Avoid a Time Warp

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One of the most difficult things for me to remember when I am writing, is to show the passage of time.

As I work at my computer, the stories flow continuously, so I often need to go back as I edit and insert time “markers” for readers. (This is especially important because most people read a chapter or so at a time. They need reminders as to where they are on the story’s timeline).

So, just how do authors deal with the passage of time in their books?

Well, some authors actually date their chapters, such as “Monday. 9 A.M.”

Some label them by the year: 1942.

Some by the season: Summer, 1950.

Still others use the age of the main character: Eighteen.

However, most often authors simply use phrases (usually in the first paragraph of a chapter or scene) which denote passage of time.

Later that morning, the next day, or the following day.

She glanced at the bedside clock. Was it already seven?

The sun dipped behind the mountains.

He had just enough time to shower and dress before his eight-thirty meeting.

She rushed into the baby’s room. Had he really slept through the night?

You get the point: avoid reader confusion by showing the passage of time where necessary.

Do it subtly. Do it creatively. Use a variety of techniques. 

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Action!

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“Help! Someone help!” Luanne screamed as the masked man swiped at her once again with the gleaming blade of his knife.

Elizabeth read the supermarket ads.

Sweat beaded on Paula’s forehead as panted through another contraction.

Sandy settled down with a new paperback.

Lightening zigzagged through the darkened sky as rain pelted the frightened boy.

 

“Drop your reader in the midst of the action” is one of the very first writing “rules” I heard. (Running a close second to “Show, don’t tell.”)

That’s good advice. 

Face it, a book is a lot more exciting when, like a blockbuster movie, there’s a lot of action.

The examples above, show varying degrees of action. Writers need to strive for this a good percentage of the time.

Conflict is a great way to generate action.  Man vs. man; Man vs. animal; animal vs. animal; Man vs. the universe; Man vs. the occult and so on.

But, even action needs to be offset now and then, with periods of more introspection, internal dialogue, description, and conversation (unless it’s a heated argument—then, that’s action!) 

Everyone needs to experience “down time” every once in awhile. That’s true of readers, too. So be sure to include some softer scenes in your writing as well.

I don’t know that there is a formula or a magic percentage that anyone has come up with, but for myself, I try to start each chapter with action and end them with a cliffhanger.

What better way to keep the reader turning pages?

Then, I vary the scenes within each chapter with description, conversation, and action which keeps the story rolling along.

Once I finish writing a book, I give it a rest for a few weeks and go back to reread it before the final edit. I look for quite a number of things on my checklist, but first of all, I am sensing whether or not the story has varying amounts of action that make it an exciting and satisfying experience for the reader.

 

While You Are Sleeping

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I have heard that while we sleep, our brains are still busy—problem-solving… working things out… trying to make sense of things.

So at the end of my writing day, when I failed to come up with a page-turner final sentence to my chapter, I decided to put it to the test. 

I crawled into bed, reviewing what I had just written in my mind. I turned out the light and told my brain to take the night shift.

I woke the next morning, excited about the possibilities of what my brain had come up with. I reread yesterday’s work from start to finish. That’s when the thoughts started pouring in.

I kid you not.

When ideas just won’t come, give your body a rest, while allowing your brain time to work things out.

See you in the morning!

Writing In Its Many Forms

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So, you’ve tried your hand at writing a novel, but it just didn’t work out for a number of reasons. You’d like to write something, but your head is spinning.

Have you ever thought of writing in a different format? 

Here is a list I made. Perhaps you’ll find a new possibility: 

  • Novellas
  • Short stories (Guideposts is always looking for inspirational stories.)
  • Non-fiction
  • Poetry
  • Blogs
  • Tweets (yes, you can write and sell your original Tweets. They can be humorous, quotes, inspirational, etc.)
  • Newspaper articles
  • Magazine articles
  • Newsletters
  • Greeting cards
  • Directions for products
  • Directions for games (such as board games)
  • Jokes (yes, there is a big market for you jokesters!)
  • Skits
  • Educational textbooks
  • Wants Ads/ For Sale Ads
  • Screenplays (Movie scripts)
  • Television Scripts
  • Plays/musicals
  • Menus (believe it or not)
  • “How-To” Manuals
  • Television Commercials
  • Sky Mall Magazine Product Ads (The daughter of a friend of mine wrote for this airplane magazine for several years).

Choosing the Perfect Words

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In this world of texting, Twitter, and Facebook, it is more important than ever to watch our words, making sure we aren’t using offensive language or words that can be misinterpreted.

For writers, it is important to choose our words carefully because—even though they may be synonyms—an ever so slight variation in meaning can change the impact on and interpretation by the reader.

That is why a Thesaurus is on my desk at all times. It helps me choose the exact words to represent feelings, intentions, descriptions and so on. These words also make fine distinctions between meanings—and what you do, or do not, want to portray.

Here’s a recent example. My word choices for the concept of “getting used to” were:

Succumb (to)

Tolerate

Embrace

Acquiesce

I found that tolerate, embrace, and acquiesce meant “to accept,” whereas  succumb did not.

Tolerate and embrace meant to support.

Embrace meant to welcome.

But, acquiesce and tolerate meant to “put up with.”

Succumb meant to surrender or die from.

So, these words, although similar enough, could be placed in order on a continuum, from less to more positive:

SUCCUMB>ACQUIESCE and TOLERATE>EMBRACE

Once I read back my paragraph in light of the intended meaning, I was able to easily choose the perfect word.

It took a little work, but it was worth it.

You might say I embraced the process!

Thanks for Sharing Your Cookies

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I was reminded this morning about a story I’d heard before. Maybe you’ve heard it, too.

It is about a lady waiting at the gate for her plane to begin boarding. The man seated next to her reached over and took a cookie from her bag and ate it. She became more and more irritated at his brazenness as he kept helping himself to one cookie after another.

The lady, afraid he’d eat all of the cookies, began to eat some as well. When they both had eaten their fill—and only one cookie remained—the man broke it in half and gave the lady one half and kept the remaining half for himself.

Still harboring anger toward the stranger for just helping himself to her cookies, the lady boarded the plane. It wasn’t until later that she looked into her over-sized purse, embarrassed to see her bag of cookies inside, unopened.

Sharing should be such a simple thing.

Such a natural thing.

But, it really isn’t.

Authors, like those in other professions, have the potential to be competitive by nature. However, I have not found that to be the case.

Over the years, there have been countless occasions for writers to share what they know with others—conferences, blogs, podcasts, and so on. And each time, they share their expertise with seasoned writers as well as those just starting out. 

If you are one of those authors who have invested your time and expertise in others, I just want to say

“Thank you for sharing your cookies!”

 

The Invitation

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You hear the music and laughter as you walk up the steps and ring the doorbell. The host of the party opens the door, steps outside, and tells you about the great time guests are having inside. Then, he closes the door, leaving you standing there thinking, “I got an invitation. Why didn’t the guy invite me in?”

Contrast that with a gathering I went to recently. A few moments after I rang the bell, the host ushered me into his home. Smiling, he offered me a drink, showed me where the snack were, and drew me into a fun conversation with a group of party-goers.

I immediately felt at home…valued…welcome. 

Sound like some books you’ve read?

Sometimes you feel like your time and money have been wasted; others have a way of keeping you turning the pages late into the night. 

What makes the difference?

The author of the second book welcomed you in, showed you to the snack table, and made your stay interesting. 

As writers, we are told to begin our books by dropping our reader into the midst of action. This is “showing.”

But, some writers “tell” their stories. And that doesn’t make the reader feel a part of the reading experience.

Dropping the reader into the midst of the action is MORE than just making the story exciting. It also makes the reader feel they are sharing the experience.

They’ve been invited to the party and welcomed inside.

(Note: This is a reprint of an earlier post.)