Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Good Chaos

Sign from Nauvoo, Illinois

I found this sign many years ago in a small town in Illinois.  I had to take a picture of it because it made me laugh.  But at the same time, there’s a lot of truth to this small sign.

And it’s how I feel right now. 

In just two days, NaNoWriMo starts.  For those of you who don’t know what that means, November is also known as National Novel Writing Month, a time when hundreds of thousands of people around the world gather to write entire novels.  The challenge is to write 50,000 words before the month is up.  Of course, during the month of October, I was busy working on finishing up the Orphans of Jadox and outlining/planning my new novel.

And my entire brain has been in a state of chaos, though it’s definitely an organized chaos.  I’ve got plot lines, side plots, new characters, settings and powers floating around inside.

I’ve written novels before, but not in such a short time period.  From start to finish, idea to conception, it’s going to be less than two months.  And it’s going to be quite a journey.  So I thought I’d share it with you, showing how I create a novel, and what kind of chaotic thoughts go through my brain.

So of course, this novel couldn’t have started without the idea.  And I’m not sure that I could have even considered participating in NaNoWriMo without the idea.  I’m not a pantser.  I’ve tried it and I didn’t enjoy it.  I have to have a roadmap. 

This particular novel (which will be assigned the color yellow for now) is the story of a young boy named Rowell.  He’s the son of the main characters from the Orphans of Jadox.  So I guess you could say this is book three in what is quickly becoming a series.

Here’s the blurb that I put on the NaNo website:

Rowell never quite fit in his family, and it's all his mother's fault.  If she'd just stuck with her own people, then maybe Rowell would have the same abilities as the rest.  When Rowell accidentlly spills his close friend's secret, he realizes that he can't go on blaming everyone else.  It's his turn to make things right.

The idea came to me when I finished the last scene of the Blue WIP.  Something about it stuck with me.  There was a little boy in the corner with a story to be told.  And I’ve already fallen in love with him.

So come with me on Rowell’s journey!  I promise it’ll be a good one!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Focus the Relationships!

As writers, I think we have the tendency to write in a bubble.  Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it can be very isolating.  It’s hard to write with others unless you’re collaborating.  Sure, there’s betas, other writers to encourage, but on the whole, it is a very private experience.

Only recently, I’ve learned the importance of focusing on relationships.  Not just our own, but our characters’ as well.  In The Orphans of Jadox, I had one family that I’d really fleshed out.  The aunt, the cousins, the siblings.  They knew one another, they grew up with one another.  They were as functional as they could be in their situation.  (Which may or may not be what one might consider functional).

Then I had another character come in and join their family.  That part was fine, but I completely ignored his past.  Who was his family?  What previous relationships did he have?  When I expanded on his relationship with his best friend and the daunting expectations of his father, he grew and became a real person.

Only once I was able to open up his past and his relationships was I really able to get into his head. 
We as humans are always built around others, like it or not.  Growing up, I was always known as someone else’s sister.  Then I got married, and right now, I’m known as someone’s wife.  (He’s a bit of a celebrity where we’re living, he’s on several different soccer teams.)  But those are only the beginning.  I have relationships with my patients at work, my coworkers, and previous classmates.  There’s some kind of connection between me and everyone else I come in contact with.

Every relationship is built off of experiences, small moments that create bonds. 

And that can create a lot of conflict and a lot of emotion.  Relationships can influence everything we do.  When we resent our boss, it may make us choose a different job, a different career.  Sibling rivalry may make us want to be the best, always compare ourselves to that perfect, brilliant sibling. 

Never underestimate the power of relationships.  They build who we are.  They are the building blocks of a character.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Starting Out on the Journey

Turns ahead!

This is how I feel about my brain right now.  It's got so much stuff going on that it's taking rapid turns, weaving in and out.

I'm in NaNoWriMo prep mode which means that right now my brain is filled with character, setting, and plot development.  They move in and out, each taking a turn, screaming out to be focused on.  No matter where I am, I get inspiration.  

I've got my plot mostly finished, and I have to say, I'm incredibly excited for it.  I am an intense plotter, and the more I have prepared, the better I'm able to write when the actual moment comes.  

Knowing where the characters are going helps me when they start out on their journey.  I've gotten to know my MC fairly well, and his story is going to be a bit painful for me to write.  Especially in the beginning.  But that's what makes it worthwhile, right?  If a story wasn't difficult, if it didn't hold the challenges and emotions that interest and hold the writer, then how would it be able to hold the reader?

So while I have these characters living in my head, I'm obligated to get their story out.  Because that's our agreement.  They'll tell me their stories, and I'll share them with others.  

How do you feel when you start out?  Do characters scream in your head?  Do you get excited?  Nervous?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Lessons from Elements of Style - Part 4

It’s time for part 4 of the Elements of Style Series.  For those of you curious, here’s Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

And now the quote:

Concise.  I don’t think that’s a word that a lot of people would consider when writing.  Especially during the time of NaNoWriMo.  We’re instructed to get to a specific word count.  But what happens when we use too many words? 

Have you ever been in a class where the teacher seemed to drone on and on about the same exact topic?  And not just once but multiple classes?  I recently had that experience while going through a training at work.  Because they wanted to make sure that we understood how to use the new program, we went over the concept again, and again….and again. 

I got to the point where I wanted to bang my head against the desk.  If I understood it the first time, then I understand it the second time…and the third time.

You don’t want to make the reader want to bang their head against their metaphorical desk. 

I recently read a novel that made me feel this way.  After finishing, I commented to a friend that I felt as though it was too slow, but at the same time too fast.  It took me awhile to figure out why.  The writer focused on the same idea over and over – which made it feel slow, but skimmed over the new information. 

There was a race, or a species that was different from humans.  And every time that a new human found out about the race, they stopped to explain it to them.  By the time the third or fourth human found out, I was wishing they’d skipped over the conversation.  Why?  Because I’d already read it!

I’ve had critique partners tell me the same thing.  Never repeat information that your reader already knows.  Even if your character doesn’t know it.

As the quote says, no unnecessary words, no unnecessary sentences.  After every draft I write, I do what I call a “quick cut” revision.  I read through the entire draft as fast as I can, deleting every word and phrase that isn’t necessary to the plot. 

Word count is important, but not as important as being concise.  Never lose a reader over trying to be too verbose.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Reading as a Writer

At the heart of every writer is a reader.  Many times, I’ve read the advice that if you want to writer better, then you should read.

There is a grain of truth to that.  When reading, a writer can observe how others do it.  What works?  What doesn’t work?  There’s always something to learn.

Over the past two weeks, I read two novels, and I learned from both of them.  One taught me what to do while the other taught me what not to do.

I’ll start with what NOT to do.

1.       Don’t cheat your reader.  This may sound obvious, but I haven’t wanted to throw a book in a long time.  In this story, there was a ‘big bad’, the one thing that no one wanted to happen, the motivation for every characters’ actions.  During the ending, the big bad appeared, and for some reason, it was on the same side as the main characters.  The big bad ended up defeating the bad guy, and defeating the entire purpose of the book.  At least, that’s how I felt.  Don’t take the easy way out.  Your reader went on this journey with you.  Don’t tell them that there’s a short cut after they stayed with you.

2.       Don’t have too many extraneous characters.  I have a hard time with this.  I like creating characters.  But don’t have two characters who fill the same exact function, have the same attitude, behaviors and opinions.  When all that separates them is their name, the reader won’t be able to keep track.  And they won’t really care. 

3.       Don’t keep repeating the same information over and over.  This should be pretty self-explanatory.  If your reader learned something with one character, they aren’t going to want to read it with another one, or a third.  More on that to come.

What to do:

1.       Give your protagonist a unique and strong voice.  This book was in first person.  I’m not a huge fan of first person, but this book was written so well that I barely noticed.  The MC had such a unique voice that I immediately fell in love with her.  Everything she described was from her point of view and seen through her opinion. 

2.       Don’t be afraid to give your characters flaws.  These characters were so flawed they were incredible.  When you have characters that are so ‘perfect,’ who never question who they are, or break down when dealing with trials, it’s hard for the reader to relate.  These characters were as flawed as they could come and I completely understood their point of view, even when I couldn’t imagine being in their situation.

3.       Don’t give everything away all at once.  There were two or three major revelations that occurred near the end of the book.  One that amazed me so much that once I finished, I had to go back and reread the book, now knowing the secret reveal at the end.  That’s the ultimate goal, right?  Making the reader want to reread the book right after reading it?

How about you?  Read any good books recently?

Friday, October 18, 2013

I Write

I had an interesting conversation this week with one of my coworkers.  We were talking about what we do in our spare time.  He mentioned that he doesn’t like to do very much, so he likes to waste his time (his words, not mine) watching series on Netflix.  According to him, it’s like being able to watch a 50 hour movie. 

Usually in this kind of conversation, I kind of mumble a response, something about laundry and stuff like that.  But this time, I decided to get brave and tell him that I use my spare time writing.  I just said, “I don’t like to waste my time with that kind of stuff because I like to use my time writing.”

But it was his response that surprised me.  I really don’t tell people because I’m afraid of what they say.  How do most people respond when I tell them?  Just a ‘That’s cool,’ and a quick change of subject.  But instead, my coworker responded by telling me that he was impressed.  He told me that he’d thought of writing, but he’s never actually done it. 

He told me that I was in the 1%.  The kind of person who actually goes after my dreams instead of sitting around thinking about it. 

I’ve never had such a positive response before and it made me really think.  Why am I so afraid to say those two words? 

I write.  I write.

It’s a very important part of my life, something that takes up all of my free time, and even some of my laundry time.  And my dishes time.  But for some reason, it’s scary to say out loud. 

Which is why I’m so grateful to my coworker for his response.  He made me realize that writing isn’t something to be embarrassed about.  It’s not something that I have to hide from those I associate with.  It’s a part of me.  Just like coloring and playing the piano.

What do you like to do in your free time?  I write.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lessons from Elements of Style - Part 3

It’s time for part three in the Elements of Style series!  If this is your first time here, here’s Part 1 and Part 2.

Picture of Colorado Snow

This one, I think, goes hand in hand with the previous one.  Mostly because there is some confusion about passive voice and there are some misconceptions concerning what passive voice is.  But I think it’s because these two rules are so similar.  When a person uses a helping verb (eg had) it doesn’t mean that the phrase is passive.  It just means its non-committal.

Here’s some examples of noncommittal phrases:

John began to sit down.
John was thinking about ice cream.
John almost ate the ice cream.

All of these sentences don’t quite commit to anything.  Did he actually sit down or did he just begin to?  Almost?  Why didn’t he?  By choosing stronger verbs and less helping verbs, our writing becomes committed.

John sat down.
John thought about ice cream.
John decided not to eat the ice cream. 

Non-committal language can also be found in the form of using the easy way out.  Now I’m not saying we should use five syllable words whenever we can.  Let’s not overwhelm our readers and force them to go to the dictionary as they’re reading.  But there is a difference between looking and gazing.  There’s a difference between angry and incensed. 

By using stronger words, we’re better able to key in on the real emotion, thought or idea we want to convey.   Here’s an example from my Red WIP where I compare my first paragraph from an earlier draft and the draft I just finished.

Larzo’s tail swished in the air.  Beneath his padded paws, the ground felt hard, and although he kept moving south, he didn’t move as quickly as he had the day before.  There was something different in the air; he could almost taste it on his tongue.  He kept his ears alert while scanning the forest grounds and his whiskers almost quivered with expectation.

Larzo paused and raised his nose into the air. Something seeped into his nostrils, drawing him past the thick trunk of a hemlock. He crept along the ground, scanning the foliage. A new stench mixed in amid the familiar green scent of the shrubs and the bitter bark. Blood, ale and something else he could not immediately place. Garlic?

In the first paragraph, the ground felt hard.  Well, what does that mean?  Feel is one of those noncommittal words.  If it felt hard, it would be better for me to show it by him reacting to it, not just feeling it.  Something.  Something is another noncommittal word.  Something was different?  Different from what?
In the second paragraph, I tried to hone in on what it was he was experiencing and feeling.  Just naming the tree makes me (and I hope the reader) feel more grounded in the surroundings.  Any thoughts?  Does this one pull you in?

This is your writing!  So why not commit?  Get rid of those pesky helping verbs and use strong, colorful words to get the point across!  I’ll work on it if you will!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Stay in your Character's Head

Growing up, I was a fairly naïve person.  I never understood sarcasm.  In fact, my friends and family used a made up hand motion to let me know when they weren’t being serious.  And sometimes they still have to use it.

Not only was I naïve, but I was also fairly unobservant.  And I never realize how much my naivety and unobservant nature affected my worldview until I went looking for apartments in Spain.  My boyfriend (now husband) went with me because he wanted to be sure I chose a safe neighborhood.

We went to a specific apartment in an area known as ‘Gran Via.’  Literally known as the Great Way.  It was a bustling main street full of theatres, ballet companies, plazas, restaurants – anything to keep a person occupied.  The apartment I was looking at was rented by a family I met at church and it was on one of the side road connecting to this main street.  They had an extra room available for me to stay in.

Me in Gran Via

I remember walking down the alleyway.  My first impression was that there was a lot of construction being done.  Part of the street had been torn up, and it had rained the night before, spreading mud all over everything.  When we got to the apartment, the room was on the 5th floor, and there wasn’t an elevator.
“Okay,” I thought, “So I have to walk a little extra.  Exercise isn’t bad.”

Then we got into the apartment itself.  The room was small, but I had my own clothesline.  Definitely a plus from where I’d been staying before.  There were a few cons to the situation (one being the very energetic ten year old that ran around the main room screaming) but I definitely saw more positives than negatives.  It was in a central location, I got along with the family and the room was decent for the price.

When I told my boyfriend that I was considering accepting their offer, I was surprised by his response.

“Even with the prostitutes downstairs?”

Prostitutes?  What prostitutes?

You see, while I was noticing the construction and the mud, he was noticing the scantily clad women handing out condoms.  Where I saw my own clothesline, he was noticing the bright flashing light outside the window welcoming clients.

We were in the same place and we saw the same exact things.  But what we noticed very different things.  I was looking at comfort while he was looking for safety.  He knew I often came home late at night, and he didn’t want me to get myself into a dangerous situation.  And for those of you wondering, I decided to live somewhere else.

With that in mind, I try to always write a scene within a character’s point of view.  Would they pay attention to majestic buildings of the flies buzzing around the road kill in front of it?  Would they admire the cleanliness of the kitchen or notice the smell of pie coming from the oven?  What small details are important to your character?  When focusing on voice, it’s important to remember that it’s the character telling the story, and we need to stay within their head to remain consistent.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Looking Back on the Journey

This week, I finished the revisions to the Orphans of Jadox, which has been quite an experience.  This draft has been an adventure, and I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly it was that made it such an emotional adventure.  I think in a large part, it had to do with the fact that I’ve started to interact and meet with other writers.  Having a community is an amazing boost when I suddenly start to wonder if what I’m thinking or experiencing is normal.  I’ve loved getting to know all of you!

When I finally finished, I really just sat there, overwhelmed by the feeling of finishing.  It was very different from any other time that I’ve done it.  First off, I had butterflies in my stomach for days because of the excitement, trepidation and everything in between. Second off, I knew that it was the best I’d ever created.
My characters’ journey is over, at least for the time being.  But as they took their journey, I’ve taken one of my own, and I’ve spent the past few days looking at where I started. 

Writing has always been an important part of my life.  I wrote my first novel in high school.  (After a numerous amount of unfinished first chapters and half-novels).  At that point, I was convinced everything I’d written was gold.  I remember asking my dad to read something I’d written and getting offended when he offered suggestions on how to fix it.  Editing and revising were probably the furthest things from my mind.

But when I started college, I put it away.  I thought I had to grow up.  I went out and lived life to the fullest.  I studied in a foreign country for two years, learned a new language, made new friends, met a wonderful man and got married.  But that didn’t mean my life was perfect.  In fact, a few months after marriage, we ran into several difficulties that pulled me down.  I was depressed, stressed and having panic attacks at least once a week.  Goals that I’d always had – education, career, family – seemed almost impossible. 

It was at that time that I found my writing notebook.  And that inexplicable need to write was the only thing that kept me going.  I had to escape what I was experiencing, and writing was the portal. I could live vicariously through my characters’ lives and experience their triumphs with them.  For six months, I meticulously went through my novel.  After living so much more of life, I saw it through a different light.  I saw the errors, how flat my characters were.  I rewrote it, even changing it from 1st to 3rd person. 

Then, as if by chance, I met my first beta online.  I sent her my first chapter and she tore it apart and made me cry.  And that’s when the magic started to happen.  After a few weeks, I realized that I was a writer.  I had the chance to prove that what I was doing was worthwhile.  And the only way to do that is to accept criticism, build on it and learn where my weaknesses lie. 

Only after I realized what writing really was – hard work and dedication – did the burst of creativity happen.  I may take my time to put myself out there, but I’ve never regretted it.  Just like my characters, I needed to stumble and fail before I could rise to the challenge.  I needed something to fight for. 

Reading through my first draft of the Orphans of Jadox, I’m really struck by how much has changed in the past two years since I wrote it.  And I’m so grateful for those who’ve helped me in this journey.  For all of those who rooted for me, and even those who tried to put me down, I want to say thank you.  I couldn’t do this alone.  

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Lessons from Elements of Style - Part 2

Thank you all for your positive responses to my Elements of Style series!  I really appreciate all of your comments.  If you didn’t get a chance to read part one, here’s the link.

This week’s quote is one that I feel I have a pretty good handle on. 

Direct and vigorous.  Now those are two words that I would love someone to use when describing my writing. 

The difference between active and passive voice really clicked for me when I became a nurse.  It’s one of my responsibilities to record everything that happens to each one of my patients.  There are multiple reasons for that.  One is to communicate with other nurses, therapists, doctors, etc what is going on with the patients.  Another is to keep record of anything out of the ordinary that might happen.  A third is to cover myself if I ever get accused of anything by the patient or a family member.

But when charting, I’m not allowed to use anyone’s names, or refer to myself.  A lot of it has to do with legality, but it also has to do with subjectiveness vs objectiveness.  It forces me to remove my own personal feelings and focus only on exactly what happens.

Here’s an example of a VERY HYPOTHETICAL situation vs how I would chart it.

Real situation (active)

Let’s say that I walk into a patient’s room (we’ll call her Krista.)  She tells me that her stomach hurts and that she wants something for diarrhea.    I decide that before I give her a medication, I want to see if it’s something more serious.  So then I feel her abdomen, testing to see if there’s a specific area that hurts more than others.  She starts yelling because it hurts after I press the lower right area of her abdomen.  I check her vital signs and notice her temperature is a little high.  I’m concerned that this could be appendicitis.  So I call the doctor and get an order to send her to the hospital.

Now here’s the passive/nursing charting version (passive):

Patient complained of pain at approx. 1930, requested PRN medication for diarrhea.  Abdomen was palpated and rebound pain noted in the right lower quadrant.  Pain radiating to lower extremities and to back.  Vital signs were checked and temperature was 100.3.  Dr. Smith called and order to send patient to hospital was received.  Resident left facility at 2000.

See where although I did all of the actions, I’m not mentioned once in the charting?  When I do something, I change the sentence around so that the patient is receiving the action, but I don’t state that I’m the one doing it. Active is when something is acting.  Passive is when it's being acted upon.

Active: I palpated her abdomen and noted that she had rebound pain.
Passive: Abdomen was palpated and noted to have rebound pain.

Whenever I have a question about active vs passive, I just ask myself: Do I sound like I’m trying to write out legal documentation?

How about you?  Do you have difficulties with active v passive voice?  What do you look for to make your writing direct and vigorous?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Fantasy Cliches

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of posts and comments made where people have said that fantasy has become old and clichéd.  It’s always the same – the dragons, the elves, the epic battles and magic, or maybe vampire sand werewolves.  They’ve lamented that there’s never anything new in fantasy.

I disagree.  I honestly can’t remember the last fantasy I’ve read with dragons.  Probably Eragon, several years ago, when I was stranded in Newark Airport for a day and a half.  We all know the popular or well-known mainstream fantasies.  And the complaints reminded me of something I’d found years ago – Something called the Fantasy Novelist’s Exam.  Check it out.  If you want a chuckle, this is what you’re been looking for.

Though it is funny to read the entire list of clichés in fantasy writing, there’s still some truth in it.  How many of us have come to expect something from this list, just because it’s fantasy?

The trick is to avoid the cliché.

Does every story have to have magical creatures, epic battles or wizards?  No.

I posed this question in a fantasy writer’s community, and I was surprised by the quick and insightful thoughts.  I was told that if someone is only finding these kinds of stories, they’re looking in the wrong place.  Fantasy is anything that has an element that doesn’t exist in our reality.  I write fantasy, and I have the tendency to minimalize the fantastical parts so that they almost seem a part of everyday life. 

Every reader will find their own unique niche.  There are so many options available and all we need to look.

What clichés are you tired of?  Not just in fantasy, but in books in general? 

Friday, October 4, 2013

The End

I feel like I’m facing several endings right now.  Of course, obviously, there’s the end of the year, which is hurtling toward us.  And I’ve made several goals which I wanted to complete by the new year, which means that I’ve got to get moving! 

One of my goals was finishing the revision to my Red WIP before November.  That way the month of November can be completely dedicated to NaNoWriMo (my first year to participate!). 

I think I’ll finish.  I’ve already revised seventeen chapters, and I have three more, plus a short epilogue.  And those chapters are pretty well written, if I do say so myself. 

Yesterday, I revised the climax of the story.  Unfortunately, it was a bit of a muddled mess, but I’m pleased with the way that it turned out.  I love stretching what my characters can endure and pile even more on when they think it’s getting easier.   Or maybe I just enjoy watching them overcome their trials.  I love knowing where they started and where they’re headed.

It did take me a few days to begin working on it, mostly because when I finish the climax, it means that I’m getting close to the end.  And yes, in a way that’s good.  I’ll have completed my goal.  I’ll have time to do a final read-through for typos before sending it out to the final round of betas. 

So what makes the ending so hard? 

It feels like I’m saying goodbye.  We’ve been on this long journey together (one we’ve had several times before), and each time, these characters become even more real.  I love spending my days thinking about their lives, what they need to do and what they need to experience to grow.  It’s a constant companionship that’s about to end. 

Of course, it won’t end exactly.  My NaNoWriMo novel is a companion novel, so they’ll be in there.  But it won’t be the same.  They’ll be secondary characters, making rare, cameo appearances while I get to know someone new.

I know that many writers celebrate the moment when they can write “The End,” but I always have mixed feelings.  There’s always that sense of accomplishment, but also a sense of loss.

I feel the same way when I finish reading a book that I love.  Once that final page turns, there’s no more.  They go on with their lives while I go on with mine.  Maybe I just have separation issues.

How about you?  How do you say goodbye to characters?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Lessons from Elements of Style - Part 1

I’ve only taken one creative writing class.  That was years back in junior high when my schedule opened up for one semester and I was able to indulge my creative interests.  My teacher was at that time a published writer (though she used a pen name, so I don’t know what books she published).  And she felt that the most important thing for us as new writers was to read the Elements of Style written by Strunk and White.  We had specific phrases we had to learn and memorize for tests.

I’ve just pulled out the notes that I took for that class.  (Yes, I kept them) and I’ve been reviewing them again.  I’m amazed by how appropriate each phrase is, and I’ve decided to dedicate each Wednesday of the month of October expanding on each one.

Today, we’re going to start with the one that always comes screaming into my head whenever I think of the Elements of Style.

Quote taken from Elements of Style

I can’t tell you how many times we had to repeat this phrase during class.  This was my teacher’s one motto.

Specific to the General

When I think of this part, I think of telling vs showing.  You may have a character that you tell the reader ‘has proven himself to be trustworthy.’  How specific is that?  Does that give the reader a definite idea of who he is?  In what has he proven himself trustworthy?  Get specific.  Take a moment to describe a specific moment when he’d proven this.  Was there a time when he’d been asked to keep a secret and he’d lost his best friend because he’d kept it?  If I tell you one of my characters is naïve, wouldn’t it be easier to believe if she says something in a situation that makes it obvious that she doesn’t understand what’s going on? 

Definite to the Vague

This is the area that I struggle with the most.  I tend to be vague with descriptions, and I’m never quite sure when I need to use more.  It’s something I’ve been working on, and I feel as though I’ve improved quite a bit in the past few months.  It’s not a matter of describing every single little detail within the scene.  It’s a matter of determining which details help move the scene forward or pinpoint the personality of your characters. 

For example.  I had a character stand up.  But that was a bit vague.  Here’s what I ended up writing:

He accepted Brednon’s help, wincing when the joints in his legs resisted. This human form was becoming more cumbersome. If he wasn’t careful, he might lose his ability to remain useful to the king.

With just a short, definite description, I was able to convey that not only is he growing older, he’s also worried about how long he’ll be useful in his position.

Concrete to the Abstract

Along the lines of the ones before, this I believe, has to do with concepts and ideas.  If you’re telling a reader that a character’s afraid, then maybe you should expand on that.  Afraid, angry, uncomfortable, any of these feelings could be considered abstract.  Dig deeper.  Find the why.  Find out what it is about the situation, the person or whatever they’re facing that makes them feel how they do.  Focus on the reactions, the physical actions that show the emotions.  Focus on the concrete, rather than the abstract.

How do you make sure you write with the specific, definite and concrete?  What lessons have you learned while writing?