Most people nowadays have at least heard of the Bechdel Test. If you haven’t, here’s a primer: According to this website, the Bechdel test is a simple way of analyzing film, television, or literature using the following three criteria:
(1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.
The test was popularized by Alison Bechdel‘s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called The Rule. For a nice video introduction to the subject please check out The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies onfeministfrequency.com.
The aforementioned website includes a list of several movies that pass the test—for example, Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, and Ghostbusters. Some books that past the test include The Hunger Games, The Book Thief, and The Fault in Our Stars. As for television shows, think Orphan Black, Scandal, and Parks and Recreation. I could go on, but you get the idea.
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the way women are represented in the media. The commercial and popular success of the Ghostbusters reboot, as well as that of female-led movies like the Oscar-winning Mad Max: Fury Road, proves that people want to see women in more prominent roles. For decades, women have been shoehorned into one-dimensional, stereotypical roles that reinforce outdated perspectives and encourage sexism and misogyny. The Bechdel Test is arguably more relevant than ever.
But we should strive to write beyond the Bechdel Test. Instead of settling for the bare minimum—writing novels that meet these three criteria—we should work to surpass them. This means not only writing female characters that have conversations about subjects other than men, but writing female characters who are real, have hopes and dreams and goals and weaknesses and flaws; women with hobbies and careers and relationships and souls.
It’s not enough to write to appease the Bechdel Test. We have to move forward, rise above, do better. More than anything, we have to go beyond the Bechdel Test. We owe it to not only future generations, but also to ourselves. That’s what keeps me writing. How about you?
Today I’m talking about a little trick that’s saved me so much time while writing first drafts, and I’m so excited to share it with you! Sometimes, it really is the simplest things that can make the biggest difference. Give this technique a try and let me know what you think!
In her book, Writing Faster FTW, author L.A. Witt shares several techniques that have helped her write several books a year at impeccable speed. I’m a huge fan of fast drafting and picked this book up hoping to learn some useful tips and tricks to improve my writing speed. One of Witt’s favorite techniques involves the use of brackets. If, while writing, you get to a point where you don’t know what to put for a character’s name, eye color, or dialogue, toss in some brackets! Then, once you’re finished with the draft, you can search for the brackets and beef up the manuscript as needed.
While working on the first draft of my novel Reflections, I’ve been using a lot of brackets. Most of the time, at the end of the day’s writing session, I’ll go back and replace the brackets with relevant information. But when it seems that more in-depth revision will be needed, I leave the brackets until it’s time to do my second draft. For a glimpse of what this technique looks like in action, see the excerpt below:
With her father out of the room, the restaurant felt [adjective], cold, and unsettling. The television, which had gone to a commercial break and was blaring [description of ads], was far too loud for human ears. Rama’s hands trembled as she picked up the remote again and turned the whole thing off. She [phrase about safety even though it meant she had to face her [adjective] thoughts without any distractions.
This paragraph isn’t my favorite passage by a long shot, but it works for the purposes of this post. While working on this snippet, I used brackets to avoid getting bogged down by words that didn’t come to my mind right away. Once I put the brackets in, all I had to do when I was finished was go back in and flesh out the details I missed. Here are the changes:
With her father out of the room, the restaurant felt cavernous, cold, and unsettling. The television, which had gone to a commercial break and was blaring insurance ads, was far too loud for human ears. Rama’s hands trembled as she picked up the remote again and turned the whole thing off. She felt safer in the silence even though it meant she had to face her racing thoughts without any distractions.
Interesting, right? At any rate, it’s readable. And I couldn’t have gotten that paragraph finished as quickly without using brackets.
If you’re working on a first draft, I highly recommend using brackets when you’re drawing a blank on details. They can be used for everything from names to hair colors and even whole descriptions. Instead of getting bogged down in the details, let brackets do the heavy lifting. You can go back and fix them with the first draft is finished.
What are your tips for writing faster? Have you ever tried using brackets?
Want to write faster? @brianawrites can help with that. (Click to tweet)
I’m currently working on the second draft of my novel Blood and Water, which means lots of editing. The more I work on this book, the more excited I get about it. I can’t wait until it’s finished and I can share it with all of you!
At the same time, I can’t get thoughts of my next book out of my head. A character fell into my mind a few weeks ago (her name is Ramachandra), and I haven’t been able to shake her since.
I already determined that I would finish this first round of edits before diving into something new, but these plot bunnies are driving me crazy. I’m trying to stave off Shiny New Idea Syndrome, but it is coming for me. It will try to sink its claws in me, and I have to resist it until this draft is done.
Luckily, I’ve discovered a few techniques to help manage these errant plot bunnies. It’s a far from perfect system, but it’s made a lot of difference. If you’re struggling like me, here’s what I recommend:
- Make a Pinterest board. If your mind is filling up with images for the book you want to write, scour the Internet for pictures and add them to a novel Pinterest board. Even though I haven’t written a single word of Reflections, I’ve already dumped a lot of images here.
- Keep track of your ideas. Instead of dismissing every plot bunny that pops into your head, write it down in a notebook or an app like Evernote. When it comes time to write the new book, you’ll be glad you saved this stuff!
- Remind yourself what you love about the book you’re working on. If you’re struggling to stay on task with your current project, focus on what you enjoy about it. Do you love your characters? What about your world? The setting? No matter what, you should be able to find something worth staying for. Make a list if you need to so that you can always remind yourself why your book is great.
- Set the new WIP idea as a reward. This tip is working so well for me! Try telling yourself something like, “As soon as I finish this draft, I can start on the new project.” The hardest part? Sticking to it. Still, knowing you have a clear start point on the horizon makes it easier to wait.
- Do NOT start a new project in Scrivener or open a new Word document! As tempting as it may be to “just set things up,” do not fall into temptation! As soon as your new project or document has been created, your fingers will be itching to start writing. Run away now!
- Ask for help. If all else fails, do what I’ve been doing: go on Twitter, complain about not wanting to edit, and (humbly) invite people to chastise you. Some people enjoy this more than they should, and will jump at the chance to wag their finger (even playfully) at you for not working! (My Twitter friends are the best.)
So eager to dive into another first draft, but I know I need to edit. Someone talk me down.
— Briana Morgan (@brianawrites) July 28, 2015
Like I said, these techniques are far from foolproof, but they’re helping me stay sane while I crank out this second draft. By the time I finally finish these edits, I’ll be raring to go to work on the first draft of Reflections. Until then, I hope I can stay disciplined!
What do you do with inconvenient plot bunnies? How do you defeat Shiny New Idea Syndrome?
Holy plot bunnies, Batman! In this post @brianawrites discusses how to tackle Shiny New Idea Syndrome. (Click to tweet)
Itching to start a new book before your WIP is finished? Check out @brianawrites’ tips for handling this dilemma. (Click to tweet)
If you have no idea who she is, I’m sorry. Emily is one of the most important people in my life. We met on Neopets and started a roleplay, which basically involves alternating writing different pieces of a story. I’d write one character; she’d write another. The story has never ended, but it has changed and evolved. The same could be said for our friendship.
While writing with Emily, I learned that writing with someone has many ups and downs. It can be simultaneously nerve-wracking as well as satisfying. Since mine and Emily’s collaboration has lasted so long, I thought it might be a good idea to share our secrets for success with you. If you want to write something with someone, here’s how you can avoid wanting to kill them.
- Lower your expectations. If you’ve read their writing, you know what to expect, but if you haven’t, you should approach the collaboration with an open mind. Sometimes even the best writers get nervous working with someone new. I was lucky to get Emily, but sometimes, you may feel as though you got the raw end of the deal. Relax and focus on having fun. You don’t need to write the Great American Novel.
- Be willing to compromise. You might write a post expecting one reply and getting another. Roll with the punches. When working with someone else, flexibility is key. Also, remember that all relationships require compromise.
- Communicate with them. If you thoroughly enjoyed their last post, tell them! If it’s something they worked hard writing, they’ll be thankful for the praise. Likewise, if they’re doing something that bothers you, let them know right away. Bottling your frustrations is likely to make you explode and take out your partner in the process.
- Set ground rules. Before you get started, exchange limits from you. If you’re not a fan of swearing, sex, or violent behavior, be honest up front. Once they tell you what they won’t write, respect their limits, too. If you get the feeling that someone won’t respect you, forget about writing with them. It’s best to move on.
- Be patient. Life happens. You might not get a reply every day. Don’t freak out about it. As the two of you spend more time together, your partner might feel more inclined to reply regularly – or maybe not. Give them space if they need it and they’ll do the same for you.
I could go on and on about what writing with someone else has taught me. There are so many benefits to working with another person – I think it’s something every writer should try. The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be having fun.
Who knows? You might even still be friends after twelve years.
What are your tips for writing with someone? Have you collaborated with another writer before?
What do you think about collaborating with other writers? @brianawrites gives some tips for writing with someone. (Click to tweet)
When it comes to drafting, some writers feel that slower is better. I’m not one of them. The key to finishing first drafts is to get everything down. Deliberation will only hurt you when it comes to drafting and should be saved for revision. Want to finish your project? You need to write faster. Want to write faster? I can give you some advice. If you follow these tips, you should increase your writing speed in no time.
Write or Die. I’ve talked about this web app before. Ava Jae introduced me to it and now I’m in love. It changed my life. You enter your word count goal, set the timer, and write. If you get distracted, you’re in trouble. Let me know if you’d like me to share my settings with you.
Beat the clock. If Write or Die is too scary for you, set your own timer and race against the clock. Stick with something small–5,10, or 15 minutes should be plenty of time. You’ll be amazed what you can accomplish in such a short interval.
Writing sprints. Lately I’ve become a fan of writing sprints on Twitter. For a set amount of time (I like 15 minutes), you invite people to write with you. The goal is to write as much as you can in that time span. This technique is fun because you can get a lot done in a short amount of time. Also it’s great having other people there to hold you accountable. If writing sprints sound appealing to you, join in on the fun by following me on Twitter.
Outlines. Some people swear by outlines. I personally don’t like them. Do whatever works for you. Outlines can help you write faster by knowing what comes next. If you like planning, outlining can certainly help you increase your writing speed.
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. If you’re truly dedicated, the best way to increase your writing speed is to write every day. Write as much as you can whenever you can and you’ll be sure to see results.
You can write faster, I promise. All it takes is a few small changes. Try out these techniques and see what happens. You might surprise yourself with how fast you finish.
What do you think of these tips? Do you have any advice about how to increase your writing speed?
Photo by Jordan Francisco on FlickrI’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now, but I haven’t had the courage. This post is honest, frank, and uncomfortable. I’m going to reveal something about myself that I’m not proud of. In doing so, I hope I can inspire someone else who might be struggling with similar issues.What am I talking about? I’m talking about fear.A year or so ago, I finished the first draft of my manuscript. I put it away. I let it breathe. I wanted to put some distance between the novel and me so I could view it objectively the next time we saw each other.I had planned to start revisions this past May, but you know what? My fear and apprehension had other plans. As of writing this post, the only step I’ve taken in the revision process is the read-through. I’ve made some notes, but I haven’t gone through with any changes. Why?Because I’m terrified. I’m afraid once I start cutting, there will be nothing left. I’m afraid I’ll never make this novel concept work. I’m afraid it won’t be good—no, more than that, I’m afraid it will suck. When it comes right down to it, I’m afraid of failure.Let me tell you something—it’s okay to be afraid. In fact, it’s normal. The issue with fear is that it can keep you from achieving your goals if you don’t rise up to challenge it. I realized recently that I’ll never accomplish the very thing I’ve been dreaming of (publication) if I don’t, for lack of a better phrase, suck it up and move on. If I want to finish this novel, I have to face my fears.And you know what? Moving forward scares me more than I can say, but I’m doing it anyway. I’m pushing ahead. In writing this blog post, I’m hoping you all will hold me accountable. That means more to me than you can know. I’m facing my fear. Why don’t you face yours?What are you afraid of when it comes to writing?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?