How To Use Writing Tips

Published November 27, 2016 by nruhwald

**This blog is on hiatus until the New Year. Thank you for reading.***

It occurred to me lately that I could use Pinterest to collect writing help articles as well as blogging help articles. Since then I’ve been swamped in writing tips. I think I have to start saving more dessert recipes and crocheting patterns just to keep things in balance.

But with this newfound access to a ton of internet knowledge, came the responsibility of using it properly. How and when do you apply writing tips? Are you supposed to have a list of writing rules open beside you as you write and keep referring to them?

Duh, no.

You’d never get anything done. When do we use writing tips, then, and how?

The short answer: during planning and editing.

For the long answer I’m going to go through some common types of writing tips and how to use them.

The Word List

(This also applies to your thesaurus)

Many of these lists have themes, such as words to use instead of “went,” words that evoke sensory details, words that “every writer should know.”

In general I think these lists are good, but use with care. Just like a thesaurus, it is very easy to look pretentious if you use words your audience doesn’t understand. There is also the risk of using a word incorrectly because you don’t understand what it means.

In which case you end up looking silly to those readers who do.

However, you can use these lists. These are best used in the final polishing, or line-editing, of your work. For instance, if you notice your characters are constantly “dashing” everywhere, a good word list with action verbs can help you out. A thesaurus is also helpful if you are struggling to remember a word. Often you can find it by looking for words with similar meanings.

The only “words to use instead of” list you should never use is the “said” replacement list. Do not, ever, replace “said” with anything. Except perhaps “asked,” although some suggest that a question mark is sufficient.

Unlike pretty much any other device used in fiction, “said” is supposed to be boring. It is there to be skipped over, so that the reader sees the character’s name and knows who’s talking, and that’s it. The dialogue itself does the rest.

If you must specify that a character is shouting or whispering or whatever, use an action tag.

Lists of “words every writer should know,” are a particular danger zone. While I agree writers should probably know what these words mean, they are almost always exactly the sort of words writers should use very, very infrequently. Or not at all, unless needed for voice or characterization purposes.Use a thesaurus with the same caution.

With one exception: if you have a very-highly educated and/or pretentious character, it is perfectly fine to use these words.

How To Plot A Novel

These articles usually cover things like the progression of suspense/conflict in a novel (inciting incident, rising action, climax, ending). Or they may cover plot points, and any of the other large-scale building blocks of novels generally. This also applies to articles on how to write a scene.

This kind of information you should know and have in the back of your head when you’re going through the plotting stages of the novel. Which, depending on your style, may occur before any writing begins or intermittently during the process of writing the novel.

It may also help you realize what a horrible mess you’ve made of your novel after you’ve written it. For example, if you go over your novel’s plot and realize you’ve glossed over the climax entirely, or you have no plot points at all…

…then you’ve probably successfully created a first draft, and are now ready to begin the arduous process of rewriting it. Congratulations.

How To Write The First/Last Chapter/Page

These I also find useful in the planning stages. Or if I’ve tried to write the first scene (or whatever) a few times and it just doesn’t seem to be working. They’re also a handy guide for rewriting said sections.

Oh, and the first page of your novel is absolutely the most important part and you should rewrite/edit it fifty bazillion times. Of course, you also have to back up your fabulous first page with a high-quality novel, but the importance of first impressions cannot be overstated.

Unless of course you are paralyzed with doubt about your first page. In that case, just forget it for the moment and move on.

Character/Setting Profiles

I think these are super neat. Ideally these are used in the planning stages, where they have the greatest potential to save you grief later on, but can also be used if you find yourself running into problems during writing, or as a primer prior to rewriting.

My deal is, although I think these are really cool and I like the idea of them, so far I have never used any. I tend to daydream up sufficient detail about most places and people organically.

While these profiles certainly can be useful, they also feel a bit artificial to me. Like a school project. Which is also why I don’t normally make use of writing prompts or creative writing lessons, even though those things are probably beneficial too.

Unless the writing prompt results in you writing a cliché or the creative writing instructor doesn’t know what s/he is talking about. Which can happen too.

 

God bless, and happy writing!

(Come back next week for a new sneak peak of The King’s Children.)

 

 

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Grow Your Blog By Helping Others

Published November 20, 2016 by nruhwald

penYou can do this in two ways. First, by supporting other bloggers by reading and engaging with their posts. Second, by using your blog to teach other people how to do things.

Be Active On Other Blogs

I’ve known about this strategy for a while, and talked about it in an earlier post on the subject, so I’m not going spend much time on it, except to say that being interested in other bloggers makes them more likely to be interested in you. Furthurmore, the more active in the blogging community you are the more you learn about things that can help you in blogging.

Things like StumbleUpon, and possibly Reddit and GoodReads, depending on what your niche is. These sites still seem rather mysterious to me, since I’m still trying to wrap my head around Pinterest and Twitter.

Help People Get What They Want

But I hadn’t considered the teaching aspect until my post offering blogging advice gained attention like crazy. At the time of this writing, it is the single most popular post I have even written.

Which makes sense, really. The vast majority of my readers are other bloggers, and they all want to know how to grow their blogs.

I’ve also noticed that pretty much all prosperous-looking blogs seem to be developed primarily to teach people. They offer courses, instructional e-books (sometimes for free in exchange for signing up to their e-mail list), infographics, and more. This includes large blogs in my niche. These ones just happen to also have a few pages about their self-published books in addition to the course material. (Most traditionally-published authors don’t tend to have this instructional element to their website, as far as I am aware.)

As someone who is not totally opposed to the idea of monetizing one day, great. As an artist, this concept gave me pause. Don’t I want to be known for my novels more than online instructionals? Don’t I want to spend time writing and not doing other things?

For me, yes this is true. I also don’t want to become one of those blogs so bogged down in ads that the blog becomes virtually inaccessible. The video pop-ups are the worst for this.

Depending on your style and what kind of blog you write, this may be true for you too. The good news is, you can benifit from the same strategy while not taking it to the same extent Mr/Ms Fancy Pants Online Tutorial does.

I’ve decided to keep up with the blog and writing tip posts. But I’m also posting more of my own fiction, because that’s primarily what I’m about.

So make use of whatever strategies out there you can, but just remember you don’t have to do it the way someone else does.

God Bless.

The Lofty Views of a Mouse

Published November 13, 2016 by nruhwald

brainThe evening began so well. After the hub-bub of Sunday’s frenzy, Oakwood Fellowship was finally quiet enough for the three mice to head over to their favorite spot in the receptionist’s station next to the Lost-and-Found box.

Ricky carried a communion cup fill with apple juice left over from the nursery snacktime, plunked it on the floor within easy reach, and settled down on a holey mitten.

Lena and Meg continued their discussion as they climbed up into the cupboard.

“Because, you know how humans only use ten percent of their brains?” said Lena.

Meg’s ear twitched.

“Oh boy.” Ricky hid his smile in the cup of apple juice.

Meg hopped up on an empty box of Dove soap. “Excuse me?”

“You know, on the scans. Only ten percent of the brain lights up,” Lena said. “On average.”

“I beg your pardon. Humans do not use ten percent of their brains. They may, or may not, use ten percent of their brains at a time, depending on what they are doing. But different parts of the brain are used for different things. People don’t do everything at once.”

“Well maybe, but-”

“-but nothing. For instance, a person cannot use every part of their house at once. Does that mean some parts of the house are unused? No, that’s dumb.”

“Well, you could get more stuff done if you could be in every room at once.”

“The brain doesn’t work like that.”

“So your analogy doesn’t work.”

“People don’t work like that either.”

“But if they did…”

Meg smoothed her whiskers in an effort to stay calm.

Ricky took another sip of apple juice.

“The point is,” Meg said. “People do, at some point during the day, use all the parts of their brain. There is no secret reservoir of untapped brainpower.”

“Well, whatever,” said Lena.

Meg gave a dismissive flick of her tail and scurried over to the smartphone. Someone lost it in the ladies washroom two months ago, and had never come back for it.

“You’re drinking all the juice,” said Lena.

“Well have some then,” said Ricky.

“Although.” Meg’s brow furrowed as she flipped through her Facebook newsfeed with quick, dexterious motions of her paw. “You may have a point.”

via Daily Prompt: Lofty

Winnowna, Meet Patrick

Published November 6, 2016 by nruhwald

winnownapatrick

Time for a new sneak peak of my upcoming novel The King’s Children. If you haven’t had a chance to meet my main characters Patrick Hood or Winnowna, you may want to do so now.

If you have, read on to see what happens when they meet each other for the first time.

 

Winnowna sat alone at her table in the tea parlour. Scant few others took tea in the spacious room; the resort town popular only in the summer months. The others talked and sipped their tea as if nothing was wrong. They knew who she was. Even in a drastically reduced mode of dress and without her entourage, no one could fail to recognize Princess Winnowna Illusia. Still, they pretended they did not know her.

She stared at her cup of tea, at the reflection of the chandelier in its surface. Her hand shook as she raised the cup to her lips. The next hour or two would decide her fate. After the rebels arrived and signaled their presence, Winnowna would run. Some of them would ensure the guards did not get in her way while others guided her to the docks where a ship waited for her.

Taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly, Winnowna smoothed the mauve satin of her skirt. She would have difficulty running in the voluminous dress and fine shoes, but she could not have worn something more practical without alerting her maid to the fact that she planned to escape.

They would come soon. Winnowna looked out the windows.

A strangeling walked across the roof of the buildings on the other side of the street and a chill of horror swept over her. She considered fleeing deeper into the inn, but she sat and watched him as though caught up into a dream.

Murmurs of concern arose from the other patrons in the tea parlour; some of them stood and began backing towards the exit. Her guard stood stiffly, hands on their weapons. What was this? Strangelings did not brazenly walk the streets in broad daylight.

Winnowna felt her mouth grow dry as his eyes met hers. The strangeling slid down the shingles on his feet, caught the eaves trough before he fell, let go and kicked off a pillar before landing on the street. He must be a strangeling, no human moved with that eerie feline grace.

He began to walk across to the street towards her, but didn’t get far. A group of men advanced on him and soon had him backed up against the wall of a haberdashery. A few onlookers watched uneasily from a distance or quickly ducked into buildings.

Who were these men? Was this the group of rebels she was supposed to meet? They could just as easily be an impromptu gang of concerned citizens. They outnumbered him ten to one, but nevertheless the strangeling did not appear intimidated.

Winnowna picked her opera glass out of her reticule to better observe the scene. The strangeling said something, but she could not tell what. One of the men pushed him against the brick wall.

A knife flashed in the hand of one of the men. The strangeling made a quick, precise gesture, and the knife flew from the man’s hand and struck the wooden sign above the door of the inn. One of the patrons shrieked.

The men backed off, dismayed at how easily their leader had been disarmed. The strangeling walked out from their midst and stalked down the road, back in the direction he had come. He hadn’t gone far before the men started to follow him. The strangeling glanced over his shoulder and began to run. The men gave chase, and were soon lost from sight beyond the window frame.

A breath of relief, the strangeling was gone.

Her guards were still preoccupied, looking out the windows, trying to work out what had happened. She could imagine no better opportunity to escape.

What if the strangeling was still out there?

Winnowna hesitated at the thought, but her choice was clear. Many strangelings awaited her in the gulf. Now she faced only one. And her allies were out there too. She must find them.

She jumped from her seat, hiked up her heavy skirts, and darted for the servant’s door, dodging a maid carrying a tea tray as she ran down the hallway, into the kitchen and finally out the back door into the narrow road behind the inn. Thinking of nothing but ensuring she was not followed, Winnowna ran down the cobblestone street, turned left, right, and right again.

The broken door of an abandoned theatre presented itself as a likely hiding place. She burst through the door, and hurried down a set of rickety steps into the dark and dusty basement.

Winnowna ducked behind a large backdrop, trying to catch her breath. She heard no shouts or running feet in the streets above. For the moment at least, she was free. She giggled. Free, think of it!

It took her over two weeks to accomplish, but now—

A shadow moved in the darkness. She froze. Her eyes searched the cluttered basement, and were met with too many possible threats. Painted faces leered at her out of the dark, and ominous shapes lurked in the shadows.

The princess crept deeper into the room, shying away from a trunk full of gruesomely realistic body parts. She bumped into a coatrack, knocking a rubber mask onto the floor. A hummed tune floated to her, gone almost as soon as she heard it.

She halted, listening intently and watching, but she heard nothing. Perhaps the sound had come from outside?

“They’re coming for you.”

Winnowna whirled at the unexpected voice, her heart convulsing madly in her chest.

The strangeling stood barely fifteen feet from her, his eyes flowing ghastly green like the eyes of a wild animal caught in lantern light. One of the creatures who preyed upon her family for the last three hundred years.

He looked—nothing like she expected a strangeling to look. Indeed if he hadn’t been a strangeling Winnowna might have thought him handsome. Where were the horns and deadly fangs the stories promised? And he was young; he could not be much older than she was.

He wore a long, dark coat that reminded her of a highwayman, tailor made for him. Actually, it looked like a costume.

He brushed his hair out of his eyes. “They’re coming. I tried to tell your friends, but they wouldn’t listen.”

So those had been the rebels.

“What have you done with them?” she demanded.

The strangeling frowned. As he shifted, the green glow disappeared from his eyes, revealing them to be blue, almost black in this light. “Nothing. I’m trying to warn you. My name is Patrick.”

“Patrick Hood?”

“Yes.” He looked up. “They’re coming.”

 

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for part two!

When Failure is a Good Thing

Published October 30, 2016 by nruhwald

writeTo begin with, let me explain what I mean by “failure.” I’ll spare you the dictionary definition, we all know what the word means. But by failure, I’m talking about anything that didn’t go the way you wanted it to.

For writers, this could mean rejection by an agent, a bad review, a harsh critique, or poor sales or blog statistics.

For many of us, it’s very difficult to think of failure as anything other than an abysmal reflection on our efforts. It probably starts in school. Even in subjects where technically there is no wrong or right answer, for grading purposes, some answers are better than others. You either gain or loose marks, and that is it. Gained marks are good, lost marks are bad.

The world outside of school is a bit more nuanced.

Sometimes it’s not you

How people react to what you put out there, be it writing or anything else, is as much about them as it is about you. Oddly enough, I learned that playing an online rpg. Some of the characters thought I was fantastic, while others hated me.

Obviously, it was all preprogrammed. I could only complete the quests. What the characters said or did as a result had nothing to do with me.

It may have been just a game, but it translates into the real world. Just as the characters in the game had preprogramed responses, people you meet come with their own set of likes and dislikes. If someone doesn’t like what you wrote, it could just be that you queried the wrong agent, or for some reason attracted the wrong audience.

Whether you “succeed” or not sometimes doesn’t have much to do with how well you do it. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of the writing world. But this fact doesn’t let you off the hook.

If the bad result isn’t your fault, you have to try something different. Find out where your audience really is. Find the right agent.

Sometimes it is you

But this isn’t a bad thing either. You have simply discovered a problem that needs to be solved. Finding out you write query letters badly, for example, isn’t objectively worse than finding out you queried the wrong agent. It feels worse, I won’t deny that.

But it doesn’t mean that you are doomed, or that you’re a bad writer (or a bad whatever-you’re-trying-to-be). All that’s needed is a bit of learning and practice. Possibly a lot, but that’s okay.

Mistakes are good. They help you learn.

Failure sucks. Sometimes a lot. There are numerous, rather common, experiences in writing that easily elicit in emotional crisis. You’re entitled to feel awful when this happens. But when the storm is over, remember that you’ve just discovered an opportunity.

Learn from your mistakes. Success is great but it seldom teaches you anything.

 

Writing Weirdness

Published October 23, 2016 by nruhwald

book-read-relax-lilacI apologize for missing last week. It’s midterm week at the ‘ol tech school.

Given that writing a blog post is not necessarily a great drain on time you wouldn’t think it being midterm week would mess up my blogging schedule so much.

But hey, look at that. It did.

Without further ado, I’d like to talk about writing weirdness. Not writing weird things, but the weird things going on in the writing world.

Specifically, something I keep hearing people say. Usually something like: “I don’t use my writing to express my viewpoint,” or “nobody likes to be preached at” etc.

The thought pattern behind this, I suppose, is: writers should avoid putting their personal opinions into their writing because people do not like encountering viewpoints contrary to their own, and heaven forbid anyone should mistakenly think the person with an opinion is “judgy.”

By the fact that I’m bringing this up, one could assume that I don’t agree with this kind of thinking. It’s not so much that I don’t agree. I just think people who say this are missing something rather obvious.

We are all unique. Our opinions and worldviews are as unique as our fingerprint. This is why nobody ever writes the same story. We all know this.

Then why would anybody think that at least part of what they believe and how they see the world is not evident in their writing?

Whether a writer makes a point of discussing something in a novel is irrelevant. Who they are will show up in what kinds of characters they create, and what kinds of stories they tell. It’s not a bad thing.

How you view the world and what kind of experiences you’ve have will shape your idea of what a lousy person looks like. Your choices of antagonists will reflect that. Likewise for your protagonists.

Your opinions are going to be in your story anyway. Other people may not notice. Some of them will.

Sometimes I like to read through another writer’s work, published or otherwise, and make guesses about what they believe from that. And then find out more about them from their profiles and bio’s and such to see if I was right. (Saying this just to prove a point, not to brag,) but I’m right about 90% of the time. I can spot a fellow Christian from a hundred yards.

People who can write convincingly from another perspective are rare. I can also tell if a writer chooses to have religious characters, (because, you know, most people do believe in something) but are not religious themselves.

Okay, I guess it’s obvious I don’t agree with the kind of thinking that says you shouldn’t put what you believe in your writing. I think it’s silly, because what you believe is in there anyway. (Especially when people say they don’t put their beliefs in writing and then advocate for diversity in writing. Isn’t diversity all about different world views and experiences? How do you keep opinions out of that?)

It’s okay to have an opinion and put it somewhere where people might see it. All else being equal, a well-crafted story with someone’s opinions in it is still a good story.

People are too scared of opinions other than their own these days. Knowing this, it’s tempting to pack our own away. But wouldn’t it be better to learn to express our views and receive other people’s views in a non-combative way?

 

The Gift of Creativity

Published October 9, 2016 by nruhwald

creativityHere in Canada, it is Thanksgiving. The time of year when we reflect on our blessings (especially the 3-day weekend), sip Pumpkin Spice Lattes, and eat way too much.

Today I want to reflect on the gift of creativity.

I’ll be the first to admit it: being a writer, or any kind of artist, is hard.

It’s hard work to become better at our craft. It’s hard to pour out our souls and then allow the wonderful thing we’ve created to get ripped to pieces by critiquers. It’s hard to get out of our comfort zones and attempt to sell our work to the world.

Even so, it’s important to remember how special the gift we’ve been given is. It is hard, but would I ever want to go through life without some kind of creative project going? No way!

Creating stories feeds my soul. I’d write even if I knew no one but me would ever read what I’ve written, just because I can.

Let’s face it, artists, not everyone can do what we do. It’s special, even if our work never influences society, profoundly or otherwise. In the midst of your creative travails, I hope you take a moment to be blessed.

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