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Monday, November 20, 2017

How to Write When You Don't Have Time



I might be losing my mind a little bit, but I swear someone asked me how to write when they don't have time, but now I can't locate the question in my inboxes or messages, but I thought I'd address it just in case someone actually did ask me this question.

First off, let me start by saying, I may not be the best person to answer this. I'm not married, don't have kids, and I work in the writing industry. So if anyone reading this has their own expertise to add to this post, please leave a comment for others.

Before getting too far into this topic, I want to acknowledge that some people may be dealing with a lot of life challenges at the moment, with serious health problems, being a caretaker for a loved one, serious financial problems, and unforeseen life crises, and may be legitimately unable to work on their writing because they ran out of today's time yesterday and their physical and mental stamina ran out before they got out of bed this morning. If you find yourself in such a category, don't fret. Life happens. It won't be this crazy forever.

But for the average person who has at least half a grip on their crazy busy life but can't quite squeeze writing into said life, here are some ideas that might help.

1. Get more out of your schedule by living with more intention.


Some of us human beings struggle to live intentionally. We pull out our phones to check on something, and before we know it, we've lost an hour to the social media black hole. Or we sat down to take a break and suddenly Netflix is asking us if we are still watching Stranger Things.

I know what some of you are thinking: Isn't this post supposed to be about people who are too busy to write? Not about people who are just sitting around?

My point is, whether or not you actually spend hours unexpectedly watching Netflix, there are probably parts of your day you are living without intention, which usually means time is slipping through your fingers.

Not everyone wants to live every hour intentionally. Many cultures and lifestyles around the world don't; they just go with the flow and do whatever, like the beach lifestyle.

What I am saying is that if you are a busy person who doesn't have time to write, and you want to have time to write, this might be what you want to look at. Do you have behaviors and parts of the day where you are unintentionally losing time? Do you have the tendency to procrastinate things you don't want to do, for example?

Intentional living doesn't mean you never get breaks. It means that when you take a break, you take breaks you intended to take. It doesn't mean that you never have free time. It means that when you have free time, it's something you intended. Intentional living means making every hour count, and getting rid of moments where time doesn't. It means when you are doing something, you are doing something, not kind of doing it. If I'm cleaning my room, but sort of just leisurely cleaning it, I'm probably losing time. But if I decide to draw upon more intention, and clean my room more intentionally, I'll make an effort to do it in a more efficient manner and get done quicker.

So look at your lifestyle and see if you can free up more time by living more intentionally. And notice that I didn't say you had to live at max capacity intention. I said more intention.

2. Don't work harder. Work smarter.


There is a business show I love to watch called The Profit. In it, successful business man Marcus Lemonis goes into failing businesses and helps build them back up. One of the things Marcus says is that it's better to work smarter than it is to work harder.

And when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Here is a simple example. Let's say I'm working really hard at doing the dishes. I'm working as hard as I can, but my methods are random. I hand-wash and put the dishes away one by one. I'm putting a lot of time and effort into getting this kitchen clean. But you know what's better than working harder at that method? Working smarter.

Instead of hand-washing everything, I put them in the dishwasher. Instead of putting items away one by one as I wash them, I put them into piles and take the whole stack of plates to the cupboard at once.

Working smarter is about looking for ways to work more efficiently. It's about finding ways to get more done in the time you have, and finding easier but still effective methods.

Pretty much everyone is doing something that could be done more efficiently. When you work smarter you can free up more time. Or, when you write smarter, you can get more done in the amount of time you have.

3. Stop using mental energy focusing on the fact you don't have enough time.


My dad is a really busy person. One thing he said to me several months ago has stuck in my mind. He said, it's amazing how much more you can get done when you stop thinking about how you can't get it done.

This is probably going to sound weird, but the way we think is also a usage of time--our mental time. The mental time we spend thinking about how we feel sorry for ourselves is mental time we could be putting to use in a different way. You might could even say we can try to think with more intention or to think smarter. Instead of thinking about how I don't have time to do something, I could be spending the "mental time" and "mental stamina," thinking about how I can do that thing more efficiently.

Feeling sorry for ourselves about not having time often leads to sluggish demeanors and attitudes, and only makes it that much more difficult to be productive. It's like we've dropped a boulder in our own path that we now have to push out of the way before we can continue.

The older I get, the more I realize, how we think about things is everything.

Unfortunately, though, when you make statements like that, you get a whole bunch of people going out and trying to micro-manage all their thoughts and feelings, and they actually end up just suppressing said thoughts and feelings.

It's not about suppressing--it's not about telling yourself you aren't allowed to think or feel that way, that breeds resentment toward self and unrealistic expectations. Instead, if you have a problem with the way you think, you acknowledge it and move on. Or, depending on how serious it is, you acknowledge it, work through it, and then move on. It takes time--maybe months or years--but eventually it won't be a tendency to think that way anymore. I am a strong believer that in most circumstances, we can eventually change how we think.

Anyway, my point is, stop using your "mental time" on thoughts that aren't helpful to you. You don't need them anymore. It's not helpful to focus on how little time you have. What is helpful is focusing on how to best manage the time or task you have been given. What is helpful is spending your mental stamina on how you'll build your better life, realistically.

4. Stop procrastinating and implement the 20-minute rule.


Learn to start doing something you don't want to do, when you should do it. Don't watch an episode first. Don't play Candy Crush first. Sit down and start working. Remember, it's okay if you really, really, really don't want to do something. You are allowed to feel that way. But what matters is that you do it despite it.

My brother and I have a method for when we don't feel like working on something. It's what I think of as the 20-minute rule. Now, I don't know psychologically why this works, but it works for both of us almost every single time. And I've seen it work for many others.

When you don't want to work on something, you sit down and work on it anyway, telling yourself you only need to do it for 20 minutes. Now, you need to actually do the work intentionally--actually put in effort, not just sit there--and I don't know why, but almost always, by 20 minutes in, you realize it's not that bad. It's like my dad always says, "Nothing is as bad as you think it's going to be." After 20 minutes, it's easier to work longer, and I just keep working anyway.

You can try this with anything you don't want to do, in order to get it done quicker so you can free up writing time. But you can also do this with writing, when you finally have freed up a few minutes to write and don't feel like writing. Just give yourself 20 minutes. I bet 9/10 times you'll want to keep writing after the 20 minutes.

5. Use the percolation approach to writing.


There are discovery writers, people who like to just sit down and start writing and "discover" the story as they go; and there are outliners, people who like to outline the story before they start writing. But there is also another writing approach that's very common that we don't talk about much, which is the percolation approach.

Percolation is when you get ideas for a story, and you let them sit in your mind for a while until you are ready to write them. If you don't have a lot of time to write, or time to set aside to consistently write, the percolation method is a good one for you. You probably have ideas of what kind of stories you want to write. Let them sit in your mind. Let your subconscious take a stab at them. Think about them when falling asleep at night, or in the morning before you get out of bed.

When you feel ready to write the scene and have a few minutes, you're all ready to go.

I think most writers use a little bit of all three methods. The tricky part about percolation is you might hit an area that doesn't eventually come together on its own, so you do need to sit down and work it out. But, heck, you can even use the percolation method scene-by-scene. When one scene is ready to write, you write it. Then you let more ideas percolate, and then you write that scene. You don't have to write chronologically either. Write the scenes you want, and before you know it, you might have half the book in your head done.

6. Take advantage of mental writing


There are some tasks in life that don't require much brainpower, like folding laundry or pulling weeds or waiting in line to pick up your prescriptions. If you are trying to squeeze more writing into your life, these are places where you can spend "mental time" thinking about what story you want to write. Go ahead and daydream a little. Think about that scene you really want to get started on. Ponder how to solve that plot problem. Figure out that character. Let your mind wander on the subject in helpful ways. Or, if you have a specific writing element in mind focus on what you'll do about it. Jot ideas down in your phone--if you are like the rest of America, it's always near you.

7. Play to when and how you write best


If you haven't been writing long, you might not know how or when you do your best writing. But over time, writers figure out what works for them. Most writers I've talked to do their best work in the morning or at night. I've heard that this is partly because those are the times when the creative side of the brain is awake--after dreaming, or just before dreaming. I've heard that the creative side of the brain goes to "sleep" in the afternoon. Even if you are short on time, see if you can free up some time at the part of the day you write best. Can you wake up a half hour or more earlier? Can you stay up a little later? When you play to your best writing time, you are more productive during that time.

Do you write better with music? Or without? Do you like to be sitting? Or reclining? Do you like to eat one Oreo before you start? These are little things, but figuring out what you like and seeing if you can play to it consistently, will help signal to your brain that it's time to switch to writing mode, meaning less time trying to reach that mode and better use of your writing minutes. The more consistent you can be in your "pre-writing rituals" the more likely they are to be effective.

8. Use downtime activities to benefit your writing.

There is a scripture that I like: "See that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize."

In your efforts to fit writing into your life, don't forever sacrifice the downtime needed to rest and re-energize. There may be periods where you have next to no downtime in life, but you can't last forever like that. Ideally, you give yourself downtime every day, if only for 20 minutes.

But not all downtime is created equally. You can utilize that time by doing activities that energize you faster. I recently read a post about a writer who watched television on her downtime, but realized it didn't actually make her feel rested or re-energized, and instead, running did. That's her personal experience. Maybe television does make you feel rested. Whatever the case, evaluate what activities actually do lead to you having more energy, and what activities don't.

During downtime, you can watch or read fiction, which will help you with your writing. You can do something that requires your imagination. Or go for a walk and allow your mind to meditate on writerly things.

Bonus

If you can find a balanced schedule that works consistently for you, maintain that stable schedule as long as you can.

Every time you have to try to switch to a new normal, you lose time and energy. Find the most effective schedule you can realistically maintain and keep it for as long as you can manage.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Light the Dark: What Inspires You?




A few weeks ago, something really cool happened! Penguin Books sent me one of their latest writing books, Light the Dark. In it, 46 of the most acclaimed authors in the industry answer the question, "What inspires you?" by beginning with a passage from literature that had a profound impact on them. I'd like to participate in the concept by answering that question myself and asking you to participate in the same way. You don't have to post your answer online if you don't want to, but how cool would it be to flood the online world with this?

While you can all probably guess that I would point to Harry Potter for mine, and while that did have a big impact on shaping my relationship with literature and my career, I'm sure you are all tired of me talking about Harry Potter. So I've picked something different:

“Eating Poetry” by Mark Strand

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.


I encountered this poem in my creative writing poetry class in college. It comes across as more of a lighthearted, joyful poem. And while I don't know that it was necessarily a life-changing piece, I felt an immediate bond with it, because it captures exactly how I've often felt with storytelling. The idea being that, it's something I love so much, that I wish I could ingest it--live off it. Reading or watching a story isn't enough for me. I need to chew on it, swallow it, digest it, have it give nourishment to my brain, my heart, the marrow in my bones. And on difficult or monotonous days, the promise of a good story waiting for me once I've finished my responsibilities, has sometimes helped sustain me.

It's really the first stanza that speaks to me most:


Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.


There is no happiness like mine. I have been eating poetry. Reading, watching, and writing--especially writing--stories has given me a happiness like none else. On a good writing day, I could sing. The sky could fall down on me, and I'd still be happy. There is no happiness like mine. All I want to do is eat stories.

I like that the librarian doesn't understand. And she must be a lover of books or literature. But there is nothing as delicious as consuming literature--to the point that it is dogeared and bent and marked up--and none of the pristine things that a volume should look like an a library shelf. The dogs are great too. Not only are dogs known to eat things up, but they are known to love life and everything in it. (I'm sure we've all seen how happy dogs are when they get something delicious to eat.) That's how I feel when I have a good story. I love life and everything in it.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

I am a new man. Literature changes people. And the impacts are joyful. Even as a young child, after a good story, I wanted to run outside and romp with joy. I wish I could eat literature.

These experiences and feelings have undoubtedly shaped me. So many of my life choices have been decided based on my relationship with literature and storytelling. Writing down a scene just right--it's like there is no better feeling in the world! I would give anything to be a master storyteller. And I'm willing to put up with a lot in order to make the journey--more than I ever would have, if I'd never tasted the full sweetness of literature.

And this is partly what Light the Dark is all about. In the preface, editor Joe Fassler discusses how literature can literally change us--"I read something, and wasn't the same afterward." And what I like about the book is that although every writer starts by talking about a passage or a life-changing line of literature, from there, they wander into topics about ethics, adversity, identity, or the craft of writing, and explore life experiences, wise revelations, significant career choices, and their relationship with their own literature. I could go on with mine, but I'd rather you take a look at what the masters have to say.




Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process


A stunning masterclass on the creative process, the craft of writing, and the art of finding inspiration from Stephen King, Junot Díaz, Elizabeth Gilbert, Amy Tan, Khaled Hosseini, Roxane Gay, Neil Gaiman, and more of the most acclaimed writers at work today

What inspires you? That's the simple, but profound question posed to forty-six renowned authors in LIGHT THE DARK. Each writer begins with a favorite passage from a novel, a song, a poem—something that gets them started and keeps them going with the creative work they love. From there, incredible lessons and stories of life-changing encounters with art emerge, like how sneaking books into his job as a night security guard helped Khaled Hosseini learn that nothing he creates will ever be truly finished. Or how a college reading assignment taught Junot Díaz that great art can be a healing conversation, and an unexpected poet led Elizabeth Gilbert to embrace an unyielding optimism, even in the face of darkness. LIGHT THE DARK collects the best of The Atlantic's much-acclaimed "By Heart" series edited by Joe Fassler and adds brand new pieces, each one paired with a striking illustration. Here is a guide to creative living and writing in the vein of Daily Rituals, Bird by Bird, Draft No. 4, and Big Magic for anyone who wants to learn how great writers find inspiration—and to find some of your own.

CONTRIBUTING AUTHORS: Elizabeth Gilbert, Junot Díaz, Marilynne Robinson, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, Aimee Bender, Mary Gaitskill, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Roxane Gay, Angela Flournoy, Jonathan Franzen, Yiyun Li, Leslie Jamison, Claire Messud,  Edwidge Danticat, David Mitchell, Khaled Hosseini, Ayana Mathis, Kathryn Harrison, Azar Nafisi,  Hanya Yanagihara, Jane Smiley, Nell Zink, Emma Donoghue, Jeff Tweedy, Eileen Myles, Maggie Shipstead, Sherman Alexie, Andre Dubus III, Billy Collins, Lev Grossman, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Charles Simic, Jim Shepard,  T.C. Boyle, Tom Perrotta, Viet Thanh Nguyen, William Gibson, Mark Haddon, Ethan Canin, Jesse Ball, Jim Crace, and Walter Mosley.


You can learn more about Light the Dark or pick it up here.


Monday, October 30, 2017

Answers to Backlogged Questions




Awhile ago I got a bunch of questions (and some anonymous comments), which I loved, but with everything going on, it's been difficult to get them up here. So, here are some of the smaller questions.

Anonymous said: What are your favourite YA and NA books? :) I love your post about creative writing!

Well, I really love Harry Potter and The Hunger Games! I know Harry Potter is shelved as middle grade, but as the series progresses, it eventually becomes YA. As for NA books, most of the ones I’ve read aren’t published as of yet–they are ones that I’ve edited. So I don’t have an NA to share. In fact, most of the books I read these days are just from editing O_o. It’s hard to come home and read some more after I’ve been doing it for hours already. But, hey, I’m not complaining, I get paid to read ^_^

Thank you! I love hearing that people like my blog! 

Anonymous said: Hi September, how are you doing? I'm looking forward to reading your YA series :) Have you finished the first book?

Hey Anon! I’m doing really great! I’m glad you are looking forward to it. So … I’m not sure who knows or who doesn’t but I’ve been working on rewriting that entire book because it wasn’t very good, and I’ve gotten so much better at writing. It was hard to make the decision, but honestly, it’s become one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because it’s SO much better!! Anyway, I’ve rewritten all of the middle. Then I got stuck on the last chapters–not because I didn’t have any ideas, but because I had too many I couldn’t get to fit together. So then I worked back on the beginning, but was having trouble there too (the beginning is so hard to write well!) Now I’m back working on rewriting the last chapters, and I figured out what to do.

Anyway, some people may have noticed I’ve taken my description down of it on my blog. It’s not because I’ve given up on it or anything it’s just that as I’ve been rewriting it, the description gives the wrong first impression, and I haven’t wanted to worry about writing a new one yet.

Thanks for asking!

SteveJones313 said: If you had the attention of the entire world for just one small moment, what message would you want to give?

That is a great question. I’d probably prefer to give a few super short messages, and it should go without saying that nearly all things should be done in moderation. Anything taken to an extreme becomes a vice.

1. Love and accept everyone–doesn’t mean you have to like and accept everything they do, but over the years, I’ve become more aware of how powerful love and acceptance is. If you look and start *really* paying attention, you’ll see that it does amazing things in almost all aspects of life–it’s like a magic itself. It also broadens people’s vision and hearts.

2. Those who give up or stop trying are those who fail. Doesn’t mean you can’t let something go–which to me is different than quitting–but true failure only comes from giving up.

3. Nothing is a waste of time if you learn something from it.

4. “If you want something you have never had, you must be willing to do something you have never done.”

5. Don’t stunt your own progression and work on overcoming behaviors of self sabotage.

6. Dedication, real commitment with hard work, isn’t usually required, but more is always acquired by it.

7. When we are judgemental, we alienate our brothers and sisters.

8. Trials and tribulation facilitate transformation

9. Too much skepticism can narrow your vision. But if you are too open-minded, your brain will fall out.

10: To achieve great things, we don’t have to be perfect, just worthy.

11. The difference between confidence and arrogance is how you treat (and think) about other people. True confidence comes from accepting *all* that you are as you are.

12. How we cope with difficulties greatly impacts our quality of life.

13. Let others be themselves. Let people change, including yourself.

14. Spend more time paying forward than paying back. Often the person who lent you help doesn’t need that help back–they were able to give it to you in the first place–instead, pay forward to someone who needs it more.

15. There is nothing wrong with noticing and acknowledging others' weaknesses, but it is cruel to take advantage of weaknesses.

16. Take care of yourself. When you take time to take care of yourself, you are able to better take care of others.

17. Accept your talents, blessings, gifts, and opportunities–even if others try to make you feel bad for having them–you can always bless more lives with them than without them.

18. “Nothing is stupid to someone who takes it seriously.” –William Zinsser.

19. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Everyone deserves to be heard. But too often we take opinions that are contrary to ours as personal attacks. When we respond that way, we limit our ability to learn and understand.

20. It’s better to endure others’ derailing comments over and over again, than to endure a lifetime of unpursued dreams.

21. “Some of the greatest battles you will face will be fought within the silent chambers of your own soul” - Ezra Taft Benson


Anonymous said: Are you LDS?

Yes.


Anonymous said: Thank you so much for your post on talent and success. I was in a pretty awful mood. Been beating myself down. And ive been comparing myself to others non-stop for a while and seeing this really helped me. I still feel bad but I guess seeing a post like this just reminded me that struggling is fine. And as long as im moving forward, i'll be fine. Thank you so much i really needed this today. 

I’m glad it was helpful ^_^ I think all of us writers beat ourselves down from time to time. Uugh, yes, comparing–it can be so depressing sometimes, and worst of all, I think it’s human nature to want to compare others’ best to our worst. Often we compare our personal lives to someone else’s public life, or we compare our worst drafts to someone else’s polished and published stories. And struggling is fine. Lately I’ve been thinking about how what I feel about my writing at the time is not an accurate way to gauge. Sometimes when I feel that my writing is crap, it’s actually when I’m being most productive. Other times when I feel like my writing is amazing–I’m actually not getting really anything done, but just basking in my polished scenes. It’s weird. Hope things are getting better for you!


Monday, October 23, 2017

How to get a Job as an Editor




Anonymous said: Hi September, do you have any suggestions for someone who wants to get into the field of editing but currently has a full-time job (in a not-related field) and can't drop it to take up an internship? Are there other ways to build up experience in hopes of getting a paid editing job? Thank you!

Sure, I have some ideas!

So, I’ve said before, the tricky thing about the writing industry is that there are pretty much never set paths to do something--which can be great, because it means there are many ways to get there, but it can also be bad, because it’s hard to figure out what will work. Also, keep in mind that because there are so many different paths, a different person in the industry may have very different opinions than me, but I speak from my own perspective and experiences of course.

I’m not sure how involved you are in the writing community, but I’d start with getting active in the writing community outside of your work time obviously. Often you can find writing groups or events in your area, but you can also join online groups. I realize this is a question about editing--but who are you going to be doing editing work for? Other writers. You can also look at going to conferences and conventions.

Like most things in the writing world, a lot of the education is something you need to take the initiative to do yourself. I don’t know where you are at in the area, but definitely start learning about writing and storytelling (I’m assuming you want to do fiction editing). There are different types of editing, but the two big ones are content editing and line editing. I’d suggest working at learning how to do both. There is also proofreading, which is one of the last edits, if not the last edit, where the editor goes through and fixes typos, dropped words, misspellings, punctuation errors, things like that. Learn what makes a good story, how to fix a broken one, and learn all the grammar and punctuation rules too.

To get better at editing, probably the best thing to do is to start reading unpublished fiction (in addition to the published fiction you've read). Joining a good writing or critique group would be great for this. Maybe you don’t participate by writing, but you participate by reading and giving feedback. Obviously the more you do this, the better you’ll get at developing an eye for what works and what doesn’t.

Being involved in the writing community is also helpful because it helps you network. I hate thinking about the concept of “networking,” but really, in the writing industry, it’s not that hard. Just start meeting and interacting with people in the writing community and industry. You don’t need to be desperate, just friends. Networking/friendships can lead to other opportunities, and other people telling others about you.

As you start learning and growing and gaining experience and getting better at critiquing and editing, you might want to ask for a few testimonials or endorsements from people you have worked with, or make a list of solid references.

From there, you have two paths. You can start looking for editing positions at publishers, and try for those, or you can try doing freelance editing. You can even try for both. Thank heavens for the internet, because it’s revolutionized the freelancing world. Build a nice freelance website--and you can look at other editors’ sites to see how they did theirs. If this is your first job in the industry, you might want to start at like $10-15 per hour, and then work on getting some clients. As you get better and better and your business grows, you can increase what you charge. Unless you are a celebrity in the writing world, the top editors hit their ceiling at $60 per hour. I’m sure like any business, this takes a lot of work, because it’s all on you to find your clients, market yourself, etc.

You do not need an English degree to become an editor--but you need to have a lot of same expertise that someone with an English degree has. You can take the initiative to learn that on your own, or you can consider taking a journey through an English program at a University, and maybe getting a degree. I have an English degree, and I know other editors who have degrees also.

On a final note, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who helped my with my Thunderclap campaign! With your help, I was able to reach my goal, and I have had plenty of visits to my new editing website at FawkesEditing.com.  If you haven't shared it yet, I'd appreciate it if you did. If you haven't looked at it yet, click here and check it out. Thank you!


Monday, October 16, 2017

Working with Teasers




About a year ago I went to the bookstore and started pulling books off the shelf to see how many of them had prologues, then I grabbed about a dozen books with prologues, sat down, and started reading them.

A lot of people in the writing world say prologues are horrible and that you should never ever ever ever ever write one.

I've always had mixed feelings about that advice.

Especially since all growing up, I liked prologues. Still do.

As I started reading all these prologues, I realized not only did the books do a no-no by having a prologue in the first place, but so many of the prologues broke dozens of writing rules. It would be enough to make any aspiring author want to rip out her hair. How come everyone who is teaching me to write stories tells me not to do these things, but then a quarter of the books on shelves are doing them in the very opening?

But I realized when reading through prologues that day, that most of them were teasers. A teaser functions different than other parts of the story, and if you don't know how to discern them or understand them, it can mess up your writing. Not enough people talk about teasers, which is why I'm doing this post.

Teasers inherently break a lot of writing rules, so it's unfair to compare them to everything else. They have a different purpose and function in storytelling. Teasers function off emotional promises to the audience.

Let's start with where the general public has heard the term--in reference to movie trailers. There are two main types of movie trailers: theatrical trailers and teaser trailers. A theatrical trailer is longer than a teaser trailer. It conveys the basic plot of the story. It communicates what the story is about.

Since I'm getting excited for the second season of Stranger Things to come out this month, let's look at their trailers for examples.

Here is the Stranger Things theatrical trailer.




Notice how the trailer guides us through the plot's set-up. It conveys to the audience that the story starts with a boy who has gone missing, having met some kind of ill fate, and his mom and others are looking for him. Eventually, his friends meet a girl who might know where he is.

Now, most theatrical trailers will have some kind of voice over or text on the screen to guide the viewers, and tell them what the story is about.

A teaser trailer is different. They're short. They usually don't really guide the audience through the plot's set-up, but instead show flashes of what kinds of emotional appeals the story is making to the audience.

Watch this Stranger Things season 2 teaser.



While there is text on the screen, it doesn't actually tell us about the plot of the story. But what it does do is make promises to the audience about what kind of emotional appeals it has.

- We get the retro 80's feel from the very beginning, which appeals to that feeling of nostalgia.

- We get yelling and then heavy breathing, which appeals to the feeling of fear.

- We see friends together, which appeals to the feeling of camaraderie--buddy stories.

- We see hints of a government conspiracy, which appeals to a feeling of wonder and horror and stirs the intellect.

- Finally, we get the feeling of wonder and horror when we see a dark creature outside.

Teasers don't tell us a whole lot about what the plot is about--just glimpses of it. They don't give us much, if any, context. They promise the emotional journey that will be delivered if you watch this show.

However, what else teasers promise, is that if the audience watches, they'll get the context.

One of the most important things about teasers is that they are short. If you want to do some research, look up theatrical trailers and teaser trailers for the same movies. The teaser is always shorter.

This is because an audience will sit through a lack of context for only so long. If it goes on too long, especially in the opening of the story (prologue usually), they'll get antsy. They need meaning. They need to be able to interpret what they are viewing or reading on their own, in order to become invested in the story, in order to care. They have to be able to participate, not just be dazzled with camera shots of creepy creatures. Maybe once that would have been enough to hold an audience back in day, but not today where so much entertainment is so accessible.

The less context a teaser has, the shorter it needs to be.

If it has a little more context, it can be a little longer.

If it has a little more context than that, it can be a little longer than that.

But one of the defining qualities of a teaser is the lack of context. If you give full context, it's not a teaser. You might have a theatrical trailer prologue, which is perfectly acceptable, but it's not a teaser.

So how do you handle a teaser? You appeal to emotional promises and beats. Luckily, you do not have to appeal to all your book's emotional beats in a teaser prologue. This is why often after teaser prologues, you get a chapter one that appeals to different emotional beats, and hopefully having dual openings gives your reader a sense of what kind of emotions this story is going to sate overall. And again, not everything needs to be in the opening, just the promises for what kinds of things will be in the story.

If you watch multiple teaser trailers for the same movie, sometimes you'll see that each teaser focuses on certain types of emotional beats. For example, in the Harry Potter movies, you may see how some may focus on the slice-of-life stuff at Hogwarts, while others focus on the dangerous Voldemort stuff. Usually, you'll see appeals to both, but if the movie has a big marketing campaign, you might get emotion-targeted teasers.

Teasers don't only appear in prologues. They may also appear as short scenes in the story, usually in the first half of the story. When you are working with a story where the threat is at a distance until the midpoint, you might get short teasers about what that threat is doing or planning to do, to remind the audience of their presence, promise again that trouble is coming, or sate the audience's emotional need. The movie I am Number Four, is a good example of this. The Twilight movie also does it.

Again, these teasers function the same way. They are short. Have less context. They make emotional promises.

Teasers that take place in the story, as opposed to the prologue or opening, don't have to necessarily promise trouble. They can speak to other things. For example, in a fantasy where your protagonist hasn't yet discovered a magic system, you may show a teaser of the mentor character using it in a fascinating way, with the promise that we will learn more about it in the future.

There are obviously differences between movie trailers and books. For example, movie teasers will often show short clips, quick shots, that inherently appeal to certain emotions. So for romance, there might be a quick shot of two people kissing, then a shot of a couple holding hands. These shots might come from two entirely different scenes from different ends of the movie. We can't and shouldn't write our teasers like that (usually). As a teaser in a story, especially a written one, you're more working with a teaser scene. The audience already lacks some context. Trying to jump between multiple scenes is just going to be more confusing. As a rule of thumb, don't intermingle and jump around scenes like that in your teaser passage. You can probably get away with sequential teaser scenes, as long as the teaser passage doesn't go on too long.

On a micro-level, some teasers aren't scenes, but lines in a scene--a sentence here or there that has that emotional buzz attached. And some of those bleed into this post on the Mechanics of Rendering Mysteries and Undercurrents.



Monday, October 9, 2017

Boom! Bang! Pow! Using Onomatopoeias Well



Today's article is going to be rather short, because that's all it needs to be for this particular lesson. But first, a couple of announcements: 1) I was recently in the news for one of my Comic Con panels. You can see and read that here. 2) I only have about 4 days left of my Fawkes Editing Thunderclap campaign, and I only need 7 more people to reach my goal. It's completely free to pledge! So please help me get the last 7. Go here. Thanks!

An onomatopoeia is a word that expresses a direct sound. You learned about them when you were a toddler: meow, oink, woof, moo. Then there are also the other sounds: ka-ching, sizzle, squawk, whoosh, zoom, and onward.

In creative writing, we are taught to appeal to all senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound. That's when onomatopoeias become relevant. However, there are good ideas and not-so-good ideas on how to use them.

Not-so-good

I went out into the backyard. My neighbors next door had a thing for raising pigs to compete in fairs. 

"Oink! Oink! Oink!"

I hoped I'd be able to ignore them as I practiced my lines for my next audition.

"Oink, oink, oink, oink."

I hoped.

Many new writers will approach onomatopoeias this way. I think by default, we are taught about them in this way, as toddlers. But when you use them like this, unless you are writing a children's story or maybe even middle grade, it usually cheapens the story. We aren't toddlers anymore.

Another exception to this is comic books, manga, graphic novels, and maybe even visual novels--stories where pictures convey much of the story, usually in panels, and the classic onomatopoeia usage is naturally tied to the medium.

Personally, I think this is largely because these mediums are more visual than a typical novel, with little narration (usually) so that's naturally how to convey sound, similar to how in a movie, you would simply hear the sound effect. I could be wrong; I'm not an expert on these mediums by any means, but that's the vibe I get.

Good

I went out into the backyard. My neighbors next door had a thing for raising pigs to compete in fairs. I closed my eyes in a moment of annoyance as they oinked to unprecedented volumes.

I hoped I'd be able to ignore them as I practiced my lines for my next audition.

The oinks reached a new obnoxious pitch.

I hoped.

For typical fiction writing, you handle onomatopoeias by turning them into verbs or nouns or adjectives. "They oinked," "The oinks," and its work with other words.

Seagulls cawed along the shore.

Bacon sizzled in the pan.

The scooter zoomed down the street.

The child's screech could have made us deaf.

He had a barking tone.

This way you convey sound in a way that's natural to narration, without it drawing too much attention to itself.

There are some exceptions, particularly with dialogue. Sound words that actually are naturally said are usually fine. For example, "Oof!" is a sound that people actually make. However, pigs don't actually sound like "Oink!" Oink is just a way us humans invented to describe and convey the sound. This is why in different languages, you may have different sounds. In America, cats say "meow." In Japan, they say "nyan."

So the following are often going to read fine, and you'll see them in fiction sometimes:

"Uugh, that was the worst meeting I've ever sat through," Sandra said.

"Uh, is that . . . a spider?" Jeffrey asked.

"Oof--what was that for?" Mitch rubbed his head. "That hurt."

"Pfft, like that would ever happen." 

"Ahem, are you listening?"

However, some words do sound a little strange, unless you are using them jokingly.

"Boo-hoo!" Sally cried.

No one I know actually makes that sound when crying.

There are some cases where the classic Boom! does work, but almost never ever. Other than a few of those common dialogue words, like "um," "er," and "uh," you almost always want to turn the onomatopoeia into a verb, noun, or adjective.