Marcy’s Blog

Writing in Multiple Genres or Specializing

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

One of the empowering, amazing parts of being an independent author is we get to choose. That ability to choose and experiment is one of the things that drew me to self-publishing rather than trying to work with a traditional publisher.

A lot of the choices we make won’t have a right and a wrong. Instead, they’ll have a right for me and a wrong for me. What’s important is that we understand our options and select the one that suits us.

So today I’m going to cover one of the choices we have—whether to focus on writing in a single genre or whether to write across multiple genres.

I hope you’ll join me over at Fiction University for my regular monthly guest post–Writing in Multiple Genres or Specializing.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

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How to Use Layers to Create Rich Character Emotions

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

One of the least effective ways to convey character emotions is to tell the reader what the character was feeling: fear, love, jealousy, anger. Before I go on to look at how we can create a rich emotional life for our characters that will touch our readers’ emotions, I think we need to break down why telling an emotion doesn’t work.

When we’re in the middle of an emotion, we don’t stop to think about what emotion we’re experiencing and to name it—we just experience it. The nature of emotions is that they tend to inhibit our ability to think logically and rationally. So when we label an emotion at the time our character is experiencing it, it feels like someone else is talking about that character or like our character is unrealistically self-aware.

Labeling an emotion also strips out everything that makes that emotion individual and fresh. It takes the personality out of it so that it lays flat on the page. We don’t learn anything about the character.

Despite this, many of us are tempted to label the character’s emotions in our writing because we don’t want to risk confusing the reader about what our character is feeling. We want to be sure they know.

Context should help alleviate confusion. (After all, if our character is grabbed from behind while walking down a dark alley, her racing heart probably isn’t due to love.)

But the real key to clear emotion that’s also going to resonate with the reader is adding in layers.

Layer #1 – The Physical Symptoms of the Emotion

Emotions affect us physically in visceral ways we can’t control. Our palms sweat. Our hands tremble. We gasp or yelp or screech. 

When we put these reactions on the page, we’re not only reminding the reader of times they’ve felt those same physical symptoms. We’re also bringing them in close to our character so they’re experiencing the emotion from the inside rather than simply watching it from the outside.

(If you want to know more about visceral reactions, check out my guest post over at Jami Gold’s blog.)

Layer #2 – Character Thoughts and Dialogue

What a character thinks and what they say can give away what they’re feeling as well. Even more interesting at times is when what they think doesn’t match up with what they say. In those cases, we’re showing their true emotions and how those emotions contrast with how they feel they need to portray themselves to the people around them.

Layer #3 – Actions Your Character Would Do When Experiencing That Emotion

Our bodies speak to our emotions in big and small ways. An impatient character might bob the foot of their crossed leg. A character who received shocking news might sink into a chair. A character who is desperate might stretch their hands out toward the person they’re pleading with.

Allowing our characters to transmit their emotions in this way helps the reader understand what they’re feeling and it also adds depth.

Let’s look at a quick example. To add some context, our viewpoint character Becky has been waiting by the window for her husband to come home. He’s late.

The Telling Version:

A police car pulled to a stop in front of their house, and two officers got out. Fear shot through her.

The Showing Version With All Three Layers:

A police car pulled to a stop in front of their house, and two officers got out.

Trembling started in her fingers and worked its way up her arm like some kind of a localized seizure. She dropped the curtain into place, and took one step, two, back away from the window.

Craig wasn’t that late. He was flat tire late. Or traffic jam late. Or the-meeting-ran-long late. He wasn’t uniforms-notify-the-next-of-kin late.

Not every emotion needs this much emphasis. Not every moment in your story will be important enough to warrant it. But if your characters feel flat or if your emotions are coming across muddy, especially at times when their emotions are essential, then try adding in more layers.

HowToWriteBox1Want more help bringing your characters and their internal lives to life for your readers?

I’m excited to introduce my first box set—How to Write Fiction: Busy Writer’s Guides Set 1.

Showing and telling, deep point of view, and internal dialogue are foundational skills you need to master to create vivid fiction that engages the reader emotionally.

The books in this set put writing craft techniques into plain language alongside examples so you can see how that technique looks in practice. In addition, you’ll receive tips and how-to exercises to help you apply what you learn to the pages of your own story. Most importantly, every book in the Busy Writer’s Guide series cuts the fluff so that you have more time to write and to live your life.

In this box set you’ll find…

SHOWING AND TELLING IN FICTION

Showing and Telling in Fiction will help you clearly understand the difference between showing and telling, provide you with guidelines for when to show and when to tell, and give you practical editing tools for spotting and fixing telling in your writing.

DEEP POINT OF VIEW

Do you want readers to be so caught up in your book that they forget they’re reading? Then you need deep POV. Deep POV places the reader inside of our characters—hearing their thoughts, feeling their emotions, and living the story through them. In Deep Point of View, you’ll learn specific, practical things you can do to take your fiction to the next level with deep POV.

INTERNAL DIALOGUE

Internal dialogue is one of the most powerful tools in a fiction writer’s arsenal. It’s also one of the least understood and most often mismanaged elements. In Internal Dialogue, you’ll learn the difference between internal dialogue and narration, how to format internal dialogue, how to balance it with external action, how to use it to advance your story, and much more.

The box set is priced at $9.99, a 10% savings over buying the books individually.

You can grab your copy from…

Amazon

Apple iBooks

Kobo

Barnes & Noble

Smashwords

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Dissecting Books: Reading as a Writer Part 4

Read Like a Writer Part 4By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Welcome back to my series on how to dissect books to understand how and why they work. In other words, how to “read as a writer.” (Here’s where to find Part 1 [openings], Part 2 [plot], and Part 3 [characters and theme].)

This week we’re going to dig down into the nuts and bolts of how the writing comes together on a line-by-line basis.

I’d recommend you stick with the books you selected last time because you’ve already vetted them, you’re familiar with the content, and you’ll already have an idea of what some of the best passages are.

Pick a passage from one of the books (select about 1000 words) and type it into a document.

The exercise I’m going to suggest might seem a little strange at first, and it can easily be misunderstood. I’m not saying you should copy someone else’s work. I’m not saying you should try to mimic someone else’s voice. You’re simply trying to see how a well-written book works and feels on a sentence-by-sentence level. These are books you love, so they should be books you can learn from.

One of the best ways to develop a feel for how accomplished authors write is to type out their words. You’re not going to stop there, though. Once you’ve typed out the passage, you can print it out and highlight the different elements. Choose whatever colors you want, but you’ll need five.

Here are the elements to highlight:

  • Dialogue (externally spoken, not internal dialogue)
  • Body language and action (e.g., shaking hands, a facial tick, running across the room)
  • Setting and description
  • Visceral reactions (the internal sensations our body experiences when we feel emotion)
  • Character thoughts (often called internal dialogue or internalizations, this can include narrative and bits of backstory)

Now lay the pages out in front of you. Look for patterns.

Do you see any large chunks of color? Probably not. If you do, how has the writer kept your interest? Or why did they lose it?

How have they woven the elements together?

Do you see any colors that tend to pair together? You’ll probably see visceral reactions and characters thoughts often show up side by side.

How has the writer used the elements to build on each other? When an author wants to bring out a strong emotional reaction, they’ll often combine many of the elements and use them to enhance the emotions they want the reader to feel. Notice which moments are considered important enough to be developed using multiple techniques.  

If you spotted a passage that felt slow, can you now see what might be causing that? If a passage felt rushed, can you now see what might have caused that? It’s not always about learning from the good. We can also learn from mistakes.

To take this to the next level, print 1000 words of your current project, highlight them, and compare. Make sure you’ve chosen similar sections. For example, don’t compare an action scene with an emotional reaction scene.

This can be an eye opener.

That brings us to the end of the series. If you want a copy of this series that you can download, sign up for my newsletter. I’ll be making it available to my newsletter subscribers as a PDF in the near future.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

Image Credit: Lynn Lopez/freeimages.com

Writing to Market

Love or MoneyBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Writing to market isn’t a new concept, but recently it’s become one of the hot topic issues within the writing world, largely thanks to Chris Fox’s 21 Day Novel Challenge.

On one side of the divide over writing to market are authors who say that writing to market is the way to earn a good living off your work. On the other side are writers who say that writing to market makes you a mercenary and will lead to a short career where you burn out and hate to write.

This month, in my regular guest post at Fiction University, I’m explaining what writing to market means, taking a look at some of the pros and cons, and asking whether we really have to choose between writing for love or writing for money. Is it possible to find the spot where what we love to write and what we can make money writing overlap?

I hope you’ll join me for “Writing to Market – What Is It and Should You Try It?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description Showing and Telling in Fiction, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

Image Credit: Cameron H/freeimages.com

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Dissecting Books: Reading as a Writer Part 3

Read Like a Writer Part 3By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Welcome back to my series on how to dissect books to understand how and why they work. In other words, how to “read as a writer.” (Here’s where to find Part 1 and Part 2.)

Last time we looked at plot. This week we’re going to think about characters and theme.

I’d suggest sticking with the same three books we selected last time. Just as a reminder, they were three of your favorites in your chosen genre, and they were recently written, highly rated, first in series or standalone books.

(1) How does the writer make you care about what happens to the main character?

Notice I didn’t say like the main character. Likeable main characters are easier to sell, but successful fiction has been written with unlikeable main characters.

So look at the techniques the writer uses to make you sympathize with or like the main character. Look at what makes the main character interesting or compelling. Think carefully about why you’re willing to keep reading about this character.

Does the writer use the character’s actions to gain your sympathy? Do they use hints of backstory? Do they use dialogue by other characters or other character’s internal perceptions of the character?

Create a practical list of techniques that you can use in your stories. This should be a list of techniques, not a list of things to copy.

So if the main character in the story you’re analyzing gains your sympathy by helping an old lady cross the street, that doesn’t mean you need to have your character help someone across the street. It means you write down “show the main character doing something nice for someone else.” You want to deduce general principles from specific examples.

(2) How did the writer show the importance of the story goal to the main character?

If the main character cares about the goal and has a strong motivation for pursuing it, the reader will also care. Study how the writer brought out the main character’s goals and motivations in each scene as well as in terms of the overall plot.

How did they show the importance of the goal? Did they use physical symbols? Did they use conversations with other characters? Did they use internal dialogue? How much of each did they use?

In other words, how did they make you care about the story goal?

(3) Does the character grow over the course of the book?

Not every story will have a character that grows and changes over the course of the book, and this can be genre-specific at times. For example, James Bond is basically the same in every book.

Take note of how the writer shows the character’s internal state at the beginning. If the main character is afraid of a committed relationship, for example, how has the writer shown that?

How has the writer woven that internal growth in with the external conflict? Look at the ways that each major external challenge also forced internal change. 

(4) If the book had a theme (and most books do), what helped you see that theme?

Themes in fiction can be broad—for example, justice will prevail. They can also be narrower—for example, being a parent is worth the cost.

Could you identify the theme in the book? If so, how did the author make it clear to you? Themes aren’t usually stated explicitly. They’re generally woven in through action and through the growth of the character.

If you want a copy of this series that you can download, sign up for my newsletter. I’ll be making it available to my newsletter subscribers as a PDF in the near future.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Showing and Telling in Fiction, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

Image Credit: Lynn Lopez/freeimages.com

Is KDP Select Right for You?

Janice Hardy Fiction University

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Because I was away teaching at a writer’s conference last week, I didn’t manage to share my regular monthly guest post with all of you. I didn’t want you to miss it, so I’m sharing it a little late. This month, I’m going over the pros and cons of KDP Select.

One of the choices we need to make when we publish our book is whether we’re going to distribute wide or go exclusive. Up until this point, I’ve always gone wide, but with a new series scheduled for release in November, the idea of going exclusive has been on my mind a lot lately.

Distributing wide means that we’ll offer our book for sale at all the major retailers—Amazon, Barnes & Noble, AppleiBooks, and Kobo at least.

Going exclusive, at this point, means we’re putting our ebook into Amazon’s KDP Select program. Amazon’s terms of service for the KDP Select program state that we can’t sell or give away the enrolled ebooks anywhere else. You agree to this exclusivity for 90 days at a time, and then you can either continue in the program for another 90 days or opt out. In exchange, they offer you some perks they don’t offer to books that aren’t enrolled.

I hope you’ll join me at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University for the rest of this post!

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Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Showing and Telling in Fiction, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

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Is It Important for Writers to Also Be Readers?

Writers Should ReadBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

As an editor and writing instructor, I have the privilege of talking to a lot of writers, at a lot of different career stages. So it’s not unusual for patterns to crop up—ideas, trends, challenges, and myths.

Today I want to debunk one of the myths I’ve heard frequently of late.

Here it is:

You don’t need to read novels if you want to write novels. You can learn how to write from movies and TV shows.

That thunk you just heard? That was my head smacking into my table in frustration.

I’ll explain why this myth is dangerous for writers, especially writers who want to create novels.

Yes, we can learn some things from movies and from TV shows.

We can learn how to create interesting characters that the audience will love, hate, and talk about.

We can learn about hooks. TV shows are especially good at the art of the hook because the writers know how easy it is for the audience to wander off during a commercial. They want to make sure the audience sticks around. (Movies, on the other hand, can’t teach you about hooks.)

We can learn about dialogue (though, even there, you’ll find some differences). Almost anything Joss Whedon worked on would be a great self-study for authors struggling with dialogue.  

No, we can’t learn everything from movies and from TV shows.

In fact, some of the most important elements of fiction writing can’t be learned from a visual medium. The written format brings with it special challenges that we can’t learn how to conquer by watching, only by reading.

We can’t learn internal dialogue. In fact, we can’t learn anything about how to convey the internal life of the character—their thoughts, visceral reactions, or unspoken motivations.

We can’t learn description. In movies and TV shows, the audience sees what’s happening around the characters and they see what each character looks like. As writers, we have to build everything we want the reader to imagine with our words.

We can’t learn proper written story structure. Some elements of structure are the same between movies and novels…and some aren’t. For example, movies have the freedom to start more slowly than books do because, once you’ve bought your ticket and you’re settled in with your popcorn, the movie would have to be pretty bad before you’d walk out. If the start of a book is slow, you’ll never buy it in the first place.

We can’t learn how to balance description, action, dialogue, and internalizations. As I mentioned just a second ago, there isn’t any internalization in movies and TV shows (voice overs don’t count). The description is automatically taken care of. The actors fill in the action. So we can’t see how to weave them together on the page to avoid spots that either drag or leave the reader feeling disconnected from the character or the world.

We can’t learn how to maintain a consistent point of view. Point-of-view errors are non-existent in a movie or TV show. In a book, maintaining a consistent point of view is integral to keeping a strong connection between the reader and the viewpoint character.

We can’t learn how to actually put words into tight, interesting, clear sentences. Just because someone wants to write a book doesn’t mean they were born with this skill. Most of us have to learn it.

I could keep going on the differences, but here’s the bottom line.

For novel writers, movies and TV shows can be good supplements, just like vitamins supplement our regular diet. They’re not a fitting replacement for the regular meals of reading novels.

Writers write. Writers also need to read.

What do you think? Is it essential that someone who wants to write a book also read books?

I’d love to hear your opinion even if you disagree with me. (I welcome discussion here as long as opinions are expressed in a respectful, logical manner. Trolls will be deleted.)

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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The Power of Contrast in Description

Description: A Busy Writer's GuideBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Readers need description to help them imagine the story world and to keep them grounded in the story, but often it’s considered the slow, boring part.

It doesn’t have to be.

Done right, description keeps the pace moving and brings out our point-of-view character’s emotions, backstory, and conflicts. It can also add subtext, foreshadow, and build on the theme.

One of my favorite ways to bring description to life and make sure it serves a bigger purpose in the story is to use contrast. I’m excited Jami Gold has welcomed me back to her blog today to share how to make this work.

I hope you’ll join me there to find out about the power of contrast in description.

Want to know more about writing description? Description: A Busy Writer’s Guide is available from Amazon, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. You can grab a copy in print or as an ebook.

Tools to Help Bring Your Setting to Life

A tool that I regularly recommend is The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Rebecca Puglisi. The Emotion Thesaurus helps writers with building character emotions and showing rather than telling. So I’m very excited that these two ladies have come out with a pair of books that will now help writers with describing their setting. (And you know how important I think description is to fiction.)

Today, as part of their launch, I’ve allowed Angela to “hijack” my blog as part of the festivities they have planned. 

**********************************************************************************************************

As we storytellers sit before the keyboard to craft our magic, we’re usually laser-focused on the two titans of fiction: plot and character. Yet, there’s a third element that impacts almost every aspect of the tale, one we really need to home in on as well: the setting.

The setting is so much more than a painted backdrop, more than a stage for our characters to tromp across during the scene. Used to its full advantage, the setting can characterize the story’s cast, supply mood, steer the plot, provide challenges and conflict, trigger emotions, help us deliver those necessary snippets of backstory…and that’s just scratching the surface. So the question is this: how do we unleash the full power of the setting within our stories?

Well, there’s some good news on that front. Two new books have released this week that may change the description game for writers. The Urban Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to City Spaces and The Rural Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Personal and Natural Spaces look at the sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds a character might experience within 225 different contemporary settings. And this is only the start of what these books offer writers.

In fact, swing by and check out this hidden entry from the Rural Setting Thesaurus: Ancient Ruins.

And there’s one more thing you might want to know more about….

Rock_The_Vault_WHW1

Becca and Angela, authors of The Emotion Thesaurus, are celebrating their double release with a fun event going on from June 13-20th called ROCK THE VAULT. At the heart of the Writers Helping Writers site is a tremendous vault, and these two ladies have been hoarding prizes of epic writerly proportions.

A safe full of prizes, ripe for the taking…if the writing community can work together to unlock it, of course.

Ready to do your part? Stop by Writers Helping Writers to find out more!

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Description in Fiction Shouldn’t Be Boring

Description: A Busy Writer's GuideBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Description is often the unloved step-child of the writing craft. It’s undervalued and almost feared because writers tend to believe that things like dialogue and action are inherently better. We start to believe this because we associate dialogue and action with being active and interesting and we associate description with being static and boring.

Those are false dichotomies.

As a freelance fiction editor, I’ve more often seen people whose books lacked depth and emotion because they were dialogue heavy than I’ve seen people whose books were too slow due to excess description.

Dialogue doesn’t necessarily make our stories better. Good dialogue does. Bad dialogue makes our writing slow and boring.

Now here’s the fact we need to understand—the exact same thing is true about description. (And about every other element of the fiction writing craft.)

Good description is vibrant, interesting, and active. Bad description is slow and boring. Bad description is what readers skip over.

So what makes for boring description?

(1) A Flat Laundry List

Description should never be a simple list of objective facts. As long as we’re writing in first-person point of view or in a limited third-person point of view, description should be subjective, colored by our viewpoint character’s history, personality, and emotions.

(2) Description Whose Sole Reason to Exist Is to Show the Setting

Every passage of description should do two or more of the following things:

  • ground the reader in the setting (time, place, and/or culture) so that they know when and where they are
  • symbolize or foreshadow something important to the story
  • enhance the theme
  • add subtext
  • show something about the viewpoint character’s personality
  • show the viewpoint character’s emotions
  • add conflict or complications
  • hint at backstory

When we make our description serve multiple purposes, it becomes valuable to the story as a whole. If readers skip it, they’ll be missing something important.

(3) Purple Prose

Purple prose is writing that’s too self-aware. It uses fancy words when a simple one would do, it’s filled with flowery phrases, it’s laden with cliches and clumsy figures of speech, and it relies on adverbs and adjectives when a strong verb or noun would be better.

Purple prose can also be writing that’s there because the writer likes the sound of their own voice rather than because it serves one of the purposes I mentioned above.

(4) Description That’s in the Wrong Place

Description should happen only when the viewpoint character would naturally notice those things.

So, for example, if our character is running through the woods to escape a gunman, he’s not going to notice the nest of baby birds or the squirrels hopping from tree to tree. He’s only going to notice things that could either help him hide or help him take down his pursuer.

Much of the time, the feeling that prose is overwritten or boring comes from the writer describing things in detail that don’t need to be described at this particular point in time or which should have been described differently based on the situation.

Context matters.

(5) Description That’s Generic or Tells Rather than Shows

Showing is essential to strong description because it helps us be specific and bring the experience to life on the page.

I’ll give you a quick example.

Telling: He was ugly and deformed.

Showing: The skin on the right side of his face seemed to melt down like candle wax, and as he limped toward her, one leg dragged behind.

Just remember that telling isn’t always a bad thing. It’s a tool like showing and we need to know how to use it strategically. Description, though, usually isn’t the place for it.

Description: A Busy Writer’s Guide is now available!

Are you looking for a way to add new depth and re-readability to your writing?

Are you tired of description being “the boring part that people skip”?

Are you a writer who’s struggled with making their story world feel believable and three-dimensional?

Description in fiction shouldn’t be boring for the reader or for the writer.

Description: A Busy Writer’s Guide will help you take your writing to the next level by exchanging ho-hum description for description that’s compelling and will bring your story to life, regardless of the genre you write.

In Description: A Busy Writer’s Guide, you will

  • find the answer to the age-old question of how much description is too much;
  • learn how to use point of view to keep description fresh;
  • recognize the red flags for boring description in fiction;
  • explore how to use all five senses to bring your descriptions to life for the reader;
  • discover the ways metaphors and similes can add power to your descriptive writing;
  • gain the tools needed to describe setting, characters, and action in engaging ways;
  • learn how descriptions can add conflict, enhance the theme, and amp up emotion; and
  • much more!

Grab a copy of Description: A Busy Writer’s Guide at Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo, or Barnes & Noble. It’s available in print and ebook versions.