Monday, June 26, 2017

5 Tips For Sharpening Scenes

Don't we all sometimes feel like a scene we are writing is just... well... blah?  What can you do to make it more effective, make it more exciting or as something the reader wants to read? Sometimes it is the small things that can make a difference in bring a scene to life. The other day on the internet I read a headline about Stephen King being the writer who brings our time period to life and it got me to thinking. How does he do that? How could we use that same sort of writing technique for our own stories?

1. Use little details. Often it is those little things that King mentions in a story that makes it so much more real. For instance in his bestseller, Mr. Mercedes, he has someone back in the past driving a Datsun. It's not just a car; it's a Datsun, a specific model. His character Det. Hodges, sits in a La-Z-Boy, not just a lounger. We may not even know the difference between that sort of lounger and others, but again, it's something specific.

2. Turn something unknown into something fearful. I remember listening to the audio version of his book Desperation about driving into a deserted town in the desert as I was driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. There weren't many little towns on that highway, but I remember fearing that I might suddenly arrive at the desert town of Baker and suddenly find it deserted instead of being the place I normally stopped for gas and a Diet Coke. And I remember the fear of driving across a small strip of Oklahoma that was very empty and worrying about what unknown territory might be out there. King can take that small fear of the unknown and blow it up into something big. We can all relate to that.

3. Use all the senses in a scene. This is something I constantly teach in writing classes. Is your
character greeting someone at the airport? Don't forget all the noise and bustle around the person--women with crying babies, people shouting at each other to hurry or in greeting, people jostling others to get ahead of them. What about the smells? People always seem to remember smells except when they are writing. I remember standing beside the Olympic torch in Vancouver and being overwhelmed not by the crowd around, or even the damp chilly day, but by the smell of the fuel that was keeping it lit.

4. Sharpen the focus on your characters.  Again it is often the small details that bring a person to life, whether it is a habit that the person often does or a quirk. Years ago I wrote a series of short stories for an anthology with another writer and when we were coming up with new characters for each story he always started out with a character's quirk. I thought it was a fun thing to do, but as we developed the stories around a certain theme, I found those quirks were very useful in bringing those characters to life.

5. Experiment. Try something different, something you haven't done before. It might be a short story when you are used to writing long or it might be a longer story when you normally write short. Try writing a science fiction or fantasy if you normally write romances or a mystery.  Just stretching your imagination can be fun not only as a way to take a break but also to give new vitality to your writing when you go back to your normal work.

And finally remember those scenes as you edit. As you go through your work before sending it off or publishing it, see how much you notice about the scene and read it as though you were a reader, seeing it for the first time. Are you giving your readers a real picture? A story they can step into and enjoy? If not, then look for some of these ways to make the picture come alive.





Monday, June 19, 2017

5 Tips for Getting Re-Energized

Sometimes that old goblin just gets to us -- we can call it hitting the wall, or writers' block, or just losing inspiration. What can you do when that happens? There is always the easy way out: you can give your writing a rest for a while and come back to it later.  The only successful way to do that, though, is to give yourself a deadline. Give yourself a day or two, a couple of days, or even a week, but you have to be ready to get yourself back in your chair at the end of that time period and be ready to go again. If you don't, you face the possibility of days turning to weeks, into months and nothing is getting done.  What can you do to get yourself re-inspired or re-energized?

Here are some tips that can help:

1. Take a trip.  I only suggest that at the beginning because I just returned from a four-day journey that not only re-energized my thinking, but also provided some wonderful and stimulating ideas for a romance I am writing that is set in the 1880's on the grassy  plains of southern Colorado.  At my sister's suggestion we ended up driving along a dirt road through those exact grassy plains. In addition to returning to town with lots of bug bites, I also came away with some wonderfully inspiring ideas for what a character might feel on a summer morning. The trip also had me thinking up new scenes. Now we can't always take a trip to the exact story location, but we can do other things.

2.  Try fresh research.  We may all do research before we start writing a story, but sometimes you have to go back and re-study some of those old notes. Remember why you were putting things a certain way, or look for small tidbits of research that you might have overlooked in your writing and use them. That refreshing of your ideas may spark new thoughts and new directions in your story. If you are writing historical pieces, research can always play as major role. The problem is not to let it get so overwhelming that all you do is research. Sooner or later you need to stop and write that story.

3. Try a new approach.  I usually write off the top of my head without planning what will happen next, but sometimes that can also slow me down. Sometimes it pays to take those few extra moments or hours to sit down with your plot and characters and think about what you want to happen next. Are there scenes that you realize you will need to get to a certain point? Try writing them, or at least try a couple of different story or plot ideas and see if might help get you past this current hung up point.

4.  Try writing in a different genre for a short story or a non-fiction piece of writing. Much as I love writing romance and mystery or suspense I also once enjoyed reading science fiction and horror. A month ago I went to a session on writing horror and found us studying so many of the masters I had once read. It gave me new ideas for possible short stories and I came home and started a science fiction work. It got me back to writing and that was what was important. I may turn the story into a short serialized piece. I have also been working on several non-fiction biographical pieces that help keep the writing flowing.

5.  Try writing sprints. This is something that I have heard work for so many people.  This week I plan to take part in several write-ins with different groups of authors and I may try some writing sprints as we work on our projects.  I want to see how successful that might be. Again, the key is trying something new and something that also helps to keep writing.

Don't let the summer get away from you! We are hitting peak vacation time, but you can also use it to re-energize your writing so that when you come back to doing it full time or part time, you will be ready to go!

5 Tips for Developing Research Techniques

This past week researching has been on my mind for a number of reasons. First of all I am working on a project dealing with a Native Ameri...