Posts Tagged ‘#amwriting’

The Five Insurmountable Problems of NaNoWriMo

By DeAnna Knippling

So you’re thinking about doing NaNoWriMo this year for the first time. Or you’re thinking about doing better this year. Or you’re partially through NaNo and you’re stuck and you hate life and you’re reading NaNo blogs because you just like to punish yourself for not being good enough as a writer.

Um, yeah.

NaNoWriMo is a kind of hothouse of writing.

NaNoWriMo is a kind of hothouse of writing. It brings up all kinds of ugly things that encapsulate our failures as writers – or at least the failures as we see them.

So let’s get past that, not by treating NaNoWriMo as a kind of writers’ resolution, (”This year, I will write 50,000 words, mostly by…I don’t know, just forcing myself!”) but by looking at the root causes.

Here’s my premise: anything that stops you from writing is a bad writing technique.

1. I don’t know what to write.

Tip: Pick the first memorable person you think of, drop them in a memorable setting (it’s easier if you know the setting reasonably well), and give them a problem they can’t solve using their normal M.O. (that is, don’t give a firefighter a fire to put out–give them a parent with cancer).

It’s not that we don’t know what to write. It’s that we get hung up on finding the perfect thing to write. Why is that? Because we’re secretly convinced that stories aren’t about how the story’s told, but about the idea that sets them off.

And yet. Everybody who’s ever admitted to being a writer in public has heard this: “I have this great idea for a book. Why don’t you write it for me – I’ll even give you a percentage of the profits. Fifty-fifty!” As though the idea was worth half the work in the book. You’d laugh at that person…if it wasn’t you.

If you’re held up on the idea, then coming up with the perfect idea has got to go. Because anything that stops you from writing is a bad writing technique.

2. I have no time to write.

Tip: Give up Facebook and Twitter for November. If you want to get really extreme, give up all non-job reading and entertainment for the month…no reading, no games, no going out, no socializing…but them’s desperate measures.

You have time to write. I’m sorry, you do. It’s not about time, it’s about fear.

I once had a talk with my daughter about math class, which she normally likes and finds easy. She had a math teacher who threw things at her faster than she’s comfortable with. I could have a talk with the teacher about slowing things down for her or helping her somehow. Maybe getting her a tutor (well, other than me). Instead my daughter and I discussed learning and what it feels like, and how easy it is to run away from feeling like that. I told her that part of a good teacher’s job is to unsettle you, to get you used to and over the terror of learning.

I told her it’s okay to take breaks from your homework, but she can’t run away.

You have time to write; it’s just easier to justify cooking healthy meals and spending some extra time with the kids and doing laundry and Dr. Who and even puttering around on Facebook than it is to face learning something new. If you have fifteen minutes, you can have a page of fiction.

Yes. You can. When you’re not screwing around like a kid trying to avoid homework. When you’re not paralyzed by fear.

Telling yourself you have no time to write stops you from writing–it’s a bad writing technique.

3. I write nothing but crap.

Tip: Check all the items on this list:

  • Did I drink enough water?
  • Have I eaten? Have I eaten something other than crap during one of my last two meals?
  • Have I had enough sleep?
  • Have I had enough exercise?
  • Have I journaled/stress relieved lately?

Some people are surprised to find out that mental effort is physically draining, and learning something new is even worse. NaNo is a writing marathon, and it will burn energy and other resources faster than you’re used to. When you feel drained and horrible about your writing, first check that your body (or subconscious) isn’t trying to send you a message: I need fueland/or repairs.

The other part of this issue is the nature of crap.

The bad news is that we all write crap. The good news is that when you know you’re writing crap, it means you’re ahead of the game–seriously. In order to learn something new, you have to be uncomfortable with where you are now. Viscerally. Painfully.

The idea that you have to feel like you’re writing well in order to be a good writer sounds logical but it will keep you from writing and improving. It’s a bad writing technique!

4. I wrote for a while, but now I’m stuck and I don’t know what to do.

Tip: Write the next thing. Or maybe back up a paragraph or two, delete that, and then write the next thing.

A few years ago I took up knitting as a bucket-list kind of thing. I’d failed miserably at it as a kid – my mom’s right-handed to my leftiness, and she’s no good at explaining things from the other direction. I thought I was doomed. However, then I realized I have the Internet. I must have gone through fifty knitting videos on learning how to get started knitting before I found The One That Made Sense. At one point, I could have watched knitting videos all day. Instead of actually, you know, knitting.

You can, and should, and will do research to find out what works for you. But it has to be based on your personal trial and error, not on other people’s advice. No class, no mentor, no co-author can replace Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard. The only way to get comfortable with writing is to write.

But what if you’re stuck? Seriously stuck? And you can’t write another word?

You can. You must.

During any long writing project, you will more than likely get stuck at some point, especially as you realize you have no idea what you’re doing, what you’ve been doing, or what you’re going to do next. I’ve talked to writers at various levels of experience. As far as I can tell, this feeling never goes away.

So you look up and realize you’ve painted yourself into a corner. Oh, no – there’s no way to get the characters out of this situation! Clearly, it’s time to completely rewrite the entire book. Or just quit writing. FOREVER.

Except there always is a way out of every fictional situation, no matter how bad, because the characters get to destroy the walls and tramp all over the paint. Nuclear bombs? Alien invasion? Falling in love with someone else entirely? That’s what edits are for: rewriting the opening so the ending fits.

When you get stuck, write the next sentence. It might be weird, ungrammatical, awkward, annoying, offensive, etc., etc. Just plain wrong.

It is also yours in a way that the best-planned, structurally pretty sentences will never be. When you have pushed past everything you can think and plan, then you enter into a territory of naked honesty, which is often ugly and just plain wrong.

This is where the art of writing lies. The rest is craft. You need to know craft. I love craft. But this is where the art is, where you go, “I have nothing. I know nothing. I am writing out on a limb, on a one-sided bridge off a cliff with no opposite bank. I am skydiving without a parachute. I am a fake. I am full of crap and so is this.”

But that’s where the good stuff is.

This idea that you’re stuck because you’re at a dead end – it’s a lie, it’s fear talking. It stops you from writing – so it’s gotta’ go. You’re stuck because you’re at the edge of the cliff. The next sentence you write must be magic. Not because it was good (although it will be, if you let yourself recognize it), but because you were able to write it at all.

5. Now what?

Tip: Continue to be a pain in the butt and do what’s right for you as a writer.

At some point, you’ll decide that you’ve finished your NaNo novel, or that you’re not going to.

In either case, you’re going to hear some negative things about NaNo authors, or people who don’t finish, or people who do, or new writers in general, or whatever. The people who depend on you will be relieved that it’s over. You will be relieved that it’s over.

You’ll be left dangling. Now what?

People will give you advice. A lot of it will sound really logical.

However, if it makes you want to stop writing, it’s a bad writing technique. No matter how logical it is, no matter how long people have been doing it. It’s bad. If you just want to work on something new and not finish your NaNo project – do that. (If you never want to do NaNo again – then don’t!) If you want to keep writing every day despite the fact that people tell or imply that you suck – then write. If the idea of submitting makes you want to never write again – then don’t submit (yet). If the idea of having to perfect your work before you can submit it makes you want to roll up in a ball – then submit before it’s perfect. If getting too many rejections kills you – then take it slow, or wait until you’ve written five other things and you don’t care whether that old thing gets rejected or not.

Work around the problems until they aren’t problems anymore. Learn one thing at a time, not all at once. Be kind to yourself. Keep writing.

Everything else is a bad writing technique.


DeAnna Knippling

DeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America.  Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

Marketing During NaNoWriMo – Are you Crazy?

By Jennifer Lovett Herbranson

National Novel Writing Month is right around the corner, and I’m going to talk to you about marketing while you’re writing. I know what you’re thinking: Are you nuts?

Writing 1667 words a day every day for 30 days is daunting enough, and now I’m asking you to think about marketing while you’re doing it. Why yes, I am.

Wait! Hang in there!

What’s awesome about NaNoWriMo is the flood of ideas that rush in your head while you’re furiously writing your book. A lot of those ideas won’t make it in the book, so I want you to write them down.

Why?

Because writing down any ideas you have while you’re in the midst of this windstorm of fiction will give you exactly what you need to focus your marketing later.

Huh?

Marketing is simply finding a way to reach readers. That’s it. In order to do that, you need content. Anything you have in a story can be used for your author brand. Drink the Koolaid because no matter if you traditionally publish or go indie, you’ll be doing the bulk of your marketing.

Writer’s Digest hosted a panel at their annual conference in August with publicists from Hachette and Penguin Random House, and right up front, the moderator said, “All authors should have a fundamental understanding of marketing.” 

I’m not going to get into an explanation of the fundamentals of marketing right now. I’ll have a post on that after the maelstrom of NaNo is over. In the meantime, I just want you to be prepared and ready to go.

So, after you’re done writing for the day, take three minutes and make a quick note. What burst in your brain today about these characters and the story? Think about it like a book bible. Simply write down the pieces.

Use the list below to help you.

  • Character names
  • Character jobs or careers
  • Character hobbies or interests
  • Settings
  • Locations
  • Histories of the town or the people
  • Minor characters your MC came in contact with..their jobs and hobbies
  • Restaurants that appeared in the story
  • Businesses that appeared in the story

Not only will this list help you organize your thoughts about the story, it gives you tons of fodder to develop a marketing plan in December. I’ll walk you through it. Until then, simply take notes.


Jennifer Lovett

Jennifer Lovett is the founder of Writer Nation, a podcast and Facebook group dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 17 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity.
You can find her on her
 WebsiteFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest: @jennylovett

A Visit with Laura Ingalls Wilder

By: Margena Holmes

My husband and I recently celebrated our 33rd anniversary by taking a trip to South Dakota. He wanted to visit Mount Rushmore and I figured if we’re going to go there, why not take a trip to De Smet to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites and museum? Laura Ingalls Wilder is the biggest influence of why I’m an author today, so visiting De Smet, where the last five books in her series take place, has been a Bucket List item of mine ever since I found out you can visit the site and see where she lived.

Open prairie at the Homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder
Open prairie at the homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder

In her writing, Laura’s use of description painted a picture of everything she saw. As a young girl, she had to become good at describing things. Her sister Mary became blind at the age of 14, so Pa Ingalls told Laura that she had to be her sister’s eyes and “show” her the scenery. That is why as writers we must show what is happening in our stories instead of telling.  We paint the picture for our readers so they can see what the characters see, and experience what is happening in the story.

We first toured the surveyor’s house. While reading the books, I understood the houses that she lived in were small. “Small” to me was having a living room, a bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom. The surveyor’s house did have four rooms—three downstairs (the kitchen with a small pantry, and bedroom, and the parlor) and one upstairs (another bedroom). Laura, used to living in smaller houses, called it a mansion! It was about this point of the tour that I found out that Laura was tiny—4’11”. So, when Laura’s father called her his little “half-pint of sweet cider half drunk up” he wasn’t joking!

Claim shanty at the homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Claim shanty at the homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Next we drove out to where the Ingalls family had their homestead. The house was gone, but there were other things to experience. The five cottonwood trees that Pa Ingalls planted for each of the girls and Ma Ingalls were still standing. As I stood in that area, I tried to imagine how Laura might have seen everything for the first time. I could truly see why Pa Ingalls had spent the night at the land office to make sure he got that parcel of land. Everything was as Laura described. The Big Slough with its coarse grasses, the soft grasses of the prairie, and the flat land with little prairie swells, though there are more trees there now than were probably there in Laura’s time. Pa Ingalls said at the time that tree claims would put trees all over the area, and it looks to be true.

Author Margena Holmes enjoys the trees around the homestead.
Author Margena Holmes enjoys the trees Charles Ingalls planted around the homestead.

There was also a replica of the dug-out house that they lived in on Plum Creek in Minnesota. It was exactly as Laura described it in her books—dirt floor, sod walls, and you wouldn’t know it was there until you had gone down the hill. I remember reading this as a young girl and I could smell the scents of the dirt as I read. This smelled just like I remembered reading.

Through Laura’s description of the area, I felt like I had seen these places already. That is why, as writers, we need to make our descriptions as real as possible, to bring the reader into the story. Laura did well in describing her life on the prairie.


Margena Holmes

Margena Adams Holmes was born in Bellflower, CA sometime in the 1960s. She has always had a love for both reading and writing, writing her first song/poem in 1st grade. Margena is a big supporter of indie authors and will read anything that draws her into the story. She is an observer of life, and many everyday things could (and do!) end up in her writings. Her publications are available through her author page. Contact Margena via email: jedi_anegram@hotmail.com.

ZEBULON – What’s New?

By: Amy Armstrong

Almost exactly two years ago, I moved to Denver with a lot of debt, a broken heart, and the urge to finally take my writing seriously. At 37, I was beginning to worry that I could die before I was published. My mom consoled me though. I have been published already. It was a short article in ArtCalendar about resume writing for artists, but she seemed to believe that item is now off my bucket list. I still want to write a novel that is traditionally published and I continue to nurture my big dreams because Pikes Peak Writers has been there for me since the start. Consequently, when SM Rose contacted me about volunteering to be part of the Zebulon 2020 Committee, I immediately agreed.

 Over the past few months, I’ve often wondered if I bit off a lot more than I can chew. Actually, I know I have, but I’m trying my best to stay afloat here because the Zebulon is a valuable part of everything we offer writers through PPW. It’s an opportunity for feedback that many writers receive on their writing for the first time as well as visibility for emerging writers.

The Zebulon Logo

 Unlike a submission to a literary magazine, The Zebulon accepts novel excerpts (most literary magazines do not) and provides each contestant with feedback in the form of ratings on various aspects of their piece. For an extra $25, contestants can receive a one-page critique from one of our judges.

The Judges

 The judges are another part of The Zebulon that are particularly special this year. I make a point of networking with authors throughout Colorado as well as around the country, and several of our judges are professionals I reached out to personally to help our writers grow and refine their craft.

No contest will ever be perfect. However, we have worked hard on The Zebulon relaunch to make it even more helpful to writers, and I hope that the changes are beneficial.

Here is a list of highlights of changes we have made:

  • Entries are sent via Submittable to remain consistent with our contest’s goal of mirroring professional publishing’s submission process.
  • We no longer require a query. Novel excerpt entries now consist of only a synopsis and the 2,500-word sample.
  • The short story category is back. Writers now can submit up to a 5,000-word short story from any genre.
  • Prizes are now monetary to encourage a diverse pool of applicants. While we hope everyone will want to join us at Conference next year, we know that is not always possible.

 Making these changes has been challenging. Some people within the organization embraced them more readily than others, but growing pains are part of the process. I’m still happy I agreed to volunteer for the committee. Anyone who wants to discourage me is going to need to try harder.

The Zebulon opens September 1st, 2019 and closes November 1st, 2019, 12:00 p.m, MST. Only the first 200 entries will be accepted.

Hosted by Pikes Peak Writers, the Zebulon gives fiction writers at all levels the chance to get their work in front of professional agents and editors. The contest simulates the real process of submitting to an agent, serving as an excellent learning experience. Do you have what it takes to get published? The Zebulon will help you find out.


Amy Armstrong

Amy Armstrong has been doing a little bit of everything in the writing community, since she came to Denver in 2017. She participates in live storytelling and readings throughout the Denver area. Locations include BookBar, The Mercury Cafe, and the Whittier Cafe. She volunteers for Pikes Peak Writers as Coordinator of Social Media and was recognized as the 2019 Volunteer of the Year. 

I Want to Write a Book Someday

By: Margena Holmes

We’ve all heard that phrase before, either from someone we’ve just met (once they find out we’re writers), or someone we know well and they want advice on how to start writing. What do you tell them?

Is it easy?

Most people think that writing is easy. You just sit down and write, right? Well, yes and no. What are you going to write about? When people tell me they want to write a book, most of the time they have no clue what they want to write about. I’m pretty sure they think being an author is some kind of glamorous life where lots of money is to be made, and we get inspiration every day. Well, news flash—it doesn’t always work out that way. I wish it did!

What makes your story unique?

Be Unique

That is the hard part—thinking about something to write, and writing it in a different way that hasn’t been done before. Remember, every topic has pretty much been written about before so what makes YOUR story unique?

Write, write, and write some more!

People (mostly teens with their parents) have come up to my table at comic cons and say they want to be a writer, and what should they do? Heck, if I had all the answers, I’d be making millions! What I DO know and can tell them is to read, read, read, and then write, write, write. Write about your day, write about a scene you might have witnessed. Practice your craft as much as you can. These kids are usually sincere about wanting to be a writer, and I will help them in any way I can.

What about the ones who say they want to be a writer and when you ask them what they want to write about, they give you a blank stare, or tell you, “Oh, I don’t know yet”? I’ll tell them the same thing as I tell anyone else—read and write and practice. I can always tell if they are serious by what happens next. If they get excited over the advice and start asking more questions, they genuinely want to write. If they say, “Oh, I don’t think I need to read, I just want to write something.” Welp, they’re enamored by the thought of it but don’t want to put in the work.

Writing is a process

And it is work. You have to think of what to write, outline it (unless you’re a pantser), write it, rewrite it, then either have a critique partner or beta reader read it, make more changes, THEN it’s ready for the editor. You’ll probably want to read books about the craft of writing, attend some writers conferences (which isn’t work to me because I love to learn), and read some more.

I’m still waiting for the ones who’ve said they want to write a book (and have asked for my advice) to write their book. How many people have told you they want to write a book? What do YOU tell them?


Margena Holmes

Margena Adams Holmes was born in Bellflower, CA sometime in the 1960s. She has always had a love for both reading and writing, writing her first song/poem in 1st grade. Margena is a big supporter of indie authors and will read anything that draws her into the story. She is an observer of life, and many everyday things could (and do!) end up in her writings. Her publications are available through her author page. Contact Margena via email: jedi_anegram@hotmail.com.

Blogging: Should you start & how to do it

By: Jennifer Lovett

Did you happen to attend a writer’s conference recently where you heard every author must have a blog? Or maybe you heard an agent won’t pick you up if you don’t have a blog. Or maybe you’d just like to join the community because believe it or not, blogging isn’t dead. New blogs still pop up all the time and become successful.

So, do you need a blog?

  • If you want to sell more books, no.
  • If you want to drive traffic to your website, not necessarily but it helps.
  • If you want to establish a daily or weekly writing habit that will also drive traffic, then yes.

But if you plan to start a blog, I want you to think about a few things.

  • It is a fantastic way to start and maintain a writing habit
  • It is a fantastic way to drive traffic to your website
  • It is time-consuming and requires some creative brainstorming for topics after a time
  • There are 31.7 million bloggers in the U.S. by 2020

Yes, there are a lot of blogs out there. That doesn’t mean you can’t make it work for you. Your fiction content is unique and more than likely, there won’t be too many other fiction writers out there clamoring away to write about your content. So that opens up a lot of post possibilities.

The best way to keep track of what you’re writing is to create a content calendar. It’s a device to help you plan out your blog strategy, which posts to write and when to post them. You’ll never be lost on what to blog again. Here’s mine, feel free to steal it.

To get you started, here is a list of topics you can blog about:

  1. Behind-the-scenes. Talk about how you get your ideas (because you know you’ll be asked), where you write, where you do your research
  2. Excerpts of your work. Do you have a really favorite scene? Share it.
  3. Character Interviews. These are always fun and can help you flesh out a character as well.
  4. Book chronicle. Journal your book. How you create your characters; how they respond to you on a given day; where you’re having writers block and why; how you resolved the issue
  5. Book covers. Talk about why you like one over the other.
  6. Research trips. Write about what you ate, where you stayed, what you discovered, where you discovered it.
  7. Location Scout. Write about your setting and its history
  8. Writers life. How you became a writer, stay motivated and started your career
  9. Supporters. Interviews with people who’ve helped you on your journey: librarians, researchers, biggest supporter, funny little guy you met on the train who was super excited to find out you’re a writer!
  10. Reviews. Connect something in your work to popular culture and become an expert on it. For example, Young Adult novelists could review episodes of Riverdale or Stranger Things. Mystery writers could review CSI or NCIS.

As you start blogging or want to punch up the blog you have, here are some best practices to help you:

  1. LONG form!
    1. Not 250 words. Not anymore. 1000 words. Why? Because Google likes search words and the more words you have, the more likely you’ll pop in a Google search. This maxes out between 1500-2000 words though.
    1. Will readers take the time to read all that? Yes. Statistics show people are reading just as much as ever, even with short attention spans, they are reading. They’re just doing it on their phones. (Source)
  2. Bullets, headers, lists.
    1. I know I just said readers will read up to 1500 words, but really that’s only true if you break up the text with these elements. It makes it an easier read for users who have the attention span of a gnat.
    1. Attention span has been reported at 8 seconds in the online word. But more than 30% of blog readers admit to liking lists and headers, and more than 40% admit to skimming. Breaking up the text will help your reader stay involved with the post. (Source)
  3. Video is still king.
    1. So what does that have to do with blogging? One of the best ways to up your search engine optimization is to create a quick 1-3 minute video that basically just tells the reader what’s in your blog. Pop that on the end of your blog and you should start to see an increase in traffic.
    1. In addition, 80% of blog readers report they remember more of what they read if it’s accompanied by a video. Win win! (Source)
  4. Images.
    1. Articles or blogs with images receive 94% more views. Even if you just use one, put it toward the top so you pull readers in right in the beginning.
    1. Find photos on Flickr, Google Images, Shutterstock and Pixabay. Most of these sites will have free or inexpensive photos you can use copyright-free. (Source)
  5. Launch with 20.
    1. Because content is how Google finds you, it’s better to have at least 20 posts before you officially launch your blog.
    1. Think about that … 20000 words. That will certainly help your search engine optimization.
  6. Be consistent.
    1. This one has been preached forever. Right now the going rate is at least every other week, but weekly is best.
    1. Never go for once a month. It simply isn’t enough content to drive traffic. (Source)

If you’re read to start, you’ll need a platform like Wix, Weebly, or Blogger – all of which have a pretty easy learning curve and free templates. I use WordPress because it has better integration with the Google search engine and an amazing SEO tool in the Yoast plugin which makes SEO super easy. You’ll also want to own your own domain (URL), so head over to GoDaddy, SquareSpace or HostGator and purchase the URL.

For slightly more information, check out this link.


Jennifer Lovett

Jennifer Lovett is the founder of Writer Nation, a podcast and Facebook group dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 17 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity.
She currently lives in South Korea and travels around Asia for fun.
You can find her on her WebsiteFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest: @jennylovett

A Quick Primer on Pacing

What is Pacing?

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Pacing is the length at which a story is told: from the length of the words, to the length of the sentences, to the length of the paragraphs, scenes, chapters, and story itself. In order to match the content of a story to the way a story is told, it is necessary to control one’s pacing.
An epic saga cannot be best told in a flash fiction. It requires some word-count.

Being able to see pacing is like being able to see the Matrix. You’re looking at a substratum of story that most people don’t know is there—and once you see it, you can’t not see it.In order to match the content of a story to the way a story is told, it is necessary to control one’s pacing.

So, what is it?

Words

The words that you choose for your story can make it feel fast or slow.

Your selected vocabulary assists in determining whether your fiction gives a straightforward or a more convoluted impression.

The meaning of the words can be essentially the same. But the feeling that a reader gets from them is not. A lot of popular fiction uses a stripped-down vocabulary to give a feeling of directness and veracity; more literary fiction tends to use bigger words, so the readers feel like they’re chewing on some seriously high-fiber, good-for-you fiction.

Sentences

A short sentence is blunt.

A longer sentence can give the impression of being more persuasive, more thoughtful, more expansive; the kind of connections one makes between simple sentences as one links them together also expresses more or less formality (semi-colons are very formal); a lot of dashes and parenthesis and commas and even a run-on sentence all indicate something going on in the sentence that requires a moment’s thought: the speaker is lying, some sort of philosopher, or not thinking straight.

Paragraphs

Skim through the paragraphs above.
Again. Just look at the lengths of the paragraphs. Don’t read any of it.
The fact that the paragraphs aren’t the same length is important.
Which paragraphs look easier to read?
Which ones are going to get skimmed?
Which ones pop out?
Do they pop out because they’re short or because they’re different?
What happens to a reader when a series of paragraphs goes from short, to medium, to short again?
What happens when a series of paragraphs starts out short, then gets longer?
What about paragraphs that show contrast?
What about paragraphs that are all the same? Does it sound natural? Or does hitting the paragraph return at regulated intervals start to destroy the meaning of what is written within them? Is it like repeating the same word over and over again, until it becomes meaningless?

Pizza. Pizza. Pizza. Pizza. Pizza.

I highly recommend breaking up any concentrated monotonies of paragraphs. Just hit the return key a few times. It’s liberating.

Scenes, Chapters, and Sections

The various pieces and parts within a story have their own pacing. As you start to shift your attention from paragraphs to larger sections within a story, you may start to notice that the paragraphing and sentence lengths shift with the tension in the scene. For example, a long paragraph might contain a lot of details that the POV character casually notices. A series of short paragraphs might indicate a chase scene.
Different writers handle their pacing differently, but there are some patterns that tend to form:

  • Shorter pacing is faster pacing.
  • Longer pacing is slower pacing.
  • Medium pacing is often broken up by longer or shorter pacing, just to keep the writing from becoming soporific, which is a word that here means “sleep-inducing.”

Something to watch for is a moment when the pacing doesn’t seem to fit the content. This is often a hint to the reader that things are not what they seem.

Stories

Pick up a print copy of War and Peace sometime. Or The Lord of the Rings. Compare the physical weight to something like “One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts,” by Shirley Jackson.
Some stories are longer than others.
Some stories have to be longer than others.

The length of stories in a genre is not about “what sells” so much as how much plot, at what pace, the readers expect to get from stories in a certain genre. Romance novels are often shorter than epic fantasies. When people read a romance, they only want so many obstacles before the lovers get together. Too many obstacles, and it starts to feel too much like real life. With epic fantasy, readers want to have a lot of obstacles. And whether there’s a literal map included in the book or not, they want to have traveled all over it. This requires more plot and therefore more obstacles.

  • In a romance, having too many subplots is an unwelcome distraction. The reader really only cares about the main lovers.
  • In an epic fantasy, you almost can’t have too many subplots or POV characters. The reader cares about the world itself, and sometimes you need than a single main character to show it all off.
  • Short stories only have the tiniest bit of plot. They often spend most of their time setting up a single conflict.
  • Sagas have so much plot that it often takes generations and entire continents for it to all play out.
  • A novella or short novel is often the story about how one stripped-down incident suggests a larger whole.
  • A series of mystery novels—in which the mystery novels, of whatever length but all of them roughly similar—is often the story about how history repeats itself but that, with intelligence, you can learn to cope with it.

The quickest way to learn pacing is to type some in. Find authors who have been publishing a lot of bestselling books over a lot of years, and start typing in words from a book you like that’s been published in the last ten years or so. Don’t start with Stephen King or George R.R. Martin. They’ll probably be over your head. (They’re generally over mine.) After you’ve read something you like, take a moment to ask yourself why the author chose the pacing they did. Some authors are good at distracting you from how they work their magic tricks, so you just end up getting sucked back into the story. Studying those writers is like attempting to solve the unsolvable.

That’s good. Those are the ones you want.


DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.