Today, I'm pleased to welcome Gracie Madison as my guest. She's sharing her thoughts on what it takes to become a better writer and information about her wonderful NA PNR release, Sing For Me. Be sure to check out her book and also her contest at the bottom of this post.
10 Tips for Becoming a Better Writer
This might be my favorite topic ever, ever, ever, because I have been so fortunate to have such a dedicated and enthusiastic group of betas and writer friends who have shared their tips with me.
1. Outline! This is a tricky subject since a lot of people want to feel free when they write, but having a detailed outline for the entire story, for your first act, for your first chapter, or even for your first interaction with the characters can help form the scene easier, faster, and with more clarity.
2. Plotting! Nothing is worse than writer’s block, but there are quite a few tips and tricks to get your mind back where it belongs.
a. What is the worst thing that can happen to your character? Do it! Sometimes making your character squirm is just the thing to get that tense, amazing plot twist.
b. Cause and Effect: Because this happened, that happened, so this decision was made, and this consequence happened, however, because of the consequence, the characters needed to do this, therefore, that happened. It’s a really cool way of thinking out the plot the creators of South Park use.
c. Think of the scene from another character’s point-of-view, what would be happening, what needs to happen to impact these other characters?
3. Characterization! Every character sees/experiences/thinks of the world differently, and it’s through their voice we grow with them. If your character is a black-jack dealer, maybe they see the world in odds and chance and numbers. If the character is a cheerleader, maybe most of their thoughts will center around popularity, gymnastics, and competition. A grumpy old man might hate rainy days, while the young romantic might find the grayness comforting and quiet. Always thinks about the world through the eyes of your character—maybe even write the same scene from two separate character’s points of view. You’ll be surprised at how difference the voice sounds.
4. Settings! Oh, a setting is one of my favorite things to develop. Never underestimate how powerful the scene can be based on the setting alone. You can create a place that lives and breathes and acts just like its own character, filled with quirks and charm. In Sing For Me, the theater is its own entity—filled with beautiful scenery, dark wings, broken windows, and tone-deaf flutists. You story is more than just the characters—your setting can become part of the whole narrative.
5. Tension! This might be one of the trickiest parts of writing. How do you keep readers turning the page? I think everyone struggles with this to an extent, and even I’m still learning how and when to really twist that knife. But, one of the most important part of developing tension I’ve found isis by listening to your gut about what you’re doing to the characters. Yes, you love your hero and heroine, but they will have to suffer. And suffer bad. Heartache and agony and indecision and fear. It’s all gonna happen.
a. The more the scene makes you squirm, the better you’re doing. You want to protect the characters, but shielding them from too much harm. Have you ever thought I can’t make him say that, it’s too mean or if this happens then they might separated forever? You’ve just struck gold. You’ve hit that uncomfortable, belly clenching moment where readers will HAVE to know what happens. Seize that discomfort and put your characters through that ringer!
b. Don’t forget the internal thoughts and emotions of your characters—really exaggerate and showcase exactly how they’re feeling about a situation, and why an event is challenging, demoralizing, or difficult for them.
c. Give your protagonist the occasional victory…only to change his/her goals or create an even larger problem for them to overcome.
6. Filter Words! Now we’re getting into the nitty gritty, and this is one of my favorite tricks to really develop a scene in a sensory and emotional way. There are a few sets of words we all rely on, but they create an artificial distance between the reader and the narration. These are your “filter” words, words that will describe what your character is experiencing but will remove readers from the actual scene.
And I know, sometimes this list is daunting, but check out the examples, a scene can really pop by removing some of these words.
I heard the birds singing outside my window. I knew they would keep singing for hours. I looked at the alarm clock. Six AM? I feel so tired!
The birds always sang right on my window sill—tweeting and chirping and thrilling. They’d be about it for hours too. The alarm cheeped right back with them. Six AM. I’d start the day off exhausted.
Hmm…I might be a little bitter towards those birds, but the prose does have a different voice, a different feel. You’re right there in the protagonist’s head cursing those darn birds. Keep an eye for filer words and where you can nip them. You’ll see a big improvement!
7. Dialogue! I don’t have too many tricks for this, but I do have one I like to stick to in my word documents. Usually, a real conversation is a lot of short and sweet exchanges. To ensure my written conversations doesn’t sound too stilted, I like to keep each person’s dialogue to one line on my word document (including tag.) It’s almost like an artificial marking in my head where I can focus on brevity and focusing on just the perfect emotion.
8. Brevity! It’s important for your story to be logical, but sometimes authors have a hard time trimming places where the extra words bog the sentences down instead of push the story forward. Phrases like, I ran across the room, grabbed the knob, and opened the door to follow her are not only wordy, they will diminish the tension in the scene vs. I chased her outside. Really focus on your character’s actions and eliminate some of the bulky bits that readers can infer from the prose itself.
9. Passive/Weak Verbs! Verbs are your friend. We love verbs. Really exciting, really action-packed verbs give life to a story. Be wary of using the word “was” too often, especially if you can replace it with a more exciting verb that can characterize your protagonist, move the scene, and really showcase the action. This is your weapon against the dreaded “telling” we hear so much about.
a. He was angry vs. He slammed the bottle against the bar and swore
b. He was scared vs. He flinched back
c. She was waiting for me vs. She checked the time on her phone while I tried on the third pair of shoes
10. Editing! This is purely anecdotal, but my editing process starts with me reading the document for major plot errors, funky/nonsensical lines, and continuity errors, as well as adding or deleting scenes.
My second pass will nip out typos and smooth over lines. Now, here is where the magic happens—Narration! If you can find a program to read your manuscript out loud, you will see and hear it so different and feel the pacing of the story so much more. I absolutely love having the story read to me to pick up on little problem areas.
I’ve also purchased an editing program (there’s a few of them out there) that help to find over-used words, general typos, lengthy sentences, etc.
Once I’ve polished, I send to the most important part of writing a book—the beta readers. Find people you know, trust, love, and value, and have them honestly and constructively critique your manuscript. Listen to them, really listen to them. Put their thoughts away for a day before dismissing anything they say. Most times, they are right on the money, and their feedback is more valuable than anything. (Obligatory shout-out to my betas Lizzy, Fiona, Kelley, and Kaylee!)
Sing For Me
Angels and Arias
Genre: New Adult Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Tika Lake Publishing LLC
Date of Publication: 1/21/2015
Number of pages: 325-350
Word Count: 84,000 Words
Cover Artist: Rebecca Berto
Madeline Noel fled war-torn Heaven to hide within the mortal world, but the blessing that could protect her from evil is the holy realm’s forbidden power.
As a talented soprano for the Eden Theatre Company, Madeline hides among prima donnas and tone-deaf flutists. Her perfect voice may entertain audiences, but a careless laugh may shatter glass, and her greatest scream can kill. To control her unrestrained voice, the angels forbid Madeline from embracing the emotions that strengthen her song. Anger. Fear.
The demon-hunter Damascus vows to defend Madeline from Hell’s relentless evil, but he cannot protect her from her own feelings. Though they deny their dangerous attraction, her guardian becomes her greatest temptation.
Surrendering to desire may awaken the gift suppressed within Madeline’s soul, and neither Heaven nor Hell will allow such absolute power to exist.
She flicked the light to her bedroom and dropped her towel in the hamper.
Her hand merely muffled the screeched yelp. Madeline fell backward, smacking against the closet. She tripped and clattered into the hamper. Damascus apologized, but her gasp shattered the perfume container on her vanity.
Madeline yanked the towel from the laundry. The wet scrap of material wove over her body, and she clutched the fraying edges.
Damascus’s silence stole any sound she might have uttered.
His muscles bound, tight and tensed, more prepared for war than the glimpse of her bared skin. The gold in his eyes burned molten. Madeline shifted, her bare toes gripping the carpet to prevent her from toppling over once more.
She shivered. It wasn’t the wet hair that whispered the goose bumps along her spine. Damascus saw far more than the thin strip of cloth hid. His gaze warmed her curves and tickled the swell of her breasts. Her nipples hardened. She prayed he hadn’t noticed.
The memory of the soap in the shower tortured the twisting in her lower belly. For a single, blissful, blasphemous moment, she imagined it had been Damascus’s hand washing her.
His every movement strengthened with need. The wild, uninhibited, dangerous desire would claim them both. Madeline clamored backward, the apology shrill and muffled by her hand.
She hadn’t needed to speak, drop the towel, or offer any secrets. The heat smoldering low escaped in a sigh. The soft puff promised more than she intended. She breathed an invitation.
And he answered.
Damascus shuddered. He blinked, hard, and rubbed his head.
“I apologize.” Damascus forced his words. “I… I didn’t mean to invade your privacy.”
Madeline tugged the towel lower over her thighs. “You didn’t know.”
“I should let you—”
“Don’t worry about it. Here.” She hobbled toward the robe lying over her bed.
“I’ve got it.”
Damascus’s motions stiffened. He retrieved the robe as Madeline lunged for the fuzzy pink arm. Her toes banged against the bedpost, and the surge of pain toppled her into Damascus’s waiting arms.
He smelled of the Realm, of warmth and radiance, citrus and holy incense.
The towel shifted, and his fingers brushed over her bare back. His calloused hands heated, as if he wielded his sword. The heat lashed her—a punishment seared within a delicious reward. The towel tumbled, and she pushed against him to hide what nearly exposed.
His embrace was everything as she imagined, the heat, the intensity of his grip, the fluttering within her stomach and her body upon his. His hands bound a supreme authority over her. He pressed her skin with possessive fingertips. He handled her as if she were delicate and precious.
The shock of it all drove her to silence.
He protected her, but he never held her.
Watched over her, but never touched her.
Saved her from demons, but never reassured her.
He never mourned with her when a Choir was killed.
Every moment hidden far from the Realm passed in painful isolation, and he was the lone simple comfort of home. The sweet, dangerous touch protected her more than his sword or his distant promises. The heat settled the dissonance capturing her mind.
The Realm forbid their touch. A hug cried sacrilege.
Madeline closed her eyes and rested her head on his shoulder.
About the Author:
Gracie Madison would spend every day, all day writing…if it were socially acceptable. Ever since she was a little girl scribbling with a crayon, Gracie’s dedicated herself to her books and all the supernatural and paranormal, creepy and beautiful stories and characters born within the pages. Now Gracie is committed to finally sharing those books with the world. When the laptop is pried from her hands, Gracie is probably working her day job, rooting on the Steelers, or out with her husband searching for Pittsburgh’s best sushi.
Mailing List: http://eepurl.com/7zCnv
$25 Dollar Amazon Card + Signed Paperbacka Rafflecopter giveaway