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No one, if questioned directly, would admit to believing in a magic hook. But the suggestion is insidious. It creeps in through cracks and knotholes, and lodges itself in places where we rarely shine light. Before we know it, we become certain we?ll know those words when we see them, even though few of us appear to agree on any one choice.
Critiques aren't personal attacks. Our main focus is to call attention to elements of your writing that won't work in the public sector and to save you from embarrassment.
There are five rules for chapter one of your book and here they are:
1. Start the story as late as possible
2. Have a grabber opening
3. Make the reader care, usually via the MC
4. What are the stakes? What can be gained or lost?
5. End with a cliffhanger so we go to chapter 2
I had the good fortune of participating in RMFW's Colorado Gold writing conference this weekend. While I attended several productive workshops, I found a few to be especially informative, including one about sidekicks in fiction.
To this day, I remember one important piece of feedback from a classmate: ?Don?t whitewash history.?
I couldn?t wrap my head around why he would say that. I?d avoided the use of racial slurs. I?d put the former slaves on equal ground with their white neighbors, shaking hands and chatting it up like I?d do with any of my friends of color today. Wouldn?t readers get mad at me if I wrote the ?n? word and portrayed racism in its hateful reality? What did I, a middle-class white woman in the 21st century, know about the struggle of black Americans to rise out of bondage to find their place in a free world that hated them? What right did I have to portray those ugly truths as they happened?
Unless you're a well known, bestselling author, people aren't going to be interested in what you have to say about a field you have yet to establish yourself in. Even if you are, the majority of the people who visit your blog aren't interested in the process. They're interested in you, your world(s), and your characters.
I started getting hooked on writing short stories, after a chance viewing in a magazine. The advertisement, was not very specific, but later on I discovered I was applying to write for a literary magazine called ?Rat Mort? (dead rat).
Info dumps are when you throw a ton of background or description or whatever at a reader to establish a character.
It's boring to read, and readers can't remember all of it, so don't do it.
Building a science fantasy novel with no writing background and learning as I go isn?t easy.
At the start of this year I set myself a challenge: I would write and publish a short story for every day of 2015, starting January 1st and ending December 31st. Three-hundred-and-sixty-five in all.
You should, you know, even if you are determined to be its sole reader. To me, it?s exactly like asking. ?Why should you brush your teeth?? Well? Should you? What if you shun thoughts of other people examining and assessing your teeth? Right. Brush them anyway. It?ll be good for you and you will enjoy the difference. Write a poem for yourself, then. It will be cleansing to any writing you?re cutting your teeth on right now. Try a mindless ditty akin to HEY DIDDLE, DIDDLE. Who knows what that?s about? When?s the last time you shouted ?Hey!? To your neighborhood Diddle Diddle?? Or, maybe your mind?s depths are of a greater measure. How about a life-threatening drama or history lesson completely obscured from view yet there for all to see, one akin to GOOSEY GOOSEY GANDER.
When I sat down to create a book trailer I hadn't realized how difficult it would be. I'd cobbled together a book trailer that was pretty to look at, had rousing music, but was ineffectual. It was boring. I played with different takes as I learned how to create something visually interesting that would pique interest in my book. And while it was fun and I enjoyed the creative process, I was a beginner and had no idea how to begin.
To do this right I knew I needed more than the preinstalled software on my pc. It's tempting because it's free, I know, but don't even click on that icon. You don't want to use it, trust me. It's for making simple, cheesy home videos. The kind you invite friends and family to watch on YouTube and Facebook, and which they noncommittally "like" without ever watching.
Villain. Bad guy. Antagonist. Villainess. Black hat.
Call them whatever you want, they can leave a bad feeling for other characters. Whether it's the dragon Smaug from J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit or The Flash villain, the telepathic simian Gorrila Grodd. More times we think of the hero as the mover and shaker of the story, the protagonist. However, it's the antagonist who drives the plot of the story.
Is identifying and deciding on a protagonist still possible today? Go back to the meaning of the word. In artistic constructions the main character holds the title of protagonist. This disregards the morality aspects of that main character.
What many unpublished writers do not know is that their entire novel is going to be judged based on just the first three chapters, or one chapter. That's where the 250 words comes in. That is considered to be roughly your first page. Never mind if it isn't. This magic number comes up again and again in writing and querying circles. As I have discussed at length here in the past, Twitter is a fantastic resource for querying authors, because that is where you will hear about most of the regular pitching contests, which ultimately serve the purpose of helping you polish your pitch.
To be a successful writer of fiction we must understand the balance of showing versus telling in our work. This is a critical skill, and one that we can learn. There is no formula, and we need to do both, but we must keep them in proper proportion.
It's been a busy year. The third book in the Grimm Agency series "Wish Bound" is off getting typeset, which means ARCs will arrive in the near future. The second book, "Armageddon Rules" is launched, the first book, "Free Agent" has been out in the wild for 8 months, and now I?m thinking about what I learned from writing a series.
I learned that writing a series requires more planning than writing a one off. When I started the Grimm Agency series, I kept everything in my head. This didn't work out well, as my head can be a confusing and crowded place. I eventually produced a world bible, and I'm so happy I did. Keeping track of what happened to everyone, when, and why is too much for my brain, but my world bible is patient.
Dialogue is one of my favorite elements of fiction. While it seems to only show two characters shooting the breeze or arguing, it really does so much more than that.
It moves the overall story forward.
It reveals character.
It provides action within a scene.
It quickens the pace of the narrative.
It provides tension and subtext.
Of course, in order for all these things to occur, the dialogue must be written well. There are many great posts and books out there on the topic of dialogue construction, and definitely check those out as well. This is my attempt at succinctly describing what I think are the most important aspects of dialogue.
Full disclosure. I am not a published author. I am barely an author. Sometimes I?m barely a human, but that?s only before 8:30 a.m. and two cups of coffee. Still, the CC chat has been gabbing recently about the differences between Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing. I thought I ought to take my copious amount of knowledge and explain the pros and cons and settle this debate for good.
No Pants Friday? No Pants... everyday?
Members of the first writing group I attended included a seventy-four year old man who had just started writing. A very nice kind lady tried to introduce all types of writing to the beginners who attended her workshops. We completed various writing exercises in the classroom environment and were given an assignment to complete by the next lesson.
A few weeks ago, maybe longer, I had hit a reading roadblock. I'd become really difficult to please in my reading choices, nothing new I picked up was any good. Too many writing 'rules' broken to allow me to enjoy the stories. And by 'rules broken' I mean bumps in the reading that would toss me out of the story and cause me to analyze the writing. It didn't always break rules, but caused a problem with my reading flow.
As an author, I?d taken the appropriate classes, but nothing prepares you for when you actually hunker down to put your heart on the page.
Editors want to be your partner in crime, not tripped up by things you ought to know already. This is a good thing for you, too, since a lot of us charge by the hour. So here are my top ten things that you should try to avoid when sending that manuscript off to your editor:
It's the golden goose of the writing business: a qualified critter who reads the whole novel. Every writer wants them, but few are able to find them. What makes a critter walk away from a novel? What can writers do to prevent it?
To paraphrase and summarize, when your writing just isn't coming alive, seems flat - or plain isn't working, sometimes you've got to take a step of so back in time and action to find the inciting incident for conflict, growth or change, that will make your story "pop." Make that the beginning point. Some indicators you may have to move your beginning point back are: needing too much backstory in the narrative; little of no change in your MC or other characters - lack of conflict or growth; and if by the end of the book, you still haven't told the whole (or real) story.
As an author, it's important that you have an internet presence, and your website/blog is the most important part of that. This article looks at what you need and how to make it work.
The bane of my multiple decades of writing has been learning to understand and implement the process of revision (as well as learning not to take criticism personally, but that's another story). So, I have drawers, folders, binder, file cabinets (okay, I'll admit it — A CLOSET) full of half-completed works of fiction. Once committed to a full-time fiction writing effort, I decided to develop a revision approach I hope will help me put clothes back in that closet.
One bit of wisdom that comes with experience is that in tense scenes you want the pacing to pop. The tricks of the trade for fast tension? Short sentences, short paragraphs, everything short. Boom. Boom. Boom. Pop. Pop. Pop.
In general, I believe that. And yet . . . I've read scenes where the author has dragged the tension out for pages and pages. Almost to the point where it's been painful for me as reader. Nothing fast about that.
How an author words their critique is very important. Just like how only the right word in your book will do, the same applies with a critique. If a critic doesn't choose their words carefully and focus on the work itself, than everything they say will be ignored. Emotions tie heavily into writing and this fact cannot be ignored when offering up a critique. Being brutal isn't being kind or helpful it's another word for cruel. People seem a little mixed up lately, with going on about given harsh critics for the authors' own good. I think that saying is backwards don't you? So for who's own good is it for? Or rather who feels better, at what end of the critique? Wishing to help others is commendable, however it must stem from kindness.
To miss-quote Anton Ego, "A great artist can come from anywhere, but not everyone can become a great artist." To be sure, there are a lot of truly wonderful self-published books. But how do you know? Well, word-of-mouth, good reviews, sales ranking, etc. in other words, marketing. A traditional publishing house is banking literally on the success of your book. It is in their best interest, and within their considerable power, to market and promote your book. They have publicists, contacts, and a well-earned reputation. And the money to back it all up. To be sure, even with traditional publishing, you are expected to pound the pavement and get the word out, go to signings, and meet with librarians and booksellers. But with self-publishing you're on your own.
For us struggling novelists, poets and short fictionists, our writing time is precious. In between work, family commitments and friends, the little allotted time we do put aside needs to be as productive as possible. But when you sit down to write and your brain is sluggish, the cogs not turning quite as slickly as they did just mere weeks ago, or maybe still bouncing all over the place as we try to adjust back from our holiday high and catch up with errands for the day ahead, a two hour session can easily slip by with little achieved. So I thought I would share some of the tactics I use to make my writing time work its hardest
It amazes me that after all of these years spent writing in a variety of genres (novels, short stories, poetry, memoir, essays), I?m still learning about process and other writing-related things. Recently, I?ve been working on what I expect will become another novel. It draws on some of my childhood experiences growing up on the Canadian prairies. Of course, it?s no surprise to anyone that writers use such events in their fiction (and non-fiction), but I find that I get bogged down if I stay too close to the actual material.
In this post, I'd like to focus on his formula for putting worthy plot twists in your novels. Yes, I said worthy. I think everyone's had the experience of reading a book where a sudden change felt predictable, overwrought or inauthentic. I'd put an example here, but most books that have done this to me get put down and forgotten.
We've all been there. There isn't enough time in the week, much less today, to get any worthwhile work done on the WIP. Between the distractions of modern life and the hard graft necessary to pay for it, is it so surprising that we have very little left for our stories?
Participating in Nano keeps me on track. I often let silly things like work and school and over editing get in my way of writing. During Nano, I make time to write despite those things. Of course, I still make sure to leave room in my schedule for important things like getting distracted by metaphoric squirrels, making coffee runs, and of course trying my hand at guest blogs for Critique Circle.
Critique Circle was not my first choice when I started looking for critique groups. The thought of showing people my writing was nerve-wracking enough. Showing my writing to absolute strangers terrified me. Especially considering the typical level of intelligence and tact shown in the average comment on YouTube or your favorite news site.
I wish Fire up Your Fiction: An Editor's Guide to Writing Compelling Stories by Jodie Renner had been available when I was a novice writer. It is jam packed with the most wonderful advice - advice I give novice writers all the time.
No animals, characters, or mythological creatures were harmed in the writing of this post.
(This wasn't my first option for this blog post, but I thought it would be more useful. If anyone would also like to read a post on fantasy writing tips, let me know.)
We at Critique-Circle have long admired NanoWriMo and so we decided this year to become an official sponsor and in that way help in strengthening this important event even further. We also wanted to hear more about what drives the wonderful staff behind Nano and maybe get some tips on how to become a winner, so we called up Grant Faulkner, Executive Director at NanoWriMo and long-time Nano participant. Here is the second part of that interview.
National Novel Writing Month, or Nano as it is lovingly known among us writers, plays an important part in many writers? lives.
Each fall we gear up and get ready for the writing frenzy that starts November 1st when we have to produce at least 1667 words per day to reach that 50,000 word goal and become Nano winners.
We at Critique-Circle have long admired this event and so we decided this year to become an official sponsor and in that way help in strengthening this important event even further.
We also wanted to hear more about what drives the wonderful staff behind Nano and maybe get some tips on how to become a winner, so we called up Grant Faulkner, Executive Director at NanoWriMo and long-time Nano participant.
Some time back, Accent Tag vlogs were all the rage on youtube. They're fun to watch, but for writers, they're more than fun. They're a great example of why character voices need to be distinctive, and they're a potential tool to help us figure out how to make our characters sound unique.
Pretend you?re a guest at a picnic in a scenic location. Bright sunshine, a classic checkered cloth for a blanket, and a large and elegant picnic basket at your side. You lift the lid in anticipation, but see only a packet of crackers. The kind they serve at a salad bar. You snap the lid shut, hoping your eyes were wrong. But a deeper look reveals only a small bottle of water. It?s a kindergarten-size snack, and you came here hungry.
NaNo is crazy and chaotic, and that's what makes it work - for some of us. Many of us participate every year, but have never reached that magical final word count of 50.000 words. A possible solution: Setting goals.
You are only doing NaNo for one of three reasons:
1) You need to get into a daily writing habit and writing 1666 words a day for a month is a good way of developing that habit.
2) You need to get a big chunk of writing done in a hurry and 50,000 words in a month ain't a full novel for most genres, but it ain't too shabby either.
3) You're friends are threatening to steal your fuzzy socks and your chocolate stash if you don't join.
We think of ourselves as writers. Few of us think of ourselves as editors. Of course, we all want our submissions to be grammatically and stylistically close to perfect.
Where can we find help? We could go to a commercially available editing house. A Google search will list hundreds of them. They usually charge at least two cents a word and offer a universe of possible services (which can cost much more). A simple copy editing of a 3K word story would cost you at least $60.
Worse than the cost, it is difficult to figure out the good from the bad editors, though online reviews can help. In addition, each requires a discrete contract and payment, and a few days to get the job done. Generally, if you are willing to pay a premium, you get it back faster.
An alternative is to use a software grammar or style checker.
The intent of this article is to provide insight into these SW products, how to use them, and their pros and cons. This is not a full review of any of them, and it is not a review of everything available on the market, though I?ll hit on a few of the biggest.
One of the most important lessons I learned about point of view didn't come from a textbook. It came from Sounds Like Crazy by Shana Mahaffey. This lovely book completely changed my point of view on well... point of view.
There are hundreds of middle of the road books about writing that don't offer anything new, but sometimes new information isn't what you need. You need something that helps you grapple with the principles you already know. A new way to see story elements that's going to click with the way your mind works. Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation & conflict is one of those extraordinary books that does that.
Writing about creativity comes from reviewing and commenting on other CC members work. What I see at CC is a mix of various skill levels of writing. Some are beginners while others easily exceed my skills as a writer. I am trying to gear a blog for those who are building their skills and perhaps for some wanting to review writing skills. If you are interested in a high quality tract on creativity, I recommend: John Cleese, Creativity, on You tube. It?s about 36 minutes and well worth the view.
Did you start writing to curry favor? Then this blog is not for you.
Do you have a stack of stories that, in spite of a strong start, hit a wall that forced you to abandon them? Yeah, me too. Usually about 75 pages in, give or take, I feel like a fish on the riverbank, flopping around, trying to find the river again. The story that had so much promise seems to have lost its way. My instincts told me that something significant needed to happen at the point to keep the story?s motor running, but I didn?t have a clue what, so the story stalled.
If I could own only one book on writing, it would be Stein on Writing by Sol Stein. I sometimes refer to it as my writer?s bible, because it covers such a broad spectrum of writing topics. Everything from character markers to plotting to creating tension to dialog to flashbacks to sensory input to conflict to writing love scenes to revision to titles to . . . well, you get the picture. And though the book is only 303 pages, Stein is able to say everything he needs to so succinctly and his examples are so spot on that you finish each chapter feeling that it?s been thoroughly covered.
Existential clause can evoke strong emotion when you use it effectively. Just make sure you know how to do that.
a friend of my daughter wrote a series of six books that sold 300,000 downloadable copies in six months. How did she do it? More on that later.
Of the many things I learned from Deb Dixon's "Goal, Motivation, Conflict" workshop, this quote stuck with me the most:
"You can do anything in writing, as long as you do it well."
One thing I struggle with is describing how characters sound and their facial expressions. I think this area is one a lot of us have trouble with. If I had a nickel for every time one of my critique partners said, "But how does (s)he sound when they say this?" and "What does his/her face look like right now?" I'd have enough money to buy a year's supply of chocolate. But how often DO we need to describe facial expressions and tone of voice?
My conclusion: Not as much as you think.
I have a friend who is working to create his own board game. It's got a medieval dark fantasy setting, a modular board setup, takes inspiration from various board and video games and has a complex combat system. I know all of this, and more, because the concept and mechanics for this game are the subject of every third thing out of his mouth.
It is really hard to develop a logical process to create humor. The only sure-fire process I?ve discovered so far is to go through middle school as a bookish, clumsy, awkward introvert with early onset acne. Humor becomes a matter of survival. But one element that does seem to be consistently successful is the Rule of Three or the Comic Triple.
Hi all bright minds of the Circle.
I've seen the subject of basing characters on your friends come up in the circle once or twice and I know writers get squemish at the idea because of legal suits from them. Yes, that can happen.
One of the first rules of writing that most people learn is not to change POVs mid-scene. Perhaps you read it in a writing book, or a fellow critter here pointed it out to you. It's bad, it's confusing, and it's all but a hard and fast law of writing - don't do it.
But as always, rules are made to be broken.
If you've started going through the submission process and have gotten rejected you may recognize this phrase: "Your MS/short story/extract is over-written." *Commence head scratching* What is over-writing and why is it so bad?
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Think again. Let's compare this riddle to current times...
There seems to be a ginormous gray area between physically writing something and reaching publication, and sadly, many writers never emerge from it.
If a writer writes and no one reads it, does that mean they're not writers?
Before the days of Twitter and FaceTime, people had to actually congregate in public settings. Take a look at the ex-pat writers of 1920's Paris: Hemingway, Pound, Fitzgerald. And the Inklings of 1930's Oxford: Tolkien and Lewis. Clearly, something magical occurs when like-minded creative beings come together: encouragement, influence, and eventually, success.
"World building" is a term we see bandied around quite a bit when it comes to the craft of writing. What it boils down to is whether or not the author has created an environment that feels "real." But how exactly is that accomplished? Is there some kind of formula, like a scientific equation, that will total up to a believable world? If that's so, why is there an almost mystical quality that evolves between the reader and the book when the world building works?
When you are just starting out, everything is both new and exciting, as well as unfamiliar and frightening. To get published, it seems, you really need to have a huge hit on your hands, or you need experience. Like with any other job, not having experience can be a huge problem. Publishing your first literary piece through self-publishing, however, can get you the experience you need.
Mark Twain said to replace "very" with "damn." When your editor deletes "damn," then your writing will be as it should be.
Like so many individuals before me, persons with active imaginations and decent grades in high school English, I set out to try this thing called writing.
We each possess a fortune, though most are ignorant of it. We squander our wealth on things that have little or no value. Businesses calculate expenditures on different things based on the return on investment (ROI). A prosperous business considers every purchase and weighs it against the cost to benefit ratio of what it brings to the business. Calculating the ROI helps them to determine where to spend, and how much they should invest in any given purchase. Ideally, they want as high a return on their investment as possible, which leads me to your fortune.
An enduring debate among writers, teachers and readers of crime fiction is how much character development should a detective undergo, not only within one novel but from one novel to the next?
Some are adamant that no character development is allowed. The detective is seen as a â€˜catalyst heroâ€™ who affects others but is unaffected by them or by their experiences, no matter how fraught. Traditional examples would be Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe and Miss Marple while more recent examples include Detective Colombo and Phryne Fisher.
Due to the internet opening up avenues such as smashwords, amazon, createspace, etc., the large trade publishers offer less advances and require the author to engage in the marketing aspects more aggressively. This worries many writers, causes others to slack off, and can easily crush spirits. As a writer who has monitored this for many years, I offer a response to a troublesome article recently released.
If you look at job advertisements closely, you will notice that the most used word in them is creativity. Some people are naturally creative ? but what if you?re not? Is there anything that can help you boost your brain into finding its creative self?
The recent poll on the home page caught my attention, not just because it was thought provoking, but because my answer might change, depending on where I?m at in the writing process.
To create, develop and write expanses of fiction in e-publishing, the writing of a series is a viable option. Where to consider publishing, the writing of series is a viable option. Where to consider serialization treatment of either a complete draft or story outline is dependent on particular components.
While it is not always necessary to plot your novel in detail ahead of time, you do need to structure your novel. This helps to ensure that you develop all of the elements including plot, setting, character and theme.
So finally after years and years of waiting, the new CC site is finally here. If you missed my earlier blog and haven't played around with the beta site yet you might be in for a bit of a shock.
In this short blog I will go over some of the main changes in a FAQ format. Send more questions my way in the comments section and I'll do my best to answer them.
As authors, there is always a moment of ?who do I think I am?? when writing a book. Of ?this story sucks, no one will want to read it.? And yet we put our hearts and our souls into the people and places we create on the page. Let me send this message loud and clear. If you are taking the time to write it, if you are taking the steps to hone your craft, the only way you will succeed, in the end, is by believing in yourself. Instead of telling yourself you have no business trying to be an author, try telling yourself you have every right to be an author.
If you're an author, chances are that at some point you'll make a mistake somewhere along the marketing path. Indie or small press authors have to work even harder than traditionally published authors to keep their careers on the right path. Navigating the waters of public scrutiny is rather like a neverending job interview. You have to maintain a positive image and hold on to your umbrella of integrity, even when the rough winds of criticism threaten to blow it to Timbuktu.
Here are a few guidelines that may help you when it comes to author etiquette:
In my two previous blogs, with the catchy titles "The changing face of CC - basic layout" and "The changing face of CC - Story view" I discussed with you some of the things that I wanted to change about the look and feel of our beloved Critique Circle website.
Today I can announce with great gusto that I've completed some of the work in bringing the site up to the 20th century (I'll look into the 21st century next year) and I would very much like to invite you to take a look at the results, which are available in a special web address just for the occasion:
How often have you heard that you should write often and try your hand at different things? Many times, I'm guessing, more often than you can count. And you know what? It's true.
Success is a funny thing, we all want it, but to get it we have to fail. From our failures, we learn the lessons that lead to success. We learn what works and what doesn't and that refining process takes us toward the success we all want.
Alrighty, boys and girls! Are you looking to put in your writing into comic books? If you are, here's a little heads up: When you're writing for comics and graphic novels, you'll be appointed with established characters at one point or another. Clearly, anybody will tell you about a comic book writer who's worked on your favorites. *Comic book master Peter David states that when working with characters like Zatanna or the X-Men, you're being handed a certain degree of reader investment and it's easier to sustain and build an audience with established characters than ones made from scratch.
In my last blog I talked about some changes I want to make this year to the basic layout on CC. Check it out if you haven't already.
Today I am going to be talking about the heart of CC: The story view and the crit process. I personally think that the process of critting stories right now is pretty darn good, and I must be careful not to inadvertently make it worse while trying to make it better. Therefore I'm going into this with a little sense of apprehension.
There has been some discussion lately about how dated CC has become since the look-and-feel of the site hasn't much in the last ten years or so. I will make it my new-years resolution to slap on a new coat of paint and make some visual adjustments.
This is the first of my blogs on the matter where I attempt to solicit input from you guys to help me understand what's truly important to you.
I have been auditor of financial statements and organizational performance for over 30 years and I can say that the people and organisations who make it, plan for success then follow their plans. I have seen many that fail and almost all either had no plans or had an unworkable plan.
As this year comes to a close, I thought I would share with you a simple strategy for developing a plan for success in 2014.
When I finished my book, I remember thinking about writing a sequel, changing the ending, or maybe even adding another chapter. I had worked so hard, and it still felt like I didn't want it to be over.
After much thinking I came up with the perfect solution. It was so obvious, I was surprised I hadn't thought about it before. All I had to do was add digital content.
Lateral thinking is the secret to "thinking outside the box." Wanna know how it works and how to do it on demand?
Critique Circle celebrates its ten year anniversary on Oct 21st! Congratulations, everyone!
In this blog I'm going to rant on a bit about this and that which comes to mind at this juncture. If you don't want to read the blog, at least scroll down a few paragraphs and check out the birthday gifts we've got for you guys.
I don't consider myself an expert. There are lots of people who know lots more than I do both about the craft of writing ( and about where to put commas and question marks ) and about publishing. But a year into my Indie journey, I do consider myself experienced.
This article explores the creation and use of what I call "creative triggers", stimuli that shoot words onto the page.
Author of Dance of Spies, Finding Round, Treasure Life and Freedom Jungle
Freeing the world with words
I love Microsoft's OneNote Notebooks for drafting a novel. Its design and tools help me organize the millions of elements, ideas, and words floating in the mix of a new story.
Who hasn't heard that old adage, "write what you know"? That's how to get realism in your story, and if your story doesn't feel real, nobody's going to want to read it, goes the thought. Oh poor writers, sitting there with that sinking feeling, because you're an accountant or a phys ed teacher and you want to write hard science fiction or steampunk, but the adage says you can't.
We hear tons of advice saying that clich?s should be avoided, so I thought I'd stroll over to the other side of the literary fence and look at when it's actually okay to use them.
Very few things pull people in like conversation. After all, when someone speaks, they are making themselves vulnerable to others. How? Because words are steeped in thoughts, beliefs and emotions. They have meaning. Power.
A difficult time for me was the moment I decided to pursue publication as opposed to writing for myself and wondering if I was talented enough to do it. It meant peeling off the rose colored glasses and admitting to my flaws. To become a professional writer, I had to come to terms with how much I didn?t know. Like many others, I knew zilch about the publishing industry, how to approach agents and editors, and most importantly, how to hone my writing to get it where it needed to be.
In the real world, we avoid stress whenever possible but in writing, the opposite is true. Why? Because in the land of the Three Act Structure (TAS), STRESS = CONFLICT.
Recently, I attended ThrillerFest in New York. It was a fabulous experience. The experience of pitching to agents is a blog post all on its own. But when I was asked to write about my trip, I wanted to share the most practical advice I received. That advice came from a presentation Steve Berry gave entitled "The 6 C's of Story Structure." It was the most succinct and clear description I've heard of story structure anywhere. Like something worthy of being animated by RSA Animate. I don't quite have their talent, but I did put together a little graphic that illustrates everything I'm about to say.
So, you've mastered your anxiety and have placed your manuscript into the crittery waters of a new critique group. You wait, compulsively checking your inbox for the feedback to roll in. You're excited, but a little scared, too. Will they laugh-out-loud where they're supposed to, weep at the sheer brilliance of a certain plot twist, get sucked in by your vivid description?
Ping. In comes a critique. Ping. Another, and another.
Being part of an on-line writing group for several years has provided many benefits. But with the positives come a few negatives.
Emotions can be the most difficult to convey (this is why Becca and I built the Emotion Thesaurus!) Not only do we need to express without telling, we have to show the emotion in a fresh way, make sure it feels genuine and have it match the character's expressive range. Add that to highlighting action and minimizing internal sensations and thoughts? It's a lot to juggle.
"Voice? What the heck is that about?" I mumbled, hunched over another how-to manual, a couple months into scaling the writing craft mountain. Its snowcapped peak sparkled down at me, egging me on from the bunny slopes. And hey, I think I can see some money up there too. I made a pot of coffee and cracked open another book.
Sometimes when we write, we become so obsessed with the characters and events unfolding, we forget to pay attention to the Setting. Conflict and Action are important, don?t get me wrong, but Setting is no wallflower. Used correctly, it becomes a powerful amplifier for emotion.
When I chose literature for a career, I thought of my influences and comic book writer Kurt Busiek came to mind. Kurt Busiek is one of the reason I chose my career path as a writer.
I posed this question the other day to my critique group at Critique Circle.com: "As incentive to complete a novel or put yourself on a tighter schedule, have you ever heard of someone posting a partial novel on their blog or webpage? I can see someone doing that on a webpage, but a blog? Your thoughts, please."
Yesterday, I finished up and polished the short-short story I've been tweaking on and off for a few years now. It's amazing. I'd compare this feeling to what I had when I finally finished a rough novel draft. I can now breathe a sigh of relief and move on to the next step, as well as work on edits to my novel.
There are a few things I learned about the editing process along the way:
Language evolves, and English as we know it would not exist without neologisms and other mechanisms of change, but more to the point, leverage is, in fact, a perfectly acceptable transitive verb...
In our "Reuse, Recycle, Reblog" series, author Lindy Moone joins spoof news site "NewsBiscuit", and lives to tell the tale.
No, I didn't make back my ten dollar fee with those three sales.
Sound grim? Actually the opposite.
Writers everywhere want to know. What makes a great opening?
It was five months after I joined when sign-ups for National Novel Writing Month were going strong. At this stage of my life, I was very much a "someday" novelist, meaning "Someday, I'll write a novel." Thanks to CC, my someday came that November.
In the beginning, this was the beginning:
"Once there was a girl named Rapunzel who lived with her great aunt."
I know, I know; you're not sure whether to cringe or snore. Not a great way to start a novel. That's the first sentence from one of the early versions of my book, ?Rapunzel.? Clearly, I needed help. How could I magically transform this blah sentence into an effective hook?
I joined CC in 2005 as I began my journey with my first contemporary romance, Time Changes Everything. Back then,I just wrote as a hobby and for the fun of it. I never thought I'd actually take it to the next level. But, CC did that for me. I got better, I grew, I wrote, I critiqued, I learned and the rest is history!
June, 2006 was a fantastic month. That's when someone on Critters (another writer site) told me, Arlene Webb, about CC. Within a year, I had a star beside my name, a buddy list, and private queues for a series I?d been working on since 2004.
For me, CC isn't just about honing the craft of writing, although I bear testament to how fantastic the site is with thousands of crits given and received. I've made friends that know me better than anyone else and those friends are still teaching me how to write.
When you're wondering how good your writing is, the best way to find out is to get comments from at least five hundred readers. A tiny group of readers makes a poor statistical sample. Critiquers at Critique Circle present a better alternative. They will offer an extraordinary variety of insights. Take a look at almost any chapter posted here, and marvel at how the critiques vary.
Critique Circle has had a profound affect on my writing. I discovered, both from critiques on my own writing, and from critiquing others, how dangerous it is for anyone to see their writing from their own point of view.
Other people will read your books. That's the goal, right? It is not very important that they bring their own preconceptions, biases, misunderstandings and misapprehensions to your writing. It is much more important if your story is so clear to you, the author, that you failed to narrate it. People will fill in the missing gaps, and in the process, they will become angry, confused, and bored.
I wish I'd taken up creative writing decades ago, taken it seriously, I mean, really gotten into the craft. It's not because I dream of fame and fortune, or the past that might have been. Writing, as a profession, is much like sport. A few make a fortune, but most folk pay to play.
However, we don't need to be pro athletes to benefit from sport. And we don't need to aspire to publication to benefit from writing.
To be successful in almost any field of endeavor, we need the ability to deliver our message, get our point across, share our passions. We need to communicate.
And what is creative writing in a forum like this, if not communication? We seek, not merely to connect, but to influence, to inspire, to draw others into a world of our making.
I use to attend and even host any number of F2F critique groups over my thirty plus years of writing but often felt it was a waste of time. My stories had been read and enjoyed by complete strangers so I felt the plot and character creation was solid. What I needed was help improving my craft. Because of this I tended toward destructive critique groups ? those who would point out the flaws in my work rather than pat me on the head for having written anything at all.
What I found most painful with these groups was submitting a work of science fiction to writers where the vast percentage had never read scifi nor cared. Additionally the politics of how often or how much material one could ?burden other authors with? became a constant sore spot for me.
My 'overnight success' took 18 years. I wrote my first novel at age 23, after a dose of reality in the brokerage business. This was the early '80s, when executive-level women were virtually nonexistent in the world of finance. My first novel, largely autobiographical, as most first novels are, featured my heroine who made it to the top of a brokerage firm. It was continually rejected on the grounds that I had an axe to grind?and of course I did.
All writers—married or single—know that writing takes time and patience. It takes solitude, too: a room of its own. I sometimes feel like an overwhelmed single parent, raising little story monsters. I've learned that I needn't do it all alone, but who'd invite a single mom with three wild "kids" into their home? Who'd want to read my early drafts? No one, except other single parents. Other writers.
Except for a very rare, elite few, all writers have another job: the one that pays the bills. So working on your next bestseller (a full-time job in and of itself) has to be squeezed between other obligations of life. It's a bit like walking a tightrope sometimes, trying to fit it all in - walking a tightrope backwards, while blindfolded, carrying a massive bowl of fruit (on your head).
Critique Circle is the birthplace of my first three novels, all published within one year. I can honestly say that without the wonderful writers at Critique Circle, I would still be sitting at my engineering job churning code and going over build results and bug counts.
I was introduced to Critique Circle by Victorine Lieske. It was Feb 2011 and I had a draft of Michal's Window. My daughter had read it. I had also sent chapters to a friend who said it was good. But in reality, it stunk. I had no clue what I should do next. Write query letters? Find an editor? All seemed so daunting and unapproachable.
That's when I sent a note to Victorine on kindleboards. I asked her how she prepared her blockbuster novel for publication. She pointed me to Critique Circle and changed my life.
I'll admit that my skin was paper thin when I first signed on, and it took some doing to realize that most comments given were for my own good, and for the good of my writing. My biggest struggle was figuring out what advice worked and what didn't. I came to writing without any training and found the plethora of advice overwhelming, but eventually learned to trust my instincts and my heart.
Through it all, I found some wonderful critique partners I've come to trust and respect. Do I take all their suggestions to heart? No. Do I stop and give them thought before dismissing them? Absolutely.
We writers — ha ha — we're so messy. We play with words like toddlers with pudding — pudding we assemble ourselves.
We have so many ingredients to choose from, and they're all so yummy; it's hard to know what to put in — or leave out of — the recipe. We want to be original. We need to be novel. Especially when we write genre stories, which can seem like "lite pudding" — light on substance, on meaning, on meat. Sometimes our pudding gets bad press (all plot, no purpose). Sometimes thats not fair; plenty of genre stories are loaded with meat. But sometimes its "just desserts."
Alister Kunkle believes death is in love with him. A simple smile from friend or stranger is all it takes to encourage death to kill.
With his family deceased and a path of destruction behind him, Alister sits inside a mental institution, sworn to silence and separated from the rest of the world, haunted by his inability to escape death's preferential treatment.
But when a beautiful psychologist arrives at the institution and starts offering him care, Alister braces himself for more killings. When none follow, he tries to figure out whether he truly is insane or if death has finally come to him in the form of a woman. Alister Kunkle believes death is in love with him. A simple smile from friend or stranger is all it takes to encourage death to kill.
I know that this group is unfamiliar with writing for comic books and graphic novels. So I'm bringing forth more knowledge on the craft. First, we'll begin with formats.
Full Script-This gives the artist and editor the entire story descriptions of scenes, dialogue, sound effects. Character dialogue is written in all caps. Action descriptions of characters and setting are described in each panel up to several paragraphs or less. Plus, each page should start fresh on another piece of paper with a notion of how many panels. Another thing to take heed are the modifiers.
I stumbled onto Critique Circle in 2011 with a handful of short stories I couldn't even convince my friends to read, and within a couple of weeks I had six solid critiques on the first piece I submitted. The people critiquing, were, in most aspects, just like you - the aspiring writer - looking to improve and lift one's abilities in writing. They don't have a University curriculum to appease. They don't have a rule book with guidelines that are comprised from hidden agendas. They are, in essence, great appreciators of storytelling and have an open mind when it comes to personal artistry.
Some learning moments are quiet, useful little nuggets, but some come as loud epiphanies, forever changing the flow of a writer's words.
My AS moment came like a bolt of lightening. When my eyes opened to this small but potentially hazardous word, it was a great big 'Why didn't I see that before?'
I'm sharing this slice of my learning curve pain on the chance a fellow writer or two might need the nugget added to their pile. So they can have their stupid AS moment, too.
In all, I left feeling that the Writer's Roundtables were worth the money. I met other writers, got an inside look at what editors and agents are thinking, and got a toenail in the door with two editors at major publishing houses, along with their professional feedback on something I had written. I didn't leave with any illusions that the editors were going to welcome everyone's manuscripts. They promised to review our submissions, but that could mean a lot of things, including that they might read the opening line and delete the email. We were, however, assured by these editors that they had acquired the manuscripts of some conference attendees in the past.
I had a slow and rocky start on CritiqueCircle. I'd read books about writing fiction, but wasn't applying what I'd learned. I had situations and character problems in mind, but not much of a story. Critiquers here were kind, with comments like "I don't know where this is going." I thought I was thick-skinned, but I was easily discouraged. Fortunately, I'm persistent, even obsessive. In a few months, I found critique partners who helped me separate the good from the bad. And that's where the real learning began.
Language, or at least the corners of it that we can reach, rarely suffices, and it is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of something to say must be in want of just the right way to say it.
It's not like this is news to any of us, of course. But it still scares me shitless every time I sit down to write a new story, and usually I end up seeking refuge in silly openings such as Bigfoot trying to squeeze through a giant photograph, or a drunk teddy occupying Sartre's seat on a bench, or a group of actors pointing rubber chickens at a man. And I've come to accept that; I've even come to appreciate it. I'm a writerly coward, and I disguise it by being an artist.
On the rare occasions that I don't, however, when I'm feeling bold and boldly face the inadequacies of my vocabulary head on and challenge it to a fistfight ('cause, come on, honestly, that's how all of us like to picture it), I never forget the importance of considering anthropomorphism.
I'm thrilled to be able to introduce my book, Not What She Seems, and tell a bit about how it ended up on the NYT's best seller list.
I'm not really a writer. At least, not like some writers who were born to write. I'd always thought it would be cool to write a book, but never got around to it. Then one day I injured my back. It completely seized up and I literally could not move. I was on bed rest for a week, with nothing to do. I'd read all the novels in my house. I had no interest in sending my husband out to get me something from the library (I'm a picky reader). So I decided to write that novel I'd always wanted to write.
I stuck a pillow under my knees, fired up my laptop and started typing. One week later, I had a completed novel. I was silly enough to think the first draft was it. I was done! Luckily, when I was looking around online for how to get my perfect book printed, I found Critique Circle.
Years and years (and years) ago, the very first time I sat down to write a story, I couldn't wait to tell the reader everything. I love complicated plots, and I wanted to show my reader everything that my main character didn't know: events behind the scenes, the thought process of other characters and the bad guy(s), an overview of events happening in the present, how certain things worked, etc. Literally, everything that happened in the story, as well as a fair bit of research, was included. You can imagine the big mess I ended up with.
The novel system was first introduced to CC exactly five years ago, on January 14th 2007. To mark the occasion of the novel system's 5th anniversary we have just published the first major revision to this system since its inception.
For those of you who don't know that this is, every time you see a story on CC with a little blue book icon next to it, this is a part of a novel. This allows you to navigate between chapters at ease and allows the author to add all sorts of important and fun information to her chapters, making the pieces form a complete whole.
This system is available to premium members and has been a must-have for many people since it was first introduced. To date we have had over 1500 novels and a total of over 15000 novel submissions go through CC.
I wanted to do something a little special with the system to mark its 5 year mark, so instead of adding some simple features I decided to go back to the drawing board and re-architect the system from the ground up in order to add some of the features that people have been asking for, but I've been unable to implement so far because of the way the system was written at the start (before I had any idea how it would be used).
Writing is a lonely business. Every one in this industry can use a comrade-in-arms, a place to show their work to receive solid, constructive feedback on writing basics, grammar, and punctuation. Intermediate writers can join for story structure, character arc, sagging middles, metaphor, and form. As one advances, one can get into more nebulous aspects of the piece like theme, dramatic arc, style, voice, story and plot feedback, and overall consistency.
Once you're comfortable in where you are as a writer, and you like the group you?re with, find other avenues, be they online or face-to-face meetings, to socialize, grow and get to know one another. It also afford the writer to find an agent, editor, an organization or website to un-kink their project idea they couldn't find on their own, or churn a simmering plot idea with a simple question, conversation overheard, or even a smell to trigger a scent memory. You. Just. Never. Know.
I've always been a plot-writer. When I get ideas, it's almost always in the form of some incident or object, and then the character appears later. As a result, they were never as fleshed out as they should have been. I used to read that way, too, not caring so much for the characters as long as something exciting was happening. But I've grown to appreciate a robust, realistic character in the past few years, and that has extended to my writing.
However (and that?s a BIG however), that doesn?t mean I had an epiphany and could suddenly write these amazing characters. It just means I knew I needed to write them, so I set out to figure out how. And I discovered that I was far better at writing minor characters than main characters. It seems completely backwards, and it?s taken a long time to figure out why that is. But I think I?ve finally clued in to something?
We have just launched a new service at Critique Circle called The CC Digest which I wanted to tell you guys a little about.
This is a personalized newsletter-style email that we send out to our members once a month which contains updates that might be interesting.
Examples of the type of information the email contains is unread messages and crits, novels you have been critting, the activity of people you have regular contact with, buddy events, news items, blogs, novel updates and much, much more.
Now that the year 2012 is drawing to a close it's a good time to take a step back and see how CC has been doing for the past year.
With that in mind I went on an expedition into our trusty ol' database and ran some queries and whatnot to dig up some stats.
I?m what you call a Pantser, not a planner. When I write, I fly by the seat of my pants and let my characters take over. However, after having to do a ?wholesale rewrite? of my debut novel for my current publisher, Crimson Romance, I realized I needed structure.
Since you're reading this blog, you've already found Critique Circle. I've been a member for three and a half years, and love it. But this post isn't about why CC is a great place for writers (though I do recommend it!)
In this age of improved technology, many writers naturally turn to the internet to find critique groups. The first time I showed my work-in-progress to anybody was in fact on CC but I've also been a member of a local, live writers' group for about a year and a half. That's where I get the sort of interaction you just can't manage online.
I waited up until midnight on the first night and I ended up knocking out 2,271 words. For a first day that is fantastic. I should be incredibly proud of myself, but I'm not. I'm not angry at myself nor am I frustrated with my lack progress, I'm just meh. You read that right. I'm just meh about my writing (I asked several of my online writing buddies for a legitimate word for the feeling "meh" and they came up with "lethargic" and "indifferent"). It's a very odd feeling to have about a hobby that you love dearly.
Has your story got juice? Does every sentence make us want to keep reading? If not, is there a vitamin you can take to cure the problem?
According to Stephen King, there is a vitamin that will cure the story blahs?it?s Vitamin V. King?s advice about using vigorous verbs is top-shelf stuff, and when applied, it can quickly up the muscle factor of any story.
The key to writing fascinating, engaging animal characters lies in learning everything you can about the species you?re writing for. Any story focused on an animal is already asking a lot of the reader?s willing suspension of disbelief, so don?t stretch that further by getting things wrong that you could just as easily get right. Know their biology, social behavior, natural habitats, etc. Become an expert on the animal, so that when you write you can slip into its point of view like a separate skin.
When I came across CC ? it was mentioned on a writers' site I no longer frequent?it was like discovering the holy grail. At last there was a place where I could find out what unbiased people thought about my writing. As I began to critique people?s work and they began to critique mine, I discovered all sorts of things I'd never even thought about ? passive voice, mastering point of view, dialogue tags etc What I?d thought was pretty polished writing turned out to be anything but.
When PGA expert Stephen Dundas was recently asked how amateur golfers can improve, he gave a rather blunt response:
Ask any professional and they will tell you that the most important part of the game is putting. This is where you can save many shots in a round. So why is it that very few golfers actually practice their putting? Probably because it's not as fun as smashing a driver or hitting the perfect iron shot, but putting is where you will be able to save more shots than any other part of your game.
All stories are anchored in place and time. As writers, we make them feel real through descriptions of era and locale, which come to life through objects, people, and their emotions. Description is critical to building a world, but it has its? own hazards. Put in too much detail about your characters and whoever is reading may put the story down. Too little detail will turn your characters into talking heads. How do we choose what to describe, and how to describe it? The advice I?ve found to be extremely useful is to stick to details that are relevant to the story. To me it means only using the details that move the plot along. Now, how do I figure out what those are?
A writer's learning curve is like the earth's horizon, it never ends, and that's a good thing. Finding ways to improve a novel's opening line, its 'hook', is something every author continuously works on.
Great authors make it look easy, but writers know better. Who knew, back when I was a virgin reader, that my favorite authors spent minutes, sometimes hours, thinking about the words and flow of a single sentence? Writing well requires a lot of 'moving parts'. No matter where you are on the journey.
I have a confession: I don't read much YA fiction off the shelf.
My writing colleagues are surprised when I tell them that. They're convinced I've broken a cardinal rule of the business. I have to read the all new stuff every year, they say, or I won't know what agents are buying.
In most categories that's true ? but YA is a very different animal, and the usual rules have less relevance.
What the heck is the actual difference between voice and tone ? and where is there an answer that doesn't sound like grammar school gibberish?
You know how it is, you're plodding along, writing three pages one day, five the next, ten on a great day. You complete a story here and a novel there. Then all of a sudden a baby comes along. Whoa. Before you've even figured out what the hell you're supposed to be doing with this wonderful little human being who has taken over your entire life, you have another one. Next thing you know you're buried under an avalanche of diapers, glow-in-the-dark pacifiers, Playmobil figures and Moomintroll DVDs; you haven?t slept through the night since 2007 — and one day you realize you haven't written for, oh, four years...?
You need to back up your writing! That is the most important advice I can give you (since I can't write actual prose to save my life). If you don't, you will regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life...
No need to check your calender, it is indeed August and not October 31st. There are still over two months to go until NaNoWriMo.
NaNo is crazy and chaotic, and that's what makes it work - for some of us. Many of us participate every year, but have never reached that magical final word count of 50.000.
A possible solution: Setting goals.
In our hot topic series we'll be taking a close look at an interesting topic that has recently come up on our forums. Our first hot topic question: Can I use excerpts from song lyrics or a poem in my book?
We all eat, and apparently, so do our characters. We may plough through a critique of a stubborn manuscript in progress and feel like eating is all these people ever do.
Character is plot. Plot is character.
I believe it was F. Scott Fitzgerald who said this, although according to Google it has also been attributed to Henry James. Whoever said it, I have yet to meet a writer who disagrees.
Book ideas can start anywhere, from a basic idea, a ghost of a character, a plot twist or a theme that interests you. When thinking back on my four novels, two of them evolved from a plot idea and the other two from a character idea.
Moss grew on every stone.
It was that weird bird again. It had to be missing from a zoo or something.
The top of the mountain had never seemed so distant.
"Drop that coconut!" she shouted. "Step away slowly!"
Some things to consider: Season. Place. Time.
Well, the first Hook weekend of the year is behind us! We had 48 stories in the Hook Queue, and most of them received between 20 and 30 instances of feedback, ranging from 3 words (such as: "I liked it") to a few hundred.
Check out this fantastic site: Beautiful Libraries. It has amazing images of all kinds of libraries.
Do you have a picture of your library you'd like to share?
CC's Daily Story Starters - sometimes all you need is a little push in any direction...
Blocked? Bored? Blue? Need a push to start off today's writing?
It is a sad (but perhaps strangely reassuring?) fact: all writers have trouble getting to work and staying on track (there is the possible exception of Isaac Asimov who reportedly never wanted to do anything but write....).
There are some strange stories out there. John McPhee is said to have tied himself to a chair with the belt from his bathrobe. Victor Hugo had a servant take away his clothes and leave him alone in his office with no distractions from his pen and paper. Schiller liked to have rotten apples nearby as he worked — and we seem to recall some writer liked to stand in a tub of cold water to keep himself alert.
About a year ago there was a lot of excitement about the Hook queue, a unique queue for people to anonymously submit up to 1000 words of their manuscript, and receive very short and quick anonymous feedback. The idea is that readers read though the manuscript until they lose interest, much like an overworked editor trying to get through the slush pile mountain. Readers mark the spots where they quit, and preferably make some comments to the writer, reporting their thoughts on the manuscript and why they stopped reading where they did.
CC's Daily Story Starters - sometimes all you need is a little push in any direction...
Blocked? Bored? Blued? Need a push to start off today's writing?
Here are today's Story Starters. Use them as you see fit — alter them to suit your needs, use them as inspiration or as an exercise — or best of all, shake your head in disgust and write a much better line!