Category Archives: Writing techniques

Writing Fiction And Mindset: 3 Easy Tips To Tell Great Stories

Writing Fiction And Mindset: 3 Easy Tips To Tell Great Stories

Are you new to writing fiction? It can be a challenging process. Last week, I created a class for my students to demystify fiction. They’d managed to become so involved with techniques, genres, and marketing that they were writing little. They definitely weren’t enjoying their writing.

A couple of new authors said that they struggled to complete their novels. They ended up with thousands of words which went nowhere.

Here are some tips from the class; the class focused on mindset and imagination.

Writing fiction is a state of mind: free your imagination

The biggest challenge for new authors is finding a way to free their imagination. In today’s entertainment world, we allow others to guide our imagination via TV shows and movies.

We forget how to release our own imagination. My theory is that this accounts for the popularity of fan fiction. Writers kickstart their imagination with other authors’ characters and plots.

While there’s nothing wrong with that — E.L. James parlayed her love of Twilight into the uber-successful 50 Shades of Grey series — using your own imagination is more fun. And usually, more profitable. If you manage to create a memorable character, like Harry Potter, you’ve made your fortune.

Let’s look at some tips to help you to tell great stories.

1. Remember that fiction is stories which have a plot, and meaning

To outline or not to outline?

Much as I love pantsing short stories and novels, there are challenges if you’re new to writing fiction. You can end up with a story which isn’t a story at all. Or, you can end up with a mishmash: trying to cram three or five stories into one.

Neither is satisfying.

The biggest clue that you don’t have a story is that you can’t create a blurb (description). FWIW, here’s a definition of STORY: an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment. However, a story needs a plot: it has to mean something. Stringing meaningless events together irritates readers: they want meaning.

We need meaning in our fictional worlds. Unlike daily life, fiction needs to make sense.

Here’s an example of a “story” which isn’t a story. It has no plot and no decipherable meaning. An author sets out to write a mystery novel. He has a sleuth, and a dead body. The sleuth gets sidetracked into another crime. And another. His teenage daughter’s romantic challenges take up five chapters, and then… By this time, the readers that get that far (still hoping against hope that there’s a plot, coming real soon now) give up.

Not sure about plot? In your novel, or short story, something happens to a character. He has a problem, preferably one of life or death. The story’s plot is your character resolving the problem. Once the problem’s resolved (boy gets girl, sleuth gets criminal, spy saves the world) your story is OVER.

I occasionally suggest to my students that their fiction’s story is ONE thing, basically, not endless things which are never resolved.

2. Follow the emotion: what scares you? What do you love?

Have you ever had a nightmare? You wake up, suddenly wide awake as if you’re still in the dream… It takes a while for you to reassure yourself that you’re OK.

Powerful dreams have one thing in common with fiction: emotion.

Readers read for emotion.

There are many ways you can inspire emotion in your readers. Few have anything to do with events, such as serial killers’ blood and gore (thrillers, fantasy), or bodies doing things to each other in romance fiction.

You can use tone, word choice, characters’ thoughts…

Consider the opening paragraphs of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. The first sentence is:

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

(You can read the paragraphs via Amazon’s Look Inside feature.)

Consider the words du Maurier uses in those first paragraphs: padlock and chain; forlorn; supernatural powers; (nature’s) stealthy insidious way…

Those first paragraphs are a masterclass in using words to evoke emotion. With those evocative words, du Maurier sets the tone for the book — and she maintains it. Nothing much happens in Rebecca, but the emotions keep you turning pages.

Read du Maurier’s paragraphs, and if you haven’t read Rebecca, read that too, it’s a classic novel for a reason. Your local library will have it.

All competent authors know how to evoke emotion in readers. It’s a skill you can develop quite easily with a little study and practice.

3. Forget the words, tell the story

Which brings us to another challenge.

Words are important in fiction, definitely… BUT you need a story. Something needs to happen, and that something needs to have meaning.

Your story (what happens, to whom, how it happens, and why it happens) is more important than anything else in commercial fiction.

In your first draft, forget the words. Just tell the story. Tell yourself what happens. In later drafts, once you know what your story is, and what your story means, you’ll know what emotions you want to inspire in your readers. Then you can play with words as much as you like, because you know the effect you want to have on readers.

In fiction, your story (with its plot) is what counts

Get comfortable with your imagination.

Look on your imagination as waking dreams. Write the stories — and the emotions — your imagination presents to you — and have fun. 🙂

Heart To Heart: Romance Writing For Beginners

Heart To Heart: Romance Writing For Beginners

eBook: $5.99
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Series: Romance Writing, Book 1
Genre: Writing
Tag: writing fiction
Love makes the world go round, and of all the genres in fiction, romance, with its many sub-genres, is the most popular. More info →
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Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

eBook: $5.99
I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly. More info →
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Writing Motivation: How To Manage Failure

Writing Motivation: How To Manage Failure

Want some writing motivation? If you do, consider this: you can’t fail. It’s true. It’s also true that your book may not sell, but that’s not something you can control. You definitely CAN control your motivation, provided that you build it into your writing process.

Let’s look at how to do that.

Writing motivation is a process — learn it, or rejection and failure may become permanent

Back in the day, before the self-publishing revolution, authors asked me how to “avoid rejection.” My favorite answer to that was: “never send your work anywhere.”

Rejection is a fact of life. You may fail. It happens.

Rejection looks different today if you’re a self-publisher. Instead of a literary agent or an editor telling you: “not for us at this time,” readers get to tell you that when they don’t buy your book. 🙂

Reality: you CANNOT control the marketplace. Any publishing career involves luck.

But you can control yourself, so that failures just become speed humps on your route to success.

I’ve seen many wonderful authors who allowed failure to crush them into depression; some never wrote another word, as far as I know.

Failure isn’t forever, unless you allow it to be. Failure can be like a punch in the face. You need to punch back.

Everyone fails: punch back

From Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations:

(You may say) “It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.’

No, you should rather say: ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without pain, neither crushed by the present not fearful of the future.’

Because such a thing could have happened to any man, but not every man could have borne it without pain. So why see more misfortune in the event than good fortune in your ability to bear it?”

Built-in writing motivation: develop your own process

In any writing venture, whether you’re writing books, or blogging, or copywriting, you’ll experience failure in one form or another. In your early years, you’ll experience more failure than successes. You need to learn how to manage both. Failure needn’t crush you, and success needn’t distract you, as long as you create a process which guarantees your writing motivation.

I first developed my “motivation” process some 30 years ago. In those days, there were few markets for writing, and even fewer paying markets. Once I discovered copywriting, I experienced much less failure, because I was choosing my own clients.

Little failures can crush you just as big failures can. When I was writing my first novel, I sent the manuscript winging to London via airmail. Then my editor’s response arrived. Some four pages of notes and editorial queries. In short order I was angry, then depressed. I didn’t write. From memory, I sulked for a couple of weeks.

That was a waste of time — and in response to something that wasn’t even “failure”. It took time to motivate myself again. All I had to do was spend a couple of days tinkering with the manuscript, so why the drama?

In a word: ego. I lost perspective.

Confidence builds over time. Sooner or later, you’ll become much more confident, and it will take much more to crush you.

A few years later, I realized that I didn’t have to worry about things I couldn’t control, as long as I had a process. I could control my process, and my process built my motivation.

Experience success, every day

My process was simple. Today, it’s pretty much what it was then: write a thousand salable words a day. Even on my worst day, when everything goes wrong, I can manage 1,000 words. In practice, I write more than that each day, but with my thousand words done, as early in the day as possible, my day is a success.

When something goes wrong: a client’s website goes down, or a book makes fewer sales than expected, or something else happens, my writing motivation is still strong. My 1,000 words give me a little reward each day, and put everything else into perspective.

Create your own process, and build your writing motivation each day.

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Just Write It: Write More, Sell More, Starting Today

Just Write It: Write More, Sell More, Starting Today

$4.99
Do you dream of being a professional writer? This book will help. Perhaps you already have a writing career, but feel that you're not living up to your potential, this book will help you, too. More info →
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5 Tips To Help You To Write A Book Despite Your Inner Critic

 5 Tips To Help You To Write A Book Despite Your Inner Critic

You want to write a book, but you gave up after one page, or one chapter. Maybe you’ve written a book, but hate it, so it’s on your hard drive, a symbol of your failure.

Would you believe me if I said that there’s no such thing as failure, and you CAN write your book, starting today? All you need to do is become familiar with your inner critic, and expose him for the illusion that he is.

The big reason you can’t write a book

I work with writers every day. A huge part of that work is separating a writer from his killer “musts” and “shoulds.” These faux strictures and rules stem from the writer’s inner critic, and they’re immensely harmful until the writer recognizes them.

Once you recognize the lies your inner critic is telling you, and recognize the source, you can go ahead and write happily. Unfortunately, this recognition is hard, because the words your inner critic whispers activate your sympathetic nervous system: this is your fight or flight response.

Fight or flight shuts down your thinking processes. The only way to counter this is to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, so that your body calms and you can think again.

You can’t rid yourself of your inner critic, but you can stop giving him attention. Vital: never argue with your inner critic. That way lies disaster. Remember that he’s an illusion, he’s not real. 🙂

Let’s look at some tips which will help you to ignore your inner critic.

1. Practice gratitude daily: list 5 wonderful things

Although you might think that gratitude (of all things!) can’t help you to write a book, guess what — it can. It’s not only free, it’s a way to turbocharge your creativity.

Gratitude floods your body with chemicals from your parasympathetic nervous system. These chemicals are completely natural, they make you feel good, and they put you into a “writing” mind state.

Keep a gratitude journal for a few weeks; it can change your life.

2. Fool your inner critic: “I’m just practicing …” — and smile

Uh-oh… You’re happily writing, and your inner critic chirps in your ear: “how could you write that? You can’t write that…”

Remember: he’s an illusion. You can’t argue with an illusion and win. Mentally say to yourself. “I’m not writing anything serious. I’m just practicing and having fun.”

And smile: just a little Mona Lisa smile. Smile slightly with your eyes and tilt your lips upward at the corners. According to The Atlantic, a full research study,“Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Positive Facial Expression on the Stress Response,” was published in the journal Psychological Science.

Smiling is a psychological thing. Just do it. 🙂

3. Create a routine for your writing: do the same thing, every day

Every writer who writes commercially has a routine. Without a routine, you can’t get anything done. Routine includes:

  • Where you write: desk in your home office, or coffee shop, or…?
  • How you write: computer, iPad, longhand on a legal pad…
  • When you write: early morning, lunchtime at work, on your commute…
  • How long you write (research, outlining, and editing don’t count)…

It takes around four days to establish a routine. Eventually, if you keep following your routine, your inner critic fades. You’ve established a habit, and your inner critic is powerless against habits.

4. Say “thank you” to your inner critic, and write

Remembering that your inner critic is an illusion, when something he says catches your attention, say: “inner critic”, or “thank you”. You’re labelling the thought, rather than engaging it. This prevents you following the thought down a rabbit hole of endless discursive thought.

Mentally label the thought, and start writing immediately.

5. Meditate (breathe) for ten minutes a day

The voices in your head, including your inner critic, are not real. Your biggest challenge in dealing with them is realizing that you’re being baited by an illusion. Meditation can help you to recognize your inner critic as easy-to-ignore background noise.

Eventually, meditation helps you to recognize your thoughts as thoughts. Thoughts are not real. Meditation can’t eliminate thoughts — your mind chatter continues, but meditation slows it down. Meditation also prevents the constant triggering of your sympathetic nervous system’s fight or flight response. You’ll find that on days when you meditate for ten minutes, you’re much calmer — your inner critic is either missing, or if present, is ignored. Not bad for just ten minutes out of your day.

While there are endless ways to meditate, the simplest way is to breathe and count your breaths, because your breath is always with you. 🙂

Your inner critic is a toothless tiger, so write a book

We’ve focused on your inner critic’s role in preventing you from writing a book. However, he appears in many guises in all areas of your life. You’ll discover that when you follow the tips above, your entire life improves. 🙂

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Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days

Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days

$4.99
Author:
Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 4
Genre: Writing
Tag: writing fiction
You want to write a novel. Perhaps you can't get started. Or maybe you got started, and then you stopped.You need a plan, broken down into easy steps. This program began as a 30-day challenge which I organized for readers in 2010. Hundreds of writers joined the challenge and completed it. They wrote novels. More info →