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Category: Tipsy Tuesday

Tips-y Tuesday: Cosplay as Your Novel’s Characters

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we talked about the benefit of writing your query letter’s synopsis letter before starting your manuscript. This week I’d like to change gears and talk about something completely different: cosplaying as your novel’s characters.

For those unaware, “cosplay” (portmanteau of “costume” and “play”) means dressing up like a character from a movie, video game, or TV show. For some extensive examples of cosplay, check out the cosplay-related articles on RocketNews24.

But the thing about cosplay is, not all characters are as popular to cosplay as others. Sure, the most popular characters are of course going to be from the most popular media (anime, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, etc.), but there’s also another factor: how identifiable the characters are.

For example, even though the Twilight series, Divergent series, and Percy Jackson series are very popular, you almost never see Bella or Tris or Percy cosplays at conventions. Part of that is due to some of them being seen as “lesser” series in the eyes of some, but another very important factor is the lack of unique features on the characters themselves. No one would be able to tell you’re cosplaying as one of them instead of just walking around in your normal clothes.

Not the most easily-identifiable cosplay.

bella-cosplay

Whereas other characters that are more popular to cosplay have lots of unique features: Harry Potter has his scar, glasses, robes and yellow/red scarf; Daenarys has her long white hair, translucent gown, and her dragons; and pretty much every anime character from Ash to Naruto to Goku to Sailor Moon has a list of unique features that could fill pages.

Why is this important in writing a novel? Because it helps create more memorable characters that stand out.

When I started writing, one huge problem I had was that all my characters were too generic. They were just too normal. Would Harry Potter be as popular without his scar and glasses? Would Daenarys be as popular without her dragons? Maybe, but chances are, probably not.

What helped me start down the path to creating better characters was imagining what it would look like if fans of my book cosplayed as the character. If my main character was just a girl in normal clothes, no one would cosplay her. But if she was instead, say, a fancy half-spider half-human with eight eyes, two sets of legs, two sets of arms, a top-hat, monocle, and cane, then suddenly she becomes a lot more unique and cosplay-able.

You tell me if that’s memorable.

fancy-spider

Of course, you don’t have to go to such an extreme in your own character creation. If your book is just about normal people, that’s perfectly fine, but give us something to help identify the character.

Maybe they always wear a rainbow dress. Maybe they have a hat shaped like a volcano. Maybe they’re in a wheelchair decked out to look like a race car. Maybe those traits can work their way into your character’s personality, or even the plot, opening up details about your story that you didn’t even know existed.

Ironically, making your character stand out more by giving them less-common features makes them feel more real than if they were just generic.

So when creating your characters, don’t be afraid to go crazy. Give them unique features you’ve never seen before, and while you’re doing so, imagine how someone might dress up as them. Keep cranking up the uniqueness until you get to the point where you can imagine someone going up to your character’s cosplayer at a convention and screaming, “Oh my god! I love that character. Can I take a picture with you?”

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)

Tips-y Tuesday: Write Your Synopsis FIRST

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we talked about the benefit of writing your query letter before starting your manuscript. In a similar vein, today I’d like to talk about flipping another idea on its head: writing your synopsis first too.

For those unaware, the synopsis is typically a one page summary of your novel’s plot from beginning to end. When you send out your query letter to prospective literary agents, many of them will also request a synopsis as well.

Again, similar to a query letter, writing a synopsis may not seem so bad… until you actually have to do it. At least with the query letter you’re supposed to not tell everything that happens and leave a little room for mystery and intrigue. With the synopsis though, you literally have to condense your book into one page. Double spaced.

Let the tears commence.

synopsis

While some agents are fine with getting two or three-page-long synopses, many other specifically request one-page-long ones, so its best to have a one-page synopsis prepared. But how can you possibly set up your book’s characters, conflicts, plot twists, sub-plots, and all of their satisfying resolutions in less than a page?

It’s… it’s really hard to do. And that’s why, similar to why I recommend writing your query letter first, I recommend also writing your synopsis first, before you’ve even started your manuscript.

By the time you’ve finished a novel, you’re so entrenched in it that it becomes difficult to pick out exactly what the most important parts are. They’re all important parts to you – you wrote them, you gave birth to them, they’re all your babies!

But if you write your synopsis before you’ve even touched your manuscript, then you don’t have to worry about that. You can just work with the general idea of what you think your novel will look like. In fact if anything, it might be even difficult for you to fill up a whole page summarizing your novel, which is a much more welcome feeling than realizing you need to chop out two pages out of your already “lean” synopsis.

Writing a synopsis is like eating chocolate. It’s a whole lot easier to add it to your stomach until you’re pleasantly full, than it is to remove it from your stomach after you’re bursting at the seams.

chocolate

Of course there is the obvious question: how can I write my synopsis if I don’t know what happens next in my book’s plot? The answer to that is easy: whatever is most exciting/cool/conflict-y is what happens next. Don’t know what your character should do next after they beat the badguy? Have one of their allies turn on them! Don’t know what should happen after they finally save their boyfriend from a dragon? The boyfriend dies, of course!

Those suggestions may be a little extreme, but the point of writing your synopsis now isn’t to have a perfect synopsis, it’s just to have the most general synopsis that gives the full gist and flavor of the story without going overboard. Once you’ve actually finished the manuscript you can go back and change things in your synopsis that didn’t actually happen, but you’ll probably find that – for the most part – it’s still a pretty good summary of your book.

Whereas if you’d waited until after you’d finished writing your manuscript to do your synopsis, all those delicious details you put into the plot while you were writing would’ve been fighting in your head, screaming “I’m important enough to go into the synopsis!” and would’ve made your job a lot harder. But since the synopsis is already done and written, you can ignore their cries, knowing they’re not needed in the one-page summary.

Do you need to write your synopsis first? No, of course not. But personally, I’ll take the times I’ve struggled to fill up a page-long synopsis over the times I’ve agonized about how to condense my five-page synopsis down to one any day.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)
(Insert image via GAHAG and GAHAG)

Tips-y Tuesday: Write Your Query Letter FIRST

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we talked about how to stay on track and write every day. This week I’d like to talk about a strategy for writing novels that I’ve recently employed: writing the query letter first.

For those unaware, the query letter is the short letter you write to prospective literary agents once you’ve finished your manuscript. It consists of a short greeting, a back-of-the-book summary of your novel, any writing credentials you have, and that’s about it.

Now that may not sound so bad, but writing the query letter can be one of the most frustrating and stressful parts of writing a novel. I used to tell my writing group that writing the manuscript is the easy part, afterwards comes the hard part.

Part of the reason it’s so difficult is because you’re suddenly forced to condense possibly years of work and a hundred or more pages that have your heart and soul invested in them… into about 300 words.

A typical writer in the process of crafting a typical query letter.

query-crisis

Writing query letters used to drive me insane. How could I possibly tell prospective agents about the depths of my characters, the intricacies of my plots, the richness of my setting in little more than a sound-byte?

That’s why I recommend doing something unconventional: writing the query letter before you even start your manuscript, when you know as little as possible about your story.

Before you write your manuscript, you may have a general idea or outline of what your book will be like. But chances are it’s going to evolve a lot as you write it. The succulent details and plot-twists and character traits probably aren’t chiseled in stone yet, they’re nice and flexible, which is why this is a perfect time to stretch them in the right direction.

To do that, all you have to do is write the perfect query letter. And by that I don’t mean an absolutely flawless one, but one that – when you show it to people – makes them go: “Ooh! I’d like to read that.”

So basically, you get to write the ultimate back-of-the-book summary. That means you goal is to basically just make your summary as exciting and awesome as possible. Don’t worry if you need to throw some things into your query that don’t exist in your outline – that’s exactly the reason you’re doing this first, so you can put them into your book later!

For example, in my recent book, I decided my query needed more tension, so I decided to just have the moon explode. It doesn’t get any more intense than that! Of course that didn’t actually make it into my final draft, but something very similar did, and it’s unlikely I would’ve ever pursued that path had I not written the query first, realized I needed more tension, and added it in.

We’ve talked a bit about the book my wife is writing, so here’s an abbreviated example of what her query letter might have looked like when she only had a vague idea of what the story would be like versus after we made some changes:

OLD:

Sixteen-year-old Dionara loves dragons. She also loves pizza. When she gets her own dragon from her father, she is super happy. Now she can fight in tournaments and maybe even find her sister.

Enh. Pretty bland. It’s missing some stuff to really draw me in. If my wife showed me that, I’d recommend inserting a lot more tension and cool details, perhaps ending up with something like this:

NEW:

Sixteen-year-old Dionara works part-time as a pizza delivery girl… delivering pizzas on the back of her dragon Zorax. In her world, dragons are as common as dogs and cats, and one dragon – the white albino that breathes ice – is prized among all others. As the daughter of a dragon-rancher, Dionara’s older sister Eliana used to own one, for about an hour, until she and the albino were kidnapped together by black market dragon dealers ten years ago.

But when Dionara notices a mysterious new female entree into the world of dragon-fighting tournaments, who happens to ride on an albino dragon, she leaves her pizza-delivering life behind to get back the sister who was stolen from her. Little does she know though that Eliana may have left her dragon-ranching life behind for a reason.

Ooh! Now I’m enticed. Remember, this manuscript isn’t complete yet. It’s barely even begun – there’s no kidnapping or secret reasons written yet, but they make for a more exciting hook. And now, thanks to writing the query letter first, the story has a rock solid starting point that will probably grow into a much stronger manuscript than it would have otherwise.

In the end, you could have best manuscript ever, but if you have a bad query letter, then chances are it won’t get published. Imagine you got to create the perfect resume to submit to your ultimate dream job – it can have literally anything you want on it. You do have that chance… if you choose to write your query letter first.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)
(Insert image via GAHAG)

Tips-y Tuesday: Keeping the Writing Train on Track

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we talked about how wasted time is never wasted. This week I’d like to talk about one of the most difficult parts of writing: staying on track and writing consistently.

We’ve talked before about scheduling dates with writing in order to finish your project within the timeframe you want. For example, if you want to finish writing a book in four months, you can do it easily as long as you come up with a reasonable schedule.

But even if you come up with the greatest writing schedule in the world… it means nothing if you don’t stick to it.

Of course nobody is going to stick to their schedule 100%. Emergencies and unplanned events come up that force us to to retreat out of our writing caves and into the burning light of the real world (unfortunately).

“Ugh, god! What is that horrible light seeping
into my wonderfully cold and damp prison cell?”

sunlight

But the vast majority of the time, we are able to write. Whether it’s at home after work, or on the weekends, or when we suddenly find ourselves with nothing to do, we are perfectly capable of starting/continuing that novel or short story, and yet, very often we don’t.

Why is that? I believe there are two reason: (1) we honestly just forget sometimes, and (2) writing is a lot harder to bring ourselves to do than watching TV/YouTube/Netflix/killing time doing nothing.

The way I get around both of these problems at once is by using a schedule book. At the beginning of each week, I write down everything I’m planning on doing each day for the upcoming week. Then, as I do things, I cross them off.

A week in my schedule book.
I really enjoy crossing things out.

schedule

I know this may seem old-fashioned in the era of smartphones, but honestly, there is just something so visceral about writing down your schedule and then crossing it out that you can’t get on a phone. When you write it down, it already feels like you’re one step of the way there, which you don’t really feel on the phone. And the mental satisfaction of crossing it out with a pen as opposed to deleting/striking-out is incomparable.

It probably sounds crazy to anyone who hasn’t tried it, but if you’re having trouble sticking to a writing schedule, then writing down every day in a schedule book to “write one page” might actually be helpful. So long as you don’t allow yourself to go to bed before that one page is complete, no matter how messy it may end up, you will stick to your schedule. And it’s a lot harder to ignore something you’ve written yourself in a book than just data on a screen.

For those who are worried that they might lose or forget to check their schedule book, try just leaving it in your writing area, or another place you sit at every day (kitchen table, living room chair, etc), that way you can’t miss it. And your schedule book doesn’t even have to be a “book,” it can be a printout you hang on the wall above your bed or desk or TV or whatever you want.

I know I personally would have never finished a novel if it weren’t for my paper-and-pen schedule book. It’s like having a nagging friend always by your side, asking you “did you write your one page yet?” And since there’s no better feeling in the world than shutting that friend up by crossing out your daily writing amount, it makes it even easier to reach your goal.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)
(Insert image via GAHAG)

Tips-y Tuesday: Wasted Time is not Wasted

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we looked at how sharing our writing is scarier than Halloween but totally worth it. This week I’d like to talk about something I know I fear as a writer: wasting time.

Whenever I start a new writing project, one fear above all hovers over me: the fear that I’m wasting my time. Not that I’m wasting my time because the book might not get published (see Finding “The One” for more on that fear), but that I’m wasting my time because halfway into the book – or maybe when I reach the end – I might discover that I don’t like where it’s going and will have to scratch it.

And if that were to happen, months – perhaps years – of my life would have been wasted on something that didn’t matter.

Ugh, I could’ve spent all that time
watching YouTube instead!

youtubing

But one thing I’ve realized after years of producing things that I’ve scrapped partway through is this: the time spent working on those projects was not wasted. I know it may sound like a coping mechanism (“I’d better tell myself it wasn’t wasted time or else I’ll go crazy!”), but that’s not the truth. It really was worthwhile.

Here’s a recent example. My wife is currently working on a book that she’s been wanting to write for a while. It’s her first attempt at writing anything longer than a few pages, so it’s quite a challenge. But I advised her to just keep writing at a half-page pace per day (half the speed I aim for) and to just see what happens.

Four months into the project, she hit a roadblock. About halfway through writing the book, her mind’s fuel display crashed hard onto Empty. She didn’t know where the story was going, wasn’t happy with a lot she’d written, and just felt like she’d wasted a lot of her time accomplishing nothing.

So I took a look. The first chapter was basically what you’d expect from a budding writer (needed to slow down and crack open her scenes with more details), but there were two things that stuck out: dragons and pizza. It may sound silly but the story kept going back to those two things, mostly because she just felt obligated to fill up half a page and wrote about one of her two favorite things.

“And then the dragon ordered a pizza and he was like, ‘Yeah I need to finish my half-page for today, so I’m writing about pizza.’ And then the pizza came and it was good but a little too spicy for him.”

pizza-dragon

But where she saw failure in the dragons and pizza, I saw promise. What if instead of dragons being distant and mythical, they were up-close and common. And what if instead of pizza being delivered in cars they were delivered… on dragons? And what if the story was about one such dragon pizza delivery girl?

That immediately set her off on a flood of inspiration. Within an hour, she had a new book outlined and ready to go based on the new idea. After looking it over, it sounded much more compelling and exciting than the last one (even if it was about a dragon pizza-delivery girl!), and she was so into it she wrote the first few pages right then and there.

I’m not saying you have to write about pizza and dragons (although honestly why do we bother writing about anything else?), but I will say that if she hadn’t spent those months “wasting” her time with the previous project, the new better one would have never come about.

So if you’re hesitant to start a new writing project because you think it will just end up being a waste of time… then maybe you’re right! And maybe that “waste of time” might end up inspiring something even better in the future.

Or maybe the thing you create will just be awesome in and of itself. If so, let me just say, I’m jealous.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)
(Insert image via GAHAG, edited by me)

Tips-y Tuesday: Sharing our Writing – Scarier than Halloween

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we looked at how to schedule a hot date… with writing. This week I’d like to talk about something that I and many other writers dread doing: sharing our work with others.

I was inspired to write about this after reading a recent blog post at Operation Awesome. It was an interview with Brandon Ho, a screenwriter, where he talked about his journey going from “script to screen.” You can read the full post here.

There’s a lot to learn from Brandon’s words, but one part I really liked was this that he had to say about sharing your work:

“It’s hard to share my writing with others and hear them say it doesn’t work. But an amazing thing happens when you show it to someone else and put your personal guards down. You get to see how someone experiences what you made through their eyes.”

I think that’s a really beautiful way of expressing something that we all usually either take for granted or outright fear: the opinions of others.

When we pour our heart and souls into writing something, and then we show it to someone else, we want nothing more than for them to leap for joy and say what an incredible piece of art it is. But the amount of times that has actually happened in the history of humankind if approximately… zero.

I ran a writing group for several years, and there wasn’t a single time that a member shared a story to the universal delight of everyone else. There was always at least one person who was confused/had suggestions for changes/hated it, and usually those people were in the majority.

And for good reason. When we write something, it’s coming from inside our heads and onto the paper. Something that is so vivid in our own minds can become bland when our own brain isn’t there to fill in all the missing details.

Writing is like trying to convey a dream you had to another person, and honestly when was the last time you were seriously interested in listening to someone else’s dream?

#StoryOfMyLife

dreams

But what Brandon’s quote gets at is the fact that sometimes it doesn’t matter if the other person doesn’t see what you want them to see in your writing. Sometimes they see things that you didn’t intend. They come into it with their own brain, their own experiences, and can interpret it a completely different way.

One of the best parts of writing is when you create something that someone else makes their own. Whether by latching on to a side character that you threw in at the last second, or by coming up with completely different themes than you intended, or when they make predictions for what will happen that are wildly off track.

When that happens, it shows that they’re going beyond just “liking” what you wrote; they were sucked in enough to “care” about what you wrote.

Getting someone to care about something is pretty much the greatest accomplishment anyone can have. Unfortunately we have to do the scary sharing to get it, but thinking about sharing as “I wonder how their brain will interpret this” instead of “I hope their brain interprets it this one certain way!” might make it a little easier.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)
(Insert image via GAHAG, edited by me)

Tips-y Tuesday: How to Schedule a Hot Date (With Writing!)

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we looked at how it can take a while to find “The One” when you’re trying to publish, but you’re not alone in that struggle, and getting there eventually is worth it.

This week I’d like to talk about one of the few things I’m actually decent at when it comes to writing: consistency.

I may not be so great when it comes to painting vivid scenes and bringing characters to life and even just putting words together nicely on a page. But as far as setting aside time to write every day and actually sticking to it, I’m practically Einstein.

Well, most of the time anyway.

einstein

The way I go about doing it is by using a schedule book. Every day I write down what I have to do, and I’m not allowed to go to bed until I cross off everything. Of course, “write one page” is written in there too, so if I want to lay down on that sweet soft pillow, my fingers need to get typing.

It follows the same kind of pattern as exercise. The first few times it hurts… a lot. But after the first week, then month, of writing every day, it gets easier and easier until it becomes a habit. Then, something magical happens: you suddenly want to write every day. If you don’t write, you feel bad, just as if you’d missed a favorite TV show, and you rush to finish it before bed.

Of course that sounds great, but it’s a lot of work to get to that point. One thing that helps make it easier is by having an end goal in mind.

What I like to do whenever I start a new novel is plan out how long it will take me. If a 70,000 to 80,000 word novel written in MS Word is around 100 pages, then the initial schedule can look something like this:

A pace of one page per day, six days per week
(one day to rest) results in 100 pages finished in four months!

schedule

(Yes I know the last day has 4 pages instead of 1, but hey, most months aren’t 28 days long either, so you don’t have to do that final four page sprint on the last day – you’ll make them up in the 30 and 31 day long months.)

Being able to visualize an end helps make it easier to get started. Personally I find it easier to begin a race when I know where the finish line is rather than running around aimlessly, and the same goes for writing.

So just think – if you started writing one page per day starting today, then you would have that novel you’ve always dreamed of finishing actually done by February. It wouldn’t be ready to ship off to agents by then, but you’d be in a great position to start editing and harassing friends and family for feedback.

And you know what else is in February? Valentine’s Day. What better way to find a significant other (or seduce your current one) than by offering them your recently completed, hot-off-the-word-processor manuscript? Ooh, makes me all tingly just thinking about it!

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)
(Insert image via Wikipedia, edited by me)

Tips-y Tuesday: Finding “The One”

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we saw how the Hammer of Detail can crack open scenes like eggs and let flow the juicy rainbows hidden within.

This week I’d like to take a break from talking about writing (with a lowercase w) and look at Writing (uppercase!) instead

The difference? Writing (uppercase!) is everything concerning writing that doesn’t involve words on the page. It’s scheduling time to write, getting in the zone, minimizing distractions, overcoming rejection, etc etc. It’s just as important as writing (lowercase!), since you could have the greatest story idea ever, but if it never actually gets written and published, it’s the same as if you never wrote it.

To start off on the topic of Writing, I’d like to take another look at yesterday’s Monday Masterpiece. It was taken from Beth Revis’s novel Across the Universe, and I was inspired to read it after seeing her video about overcoming rejection on Operation Awesome.

If you haven’t seen her video yet, watch it here. It’s well worth the seven minutes.

As someone who has completed five full novels, and has several incomplete ones, without so much as ever getting a partial request from a literary agent, Beth’s video spoke to me on a personal level.

You always hear about how Stephen King or J.K. Rowling was rejected dozens of times before they were finally published, but here’s the difference: their first novels were good. My first novels (and Beth’s too), were not good. You never really hear about the graveyard of books that accumulates between starting out as a writer and then finally making it.

You always think that every novel you finish and send out to agents is going to be The One, but that’s not usually the case. Like Beth said in her video, she wrote 10 novels before finally getting Across the Universe published, and she thought each of those 10 was going to be The One too. But that wasn’t their purpose – their purpose was to act as steps on a ladder toward something better.

It’s a ladder made of manuscripts, leading up to The  One. The only catch:
you can’t know how many rungs it has until you’ve already climbed to the top.

ladder

I feel the same Beth does. I thought each of the five novels I wrote previously was going to be The One at the time. But now, looking back, I can see their flaws. I’ve learned something important from each of them, making my subsequent stories better. I’m hoping that the current novel I’m writing will be The One, but if it isn’t, then I’ll learn from it and move on as well.

That’s what today’s Tips-y Tuesday is all about: learning from past loves. Just because you sent out the novel you pured your heart and soul into to 100 agents and didn’t even get a  reply, that doesn’t mean you failed. You only fail if you give up. Instead figure out what you did wrong – show the books to friends, family, writing groups – then learn from it and try again. Repeat for several years until successful. Serving size: one.

So if you’re like me and are amazing at coming up with ideas but cursed with mediocre writing skill, don’t give up. Keep on plugging away, and like Beth showed us, it may take several years, but the only way you won’t eventually make it is if you give up.

Or if the Earth explodes. But hey, that could make a good story.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)

Tips-y Tuesday: Cracking Open Scenes

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we looked at how illogic can make your writing feel more real and exciting than something perfectly logical. This week we’ll look at another way to make your writing come alive: cracking open scenes.

As a writer, one of my greatest weaknesses is writing too generically. I forget that the reader isn’t inside my brain and can’t see everything I’m seeing. So what I like to do when I go back and edit is making sure I’ve “cracked open” any generic scenes.

What I mean by that is taking a bland scene then opening it up to reveal hidden, juicy details. Here’s an example of a scene in desperate need of some cracking:

“He woke up and made breakfast, then got ready for work. He kissed his wife on the way out the door then started his drive to the office.”

Yikes, that’s about as generic as it gets. The writer may have a clear image of who this guy in their own mind, but it’s not coming through clearly at all. It’s too airy and makes the reader feel detached from the scene. So here’s what we need to do: