Writing with Rhythm

Hi Guys!

So here I go again…re-posting. But here’s the thing. I think this post is worth sharing again. You may be at the point in your writing where you write with rhythm automatically. But, if you’re one of the many out there who still struggle with getting your scenes to “sound right” maybe this will help.

I posted the original version in January, 2014. Wow, how time flies!

Some people have rhythm. And some people just don’t. And I’m sorry to say, I’m one of those people who don’t. I try to have rhythm. Really, I do. I hear a great song on the radio when I’m driving so I tap my hand on the steering wheel or bob my head to the beat. Sometimes I even dance along with my kids and nieces and nephews during our family dances parties. I mean so what if the dance parties are for the kids? Who can resist dancing to old Hannah Montana songs or Cotton- Eyed Joe?

And so I dance and sing along to my favorite songs, even without rhythm. And that makes me happy. 🙂

But there’s one place where I do have rhythm—in my writing. Rhythm is important to any good piece of writing. It can help your words flow in an easy pattern.

Here are a few tips for writing with rhythm:

Vary your sentence length

In each paragraph, use both long sentences and short sentences. This makes the paragraph easier to read and gives it a smoother flow. In the following sample, ( a paragraph taken from one of my early drafts) you’ll see a little of both.

My sixth grade class has gathered in the amphitheater, all five hundred of us squished together shoulder to shoulder. The sun is scorching the back of my neck. My ponytail even feels hot. The sound we’ve been waiting for thunders through the speakers–the Piedmont Challenge theme song. I bite my pinky nail. The signal is coming next.

In this sample, not only do the sentence lengths make the passage easier to read, they help to convey what’s happening in the story. The first sentence is quite long. The main character seems calm, like she’s simply telling the reader where she is. As the story unfolds though, I used shorter sentences throughout the paragraph. You can almost feel the main character getting more and more nervous as the song plays and she gets ready for the signal to come.

Read Your Sentences Aloud

How do your sentences sound? Sometimes the key to creating a nice flow of sentences is simply hearing how they sound. Do they sound choppy? Maybe you’re using to many short sentences all in a row. Do you lose interest in what you’ve written? Maybe your sentences are too long. Separate them into smaller ones. If you try to put to much information into one sentence, an important point may get lost and the passage loses its impact.

Match Rhythm to the Mood

If you’re trying to describe a setting—a  countryside filled with beautiful flowers and cascading waterfalls, then longer, more elaborate sentences would work well. If you’re writing an intense scene in a mystery novel, short sentences with bursts of quick, simple words may work well too. 

Here’s an example: 

Connor has just missed his curfew time of 10:00pm. He walks through the front door to find his father waiting in the kitchen. He panics, knowing he’s about to get into trouble. Notice the long rambling sentences he uses as he tries to explain why he was late.

Connor stops short. ”Dad, I know I missed curfew again but I have a really good reason. See when the movie was over, I was about to walk to the car, you know to drive straight home so I wouldn’t be late again, but then some of the guys challenged me to a game of air hockey out in the lobby and you know I’m the King of Air Hockey so I knew you’d understand if I was a few minutes late because you really like air hockey too!”

His dad holds up his hand to silence Connor. “Enough! I don’t want to hear your excuse!”

Notice the short response Connor’s angry dad gives.  And see how effective matching the rhythm of your sentences to their mood can be?

Rhythm often happens automatically. But it can happen even more effectively when you pay close attention to it. So give it a try. Add some rhythm to your writing. You’ll be amazed at how much better your scene sounds. And then go on and sing or dance to your favorite song. Even if you don’t have an rhythm at all! 🙂

Thanks for stopping by today… I hope you’re having a great week full of all the writing and reading love. I sure am, only as always, there aren’t enough hours in the day for all the words!

Take care, buckle down, and keep writing. That’s the only way to get your book written!  🙂

Basic Beliefs of a Character

Hey Everyone! Happy Wednesday…

Back in December, 2013 I wrote the following blog post on Basic Beliefs for my young readers. This topic doesn’t refer to religious beliefs that a character may have but more likely a way of acting belief- meaning a life rule that that a character lives by. I was working on this very issue in my own manuscript during revisions and referred back to it. And even though the language in the original post is clearly targeted toward young writers, the concept holds up for adults too when writing for any age group. 

I hope this information helps you to strengthen your manuscript. Having a clear basic belief has definitely helped me to strengthen mine!

We all want to create interesting characters for our stories, right? I sure do! One of the best ways I’ve found to do that is to give your character a Basic Belief.

A Basic Belief is something that your character believes to be true. 

Here are 2 examples of characters and their Basic Beliefs:

  • Tori believes if people are nice to each other, everyone will be happy.
  • Jason believes people should only do something for someone if they get something in return.

Now that we know what Tori and Jason believe to be true, how can that help us turn them into interesting, believable characters? It’s easy…put them into a situation where that basic belief is tested.

Let’s say that Tori is your main character. She and her friends are building a fort in her bedroom.  When her friend, Molly tells their other friend, Jenna that her idea for building the fort is stupid, Jenna wants Tori to kick Molly out of her room. So what will Tori do? Will she take Jenna’s side and kick Molly out? Will she side with Molly and tell Jenna that her idea really is stupid?  Probably not.

But why?

Tori wouldn’t do either of those things because it would go against her Basic Belief. See, Tori believes that if people are nice to each other, everyone will be happy. Knowing that, we can guess that it’s important to Tori that everyone IS happy. So it would make more sense that instead of siding with either of her friends, Tori would encourage them both to be nice to each other.

In this example, writing about how Tori would react to this conflict is easy because we know her Basic Belief. When her Basic Belief is tested—when the girls begin to fight, Tori will encourage her friends to be nice. Why? Because she’s hoping that if her friends are nice to each other, everyone working on the fort will be happy!

So what happens when she tries it?

If Tori, encourages her friends to be nice to each other and it doesn’t work, the girls are still fighting, Tori may decided that her Basic Belief isn’t really true. She may think that just because SHE’S being nice, everyone else is NOT happy. On the other hand, if Tori encourages her friends to be nice to each other and it works…everyone working on the fort is happy, she will probably continue to believe in her Basic Belief.

See how that works?

But what about Jason? What happens to him when his Basic Belief is tested? Let’s say that Jason is a really good basketball player. Every day at recess, he takes shots from the foul shot line. He makes basket after basket. In fact, he hardly ever misses.  What happens when the other kids want Jason to help them improve their shots? Does he offer to give them shooting tips? Does he agree to practice with them until they get better? Of course not! That would go against his Basic Belief.

Remember, Jason believes that people should only do something for someone if they get something back in return.  So instead, Jason agrees to help each of the kids play basketball—only if they pay him $1.00 every day he helps them. Since the kids agree to the deal, Jason probably thinks his Basic Belief is a good one.

What happens though when his Basic Belief is really tested?

Let’s say Jason is playing basketball outside in his front yard. He wants Billy to play with him but Billy is next door raking the leaves at Mr. Abbot’s house.  Jason runs over to see if he can help Billy. Surely Billy is getting paid to rake the leaves and maybe Mr. Abbot will pay him too. But when Billy says he’s not getting paid, he just wanted to help Mr. Abbot, Jason decides not to help Billy after all. That makes sense right, because Jason doesn’t believe in doing something for someone if he doesn’t get something in return.

Jason may think of it another way. He may offer to help Billy even though he won’t get paid. Why would he do that? Because even though he’s not getting money, Jason may think that the sooner Billy finishes the job, the sooner he can play basketball. This decision still fits in with his belief because even though Jason is not getting money for helping, he’s getting to play basketball with Billy. So really, he is getting something in return.

In both examples, Jason stays true to his Basic Belief.

But do characters ever go against their Basic Belief? Of course! Let’s say Jason felt bad for Billy. Here he is sweating and tired because raking the leaves is hard work and Mr. Abbot has a lot of leaves! Even though Billy has to go straight home after he finishes, and Jason knows that he can’t play basketball with him today, he may offer to help him anyway.

But why would he do that?

Sometimes characters decide that their Basic Belief is not a good one—or at least not a good one all the time. Jason may have realized that in this case, helping a friend is better than getting something in return.

That decision can make Jason a more likable character. In this situation, Jason is forced to think about the way he acts and the decisions he makes. In the past, his Basic Belief has always worked for him. He had no reason to change the way he thinks.  A good story will push a character to really question his Basic Beliefs. He will have to think about the type of person he wants to be, or about the way he wants to live his life.

Sometimes he will decide that his Basic Belief is a good one. Sometimes he will decide his Basic Belief is not a good one and instead choose to live by a new Basic Belief.

There is no right or wrong way for your character to act. It’s up to you as the author to determine this, but a story is always more fun to read when that Belief is put to the test!  So why not give it a try? First create a Basic Belief for your character. Then write them into a situation where that Belief is tested. You’ll be amazed at how great your story will be. J

Good luck! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…or your questions. So as always, feel free to leave a comment, if you have one!

First Lines (Revisited)

Hey everyone,

I was looking through some old blog posts over the weekend (like the ones from two years ago) and I realized that some of them might be worth revisiting. So in the next few months I may be recycling a few favorites. Keep in mind that when this blog was in its early days, it was targeted at young/ beginner writers. However, the information still applies to writers of any age or ability.

FIRST LINES was originally posted in November 2103 but for today’s post I added a few more first line favorites…

The first line can tell a lot about a story. It can tell whether it will be creepy, or serious, or funny. It can tell you if the story is set in our world or in an imaginary world. It can tell you if it’s going to be told by a narrator or by the main character. Most of all though, it can tell you whether or not you’re going to like the story!

Take a look at some of my favorite first lines in children’s books today…

If you are interested in stories with happy endings you would be better off reading some other book. (A Series of Unfortunate Events- The Bad Beginning)

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. (Harry Potter and the Scorcerer’s Stone)

Not every 13 year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty. (The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle)

There isn’t one mirror in my house. (Divergent)

There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife. (The Graveyard Book)

How five crows managed to lift a twenty-pound baby boy into the air was beyond Prue, but that was certainly the least of her worries. (Wildwood)

Sophie had waited all her life to be kidnapped. (The School  for Good and Evil)

It certainly seemed like it was going to be another normal evening at Amelia Bedelia’s House. (Amelia Bedelia- Unleashed)

Sometimes there’s no warning. (Chronicles of Ancient Darkness- Oath Breaker)

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. (The Hunger Games)

It was fun at first, playing house. (Love, Aubrey)

My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog. (Because of Winn- Dixie)

Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water. (Al Capone Does my Shirts)

I never told the boys I saw their daddy leave that night. (The Swift Boys and Me)

Gladys Gatsby stood at the counter with the spout of her father’s heavy blowtorch poised over the ceramic cup. (All Four Stars)

In a city called Stonetown, near a port called Stonetown Harbor, a boy named Reynie Muldoon was preparing to take an important test. (The Mysterious Benedict Society)

All I had to do was walk up to the coffin. (The Secret Hum of a Daisy)

See what I mean? A great first line can help you decide whether or not to read on.  So when you’re writing your own story, do your best to create an amazing first line. Something that will make your reader turn the page. Something that will stay with your reader long after the story’s done.

So what do you think of these first lines? Which one do you think is best?  Do you know of a line that should be included on this list? If you do, leave a comment. I’m always up for another favorite!

Well there you have it…

Have a great week, my friends! Hope it’s filled with all the amazing words. 🙂

Staying in the Story State of Mind

Hey everyone,

Happy Wednesday! I have big news to share this week… I had my first Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte yesterday! Woohoo!! Alert the media. Now I know what all the crazy is about!

I’ve resisted trying them for awhile because I’m not a big pumpkin flavor fan. I wasn’t a big pumpkin flavor fan.  But this. Yeah, well people change. 🙂

So why the big change exactly? I was in Barnes and Noble yesterday buying a fabulous middle grade book. (More on that later). Well, I couldn’t wait to dive into the book, and since there’s a Starbucks right inside the store, I thought I’d grab an afternoon coffee and sit in their cute little café and read. The trouble is, I only like coffee I make at home—flavored coffee with flavored creamer.  I’ve had bad luck finding the right mix of cream and sugar in Starbucks flavored coffees. I usually have to add 8 packs of sugar and no I’m not kidding.

But I had never tried a latte. I thought a mix of coffee and milk would be gross. But when I think of all the milk or cream or soy milk or half or half I usually add, I realized maybe Starbucks coffee is not for me. I spend more time trying to fix it up then actually drinking it.

So I gave the pumpkin spice latte a try and it was pure bliss… I’m sure most of you agree with me!! I now feel like I’ve been inducted into a special club!

But even more blissful was the feeling I had as I read the first chapter of the book I bought earlier: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. I was pulled into the story from the very first page. If you have a chance, check this one out. It’s a little bit Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and a little bit oh I’m not even sure what! But the cast of characters is great, the narrative voice is spectacular, and the intrigue is spot on. It’s like one big puzzle where the kids at this point are just trying to figure out what’s going on.

I reluctantly closed the book after the first chapter, but dove right back in last night. I’m only 67 pages in right now but I’m hooked! I love it so much when I find an amazing book!

The trouble is, as important as it is for writers to read, sometimes I resist starting a new book—when I’m in the middle of drafting a new story. It’s not that I’m worried that I’ll take on the voice of the author or be influenced by their writing, it’s more because when I’m in the writing zone, I need to stay in the writing zone.

Does that make sense?

I’ve found it easier to stay in the world of my WIP and in the heads of my characters if I think of them often throughout the day, and then write more about them the next day. If I don’t, and take a longish break, it takes me too long to get my head in the right place again. Writers block becomes a problem then too. So I try to keep my mind somewhat aware of my story—even if it’s not intentional, almost at all times during the drafting process. And it’s usually easy to do, when I’m excited about the story I’m writing.

Some might call this the writing cave. I call it the Story State of Mind.

But it’s not easy to stay there. Real life gets in the way and pulls our attention elsewhere. I get that. It happens to me all the time. Just last week my mother (who recently learned to text) sent me the following text:

Jackie, are you okay? You don’t sound as chipper as you usually do…love mom

And I had to laugh…and sigh. Because the last time I had talked to her I was in the middle of drafting a first chapter. I was distracted. I was probably anxious to hang up with her. I was annoyed hearing her stories of what my siblings were doing. I love them all but really, my sister having rain damage to her roof was not as exciting as the world I was trying to create. Especially when I had already heard all this the roof saga from my sister earlier in the day! So yeah, I was probably not real chipper. I was thinking about getting back to my characters. I was trying to stay in the Story State of Mind.

So what do you do to stay there? Do you write every day? Do you stop reading books too until your draft is done or until you need a break? Or do you only write once in a while when you’re not in the Story State of Mind? If that’s the case, I urge you to do everything you can to get in it when you write. Even if it means writing every night at 10:00pm or every morning at 5am. Maybe that’s what it will take to keep your mind on your story—to train it to snap into action at those times. Routines are key here because then your mind never turns off the world and characters you’re creating.

So yes, I broke my own rule this week. I’m reading an amazing book while drafting my own. But at the rate I’m going, I’ll finish the book I’m reading by the end of the week. Then I can close it as a happier person and get back into my writing zone—back into my Story State of Mind.

I hope you all have a fabulous week. I’d love to hear your tales of getting in and staying in your story state of mind. Maybe it even includes a pumpkin spiced latte. If it does, I totally get it now. Totally.

Happy Back to School Now I Get to Write in Peace Week!

I probably shouldn’t be this ecstatic over the fact that today is the first day of school for us. My daughter is starting her senior year of high school (gasp!) and my son is starting his sophomore year (not my baby!). I should probably be wishing that time would stand still.  All of these moments of first and lasts are coming at me way too fast. But the truth is, I’m not wishing for time to stand still.  I’ve loved sharing this summer with my kids and all the previous summers and other days too. But I’m trying to focus on the right now instead, and all the amazing things that have yet to happen.

Back to school week is always one of my favorite weeks of the year. It’s a time to start over, a time to refresh, a time to settle back into the routines I crave, and a time to refocus my goals and dreams. It makes me want to buy myself a pair of back-to-school shoes, a new backpack, and school supplies.

And so I did. A few weeks ago I hit the sales and bought myself a pair of fall ballet flats, a brown leather bag large enough to carry my laptop, and several 10 cent notebooks and pencils to start me on my way. Not long after I bought the flats, I returned them. I want to look good in flats, really I do. But the ones I picked out looked like grandma shoes, not cute city chic shoes. I’m more of a flip flip/ sandal type of girl anyway, until the leaves fall and then I’m definitely a boot girl. But whatever. I still have a cute new bag and all the writing materials I need to pack in it.

So where am I off too exactly? Well, as most of you know, I’m a freelance writer as well as a MG writer. And I work from home. This has it’s perks, but it also has its distractions. So…I’ve found a new place to work, maybe not every day but on some days. My town has combined their two tiny outdated libraries and built one colossal, amazing, up to date, complete with a fireplace and coffee shop library about five minutes from my house! The grand opening is next week. And I. Am. So. Excited! It will be full of meeting spaces, work spaces, techie stuff and all those books! So I’ve decided to make it my new home away from home while I write. What better way to immerse myself in the world of my new WIP than by writing amongst the books written by the fabulous authors who’ve come before me?

So this fall, in addition to the freelance project I’m working on, I’ll also be working on revisions for my current middle grade story—the one that caught my agent’s attention. And oh my gosh, I cannot wait to dive into those! It’s wonderful to have someone in my corner, who understands my story and knows how to bring it to the next level.

I always wondered what it would be like to have an agent.  And I have to say, it’s every bit as great as I had hoped it would be. At the same time though, it’s not much different than having a really great critique partner. We have the same fantastic rapport, and I value her opinion just as much. The difference now, as I wait for her next round of notes, is that she (my agent) is someone in the publishing industry who knows the editor’s tastes and the types of stories they are acquiring. But the anticipation is the same as when I’m waiting to hear what my CP thinks of my chapters.

I would be lying if I said that my reason for being so excited about the new school year is unrelated to me getting to spend uninterrupted hours writing and revising. It definitely is. Even though my kids are older, they are home—in my work space. And when my husband isn’t traveling for work, he works from home too. That has made for a very crowded house this summer. So yes, hooray! The first day of school is today and I get to write for several hours in peace!! Will I even know how to do that??

And so my kids have a chance to start fresh this week and so do I.  We all do actually. We all have the opportunity to make a new plan, refocus our goals, and commit (or re-commit) to the whatever it is that we’re passionate about.

So if you haven’t already, go on out and grab a 10 cent notebook. Write down what it is you hope to accomplish this fall. Maybe even start a new story. Kids all over the world will be starting anew. Maybe that’s a sign for all of us as well…we need to do that same thing too! 🙂