Staying Motivated to Write

Being a writer is hard work. An experienced writer will have a ton of ideas raging through their head, several works in progress at any one time, social media updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, their website to maintain, their own blogging, etc.

You, on the other hand, are new. You’re just trying to write and finish that one book, but you keep running into motivation problems. How do published authors do it? How do they keep themselves going day-in, day-out? Here are some tips:

1. Avoid Burnout – don’t write every day. You constantly hear this piece of advice, “Write every day.” DON’T. I personally have found the people that scream the most are wannabe authors. Let me ask you: are you supposed to exercise every day? No. Why? Because you risk injury to your muscles from over-exercising. Writing is the same way. In addition to that bad case of carpal tunnel, you wear yourself out by constantly thinking in pushing a story through instead of giving your brain time to absorb and think about what you wrote. You’ll burn yourself out. Give your brain a day off.

2. Set realistic expectations. Successful authors set goals for themselves that are attainable. One of the things I’ve seen new authors flame out is because they possessed unrealistic expectations. They got a really awesome idea for a book. They may even plot out the whole thing, did character sheets, created a small story-bible of how magic, religion, and how the world works, and then after writing a couple of chapters, they are done. Why? They had an image of them writing their novel in 30 days or maybe writing 3,000 words a day, but they didn’t come anywhere near that. Second, the “honeymoon” with the novel’s plot wears off and now begins the tedium of actually writing out the story. Writing is an endurance sport.  If you’re trying to cut your teeth in this field, start small. Practice. Dragon Soul Press offers opportunities for new authors to submit short stories around six times a year.

https://dragonsoulpress.com/anthologies/

3. Read about the learning the craft. On your “days off,” read blogs or watch YouTube videos about writing. There are many talented people out there. If you read or watch them, you’ll find yourself inspired.

4. Good feedback pushes you closer to the goal! What separates an amateur from a professional author is their ability to handle criticism or whether they ask for it. An amateur won’t solicit for criticism on their work or when they do, they expect glowing praise. A professional will always strive to ask for feedback and when they are told their WIP has problems in X, Y, and Z, you know what they do? They dive right in! Good feedback that is used with tact will always motivate you to push yourself to a new height and a new challenge. An example of this was when I was going through a second round of critiques on Fallen From the Stars. One of my readers posed a serious question about a supporting character and couldn’t make a connection. Eureka! He was right! I went back and added three more chapters just to create the build-up, tension, battle, and resolution  for that supporting character. Result? It eliminated a “dry spell” in that part of the book and added a level of tension and drama not expected.

5. Love the tedium (or at least put up with it). Congratulations! You finished that book! You managed to crank out 100k words and to you, it’s done! However, in reality, it’s not done because you now need to get feedback on it, but before you do that, you need to edit it. Edit, yeah, that word. You know, make it readable for the rest of us. Another amateur mistake I’ve seen a lot of indie authors make is they will not edit their own work. They will run it through spellcheck or maybe Grammarly and then boom, they think they are done. They then format the book and hit the publish button on Amazon. Editing is a part of life. You have to do it. If you love it like I do (I have an unhealthy obsession with it), then tasks like these actually help you cope with the melancholy that comes after you finish the first draft. Even if you don’t love it, at least put up with it.

Regarding amateurs, some hate editing with all capital letters. Once the fun part of the craft actually turns into work, that can deflate motivation quickly. Once a writer realizes they’re only producing crap, they give up and blog about being a professional author or something like that.

There are many other tips on how to stay motivated to write, but with a good mindset, understanding how writing is all about endurance, and good encouragement, then receiving a check at the end of the month is just icing on the cake.

Happy writing!

A Good Writing Prompt Method to Help You

There are times when we all need a boost of inspiration. Writing a book is a mentally draining experience. It even takes more energy to continue to present a fresh story every time you produce something new. The last thing you want your die-hard fans to say is that you’re rehashing old stories, characters, and plots into something slightly different.

If you’re really out of ideas, do what I call a picture method.

Look at this picture I pulled from Pinterest:

Now, ask yourself some questions about the picture:

  1. Who is she?
  2. Who is the man with the hands out?
  3. What is the woman doing other than casting some kind of spell or maybe offering a magic item?
  4. Who are the men behind her?

Think about twenty to thirty questions to ask about this picture. Just the questions! Maybe get your close friends to help you.

That’s just to get you started, so now we need to start answering those questions:

  1. The woman is a queen, the men in the background are her vassals, the dukes of the queendom’s parliament.
  2. The man is the protagonist of the story, but she’s casting a spell to execute him. Let’s take this a step further. She’s the man’s sister, but she’s not the villain of the story.
  3. This is taking place in a temple of their gods. Their gods are living, interactive beings who have called for the man’s death.

So what’s at stake? Why is the Queen executing her brother?

  1. Because he is a threat to her claim to the throne. Their mother recently passed away and it is the culture of this nation that siblings are required to eliminate all other claimants. He doesn’t want to fight and kill his sister, so he surrenders.
  2. Why are they battling again? Because the Queen Mother died. Many people think the Queen Mother died of old age, but she was assassinated. The power behind the assassination was one of the dukes who sees one of the siblings as a puppet to manipulate for his own ends.
  3. The duke himself has an alliance with another nation who have long since suffered under the Queen Mother’s yoke. They are trying to break free from her influence and maybe renegotiate with a weaker ruler.

Now you have the basics of a plot — a foreign power along with a duke assassinates the Queen Mother, sparking the political maneuvering culminating into a final battle between the prince and princess for the throne.

Happy writing!

 

The Good Short Story Tips and Tricks: Hook and Pacing

DSP typically plans and produces six anthologies a year with a short story word count ranging from 5k to 15k words. Technically, there is no sole right way to write a short story, but there are a lot of wrong ways. However, we’ll focus on a couple of methods used to entice your reader and get them hooked on your story for the next twenty to forty pages.

Let’s assume you know the components for proper characterization, tension, theme, POV, etc. For a good short story, you only need to place heavy emphasis on two aspects of your story; a good hook and your scenes moving at a face pace toward the climax.

The Hook

The hook is the opening line or scene to ensnare your reader. It’s a statement that makes them develop an interest in your story right off the bat. For a short story, you want them vested in your tale from the very beginning because you don’t have a lot of words to develop your character or theme. There are several easy ways to write a hook that will have your reader jump into your story; in media res, mystery, and disturbing.

In medias res means, “in the middle of the action”. Instead of starting out those teenagers having sex by the lake and then getting killed one-by-one by the psychopath in a hockey mask, you start the story with one of them running for his life while being chased by the psychopath. In my story, Malicyne’s Puzzle, the hook took place with a battle between a pirate ship and a naval frigate. Thela’s Angel started with poor Thela getting beaten to a pulp by her husband in the inn. Daughter of Darkness starts the story with the holy knight, Rhain, landing a killing blow through a demon lord’s heart in the temple of night elves dedicated to the worship of the Tri-Headed Queen.

Mystery is a very common mechanism. You start out with a profound statement or an enigma for your story. In my book, Fallen From the Stars, it opens with the following:

“Come with me.”

A gunshot rang out, followed by a woman’s scream and the world turned to utter darkness. That’s all I can remember.

Was the main character shot? What happened? Who said, “Come with me?” Readers don’t find out until Chapter 12 Bad Memories, but in a short story, you reveal the mystery of the hook usually at the climax or at the end.

Disturbing is a less common one but is great for grimdark fantasy, horror, or something in which you’re going for shock value. It makes your reader shout, “WTF did I just read?!?” and then they are compelled to read on just to figure out why you wrote that. The Disturbing method will typically contain triggers (again, for shock value).

A word of warning about using the Disturbing method – know your audience. If you’re a fantasy writer who typically writes YA epic fantasy and you want to try your hand at grimdark fantasy, your loyal fans are in for a rude awakening. Secondly, a lot of publishers have a “no graphic [anything]” rule (or rules on certain triggers in general), so don’t violate submission guidelines by writing something that will make people wonder if you’re sane or turn your editor off to you.

Pacing

After you’ve written your hook, all your scenes following should be paced as if racing toward the climax. You’re not walking or building up to the climax, you’re running to it. A perfect example of how you should pace your story is by watching the promo trailer for Dragon Age: Origins. Here’s the link (Warning: Violence and Blood):

What did you see here if this was a story? An intrepid band of adventurers on a quest in monster-infested mountains filled with ice, snow, and death. There is the brief pause by the main character, a weapon is thrown from the ice and then boom, we are running through the action building up to the climax of the sorceress Morrigan casting a powerful lightning bolt that lays low the dragon. Did you note how fast the action moved and how it flowed from one character to the next? This is how your short story should flow from one scene to the next, and then building up to the climactic battle with the dragon at the end.

Master this and you’ll sweep your reader up for an intense ride with only a few thousand words.

Happy writing!

Get the Blood Pumping and Write Those Action Scenes!

One of the things I notice when beta-reading for new writers is how they approach action scenes. They either increase the tension up to where a fight should be inevitable and then back away from the potential fight or they engage in the fight and it’s a mess—the reader can’t figure out what’s going on between the combatants.

Writing a good action scene is like paying attention to a musical score during an action scene. In most movies, you will hear two types of musical scores with actions scenes–the heavy, fast-paced, furious score designed to get your blood pumping (about 95% in all movies), or the soft, opera-like singing that indicates a potential tragedy in the making (5% in all the rest).

We’ll focus on the 95% of a typical action scene as the tragedy action scenes are a bit more complex and we’ll save it for another blog post.

So what does a good action scene have in common with a good musical score?

  1. The notes are fast and furious and that’s the core of how your actions scene should flow – fast and furious. A great way to do that is to shorten your sentences. Deliver with strong verbs.

    For example, instead of writing: He ran as his lungs burned, his legs tiring, sweat pouring down in rivulets into his eyes.

    Try: He sprinted despite his burning, tiring muscles, eyes blinking from sweat.

  2. You can feel the music and a good action scene describes the flow with strong, active verbs. Never use any passive verbs in your action scenes unless necessary.Here is an example:

    He screamed as he was struck from behind with a sword, running through his chest.

    Try: He screamed, a sword running him through.

  3. Just listening to the music alone without the movie sends your imagination running. A good action scene will always convey to the reader where all the players are, what they are doing, and bring an incredible amount of tension to each scene. What’s a good way to do that? Use the environment!Here we go with this:

    Raven swung her sword in a wide arc, striking all three guards’ blades. They tried to counter, but met air where she once stood.

    Yawn. Why? Because all we imagine is a woman named Raven swinging her sword against three guards also armed.

    Try:

    Raven jumped atop the table, kicking a plate of rotten food into the face on the guard to her left while swinging her sword low into the blades of the other two imbeciles. They tried to counter but met air as she jumped off, somersaulting over their heads.

    Though, be mindful of things like physics and such. If you’re writing epic fantasy, your reader is going to love this. If you’re writing a Game of Thrones clone, they are not going to be impressed with your Princess Bride moves.

  4. A good action scene uses a seesaw effect. The hero makes a gain, the enemy pushes back. The hero makes a gain, the enemy pushes back again. Sometimes, you want to use this effect and add a “one square forward, two squares back” so that when the hero makes a gain, the enemy pushes back and now the hero is in a worst position than before.

    Let’s try out this example:

    Raven parried the Count’s blade aimed for her throat. The bastard swung too hard and she moved in for the kill, bringing her own weapon down to his head. He deftly dodged, his thrust aimed straight at her eye, but she jerked her head.

    Decent, but let’s up the stakes a bit:

    Raven parried the Count’s blade aimed for her throat, but the tip of his sword bit enough for her to feel the sting. She backed a step, cursing as the bastard swung too hard, the opportunity lost. She brought her own weapon down, trying to draw him in. He deftly dodged, his thrust aimed for straight at her eye, but she jerked her head, the edge of his blade slicing across her cheek deep. He chuckled.

    In that example, we’re painting the Count as kind of a better swordsman against Raven. So while she’s holding her own, she’s making mistakes and getting nicked for it. This increases the tension (drastically if your story is grim and dark).

    There are many ways to write good actions scenes, but a quick method is to picture them as a good musical score and understand how that score handles pacing, tension, and power.

    Happy writing!

Tighten Up Your Story: Dealing With Filler

One of the problems with amateur writers is that they tend to overwrite their narratives. Some of the bigger and more obvious examples are involving new characters who are undeveloped and don’t serve much of a purpose, a side arc that is introduced, but never resolved, unnecessary scenes, and purple prose used for mundane scenes. Those are the big problems. The small ones are using words that carry little to no meaning to the overall prose or narration of the story. Certain words can be filler too. In today’s post, we will discuss filler words. Note: this is in regards to the narrative, not dialogue. If your characters speak using the standard sentence structure of 21st Century English, it’s perfectly okay for your character to say, “Next thing I knew, this guy suddenly slaps me in the face!” But I show you how this is boring in the narrative.

Why get rid of filler words when it’s just a word here and there?

Simple. Imagine your reader enjoying one of your action scenes of a pivotal battle between a knight and the renegade king’s guards. You write this:

Suddenly, the knight let out a scream as the guard’s blade struck out, driving deeply. He gritted his teeth as he saw three more men unsheathed steel, joining in the battle. The knight countered and the guard let out a dying scream as the magical sword punched through the man’s armor.

Abruptly, the knight heard the sound of boots thundering down the hall toward him, the battle far from over.

Bad Adverbs of Instant Action

Suddenly, immediately, abruptly, slowly, and quickly are adverbs of instant action. And they are useless. Pathetically, unequivocally useless. In the above example, There is a battle being waged. Of course, everything will move as fast as possible. So the words “suddenly” and “abruptly” are pointless. Get rid of them.

Verb + out = filler

Cry out, let out, screamed out, shouted out, are examples frequently used by amateur writers and even some experienced ones.

“…the knight let out a scream…” Why use this? Why not, “The knight screamed as the guard’s blade struck”

“…the guard let out a dying scream…” Let’s replace with “…the guard howled his death throes as…”

I saw, I heard, I knew, I kicked butt

The words “saw” (and all its variants and synonyms), “heard,” and “knew” are useless words in about 99% of all cases.

“….the knight gritted his teeth as he saw three more men…” Replace with, “…three more men…”

“…the knight heard the sound of boots…” Let’s rewrite it to “The sound of boots thundered down the hall…”

Here are some more examples:

“Jack saw the man draw his gun.” Go with, “The man drew his gun.”

“Margaret heard a moan in the closet.” Go with, “Someone within the closet moaned.”

Let’s clean up our original example, shall we?

The knight screamed as the guard’s blade struck, driving deeply. He gritted his teeth as three more men unsheathed steel, joining in the battle. He countered, the guard howling his death throes as the magical sword punched through the man’s armor.

The sound of boots thundered down the hall toward him, the battle far from over.  

Happy Writing!