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Hello again! Early this month, I wrote a blog post about how I select my beta readers and why. In that post, I broke down some basic things one might be able to expect from different kinds of people, and what value they would have for you as a writer. As I mentioned in that post, they aren't end-all-be-all concrete rules, of course, but they can give you some ideas of what to expect.
So, there was recently a thread about how one handles beta readers. There were many fantastic responses about what people liked to see from their betas, and what people liked to give. As someone who works very closely with my beta readers, I'd like to share my process and methods.
As a teacher, this is my breakdown of Dan Harmon's Story Circle, and how it is useful for both pantsers/Gardeners and outliners/Architects, rephrasing each of the points as a question to make each point stand out a bit more.
It’s hard to root for a romance if you don’t care about the characters. What happens when we don’t like the person the main character’s supposed to be interested in? Just as there’s peril in making the romantic interest too perfect, there’s a corresponding set of pitfalls if the object of our protagonist’s affections pushes imperfection to the point of no return.
Everyone knows stories with morals. Disney's fairy tale adaptations are some of the best examples of this genre. (And if a fairy tale doesn't have a moral, someone will shoehorn one in somewhere.) Some stories weave the moral in subtly. Others are as subtle as a punch in the face. But there's nothing inherently wrong with a story having a moral.
I'm back after so much going on in the outside world. I blogged about writer topics like conflict, story set up and comics. Now I'm going to cover a daunting challenge in creating comics...finding an artist for your work.
Why are SF writers so fond of equipping future societies with kings, emperors, and aristocracies? The reasons include the appeal of colorfulness; stability; personal loyalty; and individual agency. But we can only concede such power if the king is characterized by virtues such as humility and selflessness.
Why is Star Wars so fond of Death Stars? What’s the mysterious attraction of this plot device? The choke point is a great plot convenience. We can focus the storyline so that an entire campaign can be resolved in a single concentrated set of actions, ideally carried out by a few individuals.
Fact: writing is a skill that will take years to perfect. Very few writers write a masterpiece on the first draft. In fact, authors will go through numerous revisions to get a draft to even resemble something worth marketing/pitching.
Writers have to name a lot of characters. Coming up with the right names is tricky; some writers are better at it than others. Name styles can range from the convention to the fantastic, and different writers’ approaches contribute to the distinctiveness of their worlds.
I was coming off of a year of transcription and research for a nonfiction project and feeling ready to get back into fiction, but I was stuck. It had been so long since I’d used that muscle, could I even write fiction anymore?
When I was starting out with my writing, everything I read - everything I learned - preached "show, don't tell." They talked about using "stronger words" to present what was happening instead of using adverbs to support. As a person with a very large vocabulary, I had dozens of words at my disposal. I thought I was doing everything right. Until....
Why has memoir taken a sudden resurgence and the seemingly forgotten genre is now flooding the bookshelves? What could make a person’s truth so compelling that readers would choose memoir over mystery or fantasy?
Coming from the Latin word for “memory,” memoir is a sneaky little genre that skips past its boring sisters “biography” or “autobiography” but doesn’t quite meet up with adventurous fiction. Memoir is truth according to one person and isn’t based on lengthy research.
Memoir, in fact, can cut quite deep.
We all strive to write first sentences that are good enough not to cause a readers to snicker. But if it exists, a first sentence that convinces a reader that the author is a great writer and that the book is worth reading has eluded my radar; just about every opening sentence I've seen was nondescript, even though the paragraphs they began were sometimes spectacular. That is why I decided to devote some time searching for a genuine hook and also to try and answer the question, Does anyone who can write a good opening paragraph really need to fret over hooks?
For the past three days, I’ve inched away from my notebook and pencil after writing up my latest chapter a few days ago.
Close your eyes. Picture a beach, or a scene from one of your favourite books.
For most of you this activity involves seeing an image. Some will have hyper-detailed images in front of them, others will run a wide spectrum of “image quality”. I see black.
I've read books where I've been taken up and down on an emotional roller coaster of triumph and despair, and feel exhausted, but good at the end of the book... Each writer must choose themselves what they want their writing to accomplish. Are you writing simply to titillate or shock? Are you writing to make people question their preconceptions? Are you writing to be edgy and push the boundaries? What is it you're trying to accomplish?
Conflict can come in many different forms. From Michael Keaton battling his substance abuse in Clean and Sober to the battle between the Caped Crusader and the Ultimate Hunter in the DC Comics/Dark Horse Comics crossover Batman vs Predator. Whichever way you put it all drama is conflict, it stands in the way of the protagonist accomplishing his goal. But it doesn't have to be limited to a single conflict: it comes from within and without. The protagonist might have to face obstacles that are arranged for him by his opponent and from within himself.
The suggestion to write this came from a fellow critter after we discussed a revised version of his wonderful story. It had been posted on CC three years ago. The six critiques he received didn’t convey much about the story and, though he didn’t say it, were disheartening. That is not to say there wasn’t useful advice, it was just so difficult to unearth.
The difference between professional critiques and those by fellow writers sharing the trenches with you are important. Fellow writers in groups or with whom you swap chapters or manuscripts are often motivated by the promise of receiving a critique in return. The natural state of most writers is to want to receive feedback on their own writing rather than give feedback on someone else’s. For most writers, giving feedback is the cost you pay to get feedback. Which means that most of the feedback you get from fellow writers could be tainted by the expectation of something in return.
Over the past few months I have the opportunity to observe writing as a form of self-expression, and to understand the stylistic preference of each writer as a reflection of their psyche.
When creating characters for your stories the greatest challenge is making them "real". Personality traits. Flaws. Character tics. Take your pick. But did you know you can add something really cool to your characters...Yourself.
We've recently made some changes to the Critique Circle website we want to tell you about. Please feel free to discuss the changes in the thread.
Some stories—especially comedies—include a character who seems to have the job of making sure everything comes out right in the end. We can call them the Master Contrivers. A Contriver naturally falls into the niche of the benevolent uncle or aunt—a kindly older person who isn’t typically a player himself, but an enabler of other characters’ fulfillment. In a comedy, it’s reassuring to have someone around who can be trusted to untangle all plotlines to a happy ending.
At the end of every year, I have a tradition of looking back to see what I have done, the steps that I have taken, the joys and pains that I have experienced, etc., before I close the year and welcome the new one into my life. On the strong recommendation of a good friend, I joined Critique Circle late this year. If I were to summarize in one word what I have gained from this platform, I would say growth.
Yes, the time is upon. As we lay in our beds at night pondering the weight of the soul and perhaps how we'll surivive the dreaded writer's workshop in the morning, may I be of some assistance?
Even the thickest-skinned writer will admit that criticism isn’t always easy to take in good spirits. For the newbies, it can be a soul-tearing, heartbreaking process that leaves you questioning why you ever picked up a pen.
It was just over four years ago I began a personal project and successfully brought it to fruition. With every word typed I pondered over what it might mean to others. I questioned how they would connect, or how they might view the project. But I forged forward, and when the last word was written, I knew the real work was about to take place…editing.
A tepid glass of generic "wisdom" to help propel you into NaNoWriMo with grace and style. Don't say I didn't warn you.
One of the specialties of science fiction and fantasy is to evoke a sense of strangeness. In dealing with the alien, the cosmic, that which is far away in space or time, SF can make us feel we are encountering something that passes the limits of our knowledge or understanding. This isn’t as easy as it looks.
Think NaNoWriMo isn't for you? You might be surprised. It's flexible and will help you develop great writing habits.
I used to say that when it came to criticism I had thick skin, but after five years of publishing, it’s become downright leathery. As it should be. Anyone whose work is reviewed or critiqued on a site like this must decide which parts to ignore and which to take to heart.
Since advanced weapons are available in much science fiction—the famous "ray gun" is iconic—it’s surprising how often a fight comes down to the humble, and archaic, sword. Some examples show us how this is justified in a science fiction context, and why authors and readers may be fond of swordfights.
When I speak to other writers, one of the first questions I ask is, “Where do you get your best story ideas?” Time and time again, my mind is opened to new avenues, like the man who was inspired by war stories at his grandfather’s deathbed, or the young girl who never met an animal whose story she didn’t want to tell.
There are three courses of particular notability that will boost anyone’s writing knowledge, even those who are more experienced.
Literature of the English Country House may seem, on the face of it, only for those with a taste for classic literature, but you’ll be mightily surprised how much insight this course gives you into the deeper meaning of words and creative writing techniques.
The glass has been shattered, and the sand has run out. So, fellow writers, hear me out. Stop looking for the bauble that will make time flow within your palm like a river. It doesn't exist. It never has.
Journalism is about real people doing real things. Often, those real things take them years to accomplish. For instance, I just finished an article about a woman who did some rather groundbreaking cancer research. She has been studying the same thing for over 20 years. That is the kind of dedication that makes journalistic narrative work. Persistence.
Ever find yourself approaching the end of a new book—and you realize there’s no way the author can tie up the plot in what remains of the novel? It’s that moment when you realize: we’re in for a sequel. But the story alone hasn’t told us there will be a sequel. Rather, we’re drawing on something outside the text itself—our knowledge of how much of the book remains—to tell us something about the story. We can call this process of drawing on outside information “meta-reading.”
"The story is the king," people say. "The word is the queen," I say. Down with this tyrant king! Long live the queen!
This post comes from two things. First, the experiences of other writers who been accused of biting other writers. Second, serious thinking on embarking the writer's path.
A story may tell you it covers vast distances—but the reader’s or viewer’s experience doesn’t always bear that out. Travel time, difficulty, and variety govern how we perceive the size of a world.
Naming your book can be harder than naming your first born. For a child, you can go to sites like Behind the Name or Baby Names; but besides the occasional random title generator you might stumble upon, there is no easy way to slap a good title to your writing.
This is the part where I say, “Or is there?”
Are metaphor and simile becoming less frequent used in modern writing? It seems to me that they are, but is it merely a trick that my memory plays on my mind? I remember this being a subject at school when I was about twelve years old. Is this subject still taught, or is it considered old fashioned and not worth teaching the modern pupil?
I have often heard it said that it is the job of the artist to hold up a mirror to society. I suppose I have never agreed with that philosophy. It’s rather like holding a mirror up to a fat person so that they are constantly reminded of their weight. Regardless, the trend of deeply flawed heroes has become more prevalent in books, movies, and television.
Like many writers, I have trouble getting motivated. Usually this problem manifests when my obligations mount, and my time does not feel my own. When I do manage to tackle an item on my to-do list, a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction spurs me on to the next with renewed determination.
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” – Winston Churchill
Let’s start with what it means to critique someone’s writing. You may see many definitions of the word but the one we’ll take for our purpose is from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
The art of foreshadowing requires a skill for thinking backwards every bit as much as thinking forward. In fact, to be really effective, the actually event you are foreshadowing should be fully established in all its glorious minutia before you go back and sprinkle in all of the supporting details. The process of adding in those details on a later pass is what I call "preinforcing." Like all good words, it means precisely what it sounds like — you are reinforcing in advance. Burying clues along the way that do not look like clues.
I knew I needed to learn how to structure a plot. I bought several books, but none of them really helped. There was all of this talk about the difference between a plot and a story, and lists of the classic plots, and so forth. None of it stuck.
Then I started listening to Writing Excuses, a weekly podcast hosted by authors Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Tayler. The podcast referenced Dan Wells’ 7-Point Story Structure on YouTube. Five short ten-minute clips of a single lecture, and I beheld the elusive mystery of Plot!
Writer's block is like a forest fire. Sometimes it's best to let the fire burn itself out. In places like Yosemite people went to a lot of trouble to put out naturally-occurring forest fires to "save" them, but we have since realized that naturally-occurring forest fires have been burning unchecked for precisely as long as there have been nature, forests, and fire. Nature adapts; fires are part of the process, letting new growth access to sunlight and other arboreal sciencey things. It's the whole Circle of Life jazz. Interfering with it just futzes it up.
Same with writer's block.
People need to know how to respond to the unknown, how to work past their personal discomfort without sounding like something they probably don't want to be known as—a bigot.
The great tales tend to be open to reshaping. But how far can we go with this sort of adaptation, and still claim to be retelling the original tale? How much stretching and twisting can a given story take before it becomes something else altogether?
“You can tell nothing... unless you are in that condition yourself.” This quote from author Stephen Crane sounds on the surface like the familiar saying “write what you know.” But underneath it’s really different.
I’ve read some published short stories and novels that depicted experiences I’ve had myself, but the depiction didn’t “ring true.” It was clear to me that the author hadn’t had the same experience and didn’t really understand it. In other stories, the depiction does “ring true”: I am able to recognize myself in the character, and the author really managed to capture what an experience is like.
I don’t think the difference is always because the authors in the second group really had that specific experience. I think it’s also possible to write about experiences you haven’t had yourself, or about a character who is very different from you.
The wise old mentor is a staple, not only in fantasy, but in all kinds of stories. From a narrative point of view, though, these mentor figures are rather an inconvenience – which is why they so frequently go missing.
“My plot is stuck.”
“I don’t know what the characters do next.”
“What’s the point in writing?”
The secret behind the sentences even just one word we write. How much one word can change the reader's life? How can a story become a hero to a person?
Destinni paced the floor of her ancestral manor. Did Captain Rick FitzHazard, the only man she had ever loved, swing from the gallows like the pendulum on her father’s clock? Or — she pressed her hand to her lips — had he escaped Cromwell’s hangman?
Sadly, we’ll never know. But we can be clear about the shortcomings of this English Civil War epic. For one thing, nobody in 1640s England was called Destinni.
I'm excited to start blogging about writing…the in's and out's of the process. If you are thinking about being an author, I hope you find my “writing” blog useful to you. There could be days, perhaps like today, that are meant to give you background only, but there's always the chance it may trigger an idea for you.
With almost seventy percent of Americans wanting to write, one would think there would be far more tools out there. It has taken some time to find the best. Let me save you some time and effort.
Ideas are everywhere. You just gotta know where to look. Another approach to storytelling is to tell small stories against a world frame.
"Conferences provide a wealth of information, everything from fine-tuning your craft, to getting the details right, to publication and marketing. They are absolutely worth your time and effort, and if nothing else, they reinforce that you are not in this alone."
Somewhere in my parent’s house there’s a photo album. Most likely there are several. But this one in particular is one of those fancy padded types with a soft cloth cover; white with a floral pattern, pink frilly trim and one of those plastic windows in the front that seems to have lost its transparency over time. In that album there’s a photo printed from honest to goodness thirty-five millimeter Kodak film, and faded to a pre-Instagram, natural sepia. That photo is of a little boy. His lips are pursed in a tight begrudging smile signaling to all that he’d rather not have the camera pointed in his direction. He’s holding one sad red balloon by its string in the muggy warmth of a Washington summer.
A dialogue scene has to perform some function in the story, or it shouldn’t be there at all. But it also has to be realistic—it has to sound like the way people talk. It has to flow the way real conversations do. How can we achieve both things together—story function and plausibility?
Likely as not, readers won’t blame your characters for the jarring roller-coaster ride of emotion they’ve been on, they’ll blame you, the author. So why risk it? Because who wants to be on a roller-coaster with no twists and turns? There are countless reasons why readers might choose to hate an author, and many of them can be chalked up to poor writing and editing, unrealistic event and characters, too much or too little detail, etc. Here I will discuss the things that writers do on purpose, the plot devices that can make or break a novel.
I think collaboration at any stage of the process can be useful. It brings a certain level of accountability to the activity, and that's useful. I think, though, the more important aspect is the constant feedback and dialog between peers.
The problem is repetition. Repetition seems to be the bubonic plague of CC, deadly, contagious and of epidemic proportions. To be damned by its simple existence.
Currently I’m reading a novel in which the characters do not have distinctive features except for their names, ages, races, and their actions in the plot. The plot is well developed, but to me the characters feel flat. The novel is fairly successful—often readers don’t care about characterization if there’s a good plot and fast pace. But many readers want more: they want characters who seem like real people.
The first thing to slow the flow of words is the literal pain in the neck which I carry around as a daily challenge. Think of a mild migraine headache which started some five years ago and hasn’t let up since. If I listed all the things I've tried in that time I would double the word count for this post. Let's just say, if you've thought of it, I have tried it.
Lynn Petroski’s excellent post on developing a list of agents to query made me realize there were a few things a writer should consider before starting the process.
Trying to write a novel but your attention span won't comply? Consider giving the Pomodoro technique a shot.
I have a confession to make: I really haven’t written anything in the past month. I’ve sent out a handful of query letters and received a few rejections so far, but I haven’t worked on any creative writing. And you know what? That’s okay.
In every meeting of the main hero and the main villain, there must be an intensification of the conflict, and the reader unconsciously expects each successive round to raise the stakes, with more on the line, more injuries received, and more suspense achieved. The problem for the writer is: How do you intensify the conflict?
Moneyball is the perfect example of a non-genre fiction story that uses the Hero's Journey, and proof that the oldest tropes are the best tropes. The movie's plot follows the Hero's Journey TO A TEE. (Golfing weather is back, too. Woohoo.)
Pronoun was announced to National Novel Writing Month winners last November. It is a free distribution hub to Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Apple and Google Play. It’s easy to set up your book with them, much easier than Createspace/Kindle, but...
I've often mused on why people write, what it is they hope to achieve through literature. After quite some reading, I've come to a few conclusions myself.
The theme of the story should be as solid as the story's plot. If it's not as strong as your plot, then your story can't sustain itself. What you should do is think about what you're going to "say" in your story while planning the story in your mind. For me, nothing's important as what you're "saying" in your fiction.
Are you familiar with the mantra ‘learn from the greats’? Are you, like me, wondering where all these blog posts sharing this knowledge have gone to?
I’m sure there are fiction bloggers out there who are doing this, but I haven’t come across them. Have you? (Please share!)
So, I thought I would give it a shot. If you've ever wanted to know more about technique, this blog may well uncover some secrets you should know. But be warned - this is only part 1.
This post is about writers who make it, the ones who find the magical combination of timing and the right eyes and whatever else it takes to make it - you know, the writers who get lucky.
Take at least an hour & thirty minutes (90 minutes) a day to write. Did I hear somebody in the third row say "90 minutes? But I can't spare that kind of time to write my paranormal romance novel in a month with just 90 minutes a day." Yes you can.
I would never have believed that it would be necessary to make such a case. But there is a prejudice abroad in CC, one without validity or justification in my humble opinion, one that is applied with confident censoriousness and seemingly never questioned. It is time to make a case for the defence.
Anonymity and the Internet is a tricky topic for writers because it can get highly technical. In most cases, if you're asking yourself if your character can be anonymous the answer is 'it depends.' Whether or not your character (we'll call her Alice) can remain anonymous really depends on how badly their opponent wants them not to be. With that in mind, here are some real-world tools that people use to protect their privacy online, and what exactly those tools do.
"People often ask me why I’m so determined to write everything down. What is it about writing that keeps me glued to my desk for hours and days at a time? I had to stop and think. Is it because I enjoy expressing myself with words? Is it because I have an instinctive talent for writing? Or is there a deeper reason? My answer is—I write because I must."
In the course of critiquing more than eight hundred stories, I've found myself often mentioning four major writing issues: frequency, echoes, redundancy and repetition. Moreover, it has become clear how often my own stories suffer from the same obstacles to clean, clear, concise and succinct writing.
It's one of our favourite topics for discussion: how to attract more critique partners. We just love debating all the different reasons, which are many and varied. However, there's one thing most of us seem to agree on more than others, and that is readability. So, once you're out of the newbie queue, how do you turn that cursor hovering into a click-read-and-crit?
I've known all along that I wanted an agent. I know I have to expect to be passed on often enough to need a list of agents to query. And I've heard the old axiom, "Read in your genre, and find the agents of the books you like." I did. That gave me the names of three agents and two are dead.
But I never asked how to find that list until I needed one.
What a lot of writers don't understand when starting out is that there is more to it than the mere pedestrian experience so often offered within a story's narrative via mundane, lackluster details. There doesn't need to be boring bits between the exciting bits, and I'm not talking about writing fast-paced action scenes on every page, either.
Closer attention to syntax can help deliver on a more dramatic reading experience for the audience. Where the action has lulled, the composition of the sentences can create tension between the words themselves, and set the tone for events yet to come.
I never thought success would happen to me, and to be truthful, I just wanted to see my book in print. When I decided to publish on my own, I thought I?d learned enough from forums, blogs, and books to equal a bachelor?s degree in independent publishing. Still, I felt I was exposing myself as an idiot, that day in 2012 when I hit the ?publish? button on the Kindle Direct Publishing website. Three years later, I think I?ve surely accumulated enough knocks to equal a Ph.D.
The different ways to get your story finished on the first try without worrying about writing rules, and giving an idea of what writers experience after NaNo
The difference between POV and an omniscient narrator.
But the most important thing to remember is that you must know the rules before you take the liberty of breaking them.
This applies a little differently to your books. Your book is you, but it?s not. You aren?t a murderer, or a sex maniac, or an alien from planet Zena, but you may have to play one in your book ? and that stuff?s all made up.
Pop quiz time.
What do the following things have in common?
Fish in the ocean
The full moon appearing every month
Negative book reviews
If you answered they are all certain to happen, then you pass!
"That sounds like a book I once read." You?ve all heard it and it puts a damper on any enthusiasm you?ve grown for your literary creation. It might be gratifying if they speak of style and execution, but who gets flattered by being told their work is unoriginal?
The most basic element of writing construction is word choice. For the writer to convey his meaning to the reader he must choose his words carefully and use them accurately.
A review of Lisa Cron's book, subtitled: "The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence"
Two years ago, I read Jack Bickham?s Elements of Fiction ? Scene and Structure. The concepts made sense but as a new writer, I couldn?t absorb it all. I re-read the book after finishing over seventy-five percent of my novel?s first draft, and I understood more techniques and tools based on this experience.
Comics and fantasy writers have sometimes turned to a particular mythology to create characters that are modern takes on the likes of Hera, the Furies, and Zeus himself.
A while ago I wrote a lament about killing my babies, about finally coming to grips with the fact that I could no longer continue to patch and tuck and tweak my early chapters to make them better ? I needed let them die an honorable death and replace them with something new. And I did that. I wrote a new chapter 1.
Women today have more freedom than ever before. Contemporary fiction is chock full of strong, independent heroines. They enjoy work, sex, and cold beer. They're tough as any man. Historical heroines can be just as independent and tough, right? Not exactly...
I'm a big believer in NaNoWriMo and getting a first draft down fast. Such a believer, in fact, that I wrote a book about it! But what about after that crazy-fast draft, when you're left with a fifty-thousand pile of words that don't look nearly as shiny as you'd first imagined them? I'd like to share with you some thoughts from the third section of my book, Fast Fiction, which focus on revision of your fast draft.
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.
As I've done more critiquing and editing, I've noticed certain trends creeping up repeatedly across a variety of texts and from a large handful of different authors. If they happen often enough, they become irritating - not bad enough to anger, but just enough to itch. You know, like that thing at the back of your shirt that has the washing instructions on it and flips out of your collar occasionally. Some shirts have especially grating ones and you have to cut them out. What are those called again?
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.
Anything in a movie, or a story, that strongly draws attention to itself should have a point. If you wrap a guy's arm up in a tent-sized bandage, your reader or viewer is going to want to know why. And you must have a good reason.
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.
I've been reading a lot of other authors' blogs lately. Not because they're good, although LOTS are, and not to make myself feel better about this blog, although mine is definitely better than some of what I've been reading.
When you are all finished with your manuscript, and you?ve run it through your critique partners, there is a big temptation to tinker with it. To have one more once-over, do some fine-tuning, and see about how much more to tweak it. Maybe don?t do that.
Don?t fine tune your book into eternity. At some point, it?s not better, it?s just different.
What I do is send it out to beta readers.
While background information and a character's history, or backstory, is important to a novel, when it doesn't advance the story forward, it can be the difference between someone who reads a novel in one sitting and someone who might take days to slog through it (or decide not to finish it because the author keeps straying from the action). If the proverbial restaurant doesn't have anything to do with advancing the plot, leave it out of the story.
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?
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.
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 ‘catalyst hero’ 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!