It can be difficult to keep a good plot interesting. How do you find the right balance between action and description? How much tension is enough, and how much is too much? And there’s that point every writer reaches, where everything you put down seems boring and lifeless….

Blog_Book_Tower

Here are some tips you can use to make things more exciting:

  1. Brainstorm a list of the worst things that could happen to your character – then start making them happen!
  2. Ask “what if?” questions – figure out what would logically happen in each scene – then find a way to make something else happen instead!
  3. Go for emotion – let your character respond to situations with feeling!
  4. Pile on the pressure – does your character have enough on his or her plate? Add something else to the mix!
  5. Add a timetable – there’s nothing quite like a ticking clock to ramp up the tension!

What are some tips you’ve developed over the years to make your scenes more interesting?

“I’d love to write, but I just can’t find the time!” How often have I heard those words — or said them myself? Writing does take time as well as effort, but with a little creativity, you can find a way to get those words down.

First, you should always have some way to write, no matter where you might be. Either carry a small notebook and pen or pencil, or use the notebook feature on your cellphone or tablet. If you’ve got it, you’re more likely to use it.

Once you have that habit well established, the rest is just a matter of using your head. You realize this, of course: it’s not as if there’s actually time missing, that you can somehow find some extra minutes to the day if you just look hard enough. No, it’s a matter of making time: you must figure out where you’re wasting time and utilize it instead.

Here are some good ideas to get you started:

  • Write whenever you have to wait for anything: at the doctor’s office or pharmacy, before the meal arrives in a restaurant, in line at the coffee shop. If you’re going to be there more than a couple of minutes, put a few words onto paper.
  • Write instead of channel-surfing: while the meal is cooking, while the clothes are washing and/or drying, while the kids are getting ready for bed. Instead of flipping on the TV, flip open the notebook.
  • Write before you start loafing. Instead of starting your day surfing the internet, set a writing goal and meet it. Even if it’s a couple of hundred words, that’s 200 words you wouldn’t have otherwise — and often, once you get started, you’re going to want to keep going.
  • Write before bed. Instead of starting a book or magazine, get some writing finished.
  • Write during your lunch break. Take a couple of minutes and jot something down.
  • Make time. Actually put a date down on your calendar, and then use that time as you intended.

What’s your best tip for finding the time to write?

This week, I’m part of a Writing Process Blog Tour, where authors talk about their process and why they write what they write.

At the end of this post, I’ll tag three other authors who will post about their writing process on their own blogs next Monday, thus continuing the Blog Tour – follow them as they tell their tales

What am I working on?

Down_the_Owlhoot_Trail_Cover_Final

DOWN THE OWLHOOT TRAIL is out on the market – available on Amazon  and Barnes and Noble, and on the JMS Books website.   

I’m now working on a novel featuring Devon Day and the Sweetwater Kid, tentatively titled OUTLAW SECURITY. The lads have succeeded in their goal of becoming the two most successful outlaws West of the Mississippi, and their alter egos of Kye Devon and Chance Knight are two of the wealthiest (and most eligible) young men in San Francisco. They have everything a couple of rogues could ever want — until Federal Agent Kirkham tracks them down! I’m hoping to complete the manuscript to my satisfaction within the year, and start shopping it around.

I’m also working on a short story for the Western Fictioneers’ Wolf Creek series. The anthology is called LUCK OF THE DRAW, and concerns a marathon poker tournament in the fictional town of Wolf Creek. The only thing Chance likes better than robbing the big bugs of the world is playing a rousing hand of poker, so he’ll be there with bells on.

How does my work differ from others in its genre? I think I have more humor than you’ll see in most Westerns. Chance and Kye are wise-acres, and they handle stress by ragging on each other and making smart-ass remarks. It’s also a bit unusual to have your heroes be unrepentant outlaws. These fellows are going to “retire” one day — they know they’re bucking the odds, and aren’t going to keep going more than a few more years — but that’s going to be because of their age and the chances of getting caught. They suffer not a qualm about the morality of what they do.

Why do I write what I do? I’ve always loved Westerns, particularly those with memorable characters, and most particularly where one of those characters is a trickster. The trickster character has fascinated me since childhood, when I first realized that you could use your wits instead of your brawn to solve a problem. All of my stories have a trickster character, though I hope they don’t get into quite as much trouble as some of the traditional tricksters.

I enjoy writing about the Old West because it was a “simpler” time when people were judged on their actions instead of how much money they had or how photogenic they might be. The idea that you had to be polite or risk getting shot is also appealing! The characters who made it out West were tough people, fighting nature as much as each other, and that makes for good story characters. I love the American Southwest, too, and like putting the haunting vistas into my stories.

 Blog_Stagecoach

How does my writing process work? When I’m “in the groove,” I usually get up early and get in half an hour of writing before I start work. On my days off, I try for at least 2,000 words, though if I’m on a roll, I can do more than that. If I’m editing, I try to finish at least one chapter to my satisfaction.

I tend to start at the beginning and write straight through to the end, though I have on occasion jumped right into a scene that fired my imagination. I do a lot of research before I start writing, because I like to get the history right, but I can also find myself surfing the internet during a chapter if I discover something I forgot to look up beforehand. I got halfway through a scene at the lads’ house when I realized I had no real idea what the inside of a typical house in that era would look like. I found an entire book on the subject and downloaded it.

 Blog_Housekeeping_Book

I write using two basic programs: Microsoft Word and Scrivener. I use Word for short fiction and blog articles, just because it’s easy to pull up a new page and save it. Scrivener is great for the novel, because you have so much you can do on it. Character charts, side notes, research articles — they even have “index cards” you can slide around to rearrange your scenes.

A Thank-You tag:

Thanks to the talented Meg Mims for tapping me to join The Writing Process Blog Tour!  Meg is the author of the Double Series: Double Crossing and Double or Nothing, (both of which you should read!) and is currently working on a new cozy mystery series with Sharon Pisacreta, writing as D.E. Ireland. The first book, Wouldn’t It Be Deadly, is coming out in September, 2014, and is already available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Meg also writes for the Western Fictioneers’ Wolf Creek series.

Tag – You’re It!

Thanks for stopping by today to read about my writing process. Now it’s my turn to tag three other authors to talk about their process and why they write what they do. Follow these authors’ posts in the next few weeks. Learn about them and discover a whole host of new books to read

J.M. Kelley - author of Drew in Blue and Daddy’s Girl

I just learned that DOWN THE OWLHOOT TRAIL didn’t win a Spur Award – that’s the Western Writers of America awards. I’d entered several of the short stories, and I’ll admit to having a real hope of winning one. I also admit to feeling a real sense of loss at the moment, though my logical brain says that there were likely hundreds of entries and I was competing against seasoned authors.

My emotional brain still wants to let out a wail.

It’s hard not disparaging my work at a time like this, too. There’s always a little voice in the back of every writer’s head, saying things like “this is boring” or “you’ll never sell anything with writing like this.” That voice is in full swing today, especially as I’m working on a short story for an upcoming anthology with Western Fictioneers.

I think the trick is to look at how many authors haven’t won awards – most of my favorite books don’t have an award sticker on the front. Let’s be honest, too, and admit that only a very few works do win awards. There are just too many books and stories out there, and only a finite number of awards for them.

Rejection is hard at any time, but you have to keep your work out there and keep trying. DOWN THE OWLHOOT TRAIL is still in the running for several more awards, so I’m hoping I can get another kudo for the cover.

As some of you know, I’m also an Answers.com supervisor, over at WikiAnswers.com. My categories include “Learning Tips and Study Habits,” “Idioms and Slang,” and — of course! — “Creative Writing.” The latter also includes sub-categories such as Fiction Writing; Fan Fiction; Characters and Dialogue; Plot and Setting, Style, Mood, and Tone; and Narrative Viewpoint.

Here’s my profile – you can check out my qualifications, read some of my previous answers, and see a few of the awards I’ve accumulated over the years as a supervisor. I’m particularly proud of my “WAmmy” awards – WikiAnswers that have been voted particularly helpful. You can probably tell that I like the Answerthons, too, though I haven’t had the time to compete since I started writing professionally.

WikiAnswers is a fun site. Not only can you find the answer to whatever you want to know, but you can just browse the site for fun questions, additional information, or just see what pops up that strikes your interest. I like to scroll through my categories periodically to see what sorts of questions have been asked and answered. Sometimes, I add my own remarks. I also like to try to personally answer anything that’s been sitting there for a few months, because I know how frustrating it is to have a question and not be able to find an answer anywhere.

You can get started on the site here – it’s a walk-through guideline – or you can just pop in and start asking and answering.

Do you have a favorite information website? Tell us all about it!

Got word of a new anthology coming out in the Wolf Creek series – they’ve thrown open the submissions to anyone within the Western Fictioneers, so I’m going to see if I can get my foot in the door with a short story. I like the books, and it would be nice to create a character and do some collaborative writing with these folks.

Here are some tips for submitting a story for an anthology:

  • Do your homework – see what’s already on the market from that publisher, see what other stories have made their anthologies, see what sort of thing they’re looking for before you start your own story.
  • Know the world – if you’re submitting for a shared-world anthology, do your homework there as well, and find out about their world. Read some of the other stories set there and some of the books already published. Show them that you understand the world they’ve created.
  • Do your best – a short story is harder for some people than writing a novel, so be sure you craft your best. Have a tight, logical plot with believable, sympathetic characters. Keep the action moving and don’t skimp on the emotion. Make sure the story flows, and that the ending is satisfying.
  • Do your editing – fine-tune your story until it purrs, then edit one more time for spelling and grammar. If your work has easily-spotted errors, it’s going straight into the circular file.
  • Follow submission guidelines – this should go without saying, but so often new writers will submit something totally unacceptable, or something the editors or publishers are just not interested in. Read the guidelines and follow them to the letter.

Have you had stories published in anthologies? What tips would you add to the list?

I’ve been writing for nearly thirty years now, and I think that qualifies me to give out a little advice. Here are a few of the tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years:

  • Keep a notebook with you – you can only store about seven things in your short-term memory at any time, and that for only 20 or 30 seconds at a time. If you don’t write that idea down, there’s little chance you’ll remember it by the end of a busy day. I like those little pen-and-notebook combos you find in the bookstore.
  • Write every day – if you slack off, it’s harder to get back into the habit, plus, the more you exercise your craft, the easier it becomes. You don’t have to produce a prodigious amount, but you need to be working on something daily.
  • Read – study your favorite authors and see how they do it, analyze your favorite books, and just absorb the craft by reading for relaxation!
  • Practice – especially when you’re having trouble with a project, try working some exercises, rather like keeping fit even if you’re not training for an athletic event. I’ve got some good links on the Writer’s Tips page for you to try out.
  • Work at your most creative time – if you’re a morning person, try getting up an hour earlier and writing before you head off to your job; if you’re a night owl, try staying up a little later for the same reason. Do your most creative work at your most productive time, if that’s possible.
  • Keep track of your progress – check your daily and weekly page counts or word counts, make colorful charts and graphs, or just keep a running total so you can see how far you’ve come. Keeping track helps motivate you, and it also keeps you from that “this is going nowhere” thinking which strikes us all during a project.
  • Learn the language – if you need to, take a good basic English class, or invest in a copy of The Elements of Style and learn proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
  • Carve out a space – have a spot in your home that is just for your writing. Having an “office,” no matter how small, gears your mind up to work when you settle into that space.
  • Know when to let go – you should edit your work at least three times before submitting it to an editor or agent. If you’re self-publishing, you should hire a professional editor to fine-tune it after your third proof-read. Producing poor-quality work with lots of errors gives readers the impression that you’re a slip-shod writer who doesn’t care about quality, and they’re less likely to look for your name when they’re looking for a good read.
  • Remember, the first draft is supposed to be crap – don’t agonize over your writing. Just get it down, then you can go back to edit later. One of my writing teachers puts it another way: first, get the dirt out of the hole, then worry about shaping the well.

Start with this basic structure, and you can build a solid writing career.

What are your favorite basic tips and tricks?

Here are a few of my favorites to start the New Year off. They’re in alphabetical order because I can’t really decide which are my ultimate favorites among them.

 

Books:

 

Movies/TV:

“Today is the first page of a 365-page book — write a good one.”

Didn’t get a source for that quote, but I saw it floating around the internet yesterday and thought it quite appropriate for us writers. It’s a new year: time for new beginnings, fresh starts, and clean slates.

Writing is a solitary craft. You tend to lose track of things like dates. It’s a good idea to come up for air once in a while, though, and reconnect with the world. New Year’s is a good time to do this. It’s the traditional sweeping out of the old, and a great opportunity to re-think your manuscript.

Instead of the more usual resolutions — weight loss and exercise goals, saving money or donating more to charity — I challenge you to create goals for yourself as a writer. Oh, all right, you can do that in addition to your other resolutions if you wish!

Here are some ideas for your writerly goals:

  • Set a daily word or page count and keep to that goal
  • Resist the editing urge – set a specific time to edit and stick to that (at the end of a chapter, for example, but no sooner)
  • Track your progress – make a colorful chart or graph showing how far you’ve come
  • Slow and steady wins the race – instead of beating yourself up for not writing as fast as your favorite author, pat yourself on the back whenever you finish a page or a chapter
  • Work on your brand – if you haven’t done so already, set up that social media page and get your name out there
  • Set up your website, too, and start blogging
  • Read – spend some quality time analyzing how your favorite authors do it, or just getting some inspiration from enjoying a good story

And my favorite New Year’s goal? Write down every positive thing that happens to you over the next year, and tuck that scrap of paper into a jar or box. Next New Year’s — or anytime you happen to feel down — open up that package of happiness and refresh yourself.

What are your resolutions for the new year?

Blog_Contest

 

We’ve hit 5,000 “likes” over on the Facebook page!

To celebrate, the lads are giving away 5 copies of the anthology, plus an assortment of swag they’ve … er … found. Sure, that’s where they got it.

 

Blog_Rainbow_Win

Each Swag Bag will contain:

  • one autographed copy of DOWN THE OWLHOOT TRAIL
  • a deck of cards from Chance’s cabinet (he’ll never miss them, honest)
  • a mechanical doo-dad from Kye’s blacksmith shop
  • and of course, the usual author swag

“But how do I enter?” you may ask – it’s simple!

 

Blog_Enter_Ticket

Either comment with your email address OR email me at hays.jes@gmail.com and answer the following question: Who is your favorite Western character and why? 

Winners will be chosen at random from qualifying answers. Remember to put CONTEST in the email subject line if you choose to email me personally.

Contest ends December 30th

Blog_Enter_to_Win

You can’t win unless you enter!