Writing Tips

Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival Issue #5

Welcome to the Issue #5 of the Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival. For those of you not familiar with what a Blog Carnival is, here is a short description: a collection of links pointing to blog posts around a specific topic. As you may have guessed it, this blog carnival will be centered around the subject of fiction writing, with a special interest for fantasy and science fiction.

You may have noticed a slight delay on this issue and I apologize for that, but I’ve been away visiting my old native grounds. Now I’m back and the world is back to normal as well.

Previous issues: #1 #2 #3 #4


Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tipsChrys Fey presents How To Write Romance posted at Write With Fey, saying, “This post contains ten tips and you don’t have to be a romance novelist to use them! Romance is so versatile that it can be used for any genre of fiction, and by every writer.”

fiction writing tipsLauren Sapala presents Why You Can’t Finish Your Novel posted at Lauren Sapala, saying, “Sometimes we get sidetracked from our current writing project. A life crisis occurs, we get a promotion at our day job that includes more hours to be worked, or we get an idea for a new project that’s just begging to be written right now. These are all valid reasons for putting your novel on the shelf and planning to come back to it later.”

fiction writing tipsDavid Leonhardt presents How to write the plot of a story posted at A Ghost Writers Blog, saying, “Here is a generic plot summary (with Infographic) that you can use as a base for your own fiction or other story-type manuscript.”

fiction writing tipsLauren Sapala presents Want to Be a Better Writer? Watch More Movies. posted at Lauren Sapala, saying, “This article shows writers how to hone their character development skills by taking a closer look at stars of the the silver screen.”

Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tipsKimberley Grabas presents How to Market a Book and Strengthen Your Author Platform with Goodreads posted at Your Writer Platform, saying, “Imagine a magical place that gathers together 17 million of the most passionate readers who want to talk about, review and buy your book. A place that not only allows, but encourages, both new and established authors to promote their books. A place that provides FREE opportunities to:

  • get your book in front of thousands of buyers
  • conduct informal research (polls)
  • participate in a highly viral environment
  • join or create groups with like-minded people on every literary topic imaginable
  • create an author presence, connecting your book, your blog and your social media platforms

Now imagine if Amazon purchased this magical realm of high quality, book-buying, book-loving influencers in the spring of 2013, likely leading to big opportunities to align your Amazon marketing to this Utopia.
If such a paradise existed, would you want to be a part of it?”

fiction writing tipsKerin Gedge presents The Vocabuverse: The Cleverly Devised Poetical Dictionary of Mostly English Words by Kerin Gedge posted at The Vocabuverse, saying, “Here’s a helpful tool for writers who want to expand their vocabulary…”

fiction writing tips

Kimberley Grabas presents 101 Quick Actions You Can Take Today to Build the Writer Platform of Your Dreams posted at Your Writer Platform, saying, “What does it really take to build a writer or author platform?Money?Connections?An intimate knowledge of vampires, wizardry or erotic romance?Actually, the most important aspect to building an author platform is understanding that it’s about engagement; about connecting and interacting with people who are aligned with your message and affected by your story. Your platform is a web of intertwined beliefs, values, emotions, thoughts, stories, images and ideas that stem from your own core philosophy and are ultimately shared by your fans.
The tricky part is finding ways to effectively share your message with an audience that is yet unknown to you, and you to them. Establishing and maintaining a link to your potential ‘tribe’ is both the challenge and the reward of building your writer platform.”

Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tipsIsabella Harriss presents 28 Blogs Featuring Original Short Stories You Can Read for Free posted at Nanny News Network, saying, “You can find tons of free short stories online in every genre, ranging from romance to fantasy to sci-fi .you can also find free kid’s stories online for every age group.”

fiction writing tipsDavid Leonhardt presents You might be a writer posted at A Ghost Writers Blog, saying, “”If you ask your child whether the new kid in school is the protagonist or the antagonist, you might be a writer.” … and dozens more clues that might implicate you in this writing conspiracy.”

fiction writing tipsAngela Greenfield presents Borrowing Plots posted at BecomingAWriterBlog.com, saying, “This post is about considerations that writers must think about when borrowing plots from older works.”

Fiction Writing Tips Blog CarnivalThis concludes this edition of the Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival. I want to thank all the contributors and invite them to submit more in the future.

If you enjoyed these articles, please leave some comments on the authors’ blogs and on this blog.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival, to be published on July 31, 2013 using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival Issue #4

Welcome to the Issue #4 of the Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival. For those of you not familiar with what a Blog Carnival is, here is a short description: a collection of links pointing to blog posts around a specific topic. As you may have guessed it, this blog carnival will be centered around the subject of fiction writing, with a special interest for fantasy and science fiction.

Previous issues: #1 #2 #3


Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tipsDavid Leonhardt presents Wreck-It Ralph and Character Jobs, Part I posted at A Ghost Writers Blog, saying, “It is hard to separate people from their jobs, because one of the first questions we ask is, “What do you do?” Why would your characters, including in nonfiction, be any different?”

fiction writing tipsChrys Fey presents How To Write Action posted at Write With Fey, saying, “Every writer has tips that help them write, rules they follow, and methods they use. This link will lead you to the TEN TIPS that I find helpful when I am writing ACTION.”

fiction writing tipsJon Rhodes presents Scriptwriting a Movie in a Month posted at Film Script Writing, saying, “Here is a great plan to help you write a movie script in just one month.”

fiction writing tips

Robb Grindstaff presents Bring Your Fiction To Life With Emotion posted at Novel Publicity & Co., saying, “There are lots of ways that writers slip into ‘telling’ (external) rather than ‘showing’ (internal), especially when it comes to emotion.”

fiction writing tips

Mark Nichol presents 7 Cases for Inserting or Omitting Commas posted at Daily Writing Tips, saying, “Here are discussions of seven types of situations in which the presence or absence of a comma depends on various factors.”

Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tips

Janice Gable Bashman & Kathryn Craft presents The 7 Deadly Sins of Self-Editing posted at Writer’s Digest, saying, “We’re most likely to sin when we’re at our most vulnerable—and for creative writers, there may be no more vulnerable time than the delicate (and often excruciating) process of editing our own work. Sidestep these too-common traps, and keep your story’s soul pure.”

fiction writing tips

Stephanie Orges presents 20 Tips For Creating Relatable And Lovable Protagonists posted at be kind, Rewrite, saying, “Keep them reading. That’s our mission, right? And there’s nothing that can hook any reader faster and stronger than a protagonist they can relate to, like, and therefore care about. This is one half of the D in AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action).”

fiction writing tips

K.M. Weiland presents 10 Ways to Write Skinny Sentences posted at WordPlay, saying, “If brevity is the soul of wit, then economy is the energy of prose. Don’t get me wrong: I love complex, twisty, beautiful sentences[…] However, the possibilities of prose will never be realized so long as it is burdened with unnecessary fat. Learn to trim your sentences into lean, mean bundles of incisive power, and their inherent beauty and complexity will run laps around their former flabbiness.”

fiction writing tips

Victoria Grefer presents When ‘To Be’ Becomes An Enemy posted at Creative Writing with the Crimson League, saying, “‘To be’: it’s an essential verb. It’s the focus of one of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies. And yet, one of the major tips we writers are always hearing is, ‘cut ‘to be.’ It makes for weak and passive writing.'”

fiction writing tips

Alex Shvartsman presents 5 Practical Tips on Writing Humor posted at DArkcargo, saying, “In my quest to make everyone write funny stories I would enjoy, I have identified five practical strategies to writing humor in a speculative story, which I am now going to share with you. It may not necessarily be good advice, but I’ll make up for that in volume.”

Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tipsKimberley Grabas presents 11 Author Website Must Have Elements posted at Your Writer Platform, saying, “An author website has a lofty goal: it needs to not just be, but also needs to perform and respond. No longer just a fancy, static, online business card, it is an author’s ‘homebase‘, a marketing and networking hub and a portal that allows communication to flow between an author and his or her readers. And website visits can translate directly into books sold…”

fiction writing tipsJessica Clark presents The Big List of Different Types of Poems posted at Kenney Myers, saying, “There’s definitely more to poetry than the rhyming sentiments in greeting cards, though many of those verses do adhere to one of these style forms.”

Fiction Writing Tips Blog CarnivalThis concludes this edition of the Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival. I want to thank all the contributors and invite them to submit more in the future.

If you enjoyed these articles, please leave some comments on the authors’ blogs and on this blog.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival, to be published on May 31, 2013 using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival Issue #3

Welcome to the Issue #3 of the Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival. For those of you not familiar with what a Blog Carnival is, here is a short description: a collection of links pointing to blog posts around a specific topic. As you may have guessed it, this blog carnival will be centered around the subject of fiction writing, with a special interest for fantasy and science fiction.

Previous issues: #1 #2


Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tipsChrys Fey presents Bring Characters To Life! posted at Write With Fey, saying, “Characters are the most important aspect in a novel so a writer has to bring them to life! This post will give you tips on just how to do that.”

fiction writing tips Melissa Donovan presents 42 Fiction Writing Tips for Novelists posted at Writing Forward, saying, “The more I explore fiction writing, the more complex and multi-layered it becomes. Through the processes of brainstorming, outlining, researching, writing, and revising, I have discovered countless details that authors have to consider as they set out to produce a viable work of fiction.”

fiction writing tipsBlair McDowel presents How to write a character study? posted at Vanessa Morgan, saying “I always begin any new book by choosing a setting I know and love, and then by creating the characters I want to put in that setting. Only after that do I start thinking about the plot. Then I write a synopsis for that plot before I write page one of the book. Any of these three things, setting, characters, or plot, can change as my story grows, but I have a very complete plan before I start any new novel.”

fiction writing tipsMark Nichol presents When to Use “That,” “Which,” and “Who” posted at Daily Writing Tips, saying “The proper use of the relative pronouns who, that, and which relate the subject of a sentence to its object, hence the name. The question of which of the three words to use in a given context vexes some writers; here’s an explanation of their relative roles.”

fiction writing tips C.S. Lakin presents The Secret to Show, Don’t Tell posted at Wordplay, saying, “Gone are the days of the long narrative passages we used to see in novels written by greats like Dickens and Steinbeck. Even though literary prose is still highly praised and found in many bestselling commercial novels, the trend over the last few decades has been to “show, not tell.” Meaning, readers prefer scenes in which they are watching the action unfold in real time—instead of being told what is happening by the author or even by one of the characters.”

Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tipsDavid Leonhardt presents What makes a good book? posted at A Ghost Writers Blog, saying, “One of the questions we get frequently goes something like this: “Do you think I have a good enough story? Do you think it’s a best seller?” This gives us a moment to consider what makes a successful book, so I would like to share my thoughts on this with you.”

fiction writing tipsGabriela Pereira presents What To Do When You Have Writer’s Block posted at DIY MFA, saying, “Every so often, writers hit a road block. Sometimes we’re zipping along that writing highway and suddenly we take a detour and we’re off on a side road and boom! We run into a herd of cattle hanging out in the middle of our path. Sure, we could off-road it and drive through the pastures to avoid that stretch of road, but usually when we writers run into these blocks we do what anyone would do.”

fiction writing tipsMarti MacGibbon presents Seven Tips for Being a Better Writer posted at Writers and Authors, saying, “Writing is something we all do, every day of our lives. We compose emails, social media posts, write heartfelt letters to friends and family or crisp missives to business associates. Some people are gifted wordsmiths, delighting everyone with their talent, and yet they don’t think of themselves as possessing any special writing skills.”

fiction writing tipsDavid Leonhardt presents Are You Ready for a Ghostwriter for Your Book? posted at A Ghost Writers Blog, saying, “The more you have prepared in advance, the lower the cost will be for you. Ideally, the writer does not have to do any outside research, because you have done it all. If you provide your information in a complete and organized fashion, it saves time and money.”

fiction writing tipsJessica Clark presents 10 Reasons Every Poem Should Rhyme and How it Could Impact You BIG Time posted at Kenney Myers, saying, “While Ezra Pound is largely credited with starting the free verse poetry movement that created more relaxed style requirements and eliminated the wide-spread use of formal poetry, there are still plenty of aficionados out there who firmly believe that all poetry should rhyme.”

Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tipsJen & Kerry presents How Your Book’s Format Can Bolster Sales posted at The Business Of Books, saying, “How do you physically envision your book? Do you see your novel as a jacketed 6×9-inch hardcover with a $24.95 price point? Are you writing a romance that you can see as a mass market paperback that someone can tuck in their purse or read on the beach?”

Fiction Writing Tips Blog CarnivalThis concludes this edition of the Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival. I want to thank all the contributors and invite them to submit more in the future.

If you enjoyed these articles, please leave some comments on the authors’ blogs and on this blog.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival, to be published on March 31, 2013 using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Start with the Beginning AND the Ending

This is a piece of advice you hear a lot from seasoned writers. I know I’ve heard my share of it, but to be honest I didn’t really apply it in my work until recently. I am a very detailed outliner, so I know from the start where will I go and where will I end. But recently, while working on two novels, I found myself in a strange predicament.

I knew how the story should go, but I couldn’t go on with it. It wasn’t really writer’s block, I had all the scenes planned out, I knew exactly what should happen to the smallest detail, but I couldn’t move on with it.

I concluded it was writer’s fatigue. I’ve been working on two novels at the same time while trying to sprinkle a short story every now and then, and posts on my blog as well. I think my brain just refused to go on. That’s when I turned to the technique I want to discuss here: write your ending as soon as you write your beginning.

How does that translate in practical advice for a novel: After you write your first chapter, or after you reach your first conflict, take a break and write the ending. Not all the ending, just the important part. It could be a chapter, a scene, or a series of scenes.

How does that help, you will ask? Let me tell you what it did for me, and I think that it is a pure psychological ‘trick,’ a writer’s Placebo, if you will.

I sat down and I wrote the last 3 scenes of my novel. They were the scenes where everything I worked over those 100k pages came together. Plot lines were closed, mysteries revealed, characters’ quests concluded. People shook hands and said goodbye.

As soon as I did that, somehow, deep down inside of me, I felt like I almost finished the book. It felt as if by the simple act of writing that final part, I have managed to close a circle and everything just fell into place.

I came to the realization that I CAN finish the book, and I proved to myself that the ending is in fact possible. After all, I wrote it.

Once I did that, it was as if a dark veil had been lifted off my eyes. I started writing, filling up the gaps between the point where I was stuck and that new ending. And it worked.

My brain somehow accepted the fact that this is just a matter of completing something that is almost done. But having that ending there — that was just like a little carrot I need to see dangling in front of my eyes. A reason to chase. It helped me make that final leap and pull out of that frozen place.

It felt good.

Will it work for you? I can’t tell. But try it out. I think this will work even if you are not an outliner. If you are a seat-off-your-pants kind of writer and you simply write by going with the flow, this doesn’t prevent you from writing an ending. As a matter of fact, your final ending can be completely different from the one you pre-wrote, but its goal is just to ‘trick’ your mind, to show you that the ending is in sight.

It was the same for me: my final ending was different than what I wrote. Not in substance, but in delivery — as I said, I am an outliner. But in the end it served its purpose. It gave me the confidence that I can finish the book and it allowed me to read my ending out loud and have that fulfilling feeling you get when you reach the ending of a book.

And, by the way, you can work this technique in short stories as well. The short story is just an extremely scaled down novel, so scale down your beginning and ending. Maybe your ending will be one or two sentences, or a paragraph, but the results will be the same…

So, there you have it. One tip that I hope will help you move on with your writing, when you get stuck.

I am curious to know if you ever employed this technique yourself and if so, how did it work for you?

Best of luck,

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Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival Issue #2

Welcome to the Issue #2 of the Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival. For those of you not familiar with what a Blog Carnival is, here is a short description: a collection of links pointing to blog posts around a specific topic. As you may have guessed it, this blog carnival will be centered around the subject of fiction writing, with a special interest for fantasy and science fiction.

Previous issues: #1


Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tips Kelly Kilpatrick presents 10 Tips to Improve Your Fiction Writing Skills posted at Writing Forward, saying, “Writing fiction, whether short or long, can be a very trying experience indeed. So many writers of fiction have different processes for achieving their writing goals that it’s hard to sift through what works and what doesn’t.”

fiction writing tips C.S. Laikin presents The Secret to Show, Don’t Tell posted at Wordplay, saying, “Gone are the days of the long narrative passages we used to see in novels written by greats like Dickens and Steinbeck. Even though literary prose is still highly praised and found in many bestselling commercial novels, the trend over the last few decades has been to “show, not tell.” Meaning, readers prefer scenes in which they are watching the action unfold in real time—instead of being told what is happening by the author or even by one of the characters.”

Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tips Marisa Wikramanayake presents How to write a book: Part 1: Introduction posted at Marisa Wikramanayake. This is a series of 13 different tutorials that Maria wrote on the craft of fiction writing. She is a freelance journalist and editor and her blog is a goud resource for writers. I suggest you go through all her 13 chapters.

fiction writing tipsDavid Leonhardt presents Before you sign a Ghostwriter contract posted at A Ghost Writers Blog, saying, “You have found a ghostwriter that you want to work with. You are ready to sign a contract. But does the contract cover everything? Here is a quick guide to what you need to know…”

fiction writing tipsJoanna Penn presents How to Write More and Create a Daily Writing Habit posted at The Creative Penn, saying, “One of the best ways to sell more books, is to have more product available. For this, you need to write more word count. Here’s how one author is doing it in 2013.”

Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tipsSamir Bharadwaj presents Evolving Your Writing Voice posted at Samir Bharadwaj dot Com, saying, “Reading inspires you but you also end up absorbing the writing habits of the writers you admire. Here are some tips to help you develop your own unique voice.”

fiction writing tipsChrys Fey presents Get Ready, Set, TONE! posted at Write with Fey, saying, “Revisions are a vital step of writing. Do you know what to look for?”

fiction writing tipsSamir Bharadwaj presents Clear-headed Writing posted at Samir Bharadwaj dot Com. Samir is so nice, I had to include him twice! This is a good post where Samir gives us practical advice on how to clear your mind before you start writing and how it can be beneficial to your writing career.

fiction writing tipsSydney Bell presents 35 Blogs for Those that Aspire to Become Writers posted at Longhorn Leads, LLC, saying, “Do you want to become a writer but you don’t know where to start. First and foremost, you need to write something, even if it’s just a journal or a blog. That way, you can get the creative juices flowing.”

Fiction Writing Tips Blog CarnivalThis concludes this edition of the Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival. I want to thank all the contributors and invite them to submit more in the future.

If you enjoyed these articles, please leave some comments on the authors’ blogs and on this blog.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival, to be published on March 31, 2013 using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

read more

How To Self-Edit Your Novel

Self-Editing for Fiction WritersSo, you finished your first draft. You listened to the advice of seasoned writers who told you not to edit your work as you go, but just push through with your writing and be done with the first draft first. Bravo & kudos to you! That’s a great achievement. So, what’s next?

Before I answer that, let me say that this post assumes that you already know how to write a novel. So, we won’t dwell into the theory of fiction writing even though some of the concepts overlap. Ideally, if you could write a perfect first draft you already know how to write a novel and self-edit all at once. Personally, I can’t and many writers can’t either. That’s why self-editing is such an important part of the process.

To start, the first thing you must do, once you typed that END at the bottom of your novel, is to take some time off. Not time off writing, but time away from this novel. Two to three weeks should do it. During that time, write something else, read something new, take on cooking, whatever you need, but stay away from your novel.

Isolating yourself from the plot and the characters will help you be a better editor of your work. The longer you stay away from it, the better your will read it with different eyes. That’s why I think all writers should have two or three novels and a few short stories in the works at the same time — it helps you drop one and still have work to do on another.

Below is the schedule that I use to self-edit my work. It’s something that works for me and it might work for you too. Or, perhaps you will just use it as a guideline and tweak it to your personal preference.

Quick Error Check

Self-Editing TyposMy first goal is to get rid of all the obvious typos and mistakes that clog the reading. You will do this again at the end, more thoroughly, but for now, prepare your document for your eyes.

I first use an automated spell check, like Word. This will help me clean-up a lot of typos, double spaces and things like that. Another thing that always happens to me is mistyping character names or places. That is particularly problematic when working with unusual names in sci/fi or fantasy. One way to deal with it is to add the correct name to your dictionary — make sure it IS correct — then do the spellcheck. All the wrong spellings will be caught by the program.

Fast Read – Structure & Plot

Self-Editing Plot and StructureAfter you eliminated those annoying typos you are ready to do the first major read. You want to read fast, don’t agonize over each and every sentence. What you are looking for here is fixing structure and pace problems, as well as inconsistencies in the plot.

I recommend that you do this first check on paper. Print your manuscript at 1.5 spacing (to save some space) and smaller than usual margins (for the same reason). You can use a service such as FedEx Kinkos where you can print your manuscript online and pick it up from the nearest location. For a 250 page manuscript I paid $28. It’s not cheap, especially if you want to do it multiple times, but it’s worth seeing it on paper at least for the first time, and once again when you are done.

I think it’s a good idea to do this on a printed version because in your very first self-edit run you will have a LOT of changes. Use a red pen and, as you read along, mark your document. Put a star on the side and a short note over the paragraph. Here are some examples: “Foreshadow the knife,” “Why does he still have the bag,” “Add more description here,” and so on.

At the end of the first read-through you will wind up with a lot of notes related to plot, structure, and characters. As you read along your chapters, have a notebook handy as well. Write down things that you need to work on: Character XYZ needs additional development, Setting in Chapter 10 needs to
be described in more details, Dialogue in Chapter 7 is too long, etc.

If you are like most writers you will discover a few sub-plots that are left hanging. If I get to the end of your book and ask myself “whatever happened to xyz?” chances are you forgot to tell me what happened. Fix that. Close all the sub-plots, make sure your ending delivers on the promise you set at the beginning.

Once you finish this step sit down immediately and make all the changes in your editing software. You want to have everything fresh in your mind. As you make these changes, feel free to adjust some words as well. During your read you probably captured repetitions. This happens to me when I stop writing in the middle of a chapter, then I pick up a day later but I don’t have the time to re-read what I wrote before. I know how to go on, but on many occasions I use some words in the beginning of my new work that were also used in the ending of the previous day work. I catch these in my edit session and fix them here.

So, after step one and two you should have a grammatically correct, typo-free manuscript, that’s also structured correctly. The plot flows as it should and the whole manuscript starts to feel good.

Pace and Length

Self-Editing Pace and LengthThere are many ways to tell a good story. If it’s a novel you have to be aware that nobody can read the entire thing in one shot. Your goal is to get the reader to come back and finish the novel, be excited to wake up and continue, but also understand that there will be times when he/she needs to put it down.
The pace and length of your novel are going to help the reader. It’s pretty obvious that long, slow chapters will read slower, and short, fast chapters will read faster.

If you want an analogy, car chases are great in a movie, and drum solos wonderful in a concert. But if they last for twenty minutes you start to feel burnt out. The same goes with your story. You must start strong, make your reader love your novel, but then slow down a bit, only to pick it up later. That’s why people love roller-coasters – up and down is fun and exciting.

So, what you do here is read your story and feel the pace. Does it take too long to read one chapter? Then break it up in two. Is a chapter too short, it feels like it ends too abruptly? Combine it with the next. Does each of your chapters start with a good hook and end with a good cliffhanger?

Now, this doesn’t mean ending each chapter with “…and the wooden boards started to crack under his feet.” That will work for one chapter, but too much of it and it becomes predictable. Do it more subtly, throw something from the left field, but more important: always deliver on it.

Don’t end a chapter with a good hook and start the next chapter with a two page description of the sunset. Actually, you should never describe anything for two pages, much so a sunset, but that’s a different story. My point is: if you have to choose, choose to under-promise and over-deliver, not the other way around. The reader will remember always being disappointed. But if you promise less and give a lot more, they will love it and keep on reading.

Side note: not ALL your chapters should start with a hook or end with a cliff-hanger – you should read through your novel and try to anticipate when people are about to put your book down, and then insert the cliffhanger. It’s not easy. As a matter of fact, pace problems are the hardest to diagnose because reading is so subjective.

But do your best. Your goal here is to arrange your scenes and chapters in a way that makes reading feel natural. The moment your reader has to struggle to go through the chapters, he will not open the book again. You might need to ask your friends, family or a writer’s group to help you with one read to identify pace issues.

Strengthen the setting

Self-Editing SettingI insert this here because the setting develops in your head and it’s easy to forget that the reader doesn’t have the same vision as you. All the reader has is what stems out of your words. So, at this stage in your self-editing, you should pay attention to the setting. Does it come through clearly? Is it easy to see where people are and where does the action takes place? Do you find spots in your novel where you have nothing but heads talking in the air? Fix that. Here you might add some description, but be aware that it slows down your pace. Don’t dump it all in one spot. Instead, sprinkle it naturally within the story.

Every time you read a chapter and ask yourself: where did this whole thing happen, you most likely have a setting problem.

Character development

Self-Editing Character DevelopmentKeep in mind that good fiction creates a strong emotional response in people. And because people are alive they tend to do that by reacting to other people’s actions, situations, predicaments and so on. Your characters are therefore responsible for making that connection and creating that spark. If you have a milieu story or a plot-driven story it’s easy to forget characters. If you have a character driven story, it is unforgivable. Either way, you must read your novel and see if you characters are clearly developed.

Are they one-dimensional carton talking heads? Fix that. Give them thoughts, emotions, ideas, fears, weaknesses. At this point you must fix all of these problems. The good news is that you don’t need to do a lot of it. Your characters are the story so chances are they are present throughout. All you need to do is go in and add some things here and there. Show that nice lady scream at a homeless man, to make us hate her a bit. Show that bad drug dealer help a handicapped person cross a street, to make us like him a little. Play with the reader’s emotions and it will pay off.

What’s The Right Word?

Self-Editing StyleNow that your structure is proper and the pace adequate, it’s time to go deeper. Now you are going to edit for style.

I am talking about adding that elusive melody to your prose. It’s that layer that sits on top of your writer’s voice and filters it one way or another. This has to do with sentence forming, word usage and word combinations. It’s at the most granular level – sentence level, or even less than that. It is here where you evaluate your usage of adjectives, adverbs, nouns and verbs. It is here where you must make sure that your sentences flow nicely and paragraphs are chained naturally.

Most likely you will find a lot of issues here by reading your work out loud, or, even better, by having somebody else read it for you. You will catch stumbles and you will also catch great paragraphs. Learn how to avoid the first and duplicate the latter.

Some of the important aspects of style have to do with clichés, adverbs, and adjectives – all of them used extensively in first drafts because they help you write. But during the editing phase, it’s time to let them go. They served the purpose of helping you drive the plot, now do the right thing and get rid of them.

Clichés are a biggie. We use them every day in our speech so it is not unusual that they crawl into our prose as well. Let’s put it this way: If you can’t find a better, more evocative way of saying something, remove the cliché anyway. The reader will appreciate the lack of something more so than a cliché, which indicates a lazy writer and, perhaps, an amateur. Cut those out without mercy. If you want to check more on clichés, check this list of 681 Clichés to Avoid in Your Creative Writing. (http://www.be-a-better-writer.com/cliches.html)

Next, look for overuse of adverbs and adjectives. When looking for adverbs (“he said angrily”), ask yourself: is there a way to replace the adverb with a stronger verb, or add some additional cues that allow the reader to understand the situation? Adverbs are the easiest way to ‘tell not show,’ so be aware and keep them at a minimum. You can use your editing software to look for words that end in “ly.”

As for adjectives, they tend to find their way in your writing because they help you visualize things. You write things like “large room” and “long train,” but if you really think about them, they add no value. Unless we are talking about a Giant, we all know a train is big, right? So, why say it? If the adjective doesn’t add something or somehow changes the way the reader thinks about the noun it modifies, it’s probably not needed. Use strong nouns instead, nouns that force the reader to imagine. For example say that a “steel monster raced down the track,” rather than a “giant train raced down the track.”

Polish your description – this is a biggie. You have to find the right trade-off between describing the setting, which tends to bore the reader, and letting the reader imagine things, which may confuse them. Try to find ways to express your thoughts through all the senses. If you want to describe a yellow sunset, don’t go into the usual “the sun shone bright, its rays bathing the shivering tree leaves.” Go with “a lemon light filled the air.” Lemon is yellow and sour. Now you must think on how the light makes you feel, rather than how it looks, but you do get how it looks by paying attention to how it makes you feel.

Hooks and grabs

Self-Editing Hooks and CliffhangersAt this stage you probably have a pretty decent manuscript. Typos and grammar mistakes are at minimum if not gone completely. Your plot is tight, structure is working, pace and length are good. Your style and voice oozes from the manuscript; you feel you can almost call it great. So what’s next?

Make it better.

We all know that your first 50 pages must be perfect and great, your first 5 pages must be amazing and grand, and your first page must be fantastic and beyond amazing. That’s an absolute requirement to grab the reader’s attention and make them stay for the rest of the journey. This becomes increasingly important if you are a beginning writer who needs to find an agent or a publisher to accept your first work.

So, go back and re-apply everything from above, on the first 50, 5 and 1 pages, in that order. The fewer pages you work on, the more aggressive you must be in your edits. Don’t be lazy; read it over and over until it is perfect.

Final revision

Self-Editing ManuscriptSo, let’s see where we are so far:
– we cleaned up the typos and names
– we checked the structure and made sure all plot lines make sense
– we verified the pace and made sure it flows well
– we are certain the setting is clear
– we developed our characters and made them connect
– we inserted hooks and cliffhangers throughout the manuscript
– we did stylistic corrections by removing repetitions, clichés, unnecessary adverbs and adjectives

Now your novel should be in a much better shape, probably close to its final draft. This is probably the time to take another step away from it. Give it another two-three weeks. Put it out of your mind and distance yourself from it. When you return, make your final changes along the same lines as above, but do them all in one shot. By this time you should have very few things to edit.

Last but not least: do a final proofreading. If you are not a good proofreader — I am not at all, for example — perhaps it’s a good idea to do that with a professional proofreader. This is particularly important if you are a beginning writer. If your manuscript still has typos and grammar mistakes, it will be difficult for an agent or editor to take you seriously. So, make sure your final step is one last round of proofreading. Here you will tighten the sentences, make sure all your commas are in the right spot, all typos are eliminated and so on.

Let it go

Self-Editing Manuscript SubmissionIf you got here, you are ready to send your manuscript out. Just send it.

If you went through the steps above (maybe more than once), you are not doing yourself any favors if you do not submit the novel already. Chances are you will not be able to make it better. They say that a novel is never finished, and sometimes that’s true. Often after I send a story, two minutes later I think of a way to write something that sounds better. But it doesn’t really matter. There’s a point in perfection when all variants of the ‘perfect’ have the same relative value, so you are not doing yourself any service by not submitting it. Let go.

[UPDATE] I am adding an update to address a few comments I received: once you are done with your self-editing process, your manuscript will not be ready for publishing. Your manuscript will be ready to be reviewed by a professional editor. It could be the editor who will ultimately publish your work, or just a freelance editor you hired. So, when I said ‘submit,’ I meant submit it to the next chain in the editing process. There’s only so much you can do, and a professional editor is the next logical step. In the meantime, you should start your next novel! [END UPDATE]

Final notes

As I said, this is my personal self-editing schedule. Yours might be different. You might combine things, do it faster, I don’t know. However you do it, make sure you do it, and I’d love to hear about your process and how you structure your self-edit?

Additional Resources:

Self Editing for Fiction writers by Renni Browne
Revision and Self Editing by James Scott Bell
Line by Line: how to edit your own writing by Claire Kehrwald Cook

Self Editing by Lori Handeland
10 ways to improve your writing by self-editing by Susan Harkins
Before you submit: Some tips for Self-Editing by Carol Saller
Self Editing Success by Carole Moore

Best of luck,

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Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival Issue #1

Welcome to the Issue #1 of the Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival. For those of you not familiar with what a Blog Carnival is, here is a short description: a collection of links pointing to blog posts around a specific topic. As you may have guessed it, this blog carnival will be centered around the subject of fiction writing, with a special interest for fantasy and science fiction.

I will try to publish this carnival monthly, on the last day of each month, so please make your submissions as soon as possible. There’s are links to submit at the top and at the bottom.

For the first edition of this carnival, we have a few good articles from various authors. Please read them and if you enjoy them, leave a comment for the author and a comment on this post.


Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tipsMatthew Hall presents How to Outline with yWriter: Step # 1, Write a Tag Line posted at M.L. Hall. yWriter is a popular word processor which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes. Matthew has a few posts with tips on yWriter, and this is one of them.

Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tips Jon Rhodes presents Ten Tips On Writing And Selling A Script posted at Film Script Writing, saying, “Here are some great tips to help you write and sell a movie script.” Jon continues his series of posts that deal with screenwriting. In this particular one you will find 10 specific tips on how to write and sell a script.

fiction writing tipsJon Rhodes presents The Four Essential Components of Storytelling in Scriptwriting posted at Film Script Writing, saying, “Story telling is the most important component when writing a movie script. This article shows you the best ways to incorporate story telling within a movie script.” This is the second post by Jon included in this carnival. This digs deeper into the storytelling part of scriptwriting and explains why it is so important.

Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tipsBrandon Yawa presents Stop Writing and Be Bruce Lee posted at Brandon Yawa, saying, “I wrote this blog to implore creative writers not to confine their art based on marketability.” Brandon does a great job in engaging writers and giving them some specific tips on how to go about their writing by focusing on the writing part, more so than on the marketability part.

fiction writing tipsDavid Leonhardt presents Writing assignment – how to describe hair posted at A Ghost Writers Blog, saying, “If you ask the average person how to describe hair, they might mention color and length. But a writer has to be able to do so much more, because how you describe hair sets the tone for how people see a character.” Description is always tricky – too much of it slows things down, too little of it and the reader is lost. In this post, David gives you some ideas on how to go about describing hair, an issue that I often face. Very good tips.

fiction writing tipsDale Shanklin presents Even the Best Get Rejected at the Wrong Time posted at Dale Shanklin’s Personal Development Blog, saying, “No matter how great your idea is, TIMING is still the most important factor in getting your work published. Casablanca won the Academy Award for best picture in 1943, but when it was proposed as a fresh idea in 1982 it got REJECTED by most of the film industry.” This is absolutely true, and I experienced it on my own skin. Rejection is mostly related to external factors, but so many writers take it personally.

Fiction Writing Tips Blog CarnivalThis concludes this edition of the Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival. I want to thank all the contributors and invite them to submit more in the future.

If you enjoyed these articles, please leave some comments on the authors’ blogs and on this blog.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival, to be published on February 28, 2013 using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Writers – Protect Your Data

data protectionI doubt there’s anybody out there who doesn’t use some kind of software to type and store their manuscripts. Even if you enjoy writing by hand– some do, in order to submit your work you still have to transcribe all your work on a computer. So, what I want to talk about today is: what do you do to protect your data from theft and loss, and what techniques do you employ to enable remote access to your data, while still keeping it secure.

There are three sides to this issue, as follows: data availability (where do you write?), data protection (how to protect your work files from being lost?), data security (how do you protect your work files from being stolen?)

Data Availability

remote-connectionsIf you are like me, you are a busy writer. You have a full-time job, a full-time family, you do full-time chores at home, and try to be a social person and meet with your friends and family once in a while. So, the need to be able to write on the run is more and more stringent. This means being able to access your electronic files and work on them from anywhere becomes paramount, especially if you want complete time-sensitive tasks, such as writing a novel in 30 days.

Remote Data

Remote data access has been growing in popularity over the last few years. The idea started as a collaboration tool, allowing a team of people to share access to files. Lately it became more and more popular with individual users who need to have access to their files in multiple locations and on different devices. Two ideas come to mind: Cloud Services and Data Sharing Services.

Cloud Services

data-cloud-servicesIn layman terms, a cloud service is a service that is being delivered to you from the Internet. Typically the service is accessed through a regular Internet browser and doesn’t require the installation of any software on your computer. It is usually available regardless of the hardware and software platform, so compatibility is very high. Let’s look at some of the cloud services available for writers and then we’ll look at some pros and cons:

  1. Google Docs – By far the market leader in online document editing.
  2. Zoho Writer – This is a good Google Docs follower, full of features and easy to use.
  3. Adobe Buzzword – This is for more advanced users and runs in Flash
  4. Etherpad – Simple, open-source solution for online editing

Pros: Compatible with any system, as long as your browser is supported, easy to use.
Cons: You need an internet connection at all times, sometimes a good speed to get good results.

Personally I only use cloud services, Google Docs in particular, if I am stranded somewhere with internet and without access to my files. I create temporary documents, which I then transfer to my permanent work folders later on.

Data Sharing Services

data-sharing-servicesThese include a suite of services that allow you to share data between multiple devices (computers, tablets, etc.) You basically create a folder structure on your computer, and share that through this service. As you work and modify files, the sharing service grabs them and copies them online in your secured account. Then, when you turn on another device, part of the shared group, the service copies all the changed files, basically synchronizing your work. This is really good because you don’t need an internet connection to work, you only need it when you want to sync your files. Let’s look at some services like that:

  1. DropBox – This is one of my favorites tools and I use it all the time. I highly recommend it.
  2. SugarSync – This product has a few more features and gimmicks than Dropbox, but Dropbox’s simplicity makes this one my second choice.

Pro: Your files are backed up automatically in the cloud and on all the devices that you use.
Cons: There’s a possibility to damage files if you are not careful, and you still need internet connectivity to do the sync.

Here is a typical scenario for this: you have your home computer, a laptop and a computer at work. You install Dropbox on all of them and share your working files. Every night when you turn off your home computer, your files are already in the cloud. In the morning, you grab your laptop so you can write on the train. The laptop has all your files. You work on it throughout the day, return home and continue to work on your home computer, all seamless. You don’t have to copy files through USB drives, email them to yourself and so on. The only caveat: your laptop must connect to a network to upload.

This is how I do it: in the morning I turn my laptop on and let it “pull” the data by itself over my Wi-fi. Then I work on it during the day, and in the evening I turn it on at home and let it “push” the data. Now all my work is in three places: on my home computer, on my laptop and in the cloud.

You will ask: why can’t I just move stuff on USB drives or send it to myself via e-mail? Well, for one, why would you spend that time doing it manually, when it can be done automatically for you? Secondly, you will run in versioning issues. You will copy a file on the USB, then get busy, and three days later you cannot recall which version from where is the last one, and you start checking and wasting time.

There’s one caveat here and you have to keep it in mind. If you open a shared file on one computer, you work on it and don’t save it, then you go on the second device, work on the same file and you save it, then you return to your first computer and save – you lose your work from the second device. This is easily corrected: remember to ALWAYS save your work, and ALWAYS close the applications you use before moving to a different device.

Data Protection

data-backupComputers and all related devices are an integral our life and here to stay. But, we all know and have experienced this at one point or another – they break. When they break they have a tendency to create a huge chaos in your life because if the problem is significant you might lose all your data.

So, let’s talk backup. First of all, the cloud services mentioned above are a backup in themselves: the pure cloud services already store your data remotely and those companies have their own backup and disaster recovery procedures. The data sharing also mirrors your data on other devices. So, if you implement a Dropbox, for example, you are already safer than most people.

But let’s not stop there: you also want what is called a long-term backup solution. A place you don’t need to access all the time, but you know it stores all your data. Sort of like a vault that you only open in emergencies.

Long term data backup programs usually backup your data as it changes, in real-time. So, if your PC breaks in this moment, you might be able to recover everything up to an hour ago. Let’s look at some of the services that you might use:

  1. Carbonite – This is my favorite personal backup solution. It only costs $59 per year for unlimited backup. It’s fast and works behind the scenes.
  2. Mozy – This is similar to Carbonite, but I find it a bit less intuitive.
  3. iDrive – iDrive offers a free plan for 5GB, but you might want to consider their $59 plan instead.
  4. Amazon Glacier – This is by far the cheapest solution ever, at $0.01 per GB. Yes, 1 penny! The caveat here is that if you need to restore data, it takes a long time and it’s not free.

Pros: Your data is safe and it can be recovered at any time.
Cons: There are no off-site unlimited free backup services, so you will have to pay for these.

The best thing to do is to have your Dropbox installed on your devices, and then on one of the devices, usually your home computer, you add your Dropbox folder to the long-term backup. So, guess what: if your PC burns, your laptop gets stolen, your IPad is eaten by zombies and you forgot your Dropbox password– you can still recover your data. Now that’s disaster recovery at its best!

Data Security

data-encryptionI mentioned above the increasing need of being able to work remotely, on the run, and in different places. One solution is to have your working files available on a laptop or IPad, sync them with some of the services above or move them with USB drives and via e-mail.

One way or another your data will get on your laptop and your laptop will travel with you. And when that happens, there is always the danger of losing your laptop or having it stolen. And that’s even worse if you use USB drives. You put it in your pocket, but not really, and now your entire 300 page novel is on the floor in Starbucks.

So, what can you do to protect yourself? Is the password on your computer enough? The answer is no, it is not. It’s extremely easy to extract data from a computer, even if you lack the password for the operating system. The correct answer is: encryption. Here are a few solutions for you:

  1. TrueCrypt – this is an open source, free tool designed by a bunch of smart people. This tool can encrypt your entire computer or laptop with military grade encryption, and won’t let you set wimpy passwords.
  2. BitLocker – This is the Microsoft solution for encryption. Needless to say, not too many people like it.
  3. DiskCryptor – Another open-source solution, similar to TrueCrypt. If you want to choose between them, go with TrueCrypt.

Most of these encryption programs ask you for a strong password. I recommend using a full sentence as password, for example: “This Is Nuts 1928#$%”. Don’t use anything that can be guessed in any way.

These programs can also encrypt your USB drives, therefore protecting your data when you travel with USB drives.

Putting it all together

Folks, let’s face it: you work for a year (or years) on a novel, you dedicate a big chunk of your life to it, and you also expect to get a lot out of it. Don’t let it all go to waste because you didn’t prepare for a disaster. Also, don’t waste precious writing time with trivial tasks that can be done for you.

Here’s your checklist:

  1. Do you have all your working files organized nicely under one main folder?
  2. Did you install a Dropbox type solution to share your data between devices and the cloud?
  3. Did you install a long-term backup solution?
  4. Did you install encryption software on any of your mobile devices (laptops, USB drives)?
  5. Do you take a snapshot of your work on a permanent medium every 6 months?

Yes, I added the last one, and it’s a good representation of my own paranoia. Despite all the other things that I do, I still like to make one password encrypted archive of ALL my work, every 6 months, and burn it on a DVD. I only keep four of the most recent DVDs. Ideally, if you are crazier than me, you would store the most recent one in your bank’s safety box.

There you have it, folks. I hope it was useful.

I am curious to hear any data loss horror stories from you, and also any suggestions for other types of tools that you used or heard of and you think they might be useful for this purpose.

Best Regards,

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How to complete your NaNoWriMo 30-Day Novel


NaNoWriMo-180x180I signed up for NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2011, but I didn’t participate. I felt unfit for it, not ready, or otherwise scared of the magnitude of the project. In 2012, one of the members of my writers group asked if anyone else is doing the NaNoWriMo, so I said yes. I didn’t think about it, and I just said yes. If I had thought about it, I would’ve probably bailed again.

Here I am in December, two weeks after completing my first NaNoWriMo. I am still not over the joy of this little success, so much so that I decided to write a blog post and describe how I did it and how you should not look at this as a scary project, but a challenge and a way to improve your writing skills.

First of all, if you are not at all aware with what NaNoWriMo is, it’s a writing challenge where participants must complete a novel of 50,000 words or more, in 30 days, during the month of November. There are many other similar contests, but this particular one is very popular and pretty well organized. In 2011 there were 250,000+ participants, and that’s pretty impressive, if you think about it. To learn more about the contest, head to their main page and read their about section: http://www.nanowrimo.org/

The Challenge

So, let’s recap: 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s about 200 pages (double spaced, standard margins, 12 pt. font). Mathematically, that is not more than a mere 1,667 words per day, or about 6 to 7 pages. This translates in about 1 to 2 hours per day of typing. Piece of cake, right?

Well, as we all know, writing a novel is not about math, unless you are writing some kind of algebra textbook. It’s a lot more than that, and most of it has to do with what’s in your head. Let’s look at the real challenges:

1) Mental Challenge:

  • You can’t wrap your mind around the fact that it is just too much in too little time

2) Creative Challenge

  • You don’t have an idea for a novel right now
  • You will never be able to produce a sellable manuscript in 30 days

3) Physical Challenge

  • You are afraid that you cannot type so much, so fast
  • You are afraid that you don’t have enough time to dedicate to writing
  • You are a master outliner and you can’t bare not outlining your novel properly

Now let’s tear each one of these into pieces, and find real-life methods to get over them.

Mental Challenge

Writer's Mental ChallengeThis is probably one of the biggest hurdles in the path of any achievement: self-doubt, lack of confidence, fear of failure, procrastination. All of these live in your head. You don’t think of yourself good enough to do it, you are afraid of what others will think about you if you fail, and there’s nobody around you to give you a push. Guess what? Neither one of these are real.

Every single person that ever created or invented anything started from scratch. And if they would’ve stopped because they were afraid of failure, the world would not be where it is today. Instead, they replaced the fear with hope. And hope drove their desire to succeed. And even when they failed, they didn’t stop. “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work,” Thomas Edison said about working on the lighbulb, “I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

And guess what? You have a huge advantage over those pioneers, when it comes to writing. You have books that teach you how to write, you have seminars and conferences, you have books written by others that can inspire you, and you have a community of writers to support you.

Once you come to terms with the fact that you are a writer, you can jump over this hurdle. You go everyday at your work and perform your tasks– accounting, sales, what have you. If anyone doubts you can do those, you will get offended, right? Well, then it’s time that you decide you are a writer and stop being afraid of actually acting like a writer. That is– write.

If you haven’t done this already, pick-up a piece of paper and write in big letters: “I Am A Writer.” Glue it in your home in front of your eyes so you never forget.

So, write. Push through the fear and do it anyway. Recognize that nothing that brings glory and satisfaction is ever accomplished without some degree of fear. Just don’t think about it. Try your best to reject every thought that pops in your head and tells you that you can’t make it.

DECIDE that you CAN make it.

That’s your first and hardest step.

Creative Challenge

Writer's Creative ChallengeThe second hurdle comes after you decided to do it. Now the question is: what am I going to write about? There are people who sit on a good idea for years, and NEVER get the chance to turn it into words. If you are one of those lucky ones, you won’t have a problem. Take that idea and run with it. But most likely you will be like the vast majority– you don’t have an idea yet. That’s a scary thought, a thought that fuels those fears you dealt with above. So, what do you do?

Simple: re-frame the way you think about the challenge, and don’t let the lack of a readily available novel idea be the thought that drives your process.

To understand that, let’s take a step back first and look at what is this challenge going to help you accomplish:

1) Publish a novel
2) Improve your writing skills (style, grammar, structure)
3) Expand your writing spectrum (genres)
4) Help you get better at putting words on paper

This particular contest will not result in a publishable manuscript. Read that again, and again, and again. At the end of the thirty days, unless your name is Faulkner, you will probably not be able to publish the manuscript. You will be able to turn it into a publishable manuscript later on, as you will see, but initially it will be just a rough draft.

So, your manuscript doesn’t have to be perfect! That’s a big relief. It simply doesn’t have to be perfect. As a matter of fact, the longer your first 30-day draft, the less perfect it will be. There’s an inverse relation between the writing quality and the writing quantity, in a limited span of time. This contest asks you to finish 50,000 words, not 50,000 PERFECT words. So, for now, strike number 1). Things are getting easier. No pressure to hand the manuscript on November 30th to anyone to read.

Improving your writing skills is by far the number one goal for this contest, in my opinion. It’s one of those elusive obvious things that are right there, in your face, but you just don’t see them. In your head, the prestige of finishing is great, being able to tell your friends and family is awesome, and publishing your work is grand. But at the end of the day, this challenge will help you become a better writer.

The advice you get from every single writing evangelist is this: write, write, and write. Don’t look back, don’t you dare… Just keep writing through the end. Then, take a break, take a breath, look back, and start fixing. But the process of pushing forward and putting words on paper is what will eventually drive your continuous improvement as a writer.

The more words you are able to put on the paper, the better you get at establishing a proper work ethic, an the better that process goes, the more confidence you will get. The more self-confidence you acquire the faster and better you will write. It’s a growing spiral of improvement. You will start taking chances, getting outside of your comfort zone, explore, experiment, and test. This is what this type of challenge will bring you most, and it’s a priceless gift.

So, don’t be afraid if your novel idea is not the next New York Bestseller. You have time for that. Now write about anything that makes you feel comfortable. There are a lot of sites that help you brainstorm and I also wrote a blog post on writer’s block. Don’t let the lack of a great idea be a deterrent to your goal of learning how to impose your own writing schedule, and improving your writing style.

Physical Challenge

So, above we dealt with the ‘why’ you should and can do this, and then with the ‘what’ should you writeWriter's physical challenge about. Now let’s move to the ‘how.’ The answer to this will depend a lot on your style as a writer. Are you an outliner, who likes to plan every move of your novel, or are you a seat-off-your-pants kind of writer, where you write with no plan in mind and let your imagination guide each step?

Well, obviously the non-outlining writers will feel more confident with this project, since they can just start writing. The outliners will feel a bit scared by the idea that they won’t be able to spend their weeks and weeks of planning and outlining.

Personally, I am a big outliner. I like to take my story from the one line blurb up to a complete scene list, character bibles, maps and world-building. To get over this, I decided that I will sacrifice one day and one day only for outlining. This is how I did it.

I figured that an average scene for me is about 800-1000 words, based on prior experience. I felt that a chapter should be roughly 10-15 pages. So, I decided that my outline will contain 16 chapters, each with 4 scenes of about 800 words. I used good-old Excel to start a table with the following headers: Scene number, Scene Description, Number of Words, chapter, Total Words.

Next was the overall story structure. Again, we don’t have a lot of time here, so I decided to go with the well-known, established and loved by many, three-act-structure. So, I assumed that my first act was going to be about 25%, second act about 50%, and the third act the remaining 25%. I color coded my excel sheet to see the clear separation and at the bottom, below the table, I made three rows with formulas to keep track of the real size of each act.

Now I had a pretty decent skeleton for a good start. If you want to take a look at the Excel sheet and use it in your own project, grab this writing quota Excel tracking sheet that I prepared for you. Use it freely as you wish.

Now, the minimum average number of words you must write every day is 1,667, but you don’t want to be there. You want to be at least 50% higher so you can slowly get yourself a nice safety cushion. I set my own personal goal to be 2,500 words per day. That’s about 3 scenes, or almost one full chapter.

Ok, now with a quick skeleton and the plan for each day, there was one more thing I had to do: decide how this novel will end. Why is this important?

The fun of writing a novel is in the process of creation. You are the God of your characters, you are building the world, you give them life and you make them interact. That’s great, but you are not writing for your characters, you are writing for a reader, and readers, usually, like to finish a book and enjoy its ending. So, as much as the fun lies in your second act, your last act is the one that will leave the final mark on your reader. Equally important, the first act is the one that will grab your reader and make him read the entire book.

So, the minimal preparation here should be this: how do I start? Keywords: attention grabbing, interesting action, character introduction. And how do I end? Keywords: emotional connection, closing the circle, tying all the plot lines.

If you want to make the road from the first few pages until the last few pages to be a fun one for you, at least decide from the beginning what will be on those few pages. And again, you don’t have to be perfect here as we are still in the planning phase. But have a general idea of your ending. Is it a dark ending? Is your protagonist going to die or lose someone dear? Is it a happy ending where the boy gets the girl? Or maybe a bitter sweet ending where the boy saves he girl but still loses her? Either way, if you decide this from the start you will have a far easier time filling the gap between your beginning and your ending.

So, at this point: you have decided you can do this, you more or less know what your novel will be all about, you prepared yourself a generic outline, and you have established how you novel starts and ends. That’s all you need, now start writing!

Keeping Up

TimerOnce you start writing, once you get into your routine, you will find it hard to stop, and I mean it! But there will also be days when you won’t be able to write. Maybe because of your job, illness, family functions, and so on. But you have to strive hard to keep that average going.

If you find it really hard to allocate the time you need to write your daily quota, read my other article “Writing when Busy.” It gives you some specific ideas about how to write when you are very busy.

But regardless, don’t get hung up on the daily quota too much. The daily goal is great, but what you are looking for here is a weekly quota, much more than a daily one. You have to output about 12,500 words per week. Make sure you keep to that. There will be days when you write more and days when you write less. Your weekends are a good way to catch up, so if you missed your quota in one or two days, get back on track during the weekend. If you are over your quota, good for you, but don’t relax and rest right away. Write more, you will love it in week four when you are almost done.


How do you edit your work during the month of November? The short answer is: you don’t. Given that you are writing everyday more than 2000 words, chances are you don’t even need to re-read what you wrote the day before in order to keep your story on track. It will all be in your head. If you are on chapter 10 and you can’t remember the name of that town, just put a “?” as placeholder and you will search and replace later on.

Obviously, if you are the kind of writer that needs to read yesterday’s work just to get back into the “writing mode,” by all means, do it. But keep it short. Remember, your goal here is to write a lot, not to write perfectly from the start.

If you want a compromise do this: first write your daily quota of new words and, only if you meet it, you are allowed to read your work from the day before and do some light editing. Keep it fun and challenge yourself!

Other ways to get you motivated

The NaNoWriMo allows the participants to join regional groups. Each group organizes various writing sessions where a group of people get together with their laptops in a public place, like a library or a bookstore, and write. It’s a good motivator to be around other writers, so if you have trouble focusing by yourself, use them.

The forums on NaNoWriMo are also filled with posts that help writers with advice and encouragement.

On the NaNoWriMo site look for friendly faces or other people who write in your genres and add them as your writing buddies. You will be able to see their progress and compare it against yours.

Search the web for posts such as the one you are reading right now. There’s a lot of information out there and many ways to get motivated. As soon as you feel like you are going stale or ready to procrastinate, turn to these resources and use them as a ‘kick in the butt.’ You will be happy later when you are done!

November 30

ChampagneYou did it! It’s November 30th and your 50,000 words are done! So, wait no more and submit your work. Make sure you don’t stop exactly at 50,000, by the way, push through 51,000 or so, to make sure that your word processor’s word count will match their word count. Sometimes there is a slight difference, so you want to make sure you have a good cushion.

Congratulations!! Now, take a week or two away from this novel. Work on other things. Then two weeks later come back. Start polishing your work, but even before that, decide if your novel will stay at 50,000 words or if you need more. Depending on your genre and the standards, you might find yourself in need of another 25,000 words or maybe more. Now that you know the process, adding those words should be easy.

Now you have a month or so to do your first review and bring your word-count where you want it to be. Enjoy your holidays and your new year’s, but remember: by the end of January you should have your second round of edits done, and your novel should now be in a somewhat presentable state.

From here on, it’s all about polishing and making it better. But that’s not the subject of this article. I just wanted you to get here, and what you do from this point on is different story. But give yourself a warm hug and treat yourself to whatever you love most. You deserve it.

You learned writing discipline, the hardest hurdle on your way to writing success. You improved your style and you learned how to write fast and organize your thoughts in your head. You learned how to keep track of your writing and stick to your quotas.

You just became a better writer.

I’d love to hear some comments from people who completed their NaNoWriMo. What was your process like? What were your fears and how did you go over them? What advice do you have for other writers on how to accomplish this successfully?

Last, but not least, I challenge you to make your own NaNoWriMo. Pick any month, and be the only participant. See if you can do it. Actually, let me correct that: prove that you can do it!

Good Luck!


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Why You Should Write Short Stories

I like big things, don’t you? I like a big house, a big car, and when it comes to writing I really enjoy a giant story world. I am probably one of the many writers suffering from what I call the “Silmarillion” syndrome. That’s that thing when you want to feel like a God and create vast things so that people can look at them and go ‘wow’!

But ask anyone who ever tried to build an Eifel Tower from Legos– it’s not the easiest of tasks. It requires a lot of concentration, attention, ability to split the large into small parts, have each small part make sense on its own, and then find its place inside the big picture. And everything must flow like music, be catchy and relevant, pleasant looking and emotional, wonderful, amazing and great. No pressure there, none at all…

But the truth is that’s what I always thought a writer’s life should be– about creating big things. I dream of the novel that becomes a trilogy and the trilogy that becomes part of a multiverse Saga that spans space and time. A Saga that later becomes a movie, then a series, then a… Ok, I’ll stop, you get my point– I am a megalomaniac, and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you show that behavior at the right moment and at the right time.

First Things First

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t start writing the Saga of the Century right of the bat, but what I am trying to say is that it will be a bit harder. One way to ease the pain is to learn how to focus on those little pieces down at the base. Learn how to build your basic Lego structures and soon you will have enough skills to put them together into a massive architectural wonder.

I am talking, of course, about short stories. Just like (I assume) many other writers, I started by totally ignoring short stories. I thought that I would waste good ideas that could become a novel in just a few pages, and I thought that instead of being focused I will become completely scattered. I wasn’t totally wrong, but I soon learned that that was not necessarily a bad thing.

What is a Short Story?

A short story is a fully developed story, with plot, setting, and characters, but significantly shorter than a novel. There are some discussions on the proper length of a short story, but I usually consider a short story anything between 1,000 words to 10,000 words. Note that those stories shorter than 1000 words typically fall into the flash-fiction category.

In my opinion a good length for a short story is between 2,500 and 5,000 words. At an average of 250 words per page, you get a story between 10 to 20 pages, double-spaced. Keep in mind that these are not set in stone, just guidelines to give you some idea.

Length is the main aspect that differentiates a short story from a novel. All other aspects are more similar than different. A short story will follow a mini three act structure, will have a developed plot and a climax, will have characters, dialogue, description and narrative. Unlike novels though, in a short story the brevity is paramount. You must get to the point and get there fast; there’s no space to waste, you simply cannot afford it. Make each line, paragraph and page count; be stingy with words and you will develop the ability to say more with less.

Why Should You Write Short Stories?

Now I am finally getting to the point of this post. Let’s look at the pros and cons of writing short stories:


Lower Complexity – Short stories are easier to write, hands down. Unlike the novel where you need to track what happens over 300 or more pages, here you need to keep track of what happens on 10 pages. Every time you work on your short story you can read your story again in entirety to refresh your memory. It’s far easier.

Multiple Projects – You can easily work on a lot of short story projects at the same time, just because they are smaller and that allows you to move your focus from one to the other without damage to either story. With novels, you might work on more than one, but each requires a lot of concentration, so switching gears, whereas possible, will not be that easy.

Quick Brainstorming – When you brainstorm for ideas, turn those ideas into a short story, even if the idea was designed for a major novel. This will train your brain to take a kindle of an idea and turn it into living words. You can do this many times a day, and you can have as many stories as you have ideas.

Learn Different Techniques – The short story is a condensed novel, a very brief novel if you will. If you want to improve on certain techniques, use short stories to practice them. Do you have trouble controlling your point of view? Write the same story from different points of view. Having trouble with a fiction element? Maybe dialogue or description? Write a few short stories and focus on those aspects only. Each story will add knowledge to that particular building block and in time your overall writing technique and style will get better.

Create a Name – This is one of the most important ones, especially for the beginning writers. As a beginner, you have no name. Nobody heard of you, so what they have to do is take your word for it and a few pages of your work and decide if they want to publish you. That’s why publishing your first novel is a hard, hard job. So, look at short stories as little stepping stones toward your novel publishing. First you will start with smaller, less known publications. Once you publish a story, and another story, and another, then you move to the next level. Larger, better known publications, wider distribution, and so on. By the time you are ready to publish a full novel, your name is now floating in the atmosphere. You can refer agents and publishers to your short story works. Maybe one of the editors that published your short story is willing to give you a testimonial. Either way, you are no longer a nobody in the eyes of the book publisher. You are somebody that wrote stuff that made it to print already. That’s a huge step.


Competitive Market – As in any industry, when things are easy to do, there’s going to be a lot of people doing them. Short stories are easier to write, so a lot more people will be writing them. Some of them really, really good. So, you will compete with a lot of others trying to publish stories in limited spaces such as magazines or anthologies. One advice I can give you is to look for niche genres, things that are not as popular, places where the competition is less fierce. This may give you the advantage you need to break out of the pack.

Low Pay – The average pay for short stories is between 0 and 5 cents per word. I am talking about new writers, not about Stephen King, ok? So, it is virtually impossible to live as a writer just from short stories. Sad but true.

Time Away from Big Projects – As always, the more time you focus on short stories, the less time you have to dedicate to your larger projects. But that is a matter of time management. Organize your work and your time in such a way that balances between your short stories and your novels.


So, in conclusion, I think that short stories will help your writing development process. They will be fuel for your imagination and will help train your fingers. Writing them will allow you to circumvent writer’s block that happens in large works and will teach you how to quickly switch gears and focus between projects. They will help you create a name for yourself and will pave the way to your novel publishing career.

If you are a writer, I am very curious if you feel the same about short stories, and if you are a reader, let me know how many short stories do you read every year, give or take? I am just curious…

Thank you,

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