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Advice from Professional Writers (9)

7 Bits Of Writing Advice From Truman Capote

1. Write Daily

‘I was writing really sort of serious when I was about 11. I say seriously in the sense that like other kids go home and practice the violin or the piano or whatever, I used to go home from school every day, and I would write for about three hours. I was obsessed by it.’

American Writers (American Biographies)

This little gem of advice is echoed throughout the writing society. If you want to be a writer – take this tip to heart. In order to build your ‘writers’ muscles,’ it is important to stay in practice.

If you chose any other skill, baseball, football, or playing a musical instrument as your life skill, then regular practice would be paramount to your success.

The same is true for writing.

Not every writer begins as young as Capote, but there is good advice to be found in what he said. Begin and end your days with languages and writing.

You want to be a writer, don’t you?

2. Develop Your Style

‘There is really no practical help that one can offer: it is a matter of self-discovery, of one’s own conviction, or working with one’s own work; your style is what seems natural to you. It is a long process of discovery, one that never ends. I am working at it, and will be as long as I live.’

Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote

A writer’s style will continue to developtheir style and ‘voice’ on a continuing basis. For instance, if you read and study the Harry Potter Series, the growth of J.K. Rowling’s style increases with each book.

Developing your own style is sometimes difficult, but when you read Capote’s quote, you can see that it is a skill worth cultivating – and absolutely necessary.

It is going to take at least 10,000 hours to develop your style – another good reason to write every day. NEVER copy another writer’s style – strive for your own.

READING every day will allow you to absorb other writers’ skills and techniques – absorb the information like a sponge.

Capote admitted that he continued to develop his writing style – and this next quote makes the point of WHY putting in the hard work to develop your own is worth every minute.

3. Don’t Critique the Critic

‘Never demean yourself by talking back to a critic, never. Write those letters to the editor in your head, but don’t put them on paper.’

Truman Capote: Conversations

Truman Capote received harsh criticism throughout his writing career. All writers will, and all writers do. The key thing is how the writer allows the critics to affect their future writing.

Keep your responses to critics private – especially if you are venting. Remain professional at all times.

4. Sometimes, Begin With Endings

‘I also write the last paragraph of a page or story first. That way I always know what I’m working towards.’

New Again: Truman Capote (Interview Magazine)

Take some advice from Capote, and know where your story is going before writing it. You can either Write the last parts first, OR use a thorough outline.

Writers can stuggle by writing aimless and incoherent sentences, and might never have a plot.

5. Writing Is Creativity

‘That’s not writing, that’s typing.

Conversations With Capote

Though Capote made this famous quote about another writer whom he didn’t much care for, these words can easily be for everyone. The quote can applied to the craft of writing in general.

In short, always use creativity, purpose, and employ your chosen language well. Without the creative spark, you’re not a writer, but a typist.

6. Learn The Short Story Well

‘When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant. Whatever control and technique I may have I owe entirely to my training in this medium.’

Truman Capote’s Previously Unknown Boyhood Tales by Philip Oltermann

It is important to ALWAYS remember that Short Stories are a specific writing art. Using the Shorty Story as a skill builder will allow ANY writer to train in their art. Writing short stories can train any writer (of fiction and non-fiction) in character creation, plotting, and other important skills.

Some of the lessons learned include forcing the writer to fit an excellent story arc into less space (or specific word count.)

Get to know the short story, no matter what you would like to write.

7. Know The Rules (Before Breaking Them)

‘Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.’

1974 Interview in Paris Review (Summer Ed)

Rules are there to be learned. Once you know the rules, you can experiment with different styles and techniques (but first, always learn!). Capote would make his career from rearranging the rules of writing to create his own, unique style of storytelling.

Truman Garcia Capote (born 30 September 1924, died 25 August 1984) achieved acclaim for his true crime writing, and for his poetry and prose.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s was published in 1958. In Cold Blood was published in 1966. Miriam (published in 1945) was amongst the short stories that began his career with Random House Publishers.

In Cold Blood was his last full-length novel. Capote continued writing short stories, and would live off his celebrity status until his death in the 1980s.

Capote was iconic, but it is far better to study his writing than mimic his lifestyle. Here are seven bits of writing advice from the great Truman Capote.

Until next time – when we hear some writing advice from another iconic writer,

~Mustang Patty~

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The Short Story and the Author

As some of you may know, I’m not only a blogger, but I’m an author – Novels, Short Stories, Anthologies, and the occasional collection of pet stories. I also teach classes on Writing the Short Story.

Why Write Short Stories?

“A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.”
― Lorrie Moore

There are a lot of reasons to write short stories. The SS allows the writer to ‘test drive’ an idea. Will the idea sustain an 80K novel? Or is it more suitable for a 7500-word story?

LOVE for the Craft: Authors who wish to write every day for the love of writing find that writing short stories gives them immediate gratification to type ‘THE END.’ In this way, the short story is a great motivator.

FOCUS: With a short story, the writer is forced to focus on the story’s point. Present the Inciting Incident, introduce the characters, and create a solid storyline. This is especially useful to writers that tend to include a lot of backstories. The SS doesn’t allow for too much – they’re limited on how many words they can use.

REPUTATION: How many famous writers started by using the SS as their vehicle? One always comes to my mind – Stephen King. And then there are many others: Edgar Alan Poe, Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Margaret Atwood, Mark Twain, and, and. While most of these authors are famous novelists, they started their careers by writing SSs.

If a writer wants to get their name out in several publications – the short story works well.

NEW to WRITING? Newbie writers need to start by writing every day. Another tool is to join an online writing group. Most groups are free to join, and you can post your stories, receive feedback, and read other authors’ writing.

IF YOU HAVE a GREAT STORY – please send it to me at patty@mustangpatty to see if it will fit in an upcoming Anthology. I present three per year. One is the Annual Anthology – which is a mixture of Genres, and features writers of all different levels. There are two others which have theme/genre restrictions.

I read ALL submissions!

Until Next Time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Why You Should Write Short Stories

Why Write Short Stories?

There are a lot of reasons to write short stories. The SS allows the writer to ‘test drive’ an idea. Will the idea sustain an 80K novel? Or is it more suitable for a 7500-word story?

LOVE for the Craft: Authors who wish to write every day for the love of writing find that writing short stories gives them immediate gratification to type ‘THE END.’ In this way, the short story is a great motivator.

FOCUS: With a short story, the writer is forced to focus on the story’s point. Present the Inciting Incident, introduce the characters, and create a solid storyline. This is especially useful to writers that tend to include a lot of backstories. The SS doesn’t allow for too much – they’re limited on how many words they can use.

REPUTATION: How many famous writers started by using the SS as their vehicle? One always comes to my mind – Stephen King. And then there are many others: Edgar Alan Poe, Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Margaret Atwood, Mark Twain, and, and. While most of these authors are famous novelists, they started their careers by writing SSs.

If a writer wants to get their name out in several publications – the short story works well.

NEW to WRITING? Newbie writers need to start by writing every day. Another tool is to join an online writing group. Most groups are free to join, and you can post your stories, receive feedback, and read other authors’ writing.

Over the next few blogs, we will discuss what some of the most famous authors of short stories have to say about the craft. First up will be Truman Capote – see my next post on Wednesday, October 13th.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Advice from Professional Writers (8)

Here is an article written by James Scott Bell. He is not only an author of novels and short stories, but he writes ‘’how-to books’ for the novice writer.

Its a bit longer than my usual posts – but I think this is important information. It is good to hear it – even if its the second, third, or fourth time. I think we can’t forget these principles – no matter where we are in our writing journey.

7 Things That Will Doom Your Novel (& How to Avoid Them)

By: James Scott Bell | March 29, 2016

JAMES SCOTT BELL is a winner of the International Thriller Writers Award and the author of many bestselling thrillers. He is a popular writing instructor and conference speaker, and formerly served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine. Jim attended the University of California, Santa Barbara where he studied writing with Raymond Carver, and graduated with honors from the University of Southern California Law School. He lives and writes in L.A. and blogs weekly at Kill Zone — http://www.killzoneblog.com

There are a lot of ways not to do something. Like the new boat owner a few years ago who was filling up his pleasure craft with fuel for that first time out. Only he mistook the tube meant to hold fishing poles for the gas tank. After completing his work, he started up the engine.

The gas fumes ignited and blew the boat owner into the sky. He came down in the drink and was rescued, but the boat was a goner.

You can be just as creative in finding ways not to write your novel. With a little thought and not much effort, you can easily devise methods to prevent yourself from actually finishing a book—or finishing a book that has a chance to sell.

So if not finishing or not selling are your goals, I’m here to help you with the following seven tips.

DO NOT

1. Wait for inspiration.

Go to your favorite writing spot with your laptop or pad. Perhaps your location of choice is a Starbucks. Sit down with a cup of coffee and hold it with both hands. Sip it slowly. Do not put your fingers anywhere near the keyboard. Glance out a window if one is available. Wait for a skein of geese flying in V formation. If no window is available, simply observe the other patrons and make sure they can see your expression of other-worldly concentration.

You are waiting for inspiration. It must come from on high and fill you like fire.

Until then, do not write a word. If you’re tempted to start working without it, open up Spider Solitaire immediately. Tell yourself this will relax your mind so inspiration can pour in.

Of course, those who think it wise to finish their novels do things backwards. They don’t wait for inspiration. They go after it, as Jack London said he did, “with a club.” They follow the advice of Peter De Vries, who said, “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”

These poor souls think the secret to writing a novel is to write, and work through minor problems quickly, and major ones after the first draft is done.

They do things like this:

Establish a writing quota. The quota is based not on how much time they spend thinking about writing, but on how many words they get down. Some do a daily quota, others do it by the week. But they figure out what they can comfortably get done and set a quota about 10 percent above that as a goal.

Review the previous day’s writing and move on. By looking at what they wrote the day before, they get back into the flow of their story. They fix little things, spelling and style mostly, but then get on with the day’s work.

And one day they look up and see a finished manuscript. They have lost sight of how not to write a novel.

DO NOT

2. Look over your shoulder.

The great pitcher Satchel Paige said, “Don’t look back. Something may be gaining on you.”

It’s good life advice, but in order to not write your novel, you must ignore it.

To not write your novel, constantly worry about how bad your book might turn out to be. Pause every thousand words or so and think, This is about the worst piece of crud known to man. Where did I put the bourbon?

This is sometimes known as the “inner critic,” and he’s your best friend.

If you think about those doubts long enough, you can even develop them into fears. Jack Bickham, a novelist who was even better known for his books on the craft, put it this way:

“All of us are scared: of looking dumb, of running out of ideas, of never selling our copy, of not getting noticed.
We fiction writers make a business of being scared, and not just of looking dumb. Some of these fears may never go away, and we may just have to learn to live with them.”

Of course, some writers learn not only to live with doubt and fear, but to defeat them. How do they do that? I shouldn’t tell you, because it’s counterproductive to not writing your novel. But mostly they simply pound away at the keyboard.

They concentrate on the words in front of them and kick that inner critic to the curb.

They train themselves to do this via writing exercises, such as:

The Five-Minute Nonstop. Write for five minutes, first thing in the morning if possible, without stopping to think about what you’re writing. No correcting. Just write.

The Page-Long Sentence. Choose something to describe (a room or a character) and write a page-long sentence about it, not pausing to edit and instead going on whatever tangents present themselves.

The List Maker. Whenever you’re stuck for an idea to pursue, make a list. Brainstorm ideas without assessing them. Turn off your filter. Get lots of ideas, then pick the best one.

Writers who have dulled the inner critic don’t worry about getting the words right. The only thing they worry about is getting the words written.

They really have not got this not writing a novel thing down at all.

DO NOT

3. Ignore the craft.

This piece of advice on how to not write a novel applies whether you finish your first draft or not. It’s the cry of the artistic rebel who will go to the grave denouncing rules and techniques and anything that gets within a hundred yards of structure.

This does create a very good feeling, like you’re the king of the world. You can completely ignore all of the storytellers who came before you (be sure to call them hacks or sellouts). The fact that you’ll most likely not place your book anywhere shouldn’t hinder you from your intractable writing course.

The misdirected scribes who actually sell their books and build readerships take the craft of writing seriously. They study it without apology. They have people give them feedback—editors, critique groups, trusted and objective friends—and they read countless novels and examine what’s going on. They’ll do the following:

Analyze successful stories. They ask questions when reading and use their findings to help strengthen their work. For example:

How does the writer make me want to turn the page?

Why am I drawn to the lead character?

When are the stakes raised?

How does the writer integrate minor characters?

What makes a scene work?

What’s the key to conflict?

How does the writer handle dialogue?

These studious writers will be spotted reading Writer’s Digest and books on writing. What they learn they apply and practice, and through the wonder of trial and error find themselves growing as writers.

But this is an article on how not to write a novel, so follow their example at your peril.

DO NOT

4. Keep a chip on your shoulder.

Here’s a surefire way not only to create a novel not worth reading, but scuttle your career as well. Decide that arrogance and defiance are your two weapons of choice to bulldog your way to publication.

When you have a manuscript rejected, treat it as a personal insult. Think of editors and agents as nasty creatures who love saying no, who sit at their computers laughing Bwahahahahaha as they fire off their favorite thing: the impersonal form letter.

You can carry all this to your social media sites and publicly rebuke such shortsightedness. By name.

Those who do break through and obtain a career have the crazy idea that they can recover—even learn—from rejection and use it as motivation to write better.

They foolishly remember the admonition of writer Ron Goulart: “Never assume that a rejection of your stuff is also a rejection of you as a person. Unless it’s accompanied by a punch in the nose.”

Yes, they recognize that rejection hurts. But they  believe it’s part of the process and always will be. Writers like this do the following:

Wallow, then write. They let the rejection hurt for half an hour or so, then get back to the keyboard.

Learn from the critique. They go through the letter and their manuscript and attempt to draw out any lesson the rejection brings. They understand that people in the publishing industry actually want to find new authors.

Of course, these are terrible tips for not writing a novel!

DO NOT

5. Write for the market only.

Now let’s talk about one of the biggest keys to a novel that really has no chance. Start by chasing the market. Study the bestseller lists and try to identify a trend and jump on it.

There’s a saying in publishing that the moment you spot a trend, it’s too late to join it. By the time you finish writing something you think will be popular because it’s popular now, that ship will have largely sailed.

Ignore that saying, or you may end up with something agents and editors look for: a fresh voice.

Such writers are market conscious. They know that publishers are in this business to make money, a return on their investment in a new writer.

But they still manage to bring something new to the table, namely their own heart and passion filtered through a craft that enables readers to share their vision.

Yes, vision. Any genre needs it. As super agent Donald Maass says in The Fire in Fiction: “What the hell are you trying to say to me?”

Writers with fresh voices:

Explore all facets of a story. They concentrate on feeling the story as well as writing it.

Read a wide variety of material. These writers read outside their genre—even poetry!—not to find out what’s hot, but to expand their stylistic range.

But just beware that if you do find your voice, that means you’re not not writing your novel.

6. Take as many shortcuts as possible.

With the boom in e-books and the ease with which anything can be “published,” writers have a new way not to write a novel that might be worth reading. It’s by holding the thought firmly in mind that whatever they write is worth putting out as a self-released e-book, and they will do it no matter what!

This relieves a lot of the pressure of trying to grow as a writer. One can combine this with the chip-on-your-shoulder attitude for a terrific double whammy.

Of course, other writers—those who are laying a strong foundation in the nontraditional realm of digital and independent publishing—foolishly continue to find surefire ways to vet their work:

They will use test readers. They don’t trust themselves in all ways. They know they need objective readers, so they cultivate people they trust to tell them specifically what’s not working. Then they’ll figure out a way to fix it.

They will hire a good freelance editor. They know that the big benefit of a traditional publisher is professional editing, so it’s worth it to them to find a reputable freelance editor to go over their work. Note the word reputable. There are less-than-savory services out there that will gladly take a writer’s money for very little quality work. (And if you’re trying to not write a novel that’s publishable, you should probably use them!)

And, finally…

DO NOT

7. Quit.

If all else succeeds and you’re still intent on not finishing your novel, you have a surefire fallback: Stop writing.

Forget the examples of those who persevered and eventually found an agent or got published. Like Kathryn Stockett. She wrote and edited The Help over a five-year period, then got three-and-a-half  years’ worth of rejections from agents—60 in all. It was agent 61 who took her on, and the rest you know well.

Published authors will tell you it’s all about perseverance, the one characteristic all successful writers share. They’ll tell you as long as you’ve got a computer and keyboard, or pen and paper, you can write. And as long as you write you have a chance to get published.

Author David Eddings said, “Keep working. Keep trying. Keep believing. You still might not make it, but at least you gave it your best shot. If you don’t have calluses on your soul, writing isn’t for you. Take up knitting instead.”

With several bestselling series under his belt, he definitely wasn’t very good at not writing novels.

… Wait. What’s that? You actually want to write a novel? Well, I’m not the writing sheriff. The choice is yours.

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Advice from Professional Writers (7)

**Alice Adams’s Pattern For Writing A Short Story

The ABDCE Pattern for Writing a Short Story

“The letters stand for Action, Background, Development, Climax, and Ending.

  1. You begin with compelling Action to draw the reader in.
  2. The Background is where you … see and know who these people are, how they’ve come to be together, what was going on before the opening of the story.
  3. Then you Develop these people so that we learn what they care most about. The plot – the drama, the actions, the tension – will grow out of that.
  4. You move them along until everything comes together in the Climax, after which things are different for the main characters, different in some fundamental way.
  5. And then there is the Ending: what is our sense of who these people are now, what are they left with, what happened, and what did it mean?”

**Alice Adams was an American novelist, short story writer, and university professor. She was born 14 August 1926 and died 27 May 1999.

She wrote 11 novels but is best known for her short stories, read in The Stories of Alice Adams.

Until Next Time,

~Mustang Patty~

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6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Write a Short Story

(These questions work for both Novels and Short Stories)

  1. Who are your Protagonist and Antagonist? Without these two characters, you will find it hard to get going because this is where your conflict comes from. And conflict is what we want to read about. Your Protagonist has a goal, and your Antagonist opposes that goal.
  • Can you tell your story in three lines? This is one of the best tests for your idea. Whether you call it a pitch slam or an elevator pitch, this forces you to consider your story. This is something you will rewrite several times, but try to write one before you start.
  • Have you figured out your inciting moment? This is the moment of change for your character. Remember, we don’t start with backstory or flashbacks, and you need to drop your character right in the middle of the action. Your character’s goal often comes from this moment.
  • Have you identified your first, second, and third surprises? About one third into your story, you should give your reader a surprise, then the middle should have a bigger surprise, and then near the end, you should have a big surprise or significant plot point.
  • Do you have your sub-plots in place? Besides the two main characters, you’ll have a friend character and a love interest. These characters will help you flesh out your plotline and the lives of your Protagonist, and they will provide your sub-plots.
  • How does the story end? I need to know where I am going. Some authors believe they shouldn’t know the ending, but I have to know. That doesn’t mean it can’t change.

You will be able to answer some of these with ease. Some you haven’t even considered. This list forces you to think about the whole story, and it is a starting point.

It is important to remember that you can change any of this as you go along, but it helps to get you going. It gives you direction, gives your Protagonist a goal, and enables you to find your Antagonist.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Advice from Professional Writers (6)

A few weeks ago, I began a series of posts with words of wisdom from different authors. I ‘collect’ these whenever I come across them. I will share these with you – (my readers) for October and November as I work on my outline for NaNoWriMo, as well as teaching my class, ‘Mustang Patty Teaches Writing.’ I hope you find them as valuable as I do.

I am continuing to use the information I culled from Jerry Jenkin’s* writing class. He wrote a compelling article about editing, and today I would like to share what he has to say about adjectives.

‘Alright, another one: don’t be an adjectival maniac. Trust me, only unpublished creative writing teachers and your relatives like adjectives. Good writing consists of powerful nouns and verbs, not adjectives. Let me repeat that: good writing consists of powerful nouns and verbs, not adjectives. The right adjective can help, but one too many is always too many. The great writer Sol Stein says this about adjectives: One plus one equals one half. Meaning that you should choose the best of two because using two cuts the effectiveness in half. Whenever you’re tempted to use two adjectives, pick the better one so you don’t cut your power in half. That doesn’t mean never use an adjective—just always use the best one.’ 

As I edit and work with other writers, I notice that a lot of us DO go crazy with adjectives. It is as if in our attempt to ‘show rather than tell,’ we feel we have to describe every little detail

Try to incorporate this tidbit into your writing.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

*Jerry Bruce Jenkins is an American writer. He is best known for the Left Behind series, written for Tim LaHaye. en.wikipedia.org

Born: September 23, 1949 (age 72), Kalamazoo, Michigan

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Advice from Professional Writers (5)

A few weeks ago, I began a series of posts with words of wisdom from different authors. I ‘collect’ these whenever I come across them. I will share these with you – (my readers) for October and November as I work on my outline for NaNoWriMo, as well as teaching my class, ‘Mustang Patty Teaches Writing.’ I hope you find them as valuable as I do.

I am continuing to use the information I culled from Jerry Jenkin’s* writing class. One of his articles about editing is especially useful to me.

He goes into detail about his editing process as follows: ‘…I want to show you how I edit and rewrite my own first drafts. And then I’ll show you what would need to be done to the first page of a beginning novelist to get into shape to submit. The best way for you to benefit from this is to imagine how similar changes to your own writing will strengthen your manuscript. But first let me talk about the hallmark of this kind of self-editing and writing. And then I’ll run down a brief list of terms I use often so they won’t sound foreign to you when I use them in the trimming. 

Ok, the fundamentals to keep in mind as you self-edit are simple; in fact they’re so simple they’re going to sound redundant because they all lead to the same end. And here they are: 

Cutting is power, so tighten, tighten, tighten. And omit needless words. This is the rule that follows its own advice. Some of you will recognize, it comes right out of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, the bible of style. Imagine how much copy could be invested in explaining this rule. Yet, this rule says it all; omit needless words and you’ll be amazed at how many words are needless when we get into this editing and rewriting. 

Now, Francine Prose—how’s that for an author name—has a great quote in her book, Reading Like a Writer. Listen to this: For any writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what’s superfluous—what can be altered, revised, expanded or especially cut—is essential. It’s satisfying to see that sentence shrink, snap into place, and ultimately emerge in a more polished form…clear, economical, sharp. That’s the essence of what I aim to do as a ferocious self-editor. 

Now let me quickly run through the most common terms I use in these manuscript repairand-rewrite sessions. So you’ll have a guide to refer to each time you study one. I know it’s a lot to take in, especially the first few times, but trust me—this does get easier. At first you’ll wonder, as I did when I edited like this as a young man, how will I possibly see all this in my own manuscripts? But eventually you will. If I can, you can. 

So here’s some of the terms I use. “Just say it”—avoid what I call the language of written-ese, that dialect we all tend to fall into when we over-write. A good example is church newsletter writers, when rather than just writing “Everybody had a good time,” they write “A good time was had by all.” Just say it. Showing off your vocabulary or your formal turn of phrase shows us you’re intruding on your story. Any time your reader is aware of you as the writer or aware of the writing itself, they’re not sucked into the story, which is what we want. 

Delete subtle redundancies. Anyone can spot the obvious redundancies, like past history—that’s the best kind of history, don’t you think? Or future plans? Of course, plans would be future. But the more subtle ones like “squinted his eyes,” what else would a person squint? Or “clapped his hands,” what else would he clap? “She nodded her head in agreement.” That’s a hat trick. Why would she nod her head if it wasn’t agreement? What else would she nod except her head? Not sure I want to know. 

Happy Writing!

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

*Jerry Bruce Jenkins is an American writer. He is best known for the Left Behind series, written for Tim LaHaye. en.wikipedia.org

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Advice from Professional Writers (4)

A few weeks ago, I began a series of posts with words of wisdom from different authors. I ‘collect’ these whenever I come across them. I will share these with you – (my readers) for October and November as I work on my outline for NaNoWriMo, as well as teaching my class, ‘Mustang Patty Teaches Writing.’ I hope you find them as valuable as I do.

Jerry Jenkins*, author of the best selling ‘Left Behind’ series, gives us some advice from another great writer. ‘Dean Koontz**, the great author, says you have to plunge your main character into terrible trouble as soon as possible. Now that means something different for each genre. You may have your character hanging by his fingernails from a railroad trestle from the first sentence for a thriller or a suspense story. For a romance, the terrible trouble may mean that a woman has two suitors, and she’s trying to decide which one to go with. But still the terrible trouble has to start from the first word. There just isn’t time to ease into a story and do what editors refer to as throat clearing and setting the scene.’ 

I found this quote from Dean Koontz to be fascinating. It IS imperative to get to the point of your story quickly—especially in the short story. While it is nice to create the setting and ease into the storyline, your readers will lose interest if you take too long.

Jerry Jenkins teaches several classes through his website, and I’ve taken three or four. He is a great inspiration to other writers and me because he describes writing in great detail.

Happy Writing!

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

*Jerry Bruce Jenkins is an American writer. He is best known for the Left Behind series, written for Tim LaHaye. en.wikipedia.org

Born: September 23, 1949 (age 72), Kalamazoo, Michigan

**Dean Ray Koontz (pictured) is an American author. His novels are billed as suspense thrillers, but frequently incorporate elements of horror, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and satire. en.wikipedia.org

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Advice from Professional Writers (3)

Over the past four years or so, I’ve been collecting bits and pieces of advice given from writers who have made their mark in the writing world.

Today, I’d like to share suggestions for self-editing. I know that not everyone can afford to take editing classes, but you can develop a routine to polish your work. Here is a framework to build on. (While these tips are written for polishing the novel, you can adapt them for writing the short story.)

12 Steps To Self-Editing

1. Read through

Print out your manuscript, make yourself a coffee, and grab a pencil. Read it from beginning to end as a dispassionate reader. If something glaring pops up, make the odd comment in the margin, but hold back from making detailed notes. The idea is to get an idea of the global story, the flow, and its feel.

Next – READ YOUR PROSE OUT LOUD

2. Plotline

Now it’s time to interrogate the plot and determine if there’s enough conflict in the story. Look at each scene and sequel to see if you’ve unpacked the central story question posed by the inciting incident. As Sol Stein suggests, compare your most vital scene with your weakest scene. Decide if the weaker one can be recycled or rewritten.

3. Hero in the spotlight

Here we pick apart the main character. A good idea is to create a character to start from the character wheel – write a paragraph under the headings of his psychological, physical, and socio-economic make-up. Make sure that every decision or behavior he displays in the story is consistent with these trait.

4. Rattle the cage for the antagonist

The next step is to do the same for the antagonist. Make sure that he is positioned to bring out the most conflict from your main character. Nothing destroys a story like unfair odds between the hero and his nemesis. Make sure he is equally strong, if not a bit more wily than your main character. If you need to plug more into your plot, go back to step two.

5. Dust off your supporting cast

To a lesser degree, you will do the same for the other characters in the story. While they may not need the same magnifying glass, you should make sure they’re fulfilling their roles in a vivid, lively, and engaging way. A tip is to spend just 10-20 minutes on each, freewriting or brainstorming ideas to make them pop. Feed these into the story.

6. Infuse your palette

Now it’s time to look at the setting. Try to put in setting detail where it’s lacking or unclear and to cull places where you’ve been overly descriptive. Make sure you’ve used as many senses as possible to bring these to life. Take time out to research areas you’re unfamiliar with so that these parts of your book hum with authenticity.

7. Talk it out

If step six asks you to look at the manuscript with a fresh eye, this one demands you bring a keen ear. Read your dialogue aloud or record it and play it back to yourself. Does it sound realistic? It should give us information about the characters – it must tease out their individuality, their background and, at the same time, move the story forward. Read plays or movie scripts for inspiration.

8. It’s a sprint, not a marathon

Now you should look at pacing. Does your manuscript have enough white space? Try to keep sentences and paragraphs as short as possible –keep in mind that some genres allow for a more leisurely pace than, say, a thriller. If you’re getting bored reading a page, be sure your reader will be too. Be merciless. A tip is to cut every second or third word and see if the story can survive these cuts.

9. Beginnings, middles, and ends

Look at your first and last page side by side. If you can, try to bring in symbols, images, or moods that echo or contrast each other. Find a way to create bookends that will resonate with the reader subliminally.  Now go to the middle of the book – the hinge – and see if this section is a powerful enough mid-point to drive the story towards its climax. It should be a falsely high or low point for the main character and reaffirm his commitment to the story goal.

10. Become a continuity editor

Put the manuscript away for at least eight weeks, longer if you can manage it. Print out a fresh copy and look for consistency and clarity on every page, every line, in every word. Look for gremlins – a character’s eye color changing from one chapter to the next or someone encountering a tiger in Africa. An excellent way to do this is to imagine each chapter is a stage play – have you signposted your stage directions in a clear but unobtrusive way.

11. Polish it till it shines

Now – and only now, we might add – do you do a linear edit of the manuscript. You check spelling, you check grammar, you check that your formatting is consistent. It’s like dressing your book up for a red-carpet event – it needs to be flawless. A sloppy manuscript – no matter how promising – is often passed over for a mediocre story well-presented when it crosses an editor’s desk.

12. Find another eye

If you have an objective friend, freelance editors, or an online community of beta readers, give them the manuscript to read over and encourage constructive feedback. This is the time to put your ego on the backburner and be open-minded. Listen to what they say, take notes, and see if their points are valid.

After this, it’s time to make final checks and changes and prepare your manuscript for its final journey – to an agent, editor or print if you’re self-publishing.

Think of your book as your 18-year old kid going off to college or varsity. You’ve done the best you can, given them warm clothes and a stern lecture – maybe even a flurry of good luck kisses. Now it’s up to your book to stand on its own.

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Advice from Professional Writers (2)

Over the past four years, I’ve been collecting bits and pieces of advice from writers whose work impacts the writing world. Over the next few posts, I’d like to share these with you. While every rule or suggestion might not apply to you and your writing – you, like me, should discover some gems.

Here are some rules from one of my favorite writers:

Jodi Picoult is a best-selling American author who was born May 19, 1966.

She has written 25 novels, including My Sister’s KeeperNineteen Minutes, and Sing Me HomeMy Sister’s Keeper was made into a feature film of the same name. A Spark Of Light, published on October 2, 2018, was her tenth consecutive instant #1 New York Times bestseller. There are approximately 14 million copies of her books in print. They have been translated into 34 languages.

Picoult is the recipient of many awards, including the New England Bookseller Award for Fiction, the Alex Awards from the YALSA, a lifetime achievement award for mainstream fiction from the Romance Writers of America, the NH Literary Award for Outstanding Literary Merit, and the Sarah Josepha Hale Award. She holds an honorary doctor of letters degree from Dartmouth College and the University of New Haven.

In 2016, she joined the advisory board of Vida: Women in Literary Arts, which is a “non-profit feminist organization committed to creating transparency around the lack of gender parity in the literary landscape and to amplifying historically-marginalized voices, including people of color; writers with disabilities; and queer, trans and gender-nonconforming individuals.”

She was also a member of the inaugural Writers Council of the National Writing Project in 2013.

Jodi Picoult’s Top 3 Writing Tips

  1. Read a ton. Reading will inspire you. It will also help you find out where you belong as a writer.
  2. Write every day. Treat writing as a job. There is no such thing as waiting for the muse. If you want to be taken seriously as a writer, take writing seriously.
  3. Do not stop in the middle of your first book. Finish it. No matter what. All writers go through this. It’s more of a fear of not being good enough that makes you stop. You think, ‘What if I’m not as good as I thought I was?’ Please do not allow it to stop you. If you don’t finish that first book, you’re making life difficult for yourself.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Advice from Professional Writers (1)

Over the past four years, I’ve been collecting bits and pieces of advice from writers whose work impacts the writing world. Over the next few posts, I’d like to share these with you. While every rule or suggestion might not apply to you and your writing – you, like me, should discover some gems.

(If you aren’t working on your grammar now, we will be getting to some easy lessons in grammar in July. And, please, do  not tell yourself that ‘the editor’ will correct all of your errors. A piece full of grammatical errors will never make it to the people who could possibly publish your work.)

Today’s BLOG deals with a writer who greatly influenced my writing career. He has created his ‘Ten Rules for Writing.’ I want to share them with you because we can all use inspiration from a well-known author.

Roddy Doyle is an Irish novelist, dramatist, and screenwriter who was born 8 May 1958. Several of his books have been made into films, including The Commitments in 1991.

He is perhaps the novelist most closely identified with the emergence of Ireland as a modern European nation. According to Britannica, he is “known for his unvarnished depiction of the working class in Ireland. Doyle’s distinctively Irish settings, style, mood, and phrasing made him a favorite fiction writer in his own country as well as overseas.”

He won the Booker Prize in 1993 for Paddy Clarke ha ha ha. His children’s book A Greyhound of a Girl was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 2013.

Roddy Doyle’s 10 Rules for Writing

  1. Do not place a photograph of your ­favorite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.
  • Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph –
  • Until you get to Page 50, then calm down and start worrying about the quality. Do feel anxiety – it’s the job.
  • Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.
  • Do restrict your browsing to a few websites a day. Don’t go near the online bookies – unless it’s research.
  • Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, e.g., “horse,” “ran,” “said.”
  • Do occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It’s research.
  • Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.
  • Do not search amazon.co.uk for the book you haven’t written yet.

Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover bio – “He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego.” But then get back to work.

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Common Errors in Writing

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been blogging about the Parts of Speech, but I feel I need to change direction for a bit.

As submissions for my latest Anthology came in, and I read and evaluated stories, I found a lot of common errors – and so, I will be addressing those over the next few weeks.

Everybody wants to know the secret to success, and writers are no exception.

While there are a number of writers, who merely want to use writing as a vehicle to express their feelings, and then share them with friends and relatives – there isn’t a need to understand a lot of the basic concepts needed to submit work for professional publication.

Additionally, with the advent of self-publishing, many writers are slapping together shoddy work, putting into a novel, and calling it good. (After all, they are published – right?)

When I realized there were very few opportunities of being published by some big house, I realized that the only editor I would have was ME – or someone I paid. I then started taking classes on the editing process. It is amazing how much I now self-edit while I’m writing and I do my best to put my best work into a self-published novel.

Here are some tips to help writers turn out something that is polished and professional.


We often talk about all the things one must do in order to become a successful writer. From studying grammar to working through multiple revisions, from sending out submissions to building a platform, writers must wear many hats if they hope to succeed.

However, most of those tasks are irrelevant (and success is impossible) if a writer hasn’t acquired the basic skills necessary for doing the work. There’s no reason to worry about submissions, readers, and marketing if your writing habits and skills aren’t up to the task of getting the project done.

You might have a great premise for a story, but if you don’t know how to write a story—or if you don’t have the discipline to finish a story—you’ll never be able to bring that premise to life, at least not in a way that is effective or meaningful.

So it’s essential for young and new writers to develop beneficial writing practices to ensure not only that the writing gets done—but that it gets done well.

Essential Writing Practices

There are many writing practices that you can cultivate. Some will make you a better writer. Some will help you write more or write faster. It would be impossible to incorporate all of them into your writing habits, so you’ll need to choose which ones are best for you and your goals. However, some practices are more useful—and more essential—than others. Below are the writing practices that I have found to be most important for improving one’s writing and producing good work—the practices that are essential for all writers:

 Regular Reading

I’m always surprised by aspiring writers who don’t read. I mean, if you don’t read, then why would you want to be a writer? Reading is, in many ways, even more important than writing. It lays the groundwork for everything you’ll write. You’ll learn a tremendous amount of the craft from reading, and if you don’t read, it will show in your work, which will never move past a beginner’s level.

 Daily Writing

It should go without saying that if you want to be a writer, you need to do the writing. But many writers spend more time talking and thinking about writing than actually writing. Force yourself to do your writing, even when you don’t feel like it. Allow yourself to write badly and accept that sometimes you’ll write garbage. Even a short, twenty-minute writing session each day will keep your skills sharp and your writing muscles strong.

Study the Craft

You can learn a lot by reading and practicing your writing, but you can’t learn everything. There are aspects of the craft that you’ll only learn through more formal study. That doesn’t mean you have to run off to a university and take college courses, although doing so will certainly help.

You can learn the craft through local or online classes and workshops, by reading books and articles on the craft, and working with other writers (or an editor or writing coach). There is a lot to learn, and the sooner you start, the better.

 Revise and Polish Your Work

As you make your way through the writing world, you’ll hear this advice over and over: Writing is rewriting, or writing is revising. A lot of people have the misconception that we writers sit down, place our fingers on the keyboard, and the words magically flow out perfectly. That’s not how it works. The first few sentences or paragraphs are often a mess. The first draft is garbage. But with each revision, everything gets better. That’s how you produce polished work.

Get Feedback

Getting feedback can be emotionally challenging to young and new writers, who have a tendency to take it personally. Harsh criticism, no matter how constructive, can be a bruise to the ego. But you are not your writing. The criticism is not about you; it’s about your work. And without feedback, it’s almost impossible to get an objective view of your skills and the work you’re producing. Separate yourself from your writing. Take the feedback seriously and be appreciative, because it will help you become a better writer. Apply it to your work.

I’m posting this blog entry because I felt awful when I had to tell someone that their work wasn’t up to par and couldn’t be included in my Anthology. Most of these folks were self-published, and they thought their work was awesome.

They had wonderful ideas – but they didn’t have the writing skills to bring their idea to life.

Until tomorrow,

~Mustang Patty~

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Parts of Speech: The Adverb

My favorite author, Stephen King, discusses the use of adverbs in his book, ‘On Writing.’ He says, and I quote, ‘Adverbs are not your friends.’

He goes on to say that the use of adverbs is for lazy writers. Too many adverbs will weaken your sentences and have you falling into passive voice. (We will address passive versus active voice in another blog.)

But there are places in your writing for using adverbs, so we will study how and when to use them.

By Definition:

Adverbs are descriptive words used to qualify (mostly) verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.

Example:

The frazzled mother screamed loudly (how did she scream?) at her children while they played in the street. (Please note that this adverb isn’t really needed – aren’t most screams loud? So, it causes redundancy.)

Most adverbs usually end in ‘–ly.’ They tell you how something happened.  Then there are the other adverbs describing adjectives or other adverbs, or adding information about the place, time, degree, and frequency.

Examples:

  1. I don’t want to go there (place). It’s not any fun without my hubby.
  2. After all, I called her yesterday (time).
  3. He looks extremely (degree) handsome in it, which is seldom (frequency) the case with most casual clothing.
  4. I always (frequency) carry my calendar with me.

Nine Types Of Adverbs

TimeWhen something happened
PlaceWhere something happened
MannerHow something happened
DegreeExtent to which something occurs
FrequencyHow often something occurs
ProbabilityThe chance something will occur
DurationHow long something lasts
EmphasisAccentuates an action
InterrogativeAsks questions

Writing Tip: Great writing relies on verbs and nouns, not adverbs, for strength and color. Too many adverbs create clumsy writing and detract from the impact of a good verb.

This covers the basics of adverbs. If you wish to learn more about them, you COULD sign up for one of my courses in writing – see my Class page on my website: https://wordpress.com/page/mustangpatty1029.wordpress.com/1131

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Parts of Speech: The Verb

All About Verbs

I think that most of us are more than aware that ‘Verbs are ‘doing’ words.’ They show action, a state of being, or express time. We have present, past, and future tense.

For most of us, we covered the basics in our grammar classes.

  • He eats. (Present tense)
  • He ate. (Past tense)
  • He will eat. (Future tense)

Tip: The trend is to use the simple tense in writing. It’s clean, clear, and uncomplicated. It’s also user-friendly.

But then, we had to learn the more intricate verbs

Such as:

Finite Verbs:

  1. Stand on their own.
  2. Have a subject.
  3. Have a number.
  4. Have a tense.

A finite verb makes a complete sentence with a subject. It can be in past, present, or future tense.

Examples:

She works.

In this sentence:  The Subject = She,  and the number = One person, and the Tense = Present

They negotiated.

Subject = They
Number = Many people
Tense = Past 

Infinite Verbs: 

  1. Do not show tense, person or number.
  2. Have a ‘to’ that comes before the verb.
  3. Must have a finite verb before the ‘to’.

It is preferred that you do not split the infinitive. Don’t say: ‘She wants to definitely work.’ You will split the infinitive.

Example:

She tiptoed so as not to wake anyone.

‘To wake’ does not show tense, person, or number.
‘to’ comes before the verb, wake
Tiptoed is a finite verb that comes before the word ‘to’

Strong Verbs

Try to use strong, precise verbs. This helps you to say what you mean, reduce adverbs, and avoid the passive voice versus active voice.

Examples: 

stride, grab, analyse, resolve, tiptoe, instruct, wobble, revise, scan

Avoid Nominalisation Of Verbs

This is also known as ‘nouning’. A nominalisation occurs when a verb (or other part of speech) is used as (or transformed into) a noun. 

Example:

argue becomes argument

‘A nominalisation is a type of abstract noun. An abstract noun denotes an idea, quality, emotion, or state. It is something that is not concrete. It takes the power away from the original verb.

Phrasal Verbs

‘Phrasal verbs’ are a combination of words with a meaning beyond the individual words. They are verbs that are followed by a preposition or an adverb.  

Examples: give up, put off, pass out

Phrasal verbs are mainly used in spoken English and informal texts. We should avoid using them in formal and academic writing, where it is better to use a verb like ‘postpone’ than a phrasal verb like ‘put off’.

There is a lot more we can learn about verbs. In my Creative Writing Classes, I will be discussing verbs, adverbs, and adjectives at length.

Until next week,

~Mustang Patty~

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Parts of Speech: The Adjective

First, let’s cover an adjective the way most of us learned it in school.

All About Adjectives

An adjective is a word that describes a noun. There are two kinds of adjectives: attributive and predicative.

Attributive

The attributive stands next to a noun and describes it.  The usual place of the adjective is in front of the noun.

Example: The black cat climbed a tree.
Sometimes, for dramatic effect, the adjective can come after the noun.
Example: This is the jungle dark.

Predicative

The predicative is when a verb separates it from the noun or pronoun it describes.

Examples:

  1. The crowd was happy.
  2. The driver was furious.
  3. This bread tastes stale.

Types Of Adjectives

  1. qualitative: good, French
  2. possessive: my, your, their
  3. relative and interrogative: which, what, whatever
  4. numeral: one, two, second
  5. indefinite: some, any, much
  6. demonstrative: this, that, the

Top Tip: Do not use too many adjectives in your writing. Choose nouns that do most of the work for you.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Parts of Speech: the Pronoun

Here is the definition we were given back in the 5th Grade:

Pronouns are substitutes for nouns, taking the place of nouns that precede or follow them.
Examples: I, hers, myself, who.

Now, that we are using these words in our writing, we need to have a deeper understanding.

There are four types of pronouns:

Personal pronouns indicate a person or group.

Examples: he, she, they

Possessive pronouns indicate ownership.

Examples: his, hers, theirs

Relative pronouns introduces dependent clauses in sentences.

Examples: who, whoever, that, which, when, where, whose

Reflexive pronouns refer back to the subject of the sentence.

Examples: himself, herself, myself

I hope this review of grammar is helping you understand the proper way to use pronouns.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Parts of Speech: The Noun

All About Nouns

Most of us can remember the basic definition we learned in early Grammar classes.

A noun is a naming word. It identifies people, places, or things.

However, we may not always remember that there are four types of nouns:

1.   Common Nouns

Common nouns are names given to ordinary objects.
They can be identified by ‘a’, ‘an’ or ‘the’.
Examples: the shoe, a kitchen, an apple.

2.   Proper Nouns

Proper nouns are names given to people, places, days, months, ideologies, subjects or titles.
They always begin with capital letters.
Examples: July, China, Friday.

3. Abstract or Concrete Nouns

Abstract nouns name a quality, a characteristic, or an idea.

Examples: beauty, strength, love, courage.

Conversely, concrete nouns name an object that can be perceived by the senses.

Examples: hat, desk, book, box.

4. Collective Nouns:

Collective nouns name a group: crowd, team, class.

I hope this little walk down memory lane helps you understand the structure of your sentences.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Grammar and Your Writing

During the three years I’ve been blogging, I’ve written several items on Grammar, but I’d like to start from scratch with this new series.

I’d like to go out on a limb and venture to say that many of us begin writing stories when we’re young. We move through school learning the basics of language arts, and we’re familiar with the parts of speech, basic grammar, and punctuation.

But when you’re writing to be understood, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, words, and proper use of them take on a new meaning. And then there’s technique. I will be covering techniques and structure in my Wednesday blogs, but for now, let’s concentrate on the basics of the English language.

What Are Parts Of Speech?

It could be said that they are the building blocks of language. A part of speech can also be referred to as a word class. As a writer who wants to be understood, it is essential to understand the function of the different word classes.

These categories of words each have a separate function in a sentence. According to Wikipedia, ‘In traditional grammar, a part of speech (PoS or POS) is a category of words (or, more generally, of lexical items) that have similar grammatical properties. Words that are assigned to the same part of speech generally display similar syntactic behavior—they play similar roles within the grammatical structure of sentences—and sometimes similar morphology in that they undergo inflection for similar properties.’

There are eight parts of speech in English: nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and articles. Each shows the function of the word as well as how it is used grammatically in the sentence.

While this may be a review for many, some of you haven’t visited these terms since you were in school. (Those of you with MFA’s can ignore my prattling.)

On Friday, we will begin exploring each part of speech and its role in the sentence.

Join me to discuss what a noun is

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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One Way to Create the Characters for your Story

Developing characters for any piece of fiction is both challenging and fun. Where else do you get to build a person from the ground up? As a writer, you can create these characters to be likable or not. They can be handsome/beautiful, rich/poor – whatever WORKS for your story.

Some of us are lucky enough to wake up one morning and have the character arrive fully formed and ready for action. But more often than not, a character shows up, and they’re kind of shadowy. It takes you to build on that idea and create a three-dimensional character to tell your story.

There are three main characters in every story – the PROTAGONIST, the ANTAGONIST, and the side-kick or love interest. These characters tell the story. The Protagonist carries the problem/conflict, and it is their journey to work through the problem that is the backbone of your storyline.

So, here are a few ideas to help you visualize and build your Protagonist.

Past, Present & Future

Jot down a few ideas about the following:

  1. Childhood – how did they grow up? Were they rich or poor? Do they have a big family, or is the character an orphan?
  2. Physical appearance – write down their hair and eye color; describe their clothes; their weight, and height.
  3. Mental state – is your character in a positive frame of mind, or are they facing challenges? Are they confident or shy? Are they brave or careful?
  4. What is their goal or function in the story.

OR

A pretty fun way…

Create an online profile for your character. It can be for Facebook, Goodreads, or even Tinder. What kind of information would they share? What would they make public, and what would they keep private? Would they lie or tell the truth?

OR

Childhood Memories

Events from their childhood will have a significant impact on who they are. Take a moment to write one or both of these scenes.

  1. Write a traumatic event from their childhood.
  2. Write a happy event from their childhood. 

OR

Image Search – Pinterest or other images website

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Find an image of a person who reminds you of this character. They don’t have to be a look-alike. It could be a person with a similar attitude. Stick the picture above your desk and use it to think about the character as you write.

OR

Dialogue 

What does your new character have to say for themselves? Make them talk as quickly as possible. We reveal a lot about ourselves when we speak. Describe their body language and thoughts while they talk.

The Last Word

These are only suggestions to get your going. Once you’ve spent enough time with your character and you begin to figure out who they are, you may want to take the time to write an outline of their biography OR use one of the many Character Questionnaires you can find online to learn more.

Remember, when the words are flowing, and the story is growing, don’t stop. Establish who the character is as quickly as possible. Write it fast. Fix it later.

Until next week,

~Mustang Patty~

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Some Tips on Writing a Mystery/Crime story

As the deadline for submissions to the 2021 Indie Authors’ Mystery/Crime Anthology draws near, here are a few tips for those who are struggling with the concept and deadline.

Your story could fall into one of the following categories:

1.    Mystery fiction includes police procedurals, private detective, and cozy mysteries. A crime has already been committed (usually a murder), and the story is about finding out who did it.

2.    Horror fiction includes gothic, paranormal, and non-supernatural stories. A crime is being committed (usually a murder), and the reader is forced to watch it as it happens.

3.    Thriller fiction includes psychological, action, crime, political, espionage, legal, and science fiction stories. A crime is about to be committed (usually a murder), and the protagonist has to try and stop it from happening. The reader becomes invested in this.

OR

As I stated previously, stories in any genre can be turned into a mystery by following a few of the following tips:

How Do I Write A Mystery?

Mystery writing is quite popular in today’s fiction. According to statistics, forty percent of best sellers involve some sort of suspense.

Writing a mystery is especially enjoyable for the writer if they enjoy puzzles and developing a formula for solving a crime.

You will need to create a sleuth, Private Investigator, Curious teenager…this could be a professional, such as a police officer/detective or somebody who happens to like uncovering mysteries. 

There are many famous fictional detectives. The great part about writing a mystery is that it follows a typical plot.  Reading mysteries from other stories and novels will reveal several different mystery forms used by experienced and well-respected writers.

For instance: Michael Connelly and Ian Rankin write mysteries. Their detectives, Harry Bosch and John Rebus, solve the crimes.

You need to carefully consider the following when using the crime genre to tell your story:

1.    Does your idea fit into a general crime writing genre? Or a sub-genre? 

2.    Have you chosen an appropriate setting? Use the environment that will add the most suspense. 

3.    Do you have a beginning that will engage readers? And beyond the beginning, is the pacing of your story sufficient to create an air of suspense?

4.    Do you have an intriguing crime? The crime does not have to be grisly or off-putting. It should ask a question that the reader wants the author to reveal. 

5.    Have you chosen the right victims? Your victims do not have to be likable, but we should feel empathy for them. The best way to do this is to show the suffering of their loved ones. The victims also have to give their detectives clues to the antagonist’s identity, making sure the victim fits the crime.

6.    Is your protagonist likable? If not, is the charming, clever, or empathetic enough? You can also get away with writing about an amoral protagonist or an anti-hero if you do it properly. 

7.    Have you included the usual suspects? You need the four main characters (to be discussed in Friday’s Blog 8/13) in crime writing more than in any other genre. These four characters are the devices you need to tell the story. The most essential character to develop is the antagonist because they often define your protagonist’s story goal.

8.    Is your antagonist believable? Does your antagonist have the motive, the means, and the opportunity?

9.    Have you included enough clues to keep the reader interested? You must consistently tease the reader with new information—giving them just enough to make them want more, but not so much that you overplay your hand.’

10.Have you added red herrings? Use these to mislead the characters for a while, but don’t add too many. They can become annoying and tiresome.

11. Have you included enough danger? Alfred Hitchcock said, ‘Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.’ Readers want your protagonists to struggle before they solve the crimes.

12. Do you have enough cliffhangers in your book? I don’t mean significant cliffhangers. I’m talking about those endings dotted throughout the story that make your readers want to turn the page.

13. Do you have a believable ending? Does your ending answer the question asked in Number #4 above? If the story doesn’t answer the questions, the storyline is incomplete.

So, join me for the next blog – where we will discuss the main four character types needed to tell your story,

~Mustang Patty~

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One way to Rewrite Dialogue and Make it Stronger

As writers, we all know that one of the most important elements of our short stories is the dialogue between our characters. Readers can learn a lot about the characters when dialogue is used as a tool.

The following steps are ONE WAY that I use to edit any sections of dialogue in my stories:

  • First – ALWAYS – Read your work OUT LOUD! (Even if you have to use the robotic voice in the Review Feature of MS Word!)
  • Skip the politeness and perfect English. How many people do you know who really speak that way?
  • RESEARCH your character to match their ‘voice’ with their personality, origins, mores, and profession. (What types of words does your character use in everyday conversation?)
  • Always be aware of the WHERE of the character? And who are they speaking to?
  • Check your language – usually characters (just like people) talk in fragmented sentences, and they’re distracted or interrupted or unsure in the conversation.
  • If your style is to use speech tags, are they covered? Have you also used action tags to keep the discussion fluid and visible?
  • Ensure that there is CONFLICT. Remember, a story without conflict isn’t exciting to readers.
  • Eliminate ‘talking heads’ by using body language, setting, and plenty of scene description.
  • EVERY LINE OF DIALOGUE CONTRIBUTES TO THE STORY – no ‘fluff’ allowed.

Sometime during the next few months, I will post a series ALL ABOUT Dialogue!

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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What exactly makes a ‘Professional Writer?’

How does one go about becoming ‘a writer?

Is a writer somebody who writes, or is there a lot more to it? How much writing do you need to do before you can actually call yourself a writer? Do you need to get paid for your work in order to earn the title? (If so, I nailed it at eight-years-old when I sold a few short stories to the neighbor who lived across the street.)

Or does your writing need to be actually published somewhere?

It’s easy. As long as you’re writing, you’re a writer. Even it takes ten, twenty, or thirty years to get your first book published, you’ve been a writer since you made those first notes about the characters popping into your head.

Most of the writers I work with want to publish short stories or a fiction novel. But there are other kinds of writers that are paid for their work – Copywriters, content writers, screenplay and informative articles, as well as the technical writers who write those wonderful ‘how-to’ articles and books, and a slew of other careers where you can get paid for your ability to string words together in a nice easy-to read style.

But let’s face it, when you utter the words, “I’m a writer,” most people automatically come back with, “Oh, is there something of yours I may have read?”

It’s as if you aren’t ‘really a writer,’ unless there’s a tome out there with your moniker on the spine.

Don’t let everyone else’s perceptions get the best of you.

Your writing career is your own. You will become a ‘published writer,’ when the time is right for you, but writing has to be its own reward for you in the early stages. It is the rare writer who sits down and bangs out a bestseller on their first try, nor can you expect to freelance as a content writer and have all of your work accepted without some prior experience.

Above all else – writing is a skill, and like all skills, it needs to be nurtured and cultivated.

Try to write as many different kinds of things as you can – you will also discover how you function as a writer. Maybe you are at your best when you’re working under a deadline, and your focus narrows to a fine point. Or maybe you’re just the opposite, and you need time, maybe even lots of time, to write something meaningful. Of course, there are those of us who write better in the middle of the night, by the light of a dim desk lamp.

And I can’t say it enough – the best writers are also READERS. Read varied genres, and find your favorite, identify your favorite authors, and pay attention to the way their sentences flow.

My other key piece of advice is to write every day. Now, maybe it isn’t necessary to write every single day for those with super brains, but for the rest of us morals, we need to write on a daily basis to hone our craft. By carving out a block of time to focus on your writing, you will become stronger in your craft.

until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Do All Writers Need Vision Boards?

I’m the first to admit that the idea of a ‘vision board’ doesn’t fit with my writing style. The visions I have in my highly imaginative brain are quite enough to feed my storylines, but after researching the idea, I’m slowly leaning the other way.

Supposedly, a vision board is a valuable tool. There are more benefits than just looking at some collection of images that you cut out from magazines.

So, how do they work?

Using a Vision Board can help you plot your narrative, giving your brain a chance to access its creative side

  • While most of us will have a plot outline somewhere that we refer back to as we are creating our storyline, another tool would utilize photographs and images that spark your imagination and allow you to envision your story.
  • Visual thinkers will especially find this method helpful. While writers usually recognize words as their most important tools – we should never forget that pictures can speak thousands of words with just one glance.
  • Additionally, a vision board for your novel’s plot allows you to step back and see’ your narrative in your mind’s eye. Rather than having to follow your plot timeline word-by-word, you get a visual overview of it.
  • This method lets your plot play out in your mind allowing you to free-associate between ideas and find new paths to take your narrative down. An extra benefit is that you can quickly and easily visualize your plot’s timeline.
  • This will allow you to spot potential plot holes, as well as finding solutions in a much faster way. While this method might not work for everyone, it is one way to spend your time when you are hitting a wall and suffering from writer’s block.

Take a break from words and immerse yourself in visuals

  • Allowing yourself to take some  time away from your writing gives your brain (and your hands) time to breathe.
  • So, one way to use your time in between writing projects is to move away from words and create something visual.
  • Vision boards aren’t usual as taxing as writing. They are simple, personal and creative. As a result, they are enormously therapeutic. Going through images you like and turning them into a collage will give you something beautiful.
  • Even if your vision board never turns into a story or novel, you’ve allowed your mind to relax and move into a meditative state. You’ve gotten a much-needed break from your keyboard, and you will feel recharged and ready to write.

Vision Boards help you find motivation, as well as visualizing writing success

  • Which authors’ careers do you admire? Find some photographs of them and past them onto your vision board. I know that I would definitely have pictures of Stephen King, John Grisham, Margaret Atwood, Nora Ephron, and Jodi Picoult.
  • Who do you see on your image board?
  • Utilize the Amazon search engine and find some images of your favorite novels and past them on too.
  • Find some images of your favorite novels and include them in there as well.
  • You could even select some of your favorite lines from books — it’s up to you.

Just some food for thought until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Do you have Writer’s Burnout?

Okay, I’ll go first.

YES – I have a form of Writers’ Burnout that is quite alarming.

For the past six weeks or so, every time I write a Blog post, I get tired – or distracted – or suddenly feel like I must do something that takes me away from my den AND keyboard.

The result:

       ‘Mustang Patty Talks Writing’ hasn’t been tended to for quite some time.

       I’ve kept myself busy with the production of Anthologies and reading the work

of OTHER WRITERS!

So, I needed to formulate a plan. (Because I’m great about following procedures. They are, after all, the roadmap to success. (Did I coin that phrase?? Or steal it from somewhere? Hmmm)

I plan to return to my daily writing sessions, Post a minimum of three Blogs per week on my website, and write and edit at least one short story per month.

But a PLAN without the steps isn’t worth the paper you write it on…

Step One:

Start READING again.

I haven’t sat down with a good book and just ‘fell’ into it in too many months to remember. I have a stack of fiction books to read – I just need to sit down and permit myself to get lost in another world, INSTEAD of reading non-fiction books on writing or blogging.

I’ve read in several articles that when a writer is tired and overwhelmed – for whatever reason- they stop reading. (After all, that isn’t productive – right?)

And then what about when you are on a crucial deadline? More often than not, you will concentrate on the current project – or maybe you can’t – because your focus is off, and you have that ‘I just can’t get into this book’ feeling.

It all comes down to how your brain views writing – any writing – when you’re reading now, you aren’t just reading for pleasure – you’re evaluating the plot, the syntax, and it feels like ‘work.’ That’s because you haven’t shut down your ‘writer’s brain.’

So, when you DO start reading again, you need to turn off the ‘writer’s brain, and read with an unrestricted sense of pleasure.  You could try reading some titles that you consider your personal favorites – it will be a relaxing project because you are familiar with the storylines.

Step Two:

Find your rhythm in a Ritual rather than a Routine

We’ve all heard the whole thing about setting up a specific space where you write and maybe even set a particular time. The problem with all of that is that it becomes a routine.

Wouldn’t it be better if you made it a Ritual?

Even the thoughts behind the word conjure up something exciting. A routine can be too mundane and too exhausting. In comparison, a ritual can put you in the right mood to write.

Remember: Routines are about time; Rituals are about YOU.

We all have our own guilty pleasures. Some of us will take a warm shower, perhaps a short walk in the park, or even something as simple as making a nice cup of coffee.

If you need to connect the Ritual with your writing, perhaps you could start it in your writing space. Maybe reading over the last few pages you wrote, or make longhand notes in a special journal.

Whatever gets you in the right frame of mind to write.

Step Three

Start Small (But Be Consistent)

The recovery of your Creative Energy is much like recovering from a physical or psychological mishap. The process can’t be rushed. It’s all about taking that first small step towards reclaiming your power as a writer.

When you’re starting to get on the writing train, your goals can be very small at first and, as you bulk up that writing muscle that has atrophied, you can become more ambitious.

Perhaps it could be something as simple as setting a timer for ten minutes and writing about a Daily Prompt that you have stored somewhere. (Look on the internet and download one of the many lists – but then close your browser!)

Finding your writing voice again will take time, but it is possible.

So, I will be posting blogs again – I’ve been working on the ones for August over much of the end of July!

Welcome to my next series of blogs.

~Mustang Patty~

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Time to Format 2021 Indie Authors’ Short Story Anthology

36 Stories

24 Authors

6 Countries Represented

across 5 Continents


Mustang Patty Talks Writing will be back with new and informative Blogs about writing on July 5th, 2021. You can look forward to Blogs on Writing Tips, Elements, Grammar and Punctuation.

Currently, I’m hard at work formatting and perfecting these year’s Anthology.

If you would like more information regarding next year’s Anthology, please do not hesitate to contact me at patty@mustangpatty1029.com

until July…

~Mustang Patty~

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A Few things Writers Shouldn’t Do

Here we are again, and it is already the end of April – this year is flying by! (It hasn’t helped that my COVID vaccines knocked me flat for an entire week after each one.)

Recently, I read an article on Writer’s Digest regarding ‘Things a Writer Should Never Do.’ The report was particularly timely because I just wrote an email to a new writer regarding how Royalties on Amazon work.

I’m sure the news crushed her. Finding out that her novel will only net her $.82 per book sold – mostly because she had it in her head, she would make $7.50 of the $9.99 sales price. (I’m not sure if she will ever publish another book – but for a lot of us – it isn’t about the Royalties – it’s about being PUBLISHED.

So, here are a few of my ideas of ‘Things a Writer Should Never Do.’

DO NOT try to write like your favorite authors – you have your unique voice. ALWAYS write like yourself.

DO NOT believe that there is only ONE WAY to write a novel. There are HUNDREDs, if not THOUSANDS of books out there with helpful hints on how to write a story. (If you read them, only hold near and dear the things that apply to YOU and YOUR writing.

DO NOT stop writing to promote or pitch your last novel. Keep up your momentum and believe in yourself. While you are waiting to hear from a contest, agent, or publisher, you need to keep working on your next project. (If nothing else, it keeps you from going crazy.)

DO NOT get hung up on the debates: outlining versus not, how many words are in a novel? And all the rest – YOU HAVE YOUR STYLE – Do what makes you feel the most comfortable.

DO NOT hate someone for giving you their opinion or feedback. Your writing – along with everyone else’s – will not be for EVERYONE.

Remember that there are Trolls on the Internet and their favorite pastime to make other people doubt themselves. (So – Do NOT write to impress them or take their suggestions into consideration.)

DO NOT forget the basics of writing. Ensure that your MS is well-formatted, your grammar corrected, and your style is consistent.

DO NOT forget to proofread and edit your work. It is foolish to spend money for an editor to fix basic errors. READ your work OUT LOUD, and analyze sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, and your story as a whole.

Please DO NOT assume that it is EASY to write and market your MS. It is hard work and time-consuming. Give the project your best.

DO NOT write strictly from your inner ideas. Go outside, sit in restaurants and listen to other people talk. It will improve your dialogue and may even give you a story idea.

Please DO NOT forget to read. Reading is fantastic for writers – it keeps the brain awake! (And inspires you to write your best work.)

DO NOT be afraid to abandon a project that isn’t working. Put it away or throw it away, but don’t spend time on something that isn’t working.

DO NOT GIVE UP – Writers write. And they continue to put words on the page. Give your writing everything you have. The stories you tell will keep you warm at night. And then there are those wonderful moments when the story blossoms in your head – those ‘Aha’ moments that create joy in the hearts of writers.

And above all, DO NOT forget to have fun and enjoy the act of writing.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Build your Antagonist to be a Powerful Force

Over the next few posts, we will examine the importance of building the characters who will carry your novel’s storyline. (Short stories may not have all these characters due to the length and focus of the storyline.)

There are FOUR-character types (the Protagonist, the Antagonist, the Love Interest, and Other Characters) who will populate the place you create in your novel. 

In my last blog post, I discussed the Protagonist and their importance, but today, we look at the story goals of the Antagonist.

While the plot is driven by the goal of the Protagonist, the Antagonist is there to put obstacles in their path. The Antagonist’s primary purpose is to create conflict in your story – without conflict, there is no plot.

Creating a strong Antagonist is vital to your story – they are just as crucial as your Protagonist. They are there to try to prevent your Protagonist from reaching their story goal. 

Here are some things to keep in mind when you build your Antagonist:

Most Antagonists are viewed as villains or bad people. However, quite often, these characters are not evil or even harmful. They are merely the opposition to the actions of the Protagonist. If the roles were reversed, the Protagonist could become the Antagonist. All that matters is the conflict.

All Antagonists need a face. The root of the word is Greek, and the meaning is opponent, competitor, or rival. The best Antagonists are people, rather than a force of nature (earthquake, flood, storm, etc.,) a group (gang or big company,) or a general life condition such as an illness or poverty or corruption. When your Protagonist is fighting the system, your Antagonist represents that system or company. (Think Mr. Smith in the Matrix, or Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life.) Good disaster stories feature a human antagonist who tries to stop the heroes.

Your Antagonist shapes your Protagonist. They are equal in strength – if not more potent, and this character must have the resources to fight a good fight. Create a character who has a solid reason to oppose the Protagonist’s goal. It should be just as logical and robust as your Protagonist’s goal.

Quite often, the Antagonist is already someone in the life of the Protagonist. It could be their spouse, a boss, or a business colleague. There are other connections to the Protagonist besides their conflict. Your Antagonist could be someone from the past, a mutual acquaintance, or someone who shared an event in the past. 

Remember that the Antagonist believes in their actions. The motivation must be valid, along with justified events. It is important to NOT create an Antagonist who merely exists in your story to obstruct the Protagonist – the result is a shallow and stereotypical character.

Stay tuned. Over the next few days, we will look at the other types of Characters.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Creating a Strong Protagonist

Over the next few posts, we will examine the importance of building the characters who will carry your novel’s storyline. (Short stories may not have all these characters due to the length and focus of the storyline.)

There are FOUR-character types, (the Protagonist, the Antagonist, the Love Interest, and Other Characters) who will populate the place you create in your novel. But today, we will start by looking at the goals of the Protagonist.

The main character of your novel is the Protagonist. It is this character who drives your plot. Their story goal is to find a solution to a problem posed at the beginning of the book. (Without a problem, there is NO story.)

So, how do you go about making your Protagonist shine like the STAR they are?

Incorporating the following key points into building your Protagonist will help your readers remember your Protagonist AND your novel.

  1. All novels must have a Protagonist. Without them, the storyline feels like a movie without a star. With this central character, the readers MUST empathize with and therefore keep the reader turning the page.
  1. When setting the scene for the novel, the Protagonist’s role expands. Writers need to use this character to build the scenery around. Additionally, the storyline’s viewpoint is usually told from the Protagonist’s perspective (but not always.)
  1. All of us are flawed. So are protagonists. Writing the ‘perfect’ person without any character flaws will create someone with who most readers will not empathize. Your Protagonist needs to act or react to some sort of problem, and perfect people rarely face issues. The Antagonist (we will discuss them later) usually creates the problem while will define your Protagonist. (Without an adversary for your main character, there is little reason behind the storyline of a novel.)
  1. Your Protagonist is usually likable because most readers won’t want to read a novel about someone they despise. Still, a skillful writer can also make the reader root for the Antagonist – it does happen.
  1. And while the Protagonist is the STAR of the story, just like any good movie, the novel will also need some supporting roles. The Antagonist causes stumbling blocks and walls. A Confidant acts as a friend who is there as support. There should be some sort of romantic involvement to further complicate life. And lastly, other characters will make shorter appearances in the novel. These characters can be unforgettable, but they cannot steal the show.

Stay tuned. Over the next few days, we will look at the other three types of Characters.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Time Management

One of the hardest things facing writers is Time Management. Many writers deal with juggling full-time jobs, children, and other distractions along with their writing life. Even those who are lucky enough to consider themselves full-time writers deal with the upheavals of everyday life and other things competing with writing time.

So, how do you manage it all?

You must be selfish and focused for a period during your day.

Whether you have dedicated one or two hours or even thirty minutes a day to writing – you need to concentrate on writing for that time.

What does this mean?

DO NOT sit down and open your browser and go to Facebook or other online distractions. DO NOT have your favorite snack on hand. DO NOT dwell on other ideas.

How do you do this?

Use the time slot you’ve taken out of your day to simply write. Eliminate any distractions and whether you use paper and pen, or computer, sit down and write.

Some of you may be reading this and saying, ‘But what about writers’ block?’

The best way to break the block is to write. Put your mind on the pen or computer keys and begin to note what is in your brain. Suddenly, your story will come back into focus. You will write first one sentence, and then another, and eventually, you will have a paragraph.

It won’t be perfect, and it may not even be in complete sentences. It may be a scene for a different part of the story than you thought you were at – it doesn’t matter. Find where it does fit into your very rough draft and rejoice!

Time management is something we all learned in our early school years. Remember when your Kindergarten teacher said, ‘Okay class. Put away your coloring, we’re going to go into the Reading Corner now.’

These are the beginnings of time management. There’s a certain period in each day for any given activity.

So, put away your coloring, and WRITE.

(By the way, this method will work for any other task you may have on your ‘To-do List.’)

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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The Three Things Readers want from Writers

Have you ever started to write a story or even a novel, and as you begin, you wonder what will make your story stand out? What is it that readers are looking for that will keep them turning the page?

Readers are looking for a) Entertainment, b) Challenge, and c) Surprise. But how can you give this to them as a writer?

Think about the writers you admire. What is it about their stories that keeps you coming back for more?

  1. What entertains you?
  2. What challenges you? Or maybe tests your own belief system?
  3. What surprises you? Could it be a character that you wouldn’t like in real life, but in a book, you find yourself cheering them on? Or is it the things that come out of your young children’s mouths? (My own children made me laugh and surprised me almost every day – well into their teens.)

So, what is it that a writer must do to keep their writers coming back?

  1. Be a “jester”
  2. Be a “priest”
  3. Be a “magician”

Which type of writer do you want to be? Maybe you can be all three – just make sure your story invites all three things – the entertainer, and the philosopher, and the person who reveals things in a magical way.

The “jester” entertains the reader.  If your hero does something crazy, you get them laughing—it’s a great way to get the audience to like him. It doesn’t have to be slapstick or stand-up. It can be poetry, it can be soul stuff—but it must be loose, daring, unusual.

The “priest” challenges the reader. You write to give your characters viewpoint, to drag your audience into a new world. This is often called theme, but that’s not a strong enough gut word. It’s not subversive enough. Challenge is about shaking the tree, rattling the value systems out there. Make people think twice—about religion, art, politics, commerce, sex, money.

The “magician” surprises them. Blindside the audience. Give them that jack-in-the-box moment of truth—and deliver the punch at the same time it occurs to your hero. People hate to spot the clichés or see a plot twist coming. It doesn’t have to be the knife-behind-the-curtain moment, it can be as subtle as sleight-of-hand.

Challenge yourself to incorporate all three of these things into your story. Then you will have given your readers what they want.

But, remember: Always write in your own voice.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Good Advice from Louis Sachar

Louis Sachar is an American author of children’s books. He was born on 20 March 1954. (This information comes from his website, and I think it is sound advice for authors wishing to write children’s books.)

After graduating from law school, Sachar practiced law part-time while writing children’s books. In 1989, he became a full-time writer.

He is the author of Holes which won the 1998 U.S. National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the 1999 Newbery Medal for its most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

He is also the author of both the Sideways Stories From a Wayside School and the Marvin Redpost series. His latest book is Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom.

In 2003, the Disney film adaptation of Holes was released. (Sachar wrote the screenplay.) In 2005, the Wayside School series was adapted into a special. In 2007, it became a TV show.

He likes to play bridge in his spare time.

Louis Sachar’s tips on writing:

1.    Start With Little Ideas: ‘I usually begin a novel with just a little idea, perhaps no more than a character trait. That idea will lead to another until it snowballs into a full-blown story.’

2.    Be Prepared To Write Several Drafts: ‘Since I do not plan or outline beforehand, I normally don’t know what’s going to happen next. I go through several drafts. The first draft is very unorganised, often with ideas at the end that are inconsistent with those at the beginning. In the second draft, I organize it better because I now have a pretty firm grasp of who the characters are and what is going to happen to them. By the time I get to the last rewrite (which may be the fifth or sixth pass), I try to convince myself that the story is all true, and that I am simply telling it, not making it up.’

3.    The Useless Days Will Be Worth It. ‘With each draft, the story changes and the ideas are transformed. I may initially have a real clear vision for different parts of a book. I know how I’m going to handle this problem. I know what I’m going to do here. And then I kind of get lost. What amazes me is that most days feel useless. I don’t seem to accomplish anything—just a few pages, most of which don’t seem very good. Yet, when I put all those wasted days together, I somehow end up with a book of which I’m very proud. Somehow I’ve now written eighteen books. I’m always amazed when I finish a book and realise, hey, this actually is what I set out to do.’

4.    Learn From Your Favourite Authors: ‘I think as a child, my favourite author was E. B. White (Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web). I think he was a big influence on the way I write. But most of my favourite writers who influenced me are those I read in high school. Those include J. D. Salinger, Kurt Vannoget, William Saroyan, and E. L. Doctorow.’

5.    Find Resources For Names: ‘Names are always a little difficult. Right before my daughter was born, my wife and I got a book called 10,000 Baby Names, and I still look through that book when I look for names.’

6.    Get In Touch With Your Inner Child: ‘Many of my ideas come from what I remember doing, feeling, and thinking as a child.’

7.    Write. Don’t Talk About Writing: ‘I never talk about a book until I’m finished writing it. And I like to be alone when I write. It took me a year and a half to write Holes, and nobody knew anything about it, not even my wife or my daughter. I think that is helpful for writing, as well as for anything else that takes a lot of self-motivation. The more you talk about something, the less you tend to do it.’

8.    Write Entertaining Books: ‘But mainly my books are written to make reading enjoyable. That’s my first goal with all my books, to make reading fun. I want kids to think that reading can be just as much fun, or more so, than TV or video games or whatever else they do. I think any other kind of message or moral that I might teach is secondary to first just enjoying the book.’

9.    Write Children’s Books With Care: ‘I don’t really believe that writing for children is very different from writing for adults. What makes good children’s books is putting the same care and effort into them as I would if I were writing for adults.’

I hope these suggestions from Mr. Sachar will help you in your own writing. I feel that they are applicable to both writing for adults and children.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Introducing Your Characters

Great characters do not come along by accident. The writer puts a lot of time into their introduction. They build the character from the ground up with a great foundation and writing techniques to make the players in their story come alive.

As writers, we need to allow our readers to ‘see’ the characters by making them three-dimensional and vivid. There will still be room for mystery and growth, but we need to orientate the reader and give them an idea of who they should be rooting for OR rooting against.

Characters are shown through:

1.    Internal thoughts.

2.    Physical description.

3.    Body language/actions.

4.    Their descriptions of other characters.

5.    Other character’s descriptions of them.

If you struggle to introduce your characters, return to some of your favorite novels, and look at how the author introduces his/her/their main characters.

Think ‘Scarlett O’Hara,’ ‘Harry Potter,’ and ‘Heidi’ to name just a few of my favorite characters.

Do your best to get all the essential characters on the page at the beginning of the story.

Ignoring a thorough and strong introduction to your characters can be troublesome later in your story. A proper introduction will help with the details and assist you in setting your story’s tone and the reader’s relationship with the character.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Are you an Over Writer?

It isn’t always easy to identify whether you overwrite, so here are a few clues:

Your description language is overblown. Does your narration obliterate any ‘showing’ of your story?

While descriptions are essential to set the scene, they shouldn’t be in a block of narrative.

USE your CHARACTERS to describe the scene.

Are you describing the scene at the right time?

Sometimes, the scene is introduced right at the beginning of the story – and in great detail. A writer must ask themselves, ‘Does the reader really need all of this information right now?’

USE scenery when the ACTION is in that area.

Does the descriptive language reveal something new about the character or plot of the story?

It is crucial to judiciously sprinkle narrative throughout the piece. However, there shouldn’t be any words used that aren’t important or moving the story along.

Does the narrative or description add to the theme of the story?

The theme of the story is the primary point you wish to make with your prose. The descriptive language you use should layer the theme and NOT PREACH. Making the words work takes time and patience.

Lastly, are you in love with the line of description for the RIGHT reasons?

Frequently, we write some descriptive language and find it so pleasing that we do not want to cut it out of the story. However, every single word needs to add to the story or scene – no matter how beautifully written or pleasing it is to you. Perhaps if you add something to it, to give it a function as referenced above.

So, when you work on your editing, keep these things in mind and avoid overwriting.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Writing Three-Dimensional Characters

Every story has characters. The richness of your writing depends on how you go about developing that character into a three-dimensional being.

Today, I’m going to discuss one way to go about creating characters that will make your story shine.

First of all, what makes a three-dimensional character?

It all comes down to your prose and showing rather than telling. You can’t just describe the character, you need to bring them to life.

How do you do that?

You use every available narrative device to build your character from the ground up.

Here is one way to accomplish this task:

Think about your character from their head to their toes – imagine them in your mind before you begin to write. Some people use pictures from the internet, while others use their mind’s eye to conjure up an image.

Unfortunately, a lot of writers only think about the head. In fact if you look at some novice writers’ character descriptions, the often read something like this:

‘Jules had long brown hair and beautiful deep brown eyes.’

While this description is at least factual, we can only imagine a head with long brown hair and lovely eyes. We know that Jules doesn’t have short black hair or green eyes.

Yet, staying at head level for now, what if we said:

Jule’s long hair gave her a feminine look. The kohl she had started wearing recently amplified the piercing and perceptive quality of her green eyes.

While some may say the description here is too much, writers need to decide for themselves what is too little, or too much. And while this description goes a bit further, it lacks concrete detail and specificity.

But we do find out a few more things about Jules:

  • We know what’s changed about her recently
  • One aspect of how her looks hint at her gender
  • Character qualities suggested by appearance (intensity, intuition)

What else can we do to help the reader envision your character?

Next, let’s think about  how ‘The clothes make the man or woman.’

Mark Twain is alleged to have said, ‘The clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.’

As readers, we know that clothes, of course, make living beings of every or any gender, gender flexibility or absence of gender. In today’s world, there are more than two genders to portray, and a carefully crafted description can show who the character is WITHOUT using labels.

Clothes may signal:

  • Intent: For example, dressing formally (or infornally) for a job interview or conservatively to communicate respect for another culture
  • Status or title: A queen’s crown, a beauty queen’s tiara
  • Rank: For example, the Papal ferula or pastoral staff used by the Pope in the Catholic Church
  • Personality: One person may favour concealing or baggy clothing while another prefers skimpier, revealing clothing
  • Profession or educational status: A librarian’s reading glasses, a chef’s hat, an air steward or schoolboy’s fedora

Here is a character description that I’ve found in several writing sources as a good example: It conveys the hero Pip’s sister’s proud and reproachful nature in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations:

My sister, Mrs. Joe, with black hair and eyes, had such a prevailing redness of skin that I sometimes used to wonder whether it was possible she washed herself with a nutmeg-grater instead of soap. She was tall and bony, and almost always wore a coarse apron, fastened over her figure behind with two loops, and having a square impregnable bib in front, that was stuck full of pins and needles. She made it a powerful merit in herself, and a strong reproach against [her husband] Joe, that she wore this apron so much.

Charles Dickens, in Great Expectations (1861)

Use language to embody emotion

Creating a three-dimensional character isn’t only a task for description, of course.

You need to use the rhythm, tone and quality of the language we use in narration. All of these things contribute to an impression of character.

I really like this example of a belligerent chef who dents his pots when he’s in a rage:

Bang. He swung another down hard on a stone counter corner. A pot’s lid clattered to the floor as he plonked the dented casserole down, scowling.

These short phrases and the explosive alliteration of ‘p’ and ‘t’ sounds (known as plosive consonants) create a sense of the character’s jerky, angry movements.

Making the setting do character work

Often, we think that setting and character are two separate areas of writing.

In the last example, we wrote about a chef, his characterization as a volatile man, and the setting. I’ve already written about how to use setting to drive plot. 

It is more than possible to involve setting in character description to create a richer sense of tone, mood and state of mind.

To illustrate this point, I found an example by Barbara Kingsolver to illustrate this in the workbook How to Write Real Characters: Character description – from Writers Write.

“Take this baby,” she said. […]

The child had the exact same round eyes. All four of those eyes were
hanging there in the darkness, hanging on me, waiting. The
Budweiser sign blinked on and off, on and off, throwing a faint light
that made the whites of their eyes look orange.’

Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees, p. 17.

In this scene, the author captures the moment a baby is foisted on her protagonist at a rest stop.

The neon light of the Budweiser sign, reflected in the eyes of the desperate woman and the child, add a layer of quiet pathos to their situation.’

Evoke habits (and changes in them)

Characters, just like people we encounter daily, are often, of course, creatures of habit. Yet conflicts and other schisms often shake us out of routines. This is one of the reasons conflict is crucial to stories. They often supply a reason for change, a reason for story.

Consider this description of a change in habit on page one of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: (from Writers Write)

‘Everything had gone wrong in the Oblonsky household. The wife had found out about her husband’s relationship with their former French governess and had announced that she could not go on living in the same house with him […] The wife did not leave her own rooms and the husband stayed away from home all day. The children strayed all over the house, not knowing what to do with themselves. […]

‘On the third morning after the quarrel, Prince Stepan Arkadyevich Oblonsky – Stiva, as he was generally called by his friends – awoke at his usual time, which was about eight o’clock, not in his wife’s bedroom but on a morocco-leather couch in his study.’

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (translated by Rosemary Edmonds), p. 13.

The details Tolstoy includes – the children’s ‘straying’ all over the house like lost cats, Stiva alone on his ‘morocco-leather’ couch – provide a sense of characters’ habits and changes caused by the upset of Stiva’s infidelity.

…fame of his accomplishments was so widespread that on occasion distinguished visitors who had traveled from the interior on the riverboats would ask permission to see him…’

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (1985), p 20.

The delight of the parrot’s vast repertoire of imitations (the doctor also teaches him ‘to speak French like an academician’) provides a keen and lively sense of character. This imitative prowess builds the parrot’s celebrity.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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The Starting Point – Effective Writing

One of the easiest ways to self-edit is to begin with effective writing. While you are writing the second and third drafts, you need to concentrate on the principles I will discuss in this blog.

Currently, I’m editing the short stories that are coming in for the latest Anthology – 2021 Indie Authors’ Short Story Anthology – due out on July 4, 2021.

Most of these stories are written by somewhat seasoned writers who know how to tell a story and most of these elements are present in their writing. However, it is rare to find ALL of these elements in the short stories that most of us write.

How do you write clearly and effectively? In his book, Style: The Art of Writing Well, (Cassell), F.L. Lucas offered the following basic principles to “shorten that painful process” of learning how to write better.

1. Brevity

It is bad manners to waste [the reader’s] time. Therefore, brevity first, then, clarity.

2. Clarity

It is bad manners to give [readers] needless trouble. Therefore clarity… . And how is clarity to be achieved? Mainly by taking trouble and by writing to serve people rather than to impress them.

3. Communication

The social purpose of language is communication—to inform, misinform, or otherwise influence our fellows… . Communication [is] more difficult than we may think. We are all serving life sentences of solitary confinement within our bodies; like prisoners, we have, as it were, to tap in awkward code to our fellow men in their neighboring cells… .

In some modern literature there has appeared a tendency to replace communication by a private maundering to oneself which shall inspire one’s audience to maunder privately to themselves—rather as if the author handed round a box of drugged cigarettes.

4. Emphasis

Just as the art of war largely consists of deploying the strongest forces at the most important points, so the art of writing depends a good deal on putting the words in the most important places… .

An editor once told me to choose ‘radiant’ words. It took me a long time to come to understanding what she meant. Not only is it important to choose the right words, but it is important to put these significant words in the right order – the reader needs to understand exactly what you mean.

Each word in a sentence needs to build to the climax. The importance of the last word cannot be emphasized enough – it is the last thing you leave your reader to understand.

5. Honesty

It is difficult to ALWAYS be honest in your writing, but it is an essential element of good writing. Think of it as a challenge to reveal your true self – AND remember that research allows you to tell an informed story. You cannot fool all of your readers if you don’t understand or know what you are talking about in your stories.

Conversely, most style is not honest enough. Easy to say, but hard to practice. A writer may take to long words, as young men to beards—to impress. But long words, like long beards, are often the badge of charlatans. Or a writer may cultivate the obscure, to seem profound. But even carefully muddied puddles are soon fathomed. Or he may cultivate eccentricity, to seem original.

But truly original people do not have to think about being original—they can no more help it than they can help breathing. They do not need to dye their hair green.

6. Passion and Control

I think this principle is one that is so essential – but it isn’t easy to learn. The eternal paradoxes of both life and literature are that without passion little gets done; yet, without control of that passion, its effects are largely ill or null.

7. Reading

Most authors grew up as readers. It is essential that one learns to write by reading good books, as one learns to talk by hearing good talkers. An author doesn’t read runs into the trap of stale writing. READ to gain new ideas, observe the use of good grammar, and the construction of scenes.  

8. Revision

Every author should possess not only with a pen but also a blue (or red,) pencil. We are all victim to falling in love with our own words – we don’t want to cut a single thing. Let’s face it: everything on the page isn’t important OR fits into these basic principles.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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The Rewrite

I’m currently working on the editing for this years’ upcoming Indie Author Short Story Anthology. I have the pleasure of working with writers who bring a great deal of enthusiasm and creativity to their short stories.

As I go through the process of editing their stories, I will comment briefly on grammar and syntax, but mostly I want to look at the big picture. 

(I also tell the writers that the story is theirs – I will not make suggestions to take the story in a different direction – I will NOT rewrite their story.)

But when I ask these writers to go back and look at something, I’m asking them to do self-editing.

Those of us who aren’t fortunate enough to be able to afford professional editors are usually on our own. (Probably why I’ve taken editng courses.)

But where do you start?

I’ve suggested the following things to look at when you are first approaching the editing process. These items are essential to a good story.

If you think of your story’s first draft as a sketch, you can see how it is a rough piece of writing where you’ve worked on the shape. Only through the writing and editing process, will you have completed the work.

Richard North Patterson says: ‘Writing is rewriting. A writer must learn to deepen characters, trim writing, intensify scenes. To fall in love with the first draft to the point where one cannot change it is to greatly enhance the prospects of never publishing.’

Michael Crichton said: ‘Books aren’t written – they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.’

Mustang Patty’s Rewriting Checklist for Authors

While it is important to remember that a short story differs from a novel, it can be said that most of the same elements need to be present – just in fewer words, less detail, and less time. HOWEVER, you cannot shortcut the MC, the plot, or the resolution.

Have you introduced the setting and taken the reader there?

Is there an inciting moment?

Have you adequately introduced your MC?

Is the genre of your story clear?

Is there enough dialogue? (Try for 50%)

Have you made promises to the reader? (Told them what you’re going to tell them?) DID YOU?

Is there enough conflict?

Have you explained something in the narrative and repeated it in dialogue? (Eliminate the description – the dialogue is ‘showing,’ and the narrative is usually ‘telling.’)

Does your MC have a distinct voice? (Or is it the same voice all your MC characters have – usually yours?)

Have you done a spell check?

Have you looked at your sentence structure? Is there a variation? Are there too many long sentences? Short? Detailed?

Have you removed unnecessary adverbs?

Have you removed unnecessary adjectives?

Have you cut out cliches?

Have you reduced the use of passive voice?

Is your POV consistent?

Is your tense consistent?

Is your pacing correct for the story?

Have you built tension?

Have you made your reader care about your characters? (Whether it is love or hate – you’ve evoked that emotion.)

Until next time – when we will continue to discuss the Editing Process,

~Mustang Patty~

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Make it happen: how to accomplish your SMART goals

For the past few Blog entries, I’ve discussed SMART Goals, and written about how to write SMART goals – but knowing how to achieve them is a totally separate challenge.

So, you’ve already taken a great first step by using the SMART criteria to set attainable, measurable, results-based targets. But there are a few other ways to set yourself up for success.

1. Write down your goal

You’ve established your goal… now what? Should you just let it rattle around in your brain until it’s over and done? Nope. You should write it down.

Jotting down your goal serves as a solid reminder of what you and your team members are working toward – but there’s some neuroscience at play here too.

A study conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California, found that people are 42 percent more likely to achieve their goals when they write them down.

2. Set regular check-ins

It’s not enough to have the goal written down, put it in a drawer, or even under the glass on your desktop – and THEN FORGET IT.

We’re all familiar with that rush of excitement we feel when we’re about to tackle something new. But once you get a little further in, that feeling quickly fades — it’s why so many New Years’ resolutions are kicked to the curb by February.

Any goal worth achieving probably won’t happen overnight, and it’s important to check in on your progress regularly to ensure you aren’t falling off track.

Having recurring reminders will keep the goal in the front of your mind and work process.

3. Celebrate your wins (even the small ones)

Don’t wait until your entire goal is accomplished to celebrate; recognizing smaller wins and milestones can keep you moving in the right direction. I’ll spare you the in-depth science lesson, but, essentially, you get a dopamine spike whenever you anticipate that something important is about to happen (like accomplishing something you set out to do).

That’s what triggers a motivation boost.

So, by setting smaller, incremental goals and then giving ourselves a hearty pat on the back when we achieve them, we can increase those dopamine spikes, which in turn encourage us to stay the course.

Until then,

~Mustang Patty~

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T is for Time-bound

The last letter in SMART goals is the T. Not only does this represent the need for a deadline, but it also encourages the writer to explore their plan for a defined amount of time.

In other words, each of your goals should have time-related parameters built-in. This gives you additional structure and allows you to stay on track – rather than have a new story written by Tuesday, you will be encouraged to write and edit each day. 

IF your goal doesn’t have a deadline, there is no urgency and less motivation to achieve the goal.

When setting your goal, ask yourself the following:

1. Does my goal have a deadline?

2. By when do you want to achieve your goal?

Next time, we will summarize SMART goals before we move onto the next subject.

Until then,

~Mustang Patty~

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R is for Realistic

When we talk about a Realistic goal, the plan is achievable given the available resources and time.

One way to test whether the goal is realistic is if YOU believe that it can be accomplished.

Ask yourself:

Is the goal realistic and within reach?

1.   In the last steps, a measurable and attainable number of words was set to achieve the goal. Ask the following questions to further evaluate those numbers.

2.   Is the goal reachable, given the time and resources?

3.   Are you able to commit to achieving the goal?

I feel that this step is vital in the process. Once you’ve evaluated the goal as realistic and ensured that YOU are committed to achieving the parameters you’ve set, you’re well on your well to accomplishing the goal.

Next time, we will look at ‘T’ for Timebound,

Until then,

~Mustang Patty~

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A for Attainable

When doing any goal setting, you want to make sure that the tasks are truly something you can do. I think that an excellent example of ‘attainable’ is the challenge that many writers know of, and either love or hate, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo for short.

The challenge is to write 50,000 words in one month. The challenge has been further broken down into 1667 words per day. While that number may sound daunting – if you allow yourself to write for four hours each day, that is only a little over four-hundred words in an hour, if you can only count on being able to write for two hours, that is slightly over eight-hundred words.

During NaNo, the critical thing to remember is that you aren’t writing the perfect copy; you’re merely getting the rough story in your head down on paper. I find that if I just sit and let the words flow, I can quickly write 100 words per 15 minutes – I type around 60 words per minute, so I’m keeping up with my thoughts at a nice pace. I can knock out my allotted word count easily.

Most novels are between 80 and 100 thousand words. They are your polished and well-edited thoughts and story. Within one year, 365 days, is it possible to write your novel in a year?

Yes, it is.

However, your role is more than just writing. It is developing a process where you can write, and edit, and refine reliably.

So, while setting a specific, measurable goal, you also need to make it something that you can commit to and do.

Next time, we will address the R in S.M.A.R.T. – Realistic,

Until then,


~Mustang Patty~

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M for Measurable

In my last two blogs, I started a discussion about S.M.A.R.T. goals. Last time, I wrote about the ‘S.’

Specificity is a solid start, but once you apply a NUMBER to your goal – it becomes measurable. Setting a quantity or making sure they are measurable allows you to track your progress, check in on yourself, and gives you a feeling of accomplishment.

A few examples for your writing:

Your main goal is to write a novel next year.

You’ve been more specific – Write one chapter per month. (This is the first number in your goal setting – let’s move to the next.)

On each weekday, you are going to write 350 words of the chapter (2nd measurable goal.)

With five weekdays in TWO weeks, you will have 3500 words to edit.

During the third week of the month, you will edit and eliminate 500 words – making your work clearer, cleaner, and more concise.

During the fourth week of the month, you will do another edit – your 3rd draft – and you will work on one editing step each day. The Steps are for Content, Construction, Style, Grammar, and Punctuation.

Setting these goals (One Chapter, 350 words per day for 10 days, editing to eliminate at least 500 words, a 3rd Edit) allows you to have daily, weekly, and a monthly goal. As the month progresses, you have these mini goals to check off, allowing you to feel accomplished.

In my next blog, we will look at making your goals ATTAINABLE.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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S for Specific

Setting goals needs to dig down into the details. The most important thing is to be SPECIFIC. Instead of saying, “Next year, I will write my novel,” try to break the goal into steps, and the details.

Only by being specific, will your goal be effective. When you break writing a novel down into pieces, you can check off your accomplishments and move on to the next steps.

When writing, a specific goal could answer questions like:

  • What kind of book/short story are you writing?
  • What steps will you take? Break the goal down into small steps.
    • Create your Protagonist
    • Create your Antagonist
    • Will there be supporting characters?
    • What is your setting?
    • Create a setting that is as realistic as possible
    • (And so on)

When you think about these things, you are on your way to setting a measurable and realistic goal. When you start to set your time table, make sure you are setting dates that are attainable.

My next blog entry will discuss the importance of setting Measurable goals.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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S.M.A.R.T. Goals and your Writing

One of the buzzword that flies around from time to time is SMART goals. The hype is that everyone should set goals – but they need to be SMART.

That’s a great premise, but first you need to understand what is so special about these goals.

It all lies in the word, SMART. It is an acronym for how these goals are defined. The ‘S’ stands for Specific, the ‘M’ stands for Measurable, the ‘A’ stands for Attainable, the ‘R’ stands for Realistic, and finally the ‘T’ stands for Time-bound.

When applying these principles to the goals you set yourself – and for those of us who are writers, it quickly becomes apparent that setting this type of goal will help us write daily, create short stories, and finally write books.

(You can’t write a book unless you write, and it’s extremely difficult to reach 50K to 80K words if you don’t set daily, weekly, and even monthly goals. Each of those words need to be written by YOU.)

So, instead of saying you have a goal to write a book someday, you are really stating a hope. Instead, if you set SMART goals, they will help you turn a ‘hope’ into reality.

When setting a SMART goal, you will work through each of the five components to build a measurable goal that speaks to exactly what you want to accomplish. By going through the process, you will know exactly what needs to be accomplish by when, and how you’ll know when you’re successful.

Come back on Wednesday when I’ll delve more into the ‘S’ of the acronym. Specific goals are a good way to start.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Using Dialogue in Your Writing

One of the biggest problem areas I encounter when I’m doing peer reviews or acting as a Judge on Reedsy.com is the way writers handle dialogue.

Dialogue is tricky to write – partly because the writer needs to find a voice for their character that is different from their own, AND partly because the punctuation for dialogue is special and needs to be learned.

When writing dialogue, it is important that your reader can identify WHO is speaking and be able to SEE the conversation taking place in the scene.

One way is to use speech tags (identifying who is speaking,) AND action tags (what the speaker is doing while speaking.)

I find when I’m writing a scene with dialogue that I need to use at least one or two speech tags to help the reader understand who is speaking, and I try to use a lot of action tags to ‘show’ what is going on in the scene as the characters are having their conversation.

Punctuation of dialogue includes using commas, quotation marks, periods, question marks and some exclamation marks (go easy on these.) (I will cover the punctuation more in-depth when in my Blogs on Grammar.)



“What do you want to do today,” said Sue.

“I don’t know. I can’t think of anything,” said Fred as he continued to thumb through his magazine.

“Put that thing down and talk to me.”

“What? Why should I put my magazine down just to discuss what we will or won’t do today. This conversation is the same every weekend.”

“Maybe that’s why we never do anything. You take absolutely no interest in the conversation or me.”

Fred put the magazine down. “Oh, honey. I’m sorry. But, money is tight. I don’t know what we can do with zero cash. Do you?

“We never have money, Fred. Other people still do things. I just can’t stand sitting here every single weekend.”

How about we take a walk? That doesn’t cost anything.”

“Really?”

“Sure. Let’s go get our sneakers and venture out into the sunshine.”

Sue ran over to Fred and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Thank you. Thank you for letting me know you hear me.”

Anything and anytime. I love you. Don’t you ever forget that, ok?”

“Okay,” she said as she walked towards the closet to get her walking gear.


In your own writing, remember that great dialogue in fiction can do the following four things for your scene:

  1. Dialogue allows us to show conflict.
  2. Dialogue creates tension.
  3. Dialogue advances the story.
  4. Dialogue reveals character.

Try to make every piece of dialogue achieve one or more of these requirements.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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What’s in a Title?

Coming up with a Great Title

I’ve heard that some people come up with the title of their story or novel before they even write the first page. Other folks tell me that they agonize for days about what to name a story. No matter where you fall on this timeline, the important thing is this: Your story or book’s title needs to be unique.

Notice that I didn’t say it had to sum up your book in one word or that it had to have some deeper existential meaning – it just needs to be unique. Special to you.

Over the past twenty-three years, I’ve written over eight-hundred stories, four novels, and about one-hundred poems. I can honestly say that I’m proud of the titles of all these writings.

Now, I won’t say that I spent hours on any one of these titles. My process of coming up with the story idea also includes the title. I don’t think I’ve ever changed the title of something. Even when the story takes me in a different direction than I initially thought.

I’d like to think that my titles make sense, but then, I’m probably not the best judge – being a bit prejudiced.

But what about titles that don’t make sense?

Have you ever picked up a book in the bookstore because the title caught your eye?

And then, as you read the introduction or forward, you were confused. Where did the title come from? Would you have to read the book to find that one tiny reference?

Conversely, isn’t it lovely to read a novel and suddenly come across the passage that must have inspired the writer to give a name that referenced this one scene? Obviously, this scene is central to the story’s theme, and once you find it, the entire storyline falls into place.

So, today’s writing tip: THINK about the title you give to a story. As the first thing a reader will see can either make them grab it up or leave it on the shelf.

IF your title is tied to an obscure scene in the book – make sure it is essential and not just a passing line. Don’t insult your readers – they won’t easily forgive you.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Killing off Characters in your Story or Novel

Death is often used in stories. It could be a murder, a suicide, or only the power of Mother Nature. However, there are critical pitfalls to avoid when using death to enhance the plot of your work.

Reasons You Shouldn’t use to eliminate a character:

Don’t do it if:

           This isn’t a tool to use to get rid of characters that aren’t needed. If you find you don’t need a character, remove them from your manuscript. If a particular person isn’t a vital part of the plot – they are extraneous and don’t even belong in the story.

           A second reason to NOT use killing a character out of the story is when you try to find something to move the story along (because your plot is weak). You are eliminating the character simply to upset your readers. You want your reader to ENJOY reading your book – giving your readers something to dislike isn’t a good move.

           Along with the second reason, you may find yourself killing off a character simply because you’ve written yourself into a corner. You find yourself with no way out, and you feel like you have no other choice. IF this character shouldn’t die, you need to STOP and go back and rewrite the story. NEVER sacrifice a character for the sake of your writing. It is a far better move to make your plot and storyline stronger – which will keep your reader happy. Always structure your writing to make sense – eliminating the words on the page is never a pleasant experience – but you can’t be so in love with what you’ve written that you sacrifice the enjoyability of the story.

           So, while you shouldn’t kill any of your characters for the wrong reasons, there are ways to kill your character that should be used. 

Meaningful Deaths to enhance your story:

Once you’ve decided you are killing off a character, here are some suggestions about how to create death. These five criteria will ensure your readers’ acceptance and continued reading.

The death should be sudden.

While death is never expected, even when a character has a fatal disease or has decided to take their own life, you need to make sure that the end happens when it would most benefit your antagonist AND the attainment of their goal. Your storyline and plot revolve around the destination of your Protagonist. Everything that happens must be working towards the climax of the story.

Remember: The greater the shock to your characters and readers, the better. If you can make an editor/beta reader shout ‘No! Not X!’, you have done well.

Death is a part of life, but in your story, it shouldn’t be expected. Everything that happens in the book needs to hold some excitement or emotion for the antagonist and your reader. Don’t use a death that is somewhat ‘normal.’

For instance, when a gladiator dies during the fight, it is a part of life. It is the expected outcome. However, a writer of fiction can use this moment to enhance the story. The warrior takes several minutes or even hours to die, and they reveal something meaningful on their deathbed. This enables for some fantastic dialogue and makes the character a hero. The goodbyes can be tearful and emote feelings that run deep.

Death needs to be meaningful and glorious. The reader must notice this death. It can’t be accepted as another piece of prose.

Perhaps the character dies while saving another character – someone close to the Protagonist or even your main character. Or the death could have the surviving characters reveal secrets that couldn’t be exposed while the dead character was alive.

Regardless of how you kill the character off, it should be pivotal in the story and not just something that quietly happens in the background.

It is essential that the death feels right. For instance, in the Harry Potter series, as the books move further and further into darkness, it was inevitable that characters would die. First, Harry’s beloved pet owl, Hedwig, dies. Next, he must deal with his Headmaster’s death, and then in the final book, there is a great deal of death. When some of the main characters die, the reader feels it to their core.

The killing of characters should be used sparingly but do kill. At least occasionally. It will keep your readers on their toes.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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Staying on Track with your Writing Goals

Okay, we are beginning the month of February. I blogged last week about attaining your goals for the year and given readers some ideas of how to get started.

It is very important that you set S.M.A.R.T goals – they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. (More about S.M.A.R.T goals coming next week.)

But how do you keep going?

How do you stay motivated? How do you continue to write – even when you don’t feel like it?

One of the things I’ve noticed over the past two years is that my writing has several purposes.

First of all, it gives me something to do during the day while my hubby is at work and the housework is done. (Well, to be truthful, these days the writing comes first and THEN I do the housework.)

Secondly, I committed myself to LEARNING more about writing and improving my skills. I’ve read all kinds of books on grammar, proper use of dialogue, plot development and a bunch of other stuff. When I look back and re-read stories, I wrote over two years ago, I’m amazed at the difference in my writing now.

I recently read an article about finding purpose and using it as the GPS for your writing AND your life. Why do you do the things you do? What purpose are you fulfilling?

We need to know the purpose of our actions and attach some sort of importance to them to feel fulfilled at the end of the day – don’t you think?

So, the challenge for today is to think long and hard about WHY you write. Is it just for yourself? Is it in hopes of being published? Is it to make a living?

Drop me a line on the ‘Contact Me’ page – I would love to know your purpose.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

So, you’re ready to write something…

What are you writing? How long do you think it will be?

As the year is winding down, and with NaNoWriMo looming in the foreground,  many of us are starting new projects. One of the questions that come up, (well, at least for me,) is what are you writing? What kind of story? Are you attempting to write a novel, or perhaps you are completing an anthology of short stories?

Industry standards define writing by word count. I’ve listed the most common definitions I’ve found:

  1. The short-short story is around 1,000 to 1,500 words
  2. The short story is 2,000 to 5,000 words or longer
  3. The novella is 30,000 to 60,000 words
  4. The average novel is 80,000 words

Anything under 1000 words is considered flash fiction.

These are guidelines, and the length can be determined by the actual story itself.

Today’s blog deals with the short story, so let’s take a closer look at what it takes to write a great one.

Keep in mind; the short story is something that is much easier to manage than a full-length novel. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t need as much work – you still have to have substantial character development, a great plot, etc.

Here are some key points:

Every story has a MAIN inciting incident – in short, the something that happens either to your main character or by your main character.

Short stories usually have:

  • a single main character (the protagonist)
  • a simple plot structures
  • a clear beginning, middle, climax, and end

While there is typically no sub-plot, and any secondary characters are two-dimensional, the main character is well-developed. You need to make the reader CARE about what happens to this three-dimensional being.

Who the main character is at the beginning of the story should not be entirely the same person at the end. Something happens. Something changes. He or she gains insight or changes direction. The person grows or weakens because of a dramatic event.

The goal of the modern short story is to keep it fast-paced, with original striking descriptions or imagery, sparsely and cleverly applied.

Other than my daily warm-ups, I usually have some idea in mind when I start writing. I have to admit there are a few stories that developed into novels when I wasn’t paying attention – but I have a vast collection of short stories in my Dropbox files.

Keep writing!

until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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