Creating a Believable Relationship
Relationships can make or break a story, and unless there's only one character in your book, relationships are imminent. If readers can't or don't understand the relationship, it could completely change the predicted outcome of the story or have readers rooting for the wrong character. It's either something that can be easily decided at the beginning of the story, or maybe you'd prefer to let them set their own relationship as the plot progresses. Either way, it's important to take these points into consideration:
The Dangers of Burnout
Welcome to Daylight Saving Time, the best time of the year, in my opinion! The days are longer, the weather's starting to warm up, and the bushes in my yard are finally getting some green on them!
With all the nice weather, we often begin to feel more motivated to work, whether it's outside or cleaning the house or getting started on all those projects we've been putting off all winter. There's a renewed sense of "I can do this!" But sometimes, it can be dangerous.
We're all familiar with taking on too much, especially as editors. Especially when we're trying to grow our business and get as many clients as possible. It's a great prospect, believe me, and it can be effective if you play your cards right and have all the time in the world. However, if you're not used to doing that, it can be extremely detrimental to your mental health as well as your client base.
When you're working for someone else and trying to prove yourself, it's so important to take care of yourself too and not put too much on your plate. While a client might think it's great that you always have availability, your quality of work will go down if you're trying to do too much at once. It's better to focus all your attention on one story than divide it up. This will create a higher probability of you not catching mistakes or not explaining yourself properly because you have so many different things to complete before the deadline. To combat that, extending your deadline too much might cause you to lose a client that can't wait that long, or that's on their own deadline.
I tried this and learned my limit very quickly. I can work on two projects at a time, with maybe something very quick while I'm working on those, but nothing more than that or I can't keep up. The stories blend together, I can't keep characters straight, and it's hard to bounce back and forth between stories and authors and styles; it just gets tiring.
Potential clients are going to want to go for quality, not necessarily turnaround time. Good clients, that will become repeat clients, will wait on your schedule because they want you to work on their books, which is a much better feeling than stressing yourself out and exhausting yourself by trying to do too much. It'll be worth it in the end, and when it's over, you'll still enjoy editing instead of seeing it as a chore.
Where Do I Start?
This is often the most difficult part of any endeavor - getting started. There are so many resources out there for writing and editing, and it can sometimes be a little overwhelming if you're just starting out. I know it was for me! But I've been doing this for years now, and while I'm not where I'd like to be yet in terms of business, it's a lot better than it was when I started, so for that, I'm grateful. So this post is for my fellow editors who are looking to start a business themselves!
The first thing you need to do is brand yourself. Find your niche. And even if you don't think there's enough work. Believe me, there is. Plenty of people are writing and looking to publish, whether self or traditional, so there's not going to be a shortage of work, even with all the editors out there in the world! And if you ever feel like they're doing better than you (because there will be many that are doing better than you), they started out in the same place you are at one point.
Find what makes you the right person to edit. What do you love reading? That's what you're going to focus on editing. I've taken a few jobs here and there in genres that I don't necessarily read on a daily basis, which is fine, because it broadens your resume, but for the most part, I feel the most comfortable working on YA Fiction, and I have the most fun working on it! Showcase your skills and your personality. For me, I love making connections with people and being more than just their editor!
Set your prices. I started out way lower than I'm charging currently in order to get experience under my belt. This doesn't necessarily work for everyone, but I had steady income on top of editing, so anything I made from editing was just supplemental. Look around at other editors' prices and see what they're charging! You don't want to sell yourself short, but if you have no experience, you might find that clients don't want to pay your prices because they don't know how you work. Which comes to my next point!
Offer sample edits. This will also give you a good feel of the work you'll be receiving and it's an opportunity for a potential client to see how you work. Sometimes a client won't like your editing style after receiving their sample edit back and choose not to work with you. That's okay! I'd rather know up front than send them back a full manuscript of changes they won't like. Remember - it's their story. Not yours. If I was the one sending to an editor and didn't like their style, I'd definitely say so up front!
Make a website! Start out with a free one - there are plenty of sites that are easy to construct for beginners and offer easy site-building tools. This is a simple way to have everything you offer and your prices listed in one space, and it can show off who you are as an editor! Once you get enough business or feel comfortable, you can always purchase your domain so it won't have the host tag in it.
Promote yourself! This is a hard one, but most of your clients will come from social media. I've been doing this for six years and I've just now created a social media schedule and what to post every week/day/month so I stay relevant on feeds. Twitter is my main network, but I also post on Instagram and Facebook regularly - you never know who's going to see it!
And that's really it! You don't have to waste money on business cards or headshots or anything fancy when you're just starting out - that can come later IF you need it. Just put your name out there and start showcasing what you can do! You'd be surprised how much business will come to you by just advertising and connecting with people. Join editors' groups and writers' groups and make friends with people! There are postings all the time about editors who have a client they can't take on for whatever reason, asking for people to help. Maybe that's you!
All in all, make sure you have fun. Don't make it a chore. It will seem like it sometimes, but overall, if it's something you love to do and you're passionate about, let that show!
The Last Few Chapters
That's where I am right now in my WIP. I only have a few chapters to go.
This weekend, I was helping my neighbor take down her swing set and we were talking about it. I told her that when I finish this book, I feel like it'll be the biggest accomplishment of my entire life. And it really means a lot to me, because I'm not sure if I've ever finished a story I started that wasn't for an assignment of some sort. And even then, I'm never happy with my endings. But I'm proud of this story. I'm proud of this book. And I want to get it out there and share it, because I think other people will enjoy it.
Now here's the scary part - the pressure I put on myself by saying that. I've been delaying finishing it for whatever reason for the past few years. I try NaNoWriMo every single year in order to just finish what little I have left and it never seems to happen. I give myself a goal for December, by the end of the year. It doesn't happen. I wanted to finish by the end of January. Part of this is because I do work a full time job on top of owning an editing business, so I don't get as much time to write as I'd like (who does?). But I think part of it might be a fear of actually finishing it.
I keep telling myself that writing the first draft is the hard part. And in some regard, I know that's the truth. Once I finalize the story and finish tying up the plot, the rest is a combination of editing and pitching with a little bit of luck. But I'm not looking forward to the rejection that I know will inevitably come, though I'm confident that SOMEONE will enjoy my story enough to give that first five-star review or maybe a publisher will pick it up. It's the unknown that I'm nervous about - is that what's holding me back?
I haven't really thought about it like that before, but I'm sure it's there in the back of my mind somewhere along with the fear of failure, and, honestly, the fear of success. Something new. I'm sure I'll get over it in time, once I actually do finish and start the next steps.
I just wanted to put this out there today because I've been kind of impersonal with my previous blog posts and I wanted to give a little insight into what I'm feeling right now in case anyone else is in the same boat and doesn't feel like anyone else will know what's going on.
Finishing a book is a HUGE accomplishment, no matter who you are. So be proud of that. Be proud of your books. Be proud of your stories. Let it become a part of you. You're a writer, whether you take that on as an official job title or not. That's what we do. We're creators. Making something that lets people escape into our worlds when they're having a tough time on their own.
So just jump in. The deep end may not be as scary as it looks from the surface.
2/17 Writing Prompt Wednesday
This week's prompt was provided by Reedsy's random prompt generator!
Your characters are a photographer who is far from home and a student who grows carnivorous plants.
Write a story about a fear of failure. It kicks off in a hookah lounge with a bachelor party gone wrong. Note that someone in the story is just emerging from an unhealthy relationship.
But there's a twist! The story takes place in multiple timelines.
That's right. I said it.
I know some people knock fanfiction because it seems silly. And it is. Believe me, I've read my fair share of terrible, completely out-of-character, poorly written fanfictions. But that's the nature of writing, isn't it? I don't know a single person who hasn't read a bad book. The problem is that these stories are unedited and self-uploaded to free sites, so... where's the quality control?
It may be that I have a soft spot for it because my real writing journey (aside from school projects and stories I wrote when I was under twelve) began with fanfiction. For me, it was a great exercise because the characters had already been created for me! And, if there was something I didn't like about the way the author handled a situation or relationship between two characters, I could change it while still staying true to the world and the story they originated from.
Now, don't get me wrong. Fanfictions can go very wrong very quickly, and they're not always a good base to get started for reading them. However, as a writer, writing one provides nearly limitless possibilities. If you're looking for a writing exercise, think about your favorite character from your favorite TV show, whatever it is. Throw them on a deserted island. How would they react? What would they do first?
For me, the hardest part of writing is character creation. You have to think about every aspect of this fictional person's life, as in reality, every aspect of someone is what determines their personality, down to their favorite color. With fanfiction, this is already done for you! Your only job is to create a story. Maybe something great will come out of it, either an idea for your current WIP or an idea for a brand new one!
Let's not forget that Fifty Shades of Grey began as a Twilight fanfiction story.
2/10/21 Writing Prompt
Hey everyone! Here's the prompt for this week! Feel free to leave your stories as comments! I'd love to read them all!
You were born with the ability to make people blurt out whatever's currently on their minds. One night, as you sleepily make your way to your bedroom, you accidentally trigger your ability. From the closet door, you hear a muffled yell: "That's the one I'm supposed to kill, right?"
Taken from www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts
Happy Monday, everyone! This week, I'm tying up the last few pointers here and how you can incorporate them into your own writing. Thank you for joining me on this animation journey!
No work is ever wasted. And if it's not working, let go and move on - if it's useful, it'll show up again.
I have at least four drafts of my current story on Google Docs at the moment. I will never encourage clients or friends (or anyone, really) to delete a draft, even if they think they're done with it and it's never going anywhere and it's terrible and they need to start over completely... was that a train of thought running through there? First drafts are where you list the ideas. I mentioned this in my Motivation Monday post earlier today. Any time you're stuck or forgot what your original storyline was, take a look at your first draft. You may not like it, but there could be something in there that sparks another idea or you can think of a way to make it better that fits your new story. It's not bad. It's not wasted just because you didn't fit it into your final draft. Change is good. Change means creativity. I've also kept almost everything I've ever written, including multiple nearly full spiral notebooks of High School Musical & Glee fanfiction I wrote in middle school and high school. I do go back a read them every once in a while, and as cringey as it is, it's fun to see how my writing has grown since then.
You have to know yourself and know the difference between doing your best and being fussy. Story is testing, not refining.
This is so difficult for me as an editor because I want the first draft to be the last draft. But, realistically, of course I know that's not feasible. And it shouldn't be. Over the course of writing my book, I've added new things, figured things out, and realized there were some things I didn't need. And when I'm done with this draft, my full first draft, I'll go back and make sure those things make sense, which could result in something else showing up. As authors, we do this over and over until there's nothing left to be said. Your job as an author is to tell the story. An editor's job is to refine it. That's why I believe the bones of the story are so important - it can't function without good bones, just like a house won't stand up without a good foundation. Once that's in place, the rest will come.
Coincidences that get characters into trouble are great. Coincidences that get them out of trouble are cheating.
The thing that irks me the most in movies and books alike is convenience and circumstance that wouldn't normally be there. For example, a character falls down a hole that was set for him as a trap and covered in leaves. Suddenly, he brings out a portable ladder that he always carries around but it's never been mentioned the rest of the story until this point. Or even if it is, it's never used until this very moment as if that's the whole reason he was carrying it around in the first place. This isn't creative, and it's not believable. It's not fun to read. One fun example of this being done correctly is shows like MacGyver. If you haven't seen it, in almost every episode if not every episode, he creates a tool or gadget to get him out of a situation by taking pieces of materials around him and putting them together to make something entirely new (think bombs out of Legos, a bike chain, and a battery, or something silly like that). I have to admit, this isn't always 100% believable and sometimes does lean toward coincidence, but I think they do a good job of making it seem feasible.
Exercise. Take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How would you arrange them into something you do like?
This is opposite of taking elements of works you like and copying them, but this gives you a chance to rewrite something in your own style, or even with your own characters. I know I talk about fanfiction sometimes (I've already mentioned it in this post!), and I really do love the versatility it gives writers. In some ways, it's easier to be creative, because you already have developed characters you know and love that you're working with. You already know how they would react to conflict, so you can throw them into situations (or, let's be real, relationships) that they didn't get to experience in their own world. Slight changes to existing stories is a very fun writing exercise for me, and this is honestly how some fanfiction stories begin! We didn't like the way they did it, so we'll write it ourselves. And then you end up with Fifty Shades of Grey, and we're in a whole other world.
Identify with your situation/characters. Don't write "cool." What would make you act that way?
I'm actually not entirely sure I agree with this one. Definitely strive to identify with your characters, otherwise readers won't find themselves in them or learn to care about them. However, finding what would make you, the author, act a certain way won't always be true to character. Let's get a little out of touch with reality here. Your main character (MC) was born with an inability to feel pain. MC's love interest thinks it's weird of fun at the beginning, but then on a dark turn, takes advantage of that and begins to intentionally harm MC. Would MC fight back? They've never felt pain in their lives - how would they know how to react? However, if MC turned around and did the same to their love interest, that person would react very differently. I think it's important to gauge your characters' reactions to make sure they're honest to their personalities, but there's no need to put yourself into all of them, especially if there's a character you're trying to write so differently from you, which can be difficult in itself.
Putting it on paper allows you to start fixing it. If a perfect idea stays in your head, you'll never share it with anyone.
WRITE. YOUR. IDEAS. DOWN. Whether you think they're good or not, write them down. You can't publish a book without starting with that first idea. When I worked at at an animal hospital, I would keep a small notebook in the pocket of my scrubs and every time I thought of something that had to do with my book, anything at all, I would write it down and then come back to it later. And not every idea might make it into your final draft, but it might spark an idea for a sequel or something else. One of my favorite quotes came from this notebook, as have half of a chapter I wrote on my lunch break or scenes that would creep into my head as I was cleaning litter boxes. I think as writers, our brains are always going behind the scenes. We're always thinking about our writing, our characters, the worlds we've created, and sometimes these things don't always come out when we're trying to grab them, but rather, it seems, when we've got nothing to record them with (in the shower, driving, etc). But you won't know if something's a good idea until you try it, until you test it.
Well, that's all, folks! Did you like this series? Did you learn anything? What would you like me to take a look at next?
We're back - and we've made it though the first month of the new year - with part three of Pixar! Have you gotten tired of it yet?
Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is part of you. Recognize it before you use it.
I feel like this one is self-explanatory, but it's true! There's a reason you're interested in some particular part of the story, whether it's a love triangle or a certain sad scene. Why do you like it? What's appealing? What does it say about you as a person? Your personality, your experiences, your own story? If you're going to take an idea from another story, as is what happens with most authors, think about why you're using it. What does it mean to you? Do you like what it did to the characters or how it makes your feel - how you want your readers to feel.
Why must you tell this story in particular? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.
There's a reason that certain authors have stories to tell, and if someone else were to write your story for you, it wouldn't be the one you wanted, right? This is also the important thing to remember about collaboration itself. We all want help from our friends, and even I love asking for someone else's ideas. But it's necessary to critically think about the advice you're getting and if it will really work in your story as they're telling you, or if it's something that may give you an idea. Taking advice because you don't know what else to write and it sounds like it could work could change the story completely - plot lines erased, characters' visions changed. It's not usually that drastic, but it has that potential, and the potential to become whatever the other person wanted to read instead. But this is your story. Think about why you're so invested in your story and why you had that idea in the first place. What does your story mean to you?
Discount the first thing that comes to mind - and the second, and the third, and the fourth, and the fifth. Get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
This isn't always one you think about, and not necessarily something I always follow myself, but predictability can lead to a boring story. If the reader already knows what's going to happen, what's the point of continuing with the story? Twists, turns, and loops are the most fun part of a story, but make sure to keep things believable, at least to the lore of the story. Just like a roller coaster, if you can see the track, it's not nearly as much fun as if you're in the dark and/or don't know what's coming up. Plus, thinking outside the box gives your mind an opportunity to be creative! Think about scenarios you'd never expect - it may be your next great plot point!
Give your characters opinions. A character being passive or malleable is easy for you as a writer, but it's poison to your audience.
This is so important for a good book, and it kind of goes along with the point above - if your character is predictable, the story can get boring. It reminds me of improvisation that we used to do in my high school drama class. For all the non-theatre kids out there, the first rule of improv is to always say "yes, and..." or "no, but..." . If someone asks if you've ever wrangled a dinosaur, say yes. Think about it: "Hey, do you want to go to the park today?" "No." How boring is that? The story stops before it even begins. And if you're trying to give your character believability, having them go along with everything you need them to because it's convenient isn't going to give them a thrilling personality. It's going to leave readers with a character they care absolutely nothing about with no feelings or emotions of their own. They are not going to be invested in any aspects of their live if they don't have a personality that lends itself to story conflict.
What's the essence of the story? What's the most economical way of telling it? If you know this, you can build out from there.
This particular rule boils it down to the most basic storyline you start out with, the bones of your story. Once you've got that, add the muscles, add the organs, add the nerves, add the skin. Think about the answer you give people when they ask "What's your story about?". For me, I feel like this is such a bad question because my answer (spoiler) is "Two orphans find a dream world and a man stuck in there that they need to help get out," or something along those lines. Sounds boring, right? But the truth is, there's so much more to it than that. There's monsters, romance, multiple dimensions... but that all came from the bones. That's what's going to make your story. Just like a house. If it doesn't have good bones, there's not much you can do with it until you get them.
If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
Back to believability for this one. Your characters are real people, not robots. This may be easier for some than for others, and that's totally okay! Put yourself in your character's shoes and think about how you would handle the emotions your character may be feeling. Then, shift over to the character, especially the parts that are different than you. This may take a little thinking, as you want to make it honest, but "honesty lends credibility" is true here - if it feels real, it becomes real.
What are the stakes? Give us a reason to root for the character. What happens if he doesn't succeed? Stack the odds against him.
This is a basic step in order to 1) build character, but also 2) make sure your character can't just leave the story. There's a reason he/she has to be there, right? If they can walk away, so can a reader. This is one of the most difficult pieces for me as a writer, especially in my own story. "Because he wants to" doesn't always cut it. Stacking the odds against your character and seeing how they react to things is what helps them develop. It's said that humans show their true forms under stress, and your characters are no different. Even if it's something you end up not using in the final draft because it doesn't fit, think about what could happen and try it out. You'll get honesty from them either way, and it makes the plot more exciting if they have to finish it to succeed.
Tune in next week for the final part! Also, if you haven't subscribed to the newsletter yet, please do! There's a new writing template out each month, plus one just for signing up!
Happy Monday and MLK Day! This week, I'm back with a continuation of Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling! Enjoy!
Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff, but it sets you free.
I think everyone struggles with this at some point, again, no matter how much you sit down and outline and plan things out. You spend all this time creating characters and scenes and plot lines and plot twists that removing any of them feels like giving up a part of yourself. But unless you're a very rare breed that can do complicated plots with a lot of characters (looking at you, J.K.), having too many characters or too many side plots will get confusing for readers. Sure your MC might have a TON of friends. But are all of them important to the plot? What would change if they were gone? If they were mentioned in passing but never developed. Would it change the story or does that character really not add anything to the story at all? I like to write by the notion that everything in a story has a purpose. I don't have a mountain just to have a mountain - someone's going to climb it. I don't have characters just to fill in the gaps - they always have a purpose or pose a challenge. Subplots are good; don't get me wrong. But what challenge do they create for the story? Is it a distraction for their main objective or a way for them to meet someone they wouldn't normally?
What is your character good at or comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at him. Challenge him. How does he deal with it?
This one's kind of self-explanatory, but important. It gets back to things changing in order for your characters to grow. We learn through learning, and so do your characters. Most of the time, their personality comes from them going through challenges (just like real life)! I like to explore my characters' personality through this more than just describing - I feel like it's easier and more fun to read when you figure them out as they go!
Come up with your ending before you get to your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard. Get yours working up front.
Again, things are going to change as you write. It's inevitable. Struggling with the ending seriously resonates with me because let me spill a little tea: I don't believe I've finished anything I've written (okay, maybe a fanfiction). My problem is that I never want the story to end. I want to keep going and keep writing, but I know that's not always possible. It has to end eventually, and it's better to figure that out in the beginning so after you get to the middle, you can work your way up to it. That's why outlining can be so helpful with this - you already have the plot and there's less room for distractions on your way there and it won't be a race to the finish to get the perfect ending. Plus, if you know how it's going to end, it's much easier to allude to it through the rest of the book instead of trying to go back in the second draft and realize that nothing matches up.
Finish your story. Let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world, you would have both, but move on. Do better next time.
As much as any author hates to hear this, your first story is NOT going to be your best. The first book is like a trial. Especially if you're going through the traditional publishing route, this is where many get discouraged. Not everyone's going to like it, and that's okay. Maybe come back to it in a few years. But the most important thing I feel like needs recognizing is the fact that you finished writing it in the first place. That's definitely an accomplishment that you should be proud of! A lot of people never finish their books, and you did! Just because it may not be your best work doesn't mean it doesn't deserve credit. And if you do decide to start on a second, you'll have all the experience from writing the first under your belt. You'll know what works for you and what doesn't - what comes naturally and what doesn't. Take that knowledge and use it to make your next book even better and then maybe revisit the first and see if there's anything you can tweak!
When you're stuck, make a list of what wouldn't happen next. More often than not, the material that gets you unstuck appears.
This nugget of advice is a little overused in my opinion, but there's definitely some truth to it. This ties right into the practice of challenging your characters. In other words: don't make a predictable plot. Challenge the audience as much as you challenge your characters. What would they least expect? Does that work? Even if the idea doesn't stick around forever, thinking of difference scenarios and how they would fit in can help you get through that block or rut you feel you can't get out of. You can always change it later
I'm an editor, yes, but I'm also on a writing journey of my own. In writing about my own struggles, maybe it'll help you out, too.