The only way to get it finished is to start it…
Thinking is not writing.
An insightful writer, blogger and journalist inspiring others to take the small leap forward towards their dreams
The only way to get it finished is to start it…
Thinking is not writing.
So I’m winding down for the evening preparing myself for bed and I’m reflecting on my day. I’m a task-oriented person. I tally up what I’ve accomplished for the day and decide whether or not the past 24 hours have been successful. I began my morning in prayer asking God to give me strength for this, help me to be better at that. This particular day I asked for control over my mouth. Teach me Oh Lord how to keep the peace and say only what needs to be said. And Lord, give me patience with my children to give them the attention they need.
I remember this prayer as I’m making the kid’s lunches for the following day.
It is well after 10 at night there’s not much else to be done. It is then I remember the argument I had in the car with Wil; the one I was never gonna have again. He’s packed on the pounds since we’ve moved to the south. For lunch that afternoon he pulled into a McDonald’s and ordered the biggest, juiciest burger they sell—and a side of fries. I sat quietly for a moment remembering my humble prayer; right before I go into a rant about how huge he has become and a treadmill wouldn’t exactly hurt him. He blows me off but I won’t stop because I figured at that point I might as well empty myself. I sigh. Well, I can remove that from my list of things accomplished.
And then as I’m placing lunches in the fridge, I remember my prayer for patience with the kids. In my mind I fast forward to just after school. We were riding home and Jillian goes into a long-winded story about some kid that was being nasty to her. Midway through I’m thinking about what to cook for dinner and how long could this story possibly go on? Ugh. Mommy, you aren’t even listening to me, she asked. I tell her I am. But of course I have no solution to her problem because I only heard half of the story. I roll my eyes up to the ceiling. Geez, that was a bust too.
I go on, checking some things off the list as accomplished, but most others were not. Sometimes it feels like my life is more ebb than flow. Thursday night I’m in bible study and instead of getting into praise and worship I am once again analyzing my failures and weaknesses. I hate this. But I hear His voice say, I will get there. It’s then I realize that we are often harder on ourselves than he could ever be on us. We have lists and rules and so many absolutes we can’t even keep up. But His grace is sufficient. Every day I pray for this or that not realizing that every day he gives me grace to accomplish those things. But I’m not suddenly cured from being impatient or short or unkind. There’s no instant relief or quick fix. Grace is connected with action. As we move and strive he gives us grace, or favor and spiritual strength to do what we need to do. We don’t always feel it. It is not through will power or crossing our fingers. His grace is there. We just need to walk in it by faith. Yes, I am moving in an upwardly direction. In time…I will get there.
My daughter walks into the kitchen later that evening after bible study and asks me about the meaning of Easter. It is late. She needs to be in bed. I am tired. I sit her down at the kitchen island and explain it to her…from the beginning. I am getting there.
No one has ever accused me of being too patient or of moving too slow on a decision. By my very nature I like short, sweet explanations and components that actually move.
My mother was the opposite. She lingered at the grocery store, took time to speak to everyone at church. She ate slowly, methodically and never allowed anyone to put her into a hurried state. As a teen I would ask permission to attend a basketball game or show and she always had to think about it. Think about it? Really? To say that we bumped heads is to put it mildly. Perhaps my biggest frustration was that she did not make my hurriedness her problem. Her pace was proper for her lifestyle and suited every decision she made. It would take me years to appreciate this virtue. And indeed it is a virtue that can be priceless when writing fiction.
When I first began to write fiction I felt compelled to get it all out there at once. I was concerned that my reader would get bored with the story if I took too long to get there. I was fearful that if they didn’t have enough story within the first few chapters they would yawn, close my book, promise to get back to it later, but would never do so.
Now, there was some validity to my concern. But my problem (which I now realize) was that I did not know the difference between dragging a story and creating suspense. Suspense by the very meaning of the word is to leave the reader in a state of uncertainty and our curious nature compels us to seek answers. And when it comes to fiction, the only way to get those answers is to continue reading. My problem was how to get them to continue on with the book and not give away all to goods only to be bored later. Here is what I found:
Make the reader care about your character
Let’s face it—if the reader doesn’t care about the characters it won’t matter what they do. They could get hit by a bus and the reader couldn’t be less interested. But we care about things, people for one of the following reasons:
So I had to take time to develop my characters to make them compelling, interesting, keeping in mind the reasons above. I had to make the reader feel that there would be payoff if they just continued to read.
Movies create foreboding all the time—that feeling that something is about to happen. They do so with music—when all know the something-bad-is-going-to-happen chords. They do so with lightening and close-ups. In writing we do it a number of ways. And here are a few:
Honestly we love foreboding even if we don’t admit it—but that is only if the payoff is worth it. Build them up, up up and then let ‘em have it.
Keep the story moving
There is nothing more grating than reading a long, lofty description that seems to go…well…nowhere. Descriptions are great when they are essential and become a true element of the story. Keeping the story moving becomes easier when we keep the point of the story in mind; when we constantly remember that there is a place that we are headed. If we get stuck in a place or scene then our reader is stuck too.
Save the best for last
Even as the story is moving remember that the reader wants a payoff. We all love a surprise element as we near the end. As readers, by the time we get to the last portion of the book we think we have it figured out. It is nice to get that twist, that final OMG. If it is crafted correctly, in other words, fits into the story line it works well as an excellent last ping.
To make sure your story is paced properly I believe that beta readers are invaluable. And what are the words you want to hear? I simply could not put it down.
Several years ago my brother started a travel agent business and asked me to create a marketing blurb for his website. My first question to him was, “What is your target audience?” To which he replied, “Everyone. This business is for everyone.” It took us several days to come to the agreement that marketing strategies by their very nature are targeted towards a specific group. It is not to say that your product won’t have crossover appeal but there is a core group to whom you will aim to please. The same is true with writing—whether it is fiction or non-fiction.
Focusing specifically on fiction there is a die-hard group that will devour every piece of historical fiction they can get their hands on. Some love thrillers and this is the first section they seek at the bookstore. Your book, your story will be written with an audience in mind. You will know them because either you are a part of that group or you have done your research.
Aim to get published
When you first begin to write your novel you will write from the heart. You have a story to tell and whether it is about flesh-eating zombies or nuns forsaking all for love it will come from your soul from which all questions stir. You chose this story because your imagination would not let you deny it. At the root of every story is the connection you have to it; every story you write will be a part of you in some way; it is life experiences mingled with knowledge and creative thoughts. But as you begin to go back edit and rewrite you will become more focused on your target audience. Those that say they don’t think about this because they are simply writing what they want are either not looking to get published or content with having their group of family and friends as their audience. This is not totally unheard of; William P. Young said that he only had his family and a few close friends in mind when he wrote The Shack. But they begin to share it with the world. Well, this doesn’t happen often and so our focus must be on our core group of readers. Is it the young mom who busies herself with the kids all day and then falls head over for that beautiful romance novel in the evening? Maybe it is the ex-military officer that delves into historical fiction every chance he gets. Editors want to know who it is that you aim to please, therefore you will want to know too.
Make the book hard to put down
We write to our target audience and still make it our own—our own voice, theme, in other words our way of viewing the world. We learn the genre if it isn’t one with which we are completely familiar. We read books by authors who are doing it and doing it well. I say, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Follow the tracks of the wheels already invented and later down the road veer on your own path. Have others who love the genre read your work. They know the flow of a sci-fi novel. They can decipher if certain technicalities are off. If you are a lover of the genre, write the kind of fiction you want to read—not the forgettable kind that you read on vacation and forget the storyline altogether by the time you’ve arrived home and unpacked. Write the mind gripping, gut-wrenching stuff that has you commenting to your FB friends on how great it was. You don’t know how to write such a story you say? Read the last book that did this for you. Now read it again and this time, not for pure pleasure. Pull on the techniques—why was it so compelling? What was it about the characters that made you care about them so much? Why did you cry at the end? And why are you still thinking about it even now?
Keep the target audience before you as you rewrite. Imagine them skimming the pages of your novel. See them laughing at certain points, glued to the pages while they are preparing dinner or listening via audio on their commute to work because they simply could not wait until the weekend. See them and write for them.