Cutting Filler

Writing a great story isn’t just about having well-rounded characters and an amazing plot. Sometimes it’s just as important what you don’t put into your story. This goes for filler. So what is filler exactly? Filler is extraneous lines of passages in your story that don’t move the story forward or develop character. Even if you have a line you love, if it doesn’t add to your story, it’s filler and you need to cut it. Just like if you were painting a picture of a house, you wouldn’t draw the windows too big or paint one wall yellow when the rest are red. That would make the overall painting suffer. Filler is the same way.

So how can we cut filler to strengthen our stories? Let’s look at some tips.

  • Cut adjectives and adverbs. These are often extra words that don’t add much and can lead to purple prose. Use concrete nouns and stronger verbs instead.
  • Avoid clichés. Clichés are overused and don’t contribute to your writing. Instead they detract and take up space. And often times in descriptions they are vague and don’t really paint a good picture. Despite that cliché, it’s true. Craft stronger descriptions.
  • Show, don’t tell. You hear this everywhere for a reason. But remember not to travel into the realm of purple prose. It’s all about balance. For every couple of showing statements, it’s ok to have a telling statement to keep from waxing on.
  • Kill your darlings. Even if you love them. To make it easier, I keep a separate document called leftovers where I rehome anything I cut. It makes it easier to hit delete and sometimes I can rework lines into another WiP.

If you’re unsure whether something is filler or necessary, ask yourself whether it checks any of these boxes.

  • Character development. Does it add or build to your characters? And is this addition really adding to your development or just backstory? Remember it should serve the story at all times.
  • Does it develop the relationships between characters? Once again, make sure this moves the story forward and contributes to understanding.
  • Moves the plot forward. Does it create conflict and build up to the climax? If so, keep it.
  • We want to stay away from info dumps and adding too much backstory, but we also need to ground the story in a time and place. We also want our characters to interact with the world around them.
  • Is this a strong transition or just filler? Does the reader need this transition to go from one scene to the next? Quickly show passage of time or a change of location, but don’t go on too long for transitions, otherwise they become filler. Avoid paragraphs or whole scenes where nothing really happens. For example, driving to a location in a car or going through the character’s entire morning routine before a big event.

So those are some tips for cutting filler and deciding what is filler in the first place. What are your tips for cutting filler? Share below and happy writing!

Julia

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How to Deal with Writer Burnout

I decided to write about something I have been struggling with lately for today’s post, writer burnout. We all know what writer’s block is, but did you know there’s something even more serious and debilitating? From feeling completely uninspired and empty to feeling like we never want to write again, writer’s burnout is a serious setback. It comes from overworking yourself and can affect you for weeks or even months, but there are some things you can do to overcome it. Let’s take a look at some now.

  • Recognize burnout. Recognizing the problem is the first step to fixing it. So if you feel overworked and depleted of words and ideas, admit that you are experiencing burnout.
  • Remind yourself why you write. We all started writing for a reason, but it can be easy to lose sight of that, especially when we’re burned out. Make a list of the reasons why you write and read it when you’re feeling like giving up forever.
  • You may feel uninspired, but that’s the perfect reason to read. Go with an old favorite to remind yourself what good writing is, or start a new book you’ve been dying to check out. It will give you a break from thinking about writing and spark some ideas as well.
  • It’s a good idea to take a break from your WiP that has you feeling burned out. Freewriting can be great to just get the words flowing or to do a brain dump.
  • Be creative. Draw, paint, sculpt, sew, or do something else that exercises the creative part of your brain. Work those muscles.
  • Try writing in a different location. Change your scenery and see if it inspires you. Try writing outside, or try writing at a local café where you can do a little people watching.
  • Listen to calming music, meditate, exercise, or get a massage. Relieve stress and unwind.
  • Self-care. Take care of yourself. That means eating right and eating regularly. It also means getting enough sleep. When we’re worn out, it’s easy to get burned out. Take care of yourself.
  • Replenish yourself. Do things that you enjoy and that fill you up. Listen to your favorite music, do that hobby you love, binge watch your favorite show. Refill yourself.

Do these things to help you get over writer burnout faster. Being aware of the problem and how to solve it will help you to recover sooner. Just remember, burnout doesn’t last forever. So remember why you write and don’t give up! Happy writing!

Julia

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Writing Fight Scenes

Fight scenes can be tricky to write. How do you keep it exciting while not giving a laundry list of blow by blows? How do we keep it clear? And what do we do if we know nothing about fighting? Let’s take a look.

  • Match your writing style to the rest of the novel. Yes, you want to use short, punchy sentences to speed up the action, but you don’t want your fight scenes to be discordant with the rest of your writing. If you have a more lyrical style of writing, match your descriptions of the fight scene to the rest of the story. You don’t want to drown your reader in descriptions, you just don’t notice that much in the middle of a fight regarding your surroundings. Think of the dueling scene in the Princess Bride. It’s full of dialogue, which there typically isn’t time for, and descriptions of the techniques they are employing. It works perfectly for that story, even if it’s not the typical fight scene. There isn’t a one size fits all fight scene.
  • Keep track of the players and where they are during the fight. Help your reader follow along with each action, each attack and block. But don’t devolve into a laundry list of blows.
  • Each fighter should fight differently and according to their training and personality. Maybe one character always goes on the offensive before the opponent has time to react. While another prefers to fight defensively so they can analyze their opponent before going on the attack. Stay true to character.
  • Unless this is the Princess Bride, fight scenes are not the place for dialogue. You are fighting after all. You’re going to be winded, or at least saving your breath, and you’re not going to want to give your opponent a chance to hit you while you’re talking. So no drawn out speeches.
  • Don’t get stuck on technical details or jargon. This isn’t the place to show off your research skills and you want to make it easy for the lay person to follow along. Especially avoid this if you’re not a fighting expert. You don’t want to give a hit by hit commentary on the fight. That’s boring and tedious. Be clear about what’s happening. If you don’t know much about fighting, give less details and go for a more lyrical description of the event. For instance, his sword danced between his two opponents as they hacked and sliced.
  • Keep in mind how much training your character has had. Don’t make them a natural. This leads to Mary Sue characters who are weak writing. If she just started training to fight, don’t be afraid to let her lose or get hurt to a more experienced fighter. It’s much more realistic.
  • Speaking of being realistic, don’t write like Hollywood. Don’t have someone get knocked out by one punch. Don’t have your character receive a grievous wound and keep fighting like nothing happened. Injuries matter and affect how your character keeps fighting, if they can even fight at all.
  • Real fighting is ugly. There’s blood, sweat, swelling bruises, and broken bones. Sometimes there’s worse things too. Include these concrete details to bring your scene to life.

So there are some tips on how to write fight scenes. Keep it realistic and clear. And keep it exciting. Build tension as the fight builds. What are your best tips for writing fight scenes? Share below and happy writing!

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Comma Rules

I took a small break from the blog with all the holiday stuff going on. But I got a request to address comma usage today, so that’s what we’ll focus on. Commas can be tricky for some. You might not be sure when you need one and when you don’t. Some people assume you need a comma anywhere you would pause when speaking, but this is not true. So when do we need a comma? Let’s look at some common rules.

  • For compound sentences. First let’s talk independent clauses. An independent clause has a subject and a verb and is a complete sentence in its own right. So, for example, “I went to the park today.” It’s a complete sentence. If you add on another independent clause using and, or, but, nor, for, yet, or so, use a comma before the conjunction. “I went to the park today, and I played with my dog.” If you remove the second subject (the I), it’s no longer two independent clauses and you wouldn’t need the comma. “I went to the park today and played with my dog.”
  • After a prepositional phrase. Prepositions are words like under, over, above, about, around, when, after, on, etc. You need a comma at the end of each prepositional phrase. “When I went to the park, I saw a friend.” “After breakfast, I went to the gym.”
  • Appositives are another word for renaming a phrase. For example, “My friend, Jenny, is good at math.” My friend and Jenny are the same, just renamed. Or “My mother, the pianist, is an artist.” This does not apply to “that” phrases.
  • After introductory phrases like finally or however.
  • For parenthetical phrases. If you have extra information that could be separated from the rest of the sentence by parentheses and still make sense, surround the phrase with commas. “Mary, who is my mother’s best friend, is a painter.”
  • To address someone. When you address someone or something, you surround the address with commas. “Jenny, did you finish yet?” Or, “How are you, Tim?”
  • Between two adjectives that modify the same noun where you could use and between them. “She was young and pretty. She was a young, pretty girl.”
  • In a series of three or more. This is also known as the Oxford comma. Use a comma before the conjunction in a list of three or more. “I want to thank my parents, Einstein, and God.” If you were to take out this comma, the sentence becomes “I want to thank my parents, Einstein and God,” which actually means Einstein and God are your parents thanks to the appositive rule. That’s why this comma should be used for clarification.
  • For “If” statements. “If you go, be sure to take the dog.” “If you don’t do it, I’ll take away your phone.”
  • In dialogue. Use a comma before the quote and at the end of the quote if you use any attributions like he said and she said.

She said, “How are you?”

“It’s late,” he said.

  • To offset negation. “She was young, not old.” “Instead of old, use ancient.”
  • Use commas around years in dates. You may know you need a comma before the year, but you also need one after the year if the sentence continues. “July 5, 1995, was an important day for him.”

These are the most common rules for comma usage. It may seem tricky at first, but once you’ve familiarized yourself with the rules, it will all make sense. Review this list regularly and happy writing!

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Tips for Writing Steampunk

So we’ve had an ongoing series on tips for writing different genres. Today, I’d like to close that series with a brief write-up for tips on writing steampunk. Steampunk is a newer genre compared to the others we’ve talked about, but is enjoying great popularity for its visual aesthetics and fun plots. Let’s look at some quick tips.

  • Read in the genre. As always, the best way to understand and emulate a genre is to read widely in it. There’s a ton of different things you can do with steampunk, it’s all about innovativeness and genre smashing, but that can make it tricky to figure out what, in fact, to do. Figure out what works and what doesn’t by reading steampunk novels. Discover the conventions and tropes and archetypal characters. And figure out how the technology works, so you can incorporate it seamlessly into your own work.
  • Worldbuilding and setting are super important for steampunk. The setting should be like a character unto itself. Spend time getting to know and crafting your story world. How does the technology work? Is it set in Wild West times or Victorian times? How do people dress? Travel? What do they do for fun? Discover the intricacies of your world and describe the details. Here are some tips for worldbuilding here.
  • Your setting will be in a different time period than modern day. Your technology will also be vastly different. Gone are combustible engines. Instead we imagine steam based and cog based technology. You’ll need to do research to get these details right and bring your story to life. Even though this is an imagining of the world, it still needs to be believable and realistic. Especially pay attention to the visual aesthetics of steampunk. The genre is known for it. So what do your characters’ dresses look like? Their airships? Nail this for a stronger story. Images will be your friend as you research.
  • Don’t info dump. You may need to know a bit to figure out how to get your airship to fly, but your reader doesn’t need to know all that technical jargon and facts. Same with the information regarding the time period your story is set in. Only include information that moves your story forward or develops your characters. Sprinkle in details to give yourself a rich setting and story world, but don’t go overboard. Serve the story, always.

This is a fun genre and I definitely encourage you to jump in and try it. Read a few books to get an idea of conventions and go wild. Happy writing!

Julia

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Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

We’ve been talking writing different genres in this series. Today I wanted to take a look at historical fiction. Now historical fiction can seem really daunting with its attention to detail and accuracy, but it’s a tangible goal to reach, just like any other genre. Let’s look at some tips for writing historical fiction.

  • Read in your genre. I know I say this every time, but it’s because it works. You’ll get the idea of how to write in an authentic, accurate voice and how to weave in facts seamlessly without an info dump. It will help you determine what works and what doesn’t work for historical fiction. Make sure to read books in the time period you want to write in as well.
  • Write about universal themes. This will help your modern day audience to relate to the past in a significant way. Finding yourself, finding love, and making friends are all things we can still understand, no matter the time period. Connect to your audience with theme.
  • Facts can bog down your story. Yes, you should do research and yes, you want to be accurate in your details, but not at the expense of the story. Avoid info dumps at all cost. And weigh which facts are important and which ones are just extraneous. You need to do a ton of research for your story, but not all of that then gets put in. Only the information that carries the story forward.
  • Don’t go down the research rabbit hole. Have a plan for what you need to know and stick to it. Otherwise you’ll be distracted and follow a bunch of tangents, finding yourself up at 3 in the morning after a five hour blackout. Set aside specific time to research each week, separate from writing time, and stick to your plan. If you find you need to research something while you’re writing, type in [rabbit] and keep going. Later, use the control F feature to search for all of your [rabbit]s and do the research when it’s time to.
  • Organize your research. Use apps like Evernote or Scrivener, use binders, use Pinterest. Whatever it takes to keep track of everything you’ve learned so you can access it easily when you need to. This is a bit of work up front, but saves you time in the end.
  • Show, don’t tell. Especially those facts you spent hours researching and are now trying to cram into your story. Now is not the time to info dump. Immerse your readers into the story world and evoke all five senses, not just sight. If you’re finding it’s too awkward to include a detail or fact, don’t try to force it in. You want your story to read naturally. Don’t bore your reader with too many facts.
  • Once you have enough research done to get started, start writing. Don’t use research as an excuse to procrastinate. The point is to write.

So get started! What are your best tips for writing historical fiction? Share below and happy writing!

Julia

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Tips on Writing Sci-fi

So we’ve been going through different genres and exploring tips for how to write them. I’d like to continue that journey today by talking about how to write Sci-fi. Let’s take a look at some tips now.

  • Read, read, read other Sci-fi, both hard and soft. See what works and what doesn’t work in the genre. How do other authors approach the technology and science involved in the story? How is it balanced with the fiction aspect? You can learn so much just from reading other Sci-fi stories.
  • Obviously Sci-fi is based on science and technology that’s either present or based on something attainable in the future. This means we have to do research to understand what is and isn’t possible and why. This can be incredibly daunting, but will add depth and credibility to your writing. Set aside time separate from writing each week to do the research needed to bring your story to life. This helps you tackle the task of researching while still protecting your writing time. Need to look up something that pops up in the middle of writing a scene? Just put [rabbit] in the text. Later, when it’s time to research, use the control F function to search for all the [rabbit]s to figure out what you need to research.
  • World build. Whether it’s a completely new planet your characters are inhabiting or Earth set in the future, you’ll need to do some solid world building to create your story world. Even though some elements may be fantastical, things still have to be believable, especially in Sci-fi. So have realistic limitations and rules for your technology, and have realistic traits and characteristics for your characters and cultures. If humans are suddenly blue, you better have a good explanation for why. I talk a bit about world building here.
  • Know what to research. Research is crucial, but if it’s a small detail that doesn’t really matter in the end, do we really need to spend five hours on Wikipedia to get it? Research the big things that matter. Research things you’re not familiar with to get them right. But don’t waste time if it’s not significant and doesn’t add much to your story.
  • Don’t info dump. Now that you have all that knowledge, it’s tempting to try and cram it all into your story. Don’t. Give your reader only the information they need to move forward with the story. Use details to give your world depth, but don’t spend paragraphs on them. Avoid the dreaded info dump at all costs.

But most of all, don’t be afraid to write in this genre. Every story requires research and believability, so don’t let these things stop you from writing that great idea you have in your head. A little due diligence and imagination are all you need, so get started! And happy writing!

Julia

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