Writing tips

08.14.2016Setting is an important part of any story. You want the reader grounded and relating to where the story takes place. Don’t leave her stranded. For instance, I critiqued the opening chapter of a novel today and all I know is that it was set in the desert. Which desert? What time of year (yes, deserts have seasons. In Arizona, summer is monsoon season).

On the other hand, too much setting makes your reader’s eyes glaze over. They start skipping ahead, one of the worst things imaginable for a writer.

Setting establishes mood, builds tension and adds characterization. It should engage the senses, but you don’t want a laundry list-the air smelled of jasmine; the scree of the birds raised the hair on Margaret’s neck; etc., etc. Like all description, setting should be dropped in a piece at a time.

Setting should be important to the point of view (POV) character. What does it reveal about her personality? Is she afraid of water? Heights? Is she a city girl lost in the forest? Establish an emotional connection, build the setting around the character’s fears, add challenges, and the plot becomes more complicated.

My latest story, Snow White and the Eighth Dwarf, now in revision, is set in winter in the Enchanted Forest. You bet I take advantage of snow and ice and storms to set the mood, add value to scenes, and challenge the characters. The weather deepens their struggles and creates lots of delicious conflict.

On the subject of weather, never, ever start a story with a weather report. Weather may be an important element to the story, but it’s not strong enough to hook the reader into reading more.

Weather should not be used as a mirror of the character’s mood. Rainy at a funeral is overdone and ineffective for today’s sophisticated reader. Instead, show the character’s reaction to the weather. Make it work for or against the character to bring the reader deeper into her point of view.

When describing setting, do so from the character’s point of view. What would she notice? How would she describe it? Use her language. Make the descriptions true to her character.

Remember pacing when describing setting. If your characters are fighting for their lives in an icy river (as do Snow White and her hero, Lex), they’ll notice the cold and the rush of the water, maybe the sound, but the pacing is furious. They’re fighting for their lives and have no time to recognize the song of a bird flying overhead.

By now, you recognize the importance of setting in your story. It can be a secondary character in moving the plot forward, establishing mood and creating conflict. Handled well, setting pulls your reader deeper into the story. Isn’t that what every writer wants?

Happy writing!

Cheryl

 

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Pixar

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

Pixar Studios has developed wonderful stories in the past twenty-five years. These include the Toy Story series; UP; Wall-e (my favorite), Finding Nemo; Monsters, Inc. We can identify with many of the characters and situations.

There isn’t much difference between writing for the screen and writing for print. The objective is to have the reader empathize with your characters, worry and despair over their troubles and cheer when they overcome insurmountable difficulties.

How does Pixar hit all these points? How are they so successful? Well, it seems they have a formula, or rules. 22 of them, in fact.

These rules were originally tweeted by Emma Coats, Pixar’s Story Artist.

As a beginning writer (many years ago), I started with #3, I’ve since added many of these to my arsenal, specifically, #6, 7 and 16. Pixar’s rules can be applied to writing fiction, and I urge you to review and adopt some, if not all, of these strategies:

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Do you use any of Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling? If so, which ones?

Happy writing,

Cheryl

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How to write a book faster, 5 quick steps

The key to writing faster

The key to writing faster

If you want to know how to write a book faster, you’re in good company. All writers want to write faster. All of them. Even the ones who seem to release a book every other month <cough> Nora Roberts <cough>.

What are some tricks to increase word count (besides the cliché “write every day”)?

I’ve written a lot lately (approx. 15K in 10 days), and I’m not on drugs, caffeine or other stimulants. I’ve implemented a combination of little tweaks that have changed my attitude from “I’ll do it tomorrow” to “I can’t wait to write”.

  1. Attitude, mentioned above. There’s nothing sweeter than being in “the zone” when writing. Some of the things I’ve implemented are:
    • Knowing what I’m going to write. I’m not a pantser. Generally, I know what I’m writing, but I’ve set aside a few minutes before each writing session to jot down what will happen; how it does/does not affect the character’s growth; how it moves the plot forward. I don’t spend a lot of time, it’s a sign on the side of the road, not a detailed map.
    • Sticking to the larger outline I have on index cards (both real and as Scrivener notes). Knowing where your story is going between page one and “the end” is critical in writing efficiently. Pantsing and feeling out the story may be your preferred method, but to be a success, you have to write and publish often.
    • Take a break. Your mileage may differ, but I find a short break after an hour of writing is the best mix.
  2. Remember, it’s a 1st draft. It’s okay to cheat. I call it the vomit draft. Throw up on the page and clean it up later.
    • Use xxx as a placeholder for something that needs research later. Every trip to the internet delays my writing. It’s easier to write “xxxtown#1” than to stop and look up the perfect name.
    • Also, (insert whatever here). As in (insert sword fight/sex scene here) or (figure out how to get them from point A to B later). I don’t use this tool often, but it’s nice to have it available.
    • Write with my eyes closed. Nothing stops momentum more than words underlined in red.
    • No editing. Waaaaay harder than it sounds, but I try not to go back and start playing wordsmith.
  3. Know when to write. My optimum time is 2-4 p.m. and anytime after 6 p.m. If you have to, you can go all spreadsheet guru and track when your most efficient times to write are, but you probably already know.
  4. On that note, do keep a spreadsheet of your scene and daily word counts. It’s nice to know my high in the last ten days was 2168. It gives me a target.
    • Set a minimum daily word count. At the moment, mine is 1000. It’s an easy target, I feel great once I pass it, and it gives me momentum to continue.
  5. Have an accountability buddy. One of the last things I do before I shut down my computer at night is to email my accountability buddy with my daily word count. It might make her jealous, it might prompt her to get her butt in the chair, but it gives me an incentive to continue writing. I don’t want to disappoint her, and I don’t want to disappoint myself.

These tips will show you how to write a book faster. I’m living proof.

My current WIP is “Snow White and the 8th Dwarf”. It’s something I started and put away and am now readdressing. My target goal is 40-45K (I’m at 25K), and my target date to have the 1st draft complete is July 31st. Is it ambitious? You bet. Using the tools and techniques listed above, I’m confident I can finish it. Why? Secret #6-there are other books waiting to be written.

Happy (and fast) writing!

Check out my Amazon page at: http://amzn.to/1PWDKND

 

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