Category: Tips

Tuesday Tip: Don’t Make Your Character a Victim

Tuesday tips is a category of posts here at Writerly Life promises to offer concrete tips for improving or kickstarting your writing. The tips that fall into this category are the sorts that you can do today or even right now.

This week’s tip is all about a particular pitfall that beginning writers can fall into very easily. We want to make our characters likeable; we want to make them heroes who win our readers’ hearts. The temptation, therefore, is to throw a lot of hardships and punishments at those characters. We want to make them suffer, and we want to make them suffer at the hands of clearly bad people. Won’t that immediately make for sympathy and engagement?

Not exactly. The real truth is that readers don’t want to hear about the endless trials and travails of a character who is nothing but a victim. They might feel bad for your character, but they won’t feel engaged; they won’t be interested in what happens next or how your character is going to get out of this one. Instead, they’ll perceive your story as a long chain of whining and bitterness against the rest of the world. Our society treats victims very harshly; we have very little patience for them. And while this should probably change in society, we need to understand this rule when writing fiction.

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Tuesday Tip: Sit Still

Sorry for the slowdown, readers; I’ve been away in a wedding (it was lovely), but now I’m back to teaching and writing and blogging. All the traveling I’ve been doing this week has gotten me thinking about the virtues of sitting still, and how important a skill it can be for improving your writing. So today, the tip is simply:

Sit still.

It’s surprising how little we do it these days. Sure, we’re parked goggle-eyed in front of our computer screens more than ever, but that’s not what I’m really talking about. I’m talking about allowing moments of stillness to enter your life and stop you, so that you can fully and absorb the life that’s normally rushing by. When the officiant of the wedding (is that the right term) asked everyone for a moment of silence to remember a beloved family member whom we have lost, in the ensuing silence I felt myself truly experiencing the loss again, allowing myself to realize what it really was. I was reluctant at first; I didn’t want to feel those feelings again. But ultimately I was grateful for that moment of experience. The funny thing about human emotion is that, as Wordsworth said, it must be “recalled in tranquility” to be truly felt and understood.

So today, sit down and sit still. Allow stillness to enter you. Feel the things you’ve been avoiding feeling. Experience the more genuine thoughts and feelings you’ve had lately; you may be surprised how adaptable they can turn out to be for your fiction, if you really pause to think about them. Once you’ve sat still and understood what has moved you lately, you’ll be refreshed and ready to write about it all.

Tuesday Tip: Imagine the Ending

Tuesday tips is a category of posts here at Writerly Life promises to offer concrete tips for improving or kickstarting your writing. The tips that fall into this category are the sorts that you can do today or even right now.

This week’s tip is:

Imagine the Ending

When you’re writing a long story or a novel, it can be easy to get bogged down somewhere in the middle. You know you have to have your characters traveling across all of Siberia, or you know that you need at least two hundred pages; whatever the reason, we can get lost in the soggy middle. In these parts of the story, we can lose sight of the original tension or momentum and end up with a dull, dragging, or confused work. There’s something you can do right now, though, that will get you back on track.

Today, take a look at your novel. Don’t think about the middle or all the small wearying intervening scenes you have to write. Instead, allow yourself to picture the very ending. Get a clear image of the last scene, the final message you want to send; if you can, try to picture even the final image. Where is your character? What has been accomplished? Who is your character with? Who is he or she thinking of in his or her last thought?

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Tuesday Tip: Go Somewhere New

Writing tips is a new category of posts here at Writerly Life that will be appearing every Tuesday. It’s a series of concrete tips for improving or kickstarting your writing. The tips that fall into this category are the sorts that you can do today or even right now, and they’re chosen to immediately re-vitalize your writing in some small (but meaningful!) way.

This week’s tip is:

Go Somewhere New

So many wonderful stories start the moment a character steps off the beaten path of his routine and strikes out in a different direction. This step can be just a different walk home or exploring a new continent; either way, it’s new less momentous. It’s about going on a quest, or noticing details about the world that you never knew before.

So today, pack a notebook and go out of your way. Whatever way you typically get home from work or go for a walk, try going a different way. If you ride public transportation, get off at a random station that you’ve never been to before, or even try riding to the end of the line. Turn down an alley you never noticed, or take the scenic route home. Or take the ugly route home, the way past all the factories on the outskirts of town. Go past a farm with cows, or past a neighborhood in your city that you never knew existed. Be a sponge. Soak up everything that is new and different here. The adventure of the unknown is the essence of story, so see if you can incorporate what you experience into your current writing project. It will inject your piece with a new uncertainty and freshness of observation.

Tuesday Tip: Everyone Has a Right to a Story

This week’s tip is:

Everyone deserves a story.

When it’s the end of the day and we’re walking and driving home from work, and we’re tired and feeling cross and just wanting to eat or sit down, we tend to forget that all the people surrounding us are the prime actors in their own private stories. When we’re annoyed and just want to get somewhere, people become annoyances or obstacles; we can’t understand why someone would walk or drive too slowly or cut us off, or why that person is in the way. Similarly, in stories we’re trying to get our character where he’s going — and the side characters can become annoyances or obstacles, just cardboard cutouts that must be irritatingly shuffled around.

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