October 10, 2011

6-1/2 Ways to Unravel That Story Problem by Becca Puglisi . . .

It's not Halloween, but I've got a treat for you! 

The amazing Becca Puglisi (part of the dynamic duo that includes Angela Ackerman) creates a fantastic resource for writers -- The Bookshelf Muse.  If you ever get stuck for new ways to show character traits, emotion, setting, etc., get thee to The Bookshelf Muse!  Among other goodies, you'll find an extensive thesaurus (including weather, setting, symbolism, etc.) that is one of the best tools I've found to have beside me while writing.

Becca is also the master of mood in her writing.  Her fiction grips you by the throat and doesn't let go.  How do I know this?  Well, dear reader, I'm fortunate to have Becca in the SCBWI critique group I run with Linda Marlow.

Today, Becca shares 6-1/2 savvy tips for unraveling a story problem. 

And because it's so much fun to share:  You'll find my 6-1/2 tips about promoting like a pro without driving yourself crazy over at their blog today! 


Becca Puglisi is an SCBWI member and co-host of The Bookshelf Muse, an on-line resource for writers. She also has a number of magazine publications under her belt. Her biggest writing problem so far is landing an agent. If any agents are interested in helping out with that, she’s open to discussion.


Whether we’re published or unpublished, newbie or veteran writers--all our stories have issues. Sometimes it’s hard to even know what the problem is, much less how to fix it. Here are some methods that have helped me get to the root of my story’s issue:

1. Skip it. Don’t obsess over that opening, scene, or sub plot. Just keep writing. Finish the draft, work on what you do know, and by that point, you’ll most likely have a better idea of what to do.

2. Read about the craft of writing. If you know what the problem is, consult some of the excellent non-fiction resources out there. Fine-tuning the voice, writing emotion effectively, tying together plots and sub-plots--every tricky trick of the trade has been covered at some point. So if you’re out of ideas, borrow a few from people who share them.

3. Phone a friend. I don’t know how many times I’ve written Angela (my critique partner, Bookshelf Muse co-host, and writing hero) an epistle-ish email asking her opinion about something I’m struggling with. She’s a gifted writer and her advice is spot-on, but a lot of the time, I end up sending her another message before she gets back to me--a much shorter message, something along the lines of “Nevermind”. There’s something about talking (or writing) a problem out that rearranges things in our brains and brings the solution into focus.

4. Write something else. Work on a new project for awhile, or better yet, write something completely different--poetry, writing exercises, a picture book, something outside of your preferred genre or audience. Like switching up your exercise routine when you hit a plateau, switching up your writing may give you new insight into that problem area.

5. Do something else completely. Take a walk, go to the gym, watch a movie, play Diablo III--oh wait, you can’t play Diablo III because the release date has been pushed back YET AGAIN. Ahem. The point is, sometimes a short break from writing is all that’s needed to gain some perspective in order to see things clearly.

6. Consult the experts. If you know your struggle is in a certain area, think of books you’ve read that handle the issue well. Re-read them with an analyzing eye. Make notes of phrasings that work, what techniques are used, etc. Even if it takes you awhile to figure out how to apply what you see, it’s encouraging to know that what you’re trying to do is do-able, that others have achieved the seemingly impossible.

6-1/2. Sleep on it. Seriously. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone to bed thinking about a problem in my book only to be surprised with the answer the next day while I’m showering, cooking dinner, or vacuuming Cheerios from under the dining room table. If your conscious brain can’t figure it out, let your subconscious have a go at it. That way, you’re free to do other things, anyway.

Thank you, Becca, for sharing your tips!


Angela Ackerman said...

Haha, I have used you for the same thing many times, Becca! I agree, organizing thoughts in an email to someone is SO HELPFUL to getting to the root of the issue, and so often leads to an epiphany by the time the email is written! :)

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Matthew MacNish said...

New follower here. Nice to meet you!

Angela and Becca are amazing. Thanks so much for hosting them, well, Becca.

Ruth Schiffmann said...

Great reminders here. Thanks Becca and Donna!

Jennifer said...

Yes! Especially 6 1/2....I often get inspiration or un-stuckedness when I'm doing something mundane like the dishes or meticulously picking dried rice from the dining room carpet fibers after the kids eat there. My challenge is to always have a writing utensil with me (I can scribble on whatever!).

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Great tips! Thanks, Becca!

And, I am so happy to have found this wonderful blog! Nice to "meet" you, Donna.

Becca Puglisi said...

Glad everyone's finding the tips helpful. And Jennifer, I TOTALLY feel your pain. I've decided to stop serving rice until my kids are old enough to not get it all over the place. I find it everywhere.

Bleh. TMI.

Wild About Words said...

Thanks for the great comments, everyone. And thanks Becca for the very helpful post!

Riley Roam said...

Thanks Becca and Donna! Great post! That very first tip is HUGE for me. I spent a year perfecting the very first chapters of my book, only to change them completely when I realized what the story was truly about! Looking forward to checking out your blog Becca.