Category Archives: Michele Sayre

Michele Sayre: Coming Together in Revisions

I love it when a plan comes together.” –

Hannibal Smith, ‘The A-Team’

(television show originally created by Stephen J. Cannell)

Over the last three days I’ve begun to get a handle on the ‘Breaking Radio Silence’ project and damn it feels good. Granted, I’m only into the first chapter but I can see where it’s going. The writing is rough and there will be a lot of editing down the road but since I’ve never written book-length non-fiction before, it’s a good start. I’m not feeling the twinge-thought of ‘Oh, I’m not too sure about this’ and here’s why:

It’s not just the fact that I’ve got some structure points to use as writing prompts, but also because I’ve told myself length doesn’t matter. I know I shouldn’t have thought about length at all in this early stage of writing but sadly, the dumb thought crept into my mind and stayed until I kicked it out again.

The writer Annie Lamont wrote that you have to give yourself permission to write crap sometimes. I take exception to the word ‘crap’ because I don’t feel the need to label rough and unedited writing as crap. Because as my favorite romance writer Nora Roberts said, ‘You can’t revise a blank page.’ And because you have to have words to revise, I don’t believe all words written are crap. They just need to be revised and edited so my saying here is this: ‘You can always revise later.’

I also feel like I don’t know if a particular direction in my writing will work until I write it out. Because last night I was looking at my first chapter on my novel and realizing the way I’d worked the first scene wasn’t the way to go. I saw that when I thought about what I needed in the next scene. So needless to say I deleted lots of words and now need to write it back to what I’d done before. This happened because I’d let doubt creep into my mind and thought I had to do something a certain way. But in the end, I know my initial instinct on this was right.

So why do writers get doubts like these in our minds?

We’re human, and prone to messing up like everyone else would be the first line of defense-answer here. Which is why I know of writers who try to isolate themselves as much as possible from any outside influences when they’re writing. We sometimes refer to this as retreating into the writing cave and with good reason. But retreating there won’t get you away from the thoughts pinging around inside your mind. Hence the reason for thought-cleansing mantras that are more than just good advice.

I’ve said this before but I won’t apologize or call myself ten grades of idiot for saying it yet again. I honestly don’t think I was mistaken in writing stuff I’ve later deleted, because I wouldn’t have known if it was good or not until I wrote it. You can’t judge whether or not something will work if there isn’t something there in front of you to begin with.

For something to come together, you’ve got to do the work, make mistakes, and go off in directions that don’t always work for you. And if anyone, even if it is the doubt-demon in your mind says otherwise, don’t listen to them because they’re not the ones doing the writing and revising.

Or to reply to Colonel Hannibal Smith above: they’re not a part of your plan and they’re not going to make it come together.

You are.

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For more by Michele Sayre, please visit www.michelesayre.com

Michele Sayre: WRITING INSPIRATION BULLOCKS

I’m sure there is someone out in this world who would love to slap my mouth shut for putting those three words together in today’s blog title. But sometimes I feel like all I see when it comes to writing is finding the motivation and inspiration to write instead of complete works of writing instead.

So in response to all that glorious writing motivation and inspiration I say this:

You don’t have to write.

I know you may feel like if you don’t write your brain is going to explode or all your wonderful ideas and stories will just die with you and take a few million years to regroup from the stardust of your demise. But that’s not going to happen because you felt like you had to write, but because you went out and wrote then edited the crap out of what you wrote till it shined like a clean toilet.

I write despite all the bullshit that comes along with it. But I refuse to be all high-and-mighty and lofty and say ‘I have to write’. No, for me it is a conscious choice to park my butt and write the words and edit the crap out of them before I share them with the rest of the world.

For me it’s never been about having the need to write, but wanting to do it. It’s wanting to see the words hit the page, wanting to push myself to sharpen them to the brightest points, and hearing their truth not just inside my head, but with my own ears, too.

I know I don’t have to be in the perfect mood to write. I know my mind can be a mess and most of all, I know it doesn’t have to be set in a certain way. I can write in a flying-hot good mood, or in a dark and cold pisser of a mood. And I can always edit until I get it to where it flows the way I want it to. I don’t have to kill my darlings but instead keep at them until they make it out of the jungle of my mind.

I don’t need a room of my own, or a lot of time, either. And as for the thoughts that question the worth of my words and whether they’re good enough for others to see, bullocks to them. I know someone out in the world won’t like me and what I write, but I’ve kept on going despite being told that in more variations than I care to admit to. Every day I feel like I’m learning more and more how to kick that crap out of my way even when it keeps coming into my path.

So if you’re looking for any writing inspiration from me I’ll tell you one thing: write because you want to, and never mind the bullocks that comes along with it.

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Please visit Michele Sayre’s website:
https://tinyurl.com/yb42gyt2

Michele Sayer: MY TOP TEN WRITING GUIDELINES

I don’t believe in writing ‘rules’ because there aren’t any. There are NO laws governing writing because even ‘rules’ on grammar and usage keep changing over time. What doesn’t change is the infinite variations on the writing process based on individual writers and their need to communicate with the written word.

But if I have to impart any advice to writers it would be the following:

1) Don’t write to perfection. There will be a few but very rare times when something comes out the first time and doesn’t require any significant editing. Most of the time, your writing will require multiple rounds of editing to make it work well.

2) Remember, you can always revise later. As one of my all-time favorite authors Nora Roberts once said, “You can’t revise a blank page.” Get it down first so you can revise and edit. Because revisions and edits are a fact-of-life with writing.

3) Edit and revise but don’t beat the crap out of yourself in the process. I know so many writers who write and edit while beating themselves up at the same time. Yes, there are times when you’ll read something and not have any idea what you were trying to say. But unless you were writing drunk, high, or seriously messed-up, cut yourself some slack.

4) Try to understand that writing is purely subjective. What one person likes someone else won’t. Accept that as a fact of life and try to figure out what it is that works, or doesn’t work for you.

5) Writing days can be up and down. Some days the words will flow out of you like a water tap turned on full. And sometimes it will be a trickle. And some days the tap will be dry. Yes, you can push yourself but if the writing isn’t flowing, you might need to take a step back to try and figure out why.

6) Don’t adhere to absolutes with writing. For some writers, adverbs don’t work at all and for some writers they’re good friends that can be very useful. Personally, I don’t have a problem with adverbs though I do make sure they serve a purpose and aren’t just marshmallow fluff.

7) Don’t compare yourself to other writers. You’ll always fall short sooner or later and then you’ll feel bad and probably not be able to write. I believe every writer has to figure things out for themselves and you have to do what’s best for you.

8) Read your work out loud to yourself. I believe in this because when you read something out loud not only do you hear the rhythm of your words, you’ll also catch a lot of mistakes, too.

9) Know that with writing, like anything else you do in life, you will get better over time if you keep at it. Because if you keep learning, you’ll push yourself to go further and deeper and your writing will get better because of that.

10) Don’t let Fear stop you from writing. This is advice I really need to take myself but knowing that I’ve retreated from my writing because of Fear is the first step in moving away from it. Don’t let the bullies and jerks of this world ruin writing for you, and don’t give them any power over you.

Good luck with your writing.

Comfort Reads: All of the Comfort with None of the Calories

For long periods of time when I’m not feeling well or I’m stressed out, I read books I’ve read many times before. These are what have been referred to as ‘comfort reads’. A comfort read is like comfort food but without the calories. Both I think are a good way of coping sometimes that we all need but thank goodness a book doesn’t add inches to a waistline. I know for me a comfort read is a way of holding on to my sanity amid the storms of life sometimes.

But what makes a good comfort read?

First, I think the book has to be very well-written. It’s a book where you’re not pulled out of the story at any time by issues with editing and such. It’s a book that flows well and that you can pop in and out of and immediately pick up where you left off without having to think back to what happened before.

Second, in the books that I call my comfort reads it’s the characters that keep bringing me back. I know the story and the plot twists so well that I barely notice them. But what I do notice are the characters and how they make me feel. I care about these people and yes, I would love to know how their lives turned out after the end of the book (that’s why I love books with recurring characters from previous books: it’s like visiting with old and dear friends).

I think I get my re-reading from my late father who like me read the same books over and over so many times he could practically recite them. Personally, I think if someone re-reads your books many times it means it’s a really good book. Because if something is mediocre or un-memorable then I honestly don’t think people would go back for a so-so experience.

So I won’t rag on anyone who re-reads the same books over and over again because either they’re going through some difficult time in their life, or they just need to give their brain a break. Eventually, something new and shiny will come along and hopefully, it will become a comfort read.

In addition to writing a good book that someone wants to read the first time, I hope to write a book that people will read again and again. Because to me, a comfort read not only will build a relationship with a reader and hopefully get them to buy my other books, it will give them a respite from their daily lives. I want to write good stories, but I would also love for my stories to be so good people come back to them like they come back to their favorite comfort foods.

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Michele Sayre is a writer who consumes her favorite books like comfort foods and hopes that her books will become someone’s comfort read someday. And my comfort foods are: donuts, pizza, tacos, saltine crackers, Cheetos, and ice cream or chocolate without nuts.

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How to Avoid Info-Dumping By Asking Why

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A common problem among writers is info-dumping, which is putting a ton of information on the page that slows your story down. Two common forms of info-dumping are in descriptions and dialogue that doesn’t advance the plot or character development of the story.

Here’s an example of info-dumping that does nothing to advance the story or show the reader anything meaningful about the character:

The house was set back a ways from the road, two-stories of stone with cream-white walls and black trim. The lawns were expansive, lush, and green. In the driveway were two very expensive cars, a Lexus and a Mercedes. He stepped inside the house with its’ high ceilinged foyer and richly-patterned rug underneath him. To his right was a huge living room that was bigger than his entire apartment, and there was the man who had called him to come here in the first place with a job offer.

Why is this considered info-dumping?

It’s a very basic description that doesn’t have any real emotion behind it. The sentence structures are written saying this-and-that with no reason as to why the character notices these details. If the purpose is to set the scene, it needs to be done in order to give the reader an insight into the character.

So how can we rewrite that previous paragraph to keep it from sounding like an info-dump?

Let’s get into our character’s head and see and feel things from his point of view.

He couldn’t believe a house could be set so far back from the road in the heart of San Antonio as he got out of his car and stepped onto the grass, sinking a little into the lush green as he made his way up to the house. He stepped inside and looked up at two-stories of open space then saw off to his right was a single room that was larger than his entire apartment. And in that room was the man who said he had the job of a lifetime to offer him, and by the looks of the house around him, the job could come with more money than he’d ever made before.

But at what price?

He stepped into the room to find out.

As you can see with the rewrite I started off the first two sentences with ‘He’ so we’re in our character’s POV. So instead of saying ‘The house was set back’ we hear the character’s thought about that (‘He couldn’t believe a house could be set so far back…’).

This first sentence shows that this house won’t be like anything our POV character has seen before. And why would that be? The answer to that needs to be a part of your story and that’s why you need to have not only the physical descriptions, but also your character’s thoughts and feelings about what they’re seeing. And most of all, there needs to be a hook after the initial setup to show WHY the character is in this setting but without stating every detail of that, too.

Another type of info-dumping can happen is when there is a lot of dialogue that has very little to break it up like the example here:

“What’s your name?”

“Mark.” He replied without looking up at her.

“So, what were you doing here?”

“Guarding a group of executives visiting the oil fields down here.”

“Oh, so where are they?”

“They’re safe.”

Here’s a rewrite of the previous set of dialogue to break it up a little and put a little internal reaction to it.

“What’s your name?” Jillian asked as she studied her rescuer.

“Mark.” He didn’t look up at her as he rummaged through the backpack he’d been carrying.

“So, uh, what were you doing here?”

“Guarding a group of executives visiting the oil fields.” Mark sat back a little but still didn’t look up at her.

“Oh, so where are they?”

“They’re safe.”

Well, that was good, Jillian thought to herself. And even though she felt like Mark was being honest with her, she wasn’t sure how much he might be holding back, either .

In my rewrite, I wanted to show was that Jillian was trying to learn more about the situation and Mark was barely cooperating. And though she felt like Mark was being honest with her, she also has a suspicion he might not be telling her everything either. And that suspicion creates a question of WHY that would be, which in turn will keep the story going for the reader.

And that single question, WHY, is the most crucial to ask with anything you write. Because in order to get a reader interested in your story, you want them to be asking WHY things are happening in the story. You want to show them through the character’s actions, thoughts, and feelings what’s going on in the story so if you put something on the page, it has to be the character’s POV, not yours (the author).

In conclusion, here are some points to remember to avoid info-dumping:

Keep things in your character’s POV at all times. Read your sentences back and if they are basic declarative sentences with no POV insight from your character then rewrite.

You can ‘show’ and not ‘tell’ by letting dialogue and your POV character’s reaction set the scene and not inject yourself (the author) into the scene as a third-person narrator.

Make sure your scenes will get your readers asking WHY. This will make them want to know what happens next, which is how you hold your reader’s interest all the way to the end.

 

A Good Beginning

A Good Beginning picOne question that comes up a lot among writers, especially those new to the process, is where do I start my story? This is a very good question as the beginning is the writer’s only opportunity to get a reader’s attention and keep it until the end. It’s also where a lot of problems with a story begin, but there are some things a writer can keep in mind when working on a beginning.

Now, I write romance and a key element of that genre is the hero and heroine usually meet if not in the very first scene, by the end of the first chapter. This is because in a romance the story of the hero and heroine’s relationship is the key element, not backstory, or description of the world they live in, or a plot element happening to other characters. Personally, I think having lead characters introduced right away would work with any genre of fiction so a good beginning should start with them first.

A common way some writers like to start a story is with a flashback scene (or chapter) For me, a flashback scene (or chapter) at the beginning of a story can work if doesn’t feel like a character is narrating it from the present, future, or from the great-beyond, and if it also connects to the present story. I’ve read flashback sequences that I couldn’t figure out how they connected to the present and if a reader has to ask that question, then they’re going to be pulled out of the story.

Another way a reader can be pulled out of a story at the beginning is what I refer to as info-dumping. You don’t need to walk up to the first pages of your story and dump out all the backstory of your characters and research you have done. Communicate ONLY the key information you need your readers to know through your character’s actions and dialogue. And when it comes to dialogue, don’t do a marathon back-and-forth session trying to get all that information on the page. You’ve got plenty of time to reveal what you need to and if you need to know when to do that, let your characters guide you.

And by characters guiding your story I mean reveal what you need to as they learn of it. This eliminates any distance between the reader and the story itself because for characters to truly engage the reader, the writer needs to take themselves out the story. Your characters are the best guide for where to take your story and listening to them at the beginning will give you a solid foundation to start your story, and finish it.

Finally, you don’t have to have a flash-bang beginning, just something that engages the reader by getting the story into motion. Make that beginning come alive and get that reader wanting to know what happens next. Because if the reader is engaged from the very beginning, they’ll stay to the end. And that is the ultimate goal of every storyteller and to reach that goal, you have to start at the beginning.

 

Memorable Characters

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The one thing that makes any story for me stand out is a memorable character. They don’t have be heroic, or even that good. But they have to be compelling and as an audience member, you have to want to know what happens to them. So as a writer, how can you make your characters memorable?

First, I think you should be able to say things about them. Like for example, they’re kind, smart, sensitive, or tough, impulsive, and moody. You can identify traits about them right away based on what you’re seeing with them in the story. They make you care about them not because you might like them, but because you want to see how they will handle whatever the story throws at them.

Second, you learn things about them. You learn about their past, their likes and dislikes, their problems, their demons, and how they feel about other characters. Because when you learn things about them you get a picture of who they are, where they’ve been, and where they’re going.

Recently, I started watching the television series ‘Grantchester’, a mystery series set in the 1950’s in a small village in Cambridge, England. The main character is Sidney Chambers, a young handsome vicar who is a bit shy yet sweet. But we learn that he’s haunted by his war-time service, and an unrequited love for a woman. What makes Sidney compelling and memorable is that he’s not perfect. He doesn’t utter empty platitudes but is cautious with his words. He’s also cautious with his feelings, perhaps too much. So we have a character who could be made out to be a paragon of virtue and perfect in every way but instead, we have a real character with good and not-so-good qualities who has a lot of potential to grow.

On the other end of this spectrum would be Tony Soprano, from the HBO television series ‘The Sopranos’. Tony is a mobster running a strip club in New Jersey and head of a crime family. So he’s not what you would refer to as a good person. He breaks the law and has people murdered. He lies and cheats and is brutal in how he deals with things. Yet in the first episode we see him having a panic attack and subsequently seeing a therapist. So this shows he’s vulnerable, and able to feel things though not deal with them very well. It’s this dichotomy that makes him memorable and compelling because we know things about him, see how he interacts with the world around him, and see his conflicts.

So to make a memorable character you want to show the good, the bad, and in some cases, the ugly. You want your audience to learn about them and because of that, your audience will want to know what happens to your characters in the story. And that’s what not only makes a character memorable, but what makes a story memorable after it’s over.

Changing POV

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Changing POV is not head-hopping. The term ‘head-hopping’ means that a POV is changed so much in a scene that the reader is being forced to hop around so much they’re dizzy with it. And because of that they’re confused as to who is doing what, which is something you never want to have in your story.

So, how do you avoid that if you want to change POV in a scene?

First, make your character’s voice distinctive enough so that when you change POV it’s a seamless transition. This means that when you’re in a particular character’s POV you’re using a very distinctive voice for them, and I’m not just talking about the way they speak in dialogue. Each character should have a distinctive way of thinking and acting in addition to speaking. And you don’t need to make the differences super-obvious or extremely-different unless your story calls for that.

Two, understand what you want to do in a particular scene in terms of action and what information you want to reveal about the plot and characters. Sometimes it may be best to stay in one character’s POV because if you go into another character’s POV you’ll reveal a plot detail before you need to. I did this in the very first scene of my novel-in-progress because if I had gone into my other character’s POV I would have spoiled the key surprise plot element, so to speak.

Three, think of the development of the scene in a cinematic way. When you watch a movie for example, most of the time there are cuts within a scene to show the reactions of other characters to what’s happening. So if you feel that need to cut to another character in your scene, then you’re looking to change POV.

Now, I know there are what I call POV-purists who believe in one POV per scene and will only change POV with a line or scene break clearly showing that on the page. And that’s perfectly fine as I’ve read plenty of books written like that I enjoyed. But please don’t feel like you have to do that. Maybe the thought of changing POV in a scene is daunting or you’re not sure of how or when to do it. Don’t be afraid to give a try and in the meantime, study other writers and see how they do things.

Most of all, don’t feel like there is a set of rules governing POV that you can’t break unless you want to go to jail. Trust me, you will not be jailed for changing POV in a scene. If you do it and someone says you’re head-hopping, then you’ll need to look at your work more closely to make sure your changes in POV are seamless. But trust me, it can be done if you want to do it.

 

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Writer’s Resolutions and How to Stick to Them

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With the New Year, many people, including writers, make resolutions. They resolve to do more or to do better. But then life gets in the way, sometimes in a big way, and things go off-track.

So as a writer, how can you make resolutions then stick to them through thick and thin?

First, be realistic. If you’ve never completed a novel before, your chances of completing more than one in the year are a bit a slim. And I’m not saying that to be a downer but in this case, the first goal should be to complete the first novel before moving on to the second one. But, if you have completed a novel then you’ve proven to yourself you can do that again and again. And if you accomplish something during the year then you can add on to it.

Second, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get something done. The world is not going to end if you fail to meet a goal you set for yourself. Life happens more often than not but even if that’s not the case and you just get bogged down in fear, doubt, or boredom, kicking yourself while you’re down won’t accomplish anything. So be kind to yourself no matter what happens.

And third, celebrate your achievements no matter how big or small. Writing is a physical act and every part of the process is an accomplishment in itself. Don’t put yourself down by saying you could have done more, or that it’s not good enough, or that it needs a lot of editing, or anything negative. Of course your writing is going to need editing and revising as nothing comes out completely perfect in first-draft form. But celebrate the fact that you have words to revise and edit.

So if you have set any writing resolutions for yourself remember these three things:

  • Be realistic in what you can do though don’t be afraid to push yourself.
  • Be kind to yourself if you don’t achieve a particular goal.
  • Celebrate your achievements both big and small.

Best wishes on your writing for 2017!

The Message of Writer’s Block

Writer’s Block is when a writer sits down to write but nothing comes out. Now some people claim that it doesn’t exist and or that you just have to plow through it no matter what. I don’t agree with those arguments as I believe writer’s block is a message.

For me, when I’m having trouble writing I know that I’m butting up against something I don’t want to deal with. That ‘something’ can be a place I fear, a place that hurts to go to, or just a problem I’m having with the story or writing project I’m currently working on.

So let’s take a look at these three possible sources of writer’s block.

Years ago, I read a biography of the writer Anne Rice in which she said that sometimes you have to go to the places that you fear the most. For a writer, these aren’t literal places but places in the mind. But they can generate fear, and fear is a powerful instinct that most people react to by retreating from instead of going forward. For a writer, I believe a moment of retreat is allowed to examine the root of that fear. For example, is it a fear of rejection or a fear that someone will hate your work that keeps you from writing? If so, you’ll have to figure out a way to counter that. With these fearful places, you have to figure out what’s behind your fear of them before you can move forward.

Sometimes writing can be a form of therapy, which can be both good and bad. The bad part can bring on that blocked feeling because the first reaction to pain is to retreat from it. Personally when I hit on this, which for me manifests itself as a nasty combination of anger and sadness, I know I have to let it run its’ course before I can get back to my writing. And one way I let it run its’ course is to write about it with no intention of anyone ever seeing it. To me, this type of block has to be vented out in order to move past it.

Now the last type of writer’s block, the problem with my story or project, is the most common for me. This is something I can deal with by just taking some time to let my mind work through the problem, or going back and reading what I’ve written and editing as I read along. For me, going back through what I’ve read is one of the best ways I can combat being blocked.

So I believe writer’s block is real, but also something that can be worked through. Sometimes it won’t be easy to decode the message behind the block, but once you do break the code and figure it out, then you’ll know what to do.