15 Simple Tips for Procrastination

Procrastination is a fine art. How should I avoid my writing, you ask? Here are some simple tips.

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  1. Clean the house. You know it needs doing, right? What better time to start than when that blank page is staring you in the face?
  2. Straighten your desk. How can you work on a cluttered surface?
  3. Wash clothes. Everybody needs clean clothes.
  4. Wash your hair. And the rest of you, too. Who likes a smelly author?
  5. Walk the dog. They expect it, after all.
  6. Feed the cat. They also expect it.
  7. Wax the car. You need a shiny automobile for those book tours you’ll be doing.
  8. Hop online. It’s only for a few minutes. How much time can Facebook eat up, anyway?
  9. Fix lunch. Everybody needs to eat.
  10. Go buy groceries. See Number 9.
  11. Fix that leak in the sink. Who can write with that annoying noise?
  12. Wallpaper the bedroom. Or paint it. You need inspiration, and those old walls just aren’t doing it.
  13. Sharpen all your pencils. How can you write with a dull pencil?
  14. Knit an afghan. Or crochet one. Your knees might get chilly while you’re writing.
  15. Clean the bathroom. Wait, this is getting entirely too ridiculous!

Quit wasting time and get back to that manuscript!

Catch ‘Em Quick

Writing a catchy first paragraph is a must for every writer, but especially for fiction writers. If the reader isn’t hooked in the first paragraph, sometimes the first two or three if they’re generous, they’re not going to be interested in finishing the story.

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“The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.”
—Joyce Carol Oates, April 1986

The first thing you need to keep in mind is this quote from Joyce Carol Oates. She’s right: in order to craft a really fascinating first sentence or paragraph, you must have your ending already crafted. All this means, of course, is that you finish your first draft before you wrack your brain trying to find that perfect  opening scene. Get the story down, then worry about creating your “hook.”

A good first paragraph starts in the midst of the action. Don’t begin your story with the character waking up and brushing his teeth, then eating breakfast and going to work. Start with the body falling past the window in his office. The reader will wait a bit to learn more about your protagonist if you give them a good enough story.

Once you’ve completed your first draft, find the scene that starts your action, and lead with that scene. That’s your hook.

Revising 1-2-3

Revision can be tough. Sometimes it’s hard to take a good, clear look at what you’ve written.

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Here are some good tips to get you started on the revision process:

  1. Start at the beginning – Editing is easier when you follow your story the same way your readers will. Starting on page one will not only help you to catch typos, but allow you to check for plot holes, continuity and characterization.
  2. Highlight all passive verbs. Look for is, are, was, were and has/have been. If the sentence can be rewritten into active voice, do so. If not, consider eliminating the sentence entirely. You do need passive voice occasionally, but keep it to the bare minimum.
  3. Get rid of the cliches. HERE’S a great list by Writer’s Digest of the most commonly used cliches. Do a find-and-replace search to be sure none of these have crept into your story.

Once you get into Edit Mode, you’ll find that it flows right along.

5 Ways to Round Out Your Characters

It’s not enough just to invent a character. You have to breathe life into that imaginary person. Here are five ways you can do this – and how to show your readers you’ve done your homework.

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  • Physical Appearance – what does your character actually look like?
  • Mannerisms – how does your character act and behave? What gestures does he use habitually? How does she walk?
  • Speech – Does your character use long or short words? Simple or complex sentences? What quirks of speech do they use?
  • Belongings – What do your character’s possessions say about them? What things does she treasure? What things can’t he live without?
  • Spaces – what is your character’s house like? Their bedroom? Workspace? How do these spaces show your character’s personality?

Now, how do you impart this information to your readers without boring paragraphs of description? Remember to show, not tell.

Here’s an example – let’s say we’ve got our heroine, Sandy Shores, who’s a quirky lifeguard with a secret dislike of children.

We could tell about her:

Sandy Shores was a tall green-eyed redhead who strode the beach with a possessive eye. It was her stretch of sand, after all: hers to guard and keep safe for the tourists and their rugrats. She twirled her battered whistle – a keepsake from her father’s days as a high school football coach – as she patrolled. She spotted a stray bit of litter and pounced. Blasted kids and their candy bars. Why didn’t their parents teach them to throw their garbage away properly?

However, it’s much more effective to show – and drop in your background tidbits as you go:

“Patrolling your beach again, Sandy?”

Sandy Shores turned eyes green as the sea on Officer Law. “Laugh if you want, Doug, but these people are on my sand. They’re mine to guard.”

“Even the dreaded house apes, eh?”

Sandy shuddered, watching a particularly sticky urchin toddle across the beach, holding a dripping ice cream cone. “Somebody has to keep the brats safe, yes.”

Officer Law laughed, his eyes on the battered whistle in her fist. “Why don’t you get yourself a new one, anyhow? That one looks like it’s on its last legs.”

Sandy closed her fist protectively. “It was my father’s.”

See the difference? Now, you try it – you don’t have to put everything about your character into the first scene, but drop bits and pieces of their life into your story to make them more believable.

What is a Scene?

Many writers, especially new writers, have trouble with scenes. They can picture the beginning of their story and the end, but what comes between gets a little hazy.

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The key to keeping your story moving is to be able to write a good scene, and to keep those scenes coming. And the key to a good scene is conflict.

Pages of prose do not a scene make, nor does dialogue between characters. Unless there is some sort of conflict and movement from one value state to another, you don’t have a scene. You should have movement from negative to positive, or vice versa. Hate turns to love, or guilt to innocence. Each scene should have some sort of “turn” or movement.

Make sure your scenes go somewhere. They must follow the story pyramid: inciting incidents, progressive complications and tension, climax and resolution. If you get stuck, think about your character arc: is your character getting closer to his goals or further away? It has to move in one direction or the other along the arc for it to be a successful scene.

Unfortunately, the easy to understand scenes are often the most difficult to craft. The scenes that stick in a reader’s mind are the ones you’ve had to edit and re-edit to perfection. And when you’re writing scenes, remember: the first thing that comes into your mind is something that’s already been done. Go deeper and seek out the real tension and conflict that will drive a truly memorable scene.

Plot or Character Driven?

Are you a plot-driven or character-driven writer? By this I mean what sorts of stories do you typically write?

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It all depends on what sorts of questions you ask. Do you find yourself asking “What if” questions, such as “What if a tornado hit my town?” or “What if that man suddenly started running down the street toward me?” These are plot questions, questions about the story itself. Stories that answer this sort of question are plot-driven stories.

If you find yourself asking “Why” questions, such as “Why did that woman just laugh?” or “Why does that man feel the need to step in and help that person?” then you’re asking character questions. Stories that deal with internal struggles are character-driven stories.

Good stories have a mix of both plot and character – they have an external plot driving the story, but they also have internal character struggles going on at the same time. The trick is to pay attention to what you’re doing so you can have an even mix of character-driven scenes and plot-driven scenes.

Action: The Fight Scene

Writing an action scene isn’t as easy as it sounds sometimes. Take the fight scene, for example.

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It’s not enough to write “He punched the man in the face.” Your readers need to know specifics if they’re going to imagine the scene properly.

Here are some things you might want to keep in mind when writing those scenes:

  • What type of punches are thrown?
  • What types of holds are used?
  • What types of throws are used?
  • What type of weapons are used?
  • What type of ammunition is used in the weapons?
  • What does it feel like to throw a punch?
  • What does it feel like to take one?
  • What does it feel like to wrestle?
  • What does it feel like to fire a weapon?
  • What are the emotions your characters would feel during the fight?
  • What are the sounds they might hear?
  • What scents might be present during a fight?

This is also the time you want to do your research. Trust me, while some of your readers won’t know that a Glock pistol doesn’t have a safety catch, there are plenty of gun enthusiasts who will – and they’ll be turned off by your lack of research if you give your character a Glock with a safety catch. Find out all about boxing or whatever martial arts your character may know. Learn the names of some of the wrestling moves your character might use. Look up that firearm and learn its capabilities. If you’ve never been in a fight, consider going to a boxing match or martial arts tournament so you can see the nitty-gritty of what’s going on.

Writing Good Action Scenes

Good actions scenes can be tricky. You want to show enough of the action to give a vivid image, but not get bogged down in description.

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To start with, you want to have the whole scene mapped out, as if you were doing a story board for a movie. Write the action out onto index cards — or use Scrivener — and arrange them in order so that you can see how it’s going to play out. If you have any artistic talent (or even if you don’t), you might also try drawing the action on one side of the cards, just like a story board. The idea is to be able to visualize the scene completely.

Once you have the entire sequence of action plotted out, and can see everything inside your head, you can start writing. Start right at the beginning of the action sequence. Keep your sentences short and tense. Give just enough description to set the stage, but then go straight into the action.

Another thing to include is emotion. You want the readers to see how the characters are feeling during the action scene. Add in the character’s emotional reaction to whatever just happened. Show their feelings in response to what’s going on around them. This not only makes the characters more real, but it also adds tension to the action.

Following these guidelines will result in tighter, more tense action scenes. Give it a shot yourself.