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

Tag: committment (Page 2 of 7)

Gimme a Hero…

As soon as you open your novel, on the very first page, in the very first line…what your character does and says will make or break him/her –and by association, you–as a writer.

You only get this one chance to gimme a hero. He/she must be unique but ordinary, courageous but  vulnerable, strong and weak at the same time. This is the hat trick of writing a great opener. You need to show me and to tell your readers in so few words, the hero who can be real and storybook perfect even while flawed. Get it? Not many writers do. Those that do get it, find themselves in great company and consistently on the coveted “lists”. You know, the NYT, USA Today, and in line for prestigious awards, consistently.

We want the characters we love to be “real”, and what we mean is for them to be just like us. Ordinary people with whom we can identify. But we also need them to be heroes. The fictional characters who allow us to believe that we can step outside the box of “ordinary” and become the guy who saves the life, the child, the day.

So really, what we want is for you to make your characters, less and more at the same time.

Got it?

The most important thing for you to remember now, is that human beings hard-wired to resist change, even when it is for their own good. Your story, if you really have one, is about change.  Change is what brings conflict you cannot avoid. Sounds like a catch-22, doesn’t it? No, its story perfection at its best. It is everything you need to make your story great.

As humans we don’t like change and we don’t like conflict. But for story people, the well-rounded characters that induce others to read your books, conflict and change is excitement. It’s the adventure we seek without having to leave the safety of our living room, reading nook, or our comfy bed.

Again, it is conflict that drives your story forward.

Because the hero needs to grow, to change, to evolve he needs an arc. Show your reader how he meets the challenges your story provides, overcomes the obstacles, or recovers from his defeats, and grows in spite of his hardships and shortcomings. We grow when we win and when we lose.

What Writers Do

Writer’s write. This is what I’ve been told since the first day I declared my intention to tell the stories inside me.

It sounded so simple. You have a story, and you should tell it. Just sit down and write. Simple and straight forward. If only it were that easy. But it’s not. Whether you write for a living or simply to still the small voices inside you which compel you share the story you know, it is never easy.

The worst part, always, is knowing where to start. Most of us don’t know where the story begins with any more certainty than you do where every story begins. That being said, let me assure you every story is unique. There is no right or wrong answer about where to start.

Regardless of the advice you read, and the opinions are numerous, where the story begins is a matter of choice and style. You will learn how to choose what works for you as a writer, and style develops over time. I’ve heard it said you need to write a million words before you find your voice.

No matter what type of fiction you choose, writing a salable compelling novel is difficult. The fiction market is  highly competitive, and to succeed in the marketplace, even if you choose self publishing, you will need to know the fundamentals of good writing.

What you need to demonstrate is a good hook to engage your reader and compelling plot points to keep them engaged in the story. Then you will need to write sharp and tight to keep your story appealing to the audience.

Developing the opening hook is as simple as writing a sentence and as difficult as summing up the entire premise of the story in a few short words. Great opening lines create a question in the readers mind that needs to be answered. That need is what keeps them reading. The need to find out how the characters arrived at this moment and what happened to them. But more importantly what will happen next?

Hooks are also used to close scenes and chapters. These scene and chapter endings being the opportunities for a reader to take a break and put your book down. If you don’t want that to happen, then ensure that you’ve posed and important question as to what happens next?

Don’t worry about spending too much time on that opening, because for the most part, other than writing, most writers re-write. And it is not only likely, but highly probable, that re-writing is in your future.  If you don’t master the opening on the first pass (And I bet you won’t) you will have plenty of opportunities to re-write then opening into a fine tuned and lethal hook. Because the thing most writers spend their time on is re-writing and editing.

Where do I start?

I’ll be the first one to say, in spite of the excitement which accompanies starting a new project or a new book, there is also an element of fear.

Fear is the one thing which diverts our attention from a project which we anticipated, and causes us to doubt if the endeavor will be successful. In fact, fear is the number one thing that can hold us back in many areas of our lives, including our stories.

When the time comes to begin a new project, no matter how vested I find myself in “the story idea”, I have a process I use to ensure there is in fact enough story to fill out the form to completion. The process is simple.

First, make sure the idea of story is engaging. What that means is, do you have a good place to start?

Knowing where to start is tricky. Some will say you must first set the stage for your story. Others will assure you that the story begins when the characters ordinary world changes. Only the author can decide how much stage setting is required. I like to combine the small glance at the hero or heroine’s ordinary world at the moment change tempts her to action.

So the real trick is then, how can I best show the hero/heroine’s ordinary world at the moment of change?

This is the point at which talent challenges endurance, when you write at least four to five rough draft story starts.

But before you ever set out on this path, it’s important to know what you’re writing for. Sounds odd, doesn’t it? Really, this is the most crucial step. Is writing a hobby you use to pass extra time? Or is writing a business endeavor that might support you in the long run? Now is the time to decide. You must make this decision before you start.

Approach to a task will tell whether or not success is at the end of the road. If you write for your own pleasure, have at it. You need no further advice or direction from me or anyone else. Just sit down and start writing. Don’t let anything or anyone deter you. Writing is, for many of us, pure joy. It allows us to search through and examine the minutiae of our very souls.  This type of writing can bring insight, inspiration and sanity to an otherwise overwhelming areas of our lives.

If however, you write with the intention to be successful, then you must define for yourself what success means.

For some writers success is simply seeing their work in print or ebook. For others the feeling of success comes from recognition by others, such as “making the list” whether it is the NYT or USA Today. Other writers seek simpler affirmations of success such as monetary gain. No problem there. We all like to be compensated for the work that we do, and estimated by an hourly wage, writing income is low unless you enjoy best seller status where advance money is high.

If you determine success by income from writing, let’s say self-publishing and ebook sales, then you should first determine an amount of income that meets your specific needs. Next you should formulate a plan that will ensure the income you desire. This will require further work on your part to determine what the most saleable type of book you can write, and how you should promote it for maximum return on the time investment you make. The investment is made by every writer on the front end.  Only with advanced success will you be able to hire out or delegate the time and effort necessary to promote your book to success.

Apologies & Introducing a New Book

For the past several weeks I’ve been offline. Yeah, computer problems. Everyone has them and most of us suffer in silence, or just moan and whine a little but press on when the problems are resolved.

I won’t do that. I have decided this is an opportunity to strike off in a new direction and share a new start with all of you.

First things first. I will take you through how a novel is structured, how the idea seeds are planted and how the book is brought to full growth. A lot goes into planning and executing a novel and I will tell you exactly how to get started.

Week by week I will share how to structure the story, how to build a solid foundation and how to deal with the twists and turns that present themselves along the way. You will choose how your story will start and end, and also decide how much to write.

I hope that these step by step suggestions and guidelines will answer some of the many questions I receive about where ideas come from and how to recognize the fertility in the good ones.

So please don’t abandon me, because I certainly didn’t abandon you, and I will be sharing information you might find useful.

Thanks for reading.

Trust

We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone – but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy.”

― Walter Anderson

This post speaks to the issue of sharing your work with others. I know, I know. You write for the satisfaction of having created something from the sheer fabric of imagination. You want to see what materializes from the vapor of pure imagination, and if the story burning in your heart and mind can be told, understood, and shared.

Unless you take the leap of faith and share your story with others you will never know. Remember, it is a leap of faith. As creators of fiction we are timid in sharing our story for fear of our “baby” being deemed ugly. And keep in mind, not every one will love your story. Some may even dislike it. But the stories we write are not for others, but rather for ourselves and those who can identify with the story we need to tell.

Sometimes the most difficult people to trust with a story is our family and friends, who may feel compelled to tell us  our  stories are wonderful.   The people we love, and who love us, often feel compelled not to criticize, even in a constructive way. They don’t want to hurt our feelings when we truly desire to hear their thoughts in hope of finding our way onto the path of success. So who do we turn to?

Sometimes we need to approach and engage strangers to help us judge the merits of our work. We need to be selective in the approach, seeking out readers who will and can give constructive feedback.  This method will more likely ensure assistance in a forward motion rather than annihilate our hopes and dreams.

Beyond that we need to listen. Often, authors who are overly sensitive complain of being unfairly criticized. “They just didn’t get me.” “No one understands what I’m trying to say.”  Do we stop to consider that we, as writers, aren’t making our intentions clear? That editing, and possibly re-writes are in order?

Not every writer is fortunate enough to have a mentor. Not every writer can approach a critic–and every potential reader is a critic–and find the help her/she requires. We have to trust sometimes that the criticism we hear, especially commonly repeated criticisms, are true. When these criticisms are repeated, we need to assume they may be true. Trust your judgement.

 

Opinion vs. Reality

   “Don’t let someone else’s opinion of you become your reality.”

― Les Brown

 

Do you sometimes put too much stock in what others say? Spend too much time worrying what other think? These are the two foremost traits of the dreaded internal editor. They are deadly to the pursuit of a writing career.

I’ll be the first one to say we all need a little help from our friends. Critique partners, mentors, like minded aspiring writers, Beta readers, and of course the professional editor whom we hire to help us make our work …better. That is the end goal, a story that is just better. and that’s a good thing, right?

But there sometimes is just too much of a good thing. So we have to know when to say no.

You know you can do it.  Say it with me now. I appreciate your input, I honestly value the time and thought you gave to this, but I just don’t agree. But make sure you know the reason why you don’t agree and that the reason is justified.

Anyone can correct my grammar. Almost everyone does, because sometimes it’s necessary. I have a thought, and not being the best typist, it goes down hard and fast. Mostly hard, and often incorrect. In spite of that, I sometimes don’t take well-meant advice if I feel it interferes with “voice”.

You are always allowed to say no, even though many times you shouldn’t.  There are those writers who come seeking advice and encouragement who want you to approve their choices. And that is not always possible. When the writer refuses to listen to the reason for changes, they don’t approach– and are certainly not receptive to– improving their writing.

The opinion most authors have of aspiring writers who fail to follow advice is often quite low. If you don’t understand the reason for the suggested changes, ask. Listen carefully, sometimes it is simply a matter of structure or placement, not big changes in the grand scheme of things.

Happiness

Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means that you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.

― Unknown

 

This week, I know exactly what happiness means.

My DH decided it was time for me to have a new desktop computer. I liked my old one, but it threatened to have a stroke and fall off the desk. It’s been threatening me in this fashion for many months now, and I just wasn’t willing to give up the ghost.

Earlier this week I found I couldn’t open any word program files at all.  So, I guess it has been a problem for much longer than I am willing to admit. I decided then and there a new desktop was in order. Also, if I hadn’t gone looking for those old word files, I probably didn’t really need to hang onto them. So finally, I got a new desktop computer.

Next time, I won’t wait so long to treat myself like I deserve something good.

The new desktop is sleek,  lightweight, shiny and pretty. It is also fast. Yea!

It did, however, throw me completely off my game. Wow.

Pay attention every minute because the technology moves so fast it is scary. I mean really scary. I like to think I keep up for the most part with new things, but I could be wrong. I have owned a PC since they first came out and so many people told me it was 1) a waste of money 2) a waste of effort and 3) pretentious.

I don’t dispute any of those things. All of them certainly may be true or were true at any given point in time.  But today I learned something new about the advancing technology.

You just can’t get in front of it.

Accept it. Move on. After four strenuous hours online and on the phone with the tech team, I found that you just can’t go back.  You’re going to have to renew, resolve and download all over again. Just do it.

And that folks, is the only reason this blog came late to the party. I promise you I will have inspiration words , or at the very least something else to b*tch about next week.

In the meantime, just keep writing.

 

 

Learning the Craft

   “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

― St. Francis of Assisi

In order to write that novel you always talk about, or dream of writing, you must start. I know you may not have the skills required to write the next great American novel. I get that, you know that, we all agree it’s not happening. But where do you start?

You just start.

Don’t stop by the Idea Store and purchase anything. Don’t ask your mother, father, girlfriend, boyfriend, or your best friend what they think. We all know they have opinions. Everyone has an opinion.Your opinion is what counts in the immediate moment.

A seasoned writer usually has developed a method for determining if they have enough idea to sustain a story, and what size of story (word count) the story idea can support. They have a good grasp of what it takes to make a story work, and this is why seasoned writers don’t always discuss their ideas until they’ve determined if the story has legs. Can it stand on its own?

For the beginning writer, there is no valuable advice –especially for a first novel–other than to start writing. That’s correct, just take a page from Nike, just do it.

You could of course, ignore this advice, and attend writing classes, make an outline, fill out character sheets or do character interviews, design a storyboard, ask for advice from other beginning writers and do any number of other things that only delay your writing. That’s correct delay your writing.

The number one reason unpublished authors experience a failure to launch, is basically simple; it’s a failure to write. We each have a certain amount of words we need to write before we can identify our own voice. Some experts say you won’t recognize your voice until you’ve written a million words. Now, I don’t know if it’s true, but I do know you need to start writing.

My first book was a fantasy novel, beautifully written with engaging descriptive backgrounds that made critique partners “see” the landscape of the novel. Yea for me! I’m good a world building. They told me the characters engaged the readers and all were anxious to see what would happen next. Yea for me, great character development. One critique partner described my passages as “liquid poetry”, and I was flattered, and amazed and felt so good about my writing. Except 400 pages into the story, the characters great adventure, no actual plot was found.

That’s right No Plot, BIG Problem.

I didn’t know what my weakness was until I started writing. Based on this experience, I never start a novel, novella, or short story without knowing the full plot. Every pinch point, every turning point, every reversal and big black moment is down on the sheet before the writing begins.

You have to determine what your own shortcomings are, and define your style, before you can learn the craft skills necessary to become successful. Once you have accomplished this, then the life long learning begins and you may have your feet firmly planted on the road to success.

 

 

 

Making Progress

   “ It is important that we forgive ourselves for making mistakes. We need to learn from our errors and move on. ”

― Steve Maraboli

Almost everything I’ve ever learned about writing I learned from making mistakes. Most of the time, the mistakes don’t hurt anyone but me. Often they come from a failure to plan the work. If you’re working from a plan, you can always adjust, backtrack, or take a new direction. You have plenty of leeway to turn and twist, and head off in a new direction. But you always do well to start with a plan.

The focus keeps the task at hand…at hand, so to speak. Early on in writing, but never early enough, a good friend and a prolific author told me “never sit down to write unless you know where you’re going.” This in fact, is the best advice I’ve ever been given.

When I first learned this, I still worked full-time and had a lot of responsibility at home. Since my husband and I owned a business, I had a lot on my plate. The first hour of daily writing was wasted on the guilt trip how I could better spend the time I was “wasting” on writing. Not published at the time, I took time-wasting very seriously. I thought I should be doing things or paperwork that was business related: bookkeeping, ordering, organizing, or selling new accounts.

I wasted about an hour guilt tripping, then procrastinating, and agonized later that neither task was productive. I didn’t get the bookkeeping, selling, organizing or the fiction writing done.

When I learned to end the writing every day (according to the time allotment) I marked the end of the session with a plan for where I would go next with my story. Eureka!

Thus the new guideline became, don’t start writing unless you know where you’re going with the story. In other words, plan just a little bit, such as the next scene, the next chapter, or up to the next pinch point or turning point. Not too far ahead, but just enough to keep you going. Kind of like headlights on the road in the dark. You only need to see so far ahead, not enough to be considered a “plotter” but enough to keep you on a steady course for accomplishing something productive.

This kind of progress keeps you on track without letting you write a hundred pages you’ll need to rewrite later. Of course, we all realize there will be re-writes later. But still, we’re making progress.

 

 

Sheeple

The greatest fear in the world is of the opinions of others. And the moment you are unafraid of the crowd you are no longer a sheep, you become a lion. A great roar arises in your heart, the roar of freedom.

― Osho

 

So if you start this year making promises to yourself, stand up –or sit down if you’re writing –and tell your story, your way. The most productive thing you can do, is to keep the promises you make to yourself.

If you’re going to keep promises, you should make an effort to be your true self all the time, especially when you are telling your story. Remember to tell your story your way. After all, isn’t that what being true to your self is all about?

I know plenty of people who don’t do this, and that’s a major contributing factor to their downfall, or to a failure to launch.

Sadly, when we begin pursuing a writing career we are hellbent on pleasing everyone who gives us advice, and anyone kind enough to offer any type of direction. When this behavior is coupled with the personality type which attempts to please everyone else instead of oneself, disaster ensues. First chapter writing contests are a major offender. Many times writing contests sponsored by writing groups who claim to be able to help you with that introduction to an agent or editor are major offenders in this area.

These writing contests send your unattended story off to many non-trained people to offer a critique of the introduction to your work without regard to the level of writer giving the critique.  Critiquing is in itself an art form, and is not an experience to be shared with anyone you do not trust. Often harsh words and poorly thought out comments sabotage many aspiring writers, especially those with fragile egos or a lack of support at home.

In spite of all that, many aspiring writers acting as “sheeple” dutifully make the changes suggested, no matter how outrageous, and pony up another $25-$35 for the next round of ill-advised potential to “get your work in front of the editor or agent you want to impress”.  The writers who win these contests know it’s often left to the luck of the draw. Their writing is usually spot on, but first they were lucky enough to get first round judges who were looking at story, not hunting a simple misplaced comma.

Make this a word to the wise; not all advice is good advice even if you’re paying for it.

Take the time to ask questions. Make sure you are getting what you pay for, in terms of writing advice. Are the contest judges trained to give a reasonable and helpful first chapter critique? Do they offer insight to writing “mistakes” and a method to assist you in correcting the mistakes and thereby learning new skills? Is your story improved by the input you  received?

While asking for feedback from an independent source is scary, remember you pay a tribute to receive the criticism. Use the advice you get wisely, and remember it’s always your story, your choice.

 

 

 

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