Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Enjoy the Journey

A popular post from June 2010

By Julie Wright

Again, I am going to quote Barbara Hambly from the CONduit conference because she said many things over the course of the weekend that resonated with me.

Someone in the audience during her main address asked what she felt her greatest success was. They of course meant her writing. They wanted to know which of the scores of books she'd written had been the jewel in her literary crown.

Her reply?

The relationships in her life that had lasted 30 plus years.

It was at this same conference where I was on a panel and someone asked me how it felt to finally "arrive" as a published author. My reply?

I haven't arrived. There are still goals to achieve, stories to write, things that must be done. Before publication, my only thought was, "If I could just see my name on a book jacket, THEN I will be happy." After my first book came out it was, "If I could just see my name on a best seller's list, THEN I will be happy." After that happened, it was, "If I could just get published with the best and biggest publisher in my market, THEN I will be happy." After that happened, the happiness was dependant on sales numbers, getting an agent, being a finalist for a highly esteemed award, and on and on and on.

And was I happy for all those things?

Sure I was. But those things didn't maintain Eternal-Happiness-Forever. I still have bad days, insecure days, worried days. My journey to publication has been a rough road and I have yet to find ultimate satisfaction with my chosen career as a writer.

In the movie Cool Runnings (yes, I am old and did see this film in the theater) there is a scene where the young man asks about the gold medal in the Olympics. His coach made a comment that has stayed with me, "If you aren't enough without it, you'll never be enough with it."

It took me a few years to realize that if I'm not happy without all the trappings of publication, I will never be happy with them.

Realizing that has helped me to move forward, to chase dreams without losing the importance of living in each moment and finding joy for the sake of the moment.

As I said before there are still goals to achieve, stories to write, things that must be done. I haven't arrived. And I will likely never arrive because I'm not interested in being finished with writing. I'm interested in the journey. I'm interested in the story I'm writing, the book that's coming out right now, the friends I am making who really do give me Eternal-Happiness-Forever.

And if someone asks me what my greatest success is, my answer will be very similar to Barbara's. My greatest success is my family and friends. My greatest success is found in the relationships that make it all worth while, the people who laugh and cry with me, and who make every day twenty shades of awesome.

Don't be so quick to your finish lines that you forget to enjoy the race.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Your Author Bio--from laundry list to creating an author brand

A popular post from July 2010

by Heather Moore

Recently Annette Lyon and I attended the ULA Conference where we were guest speakers. I flipped through the syllabus and gasped when I saw my author bio. It told about me--but had nothing about my published books or anything that would qualify me to be a speaker. I thought--well, no one will come to my class.

I asked Annette why she thought they'd put that bio in there when I'd sent over my updated bio. She said, "They probably took it from your website."

She was right. As I looked at the bio, I realized that it was on my website. I guess I thought that someone visiting my website would see the books I've written, then for additional author information they'd read my bio.

When I returned home from the conference, I promptly changed the bio so that if someone needed to lift it from my website, it would go well with any conference syllabus.

Recently I read a post by bestselling thriller writer, Barry Eisler. He basically nails why your author bio should be something that attracts a reader to your book, not a dry laundry list of where you were born, where you live, and the number of children you have. Eisler calls is author branding--check out his great post HERE.

In revamping my author bio, I asked myself what information reflects my personality as well as what will motivate a new reader to buy my book?

Anyone want to share yours?

This is what I came up with:

Heather B. Moore is the award-winning author of several historical novels which are set in Ancient Arabia and Mesoamerica. She is not old and doesn’t remember the time period, so Google has become a great friend. Although she has spent several years living in the Middle East, she prefers to forget the smells. Heather writes under the pen name H.B. Moore so that men will buy her books. She is also the author of one non-fiction book, which took her much too long to research and write, so she is back to novel writing (when she isn’t clipping 2-for-1 coupons).

Friday, June 24, 2016

Where's the Engine?

A popular post from June 2011

by Annette Lyon

It's an interesting conundrum: great writing in a delightful manuscript, laugh out loud scenes, great showing, awesome characters . . .

but no conflict.

Clean writing on a small scale can get you only so far. I learned this the hard way when a professor read a short story of mine and proclaimed the writing to be excellent but the story to need a lot of work.

To a great extent, the things that needed fixing were big picture issues, like motivation and, yes, conflict.

Conflict is the engine that drives a story. Without conflict, all we have is a series of events. As delightful as those events may be, eventually the reader will get bored and set the book aside if the characters are driving blissfully along without speed bumps and road blocks.

This goes back, on some level, to the two sides of the writer.

First is the storyteller. This is the more common side to have it seems. Someone has a great story but doesn't know how to get it out. As an editor, that's relatively easy to fix and teach.

The second side is the wordsmith, and in some ways, it's the harder side to be on if you lack the other: you can create great writing, but you can't tell a story effectively. In other words, the writing itself is great, but the structure is weak. Wordsmithing is harder to teach (and impossible to edit).

Is your story lacking an engine? Here are a few clues that your story may be struggling with structure and conflict:
  • Most of the time, stuff happens to your character that they react to, instead of your character being proactive.
  • The story is pleasant, but there's no urgent problem, at least in a significant stretch of pages.
  • The stakes aren't high enough. The reader isn't worried for the characters right now.
  • The conflict, such as it is, could be resolved with a 2-minute conversation.
  • The original conflict is resolved, but we're still here, and any new conflicts we run into are short-lived and/or easily overcome.
Even if you're a "panster" (a writer who goes in blind, without pre-planning), your story needs structure. That could mean going back to add lots of conflict, structure, and plot points in future revisions.

Open your document to any page. Read that page and the one or two that come after. Then ask: Do we care? Is the heat hot enough for my character? Are the stakes high enough (does my character have enough to lose)? Why should your reader keep turning pages?

If you can't answer those questions, beef up that conflict. Study story structure. Revise.

It's work, but it'll be worth it in the end, because you'll be giving a reader a great experience they'll not soon forget . . . rather than a simple, pleasant tale they can set aside and forget to pick back up.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Defining Markets

A popular post from August 2011

by Annette Lyon

Knowing who your readers are is crucial. Your readers define your market and genre. Market and genre define where your book will be shelved (or indexed online) and therefore how potential readers will find you.

It also defines how you write your book.

Below are some basic genres and markets. The descriptions are very much generalized, but they'll at least give you an idea of how the publishing industry breaks things up.

Early Chapter Books
These are books young readers cut their teeth on. They're longer than picture books (but will still have some pictures), have larger fonts, and stick to pretty simple story lines. Books in this market include everything from the Arthur chapter books to the Frog and Toad series, Junie B. Jones, The Magic Tree House books, and so forth.

Middle Grade
Much longer books, few if any illustrations. Focused on emerging readers who can handle more complex stories and characters. Themes aren't too intense, and the protagonists are usually early teens. Middle grade has quite a range, from Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dear Dumb Diary to more complex books like the Fablehaven series, Percy Jackson, and the Deltora Quest series, along with the early Harry Potter books. (As Harry ages, so does his market. The later books are clearly Young Adult.)

Young Adult
Older teens are the main characters, and with that, we get more difficult and complex stories and themes. That can mean more violence and other content (language, drugs, innuendo, etc.), but it doesn't have to. Often YA means longer books. Examples include The Hunger Games, My Fair Godmother, and The Maze Runner.

This is a huge umbrella that covers several genres. In the most basic terms, "Speculative" means science fiction and fantasy. It can also include paranormal, horror, and other "otherworldly" stories. Within speculative you'll find sub-genres like dystopian, post-apocalyptic, high fantasy, low fantasy, and more. If you're writing here, you'll need to do research so you know what's out there and where you fit. Examples: Ender's Game, I Am Not a Serial Killer, and Mistborn.

The cardinal rule: the couple must end up together in a committed relationship. That doesn't mean we need to see an engagement or a wedding, but they need to be together, essentially "happily ever after."

You can certainly write stories where the couple doesn't get together. Such books sell well, but they're in a different genre (women's fiction or literary fiction). They cannot wear the label of "Romance."

Romance isn't all "bodice-rippers." It's a huge market (the best-selling genre by a mile). Included are category romances and stand-alone titles (find out which you write) and levels of "heat" from "sweet" (where the hero and heroine do no more than kiss) up to the really spicy (which can border on erotica) and everything in between. Examples of Romance writers: Danielle Steele, Georgette Heyer.

In the same vein, a mystery must have the crime (usually a murder) solved by the end, or it's simply not a mystery. This genre has a big range of sub-genres, including culinary and cozy mysteries on one end and hard-boiled, intense (and possibly graphic) stuff on the other. As with Romance, if you violate genre conventions, you're going to end up with ticked off readers. Example: anything by Agatha Christie.

In some ways, a thriller is the reverse of a mystery. In a mystery, we're trying to piece together clues to figure out who did it. In a thriller, we usually have a clue as to who the bad guy is, and we're trying to escape them or stop them from doing something horrible. Examples: The Hunt for Red October, The Da Vinci Code.

Women's Fiction
Somewhat of a broad term that encompasses literature that's often seen in book clubs. Features women and issues they face, but isn't Romance by genre terms. Examples: The Poisonwood Bible, The Help.

Of course, this is in no way an exhaustive list of genres or markets. In many cases, age-group markets are combined with genres, so you can end up with Young Adult Romance (most titles by Janette Rallison's books), Middle Grade Speculative (Percy Jackson), Young Adult Paranormal Romance (Twilight), and so forth.

Know your market and genre and then read it. Learn the ropes. Learn what's been done, learn what the readers expect. Learn the rules and which ones you can break (and why). Figure out what's old and what you can offer that's fresh.

Then get back to the keyboard and write!

Monday, June 20, 2016

"I'm a Bit Stubborn"

A popular post from October 2011

by Annette Lyon

Writing, whether it's your occupation, hobby, or passion, brings with it challenges that I believe are unique to the creative arts.

Among them is an intense connection to your work, almost as if your words are an extension of yourself, your heart, your very being.

That can pose a huge problem, but here are two of the most common ways:

1) You are too afraid to get feedback.
It's very hard to put your work out there for other people to see, then ask them for an opinion, especially since writing can be so subjective. It's like someone telling you your baby is ugly, and it's all your fault.

2) You refuse to accept feedback.
Yes, writing is subjective . . . to a point. But when alpha/beta readers, critique partners, and editors continue to return with similar feedback (this is confusing, show this, the pace is lagging, whatever), maybe there's really a problem.

Maybe you can really improve.

A truth for success in writing: being pig-headed gets you absolutely nowhere.

Those writers who seek help, who are open to suggestion and change, who recognize that maybe they aren't yet ready to put up a shelf for their incoming Pulitzer, who continually strive to improve: those are the writers who will eventually succeed.

I recently met a man who is an aspiring writer and actor. As we talked, it became clear that the main reason he hasn't found any success in either endeavor is that he refuses to seek or accept feedback.

With his writing, he simply will not let others so much as suggest he add a comma. No one is allowed to give criticism of any kind (editors and writing teachers are "full of themselves," you see). He has no industry connections at all, and therefore doesn't understand how the industry works. He doesn't take time for his craft. He simply expects success to land in his lap.

As we talked, he explained that he can't stand being told what to do. "I'm a bit stubborn," he admitted, as if that's an admirable quality.

Stubbornness can be a good thing; to some extent, it's what helped me get as far as I have in my career. I'm stubborn enough to not give up.

But that's not the kind of stubborn he was talking about. He refuses feedback, suggestions, change, and any hint that he maybe he'd get further by going about doing things differently.

Yet he asked my advice about how to improve, succeed, and find industry connections. I had a sneaking suspicion that he didn't really want to hear what I was going to say.

First I asked, "Have you been to any writing conferences?"

"Oh, no. I don't have time for conferences or any of that stuff."

Since we'd met all of ten minutes earlier, I might have been too bold in my response, but it slipped out anyway: "Then you don't have time to be a writer."

After a slightly awkward pause, he said, "Yeah, I hear that. But . . ."

And he kept going on about how he's such a great writer and doesn't want (or need) to be told what to do.

When he heard about how many books I've published, he asked if I could connect him with friends in the industry to get him published.

My first reaction (which I didn't verbalize), was to list all the work I've done to reach the point I'm at. We're talking about close to two decades of hard, consistent work. Work I'm still doing. Success doesn't just happen.

I tried to explain that no one can help him in the way he wants. Even if I handed him my editor's cell phone number, it would do him no good. I can make suggestions and recommendations to industry friends (and I have).

Every so often the recommendation leads to a contract. In one case, the writer I passed the information on about had been actively working, hard, for years. It was a good fit, and I could whole-heartedly recommend them to my editor. It worked out only because the writer's skill, work ethic, and professionalism were already in place. They likely would have made it eventually without my putting a finger into the situation.

But I've made other recommendations that haven't ended up in a contract. I can suggest all I want, but in the end, I have zero control over what an editor or publisher does. I've been recommended by others too, but that guarantees nothing.

As the conversation went on, it became quite clear that he didn't know some of the most basic things about writing or publishing, things he could have picked up and learned with a simple Google search (or heck, by reading the archives right here).

I left the conversation guessing that whatever dreams he has will never become a reality because he refuses to be teachable.

If you hope to be published and have success, you need outside feedback (good luck ever publishing a novel if you refuse to be edited; your publisher will drop you like a hot potato).

I don't care if you think you're the best gift to literature since Shakespeare; you need to improve and learn what that means for your work.

You need to reach out and make the connections. Don't isolate yourself in a tower and think you know best when others can support you and help you thrive.

Don't think you have all the answers. I can guarantee that whoever you are, you don't.

Learn the ins and outs and expectations of what a writer does, how publishing works, and what that means for you personally.

If you're serious about writing, you'll never be in a place to sit on your laurels.

Don't look down your nose at someone who is suggesting that maybe this part of your story might work better if you revised. They just might know what they're talking about. And remember: they're trying to help you, not pull you down.

Bottom line: Learn what it means to be a professional. And then behave like one.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Writing Retreats

A popular post from Nov. 2011

by Annette Lyon

Last week, from Thursday afternoon through Sunday morning, I attended a writing retreat.

The group consisted of twenty writers. Under the direction and coordination of Danyelle Ferguson, we rented out a cabin in the mountains and wrote out hearts out. Imagine: a three-floor cabin virtually silent, save for the tapping of keyboards. We took breaks for meals. We had several competitions where we did 20-minute writing sprints, cranking out as many words as we could. There were door prizes, laughter, great talk, and lots and lots of words.

If memory serves, we wrote more than a combined 266,000 words. That's more than 5 NaNoWriMo books. The retreat overlapped with Precision Editing's own write-a-thon, so several attendees hunkered down to write even harder during that period.

Part of my personal success on the retreat (I ended up just shy of 26,000 words) was thanks to advance preparation.

A few things that helped:
  • A list of upcoming scenes with brief descriptions. And by "brief," I mean less than a sentence. I had 10 or so scenes planned out. That way, I could hop around and write whatever section hit my fancy (and jump to a brand new one when we started a sprint).
  • A novel in progress. I think that starting a manuscript from scratch at a retreat might be challenging. But by showing up with nearly half the book already written, I didn't have to flounder around, trying to find my characters' voices or what the major conflicts were. Instead, I hit the ground running.
  • Scrivener. This is my first attempt at writing with the software (which is now available for Windows, booyah). The program made the retreat really easy, because I could swap from one scene to the next with (literally) a click or two of the mouse. I stamped my scene cards on the program's cork board with labels like "To Do," "Partial Draft," "First Draft," "Revised Draft," and "Done."
  • Find your way to focus. Whether that's silence, music, or something else (chocolate?), use it.
  • Breaks. You can't write for twelve hours straight, several days in a row. Your (or, at least, my) brain can't handle it. Some attendees set timers for regular breaks. You'll be more productive with a few well-timed breaks than trying to plow through more words when your brain has turned to mush.
Every retreat is a bit different. Some may require attendees to take turns cooking. Others may include speakers (we had a set of speakers during lunch Friday) or workshops. And so on.

I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year (although, for inspiration, I wore the hoodie I bought myself when I won last year), but it was a great kick-off for those doing it.

I got a ton accomplished on my WIP, and I had a great time getting there. If you ever get the chance to attend a retreat, I highly recommend it.

**Side note: Check out Larry Correia's plan for the ultimate Book Bomb at Amazon on Thursday, November 10th. Help us help Robison Wells!***

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Six Free Reference Books on How to Write

A popular post from November 2011 (be sure to check the links to make sure the book is still free)

By Julie Wright

We've been talking a lot on this blog about education. What price would you pay to write a GREAT book. We've talked about self editing, about taking the time to go to conferences and read books on writing. We've talked about being willing to fork over a few dollars so that you can LEARN.

But that's not what I'm going to talk about today.

I know Tuesday is almost over, but this is good news, and I was afraid to wait until next Tuesday because the opportunity might be gone.

Right now you can get SIX FREE books on how to write. Seriously. FREE. I've already downloaded mine onto my Kindle. If you don't have a Kindle, that's okay because you can download a PC Kindle app.

Here is the link to start building your reference library for


If you are at all serious about writing, then you need to learn your craft. This little gift takes all your excuses taken away. Take the time to download a few books that can help fine tune you from an adequate author to a great author.

Happy reading!

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Middle of Nowhere

A popular post from September 2011

I live in the literal middle of nowhere. Getting to my house is one of those experiences where you start out thinking about how fun the road trip is going to be. You take off with your snacks, and your drinks, and your awesome music you can sing along with. But once you leave the freeway and enter the highway, things feel less promising than they did when you took off. You're moving slower because the speed limits are so incredibly lamely LOW, and sometimes you get stuck behind semi trucks who make the lame low speed limit look like Nascar, and the scenery doesn't feel like it's changing. It's more of the same thing over and over and over. And sometimes you get stuck out there in the middle--due to cattle or sheep, or rolled semi trucks (it happens). Sometimes you get stuck for a long time and it totally bites because there isn't even any cell service.

People show up at my house and come panting in my living room and plopping down on my couch with great exclamations of how they NEVER thought they would get there.

I get them a drink and lament American highways with them because it's the right thing to do. It really is a long drive--necessary for me, but long.

Writing feels similar sometimes.

You get this great idea--this epic, amazing, you-can't-believe-the-idea-actually-came-to-you idea, and you take off, writing furiously. You've got your snacks, your drinks, your best writing music, and you are so excited about what you're working on, you can barely keep the grin off your face. You know that the ending of this work will be colossal, amazing. You're thrilled with how fantastic the destination of the end of your book will be for readers of all ages. You are going to change the world.

Until you find yourself in what feels like the two-lane-highway-stuck-behind-a-semi-truck part of your book.

Welcome. You've now reached the middle.

And you start to doubt.

Is this really where you wanted to go anyway? What's so great about reaching "the end?" Maybe that beginning was the mistake. Maybe you took a wrong turn somewhere . . .

So instead of writing, you rearrange your pen collection, get up for a different snack--you were sick of chips anyway and realize carrot sticks might be healthier. You punch some buttons on the remote control to see what might be on.You call your friends and see about going to a movie, but they're busy writing--jerks, and then you decide that health is overrated, and you wanted ice cream instead.

There are some things you can do to pass the semi--clear the flock off the road, and get back to the freeway that will take you where you want to go.

Are you bored? If you're bored, I promise, your reader is too. If that's the reason the middle's slowing down, then you might want to insert some action, some peril, something that incites your characters and your readers. Put them in danger, make the girl lose the guy, have the murderer strike again while the detective is still scrambling with clues. Make something happen that propels the action and the plot forward again.

Does your character not have clearly defined goals so your characters are kind of wandering around in the misty middles of nowhere because they're not sure what to do next? if this is the case, go back and find something your character desperately wants or is desperately passionate about. That is the goal. Keep them moving toward the goal, which will help move them away from the middle and closer to the end. Make sure the goal is big enough that the readers will care if the goal is achieved. If the quest is merely for a pint of ice cream--you might not be able to get the reader to follow the journey to the end. Make it riveting enough to hold your attention.

Make sure your antagonist has a clear goal too. No one is evil just for the sake of evil. They have things they want and are trying desperately to achieve.

I have a tendency to get lost in my manuscripts about page 60, and then again at page 120. But I've always found that it's because I've lost sight of the goal or failed to keep the action and plot moving. Middles don't have to feel like the boring nowheres they sometimes seem to be. Take the scenic route and turn your music up louder. And remember to have fun with it!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Myths and Validation

A popular post from August 2011

By Julie Wright

I read a quote that made me laugh and cry--or at least feel like crying.
"I have always believed that writing advertisements is the second most profitable form of writing. The first, of course, is ransom notes . . ." --Philip Dusenberry
As a mass communications major, I found that absolutely hilarious. As a novelist . . . well, it hurt a little, only because it is so dang true.

I've always known I had to go into an occupation that involved writing since I wasn't good for anything else. I wanted to be in advertising--wanted to win a Clio. I wanted to write ads so awesome they'd be played during the Super Bowl. And, to be completely base about the whole thing, I wanted to make a lot of money.

And then one day I finished my first novel. The moment of completion can only be likened unto Dr. Frankenstein with his monster. I'm pretty sure I cackled like a mad man scientist, and the manuscript felt very much alive. The novel had started as a side note for me--a way to prove to some idiot naysayer that I could write a novel, but at that moment, it was everything. The feeling was so immense, I knew I would have to do it again. I needed that feeling again.

Writing became my personal drug.

It would be another several years before I learned anything about really writing. It would be another decade before I was actually any good at it. And over that time I discovered a distinction between the emotional validation that comes with writing and the monetary validation.

I once believed that writing a novel and getting it published guaranteed you big royalty checks. For the most part, that isn't true. Sure there are exceptions, but I wasn't one of them. My first check was disappointing. Then I got with a bigger publisher and my checks started coming in with actual commas in them. That was pretty exciting and I realized I could actually make a living at this.

I know some people who support their families off of their writing. I know others who can't take their families to McDonalds on their royalty checks. I started writing for a niche market. I am successful in my niche market, but it's still a niche market. I knew that going in and of course I am branching out to those larger markets. But I've heard of other authors who are out there in their huge markets, and all the potential those markets have to offer, and they make less than I do.

So why keep doing it?

There is the other validation--the one that has nothing to do with dollar signs and everything to do with achieving something great. It has something to do with that buzz that comes when you reach the end of a draft--when you took nothing and made it something.

That validation is pretty intense. The emotions that come with it can be likened to the thrill of jumping off a cliff into a void and as you fall the void turns into mountain ranges or skyscrapers or castles. And you land safely in the middle of a murder mystery, or an epic fantasy, or a hilarious contemporary romance.

Dave Wolverton always tells people that a decent living can be made at writing, and I absolutely agree. but like anything it takes work. Unless you are that entirely rare fluke, it isn't going to be something that happens overnight. One of my best friends recently got a six figure deal and that was for North American rights only. he'll do great with foreign rights and movie rights. And I am thrilled for him. But he's worked his butt off for years to get to this place. Because of the work involved--a lot of people drop out. They can't handle the time it takes to write a GREAT manuscript versus the decent-enough manuscript. They can't handle the rejections. They can't handle the waiting. That is why that other form of validation is so important. Knowing why you're doing it, knowing that it takes time to get the draft right, to get that agent, to get that publisher and then to build your audience, knowing all that makes it easier to live in the mental and emotional validation versus the monetary one.

And it make it easier to laugh at jokes like this:

Three guys are sitting in a bar.

#1 "Yeah I make $80,000 a year for a living."
#2 "Cool. What do you do for a living?"
#1 "I'm a stockbroker. How much do you make?"
#2 "I should clear $65,000 this year."
#1 "What do you do?"
#2 "I'm an architect."
The third guy has been sitting quietly staring into his beer when the others turn to him.
#2. "So what about you? What do you make a year?"
#3 "$13,000."
#1 "Oh really? So what kind of books do you write?"

Know why you're doing it, and you'll live through the myths and make it to the validation. :)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Effective Arcs

A popular post from July 2010

by Annette Lyon

The current (July/Aug 2010) issue of Writer's Digest focuses on the memoir: How to write one, what agents are looking for, how to pitch one, and so forth.

As I've read the articles, I've found it fascinating to see how applicable the very same tools are to both memoir and fiction.

Memoir is one person's memory of real events, but to be something readers want to keep turning pages on, it can't be a laundry list of events in a person's life. It needs to have a structure, a narrative arc.

One piece in the magazine, "Elements of an Effective Arc," by Adair Lara, discusses how to create your own effective memoir arc. Throughout the article, I couldn't help but think how applicable the same concepts are to crafting a novel.

Here are a few tidbits she includes, but tweaked by me a bit to fit novelists instead of memoir writers:

The Desire Line
What does your MC want most? It should fit in one sentence and be specific. "Rhea wants to be happy" isn't good enough. Think of what your MC's happiest possible ending would look like. What did they get? THAT is what the desire line should be about.

Actions and Obstacles
No story is complete without conflict. (I'd venture to stay it's not a story if it doesn't have conflict). Lara uses a formula to show how this works. It's in first person since it's talking about memoir, but put your MC in place of "I" and fill it out:

I wanted _________ (the desire line).
To get it, I ________ (action).
To get it, I then _____ (action).
But ________ (obstacle) got in my way.
So I ________ (action).

And so on (many times) throughout the book.

Characters we love are those who want something and act on it. They don't sit around and react to life as it happens around them. They make things happen. Since they're active in the story, they naturally run into obstacles (hence, conflict).

They then try to find a way around those obstacles. (Still being active participants in events.)

That creates a story, especially when the desire line is compelling enough that the reader wants the MC to get what's in the Desire Line as much as the MC does.

Emotional Beats
Lara describes emotional beats as shifts in emotion that lead to events, which lead to obstacles. Emotion is what drives a story. When your MC feels something strongly (positive or negative), they take action. And then they run into an obstacle.

Belle is terrified of the Beast (Emotion)
So in spite of her promise, she runs away. (Action)
But a wolf pack attacks her. (Obstacle)

Check out page 37 of WD to see the graph Lara has there of an effective arc.

She includes the Inciting Incident, the first emotional beat and the moment things change in your MC's life. Beats will ramp up. Some will be life-altering, while others won't be quite so intense, but they should all point toward the desire line: what is motivating your character to keep moving through these emotions, toward action, around obstacles?

The Ending Incident
Someone once said that to write a good story, you start at the beginning, tell the story, and when it's over, stop.

Much easier said than done.

Knowing when the story is over and to stop writing is a tricky, especially for something as big as a novel, where there are loose ends to wrap up. But knowing where to end is a must: you can't go on and on and on once the major conflict is resolved.

To put it in Lara's terms: once your MC has achieve their Desire Line, the story is over. The MC has what they want/need. The end.

Granted, it's not quite that simple, but the concepts she outlines for a memoir arc are sound and worth paying attention to as you map out your novel.

WHAT does your MC want? What will get him/her to that place? What does finding that thing look like in your story?

When your MC reaches whatever that thing is (assuming you're going for a happy ending), that's where your arc comes down, and therefore, the story, ends. If your story doesn't end happily, the arc still needs to come down in a satisfying way: maybe the MC realizes they want something else and get that. Or they find that they can't get it, and they go through the process of accepting that. Whatever it is, the arc must be satisfying.

If you're stuck in the middle of your book, stand back and analyze the elements of your arc.
  • Do you have strong emotional beats where they're needed to propel the action?
  • Are your obstacles big enough?
  • Are the obstacles a result of the action your MC took?
  • Do the emotional beats/actions/obstacles bring your MC closer to what they want in the end?
Whether it's with memoir or fiction, readers need something to hook onto, something to grip them and keep them turning pages. A solid arc will do that for you.

(For the full article, see pages 34-38. Adair Lara teaches memoir writing.)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Losing My Grip on Reality

A popular post from September 2010

by Annette Lyon


It's happened every time. You'd think I'd get used to it.

But somehow I get the same weak-knee, punched-in-the gut, light-headed feeling every time.

I stare. I almost cry. And then I have to stop myself from looking around just in case one of my characters happens to be lurking around in spirit form. Sometimes I'm tempted to grab someone near me, point, and say, "Did you know that right over there, so-and-so stood and did such-and such?"

And of course, if I really did that, I'd sound like a total crazy person, because "so-and-so" never did exist, and never did "such-and-such."

What happened?

I was at the Garden Restaurant at the top of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City. It has the most marvelous view of the top of the Salt Lake Temple.

I knew this. I've been there before. But the last time was a good decade or so ago.

BEFORE I wrote a book about the temple. With an epilogue that takes place on the day of the capstone celebration. The end of the epilogue is at the top of the spires, exactly what I was looking out at.

During that time, while the scaffolding was still in place, they sold tickets to the public to climb up and view the city from the top of the the temple. (Can you imagine what a sight that would have been?)

That night in 1892, after the capstone celebration, shortly after Angel Moroni was set into place, I have my characters at the top of the temple. (I'm not going to tell you who they are or what had transpired; you'll just have to read the story. Let's just say that I'm already getting a bit emotional telling you this much. Man, I love my characters . . .)

So there I was at the restaurant staring out at the spires. I nearly snagged a lady standing next to me. "Over there, see?" I wanted to say. "That's exactly where they were standing with their families, looking out over the valley."

Instead, I gazed out, felt a fluttery feeling in my stomach, blinked back tears, and tried to get a grip on reality.
They're not real, I reminded myself.

But the same thing happened the first time I drove into Logan after
House on the Hill was released (I swear I nearly saw Abe and Lizzy running across Main Street toward the Tabernacle) and again when I visited the St. George Temple after At the Journey's End came out (I almost pointed out to my daughter where Clara and Miriam were dropped off on the wagon and she first walked into the temple).

What is my problem?!

I guess what it boils down to is that I love the landmarks I write about. I feel immersed in the history. And I completely fall in love with my characters. They feel real to me.

And when all is said and done, I hope they become as vividly real to my readers, too.

Friday, June 3, 2016

I Think the Best and Expect the Best

A popular post from September 2010

By Julie Wright

My father was once the president of the Optimist International Club. Yes, optimists have a club and yes, they’ve really gone international.

At the age of thirteen, I came home with a mountain of homework to do and plowed into it (this is because I was ugly and unpopular and didn’t really have anything else to do in my life EXCEPT homework). Halfway through the mountain, my dad called.

“I need you to write up a speech and be prepared to give that speech out loud in front of a panel of judges and several hundred other people who are part of my club. I’ll be picking you up in a little less than two hours. Oh, and Julie? You have to wear a dress.” (Okay, fine, he didn’t actually mention the hundreds of people. He left that part as a surprise.)

It seems many of my life altering moments involved being rushed into something before I could think it through well enough to protest, and me wearing a dress. So I wrote a five minute speech on this topic: “I think the best; I expect the best.”

I was thirteen (as I’ve already pointed out). Five minutes of positive thinking for any teenager is quite a stretch. It turns out, this little shin-dig Dad had me go to was a public speaking contest. Lots of kids were entered and most of them were tutored by drama and public speaking coaches. The only public speaking I’d ever done was yelling at my brother in the grocery store. Why my father felt compelled to throw me in the mix at the last minute, I couldn’t really say. Standing in front of all those adults scared me to knee-knocking death.

Of course, I didn’t win. And I actually had the gall to feel badly about not winning. I went with two hours preparation and a dress that didn’t fit (because I never wore dresses back then; my parents were hard pressed to get me to wear shoes), and I had the nerve to feel I should have placed higher than the people who went prepared.

And what might this little trip down memory lane mean?

It means that so often we go into something less than prepared and then get ticked off when it doesn’t turn out the way we think it should.

I meet writers who finish their first novels and immediately begin submitting. And while I congratulate them for the fact that they actually finished a novel, and further congratulate them for having the fortitude it takes to submit, I wonder if they aren’t going into a contest less prepared than their competition.

Did those writers send their manuscripts out to critique groups? Did they receive the right coaching? Did they study up on how to make themselves stand out in the slushpile? Do they know the mechanics of writing? Are they passionate about their manuscript? What are their credentials? Did they even run a spell check before sending in the manuscript?

And worse, those writers (me included back before I knew better) whine when they don’t walk home with a contract in hand. The speech I wrote back then still resonates with me.

I think the best; I expect the best. And something more to take away the prize: I gave my best.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Extra Eyes

A popular post from August 2011

by Annette Lyon

Last Saturday was the first ever Precision Editing Group live critique workshop. Each of the five senior editors had a table of writers, and we spent the day reading pages aloud and helping one another improve.

(We also got a picture taken of the five of us, which you can see in the sidebar. Left to right: Lu Ann Staheli, Heather Moore, Julie Wright, me, and Josi Kilpack.)

I had a great group of writers at my table. Here we are (I'm third from the left):

We had a great time. By the end of the day, I felt that everyone at my table had a solid direction to go with their books. They knew what worked (our table was great at pointing out strengths!), what didn't quite hit the mark, and best of all, they came away know knowing why certain parts didn't land and they knew how to make their work better.

I led the discussion, but I wasn't the only one talking. Everyone got to comment on everyone else's work, and I believe they all learned something from the three elements of the day:

1) Taking a critique from others.
Learning to accept a critique helps a writer build a thicker skin and lets you view your work more objectively. It's easy to get so close to your story that you can't see what's good and what's not so good without stepping back. The best way I've found to get that distance is through receiving outside feedback.

2) Giving a critique to others.
When you put on the editor hat and must actively look at someone else's work through that lens, you're working a different creative muscle. If you're like me, you'll discover things about writing that you didn't know before. You'll see something that works well (or doesn't), and then you have to articulate why. Also, sometimes I'll see a problem in someone's work, and only then do I realize that I do the very same thing.

3) Watching other people critique a third person's work.
When different perspectives and different skill sets are put into action in front of you, you may get some of the best writing education of your life. I've had more light-bulb moments watching members of my critique group help each other than in almost any other way.

I've learned huge amounts from all three critique ways, and I believe that my table did, too, even though we had just one day together.

Kudos to the five writers at my table. Your willingness to both learn and give was inspiring, and I was impressed with your work. Keep at it!

If you haven't had this type of critique experience, find one. Joining my critique group in January of 2000 was the single best thing I did for my writing. My skills jumped ahead light years in a matter of months.

I'm sure we'll have more writing workshops in the future. Be sure to watch for any announcements, because you won't want to miss out.