Using Adjectives

60 Second Advice by Anne Brees

Description adds layers to your story. Without description, your plot is just stick figures wandering in a white background. One main component to great description is using the correct adjectives.

Specific is always the best choice. Vague words will only make the blurry background blurrier. Instead of blue, say cobalt. Instead of dark, say inky. Don’t worry too much about this for your first draft. Just work on getting the words down on the page. However, once you are doing your edits, refine your word choice.

Research and consider connotation. Connotation is the emotion connected to each word. Consider the words aroma and stench. Both are essentially the same thing. They both describe a scent. However the meaning and emotional response to each one is very different.

Be aware of when too much is simply too much. Yes, you want to be descriptive. Yes, you want to catch your reader. But spending too much time describing will take away from the plot. Your reader is intelligent. Don’t spend five pages describing your character’s eye color with multiple adjectives. Pick one specific adjective, and stick with it. 

What’s your favorite adjective? 

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Writing Your Character’s Backstory

60 Second Advice by Anne  Brees

Backstory is essential because it helps your readers understand your characters. While not all personality traits are caused by something in a person’s past, most of people’s behavior can be explained by their past. A character whose parents had a messy divorce might be wary about love. A character whose sibling died young might be scared to get close to people.

However, when do you tell the reader about the backstory? You can’t spend too much time in the past or else your plot will be lost. Flashbacks are never a great choice, because it’s too easy for a flashback to stretch for chapters. Plus, they can be confusing to the reader whether they are in the present or past.

The best way to  tell backstories is in small quantities, spread out throughout your story. This can also add to the suspense of your story and keep your reader reading, as they look forward to finding out the tragic backstory. Maybe your character meets an old friend and as they talk, you can hint at the past. Maybe something similar to what happened in the past happens to your character, and they revel in the déjà vu. Maybe they meet a new friend, and have to tell the story of their past.

Also, not every character needs a tragic backstory. People can be brave or broken without something horrible or amazing happening.

No matter how you tell your backstory, remember that your reader is intelligent. You don’t have to spell out every single event of their childhood. Your reader can connect the dots. Focus on the present of the story, and only mention the past.

What is your characters’ backstory?

Describing Character Appearance

60 Second Advice by Anne Brees

When it comes to what your character will look like, there seems to be a thousand options. The truth is, your reader probably doesn’t care. They don’t care what color eyes or  your MC has. They don’t care if your character is 5’1″ or 6’1″. Your readers will have their own picture of what your character looks, and will probably forget your descriptions only a few lines later.

Diversity is key. There isn’t enough representation in writing. There are more people with stories to tell than straight white men. However, don’t write with diversity because it’s a trend or you feel like you have to. Research and write it well.

Pick a few appearances details and focus on those. What does your character notice about themselves? What do other characters notice? Maybe it’s a certain scar. (Perhaps a lightning bolt on a forehead?) Maybe it’s a missing finger. Maybe it’s wild curly hair. Maybe it’s a slight limp. Your reader won’t remember all of the aspects of your character that you describe, so choose to mention a few and let those represent your character.

Focus on the stuff that’s more important. Appearance means little. Focus on your character arc and flaws and quirks. That will make your character much more memorable than describing their eye color multiple times.

What is your character’s most defining physical feature?

5 Tips for Building Your Story World

5 Tips by Anne Brees

Your story world adds a lot to the story, though you may not realize it. It molds your characters, shifts your plot, and gives your story those little details that makes it memorable. Once your story is written, it can be difficult to seamlessly weave in your story world. It’s better to decide where your story takes place before you write and see how it adds to the story.

  1. Is it a real or imaginary place? Both options offer a variety of pros and cons. If you chose a real place, you have the opportunity to introduce your readers to another part of the world. In Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor captures you in the old city of Prague and it’s one of my favorite parts of that wonderful novel. You already have all the details of your setting, you just have to research to find them. However, that means that you have to write by the already set confines of the city. If you write an imaginary place, you get to create whatever you want to fit your plot. However, that means that you have to come up with all the details yourself. In doing this, your story world can be paper thin.
  2. What is the culture? What are the traditions of the culture? What are the popular holidays? What is the traditional and modern fashion? How do people talk? What restaurant does everyone go to for different moods? Where do the popular kids go to hang out? What about the unpopular kids?
  3. What is the history? Did someone famous live here? Did someone infamous live here? Did they have some little part in a war that no one knows about except for the residents of the town? Was something invented there? Did some famous explorer cross through? Are they proud of how little has happened there?
  4. What are they proud of? Do they have a killer milk shake at that little restaurant on the corner? Did a celebrity once stand on that street corner? Was the world’s biggest/smallest/longest/shortest/etc. ___ featured there?
  5. How does your character feel about their location? Does the character love the town as much as the other residents? Is there a bit of grudging pride for what you chose for the above question? Are they afraid to leave it? Can they not wait to get out of there as soon as possible?

What do you use to build your story world?

5 Tips for Breaking Your Writer’s Block

5 Tips by Anne Brees

Writer’s block is a strange thing. Sometimes you can feel it coming as you struggle to finish a scene and other times your writing is fine until suddenly it’s not. Writer’s block is a tricky problem, but nothing you can’t fix.

  1. Work on a different project. Sometimes you are stuck on a current project and you’ve just lost inspiration or motivation. If you switch to another project of yours, the drive for your original project might return.
  2. Write something without any commitment. Sometimes the pressure of writing something perfect and intelligent and funny and interesting and complex and all the expectations you might have for you writing can become too much. Take a step away from your project and just start writing. You don’t have to finish the story if you don’t like it. You don’t have to perfect it. It can be as long or as short as you want. Just write a story. (If you have no idea what to write about, look up story inspiration pictures on Pinterest. You can find my board here.)
  3. Read your old writing. Sometimes looking at your past projects can remind you of how much you’ve grown, and how far you can grow in the future. Seeing all the work you’ve put into writing before can remind you how much you love it. It can also give you some inspiration to incorporate some of your old ideas in with the new.
  4. Take a short break. Sometimes all you need to do is step away for your writing in order for a new idea to come. However, be careful, because a short break can easily stretch into a long one. It’s very easy to find excuses to not write. When planning a break, make sure to also plan when that break ends.
  5. Study your favorite authors. Maybe all you need is inspiration from the greats. Try to write like them. Try writing some fanfiction. In their style of writing, write a new scene with their characters and story world. If that doesn’t work for you, trying changing it up. Write in their style with your current project. Write in your style for their novel. Experiment with your writing.

How do you get out of your writer’s block?

5 Tips for Choosing Your Title

60 Second Advice by Anne Brees

Choosing your title can be a nerve-wracking process. It is supposed to represent everything that your novel is in just a few words. How could you possibly know the right words to choose?

  1. Look at the titles within your genre. Sometimes looking at similar books can give you inspiration for ways to name your book. For example, a lot of dystopian books have the trend of having one word names. This will also help in the marketing of your book.
  2. Search for synonyms. Sometimes you have the right idea for your title, but it just doesn’t flow smoothly. If you simply google ‘[your word] define’, a list of synonyms will appear below the definition. These can help you find the perfect words for your perfect title.
  3. Experiment with different forms of speech. Once you get the right words, sometimes they still don’t flow. Sometimes you simple need to change the form of speech. Say you wanted your title to be something like “The Honesty Search”. That doesn’t flow very well. Change “search” from a noun into a verb. Now you have “Searching for Honesty”. You could change “honesty” from a noun into an adverb. “Honestly Searching” or “Searching Honestly”. You can get a variety of different titles by simply changing the form of speech.
  4. Define what is most important for your character. Your title should represent your book. Find what is at the heart of your book and try to turn that into the title. If you use this strategy, your readers will have one of those ‘a-ha moments’ when they see how your title fits perfectly into your book.
  5. Make sure there are no similarly titled books. It’s horrible for marketing to have a similarly titled book. People will constantly be confused about which book is the correct one if they don’t know your name.

Remember: If you are getting your book traditionally published, you don’t always get to chose your title. Sometimes the publishers change it. However, your title is generally the first thing that agent see when you query to them. Your title is important, even if it isn’t the final one chosen.

How do you choose your titles?

5 Tips for Motivating Yourself While Writing

Most days, you don’t really want to write. You know you should and you know you’ll feel better after you do, but you don’t want to. There’s Netflix and social media and that really good book you just started reading and all the other things that you have to do. Everyone can use a little motivation for writing. Here’s five ways to help yourself want to write.

  1. Try timing your writing. This is my favorite way to get myself to write a lot quickly. I set the timer for five minutes and write as quickly as I can. My goal used to be about 300 words, but with practicing my typing and my writing, I’ve been able to increase my goal to 1000 words. You simply have to write as quickly as you can for five minutes, without pausing the timer to answer your phone or check social media. Five minutes to just write with no interruptions. Understand that the speed writing you use here probably isn’t going to be quality, but you can edit it into perfection later. Just get the words out for now.
  2. Bribe yourself word by word. Sometimes if I simply don’t have the focus for timing my writing, I bribe myself with food. I can have a bit of chocolate after every 100 words. It makes my writing go faster and the words add up quickly. I wouldn’t recommend giving yourself a prize that can easily distract you. Don’t allow yourself five minutes of social media, because that can quickly turn into five hours.
  3. Bribe yourself goal by goal. In case you can’t tell, I’m big on bribing yourself. Instead of giving yourself a little prize for a little goal, give yourself a bigger prize for a big goal. Once you finish a chapter, maybe you can watch that episode you want to. Once you finish all of your outlining, you can finish that book you’ve been reading.
  4. Summarize what you are writing that day. If you are a pantser, it can be intimidating at times to just start writing. Especially if you know it’s an important scene. In informal voice, just figure out what you are going to be writing that day. It can be a few sentences or a few paragraphs. Giving yourself a direction to go can help get you started and make you more eager to write.
  5. Write something with your characters, but not your novel. Instead of writing a scene that is part of your novel, write a story about all of your characters going to a theme park or just hanging out at each others’ houses. You might discover things about your character that you didn’t know and be motivated to combine that into your novel.

What do you use to motivate yourself while writing?