Just in time for NaNo…

This post just changed my (writing) life.

4 Tips to Solve 99% of Your Writing Problems

I’m not big into zombies, but her examples of what we should do had my heart racing and I just had to read on. Not only does she know how to write tight POV in a gripping way, the examples involve more word count, which is, of course, perfect for NaNo.

So head over and prepare to have your socks knocked off. And then buckle down to work.

Here’s an excerpt from something I wrote nine years ago (talk about having distance!).

I looked up from where I lay, drying off behind his car, to see him coming towards me, smiling mischievously, two water balloons in hand. My bikini top and denim shorts were already soaking and I had to get back inside–preferably dry. I pleaded silently with him, then out loud, to let me be. I picked up my rugged blue towel and wrapped it around me. Trying to head slowly toward the house.

He shook his head. Grinning, he said, “I’d drop the towel if I were you.”

Sighing, I threw him the towel and took off barefoot along the hard sidewalk.  I felt the cool splash of a water balloon popping against my ankles. One down, one to go. The next one shot past me, just barely grazing me with isolated drops.

I slowed down. He threw back my towel. I glared at him and laughed with him. Our fingers brushed once. His hands were masculine and strong. We walked farther apart.

OK, so there’s a few sentences I’m kind of embarrassed of, and I skipped several paragraphs that weren’t important to the main action.

But to improve it based on Janice’s post, we’re looking to:

  1. Show, don’t tell.
  2. Know what to describe
  3. Identify goals and motivations
  4. Create higher stakes

A tall order, but we’ll give it a try.

The first two can obviously only be done in context, but let’s try to work out three and four before we get started. The external goal here is to keep from getting splashed with a water balloon. The internal goal is probably something like “I want him to realize we’d be a good couple.” I think the last paragraph does an OK job of this already, but it should permeate.

As to creating higher stakes, right now, we have some external stakes (she can’t go inside until she’s dry), but no context and no internal stakes. For external context, let’s give her an overbearing mother who just got new hardwood floors. For internal stakes, let’s say it’s the beginning of the summer after senior year of high school and they’re slated to go to colleges on opposite sides of the country. She only has this summer to convince him to stay. Maybe they had a short relationship at the end of sophomore year, but he moved away and is only back visiting family for the summer.

The water fight was supposed to be over.

Everyone else had gone back to their respective driveways, lay down on beach towels, and let the early July sun do its work drying them off. Everyone else included me. It did not include Liam.

“Hey. Jenny,” he said. I squinted my eyes against the sun and propped up on my elbows. He was still shirtless, muscles highlighted by water drops. It took a moment to notice the water balloons. Two of them. Neon. One in each hand. He grinned impishly.

“No.” I glanced at my front door, remembering yesterday. The workmen installing the hardwood floors. Cherry. Imported. Expensive. Not yet waterproof.

I was dry enough right now. Without breaking eye contact with the water balloons, I got up and wrapped my towel around me. Why had I grabbed the shabby one my parents got for their wedding a million years ago? It wouldn’t dry me off in time.

Three cautious steps sideways, toward the door. “I’d drop the towel if I were you.”

“I don’t have time for this.” I needed time for this. He hadn’t paid me this much attention since we sort-of-kind-of dated at the end of sophomore year. Not since he moved to New Jersey. Not since he came home for one last summer before University of Washington and West Point would be a million miles apart.

He shrugged. “Drop the towel, Jenny.”

“Or else?” I dared.

“Or else.” He blocked the path toward the cul-de-sac, and my only escape route was backwards, toward the next busy street. I contemplated how much I would hate running in a bikini and too-loose denim shorts for the whole town to see. Then again, for once, they would see him chasing me, and that would be a change.

I unwrapped the towel. Could he see the goosebumps? Or the way my chest rose and fell in flutters instead of evenly? We only had two more months. That wasn’t long enough. I couldn’t give him time to notice me. I couldn’t lose him again.

I threw the towel and ran away from him like I wanted to run toward him. The sidewalk pounded against my bare feet and jarred my bones. I ran as hard as I could but he could always run faster.

Cars flew by to my left. I swear I felt them slow down to watch us. Two crazy, half-dressed kids who had the nerve to chase each other. Water splashed against my legs and I looked down to assess the damage. Neon pink remnants lay split open in pieces between us. I’ve felt like that before, I thought. But he had another balloon in his arsenal. I kept running.

The next one, he threw softly and missed. It bounced down the sidewalk past me before landing in the street, where a Camry ran it over. I stopped and held my arms up in surrender. “You only sort of win,” I said.

“No,” he replied. “I win hands down.” He threw back the towel, but kept walking until he was too close. Goosebumps prickled his skin where water and sweat were drying.

We walked back toward my house together. Our fingers brushed once. They were different than I remembered. Bigger hands, more callused. More comforting. We walked farther apart.

“So,” I said, when I couldn’t stand the silence. “West Point soon.”

We took five steps before he answered. “Maybe. I was accepted to University of Washington, too.”

At my driveway, I didn’t go inside yet. Wet calves and dirty feet meant I needed to stay far away from my mother’s new floors. There was still time.

Wow, that got longer. And I think metaphorical? I mean, it’s still a rough draft, but I’d say this technique totally works.

Do you think the second sample is more engaging? What do you think of the original article? Is this a technique you’ll be trying for NaNo?


  1. I definitely agree that the second version is better. =) I’m not sure if it’s super helpful for NaNo unless you have trouble deciding what to write each day. For me it was an issue of not having the time to write that much every day versus not having the words to write.

    I tend to write a bare first draft and then go back in to flesh it out better. Except now my word count is getting higher than I want because I’m fixing scenes with methods like this. Haha! So I have to find that balance. But thanks for sharing that article – it’s a great one!

    • I have trouble deciding what to write each day. 🙂 And I struggle with showing emotions instead of just telling, so it should be useful for me.

      I am the same way–a bare first draft and then flesh it out–but I think it will be useful for me if I have a bare first draft in terms of plot, but with scenes that are already fleshed out. We’ll see. 🙂

      Glad you liked the article!

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