7 Writers Share Their Writing Secrets

7 WritersWriting is a long, difficult journey (one that never really ends), and you tend to pick up a lot of things along the way.

Like always keep a notepad on your nightstand. Or act out scenes to help you describe them (even if it makes you feel like a crazy person).

I’ve asked 7 awesome writers/bloggers to share their writing “secrets.” What tips and tricks have they discovered? Read on to find out!

Secrets for Writers

Brett Michael Orr is a young writer and blogger from Australia. He has been writing for several years, and is currently working on a Young Adult Science-Fiction novel.

Drafting is always a difficult process. There’s a lot of pressure when you’re staring at the infamous white page, that this your chance to write a scene from scratch, and it can be paralysing. There’s also pressure on word count–if you’ve only written a hundred words, it’s easy to feel really bad about yourself.
     Here’s the secret though–your book will go through at least one, if not four or five, major edits and rewrites–and that’s before it arrives at a publisher. There will be many, many opportunities to edit and ‘perfect’ that scene. You can’t perfect a blank page.
     Just write, take the quickest path through the scene to move your characters where they should be, and move on. When you edit, you’ll be deleting (or adding) paragraphs at a time, so don’t agonize over your draft. After all, first drafts are meant to be rewritten!
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Heather from BitsNBooks enjoys writing Historical Fiction. Her research for her stories always allows her to learn something new.  She also adds, “my aim is to make people cry (is that mean?).” Not at all, Heather 😉

If you have an idea for something but can’t seem to get it right, put yourself in the scene. What can you see, hear, smell, feel? I don’t know if it’s a thing all writers do, or if it’s just a weird me thing, but I try to imagine what the scene would look like if it were being made into a film (one day…I can dream, right?).

I know this definitely won’t work for everyone, but I always know what my ending is before I get too far into a piece of writing. The more I write the more I realise that a story will grow and change of its own accord. I think it’s for this reason that I need to have an ending so that I can keep it largely on track.

It’s like going on holiday–your plane might get delayed and you miss a connecting flight, but you still want to get to a particular destination eventually, so you’ll make new plans according to that destination.

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E.K. Moore from A Cup of English Tea is a college student from the northwest of the United States. She writes an eclectic mix of genres and forms including (but not limited to): fantasy, realistic fiction, romance, magical realism, short stories, novels, novellas, flash fiction etc. She has finished five novels but has yet to be published. Regardless, writing is one of her favorite pastimes, and likely will be for many years to come.

Take breaks when you’re having writer’s block. Best options for me are hot showers or long walks to get creativity flowing again. For editing I recommend reading out loud. It helps you catch your own mistakes and often helps solidify first person voice if using that.

line dividerMichelle from The Writing Hufflepuff  lives in The Netherlands and has been making up stories for as long as she can remember; as soon as she learned to write she wrote them down. She mostly writes fantasy with a lot of angst and death, but also some lighthearted humor. She hopes to write for a living, but for now strives toward studying journalism next school year.

A lot of people give the advice that you should always write, even if you don’t feel like it. I would like to give the opposite advice: if you’re not feeling it, because you’re tired or for any other reason–don’t write.

Writing should be something you love, not a chore. If you’d rather lie in bed and watch TV shows all day long, then go do that. That doesn’t make you a bad writer, it makes you a writer who just rather relaxes that day instead of forcing theirselves to write.

Do write whenever you can and want to, though, but not because you have to, or because you’re not a writer or a bad writer when you don’t, but because you love doing it.

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B.A. Wilson is a Missouri librarian with a rather serious One-Click addiction. She enjoys reading and writing YA novels, consuming caffeinated beverages, and spending too much time on Twitter.

I like to carry blank name tags in my purse and coat pockets. When an idea comes to me, I write it down on a name tag. Once I get home, I peel and stick the note into my project sketchbook or outline. It saves me from having to rewrite or transfer notes.

I stole this idea (can’t even remember from where), but it’s great! When I’m writing or editing and either don’t have internet access or don’t want to stop my forward motion to research something, I insert the word FLIBBIT into my manuscript.

Sometimes I tag a note after it (FLIBBIT: research bomb construction). Sometimes I even use it for parts I’m dissatisfied with (FLIBBIT: This character’s name sucks. Try again), or for situations I don’t have a solution for yet (FLIBBIT: Fix gaping plot hole to correct timeline inaccuracy).

It’s far enough away from being a real word that it’s easy to spot. When I have more time to address the problem, I search for all the FLIBBITs in my manuscript and update, correct, or rewrite those sections.

It makes me feeling better knowing I tagged the issue, even if I’m not going to fix it immediately. That gives me the peace of mind to work forward, and I know never to send out a manuscript to readers without addressing all those FLIBBITs first.

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line dividerRae from What Happened to the Wallflower is a student at New Mexico State University studying English with an Emphasis in Creative Writing. She reads everything, writes strange things, edits, blogs, tweets, and drinks way too much coffee.

Okay, so it’s not really a “secret,” but I wake up at 5 a.m. on the weekdays  and spend until nearly 7 a.m. at my laptop, writing. This means that I don’t have the distraction of my roommate being awake, so my apartment is calm and quiet enough to give myself the kind of environment I can concentrate on my writing in.

It also gives me the added plus of making writing the first thing I do during the day, so I can concentrate on other matters later: school, work, homework. Scheduling my writing time like this has given me a lot more structure, and has forced me to be a lot more accountable toward what I write, and how much I get down a day.

line dividerBriana Mae Morgan has been writing for as long as she can remember. Genre-wise she has settled into YA and NA fiction. She is currently writing a novel called BLOOD AND WATER. You can find out more about her novel and get writing advice on her website, and follow her on Twitter.

I have a couple of tips and tricks for writing. One is a website, focus@will. It plays ambient music that helps me concentrate and really get down to the business of writing. Also, there’s Write or Die, which is great for helping me avoid distractions while I write.

Above all, what helps me produce is remembering not to get it right, but to get it written. After all, you can’t edit a blank page. Turn off your inner editor while writing and you’ll be amazed how much more you get done.

Have you ever used any of the tricks in this post? Do you have some secrets of your own? Share them in the comments below!

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How to Use Paragraphs to Control Pacing

paragraph pacing 2Many writers may not pay attention to paragraphs, especially when starting out, but they hold a subtle power over your novel.

But don’t underestimate them–paragraphs can invite a reader into your novel or drive them away. And if you learn how to manipulate them, you can use their power to your advantage.

Beware Unwieldy Paragraphs

When you pick up a book at the store and thumb through the pages only to find unbroken blocks of text spanning an entire page or more, how do you feel? I don’t know about you, but when I see back-to-back giant paragraphs, I don’t get the warm and fuzzies.

Giant paragraphs are hard on the eyes. All that text going on and on and on…it’s intimidating to readers and can scare them off.  Your readers might think your book will be a tough read and decide to drift away to something easier. The last thing you want is to make your novel look like a textbook!

White Space is Your Friend

Using paragraph breaks more frequently creates more white space, which invites readers to linger on the page. Readers need white space because it gives the eye a place to rest.  That’s why when you skim through a book, you’re probably drawn right to the dialogue–switching between speakers offers more white space.

When you’re writing, look for subtle shifts in topic where you can break paragraphs. Let me show you what I mean using Edgar Allen Poe’s the Tell-Tale Heart. Here is the original without paragraph breaks:

Example 1

“I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it –oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly –very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this, And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously –cautiously (for the hinges creaked) –I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights –every night just at midnight –but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.”

That’s a giant paragraph if I ever saw one. Now, here’s the same paragraph again, but with breaks:

Example 2

“I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him.

And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it –oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head.

Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly –very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed.

Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this, And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously –cautiously (for the hinges creaked) –I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye.

And this I did for seven long nights –every night just at midnight –but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night.

So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.”

Paragraph Lengths

Which one would you rather read? I’m betting the second example. It’s easier to read and less intimidating. But how exactly does it work its magic?

By controlling the pacing.

Readers hate giant paragraphs because it takes longer to get through them–it can feel like forever. White space allows the eye to move through more quickly. And in our modern times, readers are impatient and like things fast.

But how long is too long? I’d aim for an average paragraph length of 3-4 lines, but don’t go any longer than 7 or 8 lines. And you can never go too short–you can even do single-line paragraphs for dramatic impact.

Controlling Pacing

Now that you understand the subtle effects paragraphs have on readers you can use them to your advantage. Paragraphs are an effective technique for controlling pacing, and one you definitely shouldn’t overlook.

When you want to slow things down in your story, like making a romantic moment linger, lengthen your paragraphs. It will take your reader longer to get through them, and make them feel like the scene is lasting longer.

When you want to speed things up, keep your paragraphs short and punchy. This is perfect for action scenes. More white space and fewer words means your reader will be flying through the pages, and the scene will feel like it’s moving quickly. The shorter you go, the faster things will move–you can even go down to single lines if you want.

Do you take advantage of paragraphs in your writing?

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How to Make Readers Care

how to make readers careWhy do readers read? What makes a story stick with them after they’ve turned the final page?

The secret lies in the characters. Sure the story might be interesting, but it’s the characters we connect with and experience it through.

They become our friends and we love to care about them. They make us laugh, cry, get angry, and fear for their well-being.

We keep reading a story because we care about the characters, and therefore care about what happens to them. If the reader doesn’t care about your characters, she won’t care to finish your novel. Which is not what you want!

So how do you make readers care about fictional people?

You engage their emotions.

“In order for a reader to connect with a story, he must feel that he has a stake in the character’s plight and must care about the outcome.” — from Emotion Tension, and Conflict by Cheryl St. John

No matter how spectacular of a plot you have, your story will fall flat if your reader cannot connect with the characters on an emotional level. What keeps a reader turning the pages is the desire to find out what will happen to the characters that she cares about.

So how do you make a reader care about your character so that she will root for him/her to achieve his/her goal? You must make your characters sympathetic, relatable, likeable, flawed, and interesting. Let’s look at an example—Ana from Frozen.

Sympathetic

Straight away we see that Ana is isolated from her sister, whom she loves. When the girls’ parents die they are left alone. With no friends and a sister who won’t speak to her for reasons she doesn’t understand, Ana is lonely and desperate for love.

Likable

Ana has a fun personality—she’s bubbly, outgoing, and optimistic. She also has a strong love for her sister, even though Elsa has shut her out for so many years.

Note that not all characters have to be “nice” to be likable. For example, Katniss isn’t sociable or friendly, but she has positive qualities. Your character needs at least one positive quality to make readers like them, and you need to show it as early as possible.

Relatable

Ana is just like any girl—she loves chocolate and dreams of meeting “the one.” She’s also a bit of a dork.

Flawed

Ana isn’t perfect. She’s a little naive (you can’t marry a man you just met!) and she also tends to be clumsy and has a habit of babbling. She can also be a little over-confident at times. No one wants to read about a perfect character—perfect is boring! Ana’s flaws make her charming and realistic.

Interesting

Ana’s quirky personality makes her interesting and likable.

All of these qualities make us care about Ana. We want her to achieve her goal of bringing her sister Elsa home and repairing their relationship. We root for her along every step of the way.

Let’s look at another example.

Let’s say you’re reading a story about a Halloween party. Turns out there’s a real vampire in the room, and it murders a young woman. Interesting, exciting maybe, but other than that you’re indifferent about the situation because you don’t know the woman.

Let’s say beforehand you were shown that the woman is a single mother of two small children. She recently divorced her abusive husband and her girlfriends have talked her into going out with them tonight. Then she is murdered. Now some feelings might be stirred.

Think back to the last book you didn’t like. For me, it was The Maze Runner by James Dashner. Why didn’t you like the book?

I’m willing to bet you had an issue with the characters. The concept for The Maze Runner was interesting, but the characters were flat and I couldn’t connect with them emotionally. I didn’t care about them, so I didn’t care about what happened to them and I skimmed.

Conflict will not matter if the reader doesn’t care about your characters. So take the time to flesh out your characters, give them personalities, strengths, flaws, interests, and pasts so that your reader will connect with them and care about their fate.

What characters do you care about in books you’ve read? What makes you care about them?

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The Ultimate Dystopian Playlist to Write a Killer Story

dystopian playlistHow would you like to listen to some awesome tunes that will help you keep writer’s block at bay and craft that dystopian story you’re dying to tell? *enticing eyebrow waggle*

Well luckily for you, I have spent hours scouring the far reaches of the internet and even braved the corners of the weird part of youtube in order to find the perfect songs to build a sweet dystopian-themed playlist. And because I am a nice person, I am going to share this playlist with you! 😉

I tried to choose songs that had futuristic or electronic sounds, or whose lyrics I thought could fit a dystopian/post apocalyptic world. Some of the songs have a darker feel to them, but I didn’t want the entire playlist to be completely depressing and hopeless so there are upbeat songs as well. I also included several scores without lyrics.

You can listen to the playlist here on youtube, or you can browse the songs below. Enjoy!

The Ultimate Dystopian Playlist

#1: Uprising by Muse

#2: Radioactive by Imagine Dragons

#3: Run Boy Run by Woodkid

#4: Stranger by Skrillex

#5: Who We Are by Imagine Dragons

#6: Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Lorde

#7: The Resistance by Muse

#8: Time is Running Out by Muse

#9: Hanging On by Ellie Goulding

#10: Pompeii by Bastille

#11: From Myself by Paul Hovermale

#12: Hey Brother by Aviichi

#13: Glory and Gore by Lorde

#14: Is Your Love Strong Enough by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

#15: Oblivion (featuring Susanne Sundfor) from the Oblivion soundtrack

#16: Midnight City by M83

#17: Intruder by Collide

#18: Help I’m Alive by Metric

#19: Unsustainable by Muse

#20: Apocalypse Please by Muse

Pt. II: Scores Without Lyrics

#1: Panoramic by Atticus Ross

#2: Outland by Atticus Ross

#3: Varuna by E.S. Posthumus

#4: Uprising by Audiomachine

#5: A Thousand Details from Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

So there you have it! How did I do? What songs would you have included on the playlist?

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How to Write from a Girl’s POV

 

How to Write from a Girl's POV | Writing from the #POV of the opposite gender can be challenging. Here are some tips for guys for writing female characters! Earlier this week we looked at How to Write From a Guy’s point of view. This time, we’re going to explore how to write from a girl’s point of view.

Fellas, I’m going to try to help you out the best I can here. I know a lot of you are confused by us females and the thought of getting into a girl’s head to write a story from her perspective might be kind of scary.

But I’m going to try to help you understand us girls a little better, and give you pointers for writing convincing female characters.

Now, into the fray!

Person First, Girl Second

To help take some of the pressure off, remember that a girl is a person just like a guy. Be sure to write a person first and a girl second. Sure we may see some things differently, but we’re connected by the human experience—we’ve all experienced pain, loss, joy, fear, excitement, etc.

Though sometimes it may seem like we come from another planet, girls are human too! 😉

Avoid Gender Stereotypes

Not all girls are good at cooking, wear makeup, love fashion, freak out over bugs, obsesses over their weight, cry at sappy movies, suck at math or science, are clueless about cars, can’t use power tools, are helpless damsels in distress…shall I continue?

This doesn’t mean you can’t have a girl character be any of these things. Just be aware of the stereotypes and add more to her character than a labeled identity. Which brings me to my next point…

Create a Character with Depth

Give your heroine more than a pretty face–develop her character and personality. What was her childhood like? What’s her worst fear? Her dreams for the future? What does she like and dislike? What are her talents? Her interests? Make her more than the hero’s love interest or a damsel for him to save.

And please don’t make her impossible, super-model gorgeous. You know how you hate when female authors do this with their male characters? Yeah, we don’t like it either when the tables are flipped. We want a female character we can relate to. And unattainable beauty is not relateable.

Some Things for Guys to Consider About Girls…

**DISCLAIMER: Girls are unique individuals just like guys. Not all of these will apply to every girl, just like some things (like being athletic or good at math) don’t apply to all guys. So get to know your character first.**

Emotions

I know there’s probably nothing more terrifying than girls and their emotions 😉 We can’t help it; we tend to be more emotionally driven like guys tend to be more physically driven. We crave an emotional connection and intimacy, which is why girls value friendships so much.

Girls like to talk about their feelings–it’s how we deal with them. Most of us are more comfortable with letting our emotions show than guys. We want to be understood, and we want to share our innermost selves with you. It’s how we make a connection and deepen a friendship or relationship.

Girl Talk

Girls love to talk. We gossip, we talk about boys, we have heart-to-hearts, and we share the dumbest little details like what we ate that day. To us, talking is how we get to know a person and form a bond with them. Guys bond through physical roughhousing and sports, girls bond through talking and sharing emotions.

For us, silence can be uncomfortable. Why aren’t you talking to me? Is something wrong? Are you mad? Did I do something? For a girl, silence might signal a rift in the bond.

Girls also aren’t as direct as guys–we don’t always come out and say what we’re thinking. Which is why if a girl snaps at you that she’s “fine” you should assume she’s anything but.

And by the way, if there is a cute guy in the room you had better bet if we are with our girl friends we will probably whisper and giggle about him and point him out to each other if we can get away with it without being caught.

Over-thinking

Girls have a lot of stuff going on in their brains. When a guy tells me sometimes he can simply think about “nothing,” I can’t comprehend that. My head is always full, my thoughts are always darting from one thing to the next.

Picture an internet browser with 20 tabs open. Yep, that’s the female mind.

But not only do we think about a lot of stuff, we also tend to over-think anything and everything. From what we should wear today, what color we should dye our hair, what book we should buy, to…does he like me?

I don’t think there’s anything girls over-analyze more than a guy’s behavior.

If we like a guy, we will look for any excuse to give us hope that me might like us back. Even if that means making excuses for his words and actions or interpreting them the way we want to hear/see them.

Traveling in Packs

So this completely bewilders guys. Why do girls always go to the bathroom together? Why are they always traveling in packs? Sometimes, girls don’t even understand it themselves.

But basically, it’s not just a social comfort thing  and our need for friendship, it’s also a safety thing (even if we aren’t aware of it). This is hard for a guy to understand, but sometimes being a girl feels like being prey. Guys “hunt” and “chase” us…and unfortunately sometimes even stalk us.

Girls have to be more careful than guys because as much as I hate to say it, I know for me at least there is that fear in the back of your mind of being attacked and raped. Now of course I don’t think about this all the time, but there are certain situations when I become very cautious.

For example, when I have a night class I don’t walk out to my car alone. Girls are taught to stick together, use the buddy system, avoid dark alleys, don’t go running at night, don’t walk alone at night. We carry mace or walk to our cars with our keys threaded between our fingers as weapons.

We’re also discouraged from traveling alone. As a girl who wants to see the world, this really gets under my skin. I hate feeling limited because of my gender. In fact, it pisses me off. But I have to face the facts: I have to be careful because a guy is physically stronger than me. If he wants to hurt me, I’m at a disadvantage.

So basically, try to understand the vulnerability girls may sometimes feel.

Other Tips

Talk to the girls in your life and don’t be afraid to ask them questions! Observe us, watch some chick-flicks, try to get into our minds. I’ve also created a free guide to male vs. female body language to help you understand communication differences. You can get the guide (plus access to all my free worksheets), by clicking the button below!

Also, read books from the POV of female characters. That will help you to get a feel for writing female characters more than anything! (I’d also recommend The Fault in Our Stars by John Green–he writes the female character very well.)

And be patient. It may take practice and time for you to feel comfortable writing another gender. And if you still have doubts, have a girl read your story. She will be able to point out any faults and you will be able to learn from your mistakes.

Any other questions about writing female characters? Post them below!
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How to Write from a Guy’s POV

How to Write from a Guy's POV | Writing from the opposite gender can be hard, but here's some great advice for #writing from a guy's point of view if you're a girl. We definitely need more male protagonists in YA, but as a lot of writers are women it can be challenging to write from a guy’s point of view. But ladies, I promise it’s not as scary as it seems!

I thought writing from the opposite gender is an important topic to cover, so I’ll be doing it in two parts–one for male POV, and one for female POV.

Today we’re going to explore how to write from a guy’s point of view if you’re a girl. Obviously I have no idea what it’s like to be inside a guy’s head, so I asked my friend Brett to help me out! (Check out his awesome blog here).

He was kind enough to answer my questions with some really awesome insights into a guy’s mind that you ladies will find helpful (and maybe even surprising) in your writing. So I’ll shut up now and let you get to the good stuff 😉

What goes on in a guy’s head? 

BRETT: The same things that go through most people’s heads. Responsibilities, deadlines, family, life. Sometimes, there’s just–nothing.

What do you think are some of the differences between how guys/girls think? How we approach a problem? A dangerous situation?

BRETT: In general, I believe girls are more likely to think empathetically (I’ll avoid using the word ’emotionally’ because of the bad connotations). Guys are (generally) more pragmatic–for every problem, there is a solution, but often the consequences don’t matter as much as simply solving the issue to begin with.

It’s generally true that girls approach a problem more logically–they can often see ways around a problem or solutions that guys just simply missed. Exactly how, I’ll never know. I think most guys just try the direct, brute-force way first.

With regards to a dangerous situation, I think all guys would like to assume they’d be the first to act bravely. Whether it’s a by-product of Hollywood’s era of stereotypical action guys, I think most men/guys would look for a physical way to end conflict–the quickest, most direct method you can imagine.

Depending on a guy’s natural physique–a big buff guy versus a smaller guy–it might be a direct de-escalation using physical contact, or via using an environmental object: anything blunt, heavy, or sharp.

How do guys deal with their feelings, especially anger and sadness? When should guy characters cry?

BRETT: Most guys like to imagine they don’t have those things called ‘feelings.’ It’s assumed that men should just bury their emotions and move on–this differs with personality traits, but the ‘push it deep down’ approach works 90% of the time. The remaining 10% of the time, it’s bottled up until it eventually bursts.

Guy characters should cry, but it takes a lot to push a guy to such an emotional breakdown–particularly one that isn’t anger. That’s the difference. You push a guy, he’ll get angry; you break a guy, he’ll cry.

So think out of the box here–you can’t just tear something away, that will only elicit a physical reaction (see above), whereas crippling a guy with something psychologically damaging will bring out the tears.

Men are different, but not complete robots. Losing a loved one will always make someone cry, but guys usually hold back their emotions as long as possible.

Do guys really think about sex all the time? How do they see girls? How much should we stress how guys notice girls?

BRETT: To the first question–don’t believe everything you read in Cosmo magazine. Men don’t obsess about sex, and if they do, they’re not the type of guy you want to hang out with.

To the second question–guys always notice girls. In the same way that guys always notice every threatening-looking guy in a room, or the same way they notice if there’s a television.

The second look–the double-take–that’s the big one. The first look doesn’t count, that’s instinctual. The second look means we’re interested, or at least, willing to double-check.

As for girls noticing guys…most girls immediately get the wrong impression, that a guy looking at them is instantly in love. He might be attracted to you, he might also think you’re out of his league.

Don’t forget that one–as a guy, the general rule of thumb is, “Unless you know otherwise, she’s taken.” To that extent, guys can look at girls, imagine what it might be like with her in a relationship, but then tell themselves a dozen reasons that wouldn’t work.

And again, speaking for almost all guys out there–please, girls take the first step. It’s very hard for us to gauge reactions and emotions, and subtle hints are almost entirely lost on us. Let us know if you have a boyfriend, let us know if you like us. Most guys don’t like the ‘chase’–please, just be upfront.

How do guys interact with other guys vs. girls?

BRETT: Guy conversations generally involve the least amount of words possible. Most guys only have two or three things in common with each other–sport, work, music, games, food; outside of that, there’s very little to talk about. Gossip is off the table–no guy has ever wanted to talk about ‘what happened last weekend’ unless it involved one of the five prescribed categories.

For talking with girls…it varies heavily on personality. Some guys are very shy around girls, some guys are full of confidence and swagger. Down the middle line, there’s people like me who just try to be amicable and get a laugh out of you, whether you’re a guy or a girl.

Depending on whether the guy thinks the girl may or may not like him affects how they approach the conversation. It’s not usual for guys to have platonic friendships with girls–either they’re hoping something might happen, or they’re so deep in the friendzone that they now consider you ‘one of the guys’ (which isn’t necessarily a compliment).

Tips for male dialogue?

BRETT: To the point. Guys have something to say, and they’ll say it. Conversations typically are on a topic that’s probably not all that important, until it eventually dies down when nobody has anything left to say.

If two guys disagree on something–watch out. Most guys are pretty hot-headed, and you can expect some flaring tensions and arguments over decisions or directions. Everyone has an opinion, and theirs is better than yours.

What about body language, gestures, mannerisms etc.?

BRETT: Almost all guys are defensive all the time. Lots of crossed arms, lots of small head-nods in agreement. Friendly guys will go for the back-slap or hair-ruffle (though ruffling is a bit demeaning, it’s the older-brother-little-brother gesture).

With girls, it’s far more awkward. Maybe some casual, testing-the-water touches. Otherwise, guys are typically quite self-conscious around girls, more so than most YA novels would have you believe.

Any gender stereotypes to avoid?

BRETT: All men are buff, awesome dudes who know how to fix cars and fight people. Also, avoid the ‘awesome hunk with giant muscles who’s also super funny and smart.’ Sure there are some smart people who are fit, but you don’t get everything in life.

All guys don’t know how to fix cars or jimmy locks. Create a character who isn’t absolutely perfect–everyone has flaws. Try for realistic guys who have actual weaknesses. 

Any misconceptions to avoid?

BRETT: The misconception that guys are oblivious to girls’ feelings. We understand, we just don’t know what to do about it.

Also avoid the ‘skinny dudes are awkward nerds.’ I’m pretty lightweight, but not a nerd. Believe it or not, girls can fall in love with a guy who isn’t Fabio. Endlessly reading novels about the super-awesome-muscles-guy who gets the gorgeous girl gets old fast, and doesn’t represent the real world’s concept of love–which is far more than just big muscles and square jaws.

Any tips for balancing the physical and internal aspects of a guy character? I feel like there’s a danger of making him all physical with no emotion.

BRETT: Same as above, really. Balance is the key–big buff guys aren’t completely oblivious, they just don’t know how to respond; on the other side, non-physical guys can be smart and perceptive.

And guys are complex–we have feelings, emotions, pasts that we bury and don’t talk about. Try opening a guy up, explore him. Why is he big and buff? Is it because his father was a footballer and pressured his son into becoming a quarterback? Does the guy regret slacking off on his education to pursue that physical image?

And the skinny guy–what’s his past been? Bullied, had his self-esteem cut because the world tells him that only strong, awesome guys get the girls? Does he harbor resentment towards those people?

Have you ever read any books with male characters by women authors that were poor representations? i.e. What NOT to do?

BRETT: Almost (emphasis on almost) every YA novel written by a female author portrays the ‘perfect guy’ with the rippling muscles, chiseled jaw, moody eyes, and gentle touch.

Fiction isn’t meant to be a complete fantasy–it should be realistic, and not create dreamboat characters who can do no wrong, who have no flaws physically or mentally.

If you want a balanced guy character, read YA’s written by MALE authors, who know this better. Think Thomas or Newt from The Maze Runner–lean, determined, equal parts brave and afraid. Think Connor from Unwind–strong, good-looking but blinded by his own goals, and occasionally insensitive.

There are two ‘good’ examples from a female author–Peeta from The Hunger Games comes to mind. Although Gale is portrayed as the standard, awesome-buff guy, Peeta is..not. He has core strength, but he’s just a baker’s son, never actively shows us any specific attributes indicating he’s a hunk. He’s just a guy who mistakenly loves a girl out of his league. A rather perfect character for me.

And J.K. Rowling of course did an outstanding job with Ron Weasley. Harry…not so much. But Ron proved that even the most awkward, bumbling guy can grow, can become a sports star, can get the girl, without having the ‘hero’ swoop in and steal the show.

And on a final note–please, please, please write a CHARACTER first. Write a human being with goals, desires, secrets, resentment, and happiness. Write a PERSON that the reader can empathize with. Readers want to be entertained, and they want the character to achieve their goal; whether they’re a guy or a girl, it doesn’t matter.

Want to Learn More?

Wow–thanks, Brett!!! So there you have it ladies! Hopefully this valuable insight will help you create awesome male characters and make you more confident about writing from their POV. Want some more insight? I’ve created a FREE guide to male vs. female body language to help you get even deeper into your character. You can get the guide, plus access to all my free worksheets, via the button below!

Do you have male characters in your story? What challenges have you found in writing them?

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How to Stop Procrastinating and Become a More Productive Writer

productivityIf you’ve come here in search of some quick fix to solve your productivity woes, this is not the blog post for you.

I’m not going to lie to you–writing is a lot of work. And it’s part of human nature to procrastinate and be lazy. Sometimes, no matter how many awesome ideas you come up with, you just don’t feel like writing them.

The trick isn’t eliminating procrastination from the writer–it’s learning how to overcome it. Which will also take work. But if you’re determined to battle and tame the demon of procrastination, read on, brave writer.

Get It All Out

Let yourself have a moment to get out all your procrastination feels. Complain, stomp you foot, groan and roll around on the floor… Whatever you gotta do. Then take a deep breath and drag your butt over to you computer.

Turn off Your Wi-Fi (And Your Phone)

Of course you’ll write on your story…after you check Twitter ten times (hashtag amwriting, hashtag justkidding), browse pics of hot dudes reading on Instagram (for research, of course), and pin pictures of recipes you’ll never make on Pinterest.

The fewer temptations around to distract yourself with, the more you can get done. Switch off the wi-fi on your computer and turn off your phone too for good measure.

Sure it’s easy to turn either back on…but hopefully the mild annoyance will be enough to discourage you. Writers can be lazy creatures, after all 😉

Open the Doc–Just Do It!!!

Half the battle is just opening the Word document with your story. Do it fast. Like ripping off a band aid. Just one little click. DO IT.

Was that so bad?

Of course it was. But you did it.

Develop a Routine

Pick a time where you can sit down and write. It doesn’t matter when, choose a time when you write best. Early morning, afternoon, evening… You don’t have to pick a specific time either, unless that helps.

For me, I tend to write in the evening after dinner, but I don’t carve out a specific time table because I feel it’s too restrictive. Sometimes I may write from 4pm-8pm, 6pm-12am, 5pm-6pm, and everything in-between. Having flexibility is something I need. But I know that evenings are my writing time.

Whether your writing time needs to be more structured or flexible, do whatever works for you. But make sure you pick something and stick to it. You must develop a habit out of repetition.

Set Goals

Know what you want to accomplish, and set a manageable goal for yourself. This can be especially motivating if you’re competitive. Plus, it’s helpful to feel a sense of purpose–that you’re working towards something.

Right now, my overall goal is to finish the first draft of my novel by April so I can enter a Twitter pitch party in June. My daily goal is to write 1,300 words. Whenever I’m feeling unmotivated I remind myself of my goal and it helps me to overcome the writer blahs.

Find an Accountability Partner

Pair up with a friend and tell them your writing goal. Agree to check in with that person every day and tell them your word count so they can keep you accountable. The dread of having to tell someone you didn’t meet your daily goal can be a good boost of motivation to get writing.

Your partner should not just get on you when you’re slacking off, but also encourage you to keep going when you’re having a tough time.

Write in the Morning

There are fewer distractions early in the morning since social media is a dead zone at this time. Writing in the morning can also give you more time in your day if you wake up and get your writing accomplished right off the bat. Try it and see if it works for you.

Write First, Edit Later

Write and don’t look back. Word vomit all over the pages.

Yes, your first draft is going to be awful and it’s hard to resist the temptation to go back and fix things. But remember: you can always polish sloppy pages, but you can’t fix ones that don’t exist.

Don’t interrupt your flow. Accept that your first draft will be crap and power through.

Try Sprints

A writing “sprint” is when you write as much as you can in 30min. Then you take a break (I usually do 10min), and go at it again. Repeat as many times as you can.

I’ve tried this recently and found it works really well for me. I wrote about 1,800 words in a 1 1/2 hour sprint session (so three rounds of 30min). I average 1k an hour, so it wasn’t too shabby!

You can also find sprinting buddies on Twitter and compete to see who can get the highest word count. Friendly competition makes it fun and it’s good motivation! Or, writing fast may not be for you, and that’s fine–there’s no shame in taking your time.

Make a Visual

Make yourself a little poster where you can track your word count and watch yourself get closer to your goal.

Or, buy a bag of your favorite candy and a jar. Every time you write 1,000 words, put a piece of candy in the jar. When you reach your goal, you get the candy. How’s that for motivation? 😉

Bribe Yourself

If all else fails, bribe yourself. Write up a little contract saying you will reward yourself with chocolate, Netflix, a nap–whatever–once you reach X number of words for the day, and sign it.

Silly? Maybe. But when you feel like breaking your deal with yourself, it will serve as a visual reminder. And it will also make you feel like a complete nutter 😀

Sometimes You Can’t–And that’s Okay

While it is good to try to write every day, sometimes you can’t. Stuff comes up. Life happens. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or two. Just get back on the horse!

Hopefully you’ll find something useful here that works for you…and you won’t be too lazy to try it out 😉 Writing is literally a mental battle and hard work. There are no short cuts or magic tricks. If you are serious about writing, you must learn to make it part of your lifestyle.

And stay on guard against procrastination!

How do you overcome procrastination? Do you have any tricks that make you more productive?

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8 Stories YA Agents and Publishers Want Right Now

8 StoriesNo clue what to write next? It might feel frustrating, but you’re actually in a great position. How so, you may ask?

Well, you have the opportunity to consider what agents and publishers want before you become attached to a new story idea. Think of it as fishing with bait as opposed to tossing out a net and hoping for the best.

Knowing what the people who are buying the stories want will definitely be to your advantage! Here are 8 stories you can use to hook an agent or publisher right now.

#1: Diverse Protagonists

There’s a huge need for diverse books, and publishers and agent are eager to get their hands on some. YA is flooded with way too many protagonists who are white American females–we need to see some representation of other cultures!

#2: Strong Male Protagonists

I honestly can’t even remember the last time I read a book with a male lead. I can’t even name five…the only ones I can think of off my head are Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.

There’s no denying it–YA is inundated with female protagonists. This is probably because the majority of YA authors are women. It may be challenging to write from a male’s perspective, but this is definitely something publishers are looking for.

#3: Stand-alone Novels

Believe it or not, we writers don’t have to make every story a trilogy. Publishers are actually getting worn out on trilogies and are looking for stand-alones, especially dystopians. The thinking behind this is it’s less investment on the reader’s part and frees up more time for them to read other books rather than commit to a whole trilogy or series.

#4: Fairy tale Retellings

Fairy tale retellings are really popular right now, and not just in books. There’s the t.v. series Once Upon a Time, and Disney is taking advantage of the trend with it’s recent film remakes: Snow White and the Huntsman, Malificent, the upcoming Cinderella, and the recently announced Beauty and the Beast.

If you can come up with a fresh twist on a classic tale you will definitely catch an agent’s attention.

#5: Steampunk

There’s not a whole lot of steampunk in YA, and I think that’s part of the reason why agents are looking for it. They’re getting tired of all the paranormal and even (dare I say it) dystopian stuff. It’s time to explore new territory.

#6: New Adult

This is a newly emerging genre, featuring characters aged 18-25 either entering or already in college. There’s not much NA out there right now because it’s so new, so agents and publishers are eager to find some captivating stories in this fledgling genre.

#7: Crime and Con Artists

There seems to be a spark in interest relating to crime, spies, con artists, and heists. Think Heist Society or the Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter.

#8: Historical Fiction

With the avalanche of fantasy and dystopians out there right now, there’s not a whole lot of historical fiction. It’s definitely something agents are looking for, however. Especially historical events that haven’t been done a lot or bring a fresh, interesting take.

But What If…

So, what if none of these ideas are what you want to write? Don’t stress. Always write what you are passionate about, no matter what the trends of the market are or what agents and publishers are looking for. You have to love what you write above all else. And someone’s gotta start the next trend, right? 😉

What kinds of books would you like to see on the market?

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10 Worn-out Cliches in YA

#Cliches are everywhere, especially in #YA. Learn what's been overdone and how to avoid it or make it new. Cliches are everywhere, especially in YA fiction. Some things seem to catch on and repeat themselves over and over, despite readers rolling their eyes.

Not only do cliches bore readers, but even worse, they bore publishers. Which can spell disaster for your novel. So what’s a writer to do?

Learning what cliches are out there in YA and becoming aware of them will help you to avoid them in the future. It will also help you to get creative and find ways to break the cliches or turn them on their head.

Here’s 10 tried-and-true cliches in YA to get you started.

#1: The Obscure Prologue

This seems to be a requirement for beginning any YA novel. Often a vision or dream. Basically tossed in to arouse interest with  a vague, cryptic scene or a punch of random action because what if the reader bails before the author gets to the good part?? Almost always unnecessary to the story.

#2: Love Triangles

These are a staple in YA. Why, I’m not sure since they seem to frustrate many readers to no end. Yet books with love triangles continue to do well, which is probably why we’re stuck with them.

(Side note: one reason readers tend to hate love triangles is because they are predictable–it’s obvious who the heroine favors. One love triangle book I have  enjoyed and thought was done well was the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare. She made you love both male characters and it wasn’t obvious who the heroine would choose in the end.)

#3: Beauty Blind

No one likes a heroine who bemoans about how hideous and repulsive she is when she’s actually gorgeous. Despite her friends and family telling her she’s beautiful, she will insist she is ugly. That is, until the Love Interest comes along and she is shocked that he is attracted to her. Suddenly she realizes she is beautiful after all! *eye roll*

#4: Insta-Love

You know the drill. Girl sees boy. Boy sees girl. Their eyes meet. BAM. Instant, undying passion and devotion. They would die to be together! Even though they’ve only known each other for like 5 minutes. Or one song. (I’m looking at you, Marius & Cosette).

#5: Mr. Tall, Dark, and Perfect

Not only is the love interest super-model hot, but he’s also perfect. Because heaven forbid the heroine fall in love with a man with flaws! I’ll take a fixer-upper any day.

#6: The Brooding Bad Boy

Closely related to Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome, he is also super-model hot except he is tragically flawed. He has a dark, secretive past and is no good for the heroine. But she pines after him because she is inexplicably drawn to his irritable, brooding personality. The bad boy has the emotional range of a teaspoon and won’t let inferior emotions such as happiness dull his swagger.

#7: Royal Realization

Surprise! The hero/heroine was a prince/princess this whole time and didn’t even know it! This might have been a good plot twist if we hadn’t seen it coming from page 1…

#8: Undiscovered Powers

This has become a staple in YA fiction. The hero suddenly discovers powers he never knew he had, usually when he comes of age.

#9: The Problem with Parents

The death toll of parents in YA is staggering. If the heroine’s parents are lucky enough to be alive, they’re often negligent or clueless. Or, she is living with abusive step-parents, guardians, etc. Where are the normal, happy families in YA?

#10: The Trilogy

Is there some unwritten law that every YA novel must be a trilogy? They’re popping up everywhere these days, and it’s getting kind of tiring–not to mention time-consuming.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good trilogy, but the problem is too many trilogies tend to go downhill and should’ve stopped at the first book. Must we make *every* story into a trilogy?

BONUS: The Chosen One

Not to be outdone, the Chosen One is also a popular choice in YA. The hero or heroine is the *only one* in the entire universe who can defeat the villain and save their world. Usually they have been destined to do so because of a prophecy.

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have my hero save the day because he found the strength to do so on his own, not because of some mystical prophecy.

So does this mean you can never use any of the things on this list that have been deemed ‘cliche?’ I don’t believe so! It’s true that everything has been done so many times that everything more or less starts to feel somewhat cliche, and it’s hard to be original.

I think rules are meant to be broken. Knowing the cliches allows you to realize how they might work against you, but it also helps you to make wise, informed decisions about whether or not to use them. So whether you decide to use, avoid, break, or bend these cliches, I think it depends upon your creative intent and your story.

Which cliches get under your skin? Which ones have you used?

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10 Tricks for Coming Up With Endless Story Ideas

Helpful strategies for coming up with #storyideas. Plus, keep track of all your ideas with a FREE organizer! Coming up with a story idea is a strange process. Sometimes inspiration may slap you in the face.  But most times…well, you’d be lucky for inspiration to give you so much a poke. Usually you have to coax little nuggets of inspiration from deep within the dark recesses of your brain.

What’s hiding in your mind-palace? Here are some tricks for luring out the plot bunnies.

#1: Look at Photos

I draw a lot of inspiration from photos, and they really help to get my creative juices flowing. Pinterest is an excellent source for photos. Simply search “story inspiration” (or something similar) under boards, and you will find great visual resources compiled by fellow writers.

I have created some story inspiration boards myself, which I organize by story topic. When you look at photos, ask yourself: what is the story behind it? What happened before? What will happen after?

#2: Brush up on Your History

If you love history this is a great place to find story ideas and inspiration. Choose an event or time period that interests you and read up on it. You’ll be surprised what cool facts you’ll uncover that would make an awesome story!

#3: Explore Mythology

Mythology has a wealth of ideas waiting to  be harvested. I use mythological inspiration in nearly all of my stories. A great starting point for finding interesting myths from all of the world is Encyclopedia Mythica.

#4: Writing Prompts

Writing prompts can be a good way to get you in a creative mood. I’ve written a couple stories from prompts lately myself. For ideas, check out my writing prompts board on Pinterest.

#5: Listen to Music

When I’m in the midst of a creative dry spell, I love to listen to music. In my case I love epic scores–they arouse a variety of emotions and I try to picture a scene to fit with the music (I highly recommend E.S. Posthumus if you like epic music). Songs with lyrics are also great as you can imagine stories that fit the lyrics.

#6: Daydream–Ask ‘What If?’

Take some time to just brainstorm. Look at the world and ask ‘what if?’ What if Hitler had won WWII? What if we could breathe underwater? What if your boyfriend turned out to be an alien refugee?

#7: Travel or Explore

Getting out in the world exposes you to different ideas and cultures and offers a wealth of inspiration. But you don’t have to go across the globe–you can explore your hometown. What would be different or unique about it to an outsider? Become a tourist in your own city and discover adventures you can take without leaving home.

#8: Get out in Nature

Humans have a deep connection with nature, whether we realize it or not. Exploring nature can help you relax and give you inspiration for settings.

#9: Browse the Titles of Other Books

This one is kind of weird, but it’s one I really like. I’ve actually written a short story using this method. Get on Goodreads or Amazon and look for books with interesting titles. When you find one that draws you in, try to imagine a story that could go along with that title.

#10: What do You Want to Say? What are You Passionate About?

A good source for inspiration is passion. Are there any issues, topics, or interests you’re passionate about? How could they inspire a story? For example, I’m passionate about horses and my first novel heavily involved them. I’m also passionate about the issue of human trafficking and want to write a story about this topic in the future. What do you feel strongly about?

Keep Track of Your Ideas!

Most importantly, be sure you keep track of all your fantastic story ideas! Always write everything down–don’t rely on your memory to keep track of ideas! A Word doc or journal are both good options.

Personally, I prefer to have a physical copy of my ideas for two reasons: 1) I brainstorm better with a pen in hand, and 2) I don’t trust computers. I always keep hard copies of my stuff because you never know when your hard drive might decide to go kaput and send all of your hard work into the abyss of nothingness. Yeah, no bueno.

So be sure to properly care for your ideas so they don’t get lost!

How do you come up with story ideas? Comment below, I would love to hear from you!

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