Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: Alex Limberg Ride the Pen

Inspired author biting crumpled paper

Today, Alex Limberg is with us again, and he is talking about one of the most important and tricky issues in writing: Endurance. It doesn’t matter how well we write, how pretty the prose or witty the dialogue. WE MUST FINISH.

No half-finished brilliant manuscript ever became a runaway best-seller but a lot of finished “meh” ones have.

Alex has some very effective tactics and practical examples to help you out.

Just look at his list and pick out the ones that work for you. And if you want to see how good your story really is or what it might be missing, definitely check out his free checklist of “44 Key Questions” to make your story awesome. Post starts in 3… 2… 1… 0:

***

Have you ever written an entire novel? If so, then you know that it takes a lot of stamina.

I’m not just talking about the really long ones, the brick-like ones you could kill a chicken with. Sometimes it seems like a mystery how Ayn Rand could write something like Atlas Shrugged or how Tolkien could ever complete Lord of the Rings.

I mean, did they never have to do the laundry or cut their toe nails, did life never get in the way?

Did they never get utterly frustrated by the sheer amount of pages they had to write – and by the fact they had to write them well?

I’m sure all of this did happen, but here is the important part: They didn’t let it stop them. They never ever quit. And neither should you.

Luckily, there are a couple of excellent tactics to help you if you are stuck. Here is what you can do if your writing project takes ages to come together and is starting to wear you down:

1. Maybe your story needs change

If something is fundamentally wrong with your story, no psychological recharging will help you; you would just end up frustrated anyways. Instead, your first step is to check if some elements of your novel want to be shuffled around.

Maybe there is one character too many or too few, or one of the figures is making decisions that don’t correspond to her personality.

Maybe the plot needs to be tightened or it needs more logic.

Maybe the point of view is off.

Take notes, think about it, and if you get the impression that there is something wrong with your story, try a different route.

To help you examine any wrong turns your story might have taken, you can download my free goodie about “44 Key Questions” to check your story. Use it to test your story for anything that could possibly go wrong.

2. Take a break

This one seems obvious, but you might not even see it if you are totally caught up in your novel: Leave your project alone for a couple of days or weeks and do things you normally wouldn’t do.

Take a hike, play the piano, do a bartending course; carve a sculpture, visit an origami exhibition, search for Bigfoot. After having your mind circle around your story all the time, any physical activity or mental change will feel refreshing.

Your body and mind will reenergize and open up to new ways of feeling and thinking.

bigfoot-2

3. Don’t expect too much

When we want something really bad, we often put way too much pressure on ourselves. Then it can happen that we freeze in front of the task like a mouse in the face of a snake.

So take yourself aside for a word of clear, constructive self-talk: Reassure yourself it will be okay. No word you put on screen or paper is final. Nobody will ever see a single letter before you decide to release it into the world.

Finally, even the best writers sometimes produce garbage. Seriously, it’s all good. It’s just a learning process, like everything else in life.

But what do I hear from you? That it’s easier said than done?

True, so here is a practical exercise: Write one page of fiction, and on purpose make it as bad as you possibly can. Is it really cringeworthy? Great, you have succeeded. Hopefully you will be less outcome-dependent now.

4. Put yourself in a creative state of mind

What exactly is a “creative state of mind”?

Your creative self is celebrating its most reckless party when you feel both relaxed and playful at the same time. Again, when you get stuck with your novel, chances are you are worrying too much about getting it right.

Start by taking the pressure off yourself like outlined above. Then go play with your kids and their building blocks to bring out your playful side. If you don’t have kids, play a round of poker, tic-tac-toe or Dungeons & Dragons. Start a pillow fight. The more silly, childish and senseless you can get, the better… it will open up your carefree, curious side again. Creative people can learn a lot from how children treat the world.

Finally, start playing around with the elements of your story, just for the sake of it. Try absurd scenarios. How would that confession scene play out at a circus amongst clowns and dancing bears?

Don’t expect any results, but maybe fooling around will spark your passion for your story again. You might even come across new ideas about how to move it further along.

creative-state-of-mind

5. Reward yourself

It’s also important to nurture your creative motor. Assign yourself little rewards in advance for reaching your writing goals.

Pick something you are really looking forward to. It might be a night at the movies for a chapter you finish, or a new iPad for finishing half of your novel.

6. Visualize your success

If you undergo the long, winding process of writing a book, chances are you feel a deep desire within yourself to see the finished result.

So use your desire and visualize that very satisfying outcome: What would it feel like to look at your finished novel, to know that you finally made it happen? How awesome would it be to read the best chapter aloud to your friends, how exciting to send it out to a couple of agents and publishers and see what happens?

Visualize these scenes of sweet victory. They will give you that extra boost you need to get your project done. And if you need a practical exercise, write a letter to yourself and describe what success will look like.

Also, what fascinated you so much about your story you had to start to write it in the first place? Was it a character, an idea, a scene? Remind yourself of what you found fascinating when you started your long and winding novel. Imagine that character or idea vividly before your mind’s eye.

These are a couple of tactics and tricks I found useful for my own writing. See which one of them works best for you. After all, everything you see here is just words on a screen; apply them, live them, finally stick with what really helps you and disregard the rest.

Soon enough your creative juices will be flowing again, and when you have finished your story, you will look at it and be immensely proud of yourself: You have gotten up, overcome all the obstacles and finally achieved your goal – congratulations, this is what makes you a real writer!

AL, Photo 3

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Download his free checklist of “44 Key Questions” to quickly detect any problems in your story and keep yourself motivated. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

So far, so good. Now we just need to do it.

Kristen here again. I have a couple of questions for you: Which techniques work best when you feel fatigue? What do we need to add to the list? Is it hard to be creative when everyday life is upon you? Does wearing a banana peel for a hat make you more creative? Could this fashion statement also be your reward for a finished novel?

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

November’s winner of my 20 page critique is Nancy Segovia. THANK YOU for being such an awesome supporter of this blog and its guests. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.

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Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS January 6th

Plotting for Dummies January 7th, 2017

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors January 13th, 2017

Social Media for Authors January 14th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character January 27th, 2017

 

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

The End (2)

Once again, I invited blogger and copywriter Alex Limberg to spread his nuggets of wisdom amongst us. Today, he is closing in on closings. He is showing us several “typical closing styles” you can use as templates for your own stories. Yes, just rip them off mercilessly. Alex brings in a few famous authors like Agatha Christie, George Orwell and Bret Easton Ellis, so you can see one brilliant practical example for each closing. Make sure to download Alex’s free checklist of “44 Key Questions” to make your own stories awesome. And here is the beginning of the end…:

The beginning, so they say, is the most important part of your story. And that might very well be true. Or how do you think your reader will get to experience your genius climax, if a sleep-inducing beginning has put her into a coma long ago…?

However, the end is what your readers will take with them from your book. It’s your closing argument and the last thing they read. It’s what they will remember when they think back to your story in a couple of years, if they remember anything at all.

So you better make your ending count.

Story endings also have some special kind of magic to them. That feeling when you finish a great book you really enjoy, isn’t it… epicness? A grand feeling that stays with you for a while?

Here is the good news: A story ending to remember isn’t even that hard to write. You will now see five typical endings that will leave your reader in delight. Authors use these five endings all the time, and that’s because they work really well.

If all else fails, just use these examples as templates for your own story. That’s not very creative, but no harm done.

Also, if you want to thoroughly check your plot structures, including beginnings and endings, characters, dialogues, and much more, you can download my free checklist about “44 Key Questions” to test your story. It will help you make every part of your story tight and awesome.

Here are five archetypical closures that work astonishingly well, with one famous example for each:

1. Get Them by Surprise

Surprise works every single time. That’s because us humans are just curious creatures. You could uncover a surprising fact or give the action a surprising twist. Anyways, your readers will appreciate being astonished; after all, that’s what they are reading stories for.

Your readers will have certain expectations. They depend on the genre, the protagonists, the language, and so on… Be aware of your readers’ expectations. Put yourself in their shoes. Then give them something they don’t expect, but still makes sense for your story.

Maybe the thief turns out to be the narrator’s own husband or even the narrator herself. Maybe the girl doesn’t pick between her two suitors, but instead marries their uncle. Or plumber.

Agatha Christie, the master of plausible surprise, shows us perfectly how it’s done in And Then There Were None. Ten visitors are trapped on a small island and murdered one by one. As nobody else is on the island, it’s clear one of them must be the murderer… but who?

One suspect after another is snuffed, until only one person is left alive. It’s now clear she must be the murderer, until… the highly unexpected closure reveals she is not. The novel ranks amongst the bestselling books of all time.

Dinosaur Rearview Mirror 1

 

2. Play Their Sentiments with an Elegiac Fade Out

Milan Kundera takes a very different approach when he wraps up his The Unbearable Lightness of Being: “Up out of the lampshade, startled by the overhead light, flew a large nocturnal butterfly that began circling the room. The strains of the piano and violin rose up weakly from below.”

Kundera’s classic novel fades into the distance like a piece of music. The ending doesn’t want to bring suspense, puzzle or get you to think. It’s all about mood. It’s a slow ending.

Try to make your reader really feel the power of the moment, be it terrified, happy, sad, or sentimental.

Think of little symbols, like the butterfly above; with Kundera, it might stand for lightness, repeating the theme in the novel’s title. You could zoom in on a tapping finger or a dew drop, or zoom out to show wooded hills or a rural mansion. Landscapes and weather make very memorable finishing moments (“…and great shaggy flakes of snow began to fall.”).

Leave the reader with a unique vibe, and she will appreciate it. Sometimes, it’s all your closure needs.

3. Throw Them a Punchline

With this one, you have to be careful. Do you know that situation when Uncle Albert at the holiday lunch table makes a big fuss about his upcoming joke, but the punchline is almost non-existent? You don’t want to be like that. You could tell a joke or describe surprising action, but make it count.

Your punchline doesn’t have to be funny. It could be an action or a simple observation. In any case, it should connect to the stories topic, even if it’s just a symbolic hint. Otherwise it will be up in the air and look arbitrary.

George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm is one big parable on how totalitarian systems arise and thrive. It’s told in an animal world. Look at the clever, indirect and also depicting note Orwell ends on:

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

Punchline 1

4. Leave Open Questions and Create Suspense

If you want to tickle your reader with suspense, cue an open ending: Ok, the Apaches are defeated, but will they be back again? Got it, the starship has escaped the pudding-like aliens, but will it ever make its way home to planet earth?

These kind of endings will keep your readers on their toes and make them long for more. But be aware that they can also be very unsatisfying. After all, your reader bought your book so he can hear from you what happened. “Just imagine the rest yourself,” can be a little unsatisfactory. But if you have delivered a great deal of action beforehand and if the question is rather vague, it might be worth it.

Let’s showcase another one of the most successful novels of all time, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. It ends with Scarlett O’Hara longing to be together with Rhett Butler again – but can she? Also pay attention to the nice rhythm that keeps these phrases flowing: “I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.”

5. Repeat the Theme of the Opening Scene

Whatever your story is about, it probably circles around one specific topic: Be it the struggles of love, the rewards of honesty, or whatever else. It’s what keeps your readers breathless throughout the story. Now give them one last reminder of what they came for, one condensed moment of your topic, a big final exclamation mark!

You have many options to repeat your main theme in the closure. Think of people, actions, details.

Maybe your story is about the importance of friendship, and you wrap up with one friend putting a patch on the other friend’s abrasion. Or you end on one friend smilingly watching the other friend’s bag while she is away. Or a close up on the yin and yang badge on that very bag. It might be very simple, but it automatically gains meaning because it’s the last part.

Bret Easton Ellis’ nihilistic novel American Psycho starts by describing a graffiti with the text “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”

The novel fittingly ends with a nihilistic paragraph as well. Large parts of the following text read arbitrary in content and form. In the end the very last words of the novel spell it out clearly: NOT AN EXIT.

“[…]this is, uh, how life presents itself in a bar or in a club in New York, maybe anywhere, at the end of the century and how people, you know, me, behave, and this is what being Patrick means to me, I guess, so, well, yup, uh…” and this is followed by a sigh, then a slight shrug and another sigh, and above one of the doors covered by red velvet drapes in Harry’s is a sign and on the sign in letters that match the drapes’ color are the words THIS IS NOT AN EXIT.”

You can end your stories in an infinite number of ways, but these five closings will intrigue your readers, no matter what. They will evoke joy, melancholy, surprise and other powerful feelings in your audience, and your readers will remember how they felt about your story for a long, long time to come.

Photo, Alex Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Test your endings, beginnings, plot, characters and much more with his free checklist of “44 Key Questions” to make your story awesome. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Finished with your endings, Alex?

Kristen here. Now tell me: Have you used one of these five endings before? Which one of them is your favorite? Is there one you specifically like or dislike as a reader? How come even endings have beginnings? And why are sausages the only things with two endings?

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Dog Body Language
Image by Gopal 1035

Today regular guest writer Alex Limberg is back with a post that will make any of your dialogue scenes sound so much smoother. His piece is about body language. Raise your eyebrows and drop your chin in delight, because Alex is about to help you get under your readers’ skin with your dialogue. Also, you should definitely check out his free checklist about “44 Key Questions” to make your story awesome. Now clap your hands: 3… 2… 1… here we go:

***

“Crossing my bridge on your flying rhinoceros? You better reconsider that,” the troll said and raised his fist.

When you are reading the sentence above, you know immediately what the situation is about: The troll is threatening the other person (and a flying rhino is coming your way). And the reason you know exactly what’s up is, you guessed it, the fitting description of body language. Body language is added in just four tiny words. But those four words add a lot of depth to the scene.

The physical snippet makes your reader visualize the scene; it puts the graphic image of a big, green, threatening troll fist in his head.

It also brings some nice variation to your dialogue; it’s more interesting than a plain, boring dialogue tag (“the troll said” or “the troll shouted.”)

It introduces character and overboiling emotion – you know it’s better not to tangle with the green guy.

And finally, it adds some physicality to your story, as opposed to just “blah, blah, blah” dialogue and scenic description. It makes for well-balanced speech.

Troll Warning
Image by Gil

All of this is the power of using body language.

Here is a short Body Language 101 that will help you with “puppeteering” your characters’ bodies:

1. Use Body Language Only From Time to Time

If you use body language too much, it will become annoying and obvious and lose its subtle qualities. Instead, only describe characters’ facial expressions and postures from time to time. Make them smoothly blend in with the dialogue and the other scenic description.

Sneak your body expressions into the mix unobtrusively. Remember that you have several other options to “tag” and break up your dialogue lines:

  • You could use a dialogue tag (“Let’s go to the party then!” Sandra squealed.)
  • You could describe what the characters are doing (“Let’s go to the party then.” Sandra held the invitation out to him.)
  • You could describe what else is happening in the scene (“Let’s go to the party then!” Suddenly the doorbell rang.)
  • You could just leave the dialogue line standing alone (“Let’s go to the party then.”)
  • You could describe a facial expression, posture or movement of the character who is speaking and put it directly before or after his dialogue line, to let the reader connect the dots himself (“Let’s go to the party then.” Sandra’s face lit up.)

Try to vary these options, so none of them gains the upper hand and becomes annoying. That way you will get a well-balanced and structured scene that pays equal attention to dialogue, characters and descriptions.

When you insert body language, always do it in passing and don’t give any extra weight to what you describe.

2. No Explanation, Just Body Language

If you want to look really stupid, you could write like this:

“So surely you can tell me where you were on the evening of the twenty-second of October?” George asked with eyes narrowed to slits, because he felt very suspicious about Blake’s story.

This example does both, showing and telling. That’s one too many, and the too many one is the telling part! Cut out “because he felt very suspicious about Blake’s story.

When you write like this, you also take your reader for stupid. Let her connect the dots herself – if she has followed the story, she will know why Georg’s eyes are pressed to slits.

Try it like this:

“So surely you can tell me where you were on the evening of the twenty-second of October?” George asked, his eyes narrowed to slits.

That’s much better, now we don’t even have to go inside George’s head artificially, we can just describe objectively what the reader sees.

Whenever possible, don’t name the feeling, but just show the body language. And definitely never put both of them (body language and description of feeling) together in the same sentence.

Showing, not telling is sometimes not easy to do when you are caught up in the writing process. That’s why I created my free checklist about “44 Test Questions” to make your story great. It’s a comprehensive, no-holds-barred list about what I learned makes a good story, and you can download it right away.

Body Language 1

3. Have a Very Clear Idea of What Your Character Is Feeling

Take a look at this ambitious description of body language:

“Randy held one hand in his other behind his back, then suddenly stroked his throat while he was leaning towards Linda.”

What’s happening here? Nobody knows, Randy’s behavior is too much. As far as we are aware, it doesn’t make any sense. It seems like the writer pays attention to the undertones so much, that in the end he is not really saying anything.

Don’t write so cryptically that nobody can understand where your character is coming from. A simple description of one piece of body language at a time is absolutely enough. You, the author, always have to be clear about what your characters are feeling. And their body language has to match those feelings.

4. Follow Your Intuition When Describing Body Language

But where can you take an accurate description for flattery or envy from?

Your best bet is to take it from yourself. Imagine you feel flattered by an enormous compliment, like the best compliment ever. What expressions would your face, your arms, your body be making? Totally immerse yourself in the feeling like a good actor, and see which body expression fits.

Remember the last time you felt really envious about somebody? Use that memory to immerse yourself in the feeling for a second and ask yourself how your body would react.

Reading a book about body language is also an excellent idea. The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease is a very systematic and comprehensive guide to everything you ever wanted to know about body language. I recommend it whole-heartedly.

Acting 1

5. Several Types of Body Language You Can Use

Our bodies have several ways of giving our secrets away. Here are some examples and a bit of inspiration on what’s possible:

  • Facial expressions: The human face is an endless source of expressions. Think of raised eyebrows, tightly pressed lips, blown up cheeks, wrinkled noses, wide eyes, frowned brows, poked out tongues, widened nostrils… most feelings show through several features
  • Body postures: Crossed arms, legs wide apart, foot put forward, leaned back upper body, spread elbows, locked ankles, body pointing away, tilted head… all of these have something very distinctive to say
  • Body movements: Adjusting tie, nibbling on temple of glasses, whipping foot, raising hand with palm toward opposite, flicking the hair, putting hands in pockets, grabbing the other’s upper arm, scratching one’s nose… do you know what all of these mean?

Equipped with all of this knowledge, you now have an extremely elegant and effective way to describe what’s really happening under the surface of your scene. You can now go fill your characters with overflowing emotions and life.

Once you manage to describe how their feelings subconsciously pour out of them, your figures will automatically take on a life of their own and feel like they were standing next to you in your living room. And your reader won’t be able to keep from loving or loathing them whole-heartedly.

Photo, Alex Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Polish your dialogue, plot, characters and much more to greatness with his free checklist about “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and in the movie industry. He has lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Thumbs up, Alex!

It’s Kristen again, and I’m back to ask you: Are you guilty of completely neglecting body language in your stories? Do you have a favorite body part or movement to describe? Aren’t knees so much cooler than elbows? Do you ever forget to jump up and down when you are happy?

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

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Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!

Blogging for Authors

September 17th

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 9.00.39 AM

Today, copywriter and blogger Alex Limberg is back with a post that’s a bit different from his typical “how-to” writing advice. In this one, he spills the beans on how his own writing process came together. Here is the link again to his wonderful e-book that will help you create a tight and intriguing story by asking “44 key questions.” Check it out! And off we go…

***

Over the last several months, I’ve had the great pleasure of publishing ten guest posts here on Kristen’s fine blog. They were posts about all kinds of technical writing topics like characters, action scenes, how to introduce information, plot, etc… (look them up).

But for my eleventh post today, I thought it was time to switch gears.

Yes, it’s time for me to stop hiding behind the mask of the teacher and show myself to you bare-naked. But fear not, this post is still not X-rated. No need to hide it from the kids.

I’m just saying that this is a much more personal post than the ones before it.

Today, I want to report from my own writing journey and highlight for you what has advanced me most in my writing. Hopefully these lessons will help you too, especially if you are at the beginning stages of creating fiction.

Any look back on a passion project must always be personal and a bit awkward. That’s because it matters so much to you.

When you start out writing, like with any new skill, what you are doing just feels clumsy and deficient. The ugly truth is, the beginning stage is painful for novices of any field. You have no clue about anything, and you don’t even have a feeling for what’s missing. You feel out of balance, like a bear starting to practice riding a unicycle.

In my case, that clumsy bear phase began when I was 14; that’s when I started writing with serious intentions. Gladly, while writing, I didn’t realize how far I was from where I wanted to be. Like the donkey following a crunchy carrot, it always seemed to me my goal was just around the next corner.

Internet was still a few years away, and I didn’t have any information about the most effective ways to sharpen my skills. I just followed my gut and did what my passion told me: To keep writing and pushing forward.

But looking back now, I can point out the four specific things I did that helped me more than anything for my fiction writing. Let’s take a look at them.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Like always, if you want a comprehensive, no-holds-barred list about what I learned makes a good story, download my free ebook about 44 test questions to make your story great.

Putting a Lot of Hours into Writing

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If you take just one single thing from this post, let it be this one: You only learn by doing!

By far the most important thing you can do to get good at a skill is to practice it relentlessly.

Theory can be a shortcut, and it’s a good idea to study a bit how people more skilled than you have done it before you – but don’t get stuck with it. You will never be able to write well just from reading theory. That would be like trying to become a world-class tennis player by sitting on your couch, watching tennis and eating potato chips.

No, here is the only way to get good: You have to sit down on the cheeks opposite of your face and actually do it!

There is a rule that says you need about 10,000 hours to excel at a skill, and I found that number to be remarkably accurate: After roughly 10,000 hours of writing, I started to become really happy with the quality of my writing and my stories.

But back then, of course I didn’t know about that rule. I just knew that to have a finished book that I loved, I would need to have a finished book first.

And so I wrote. When the novel was done, I read it, and my heart sank to my knees – my writing was a lot worse than I had thought. But I still loved the story. So I wrote it again. And again. All in all, I wrote that novel four times.

And while putting in my hours and actually doing it, I became good.

Reading a Lot

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Just like you probably do, I loved books, I loved stories, and I loved to withdraw and immerse myself in different, fascinating worlds. I was intrigued by exciting plot, strong characters and skillful dialogue.

I had started devouring books at age 6 and never stopped. By the time I started writing, I had already been through many bookshelves worth of literature, with many more to come. I just followed my passion. But what I didn’t know was that observing my role models shaped me excellently.

When reading fiction, your subconscious automatically absorbs the language, the patterns, the three dimensional characters, the plot structure.

When you constantly immerse your brain in stories and language, you can be sure that deep down a killer instinct for writing is built. You can’t help but learn.

You will be able to draw from this reservoir for all of your writing career. Even if it’s not a career.

Being Brutally Honest with Myself

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You won’t find this one in many writing manuals, because it’s hard to do: Being able to admit to yourself what you have written is plainly bad. Admitting it is especially hard when you have no idea how to make it better and how to navigate the maze that is writing a good story.

Me, I’m a critical and sometimes too critical mind.

I’m usually able to confess to myself when work I have done sucks. To be honest, for many years reading my prose was an utterly depressing experience. My pulse quickened and my palms got sweaty when I realized everything it lacked.

What I wasn’t aware of at the time was how many people go for half-hearted outcomes, only to tell themselves it is okay and good enough. But self-deceit hardly ever leads to success.

You grow most outside your comfort zone. You grow when you set yourself goals and work towards them. And in order to establish these goals, you must admit that you are not there yet. You have to be able to take a good, hard look at your writing and realize what is missing.

Only then do you allow yourself to become better.

Knowing My Characters as Well as My Best Friends

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Your characters are driving your story. That also means when you have great characters, they will drive your story for you.

They will take care of who they are (characterization), what they do (plot), what they say (dialogue), and what they see (description). That’s still not your entire story (above all, you also have to learn how to handle language), but it’s a huge part of what makes your story.

Hence, if you know your characters really, really well, it will help you enormously.

Once I realized this, I started to write out long character sheets for each main character before even writing one single word of the main story.

I wrote out deep psychology, background, attitude, speech patterns and more. Then I put my characters into single scenes totally unrelated to the story, just to see how they would behave. How would they react to winning the lottery? To their brother insulting them? To gaining weight?

Minor characters would get shorter character sheets and even very small characters would have a couple of sentences dedicated to their personalities.

So write out your character sheets, and then lean back and let your characters do all the hard work for you…

In summary, follow these four cornerstones: Write relentlessly, read, be honest with yourself and know your characters like your best friends. I followed these rules intuitively, and only looking back do I now realize how important they were for my writing.

If you do just these four things, you have come a long, long way. Your writing will improve fast and the quality of your stories will skyrocket. Till one day you notice… writing doesn’t feel clumsy anymore at all.

Now it feels effortless.

****

Got it, Alex.

Kristen here. Now tell me: What do you think of these four points? Is there something else that really helped you getting better at story writing? Why can it be so brutal to read your own story? Do you ever wish you weren’t in the room when you read it? Could you maybe say you have gone outside for a smoke? Do your characters even like you?

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

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Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Polish your tales to greatness with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and in the movie industry. He has lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Check out the other NEW classes below! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th) will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that 😉 .

We are doing ANOTHER round of Battle of the First Pages!!! August 5th

The first time we did this we had some tech issues doing this new format and we’ve since worked those out, but for now I am still keeping the price low ($25) until we get this streamlined to my tastes.

LIMITED SEATS. This is an open workshop where each person will submit his or her first page of the manuscript for critique. I will read the page aloud and “gong” where I would have stopped reading and explain why. This is an interactive workshop designed to see what works or what doesn’t. Are you ready to test your page in the fire?

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages August 12th

The first five pages are the most essential part of the novel, your single most powerful selling tool. It’s how you will hook agents, editors and readers. This class will cover the most common blunders and also teach you how to hook hard and hook early. This class is 90 minutes long, 60 minutes of instruction and 30 minutes for Q&A.

Your First Five Pages Gold Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique your first five pages.

Your First Five Pages Platinum Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique of your first twenty pages.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

Five Senses

Image by Rob Nunn/Flickr CC

Today’s post once again is by my Writer-in-Residence Alex Limberg. After 10 posts, I’m slowly running out of witty introductions for him. But hey, if you haven’t checked out his free ebook yet, definitely go ahead and do it now. It will equip you with ‘44 test questions’ to examine your story and make it all-around tight and intriguing. This time, Alex shows us how to describe senses, so your reader feels like he is in the middle of your story. Go, Alex!

***

Do you know 5D-cinemas?

I mean these movie theatres that make your chair bump harshly, whip your ankles, and when somebody on the screen sneezes, it sprinkles your face… Yeah, they are basically legal torture chambers people pay entry for.

Why are they such a fun experience for many?

It’s because these theatres feel more real than your ordinary cinema. And that’s because they talk to more of our senses, not just 2D-seeing and hearing.

Anything that talks to our senses feels a lot more real to us. It is through senses that we experience our entire world. We crave sensory experiences. That’s why it’s so much fun when the snot of that disgusting jailor troll hits us.

Senses are even deeply engrained in our language: We believe it when we see it. We hear it through the grapevine. Something smells fishy to us. We feel for somebody. We might show bad taste.

Ultimately, evoking sensory experiences with your descriptions is one of the most powerful talents you can have as a writer.

If you can do it well, your audience will eagerly suspend any disbelieve and completely succumb to the illusion you have prepared. You will draw your readers deeply into your story and make them feel like they are right beside your characters. They will ultimately truly care about what is going on.

Because it’s not easy to craft your story as a well-rounded illusion, you can find a free download with 44 test questions here; use it to check your story quickly and easily for anything that might be off or missing.

The good news is, describing senses isn’t even that hard to do. Let’s take a look at all five senses, one by one, and see how you can best take advantage of them:

1. Seeing

That’s the most obvious one. Can you imagine even the greenest newbie not describing to the reader what he is seeing?

In fact, many writers put too much weight on this sense, at the expense of the others. Don’t overdo the visual description! You don’t have to teach your reader every single detail, it’s much better to leave something up to her imagination.

When you do describe visuals, think of the different qualities of look you could use to make your description vivid. Color is a good example. By using color, you can paint vibrant images in your reader’s mind. What do you think about this description:

“He couldn’t help but notice her extraordinarily sexy make-up.”

Bad. That’s telling, not showing.

“Her bright red lipstick immediately popped out to him.”

Much better. We have now put a colorful image in the mind’s eye of the reader. The image has a color with very specific connotations.

We have also used the word “bright,” which is yet another quality to make your visual descriptions more interesting: Shadows are eerie. Spotlights mean heightened pressure. Dimmed, soft lights can be romantic.

You can add a lot of mood to a scene or to a detail by describing light.

2. Hearing

Hearing is used fairly often as well. You will mostly describe a sound when the situation draws special attention to it: A door creaks, your protagonist turns her head.

But don’t forget that a sound can also be used for a strong effect! You can employ it to get on your reader’s nerves, to alarm or to relax him. Think of the soothing babble of a little brook. How comforting, isn’t it? Cut to the shrieking sound of nails scratching over a chalkboard. You might even be close to goosebumps now.

Your reader will hate you when you employ an effect like this. And he should, strong reactions are excellent! In the end, he will love you for putting him through all of that tingling torture.

On top of this, you can use sounds very well for a serious shock effect. How often in your life have you been frightened by a sudden sound? Certainly a lot more often than by any other sense alarming you. Those little acoustic shock effects are deeply engrained in your reader’s unconscious as well.

Imagine the sudden uproar of a roaring chainsaw. And if the guy who is carrying it wears a hockey mask too, there is no doubt anymore what comes next…

Chainsaw Image

3. Smelling

Now we are getting into territory that’s neglected way too often. Many writers like to forget smell, because when they are busily visualizing their scenes, it just doesn’t come to them naturally.

But smell can have a huge impact on your reader. To be more precise, the memory of the smell you are describing will have a huge impact on her. Smell is the sense that is most directly connected to the memory part of our brains (through the so-called “olfactory bulb;” great word, isn’t it?).

When you think about it, smell is kind of an animalistic sense – think of dogs eagerly sniffing each other’s behinds. When you describe the smell of shit, you can be sure to get stronger reactions than when you describe the look or the sound of it…

Because it’s such an emotional sense, smell can be very sensuous too. A stimulating perfume in a love scene will catapult your reader right into the middle of the action. They say that lovers can “smell each other.”

4. Tasting

In your stories, you don’t get the opportunity to demonstrate how something tastes very often. You couldn’t let your protagonist quickly lick the mask of the guy with the chainsaw, just to report that it tastes… salty? Now that would be moody, but it wouldn’t make any sense…

However, on the rare occasions your character puts something in his mouth or licks something, be sure to describe the taste. Certainly your character (and your reader) will pay attention, because taste is a sense that’s bound to get a very strong reaction.

After all, taking something into your mouth or touching it with your tongue is a very intimate act; it’s a personal thing that goes deep into the private sphere. Think of your character taking a beating and biting the hard and dusty curb or tasting a lovingly prepared dish of pulpy monkey brain. Tastes like that are hard to swallow.

You can also describe an emotion as so dense, your character can “taste” it in his mouth. Intense fear is sometimes described as a “taste of copper.” It’s like the feeling is so strong it finally becomes physical. And what does success “taste like,” can you tell me?

Taste

Image by Melissa Gutierrez/Flickr CC

5. Feeling

Finally, we have feeling. It’s a very sensual sense as well.

Like with tasting, be sure to describe it whenever you get a chance. When your character touches something, tell your audience what it feels like and draw them in. How pleasant does the soft fur of a kitten feel? And how uncomfortable is the stingy hail of a thunderstorm? You have all the power of making your readers live, love and suffer with your figures.

You can use touch especially well to describe the nature of objects or people: The silky smooth feeling of a light summer dress, grandpa’s grey and raspy beard. Just make sure you have a reason to describe how it feels; somebody touching it should be the trigger that allows you to explain.

So there you have it, the complete five senses. The sixth sense is then best suited to a Bruce Willis flick.

Now go ahead and describe away. A skillful description of sense will make your reader dive into your story head over heels… and it will feel so tickling she will never want to surface from your story again.

 

Photo, Alex Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Check your story for intriguing description, plot, characters, dialogue and any other imaginable quality with his free e-book “44 Key Questions to test your story”. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

I see, Alex.

It’s Kristen again, and I’m back to ask you: In your descriptions, do you take advantage of the big opportunities senses offer? Which sense do you tend to forget? Do you maybe employ one sense too much? Do you remember a book that totally drew you in with its sensory descriptions? If we could smell with our ears, would our nose only serve to hold our glasses? Have you ever seen a naked person that made you wish you were blind?

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Upcoming Classes!!!

Remember that all WANA classes are recorded so if you miss, can’t make it or just want to refresh the material, this is included with purchase price. The classes are all virtual and all you need is a computer and an Internet connection to enjoy!

THIS SATURDAY!

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages MAY 14th. The first five pages are one of our best selling tools. We fail to hook the reader and that is a lost sale. In this class, we go over the art of great beginnings. Additionally, the upper levels Gold and Platinum I actually LOOK at your pages and critique your actual writing. I am offering DOUBLE PAGES for FREE so this is a fantastic opportunity to get feedback from a pro.

 

When Your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors MAY 16th. The single largest challenge all writers face in the digital age is discoverability. In a sea of infinite choices, connecting with our audience can be a nightmare. Our brand is our lifeline. What is a brand? How do we create one? How do we entice an overwhelmed and distracted audience to connect and care? How do we develop this brand over time? How can we make this brand resilient to upheavals? How can this brand then grow and evolve as we grow and evolve?

Blogging for Authors MAY 20th. Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.