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Monday, June 18, 2018

8 Common Pacing Problems




"Pacing" refers  to how fast or slow a scene, chapter, or overall novel is relayed to the audience. It essentially refers to the speed of the story. Some stories have more of a leisurely pace. Others may be fast-paced. In most stories, you will have slower paced scenes and faster paced scenes. When to use what depends on the story you are telling, but one thing is clear, pacing can have problems just like any other writing element.

When I started working in this industry, I figured that problems with pacing mainly related to how many words were being used to convey something--too much or too little. And surely (I thought) fixing slow pacing meant we should always "cut to the chase" (as they would say when making movies in Hollywood), or if it was too fast, we needed to add words to slow it down, but I soon learned that pacing has a lot more layers to it than that, and while that's not always a wrong way to deal with pacing . . . it's more of a beginner's way.

And even then, it sometimes doesn't fix the problem.

Sometimes the problem with pacing is that it's too "fast," but almost always, I've found for the majority of writers, the problem is that it's too "slow." (Why are these terms in quotes? Because they may not necessarily deal with strictly adding or cutting words to change reading speeds.)

But here are some of the reoccurring problems I've discovered and how to fix them.


Problem 1: Not Enough Potential Conflicts To Feed Enough Tension

Pacing actually has a lot to do with tension. And tension and conflict are two different things. However, they work together, because tension is the anticipation or potential for conflict to happen. Conflict is the actual problem happening.

Dealing with one conflict (or potential conflict) at a time is rarely enough to hold the audience through a whole story. Sure, in some scenes, there may be one overarching conflict, but there should be multiple types of conflict--however small, however subtle--in each scene. It might be the viewpoint character having an inner conflict about how to deal with the overarching conflict. It might be the protagonist and his best friend having some tension between them--a disagreement that wants to surface. It might the heroine worrying she won't get through the desert without dying from dehydration, while the main conflict is trying to rescue her sister from some outlaws. But in a scene, there should almost always be multiple potential conflicts in order to create tension (which is the anticipation of conflict).

Sometimes you can have multiple important conflicts at once. Other times you only need small, tiny micro-tensions.

But because tension is often so important to pacing, you need enough of it to pull it tight. Lack of potential conflicts and tension often mean the pacing feels too slow and boring. So brainstorm how to add more, even if they are subtle.

Note: In some cases, rather than adding tension, you can add intrigue, or something intellectually stimulating, or make wonderful promises to the reader, or appeal to particular emotions more powerfully, but usually you should still have potential for more than one conflict.

Problem 2: No Hooks

Someday I'm going to do a post just on hooks, but today is not yet that day. Hooks can relate a lot to tension and even everything in that "Note" above. They can often relate to how those potentials are actually written or addressed on the page. It's sort of what I talk about in this post "Mastering Stylistic Tension"

Often (not always) hooks work by giving the audience something to dread or hope for. They may offer promises (at the line level). Like the note above, they may be intriguing and intellectually stimulating. They may promise if the reader keeps reading, they'll experience a particular emotion.

Sometimes the writer has the right concepts and content for the scene, but there aren't any lines that are actually written in a hooking way. Work on mastering hooks to keep the pacing tight.

Problem 3: No Subtext

I was once editing a manuscript that had all the right beats and emotional draws and even the plotting was turning out to be pretty good. But it felt slow and boring. As I paid attention, I discovered it was because it had next to no subtext, and therefore, as a reader, I wasn't intellectually invested in understanding and figuring out the text, and though the emotion was on the page, I didn't feel it because it was so direct.

In this case, subtext needs to be understood, mastered, and added. You can study all about subtext and how to write it here.

Problem 4: Showing AND Telling

Another problem happens when the writer explains everything and doesn't trust the audience to "get it." They might "show" something and then write sentences or paragraphs "telling" the audience what they already put together. They don't need the author to spell out that Suzy loves Donald--they saw their interactions, and it was clear that Suzy loves Donald, so to repeat that with a long explanation slows the pacing down. If you are going to tell about it after showing it, the telling needs to add new information and value and meaning, not just restate what the audience already knows.

You can learn more about showing and telling in this post: Breaking Writing Rules Right: "Show, don't Tell."

Problem 5:  The Audience comes to the Right (Obvious) Conclusion Long Before the Characters

This is not to be confused with suspense, where the audience knows both what the protagonist and antagonist plan to do and are anticipating, sitting on the edge of their seat, wondering how that's going to play out.

This is often a problem of using a common, overused trope without changing it in any way. One of the most common ones is the "prophecy" story line, where the protagonist discovers there is a prophecy about him defeating the antagonist, but even though the audience has seen this story line a dozen times, the author still writes it as if it were the first. They might make the prophecy a main focus in the plot, then drag it out so that the protagonist discovers the "shocking" truth at the climax. (This isn't to say you can never use any kind of cliche in your writing. You can, but you need to do it right.)

If the audience has figured something out, and the characters are still acting like it's a mystery for pages longer, it's going to slow down the pacing.

Problem 6: Misunderstanding What's Significant 

Sometimes the writer spends too much time (or words) on things that don't merit that kind of attention. Other time they may not spend enough on what deserves more. They are misunderstanding what is significant in the story.

The more words you spend talking about something, the more the weight of the story shifts in that direction. If you are putting a lot of "weight" where it doesn't belong, it can make the story feel too slow. If you are skipping over things that deserve more weight, the pacing may feel too fast in those spots.

This is a case where adding and cutting words can be the solution to your pacing problem. Just make sure in adding, you aren't simply repeating the same thing, but expanding or deepening the subject.

More on this and how it actually works here. And more on discerning what's significant here.

Problem 7: Misunderstanding What the Target Audience Came for and/or Cares About

Imagine a Jurassic movie where the main plot centered on two characters working at the theme park falling in love, with no dino terror until the end.

For most people who go to that movie, it's going to feel slow. Really slow. They'll walk out at after and say, "Nothing happened until the end!"

This is one of the reasons it's important to keep your target audience in mind. It's also worth keeping in mind that you can't please everyone. Someone who likes a lot of magical action may not actually like Harry Potter, which is more of a slice-of-life magic mystery. Why is your target reader reading your book? Are you delivering on what was promised?

This can happen on a small scale. For example, when editing last week, I came across some nice descriptions of a side character, and while well written, realized the audience doesn't care enough about that character to get that much description in that moment. They care about what's about to be revealed in the plot.

Putting in what your audience doesn't really care about slows the pacing down in all the wrong ways. Speeding over something your audience picked the book up for can make pacing seem too fast.

Problem 8: Not Enough Variety

Hitting the same story element over and over doesn't make it more powerful, it makes it less. And in the worst-case scenario, it makes it not only boring, but annoying. Contrast and variety make a good story.

Comedies that only try to be funny won't hold an audience for long. It's why comedy movies are short and usually have a life lesson weaved in. If it's always trying to be funny, it's not funny. It will start to feel long and slow and bloated. Make sure your story is balanced out. If it's funny, weave in something serious. If it's about love, weave in some heartache. If it's about dinosaurs terrorizing people, weave in moments of dinosaurs looking beautiful and amazing.

Variety strengthens pacing.


Intuition

The thing with pacing is that I think many writers eventually learn it intuitively. Often we can tell when pacing is off and sometimes even what to do to fix it, before we can consciously explain what's going on. This is one of the reasons why reading both published and unpublished fiction can be really helpful, because your subconscious will gain a better sense of pacing if you consciously can't put it to words.

I remember working on a short story in college, and cutting lines for pacing. I liked the lines, and they weren't bad, but I just knew that it would make the pacing better, even if I couldn't explain why.

Hopefully, though, this post will help by jump-starting the conscious part of your mind on what to watch for.

On Cutting

One of the reasons cutting is a good beginner's tool is because usually beginners write too much about the less significant stuff anyway, and you can cut and cut and it brings back tension into the story because there is less space between each tension line, each hook, and each moment of conflict. Therefore, you are getting more of all that on a page and condensing the story to the most significant, meaningful components.

More on Pacing

Today I talked about the overall problems of pacing, but you can break pacing down in more structural ways: chapters, scenes, sentences. Next time I'll talk about how structure affects pacing and how to use that to your advantage.

Monday, June 11, 2018

How Prologues Actually Function & 6 Types to Consider




In a lot of ways, I'm an atypical person, but one of the ways I'm atypical is that I actually love prologues, and always have. As a teenager, I would be excited when I opened a book that said "Prologue"--years later I'd learn over and over again that a lot of people in the writing industry actually hate prologues! And the first few times I heard that, I was baffled.

I think some of the hate stems from not understanding how they actually function or when to best use them--two things I'm going to cover today.

First, let's talk about some of the reasons why people have said not to use prologues.

1. Some readers (can't remember the exact stats, but I think it might have been half) skip prologues anyway.

2. Story openings are very difficult to write, and by having a prologue, you are having to essentially write two openings--why would you do that to yourself? And you have to win the audience over--twice!

3. Prologues often contain unnecessary information, so you can just discard them. Start with the beginning of the story--chapter one!

I don't know about you, but all of these explanations left me wanting. And none of them felt like good enough reasons to ax prologues altogether (especially the second--if you want to be a writer, you probably won't make it far if you are scared of difficulty). Furthermore, a couple of years ago I perused bookshelves at a bookstore and found loads of novels that opened with prologues. Huh? Haven't I been advised not to do that?

You mean I don't actually have to hate prologues as much as I've been told?

Let's dig into them.

The Most Important Function of a Prologue

You can look all over online about when and why you should or should not use a prologue, and I'll touch on some of that in the types. But in my opinion at its bare bones--when you strip away all the differences between prologues out there--prologues are about making promises of one kind or another to the audience. That is the main function of a prologue.

Like all writing rules, there may be some exceptions to that once in a while, but I'd argue almost always prologues = promises.

Some might say that prologues only relate to giving out information that the audience can't get otherwise. I think it's fair to use them that way, but not all good prologues actually function that way, and even those that do still simultaneously makes promises. The promise comes from giving that information.

Prologues are also often displaced from the rest of the novel in some way--so one might argue that's what makes a prologue. But when I look at prologues, that doesn't quite hold up either. The only function that seems to, is promises.

Now, there are a lot of different promises you can make.

- You can make an emotional promise by communicating to the audience what kind of emotions this story is going to appeal to.

- You can make a promise about what kind of plot this story is going to have. Does the prologue cover an old unsolved murder case that's gone cold? The reader will assume the plot is going to involve that.

- You can make thematic promises about the theme topic or what sort of takeaway value this story might have.

- You can make promises about a type of character.

- About a relationship.

- About worldbuilding, setting, or a time period.

- Or about any kind of draws that your audience picked up your book or genre for in the first place.

- And you can make promises by foreshadowing

But most of the time, the most important function of a prologue is that it makes promises. For some, that might come strictly by providing information. But if you provide information with no sense of promise, it's probably a lousy prologue.

Some of you might be wondering if the first chapter of the story makes promises anyway, why do you need a prologue?

It's true that many, if not most, stories don't need a prologue at all. There are enough clear promises in the first chapter, and enough information in the actual novel, and adding a prologue would make the story weaker.

But for the stories that would benefit, there are a few different kinds of prologues with different functions that you might want to consider when you are wondering about packaging those additional promises (or critiquing someone else's).

Types of Prologues

Theatrical



I've talked in a previous post that in the film industry, there are two types of movie trailers: the theatrical trailer and the teaser trailer. (And what do trailers do? They make promises to audiences about what kind of movie this is going to be.)

A theatrical trailer is longer than a teaser trailer. It conveys the basic plot of the story. It communicates what the story is about. It gives us the setup. Here is an example of a theatrical trailer. (Notice how the setup is clear and chronological.)




Books are obviously a different format, but you can have a theatrical prologue in the same way.

The prologue promises what the plot is going to be about and clues us into the setup.

It simply introduces an overall plot of the story or series that may not be the main focus in the beginning chapters of the book itself--so it's a prologue.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater is a good example of this, and you can read it here.

This is the opening line to give you a good idea:

Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she'd been told she'd kill her true love.

The prologue goes on to introduce us to the sorts of magic the book includes (psychics and fortune-telling, for example). It introduces us to the setting. It establishes a particular lifestyle, or what's "normal" and ends on something (or someone) that changes that normal.

But the prologue continues to come back to the same topic: If Blue kisses her true love, he will die.

This gives us a sense of what this book series will probably be about. But since this is the first book, it's not going to be the sole focus, so the prologue is a good place for the introduction.


Teaser



In film, teaser trailers are different than theatrical trailers. While theatrical trailers make promises to the audience by conveying the setup and introducing the plot, teaser trailers make promises to the audiences by focusing largely on raw emotional appeals.

Here is an example of a teaser trailer.



Notice how unlike the theatrical trailer, we don't really get a clear setup or plot. Sure, we see and hear snippets of it, but the trailer functions off making promises to the audience about what kinds of emotions they'll experience if they watch this movie.

Teasers lack context--that's one reason why they are so short (and why they are teasers). You can't hold an audience long if you don't give them enough context. But the audience knows that if they go to the movie, they will get the context and plot.

Some prologues are teasers. They promise a certain experience and also promise that if the audience reads the story, they will understand (aka, get the context) the event. I did a whole post on teasers here, so I'm not going to repeat everything.

I know a lot of people don't like Twilight, but I'm actually fine with the series. And I'm aware that technically the opening is a "Preface," but I'm going to grab it because it's an example of opening with a teaser nonetheless:

I'd never given much thought to how I would die — though I'd had reason enough in the last few months — but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.

I stared without breathing across the long room, into the dark eyes of the hunter, and he looked pleasantly back at me.

Surely it was a good way to die, in the place of someone else, someone I loved. Noble, even. That ought to count for something.

I knew that if I'd never gone to Forks, I wouldn't be facing death now. But, terrified as I was, I couldn't bring myself to regret the decision. When life offers you a dream so far beyond any of your expectations, it's not reasonable to grieve when it comes to an end.

The hunter smiled in a friendly way as he sauntered forward to kill me. 

Notice we don't get a lot of context. We don't know exactly what's happening or how the character got here. But the passage makes emotional (maybe even thematic) promises to the audience of what will be included in the story.

Stephenie Meyer's The Host does open with a prologue that is teaserly as well. And so does I am Number Four. We lack a lot of context when we start reading, but it will become clearer as we get into the actual novel.

Dual Draws



Some opening chapters have quite different draws (or promises) than later chapters. A prologue might be a good way to bridge that and help balance the appeals for the audience.

The Greatest Showman is a perfect example of this.

The story really starts with Barnum being a child. He doesn't even come up with the circus until maybe a third into the movie. Filmmakers understand, though, that one of the film's major appeals is the circus. So what did they do?

They essentially opened with a "prologue"--promising the audience a set of draws that can't fit into the actual beginning--because Barnum hasn't made the circus yet.

It's arguably one of the best film openings today.

Here is the opening.




And here is the actual "first chapter."



This is a case in particular where having two "openings" really is a strength. By having dual openings, you can showcase the story's draws on opposite sides of the spectrum. So, within the first 15 minutes of The Greatest Showman you get a taste of the spectacle and the fantastical of the circus as well as the personal and intimate conflicts and relationships that Barnum has.

Use this prologue when some of the powerful appeals don't appear until later in the story, so that you can promise them to the audience right out of the gate.

Christopher Paolini's Eragon might be a a good example of this. In the prologue, we get a sense of battle and other creatures and magic and even dragons, but the protagonist himself doesn't really encounter those things until later in the story. The prologue promises that those things will come.

Alternative Viewpoint



For some stories, the audience would benefit from information or a perspective that the main viewpoint character or characters can't give. Sometimes prologues are in a different viewpoint to give the audience access to that information.

The City of Ember is an example of this.

The characters don't really have access to what the builders of the city knew. So the prologue is used to convey that to the audience.

When the city of Ember was just built and not yet inhabited, the Chief Builder and the Assistant Builder, both of them weary, sat down to speak of the future.

"They must not leave the city for at least two hundred years," said the Chief Builder. "Or perhaps two hundred and twenty."

"Is that long enough?" asked his Assistant.

"It should be. We can't know for sure."

"And when the time comes," said the Assistant, "how will they know what to do?"

"We'll provide them with instructions, of course," the Chief Builder replied.

"But who will keep the instructions? Who can we trust to keep them safe and secret all that time?"

"The mayor of the city will keep the instructions," said the Chief Builder. "We'll put them in a box with a timed lock, set to open on the proper date."

In any case, promises come through the information and context given to the audience (that the main characters don't have and therefore can't give.)

Sometimes the prologue may be different in how viewpoint is actually handled. It might be in second person when the story is in third. In third person with the novel is in first. But the decision should have a point and not be random.

Time Displacement



Use a prologue when you need to include scenes (in order to provide context and promises and/or foreshadowing or information) that take place during a different time than the rest of the novel--when it's out of sequence with the rest of the story. Usually this means that the prologue takes place in the past, but it can also mean future. It may or may not have the same viewpoint character.

Some of you might laugh, but the first chapter of Harry Potter is a good example of this. I'm aware that it's called a first chapter, but go read it again, and you'll realize it's really a prologue in disguise (maybe the people behind it didn't like prologues and thought it would be clever to call it chapter one). The entire chapter takes place about a decade before the rest of the story (also in other viewpoints), when Harry is a baby. It's out of sync with the rest of the novel and we don't meet Harry until the end. It also contains elements of the other prologue types I've outlined here. In fact, like many prologues, you could essentially skip the first chapter of Harry Potter--though that gives you an entirely different opening context since you don't have that information or those promises. (Sort of like starting The Greatest Showman with Barnum as a child.)


Informational



Like some of the others, this one can blend in and overlap with the different types, but just to help us with discernment, and because I have a few things to say about it, I'm making it its own category.

Some people say that a prologue is only good if it contains essential information--but that simply is not the case. You could cut off a lot of teaser prologues, dual draw prologues, and even others and still follow the story. (Besides, if half of readers skip a prologue, then you sometimes have to weave that information in another way anyway.) Like I said, you could cut off the first chapter of Harry Potter and you'll essentially get all the information you missed in other parts of the story. This is why I argue that it's promises, not information, that is the driving force of prologues. You can cut off the opening of The Greatest Showman and you would miss out on zero information (what you miss out on is the promises).

But some prologues are strictly there to provide information to the audience, and in some rare cases a prologue might be the only way to deliver that (skip at your own risk). In order to be good though, that information is going to provide promises too (and not read like an info-dump).

Star Wars movies essentially start with an informational prologue--but remember, books and movies are different, and if you write a prologue like Star Wars does at the front of your story it will not be acceptable by today's standards. Lord of the Rings (both book and movie) has an informational prologue--which once again would actually not be acceptable to write in today's day and age in front of a novel. Why? Because it will come across as an info-dump and probably read kind of boring. (Does anyone actually remember the real book prologue to Lord of the Rings? It's basically a long author note about Hobbits.) The Fellowship's prologue on Hobbits worked in Tolkien's time, but it wouldn't get published today. (Because of film and technology, audiences today don't need that much help and guidance to imagine and understand something that doesn't exist in the real world.)

This is one way that I see prologues go wrong. The prologue should almost never read like an info-dump. Instead, think of the information you need to convey and see if you can convey it in a nice scene. An actual scene, with a character and event.

The City of Ember example doubles as an informational prologue. It's telling the audience the beginnings of the city. Notice that it has the audience focus on actual characters having a conversation, and isn't just a big long paragraph of the narrator giving out information.

Sometimes the information itself isn't essential, but is instead significant in some way. The other night I watched The Prestige (cause you know I love Christopher Nolan's writing and seeing Hugh Jackman performing spectacle shows in the 19th century). The opening works as a prologue, but the information isn't necessarily vital to understanding the story. Instead, it's important because it introduces a theme weaved into the movie. With the prologue the audience can watch the film with the idea that the knowledge will be significant in some way. (Notice how the film example doubles as a teaser.)

Here is the opening.



More Types

I'm sure there are more types you could categorize, and I'll have to keep my eyes out for them. And as I said above, many prologues fit into more than one type. But I still think it's helpful to have the categories, because it helps us understand them.



People often don't understand that because a prologue works differently than the rest of the novel--that's why it's a prologue and not just lumped in with everything else--it can't usually be criticized like the rest of the novel.

And because people don't understand the true core of their function (promises), prologues can draw a lot of (inaccurate) criticism from critique groups and others.

I've been to a number of writing conferences where editors have said they always skip the prologue in a submission. I used to think it was because they didn't like prologues--hated them even. Now that I'm an editor, I find myself doing the same thing--and I like prologues. It's not because it's bad. It's because it functions differently. And I'm geared up to be critical of the first chapter. So often I'll skip or just scan the prologue and come back later to take a closer look--a clearer look--when I have a better idea of how that prologue should be functioning in relation to the rest of the work (and the promises it should be making). For example, if the prologue is a teaser, I'll read through it, but often wait until I get more context to come back and edit it. But whatever the case, you should always be looking at the promises it's making.

Monday, June 4, 2018

How Theme and False Theme Affect Your Protagonist



I attended Amanda Rawson Hill's class on theme several weeks ago and was simply blown away with it and within minutes knew I had to ask her to let me share some of it on my blog. Theme is a topic that's been on my mind for the last few months, and I touched on it in my last post "Preach vs. Teach." When I attended Amanda's class, she put words to many aspects about theme that had been rolling around in my subconscious that I hadn't yet figured out and she also taught me completely new ideas about it.

Lately I've been looking at theme from a question and answer standpoint (the story asks us to consider and explore questions about a topic, and the thematic statement gives us the answer--illustrated through the story), which is great but only one way to look at it, and I loved Amanda's approach. So she's here today to share a section from her class: how theme and false theme affect the protagonist.

***

The theme of a novel can feel like a slippery thing. For many authors, it’s more of an afterthought. Once the book is finished and they know plot and setting and character, then maybe they’ll ask themselves what the theme is. But theme is key to creating an emotionally powerful and coherent novel, one that leaves an impression on the reader’s heart.

One of the ways an author can be more intentional about theme is by considering how it impacts their main character. We do that, first, by being able to verbalize what our theme is. Remember that the theme of a novel is a COMPLETE SENTENCE. It’s the message of your book.

Some examples of theme are

Moana: You know who you are when you know where/who you come from.

Hamilton: You have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story.

Zootopia: Change begins with me.

Harry Potter: Love is the most powerful force on earth.

Now, if the theme is the message of the book, then it should be what you are leaving your reader with. It’s the truth that your main character finally understands at THE END of the story.

But that means they can’t understand or believe the truth of the theme at the beginning of the story. If they do, then there is no growth or change in the character and you have a boring book.

So at the beginning of the book, your main character either doesn’t believe or misunderstands the theme in some way. I call this the FALSE THEME STATEMENT. K.M. Weiland refers to it as “The Lie Your Character Believes.”

For example:

At the beginning of Moana, her family and everyone on the island keep telling Moana that she is just who she is right now, that everything is about the island and where they are right now.



At the beginning of Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton believes he can create and control his legacy by laying hold of every opportunity and not throwing away his shot.



At the beginning of Zootopia, Officer Hopps sees the bias in everyone around her and is bound and determined to prove them wrong by being the first bunny cop. There is no checking of her own biases.



At the beginning of Harry Potter, he is just the boy in the cupboard under the stairs. Alone, unloved, and powerless.



The FALSE THEME or “Lie” can take a few different forms. It can be something that is the complete opposite of the true theme. Like in Hamilton. It can also be a belief that isn’t taken far enough, for example not applying it to everyone or not applying it to oneself, like in Zootopia. It could just be a case of wrong priorities, like in Moana. Or maybe, it’s something your main character just can’t even really wrap their head around (Harry Potter) or feels some kind of shame around, like in A Quiet Place (think of how the theme is “You must protect them” and Jon Krasinski’s character is definitely trying but is reeling from his failure at the beginning of the movie. It’s not necessarily that he believes he can’t, it’s that he tried and failed before. And that guilt is haunting him and everyone else in the family.)

Once you have the FALSE THEME STATEMENT at the beginning and the true THEME STATEMENT at the end, you now have the beginning and ending points of your main character’s arc! And what the plot needs to do is effectively change your character from believing the false theme to truly understanding and internalizing the true theme.

Harry Potter ends up surrounded by loved ones both past and present, which strengthen him to overcome Voldemort's power through an ultimate act of sacrificial love and learns that his family "had never left."

The other thing the FALSE THEME STATEMENT provides for you is a starting point in creating your character. If you know the lie your character believes, then you have a foundation for building a character who would actually believe it.

You can create this character by answering questions like:

Why does my character believe this? What happened in his/her backstory to cause this belief?

What problems has this belief caused in the character's life?

How does this belief affect my character’s relationships?

What does the false belief make my character hide? What does it make them do?

Does it give them any quirks or habits?

Does it require any kind of self-defense mechanisms?

What does it make them push away? What does it make them welcome?

Because of the false belief, what will make my character scared/uncomfortable/happy/etc.?

There are many other ways that THEME should be an intentional part of your novel but building it into your main character is one of the biggest!

If you loved this and want to hear more about Amanda's approach to theme, she recently did a post at Writers Helping Writers on how theme relates to subplots, supporting characters, and tension. I highly recommend it!

***

Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in Southwestern Wyoming with a library right out her back gate. (Which accounts a lot for how she turned out.) After earning her BA in Chemistry at Brigham Young University, she lived all over the US, finally settling in Atwater, California with her husband and three kids. Her debut middle-grade novel, THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC, releases September 25, 2018 from Boyds Mills Press.


Monday, May 21, 2018

Preach vs. Teach




In the writing industry, you might have heard the advice that you should never preach to your readers, but I feel like no one actually breaks down how preaching is different than teaching. So that's what I'll be doing today.

How Preaching Works and Why We do it

Preaching often comes from handling a theme or story's "lesson" too heavy-handedly. It's the author trying to make the reader see or adopt a particular viewpoint or way of life. Obviously the author thinks that viewpoint or way of life is right (and that readers should follow it).

We all have ideas we feel strongly about, and those are often themes we should write about.

But preaching them is usually more of a turn-off, and as I'll talk about, it's also sort of a shortcut/cheat that can blow up in your face.

So let's talk about the characteristics of preaching and how it happens.

Characteristics

Focuses on Answers - One of the ways preaching can manifest is when the author is focusing too much on the answers to thematic, moral, or ethical questions. I know that sounds backwards, so let me explain.

You know how stories have a plotline?

Well, in my opinion, great stories have a thematic line, and I argue they look awfully similar at the most basic level.



With themes and morals, there needs to be a struggle before the answers come.

Themes and morals can go bad when the author starts swinging around the answers straight out the gate or at the wrong point in the story.

See, when we want to teach something to our readers, it's easy and naturally tempting to simply start swinging the idea around, because we want the reader to get and understand whatever point we are making.

But like the plot's climax, the statement doesn't have power until we've struggled (rising action) for the answer.

If the moral of my story is that mercy is more powerful than justice, and I start the story stating and restating that, it has no power because it has nowhere to grow, and it has no power because there was no struggle.

The audience has to see a need for the answer, first.  A.k.a. the struggle. The struggle comes through the characters--so having characters that already believe and live the answer isn't going to work.

As you show the characters struggle with a moral or ethical or philosophical question, the audience becomes more invested. If the audience isn't invested in the story, they can't really be changed by it.

If you focus too much on getting across answers to the audience, the story will become preachy.


Close-mindedness, Bias, and Simplification - Writing can turn preachy when the author doesn't actually consider or genuinely explore viewpoints that are contrary to what they want to teach. For example, if you want to write about how mercy is more powerful than justice, you might run into this problem if you make everyone who enforces justice demonic or other; you also may run into it if you don't consider the real-life complexity that justice is.

But usually I see this problem with more political statements. And few come quicker to mind than environmentalism. If I have to watch one more show about how humans have to leave Earth because we polluted it, I think my mind might die from the cliche. (I can respect the concept, but it's so overused and can be so heavy-handed these days). In stories like this, often the situation is overly simplified, those who don't support something that is supposedly pro-environment are demonized. And it's usually very obvious what the writer believes.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying we shouldn't have stories about these subjects. But unless you are employing stereotypes for humor, you probably need to at least genuinely consider what you view to as the opposing side.

I have a friend from when I was a teenager, and as adults, she came out as lesbian. When gay marriage became legal she said, "Just because people don't believe in gay marriage doesn't mean they are bigots or homophobes. Some people just don't believe in it because of their religion. Others because of their worldview. Some feel that it is just not morally the right or natural." In other words, she did not oversimplify the situation or name-call the other side.

I will argue that some themes and stories are more black and white, and for younger audiences, you may write more simplistically. Some evil behaviors are so evil that probably no one will have a problem if they are demonized (like mass extermination). But if your story is too preachy, it might be because you aren't opening your mind enough to genuinely consider the opposing side.

In most stories, even the villain should offer us some level of understanding and sympathy.

Some writers may be afraid to make those of opposing views sympathetic or understandable because they feel that doing such promotes that viewpoint. You don't need to fear that, and that approach actually causes other problems that I'll talk about in the teaching section. 


Tells more than Shows - Preaching can happen when you are telling the moral of the story or the answers to the theme more than showing them.

It might be a long drawn out conversation with a character about the thematic answer . . . paired with a plot that didn't illustrate it enough. See, the plot or the character arc should ideally illustrate the argument you are making (remember the struggle?)

Preaching might happen when you are simply telling the audience what to think and how to live their lives. Again, until you've illustrated a need for that (through plot or character arc), the audience probably won't care about the information.

It's not wrong to say answers and thematic lines straight out:


But like with writing the actual story, it needs to be shown more than told. Things can sound preachy when there is more telling than showing. And if you tell far more than the audience "needs" then it can be annoying. 


Usually as writers we turn preachy because of one of these reasons. And as you look over these characteristics, you might notice that they are all sort of shortcuts to doing the actual work. Surely it takes more work to actually show a struggle and illustrate a need for an answer than it is to just give it. It's way easier to simplify arguments and demonize opposing views than it is to take the time to understand them and add depth on some level. And obviously, as most writers will know, it's way easier to tell than to show. So preaching is a shortcut . . . that doesn't work.

Another reason preaching is a problem is because it almost never transforms or expands the reader's understanding. If it does anything, it simply validates what the audience already thinks or creates polarization if they think differently. Great stories transform or expand readers' understanding, even if ultimately it doesn't change their core beliefs, and that's okay. Studies have shown that people who read fiction are more empathetic than people who don't, and heaven knows we all need more love and understanding in the world.

How Teaching Works and How to Do it


Teaching is different than preaching. It's sort of the difference between having a conversation and being talk at.

With storytelling, instead of trying to force the reader what to think and do, we show events (causes and effects) and then suggest how they be viewed via the narrator or characters. Again, this doesn't mean we can't make direct statements (like the Dumbledore one above), but we aren't hitting the reader over the head repeatedly. Remember what Dale Carnegie taught? Ideas or best taken to heart when the other person comes to the conclusion on their own.

How do they come to that conclusion? You illustrate a need.

Characteristics

Explores Questions First - Do you remember sitting in school and having a peer raise his or her hand and ask, "When are we ever going to use this?" I do. (Sadly, I honestly don't use most of what I learned in all my years of math.) We usually learn better, quicker, and change more powerfully when we see a need.

Going back to my earlier example, if we want to talk about how mercy is more powerful than justice, we need to first explore those two topics, and this is usually most effectively done by posing questions about them, that are illustrated through struggles. Sometimes you can pose those questions directly. Other times the questions aren't directly on the page, but instead the story sets up situations and struggles that suggest the questions and the need for answers. Almost always these come from the character arc, but they can also come from side characters.

By doing this, the writer is teaching about the whole subject instead of just a simplified shortcut of it. The audience becomes more invested in the story--the plot and the characters--and yearns for a conclusion--an answer. It's only in this state that the audience can experience a form of transformation. The climax of the theme or moral. The part that will actually stick with them long after the story ends and that they will take with them into their lives.

Considers Other Sides or Explains Them in a Way We Can Understand or Sympathize - No one really wants to be Voldemort. But we understand his perspective and through his backstory, maybe even sympathize with him in some way. He literally doesn't have the capacity to love others.

If you are working with Absolute Truths, you may be working more with Voldemort situations--where the point is to help the reader understand or sympathize on some level why that person is that way, even if no one agrees with them. If you are working with worldly truths, where things aren't so black and white, you'll probably need to genuinely consider and illustrate opposing sides without demonizing people.

And in most stories you are going to be doing some of both.

After all, we also understand many of the Death Eaters and their perspective, even if we don't agree with them.

In the musical Les Mis, we sympathize and understand (and even on some level, respect) Javert, even if his inability to accept mercy as a more powerful force drives him to death (an action which in and of itself illustrates that ultimately, mercy has the upper hand, and even shows tragically how in the end, Javert could not even show mercy toward himself).

Give depth to characters who have and illustrate views contrary to the lesson of the story. Les Mis wouldn't be half as powerful if we didn't understand and spend time with Javert.

If you have controversial or political statements, please remember that there is a reason there are people on both sides of the argument--and it's not because everyone on the other side is a bigot or ignorant or blind. Actually spend some time with the opposing thought process. It will make your story more powerful and help human beings empathize with one another. Even if we don't agree with someone, learning their perspective can greatly enrich our own.

And if you have readers that have the opposing viewpoints, they'll appreciate you and listen and consider your story and viewpoint more. People don't care what you know until they know you care.

Show the Lesson more than Tell it - The story itself should illustrate what you are trying to teach through plot and character. Usually, statements told should validate or put words to what the audience is witnessing.

Lord of the Rings is a story that's clearly about good overcoming evil. But that lesson wouldn't really be there if we didn't witness it happening with the characters firsthand. It doesn't mean as much if we don't actually see evil being really evil. If we don't actually see the Ring thrown into the Crack of Doom.

Same can be true of the Dumbledore statement above. It doesn't really mean much if we don't see it illustrated--Harry and Voldemort actually have a lot of similarities in their backgrounds, but it's their choices that show who they really are, not the fact they both speak parseltongue.

Showing the lesson cements it to the reader. Actually doing a science experiment is more meaningful and sticks with you longer than reading about someone doing one in a book. Experience trumps telling. In stories, experience relates to showing.


In the end, we show and illustrate the lesson, and ultimately it's the reader who decides what he or she thinks about it. We can't force the reader to believe anything. All we can do is provide opportunity and perspective and let the reader exercise his or her own agency about it. And even if the audience comes to a different conclusion, if you did this stuff well, their views will have been expanded in some way, and hopefully, so will their empathy. Ultimately, that's all we can really ask for.

So I hope that helps clarify the difference between preaching and teaching. It's worth noting, however, that not all stories exist to intentionally teach something. Some stories simply explore topics and viewpoints, without necessarily coming to a clear conclusion--or offering several. Some stories simply aim to take an "as is" approach--not trying to persuade anything, but simply show what is. In the end, however, all stories are teaching something, even if it's unintentional or subtle. And if you look at most classics, they are timeless usually because of the takeaway value.

Come back next week to learn more about how to infuse theme into your writing.

Monday, May 14, 2018

How to Write Exceptional Endings




In some ways, endings can be the easiest part of a story to write because they simply connect and resolve one conflict after another after another until all the loose ends are tied up. Often the writer has thought about the ending for months. But other times, coming up with a satisfying ending is dreadful. Not all endings are equal. Here are six key points that will help you write a satisfying and exceptional ending.


"Always Keep Your Promises if You Want to Keep Your Friends"

In the Christmas movie Jingle all the Way, Turboman, a fictional superhero has a maxim: Always keep your promises if you want to keep your friends. Since this movie is sort of a ongoing joke between me and one of my siblings, we say this to the other to get a laugh. But it's true for writing great endings: Always keep your promises if you want to keep your readers.

When we start our story, we make promises about what kind of story this is going to be. If there is a meet cute in the opening (where a potentially romantic couple meet in a cute way), you are promising that there will be a level of romance in the story. If you open with a character called on a quest to defeat a dragon, you are promising a dragon by the end. If you open with an unsolved murder, you are promising it will be solved. Promises not only happen at the beginning of a story, but they happen throughout too, and they can happen on a small scale.

Some people in the industry advise that you should never break a promise--I actually think you can, but you have to do it right (sorry Turboman), but as a rule in general, it works fine. Unless you absolutely know what you are doing and know how to break promises right, to write a great ending, you need to keep your promises to the audience. The meet cute couple confesses they love each other. The dragon is confronted. The murder mystery is solved. If you promised there was going to be magic in this story, we need to see it present in the end.

As I said in the very beginning, the ending is where you really start connecting loose ends and resolving the story's conflicts. So in order to write a good ending, those things need to be addressed, not bypassed. Bonus points if some of them are seemingly unresolvable and can be resolved in a surprising/unforeseen way.

Deliver MORE than You Promised (Exceed Expectations)

Keeping promises is vital to writing a satisfying ending. But if you want to write an exceptional ending, you really need to deliver more than what you promise and exceed expectations. You've set up expectations as you've made promises throughout the story, now you need to push beyond those. Maybe the protagonist prepared and planned for fighting a dragon during the entire book, but when he arrives, he discovers there are actually two. Maybe your heroine confesses her love to the hero--and finds out he's actually a prince in disguise. The detective solves the murder--and it turns out the murderer is her husband.

You can exceed expectations a little bit, or you can exceed them by a lot. Just remember that it needs to fit the story and the story's context. For some surprises, this means you need to foreshadow. For example, in the prince scenario, chances are you need to foreshadow something about a prince during the story (but you don't want to foreshadow too much, otherwise it will be expected). For the dragon example, I don't think you need to foreshadow that there are two.

When you exceed expectations, you include an element of surprise. Keep in mind this very important point: If you deliver something different than expected, it needs to be just as good as what is expected or better. Ideally, you deliver some of what is expected and some that is unexpected, but whatever the case, you don't want to deliver anything anti-climactic or anything that undercuts what you've been building throughout the story.

Twists also relate to surprises and exceeding expectations. A lot of great stories shift the context of what we and the characters know at the end so that there is a twist.

Learn about the five different kinds of surprises (including exceeding expectations and twists) and how they work in this post on them.

Escalate Risks (aka Stakes) and Costs

Any decent ending has risks and costs. After all, this is the moment the whole book has been building toward. There should be more at risk now than there has been through the entire book. Costs should probably also be at their highest point.

Risks are what are "at stake" in the story. In The Hunger Games, Katniss's life is what is at stake, and the emotional (and physical) health of her sister. If Katniss doesn't win The Hunger Games, she'll die and Prim will be devastated. The costs are what the character has to do or give up to reach a goal and/or save those stakes. So in The Hunger Games, it cost Katniss some of her identity. At the very end of the book, she grows more and more confused over what part of her is real and what part was her just trying to survive. (Not to mention the physical costs of everything she went through)

Sometimes in some stories, stakes and costs seem to overlap or be the same, depending on what angle you are looking at. But the point is, they need to be there. And to really take your ending to the next level, you need to escalate them.

So at the starting of the story, we thought we just needed to defeat a dragon. But by the climax we learn that this is no ordinary dragon, but essentially a god of the dragons who has the capacity to not only take over the country as it has, but bring destruction to all of civilization, and it will if threatened. So now all human civilization is at stake.

Our protagonist was training to defeat one ordinary dragon--he's done it before. But now that there are two, and both of them are basically "gods" of the dragon race, there's a good chance it will cost him his life to save all of humanity.

See how those stakes and costs were escalated?

To escalate costs and risks, you either add more, deepen what you already have, or vastly change the odds against your character. (And ideally, you do all three if you can)

These examples are a bit epic and extreme, but in a more personal story, risks and costs will be more personal. In a typical 90's movie, a workaholic dad is at risk of losing his family relationships, but to save those relationships, it costs giving up his job. That's a more personal set-up.

Whatever kind of story you are telling, escalate risks and costs so that they are the highest they have ever been. This also means you are greatly increasing the protagonist's struggle.

Choose the Right Ending Model

I've been taught that there are really three ways a story can end in a satisfying way:

- Happily Ever After: Everything is tied up nicely and everyone is happy and whole. Risks and costs were escalated, but in the end, everything panned out, the costs won't hurt for long, and the future looks great. Example: think of Disney's movies aimed at children.

- Much is Lost, but Much is Gained: Some of those costs? They really happened. People died. Relationships were lost. A central character may be scarred for life. But it was worth it. Loved ones and important people were saved, maybe even all of humanity. Even though it took a lot of sacrifice and heartache, ultimately, it was worth it. (Usually on a personal scale, there are a lot of sacrifices, but on the large scale, much is won) Example: think Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and many epics and blockbuster movies.

- Sadder but Wiser: A lot of the big things were lost, maybe even the protagonist's goals weren't met. But oh my word, they learned so much from the process and they are a changed person because of it. They are a better person because of the course of the story. They may be wiser, or love more deeply, or gained knowledge. (Usually the large scale things aren't won, but something internal and personal is gained) Example: think The Fault in Our Stars, and many literary works.

Usually certain genres lean toward one type of ending, as you can see from my examples. There might be some that sort of waver. For example, in How the Grinch Stole Christmas the Grinch doesn't meet his planned goals (he couldn't stop Christmas), but the journey leaves him wiser and a changed person. However, ultimately the story ends on a Happily Ever After note.

Choose the ending that fits your story best, and work with it to make it powerful, not against it. This will make the ending more satisfying. 

Cross Opposites

Essentially no one talks about this in the writing world (I'm the only one I know of), but crossing opposites and using contrast is really powerful in writing. When it comes to the ending, this is often done by crossing the biggest, broadest conflict with the deepest, most personal one (which usually relates to the theme). You've seen it before, but might not realize it.

There is an overarching story plot, but then there is a personal one. The personal one often relates to an internal struggle the protagonist is having to try to overcome something, which is almost always the character arc. To write a great ending, try to get the broad conflict to cross with the personal conflict. Sometimes you can get these resolutions right on top of one another, so that the broad conflict and the personal conflict are dealt with in the exact same moment--which is so cool! But most often, the personal conflict is overcome, which then enables the protagonist to face and deal with the big one. Other times, it can go the other way.

Here, let me write this out:

- The broadest conflict and most intimate conflict are overcome at the same time.

- The most intimate conflict is overcome, which leads to the broadest conflict being overcome (probably the most common structure)

- The broadest conflict is overcome, which leads to the most intimate conflict being resolved.

But whatever the case, often the closer you can get these to relate and coincide, the more powerful the ending. Because overcoming and resolving something big, and also something personal, are both significant in and of themselves.

But crossing opposites doesn't have to start and stop there. See if you can cross other opposites in powerful ways.

The movie Interstellar is pro at this. If you look at the movie, it's crossing opposites everywhere. The biggest, broadest, most unknowable possible problem (being thrown into a black hole in the process of trying to save all of humanity) directly crosses with the deepest, most personal, most relatable problem (struggling in a parent-child relationship). Even the settings are opposites. The black hole literally crosses with a child's room. At the end, each conflict works off the other--reaching through time and space--to be solved.

It's the breadth, of being pulled from end of the spectrum to the other that infuses the story with high, sharp, power.

So, see where you can cross opposites and where you can cross conflicts (most stories have more than one conflict after all, see if you can cross two or more of them at the end)

Validate, Validate, Validate

You may have heard the three rules for writing middles: Escalate! Escalate! Escalate! For endings, there are also three important rule: Validate! Validate! Validate!

This is more of the denouement than the climax (though validation can happen in the climax). Validate what has been lost, defeated, gained, or won, by showing the audience. With a romance conflict, validate that love was found. Depending on the story and if this is a primary, secondary, tertiary or lower plot line, this might mean the couple gets married, gets engaged, is shown spending time together, kissing, or finally confessing they love each other. In my dragon example, this might mean showing that civilization is at peace, maybe even celebrating, and if the process did cost the hero's life, showing how he will be honored and remembered for centuries to come, and how grateful people are for his sacrifice. In the murder mystery, this might mean showing the murderer locked up or being sentenced. If it was the protagonist's husband, it might show her coping with now living alone. If the Grinch's heart grew by two sizes, we see him celebrating Christmas more than anyone.

Powerful validation, especially one after another, is what can often bring an audience to tears. It can also cement the story into their hearts.

Keep in mind, however, that if you are writing a series, your denouement may be a little different. For example, not everything will be resolved, and not everything may be validated if there are more books still. Instead, it may be important to build anticipation in the audience for what is to come. However, for most series books, there should be at least some validation for the characters' arcs and major conflicts that were resolved in the book.

There is a saying in the writing community, that comes from crime novelist Mickey Spillane: "The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book."

This is true for any book, series or not. If it's a series, it sells the next installment. If it's not, it leaves people wanting to buy the next book you write.

For more on climaxes and denouements (and all the other basic story parts), check out this post on outlining.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Convey an Established Relationship Quickly + Storymakers + Update



Hi everyone! Things have been crazy for me lately and life has been incredibly busy, but I have somehow survived to May 8th, 2018. 

First off, I have a writing tip up this week at WritersHelpingWriters.net, so instead of reading this week's tip here, I'll direct you there (if you are new to my blog, you should know that this is atypical), but here is a teaser if you are into that stuff and are trying to decide if you really want to follow that link. ;)

How to Convey an Established Relationship Quickly

I was recently reading two story openings that were frankly amazing at conveying an established relationship in a matter of pages or even paragraphs. While many stories revolve around the protagonist meeting new people, such as in a typical hero’s journey plot, perhaps even more stories revolve around relationships that are established before the novel begins.

Many new writers have a difficult time conveying such relationships quickly, and to be honest, it can even be tricky for more experienced writers to figure out sometimes, especially if the relationship is very significant.

Whether you are working with best friends, significant others, parents and children, schoolmates, rivals, or downright enemies, here are several methods that can help.

Communicate what’s normal.

Every established relationship has been . . . well . . . established, meaning it has behaviors and attitudes that are typical in it. In one of the story openings I recently read, the protagonist had to deal with two, mean, cruel older sisters. First the meanness was rendered and then validated through narration. In the second one, what was normal of two brothers was simply conveyed through the way they talked to one another. In both cases, I immediately had context for what was typical.

Refer to or imply an off-page history.

Every established relationship has a history: how the characters met, what events have taken place between them, and how they got to where they are now. In some cases, they may have a “reoccurring history.”


. . . You can read the whole post here

And I actually got to meet Becca Puglisi in real life over the weekend and thank her (and Angela) for all the opportunities and support they have given me and my blog over the years. I love being a part of Writers Helping Writers, and their books are amazing resources for writers. If you don't have The Emotion Thesaurus, you need it.

Storymakers

This last week I attended the Storymakers Conference, which is definitely still my favorite writing conference I've ever been to. Here are a few quick reasons why:

- TONS of amazing information about writing and working in the industry from professionals

- Awesome events: every year the conference has a first chapter contest, pitch sessions, and get-togethers

- Food. It might seem simple, but I love that Storymakers takes care of attendees' meals and that they are included in the ticket prices, so we don't have to worry about what to eat or if we will go hungry.

- Friendly and amazing people. Storymakers is probably my favorite conference to meet new people. Attendees and faculty are so friendly and easy to talk to but it's not so over-the-top that it leaves me feeling suspicious or that people have an ulterior motive. (I'm sometimes suspicious of too much friendliness, to be honest!)

- The faculty and organizers are amazing! I love that they fly in amazing authors, agents, and editors from all over (including New York) and also accommodate and cherish those in this part of the states.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that I always feel well taken care of, the conference has never been a disappointment, and it has always felt simultaneously very professional and very fun (not to mention the prices for all that it entails are amazing).

This year was a very special year in particular because I actually got to teach a class! And I also had a vendor table ^_^ 

Storymakers was the first writing conference I ever attended, back in 2010, and so being on the other side--the faculty side--was really special to me. 

I will admit I was nervous to teach and have a table. Sure, I've taught before, but not at this conference. However human beings can do hard things, and it all turned out fine :) Thanks to everyone who came or stopped by my table and all the fun people I got to meet in real life. Somehow I ended up with the vendor table that got the most traffic--I'm still not sure how that happened, but I am definitely not complaining! 

I wanted to bring back a few signed books--like one of Shannon Hale's or The Emotion Theasaurus--to give away on here, but I wasn't thinking and of course by the time I made it to the bookstore, they were all sold out. 

If you are thinking of going to a writing conference, I highly recommend Storymakers.You only need to take a scroll through the special guest list and faculty list to get an idea for how amazing it is. 

Thank you to everyone who made the conference amazing!


Funny Story

Real quick I did want to share something funny that happened at the conference. I decided to make some stickers that I could hand out to people. Even though five writerly people checked my material for typos . . . there somehow still was one 🤦

And the worst part?

It made the sentence completely scandalous. 

Can you spot it?


It's says "I'd be easier" instead of "It'd be easier."

😂 🤣 😂

Yup, and that's how I started my conference experience. Since I couldn't fix it, I decided to roll with the punches and just say, "I'd be easy for a Weasley."

But it gets better.

I had four different stickers (as you can see at the top of this post), and I gave away more scandalous stickers than any other one 😂 (and I made sure to point out the typo so people were aware).

And it's the only sticker I ran completely out of. 

(Though I did tell people it was limited edition because it won't be back next year!)

So it all worked out and ended up even being a good thing. 



Update

Other than the conference, life has still been keeping me really busy. Fawkes Editing is going really well, and since I started freelancing seven months ago, I've never not had work! (How is it May already?)

I'm planning on attending Salt Lake Comic Con again this fall, and I'll also be teaching at the LDSPMA conference in early November. 

And of course, I'll be back next week with a new writing tip. You can check out all my writing tips in the index

Have a great week!


Me with fellow writers Charlie Pulsipher, Helen Boswell, and Shallee McArthur (in case you were wondering, this isn't typical of writing conferences, but one of the vendors had a fun photo shoot area with costumes!)