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The Surprising Secret to Snappy Scenes

Got a scene in your novel where a group of characters argue and discuss, but no matter how important the subject is, somehow the tension falls flat?

You can fix this scene, and I’ll tell you the trick right up front: get rid of some of your characters. Why?  Continue reading

Categories: For Writers, how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Keep Readers Turning Pages: 3 Things You Must Do

Q: I’ve got a basic plot planned out for my novel, but I’m worried about being repetitive, because the story is about doing the same thing several times (the main character has a list of people he needs to “off”). Do you know of any way to pull off a plot like that without boring the reader or becoming predictable?  Continue reading

Categories: For Writers, how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Best Writing Tool You’re Not Using

Writing a novel on a typewriter? Hard.
Finishing your novel by any means possible? Smart!

Are you stuck in the middle of your novel? Do you keep going back to “fix” things in your story? Believe it or not, you might need a typewriter.  Continue reading

Categories: For Writers, how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Win NaNoWriMo in 10 Minutes

Believe it or not, how you spend the next ten minutes of your writing time might determine whether you win or lose National Novel Writing Month.  I’m not kidding.

There’s one single thing that you absolutely must do if want your novel to have any chance of seeing it through to “The End.”  And you must do it now.

NaNoWriMo, if you’re wondering, is a national event that takes place every November.  The goal is to write a 50,000-word work of fiction by the end of the month.  You “win” if you cross the 50,000-word finish line.  You may not end up with a full-fledged novel before December, but you’ll have a heck of a start. 

How To Write A Novel in 50,000 Words or More

So how do you make sure your fledgling novel can go the 50,000-word distance?  By giving your main character a goal.  Here’s how.

Take a quick break from your hectic daily schedule, set a timer for ten minutes, and start writing.  The trick is to really focus on the one thing your main character wants more than anything else.  What is it?  To get somewhere before a deadline?  To find a missing person or a treasured object?  To run away and start somewhere new?  To stop a villain from carrying out a nefarious plan?

There’s only one way to find out!  Start with this: “More than anything, my main character wants . . .” and then just keep writing.  Don’t stop yourself.  Don’t analyze.  Just write.  Make it big.  Make it vital, primal, as if something inside the character will die without it.  Write down why the character wants this.  How she thinks it’ll make her life better.  How she thinks it’ll fix the things that are broken in her world.  Keep writing, and don’t stop until the timer goes off.

You Can Write A Book In a Month — If You Have a Goal

Finished?  Here’s what you’ve done.  You’ve figured out exactly what your character’s goal is — and the answer might surprise you!  Sometimes what we think a story is going to be about is not what it’s really about.

From now until the end of November, all you have to do is send your character rushing headlong after her goal — and then prevent her from achieving it (until 50,000 words later, anyway).  This tension of desperately wanting something vital, and doing everything possible to get it, yet never quite reaching success, will keep your novel going strong all month long.

Do you have a writing question? Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel? Just ask! And if you try this idea and like it, let me know!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Beat Writer’s Block in 6 Simple Steps

Q:  I’m about five chapters into writing my first novel and I’ve reached a total impasse.  I flat-out don’t know where to go from here.  Everything started out so well, I had lots of story ideas and the pages were coming fast.  But now I’m stuck, and I don’t know what to do.  Should I scrap my novel and start over?  How do I beat writer’s block?

A:  Don’t worry.  Here’s a solution that’s guaranteed to shake loose your creativity.  And you can do it in just six easy steps.  Ready?

First, take a deep breath.  Set aside what you’re working on and think about the basics of your story for a moment.  Go back in your mind to the original inspiration you had for your novel.  Forget about the chapter you just wrote; focus instead on the bigger concepts.  Remember the very first thing that inspired you.

Got it?  Good.  Now, in your notebook, answer these six questions:

1)  WHO is my story really about? 
Sometimes we get ourselves turned around and focus on the wrong person.  Hint: the main character is the person with the most to lose, the person who spends the most time on stage, or the person who gets hurt the worst.

2)  What does that character WANT?  
It needs to be something specific that we can visualize her achieving.  Something we could see in a photo.  Is she trying to fix a problem?  Achieve something that’s never been done before?  Write down exactly what it is.

3)  WHY does the character want it?  
The more primal and universal the reason, the better.  Especially if the character thinks that achieving this goal will make her a better person or mend a broken relationship.

4)  What will the character DO to achieve it?  
What direct action might she take in the future?  Brainstorm at least ten actions.  Later, you can pick out your favorites.

5)  What stands in the WAY of the character achieving that goal?  
How would these obstacles force the character to change plans midstream?  Brainstorm at least ten obstacles: opposing characters, inner conflicts or physical roadblocks in the setting.

6)  How should things get RESOLVED in the end?  
Does the character achieve the goal?  Or fail?  Or realize that she was chasing the wrong goal all along?

Answering these questions will give you a bare-bones plan for writing your novel.  If that doesn’t get you totally unblocked, spend time brainstorming more obstacles for the hero to overcome.  Giving your character a problem to solve will get your story rolling again instantly.

So, in a nutshell, your novel is about a CHARACTER who has a GOAL or PROBLEM for a vital REASON.  He or she DOES SOMETHING about it, but RUNS INTO TROUBLE.  Finally, THINGS GET RESOLVED

That’s it.  Everything else is just fancying up that one basic paragraph.  See, isn’t that simple?  Here’s a quick cheat sheet for you:

My main character is __________.  He/She needs to __________, because __________.  So the character does __________.  But __________ stands in the way.  At the end, __________.

Just fill in the blanks and get back to writing your novel. It’s that simple!

Got a writing question? Just ask!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The One Thing You Must Do to Get Published

As a writing coach, it’s my job to help people get a little perspective on their story problems.  Recently, a client asked me to help him out with his first novel.  He’d gotten halfway through and stalled out.  I put together a laundry list of ways to fix his various story problems — and then I told him to ignore my advice.  “For a little while, at least,” I said.  “First, finish your novel.  Later, you can go back and fix these things.”

That’s really the best advice I can give to anyone working on a first novel: forge ahead and finish it.  Get all the way to “The End” before you go back and start making changes to the story.  The rough draft of your first novel always seems like an insurmountable challenge.  Why?  Because you’ve never done it before.  But don’t let that stop you.

Once you finally finish your novel — once you reach the very last page — you pass a milestone that most would-be authors never see: you’ve actually written a novel.  How cool is that?

I’ve done some highly unscientific research at the local bookstore and discovered that 100% of all published books are finished.  I’ve never heard an editor say, “Well, this author only wrote the first couple hundred pages — but it was so perfect, we decided to publish half a book!” 

Doesn’t happen.

But you’re beset by fears.  What if the second half of my book is no good?  Then you’ll make it good.  What if I don’t know how to end it?  Then you’ll make it up.  Remember, you’re the creative type.  Improvise!

The first draft of anything is just that: a first draft.  You’ll make it better in the second, and in the third, and so on.  It’s like a sculpture: once you have the basic form worked out, you can keep chipping and polishing until it’s beautiful.

Plus, there’s a hidden bonus.  The more you write, the better you get.  As the pages pile up, you get more skilled at the craft.  The learning curve for your first novel is usually so steep that by the time you get halfway through, you think to yourself, “Wait, now I know how to do this better!  I should go back and fix all of that stuff I wrote earlier!”  It sounds reasonable, but it’s a trap. 

Instead, write yourself a note and keep going.  You’ll need every last bit of creative strength to reach the end of the novel.  Don’t squander your energy on perfecting things that you might delete later.  It won’t be flawless, especially not in the first draft.  So for now, just concentrate on finishing your novel. 

First, get it written — then later you can get it right!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How To Make A Disastrous Booksigning Event A Success by J.A. Konrath

Author J.A. Konrath

I happened across this writing article by J.A. Konrath recently at  Backspace, The Writer’s Place.  I remember reading it years ago, probably in Writer’s Digest somewhere.  Joe really knows his stuff when it comes to literary agents, publishers and how to write a book.  So check this out; it’s a great piece from a guy who is no stranger to the slings and arrows of self-promotion.  And whether you already have a book out or you’re just learning how to write a novel, this article has some excellent tips for any kind of meet-the-customer situation.  Read Joe Konrath’s article here.

I especially like the part about bringing pizza and donuts for the bookstore staff.  Which reminds me, when Joe came to my store, he didn’t bring pizza — but he did give me an autographed bottle of Jack Daniels, so I’d say that makes up for it.

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Feel the Invisible Robot Love

These days, most of our precious writing usually ends up online, where it is relentlessly scrutinized by robots.  Not the sparky “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!” kind of robots, but invisible little computer gremlins that furrow through the internet, looking for text to gnaw on.  That way, if you go to Google and search for — oh, I don’t know, maybe “You Can Write a Novel” — there’s a chance you might find my humble little corner of the internet.

What this means to writers today is that it’s crucial that we learn about arcane things like keywords, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and why graphics aren’t searchable.  I’m not suggesting you set out to write something completely driven by keywords, lest your timeless prose read a little too Macho Business Donkey Wrestler.

But whatever we write, we have to be cognizant of how people will find it on the internet, and then come up with ways to make finding it easier.  Is it fair?  No.  But it’s a reality of the 21st century.  Just like the blank look I get from the local office supply dude every time I need a new typewriter ribbon.  (Every.  Stinkin’.  Time.)  But hey, I look at it as a creative challenge. 

And after all, isn’t that what we face every time we write? 

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leverage: The Quickstart Job

True to all things geekish, I give you my review of Margaret Weis Productions‘ newest role-playing game, based on the Leverage TV show.  In a nutshell:

This is a fun little trial-sized game with a slick, big-budget wrapping over a savory indie center. You need not be a fan of the TV show to appreciate this gem. It contains bare-bones rules, pre-generated characters and a solid (if brief) adventure. In all, it’s a good evening’s worth of entertainment.

And you can get it for the princely sum of two bucks.  Read the whole review at:

http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/14/14891.phtml

By the way, the overachieving folks at MWP have also just come out with a Smallville RPG.  Check it out!

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Depeche Mode, Pizza and the Nebula Awards

Believe me, this has absolutely everything to do with science fiction, bestselling authors and the Nebula Awards, since all of these things undoubtedly have one thing that links them: pizza.

Come on, you can’t tell me you’ve never eaten a pizza while watching Star Trek or between events at your last convention.  Right?  And I guarantee you that Connie Willis, Joe Haldeman, Orson Scott Card or SOMEBODY with a Nebula on their mantelpiece has eaten pizza, possibly within the last week.

And what about Pizza the Hutt?  I rest my case.  Science fiction is inextricably linked to pizza.

So, without further ado, here’s my own contribution to all things pizza, in the form of lyrics.  (Go ahead, sing it.  I dare you.)

PERSONAL PIZZA
(sung to Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode)

Your own personal pizza
Get some toppings that please
No anchovies

Your own personal pizza
Something to heed your pleas
For extra cheese

Eating alone
Dinner unknown
Danger zone
By the telephone
Lift up the receiver
You know I will deliver

Extra toppings
Or get some hot wings
A delivery fee
And gratuity
Lift up the receiver
You know I will deliver

Reach out for breadsticks
Reach out for breadsticks

Your own (your own)
Personal (personal)
Pizza

Reach out for breadsticks…

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