Pacing Can Make or Break your Story

One of the elements of writing contemporary fiction that we don’t talk about very often is PACING. When you think of the tempo of the piece, or how the reader gets swept away with the story, you are concentrating on the PACING of the story.

Pacing is the rhythm of a story. Every story will have its ups and downs, and within each of those, the pacing will be different.

This technique controls the speed and intensity of your story. Your pacing is vital to your reader. And, as a writer, you need to think about how your pacing affects the reader. Too many fast-paced scenes and you will leave your reader worn out. Conversely, if you have too many slow-paced scenes, your reader will become bored and may stop reading.

As the author, you have to find a way to mix them up so that you do not lose your readers. One of the best ways to do this is to mix up your scenes and sequels. You will have more scenes (which are faster) than sequels (which are slower).

One technique you can use is to SPEED UP your story in critical places.

Here is an exercise that will help you develop this skill:

Write a scene where your character experiences something unsettling. This can be finding out a loved one has died, or they found their spouse in bed with somebody else.

  1. Keep most of your sentences short.
  2. Use the active voice.
  3. Use fragments. Example: ‘David’s heart races. Jealousy is a terrible thing. Cold. Dark. No end in sight.’
  4. Take out unnecessary adverbs and adjectives.
  5. Use dialogue.

Write the scene in the third person present tense.

  1. Remember to Name your characters.
  2. Use the the five senses, dialogue, and the internal thoughts of the viewpoint character.
  3. ‘Show’ the setting of your story through the viewpoint character’s interaction with it.

Now, apply this technique to your WIP. Does the flow of the story seem better? Good. Pacing within your story is a crucial way to keep your reader glued to the page.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Creating Memorable Characters

In a short story, the main character and the plot are the most critical elements. Today, we will talk about the creation of your main character.

Think about it for a moment –

How do you usually come up with the character in your story?

  • They flash into the forefront of your mind fully formed.
  • The plot comes first, and then you create the WHO?
  • How much do you know about your character BEFORE you start writing?

I’m asking these questions because, over the past few years, I’ve read countless articles about characters and their creation. Here are a few of the ideas I’ve seen:

  • A Questionnaire from Your Character (I’ve seen dozens!)
  • How to Introduce Your Character
  • How to Verify your Protagonist
  • How to Create an Antagonist your Readers will Love
  • How to Create Characters and Not Caricatures

So, there are LOTS of ways to create the physical and psychological characteristics of your character, but creating your character is MUCH more than picking out a name and physical characteristics.

If your reading falls flat, or folks are responding to your stories in a negative manner, it is because you haven’t fully fleshed out the main character.

While this is difficult to do in short stories, especially flash fiction, it is necessary. And it is doable. It is all about technique, thought, and purposefully making your character strong.

The story will center around a significant change in your character. Whether it is growing up, forming an opinion, or merely moving from Point A to Point B, this change MUST happen in your story.

The difference usually centers around the PLOT.

Ultimately, you will find that a good short story is character-driven OR plot-driven, but I think the best stories are character-driven as well as plot-driven. It seems like the duality of the story gives it a lot more flavor and endears your character to the reader.

In next week’s blog, I will provide you with MY process for building characters. I will also give you some other resources so YOU can make YOUR process.

Until then,

~Mustang Patty~

Writing the Short Story

As I continue with my journey to help writers and artists prepare work for inclusion in either the ‘2020 Indie Authors Short Story Anthology,’ OR the ‘2020 Artists on Lock Down Collection,’ I’ve learned more about short stories than I thought I would. While I developed my checklist for drafting a short story, it seems there are more ways than I ever dreamed.

First, though it would seem a short story is simply a novel in miniature, it truly isn’t. A short story has unique elements.

Your characters and plot are essential to moving the story along. However, in a short story, you will usually find only ONE Main Character and fewer Secondary Characters. And while you will want your MC to be three-dimensional, your SC’s are generally only two-dimensional at best.

Now, I used to take a basic approach to draft the short story. I got an idea, and I just started to write. However, I have learned through my reading over the past two years, and my concentrated study during the last two months, that approach isn’t the best.

The ideas for short stories need to complex and thematic, almost more so than in a novel. So, rather than just start writing, it is crucial to allow the idea simmer and build in your mind.

A great short story hinges on the strength of your plot and your characters. So, it is more important than ever to develop both before you begin your story.

Starting on Monday, April 27th, I ‘m going to blog about the diverse ways to build and create strong characters. After that, we will focus on developing a strong plot. So, stay tuned!!

until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Claiming the title of Writer

I think I’ve spent the majority of the time set aside for my craft, reading. I will read books written by those who want to teach me more about writing. Since 2016, I’ve added roughly five-hundred books to my shelves. There were so many new books that I had to thin the collection down to just ‘the essentials.’

While I read a lot, I didn’t just read. I wrote. And more importantly, I wrote every day. At first, I challenged myself with the simple task of writing something every single day. I reminded myself that writers do not have holidays or days off.

Writers live to write. The release of the words crowding their minds is necessary for them to breathe their next breath. And so, it was with me.

My ideas formed along with the ideas I read about in the works of other writers. Through prepared online classes, I studied with James Patterson, Margaret Atwood, and Judy Blume. I listened to their podcasts, and I took notes.

My study of the craft also led me to read books on technique, style, and the basics of proper grammar. My writings took the shape of blog entries, short stories, and culminated in finally finishing a novel, and then another. Today, I’m working on the first draft of my third novel, and I’m amazed.

I still read about the craft every day. Today, I came across an article by Vladimir Nabokov. He is known as one of the great writers of the twentieth century. In addition to numerous awards, his work gained acclaim for its use of sophisticated and original plots and clever alliteration and wordplay.

Nabokov’s article listed three qualities for what he considered a ‘major writer.’ These qualities allowed the major writer to be a) A Storyteller, b) A Teacher, and c) An Enchanter.

A gifted writer himself, Nabokov believed the best writers are those who combine all three of these talents in their writing, but above all, the writer of note is always a great enchanter.

It is the storyteller who entertains and gives the reader mental excitement through the emotional roller coaster and travels through time and space. Readers leave the doldrums of this life for strange new worlds.

Taking the analogy one step further, we see the writer as a teacher. The knowledge bestowed upon their readers may come in the form of propaganda, stories of high moral fiber, and direct knowledge of simple facts. A reader wants to learn from their reading, along with the entertainment.

But it is the enchanter within the writer that brings the reader the greatest joy. While the storyteller and teacher bring their talents and blend them with the magic of the written word, it is the genius, the study of style, along with the imagery created that keeps the reader glued to the page.

It is these three facets of the great writer, magic, story, and lesson, blended into one impression of unique radiance. “The magic of art is found in the very bones of the story, in the very marrow of thought.”

(Oh, how I wish I could take credit for that last line, but it is a direct quote from Mr. Nabokov. But his words tell me that someday if I continue to work on my craft, I can create sentences that vibrate and resonate like his.)

And you can, too.

~Mustang Patty~

I will be writing a lot about the craft of writing, creating short stories, and style and technique over the next few weeks.

I’m STILL looking for work from those of you who are feeling the pressure of world events. Please WRITE, DRAW, TAKE PICTURES and EXPRESS YOURSELF in POSITIVE WAYS. (Then send them to me and let’s let the world know we are STRONG, RESILIENT, and POWERFUL.)

Check out the page about the ‘2020 Artists on Lock Down Collection.’

The Deadline for submissions is May 31, 2020

The Virus and Your Muse

Let’s face it. Being told what to do is NEVER a good thing. And for those of us who are creative and live by our own set of rules, it’s almost impossible.

So, a lot of the writers I know are feeling stilted and not able to put down a single word on the blank page. (And conversely, there are writers who are thriving in this world where they are no longer considered weird because they don’t venture out of their house very often.)

I have a challenge for all of you. Whether you write prose, fiction or non-fiction, poetry, doodle, draw, or take pictures, I would love to include your work in a collection I’ve entitled,

‘2020 Artists on Lock Down Collection.’

My goal is to create a visual memory of this strange period in time. It’s a safe bet to say none of us will ever forget the stress, lack of toilet paper, and separation from our loved ones, so I think we need a tangible item to sum things up for us.

The details for how to have your work included can be found on my website, www.mustangpatty1029.com

OR

you can email me directly with any questions you might have. patty@mustangpatty1029.com

I hope this blog post finds all of you safe and doing your best to navigate these choppy waters.

~Mustang Patty~

Which genre suits your writing?

Here’s a question for all of you. Do you think about the genre of the story before you start writing? I do, IF, the story parameters call for a specific genre. You know, if I’m creating a story for a contest that specifies the genre, or maybe a writing challenge with a built-in requirement.

But honestly, I don’t think about my writing in any particular genre. I had to work hard to decide my trilogy was a legal thriller. The clues were in the courtroom scenes and the who-dunnit aspect of the story lines. Most of the time, I just lump my writing in the ‘literary’ genre.

However, when you look at the info-graphic I chose as the featured image for this post, you can see that the genre ‘thriller’ has ten sub-genres. Once you start to read this info-graphic and realize the implications, it is a little mind-blowing. Why? Because I feel that each sub-genre has, it’s own subs. You could drill down about two more levels and still not list ALL of the possibilities.

Should we still believe that there are only six essential stories to be told? I’ve read where you can categorize every story under the umbrella of a basic story line.

Now I have to wonder if that’s true. And if that’s not true, how do we find a simple way to determine which genre suits our writing?

just a few thoughts to ponder on a sleepy Sunday morning,

~Mustang Patty~

My slightly twisted sense of humor

Why I find this meme hysterically funny

In case you’re wondering about my recent blog posts, I’m working through a 20-day challenge to blog every day and identify the best style, subject, and frequency that I would like to continue in the upcoming months.

And today, I’m explaining my sense of humor through a meme, and the story about me behind it.

I’m pretty sure you can tell I have a slightly skewed funny bone because, I get a kick out of how a missing comma can totally change the meaning of the sentence.

I finished a course on proofreading late last year, and I’m currently working on another. I wanted to take these courses primarily to be able to edit my work, but I’ve found a specialized market to proofread for others, too.

So, when I see a meme highlighting how lousy grammar can take any situation into a bad place, I have to share. (After laughing myself silly.)

There you have it. The very essence of my sense of humor is on display in this one little meme. Now, YOU know me a tiny bit better.

~Mustang Patty~

A Life-changing Event and a Quote

“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free so Drink. Drink and be filled up.” ~Stephen King~

During the summer of 1981, my life was full of turmoil. I considered leaving my teenage marriage of five years, and try to find some happiness. I wasn’t content with my life, and I certainly wasn’t getting any closer to my goals being married to my first husband.

In the spring of that same year, I’d attended a concert to see Harry Chapin live in a small venue in Seattle, Washington. We had front row seats, and though I was familiar with ‘Taxi,’ ‘W.O.L.D,’ and ‘Cats in the Cradle,’ I didn’t know too many of Harry’s other songs.

That concert in March of 1981, just a few months before his untimely death, Harry Chapin became a vital person in my world. He inspired me to pick up my pen again.

The songs I heard that night were stories written to music. He wove parts of life into an intricate tapestry of melodies. I was entranced. Tears rolled down my face when I heard ‘A Better Place to Be’ for the first time.

But it was the ending of that concert that moved me the most. Harry was out by the concession stand as he told us he would be as he and the band left the stage.

Now, during the concert, since I was in the front row with my then-husband, Harry noticed me. He saw me because my face reflected all of my emotions as I listened to his stories.

I was too late to get one of the ‘Harry Keep the Change’ t-shirts, but the pile of his poetry books stood high, and I grabbed one and got in line.

For a brief time during the concert, I had an incredible vision. In it, Harry and I walked together in a garden of beautiful flowers. Each flower represented one of his songs. Then we walked to a far corner of the garden, and the soil was plowed and ready for planting.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“This is your garden, Patty.”

“My garden?”

“Yes. When you start writing, you will have a beautiful garden filled with your words and the stories you create.”

“Yes. I can see that.”

After a moment, I asked him, “Do you really think I can?”

“I think you can do anything you decide to try. And I know you are a great writer. Remember the stories you wrote when you were a kid? You could make your mother, your aunt, and your grandmother cry with one story. Imagine the impact you will have on the world.”

“Me?”

“Don’t be modest. Yes, you.”

When the concert was over, the vision of Harry and I in the garden vanished.

Finally, it was my turn to pay for my book and have it signed by Harry. He gave me a knowing smile when he took the book from me.

I felt as if he’d glimpsed a part of the vision. At that moment, I knew he and I traveled together over space and time. In fact, we’d done it many lifetimes before.

After he signed my book, Harry looked directly into my eyes.

“May I?”

He’d said he would kiss all the pretty girls, so I wasn’t astonished when he started towards me while giving the book back to me. What did surprise me was the way he grabbed me and leaned me back into a dip.

The kiss was magical. In those brief moments, I felt our souls greet one another. I felt like I was home after a long time of being on my own.

Now, my husband stood in the concession area and watched the kiss. He didn’t say much. He didn’t say much over the long ride back to Bremerton, where we lived.

Harry’s kiss and presence in my life lingered. He awoke the part of my brain that loved to write. I started to journal again. I always had a notebook with me, so I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to write down a phrase or an idea. The author in me was awake for the first time since I was sixteen.

On July 16, 1981, Harry died in a freak car crash. It seems that the Volkswagen Bug he was driving lost power while he was in the far-left lane of a highway. The tractor-trailer truck behind him hit his car from behind, and Harry left this world.

When the news came on the radio while I was on my lunch break, I felt as if I’d just lost the most critical person in the world. I was bereft as if I lost my spouse or best friend.

And then in the most generous spirit, I’d ever known from him, my husband of five years went to the record store and bought me every Harry album he could find.

It was definitely a case of ‘too little, too late,’ but now, even after forty years, it still makes me smile to know my first husband truly cared. He just didn’t know how to love.

In that September, I left my husband. In the few possessions, I took from our house were the albums and the books I’d been toting from place to place since I was sixteen years old.

Among my treasures, Harry’s book of poetry topped the list. I didn’t have very many things in that little studio apartment, but that memento sat proudly next to the small B/W TV I bought at the local K-Mart.

In early October, a woman I worked with brought me a large bag full of novels. She knew I was going through a rough patch, and she also knew I loved to read. I was delighted and took the bag home with me.

It was Friday night, and the winds was howling outside. I was glad for something to do, so I looked through the bag until I came upon one of Stephen King’s early novels. I read ‘Salem’s Lot’ from cover to cover that night.

Now, I didn’t sleep very well, but in the forward, Stephen King spoke to his love of writing and how it made his life possible.

Suddenly, I was back in that walk in the garden with Harry. Only now, Stephen King was with us, too. And they both told me how important it was for me to share my stories with the world.

Thirty-six years later, I self-published my first novel. Having the ability to write full-time because I left the workforce at the end of 2013 and went on disability, finally gave me the time I wanted. Time to concentrate on writing.

And I think about my two heroes a lot.

If you could stand in my office at any point during the day, you would hear Harry’s songs playing on my desktop computer, compliments of Spotify. It may not be all Harry, all the time, but not single day goes by without me hearing ‘A Better Place to Be’ at least one time.

Stephen King is still alive, and his books come into my life as something new is published. But nothing in his work inspired me as much as Harry’s songs did—until I read the following quote,

“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free so Drink. Drink and be filled up.” ~Stephen King~

Yes, writing is magic. Drinking this special water of life sustains me.

I am a writer.

2020 First Quarter Goals – did you meet them?

Is anyone else blown away because the first quarter of the year is almost over? Turning the page of my calendar this morning hit me flat on the face and left a mark.

When did this happen? And where did the time go?

Where are you in the projects you outlined for the new year. Did you have these goals written down? Or are you merely carrying a mental list in your head? (That’s not always the best plan, by the way.)

I’m proud of myself. I’ve managed to stay on track with the projects I planned at the end of 2019, but I’ve also added a few projects I didn’t even know about until recently.

These new projects aren’t little or insignificant, either. Nope, I’m steering the helm of an anthology of short stories for Indie Authors, and a collection of pieces written during this historical time, called ‘2020 Artists on Lockdown Collection,’ as a working title.

These two projects will produce a little bit of income for me and my sister’s company, Adams Creative Solutions, but more importantly, I will make real connections with the writers of short stories and essays on FaceBook and the other places where I’ve advertised.

Naturally, current events threw a monkey-wrench into all of our lives, but I’m doing my best to keep on track. Yes, I have ‘socially isolated’ to the extreme, and I was happy when every appointment in my calendar for the next three weeks canceled, but I’m accomplishing a lot.

So what are my big plans?

I finished and self-published ‘Innocent for the Moment’ earlier this year (February 2020,) and during the Camp NaNoWriMo, I will begin the rough draft for ‘Moment by Moment.’ I’ve set a goal of 60,000 words, which gives me an average of 2000 words per day. Honestly, I haven’t gotten as much of the planning I thought I would, so I think I may be ‘pantsing’ this one, though I just looked at the skeleton of the outline I started, and maybe I’m not in too bad of shape.

On New Year’s Eve, while the hubby and I discussed our plans and hopes for 2020, I decided I wanted to make this year the start of the ‘turning point’ in my writing. I’m going to find an agent to help me market ‘The Waiting Room,’ and I’m going to enter short story contests, along with others I see, and I’m going to push myself as if I had a full-time job where I was making a minimum of $50K per year.

This job, the best job I’ve ever had besides being a full-time Mom, —these things I do every single day are all about my hubby, my family, and me. I am working hard on the things I want to. I’ve spent the past two and a half weeks organizing my house. We only bought two new pieces of furniture, but it started a flow of organizational projects and a renewed zeal for life in me.

I’m excited every day to come into this office and work. I love the way we’ve organized my office now. It’s the best office I’ve ever had.

As we work through this final week of March, take the time to evaluate your goals for 2020.

Have you made any real progress?

Or are your goals the nebulous ‘someday’ kind of things?

I think the next thing I’ll discuss with you is how to set S.M.A.R.T. goals?

Until tomorrow,

~Mustang Patty~

What to do when you’re STUCK – Part One

My blog for Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Starting today, I will be blogging about tips and techniques you can use when you get to a point where you and your writing are stuck. We all know the feeling. You’ve run out of ideas, words, and you’re ready to walk away from your project. Each Tuesday for the next several weeks, I’m going to help with some suggestions of what to do when you find yourself in that predicament.

In today’s entry, I want to look at a new thing I’ve begun to do when I’m sick of my current project for any reason.

I open the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet and grab the folder marked, ‘Old Stuff.’ As much as I wish it were more, I have just about everything I wrote from the time I was in my mid-thirties. The earlier stories and poems are lost.

The lessons to be learned from something I wrote long ago are many. First of all, there are outlines of book projects I never brought to fruition. When I read the idea for the storyline, I’m either excited or dumfounded. Why did I ever want to write about that? Or This is something I could do a great job with now.

I put what I deem ‘good ones’ into a separate pile, and they come out of the cabinet to my desk where I put them in the three-ring binder labeled, ‘Story Ideas.’

Within the day, I will take one of those new (old to me) ideas and work on a short story. The plans for new novels go on a list on my computer. I only work on one book at a time so that the idea may sit there for a while.

In addition to my writing abilities growing over the years, I’ve also developed a sense of what will work to carry the thought through characters, plot, beginning, middle, and end.

It’s easy to see where I got stuck on these projects. The common problems are

Too ambitious. I can see now that some of these plots were too advanced for me. At that point in my writing career, I didn’t have the knowledge and skills to work through such a complex piece. When I revisit these stories, I may try to build the story they deserve, or I might revise the plot or use parts of characters

Weak characters. With a new critical sense, I look at the characters and realize they are not three dimensional, and they aren’t capable of driving the plot. It’s nearly impossible to build a stable story arc without an energetic MC.

Silly things. For instance, I’ve noticed silly things that I have learned to avoid. My female MCs tend to have names beginning with the letter, J.

Setting. Whenever I come across how I tried to write an environment in pieces of the past, and quite often in my new work, I tend to tell rather than show. Consequently, I spend a great deal of time writing settings over and over. If I’m stuck, this is always a good spot to return to and work the piece once again.

Back in the early years of my writing, I would let these thoughts and stumbling blocks keep me from writing. I didn’t just stop where I was with that project; I might put everything away for months.

If you have a file of old writing, or the false starts of projects of the past, get them out. Take a look at your older work and see what you can learn.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~