Friday, May 26, 2017

Give the Apple a Worm

A popular post from March 2008

by Julie Wright
There are three main elements to every story regardless of how short or how long. The three elements are:
  • Character
  • Conflict
  • Resolution

You need the first . . . the character . . . because people like to read about other people. Even when we read children’s books about animals or bugs, we always give those things human attributes.
We like to read about other’s lives because we like to escape our own lives. We want to become the character so we can sympathize, or at least be able to relate to the character so we can empathize. Without characters you cannot achieve emotional depth.
Jeff Savage has taught me to never solicit unearned emotion. Killing off a character in the beginning of the book and having the widow sobbing at the gravesite is kind of interesting, but we don’t really care. We don’t know the guy in the casket. So make sure your characters are in place. Properly introduce us to them so we want to like them, and root for them, and mourn with them. So we care when things go wrong. If you even give a small scene to that couple before the husband dies, then you come to like them and you’ve earned the emotion of pain when he dies.
Conflict stirs things up and makes things happen. Without conflict your story will be boring. I have found on the occasions where I’ve helped brand new writers with manuscripts that the most common issue their manuscripts have is not enough conflict. Too often people think that conflict is just the: you say tomato and I say tomahto. They consider the odd couple squabbling a good enough conflict
And while this has been used in several successful plots, there are always other subtle conflicts going on as well. There are opposing desires, death, stress, tension with work, tension with school, tension with family members. Every human being alive interacts on many levels with many different people. So you can use the ploy of differing personalities as your conflict, but make sure there is something more. Pride and Prejudice pulled this off expertly.
The whole concept was Elizabeth determined to hate this proud MR Darcy because he said tomato and she said tomahto. But there was so much more going on. You had the nefarious Wickham not only making Elizabeth’s heart race but also stealing the attention of her sister and causing disgrace for the family. You had ridiculous Mr. Collins proposing to sensible Elizabeth. You had Mr. Bingley who loved Jane, but was separated from her by his friends and family. And you had Mr. Bennett, an intelligent man who married an absurd woman for her beauty, and now has to live with the fact that she’s absurd. There are layers and layers of conflict within that novel. That’s how all of us should be writing.
Every day we all come in contact with personal conflict. (Ask someone what their conflict was in the last week.) It's that conflict and the struggle the characters has to undergo that keeps us readers interested and in suspense. Will the character succeed or won't he? And when is this all going to happen? And how is it all going to happen?
Imagine writing a children’s book with me for a moment.
There once was an apple. The apple was red. The apple hung from the tree until it rotted off the branch. The end.
There is not one kid in the world who would think that was an interesting children’s book. I don’t care how good the artist is who illustrates the thing, Harper Collins will never buy it. And no child would ever want to read it.
So make something happen. Give the apple a worm.
Or give the girl a boyfriend.
Or give the coworker that promotion your character worked so hard for.
Resolution
Something that starts has to finish, one way or another.Once you have created great characters, which the reader will come to care about, and you have placed them in conflict, that conflict at the end of your story has to be resolved. The characters will achieve their goals or they won't.
That doesn't matter.
You can end your story as you please and as it suits your story - but you have to end it. Ending the story means resolving the conflict. In the end everyone must be happy. And being happy doesn’t always have to mean that everything is perfect, but loose ends must be tied up and the characters must have reconciled themselves to the imperfect life.
Each layer of conflict has been resolved in a daisy chain of inter-connectedness, one closure bringing the closure of another.
When creating problems for your main characters, think along two lines. A big, external conflict that forms the plot and keeps the story moving, and an internal conflict that forces your character to change, reflecting the theme. This will give your story depth, and give your readers something to think about.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

POINT OF VIEW: First Person vs Third Person

A popular original post from 2007

By Heather Moore
(Originally published April 26, 2007... but POV continues to be a struggle for many new writers)

If you just said, "Huh?" this blog is for you.

When we read a book, we don’t always pay attention to the point of view. Instead, we enjoy the story. But when you write a book, point of view becomes an integral method of telling the story through the character.

FIRST PERSON
First person point of view is almost always used in YA novels. Over the past several years, it has become increasingly popular in adult fiction, especially the suspense genre.

In Orson Scott Card’s book, Characters and Viewpoint, he says: “When you use a first-person narrator, you are almost required to tell the story in someone else’s voice—the voice of the character telling the tale.” (143)

1st person/present tenseGood Grief by Lolly Winston

On Halloween, angels and ghosts and pirates flock to my doorstep. A tiny pumpkin hoists her leg over the threshold and clings to my calf like a koala bear.
“No Jenny,” the baby’s mom says, and laughs. “We don’t live here.”
This is a busy year for trick-or-treaters. It’s only seven and I’m already running low on candy, since I never made it back to Safeway to load up. (p.34)

1st person/ past tenseLife of Pi by Yann Martel

My fellow castaway came into view. He raised himself onto the gunnel and looked my way. The sudden appearance of a tiger is arresting in any environment, but it was all the more so here. The weird contrast between the bright, striped, living orange of his coat and the inert white of the boat’s hull was incredibly compelling. My overwrought senses screeched to a halt. (p.160)

THIRD PERSON
Third person point of view is by far the most common and reaches across all genres and age groups. Third person has two methods: limited narrative and omniscient narrative.

Orson Scott Card says a reader is “led through the story by one character, seeing only what that character sees; aware of what that character thinks and wants and remembers, but unable to do more than guess at any other character’s inner life.” (155)

You can also change viewpoints with limited narrative, as long as you have a clear division like a scene break or new chapter.

3rd Person—Limited Narrative: At the Journey’s End by Annette Lyon (all in different scenes)

Maddie’s POV:
A rifle shot split the air with a crack.
The sound halted Maddie in her step, and she looked around for the source. Maybe Peter or James had bagged some game for dinner—a wild rabbit, perhaps. It would taste good after eating dried fruit and jerky for nearly two weeks. But something told her that wasn’t right. (1)

Clara’s POV:
Another coughing fit gripped Clara Franklin, one so intense she didn’t even reach for her handkerchief on the end table. Her frail body curled up against the pain piercing her chest with each cough. As the spell ended, she found her hands clenching the bedclothes like claws. She had to consciously release each finger and make her breath even out. (35)

Abe’s POV:
Taking his hat off, Abe entered the building and wiped his sleeve across his brow. He was tired of the heat. First Utah’s, now California’s. He knew he might as well get used to it, at least until he reached Snowflake. (55)

OMNISCIENT NARRATIVE:The narrator can see into more than one character’s mind, switching back and forth at will. (Card, 156)

3rd person—Omniscient: Skipping Christmas by John Grisham (all in the same scene, 77-79)

Nora's POV:
“I already have calendars for next year.” That was news to Nora, who was biting a fingernail and holding her breath.

Luther's POV:
Luther caught himself for a second and allowed his anger to settle in. As if buying a calendar was the only measure of his pride in the local police force.

Treen's POV:
Since Treen could think of no intelligent retort, he grew hot too and decided he would get Krank’s license plate number and lie in ambush somewhere . . .

And finally . . .
Before you start writing your novel, decide on which point of view you’ll use. Do you want the readers to see the entire book through just one character’s eyes? Then try 1st person. Are you writing a romance and want the POV of the heroine and the hero? Try 3rd person narrative. Just be sure that you don’t POV hop when writing either 1st person or in 3rd person narrative. When in 3rd person narrative, you can switch POV when there is a scene or chapter break.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Your Platform

A popular post from March 2008

by Annette Lyon

The most important element of your book package, aside from the quality of the writing, is your platform.

Sadly, in the case of non-fiction books, platform can be far more important in convincing a publisher to take you on than having a quality manuscript.

So what is a platform?

Your platform is everything about you that helps to sell your book. Each item that makes up your platform is a "plank":
  • Credentials and expertise (If you wrote a book about diet and exercise, it helps if you have a Ph.D. in, say, exercise physiology.)
  • Publicity connections (Do you have an "in" with a popular radio personality? Can you get a review in a prestigious newspaper?)
  • Chances for speaking engagements (Can you get into schools, community organizations, etc. to speak and promote your work?)
  • Organizations you belong to (Nonprofit, hobby, etc. It helps if these relate to your book in some way; if you belong to a hiking and camping club and wrote a survival novel, you may already have potential buyers through your club.)
  • Professional organizations and networks you belong to.
  • Your general visibility (Do you have a newspaper column of your own? Do you appear semi-regularly as a contributor of a TV show?)
When you see what is involved with a platform, it's no wonder that celebrities "write" so many books. Their platform is who they are, and it sells books.
In those cases, really, who's kidding who? Those books aren't generally penned by the celebrity. They're ghost-written, first and foremost because celebrities are actors or singers or whatever else. They aren't writers.
But when it comes down to it, what's between the covers of those books doesn't matter all that much, because the public is already willing to plunk down $24.95 to read about Mr. Hollywood.
On the other hand, a "nobody" who has a drop-dead amazing memoir to tell may or may not be picked up simply because the marketing department will have to work so much harder to convince the public to buy the book.
Consider: Who has the better shot at getting onto the Today show: Joe Writer or Paris Hilton, who can barely spell her own name, let alone actually "author" a book?
Paris, by a mile. And she has been on that show promoting something she supposedly wrote.
That doesn't feel fair, but it's the reality. Think ahead to what your platform consists of and could consist of, because almost as important as the connections and possibilties that are in your platform now are the things you're willing to do to grow your platform.
When you submit your book propsoal, whether it's for fiction or non-fiction, write up your current platform plus your marketing plans for growing it.
If an editor loves your work, she'll have to sell it to those who hold the strings to the money bags. She'll have to convince them that they won't lose money by giving your piece shot, and that instead they'll turn a profit.
The stronger your platform, the easier it is to sell your piece to the final decision makers and to readers.
Build it plank by plank.

Friday, May 19, 2017

WD Revision Lesson #1

A popular post from February 2008

By Josi S. Kilpack


About four years ago I first heard about Writer's Digest, a magazine written specifically for Writers (hence the title). It's a monthly publication that covers a wide range of writing topics and hits on all types of writing; freelance, poetry, novels, children's, short stories. They also often include author interviews which I find fascinating and they sponsor an annual writing contest (entries are due May 15). If you don't receive this magazine I would highly reccomend that you try it out. You can sign up for a free issue at http://www.writersdigest.com/

I specifically want to zone in on a fabo article they had in the February 08 issue. It's found on page 46 and is title "Novel Revision for the Faint of Heart" by Jordan E. Rosenfeld. It goes over 10 points of revision, all of which I can personally vouch for and yet I still needed the reminder since I tend to get lazy in my craft from time to time. I'd like to focus this blog on the first point; "Let Your Work Breathe," and will include other points over the next few weeks.

In this point of the article Rosenfeld talks about the state of your objectivity by the time you finish writing your book. He points out that we writer's often finish this process and think the book is garbage. I would submit that while that is often the case, there is the opposite result as well--we think the book is brilliant. Either way he's exactly right in that as we write our novel, weave the plot, get to know our characters and see them ultimately triumph (unless your writing a tragedy), we lose our ability to clearly assess our own work. Whatever it is we feel toward our book can not be trusted. That's why we need some distance before we can be capable of finding and fixing what needs to be fixed.

In this case the term "Absence makes the heart grow fonder" would more appropriately say "Absense makes the heard grow fairer". Giving yourself some space from your book allows your chemistries to equalize and your objectivity to rest and repair itself so that when you are ready to do the actual work of revision, you're capable of doing it. No matter how anxious you are submit your book you must remember that your first draft will not be good enough--let me say that again--YOUR FIRST DRAFT WILL NOT BE GOOD ENOUGH. Don't waste the time of editors, publishers or even the friend that is doing you the favor of reading it through by giving them a first draft. First off, it's ridiculous to expect them to see the greatness behind your unfinished product, and second they won't be able to help you find the mistakes because it might not even make sense. Before anyone gets to see the book, you need to give yourself the distance in order to go back and fairly revise it into a finished work. The first step is taking the time to reset your brain and gear up for that revision.

How you'll do that revising, once you've taken the break, will be covered in subsequent blogs, but for now ponder on the importance of the revision process and having a clear head when you begin to rework the book.

Lesson two will come next week.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

WD Revision lesson #3

A popular post from February 2008

By Josi S. Kilpack

Welcome to lesson #3 of Jordan Rosenfeld's article from the February Writer's Digest magazine "Novel Revision for the Faint of Heart."

Suggestion #3 is titled "Taking Inventory" and it's where you make sure you know what's in each chapter, that the subplots are resolved , that transitions take place, and that you haven't left anything out. Rosenfeld suggests going through each chapter and writing up a couple sentences about what that chapter is about, for example:

Chapter One
January 22, Antagonist, later known as Colt but as yet unidentified by name, takes the body of Terezza and dumps it in an unofficial landfill in Canada. He reflects on the fact that she wasn't the right one, that he would wait two months and then try and find another girl online.

Chapter Two
March 22, chapter opens with first e-mail from "Emily" to Jess--Emily found her on mybullitinbored.com and wants to be friends.
Scene: Kate Bradshaw, one of the main characters, is introduced--mother of six, wants another baby, has been sick, feels distant from her husband and oldest daughter, Jess. We see that she's rather controlling and perfectionistic.


You would then continue this on for the duration of the story, summarizing each chapter. What you would have when you finish is a chapter outline, something you want to hang on to and can come in handy when you're ready to write your synopsis. Breaking this down by chapter allows you to step back and look at each chapter from a new perspective. Is it necessary? Does the information discovered in this chapter feel repetitive? Does it lack anything important?

Once finished you will then be able to see your book as a big picture, rather than the smaller pictures of each chapter, and make sure that the overall look and feel is what it ought to be.

Another thing to look for is your chronology. In my second book, Surrounded By Strangers, I finished it, sent it off, had it accepted, they edited it, and then I got the galley copy to proof. As I was reading the last 100 pages I realized I had two Tuesdays and two Thursdays--I was operating on a nine day week. It took some juggling--uncomfortable to do that late in the game--but I was able to get it right. Ever since then I've calendered out each of my books by printing off a calendar (templates available through Microsoft Word) and writing in when different points of the story happen. I've saved myself a lot of embarrassment by double and triple checking things and making sure the chronology is possible. I also then have the calendar for reference later should I have a question about when something happened. I even add things like anniversarys and character's birthdays. Another benefit of calendaring is that I make sure I don't have a trial taking place on Sunday, or Memorial day on a Thursday.

The point is to, as Rosenfeld suggests, take inventory of your story and make sure it's all lining up the way it should. It's a more technical detail of the overall writing, but a very important one as it will reflect for good and bad upon your overall ability to tell a seamless story.

Lesson #4 next week.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Show 'Em Talking

A popular post from February 2008

by Annette Lyon

Recently I edited a couple of books by talented writers. In both cases, the bulk of my comments related to the old adage, "Show, don't tell."

Both writers knew how to show, but didn't do it quite often enough.

And in the vast majority of cases, the solution to switching the telling into showing was placing the situation into a concrete scene and getting the characters talking.

Basically, dialogue.

It's hands-down one of the best ways to show. Not only is it a relatively easy (just record the movie in your head), but characters speaking will transform your work from a simple narration into a story with life.

Read your work, and every time you see a section where someone "told" something or "thought" something (when implied as speech) highlight it. Each one is an opportunity to show with added dialogue. Be sure to include contextual details (Where are your characters? What are they doing?) so your characters aren't just voices in your readers' heads.

An example:

My sister thought I was nuts for singing a rock song at the auditions for the school musical.

Let's try again. Picture a movie camera recording the scene. What do we see? What do we hear? Don't report what happened. Make it happen before our eyes.

I stepped off the stage from my audition to thunderous applause coming from three of my buddies in the back corner. I raised my arm, acknowledging them with a humble nod as if performing to a sold out crowd. "Thank you, thank you," I said. "You're too kind."

As I sauntered down the aisle, my sister sunk down into her chair. When I sat beside her she rolled her eyes away from me. "Pink Floyd? For a Sound of Music audition? You're totally nuts. From here on, I'm denying that I'm related to you. There's no way we share the same genetics."

I grinned, resting the back of one foot on the chair in front of me and crossing the other on top. "Nuts?" I said, hands clasped behind my head. "Quite possibly. But memorable."

The magic is in the details.

If you have a character who is shy, put him in a situation where he has to speak shyly. If you have a boss who's mean, don't report it. Show him screaming at his employees. Let us hear his words.

Show, don't tell. It's a crucial element to fiction.

But if it helps you remember to apply it, change the phrase to, "Show 'em talking."

Friday, May 12, 2017

Know Your Genre

A popular post from February 2008

by Lu Ann Staheli

What is genre? Some people might think it’s just a silly sounding French word, but writers know genre is an important classification that will help them not only as they write, but also as they prepare to market their work. The definition states that “genre is a loose set of criteria for a category of composition which may be determined by literary technique, tone, content, or even length.”

You likely first learned about genre in grade school when you visited the library. Books are classified into two main subsets: fiction and non-fiction. Within each group, there are smaller divisions. In non-fiction, these divisions are classified by the Dewey Decimal System and books are shelved by topic. Although books in the fiction section are shelved by author’s last name, they can be divided into two groups—realism and fantastical—which can then be broken into smaller genres.

Realistic fiction are plausible stories about people and events that could really happen. Good realistic fiction illuminates life, presenting social and personal concerns in a human context.
Themes in realistic fiction often include coming of age and relationship stories. Fantasy often has good vs evil as its main theme, and the characters in traditional fantasy usually goes on a quest. modern fantasy includes magical creatures, futuristic worlds, or elements of magic in the human world. Science fiction and horror are sub-genres of fantasy fiction.

Non-fiction can be about any topic imaginable. Three popular genres within non-fiction are biography, autobiography and memoir. The memoir is different from autobiography in that it looks only at a slice of life, whereas the autobiography reviews the entire life up to the point the person stops writing.

In addition to knowing the kind of book you intend to write, you must also know your target audience. The type of book—picture book, chapter book, middle grade novel, young adult novel, adult novel, and the accompanying non-fiction subjects—help not only the author, but also the publisher know where your book best fits when it comes to selling.

Stick to no more than two genres and one target audience and you’ll not only improve your chances of being published, but also help readers find you. The more readers you have, the more sales you make, and that’s what marketing is all about—making the sale.