• Watch Your Mouth: Tips for Writing Profanity

    Photo credit: Christian Bucad on Flickr

    Many writers worry about putting swear words in their writing. For one reason or another, I’ve had several people tell me that they want to keep curse words out of characters’ dialogue. I believe in using profanity, but only when it’s needed. Cursing works well if it’s done correctly. Check out these tips for writing swear words without going overboard.

    Moderation is Key

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “I enjoyed reading the book, but there was too much profanity. It was distracting.” When it comes to using swears, a little goes a long way. When every other word sounds like sailor speak, you’ve ventured into dangerous territory. Try to use profanity only when it feels absolutely necessary.

    Diction Reveals Character

    The words that your characters use say a great deal about them. If a character would swear, let him swear; if not, you shouldn’t force it. In one of my short stories, a woman preaches against profanity and disciplines her son whenever he uses “off-limits words.” However, when the woman finds out that her husband is missing in action, she is so shocked that she curses: “You’re shitting me… what the hell does ‘missing’ mean?” In this example, the shift in diction shows the woman’s inner turmoil.

    Consider Your Audience

    You should probably steer clear of using foul language if you’re writing a novel for the Christian fiction market. Likewise, if you’re writing YA, make sure you’re aware of profanity guidelines. For example, words like f***, g*d***, c***, and m*****f***** are hot-button swears that a lot of YA publishers would prefer not to see. Also, just so we’re clear, Go the F*** to Sleep, is not actually a children’s book (though it is hilarious).

    When in Doubt, Take It Out

    If you don’t get the warm fuzzies reading something you’ve written, make some cuts. Most likely, your work won’t suffer if you take out some bad words.

    You’re more than welcome to use profanity in your writing. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The key is making sure you don’t use them excessively. Keep these ideas in mind the next time you write swearing and you should be good to go.

    How do you feel about reading profanity? What about writing it?

    Tweet tweet:

    Afraid your swearing will scare off readers? Writer @thecollegenov has some advice about profanity. (Click to tweet)

  • Maleficent and Writing Villains

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    The other day my mother and I went to see Maleficent. In spite of not knowing much about the film going in, she and I both thoroughly enjoyed it. From the cinematography to the makeup to the characters themselves, everything was wonderful.

    What captured my attention most of all was Maleficent.

    Why?

    Because she was portrayed as a sympathetic character rather than a one-dimensional villain.

    I’ll refrain from spoiling as much as I can. All you need to know is that in this version of the classic tale, we get much more of Maleficent’s backstory. We see her as a young faerie and learn about the events that have hardened her heart. It is easier for us to understand her (otherwise questionable) actions because we know her past experiences and have a better sense of her wants and motivations.

    Most importantly, Maleficent is dynamic. At the end of the film, she is a different woman than she is toward the beginning. Once again, I don’t want to spoil, so that’s all I’m going to say about that.

    Maleficent was delightful, refreshing, and entertaining. While watching the film, I also learned a great deal about writing likable and three-dimensional villains. Whenever you want to add depth to your baddies, make sure they have a backstory, clear motive for what they do, and some kind of arc.

    If the villain hasn’t been changed by the events of the story, then what is the point for the story at all?

    Have you seen the movie? What did you think? What do you think is the key to creating quality villains?

    P.S. The 4 “A”s of Characterization, How to Develop Stronger Characters, and How to Get into Your Characters’ Heads.

  • Twitter for Writers

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    Twitter is one of the greatest under-utilized resources for writers at the moment. It’s a great way to promote your work, communicate with other writers, find some writing advice, and have a fantastic time. I only recently started spending some serious time on Twitter, and I could kick myself for not using it sooner.

    So why should you set up a Twitter account?

    Well, this social media platform is a spectacular way to get your name out there and build up a following. You can promote your work, support other writers who want to promote their work, and link to content that you think other people might find interesting. I promote my blog posts and freelance work through Twitter and it’s gotten me a lot more exposure than I would’ve gotten otherwise.

    Twitter is also a great place to get in touch with other writers. I’ve met so many wonderful people on Twitter, most of them writers. They support my work and I support theirs. We talk about all things writing and non-writing. If you’re not currently involved with groups of other writers, Twitter is the best way to meet like-minded individuals. Whenever I interact with other writers on the site, I feel as though there is a sense of community.

    Another good reason to use Twitter? Writing advice. Seriously. There are so many amazing tips that get passed around for free. All you have to do is type “writing tips” or “writing advice” into the search bar and millions of helpful Tweets will pop up. The internet is truly a glorious place.

    If you don’t have a Twitter account, you need to sign up. If you already have one, you should be using it more. And you should definitely be following other writers (*ahem* ME). Tell me you followed me over from this blog and I will most likely follow you back.

    What do you think of Twitter? How does it help you as a writer?

    P.S Avoid Distractions While Writing.

  • Book Review: The Successful Novelist by David Morrell

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    David Morrell is a genius.

    There’s no getting around that fact. After reading this book, I am more than convinced that this man has more writing talent in his pinky than I do in my whole body.

    I digress.

    When I mentioned on Twitter that Stephen King’s On Writing is one of the most influential books about writing that I have ever read, someone suggested that I look up David Morrell’s book The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing.

    I’m delighted I did.

    This book, like King’s, provides a veritable treasure trove of knowledge regarding the craft and the business of writing. However, Morrell takes a much more practical approach, giving out advice for you to use in your daily writing sessions. King’s book is largely memoir with some practical bits sprinkled in. On the whole, Morrell seems so much more approachable.

    The Successful Novelist is suitable for writers of all skill levels. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been writing for ages, this book is for you.

    It’s also short, succinct, and easy to read and understand. What more could you want?

    Go out and pick up your copy today. This book will change your life.

    Have you read this book? What did you think of it? What book would you like to see me review next?

    P.S. Book Review: Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown.

  • 5 Great Gifts for Readers and Writers

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    Photo Credit: Flickr

    I’ve got a birthday coming up (June 17), and when I was in school, my summer birthday bummed me out. Now that I’m older it doesn’t make much of a difference. If anything, it’s better now because people tend to be less busy in the summer, which means that there’s more time to celebrate.

    If you’re like me and you have a birthday this summer, people have probably already started asking you what you’d like to receive. 
    Can’t think of anything? I’ve got you covered. Here are five great gifts for readers and writers, most of which are fairly cheap.
    1. This vintage book iDock from Anthropologie.
    2. This little Light Man.
    3. This large floating bookshelf.
    4. This iPhone book case (ha).
    5. These book pillows.
    Hopefully this post has given you some ideas for presents you can give to or receive from your friends and loved ones. Full disclosure: I just ordered the Sherlock Holmes book pillow and I’m way too excited about it.

    What do you think of these gifts? What others do you think I should add to this list?
  • 3 Types of Scenes to Cut from Your WIP

    Upturned Silhouetted Profile Against a Blue-Green Background

    It never ceases to amaze me how much bad writing there is in the world.

    Truly, when you think about it, you can most likely remember more poorly-written books you’ve read than well-written ones. Why is that? Bad prose tends to stick in our memory. Think of it as a kind of gruesome car accident–you know you shouldn’t watch it, but you can’t look away.

    Bad writing is almost predictable in its awfulness. That is, there are several contributing factors to a poorly-written piece that can be seen almost across the board.

    If you want to avoid bad writing, you need to avoid the factors that contribute to bad writing. One way you can do that is by cutting these scenes.

    1. Mirror Scenes

    Nothing in prose irritates me more than getting character description from a reflection. Most of the time, these scenes consist of a character peering into the nearest reflective surface–whether it be a mirror or a lake or even a spoon–and commenting on his or her appearance as though noticing it for the first time. How many times do you look in the mirror and look yourself over from head to toe, noting your “caramel-colored eyes” or “luscious red curls.” Probably never. Honestly,there are better ways to reveal a character’s appearance.

    2. Dream Sequences

    Oh, goodness. Dream sequences, for me, are right up there with mirror scenes. The only difference is that, unlike a mirror scene, a well-written dream sequence can serve the plot. For example, in Veronica Roth’s Divergent, dreams form an integral part of the story. Unfortunately not all dream sequences are created equal. I’ve seen authors slip in dreams seemingly only for the sake of making word count. Don’t do that. If you’re going to use a dream, make sure it’s relevant to what’s going in in your story.

    3. Commonplace Exchanges

    I once read a novel in which a whole chapter was spent chronicling a trip to the grocery store. I wish I were kidding. If your scene or chapter doesn’t reveal character or move the plot along, you’re better off without it. No one wants to watch your protagonist picking out produce. We do that enough in our own lives as it is.

    These are just three types of scenes that can be removed for the sake of strengthening your piece. I know there are others, but these cover most of the big-picture problems.

    What types of scenes do you cut from your work? Do you agree with these three?

    P.S. The Art (Not Science) of Chapter BreaksAvoiding Genre Fixation, From Daily Writing Tips: 34 Writing Tips That Will Make You a Better Writer, and Said Isn’t Dead.

  • Time Limit versus Word Count

    Typewriter Sitting in the Middle of a Field

    As writers, daily writing is absolutely vital to our success as artists.

    I’ve discussed the merits and strategies of daily writing before. There’s not much sense doing it again.

    Instead, I’m going to share my new outlook on daily writing with you: focus on writing for a set period of time each day rather than a specific word count.

    Why? Because it works.

    I used to believe in making word count every day. The number varied from 500 to 2000 words, depending on my project at the time, and I made sure to reach that word count no matter what happened each day.

    Or at least, I tried to.

    The problem with writing to reach a certain word count is that life happens. For people like Stephen King, whose entire lives revolve around and are dedicated to the craft of writing, it’s easy to sit down and pound out 2000 words or more each day. For the common man or woman, however, this feat is far from easy.

    I now write for half an hour each and every day. I don’t necessarily have to add anything new to my manuscript, but that time must be spent doing something related to my current project. For example, if I’m busy, I might spend this half an hour working on my characters or doing some research. That way, I’m still getting work done, but I’m not killing myself over it. I’m not stressing out about reaching some number.

    Time limits are flexible. Time limits understand. Time limits help you focus without losing your mind; allowing you to write without taking away the fun of writing.

    If you’re feeling overworked, why not drop the word count? Try setting a timer for thirty minutes instead.

    What do you think about writing for a set time? What are your thoughts on reaching word count?

    P.S. The Kurosawa Guide to Daily Writing, The Importance of Daily Writing, Finding Time to Write, and The Beginner’s Guide to Daily Writing.

  • 11 Steps to Crafting Characters

    Woman Writing on Laptop

    I hate character profiles.

    Don’t get me wrong; I understand their value, I just don’t feel like I have the time to fill out every single detail laid out on the page. Is everything relevant to what I’m working on? I don’t think so.

    If you’re anything like me, you wish there were some way to create realistic characters without going overboard. If you’d rather not wax poetic about your protagonist’s shoe size or most embarrassing nightmares, all is not lost.

    Want to make your characters stand out from the page? All you have to do is follow these eleven simple steps.

    1. What role will this character play? Protagonist, antagonist, love interest, what?
    2. What is their name? Nickname?
    3. Where are they from?
    4. Gender?
    5. Age?
    6. What’s their background? Family history, wealth, significant life events?
    7. Race/ethnicity?
    8. Sexuality?
    9. Personality? Good and bad qualities?
    10. Likes and dislikes?
    11. Goals/hopes and fears?

    You don’t need a complicated spreadsheet to make a three-dimensional character. Ask yourself these questions, answer them, and you should be good to go.

    What tips and advice do you have for creating believable characters? What do you think of these tips?

    P.S. 4 “A”s of Characterization, How to Develop Stronger Characters, and Where to Find Character Names.

  • Lovely Links 05.04.14 – 05.10.14

     Journal Sitting on Couch

    This past week was pretty hectic. I’m trying to finish everything I have to do for finals and prepare for graduation (which is Saturday, May 10!), and I’ve almost forgotten it’s time for another Lovely Links post. In honor of my graduation, you get five more links than usual:

    Go forth and learn, my friends!

    Side note: I am currently in the market for freelance clients. Let me know if you’ve been searching for a writer! If you’d like to see my work, check out the portfolio link at the top of the blog.