Thursday’s Thoughts On #Writing : Writer’s Block

See the source imageI’m a firm believer that if you have writer’s block, then you’re writing the wrong thing.

I know that doesn’t help when you have a deadline you have to meet, or when you come to a paralyzing halt at a crucial point of your latest manuscript, but sometimes it’s the pressure you put on yourself that builds that brick wall between you and your creative process. But sometimes it’s not.

If you find yourself staring at the screen, the blinking cursor mocking you with words you just can’t write, shake it up. Skip ahead and write a later scene. If that doesn’t help, work on something else. It’s a perfect time to explore that short story idea you’ve been contemplating, or to try your hand at a piece of flash fiction. A different genre. A children’s book. Poetry, anyone? (Limericks? 😉 )Even jotting down notes and a loose framework for a new manuscript can help shake the words loose.

bLike many people, I was struggling to write with the whole quarantine thing. And even though I know I have to shift gears when I hit the wall between me and my words, I didn’t want to. I LOVED what I was working on. But I couldn’t get much work done. I was wasting time and energy. So, I jotted down a few ideas, and one caught fire.

I wrote a brief synopsis to remind myself of the idea, and everything fell into place. The words flowed like water. I was fixed. So, I returned to my WIP. Made some progress, but it was stilted. It felt forced. I still loved it, but it was a struggle. The piece deserved better than that. Even though it broke my heart, I set it aside. I’ll return to it one day. It’s definitely a tale I need to finish, but now’s not the time. And that’s okay.

See the source imageJust like when your body tells you something’s wrong, your creative process can, too. Maybe I’ve yet to live the experience that will allow me to bring an added layer of depth to the story. Maybe, as the idea stews on the back burner of my brain, I’ll think of a great twist that I hadn’t planned and wouldn’t otherwise have thought of. Or maybe, the delay isn’t even about me – maybe it’s waiting so it can become the story a reader needs to find, when they need to find it. Maybe they don’t need it yet. Who knows how these things work?

Whatever the reason, it’s not the story I’m meant to write right now. Life is short, and writing, with all it’s associated stress and pain, headache  and heartache, should still make your heart sing. Don’t force what isn’t working. If you’re struggling to get the words on the page, find a different page. The important thing is to find something – anything – that gets you writing again. May the force be with you, may the odds be ever in your favor, and just do it!

 

Thursday’s Thoughts On Writing: Characters Who Make You Care

Think of a book that made you care, that had you so invested in the outcome that you wanted to cry or shout or throw the book when things didn’t go the right way. When you think of that book, what is it that you think about? The setting? The plot? Or the characters?

For me, a good plot keeps me hooked, but a good character makes me feel.

Anne Of Green Gables. The Hunger Games. The gang from Harry Potter.

Would any of these books have such lasting and widespread success if the characters didn’t feel so real to the readers? I don’t think they would. Because these characters feel like someone we know. A friend. An ally. Someone we care about.

So, what is it about these characters that draws us in? What makes them feel so real?

I believe it’s their quirks. Their vulnerability. Their flaws. They have insecurities, they doubt themselves, they feel anger and shame and sorrow. But they also feel happiness and joy – just like a real person would.

Making sure your characters are well-rounded is what brings them to life.

So give them flaws. Make them doubt themselves. Make them feel and think things we’ve all felt and thought before, something the reader can identify with and have an, “I’ve felt that way too,” moment.

Happy Writing!

Here are some articles to check out if you want to some writing tips:

Character Development: How To Write Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget

33 Ways To Write Stronger Characters by Kristen Kieffer

15 Ways To Make Your Characters Suffer (For The Good Of Your Novel)

 

 

Thursday’s Thought On Writing: Character Consistency

When editing, character consistency is something that’s easy to overlook, but your character’s behavior and personality need to be true to who you’ve developed them to be. That’s not to say that the character can’t change and evolve over the course of the story, they can, but you need to include the reader in on the character’s inner journey.

For example, a character who is easy going and forgiving can’t suddenly have a wicked vendetta, and vice versa – a vengeful character can’t suddenly become forgiving – not without you showing the reader how the change came about.

I’m guilty of this myself.

Because sure, your MC is a kind, patient, wonderful human being except for that ONE person. And haven’t we all had that person in our life? That someone who just rubs us the wrong way, even if it’s for a reason we can’t quite pinpoint? It’s fine for your character to have that flaw too – you want your characters to be realistic. But just because YOU know that this is your character’s ONE person, it doesn’t mean your readers will know. If this is behavior that’s out of character for them, you need to address it somehow.

There are many ways this can be done, including internal dialogue or in discussion with another character, other characters discussing the MC’s uncharacteristic behavior, maybe even in conversation with that ONE person themselves – have them call the MC out!

Here are some articles to help you keep your character’s behavior and personality consistent:

5 Ways To Keep Characters Consistent by by Darcy Pattinson

Building Consistent Characters by M.L. Keller

Self Editing Advice: How To Tackle Character Consistency by Jessica Bell

Thursday’s Thoughts On Writing: Creating Suspense

I have a love/hate relationship with books that keep me up most of the night reading: I love when a story is so good that I can’t put it down! I hate the gritty, tired eye feeling in the morning (even if it’s worth it!).

And I know I’m not alone here. I know there are other readers out there pulling late nights with a good book. But what is it that makes us sacrifice sleep?

For me, it’s not the bam-bam-bam of action that keeps me reading. It’s the tension of needing to find out what happens next. The slow burn as the flame travels up the wick, getting closer to the stick of the dynamite, keeping me in suspense.

And here’s the thing – it’s not just thrillers that need that steady draw. Don’t all writers want to keep their book clutched in a reader’s hand? This applies to all genres.

Here are some helpful articles to help you develop suspense in your writing:

Just Writerly Things: How To Create Suspense In Your Story

The Write Practice: 7 Steps To Creating Suspense by Joe Bunting

Writer’s Digest: 6 Secrets To Creating And Sustaining Suspense by Steven James

Keep your readers hooked! Happy Writing!

Authors Killing It On Social Media: Facebook Edition

I’ll admit that Facebook is the social media platform where I’m least active. It used to be a great way to interact with readers, but now . . . not so much. True, it’s not a huge amount of work to post – you can even use content you post on other platforms – but to have it shown to only 2-3% of your followers and then have Facebook keep sending notifications asking if you want to pay to boost the post? Um, no. That game is not for me.

However, there are some authors who still (kinda) kill it on Facebook. So, for those of us writers who need a little direction, or those of us readers who enjoying seeing their favorite authors in their element, I thought I’d share some of the profiles I’ve discovered of authors who I think are killing it. (The names are hyperlinked to their accounts.)

(If Facebook isn’t your thing, either, check out my posts about authors who kill it on Instagram and Twitter.)

Sonja Yoerg: Sonja, who’s latest release is one of Amazon’s First Reads for April, posts actively on Facebook. She supports her fellow authors just as much if not more than she promotes herself – I’ve discovered several new authors because of her posts!

Tiffany Jackson: Tiffany engages and interacts with her fans, creating an environment that encourages her readers to have with her. Cover challenge anyone?

John Greene: Greene used to be the king of Facebook. Seriously, he owned. it. all. Sadly, I don’t think he’s posted anything in over a year, but if you want to see an author who killed it, check out his page.

Tall Poppy Writers: Spearheaded by author Ann Garvin, the Tall Poppy Writers are a group of women authors who support each other. Posts include book sales, book launches, book articles, and sometimes just plain silliness and fun. It’s worth checking out, as well as their spinoff page, Bloom, where you get to ‘meet’ the authors and get to know them better.

I mainly post memes I find amusing and articles I think are worth sharing. If you’re interested, you can find my page here.

What do you post, and what do you enjoy seeing the most in your feed? If you follow an author who you think is killing it, I want to know!!!

 

Authors Killing It On Social Media: Twitter Edition

Even though Instagram (find Authors Killing It On Instagram post here) is my favorite social media platform, Twitter is the one I find most entertaining. It’s like everyone downs a few drinks, spins around until they’re dizzy, and then types the first thing that comes to mind before they can think better of it and censor themselves. The result is a steady stream of chronic twitterrhea, and as long as it’s not political, I dig it.

And just like some authors kill it on Instagram, others find their excellence on the twitterverse. So, for those of us writers who need a little direction, or those of us readers who enjoying seeing their favorite authors in their element, I thought I’d share some of the profiles I’ve discovered of authors who I think are killing it. (The names are hyperlinked to their accounts.)

Maureen Johnson: Maureen’s feed makes you think of that one friend we all have (or need) who knows how to get the party started. Her tweets are consistent and entertaining. Not only is she an awesome writer (if you haven’t read the Truly Devious series, you don’t know what you’re missing!) but she seems like she’s a lot of fun. I think most of her 147.2K followers would agree!

Libra Bray: Bray is a frequent tweeter who balances promotion, love for her fellow authors, and the side of silliness you want when you log onto Twitter. Bonus points for using a scene from The Shining as her background pic!

Jen Malone: Jen is fun! Her tweets are more about making you smile than making you buy one of her books – and you’ll smile a lot! How can you argue with that?

Suzanne Young: Suzanne was great fun, then took a hiatus. Then she came back. Then the corona virus made her go into quarantine when she was supposed to have a book launch and now . . . IDK. I’ll be sad if she’s gone, because if you look back in her feed, she was good at the tweeting.

I admit that I am an infrequent tweeter. I’m more of a creeper who lurks in the shadows, watching what everyone else does and liking it. Guess maybe I need to down a few shots first. 🤪 If you want to check out my rather bland feed, you can find it here.

Are you on Twitter? What do you post, and what do you most enjoy seeing in your feed? If you follow an author who you think is killing it, I want to know!!!

 

 

Authors Killing It On Social Media: Instagram

Let’s face it – some writer are more social than others. For some, it comes easy. For others . . . not so much. For those of us writers who need a little direction, or those of us readers who enjoying seeing their favorite authors in their element, I thought I’d share some of the profiles I’ve discovered of authors who I think are killing it.

This week I’m focusing on my favorites on Instagram. The names are hyperlinked to their accounts.

Diana Urban – After just a quick glimpse of this author’s Instagram feed, it’ll come as no surprise that she’s a marketing manager for BookBub – this writer knows how to promote! Her suspenseful debut came out last month.

Pros – This book cover is everywhere!

Cons – After seeing this book cover everywhere, expectations are exceedingly high.

Karen McManus – McManus’s feed includes book covers, fan art, event photos, teasers for books in production and currently being written . . . it’s a smorgasbord of delight for fans!

Pros – Her feed is interesting to follow and full of perks.

Cons – Sometimes the teaser seem a bit cruel when you really, really want to get your hands on the book and can’t!

Gretchen McNeil – This seasoned author balances promotion for her books, the TV series & movies developed from them, and her life as a mom and author.

Pros – You get a feel for her sense of humor and personality, which makes you like and want to support her that much more!

Cons – Sometimes the pictures of her adorable toddler steal the show!

Riley Sager – Sager’s feed includes a bit of everything, from promos for his books, shots of books he’s reading, food pictures, movie night, candid pics, décor and more.

Pros – His feed is varied and interesting to follow.

Cons – When scrolling through your feed, you don’t always know his posts are his without checking the name, which could be considered a lost branding opportunity.

I like Instagram because it’s mainly just pictures – which I love taking! I don’t have any book covers (yet) so my feed is filled with nature shots taken while hiking. If you want to check it out, you can find it here.

Are you on Instagram? If so, what do you post, and what do you most enjoy seeing in your feed? I love great outdoor photographs and artsy pics of books!

 

Letter To My Possible Future Literary Agent

Dear Possible Future Literary Agent,

There are some things you should probably know about me.

I love words. I love reading. I love writing. I write for myself but also because I hope to entertain people and help them to escape the reality of life from time to time. Awards are good, I have nothing against them, but I have no desire to win a Pulitzer. If you’re looking for the next Toni Morrison, it probably won’t be me.

Image result for cheeseI’ll listen to what you say, because I’m well aware that I don’t know everything, but there are some things I do that you might not like. Sometimes I get bound by the bonds of alliteration. I can’t stand the way a properly executed em-dash looks, so I use spaces around it. And I like to do things in a series of three for emphasis. Why? Why? Why? I don’t quite know, but if you tell me to stop, I will try.

I’ll need to know your favorite treat, because I believe in celebrating everything, and if you give a Shannon a contract, she’s going to want to send you a cookie food. I’m not going to assume it’s chocolate, and hope you’ll do likewise. I enjoy chocolate like most people, but sometimes the sugar doesn’t make me feel so great, plus my husband will probably eat most of it before I get a chance.Image result for cheese

But don’t worry, because I also like cheese. Said husband likes cheese, too, but I believe I can eat more cheese quicker than him, plus, I’ll take the best cheese, the tastiest one, and put it in the hidden part of the refrigerator, the secret vortex that keeps things hidden from the husband’s eyes. There’s a reason our vegetable drawer is always full – so no one can see what’s at the back.

But, if a treat for you is hot yoga, I can arrange that too. I understand that while it may not be my thing, it might be yours. I have nothing against hot yoga, it’s just that it’s hot. And sweaty. And sweaty leads to stinky. Then you’re in a room full of hot, sweaty, stinky people, and the teacher wants you to move around and stuff, which means you’ve got to breathe. Deeply. If you’re into all that, it’s cool. But I’ll stick with the cheese, please.

Image result for cheeseYou should also know that I’m not afraid of hard work, and I won’t give up. I’m not just saying that. I’ve got proof.

I get out of bed every day, even the days meant for staying in bed, like rainy Sundays when I’m in the middle of a book I don’t want to put down. On those days it’s mainly because a girl’s gotta eat, and said husband is willing to exist on things he can dip into mustard and salsa (with a side of cheese) if it allows him to maintain his claim that he can’t cook. That, and I’d have to get out of bed to open the window for the delivery driver, anyways, so I might as well just stay out of bed.

Also . . . I know SO many ways to dispose of a body, which makes me the ideal person to be that friend everyone should have on hand. Unless that offends you. Then you can be that bastion of levelheaded wisdom friend for me. We don’t even have to be friends if you don’t want. I’m not very social, anyways. You’ll probably have to do most of the work. So, I’ll let you decide.Image result for cheese

My point is, I’m well aware that I need you more than you need me. Everyone and their uncle’s a writer. Not everyone and only some uncles are agents. I’ll do my best to make you proud. And if you’re having a hard day and feeling blue, I’ll do my best to cheer you up with a song I create just for you. (Actually, I might re-appropriate one of the ones I sing to my dogs, but I’ll change the name to yours and throw in a couple of other details to make sure you feel special.)

My songs, by the way, are delightful, engaging and entertaining. (There’s that three thing again!) And you’d like more tempting, tasty tidbits about me? (Score once more for alliteration! Do you see what you’re missing out on?!?!)

I love horror movies and have a tendency to laugh at the worst parts. I bar-tended through seven years of college, and not just how most college students bar-tend, but professionally, so I could cater all your lunches with acquisitions editors and make them super strong drinks that taste like candy. And what else . . . oh, yeah. I like cheese.

Most Sincerely,

Shannon

 

 

 

 

Fieldwork For Fiction

Write what you know. It’s common advice for writers. But how does it apply to you and your writing?

I recently overheard a fantasy writer remark that they couldn’t “write what they know” because they “create worlds and make things up”. I get what they’re saying, but I don’t really agree with it, because all fiction writers make stuff up, right? And beyond that, all people, writers or not, know and recognize certain things.

I walk hundreds of miles a year. I’ve walked over mountains, through swamps, across beaches and scrubland and pine forests and oak woods and grassy plains . . . and plenty of habitats inbetween.

I’ve had wild boars run across the trail ten feet in front of me, seen a snake mating ball writhing in the grass, and wandered upon a ginormous alligator sunning across the path. I can describe the difference between sweat from stifling heat from that of frigid cold and that of fear. I can tell you that pines just below the timberline on a summer day in the mountains smell like Christmas. Or that the sulfuric stench of a river has briny undertones, while that of a swamp has a ‘meatier’ rotten egg odor.

While walking, I love taking photographs of interesting trees, but I can also use those different trees to help set the mood of a scene. A palm trees with spear-like projections stabbing into the air from it’s trunk, (the kind you can imagine mangled bodies impaled upon), is very different than a majestic oak with sun limned ferns growing atop a sweeping bow. I’ve seen trees with actual thorns, mangroves with spindly witch hands, and trees with gnarled limbs like knotted arthritic fingers.

 
Pay attention to all of your senses. What sounds do you hear when you go outside? Birds, insects, frogs? Traffic, sirens, jackhammers? What would you feel if those sounds suddenly stop and all you hear in the silence is your own heartbeat and the slosh of your spit as you swallow?

I guess my point is this – writing what you know isn’t just subjects you know about. It’s including sensory descriptions and emotions you can invoke, and for that, you have to get out and actively experience your life. Next time you’re at the mall, pay attention to how the smells change as you go from store to store. If you’re at a restaurant, pay attention to how the noise level varies throughout – is it louder at the bar, when you walk past the table with three kids under five, or near a group of rowdy friends?

I think most of us observe more than we realize during the course of our daily lives, and I know that, as a reader, when a writer includes something – no matter how mundane – that makes me remember an experience of my own, it draws me that much deeper into the story.

Only a small percentage of my fiction is set outdoors, but I do a lot of fieldwork to bring those scenes to life, and what I observe on the trail can apply to other fictional settings as well. (But don’t go seeking out a giant alligator so you can catalogue your body’s fear response 😬. Safety first!)

Writers – what fieldwork do you do for your fiction? And readers – what has an author done to really make you connect with a story?

(All pictures my own, most featured on my Instagram account

Transmutation (Because It Sounds Cooler Than Metamorphosis)

2020 is the end of an era. Literally. When I started this blog (almost 10 years ago), I knew that I wanted to write. I just wasn’t sure what.

Looking back through my archives, I see book reviews, hiking adventures, recipes, quotes, memes, writing advice . . . I was all over the place. But the important thing, the only thing, really, is that it got me putting words on the screen.

Behind the blog scenes, there were magazine articles, nonfiction stories, and a ton of short fiction created. And that is where I found my writing home – in the land of make believe.

Fast forward to the present. I’ve written dozens of short stories and have a stack of finished novel manuscripts. I’ve had an editor tell me no one would ever publish the story I submitted to him only to have it accepted the same month by Suspense Magazine. I’ve had agents ignore my queries, request my manuscripts, reject my manuscripts, refer me to a colleague who they felt the manuscript would be perfect for only to never hear from said colleague . . . and still, I write.

I’ve felt my skin thicken from tissue paper to paperboard. I’ve cried my way through the bad writing days, laughed my way through the good, and stopped myself from punching a wall countless times during edits.

It’s been a long, sometimes painful, often frustrating journey. A building an author platform as an adult mystery author, realizing that all of my novels had teenage characters and it was those characters who I most enjoyed writing, expanding my reading list and develoving an ABSOLUTE love affair with YA novels, realizing that at my core I am a YA author and whoops, now I have to start all over again kind of insanity.

So . . . here I am. This is my year, so stay tuned. I hope to have some big news for you coming soon.

Shannon Hollinger, Author

 

 

 

 

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