Max your Writing Moxie

Do you want to be the best writer you can be?

If you want to write good stories, read good stories and pay attention.

That looks a little too simple, doesn’t it? It’s still the truest piece of advice I can give. There’s an old programmer’s motto: GIGO. Garbage In, Garbage Out. Put another way, you are what you eat.

I used to think I knew what made a good story. I thought what I watched and read was great. It was not really great though – most of it was simplistic, with hackneyed plots and cardboard cutout characters and it didn’t challenge me at all. It caused my stories to be just as simplistic. Then I started reading and watching really high quality stuff, and found what I had missed. I discovered levels of artistry and complexity that took my breath away. Twists and turns of plot, well written stories, mysteries that were done right, and more. I began to see how my own stories were woefully simplistic. I saw ways of improving them, too. I now have a habit of seeking out the best stories I can find.

With all that said, what makes a good story? I didn’t know how to recognize one reliably, after all, I thought I WAS reading and watching good stuff! So here is a list of general characteristics that can point you toward better stories, whether you are looking for a book, an anime, a role playing game, a movie, or a TV show.

A good story…

…makes you think.

…will give you clues when it’s a mystery, but make them very subtle. It will make your mind work.

…uses good descriptions or dialogue to bring you in to the story.

…avoids stereotypes.

…isn’t always a “classic.” Some classics are woefully bad, but are classics because they are old.

…doesn’t talk down to the audience.

…shows how the characters grow and develop.

…lets the characters change and doesn’t leave them in the same place at the end as they were at the beginning.

…challenges you. A story you can sleep through is no story at all.

…gives motivations behind the character’s actions, beyond “because he wanted to.”

…makes you think.

Finding good stories can be easy or hard depending on what genre you are interested in. Ask for recommendations from people you admire, read reviews on sites like Goodreads, check out forum posts about potential TV shows. Pay attention to why people like things and how they talk about them. If a person writes well when describing why they like a story, then the quality of the story is likely to be higher.

When you find a great story, pay attention to why it’s great! Then think about how you could incorporate the same techniques into your own work. Eventually, you’ll absorb aspects of the great writing styles you love.

 

Read great stories.  Write great stories.  Build your moxie.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/moxie/

Making your stories tender, not tough

Using Metaphor and Simile

Both metaphors and similes are great tools for livening up your writing. Stories without them are dry as baked parchment, yet having too many makes a narrative tough to read and enjoy.  Having the right amount makes the story interesting and readable and pulls your reader deeper into it.

The best way to use them is to think of them like spices. The right amount makes a tasty dish. By the way, the difference between a metaphor and a simile is simple – similes use like or as, metaphors do not. Here are some examples.

Metaphors:

The sky is a blue pottery bowl gleaming in the sun.

I slogged through the wordy, simile laden book. (Slogging implies walking through thick mud or snow, likening the book to that substance)

Her hair was spun gold.

Similes:

Her hair was like spun gold.

The sky was blue as a cornflower.

Reading the book was like slogging through muddy snowbanks.

As I said, a few of these are great. They enliven the text and give the reader a sense of being in the scenario. They are especially helpful for making an unfamiliar situation seem familiar, by likening it to something the reader has seen. For instance, say you are describing an alien creature. You might say “Its green skin was glossy and rubbery and its eyes were two gold-flecked marbles that stared out of an elongated, horse-like face.”

Some authors think that more is better when it comes to metaphors/similes. It’s usually best to only use those that give new information about the situation or story. Sometimes it’s fun to keep whimsical ones in as well, however always avoid cliches!

Why no cliches?
The best reason not to use cliches is because they turn the reader’s brain off. They disengage the reader from the story. Sometimes they also make the reader think the author is uninspired, and sometimes the reader is right. Cliches are used when the writer isn’t being creative. Generally, a sentence is cliched when you can hear the first part and finish the sentence without really thinking about it.

“She jumped for joy.”

“As cold as ice.”

“Hot as Hell.”

Though being too clever can be a danger, a more descriptive comparison is usually better, and engages the mind. An engaged mind usually means a happy reader!

Instead, try something like

“Her mood soared like a balloon.”

“As cold as those first drops of water in the shower.”

“Hot as a bed of coals, ready for a steak.”

If you have trouble thinking of metaphors, it can be a fun exercise to take a sheet of paper and write down as many similes and metaphors as you can think of, using your surroundings as inspiration. This is a great workout for the imagination.

Good metaphors and similes engage the senses and imagination, avoid cliche, and are used only when needed. Happy describing!

 

 

via Daily Prompt: Tender

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/tender/

Spam risk isn’t imaginary

Most of you have probably encountered spam comments. Those can be bad enough.

Lately, I’ve had some occasions where spammers will actually post entries on my blog. It hasn’t happened at this site but it’s happened over at Rohvannynshaw.com. It even caused my blog to be booted from Goodreads!

Not only can these clutter up your blog and cause readers not to return, but also they can spread links to malicious software. Therefore, it’s a good idea to check your blog every so often. Keep the activity high, post at least once a week. Spammers tend to be drawn to sites that aren’t updated very often. Also, set up spam blocking extensions or apps and make sure your password is hard to quess and change it frquently. Not only will a frequently updated blog attract more readers, but spammers may be more likely to pass it by.

Safety Tips for Bloggers

Make a new entry at least once a week

Use only small (1000 px or less) or watermarked images to prevent theft

Moderate all comments before allowing them on your site

Trash all suspicious comments

Keep your password updated

Investigate spam blockers like Akismet

Visit your own site periodically to check for entries you didn’t make

If you can afford it, pay for website privacy

If you use WordPress, keep the security updates current

 

via Daily Prompt: Imaginary

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/imaginary/

Freelancer tip: Avoid clients who pay… later.

Payment can be a tough subject for many of us who are freelancers.  Yet, it’s important!  After all, why are we working?  Sure, we truly enjoy our craft, whether it be writing, visual art, graphic design, crafts, or whatever the case may be.  But we don’t do it purely for love.  We do it because we need something to pay the bills and put food on the table.

That’s why today’s post is dedicated to that most uplifting of prose, “pay to the order of.”  We’ll talk about pay, getting paid, and things to do to make sure you get paid!  If anyone has questions, feel free to ask and I’ll probably add it on as another question.

Tips for Freelancers:

Set clear expectations.

Have a place on your website that explains when you expect to be paid, how much, and when.  Then you will have a leg to stand on when someone starts to argue.  For an example, check out my commissions page:  http://rohvannynshaw.com/commissions/

Have a contract.

This helps both client and creator understand the terms of the deal, and protects both if something goes wrong.  When is pay expected?  When is the work supposed to be complete?  What is the scope of the work, and how many rounds of editing are allowed before the client needs to pay more?  This prevents clients from adding extra things or deciding to pay… later.  Keep all copies and send the contract in a PDF if you have to email it, that way nothing can be changed.

Price fairly.

This means not pricing too high, but it also means not pricing too low.  Do research in your field, and see what other people doing similar work get paid.  If you price too high, you may not get customers.  If you price too low, you devalue other people’s work and you also may drive customers off.  After all, no one likes to buy at a fire sale.

Keep all records.

I said it above, but it bears repeating.  Don’t just keep the contract.  Also keep all emails (preferably archived in PDF format) related to the project, all materials provided to you, and any other correspondence.  Keep it in a separate folder and if possible archive it on a thumb drive, just so you have it ready to hand in case you need it.  This way, if someone takes legal action against you, or you need to do the same, you’ll have everything and won’t have to go hunting around.

Don’t discount.

Family and friends are famous for asking for “buddy discounts.”  The trouble with this is, they often start offering that same discount to their own friends.  Pretty soon every available client seems to think they should get the family rate.  I didn’t think this would happened to me and it did – so it can happen to anyone.  It can happen to you.  So price fairly and then if they give you static, calmly explain that this is the going rate for professional work.

Don’t “do it for the clicks.”

Doing work for exposure only goes so far.  I write for free on this blog and I feature artists and authors for free.  However, I never do art, editing, or manuscripts for free.  You can’t eat clicks, you can’t pay bills with exposure.  Not only that, but every time someone does something for free it drives down the value of what other freelancers do!

Fire clients if you have to.

It can be scary to fire a client.  You may think “I’ll never find another,” or “how am I supposed to work if I fire my clients?”  So I’m not saying to fire every client, or to do it quickly and easily.  However, some people are just not worth your valuable time or stress level.  If you have a client who keeps trying to get you to lower your rates after you’ve agreed on a price, or if they treat you badly, or if they make it impossible to do a good job, fire them.  Do it simply, do it calmly, and you don’t have to explain why.

Set limits on how much you will do for a certain fee.

If you write, put a clause in your contract saying “includes three rounds of editing.”  You can do something similar for art.  If you build websites, find out up front  how many pages you’ll be designing.  Think similarly for any other project.  Otherwise, you may have a client who creates a seemingly endless project for one low starter fee.

Don’t undersell the competition by too great a margin.

If everyone is designing book covers for $200-$500, don’t say “hey, I’ll do just as good a job for ten bucks!”  You’ll see this all over DeviantArt.  People will do amazing work for five or ten dollars, or even for free.  Now, the artists are just thinking about having fun and not considering the effects of what they are doing.  However, you have a choice.  For every freelancer who offers services at rock bottom prices, other freelancers can’t put food on the table because people are using the ultra-cheap options offered by the irresponsible freelancers.  Sites like Fiverr.com, by offering extremely low prices, are ultimately harming the industry.  Don’t be part of that trend.  Remind your clients and potential clients that they get what they pay for, and can rely on  you to provide professional, responsible service at a fair price.

Be responsive to questions.

When someone asks a question about you or your business, be friendly, informative, and respond quickly.  This is especially true if they contact you via your contact link on your website.  One of the great things about hiring a freelancer is being able to communicate openly with them, so help people see that advantage by being there.

Be punctual and professional.

Similarly, if there is a time expectation set, meet or exceed that expectation.  Use good business style in all your communications.  Be unfailingly polite and cheerful.  Explain things clearly and answer all questions.  If there is a misunderstanding, be as clear as you can and try to help your client understand.  Sometimes misunderstandings can be as simple as a different use of language, and easily solved with a few questions.

Being a freelancer can be a lot of fun and a very rewarding career.  Following these tips will help it be even better!

via Daily Prompt: Later\

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/later/

Avoiding Purple Prose

 

Many readers shut the book or turn off their eReader when they see too much prose that’s purple!  It’s really best to avoid it.  First, though, what’s purple prose?

Wikipedia has to say this about it:

In literary criticism, purple prose is prose text that is so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw excessive attention to itself.[1] Purple prose is characterized by the extensive use of adjectives, adverbs, and metaphors. When it is limited to certain passages, they may be termed purple patches or purple passages, standing out from the rest of the work.

Wikipedia further gives this amusing example:

“On occasion, one finds oneself immersed in the literary throes of a piece of prose where there is very little in the way of advancement of the plot or development of the characters, but the pages are still filled with words. Since the esteemed author has allowed their writing to take a turn for the dry and dull, they gallantly attempt to overcompensate for the lack of stimulation by indulging in elaborate turns of phrase.”[8]                 – Liz Bureman

The best way I’ve found to avoid this literary pitfall is this: write simply.  If you use good, vivid words, it will help you avoid using excess words to make your point.

It’s really worthwhile to go through a manuscript and look for places where you could have said something more simply, clearly, and effectively.  While it’s impossible avoid adjectives, trimming excessive ones can help your work.  Always strive to make one paragraph flow naturally into another, without anything to jolt your reader out of the story you are telling.

When using metaphor, simple is usually best.  Make sure your metaphors aren’t cliched.  A cliche not only kicks the reader out of the story, but it often makes them stop thinking about what you have said.  A great metaphor engages the senses simply, but in a way that makes the reader share the experience you are presenting.

To further avoid prose of a purplish color, break up your sentences.  Also, make sure your words are active, not passive.  Sometimes it helps you read your work aloud.  This lets us hear how the story is flowing, and find the faults more easily.  Many times I’ve read a finished story out loud, only to make half a dozen corrections as I go along.

As I have simplified my writing and gotten away from purple prose, I’ve seen it improve tremendously.  If you’re like me, you can too.

via Daily Prompt: Purple

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/purple/

Ruminations about Feedback

As any successful author knows, feedback is the key to quality.

I’ll be perfectly honest here. I struggle to take feedback well. Criticism, even constructive criticism, makes me cringe. I have always had a very thin skin. I’m easily hurt, and my reactions have cheated me out of some very valuable lessons. When I hear something I don’t like, and I feel hurt because of it, I put up a mental wall. Information starts bouncing off as I close my mental doors. I’m not interested in input. Instead, I’m focusing on how much I feel hurt and how I can make it stop.

This has been disastrous for me. I’ve said really nasty things to people because I’ve been so desperate to stop them from hurting me, even when they weren’t really doing that.  It’s never ended well. Then, instead of only one of us feeling hurt, then both of us feel hurt, and the relationship is seriously damaged, all because I hadn’t made the little adjustment needed.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Nobody has to feel hurt. Here’s how I’ve gotten around this over-sensitivity, so that I’ve been able to accept the valuable information that feedback gives. My trick is to shift my focus. Instead of thinking “This person is trying to tear me down,” I think “This person and I are trying to improve this book together.”

In short, I depersonalize. I take the information as important information that I can use to make things better. I give up the idea that my work is perfect in every way from the very start, no one’s work ever is. Editing is a good, normal part of the writing process. I knew a person who refused to change a single line of his work. His writing was terrible! To this day he hasn’t sold a single copy. Don’t be like him.

Feedback is valuable. Embrace it. Whether you take the advice or not, think about it, really consider it. It can be frustrating to edit your book over and over, but it doesn’t have to hurt emotionally. This simple mental shift takes practice to master, but you will have plenty of chances to do so. In the end, you’ll have a book to be proud of.

 

Via Daily Prompt: Ruminate

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/ruminate/

Vivid Descriptions Draw a Reader In

During my role playing session last night, an interesting topic came up.  We started talking about different ways to make vivid descriptions.  Anyone who has done tabletop role playing knows that if the person running the game can’t describe things well, it creates a boring game.  The same is true for novels, essays, really anything that is written.  It’s even true, in slightly different way, for paintings and drawings.

Accurate Descriptions

The key to vividness is accuracy.  Have the scene firmly in mind, thinking of all the details about it, and then describe the scene while trying to engage the audience’s senses.  Think about what it would look like, sound like, feel like.  Then think about first impressions.  You might get something like this:

“She stood on a sandy, lemon colored plain, vainly blinking to clear the fine, flourlike dust that lifted in swirls and puffs every time she made a move.  As she wrapped her scarf firmly about her nose and mouth, she looked around at the looming, knifelike mountains.  Even from this distance, they looked like black obsidian, carved and tortured by time.  Her mouth tasted like dust and she shivered in the thin wind.”

The audience knows what flour is like, they’ve all had dust in their mouth, they may know what obsidian looks like and even if they don’t, they know what black looks like.  They have a higher chance of connecting with the character with this paragraph than if you said

“She was standing on a yellow plain.  She had dust in her eyes and it made her blink.  She wrapped her scarf around her face and looked at the mountains, which were dark and brooding.  It was cold.”

Active vs. Passive voice

The above paragraphs also demonstrate the difference between active and passive voice.  I’m really not the queen of active voice, yet I know that when I use it in my writing, things come alive.  Everything becomes more vivid.

Avoid Cliche

When you use a cliche, your reader stops thinking.  You want your reader to stay engaged with what you have to say.  So try to avoid cliches whenever possible.  Cliches also lead to inaccuracy.  The conversation I mentioned at the beginning of this article started about a cliche.  In describing a planet, I had said it was a “blue green marble hanging before you in space, a golden yellow sun shining beyond.”

My player had an epiphany and realized that not only is that a cliche, but it’s also inaccurate!  If both planet and sun are in front of you, you’d be viewing the dark side of the planet, with at best a crescent of light side showing.  So I came up with this description.

“Ahead of your ship, you see a razor thin blue green crescent, flecked with white, cradling a glowing black opal, the golden primary shining beyond.”

Much better, more evocative, and no cliche to be found.

Conclusion

In general, it’s best to engage your reader’s senses and keep them interested in your story. Avoiding over-used phrases will help a lot.  Put yourself in the story, see, hear and feel what’s around you in your imagination, and your readers will be able to do the same.  Good description can make your writing truly come alive!

Bonus: how to be vivid – for artists

Many of these tips can be used when you are painting or drawing, too.  Contrast is important if you are trying to make a strong visual impression.  Pay attention to where the light falls, where the shadows lie, and how deep they are.  Careful observation will help you here.  Even if you make art from your imagination, observing real world things can make your art great.  Faithful depiction of the details can make the same difference that good description does in a story.  All my favorite artists pay attention to contrast and also small details.  Sure, that swordsman has a belt, but are there signs of wear on it?  Are his boots new, or are they a bit slouched, scuffed, and dusty?  You get the idea.

 

via Daily Prompt: Vivid

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/vivid/