Empty Phrases That Annoy Me

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Lately, I’ve noticed annoying phrases that writers and speakers use. One of the phrases is, “At the end of the day…” Other phrases include, “When all is said and done,” and “Alternatively…” And everyone is using the word, “literally” in the wrong context without even caring.

These phrases sound empty and they become irritating after several YouTube hosts or podcasters use them (which is virtually in every video now). The problem with using empty phrases that we pick up through osmosis is that they add nothing to the sentence. They contribute zero emotional appeal to the theme presented. And the person using the phrases comes off as trendy instead of insightful.

Authentic writing comes from the soul. It comes from carefully crafted thoughts and paragraphs. And when we use simple language that gets us from point A to point B we are more likely to engage the reader or listener. We can also use language rhythmically which many great speakers such as Martin Luther King, Jr. have done. One exercise that helps with creating rhythmic writing is to listen to music from around the world or at least jazz syncopation. The later is what made Jack Kerouac a compelling author.

When we read classic literature even books from the twentieth century we hear authentic voices. No two authors were alike and part of that was that book publishing sought diverse narratives that told the stories of that age. Even genre fiction lacked trite formulas that appear in modern books. Have publishers lost sight of the art and craft of writing compelling fiction. Or have authors (and speakers) become lazy?

I’m an author who spends time crafting a perfect sentence. And I champion authors who take a painstaking approach to get every word right. It’s not about stretching the word count to meet the current genre requirements. Nor is about waxing poetry in every paragraph. Yet, some authors move their stories forward with ease while also using words beautifully and powerfully. I purchase their books as opposed to just checking them out from the library (then forgetting about the books).

I encourage emerging and established authors to read the classics as well as, read books from various genres written decades if not centuries ago. Explore the language of that time. Explore the speech of the characters and how that speech helps readers visualize the characters. Also, explore succinct ways landscape is described and how the landscape transforms into symbolic language.

I’m glad I took English literature classes in high school and at a university. This exploration formed the basis of my novel writing decades later. Any of us can study English literature by reading classics and even joining a discussion group. Also, search for inexpensive online courses. I found two excellent editing and revising classes on Udemy. I saw creative writing courses offered too.

When we delve deeper into the language which we speak and write we are less likely to use borrowed phrases from the prominent people of our time. Now, some people enjoy hearing people use trendy phrases. And when they start parroting those phrases of their favorite political leader, celebrity, or YouTube host, they fit in with their peers. I just find it irritating on my nerves that the world lacks original speakers and thinkers like it did in the past. I sorely miss Joseph Campbell.

Perhaps, you disagree with me. But before you leave a comment to debate my observations, consider my words. As authors we invent new phrases. We recreate language. And we make characterization compelling while constructing plots that seem familiar but with an odd twists (we’ve not read yet).

And my message to agents and editors, open your minds and think outside of the box. I realize you’re in the business to sell books, even if they are banal creative non-fiction ghost-written for celebrities. Or maybe you enjoy the dark literature which only contributes despair and more fear to a world already dripping with anxiety.

You are decision-makers who determine what gets read and what stays in a slush pile. And in doing that you might have thrown a future classic into the recycling bin. And if it wasn’t you, then it was an intern who had been trained as a parrot instead of an authentic thinker.

Personally, I prefer that a young intern out of grad school not determine my trajectory as an author. That’s disrespectful to us authors who have been crafting stories for decades. We might not possess the glamour of an actress-turned-social-activist or any number of who’s who for the twenty-first century (written by ghost writers).

These are my thoughts for the moment. They might sound bitter. Or they might sound jaded. But I’ve been in the literary trenches for several decades crafting real stories that if given a pair of wings would soar.

Online Writing Conferences (The New Normal?)

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Even though writer’s conferences force writers to step outside of their homes and mingle with other authors while also joining workshops that feel like a boot camp for the writing craft, in 2020, authors attend the conferences via Zoom or other platforms.

I found this article about online conferences. I’m also including other writing conferences offering online options in 2020 (summer and autumn).  Since the expense of travel and accommodations hinders lower-income authors from attending, perhaps, the online versions offer affordable options, even enrolling in one or two workshops.

Chuckanut Writers Conference (Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA)

Write on the Sound, (Edmonds, WA)

Willamette Writers Conference (Oregon)

Romance Writers of America

Do a Google search for your favorite conference and you might be surprised to find an online version. The benefit is that you can join the conference from your home. You don’t have to haul your computer with you, travel, or stay in a hotel. You might save money too. Also, geography doesn’t matter when there is an online version.

2020 might be the year to improve your writing skills by attending an online conference.  It’s true that you won’t meet people face-to-face but you also won’t experience any distractions. Also, see if the online conference offer pitching sessions to agents and editors or master classes.

So far 2020 has been the strangest and most monumental year of my lifetime. As we have been forced to stay indoors, we’ve had more time to write or to improve our craft. I hope that you are able to attend an online conference or at least an online workshop. I’m glad we still have the option.

 

 

 

Write It–Rewrite, Refresh, Edit, and Submit

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So, you’re sitting in your house wondering how to jumpstart your writing practice. It’s time to dust off those old submissions and revise them and then submit to new editors and journals. Now, you have the time and the editors most likely are in lockdown too begging for stories to read.

Perhaps, this is the last thing you want to do when stuffing your mouth with chips and watching Netflix seems more appealing. However, don’t waste your time on other people’s stories. Write your own, even about your pandemic experiences. Surely, you learned something from this hero’s journey.

Or better yet, get out your stories and reinvent them. Tear them apart. Create new characters with old scenarios or new scenarios for the old character. or play mash-up with your stories especially if you write in several genres. Reread Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myths (what you haven’t already read it?) and reread books on the basic three-act structure. Or read classics to study the structure and character development, not to mention, character dilemmas. When I’m trapped in a writer’s block (doesn’t happen often), I reread Jane Austen’s novels.

If you have the cash, purchase Scrivener, or other writing software. I bought Scrivener recently and while I’m not up to speed with it yet, loading my novels on there will speed up the revising and editing process. The software (if you don’t already have it), has a cork board to hang up photos of your characters and you can even upload songs and videos. I wish I had this software five novels ago!

Another fun thing writers can do, besides joining Facebook groups for writers, is to do a Zoom session with several writers or an online writers’ group. Maybe you can even teach what you know about the craft via Zoom or sign up to teach on Udemy and earn money, especially if you’re waiting to hear back from editors, agents, and publishers about your pitches. Maybe you can even host a poetry night via Zoom. Use your imagination. If you are an author you have an active imagination.

So, hopefully, I have inspired you to write, edit, and submit. Let me know if you read this and if you follow my advice. Let me know if your work is published in the future. Get writing.

Write It–Savoring Literary Fiction & Poetry

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I don’t read novels slowly and I don’t read them quickly. At least not when it comes to literary fiction. Literary fiction (poetry and prose) begs us to savor each nuance in the way that gourmet chocolate or wine does.

When I read a literary novel, a non-fiction narrative or a poem, I choose to roll the words on my tongue and absorb the nuances of the work through all my senses. It’s true when we read genre fiction, we race towards the end or with romance novels, we skip to the juicy parts.

Although, with a well-written fantasy, we delve into the rich descriptions provided by the authors. We find ourselves swimming in the characters’ thoughts or even roaming the earth through their bodies. With literary fiction, the authors invite and welcome us to enter their crafted worlds. Perhaps, a thriller or a romance asks for speed reading, especially if we are reading a series.

However, literary fiction begs for a slow read that resembles meditation. In fact, bringing a mindful attitude to the story only enhances the reading experience while enriching us along the way. Picking up a novel with craft in mind indeed demands more of our time and attention. It is a commitment that might or might not pay off. Many readers would rather not take the risk. Or they recall the required reading from middle school, high school or college and have sworn off arty novels where they must decipher metaphors and leitmotifs embedded into the story.

I admit that when I’m in search of a quick read that I can engage in during a ferry commute, I choose to read lighter material. It’s only when I have a luxurious period do I pick up literary fiction. I tend to read the classics and poetry during the winter months when I don’t feel like being outdoors under a darkened sky.

As an author, I read the novels slowly because I am also learning from the way that the author creates dialogue, develops characters, and launches plots. I study the novels to see how backstory is handled and I also study the way the author navigates the middle of the novel (not an easy fete). I often learn new words and phrases when I’m reading a literary novel. Reading poetry takes me to a whole other level.

I believe that novelists benefit from immersing themselves in other people’s poems as well as, writing their own. I’ve often seen poetic phrasing and beautiful descriptions appear in genre novels. Not all genre novels are formulaic or written for mass appeal. Some sci-fi and fantasy novels became classics and share much in common with literary fiction, despite falling under a specific label. Lord of the Rings comes to mind. Granted, that series was written early in the last century and we’ve moved on to other conventions and traditions as authors (as described by the host for the Writerly YouTube channel).

It’s not that we can’t read genre fiction or even YA novels slowly. I suppose the pacing of the story also determines the speed in which we read it. And this is cleverly executed by the authors of the book, especially if they understand pacing and rhythm (every author requires this ability).

Personally, when it comes to page count, my novels fall on the shorter side. I tend to write economically, especially after I heard that adjectives and adverbs are out and watertight phrases are in. My goal is to write sentences so tight that you could bounce off them like a trampoline. However, this takes finesse and over twenty years of working at my craft as a writer.

Whether you write genre or literary fiction, read the work of others slowly with a writer’s gaze. Learn from the authors’ mistakes and their successes. If you find yourself imitating other authors, think of that as flattery to the authors. However, never forget to seek your authentic voice in the process. Nothing written now is completely original and we’re all standing on the backs of literary giants.

A writer who never reads the work of others can hardly call themselves an author. This is because we are not only participants in a tradition, we are also part of a collective and the continuum.

What are your experiences reading literary and genre fiction? How do you approach novels and poetry? Leave your comments below. And thank you for stopping by and following Belle Author. Also, don’t forget to follow Belle Author on Facebook.

 

Write It–Deconstructing a Novel

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You have written a 300-page novel that took you several months or possibly a year. So, why would you deconstruct your novel after reaching the finish line?

Any published author will tell you that their published novel is the result of several drafts. I read one article in The Writer magazine where the author wrote 11 drafts before publishing a novel. This doesn’t suggest that you start from a blank page and rewrite the entire story–not if you have a computer and writing software (or even if you don’t have writing software).

My approach is to write the first draft. Print it out and begin my deconstruction process on the hard copy. I bring in my demotion team which consists of my critical mind (I once reviewed movies, books, and music) and beta readers (friends or colleagues I meet on social media). Hopefully, the beta readers give me helpful notes to allow me to improve my manuscript.

I also attend writing workshops such as the Write on the Sound conference I attended a few weeks ago and the Chuckanut Writers Conference which I attended in previous years (2014 and 2016). I find writing technique videos on YouTube, read the writing blogs, read articles in the writer magazines, and I read books on writing better. In the future, I plan on buying Scrivener software. I also use Grammarly.

I look for the following which I immediately delete from my manuscript or make the appropriate changes on my hard copy first.

  • Passive verbs and sentences
  • Tell versus show passages (which I rewrite)
  • Overwritten exposition
  • Repeated scenarios or phrases
  • Pet words
  • Bad dialogue
  • Overuse of adjectives and adverbs
  • Sentences that start with “and” or “but” (I simply remove the “and” or “but”)
  • I sometimes combine characters (if I have too many characters and they don’t move the plot forward) or I delete the characters
  • A middle section of a novel that moves too slowly

One instructor at the Write on the Sound conference mentioned the practice of deleting 30 percent of a novel. Then you have space to slide in some chunks of backstory, build the plot, and even pepper the story with the appropriate description that allows the reader to engage their senses as they read the story.

While it might seem strange that the deconstruction process is where the story develops, it beats completing the rough draft and staring at the screen asking, “Now, what?” We all know no editor will accept a first-draft or even a third-draft for publication. The rough draft gives a writer the opportunity to plot out the story and develop the characters. Writing a novel is an on-going process that reminds me of old-style photography when a photo developed under chemicals. Emergence takes patience and the willingness to return to the drawing board several times until the story is hot off the press.

If you would like some creativity coaching using metaphysical tools or my experience writing articles, essays, poetry, and fiction for three decades, sign up at Whole Astrology.

Write It–5 Tips for Rebuilding the Fantasy Novel

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At a writing conference recently, an instructor told authors about a practice that involves cutting out 30 percent of a novel. This practice works for authors who overwrite, use too many filler words, include too much exposition, and dialogues that don’t propel the story forward. However, what happens for authors who underwrite and fall short of the genre word count?

When I revised my novel Enter 5D, I came up short 10,000 words. This started the wheels of my mind to churn ideas of ways to add more content to this fantasy novel. Here are five tips.

1. Add action and description to long dialogue or paraphrase the dialogue in chunks instead of as single sentences of direct speech.

I have been reading Sarah Addison Allen’s Lost Lake and this author uses this practice throughout her novel. She also includes different points of view while including pieces of backstory for several characters. Some experts in the industry advise against several points of view in a novel, but this is also my style with writing novels.

2. Spread chunks of exposition on the characters and even the setting or place throughout the novel while still moving the story forward.

Again, read Allen’s Lost Lake or her other titles for a good example of how this is achieved.

3. Spread the plot out by adding new twists or suspense. Keep the readers with a question in their minds for more chapters.

4. Add new characters for the protagonists to respond to but only if this doesn’t block the progress of the story.

5. Lengthen an important scene by highlighting the characters’ hopes and wishes or by them ruminating on their greatest fear.

The trick is not to pad the novel with unessential material. Also, use discernment when adding more words or pages to a novel. While many publishers have a minimum and a maximum word count, if a novel feels complete at 70,000 words or 75,000 words, adding more material might destroy its flow and deter readers with a short attention span (which is many readers including me).

I hope these and other tips on Belle Author are helpful for you as you craft your novel. I have been writing novels since 2005 and I’ve learned from pitfalls along the way. I never earned a Master’s degree in creative writing and I didn’t earn a BA in English.

However, I have received compliments from professional editors who have encouraged me to keep writing novels. Obviously, there is no shortcut to writing and publishing a novel. And even some of the novels that have been published were done so prematurely while many great stories have yet to become published books.

 

 

5 Must-Have Tools I Acquired at a Writers Conference

John Williams Waterhouse “Pandora”

I returned from the Write on the Sound conference held at the Frances Anderson Center in Edmonds, Washington. The conference attracts around 250 to 300 writers in all stages of their careers and representing a variety of genres. Although most of the writers I met were working on their memoirs.

On Friday, participants sign up for a half-day or a full-day workshop. I signed up for the half-day Think Like a Development Editor workshop taught by Shirin Bridges. I gained insight from that workshop and much of what the instructor-editor shared with us was repeated by other instructors throughout the conference.

On Saturday we attended 4 workshops from blocks of 4 workshops (it was hard to choose in some cases). We also were invited to the keynote speaker event featuring Retired UW Professor Charles Johnson. And the conference hosted a reception or the authors teaching at the event. A private group hosted an open mic in a cafe. I didn’t attend the open mic because I had too much information to digest from the day’s events.

On Sunday, my first workshop started at 9:30 and by the last workshop at 3 p.m. I wasn’t able to concentrate. Fortunately, that was a lighthearted panel discussion on travel writing in this modern age.

Here are the 5 Tools I acquired at the conference that every writer can use for writing, revising, and editing manuscripts.

  • Delete 30% of the completed manuscript

(Yes, that’s right. Eliminate filler words, an overabundance of adjectives, adverbs, and passive phrases. Eliminate long passages of exposition or backstory. Eliminate scenes that don’t propel the story forward).

  • Map the scenes

(Write all the scenes down and what occurs in each of the scenes. This is best done with a software program like Scrivener or you can write them out in a notebook by hand. Then make a note on whether the novel requires each scene. Delete repeated scenes or scenes that are blocks of expositions).

  • Watch out for pet words and don’t overuse them

(Every author has favorite or pet words that they overuse in a manuscript. Since they the words are red flags to a reader, find other words to replace the pet words).

  • Show, don’t tell

(For me, this is not a hard and fast rule. I think it’s best to include both showing and telling in a narrative non-fiction book as well as, a novel. However, if you can show the story and not just tell it, you’re more likely to engage readers).

  • Consider the modern attention span

(While this one mostly refers to younger readers who want authors to get to the action, many authors include too much detail which slows the pace of a story. Obviously, if you write literary fiction you can include more details and meander a bit. However, if you write genre fiction or YA fiction, cut to the chase or lose your readers).

After three days of attending intensive writing workshops, I gained more tools than what I mentioned here. I hope these tips are helpful and even new in some cases. The show versus telling and the refrain from using adjectives and adverbs have been rules in the book publishing world for some time. They are still relevant today.

Also, make sure that you are not following trends. It can take up to 5 years to complete a manuscript, 2 to 3 years to find a publisher and another two years before your book hits the bookstore shelves. By that time, zombies or vampires would be passe. Always write what’s in your heart and not what you think will contribute to your bank account. Write because you enjoy the craft because writing and publishing are always hard work.

Acknowledgement to four friends who donated money to me through Go Fund Me and by private checks that paid for the registration fee, a manuscript critique, and two nights at the Best Western Harbor Inn.

Thank you to the kind folks at the Harbor Inn, the volunteers, staff, and faculty with the conference. I hope to return.

 

 

Write it—Tricks to Writing Dialogue

 

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First, I’m glad that I studied acting and playwriting while I earned my BA because those experiences help me write dialogue. Second, all writers need to know that dialogue is not filler for a story.

The best novels fit the dialogue into the glove of the characters’ background, dislikes, passions, and psychological architecture. And finally, writing compelling dialogue propels the story forward, gives the reader insights into the characters’ motivations (and hidden motivations), and fuels the conflicts that eventually lead to resolution.

So, the author must give thought to the dialogue. I prefer to overwrite the dialogue and then condense and delete during the rewriting process. By this point, I have a good grasp of my characters, their backstory, their conflicts with each other, and their motivations. I also enjoy my privy to the plot, the subplot, the climactic moments, and the resolution, especially when I’m writing a third person narrative.

A background in journalism comes in handy too. As a journalist, I interview each of my characters. Actually, I grill them and draw every ounce of humanity from them. I ask them their intentions, their hidden desires, and their motivations, especially in connection with the other characters, even the supporting characters.

Charles Dickens

While I wrote the first two drafts, of my  YA novel, “Lately, Queen Mamadou,” a conflict between best friends, Maggie (the protagonist) and Meghan (a fellow dancer) developed. The eating disorder that Meghan succumbed to heightened the conflict between the two women and also brought the main climactic moment.

A subplot revolves around Danny and JC, two gay dancers and the conflict they experience with ballroom and non-ballet dance. And then to add to the colorful dialogue, I included diverse points of view in the novel because Danny and JC are gay, JC is Puerto Rican, the dance character Monique is of mixed African descent, and another character Deva is an exchange student from India.

But the most fun dialogue to write revolves around Celia, (Maggie’s mother who is a new age hippie) who channels an ancient African queen. Writing that dialogue (of the channel sessions and telepathic conversations) involved channeling on my part. But isn’t that what we do as authors? We’re not just writers by profession. We also include journalism, spiritual channeling, and playwriting in our work. If we observe and listen well, then we also play the role of a detective and sometimes, a psychoanalyst.

Getting back to the topic of writing dialogue. It takes practice. It takes good listening skills and that includes listening to our still inner voice, aka, our intuition. I think that that it’s a myth that writers work in isolation. Yes, we spend time alone with our fingers riding the laptop keyboard. We spend time alone during our research.

And yes, we spend time alone working out the plot, the story, and the other elements of the story. But in order to write compelling dialogue, we must get out in the world and tune our ears to natural dialogue. Watching dialogue on television shows or in movies or even studying the dialogue in novels, won’t help us write our own dialogue. We must also dig deeper into the souls of our characters while keeping our ears tuned to the world around us.

Dialogue creates a dance of ideas between characters. Dialogue lives and breathes as well as, kicking life into our characters and into the stories we write. Dialogue has rhythm, melody, and harmony along with silence as in pauses for the characters to reflect.

Finally, don’t write down the inner chatter in your head and call that dialogue. Don’t send your characters off in a rant about the stuff that matters to you, but might not resonate with your characters. Bad dialogue is the author speaking from their own mind instead of the characters’ hearts. Avoid your ego getting in your way or your dialogue will fall flat. The critics and the readers will notice that the dialogue does not sound authentic coming from your characters’ mouths.

Writing is a road to mastership. It takes practice and years of developing characters and compelling stories, whether you write long or short fiction. The best authors combine raw talent with the willingness to hone their craft. And part of that involves getting feedback about the story development, the character development, and the dialogue. And the best question to ask is “Does this feel real to you?”

I am currently working on the third draft of my sixth novel. I also channel spirits, work as an astrologer, and as a journalist. I coach creatives to be their best selves and to show up fully with their work. Sign up for a session which includes astrology, channeling, and or card reading (along with practical everyday advice for authors). I also accept donations through PayPal if you find these articles useful.

 

Write it—The Process of Writing a Novel

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Perhaps, the excuse why many aspiring writers never write the novel in their head revolves around the messy process we call novel-writing. But if we break the process into steps and navigate through those steps by treating the steps as guideposts, it becomes easier to complete the novel.

After all, navigating your way through 300+ pages and 80K words starts to feel more like a chore or housework with words than it does about following a dream. Yet, authors chug out one novel after the other and keep pushing through the barriers until completion. You can also complete your novel even if it feels like you’re walking on a long road to nowhere.

Five Stages of Writing a Novel:

1. The brilliant idea comes with characters, a general plot, and inspiration.

2. We sit on the idea while it germinates like a seed underground. We procrastinate or we research to build our characters and storyline.

3. We write the first and second drafts and it feels like plowing through a swamp of words, syntax, and worries about writing beautiful sentences. In other words, this is the time when most writers toss in the towel.

4. Then if we make it through the swamp, we begin the revision process which is like cutting a diamond into shape. We toss out perfect sentences, delete characters (who don’t contribute to the story), or we combine characters. We sharpen the storyline. We also perfect the beginning and end of the story.

5. After (if we choose to) having other experienced eyes read and critique our novel, we may or may not do one more revision. But this is also the part where we see the finish line, and we race towards it with the same excitement we experienced at the birth of the story.

This process works for memoirs too.

 

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Write It–Embracing Detours

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You’re on track with your character development and you carefully drew out your storyline on a whiteboard or on butcher paper. Then, all of a sudden, your character(s) take a detour. What do you do?

First, don’t panic. Detours often bring a richer story with them and you go deeper with your characters. If the detour is at the beginning of your book then rewrite the opening chapters with the new character insights.

If you reached the halfway point of your novel or are close to the end of it, then keep going with your new story and character development. Then when you start your rewrites, start from scratch. Otherwise, you’ll deal with a chaotic manuscript fraught with errors.

Often times when we rush in and start the novel before the story becomes solid in our minds, we run the risk of characters taking detours. Even if we do wait until we’ve mapped out our storylines and developed our characters, they keep evolving as we write and we still encounter detours. However, I think detours are actually a sign that we are on the right path.

If you work with storyboards then note the detours on the boards and then go back later to rectify the story that occurs before the detour. Sometimes the detours add a nice plot twists and you change little in the early parts of the manuscript. It depends on the story and the type of character involved.

I still think it’s a good idea to get fully acquainted with the characters. Interview them to learn about their thoughts and feelings; likes and pet peeves. Write down their physical attributes (petite, blonde, with fuller lips, and small feet). The color of a character’s hair matters since hair color is often linked to cultural references or perceived personality types such as the bubbly blonde or the fiery redhead.  A character’s ethnicity matters too and we often work harder at researching their identity to avoid generalizations.

Hair color and body type also define a character’s experience and perception of the world as well as, how other characters perceive them. Even the readers of the book have biases towards hair, skin, and eye color or body weight. One annoying detour happens when we created a character with cropped blonde hair and later learn that she has long red hair. We thought the character came from German heritage but she came from an Irish family of immigrants. See how that changes the story?

Other detours occur when we learn that the character works at a different profession then we first imagined. Or the character who we thought was heterosexual joins the LGBT community and rushes out of the closet. This happened with at least two of my characters during my novel writing endeavors.

Detours happen and often time the change of direction brings deeper meaning and more depth to a story. Some spiritual teachers suggest that characters represent hidden parts of our psyche or our unclaimed shadows. Whether that is the case or if the characters live outside of us (but still in our imagination), embrace the detours. Just like in life, those detours rescue us from another fate or in the least, lead us to the real treasure.

Need inspiration, sign up for a creativity coaching session with me. I combine channeling, cards, and astrology as tools to help you become the best writer possible. I charge $100 an hour for a Skype session. Payment.