Tag Archive | NaNoWriMo progress

Conflict vs. Tension in Your Writing

Okay, everyone, The Literary Mom has been doing lots of “mom” stuff, and is exhausted. Please enjoy this article I wrote last year about conflict vs. tension in your writing, and have a nice Wednesday!

One of the most important elements in fiction writing is conflict. You can’t write a good story without it, period. But conflict has a counterpart that is equally important; tension. What’s that you say? Aren’t tension and conflict the same thing? No, they’re not, and here’s why: tension is what your readers experience when waiting for the conflict they know is coming.

As I get nearer and nearer the black moment (You don’t know what that is? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post!) in my NaNo novel, I’ve been thinking more and more about tension and conflict. Today, I had a breakthrough. I realized I had my two final scenes in the wrong order. The way I had it originally had the most conflict. However, today I realized that if I reversed their order, it will actually increase the reader tension. Reader tension is what keeps the reader turning the page, even when it’s one in the morning and they know they have to get up at six for work.

Sometimes, you have to hint to your readers that a big conflict is on the way and then delay it. The delay is what creates the reader tension. They know it’s coming, but when? They continue reading, breathless and anxious, waiting for that ugly conflict to pop out from behind a bush and scream “BOO!!”

My Two Favorite Words

Yesterday, I typed my two favorite words: THE END!!!!! So my rough draft is finally done. Now it’s on to revisions. Right now, I’m thinking a lot about my characters and the arcs they’ll be following over the course of the story.

My protagonist is a teen girl, and there is a romantic subplot, which got me thinking a lot about male heroes in novels. Hence the poll! Let me know what you think about male heroes, what you think is most important to make them believable, to make a romance believable. I’d appreciate it!

Writer’s Block or Writer’s Haze?

Everyone always talks about writer’s block, what happens when you get it, how to defeat it, how to avoid it all together. Writer’s block is a pain in the butt; staring at a blank page, completely out of ideas, not able to write even a single word. It sucks.


I’m lucky in the sense that I hardly ever get writer’s block. Do you know what my real problem is? Writer’s haze. What? You’ve never heard of it? I’d be willing to bet that you’ve had it though.


Have you ever sat down to write, and then immediately realized your brain feels foggy, confused, like you can hardly string a sentence together? You manage to slog through it, pulling each word out of your brain like a greased pig through a dog door (a Chihuahua’s dog door at that). You might get your quota of words done for the day, but they feel dry, uninspired, like it’s nothing but crap. That’s writer’s haze. You can thank me later for coining the phrase.


There are lots of reasons for writer’s haze; not enough sleep, not enough caffeine, overworking, disliking the project you’re working on, etc. However, there aren’t many cures. Other then getting enough sleep and a good pot of coffee or two, the only thing I’ve found that helps is loving your project. Like, I-can’t-wait-to-wake-up-so-I-can-work-on-it-in-the-morning love. When you’re really excited, the haze almost completely disappears.


You’ll always have episodes of it. Sometimes, the best thing to do on those days is just walk away, go for a long walk and come back later, or even the next day. If you’re still feeling The Haze, you might be working on the wrong project.

How Poetry Can Help Your Fiction


I don’t write much poetry although I’ve dabbled in it. I’ve always been a fiction kind of girl. There is one good reason to dust off the iambic pentameter: poignant descriptions.


Sometimes, I feel like my writing becomes a little flat, a little muddy. That’s when I know it’s time to write a little poetry.

 The sparseness of poetry forces you to consider each word carefully. You only have so many words to paint a picture, emotion, or idea in your readers mind. You weigh each word; is this what I really want to convey? In prose, you have pages to say what you want. Mark Twain said: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Being wordy is easy. To be austere with your words is much harder.


Spend a few days writing poetry, even if it will never see the light of day. Your fiction writing will thank you, I promise.

Family and Writing

My family has gathered together for a pre-thanksgiving vacation,which has made my writing a little slow (try non-existent). In a sense, though, time spent with your extended family is excellent fodder for your writing. Need some odd characters for your novel? Look no further than that one oddball every family has. What? Wait? What do you mean I”m the oddball? No, I’m pretty sure it’s you…

Need some good dialogue? Here’s a good exercise. Crack open a couple of bottles of wine, wait until everyone is sloshed, then get out your notebook and pen. Then, when the wine -induced haze wears off and your novel is on bookshelves, swear up and down that they gave you permission to use their conversation verbatim. It’s not your fault if they don’t remember.

Need some good descriptions? When your family is driving you nuts and you can’t take it a moment longer, take a long walk (or snowshoe like I do!) through the woods, storing up descriptive words and scaring the local wildlife by yelling at the top of your lungs to relieve stress and frustration. Ah, the joys of family vacations…

The Black Moment and Resolution

The black moment is a device that’s used a lot in fiction. Not all books use it, but I think they should. It’s one of the best ways to heighten reader tension. So, what is the black moment?

Right before you resolve your novel, there should be a moment when whatever your character needs seems completely unattainable.  In a romance novel, this is where the heroine and hero seem like they’re not going to be able to make their relationship work. In a thriller, the hero might  have reached an insurmountable obstacle and seems ready to give up. In a paranormal novel, the flesh-eating zombies might have the heroine trapped with no way out, her death and subsequent consumption by the zombies seemingly inevitable.

The black moment usually happens in the chapter before the very last chapter. Then, you must have a resolution. This is where the heroine realizes she needs to learn to forgive and lets the hero into her heart. Or maybe, the heroine finds a loose pipe, bashes the zombies brains in, and makes her escape. Whatever. Just make sure that the resolution isn’t based on a happy coincidence, i.e. “And then a zombie-killing rain fell from the sky and I was saved.” While that might happen in real life (the happy coincidence, not the zombie rain), it can never EVER happen in your writing. Readers hate it and will never buy another one of your books again.

50,069 words: Sweet Relief

I cannot believe I wrote 50,069 words in 17 days. If I hadn’t had the official NaNo word Count Validater certify it, I still wouldn’t believe it. I worked long and hard to write 50,000 in that short a period of time. I’m tired, very, very tired, but it was worth it.

No, my book isn’t done. I figure it’s got about another 20,000 words to go. Yes, I’m going to try to finish it by the end of November! Wish me luck!

Revision: The True Craft of Writing

As I get closer to finishing my NaNO project, I’ve been thinking more and more about the craft of writing. Writing isn’t just about getting the words on the page; it’s also about revision, revision, revision.

Rough drafts are exactly that: rough. In most cases very, very rough. If an author tells you that he never rewrites, he’s lying. Hemingway was quoted as saying he rewrote the end of A Farwell to Arms 39 times. When the interviewer then went on to ask what the problem was, if there was some sort of technical issues, Hemingway replied that the issue was “getting the words right.”

When you sit down to revise a manuscript, that is when you really practice the craft of writing. Despite what anyone might say, this is a part of writing that can be learned. I know. I’ve done it. I will say this however, I did not learn it during the course of studying creative writing in college, although I did do that, too. No, most of what I have learned, I’ve learned on my own; through reading books on writing, reading and analysing novels voraciously, and writing, writing, writing.

When you revise, you focus on the craft; increasing tension on the page, fine tuning descriptions, strengthening your characters by adding introspection, etc. I also feel that with each successive draft I know the characters better. Sometimes, when I go back over what I wrote something rings false and I realize, hey, that character would never do that! Now that I know that character better, I can revise to make each action, each reaction, truer to that character.

I also suggest that if at all possible, before you undertake revisions you get as much feedback as possible from as many sources as possible. I always try to get at least three or four critiques on each manuscript I write. I gladly do more if I manage to bully persuade more people to weigh in. Reader feedback can be invaluable. Just make sure that whoever is critiquing your work, actually reads novels in that genre. If someone’s favorite author is John Steinbeck and you ask them to critique your romance novel, the  critique will be interesting to say the least! (Thanks, Dad!)

Writing in First Person

In case you haven’t noticed, about 70% of YA fiction is written in first person. I’m currently attempting this in my NaNoWriMo project. I”ve written one other novel in first person, but the rest were all third person, which I find much easier to write. YA is mostly written in first person, though, because it make the reader immediately identify with the main character, which is really important for YA fiction.

I’ve been having a little bit of trouble with it, but I just came across a simple bit of advice in Elements of Fiction Writing-Description by Monica Wood that I feel has greatly improved my writing this morning. It’s so simple, at first I didn’t even think about it, but then it wiggled its way back into my brain. Here it is: when writing in first person, you need to remember that ALL descriptions are coming from your protagonist. Ms. Wood then goes on to say, “Make sure you erase yourself completely from the descriptions.”

Um… why didn’t I think about that before? My protagonist is a sixteen-year-old high school student, but in some places, her descriptions sound like they’re coming for a 31-year-old wife and mother! As soon as I applied this, my writing seemed to instantly have more presence, more voice. Somewhere inside myself, I already knew this, but it took one simple sentence in a writing guide to bring it to the forefront of my writing. Just goes to show you learn something new everyday!


41,500 Words: The Return of the Inner Editor

            Last night, I went to bed sitting at a comfortable word total of 39,174 words. And then, something terrible happened. As I lay there in the dark, thinking about where I wanted my story to go the next day, I heard it; the little voice.

            “You know, you really have a lot of trouble with character introspection and emotion. Are you sure you put enough in? Maybe you better go back and check.”

            I rolled over, confused. Who was that?

            “Also, you better start thinking about your theme. Your book has to have a theme. What? You haven’t even started thinking about that yet?” Mocking laughter.

            Ugh. I know that laugh. I know that voice. Darn it. My inner editor was back.

            “And where’s the meaning in your story? It’s a YA novel. There should be meaning. You need to impart an IMPORTANT LESSON.”

            I can’t believe she’s back. I’d been doing so well, too. Well, folks, it appears she’s here to stay. In the first hour of typing this morning, I only managed 900 words, a scant amount compared to the 1,500 or so I have been wracking up. She sat on my shoulder, questioning each word choice, and asking when I was going to start writing something meaningful, thus implying that everything I have written up to this point is crap.

I managed to silence her for a while during the second hour and got a little more work done, but now I’m worried about making my story meaningful, and making sure there is enough character introspection. I’m doing my best to beat her back a little. I’ll let you know how it turns out!