What Is ‘Mental Real Estate’ & How Can It Make Your Writing Better?

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You will probably stumble across the advice to “write what you know” at some point in your career. And it’s great advice! However, as beneficial as it is to “write what you know,” it’s only one small portion of a larger concept you can implement when it comes to storytelling.

Writing what you know can seem both maddeningly simple and alarmingly complex. It suggests that you should draw on your own experiences with people, places, and events to create a more intricate and realistic world for your reader. It’s a great way to add flavor to your writing and make what you’re working on feel that much more intense, gratifying, and yes, even sad or thought provoking.

After all, you’re not just creating your scenario or character, you’re pulling from real-life memories you felt and understand and can describe in detail.

But as a culture and as people that have many elements of entertainment from all over the world, it can be easy to forget our shared experiences — especially when it comes to writing.

This is where mental real estate steps in and sweeps “writing what you know” off its feet. These two concepts are ideal partners. One helps you make your writing fuller, and the other teaches you to write a story people will love!

The brilliant thing about mental real estate is that it’s a concept that holds an infinite amount of information in your mind. If someone names an item — like Mountain Dew, for example — and you recognize it, then that item has staked a claim in your mental real estate.

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Basically, people are all a little Pavlovian by nature, and if you repeat a phrase or word at them enough with a catchy little jingle, soon they’ll start singing along. This is a concept that retailers rely on so heavily that you probably don’t even know how engrained their logos, slogans, and brand names are.

Also, you’re probably thinking about getting Mountain Dew now. Sorry. (#notsorry, that ish is delish.)

Every song you’ve ever loved and sang along to? Mental real estate. Quotes from your favorite poem or movie? Mental real estate. Being able to name the product from hearing, “The quilted quicker picker-upper?” Yep, you guessed it! All of these things take up space in your head. But mental real estate isn’t just a concept that works for retailers. In fact, it works for storytellers — from indie authors to Disney movies — and it can work for you, too.

If you’re asked to name a fairy tale, there’s a 99 percent chance that you’ll know what a fairy tale is and have at least one example, whether it’s Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, or a dozen others.

The point is that you recognize these stories because they’re already in your head. They’re a part of your mental real estate and have set up camp right there on Fairy Tale Lane (which, let’s be real, probably intersects with Fetish Ave. at some point).

But it’s not just the names of these stories that you can recognize. It’s also their plots. The heart of the tales. The lessons they teach. Remember when Avatar came out? It made a crap-ton of money and was hugely regarded by viewers.

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And then someone came along and pointed out that it was the exact plot of Disney’s Pocahontas set in space with giant blue aliens. And instead of corn, the evil invading humans were after unobtanium, aka the world’s worst placeholder name that somehow made it through every edit into production.

You might think that people would feel cheated if they got told the same story again. But the trick of mental real estate is that your sweet, innocent brain looks at the concept, says, “Oh, I know this one!” and embraces it in a giant pile of squishy, comforting familiarity. So instead of saying, “I just spent $30 to watch blue alien Pocahontas,” you said, “Oh man, how cool was that?!”

And while this may seem like cheating, it really isn’t. People are comfortable with what they know. What’s familiar and embedded in your mental real estate is Hollywood gold. Filmmakers vie for it like crazy. Many of your favorite movies probably share a ridiculous number of similar traits to many of your other favorite movies.

When it comes to writing, if you’re ever stuck on what to do with your characters or where to go next, write what you know! Think back to similar instances in other stories you enjoy, and try and find a new angle for your audience; a new hook that employs a familiar concept.

There’s a reason why Hollywood can get away with remakes and reboots of the same stories. There’s a reason no one admits to watching Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales but it got nearly 800 million dollars in worldwide box office sales.

These are stories you know. They’re comforting. They’re familiar.

So when it comes to being a storyteller, it’s okay to look at other plots, other concepts, and try to come up with something that will introduce a lovable old story with new vitality. Read everything in your genre; learn what worked and what didn’t. What reoccurring themes happened? What tropes and characters do you see repeated, and why?

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Recognize these things and employ them in your own writing in a new way. If you want to retell Sleeping Beauty, ask yourself what can you do to make it different and yet familiar enough to be “safe” to your reader’s brain. Can you put her in the future? Absolutely! Can she be steampunk and trapped in a moving tower that roams the land? Yes! Does she have to be Sleeping Beauty at all? No! Change her name; her hair; her skin color! Make her a boy and have a mechanical dragon guarding the tower that your scrappy mechanic prince/princess has to dismantle before they can save him!

You can use these shared concepts and themes to make that novel familiar and comfortable to readers while giving them a new journey to go on. This doesn’t mean copying the story, it means understanding what your readers want and giving it to them. In the end, you can write not only what you know, but what we all know and enjoy together.

This was originally published on Medium.com

I am not an elitist #oceanofpdf #entitlement #thieves #author

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Always Writing

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Ah, good old piracy. It seems to have gotten easier to steal books ever since they went digital. Don’t get me wrong; I like being able to buy and read eBooks directly on my phone because it’s with me wherever I go, so I always have something to read. But it’s a lot easier to steal an eBook than a physical copy, so to some extent, sometimes I wish eBooks would disappear just for the pirating part of it.

Oceanpdf was shut down – if you don’t know what this is, it’s a website that had thousands of books available to download for free, stealing from authors. But when they were shut down, the thieves actually had the nerve to complain, stating they couldn’t afford the books (it’s the price of a Starbucks coffee for most…), and that authors should just give away their works because we…

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Your Characters are Probably Terrible – Here’s Why

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Scout Dawson

Even if you’re not currently an author, you’ve probably heard the term “Mary Sue”. It’s a name given to flat, one-dimensional female characters who are so well-rounded and flawless that they just don’t appear human. Sometimes these characters fall into certain cliches or tropes that make the audience collectively groan. You may also have heard the male iteration of this, “Gary Stu”.

The fact is, whilst we all have a secret dream of being the Mary Sue at some point in our lives, writing one into your novel is hands down going to make your novel terrible.

Here is a great example of what a typical Mary Sue character might be like.

She is eighteen years old.

Long brown (or black) hair that seems to frizz and do whatever it wants, she has an unremarkable body boys never look at. She has, against all genetic reasoning, stormy grey eyes.

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Mercury in Retrograde on Sale!

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This week, Mercury in Retrograde is on sale on Amazon for only .99c!

Given that I’m nearly done with the sequel, I’d say now is a perfect time to buy! Get your copy now, so it can meet all of your other TBRs and make friends.

Mercury in Retrograde Chapter Peek!

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“How are you out of prison?” she asked.

Aralyn figured she knew, but wanted the confirmation regardless. She looked around the room and found Riordan, Caden, and Kita all bound to her left, against a bank of computers in the cockpit. They had been gagged and their hands were tied behind their backs. On the console above them sat Aralyn’s shotgun, while Josiah, Dolph, and the cannibal carried their other weapons. Only she had been tied onto the crude metal chair. She supposed it was for interrogation purposes.

“Well, no thanks to you, that’s for certain.” Josiah ran a hand through his dirty hair. “Luckily for us though, Proctor saw fit to give me the vengeance I was hoping for, and even let me assemble a team of my own people. You know he cleared our sentences for this? That spook must really hate you.”

“You were a trafficker—that’s a minimum life sentence,” Aralyn whispered, trying her best to keep her head and not vomit. She had to focus on a way out. With the cannibal girl behind her, she couldn’t finagle her hands out of the ties, so she had to scope out the room. Maybe get them distracted. She checked her boot, wriggled her foot around. Her feet were free, and she could just barely make out the feel of her switchblade by her right ankle.

“Yeah, and Dolph here? He killed about two dozen women on various planets and moons over several years, but he’s free, too. Like I said, that spook hates your guts if he’s willing to release us just to find you.” Josiah smiled.

“What makes you think he’ll keep his promise? Won’t he just catch you when you go to turn me in?” she prodded, aware of Dolph cracking his knuckles, eager to start the physical stuff again. She couldn’t take another blow like that. Who knew what kind of cranial bleeding she’d have.

“That’s the beauty of this deal,” Josiah said.

Aralyn found herself determining the inner workings of their group. Josiah was the mouthpiece, and Dolph performed the unseemly violence. Cannibal junkie probably worked security, answered to Josiah directly. Not an incredibly smart team, but one with enough of a dynamic to be dangerous.

“What? He arrange to make you rich in everything you guys want? You get orachal trafficking, Dolph gets women to abuse and murder, and Bicuspid back there gets an all-you-can-eat human buffet?” Aralyn asked, trying to keep her voice light and unconcerned.

“What’d you call me?” the girl demanded, coming forward, fists at her sides. “I ain’t bicuspid.”

Aralyn rolled her eyes.

“Something like that,” Josiah said.

I will enjoy wiping that smug smile off his face.

***

Get your copy of Mercury in Retrograde today!

 

Why You Should Be Reading Your Writing Out Loud

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Last weekend I was at JordanCon here in Atlanta, meeting with and talking to some exceptionally skilled people in the writing and publishing world. It was an amazing treat, since I got to experience being a Con author, but also because I got to pick up little things here and there from other people more experienced than I am.

One of the things that came up in conversation with many of the aspiring writers I spoke to was the fact that none of them had ever read their work out loud or had anyone read it for them.

To elaborate, I’d like to state that I (frequently) annoy my husband into letting me read something I’ve written to him. I’ll do this even if I know he won’t really be listening because it’s while he’s reading the news or playing a video game or even falling asleep.

The benefit I get isn’t just for him to listen to the story and give me feedback, though that does help. The benefit is learning where the flaws are in my own writing by hearing them as I read. This one trick has changed many a story I’ve written.

So it struck me as odd that many people don’t read their work aloud. The benefits to your writing are so tremendous it’s ridiculous.

I’m an incredibly fast reader by nature. If I’m pleasure reading, I often have to force myself to slow down so I’m not missing key elements or glossing over words. Reading out loud forces me to slow down, see what I’m actually reading, and also notice errors (like forgotten words) as I go.

If you’re not reading your writing aloud, then you should be. And here are 3 reasons you need to start doing it right now:

1. Awkward lines become super obvious.

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Sometimes when you’re just reading your own writing, it sounds really eloquent in your head. You know what I’m talking about—you’re sure it’s the greatest set up ever. But reading out loud will strip that idea from you almost immediately. And trust me, that’s a good thing!

When you read out loud, you’re going to see if there are any words that you hesitate on, stumble over, or that otherwise sound weird to you. These are areas that might make other readers (who don’t know your inflection) go “Huh?” and reread it to figure out what you meant or to correct themselves. And since that takes away from their immersion in your world, that’s a BIG no-no.

2. You’ll develop a “reading voice.”

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Reading in front of people is weirdly intimidating. It’s like you’re baring a piece of your soul when you read aloud. This can make it easy to screw up, whether it’s because of a dry mouth, nervous tick, or you’re speed reading and stumbling over your words.

If you practice reading out loud, when you have to do this in the future to a crowd (either big or small!), you’re going to know the pace, be familiar with the tone, and understand how it should sound, which will help lessen screw ups.

3. It will better your writing.

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Yes, reading your work (or hearing someone else read it) is supremely beneficial. In your head, things might sound fine, but out loud, you’ll start to realize that certain words may need to have less complicated choices, or that dialogue sounds too formal, or you’re trying to create a scene and left out a hugely important part.

It will also force you to picture scenes and situations in a different way than just writing will do. You’ll start to notice immediately when things don’t “look” right in your head, and you’ll realize where you’re lacking to your readers, too.

So if you’re not convinced, just try reading your latest piece out loud to yourself, and I’m sure you’ll notice some problems right away. If you have someone you’re comfortable sharing your work with in the early stages, have them read segments to you, too, so you can see where you’ve still got work to do.

This is an incredibly important part of the storytelling process, so don’t neglect it!

 

 

 

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Mercury in Retrograde got a 5-Star Reader’s Favorite Review!

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So I’m awful at updating my site and various social media accounts, and I figured it was high time I started to jump on that bandwagon a little bit more.

I’ll have a couple pieces of exciting news coming up soon, and in the meantime, I’ll leave this here! I got the confirmation a couple of weeks back that the reviewer from Reader’s Favorite loved Mercury in Retrograde and wanted to give it a rave review, which is awesome.

Interesting and frustrating fact: Amazon doesn’t allow professional reviewing companies to leave reviews on either your Amazon or Goodreads pages… but this bad boy is on my Barnes & Noble page and a couple others I can’t recall right now. Books-A-Million? Maybe. I don’t know.

You can read the review here, or make your way over to Amazon to give the book a flip through.

Mercury in Retrograde GIVEAWAY!

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What do the stars have in store for you?
On August 12, Mercury entered retrograde, and that could mean some questionable luck headed your way. Oh stars! But it doesn’t have to be BAD luck, does it? You can start right now to try and tilt favor in your direction by enjoying a free book. Not too bad, considering the current state of the universe!
Enter now to win a signed copy of Mercury in Retrograde by Merethe Walther and a beautiful bookmark to add to your growing bookswag collection.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Mercury in Retrograde by Merethe Walther

Mercury in Retrograde

by Merethe Walther

Giveaway ends September 14, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

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Mercury in Retrograde’s Cover Reveal & Giveaway!

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As you may or may not know, my novel, Mercury in Retrograde is due out in only a WEEK now (Feb. 7). I’m alternately jumping-for-joy excited and huddle-in-a-ball nervous.

But anyway, I have two great announcements! Which is why I’m writing to you lovelies today.

First:
This is the cover of my awesome book, Mercury in Retrograde:

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Yes, it’s rad. It’ll look even better in your Kindle library or physical library, so keep that in mind. 😉

Second:
I’m having a GIVEAWAY, GUYS!

Yes! You can win a TOTALLY FREE copy of my book on GoodReads! Just enter here:

https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/220750-mercury-in-retrograde

I know. It’s awesome. So enter to win, share with your friends, and maybe scream about it all over social media, or just generally out in public. That’s… something people do, right?

See you all in a week!!

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Mercury in Retrograde updates!

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So, very soon, I will be doing a cover reveal for Mercury in Retrograde, my debut novel! If you haven’t already checked it out and discovered if you’d like to read it (the answer is yes, yes you would), you can do so at the Curiosity Quills website, here, or at Goodreads, here.

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I will also be doing some lovely Instagram pics as soon as I get the chance. Mercury in Retrograde will be available soon, so as you can imagine, I can barely contain my excitement.

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Stay tuned! Awesome giveaways may be announced shortly, and you might even get the chance to get a copy for free!

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