Music as Inspiration – A Creepy Doll

One of my favorite “creepy” songs is Creepy Doll by Jonathan Coulton. Mike Spiff Booth put together a nice music video that captures the feelings, which I watch from time to time.

When I’m working on a story, I’ll often listen to music that reflects the mood I want to capture. This weekend, I wanted to create a creepy scene. It was only natural that I’d listen to Creepy Doll.

In the hopes that this inspires you to work on something eerie, I’ve included my favorite creepy music video below. Enjoy!

What are your favorite “creepy” songs or videos? Share them in the comments below!

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What makes a book a page turner?

I don’t know who said it first, but the answer is simple: tension on every page.

Actually accomplishing this is hard.

Last week, I finished up the Hunger Games trilogy. Suzanne Collins is a master at creating tension and conflict. Every page is filled with unanswered questions, raising the stakes for her characters, and overall, the feeling of building toward some overarching conflict.

Writers can learn a lot from the way she writes books. Not only is the story enjoyable, but Collins helps her characters connect with readers. Katniss and the other players in the Hunger Games feel real.

So what makes this hard?

It takes time to create stories with tension. Consider this example:

The room was tense. Everyone was pretty nervous.

Do you feel the tension?  If you’re like most readers, you don’t.

Why not?

The sample is too vague. How was the room tense? Why was everyone nervous? Without feeling the tension ourselves, the story feels like it lacks focus.

Try this instead.

The front door slammed against the wall.

“LAPD. Everyone, freeze!”

Alan gripped his gun. This is it, he thought. Now I will either live or die.

While this example isn’t perfect, it shows the mindset of the character. It makes the story personal. As the reader, we understand that Alan is at a turning point. We don’t yet know why Alan is in this life-or-death situation. Somehow he’s found himself on the wrong side of the law. Or maybe someone’s impersonating the police.

Making the story personal adds tension. Instead of trying to describe how everyone’s feeling, focus on one character. Let your readers experience the story through that character’s eyes. Tension comes by making a story personal.

Do you have to throw a gun into a situation to make it tense? Of course not.

Another word for tension is “anticipation”. Make the reader expect that something’s going to happen.

I gazed fondly into Adam’s eyes. I put my hand on his, and leaned forward expectantly.

Adam looked away.  “Sarah, we need to talk.”

At first, we expect that Sarah is going to get a kiss. That’s when Adam does something unexpected, increasing the tension with the loaded words “We need to talk.”

Expecting a kiss adds tension. Expecting a breakup adds more.

Add tension to your story, and your readers won’t want to put your book down. Keep writing!

What other ways can you think of to add tension to a story?  Share your knowledge in the comments!

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Writing Efficiently Saves Lives

This is an excerpt from an upcoming book in the Writing Advice for Teens series: Editing Fiction. Enjoy!

Every word you write takes time to read. When a reader has to reread something because they got confused, that’s time wasted.

Let’s say that you have a manuscript with 100,000 words. What would happen if we cut that down to 95,000 words by streamlining phrases and cutting unnecessary scenes?

An average reader reads at a rate of about 250 words a minute.  Cutting those 5000 words lets your reader finish about twenty minutes faster. If you have 25,000 people read your book, you’ll have saved almost a year of human life.  If your book becomes a bestseller and sells a million copies, you’ll save thirty-eight years of human life by cutting out those 5,000 words.

Pretty amazing, huh?

By this logic, the most efficient page would be a blank one. Does this mean we shouldn’t write anything at all?

Of course not. After all, without stories, life would be pretty dull.

As a writer, your goal should be to use words as efficiently as possible. Use simple words and vivid details to let the reader experience your story.

The best books are those where you forget you’re reading, and that’s usually because someone took the time to write efficiently. Strive to be the best.

Keep writing!

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How do I choose names for my characters, creatures, or settings?

This is an excerpt from the recently released Writing Advice for Teens: Creating Stories.

Choosing names can be tough. On the other hand, they’re also one of the easiest things in your story to change. As William Shakespeare said in Romeo and Juliet: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” What matters is the essence of the character, not what he or she is called.

That said, the right name can help your reader remember physical details. For characters, if they exist in our world, use names that reflect the heritage of the main character. Nicknames can also be used to reflect a character’s personality or appearance, like Cobra, Tiny, or Shadow.

Let’s say that we are thinking of writing about a red-headed girl. What do we call her, without knowing anything else? Red hair indicates an Irish heritage, so Rachel, Kate or Shannon would work well, among many others. You can search through baby naming websites for ideas, and you can often search based on country names.

When you’ve selected a name, write a little bit about the main character. See if you feel like the name fits. For example, let’s try this example of a mother and her two young children:

Rebecca laughed, her auburn hair shimmering in the sun. Her green eyes twinkled.

Shane, her toddler, had just popped a bubble. He stared at his hands expectantly, shocked that the beautiful object had disappeared.

His eyes welled up with tears, but then Emma, his older sister, blew more bubbles through her wand. Shane’s face lit up as he giggled at the wondrous world of bubbles suddenly around him.

Here I’ve introduced three characters, but focused on each one a bit differently. As you write, I recommend that you use the first name that comes to mind. You can always change it later.

For naming creatures (beyond your normal pet names or everyday animals), there are two main strategies:

  • If the story takes place in our world, use existing legends about faeries, ogres, and other mythical creatures.
  • If the story takes place on an alien world or a spaceship, you can use mythology (like Greek or Norse) or scrambling words (like using Neila instead of Alien).

Places can be named in a similar fashion. For another option, consider the culture of the setting you’d like to create. If the inhabitants speak in a rough and guttural language (like ogres or trolls), look at German or Russian names for inspiration. Alternatively, if the inhabitants speak in a smooth and flowing language (like elves or faeries), you might look at the romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian) for inspiration.

What about you? What strategies do you use to come up with names within your stories?

Want more? Order Writing Advice for Teens: Creating Stories today!

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Develop a writing routine

This is an excerpt from the recently released Writing Advice for Teens: Creating Stories.

One of the hardest aspects of writing, as with any other habit, is committing to writing every day, even if just for fifteen minutes.

Developing a writing routine is kind of like brushing your teeth. Once you’ve gotten in the habit, it’s relatively painless to do every day. On the other hand, if you skip a day or two, it’s easier to stop.

Writing every day helps you get past this problem. I spend at least 15-30 minutes writing every day, even when I’m at my busiest.

When creating your writing routine, start with the following guidelines:

  • Close the door. This shuts out the world and allows you to focus on your writing.
  • Turn off all distractions. If you can’t work in complete silence, consider using a white noise maker like a fan, songs written in a language you don’t understand, or instrumental music. This leaves the language processing portions of your brain free to focus on your writing.
  • Disconnect from the Internet. This removes the temptation to check social networks or email.
  • Clear your desk or table of any non-writing essentials. This removes the temptation to fiddle with knickknacks instead of writing.
  • If using a computer, shut down all applications except for your word processor. Again, this allows you to focus. It’s even better if you use the full-screen option provided by most word processors.
  • Write at the same time every day. Similar to brushing your teeth every morning and night, writing at the same time and place will help you turn this practice into a routine.

Each writer will ultimately create his or her own routine. Some like to write on the bus or train during a commute. Others like to work at the library, or over their lunch hour. Whatever you choose, just do it consistently. There are no wrong answers here, but these guidelines seem to work for most people.

Another part of my writing routine includes working on different emotions and styles. If I want to write something cheerful, I first read several cheerful stories, listen to cheerful music, or watch a funny movie. That helps get me in the right state of mind to write something happy. This also works for other moods and styles (scary movies to write horror, etc.).

It’s better to set a small goal and beat it than to set a big goal and miss it. For example, if you set a goal of 200 words a day and end up writing 300, you will feel pretty good. If you set a goal of 400 words a day and only write 300, you’ll feel bad about missing your goal. If you’re consistently hitting 300 words a day, then it’s fine to raise your goal.

The important part is to get started. Today.

Want more? Order Writing Advice for Teens: Creating Stories today!

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Now available – Writing Advice for Teens: Creating Stories

Writing Advice for Teens: Creating Stories is now available for via Amazon and Barnes & Noble. This is the first book in the Writing Advice for Teens series.

Cover for Writing Advice for Teens: Creating Stories

This book is the first in a series of non-fiction books designed to help teen writers through all the stages of writing, from creating stories to writing as a career. It’s great for new writers of all ages, and is organized into an easy-to-read format with plenty of examples and exercises.

If you’re on Goodreads, take a moment to add Writing Advice for Teens: Creating Stories to your to-read list.

Thanks for helping get a new book off the ground!

Writing Advice for Teens: Creating Stories is $9.95 in paperback, and $3.99 as a Kindle ebook. The paperback makes a perfect gift for any teen who loves writing.

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