Protected: Red Sunset – 2nd Round – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

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Mission Possible – Round 2 – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

Hey, everyone! So, this past weekend I participated in the second round of the NYC Midnight (NYCM) Flash Fiction Challenge (FFC) 2016. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really in the mood to play this time around. Just the day before the challenge kicked off, I received the results from round one and found out I didn’t get any points for my story, “The Blue Divide.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve written a lot of stories in this contest that I could accept getting a zero for (ahem, “Operation Disney“). But this one wasn’t one of them. “The Blue Divide” received more positive feedback than I’ve ever received for a story. It also landed in my personal top favorites I’ve ever written. So, getting a zero hurt. What hurt even more was reading the judges’ feedback. Besides the storyline vaguely echoing the movie “Interstellar,” they had no complaints. Only positive comments…Ugh. Very frustrating.

BUT not frustrating enough to make me bow out of round two! I refused to let the judges get me down and embraced my next assignment. Which arrived, as always, at 10 p.m. (MST) on Friday night.

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First impressions: 

Spy

A taxi

A voting ballot

I probably stared at my prompts for a solid thirty minutes with no clue what to do with them. I don’t know if I was completely uninspired, completely miserable, or completely exhausted. I think it was the latter. I’d been up since 4:30 a.m. that morning, and hadn’t taken a break all day (I’d gone from an intense spin workout, to a crazy day at work, to a fun night at the Rockies game).

With my mom’s help (who of course was there to help me brainstorm), I pulled it together and started throwing out various concepts. Most of my ideas were absurd (ex: a taxi driver/spy who careens off the edge of the Grand Canyon and parachutes James Bond style, while the bad guy plummets to his death). What gave me the most trouble was the voting ballot prompt. It screamed politics, and I’m not a big fan of politics. I also knew many of my competitors would go in a political direction, so I wanted to avoid that.

After about twenty minutes of hemming and hawing, inspiration struck.

I decided to give my story an old Hollywood twist. And I decided to have FUN with it. Why not? With zero points from round one, I had nothing to lose, so I decided to write something light, entertaining, and kinda silly.

I sold my mom on the concept, worked out the major kinks of the plot, and then went home to collapse in bed. On Saturday, I woke up and dove straight into research about the Cold War, old Hollywood, and, well, spies. I also watched this scene from the movie “Victor Victoria” about a dozen times to embrace the traits of one of my main characters (a ditzy, flirtatious pinup girl).

It took me most of the day to crank out a solid draft, but once I had it, I knew I had it. I went back over to my mom’s house to let her read it, and get her “Simon Cowell” judgment. Halfway through her first review, she started laughing. My heart sank, and I asked her if it was dumb. She said, “NO! Don’t change it. It’s great.” By the time she finished, I knew the hard work was over. She liked it and I liked it, so now it was time to edit.

We ran through the story a couple of times. Once to analyze the actual story, and once to cut words. I was about 100 over the competition’s 1,000 limit, so nothing too major.

Or so I thought.

Surprisingly, the story didn’t have a ton of fat to cut. I only managed to hack out 20 words before I slammed into a wall. I didn’t know what else to remove or reword to make it any tighter.

Beta readers to the rescue!

I sent my story to about six writers to help me find unnecessary, fluffy, redundant words (and, of course, get opinions about my actual story). When the reviews came back, I was both relieved and a little panicked by the lack of criticisms. Just about all of my betas didn’t know where I should cut words. It was a solid, polished story. But I had to cut 80, or I’d lose major points in the contest.

So, all of my betas rolled up their sleeves and helped me hunt down those 80 extra words. Chop, rewrite, tweak, slash…Ugh. The process was beyond painful! But by Sunday afternoon, I had a final draft that was six words under the word limit. Phew! I submitted it and then did a little jig.

Now, do I expect points for this story? HA! No. If I couldn’t get points with “The Blue Divide,” then I highly doubt this silly spy story will get me much of anything. But, I’m really proud of myself for giving it my all, and not letting my round one debacle deter me from doing my best.

Although I don’t think I’ll ever send this story out for publication, I’m going to play it safe and put a password on it when I post it. Sorry! But, if you’d like to read it, let me know and I’ll send you the password. For now, here’s my title and synopsis:

“Red Sunset”

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Georgi Petrov, Hollywood playboy and Russian dissident, is a hero to some and a traitor to others. A fateful taxi ride down Sunset Boulevard proves just that.

Congrats to all those who participated and submitted a story for this round of NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2016!

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Photo Credits: giphy

I Will Never Forget – My September 11th Story

Today, people throughout the world are remembering what happened 15-years ago. It’s difficult not to. All of us can go back and recall where we were and what we were doing, most of us in vivid detail. Even if we weren’t directly involved or impacted by the events that occurred, everyone has a story about September 11th. We all experienced it. We all felt it.

This is my story of September 11th, 2001.

My alarm goes off. I begrudgingly get out of bed and get ready for school. I’m a senior at ThunderRidge High School with nothing on my mind but homework, college applications, and homecoming a couple of weeks away.

unnamedMy freshman brother is already at school for weight training for football, so I don’t have to worry about herding him into the car. I heft my two-ton backpack onto my shoulders, shout a goodbye to my dad upstairs, and walk outside to my tin can of a car. It’s a windy, but warm and clear day. Normal for this time of year in Colorado.

During the ten minute drive to school, I listen to my favorite morning radio program with Jamie White and Danny Bonaduce. As usual, they’re making wise cracks about meaningless topics and keeping things light and fun for morning commuters. I chuckle at the comedic duo and pull into the school parking lot. Before I yank the keys out of the ignition, Jamie suddenly interrupts Danny:

Jamie: Huh, I just got a weird report about a plane hitting a building in New York.

Danny: What? A plane?

Jamie: Uh, yeah [nervous laughter]. I don’t even know what this means. How’s that even possible? How does a plane hit a building? Those are sort of hard to miss, aren’t they?

Danny: [chuckling] Engine failure, I guess. Was it a small plane?

Jamie: The report doesn’t say, but I’d assume so. Probably one of those farm planes [more nervous laughter].

Danny: You mean a crop duster?

Jamie: Yeah, one of those thingamajigs. This is dumb. [a piece of paper ruffles and she yells at the producer] This isn’t funny! There has to be a better news story out there.

I half smile/half frown, unsure what to make of the bizarre report. All I can visualize is a sputtering aircraft manned by an old, drunk pilot who nicked the side of an abandoned warehouse. That’s the only thing that makes sense to me.

I shake my head and glance through the front windshield. I see my mom of all people walking up from the school’s track where she does her morning workouts. I completely forget about Jamie and Danny’s random news announcement and step out of the car to say hi to her before I go into the building. The wind is blowing so hard, the door hits me on the side of the head. I swear, shove it away, and pray to God nobody–including my mom–saw the humiliating incident.

My mom doesn’t mention it as she reaches me and does her mom thing (Have a good day at school…You’ll be home by 3:30, right?…I’m subbing at the elementary school, so I won’t be home all day...). I nod and tell her I need to go or I’m going to be late. I don’t even think to mention Jamie and Danny’s report. I’m still too worried someone saw me get thwacked by the car door.

We say goodbye, mutter our habitual, “Love ya”, and part ways.

My first class of the day is astronomy. At my assigned table, I sit with my friend, Ashley, and two boys, Josh and Kenny. As always, we talk and joke around and don’t pay much attention to the lecture. Nobody mentions anything about a crop duster hitting a building in New York. I don’t even remember hearing about it myself.

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Ground Zero, 2006

The dismissal bell rings. I leave class with Ashley.

We walk to the main hall to meet up with our other friend, Sarah. She’s standing in her normal rendezvous spot, but she’s not smiling. She’s crying. I’m stunned. Sarah isn’t a crier. Ashley and I rush over to her and ask what’s wrong.

“Th–the Pentagon blew up,” she sputters. “A girl in my last class has a grandma who works there. She’s probably d–dead.”

Ashley and I gape at Sarah, too dumbfounded to say more than, “Oh my God.” Sarah then mentions something about the World Trade Center. I’m too embarrassed to admit I don’t know what that is, so I lamely pat her on the arm and tell her everything is going to be okay.

As we walk to the locker rooms for P.E., I look around and see other people whispering of gloom and doom. I don’t understand any of it, and honestly, I don’t believe any of it. It’s probably some stupid prank or vicious rumor.

My P.E. class trickles by. All around me, people whisper about bombs and attacks and terrorists. I cringe at the word “terrorists”. It’s not a real word. It’s fiction, used only in movies like Die Hard and Air Force One.

Thankfully, we’re dismissed early to change in the locker rooms. I rush inside, eager to get to my Home Room to ask my teacher if he knows what’s happening. While I change into my regular clothes, the girls around me get louder and louder, their high-pitched voices bouncing off the walls and echoing around the locker room. I can tell they’re unnerved like me, and they’re hiding their fear by being obnoxious. But, still, I want to slap them and tell them to grow up.

Suddenly, the intercom system buzzes. The voice of our principal, Mr. Lynch, booms over the speakers. The girls get louder. I hit my limit and scream at them to shut up so I can hear what the heck is going on. But Mr. Lynch’s deep voice echoes around the vast room and I’m only able to pick up a few phrases: “Possible terrorism”, “New York”, “No need to panic”.

The announcement ends and the dismissal bell rings. I ignore the fresh shouting and cursing by the girls around me and practically sprint to my Home Room. I’m confident my teacher, Mr. Johnson–history buff and current events guru–will be on top of things.

I yank open the door and bolt inside.

All of the lights are off and the TV is on. Nobody’s talking. Everyone is riveted by what they see on the screen. I take my seat in the front row and look up at it.

Smoke.

Lots and lots of smoke.

So much, in fact, that I tell myself it must be storm clouds. But then I see the crisp blue sky filtering through the belches of black, gray, and white, and know it is, indeed, smoke. But from what?

As if to answer my unspoken question, the camera shifts to two tall buildings with fire billowing out of them and paper fluttering in the air. The anchorman refers to them as the “World Trade Center.” I immediately feel stupid for never knowing the name of the iconic skyscrapers. My secret embarrassment, however, is swiftly overtaken by horror as the news station cuts to video of a commercial jet flying into the building.

The class gasps.

I gape up at the screen, confused and scared. And in complete denial. I can’t believe what I just witnessed was real. I assume it’s fake–a fancy computer mock up of what had happened to the buildings.

The dismissal bell rings.

The class is reluctant to leave, including myself. At our teacher’s urging, we all stand and head for the door. As I reach it, I hear Mr. Johnson say to a boy behind me, “From that footage, I’d definitely say the plane meant to hit the building. It wasn’t an accident.”

I freeze and look at him. “You mean that footage was real?”

Mr. Johnson looks at me sadly and nods.

I leave the class feeling sick to my stomach. I still don’t get it. Nothing–nothing–like this has ever happened in the U.S. It can’t happen.

The rest of the day passes in a dazed blur. Despite finally seeing what was happening on the east coast, nobody really knows what’s happening. Some say it’s terrorism. Some say it’s an accident. Some say we should go to war. Some say we should stay out of it. Some say they know people in New York. Some say they know people on the east coast. Some say the buildings collapsed. Some say they didn’t. Some say another plane crashed in Pennsylvania. Some say Denver International Airport was shut down. Some say all airports were shut down. Some say Colorado is a target because of Norad. Some say we’re at war…

It’s a constant rumor mill, filled with anxiety, tears, and nervous laughter that disguise people’s true terror. Personally, all I want to do is find my brother and cousin and go home. I don’t want to stay in the building another second. Although I know all of these events are happening over 2,000 miles away, I can’t help but imagine a plane swooping over our suburban high school and dropping a bomb on us. It’s rash, ridiculous, and unrealistic, but the fear is there.

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Ground Zero, 2006

Throughout the day, I pull out my Nokia phone with its bright sunflower cover and stare at it. I want to call my mom or dad, but I know they’re at work and won’t answer. (Back then, we didn’t rely on phones like we do nowadays. We didn’t even have text messaging).

At lunch, an announcement is made. The school’s in lockdown and all after-school activities have been canceled. The administrators tell us to go straight home after our last class and stay home. I’m on board with that. I find my brother and cousin during lunch, and tell them where to meet me after school so I can drive us home.

Finally, the end of the day arrives. I flee the school and race home. I sprint into my house and turn on the TV. My brother and cousin are less interested and go play N64. I berate them as I throw a tape into the VCR and press record. I know this day will go down as one of the most significant days in our nation’s history and I want to remember it.

unnamedOnce it’s recording, I get my phone and call my mom. To my surprise, she answers.

“Are you home?” she demands.

“Yeah, so are Max and Will,” I assure her. “We’re all here.”

“Good, stay there. I’ll get home as soon as I can.”

“Okay, I love you.” I say the words with much more feeling than I did that morning, before tragedy struck.

After I hang up, I feel safer and more grounded. I grab my usual after school snack–a handful of goldfish crackers and a Hi-C juice box–and focus on the news. It’s the first time all day I’m able to sit and listen without interruption–no shouting, no bells, no tears, no jokes, no muffled announcements.

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Steel beams from the World Trade Center. Ground Zero, 2006

While I listen to a recap of the horrors of the day, I suddenly remember the radio show I’d heard that morning:

Jamie: Huh, I just got a weird report about a plane hitting a building in New York.

Danny: What? A plane?

Jamie: Uh, yeah [nervous laughter]. I don’t even know what this means. How’s that even possible? How does a plane hit a building? Those are sort of hard to miss, aren’t they?

Danny: [chuckling] Engine failure, I guess. Was it a small plane?

Jamie: The report doesn’t say, but I’d assume so. Probably one of those farm planes [more nervous laughter].

Danny: You mean a crop duster?

Jamie: Yeah, one of those thingamajigs. This is dumb. [a piece of paper ruffles and she yells at the producer] This isn’t funny! There has to be a better news story out there.

I know I’ll never be able to listen to that radio show again.  

And I know I’ll never forget this day.


What’s your story? Share it and never forget.

God bless America and all those who lost their lives 15-years ago today.

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A Writer’s Birthday Wish List

Today is my birthday and I thought it’d be fun to make a writer’s wish list. We all have different quirks and desires when it comes to our writing, so we all tend to want different things. Some of us want a fancy writing program, some a new “How To” book, and others registration for a big writing conference.

Here’s are some things I’d like…

TIME! 

Above all else, I wish I had more time (don’t we all?). I started a new job just over a month ago, and it’s been a huge transition for me. Between learning a whole new skill set, meeting new people, and getting accustomed to a brand new routine, it’s been difficult to find time (and motivation) to write. So, I’m wishing for things to settle down so I can get back on track with my novel.

Peanut M&Ms

11127771_366454080213813_5284361540707845078_nMy number one favorite writing snack is Peanut M&M’s. Don’t ask me why, but they help me focus. Perhaps there’s something about the sugar that keeps me pumped up and moving along? I don’t know. But, I’m wishing (and always wishing) for a bag–or two–of those delicious candies to store in my cupboard for long writing days.

A New Laptop

I desperately need a new laptop. For the past two years, I’ve been borrowing my sister’s and I think she’s about had it with me (sorry, sis). I’ve actually been saving up to buy a new Mac, so hopefully I’ll be able to invest in one soon. Well, unless one miraculously shows up on my front doorstep today with a big pink bow (ha-ha).

A new mug

11182163_10102180090972203_6916619407502259585_nI love mugs. Whenever a friend goes out of town, I ask them to bring me back a mug from wherever they visited. The results range from amazing to laughable. But, I love them all! And I’m always wishing for more.

Starbucks Gift Cards

This is kind of a silly one, but I don’t tend to buy Starbucks unless I have a gift card. It’s just too expensive! But, I love Starbucks, so getting those is always exciting.

A Readable Draft of My Novel

13631659_500120940180459_3874970909998615130_nIf I had a magic wand, I’d point it at my messy manuscript and–poof! It’d be all written and ready to be sent to my beta readers. I’ve been working on this novel for over a year and I’m starting to grow sick of it. Novels definitely take patience and perseverance!

An Agent 

I’m not even close to the querying stage with my novel, but I’ll take an agent anyway. Please, please, please? Pretty please, with a cherry on top?

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Sundaes

13716059_10102906619438333_4603779641737206020_nDon’t laugh…Okay, laugh. But, every Saturday night, after I’ve spent an entire day laboring over my manuscript, all I want is a giant chocolate chip cookie dough sundae, complete with fresh chocolate chip cookies. But do I ever have these ingredients in my house? Nope! I always forget until the moment I close my laptop and emerge from my la-la fog. And then I always wish someone will magically arrive on my front doorstep with my sundae. I wish just once–just once–that would happen, hee hee.

More Time 

Seriously, I need more time!

Noise Canceling Headphones

13450319_493524594173427_2925694245634024988_nLike so many of you, I have loud neighbors. Really loud! The kids are always outside screaming and laughing, and the father is always doing some sort of home improvement project. Ack! On a normal day, I don’t really mind the noise. I come from a loud family, so I’m pretty used to the chaos. However, when I’m writing, it drives me nuts. I can’t really get into the zone unless I have absolute silence, and the only headphones I own don’t block out all the noise. So, I think it’s time to get some noise cancelling headphones.

So, that’s my list this year. Pretty random, but it’s what I’m wishing for most as a writer for my birthday.

How about you? What do you wish for on your birthday?

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Photo Credits: giphy

Protected: The Blue Divide – 1st Round – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

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Smooth Sailing – Round 1 – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

Let me start off by apologizing to my regular blog followers. I have been completely negligent of my blog the past few months due to some personal matters. But, my life is gradually returning to a new, steady rhythm and I hope to begin blogging again soon. Thanks for your patience!

For today, I’d like to share my most recent experience from the first round of this year’s NYC Midnight (NYCM) Flash Fiction Challenge (FFC). As a quick reminder, the NYCM FFC is a writing contest where writers are given three prompts (genre, location, and object), and then 48-hours to write a 1,000 word story. It’s always crazy! But fun.

Round one kicked off last Friday night at 10 p.m. (MST) when I received my assignment:

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 10.34.05 PM

First impressions: 

Drama

A corporate conference room

A baby rattle

…Yeah.

No joke, I wanted to go to bed right then and there. Talk about BORING! I’m used to off the wall prompts (like an action adventure that has to take place in an underwater cave and incorporate a dumbbell). I was also a touch nervous because drama tends to mean literary, and I’m much more of a commercial writer. Ugh.

I allowed myself about 15 minutes to absorb the prompts and get over my “I don’t wanna” attitude. Then I hunkered down with my favorite brainstorm buddy and personal Simon Cowell (my mom) and contemplated what to write about.

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I instantly assumed many of my competitors would take the corporate conference room and baby rattle prompts and write a story about a custody battle. So, I wanted to stay as far away as possible from that sort of plot line. For a few minutes, I considered writing about a plane crash involving a woman who smuggled diamonds via baby rattles. But, even that wasn’t thrilling me.

Without knowing it, my eyes drifted to my nephew’s water bottle sitting next to my elbow. While gazing at its green space shuttles and yellow stars, a new idea struck me.

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Space! Astronauts! Exploration! I pitched the idea to my mom, and she instantly said, “Yes! I love it.” Suddenly, my prompts were no longer boring.

After another hour of contemplating and brainstorming (about characters, conflict, plot, etc.), I packed up my computer and went home to get some much needed sleep.

On Saturday, I spent most of the morning watching documentaries about outer space, debating various routes to take with my characters, and helping fellow competitors (and friends) brainstorm ideas for their own prompts/stories. Around noon, I realized I better start actually writing. The clock was ticking!

I whipped out an ugly first draft in about an hour. After a quick break, I whipped out a second draft. Then a third. By 6 p.m., I was ready to share it with my first and most critical reader: my mom. I went over to her house and let her read it.

Her response? “It’s so good!”

I was stunned! It’s pretty rare for my mom to like my first attempt during these challenges (i.e. during last year’s first round of FFC, she basically told me to trash my entire concept and start over).

Filled with giddy relief, I proceeded to revise and edit my story until I had a beta worthy draft. Before bed, I sent it out with the hope I’d have more critical feedback by the time I woke up on Sunday.

To my delight and utter disbelief, I awoke to more positive reviews. Everyone really liked my story. Like, really liked it. I was shocked. In 15 rounds of NYCM, I’ve never had a story receive such a positive reception during its infancy.

Feeling calmer than I’ve ever felt during FFC, I decided to set aside my story and focus on helping other writers for a few hours. I beta read, assisted those still struggling to find their groove, and offered general support.

Around 11 a.m., I shifted my focus back to my story. Although my betas liked it, it still had quite a few problems. So, I called my mom and asked her to come over to help me polish things up.

By 3 p.m., I had a final draft and was ready to submit. Yay! I triple checked my story for errors, loopholes, and weak spots, and then sent it off to NYCM.

All in all, it was an exhausting, yet smooth weekend. By far the smoothest I’ve ever experienced during any NYCM competition…Hmm, I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad sign. But, whatever. I’m going to go ahead and celebrate the fact I survived and came out with a story I’m proud of!

In the past, I shared my story publicly. However, I’ve begun sending my work to publishers, so I’m no longer posting them here for any and all to read. Sorry! If you are interested in reading it, please send me a message and I’ll provide you with the password. For now, here’s my title and synopsis:

“The Blue Divide”

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The countdown for Lorna to decide between her family and her dreams of deep space exploration has begun. Ten, nine, eight, seven…

Congrats to all those who participated and submitted a story for NYCM’s Flash Fiction Challenge 2016!

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Photo Credits: giphy

 

Jen’s Editing Tips – Then, and then, and then

There’s a word out there many writers love to use, including myself. We like to insert it into a sentence and then sit back and smile. Then, without realizing it, we like to use it again three sentences later. Then again, then again, then again.

Jen's Editing Tips

And then, after we’ve put the finishing touches on our work, we send it off to our beta readers to critique. Then, after waiting on pins and needles, we get their feedback and discover we’ve used and abused this most beloved word. So, we then grab a red pen and start crossing it out.

Cross, cross, cross!

With each deletion, our adoration for this word cools, colder then colder. Then, before we know it, we realize the word is nothing more than a crutch. A filler. A fluff word that acts like a catalyst for action and movement, but then turns out to be a hinderance in disguise. So, we then decide to avoid the word unless it’s absolutely necessary.

But then, and only then.

And Then

Like the word “as,” many writers tend to overuse the word “then.” Who can blame them? It’s a great word! Unfortunately, when we repeat it again and again, we risk a handful of problems:

Fluff, fluff, fluff

In a way, “then” is like “that.” At least 50% of the time, we don’t need it. It’s a fluff word we insert on instinct, not necessity. We also tend to add words around “then” to help us transition into the rest of a scene; fluff words that lead to over-explained actions, cluttered sentences, and stilted tones.

To show you what I mean, here’s an example from my action-adventure, “La Jolla.”

With “then”:

Cole pried himself free and then struggled on. He had to get to Finn.

But then, before he could reach his brother, the bridge heaved, like a briny belch had blown out of the waters below. Cole cried out and then his knees buckled. Cal Poly made a mad grab for him, but then missed.

Right then, Finn’s shrill voice cut through the metallic booms and wails. “Cole!”

Then the tracks collapsed.

Then the train plummeted.

Without “then”: 

Cole pried himself free and struggled on. He had to get to Finn.

The bridge heaved, like a briny belch had blown out of the waters below. Cole’s knees buckled. Cal Poly made a mad grab for him and missed.

“Cole!” Finn’s shrill voice cut through the metallic booms and wails.

The tracks collapsed.

The train plummeted.

Laundry List 

The more we use “then,” the more our stories resemble a laundry list of actions. Mr. Character did this, then this, then this, then this

After a while, our stories start to sound like a broken record. And we all know what happens when a reader gets bored or annoyed by a story’s repetitive rhythm…Yep! They stop reading.

Here’s another example to illustrate what I’m talking about.

With “then”:

And then gravity’s force lifted Cole off the ground and then smashed him into the ceiling. Purses, cameras, and then even backpacks whipped past him.

“Grab my hand!”

Cole then looked down.

Finn raised his arm and then strained to reach him. Their fingers brushed once, twice—and then Finn lunged and grabbed Cole’s wrist. Right then, as he yanked Cole down, the train plunged into the water. The impact tore Cole out of Finn’s white-knuckled grip and then catapulted him into the rear window face first.

And then, for a breathless moment, he stared through the spider-webbed cracks spreading across the glass, down into a deep, black chasm.

Without “then”: 

Gravity’s force lifted Cole off the ground and smashed him into the ceiling. Purses, cameras, and backpacks whipped past him.

“Grab my hand!”

Cole looked down.

Finn strained to reach him. Their fingers brushed once, twice—Finn lunged and grabbed his wrist. As he yanked Cole down, the train plunged into the water. The impact tore Cole out of Finn’s white-knuckled grip and catapulted him into the rear window face first. He stared through the spider-webbed cracks spreading across the glass, down into a deep, black chasm.

Spoon-Feed 

Then this happened, Ms. Reader. Then this. And then this–Are you following along, Ms. Reader? Am I being clear enough? Because then this happened. And then this…

Readers are smart. They do not need to be taken by the hand and guided from point A, to point B, to point C, etc. So, be brave and trust your audience’s intelligence by transitioning scenes in simpler, more creative ways than “then.”

Here’s one more example from “La Jolla” to show you what I’m talking about:

With “then”: 

Then Cole rolled over. With the train vertical, everybody, including Finn, hung above him. Then he sat up and blinked. All around him, a symphony of sobbing pleas, splintering glass, and grinding metal deafened his ears. Then he took a deep breath and struggled to his feet. Then he reached up and unbuckled Finn. “You okay, buddy?” He lifted him down and then set him on the ground.

Finn nodded.

“Good, cause we gotta go.” Then he kneeled down and struck the damaged window with his elbow. Then again and again.

Nothing.

Then, out of nowhere, Cal Poly appeared. “Watch out!” She peered over the top of her seat with a five-pound dumbbell. Then Cole blinked. He thought about asking her how she’d found it, but then decided it didn’t matter. People packed the weirdest stuff. Then he took hold of Finn’s arm and shoved him back, out of the way.

And then Cal Poly dropped it.

Without “then”: 

Cole rolled over. With the train vertical, everybody, including Finn, hung above him. A symphony of sobbing pleas, splintering glass, and grinding metal deafened his ears. He struggled to his feet and unbuckled Finn. “You okay, buddy?” He lifted him down.

Finn nodded.

“Good, cause we gotta go.” He struck the damaged window with his elbow.

Nothing.

“Watch out!” Cal Poly peered over the top of her seat with a five-pound dumbbell. He didn’t ask her where or how she’d found it. People packed the weirdest stuff. He shoved Finn back.

She dropped it.

So, how do we prevent ourselves from overusing “then”? Well, here are a few strategies I have found helpful:

  1. Read your story out loud. You’ll be amazed how many repetitive words and phrases you hear when you do this.
  2. Ask someone to read your story to you. That way you can close your eyes and listen to it without being distracted by how it looks on screen/paper.
  3. Use the “Find” option and search for “then.” Remove as many as you can.
  4. Replace “then” with a ridiculous word like “hiccup.” See if you need to keep it. Chances are, you don’t.

So, there you go! I hope you’re able to take this editing tip and apply it to your work. Heaven knows I have to every time I sit down to write.

Don’t forget, my editing website is up and running! If you’re looking for someone to help with your story, check out Jen’s Edits and Critiques.

For more tips, visit my Jen’s Editing Tips page!

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