All posts by Dawn Blair

Is writing worthy of your life?

I have been wondering if my post last Thursday was too harsh. Maybe a little. Then I remind myself of two things:

1. When I write a blog post, I’m usually writing it for me as much as anyone else. I often find myself giving the very advice I need to hear. So did I need to give myself that advice? Yes. Not just for my writing either, but that’s another story.

2. I’ve had enough people wonder how I find the time to write when I work full-time and raise two boys by myself. I usually just shrug and reply that I have really good children who help me out a lot. But that’s only part of the answer. The full answer includes the explanation that I don’t “find” the time to write. I “make” the time. If you’re looking to find the time to write, you will never find it. You have to decide that writing is important enough for you to do it. If it’s not, then move onto other things that are worthy of your time. 

Last week I heard some great advice. The woman who gave it said that she’d been asked the question and it had helped her put some things in perspective. So now I share her advice with you:

“Today I heard some advice that I know I will use to measure the importance of my goals. The question that was asked was: Which goal is worthy of your life? Which would you trade your life for?”

So, with that being said, is writing worthy of your life? You are going to trade away hours and hours of your life to tell an elaborate lie (which is the essence of all fiction) which you hope other people will read and enjoy. Make sure you are making the best possible choice for yourself. Also realize that over time the answer to this question might change. We all go through seasons.

So, if you still know that writing is your everything, I wish you happy writing! Now go get to work on that manuscript.

Dragons of Wellsdeep – Pages 20 & 21 edit

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When I get to editing this for the rewrite, I need to push the characters more here and how they are reacting off of one another. Especially if you take a look at all the “was” words on page 21. This is an overload for me. That definitely tells me there’s a problem! Yes, it is all telling. Fortunately I have a lot of room to work with, so it’s just a matter of of untying the knot I’ve got here and fixing it. I look forward to it.

Yes, adding those layers and deepening the story is what makes if fun. I promise.

Happy writing!

 

When the writing gets hard

Yes, there are days when the writing gets hard. There are days when the editing gets harder.

Go on, Google all you want on creative blocks. You’ll find lots of answers.

Yes, follow all those leads if you will: read a book, take a walk, write anyway, edit anyway, blah, blah, blah.

The truth is there are just some days when you can’t do it. This blog is as much about my journey in writing as it is yours. It is my legacy. Someday someone will come along and read this and know that I’m sharing everything I know about writing with you in order to help you.

So here it is, the truth about when the writing gets hard:

Suck it up, cupcake. No job or career is fun all the time. There are times when you just have to make yourself have the discipline to step forward into the task you don’t really want to do. If you want to wait on the Muse, put down your pencil or delete all the writing files off your hard drive now. You cannot wait for anything. You only have this moment because one minute, one hour from now and it’s gone. Hard work requires discipline. If you want to have your book done, you have to do it.  Put your butt in the chair and do the work or suffer the regret later. That’s your choice.

Now I’m really going to injure those creative block lists. The thing is, they aren’t all wrong either. Sometimes you do need to step away for a moment. A moment! Half an hour or less, if you think that life won’t suck you into something else. Don’t let drama happen to you in order to procrastinate. If you think that’s going to happen, skip this paragraph and move right to the next one.

Just because you don’t want to write one book, or if you feel it’s too difficult of a scene for you to write from where you’re at in your life right now, switch to something else. Yes, you heard me. Start another project. (gasp!) I’ve found that everything cycles around. I’ve learned to listen to my Muse and what she wants to work on. Sometimes I have a schedule for a book and I have to override the Muse — but hey, who really is in control of this body anyway? When she gets a body, she can do what she wants too. Until then, I ask, “What would you like to work on?”, she answers, then I have to decide if it’s really wise or not. My decision. Then I step into discipline, put my butt in the chair, and get to work.

I generally have 2 or 3 projects going at once. My main writing projects right now are, of course, Sacred Knight and The Loki Adventures. After that, I know that I have Dragons of Wellsdeep to write for this blog. If I really don’t want to work on any of those projects, I also have the script for my Weblinks comic (which I’m also lining out at a novel when I have time and inclination), and another young adult story. I like having lots of ideas. I might not feel like working on one story at the moment, but surely there is another which I can easily lean into and work on.

If I don’t, I write anyway. Unless I really can’t. But that’s usually because I’ve gone into a cycle to draw or paint and that’s a whole other can of worms.

So write. Be disciplined, even if you don’t feel like. The Muse will sit down with you when she realizes you are serious. She usually just wants to see you get to work first.

Get to it. Happy writing.

Dragons of Wellsdeep – Pages 18 &19 edit

 

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Remember my post from last Thursday about balancing your posts. Yeah, these pages show my definite weakness for setting. Fortunately, that’s why we edit our manuscript!

Once again we’re in the “white room” and there’s a lot of talking. It’s not all talking, so that’s good, but wouldn’t you like to know what Sundancer looks like. I do, but right now it’s in my head. I have so got to get it out.

Another thing I’ve alluded to, but never really said is that they have speed healing. This would be a great scene to put it in. I started thinking about his mouth and gums, how he had steam coming out of his mouth. It’s not possible for him to be unhurt. When was the last time you drank scalding coffee or tea and wished you hadn’t?

Also, notice how with the names, Serchk and Sundancer, we start to have a lot of alliteration going on in the middle of page 19. I’ve underlined all the S’s just so I remember to change something.

Well, I have a lot of work ahead of me to get this part whipped into shape. Bring it on!

Happy writing.

Have you found your writing flow?

In last Sunday’s post, I mentioned how my first drafts are heavy on the action and dialogue and include minimal setting details. I didn’t figure this out overnight. In fact, I didn’t even figure it out myself. My critique partners mentioned it when they asked why I didn’t write screenplays. Both of them were very aware that I saw my stories in a cinematic fashion and I do; I see everything as if I’m watching a movie. They told me that I should stick with my strengths and let a set designer and costumer do the rest of the work.

The fact is that screenwriting is a difficult industry to get into. I certainly don’t have the connections to make it happen, not without more work than I want to put in. I’d rather do a couple more subsequent drafts of adding the detail.

Here’s a colorful tip for getting a visual on your strengths:

Take some highlighters, none that will cover up your text or make it difficult to see what you’ve written and start going through your manuscript. Color dialogue in yellow (or the color of your choosing), setting and other detail words in blue, thoughts, internalization, or point of view indicators in pink, and everything that is left will be narrative.

Let’s have an example (since I can’t highlight, I will change the font color):

Caitlyn looked out the window at the darkening sky while she parted the heavy, velvet drapes with her hands. With the sun fading behind the clouds, she could dare to open up her world some. She reached down to put on her sunglasses, which hung from a chain around her neck. Her grandmother had always kept a pair of reading glasses on this chain, but Caitlyn didn’t need cheaters like that. Dark lens were another thing.

“Ow!” complained Lucky behind her as she drew the curtain across the rod. She glanced back at him, sitting at the mahogany table with his usual pile of papers before him. He capped his hand over his eyes, shielding them from the light of the overcast day. “Did you have to go and do that?”

“If it doesn’t hurt my eyes, it shouldn’t hurt yours,” Caitlyn responded as she opened the other curtain. If only for a moment, she enjoyed feeling human again.

So I have narrative in blue, dialogue in pink, details in reddish-brown, and thoughts/internalization in green.

Now, this isn’t an exact science. Sometimes things could fall into two categories — for example, I thought “chain around her neck” could be a detail or just part of the narrative. I gave myself the benefit of the detail here.

I did write this with the intent of it being a fairly balanced piece. If you have done this exercise for several pages of your manuscript, you should find that narrative is the most common, followed by details, then dialogue, then thoughts/internalization. You’ll see here that the blue (narrative) is the most used, followed by details (6 instances), then dialogue (3 instances), and thoughts (2 instances). If you have a scene which is heavy on the dialogue, make sure you don’t have a “talking heads” scene where the participants are just talking back and forth with no action or setting details. If you are still having narrative and details, but there’s a lot of dialogue, make sure it is balanced and flowing just so it’s not all speech; break the rhythm every now and then. Again, it’s not an exact science, just an experiment to show you how you work. Once you know your own writing flow, you know what you need to work on in the next draft.

Happy writing!

Dragons of Wellsdeep – pages 16 & 17 edit

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We’re starting to get into a scene that was very easy for me to write. I’m starting to feel like I have a good handle on the characters, though what Moonhunter is up to is still a little vague and unclear. It’s developing and that’s good. I’m still also waiting to get his motivation, but I trust that it will fall into place; I’ve been giving it a lot of thought still.

In some ways, writing this is feeling a lot like writing The Loki Adventures. I don’t see the whole journey, only the next step. But, if you’ve been reading the posts I’ve been putting out on Thursdays as well as this one, you know that I’m a big believer in just getting the story out on the page. Once you’ve written something, then you can go back and figure out the actual story. It’s like going to the store and buying clay; okay, that part has been successful, but now you need to mold it into something.  Honestly, I’ve reached a point where I wish my painting was as easy as my writing (strange, because for quite a number of years it was the other way around). Enough whining. Onward!

On these two pages, I’m wanting a lot more description. Yeah, that’s no shocker. I know that I first write with a lot of action and dialogue. You might be completely different. I know authors that write tons of description in their first drafts, then they have to go back and work it in. But for me, I’m moving with the story, transcribing what’s happening. Then I have to go back, re-dream the dream so to speak, and pull the setting out of my head to put it onto the page.

Now that I know exactly what Moonhunter is up to in the next scene, I really need to go back and heighten his worry that Balthier knows something. And because he’s developing his special powers, I need to really slow down and introduce the reader to what he’s doing and why. Again, I know it’s in my head. I just have to get it out on the page for the reader. I know you don’t realize it, but when Moonhunter’s voice deepens, that’s part of the dragon change and him gathering fire within him. You’ll see that again in the next couple of pages that reference is made to it again, along with a note to myself that when Moonhunter is aboard the ship with Balthier and he makes the room hot that it’s him working on his dragon breath. I might not have even remembered that when I was editing those pages, but I did make myself a note to go back and check.

Get it out, get it down on the page. Form into something later, once you know what you’re building.

Happy writing!

When Your Details Stops the Story

Beginning and novice writers fall prey to this clever little deceiver when they suddenly realize that they hadn’t included any details in a scene. They start popping them in without thinking about their placement or they rush back during a rewrite and drop them in like they are sprinkling in raindrops. These haphazard details smear across the page and take the characters hostage at knife point to completely stop the story. Here’s a scene I see way too often:

Mary jumped out of the car and ran into the house. The little two-story cottage style abode had a white picket fence surrounding it. The lawn had been cut two days ago, and already it showed signs of needing to be watered. Shelby barked at Mary as she unlocked the door with one of the many keys on her key ring. She had about 10 on the loop, but the house key was the only golden one. Inside, the hallway was dark, despite the bright day outside. She flipped on the light and rushed inside. The new carpet squished beneath her feet. The hallway still smelled of fresh paint. A breeze, as if a window had been left open, pressed against her warm skin. She noticed a coffee cup sitting on the low table in the middle of the living room. With a shock, she noticed someone was in there, sitting casually in the recliner. She entered the room. The ornate room had red carpet that hadn’t yet been replaced. As a child, her grandmother had never let her play in the room and had hardly used it herself, so the carpet was hardly worn. All her grandmother’s nick-knacks remained on the fireplace hearth just in front of the mirror in which she could now see the reflection of the man sitting in the room. A lamp was on beside him, shining onto a book he’d pulled from the shelf beside the fireplace. He slammed it shut as Mary entered the room. The sound made her jump.

Okay, well, that’s a start. But there’s a lot that needs work. Let’s start at the top.

Mary first gets out of the car and runs into the house. Then, it’s like she backs up in reverse so we can see not only the house, but the white picket fence, the lawn, the dog, and the keys. Not only has that stopped the reader, but it’s made the reader go backwards too.

Remodeling the house might be important, especially in light of the room that Grandmother left pretty much untouched — it was a show room, one reserved for company and special occasions and otherwise not used. I got that from writing this. Did you get that sense from reading it? Possibly not. So there were thoughts of the author that the reader might not get.

Then, we have the stranger in the room. Did you notice how even after she’d realized that someone was in the house she still reflected on the carpet, the nick-knacks, and the lamp without having a reaction to him. In fact, Mary doesn’t react at all until he slams the book closed. Let me ask you: if you came home to discover a stranger in your house, would you think about these things or would you be dialing 9-1-1 already? Yeah, let’s not make our characters do things we ourselves wouldn’t do (unless there is a very good reason for it, like she knows the cops are right behind her already).

Do you also see how the details of the story are listed like facts? Starting with the keys, in describing that she has 10 of them on her ring, right on the lamp. The story has pretty much stopped in this time, except for her turning and realizing that someone is in the house — that’s the only action. All the rest are details that have stopped the story.

So, now let’s fix this:

Mary pulled the car to the curb outside of her two-story cottage style house. She pushed her way through the gate of the white picket fence, reaching down quickly to pet Shelby as he barked a greeting to her. Mary riffled through the multiple keys on the ring for the golden house key and unlocked the door. Through the darkness of the hallway, the scent of fresh paint greeted her. She flipped the light and as she turned, she noticed a coffee cup sitting on the low table in the living room. A soft breeze drifted across her face as if someone had opened a window. Her heartbeat quickened as she stepped toward the room. The new carpeting squished beneath her shoes, dampening the sound of her movement. As she drew closer, she saw a black hole on the shelf where a book had been removed from the others. She scanned quickly to see if anything else in the room had been disturbed. All of her grandmother’s nick-knacks were lined up perfectly across the fireplace mantle. She looked up into the mirror above the fireplace which reflected the rest of the room and saw him. The stranger’s eyes locked with hers. He sat in the recliner, the book in his hands. He slammed it shut, making Mary jump, as he made to stand.

First we see Mary making her way from the car to the house. We show the reader the house from the vantage point of the car and move her through the fence and into the yard. Gone now is the state of the grass — it’s not important to the scene. The dog stays, because the dog is a state of normalcy — she’s expecting to see the dog and since the dog isn’t freaking out about someone being inside the house, the reader doesn’t expect it and must wonder how someone got passed the dog. This creates suspense.

Also notice in the first example how things are separated from the rest of the story: hallway was dark, carpet squished, fresh paint smelled, etc. All these things are independent sentences on their own. But in the second example, I’ve actually blended these things into the scene. They are no longer facts being told, but have a reason for being in the story: the carpet dampens the sound of her walking, the hallway is dark to bring on a sense of foreboding, the odor of the paint greets her in another warm gesture to make her feel safe in opposition to the dark hallway. Even the items in the room are no longer facts, but clues as she discovers the stranger in her house.

I did take out the whole part about the house being her grandmother’s. It probably is important, but not here. What’s important here is Mary returning home to find a stranger.

Any time you have details in your story that are standing alone like facts being shouted from a textbook, find a way to blend them into your story. If you don’t, they stop the story.

If you’d like another example of this, check out my chapter on narrative in The Write Edit.

Until next time, happy writing.

Dragons of Wellsdeep – pages 14 & 15 edit

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Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg14_edited_Dawn Blair

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Well, there’s not really a whole lot to say about these two pages except that my pronoun problem which I spoke about in last week’s post has gotten so much worse. I’m still not sure how to rewrite this other than to slow it down and add setting and narrative, but that will come.

Because this is a repeat problem, I really don’t have a lot to say about these two pages. I hope your own writing is coming along well.

Don’t forget: if you’re having any questions on your own work, patterns that you’re seeing and would like to solve, send me an email.

Until next time, happy writing!

 

What’s in a name?

At one time I would have thought this to be obvious advice. But this tip comes directly from a contest I judged. I talk about it (and a lot of other things) in my book, The Write Edit. The name has been changed here, but the example is real.

Let’s say you have a character and his name is Jimmy John, but everyone refers to him JJ, don’t have his mother call him Jimmy, JJ, and Jimmy John in the same conversation in a scene. Why? Aren’t you trying to let the reader know the character’s name in dialogue instead of telling it? No! A mother is going to call her son by the name which reflects her feelings at the time.

Maybe the mother despises the name JJ, that it was something his friends started calling him in school and she hated from the moment she heard it. In that case, she would always call him Jimmy or Jimmy John, depending on her feelings for each name. But she would pick one.

Or, maybe she’s the one that started calling him JJ, so she’d call him that. But then that’s what she’d call him. Now, she might call him JJ under normal circumstances and call him Jimmy John if she’s being sharp with him.

“You’re a good boy, JJ for opening the door for the lady.”

“Jimmy John, be a good boy and open the door for the lady.”

See the difference between the two. Hear the tone change? But you can’t have:

“JJ, get me the butter from the refrigerator. Oh, you’re such a good boy, Jimmy John. Now, Jimmy, I do wish you’d settle down and marry that girl, Allison. She’d be so good for you, JJ.”

Wow, does she have three people in the room? I kid you not, this was pretty much how the manuscript rolled when I judged it. I had to read it several times before I got the point that Jimmy John and JJ were the same person.

Notice how often you actually use someone’s name when you’re talking to them. Usually it’s only if you’re trying to get their attention.

“JJ, get me the butter from the refrigerator. Thank you, you’re such a good boy. I wish you’d settle down and marry Allison. She’d be so good for you.”

Doesn’t that sound more like realistic dialogue than the first?

Happy writing!

Dragons of Wellsdeep – pages 12 & 13 edit

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The drafts on top are the original manuscript pages as it has been written. On the bottom are my edit drafts with my handwritten comments.

I found page 12 surprisingly clean, but again there is a lot of dialogue. Still, there are some actions that can be cleared up. This would also be a good page to insert more setting if I found that I needed some room. I’ve found that if I come across a scene where additional dialogue or action can be added, then the scene wasn’t pulling it’s weight in the story. Some people would ask if then I’m just bloating the story with more words, but I like to think not in word count but effectiveness. If I have a character going back and forth between places, chances are I’m not being effective in my order of scenes. In the first draft of The Three Books, I had Steigan going and coming from Whalston several times. Once I lined out the scenes and reconfigured the story so that he left Whalston and never went home again, it became more effective. The counter to this is in Manifest the Magic when he goes to and from Searn’s fief to Lilinar multiple times, but each time he goes back to the fief he thinks of himself as going home, which has effect when Searn places him in the Temple. I can always cut words later after I have the structure of the story securely in place.

The object they have retrieved (the rock) is an item of concern for me in these two pages. For me, while I’m writing this, I know it’s a placeholder. I don’t have the whole backstory for what they were doing and why this object is important. Because, after all, if it’s not important, then why did I have this whole last scene? True, it might be something I’ve written for myself — a way to have discovered some of the powers of the dragonborn. The prior scene might well be unnecessary when the story has been written. I don’t think this will be the case though. I’m sure it will have some usefulness; I just haven’t written enough to discover it. Again, this is where I’m trusting the process. My instinct tells me that it’s important. So, it’s a placeholder and I know that I will have to figure out the backstory before I can rewrite these scenes.

What concerns me more is what’s starting to happen at the end of page 13. Do you see the overload of pronouns which I’ve underlined in the last paragraph. If you really look at it, you’ll start to see repetitive sentence structures as well. He brought, he gathered, he breathed… his lungs, his hand, his skin. It’s always “he” followed by a verb or “his” followed with a body part. This means I have a lot of rewriting to do to smooth this out. I feel like this is a sign of something, but I don’t know yet what I should be picking up from these clues. I do feel like this pattern is similar to a “trigger word.” I’ll have to consider this for a while; I certainly have never claimed to know all there is to know about writing — in fact, I recently learned about a new writing terminology which I had unknowingly stumbled upon while writing To Birth A Destiny. I had discovered it all on my own before another writer mentioned it to me and I started researching. I’m not sure I agree totally with it and the practice they are preaching, but I have much more research to do on it before I can say that I’ve added it to my toolkit and can use it correctly. It made me wonder about some of the things I’ve judged over the years, but in researching examples, I decided that I stand by my critiques, though there are some things I would have reworded. Sorry for being cryptic here — I will discuss all this at another date once I’ve gotten a handle on it, but I do want you to take away from all this that even I am still learning.

I hope you are learning lots from this too. If so, please don’t forget to support me on my Patreon page and let other writers in your online and offline circles know about this blog so they can come get the help they need too. Let’s make better stories!

 

Happy writing!