Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Finding Your Story's Pace in 5 Steps

One of my big struggles is pace. This is posted more for both of us. I'm a facilitator, not a teacher. You can teach me too through your comments and there are lots of past comments that I loved reading! Thank you very much for your insight! We're all in this together. When we love what we do and are achieving our dreams, we build each other up, we don't tear down. Virtual hugs all around!

Now that gushy-mush is outta the way, time for some skill development!

How to Find your Pace

1. Find the Tone
2. Know the Why
3. Understand your characters
4. Know their goals
5. Pick the Environment


At Hawaiicon, I went to a writer's workshop taught by two very successful screenwriters, Brad Bell and Jane Espenson. I asked them about pace. They loved that question and so did the rest of the group. Lots of writers in this shop were clearly not amateurs, though not published, so it was refreshing to be with fellow writers who ranged from not-quite-beginner to published-near-expert. Bell's and Espenson's answer: TONE. When writing your story, you need to find the tone you're writing first. Are you the poetic sort that wants to take your readers barefoot through a peaceful stream, or throw on combat boots, and jump into a war? Finding the tone FIRST helps you avoid pacing problems.

Think about what you want the writing to feel like. Do you want it to be active and musical, action-like, or do you want it to be thoughtful and emotional? And most importantly, once you find the tone, stay consistent! Let the tone sink in; you will adapt and writing with the tone will come naturally.


What are you conveying? What do you want the reader to figure out? What do you want them to see? Knowing the why is figuring out your characters. Why did they say that? Why did they do that? What are we learning from this character? Everything must have meaning and each meaningful moment--be it dialogue, action, or introspection--must get the character closer to the solving the problem, the end-goal.


Some characters will make the tone for you, which makes the pace, which makes the story. What does your character do and think? Do they jump to conclusions, jump without thinking, shoot and ask later? Are they quiet, seemingly anti-social, but paying attention to every detail? Where does your perspective character come from? Do they get lost in thought sometimes? Figure out your characters so they can help you with the tone and pace.


This means EVERYONE'S goals. And if these goals are on a time limit, you can bet millions your pace will be fast, and you'll need to shorten those sentences, and make every word precise and blunt. Your characters won't have time to "get lost in their mind"--they might have quick flashbacks to a painful memory, but never "the leaves ease from a summer green to a burning red" blah blah blah. But if you're not constrained by time, you can put some nice breaks between action scenes; you'll have more slow intervals for character development between achieving goals. Unless character development for the character is the romance, or some teen stories. Depends on your characters' goals, of course. 


Genre. So you found what you're trying to convey, you know your characters and goals, now you must know where you're throwing them. Drop them in a fast-paced environment with fast-paced goals and you have something like the show 24. Drop them in a small town where not a lot seems to go on and you have something like Longmire. If you created your own world, it's all on your preference and the region of that world. 

Now it's your job to assess your pace.


Study your favorite books. It's better with books so you can see the words used to quicken or shorten the pace. But if you need fast advice, you can always check on different series genres. In shows, you can feel it more because you're watching it happen. 

(Tip from Bell and Espenson: TURN ON CAPTIONS.

When studying TV shows or movies (they're screenwriters they do this often) they always have the captions on so they can see the flow of dialogue and the choice words. To them, dialogue is music. It's their entire world or their scripts are nothing. But for novels, dialogue might be half of what is required, if at all.)

Polar Examples:

Longmire - pace of the story is through the eyes of the protagonist and based on his personality and his environment. When you go through the story, you're riding a trotting horse down a long trail. You take in the mountains, the vast farm fields, and trees in the distance. You listen to the nearby stream, you see what kind of rocks line the road as you make your way to your cabin, where a warm fire awaits, with a wife or husband making a cup of hot tea for you.

24 - based on high-stress situations and how fast character needs to achieve goals, and how much faster antagonist wants to achieve their goals. You're in a car and you speed by all the little details because they're insignificant to the problems you must deal with right now. You have to get to the end or you'll die, or your family will die, or America will go explode-y. 

Any other examples that lie in between these two opposites you can figure out yourself. You're smart. 

Go forth and multiply (your word count)!

= = = = = = =

Are there ways you figure out your pace? Is there a strategy you use?  Comment below! If this helped you in any way, please share it on Pinterest or where ever your mind desires!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Character Traits Shake-Up Game and Character Generator Resource

Want to break up your routine for coming up with characters? Play a game! Come on. It'll be fun.
And the characters in your head might play too. Or they'll hate you for it. Let's see!

You're familiar with those shake-box-full-of-names-and-pick-one drawings. This is like that.

Character Trait Shake-Up Game


- Shoe box with lid
- tongue depressors
- two different colored markers
- pen and paper
- (optional) unbiased minion
- (opt.) Trait Thesauruses (Thesaurai?)

1. Write out boxes for your random characters. You can use these for anything. I'm gonna use them as a resource in case I need a new minor character, or an idea for a main for future books.

2. Write down as many negative personality traits as you want. I chose 27 with the pink marker. Then write down the positive traits with the other colored marker. (I also chose 27.) Keep the negative and positive traits segregated. 

3. Put one set of traits in the shoe box and summon your minion (if you have one). Have them shake up the box and choose 3 sticks.

4. Repeat this as many times as desired. If you followed this, just fill up the right side of the four character boxes. Move on to the positive traits and do the same. You could even keep the used sticks out of the box for no repeats.

5. You made random characters! Congrats!

There are also generators online if you're not a kinesthetic type, or don't want to bother with this activity. Here are some resources that quickly help you in the character field:

Three random traits: Random Character Trait Generator

Simple button to push and write down whatever shows up.

Complete character: Character Design Inspiration Generator

To play, just take a screenshot of the section
(Command+Shift 4 for Macs)
you want for making your character.

Character quirks and other randomizers: Quirk Generator

How fun is this? I giggled. I use quirks of mine and place them in all my characters, but if you want total random, try this generator. They also made lots others for role-playing and writing. Fantastic!

* * * * * * *

Hope was this fun for you as I had making it. My little monster liked choosing for me, so I'm glad he helped with my writing. He's patient when I work but needs that attention from mom. Probably why I don't get work done as fast as everyone else. But work is work. Family is everything. They're only kids before they're not.

Tell me your thoughts! How do you make your characters? Are there different ways you found interesting? I'd love to know. 
Please comment! 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Killing Cliches: A Murder Reference to Writing's Ruthless Saboteur

I'm not nice when it comes to awful dialogue choices writers make, especially if I'm not emotionally invested. It's one of my negative traits. Take Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Some of it is snarky, and times (many times), it's an ugher. You know, when you roll your eyes and ughhh. That.

And it's not just dialogue, it's an action, a scene, or a character. I'll focus on lines and actions since my list can go on and on. If you're looking for the hub of cliche help, this is it. My list may be short(er) but I also have links to other references who have done a major service in hunting cliches and shooting them without remorse. To those blog writers: thank you. To the readers:

In order to kill your target, the cliche, you first must know what it is. When I was a kid, I asked my mom, and she had a difficult time explaining it to my inexperienced self. She said it's a term for when something is done or said from lots of people to the point of exhaustion. (I'm sure she really said, "it's a word describing another word used over and over and over...and over again." Because I would get that at whipper-snapper stage.) Your stage now, is understanding your cliche.

To start, here's a list of cliches I found while watching several shows and movies. A few are from Buffy (naturally), then others from my beloved series Blacklist, my child's movies, and some books I read. 

STAGE 1: Analyze Your Target

You think I--
(Doesn't matter what I think.)

Give me one reason I shouldn't shoot you.

I will be your judge, jury, and executioner.

Who do you think you are?
(I'm the one who...)

I'm sorry. 
(Yeah I'm sorry too.) 

Hang tight! (When someone is hanging upside down.)

  • Obvious puns aren't cliches but annoying.

Like a kid in a candy store.

Knife cuts anything like butter.

Star Wars references (I am your father.)

Well then, I guess I better get started.

I should've known.

At long last.

When lots of characters in a row have their own line. They're in a group and it seems out of place that each one would talk one after the other until everyone has a say. Usually happens at end of movies (Disney's Bolt) or my favorite Dragon Age games (scene of characters playing Wicked Grace in Inquisition).

Fair enough.

Slept like a baby. 

  • This is wrong for two things: babies do not sleep well and people say it like it's a good thing. 
Slept like a log.

  • Somebody got the idea about babies but forgot you can't change one word of a cliche to make it something new. 
It ain't over 'til it's over.

Or any reference to fat ladies singing.

A mother who cannot defend herself or her baby.
  • Oh no. We are resourceful. We either are packing or we have taken classes. Stories involving a mother losing or failing is old. Defense is increasing and women are fighters. And demonizing the natural biology of mothers is repulsive and you will lose your audience. If you're a screenwriter and do this (Once Upon A Time, I'm glaring at you), you should know that most females are mothers (and potential mothers) and stay at home to tend their wee ones.
  • If it's important that she loses the baby (kidnapping), a mother will do what ever is necessary to get her child back. Grizzly moms. Take them seriously. They might cry but I'm betting it's out of rage, not the whiny dribble I often see on television. ("Please. I just want my baby back." Heaven help (<---cliche) whoever thinks this is okay to say to the villain who just stole the child. Mad Max. Glaring at those writers too.)
  • I liked how the love interest in Croods was an orphan but it wasn't the main focus. It was only a key to relating with the father. Main prots as orphans where the writer tries to stir emotion from it is overdone. Orphans who are fighters or don't make a big deal of it (maybe don't even hint it) is okay. Using it to mainly care for character...just stop.
  • Bad Orphans: The Good Dinosaur, Devil May Cry
  • Good Orphans: Annie, Oliver Twist, The Croods
Hormonal Love.
  • I loved The Little Mermaid. I got older and loved Beauty and the Beast more. I grew up, got my heart broken, crushed, and dumped overboard, and I love the gradual displays of affection two people ha e for one another in the subtlest ways, each carrying an action and reaction in different scenes. Oh Sheriff Longmire, you kill me. But give me that stupid hook up for the sake of "she's a female so I must" (Titan AE) or that "he's so handsome, isn't he?" (The Little Mermaid) and I will be drooling, staring up at the ceiling, waiting for someone to wipe my chin. And neck. And change my shirt. Yuck. 
Long-range weapons used at short range.
  • And the hero wonders what they did wrong, or that they got in trouble for drama's sake. No cop does this. No person with basic gun training does this. It's super annoying to watch because humans are not that dumb. 
You're not him/her. Because if you do this, you'll be just like them. 

  • Oh. Ehm. Gee. Justifying not killing a murderer because character would "become like them." Batman does this specifically because the comic is about the colorful villains. We love the villains therefore need a pacifist who rejects his ninja training to keep our darlings alive. (And frankly, keeping them alive with their face as a mask--see Death of the Family--got really absurd, kinda fun, but just kill him already. We can re-read oldies.) Conflict (and criminals) would be out of a job if more justice fighters took self-defense seriously, and understood that criminals do criminal things and will not stop doing criminal things. 
  • Arrow. I stopped watching this show because I got sick of the hypocrisy. Green Arrow was so much fun...what happened? I think that actor happened. I don't know. Do you know? Tell me if you do.
STAGE 2: Hunt Your Target

It's okay to plug in cliches during your first draft. The first is about putting the story out there so you can see what it's about, not anyone else. Well, maybe your mom. Or significant other. And they'll tell you it's great. It's not. It's horrible. It's a first draft. Be okay with horrible. You wrote a book! Woo! If you're still writing, just keep pushing those words. But if you're revising, this is where you need to be: hunting cliches.

Now that you know what the cliches look like, read them over, highlight them, and decide if it's detestable, or it really is a part of the character's dialogue (because some characters will use cliche in certain genres, especially if you're going for snide, or satirical). If it's questionable, ask someone else. Have you considered a beta reader? I told my husband to point out cliches the instant he finds them in my work. He noticed I used purple prose in my first book. As a perfectionist, mistakes are intolerable, but they happen. I'm slowly accepting this, so if you're similar, I know your pain.

Once you find the cliches, do you shoot to kill, or let 'em live? It depends on you. Your book. But if the cliche really is annoying, and annoying to readers, then put it out of its misery. It will only make your book miserable to read.

STAGE 3: Redrum and Replace

Murder is simple. Weapon of choice, then kill. But getting away with it is the rub (<---cliche). The kill scene needs clean-up. Did you set it up properly so no trace of the cliche would be left behind (<---cliche)? Or will this cliche come back to haunt you (<---cliche) and wreak havoc (<---cliche) on your chapters?

Now here's something that's counter-productive to avoiding cliches: thinking outside the box (<---CLICHE!). 

Gawd. Why? No! Stop it! Just stop it! How do we stop it? The more people talk the more lines are used. The more they're used the more they're overused. So how do you avoid cliches altogether? 

KNOW them. 
Then BEND the rules. 

What? Yes. Bend the rules. Book's not going to be perfect (gasp). But it's a step. Take your cliche and make it a part of your book. Here's how:

  1. What is your book's genre?
  2. Who are your characters?
  3. How do they relate their dialogue to personality?

Are you a horror writer? Are your characters dark? Are you a happy Young Adult writer who like glitter and unicorns? Do you prefer vampires or wizards? Where are your characters from? Who's narrating? Okay, you got the idea. Now work with the cliche.

Example: He avoids her like the plague.

Rewrite: He won't touch a paper with her signature. 

Example: I should have known.

Rewrite: Nothing. 

  • Some sentences should just be omitted. If they realized something that was obvious to them, most people don't admit this out loud. They respond with an action or facial expression that means something is going on in their head that we can't see.

Example: At long last.

Rewrite: Hello. 

  • No really. That's cute. Especially if it's the antagonist. Remember Star Trek? ("Hi, Christopher. I'm Nero.")
Rewrite: And we're here.

  • Or you can turn this phrase into an action, like spreading arms out with a smirk kind of thing.
Example: I slept like a log.

Rewrite: I slept and lost three thousand years. Or: I slept. What year is it?

It's great to be creative with your characters' dialogue, especially the voice of your book. If you have specific objects in your world that only certain characters know about, use them in dialogue to avoid cliches. One character I always think of when doing this is Starfire. She said some crazy things in the comic and show (moreso the show...easier to notice when her breasts weren't taking up her talk bubbles). Only she understood what she meant and left other Titans bemused. 

There are lots of "avoiding cliche" tips out there, but not many that gave a solid solution, or at least a helpful example. They stated and addressed but the help was obscured. So I decided to write this for you in hopes that it'll help. Also, this is like a hub. Below are references to cliche posts I appreciated due to their unique insight and different areas of cliches. I suggest the Oxford one first as they actually offer solutions and not just "DON'T WRITE CLICHES MMMKAY?" Yuck. I'm here to help, not yell at you. Mostly. ;)

Further Study References for Cliches:

Oxford Dictionary - Rewriting to Avoid Cliches
681 Cliches to Avoid in your Creative Writing
How to Avoid Cliches in Fantasy Writing
Six Cliches to Watch Out For
(my favorite) 50 Cliched Dialogues to Ban from your Script

Tell me, what are your least favorite cliches? Is it on my list or in any of the links? Share with me! I'd love to hear 'em! 

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