5 Easy Steps to Hone Your Instagram – From the Writers in the Storm blog

It’s Autumn (finally) and for me, that means a time of reflecting. I like to take the first weeks of September and look back over my organizer and see where I need to make improvements in the new year. Last year it was learning to use Instagram, which I’m happy to say I’ve been doing much better at.

If you aren’t using Instagram as an author, you are missing out on what is quickly becoming the go-to social media site. Statistics tell us that not only are the users primarily women in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties (which happens to be my primary reader demographic) but that it’s growing quickly, and is now in fact the second largest social media site in terms of active users (edging out Twitter earlier this year with over 300 million users). It has a number of advantages over Facebook as well, the most profound being that it still has great organic reach, unlike Facebook who has moved toward a heavily monetized system. If you have 800 followers on Instagram, ALL 800 will see your posts in their feed, unlike Facebook who only shows your posts to a small percentage of followers. Also, Instagram has the same live chat features as Facebook, making it a wonderful platform for things like live author chats and sample chapter readings. It also gives high priority to Instagram Stories, a snapchat like option that shows your stories in the very top of every follower’s feed for 24 hours then disappears.

Read the rest of this post HERE.

Writing Secrets from a Television Great – From the Writers in the Storm blog

We can all remember that first moment we felt like we might understand “how to write a story.” The excitement, and the thirst to know more more more. The writing advice moment that turned the key for me came from the late, great mystery and TV writer, Stephen J. Cannell.

Trust me, most of you have heard of his shows: The A Team, The Rockford Files, 21 Jump Street, and a dozens of others. More than a decade ago, Stephen J. Cannell spoke at my writing chapter’s monthly event and there was a huge flurry of excitement. At the time, I hadn’t a clue who he was, but I still got caught up in the buzz.

So he gets up to talk and he just looks like a Hollywood guy: sexy in a lanky way, salt and pepper hair, snappy dresser. His easy smile and raspy voice commanded attention. He was mesmerizing.

Read the rest of this post HERE.

Showing vs. Telling – What Does it Really Mean?

show_tellWe’ve all heard this tenet of writing. Show vs. tell. My editor always hammer me for too much telling and not enough showing. I’ve really tried to work on this aspect of my writing, but, being a learning nerd, I had to know the mechanics behind it.

For one thing, you can express traits or history for your characters more succinctly by using dialogue than can be done through narrative. Here is an example.

Joe Smith was a career criminal. He had robbed several banks and had been in jail many times since his teens. As he prepared to rob the first national bank, he reflected on his past and was amused at the fact that he hadn’t learned his lesson and stayed out of trouble.

Here is the same scenario framed as a conversation that Joe is having with his brother, Jim.

“Why do you keep doing this?” Jim asked.

“It’s what I do,” Joe said with a smirk. “Since I got busted at 17, the longest job I’ve had is being a crook which alternated with being locked up. I don’t know anything else.”

In this example, the dialogue tells us that Joe is a career criminal and that his brother is not and has a hard time understanding his brother’s lifestyle. This could have been many paragraphs of narrative to convey the same information. When you reveal information this way, it not only informs the reader, but it allows him or her to use imagination to fill in the blanks and form an impression of the character.

This also works for physical descriptions and other character quirks. Telling the reader your character walks with a limp is less interesting than having the character convey to someone else that they suffered a traumatic leg injury in the war.

By using this technique to reveal character details, you can spread them out over the course of a story instead of doing an information dump which might cause your reader to become bored or forget these details later on when they might be important.

Here are some quick tips to avoid telling too much when you should be showing:

  • Look for areas with long narratives with a lot of description. Character introductions are a likely spot where this might take place where you might be tempted to give a lot of back story.
  • If you are going to substitute dialogue for narrative. Pick out the one or two most important points that you want your characters to relay through their conversation. Ask yourself if these points will advance the story or give the reader vital information.
  • Replace information with action. Instead of saying your character has a hangover, have them describe or experience the headache, cotton mouth and nausea. Use actions and feelings the reader can relate to.
  • Don’t show too much. Keep some details to yourself, if this doesn’t hurt the story, and sprinkle them throughout the story as you go.

So, what are your thoughts on the “Show vs. Tell” rule? I look forward to your thoughts.

Avoiding Cliches – The Name of the Game or Making a Mountain out of a Mole Hill?

clicheIn this post, I continue my journey through the book, Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve. If you’ve seen my past posts highlighting information from this book, you’ll know that it is focused on quantifying various aspects of writing. So far, I’ve posted on the following topics:

This post looks at cliches and the frequency that they occur in the writing of notable authors. The clear winner (loser) in the use of cliches is James Patterson. Across his 22 Alex Cross books, he used 160 cliches per 100,000 words. Jane Austen is at the other end of the spectrum with just 45.

graph1

Blatt goes on to point out that the position of Patterson at the top of this list is not a surprise as many of his book titles, 11th hour, Cat & Mouse, 7th Heaven, are cliches themselves.

Some writers have contributed to the collection of cliches through the popularity of their writing. Joseph Heller titled his book Catch-22 which was original at the time, but has been used so much, it is now considered a cliche.

Shakespeare is another source of many of our modern cliches with such phrases as “all that glitters in not gold”, “dead as a doornail” and “heart of gold”.

So, how do you feel about cliche’s? Are they the bees knees or are they old hat? My opinion is that they bring a sense of familiarity to readers and color to writing, but should not be over used.

I look forward to your thoughts.

Bring on the BINGE! Creating Villains Audiences Can’t Get Enough Of – From Kristen Lamb’s blog.

Kristen Lamb, villains, craft, writing tips
Kristen without makeup, LOL….

Many of us have been there. It’s late. We know we have “adulting” to do in the morning (which is in two hours). Our sensible self has been nagging us to get our @$$ to bed so long we smothered it with a pillow around midnight. Whether it’s a book, or Netflix or HBO or FX…we tell ourselves just one more episode. One more chapter. We can stop binging any time we want.

Suuuuuure…

Uh huh.

What is it that makes us lose all sense of responsibility and common sense when gut-hooked by these stories? By and large…VILLAINS.

Read the rest of this post HERE.

If You Don’t Ask, The Answer is Always No – From the Writers In The Storm blog

Aimie K. Runyan

It’s true, the vast majority of us writers are introverts. Interactions with strangers are uncomfortable at best… and when you have to ask for a favor? Fuggedaboudit. But the truth is that writers must also advocate for themselves in various ways if they want to succeed both artistically and commercially.

We can’t all hide away in our little utopian writing sanctuaries click-clacking away at the book of our hearts all day, every day. It would be bliss, but none of us—not even the big dogs—get away with this delicious reclusive lifestyle all the time.

We have to ask people for things, and it’s scary.

Read the rest of this post HERE.

How Many Characters Do You Need in Your Story?

crowdPast posts on my blog have touched on the topic of characters. I’ve posted tips suggesting that you avoid having too many characters in your books and to avoid throw-away characters by combining traits and actions into fewer characters.

This begs the question that is the topic of this post, how many characters do you need in your story?

Well, there is no simple answer to this question. The prevailing rule of thumb, from the reading I’ve done, is that you should have as few characters as possible to tell your story effectively. Adding characters just because they have interesting traits or personalities can take away from the overall story.

3d small people - pyramid of successMain Character

Well, duh. Your book should have a main character in most cases. This is the person who drives the events in the book and, very often, from whose point of view the story is unveiled.

The main character is likely the one for which you provide the most detail. His or her appearance, background, strengths, weaknesses and motivations should be gradually revealed to your reader throughout your story.

There are advocates of creating a full character profile for your main character complete with detailed descriptions and backstory. The other extreme is to reveal details about your character as needed in the plot.

The danger of this second method is the appearance of traits or talents that were never hinted at earlier in the story. If your main character is a lawyer who is suddenly cornered and then exhibits a mastery of martial arts skills without any previous mention or hint of the ability, it might make your reader scratch his or her head.

sidekickThe Sidekick

The sidekick can be a very important character in your story. This is a character that your main character can play off of and have conversations with as ideas in the story come to light. The Sidekick can provide comic relief or a sense of conscience. In my Frank Rozzani series, I had originally intended my main character to be a loner. I wanted him to be a troubled detective with a tragic past that did everything on his own. I quickly discovered that, in a modern detective story, there are aspects of a case that involve technology, the law and other talents outside of the main characters possible abilities. I invented Clifford “Jonesy” Jones to be that sounding board and sidekick for Frank. Jonesy is a free spirit and a oft-described wise-ass that provides comic relief and gets Frank to loosen up once in a while. He is fun to write for and, beyond that, gives me the ability to express both sides of my own personality with a serious character and his not-so-serious sidekick.

villianThe Villain

Most stories need someone that the main character can be at odds with. Villains can be temporary in a book series or they can span various stories with the main character. Dr. Moriarty, adversary of Sherlock Holmes, is an example of a villain with staying power. Villains give the reader someone to cheer against. We keep turning pages hoping the hero will catch up with and vanquish the villain. The premise of good vs. evil has been around since the first tale was spun.

SecondaryCharactersSecondary Characters

I try to use these characters sparingly. They should contribute to the advancement of the story and help bring the reader to resolution of the conflicts that are in the story. These characters can add color or can help to introduce new aspects of the story. If yo find yourself with a large number of secondary characters, you can combine them into more fully-developed characters that add to the story. There are exceptions to this. Stephen King’s book, The Stand, is an example of an epic tale with many well-developed characters that exist separately and then, those that survive, come together in an ensemble at the conclusion of the books. The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien is another example of the use of many characters that come together for a common cause.

So, what are your thoughts on characters? How many should you have? When do you know you have too many? I look forward to your thoughts.