Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

4 Ways to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

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Halloween is almost here, and while some get excited for costumes, trick-or-treating, and scary movie nights, most writers out there will tell you that the best part of Halloween is when the clock strikes midnight…and NaNoWriMo officially begins!

Every November thousands of writers come together with one common goal—to write a 50,000-word novel (or start of a novel) in one single month. It’s crazy. It’s audacious. There is more coffee consumed in one month than the rest of the year combined. But it’s also a time to start making your novel-writing dreams come true, no perfectionistic pressure allowed! (more…)

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Writers: Pay Attention to the Details

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Now that our kids have gone back to school, we writer-parents have a little more alone time on our hands to get back into a writing groove. Which is why I thought now would be a perfect time to share a few writing tips over the next few weeks with you!

I’ve given and been given a number of writing tips over the years—I think, as writers, we are always seeking the expertise of others to consistently improve our knowledge of the craft. But so much of the writing advice out there focuses on helping writers through big scenes. They focus on making big plot decisions, on structuring your novel, on getting your main character just right.

And while all of this stuff is MAJORLY important, I’d like to tell you all today that good writing pays attention to the small details every bit as much as it focuses on the big plot points. Don’t let any part of your book remain insignificant…even the smallest scene needs to count.

The scenes you might think need the most attention are the ones where a mystery is revealed, a character dies, an explosion happens, etc. etc. But what about the scene where your character is talking to his mother? What does that scene have to do with your story? What does it reveal about your characters or the way the view the world?

Small details, like the weather, or the time of day, or what the air smelled like, will also significantly improve your story once you really focus on them. Details ground us in stories, and they are every bit as important as the big plot point that drives the story forward.

The point I’m trying to make is that there are NO parts of your story that should slip by you as unimportant, or even as less important than something else. Make a decision to pay attention to every word you write down. Make everything count. And I promise, your story will be the better for it.

What small details do you like to pay attention to in your writing? Are you a fan of writing the details? Let me know in the comments!

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Q&A Series Part V: “How Do You Write a First Draft?”

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Hi all, and welcome back to my Q&A series, where I answer your questions in long-form on my blog! This week I decided to answer a Frequently Asked Question from Goodreads, which asks, “How do you motivate yourself to get through writing the first draft of a book?”

Writing a first draft of a book is an exciting, scary, and sometimes even emotional experience for writers, but it can also be one of the best parts of the writing process! To help you out, I’m offering you the best four tips I have to get through it as painlessly as possible. (more…)

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Writing Tip: How to Complete NaNoWriMo 2016!

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Before we get into this week’s blog post, I want you to know that I am running a giveway through this Friday, October 28th, where you have the chance to win a complete 3-book Night Buddies set! Enter on my Facebook page here.

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Well folks, we are only one week away from the most hectic, exciting, and difficult writing event of the year—National Novel Writing Month. That’s right, all across the globe writers are going to be taking on the challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days during the month of November, and I want you to be prepared to reach this milestone in your writing life! If you follow these guidelines, prepare to be a NaNoWriMo winner… (more…)

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Writing Tip: Sweat the Small Stuff

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Now that most kids have gone back to school, we writer-parents have a little more alone time on our hands to get back into a writing groove. Which is why I thought now would be a perfect time to share a few writing tips over the next few weeks with you!

I’ve given and been given a number of writing tips over the years—I think, as writers, we are always seeking the expertise of others to consistently improve our knowledge of the craft. But so much of the writing advice out there focuses on helping writers through big scenes. They focus on making big plot decisions, on structuring your novel, on getting your main character just right.

And while all of this stuff is MAJORLY important, I’d like to tell you all today that good writing pays attention to the small details every bit as much as it focuses on the big plot points. Don’t let any part of your book remain insignificant…even the smallest scene needs to count.

The scenes you might think need the most attention are the ones where a mystery is revealed, a character dies, an explosion happens, etc. etc. But what about the scene where your character is talking to his mother? What does that scene have to do with your story? What does it reveal about your characters or the way the view the world?

Small details, like the weather, or the time of day, or what the air smelled like, will also significantly improve your story once you really focus on them. Details ground us in stories, and they are every bit as important as the big plot point that drives the story forward.

The point I’m trying to make is that there are NO parts of your story that should slip by you as unimportant, or even as less important than something else. Make a decision to pay attention to every word you write down. Make everything count. And I promise, your story will be the better for it.

What small details do you like to pay attention to in your writing? Are you a fan of writing the details? Let me know in the comments!

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Writing Essentials: Tips to Build Conflict in Your Story

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After spending the past month at the Bookmarks Book Festival and SIBA 2015 (pictured above), I’ve walked away with a whole lot of inspiration and ideas about what makes a book a success, what people love to read, and what constitutes good writing. So today I wanted to share some of my thoughts on that with you!

When I first set out to write Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecake Scare, I didn’t realize how essential building conflict in the story was. You can’t just have one main conflict in mind and have that carry the entire story—the book also has to be filled with little bits of tension and little conflicts that keep the reader turning every single page. Each chapter you write should contain a major conflict, each page should be your character finding ways to resolve it. Yes, you should have one main conflict (all the pineapple cheesecakes in the pineapple cheesecake factory are disappearing) but conflict needs to always be in the front of your mind when you sit down to write.

So what are some ways to do this? Here are a few tips to help you figure out how to raise the stakes, build the tension, and create the most dynamic story possible.

Create strong values for your characters. When you know what they value and what they hold closest, it is easier to come up with conflict that will interfere with those values. Let’s say a character doesn’t drink because of an alcoholic parent, and then falls in love with a major drinker . . . conflict. Let’s say a red crocodile who loves cheesecakes more than anything now has them start disappearing . . . conflict. It can be silly or serious, but values that are being tested, internally or externally, create conflict.

Bring the family into it. Families are a huge area for conflict in a story. In Night Buddies, John’s parents question him and his sanity when he talks about his adventures—they even argue between themselves because of it. This isn’t a huge plot point in the story, but it still fills the book with extra tension and drives the story forward.

Think internally. Don’t only think of external events to build conflict, like storms or people, but think about your character’s feelings. Do they feel disappointed in themselves or their life, do they hate their siblings, do they suffer from depression? Emotional conflict is just as, if not more, essential to a dynamic story.

Keep bringing back the enemy. Your story should have an antagonist—think the Joker, or in my story’s case, a band of evil iguanas. The more they show up, the more conflict your protagonist is going to have to face. Not only do they have to deal with the trouble the enemy causes, but they also have to deal with the emotional conflict of either sinking to their enemy’s level, or taking the high road and maintaining their moral as the good character.

So there you have it! There are probably a hundred ways to build conflict in your story, so just always remember that when things seem to be going too well for your character, it’s your job to knock him off his high horse!

What are some writing essentials you’ve discovered? Let me know in the comments below!

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Should Your Book Be Made Into a Series?

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I’ve written one blog post before about making the decision to write a children’s book, (link to that post here) but I didn’t mention that the decision to write a series of children’s books was actually a separate decision. You see, most authors don’t take on writing a series the way J.K. Rowling did with Harry Potter—we don’t plot out seven books, fully detailed from beginning to end, and expect that they will all reach publication. In fact, most series of books become a series due to luck, demand, or by accident.

J.K. Rowling; author of the most popular modern book series, Harry Potter.

J.K. Rowling; author of the most popular modern book series, Harry Potter.

When I first wrote Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecake Scare, I knew that my story was complete. It is a self-contained book, has a firm beginning, middle, and end, and doesn’t require further books to make the story whole. But I also realized that when I was finished writing it, I had more ideas in mind for my characters. My story was done, but their stories could continue through multiple books. I didn’t have a set number in mind, I didn’t have all the stories planned out, and I didn’t want the stories to be interconnected. All I knew, and still know, is that my characters are vibrant enough (in my eyes, at least) to carry out a series of adventures.

And that’s when book number two, Night Buddies and One Far-Out Flying Machine, began to be written.

Maybe you’ve decided to turn your beloved book into a series because you aren’t ready to be done with your characters, or because your readers are begging for the story to continue, or because your publisher thinks they can capitalize on your success by writing a continuation (cheers to you, if that’s the case). My point is, a series can be created out of what you thought was a stand-alone book; it doesn’t always need to start with the intention of writing a series. The only difficulty with creating a series out of a stand-alone book is deciding whether your story is worth continuing.

Deciding to continue your work throughout a series of books comes with the challenge of developing your characters with every new adventure, keeping your same writing tone and voice through each book, and always bringing fresh takes to old ideas. It is difficult to always stay excited about the same characters you’ve been working with for years, but when you are capable of finding that excitement, it’s always worth the struggle. Night Buddies became a series because I knew this was the story I was meant to write, and I hope to continue releasing new Night Buddies books for as long as Crosley and John remain exciting, fresh, and fun characters for me to hang on to. I sometimes feel as though I’m in a long-term relationship with these characters and these stories, and with that comes the hard days or the boring days, but with that also comes immense love, commitment, and happiness.

If you’re deciding whether or not you should begin a series, I’d recommend just writing the first book, getting acquainted with your characters, and treating it like a first date. After you’re finished with that one, decide whether taking on those types of stories and those characters will be worth standing by long-term. And when you find those characters you never want to leave behind, be thankful; they don’t come by often.

What is your favorite book series? Let me know in the comments below!

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Choosing the Best Setting for Your Book

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When many new writers are first gathering ideas to start writing their books, often one of the last things they think about is where the story is going to take place (unless they are writing fantasy, in which case setting is one of the first things to think about). Sometimes authors forget to give setting any attention at all. But here’s something to remember: where your story takes place might not drastically influence the plot of the book, but the story still has to take place somewhere.

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When I set out to write the Night Buddies books, I originally focused my attention on forming the characters that would be most important to the story. But when I actually got to the point where I was ready to sit down and start writing, I realized something important—I had no idea where these characters lived. Setting cannot, let me repeat, cannot, be ignored. So if you’re where I was when I began writing and haven’t given much thought to the setting in your story, here are three pivotal things to consider to get your story, and your setting, back on track.

What type of settings are you familiar with? If you’ve never lived in a city, writing about city life accurately may be become difficult. Think about the places you know like the back of your hand, places you can picture with your eyes closed, and incorporate aspects of them into your book’s setting. All those details will help make the story come alive. Of course, you can choose to research a setting you aren’t familiar with, but often the best details about a place aren’t something you can look up online—they come from the experience of living there.

Downtown Atlanta skyline at dusk

What type of setting will best fit the tone of your book? If you’re writing a lighthearted children’s book, it’s appropriate to incorporate fun, whimsical locations. In Night Buddies, for example, I set a few scenes in a zoo where there could be more talking animals like Crosley—it added another dimension of fun and silliness to the books, which was important because I wanted kids to have a blast reading them. If you’re writing a horror novel, maybe a place that experiences a lot of rain and cold should be used instead of sunny Southern California. Choose settings that will enhance the tone of your story, and it will become that much more well-rounded.

Does your setting add to the story? I chose to set the Night Buddies books in a city, and part of what went into that decision was that the adventures take place at nighttime. A city has a lot of bright lights, so Crosley and John can get around relatively easily, and are able to see what is going on around them. In a small, country town they would probably be spotted by neighbors, and they would be completely in the dark when trying to get around. Little details like this about your setting should add logic, mystery, and excitement to the story you’re writing.

What do you think about setting? Is it one of the first things you think about when plotting a book? Leave your thoughts in a comment below!

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Writing on Vacation is Hard To Do: Here’s How to Keep Your Story Alive on the Road!

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One of the difficulties that comes with being a writer is that your job is never finished. You don’t get to come home at the end of the day and cut off thinking about your job completely, and you don’t get to take a two-week paid vacation; as writers, our thoughts are always consumed by the story we are writing. For people who like to travel, like me, this difficulty is made even harder. Writing on the road is not an easy task, but here are some pieces of advice I’ve learned and used through the years to make writing and traveling coexist as easily as possible.

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Write at the beginning or end of the day. Chances are, if you’re traveling with others, they won’t want to be up at sunrise ready to start the activities of the day. Or if they do, they won’t be awake late into the night. Choose which time of day you have the opportunity to be alone and use it to write. Bonus: you’ll get to see some beautiful sunrises or the midnight glow of the moon in a place you’ve never been before.

Write during downtime. Every vacation has downtime. Maybe you’re trying to kill time before your next bus or train arrives, maybe there’s an hour wait before your table is ready for dinner, or maybe everyone has decided to take an afternoon nap. When you aren’t actively doing something or spending your time with loved ones, use the time to write. It will put your mind at ease to accomplish something, and you’ll be able to enjoy your next activity that much more.

Think about your story while driving. This piece of advice is mostly relevant to road trips, but it can also be applied if you have a long drive to reach a certain destination from your hotel. When you’re driving, you can’t do much else other than think. Use the time to think about your story—what you want to happen next, if your characters are developed enough, what you think you need to work on, and what you think you’re succeeding in. Brainstorming and analyzing your writing is sometimes just as important as actually getting the words down, and you’ll feel more prepared when you find time to sit down at your computer next.

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Enjoy your travels. Your writing will benefit from you living your life to its fullest. I know, I know. It’s hard to turn off that little voice in your head that tells you you need to be writing. But when you are in a new place, seeing new sights, and spending time with the people you love, it’s important that you dedicate time to fully immersing yourself in the moment. Your story is always there to come back to at the end of the day. By letting yourself truly enjoy your vacation, hopefully you’ll experience a number of things that you can use in your writing later on. A writer’s true job is to live . . . otherwise there would be nothing for them to write about.

Do you try to write when you travel? What advice do you have for staying on track even when you’re away from home? Let me know in the comments!

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Children's Museum of Alamance County
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