First Five Pages Checklist

The first five pages of your book are so important. As aspiring authors, we are well aware of their significance. And we place so much time and emphasis on getting them right. While we probably have a fair idea of what to do and not do in our first five pages, here is a quick recap of things to keep in mind when looking at the start of your novel.

Important questions to ask yourself:

Does the first line engage your reader?

Is your main character properly introduced?

Has the POV and narration style been made clear to the reader?

Does your reader get a good feel for the world – i.e. have you set the status quo?

Have you established your main character’s deepest desire?

Is there an inciting incident?

The most important thing to avoid at the beginning of your novel:

The information dump. 

Your reader is only starting to get to know your main character and within these pages, so you don’t want to overwhelm them with backstory or world building information so early on. Remember, you’ve got a minimum of 80,000 words to work with, you can take your time introducing the important background information. 

How to Critique & Edit Your Own Work

First off, understand that the first draft of what you are going to write is most definitely going to cause you to cringe and want to burn it on sight. I would not recommend this since editing it is fairly easy, and there’s no reason to give your neighbors a heart attack with squealing smoke alarms. You will have times when your writing flows as easily as a beautiful river. You will face times when you have to force the writing out. There will be filler words such as “that,” grammar issues, lack of descriptive imagery, characters so shallow you want to cry.

The first step is to just breathe. Once your first draft is completely finished, set it aside. Lock it away if you have to. Don’t look at it for at least a couple of weeks. Give yourself time to catch up on reading, watching movies, and schedule that spa day. You can work on another project, even if it’s the sequel to the first draft you just finished. Whatever you do, do not look at the first draft until two weeks has passed. That’s fourteen days for those that are stubborn. You know who you are.

The second step is to read your draft as though you were someone else. It should be fairly easy now that you’ve set it aside for the past two weeks. Be brutal. Reading from another perspective gives you the opportunity to find the plot holes more easily, the shallow characters who were never mentioned again, and more. Take your time reading it over.

The third step is the grammar. Make sure there are no run-on sentences (average long sentence length should not exceed 25 words), your homonyms(to/too/two) are correctly used, etc. Grammar is essential to making your story readable and enjoyable to readers.

The fourth step is checking the tense throughout the story. This means the past tense, present tense, future tense. If your wording is off, it will be difficult to read and will give readers different ideas than what you’re portraying.

The fifth step is to read the entire story out loud. This can be tiresome, but if you can’t get through the entire draft in a breeze, neither can your readers. If the sentences feel awkward to say, this means they are awkward to read. Definitely go through this step repeatedly until all of those errors are fixed. Normally it’s something that can be resolved by switching a couple of words around or deleting a word.

The sixth step is to read the entire draft with all of the steps above in mind. Fix any lingering issues you see. Make sure to use the spell checker in whatever program you are using to write in.

Hopefully by this time, you have found and edited everything. A word of warning: just when you think everything is perfect and you hit publish, you’ll find errors you overlooked. Don’t panic, don’t pull the book off the shelves in horror. Calmly document all of the errors, update the document, and upload the updated version. There may be a limitless amount of times you have to do this, so just accept your fate.

In conclusion, that is at least five times you need to read your first draft in order to edit it. If you just exclaimed negatively over that fact, this line of work is not for you. If you don’t want to take the time to read over your own work several times, why would anyone else want to take the time to read it?

Tips to Stay Motivated

Coming into November there are probably a fair few of us who are giving NaNoWriMo a shot. Whether it’s your first time participating or you’re a seasoned vet, there will always be the problem of motivation that arises at some point throughout the month. It’s a natural part of the writing process to reach a certain point where the words don’t flow as easily and you’re finding yourself grasping at straws. When this happens during NaNoWriMo, it’s easy to throw in the towel and give up. But if you want to try to push through and stay motivated here are some tips to pushing yourself to write when you’re not feeling it – they can even be used outside of the sacred writing month of November as well!

Tip 1: Establish a Routine

Getting into a habit and sticking to it is the best way to combat any feelings of burnout. Whether it’s your home office, an outdoor café, your living room sofa, pick a place you’re most comfortable in and make it a habit. You can allot yourself as little as 20 minutes a day, but make sure you squeeze it in. You’ll find that the simple act of making a routine helps you write something, even if it’s not your best work. The key is just getting it out on paper. The editing comes later. Personally, I’ve also found that trying to fit in your writing in the morning works best because as the day wears on you will end up finding more excuses and distractions to draw you away from your writing. I know that’s not what the night owls want to hear but try giving morning writing a chance. It might surprise you.

Tip 2: Get Rid of Distractions

When I write during the week, I usually have a timer that I set for 20-40 minutes – depending on how early I managed to wake up. However, I always place it on the opposite side of the room, face down and notifications off, so I don’t get distracted. If it’s next to me on the table I’ll fall down the rabbit hole of scrolling through social media. If you know that you can’t write without looking at your phone, leave your phone in another room or on the opposite side of the room. If you get distracted checking work emails on your laptop then forgo the laptop and write using pen and paper. If you get distracted doing research for your story then perhaps try plotting ahead of your writing session that way the research is already done and you can just write. This time, however long or short, should be solely focused on producing words. Everything else can wait. And if you know what your weaknesses are in terms of distractions, try eliminating them ahead of time so you can have a productive writing session. 

Tip 3: Daily Goals

Giving yourself a daily word goal helps to keep you on track. Even if it’s something small like 500 words, it’s still something that can serve as a motivator to keep going. If you’re someone who doesn’t necessarily like thinking word count, then maybe make your goal something like finishing a certain scene you’ve been working on or writing another character’s perspective. So long as you have something that you are striving for on a daily basis you can battle against the distractions and writer’s block.

Hope these tips were helpful and good luck this November!

The Good Short Story Tips and Tricks: Hook and Pacing

DSP typically plans and produces six to twelve 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!

When You’re Stuck On A Scene

As writers we all experience writer’s block. But nothing is more frustrating than when we are in the middle of an important scene and then, BOOM! The writer’s block strikes. And suddenly we find ourselves gently banging our heads against the desk, wondering when it will back. Getting stuck on a scene is not fun. I’ve come up with a couple ways of breaking through the writer’s block barrier:

Tip 1

Try writing the scene from the perspective of another character. Sometimes getting into the head of another character can give you a fresh perspective on your scene. 

Tip 2

Make a music playlist for the scene. Nothing helps get creativity flowing quite like music. If you use music to set the scene it might help you get through the writer’s block. I usually like to make a writing playlist ahead of time, specifically to try and get ahead of any potential writer’s block.

Tip 3

If you are artfully inclined, try sketching out the scene. Alternatively, if you’re like me and your artistic expression doesn’t range beyond stick figures then you can try making a mood board on Pinterest. Sometimes seeing a visual representation of our scene helps to get the creative juices flowing again. Alternatively, doing something creative can get us back into the writing frame of mind. 

Tip 4

Circle back to it and instead write the next scene. Just because you’re stuck on one scene in particular, that doesn’t mean that you can’t keep moving forward. Plus, this might help to get the flow going again.

Tip 5

Try writing in a different style or POV. 

Tip 6

Write the dialogue only. I really find this one particularly helpful. Sometimes we get stuck on a scene because we’re trying to set the scene with descriptions etc. But if we get the dialogue and character interactions down, we can then circle back and layer on the other elements afterwards.

Tip 7

If all else fails, get up and go for a walk, come back, make a hot cup of something, and then try again. This is my go-to solution when nothing else is working. 

What writer’s block solutions do you like to try when you’re stuck on a scene?