More Words Than You Need – Some Darlings Ain’t Long For This World

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” ― Dr. Seuss

No better moment exists than when you first get hit with that brand spanking new premise for a story. There will be those of you who disagree, citing the signing of a contract and being handed a check for your work as a better moment, but I beg to differ. When a story first bursts to life in your mind, you are in the superposition of optimism. The story will be great, the best thing you’ve ever written and will be well-received by the washed and unwashed masses alike. No reality lurking about to place limitations on your spectacular vision at this point.

So, you do your prep work—outlining, research, character development, etc.—and pound out your first draft. And you’re happy with yourself. Real happy. Your first instinct is to share it with the world, but before you slap your baby in the mail or post it online, I need to break some bad news to you. Your story isn’t perfect. Not only is it filled with mistakes but it’s a tad overweight.

Since you most likely don’t have access to an editor at this stage in your writing career, the onus is on you to sharpen the edge of your blue-pencil blade to fix typos and cull clumsy or ambiguous phrasing.

If you’ve ever handed a story to someone to read, a story you were sure was error-free, you quickly learned that spotting mistakes in your own writing is difficult. The problem with self-editing is your mind glosses over errors because it knows what you meant to write and sometimes reads that instead of what you actually wrote. Fortunately, self-editing is a skill you can learn to hone in order to eliminate mistakes and improve the quality of your writing:

1. Don’t edit on the fly

I know this is a hard thing to do, but when you’re writing why not concentrate on getting your idea down on paper first? Sure, if you spot a typo it’s okay to correct it or to approach a sentence from a different angle in order to keep flow going, but when you begin deleting sections of your work or get caught in the dreaded rewrite loop—reworking the same paragraph over and over again—you’re placing road blocks between you and the forward progression of your story.

One solution to help break you out of this bad habit may be to try a distraction-free writing program like OmmWriter, Write or Die, Freedom, Grandview, and Don’t Look Back.

2. Set it and forget it

Once you’ve finished your latest magnum opus, stuff it in a drawer and go about your business before you even think about attempting to edit it. Concentrate instead on one of the many things you had to put aside in order to make time to write. What you’re doing here is stepping out from among the trees so you can see the entire forest.

You’ll find when you eventually return to your work, you’re approaching it with a new set of eyes that are better equipped to spot things you’ve missed, things that don’t work as well as you initially thought they did, inconsistencies, etc.

3. Big picture editing before sentence micromanagement

I know, I know, you’re eager to jump in and fine tooth comb your work sentence by sentence, and good on you for being that keen, but before you get into the detail work, I need you to consider examining your content and overall structure. Is there important information missing from the piece? Or a section that’s either irrelevant or seems out of place? How about scenes in desperate need of drastic revision?

Focus on the major issues before you begin tweaking words and sentences.

4. Put your work on a diet

You’ve over-written the piece. Uh-uh, don’t argue. You’re a writer who’s in love with the notion of stringing words together to convey ideas that plant images your audience’s mind, which means you over-write. Don’t be ashamed, most writers use more words than are absolutely necessary.

It’s time to get your piece into fighting shape by cutting its body mass index by ten percent. It’s easier to drop this excess poundage than you think, by simply losing mediocre phrases, unnecessary adjectives, and repeated points.

5. Don’t rely solely on spell-check

A spell-checking program can be your friend, but we all know from experience that it isn’t foolproof. The human eye is still the best tool for catching those sneaky homophone imposter stand-ins (to, too, two; it’s, its; yaw, yore, your, you’re; there, their, they’re), the ever-elusive missing words, auto-correct mishaps, etc.

6. Be backwards in your reading

Mistakes love sliding past you because they realize how tough it is proofing your own work. One of the ways to flip the script and catch them at their diabolical game is to start at the very end of your story and read it backwards. Sounds silly, but it works.

7. Push your darlings out of the nest

One of the awful things about being a writer is that you’re never one hundred percent completely satisfied with your work. But no matter how determined you are to touch the face of perfection, the hard fact is your writing will never be flawless. Accept it. You’re just going to have to settle for the best you can humanly manage. You’ll know when you’ve reached that point when you begin making slight adjustments, then reverting it back to its original form.

It’s time to stop, kiss your darlings on the forehead and push them out of the nest and let them fly into the world.

***

Actually, there are a plethora of editing tips that you can utilize before you get to this stage and instead of listing them all, I’ve decided to post the links below and allow you to browse them at your leisure and cherry pick the ones that work best for you.

30 Quick Editing Tips Every Content Creator Needs to Know

10 Tips For Effective Editing

Editing Tips for Effective Writing

21 Proofreading and Editing Tips for Writers

And just for kicks I decided to link a list of homophones. Ya never know, might come in handy:

A List of English homophones

Sally forth and be writeful.

Taking It On The Chin: The Graceful Art Of Accepting Rejection

“Was I bitter? Absolutely. Hurt? You bet your sweet ass I was hurt. Who doesn’t feel a part of their heart break at rejection. You ask yourself every question you can think of, what, why, how come, and then your sadness turns to anger. That’s my favorite part. It drives me, feeds me, and makes one hell of a story.” ― Jennifer Salaiz

Rejection is: a bitter pill to swallow, tough to handle, a serious downer, like getting sucker punched in the gut, blah-blah-blah. You get the picture, chiefly because you’ve experienced it in one form or another. We all have. Even with this blog, as harmless as it is, I sometimes receive emails that take issue with or flat out reject things I’ve posted. Hey, it happens. You can’t fault people for having opinions that differ from your own.

While it’s no big secret that we all seek acceptance, rejection—impossible to avoid once you step out of your comfort zone and into society—is a part of growth. That’s right, you need it in order to develop as a person and grow as a writer.

Here are a few ways that can help you cope during the initial rough patch of receiving a written or verbal rejection:

1. Take yourself out of the equation

Your written piece is your baby, forever tethered to you by an unseen and intangible umbilical cord, and although it will always be a part of you, when someone disapproves of your work, they’re not necessarily rejecting you, the person.

Yes, I’m well aware it’s impossible to completely divorce yourself from something you’ve created. Especially when that sly critter Self-Doubt sidles up beside you and makes you question if there’s something wrong with you or your talent. But instead of taking this to heart and allowing it to consume you, you need to adjust your thinking.

When your work is rejected it’s usually more a reflection of the viewpoint, needs or requirements of the person making the decision. The thoughts in your work may not align themselves with the thoughts of the audience, which doesn’t necessarily make it bad, it’s simply not a piece that fits into their jigsaw puzzle.

Of course, if they offer you a reason why your work was rejected, you shouldn’t rush to dismiss it. Take a step back, look at the critique objectively and if it has merit, consider using it in your next draft.

2. Anticipate rejection

It’s coming whether you like it or not, so why not bake a Bundt cake, put the kettle on and have yourself a little nosh when it arrives.

When writing, if you expect rejection, what it should do is make you up your game by challenging you to raise the yardstick, push the envelope and send your best work out into the world. And before you mistake my meaning, I’m not asking you to get down on your work and take the negative view that your writing isn’t good enough and never will be. I just want you to adjust your mental outlook. It’s like the saying goes, “Hope for the best, expect the worst.” It cuts down on the disappointment that may come later on.

Also, don’t let a rejection kill your drive and lead you down the path of procrastination. Use it to become a better, stronger writer.

3. Stay focused

You can’t control your peers, society or the world at large, so why not concentrate on your own thoughts, feelings, actions and behaviors? Just because you’re not gifted with the inhuman ability to alter reality, doesn’t mean you’re powerless to alter your personal reality. By turning your focus inward, you acknowledge what you want and realize you have the power to set events in motion to achieve your goals.

How does this apply to rejection? You may be able to avoid the downward spiral of self-doubt by accepting there will always be cynics who are entitled to their opinions, be they informed or otherwise, and said opinions do not—and I repeat do not—have power over you. Instead of focusing on their negativity, turn your attention to what you can control, applying what you’ve learned from their comments and moving forward to produce more powerful work.

4. Spot the merit in rejection

I know I’ve taken an “it’s them, not you” approach in this post but honestly, not all rejection is unfounded. We’ve all produced work that exists on different levels. Some writings strike the right chord with the majority of your audience and others miss the mark by scant inches and even a mile. This is when you let slip your inner critic and examine your work for uninspiring ideas, a poor approach, confusing views, unclear writing, etc.

It also helps to learn to self-question, which is far and way different from self-doubt. Turning detective and analyzing why the person in question didn’t accept the story, what were they looking for and what you could have done differently to meet their needs, may help you decipher learning points of which you were previous unaware.

A word of cautious: Unless you have a personal connection with an editor or publisher, I would advise against contacting them directly to ask why your work was rejected. While you may see it as a means to improve your craft, your intent may be misconstrued. You never want to gain the reputation of being that person. Or, perhaps you do. In that case, have at it. Who am I to tell you what to do?

5. Understand that rejection is growth

You’ve heard the saying, “One step forward, two steps back,” and you might believe receiving a rejection is taking those two soul-crushing backward steps, but you, my friend, are absolutely 100% incorrect. It’s the one step forward to understanding what people are looking for in the real world and how you can progress your writing to accomplish your objectives.

And if you have a piece of writing that has received more than a few rejections, instead of chucking it in the drawer of misfit tales, why not give it the once-over one more time, taking all the rejection information into account while you do it. You just might find that you can spot and understand the weak points in your story’s structure and fortify them with the experience you’ve gained from learning how to cope with, deconstruct and master the lessons within the criticism you’ve received.

As I said from the start, you’re not the only person who’s dealt with rejection. Click this link and view some of the rejection letters received by bestselling authors. If they can handle it and move on, so can you.

Sally forth and be writeful.

Don’t Be A Chump, Don’t Infodump

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Finding balance in your life isn’t simple. Balancing life and writing is even harder. Finding balance in your writing? That’s something you’ll be working on for the rest of your natural writing life, because a well-written story balances exposition, description, action and dialogue, but not in equal measure. You need to keep a watchful eye on exposition.

In its basic form, exposition is the part of a story that sets the stage for the drama to follow, introducing the theme, setting, characters, and circumstances, usually at the beginning of the story. Sounds straightforward enough, right? Well, writing good exposition that flows with the story and continues to draw the audience in, isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, many writers misuse exposition as an illegal dumping ground for information that not only causes a distraction that breaks the flow of a story, but also decreases interest.

And you don’t have to be an expert to spot the exposition dump (aka infodump) because we’ve all experienced and recognized it while reading a novel or watching a movie or television program. It’s that speed bump or sometimes roadblock in the story where the writer unloads a ton of information at once as a means of explaining things like backstory, characters, and the rules of the story world. If you’re a culprit of this, stop it now. We’ll forgive your ignorance in past works (go back and cull the exposition, if at all possible) but it’s a bad exposition technique and the line must be drawn here. This far, no further.

Typically, infodumping occurs when a character, new to the scene, is introduced to a foreign setting and is force-fed all the knowledge of the various individuals at play, the rules of the micro society, and the overall big picture of the story world. You’ll find this a lot in science fiction and fantasy tales.

Other bad/lazy infodumping techniques include “The Lecture,” where a speaker over-explains information the writer discovered during their research period of the writing process and thought would show their faux expertise in the subject. The other offender is commonly known in the sci-fi writing community as the “As You Know, Bob,” conversation, where one character tells another character information they already know. Please don’t do this. Not only is it lazy, but it comes across as unrealistic.

This isn’t to say that all exposition is bad, in fact, properly executed, it takes up roughly 10% of a well-balanced written piece (the other 90%, of course, being the description, action and dialogue that make up the scenes). Some of the information embedded within expository text is actually relevant, it simply requires a little finesse to fit it in seamlessly and not disrupt the story’s flow.

Of course, if you handle your description, action and dialogue properly, you can whittle that 10% down and most people won’t notice or care about the missing exposition.

Well, that’s enough infodumping for me today. I’m off to tear a story down and rebuild it.

Sally forth and be writeful.

Be Violent And Original (in your writing, naturally)

Image“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” – Gustave Flaubert

Live a good life. This isn’t something I should have to tell you. As you make your way through the workaday world, you should strive to do no harm, treasure your relationships with family and friends, seek calming pleasures that contribute to peace of mind, and live in harmony and balance.

Your written life? That’s a different creature all together.

Safe, tame, bland, and sometimes “it’s good” (with the unspoken “but…” attached on the end like a phantom limb) are among the worst things someone can say about your work. Whenever you write, your goal should be to provide elements that hook your audience and reels them in and after the story has been told, leaves them with an emotional takeaway.

Writing is about risk-taking, about snapping off the handbrakes, about shrugging off restraint, about leaving your internal censor bound and gagged in a tiny room, allowing your words and imagination to run amuck and wreak havoc in the world you’ve created.

If you’re not currently writing this way, what’s holding you back? What’s bridling your passion? What’s preventing you from creating bold characters, powerful phrases and dangerous situations? If not yours, then whose hand is on the lever that controls the sluice gates holding back the churning anxiety, obsession and peril your story desperately needs?

Are you trapped within the safe zone because of fear? Then allow me to geek out a moment as I quote the litany of fear, an incantation used by the religious/political sisterhood known as the Bene Gesserit from Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic, Dune:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Fear is also an art-killer. It’s typically the fear of being judged by professionals, critics and peers, of not being admired by the audience for taking a controversial stance or doing horrible things to characters. But the possible opinions and tastes of everyone outside yourself shouldn’t factor in while you’re creating your story. The transfer of ownership hasn’t taken place at this point. It isn’t the reader’s story yet, it’s still yours, so why not write fiercely?

Give your characters barbed tongues and let them spit venom. Give them the courage to do all the things you would never dream of attempting, even on your most adventurous or foolhardy day. Tear their hearts out and make them suffer as you place them smack dab in the center of conflict and tension-filled drama.

Basically, I’m asking you to fish out that key that you’ve hidden in the back of a junk drawer within the deep recesses of your mind and open the door to your wildest imaginings.

You’ll come to discover that if you’re open, honest and free in your writing, yes, you will have your critics and people who won’t either like or understand your work, but you’ll also attract an audience that will come back for more.

What’s that? You need more incentive? Okay, well I didn’t want to break out the big guns but here goes:

I dare you to become more engaging and intriguing with your writing. I double-dog dare you.

See what you made me do? Happy now?

Sally forth and be writeful.

Applying Life Lessons To Your Writing

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If you approach online surfing with the mentality of a prospector and sift through content, letting the useless bits fall away (no judgments on the content you derive enjoyment from) the interwebz is packed to the rafters with knowledge, wisdom and lessons. It’s the wise sage of our virtual village.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of the adages that can be applied to your life can also be applied to your everyday writing, be it screen, creative, novel, short story, blogging, etc.

The goal of a post like this isn’t to sugar coat how difficult and torturous writing can be at times, there’s no masking that truth. Your takeaway from this should be that your approach to and mental outlook on writing needs to become a positive thing, if it isn’t already.

“There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time”

Unlike Lord Chesterfield, to whom the above quote is attributed, I’m not opposed to multitasking, and I’m sure you’re a marvel at juggling several things at a time, but when you sit down to write, that’s all you should be focused on.

“But,” you say, “I’m a chronic multitasker!” Don’t worry, I’m not trying to strip you of your royal heritage, but it is essential to develop a meditative focus when it comes to act of writing. You’re creating a world, sharing an experience, and/or teaching a lesson to your reader, and they deserve your full attention, don’t they?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained/You only get out of life what you put into it.

What exactly can you put into your writing?  The answer to that question is up to you. Hard work, determination, and a positive attitude are a few things that come to mind. Doing the donkey work and writing everyday, come hell or high water, are the breadcrumbs you lay down to attract the muse.

“There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they’re necessary to reach the places we’ve chosen to go.” –Richard Bach

You will make mistakes in your writing. That fact is as certain as one day you will die (but not for a long, long, long time, knock wood). All the missteps in tackling a story you couldn’t work out an ending for, creating characters that refuse to talk to you, stories that lie as flat as road kill, and even writing that makes you absolutely retch. Embrace it all. Mistakes are your teachers along the rocky path of becoming a successful writer. To be clear, being successful has nothing to do with publication, sales, or fame. Sure, that stuff’s awful nice to have (great job if you can get it) but satisfying your inner critic is the mark of true success, in my humble opinion.

“People deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong. Why not try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?” — Nhat Hanh

Yup, we’re back on that positivity kick again. Why? Because it’s your cheerleader when you absolutely hate your work, your rah-rah section when you’re slogging through difficult writing, and your attaboy when you finally clear the briar patch of a formerly impossible writing task. The responsibility rests upon your shoulders to become your biggest fan throughout all the writing stages–brainstorming, outlining, character development, the draft, and yes, even editing.

I could list others, but I think you get the point and you’re smart enough to figure the rest out on your own. Good luck, and stay positive.

Sally forth and be writeful.

I Question Your Character (and so should you)

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As stated in a previous post, hand in hand with creating a strong premise for your story, developing believable characters to fill your imaginary world is an essential part of constructing fiction. The best way for your audience to identify with characters lies in your ability to understand them fully, and the best way for you to accomplish this is to talk to them, or better yet, ask them a series of questions. It’s important that you don’t allow them be evasive and certainly do not take no for an answer.

Don’t worry, you won’t be asking them complicated things like their strategy on balancing the nation’s budget, why the burning sun doesn’t incinerate itself, or how do you solve a problem like Maria? The list of questions below are relatively basic, some which have occurred to you and others that most likely haven’t. And even though most of their answers aren’t particularly relevant to your story and probably won’t come up in conversation, it will aid you in understanding the inner workings of their nonexistent minds.

You’ll notice that the questions have been broken up into bite-sized nuggets, thus making the task of developing your characters less insurmountable, and offering you a coffee or ciggie butt break between your interrogation, should you need it. Now, without further ado:

101 Character Development Questions (grill ‘em like a steak!)

Character Development Questions #1 – The Basics

These are the first questions you need to answer about your character – the stuff you probably need to know to get started.

  1. Name?
  2. Age?
  3. Approximate height?
  4. Approximate weight?
  5. Hair color?
  6. Eye color?
  7. Skin tone?
  8. Do they speak with an accent?
  9. Where are they from?
  10. Where are they now?

Character Development Questions #2 – Backstory

Developing a solid backstory for your characters is essential – even if you don’t put much or any of it in the narrative. The more you treat your character as though they are a real person, the more real they’ll become.

  1. Who are their parents? Biologically and socially.
  2. What is their earliest memory?
  3. What did they want to be when they grew up?
  4. What did/do their parents want them to be?
  5. Do they have siblings? Older or younger? Brothers or sisters?
  6. Do they have or have they ever had children? How many?
  7. Do they or have ever had a significant other? Are they still with them? Why? Why not?
  8. What were they doing right before the story starts?
  9. Up until now, what’s the most noteworthy thing they’ve done? To them? To the people around them?
  10. What was their education like?

Character Development Questions #3 – Tastes

Your characters likes and dislikes is possibly the most overt part of ‘who they are’.

  1. What’s your character’s favorite color?
  2. Do they/would they choose to wear a scent? What would it be?
  3. Do they care about what things look like? All things, or only some?
  4. What’s their favorite ice cream flavor?
  5. Are they a tea, or coffee drinker? Or soft drinks, or do they drink a lot of alcohol? What kind?
  6. What kind of books do they read? What TV shows and movies do they watch?
  7. What kind of music do they like? Do they like music at all?
  8. If they were about to die, what would they have as their last meal?
  9. Are they hedonistic? In all cases? Or does practicality sometimes/always/often win out?
  10. Do they have any philias or phobias?

Character Development Questions #4 – Morals, Beliefs, and Faith

A character’s moral code and beliefs can offer a lot of insights on their motives, and the likelihood of their taking a given course of action.

  1. Do they have an internal (something that they’ve come up with for themselves) or an external (something handed to them via religion, family traits, etc.) moral code?
  2. To what extent are their actions dictated by this code?
  3. Do they believe in a God or Gods/Goddesses/Higher being of some description?
  4. Are they superstitious?
  5. Do they value faith/instinct more highly than reason?
  6. Do they believe in an afterlife? If so, what’s it like?
  7. Do they have any specific beliefs that manifest obviously?
  8. Are the respectful of the beliefs of others? To what extent?
  9. Have they ever had to stand up to criticism for being religious? Or not being religious?
  10. Would they be more likely to act for the good of the one, or the good of the many?

Character Development Questions #5 – Relationships

It would be difficult to write a character who never interacted with anyone else. We learn more about a character from the way other people react to them than by their actions alone.

  1. Do they make friends easily?
  2. Do they have a best friend?
  3. Can they get people to do what they want them to? If so, how?
  4. Do they have a lot of romantic relationships? Serious, or short term?
  5. Do they fall in and out of love easily?
  6. Do strangers and acquaintances actually like them when they meet?
  7. Do they have a network (people they’re connected to without necessarily knowing)?
  8. What is their relationship like with their family?
  9. Are they still in touch with non-family people they were in touch with a year ago? Five years? Ten? More?
  10. Do they like children? Do they want children of their own?

Character Development Questions #6 – Physical Appearance

Time to play dress up!

  1. How does this character dress? How would they choose to dress, if all options were open to them?
  2. Do they have any tattoos? What do they mean?
  3. Do they have piercings? How many? Is this culturally appropriate for them?
  4. Do they have scars? Where did they come from?
  5. Do they alter their appearance in some way on a regular basis (make up, hair dye, etc.)?
  6. Is there something they’d choose to change about their appearance if they had the opportunity to?
  7. Is there something about their appearance they’re particularly proud of/happy with?
  8. Objectively, are they physically attractive? Fairly plain? Unattractive?
  9. Do they have an accurate mental picture and opinion of their physical appearance?
  10. How much time do they spend thinking about their physical appearance?

Character Development Questions #7 – General Knowledge

How well acquainted is your character with the world around them?

  1. Can they navigate their own local area without getting lost? To what degree?
  2. Do they know who the top politician or monarch is where they live? What about elsewhere?
  3. Do they know if/where there are any major conflicts going on right now?
  4. Do they know the composition of water?
  5. Do they know how to eat a pomegranate (or any other tricky item of food)?
  6. Are they good with the technology available to them? Average? Completely hopeless?
  7. Could they paint a house… without making a mess of it?
  8. Could they bake a cake? Would you eat it if they did?
  9. Do they know how to perform basic maintenance on the common mode of transportation?
  10. Do they know the price of a loaf of bread?

Character Development Questions #8 – Specific Knowledge

What about special skills?

  1. Do they have a specific qualification in a narrow area?
  2. Is there something they do or know exceptionally well that most other people don’t?
  3. Do people often comment on a particular skill or area of knowledge to this character? Behind their back?
  4. Is there an area this character could be considered top of their field or a genius in?
  5. Have they deliberately sought to gain knowledge in a specific area? If so, why?
  6. Do they speak more than one language? More than two? Why?
  7. Does their cultural background effect what they would be expected to know?
  8. Have they ever been publicly acknowledged for being well-versed in something?
  9. Have they ever been bullied for knowing a lot about something?
  10. Do they actively seek new knowledge, or let it come to them naturally?

Character Development Questions #9 – “What if…” Questions

These questions are designed to give you a different perspective on why certain things are important about your character – or why they’re not.

  1. What if they’d been born with a different biological sex?
  2. What if they’d have more or less siblings?
  3. What if a key formative event in their past had gone differently?
  4. What if they lost a limb?
  5. What if someone close to them died unexpectedly?
  6. What if they’d been born 50 years earlier? 100 years? 1000?
  7. What if they’d done something completely different on the morning when the story starts?
  8. What if they found enough money to make them wealthy for the rest of their life in a bag?
  9. What if they were stranded and deserted?
  10. What if they were betrayed by someone they trusted?

Character Development Questions #10 – Miscellany

These are just questions that any real person would likely be able to answer, but a fictional character often can’t.

  1. What did they have for breakfast this morning?
  2. What ridiculous beliefs did they have as a child?
  3. Do they like marshmallow treats?
  4. Do they sleep on their side, front, or back?
  5. Do they work better with sound or silence?
  6. Do they have a strange obsession with something minor?
  7. Do they like art?
  8. How fast can they run?
  9. Do they prefer to sit on the floor or on a chair?
  10. What do they want, right now?

Question 101 – Why Should Give A Tinker’s Damn About Your Character?

Don’t get offended, it’s a valid question. What makes your character interesting? Am I supposed to like them, or hate them? Why?

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Congrats! You’ve made it to the end of the tedious, yet invaluable character question list. Hopefully it helps. Now stop standing around here gawking. Sally forth and be writeful.

Enjoy your holiday weekend (and you really should have invited me over for some Christmas goose. Maybe next year, eh?)

Mary Christmas

Luckily my favorite table was open at the bistro I frequented in Alphabet City, the one by the window where the midday sun filtered through shelves of antique colored milk bottles, mason jars, and assorted glassware.

I scanned through the menu feigning interest in all the food options available for some unknown reason though I knew what I was going to order because my order hadn’t changed in over three years. The food here wasn’t really great but it was one of the few places in the city that had a natural ambiance that suited my temperament.

I felt a presence looming over me that smelled of Christmas—actually, the smell was of apples and cinnamon, which always reminded me of Christmas—so I placed my order by rote without looking up from the menu, keeping up the pretense of struggling with the choices of so many delectable options which was silly but perhaps I wanted the staff to recognize how much I liked the place.

“Um, that sounds delicious,” a voice said in a register higher than I was accustomed to in the bistro, a woman’s voice. “But I don’t actually work here.”

I looked up and was nearly blinded by a rosy-cheeked, platinum blonde woman bundled in the whitest fur coat in existence—hopefully not a real fur coat because that would be cruel—topped with a fur hat.

“Is anyone sitting here?” she pointed at the empty chair across the table from me.

I answered, “No…” as I glanced around at all the vacant tables situated throughout the eatery and I was about to bring this to her attention when she daintily and skillfully seated herself.

“Hi, my name is Mary, Mary Christmas,” she beamed a smile and proffered her white-mittened hand to shake. “You have a kind face so you may call me Mary or Your Royal Majesty Queen-Empress of the Known Universe, absolutely your choice but under no circumstances are you to refer to me as Merry as in Merry Christmas. I grew up being teased by that and I’m not having anymore of it.”

I didn’t answer because I was too busy processing what was happening which she took an entirely different way, most likely because I hadn’t completed the handshake ritual.

“Oh, you’re one of those, are you?” she sighed, slipping the mitten off her hand and rummaging through a white handbag produced from a fold in her coat almost if by magic.

“One of those?”

“A non-believer. A person who has to be shown instead of accepting things at face value,” she said as she pulled something out of her purse and handed it to me. “Here, proof.” It was her driver’s license and I’ll be damned if it didn’t list her name as Mary Christmas.

“Look, miss…”

“Mary.”

“Mary, I wasn’t doubting your name, strange as it may be, no offense…”

“None taken.”

“It’s just that, you know…”

“Know what?”

“Come on, you have to admit it’s a bit unusual for an absolute stranger to sit at your table uninvited.”

“Oh, but you did invite me.”

“I did?”

“Well, not you verbally, but your loneliness called out to me. I’m sensitive to things of that nature, people’s loneliness and all that.”

“I appear lonely to you?”

“Most definitely. No offense.”

“None taken, I guess.”

“And well, it’s Christmas time and no one should feel lonely on Christmas.”

“Oh, I get it,” I blushed against my will and was suddenly unable to keep eye contact with her. “Um, I’m flattered, I guess but this really isn’t my sort of thing. I don’t pay for…”

“Wait a minute, you think I’m a…”

“You’re not?”

“Definitely not.”

“I-I am so sorry! It’s just beautiful women don’t make it a habit of approaching me and…”

“Let me stop you right there. I will allow the infraction because you called me beautiful and before you misread anything else into me sitting at your table, if you and I become anything it will simply be friends, not friends with benefits or any of this other modern-day nonsense. I’m far too old-fashioned for that. And yes, even as a friend I still expect you to be gentleman enough to open doors for me as well as pull out my chair when we dine, thank you very much.”

“Um, okay?”

“And quit acting like this is weird,” Mary said. “Tis the season and I have no gift to bring other than to say, I see you. This has grown to be an unintentional world where people are acknowledged more on the internet than in real life, so I intend to change that, right here, right now, starting with you by asking you a simple question.”

“And what question would that be?”

“How are you doing?” Mary asked, looking me in the eye and giving me her full attention and I was about to respond with the automatic faux “Fine,” but there was something in her expression that made me feel that she was interested in hearing my honest response, so I told her.

I told her how I thought I was at the end of my rope. As an older gentleman who was closer to the end of the race than the beginning, I felt absolutely lost. My life was empty. I had felt this way before but then I wore a younger man’s clothes and was far more resilient, able to pick myself up by the bootstraps and rebuild my life but the change was always temporary and things crumbled and I had to begin again. The problem was I didn’t think I had the strength or wherewithal to start over again. I had lost all interest in the things I was once passionate about and all motivation to find something new was gone.

“Sometimes,” Mary reached her hand across the table and held mine. “We just need to focus on things beyond our circumstances to maintain our sense of peace and allow our senses to lead us to our true path.”

“Like you did by sitting at my table?”

Mary smiled and nodded. “Something like that.”

Now, I wasn’t one to believe in Christmas miracles but this bizarre woman, bless her heart, offered to be a knot at the end of my rope, transforming her from a random stranger to a catalyst of joy. And as the conversation continued, we discussed making a greater impact on society by acknowledging strangers and becoming a source of compassion for those in need and in turn challenging them to make the world a better place, filled with upturned smiling faces, happy to make contact with a living being instead of blue-lit zombies scouring their phones for acceptance and approval.

I never gave much credence to the idea of living a life of service as I equated it to religion and I was not a spiritual man by any stretch of the imagination but there was no denying how constantly amazed I was that a spontaneous conversation or a meaningful smile were so rare that they could literally be the highlight of someone’s day. Now, my newfound purpose in life had become making these rare moments of love between complete strangers the norm.

Thank you, Mary Christmas, for starting a revolution.

Happy Holidays, everyone! Be safe and be well!

Text and audio ©2020 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

21 Writing Lessons A Wise Man Would Share (and no, I’m not calling myself wise)

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  1. Commitment is what transforms an idea floating around in your head into reality. Putting pen to paper speaks boldly of your intentions and are the actions which speak louder than the words. It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to shape ethereal things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.
  2. No one is perfect. The quicker this is realized the faster you can get on with being excellent. Start every morning ready to write harder than you did the day before and plot further than you ever imagine.
  3. Avoid over explaining yourself in writing. Be confident that your audience is intelligent enough to understand.
  4. Write down what’s most important to you in your writing career and the steps to accomplish that goal and show up. Sometimes we tend to do the things that are most important to us when it’s written down.
  5. Play the hand you’re dealt. Stop envying someone else’s talent or success. Have the courage to face your own writing challenges head on. It builds character. Start looking for a way through instead of a way out.
  6. Become a student of life. Learn something new every day. The day you stop learning is the day you become obsolete so keep learning and keep writing.
  7. No excuses. Stop making excuses for not writing and replace them with ways to do better writing. Excuses are a waste of time and energy.
  8. Never be ashamed to tell anyone you’re a writer, whether you’re published or not. The definition of a writer is a person who writes or is able to write. Being ashamed to acknowledge this fact to people speaks to self-doubt, which is a desire killer.
  9. Never be afraid of a writing challenge. If you never strive to be more than what you are, you’ll never truly know what you can become.
  10. Service to others. Pointing people in the right direction is such a small thing. Give advice to those who ask for it. Offer support to those who want it. We’re all here to teach as well as learn.
  11. Work like hell. If you want to earn a living as a writer, that is. Treat it like a profession, put your absolute best foot forward and be thorough. Cross every “T” and dot every “I”.
  12. Discover you. Find your passion, life purpose, and pursue them… then write about them.
  13. Don’t take it personally. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge and laugh at something that you’ve written in the past that’s just plain awful. Self-awareness and self-confidence shows that you’re comfortable in your own skin.
  14. Manage your time. Our situation and environment is ever changing so be careful not to confuse the things that are urgent with the things that are important. Look for time wasters and eliminate them.
  15. Ask for help. Writing can be tough and although you do a majority of it alone, you should never write in a total vacuum and there’s no shame in seeking advice when you’re stuck.
  16. Do your homework. Know what you’re getting into before you start writing in a particular field, format or genre. Doing your homework reduces uncertainty and fear.
  17. Daydream often. Your imagination is a muscle that requires exercise and daydreaming is an excellent way to flex. Embrace and preserve your daydreams at all cost.
  18. Forgive and set free. Freeing your mind to write is almost as important as actually sitting down to write, so cultivate a healthy dose of forgiveness and set someone free. Learn to forgive others and stop carrying those bags of hate, guilt or regret.
  19. Stay one step ahead. Avoid big fish/small pond thinking if at all possible. If you’ve mastered a particular style of writing, why not be proactive, take the initiative, and see what other types of writing challenges are out there for you?
  20. Self-love. Become your own priority. Strive to be the you, you want to be. Once you accomplish this, it will show in your writing, trust me.
  21. Finish what you started. Avoid the urge to stray. Distractions are the writer’s most fearsome adversary. Avoid jumping off a project because a better idea has come along. Jot the better idea down, set it aside, and come back to it when you’re done with your current project.

Sally forth and be wisely writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Three Simple Facts Of Writing

 

Today’s entry is a shortie because I’m busy wrestling with a wordy bastard of a story that refuses to be tamed but I’m in a particularly stubborn mood, so challenge met!

That said, I offer you my three simple facts of writing:

  1. If you do not write the story you truly want to write, it will never be read. You can’t have the unwashed masses confirm your greatness when you haven’t given them anything to be in awe of.
  2. If you don’t submit your work—–for review, publication, employment, or whatever—–the answer will always be no. The cruelest rejection you can ever receive is from yourself, the toughest critic you’ll ever know. If you never show your work, you never give an editor, publisher, prodco, or whatever, the chance to say yes (exercise caution, of course, and protect your writing before letting it fly out into the world).
  3. If you don’t write, you’ll never be a writer. Plain and simple. Also, many, many, many years from now, when you’re lying on your deathbed, do you really want a box of regret—–filled with all the unwritten stories of your life—–hanging over your head like the sword of Damocles? I think not.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

50 Questions That Can Help Free Your Mind (to concentrate on writing… hopefully)

 

The common advice for freeing your mind to write is to create a journal. I’m fairly certain that most of you have either 1) created a journal that you may or may not keep current, or 2) heard the advice and decided journaling isn’t for you (hey, it happens).

So, what other options do you have when you’ve lost your self in a quagmire of self-pity, mundane daily obligations and insurmountable life woes and can’t quite seem to maintain your true identify or nurture your creative center?

Why, you slap on your pith helmet, turn your gaze inward, and explore that largely ignored country of your core self, naturally. And the best way to accomplish this is with the list below. Why a list? Because you’re a writer and writers love lists.

Be advised that there are no right or wrong answers because sometimes simply asking the right questions is the answer.

  1. How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?
  2. Which is worse, failing or never trying?
  3. If life is so short, why do we do so many things we don’t like and like so many things we don’t do?
  4. When it’s all said and done, will you have said more than you’ve done?
  5. What is the one thing you would most like to change about the world?
  6. If happiness was the national currency, what kind of work would make you rich?
  7. Are you doing what you believe in, or are you settling for what you are doing?
  8. If the average human life span was 40 years, how would you live your life differently?
  9. To what degree have you actually controlled the course your life has taken?
  10. Are you more worried about doing things right, or doing the right things?
  11. You are having lunch with three people you respect and admire. They all start criticizing a close friend of yours, not knowing she is your friend. The criticism is distasteful and unjustified. What do you do?
  12. If you could offer a newborn child only one piece of advice, what would it be?
  13. Would you break the law to save a loved one?
  14. Have you ever seen insanity where you later saw creativity?
  15. What is something you know you do differently than most people?
  16. How come the things that make you happy don’t make everyone happy?
  17. What is one thing have you not done that you really want to do? What’s holding you back?
  18. Are you holding onto something you need to let go of?
  19. If you had to move to a state or country besides the one you currently live in, where would you move and why?
  20. Do you push the elevator button more than once? Do you really believe it makes the elevator faster?
  21. Would you rather be a worried genius or a joyful simpleton?
  22. Why are you, you?
  23. Have you been the kind of friend you want as a friend?
  24. Which is worse, when a good friend moves away, or losing touch with a good friend who lives right near you?
  25. What are you most grateful for?
  26. Would you rather lose all of your old memories, or never be able to make new ones?
  27. Is it possible to know the truth without challenging it first?
  28. Has your greatest fear ever come true?
  29. Do you remember that time 5 years ago when you were extremely upset? Does it really matter now?
  30. What is your happiest childhood memory? What makes it so special?
  31. At what time in your recent past have you felt most passionate and alive?
  32. If not now, then when?
  33. If you haven’t achieved it yet, what do you have to lose?
  34. Have you ever been with someone, said nothing, and walked away feeling like you just had the best conversation ever?
  35. Why do religions that support love cause so many wars?
  36. Is it possible to know, without a doubt, what is good and what is evil?
  37. If you just won a million dollars, would you quit your job?
  38. Would you rather have less work to do, or more work you actually enjoy doing?
  39. Do you feel like you’ve lived this day a hundred times before?
  40. When was the last time you marched into the dark with only the soft glow of an idea you strongly believed in?
  41. If you knew that everyone you know was going to die tomorrow, who would you visit today?
  42. Would you be willing to reduce your life expectancy by 10 years to become extremely attractive or famous?
  43. What is the difference between being alive and truly living?
  44. When is it time to stop calculating risk and rewards, and just go ahead and do what you know is right?
  45. If we learn from our mistakes, why are we always so afraid to make a mistake?
  46. What would you do differently if you knew nobody would judge you?
  47. When was the last time you noticed the sound of your own breathing?
  48. What do you love? Have any of your recent actions openly expressed this love?
  49. In 5 years from now, will you remember what you did yesterday? What about the day before that? Or the day before that?
  50. Decisions are being made right now. The question is: Are you making them for yourself, or are you letting others make them for you?

Sally forth and be free-mindedly writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys