3 Ways Writers Block Their Success (While Thinking They’re Hard at Work)

From Jane Friedman:

In my early thirties, my aunt sent me a copy of The Secret, a movie claiming my thoughts determined my destiny. I watched it once, then shelved it, knowing I couldn’t just imagine my way to success. Yet my years as a writer and writing coach have taught me that the movie had a point. While you can’t wish your way to a book deal, your thoughts drive what you do.

Most of us spend our time dreaming of the external yes we hope to achieve—whether it’s an accepted pitch, query, or book deal. All external yeses stem from the yes inside you. But many of us lead from our no without realizing it. Those nos stem from feelings of unworthiness, doubts about our work, and fears that we’re not good enough—which are easy to trigger in a competitive field where you’re expected to cozy up with rejection.

It’s easy to spot our internal no when we’re feeling low, but many of these nos disguise themselves as hard work.

Because I recently appeared on the Hungry Authors Podcast, I divided these nos into the three hunger-based categories writers regularly fall into.

The Too Hungry Writer

Too Hungry Writers want everything yesterday, largely because they feel constantly behind. They work tirelessly on their projects, giving up time with family and friends to meet word count or revision goals. Ask them to take a break from their projects, or set a completed draft aside, and watch their eyes narrow as they mentally knock you out. How can they quit when their books must be done by a certain date (like a milestone birthday)?

While Too Hungry Authors are fierce writers with a killer work ethic, they often snack on scarcity, which feeds them lies about how there’s not enough time, or they’ll be worthy when their book gets picked up, or if they land an agent and Big Five deal.

But overwork gives them tired eyes. Muscling through revisions on manuscripts that haven’t rested will cause those tired eyes to gloss over problems. Sprinkle in impatience and a tinge of burnout and they’ll send their projects out before they’re ready.

What starts out as pre-submission optimism soon sours as the rejections pour in. Having worked hard, these external nos feel like personal failures, which leads to more scarcity thinking, which can make a Too Hungry Author ravenous.

Fortunately, you can address what you can identify, and the fixes for this problem are simple. First, make this your mantra: you and your project are on time. Repeat it to yourself until you believe it. If you can’t shake your doubts, think about the authors who raced to publish in 2020 thinking it would be their year, and the relief many experienced when their books weren’t published.

Once you’ve committed to slowing down, let projects you’ve worked on intensely rest for at least a couple of weeks, but better yet, a few months. Spend time with family and friends. Go on a vacation. Write something else. During that project’s fallow period, take a few classes to inspire you and help you see your work in a new way.

I know this will be especially hard for the Too Hungry Authors who either crawled their way out of the next category or fear falling into it.

The Writer Who Fails to Eat

Writers Who Fail to Eat put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own. They want to write, but they fear that it’s too self-indulgent—or selfish—when so many other things need to be done. Some fear not being seen as productive. Others worry their efforts aren’t valuable if they’re not income producers.

So, they focus on other people’s crises, try to do everything, and overbook themselves so much there’s no time for their writing projects. A portion of these writers complain about their lack of time, but others are baffled by their lack of progress, because it seems like all they do is focus on their writing.

Take the writer who signs up for countless classes or participates in five writing groups. They give insightful feedback, tirelessly support their writing communities, and have the best book recommendations. But ask them how much time they’ve spent on their latest draft, or how much they’ve gotten done, and the answer is usually not much.

The more you prioritize others, whether it’s your clients, paid work, children, or writing group members, the more you reinforce the belief that your passions aren’t worthy of pursuing, and you’re not a person who gets things done.

The antidote is simple. Create a small writing goal (like fifteen minutes, three days a week), schedule it, and make it as regular as your bowel movements. Yes, this might mean letting something go or asking for help, but those precious few minutes will make the rest of your day more meaningful. If caregiver guilt gets in your way, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do you feel and behave when you make time for your writing?
  • How do you feel and behave when you don’t?
  • Which version represents the self you want to share with others?

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

English Capitalization Rules

From The Grammarly Blog:

English capitalization rules require that certain words, like proper nouns and the first word in a sentence, start with a capital letter. Although that seems simple, some words are capitalized only in certain situations, and some words seem like they should be capitalized but are not—how can you tell which is which?

In this guide, we explain how to capitalize when writing and cover all the English capitalization rules. We also share a list of what words need to be capitalized and provide a few capitalization examples. But first let’s talk a little about capitalization in general.

English capitalization rules: When to capitalize

Knowing which types of words to capitalize is the most important part of learning English capitalization rules. Basically, there are three types of words you capitalize in English:

  • the pronoun I
  • the first word in a sentence or line of a letter (e.g., Sincerely)
  • proper nouns

That last one, proper nouns, is where a lot of the confusion comes from. Some words, like the name Albert Einstein, are always capitalized; however, others are capitalized only in certain situations and are lowercased in others. For example, directions like north and west are normally lowercased but are capitalized when they’re used as part of a geographic name, like the West Coast.

Let’s take a closer look at what words need to be capitalized and when.

What words need to be capitalized?

People’s names

Both the first and last names of a person are capitalized. Likewise, middle names, nicknames, and suffixes like Jr. are also capitalized.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Historical names that include descriptive words often follow the rules for title capitalization: Prominent words are capitalized, but small words like the or of are not.

Ivan the Terrible

Maria of Aragon

Titles

Capitalization in titles is where a lot of capitalization errors come from. The title of any piece of work—books, movies, songs, poems, podcast episodes, comic-book issues, etc.—requires capitalization, but only certain words in the title are capitalized.

What words need to be capitalized in titles? For starters, the first word in a title is always capitalized. Nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs all need to be capitalized in titles as well.

Small words like articles and prepositions are generally lowercased, unless they’re the first word in a title. However, some style guides have their own preferences, so double-check if you have any doubts.

The Catcher in the Rye

Of Mice and Men

Places

If you’re using the name of a place, capitalize it. This applies to everything from tiny Deer Creek to the massive planet Jupiter.

New York City

Lake Victoria

Keep in mind that if you are not using the name of a place but the general word to describe it, you do not capitalize that word.

The Grand Canyon is a good canyon, but I wouldn’t call it “grand.”

Countries, nationalities, and languages

In English, countries, nationalit ies, and languages are capitalized. Country names fall under the category of places, but by extension the names of the people who live there and the adjective form of their culture are also capitalized. This includes languages.

Haiti

a team of Haitians

Haitian cuisine

Link to the rest at The Grammarly Blog

The Birth of a Book

From Writing Cooperative:

This past year I’ve had the pleasure of helping more than one friend celebrate a very special birthday.

Their book-birthday.

Each was such an exciting day for every one of those authors, marking the end point (or, perhaps not really…there’s all the marketing, book signings, promotion etc. still to come) of a very long journey.

The writing of a book parallels a pregnancy, at least in my mind it does. In both, a fully developed entity is created from nothing. This is a slow process, beginning with a spark of life, then building tiny piece by tiny piece, until the end result is nothing short of a miracle.

Of course, when you’re building a baby, your body does that building without your conscious awareness. Sure, you may feel morning sickness, and other physical discomforts, but as far as the actual creation process, you just go along for the ride, eating sleeping, working, while your body creates this miracle. Unlike writing a book, where you are COMPLETELY aware of the massive amount of work that is required.

Oh, and most often, the gestation period for a book is MUCH longer.

Recently, I’ve thought a lot about all that is required to take a book from a sparkle in someone’s mind, to an actual published piece of work, whether that be a digital copy, or one in print.

Guess what? It’s a hell of a lot of work!

A short time back, I had a glass of water sitting on my bedside table, and because I didn’t want to mark the wood, I’d pulled an old paperback from my bookcase and I’d set the glass on top of the book.

It took a moment for this flippant act to sink in. When it did, I freaked out and apologized out loud to this poor author whose blood, sweat and tears I’d so blithely used as a COASTER!

Ashamed, I gently wiped the surface of the book, (which was not damaged, by the way) and placed it carefully back into the safety of my bookcase.

How easy is it for us, as readers, to consume the words of others without giving the slightest thought to what it took to create those words. I used to do it, all the time. I devoured books in massive quantities. I read, and occasionally re-read because the book was so amazing I couldn’t get it out of my head. But more often I read and tossed aside, I read and returned to the library without a second thought, or worse, I read, and ripped apart the book— Gasp! Not physically, I’m not that big of a monster —filled condemnation for the author who had failed to entertain me like I’d expected to be entertained.

No more.

Link to the rest at Writing Cooperative

Talking About Microfiction With Sci-Fi Ya Author Sophia Hanson

From Almost an Author:

Today I’m talking with Sci-Fi YA author and fellow columnist here on Almost an Author, Sophia Hanson, about microfiction. I reached out to her after noticing her microfiction on Instagram. I have a love-hate relationship with microfiction. Fitting a piece of writing into the limited perimeters is hard enough, but toss in a time constraint and it requires some major flexing of those writing muscles!

DJS: Was the month-long Instagram challenge the first time you’d tried microfiction?

SH: I’d tried microfiction once or twice in response to Instagram contests. Cassandra Hamm holds prompt contests quarterly. They are tons of fun. I’d never done a month-long challenge before, but wanted to push myself to do the next hard thing. Thirty-one days of posting new content to prompts was definitely out of my comfort zone, and I decided to learn how to include images in the posts. I learned about Canva, tagging, and writing even when I didn’t feel inspired.

DJS: What was the hardest thing about producing microfiction?

SH: Including a whole idea/world within those fifty words, but sometimes it was just as hard to land on fifty, not forty-seven or forty-nine.

DJS: I can certainly agree with that! The exacting word count of microfiction had left me blinking at my computer screen a time or two.

In what ways did writing microfiction affect and benefit your writing?

SH: I love learning how to write tight, and I love writing to prompts. It’s a great challenge, especially when you’ve been working on a larger piece, because it helps to reset your brain and refresh those creative juices.

Link to the rest at Almost an Author

The Real Costs Of Writing A Book

From My Story Doctor:

What are the real costs of writing a book?

If you’ve been “bitten by the writing bug” then you are exceedingly aware of the pull to write — even if it isn’t an everyday activity yet. You may be working on a particular story, something that’s been yanking on your imagination for years. Or feeling the pendulum shift from exuberance from creating to the frustrations of being stuck. Maybe you are despairing that your book will never see the light of day. You may wonder if you have what it takes to become a published author. And what happens after you’re published. There are indeed many costs of writing a book. Some are obvious, like the time commitment for getting words on the page. Others may be more elusive. In fact, you might not know what you don’t know.

To help get a more comprehensive view of the costs of writing a book, this post will explore six of the biggest cost categories for writing a book.

Time Costs of writing a book

Some of your social circle might think the investment of time to be something that’s free, but is it really? It takes a long time to write a book. Even if you sit down and pants it — meaning you put pen to paper and write, not knowing where the story will take you — creating an entire book is going to take time.

Pre-writing.

There’s the pre-writing or the planning phase where you mull and daydream your story. You choose what genre to write in, what point of view to tell it in, who your characters are, where the setting is, what the stakes are if the protagonist doesn’t get what they desire, and what the story’s message will be, etc.

Brainstorming and research.

There’s brainstorming and dreaming, which can and often does lead to research. For example: A science fiction story may require you to take a deep-dive into technological manuals and articles while a historical fantasy may make you learn about our world’s history in order to provide an authentic spin, and a mystery may require you to learn about procedures that law enforcement uses, etc. You might even need to research what resources you need and which experts you need to talk to.

Writing.

You have the actual putting the words on the page — either based on a plot that you created, which took time, or you’re discovery-writing, which means you’ll probably have to backtrack periodically, if and when you write yourself into corners. You may do a little of both.

Feedback and revising.

After your draft is done, you’ll probably want to get feedback for your story. You’ll more than likely want to mold it into the best story that you can. That will mean revising and editing…maybe even doing some rewriting.

Creating a platform.

You will need a platform — a social media presence, email list, and website — to create visibility to reach your potential readers, build connections and ultimately sell books. It takes time to create these, create content for them, and to stay up-to-date with the latest trends in your niche.

Querying and/or preparing to publish.

If you decide to travel a traditional path, it will take time. Time to research which agents you want to query. Write the customized query letters and synopsis. You have to prepare your query package, submit it, keep track of submissions, and wait for the agents to reply. If you land a reputable agent, it is again waiting for him or her to pitch your manuscript to the publishers. If the publisher accepts it, there are more time hurdles to cross such as more edits to your manuscript, before you see your book in the bookstore and royalty checks in your hand. And of course, you still have to market.

Or if you decide to go indie, you have the time commitment of getting the book ready and formatted for publication, finding an artist for your cover art or creating your own, procuring your ISBN numbers, publishing, getting reviews, marketing, to name some of the process.

Link to the rest at My Story Doctor

Manifesto fiction

From Nathan Bransford:

Over the past few years I’ve noticed a substantial uptick in novels crossing my desk that have an extremely overt political message. Their pitches will often cite that the world needs their new book. The authors will treat the message, and the world’s supposed need for it, as the thing that’s going to sell the book.

I call this manifesto fiction. And authors can go very, very far astray if they focus too much on the politics and not enough on the storytelling.

Now, don’t get me wrong. A lot of times I agree with the substance of the political message that’s being espoused! And, at the end of the day, everyone has to write the book they want to write.

But particularly if you’re pursuing traditional publication and if you have writing goals beyond just finishing the novel, here’s the thing you must remember: people will only buy your book if it’s a compelling story.

Focus on the storytelling and make it messy

There is a long and proud history of novels that shift culture and politics through sheer force of story, whether that’s Uncle Tom’s CabinThe JungleThe Handmaid’s Tale, or, more recently, The Hate U Give. There’s also a darker history here, including influential novels that advance racist narratives that I don’t really want to give a further platform by naming.

Knowing this, authors set about writing the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of, say climate change, sometimes with the zeal of converts.

What they forget is that the classic novels that have shifted the culture aren’t didactic diatribes about their chosen topic. The Handmaid’s Tale is not a treatise on reproductive justice, it’s an immersive alternate future that gains power through its plausibility. The Jungle is perhaps the most manifesto-y of these novels, but it’s still a gripping read focused on specific characters who Sinclair goes to great lengths to help the reader sympathize with.

The great danger of manifesto fiction is that the author will put the thumb on the scale as they craft their protagonists and villains, resulting in caricatures and stultifying plot lines. The protagonists are unduly heroic, and the villains unduly villainous. It’s blindingly obvious how things will turn out. The author’s politics are like a decoder ring that spoils what’s to come.

Authors writing didactic fiction will often fail to empathize with their villains and see the appealing traits that give them power. They fail to make it a fair fight.

If you’re going to write manifesto fiction, it’s got to be compellingly messy. We shouldn’t know who’s going to win, and both the protagonists and the villains need to represent a full spectrum of humanity.

Pitch the story, not the message

Publishing employees as a whole tend to be a disproportionately idealistic bunch, but they can only acquire what they think they can sell. And “please read this political diatribe thinly disguised as fiction” is not really a selling point.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

What I Wish I Knew As a Younger Writer

From Substack:

When I was in my early twenties and starting out as a writer, I received assorted bits of advice, some good, some bad. 

The good: a journalist at Newsday—where I had an internship as a reporter on the arts desk the summer of 1986—told me not to waste my time or go into debt pursuing a Masters in Journalism. “You’ll learn much more on the job, and you’ll get paid while you’re doing it,” she told me. I think this remains sound. While journalism has gotten way more competitive since then, I know too many writers who took on massive loans for “J-school,” only to have difficulty finding jobs with high enough salaries to pay those loans back—if they can find jobs at all.  

The bad: a woman named Helen, who ran an editorial employment agency through which I sought jobs after college, told me that when I went on interviews at magazines, newspapers, and publishing houses, I should leave at home the fairly impressive clips I’d garnered at Newsday and elsewhere before graduation. Otherwise, she cautioned, I’d seem too ambitious and unwilling to do the kind of grunt work that came with entry-level positions. 

In hindsight, it’s probably no surprise that hiding my achievements didn’t help me land the kinds of jobs I wanted. I mean, how counterintuitive was that advice? Please do highlight your achievements when applying to jobs! And don’t listen to anyone who suggests otherwise. What Helen suggested next, though, had an even bigger negative impact on my career path: that I give up on trying to write for consumer publications (mainstream periodicals read by regular people) for the foreseeable future, and instead get a job writing for a trade publication (a business periodical aimed at people who worked in a particular field). 

She said that sometimes the best way into the work you wanted was through a side door—taking jobs that weren’t quite the ones you wanted, but adjacent to them. From there, you could finagle your way into better positions. She added that if I really loved writing, I should love doing it about any subject, for any audience. That might be okay to do early, early in your writing career, before you’ve gotten any experience and are trying to get your feet wet. But I had come to her with some solid clips. Even if you don’t, I’m not sure I’d advise doing only that for too long if you’re trying to write creatively. You might find yourself burned out and sidelined, the way I was, in such a way that it’s difficult to pivot back to the kind of writing you’d prefer to do. 

Link to the rest at Substack

Six Word Stories: How to Write the Shortest Story You’ll Never Forget

From The Write Practice:

According to legend, Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a short story using only six words. Ernest Hemingway’s story? It was: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

While you’re not going to be able to tell an entire life story in six words, you just might be able to catch a movement of conflict or a significant moment in a character’s life. Plus it’s fun. Let’s look at how to write a really short story.

Six word stories are a great way to practice your writing without actually having to write much. They can also be used to warm up before working on a novel or short story.

When I first heard about six word stories, I thought, “A whole story in six words? That’s impossible!”

Then I wrote my first one. It was really easy, not to mention fun! Once you write your first, you can write a whole slew of them. Let’s look at how to write one.

1. Read examples

Start by looking at some examples. A great website you can use is sixwordstories.net. If you just want to look at a few examples, here are some I liked:

“Rapunzel! I am slipping! A wig?!”

Misleadingly deep puddle. Curious child missing.

“I love you, too,” she lied.

2. Choose a Moment of Conflict

Part of what makes a story, well, a story is a goal coupled with conflict. Think about the examples we listed above. Where is the moment of conflict?

Rapunzel’s suitor has a goal (reaching Rapunzel) and the conflict is that the hair he is climbing is a wig that is slipping. Oops.

The second one implies one of two stories: the child lost in a puddle OR what happens next when someone realizes the child’s fallen in. The goal will determine the conflict.

In the third one, the goal is to mislead someone. The conflict? The lie (or maybe why she lies).

Link to the rest at The Write Practice

Writer’s Block? Maybe You’re Writing in the Wrong Format

From Jane Friedman:

Earlier this year, I took a week-long writing retreat at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in Temecula, California. I had an idea for a new project and had written about 10,000 words, but I wanted some focused time to dive in and figure it out.

The week started off well. I wrote 13,000 words in the first two days, exploring characters and drafting scenes that had been percolating in my head, but on the third day everything slowed down. I simply couldn’t think of what else to write.

In the past I would have called it writer’s block, but I don’t believe in writer’s block anymore. In fact, in my coaching program, I devote an entire hour-long lesson to dismantling writer’s block because I believe fervently that it’s not a thing. It’s just a catch-all phrase we use to describe other things that keep us from writing.

But sitting there, staring out the window of my cabin in Temecula at the unusually verdant valley below, I began to worry I had been wrong. What if writer’s block really IS a thing? Not only was it a concern for my immediate circumstances, but it seemed to me that if writer’s block really was a thing, I would have to write a letter of apology to every writer I’d ever worked with. Had I really been wrong all along? In my mind, a spiral of darkness opened like a gaping mouth.

But wait, I thought, I had never, in all my years of coaching, failed to help a writer get unblocked. I just had to coach myself a bit. I mentally stitched up that pit of despair and instead imagined the conversation that might take place between April Dávila the frustrated writer and April Dávila the writing coach.

Frustrated April: The words just aren’t coming.

Writing coach April: Is the material too fresh? Maybe you need to do some more research.

Frustrated April: No, I know what I want the story to be. I’ve been outlining for months.

Writing coach April: Are you maybe feeling overwhelmed, burned out?

Frustrated April: Are you kidding? (gestures at gorgeous view from my cabin that I have all to myself for a whole week) The words should be flowing like vodka at a Sean Combs party. (bangs head against the desk)

Writing coach April: Maybe you’re not writing what you think you’re writing.

Frustrated April: (lifts head) Wait… what?

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Process for Fantasy World Building

From dyiMFA:

Let us begin with the very basic question: “What is world building?” If you are going to write fiction, every story needs a place to call home, where the action happens, where your characters live. This can be extraordinarily complex (as in the case of fantasy world building), or as simple as “the story takes place in the real world.” 

Whatever method you choose, the most important thing to remember is to stay consistent. If the story takes place in the real world, you do not have to deal with many of the complexities which arise in a fantasy story. 

It is when you are setting your story in another world that you need to be creative. This article deals with fantasy world building, although it can be used for almost any world building.

Where to Begin with World Building

I know building a new world is quite daunting for many people. Where to begin? Do I need to make maps? Do I need to create history, religions, political and economic systems? So many questions that need answers—Whew! Right? 

I have an acronym I use to start my personal process for building a new world: WHEW.

  • Who?
  • How?
  • Effects?
  • Why?

Each of these questions, when answered, makes up the basis of your world.

WHEW! Process for Fantasy World Building Explained

Who lives in your world?

The first question, the big question, I ask myself when I am building a new world, whether for a game campaign or for a story, is: Who lives there? 

Now you probably already have a good idea who the characters in your book will be, so that is your starting point. If you are writing a traditional epic fantasy, you may already have your book’s races in mind: Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Haflings, etc. 

Your geography will probably be defined by where your races traditionally live. Elves live in the woods, Dwarves live underground, etc. This is not saying every elf is found in the forest and you will only find dwarves underground, but it is a starting point. 

If you wish to create a totally unique setting, then deciding who lives in your world will be a vital first step. If you want a story set on a water-world, then you need races which can cope with being wet. Aquatic elves, Mer-folk, etc. If you want your story to take place in a desert, then you definitely want people who can cope with the lack of water. 

Thus, deciding who lives in your story will set the basic parameters of your world.

How does your world work (magic, technology, etc.)?

How your world works is another point which needs to be decided early on, especially in fantasy world building. 

Is your world rich in magic? Or is it scarce and only available to a very few? How is it acquired? Are only some people born with the ability, or can anyone learn to cast spells? Is magic a force of mind or personality or is it a gift bestowed by the deities? Is there more than one kind of magic in your world? And what about magical objects? Does everyone and their brother carry a magic sword, or are they rare and only used by an occasional hero or villain? At what stage is technology in your world? Stone age or are there printing presses and mechanical clocks? Is some technology enhanced by magic? Or conversely, is some magic enhanced by technology?

How your world works gives you a basis to set up the systems your world needs to be a place where your story can happen. For example, if your world has an economy, then you need some kind of exchange system for goods and services. Is there money? Or is everything bartered? Does your world have civilization or is it pure barbaric savagery?

What effects make your world special and unique?

The hows spelled out above give cause for whatever effects you may wish to have. 

Is there a gold standard? If so, where does the gold come from? Only from Dwarven mines?

Link to the rest at dyiMFA

Context and subtext in dialogue: Creating layered speech

From Now Novel:

Context and subtext in dialogue helps us read place, emotion, motivation and more in speech. Use this guide to context and subtext in dialogue to write communication that comes alive in spoken and unspoken cues.

What is subtext in conversation? Definition and types

‘Subtext’ is what lies ‘beneath’ the text (sub- meaning ‘beneath’ as in ‘submarine’ or ‘substandard’). In other words, subtext is the underlying motivations, feelings, meanings – what isn’t explicitly stated.

For example, the dialogue tag and action in this example suggest that Martin’s feelings contradict what he’s saying:

“What an amazing day,” Martin said, his affect flat, as he threw himself down to lie on the couch, hoping she’d caught the sarcasm.

The motivational subtext to this dialogue might be that Martin wants someone to notice he’s had a bad day.

The emotional subtext in Martin’s sarcasm suggests frustration, angst. Perhaps the desire to vent or for someone to help him feel better.

What are different types of subtext? Read six types below.

Keep reading for eight types of context in dialogue, too, plus examples of both subtext and context from books.

Why is subtext in conversation important?

Subtext in dialogue is important because:

  1. Subtext helps to avoid on-the-nose dialogue. Real communication doesn’t all happen on the surface, in direct statements or questions and answers. People read tone, body language and other ‘sub-‘ layers of communication to understand feeling, inference, shifts and changes
  2. Subtext makes dialogue feel alive. For example, gestures in dialogue supply a sense of attitude and personality. See Lily’s mother running her finger over a surface to check for dust in the example section below (suggesting a critical nature).
  3. Subtext aids tension and ambiguity. Inference (such as in Martin implying he’s had a bad day in the example above) creates tension and ambiguity. Often there’s something more than exactly what’s being said going on.

Types of subtext in dialogue

Read definitions of six types of subtext in dialogue:

What is emotional subtext in conversation?

The unsaid emotions (e.g. anger, joy, fear) which dialogue conveys via tone, gestures, facial expressions, body language, movement.

What is motivational subtext?

The inference of what a character wants, their reason to speak. For example, a character who says ‘You know you’re my favorite person, right?’ They might be buttering someone up to ask a favor.

What is power subtext?

In dialogue, subtextual aspects that suggest power are signs of dynamics such as submission, dominance, control, passivity. Who’s in the driver’s seat, or are the power dynamics balanced?

What is cultural subtext?

Unspoken cultural (or subcultural) elements that inform conversation. For example, how a kid familiar with lingo from the video game Among Us may say something’s ‘sus’ to their parents, meaning ‘suspicious’.

What is personal subtext?

Personal subtext in conversation is a speaker’s private history, experiences or backstory. It’s the way these elements shape how a person speaks, responds.

What is psychological subtext?

The psychological subtext of conversation refers to psychological processes in dialogue (such as projection – e.g., calling someone a liar when feeling bad about having lied).

Link to the rest at Now Novel

Abandon Your Protagonist at the Side of the Road

From Writer Unboxed:

My brother is a counselor. A very good one who won’t tell any of his clients’ stories, even when our dad asks him to strip all identifying features. Dad knows better, but he’s a curious man who’s never been afraid of hearing no (which made him a great entrepreneur). One night, after refusing to answer, my brother kept thinking about how he could honor our dad’s desire to connect with him about his work.

About an hour later, he told us about an image and a corresponding therapeutic technique he’s been using with clients who’ve experienced trauma and cannot directly address what happened to them. They’ve built up so much resistance that they shut down when they try to even name it. He’s given these patients this story:

As you’ve gone through your life, when you experienced something you couldn’t face, you went on, but to survive, you left your pre-trauma self on the side of the road and went on without them. You may have done this a number of times. Let’s invite those abandoned yous to sit around the table with us and talk.

His clients have found this gentle and poignant exercise helpful. They’re able to re-connect with the self/selves who experienced the trauma and begin to deal with their misbeliefs, their unhelpful coping strategies–even if they can’t say what happened to them.

Which made me think of our protagonists.

When building our characters, we usually identify a moment in their past that is the root of the problem that will be solved in the course of our story. Whether we call it the Origin Story, The Wound, a Marker Moment, or something else, we create a before/after: Before this, I believed X, but after I believed D. They build up layers of habits, beliefs, and self-talk to cope. It is the action of the story to get them to face the results of that moment.

Using my brother’s image, the protagonist abandons their old-self on the side of the road and goes on.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Don’t rush to the inciting incident

From Nathan Bransford:

 Time for the Page Critique. First I’ll present the page without comment, then I’ll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to bankoferin, whose page is below:

Title: Proof of Love
Genre: Literary Fiction/Women’s Fiction

As Eliza entered her apartment, her phone buzzed impatiently in her back pocket. She pulled it out and glanced at the screen as she stepped out of her shoes. One new voicemail. She must have missed the call when she was underground in the subway, journeying back from a late dinner in Manhattan with Jackie and her new girlfriend. Eliza debated even listening to it; she was exhausted from uncomfortably witnessing a strange woman dote upon her friend. Not her friend. Her sponsor. Had she been jealous, of someone diverting attention normally reserved for her? Or of two people finding connection with each other?

She played the message on speaker while she undressed. With one leg out of her jeans, she froze when she heard an unmistakable voice, slow, soft, and strong. The voice of a ghost, from a life she no longer had.

“Eliza, hi, this is Owen. It’s Tuesday night, eight o’clock out here. I’m sorry I haven’t called sooner, we were hoping… well.” A deep breath crackled the line. “Your dad had a stroke. And he’d like to see you. Call me back anytime.”

Eliza slowly pulled her other leg out of her pants and circled slowly around the apartment, trying to breathe. She counted her inhale, one-two-three, and her exhale, one-two-three-four, like she was supposed to do when she wanted a drink. But instead of calming down, she felt dizzy and dashed to the bathroom to crouch over the toilet.

A lot of the pages I read in the course of my editing life feel like they’re the end result of misapplied feedback.

If I had to bet, the writer initially started the novel in a different place, but they either heard some writing advice that you have to grab the reader right away or received feedback that the opening was too slow. Eliza finding out her father had a stroke is the inciting incident where the plot kicks off, so the writer decided get there as fast as humanly possible with only some meager references to a dinner with Eliza’s sponsor to ham-handedly establish that Eliza is a) an alcoholic and b) single.

There’s no physical description to help us understand what her apartment is like (is she in a cramped three bedroom with five roommates in the Bronx or is she in a palatial Manhattan penthouse?), we don’t have any hints of what else might be going on in her life beyond alcoholism and singledom, and the news is followed by a cliched gesture explosion that doesn’t help us understand how specifically she’s thinking through this news or who Owen is.

If the previous opening was slow, the right solution was not to move the inciting incident to paragraph three. The author just needed a better mini-quest to show the protagonist in her element before the main plot kicks off. In other words, if there was a different opening before that didn’t work well, the right solution wasn’t to eliminate it, it was to fix the old opening to make it more interesting.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

The first draft is always the hardest (and why you shouldn’t fear starting over)

From Nathan Bransford:

Early in my writing career, there was little I feared more than having to rewrite any part of my novels.

I agonized over scenes so they were “perfect” the first time. I obsessively saved and re-saved anything I wrote and made sure multiple backup copies existed lest a laptop theft or fire destroy my hard work. Every time I received an edit, I peeked through my hands at the editorial letter until I saw I was safe from having to go back to the drawing board.

Now? I’ve written a placeholder opening for my new novel that’s just standing in for a better one I’ll think up later. I pressed forward on some scenes I know will be cut just to see how some ideas work on the page. I know when I’m finished I’m going to rewrite the whole thing with whatever voice I’ve crystalized by the end.

Here’s what accounts for my change in approach: I’ve learned that rewriting a novel is almost always much easier than you think it’s going to be.

The first draft is phenomenally difficult

Pushing forward on a new novel is extremely hard. Just ridiculously, mind-bogglingly hard.

It’s like trying to run a race in three or four directions at once. You’re getting to know the characters. You’re fleshing out the setting. You’re trying to see if the events you have in mind are going to work once they hit the page. You’re trying to find the voice. You’re weaving together plots and subplots. All at the same time.

Maybe your novel will spring forth in its ideal form and all of these elements will magically weave together in perfect harmony.

Good luck.

Instead, even if you write slowly and carefully, chances are you’re going to muddle through. You always have work to do when you’re finished.

And sometimes you’ll have a ton of work to do. Particularly after you confront a daunting editorial letter, sometimes you’ll need to go back and rewrite the whole thing mostly from scratch.

But take it from me: starting over isn’t something to fear.

Don’t be afraid to start over

One of the absolute most important qualities that stratifies authors between great and mediocre or worse is a willingness to confront weaknesses, bite the bullet, and do what’s necessary to improve your work. Even if that means completely scrapping what you’ve written and starting over.

Does this sound terrifying to you? Take heart: Nothing is lost.

Even if you have written a steaming pile of seemingly unusable garbage, the plot makes little sense, nothing fits together, and you are going back to Chapter 1, Scene 1 to rewrite the whole shebang, you’re not really starting from scratch.

Chances are you’ve learned a ton about the characters, the setting, the voice, and the plot. Even if your knowledge is mostly about what doesn’t work with the plot, that knowledge is phenomenally useful. Rather than trying to accomplish every single thing all at once, like you are with a first draft, you’ll be able to focus on one or two key things. It’s a huge advantage.

Every time I’ve gone back to the well for a substantial rewrite, I dreaded it like you wouldn’t believe, then wound up astonished how much easier it was to complete than I thought it was going to be.

You feel like you can “get above it” and see the forests from the trees. Scenes flow. The characters pop.

Rewriting is nothing like a first draft. It feels like you’re writing with a jetpack.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

How to Write a Narrative Essay in 5 Steps

From The Grammarly Blog:

When you have a personal story to tell and don’t want to write an entire book, a narrative essay may be the perfect fit. Unlike other types of essays, narrative essays don’t need to stick to certain requirements or include a bibliography. They have a looser structure, more creative language, and just one requirement: to tell a story.

What is a narrative essay?

A narrative essay typically tells a true story that may have a few elements changed for clarity or dramatic purposes. However, this isn’t a requirement. You can format a fictional story as a narrative essay.

Narrative essays, perhaps unsurprisingly, are defined by the presence of a narrative in the text. Rather than presenting and defending a position, as in an argumentative essay, or analyzing another text, like in an analytical essay, a narrative essay tells a coherent story. They’re often personal essays that detail specific episodes in their authors’ lives, which is why they’re popular for college essays.

Unlike most other types of essays, narrative essays have room for literary devices, such as metaphor and onomatopoeia. You can be creative in a narrative essay because you’re writing a story rather than presenting and dissecting others’ statements or work.

5 steps to writing a narrative essay

Step 1: Topic choice (or prompt given)

The first step in writing a narrative essay is to determine the topic. Sometimes, your topic is chosen for you in the form of a prompt. You might map out the topics you want to mention in the essay or think through each point you’d like to make to see how each will fit into the allotted word count (if you’re given one).

At this stage, you can also start thinking about the tone you’ll use in your essay and any stylistic choices you’d like to incorporate, such as starting each paragraph with the same phrase to create anaphora or leaving the reader with a cliffhanger ending. You can change these later if they don’t mesh with your first draft, but playing with these ideas in the idea-generating stage can help you craft multiple drafts.

Step 2: Make an outline

After you’ve explored your ideas and gotten a clear sense of what you’ll write, make an outline. An outline is a bare-bones precursor to your essay that gives a high-level view of the topics it will cover. When you’re writing, your essay outline can act as a map to follow when you’re not sure how to start or help you transition between topics once you’ve started.

Step 3: Write your narrative essay

Next, it’s time to write! With your outline as a guide, flesh out the sections you’ve listed with clear, engaging language. A narrative essay doesn’t—and shouldn’t—stick to the same requirements as an academic essay, so don’t feel a need to use formal language or summarize your essay in its introductory paragraph.

Tip: Use a first-person point of view

Most narrative essays are written from a first-person point of view. That means using pronouns such as and me when describing the experiences you explore in your essay.

Tip: Use storytelling or creative language

If you’ve ever written fiction or creative nonfiction, use the same kind of language and conventions in your narrative essay. By this, we mean using storytelling techniques, such as dialogue, flashbacks, and symbolism, to engage readers and communicate your essay’s themes.

Link to the rest at The Grammarly Blog

Passive Voice: When to Avoid It and When to Use It

From The Grammarly Blog:

The passive voice is often maligned by teachers and professors as a bad writing habit. Or, to put that in the active voice: Teachers and professors across the English-speaking world malign the passive voice as a bad writing habit.

What is the passive voice?

In general, the active voice makes your writing stronger, more direct, and, you guessed it, more active. The subject is something, or it does the action of the verb in the sentence. With the passive voice, the subject is acted upon by some other performer of the verb. (In case you weren’t paying attention, the previous two sentences use the type of voice they describe.)

But the passive voice is not incorrect. In fact, there are times when it can come in handy. Read on to learn how to form the active and passive voices, when using the passive voice is a good idea, and how to avoid confusing it with similar forms.

The difference between active and passive voice

While tense is all about time references, voice describes whether the grammatical subject of a clause performs or receives the action of the verb.

Here’s the formula for the active voice:

[subject]+[verb (performed by the subject)]+[optional object]

Chester kicked the ball.

In a passive voice construction, the grammatical subject of the clause receives the action of the verb. So the ball from the above sentence, which is receiving the action, becomes the subject. The formula:

[subject]+[some form of the verb to be]+[past participle of a transitive verb]+[optional prepositional phrase]

The ball was kicked by Chester.

That last little bit—“by Chester”—is a prepositional phrase that tells you who the performer of the action is. But even though Chester is the one doing the kicking, he’s no longer the grammatical subject. A passive voice construction can even drop him from the sentence entirely:

The ball was kicked.

How’s that for anticlimactic?

When (and when not) to use the passive voice

If you’re writing anything with a definitive subject that is performing an action, you’ll be better off using the active voice. And if you search your document for occurrences of was, is, or were and your page lights up with instances of passive voice, it may be a good idea to switch to active voice.

That said, there are times when the passive voice does a better job of presenting an idea, especially when the performer of the action of a sentence’s verb is very general or diffuse, is unknown, or should get less emphasis than the recipient of that action, including in certain formal, professional, and legal contexts. Here are five common uses of the passive voice:

1 In broad statements about widely held opinions or social norms

Tipping less than 20 percent is now considered rude.

The writer of this sentence is communicating that they believe enough people share the opinion that tipping less than 20 percent is rude to qualify as a consensus. In other words, the performer of the action—the people doing the considering—is so general that it can be left out of the sentence entirely.

2 In reports of crimes with unknown perpetrators or other actions with unknown doers

My car was stolen yesterday.

If you knew who stole the car, you might be closer to getting it back. The passive voice here emphasizes the stolen item and the action of theft.

The grass was cut yesterday.

The emphasis here is on the grass, which presumably is observably shorter. Someone must have cut it, but whoever it was is not the concern of this sentence.

3 In scientific contexts

The rat was placed in a T-shaped maze.

Who placed the rat in the maze? Scientists, duh. But that’s less important than the experiment they’re conducting. Therefore, passive voice.

4 When the writer or speaker wants to avoid blame

Sometimes, someone wants to acknowledge that something unpleasant happened without making it crystal -clear who’s at fault. The classic example:

Mistakes were made.”

Who made them? Is anyone taking responsibility? What’s the solution here? One political scientist dubbed this kind of construction the “past exonerative” because it’s meant to exonerate the speaker/writer from whatever foul may have been committed. In other words, drop the subject, get off the hook.

5 In any other situation where you want to keep the focus on an action and/or the recipient of the action

The president was sworn in on a cold January morning.

How many people can remember off the top of their heads who swears in presidents? Clearly, the occasion of swearing in the commander in chief is the thing to emphasize here.

Cleo was transformed by the experience of traveling alone in Latin America.

In this case, we know what brought about the action: It was the experience of traveling alone in South America. But the thing the sentence most urgently wants us to know is that a person, Cleo, had an important thing happen to them. So making the recipient of the action (Cleo) the subject of the sentence, using the passive voice, and tucking the performer of the action (the experience) after the action as the object of the preposition by makes sense.

In each of the above contexts, the action itself—or the person or thing receiving the action—is the part that matters. That means the performer of the action can be absent from the sentence altogether or appear in a prepositional phrase with by. Although some of these examples are formal, others show that the passive voice is often useful and necessary in daily life. In each of the sentences below, the passive voice is natural and clear for one of the reasons in the list above. Rewriting these sentences in the active voice renders them sterile, awkward, or syntactically contorted.

Passive: Bob Dylan was injured in a motorcycle accident.

Active: A motorcycle accident injured Bob Dylan.

Passive: Elvis is rumored to be alive.

Active: People rumor Elvis to be alive.

Passive: Don’t be fooled!

Active: Don’t allow anything to fool you!

Link to the rest at The Grammarly Blog

Character Type & Trope Thesaurus Entry: Hero

From Writers Helping Writers:

Character Type & Trope Thesaurus Entry: Hero

In 1959, Carl Jung first popularized the idea of archetypes—”universal images that have existed since the remotest times.” He posited that every person is a blend of these 12 basic personalities. Ever since then, authors have been applying this idea to fictional characters, combining the different archetypes to come up with interesting new versions. The result is a sizable pool of character tropes that we see from one story to another.

Archetypes and tropes are popular storytelling elements because of their familiarity. Upon seeing them, readers know immediately who they’re dealing with and what role the nerd, dark lord, femme fatale, or monster hunter will play. As authors, we need to recognize the commonalities for each trope so we can write them in a recognizable way and create a rudimentary sketch for any character we want to create.

But when it comes to characters, no one wants just a sketch; we want a vibrant and striking cast full of color, depth, and contrast. Diving deeper into character creation is especially important when starting with tropes because the blessing of their familiarity is also a curse; without differentiation, the characters begin to look the same from story to story.

But no more. The Character Type and Trope Thesaurus allows you to outline the foundational elements of each trope while also exploring how to individualize them. In this way, you’ll be able to use historically tried-and-true character types to create a cast for your story that is anything but traditional.

Hero (Archetype)

DESCRIPTION: Heroes are driven to fight for the oppressed and defend the defenseless, and they succeed by employing their own specific mix of strengths, talents, and skills. In addition, some form of sacrifice is usually required for them to win.

NOTES: In the context of storytelling, the terms hero and protagonist are used interchangeably, but when it comes to archetypes, the two are distinctly different. A protagonist (the main character whose goal drives the story) with the characteristics described above will be a hero. But not every protagonist is a hero; it’s actually quite common for secondary characters to play this archetypal character. As an example, in Where the Crawdads Sing, Kya is the protagonist of the story, but its her lawyer, Tom Milton, who represents the hero type.

Secondly, please note that “hero” in the context of this entry is used as a gender-neutral term, similar to artist, athlete, or doctor.

FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird), Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games series), Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter (The Help), Luke Skywalker (Star Wars: A New Hope), Elle Woods (Legally Blonde)

COMMON STRENGTHS
Adventurous, Bold, Confident, Courageous, Disciplined, Focused, Honorable, Idealistic, Independent, Industrious, Inspirational, Intelligent, Just, Persistent, Resourceful, Responsible, Talented

COMMON WEAKNESSES
Cocky, Nosy, Obsessive, Perfectionist, Pushy, Stubborn, Workaholic

ASSOCIATED ACTIONS, BEHAVIORS, AND TENDENCIES
Having a specific goal in mind and working toward it
Gathering allies that complement them and assist in the pursuit of the goal
Having a strong moral code
Being sensitive to injustice
Speaking up or stepping forward when others won’t
Utilizing certain strengths or skills in the pursuit of their goal
Making sacrifices to achieve the goal
Struggling with personal flaws or demons
Learning from their mistakes
Seeking to learn or improve skills and abilities that will aid them in their task
Persistence
Standing up for the vulnerable or defenseless
Difficulty accepting viewpoints that go against their own moral code
Overconfidence and cockiness
Trying to do things on their own instead of depending on or working with others
Taking too long to self-correct
Difficulty taking orders or advice from others

SITUATIONS THAT WILL CHALLENGE THEM
Losing a minor confrontation with an adversary
Being betrayed by an ally
The death of a mentor
Facing a setback that makes success seem impossible
Having to make a decision that will result, either way, in someone being hurt
Being unable to save someone
Being pitted against a seemingly undefeatable enemy
Not being in control
Loved ones not supporting the character in the pursuit of their goal

INNER STRUGGLES TO GIVE THEM DEPTH
A strength becoming a weakness—e.g., John Nash’s mental acumen being compromised with the onset of schizophrenia (A Beautiful Mind)
Having to change course and not knowing what to do
A significant failure causing the hero to doubt themselves
Recognizing a weakness but struggling to deal with it or do things differently
Having to make a decision between the goal and important people in the hero’s life
Being tempted to give in to temptation or take a shortcut along the way
An ego-driven mistake harming the people the hero is trying to help or protect

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

For those unfamiliar with Writers Helping Writers, it contains a huge number of tools that writers may find very helpful.

Here’s a video that demonstrates some of the tools. (PG apologizes if you have to watch a couple of YouTube ads before getting into the video. He hates that YouTube has jammed itself full of ads.)

Seductions And Promises

From My Story Doctor:

The sweetest thing writers can hear is that our readers missed their bedtime because they couldn’t put our book down. The words on the page seduce the reader to continue flipping and it’s obvious this engagement begins at the story’s opening and continues. So the question I’m exploring today is what openings do we need and what elements are required?

Recently, Hollywood Consultant Michael Hauge gave his ‘Seducing the Reader in the First Ten Pages’ talk to Apexers — great presentation — and one of the things that gave me pause was a question he sometimes asks to his clients. “Would you want to hang out with your protagonist in real life?”

He said he sometimes gets back a “yes, at the end of the book, after the character completes their arc” and sometimes the answer is worse, a just no. This begs the question, he said, “if you wouldn’t want to hang with them then why would you expect your reader to?” It’s a fair point.

So yes, character is extremely integral as is setting, and conflict. How do these puzzle pieces connect and how can you boil your story down that leaves ambrosia in your readers minds like ‘sweet maple syrup’ while they are trudging their way to breakfast with not enough sleep.

Character

Everyone can probably agree without character there is no story. So how do we get our readers to feel compelled to follow our characters, particularly our protagonist?

David Farland said on his PROMISING STARTS course “Don’t be a character assassin with your own characters. Even your villain can be noble.” That is an intriguing concept. To boil it down simplistically, you want your characters to be likeable, or at the very least relatable. And with villains, if they are relatable, it makes them more real.

Story, according to Michael Hauge, starts with character because we read to have an experience and to have that experience we become the character. We are basically sliding into the protagonist’s skin and becoming that avatar. Can you imagine the difficulty in slipping into the skin of someone we don’t like? It would feel off-putting at best. However, if the character is relatable, we still can. Neither likeable nor relatable? We are not giving our reader an enticing reason to join the journey.

Creating empathy for the character, according to Hauge, is one of the best ways of starting out a story. We need to show how the character is stuck, is in jeopardy, is in danger of losing something vital. And belikeable. Show that they are caring and good people. He says, “They’ll have flaws, yes, but show that later. Get us hooked first.” Make them funny. And last, you certainly don’t have to do all of these, but you should have at least one from the list.

Farland, who also greenlit Hollywood screenplays during his career, agreed with showing the character being in pain and also being likable. He said to give characters problems, multiple problems, big layered problems! This is one of the things you should consider before you start writing your story.

Hollywood, according to Dave, often uses the ‘Pet the Dog’ technique. An example is Jim Carrey’s character actually petting a growling dog in one of his movies. Actions like these can show a morally questionable protagonist having a good heart and that makes the character likeable. Other ways to make a character likeable: Show other people caring about that character; make them attractive on the inside and/or on the outside; and make them admirable. He also said you certainly don’t have to do all of these, but again you should have at least one, if not more.

Link to the rest at My Story Doctor

Why David Grann, Bestselling Adventure Writer, Isn’t One for the Outdoors

From The Wall Street Journal:

Although David Grann is quick to admit he’s not exactly cut out to be an adventurer, his nonfiction books follow the most daring explorers through the Amazon, Antarctica and now, with The Wager, published today, the high seas. The Wager centers on an 18th-century British shipwreck and mutiny, featuring castaways and murder on an uninhabitable island off the coast of Chile. “I get lost. I don’t hunt. I hate to camp. I hate bugs,” Grann, 56, says. “I have this eye disorder that makes it hard for me to see. I’m incredibly ill-suited for all these things.” 

Despite his sedentary work life, which he calls “dull,” the results—real-life stories with a novelistic texture—are successful critically and commercially. The Amazon-set The Lost City of Z (2009) and Killers of the Flower Moon (2017), about serial murders of Osage people in the 1920s, were both bestsellers. Martin Scorsese’s film based on Flower Moon, with Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio, opens later this year. Scorsese’s and DiCaprio’s production companies bought the film rights to The Wager, and The White Darkness (2018), about a polar explorer’s journeys across Antarctica, is being developed as an Apple TV+ limited series to star Tom Hiddleston.

Grann leaves the moviemaking to others and spends most of his time poring over archives and working at home in Westchester County, where he lives with his wife, the journalist Kyra Darnton, and their two teenage children. But sometimes a fact-finding adventure creeps up on him. In 2018 he made a treacherous two-week voyage to what is now called Wager Island, where some castaways landed, a trip he did not have in mind when he started the book two years before. “While I research these stories, they eventually somehow get under my skin,” he says. “I’m like, ‘How am I going to describe the island?’ Before I know it I’m trying to find a captain to take me there.” 

Some of your other books are set in the early 20th century, but with The Wager you’ve moved to the 18th century.
After Killers of the Flower Moon, I swore the next thing I do, it’s going to be contemporary, in the last 20 years; everyone’s going to be alive. And then I came across this journal written by John Byron [a midshipman on the Wager]. It was scurvy, shipwreck, cannibalism. And he is also the grandfather of the poet Lord Byron. Suddenly I found myself in the 18th century.

How different was that?
The biggest challenge was not just understanding the 18th century but figuring out these hermetic civilizations on the ships, which have their own language. I’d see DD written in a document; what does DD mean? Well, that means discharged dead. You see DDDDDD, and you look at their names and each one of these people was a life with a story, that perished on this expedition. You begin to have a sense of the real horrific toll of these voyages.

What was your trip to Wager Island like?
The boat was maybe 50 feet, heated by a wood stove. When we set out into the open ocean, it gave me my first taste of these terrifying seas. In front of us was a mountain of water, behind us was a mountain of water. And all you could do was sit on the floor, because if you stood you could get chucked and could break a limb. I sat for eight to 10 hours on the floor. I put on a book tape of Moby-Dick, which in retrospect was not the most soothing thing to do.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG has posted about the book titled, The Wager, before, but he thought this was interesting background information about the book.

Why Beta Readers Lead You to Getting Paid for Your Writing

From Jane Friedman:

Asking someone to beta read for you is one of the first steps you will take toward becoming a well-paid, published, consistent writer. Because, for many of us, the beta reader process is the first time we must own the identity of: WRITER.

Owning your writer identity is the biggest mindset hurdle we face. This is especially true if you’re uninitiated and haven’t yet been published and/or paid for your work. Once you overcome this hurdle, you build up courage to reach for bigger opportunities (and pay checks) in your career.

Building up courage starts long before we are paid, published, or well-known. Building up courage happens in tiny decisions and actions, day after day, year after year. Building up courage starts the moment you realize your manuscript is polished to the best of your ability and you need to ask someone for an objective opinion on your work.

This is when most of us freak out. We no longer have the luxury of hiding in the security of secrecy. We cannot hoard our writing dreams and aspirations in silence any longer. To level up this project you must have objectivity, and the only path to objectivity is letting someone else read your words. To progress you must ask someone to read for you.

While you may think asking someone to read is just about feedback and learning if your characters resonate, you’re simultaneously stepping into the identity of WRITER. In the act of asking, you are forced to try on a new persona. A persona you may not feel you’ve earned. This is why you are scared to ask.

But, over time, after telling enough people and letting them read your words, you feel like a writer. Feeling like a writer changes your internal beliefs because you’ve entirely stepped into the identity of WRITER. And because writers write consistently, your actions change to align with this new identity.

Asking someone to beta read shows you: You can be brave. You can level up.

Writer level-ups often look like this:

  • I am a writer.
  • I am a consistent writer.
  • I am a published, consistent writer.
  • I am a paid, published, consistent writer.
  • I am a well-paid, published, consistent writer.

Now that you know where this one tiny act of courage can take you, let me show you how to make this jump, and I’ll even show you where to find a few beta readers along the way.

How to level up and own your writer identity

  1. Reframe your feels-so-scary-it’s-time-for-a-beta-reader realization to a phenomenal opportunity. This is the opportunity to baby-step deeper into your writing career by admitting, out loud, to another human that “I am a writer.”
  2. Acknowledge you don’t really believe you are writer—yet. Even though your actions confirm you write, and you have the proof of a finished written thing, and think about writing constantly, you still don’t believe you are a writer. It’s totally okay, none of us do at this point.
  3. Accept that saying “I am a writer. Would you like to read my book and offer your opinions on it?” is going to feel uncomfortable. Which is totally fine because feelings try to keep you safe by keeping you in your comfort zone, and you are actively expanding your comfort zone, which is uncomfortable.
  4. Practice the first half of the ask. Say “I am a writer” out loud while looking at yourself in the mirror. Say it in the car at red lights. Write it over and over, Simpsons-on-the-chalkboard style. Rehearsing ad nauseam gives you a better chance the words will pop out of your mouth before you have a chance to feel or think.
  5. Tell a stranger. Someone you’re never going to see again. Type it in the comments of a post on the internet somewhere. Tell your Uber driver. Mention it to a server at a restaurant you never plan to eat at again.
  6. Tell your acquaintances. The people who know you tangentially but aren’t involved in every detail of your life. People you haven’t spent one-on-one time with. The people at your gym. The knitting forum. The barista at your favorite coffee shop.

The acquaintance step is where you’re going to find your beta readers. When people learn you are a writer, they get excited. They think our job is super cool—because it is. When these acquaintances see you living your dream, it makes them think maybe they can live their dreams too. This is why they will ask you about your writing every time you see them. If the acquaintance turns out to be an avid reader, or even better yet, a reader of your genre, they are the ideal person to ask “Would you like to read my book and offer your opinion on it?”

Acquaintances offer the most objective opinion because they don’t know your intimate life story. They won’t assume you’re writing about your third-grade boyfriend or craptastic day job, because they don’t know about either of them. They are also super flattered to be in on the early-stages-behind-the-scenes of a book, which means they eagerly read and get you feedback promptly. These early readers turn into fans and are the foundation of your platform. They have excitement about your success, because they contributed to it by beta reading, which seals in your new writer identity.

You may have noticed friends and family are not on the baby-step list. This is because family and friends love us and want to keep us safe. The people who know us best are often those overly cautious, well meaning, here’s-all-the-reasons-this-is-not-going-to-work types. Telling them before you own your writer identity is a common way we subconsciously self-sabotage and stall our writing evolution.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Create Effective Dialogue by Asking the Right Questions

From Jane Friedman:

Given most of us speak an average of 16,000 words a day, it seems as if writing dialogue should be effortless and natural.

But dialogue in story isn’t like dialogue in real life, which can meander or be riddled with empty filler, circumlocutions, and verbal tics. Story dialogue is more like concentrated orange juice: It gets rid of all the extraneous material and boils down communication to its essence.

To create effective and efficient dialogue that serves the story, you’ll need to ask yourself a few basic journalistic questions: the why, when, what, how, and how much of what your characters say.

WHY are your characters speaking?

Dialogue adds wonderful immediacy to a story, but if it’s not used purposefully it can feel superfluous. It’s not an exaggeration to say that every single word your characters speak should be deliberately chosen to serve the story in some purposeful way.

Does the dialogue advance the plot or story? Are the characters—or you as the author—trying to communicate a specific idea or information? Or perhaps to conceal it—to misdirect, obfuscate, or distract?

Does the dialogue offer essential context for the characters or story, or reveal a key plot point, or further the character arc? Are the characters speaking to fill silence? Out of nerves? Out of a desperate desire to connect? To mask what they are feeling? To alleviate discomfort—their own or someone else’s? To please someone else or curry favor? Out of habit? For the sake of politeness?

Good dialogue often multitasks, serving more than one of these purposes to create layers of meaning in story.

WHEN do they speak?

When your character speaks and doesn’t speak is an effective way to convey personality and relationships, further character development, advance plot, raise stakes, manage pace, and create suspense and tension.

What does the long silence after your character is told someone loves them reveal about their situation or relationship? What do readers know about the person who whispers constant commentary to their companion during a solemn occasion like a wedding or funeral or church service? Or the one who cracks a joke at just the right moment, or at the most inappropriate time?

How does it further the story and raise stakes and suspense when a character being interrogated refuses to speak—or inadvertently blurts an incriminating piece of information just when it seemed they were in the clear? What does it convey or mean for the story if a character witnesses a wrong and fails to speak up—or does speak, risking the wrath of the wrongdoer?

What your character doesn’t say is often as important and revealing as what they do—and when they choose to speak and choose to be silent can paint a vivid picture of who they are, what they want and why.

WHAT do they say?

In life we often speak without thinking, and your characters might also, but as the author you should choose each word with deliberate purpose. How does it move them closer to their goals—or throw up an obstacle? How does it show readers who they are or what they’re feeling or thinking?

What to say will be a function of why your character is saying it—and why you as the author are having them say it. If the scene’s narrative purpose is to advance the story while showing two characters’ relationship, for instance, then your dialogue will focus on those areas, as Jonathan Tropper does in this brief opening excerpt from This Is Where I Leave You:

“Dad’s dead,” Wendy says offhandedly, like it’s happened before, like it happens every day. It can be grating, this act of hers, to be utterly unfazed at all times, even in the face of tragedy.

“He died two hours ago.”

“How’s Mom doing?”

“She’s Mom, you know? She wanted to know how much to tip the coroner.”

We get a lot of info in this excerpt just from the dialogue: that these two are siblings; that their father has just died; that the narrator’s first reaction is to worry about his mom, which indicates something of their relationship; a little bit about what their mother is like from Wendy’s comment about tipping the coroner—which may or may not be a joke, given what the narrative portion tells us is characteristic of her.

Subtext in the dialogue tells us even more: This is how the conversation starts, so we also may infer that Wendy is direct and doesn’t candy-coat anything, and that these two are in touch frequently enough and/or have a close enough relationship that there is no need for introductory pleasantries at the beginning of a call, even one like this. The narrator also seems to react rather calmly to what could be shattering news: That might indicate that Dad’s death is not entirely unexpected, or that the protagonist isn’t close to his father, or that he is a level, nonreactive person…or an unemotional one…or a tightly controlled one. We don’t know yet—this is just one piece of the puzzle that begins to come together as the scene—and the dialogue—progresses.

But the characters’ words aren’t casually chosen. Tropper is using dialogue to introduce the inciting event, several of the main characters (the narrator, Wendy, Mom, and to a degree Dad), and a bit of context on their relationship and history—plus set up the entire story premise. That’s a lot of multitasking for four lines of dialogue.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

How Long Does It Really Take To Write a Novel?

From Writer Unboxed:

If you Google “How long does it take to write a novel?” you get more than 700,000 results, with answers ranging from three months to a vague “years.” I can tell you it took me four years to write my first novel, while also raising two young kids and working part-time. My second novel took another four years. I wrote shitty draft after shitty draft while my agent told me that every author has at least one novel that ends up in a drawer. Three years in, I rewrote it yet again and my agent said, “I thought I was going to tell you it’s time to let this one go, but I think we can sell it.” We did, to an editor who said, “I think the book needs a second point of view.” She was right, but it meant writing another entire story. That took another year. After all that, I wrote my third novel in eighteen months.

Based on all this experience, what do I know now about how long it takes to write a novel? Honestly, almost nothing. It’s like having kids: You have one child and think you have parenting figured out and you have another child and realize you know nothing about parenting. I’m working on a new novel after a six-plus year hiatus from fiction, and while I’m 20,000 solid words in to it, every day I think, How long is this going to take?

According to this nifty infographic from Writer’s Digest, it took Charles Dickens six weeks to write A Christmas Carol, while Stephanie Meyer spent three months penning Twilight and Emily Bronte took nine months to produce Wuthering Heights. Audrey Niffenegger wrote The Time Traveler’s Wife in four years (a length of time close to my heart), and the 18 months I took to write my third novel matches the amount of time it took Rudyard Kipling to write The Jungle Book. All of which tells us pretty much nothing about how long it will take you or me to write our own novels.

Here’s what I do know about how long it takes to write a novel:

Writing every day does make a difference. As my mother always said, Clichés are clichés because they’re true. While writing my third novel, I participated in NaNoWriMo—not because I expected to finish my novel in a month, but because I wanted the structure and accountability and challenge. Writing 1,000-1,5000 words a day for one month seemed like a doable thing to me, and it was. I wrote 30,000 words in 30 days, and much of it was good. Every time I commit to a daily word count or number of writing hours it helps.

You can’t build a house without a foundation. I am a pantser and not a plotter. With all of my novels I knew the climactic scene, I just wasn’t sure how to get there. But with each book I have spent more time thinking through the steps along the way, and it helps. Right now I’m working with Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat beat sheet, and knowing the “beats” of my story has made the writing process go much more quickly.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

 How Do You Move Beyond the Three-Act Structure?

From Jane Friedman:

Question

How do you write organically and originally while sticking to Freytag’s Pyramid and the three-act structure? I’ve read Meander, Spiral, Explode by Jane Alison and Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses, both of which advocate moving beyond Freytag’s Pyramid and the three-act structure, but how do you do that and keep a genre story moving? (I write science fiction/fantasy for adults.)

—Trying to Escape the 3-Act Pyramid

Answer

Hello, Trying to Escape! I’m very glad for your question—the topic hits on an approach to writing that I frequently proselytize to authors.

The answer lies in your question: You say you want to write “organically and originally.” I love that—it’s the very seed of strong, singular storytelling and often the antithesis of “sticking to” a prescribed method or system, as you suggest in your question.

Trying to impose a particular mold onto your story and make it fit is writing from the outside in, rather than letting the story grow from the inside out, which I consider the more organic approach you describe.

It sounds like you may be try-curious, wanting to bust out of the strictures of a rigid approach and find your own—but perhaps a little leery that doing so will dissolve your story’s structure and cohesion?

Let me first offer a way of rethinking approach and structure for any story, not just genre fiction, and then suggest a method for organically finding what your story wants to be and how to most effectively unspool it.

Build your writing buffet

I am a big fan of craft books. Huge. I read them the same way I devour self-help, psychology, business, and (I’ll be honest) décor and style books: like popcorn—I can’t get enough.

But if I tried to slavishly dedicate myself to implementing every single system, I’d freeze up. It’s too much, and not everything I read is going to work for or resonate with me, or apply to every personal situation I face. (I’m looking at you, Marie Kondo. You take your folded underwear and get it out of my life.)

I think of all this information as a delightful smorgasbord from which to create my ideal plate. Each of them teaches me about topics I’m interested in and expands the knowledge I can draw upon in creating my preferred menu.

But to play out the metaphor way too far, I may not want the same plate for every meal. Maybe next time I decide to try some foie gras (why not? never had it) but then discreetly spit it into my napkin because it’s gross. Maybe I get a second heaping helping of something I loved—but it’s too much or I get tired of it.

We’ll stop with the gluttonous strained metaphor now, but you see the point? Think of all these craft approaches—many of which offer valuable, actionable, useful suggestions—as items in that cornucopia you can choose from at different times, with different stories. Take elements from various approaches, mix and match—find the right tool at the right time for the right job.

But how does that approach lend itself to creating a solid, cohesive story, rather than risk its riding off the rails?

Define Key Story Elements

What most craft techniques have in common is that they build from the basic form of story:

A character is invested in something or wants something; they face what stands in the way of their getting it, with varying results; and their failure or success in achieving it effects some meaningful change (in the character, their world, or both).

There’s lots of nuance and variation on that basic format, but this is what most readers anticipate from story.

Keeping those guiding principles in mind, you don’t have to unspool that story strictly to the three-act structure—or any prescribed system—as long as you hit certain key notes:

  • If you establish your story’s driving forces—what your characters want and why; what they stand to gain or lose from attaining or failing to attain it; and what action they take or fail to take in achieving it—you have your basic building blocks.
  • Understand that every story needs ups and downs to hold readers’ interest: movement toward attaining those goals, and setbacks away from them. Flat lines are narrative dead space. Create those levels throughout.
  • While there may be many smaller ups and downs, identify the major successes and major setbacks the character experiences in the journey toward their goal—their key high and low points—and then plot a course that leads your character(s) to each. What actions (or failure to act) led to that major triumph or major challenge? What turning point shifts their course toward the next high or low?

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

How I Go About Making My Wartime Detective Series Historically Accurate

From Digital Pubbing:

  • The internet is a great starting point and useful for specific details, like the weather on a particular day
  • To dig deeper, history books, biographies, and diaries are helpful, as are novels written during or shortly after a specific period of time, such as a war
  • If possible, try to visit specific locations to make sure you correctly identify key details

I write a detective series set in World War Two London. So far there are five books in the series and I am currently working on the sixth. The series features Detective Chief Inspector Frank Merlin who is based at Old Scotland Yard, the main London police headquarters during the war. The books so far in the series have followed Merlin’s crime adventures from January 1940 (Frank Merlin 1: Princes Gate now retitled The Embassy Murders*) to August 1943 (Frank Merlin 5: Dead In The Water). The as yet untitled Frank Merlin 6 will be set in the spring of 1943. (*Please note the titles of my first three books have recently been changed.)

I take great care to maintain historical accuracy in my books. While the crimes Merlin investigates are purely fictional, they all take place against a background of real historic events and I try to make sure that background is presented correctly. In addition real historical figures often feature in the books and I endeavour to represent them as fairly as I can while also ensuring that their presence in the story is practically feasible.

I touch upon a wide range of historical events and developments in my books. The first in the series concerns murders at the American Embassy. The Ambassador at the beginning of 1940 was Joseph Kennedy who was a prominent appeaser. He thought the British had no hope of winning against Hitler and should come to terms with Germany. Many prominent British people thought the same and Merlin‘s murder investigations take place against this political background.

My second book (now titled In The Shadows Of The Blitz) takes place in September 1940, as London begins to suffer from mass German bombing.  Book 3 (now The French Spy) is set in June 1941 and the murder story is entwined with a tale of spying among De Gaulle’s Free French in London. A Death In Mayfair (Frank Merlin 4)  is set in December 1941, around the time of Japan’s Pearl Harbour attack, and involves the wartime British film industry. The latest book, Dead In The Water, is set in the summer of 1942 against the background of the arrival of American military forces in Britain.

Link to the rest at Digital Pubbing

15 Idioms About Time

From The Grammarly Blog:

Every language has a unique collection of expressions that are easily understood by fluent speakers but may be hard for those less familiar with the language to parse. These sayings, known as idioms, contain meanings that are not wholly obvious by defining the words individually.

For instance, if you’re absorbed in a book or deep in conversation, and you glance at your watch and realize it’s much later than you thought, you might exclaim, “Time flies!” Of course, time didn’t sprout wings and fly away, but it might feel like it did because it passed so quickly. It’s figurative, it’s visual, and it’s evocative—and it’s probably strange-sounding to those learning the language!

Idioms cover a range of common concepts, such as the workplace, weather, and money. And like the one above, there are also many idioms that express concepts of time.

As we dive into this topic, we’ll define what an idiom is and why idioms can be challenging for language learners. We’ll also list some examples of idioms about time.

What is an idiom about time?

An idiom is a common saying that has meaning in its own culture or language but doesn’t make much sense when broken down into its individual components. Idioms about time can be used in many scenarios, such as to describe the passage of time (“time stands still for no one”), to reference a particular point in time (“at the eleventh hour”), or to describe regular occurrences (“like clockwork”).

It’s not surprising that many of the most popular idioms about time describe time passing too quickly, but ultimately, idioms about time are creative sayings that discuss specific moments or occasions figuratively.

Now that you know all about idioms, it’s high time to divulge some of the most popular idioms about time. Whatever time-related message you’re trying to get across, these idioms will help you make it fun.

1 Beat the clock

Meaning: To succeed in something before running out of time.

Example: In a desperate attempt to beat the clock, I raced to the post office to mail my college application before the final deadline.

2 Turn back the hands of time

Meaning: To recount, re-create, or return to the past.

Example: If I could turn back the hands of time, I would make sure to put on sunscreen before going outside every day.

3 Once in a blue moon

Meaning: Something that happens rarely.

Example: Because of the tight budget, our manager buys donuts for the office once in a blue moon.

4 Kill time

Meaning: To engage in a rather aimless or idle activity with the goal of making time pass more quickly.

Example: After my flight was delayed an extra hour, I managed to kill time in the airport by perusing the duty-free shops.

5 A stitch in time saves nine

Meaning: Complete a task properly and thoroughly the first time to avoid a bigger problem later.

Example: If I were you, I’d put an extra screw in that wood to make it more secure because a stitch in time saves nine.

6 Time is on my side

Meaning: To have the luxury of not having to worry about how long something will take.

Example: We don’t have to make the final decision until next week, so time is on our side.

7 Better late than never

Meaning: Doing something late is better than not doing it at all.

Example: Misha didn’t arrive until halftime—better late than never!

8 In the nick of time

Meaning: Getting something done just before the deadline; completing a task with no time to spare.

Example: I stayed up all night, but I was able to finish my history class essay in the nick of time.

9 Crack of dawn

Meaning: Early in the morning.

Example: Kyle is always up at the crack of dawn; Amanda is more of a night owl and likes to sleep in.

Link to the rest at The Grammarly Blog

Keep The Fun… Nothing Is Important In Writing Fiction…

From Dean Wesley Smith:

he moment you make something “important” you let in critical voice and since it is important, the critical voice will shut you down.  That’s why so many of you can’t finish a story or a novel. It becomes important about halfway through, you become afraid to show it when you are done because it might be bad, and you stop.

Critical Voice wins. (Critical voice only has one goal and that is to stop you.)

But I have gotten a number of questions on how to focus on a challenge and not make what you are writing important?

Well simply put, don’t make it important. (Yeah, that helps…)

It is a matter of focus, actually.

When you are thinking of the final product, the book, getting done, all that, your focus is PRODUCT FOCUSED and that is where making something important comes from.

When you are actually in the story, your focus should be on the PROCESS of writing, of keeping it clean, making sure your characters work, your story flows, and the other billion things your creative voice does automatically.

Never think about the final product, just the process of writing and keeping the writing fun.

Writing should be all positive. That is creative voice. When you hear a negative thought, kill it because that is critical voice trying to stop you. If you think something sucks in a story, leave it in the story, your creative voice put it there for a reason, trust it.

You do that enough times and your critical voice knows it can’t get in that way anymore and stops trying and you end up finishing everything you write.

A challenge for some people brings up PRODUCT FOCUS. It takes the focus from having fun telling a story and puts it on how many words did I write, have I written, and in comes critical voice.

So give yourself permission to not care about the number of words, just the story, and promise yourself you will add them all up at the end of the day or the end of the week when you are tired and not one moment before.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

How to Make Backstory Work for You

From Janice Hardy’s Fiction University:

A character’s history is important, but not enough to bog down your entire story to hear it.

Along with adverbs and telling, I think backstory completes the unholy trinity of writing. So much so that agent and writing guru Donald Maass advises writers to cut any backstory in the first 50 pages.

But backstory does have its uses, and sometimes, it’s critical to know that history.

Even if it’s not critical for the reader to know it.

In some genres it’s more of an issue. Fantasy, science fiction, historical—any genre where the past and the history of that past strongly affects the current plot and the motivations of the characters. Doubly so if the antagonist is the one with the past that’s come back to haunt someone, since you don’t always see the antagonist’s POV.

One of my WIPs has a major event that happened decades ago, but this event is the trigger for all the present-day plot events in the story. I knew basically what had happened in the past, but I focused more on what my protagonists were doing/uncovering and chose what parts of the antagonist’s plot to use based on them, not what had actually happened.

By the time I was done, I wasn’t happy. The mystery part wasn’t as strong as I knew it could be, because I hadn’t spent enough time on the backstory. If you looked too closely at the plot, things didn’t quite line up, and questions were left hanging.

The more you thought about the story, the weaker the story got. Not a good thing.

So I went back and wrote the backstory.

I drafted a rough synopsis that described that past event and what happened. Why the characters did what they did and the ramifications of those actions. When I was done, I did the same thing with my antagonist. Then, I did it with all my major and supporting characters who were involved in it, no matter peripherally. One character was nine years old when this happened, but after doing this, I realized the event had a profound affect on who he was that made his character much richer and more interesting.

That’s a lot of summarizing and a lot of backstory, but afterward, I knew how all the pieces fit and those plot events that felt shaky could now be made solid. I knew why folks did what they did in the present day plot, even if they weren’t the POV character. I had secrets non-POV characters wanted to avoid, which gave me all kinds of great fodder to use to up the mystery, the tension, and use for plot.

Link to the rest at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University

How to Kill a Character Without Enraging Readers

From Writers in the Storm:

The death of a popular character has caused more than one angry fan to send email to the author and unfavorable reviews to chat groups and review sites. So, when you absolutely must cause a character’s demise, how do you do that without enraging your readers?

When and how you choose to kill off a character can make or break a story. It’s quite difficult for authors. The characters are very real. Permanently dispatching them is a bit like purposefully ridding oneself of an ally.

Characters should be killed off when the purpose of their demise will be the most impactful. Death may occur near the story’s end such as in John Steinbeck’s Of  Mice and Men, once we really feel for the victim. Or, like in Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, where deaths frequently happen with no warning, establishing the theme that the characters are never safe.

1. Make the Death Meaningful

Nothing aggravates a reader more than characters who die for no good reason. If you’ve built solid, relatable characters, then they deserve to die for a purpose.

For a death scene to be truly meaningful the other characters need to be invested in the outcome as well as the reader.

  • Show how the death affects your characters
  • Explore the repercussions of the death
  • Look at the emotional impact on the characters

Hodor, one of the kindest characters in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice, sacrifices himself by holding a door shut with his body to block the attack of a horde of wights, allowing the family he served time to escape. He is torn apart, while he repeats his own name until it’s revealed that Hodor is really saying “hold the door,” a phrase that became the only thing he could say.

2. Foreshadow the Character’s Death

When done right, foreshadowing is a great way to create emotional tension for the reader. It can set up expectations of the characters’ behaviors and outcomes.

Here are some common examples of elements used as foreshadowing:

  • Dialogue, like “I have a bad feeling about this”
  • Active weather, such as storm clouds, wind, driving rain, clearing skies
  • Omens, like a broken mirror or prophecies
  • Symbols, such as blood, weapons, certain colors, types of birds, and physical/emotional symbolism like the pain of Harry’s scar in the Harry Potter series
  • Settings, like a graveyard, battlefield, river, isolated path
  • Characters’ reactions, such as secrecy, fear, apprehension, curiosity
  • Time and/or season, such as midnight, dawn, twilight, fall, winter

If you end the life of an important character suddenly, readers are probably not going to react well. They anticipated spending quality time with this character. Ripping that character from them at the last-minute means sacrificing foreshadowing. And may get your book tossed across the room.

In John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, the reader knows early on that Owen is going to die. The narrator, who is retelling past events, tells us. Owen’s dreams provide clues to the manner of his death. When tragedy strikes, we are ready for it.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Five Ways Numerical Data Can Improve Your Novel

From diyMFA:

A few weeks ago, I shared how numbers could improve your writing life. Today, I’m going to discuss how numerical data can improve your story. The suggestions I present here are in the context of novels, but you can apply these principles to other forms as well. 

As with the previous article, I don’t want to scare away any writers who fear the very mention of numbers. I promise there are no complex equations or proofs here – just practical ways you can use numerical data to help you revise your novel. 

1. Pace Yourself

Pacing is all about rhythm, and rhythm is very mathematical, so it should not be surprising that numerical data can identify pacing issues. For starters, determine your word count for each of your chapters. Are they within a close range of each other or do they wildly fluctuate throughout the book? You might have a good reason for a lot of variation in your chapter lengths, but make sure this variation is serving a purpose. 

Note where your novel’s critical scenes occur as a percentage of the entire manuscript. Does your inciting incident happen at the 30% mark? Your opening is too long. You can also look at the length of each critical scene. Maybe your climax is occurring at an appropriate point, but you fly through it in two pages. 

Consider your genre and age category when evaluating your pacing. For instance, middle grade and YA novels typically start and end quickly, with early inciting incidents and late climaxes, so your pacing will feel off if you have a long introduction or resolution. If you’re writing romance, you have a problem if you haven’t introduced the love interest in the first 50% of the book. In a murder mystery novel, readers expect to encounter the crime early, not 25% of the way into the book.

Numerical data can help you identify potential trouble spots, but it should not be prescriptive. If your figures slightly differ from the recommended standards for your market, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem. If you can justify the choices you’ve made and your beta readers don’t notice a problem with your pacing, then you’re probably fine. 

2. Break It Down

Once you have a solid draft, figure out the composition breakdown of your manuscript. With a set of highlighters (use a different color for each category), identify dialogue, world building and description, action, character interiority, and backstory. Approximate the percentage of your total word count that you have written in each of these categories. (The computer can give you more precise information. Highlight in different colors on your screen and calculate your percentages easily. The printed version, however, may have an advantage in making a visual impact, and approximations will work for this, so pick your preference.)

Is one category dominating your story? If so, can you justify this? There may be an excellent reason your novel is 80% dialogue, so long as it is an intentional one. 

Conversely, is one category lacking? Adding passages to enhance that category may give your novel more balance.

3. Remember the “Comp” in Comp Titles

“Comp” is short for comparison. A comp title is a book like yours, often sharing genre, market, and style. Comp titles demonstrate your novel has an audience. 

Choose a comp title you admire. Break down its composition, as described above. If you’re daunted by tackling a full novel, then try a few choice chapters, including the opening and closing chapters, the inciting incident, and the climax. Determine the percentages spent on dialogue, setting and description, action, character interiority, and backstory. 

Then take a literal approach to the word “comparison” by comparing your novel’s composition to that of your comp title. They probably won’t be exactly the same, but you should pay attention to big discrepancies. This is how you learn from published authors. 

Link to the rest at diyMFA

5 Reasons to Write Your “Taboo” Stories

From Jane Friedman:

Writing memoir is always a vulnerable experience, but some stories are especially difficult to tell. Topics like mental illness, sex, and violence are often branded “taboo” and can be among the most challenging material to write about. In many cultures, we’re taught to avoid these topics, and that sharing them is TMI (“too much information”).

But at their best, these narratives speak to our darkest truths and teach us what it means to be human. Despite the challenges of writing about stigmatized topics, sharing our vulnerable, deeply personal stories can be incredibly healing. And not only that, but these stories can make for the most compelling writing for readers.

1. Writing about taboos can give our stories heat and urgency.

Emotionally charged, vulnerable experiences lend themselves to high-stakes storytelling. In memoir, we are challenged to answer the question of: “So what?” Why would a disinterested reader, who doesn’t know us from Adam, care about our lives? Taboo topics tend to be rife with conflict and dramatic tension, among our best tools for engaging readers in our stories. What’s more, when we lean into stigmatized topics, we invite readers to wrestle with the same complexities we’re examining in ourselves—this gives our storytelling urgency and nuance, which keeps the reader turning the pages.

2. Vulnerability can make us more trustworthy narrators.

In memoir, readers want us to tell the truest, most candid versions of our stories. If they sense that we are holding back, being evasive, or trying to present our lives and ourselves as rosier than the reality, we risk losing their trust. Not shying away from the thorny, messy truths of our lives sends a powerful message to the reader. It shows them we are willing to lay bare our most difficult truths—even when, and perhaps especially when, these are unflattering. Readers respect writers who come across as honest and authentic—facing challenging material head-on, without sugar-coating it, shows our ability to grapple with complicated memories. This kind of honesty can help build our credibility as narrators, while establishing a more intimate connection between the writer and reader.

3. Writing the “unspeakable” allows us to reclaim power.

Often, what is categorized as “taboo” or “unspeakable” has a lot to do with power dynamics. For instance, topics like sexual assault and racism have long been stigmatized; this is a way of silencing voices of dissent, those that might disrupt the established social order. Writing about taboos helps jumpstart conversations about some of the most important topics of our day. We can break through the forces that attempt to silence us, instead using our stories as a way of speaking truth to power. This is especially the case in marginalized communities, where voices have been systematically shut out—writing the hard truths can be empowering for the writer, and illuminating for readers.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

5 Productive Forms of Procrastination for Writers

From A Writers Path:

Though we call ourselves writers and take pride in our work, sometimes it’s hard to get it done. We clean the house or walk the dog, leaving our manuscript reproachfully languishing as we procrastinate working on it.

This can happen for any number of reasons, from being bored with the story to simply feeling blocked. Facing the problems head on definitely has its merits, but if it feels like your procrastination is in for a long stay, it can be useful to work with it rather than fight it.

In this post, I share five ways you can make your procrastination productive — and hopefully get yourself back on track to writing your next big hit.

Do some research

Whether you’re not sure where your story’s going or you feel like you don’t know your characters very well, going down a research rabbit hole is the best kind of diversion. It may not be actively writing your book, but if you look into something related, it still counts towards building your story.

The research can be related to writing topics or strategies if you feel like that’s where your problem lies. It could involve looking into story structures you haven’t used, like the Save the Cat Beat Sheet or the 7-Point Story Structure so you can get excited about writing again. Or it can just be a good way to while away the afternoon so you have something tangentially related to tell your writing group.

But it doesn’t have to be directly related to writing either. Look into any historical events or famous people you’ve been curious about. The truth can truly be stranger than fiction and many authors draw inspiration from real world events for their own stories. There’s nothing wrong with simply learning something new, as making new connections in your mind may lead you back to your story and give you things to ponder.

Who knows? Whatever you find out might give you some new ideas for a character backstory or an interesting aspect to your world. The excitement might be all you need to nudge you out of procrastination mode and back into writing.

If you think research involves too much heavy lifting though, there’s plenty more low-key activities you can try.

Make a Pinterest moodboard

If you haven’t already made one as preparation for your novel, making a dedicated Pinterest board for your book can be a great way to procrastinate while still feeling like you’re getting something done. It’s not limited to the planning stage, either. Whenever you’re feeling like you can’t work on your book, turning to the endless variety of Pinterest can be a fun (yet helpful) distraction.

As you look for images that remind you of your story, characters, or world, it also helps you get to know it better. The pictures you choose can give you an idea of what your tone is. For example, if you’re going for darker pictures, maybe you’re discovering that there’s an eerie undertone you haven’t explored. You might stumble on some nature photography that gives you inspiration for a scene that more deeply examines your character’s emotional arc, or world architecture that helps your worldbuilding.

And if it doesn’t do that much for you, it’s still a fun way to spend the day.

Experience another story for inspiration

Fantasy author V.E. Schwab believes in the importance of keeping your “creative well” filled to make sure your inspiration never dries up. The best thing you can do for that is read a book. The format doesn’t matter — it’s more important that you in some way consume a story.

It’s easy while you’re writing to get a little obsessed with your book. Especially if you don’t have a lot of time, more leisurely pursuits, like watching TV, might fall to the wayside in favor of your writing project, but you can’t stay motivated in a vacuum. Experiencing the works of others, especially the ones that speak to you, can remind you why you’re writing in the first place and reignite your creative fire.

So go back to an old favorite or pick up that new release you’ve been meaning to read. Get excited about storytelling again by experiencing a character’s journey rather than plotting it out yourself. This might not happen after one chapter or even one book if your well has gotten too dry, but sometimes we do our best work while distracted.

Link to the rest at A Writers Path

Learning In Writing Not Like Other Skills…

From Dean Wesley Smith:

This came from a fun conversation with other writers today at lunch.

When you learn something in fiction writing, you can’t just take that learning and apply it like learning how to fix a pipe or do something in Photoshop. I wish sometimes it worked that way, but alas it does not.

So when you learn something from a writing book, or another writer’s work, or a workshop like we teach, you must do your best to understand it while learning it, then go back to writing and forget what you learned.

That’s right, forget it.

When you learn something about a craft area of writing, your creative voice already knows how to do it because it has been reading and absorbing story for your entire life. But your critical voice suddenly understands that skill, so the critical voice gives the creative voice permission to use it.

That is how fiction writing is learned.

But the hard part is getting the critical voice out of the way. It wants to use that new skill and that will freeze you down faster than anything.

So assure the critical voice that in the coming writing, at some point, when that new skill is appropriate to use, it will be used, and get the critical voice to forget it. You will notice you are using the skill stories or books later, often when some reader points it out.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Being Taken Advantage Of

From Writers Helping Writers:

Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental health condition, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life.

In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.

This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc. Please note that this isn’t a self-diagnosis tool. Fears are common in the real world, and while we may at times share similar tendencies as characters, the entry below is for fiction writing purposes only.

. . . .

Fear of Someone Taking Advantage of Them

Notes
A character with this fear may worry about potential situations where they might be taken advantage or exploited. These could be serious crimes, such as sexual abuse and identity theft or a simpler occurrence, like being used by a friend for some larger gain.

  • What It Looks Like
  • Questioning people’s motives
  • Believing that other people can’t be trusted
  • Highly valuing privacy
  • Not volunteering information
  • Being very independent
  • Living self-sufficiently
  • Doing extensive research (to avoid scams, find out if someone is reliable, etc.)
  • Avoiding vulnerable situations, such as walking at night or being alone with someone
  • Setting boundaries that keep others at a distance
  • Avoiding situations where the character has been burned in the past, such as dating, shopping online, or sharing their creative work with others
  • Not trusting certain types of people (politicians, salespeople, women, etc.)
  • Pulling away when people try to get too close
  • Seeing exploitation where there is none
  • Taking careful security measures (locking up documents, changing passwords frequently, giving a false name, etc.)
  • Demanding payment up front before offering services
  • Difficulty working with a team
  • Resisting new technologies or advances that carry an element of risk
  • Being standoffish with strangers and new acquaintances
  • The character being reluctant to help someone outside their inner circle who asks for help
  • Common Internal Struggles
  • The character worrying about a person’s trustworthiness, then wondering if they’re being paranoid
  • Second-guessing the motives of others
  • Living in a constant fear of betrayal
  • Feeling unnoticed and underappreciated
  • The character doubting their own judgment (because they’ve been wrong about people before)
  • The character mentally warring with their body’s fight-flight-or-freeze instincts

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Why We Don’t Need “Heroines”

From Writer Unboxed:

A recent WriterUnboxed column argued that a fictional character doesn’t have to win a big, loud, violent battle at the end of the story to be a “hero or heroine.” It’s an important discussion, within which the use of the word “heroine” may seem a minor point.

And yet, to me, it mattered. Because the word “heroine” creates an unnecessary and potentially harmful gender distinction in the idea of a “hero.” I had to wonder: Why can’t all of our fictional characters be “heroes”?

I might’ve written a comment. I needed to write a column.

The word “heroine” has no meaning other than “female hero.” That might imply strength, like “girl power,” or it might be perceived as cutesy, frilly or worse, patronizing. But those implications don’t matter as much as the fact that the category of “hero” doesn’t need this gender division any more than the categories of “male nurse” or “female Supreme Court Justice.” We do not need “mailmen” when everyone can be a “mail carrier.”

There are, of course, many other examples of such pointless and outdated gender distinctions: waitress, stewardess, lady doctor, lady Realtor, comedienne, manageress, landlady, headmistress, chairwoman, hostess—need I go on?

Like “heroine,” these unnecessarily gendered terms divide people into binary categories when we should all know by now that human gender is not binary. If gender exists–some experts say it does; some say it doesn’t–, at the very least it includes people along a spectrum as well as people who don’t fit on that spectrum. And it isn’t necessarily a defining characteristic of anyone’s personality or ability.

These unnecessary gender labels may seem benign. They aren’t. Code words in job descriptions, bias and discrimination in hiring, promoting and firing decisions, and unequal pay for equal work have been well documented. So, too, has the “pink collar”-ing of certain fields of work. Is a “heroine” entitled to the same career opportunities and compensation as a “hero”? Or will she have to fight for her equality in the workplace and the world?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences preserves its practice of awarding Oscars in Actor and Actress categories, one each for Best and one each for Best Supporting. With four categories, rather than two, the Academy can recognize more nominees and winners, but the additional categories unnecessarily insert gender differences where, it seems to me, they shouldn’t be relevant. Some female actors find the term “actresses” not only objectionable, but offensive.

. . . .

The Problem with Female Superheroes” was well-documented in Scientific American in 2015:

“…new research by Hillary Pennell and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz at the University of Missouri suggests that, at least for women, the influence of superheroes is not always positive. Although women play a variety of roles in the superhero genre, including helpless maiden and powerful heroine, the female characters all tend to be hypersexualized, from their perfect, voluptuous figures to their sexy, revealing attire. Exposure to this, they show, can impact beliefs about gender roles, body esteem, and self-objectification.”

That was eight years ago. Today, Dear Hollywood, we still need more positive images of non-traditional, non-gendered and non-hypersexualized superheroes on the big screen.

Please, bring it on.

Why does this problem of “heroines” matter to writers and authors?

For writers, it matters because our characters reflect the real world in which we live. That’s true even of speculative fiction. Or perhaps even more so of speculative fiction. By forcing protagonists into gendered categories of “hero” and “heroine,” we impose a false structure of gender in our fictional worlds and perpetuate the idea that these categories are fixed in the real world, as well.

The protagonist of my novel-in-progress has a superpower, but as she says herself, she isn’t a superhero. She’s a “Wind Lord.” Not once in seven years of writing and revising ten drafts have I called her a “Wind Lady” because no such term is necessary for her or any of my other characters. They are all “Wind Lords,” regardless of their gender.

For authors, there are real-world considerations for how novels and short stories are selected for publication and then categorized, packaged, marketed and sold to readers.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG notes that “positive” and “negative” influences seem to be proliferating over the last 10-15 years. Such “influences” invariably apply disproportionately to various genders, races, classes and national origins.

PG posits that there have always been “positive” and “negative” influences on humankind going back to Satan tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden, surely a negative influence if PG has ever seen one. (But PG acknowledges that Eve was likely chosen for temptation because Adam was off somewhere doing guy things or maybe zoned out watching football on TV.)

However, “positive” and “negative” influences entered their golden age with the rise of the subconscious in the 20th Century. The subconscious was a never-ending source of books, articles, rules and powered the rise of “experts” who could super-humanly discern what was happening in the subconsciousness of others.

Therefore, it was up to everyone to clean up their subconsciousness or be an outcast from polite society.

As subconscious studies abounded, it soon became clear that people in positions of power (whatever that means), especially the maleish people in such positions, required quite a lot of studies to reign in the nasty bits floating around their male brains without any proper regulation. Even the male gaze was different and more offensive than the female gaze or the gazes of dogs, horses, sparrows and all other members of the animal kingdom.

PG just realized that it is likely time for him to swallow some of the prescribed medications that do something or other to regulate his mind and, perhaps, keep his subconscious in line as well.

Difference Between “Quote” and “Quotation”: What Is the Right Word?

From ThoughtCo:

Often the words quote and quotation are used interchangeably. Quote is a verb and quotation is a noun. As A. A. Milne put it in a humorous note:

“A quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business.”According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word quotation is defined as, “A group of words taken from a text or speech and repeated by someone other than the original author or speaker.”

The word quote means to “repeat the exact words of another with the acknowledgment of the source.” In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words, 

Every book is a quotation; and every house is a quotation out of all forests, and mines, and stone quarries; and every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.

“Going Back to Roots: Origin of the Words “Quotation” and “Quote”

The origin of the word quote goes back to Medieval English, sometime around 1387. The word quote is a derivation of the Latin word quotare, which means “to mark a book with numbers of chapters for reference.”

According to Sol Steinmetz, author of the book, “Semantic Antics: How and Why Words Change Meaning,” 200 years or so later, the meaning of the word quotation was expanded to include the meaning, “to copy out or repeat a passage from a book or author.”

One of the most frequently quoted American personalities is Abraham Lincoln. His words have proved to be a source of inspiration and wisdom. In one of his many famous writings, he wrote,

“It is a pleasure to be able to quote lines to fit any occasion.”

Link to the rest at ThoughtCo

PG admits that he doesn’t like the word “quotation.” If he were grammar king for a day, he would permit “quote” to be used as a noun or a verb.

People started to be noticeably nervous when they were coming near a description of my disability

From Hacker News:

What was it, 10 to 20 years ago, people started to be noticeably nervous when they were coming near a description of my disability. It used to be so simple. I am 100% blind, and guess what, I prefer the term blind because it is pretty descriptive and relatively short. But all of a sudden, people external to the community started to fumble around with “visually challenged”, and all the nonsense variations of that in my native language. It is so weird, because it adds yet another layer of distance between “us” and the “normal” people. You can almost feel how the stumbling-word is making communication even more awkward. I (and almost all of my friends with a similar disability) make a point of letting people know that we actually prefer the word blind over everything else, and not even that does put people at ease. It sounds a bit provocative, but it feels like that: The language terror they were subjected to has made them so unsecure that they actually dont want to hear that blind people have no issue with being called blind. They somehow continue to argue, sometimes not wanting to accept that and going on to use weird language.

Its a weird phenomenon. The longer I watch all of this, and I also mean the gender-language-hacks, I feel like this move has added to the distance between various groups, not made it smaller.

It is so condescending to believe your own language-police more then the person you are talking to. Yet, the peer pressure seems to be so high that this actually happens. Sad.

. . . .

I see it as unintentional discrimination. It’s treating the people they are relabeling as children that need the kind progressives to step in and save them. It’s so condescending. Minorities don’t need white Knights to save them, neither do the disabled. If an individual wants me to not refer to them as x because they find it offensive, no problem. But a group of academics should not be able to sit around and decide that a group as a whole needs saving. It very much forces otherness on people and to your point furthers the divide. it forces us to see them as different.

Side note, and this is completely off topic and I really mean this in the most positive way but you typing here has completely altered my perception of the need for following web standards for accessibility. I don’t know any blind people in real life so really just assumed that accessibility standards really weren’t worth the effort as they wouldn’t make a difference. But here you are reading and responding in a manner that’s probably better than I do. I am 100% on board now. You opened my mind today, thanks for that.

Link to the rest at Hacker News/Ycombinator

The Moral Case Against Equity Language

From The Atlantic:

The Sierra Club’s Equity Language Guide discourages using the words stand, Americans, blind, and crazy. The first two fail at inclusion, because not everyone can stand and not everyone living in this country is a citizen. The third and fourth, even as figures of speech (“Legislators are blind to climate change”), are insulting to the disabled. The guide also rejects the disabled in favor of people living with disabilities, for the same reason that enslaved person has generally replaced slave : to affirm, by the tenets of what’s called “people-first language,” that “everyone is first and foremost a person, not their disability or other identity.”

The guide’s purpose is not just to make sure that the Sierra Club avoids obviously derogatory terms, such as welfare queen. It seeks to cleanse language of any trace of privilege, hierarchy, bias, or exclusion. In its zeal, the Sierra Club has clear-cut a whole national park of words. Urbanvibranthardworking, and brown bag all crash to earth for subtle racism. Y’all supplants the patriarchal you guys, and elevate voices replaces empower, which used to be uplifting but is now condescending. The poor is classist; battle and minefield disrespect veterans; depressing appropriates a disability; migrant—no explanation, it just has to go.

Equity-language guides are proliferating among some of the country’s leading institutions, particularly nonprofits. The American Cancer Society has one. So do the American Heart Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the National Recreation and Park Association, the Columbia University School of Professional Studies, and the University of Washington. The words these guides recommend or reject are sometimes exactly the same, justified in nearly identical language. This is because most of the guides draw on the same sources from activist organizations: A Progressive’s Style Guide, the Racial Equity Tools glossary, and a couple of others. The guides also cite one another. The total number of people behind this project of linguistic purification is relatively small, but their power is potentially immense. The new language might not stick in broad swaths of American society, but it already influences highly educated precincts, spreading from the authorities that establish it and the organizations that adopt it to mainstream publications, such as this one.

Although the guides refer to language “evolving,” these changes are a revolution from above. They haven’t emerged organically from the shifting linguistic habits of large numbers of people. They are handed down in communiqués written by obscure “experts” who purport to speak for vaguely defined “communities,” remaining unanswerable to a public that’s being morally coerced. A new term wins an argument without having to debate. When the San Francisco Board of Supervisors replaces felon with justice-involved person, it is making an ideological claim—that there is something illegitimate about laws, courts, and prisons. If you accept the change—as, in certain contexts, you’ll surely feel you must—then you also acquiesce in the argument.

In a few cases, the gap between equity language and ordinary speech has produced a populist backlash. When Latinx began to be used in advanced milieus, a poll found that a large majority of Latinos and Hispanics continued to go by the familiar terms and hadn’t heard of the newly coined, nearly unpronounceable one. Latinx wobbled and took a step back. The American Cancer Society advises that Latinx, along with the equally gender-neutral LatineLatin@, and Latinu, “may or may not be fully embraced by older generations and may need additional explanation.” Public criticism led Stanford to abolish outright its Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative—not for being ridiculous, but, the university announced, for being “broadly viewed as counter to inclusivity.”

In general, though, equity language invites no response, and condemned words are almost never redeemed. Once a new rule takes hold—once a day in history can no longer be dark, or a waitress has to be a server, or underserved and vulnerable suddenly acquire red warning labels—there’s no going back. Continuing to use a word that’s been declared harmful is evidence of ignorance at best or, at worst, a determination to offend.

Like any prescribed usage, equity language has a willed, unnatural quality. The guides use scientific-sounding concepts to lend an impression of objectivity to subjective judgments: structural racializationdiversity value propositionarbitrary status hierarchies. The concepts themselves create status hierarchies—they assert intellectual and moral authority by piling abstract nouns into unfamiliar shapes that immediately let you know you have work to do. Though the guides recommend the use of words that are available to everyone (one suggests a sixth-to-eighth-grade reading level), their glossaries read like technical manuals, put together by highly specialized teams of insiders, whose purpose is to warn off the uninitiated. This language confers the power to establish orthodoxy.

Mastering equity language is a discipline that requires effort and reflection, like learning a sacred foreign tongue—ancient Hebrew or Sanskrit. The Sierra Club urges its staff “to take the space and time you need to implement these recommendations in your own work thoughtfully.” “Sometimes, you will get it wrong or forget and that’s OK,” the National Recreation and Park Association guide tells readers. “Take a moment, acknowledge it, and commit to doing better next time.”

The liturgy changes without public discussion, and with a suddenness and frequency that keep the novitiate off-balance, forever trying to catch up, and feeling vaguely impious. A ban that seemed ludicrous yesterday will be unquestionable by tomorrow. The guides themselves can’t always stay current. People of color becomes standard usage until the day it is demoted, by the American Heart Association and others, for being too general. The American Cancer Society prefers marginalized to the more “victimizing” underresourced or underserved—but in the National Recreation and Park Association’s guide, marginalized now acquires “negative connotations when used in a broad way. However, it may be necessary and appropriate in context. If you do use it, avoid ‘the marginalized,’ and don’t use marginalized as an adjective.” Historically marginalized is sometimes okay; marginalized people is not. The most devoted student of the National Recreation and Park Association guide can’t possibly know when and when not to say marginalized; the instructions seem designed to make users so anxious that they can barely speak. But this confused guidance is inevitable, because with repeated use, the taint of negative meaning rubs off on even the most anodyne language, until it has to be scrubbed clean. The erasures will continue indefinitely, because the thing itself—injustice—will always exist.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

PG suggests there is nothing inclusive about a new set of invented terms that the large majority of the population, regardless of race or class, doesn’t understand.

It smacks of dividing the intelligencia from the peasants. It creates divisions not unity and amplifies forces that separate people rather than draw them together.

PG was reminded of the elaborate behaviors and circumlocutions required of courtiers in Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV.

How to Get Emotion on the Page: 2 Most Critical Tactics

From Jane Friedman:

The great Maya Angelou once said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

It’s a saying that applies well to fiction: people often don’t remember the plots of the novels they love, but they absolutely do remember how those books made them feel.

I think this is such a huge part of what makes us readers—and writers—to begin with: as James Michener put it, “the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.”

Okay, but…how do you do that, exactly? Meaning, how do you actually generate strong emotions in the reader—and how do you get the reader to feel what your POV character is feeling in the moment?

In another one of my posts for Jane, I detailed the sometimes mysterious ways that seemingly disparate elements of story, when handled right, conspire to achieve this alchemy of emotion: The story’s stakes. The backstory of the characters, and the closeness of their relationships. The protagonist’s thoughts, actions, and dialogue.

But beyond all that, there are some very specific points in your story where the rubber meets the road, as far as emotion goes, and these are the points where you’re actually writing the character experiencing emotion in the moment.

And this is something that even many otherwise excellent writers get wrong, I find, by slipping into a distanced POV—an issue that can occur whether you’re writing in first person or third.

Here’s an example of an emotion written in a distanced way from the third person:

She felt angry. “Stop that!” she shouted.

And here it is from the first person:

I was stunned. “I’m leaving,” I announced.

On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with either of these little snippets—but the fact is, neither is likely to generate any real emotion in the reader, even if the author has set up those other key elements of the story in such a way as to predispose that reader to care.

So what will?

I’ll get to that, I promise. But first, let’s address why overt statements of emotion don’t work.

Think back to a time when you really were angry, or really were sad.

Did you realize, in the moment, that you were feeling angry?

Did you realize, in the moment, that you were sad?

Chances are, you didn’t. Not right away, at least. Because those words—angrysad—are the sort of labels we apply to our feelings after we’ve had a chance to process them. The feelings themselves are much more immediate and visceral.

To speak in the terms of brain science: Emotional labels like anger and sadness are generated by the frontal lobe, that advanced part of the human brain that can think about what it is thinking, and think about what it is feeling as well.

To truly put your reader in the emotional position of your POV character, you have to dig deeper, to the more primary thing, the feeling itself, which doesn’t occur in the frontal lobe at all, but rather in the older, more primal parts of the brain associated with our physical and social survival.

And that is best accomplished by body language and internal narration.

Tactic #1: Body language

Body language is generally the easier tactic for most of us to get a hold of, because we’re all quite familiar with the physical manifestations of emotion.

For anger, for instance, that might mean:

  • your hands balling up into fists
  • pursing your lips
  • clenching your napkin
  • feeling your jaw tighten
  • shoving something out of the way

Those are all physical manifestations of an emotion that tells us we may need to fight, to defend ourselves or others.

For feeling sad, that might mean:

  • feeling tears well up in your eyes
  • feeling heavy
  • needing to sit down
  • closing your eyes
  • taking a deep breath

Those are all physical manifestations of an emotion that tells us we may need to reveal our vulnerability to others, so we can get help—or that we may need to go to ground, conserve energy, and nurse our wounds.

Fiction is full of the physical manifestations of emotions, and writers can often go too far with it, having their characters leapfrog right from bad news to outright sobbing, with no pitstops in between for glassy eyes, a tear escaping down a cheek, and so forth.

But even so, this sort of “body language” is indispensable when it comes to really translating the emotion of the POV character to the reader. Because it’s this sort of language that the reader maps onto her own body, via the magic of mirror neurons, when she reads it.

Meaning, this sort of thing actually helps your reader feel the emotion of the character, physically.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Why Writing Second Person POV Appeals To Marginalized Writers

From SFWA:

You open the SFWA Bulletin to start reading an article about second person point of view (POV), and immediately you’re put off. You didn’t expect the article itself to use this POV, since most articles don’t. What a cheap gimmick, you think. You wonder whether you should stop reading at this point, because you’ve been told how you feel and what you expected in the span of a few sentences, and you’re growing increasingly uncomfortable—angry, even—with these assumptions made by the writer. She doesn’t know you! Why is she trying to put words in your mouth and thoughts in your head? Why is she presuming to control your actions?

But seriously, how did that make you feel?

Of all the points of view available to writers when choosing how to tell a story, second person seems to be the most maligned. Common objections include that it’s confusing, unsettling, and weird, that it breaks suspension of disbelief and forces the reader out of the story rather than drawing them in. Dig deeper and you may hear that it’s more than discomfiting, it’s downright presumptuous, even aggressive. The writer is forcing you to think or feel a certain way, crafting a costume and then jamming you, an innocent voyeur, inside, tying you up with strings and putting you on a stage to perform the story like a puppet rather than allowing you the comfort and distance of being in the audience.

In recent conversations about this topic, an interesting trend emerged: many marginalized writers, especially BIPOC ones, expressed that they had written second person POV stories and found the form quite natural, even desirable for their specific purposes. Why might that be, and what are those purposes precisely? As with most other aspects of society, much of this is rooted in how marginalized folks are already expected to adjust our needs and wants to what’s available, while those in the perceived “mainstream” expect what’s available to be created with their needs and desires already in mind.

. . . .

For many marginalized folks, as readers we often experience fiction as a window rather than a mirror. We are more likely to be accustomed to dealing with discomfort or a lack of familiarity related to the characters we’re reading about, their lives and thoughts and choices and so on. The mirrors that do exist may be flawed, warped like carnival glass, reflecting not merely an alternate form of a particular identity, but one that is rendered so imperfectly, regardless of intent, that its subject is barely recognizable. Many of us have become reconciled to the fact that fiction with experiential reality is a form of labor that becomes natural with time and repetition, by necessity. Without that skill, it’s challenging to, for example, navigate situations like basic educational systems and standardized testing due to their use of presumed “universal” touchstones that are only really “universal” to a select group.

Link to the rest at SFWA

Build mysteries around whether characters will succeed or fail

From Nathan Bransford:

One of the most common missed opportunities I see when I’m editing novels involves mysteries.

Do you want to know what it is? Am I being mysterious?

Often, when trying to be mysterious, authors just end up being vague. It’s really hard to invest in a mystery when we don’t have enough information to understand what’s happening entirely.

Instead, it’s often better to let the reader into the mystery in order to build anticipation. Orient the reader around whether a character will succeed or fail.

. . . .

You’ll often see novels start off with something that nominally feels high stakes, like a character running through a dark forest as fast as they can… only the author doesn’t tell us why they’re running. The author wants us to wonder: why is this character running as fast as they can through the forest? Mysterious, right?

But it’s downright confusing to not be given more information that that, particularly in first person narratives when we’re tied to a character’s inner thoughts. We should generally know what the protagonist knows, and it feels vaguely hostile when the author is just holding out on us.

Then, in the climactic moment, we find out everything all at once in a chaotic jumble. The character slays what was chasing them and then we find out: Oh. Actually it was an evil moon demon and had the protagonist not succeeded they would have gotten ripped to shreds.

. . . .

Vague mysteries are missed opportunities to build suspense and anticipation.

What’s the better mystery: Why is this character running through the forest, or is this character going to avoid getting ripped to pieces by a nasty moon demon?

Had we known from the start that there’s a demon after the character, we would also learn the contours of what’s at stake. We would start imagining what might happen if they fail and get ripped to shreds. We would start investing in the outcome, and thus would feel more satisfied when the protagonist barely escapes.

When we only find out what was really happening after the fact, it invariably feels like a letdown. The reader’s reaction is more like: “Yeah… had I known the situation was life or death, I might have been worried. Instead I was just confused.”

The moment we learn what a character wants (to escape) and what’s at stake (if they fail they’ll get ripped to shreds), it’s almost like a clock starts ticking, and every bit of delay and extra effort the protagonist expends deepens the reader’s investment in what’s going to happen. It builds suspense for the eventual showdown.

In order for formula that to work: the reader needs to know what’s happening.

Beware rug-pulling

It’s even worse when the vague mystery is an excuse for a cheap attempt at pulling the rug out from under the reader.

In the “just kidding it was a game of tag” example, it erodes trust in the narrative voice for the mystery to be just a matter of the author leading the reader astray. After that moment, the reader will have a very hard time taking anything in the novel at face value, which is an exhausting way to read.

Authorial trust once lost is difficult to regain.

Be careful with movie and TV show mystery tropes

This is also another area where screenplay-izing your novel and relying on tropes in film and TV can lead you astray. I’m sure we can all think of countless hit TV shows and movies that start with a character running and we don’t know why. In visual mediums there’s more leeway to just show a character running and let the viewer see what shows up and let that be the surprise.

Novels are different. We’re more connected to characters’ inner consciousness, so it’s more confusing to not be let into the story to see their motivations. And in a novel, it’s hard to process as much information in a flash as we can with film and TV, so it feels overwhelming to find out everything all at once when the demon arrives.

. . . .

Motivation is everything in a novel, and this extends to mysteries too. If you can connect your mystery to the things your protagonist wants, the reader will be far more invested in the outcome and feel those stirrings of suspense.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Here, Here! vs. Hear, Hear!

From The Grammarly Blog:

If you want to voice your agreement with someone during a debate (especially if you’re a member of the UK Parliament), you will shout “hear, hear.” But as long as you’re shouting, no one will notice you’re wrong if you shout “here, here” because the words are pronounced the same.

The United Kingdom has a long and proud history of parliamentarism. The current incarnation of the country’s Parliament, the Parliament of the United Kingdom, has a history that can be traced through its predecessors, the Parliament of Great Britain and the Parliament of England, all the way to the early thirteenth century. As is often the case with places and institutions that have a long tradition, we can find relics of the past that persist in modern times. For instance, MPs are still offered snuff before they enter the Chamber. There is still some use of Norman French in the legislative process. And MPs still shout “hear, hear” when they agree with something one of them has said.

Link to the rest at The Grammarly Blog

Relationship Thesaurus Entry: Stepparent and Stepchild

From Writers Helping Writers:

Successful stories are driven by authentic and interesting characters, so it’s important to craft them carefully. But characters don’t usually exist in a vacuum; throughout the course of your story, they’ll live, work, play, and fight with other cast members. Some of those relationships are positive and supportive, pushing the protagonist to positive growth and helping them achieve their goals. Other relationships do exactly the opposite, derailing your character’s confidence and self-worth or they cause friction and conflict that leads to fallout and disruption. Many relationships hover somewhere in the middle. A balanced story will require a mix of these dynamics.

. . . .

Stepparent and Stepchild

Description:
Many factors play into the dynamics of the stepparent/stepchild relationship. The child’s age and receptiveness to the stepparent will have a lot of impact. Similarly, the stepparent’s willingness to fill a parental role, their experience with children, and their relationships with the child’s biological parents can all determine how things play out. This relationship is anything but simple, making it fertile ground for plot and character development.

Relationship Dynamics

Below are a wide range of dynamics that may accompany this relationship. Use the ideas that suit your story and work best for your characters to bring about and/or resolve the necessary conflict. 

  • A stepparent and stepchild who deeply fulfill relationship needs for each another
  • A stepparent who pursues harmony with the stepchild’s biological parent for the benefit of the child
  • A stepchild who is treated the same as the stepparent’s biological child
  • A stepparent filling a void for a child who has no relationship with their biological parent
  • A stepparent who fully embraces their role, regardless of the child’s feelings toward them
  • A stepparent being introduced into the life of a young adult child—smoothly, without much upheaval
  • A stepparent who tries to be the stepchild’s friend more than their parent
  • A reluctant stepparent who is playing the role of father or mother out of obligation
  • A stepparent whose efforts are largely controlled and limited by their spouse or the child’s other biological parent
  • A child rejecting any notion of a relationship with the stepparent 
  • An apathetic stepparent who is more interested in gaining a spouse than being a mom or dad
  • One party struggling to accept or love the other
  • A stepchild actively seeking to sabotage their stepparent’s success or marriage
  • An estranged relationship between the two

Challenges That Could Threaten The Status Quo

  • The stepchild becoming injured or ill on the stepparent’s watch
  • The stepparent separating from or divorcing the child’s biological parent
  • A situation in which one of the two parties is lying, forcing the biological parent to choose who to believe
  • The stepparent and biological parent having a child of their own
  • The death of the stepchild’s biological parent
  • The stepparent needing to relocate for work, resulting in a major move for the child
  • The teenaged child rebelling against the stepparent and rejecting their authority
  • One of the child’s parents dealing with mental illness or addiction
  • The stepchild being treated differently than the stepparent’s biological children
  • The stepchild being diagnosed with a physical, learning, or mental health difficulty that the stepparent doesn’t understand or accept
  • One of the stepparent’s biological children bullying or abusing the stepchild
  • The stepchild discovering a harmful secret about their stepparent
  • The stepparent abusing the child’s biological parent
  • The stepparent taking a work-from-home job, resulting in them being around all the time
  • The stepchild preferring the stepparent over their biological parent

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

The Easy-ish Way to Create Believable, Unforgettable Fictional Worlds

From Writer Unboxed:

Worldbuilding gets a bad rap sometimes. If you ask certain people, worldbuilding is either for nerds looking for almanacs, not fiction, or it’s a useless distinction that should be an intrinsic part of writing.

But there are plenty of writers who recognize the essential nature of worldbuilding separate from the act of storytelling—for science fiction and fantasy, sure, but also for all genres. And there are a ton of amazing, detailed guides to creating worlds. But years ago, when I was first looking to build out the world I had created for my first foray into fantasy writing, I looked up resources for worldbuilding and quickly got bogged down in the sheer number of details these guides wanted me to know.

These guides offer hundreds of questions about the world you’re creating, insinuating that answering each one will lead to developing a believable, original world. I found weeks-long online courses dedicated solely to building a world from scratch.

I like to call these types of resources sandboxes. They give you lots of blank space to play around. “Where are the mountain ranges in your world?” they ask. “What military tactics does each nation in your world use?”

These are good questions, depending on the type of story you’re writing. Sandboxes are fun places for free play and for letting the mind run wild.

But once I had determined the election procedures of a specific political party in my book, which was decidedly not about election procedures or political parties, I was left no closer to a better story. I wondered: “…Now what? What does this have to do with my story?”

This is how I came to begin thinking about story-first worldbuilding.

Story-first worldbuilding falls somewhere on the worldbuilding opinion spectrum between “almanac” and “intrinsic” by exploring the details of the world around the story you want to tell. You don’t need to know where every mountain range is in your world unless your characters intend to cross them. What follows are a set of exercises that are geared mainly toward writers of fantasy who are creating secondary worlds, but hopefully applicable to all writers. The goal of these exercises to help you build a believable world that will add depth and color to the story you want to tell—without making you spend hours writing out the dominant flora on a continent your story will never visit.

How to Build a World Around the Story You Want to Tell

To complete the following exercises, I will assume that you have at least a smidgen of a story idea in mind. It’s okay if it’s not a fully fleshed-out plot yet. I will also assume that, since you have a story idea, you also have a vague impression of the world in which it’s set. It’s okay if most of the world is a blurry mess at this point.

This section contains a couple of exercises to get your mind thinking about how your world interacts with your story. The exercises are intended to be done in order, but this isn’t school. Do what’s most helpful to you.

Exercise #1: Write down everything you already know about your story’s world.

Set a timer for five, 10, or 30 minutes—however much time you think you need—and write out everything you already know about the world in which your story takes place, stream-of-consciousness style. Focus on the parts of your story you’ve either written or can picture clearly in your head. For example, if you know a critical scene in the climax involves an escape from a desert prison, write, “There’s a prison in the desert.” Do not consult Wikipedia’s list of desert flora and fauna. Even if you list things that are contradictory or illogical, write them all down anyway. Give yourself permission to let your mind run free. Important: This is not the time to make up new things about your world. If new ideas come to mind as you’re writing, don’t stop to examine them—just write them down and keep going.

When your time is up, read back over what you wrote. What are the things that are intrinsic or critical to your story and/or characters?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

How to Write the Sense of Smell

From Writers in the Storm:

Great writers make their stories authentic by allowing us to experience what their characters hear, see, smell, taste, and touch—capturing the senses so we are fully involved. Adding sensory details about smell into your writing creates a stronger story bond for your reader.

Scent memory is potent.

Memories fade as time passes, but a faint whiff of a loved one’s perfume can send your mind’s eye smack into a scene from a forgotten past. Sense of smell is a person’s most robust sense. You can be in a familiar place with a blindfold on and your nose will let you know where you are.

  • The sense of smell is more closely linked with memory than any other sense.
  • It brings emotions to mind. We are attracted to each other by smell.
  • It helps us survive. A foul smell warns us of danger, like when we smell food gone bad or smoke choking the air.

. . . .

Writers can use the sense of smell to show a character’s background or to move a plot forward.

Say your main protagonist is a child in an orphanage trying to come up with a way to run away from her situation. A fire breaks out somewhere in the building. She smells smoke, alerts whomever she can to the danger (she is a good-hearted character). Recognizing her chance to leave in the chaos, she grabs her belongings and runs, thereby moving the story forward.

Ways to develop a sense of smell in writing.

Smelling danger

Our brains are wired in a way that makes us hyper-alert to unfamiliar sensory information, including smells. If you want to unsettle you characters, add in rotting, chemically, goosebump raising smells into your story.

. . . .

Smelling recall of another time, person, or place

Smells can cause flashbacks to warm, wonderful times or a place of horror. The same smell can bring joy or pain dependent upon the individuals experience at the time they were exposed to that particular odor.

Some people love the smell of lilies. I cannot stand them. To me they reek of death. I don’t know why, and probably would need hypnosis therapy to figure it out.

. . . .

The smell of a grow room is the scent of transpiration, of fecund exertion. It’s the trapped sweat of a high school locker room, the funk of a hockey jersey steaming on a radiator.” Bruce Barcott, Weed the People


“We moved on the Tuesday before Labor Day. I knew what the weather was like the second I got up. I knew because I caught my mother sniffing under her arms. She always does that when it’s hot and humid, to make sure her deodorant’s working. I don’t use deodorant yet. I don’t think people start to smell bad until they’re at least twelve. So I’ve still got a few months to go.” Judy Blume, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

“Chili dogs, funnel cakes, fried bread, majorly greasy pizza, candy apples, ye gods. Evil food smells amazing — which is either proof that there is a Satan or some equivalent out there, or that the Almighty doesn’t actually want everyone to eat organic tofu all the time. I can’t decide.” Jim Butcher, Side Jobs: Stories from the Dresden Files

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Could a machine have an unconscious?

From N+1:

IT WAS FIRST DESCRIBED to me by a friend who works in the industry as autocomplete on crack, after the technology that endowed our phones with the quality everyone pretends to, but does not actually, want in a lover — the ability to finish your thoughts. Instead of predicting the next word in a sentence, GPT-3 would produce several paragraphs in whatever style it intuited from your prompt. If you prompted it Once upon a time, it would produce a fairy tale. If you typed two lines in iambic pentameter, it would write a sonnet. If you wrote something vaguely literary, like We gathered to see the ship and all its splendor, like pilgrims at an altar,it would continue in this vein: 

I stood among the crowd watching each bus disgorge passengers onto wooden planks laid over mudflats. The guests swarmed into town for their free visit to another world: our island on Earth where strange new gods were worshipped; here they could gather at some primitive shrine from which they could send offerings back home or sell out-of-date clothes in pawnshops full of old junk salvaged from forgotten times....

If you wrote a news headline, it would write an article on that topic, complete with fake facts, fake statistics, and fake quotes by fake sources, good enough that human readers could rarely guess that it was authored by a machine. The potential for malicious use was so obvious that OpenAI, the lab that made it, agreed to grant access to only a handful of well-vetted researchers, spurring the publicity-friendly lore that it was “too dangerous to release.”

GPT-3 is a natural language processing algorithm. It belongs to a new generation of AI models called Transformers, a technology whose early iterations were named after Sesame Street characters (BERT, ELMO, GROVER, as though the somewhat frightening allusion to children’s television could be mitigated with a softer, more educational one. That GPT-2 and its later, more sophisticated upgrade, GPT-3, dropped this convention might be read as a sign of their terrifying power. With 175 billion “parameters” — mathematical representations of language patterns — GPT-3 had initiated what was being called a Cambrian explosion in natural language processing.

. . . .

I say that it “read” the internet, but the preferred terminology is that GPT-3 scraped the web, that it ingested most of what humans have published online, that it ate the internet — metaphors meant to emphasize that the process was entirely unconscious. The frequent reminders in the machine-learning community that the model is mindless and agentless, that it has no actual experience of the world, were repeated so often they began to feel compulsive, one of those verbal fixations meant to quell the suspicion that the opposite is true.

. . . .

I’D BEEN FOLLOWING all this because I was writing a book about technology, or rather because I’d reached an impasse and wasn’t writing at all. I spent hours each day doing what could passably be called “research,” trawling the feeds of Hacker News and machine-learning Reddit, where the lucky elite who had access to GPT-3 posted the results of their experiments. One trope was to ask it to imitate well-known authors. It could do Dante, Shakespeare, and Wordsworth. It could do Ginsberg (Endless suicide of the real world! Solitary! Solitary! Sisyphus! the rock! the road!).It could do Harry Potter in the style of Ernest Hemingway (It was a cold day on Privet Drive. A child cried. Harry felt nothing. He was dryer than dust. He had been silent too long. He had not felt love. He had scarcely felt hate.) Because we were all on lockdown, and my social life had devolved into sending and receiving novelties from the internet, I sometimes texted snippets of these outputs to friends, most of whom seemed to think it was a gimmick, or some kind of fancy toy. 

“What is the point of this device?” one asked.

Freud claimed that technology only solved problems that technology itself had created. The alienation and malaise caused by one modern invention was momentarily relieved by another, a process he compared to “the enjoyment obtained by putting a bare leg from under the bedclothes on a cold winter night and drawing it in again.” Nobody seemed capable of articulating what problem these language models were designed to solve. There was some chatter about writing assistance, about therapy bots, about a future where you’d never have to write another email (“Can A.I. bring back the three-martini lunch?” asked Fortune), all of which seemed to skirt the technology’s most obvious use: replacing the underpaid and inefficient writers who supplied the content that fed the insatiable maw of the internet — people like me. 

OpenAI was founded in 2015 as a nonprofit research lab devoted to creating a safe path to Artificial General Intelligence (AI that rivals human intelligence). Funded by an A-team of private investors, including Elon Musk, Sam Altman, and Peter Thiel, its mission was to create artificial intelligence that “benefits all of humanity.” In 2019, however, the lab announced that it was transitioning to a for-profit model “in order to stay relevant.” Last fall, Microsoft exclusively licensed GPT-3, claiming that the language technology would benefit its customers by “directly aiding human creativity and ingenuity in areas like writing and composition.” 

From what I could tell, the few writers who’d caught wind of the technology were imperiously dismissive, arguing that the algorithm’s work was derivative and formulaic, that originality required something else, something uniquely human — though none of them could say what, exactly. GPT-3 can imitate natural language and even certain simple stylistics, but it... cannot perform the deep-level analytics required to make great art or great writing. I was often tempted to ask these skeptics what contemporary literature they were reading. The Reddit and Hacker News crowds appeared more ready to face the facts: GPT-3 may show how unconscious some human activity is, including writing. How much of what I write is essentially autocomplete?

. . . .

WRITERS, SOMEONE once said, are already writing machines; or at least they are when things are going well. The question of who said it is not really important. The whole point of the metaphor was to destabilize the notion of authorial agency by suggesting that literature is the product of unconscious processes that are essentially combinatorial. Just as algorithms manipulate discrete symbols, creating new lines of code via endless combinations of 0s and 1s, so writers build stories by reassembling the basic tropes and structures that are encoded in the world’s earliest myths, often — when things are going well — without fully realizing what they are doing. The most fertile creative states, like the most transcendent spiritual experiences, dissolve consciousness and turn the artist into an inanimate tool — a channel, a conduit. I often think of the writer who said she wished she could feel about sex as she did about writing: That I’m the vehicle, the medium, the instrument of some force beyond myself.

I’d felt it before — every writer has — but at some point during the pandemic, the recombinant nature of writing became, instead, an infinite puzzle, a system whose discrete parts could be endlessly deconstructed and reassembled. I could never get the combination right. My critical instincts had turned pathological. I wrote and rewrote until the language was hollowed out: Potemkin sentences. 

The blockage had a larger context, which I’m reluctant to get into here but is doubtlessly relevant. A number of things had recently surfaced: memories I’d repressed, secrets I’d kept from myself. The most significant was that I’d been shamed as a child for writing, that I’d been confronted and punished for words that were meant to be private. It had happened more than once, and the shame I felt then was more or less identical to the shame I experienced each time I published something. I had, according to my therapist, chosen a profession that required me to continually revisit this wound, under the delusion that I could fix it or control it, that if I wrote something entirely pure and flawless the curse would be lifted and I would finally be free. I knew all this, but knowledge is not everything when it comes to compulsions. Part of me preferred the French term, automatisme de repetition. Repetition automatism: the tendency to unconsciously seek out the pains of the past, like a machine stuck in a feedback loop.

. . . .

PSYCHOANALYSIS GREW out of the realization that the most fundamental stratum of the mind was essentially a machine. Throughout the late 19th century, the unconscious was known as psychological automatism, a term popularized by the pre-Freudian psychoanalyst Pierre Janet, who argued that it was an “elementary form of activity as completely determined as an automaton.” The question was: how to get the machine to speak? Janet was among the first to experiment with automatic writing, bringing a rite of the séance parlor into the laboratory. His patients — Parisian hysterics — had experienced traumas they could not remember, and Janet believed that their minds had become dissociated into “subsystems,” the lowest of which was devoted to mechanically reproducing past experiences. 

He gave the women pen and paper, hypnotized them, then clapped his hands and commanded them to write. His case studies describe them scribbling away “in a machine-like state,” producing pages of text that they did not recognize, upon waking, as their own. My ideas are no longer comprehensible to myself,one wrote, they come of themselves.... I am nothing more than a puppet held by a string.Many of the women could recall in their writing memories they’d repressed. One who suffered from an inexplicable fear of cholera wrote about seeing two corpses during the last epidemic, something she had no memory of when awake. Another revealed that her tendency to fall down — which she’d long attributed to dizziness — was a compulsive reenactment of a suicide attempt years earlier, when she’d jumped into the Seine. 

Link to the rest at N+1

PG notes that sometimes when people write about writing, they are subject to wandering about.

Multiple Narrators, Multiple Truths

From The Literary Hub:

In my teens, I read only Victorian novels. The multiple narrator is such a prominent feature of 19th-century fiction that it’s possible I internalized the device inadvertently. Books such as MiddlemarchFrankenstein, and Wuthering Heights fed my already over-exercised imagination to the point where reality and fantasy were occasionally indistinguishable. Multiple narrator remains my storytelling technique of choice, as a reader and a writer.

. . . .

Of course, the multiple narrator has many incarnations. There are collections of stories, alternate narrators, interwoven first and third-person narratives, epistolary novels, story-cycles, and composite novels. I am particularly absorbed by stories in which the multiple narrators offer alternate versions of the same event. While I have an undying admiration for Kazuo Ishiguro’s ability to tell a story with a single, unreliable narrator, as in The Remains of the Day and Klara and the Sun, multiple narration can give the writer access to a wider context and world view that can be equally helpful in communicating with the reader.

The beauty of the novel is its myriad forms and re-invention. You do not have to be an advocate of experimental fiction, or a member of OULIPO, to appreciate original ways of storytelling and be entranced when you find them.

. . . .

Sarah Waters, Fingersmith

Waters has perfected the historical novel with a twist with Fingersmith, a novel that employs alternating narrators. With echoes of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, Waters’ Victorian novel tells the story of Sue and Maud and the complex conspiracy that entwines them. Waters’ skill is in the visceral detail of the period that provides a background that, while evocative of the time, avoids pastiche.

Told in the first person, the alternating narrative is a satisfactory way of concealing and revealing information to the reader that is not available to the characters. Other alternating first person narrators include Wuthering Heights in which Emily Brontë uses two peripheral characters to tell the story of Heathcliff and Cathy, and An American Marriage, where Tayari Jones uses the device to examine the different feelings and experiences of the married couple Roy and Celestial.

Han Kang, The Vegetarian

Told in three parts by three different narrators, Han Kang’s slender and disturbing novel uses first and third person narrative voice to tell the story of Yeong-hye a South Korean woman in contemporary Seoul who decides to become a vegetarian. Her subsequent transformation is narrated by her husband, her brother-in-law, and her sister who react with different levels of sympathy and understanding at Yeong-hye‘s deterioration. Interspersed with these interested parties, is the fragmentary voice of Yeong-hye and her dreams of blood and meat and slaughter, all connected to her guilt that she ever consumed animals.

The Vegetarian has a distinct three-part structure, and each part is a self-contained story. Other multiple-voiced narratives, such as Beatrice Hitchman’s All of You Every Single One, interweave the narrators to build more of a mosaic novel where the point of view may be wider, or inclusive of diverse perspectives such as David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten. Epistolary novels like Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple use the multiple narrator to great effect.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Navigating Self Doubt

From Writer Unboxed:

Some of us run into it right from the beginning, when we first begin to put words to paper. Others are luckier and don’t encounter it until later on their journey. But either way, if you’re a writer, at some time or another you are bound to run into Self Doubt.

Self doubt hits all of us differently. It can be an uncomfortable itch between our shoulders or a paralyzing force that prevents us from getting any words down on the page. Whatever form it takes it can be, if not conquered, at least managed.

There are three distinct branches of the self-doubt tree.

Competence is about craft and skill. Do I have the writing chops to pull this story off?
Permission is about judgment and authenticity. Who do I think I am trying to tell THIS story?
Worthiness is about self worth, agency, and voice. Who do I think I am trying to tell ANY story?

Competence

Of all the causes of self doubt, competence is the most easily fixed. It’s about rolling up our sleeves, digging in, and committing the time and energy necessary to get better.

But of course, if merely proving our competency were all that was involved, no published writer would ever have self doubts and I am here to assure you that is most definitely NOT the case. Many published writers find their doubts grow stronger the further they move into their career. Their initial doubts are compounded by a sense of expectations they must meet, or new milestones or metrics they must achieve. Which brings us to head games and hard truths, essential tools in any writers’ backpack.

We’ll start with the hard truths first.

Our story will never be as sparkling and fabulous on the page as the idea of it in our heads. In the act of trying to capture it, in choosing specific actions and details, it loses some of the glorious sense of infinite potential, which is always a part of a new idea’s magic.

Knowing and accepting that helps us adjust our expectations. We won’t be writing a perfect book, but we very well might be writing a terrific book, and that’s good enough.

Another hard truth: Your journey to publication will likely take longer than you think. The industry average is 10 years. Knowing and accepting that helps us give ourselves the time and permission to improve our writing skills. With patience and persistence, all of us can improve and draw closer to mastery.

Now for the promised head game regarding competence:

When your goal is paralyzing you and filling you with debilitating self-doubt, change the goal.

Mind blowing, right? But the trick is to find a goal that feels like a challenge but doesn’t suffocate us. Instead of finishing a manuscript to find an agent or land a contract, shift the goal to finishing a manuscript. Or, finishing a manuscript that has an actual plot. Or middle. Or distinct internal and external character arcs.

Focus on nailing one or two things in this manuscript rather than having the entire forward trajectory of your career hinging on it. Try on different goals until you feel that tight knot of doubt inside you begin to ease up.

It is okay to attempt a story you can’t pull off. If you only ever train for a 5k, you will never be able to compete in a marathon. Most writers have practice manuscripts! But the thing about practice stories is, you can often do another revision. Or start over from scratch. Also? Practice stories CAN turn into break through or even break out books. (That is what happened with GRAVE MERCY.)

Be willing to produce a lot of material that won’t make the final cut. Writers don’t have so much as a block of marble or lump of clay or even paints with which to create. So recognize that your early drafts and story journaling are essentially creating the material, rather than writing the story you will be telling.

Revising is not polishing. Revising is taking the whole thing apart and putting it back together again in an entirely different way. Or starting all over again, from scratch. Be willing to do that if necessary. Over and over again.

Most of us have one or two areas that we seem to know instinctively and do well from the get go. Then there are a number of other elements that we must work at. And usually most of us have a couple of areas we are going to really struggle with. The goal is to see if you can identify which are which. But here’s an important tip—it is a better investment of your time to identify your strengths, shore those up, and play into them than it is to try and become achieve expertise in your areas of weakness.

I want to repeat that for emphasis: It is a better investment of your time to identify your strengths and play to them than it is to try and achieve mastery in every area of weakness.

If you’re an amazing plotter–lean in to that. If your characters breathe on the page, delve even deeper into them. If your use of language is so lyrical or clever or quirky that people would read your grocery list, play to that strength.

The goal should be to become competent enough in your weaknesses that they don’t detract from the overall reading experience. It is your strengths that will make your work stand out.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Space and Shadows

From Writer Unboxed:

A small painting hangs in my hallway. Created by a friend some years ago, it is one of my very favorite things, and illustrates a poem by Sappho:

People do gossip

And they say about
Leda, that she

once found an egg
hidden under
wild hyacinths

When I asked my friend to paint the poem for me, I had an idea of what I wanted it to look like — a girl in a white dress perhaps, discovering an oversized egg on the ground. But I kept my thoughts to myself, and I’m so glad I did, because the end result was so much better than what I’d anticipated. Brilliantly, my friend painted neither the swan, nor Leda, nor the egg — instead she gave me a simple sketch of hyacinths in the grass, heads waving.

Will you think I’m crazy if I tell you that even after 20 plus years, I still find myself searching for eggs when I pass by that painting?

That’s because my friend — let’s call her Christine (everyone say “Hi Christine!”) did something that will also work in writing — she left room on the page for my imagination to fill in the blanks. Because of that, the painting has stayed alive for me all these years as my brain constantly tries to reconcile what the poem says with what the painting shows. 

We can use the same technique in our writing to deepen our story and force our readers to engage. Brains love nothing more than a challenge, and leaving space in your story gives them exactly that. By not putting everything on the page, we hold room for the story to unfurl in our readers’ imaginations. We give them the framework but let them tell the specifics to themselves.

So how can we as writers accomplish this magic trick, this act of giving readers the shadow and letting them fill in the substance? Here are a few things I’ve learned from trying this on my own: 

Start by developing a rich backstory. Your novel is a snapshot of a period in your character’s life — it’s not the entire movie. They had a life before the point where your story started, and they should have a natural arc that continues after your story ends. Know that arc. You don’t have to write it all out — I personally resent spending time writing stuff I will never show anyone — but make it real. Tell it to yourself before you go to bed, when you are waiting in the car, when the dentist is late and you need a distraction. The more real it becomes to you, the more real it is for your characters.

Once you have that backstory, it will inform everything your characters do, from how they act to who they date to what they like to eat. It’s the invisible structure that holds everything up and makes it logical to readers. You can allude to it as needed, but you don’t have to put it all on the page. Think of your story as a first date: you probably wouldn’t spill all the details about your divorce or custody battle or horrific gastric reaction to shellfish, would you? But all those things would influence who you went out with, where you went, and what you ordered. 

For example, a main character in my new novel DARLING GIRL, while charming, is not a particularly nice guy. But he does have moments where I hope readers are sympathetic to him. To make that happen, I created an entire backstory for him, starting from his childhood, of all the ways he’s been traumatized and lost. The reader never hears the details, but because I have that framework, his actions are consistent enough that anyone paying attention can easily surmise that his childhood was not a happy one.

Limit internal dialogue/memories. In THE BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DEAD by Kevin Brockmeiyer, one segment of heaven is composed of people who are remembered by those on earth. But a virus is killing off the population (yes, it was prophetic) and heaven is becoming less crowded. Eventually the only people remaining are those who have crossed paths with the sole survivor on earth. 

These heavenly occupants know this survivor from wildly varying relationships. There’s an ex-lover, a childhood friend, a beggar on the street. Brockmeiyer’s prose is sparse — the book is only 272 pages — but he’s carefully selected the internal dialogue of these people. He doesn’t recount the entire affair, for example, just a few moments. But together, these seemingly disparate memories merge to create a portrait of the main character that is rich and colorful in our minds, the way watercolors bleed across each other to fill the empty space on paper.

. . . .

Use tiny gestures for a big impact. In the movie Hancock, starring Will Smith and Charlize Theron, a world-weary jerk of a superhero (Smith) finds a new reason to save people when he discovers that he’s not really all alone in the world — he once had a passionate, centuries-long relationship with Mary (Theron), a woman he now thinks of as a stranger thanks to his decades of amnesia. 

The film never flashes back to show them together. It barely even describes their former love — there’s no big long monologue about it. Instead, at one point early in the movie, Theron notices a bruise on Hancock’s hand. She glances at it with a heat and intensity that far outstrips the actual injury. Later, there’s a scene where she tenderly describes walking down the street with Hancock, holding his hand on the way to the movies. As she reminisces, she holds his hand and kisses it.

The brief exchange is so emotional, and has so much information packed inside it— that they’d been together long enough to have a routine, that they still liked each other enough to hold hands and go on dates, for example — that our minds immediately want to fill in the rest. But because the film hasn’t spelled the details out for us, we are free to imagine the weight and history of their love, and how it informs everything Hancock does going forward. 

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

From Kristine Kathryn Ru sch:

I’m doing a lot of things here in Las Vegas that I only dreamed of doing when I lived in Oregon, especially small town Oregon. Sometimes I think I rolled myself into a little ball and cut out everything else. Some of that was health-related, some of it was the demanding job, but some of it was opportunity.

Not that I took advantage of a lot of opportunities when I had them.

Bear with me on this, particularly those of you who have read the blog for a long time.

The word “audition” used to scare the ever-living hell out of me. I won a lot of awards for singing, music, and performance when I was a child and as a teenager. I also modeled. I fell into it as a child because the photographer of the local newspaper wanted to date my older sister. She was one of those popular girls who treated her boyfriends like crap.

My mother used to assign her to babysit me, probably thinking it would keep her out of trouble. Instead, my sister used to pass me off on the wanna-be boyfriends, particularly the photographer. I was in the paper a lot.

Then she married, my parents and I moved to Wisconsin, and my mother still found a way for me to get photographed for the paper. I did a ton of artsy fartsy things, except actual drawing, which I sucked at. I competed a lot, but I never had to audition, until high school.

I don’t remember most of my auditions, but the last one—the very last one—sticks in my mind. I auditioned for Fiddler on the Roof. I was scared to death, and the music stuck in my throat. When it became clear to me that I couldn’t sing in tune at that moment, I apologized to the co-director.

“I go out of tune when I’m nervous,” I said.

She looked at me over the top of the piano. “Well, you’ll be nervous on opening night, won’t you?”

It was like an arrow to the heart. And that was it. I saw everything through that prism from that moment forward. If I was nervous, I would screw up.

What I didn’t see was this: I had blown the audition badly and I still got a singing part. (One of the two youngest daughters, Shprintze.) What I considered bad wasn’t awful. It just wasn’t good enough for a lead role.

I had no one to tell me these things. I had a perfectionist mother who believed one missed word, one missed note, ruined everything. So I decided to avoid anything that required auditioning…although I found ways around it.

I was in radio. I got my first job as a writer of copy, and eventually, I learned engineering and because we were short-handed, I went on the air a lot.

I had married another theater geek, and I had dreams of heading to New York. He would perform and I would write. That got tanked when he quit drama school after he had been chosen to work at a start-up theater (which later won a Tony). He “didn’t like the pay.”

. . . .

[Kris took a voice-over class.]

Seventy-five percent of the class was performance, sprinkled with a lot of learning about all the kinds of existing voiceover work. There’s an engineering course that I will take later in the year, if I can sign up (it fills fast), and there’s a lot more to learn.

Because I didn’t care about whether or not I was the best or even “good enough,” I tried all kinds of things. I had fun and I was eager to get in the booth and try something hard.

It knocked the rust off my radio skills, and reminded me how much I loved voice work. I had tried to revive some voice work back in Oregon, but I hadn’t felt comfortable, considering how much had changed.

And a lot had changed, but the fundamentals remained the same. One voice, one microphone, some engineering work, and ¡voila! a product. I had forgotten that.

So, while I was enmeshed with trying to work out which classes to take next, the VO studio sent an email about moving forward, and in it, had this quote:

Comparison is the thief of joy.

They sent it because students who finish that first class usually become a group who take other classes together. As in all of the arts, a group that starts from the same place does not stay in the same place. Some have early success. Some quit. Some work forever to make small gains. And some eventually become the solid folks in their field.

I’m not planning to become a major voice-over artist. I have a job. But I want to do a few things, and I want the skills (and the contacts) to hire the right people for the jobs I have.

Still, I stared at that comparison quote for a long time, and it got me thinking.

The writers I’ve been around, particularly those with some success, often compare themselves to others like this:

I’m more talented than XYZ Bestselling writer. How come he has all the luck?

And then they try to explain it to themselves, often with a result like this:

Oh, he’s successful because he dumbs his work down for the masses.

Or, he’s successful because he’s writing something trendy.

Or, he’s successful because he does more advertising than I do.

Or, he’s successful because he sucks up to everyone in power (in traditional publishing).

He’s never successful because of his abilities—not to that person. Not that it matters, either. In the arts, comparing two artists isn’t fair. They’re different. They’re on different paths.

Which was the point of the quote the VO studio sent.

Comparison is the thief of joy.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

How the AP Stylebook Considers Language on Disability

From Publishers Weekly:

I’m a Canadian writer but, beyond that, I’m a disabled journalist. The style bible in use north of the border is called the Canadian Press Style Guide, or CP Guide for short. The initialism for my disability, cerebral palsy, is also CP. I often joke with colleagues that I was almost certainly born to do this if the naming conventions of the industry are anything to go by. In fact, this tiny connection is one of the only things, in journalism or in the wider publishing industry, that I am sure of. As always, the goalposts move. Sometimes, even in the right direction. This was true for a recent revision of the Associated Press Stylebook.

On April 23, the AP announced what it called a “revision and expansion” of its guidelines for writing about disabled people. The advice highlighted the need to stay away from old tropes relating to disabled people—that we are just sad objects of pity who need to be doted on via the written word; that we are suffering, or bound, or afflicted. Given this update, one might think that the disability community felt triumphant. However, the joys of being 20% (or thereabouts) of the population is that we are not a monolith and neither is how we identify.

The AP was quickly criticized for its advice surrounding person-first vs. identity-first language. The news agency noted that some people prefer identity-first language, like I’ve used thus far in this piece—disabled followed by identifier. I use identity first because disability permeates every part of my lived experience. My brain damage is not going away, and I don’t need the small reminders that I’m a person.

The other option, person first—e.g., “a journalist with CP”—is used in some circles, but is largely deployed outside of the community by people who feel icky about the word disabled. Like they might catch something or, importantly for writers, like we’re not seen as fully fledged human beings in wider society. Imagine that.

After noting that these distinctions exist, the AP decided—in line with the National Center for Disability Journalism’s guidance at the time (I’m unsure if they collaborated on this decision)—to make its stance, “In describing groups of people, or when individual preferences can’t be determined, use person-first language.” To which many disabled Twitter users, to put it mildly, disagreed. Three days later came a Tweet welcoming readers to give the AP feedback. The NCDJ revised its guidelines this month, removing the suggestion that newsrooms use person-first language automatically.

This whole situation reminds me that it is a moral imperative to go beyond the style guide—to take it as our duty to shepherd the stories of those we are writing about, even if they are fictional, with the utmost of care and attention. Guidance like this has been in the CP Guide for as long as I’ve been reading it—about a decade. And yet, as I write this, typing “handicapped” into Google’s news-specific search function nets 255,000 results. “Crippled,” which is often thoughtlessly used in the same way that “turn a blind eye” and “to have a deaf ear” are, turns up over a million results. “Wheelchair-bound” (as opposed to “wheelchair user,” the preferred term)? 96,300. Just because industry publications give advice doesn’t mean writers take it. I have all the respect in the world for the NCDJ, but style guides change at a glacial pace. It’s not that there isn’t a desire to change—the AP’s quick about-face shows that there is; it’s that writers are creatures of habit. It’s not like handicapped just fell out of favor.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly