Monday, June 30, 2014

Narrator Intrusion - Part 2

In part one, we began the hunt for elusive narrator intrustions. Here are a few more clues to help you locate them.

6) In third person limited point of view and first person, a writer often tells the reader things the point of view character couldn’t possibly know.

Jane sat in the café, sipping a cooling mocha latte, lost in thought, a book open on the table. The man in the booth behind her stared and wondered why someone so good looking was so sad.

Unless Jane has eyes in the back of her head, she isn’t aware that she is being watched. Unless she reads minds, she won’t know what the man behind her is thinking. The verbal camera panned away from Jane and followed the man in the booth. This is either head-hopping or author intrusion, depending on the point of view.

Another example would be:

Sally perched on the edge of a park bench. She closed her eyes, wiping the sweat from her brow. When did it get so hot? A man sat down on the grass, not close enough to be obvious, but near enough to catch her if she decided to run.

Sounds suspenseful, right? However, Sally’s eyes are closed. She can’t see the man sitting on the grass. She doesn’t know why he is sitting on the grass, or that he intends to grab her if she leaves the bench. The author thinks he is setting up suspense, but he is shifting point of view or intruding.

The scene can be fixed by simply having Sally open her eyes, see the guy sitting on the grass. She can decide he is a problem and calculate whether she could run before he could grab her. This keeps us in her head and sets the tension. Will she go for it? Will she make it?

7) Writing in first person POV, a passage might read:

I bent over to pick up the note that fell from the boy’s backpack. The paper was crumpled, from the kind of yellow legal pad a businessman would use. I unfolded it and examined the crabbed handwriting. A red stain colored my cheeks as the profane words registered. What kind of boy would write such a thing?

This is very subtle intrusion. Why? Because the character can’t see her own face, so how would she know it was red? She could feel her face flush. The reader knows that a flushed face looks red. You don’t have to explain it. These mistakes are hard to catch. A good critique partner, beta-reader, or editor helps you find them.

8) Another example is when the author gives the reader the reason for someone else’s behavior:

Jane lifted the hotel receipt from the table. She held it up so Dick could get a good look at it. “And you were at the Savoy last week for what reason?” Dick turned away to hide his panic and formulate an excuse.

If the piece is written in omniscient point of view, this passage works. Otherwise, it doesn’t. Jane can see Dick turn away. She might guess why, but she wouldn’t think to herself:

Dick turned away to hide his panic and formulate an excuse.

Jane could see him turn away. She can surmise that he is hiding something and press Dick for an answer. Dick’s lack of response tells her he is formulating a lie.

When he comes out with, “It was a business meeting,” Jane assumes it is a lie.

Jane can then call him on it by saying something like: “An overnight meeting?”

Dick justifies it with: “No, but it ran late and I was tired, so I got a room.”

Jane could top it off with: “You paid for a room instead of a cab? We only live five blocks away.”

Lie exposed and you have tense dialogue with a great zinger at the end. The fight is on.

9) Another problem is describing details a character would never notice.

Dick is standing at the coffee machine in the break room and Jane walks in with designer shoes and a dress that hugs her curves. Unless he is really into fashion or works in the fashion industry, he won’t know the dress is Dior and the shoes are Manolo Blahnik. A lot of female readers, me included, won’t know what the heck Dior or Manolos look like either. It is best to describe the dress and the response it creates within Dick (he is turned on by stiletto heels), than to toss in labels a man (or woman) wouldn’t recognize.

A reader forgives a few of these. If the book is riddled with them, and he feels the need to Google, you may lose him forever to Facebook and Twitter.

You can use the shorthand references for inspiration, but you need to describe it. You can say:

Jane had on a tight, knee-length dress and uncomfortable-looking heels.

This statement reveals character more than blatant references. If a man observing a woman thinks her dress is too tight and her shoes interfere with her ability to walk, it tells you he is either sizing her up as a potential victim who can’t outrun him, or deciding that she would make a very high-maintenance girlfriend. He might like women who dress like runway models or prefer a girl who wears cargo shorts and sneakers. The way he describes Jane’s outfit tells us a lot about the way he views women.

10) Inserting descriptive shorthand can be intrusive.

The author might know all about fashion or might throw designer names in to impress or to define character. It can have the opposite effect if the reader is frustrated by not grasping the reference. When a writer inserts cultural, geographical, designer, celebrity, and product references, she assumes her readers are familiar with them. When the references are lost on the reader, he flips the page. He might waste time Googling the reference. In order to Google, he must put the book down or switch screens. This is not the kind of page turning to aim for.

***

When you’ve identified the intrusion, it is fairly easy to repair it. Rephrase it in a way the character would say it or do it. Writers are frequently cautioned to show not tell, though there are times when the character has to tell. It is a fine, hotly debated line and one most writers struggle with. Don’t tell us someone is sad, show us. Don’t tell us someone is angry, show us. The advice makes many writers throw darts at their manuscript.

Revision Tips

Read through your manuscript. Have you intruded with thoughts, opinions, or descriptions from non-viewpoint characters? If so, fix them.

Are the descriptions limited to what the character can see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and know about?

Have you planted false suspense? Can you change it?

Can you spot the places where you, the author, are intruding with your thoughts, opinions, and observations? Cut them or revise them to reflect the character’s lens.

Have you used cultural references as shorthand instead of describing them?

For more on revision, check out Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers.

Amazon.com/Story-Building-Blocks-III-Revision
Amazon.com/Story-Building-Blocks-III-Revision-ebook



Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.



Friday, June 27, 2014

(Almost) Never Say Never

Never begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction.

Never end a sentence with a preposition.

Never write a book based on current trends.

Never continue to work on a story that isn’t working.

Never ignore the fundamental basics of good story writing: grammar, spelling, punctuation, character and plot development, compelling content, good flow, realistic dialogue, etc.

Never try to emulate someone else’s style.

Never use clichés.

Never start a story with dialogue, weather, excessive narrative or description, a dream, a ringing alarm or cell phone, a prologue, backstory, an information dump, lots of telling and no showing, and the prohibitions go on and on.

Yikes! I’ve already opted to mop the kitchen floor on my hands and knees instead of write—and I
have a bad knee. Wait! Exceptions exist to every rule, right? Make that almost every rule. (Don’t try defying gravity unless you have a parachute.)

Back to books. Starting a sentence with a coordinating conjunction isn’t a great idea, but it’s effective in an intense scene where power sentences must be short. Beginning the next sentence with “and” or “but” gives you a connection and a punch that could be lost by making the previous one longer.

Never ending a sentence with a preposition is an old rule that long ago fell into disfavor. Breaking this one will not likely violate any agent’s taboos.

Current trends are just that—current. By the time you get your story written, rewritten, edited, proofed, laid out, and published, the trend will probably be on death row. New twists on timeless themes are winners; they’re not here today and gone tomorrow.

Never continue a story that isn’t coming together—good rule. If a story isn’t working, shelve it. Maybe you can breathe new life into it later, but move on now.

Grammar and punctuation rules have one objective: clarity. That should be sufficient incentive to obey them unless you have a valid reason for not doing so and know when and how to break them—then don’t make it a habit. Correct spelling? That’s a given. Character and plot development are the foundations of story; don’t shortchange yourself or your book here. Stories need good flow in addition to compelling content to keep the reader turning pages. A reader who has to go back to figure out what's happening is a reader who probably won’t buy your next book; in fact, he/she may not finish this one. Writing great dialogue is an art. Study it. Learn it. An otherwise fantastic story can fall flat if conversation (with others or internal) isn’t “real.” People often don’t talk in complete sentences, speak grammatically, avoid slang, etc. Keep this in mind as you write.

Your own style and voice will set you apart from the myriad writers vying for readers. Develop those qualities. Hone them. Create your “signature.” Make your book your calling card, uniquely and magnificently your own.

Clichés—overused and abused sayings that most editors insist on deleting—can sometimes have a place in stories. A great-aunt, grandfather, or distant cousin from the backwoods may naturally include them as part of his/her speech pattern. A cliché tweaked to fit a character or scene can work well when it’s personalized to fit the story, and it infuses new life into a tired, old saying. Again, avoid excessive use.

Start your story in a compelling way; that is, compel your reader to keep reading. Dialogue? Weather? Description? Dream? Ringing whatever? Prologue? If these are done right, are short and to the point, are relevant to the story, and grip the reader, use them freely but wisely. Backstory? Working it seamlessly into your developing tale as needed is far more effective than overwhelming the reader with it in the first chapter. Information dump? Almost always a “never.” Telling rather than showing? Some telling is inevitable, but keep it in check. Remember that you need to hook your
reader on the first page, ideally in the first paragraph, and cultivate that interest all the way to the end. This is the rule that counts. Most of the others can be broken—occasionally and correctly, that is.

Too many rules imprison creativity. Great writing doesn’t result from driving ourselves crazy in an effort to obey every writing rule we know. It comes from learning how to construct an effective story, letting creative juices flow, understanding rules, and applying those that will turn a good story into an extraordinary read.

How do you feel about the “never” rules? Which ones are better broken? What unmentioned rules have challenged you when beginning a new story? Why do you believe rules should or should not govern our writing?


Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at www.denvereditor.com.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Editing Crimes: A Case Study

Identifying facts about the subject of this case study have been changed to protect the author's reputation. 



I recently found myself stranded for four days with only one great story and one poorly edited novel at my disposal. Unfortunately both were found within the same covers. The fact that its issues were easily fixable, yet still evident in a book already published, is such a crying shame I want us all to learn from this case study.

It was exactly my kind of story, the back cover copy suggested. Great title, lush cover. A hardback, with a price of $25.99, put out by a major traditional publisher, by an acquiring editor whose name is known and trusted in the industry.

I opened it with great anticipation.

Problems emerged on page one.

Unfortunate word pairings
At the end of the first paragraph, the author used a phrase such as “ran like a hare” immediately followed by an introduction to “Tad O’Hara.” Like most of the following issues, this is a remnant of the writer’s subconscious mind at work. Such an easy fix to separate these two words! Instead, the conscious mind of the reader will forever see this character as looking “a tad like a hare”—an unwanted result, I am sure.

Overuse of unusual word
The offender: “atop.” Yes, every now and then a word like this seems the only one to get the job done. Because it isn’t used in daily speech it draws attention to itself, though, so use only once or twice per manuscript. While reading I would inspire my husband's laughter by calling out “atop” every time I saw it (every few pages, sometimes in consecutive sentences), like verbal popcorn. Hmm. Do you want people turning your drama into such a game?

Telling and showing
The author would often tell something, then show in scene how it was true—then reiterate, just in case his dull readers didn’t get it. If you’ve shown the summer weather to be variable, for instance, by having a cool rain one day and sweltering heat the next, you don’t need to tell us that temperatures in that part of the world are variable. Repeatedly. A reader wants to feel smart, not insulted.

Restatement
Closely related is the tendency to re-tell something in a subsequent sentence, just in case the first way may not have impressed the reader, as in:
He scribbled his answer on a sheet of paper. The paper lay unresponsive as he scrawled the words she sought.
This is how our minds work as we write: we put something down, then refocus it. That's process. But by the time a reader has purchased our book, we should have said exactly what we meant: once, with confidence.

Unnecessary backstory 
The reader will simply accept many things. That his wife died of cancer is one of them—we know how that typically goes, and that he was greatly tested by it. If at some point you feel moved to go back and describe her final weeks and the death scene, it better add a twist beyond what the reader has already imagined, and in a way that sheds new light on the current story—or she’ll start skimming and look for where the story restarts.

Explaining a symbol
The beauty of a symbol is that it can accumulate a world of heart-warming meaning by book’s end. Anything your character does habitually can become a symbol, even something as innocuous as habitually picking up a wife’s coat from where she tossed it on the floor and hanging it on a peg. At the end, when this character is dead and gone and the man’s grieving son has fought with him and inadvertently knocked the coat to the floor—and the widower picks it up, quietly, and replaces it on its peg—we’ll know what that means. Resist the temptation to explain such actions.

In sum:
Make sure your book is edited well. Even traditional publishers have pressures that can keep them from doing the best possible job editing your book. That's why you always get to see it last. You must be its steward and advocate.

As for this novel, that deserved so much better, I do not plan to review it—or, for that matter, even mention to anyone that I read it. See the problem here? (Or need I state it overtly and reword it, atop all else?)

Learn your lessons ahead of time, folks, and apply them pre-publication—not on your reader’s dime.

Has sloppy editing ever pulled you from a deeply desired fictive dream? What kind of issues were they—and were you able to keep reading?


Kathryn Craft
is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service, and the author of The Art of Falling, a novel by Sourcebooks. Her monthly series, "Turning Whine into Gold," appears at Writers in the Storm. Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Narrator Intrusion - Part 1

Don't you hate it when someone butts into your conversation or adds their own commentary during a television show or movie? What if someone tells you what is going to happen next? Don't you want to toss your soda onto their face?


The biggest problem with any point of view, other than omniscient, is narrator or narrative intrusion. The author interrupts the story to deliver his commentary, thoughts, opinions, or information, creating speed bumps that disrupt the reader's total immersion in the story.

Speaking to the audience was used in 18th and 19th century novels and voice-overs are used in modern sit-coms. It is a device that can be used for effect or it can be annoying. Let's learn how to search for it. It is up to you whether you keep it or kill it.

1) Ideally, comments, thoughts, opinions, and information should be filtered through the characters, not the writer.

Omniscient narrators are able to be in everyone’s head at all times. They often intrude with their own opinion. You lose a certain number of readers with this method.

With other points of view, narrator intrusion removes the verbal camera from the shoulder or the eyes of the viewpoint character to take in action on the stage the character isn’t aware of. The speed bumps can be low or high depending on the severity of the intrusion.

Intrusion is difficult to avoid. Stringent editing can fix it. Read each scene. If possible, have other people read each scene to look for intrusions. Pull back and look at what you’ve written with a jaundiced eye. Ask yourself if you’ve written anything the point of view character couldn’t see, hear, feel, smell, taste, touch, notice, know, or do.

2) Key intrusion words to look for include: as before, after, behind, believed, considered, debated, discovered, during, felt, figured, hated, inside, knew, liked, loved, noticed, realized, pondered, remembered, sensed, since, smelled, tasted, thought, wanted to, when, while, wished, understood, until, used to.

3) Showing versus telling is not necessarily the same as narrator intrusion. An example of intrusion would be:

Dick Malone, a dark, handsome, intelligent man stared through the window of his fortieth floor penthouse at the brooding LA skyline.

This sentence is simply awful, but you get the point. Yes, I just intruded with an opinion. If you write in omniscient, this is perfectly acceptable. In all other cases, it isn’t.

4) Even in third person, a character does not think to himself:

I’m a handsome, intelligent, man standing in my fortieth floor penthouse. My décor is ultra modern and shows I have expensive taste.

To fix the intrusion, the writer can show the character entering his building or getting off at the fortieth floor. The character places his keys in a ceramic bowl on a glass and steel hall table or hangs them on an ornate message board above it. The character walks into the living room, across the deep pile carpet, and places his jacket on the back of a white leather sofa. He can look at himself in the mirror (overused but effective) or catch a glimpse of himself in the glass as he stares at the brooding LA skyline.

He could notice a photo of himself and his wife. He can think about the way they used to be, so young, so good looking, so idealistic. He can wonder if she still finds him as attractive as he finds her. He can miss her presence in his swank apartment, one they chose together but he now occupies alone. In this way, you show the reader his world rather than tell them about it. This would be strongest in first person or third person close up, relating it through the character's lens. How does he feel about the space? What irritates or soothes him? Is coming home a good thing or a bad thing?

The door closed behind me with its familiar whoosh. I tossed my keys onto the slick glass table. As they slid onto the white marble tile floor, I resolved to find a coconut shaped ashstray like the one I stole from a hotel in the Bahamas. It had comfortably held my keys for years before I met Sally. I could take a sledgehammer to the table, pity she wouldn't be around to see it. I could replace the white leather furniture with soft suede loungechairs with cupholders. For the first time in five years, I could do anything I wanted. I flung my coat across the metal back of the dining room chair and used the remote to lift the automatic blinds from the panoramic windows. They were useful and could stay. I slipped off my tie and rolled up my sleeves. The fancy, useless rugs, monochromatic vases that didn't hold flowers, and artfully arranged books she never read, could go to Goodwill. They'd make some poor schmuck's day. I popped a frozen burrito in the microwave, no plate, and popped the top off a Corona. I needed boxes and some paint, yeah, brown and beige to relieve the endless white. She left, but it was time for me to erase her.

5) Another example is when a writer inserts statements for suspense:

Sally didn’t know that Dick had other plans for her and that his plans would change her life forever.

Little did Dick know that Spot, so peacefully curled up at the end of his bed, would attack him in the middle of the night. If he had known what the dog was capable of, he might have put Spot in his crate.

These are extreme examples, but you get the point. Who is giving us this information? It isn’t Dick or Sally. Some writers do this on purpose, to say, “Wait for it: a tense situation is coming.” It does the opposite. The author just told us there is going to be an attack in the middle of the night, removing the suspense factor.

The author could have shown Dick snuggling up with dear Spot, holding the dog close, feeling all warm and safe. Then Spot growls and wriggles away from Dick. The dog’s fur stands on end. Cut scene. Next chapter. The reader keeps reading to find out what upset the dog. That is well-crafted suspense.

Next, we continue our hunt for intrusions.

For more on revision, check out Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers.

Amazon.com/Story-Building-Blocks-III-Revision
Amazon.com/Story-Building-Blocks-III-Revision-ebook



Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Worth a Second Look?

The other night I enjoyed re-watching the first episode of Castle, which I had stored on the DVR player. Funny thing is, I didn't remember much of it, though I'd watched it not long ago. Well, I am a senior, and, at times, forgetful. Also, I tend to watch TV when I'm winding down for the evening. Since I get up so early in the morning, by eight or so I'm in danger of nodding off. Whatever the case, I enjoyed the interplay between the characters, and was glad I decided to watch that episode again, instead of searching for something else on TV.

Last night, I again watched The Net, with Sandra Bullock, and was taken in by the suspense and characterization. I have no problem re-watching her movies,  since most all of them are entertaining and engrossing.

When it comes to books, that's another matter. Too many years ago, every time I went to the library, I'd look for the Cinderella book to take home again. Now, when I finish a novel, I have no desire to read it again. Upon reflection, I've come up with some reasons, which I'd like to share:
  • So many books, so little time. My Kindle TBR pile grows by the day. Since I spend my daytime hours writing and promoting, reading is relegated to breakfast and lunch times, with the exception of vacations, when I sit outside in the partial shade and watch my dog sun herself. 
  • I'm more picky. Ever since I joined Chicago-North RWA a while back, and learned what comprises a good book, I'm not attracted anymore to works by formerly favorite authors who tend to churn out sloppy material.
  • Times have changed. Much of the technology depicted in earlier books has evolved. I prefer keeping up with what's current, as opposed to going back in time.
  • Styles have changed. Before, I didn't mind waiting to get into a book. Now, I want immediate gratification, and demand an opening hook or I will put a book down. My next point is in a similar vein. 
  • I get bored easily. I prefer fresh and new over yesterday's offerings.
What about you? Do you re-read books? If so, why? Which are your favorites?


Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For romantic comedy: Her Handyman & Girl of My DreamsThriller: Forever Young: Blessing or CurseShort Stories Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two WrongsTwitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Chick Lit Faves 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Think Outside the Bookstore

When my first book, Cowgirl Dreams, was published, I was shocked and surprised to learn that you don’t necessarily sell books in bookstores.  That just doesn’t seem logical, does it?

Well, it does, if you think about it.  Bookstores shelve thousands of books.  Customers have their favorite well-known authors and usually they go in specifically to purchase that particular author.  Some may browse and run across your book and be intrigued enough to buy it, but unless your name is John Grisham or Danielle Steele or Nora Roberts, don’t count on it.


Even when I put on a reading and PowerPoint presentation one time at a local independent bookstore, I had an audience of about twenty people, but I sold two only books.

Seems daunting, doesn’t it?  Where do you sell books, if not in bookstores?

Since my novels are based on my grandmother who rode bucking stock in rodeos, I look for any store or event where people might be interested in rodeo, horses, ranch life, and cowgirls.  My very first signing was at a local Farmers Co-op store, where they sell feed, farm supplies, and some gift items.  It was around Christmastime, they featured a “customer appreciation day,” and Santa was there.  I sold about 20 books in three or four hours.

Other venues I’ve tried:
  • I’ve set up a table outside a western wear store.
  • I’ve attended an event for National Cowboy Day at another farm supply store.
  • Rodeos and horse shows.
  • I’ve given talks to local organizations—libraries, museums, service groups such as Soroptimists or Rotary.  These service-type organizations are always looking for speakers.
  • Farmers markets.  Many will allow crafts and other items besides fruits and veggies.
  • Arts and crafts fairs around the holidays are good for selling books.
  • Since I teach classes on writing, I give workshops.
  • I was invited to participate in a “Storytelling Roundup” event in Cut Bank, Montana, where my grandparents lived, and gave workshops in schools. 
  • When my non-fiction book, Cowgirl Up! comes out in September, I have a presentation and launch party scheduled at a local western history museum. 
What is your book about?  What are some sub-themes?  If you have a mystery but your main character raises show dogs, look for stores and venues that cater to dog people.  Is your character in your thriller a gourmet cook?  See if you can set up a signing at a kitchen store.  Where is the setting of your book?  If possible, go to that town.  Find organizations or places that might be interested in subject matter in your book.  Is there a specific landmark mentioned, a well-known bar or restaurant, a university, Alcoholics Anonymous or the Society for Retired Train Conductors?

To paraphrase the old cliché, “think outside the bookstore.”  And have fun!

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, has just been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Narrative Voices - Part One: The Pros and Cons of Writing in First Person

Image by Joel Montes de Oca
One of the fundamental decisions a writer has to make involves selecting the narrative voice(s) best suited to carry the story. The three most common candidates for adoption are

a) first person singular,
b) third person limited, and
c) third person omniscient1

Each of these options affords a different range of narrative possibilities. To start off this series of posts on narrative voice, we’ll be considering the pros and cons of writing in first person.

First person is the most subjective of the three angles of vision cited above. This subjectivity makes it an especially popular choice among writers of middle grade and young adult fiction.

For one thing, writing in first person is more economical in terms of word count than the other two options.

For another, first person narration gives the reader direct access to the thoughts, emotions, discoveries and experiences of the focal character. This access enables younger readers to identify closely with the speaker on short acquaintance.

Thirdly, even when word count isn’t an issue, first person narration readily accommodates non-linear modes of storytelling by mimicking the discursive nature of human thought processes.

Now for the challenges.

In first person narration, the speaker is the reader’s one and only source of information. I.e., all plot-relevant disclosures and discoveries must be channeled through the central speaking character. From the writer’s perspective, this poses a number of challenges when it comes to exposition. If there are Big Things Afoot outside the realm of the character’s immediate experience, it takes dexterous story-boarding to bring important facts to light without compromising your narrator’s intelligence.

Another issue has to do with endowing your first person narrator with a narrative voice that expresses his/her distinct personality. The tools at your disposal include diction, syntax, speech mannerisms, social/ethical outlook, and cultural referencing. By way of demonstration, below are two contrasting passages written in first person.
1.
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day [and] I was glad of it; I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons: dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes, and a heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie, the nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed.
2.
You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he mainly told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied, one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary.
In the first instance, the formal diction and gloomy outlook denote a downtrodden little girl in unhappy circumstances. In the second instance, the colloquial grammar and quirky attitude toward conventional morality denote a robust semi-literate youngster from the rural American south. Even if you haven’t read Jane Eyre or Huckleberry Finn, the mode of discourse employed by each speaker provides a clear index of their respective characters from the outset. Writers of first person fiction should aim for a similar standard of performance in terms of narrative technique.

1 Several years ago, I had a student who successfully experimented with writing a novella in second person (“you”). The result was technically interesting, not least because the relationship between speaker and audience is reflexive: they are one and the same person. But fiction written in second person is a rarity.

See also Terry Odell's post last month on Deep Point of View and Diana Hurwitz's recent posts on Interiority


Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Know Your Characters' Skill Sets

When we moved to our home in Colorado, we knew there were a lot of changes we wanted to make, and we were smart enough to know we should hire out. One area that was out of our skill set was laying tile in the bathrooms and entry ways. As I listened to the workers dealing with laying the tile, I started thinking about layers of skill sets for characters. Depending on our upbringing and experience, we might consider those who work in 'blue collar' trades as people who work with their hands, not their brains. I know the focus on my generation was to get a college degree and work in an office, rising the corporate ladder.

Slight digression here. I straddle the hippie generation and women's lib. But for the most part, the focus for my upbringing as a female, in reality, was to go to college, but the degree was to have something to fall back, or a way to support the requisite husband. Women weren't expected to work if they were married, and certainly not when they had children.

For better or for worse, 'white collar' jobs were seen as 'better' than 'blue collar' jobs. And by extrapolation, 'white collar' people were 'smarter' than blue collar people. However, in chatting with the men who are doing our work, they're not doing it because they couldn't get a 'better' job. The head man says he used to work for Microsoft, but it was too stressful. His partner said he couldn't stand the idea of going to an office and doing the same thing every day. He likes that he's probably repeating a task only for a couple of days before moving on. He enjoys stepping back and seeing what changes he's brought to a property he's working on, and they both take pride in doing it right (thank goodness! – We'd been watching too many horror stories on Holmes on Homes)

Another thing I've noticed – these guys have math skills. Things have to fit, and they can deal with fractions of inches like nobody's business. In their heads. I still count on my fingers for most of my personal math.

So when you give your character a job, or a hobby, don't forget to look at all the skills they need to do it. Can they visualize what an empty space could look like? I can't—that's not in my skill set. Are they able to look at a blueprint and know exactly how many bricks to order, or gallons of paint it'll take to cover the walls? Know those 'sub-skills' and work them into scenes. Those basic real-life skills your characters have can be used to foreshadow the kinds of things they'll be called upon to do later in the book.

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Writing a Short Story


When the call went out to writers in the Carolinas for short story submissions from the North Carolina Triad Chapter of Sisters in Crime, I thought, no, I write ninety-thousand-word novels, not short stories. The theme was lust, love, and longing, and naturally, there had to be a crime. Then I thought, oh, come on. Give it a try. The worst that could happen was my story wouldn’t be accepted.

I had published three erotic romances along with my six mystery/suspense/thriller novels. I could write lust, and I sure could incorporate a crime. My first lesson, or teaching moment, was to read a bunch of short stories. Good ones from good writers. The commonality was each one had a twist ending.

Undaunted, and with some idea of what I was doing, I devised my plot—a multi-award-winning director/writer/producer who discovers his beautiful, much younger Oscar-winning actress wife is having an affair with his son from his first marriage. He’d taken this young model with a little talent and made her a star, and she betrayed him. How would he seek his revenge?

The plot had been done many times before in different variations―older man, younger woman who cheats with a man more her age. Her reason might be lust or maybe greed. Of course the older man is always rich. Sometimes there’s a murder, but there’s always a comeuppance. The movies have had a field day tweaking this scenario. Think Unfaithful with Diane Lane, Body Heat with Kathleen Turner, The Postman Always Rings Twice, with Lana Turner, or the two versions of Dial M for Murder. And those are only a few.

I wrote the story and kept it within the four-thousand-word limit.

Yay, I made the cut. The story was accepted.

My second lesson came in the first edit. The editor cut the beginning. This is backstory, she said. We don’t have to know how you got here, just that you’re here. She was right. Did the reader really have to read about my director’s conversation with his hired detective when the latter delivered the dreaded information? No. The reader only needed to know the information. That gave me more time for my character’s visceral reaction to his cheating wife.

I had written the beginning to a ninety-thousand-word novel, not a short story. Scratch the detective. Scratch the banter. I was catching on.

After incorporating more edits and along with my “aha” moments, I finished the story. The end result was five hundred words shorter but with a tighter, more concentrated story. I was quite pleased that I had taken on a new challenge, and I liked the final result. Moreover, I learned a few things.

At the book launch last weekend, a writer friend asked me how I learned to write a short story. She had tried many times but was never successful. I was hardly one to give advice but my answer was simple―to me, anyway. The first part applied to every story, long or short. Create a beginning, middle, and end. What differed was detail. Writing short concentrates on the main characters and one plot instead of going off on tangents with subplots and extraneous characters, which is what I do in my novels. I learned to ask myself, Do you really need this? Does it move the story along?

In short, trim, trim; cut, cut.

I put my lessons to good use and wrote a second short story for the latest Sisters in Crime Guppy anthology. (For those who don’t know what GUPpies stands for, it’s the Great UnPublished. Many now in the group are published authors.) I was thrilled to have that story accepted, and I await edits to learn more about how to master the craft.

My advice to all writers is to stretch yourselves. Try new things even if you fail. Remember, James Lee Burke’s first book was rejected one hundred and eleven times. Think of all the great writing we would have missed if he’d quit trying.

Carolina Crime : 19 Tales of Lust, Love, and Longing, edited by Karen Pullen, is published and sold by Wildside Press and available on Amazon.


Polly Iyer is the author of six novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and two books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Take a Moment for Time

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng
Hello, duckies! Forgive me if things look a bit blurry; lack of sleep lends a certain fuzziness to the festivities. Not to worry, though. My failure to rest isn’t caused by any medical problem; I simply have a tendency to get caught up in whatever project catches my eye. The next thing I know, the wee hours of morning have arrived and my eyelids are threatening to mutiny.

Speaking of time, I recently had a peek at the “time of day” entry in the CMOS and thought I’d share it with you.

While the manual doesn’t state which manner of notation is preferred, it does offer recommendations and guidelines for both written and numeric styles. For example, when referring to even, half, and quarter hours, the time is usually spelled out. This is especially true when o’clock is added. The shoe sale begins at eight o’clock, or The selection of sling backs sold out by half past two.

If you wish to play up an exact time, you may use numerals; the CMOS recommends the use of a.m. or p.m. to indicate morning or evening. By 8:17 a.m., I came to the conclusion that all of the shoes offered for sale were as appealing as a glass of cold gravy.

One final word on the subject for now: unless you are using the twenty-four-hour system, you should never use numbers to note noon or midnight.

Well, if I’m to keep my intention of getting to sleep by ten o’clock this evening, I should tend to a few other bits of business. There are dishes to be done, and laundry to be folded, and—oh, dear. The mail carrier has just arrived with a shipment of yarn. Ah, well. There’s always tomorrow. Have a lovely time today, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo by Darrick Bartholomew
Now that summer has arrived in the Midwest, the Style Maven is seriously considering adding fan blades to the spinning wheel. You can follow her other adventures as The Procraftinator here.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Dead Can’t Tell Stories


As a ghostwriter, I have written many memoirs for non-writers. Memoir is my favorite genre to ghostwrite, perhaps because of my educational background in history. I love exploring how our individual lives affect, or are affected by, the events and trends of “big history.” It’s a cliché that “every life has a story” but it is a cliché because it is true. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these stories are never told.

How many of us wish they had an ancestor’s story, told in their own words? Sometimes all we know is a tantalizing tidbit: a tiny piece of an ancestor’s story that raises as many questions as it answers. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, we think, to know the hopes, dreams, wishes and fears of Great-Great-Grandma as she bounced over the plains in a covered wagon? Wouldn’t it be cool to know what Great-Great Uncle Joe was thinking while he robbed that bank? And why did Great-great-great Grandpa leave Scotland in such a hurry? Well, if they didn’t write their thoughts down, you’ll never know now.

I was told that my great-grandmother on my father’s side was Native American, from the Blackfoot tribe (now in Montana) – but then I was also told that she was a “half-breed” (a derogatory term of the time) and the Native American half was Nez Perce from Idaho – but then I was also told she wasn’t Native American at all, but born and raised in a small town in Kansas, the daughter of the local doctor. The story depended on who you were talking to. It’s hard to know the truth now, since she’s been dead for over fifty years, and so is everyone who really knew her.

History does agree that her name was Evelyn McKay (McKay being her married name) and she died at the age of 90-something in 1954. Before that, there seems to be some disagreement. The story I like best is the one told me long ago by her daughter, my great-aunt, also now long deceased. I don’t know if it’s true or if my great-aunt embellished it or made it up. It goes like this:

Evelyn McKay was born and raised on a reservation in Idaho (her daughter wouldn’t name the tribe), and lived there until she was a teenager, around the1880s. That’s when a circuit preacher rode onto her reservation. A circuit preacher meant that he rode (on horseback or in a buggy) between the little towns in eastern Washington, Idaho, and Montana, and preached his brand of Christianity for a few days, and then rode on. Towns would see him once or twice a year when he would regale them with hair-raising sermons on the hell-fire and damnation he saw waiting for them. Those in the family who remembered the Preacher agreed that he was not a lovable man, being particularly given to frightening small children with vivid descriptions of hell.

But there must have been something about him, for he was able to convince the young Evelyn to marry him. He took her away with him and plunked her down somewhere in Eastern Washington, and left her there to birth and raise their seven children while he rode his rounds, totally uncaring of the vicious racial bias against Indians and “half-breeds” which was normal for the western towns of the time. She must have had a lonely, difficult life.

Or maybe not. Maybe she coped well with a Bible-thumping wanderer, and wasn’t the victim of anti-Indian prejudice.  But I wish I knew for sure. I bet she had fascinating stories, at the very least.  I wish I’d been around then to ask her questions and write her stories down. But no one did, and now those stories are as dead as she is.

So that’s the moral of the story: write your stories down (or hire a ghostwriter to write them for you). Because someday, you will be someone’s ancestor.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit Primary-Sources.com.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Interiority - Part 2

Last week we began talking about interiority referring to the character's inner life. Today we'll continue with tips on using interiority to improve your story.

Internal thoughts and narration do not require quotation marks.

It is debatable whether internal dialogue should be italicized or underlined. Style guides insist that italicizing internal thoughts is the same as putting speech in quotation marks.

Dick walked down the hallway that smelled of disinfectant. I hate this place, he thought.

As mentioned last week, some readers find the switch in tense annoying if the story is written in third person. It can take them out of the total immersion experience.

I have seen interiority presented in many ways:

Third person without offset: Dick walked down the hallway that smelled of disinfectant. He hated the place.

Third person with italics: Dick left the conference room. I really blew it, he thought to himself. What now?

Third person with quotation marks: "I really blew it," Dick said to himself as he left the conference room. “What now?”

Third person close up: Dick left the conference room. I blew it. What now?

Narration first person: I walked down the sidewalk feeling a twinge of disgust. I really blew it.

Narration third person tense switched: Dick followed the sidewalk feeling a twinge of disgust. I really blew it, he thought.

Narration third person tense not switched: Dick followed the sidewalk. He had blown it and it disgusted him.

It is up to you whether you choose to relate thoughts as internal dialogue or internal thoughts and narration. As a rule, talking to oneself with quotation marks is a speed bump that rewording into internal thought or narrative removes.

Dick rubbed his face. His eyes were dry. His limbs were heavy. He had to stay awake. There would be plenty of time to sleep after the crime was solved.

You can ramble for sentences while using third or first person describing thoughts without formatting or italics and get away with it as long as you are focusing on only one point of view character for that scene. 

Use internal narration to reveal things the character can't say but wants to, undermine the words coming out of his mouth, or to express his true feelings.

"No, I can't go with you," Jane said. Because if I went with you, I couldn't bear to return, then where would I be?

"Of course, I'd love to." Sally smiled. I'd love to wring your wretched neck.

Internal narration can be used in small doses to reveal backstory.

"I see," Dick said. It was suddenly clear that Jane had been lying to him for months, perhaps years. What had she said last summer? “Sometimes you have to leave to stay.” And the summer before that, when she left for a girls’ weekend in Frisco, had she been with her friends or her lover? Dick’s fist curled, but he kept his arm down. Gentlemen never hit ladies, even if they weren’t acting like ladies, even if they were cutting your heart out while you were still conscious.

Revision Tips 

1. Mark the places where you have used internal narration or dialogue. Is it formatted consistently?

2. Is there more internal dialogue than dialogue? If so, consider reducing it or turning it into dialogue between characters.

3. Does the internal narration serve a useful purpose? If not, change it or cut it.

4. Does a single passage ramble on too long and interrupt the flow? If so, trim it.

5. Have you been consistent with verb tense and point of view?

For more on revision, check out Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers.

Amazon.com/Story-Building-Blocks-III-Revision
Amazon.com/Story-Building-Blocks-III-Revision-ebook

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Don't Rush

Finishing a book, putting that last word on the page, usually involves cheering and a sense of accomplishment. Truth is, though, that you're most likely not finished.

Create a file on your computer or get a spiral notebook that you label with your book's name and keep notes inside.


Now it's time to re-read and catch glitches in the plot or mis-spellings or missing words or impossible feats by characters or…. The list can go on and on. If you make a change that you know will affect a future event in the book, make a note in your file or in your notebook since you know you'll have to change things later on in the book. Take care as you stack up the pieces of your book.

Be on the lookout for pet words used over and over. You probably won't even know you're using them unless you search for them. If you do a search and find for, say, weeping, and find that you’ve used it eight times, that may be too many times. Find another word or way of saying what you want to convey to the reader. You can also use "search" to make sure you didn't make a mistake. Did you say the bad guy's shirt was pink or red? Do a search on each word. You'll be able to determine which color you used as well as determine that you didn't slip up and call it some other color.

Don't hop from one character's head to another. Stick with one character either for the entire book or for long sections. Readers can get lost if they're in Susan's head, then they jump to Jack's thoughts, then they're suddenly back in Susan's head or maybe Harold's head. And pretty soon the reader is putting down the book and picking up another.

Think about how you can define a character without listing traits or describing him/her in detail. One way is how that character talks. Does he talk like everyone else? Does he use contractions and slang? Does he, for example, say MickieD's instead of McDonald's? Does he speak without using contractions? For example, does he say, Let us go to McDonald's. Or does he say, Let's go to McDonald's. One way to help define a foreigner is to have them not use contractions.

Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of three books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, the novel Angel Sometimes, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Dismembering the Past, is due out in Summer 2014.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Fun With Words


Once again fellow toilers in the wacky world of writing, it's time for a chuckle or two to relieve some of the stress of lonely days clacking away on a keyboard. I would be lost without the comics, or "funny papers" as they used to be called. We should go back to that reference, I think. Much more descriptive, wouldn't you agree?



To start us off, here is one from the strip Crankshaft:

Crankshaft is sitting in the living room and his daughter, Pam steps up to the couch next to him. He says, "I spent $75 of my own money replacing the lottery tickets I lost."

"So, did you hit the jackpot?

"Naw… we hit the jack squat."


I found this one on One Big Happy:

Ruthie and her Grandpa are taking a walk. He notices her sour expression and asks, "What's wrong Ruthie?"

In her most dramatic Ruthie-way, she says, "Everything grandpa. I tried to make friends with ninja Kitty. To rescue her, but that dang crow ate all the Kibbles and now they're both friends."

"You mean they're in cahoots?"

"No they're still under the car."

That made you smile, didn't it? Okay, here's one is from Pearls Before Swine:

Rat and Pig and Goat are sitting at a table.  Goat is reading the paper, and he says, "I want to live in the Netherlands. Their murder rate is so low."

Pig asks, "Why is that?"

In his inimitable way, Rat says, "Bbecause it's hard to sneak up on people when you're wearing wooden shoes."

Pig nods and says, "That's so true."

Not wanting to believe what he is hearing, Goat closes his eyes and says, "No it's not."

Rat says, "Why do you think they never win the hundred meter dash?"

Granted, that is more of a groaner than laugh out loud. How about this one from Pluggers:

Plugger is sitting at a desk, writing, and he turns to his wife to ask, "Do you spell it with an E or and I?"

She says,  "It's a 'Y'". 

This is called Plugger Spellcheck

That was probably another groaner. Maybe this one from Pickles will bring a chuckle:

Nelson comes up to Opal who is busy at the kitchen counter and says, "Gramma, can I get the ladder and climb up on the roof? Grandpa said he was down with it, but I thought I should ask you too. Are you down with it?"

She turns and says, "Yes I'm a very, very down with it!!"

Nelson says, "Okay, thanks," and walks away.

Grandma says, "Wait! 'Down with it' means I totally forbid it, right?"
Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent book releases are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds, both mysteries that are available for Kindle and in paper.  Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series, also now available as an e-book, along with Open Season, the first book in the series. To check her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. She also likes to read the funny papers.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Book Title Terrors

Coming up with a good title is not easy. Ideally, it will attract potential readers, suggesting what kind of book it is and what makes it different from (and better than) other books of that kind.

Good luck.


My two absolute worst titles are my first Regency, Toblethorpe Manor, and my first mystery, Death at Wentwater Court, both utterly unmemorable.

For the first, I have the excuse of inexperience. For the second: I had to come up with it quickly. My plan for the mystery series was to call the books Death in January, Death in February, etc., so that after sweating over numerous Regency titles, I wouldn't have to think up another title ever again. Each murder would be closely connected with the month. The first, for instance, involves a body in a frozen lake.

That notion was swatted down by my editor (though I can't complain, as he bought the book), because the publisher had recently put out a month by month anthology. Just as well, in the end, as I'm now writing the 22nd.

Much the same reason changed my "Byron's Daughter" to Byron's Child. It clashed with another book called X's Daughter, coming out at about the same time. Well, that wasn't so bad, not too different.

The Man in the Green Coat, a Regency spy story, kept that title for the hardcover original and the ebook. The paperback publisher didn't think it sounded romantic (OK, so maybe it doesn't) and "suggested" Gabrielle's Gamble. I hope not too many readers bought the same book twice.


The Tudor Signet became The Tudor Secret by mistake—a typo, not mine. There is no Tudor secret in the book; there is an heirloom signet ring that is important to the story. Grrrr...


Another really bad one was changing The Actress and the Rake to The Lady and the Rake. I can't blame an editor for that. The art department apparently decided my title was too long. By three letters.

Still more irritating was the way many of my Regency novella titles were changed by the editor without a word to me. Wooing Mariana became A Kiss and a Kitten—Ugh! He [sic] Stoops to Conquer became The Christmas Party, flat as a pancake. And yet, the one I was sure would be changed was left alone: The Aunt and the Ancient Mariner.

My mystery editor pretty much left my titles alone. Some of them were in fact the starting point for plotting. Styx and Stones, for instance, came to me in a flash of inspiration, and obviously it had to be a poison pen story. Die Laughing-->nitrous oxide-->dead dentist.

Mistletoe and Murder was originally only a working title. In those days my editor (St. Martin's) wanted a title to put in the contract (now they're just numbered). In the course of writing the book, I came up with As Red as Any Blood, a quotation from the carol "The Holly and the Ivy," which he loved. However, I happened to mention it to my paperback editor (Kensington), and he preferred the working title. I told my St. Martin's editor. He said all the sales reps were in town for some gathering and he'd put it to them. They voted for mistletoe over holly and ivy, three to two.

And then there's the occasional lapse in communication. Black Ship in the US came out as The Black Ship in the UK, and The Valley of the Shadow US came out as Valley of the Shadow (my preference) UK.

Just one time I absolutely could not come up with a title, for one of the Regencies. My editor suggested Ginnie Come Lately, catchy and appropriate—and I didn't tell her it was American, not to mention anachronistic. "Johnny-come-lately" dates from the 1830s.

When my Regencies came out as e-books, I had the opportunity to put right a few editorial missteps. I left Toblethorpe Manor and Wentwater Court alone, however. I wish my editors had suggested before the original publication that I might try for something a little more scintillating.


Carola Dunn is author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, Cornish Mysteries, and multitudinous Regencies.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Increase Your Writing Productivity with the Pomodoro Technique

If you're like me, then you know that time has a way of moving fast, leaving you with many undone to-dos.

Over a month ago, while getting back into my dissertation writing, a friend of mine told me about the Pomodoro Technique, and since I've started implemented it into my daily goings on, I have seen an increase in my productivity in many areas, specifically my writing and my workouts.

For those not in the know, "The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. These intervals are known as 'pomodori,' the plural of the Italian word pomodoro for "tomato" ("Pomodoro Technique").

Image from Wikipedia

There are five basic principles to the pomodoro technique:

  1. Pick a project you'd like to work on.
  2. Set your pomodoro to a certain amount of minutes. Traditionally, this is 25 minutes; however, you can set this amount to whatever you like.
  3. Work on your project until the time elapses and then record the interval.
  4. Take a break. Traditionally, the break is five minutes; however, you can set this amount, too.
  5. For every four pomodoro intervals you do in a row, take a longer break. ("Pomodoro Technique")


When I am at my computer, I use Tomato Timer to pomodoro. It's preset for a 25-minute pomodoro session and short (five minutes) and long (ten minutes) breaks.

On my tablet and phone, I use Pomodoro Timer Pro (if you use iPhone or iPad, you can go here or here to check out apps).

With this app, I can add a task and the expected amount of pomodoros I will need to do to complete a task.

 
Image from Pomodoro Timer Pro via Google Play

I can tweak settings for sounds and for lengths of my short and long breaks.

Image from Pomodoro Timer Pro via Google Play

I can keep a running tab of tasks, those that are completed and those left to complete; I can also see how many pomodoros I have done for each task.

Image from Pomodoro Timer Pro via Google Play

In the first week I used the pomodoro technique, I was able to finish writing my latest dissertation chapter, adding about 7,000 words to the chapter as well as organizing material for the next chapter.

I have also used the technique to write a few short stories, and there is something about that time factor that works great as an accountability partner for me, and I feel more driven to work faster.

But it also allows me to work SMARTER.

Often, I will sit, for HOURS in front of my computer as I work on a particular project. During that time, my body gets stiff, other tasks get placed on the back burner, and I'm left tired after working on that one task.

The pomodoro technique helps me to non-linearly work with various tasks. I'm not so focused on thinking I must complete ONE task before moving on to the next. For example, I pomodoro on a project, and then on my break, I go wash some dishes or I workout, or I make phone calls, or I meditate and pray, or I do something else short on my to-do list.

I have really gotten into the habit of writing/editing and exercising during a pomodoro interval.

I will write/edit for 45 minutes and workout for 15 minutes. In four hours, I have completed an hour of exercise (over the course of four hours so it keeps the body nice and warm and limber) and three hours of writing/editing, and though that may not seem like a lot of time, it's surprising how much more you actually get done when using the technique.

Since I've started using this technique, I find myself thinking more in increments when it comes to to-dos, and I find myself wanting to do most of my tasks using the technique. For example, when I clean the house, I pomodoro, cleaning for 25 minutes, and checking email or doing something else small with my 5-minute break.

For writers, it can be a hassle trying to find the time to write; in fact, this is one of the biggest whines from writers. I know I whine a lot about it. But for me, the Pomodoro Technique seems to be one that caters to my need for accountability (in some form), my need for variety (in tasks completed), and my need for efficiency (work smarter, not harder).

If you haven't checked out the technique, I would urge you to do so. It's always good to look into other ways to be more productive.

What techniques do you use to write more efficiently?

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment.

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