I don’t always use my vocabulary to its greatest extent, but I’ve definitely been the that lady people have arched an eyebrow at when I used the right word, and they thought I was using a ten-cent word to sound superior. Sometimes, I just like to be precise.
I like words. I like knowing the connotations that distinguish different options in my thesaurus.
I’m what you might call an amateur etymologist — a person who studies words, their meanings, and the history behind them. I’m a huge fan of the website etymonline.com (just be sure not to confuse me with the bug-loving entomologists.)
For the whole of society, people have been continually creating new words, when the ones they had just wouldn’t do. We see it every day with new technologies and new slang. Tons of the so-called greats they teach you in English literature have done it. From Dickens, to Milton, to the ever-famous-for-it Shakespeare.
Now, I’m sure there are experts that will argue with me. And I know the French are quite particular about allowing new words into their language.
But, for me? If you use a word, and people can understand from the context what you intended, it’s a word.
Maybe they can tell because they recognize the root word that you’ve just verbified.
Maybe they can tell because because your actions demonstrated its meaning.
Science-fiction and fantasy writers often find themselves inventing dozens of terms for their magic or technological systems.
But, you don’t have to be in a make-believe world for a made up word to have meaning.
Language exists to convey a thought — a concept. If you’ve successfully conveyed your meaning, that’s all it takes for a word to be real. At least to me.
What’s your opinion on created words? Love ’em? Hate ’em? Can’t live without them?
I am a huge fan of serendipity. That moment when you realize something about your world or your character or your setting that makes what you’ve been planning and your story all seem inevitable.
This post isn’t about that. This is about when you realize everything is wrong.
Sometimes, it’s a huge plot hole, when you realize what you had planned for isn’t going to work and you have to change it. Other times, you think of something better — to improve your characters, plot, or pacing. Or, if you’re pantsing, something might have come out of the blue and now you have to set it up properly.
There are of course, several approaches to this.
Because we’re writers. And none of us do the same thing the same way. Sometimes, we don’t even do it the same way twice ourselves.
So, without further ado, let’s talk about the four ways an author can handle an unexpected realization that ruins things they’ve already written.
1 – Ignore the Idea
Maybe you’re a planner and this was not in your outline. Therefore, you will ignore it and write the story as planned.
Perhaps, you’re a pantser and the idea will take far too much much effort to work in.
Sometimes, it’s a brilliant idea — but it’s not the story you wanted to tell.
In any case, if you don’t make the change, you don’t have to do the work. Just barrel ahead and leave things as is. (Assuming, of course, it’s not a gaping plot hole.)
Although… many writers have found, when they have an idea that strikes the right chord for their story, ignoring it will cause their story to actually fight them. Either the words stop coming, or that dang story idea keeps trying to work itself in at any opportunity.
2 – Make a Note, Then Ignore It
If you’re writing away, a big change like this could derail your momentum. Or, maybe you just hate switching between editing and writing modes? Either way, some people just make a note and keep writing.
Where do they make the note? Wherever makes sense to them. It could be in a notebook, a draft email to themselves, in the margins of a printed out page (if you print each chapter as it comes out or something), or, in the margins of the electronic document.
No matter where the note is made, the idea is that it will remind the writer of the edits to come, and they can move forward with the story.
But, without knowing how the details will be set up, it can be complicated to just start writing as if that note had been true for the entire story. Thus? Some writers will keep writing with the wrong details, so that when they come back to revise, all the changes can be made smoothly and congruently.
3 – Make a Note, Then Incorporate It
You’re still writing away, still not breaking your momentum. You’ve added a note, so you know where to edit up to. Now? All you have to do is make the change and move forward as though you’d always intended your world or character or what have to be that way.
Details are often less intrusive than one might fear. Fixing that detail and reviewing what you had before might re-energize your writing.
Or? It might bog you down. Some writers, once they start editing, need to fix everything. Thus, even if your goal is to get your rough draft finished, you might end up stuck in editing-hell, doomed to keep thinking of new things to fix and never moving forward on your manuscript.
Only you can know if you’ll be pulled into that trap.
4 – Rewrite the Whole Thing!
Sometimes, your idea is just so novel, so pivotal to the story, there is only one option if you want to see it play out properly. Throw out the entire manuscript (or, you know, save it to your drafts folder and open a new document. Never, ever, ever throw out a manuscript!) and start from the beginning again.
Feel free to steal, without reservations, lines, scenes, or chapters from the original, but make sure everything is reworked and made fresh.
Sure, it might be a lot of work, and some writers struggle with writing if they feel like they’ve already written this scene, but sometimes, it’s the only option.
Writing a manuscript is hard work. It takes time, effort, and creativity. Hopefully, with these four options, you can find yourself a gameplan next time your drafting runs off the rails
Let me know if there are any options I missed! Have you ever had to use one of these to get a manuscript back on track?
Since I love talking about writing advice, and I love pointing out that all writing advice should be taken — but only if it works for you, welcome to my new, irregularly scheduled feature, where I’m going to be talking about my favorite snippets of writing advice — and why they’re both right… and wrong. Or, you know, basically what the title says. I’m gonna talk about how they work for me personally, plus, exactly where they break down (for me).
1. Write What You Know
Authenticity sells. If you know how something works, or what this character would sound like, what that character would eat, and all the little things in between, then your story is going to flow more easily. You don’t have to do research for things you already know. You’re already immersed in this aspect of your story.
I write fantasy. I’m nudging my way into science-fiction. Some of you write thrillers and crime novels — and not all of you who do are killers and criminals! I’m pretty sure.
Where this piece of advice shines best is when you take aspects of things you know fully and integrate it into your story. Maybe it’s giving a character your own day-job, or a character with your sister’s personality. Perhaps it’s adding your own dislike of baths for a character, or that thrill of a beautiful sunset while taking your dogs for a walk. Something that lets your reality into your story world, so it will ring all the truer for it.
But, what if your world is vastly different than the one in which you live? You might be writing in some caveman level fantasy world, or the future where the last of humanity leans on powerful machines for survival when our sun burns out, but there’s some things that will still hold true. Humanity. You know people who are kind, or mean, are clever, or just go with the flow. And by incorporating that level of humanity into your characters, making people in wildly difference scenarios react like people your readers know and love (or hate), you’ll be writing what you know, and making the story that much more accessible for your readers.
2. Write Every Day
While some writers can get away with only writing when inspired, for most of us, finishing a rough draft — not to mention the revisions and edits and polishes that take it from a concept in your head to a polished novel — takes a lot of application of butt-in-chair.
One of the best ways to get in the habit of writing is, surprisingly enough, to write. This is the theory behind NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month. You’ve got a daily and monthly wordcount target to meet, and that encourages you to prioritize your writing. The best way to create a writing habit is to write every day.
And for some of us, it works. They writing like breathing.
The rest of us are not automatons. Life happens. Family happens. If we prioritize our writing over our day jobs, our families, and our health? We’ll end up burnt out and living alone on ramen.
For me? I’ve learned how to get 50,000 words written in November and it involves letting a lot of things in my offline life slide — like laundry, dishes, and socialization. Especially since I still have a day job. For me? It’s doable for a month, but then I’m typically burnt out and catching up on what I let slide until at least January.
So, in the off-season, you’ll find me working on my writing 2-5 times a week, not every day. Letting the habit slide can make my writing struggle, but when I get back on track, a slower pace is healthier for me. It’s up to you to know what works for you — and recognize your circumstances can change. What worked for one story, one time in your life, might not work today.
3. Show, Don’t Tell
You might be telling a story, but you want to show the readers what’s happening, not tell the readers about what’s happening.
You want sentences like:
“Jaime,” she said, shaking her head, “why can’t you ever be on time?”
Jaime’s teacher was fussing that he came in late.
Not everything has to be on the page. The reader needs to see when things change, when decisions are made, when characters are pushed toward the tipping point. They don’t need to see every last meal and potty break. Sometimes, it’s okay to tell a little. In brief sections.
Here’s an example from one of my works in progress. I used to show a lot more, but in this example, I’m telling:
The air smelled crisp and right when I woke, with the muffled sound of a heavy rain pattering into the ground above. Pilgrims were expected to work for their bed and board on late harvest days like this, so we spent the day cleaning, canning, and helping the Lunadats lay in stores for winter.
Sure, I read up on how to can fruits and vegetables, but the scene showing it happening only showed off my research, it did nothing to advance the story.
Those are the top three snippets of writing advice I keep hearing, plus how I’ve made them work for me. I infuse my writing with aspects of reality to ground it, I write when I can and try to make it a priority — in ways that don’t leave me burnt out, and I’ll tell instead of show when the scene won’t advance the plot.
Are there any bits of advice that you swear by? Any that are never right for you? Let me know in the comments below!
Every writer is different. Some writers are planners and come into the story knowing exactly what the plot is, who the main character is, where they’re coming from, and where they’re going. Others plan a little lighter, knowing a basic plot outline and the general characters. And some? Just make the whole thing up as they go along.
One thing, though, is generally true, no matter how the writer approaches the story, there is a point of view character, or characters.
Points Of View
Most stories are told in first or third person. In first person, you have the character talking about:
“I went to the store.”
In third person, the story is more:
“She went to the store.“
For stylized, artsy, or choose-your-own-adventure books, you occasionally get second-person point of view. Or:
“You went to the store.“
Some stories are ‘closer’ than others. What do I mean by closer? Well, if the story isn’t ‘close’, you can’t know what the characters are thinking. When you are in third-person close, you can have things like,
MAIN CHARACTER thought that so-and-so was a jerk because…
Where in first-person close, it would simply be:
So-and-so was a jerk! Why did they always…
But point of view is more than just which pronoun to use for the character (I, she, you) or how close you are. Some stories are told from one point of view, others have up to a multitude of point-of-view characters.
Picking a Point of View
When writing a story, there are many factors that go into picking the right point-of-view — and point of view character(s).
What genre are you writing? Different genres tend toward different expectations for point of view characters. YA tends to be first person, adult science fiction and fantasy is often third person omniscient – like a narrator who can fill in world building gaps. Read in your genre to know what the expectations are.
How intimate is your story?First person is a lot more intimate than third, but easier to throw the reader out of the story if you get a detail wrong. Lots of action and dialogue is great for third person. Mental turmoil often works better in first-person. If your story deals with a lot of trauma, think hard about which way you want to go.
Whose story are you telling?If the character is foremost in your planning, or the most well-developed part of your story, you probably know who should be telling the story.
NOTE: Sometimes who you think the story is about isn’t the main character at all. Things happening behind the scenes can be just as exciting as the things on the main stage.
What does your reader need to know? Sometimes, the plot needs the audience to know things that the main character won’t know.
Are you sure your point of view character is the right choice for your world? Think about your intended point of view characters in relation to what the story is actually talking about. Exploring a real world setting and culture through the eyes of an insider OR an outsider can be done wrong. I’m not here to tell you to ‘stay in your lane’ or anything like that, but this sort of story needs to be told with open eyes, respect for the culture you’re exploring, and definitely consult with people from that culture and background. There are nuances that no amount of study will ever be able to convey.
Do you have a favorite point of view to read? Is it different when you write?
How do you choice your point of view — and point of view characters?
Voice-to-text has come a long way. I used to have to deepen my voice to what I call a “mansetto” to get any voice activated device to even listen to me. Even now, I know that my excited voice, which is higher pitch, isn’t going to be as accurate.
But, I’ve been using voice-to-text on chats, if I’m multitasking. And, a couple weeks ago, when running errands, I had a plot idea I didn’t want to forget. So, at an empty stop sign, I triggered voice-to-text and narrated my notes.
And it worked.
This whole year, I’ve been struggling with adding words to my space fantasy that I started back in November, for NaNoWriMo. I thought adding a new point-of-view character would help, and it did, but not enough. I managed 5,000 words in all of January.
The ubiquitous “they” say that if you’re having trouble getting the words to flow, try something new: a new font, a new writing location, a new story, a new writing program.
So, Friday, during a live write-in with Sarah Scharnweber, (you can often find me on her Friday night write-ins from 8-10pm ET), I decided to switch things up and try to get my words in verbally. And… oh-gosh-oh-geez it WORKED!
What Software Do You Need?
When I mentioned I’d tried this, this was the first question out of most writer’s mouths (well, keyboards, this was a virtual conversation).
I’m not using any fancy apps, although I did upgrade my phone last year. My technique was straightforward.
I had my Samsung S10e phone
I opened my Gmail
I hit “compose” in the lower right
I made sure my cursor was in the body of the email (a couple times, the keyboard didn’t show up, so I left the ‘compose’ window, reopened, and tried again)
I triggered the microphone button for voice-to-text
I admit, I’m a recovering google fangirl. But about the time they dropped “do no evil” from their corporate guidelines, I devolved to simply a user. The advantage to using gmail is that it saves and auto-syncs with my email on any other device. While I do write in google docs (if you’re having trouble loading large documents, turn on ‘work offline’ as an option), I didn’t want to deal with loading a full manuscript, and I wanted to review the text before adding it to my draft. Plus, gmail is always loaded and I didn’t want to waste the navigating to a new document plus load time.
Besides, for me, I often save story ideas and snippets in my gmail drafts folder, so this is normal for me.
5 Tips For Writing Using Voice-To-Text
1 – Keep your voice slow and calm
As I mentioned earlier, excited voices, especially if you have a higher pitched voice, often run into trouble with voice-to-text programs. Speaking slowly and clearly gives the app the best chance to get the most accurate transcription.
2 – Voice your punctuation
I’ve been using voice-to-text lightly for years. “Comma” and “period” have been staples that have managed to find their way into voicemails, making me feel extra silly. As of this week, I’ve now mastered the “quote” to start or end a quotation, as well as “new line”, which works just like the enter key.
I recommend single new-lining after each paragraph, so when you copy it into your manuscript, the spacing will need the fewest adjustments to be in proper manuscript format. I had been double-new-lining, so learn from my mistakes.
3 – Use placeholder names
This one is pretty obvious. Voice-to-text will likely struggle with fantasy names, so do what I do and just use easily recognized names that you can easily find-and-replace.
4 – Reread every paragraph to make sure it’s still recording and isn’t too inaccurate
The few writers I talked to who have tried voice-to-text writing and vowed “never again” shared horror stories of long writing sessions where the recorder stopped five minutes in. I’m new to this, and I like to make sure future-me will know what I meant to say. So, by rereading each paragraph, I can repeat a phrase that the transcriptor botched, and, validate that the recording is still functioning. Then again, I’d started off manually adding those double ‘new lines’ so maybe I’ll calm down when I get more used to it?
5 – Copy each writing session into your main draft as soon as you finish
Voice-to-text is not perfect, it’s going to need some clean up. If you’re like me, the cleanup necessary for even a full chapter might seem intimidating. I enjoyed doing 15-21 minute sprints, and then copying the transcription over and cleaning it up right then. While I still remembered what any transcription errors meant to say, and while the task was still a matter of minutes, rather than hours or days.
Now, I’ve only been trying this for a week now, and I’m sure I’ll write by hand plenty as well. But, as long as it’s working, I’m not going to knock it.
Have you ever tried voice-to-text? Have you used it for writing?
Have you ever switched something up and found it helped your words?