Jerry Jenkins | Proven Writing Tips https://www.jerryjenkins.com Where Passionate Writers Learn to Sharpen Their Skills and Stand Out from the Crowd Mon, 22 May 2017 14:40:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 3 Reasons Authors Shouldn’t Worry About Piracy but How to Protect Yourself Anyway https://www.jerryjenkins.com/3-reasons-authors-shouldnt-worry-piracy-protect-anyway/ https://www.jerryjenkins.com/3-reasons-authors-shouldnt-worry-piracy-protect-anyway/#comments Tue, 16 May 2017 15:59:14 +0000 http://www.jerryjenkins.com/?p=6415 Guest blog by Joanna Penn New authors worry about piracy, especially in this age of digital publishing and online marketing. Yes, piracy happens, but here’s why you shouldn’t let fear keep you from putting your words out into the world. 1. Serious readers prefer to buy books rather than download stolen copies Most of the reading […]

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Guest blog by Joanna Penn

New authors worry about piracy, especially in this age of digital publishing and online marketing.

Yes, piracy happens, but here’s why you shouldn’t let fear keep you from putting your words out into the world.

1. Serious readers prefer to buy books rather than download stolen copies

Most of the reading public are book lovers, law-abiding (usually) citizens, and want to compensate you for your creative work. Trust your readers.

A Personal Example

I noticed a customer had bought two copies of the same ebook from my website. I emailed her, assuming that she must have clicked twice by mistake, and I wanted to refund her. She explained that she had bought a copy for herself and one for a friend. I was thrilled, of course, because she could have just shared the file.

Hugh Howey, the bestselling sci-fi author of WOOL, shares on his site that one reader downloaded his book through a pirate site, then sent him money later in recognition of a good book.

Most readers want to help authors, not harm them. Those who download from pirate sites are not likely to be your target market anyway.

2. Some authors use piracy as a marketing strategy

Paulo Coelho, author of the worldwide hit The Alchemist, deliberately leaked his ebooks in Russia on piracy networks . His sales went from 1,000 per year to over 1 million, because those free books gave him more visibility in a hard-to-reach market. He says of piracy, “It’s a medal to any writer who understands that there is no better reward than being read.”

Self-help writer, Tim Ferriss, used Bit Torrent file sharing site for the launch of his New York Times bestseller, The Four Hour Chef, and generated hundreds of thousands of sales from free downloads.

Fantasy writer, Neil Gaiman, talks about piracy as a modern-day version of lending a physical book. Broader distribution means a broader audience and a broader audience means more sales. After all, the most pirated books in the world are by the most successful authors, like JK Rowling or George RR Martin.

Tim O’Reilly says, “For a typical author, obscurity is a far greater threat than piracy.”

So, is it better to be pirated and have your book read or have your unseen manuscript sit in a drawer?

3. What are you really afraid of?

If you’re not writing or publishing because you’re afraid someone will pirate your books or your ideas, you might need to consider other issues.

Steven Pressfield talks about creative resistance in his book, The War of Art. Stopping writing because you fear piracy is a form of resistance. It’s something your lizard brain—that primal part that tries to keep you safe—can distract you with, when really you need to get your butt in the chair and finish your book.

It’s scary to put your words out into the world. You might be judged. You might fail. You might get a one-star review. Maybe no one will even notice your book. Such fears are part of the creative process we all go through. Don’t let the pirates stop you from fulfilling your goals.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

  • Register your copyright so you have proof if you need to challenge anyone. This is not technically necessary, as you automatically copyright a work when you create it. But I’ve found it useful when challenged by Amazon to prove my ownership because someone tried to publish a duplicate book.
  • Make sure your book is available in all formats and in all countries at the same time. If your ebook is not available in the UK when your US publisher launches it, don’t be surprised if an avid fan gets a bootleg copy because they just can’t wait. If your book is available only in print, why be surprised if it is scanned and uploaded as an ebook? Plenty of people (myself included) read only ebooks now, and you will lose a sale anyway if it’s not available in digital format.
  • If you’re an indie author (self-published), you can release your books globally on the same day. If you’re traditionally published in one territory, consider self-publishing in other countries. Basically, if your book is available when and how a reader wants it, they are less likely to look for a pirated version.
  • Set up an alert with a free service like Google Alerts. Use a couple of unique lines from your book so you will be notified if the text appears anywhere on pirate sites.
  • If you use digital ARCs (Advance Reader Copies), consider a service like BookFunnel.com to deliver them. They can include a digital watermark and track who downloads the book.
  • If your work has been pirated, email the site and ask for the material to be taken down. If they don’t comply, issue a DCMA takedown notice. You can also notify the various search engines of infringement. For more detail on this, check out A step-by-step guide to dealing with content theft from attorney Helen Sedwick.
Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of supernatural thrillers as J.F.Penn. She also writes inspirational non-fiction and is an award-winning entrepreneur and speaker. Her site, TheCreativePenn.com is regularly voted one of the top 10 sites for writers and self-publishers. Connect on twitter @thecreativepenn

In comments, pose any questions or share your experience with literary piracy.

 

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How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps https://www.jerryjenkins.com/how-to-write-a-book/ https://www.jerryjenkins.com/how-to-write-a-book/#comments Tue, 02 May 2017 02:30:33 +0000 http://www.jerryjenkins.com/?p=6343 So you want to know how to write a book. Becoming an author can change your life—not to mention give you the ability to impact thousands, even millions, of people. However, writing a book is no cakewalk. As a 21-time New York Times bestselling author, I can tell you: It’s far easier to quit than […]

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How to write a book image 10So you want to know how to write a book.

Becoming an author can change your life—not to mention give you the ability to impact thousands, even millions, of people.

However, writing a book is no cakewalk. As a 21-time New York Times bestselling author, I can tell you: It’s far easier to quit than to finish. When you run out of ideas, when your own message bores you, or when you become overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the task, you’re going to be tempted give up.

But what if you knew exactly:

  • Where to start…
  • What each step entails…
  • How to overcome fear, procrastination, and writer’s block…
  • And how to keep from feeling overwhelmed?

You can do this—and more quickly than you might think, because these days you have access to more writing tools than ever. The key is to follow a proven, straightforward, step-by-step plan.

My goal here is to offer you that plan.

I’ve used the techniques I outline below to write more than 190 books (including the Left Behind series) over the past 40 years. Yes, I realize averaging over four books per year is more than you may have thought humanly possible. But trust me—with a reliable blueprint, you can get unstuck and finish your book.

This is my personal approach to how to write a book. I’m confident you’ll find something here that can change the game for you. So, let’s jump in.

 

CONTENTS

How to Write a Book

Everything You Need to Know In 20 Steps

Part One: Before You Begin

  1. Establish your writing space.
  2. Assemble your writing tools.
  3. Break the project into small pieces.
  4. Settle on your BIG idea.
  5. Construct your outline.
  6. Set a firm writing schedule.
  7. Establish a sacred deadline.
  8. Embrace procrastination (really!).
  9. Eliminate distractions.
  10. Conduct your research.
  11. Start calling yourself a writer.

Part Two: The Writing Itself

  1. Think reader-first.
  2. Find your writing voice.
  3. Write a compelling opener.
  4. Fill your story with conflict and tension.
  5. Turn off your internal editor while writing the first draft.
  6. Persevere through The Marathon of the Middle.
  7. Write a resounding ending.

Part Three: All Writing Is Rewriting

  1. Become a ferocious self-editor.
  2. Find a mentor.

Want to save this 20-step guide to read, save, or print whenever you wish? Click here.

Part One: Before You Begin

You’ll never regret—in fact, you’ll thank yourself later—for investing the time necessary to prepare for such a monumental task. You wouldn’t set out to cut down a huge grove of trees with just an axe. You’d need a chain saw, perhaps more than one. Something to keep them sharp. Enough fuel to keep them running. You get the picture. Don’t shortcut this foundational part of the process.

1. Establish your writing space.

To write your book, you don’t need a sanctuary. In fact, I started my career on my couch facing a typewriter perched on a plank of wood suspended by two kitchen chairs.

What were you saying about your setup again? We do what we have to do.

And those early days on that sagging couch were among the most productive of my career.

Naturally, the nicer and more comfortable and private you can make your writing lair (I call mine  my cave), the better. (If you dedicate a room solely to your writing, you can even write off a portion of your home mortgage, taxes, and insurance proportionate to that space.)

How to Write a Book Image 1

Real writers can write anywhere. Some write in restaurants and coffee shops. My first fulltime job was at a newspaper where 40 of us clacked away on manual typewriters in one big room—no cubicles, no partitions, conversations hollered over the din, most of my colleagues smoking, teletype machines clattering. Cut your writing teeth in an environment like that, and anywhere else seems glorious.

2. Assemble your writing tools.

In the newspaper business there was no time to handwrite our stuff and then type it for the layout guys. So I have always written at a keyboard. Most authors do, though some handwrite their first drafts and then keyboard them onto a computer or pay someone to do that.

No publisher I know would even consider a typewritten manuscript, let alone one submitted in handwriting.

The publishing industry runs on Microsoft Word, so you’ll need to submit Word document files. Whether you prefer a Mac or a PC, both will produce the kinds of files you need.

And if you’re looking for a musclebound electronic organizing system, you can’t do better than Scrivener. It works well on both PCs and Macs, and it nicely interacts with Word files. Just remember, Scrivener has a steep learning curve, so familiarize yourself with it before you start writing.

Scrivener users know that taking the time to learn the basics is well worth it.

So, what else do you need? If you are one who handwrites your first drafts, don’t scrimp on paper, pencils, or erasers.

Don’t shortchange yourself on a computer either. Even if someone else is keyboarding for you, you’ll need a computer for research and for communicating with potential agents, editors, publishers. Get the best computer you can afford, the latest, the one with the most capacity and speed.

Try to imagine everything you’re going to need in addition to your desk or table, so you can equip yourself in advance and don’t have to keep interrupting your work to find a stapler, paper clips, a ruler, a pencil holder, a sharpener, note pads, printing paper, paperweights, a tape dispenser, cork or bulletin board, clock, bookends, reference works, a space heater, a fan, a lamp, a beverage mug, napkins, tissues, you name it.

Last, but most crucial, get the best, most ergonomic chair you can afford. If I were to start my career again with that typewriter on a plank, I would not sit on that couch. I’d grab another straight-backed kitchen chair or something similar and be proactive about my posture and maintaining a healthy spine.

There’s nothing worse than trying to be creative and immerse yourself in writing while you’re in agony. The chair I work in today cost more than my first car!

How to Write a Book Image 2If you’ve never used some of the items I listed above and can’t imagine needing them, fine. But make a list of everything you know you’ll need so when the actual writing begins, you’re already equipped.

As you grow as a writer and actually start making money at it, you can keep upgrading your writing space. Where I work now is light years from where I started. But the point is, I didn’t wait to start writing until I could have a great spot in which to do it.

3. Break the project into small pieces.

Writing a book feels like a colossal project, because it is! But your manuscript will be made up of many small parts. An old adage says that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Try to get your mind off your book as a 400-or-so-page monstrosity. It can’t be written all at once any more than that proverbial elephant could be eaten in a single sitting. See your book for what it is: a manuscript made up of sentences, paragraphs, pages. Those pages will begin to add up, and though after a week you may have barely accumulated double digits, a few months down the road you’ll be into your second hundred pages.

So keep it simple. Start by distilling your big book idea from a page or so to a single sentence—your premise. The more specific that one-sentence premise, the more it will keep you focused while you’re writing.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you can turn your big idea into one sentence, which can then be expanded to an outline, you have to settle on exactly what that big idea is.

4. Settle on your BIG idea.

To be book-worthy, your idea has to be killer. You need to write something about which you’re passionate, something that gets you up in the morning, draws you to the keyboard, and keeps you there. It should excite not only you, but also anyone you tell about it. I can’t overstate the importance of this. If you’ve tried and failed to finish your book before—maybe more than once—it could be that the basic premise was flawed. Maybe it was worth a blog post or an article but couldn’t carry an entire book.

Think The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, or How to Win Friends and Influence People. The market is crowded, the competition fierce. There’s no more room for run-of-the-mill ideas. Your premise alone should make readers salivate. Go for the big concept book.

How do you know you’ve got a winner? Does it have legs? In other words, does it stay in your mind, growing and developing every time you think of it? Run it past loved ones and others you trust. Does it raise eyebrows? Elicit Wows? Or does it result in awkward silences?

The right concept simply works, and you’ll know it when you land on it. Most importantly, your idea must capture you in such a way that you’re compelled to write it. Otherwise you’ll lose interest halfway through and never finish.

5. Construct your outline.

Starting your writing without a clear vision of where you’re going will usually end in disaster. Even if you’re writing fiction and consider yourself a Pantser* as opposed to an Outliner, you need at least a basic structure.

[*Those of us who write by the seat of our pants and, as Stephen King advises, put interesting characters in difficult situations and write to find out what happens]

You don’t have to call it an outline if that offends your sensibilities. But fashion some sort of a directional document that provides structure and also serves as a safety net. If you get out on that Pantser highwire and lose your balance, you’ll thank me for advising you to have this in place.

Now if you’re writing a nonfiction book, there’s no substitute for an outline. Potential agents or publishers require this in your proposal. They want to know where you’re going, and they want to know that you know. What do you want your reader to learn from your book, and how will you ensure they learn it?

Fiction or nonfiction, if you commonly lose interest in your book somewhere in what I call the Marathon of the Middle, you likely didn’t start with enough exciting ideas. That’s why and outline (or a basic framework) is essential. Don’t even start writing until you’re confident your structure will hold up through the end.

You may recognize this novel structure illustration. Did you know it holds up—with only slight adaptations—for nonfiction books too? It’s self-explanatory for novelists; they list their plot twists and developments and arrange them in an order that best serves to increase tension.

What separates great nonfiction from mediocre? The same structure! Arrange your points and evidence in the same way so you’re setting your reader up for a huge payoff, and then make sure you deliver.

If your nonfiction book is a memoir, an autobiography, or a biography, structure it like a novel and you can’t go wrong.

But even if it’s a straightforward how-to book, stay as close to this structure as possible, and you’ll see your manuscript come alive. Make promises early, triggering your reader to anticipate fresh ideas, secrets, inside information, something major that will make him thrilled with the finished product.

How to write a book - graphWhile you may not have as much action or dialogue or character development as your novelist counterpart, your crises and tension can come from showing where people have failed before and how you’re going to ensure your reader will succeed.

You can even make the how-to project look impossible until you pay off that setup with your unique solution.

Keep your outline to a single page for now. But make sure every major point is represented, so you’ll always know where you’re going.

And don’t worry if you’ve forgotten the basics of classic outlining or have never felt comfortable with the concept. Your outline must serve you. If that means Roman numerals and capital and lowercase letters and then Arabic numerals, you can certainly fashion it that way. But if you just want a list of sentences that synopsize your idea, that’s fine too.

Simply start with your working title, then your premise, then—for fiction, list all the major scenes that fit into the rough structure above. For nonfiction, try to come up with chapter titles and a sentence or two of what each chapter will cover.

Once you have your one-page outline, remember it is a fluid document meant to serve you and your book. Expand it, change it, play with it as you see fit—even during the writing process.

6.Set a firm writing schedule.

Ideally, you want to schedule at least six hours per week to write. That may consist of three sessions of two hours each, two sessions of three hours, or six one-hour sessions—whatever works for you. I recommend a regular pattern (same times, same days) that can most easily  become a habit. But if that’s impossible, just make sure you carve out at least six hours so you can see real progress.

Having trouble finding the time to write a book? News flash—you won’t find the time. You have to make it. I used the phrase carve out above for a reason. That’s what it takes. Something in your calendar will likely have to be sacrificed in the interest of writing time. Make sure it’s not your family—they should always be your top priority. Never sacrifice your family on the altar of your writing career.

But beyond that, the truth is that we all find time for what we really want to do. Many writers insist they have no time to write, but they always seem to catch the latest Netflix original series, or go to the next big Hollywood feature. They enjoy concerts, parties, ball games, whatever.

Writing a book image 1How important is it to you to finally write your book? What will you cut from your calendar each week to ensure you give it the time it deserves?

  • A favorite TV show?
  • An hour of sleep per night? (Be careful with this one; rest is crucial to a writer.)
  • A movie?
  • A concert?
  • A party?

Successful writers make time to write.

When writing becomes a habit, you’ll be on your way.

7. Establish a sacred deadline.

Without deadlines, I rarely get anything done. I need that motivation. Admittedly, my deadlines are now established in my contracts from publishers. If you’re writing your first book, you probably don’t have a contract yet. To ensure you finish your book, set your own deadline—then consider it sacred. Tell your spouse or loved one or trusted friend. Ask that they hold you accountable.

Now determine—and enter in your calendar—the number of pages you need to produce per writing session to meet your deadline. If it proves unrealistic, change the deadline now. If you have no idea how many pages or words you typically produce per session, you may have to experiment before you finalize those figures.

Say you want to finish a 400-page manuscript by this time next year. Divide 400 by 50 weeks (accounting for two off-weeks), and you get eight pages per week. Divide that by your typical number of writing sessions per week and you’ll know how many pages you should finish per session.

Now is the time to adjust these numbers,while setting your deadline and determining your pages per session. Maybe you’d rather schedule four off weeks over the next year. Or you know your book will be unusually long. Change the numbers to make it realistic and doable, and then lock it in. Remember, your deadline is sacred.

8. Embrace procrastination (really!).

You read that right. Don’t fight it; embrace it. You wouldn’t guess it from my 190+ published books, but I’m the king of procrastinators.
Surprised?

Don’t be. So many authors are procrastinators that I’ve come to wonder if it’s a prerequisite.

The secret is to accept it and, in fact, schedule it.

I quit fretting and losing sleep over procrastinating when I realized it was inevitable and predictable, and also that it was productive. Sound like rationalization? Maybe it was at first. But I learned that while I’m putting off the writing, my subconscious is working on my book. It’s a part of the process. When you do start writing again, you’ll enjoy the surprises your subconscious reveals to you.

So, knowing procrastination is coming, book it on your calendar. Take it into account when you’re determining your page quotas. If you have to go back in and increase the number of pages you need to produce per session, do that (I still do it all the time).

But—and here’s the key—you must never let things get to where that number of pages per day exceeds your capacity. It’s one thing to ratchet up your output from two pages per session to three. But if you let it get out of hand, you’ve violated the sacredness of your deadline.

How can I procrastinate and still meet more than 190 deadlines? Because I keep the deadlines sacred.

9. Eliminate distractions to stay focused.

Are you as easily distracted as I am? Have you found yourself writing a sentence and then checking your email? Writing another and checking Facebook? Getting caught up in the come-ons for pictures of the 10 Sea Monsters You Wouldn’t Believe Actually Exist?

write your book - sea monster

Then you just have to check out that precious video from a talk show where the dad surprises the family by returning from the war.

That leads to more and more of the same. Once I’m in, my writing is forgotten, and all of a sudden the day has gotten away from me.

The answer to these insidious timewasters? Look into these apps that allow you to block your email, social media, browsers, game apps, whatever you wish during the hours you want to write. Some carry a modest fee, others are free.

10. Conduct your research.

Yes, research is a vital part of the process, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. Fiction means more than just making up a story. Your details and logic and technical and historical details must be right for your novel to be believable.

And for nonfiction, even if you’re writing about a subject in which you’re an expert—as I’m doing here—you’ll be surprised how ensuring you get all the facts right will polish your finished product. In fact, you’d be surprised at how many times I’ve researched a fact or two while writing this blog post alone.

The last thing you want is even a small mistake due to your lack of proper research. Regardless the detail, trust me, you’ll hear from readers about it.

Your credibility as an author and an expert hinges on creating trust with your reader. That  dissolves in a hurry if you commit an error.

My favorite research resources are:

  • World Almanacs: These alone list almost everything you need for accurate prose: facts, data, government information, and more. For my novels, I often use these to come up with ethnically accurate character names.
  • The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus: The online version is great, because it’s lightning fast. You couldn’t turn the pages of a hard copy as quickly as you can get where you want to onscreen. One caution: Never let it be obvious you’ve consulted a thesaurus. You’re not looking for the exotic word that jumps off the page. You’re looking for that common word that’s on the tip of your tongue.
  • WorldAtlas.com: Here you’ll find nearly limitless information about any continent, country, region, city, town, or village. Names, monetary units, weather patterns, tourism info, and even facts you wouldn’t have thought to search for. I get ideas when I’m digging here, for both my novels and my nonfiction books.

11. Start calling yourself a writer.

Your inner voice may tell you, “You’re no writer and you never will be. What do you think you’re doing, trying to write a book?

That may be why you’ve stalled at writing your book in the past. But if you’re working at writing, studying writing, practicing writing, that makes you a writer. Don’t wait till you reach some artificial level of accomplishment before calling yourself a writer. A cop in uniform and on duty is a cop whether he’s actively enforced the law yet or not. A carpenter is a carpenter whether he’s ever built a house.

Self-identify as a writer now and you’ll silence that inner critic—who, of course, is really you. Talk back to yourself if you must. It may sound silly, but acknowledging yourself as a writer can give you the confidence to keep going and finish your book.

Are you a writer? Say so.

Part Two: The Writing Itself

12. Think reader-first.

This is so important that that you should write it on a sticky note and affix it to your monitor so you’re reminded of it every time you write.

Every decision you make about your manuscript must be run through this filter. Not you-first, not book-first, not editor-, agent-, or publisher-first. Certainly not your inner circle- or critics-first. Reader-first, last, and always.

If every decision is based on the idea of reader-first, all those others benefit anyway. When fans tell me they were moved by one of my books, I think back to this adage and am grateful I maintained that posture during the writing.

Does a scene bore you? If you’re thinking reader-first, it gets overhauled or deleted.

Where to go, what to say, what to write next? Decide based on the reader as your priority.

Whatever your gut tells you your reader would prefer, that’s your answer.

Whatever will intrigue him, move him, keep him reading, those are your marching orders.

So, naturally, you need to know your reader. Rough age? General interests? Loves? Hates? Attention span?

When in doubt, look in the mirror. The surest way to please your reader is to please yourself. Write what you would want to read and trust there is a broad readership out there that agrees.

13. Find your writing voice.

Discovering your voice is nowhere near as complicated as some make it out to be. You can find yours by answering these quick questions:

  1. What’s the coolest thing that ever happened to you?
  2. Who’s the most important person you told about it?
  3. What did you sound like when you did?

That’s your writing voice. It should read the way you sound at your most engaged. That’s all there is to it.

If you write fiction and the narrator of your book isn’t you, go through the three-question exercise on the narrator’s behalf—and you’ll quickly master the voice.

Here’s a blog I posted that’ll walk you through the process.

14. Write a compelling opener.

If you’re stuck because of the pressure of crafting the perfect opening line, you’re not alone. And neither is your angst misplaced. This is not something you should put off and come back to once you’ve started on the rest of the first chapter.

How to Write a Book Image 5Oh, it can still change if the story dictates that. But settling on a good one will really get you off and running. It’s unlikely you’ll write a more important sentence than your first one, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. Make sure you’re thrilled with it and then watch how your confidence—and momentum—soars.

Most great first lines fall into one of these categories:

  1. Surprising

Fiction: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” —George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Nonfiction: “By the time Eustace Conway was seven years old, he could throw a knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree.” —Elizabeth Gilbert, The Last American Man

  1. Dramatic Statement

Fiction: “They shoot the white girl first.” —Toni Morrison, Paradise

Nonfiction: “I was five years old the first time I ever set foot in prison.” —Jimmy Santiago Baca, A Place to Stand

  1. Philosophical

Fiction: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Nonfiction: “It’s not about you.” —Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life

  1. Poetic

Fiction: “When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon. —James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss

Nonfiction: “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.’” —Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

Great opening lines from other classics may give you ideas for yours. Here’s a list of famous openers.

15. Fill your story with conflict and tension.

Your reader craves conflict, and yes, this applies to nonfiction readers as well.

How to Write a Book - Image 6In a novel, if everything is going well and everyone is agreeing, your reader will soon lose interest and find something else to do—like watch paint dry.

Are two of your characters talking at the dinner table? Have one say something that makes the other storm out. Some deep-seeded rift in their relationship has surfaced. Is it just a  misunderstanding that has snowballed into an injustice?

Thrust people into conflict with each other. That’ll keep your reader’s attention.

Certain nonfiction genres won’t lend themselves to that kind of conflict, of course, but you can still inject tension by setting up your reader for a payoff in later chapters. Check out some of the current bestselling nonfiction works to see how writers accomplish this. Somehow they keep you turning those pages, even in a simple how-to title.

Tension is the secret sauce that will propel your reader through to the end. And sometimes that’s as simple as implying something to come.

16. Turn off your internal editor while writing the first draft.

Many of us are perfectionists and find it hard to get a first draft written—fiction or nonfiction—without feeling compelled to make every sentence exactly the way we want it.

That voice in your head that questions every word, every phrase, every sentence, and makes you worry you’re being redundant or have allowed cliches to creep in—well, that’s just your editor alter ego. He or she needs to be told to shut up.

This is not easy. Deep as I am into a long career, I still have to remind myself of this every writing day. I cannot be both creator and editor at the same time. That slows me to a crawl, and my first draft of even one brief chapter could take days.

Our job when writing that first draft is to get down the story or the message or the teaching—depending on your genre. It helps me to view that rough draft as a slab of meat I will carve tomorrow. I can’t both produce that hunk and trim it at the same time.

A cliche, a redundancy, a hackneyed phrase comes tumbling out of my keyboard, and I start wondering whether I’ve forgotten to engage the reader’s senses or aimed for his emotions. That’s when I have to chastise myself and say, “No! Don’t worry about that now! First thing tomorrow you get to tear this thing up and put it back together again to your heart’s content!”

Imagine yourself wearing different hats for different tasks, if that helps—whatever works to keep you rolling on that rough draft. You don’t need to show it to your worst enemy or even your dearest love. This chore is about creating. Don’t let anything slow you down.

Some like to write their entire first draft before attacking the revision. As I say, whatever works. Doing it that way would make me worry I’ve missed something major early that will cause a complete rewrite when I discover it months later. I alternate creating and revising. The first thing I do every morning is a heavy edit and rewrite of whatever I wrote the day before. If that’s ten pages, so be it. I put my perfectionist hat on and grab my paring knife and trim that slab of meat until I’m happy with every word.

Then I switch hats, tell Perfectionist Me to take the rest of the day off, and I start producing rough pages again. So, for me, when I’ve finished the entire first draft, it’s actually a second draft because I have already revised and polished it in chunks every day. THEN I go back through the entire manuscript one more time, scouring it for anything I missed or omitted, being sure to engage the reader’s senses and heart, and making sure the whole thing holds together.

I do not submit anything I’m not entirely thrilled with. I know there’s still an editing process it will will go through at the publisher, but my goal is to make my manuscript the absolute best I can before they see it.

Compartmentalize your writing vs. your revising and you’ll find that frees you to create much more quickly.

17. Persevere through The Marathon of the Middle.

How to Write a Book - marathonMost who fail at writing a book tell me they give up somewhere in what I like to call The Marathon of the Middle.

That’s a particularly rough stretch for novelists who have a great concept, a stunning opener, and they can’t wait to get to the dramatic ending. But they bail when they realize they don’t have enough cool stuff to fill the middle. They start padding, trying to add scenes just for the sake of bulk, but they’re soon bored and know readers will be too.

This actually happens to nonfiction writers too. The solution there is in the outlining stage, being sure your middle points and chapters are every bit as valuable and magnetic as the first and last. If you strategize the progression of your points or steps in a process—depending on nonfiction genre—you should be able to eliminate the strain in the middle chapters.

For novelists, know that every book becomes a challenge a few chapters in. The shine wears off, keeping the pace and tension gets harder, and it’s easy to run out of steam. But that’s not the time to quit. Force yourself back to your structure, come up with a subplot if necessary, but do whatever you need to so your reader stays engaged.

Fiction writer or nonfiction author, The Marathon of the Middle is when you must remember why you started this journey in the first place. It isn’t just that you want to be an author. You have something to say. You want to reach the masses with your message.

Yes, it’s hard. It still is for me—every time. But don’t panic or do anything rash, like surrendering. Embrace the challenge of the middle as part of the process. If it were easy, anyone could do it.

18. Write a resounding ending.

This is just as important for your nonfiction book as your novel. It may not be as dramatic or emotional, but it could be—especially if you’re writing a memoir.

But even a how-to or self-help book needs to close with a resounding thud, the way a Broadway theater curtain meets the floor.

How do you ensure your ending doesn’t fizzle?

  • Don’t rush it. Give readers the payoff they’ve been promised. They’ve invested in you and your book the whole way. Take the time to make it satisfying.
  • Never settle for close enough just because you’re eager to be finished. Wait till you’re thrilled with every word, and keep revising until you are.
  • If it’s unpredictable, it had better be fair and logical so your reader doesn’t feel cheated. You want him to be delighted with the surprise, not tricked.
  • If you have multiple ideas for how your book should end, go for the heart rather than the head, even in nonfiction. Readers most remember what moves them.

Part Three: All Writing Is Rewriting

19. Become a ferocious self-editor.

Agents and editors can tell within the first two pages whether your manuscript is worthy of further consideration. That sounds unfair, and maybe it is. But it’s also reality, so we writers need to face it.

How to Write a Book - Image 8How can they often decide that quickly on something you’ve devoted months, maybe years, to? Because they can almost immediately envision how much editing would be required to make those first couple of pages publishable. If they decide the investment wouldn’t make economic sense for a 300-400-page manuscript, end of story.

Your best bet to keep an agent or editor reading your manuscript?

You must become a ferocious self-editor. That means:

  • Omit needless words
  • Choose the simple word over one that requires a dictionary
  • Avoid subtle redundancies, like “He thought in his mind…” (Where else would someone think?)
  • Avoid hedging verbs like almost frowned, sort of jumped, etc.
  • Generally remove the word that—use it only when absolutely necessary for clarity
  • Give the reader credit and resist the urge to explain, as in, “She walked through the open door.” (Did we need to be told it was open?)
  • Avoid too much stage direction (what every character is doing with every limb and digit)
  • Avoid excessive adjectives
  • Show, don’t tell
  • And many more

For my full list and how to use them, click here. (It’s free.)

When do you know you’re finished revising? When you’ve gone from making your writing better to merely making it different. That’s not always easy to determine, but it’s what makes you an author. 

And Finally, the Quickest Way to Succeed…

20. Find a mentor.

Get help from someone who’s been where you want to be. Imagine engaging a mentor who can help you sidestep all the amateur pitfalls and shave years of painful trial-and-error off your learning curve.

Just make sure it’s someone who really knows the writing and publishing world. Many masquerade as mentors and coaches but have never really succeeded themselves. Look for someone widely-published who knows how to work with agents, editors, and publishers.

There are many helpful mentors online. I teach writers through this free site, as well as in my members-only Writers Guild.

Want to save this definitive guide to read later? Click here or below to download a handy PDF version:
write a book download

Struggling with knowing how to write a book? Tell me in the comments and feel free to ask questions.

 

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How to Choose and Use a Mentor https://www.jerryjenkins.com/choose-use-mentor/ https://www.jerryjenkins.com/choose-use-mentor/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 15:44:42 +0000 http://www.jerryjenkins.com/?p=6320 Guest post by Dr. Dennis E. Hensley I can personally attest to the value of a mentor. My high school English teacher gave me lists of books to read, edited my manuscripts, and encouraged me to write for the school literary magazine. My college adviser and teacher pushed me to become a reporter for the […]

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Guest post by Dr. Dennis E. Hensley

I can personally attest to the value of a mentor. My high school English teacher gave me lists of books to read, edited my manuscripts, and encouraged me to write for the school literary magazine.

My college adviser and teacher pushed me to become a reporter for the college newspaper, helped me select courses that would best prepare me for a career as a freelance writer, and worked elbow to elbow with me to improve my writing by editing my papers line by line.

Today, I have close friends in the field of writing I turn to for advice, encouragement, teaching, and perspective.

Choosing a Mentor

Begin by listing of what you need both in your personal life and your career.

For life skills, you may need help in time management, finances, or health issues. For your career, you may need help in mastering writing skills, improving your public speaking, or marketing yourself and your work.

Sometimes one person can mentor you in all these areas, but, more likely, you will need two or even three mentors. I engage a personal trainer to help me maintain a proper diet, guide my workouts, and advise me on getting proper rest. However, I turn to a different person to copyedit and proofread my manuscripts, maintain my website, and help me secure speaking engagements.

And the Nominees Are…

Because the best advisers are successful themselves, you may have to pay or barter for their guidance.

Approach the person you feel will be of greatest help and be transparent. Tell them you want to develop the skills you see they have mastered. “If you could work with me in whatever time you can spare, I promise not to disappoint you.”

Whether or not they agree take you on, ask for direction in that initial meeting. Are there people you should meet, books you should read, workshops you should attend, connections you should make?

Amaze your potential mentor by following through on every bit of advice. Come back later with written summaries of the recommended books, quotes from a workshop you attended, reports on your meetings with the people they suggested.

Be Reasonable

If you meet resistance in an initial meeting, seek a referral. And don’t ask for too much. I am put off when people invite me for coffee and then try to hand off a 500-page manuscript for a free edit.

I also am put off by people who either brag endlessly or do the opposite: put themselves down and play the part of the victim who has never been given a fair chance.

Foodstuffs Gratefully Accepted

I am eager to hear what you have accomplished, where you’re headed, and why you feel I might be of help. Also, like most mentors, I’m open to bribes.☺As my friend, author and editor Lin Johnson, tells students at my college, “It’s always nice to send a nice thank you letter to editors—and chocolate.”

A mentor can reveal shortcuts, open doors, protect your blind side, keep you focused, hold you accountable, push you to new levels, and channel your energies and talents toward success.

One stick can easily be broken over the knee. Two sticks are sturdier, stronger, and more durable. Don’t go it alone.

Dr. Dennis E. Hensley, a friend and frequent guest of The Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild, is director of the professional writing program at Taylor University. He has written more than 60 books, including his latest, Finding Success with Your Dream Writing Projects (Bold Vision Books). 

In what area of your life do you need a mentor? If you can’t afford to pay one, what service could you trade for someone’s counsel? Tell me in the comments.

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How to Write a Series of Novels Your Readers Will Love https://www.jerryjenkins.com/how-to-write-a-series/ https://www.jerryjenkins.com/how-to-write-a-series/#comments Tue, 18 Apr 2017 15:23:53 +0000 http://www.jerryjenkins.com/?p=6314 Writing a series is daunting. Each installment must both stand alone and work as part of the whole. You’re forced to keep up with all the elements you exploit in a single novel and make sure they serve the entire entity: characters, plot, settings, everything. Having written six adult series and ten children’s series, I […]

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Writing a series is daunting.

Each installment must both stand alone and work as part of the whole. You’re forced to keep up with all the elements you exploit in a single novel and make sure they serve the entire entity: characters, plot, settings, everything.

Having written six adult series and ten children’s series, I can say I learned quickly that I had to re-read the previous title before starting the next, every time.

Was that really necessary?

The one time I tried to shortcut the process I found myself more than halfway through the writing of the next title in The Left Behind Series™ when I had a sinking feeling.

One of the global curses I had included was a decrease in the power of the sun by one-third. So my characters in the desert suddenly had to wear long pants, sweaters, coats, hats. Made sense.

But hadn’t that curse been lifted near the end of the previous title? A rather significant development, if I was right.

And I was. A fast re-read of that previous title confirmed my suspicion. The desert was back to full aridity. I had to go back to the beginning of the current manuscript and re-dress my characters!

A Crucial Checklist

Navigating the delicate balance between satisfying your reader with each book and keeping them longing for the next, you must remain vigilant on many fronts.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I risk frustrating my reader by stretching the story to accommodate a series, rather than ensuring that each title works on its own?
  • Am I able to keep each installment relatively similar in length and time span covered?
  • Have I provided enough variety in voice, narrator, and perspective characters without jeopardizing the consistency of the message and tone?

 3 Tips to Writing a Great Series

1. Remember that Publishers Love Series

Left Behind began as a one-book deal. The idea was to tell the story of the Rapture, including the seven-year Tribulation (including 21 judgments from heaven).

Halfway through the writing of that manuscript I realized I had covered only two weeks of the seven years.

With great trepidation, I informed the publisher, Tyndale House, that I was afraid the story would require at least a trilogy. They immediately rewrote the contract and urged me to let the story dictate the length.

My editor reminded me that publishers love series because they get more bang for the buck. If the overall plot can bear it, multiple titles allow advertising and promotion that much more impact for virtually the same price. The individual titles themselves promote the whole.

Halfway through the writing of book two, I had covered two months of the seven years. Another phone call. Another rewritten contract to make the series seven titles.

Eventually Left Behind became a series of 16 titles.

2. Keep Character Arc Paramount

The main reason I couldn’t force 21 dramatic judgments from heaven into one big novel was that with such a huge, cosmic concept, my characters had to be realistic and believable.

If the entire novel was filled with slam bang action, my characters would have become props, stick figures on which to hang a sort of comic book tale.

My message in this story is that while it was cast as fiction—putting made-up characters in the way of these dire prophecies—I believe it’s true and will happen some day.

So to lend credence to that theme, my characters had to be easily identified with. The reader had to be able to see himself in these situations and resonate—or not—with the decisions of very realistic people.

Character arc takes time, and pages. It can’t flag and get boring, but neither can it be shortcut.

In a series, readers expect characters to grow in each book and throughout the entire package.

3. Each Novel Must Satisfy On Its Own

This is where too many novelists stumble.

They succumb to the temptation to “save the good stuff” for the final book. Better to give your all to each title and, in essence, have to start from scratch with each new one.

Naturally, the overall story itself needs to continue, but force yourself to write each novel as if it’s the last in terms of intrigue, suspense, conflict, dialogue, character arc, all of it.

That will guarantee that the reader will get your best with every installment and one won’t dip in quality or serve only as a connector title to keep the series going.

Do you have questions about how to write a series? Ask me in the comments.

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195 Powerful Verbs That’ll Spice Up Your Writing https://www.jerryjenkins.com/powerful-verbs/ https://www.jerryjenkins.com/powerful-verbs/#comments Tue, 11 Apr 2017 16:22:15 +0000 http://www.jerryjenkins.com/?p=6282 Do you ever wonder why a grammatically correct sentence you’ve written just lies there like a dead fish? I sure have. Your sentence might even be full of those adjectives and adverbs your teachers and loved ones so admired in your writing when you were a kid. But still the sentence doesn’t work. Something simple […]

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Powerful verbs list image 1Do you ever wonder why a grammatically correct sentence you’ve written just lies there like a dead fish?

I sure have.

Your sentence might even be full of those adjectives and adverbs your teachers and loved ones so admired in your writing when you were a kid.

But still the sentence doesn’t work.

Something simple I learned from The Elements of Style years ago changed the way I write and added verve to my prose. The authors of that little bible of style said: “Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs.”

Even Mark Twain was quoted, regarding adjectives: “When in doubt, strike it out.”

That’s not to say there’s no place for adjectives. I used three in the title and first paragraph of this post alone.

The point is that good writing is more about well-chosen nouns and powerful verbs than it is about adjectives and adverbs, regardless what you were told as a kid.

There’s no quicker win for you and your manuscript than ferreting out and eliminating flabby verbs and replacing them with vibrant ones.

Want a copy of the 195-verb list to read, save, or print whenever you wish? Click here.

How To Know Which Verbs Need Replacing

Your first hint is your own discomfort with a sentence. Odds are it features a snooze-inducing verb.

As you hone your ferocious self-editing skills, train yourself to exploit opportunities to replace a weak verb for a strong one.

At the end of this post I suggest a list of 195 powerful verbs you can experiment with to replace tired ones.

What constitutes a tired verb? Here’s what to look for:

3 Types of Verbs to Beware of in Your Prose

1. State-of-being verbs

These are passive as opposed to powerful:

  • Is
  • Am
  • Are
  • Was
  • Were
  • Be
  • Being
  • Been
  • Have
  • Has
  • Had
  • Do
  • Does
  • Did
  • Shall
  • Will
  • Should
  • Would
  • May
  • Might
  • Must
  • Can
  • Could

Am I saying these should never appear in your writing? Of course not. You’ll find them in this piece. But when a sentence lies limp, you can bet it contains at least one of these. Determining when a state-of-being verb is the culprit creates a problem—and finding a better, more powerful verb to replace it—is what makes us writers. [Note how I replaced the state-of-being verbs in this paragraph.]

Resist the urge to consult a thesaurus for the most exotic verb you can find. I consult such references only for the normal word that carries power but refuses to come to mind.

I would suggest even that you consult my list of powerful verbs only after you have exhausted all efforts to come up with one on your own. You want Make your prose to be your own creation, not yours plus Roget or Webster or Jenkins. [See how easy they are to spot and fix?]

Examples

Impotent: The man was walking on the platform.

Powerful: The man strode along the platform.

 

Impotent: Jim is a lover of country living.

Powerful: Jim treasures country living.

 

Impotent: There are three things that make me feel the way I do…

Powerful: Three things convince me…

 

2. Verbs that rely on adverbs

Powerful verbs are strong enough to stand alone.

Examples

The fox ran quickly dashed through the forest.

She menacingly looked glared at her rival.

He secretly listened eavesdropped while they discussed their plans.

 

3. Verbs with -ing suffixes

Examples

Before: He was walking…

After: He walked…

 

Before: She was loving the idea of…

After: She loved the idea of…

 

Before: The family was starting to gather…

After: The family started to gather…

The List of 195 Powerful Verbs

  • Advance
  • Advise
  • Alter
  • Amend
  • Amplify
  • Attack
  • Balloon
  • Bash
  • Batter
  • Beam
  • Beef
  • Blab
  • Blast
  • Bolt
  • Boost
  • Brief
  • Burst
  • Bus
  • Bust
  • Capture
  • Catch
  • Charge
  • Chap
  • Chip
  • Clasp
  • Climb
  • Clutch
  • Collide
  • Command
  • Crackle
  • Crash
  • Crush
  • Dash
  • Demolish
  • Depart
  • Deposit
  • Detect
  • Deviate
  • Devour
  • Direct
  • Discern
  • Discover
  • Drain
  • Drip
  • Drop
  • Eavesdrop
  • Engulf
  • Enlarge
  • Ensnare
  • Erase
  • Escort
  • Expand
  • Explode
  • Explore
  • Expose
  • Extend
  • Extract
  • Eyeball
  • Fish
  • Frown
  • Gaze
  • Glare
  • Glisten
  • Glitter
  • Gobble
  • Govern
  • Grasp
  • Grip
  • Groan
  • Growl
  • Guide
  • Hail
  • Heighten
  • Hurry
  • Ignite
  • Illuminate
  • Inspect
  • Instruct
  • Intensify
  • Intertwine
  • Impart
  • Journey
  • Lash
  • Lead
  • Leap
  • Locate
  • Magnify
  • Moan
  • Modify
  • Multiply
  • Mushroom
  • Mystify
  • Notice
  • Notify
  • Obtain
  • Oppress
  • Order
  • Paint
  • Park
  • Peck
  • Peek
  • Peer
  • Perceive
  • Picture
  • Pilot
  • Pinpoint
  • Place
  • Plant
  • Plop
  • Poison
  • Pop
  • Position
  • Power
  • Prickle
  • Probe
  • Prune
  • Realize
  • Recite
  • Recoil
  • Refashion
  • Refine
  • Remove
  • Report
  • Retreat
  • Reveal
  • Revolutionize
  • Revolve
  • Rip
  • Rise
  • Ruin
  • Rush
  • Rust
  • Scan
  • Scrape
  • Scratch
  • Scrawl
  • Seize
  • Serve
  • Shatter
  • Shepherd
  • Shimmer
  • Shine
  • Shock
  • Shrivel
  • Sizzle
  • Skip
  • Slash
  • Slide
  • Slip
  • Slurp
  • Smash
  • Snag
  • Snarl
  • Snowball
  • Soar
  • Sparkle
  • Sport
  • Stare
  • Steal
  • Steer
  • Storm
  • Strain
  • Stretch
  • Strip
  • Stroll
  • Struggle
  • Stumble
  • Supercharge
  • Supersize
  • Surge
  • Survey
  • Swell
  • Swipe
  • Swoon
  • Tail
  • Tattle
  • Transfigure
  • Transform
  • Travel
  • Treat
  • Trim
  • Uncover
  • Unearth
  • Untangle
  • Unveil
  • Usher
  • Veil
  • Weave
  • Wind
  • Withdraw
  • Wreck
  • Wrench
  • Wrest
  • Wrestle
  • Wring

Click here or below to download a PDF version of the list, along with the three types of verbs to beware of in your writing:

Click here to Download

Suggest in the comments three (only) powerful verbs that should be added to my list.

 

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Does This Scene Deserve a Place in Your Story? 2 Ways to Find Out https://www.jerryjenkins.com/scene-deserve-place-story-2-ways-find/ https://www.jerryjenkins.com/scene-deserve-place-story-2-ways-find/#comments Tue, 04 Apr 2017 14:32:03 +0000 http://www.jerryjenkins.com/?p=6272 Guest post by K.M. Weiland “Cut this scene. It doesn’t move the plot.” That is my most frequent comment on manuscripts I edit for others. It causes most writers to groan. Not only am I telling you to cut your beloved scenes (perhaps even your favorite), but you’re left to figure out why these scenes […]

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Guest post by K.M. Weiland

“Cut this scene. It doesn’t move the plot.”

That is my most frequent comment on manuscripts I edit for others. It causes most writers to groan. Not only am I telling you to cut your beloved scenes (perhaps even your favorite), but you’re left to figure out why these scenes are extraneous—and then either fix or replace them.

Bill Buchanan emailed me:

Could you tell me how to evaluate the relative value of any scene in my novel?

Sol Stein’s book On Writing says:

“…I found it desirable to set a standard. If any scene falls below that standard, out it goes. The process stops when the remaining scenes all seem to contribute strongly to the work as a whole.”

Stein didn’t describe his scene evaluation standard, so don’t worry if you don’t have an answer for this. If it was easy, Sol Stein would’ve explained it!

Fortunately, I do have an answer. Once you understand the twofold essence of a powerful scene, you will instinctively reject subpar scenes and replace them with memorable and powerful alternatives.

2 Questions You Must Ask About Every Scene

Be brutally honest with yourself. Some of your favorite scenes may deserve a resounding No to both questions. The good news is that you have not only identified a major way to improve your manuscript, but you have also opened a clear path to correcting the problems.

1. Is this scene pertinent to the plot?

Every scene should help you create a cohesive and resonant whole. Any scene—however fabulous in its own right—that does not contribute to the plot, theme, and character arc will prove discordant and distracting.

Does this scene move the plot? Every scene must create a sense of motion. It must change the story. If your characters have not moved closer to their respective goals by the end of the scene, you’re looking at a static tableau.

If you’re unsure, pretend you whacked the scene altogether. Would the story continue without a hitch? Might it be even faster-paced and more focused? Or would the loss leave readers confused?

Sometimes a scene can ace the above requirements and still not be the best for your story. Don’t write scenes that just scrape by. Write scenes that explode off the page, moving the plot by leaps and bounds, affecting not just one element of your story, but as many as possible.

Not every less-than-functional scene has to be deleted. Often, its worthwhile elements can be salvaged by folding them in with the best parts of another mediocre scene. The best parts of two can result in one dynamite scene.

2. Is this scene interesting?

It’s not enough for a scene to be functional. It must also be fascinating.

A scene can work on every level and still be one readers have read a hundred times before. What about this particular scene will make readers pay attention? Look for ways to pique curiosity and create conflict, that tension that keeps readers turning the pages.

One of the surest signs your readers will be bored is that you’re bored while writing. Force yourself to stop and consider why. If the events don’t excite you or challenge you, it’s probably because your characters are going nowhere. Passive characters result in boring scenes. Be sure your character has a scene goal, something to move toward in this scene—and then complicate his progress by introducing obstacles (conflict).

Think Outside the Box

Another frequent cause of boring scenes is a lack of character interaction. Instantly pep up any scene by giving your protagonist someone to talk to—and, preferably, disagree with.

Don’t settle for letting your characters follow the obvious path from Point A to Point B. What would be unexpected? What are your minor characters’ driving needs in this scene? What new setting could might ratchet up the conflict or offer resonant symbolism?

When readers look back on the stories they love the most, specific scenes come to their minds. Ask yourself these two crucial questions, and fill your book with as many amazing and memorable scenes as possible.

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the internationally award-winning author of Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Tell me in the comments what you found most helpful in K.M.’s post, and what you’ll do this week to improve your scene writing.

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How to Write Dialogue That Works https://www.jerryjenkins.com/write-dialogue-works/ https://www.jerryjenkins.com/write-dialogue-works/#comments Tue, 28 Mar 2017 18:57:53 +0000 http://www.jerryjenkins.com/?p=6261 Does the dialogue you write bore you? If it does, it’ll put your reader to sleep. And unfortunately, your first reader will be an agent or an editor. You can’t slip anything boring past them. Your job as a writer is to make every word count. That’s the best way to keep your reader riveted […]

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Does the dialogue you write bore you?

If it does, it’ll put your reader to sleep.

And unfortunately, your first reader will be an agent or an editor. You can’t slip anything boring past them.

Your job as a writer is to make every word count. That’s the best way to keep your reader riveted until the final page—no small task.

Knowing how to write compelling dialogue starts right there—making every word count.

Readers love dialogue for many reasons:

● It breaks up intimidating blocks of copy containing a lot of narrative summary.

● It differentiates (through dialect and word choice) and reveals characters.

● Done well, it can move the story along without author intrusion.

But, as you have likely discovered, writing great dialogue is hard. If yours is bloated or in any other way uninteresting, readers won’t stay with you long.

So how about we leave them no choice?

3 Tips to Writing Effective Dialogue

1. Cut to the Bone

Unless you need to reveal a character as a brainiac or a blowhard pretending to be one, omit every needless word.

Obviously, you wouldn’t render a conversation the way a court transcript includes repetition and even um, ah, uh, etc. But further, see how much you can chop without losing the point. Like this:

“What do you want to do this Sunday? I thought We could go to the amusement park.”

“I was thinking about renting a rowboat on one of the lakes.”

“Oh, Vladimir, that sounds wonderful! I’ve never gone rowing before.”

That doesn’t mean all your dialogue has to be short and choppy—just that you’ll cut out the dead wood to keep to the point. You’ll be surprised by how much power it adds to your prose.

2. Reveal Backstory

Sprinkling in backstory through dialogue is another way to keep your reader turning pages. Hinting at some incident for the first time is an automatic setup that demands a payoff.

Example:

As they emerged from the car and headed toward the house, Janet whispered, “Can we not have a repeat of Cincinnati?”

Jeanie shot her a double take. “Believe me, I don’t want that any more than you do.”

“Good,” Janet said. “I mean—”

“Can we not talk about it, please?”

What normal reader wouldn’t assume they will talk about it at some point and will stay with the story until then?

As the story moves along, you can continue to reveal more and more about your protagonist’s past and have your story come full circle.

This technique accomplishes two things at once: it offers a setup that should intrigue the reader, and it helps you avoid flashbacks.

3. Reveal Character

Your reader learns a lot about your characters through dialogue. You don’t have to describe them as sarcastic, witty, narcissistic, kind, or anything else. The reader will know from how they interact with others and their choice of words.

Avoid the Cardinal Sin of Dialogue

The last thing you want is to be guilty of on-the-nose writing, especially in dialogue. Rather, cut and reveal, and you’ll immediately see the difference. And so will your reader.

In the comments, ask any questions regarding how to write dialogue.

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Showing vs. Telling: What You Need to Know https://www.jerryjenkins.com/showing-vs-telling/ https://www.jerryjenkins.com/showing-vs-telling/#comments Tue, 21 Mar 2017 17:33:30 +0000 http://www.jerryjenkins.com/?p=6250 You’ve heard it a thousand times from writing mentors, and you’ll hear it a thousand times more: Show, don’t tell. But what does it mean? If you struggle with the difference between showing vs. telling, you’re not alone. Once you’ve got it, it seems simple. But until you do, this maxim causes as many questions […]

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Showing vs. Telling image 1You’ve heard it a thousand times from writing mentors, and you’ll hear it a thousand times more:

Show, don’t tell.

But what does it mean?

If you struggle with the difference between showing vs. telling, you’re not alone. Once you’ve got it, it seems simple. But until you do, this maxim causes as many questions as anything in the writing world.  

Is it really that important? You bet it is. If you want your writing noticed by a publisher or an agent—and for the right reasons—it’s vital you master the art of showing.

So let’s see if I can solidify the concept in your mind right here, right now.

I want to supercharge your showing vs. telling radar—and make it simple.

Showing vs. Telling—the Difference

When you tell rather than show, you simply inform your reader of information rather than allowing him to deduce anything.

You’re supplying information by simply stating it. You might report that a character is “tall,” or “angry,” or “cold,” or “tired.”

That’s telling.

Showing would paint a picture the reader could see in her mind’s eye.

If your character is tall, your reader can deduce that because you mention others looking up when they talk with him. Or he has to duck to get through a door. Or when posing for a photo, he has to bend his knees to keep his head in proximity of others.

Rather than telling that your character is angry, show it by describing his face flushing, his throat tightening, his voice rising, his slamming a fist on the table. When you show, you don’t have to tell.

Cold? Don’t tell me; show me. Your character pulls her collar up, tightens her scarf, shoves her hands deep into her pockets, turns her face away from the biting wind.

Tired? He can yawn, groan, stretch. His eyes can look puffy. His shoulders could slump. Another character might say, “Didn’t you sleep last night? You look shot.”

When you show rather than tell, you make the reader part of the experience. Rather than having everything simply imparted to him, he sees it in his mind and comes to the conclusions you want.

What could be better than engaging your readergiving him an active role in the storytelling—or should I say the story-showing?

Examples of Showing vs. Telling

Telling: When they embraced she could tell he had been smoking and was scared.

Showing: When she wrapped her arms around him, the sweet staleness of tobacco enveloped her, and he was shivering.

 

Telling: The temperature fell and the ice reflected the sun.

Showing: Bill’s nose burned in the frigid air, and he squinted against the sun

reflecting off the street.

 

Telling: Suzie was blind.

Showing: Suzie felt for the bench with a white cane.

 

Telling: It was late fall.

Showing: Leaves crunched beneath his feet.

 

Telling: She was a plumber and asked where the bathroom was.

Showing: She wore coveralls carried a plunger and metal toolbox, and wrenches of various sizes hung from a leather belt around her waist. “Point me to the head,” she said.

 

Telling: I had a great conversation with Tim over dinner and loved hearing his stories.

Showing: I barely touched my food, riveted by Tim. “Let me tell you another story,” he said.

Is Telling Ever Acceptable?

Yes, it’s a mistake to take show, don’t tell as inviolable. While summary narrative is largely frowned upon, sometimes it’s a prudent choice. If there’s no value to the plot/tension/conflict/character arc by showing some mundane but necessary information, telling is preferable.

For instance, say you have to get your character to an important meeting and back, before the real action happens. Maybe he has to get clearance from his superiors before he can lead a secret raid.

Rather than investing several pages showing every aspect of the trip from packing, dressing, getting a cab to the airport, going through security, boarding the plane, arriving at his destination—you quickly tell that this way:

Three days later, after a trip to Washington to get the operation sanctioned by his superiors, Casey packed his weapons and camo clothes and set out to recruit his crew.

Then you immediately return to showing mode, describing his visits to trusted compatriots and getting them on board.

Why the Book Is Usually Better Than the Movie  

The theater of the reader’s mind is more powerful than anything Hollywood can put on the screen. Well-written books trigger the theater of the mind and allow readers to create their own visual.

Your writing can do the same if you master showing rather than telling.

Have another question about showing vs. telling? Ask me in the comments.

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How to Write a Great Opening Line for Your Novel or Nonfiction Book https://www.jerryjenkins.com/great-opening-lines/ https://www.jerryjenkins.com/great-opening-lines/#comments Tue, 14 Mar 2017 17:48:14 +0000 http://www.jerryjenkins.com/?p=6237 Some say editors and agents can decide against your manuscript within the first three pages. Harsh as that sounds, the truth is worse… They can actually pass judgment within the first few paragraphs. If they aren’t hooked immediately, they move on. That doesn’t sound fair, but we writers must face reality. Except for loved ones […]

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How to write a great opening line image 1Some say editors and agents can decide against your manuscript within the first three pages.

Harsh as that sounds, the truth is worse…

They can actually pass judgment within the first few paragraphs.

If they aren’t hooked immediately, they move on. That doesn’t sound fair, but we writers must face reality.

Except for loved ones and close friends, readers aren’t much more merciful. So even if you’re self-publishing and avoiding the harsh glare of professional eyes, rivet your readers from the get-go or most will close your book without a second thought.

There’s no formula for the perfect opener, but great writers have been creating them for centuries. The key, as with every other writing question, is to think reader-first and do what you believe will work best.

Novelist Les Edgerton began a short story this way:

He was so mean that wherever he was standing became the bad part of town.

I’d keep reading, wouldn’t you?

You’ll find some favorites below in four categories. Play off these and see what you can come up with for your work in progress.

Great Opening Lines

1. Surprise

Fiction

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. —Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. —Paul Auster, City of Glass (1985)

It was the day my grandmother exploded. —Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road (1992)

High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour. —David Lodge, Changing Places (1975)

Nonfiction

By the time Eustace Conway was seven years old, he could throw a knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree. —Elizabeth Gilbert, The Last American Man (2002)

Every year I bury a couple hundred of my townspeople. —Thomas Lynch, Undertaking: Life Studies From the Dismal Trade (1997)

In the fall of 1993, a man who would upend much of what we know about habits walked into a laboratory in San Diego for a scheduled appointment. —Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit (2012)

2. Dramatic Statement

Fiction

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” —Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (1952)

Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. —Franz Kafka, The Trial (1925)

They shoot the white girl first. —Toni Morrison, Paradise (1998)

You better not never tell nobody but God. —Alice Walker, The Color Purple (1982)

Nonfiction

My sharpest memory is of a single instant surrounded by dark. —Mary Karr, The Liar’s Club (1995)

What are you looking at me for? I’m not here to stay…  —Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)

I was five years old the first time I ever set foot in prison. —Jimmy Santiago Baca, A Place to Stand (2001)

Beware thoughts that come in the night. William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways (1982)

My high school friends have begun to suspect I haven’t told them the full story of my life. —Ishmael Beah, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (2007)

3. Philosophical

Fiction

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877)

This is the saddest story I have ever heard. —Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier (1915)

Nonfiction

It’s not about you. —Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Life (2002)

No comet blazed when I was born. Denis Healey, The Time of My Life (1989)

4. Poetic

Fiction

When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon. —James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss (1978)

It was just noon that Sunday morning when the sheriff reached the jail with Lucas Beauchamp though the whole town (the whole county too for that matter) had known since the night before that Lucas had killed a white man. —William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust (1948)

Nonfiction

The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there.” —Truman Capote, In Cold Blood (1967)

When people ask—and seems like people always be askin to where I can’t never get away from it—I say, Yeah, that’s right, my mother name was Henrietta Lacks, she died in 1951, John Hopkins took her cells and them cells are still livin today, still multiplyin, still growin and spreadin if you don’t keep em frozen. —Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2010)

Writing A Great Opening Line Is Only the Beginning

Then it’s your job to keep the reader with you.

So study storytelling, work at creating compelling characters, and become a ferocious self-editor. You just might produce a manuscript that keeps an editor or agent reading all the way through.

What are some of your favorite opening lines? Tell me in the comments.

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How to Fix Passive Voice https://www.jerryjenkins.com/fix-passive-voice/ https://www.jerryjenkins.com/fix-passive-voice/#comments Tue, 07 Mar 2017 19:18:47 +0000 http://www.jerryjenkins.com/?p=6222 Acquisition editors have eagle-eyes for both talent and for amateurs. They’re looking for stuff to buy and publish, and most are so overwhelmed with submissions, they’ve learned to quickly spot anything that allows them to set your piece aside. Sound cruel? They don’t want reject your writing. But because of their work loads (and their […]

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Passive voice image 1Acquisition editors have eagle-eyes for both talent and for amateurs.

They’re looking for stuff to buy and publish, and most are so overwhelmed with submissions, they’ve learned to quickly spot anything that allows them to set your piece aside.

Sound cruel? They don’t want reject your writing. But because of their work loads (and their goal—finding something they know will sell), once they see the mark of a novice, they’re on to the next manuscript.

Even experienced writers see their work land in the reject pile if they allow passive voice to creep in.

Give your manuscript a fighting chance and learn how to fix passive voice before you submit.

Defining Passive Voice

So, what is it?

I could tell you about subjects and objects and verbs and which is acting vs. being acted upon,  avoiding adverbs, and all that. But unless you excelled at diagramming sentences in school, that’s going to sound like gibberish.

The easiest way to spot passive voice is to look for state-of-being verbs and often the word by.

And the best way I know to teach this is by example.

Examples:

Passive: The party was planned by Jill.

Active: Jill planned the party.

Passive: The wedding cake was created by Ben.
Active: Ben created the wedding cake.

Passive: The Little League team was given trophies by the coaches.
Active: The coaches gave the Little League team trophies.

Passive: A good time was had by all.
Active: Everybody had a good time.

Avoid passive voice to increase your chances of getting more than five minutes of an editor’s time.

Active Voice Strengthens Your Prose

Avoiding passive voice will set you apart from much of your competition, but even better, it will give your writing a distinct ring of clarity.

Scour your work-in-progress for passive voice, root it out, replace it with active, and see how much more powerfully it reads.

That’s the kind of writing that gets more of an editor’s time.

Has this helped clarify the problem of passive voice? Do you still have questions for me or tips for others on how you’d dealt with this? Tell me in the comments.

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