How to Fix Flat Scenes

You know the feeling. You’ve been writing along, feeling the gut-punch of creating an awesome scene, and when you take a break and re-read, the scene reads flat. Limp. But you’re a pro, so you know this is probably just because you’re too close to it now, so you let it go and decide to come back later. Maybe you keep writing, maybe you go read a great book or do some research to reset your brain. But when you come back, it still sounds lifeless. There’s a lot of action– someone is in danger, someone revealed something painful, or maybe it’s a fight scene. Whatever scene it is, it’s one you need to really grip your readers and land that blow, but it’s just sitting there, and you know in your gut you didn’t deliver the punch you wanted to.

Don’t ignore that feeling. If you can sense that, you have fantastic instincts. That’s your writer’s brain trying to get your attention, saying “Hey- we’ve got a problem.”

If you think about that for a minute, that will lead us to the answer. A flat scene is one that’s not getting up off the page. It’s just sitting there. It’s not alive, it’s not true-to-life in some element. We’re seeing it through a character’s eyes, but somehow that character’s experience isn’t hitting us. And it should be.

That feeling tells you you’re missing something. But when you know where to look, it can be pretty easy to see what you’re missing.

A character’s experience breaks down into 5 separate things:

Thought– In 1st and 3rd person where we’re very close to the character, a character’s thought is often also exposition. For punchy scenes, blend them better. Use the character’s voice to phrase things, don’t use too much exposition, use thoughts that heighten the tension. Make as much of the exposition thought from the character as you can– this tightens the psychic distance (the distance from the readers to the character’s mind) and gets us right in the middle of things.

Action– Usually this one isn’t the culprit, but make sure things are happening. If it’s not a particularly active scene, don’t let people just sit there. Have them use actions and gestures that heighten tension and show their emotional state. Grip things, rearrange things, pace, throw things, etc. Reaction is a big part of action– most of what we do on a daily basis is reacting to something else, and reactions are powerful things. Use your character’s reactions to show how this is affecting him/her.

Dialogue– Technically dialogue is an action, but it’s a distinct one that often either dominates a scene or gets left out, so it’s separate. Check to make sure you’re not letting it take over the scene; sometimes what’s not said is more impacting. Let us read between the lines. Make sure, too, that you actually do have dialogue in there somewhere. People accuse, demand, and give ultimatums through dialogue. Most escalation happens through dialogue, so make sure that you have it, and that what you have contributes and is the best way to show the detail.

Sensation– We all know to use the senses when we’re writing, so bring us the action through textures, instincts, sounds, detailed sights, scents (which often carry memories), even taste. We can sense something that your character doesn’t, so channel the sensations to us through him.

Emotion– This one often gets the same treatment that dialogue does– way too much or none at all. The most impacting use of emotion is usually brief and powerful. We don’t need long, winding paragraphs that drown us in grief or loneliness. By the time the reader finishes those, the action has paused for so long we’re looking around for something to happen and we’ve lost interest. Basically, we don’t care. Keep it brief, make it deep, move on. But keep it going, too. Come back to how all these actions and dialogue and sensations and thoughts are affecting your character emotionally. We get worn thin. Old wounds get opened up. We become desperate. Sometimes we’ve just had it. Keep the emotional progression of your character advancing; don’t let what they’re feeling sit there. Make it go somewhere.

If a scene feels flat, it’s almost always one of two things- 1) either you’re showing, not telling (a different post) or 2) one or more of the 5 things above is missing from your scene. In all the pages I’ve seen come through slush or edited or written, most often I see emotion and thought being the ones missing or over/underdeveloped.

Check through your scene to see if you’re missing any of those. Use highlighters if you want, and color each one of the five a different color in your scene. See what dominates. See what’s missing or needs boosted. See if any moment carries more than one.

An impacting scene is a dense chemical blend. Miss one element, and it doesn’t affect us like it should. That denseness is important, too– if you’ve got all of those things happening, it’s a lot, but it can’t take forever on the page. Make sensations carry thought. So, combine them. Make action show emotion. Use dialogue to push the action. Get two or more from that list into each moment, and you’ll have something dense and impacting. Your scene won’t be flat; it will get up off the page and have a life of its own. We’ll walk into it, and you’ll have created something we can live in, too.

NaNo Tips- Awesome Ways to Get it Done

I fast-draft all of my manuscripts. It’s much easier and much less stressful for me to write several thousand words a day for 5-6 weeks than it is for me to scratch out 1k a day and constantly be thinking, worrying, and problem-solving about my book for six months. I love fast-drafting because it allows me to get in the zone and stay there.

If you’re doing National Novel Writing Month along with so many of the rest of us, you’ll be trying to write 50,000 words during the month of November. Here are some tips and tricks from a perpetual fast-drafter for getting those words on the page:

1) Get in the mindset. Chant these to yourself until you believe them: You can’t polish a blank page. You can’t edit what you haven’t written. A first draft’s only job is to exist; if it exists, it’s a perfect first draft. Leave editing for December.

2) Prepare your lifestyle. Make a few meals ahead of time and put them in the freezer. Or, you can swap cooking duty with a friend or family member nearby; offer to cook a few nights for them in Dec. if they bring over a meal or two in November. Stock your pantry and freezer with items that won’t spoil so you can cut down on trips to the store. Consider hiring a neighbor kid or local student to come help out with basic house cleaning for an hour a week; I’ve done this several times, and for $50, I don’t have to vacuum or clean the bathroom for a month. Those are valuable writing hours.

3) Re-prioritize writing. For fast-drafting, writing has to not be the thing that gets done once everything else is done. Unless I have guests coming over, when I’m fast-drafting, the house chores suffer. And that’s fine with me. Writing has to come pretty close to first to get a project like this done. Explaining to your family what you’re trying to do and how much work it is is a great idea; consider asking them to help pull the extra weight by taking over dishes, walking the dog, doing laundry, making breakfast so you can get right to writing, etc., in exchange for a fun family party or outing in early December.

4) Create productive ways to give your brain a break. Buy a book that’s a treat– one you’ve been dying to read. Reading helps me to get out of sentence patterns and word habits I get stuck in when fast-drafting, and it’s a blessed relief from hearing my own voice on the page. Working on outlining or research tasks is also a great productive break. I work through a copy of Donald Maass’s WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK every time I draft. When I can’t write scenes anymore, I switch to the book and work through a section. It’s also a great thing to take along for sitting in waiting rooms, working on during a car trip, or anytime I have 5-10 minutes to spare but can’t get writing done. I also keep a file of research tasks– look up this, Google that, find out X crazy detail– that I can work on when I can’t write anymore. Doing these things lets me write scenes when I have the time and energy, and it gives me productive things that don’t require the same level of mental engagement when I don’t.

5) Get rid of your Kryptonite. If it’s Candy Crush, swear off. If it’s Netflix, stay away. Facebook or Pinterest? Have your spouse/a friend change your password and ask them to let you on once a day. Any activity where you aren’t aware of time passing means you’re likely to spend more time doing it than you meant to. Usually way more. It might be your “braindead activity” but unless we’re very different people, those things won’t refresh you and they’ll simply be a black hole in your time.

6) Reward yourself when you meet your daily goals. Maybe the reward is reading time, or chocolate, or new music. I recommend rewards that don’t require tons of time– television, social media time, games I like, etc., tend to mean I stay up too late enjoying my reward, and my writing time the next day suffers. So make sure your reward doesn’t make your writing suffer. A great reward for me is swapping pages with a CP or friend who is doing NaNo– reading each other’s pages quick (no crits, just reading for fun) and squealing over fun details and awesome tension is incredibly motivating. When so much material is being created so fast, the urge to share it and have it heard because IT IS SO AWESOME gets overwhelming. So, share it! There are few better rewards than having a friend love it, too. (But again– no critiques, no editing. Just OMG LUV and high-fives.)

7) Remember that unless you don’t start, you can’t fail. That’s the great thing about NaNo. You can “win” by writing 50,000+ words, but you can’t really lose. If you write 10,000 words, you have a fantastic start on your book, plus all the planning and time required to actually put words on the page. You’re gaining, you’re making progress, you’re creating something every day you put down words. No matter how many words it turns out to be, creating isn’t failing.

Are you doing NaNo? Do you have an awesome project in the works?

Pixar Rule 18: No Writerly Fussing Allowed

Guess what’s back? The Pixar storytelling series!

My sister’s wedding is over, I’m back from my anniversary trip to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, and Nikki Urang’s trip to my house for a writer’s weekend was a smashing success.

This also means I’m no longer living the life of a spoiled globe trotter and must get back to my daily activities (which actually, I missed). Blogging is one of those things! Returning to Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling, I’m going to cover rule 18.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

I think something got lost in translation with the 2nd sentence there, and I honestly have no idea what Ms. Coats meant by it. However, I have quite a bit of experience dealing with the first sentence.

With one of my first novels, I spent way too much time fussing. I’d finished the draft, sent it out to people who said they wrote or read a lot, made revisions, and then spent forever fussing with the language. Sentence-level modifications that clarified actions, boosted voice, removed passive verbs, etc. A lot of it helped, but a lot of it was just messing around. I spent far too much time, and burned myself out, on tiny issues. When I was done, I’d spent so much time revising I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I needed to stop pruning the branches and step back so I could see the shape of the whole forest, but by that time, I was burned out.

My novel needed streamlining and focus. It needed to not rely so heavily on tropes. It needed to be set apart from what was already on the market. I had no idea, though, because I’d spent so much time fussing with it that I just didn’t have the energy to seriously consider these things. Note: I THOUGHT I’d considered them. I’d had it beta-read and made big changes and cut big chunks. But since I was exhausted, and since I could check those things off my list, I did. Fussing with language was easier than stepping back, taking the story itself 100% seriously, and double-checking the big things. Here’s the cost: my book still needs those things. It’s chilling out in the corner right now.

So, from personal experience, here’s what I think Ms. Coats is getting at, and here’s what I should have done:

Don’t mess with language until you’re done with big scene and action changes. You’ll burn yourself out. Sure, take along your laptop on car rides and use CTRL-F to find “that” and passive voice, but don’t fuss. There’s no point to messing with language in a scene if you’re going to cut it or change it later. Seriously- no fussing.

Find people who you are 100% confident know what they’re doing. A writer once told me as a revision note that my POV wasn’t clear- things needed to be more clearly from my character’s perspective. This person suggested I insert “he saw”, “he wondered”, etc, to show that it was my main character perceiving all this. Consequently, I littered my MS with filter words that six months later, I had to take out. This is a small, nit-pick revision, but it’s a great example of why not all critiques are equal. I didn’t get critiques tough enough to show me that my novel was too much like most other fantasies out there, and the advice often prompted me to harm my book rather than improve it. So get critiques from writers who have the experience and credentials to genuinely help you; you need tough critiques. (How? Check out the tabs above- crits are everywhere in this industry.) It’s hard to take, but shelving your MS is even harder.

Once you have several sets of revision notes from trusted writers/industry professionals, don’t revise. That’s right. Don’t revise immediately. I tossed out a lot of helpful advice because I was too close to my story and couldn’t see how that change could work. I thought my novel had to start with the girl in high school, and I couldn’t see a way around it. So, I tossed out the advice. Don’t do that if it’s from someone you trust. Daydream about it a little first. If you WERE going to take that advice on cutting out this character, how could you do it? If you HAD to change your opening, how could you do it? Take a few days to do this, not a few minutes. Just a few weeks ago, the answer to how to start that novel hit me. It doesn’t have to start with the main character in high school, and my planned revision is much more interesting.

Know yourself. A lot of writers tend to channel their perfectionism toward fussing with language instead of really doing their best with the story itself. Use that perfectionism to be honest with yourself and your book. There’s a point where your book needs you to pick over every line, and there’s a point where it’s just fussing. Don’t burn yourself out with the latter if your time, energy, and honesty are still needed by your plot and characters.

A Plotting Tool (With Good News for Your Query and Synopsis): Pixar Rule #4

I’m blogging my way through Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling as compiled by Emma Coates, Pixar storyboard artist.  It’s been a ton of fun so far and is really exercising my blogging muscles! If you didn’t see my interview with author Mindee Arnett from yesterday, check it out in the right sidebar, because she’s brilliant and so is her book.

Here’s the 4th rule of storytelling from Pixar and Emma Coates:

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

This one is a bit different. It’s actually a formula for the spine of your story, and it’s a great one. Filling this out before you start writing your draft will help you think through where you want to go with your concept. The first two blanks establish character and situation. The 3rd is the initial conflict- bam, your protagonist has a problem. This problem intensifies and the stakes leap higher with 4 and 5. One of those should probably even be a twist we didn’t see coming. Finally, the main characters hit the do-or-die moment. Of course, you still need to fill in your resolution.

This kind of 6-sentence synopsis is a great writing tool. Fill it out before you start writing- just one sentence for each step.  (To follow my own advice, I’m going to sit down and fill this out for THE BALLAD OF DINAH CALDWELL today, so why not do it with me?) Then revise it as you draft the first half, and revise again when you finish. Not only will this help the plot stay focused, avoid tangents, and progress at a good pace, but when you’re done, you will have your synopsis basically written. This is a fantastic starting point for both your synopsis and your query. Turn each sentence into a paragraph for the synopsis, and that’s a great start. Use the establishing and main conflict sections of the 6-sentence outline plus a few killer developing details, and you’ll have the bones of a query!

If you want to see a great article that expands each of these 6 ideas and adds in the resolution, go here.

Don’t forget to check out the posts from my blogging friends who are doing this challenge with me!

Talynn Lynn, a writer, editorial intern for Entranced Publishing, and writing assistant extraordinaire,

Mary Pat, a writer, fellow teacher, and fantastic blogger,

Alex Yuschik, a writer, grad student, and also an intern to a literary agent,

and Regina Castillo, a dedicated reader, writer, and blogger.

As always, thanks for reading!

Pixar 22: Rule 1- Character Struggle

If you read my post from yesterday, you know that today is the first day of my blogging challenge. I’m blogging my way through Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling as compiled by Emma Coates, Pixar storyboard artist. If you want to see the background on why I’m doing this and hear my thoughts on that article from The New Yorker that challenges those rules with some decisive language, my post from yesterday discusses that.

The rules themselves arebasic, time-tested methods and tips for writing fiction. Even though they are fairly basic, they are not always easy and definitely not always part of a writer’s process– even though they should be! Many of the issues I see in the slush pile that makes me pass on a project could be solved if the writers used these 22 rules. Often, when I love something in a submission, it’s because the writer did one or more of these 22 things well. They really are hallmarks of good stories.

Here’s rule 1, and my thoughts on it:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

I love that this is rule 1, because I love, love, love it. Character struggle is at the core of so many riveting, impacting stories. In The Hunger Games, Katniss’s struggles are endless and we’re never quite sure if she’s going to win. She struggles to feed and protect her family. She struggles to hide her practical personality and her hatred of the materialism around her in order to become an engaging tribute people will support– which is part of her struggle to survive. She struggles in a dozen other ways, too- surviving her burns and dehydration. Figuring out how she feels about Peeta.  Readers become involved in her struggles and care about what happens long before they find out if she fails or succeeds. In fact, we admire her for getting back up and trying again. Hard things happen to everyone, but it takes someone special to get back up and keep trying.

In the early seasons of The Vampire Diaries, noble vampire Stefan just lacks something. He’s not nearly as interesting as his brother Damon, and even though they know he’s the morally better character, many viewers (dare I say the majority?) root for Damon. Why? Damon struggles with his nature, while Stefan has already beaten it. Stefan really doesn’t have much of anything to struggle over in those first seasons. Later on, his character becomes more complex, but it takes a while. Damon is the one who is torn between his evil vampire nature and wanting to be a better man than he is. In season 2, we see one of the most impacting moments of his struggle in the middle of the road, as he’s trying to decide whether or not to kill the young woman who stopped to help him. This moment is, in my opinion, one of the best scenes of the show. Stefan lacks a significant struggle. He’s got it figured out, and since he’s so noble and always does the right thing, we prefer his far more interesting brother.

Character struggle taps into two very important things: 1) forward motion in the plot, and 2) human nature. Plots need things to happen. We all know that. Some specific goal needs to be present. The character has to WANT something- finding her self-identity, escaping the kidnapper, winning the election, putting his marriage back together. So all the things that happen, the events, need to build toward that goal- even if she doesn’t get what she wants in the end. But it has to be difficult to get there. If characters got what they wanted without hardly trying, stories would be much shorter and much less interesting. If Katniss so impressed the Capitol by volunteering to be a tribute that they granted her and her family an exemption from the games, the book would hardly be worth reading. The difficulties along the way, the struggles thrown at the characters to keep them working hard for what they want, maps out an obstacle course that tests them to the max. Struggle provides something for the characters to do, something to fight against, and an instigator of character change. Struggle moves the plot forward.

Struggle is also a fantastic way of connecting with the audience. It’s one of the things that makes readers care about the character. Interestingly enough, it’s also a significant character development tool, because it does (or should) change the characters.  Struggle, it seems, is intricately connected to human nature. We identify with someone who struggles because we know what fighting for or against something is like– even if it’s just yourself. Perhaps especially if it’s fighting against yourself. We can relate to it. It’s not the winning or losing that we’re after when we follow a character around for 300 pages. If the winning was easy, we’d barely care if the character succeeded. The emotion of the situation is all tied up in the character’s struggle.

So yes, we admire characters more for trying than for succeeding. Writers, use this idea when you write to boost conflict, deepen the struggle, and change the characters. Readers, look for the character’s struggle when you read, because identifying that is a fantastic means of accessing theme and really understanding the characters.

Also, all of you should check out the posts from my blogging friends who are doing this challenge with me! The first posts go up today.

Talynn Lynn, a writer, editorial intern for Entranced Publishing, and writing assistant extraordinaire,

Mary Pat, a writer, fellow teacher, and fantastic blogger,

Alex Yuschik, a writer, grad student, and also an intern to a literary agent,

and Regina Castillo, a dedicated reader, writer, and blogger.

We’d love it if you’d comment on our posts and share anything you enjoyed as we do this blogging challenge to keep us accountable and motivated! As always, thanks for reading!

3 Ways to Set Yourself Apart in the Slush

I’ve been considering writing a post for a while on common issues I see in submissions, and I’m seeing enough of the same things coming up that I think that might make a great topic. If you’ve been reading agent blogs or following writers on Twitter, you probably know to avoid super common openings in your novel- alarm clocks ringing, the main character waking up, an action scene before we’ve been given a reason to care, etc. Beyond those things, there are several elements of writing itself that makes me question the submission and occasionally stop reading.

1) Lack of contractions. I see this a lot in SF/F/paranormal writing. More formal phrasing is often the first route writers take when they want to make an angel/vampire/immortal of any kind sound as if s/he is from another culture. This idea might have worked for the first few who did it, and it still might work if done extraordinarily well, but it’s such a common device now that I expect it, so it isn’t interesting anymore. Plus, and here’s the kicker, it makes the writing stilted. Even if your character is from another culture, unless she’s the Dowager Countess, it doesn’t work. Try saying the lines out loud yourself; if it sounds weird, it reads weird. It pulls me out of the story and makes it that much harder to catch my attention.

2) Modifier overload. This has to be one of the most common things I write in reader reports. Adjectives and adverbs stand out; be choosy. An author friend of mine told me her agent says she gets ten adverbs per novel. That’s how choosy you should be. Now, if you’re that choosy, maybe you can do more than ten. The point is, I get the distinct feeling a lot of writers aren’t actually aware of how many they’re using. And you have to be. If using words is going to be your career, you have to be aware. Take just your first page and highlight how many adverbs and adjectives are on that page. I frequently see 15+ modifiers on the first page. Of course, the commonly advised solution is to delete the modifier and use stronger nouns and verbs- “china” instead of “plate”, or “hurtle” instead of “run.” I like to keep in mind the principle of “detail that matters.” If it doesn’t matter that the flowers are pink, don’t tell me. They’ll show up as a color in my imagination even if you don’t supply one. But if the tangle of the stems and the withered leaves matter as insight about the protagonist, then by all means, use it. Just be aware, and be intentional.

3) Common phrasing. This is a little more abstract of a concept, but it’s easy to identify in a manuscript. When I read about bright sunny days, fear creeping over someone, half-smiles turning up a corner of someone’s mouth, etc., I get bored because I’ve seen all these things too many times. Cliches might be a part of this, but it’s more just ordinary words being used in an unimaginative way. When I read, I want to see a new perspective on something. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson is an excellent example of breaking away from the ordinary in showing the main character’s thoughts. Not everyone should go so far as to strike out portions of the text, but I do at least want to think, “hey, this writer sees that man’s shoes a little differently than most people would” or “I’d never thought of describing a street like that.” So, I want to see more language that shows unique thought.

When I see a writer who doesn’t have these struggles, I know he is both aware and intentional with his writing. That fact alone helps the submission grab my attention.

GUTGAA Meet and Greet

This week the “gearing up to get an agent” contest kicks off- it’s a huge contest with great opportunities to get your work in front of agents. The first part of the contest and blog hop is a “meet and greet” post. If you want to check out the contest itself, go here!

Questions for the Meet and Greet
I live in the midwest but love to travel. Currently I’m in Alberta, Canada, actually, for a friend’s wedding. I love Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice and anything by John Green, can’t live without music, and tell my friends more than they want  to know about writing and publishing. I am finishing the first draft of my 2nd novel this week (fingers crossed- I’m visiting friends and helping with a wedding!). I write adult and young adult fantasy and contemporary. I’m also an editorial intern with Entangled Publishing and an English teacher. I blog here and over at YA Stands.
-Where do you write?
 Usually I write in my library- a tiny half-bedroom upstairs. I do a lot of writing on my ebook, however, when forced to leave my library.
-Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?
 Well, I’m in Canada right now, but if I were in my library, to my immediate left is my Keurig. I love it because then I don’t have to stop writing and go downstairs to get coffee. I push a button, and keep writing.
-Favorite time to write?
I teach full-time and year-round, so I don’t really get to pick when I write. Usually it’s from 6:30-8:30 most nights. I’ve been writing a lot later for the past month because I’m marathoning my current WIP.
-Drink of choice while writing?
 Coffee. I wish it was something more exciting, but then I get distracted from my writing. 🙂
-When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?
Usually I play a mix of Switchfood, Brandi Carlile, Mumford and Sons, and Florence and the Machine. But for really tricky scenes, I need quiet.
-What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?
 Some of my growing up experiences contributed to my current WIP, but mostly the story just came to me as a big “what if?” one day.
-What’s your most valuable writing tip?
 When you read, find the scenes that make you feel something intense. Get a notepad and jot down how the author did it. Figure out why that scene affected you. Also read good books on writing. One of the tabs up top has a list of ones I have read and recommend, so check them out. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by, and good luck in the contest if you’re entering!

Prose Tips: the Psychology of the Short Sentence

Intentional sentence construction is vital to good writing.  Knowing what you’re doing with your sentences and why you’re doing it is absolutely essential to making the desired impact on your reader. Writers all have different sentence styles, ranging from sparse and cryptic to long and flowing. I prefer short, punchy sentences in general, with longer, more complicated ones taking the limelight where I want some poetry in my writing or else during more contemplative scenes. No one way is perfect, but shorter sentences can bring a dramatic impact that longer sentences often lack.

Readers subconsciously pause when they see the period in a sentence. This pause can emphasize subtext or emotion nicely. Use shorter sentences and back-load them when you want high emotional impact. Readers will process the sentence for a moment more than they might otherwise.

Long sentences (and long paragraphs) can be tempting to skim. Shorter sentences can help your readers stay engaged, because that briefest of pauses between sentences allows a moment to refocus. Be aware that this refocusing happens, and use it to your advantage.

Shorter sentences prompt readers to keep reading, especially sentences with only a handful of words. Because what they are reading now is so brief, it’s just a fraction easier to be wondering “What happens next?” Lining up all these punchy, short sentences together can speed your reader along and heighten the urge to find out what happens in the next paragraph, the next page, the next chapter. They automatically increase the pace of action scenes, as well.

Short sentences are less likely to contain unnecessary words. Because you’re focusing on paring down the thought to something punchy and brief, it’s easier to see what you can cut. Words and phrases like “that”, “there are/is”, and other word clutter are more likely to be tossed out. Additionally, short sentences have a smaller chance of being confusing than long sentences.

Another benefit of short sentences is the flip-side of the point above- as you write your short sentences, you might not only be separating a long sentence into two sentences; you might be reducing your words and turning your thought into something more concise. Conciseness lends itself to subtext- and subtext is a beautiful thing. People aren’t always transparent in what they say and do, and characters shouldn’t be, either. Narrators can use the subject inherent to a great short sentence to full effect, as well. This treats the reader as if they’re intelligent enough to notice and process the subtext, and it makes your characters deeper and more realistic.

A word of warning: Variety is key here. An entire paragraph of four-word sentences would probably bore the most dedicated reader. Be careful that you feed your reader a variety- no one wants the same meal every day, so mix it up.  Long sentences can be a gorgeous, winding adventure full of voice. Don’t avoid them. Just use long and short sentences in the places where the pacing and subject matter are prime for them.

How do you decide what type of sentence to use for which moment? Do you have a specific style, or do you go with your gut on a case-by-case basis? Tell me what you love about short sentences.

A companion post in praise of the long sentence is in the works.

Writing Contests

I’ve discovered a whole string of worthy contests of late, and so I’m sharing the love and posting them below. If you’re a writer, check them out. Some end tonight or tomorrow! If you’re a reader, stalk the contests.  Reading the pitches for as-yet unpublished books is fascinating, and you never know- you might see the book on the shelves next year.

Share the Lobov Critique Giveaway from Karen Akins

Pitch Slam 2 from YALITCHAT

Operation Awesome Mystery Agent from Katrina Lantz and the rest of the wonderful writers over at the Operation Awesome blog. This one is run monthly!

Crits for Water by Kat Brauer- contests/auctions for charity here until the end of June

Three Two One Pitch contest from Dorothy Dreyer

Tons of Giveaways for writers and readers- closing midnight tonight!

Miss Snark’s First Victim regularly runs writing contests- sometimes weekly! Keep an eye on the blog.

Cupid’s Literary Connection– contests run here regularly as well.

Mother. Write. (Repeat.) – The fabulous “An Agent’s Inbox” is run here monthly. Don’t miss it!

Watch Monica B.W.’s blog Love YA  and Brenda Drake’s blog Brenda Drake Writes for contests, giveaways, and more valuable info for writers and readers. These ladies are fabulous and recently hosted a major contest with Mother.Write.(Repeat.) and Cupid’s Literary Connection.

If you’re not familiar with these kinds of contests, go here for a great post on the topic and some worthwhile tips.

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Review: Write Your Book in 26 Days

Once again, readers, I’m thrilled to recommend an excellent book.

Reading about writing is essential  to develop skills as a writer. Fantastic books on writing are listed in my “books on craft” page. These books focus on the craft of writing itself: character development, POV, plot and pacing, voice, and a hundred other elements.Their explanations and examples of techniques and principles are invaluable to writers of all kinds. Mostly, though, they teach writing skills, not how to be a writer.

I’ve just finished reading WRITE-A-THON: Write Your Book in 26 Days by Rochelle Melander, and at first I was skeptical. “26 days?” I thought. “Not if it’s a book worth reading.” Ms. Melander’s book, however, is not about rushing writers through creating their masterpiece, nor is the book about cranking out poor material. Her book is of a different sort. Rather than focusing on how to produce excellent prose and story, WRITE-A-THON teaches people how to be sucessful writers.

Ms. Melander comes alongside writers in this book as a coach. She teaches  how to prepare for the write-a-thon, how to write that first draft, and how to finish strong by revising, searching for agents, and preparing for the next project.

Really, WRITE-A-THON is 3 kinds of books in one. First, it’s a field guide. Ms. Mellander discusses who and what writers are and why they write. “Waiters wait,” she says. “Writers write.” She takes writers through the steps of preparing to write a book: finding the concept, beginning the research, designing the structure of the book, creating the marathon schedule, etc. She then moves on to writing the first draft. This first draft is what will take the 26 days. Every step of the way, she tells writers what needs to be done, what to expect while doing it, what works for others, and what may work for them.

WRITE-A-THON is also a motivational book. I don’t normally like motivational reading. I am typically a self-motivated person. This book, however, I found to be genuinely helpful and realisically motivating. Ms. Melander helps writers to identify their excuses, envision what they want their writing career to look like, and obtain the support needed to make those goals happen. She walks writers through isolating why they want to write, prioritizing the desire to write in their daily lives, and learning to take themselves seriously. Motivational discussion continues through the training, drafting, and editing stages of the book to keep writers encouraged and focused. Ms. Melander understands that writing can be difficult, isolating, and frustrating; she also understands how much confidence and persistence it takes. Even though I’ve already written my first novel, I was motivated to keep working by this book- not the brief motivation of cheerful encouragement, but rather the motivation that comes from identifying a goal, valuing it appropriately, and recognizing  progress. Before long, I was motivating myself. My writing motivated me. My research motivated me. The small steps I made each day in developing my writing career motivated me.

Finally, WRITE-A-THON is a toolbox. This is my favorite element of the book. I have truly never read a book this useful for making writing a daily part of life. Ms. Melander, while telling writers what needs done and what to expect, while telling them it will be hard but it will be even more rewarding, shows writers how to get it done.

People can Google warm-up tips and editing tips; Ms. Melander goes beyond standard how-to’s for writers. She teaches how to create a writing space; how to prioritize writing; how to build a support team; how to explain to friends and family that you are sorry, but you are writing, so you can’t babysit. She walks writers through finding out what brainstorming, writing, and researching materials work best for them. She discusses overcoming perfectionism, blank pages, and lack of inspiration. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle during the write-a-thon is discussed as well, as is developing the writer’s creative life. She keeps the writer progressing while avoiding burn-out.

Ms. Melander organizes all of this material into three sections: training, the write-a-thon, and recovery. Part One: Training takes the writer through the necessary steps to prepare.  I loved this section because of its thoroughness and Ms. Melander’s spot-on observations about writers- how they write, how they think, how they act and react. Faithfully following the steps she lays out will make every writer a better writer.

Part Two: The Write-a-Thon guides writers through getting the first draft on paper. Resources and even meals have been gathered beforehand; daily writing exercises have built writing muscles; project binders and story bibles have captured research, outlines, and character profiles. Writing the draft at this point just takes encouragement, focus, and seat-time. Ms. Melander will get writers there.

Part Three: Recovery helps writers celebrate their accomplishment, then gets them back to the task of finishing. Revisions, editors, first lines and word economy, the querying process, and finally persistence through rejection are outlined. The book closes with a fabulous bibliography of writer’s resources on organizing the writer’s life, writing advice, writing books quickly, fiction writing, nonfiction writing, writing exercises, and revising, submitting, and publishing.

WRITE-A-THON is both accessible and well-written. Concepts are made memorable through clear, humorous writing and relevant examples.  Not only is this a book worth reading, but its also a book worth re-reading. Writers of all kinds and all levels of experience will find it useful and motivating. One quote Ms. Melander includes is from Richard Bach: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” Rochelle Melander shows writers how to stick to their goals and not quit. She shows people how to be writers. “Writers write,” she says. WRITE-A-THON thoroughly unpacks how to be a writer who truly writes.

Visit Ms. Melander’s site here, and buy WRITE-A-THON on Amazon here or at Barnes & Noble here!