48 articles tagged as Writing

Whenever I come up with a story idea that I’m excited about, I share it with the fiance. And, more often than not, he says “oh, that sounds like [insert already published book].” Then I get frustrated and decide my idea is not good enough and move on to something else. But you know what, there are few original core ideas left. It is how you alter the core, the bits you add in, like your characters and your setting, that make it unique.

I read a post over at Writer Unboxed, Write Like a Comparative Mythologist, that summed it up really well:

Even if you are telling ‘essentially the same story’ as someone else, you are not ‘ripping off’—you are adding to the conversation… If you view your story as another answer to the same issue, then you will realize that as long as you are sincerely dealing with the issue, you cannot ‘rip someone off’ just for having a similar premise.

This is good advice to remember when someone tells you “oh, that reminds me of…” or when you read something that has a similar concept to your own WIP. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated, but instead of letting that frustration get you down, use it to work harder to make your work stand out.


Photo by: Stephen Coles, http://www.flickr.com/photos/stewf/

Research is important for a successful novel regardless of your genre. When I first started writing, I figured research was only necessary for historical fiction or Michael Crichton-type thrillers. I was certain that fantasy and futuristic writers didn’t need to bother with research. I mean, they build their own worlds. What’s there to research?

But boy was I wrong.

Research, Research, Research: Examples from the Real World

Think about the last novel you read. Now think about the details. As an example, I will use one of the last novel I read, Wondrous Strange. In this urban fantasy, the main character, Kelley, is an actress in a Shakespeare play and fairy lure is laced throughout the book. There are also other fantastical characters. To write this book, Lesley Livingston needed to be familiar with fairy tales from different cultures. She also needed to be familiar with a variety of Shakespeare plays and other fantasy creatures and the folktales that accompanied them.

My current WIP is set in the future. Like it or not, writing a book set in the future also requires research. While it is not a hard sci-fi book, readers will expect some sci-fi elements. What does the future look like? What new, amazing technology have they developed? To figure this out, I have to spend time looking at trends in technology and science and, based off of these things, make educated guesses about what these things will look like in the future.

Where do I go to Research?

Two of my main sources of research are TechCrunch and Mashable. TechCrunch blogs about technology startups and Web 2.0. Mashable is  a news blog that explores web technology, news, new websites/social networks, etc. I also skim the technology and science sections in several online newspapers and follow NASA and Astronomy Magazine on Twitter. A lot of days, I don’t see anything that sparks my creativity. But sometimes, I get a little nugget that grows into an amazing idea.

Take my current WIP. The main premise came from a news story. I occasionally listen to a podcast called Mysterious Universe. I was listening to it one day and they were talking about solar flares and underground homes that are being built to protect people from these flares. So I went to the internet and started researching these things and the idea took off. What if there was a solar flare that destroyed earth and the wealthy escaped in a space ship and return years later, thinking Earth was uninhabited only to discover that people had been living in underground safety pods. Cue conflict.

No matter what genre you are writing in, you will always need to do your homework.

How do you research? Do you use research for inspiration?

What's your kryptonite?

Every writer has her weaknesses. I recently read a post on Writer Unboxed, What I’ve Learned About Writing a Novel, where author Sarah Pekkanen discusses her struggles with writing a novel that was more than just a character novel. To achieve this, she had to learn about plot and how to make a story really flow. By overcoming her weakness, she has become a successful author. But to get to the point where you can write books that people want to read, you have to accept that no writer is perfect. Everyone has a weakness. But if you can figure out what your writing weakness is, you just might succeed in selling your novel.

It’s all in the Details

I figured out what my weakness was at a young age. I stink at description. And it’s no wonder since I usually skim through the descriptions in books, racing ahead to get to the good stuff, the plot. But, sadly, description is pretty important in books. You need it to set the scene. While I don’t like overly descriptive books, I also don’t enjoy books that are poorly described. And, truth-be-told, I probably read a lot more description than I mean to read.

In high school I came up with what I thought was a brilliant solution to this problem. I would just write plays. Then I could use barebones description and focus on fast-paced plot and dialogue and character building. There were two problems with this approach. 1 – this was the lazy way out. 2 – I’m not overly fond of actors. In fact, I only lasted about a year as a theater major.

Once I came back around to novel-writing, I realized that I wasted a lot of time taking the easy route. I could have been honing my description writing skills. Instead, I spent hours learning how to properly format a script. Useful if I decide to write a book with a playwright as the main character, but not so useful if I want that book to have any shred of description.

Practice, practice, practice – Exercising your creativity

How do you overcome your weaknesses? In writing, sadly, the only real way to do this is through practice. You have to exercise your creative mind. In the past I often skipped exercises in writing books that focused on description. Now I am forcing myself to work through them. And it is not always pretty. I am also forcing myself to read every word in the books I consume, description and all. I’ve learned to plot by being a voracious reader and seeing first hand what does and does not work. By focusing on description in published books, I am also starting to pick up on things that work and do not work.

I’m pretty sure I will always have to work on my description writing skills. Maybe it will become second nature to me one day. I hope it does, but I’m not going to count on it. Instead, I’m going to keep on exercising my creativity with the hopes that I can at least manage to fool readers into believing that I’m an expert writer with zero flaws :)

What’s your kryptonite? How do you confront your weaknesses?

Photo by: yukatafish (flickr username) - http://www.flickr.com/photos/yukatafish/

Writing with an authentic voice is a difficult thing to learn, but lately I’ve been honing in on writers who do it well in an attempt to understand what makes a good voice. The writer I’ve been spending a lot of time with lately (through his books, not in person) is Scott Westerfeld. His books are compelling not just because of his ability to emerse the reader in a wonderfully built world, but also because of his amazing use of voice (which contributes to the world building, but more on that later).

Voice in the Uglies series

In the Uglies series, the main character, Tally, goes through a series of transformations. In each book, the reader can feel these transformations because of Westerfeld’s use of voice. Although told in third person, Westerfeld uses words and thoughts that Tally would use/have. He utilizes slang from his world (e.g. “bubbly” and “icy”) but also gets into the heart of the story. And because the voice is so authentic, he seemlessly transports the reader into Tally’s world. His use of voice wraps around the world, snuggling the reader inside; it is completely devoid of influences from our own world which keeps the illusion from being shattered.

Not only does his use of voice help to make the world real, but he also does a great job portraying many of the things that teenagers and adults alike face – wanting to fit in, insecurities about one’s appearance, never being good enough, etc. While he does this through the plot, these internal struggles would not be nearly as successful without the addition of a believable voice.

Voice in the Leviathan series

The other series of Westerfeld’s I’ve been reading is the Leviathan series. In this series, Westerfeld switches POV between Alek, the properly raised aristocrat fleeing for his life, and Deryn, the spunky Englander pretending to be a boy so she can be an airman. Again told in third person, Westerfeld switches the voice between the chapters. The reader can tell without thinking which POV belongs to which chapter. As with the Uglies series, Westerfeld is successful not just because of word choice and his addition of slang, but he brings out the thoughts and internal struggles of each main character in a believable way.

Other examples of good use of voice

If you are looking for other good examples of voice, Suzanne Collins’ the Hunger Games series uses great voice and is told in first person. In Ally Condie’s Matched, as in the Ugly series, the voice changes as the main character evolves. M.T. Anderson’s Feed, like Westerfeld’s books, incorporates rich dialog into the narration to aid the voice. Another book I recently read is Megan McCafferty’s Bumped, which, like the Leviathan series, uses two POVs. It’s not done to the same degree as what Westerfeld has done, but it’s still a good example of using two narrators within one book.

Do you have any other examples of authors/books that make good use of voice? What other skills can we learn from reading works by other authors?

Don't you feel inspired just looking at this photo?

It’s been over 2 months since I returned from my trip to Italy, but since I’ve been looking at description in writing, I figured it was high time I went back to that trip and shared what I learned.

Do real life experiences breed better description?

If you recall, one of the reasons I was so eager for my trip to Italy was to scope out Pompeii for a possible book idea. While there, I discovered a lot more than what I set out to discover.

Originally I was only interested in Pompeii. I wanted to check out the site, get some impressions of what it is like coming up to it, how well preserved it is, that sort of thing. I wanted to feel what my MC would feel as he arrived at the site. Little did I know I would come back with a lot more ideas, and none of them related to the story I set out to research.

Naples, surprisingly enough, provided more inspiration than Pompeii. Naples is a medieval town, despite it being 2011. There are still narrow cobble-stoned streets, twisting alleyways, and the best part of it, it hasn’t been modernized the way Rome or Munich or other large European towns have. Because of this, I felt like I was being catapulted back in time.


Relying on all of the senses to open your mind to inspiration

The sights, smells, and even sounds all called to me, filling my senses and giving me some great ideas for descriptions -ideas that I could never have honed in on that well without first-hand experience. Things like the way the street lights reflected off of cobblestones after a day of rain, or the sound of rain hitting those cobblestones, or the energy of a small cafe in the late afternoon, or the adrenaline rush as a car comes racing towards you down a narrow alleyway, searching for a place to move to avoid being hit, and being terrified that the car will smack into the walls closing in on it from every angle. Even the feeling of being surrounded by these high walls with little room for escape provided inspiration.

Inspiration is every where, if you know how to look for it

Part of why the environment affected me so much may have been because I set out to be affected. I kept my mind open, I absorbed everything like a sponge. I wanted to remember the sensations and, as a result, I got some really good material for a future book.

Of course, you don’t have to travel all the way to Italy to get inspiration. There is inspiration everywhere. Walk outside and observe what you see, pretending like you are a stranger to the area. Look at things from an outsider’s point-of-view and you just might be surprised by all the things you pick up on, all the new sensations you become aware of.

Do you rely on real-life for inspiration? How do you turn on your senses to really see, hear, smell, and feel things, even things you are very familiar with?

Arthur was not harmed in the capturing of this photo

I hear people talk about writer’s block all the time. I’m familiar with it. I’m sure you are familiar with it too. But as I work on my edits, I’m realizing that there is a worse block out there – editor’s block.

Writing is fun. You are creating a new world, creating new characters, making something new. Editing seems to be the antithesis to creating. Instead of making tons of new things, you are taking away from your creation. Sure, you are taking away to make it better, but it’s hard to see that while neck-deep in the editing process.

The dreaded cuts

No one wants to cut words they’ve spent countless hours writing. This is one reason why it is so important to focus on getting the story down in the first draft and waiting to fix the writing until the second, third, fourth, etc. draft. Why spend countless hours perfecting one sentence when you may end up cutting that entire scene?

Even if you aren’t cutting well-crafted prose, you may still find cuts difficult. And this is where I’m at in the process. I am making cuts to scenes I felt attached to when I wrote them but now I see that they don’t fit in with the natural flow of my story. When you are in the midst of writing, things seem like they fit. But the writing process takes longer than the reading process; you are likely to forget details  or even characters, leaving loose ends and contradictions. In rereading your story, you might realize, like I did, that the plot starts to deviate from the original plan. Some deviation may be good – it can mean that the story does not naturally flow the way you originally planned. But with deviation comes reworking of the plot, and with reworking comes cuts, including character cuts in some instances.

Splicing and dicing

A coworker of mine was recently in a television show. When it aired, she was shocked to see that several sentences were spliced and edited into one sentence. Unless you had been there during her interview, you would never have been able to guess where and how the cuts/edits were made. Well, guess what? Sometimes you have to do the same thing with your writing. And this is where things get really scary. I can deal with making cuts here and there, but when you start moving around large chunks of text, cutting some things, inserting half of a scene from chapter 12 into a part of a scene from chapter 2 and another part from chapter 7, the editing process can seem daunting and a bit frightening. I think this more than the cuts is where my editing block really stems from. Once you start changing the structure, you are really committing to the edits. You are committing to the changes in the story. And you are committing to the new plan you devised for the plot.

Overcoming editor’s block

Of course, editing doesn’t have to be scary. Here are two tricks to get you through the process:

  • Save every version – I have drafts 1.1 and 1.2 as well as 2.1 and I just started 2.2. Whenever I make any big changes, I save a new draft. This way if I change my mind, I can go back to a previous draft. This may seem like commitment phobia, but I see it as smart. You never know when you might decide that a scene or character or setting actually does work. Each rewrite changes the story, and something that didn’t work in one draft could end up working perfectly in a future draft.
  • Just dive in – Obvious, right? But this takes a lot of guts. You know what though? So does being a writer. And sadly, part of writing is editing, so if you are serious about your dream, then you have to take the plunge. You just may end up loving the end result. Need a little motivation? Check out this post by Alexis Grant on How to Find the Guts to Take a Leap.

Do you suffer from editor’s block? Do you have any tips on how to conquer it?

For more on editing, check out Andrea Mack’s blog post over at MiG Writers, Revision is All About Taking Risks.

Ask yourself: does your scene require the super zoom lens or will a wide-angle do the trick?

I’m still on the subject of description, mostly because my WIP needs more of it to really come alive. Description is particularly important for my WIP because the main character has been sent to a new world. Everything is new and so she is really taking in her surroundings, trying to get a grasp on this new world and how she fits into it. But how do you determine when you need more description vs. when less is more?

To describe or not to describe…

I read a great post on kidlit.com the other day about mimetic writing. In her post, Mary looks at situations where lots of description are necessary and situations when excessive descriptions are less appropriate. Basically, if there is a situation where the characters would be likely to notice things, then by all means, throw in some description. But if they are in a high action scene, description would not only get in the way of the flow of the prose, but it would be out of character. Who stops in the middle of running for their life to notice the different types of trees or the chipped paint on a fence? Not many people.

The line that really caught my attention in her post was “If your character is paying really careful attention to someone or something, vague description just isn’t going to cut it.” This could not have described my MCs situation more. And that is when it hit me that I really needed to pump up the description to make the story more real, especially since it’s told in 1st person.

Now, there will be times when high action scenes could call for more description, just as their could be times when detail may be less relevant in a scene where a character is paying close attention to things. For example, if a character is running for their life, they may be paying attention to their surroundings to try to find a place to hide. Or if they are in a fight, they may be watching the movements of their advesary very carefully. Likewise, a character who is paying close attention to someone they are interested in may not be interested in describing everything the person is wearing. If it is the hair or eyes or hands that have attracted the person, they would not necessarily care about the type of shoes the person was wearing, or the smells in the cafetaria. Description for the sake of description is never a good call.

Description can add a lot to a story, but writers have to use common sense when adding it and ask: is this description necessary? Will it add to the story? Will it take away from the flow of the prose? Does it make sense? If your character is from the slums, would they recognize a designer handbag? Would the stuck up socialite care about the color of the bums hair? Not only can description help create your world, but if used smartly, it can also provide insight into your characters. Description can be a powerful tool when used correctly.

As I’m editing my novel, the thing that keeps jumping out at me is the need for more and better description. Having just finished Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, which uses amazing imagery, this task seems incredibly daunting. If you’ve read Delirium, you’ll understand why I feel so intimidated. But seeing how Oliver achieved this, I feel like maybe there is hope for me yet.

Importance of Description in your Writing

Writing without description often leads to boring prose. It leaves your reader in the dark. Description doesn’t just help the reader see what you are seeing, it brings your writing alive. Think about listening to a t.v. show without watching it. Now think about the old-timey radio shows from the pre-television era. The difference is that the radio shows were full of description. They had to be to bring the story alive for the listener. Television shows do not need to use description – they are expecting you to be watching and listening. Now think about applying this to your writing. Without good description, you may as well be listening to a chase or fight scene on t.v. without actually watching it. No fun for you, and no fun for your readers if they are left in the dark.

How to write description

The other day over on Dark Angel’s Blog there was a post on description. In the post, Sherry talks about something she has dubbed “info-dumps.” This is where the writer literally dumps all of the description in one big lump. Check out her post for examples of good description vs. bad description.

The main take-away from Sherry’s post is to subtly weave description into the prose. As a writer, you may write a dump for yourself. I do this all the time. For example, in my notes I may write: Mistress Abbot is overweight and short, like a teapot. She wears little kitten heels and pastel sweaters that make her legs look like sausages and clash with her bright red hair, always coiled up on top of her head in a tight bun. She has a stern expression. However, in my prose I would be more likely to dab bits of the description in throughout the prose. Example: “The clicky-clack of Mistress Abbot’s heels reverberated down the hall and moments later I saw a flash of red hair as Mistress Abbot waddled in like an overstuffed turkey.” Turkey’s are large with thin legs – this calls to mind the tiny, disproportionate heels. The waddling also calls to mind someone who is overweight. You are left with a pretty good image of Mistress Abbot, but the reader still has enough room for their own additions to the image, which I think is important so that the reader can take things they are familiar with and attach them to your descriptions. If the reader can’t imagine it, they aren’t going to get it no matter how descriptive you get.

Do you have tricks for writing description? Do you find it difficult? Are you an info-dumper?


As you may have read in last Tuesday’s post, The Light at the End of the Never Ending Tunnel, I was nearing completion of my first draft. Well guess what? I finished it. Yup, that’s right. I found the ending and stopped upon arrival. Of course, now comes the hard part – the Editing stage.

Editing – a Love/Hate Relationship

I’ve read a lot about the editing process in the blogs I follow. So I can guarantee you, I have not been looking forward to this stage. While I’ve been dying to finish draft one, I’ve been dreading the reward – editing. But in reading through blogs, I got a really good suggestion from several sources – read through your first draft as though you are reading a book. Do not start editing or adding content. Just read through it to see how it works as a real book.

Easier said than done, I know. And this is where my Kindle comes in.

After completing my draft, I set out to put my WIP onto my Kindle. This turned out to be extremely easy (click here for instructions). Basically, you get an email account for your kindle then you email the file to the account. For a very small fee (I paid $0.15), Amazon will convert your ‘book’ into an ebook. It then magically shows up on your Kindle when you connect to the internet.

The formatting is not ideal – my paragraphs are not indented, my headings are all wrong – but I can pick up my Kindle and read my words the same way I would read any other book. Plus, I cannot edit while on the kindle.

I am getting a little frustrated with the no editing thing. I read some sentences and cringe, or I see a typo or a place where I inserted the wrong character’s name. And the writing, oh the writing is so loose and I am just dying to tighten it up. But I also see the sense in this plan.

Why don’t I just get out the red pen and go to town?

Before waisting my time editing, I need to make sure the story actually works. I need to know how it is flowing, what things I abandoned halfway down the road without meaning to, or where I can add things that I decided halfway through to run with. By reading it all the way through, I am experiencing it the way a reader would experience it. And if you recall from my post last Tuesday, the reader is who you ultimately want to please.

So far, not so good

I know it is a rough draft, a point I keep reminding myself of, but so far, I’m not impressed. In fact, I’m a bit bored with my writing. Part of this could be that I already know how it will end, but part of it too is that I got lazy with word choice and my sentences are too wordy. But you know what, that’s alright. Because what I got down in the first draft was my story. The details are all there, waiting for me once I can get past the poorly constructed sentences. And once I see how the content works, I can go back and spend hours searching for the best word or the most clever sentence structure. But until then, I’m just not going to worry about it. I’m reading for content, and content only. The rest can all come into play in the next drafts. This read-through is all about making sure it works.


Without the bones of a good story, no amount of fancy writing will save your book. This is the reality of being a writer. And so I’m willing to suck it up, cringe at the writing I would never pay money to read, and focus on the content.

How do you edit? Do you pull the red pen out and start marking everything up, or do you take your time, immerse yourself in the story first, focusing on that main element, before going crazy with the edits?

A few weeks ago I read in a woman’s magazine (not sure which one) that it takes 66 days to make something a habit. The article was talking more about dieting, or exercising, or flossing your teeth. But in reading it, I couldn’t help but wonder if writing couldn’t also be applied to this.

I know I’ve talked about 750words.com before. Since my last post on the subject, I’ve been using it a lot – I’ve entered almost 20,000 words into the site. And I’ve got to say, it’s growing on me.

Making Writing a Daily Habit

Since February is the shortest month of the year, I decided to join the 750words.com 1-month challenge, where I will write 750 words a day for the entire month. I figure if I succeed, I will have reached day 28 in the 66 days needed to form a habit. And once I’ve hit my 28th day, what’s to stop me from writing for 38 more days? And if I manage to do this, will I have succeeded in making writing a daily habit? I hope so.

So far I am on day 7. Not long, I know. But I already feel the need to sit down and get my writing done. And it really is surprising how fast it is to write 750 words. My best time, earning me the Speedy Typist badge, is 12 minutes, but I average closer to 15. In 15 minutes a day, I can write 750+ words. Not too shabby.

My 750 words are not stellar, I know this. But I’m still on the rough draft stage of my book (and I’m almost done). My only concern with the 1-month challenge is that I will finish my first draft before the month is over. But then, is this really a bad thing?

Do you think I can finish the challenge? Do you think I can turn daily writing into a habit? Have you turned daily writing into a habit? How do you fit your writing time in? Is 15 minutes a day enough time? Or do you need more time to write a first draft?