THREE BIG PIECES TO BUILDING BETTER STORY VIA SCENE AND SEQUEL

Write Better Now
Write Better Now
THREE BIG PIECES TO BUILDING BETTER STORY VIA SCENE AND SEQUEL
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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.


Story is basically a sequence of events, right? And to create a story you have to put that sequence of events together in a way that’s going to jive to the reader or for the reader.

To do that you need scenes, which make up that sequence of events.

A scene is the basic unit of a story, and there are two main types of scenes:

  • The scene
  • The sequel

Dwight Swain wrote a book called the Techniques of a Selling Story, and he basically defined them this way,

“A scene is a unit of conflict lived through by the character and reader.”

There are three big pieces there:

  • A conflict
  • Lived through
  • Character and reader

In a scene there needs to be conflict, immersion so your reader can relate to what’s happening to the character and LIVE THROUGH that character.

To have a conflict, you need to have a goal for your character so that something can obstruct it and your reader can worry.

It all makes sense, right?

Swain goes on to say that a scene must:

  • Be interesting
  • Move that story forward

He then writes that in order for a scene to make the story progress,

“it changes your character’s situation; and while change doesn’t always constitute progress, progress always involves change.”

And in each scene you need to have:

  1. Goal- what the character wants (to own something, to be free of something, revenge)
  2. Conflict (something keeping your character from that goal)
  3. Disaster (Swain calls this the “logical yet unanticipated development that throws your focal character for a loss.”

Cool, right?

The sequel is what happens after that scene. It connects one scene to the next, Swain says. It’s a transition.

And its goals are to (in his words):

Translate the disaster into goal

Telescope reality

Control the tempo

It’s here that decisions are made. It’s here that the protagonist reorients themselves. It’s here where the protagonist has to find answers and possibilities and deal with what just happens and turn it into a new goal. And it often involves a bit of summary or exposition.

And these sequel/transitional places control the tempo of a story because they give the reader a tiny bit of a pause, slowing down the pacing. I’ll have more about scenes in my substack. The link is below and also here.


Thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

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.

For exclusive paid content, check out my substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the other tips and submission opportunties and exercises are there.

Three Hot Tips To Make Awesome First Pages

Write Better Now
Write Better Now
Three Hot Tips To Make Awesome First Pages
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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.


Carrie has been talking to a lot of her authors lately about the beginning of their stories and how to make them awesome. And Carrie has a lot of tips for the writers she works with, but we’re going to be fast here.

Make it Tense AF

You don’t want to make readers in our time wait for the good stuff. Nobody is into waiting right now. It’s all instant gratification all the time. This is even true for most books. Too many details. Too much setting or exposition. And too little tension means that readers aren’t going to want to read on. Your first page should make the reader ask a question that they want the answer to.

Show Us What Your Book and Character Are About

This tip really means we want to see the core of your character and what they are yearning for on the very first page. If your book is a mystery, let us see it. If your book is an erotic novel about a hamster and a gerbil, we need to know that, too. The first thing the reader sees your main character doing? That shows the reader who that character is. If she’s running to rescue someone because she hears yelling? That tells us something about her. If she’s running away because she hears yelling? That tells us something about her, too.

Show Us Where They Hell We Are

Nothing is more annoying than a book that has no grounding elements. Let us readers know where the characters are hanging out. Are we in this century? This world? A cold climate? A warm one? What part of the year is it? Let the reader know where your characters are.

Bonus Tip: You don’t want a prologue unless you really need it and you probably don’t need it. We know! We know! It’s super sexy to start with all that backstory instead of trying to expertly twist it into the forward-moving scenes. But it’s also super lazy. And agents don’t like them if you’re trying to get traditionally published.

Spoiler: You can’t just give up after the first ten pages. You want to make sure that your whole book is fantastic and keeps hooking the reader and making them want to read more.


Thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

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.

For exclusive paid content, check out my substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the other tips and submission opportunties and exercises are there.

Let’s Get Fighting BECAUSE Conflict in Stories Is Good

Hey, everyone! We’re having a wee bit of drama in our lives, so we’re taking this week off in the podcasts. Gasp! I know! We never do that.

But it means that we’re going to bring back one of our podcasts for a lovely redo.

It’s great! Here you go! And we hope you’re all doing well!

In our random thoughts, we talk about:

  1. Killer trees in Maine
  2. FBI agents looking for gold
  3. Chainsaws being a hot stolen item.

One of the big things that pretty much every traditional story in Western culture needs is conflict.

CHARACTER + WANT + OBSTACLE = CONFLICT

In your story or your life, you have wants? Sometimes there are obstacles in the way. They keep you from getting your want. Therein lies the conflict. The story becomes interesting because of how you or your character deals with that obstacle.

A lot of writers wait a long time to get that conflict into their stories.

Don’t do this. It is usually boring when you do this.

Nobody wants to be boring. There are two overall types of conflict – internal (inside the character) and external (outside the character), but they can be broken down even more.

AND THERE ARE TONS OF DIFFERENT TYPES OF CONFLICTS. CHOOSE ONE. MAKE THAT LITTLE JERK YOUR FRIEND.

First off, there are all sorts of lists about the types of conflict in novels. Sometimes you’ll see four. Sometimes you’ll see three. Whatever. Nothing is ever set in stone.

Character vs. character -Podcaster Carrie is trying desperately to not get an explicit rating, but her co-podcaster, Shaun, likes being explicit. How will Carrie make $5 a year off her podcast if it is banned?

Character vs. society – Podcaster Shaun must fight against an overly oppressive society that doesn’t like his explicit nature. How can Shaun survive in a society that crushes his inherent Shaunie-ness?

Character vs. nature – Nature or an aspect of it is about to kick your ass. Think Jaws. Think tidal waves. Think the moon messing up the Earth’s axis. How will there be a podcast if you are fighting off a Sharknado?

Character vs. technology – Your submarine breaks and you have only hours to fix the tech and live. Your mechanical love doll decides to kill you. Your downloads keep buffering. HOW WILL YOU PODCAST?

Character vs. supernatural – The ghosts have invaded the podcast studio and keep whispering, “WHO YOU GONNA CALL” over the audio. HOW WILL YOU PODCAST?

Character vs. self – The Reedsy blog states

Internal strife will stem from a debate that occurs within a character. It might originate from any combination of the character’s expectations, desire, duties, and fears.

Reedsy

Carrie has massive social anxiety, but also a hammy tendency. Every time she has to do a podcast, she panics and paces the house. Will she get it together enough to podcast? Can she get over her reluctance to speak aloud because her s’s are sloshy in order to finally have a voice?

Character vs. fate – Think Greek tragedy or boy wizards and prophecies. You are fated to die at the hands of a monster, in battle, via evil male wizards. You are stuck throwing an evil ring into a volcano. You are stuck becoming a podcaster in a prescribed fate sent from God. How do you deal with this once you know? How do you fight your fate?

WRITING TIP OF THE POD

Put lots of conflict in your story. Put it in early. You can use more than one kind.

DOG TIP FOR LIFE

Don’t create drama in your life when you’re bored or for attention. We all know people who try to create grievance and controversy out of random events. We all know people who go trolling on Facebook or Twitter or try to create drama and get that negative attention in their own post or life.

Spoiler: Negative attention isn’t the best kind of attention. Go for the positive.

RESOURCES

Articles mentioned in random thoughts are all linked here. And here.

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.

What is Theme?

Write Better Now
Write Better Now
What is Theme?
/

Thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

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.

For exclusive paid content, check out my substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the other tips and submission opportunties and exercises are there.


What is theme?

This is the first in our three-week series about what theme is and how to find this abstract bugger and even develop it in your own stories. And to start things off, we have to define theme. Turns out there are a lot of different takes on this bad boy, but for today we’re going with LitCharts.

According to LitCharts,

A theme is a universal idea, lesson, or message explored throughout a work of literature. One key characteristic of literary themes is their universality, which is to say that themes are ideas that not only apply to the specific characters and events of a book or play, but also express broader truths about human experience that readers can apply to their own lives. For instance, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (about a family of tenant farmers who are displaced from their land in Oklahoma) is a book whose themes might be said to include the inhumanity of capitalism, as well as the vitality and necessity of family and friendship.

And you can have more than one theme in your story, but we’re just going to be focusing in on one right now.

The theme is something you have to develop in your story and it has a significant impact on your main character.

Your book will have a plot – the things that happen in the story.

Your book will have character development – how your character evolves or doesn’t in a story.

Your book will have a theme – the more abstract concepts that your story involves.

Themes can be broken into concepts and statements.

A concept would be:

Love

Grief

A statement would be:

Human love is imperfect.

Living with grief is permanent.

And your work as the author is to embody those themes in your character as they navigate the plot and world of the story.

Sara Letourneau is a poet who also writes for diyMFA and coaches. She has a great piece about developing themes in stories and a worksheet on her website. 

She advocates when developing a theme for your character’s story, you can do so in their big choice in act one of the story.

A pause for a refresher. Act One is the beginning of your book where you establish the character, setting, story problem, character goal’s, etc. And it is also the place where the character’s world begins to change. This usually happens in the inciting incident.

Because of the inciting incident, the character that you’ve developed has to make a big-time decision. Will they keep on with the same old, same old or will they make a change that gets them involved with the story, a choice that makes it so their life isn’t going to be the same old, same old at all?

When they make this choice, the story usually enters ACT TWO, the place where everything is different for the main character, a point of no return.

So, what is this choice?

According to Leternous, it has the following elements:

  • “It typically occurs around the 25% mark, and signals the end of Act I and the beginning of Act II.
  • It shows the protagonist becoming fully engaged in the external conflict.
  • It further establishes the protagonist’s story goal.
  • It raises the stakes and underscores why the story goal matters to the protagonist.”

She writes (and I love this),

“It’s easy to confuse the inciting incident and the Act I choice, since they occur so close together. However, while the inciting incident invites the protagonist into the main conflict, the Act I choice is her RSVP. It shows the protagonist committing to her involvement and taking the first step out of her comfort zone. In other words, it’s her internal response to an external change in her status quo. And like with the inciting incident, it has the ability to reflect a story’s themes.”

So, what does theme have to do with this?

The inciting incident is where your character’s desires are triggered or maybe it’s her fears. It pushes her towards the choice that becomes her story goal.

She uses the Hobbit as an example:

“J. R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit:
Bilbo Baggins, the titular Hobbit, meets the wizard Gandalf, who invites him on an upcoming quest. Bilbo initially refuses, claiming he’s not the adventurous type.”

But then things change a lot because there is that choice. And your main character has to pick the option that makes the story happen. They have to want it more than they want to stay in their safe, same-old, same-old life.

The theme comes into play because your character’s goals and desires, and fears are all involved in this choice. What thematic/abstract ideas relate to your character’s choice? That’s a big hunk of your theme.

For Bilbo that choice has to do with courage. He chooses adventure and exploring.

She has a GREAT worksheet if you want to check it out and the link is in our podcast notes at carriejonesbooks.blog.

https://www.litcharts.com/literary-devices-and-terms/theme

Thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

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.

For exclusive paid content, check out my substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the other tips and submission opportunties and exercises are there.

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


Thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

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.

For exclusive paid content, check out my substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the other tips and submission opportunties and exercises are there.

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.

Thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

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.

For exclusive paid content, check out my substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the other tips and submission opportunties and exercises are there.

Our New Names are Cocoa Puff and Snack Train, Plus Swearing Ducks and Raising Stakes

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Our New Names are Cocoa Puff and Snack Train, Plus Swearing Ducks and Raising Stakes
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Everyone tells you to raise the stakes in your writing.

And that’s a lovely, easy thing to say when you are the editor and not the writer. But what does it actually mean?

You hear this and think, “Yeah. Yeah. High stakes equal important. Cool. Cool.”

But then you start thinking about dinner or something.

But it’s important. Carrie’s first breakout novel was NEED and it was a series about pixies trying to cause an apocalypse. Those are high stakes, right?

Agent Donald Maas says it pretty well, “High stakes yield high success.”

He suggests knowing exactly where the stakes increase. What page does this happen? Can those stakes be higher? Do those stakes make it harder for your main character to get what he/she/they want to get?

 A really, beautiful way he puts this stakes question out there is by asking authors to ask themselves, “So what?”

What’s the so what question?

It’s this: IF YOUR MAIN CHARACTER DOESN’T GET THEIR GOAL THEN SO WHAT? Does it matter? How much does it matter?

And that brings me to what I think of I think is Maas’s most important point about stakes:

The stakes in your story don’t matter unless you’ve built in human worth about your main character. If your character’s life doesn’t matter to the reader, than the stakes don’t matter, and this is even true for life-and-death stakes.

Maas

HUMAN WORTH

So, that brings us to the question of what is human worth and how do you make it happen in your story. That’s obviously a big cultural question, right? And this isn’t meant to be about philosophy, but about writing, and yes it’s all intertwined.

You have to ask questions about your character.

Who is she?

Why do we need to care about her?

What are the stakes that make it necessary for us to care that she gets her goal. There needs to be an extra burst of value in why us readers care about your character. Are they super moral? Are their morals and ethics at risk?

High human worth tends to focus on certain qualities of behavior such as:

Honesty

Bravery

Kindness

Empathy

Love

Goodness

Truth

Honor

Friendship

So many books that are break-out books and movies are about friendships. Think about Harry Potter and Tolkein and Star Wars and even Marvel movies. There is a link that happens between the characters that show their worth through their caring for others. This isn’t just true for fantasy. But even in the specificity of contemporary realistic novels.

In realistic novels, we don’t necessarily deal with those blatant and beautiful archetypes that happen in science fiction and fantasy, but if there is anything that the Covid-19 pandemic teaches us is that there can be the heroic in the mundane. Hand washing and mask wearing can be an act of kindness and of power. But no matter how big our landscape needs to be then we have to make sure that our characters worth snags our reader into caring.

Some characters are unsympathetic and there is a tiny bit of redeemabilitiy in them. They have to somehow be likable. There’s got to be an element about them to latch onto. This varies in different cultures, but in ours currently, we can deal with a jerk of a character if they are funny or brave or super smart or charismatic. I mean, seriously, think about some popular celebrities that we latch onto. Charisma is a big deal thing and it lets you get a way with a lot.

Every reader has a slightly different threshold for the poopy behaviour they’ll put up with from a character.

WRITING TIP OF THE POD


Make your characters matter. Make them redeemable. Make them have human worth.

DOG TIP FOR LIFE

Choose the people who see your good, not just your bad.

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.

WE HAVE EXTRA CONTENT ALL ABOUT LIVING HAPPY OVER HERE! It’s pretty awesome.

AND we have a writing tips podcast called WRITE BETTER NOW!

We have a podcast, LOVING THE STRANGE, which we stream live on Carrie’s Facebook and Twitter and YouTube on Fridays. Her Facebook and Twitter handles are all carriejonesbooks or carriejonesbook. But she also has extra cool content focused on writing tips here.

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

LINKS WE REFERENCE IN THE PODCAST

Broken Brains and Where Shouldn’t You Start Your Story

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Broken Brains and Where Shouldn’t You Start Your Story
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A lot of writing coaches talk about story structure and plots and inciting incidents, which is all well and good but Carrie is burnt-out this week. 


Carrie: I have worked too hard and my brain is broken. 

So, instead we are going to tell you what NOT to do. We are going to be the story police and harsh out the rules. 

Carrie: I don’t like rules or broken brains, but let’s do this. 

What Not To Do According To Conventional Wisdom Right Now

Do not start with dialogue.

This used to be super popular, but MySpace also used to be super popular. Things go out of style and it is not super popular anymore. 

Here’s an example: 

             “I like elephants.”

                        “Awesome. Me too.”

                        “No way?”

                        “Actually, I am lying.” 

EXAMPLE OF AWESOME

You’ve no clue who is talking, where they are or why they do or don’t like elephants and you probably don’t care. We want readers to care from the very beginning of the story.

An alarm clock buzzing. 

Who even has an alarm clock anymore, actually? But no alarm clocks or cell phone alarms or whatever. Waking up is dull. 

            My alarm buzzed and I groaned. 

                        “Another day, another dollar,” I said to my cat, Muffin. 

                        Muffin hit me in the nose with her paw. She’s tired of my clichés. 

Another Example of Awesome

The whole IT WAS ALL A DREAM start.

Unless this is a paranormal or fantasy where the dream is a key part of the power or the threat? Then it’s okay even if people say ‘never ever.’

Cough. You don’t want to be super invested in a story and then find out that it was all crap and not real even to the character. 

Amazing thing happens. More amazing things happen. More amazing things happen for five pages. Oops. It’s all a dream. 

Example of dreamy

Being dorky without meaning to. 

This is when you accidentally make a super silly mistake or state something obvious in the very beginning of your story. Gasp! I know! You would never do that, right?

Spoiler alert: We all do this.

She knew she had to wear a mask in a pubic place.

Try to avoid the typos.

“I love to love you,” I think to myself.

This is an example. We all think to ourselves. Cut the ‘to myself.’

All narrative all the time. 

There is no dialogue anywhere in the first ten pages of this story and instead everything is just a solid block of text in which I, the author, tells you exciting things – well at least they are exciting to me – about the story, but honestly it’s just a lot of navel gazing. Did you know that people get lint in their navels? Did you know that a lot of that lint is actually random fibers from your clothes, if you wear clothes, and dead skin, and then it gets stuck there and mixes all up together. I wonder if you care. I wonder if you care that I care. And so on.

Agh. Did you even read this example? It ruined our SEO readability score.

Writing Tip of the Pod

Don’t start off on the wrong writer foot. 

Dog Tip for Life

It’s okay to start over.

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 “Night Owl” by Broke For Free.


WHERE TO FIND OUR PODCAST, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

The podcast link if you don’t see it above. Plus, it’s everywhere like Apple Music, iTunesStitcherSpotify, and more. Just google, “DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE” then like and subscribe.

Join the 222,000 people who have downloaded episodes and marveled at our raw weirdness. You can subscribe pretty much anywhere.

This week’s episode.

Continue reading “Broken Brains and Where Shouldn’t You Start Your Story”

Dog Poop and Shame

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Dog Poop and Shame
/

When people look at our dog Gabby, they almost always say, “Oh, she’s so beautiful.”

Gabby, however, isn’t beautiful by breed standards. She’s actually a mess. Her muzzle isn’t boxy enough. Her back sloops. Her hips splay. She’s about twenty pounds too skinny.

And that’s mostly all because she was abused and starved her first year of life, tied by a chain to a tree in the Alabama fields. 

But Gabby isn’t about shame. Gabby is about being – being joyous, loving, and keeping her flock of kittens and people and one other dog safe. Gabby doesn’t have shame about her imperfections. 

“She’s the prettiest puppy ever,” people coo to her when we take walks. 

“Who’s the beautiful baby?” 

Or sometimes it’s just a simple, “Oh, what a beautiful dog.” 

Gabby has no shame about her broken body that doesn’t meet AKC standards. She has joy even when she’s broken, hurt, limping along or having a bad fur day. We can learn a lot from Gabby.

On the entry “shame v. guilt” on her blog, Dr. Bréne Brown writes,

“I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. I  don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.”

Dr. Bréne Brown

For many women and men, shame has a lot to do with not looking pretty enough, perfect enough, sexy enough, good enough. We stare at our eyes and worry about their shape, our lack of lips, our lack of butt, our lack of symmetry. Lacks. It’s always about lacks. 

Gabby has no shame about how she looks because she’s a dog. People have no judgement about her lacks because they aren’t constantly fed how she’s supposed to look as a Great Pyr. They just see her dog soul shining through, her kind eyes and her fluffy, white fur. 

We can’t quickly erase all the beauty programming that the media, our relatives, and even our friends and lovers have fed us, but we can know what triggers our shame and call it out. 

Shaun says things like, “You are so beautiful.”

And I cringe. 

I cringe and ask, “What about the scar on my stomach?”

And he’ll say, “Still beautiful.”

And I’ll keep cringing and say, “I think I’m losing my lips.”

“Still beautiful.”

“I have no eyebrows.” 

“Still beautiful.” 

What Shaun has is a great ability to pull me out of my shame spiral, but also empathy. It’s why he was a fantastic cop when he was a cop.

Brown writes this in the Semantic Scholar

Wiseman identifies four defining attributes of empathy: (a) to be able to see the world as others see it; (b) to be nonjudgmental; (c) to understand another person’s feelings; and (d) to communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings (1996). Empathy is almost an opposite to shame.

Brown again

Empathy allows Shaun to be kind and patient when I’m being a dork about how I look when he’s giving me a compliment.

This is true about self publishing. I was teaching a workshop about publishing on Friday and some of the students were like, “There is such a stigma to self publishing still.”

And another guy was like, “That’s because some of those books suck.”

And that’s true, but some are brilliant. I said that.

I also said, “There are some traditionally published books that suck, too.”

We have to figure out to not worry about other people determining the worth of our work. Taste is subjective. Some people love Drake. Some people can’t stand him. That doesn’t devalue Drake. Same thing for Adele or Stephen King or Jayson Reynolds. 

Yes, some self published books haven’t been copy edited or might not be structurally sound, but those books don’t determine the worth of your book.

Your book is yours. Its value isn’t about all the other self published books in the world. Its value is determined by your ability to communicate your story. Its value is determined by the joy and sense of accomplishment that it gave you when you wrote it. 

Writing Tip of the Pod

Don’t go into the shame spiral. Be proud of who you are and what you’ve created.

Dog Tip for Life

Poop is nothing to be ashamed about. 

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 “Night Owl” by Broke For Free.

LAST WEEK’S PODCAST LINK!

Resources

Wiseman, T. (1996). A concept analysis of empathy. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 23, 1162–1167. 

Looking for help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for theSAMHSA National Helpline.

Looking for help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

WRITING NEWS

LEARN WITH ME AT THE WRITING BARN!

The Write. Submit. Support. format is designed to embrace all aspects of the literary life. This six-month course will offer structure and support not only to our writing lives but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions: whether that be submitting to agents or, if agented, weathering the submissions to editors. We will discuss passes that come in, submissions requests, feedback we aren’t sure about, where we are feeling directed to go in our writing lives, and more. Learn more here! 

“Carrie’s feedback is specific, insightful and extremely helpful. She is truly invested in helping each of us move forward to make our manuscripts the best they can be.”

“Carrie just happens to be one of those rare cases of extreme talent and excellent coaching.”

IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, ORDER NOW!

My new book, IN THE WOODS, is out!

Gasp!

It’s with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed!

Order this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

In the Woods
In the Woods


ART NEWS

Buy limited-edition prints and learn more about my art here on my site. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_9486.jpg

PATREON OF AWESOME

Get exclusive content, early podcasts, videos, art and listen (or read) never-to-be-officially published writings of Carrie on her Patreon. Levels go from $1 to $100 (That one includes writing coaching and editing for you wealthy peeps). 

Check it out here. 

WHAT IS PATREON? 

A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. 

LAST WEEK’S PODCAST LINK!

This week’s podcast link if you can’t see it below!

Aw, Ah, Aah, Awe, or Ah is that Underwear?

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Aw, Ah, Aah, Awe, or Ah is that Underwear?
/

None of us are perfect with the grammar, especially not us native-English speakers. We’ve got all these words that mean totally different things but sound EXACTLY THE SAME! 

And today, we here on Dogs are Smarter Than People are going to do things.

  1. Prove that dogs are smarter than people because they don’t have to spell.
  2. Help you all out about a five-some of evil. Yes, I’m talking about Aah, ah, ahh, aw, and awe. 

I know you’ve all seen it on Facebook. Someone you love writes, “Awe (a-w-e) that’s so cutie.”

And you’re like, “No! Agh. I don’t want to be evil and tell them but they are using the wrong spelling here.” 

Let’s get started. 

Aah! Is an interjection. It’s like a giant mosquito as big as a velociraptor is hovering in front of your nose. You are afraid. Aah is what we use for those moments. 

It has a super close relative – Ah! 

Ah is an interjection, too. But this time you aren’t expressing fear; this time you are expressing love, surprise, pleasure, a realization. 

“Ah! I now understand that was not a mosquito but was actually an Amazon delivery drone.” 

And then we have their lovely relative, Ahh.

Ahh is when you get something or you accept something. 

Ahh, I do love you and your way with drones. 

Ahh, this is how the world works, you act like a narcissist on social media and you suddenly have a million followers. 

Let’s move on.

Aw is what most people are meaning when they write ‘awe.’

Aw is when something is super cutie or adorbs. 

Sometimes we use it to show we’re disappointed. Aw! English! You make no sense. 

So, it’s like this: 

Aw, you are the bestest, cutiest Rotary club president ever. 

Aw, your puppy is adorable! 

Aw, that manatee lingere is the best underwear ever! 

Aw, I probably should have realized that I have no chill prior to taking a leadership role and now I’m just sub-tweeting everyone and whining about their underwear. 

And then we have the all-mighty awe. 

Cue God music.

Feeling like you are full of admiration, fear, reverence because of something super big-time like God or manatees swimming nearby or some really amazing underwear? 

This is awe. 

She raised her hands to the sky, overwhelmed with awe as the flying manatee in purple plaid underwear approached. 

At the edge of the Grand Canyon, he grasped her sleeve in awe of the magnificence below them. 

Writer Tip of the Pod

Dictionaries are our friends. Words have meanings. Don’t stress out if you mess up. We all mess up, but try to do the best you can. We’ll be in awe of your mad wordsmithing skills. 

Dog Tip for Life

It’s easy to spell ‘bark.’ Don’t sweat the small stuff. We make mistakes. If you don’t hurt anyone, yourself or end up in jail, it’s probably all good 

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 “Night Owl” by Broke For Free.


WRITING NEWS

IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, PREORDER NOW!

My next book, IN THE WOODS, appears in July with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed! 

You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

In the Woods
In the Woods


ART NEWS

You can buy limited-edition prints and learn more about my art here on my site.

Carrie Jones Art for Sale

PATREON OF AWESOME

You can get exclusive content, early podcasts, videos, art and listen (or read) never-to-be-officially published writings of Carrie on her Patreon. Levels go from $1 to $100 (That one includes writing coaching and editing for you wealthy peeps).

Check it out here.

WHAT IS PATREON? 

A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. 


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