Kiss “I Can’t” Goodbye

In high school, my band director erased “can’t” from my vocabulary. It was a slow, sweaty, painful process. We had been a championship band, a finalist in the state for 4A high schools. But after two years of mediocre performances, we were left wondering if we were “has beens” that had become “wannabes.”Kariss - band 1

But Mr. C never settled for defeat. He delighted in giving us the most challenging routines and music while watching us rise to the occasion. And he tolerated nothing less than our absolute best, knowing that our greatest potential often lay just below our valid but weak excuses.

It took training. Sweltering hours on pavement in Texas weather, running the routine over and over again until clothes clung to sweaty frames. Then we hit the classroom, fingers meticulously skipping over the keys until we knew every note by heart and could play it standing or running at 160 beats per minute.

I remember trying and trying to get a note set correct and failing miserably (in front of fifty of my peers by the way). After the fifth time, I quit trying.

“I can’t do it.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“I can’t do it, Mr. C.”

“I don’t understand that word. Try again.”

It’s amazing what I came up with in the absence of that word. I’m having trouble. This is hard. How in the world do I do this? I don’t know how. But not one of those gave me the option to stop trying. And every excuse carried with it the opportunity to discover a new journey in the struggle.

He never let me quit in the classroom or on the marching field. Slow down, sure. Take each note one finger at a time, yep. But NEVER quit. Because he knew I could if I set my mind to it, no matter the challenge.

Success lay just below the “I can’ts,” just waiting to come to fruition with the acknowledgment of “I can…somehow.” And that lesson has shaped my writing journey. Rejections became detours. “Can’ts” became other challenges to conquer.

There have been many moments when I have been tempted to say “I can’t” in the middle of writing or editing or even marketing (I might have even slipped and said it a few times). But somehow, I meet the deadline every time, proud of the finished product.

Much like with marching or learning music, I keep writing until the words become an Kariss - band 2extension and enhancement of the story instead of simply an exploration to jog my creativity. Every time I finish, I know I CAN. I just have to discover HOW. I finally determined that I wanted it much more than I feared it.

Talent and passion may come naturally to a point. But success as a result of those attributes NEVER comes without hard work and a willingness to push past rejection, defeat, and redirection. As soon as you purge the excuses, the story blooms, and it’s only a matter of time before others outside your circle begin to notice the beauty of the finished product.

By the way, when we purged the excuses, our band went on to place first in every competition that season and ended the semester and my high school career as 4A Texas State Champions.

This thing you keep attempting that you think is impossible? It’s possible. It just takes placing one foot in front of the other until you see the results.

Where do you need to erase “can’t” from your vocabulary?

Rewriting: 7 Simple Tips – Part Two

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A book is made in the rewrite. We take the words and begin to refine and reshape them into the finished book. We compose the first draft quickly, getting the words down on paper as they flow. Then we begin the work of rewriting.

Here are our final four tips on rewriting with examples from The Shepherd’s Song. You can read the first three tips here.

4. Watch out for the word “felt” when describing a character’s feelings.  Remember the old saying: show don’t tell.

FIRST DRAFT: She felt confused and out of control.  

This is okay for a first draft but needs rewriting.

FINAL DRAFT: “What’s your name?”

She tried to focus. Her name?

“Kate . . . McConnell.” She gasped out each word.

“Your birthday?”

She tried to come up with the answer, but it was too confusing. Tears welled up.

“It’s all right. Just stay with me.”

“What hap…?” She wanted to finish the sentence but could not.

5. Eliminate prepositional phrases that tell us about the character or action.

FIRST DRAFT:  Without hesitation the nurses joined Dr. Belding in pushing the stretcher toward the elevators.

Instead of telling the reader “without hesitation,” why not put the scene in play and show them?

FINAL DRAFT:  Dr. Belding grabbed the end of the stretcher. “Okay, people. Let’s get her down to the OR.” He turned to the nurse. “Has the family been called?”

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6. Watch out for the word “saw.” Show us what the character is seeing instead.

FIRST DRAFT: He slipped the phone out of his pocket and saw the text message from his dad.

We don’t need to explain that the character saw something.  Show it from the character’s POV.

FINAL DRAFT:  Matt slipped the phone out of his pocket.

‘Emergency. Call me.’

A text from his dad. That was unusual.

7. Evaluate each adverb. Is there a better way to show the reader what is happening?

FIRST DRAFT: John McConnell looked up in irritation at his secretary.  

“I said hold all calls,” he said impatiently.  

Telling reminds the reader that it is not real. Staying in the character’s head means we show through the character’s actions what is happening, and how they are feeling. We had to rewrite to show his impatience.

FINAL DRAFT: “Mr. McConnell. A phone call, line three.” His secretary spoke from the doorway.

“I said to hold all calls.” He continued scanning the document in front of him.

“I know, but.”

“I am well aware that we all need to get out of here.”

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These simple tips help us with our writing. Do you have others to share?

Betsy and Laurie

http://www.WritingSisters.com

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How to Edit a Manuscript

You’ve edited a paragraph, a chapter, maybe a few chapters, but now your manuscript is Kariss editingready to go and your editor sent you back the first round of edits full of major content changes. Where do you begin?

Editing the manuscript as a whole can seem like a daunting task. Editing is a necessary evil to me. I prefer writing any day. But I’m always pleased with the end result after time spent editing.

The truth is that editing needs to be a matter of prayer before you feel tempted to knock your computer off the desk. (Kidding. Kind of.) It can feel frustrating and detailed and confining after a fluid writing process to finish your book.

Here’s the good news: If you crafted your story correctly, it should be frustrating. Just look at it as a challenge to overcome. Content edits often include tweaking details used in major story lines. You have to track each story line down and make sure your changes are consistent. If you tweak one detail, it may cause you to slightly amend a detail in another story line. I was thankful to see that my story lines were so interwoven that one change affected another but was terrified I would miss something. But don’t worry, that’s where your editor comes in to catch anything you missed. Just try to do your due diligence on the front end.

I just finished a round of edits for my second book, Shadowed. Here are some of my takeaways for a major content edit:

1) Start small.

Read through ALL of the suggestions from your editor. Weigh what she is asking. Then set the manuscript aside for a couple of days. Process the best way you can tackle the job. Pray that you will know the parts to keep and parts to cut, when to kill your darlings and when to fight.

2) Make a plan.

I found it difficult to keep scrolling through the manuscript to find all the places I needed to fix, especially when it came to juggling scenes and chapters for better time placement. Write down a knock list and cross out each item as your finish it. You will feel accomplished and know you are moving in the right direction. Even if the list is extensive, take it one step at a time. If something else comes to mind, write it down and come back to it. You can do this!

3) Take your first pass.

Start at the top and work through until THE END. Write down any questions you may have about research or editor comments. Make all the smaller changes you can make right away. For instance, I noticed I referred to an organization two different ways in my manuscript. For consistency’s sake, I used the “Find and Replace” feature in Word for an easy fix to ensure accuracy. Easy check mark on my list!

4) Attack the major problems with gusto.

It helped me to print my manuscript, make notes, and then get to work. My editor Kariss manuscriptssuggested some things that I struggled to pull off. However, when I looked at a clean, printed manuscript, I was able to take her suggestions with my preferences and style and make the changes something that fit the story better. I love to work with my hands, so it helped to have something to hold and mark up with a pen. It also got me time away from my computer screen, which gave me a great brain break.

5) Finish strong and pray.

Time for that final look. I try to make it my goal to tackle as many issues as possible so the next edit is easier. Send the editor any notes she may need to do her job well and help you. I learned on my last edit that sending an accompanying timeline saves LOADS of time for both you and the editor.

Finish by praying that God will use this for the process ahead and that the finished product will bring God glory. Take a deep breath, type that email, and click send. Your manuscript is changing, but so are you!

What lessons have you learned during editing? What process helps you?

Working with an Editor

Kariss manuscriptsThey say that all good things must come to an end. Sadly, the same holds true in writing. As you turn your manuscript in to the publisher, you abdicate your position as ruler of your own fictional kingdom in favor of an advisor who tells you all the wonderful things you did wrong and how you can fix them. (For example, my editor would have asked me who “they” is in that opening line.)

But this “bad” thing doesn’t actually have to be bad. In fact, think of it as iron sharpening iron. Who knows your story and characters better than you? And who better to help you improve than an unbiased person who likes to read and knows a whole lot about writing and how to craft a story?

I am by no means an expert, but as I edit my second book, I realize how much I learned while editing Shaken. As you prepare your book for the editing process, here are some ways to prepare yourself, as well.

1. Check your pride at the door.

First of all, realize your editor is there to HELP you, not hurt you. Don’t take it personally. I thought I understood that, but I didn’t really grasp it until I received my first round of notes. Then my pride took a nose dive and shattered in a very ugly pile around my feet. This process is meant to refine both you and your story. I tend to write in a steady stream of consciousness, wrapped up in my story world. It takes someone looking at it from the outside to show me where the issues are and help me to change them.

2. Kill your darlings.

In Texas, we call this “killin’ your darlin’.” Your editor believes in your story, too, or they wouldn’t spend countless hours helping you. They want to make it better, but sometimes that means cutting important characters or scenes you love. This is the part I hated in the editing process.

It is challenging to dig into your story, delete scenes, and create new ones where you originally imagined something different. There were times my editor suggested a line of copy or dialogue that made me cringe, not because she wasn’t right, but because it wasn’t in the exact voice my character would have said it. Here’s where camaraderie came into effect. She could see the holes. I could keep the story true. We made a great team. Killing my darlings made my story stronger.

3. Fight for your story.

This may seem to contradict the previous point, but trust me, it doesn’t. Like I’ve said before, NO ONE knows your story or characters better than you. Here’s where discernment comes into play. At the beginning of the editing process, my editor asked me to cut several characters. No matter how much I played with this request, something didn’t sit right. So I fought for these characters, explained the role they would play in future books, and stood my ground. I knew keeping them would benefit the story. Once I explained their importance (and not just my emotional attachment), my editor listened and immediately replied with ways I could make these characters even stronger than what I had in mind.

It turns out that the characters I fought to keep have been some of the favorites for readers. If you know in your gut something needs to stay, fight for it. Just make sure to check your emotional attachment at the door and identify exactly why this piece adds to the story.

So, take what I’ve learned. Add your own insight. And I’ll add to the list after I finish this round of edits. I never want to be a bratty author who says I know best. I do want to collaborate. Yes, I know my story, but I need people who will help me make it better. I’m pretty excited about the possibilities. Bring on the next challenge.

What lessons have you learned while working with your editor?

5 Ways to Drive an Editor Crazy

13761150586648bAs an aspiring writer, I thought editors had horns on their head and pitchforks perched beside their desks. After all, they sent me form “no thanks” letters after I’d slaved over an obviously brilliant manuscript. They ignored my letters and phone calls, and seemed to take joy in waiting months before replying to my oh-so-urgent emails.

Now, as both a seasoned writer and an editor for a large faith-based website, I’ve learned that editors are people, too. We love finding new voices to publish, and we try to be gentle when doling out rejections. Sure, we have our quirks, and we make mistakes. But mostly, we’re word-loving, gentle souls who find joy in a well-placed modifier.

When provoked, however, we can lose our literary minds. Several habits don’t just rub us the wrong way—they make us want to run down the street while still in our bathrobes, shouting Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” until we puke.

Here’s how you can speed that process along:

1) Treat Guidelines as Optional.

      Don’t bother reading writing guidelines; don’t even visit websites or read back issues of magazines. Send a totally inappropriate submission. In your cover letter, tell the editor that while you’ve never taken the time to familiarize yourself with their publication, you’re sure that your work is perfect for them. file3781288474089

       2) Respond viciously to rejection letters.

      When you receive a letter stating that “your submission doesn’t meet our current needs,” fire off a hateful email, chastising the editor for his lack of taste. Even better: use bad language and post your vitriolic thoughts all over social media. (This habit works well if you never want to see your work in print. Those bridges are so pretty when they burn!)

      3) Never turn in an assignment by the deadline.

Deadlines aren’t set in stone; therefore, ask for repeated extensions, paying no attention to the panicked tone of your editor’s responses. Don’t worry that you are one of several dozen moving parts in the publishing of a website, magazine or compilation book. Take all the time you want—the world does, in fact, revolve around you.

       4) Take up all your editor’s time.

Ask repeated questions about the contract or terms of your publishing agreement. Don’t get an agent or other professionals to weigh in on your questions. Don’t network with other writers so that you can learn from their experiences. Pester the editor with texts (preferably to her personal cell phone, if you can dig up the number) about when your piece will be printed, how many readers you’ll get, etc.

And finally:

5) Refuse to accept changes in your manuscript.

Since you have received your talent from God, treat every word as His direct quote. Don’t let an editor make changes to your beautiful masterpiece. Fight over each letter and punctuation mark. Don’t choose your battles. Take offense at questions. Die on every single hill.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a nasty email to delete…and I need to look up the lyrics to a certain parody song.

Rewriting: 7 Simple Tips – Part One

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When we started The Shepherd’s Song, the ideas came fast and the words flowed.  We didn’t stop that precious flow by asking ourselves questions. Our mother had taught us that. Get the words down, then you can shape them and refine the writing.

Here are some tips for rewriting, and some examples from the first chapter of The Shepherd’s Song.

1. Stick to what the character is personally experiencing.

FIRST DRAFT:  The ambulance doors opened and Kate’s stretcher was pulled out of the back. The wheels hit the ground and they were inside within seconds. Doctors and nurses surrounded her, each performing a different task, all with the goal of saving her life.

This first draft tells us what is happening. We hear the voice of a narrator. But if the scene is from Kate’s POV, we want to show the reader only what she is experiencing. Here’s the rewrite:

FINAL DRAFT:  She felt jarred as the stretcher was pulled forward, then lights and swirls of snow. The wheels hit the ground and they were inside within seconds. Masked faces in white and green hovered over her. Gloved hands touched her.

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2. Do a search for the word “thought.” See if you need it.

FIRST DRAFT:  A brief memory of her car plowing into another vehicle flashed across her mind. ‘A car accident,’ she thought. ‘I’ve been in a car accident.’

Extra words take the reader out of the character’s head. There’s no need to tell the reader that the character is thinking. Just say it.

FINAL DRAFT:  A brief memory came – her car sliding on the slick road, the sound of breaking glass and crunching metal. A car accident.

3.  Limit speech tags

FIRST DRAFT: “What happened?” the young man doing the CT scan asked.

“Car accident,” the nurse said. “A big pile-up on I-95.”

“No kidding. She doesn’t look so good. Is she going to make it?” he asked, helping them roll Kate into the room.

“Too early to tell,” Dr. Belding said.

The nurse shrugged. “You never know with these trauma patients. I’ve seen ones in worse shape make it, but not many. If I were the kind to bet, I’d bet ‘no’ for this woman.”

“Too bad,” the young man said.

Can you see how awkward this is? The tags (he said, she said), are slowing down the action and are reminding us that it is a written story.

FINAL DRAFT: She heard the voices back and forth over her stretcher.

“What happened?”

“A big pile-up on I-95. Twenty-five cars, six semis and one bus.”

“No kidding. She doesn’t look so good. Is she going to make it?”

“You never know with these trauma patients. I’ve seen ones in worse shape make it … but not many.”

Kate closed her eyes again. I might die.

Here’s another place we rewrote, removing the tag.

FIRST DRAFT:  He picked up the receiver and said, “This is John McConnell.”

FINAL DRAFT:  He fumbled for a moment with the receiver, then got it to his mouth with shaking hands. “This is John McConnell.”

Having a checklist for rewrites is helpful and a quick way to review a manuscript. Using search features allows us to quickly find and replace words like “thought” or “said.”

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We’ll share four more tips next time. Do you have tips that you use for rewriting?

Betsy and Laurie

http://www.WritingSisters.com

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Puppies, Unicorns and Dolphin-Shaped Balloons

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Have you heard of the term bait-and-switch? Yep. This is one of them, and for good cause. If the title had read “3 Reasons to Outline,” would you seriously have stayed tuned? Not only is the topic of outlining boring, it often causes big hivey welts to break out on some people. So if you need to slug back a few gulps of Benadryl, go for it, and let’s move forward with…

3 REASONS TO OUTLINE

1. To keep from crashing head first into the lack of confidence wall.

Yes, you can write an entire novel without drafting an outline, but the chances of losing steam and curling into the fetal position about midway through are pretty high. What you thought was a plot screeches to a halt. Characters wander around like zombies on steroids. Your narrative is a flaming train wreck of twisted words. Reaching this state of mind has a way of sucking all the confidence marrow from your bones. This is where an outline comes in handy. Think of it as a safety net and/or anti-zombie mega-gun. When you hit midway in your story, you can reach out and grab the outline rope to pull yourself up to the grand summit of a finale.

2. So you know where you’re going.

I’m not a huge map fan. I can’t fold the dang things. I know. I know. There’s this great new invention called MapQuest. Yeah. That’d be great if I had a smart phone—which I don’t. Even so, there have been a few family vacations where I’ve been awfully thankful for a map. That’s what your outline is. Writing a story is a lot like going on a road trip. Sure you can throw your bags in the car and hope for the best, but what happens when you hit construction? Or worse…road closed? That’s when a map is your best friend. Same thing with a meandering story. An outline will keep you on track to end up where you wanted to go.

3. It works out the kinks.

Don’t get me wrong. Writing an outline is not a magic pill that takes you to happy writer land (but if you could market that, you’d make scads of money.) Planning out the major scenes ahead of time, thinking through all the what-if-that-happens scenarios, straightens out your plot so you’ll be less likely to have to rewrite unnecessary chapters.

Convinced yet that outlining is the greatest thing ever? I wouldn’t be, either. Outlining sounds about as much fun as scrubbing the toilet—outlining as in Roman Numerals and sub-points and all that analytical falderal. I say it’s time to start thinking outside that no-fun box and reinvent the outline.

Newsflash: there’s no law that says you have to write a text-on-screen outline.

Maybe you’re a Pinterest type of person who creates story boards. That counts. Perhaps you love the smell of dry erase markers and get off on mind mapping a tale on a large whiteboard. Shoot, I even know some writers who adore 3M sticky notes and plan out a novel by decorating a wall with their scenes. Go ahead and get creative. That’s what fiction is about, folks.

One parting thought to shoot down the scare factor of outlining. You have my permission to outline only chunks at a time. If scribbling down the entire story totally freaks you out, just do the first third, then take a break and write the first chapter. Before you end the first third, however, you should plan the next third. Savvy?

Outlining does not have to steal the joy from your writing. Turn it around to enhance the joy of your writing…and keep from having a nervous breakdown halfway through.

What about you? Are you fans of the outline or more pantsers types?

Showing Vs. Telling

Let me first say I am hardly an expert on show versus tell—every writing teacher’s admonition for every storyteller out there. In fact, I was quite shocked when another author said she was taking notes on some passages in Poison because she thought they were good examples of showing. I am still hoping she will tell me exactly which ones they were so I can admire my own amazing work because I was that surprised.

ActorShowing versus telling can definitely be learned (after all, I did it and was never an English major) so don’t go over the writer’s cliff Thelma and Louise style if some of these points don’t hit home. I am still learning the more advanced points myself and that’s a mark of a true writer—always desiring to learn more.

The concept of showing could also be described as Deep POV. I think these concepts are honestly interchangeable. So if you hear one—think of the other.

The first (and really good) piece of advice I got on showing was to write my scenes as if I was filming a movie. How would I describe what was on the screen to a reader without stating the obvious?

For instance: He was angry. This is telling. It doesn’t leave any room for the reader to use their imagination. Now, more showing. Her husband swore at her and spittle hit her face seemingly to mark a target for his fist to punch her in the jaw. See the difference? I haven’t said the word “angry” at all, but does this man seem fired up?

While editing, you’re likely telling if you name the feeling. He was mad, sad, fearful…etc.

A great tool I’ve used to help me show more visceral reactions is The Emotion Thesaurus. There is also a website by the same author called The Bookshelf Muse. It gives specific bodily actions for tons of different emotions. Use this as a starting point to generate ideas and then improve them for your own manuscript.

Another tip to help show instead of tell is to phrase things as questions. Telling: She wondered if her attacker was walking behind her. Showing: The echo of footsteps matched her high heels as they clipped down the pavement of the dark alley. Was it him? Was it the man who nearly killed her with a quick slash of a knife across her throat two years ago? The one she presumed was now sending her all those threatening letters—just like before. Now he was free.

To show more, add a visceral reaction from the woman from the emotion she is likely feeling which in this instance would be fear.

The echo of footsteps matched the quickened pace of her heart as she broke out into a run down the dark alley. Instinctively, her hand covered the thick scar as a shield from both the memory and the act. Was it him? Was it the man who nearly killed her with a quick slash of a knife across her throat two years ago? The one she presumed was now sending her all those threatening letters—just like before. Now he was free.

I know—future editor. How can she run with her hand set on her throat? Just to illustrate a point. Edit at will.

Also, don’t feel like you have to do this in the first draft. The first draft is all about getting the words on the page. Showing can be added in subsequent editing phases that you do before the manuscript goes to an agent or publisher, but don’t get too hung up on trying to do a lot in the first draft until it becomes more natural for you.

This is just the beginning. There are many more techniques that can be used so keep working at it and you’ll have the reader sitting inside your character in no time.

What are some techniques that have helped you show vs. tell?

Writing Life Lessons

photoNo matter what stage I’m at in the writing journey, whether it’s researching, plotting, writing, or editing, I continue to learn. Currently, I’m in my last round of edits for my debut novel, Shaken. Man, has it been humbling. I don’t claim to have all the answers to this writing journey, but here are a few tips I’ve learned from trial and error. Like my novels, I’m always a work in progress.

Paint a scene

This seems like a no-brainer, right? I thought it was, too. Except sometimes I don’t write all that is in my head. Thank goodness for an editor who reads the story and asks me to fill in the holes. Use the senses. Again, you would think this is obvious, but too often we forget. In my second book, I open with a beach scene. Can my reader smell the smoke from the bonfire, taste the salt in the air, feel the whip of the sea breeze, hear the lap of the waves, see the fireworks exploding? If not, I need to keep crafting.

Make connections

Link scenes, events, and characters. As my granddad told my brother when he came home from college late one night, “Account for yourself!” Make sure all your elements are accounted for, and again, not just in your head. If a character just spoke yet the scene ends and they are nowhere to be found, make sure there is a clue to the reader of where they went and when they exited the conversation. Again, these should be obvious, but sometimes when I focus on the story line at large, I forget these important little details that further immerse the reader in the story.

Books are not movies

I tend to see my book playing out like one of Nicholas Spark’s movies – sweeping, southern, and characters that tug at your heart. Except, books are not movies. What a viewer can take in in a few seconds of a new scene takes a lot longer to paint in a book. The best movies come from books that paint vivid scenes. Think the party scenes in Gatsby where Fitzgerald describes the house and guests in great detail. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, stop reading this right now and at least read those scenes.

Kill your “darlings”

This is a lesson one my college professors shared with me, and regardless of the time passage, it doesn’t get easier. First, let’s define “darlings.” It is any piece of your story that you are attached to that does not ultimately propel the story forward. You may think a scene is epic, but will your readers care? Does it demonstrate an irreplaceable character quality or scene that is essential to your reader’s knowledge of the story line? Is your attachment greater than the reader’s? If yes, then don’t be afraid to kill that “darling.” Your story will be better for it. Trust me, I know it’s painful, but strike with your red pen and make the page bleed.

You’ll never be completely satisfied

photo copyStop looking at the blinking cursor. Save and send. Your story will never be perfect. If you are waiting for that, choose a different career. I emailed my mentor a couple months ago and told her I thought my story sucked and I wanted to start from scratch. She laughed (I could sense it over email), and told me that it was great for where I’m at now. The next novel will be better than the first, and the third better than the second. If you know you have done all you can do right now, then allow yourself to be satisfied with the results and send that sucker. I still find mistakes in my short stories from college, and I couldn’t count how many times I have edited those pages. But I’ve also increased in my ability and my knowledge since college. I’ll focus on doing my best now and realize that I’m always growing.

What writing tips have you picked up along the way?

Are You In the Mood?

When you’re writing a book, you have a purpose. You want to speak to your readers’ emotions, bring them into your story world, and show them ideas that may change their lives.

There are many ways to do that, and one is to be purposeful in expressing the mood of your story.

The mood is different from your setting, theme, plot, or other elements of a story. The mood is the overall feeling your reader gets from your story. It can be happy, tragic, hopeful, desperate, fearful, serene…and everything in between. Your book will have a general mood that permeates your entire story, but each scene may have its own mood, also.

How does a writer convey mood?

There are a couple of very good ways.

First is your choice of words. Consider this excerpt from “The Prodigal Son Returns”:

ImageFrom the simple white house nestled behind a riotous hedge of lilacs to the looming white barn, the Stoltzfus farm was the image of his Grossdatti’s home, a place he thought he had forgotten since the old man’s death when he was a young boy. A whisper of memory rattled the long-closed door in his mind, willing it to open, but Bram waved it off. Memories were deceptive, even ones more than twenty years old. They covered the truth, and this truth was that he had a job to do. Grossdatti and his young grandson remained behind their door.

I tried to convey the feeling of nostalgia in this paragraph, so I chose soft words like “nestled,” “farm,” “home,” “whisper,” and “memory.” As the paragraph reached its end, I wanted Bram to shake himself back to reality – at least his version of it. So I used harsher words like “rattled” and “truth.”

Read your paragraphs aloud, listening to how the words sound. What feeling do they convey? It isn’t only the meaning of words that speak to your readers – the sound does, too.

A second way to convey mood is in the construction of your sentences. Longer sentences set a softer, quieter tone, and shorter, choppy sentences convey a sense of urgency or danger.

Here’s an excerpt where I was trying to show a peaceful summer afternoon:

Once the family buggy was gone, the farm settled into a quiet that Ellie seldom heard. The early summer sun was hot, and the cows had all sought the shade of the pasture. One pig’s grunting echoed through the empty barn, keeping rhythm with the thump and clatter as he rubbed against the wooden planks of the sty.

Ellie wandered to the lilac bushes that surrounded the front porch of the big house, and she buried her face in the blossoms. They were nearly spent, but the scent still lingered. On either side of the front walk Mam’s peony bushes held round pink and green buds. Another day or two, and they would burst into bloom.

The sentences in these paragraphs are complex, with dependent and independent clauses. They are designed to slow down the reader’s pace and feel the mood of Ellie’s afternoon – hot, languorous, and even lazy.

Contrast that with this excerpt:

Kavanaugh’s lip curled in the sneer that was his trademark. “No cop is going to take me.”

The snub nose of Kavanaugh’s gun steadied as the gangster’s finger tightened on the trigger. Bram shot at the same time. His body jerked as Kavanaugh’s bullet hit his chest, and he fell into blackness.

The sentences here are shorter, choppier. Shorter sentences speed up the action and heighten the tension. The mood becomes urgent, dangerous and suspenseful. Interspersing longer sentences with shorter ones can draw out the tension even further.

So, have you thought about the mood of your book? It can be as elusive to pinpoint as your voice, but once you identify it, using these techniques can help you enhance it and will increase the depth of your readers’ experience.