Promises to Keep

From veteran author and writing coach, Dave Farland:

As a teen, I once read a fantasy novel that had a picture on the cover that showed a wizard fighting with some lizard men. I read the novel, and liked it pretty well, except for one thing: the mage on the cover was too old, and there weren’t any lizard men. I kept thinking, “It must come at the end!”

But the scene never did take place. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with the concept of stock art. I didn’t know that publishers sometimes bought high-quality artwork at a bargain rate to grace their covers, and then slapped the pictures on inferior books. So I learned to beware.

You see, every time a publisher did that, they engaged in false advertising. They promised their readers that a cool scene would appear, and it never did. I took it so far as to avoid reading any of the books offered under that imprint.

. . . .

As authors, we tend to make promises that are more subtle. I have seen stories come to me in in the Writers of the Future contest submissions, and on more than one occasion that author has promised, “This is the greatest story ever told.” I’ve even had authors send release forms, asking me to promise not to steal their ideas, etc. Most of us authors don’t take ourselves quite so seriously, but we do make promises. We just tend to be subtle about it.

Very often I’ll get a story in my manuscript pile that starts off being funny. It may be beautifully written. It might have an engaging conflict. But when I reach the end of the story, too often I will find that the humorous piece turned tragic.

The author promised me one thing on page one, but delivered its opposite at the end of the tale.

In fact, as a contest judge, I’m keenly interested in the promises that you make. If you tell me in line one that “Love is forbidden in hell, but Jonas Derringer had gone to hell precisely because he was a bad boy,” then you’re promising me a love story. If Jonas doesn’t fall in love by the end, I’ll reject your story.

Author’s make all sorts of promises. For example, if you start your story writing in a quirky English voice that promises me that you’ll take indecent liberties with the language, you’d better be consistent and end in the same voice. If on paragraph one you open with a gorgeous metaphor, one that shows creativity and a sensitivity to the language, then you had better be creative and sensitive all of the way through the tale.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

50 Juicy Questions To Ask Your Characters

From The Reedsy Blog:

Author Elizabeth Bowen once said “characters are not created by writers. They pre-exist and have to be found”. That’s solid advice, but there’s one small catch — what do you do if you want to write, but a fully-formed character is yet to fall into your lap?

Don’t be disheartened: there are things you can do to speed up the process of finding them, and a character questionnaire is a great place to start!

A character questionnaire is one way for authors to get under the skin of their characters. By asking and answering a few probing questions, a writer gets to know their creations better, building a detailed picture of their personality and history which they can use to add depth to their stories.

Rather than focusing on external characteristics like physical appearance and education (as you might do when creating a character profile), a questionnaire gives you the opportunity to dig deeper, and explore what really makes your character tick.

. . . .

Test your character’s boundaries with these hypothetical scenarios.

  1. You’re at a bar when the one person you don’t want to see walks in. Who are they? How do you react?
  2. How would you react if you were catcalled?
  3. How would you react if you saw a friend who owes you money spending frivolously?
  4. Your friends are speaking unfairly about a mutual friend. Do you speak up?
  5. How would you react if you witnessed a victimless crime?
  6. What would you do if someone brought up your biggest insecurity in front of a crowd of strangers?
  7. How would you respond to an apology from somebody you still can’t forgive?
  8. How would you break up with someone?

Link to the rest at The Reedsy Blog

The Gentle Genre

From Writer Unboxed:

The best choice for readers is what might be called “gentle books,” straightforward tales of ordinary people in mostly every-day, low-key situations.  No psychotics, no wrenching twists, no gore, no vampires or werewolves or demons.

Often comic, sometimes inspiring, these sorts of books were popular from the thirties right through WWII and into the sixties.  Gentle books – the work of Angela Thirkell, D. E. Stevenson, Elizabeth Cadell, and many others – offered readers well-written, character-driven stories that reminded them of their own lives.  Gentle books continued to thrive through the sixties and seventies with Miss Read, James Herriot, and others. Garrison Keillor and Alexander McCall Smith are among those who carry the tradition on today.

But don’t be fooled by the familiar settings and characters of these books. They are notoriously difficult to write well.  It’s just too easy to sink into either banality or saccharine gooeyness – what might be called Hallmark Holiday Special fiction.

One problem is that the sources of tension available to you are, by definition, gentle.  It’s easy to keep readers on the edge of their seats when your characters are trying to escape horrible deaths or fending off the destruction of the world. It’s a lot harder to keep readers interested over whether Bertie will be able to escape saxophone lessons or James Herriot will be the one who receives a cocoa tin full of goat droppings to analyze for parasites (considered an honor in Siegfried’s practice).  Yet readers need to care enough about such minor, everyday problems that they will want to keep reading and will feel satisfied with the conclusion.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Determining Your Character’s Emotional Range

From Writers Helping Writers:

I firmly believe that while readers sometimes do connect with our stories, they more often fall in love with our characters. If we want to really pull readers in, we’ve got to make each protagonist relatable and easy to connect with.

This can be a tall order when you consider that each reader is different. Their geographic location, individual circumstances, personal experiences—no one character can encapsulate all of that for every person who picks up your book. But there’s one thing that every reader and character do have in common: emotion.

No matter who the reader is or what they’ve been through, they’ve experienced the same emotions as the character. The circumstances may be different, but they will connect on some level to a character exhibiting the feelings they’ve felt at important moments in life. For this reason, it’s super important to write a character’s emotions consistently and believably so they ring true with readers. As with many other areas of writing, the best way to do this is through showing that emotion rather than telling it. But before we can write about the character’s feelings, we need to know how those feelings will manifest. In short, we need to establish the character’s emotional range.

Each person (and therefore, each character) has a unique way of expressing their feelings, meaning you can have two people in the same situation and they’ll respond differently. If we’re going to consistently write a character’s emotions, we need to first know her baseline—how she reacts to the normal, everyday things that happen.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

50 Handy Expressions About Hands

From Daily Writing Tips:

1. “All hands on deck,” from the traditional nautical command for every sailor to report for duty, refers to the necessity of everyone involved to lend a hand, or assist.

2. To bite the hand that feeds you is to be hostile to someone who has been kind to you.

3. To be a dab hand is, in British English, to be an expert.

4. “The devil makes work for idle hands” is a proverb that means that inactive people are susceptible to the temptation to do wrong.

5. To know something firsthand is to be directly familiar with the facts.

6. To force someone’s hand is to compel them to act prematurely or involuntarily.

7. Having a free hand is being given wide latitude about how to carry out a task or responsibility.

8. To gain the upper hand is to obtain control.

9. To get your hands dirty is to engage in a important activity that may not be pleasant.

10. To give a hand is to help, though it also refers to applauding by clapping one’s hands.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

Unforgettable Endings: Finishing Your Novel

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

What part of writing your novel challenges you most? For some it is deciding where to begin or how to establish the characters and setting. And who hasn’t struggled with getting rig of slog in the center? But a challenge all writers have in common is bringing it all to a conclusion.

After spending countless hours falling in love with our characters, how do we say farewell?

My novels tend to conclude with my protagonist’s death, which readers know is coming due to the biographical nature of my stories.

Since I write about real people, the date of their death is known and each historical figure I’ve featured has left some things they had hoped to achieve undone. That might not sound like the neatly packaged sense of closure that writers aim for, but it is honest, tragic, and eternally relatable. In part, that sense of loss and lack of completeness is my goal. It is true to life and helps readers connect to historical figures as real people. What could be more authentic than dying when one still has more to accomplish?

For the style of my novels, these tragic endings are appropriate.

. . . .

Writers should have a goal for the end of a novel from the beginning. What did the opening of your novel promise that the end would bring? While the plot will naturally evolve and some of us might stick to our original outline more than others, our destination largely remains the same. Everything that happens in the novel is leading readers to that final moment, so deeply consider before you begin writing where the novel should end.

Writing your novel’s conclusion, or at least having it solidly outlined, before you begin has benefits besides having a clear goal in mind. It can also keep you from injecting extraneous information, subplots, or characters at the end of the book. This is not the time to introduce something new. That sort of plot twist tends to make readers roll their eyes as they close the book in frustration. Write an ending that fits the story. That doesn’t mean you can’t surprise your readers, but it does mean that the surprise should still make sense when they think back on the rest of the story.

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

Narrative structure of A Song of Ice and Fire creates a fictional world with realistic measures of social complexity

From The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America:

We use mathematical and statistical methods to probe how a sprawling, dynamic, complex narrative of massive scale achieved broad accessibility and acclaim without surrendering to the need for reductionist simplifications. Subtle narrational tricks such as how natural social networks are mirrored and how significant events are scheduled are unveiled. The narrative network matches evolved cognitive abilities to enable complex messages be conveyed in accessible ways while story time and discourse time are carefully distinguished in ways matching theories of narratology. This marriage of science and humanities opens avenues to comparative literary studies. It provides quantitative support, for example, for the widespread view that deaths appear to be randomly distributed throughout the narrative even though, in fact, they are not.

. . . .

Network science and data analytics are used to quantify static and dynamic structures in George R. R. Martin’s epic novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, works noted for their scale and complexity. By tracking the network of character interactions as the story unfolds, it is found that structural properties remain approximately stable and comparable to real-world social networks. Furthermore, the degrees of the most connected characters reflect a cognitive limit on the number of concurrent social connections that humans tend to maintain. We also analyze the distribution of time intervals between significant deaths measured with respect to the in-story timeline. These are consistent with power-law distributions commonly found in interevent times for a range of nonviolent human activities in the real world. We propose that structural features in the narrative that are reflected in our actual social world help readers to follow and to relate to the story, despite its sprawling extent. It is also found that the distribution of intervals between significant deaths in chapters is different to that for the in-story timeline; it is geometric rather than power law. Geometric distributions are memoryless in that the time since the last death does not inform as to the time to the next. This provides measurable support for the widely held view that significant deaths in A Song of Ice and Fire are unpredictable chapter by chapter.

. . . .

The series A Song of Ice and Fire (hereinafter referred to as Ice and Fire) is a series of fantasy books written by George R. R. Martin. The first five books are A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons. Since publication of the first book in 1996, the series has sold over 70 million units and has been translated into more than 45 languages. Martin, a novelist and experienced screenwriter, conceived the sprawling epic as an antithesis to the constraints of film and television budgets. Ironically, the success of his books attracted interest from film-makers and television executives worldwide, eventually leading to the television show Game of Thrones, which first aired in 2011.

Storytelling is an ancient art form which plays an important mechanism in social bonding. It is recognized that the social worlds created in narratives often adhere to a principle of minimal difference whereby social relationships reflect those in real life—even if set in a fantastical or improbable world. By implication, a social world in a narrative should be constructed in such a way that it can be followed cognitively. However, the role of the modern storyteller extends beyond the creation of a believable social network. As well as an engaging discourse, the manner in which the story is told is important, over and above a simple narration of a sequence of events. This distinction is rooted in theories of narratology advocated by coworkers Schklovsky and Propp and developed by Metz, Chatman, Genette, and others.

Graph theory has been used to compare character networks to real social networks in mythological, Shakespearean, and fictional literature. To investigate the success of Ice and Fire, we go beyond graph theory to explore cognitive accessibility as well as differences between how significant events are presented and how they unfold. A distinguishing feature of Ice and Fire is that character deaths are perceived by many readers as random and unpredictable. Whether you are ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, heir to an ancient dynasty, or Warden of the North, your end may be nearer than you think. Robert Baratheon met his while boar hunting, Viserys Targaryen while feasting, and Eddard Stark when confessing a crime in an attempt to protect his children. Indeed, “Much of the anticipation leading up to the final season (of the TV series) was about who would live or die, and whether the show would return to its signature habit of taking out major characters in shocking fashion”. Inspired by this feature, we are particularly interested in deaths as signature events in Ice and Fire, and therefore, we study intervals between them. To do this, we recognize an important distinction between story time and discourse time. Story time refers to the order and pace of events as they occurred in the fictional world. It is measured in days and months, albeit using the fictional Westerosi calendar in the case of Ice and Fire. Discourse time, on the other hand, refers to the order and pacing of events as experienced by the reader; it is measured in chapters and pages.

We find the social network portrayed is indeed similar to those of other social networks and remains, as presented, within our cognitive limit at any given stage. We also find that the order and pacing of deaths differ greatly between discourse time and story time. The discourse is presented in a way that appears more unpredictable than the underlying story; had it been told following Westerosi chronology, the perception of random and unpredictable deaths may be much less shocking. We suggest that the remarkable juxtaposition of realism (verisimilitude), cognitive balance, and unpredictability is key to the success of the series.

. . . .

Ice and Fire is presented from the personal perspectives of 24 point of view (POV) characters. A full list of them, ranked by the numbers of chapters from their perspectives, is provided in SI Appendix. Of these, we consider 14 to be major: eight or more chapters, mostly titled with their names, are relayed from their perspectives. Tyrion Lannister is major in this sense because the 47 chapters from his perspective are titled “Tyrion I,” “Tyrion II,” etc. Arys Oakheart does not meet this criterion as the only chapter related from his perspective is titled “The Soiled Knight.” We open this section by reporting how network measures reflect the POV structure. We then examine the network itself—how it evolves over discourse time, its verisimilitude, and the extent to which it is cognitively accessible. Finally, we analyze the distributions of time intervals between significant deaths and contrast these as measured in story time versus discourse time.

Link to the rest at The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

PG notes that he has removed many footnote references in the OP from the excerpt above.

Emotional Truth and Storytelling: Why It Works and How

From Jane Friedman:

I never fancied myself a fantastic writer. What I do believe I excel at is the ability to capture the emotional truth(s) of a character, scene, chapter, and overall story.

Think about your favorite novels and how they made you feel. Something stirred and lingered, right? You felt—and likely still do—the uncertainty, rage, joy and love that the characters felt. Perhaps your perspective even shifted as a result.

Defining emotional truth

Emotional truth is elusive and difficult to capture. No standard definition exists. Here’s my crack at it: Emotional truth allows readers to feel a certain way about the experiences of people who may lead different lives from them. It’s the lens that allows us to see ourselves in a story that results in a heartfelt connection to a fictional narrative. Emotional truth transcends facts.

What I value most is that emotional truth engenders empathy.

Fostering empathy is the main reason I infuse emotional truth in my work. In these increasingly polarized times, it’s clear empathy is in short supply. Several years ago a report found 40 percent of college freshmen lacked empathy. Reading that left me deeply disturbed. Future leaders need empathy to understand the needs of others. Without it, well…take a look around. Empathetic leaders can build a sense of trust and strengthen their relationships, which can lead to greater collaboration. I’ll leave that here.

I learned the techniques to capture emotional truth during my first fellowship through the Education Writers Association more than twenty years ago. Jon Franklin, author of Writing for Story, served as an advisor to my narrative nonfiction project examining survival tactics of gifted Black students at troubled schools, where being smart carried a stigma. I was intimidated to work with the two-time Pulitzer winner, but he read my three-day series and said, “You got it right.”

How to tap into emotional truth in your story

Here are 10 techniques I use to write with emotional truth.

Be vulnerable. My debut novel, Malcolm and Me, follows a reluctant rebel with the heart of a poet as she navigates a school year fraught with adult hypocrisy. While my protagonist is wounded by a traumatic event involving her Catholic schoolteacher, I knew she couldn’t wallow in pain and self-pity for 272 pages. She doesn’t. She’s funny, often in “good trouble,” and a ball of confusion. Whatever Roberta feels so must my readers. Roberta’s vulnerability was rooted in my teen years. Nothing beats authentic angst.

Mine your secrets. Personal truth feeds the character’s truth. In writing my debut novel, I borrowed the emotional truth about my struggle to forgive, including those I love deeply, and gave it to my protagonist. I could not write that story with authenticity until I dug deep and understood why I had been stuck and what led to a breakthrough. My clarity informed and honed the behavior of my character. 

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Learning to Write vs Becoming a Writer

From Dave Farland:

I know a lot of people who know how to write well but who aren’t writers. For example, a few years ago I met a gentleman who had penned five novels. He’s been a huge mainstream success, hit high on the New York Times Bestseller List, and then gave it all up and went into advertising.

The same happens with people who don’t pursue their dreams. There are skillful authors who choose to wait tables in fancy restaurants, practice law or dentistry, and take any number of other occupations.

As a writing instructor, I find that most of the time when writers teach classes, we focus on teaching people how to write, not how to be a writer.

They’re distinct skill sets. You can know how to write a great chapter and never write one. I know authors who don’t know how to keep themselves motivated. Other authors can’t seem to avoid distraction. Others put things off.

Last year, I was considering this problem. I find that I know a lot of good writers who are “working on a novel” for entirely too long. Does it take a month to write a book, or six months, or six years?

There are a lot of things you need to do to become a writer. Most cases of writer’s block are caused by stupidity. The author sits down to write and doesn’t know what to do next. How do you handle this scene or that character?

The writer might be proficient at a different kind of story, but not know how to handle the one they’re working on. For example, the author might know how to pen a romance but be unsure how to write a mystery.

This problem might be easily fixed if the author read more widely and studied craft for the genre in question. It might be easily solved if the writer could discuss it with someone else with similar interests. Just brainstorming the coming scene with another writer is often the key.

Or what about accountability? Many people who want to write find themselves easily distracted. I’ve known professional writers whose careers were destroyed when they became addicted to videogames, or gardening, or writing to friends on social media.

. . . .

There are rare writers who are solitary creatures who manage to go into their attics and pump out manuscript after manuscript, but those are about as rare as unicorns.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

Here’s a link to Dave Farland’s books. If you like the writing advice Dave provides, you might want to check out his writing.

How Do Your Characters Love?

From Writers in the Storm:

[The story I’m writing] is about a woman, her children, her faith, her marriage, and a little bit how easy it is for modern women to get lost in the tumult of obligation. It explores how dreams and ambitions can be both independent of a woman’s roles in life, and yet undeniably intertwined with those roles.

There are many kinds of relationships that are tricky ones, but particularly when they are relationships where partners can both love and hate equally, simultaneously, and then defend one another with unwavering conviction.

The complication of relationships, as near as I can tell, comes down to how the characters love and how they feel loved.

As it is now 2020, I’m working on the assumption that most readers have at least heard of The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This 1995 book explored the ways that people demonstrate love and the ways that people feel loved, and I think the ideas presented within are essential for authors writing any kind of love relationship.

Before that, C.S. Lewis wrote The Four Loves, a religious and philosophical exploration of the way people love and why they need to love. (This book is free on Kindle Unlimited.)

. . . .

I’ve got a few forms to consider.

1. The Parent Relationship

I know some people who cannot think of their parents without a feeling of bitterness and betrayal. Others have an unwritten agreement of mutual politeness and still others will keep their parents apprised of the occurrences in their lives on a regular basis.

The question for your character is how does he feel about his parents, and, if applicable, step-parents or guardians? How does he demonstrate those feelings when in proximity of these people? Is it similar to or different from how he expresses their feelings?

This can also be something to consider in the situation that character is the parent, how they feel about their children, how they think their children feel about them.

2. The Sibling Relationship

A great depiction of the sibling relationship can be seen in the way that Jane and Elizabeth Bennet interact with each other in Pride and Prejudice, and the way that Marsha and Jan Brady perceive their relationship in The Brady Bunch. Both of these have times when a sister is frustrated; both have a time when a sister is supportive.

The question for your character is how does she feel about her siblings? If she’s an only child, how does she imagine it might have been to have someone to chat with? When something great happens for a sibling, does your character feel the draw to celebrate or perceive yet another mark on the sibling measuring stick which she will never be able to attain? What kind of an event would launch your siblings from the status of feuding to allied?

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Do Writers Need A Room of Their Own?

From Writer Unboxed:

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction–Virginia Woolf

As an only child, I always had my own room. There were many, many rooms during the years when my father was a golf course construction supervisor. Some were cramped and generic, others included an adjoining bathroom or even a private balcony. One, at a ski resort, was technically its own rental unit with a separate address from my parents. At nine I had the entire second floor of our condo, which included two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a loft, though I usually hung out in the storage nook halfway down the staircase, which I also claimed. At our house in Maine, half the basement was mine. Not such a prize, as I had orange shag carpeting, no door, and a quarter of my space was taken up by the woodstove, which meant my winter sleeping quarters were five degrees hotter than hell. My dad eventually finished the basement and built me a proper room because he’s awesome like that.

I read, wrote, and drew constantly as a kid.

When I started college, my parents literally lived on the other side of the world—Thailand. Everything I owned had to be hauled to Missouri and stuffed into a shared dorm room. (Apologies to my roommate, who never complained.)

All creativity vanished.

. . . .

When I married, my “room” shrunk to a shared office. Two kids later I downsized to a cramped computer armoire tucked into the corner of a cluttered common room, the TV mere steps away. I responded to e-mail while the Little Einsteins theme song played in the background and took social media “breaks” when the hubby watched The Walking Dead. I wrote during those brief, precious hours when I had the house to myself, with frequent interruptions to let the dogs in, out, and back in again. Damn squirrels!

A single draft took years to accomplish. I feared I’d never have a successful writing career at that pace.

. . . .

Having a dedicated space is a signal to yourself that writing is not an idle hobby that you peck away at between household chores or doom-scrolling Twitter sessions. Ideally, there should be no Twitter allowed in this space. It is a place you go to work.

Having a dedicated space is a signal to everyone else in the household that writing is not an idle hobby you peck away at between household chores or doom-scrolling Twitter sessions. It is your job, regardless of whether it brings in an income, and should be treated with the same respect as any other job. If the door is closed or noise canceling headphones are on, you are working. Boundaries should only be crossed only for emergencies.

Having a dedicated space allows for disengagement from the world. Focus can be in short supply under the best of circumstances. None of us are living that right now. 2020 is an awful year on so many levels between this nightmare election and the disruption of this pandemic. We are all grieving, be it for lost loved ones, lost jobs, lost vacations and canceled milestones. In a world where even the act of going out for coffee with a friend is a calculated risk, there’s a lot of free-floating anxiety in the air. Creative types are generally more sensitive to all that negative energy. We need a buffer.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG finds a room of his own an absolute necessity.

Mrs. PG finds a room of PG’s own an absolute mess.

They compromise by having PG close the door to his own room if visitors come who may wander into the vicinity of PG’s room. Sometimes, Mrs. PG requests that PG lock the door so no accidental traumas occur.

The Secret To This Romance Author’s Success? Breaking All The Rules.

From Amazon Author Insights:

I can safely say that every time I’ve been asked to speak to aspiring writers, afterward, I’ve had not one, but several come up to me and say, “I can’t believe you did what you said you did. I was told never to do that. I was told never to break that rule.” This does not surprise me, but it saddens me. When I started writing, I too had a set of rules for writing romance (my genre) that I was under the impression were unbreakable. And I wrote within the confines of those rules.

It was only when publishing house after publishing house, agent after agent had rejected my submissions, and I’d decided that no one was ever going to read my books, that I threw the rules out the window. I then simply wrote what I wanted to write, wrote how the stories came to me, was true to them and my characters.

Then I published myself … And I’ve sold more than two and a half million books.

What are the rules I broke? First, I didn’t write what I thought people wanted to read. I didn’t research what might be popular — what might sell — and write that. I wrote stories that felt personal to me, that I enjoyed completely from writing to reading. The first book that I did this with was Rock Chick, and with it and the Rock Chick series, I broke all the rules:

I wrote in first person, and at that time, romance novels in first person were available, but not customary.

I wrote my heroine’s thoughts in a stream of consciousness. I had paragraphs — many of them — that were just one word. I put myself, and what would eventually be my readers, in the mind of my heroine, Indy. Not describing what she was thinking, but thinking what she was thinking as she was thinking it. It’s important to note that not everyone could get into that, and that’s understandable, even expected. It’s also important to note that the ones who did, really did.

I allowed my characters freedom of expression. This meant that if they cursed, if the F-word was prevalent in their vocabulary, I let them use it (and cursing was very rare in romance).

For that matter, I didn’t censor my characters or their behavior. I didn’t think, “Oh, that might make her unlikeable, I need to switch that up, make her perfect.” I didn’t water down my aggressive, but loving heroes. I let them be them — real, imperfect, sometimes annoying, more times endearing (I hoped). They were great friends and good people, but they could (and often did) do stupid things (like we all do).

And my Rock Chicks were — and still are — hugely successful.

Link to the rest at Amazon Author Insights

5 Ways Paragraphing Supports Story

From Writer Unboxed:

If the last time you thought about paragraphing was when you learned that a paragraph was comprised of a topic sentence, three supporting sentences, and a conclusion, listen up: that staid structure will not have the power to draw readers into your story.

A paragraph in fiction is rarely used to convey information, as our earliest grammar school compositions were intended to do. The reader didn’t come to your novel to find out what kind of cattle produces the juiciest steaks; she can google that. She wants to know what happens when your aging cowboy, still facing hours in the saddle, has overestimated the stability of his reconstructed knee while an unexpected winter storm is blowing in.

What readers want most of story is to be moved, quite literally—transported, from one place to another. Paragraph structure can boost that sense of story movement. These tips should help.

1. A paragraph should develop only one idea. This sounds simple in theory, but while your mind is juggling god-knows-how-many aspects of story, execution can be fraught. As an editor, it often feels like I’m bringing my pen into the midst of a cattle drive to cut out an errant all-terrain vehicle. The ATV is a distraction, obscuring the reader’s perception of where the cowboy is directing the cattle.

You might argue that the ATV is relevant because the novel is about old methods butting heads with the new. If that’s your point, great—but most readers will miss it if you bury that ATV in the middle of a paragraph. That leads me to my next point. (A paragraph should always set up your next point.)

2. A paragraph should help the reader remember important information. If a beta reader calls you out for reiteration—or worse, if she missed an important aspect of characterization or plot altogether—take a closer look at your paragraphing. A paragraph should support memorability.

My motto: Say it once, with impact, and you won’t have to repeat it.

If your beta reader missed the point of that ATV altogether, pull it from its herd of words, place it in a new paragraph, and give it an entrance to be remembered.

Have your aging cowboy swatting around his head, sure that only an insect wanting a bite out of his ear could create a buzz annoying enough to be heard above the thumping of cattle hooves. It grows louder—now the cowboy and even some of the cattle are looking over their shoulders. The herd shies away from the growing sound. The cowboy’s horse fidgets, necessitating that the cowboy apply pressure from his compromised knee. Then have the four-wheeler come over the rise in a cloud of dust, and give us our first glimpse of the damn fool who lives next door.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

On some days, PG can empathize with an aging cowboy with flies buzzing around his head.

Cognition and Cognitive Offshoots

From Daily Writing Tips:

Before my use of Facebook, I imagined that, apart from insignificant personal differences, most people I know agreed on matters of true and false, right and wrong, good and evil. No more. Now, I never fail to be astounded by how differently my friends and relatives and I may react to the same morning headlines.

In my search for understanding, I encountered the term cognitive dissonance. This is a feeling of psychological discomfort that triggers a reaction that can cause a person to deny reality.

Initially, I thought it was just another term for hypocrisy, but now I realize that it is a form of psychological self-defense that we all practice.

First, let’s look at the words that make up the term.

cognition (noun): the action or faculty of knowing taken in its widest sense, including sensation, perception, conception, etc., as distinguished from feeling and will.

cognitive (adjective): of or pertaining to cognition, or to the action or process of knowing.

dissonance (noun): lack of concord or harmony between things; disagreement, discord.

In the 1950s, psychologist Leon Festinger infiltrated a doomsday cult whose members believed the world was going to end by a certain date. He wanted to see how the cultists would react when the date passed and the world had not ended. As might be expected, some felt foolish, lost trust in the cult leader and moved on. Some, however, the most committed believers, the ones who had sold all their possessions and abandoned families and jobs, did not lose faith. They came up with reasons to explain why the disaster had not taken place.

Festinger’s A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957) suggests that we have an inner drive to hold all our attitudes and behavior in harmony and avoid disharmony. This is known as the principle of cognitive consistency. When we do something or learn something that contradicts the attitudes and beliefs we already hold, we experience psychological discomfort. We have to do something to restore equilibrium. Anastasia Belyh describes it this way:

Cognitive dissonance refers to the feelings of discomfort that arise when a person’s behavior or attitude is in conflict with the person’s values and beliefs, or when new information that is contrary to their beliefs is presented to them. People like consistency. They want the assurance that their values and beliefs have always been right. They always want to act in ways that are in line with their beliefs. When their beliefs are challenged, or when their behavior is not aligned with their beliefs, this creates a disagreement (dissonance).— “Understanding Cognitive Dissonance (and Why it Occurs in Most People).”

. . . .

An example of cognitive dissonance often cited is Aesop’s fable of the fox and the grapes. In the beginning, the fox is certain that the grapes are delicious and that he has the ability to obtain them. When he fails in his efforts, he comforts himself by declaring that the grapes are certainly sour and not worth having.

. . . .

Unlike hypocrisy, cognitive dissonance takes place mostly on an unconscious level. When confronting an important decision, one that can have wide-reaching consequences for many people, it would be wise to examine our reasoning and ascertain the validity of our evidence.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

Writing Craft Check-Up: Fix These 10 Common Writing Errors

From Making a Living Writing:

Do you wonder if your writing is making the grade?

As a college dropout who got into freelance writing sort of by accident, I used to be haunted by this fear. But here’s the good news: You can learn on the job and keep improving your writing.

. . . .

For a long time, I was of the opinion that writing craft can’t be taught — you either have a gut instinct for a turn of phrase, for the flow of a good sentence, or you don’t.

But over the years, I’ve changed my mind. There are definitely some fundamental things to know that can drastically improve your writing and help you get more freelance writing jobs.

. . . .

1. Proof these 2 things

It’s weird, but I can’t tell you how many proposed blog headlines or email subject lines I’ve received with pitches for guest posting on my blog that have an obvious grammar or spelling error in them. I think we write those real quick, because we’ve been thinking on them a long time, and then don’t revisit them.

They’re worth a check-back! Otherwise, you get things like this email subject:

Interest to gust post

When I point out that someone has pitched me with an error in subject line or headline, young writers often tell me, “Hey, I was texting on my phone when I sent that, so you should excuse the error. I’ll write better for you when I get the assignment.”

Sorry, that doesn’t work. Care enough about your pitch to proof it, no matter what device you send it from. If texting is hard for you, wait until you’re at the computer to send important messages.

2. Do some ‘splaining

All good short pieces of writing have a paragraph or two near the top that explains what we’ll learn if we read through the piece. Editors call this the ‘nut’ graf.

Many pieces of writing you can find online lack a nut graf. They just being to ramble along, with no focused point in sight, and readers wonder what’s in it for for them. Then, readers give up.

Read any newspaper or magazine feature, and you’ll find yourself arriving at a nut. Maybe it starts with an example or a situation, and then you soon get a paragraph that says, ‘This is only one example of the growing trend of X.” That’s the nut.

Review your writing piece and make sure you are flashing the point of it up high in a focused paragraph or two, so readers know what your piece will deliver.

Writers are sometimes afraid they’re ‘giving too much away too early’ by doing this — but trust me, this little tweak is the one that gets you read.

. . . .

5. The dullness of being

Passive ‘being’ verbs are the enemy of interesting prose. Seek and kill yours.

Even worse are long windups into passive verbs or using multiple passive verbs in a sentence, as in, “If you’re thinking about going to the store, get some eggs.”

Solution: “If you go to the store, get some eggs.”

It’s worth a quick run back through your piece to hunt and kill those past-tense verbs, whenever possible. Even if you really are talking about the past, you can use simpler past-tense verbs, like:

“He thought about going to the store, but decided not to.”

See? Still feels more ‘active’ and like it’s happening now, compared with those deadly ‘ing’ verbs.

Link to the rest at Making a Living Writing

The OP was written primarily for those who want to write freelance articles. However, PG thinks the suggestions also work for authors of books.

Writing Humor to Heal Mind and Body

From Writers in the Storm:

Know Your Audience

Not everyone has the same sense of humor. One person’s mirth may be another’s eye-roll. The reader’s age is important to take into consideration.  Something funny to a teen or adult will not necessarily work for a young child—although bathroom humor—which starts very early in life, never seems to get old.

 It’s helpful to have a feel for your readers’ expectations.

Jim Butcher’s fantasy/mystery series, The Dresden Files, is full of humor—sarcastic as well as oddly motivational. The following quote in which detective and wizard Harry Dresden interacts with medical examiner Waldo Butters is from Dead Beat, number 7 in the series.

“‘We are not going to die.’

Butters stared up at me, pale, his eyes terrified. ‘Were not?’

‘No. And do you know why?’ He shook his head. ‘Because Thomas is too pretty to die. And because I am too stubborn to die.’ I hauled on the shirt even harder. ‘And most of all because tomorrow is Octoberfest, Butters, and polka will never die.’”

Create Comedy using Repetition

Like the knock-knock joke, repetition with a surprise ending formula can work for prose. Here is an example by essayist David Sedaris from his collection Naked showing comedy through surprise.

“The first two times I read the book, I found myself aching with pleasure. Yes, these people were naughty, but at the age of thirteen, I couldn’t help but admire their infectious energy and spirited enjoyment of life. The third time I came away shocked, not by the characters’ behavior but by the innumerable typos.”

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

I Am An Author But Not Who You Think I Am!

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

A few years ago, someone commented on my Facebook post, “Sweta, you must be ready to retire now that your poetry book has become an Amazon bestseller”.

According to this person, my royalty payments, from my poetry collection, would keep me smoothly sailing for the rest of life. I laughed so hard at the irony of this person’s ignorance.

Media portrays both incredibly rich and realistically impoverished writers. People choose to believe what suits their needs. Truth is that we, the writers and poets, don’t have a wand that we wave to magically create money from a book. Words and writing take discipline, sacrifice, and many hours (often years) of rumination.

Completing a book and bringing it into this world takes persistence and years of hard work. Writing, sometimes, takes us into dark places and unknown emotional territories. What readers see is the final product with the book jacket; the journey to get to that point is hardly rosy. Most importantly, NOT everything we write gets published. Ask any writer, and they will point you in the direction of the dark corners in their homes stacked with unwanted manuscripts catching dust.

Writing and the arts in general don’t pay much. That’s why most of us in the creative fields have a day job or a side hustle to buy food, pay bills, and follow our creativity. We don’t become poets, novelists, and nonfiction writers for the money. As writers and poets, we write because that’s how we see, experience, and navigate the world. We definitely don’t get into writing because we aspire to buy a mansion in the Hamptons from the advance. Most of us wouldn’t turn down that offer, but the probability of such a deal is far and few in between.

But we also didn’t get into writing, so we would become an unwilling charity for those who don’t care or understand that writing doesn’t come for FREE and continue to ask for help without ever offering to pay. It’s not an easy task to work a full-time job, care for a family, keep your creative passion alive, and respond to preposterous requests.

Link to the rest at Woman Writers, Women’s Books

Tips for Historical Writers

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Historical true crime requires the writer to don a detective’s hat to unearth real details about the case(s), and the research can seem daunting at times. Historical fiction also demands that the writer get his/her facts straight. Today, I offer tips to help you find reliable source material, from which to build a factual narrative.

To write a realistic narrative for historical true crime, research includes:

  • Facts of the Case
  • Life of Historical Figures (killer, victim(s), family life, etc.)
  • Forensics (Fun Fact: Some of the toxicology tests are still used today!)
  • Occupations
  • Food and Dress
  • Wealthy v. Poor (differences in daily life)
  • Modes of Transportation
  • Investigators (Think: How did the police catch criminals back then?)
  • Court System (jurors, sentencing, lawyers, judges, witness testimony, expert witnesses, prosecution’s theory, defense, etc.)
  • Prison Life and/or Mental Hospitals
  • Burials

Where to Start the Search?

If the crime occurred in the 17th or 18th century, the task becomes more difficult. Not impossible. We just need to think like an investigator.

Let’s say we only have a name, place, and approximate year for our victim or killer. The first logical step is to conduct a Google search to see what’s available online. Someone must have written about the case, right? Well, not necessarily. Sometimes we’ll get lucky and find an article or two, other times *crickets* Which I prefer. Fewer articles mean the industry isn’t saturated with books on the same topic. It’s also harder to find what we need.

Pro Tip: If we do find an online article about the crime, don’t solely rely on that information. Instead, within said article search for the author’s sources. Most true crime and historical writers link to outside sources or cite where they’d gathered facts, and those are the gold nuggets we want.

. . . .

Three-Source Rule

If we can’t verify a fact with two other sources, historical fiction writers could still use it in a story. Historical true crime writers should not. This is my personal rule, not an industry requirement. Some publishers ask the writer to verify each major fact with at least one other source. Even if they never request the citation, their legal department might. House lawyers rest easier knowing we verified with more than one source.

Pro Tip: Keep a log of where you find both primary and secondary source materials. It’ll save you from having to flip through mountains of research papers later.

Exception to Three-Source Rule

Suppose we find a newspaper article that we’re able to authenticate with a trial transcript, deposition, or other court document. Since we have the primary source (court document) which states the same fact, the newspaper gains credibility. Say, we can’t find primary sources to substantiate the reporter’s claim. If the primary source doesn’t contradict those facts, then verify with two secondary sources.

See what I’m sayin’?

True crime readers expect the truth, not our fictional interpretation. Part of our job is to question a reporter’s research. To sell newspapers “facts” are often embellished or sensationalized. By doing so they created eye-popping headlines.

Pro Tip: Embellishments can destroy a factual narrative. Dig deeper to find the truth.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

Even Your Memoir Is Not All About You

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

Refrain from the use of “I.”

That writing advice may seem hypocritical coming from the author of two memoirs and a new book of personal essays, but even in the most intimate episodes of baring your soul in your writing, readers do not need the constant reminder that it is you writing about yourself.

They are actually trying to be sure it is about themselves.

Because you are writing about your life with your byline, readers assume that you are the narrator, conjuring up each scene, section of dialogue and description. So literally writing, “I saw,” “she said to me,” “I said,” or “I remembered,” becomes as tedious a reminder of your presence as the person who has cornered you with their opinions about what is wrong with the media.

Your presence is implied. Of course, you have to write “I” every now and then for clarity, but repeatedly starting sentences or paragraphs with your pronoun declaration is unnecessary.

. . . .

Writing first person commentary, memoirs and essays for love and money, my work pays the mortgage and the gas bill, occasional trips to Whole Foods for the blackened chicken salad that is about $30 for a container, and shoes on sale at DSW. In four decades of writing I have learned a few things about why my work matters not just to me, but to others.

You may think your writing personal stories it is all about you, but it is about the reader as well. That is why there is a tired cliché, “The personal is universal.”

Zora Neale Hurston said, “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.”

So many of us are living confined lives of working from home, sheltering in place, eliminating trips to museums, coffee shops, bars, favorite restaurants, beaches, even family parties and trips with friends. Our worlds have shrunk and save the mandatory zoom calls for work conferences and webinars, there may be a station wagon full of people you encounter in real life. But our words are larger than our lives.

. . . .

Make sure what you are writing is not simply a chronological regurgitation of events. Brushing your teeth is not so interesting a topic. Unless from that prompt, you begin writing about the woodsy smell of bourbon on your uncle’s breath, or the first grade teacher whose teeth were the color of sand. Begin with your memory and expand into a kaleidoscope of imagery and memories tied back to the simple task of brushing your teeth as a metaphor for much more.

A desire to profoundly articulate a meaningful experience, applying the techniques of literature to a life moment or phase, that is what readers connect to. Even when the specifics are not what they know firsthand, the feelings and emotions you conjure certainly are.  

Write in a tone, voice and style that allows your personality to venture onto the page. Write the way you speak. We all know when we receive a card or email that is insincere.. Try to avoid that kind of insincerity in your writing. 

Your genius is in the details but also in the connections you make. Highly creative people have the ability to take completely disparate ideas and events, find the commonality and connect them. 

Link to the rest at Woman Writers, Women’s Books

Grammar and Our Changing Society

From The Book Designer:

Since 2010 I have written and published ten grammar books. Since 2014 I have written a grammar blog, posting every week. I have taught English, copyedited, and written technical manuals. Suffice it to say that grammar is near and dear to my heart.

. . . .

What exactly is grammar? Grammar consists of words (morphology) and how we put them into sentences (syntax). Most people also put punctuation into the grammar category.

There are two schools of grammar thought:

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

  • Prescriptivism – If you are a prescriptivist, you believe that the rules are the rules and that is pretty much it. Occasionally, with a good reason, you will break a rule. Note, however, that we have many different style guides that sometimes disagree. And, English is the only major language that does not have an association that presides over the language and makes the rules.
  • Descriptivism – If you are a descriptivist, you believe that language is alive and ever changing – and that the way people speak and write actually creates the rules.

. . . .

Think about how grammar has changed, let’s say, since the days of Shakespeare. Has it really? What changes most is actually vocabulary. Obviously, language has changed a great deal since Shakespeare wrote his plays. Technology and society change our vocabulary constantly. Thousands of new words are added to the dictionary every year. In fact, the dictionary is updated on a regular basis. Words are added, and some are taken out. Who heard of “mansplaining” a few years ago?

However, syntax has not really changed. Nor has punctuation. We still put our sentences together with same way as always. Verbs have subjects and objects, prepositional phrases perform the same functions they always have, tenses haven’t changed, and commas go in the same places they went a century ago. And the war over the Oxford comma still rages on.

It is societal change that prompts much of the evolution of our language, and copyeditors are now the guardians of making sure correct (and politically correct) language is used.

. . . .

In 2019 the Merriam Webster people said that the singular they is acceptable. The singular they is the “other” controversy (in addition to the Oxford comma, pro or con). What is the singular they?

They is obviously a plural pronoun. It refers to more than one person. It is the third-person plural personal pronoun. Its singular form is heshe, or itHe is male, she is female, and it is a thing (or animal, unless of course, it is your pet.)

So, what is the problem? The problem is that there is no gender-nonspecific pronoun in the English language. But there are people who don’t identify with either he or she.

Everyone needs to bring ______ passport to the airport.

Everyone (everybody, someone, somebody, etc.) might sound plural, but it is singular. But we might not know if the group is entirely male, entirely female, or mixed. Obviously, there are easy workarounds to avoid the issue:

Everyone needs to bring a passport to the airport.
Or
All travelers need to bring their passports to the airport.

But let’s say you were in a situation where you wanted to use the singular pronoun. The old ways were:

Everyone needs to bring his or her passport to the airport.
Or
Everyone needs to bring his/her passport to the airport.
Or
Everyone needs to bring his passport to the airport. (His covering also for her– no longer acceptable)
Or
The awful compromise of alternating between the two in a passage of writing.

Many people have always used the singular they because they didn’t know the difference:

Everyone needs to bring their passport to the airport.

Many prescriptivists still don’t like this. I don’t love it, but I will use it. Well, I will generally just rewrite to avoid it. And of course there have been many attempts at birthing a new word that covers all genders and is singular, but I have seen nothing final on that one yet.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Character Names Create Great Stories

From Nameberry:

I may be the world’s only novelist who’s also a name expert, which makes it doubly ironic that I was compelled to change my own character names.

But when Darren Star, creator of Sex & the City, made a television show based on my novel Younger, he changed the name of my heroine Alice to Liza and that of her young colleague Lindsay to Kelsey. Alice’s daughter’s name Diana was given to Alice’s boss, whereupon the daughter became the generationally-appropriate Caitlin.

My new novel Older, the sequel to Younger published today, uses the character names from the TV show rather than from my original book. At this point, it would be confusing any other way.

. . . .

I originally named the heroine of Younger Alice because of her Alice in Wonderland experience of living in the upside-down world of the younger generation. But Alice is an overused name both in literature and on the screen. There were notable characters with the name both in the movie Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and its TV adaptation Alice, and Alice Kramden was Ralph’s wisecracking wife in the classic Jackie Gleason Show.

The name Liza, on the other hand, is free of other strong character associations. It’s generationally ambiguous, reaching its apex in the mid-1970s, around the time my heroine would have been born. All in all, I have to confess, Liza is a more original and better character name than Alice.

Kelsey and Lindsay, meanwhile, are basically the same name. As a name for Hilary Duff’s character, Kelsey has the advantage, though, in peaking a bit later than Lindsay, in the early 1990s, perfect for someone who’s supposed to be in her late 20s. And Lindsay is perhaps too reminiscent of the actress Lindsay Lohan.

The best character names in realistic, contemporary works of fiction support the character’s background and personality rather than dominate it. If you’re writing a broader work – a fantasy book or period piece or graphic novel – you can have a lot more fun with character names. Albus Dumbledore and Daenerys Targaryen, Ebenezer Scrooge and Lyra Silvertongue are amazing character names created by J.K. Rowling and George R. R. Martin, Charles Dickens and Philip Pullman. Those names raise the bar even higher for authors looking to compete with Harry Potter or Game of Thrones.

. . . .

When you begin a novel, it’s a good idea to create a timeline that shows when your characters were born, graduated, hit certain milestone ages compared with notable world and cultural events over the same time period. What names were most popular the year your character was born, what names were used more quietly, which might have been associated with major figures of the day, and which weren’t used at all?

. . . .

Names like Jennifer, Michael, John, and Sarah convey an Everyman or Girl Next Door feeling. If that’s what you’re going for, fine, but that puts more pressure on the characters to prove themselves individuals deserving of our attention.

Link to the rest at Nameberry

No Story Conflict? Explore Your Options

From Writers Helping Writers:

[A]s a Resident Writing Coach here, I’ve previously talked about how to make our story’s conflict stronger.

The most common advice is to add more conflict to our stories, to add more external or internal obstacles that force our characters to struggle while attempting to make progress on their goals. After all, without conflict, our characters would reach their goals immediately: The characters want X and then they get it. In other words, we’ve learned that conflict is what turns a goal into a story.

But what if that’s not the kind of story we’re trying to tell? What if adding conflict doesn’t feel right for our story? Are we stuck?

. . . .

If we grew up in Western culture, chances are that we learned from our time in elementary school that stories are about solving a story problem. In turn, a story problem implies goals, stakes, and conflict, as the characters try to solve the problem.

However, that dramatic-arc narrative style doesn’t apply to every story, especially those in non-Western cultures. More importantly for today’s topic, stories with different narrative structures often don’t rely on conflict the way we’ve learned. This lack of conflict doesn’t mean they don’t “count” as stories, but it does make them different – and that means we can learn from them.

Narrative Structures with No/Low Conflict

Examples of narrative structures that take a different approach to conflict (often ignoring it completely) include:

  • Kishōtenketsu: 4-act story structure found in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese storytelling, from centuries-old stories to modern manga and Nintendo video games
  • Robleto: style of traditional Nicaraguan storytelling, which includes a “line of repetition” tying a character’s many journeys within the story together
  • Daisy-Chain Plot: story follows single object or idea with no central character
  • Fanfiction “Fluff”: zero-conflict/angst stories focusing on character interactions
  • Oral Storytelling: often emphases a moral message and not conflict
  • Rashomon-Style Plot: repeating events from different perspectives

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

To Avoid Rejection, Take the Writer Out of the Story

From editor and author Joe Ponepinto via Jane Friedman:

An admission: As I read my way through the submission queue for our literary journal, I often decide to decline a story well before its end.

It’s not that the stories are always bad. Many times the premise is interesting, and the characters as well. It may exhibit the opening tension and stakes that can pull a reader in. In fact, there may not be anything technically missing from the submission, and this proficiency is supported by the writers’ cover letters—many submitters have been published in other journals; some are contest winners or Pushcart nominees.

But for me, the stories they’ve submitted just don’t resonate.

So it’s a matter of taste, then?

Sometimes, but more often it’s something else. It’s a quality that can’t be measured or pinpointed, and I think that’s why it’s an aspect of good writing that is rarely taught in MFA programs, or writing classes, and almost never mentioned in blogs and articles on writing. Call it something ethereal. Call it alchemy. Or call it what it is, a story so advanced that it is no longer just a story, but something beyond a story—a virtual reality that transports a reader into a frame of mind vivid enough to replace actual reality. It’s a story so engrossing the reader forgets that he’s reading, a story in which the author’s voice seems not to exist. A silent story, as a writer friend once noted.

So many times stories give me the impression of a writer writing about something. It’s in the story’s tone and flow. It’s in the plot that’s been done a few thousand times before, or is based on something that’s in the news. It’s in characters filtered through the writer’s personal experience, which limits their diversity and individuality. In short, the writer is present in every sentence, hunched over the reader’s shoulder, which is why so much in these stories sounds like explanation, like the writer worrying that readers won’t “get it” unless they lay out paragraphs of background info. As Elmore Leonard famously said, it sounds like writing.

As I read these submissions, I can visualize the writer thinking about aspects of writing as he writes. Does this scene have tension? Is it making my theme clear?

But a successful story exists independently from its author. It seems so real that readers don’t have to be schooled in the facts of the story’s world, but can, through the actions and dialogue of its characters, adapt and understand how it works. Kind of like the way we do it in real life.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Most Common Reasons Authors Fail To Publish Their Work

From Digital Pubbing:

There were more than 45 thousand writers and authors working to make a living in the United States in 2019. That’s a lot of people pursuing their passion.

Unfortunately, despite an increase in the number of people exploring the world of writing work, there are still a lot of writers who struggle to achieve success. There’s more to reaching your goals than writing something and publishing it on one of the many online channels that exist today.

. . . .

We all have issues with self-esteem from time to time. We ask ourselves if we’re knowledgeable enough to create something that people want to read. However, if you want to succeed as a writer, you’ll need to find a way to rediscover that confidence.

If you don’t believe you have what it takes, you’re never going to reach your goals. It’s up to you to convince everyone, from your publishers and investors to your future readers, that you’re definitely worth their time.

If you’re struggling to keep a grip on your confidence, consider making a list of all the things that you have to offer, from expertise to unique insights. Reflect on this when your self-esteem drops.

. . . .

Understanding the market is critical in any profession. You need to know exactly who you are selling your skills to so that you can prepare to speak their language. Before you start writing, evaluate your audience, and create user personas.

. . . .

Having a good view of your audience as you’re writing will improve your chances of reaching your reader on the right level. At the same time, knowing your audience well should help you figure out how to present your new book to your customers.

. . . .

Although you can’t necessarily rely on someone to prepare you for everything that might happen on your journey, a mentor can assist with some essential navigation.

Link to the rest at Digital Pubbing

The Risky Writing Life

From Publishers Weekly:

It might seem that writers live pretty safe lives. Yes, there are some, mostly journalists, who immerse themselves in troubled and war-torn countries, and they can and do get hurt. But most of us who write sit at keyboards or notepads every day and create stuff—poems, plays, stories, essays—mostly from our heads.

Still, though we may be safe from physical harm, all of us who write know that every hour we devote to our notepads or keyboards, every moment we stop and think and dwell on the thoughts and ideas that will, in one way or another, find life on a page or computer display, involves a variety of potentially monumental risks. There’s financial risk, risk of never getting published, risk of bad reviews, risk of making enemies of those about whom we write. And there is no risk greater for a writer than emotional risk—which is why writing one’s memoir is ultimately the riskiest of all.

Think about the writer’s life. Whether we write for an hour or eight hours every day, whether we write before sunrise or late into the night after the kids have been tucked into bed, we are often toiling in limbo and with ongoing hope—and doubt. “Will I get it right?” we wonder. “And how long might that take?” It is all so isolating. It is not as if we can discuss our writing with friends and colleagues and neighbors. Talking about what we are writing, the essence of what we are trying to say, can and often does leave us empty when we eventually sit down to write it.

. . . .

Writing is often spontaneous. Ideas are inspired by the sheer act of writing—even if we are writing our own histories. Sometimes it works. But mostly, alas, it doesn’t—not the first time or the second time or even the third time. Or the first month or year. We do it again and again, relentlessly, sentence after sentence, after paragraph after page, fighting the frustration and our demons, as well as the fear of failure.

When writing a memoir, the risks we take at the keyboard are only the beginning. What will our friends think? Will our family members object to the way we’ve described and judged them, or disagree with the way we remember incidents? Maybe some will think less of us based on the stories and the truths we tell. Or maybe they’ll question or criticize our decisions—how we behaved, how we parented, how we brought problems on ourselves. This can be frustrating and downright embarrassing.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Bad Practices, Good Practices, Best Practices

From David Farland, Story Doctor:

I was speaking with Forrest Wolverton about a writer we both knew who “couldn’t seem to write.” He’d written well before, but now just wasn’t getting the words on paper. He felt blocked. Forrest asked him to remember back to times when he had written easily three years earlier, and he described how he would sit down with a cup of coffee, open his word processor, and then begin to compose.
However, he’d changed his routine back then. He’d decided that he would check his email before writing. So before he began to write, he checked his email. Then he’d go on Facebook, since he often had messages there. Then he’d “play a videogame for a bit.”

Therein we found the problem. This string of behaviors that delayed his writing actually ended up sabotaging him.

He’s not alone. I know one New York Times bestseller who recently told me that he had gotten addicted to a videogame that cost him three years of his life. Another one spent eight hours a day on social media. A third drank beer after beer while waiting for inspiration.

It seems that all of us, from time to time, can fall into bad habits. Most people with bad habits don’t publish often. But just because you don’t have terrible habits, doesn’t mean you’ll do well. Some people who manage to write consistently at a high level still don’t have stellar careers.

. . . .

I ask our authors about their writing practices, how they publish, and what works for them. Sometimes it has surprised me to find one author’s indie tactics have worked at all. There are more ways to make a living in this business than I imagined. As I listen to their publishing methods, I’ve discovered that nearly all of them—and nearly all of us, I’m sure, fall short of our potential. Authors typically find a way to write and sell books, and then they settle in at that plateau.

I’ve sometimes suggested things the author could do to boost his or her sales, but many feel they are already working about as hard as they want to.

It raises a question: Are you satisfied with doing what works, or would you prefer to change a little and do what works best?

For example, instead of opening your email before you write, could you wait for three hours and do it on a break (setting a time limit to answer)? Instead of just putting your books up on Amazon and advertising to your mailing list, would you consider some targeted ads that might double your income?

Link to the rest at David Farland, Story Doctor

Identifying Your Character’s Primary Attribute

From Writers Helping Writers:

When I think about some of my favorite protagonists, I can usually identify a trait that defines each one:

Sam Gamgee: Loyalty
Anne Shirley: Impulsivity
James T. Kirk: Boldness

However, if each character was made up of only that one trait, they probably wouldn’t make many “favorites” lists because they’d be paper-thin—caricatures, rather than characters with depth and nuance. Real people are complicated and deep, embodying more than one quality. And so must our characters be if they’re going to draw readers in through authenticity and relatability.

However, by including too many traits, you run the risk of creating a character who’s all over the map and doesn’t ring true. So how do we create multi-dimensional characters who make sense to readers? For simplicity’s sake, I’d like to focus today on how to accomplish this in regards to a character’s positive attributes (although this process also apply to flaws).

First, identify your character’s positive traits. Though there could be dozens, narrow the list down to the dominant ones—no more than five or six. Let’s use our beloved Captain Kirk as an example.

Along with boldness, he also exemplifies loyalty, daring, decisiveness, extroversion, and charm. But focusing on so many traits can make for a scattered character with hard-to-define motivations and emotions. To avoid this, look at your short list of traits and determine which is your character’s primary one. This is the attribute that will drive his choices. It is often also tied to his moral and ethical beliefs, his sense of right, wrong, duty, and worth. 

. . . .

Once you’ve figured out your character’s primary attribute, show that trait to the reader. Whenever your hero is faced with a choice, that trait should push him to a decision. 

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Get Me Out of Here

From Writer Unboxed:

If there’s a Church of Emotional Truth in Writing, I’m a founding member. “Write the truest version” is my mantra, and I’ve written novels exploring fear and loss and shame and passion and love and I’ve written essays on the importance of vulnerability in writing. Yet as I struggled with the start of a new novel recently, I realized that I don’t really want to write my emotional truth right now, because I am in a dark and difficult place, as many of us are. All I really want is to be somewhere, anywhere, else. Give me an escape.

Since mid-March, I have watched the entire Lord of the Rings extended edition movies all the way through (twice!). I’ve seen all three seasons of the British sitcom Miranda (also twice). I’ve read ten or more novels (who can keep track of anything these days?) that have taken me from 1960s Louisiana (Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half) to Narnia (yes, I re-read C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) to mid-20th-century New York (Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn).

But here’s the thing: escape has not dulled my need to create. “To make art is to wake up in a state of craving, a craving to discharge resentment, rage…And the making of art has a curative effect. A tension you are under disappears, dramatically.” (A comment by visual artist Louise Bourgeois, as quoted by writer Jamie Attenberg)

. . . .

So I am escaping, but I’m also creating. I’m writing poetry, a new discipline for me. I’m working on the opening pages of a novel that has elements of magical realism, a new genre for me. I’m cooking more frequently which, believe me, is an act of creation. All those things transport me someplace else. Is there value in escape? I believe so, for these reasons:

It provides perspective. Yes, these are hard times. But they are hardly the hardest times. Read (or write!) about the 1918 flu pandemic, the Civil War, or the plague (one of my favorite reads is Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, about a woman in 14th-century Norway). Stories of how people have faced catastrophe and endured or even bloomed are road-maps of a sort for all of us now.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Third person omniscient vs. limited vs. head jumping

From Nathan Bransford:

If a writing fairy popped out of an old typewriter and granted me the ability to fix one craft problem in all the unpublished manuscripts across the realm I would probably terrify it by how quickly I’d shout, “PERSPECTIVES! For the love of Melville fix the broken perspectives!!”

You probably know there are three main perspectives to choose from in a novel: first person, third person limited, and third person omniscient.

. . . .

Here’s the thing: If you’ve chosen one of the third person perspectives, you may not realize that you’re going about it all wrong.

That’s because people often confuse an omniscient perspective with the very common and extremely wicked gremlin of writing craft: awkward head jumping.

In this post I’m going to show you how to spot the difference between third person omniscient, third person limited, and head jumping, and give you tips on writing with a cohesive perspective instead of completely disorienting the reader.

. . . .

What is third person omniscient?

A third person omniscient perspective is often compared to a god’s-eye view because the narrative voice is able to show anything it wants the reader to see. An omniscient voice knows what’s happening in all places and can divine what every single character is thinking.

There are no limits to what can be shown by an omniscient narrator. We can zoom around to various locales and we can dip into characters’ heads as needed.

But while an omniscient perspective can see all thoughts, it is typically a consistent, unified voice, almost as if there’s an unnamed character (or sometimes even a named one) who is narrating the action and guiding the reader through the scene.

What is third person limited?

As the name implies, third person limited is more, well, limited. It’s typically tied to one character at a time. Even though it’s written in third person, there’s an anchoring character and we only see the events through their perspective.

This means that we only know what the anchoring character is thinking and only see what the anchoring character is seeing. Any other character’s thoughts have to be inferred through actions, gestures, or dialogue.

There can be multiple third person limited perspectives in a novel, but typically these are wholly contained within a chapter or section before the perspective shifts in a new chapter or section.

What is head jumping in a novel?

Here’s where the problems start. Sometimes people try to create an omniscient perspective through an assemblage of third person limited perspectives.

We see what this character is thinking, then we see what this character is thinking, then we see what this character is thinking. The reader is bopped around the scene willy-nilly as we bounce from character to character.

Often writers will even shift the perspective within the same paragraph or even the same sentence. There isn’t a unified single voice, but rather more like a cacaphony of voices.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Let the Words Flow

From veteran author and story doctor, Dave Farland:

One of the most important skills that any writers learns is to simply sit down and write. For some
people, this is as easy as sitting in a chair and typing. For others who are burdened with stresses,
distractions, or indecision, writing can be more of a challenge.

Learning to write every day is a skill that one develops. Just as a monk can learn to meditate for
hours, reaching a state where he controls his heartbeat and respiration, writers learn by practice how
to reach a meditative “flow state,” where words come out effortlessly and quickly.

There are other names for the “flow state.” If you’re writing and you are in a light meditative state, it
is sometimes called the “Alpha” state, but as you write for a couple of hours and get into a much
deeper meditative trance, it’s called the “Theta” state. It’s when you’re in this flow state that your
images, word choice, and plotting goals all mesh together seamlessly so that you hit the “writer’s
zone.”

Here is how to do it:

1) Prepare to write. For me to write, I need to know what scene I’m going to work on. That
means I need to know who the protagonist is, where and when the setting is, who else is in
the scene, what the major conflict is, what conversations will occur, and what the mood and
purpose of the scene will be.

Will my protagonist dare try to kiss the boy she’s attracted to, or will my hero fall off a horse
and break her neck? Will my scene consist mainly of an argument that elicits some disturbing
revelations? I find it helpful to have this information sketched out the night before, but I’m
perfectly capable of imagining a scene and writing it well on a moment’s inspiration.

2) Find a time and place where you have no distractions.

About Time: Most people discover that going to work at the same time every day helps them
reach a flow state quickly. Many writers like to work late at night or early in the morning. I
also like to have decent blocks of time. Since it takes me a bit to get into a deep trance, I want
something close to two hours as a minimum.

About Place: Create your “Sacred Writing Space.” Your writing space may be a special chair
in an office where you like to write, or perhaps it is in a coffee shop. Some writers seek out a
secluded cabin in the woods or a beach. I find that for some weird reason, I write very well
and easily in airports. I find that I can’t write in chairs that hurt my back, or in a room where
the air isn’t fresh. Having gorgeous scenery can also be a distraction. This technique is used in a variety of fields; whether you are studying for a test or learning an instrument, your environment is a breeding ground for productivity.

. . . .

3) Begin building the flow. This means you start writing. For most people, when they are
starting cold on a project, they’ve already outlined the opening scene.

If you’re in the middle of a project, say a novel, sometimes it is helpful to back up and edit
your writing for the previous two days. You don’t want to start at the beginning necessarily,
but you might simply review your last two days so that you can recall where you are and what
you planned to do. This helps you get re-grounded in the story so that you can effortlessly
move forward.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland, Story Doctor

The Vital Importance of Your Writing Community

From Writers in the Storm:

These last few weeks have been one of the most trying times of my life. Covid-19 has been this constant cloud that hovers over the most inane tasks of ordinary life. Heaped on top of this is the political divide happening in America and the ongoing fight for freedom and rights. Though these issues have weighed heavy on my heart the last few months, nothing has been as crushing as these last two weeks.

First, my twenty-two-year-old daughter became very ill. She had been living on her own and preparing to go back to school this fall. Since her illness began, she has been in the hospital five times and moved back home.

. . . .

Many people have had it much worse than us but my purpose in sharing this story is to illuminate the one thing that got me through with my sanity and soul intact: my writing community.

My Writing Community Is a Godsend

I needed help, and they responded. And I am so grateful. I was scheduled earlier this month to post a blog, and with a text, my good friend Jenny switched with me. I have had writer friends call me, write to me, send me letters, and Zoom with me. They shared the burden of my work and lent an ear when I needed it.

Creating a writing community around you helps you in so many ways because we are all in this together.

Our work is done inside our heads. Writing the words down is a consequence of the worlds we build in our dreams. Writers’ greatest accomplishments happen in total isolation. Because of this, we want…no…we need connections with others just like us.

Sure, I have a loving family and non-writer friends, and they often nod and do their best to support me. But they don’t always ‘get’ me. A writer understands the emotional angst of another writer.

In the middle of the night, I can send out a sentence I’m stuck on to a writer pal, and within minutes I receive a response. My own biological family doesn’t even do that!

Tips for Building a Writing Community

1. You offer yourself first. You ask what you can do for other writers you meet. They may not take your offer right away, but they will remember your generosity. One day, you will get an email, humble in its construction, asking for the help you offered months and even years prior.

2. You become active in the writing community. You show up and pay forward the help others have given you, whether it is writing on a blog like WITS or offering to look over someone’s opening lines. Being part of a writing community is about service and what you offer to others.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Be very careful with dreams and hallucinations in novels

From Nathan Bransford:

Writers are often tempted to pen dream sequences and hallucinations. And for good reason! Reading a novel itself feels a bit like a dream, and writers want to take full advantage of the medium, which allows us to get inside a character’s head in an unparalleled way.

But you should proceed with the utmost caution.

Once you start undermining the reality of a novel it becomes difficult for the reader to assume anything is real. After a dream sequence, from that point on the reader is going to have in the back of their mind: “Is this a dream? Is the character hallucinating?”

. . . .

To be totally honest with you, most dream sequences and hallucinations tend to feel pretty self-indulgent. They are often writing for writing’s sake and authors often use them as a chance to flex their writing muscles.

They almost always fall into an awkward nether region akin to the problem with including intentional symbolism. If it’s super obvious what we’re supposed to take away from a dream sequence the reader might feel a bit beaten over the head, and if it’s not obvious what we’re supposed to take away… well, we’re not really taking anything away.

. . . .

Unless you’re writing something along the lines of magical realism, where the boundaries between waking and dream life are intentionally blurry, in order to avoid disorienting the reader you should try to keep the dream/hallucination tightly bound and contained.

Basically: It’s clear the reader was asleep/out of it, now it’s clear they’re awake/lucid.

This means avoiding “rug pulling” techniques where the dream exists solely to trick the reader. These tend to be pretty cheap plot devices on TV shows, but they’re even worse in novels because of how much harder it is for a reader to suspend disbelief and get into a flow losing themselves in the world of the novel.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Fiction in the Time of Plague

From Writer Unboxed:

Six months into the worst pandemic in a century, we’ve passed five million cases with more than 170,000 dead, more than 30 million out of work, and the economy collapsing faster than it did during the great depression. Our politics have grown even more divisive, making it harder for us to act together. The world is changing around us in ways that we can’t possibly understand because we’re right in the middle of it.

So let’s talk about how this affects your current work in progress. That is, assuming you’re actually working on your novel instead of binge watching or binge baking or binge eating or binge drinking or crying quietly into your pillow every night. Or all of the above.

Of course, if you’re just starting out on a new manuscript, the virus offers all sorts of opportunities for drama. Covid is the ultimate A Stranger Comes to Town, upending peoples’ lives, putting them under strain, and revealing their true character – think Shane in virus form. But there’s something you’ve got to watch out for if you do decide to work Covid into your story — we still don’t know how the pandemic is going to end. Stuff could easily happen in coming months that will eclipse anything you might use as a background now, leaving your story feeling dated before it’s even finished.

Probably the best solution is to keep the disease as far in the background as possible and focus your story on how it affects your characters. I’ve written before about how to create tension when your story takes place against a background where readers know what’s coming – if your characters are passengers aboard the Titanic, for instance. You can use a lot of the same techniques when you don’t know what’s coming but your readers will by the time they see your story.

Mrs. Miniver started out as a newspaper column and then a book about everyday life in the country, which grew darker as the war approached. But most of us are more familiar with the movie. It was released in 1942 but was set earlier, at the height of the battle of Britain, when the outcome was anybody’s guess and the United States hadn’t yet joined the war effort. The story is still gripping today because the focus is entirely on how the war transformed Mrs. Miniver and her one small corner of Britain, where the big excitement used to be the annual flower show. Mr. Miniver takes the family pleasure boat to Dunkirk. Mrs. Miniver is threatened by a downed German pilot. Kay is killed in a raid. The suffering is set against a historic backdrop, but it is all very personal.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

What Is Writer’s Burnout?

From Writers Helping Writers:

When I mention writer’s burnout, many people get the wrong idea about it, so I thought I’d mention a few of the most common myths about writer’s burnout first and then get into the facts about what it is and what causes it.

Myths:

– Writer’s burnout is the same as writer’s block.
– You only get burned out by writing too much.
– If you can write an essay or a poem, you’re not burned out.
– If, deep down, you want to write, you’re not burned out.

The Confusion:

Writer’s burnout is often confused with writer’s block when, in actuality, it is more extreme than that. Writer’s block is the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.

When you are burned out, it is very different. We’re not just talking about things that can stop you from writing. You don’t even need to be blocked in order to get burned out. You could be able to easily think of what to write next and may even have the next scene or chapter plotted out and still suffer from this extreme condition. Anyone who works too hard, pushes their limits in order to get one task after another done without a break, and is eyeball deep in stress, can experience this. It doesn’t matter what your profession is, either. Usually, it’s called job burnout, but when it comes to being a writer, and when this burnout affects you as a writer, I call it writer’s burnout.

When I suffered from writer’s burnout, I had many ideas of what to write and a workable outline for the next book in my series. I was not blocked. I wanted to write, but I couldn’t. I’d try and fail. Again, not because I was blocked. I’d have a good day or two of writing a fictional story with fresh energy that would make me think I was back to normal, and then I wouldn’t be able to muster up the energy, the motivation, to write a single word more on the third day. I’d want to. Oh, boy, did I want to. I wanted that energy I had the previous two days. But it wasn’t there. I was depleted. Utterly exhausted, from my mind to the tips of my fingers and toes. Even my soul felt drained. I had worked myself beyond the breaking point, through depression and stress, and faced the severe consequences.

. . . .

Burnout is defined as a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by stress or by doing too much. Believe me, you can be physically exhausted as a writer.

You can lose motivation and feel as though you have nothing else to give in the area that caused your burnout, which usually means your job. For athletes, it’s their sport, the one they’ve devoted and dedicated their lives to. For writers, it can be anything related to being a writer, not just the act of writing. And that is something many don’t understand. You don’t need to be writing five thousand words a day to burn yourself out as a writer. You can burn yourself out by revising or rewriting a project over and over again. You can burn yourself out by editing one thing after another for others. You can burn yourself out by focusing on marketing day in and day out and getting upset that nothing is helping your sales.

Once you have burnout in one area of your life, it can leak into all areas of your life, like an oil spill, covering everything with a thick greasiness and zapping your energy for things even unrelated to writing. That is how dangerous burnout is for creatives and career-oriented individuals.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Coronavirus Lockdown Lessons for Authors

From ALLI:

As the world effectively went into lockdown in response to the COVID-19 crisis, we wrote about the mental and emotional challenges these new conditions were generating: fear of the disease, distraction, lack of stimulus, disrupted routines and rituals, the effect of a diet of constantly depressing news. Having good creative processes that limit the influence of other minds is always a challenge for creatives –and never more than in these times.

Working in close quarters with our families, without our usual social outlets, has been challenging for many, especially those with young children and older relatives, vulnerabilities, and anyone who needed care or felt unsafe at home. For many of those with disabilities, challenges are exacerbated.

And just because lockdown is easing, doesn’t mean the challenges have vanished. For many parents, their children are still off school or on school holidays, which means countless interruptions for snacks and food, bottom wipes, game playing, questions, lost toys and the plethora of other requests children throw at their parents.

Authors, like all creatives, have established habits, rituals and conditions which best feed their creativity. Many of us are now happily returning to cafés where possible –but others have found they still need to stay at home. Contrarily, having got used to a certain way of life, relaxing of lockdown rules can fuel resistance to changing a newfound routine, continuing fear of the virus, and loss of control over what others do.

Some may have return anxiety, not wanting to relinquish a way of living they’ve gotten used to during lockdown. Others are happy with a new normal, others may be desperate to break out. Our risk thresholds vary according to our character, experiences, and circumstances.

. . . .

As creative condition became difficult for many, commercial conditions improved for the indie author who relies on Internet commerce and social media. As the world went into lockdown, people becoronavirus lessons for authorsgan living online. Shopping and entertainment channels shifted to digital channels. Closure of non-essential stores caused online shopping to surge. Looking for human connections while practicing social distancing, people turned to social media more than ever before. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok have all seen massive spikes in daily usage and engagement

As the physical industry ground to a halt, with consignment book printings on hold; conferences postponed, and bookstores shut, lockdown has accelerated what was already underway in our sector: a shift towards digital reading, digital publishing (e-books, audio and print on demand) and online bookselling.

For most indie authors, the business model of selling print books through bookstores has never been commercially viable. Economies of scale mean that few of us, and none at the mass end of the market—fiction, poetry, standard non-fiction—can compete on price with trade publishing in the print-book-to-bookstore model.

Link to the rest at ALLI

Intuitive Writing and Character Formation

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

Inspiration is a funny thing. Mysterious and mystical, it’s difficult to know where it comes from. And unless one writes biographical fiction, characters are inspired by something. Before I started writing books, I imagined that somehow characters formed by themselves without too much effort, as if they leapt onto the page fully formed. Even when I wrote my first book, I thought it worked this way. The writing process was just as mysterious to me as character formation. You see, I’m an intuitive writer. I thought my writing just kind of happened. It was when I began books two and three that I realized characters were a little harder to pin down. 

G.K. Chesterton once said, “A woman uses her intelligence to find reasons to support her intuition.” Now that I’ve published multiple books and drafted several others, I’ve come to find out that while I am an intuitive writer, and even though it’s difficult to articulate my process, I do have a process. 

My first published book was born out of an experiment. I had already written an entire draft of another book, but I didn’t love the voice of that book. I had written it in third-person and began to wonder what might it be like to write in first person. As someone who loves to daydream with a constant inner monologue at any point in my day, it seemed a natural method of writing a story.

I don’t remember how it came about at the time, but the first thing I thought of was that scene from the Disney movie Aladdin where Aladdin has just stolen an apple and is running away from the city guards, singing the song “One Jump.”

I loved the idea of a feisty female heroine, so I re-imagined that scene from Aladdin, but this time with a character who would become Kassia. This was my initial spark of inspiration, but what does a writer do with that initial spark?

. . . .

Before I start writing any book, I have to know the why. My books need a purpose, a goal to accomplish. This is often called the theme of a book. Once I know my theme, I need to know how my characters relate to that theme. This guiding light is the compass for my main character throughout the entire book.

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

The Joys of Mystery Fiction’s Most Enduring Tropes

From CrimeReads:

The tropes of the murder mystery genre are familiar and widely parodied.

My personal favorite is the remote island location: barren and desolate, bordered by a wild blue sea, too sparse to have any hiding places and too far from the mainland to swim to, with a single, unimposing house. The perfect place for a murder.

My debut novel, The Eighth Detective, is a book all about murder mysteries and their tropes. It centers around a reclusive author, Grant McAllister, and a quick-witted young editor, Julia Hart, who meets with him to discuss reprinting some of his old stories, which have been unavailable for nearly thirty years. While Julia works hard to decode their secrets, which may or may not lead back to a murder, several of Grant’s short stories are reproduced in the novel in full.

. . . .

I sprinkled them liberally with tropes. Remote locations; country houses; characters distinguished only by their eccentricities; families ruled over by grumbling figureheads; bodies discovered in toilets, attics, and beds that don’t belong to them; poisoned drinks and disappearing weapons. But it wasn’t until I came to write them that I started to consider how these things became tropes in the first place, or why so many authors returned to them so often. What struck me was how useful they all are from the point of view of plotting. Each one offers a shortcut through pages and pages of narrative convolutions.

Take the remote location, for example. It may be atmospheric, but what’s more important is the use it has to the story. Our murder mystery needs to present the reader with a limited list of suspects, along with the promise that one of them will later be exposed as a murderer. We need to assure the reader that the crime couldn’t have been committed by a passing stranger. But there’s no need to tie ourselves in knots trying to justify this confected situation, when geography compels it. That’s the beauty of the remote location, bucolic or otherwise. The trope acts as a narrative shortcut.

Link to the rest at CrimeReads

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Public Humiliation

From Writers Helping Writers:

Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

. . . .

Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

It’s our hope that this thesaurus will help you come up with meaningful and fitting conflict options for your stories. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.

Conflict: Public Humiliation

Category: Power struggles, failures and mistakes, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, moral dilemmas and temptation, losing an advantage, loss of control, ego

Examples:
Infidelity being made public (through a sign on the lawn, a billboard ad, announcing it at a wedding or family event, in a mass email, or on social media)
Having private letters, images, or video shared online
The character being negatively singled out in front of peers
Being ridiculed by family or friends at a group event
Having their dirty laundry aired publically
An explosive secret coming out (drug use, sexual fetishes, criminal behavior, etc.)
Being put on the spot when the character is unprepared or at a disadvantage
Guilt by association (a spouse’s drunkenness at a company event, an adult child who has a very public arrest, a family scandal coming out, etc.)
Having a lie publically exposed or fraudulent behavior called out
Being forced to do something in public that the character believes is beneath them (due to their status, prestige, wealth, etc.)

Minor Complications:
Embarrassment, guilt, or shame (or all three)
Friends and connections who distance themselves, leaving the character to deal with the fallout alone
The rumor mill spinning, adding to the drama
Not knowing who to trust
Being shunned by neighbors or coworkers
Having to explain what happened over and over
Paying for legal advice
Changing a routine to avoid being harassed or ridiculed
Pulling back from activities to protect one’s privacy
Feeling trapped at home because of reporters, protesters, etc.
Having to disguise oneself in public
The character’s family members being inconvenienced or harassed
The character’s words being twisted in the media to fit a certain narrative to make things more “news-worthy”
Feeling watched
Having one’s other past actions examined and scrutinized
Damage to the character’s reputation
Having a membership revoked or an award taken back
Feeling uncomfortable around others due to being judged
Being unwelcome at a club, event, or establishment
Being threatened and harrassed
Being bullied or targeted online

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Don’t Forget the H

From SFWA:

The horror genre is undergoing a renaissance these days, with audiences devouring popular and critically acclaimed books, movies, and television series. If you’re a science fiction or fantasy writer who’d like to add more horror to your authorial toolbox, but you’re not quite sure how to go about it, you’re in luck, because that’s what this article is all about.

A lot of people’s views on horror have been shaped by slasher films, simplistic predator-stalks-prey stories with lots of blood and sex. But the genre of horror performs some very important functions for its audience beyond providing simple scares. Horror is a way for us to face our fears and come to terms with death and the “evil” in the world. Through horror, we explore, confront, and (hopefully) make peace with our dark side. And as a particular benefit for writers, horror can add a different level of suspense and emotional involvement for readers in any story.

Good horror is internal more than external. Horror stories are reaction stories. They’re not about monsters or monstrous forces as much as how characters react to monsters (or to becoming monsters themselves). Horror also thrives on fear of the unknown, so you should strive to avoid standard horror tropes such as bloodthirsty vampires or demon-possessed children, or rework them to make them more original and impactful for readers. Maybe your vampire is a creature that feeds on people’s memories, or maybe your possessed child is an android created to be a child’s companion who’s desperately trying to repel a hacker’s efforts to take over its system. Reworking a trope — dressing it in new clothes, so to speak — allows you to reclaim the power of its core archetype while jettisoning the cliched baggage it’s picked up over the years.

Link to the rest at SFWA

Previously, PG used the acronym SWFA instead of SFWA.

That’s the first mistake he’s made in the last five years and he apologizes immoderately.

Maintaining Steam As A Fulltime Author

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

“I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes at nine every morning” This quote often attributed to William Faulkner has become a staple in my approach when building my fulltime career as an author.

When I took the leap to follow my dream of becoming an author five years ago, I did so in the same manner in which I would approach a new career of any sort and I invested in myself. Granted an author’s career seldom takes off like a rocket and is much more akin to a slow burn.

Thus, the result of effort put in is far from immediate. If you are looking for instant gratification, you may wish to try your hand somewhere other than writing novels.

But if you are committed to the scenic route of building a career, I hope these practices will help keep you moving down the road toward a life as a fulltime author.

Show up each morning ready to work

This may seem obvious but the idea of an author lounging in their PJ’s comes up in conversation more often than you’d think. It seems many in the non-writing world have a notion that we writers, roll out of bed and stumble to the coffee pot before sitting at our desk to write the day away in brilliant fashion.

For me though, I don’t drink coffee and I rarely begin my writing day without first having taken care of the “life stuff”. You know the “life stuff”? The stuff that all of us, no matter what profession we have chosen must complete. The exercise routine, feeding the dog and the family, showering and dressing for the day, and all the other little things we cram into the hours when we aren’t at work.

Set a writing schedule

Right on the heels of showing up ready to work is the idea of having a set start and end time to your writing schedule. I prefer to write in the morning but life doesn’t always work out that way so I have learned to be flexible, but even my flexibility is scheduled. I plan each upcoming week the Sunday before the week begins and schedule my writing time just as I would a doctor’s appointment or a family commitment.

Setting an end time for your writing is just as crucial for maintaining balance in the rest of your life. Whether it is a word goal or a time goal, knowing how long you will be in writing mode each day is a blessing on good writing days and a forced imprisonment on the not so good writing days. But as you’ve likely heard a thousand times, “you can’t edit a blank page” so what you can do is sit down and write.

Read within your genre

. . . .

Read outside your genre

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

Books versus TV, Narrative Voice versus Scripted Scenes Longmire, Outlander

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

Every author wants their novels to be made into a film or a television series. Right? 

So let’s take a look at how these two worlds of “series”—both the readable and the viewable kind—connect, overlap, or compete. Some people discover a great series first on TV, then want to dig deeper by reading the original books. Some don’t want to see the adaptation on a screen until they’ve delved into the books, sometimes referred to by producers as “source material.” 

Here we’ll take a look at works by Diana Gabaldon (the Outlander series), and Craig Johnson (the Longmire series).

I. VOICE

Any author who sits down to write fiction has to choose whether to write in first or in third person. (Rarely, someone writes in the second person, but it’s very hard to sustain the “you” throughout a lengthy tale.) Neither first nor third are right or wrong. They’re both excellent, so it depends on whether you want your reader to know only what the “I” of the story knows (first person) or to know beyond what all the characters know (third person), which sometimes means your protagonist is in the dark, but your reader is not. In fact, the third person is often called the “unlimited” POV (Point of View.)

In the mystery genre, there are famous examples of the first-person-Seamus wise-cracking his (or her) way from crime scene to back ally to police blotter to aha moments. It can be an engrossing experience to be inside the head of the protagonist, peeping out through his or her eyes, seeing the world from someone else’s perspective. Peter Lewis wrote an excellence blog called The Five Best First-Person Crime Novels.

He mentions among others, Double Indemnity which started as a book and became the iconic film starring Barbara Stanwyck and FredMacMurray.

The Longmire books are written in first person. We climb inside Walt Longmire’s head and stay there as he rides roughshod in his Rum 1500 Laramie Longhorn truck from headquarters to the Rez, and wherever in Wyoming he needs to roam. We therefore have to gather important details about his attitude, fears, likes, and irritations from how he reacts to others, and how they react to him. The author know his character exceptionally well, but it takes us longer to know him than it might if we could see him from the outside. Walt thus becomes more accessible by listening to Longmire audios, beautifully narrated and performed by George Guidall; and Longmire leaps off the page and onto the screen in the television series, as described below. The audiobooks are, of course, in first-person. The television series, however, has no narrator, and is told in the traditional third-person style. Though many of the scenes include Walt, many do not, so we viewers get to know things Walt doesn’t know and has to figure out.

The Outlander books are also written in first person. We’re with Claire Randall when she inadvertently falls through the Stonehenge-style ring of stones and time-travels backwards by 200 years. Given the extreme disorientation this would produce, it’s probably the only authentic way to tell at least this part of the story, and it works well. Later in the series, Gabaldon is forced to write some segments in third person, since it becomes important to the story to show things Claire doesn’t know. The default first-person is retained in the television series, insofar as we hear intermittent pieces of voice-over narration. These occur just often enough to remind us that this is primarily Claire’s story, and though I’m not usually a fan of voice-over, here it’s handled very well.

II. CHARACTERS

What words of wisdom might Johnson or Gabaldon have for us about developing these characters?

1 – Dimensions. About his protagonist, Walt Longmire, Johnson points out that he’s given Walt a context that not only allows for, but requires multi-dimensions. He’s not out to solve one crime per episode, or per book; he’s a sheriff, so “He’s dealing with so many things that are going on in his county.” This is a great idea for lifting a crime-protagonist out of being driven by one storyline. You might enjoy the interview of Craig by bookseller Scott Montgomery on the Crime Reads blog.

Gabaldon began her story when the notion of a kilt-clad Scotsman captured her fancy. But when she introduced her female character Claire, “she took over,” the author declared. Bossy and determined, and with a modern edge to her voice, the female protagonist seemed to have come not from 17th century Scotland, but from an earlier era when women could express more overt power. When might that have been? Well, during WWII when the men were away in battle, women took over the jobs at home. And some of them joined the men at the front: Army nurses. So now Claire had a mandate with the determination to match. When she herself travels back to that earlier century, she takes her power, attitude, and skills with her, which places her, by turns, in positions of peril or power. The character is quite irresistible, for readers, for producers, and for actors, especially the one who landed the part and performs it so perfectly, Caitriona Balfe.

The author has a terrific post on her website: My Writing Process

2 – Setting. Johnson set his protagonist in as remote a setting as he could, while keeping him in the Lower 48. Because he’s in the “least populated county in the least populated state” he doesn’t have the usual access to technology, teams, or rapid response. Longmire and his bare-bones crew have to cover hundreds of miles a day to keep up with multiple situations. This gives the protagonist a hand-hewn self-reliance he must live up to, or wither and die.

To read more about this aspect of his writing, visit his interview on the Stories About America blog.

Gabaldon has several settings, both chronologically and geographically. These settings—some civilized some not; some bristling with untamed nature and some swishing with silks and velvets—serve to offer the extreme challenges her characters must face, even though some of the settings may be sumptuous in appearance. Though we do learn fascinating historical details, they are present to serve the advancement of the characters, more than to teach us the lessons of history.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

On the Diaries of Helen Garner and the Quagmire of the Fictionalized Self

From LitHub:

The Australian writer Helen Garner published her debut novel, Monkey Grip, in 1977. It was an immediate sensation. The novel follows a doomed love affair between the protagonist Nora and a heroin addict named Javo, amid the countercultural milieu of Melbourne’s inner north. Reviews were positive, but many were dismayed at what they considered Garner’s shameless use of autobiographical material. The crime writer Peter Corris was scathing: “Helen Garner has published her private journal rather than written a novel,” he said. “The “I” of the book, Nora, is indisputably the author herself and the other characters are identifiable members of the… Pram Factory set in Melbourne.”

. . . .

Writing things down can be compulsive for those of us who’ve formed the habit. These are people who have notebooks always tucked in a shirt pocket or a grubby tote bag, who have scraps of paper they do not throw away, who type homilies into the Notes app on their phones. We write things down because we want to remember, and to save things. In her essay “Woman in a Green Mantle,” Garner references poet Philip Larkin, who once said, “the urge to preserve is the basis of all art. Garner writes that she has “had it up to here with rhetoric about art, but the urge to preserve—I understand that. I’ve been a captive of it for most of my adult life.”

. . . .

Helen Garner was born in Geelong, Victoria in 1942, the eldest girl in a working-class family. She attended the University of Melbourne, where she studied English and French. She married young, had a daughter, and then quickly divorced. For most of the 1970s, she lived in the communal counterculture of Melbourne’s Carlton and Fitzroy North, in a milieu which had strong ties to the influential performance collective La Mama, based at the Pram Factory, and to the feminist consciousness-raising groups that proliferated early in that decade.

In 1972, Garner was sacked from the education department after she taught an impromptu sex education lesson to a class of thirteen-year-olds at Fitzroy High School. “Getting the sack was the best thing that could have happened to me. It forced me to start writing for a living,” she wrote.

. . . .

With her daughter at school, Garner began to write. She spent mornings in the reading room of the State Library of Victoria, poring over her old diaries and working on what she thought might be a novel. The novel was Monkey Grip, and it launched her career as a writer. It also launched the debate, which has never ended, about how much of her self was in her work, and whether it was somehow unseemly, or inappropriate.

So Monkey Grip did emerge from Garner’s diaries. It was in the diary that she found a shape and a story. But Bernadette Brennan, Garner’s biographer (and, in all transparency, my former professor at the University of Sydney), notes in her book A Writing Life that “Reading Monkey Grip as poorly disguised reality not only dismisses the creative process of shaping the story, it also ignores how and why the diarised basis for this novel contributes to its meaning.”

Link to the rest at LitHub

PG is of the (always and eternally) humble opinion that whatever an author puts into a novel, true or false, is just fine, absent copyright infringement or libel.

Who cares if the novel is based on the author’s life and acquaintances or on Hobbits?

There is likely something of a fiction author’s actual life and experiences in almost every novel, even if it is incorporated in the predilections of one or more fictional characters, the point of view and attitude of a disembodied narrator or the author’s ideas about what a truly evil person would think.

If a book purports to be non-fiction, PG prefers either a fairly-close approximation of reality or clearly-identified speculation about what might have happened when there is no reliable record or recollection available.

In a cookbook, for example, PG would be a bit put-off if fictional ingredients were required (unless it was a fantasy cookbook).

That said, all books are artificial creations. General Douglas MacArthur, as portrayed in many and various biographies and accounts of his participation in two world wars of the Twentieth Century, is not the real Douglas MacArthur, but a Douglas MacArthur created from facts selected by a biographer from the much larger group of facts contained in the man’s life.

A biographer focused on MacArthur in the Philippines may quite likely not include a complete, accurate and detailed account of his actions and experiences during the 1914 United States occupation of Veracruz.

Time Off

From Digital Pubbing:

What do Aristotle, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Lebron James all have in common? Time off in the most creative and nourishing way!

Amidst a culture that worships “busyness”, millennials John Fitch and Max Frenzel want us to unlearn workaholism by learning “noble leisure” of the past and developing a quality #RestEthic. The AI researcher (Max) and entrepreneur (John) have collaborated to share the history of how we value time and work, show us that a little time off will go a lot further than we may think, and that it doesn’t have to be a vacation or even a full day.

Science supports that time off (whether that be walking on your lunch break or saying no to drinks with friends to work on a passion project) is a critical factor for anyone who wants to achieve a fulfilling life, both personally and professionally. Time Off is intended for knowledge workers, creatives, entrepreneurs and business leaders who feel overwhelmed, giving them the knowledge and tools to hone the essential skill of taking time off work before it’s too late.

Read on for an interview with John Fitch and Max Frenzl, authors of Time Off, as well as an excerpt of the book.

Q: How has society’s view of “noble leisure” time changed over the years?

A: In Ancient Greece and Rome, leisure was at the center of society. According to Aristotle, we rest for the sake of work, and we work for the sake of leisure. But leisure is defined entirely through itself. It stands at the top of the hierarchy. And it was exactly this leisure-focused life and the time it provided for philosophy, games, literature, family, and sports that allowed culture to blossom. Leisure, as Betrand Russell would later write, was “essential to civilization.” But over time, this appreciation for leisure started to change. As people started collaborating on more complex projects, our perception of time shifted from natural cycles and a task-oriented notion, to timed labor. Time suddenly became a currency that could be traded and had value, and leisure was wasting this value. This became even worse around the turn of the 18th century, when the idea of “time discipline” developed. The middle and upper classes started to worry that the poor wouldn’t know what to do with their leisure, so they invoked religion to give work a divine justification and meaning. The “Protestant Work Ethic” was born. Now leisure wasn’t just wasteful, it was actually a sin. Another century later and the Industrial Revolution takes place. As religion gradually lost its omnipotent grip, the perception of why work was good, or rather the opposite so bad, started to change amongst the elite. Rather than a sin against god, the newly emerging class of industrialists started to equate idleness with another moral vice: theft. They paid for their employees’ time, so they felt like they owned it. Over and over again, the question of work became deeply fused with our morality. Are you productive (good)? Or idle (bad)? Today, we have largely forgotten the religious origins of this morality question, but it’s so deeply ingrained in our psyche that it’s hard to shake off. And this is especially true for knowledge workers, who don’t have eight model T engines to show for their day’s labor. Without any tangible progress indicators or a boss constantly telling us that he owns our time, our internalized sense that time equals value and morality becomes even stronger to compensate. Those who could choose to once again live Aristotle’s idea of noble leisure are often furthest away from it! But we need noble leisure more than ever. Genuinely productive knowledge work is the opposite of busyness and requires taking time off seriously. We wrote this book because we are extremely optimistic that our culture can and should find its way back to noble leisure.

Q: What is the culture of “busyness”?

A: Busyness—essentially productivity without the output—is a bad habit from the start of the industrial era and it still reigns supreme. For entrepreneurs and creatives this is particularly problematic. Like addicts seeking the next quick fix, we are hooked on busyness. Without any tangible progress indicators or a boss constantly reminding us that he owns our time, our internalized sense that time equals value and morality becomes even stronger to compensate.

In the 2019 edition of their International Classification of Diseases, the World Health Organization (WHO) included burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The official WHO report states that burnout is characterized by three key components: “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.” Sound familiar?

Just as a century ago people were overworked beyond healthy sustainable physical capabilities, we are now experiencing something similar with our mental abilities. Where early industrial factory workers were physically drained and exhausted, modern workers in the knowledge factories of the world suffer the same fate on a mental level.

Genuinely productive knowledge work is the opposite of busyness and requires a harder, more thoughtful approach. It requires taking time off seriously. In addition to a solid work ethic, it requires an equally well-established rest ethic. Good knowledge work is, like the work of a craftsman, based on mastery and quality, rather than the sheer quantity of simple and repeatable tasks—which will soon be done by robots and AI anyway.

We need to acknowledge that productivity in creative work is much more multifaceted than the one-dimensional productivity of a manual laborer churning out widgets.

Link to the rest at Digital Pubbing

Editing

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

Having just emerged from the murky depths of structural edits, and sent the results back to my publisher, I’m in the perfect place to think back and appreciate the value of a distanced eye, and the insights it can provide.

As authors we live in constant state of waiting, even as we’re scribbling fiercely away on our next book: waiting for the nod from agent or publisher that our proposal is a goer; for a contract to arrive; for the first look at our cover design; for the go ahead to reveal news, titles, covers, release dates; and, most nail-biting of all, for those edits. We hover over our inbox, imagining every scenario from a glowing, “it’s gone straight to copy edits,” to the heart-sinking: “I’ve attached a 10-page document with extensive notes.”

Much as it can be a bit disheartening to see a beloved manuscript questioned deeply, I do find the editing process itself an exciting one, particularly the first round, before I even send it away. Having completed a first draft and seen the fully-rounded novel my scrappy set of notes has become, it’s so satisfying to go back and tidy up loose ends, clarify motivations and, now that I know them better, enrich my characters with their own quirks and favourite sayings and behaviours.

The first thing I try to do, if I have the luxury of time, is to put it aside for at least a week before even looking at it. Then I read it through in one quick go, making notes in another document – either by hand or on screen – and trying not to get caught up in the minutiae of typos and sentence structure. The story is the important thing at that stage, making sure it all hangs together, that there are no plot holes, and that your characters don’t behave out of, well, character!

Now it’s time to go back and make changes, and it’s a wonderful thing to see how everything suddenly slide into place. At the risk of using a tired old cliché, it’s a bit like a jigsaw puzzle; first of all you’ll notice missing pieces, and you have to do the literary equivalent of searching under the table; or a wrong piece of sky has been wedged in, out of desperation and a desire to complete at least part of the puzzle. You’d planned to go back and swap it for the right bit, but somehow you forgot until you’re left with a piece that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere.

Finally you have the completed picture in front of you, but it’s bumpy in places, where some of the pieces aren’t lying flat, so your final job is to make it look pretty from top to bottom, and send it away to your agent, publisher, or beta-readers.

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

Writing for a Living

From David Farland, Story Doctor:

As Cicero put it over 2000 years ago, “Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” What was true in Rome is true today.

We’re facing a global downturn in the economy due to the Corona virus. Whenever that kind of thing happens, a lot of people begin looking toward writing as a way to support themselves. Very often these are people who always wanted to be writers but have put their writing dreams on hold to do other things. Some are entrepreneurs or lawyers or work running newspapers—anything that they imagine will make them feel more secure about making money. But now they’re looking seriously at their dream job once again.

So I often hear the question, “Can you make a living as a writer?” My answer of course is “Yes, I’ve been doing it for thirty years.” The real question is, “Can YOU make a living?”

The question gets couched in a number of different ways. “How long does it take to learn to write?” “Are publishers buying books?” “Can you make money writing as an Indie?” “Is one place better for a writer to live than another?” and so on.

Over the past few months, with our Apex writer’s group, I’ve been interviewing successful writers. Some are #1 New York Times bestsellers in different genres—thrillers, romance, fantasy. Others are killing it as Indies—in adult, young adult, and middle grade lit. It has surprised me how each of the writers has his or her own path to success. One author might be writing huge thrillers for adults and pays little attention to social media. Another focuses on advertising on Amazon.com, while a third is making big money just by hand-selling his work to kids. My friend and old student Brandon Sanderson is doing a Kickstarter this week for his “Way of Kings” anniversary edition and is right at $5 million this morning. His efforts were so successful, he just made Newsweek Magazine. But I know lots of authors who are using Kickstarter and Patreon as distribution methods to support themselves.

In short, I see dozens of paths to success.

Link to the rest at David Farland, Story Doctor

The Most Frustrating Part of Your Story May Be the Best

From Electric Lit:

In our series “Can Writing Be Taught?” we partner with Catapult to ask their course instructors all our burning questions about the process of teaching writing. This month we’re talking to Megan Giddings, author of Lakewood, who is teaching an upcoming six-week workshop on creating characters in fiction.

. . . .

What’s the best thing you’ve ever gotten out of a writing class or workshop as a student? 

I learned that often when people keep talking about the same thing in a story and try to diagnose what’s wrong with it, that’s usually the most alive part. You might have to alter how it’s written, but it’s probably the thing the story needs to actually be worth reading. 

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever gotten out of a writing class or workshop as a student? 

I had an instructor tell me that she didn’t think “I had it” and I should think seriously about maybe switching from fiction to poetry. If I had been a younger writer, it probably would’ve killed my writing for a long time to have someone in authority say that to me.

What is the lesson or piece of writing advice you return to most as an instructor? 

Learn to love specificity. 

. . . .

Would you ever encourage a student to give up writing? Under what circumstances?

I wouldn’t ever encourage a student to give up writing, but I would point them toward learning how to write without getting attention. There’s a big difference between writing because you love it and the process and writing because you want money, attention, praise. The latter will only hurt you throughout your career. Writing and knowing it might just be for you and learning to be fine with that is important. 

. . . .

Should students write with publication in mind? Why or why not? 

Students shouldn’t draft with publication in mind, but when they’re at a point where they’re making a serious revision, they should start thinking about readers. Drafting with publication in mind will often kill creativity. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

From Writers Helping Writers:

Have you ever felt unqualified for a job even though you have extensive training? Do you ever shy away from giving advice because you believe that what you have to say is wrong or unimportant—even though you know what you’re talking about? 

When I graduated and took on my first clients, I had nightmares about how others would receive me. I questioned myself constantly; Do you know what you’re talking about? Who would trust you to guide their writing? Regardless of the knowledge and experience I had, that little voice in the back of my mind continued to cast doubt, uncertainty, and fear.

I lived with this feeling for years. In fact, I still struggle with it. I figured it was a part of my brain trying to make me better at my craft, so I continued learning and growing. What I didn’t know is that this feeling doesn’t go away, at least not on its own. You have to consciously work to eradicate it.

I didn’t know until recently that this feeling had a name: impostor syndrome. It’s not a diagnosed syndrome, but around 70% of creative minds struggle with this issue. That’s a sizable portion of us. Impostor syndrome is the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite accomplishments. It is the feeling that all of your accomplishments result from luck. It is a psychological phenomenon to which most creatives can relate.

For writers, impostor syndrome attacks your unique “voice”, and it can be the worst feeling in the world. It causes anxiety, stress, fear, low self-confidence, and even shame and depression. If allowed to go unchecked, it can lead to less risk-taking and missed opportunities. 

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Touching Your Audience Deeply through Viewpoint

From Story Doctor Dave Farland:

Almost every time a book is made into film, you will hear the comment over and over, “The book was better.”

Some time ago I was talking to a friend of Christopher Paolini, whose novel Eragon was made into a movie, and some fans of the books were so disappointed in the film adaptation, that they actually sent death threats to the author. Sorry folks, but in this case, poor Christopher didn’t have any control in making the movie. Maybe there will be a better adaptation in a couple years.

There’s a huge reason why the book is better, or should always be better. The reason is that the book can transport you into the story better. But it only works if you do it right.

When you write a story, for each scene you need to choose your viewpoint character. Often this is the protagonist. Let’s call him Brad. As an author, you use your protagonist as something like a camera. You show the reader the world through Brad’s eyes, just as if he were a camera. You let us hear the world through Brad’s ears, just as if he were a camera.

But Brad is more than a camera. You show us through internal dialog what Brad is thinking. Now, a voiceover can do that on film, but the technique is not often used. You can also let us smell the world and feel the world—two things that cameras can’t do. You can let us know what Brad is feeling—something that the camera might reveal but only if the actor and the director are talented enough to catch it. You can report on Brad’s motions, give information on what it feels like to jump or run—things that cameras can’t do. You can report on variations in temperature or the texture of surfaces.

In fact, if you think about it, a novel allows you to transport Brad in several ways that a camera can’t, and that tends to make your book a better medium for storytelling than a film.

Here’s the thing. Readers subconsciously recognize the lack. Have you ever gone to the dentist and had your mouth numbed with Novocaine, then gone out to eat afterward? Even the best meal doesn’t satisfy your taste buds when they’re out of commission.

A film doesn’t normally convey the sense of smell, taste, touch, kinetic motion, or the character’s thoughts. Film can be poor at revealing a character’s interior emotions and intent. In other words, watching a film is like being anesthetized. The reader is cut off from so many senses, that really, it’s surprising that viewers get much from it at all.

But the thing that I want to point out is that the book as a medium for storytelling only works if you put it to use. For example, I’ve read a lot of stories where the writer won’t even commit to a viewpoint character. The writer won’t show us the character’s thoughts and feelings, their internal hopes and fears.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

Theatrical Shortcuts for Dynamic Fiction

From SWFA:

I’m often asked if my professional theatre and playwrighting background helps me as a fiction writer. It does in countless ways. Theatrical form, training, and structure are holistically integrated into how I see the world and operate as a storyteller. I adore diving deep into character, creating atmosphere, and ‘setting the stage’ for my novels. I became a traditionally published novelist many years after I’d established myself on stage and published as a playwright.

I teach a workshop called “Direct Your Book: Theatre Techniques Towards A Blockbuster Novel” about using theatrical concepts to invigorate, inspire, and problem-solve in fiction writing. Here’s what I’ve found to be the most consistently useful takeaways:

Physicality. One of my favorite aspects of character building when taking on a role is figuring out how they move; where their “center of gravity” is, whether the gut, the chest, or the head; what part of their body leads the way? Thinking about this can really ground you in the bodies of your characters and how they interact with their world.

Environment. I’m a licensed New York City tour guide and there’s really nothing like moving through the streets your characters move through and truly living in all those details. In my Spectral City series, I utilize many of the city’s most haunted paths as the routes my psychic medium heroine takes to navigate the city. Her noting the various haunts of the city creates a sort of ‘lived in’ feel to the prose and to her experiences as a psychic detective. There is something to be said sometimes for writing ‘what you know’. If at all possible, visiting a place that informs your world directly, or inspires it if your world is a secondary one, can add so much in detail and expansive sensory experience. You can pair the experience of walking and drinking in this environment by thinking of the characters’ physicality and qualities of movement as you do so.

Clothing. Even if it isn’t a period piece, clothing tells a lot about a world and how characters live in it. Every clothing choice is an act of world-building. If your work is historical or historically informed, I suggest spending time in clothing from the time period. Try to rent something or commission something you could walk, run, move, and interact in for a period of time that helps you understand how garments inform movement, posture, breathing, existing. These things change radically across class and area of the world. For my part, as most of my novels are set in the late 19th century, the most important gift the theatre gave my historical novels is a tactile reality and personal experience ‘existing’ in other time periods with which I can paint details. In the 19th century, for example, women could be wearing an average of 40 pounds of clothing and that significantly affects one’s daily life. Knowing what it is like to move, sit, prepare food, lift, climb stairs, walk, trot, run, seize, weep, laugh, recline, jump and collapse in a corset, bodice, bustle, petticoat, hat, layers, gloves, and other accessories–all of which I’ve personally experienced in various historical plays and presentations I’ve acted in–is vitally important to taking the reader physically as well as visually and emotionally through a character’s experience. It changes breathing, posture, and interactions with the environment and others in a core, defining way.

Link to the rest at SWFA