Category Archives: Michele Sayre

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.

ComfortReads

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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.

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.

Michele Sayre: How to Use Deep POV to Avoid Info-Dumping

Writers do a lot of research and work to create the world in which their story is set. But a reader does NOT need to know all these details. They only need to know what’s important to the scene itself. And the key to that is asking why does the POV character notice this or that, or think about this or that? The single question of ‘why’ is very effective in editing down the most essential information in a scene.

Here’s an example from a work-in-progress of mine called ‘Not Enough Time’. In the very first scene I wanted to show the setting as I didn’t just want to put at the top of the page, Northeastern Colombia because readers wouldn’t know why I set the scene there. Instead, I wove in the details of that particular setting through my POV character Jake.

Jake continued to scan their surroundings without moving a muscle. The jungle threatened to overtake the dirt clearing and the only sounds cutting through the tense silence were the small birds flitting through the trees. But the oil fields of northeastern Colombia were hit on a regular basis and the two execs they’d been guarding were highly-lucrative targets. Yet… no sign of trouble at all the entire two weeks they’d been here.

What I wanted to create was an image of an oil field hacked out of a jungle, and the dangers surrounding it. It explained why my hero was there (guarding two oil company executives) and the conflict behind the setting (no sign of trouble despite the area getting ‘hit’ on a regular basis).

Another way to avoid info-dumping is not only weaving in the necessary details, but making sure those details advance the story. It’s all well and good to read description that looks great, but if it doesn’t advance the story then it’s pointless.

Here’s an example from a short story of mine. In this scene (the first one in the story), Emma meets Miguel, the man she’s come to write about. Except that she doesn’t recognize him when she sees him this way.

But as she raised her camera a man rose up out of the water in a huge rush like a god of the sea.

Slowly, she lowered her camera and felt her mouth fall open at the sight of the man now walking out of the water.

He was like a god- tall, broad-shouldered with washboard abs and dark curls of chest hair. He slicked back his thick black hair and smiled up at the sun, his black swim trunks clinging to his mid-section, outlining an impressive package.

Blushing hotly, she looked away from that part of him but it was too late. He was coming right towards her, towards the towel she stood right behind.

“Hello.” He called out with an accent.

And as he got closer, she realized with a huge blush of embarrassment this was the man she had come to write about.

Miguel Salvador, bad-boy chef and all-around hunk.

There’s a lovely shock to Emma upon seeing Miguel like this even as that shock turns to embarrassment when she realizes who he is. So not only do we have Emma’s observations and emotions in the scene, we also have the beginning of the story’s conflict.

Deep POV is about letting your characters tell the story and not about putting every little detail on the page because you want to show off your research and world-building. Remember, you have a story to tell and those details are just a part of the story.

The Writer as Editor

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I recently asked myself a question: can a writer be a good editor?

My answer was a resounding ‘yes’ as I believe writing and editing go hand in hand.

So, how do you approach editing as a writer?

First, don’t beat yourself up or call yourself ten grades of idiot just because you need to edit your work. No one, and I repeat, no one writes a perfect first draft. The best work is written and rewritten and edited to within an inch of its’ life. The amount of work can vary at times but in the end, there’s always room for improvement.

Second, take your time when editing. I start off with a read-through and edit whatever I catch on that first pass, which are usually missing words and overly-wordy structures. In this first pass I see what I want to do with the piece and where I need to go with it.

Third, if you want to make sure your work flows well, read it out loud. And when you read it out loud, focus on reading every word and making sure it doesn’t get tangled up when you read it. Because if I can’t read it out loud without getting my tongue tangled up in a knot, a reader will have the same problem when reading it.

A good piece of writing flows well not only with the words themselves and how they are put together, but how well you convey what you’re trying to write about in the first place. For example, we know this piece is about editing but what if I went off on a tangent about how poor writing still gets published? That would be an opinion about what I feel is a lack of editing, but it’s not what I want to talk about here. So, finding those off-topic tangents and editing them out is another form of editing that you must work at, too.

So, how do you know when something is ready to publish or share? For me, it’s when I don’t make any changes after countless read-throughs. But it’s also about listening to my intuition and reaching the point where I know I’ve done the best I can. Because sooner or later, your work must go out into the big, bad world on its’ own. The most you can do is prepare your writing with the best editing you can do, and make sure your work stays true to yourself.

Michele Sayre

Love to Read in Order to Write

How can someone be a writer if they don’t like to read?

Personally, I don’t think you can be a writer without a love for the written word. To me, it would be like a musician who doesn’t love music, or any other creative-type who doesn’t love what they create themselves.

A writer creates using the written word. And to understand how to do that, you need to study, or in this case, read. And not just in the genre that you love to write in, but across the board. Words have to be a wonder and a revelation to you in addition to making you feel things both good and bad.

So, what do you learn as a reader in order to be a writer?

First, the craft of writing: spelling, punctuation, and grammar. You have to understand basic structure in order to learn how to communicate not only clearly, but effectively. You have to study words and their meanings, and their usage in order to find the best ones to express your thoughts and feelings.

Second, you have to read stories in order to understand how they are told. This would be the mechanics of plot and character development. In order to understand how a story is told with a beginning, a middle, and an end, you need to see it in action. Books are not built like sand castles on the beach, but like houses and buildings. Once you understand working structures then you can build your own as every story has to have a solid foundation.

Third, when you read and are emotionally engaged you’ll see how that was done. For example, when I read ‘The Hunger Games’ about halfway through that book I felt this immense emotional churning inside of me. I was feeling what the main character Katniss was feeling, and I was blown away by how incredible and well-done the writing was to make me feel that way. I was reading the story and not only wanted to know what happened next in terms of the plot, but with the characters, too.

Writers don’t just create words and stories out of thin air. They not only read and study, but they also live. A good writer is an observer of human nature, and they read other observations in order to hone their own observation skills. Because writing is not just about putting words down onto a page: it’s about putting observations and feelings into words. I have been touched and moved and inspired by so many writers over the years that in a way my writing is a way of paying that forward.

My advice here then is this: if you don’t love to read then you need to figure out why and overcome it. Because if you don’t have a love and passion for the written word, you won’t be able to convey that with your own words as love and passion are the heart and soul of good writing.

 

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Michele Sayre: My Writing Journey, So Far

I started putting pen to paper seriously when I was about eleven or twelve years old. My father at this point had been writing for a couple of years and I used to fall asleep to the sound of his typewriter as his office was in the room next to mine. When I was thirteen I got my first typewriter and there was no going back after that. Since then I’ve gone through two typewriters, one primitive word processor, and several laptops and a desktop computer. I’ve also seen massive changes in writing and publishing since those tentative scribblings of twenty-plus years ago.

But my journey has had its’ ups and downs. I’ve gotten rejection slips. I’ve gone through long periods where I didn’t write a word for days. I’ve trashed manuscripts and had projects wither and die on me. Yet I’ve kept at it.

And how have I done that, you may ask?

I’m not quite sure to be honest. It just seems that I’m always drawn back to the keyboard, to the words themselves. Because no matter what I’ve gone through in my life and how long it’s taken me away from the writing itself, the stories and words still continue to flow through my mind. And that flow of words and stories in my head is the real reason I write: to get those words out of my head.

I’ve always felt I communicate better with the written word than in person as I am the classic shy introvert who still has to work at not being shy. But I will admit to being shy with my writing, too, which is another goal of my writing career.

So what have I learned on my journey so far?

I’m not a bad writer in that I can write in a way that gets a reader’s attention and makes them want to read more.

I’m pretty good with grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Most of all, I’ve learned that no matter how long I may step away from the keyboard, I’ll always go back. And when I go back I’ll be a better writer for it.