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

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 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.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Choose Your Characters

A popular post from February 2008

by Lu Ann Staheli

Characters exist in both fiction and non-fiction. In fiction we know these people, animals, or creatures as protagonists and antagonists. The protagonist is the good guy, the one we root for to get what they wanted in the end. The antagonist is the one who tries to stop our hero from reaching his or her goal. In non-fiction, the character is the narrator. This may be the voice of teacher, the sage, or simply one who has been there. Character roles may also be played by businesses, natural disasters, disease, or any one of hundreds of other topics covered in a non-fiction book.

In both fiction and non-fiction, we will likely see characters of two types. Major characters are those who play a significant role in bringing change. Often they change within themselves, growing through the learning they do. Because of this growth, they are known as round characters. A flat character plays a minor role in the story. Like bit players on the stage, these characters make brief appearances that rarely effect the outcome of the story.

An author must choose a point of view from which we will get to know the characters. First-person is most often used in adolescent novels where the reader wants to have a close connection to the main character, see what she sees, feel what she feels. Although rarely used, second person point of view might find a place in a non-fiction How To book, but writers must be careful not to sound too demanding when they use this voice. Perhaps the most difficult for the novice writer, but also the most accepted by editors and readers is third person point of view. Whether third person omniscient—the all seeing, all knowing god who understands what everyone is feeling—or the third person limited, who follows around a single character, describing all from their own point of view, using third person allows more freedom to the storyteller than either first or second person does.

Once an author knows their character and point of view, they begin to use syntax, diction, punctuation, and dialogue to develop the character, adding their own style. This becomes the author’s unique voice, a trait highly sought after by editors. Using the right voice for the desired audience will form a winning combination, a book that editors can’t let pass them by.

Monday, May 8, 2017

WD Revision Lesson #2

A popular post from February 2008

By Josi S. Kilpack

I hope you all had the chance to see the comment from Jordan E. Rosenfeld in last week's post; another lesson on the power of proofreading and knowing your facts! I managed to mess up two rather important facts because I didn't take the time to figure them out. AND both of them were ones that I had wondered about when I wrote them, but then I quickly made my own assessment and moved on. Don't follow my bad example, it's a far better feeling to be right rather than corrected. That said, what a thrill to have the author, a WD writer, leave a comment. Maybe I can mess something else up so she'll comment again :-) I'm still a bit star struck when I run into big names, and anyone that regularly contributes to Writer's Digest is a big name. Also, when you get a minute check out Jordan's blog.

And so we are lesson #2 of "Novel Revision for the Faint of Heart" (Writer's Digest February 2008). This section is titled Deep Cleaning and it consists of exactly that--moving the refrigerator, scrubbing the baseboards, tackling the grout with a toothbrush. Rosenfeld points out that it's temping (and easier) to do a light dusting, sweep the corners a little "fixing words here, tacking on explanations there" but this will not "fix" the mess beneath the refrigerator or get the grout back to the appropriate color. She says in the article "True revision usually involves restructuring"

There's a very good reason this portion of revision comes after you've let it sit, you must be in your obective state in order to have what it takes to do this kind of work. This is where you go to Stephen King's advice of "Even when it breaks your egocentric little scribblers heart, kill your darlings".

Your darlings might be that beautifully poignant scene that brought tears to your eyes--but plays no part in plot. It might be the angst ridden characterization that is actually a reflection of your own issues with your childhood. It might be the insistence that this story take place in New York even though you've never been and your research for such a setting boils down to the first three seasons of Friends. The point is that you've had the distance necessary to cock your head to the side and ask questions like "Would he REALLY do that?" and "Does it matter that she was once locked in a closet overnight when she was twelve with nothing but a snickers bar?" If it DOES matter and if he really WOULD do that, fabulous, but if it doesn't fit--get rid of it.

To be most effective I think there are a few pinnacle questions you need to ask yourself. The challenge is that you must also be willing to answer them and then do whatever needs to be done to fix it.

1) Does your story start in the right place? It should start at the point of change, the beginning of conflict, just after the beginning of the story. If you find yourself justifying those first fifteen pages where nothing happens, then it's time for them to go.

2) Are you using the right POV? Switching from first to third person isn't as hard as it looks and some stories are better told using one or the other. Whichever POV you choose, make sure you're taking full advantage of it.

3) Are your conflicts worthy of your characters? The conflict in your books must have the ability to destroy your character. Harry Potter against Draco Mafroy is a waste of our time, we know Harry can beat him, but put him up against the most powerful dark wizard of all time and you've got good conflict. Whether your conflict is dragons or depression or terrorism make sure it's got the power to succeed. If it doesn't, if we can tell from day one that your character can beat it with half his brain tied behind his back, then you need to grow your conflict.

4) Does every scene and every chapter move the story forward? If any part of your book does not intensify conflict, allow your character to discover something important, or propel the action forward, cut it out. Every single scene needs to funnel into the story of the, well, story, and if it doesn't it's a waste of words.

5) Is your conclusion satisfying? This does not have to mean happily ever after, it means "exhale". Make sure your reader can let out a breath and put the book down without feeling ripped off or set up. EVEN IF YOU WILL WRITE A SEQUEL, we have to know that THIS book is finished.

This type of restructuring is hard to do, absolutely, but fully necessary if you really want to submit your very best work. It's a hard look at what you've created and a difficult assessment of what works and what doesn't.

There are times when we read a chapter and don't know if it deserves to be in our story or not. What then? Well, in my opinion it means the element is unnecessary. We should know with each scene whether it deserves a place or not and if we're unsure, the editor, agent, and reader will likely be unsure as well. I always keep a "cuts" folder of every book I write. Anything I take out of the book goes into this folder so that if I decide I do want that scene, or if I find it works better later on, I can get it. 99% of what goes into my cuts folder never comes out.

WARNING: It is tempting to pawn this job onto someone else. We like to tell ourselves that we have lost all objectivity, that we can't see the story for what it is anymore. If this is the case, you didn't let it sit long enough. If you can't find the faults yourself, then let it sit longer, don't make it someone else's problem to see what you should be seeing. Having someone else point these things out to you does not help you grow as a writer, does not hone your skill of revision, and it makes you look lazy when they do tell you what's wrong and you say "Yeah, I wondered about that too." Own your words, own your revision, kill your own darlings rather than handing the blade to someone else.

Lesson three next week.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Sketching and Shading

A popular post from February 2008

by Annette Lyon

When an artist draws a picture, he begins with basic sketches: the general shapes of the objects in the piece. Gradually he adds more details here and there, and eventually he'll finish up with subtle shading.

To expect those nuances of color and light right up front would be ridiculous.

The same goes for writing. Drafting is akin to sketching. You write out the bare bones, the general shape of the story. As you go through various rewrites, you'll add the shading, fleshing it out so now we can see the details on the leaf, the individual hairs on the woman's head, so to speak.

So many writers feel like failures when their drafts don't have those subtle shadings that make a work come alive, not realizing that what they're looking at is a sketch of their story. It's not the final draft. It might look a little flat. It might lack texture and depth.

That's what rewriting . . . shading . . . is all about.

At a writing conference years ago, one of the presenters (a successful novelist) admitted:

"I'm a terrible writer. But I'm a great rewriter."

I have to remind myself of this sometimes when I see drafts of friends which blow mine out of the water. It's all right if my rough drafts are, well, rough.

I can rewrite. Polish. Shade.

That's the key. A good writer is a rewriter.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Who do you listen to?

A popular post from February 2008

By Julie Wright

In tenth grade I had an English teacher who, for whatever reason, determined to hate me. This was the year I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time. This was the year I really knew in the marrow of my bones that I could be a writer. I was fifteen.

My teacher didn't have the same marrow-in-the-bones feeling about me. He took a short story idea I'd outlined for an assignment, and told me it would never work. "Very few authors pull off the passage of years in one book--let alone a short story. You can't do this." His red scribble on the top of my outline made my stomach sink into my shoes, and made my confidence slip into the well of despair.

But I was stubborn.

I determined he was wrong. After all . . . he'd never been published, what did he know? I wrote the story, submitted it to the school writing contest, and won first place. I even beat out the seniors.

Feeling proud of myself (and rich with the 100 bucks I had in my pocket from prize money), I took the story to my grandmother. She loved me. She would tell me how wonderful I was.

Except she didn't.

She really loved me, and loved me enough to be brutal. Hard love sucks rocks sometimes. She told me how to change the story, how to make it better, how to make it work.

She told me not to give the story back to her to read until I fixed it.

I fixed it. It took me 297 pages to make it right, but I fixed it. She'd already passed away. She never got to see it complete and right.

The lesson learned? Ignore the comments that shatter your belief in yourself and accept the comments that will improve you, even when they hurt to hear.

There will be voices shouting at you from all sides when you start writing. There will be the blind love voices who tell you you're brilliant, even if your story needs a major overhaul. There will be the hurtful voices who work to undermine your security in yourself. There will be the demon voices whispering the cacophonous words, "You can't do this."

Then there will be the hard love voices . . . the voices with your best interest in mind. The editorial voices that say, "You can do this. Don't give up, but make it right."

Where you end up as a writer depends on what voice you choose to listen to.

Who are you listening to?

Monday, May 1, 2017

Plotting with Mythic Structure

A popular post from February 2008

by Annette Lyon

I've discussed elements in Vogler's book The Writer's Journey, which is all about the classic mythical structure of "The Hero's Journey" here and here.

Those earlier posts discussed character archetypes and one particular element of the journey (death and rebirth, or the "Resurrection" scene). I thought it was time to discuss the journey itself.

Each step along the way could take up several posts (and indeed takes up its own chapter in Vogler's book). Every story won't use every step, and they aren't always in this order. But I've found the mythic Hero's Journey to be a great guideline, a template that you can refer to when creating an infinite number of brand new storylines.

The mythical story structure has helped me to pack a greater punch in my own writing. If you can read some of Vogler's work, I highly recommend it. I know I'll never read books or watch movies the same way again. Note that The Writer's Journey is out of print, but Vogler has published other works since, and you can likely find a used copy of this one.

Using the classic movie Star Wars, here are the basic elements of the Hero's Journey:

The Ordinary World
We are introduced to the Hero and his/her circumstances. We learn who he is, what he stands for, and possibly what problem is bothering him. Very often the problem we learn about in the beginning isn't the same one we end up solving by the end, because the final problem usually has much higher stakes.

SW: Farm boy Luke Skywalker living a releatively peaceful existence. Although he's an orphan, he lives with his loving aunt and uncle.

Call to Adventure
We learn that the status quo is being upset and that our Hero must take action and go on an adventure. Often a person delivers this call (Gandalf), but sometimes it's an object (the letters from Hogwarts).

SW: We have two calls. First is for the audience, where we learn that Princess Leia has been kidnapped. The second is when Obi Wan wants Luke's help with C-3PO and R2-D2, because they hold the plans to the dangerous Death Star.

Refusal of the Call
The Hero declines the adventure, whether from a character flaw or other reason. He lacks the motivation to leave the Ordinary World, and the call must be issued again.

SW: Luke refuses to help Obi Wan. Luke's motivation changes when until Storm Troopers destroy his village and kill everyone in it, including his aunt and uncle. Now the stakes are higher, and he has a reason to fight.
Meeting with the MentorThis may happen earlier if the Mentor is acting as the Herald and delivering the Call to Adventure. Alternately, the Mentor can give the Hero a "kick in the pants" (as Vogler puts it) to get the Hero movitated and the story off to its real start.

The Mentor trains and/or teaches the Hero and often bestows a tangible gift to the Hero as well.

SW: As a Jedi himself, Obi Wan trains Luke to use the force. He give Luke his father’s light saber.
Crossing the First Threshold
The Hero leaves the comfort of the Ordinary World and enters the unfamiliar territory of the Special World. Once he crosses over, he has committed to the adventure, life (and The Ordinary World) will never be the same again.

Often the Hero will be tested by a Threshold Guardian (a character or situation) blocking his path, which he must get beyond to prove that he's committed and worthy of being the Hero. Arriving in the Special World can be another test, as we see how quickly the Hero adapts to the rules of the new World.

A "Watering Hole" scene is common after arrival, where the Hero meets locals in a tavern or other public place of food and refreshment. A brawl or other test may appear.

SW: Luke travels to find a pilot to help, and he meets Han Solo in a tavern.

Test, Allies, EnemiesThis portion covers a good chunk of the middle portion of the story. The Hero is tested in increasingly challenging ways. He learns who are his allies and who are his enemies.

SW: Han Solo & Chewbacca become Allies to aid in the rescue of Princess Leia. They get through an Imperial blockade, discover that the Princess's home planet of Alderaan has been destroyed by the Death Star, etc.
Approach to the Inmost CaveThe Hero is given an even greater test as he gets through more obstacles and must use his recently-learned skills as he approaches the darkest place that will hold the greatest danger and his ultimate Ordeal.

SW: They are pulled into the Death Star.
ResurrectionThe Hero dies or appears to die and is "reborn" with new life and determination, new lessons learned. This propels him into the final act.

SW: Luke appears to die in the Death Star's trash compactor, but reemerges triumphant and ready to fight again.

OrdealA true test of the Hero, that challenges him to draw upon all the lessons he's learned and all the skills he's acquired on the journey. He often battles the Shadow (the villain) and will have to sacrifice, often allies.

SW: The huge battle at the Death Star.

Reward—Seizing the SwordThe Hero emerges from the Ordeal triumphant, carrying the "sword," or whatever symbolizes that success, whether it's accomplishment of a mission or capture of a treasure.

SW: The Death Star is destroyed
The Road Back
The Hero begins heading back to the Ordinary World, but encounters new struggles along the way (chases are common here). He must cleanse himself of the battles he's been through.

SW: Darth Vader & his henchmen chase the heroes as they try to make their escape.
Return with the ElixirThe Hero returns triumphant, having proven himself a true Hero. He has the Elixer, which is a something valuble he has learned, acquired, or accomplished that he shares with others.

SW: Luke has (for now) defeated Darth Vader and restored peace to the galaxy.

That's a brief overview, but it should be enough to get you thinking of some of the plot structures in your own work. Do you have a death/rebirth? What is the Elixer your Hero will return with? Does your Hero have enough Threshold Guardians, blocking his way and proving his mettle?

Play with the forms and analyze some of your favorite stories to see what elements fit where. It's a great structural exercise that will enhance your writing.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Basic Training

A popular post from January 2008

By Julie Wright

This is just some good old fashioned nuts and bolts writing information for today. I am writing this post mainly because I've done a lot of editing books for new authors, and because I've done a lot of reading of author's first books and think we could all benefit from a little refresher course.

There is a broadway musical called Urinetown. In the opening scene officer Lockstock explains the musical to the audience.

Little Sally comes along and asks, “Say, Officer Lockstock, is this where you’re going to tell them about the water shortage?”

To which Officer Lockstock replies, “Everything in its time, Little Sally. You’re too young to understand it now, but nothing can kill a show like too much exposition.”

Little Sally ponders this, and then replies, “How about bad subject matter? Or a bad title? That could kill a show pretty good.”

“Yes, yes, a bad title and too much exposition!” Since the subject matter of this musical is pretty bad, the title is outright horrible, and the fact that the whole first ten minutes was exposition and explaining why exposition is bad, it all worked as a marvelous parody and a downright funny scene.

In a new author's manuscript where he isn't trying to make a mockery of the scene, it's not funny.

You've all heard it--show don't tell. Exposition is where we find ourselves giving a summary of events and dialogue rather than putting it into real action and dialogue. Exposition reads like a laundry list of things the character did and said today. Readers don't want to be told a story. They want to be in the story.

Instead of TELLing your readers that Emma is depressed and frustrated, SHOW her taking a bite of her favorite cake and pushing the rest away.

Instead of TELLing your reader that Sam's car is a broken-down wreck, SHOW him twisting two bare wires together to get the headlights to come on.

Instead of TELLing your readers. “Amanda took one look at the hotel room and recoiled in disgust.” SHOW the cockroach crawling over the edge of the bathroom sink, crawling down the cabinet (hanging by a single hinge), scurrying across the threadbare carpet, and disappearing under the rusty bed that sags in the middle.

Instead of saying: My mom hated my new hair cut. Make it: Mom reached for my head, but her hand halted at the place where my long curls should have been as though she could still sense them there, as though she were one of those amputees who still felt phantom pain in a leg long gone. "What have you done to your hair?"
"I cut it."
"I can see that! Why would do such a stupid thing? You look like an army sergeant. You need to fix this!"
I snorted at that. "What do you want me to do? Should I go back to the salon and demand they glue it all back?"
My mom pulled her hand away and wiped it on the front of her skirt as though she'd touched something dirty.

The exposition was dry . . . part of a laundry list. But showing the scene creates tension and character development. Now you don't have to tell us that Anne and her mom don't always agree. You don't have to tell us that Anne is independent, and does what she wants in spite of other people's opinions. You don't have to tell us that Anne falls into sarcasm in an effort to win arguements. You don't have to tell us that Anne's mother is a more traditional person. You can sense that by the fact she disapproves of Anne's new hair style--by the fact that she's wearing a skirt.

One conversation of realistic dialogue and we know quite a bit about these characters. The exposition would have put us to sleep.

In your writing, avoid lengthy bouts of exposition. Avoid the laundry list of what your character did and said today. Put your reader in your story by making them feel as though they are living it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Why is Editing so Hard?

A popular post from February 2008

By Heather Moore

Like many of you, when I sit down to write, I love the feeling of accomplishment. Recording the number of words written at the end of a writing session gives me a tangible record of achievement. It’s better than getting all of the laundry done, or having a clean house. Because by the next day, laundry has started to pile up again, and the kitchen counters are stacked with more homework.

But that word count continues to grow each day, and no one can change that . . .

Until it’s time to edit.

Editing is like lugging that basket of dirty clothes, again, to the laundry room. It’s like seeing the dishes piled in the sink—when it seems you’ve just washed them.

Editing is work.

There are times when I get an edit back from a fellow reader—and although I’m so grateful for the time they put into reading my manuscript—I know the next few days are not going to be easy. Every correction brings me closer to a cleaner manuscript, but there are those comments that I dread. You know the ones, “I can’t picture this.” “This isn’t consistent with the character.” “Your man sounds like a whiny woman.”

Those are not quick fixes. They take re-evaluation, re-thinking, and re-writing. Just plain work, and lots of time.

So to make editing more bearable I’ve come up with a few suggestions.
1. Turn on your favorite music.
2. Get out that chocolate.
3. Only do a set number of pages a day so that you don’t get too frustrated. Anywhere from 20-50 should do it.
4. Do the quick fixes first, and set aside the pages with the harder rewrites. Then come back at the end and work on the more difficult editing. By then, you’ll have whittled down the imposing stack of 300 pages to a mere 20-30 pages.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Top 10 things I Wish I'd Known Before I Became Published

A popular post from January 2008

By Josi S. Kilpack

10--I wish I'd known about the need to become a public speaker. It might have talked me out of it had I known how important this skill would be. HOW DID I SOLVE IT: I went to Toastmasters for 6 months and I have never turned down an opportunity to speak out of fear. I've had some successes that I smiled about on the way home, and I've cried all the way home too, but I'm improving.

9--I wish I'd understood that putting something personal out into the world invites the need for people to advise you, whether they know butkus about what you do or not. HOW DID I SOLVE IT: I learned to stop arguing when people felt the need to teach me how to write or why what I wrote was all wrong. I also learned to keep copies of complements to fill my bucket when people unceremoniously dipped from my confidence stores.

8--I wish I'd realized that getting that first book published was the BIGGEST step, but not the last one. Rather it was struggling with a sticky lock and then throwing the door open to find another door, and opening that one to find another one, and another and another, some are easier to push open than others. HOW DID I SOLVE THIS: I realized I will never solve it. I just keep writing my best novel. When it's done I start writing my best one again.

7--I wish I'd realized that the writing would get harder. That the ease I had of putting those first gripping thoughts together would one day run dry and I'd have to dig for the stories. HOW DID I SOLVE THIS: I dig.

6--I wish I'd realized what a lonely endovor it can be when you're best freinds become fictional creations. It's depressing when I have to remind myself that I don't get to go shoppign with them, or talk on the phone and that I actually have to deal with real live people. HOW DID I SOLVE THIS: I got to know other writers and I came to realize that though not perfect (they are not fiction after all) other writers will understand me better than anyone else. We share the same disease. I've met wonderful people that have become my dearest freinds.

5--I wish I'd realized that holding a finished book in my hand was like a drug and at times that memory would be the only thing to drive me forward on my current work in progress. HOW I SOLVED IT: I keep publishing books, and when I get a new one I take that first copy and write down the feeling of holding it my hands. I can then go back to those thoughts and remember that's one of the reasons I do this, for the rush of holding that finished product.

4--I wish I'd realized that I wouldn't make much money. I really thought I'd be making a good yearly salary, and I'm beginning to, but right now I have $62 in my 'book' account and just mailed off a bill for my writers digest bookclub for $26.32. HOW I SOLVED IT: I keep writing and spend my royalties wisely (sorta). I am also very clear on the fact that I don't write for money, though one day I hope to.

3--I wish I'd kept all the articles and ads ever done on my book. It's been almost 9 years now and I started keeping mentions a couple years ago but I missed a few really cool reviews and articles that would have been a fun keepsake. Even though I'll have more, I'll never have those first ones again. HOW I SOLVED IT: I keep them now.

2--I wish I'd realized that great accomplishment aside (and I do consider it a great accomplishment) that I'm still me. I have my same weaknesses, my same obsessions (and some new ones, the same confidence issues and the same frustrations with not doing things the way I think I should do them. I believed that publishing my first book would change this, fill in the gaps, and I do think it's helped but it hasn't 'fixed' me. I guess it was silly to have ever thought it would, but I did and it didn't happen. I still have to work on me. HOW I SOLVED IT: Obviously, I haven't, but I'm learning to take things one step at a time and not expect one talent to suddenly take care of a dozen unrelated weaknesses.

1--I wish I'd realized that despite the drawbacks and unanticipated struggles, that writing would fulfill a part of me, a part of my reason for being here, in a way that nothing else did. It does not replace the role I play in the lives of others, it doesn't solve all my problems, but it has created a connection with Deity that I don't believe I'd have found any other way. It's challenged me in ways I never imagined and ultimately I know that I'm better for that and that here and there is a reader or two that in some small way is better for it as well. THIS one I've solved already. I found a place for myself, a place I have toiled and traveled through and because of it I am a better, smarter, and more content person that I would be otherwise. And in the dark moments, the hard times, I know that if I never wrote another word, if I never contrived another story, I would be at peace with what I have done, what I have already created. That peace makes it all a glorious journey.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Rewriting Rule #2

A popular post from January 2008

by Annette Lyon

Right up there with what is probably the most touted rule about writing, "Show, don't tell" is another rule, one that pretty much drove me crazy when I was a young writer.

You'll remember this one: "Write what you know."

This is such an ingrained rule that my university creative writing professor even had us write down a list of 100 things we knew and could therefore write about.

My list had things like braces, camping, and growing up with three siblngs.

Oooooh. Exciting stuff.

Here I was, staring at my list as an aspiring writer, thinking that—crap—I didn't know enough of anything to write. I had a bit of panic as I looked over my list of 100 things. I had wanted to write since second grade. Maybe I just wasn't cut out for it, because, well, I lacked the interesting life, the angst, that came with being a writer.

I came from a family with two parents that were still married. I wasn't abused. No one I knew was drug-addicted or homeless or otherwise having a more "interesting" life.

What in the world could I write about when I knew about nothing?

Fortunately, I tossed my list into the trash just as soon as I could. That teacher, despite being a great writer himself, didn't have the slightest idea how to teach writing.

I've read far too many early novels from beginning writers that are nothing more than memoirs in disguise—all because they were trying to write what they "knew."

I've since learned to tweak that all-knowing rule. It should say:

Write what you're willing to learn about.

Isn't that freeing? Suddenly an entire new universe of writing possibilities opens up.

Writers are by nature a creative lot, which is in our best interest. We read up on weird things that may appear later in our work, or we seek out topics that we need to educate ourselves on so we can write about them.

Here are a few of many things I've written about that I didn't know before but researched so I could write about them:
  • Profiling criminals
  • Poisons
  • Weapons
  • The history of denim
  • Horse illnesses
  • Flora and Fauna in Arizona
  • Boot styles in the late 1800s
  • printing press history
  • Early rock quarry tools
  • Blacksmithing
  • Police procedure
  • International laws on restraining orders
  • and much more
What would have happened if I had decided that gee darn, oh well, but I can't write about a house burning down because I've never been in a burning house? I wouldn't have written what became my break-out novel in my market.
Toss out "Write what you know" and pick up "Write what you're willing to learn about."
You'll be a better writer for it. Your work will thank you.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Savvy or Sell-Out?

A popular post from January 2008

by Annette Lyon

Some time before my publication days, I was bemoaning the fact that my latest manuscript had been rejected.

A well-meaning friend discovered a "hot" market, bought me a book in that genre, and said, "Read this. You should write a book like it. These kinds of books are selling like crazy right now."

I took the book and stared at it, trying to find a way to explain to this person that I couldn't just up and write a book for a market for no other reason than the fact that lots of people are currently successful at it.

Trying to fit myself into a mold like that would suck out any life that my writing and story might have naturally. (I know; I tried once. That pathetic manuscript will forever gather dust.)

But at the same time, writing anything my muse fancied might not be the best plan, either. I had a stack of rejections (with lots of great feedback, but rejections nonetheless) that showed something wasn't working.

It's a fine line to walk between selling out (abandoning your passion, your voice, and who you are as a writer for the sake of a market) and being market savvy (tweaking your work to make it more marketable).

It's one thing to find in yourself a passion that happens to be something agents and editors are looking for, or to adapt something you love into something that is more likely to sell.

It's quite another to decide that since books about young wizards are selling like hotcakes that you should write one too--only make it a girl . . . and give her a birthmark instead of a scar . . . and . . . you get the idea.

Even if your hot idea isn't a copy of what's already out there, there's a very good chance that the huge trend on the bookshelves right now (today, think vampires) is over and done with in the publishing houses.

Taking a book from manuscript to press can take upwards of two years, so bookstore shelves are essentially two years behind what publishers are hungry for now. If you try to write something new to ride a trend, chances are, you've already missed the boat.

The upshot: Trying to twist your writing self into a pretzel to fit a mold is selling out.

So what does a writer do when there's still that marketability factor to contend with? First and foremost, be true to yourself. Don't write a supernatural-mystery-Victorian-romance just because you heard that several agents are looking for one.

On the other hand, if mysterious Victorian-romances happen to be your cup of tea, jump all over it. You can probably work supernatural elements into the genre you already love to give it the angle the agent is looking for.

That's being market savvy, not selling out.

The manuscript I mentioned earlier saw several rejections until I learned that the heroine was a few years too young for what the market's demographic expected. I aged her about five years, tweaking a few scenes as a result, and the piece sold.

Being market-savvy is important, but never lose contact with the more important element: your muse. The trick is finding a happy marriage between the two.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Your Personal Legend

A popular post from January 2008

By Heather Moore

Recently, I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It’s an international bestseller that many of you are certainly familiar with. The novel is brief, filled with a thought-provoking story and peppered with insight. But what struck me the most was the author’s introduction at the beginning of the book.

He explains that each of us have our own personal legend, or personal calling. I’d like to relate it to the writers in each of us.

Coelho says that not all of us have to “courage to confront our own dream.”

He gives us four reasons or obstacles as to why this is the case. As you read through them, think about your own goals and reasons for writing:

1. “We are told from childhood onward that everything we want to do is impossible. We grow up with this idea . . . there comes a time when our personal calling is so deeply buried in our soul as to be invisible.”

2. “Love. We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream.” Coelho points out that those who love us want us to be happy.

3. “Fear of the defeats we will meet on the path.” Defeats happen and we will suffer along the way. “Once we have overcome our defeats—and we always do—we are filled by a greater sense of euphoria and confidence.”

4. “The fear of realizing the dream for which we fought all our lives.” Coehlo says the “mere possibility of getting what we want fills the soul of the ordinary person with guilt.” We forget about the challenges it took to reach our goals—“this is the most dangerous of the obstacles because it has a kind of saintly aura about it: renouncing joy and conquest.”

This rang true for me. I could see a definite pattern as I look at my writer-self. I’ve been told that getting published is nearly impossible. I’ve worried about those I love and the sacrifices it might take to follow my dream. I worry about giving it my all, only to come away as a failure. And finally, when I do have successes step by step, I wonder if I should renounce it since I don’t want others to feel like they couldn’t reach their dreams.

But I love Coelho's closing comment: " . . . if you believe yourself worthy of the thing you fought so hard to get, then you become an instrument of God . . . and you understand why you are here."

I believe that all of us are "worthy" to follow our dreams.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Get to the Point

A popular post from January 2008

by Annette Lyon

Where should you start your story?

That's the magic question so many writers wrestle with. I'm one of them; I usually rewrite my first chapter a dozen times before it's right, and often it'll end up as a different scene altogether, starting at a different moment in the story.

Regardless of how difficult the beginning is to spot and capture in your writing, doing so is critical. A reader (or, more importantly, an agent or editor) won't give you the benefit of the doubt and keep reading to page 63 where it really gets good.

You must hook the reader immediately and give them a solid reason to keep going. You have to earn the reader going on to the second sentence, the next paragraph, the next page.

In my editing experience, the most common mistake with beginnings is that the writer tries to tell too much of the back story too soon, as if we just have to know right away what got John to this point in his life.

When this happens, the reader doesn't get to the actual story without wading through the history, perhaps in flashbacks or large sections of "info dump." (Big hint here: if you're beginning your story with a flashback, you're starting in the wrong place.)

Your beginning should open at a time of change for the main character. By the end of the first chapter, their life has to be turned upside down.

And most importantly, something must be happening. Never, ever, have your first chapter filled with a character sitting on a mountaintop (or in the car, or by the beach, or in bed) recalling past events or what they need to do about them.

Remember "show don't tell"? Do it here. Show your character in a difficult situation. Show your character reacting to it, struggling to decide what to do next.

When past information is critical to include, drop a tidbit here and there, just enough to keep the reader informed while the story keeps moving forward. Avoid writing more than a couple of sentences of back story at any point; when you do that, you stall the story, no matter how fascinating the history is. Let us discover the past a piece at a time.

The majority of manuscripts I see with the problem of opening overload eventually find their beginnings. I can often spot it two or three (or more) pages into the piece. Sometimes I'll star that spot and say, "Start here. This is the real beginning."

What about everything before it? Hit the delete button. Really. It's all what David Fryxell from Writer's Digest calls "throat clearing," where you're just warming up and finally you reach the point you've been trying to make all along.

Reread your work with an eye out for any "throat clearing." You might just find you've already written a brilliant opening . . . on page 4.

Monday, April 10, 2017

You might be a writer if . . .

A popular post from January 2008

By Julie Wright

Today I am in the middle of edits, and have no time to be clever or original. So I have taken something I wrote as a creative exercise several years back and am doing a reprint here:

You might be a writer if . . .

Your spouse refuses to take you to the movies anymore because you mutter editing advice on how to tighten the dialogue and strengthen the plot.

You read books with a red pen in hand.

You pass judgment before hitting the period of the first sentence in any novel on whether the author has any intelligence at all.

All major relationship decisions are based on whether the other person knows the difference between lay and lie.

You got kicked out of Sunday School for pointing out a place in the Songs of Solomon where you felt the author lacked vision.

You cry in bookstores when you see a new book published by the imprint that recently rejected you.

You get caught eavesdropping on conversations, but insist you're not being nosy, just doing research.

Anyone who ever wronged you back in high school is now either a victim or an incompetent villain in one of your novels.

You know what a rejection letter sounds like as it swirls around in the garbage disposal.

You know what a rejection letter sounds like as it swirls around in the toilet.

You've ever said, "Well they just didn't read it!" after getting a rejection letter.

You've ever believed you could pay off your house with your first royalty check. HAHAHAHAAAAAAA!!!!! And now that you know you can't, you find that it isn't really that funny.

Your children eat corn dogs and Happy Meals when you're on a deadline.

Your children eat a lot of corn dogs and Happy Meals.

You named your dog Victor, your fish Hugo and your two parakeets Jane and Austen.

You hear voices in your head conversing, arguing, falling in love . . . and somehow you're sure this doesn't mean your crazy,

merely a writer . . .

Friday, April 7, 2017

Increasing Your Funny Quotient

A popular post from January 2008

by Annette Lyon

Humor in writing is tough to get right. It's all too easy for a joke to go just slightly off the mark and miss the laugh.

I think many writers do manage to be funny to a degree, but their problem is that they don't take it to the next level, the unexpected place where the laugh comes at you from the side so that you can't help but wipe away tears.

One great way of taking your humor to the next level is to analyze the laugh you're trying to make. What's the obvious joke (even if it's a funny one)?

Now, how can you take that joke one step (or even better, two steps) further?

An example:

In a recent essay I read, the author described a soul-sucking job and the manager she worked for. A good comparison (and a funny laugh) would have been to say her boss was a vampire, sucking the life out of her employees.

But this author took it a step further:

"[S]even years later, I voluntarily left a good-paying, soul-sucking, part time job as the records clerk for an office of remarkable neurosurgeons and one prickly office manager (who I am still convinced has no reflection in a mirror) to take a position at a veterinary hospital."

The reader deduces that she's a vampire without the writer ever saying so. It's a classic case of show-don't-tell.

Chandler from the sitcom Friends is another terrific example of taking the humor past the obvious. Take, for example, the time when he and Joey try to determine the identity of two babies, one of which belongs to Ross. One baby has clothing with ducks on it, and the other has clowns.

Joey decides to flip a coin about it, saying that the baby with ducks on its clothes will win if the coin lands on heads because ducks have heads.

It would have been funny enough had Chandler said, "What, and clowns don't have heads?"

But in a sense, that's what the audience is already thinking (and already laughing) about.

Chandler instead comes out with something that uses the first joke (clowns have heads too) and creates a second laugh by planting a comical image in our minds:

"What kind of freak clowns did you have at your birthday parties?"

Bull's eye.

Show-don't-tell is powerful no matter what kind of writing you're doing. Learn the skill well.

Then learn to take the humor past the obvious joke. Find out how far you can take it to create funny, fresh, and unexpected images.

It helps to read books, essays, and columns by some of the best funny men and women we have writing today. Also, watch comedians. Pay attention to how they craft their jokes, how the punch line flips the joke on its head and makes you laugh. Notice how jokes often come full circle later in the book/sketch/essay and take on new meaning the second time.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

And Then You . . .

A popular post from December 2007

By Josi S. Kilpack

There’s an aspect of publishing that isn’t often discussed, isn’t often considered, but has the potential to drive you crazy far more than lay/lie every could. This issue isn’t about getting the characterization just right (though, of course you’d be an idiot not to do a great job at characterization), it’s not about making sure your heading is in the right place (upper left hand corner; last name and book title along with the page number), and it has nothing to do with the disgustingly, grotesquely, annoying over usage of adverbs (thank goodness that’s not my problem)—this issue knows no boundaries of word count, genre, publishing history, or age, race, gender. We’re all equally annoyed by it, and yet there is no way around it. So it’s about time you knew that an absolutely essential part of being a writer is learning to wait.

1—After you’ve written the perfect story and given it to trustworthy manuscript readers—you wait for it to come back. For me this is anywhere from 2 weeks to a month per reader.

2—After you’ve made the suggested revisions and sent our your query—you wait for an acceptance. I know people that have sent our literally dozens of queries and heard nothing back for months and months. I know of others that have heard back in a few weeks.

3—If you’re shooting for the national market, after your agent accepts you—you wait for them to sell it to a publisher. This can take anywhere from a few months to a couple years. Should your agent find that they can’t place your book it will be returned to you and you can go back to step #2.

4—Once a publisher has accepted the option of looking at your full book, you send them the electronic copy—and wait to hear their suggestions. Just because you’re previously published does not mean you skip this step.

5—If you get revision suggestions, change the manuscript accordingly, and resubmit—you wait to see if those are accepted. If the changes are acceptable, you move on, if they aren’t, you go back to #4.

6—Once you get officially accepted by the publisher—you wait to get the signed contract, sometimes this can take a few weeks. Sometimes there are different boards that must also accept your book. They may suggest more revisions which will take you back to #5.

7—Once you sign the contract—you wait to see your cover and get your galley proofs. This is usally about 2 months or so. The good news is that this is where you know this book is going to be published. You have a contract and they have put in a lot of time to edit and typeset your book. You’re very close! But that doesn’t mean you don’t have more waiting to do.

8—Once you get your galley proofs, and proof them (hence the term)—you wait for the fateful day when your book comes in the mail to you. This is anywhere from 4-10 weeks or so after submitting your final galleys. Some authors choose to do a second set of galley prints which will extend this.

9—Once your book is off the presses and on the shelves you GET TO WORK SELLING IT!—and wait for the first statement telling you how many you’ve sold. Most statements don’t come for a few months.

What do you do with all that waiting? Gear up for your marketing campaign, promote any other works you’ve already published, and of course work on your next book. Publishing is a long process, it takes patience and if that’s not your strong suit (Me! Me! Me!) then you . . . well, you’re out of luck cause there is no way around it. It helps to take yoga, clean out lots of closets, blog, e-mail, and rant at your spouse now and again. If they’re a keeper they nod and commiserate you, if they threaten to cause bodily harm you might want to find someone else to rant to. As much as the waiting annoys you, it’s necessary that you act as if you’ve hardly noticed. Valium is good too.

Can you tell I’m in a waiting period right now, or was I too subtle?

Monday, April 3, 2017

Hearing Voices?

A popular post from January 2008

By Julie Wright

Of course you're hearing voices. You're an author . . . we can't help it. But that's totally beside the point.

I met an author who hasn't read a single book authored by another person since he got his first book published. His reasoning is that he doesn't want his literary "voice" tainted by someone else.

Not only is his attitude excessively narcissistic, but he has trapped himself into a limited world. His voice will never grow--never improve; his characters will never stretch or be different from the ones he's already created. He has written many books, and it's the sad old case of "if you've read one of them . . . you've read them all."

Most serious writers know that their first couple of books are practice. If you don't get them published, you'll be saved from lamenting over your shallow voice and two dimensional characters. If you do get them published, you'll have that lamentation, but you can laugh yourself all the way to the bank. So there is comfort in having your first books published. ;)

But how do you develop you voice so that you move beyond your first tentative steps as an author?

1- READ!

And don't be afraid to read outside your preset genre. Read everything. Read drama, literary stuff, comedy, romance, mystery, fantasy, science fiction. As you read, your own voice develops. Your brain subconsciously picks out what works for you in writing and what doesn't.

I read 39 books last year. That doesn't count the myriad blogs and articles I read. And that doesn't count the reading I had to do on my own books to get edits done.


There is no way around it. If you want to be a writer, you have to actually (gulp!) write. And you have to write a lot. Try your hand at writing everything that holds a spark of interest to you. I've written music lyrics, poetry (badly), short stories, novels, commercials for products (I once fantasized that I would grow to be a high powered advertising executive dressed in a black power pant-suit and riding the subways). I've written articles for both newspapers and magazines and, of course, I spend some time blogging (which I count for good practice, but don't count towards writing goals).

And after you've written quite a lot, go back over your writing and look for recurring themes. It took me several years to notice that I am primarily a young adult writer. I read mostly young adult literature and when I write, I can't stop myself from writing with a youth audience in mind. I didn't set out to write for this age group . . . it just worked out that way. Even when I wrote for adults, I ended up with a riot of teenager fans. I also find I gravitate towards the fantastic, the paranormal, the time travel, the space travel, the beliefs of fringe society.

Time spent on poetry, on a short story, and the full-on novel help you to stretch your voice. Play with all forms of writing. Have fun with it.

3. Resonate!

If you write about things that resonate to the marrow of your bones, you won't be able to help but write in your own voice. If you're passionate about your topic, your characters, your story, your voice will convey that passion. If you're from the deep south, you will have a different angle of resonance than someone from Ireland. Write in the language you know--the language you speak. I am a firm believer in increasing your vocabulary, but you want your book to resonate to others. By speaking plainly, you will achieve that.

most people are searching for themselves. Writers are searching for their voices. To help you on your quest, read, write, and resonate (I love alliteration). Have fun!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Self Objectivity

A popular post from December 2007

By Josi S. Kilpack

A friend called me the other night to discuss a point in her book. I had edited this work for her a couple years ago, so I was familiar with the story despite the fact that she'd done several revisions since then. The reason she called was because there was a magical element in the story that wasn’t sitting right with her. She’d gone over it a few times and just felt like it wasn’t sensible, that it didn’t work. She wanted to know what I thought.

I thought it was fine, very creative in fact, and I told her so. She was not appeased.

“Then why is it bugging me?” she mused. So we continued talking about it and over the course of a few minutes she came up with a solution that didn’t necessitate cutting the element—it really is very clever—but added a dimension to it that would work and make it more plausible. In once sense it was a very small, a minor detail, to her overall story, and yet in it’s own way it was huge.

After I hung up, I thought about scenes I’ve had in my own books that have stuck out to me. A couple specific ones came to mind after this conversation and I realized just how impressive it was that this friend of mine would take the quality of her work seriously enough to want to make sure she was good with this detail. It occurred to me what a brilliant thing this was for her to do and what a reflection of her skill as a writer it was as well.

Fact is, it’s relatively easy to make changes people tell us to make, it’s rather simple to cut things when we’re told to cut them. Letting someone else point out our mistakes makes us feel more secure somehow, but it’s a matter of skill to be objective enough about our own work to not only see our own mistakes, but then to ponder, discuss, and brainstorm on them enough to find a solution for the singular reason of making our book our best work.

My challenge to each of you, today, is to think of your work—maybe something on the shelf, maybe something you’re working on right now and objectively think of one detail that isn’t ‘settled’ in your own mind. Maybe it’s a character, maybe it’s a name, or a place, or a missing line of dialogue. Maybe it’s a magical element, or the sequence in an action scene; perhaps you’ve missed an opportunity to foreshadow, or you’ve laid it on too thick and exposed a plot line you weren’t ready to expose yet. I challenge you to find a quiet spot or a blank piece of paper and brainstorm that detail. How can you fix it? What would make it stronger? What would help you make peace with it?

It’s fabulous to have outside readers and it’s wonderful to get professional advice, but honing your own ability to objectively tweak your own brilliance, therefore admitting that you don’t always get it right the first time, will improve your overall writing far more than another person ever will. Then, when the time comes to ask someone else to give you an opinion, you can have confidence, rather than na├»ve hope, that you are presenting your best work.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hopeful or Hopeless?

A popular post from December 2007

by Annette Lyon

When it comes to the dream wagon, I'm one of the first on board. I held onto my dream of publishing for many years through a large number rejections, and even though I have some publications under my belt, I still dream big.

I love cheerleading fellow writers, especially those who haven't seen their name in print yet. It's exciting to encourage and inspire others to keep going even after another rejection, to never give up. It's one of my favorite parts about speaking at conferences.

But this week I read something that stopped me in my tracks. It was a letter to the editor of a writing magazine, wherein the aspiring writer discussed how many decades (I think it was four) he/she had been working on a book, revising, submitting, getting rejected, and trying again with the same (theoretically improved) manuscript. "I'll never give up my dream" was the point of the letter.

I had a two-fold reaction to this:

1) Good for them for keeping at it and never giving up.

was quickly followed by:

2) How pathetic that they've put all their eggs in one basket for forty some-odd years.

Had this writer been regularly coming up with new ideas, writing new books, and following publishing trends, for forty years, I wouldn't have had this reaction.

But they've been working on the same book for forty years? Where is the logic in that?

Almost every published author I know has several manuscripts gathering dust that will never see the light of day, books that they cut their writer's teeth on. You learn to write by doing it. Many times. On different projects. In different ways. It generally takes writing a few books, going through the entire process, before you're good enough to be published.

Revising the same book forever isn't going to do that for you.

Additionally, there's a good chance that this person's book will be horrifically unmarketable; assuming for a moment that their idea was hot back in, oh, 1967, I'd bet my birthday chocolate that it wouldn't sell today.

And then there's the element of productivity: A publisher doesn't usually make much money on a first novel. They hope to eventually make a name for you and sell more with each book. If you can't promise that you'll produce more than one decent idea in forty years, you won't be on their happy list.

Cling to your dreams. I'll never tell anyone to give up. But I will tell them to be a tad realistic. Write your way toward your dream. That means doing everything it takes to be cross the finish line.

Don't kid anyone; circling the practice track forever is not called "pursuing your dream."

Monday, March 27, 2017

Resolutions Writing Style

A popular post from January 2008

by Annette Lyon

As you begin a new year of writing, you might want to make making some writing-related resolutions.

First, take stock of what worked for you in 2007 and what didn't. Do daily word count goals fit your lifestyle? What about weekly ones? Do you work better by tracking chapters or pages rather than words? What system works best for you?

Second, set goals for yourself--goals that, while reachable do require you to stretch a little.

Last, decide on rewards for each goal you meet. It's amazing how a little incentive can help yourself plant your behind in the chair and your hands on the keyboard. Your inner writer is a child. Bribe it! (I find chocolate works well. And pedicures.)

Consider adding some of the following when making your list:
  • Read. A lot. It helps me to keep a running log of all the books I've read in the year. I've done this every year for over a decade, and I try to at least match if not beat the number of titles from one year to the next. A good writer is a good reader. Be sure to include writing books in your list. And don't forget to read works in the genre you write in. Add one or two books that stretch you.
  • Take regular outings to places that bring something new to your senses: try new foods, visit a museum, take long a walk through a strange neighborhood, go on vacation to a place you've never been before. Stimulation to the senses does marvels for creativity.
  • Proof every query, cover letter, and manuscript you send out. Many times.
  • To help you send out the cleanest material possible, learn your punctuation and grammar rules. (A funny and great place to start: Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, by Lynne Truss.)
  • Get up the guts to show your work to someone other than family and friends . . . someone who will give you the honest truth. Consider hiring a professional. It's worth the cost.
  • Make at least one big goal for yourself: I'll finally finish this book/I'll query 20 agents/I'll attend 2 writing conferences. And attach deadlines to each goal.
The biggest resolution? Don't give up in 2008. This may be your year.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Whose Point of View?

A popular post from January 2008

By Heather Moore

In a recent manuscript, I came to a dead stop at a particular scene. But it was not just an ordinary scene—it was the climax of the entire novel.

In this scene, a man is burned to death for his religious beliefs. He is given the chance to recount his teachings, but refuses. Therefore, the punishment is death by fire.

I wondered if the scene would be stronger in the man’s point of view . . . or in the man’s wife’s point of view.

Would it be more compelling for us to know the thoughts of a man who’s taking his last breath and knowing he’s going to die? Is it more compelling to “feel” the pain of fire with him as he’s consumed?

OR is it more compelling to watch with his wife as her husband is brutally tortured? Do we want to know her intimate emotions, experience her undoubted grief and horror? To hear her thoughts of loss and anguish?

The way I answered this question was: Who has the most to lose?

Then I posted it on a blog and received excellent feedback. Everyone agreed. The wife had the most to lose. So the death scene should be in her POV.

When you are writing in multiple view points (3rd person in my case), the rule of thumb for selecting POV is to take a look at the character who experiences the most change, or is highly affected, or who has the most to lose in the scene.

Then you'll have your answer.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

This Year, Go Big or Go Home

A popular post from January 2014

by Annette Lyon

Last month, as I have for well over a decade, I attended another Christmas dance recital to watch my daughter light up on stage. As usual, her grace performing (this time ballet) didn't disappoint.

A different dance number jumped out at me for a different reason, however. Most likely, it jumped out at every member of the audience: a hip-hop piece. The number was well choreographed, and the star dancer, a sixth grade black boy, stayed front and center, and for good reason. He was nothing short of jaw-droppingly amazing.

Every move he made was powerful and precise. He exuded joy and energy and attitude and got the audience excited, returning his energy a thousand-fold.

The few times my eyes strayed from him, I regretted it.

Why? The other hip-hop dancers on stage with him weren't anywhere in the realm of his league, for starters. But that in and of itself wasn't the problem. The real problem was that the other dancers didn't seem to be trying at all

In dance speak, they were marking the routine rather than dancing full out, as if they were afraid of looking stupid doing the moves, so, hey, I'll do them small and weak, and maybe no one will notice.

To be honest, the other dancers looked almost embarrassed to be up there. Surely they knew they weren't as good as the star, but by not doing their best, by not going full out, they looked even worse. Their movements looked sloppy and weak. They looked unsure and had so little energy that as an audience member, I found watching them to be total yawn fest. At least, when I wasn't cringing.

Worst of all, I made the discovery that when hip hop is performed halfway, it does look really, really silly, which I can almost guarantee was the dancers' (and, I'd wager, every artist's) worst fear. Do it halfway, and you'll look ridiculous. Do it full-out, and you're on to something.

As I sat in the audience, it dawned on me that writing is somewhat the same way.

Writing and putting your work out for an audience can be downright terrifying. But you can't play into that fear. If a writer backs away from being as strong and powerful and in control of their work as they can and should be, that is the moment when the work looks sloppy, weak, and chaotic. It's as if the writer wasn't at the helm, had no idea what to do next, and simply hoped no one noticed the missteps.

And yes, there will be times a writer is unsure. We have all taken risks in our work (or we should have). We all have grown, so we've all had our weaker moments, and will continue as we (hopefully) keep growing. The risks that have the best shot of working are the ones we commit to: the ones we write full-out. The minute we start marking a risk or a new technique, hoping no one will notice we're unsure and scared? That is the moment our work looks sloppy and weak.

Watching that hip-hop routine, I thought back to times where I've seen writers who have poured their souls into their work, even into a first draft, when maybe they weren't entirely at the skill level they wanted to be at. But they were trying with everything in their souls. The result: riveting and exciting writing anyway. As a reader, I find myself forgiving errors or weak spots because I see the passion and power that lies behind the writing. On the flip side, I'm far more likely to give up on prose that happens to be free of typos but lacks any heart.

So however you write, whether it's sitting at the keyboard or curling up with a notebook and pen, don't hold back. Yes, you may have some missteps along the way; that's to be expected. Maybe you aren't (yet) as good as other writers you're "on stage" with.

But chances are, if you hold back, your work will only draw negative attention to itself, and you won't grow. You'll never reach that glorious point where the eyes are all on you, where people's jaws drop in awe and admiration at the feats you just pulled off.

And remember: Every time a writer steps on stage, he or she is writing all by themselves. We must write full out, every single time.

Is baring your soul, pouring your all into your work, easy? No. Unequivocally no. But I'm convinced that doing so is the only way to ever be great.

So for this new year, here's my challenge for a resolution:

Get in the game, all the way. Write full-out every time. Leave the fear on the wings of the stage.

When you write, be that amazing kid in the front who made the dance look cool and amazing and awesome instead of the ones in the back who made it look, well, silly.

In other words, go all the way. Go big, or go home.

(I don't really want you to go home. Just decide to go big!)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Writing Schedules

A popular post from March 2009

by Annette Lyon

Sometimes I listen to a great podcast called Writing Excuses, produced with writers Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor, and Dan Wells. It's a very helpful podcast with lots of good information, and I recommend listening to it. Some of what they discuss refers specifically to fantasy and science fiction, but most of it is applicable to any genre.

One of the episodes, however, had me snickering and giggling: the one about a writer's schedule.

All three of the guys who are part of the podcast are full-time writers. I suppose they've forgotten what being a part-time writer was like, because they said things like (paraphrasing here):

"If I'm going to get any writing done, I need at least a four-hour block."

I burst out laughing.

Most of my writing career has been spent as a stay-at-home mom with several small children. Finding a four-hour block for writing was something that existed only in the realm of fantasy. Heck, for years, a TWO-hour block was pretty much an impossibility.

I had to find a way to make time, to use small snippets here and there. I learned to think ahead so that when I did have 30 minutes to write, I could type fast and make the most of the short session I had. I got really good at finding pockets of time and using them efficiently.

I wrote several books and sold lots of articles this way.

I imagine the vast majority of writers are in the same boat. They don't have large swaths of time to warm up and get into the mood and wait for the muse to strike. Not if they want to produce anything, anyway.

And that's fine.

Rumor has it that John Grisham worked as a lawyer while writing his first book, a page or so at a time during his 30-minute lunch break. Other now-famous blockbuster writers did the same before they could quit their day jobs.

If writing is a priority, you can find the time, even when a four-block is totally unrealistic.

Some ways:

What can you cut out of your life? Something will have to go, because there are only 24 hours in a day. Maybe it's a hobby. Or TV time (can you skip a sitcom six nights a week? That's THREE hours of writing!). Or it might be something else.

What can you consolidate or do faster? For example, if you ran all your errands on one day instead of spreading them out all week, you might be able to find a little time on a day or two to hit the computer. Maybe you can take the bus to work and write during the commute.

Plan ahead. That means both with finding time and with planning your writing. One small example: if I plan dinner well ahead of schedule (even doing something in the crock pot) then I can save myself half an hour or more that can be spent writing.

Then, if during the day, I thought ahead to what scene I'll write during that half-hour period, I can get right to work and be productive.

When are you sitting around doing nothing? I've written entire scenes in the doctor's office, the dance class lobby, and more. Time otherwise lost to the ether was made productive.

"I want to write, but I just don't have the time," is like nails on a chalkboard to me. Writers don't have time dropped handily into their laps. They MAKE time. They carve it out. They hunt it down, tie it up, and suck out every drop.

One irony: now that my youngest child is in kindergarten and I actually have a regular two-hour block, I find that I'm less productive in small snatches. It's as if my brain has realized it doesn't have to focus and work so hard--it's got two whole hours! Let's relax!

Next year when she's in school all day, I'd better not end up saying I need a four-hour block to get anything done.

If I do, smack me back to reality.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Art of Dialogue: Building Relationships

A popular post July 2013

By Julie Wright
part four of four

It's time for the fourth tip of writing good dialogue. Remember that dialogue can do all of the four things I am going to mention here, but it has to do at least one of them in order to be of any use to your story.

Tip number four:

Alter relationships—either building or tearing down-- You can tell if people are falling in love or getting a divorce by the kind of conversation they’re having. Most of the time anyway.  One of my favorite lines in the movie Life as We Know It is right after the two main characters have a major fight. One of the secondary characters made a comment that, "If my ex-wife and I fought like that . . . we'd still be married." So although they were fighting, it was a fight filled with passion, one that led the viewing audience to believe that the couple was in love in spite of the cruelty they hurled at each other in the form of words.
What are your characters saying to one another? Are they shredding each other verbally? Is the popular girl standing out from the crowd by telling one of the unpopular girls that she looks cute? Is the soldier refusing an order from his commanding officer which will likely result in disciplinary action?
You can tell if your characters are becoming friends or determined enemies by their conversations.  The things we say to each other alters our relationships even when we aren’t meaning them to. An offhanded compliment may save one person's life while a random verbal dig at that same person might be what throws them over the edge and makes them overdose. Conversations are important.

In real life, people kind of shamble through their own sentences. They um and er a lot, they digress, interrupt themselves, and start over again with the ums and ers. It's hard to build a believable relationship in print with all that going on, so refine the dialogue to include only the important things.

Dialogue can do all of these things we've discussed over the month—reveal character, move the plot, set the tone, and alter relationships in one conversation, but it, at least, has to have one, otherwise the dialogue isn’t necessary.

 –It can also do one more thing. Dialogue can provide exposition and backstory…and you want to use this judiciously. Nothing will bore a reader faster than you using dialogue to tell your main character’s entire life story or telling the entire history of the world you’ve built through the character’s conversations. That being said, dialogue is a tool in which you can quickly (quickly being the key word here) give some additional information, such as back story so that you won’t end up with long, tedious passages of exposition.

Building relationships means the dialogue is necessary. It has earned it's right to be in your story. Like I said the last few weeks, if you have scenes of dialogue that aren't paying their rent by contributing to the book as a whole, then they need to be evicted. Squatters have no place in a good story. Make certain your dialogue is paying its rent. Make sure it is:
  • Moving the plot forward.
  • Setting the Tone
  • Revealing the character
  • Building relationships

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Art of Dialogue: Reveal the Character

A popular post from July 2013

By Julie Wright
part three of four

It's time for the third tip of writing good dialogue. Remember that dialogue can do all of the four things I am going to mention here, but it has to do at least one of them in order to be of any use to your story.

Tip number three:

Reveal the Character

We don’t learn about characters simply by what they do, or the exposition that is written; we can learn about them through what they say and just as important, how they say it. Some characters are quiet and reserved so every word they actually utter is like a gift. Think Phineas and Ferb. If Ferb ever says anything, you always pay more attention to it, because it hardly ever happens. You expect something profound and awesome to exit that guy's mouth.
Other characters say whatever pops into their heads. They're the non-filtered characters.  These people are annoying to most of the world. These are the people that you sometimes want to push off a cliff because you just need them to stop talking. I am a non-filtered conversationalist. Please don't push me off a cliff. I truly don't mean to be offensive. We are who we are . . .
Some people are opinionated. Some are conservative. Some people turn everything into a joke. Some people don’t even get jokes let alone tell them.

By using dialogue properly, we can SHOW a character who is a submissive kiss-up in the way he offers to do the Starbucks run when the boss mentions he needs a coffee. Or in the way the kiss-up walks in on his co-workers talking in the break room instead of working and insists he's going to tell the boss on all of them.  The author doesn't just tell the reader that Simon was a whiny, sniveling kiss-up. The dialogue shows it.

Revealing the character through dialogue is an ultimate SHOW don't TELL kind of move. Don't tell us she hates her mom. Drop us in the middle of the fight and show her yelling at her mom--saying the sorts of things that prove her feelings. Don't tell us it hurt him to say goodbye. Show his voice cracking as he stumbles over the one word that changes everything for him.
We learn a lot about people during the course of conversation. Use this tool to help your reader better know your characters, and for your characters to better know each other. The more your reader knows your character, the more your reader can empathize and love that character which means they will stay with your character until the very end.

Revealing the character means the dialogue is necessary. It has earned it's right to be in your story. Like I said the last two weeks, if you have scenes of dialogue that aren't paying their rent by contributing to the book as a whole, then they need to be evicted. Squatters have no place in a good story. Make certain your dialogue is paying its rent. Make sure it is:
  • Moving the plot forward.
  • Setting the Tone
  • Revealing the character