I Lost My Damn Theme How Do I Find It

Write Better Now
Write Better Now
I Lost My Damn Theme How Do I Find It
/

Hi, welcome to Write Better Now, a podcast of quick, weekly writing tips meant to help you become a better writer. We’re your hosts with NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones and copyeditor extraordinaire Shaun Farrar. Thank you for joining us.


Last week on our podcast we talked about theme, and we’re going back there again.

We know! We know! So scary. Why risk it again? We risk it for you, dear listener. Like a matyr-parent from the early 2000s, we’re writing your college essays and yelling at the soccer coach and doing the work.

Once again, what actually is a theme?

So, the theme is the central idea of your story.

According to aresearchguide.com:

“A theme in a story is the major idea that the story leans or surrounds. It comments on human experience, and more often a story relates to real life situations. All stories have at least one theme.

“A theme gives the general view of the story. It gives the reader the insight into how the story characters live to pursue something good, the results of conflicts and how all these choices come to pass in their lives. In a story, there can be major and minor themes.

   A major theme is an idea the writer keeps on repeating in his work, portraying it as the most significant idea.

   The minor theme is the idea that appears briefly in the story.

“A theme needs to be compelling and captivating. You need to think carefully when choosing a theme for your story.”

Let’s go simple: It’s the idea your story is about and it’s good to include a verb in that idea and a noun/subject.

Some writing coaches will say to never ever explicitly state your theme. Some coaches will say you should absolutely have a character state your theme early on in your story (first act) but have your main character not get it.

Over on the blog writerswrite, they give examples of themes:

Crime pays.

Honesty is the best policy.

Who dares wins.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Home is where the heart is.

The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there.

You never really know anybody.

People are predictable.

People with nothing to lose are dangerous.

Love conquers all.

Blood is thicker than water.

You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.

What does not kill you makes you stranger.

That site uses the Lajos Egri Theme Cheat Sheet, which is from Ljos’s book: The Art of Dramatic Writing.

This is from the writerswrite blog.

And, according to Amanda Patterson who wrote that fantastic post, a theme is important and helps you actually write your novel because you then can make sure that every scene in your novel works toward that theme.

Over on the aresearchguide, they say,

“A theme gives a story meaning and hence creating an emotional impact. A theme creates a difference between a great story that readers can relate to and a mediocre one. The theme adds an in-depth and creates a connection to the story. It is necessary for an author to have a good and clear understanding of the theme (h)as this is the key to crafting great and awesome stories that readers will love.”

But it’s over on Amanda’s brilliant post that the three steps, the three really helpful steps, show up. These are a direct quote.


Hey, thanks for listening to Write Better Now. These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

Baby Got Backstory Using Backstory in Your Writing

Write Better Now
Write Better Now
Baby Got Backstory Using Backstory in Your Writing
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Hi, welcome to Write Better Now, a podcast of quick, weekly writing tips meant to help you become a better writer. We’re your hosts with NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones and copyeditor extraordinaire Shaun Farrar. Thank you for joining us.


A long time ago we talked about backstory on our podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, but we thought it would be pretty helpful to quickly talk about it here on WRITE BETTER NOW.


Hey baby, what’s your backstory?

It’s that I married you, honey.

Hey baby, what’s your backstory?

It should be a pick-up line at a bar, yet it somehow is not a pick-up line at any bar that I know of except maybe in a New Yorker cartoon or a bar in a town where there’s one of those MFA programs in writing literature for literary people doing literary things.

Anyway, it’s a term writers throw around all the time and it is basically just how we imagine our characters’ lives went before they are in the actual story that we’re writing.

But basically it’s the formative experiences that make your character who they are today in the story of your novel or poem or essay or short story.

I know! How can you imagine that your character had a life before your story? It’s like imagining your spouse had a life before you that wasn’t totally centered around you. Us narcissists have a hard time with that.

Do you know, in nine hundred years of time and space, I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important.…

Steven Moffat, Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol

According to a post on https://www.nownovel.com/blog/talking-character-backstory/

There are three uses of backstory.

  1. Developing the understanding of the characters. Like if your dad died of a heart attack in front of you and you couldn’t save him, then your character might have a savior complex. It helps the reader understand your characters’ motivations.
  2. It can heighten the stakes and the suspense. You were once addicted to dating cops. Cops were always bad for you. Will you date this one? NO! YOU MUST NOT.
  3. It makes it real damn it. By the time, you make it into a book, you’re not going to be a blank slate, born out of Zeus’ head or a clamshell fully formed on page 1. We all have prologues.

Here’s a nice link about it for those of you who read this on Carrie’s blog.

Standout asks how much backstory does a story need and answers its own question pretty simply:

If judged solely on complexity, the answer to ‘how much backstory should I include?’ would be ‘enough to pay for the reader’s efforts,’ however you also need to consider immersion.

Standout (source above)

Ah. Okay?

Here is our advice:

  • Don’t be fake. Don’t be pretend. We all know people who show up at a party, engage in small talk about absolutely nothing other than the weather, the traffic, where they work. There is no underlayment. It’s like they are a rug thrown on the floor, but if you touch that rug it will just slip away because there’s nothing holding it there.

Do not let your characters be rugs.

Ground those suckers with nails and staples if you have to. ModPodge them to the floor, give them a life before you.

  • Don’t tell us everything about them. We do not know that they prefer Aquafina to Poland Spring water or that they had an ingrown toenail when they were twenty-four any more than you want to know about the guy at the party’s hemorrhoid treatment unless it’s really good. Be sparing. Make it relevant to who that character is now and what’s going on in the story.
  • Don’t lump all that back story together in paragraph after paragraph of exposition. That makes the forward motion of the story disappear.
  • If you can SHOW the backstory via dialogue or flashback (short ones), it’s so much better than TELLING it in a big, ugly paragraph.
  • Mine your characters experiences and memories and mementos from those of yourself, famous people, friends, anecdotes.

The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.

Stephen King

Writing Tip of the Pod All Condensed

Find the balance in your backstory and your life. Backstory is important, but it shouldn’t take over the current story


Hey, thanks for listening to Write Better Now. These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

No More Nodding in Books

Write Better Now
Write Better Now
No More Nodding in Books
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Hi, welcome to Write Better Now, a podcast of quick, weekly writing tips meant to help you become a better writer. We’re your hosts with NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones and copyeditor extraordinaire Shaun Farrar. Thank you for joining us.

One of the big things that Carrie sees in stories a lot is nodding.

Here’s what it looks like:

Shaun nodded. “I agree that’s a lot nodding.”

Carrie nodded in affirmation. “Yes. There really is.”

For a moment they sat there and then Shaun smiled. “You want to get out of this excerpt and do the podcast, baby?”

“Yes.” Carrie nodded. “I do.”

Why is this bad? Well, for a couple of reasons:

  1. It’s the same action over and over.
  2. That same action is really just repeating what the dialogue is doing. The dialogue is already telling the reader that the character is agreeing.

The cool thing is that whenever us writers revise our work, we can go back in and specifically look for these nods and recognize them for what they are: placeholders.

That’s right. Every single time you see a nod, I want you to ask yourself:

  1. Does that nod really need to be there?
  2. What can I replace that nod with. A more telling physical action that involves the whole body? The character interacting with their physical setting? Just blank space?

You want to just go a little deeper into visualizing that scene, feeling and embodying that character’s body, so that you can bring the reader into the scene, too.

If you think about our little excerpt from earlier, you’ll notice there’s no setting. We have no clue about where Carrie and Shaun are, but also we have no clue about what their whole bodies are doing, what they look like, anything.

Here, let’s try it again:

Shaun stretched his long legs in front of him, knocking his shin against the iron support of the office desk, and put his arms behind his head. “I agree that’s a lot nodding.”

Carrie curled her legs under her and scooted her small velvet chair a little closer to him. “Yes. There really is.”

For a moment they sat there and then Shaun tapped his finger against the computer screen, sniffed in the eggy smell of dog farts and said, “You want to get out of this excerpt and do the podcast, baby?”

“Yes.” Carrie gagged, covering her mouth with her hand, cringing. Tears came to her eyes. “I do.”

Our bodies show people how we feel. How we stand, hold our head, purse our lips, move our hands, plant our feet, slump our shoulders, wiggle an eyebrow all communicate our emotional condition.

As writers, we have to key into those body movements, the expressions, so that we can have a full range of possibilities to help our readers be inside our characters’ worlds. That world is about a lot more than nodding, shrugging, and shaking heads.

Hey, thanks for listening to Write Better Now. These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

How To Make Your Writing More Intense

Write Better Now
Write Better Now
How To Make Your Writing More Intense
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It’s Writing Tip Time and we’re going to give you three fast and dirty writing tips today that’s going to make your writing more intense. Ready?

Think about your tense

What’s that mean? It means don’t be writing like things are happening now and then shift over to writing like things were happening in the past. If you want the most immediate writing experience, write in the present tense.

Here’s a quick example:

I lost feeling on my entire left side of my body during our long run on Friday. I thought I might be having a stroke.

That’s in the past tense, right? We read this, notice it’s in the first person and figure that the narrator has survived because she’s telling us about this after-the-fact.

Try it out in the present tense:

I lose feeling on my entire left side of my body during our long run. I think I might be having a stroke.

It’s more intense, right?

Let’s make it more intense.

Take out the distancing words.

In first person especially, it’s really hard to get away from a lot of looking and knowing and words that pull us out of the moment and the immediacy of the character’s experience.

Distancing language tends to be the words like ‘seem,’ and ‘look,’ and ‘heard,’ and ‘know.’ When I revise, I think of these words as placeholders for where I can go back and dig in more deeply in certain places.

So, let’s take that sentence again and make it more immediate.

I lose feeling on my entire left side of my body during our long run. I think I might be having a stroke.

Change that up and it looks like:

My entire left side of my body starts going numb during our long run. My left foot numbs first. Then my left hand and arm. When the left side of my mouth starts going numb, I gasp. I might be having a stroke.

You’re in there a bit more with that character now right. Is she having a stroke? What the heck is she running for? SHE IS BROKEN!

Try not to use the same word too many times too closely together.

In the example above I deliberately use the word ‘numb’ and ‘my left’ over and over again. I’m cool with the repetition of ‘my left,’ but not so much with the numb. There are better, cooler words to mix in there and grab the reader’s attention. Let’s try.

My entire left side of my body starts going numb during our long run. My left foot disappears first. Then my left hand and arm. When the left side of my mouth starts to tingle, I gasp. I might be having a stroke.

There you go!

We’ve learned three fast tips to making your writing more intense.

Writing Tip of the Pod:

Be in the present (tense). Don’t be distant. Mix up your words, man.

Hey, thanks for listening to Write Better Now. These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

Is Your Butt Shape Related to Your Character and How About We Stop Telling Authors to Get Their Butts in the Chair

Did you know that scientists classified women’s rear-end shapes? Or that people think that butt-shape is linked to character?

Yes. I know! This is terribly important information.  So important that the Black Eyed Peas have sung songs about bottoms.

What you gon’ do with all that junk?
All that junk inside that trunk?
I’ma get, get, get, get, you drunk,
Get you love drunk off my hump.
What you gon’ do with all that ass?
All that ass insigh’ jer jeans?
I’m a make, make, make, make you scream
Make you scream, make you scream.
Cos’ of my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump.
My hump, my hump, my hump, my lovely lady lumps.

— “My Humps” by the Black Eyed Peas

Anyway, scientists have split us female bottom owners (not male bottom owners, of course)  into four basic categories:

  • Round
  • Square
  • Upside down heart
  • Heart

Sigh. So it looks like I need to get a booty-pump. 😉 


And also, people are also saying that your bottom shape tells something about your personality. And I say, “Um…. no.”

A lot of mentors tell authors to just get their butt in the chair and write, which is sort of simplistic and sort of true, but also not how all creative people work.

Some of us (me) don’t need that mantra because I have a big guilt complex about not working when I’m SO lucky to be a writer, but also because I (cough) actually look forward to writing.

But not all writers are me. And those who aren’t? Yelling “PUT YOUR BUTT IN THE CHAIR” like some sort of drill sergeant really doesn’t help.

As author and blogger Gail Gauthier said,

The expression butt-in-chair has come to mean, I think, a strategy that involves simply soldiering on. It’s often seen as a method of working for those who are strong enough that they can just put their shoulder to the grindstone and push. When I see it used, it is often accompanied by a certain amount of judgement addressed toward those who don’t have the natural discipline to simply plow through a project.

Author and teacher J. Robert Lennon wrote just this past April that what he termed “the ass-in-the-chair canard” “…is in fact an insult to almost everyone who has ever struggled with the creative process, and as a teaching tool is liable to do more harm than good. It embraces several dangerous lies: that writer’s block is the result, first and foremost, of laziness; that writing (indeed, any creative pursuit) is like any other form of labor; and that how hard you work on something is directly correlated with how good it is.” As he also says, being able to sit down and work relatively easily without struggle isn’t a moral victory making one writer superior to another. It is simply a method of working.

Gail Gauthier

Telling people they are lazy because they are blocked or not producing really is kind of uncool. Life is more than butts, isn’t it? To be the best authors we can be, we have to be students of nature and people, of interactions, of life and emotions so that we can replicate that on the page.

If your butt is always in the chair, you can’t always do that.

Plus, you run the risk of dead butt syndrome, and nobody wants that.

The Lactating Armpit and How To Make Your Characters Have Different Voices

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
The Lactating Armpit and How To Make Your Characters Have Different Voices
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Voice is such a big deal for making memorable and believable characters in your story, but it’s one of the harder things to understand sometimes.

As writer Rita Mae Brown said,

“People are funny. No doubt you’ve noticed that others are not nearly as reasonable as yourself. Shocking, isn’t it? This difference between you and other people comes out in speech. Obviously, difference displays itself in the subject matter people speak about, but on a deeper, more subtle level, it displays itself in the way in which they frame those very ideas.”

The voice of your character is truly the heart and mind of your character and their background expressed on the page.

Or as Brown says, “Speech is a literary biopsy.”

There are a lot of different ways to think about the voice of your characters, that thing that makes them believable and sets them apart from the other characters even when they all have similar demographics (college sophomores, white women, middle class background, from Missouri).

But first we have to think about the two different ways voice is represented for characters.

There is

Internal voice

            What they think. (Use only in first and limited-third person POVs)

External voice

            Word choice

            Dialect

To make that character’s voice stand out, writers tend to do one of three things or a combination:

  1. Write your way through it until your characters sound different.
  2. Listen to people who are like your character and copy their cadence and word choice, sentence length, etc.
  3. Watch a tv show/movie with people who remind you of your character.

There are other factors that come into play too. How we talk is often influenced by

  1. Where we’re from.
  2. Socio-economic demographics.
  3. Education.
  4. Age. Gender. Ethnicity. Race. The cultural norms for any group we belong to.
  5. Our emotions at that moment – I don’t sound the same now as I do when I’m yelling or terrified or when I’m trying to take command of a volatile situation.
  6. What we’re really into – If you’re into dogs, you’ll probably use words like “alpha.” If you’re into military culture, you might sprinkle in words like “got your six” or “command.” If you’re into poetry, you might use words like “cadence,” “litany.” And you might use those words even when you aren’t talking about those things.

How we put words together makes a big difference, too. I’m sure in Shaun’s times in the military or the police force he heard choppy sentence people.

            Get here. Now.

And managerial types.

            I’d like you to come here immediately.

And those afraid of conflict.

            If you have a moment, would you mind coming over here as soon as you possibly can?

Some people love the drama of speech. Some people don’t like to talk at all. It’s all a bit of info that you can use to show their character, too.

WRITING TIP OF THE POD

Think beyond your experience, write beyond it too.

DOG TIP FOR LIFE

Not everyone sounds the same. Listen for the nuance.


SHOUT OUT!

The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. 

Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song?  It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.

AND we are transitioning to a new writer podcast called WRITE BETTER NOW! You’ll be able to check it out here starting in 2022!

We have a podcast, LOVING THE STRANGE, which we stream live on Carrie’s Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn on Fridays. Her Facebook and Twitter handles are all carriejonesbooks or carriejonesbook.

Carrie is reading one of her poems every week on CARRIE DOES POEMS. And there you go! Whew! That’s a lot!

Here’s the link.

best writing podcast WRITE BETTER NOW
Write Better Now – Writing Tips podcast for authors and writers
best podcast ever
loving the strange the podcast about embracing the weird
best poetry podcast by poet
Carrie Does Poems

Resources Mentioned

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/dad-catches-son-sneaking-out-24763972

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/dad-catches-son-sneaking-out-24763972

NEW BOOK ALERT!

I just want to let everyone know that INCHWORMS (The Dude Series Book 2) is out and having a good time as Dude competes for a full scholarship at a prestigious Southern college and getting into a bit of trouble.

Here’s what it’s about:

A fascinating must-read suspense from New York Times bestseller Carrie Jones.

A new chance visiting a small Southern college.
A potential love interest for a broken girl obsessed with psychology.
A damaged group of co-eds.
A drowning that’s no accident.
A threat that seems to have no end.

And just like that Jessica Goodfeather aka Dude’s trip away from her claustrophobic life in Maine to try to get an amazing scholarship to her dream school has suddenly turned deadly. Again.


What would you do to make a difference?

After his best friend Norah was almost abducted, Cole Nicholaus has spent most of his childhood homeschooled, lonely and pining for Norah to move from best friend to girl friend status. When birds follow him around or he levitates the dishes, he thinks nothing of it—until a reporter appears and pushes him into making a choice: stay safe at home or help save a kidnapped kid.

Cole and Norah quickly end up trying to not just save a kid, but an entire town from a curse that has devastating roots and implications for how exactly Cole came to be the saint that he is.

Can Cole stop evil from hurting him and Norah again? And maybe even get together? Only the saints know.

From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of the NEED seriesSaint is a book about dealing with the consequences that make us who we are and being brave enough to admit who we love and what we need.

BUY NOW! 🙂 I made a smiley face there so you don’t feel like I’m too desperate.

The cover. Creepy, right?

You can read an excerpt right here.

The Dreaded -Ing

When I was a baby newspaper reporter, one of my editors, Grady Holloway, used to call me over to his desk. A lot.

I loved Grady. He had this great, grizzly beard before it was cool, wore a dirty hat, had been married to an ambassador’s daughter, rode horses, drove cab in Colorado when all the beat poets and journalists were out there, and like noir mysteries.

But whenever he pulled me over to his big metal desk in the newsroom, I knew that I was about to get advice.

“Cici,” he’d say with this perfect, gruff whiskey voice, “you’re a great writer, but have you ever thought about . . .”

And then he’d tell me something I hadn’t thought about.

Passive verbs.

Starting sentences strong with the important stuff first.

The dreaded -ing

-Ings are addictive like all sexy grammatical elements are. They might not be as addictive as the debonair em-dash (—) or the lovely ellipses (…) or the goddess we know as the parenthetical ( ), but they are pretty close.

When you put -ing at the end of a verb that verb becomes progressive. You feel like the verb is happening right now in the present even if your tense is the past.

Like this . . .

She was running, breathing hard and fast, shallow breaths that couldn’t quite make it all the way into her lungs. Running so that he wouldn’t catch up. And the ground was breaking beneath her, dead people’s hands reaching through the woods’ surface, fingers trying to clutch her sneakers, her ankles, even the laces. Anything.

Scary, right? Or, um . . . kind of?

Now let’s see that without the -ings on there.

She ran, her breath hard and fast, shallow breaths that couldn’t quite make it all the way into her lungs. She ran so that he wouldn’t catch up. And the ground broke beneath her. Dead people’s hands reached through the woods’ surface. Fingers tried to clutch her sneakers, her ankles, even the laces. Anything.

Wait. They both kind of work, don’t they? Absolutely. Sometimes you want to use those -ings for impact. But just like the em-dash, ellipses, and parenthical statements, there can be too much of a good thing.

Crying because of the creepy man racing after for her terrifying minutes, Carrie raced through the woods trying to get away and breathing out heavily even as horrifying zombie hands reached through the dirt and pine needles, hoping to grasp her shoes and bringing her down beneath the surface with them.

You can see the difference now right? We have present participles, adjectives, progressive verbs and even a gerund. Those -ings are doing a lot of work here and there’s just too darn many of them.

And what happens in that passage? The reader starts to get bored. It doesn’t feel fluid. The mind sort of numbs from all those -ings. And the bleed into each other, blending.

Yes, yes, I know! Blending has an -ing.

Now, let me try to do it without -ings.

She cried. She ran through the woods, each breath a prayer, an intake of hope as her feet raced across the pine needles. He was close. Too close. The thud of his footsteps pounded after her. The dirt trembled but not from her. Hands. Dead, decayed hands somehow broke through the hard ground. One poked up just as her sneaker hit the ground. It reached for her. Missed. Another tried. Another.

Different again, right? Same scene. No -ings.

It’s pretty cool when you can see the difference of tone and feel that happen just by playing with one tiny element of the language. Give it a try! Go find your -ings and play with them.

NEW BOOK ALERT!

I just want to let everyone know that INCHWORMS (The Dude Series Book 2) is out and having a good time as Dude competes for a full scholarship at a prestigious Southern college and getting into a bit of trouble.

Here’s what it’s about:

A fascinating must-read suspense from New York Times bestseller Carrie Jones.

A new chance visiting a small Southern college.
A potential love interest for a broken girl obsessed with psychology.
A damaged group of co-eds.
A drowning that’s no accident.
A threat that seems to have no end.

And just like that Jessica Goodfeather aka Dude’s trip away from her claustrophobic life in Maine to try to get an amazing scholarship to her dream school has suddenly turned deadly. Again.


What would you do to make a difference?

After his best friend Norah was almost abducted, Cole Nicholaus has spent most of his childhood homeschooled, lonely and pining for Norah to move from best friend to girl friend status. When birds follow him around or he levitates the dishes, he thinks nothing of it—until a reporter appears and pushes him into making a choice: stay safe at home or help save a kidnapped kid.

Cole and Norah quickly end up trying to not just save a kid, but an entire town from a curse that has devastating roots and implications for how exactly Cole came to be the saint that he is.

Can Cole stop evil from hurting him and Norah again? And maybe even get together? Only the saints know.

From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of the NEED seriesSaint is a book about dealing with the consequences that make us who we are and being brave enough to admit who we love and what we need.

BUY NOW! 🙂 I made a smiley face there so you don’t feel like I’m too desperate.

The cover. Creepy, right?

You can read an excerpt right here.

Knowing When To Be A Writer Show-OFF

I ended up talking to some of my writers about this, this past weekend, so I thought I’d share it with everyone. It’s pretty fun stuff and a helpful thing to know.

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it,” said novelist Elmore Leonard.

Sometimes writers fall in love with words, and that seems like a lovely thing, right? Words are writers’ commodity. Writers are word merchants. They deal in words, flinging around and ordering about on the page in the hopes of creating an army of sentences that become a story.

But sometimes writers (like everyone else) show off.

And that showing off makes readers go, “Blech.”

Readers who go ‘blech’ are readers who probably aren’t going to keep reading. No writer wants that because then their words and stories don’t have a chance to motivate or distract or move the reader. Plus, crap reviews.

In his book, Writing Tools, Roy Peter Clark writes:

“Most writers have at least two modes. One says, “Pay no attention the writer behind the curtain. Look only at the world.” The other says, without inhibition, “Watch me dance. Aren’t I clever fellow?”

He likens these to understatement (the first mode) and overstatement or hyperbole (the second mode).

You don’t want your readers to be noticing all your writing adroitness and flourishes and showing off.

You also don’t want to be so underwhelming during really important moments that the reader shrugs and says, “Should I care that the universe imploded and Lassie died?”

Clark creates a little rule that he says works for him.

“The more serious or dramatic the subject, the more the writer backs off, creating the effect that the story tells itself. The more playful or inconsequential the topic, the more the writer can show off. Back off or show off.”

Here are a couple of examples where I’m writing about the same thing.

So, I was at the Boston Marathon today to take pictures of my friend, Lori, running and then crossing the finish line. Before the marathon I had lunch with my daughter Em. She was nervous.

“I have a bad feeling,” she said. “You need to be careful.”

“You have no faith in me. I am a perfectly capable person.”

“I just am worried.”

“I will be fine,” I told her. I insisted it, actually.

But I did several things that I don’t normally do. I didn’t take the T. I chose to walk from Cambridge to mile 25.5 or so of the race route. I figured out the T route and everything, but I just didn’t want to go on it. Walking was healthier, I figured. I was going to watch a marathon.

Pretty understated, right?

Here’s me writing that flamboyantly.

It is the kind of day where people blossom into heroes in Boston and become a part of a legend, a story bigger than themselves, the day of the marathon, a day of heaving chests, heartbreak hills, strangers cheering them on for just moving forward, step by step, mile by mile, until the make it (or don’t) to the finish line. My friend Lori was one of those people—the hopefuls, the push-your-way-through-its, the runners.

While she was on mile eighteen or so, my daughter and I were having lunch in Cambridge before I’d leave her to the doldrums of college and head out to the race route, somewhere around mile 25.5.

Before I left, my daughter hugged me. She smelled of hummus and coconut shampoo, her windblown hair flinging itself into my cheek as she said, “I have a bad feeling.”

You see the difference, right?

How do you work on this in your own writing?

Look at other people’s writing. Newspapers are great examples of this. What stories are on page one because of how they are written versus how newsy they actually are.

Take one of your own scenes and rewrite it like it’s spare bones. Then rewrite it like you’re trying for a very flowery Pulitzer.

Read humor. Great humorists have really mastered the difference between hyperbole and understatement and use it so well.

I took this when I was running this week. It’s so beautiful here.

BE A PART OF OUR MISSION!

Hey! We’re all about inspiring each other to be weird, to be ourselves and to be brave and we’re starting to collect stories about each other’s bravery. Those brave moments can be HUGE or small, but we want you to share them with us so we can share them with the world. You can be anonymous if you aren’t brave enough to use your name. It’s totally chill.

Want to be part of the team? Send us a quick (or long) email and we’ll read it here and on our YouTube channel.

LET’S HANG OUT!

HEY! DO YOU WANT TO SPEND MORE TIME TOGETHER?

MAYBE TAKE A COURSE, CHILL ON SOCIAL MEDIA, BUY ART OR A BOOK, OR LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST?

Email us at carriejonesbooks@gmail.com


HELP US AND DO AN AWESOME GOOD DEED

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast and our new LOVING THE STRANGE podcast.

We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. 


Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!

Thanks so much for being one of the 263,000 downloads if you’ve given us a listen!

One of our newest LOVING THE STRANGE podcasts is about the strange and adorably weird things people say?

And one of our newest DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE episode is about fear setting and how being swallowed by a whale is bad ass.


And Carrie has new books out! Yay!

You can order now! It’s an adult mystery/thriller that takes place in Bar Harbor, Maine. Read an excerpt here!

best thrillers The People Who Kill
The people who kill

It’s my book! It came out June 1! Boo-yah! Another one comes out July 1.

And that one is called  THOSE WHO SURVIVED, which is the first book in the the DUDE GOODFEATHER series.  I hope you’ll read it, like it, and buy it!

The Dude Goodfeather Series - YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones
The Dude Goodfeather Series – YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones

TO TELL US YOUR BRAVE STORY JUST EMAIL BELOW.

Stopping Doomsday Thinking

A lot of great clients and students that I’ve worked with have what I like to call Doomsday Thinking. I’m pretty sure I didn’t coin that phrase.

What is doomsday thinking?

It’s basically catastrophic thinking.

In Psychology Today, Toni Bernhard J.D. writes, “The term refers to our irrational and exaggerated thoughts: thoughts that have no basis in fact, but which we believe anyway.”

Those thoughts become so big and so distorted that we get anxious.

I am a pro at doomsday thinking

I basically had these kinds of thoughts until last year.

Those negative, spiraling thoughts can become so big, so huge, that it’s almost impossible to be happy about who we are, what we’ve done, what we will do, or our life.

We forget there can be good outcomes too.

Instead, we think about all the bad potentials and build them up like super stores, giving them so much space in our thoughts that they take over.

The why is it always me syndrome.

One of my most brilliant and adorable relatives does this all the time. She gets stuck on a highway coming home from work because of a traffic jam and thinks, “Why does this always happen to me? The universe hates me.”

When in reality, she’s not alone in that traffic jam, right? It’s almost self-absorbed to think that the frustrating things are out to get you and only you.

Or, we get rejected when we send our book to an agent and think, “This is impossible. I will never get published. I am doomed to suck forever. I give up.”

When in reality, you don’t suck at all. Writing is subjective and that particular agent just wasn’t for you.

Change happens.

In doomsday thinking whenever something bad happens, we assume that this is the way it will always be. It isn’t.

The world is chaos and full of change.

I just was texting with one of my friends the other night and I wrote, “I bet Five-years-ago Steve would never have imagined this.”

The this was good stuff happening in his life. And he hadn’t. He hadn’t predicted any of it.

We’re all like that. I didn’t imagine I’d be where I am five years ago. That’s because change happens. Even the bad doesn’t stay always bad. We can’t predict the outcomes and all the variables even when we think we can.

Here’s the good thing about change

Since things change, it means that you don’t need to stay stuck forever. And you don’t need to stay in those negative thought patterns forever either.

Why not? It’s pretty easy to lean into your internal critic, right? But you don’t have to. You can stay calm. You can take chances and make choices and shut them up.

We all have inner critics, but we also need inner cheerleaders

I used to imagine my inner critic as John Wayne (the dead movie star/cowboy). He was so harsh on me. Always telling me to work. So, I created an inner cheerleader who turned out to be the Muppet, Grover. Yes, from Sesame Street. My brain is a weird place.

John Wayne and Grover would duel it out for supremacy in my head.

Weird! Weird! I know. But by giving an identity to that negative voice/inner critic, it helped me to recognize that doomsday thinking and shut it down so that I could take chances and risks and do things.

Allow yourself to treat challenges and projects like you’re playing

Another thing that helps is giving myself a chance to play and fail. You can do this, too.

Find something you’ve wanted to do. Start a blog? Make a video? Learn to paint? Ride your bike every morning? Make it something that excites you.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Give yourself a time frame. I have 30 days to do this! That sort of short timeframe.
  2. Schedule time into your day/week to do it.
  3. It helps if you have an end project. So, tell yourself what your end product will be.
  4. Do it.

By giving ourselves a product and a timeframe, we give ourselves a chance to try things. It doesn’t seem like a forever-worry that way and it usually shuts up our doomsday thinking and John Waynes a tiny bit.

You’ve got this. I believe in you. You need to believe in you, too.

xo

Carrie

BE A PART OF OUR MISSION!

Hey! We’re all about inspiring each other to be weird, to be ourselves and to be brave and we’re starting to collect stories about each other’s bravery. Those brave moments can be HUGE or small, but we want you to share them with us so we can share them with the world. You can be anonymous if you aren’t brave enough to use your name. It’s totally chill.

Want to be part of the team? Send us a quick (or long) email and we’ll read it here and on our YouTube channel.

LET’S HANG OUT!

HEY! DO YOU WANT TO SPEND MORE TIME TOGETHER?

MAYBE TAKE A COURSE, CHILL ON SOCIAL MEDIA, BUY ART OR A BOOK, OR LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST?

Email us at carriejonesbooks@gmail.com


HELP US AND DO AN AWESOME GOOD DEED

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast and our new LOVING THE STRANGE podcast.

We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. 


Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!

Thanks so much for being one of the 263,000 downloads if you’ve given us a listen!

One of our newest LOVING THE STRANGE podcasts is about the strange and adorably weird things people say?

And one of our newest DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE episode is about fear setting and how being swallowed by a whale is bad ass.


And Carrie has new books out! Yay!

You can order now! It’s an adult mystery/thriller that takes place in Bar Harbor, Maine. Read an excerpt here!

best thrillers The People Who Kill
The people who kill

It’s my book! It came out June 1! Boo-yah! Another one comes out July 1.

And that one is called  THOSE WHO SURVIVED, which is the first book in the the DUDE GOODFEATHER series.  I hope you’ll read it, like it, and buy it!

The Dude Goodfeather Series - YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones
The Dude Goodfeather Series – YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones

TO TELL US YOUR BRAVE STORY JUST EMAIL BELOW.

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