writing, writing tips

Ways to Keep Your Readers Engaged

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One of the most difficult parts of writing isn’t the big, exciting, flashy parts of your story, but the quiet moments in-between them. Let’s call them “mundane moments” to be honest but not overly cruel.

This article by the great Chuck Palahniuk over on LitHub  emphasizes the importance of not boring your readers.

Of course you can move along in one unbroken moment-to-moment description, but that’s so slow. Maybe too slow for the modern audience. And while people will argue that today’s audience has been dumbed down by music videos and whatnot, I’d argue that today’s audience is the most sophisticated that’s ever existed. We’ve been exposed to more stories and more forms of storytelling than any people in history.

Chuck identifies that authors shouldn’t be afraid of using different tools and methods of filling that “in-between” space with things other than rote lists of boring activities. I’m very guilty of this in 1st drafts. Characters milling around, picking things up and putting them down. Looking at one another. BORING!

Some of the things he identifies as alternatives are

  • Montages
  • Interesting “coded” dialogue that helps flesh out character groups
  • Short chapters that describe/show locations as characters travel

I am certainly a writer from the school of “making it like a film”. When I wrote DETROIT 2020 one of the primary goals of the book was to make it a book for readers who would rather be watching an action movie. Even my internal author “camera” sees scenes played out like little movies in my brain as I’m writing.

Pacing scenes like films in your head can really resonate with audiences who are savvy and used to processing information quickly. It’s also another reason that the old adage of “Show versus Tell” is so important. You want to build the image in your reader’s minds so their processing of that vision is efficient and seamless. Being “told” takes more energy on their part and risks a disconnect.

There are also a number of things that can make your prose cleaner and more efficient when you are self-editing your initial story drafts.

The main takeaway here is if you or your beta readers find some yawning moments where your story lags, then your readership certainly will too. Bored readers are no readers at all.

Hopefully these posts will spark some unique ideas to fill those mundane moments in your stories. If you have additional suggestions on how you work with those spaces share it with your fellow writers down in the comments!

announcement, article

2019 Blog Round-Up and Top Posts

cowboys riding horses

It’s been another great year in the weird little corner of the internet known as Suburban Syntax.

We got a fresh look and face lift just in time for Halloween. We started talking a little more about film photography along with our primary subject of writing. And last, but certainly not least, we got a LOT of brand new readers and followers! That might mean YOU!

First off, thank you to everyone who drops by and reads these posts, discusses them in the comments, and shares them around. “Suburban Syntax” isn’t something I do for financial gain (does anyone make money blogging these days?) so it’s seeing regular faces drop by and discuss posts that really keeps me coming back and updating it on the semi-regular. You rock, and I hope you stick around.

Adding Photography

Aftering purchasing and inheriting some film cameras this year, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the interest my posts about film photography have garnered. It’s definitely a niche art form at this point, which is re-growing after bottoming out in the early 2K’s. I’m by no means a great photographer, but it’s an extremely fun hobby to dabble in, and I’m happy to have cross-over with film photo readers – many of whom I’ve begun following to learn more about the craft and cool vintage equipment.

Top Posts

It’s always fun to run the numbers and see which posts were everyone’s favorites.

For 2019, here’s what everyone was reading

Kodak Gold 200 Film Discontinued?

My film folks were in effect. Maybe it was the click-bait-y ? I threw in the title, or the promise of an adventure through local Walgreen’s pharmacies, but this post BLEW UP. It was the best performer by far, ever when it posted a little later in the year.

How to Draft Short Stories

Hot on Kodak’s heels was this short guide on how to draft short stories. This one even got re-posted around the interwebs in a couple places, which was flattering. It’s nice to think that other people might take my advice when it comes to penning short fiction.

Thoughts on Self-Publishing in 2019

In 3rd place was my speculation/opinions on the changing landscape of self-publishing. Authors prefer you call it “Indie” now, but I am stubborn. Scouring a few articles from industry-types that are much more qualified than I am, it seems like a few of my predictions were correct, and things are definitely trending in a certain way. I’m very curious to see what the new decade brings in terms of author’s being able to get traction for their work through the self-publishing route.

What’s Ahead in 2020?

To close this out, I’d like to give a quick teaser on a few of the things I plan to focus on for the blog in 2020.

  • GUEST POSTS – I love guest posts (and guest posting!) so I am hoping to get some other writers in here to voice their opinions on writing and/or photography
  • NEWS POSTS – I make it a point to create “evergreen” content, but it seems like people enjoy the occasional timely “news” post too. I plan to tackle some of those with my own editorial spin on them
  • PHOTOS & REVIEWS – I’m going to continue expanding the photo-related postings where I can, but I’ve been VERY lax about book reviews. I’d like to get back in the saddle of reviewing books, and perhaps cameras and film too.

Thanks again to everyone who is my audience. I hope you all have a safe and happy holiday season, and I look forward to an entering an exciting new decade with you in the  coming weeks!

-BLD

re-blog, writing tips

Maintaining A Creative Output During The Holidays

The holidays are a great time to relax with family and friends, and catch up on all those new horror movies you missed back in October (maybe that last one is just me?). But they are busy, and it can be hard to get your writing done. Luckily this great post from K.M. Allan has some useful tips to keep your output going through the end of the year.

K.M. Allan

The holidays are a time for relaxing and taking a break, even Stephen King doesn’t write on Christmas day!

But writers like to make ourselves feel guilty if we aren’t penning down words, even when it’s time for a well-earned break, so here are some tips for maintaining a creative output during the holidays.

Make A To-Do List

Even Santa makes a list at Christmas. You don’t need to check yours twice, but at least have something to look at that’ll keep you on track.

There are a million things to think of and do this time of year, so list writing tasks and non-writing tasks, work out a plan for getting them all achieved, and then tick off each task. It’ll keep you motivated, organized, and get things done. That might sound like a lot for one little list to do, but hey, it’s Christmas, the season…

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writing, writing tips

Writing Tip: How to Take Writing Advice

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Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. – Neil Gaiman

 

Oh Neil, you’re so correct. The above advice “works for me” and I take it.

So should you, dear blog reader.

Everyone is a Writer (even when they aren’t)

I’ve written numerous times about the benefits of writer’s groups. I firmly believe you should find one local to you and join it if possible.

With that out of the way, there are still some important guidelines when it comes to accepting advice from either a critique group, beta reader, or even (I’m going there) an EDITOR.

One of the things that makes writing difficult is showing it to others. Once the cat is out of the bag, you’re going to get all kinds of feedback. Some of it will improve your story, and some of it needs to be ignored.

Advice to Take

  • Rule of 3: I adhere to the “Rule of 3” – If three people independently tell me something isn’t working for them or they didn’t like part of a story, then I’ll look at it and try to improve or fix it. It is obvious that something is amiss for that many people to notice. Better 3 than 3000.
  • When Something is “Off” – Like my man Neil G. said up top. When readers have an inexplicable feeling that something doesn’t work, then you need to review that part of your story. Good writing evokes emotion, and if readers are getting all the wrong feels, then that is a red flag.
  • (Most) Advice from Your Editor – HAH! LOOK I BACK TRACKED! But seriously, if you are working with a professional editor, put your ego aside and respect their objective skill set. If they are questioning something that is absolutely, 100% non-negotiable to your story, then you should at least have a detailed discussion with them to try and figure out whether other edits can make that thing you’re holding onto work better in the greater context. I mean, sometimes even editors can be wrong…sometimes.
  • “Tough Love” from your Inner Circle – Most authors develop relationships over time with a few people they REALLY trust. Writer’s groups, editors, beta readers, etc. If one of your most trusted people who has a solid, previous track record of quality feedback says something like “this just isn’t up to your normal standard” or something similar, then you should listen. It might hurt, but it’s very likely they have your best interest in mind.

Advice to Ignore

  • “Here’s What you SHOULD WRITE” – It’s not their story. Don’t change your words into the ones they wrote for you. NEXT!
  • “That’s Just My Opinion” – If 10 people love it, and 1 person says it is total trash, you’re probably safe to ignore it. Especially if there is no underlying reason and they just “didn’t like it”.
  • Twitter – Don’t take generalized writing advice from social media. (But DO take expert long-form writing advice from random authors who you stumble across on blog sites like WordPress!)
  • Angry People – This is a very situational one, but I’ve had it happen. If someone blasts you, and just tears your work apart, sometimes it’s them and not you. If you have a personal connection and know they are going through a difficult time or are just not in the correct head space to read critically, then sometimes you should either ignore the advice or ask them to read it again at a later date if you’re comfortable doing so.

In Conclusion

I hope this post can help you navigate the difficult situations that can arise when you’re taking feedback on your work. I have a feeling it might, but I’m not going to tell you which tips to specifically use.

writing tips

More Reasons to Join A Writer’s Group

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Summer is right around the corner, and that’s going to mark the second anniverary of my writer’s group. We’ve had numerous up’s and down’s, membership turnover, and even a venue change, but the core group of authors who initially put it all together are still there, grinding away and putting out the work.

In honor of this, I want to re-visit my earlier ‘Reasons to Join A Writer’s Group’ post with a few more ideas now that our family has grown and matured (or at least gotten older).

Networking

The writer’s group I belong to is successful. That might sound a bit conceited, but it’s true. In the past two years, nearly every author in the group is traditionally published, gotten into a respected Workshop, worked with well-known editors on anthologies, or raised their platform through media tours. One of our members even got a multi-book deal.

Now, all of that is on their own hard work and diligence, but having a trusted group of friends and colleagues to advise and share contacts with is also so much more important than I ever would have known. Being able to “vouch” for another writer to an editor, agent, or artist can open doors you simply wouldn’t have come across flying solo. Plus, we learn from one another’s triumphs and failures, which better helps everyone in the group to navigate the complex landscape of writing and publishing.

Trusted Critiques

Writing is an extremely personal thing, and as one member of my group put it “it takes a lot of trust to hand your work over to someone”. This is true, and what has struck me even more, years on, is that critiques in our group have become simultaneously more comfortable and more intense. As you get to know one another, walls come down, and you can both give and receive the kind of fundamental, honest feedback that is needed to improve a book or story. Plus, when you receive that constructive criticism, you know it’s coming from a place of honest encouragement. We all have each other’s best interest in mind.

Accountability

Meeting with a group regularly, over the long-term, helps to keep you accountable to actually write. Knowing you need to submit, at least every once in a while, will keep you from getting too comfortable. You want to write, after all, and it helps to have friends with common goals who will really push you to get words on the page.

Are you a member of a local writer’s group in your area? If so, tell me about your experiences down in the comments.