​Don’t go down halfway through

Our football team had our opponents on the run. At halftime, we were up 32-3.

Comfortable lead. So apparently the guys decided, during halftime, to take a little nap, maybe get in the sauna, watch a little television…I dunno.

Because they left their passion in the locker room when they took the field for the second half.

Now, I’ve never played college football, but I know it’s not easy. You have to show up just to not get hurt. But there’s something that happens when you’re so far ahead you think about putting in the third string. You let go of your zeal, start looking at your watch, thinking about the burger waiting for you after the game.

Or maybe you’re just tired. You gave it all in the first half, and frankly, you need a break.

I get it.

Because I start out a story on fire, writing furiously through the first four chapters. It gets a little harder as I forge my way through chapters 7-8-9…10.

And then it’s halftime. Or at least, half-way through the book.

And I’m tired.

And I still have half the book to write.

And I really want a burger.

By the way, your character might have this moment half-way through the book, too, where they feel exhausted, overwhelmed and ready to hang up their pads and go home.

This is when they look back and see WHY they’re on this journey in the first place. They’re reminded of not only their motivation, but their greatest dream. And that the fight is worth it.

You, and your hero have to press on, or their journey–and your book–will fall apart.

Sort of like our team did. We landed penalty after penalty, gave the ball over three times with sloppy playing and suddenly the score was 21 to 32.

WHAT?

Don’t let the fact you have the rest of the book to write cause you to write poorly, take plotting shortcuts and short-change the emotion of your characters.

Here’s a tip. Don’t look at the entire book, the entire journey. Just take it “play by play.” Give just the next scene your very best. Then, take a little breather, and write the next scene. Just keep going, steady on, until the end.

If you need to write it poorly the first time—that’s FINE. You can give yourself permission to write poorly…as long as you don’t settle there. Go back and rewrite it.

I had a conversation a while back with an aspiring author about how to start her scenes. You can read it here. (Read the entire conversation inConversations with a Writing Coach)

Thankfully, our team woke up in the 4th quarter and pulled the game back into our hands.

So can you. If you feel like your book is sagging, tighten it up by asking:

  • What’s at stake in this scene?
  • What happens if my character doesn’t achieve their goal?
  • How can I create tension by putting my character in a sympathetic situation and making my reader care?

If you get tired half way through, and let your writing sag, your reader will close the book halfway through. And then no one gets to celebrate the final victory. Bummer!

Your story matters, and the fight is worth it!

Go! Write Something Brilliant!

 

Susie May

P.S. My new book,The Story Equation launched this week! Need to know how to create an ORGANIC, properly motivated character, and build an organic, powerful, yet easy plot? Check out the “SEQ!”

 

P.P.S. This week in Novel.Academy, we’re talking about TRENDS in publishing! Learn what’s hot, what’s not, and how you can use it to build your novel career. Check out Novel.Academy, over 100 classes on how to get published, and stay published and make your story matter!

The What and Why of Writing: Boy Scout Moment

Say the words “Boy Scout” and most people will think “Be prepared.” That’s the Boy Scout Motto. Or they might think of words like trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous. These are parts of the 12 Points of the Scout Law. I know all this because my husband, who is an Eagle Scout, recited all 12 Points to me in rapid-fire succession. Once a scout, always a scout.

And yes, all of this Boy Scout trivia is applicable to writing a novel.

What: Boy Scout Moment

This is a sweet moment in the beginning of the book where we glimpse the hero or heroine doing something kind: Maybe they are  kind to an animal. Maybe they help an old woman across the street (Boy Scout, remember?). In some small way, your character sacrifices what they want for someone else. The Boy Scout Moment helps your readers like your hero and/or your heroine.

Why: I already explained why you need a Boy Scout Moment early on in your novel. Look at the last line under the section labeled “What.” You want your readers to like your hero and your heroine.

As novelists, we understand the character arc in a story. Character arc is the timeline that allows our main characters to change and mature as the story progresses. This is why in Chapter One you can have a hero and heroine who loathe each other but then discover Happily Ever After together by the time you pen “The End.” Thanks to the character arc, they are not the same people they were at the beginning of the story.

But not all our characters are likeable at the beginning of the book. As a matter of fact, we’re supposed to write characters who are less-than-perfect. How do you show readers that your hero or heroine are still worth their time, despite their faults?

This is the brilliance of the Boy Scout Moment.

While your heroine may not glimpse the hero’s heart of gold until later in the book, give your readers a quick peek. Here’s where you can peruse that 12 Point Scout Law again:

  1. Trustworthy
  2. Loyal
  3. Helpful
  4. Friendly
  5. Courteous
  6. Kind
  7. Obedient
  8. Cheerful
  9. Thrifty
  10. Brave
  11. Clean
  12. Reverent

 

Example: In my novel Crazy Little Thing Called Love, my heroine Vanessa doesn’t do close relationships. She’s good at saying hello and she’s good at saying goodbye — but she doesn’t know how to do all that comes in between those two words. And yes, there are reasons for that. I knew if I wasn’t careful, Vanessa could come across as distant, yes, even unlikeable, to my readers. At the beginning of the book they wouldn’t know all the reasons why Vanessa would seem closed off toward people. That unfolded as the story progressed. So I crafted a Boy Scout Moment for Vanessa where she helped out a single mom who she’d met during one of her shifts as a paramedic.

What kind of Boy Scout Moment could you give your hero or heroine? Could he look like a jerk to the heroine but prove himself to be trustworthy to someone else? (#1) Could she be loyal to her family by helping out a sibling? (#2) Could he continue to be courteous to his boss even though he’s seething inside? (#5) Or could she clean up a mess she didn’t make?  (#11)

 

[Tweet “The What and Why of Writing: The Boy Scout Moment via @bethvogt #writingtips “]

 

 

 

 

5 Quick Tips for Improving the Pacing of Your Novel

The issue of pacing in a novel — whether your story is moving ahead smoothly — came up in my writing group this past week. The question was phrased this way: It feels like the pacing is off in my manuscript. What can I do to make sure it’s right?

 Thanks to that question, the group brainstormed together and came up with five tips to help improve a manuscript’s pacing:

  1. Wait to evaluate your novel’s pacing until after you’ve finished your fast draft. Fast drafting is an act of discovery and falling in love with your characters. It’s all about writing forward – not going backward and fine tuning anything: characters, plot, spiritual thread, or pacing.
  2. Read your story chronologically. This may seem like a “duh,” but sometimes as writers we jump back and forth between scenes as we rewrite. We realize we need to add a new chapter in between chapters 7 and 8 and then we decide to add a third scene after the two scenes in chapter 20. While we’re doing this kind of rewriting is not the time to evaluate our story’s pacing.
  3. Allow your character’s emotions to drive your scenes. Specifically, look for deep emotions for your characters to react to and push your chapters forward.
  4. Ensure that you have Action, Reaction, and Action/Reaction scenes. If you write only Action scenes, your pacing is all go, go, go – and you’ll exhaust your readers’ emotions. All Reaction scenes? Your pacing is too slow. You don’t want to put your readers to sleep, do you? HINT: Sometimes I label my scenes when I’m rewriting with an “A” for Action, an “R” for Reaction, and an “AR” for Action/Reaction to give me a quick visual of my pacing. If I’m too heavy with one kind of scene, I know my pacing is off and I need to adjust.
  5. Hand your manuscript off to someone else. You can be too close to your story to tell if the pacing is off. This is where a craft group comes in to give you needed feedback. Or preferred readers. Or an editor. They can tell you if your scenes are dragging because you’ve taken too long to get to the action at the beginning of a scene or if you’ve left a scene too early.

Remember: Pacing isn’t something you evaluate in the early stages of writing a manuscript and sometimes you need other people to help you evaluate if your pacing. Do you have any other tips for checking whether your novel is moving ahead smoothly?

 

[Tweet “5 Quick Tips for Improving the Pacing of Your Novel by @bethvogt #amwriting #tips”]

 

 

NaNoWriMo Scene Starter!

[So—like you all, I’m writing a book in month with NaNoWriMo! Just to encourage myself, I dragged out this conversation I had with an aspiring author on how to keep going!

If you want the entire Conversation on How to Write a Novel, check out Conversations with a Writing Coach!]

*****

“How is your NaNoWriMo manuscript going?” I set my coffee down at the table where Sally sat waiting for me, drinking coffee and eating a cookie. A light frost tipped the grass outside, the lake frothy along the rocky shoreline.

“I think my brain is shutting down. I’ve written about two thousand words a day, but I am running out of ideas on how to start my scene.” Sally broke off a piece of her monster cookie, the fresh-baked smell enough to make me wish I hadn’t eaten breakfast.

“Have you done your scene preparation?  Figured out Layer One: what kind of scene it is, and the 5 Ws’?”

“Oh, that’s the easy part. And Layer Two isn’t so hard either. Creating Tension is easy once you understand the equation: a Character we care about who has a goal, as well as something to lose who meets obstacles that feel insurmountable so much so that we fear they’ll fail.”

“Right. The equation is: Sympathetic Character + Stakes + Goals + Obstacles + Fear of Failure.”

She broke off another piece of cookie. A M&M dropped onto her napkin. “But finding the first line and getting going that is stumping me. I feel like the words should just come to me, but…I’m staring at the blank page.”

“I understand. Let me teach you my first line/hook technique that is simple and fast to get you going into the scene. This is Layer Three and it’s simply about making the Hook SHARP.

“S stands for STAKES. What does your character have to lose? What can go wrong? You must have this element or there is simply no reason to have this scene, and especially no reason for your reader to stick with the story. In an Action scene, it’s something that could happen. In a ReAction scene, it might be making a bad decision. To find this, ask: What is the worst thing that could happen to your character right now? What does he/she fear?

“H stands for Hero/Heroine Identification. Why should we care about your character? What about your character makes us understand or even sympathize with him? To find that element ask: What do I have in common with my character? What need, or dream, or situation, or fear, or past experience do we share? And what about that can I extrapolate that fits into my story? Giving your character a realistic, sympathetic situation and realistic emotions is the key to creating that connection between your reader and your character.

“A stand for Anchoring, or Storyworld. Use your inner journalist to create place. By the end of the first paragraph, and for sure the first scene, you should have anchored your character into the scene by using the five W’s. Who, What, Where, When and Why? Then, add in the 5 senses. The Facts and Feelings work together to establish place and evoke emotions. The right storyworld can give us a feeling of happiness, or tension, even doom in the scene. Ask: What is the one emotion you’d like to establish in this first sentence, paragraph, scene? Using the five 5’s, what words can you find that conveys this sense of emotion? Use these in the crafting of your first paragraph.

“R reminds us to start your scene: on the Run. Writing craft instructor Dwight Swain in Techniques of the selling writer says that “a good story being in the middle, retrieves the past and continues to the end.” Your scene should start in the middle of the action, as if drawing back the curtain on the scene to find it already in action on the stage. Ask: How can I start my scene with the characters already engaging the problem of the scene?

“P helps us to identify and weave in the Thematic Problem, or the Story Question, in the scene. You will have one story question, or thematic question that drives your book. This question permeates all the decisions your hero and/or heroine make throughout the story. Ask: What thematic question is my character grappling with in this scene? How can you weave in the theme, or some part of it?

“Once you have identified all these pieces, climb into your POV character’s “skin” (or head) and stand at the edge of the stage, looking at all the activity and ask: What am I (as the character) thinking right now? Not what am I thinking about, but what am I thinking?

“Use this sentence to start your character in the scene. You can change it later, but at this moment, you’ll be in your character’s skin and able to go forward in their POV and write the scene. (Because you’ll know the goals, stakes, obstacles and even the thematic problem they’ll struggle with in the scene).

“What if I get the wrong first line?”

“Sally, there’s no wrong first line. But at this point, you’re just trying to get words on the page. Try it – you’ll be surprised at how the words just start to flow out of you once you figure out these elements.”

“I don’t know. I like to let the scene just . . . flow out of me. Organic. Seat of the pants.”

I looked at her cookie as she finished it off. “When you make cookies, you use the same ingredients for almost every kind of cookie. Sugar. Flour. Eggs. Salt. Baking soda. However, have you ever started making cookies and realized you’ve run out of one of the ingredients? Suddenly you have to run to the store, and your baking is stalled.

“The same thing happens when you are creating a scene. First, you assemble your ingredients. If you skip this part, you don’t know what you’re missing and you’ll suddenly be stalled in your creation process. This way, you’re pulling your “scene ingredients” out of the cupboard (your head) before you start mixing it together. You’re still writing the scene “Seat of the Pants” but you’re using specific ingredients to help you build it. And since you’ve assembled them before hand, you can flow without having to stop and figure out what you’re missing.”

“You’ve been eyeing my cookie all morning haven’t you?”

Truth: Success with scene building and maximizing your writing session is about preparation and gathering your ingredients before you begin. 

Dare: Do your prep work before you begin your writing session. An hour of planning will save you and hour of staring at an empty page!

Have a great writing week!

Go! Write Something Brilliant!

Susie May

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“I was so excited to see that Conversations with a Writing Coach contains the lessons and writing aids that took me from being an unpublished writer to published with a multi-book contract. Susan’s talent for teaching the craft of writing is phenomenal. The lessons are easy to understand and will help beginning writers understand and develop their characters, plots and settings. And not just beginning writers—the workbook is a great refresher course for me as I begin my 5th book in two years. Patricia Bradley, author of the Logan Point series”