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On Writing: Justifying Every Single Scene

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I’ve learned many things from my editor over the years. I think one of the most important is that you should be able to justify the existence of every single scene in your novel. There should be a reason for it – whether it’s moving the story forward, revealing things about your characters, or forming the world they live in. It must have a purpose, and that purpose needs to be for the good of the story.

So what does that mean? It means that over the years I’ve had to cut a lot of scenes and moments that I really adored, but in the end they weren’t helping the story. In fact, they were hurting it. They were black holes, places that would leave the reader either bored, skimming pages, or worst of all, they would probably stop reading altogether.

Writing is a personal thing. As writers we get attached to the characters we create and I’ve even taken it a step further: I get attached to the scenes I’ve played out in my head. I’ve planned them all perfectly. I’ve walked through certain moments over and over and over again and then I finally reach that point in the story where it’s going to happen and. . .my editor says, “Why is this here?”

It’s always a little bit devastating. Because what comes next is me rambling, searching for answers. I can usually come up with some, but then comes my editor’s inevitable next question: “And how does that move the story forward?”

Yeah.

That’s my life.

Now, it might sound like a bummer, but actually it’s a positive she’s so forward about such things. She’s not afraid to question me, and over the years I’ve learned to appreciate that more than fear it. It’s pushed me to be a better writer and to think about the pacing and structure of my stories.

If I were left totally on my own, my characters would be running down bunny trails, chasing loose ends to story points that don’t matter, buying real estate they don’t need (and you readers would get the in-depth analysis about it), and they’d be having lots of pleasant conversations that go nowhere.

Granted I’ve gotten better over the years, but I’ve definitely done my time walking in circles and having my characters follow me.

So now, as I start my fourth full-length novel (book two in the Horns & Halos series), I’ve decided to hold myself accountable for each and every scene before my editor ever gets to see it. I use the writing program Scrivener, and one of the things I really like about Scrivener is that it gives each scene a notecard. I use these little cards to jot down the gist of each scene. Usually just three or four sentences. But this time around I’m adding something new to them.

As I work on each chapter of Horns & Halos 2: All Of Them Criminals, I’m adding a “What’s the point?” section to the notecards. For each scene I’m purposely thinking about – and writing down – why it’s there. What it’s revealing. What I am trying to get across to the reader. How it moves the story forward, and so on.

Now, I haven’t gotten very far with this yet, but already I’m feeling assured about it. Hopefully, when the day comes that I sit down with my editor to start working through this novel, I won’t have to hear those dreaded words: How is this moving the story forward?   

Check out book one in the Horns & Halos series now! Click HERE!

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And don’t forget about the Horns & Halos short story Boy-Eating Plants.

Read it for FREE HERE!

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On Writing: Talking To Yourself For The Good Of The Story

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Writers have all sorts of tricks and techniques they use while plotting out the flesh and bones of a story. One method I’ve found to be helpful for character development is talking out loud to myself. Sounds stupid, right? And or crazy. But no, it’s just another element in my writer’s toolbox.

When it comes to forming characters – their motives, relationships, backstories, and their arcs (negative and positive) – I’ve found that writing down the details really helps. Actually penning (or typing) their internal and external conflicts, a brief backstory, and what their connection is to the main character is a very valuable exercise. But I’ve found that more than anything else, discussing the characters out loud helps solidify them in my mind as real people. Who they are. What their angle in the story is. Why they’re in this relationship and why they quit that job. Actually saying these things out loud and forcing myself to articulate them, has really been a great way to form them more fully in my mind.

So why is that so important? Because it’s crucial to know who your characters are. Not just what they look like or what they do for a living, but really WHO they are. What drives them. What scares them. What draws them to one character and what makes them keep their guard up around another. What their goals are and what past failures or circumstances are still taking a toll on them now.

Just like when I talk to people in my real life about my daily struggles and wins, talking about my characters in that same way can bring out and highlight their relatable aspects. It can even help build a better structure for the story as a whole as I verbally work it all out. 

For me, it’s similar to the practice of reading my work out loud to better look for mistakes, inconsistencies and wordy – or just wrong – sentences. Talking out loud to myself about my characters before they even hit the page helps me to weed out what doesn’t make sense. It helps me to pull them into the right perspective and really pin down what it is about each one that I want the reader to latch on to. It helps me to justify their actions and keeps me accountable when it comes to all questions of why. Why did character A do that? Why didn’t character B do this? Why are characters A and B together? Why did they break up? Why did that event happen? Why is character C so mean? Why does character D keep defending character C? And every other why question that pops into my head about the people I’ve created to go through the adventure in front of them.

Call me weird, but I truly believe that talking to yourself about your fictional friends is a good thing. I mean let’s face it, If I don’t truly know my characters, then my readers will struggle to connect with them, and connecting is what it’s all about.

Check out my new book Horns & Halos: Against The Giant HERE! Follow Allyster Williams as he struggles through living in a segregated world where people are separated, judged, and confined by their horns and halos. But everyone has their moment to stand up for what’s right, even when that moment comes at a great cost.

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On Writing: Recycling Your Creations

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Recycling isn’t limited to trash and newspapers. As a fiction writer, recycling ideas, settings, plots, and even characters can be a useful tool. I write. A lot. And I have a long catalog of writings and ideas that have never seen the outside of my computer or imagination. Sometimes those ideas/plots/characters go on to be in one of my books or short stories. But sometimes they don’t. Sometimes something will be written or planned out that just isn’t going to make the cut for public viewing. So what happens to those ideas and characters that never become more than my own personal stable of ramblings?

Sometimes they’re just trashed. Ideas that didn’t work, characters I never really got into, settings that weren’t anything special. They fall by the wayside – they’re 86’d along with the rest of the unfinished (or sometimes finished) story. But other times, I recycle them.

Maybe character A isn’t going to get her moment in Story Z because it’s just not working. But I really like character A, so maybe I’ll put her in my next novel. Or maybe the house she lived in was really great and I had put a lot of work into its details and the way it became its own kind of character in the short story that I never finished. Instead of leaving the awesome house behind, I can recycle it. I can put it in something else. And the same can go for a lot of things: events, characters, settings, and even characteristics. Maybe I had a character in a nonexistent story who stuttered and was addicted to oranges. No need to waste that! No one will ever know that those characteristics once belonged to James of short story X. Now they belong to Bertha in Novel Y, and Novel Y is the one that the world will see.

I’m currently in the planning stages of Horns & Halos 2: All Of Them Criminals – the sequel to my YA fantasy novel that came out last fall. As I was going through my list of characters and plotting out how the storyline would go, I knew I was in need of a few extra supporting cast members. My mind fumbled over a few options, but then one day I ran across an old notebook of mine. In it was a decade’s old, handwritten chapter from a book that I never finished. In the chapter was one of my favorite characters from that adventure and I knew right away that there was no reason to not transfer him into my Horns & Halos sequel. Originally, his character was a young twenty-something, but it will be easy enough to make him a teenager and he can keep everything else about him. He’ll fit right in, and me? Well, I get to rescue a lost character from a story that has long since been dead in the water, and I’ll have a blast doing it. Some characters (or whatever you want to insert here) are worth saving. Even if their original stories or intents didn’t work out, there’s no reason to waste good material. No reason not to give your creations a second chance at life.

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Check out Horns & Halos: Against The Giant

Click HERE for your copy! Available in paperback, Kindle or it’s FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

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Character Sketches: Assembling Your Players

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Starting a new writing project is always fun. Or at least I think it’s fun. Being a fiction writer, I love the process of figuring out which story will be next. Where will it take place, what will the death stakes be, who will be the star and who will be the supporting cast. How will it start and how will it end. The list goes on and on. But out of all the different aspects of getting ready to pen that opening paragraph, creating character sketches is my favorite.

I work with the writing program Scrivener. For anyone who hasn’t tried it, I can’t recommend it enough. It has been a huge help to me as far as organization of manuscripts and (especially) for formatting/publishing purposes. It has so many functions and uses that I haven’t figured them all out yet, but the ones I have figured out, I really love. One of my favorite tools in Scrivener is the character sketches section.

Now, if you don’t have or don’t use Scrivener, you can do this without it. Scrivener just gives you a ready-made template to do it with, and they’re right there on your manuscript screen along with your notes and chapters, so it’s perfect for quick reference.

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The template gives you a few basic sections to fill out for each character: name, role in the story, occupation, physical description, background, habits/mannerisms, personality, internal conflicts and external conflicts. There’s also a section for extra notes and you can upload a picture, if you want. I find this helpful because for my main characters I like to find a face to represent them. Sometimes it’s someone famous, or someone I know. Sometimes it’s just an image from Google. No matter which I choose, it helps to keep that face in my mind while I’m writing.

Every character in your story should be unique from your other characters (duh, right?). I know that sounds like a silly thing to say, but sometimes that’s harder than it sounds. Every character should sound different when they speak. They should have different habits and mannerisms. They should react differently to situations.

Someone told me once that if you take out all the tag lines from your dialogue, you should still be able to tell who is speaking.

Character sketches help with that goal. For me, going through and writing down all the details (from the list above) about each person in the book (main characters) has been a great way for me to flesh out who they are. Each character’s background and personality is what will determine how they will react to any given situation. Their internal and external conflicts are what drives the story forward, and their habits/mannerisms helps to set them apart from other characters in the book.

No matter how you work your process when you prepare for a new project, gathering your characters and figuring out each one’s role is important. Great characters make for great books, and who doesn’t love a great book? At the end of the day, it’s the characters we fall in love with (or hate). It’s the characters we dream about and wish happiness for. It’s the characters we relate too, and who become our friends. It’s the characters we remember, long after we turn the last page of the book.

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Check out The Flames of Guilt HERE! It’s available in paperback or on Kindle.

Check out Horns & Halos: Against The Giant HERE! It’s available in paperback, Kindle, or it’s FREE on Kindle Unlimited.

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Also check out the FREE Horns & Halos short story:

Boy-Eating Plants HERE.

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Book Review: Write. Publish. Repeat.

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Write. Publish. Repeat. The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success is a book of educated suggestions by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant (and a guest appearance from their partner in crime, David Wright). I bought this book after hearing about it from a youtube video that was going over some quick tips about Scrivener (the most excellent writing program that I use). I didn’t know much (well, anything) about the authors when I purchased Write. Publish. Repeat. but boy oh boy am I glad I did! Not only did this book give me some helpful ideas about things I can do in my own self-publishing career, but it was quite the fun read. And how often can you say that about a how-to book?

From page one, this offering is written in a very light-hearted manner, and yet you can really feel the experience and know-how of the writers. They use examples from their own careers throughout the book to show different methods and suggestions when it comes to writing, editing, publishing, and marketing.

Since I published my first book, The Flames Of Guilt, two years ago, I’ve been weaving through the world of self-publishing basically learning as I go. It’s been a bumpy road at times, but now having my second novel, Horns & Halos: Against The Giant, released a few months ago, and with my third right around the corner, I feel much more confident about the process. I’m not ashamed to say that a boost of that confidence came from reading Write. Publish. Repeat.

Reading this book came with one of those moments where I felt like I was reading something from kindred souls. People who think a lot like I do, and have similar goals. It was very refreshing and left me feeling more like I was on a team rather than standing out in the self-publishing world on my own.

If you are an indie author, or are working towards becoming one, I recommend Write. Publish. Repeat. It’s a great read, with some awesome information about how to format your books, making the most of your Call To Actions, promotional strategies, advice about social media, and so much more.

And of course, the most important point of the whole book is just what the title says: Write. Publish. Repeat. I love how much his book emphasizes the importance of continuing to work. Continuing to write and put out new material for your readers to devour. As a writing addict, I deeply connected with this mantra. 

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The Flames Of Guilt is available now on Amazon in paperback or on Kindle. Check it out HERE!

Horns & Halos: Against The Giant is also available in paperback, Kindle, and it’s FREE on Kindle Unlimited! Get yours HERE!

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Boy-Eating Plants

boyeatingplants_promoTo help kick-off the release of Horns & Halos: Against The Giant, I’ve decided to add a free short story to go with it! Boy-Eating Plants takes you on a wild ride with Horns & Halos’ main character, Allyster Williams, as he traverses a strange world full of massive, flesh-eating plants who have found him guilty of committing the worst of all treasons – dating outside of his own kind. Now they have declared him lunch, and Allyster must find a way to escape. He befriends a wingless fairy named Lucy along the way – though her guidance often comes in the form of insults and trivial information. Allyster’s best friend Jasper is on hand as well, but so is his never-ending mouth, which seems to hurt more than help. Then there’s the brain bugs. And the smell. There’s really no getting away from the smell. 

Pummel through this Horns & Halos short story as you follow Allyster and Jasper into this vicious land. Please avoid all snapping plants, and for goodness sakes, don’t touch the bright orange (and yummy-looking) brain bugs! Brace yourselves as the boys fight to NOT become delicious entrées, and as they wager the cost of standing up for what they know is right. 

Read it online or go ahead and download it to keep it forever! You can do both HERE!

And don’t forget to check out the full novel, Horns & Halos: Against The Giant. It’s available now, just click right HERE!

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New Release: Horns & Halos: Against The Giant

hh-full-coverFighting against the system sucks. It’s even worse when you’re only sixteen and you’ve already been devastated by it, while your parents stood by and watched. Allyster Williams started fighting the moment he realized that the life of segregation he’s always known is wrong. In his world, people are separated by their horns and their halos – physical characteristics that have borne lies, hate, distrust, violence, and rumors – and it’s only getting worse. Allyster may be young, but as he discovers others who are willing to hear the truth and change for the better, he must grapple with hope to try and find the strength to keep fighting. To raise the flag. To knock down the barricades. To prove that things can get better, even as his greatest nightmare becomes a reality.

Horns & Halos: Against The Giant is now available! Grab your copy of this first installment of the Horns & Halos trilogy. Don’t miss out on this different take on segregation and what happens when people allow their physical difference to become a wall of division and hate.

Get yours HERE!

And don’t forget to check out the FREE Horns & Halos Short Story: Boy-Eating Plants. FREE DOWNLOAD!