Time Transitions in Fiction

Time passes in our stories, but communicating that to readers can be tricky.

Not acknowledging the passage of time can leave readers confused about “when” they are in the story.

But bogging down your narrative with every blessed minute of a character’s life is a freight train to Dullsville.

How do you help your readers follow the timing of your story?

First, create a timeline of events. You can do this before or after your first draft, depending on whether you’re a pantser or plotter.

I can’t stress the importance of this enough if you’re including flashback scenes or your novel plays with time in more complicated ways.

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Writers Provide Service to Readers

Tim Grahl, the book-marketing guru, once said that the X factor in being successful is whether or not an author believes in their book. When I believe in my book, then I speak about it with enthusiasm to anybody and everybody. I’m not embarrassed to ask folks to buy it because I know they are getting a great value. Said value could just be entertainment, and that’s enough.

No one feels bad for paying for a movie. We fork over the ticket or rental fee happily to steal away from the world for a couple of hours.

Books are no different. Asking someone to buy your book is giving them an opportunity to enter a fantasy world or to learn something new or to peek into someone else’s life and reflect on their own.

You, as a writer, are providing a valuable service to readers.

Never doubt it!

You, as a writer, are providing a valuable service to readers. Never doubt it!

Still don’t believe me? Think about your own reading habits. Why do you read books? Aren’t you happy to support the authors who share the gifts of their words by purchasing books, borrowing them from the library, leaving ratings or reviews, telling friends about them?

Having good books to read is always important, especially in a time when the world’s needs are so great. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have reading material right now. Keep writing and sharing your stories.

Photo by Fernando Hernandez on Unsplash

Google Forms for Beta Readers

After my first round of developmental edits and revisions, I was ready to receive beta-reader feedback for Love Letters to My Body. I wanted to make the task as easy as possible for me and my readers.

Ideal Readers

First, I identified what my ideal readers looked like. Then I made a list of everyone I knew who fit into those descriptions, and who might be willing to give me specific feedback. Once I knew WHO I wanted to ask, I turned to the questions of WHAT I wanted to ask and HOW I wanted to ask.

Trying to manage multiple email threads felt daunting to me, and I also wanted my beta readers to have the option to respond anonymously. I turned to Google Forms to create a survey.

Google Forms

I can’t stress enough how easy it was to create and use a Google Form to collect beta-reader feedback. Here’s a tutorial on how to create your own survey.

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Ellipses aka Drama Dots

Dot, dot, dot. Does anything stir your curiosity more?

I recently heard someone call ellipses drama dots, and now I want to rename them. Drama dots sounds much more intriguing.

Figuring out how to use ellipses correctly comes with its own kind of intrigue.

Here are four ways to use an ellipsis in your writing.

Omission

When writing nonfiction, sometimes a quote is needed to lend credence to an idea or to illustrate a description. The ellipsis can be used to indicate that the writer has chosen to omit something from the quoted material, usually to maintain brevity and to focus on one idea.

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Stage Directions

If you’ve ever been in a play, or even read one, then you know stage directions are included in parentheses to tell the actors where to go and what to do while onstage.

Stage directions are also important when telling a story. Readers need to know where characters are located in a scene as well as what the characters are doing.

But too many stage directions will bore a reader into skimming.

How do you find a good balance?

1. Keep it clear.

If a scene begins in the main character’s house and ends in the empty lot down the street, make sure you’ve written how (walking, driving, teleporting) and why the main character changed locations. Clarity is especially important in a busy scene, such as when characters are fighting or on the run. Every movement counts.

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Writer’s Block, Part 2

Practical Tools to Deal with Writer’s Block

Last week we talked about writer’s block and viewing it through a different lens. Sometimes all you need to do is shift your mindset.

But in case that’s not enough to get the words flowing smoothly again, here are a few practical tools.

1. Consider writer’s block a luxury.

Writers, such as Tim Grahl (Running Down a Dream), Steven Pressfield (The War of Art), and Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones), have all written a variation on this advice. Goldberg even suggests that you open a notebook and write “I don’t know what to write” over and over until you’re bored enough that you begin to write something else.

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Writer’s Block, Part 1 (of 2)

Writer’s block is a mindset issue.

Every writer has experienced writer’s block.

And I’ve seen lots of conversation that suggests it is something to overcome, or power through, as though writer’s block is a foe you must conquer.

Writer’s block is a mindset issue.

Every writer has experienced writer’s block. And I’ve seen lots of conversation that suggests it is something to overcome, or power through, as though writer’s block is a foe you must conquer.

What if, instead, you listen? Writer’s block is showing up because it has a message for you.

How do you decipher the message?

Ask yourself: Do I want to write this?

No? Then stop. Let it go. No “shoulding.” Write what inspires you.

Unless you’re writing on assignment to pay your bills. If that’s the case, your answer isn’t really no. It’s a yes because, yes, you want to pay your  bills.  

Yes? Then figure out what you’re struggling.

First, look at the basics:

How are you taking care of yourself?

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Beta Readers

Beta readers are early readers who give you feedback after you’ve gone through developmental editing.

Who to enlist: Readers in your target audience (the type of reader who would enjoy your book). Who is your ideal reader?  

How many readers: 5-???
This number is up to you. The more beta readers you have, the more feedback you have to sift through. You want a large enough sample that you feel confident in the feedback, but not so much that you’re overwhelmed by the amount of feedback.

When to enlist them: After you’ve finished developmental edits and big-picture revisions.

Where to find them: Ask folks you know (these people don’t have to be close to you; they just need to like the type of book you’ve written). If you have a newsletter, ask your subscribers who would be interested in beta reading for you. This is a great way to engage with your fans, but remember that you can (and should) be picky with your selection. Say yes to the folks who regularly engage with you.

 You can also reach out to local book clubs; check in with a local writing group; or hire a professional.

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The Very Sweary Dictionary

Someone once told me that cursing indicated a poverty of language. He’d been in the Navy, so I imagine he’d gotten his fill of swear words. If you agree, or don’t write in a genre where cursing is appropriate, then skip this Teaching Corner.

I know many writers are swearbears, though. Nothing can make a writer cuss louder than an unexpected Word update just when they’ve hit a writing groove and all the words are flowing easily.

How do you spell $%^#@?

And sometimes, characters curse, too. The basic swears can be found in most any dictionary. But there are so many creative options that aren’t found in Merriam Webster. And Urban Dictionary can make your eyeballs bleed. So how do you know when to hyphenate or close up that compound swear word?

The Very Sweary Dictionary

My edibuddy, Kia Thomas, has written a blogpost about this very thing. And if that’s not enough, she’s put together her own compendium, called “A Very Sweary Dictionary.” I learned a few new colorful phrases after reading this treat. You’re welcome.

As Kia says, the important thing, as always when writing, is consistency. Mark down your swear-word spellings on your style sheet, and find that writing groove again.

Photo by Ocean Biggshott on Unsplash

Pantsers and Plotters

Are you a pantser or a plotter or a planter (should that be pottser)?

Pantsers are writers who do not write with a plan. Outlines feel like handcuffs. They sit at the keyboard just to see what happens next, or who will show up.

Plotters are the exact opposite. They come ready to write, plan in hand. They already know what happens next, and next, and next, and there will be no surprise guests in their character roster.

Then there are the rest of us: some combination of pantser and plotter who has at least a loose plan in their head and enough flexibility to meander down a creative stream when it appears.

Which is better?

To be clear, there isn’t a “right” way to write. No extra brownie points, or fans leaving reviews, if you plot over pant, or vice versa.

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