Writing Tip of the Week: Avoiding Procrastination [Repost]

So, you’ve finally sat down to write your story.  Your hands are poised over the keys.  The cursor blinks invitingly at the top of the blank Word page.  You have notes about your story scrawled on legal pads in mostly illegible writing.  The time has come to write.

But did you finish that last episode of Hoarders on Hulu?  You think you did, but you’re not sure if Dr. Zasio and Matt Paxton were able to help that woman with the 50 cats.  So, you look, and you did.  But the screenshot for the next one looks intriguing, so you start the episode.  Just to see if the home is as bad as you think it was.  And it’s worse!  Now you have to watch.

Three episodes later and it’s time for bed.  You decide you’ll write tomorrow, but after watching multiple episodes of Hoarders you’re now motivated to clean your house the next evening.

Welcome to procrastination.

Everyone procrastinates. We all put off stuff we either want to do or don’t want to do for some reason or another.  When it comes to writing, procrastination makes perfect sense: writing is work.  Hard work. And if you’ve spent all week at a desk in front of a computer, the thought of doing that at night or on the weekend becomes something you want to avoid at all costs.

To me, procrastination is okay.  To a point. But while you are binge-watching TV shows or going down the YouTube video rabbit hole, ask yourself why you’re avoiding writing.  It’s more than just the whole desk/computer/work thing.  Is there a problem with the story?  Do you not like the story?  Would you rather write something else?

With any form procrastination, there is a root cause for its existence.  But when participating in the act of procrastination, I say you need to embrace it.  Don’t kick yourself or beat yourself up.  What’s the point?  If you really wanted to write right now, you would be. 

At some point, however, you need to realize that your story needs to be written, and that all the TV shows, cleaning, and reading of junk mail won’t solve your procrastination problem. Is there a better time for you to write other than the evenings or weekend?  Could you stay a little after work and write at your desk?  Could you go to a local bookstore, library, or coffee shop with fewer distractions, turn off your phone, and write there? 

Also remember that all the shows, movies, and other things that you use as tools of procrastination will still be there when you’re done writing.  And you’ll feel better when you do finally sit down to watch because you’ve accomplished your writing tasks for the day.

Sometimes the Procrastination Resolution (sounds like the title of an episode of The Big Bang Theory) comes by changing environments and limiting the distractions.  By subtracting your distractions, you then give yourself and your brain the freedom to get down to business and write.

Now it’s time for me to stop procrastinating and write some new posts for the coming weeks!

Happy writing, and I’ll see you next week!

Writing Tip of the Week: Silencing Negativity [Repost]

Let’s talk about negativity. Primarily, negativity when it comes to writing.  We oftentimes have a tendency to get mired in negative self-talk, especially when it comes to our own creativity.  Are we talented enough?  Will anyone want to read this?  What about the negativity swamp of social media or bad reviews? 

And these can often creep into our thoughts even before we’ve even started writing!  What a headache!

I sometimes do this when it comes to my writing.  I put a lot of unjust pressure on myself to write a pitch-perfect and flawless first draft. When you put that type of pressure on yourself, do you know what happens?  You don’t write.  You do anything else because what’s the point of writing if it’s not perfection?

Well, guess what?  I’m not perfect.  And the first draft of anything shouldn’t be expected to be perfection, either.  The best way to overcome the negative voice inside your head is to start writing and shut it up.  Keep this in mind: no one has to see that first draft.  You can present it to other eyes when you feel it’s ready.  Why do you care if it’s 100% perfect?  You’re going to fix it later, and you can’t re-write anything until you write it in the first place.

If you have the will and the desire to write and to tell stories to others than do it.  Even if you believe you aren’t skilled or talented in creative writing, practice can only improve your skills in the long run. Look at any published author’s work and know that at some point they probably were feeling exactly what you are now. And they worked through it, accomplished their goal, and kept on writing.  You can do that, too!

At the time of the writing, there are an estimated 7.7 billion people on the planet.  Even if only 1% of those people like your writing, that’s 7.7 million people.  And if you’re selling an eBook for $2.99 and get 70% of that, you would make $16 million dollars (before A LOT of taxes are taken out, of course)!  So, don’t worry about whether or not there’s an audience for what you write.  There are billions of people who crave good stories, great characters, and exciting dialogue.  Give those people a story to tell their friends about!

As for social media, we all know the pitfalls of that swampy underbelly of the world wide web.  It exists.  But just because someone doesn’t like what you wrote, that doesn’t mean that everyone does.  It’s a big world.  Think about it this way:  that one negative comment or review in the grand scope of the world’s population is equal to 0.00000000012987% of people who don’t like your writing. Seems pretty tiny when you look at it like that, doesn’t it? 

Remember that if someone doesn’t like your book, your poem, you video, etc, you are under no obligation to engage with them, and also know that a lot of people troll other people’s creative works because they get a rise out of it.  I’ve seen downvotes on YouTube videos about puppies! How is that even possible???!!

So, take a deep breath, exhale, and let the creativity flow in and the negativity flow out.  You have the idea, now make it a reality. 

You can do this.

Writing Tip of the Week: The Importance of Conflict in Your Story

People generally do all they can to avoid Conflict in their everyday lives. We will often go to great lengths to stay out of situations that make us uncomfortable, make us confront an issue, or even deal with someone who makes us feel anything but peaceful. For the most part, humans prefer a sense of neutrality.

But not in fiction.  

Fiction requires Conflict as an essential ingredient to make a narrative move forward. There has to be something or someone driving the protagonist to act; to get them out of their neutral state and make them work toward a goal that looks impossible to achieve on the surface.

Let’s explore a little about Conflict and its role in fiction.

Conflict = Dramatic Tension

Your protagonist wants something. Another character wants something else. Only one of them can get what they want in the scene or chapter. And so, this Conflict creates Dramatic Tension between the two characters, and – hopefully – the Conflict and dramatic tension pique the audiences’ interest. Who will get what they want? How will they negotiate to get what they want? What are they willing to do or say to achieve their goal?  

Watch any film or TV show, and you will see this played out on either a small or a larger level. If you watch Law & Order: Special Victims Unit – or most procedurals – you can see this play out in almost every scene. There is a conflict between the detectives over how to interrogate a suspect. There’s Conflict between the suspect and the detectives interrogating them. There’s Conflict while a witness is being questioned. All of which creates Dramatic Tension and leaves the audience curious and wanting more.

Comedy is also rife with Conflict. Yes, Dramatic Tension does exist in sitcoms and comedy movies as well. It’s what helps keep the story moving forward and the audience engaged. On I Love Lucy, Lucy Ricardo wants to be in a TV commercial. Her husband, Ricky, says she can’t do it. A Conflict between the two characters has now been created. It then evolves into Dramatic Tension, which in this case is played for laughs.

Conflict Isn’t Always Good vs. Evil

When we picture Conflict, we think of Batman vs. The Joker or some other large-scale epic showdown between good and evil. But that is not the case. While this is a clear-cut example, conflicts are often between best friends, or kids and parents, or employees and employers.  

Maybe the characters just have a minor disagreement about how to punish their child for their bad behavior. Perhaps it’s a conflict between and father and son over what type of first job the son should apply for. Small conflicts between characters that aren’t an explosive battle of wills destroying Gotham City can be just as impactful, just as exciting, and just as engaging.

Conflict Should Be Organic

The source of the Conflict that occurs should have sense and logic to it within the story you are telling. Have you ever watched an action movie where a car chase or bar fight just happens for no reason? If there’s no reason for the Conflict to arise, it feels forced and out of place.

All characters want or need something. When your characters each want something different, a conflict is formed. In Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos wants the Infinity Stones to achieve his goal. The Avengers have an opposing goal: stop Thanos from acquiring the Infinity Stones. It’s a basic conflict, but it makes sense and is logical within the confines of the story being told.

There should be a reason for Conflict to exist at that moment in the story. If there’s no conflict present, figure out why and what’s causing a lack of Conflict between the characters involved. At the same time, don’t force Conflict to happen. If you cut the scene or chapter, would it impact the story?  

Conflict Ups the Stakes for the Protagonist

Imagine a story where nothing goes wrong for the protagonist. No matter what, everything goes right. Now, take that same character on her way to a big job interview, when someone runs into her, shoves a device in her hand, and seconds later, the office building she was headed to explodes and collapses. As she comes back to the reality of the chaos around her, she discovers there’s a detonator in her hand. Her fingerprints are all over it. Someone notices the device in her hand and calls out. Panicked, she gets up and runs.

She’s now wrongly accused of blowing up a building that she was headed to, with her fingerprints on the detonator and people screaming that she caused the explosion.

Talk about Conflict and Upping the Stakes!

While this is an extreme example, giving the protagonist a – even to them – life and death situation to deal with gives them motivation to achieve a goal despite the odds. Katniss in The Hunger Games ups the stakes on herself when she volunteers to take her sister’s place in the games. The stakes continue to mount as the games continue, and she must do all she can to survive—plenty of Conflict.

In Legally Blonde, Elle Woods wants to go to Harvard Law School. Based on what we know about Elle at this point in the film, even we think she’s creating stakes that seem impossible.  

Both The Hunger Games and Legally Blonde show us two strong protagonists actively putting themselves into situations where the stakes could not be higher for either one of them. The stakes up the Conflict, which increases the Dramatic Tension, which keeps the audience engaged.

Internal and External Conflict

Characters can have inner conflicts, wants, needs, desires, and motivations. These can help add dimension to a character and help lead to their growth and arc through the narrative.  

External conflicts are opposing forces outside the inner life of the character.  

In Lethal Weapon (1987), Sergeant Martin Riggs is depressed and suicidal (Internal Conflict) after the death of his wife (External Conflict). His new partner, Sergeant Roger Murtaugh, is melancholy about his age and retiring from the LAPD (Internal Conflict). He is not very happy to be saddled with a new partner who’s a live wire (External Conflict). Two characters with conflicting internal and external conflicts then have to face a conflict even larger than them. No wonder the movie was such a hit!

Giving your characters Internal Conflicts that must be dealt with during their External Conflicts is an excellent way to up the Stakes and add to the overall Dramatic Tension.

Creating Conflict between characters in your writing is a fun way to see how your protagonist and others respond to someone entering their space and destabilizing the neutral world they – like all of us in the real world – so desperately desire. Take a few of your characters and write a couple pages of Conflict between them and see if you discover anything new about them.

And, the next time you watch a movie, a TV show, or read a novel, observe what the Conflict is in each scene, what the stakes are, and how those conflicts and stakes lead to the dramatic tension in both the scene and the narrative as a whole.  

Happy writing, and I’ll see you next week!

TheNerdyGirlExpress Reviews Midnight House by Ian Dawson

Thank you, TheNerdyGirlExpress, for reviewing Midnight House by Ian Dawson!

Check out the review here: https://thenerdygirlexpress.com/2021/04/12/midnight-house-book-review-from-kleffnotes/


GET YOUR PAPERBACK COPY OF MIDNIGHT HOUSE ON BOOKBABY AND USE THE PROMO CODE HOUSE20 TO SAVE 20% OFF THE PAPERBACK AT CHECKOUT.  CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Writing Tip of the Week: A Cinematic Writing Assignment

What’s your favorite movie?  What makes that particular film stand out from the rest of the millions that exist?  What is it about that story, its characters, or its themes that left an impression on you?

Time to do a little homework.

I know, I know.  Homework.  Booooooring!  I get it.  But, this is creative homework.  This is your chance to do a deep dive into your favorite film and get to the heart of why it affects you and why you enjoy it.  In turn, this exercise will help you as a writer by giving insight into how they create a compelling story, how they utilize storytelling structure, and how they create compelling characters.

What You Need

  • Grab a notepad or legal pad and a pen or pencil.
  • A copy of your favorite movie.
  • Your Analytical Cap.
  • Good Pause Button skills (you’ll be using this a lot).

Think of yourself as a story archaeologist.  Your mission is to unearth the storytelling secrets hidden beneath the surface of the film you chose.  

Viewing #1

I know it’s your favorite, but as you go through this first time, write down your favorite moments and note at what time or on what page number they occur.  Was it a plot point that intrigued you?  A clever line of dialogue?  A character moment?  Write it down and write down why you reacted the way you did to that element.

Do this for the whole movie, then read back through what you observed.

Viewing #2

This round is all about the story.  In one or two sentences, write down what happens in each scene that moves the story forward.  What’s the main conflict in each scene?  You can number the scenes or write a general location of where the scene takes place.

If scenes are revolving around a sub-plot, see how that smaller story is resolved or if it dovetails into the main story.

By the end, you should be able to go back through your notes and see the primary story arc evolve throughout the film.  Does each scene feed into the next?  Do you notice a pattern as to when the story has significant changes?  

All screenplays have a basic story structure.  There are dozens of ways to break down that structure, but for the purposes of this exercise, I’ll refer you to The Syd Field Paradigm below:

If the screenwriter did their job correctly, these elements should be crystal clear and easy to identify as you review your notes.  Highlight or underline what you feel these moments are.

Viewing #3

This final round is all about character.  Your job is to watch how the main character changes over the course of the story.  What traits do they have at the start of the story?  Do they become a better person or a worse person by the end?  

This is another scene-by-scene breakdown.  Write down in a couple sentences what the main character is doing, how they’re acting, what you feel their motivation or conflict is in the scene.  As you go through, you should be able to see their discernable character arc as they navigate their way through the ups and downs of the plot.  How does the story impact who they are as a character?  How do they impact the events of the story?  

Read back through and see if you can clearly identify when the writer began to make changes in the character and how those changes altered the main character by the end of the story.

So, What Did We Learn?

So, now you’ve watched your favorite film three more times and have done some digging into its inner workings.  By breaking the movie into its basic components, you have a clearer picture of how this screenwriter crafted a compelling story with an interesting main character.  You can see where the story beats are, where the direction of the story changes, and how those elements either impact the main character’s arc or how their arc impacts the story.

Keep this exercise in mind when you finish a draft of your screenplay, play, or novel.  If you were to sit down and do this exercise with your work, could you summarize what’s happening in each scene in a sentence or two?  Would those sentences be enough to show the main story’s arc throughout the narrative?  Does your main character evolve over the course of the story?  What happens to cause the change from start to finish?

Consider doing this exercise with your own work to help you strengthen your story and main character in your different drafts.

Extra Credit

Now, if you enjoyed that exercise, why not try it with a movie you strongly dislike?  I know it can be hard to stomach a film you can’t stand, but take the emotion out and look at it from an analytical perspective. 

The first time through, write down all the elements you dislike and why.  If anything does work for you, write it down.

The second and third viewings should be done similar to the ones stated above.  You may find that the story arc and/or main character arc are weak and lacking in a lot of ways.

How would you, as this film’s screenwriter, fix these weaknesses?  When you read back through, brainstorm what you would have done to make the story and character elements stronger and more effective.

You can learn a lot from both good and bad films by breaking their stories down into their component parts.  I highly recommend reading screenplays for films as well.  Screenplays give you the nuts and bolts of story and character without the distraction and spectacle so you can analyze things even more in-depth.  I recommend checking out the link below to find screenplays to break down and analyze.

Happy writing and analyzing. I’ll see you next week!

Writing Tip of the Week: What POV is Best for Your Story?

The point-of-view, or POV your story is told from, can impact how you present the story and how readers experience it.  Through this chosen perspective, we decide how much information will be delivered to the audience throughout the story and how they’re meant to process and use that information as the story unfolds.  

Here are the four POVs generally used in fiction.

First-Person

Everything we are learning and experiencing during the story is told from the point of view of the main character.  They are literally our eyes and ears to the story, other characters, and their opinions influence how we as readers understand the world being presented.

EXAMPLE:  I walked down the long, dark hallway.  Cobwebs brushed across my face, which sent a chill up my spine and my heart rate to increase.  I moved toward two doors: a blue door to my left and a red door to my right.

Most novels that are written in first-person stay in first-person the entire time.  A few exceptions are in the case of novelist Nelson DeMille. His main characters tell the story in first-person, while the antagonist’s chapters are in third-person limited.

Second-Person

Most of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s recall the Choose Your Own Adventure book series.  These were books written in the second-person and used “You” throughout the story.

EXAMPLEYou walk down a long, dark hallway.  Cobwebs lightly brush across your face as you move toward two doors: a blue one on the left and a red one on the right.

This was followed by: If you open the red door, turn to the next page.  If you open the blue door, turn to page 38.

I don’t often see this POV outside of this particular genre. Still, it’s a unique way to literally get your reader into the main character’s shoes by making them the main character.

Third-Person Limited

With this point-of-view, you can be inside the head of one character at a time.  You can have them share their inner thoughts and feelings with the reader; you can give us private moments with them.  But once you’re in their head, you must stay in their head until there is a clear designation that we are now moving into another character’s POV.  This could be a break in the action using a symbol if the switch happens in a chapter, or at the start of a new chapter.  

Just make sure the switch is clear.

EXAMPLE:  David walked down the long, dark hallway.  He felt cobwebs brush across his face, which sent a chill up his spine and caused his heart rate to increase.  This was a bad idea, he thought, as he moved toward two doors: a blue one on his left and a red one on his right.

XXX

Seth knew David would pick the blue door.  After all, it was David’s favorite color, and Seth was certain that David would pick the right door and see the surprise party waiting behind it.

This POV is common in novels today. It’s less limiting than first-person or second-person. It allows you to explore the inner thoughts of multiple characters. Just make sure that it’s clear when you do the switch.

Third-Person Omniscient

 This POV allows us to explore internal and external aspects of different characters without the restraints of a first-person, second-person, or third-person limited point-of-view.  In this context, Omniscient means “having infinite awareness, understanding, and insight.” The narrator gives details and information about multiple characters’ pasts, their motivations, and their personalities since this narrator can be wherever they want to be.

For example, suppose there’s a chapter with a party. In the Omniscient POV, we can go from person to person and learn about them without abruptly changing points-of-view to a character who might know that person better or to the point-of-view of the character being focused on.  With Omniscient, we can give the reader any information about any character as it’s needed.

EXAMPLEDavid walked down the long, dark hallway.  He felt cobwebs brush across his face, which sent a chill up his spine and caused his heart rate to increase.  This was a bad idea, he thought, as he moved toward two doors: a blue one on his left and a red one on his right.

Seth awaited David’s choice behind the blue door, knowing he would pick the blue door since blue was David’s favorite color.  Seth couldn’t wait for David to open the door and see the surprise party waiting for him.

This POV also enables the narrator to tell the reader things that the characters may not even be aware of that could impact them in the future.  It also allows the narrator to give the reader insight into something they need to know to contextualize the story.

An excellent example of this is the opening chapter of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  Steinbeck takes the time to introduce the reader to the world of The Great Depression in Oklahoma, giving us details that clue us in to what’s happening without introducing any of the main characters.  Now, we’re up to speed on what’s going on, so when we do meet the Joad family, we’re more acclimated to their dire circumstances.

Read the first chapter here:   https://genius.com/John-steinbeck-chapter-1-the-grapes-of-wrath-annotated

Definition Sourcehttps://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/omniscient

Which One Is Right for Your Story?

In the early stages of your writing, play around with the different POVs and see which one might work best for the story you want to tell.  Do you need to have the reader know the story from varied points of view?  Then Third-Person Limited or Omniscient might be good choices.  Does your main character’s worldview dominate the story?  Perhaps the First-Person POV is a good fit.

Taking the time to nail this down early will prevent rewrite headaches later on.  Write a draft of the same section of the story in the different POVs and see which one feels suitable for the story you want to tell.

Happy writing, and I’ll see you next week!

Writing Tip of the Week: Getting into Character

A story needs compelling and engaging characters that change throughout the narrative to keep readers/viewers engaged with the events unfolding before them.  No matter who the character is, it’s essential as a writer to have a strong sense of who they are and where they were before the events of the story you are creating.  Let’s look at a few ways you can do this in the pre-writing phase of your project.

Basic Stats

One of the easiest methods of getting to know your characters is to bullet-point the basics about them.  Name. Age.  Profession.  A few significant events that affected their lives before the story.  Personality traits.  Relationships with others.  Writing these down and having them as a reference can help ensure that characters have continuity throughout your story.

Obviously, you want your protagonist to have a strong arc that allows them to evolve over the course of the story.  But their past and present circumstances aid in dealing with the conflicts set before them and how they reconcile and move on as a character at the conclusion of the story.

I recommend doing this for the protagonist and antagonist and other key characters that are a main part of the story.

Character Biographies

A significant step-up from what I mentioned above is creating detailed and in-depth character bios for your protagonist, antagonist, and other key players in your story.  Create a 500-word essay about your characters, detailing their lives in an A&E Biography manner.  This gives you more creative latitude than the bullet-point method but is more time-consuming.  

This is ideal for historical fiction since you can do the research to find out more about the time period, social structure, environment, clothing, and other key factors that will make your historical novel more accurate.

Backstory Not Included

Should your Stats and Bios be used liberally in your novel or merely as reference material?  The lawyerly answer: It depends.  If what is happening in the story is directly affected by past events in the character’s life, I would definitely mention the relevant elements.  But don’t just do an info dump.  Weave relevant aspects of their past into the narrative or dialogue. 

The reader/viewer must feel that this character existed before the story they are now experiencing.  Your characters shouldn’t begin and end when the current story does.  They should feel like real, active people being observed during a particularly eventful and life-altering time in their lives.

How Did They Get Here?

Our past life experiences influence how we deal with the present.  The same is true for fictional characters.  Who was Tony Stark before he became Iron Man?  Who was Jack Torrance before the events at the Overlook Hotel in The Shining?  What was Starr Carter’s world like before the events in The Hate U Give?  

Dr. Phil has a useful tool that can aid you with these questions in both your own life and in the lives of your characters.  He breaks it down into what he calls The 10/7/5 Philosophy.  Even if you aren’t a fan of Dr. Phil, this method is an excellent tool for getting creating greater depth in your characters:

Ten Defining Moments: In every person’s life, there have been moments, both positive and negative, that have defined and redefined who you are. Those events entered your consciousness with such power that they changed the very core of who and what you thought you were. A part of you was changed by those events, and caused you to define yourself, to some degree by your experience of that event.

Seven Critical Choices: There are a surprisingly small number of choices that rise to the level of life-changing ones. Critical choices are those that have changed your life, positively or negatively, and are major factors in determining who and what you will become. They are the choices that have affected your life up to today and have set you on a path.

Five Pivotal People: These are the people who have left indelible impressions on your concept of self, and therefore, the life you live. They may be family members, friends or co-workers, and their influences can be either positive or negative. They are people who can determine whether you live consistently with your authentic self, or instead live a counterfeit life controlled by a fictional self that has crowded out who you really are. 

Source:  https://www.drphil.com/advice/defining-your-external-factors/

Your characters are the true lifeblood of your story.  They are the ones we care about, empathize with, and follow on their journey as they traverse the hills and valleys of the narrative unfolding before them.  It’s important to take the time to get to know your characters’ history, so you can better understand how they react to their present circumstances.  Then, you can use that information to evolve them into their future selves.

Happy writing, and I’ll see you next week!

Writing Tip: Ideas in Action

Ideas.  We all have them.  Billions of people all around the planet have ideas every day.  Some good.  Some bad.  Some brilliant.  Some ridiculous.  From kids to the elderly, ideas are racing through the minds of people 24/7.  But what are they doing with them?

A coworker of mine used to pitch me several game show ideas a week.  And every time, I would tell him to write them down.  He never did.  Just kept coming up with them week after week.  But what if he had written them down?  What if one of them had actually been an idea worth exploring further?

If you think of an idea, write it down.  You can use a notebook, the Notes app on your phone, or a computer file.  Sounds simple enough.  But most people don’t take the time to do this.

And they need to.

There are tens of millions of creative people out there. Still, most don’t take the time to write down their ideas and cultivate the good ones into possible stories.

Having an idea is easy.  Building on an idea is the hard part.

Good ideas deserve action.  If you have a story idea that intrigues you, something that makes you pause and wonder what happens next, this is the time to act and get to work.  The biggest mistake is to let the idea dissolve into memory, only to be forgotten and never expanded upon.

Sit down and take the time to brainstorm and hash out the idea’s finer points and details.  Possible characters, conflicts, locations.  How the story begins.  How it ends.  Is there something compelling for you to continue the journey to make it more than an simple idea?

If so, continue.  If not, move on but don’t throw any of those notes away.  You never know when something from one idea could be merged into another.  It happens.

An idea is actionable when you decide for it to be.  No one can stop you from developing what you’ve thought of into a more dimensional creative work.

The ideas start and stop with you.  It is your choice what to do with them.  

Choose action.  

Happy writing, and I’ll see you next week!