Monday, January 30, 2023

5 Ways to Raise the Stakes in Your Scene

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

The worse things get for your character, the better it is for your reader.

I love doing terrible things to my characters. I’m a firm believer that whatever doesn’t kill them makes them more interesting. But even I sometimes forget to raise the stakes—or even have stakes—in a scene.

I get distracted by the plot, or a world building detail that needs to fit in somehow, or I get caught up in a fun conversation between characters and lose myself in their banter. Anything could cause me to forget to add the stakes, because there’s so much that goes into every scene, it’s easy to miss an important element.

But when that element is a core part of keeping readers hooked in the story, it risks ruining a perfectly good scene.

Monday, January 23, 2023

How a Sequel Works with a Scene

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Sequels are the emotional glue holding scenes together.

Before I dive it, I’m over at The Insecure Writer’s Support Group today, chatting about the dangers of empty dialogue. Come on over and check it out!

Now, on to today’s regularly scheduled post…

The sequel trips up a lot of writers, even when they know what it is. The most common problem is thinking it has the same nature (and structure) as a scene, so they try to write it as one.

And it fails.

The pacing flatlines, there’s no goal, and often, writers twist themselves into knots trying to add a goal, motivation, and conflict to a sequel, trying to “make it work.”

Monday, January 16, 2023

7 Reasons Why Your First Draft Sucks

first drafts, fixing a novel
By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

First drafts are written first for a reason.

Getting to the end of a first draft is an accomplishment that ought to be celebrated, no matter what state that draft is in. It takes a lot of effort and determination to write an entire novel. It takes planning and brainstorming, and uses up a ton of creative juice to get all those ideas from our heads to the page.

It’s also not uncommon to stumble a bit and write a first draft that’s, shall we say, less than stellar. Maybe it even sucks.

If this is you, take heart—you’re not alone. 

Bad first drafts happen all the time, even to professional authors with dozens of books under their writing belts. Writing is a creative endeavor and you can’t force creativity, even if you can plow through it and keep writing when the muse is on vacation.

Monday, January 09, 2023

The Difference Between Setting and World Building

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Your novel’s world will change the look and feel of every setting in that world.

Where is your novel set? It’s a basic question every writer can answer, either with a simple location or a description. For example, it’s set in New York vs. it’s set in an alternative Atlanta where magic and technology battle in waves over which one has control.

But look closer at those answers. One is a location, the other is a world.

“New York” can exist in any novel set in a big city. It gives readers a general sense of where the story takes place and what it looks like, but there’s a huge difference between New York in 1763 and New York in 2023.

“Alternative Atlanta” gives you a world that suggests far more than a basic setting for a story. Magic and technology, battling for control, which naturally leads to imagining the kind of people who live here and the problems they might face. It even says what genre this is. (For the curious, this is the world of Kate Daniels in Ilona Andrews’ urban fantasy series

Monday, January 02, 2023

The 2022 Wrap Up: What Are Your Goals for 2023?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

It’s a new year, and time to take a look back on what we accomplished, and set new goals for 2023.

Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and are starting off 2023 with new vigor and purpose.

As for me, well, I feel kinda bad for 2023. I have such expectations for it. It’s unfair of me to put so much pressure on it to be a better year than 2022 (or let’s be honest here—better than the past five years), but I’m doing it anyway. I’m ready for more positivity and optimism in my life, and I’m hoping this new year will arrive with some.

I didn’t do a wrap up or goal list last year, so I went back to 2021 to see what my goals and accomplishments were. It was interesting to see where I was as 2020 rolled into 2021. It started off well until July, when life imploded health-wise for me and my husband.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Dealing with Multiple Drafts During Revisions

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

During a revision, trying to piece together all the best parts of your novel and still make the story feel cohesive can be a challenge.

Some novels are really hard to revise. The story goes through multiple drafts and there are strong scenes in each one—but no one draft that works on its own. The only way to save the story and craft the novel you know you have in there somewhere, is to pick the best scenes and smoosh it all together.

Which can be good, or lead to a Frankendraft

Don't fret though—you can turn all those drafts into a novel worth reading. It just takes a little more work and a lot more focus.

When dealing with multiple drafts of a novel, the first step is to clarify what you have that works, and what you have that doesn't.

Make a list of your scenes allows you to identify which pieces contribute to your core conflict and which don't. Note the critical details in all the scenes you plan to use and see how they flow together. Maybe even craft a one-line summary of each scene that describes the plot movement so you can see how they connect to the overall story arcs.

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

On the Road: 3 Easy Tips to Help You Revise Your Novel

I'm guest posting over at Writers in the Storm today, chatting about ways to revise your novel. Come on over and say hello!

Here's a sneak peek:

3 Easy Tips to Help You Revise Your Novel

While there’s something exciting about writing a first draft, I always look forward to the revisions. It isn’t until I see how my story unfolds that I fully understand where I can make it stronger, and turning that literary lump of coal into a diamond is quite rewarding–and a lot of fun. I won’t lie, it’s also a lot of work, but well worth it.

The list-maker in me has a whole folder filled with revision tips and tricks, from lists of words that commonly indicate weak prose, to templates to check my goal-conflict-stakes structure, to questions to ask in every scene.

Here are my three favorite tips for revising a novel.

Monday, December 05, 2022

Will They or Won’t They? Plotting With Yes or No Questions

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

A strong scene is really just a series of questions. 

Plotting is both easy and hard. It's easy because it's has a simple set of rules and a clear structure on how it works. It's hard because there's an infinite number of ways you can follow those rules and fill in that structure. 

But it all comes down to just answering yes or no.

Basic scene structure says a scene can end in one of four ways: 
  • A yes
  • A no
  • A yes but there's a catch
  • A no and it makes things worse
These questions are designed to move the story forward and advance the plot. Some work better than others, because they leave more room for solutions and options and give the plot a place to go.  

Monday, November 28, 2022

A Quick Tip for Getting to Know Your Characters--And Your Plot

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

A single item can tell readers a lot about who your character is.

Several years ago I sat in on an RWA workshop on character building, led by romance author Susan Elizabeth Philips. I've attended her workshops before and she's always been entertaining and informative.

She gave a tip (and did an exercise) that I've tried before:
List the contents of your character's purse.
This has never worked for me since my fantasy characters don't usually have purses, but she added the phrase "or their backpack or pockets" to it. That broadened it some, and I realized that ultimately, what she was saying was:

What does your character feel is important enough to carry around with them? 

It's a slightly different way of looking at this character-building tip, but a subtle shift in how we consider something is often all it takes to turn a "not for me" tip into something that clicks and becomes incredibly helpful.

Monday, November 21, 2022

3 Ways to Connect Your World to Your Story

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Your story’s world can create unique problems for your protagonist.

Every story starts a different way—not in the “Once upon a time” aspect, but in how the idea first comes to you. Maybe it’s a line of dialogue, or a character, or a puzzle that needs to be solved. Something flashes through your brain and ignites a spark of imagination that you just have to explore further.

For my novel, The Shifter, the idea of a boy who could shift pain came first, and a world where that would be a problem. It quickly led to the creation of pain merchants who bought and sold pain, and how this boy thought going to them for help was a bad thing to do.

I had nothing beyond that. I had no plot, and no conflict. I didn’t even know this boy’s name.

But I did have a very cool world to play with, so I started brainstorming how a world that could buy and sell pain would operate. How did the mechanics of that work? Why did people even need to do it?

Eventually, I figured out the how and why, and then I found my story.