Introspection by your main character is good, but it can also be too much of a good thing. I know I get annoyed when introspection does the following:
I like what novelist Gail Gaymer Martin says, “Too much can be boring since introspection is passive, and too little deprives the reader of getting to know the depth of a character’s needs, longings, and struggles.”
Check that your main character’s introspection serves a purpose. Does your character change because of his thoughts? Does she realize something new? Is a new action realized due to the internal monologue? “Introspection is one of the key elements of growing up and moving forward,” Kelly Rogers says. That works for our characters too.
Just like with description, mixing internal dialogue in with action helps avoid too much at once. “That new understanding or new goal or desire, and the size of it, may only become apparent in bits and pieces and stages, not necessarily one huge Moment.” – Emma Darwin
Introspection should also show something of the main character’s personality or beliefs. I love this quote I found in an absolutewrite forum, “Make sure it oozes personality: Is your character funny? Sarcastic? Morbidly dark? Hyperbolic? Adding bits of their personality to the introspection makes it more engaging.” – Raivnor
Keep on target. Elizabeth Grayson says, “While our thoughts sometimes come in stream of consciousness, a genre fiction character’s thoughts are relentlessly logical. They must segue from one to the next in a manner the reader can follow — even if the character you’re writing is a flake.”
What are your thoughts on introspection?
Sometimes we all need encouragement to keep writing. I have several things I do when I’m discouraged.
One, since I’m a quote junkie, is read or collect encouraging quotes. Here are some that either encouraged me or were reminders to press on:
“The mere habit of writing, of constantly keeping at it, of never giving up, ultimately teaches you how to write.” – Gabriel Fielding
“It’s easy to think that you haven’t made any progress when you forget where you were when you started out. Be kind to yourself, you’ve come a long way and overcome a lot.” – Patricia Caldwell
“A book might not sell, but that doesn’t mean the writer wasted time on it, not as long as the writer is learning and growing.” – Laurel Gale
“Rejected pieces aren't failure; unwritten pieces are.” – Greg Daugherty
“The voice of the inner critic can shut the whole process down. I tell it to take a number.” – Barbara Taylor Brown
“Have faith in your art, even when others don't.” – Sean Qualls
“The best way to nurture your love of words and language is to be around words and language.” – Mary Kole
This last quote is a good segue into number two. Catch up on reading. This comes in two parts.
Today I’m reading some writing newsletters I’ve not gotten around to. I’m reassured by things I already know. I’m inspired or challenged by others. I learn something new. And I share some of these posts or articles with my tribe.
Part two is reading in and outside my genre(s). That’s always a good reminder of what I want to do. Plus, it gets me into the rhythm of those types of stories or makes me look at something in a new way. Read what Nicholas Sparks has to say on this topic, “By reading a lot of novels in a variety of genres, and asking questions, it's possible to learn how things are done - the mechanics of writing, so to speak - and which genres and authors excel in various areas.” Yes, I learn by what others do and don’t do.
Three, spend time with your writing tribe.
It can be done online or in person. Online is a nice quick fix. I use Facebook groups, writing list serves, and Twitter.
Face to face takes more time, but in the end is more rewarding for me. I have a critique group and just knowing a meeting is coming up makes me want to have something ready for them to hear and comment on. But even if I don’t, I get encouragement from them.
Four, attend writing events.
These can be book signings, talks, workshops, conferences, intensives, retreats, writing times. I almost always get something out of them. Sometimes I get a whole lot. And, I'm with my tribe. But most importantly, they inspire me to write.
So, what helps you have the courage to get back to writing? Feel free to comment below.
Recently, I’ve seen some writers post this question, “What do I blog about?” One writer didn’t understand the difference between a blog and a website and how the two work together—I’m sure she’s not alone.
I’m going to talk about these in reverse order.
Blog versus website
First, you can have a blog that stands alone. Blogs let you talk about things that interest you. Like social media, blogs can let you interact with others. For blogs that’s usually done via comments. I like what Andrew Sullivan has to say, “Blogging is to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive. It is, in many ways, writing out loud.”
Or you can have a blog that is a feature of your website. Blogs can give active content (changing content) on a website. If you want to only share links or funny videos, social media might be the best choice. However, a website can let you blog, and share links, etc.
Here’s a good resource for more info: Blogging - What is it and Why is it Popular?. I will offer a caveat—don’t blog with the intention of making money. To use a cliché “that ship has sailed.” “If you love writing or making music or blogging or any sort of performing art, then do it. Do it with everything you’ve got. Just don’t plan on using it as a shortcut to making a living.” – Seth Godin
What to blog
You can blog about anything you are interested in, but the most successful way to keep up with a blog is to blog about what you know, or are learning, and are passionate about. That’s why many writers blog about writing—myself included.
Penelope Trunk says, “A blog is a great way to figure out what you want to do with yourself because writing regularly is a path to self-discovery.” That’s one purpose of blogging. But here’s an interesting thought to keep in mind if you want followers, “People like to learn things, but they especially like to learn what they can do to improve their lives.” – Donna Merrill
When to blog
It’s up to you. But if you don’t continue to have content, your blog dies.
I like having a schedule. My goal on this blog is to blog once a week. Sometimes I miss my goal. But because I’m planning for it, I hit my goal more often. Neil Patel says, “If you want to continually grow your blog, you need to learn to blog on a consistent basis.” Amy Harrison says, “(Superheroes) can disappear for months or years and then burst back onto the scene with a climactic display of their impressive powers. Okay for superheroes, not okay for your content. It might feel boring and constraining, but publishing consistently brings results.”
How to publicize or promote your blog
You can share your blog on social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook. I find specific groups who are interested in a topic are good places to share.
Some bloggers have a newsletter email list. They send new content and old content to their subscribers.
Include a link to your blog in your email signature.
Answer questions with links to your blogs posts in forums and groups. (Of course, your post must really apply to the question.)
Thank those who reshare or tweet your posts. And if you quote others in your blog post, let them know.
Got more questions?
I know this hasn’t answered everything, so if you have further questions, feel free to ask them in the comments.
I thought I was done talking about this topic until I looked at the opening paragraphs of a book and found yet another blunder that stopped me reading--contradictory actions (blunder #6). I remember in high school a boy joking, “Some people can’t chew gum and walk at the same time.” Ha ha. Those are possible for most of us. But when actions don’t work at the same time it stops the reader’s suspension of disbelief.
Here are a few examples where one character can’t do both at the same time:
The fixes include:
Blunder #7 – oxymorons
I should probably clarify and say “unintended” oxymorons or contradictions. Oxymorons are used with purpose and many have become accepted phrases in our culture. But those times where the words make a reader stop and think, that’s not possible, those are the ones to avoid.
Some examples – you can find many more online:
Blunder #8 – incorrect chronology
Remember cause and effect. I see writers put the effect before the cause. E.g. He opened his umbrella because it started to rain. The sentence is technically correct, but what happened first? The raindrops. Let the reader see and feel that instead of being told about it. E.g. A cold raindrop hit his nose, so he opened his umbrella.
Here are a few other examples with better chronology following:
What caused the character to react, should usually come first.
Blunder #9 – duplicate actions
This is when the character has already done an action and repeats it, but it’s not logical to repeat it. E.g. Jon scooted out a chair and sat down at the kitchen table. Usually there’s some dialogue and then it appears the writer has forgotten that Jon already sat down. E.g. Jon plopped down in a chair at the kitchen table. Wait, what? He’d have to stand up first before he could sit down again.
Blunder #10 – obtrusive taglines
Instead of using the almost invisible said and asked, if a writer has characters growl, intrude, insert, exclaim, proclaim, cry, etc. it quickly becomes annoying. Sure, an occasional shout or yell or whisper is fine, but for the most part other words show the writer is trying too hard. It’s commonly the mark of a beginner.
It’s often hard to catch our own blunders. That’s why critiques and professional editing is necessary.
guest post by Lila Diller
If you're thinking about starting to write for a career, you need to think about more than just your story or what you're writing. Begin with your brand.
When I began my author career, I didn't know where to start. The first thing I did was write my rough draft, edit it a couple of times, then impatiently self-published my book on Amazon. After I hit publish, it was time to look for help from some experts. That's when I found that I should have done that before I hit publish. Experts can get you started on the right track; but be warned: you still have to do all the hard work. In fact, I didn't get the results I expected from any of these and either asked for a refund or canceled my monthly subscriptions after I ingested all the content I could.
My first little tidbit of advice is to gorge yourself on a lot of free content from many different gurus. Put into practice what applies to you, and forget what doesn't.
Your brand tells your audience what to expect. It's the mood you set with colors, fonts, and images. Before you just pick something you think looks cool, ask yourself three questions:
1. Who do I want to help?
Narrow it down as much as possible.
Mine is: Christian women who love to read fiction as an escape from their less-than-fulfilling marriages.
Editor note: mine is women who want to be encouraged by fictional women who live Godly lives, and who read for enjoyment.
2. What main message do I want to get across to them?
You have to make it about the reader, or it's not going to resonate with anyone. It can't be about you. My readers need hope in their situations, to learn to lower their expectations, but be encouraged to work hard at what they can control in their relationships--themselves.
What are your readers looking for?
3. Just get started with one book.
Don't wait until it's perfect; keep tweaking it.
If it still hasn't resonated with anyone after a set period (maybe try 6 months), then it may be time to reevaluate and choose another path.
I hope this all helps. :-) If you have any specific questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/loveisseries, and I'll try to answer your questions.
Now, go get 'em!
Lila is outnumbered by a houseful of males: husband of 15 years, two energetic boys, and a hyper dog. When not homeschooling her boys, you can find her studying the Bible, reading, singing, scrapbooking, or binge-watching Netflix. You will only find her cooking or cleaning when she can’t put it off any longer. She loves to help readers not only to escape from stress in an entertaining and believable story but also to fill their minds with the truth and hope of Jesus.
Find out more about Lila on her website: www.liladiller.com
My test of whether I want to read a book is opening to page one and start reading. In part 1 of Blunders that Stop Me Reading, I wrote about the overuse of “as.” (Go here if you missed it.)
Here are some other blunders that will probably make me sent the book aside.
Blunder #2 – passive voice
To me warning signs of passive verbs are verbs preceded by "are," "were," "was" and verbs ending in "ing." "Began to," "started to" are also passive. I just want the character to do the action.
If your novel or story is written in past tense, it would be “John walked down the street to the hospital.” Not “was walking.” If one continued in the vein of “was walking,” then wouldn’t it be correct to say, “was opening,” etc. e.g. “He was opening the candy bag and was eating the toffees one by one.” Wow, the “was”es and gerunds are going to get old really fast. In present tense it also simply be “walks” or “opens,” etc.
What about began or started? Sure, sometimes a character starts to say something or do something, but most of the time he or she simply does the action. One “Sally began to cross the room” or one “Manuel started to eat his dinner” won’t stop me, but multiple ones will.
“There is/are” or “there was/were” can be passive too. E.g. There were many people in the concert hall.” That’s a fact but what were these people doing? Clapping, cheering? Sucking in a breath of shock? What they are doing will give the reader a more active picture.
Here’s a hilarious quote on passive versus active: “[The active voice is the] vigorous voice, unashamed to say whodunit. Passive voice is preferred by the weak, the cowardly, ashamed to name the fink who told them what they are evasively telling you.”
— John Bremner
Blunder #3 – distancing the reader
Distancing the reader is sometimes called filtering. Or in other words the action is shown through someone else’s eyes. Yes, your main character is experiencing what is happening, but don’t slow it down by pointing that out to us. “Tacy saw the man pull out a gun” is much less powerful than “The man pulled out a gun.” Show the person doing the action instead of someone hearing or seeing the person do the action. Warning signs are I/she/he “heard” or “saw.”
Again, one or two probably won’t bother me.
Blunder #4 – no sense of setting
I had a writing friend explain that no setting was like putting characters in front of a white board. I’d add that they are in a soundproof windowless room, wearing white, and not eating or smelling a thing. The reader doesn’t have any details to picture where and when the characters are.
Use sensory details to show the setting. Right now I’m sitting in my living room in a recliner with a crocheted blanket over my legs, a plaid shawl around my shoulders, and still my hands are cold. The washer is spinning out a load. My laptop hums. Down the hall in the office my husband clears his throat. Gives you a bit of a picture of where I am as I type. We want to do the same thing for our readers. Author Bruce Hale says, “I tend to slip my descriptions of setting into the beginnings of scenes, to help the reader picture where the action is taking place.”
Blunder #5 – too much description
Conversely, if the description bogs down the scene, I find myself skimming to get to the action.
Description worked in with action works the best. And not everything in a room or setting is described. I like this quote: “Best descriptions tend to be impressionistic, seizing on a few select details...letting the readers...do the rest.” – Peter Selgin
So telling me that a person is in their bedroom, I’ll think generic bedroom and won’t need you to tell me there’s a bed, a dresser, a bedside table, a trash can, etc. Instead show what’s different, what stands out in this bedroom . . . like the Haitian machete hung above the California king bed, which my then three-year-old grandson cut his finger on. Or the cribs stuffed into the open floor space—one beside the closet and the other between the two dressers—leaving just enough room to walk around the double bed.
This list of writing blunders is probably not complete. These are just ones that really bug me, especially in the opening pages of a novel. Once I get hooked on a character and his story, I’m probably more forgiving.
SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She also loves assisting other writers on their journeys.