Tips and Tricks, writing

Starting Your Story: Tips For That First Sentence

We’ve all been there. The best novel idea is bouncing around in your head and you’re staring at a blank piece of paper, trying to figure how to break the ice and start putting words to paper. 

Oh, that feeling is rough. It’s like, “C’mon, I’ve got gold in here, I just need that first sentence to really kill it.”

Well, let me tell you. You will rewrite that sentence. Now, I would recommend doing it later instead of six million times before you even start. You’ll lose that golden idea you’ve got before you finally put that last punctuation on your sentence, trust me. So, I’ve come up with some tips to help combat that. These tips are things I’ve used (or learned the hard way that I should have).

 

  1. Write the most cliche thing ever.

You will rewrite this later in your editing phase, so sometimes I start out with something like “Once upon a time” or “It was a dark and stormy night”. It lets my mind move past it but it also sounds kind of right (thanks Disney) so that you won’t keep worrying over it.

  1. Skip the first page all together.

I know, this one sounds a bit strange. But jump right into the middle of a scene. Keep it near the beginning, but craft the scene bouncing around your brain rather than forcing yourself into one that isn’t there yet. Act as if you already have those entry scenes. This gets you into the action fast.

  1. Tell us the ending. 

This only works in some novels, so use it cautiously. But, telling your reader the ending with the very first sentence brings in this tension throughout the whole novel of how we get there. Many novels have done this well, starting with something like “This is the story of how I died” or “This is how I ended up becoming queen.” But remember, it adds suspense throughout which means no big reveal later. Weigh the options. 

  1. Tell someone about it

Things tend to come more naturally when talking so get with someone you don’t mind giving a brief overview of your story. Explain the premise and then ask yourself and answer to them “So, how did all this begin?” See what flows out and tweak that. 

  1. Don’t procrastinate

This is the most generic bit of advice but the most important one. A lot of people, myself included, try to nail that first sentence and never get anywhere else with their story. Put something, anything down and move on. If you start researching or brainstorming and it just begins to take away from your story, you’ve hit the danger zone. Remember, this is a first draft. You can perfect later.

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Tips and Tricks, writing

Quick Tip #1

Beware “turning” words, a word or phrase that helps shift your story to go in a new direction usually by telling rather than showing. A heavy reliance on them lends towards less action and less engagement with the reader. 

Turning words to avoid: suddenly; then; out of nowhere; surprisingly; shockingly; seemed

Examples: 

Turning words: Suddenly, Kevin threw a punch at Ben.

Action words: Kevin’s fingers tightened into a ball and took a deep breath. He swung quickly and Ben’s eyes widened as he jerked backwards.

Turning words: It seemed to me like Alicia had no idea he would be here.

Action words: I watched Alicia’s mouth form a tiny ‘o’ and the color slowly started to drain from her cheeks as her eyes locked onto his.

Tips and Tricks, writing

How To Write a Relationship Your Reader Will Love

You may have heard that the golden rule for writing a relationship is that if they have to kiss for your reader to know they’re in love, you haven’t written a real relationship. But what does that actually look like? How do you write something that your readers will ship? Here are my top five steps to create a love story that your readers will fall in love with.

man and woman holding hands walking on seashore during sunrise
Photo by Ibrahim Asad on Pexels.com

 

  1. Opposites attract but they must have something in common

A really common problem of book relationships is that the two characters are exact opposites. One is quiet, the other is loud. One likes rap, the other likes classical. One likes small towns, the other likes cities. Every single thing (or pretty close to it) is opposite. And while that can cause a spark of attraction initially, that’s it. Now they can have differences, in fact, they should. Just remember that being opposites and having differences are not the same thing. Differences are good and allow them to create a partnership where one is sometimes weak and the other strong and vice versa. But, when they are polar opposites, they are in constant opposition with each other and this is unsustainable for a relationship. Either it will feel completely forced and unrealistic or very toxic where one is constantly sacrificing who they are. Instead, allow them to have commonalities. Create situations where the characters can bond over things they have in common. Let them share a cup of coffee and talk about their love of travel. Have them bump into each other at a local spot that both of them love.

  1. Let them love the same things

Want to build some chemistry fast? Let your character and their love interest love the same things and realize this. My favorite way to do this is to let your protagonist describe something meaningful to them. A book that changed them, a song they listen to on repeat, a spot in town, etc. Then let them explain why they love this thing to someone besides the love interest. Then at some point, let the love interest explain why and how they love this same thing or place to the protagonist (though make sure the reasons aren’t identical. That feels forced.)

  1. Absence makes the heart grow fonder

When the love interest isn’t around, let the protagonist’s thoughts wander. This doesn’t always have to be romantic. “Ben would have already gotten us lost if he were here.” If you aren’t in a perspective that allows thoughts, let us see them talk aloud to someone else about them, especially if the other person isn’t the one who brings them up. “We need some computer expertise.” “Oh, I know someone who would be terrible. Sherry can barely email.” This works very well when the person talking about them either denies or hasn’t yet realized their feelings. It allows the reader to feel like they have figured something out and are knowledgeable about the character. This creates a great connection to the character and adds complexity to their emotions and actions.

  1. Action, actions, actions

Unless you are portraying a toxic relationship, words don’t mean anything if they aren’t backed up. Show your characters doing things for each other, helping with the dishes, braving the parent meetings, shoveling their drive, making them dinner. If the only time we see them acting loving towards each other is when they say I love you or have an intimate scene, you have a bad relationship on your hands.

  1. Don’t make it simple

Readers love a love story that doesn’t come easily. And one person being hesitant isn’t usually enough. Raise the stakes. Is there someone standing between them? An arranged marriage, a parent, etc. Is there a rule? Can’t date a boss or coworker, can’t date a client. Is there a personal issue? Health is taking them away, their families hate each other, they vowed to be single for x years. Make them overcome these challenges. This will have your reader rooting for the relationship. You want your reader to be emotionally invested in these characters. When things do work out, your reader will get a sense of victory, for themselves as the reader and for the characters.

Tips and Tricks, writing

Five Questions to Help Write a Great Villain

Have you started work on your novel, the next bestseller? Have you looked at your villain and stopped, wondering if your villain is cliche, boring, or just not something your readers will have much feeling about?

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Here are five questions to ask yourself to tell if your villain is the next Moriarty or the next Dr. Dufus

1. Does your villain have motivation? Often times a cliche villain is someone who is evil for evil’s sake. To avoid this, make sure you explain why your character does what they do. And don’t make it a simple ‘I want to rule the world’. Explain why, what that means. Does he want to rule the world because of a twisted sense of purpose, that he can rule it best? Does she want to because she was oppressed as a child and has tasted power and has become greedy for the feeling it brings? Does he want to keep someone he cares about safe?

2. Can the reader relate? This isn’t always a sure-fire indication of a boring villain, but often times a villain who a reader can’t relate to is hard to care about. Do they love someone or something? Do they feel humiliation, shame, embarrassment? Do they make mistakes, stumble over their words, get tired? Having a villain who is just pure evil who never tires, never makes a mistake (except maybe the one the hero uses to stop him in the end) is going to be the villain people don’t care about as much.

3. Does the villain have a relationship with the hero? Again, this is not a black and white issue. Sometimes the villain will have no idea that the protagonist even exists. But most of the time, it is a good idea to show how they interact. These characters are complex and we often take our cues of how to feel about our villain from our protagonist. If we don’t have a deep, complex relationship, we won’t care about the villain nearly as much. This one works both ways. Write how the villain feels but also make sure to highlight this for the protagonist as well. Writing a good villain is often times not just what he does, but how the characters we love perceive him.

4. Does the villain believe in the mission? This one can be cliche either way you answer this so I’m going to try to explain how to avoid that. Your character needs to avoid being wishy-washy. Now they can have doubts about what they do. That can create some great tension. But they need to care greatly. Maybe not about the protagonist or about everything. But certainly, he needs to care. Again, this doesn’t mean he needs to be one hundred percent confident for everything. She can have doubts about her decisions. But make the emotions strong, either way. Because if they don’t believe what their doing is important, how are we supposed to?

5. Does your villain always lose? I can understand wanting your hero to win, but if your villain is constantly failing and never gets one over the protagonist, you’ve probably got a rather boring character. There’s no suspense, no feeling of tension, and no stakes. This is also bad for your protagonist creation. Unless they are having an extreme amount of internal conflict, they are having an easy time of it and that’s just a story that doesn’t have any meat to it. You won’t get a hero that readers love and a villain they love to despise if the villain doesn’t win sometimes.

Tips and Tricks, writing

How to Write a Cold Weather Scene

Hi everyone. This post is for anyone who wants a realistic scene set in a cold climate. This is probably especially difficult for those coming from warm climates, so I’ll do my best. Here are five tips to your character (and readers).
(All temperatures in Fahrenheit)

  1. Shivering happens but don’t use that as your only way to convey the cold. Many people actually don’t shiver very much, while others tend to do the whole teeth chattering bit. It varies. Don’t make your character shiver every time you want to tell your reader its cold or it’s going to get boring and predictable.
  2. Some other physical reactions are a very red nose, cheeks that feel rubbed raw, a very warm mouth (since its the only part that will feel warm), fingers that move slowly, wet hair that actually freezes, burning earlobes, and burning toes. Though burning tends to feel like the opposite reaction to cold, often times when the cold gets to a point, it does truly feel like burning.
  3. DON”T simply tell us how your character feels though. If you want us to shiver along with them, tell us how the wind is whipping through the trees, creaking and groaning like an old rocking chair. Tell us how the snow sparkles with ice crystals, hardened so that the newly fallen snow bounces on the top every time a breeze stirs the air. Tell us how the snow seems to blaze in the sun, radiating a heat that tempts one to step outside yet saps the warmth the moment you do. Tell us how the snow falls, tiny little specs of ice floating down to land on a nose or a forehead, a single soldier in the army coming from the sky to cover the land in an icy grip.
  4. Clothing makes a difference. Wearing a big warm fluffy coat will help, but the key to staying warm (or freezing without) is layering. A character can survive even negative temperatures with a few pairs of socks, a few shirts, sweatshirts, and a regular coat. But remember, especially in the extreme cold, any uncovered part (nose, ears, cheeks) will get very cold, very quickly, even if the rest of you is warm. It’s an unpleasant feeling, trust me.
  5. Remember, not all cold is the same. Don’t just meld them all into the same thing. Some kinds of cold are :
  • Icy and clear/windy- this is a painful cold, but usually leads to a burning feeling. This is where frostbite happens. Wind is worse when the day is clear because there is no other resistance. You become the only thing for it to batter against. (Actual: negatives to single digits. Feels like: extreme negatives)
  • Icy and snowy- this is dangerous, but often times beautiful. When it’s extremely cold, snowflakes tend to be small, hard, and more like ice. This can be deceiving and can lead to extremely slippery conditions. (Negative to single digit)
  • Cold and clear-this is the most normal. It’s cold, but the sun is out or it’s not precipitating. If your character is going on a journey or traveling, this will be the best kind of day. You can even get warm while doing things in this kind of day. (Mid-teens to high twenties)
  • Cold and wet/snowing- This is the type of day where the temperatures are a little higher but because of that the snow is heavy, thick, and tends to be very wet. Despite not being very cold, this can be one of the most dangerous to be out in. You tend to get very wet in it and if you’re not properly prepared, this can lead to pneumonia or hypothermia. (High twenties to mid-thirties)
  • Cold and wet/rain- It’s cold, yet it’s raining. Occasionally it feels more like sleet coming down. This is miserable. It’s not extremely cold but the rain makes everything wet. This is can also lead to pneumonia. An especially dangerous aspect is the fact that when the sun goes down, the rain tends to turn to ice on the roads, sidewalks, and other surfaces making everything extremely slick. (Low thirties to high thirties)
  • There are many mixes of these and other types of cold depending on the climate you’re in.

Hope these tips help. Go out there and write some frigid scenes. If you have any other questions, you can comment here or shoot me a question on my contact page!