Steroids for stories


I have been doing everything BUT write my brains out for the past six weeks. Packing, decluttering, cleaning, sweeping, painting, power washing, selling… Casa Zirro is on the market! And it’s been a busy spring getting ready to jump into the volcanic adventure of voluntary unemployment and relocation with Punk and Los Zirritos.

Also, I got a paying gig doing a logo design, and my creative hours went toward accomplishing that. So writing has taken a backseat. BUT the novel is still very much in mind. I look forward to having all this moving business behind us so I can get to the business of editing. Still hopeful to start that in October.

Today I’m sharing notes I’ve been making along the way of things I know I’ll want to look out for when I start editing.

Play along! Make your story bigger, stronger, faster, and better with me.

Journalism 101

Covering the basics is pretty basic, but sometimes I’m appalled at the things I’ve left out. I know them, and because they’re obvious to me, I forgot to mention them. But readers only know if I tell them.

Who is being murdered?

What is that sticky stuff on the floor?

When did she realize she’d fallen out of love?

Where is the gun she’ll need to grab in the final scene?

Why did the chicken cross the road?

How did she get out of the closet?

5 Senses

More basics. Sights and sounds come easily, but giving readers the full five-pointed sensory experience enriches your storytelling.

Sight: can readers see this Michigan town I’ve created?

Smell: is that earthy lakeside mustiness stuck in readers’ noses?

Taste: what exactly is he drinking and drinking? =)

Hearing: crickets. Frogs. Waves. Mosquitoes. Breezes. Shouting. Fireworks.

Touch: are readers feeling the roughness of wood, the humidity, the slap across the face?

5 more senses

Sixth sense: when Obi-Wan sensed a disturbance in the force, we knew the story was about to take a sharp upturn. Giving your protagonist a sense of foreboding can heighten suspense and make for a more entertaining ride. But be careful. Sometimes readers are happier if the hero doesn’t see what’s coming. “You gotta know when to hold ’em,” because story enthusiasts love surprise twists in the ride.

Common sense: does the story make sense logically? You create your story world, so you create what that logic is, but once you’ve written the rules, you’ve got to follow them. The plot, characters’ actions, timing, setting and progression all have to make enough sense to be believable.

Sense of adventure: from sensing a disturbance in the force to getting to know another character in the biblical sense, your hero should be proactive, doing stuff and taking risks, for better or worse.

Sense of Direction: can refer to your hero’s moral compass, a philosophical true north, or actual cardinal directions to clarify where things are located within the setting.

Sense of humor: I do a fair bit of promotion work. You know what audiences love? To laugh. They appreciate a good joke and a little silliness, even if it’s cheesy, because life is often serious, boring and depressing.

Stories take us to other worlds, allowing readers to escape the mundanity. Give people something to smile about. A sarcastic villain, a deaf character who misreads lips, a nosy neighbor always showing up at the wrong time, a little boy telling fart jokes in Sunday school— anything that gives your readers an endorphin boost will make them feel good now AND remember you in the future.

Get lost.

Sometimes what we leave out is just as important as what we leave in.

Lose the filler. Cut every second use of a word or phrase, especially descriptive ones. Your character flies into a caffeinated rage in the first paragraph— clever. He makes caffeinated love to his enemy’s barista in the next— not clever. You just invented a cliche.

Lose a character. Kill off someone important. Do you believe Margot Al-Harazi actually blew up the President of the United States? In only the 8th episode? No silent clock, I know. But still! Way to add drama, 24!

Lose yourself in the music. Or in a book, or a painting, or nature. “Stop, collaborate and listen,” as Vanilla Ice says. Get inspired by what others have created. Tune into their rhythm and pretty soon you’ll find your own. Use quotes as a jumping off point. Comment on or describe a work of art. It’s called ekphrasis.

Lose track of time. For you, this means write with abandon and for as long as you can. The longer you write, the more and usually better ideas will flow. For your character, it means going on a wild goose chase or investigating a thread on the side that may or may not weave back into the story later. Either way, you’ll know your hero better and have a little fun together. Writing is supposed to be fun.

Lose your inhibitions. Fear holds us back from writing the truth, writing what we know, writing what we don’t know, even from submitting our stories for rejection publication.

Write like your pen is a lit stick of dynamite, then send your flaming words out there. You have as much right to set the world on fire as anybody.


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