Making Your Story Believably Bad Ass (and your characters too)

In both real life and stories, you don’t want to make things so unbelievable that you don’t make sense. Things need to be logical.

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Making Your Story Believably Bad Ass (and your characters too)
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A lot of time you’ll write a story and a beta reader, agent, editor or reviewer will say, “This is not believable.”

And a lot of time, you’ll tweet something and some rando on Twitter will say, “WTF. You lie.”

And a lot of time, you’ll just be telling a story at a party (or during Zoom in COVID times) and people will say, “No way! No freaking way.”

This can be annoying especially when you’re trying to sell a book and you get that note.

Why Does This Happen?

Sometimes people react that way because their world and experience doesn’t mesh with your own and they don’t understand that everyone in Downeast Maine calls everyone else “Darling,” even straight men say it to other straight men.

Sometimes it’s because you just haven’t suspended disbelief for them.

This happens in real life, too.

Sometimes Lies Aren’t Believable

This man who used to be a Houston police officer (He resigned January 14.) went into the Capitol Building on January 6.  And when he was interviewed, he told the federal agents that he wasn’t really part of the riots. He just wanted to see the amazing art. He was only in D.C. to help out his wife who had a business (cooking). But his phone (which the agents looked at) showed a bunch of videos and photos of him.

The photos and videos were allegedly in a deleted folder. But the folder was not all the way deleted.

And he was arrested because his story? It wasn’t that believable to those federal agents, right? I’m sure that when Shaun used to be a cop, he heard a lot of stories like this, too.

One time our youngest daughter who has autism and likes to make really big stories told other campers at the campground that we went to Disney but she had to sleep in a chair. The other campers gawped at us and said, “What?”

They didn’t believe her because it wasn’t believable. It didn’t match the people we were. Every time she does this, we say, “Buddy, if you’re going to lie, which we hope you won’t, you kind of want to make it more believable.”

And then I tell her about the girl I met in college who told everyone during freshman orientation that her parents died in a plane crash in Alaska. About two parties later that morphed to a plane crash in Hawaii. Then during homecoming weekend, her parents showed up in their BMW very much alive. Don’t be that girl. In life or in story.

How To Make Your Story Believable and Bad Ass

Michael Hauge over on “Story Mastery” has some great, easy ideas on how to make your story believable. They are pretty basic, but important to remember.

“1. In every sequence of your story, ask yourself, “Do my characters behave the way people with their backgrounds would normally behave in this situation? Is this their most logical response to the danger they’re in, to the desire they’re pursuing, or to the actions of the other characters?”

If you’re in doubt, ask yourself, “Is this what I would do if I were in this situation?”

2. Don’t confuse credibility with documented reality. One of the weakest arguments you can make in support of your characters’ actions is, “But that really happened.”

3. Foreshadow the characters’ actions and abilities. If you want your hero to use karate in a fight with the villain, reveal her martial arts talents before it’s important to the plot. Show her practicing in the dojo early in the movie, when it doesn’t seem important, or open the novel with her beating down a mugger with her martial arts skills. That way, when it counts, your audience will subconsciously say, “Oh, that’s right. This everyday school teacher has been learning karate.””

4. Openly admit the incredibility of a scene. If, against all logic, your hero pursues a lover who might be a hit man, have her best friend say to her, “Are you nuts? This guy could be a cold-blooded killer!” Then your hero can explain her actions in a way that is consistent with the personality and background you’ve given her. Subconsciously you’re telling the audience, “Look, I know this seems unbelievable, but let me tell you why it isn’t.”

5. Dazzle the audience with pyrotechnics. This is definitely the last resort solution to the problem of credibility. But if you keep the action moving fast enough, or if the setting is big and spectacular enough, the audience might not notice some lapses in logic.”

Michael Hauge

I’m not so sure about that last tip, honestly, but it probably can help. But sometimes those big spectacles can’t divert us enough. I bet you can think of a couple of superhero or science fiction movies that do this.

In both real life and stories, you don’t want to make things so unbelievable that you don’t make sense. Things need to be logical and stuff.

WRITING TIP OF THE POD

Make your character do things that make sense for your character.

DOG TIP FOR LIFE

If you have to play it out and hype it up too much, it often isn’t believable. Don’t forget, the humans aren’t going to believe you’re starving if they are the ones who know how many treats you get. Backstory and evidence matter.

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.

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 as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. 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 255,000 downloads if you’ve given us a listen!

RESOURCES

https://www.justice.gov/opa/page/file/1357336/download


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And to hear our podcast latest episode for DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, all about Making Sexy Mission Statements and Writing Platforms, click here. And all about Why Brilliant People Sometimes Aren’t The Successes We Expect is here.

Making Sexy Mission Statements and Writing Platforms

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Making Sexy Mission Statements and Writing Platforms
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In our random thought of the podcast, which is not transcribed here, Shaun gets a bit mad at political things. If you’re not into that, you might want to skip to the eight-minute mark.

Okay, first things first. What is a writing platform?

An author’s platform is basically just the author’s presence on the web. Your website. Your TikTok, your Facebook, your Twitter, your Instagram, your podcast, your blog.

Unlike Coke or Spanx, your platform isn’t faceless. It’s all about you, the writer. As the foundation of your brand, you have to figure out what it is that you want to do and achieve.

Most writers want to tell stories.

That’s their goal.

So as an author your platform is going to be about how to tell your stories and how you tell your story, especially the story of you, the writer.

I’ve failed at this a lot because I’ve historically not been into talking about writing. I prefer to just write, but that put me in a weird little vacuum, a void.

A lot of writers worrying about their platform get started with a mission statement.


WHAT IS A MISSION STATEMENT.

According to Tim Berry (link on the podcast notes),

“A mission statement is a simple statement that explains your company’s goals. It’s a summary of what your company does for its customers, employees, and owners. It explains how you do what you do. And, it focuses on why your company does what it does. Some of the best mission statements also extend themselves to include fourth and fifth dimensions: what the company does for its community, and for the world.”

And Blake Stockton wrote:

“A mission statement is a short, meaningful sentence (or several sentences) that summarizes the purpose that drives your business. A good mission statement says why you do what you do.” 

It’s kind of a weird existential thing on some level because you’re basically asking WHO AM I and WHY DO I EXIST?

There are also people who absolutely believe that a mission statement should be one short sentence without a lot of fluff.

Here are some examples taken from Blake’s blog, which is linked in the notes:

Once you have a mission statement, you think about how you can push your presence out there and what you actually want to do, Berry’s fourth and fifth steps.

To push your presence out there you need to do the following things:

To do that you need to register a site.

Then you need to build a website.

Then you have to connect whatever social media you’re into. Pick two or three and try to find ones that don’t make you cringe.

Post on your blog or social media an appropriate amount of times so that you have actual content there.

Each time you post a blog or an update, think:

How is this connected to my mission?

Will anyone actually see this?

Does anyone actually want to read this?

And there you go, a tiny MBA class in twenty minutes.

RESOURCES:

https://fitsmallbusiness.com/mission-statement-examples/

https://articles.bplans.com/writing-a-mission-statement/

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.

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And to hear our podcast latest episode for DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, all about Making Sexy Mission Statements and Writing Platforms, click here. And all about Why Brilliant People Sometimes Aren’t The Successes We Expect is here.

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 as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. 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 255,000 downloads if you’ve given us a listen!

Love Me! Love My Character! Writing Tips.

It’s the last of our posts about making characters (or at least the last one of r a bit). Check out the tags to see the others.

Orson Scott Card (citation down below) has a list of ‘devices’ that he says makes readers love characters. I’m going to run them down here, because I’m running out of time in my week! 

First off: Physical Attractiveness. 

  •  The hot factor.: If other characters are attracted to them, we will be too, he says. 
  •   Sometimes this can make your readers hate the character so be careful.  She/he shouldn’t be annoyingly attractive. That’s dull. 

You think I’m dull? 
No, Harry, never you. You eat have oat milk in your fridge, bananas in your freezer, speak English, Cantonese, and Spanish and are an amazing dancer? How could that be dull? 

Altruistic Awesomeness.

  •    – We root for the victim.  We also can eventually show how the victim is no longer a victim in our awesome story arch. 
  •   – We root for the savior. We want Petunia to rescue the dog/cat/alien/hamster/boy.  
  •   – We root for the sacrificer. It’s hard not to love someone who suffers to make the world better. 

I totally have the altruistic awesomeness down pat. 

The Doers

We root for the character who wants something, who goes after a dream. The bigger the want/dream the more we tend to root

The Bravehearts

We like the character who is brave, who takes risks to do what needs to be done (if those risks are morally cool). 

Those Who Have ‘Tude

How a character feels about herself or others impacts how we feel about the character. 

The Rest

We also tend to like characters who are clever, who volunteer, who are dependable.

And we also like characters with a little quirk – that imperfection or tic that makes them an individual.

Think about Ron in Harry Potter. He’s loyal as all heck. He takes risks to do what’s right (steals parents’ car, goes in off-limit places).

He is brave but he freaks about spiders.

He is smart in certain ways (outwits the magic chess board), but he is flawed too. He’s a bit jealous. He’s a bit insecure. He’s a bit lazy when it comes to studying.

Yet we love him. His flaws and quirks and reactions and choices make him adorable and one of the most loved characters in one of the most popular children’s books ever. 

Yes, it is I, Ron Weasley

Card also gives a quick run-down on what we don’t like in characters: 

  • Hurting another character on purpose, especially if the character likes causing pain
  • Killing someone for selfish reasons
  • Being self serving
  • Breaking promises
  • Super big words/formal speech in dialogue (We usually give this to the bad guys. I actually give it to a good guy, cause I’m a rule breaker like that)
  • Being totally psycho in a bad way
  • Attitude – whining too much, complaining too much, lack of humor, etc….

Resource

Card, Orson Scott. CHARACTERS AND VIEWPOINTS. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books

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Picking the Writer Wedgie and Transitions

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Picking the Writer Wedgie and Transitions
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In life and in story, you have these things called transitions. Places were things change.

You go from one place to another, one scene to another, one chapter to another, one husband to another, one president to another.

A really good transition is really just a bridge that helps the reader go logically from one section, scene, chapter to another without it being awkward like a bad date or making their brain hitch where they say things like “We were just in space and now we’re at Wal-Mart? What the heck?”

Some people are amazing at transitions.

Some people have awkward transitions.

Some refuse to acknowledge there even is a transition.

But in the writing world, you want them to be smooth and there are a bunch of transitional phrases and words that authors fall back on to help them do that like:

  • A week later (or whenever)
  • At the same time
  • Afterwards
  • For two weeks/days/minutes
  • Meanwhile
  • At night
  • The next day
  • The next night
  • For a month, I cried into the phone
  • In the morning
  • When the sun rose
  • When the sun set
  • The following Monday/night/morning
  • Months passed
  • Weeks passed
  • When we got back to the office
  • When they got back home
  • As the neared the date site

Then there are the phrases that show us a change in location:

  • They boarded the train
  • Down the street
  • Up on the third floor of the office
  • Over by the water cooler
  • Back in my living room
  • The motorcycle was situated
  • She ran fast through the dark alley
  • In the hall of the hospital
  • Outside on my front lawn

And so on. There are a lot more examples of both of these, but we just wanted to give you a quick look at them.

Sometimes though, us writers tell our readers TOO much and it ends up sounding like script or stage directions. Those are things that slow the narrative down and just read a bit awkward or stilted.

It would be a sentence like:

When I arrived at the elevator to go up to the office on the fourth floor, I pushed the button to close the door and rode it to the floor.

Or

            They drove to the restaurant and waited in line for their table and she hummed a little bit.

Instead you just want the transition to get us there into the juicy part of the scene:

Twenty minutes later, they were sitting at their table, playing footsie under the fancy white linen tablecloth when the giant hedgehog with a man bun stormed through the wooden doors.

Places like the bad examples are not really needed because:

  1. It doesn’t really add to the story.
  2. It doesn’t really add to the character.
  3. It’s unnecessary information.

You really only want things in your story that:

  1. Show your character’s inner state/characterization/choices
  2. Move the plot forward.
  3. Set the reader in the moment.

Story is all about characters making choices, being proactive and moving things forward and showing us who they are by those choices and their dialogue. So, you want to focus on getting the reader to those scenes where people interact and the character has to make a choice that either goes towards or against their main wants. Effective transitions help get us there but also ground the reader in the moment and time of the story in a logical, cool way.


DOG TIP FOR LIFE

If you never, get off the couch, you never have a chance for treats from the pantry. If you snap every single time someone strartles you awake, you get less love. Embrace the transitions. They are opportunities for growth, to evolve, to learn new stuff, and potentially get some veggie bacon.


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.


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 as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. 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 255,000 downloads if you’ve given us a listen!

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?

JUST CLICK ON THIS LINK AND FIND OUT HOW WE CAN.

And to hear our podcast latest episode for DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, all about Making Sexy Mission Statements and Writing Platforms, click here. And all about Why Brilliant People Sometimes Aren’t The Successes We Expect is here.

LIKE YOUR DAMN CHARACTER

So, we’re still talking about characters here and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say:

It’s important for people to like your main character.

Obviously, this isn’t always true. There are exceptions, but just in general, okay? You all can debate about it in the comments if you like. It might be fun. 

A big key to the reader liking your character is:

YOU LIKING YOUR CHARACTER.

It’s hard to write 75,000 words or even a picture book if you despise your main character. It’ll come through to the reader. 


Another big key to character likability is: THE FIRST IMPRESSION. 



That’s the big moment when the reader first meets the character.

So think about your reader and whether or not they are going to like a character that they first see picking their nose (some will/some won’t) or rescuing a bird (some will/some won’t) or jumping off a swing or telling off a teacher or moping in their room or playing in a sandbox.

This first impression is shallow.

It isn’t deep and it’s not enough to sustain the reader throughout the book, but it’s the first link the reader has to understanding the character. It’s important. It’s just as important as a lead sentence. I swear it. 

And it’s also important to remember that if that first impression is unpleasant (say you are writing a romance novel geared towards straight women and the male romantic figure is expelling gas out his rectum while studying ear wax when we first meet him (Note: This is gross not quirky.), it is really hard sometimes to overcome that first impression. You, as the writer, have to work super hard.

 Even if he looks like me? 
Yes, Fabio, even if he looks like you. Maybe even more so.

Finally, readers usually want to feel sympathetic to the main character. They want to relate to him or her or it. But they also want to be curious about that main character. The main character shouldn’t be EXACTLY like the reader, is what I’m saying. 

For the rest of these posts on character, check out the tags CHARACTERS, MAKING CHARACTERS or WRITING CHARACTERS. For other writing tips, just check out WRITING TIPS.


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And to hear our podcast latest episode for DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, all about Making Sexy Mission Statements and Writing Platforms, click here. And all about Why Brilliant People Sometimes Aren’t The Successes We Expect is here.


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 as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. 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 255,000 downloads if you’ve given us a listen!



How to Write Awesome Characters

Hi! If you’re just joining us we’re talking about character this week. To find the posts about character, just look at the tags WRITING CHARACTERS or MAKING CHARACTERS.

So, in the comments of a blog I used to guest star in, a writer, Helen, mentioned that she once took a writing class and “the teacher said every character had to have a good trait, a bad trait, and a quirk of some kind. I’ve often wondered if that was good advice.”

I think that’s pretty simplistic, actually, no offense to that teacher. But it’s not bad advice. And it works as a fantastic base.

What Does Every Character Need?

  1. A good trait
  2. A bad trait
  3. A quirk
  4. A motivation (Yep. I added that in. Everybody wants. Everybody needs. Especially characters.)

Lots of times when teaching people to write, we try to reduce things down to a magic formula that is as simple as possible, because that’s kind of what people want: We want it easy.

And it can work. I mean microwave popcorn works. But is it as good as real popcorn, popped over a campfire? Um. No.

Writing is like that too. We can try to create characters (quirky or not) by going like this.

Good trait: Brave
Bad trait: Leaps without looking
Quirk: Collects phobias

Want/Motivation: To be loved

But that doesn’t really make a character real or whole or detailed or anything like that.

Also, people tend not to have just one good trait, bad trait, or quirk. These things shift and change.

People and characters are not static things that can be defined so easily.

Just try to define my character that easily. I dare you! 

I mean, I ADORED Harry Potter when I first read him, but sometimes he’s a bit of a pain-in-the bum when he gets all mopey and secretive and annoyed at Ron. Right?

Similarly, I love my daughter of awesome who is normally a sweetheart, but sometimes she’s a bit of a pain-in-the-bum when she gets all humans-must-not-chew-food-anywhere-near-me.

Choices Define Our Characters

When I talk at schools all around the country (pre COVID), I tell the students that character is determined by the choices someone makes in real life and in books.

Major characters have choices. Quirky characters have choices.

When the kids decide to follow the Cat in the Hat that forms part of their characters. When Harry feels empathy for the snake that’s jailed in the zoo that forms part of his character.

What else forms a character?

How they talk
How they feel
How they want
What they want
What they feel
What they say
What they do
How they act
Why they act
How they fidget
Why they fidget
THE CHOICES THEY MAKE!!!!! (This is the big one, honestly. That’s why I keep stressing it.)

The stronger those things are oftentimes the more real or the more quirky the character is.

Think about in Winn Dixie. That little girls wants so hard and how she talked and felt were so vivid that they not only make her character soar, they also make the book soar.

As authors for kids or even adults, we need to know the why and how of our characters (or we have to just trust the why and how depending on what kind of writer we are) and we have to work. It isn’t always simple and that’s good. Really good. 

Okay. More tomorrow! I have revisions to do.

Xo
Carrie



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And to hear our podcast latest episode for DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, all about Making Sexy Mission Statements and Writing Platforms, click here. And all about Why Brilliant People Sometimes Aren’t The Successes We Expect is here.

HEAR MY BOOK BABY (AND MORE) ON PATREON

On one of my Patreon sites I read and print chapters of unpublished YA novels. THE LAST GODS and SAINT and now ALMOST DEAD. This is a monthly membership site (Hear the book chapters – $1/month, read them $3-month, plus goodies!). Sometimes I send people art! Art is fun.

On this, my second site, WRITE BETTER NOW, you can do a one-time purchase of a writing class or get two of my books in eBook form or just support our podcast or the dogs. It’s all part of the WRITING CLASS OF AWESOME.

It’s a super fun place to hang out, learn, read, and see my weirdness in its true form.

And I’m starting up a brand new, adult paranormal set at a Maine campground. You can read the first chapter here.

Carrie Jones Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com


THE SEX TALK FOR WRITERS

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
THE SEX TALK FOR WRITERS
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Eight Sexy Ways to Write Sexy

Carrie’s been editing a lot of erotica lately and despite her uptight New England ways, we thought it was time to give you all a few hints about writing sex scenes.

Gasp!

I know! I know! Here we go…

Hint #1

It needs to make sense.

We’ve all seen really un-sexy writing, right? You’re reading the passage and they are in a kitchen in a house in Wyoming and doing it on the counter and then—poof—they are in four-some on some beach in Belize.

And you’re reading this and you go, “What the what?”

The sexy parts doesn’t matter because the rest doesn’t make any sense.

Hint #2

Don’t make it vanilla.

Most readers aren’t reading because they want to hear about the same old missionary sex that they’ve been doing with their own partners for the last thirty-two years.

We read books to experience new things.

We read books to live out fantasies we might never have in our own life.

We read books to feel like characters who aren’t us, to empathize, learn, and discover.

We read books to get what we can’t always get in real life.

So make it hot.

Hint #3

Make your character interesting and not just um… someone who is having sex, rutting in various places.

Hint #4

Be into it.

No matter what your personal feelings are about sex, you want to write about it like you’re really into it. You want those endorphins to be out there on the page. You can be male, female, agender, gender nonconforming, gay, straight or pan to write sex. You can be any race or religion or ethnicity or social class to write sex.

Sex is pretty much a thing that a lot of adults do. That’s why we have babies and the species hasn’t died off.

Anyone who tells you that one demographic is better than the other at it? They’re being a bigoted punk. Don’t be a bigoted punk.

Hint #5

Show It. Don’t Tell It.

It’s all about the details. Fornicating is the point in erotic fiction, right? But it’s all in the details.

You read, “Two people have sex” and you think, “Yeah. Okay? Whatever.”

That’s telling, right? And it has no details and it’s super boring—so boring!

We want our characters to have dimension, to be human or vampire or zombie, but detailed. We want to root for them or cry for them or cheer for them when they scream, “Boo-yah!” into the bedroom when they’re done.

Hint #6

Dialogue is your friend.

Teasing, the promise, the verbal foreplay? It makes the actual act way more worth it.

You can be silly. You can be creative. You can be naughty. You can use a double entendre (say one thing, mean sex) and have fun.

Hint #7

Have fun. Just like in real life. Fornication can be funny. Use that.

Shaun’s Hint #8

If there’s any doubt, try it out.

WRITING TIP OF THE POD

All the hints.

DOG TIP FOR LIFE

Do your research. Pound the streets. Watch other species. Know what you’re writing 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 “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.


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?

JUST CLICK ON THIS LINK AND FIND OUT HOW WE CAN.

And to hear our podcast latest episode for DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, all about Making Sexy Mission Statements and Writing Platforms, click here. And all about Why Brilliant People Sometimes Aren’t The Successes We Expect is here.


Writing Notebooks and When Daddy Died

Of all the tools I have as a writer, one of the most important is my notebook. And a pen, of course. I try not to write in blood. It’s messy and the police tend to look down on it. Handcuffs chafe. Even the bling kind.

But, honestly, all good writing is messy and bloody. That’s because good writing gets at essential truths. To get at those truths you have to dig. You have to work on your craft, and then do it some more.

When we talk about craft, we often talk about how to show and not tell, how to be sparing with the adverbs, how not to write “he felt,” “she saw,” and so on, and how to have gorgeous details and a plot with forward motion.

That’s all important.

But what is it that a writer can do to make her/his work really sing? What is it that makes her/his book different from all the other books about forbidden vampire love or struggling with an overbearing evil nemesis who is the head cheerleader?

It’s about the willingness to get messy.

It’s about finding the tools that allow you to delve into the messy area where you allow yourself to wonder: What is it to be human? What is it to have a story? What is it to be alive?

Those essential questions are the ones that make a really good story resonate. in your heart or mind.

They are the questions that bore into the work of Rita Williams-Garcia or a Sharon Darrow. They are the questions that make a writer a truth teller.

 And how do you get to those questions?

 One way is to have a notebook.

In her essay “On Keeping a Notebook”  (from The Writer’s Presence), Joan Didion writes about her own notebook writing, 

“It is a good idea, then to keep in touch, and I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about. And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you.”

Didion

In my Judy Blume Diary, my first real notebook, there was an entry page at the end of each month. It listed things.

Favorite Book:

Best Thing that Happened:

Worst Thing that Happened:

At the end of June, I wrote under Worst Thing that Happened: 

Daddy died.

 
Those two words bring me back to trying to revive my stepdad who was collapsed on the white carpet of my Aunt Shirley’s Massachusetts living room. Those two words make my own chest tighten. Sirens get closer. People yell, “Carrie, back off. Get away.”

My mother screams and screams and runs to the other room, a panicked bird who has slammed into a glass picture window and she can’t understand why or what it is that is hurting her.

Daddy died

But those two words don’t bring those images to you. My notebook is not your notebook. Your notebook is not mine, but our notebooks are places where we as writers, as crafters of stories, can go back and remember. We can use these tools over and over again to recreate truth in form of story.

It’s a powerful tool… messy, yeah… but powerful. Kind of like life, right?

Elizabeth Berg wrote

When you are first starting to write, you don’t need to buy a whole lot of things. What you need most is a fierce desire to put things down on paper; and you need a certain sensibility, a way of seeing and feeling. These things cost nothing, and like many things that are free, are worth a lot – worth everything, in fact.”

Berg

Even if you haven’t just started to write, the desire, the sensibility, the notebook needs to be there. You have to be willing to turn the page, write down the words, delve deep, and get messy. Know your emotions. Know your characters’ emotions and put them on the page.

The notebook is a perfect tool for that. It might be a Judy Blume Diary, a spiral pad, a yellow binder, or post-it notes. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s yours. It’s your place keeper so that you can remember the things that you can use later, messy or not.

Resources

The Writer’s Presence: A Pool of Readings. Ed. McQueade Donald and Atwan, Robert. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.
Escaping Into the Open: the Art of Writing True.
Berg, Elizabeth. New York: Perennial, 1999.


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?

JUST CLICK ON THIS LINK AND FIND OUT HOW WE CAN.

And to hear our podcast latest episode for DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, all about Making Sexy Mission Statements and Writing Platforms, click here. And all about Why Brilliant People Sometimes Aren’t The Successes We Expect is here.

HEAR MY BOOK BABY (AND MORE) ON PATREON

On one of my Patreon sites I read and print chapters of unpublished YA novels. THE LAST GODS and SAINT and now ALMOST DEAD. This is a monthly membership site (Hear the book chapters – $1/month, read them $3-month, plus goodies!). Sometimes I send people art! Art is fun.

On this, my second site, WRITE BETTER NOW, you can do a one-time purchase of a writing class or get two of my books in eBook form or just support our podcast or the dogs. It’s all part of the WRITING CLASS OF AWESOME.

It’s a super fun place to hang out, learn, read, and see my weirdness in its true form.

And I’m starting up a brand new, adult paranormal set at a Maine campground. You can read the first chapter here.

Having a Manly Christmas, Martial Law and Characterization

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Having a Manly Christmas, Martial Law and Characterization
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CHARACTER VS CHARACTERIZATION

Robert McPhee has a bit in his book, STORY, where he talks about character and characterization and one of my favorite aspects of that discussion is just this simple quote, which will hopefully be of some use to you:

TRUE CHARACTER is revealed in the choices a human being makes under the pressure—the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.

We show who our character is by putting her/him/them under that pressure. Are they brave or wimpy? Empathetic or narcissistic? Cruel or kind?

We see them through their choices. And we see who they are the most when the risk is large.

Inserting choices into the emotional arc and plot really pushes it to another level and that’s something that you can really do with stories. You can show someone’s character—who they really are.

Characterization is just a bunch of traits all tied together. It’s like a demographic. You know I’m a white woman with a MFA in Maine who writes. But my psychographic is a bit different, right? I’m someone who gives money to certain causes, who stops when I see an accident, who cries every time she sees a dog video but chooses to watch it rather than look away. That’s my character.

Our written characters are like that, too. Put them under pressure, give them choices, let us see who they are from that very first chapter so that we can see them change.

WRITING TIP OF THE POD

Show who your characters are by their choices and actions.

DOG TIP FOR LIFE

Don’t trust words. Trust smells and movements. Also, trust the person who gives you bacon.

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.


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 as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. 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 255,000 downloads if you’ve given us a listen!

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?

JUST CLICK ON THIS LINK AND FIND OUT HOW WE CAN.

And to hear our podcast latest episode for DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, all about Making Sexy Mission Statements and Writing Platforms, click here. And all about Why Brilliant People Sometimes Aren’t The Successes We Expect is here.

Carrie Jones Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com

Don’t Be So Wordy, Punk, plus Stabbings and Vampires

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Don't Be So Wordy, Punk, plus Stabbings and Vampires
/

A lot of us humans and writers spend a lot of time trying to impress people by being extra wordy.

And it seems like we’re all trying to avoid the word “because.”

This is extremely cruel to the word “because,” which probably gets hurt feelings, but it’s also super cruel to your readers and/or listeners who deserve clarity.

They need to understand what you’re putting down.

So, when it comes to “because,” we do not need to say:

  • The reason is because (that’s redundant).
  • Due to the fact that
  • On the grounds that
  • On account of


If you sound like a lawyer in a bad tv procedural?

You’re trying too hard.

HERE IS CONTRARY ADVICE….

“BECAUSE” OR “SINCE” CAN SOMETIMES FORCE YOU TO BE WORDY.

With the words ‘because’ and ‘since,’ you can almost always use either one. They are interchangeable BFFs.

Here are some examples.

  • Because I hate you, I decided to date.
  • Since I hate you, I decided to date.

They both mean “because” here because they are synonyms.

But sometimes “since” means “from the time’ instead of ‘because.’

Since we went to Disney, I’ve been crushing on Pluto.

That means “ever since the time they went to Disney” not “because.”

But you might not know that, right?

So, instead you might want to be wordy.

You don’t want to be ambiguous and have people wondering if you mean “because” or “ever since the time they went to Disney.”

The whole point in writing and talking is for people to understand you, so don’t be a schmuck. Be clear.


WRITING TIP OF THE POD

Don’t be wordy and know what your words mean and what they’re conveying to the reader.

DOG TIP FOR LIFE

Listen more than you speak. Look for clues in your environment and people’s actions so you can really understand them.

RANDOM THOUGHT

To hear about punks, stabbings and vampires, you have to listen to the podcast file. Sorry! We only put the advice part in the notes.


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.

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 as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. 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 255,000 downloads if you’ve given us a listen!

almost dead book by carrie jones
almost dead book by carrie jones

HEAR MY BOOK BABY (AND MORE) ON PATREON

On one of my Patreon sites I read and print chapters of unpublished YA novels. THE LAST GODS and SAINT and now ALMOST DEAD. This is a monthly membership site (Hear the book chapters – $1/month, read them $3-month, plus goodies!). Sometimes I send people art! Art is fun.

On this, my second site, WRITE BETTER NOW, you can do a one-time purchase of a writing class or get two of my books in eBook form or just support our podcast or the dogs. It’s all part of the WRITING CLASS OF AWESOME.

It’s a super fun place to hang out, learn, read, and see my weirdness in its true form.

And I’m starting up a brand new, adult paranormal set at a Maine campground. You can read the first chapter here.