host of ways to produce the story which will provide a satisfying “Happily Ever After” but that’s not what we’re talking about today.

Today we are going to talk about the writing habit.

This is a double up opportunity for me to tell you i don’t believe in writers block. I have never heard of any other profession which claims to have a “block”. No surgeons block, no plumbers block, no salesman’s block, or any other profession.

I do believe in laziness, not wanting to do your job today, needing to take a holiday, needing a mental health day, and finally “I’m just not going to do that today”.

I also believe you should write according to a schedule of you own devising, which after some thought a planning tells you how much you can writer and how often. For example, when you still go to a “day job” that presumable pays the bills, you need to schedule not only “write time”, but down time. I’m pretty sure you all know what down time is; time to do what you want or need, to rejuvenate, recharge and rebuild strength.

Make sure you order your life to allow for a reasonable amount of time to pursue your writing dreams. When I still had to go to the “day Job”, I was much more productive. Because my time was scheduled, and I knew if I wanted to accomplish my writing goals, I had to stick to a schedule. The schedule can be whatever works for you–let me repeat–what works for you.

You can schedule as little as 100 words per day, or as much as a single chapter, upwards of 5,000 words or much more. Do what works for you. I also would schedule the “down time” to maintain the balance. I do not write on the weekends even today, unless I miss a weekday writing goal.

Join a group. Others will keep you honest, and on task, if you all have the same commitment to writing. The group can be a professional one, or an local amateur group. Accountability is what you’re looking for, because most of us don’t bother to keep the promises we make to ourselves, but that’s another story for another day.

What you don’t know. . .

 

  “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

― Albert Einstein

So there’s a saying: “You don’t know what you don’t know until you know it. Then you know.”

Pretty much I believe that to be true. When you attempt to learn a new skill, you have no idea–for the most part–if learning will be drastic, difficult, or if you will fall into it like an old pro.

This saying is especially true when you talk about learning to write. Each of us has, at one time or another, met a person who thinks writing a book is a great idea. Sometimes they even tell us they’re going to go home and write it and it’ll be out next year.

I tend to believe this where the person who believes anyone can write a book finds out what they don’t know. Especially when it comes to writing a book.

So it is pretty easy to accept that each of us has a story to tell. That some of us are “born” storytellers. What about the authors that aren’t “born” storytellers? They must have learned something about storytelling.  Do they study the craft of writing, or do they observe other writers?

Some writers can’t tell you how they craft a story, because they work by instinct. The old tribal belief that stories are meant to be shared, that cautionary tales are for all of us, and sometimes we just need to entertain the rest of the tribe, is absolutely true. What motivates each writer is different, unique in its own way.

If you have a story to tell, write it down. If you’re willing to take a leap of faith and learn something new, share it with others, selectively. I stress selectively because not all critics are kind.

Chose critics who will not only tell you what’s wrong with specificity, but can suggest ways to fix it. This is how we learn.

 

 

How does that sound?

More on naming your characters.

The sound of a name says it all. For the strong, alpha, bad boy, totally masculine character you will probably want a name that sounds sharp, short and strong. Names that garner attention.

Bad boys, particularly villains, who deserve as much attention as heroes, have specific name needs.No villain should be Snidely Whiplash. Too routine, too ordinary, too boring. In fact, you might say “cookie cutter”.

The real bad boys in fiction, whether leading men, alpha heroes, or second fiddles have sharp, snappy, memorable names. Especially the anti-hero. Names that sound sharp, snappy or have sizzle built-in.

Count Dracula, the primary bad boy of fiction has a sharp sounding name. Count–with the k sound for an opener–followed by Dracula–another definitely sharp sound. The D defines and the k is repeated in Drac, brings in another sharp k. Hard edges are defined by the name. You know instinctively this guys going to be a problem.

Sometimes the sound is suspicious. Le Stat, another vampire of literary fame. The s sound is slithery, and sneaking. This character is not at all what he seems. Tah Dah! He is conflicted. Suspicious. This character is unpredictable, no one can say exactly what will happen with him next.

Long after the story ends, writers are remembered for their compelling characters. Often the properly named character is remembered once story specific are long forgotten. So make sure you ask yourself, “what’s in his name?” before you name the character.

This is one place where the use of subtext is not acceptable and encouraged.

 

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