Tag: writing

First Draft or Stream of Consciousness?

First Draft or Stream of Consciousness?

It may be the first time you’re tackling a writing project or the thousandth time, but you’re not alone. We are all guilty of it at some point. “Stream of consciousness” writing. We sit down and start writing whatever comes to our minds first.

For a lot of authors, this is a great way to brainstorm or to get the beginnings of a scene or character outline mapped out. But for many who are just starting out, it’s difficult to tell the difference between the stream of consciousness writing that kick starts our creative juices and the “crappy first draft” (as many writers like to call their first cohesive draft of a project—if not an even more colorful name) that is the framework for a work-in-progress (WIP).

 

Identifying Stream of Consciousness Writing

One of the quickest ways to tell if your current WIP is in its first draft phase is to take a step back and read it. If it reads like a diary entry, going off on tangents and with ideas headed in all different directions, then your work-in-progress is actually just stream of consciousness writing. Many new authors mistake this as a first draft because it’s the first time they are getting their ideas down on paper. Unfortunately, writing is a little more complicated than that, and it requires a bit more leg work in its beginning stages.

 

Using Stream of Consciousness to Your Advantage

Something important to keep in mind, especially if you are a first time writer, is that stream of consciousness writing isn’t bad. It can be very useful, especially when you’re just trying to get words out onto the page. Any writer will tell you that some days, that’s a struggle! Some days, just writing a short, fifty-word exercise seems like a monumental achievement. And let’s face it, writer’s block is a real problem. Getting words down on the page can give you that small victory you need to keep plowing forward in your writing goals.

Another thing to keep in mind is that your stream of consciousness writing is not where your editing process should stop. While getting the words onto the page is important, it is still just the first step to envisioning your ideas. The first draft should always have some kind of structure and timeline to it, with a real framework to build off of. If you don’t have that, you’re still stuck in the stream.

 

Turning Stream of Consciousness into a First Draft

Experienced authors will tell you that even their first drafts have first drafts, and they aren’t joking. In order to reach the coveted “drafting” stage of writing, an author will go back over their brainstorming, research, and outlines with a fine-tooth comb looking for like concepts, timelines, and cohesion. Those stream of consciousness ideas that went off on random tangents or maybe that stemmed new concepts are reordered and organized into paragraphs and chapters that follow an ordered and structured chain of events. They become the framework for the first draft of a story.

 

Whether you’ve been writing for twenty years or twenty seconds, it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of getting your ideas from your head into tangible words on the page. Keep in mind that while this is exciting, those words still have a long way to go before they are ready for the final edits.

Always remember to keep writing, keep editing, and keep reading. Eventually, you will become a pro at converting your stream of consciousness into a completed work in progress.

Quick and Easy Editing Tips

Quick and Easy Editing Tips

Whether you are traditionally published or an Indie author, self-editing is an absolute must. While there is no substitute for hiring a professional editor, there are a few tips writers can do before submitting that manuscript to an editor, publisher, or even beta readers.

Look for “crutch” words

Every author tends to rely on what I call crutch words. These are different for every writer, but reading through your finished manuscript will enable you to become familiar with your own. As you review, look for repeated words or phrases. Some of my crutch words are well, perhaps, and so.

There is nothing wrong with any of these words, but I have a habit of starting sentences with well and so. “Well, I planned to go to town,” or “So, what’s the next step?” In both cases, I can eliminate the first word without changing the meaning of the sentence. If you find you overuse a word, but leaving it in some places is a must, then refer to a thesaurus for synonyms.

Look for “red flag” words or phrases

We’re all familiar with passive vs. active voice. Using active voice is always best. Words such as here, there, of, was, were, will be, to be, thought, felt, heard, saw, and smelled are often a key to the use of passive voice.

I’m not saying it’s always bad to use these words, but when you see one of them think of ways you can rephrase. Rearranging a sentence often results in changing from passive to active.

Look for “-ly” words

I’m not going to say never use an adverb, but it’s always better to use an active verb. Consider the following sentence. He walked slowly down the sidewalk. He sauntered down the sidewalk gives the reader a better visual image.

Look for “dead” and overused words

Words such as that, just, and very, if overused are known as dead words. Most of the time you can eliminate them and not change the meaning of your sentence. As an example, “This is the most fun that I’ve had in a long time.” Instead say, “This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”

I admit to having a hard time removing the word just. But when I say, “He just left,” what am I saying?  Five, ten, fifteen minutes? A better way might be, “He left about fifteen minutes ago.”

Of note, we often use the word just when speaking. Using it in dialogue is okay, but still use it sparingly.

Self-editing isn’t hard. The more you write, it becomes easier to spot the things I’ve mentioned here. This isn’t a comprehensive list of editing tips, but taking these few simple steps will make your manuscript much cleaner before you send it to an editor.

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10 Ways to Improve Your Fiction Writing

10 Ways to Improve Your Fiction Writing

Top 10 Tips for Improving Your FictionLooking for a down and dirty list for story writing improvement? Look no further.

Here the top ten ways to hone your fiction writing skills:

10. Dissect novels you enjoy.
Look through your favorite novels by other authors for techniques and tricks to improve your characterization, settings, plot, pacing, dialogue, and exposition.

9. Keep your eyes peeled for sources of stories.
Watch people in public settings, take note of funny family events, analyze television shows and films, consider news stories. Ideas are everywhere.

8. Conflict is key.
Don’t let your characters have it too easy for too long. Conflict makes fiction interesting.

7. Hone your characters’ voices.
Don’t let all of them sound the same. Every person thinks and feels things differently in real life. Characters are no different.

6. Follow a three-act structure.
There’s a reason that formula is so prevalent in plays, film, and fiction. It works. The hook and rising action take up the first quarter. The three conflicts and responses take up the second two quarters. And the last quarter deals with the climax and resolution.

5. Work with a theme.
Whether you outline or not (and I’m an advocate for outlining), a theme will help you focus your message.

4. Symbolism increases the potency of your message.
Imagery and symbols can add continuity to your message and strengthen it.

3. Start with a strong hook.
After your cover and your back cover copy, your opening is what will determine if people buy/finish reading your story. Don’t start with scenery descriptions or back story. Start where the story really begins—with change to the status quo.

2. Use secondary characters to your advantage.
Secondary characters can provide necessary comedic relief and help advance plot. They also add a complexity, richness, and authenticity to your storyworld.

1. Vary your sentence structure.
Short, choppy sentences indicate high-action and tension. Long, descriptive sentence denote exposition and a break in the action. Both are necessary. Besides, the variety makes for more interesting reading in addition to indicating the pace.


So, there you have it. The top ten things to keep in mind when you write fiction.

And for every point I wrote up there, I bet you can think of ten of your own that I didn’t include. Why not share some of your tips in the comments below?

Jenga—Tangled

Jenga—Tangled

Pamela Foster wears many hats, and whether she wants to claim “writer” as one of them, she not only wears it, she wears it with panache. Through personal experience, humor, and tough love, Pamela will discuss ways to move past the things that hold writers back in these series of posts titled, “Jenga—Knocking Over Writers’ Blocks.”

I used to be a writer.

Life manifested as prose in my head, danced across a page the moment I opened a computer screen. Stories sprouted and leafed out and became living things. Ten books written in eight years. Six published, contracts for two more that are already written. Historical fiction, personal essays, humor, travel, contemporary fiction. When asked about writer’s block, I fluttered my fingers to shoo away the very idea, insisted there was no such disease.

So, what happened to change all that?

YarnMy writer’s block is a knotted ball of brightly colored yarn. Untangling individual lengths requires patience, wisdom, and more energy than I can muster. I suspect it’s time to toss the knotted mess and begin again. From the beginning. But, as anyone who has ever started a ball of yarn knows, it’s the beginning, the center, that is squishy and soft and unorganized. One has to keep winding, not worry about imperfection, in order to create a ball from a wadded mess of yarn.

This blog post is my attempt to do just that. To begin again. To once again see myself as a writer.

Life gets in the way of our dreams. That’s a fact. If this were not true, we’d all fulfill our promise, stroll easily in whatever land we envision. You should know I wrote that last sentence after deleting a very long list of excuses for what has grown up between me and my writing. Even now, I struggle not to type an abbreviated, oh-so-very succinct and essential list of all the challenges of the last fourteen months, those experiences which fog my mind, cloud my vision, numb my creativity. We all have excuses for turning aside from our hopes.

A few years ago, at one conference or another, I had the good fortune to be included on a panel with a half-dozen authors who shared their expertise with a group of newer writers. An earnest young woman in the audience stood up and asked each panelist to name his or her favorite book on writing. She hugged her arms around herself and promised to read every single recommended book before beginning her novel.

She got the usual suspects that day. Shrunk and White’s The Elements of Style, Dillard’s The Writing Life, King’s On Writing. I was the last person to answer and, I admit, everyone else had taken all the books on writing I could think of off the top of my head. But, even had I been first, I’d have given the same answer.

“Stop reading about HOW to write. Sit your butt in front of the computer and write. Write badly or well. Write. Write until you stumble upon that flash of creativity that leads to finding your voice and then keep writing.”

“Oh.” She raised her palms toward me. “But, right now I’m busy with . . .”

“Stop making excuses,” I told her. “Write. Just. Write.”

In my previous life, when I spoke as a writer, I used to go around the room at the beginning of my presentation and make people introduce themselves with the writer’s equivalent of the AA confession. So, since I am beginning again, starting from the messy middle of the ball of yarn, and striving to follow my own advice, please, let me introduce myself.

“Hello. I’m Pamela Foster and I am a writer.”

The Power of Deep POV

The Power of Deep POV

Point of ViewPeople often speak about point of view in fiction. Omniscient, first, second, and third. We’ll talk about each briefly, then get into the meat of the matter.

Omniscient Point of View

This POV has fallen out of favor with the modern reader. Think “God” when you think of this POV. This is the voice that knows everything—every character’s thought. Every motive, every action. All the evidence, all the results. It kind of takes all the fun out of reading the story. There are benefits to it, sure, but more often than not, writers use it because it lets them be lazy. It’s a lot easier to switch to Larry’s POV to show he’s injured at the bottom of the Grand Canyon than to have Kathy figure it out from her kitchen in Hoboken.

First Person POV

This is the “I” point of view. The story is told from one person—me. This narrator can be reliable or not, that’s up to the author. But the pronouns are always first person. Be careful not to overuse them. While many people will argue that this is the easiest form of fiction to write (because this is how we naturally think), it’s also the easiest to abuse. These pronouns pop up like weeds because we can’t always easily substitute proper nouns in their place.

Second Person POV

This is the “you” point of view, most often seen in instruction manuals. These days, video games and adventure books use it. It doesn’t lend its form easily to traditional fiction, but it has been adapted by some of the masters in powerful ways—Tolstoy, Atwood, Faulkner, Camus, Hawthorne, McInerney, Calvino… the list is longer than you would think. This is a difficult form to pull off, but one worth exploring as a fun and challenging exercise.

Third Person POV

This is the “him/her/them” or the “he/she/they” point of view. There are two sub-types of this POV:

Third Person Limited

This is where you follow only one character throughout the story. You can only know/see/think/feel/experience the storyworld through that character.

Third Person Multiple

This is where you follow more than one character throughout the story. It is best to limit yourself to maybe two main characters (say a male and female romantic couple) or in a mystery or thriller or horror, perhaps no more than five people, just a core group. If your cast gets too big, it can get difficult for you as the author to make their voices all different. You also don’t want to make it difficult for your readers to keep track of all the characters.


Okay, you’ve chosen your point of view. You’ve outlined your plot, created your character bible. You know what you want to say and you’re ready to say it. Now what?

Time to write. Right? Right.

It doesn’t matter what point of view you’ve chosen, what matters is how deep you get into it.

The whole benefit to deep POV is that the author becomes the character, and consequently, the reader becomes the character. In order to do that, the ubiquitous “show, don’t tell” comes into play.

Let’s look at the following examples. (Please note, these examples will be simple for effect.)

First Person POV

Original:

I felt my heart race.

Revised:

My heart raced.

Third Person POV

Original:

She felt her heart race.

Revised:

Her heart raced.

The point of these simple sentences is to show you the difference a few simple words can make. In the originals, the use of the word “felt” lends a distance to the sentences. It brings the reader out of the head of the character, keeps them from experiencing the storyworld first-hand. Instead of the reader’s heart racing right along with the character, the reader is pushed out of the story and told that the character’s heart raced. The character doesn’t even get to experience it real-time.

In the revised sentences, the removal of the barrier word brings the reader back into the story. Now we’re showing, not telling, so we’re experiencing everything in the moment. The storyworld is opened to the reader. There is no more disconnect, no more separation between reader and character.

So you see, deep POV can make all the difference between a reader feeling like she’s being told a story and feeling like she’s living your story. Take the time to gouge out those extra fluff words that are doing nothing but creating barriers, and you’ll be crafting a tighter, stronger piece of fiction.

 

 

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