Why You Need To Do The Tough Stuff

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I was having a conversation with Noodge 2 the other night. She told me about a friend of hers, let’s call her Carolann, who has a bad habit of sucking face in the hallways at school. Carolann can’t seem to control herself when she’s with her boyfriend. Others aren’t pleased with her. I can’t same I blame them. I’m not a big fan of tongues, spit, and slurping sounds while I’m present. (Unless I’m the one doing it, with the Coffee King, in a very private place, and preferably in the dark.)

More importantly, no one is telling Carolann to knock it off. At least to knock it off in public. Do what you want behind closed doors. (Not that I’m condoning fifteen-year-olds make a habit of sucking face.) When I suggested someone take Carolann aside, and in a nice way say “Yo, keep your tongue in your mouth for crying out loud.” Noodge’s response was, “easier said than done.” Yes, true.

But nothing changes if you don’t make yourself uncomfortable once in a while. How can you expect to grow and learn about life if you always take the easy way out? You don’t want to be the person who watches life go by because you couldn’t stretch yourself out of your comfort zone. I’m not just talking about speaking your mind here.

Easier said than done sounds a little like a cop-out. Like there’s no point in really trying since whatever is easier said can’t be done without effort. “Well, since it’s easier to say I should quit smoking than actually doing it, I don’t really have to.”

 

Writing novels isn’t an easy thing to do, though there are plenty of people who think it is. They are wrong. Trust me. Those that sit down to write an entire novel and complete it will feel uncomfortable a lot. Writers can feel so badly while writing that suddenly cleaning the concrete of your sidewalk with toothpaste and an eyebrow pencil becomes appealing.

As writers, we are told to make our characters sweat. That’s what I tell my creative writing classes. The more uncomfortable your character is, the better. In fact, give your protagonist two choices neither of them with perfect outcomes and force her to choose. You bet your character is going to feel uncomfortable. In fact, the writer should feel the same way putting the words on the paper.

I’m working on the first drafts of book two in my Heritage River series, (book one, A Second Chance House, is in edits) and my heroine has a choice to make. She doesn’t like her choices and wishes she didn’t have to make one, but if she doesn’t hurry up and decide, fate will decide for her. I feel badly for her. I’d like her to have it all, and since I’m kind of in control of her world I’m going to attempt to give her what she really wants. I don’t know if I can, though. Neither choice has a good outcome.

Nothing happens in a story if the characters take an “easier said than done” approach. Sure, make-believe people aren’t the same as real life fifteen-year-olds trying to navigate through life. I understand why a teen would rather say nothing to the friend who’s tongue performs acrobatics during study hall. Who likes confrontation? Well, except me, maybe. But characters on the page, even teenage characters, shouldn’t get the same pass. Not if you want the reader to keep turning pages.

It’s interesting to me how people shy away from confrontation in real life and how authors shy away from confrontation for their characters. When I edit, I often find myself saying, don’t let them out of it so fast!

You can’t grow as a person if you don’t do the tough stuff. Someday you will have to say the words, “please stop.” You’re also going to have to say, “I’m the most qualified, the best choice.” You can’t grow if you don’t ever ask, “what could I have done better?” Even my character has to come to terms with the fact she was too afraid to tell the truth. Speaking up is always easier said than done. But it’s well worth it.

 

How To Make Me Read Your Book – ETT

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I don’t write reviews about books I don’t like. I don’t think it’s good karma since I’m an author too and I know how hard this person has worked to write the book even if it needs more work. Instead, I come here and tell you what not to do when writing your books.

The thriller genre is one of my favorites. I’ve said that before. I read a lot of thriller novels. I’m okay with the book starting out with a killing. In fact, the book probably should start out with the very least a dead body. But the trick is making the reader care so early on. They don’t know these characters yet. There has to be a reason for the reader to keep turning pages. I don’t recommend starting in the killer’s point of view especially if we know right off the bat it’s the killer and he’s about to make a kill. I just put down a book that did exactly that. Right away the killer is on the prowl. He bashes his way into a professional establishment and starts swinging an axe at people. My first thought was, why should I care about this? Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not so cold-hearted that I don’t care about people dying. This is a work of fiction, I hope, and my editor brain never sleeps.

The reader isn’t invested in the story on page two to have the killer describing what the axe feels like in his hands. I’d say if you’re going to be in the killer’s point of view so early on, get right to the point. Leave out the sensory details, blinding lights, smooth handles, the clothing of other people. All the inner thoughts of how he’s moving around the room or perhaps he pulled a muscle while swinging the axe. (I don’t know, maybe the author has a weird sense of humor?) The killer is crazy, he breaks in, swings the axe, the victims try to get away, but fail. Done. Now, get me to the protagonist whose going to stop this madman but not before the end of the book.

All that other stuff? Nobody cares yet. The reader isn’t sympathetic to your villain yet. Remember what I said about three-dimensional villains. You can’t pull that off on page three. I promise. But I tried a few more pages hoping it would get better.

Here’s another tip: Your protagonist, the main character, isn’t going to think about her beautiful hair and how she doesn’t have to fuss with it upon waking up. Do you ever think about that in the morning? Not me. My first thought is usually, why the heck is it so early? Followed by who has to be where at what time? Thoughts of my hair, like do I have time to wash it, are further down on the list. An author needs to hold off on fancy descriptions of hair until there’s a better way to let the reader know what the character looks like. Heck, here’s an idea, let the reader make it up for himself. And if you’re going to tell me your protagonist doesn’t fuss with her appearance, she isn’t mentioning her lovely locks.

I gave up completely a few pages later. The author tells us it’s early winter. On my calendar, that’s December. Anyone else’s calendar have a different date? Okay, the hero, the detective, and his partner and getting in the car. The partner is yapping about a professional baseball game he watched the night before.  NOT IN EARLY WINTER. Major League Baseball finishes in November except for 2001 when a few lunatics flew planes into buildings in this country. Where is this woman’s editor?

I checked to see who published this book. She’s an indie author. That’s okay. I’m an indie author and know plenty of very good indie authors. But if you are going to be an indie author I can’t stress enough the importance of hiring a professional editor. We could argue in circles all the stuff about point of view, caring about the characters, description of appearances, but a professional baseball game in early winter is just too big of a mistake to miss. You’ll lose all credibility if you don’t check your details. A professional editor would’ve red flagged that sentence. And if the editor wasn’t a hundred percent sure when the baseball season was, an editor worth her salt would’ve checked.

I closed that book. I will never recommend it and I will never read another book by that author. Don’t be that author. Be better. Learn your craft. Make me want to read your book until the end.

Any questions?

It’s Editing Tip Tuesday!

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I hope everyone had a very nice Thanksgiving. I’m trying to get back into the swing of work this week, but I’m still suffering from Turkey Coma. (That’s a real thing. Ha ha.)

I’m a big believer everything happens for a reason. Probably because it lets me think there’s some sense of control in the world. Random activity is a scary thing for me.

And random activity in your novel is also a scary thing. Events cannot happen willy nilly. Everything in your novel must be there for a reason. And the reason can’t be, “But Stacey, I needed that to happen!” You might need your character to get across a lake in a boat, but if you told us the last boat on the lake was in 1920 and its 2016 a boat can’t randomly appear for your benefit.

Nope. You’ll have to explain there was an ordinance in place because a young man drowned in that lake never allowing boats to sail there again. Your main character can’t swim, and it would take too darn long to walk around the lake. If he’s going to save the maiden in time he needs a boat so he’s been planning, since the maiden’s kidnapping which is your inciting incident and happening early on in the story, on how to get a boat in the lake. The boat can’t just appear. Or, a long lost relative can’t show up on the scene with that boat. Too convenient. Your character has to fight and kick for that boat knowing if he doesn’t get it in the lake in time, that maiden is going to die. Got me?

Leave random acts for kindness. For your novel, every word counts. Say it with me, EVERY WORD COUNTS.

Any questions?

Editing Tip Tuesday. On Tuesday for a Change

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Setting.

Is setting a character in your story? It should be. Setting flushes out the story. It grounds us in the moment. We want to see, hear, and smell what the character does. Don’t try to be suspenseful with your setting. You won’t draw your reader in by making them wonder where the character is. Unless we’re two-thirds into a thriller novel and our heroine wakes up knowing nothing except she’s encased in a dark space that smells like freshly cut pine.

Showing setting through your character’s eyes tells us about the character. Setting can show pain, discomfort, nostalgia, joy, familiarity. Every character in the story should see the setting differently. Think about it. Do you see the world exactly the same way your best friend does? I see a tent pitched in the middle of the woods as a torture treatment and an opportunity for serial killers. My husband sees that same setting as an adventure to be experienced. Go figure.

But don’t worry about how well the setting shines in your first draft. Just put down anything. Keep it simple if setting isn’t your thing. Then go back and spend some time with it. Close your eyes and imagine how the character feels in that room or house or farm.

And if setting really escapes you and you want to pull your hair out of your head every time you have to describe a new place then find authors who do setting the way you’d like to and study them. Don’t copy. It won’t sound true to your voice. Study. And practice. Writing is a practice and a journey along a flat road where your tires kick up sand and the smell of salt thickens the air. Sea gulls squawk an early morning greeting while the sun paints the sky in pink.

Any questions?

Editing Tip Tuesday

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Lights, Camera, Action!

We often see in movies two characters walk into a restaurant, sit down at a table, order food and eat it. Other than the famous scene in the 1989 movie When Harry Met Sally  most times the eating scene doesn’t do anything to move the story forward. It’s usually a chance for the characters to recap what they, and the audience, already knows. That same technique doesn’t usually work in a novel.   Check out the When Harry Met Sally scene here.

The action a writer includes in a novel must go to work for them. Action needs to move the story forward. Moving around in a scene isn’t action. Really think about what your characters are doing and how their actions show who they are. If your heroine hangs her little black bag on a hook in a restaurant make sure that action shows something about who she is. Did the bag cost her a month’s salary to buy because she doesn’t want the people at the event to know she’s struggling for money? Is the floor too dirty for her? Is she worried that someone will steal it because she’s been robbed before? Just putting the bag on the hook to give your heroine something to do is a waste of good words.

Take the glass of wine. Your heroine is at a party. The wine is flowing. Having her take constant sips while she trades dialogue with another character doesn’t do anything to move the story forward. Sorry. It’s just boring. Ask yourself, is your character uncomfortable? Have her tap the glass instead. Does she have a bad habit of clinking the glass against her teeth? Is she allergic to wine along with a long list of other things and doesn’t want to tell her date? Or maybe she grew up on the property of a winery and the smell reminds her of the bad things that happened to her behind the tank room. Now we know something about the character and suddenly we’re interested.

Take another look at that scene in When Harry Met Sally. While Sally is talking, she is removing the excess meat from her sandwich. At this point in the movie, we know she has a very unique way of ordering her food and she “wants things the way she wants them.” That gesture goes right to her character and it isn’t wasted time on the screen.

I often edit stories with stagnant action. And in a first draft, go ahead and put it down because no one is going to read your first draft. Right? But when you go back and you know your characters better make different and unique choices for them.

Any questions?

Editing Tip Tuesday

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Ask the editor.

I thought I’d open the floor to you, my writer friends. How can I help you improve your writing? Are you working on anything that’s driving you nuts? Not sure where to begin? Is your middle sagging? Raise your hand and shout it out. I want to help you.

If you’re not a writer, but want to know some deep dark secret authors know about how to make you turn the page, ask. Don’t be shy. Authors don’t judge. Well, they usually judge themselves against every other author whose book is selling better, but that shouldn’t worry you. Go ahead, ask.

Editing Tip Tuesday

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Edit with heart.

Here’s the best advice I can give you: write a novel from your heart. Don’t worry about what’s popular or trending. If your book doesn’t move you, it won’t move anyone else either.

If you want to stand out from the crowd, you must feel your book deep in your soul. The message of your story has to be a message you feel passionate about otherwise it’s just another vampire story.

Here’s another piece of advice: learn your craft. Just because you want to write a book doesn’t mean you know how. I wanted to be a writer since I was seven. I wrote my first novel when I was twelve titled Just the Six of Us. I still have it. I’ve been a veracious reader my entire life. When I sat down in my thirties to write my first real book I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. It showed on the page. I’ve written six books and I’m working on number seven. Now, I know what I’m doing.

But knowing what I’m doing doesn’t mean I won’t make mistakes. I do. A lot. That’s why I have critique partners and an editor. You can’t edit your own book. You can make it better by yourself, but you want it to be great? You need experienced eyes on it. Don’t give it to Aunt Carol because she runs the library’s Thursday night knitting book club. Beta readers are for when that book is almost polished. I’ve used them too.

Any questions?