Tag Archives: creative nonfiction

Creative Writing Courses. Would You, Should You, Could You?

Hanif Kureishi famously dismissed the teaching of writing, saying that writing a story is:

‘a difficult thing to do and it’s a great skill to have. Can you teach that? I don’t think you can.’

(According to Philip Hensher, Kureishi teaches creative writing at Kingston University, ‘ineffectually‘)

We all learn to write. If you’re serious about something, generally you will want to learn how to do it well. I wonder why some writersfeel they need to look down on aspiring writers once they have been published and claim writing is some ‘mystical gift’. It’s not; it’s a skilled craft. It’s one you need to keep learning; you never reach a golden plateau.

Serious writers have always sought and will always seek teachers long before their work gets to an editor’s desk.

In defence of teaching creative writing, Kurt Vonnegut said:

‘A tough guy, I forget which one, is asked to speak to a creative writing class. He says: “What in hell are you doing here? Go home and glue your butts to a chair, and write and write until your heads fall off!” Or words to that effect.

‘My reply: “Listen, there were creative writing teachers long before there were creative writing courses, and they were called, and continue to be called, editors.”’

Ernest Hemingway apprenticed himself to Gertrude Stein; T.S. Eliot to Ezra Pound. Tennessee Williams and Flannery O’Connor took courses at the University of Iowa.  an McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Anne Enright, Tracy Chevalier took classes at UEA. Kit de Waal studied creative writing at Oxford Brookes. The list is long. Few are the published authors of fiction who didn’t learn their craft.

A writing school formalizes the apprenticeship that, throughout history, has been valuable to artists. But digital technology and the internet means the school can come to the student, extending good schools to those who can’t up-sticks, quit jobs or travel long distances.

Of course, one of the perks of a school is association not just with students but with published writers, and usually, that’s what’s missing on a creative writing course. Ideally, you will want to find a course, or a school, where you can rub shoulders with published authors and of course get personal feedback from a writer whose work you like.

Most writers would prefer to be writing than doing anything else, but many good writers teach. They wouldn’t do so if it wasn’t exciting to watch writers become authors, to learn the skills and craft.

Grace Paley says she likes the company of her students; she says it mitigates against the solitude of writing. But there’s more to it than that.

‘The really good thing about dealing with novice writers is that it keeps you in the mind of a beginner. It is a way of staying honest and preventing complacency and hardness from setting in.’ EL Doctorow.

Wallace Stegner taught Larry McMurtry and Ken Kesey to write. Michael Cunningham teaches, as do Zadie Smith, Salman Rushdie, Tobias Wolff, Toni Morrisson, Jonathan Safran Froer, Maya Angelou, Junot Diaz, EL Doctorow.

If I could have chosen any writer as a teacher, it would have been Kurt Vonnegut. ‘Start as close to the end as possible’. ‘Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.’ ‘Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.’

Writers write and teach, and not for entirely altruistic purposes but because as EL Doctorow says; it helps. It helps you, as a novelist, see better sometimes what doesn’t work, and what does.

It’s a symbiotic relationship between teacher and student and although JM Coetzee used this phrase to describe a more illicit relationship between teacher and student, this is a quotation with which my writers are familiar as I have made the observation a few times when working with them:

‘The irony does not escape him: that the one who comes to teach learns the keenest of lessons…’ JM Coetzee, Disgrace.

At The Novelry, I am not the only ‘teacher’. Within the community, our writers, some aspiring and some published, teach each other, and that makes it hugely enjoyable.

‘The very best thing you can be in life is a teacher, provided you are crazy in love with what you teach… .’ Kurt Vonnegut.

In Fay Weldon’s recent book of advice to would-be novelists, she pointed out in the first pages that writers need to up their game, as so many are benefiting from creative writing courses. (She, herself, teaches.)

Vonnegut said he wished he had attended a good creative writing course at the beginning of his writing career.

‘To have done so would have been good for me.’

He quoted an author who regretted not having taken a course when he was starting out as a novelist.

‘That would have saved him, he said, the several years he wasted trying to find out, all by himself, the best way to tell a story.’

What should you be looking for in a novel writing course?

You should be looking for a serious course with a community where publication is the acknowledge end-game to ensure you learn good habits and working skills. You should be looking for a real-life working method because it is necessary for all writers, not just those starting out, to keep a backstop day-job to enable you to be free to write what you want. An online writing course, created to offer what school’s offer – a good tutor, the company of working authors – can be just the thing if it gives you personal feedback and attention. You can associate with your peers and ideally better writers, on your own terms in your own time, and that’s my idea of heaven. Solitude, when you have time to write, and support round the clock.

But the clincher, the deciding factor, has to be wit.

Look for a course with nerve. Where determination is matched by good humour.

The Founder of the Writers’ Workshop in Iowa, Paul Engle, told Vonnegut that if they ever got a building, he’d have this motto above the door.

‘Don’t take it all so seriously.’

Enjoy your writing. Learn to enjoy laughing at your own jokes; for that’s what it’s about, day-in, day-out. Good times and bad. When you write, the bad times are at least ‘material.’

 


 

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Source: thenovelry.com

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What Can Flash Fiction Do For Novel Writers?

Are you familiar with flash fiction? Have you dismissed it because you write novels or screenplays or something significantly longer? Well, don’t give up on it just yet. Writing and publishing flash fiction can help in ways you probably weren’t aware, as Gila Green is here to explain.

Book publishing is a tough, competitive business. Still, there’s no reason to make the road harder to travel. Enter flash fiction—an excellent way to break into both fiction and nonfiction book publishing.

Flash fiction pieces are very short stories that still include their own character development and plot. Other names for flash fiction include nano fiction, micro fiction, postcard fiction, and sudden fiction. Usually anything under 1,000 words is considered flash, but it can be as brief as fifty.

If your goal is to publish long, you may be thinking that writing short is a waste of time. I’d like to share five ways writing and submitting flash fiction can shorten the road to novel publication.

Practice Working with Editors

In publishing you absolutely cannot have enough contacts. When you publish flash fiction you will be dealing with an editor—at least one, and sometimes two. Occasionally, you’ll correspond with an acquisition editor who accepts your work and directs you to the editor of that specific genre, or that specific issue. No matter how short your pieces are, that experience working with editors is valuable. You will be that much more polished when communicating with a potential novel editor one day.

Contacts, Contacts, Contacts

If you get particularly lucky, there will be a well-established guest editor for that issue, and you’ll have that editor’s direct contact e-mail and a reason to communicate. This happened to me recently. Imagine my delight when my piece was accepted and I received a personal email from Alicia Elliott with her comments on my work.

You might ask yourself how connecting with editors on very short pieces can really make a difference to you. First, remember that most editors of literary magazines and anthologies are published writers. When your book is under consideration and you receive that all-too common email asking about your marketing plans, you can include that editor’s name as a potential contact.

Second, if you send that editor a polite and personal email, he or she might in future consider giving you a blurb for your novel or a recommendation for a writer’s retreat, advice, or news about industry events.

Examples of a light, personal touches you might include in such a message:

  • “It was a pleasure working with you and I hope we have a chance to work together again soon in future.”
  • “Please add me to your mailing list for future issues and events.”
  • You might also join the publication’s social media and interact in a positive way. I have continued to ‘like’ magazines that have published my work and to communicate with editors on LinkedIn, briefly sharing news. You can also expand your writer’s community this way, far beyond the editor who accepted your piece.

Another point to consider is that flash doesn’t stop at magazines; there are also flash anthologies. Some of those magazines and anthologies are linked to small presses like Akashic Books—a publisher who asks for themed flash fiction and then puts out themed story collections.

This means one short piece could land you as an author in an anthology from a respected press. Not only will that be on your bio, but all of the writers published with you will be pushing that anthology. That’s a lot more marketing partners than you’d have on your own, and it is great exposure for a future novel.

Versatility

Contrary to popular belief, flash isn’t always associated with fiction. Writing a memoir? There’s a micro-memoir online magazine waiting for your submission. There’s nonfiction flash essay and flash event writing, too. Erika Dreifus has put together a fantastic list here. The wonderful versatility of flash applies to genre as well, including crime flash, romance, horror, and most other categories.

Practical Experience

Finally, flash fiction is an excellent way to develop your skills as a writer. You have to make the reader fall in love with your story very quickly, and that takes ability and talent. It’s worth practicing and will improve your novel writing, making it that much more publishable.

Flash Writing as a Dress Rehearsal

I’ve met more than one novelist who told me her novel started with an admired flash piece that she decided to expand. Don’t be surprised if you end up ditching the novel you’re struggling with and stretching out your flash piece to full-manuscript size once you see the micro version of it up on a popular site. There’s nothing like applause to stir up some imagination and motivate you to write more.

In conclusion, no matter what novel genre you’re writing, flash fiction can help you break into publishing your longer works. The most prestigious magazines, including The New Yorker, are big flash fans. If the biggest names in literature are excited about it and publishing it, it’s worth a second look.

By BECCA PUGLISI
Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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6 Questions to Help Nonfiction Writers Find Their Niche

Today’s guest post is by Erica Meltzer of The Critical Reader.


In 2008, I took a trip to the bookstore that altered the course of my career.

I was working as a freelance tutor and had recently been hired to help prepare a student for the Writing (grammar) portion of the SAT. In need of practice material, I went down to my local Barnes & Noble and began flipping through the standard prep books. As I read, I grew increasingly frustrated: in some, the questions were too easy, in others too hard. Some of them targeted concepts that were not tested, or omitted concepts that were tested. And overall, the tone and style seemed somehow…off.

I’d had a handful of gigs writing practice questions for various test-prep companies, but until that point, it had never occurred to me that I could publish my own materials. But as I stood in Barnes & Noble flipping through those books, I thought, “I can do so much better than this.”

Although it would be more than three years before my first book, The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar came out, I stumbled upon a couple of key lessons about the business of bookselling that day:

  • First, no matter how many books have been written about a topic, there is probably some important facet that has not yet been covered thoroughly or well.
  • Second, a key driver behind success is understanding how you fit into the existing landscape, what distinguishes your work, and why it is likely to appeal to a particular audience.

One of the downsides self-publishing is that you don’t receive support or feedback from publishers about how best to position yourself; as a result, you must be willing to devote time to investigating your market and analyzing your role within it. I write nonfiction, so that’s what I’m going to focus on here, but that said, much of what I discuss here can be applied to fiction as well.

Even if you do not go so far as to type up an actual document, you should be able to answer the following questions.

1. How saturated is your market?

You can get a good sense of the answer to this question with just an eyeball test: do the books on your topic cover a shelf in the bookstore? A couple of shelves? An entire bookcase? (Or, if you’re looking online, how many pages of titles come up when you type in the category?)

If there are already dozens of books available, you’ll need to spend some time reading through them in order to understand what’s been done. As a general rule, the more that’s been written, the more specifically you’ll need to define yourself. For me, this happened to be a straightforward matter: as someone whose verbal score was more than 200 points points higher than her math, I had never been able to tutor all sections of the exam and was in no position to author a general SAT book. If I wanted to write a halfway decent guide, I would have to focus on the verbal portion only.

2. Where are the niches?

Unless you are capable of offering a truly unique perspective, you should avoid aspects of your subject that have already been written about extensively. Instead, try to tailor your expertise to important but neglected sub-topics or sectors of your market. Grateful readers become loyal readers (and are more likely to leave glowing reviews).

For my first book, I deliberately chose to focus on a relatively overlooked portion of the SAT. Although there were several combined reading/writing guides available, there was not one guide that dealt exclusively with grammar in an in-depth way. Having spent years mastering everything from relative pronouns to the subjunctive in various foreign language classes, and then teaching those same concepts over and over again in context of the SAT, I was exceptionally well positioned to write a serious grammar book aligned with the exam.

In addition, there was almost no material designed specifically for students aiming for top scores. Even if they made up only a small percentage of the 1.5 or so million annual test-takers, they still numbered in the tens of thousands and, as I learned when they began contacting me via my blog, they were desperate for challenging material.

In fact, this group proved so enthusiastic that I barely needed to spend money on marketing: both students and parents discussed my books extensively on highly trafficked websites, allowing me to build readership naturally. I followed the same subject-specific approach for my following books, first moving to the more daunting SAT reading and then repeating the process for the English and reading portions of the ACT.

Note: If you’re not sure how to go about matching your expertise to your readers’ needs, spend some time reading through websites and blogs devoted to your topic in order to get a feel for what issues readers face and what questions aren’t being answered. While writing my books, for instance, I spent hours reading a popular test-prep forum so that I could address students’ questions and misconceptions directly.

3. Who are the major players in this genre? Is there a single title or set of titles that dominates the market?

Regardless of what you intend to write about or how many books have already been devoted to that topic, you need to understand your competition. Even if you do manage to suss out a neglected corner of the market, your book will almost certainly overlap with other titles, some highly successful.

The question is: why do the top-selling titles do well? Do they sell briskly because they have a devoted following (as evidenced by hundreds of enthusiastic reviews) or do people buy them merely because they are the only books available (as suggested by a smaller number of lukewarm or generic reviews)?

If the former, you shouldn’t expect to seriously compete, at least not right away; if the latter, you might have a better chance of breaking in. I was lucky in that most of the top-selling titles in my genre held that position simply because there were few alternatives; given the option, many readers were happy to try something new.

4. Are any successful titles self-published?

The appearance of self-published books among the more popular titles signals that readers are open to trying works by less established authors. While it isn’t always possible to tell whether a book is self-published, check the book’s copyright page to see if an established publisher is listed.

If your market is dominated by traditionally published titles, you are not necessarily at a disadvantage. Because traditional publishers are by necessity driven by their bottom line, they are less likely to take on potentially risky projects. As a result, there may be ample room for new voices or fresh takes on familiar material.

When I finished my first book in 2011, for example, the same few names had essentially defined the SAT/ACT market for decades, and there was plenty of room to shake thing up—even though the market appeared closed from the outside. The standard books were written either by tutors who knew the tests well but weren’t particularly well versed in the actual subjects, or by classroom teachers who knew their subjects well but had limited knowledge of the exams.

With the advent of platforms like CreateSpace, tutors who were also math or English experts could publish materials that had been extensively tested with students. Because those books did well, other tutors were encouraged to publish guides, fundamentally reshaping the market. Today, about 10 of these books typically rank among the top-selling SAT/ACT guides on Amazon.

It’s gratifying to know that I’ve played a role that shift: shortly after his first book was released, the author of the top-selling ACT Science guide informed me that my books had inspired him to go ahead and write his own. Like me, he had noticed a gaping hole in the market—there was not one guide devoted solely to that subject—and decided to plug it.

5. What do the existing books do well, and where do they fall short?

As you read, notice—and preferably jot down—what aspects you find most enjoyable and engaging, and which ones you find wanting. While it is important to consider obvious factors (content, tone, style, and flow), you should also consider subtler issues such as formatting and font. When I went through the existing SAT prep books, for example, I noticed that from a visual standpoint, their questions often looked nothing like those on the exam. As a tutor, I understood that students were frequently thrown off by deviations from the actual test and wanted to practice on material that felt authentic in form as well as content. As a result, I made sure that my practice questions were identical in terms of font, size, and spacing, to those on the real exam. That kind of subtle attention to detail helped reader feel that my books were preparing them for exactly what they’d face and made them more inclined to trust my work.

And finally…

6. What do you do better, or know more about, than anyone?

In other words, what specifically can you offer readers that will cause them to bypass other works and zero in on yours? Obviously, this isn’t a zero sum game—readers will often buy multiple books on a given topic—but you must know what sets you apart. All the market research in the world won’t matter unless you are genuinely invested in your topic and able to write about it with ease and (ideally) flair. Readers almost certainly won’t be passionate about your book unless you are as well. This is the biggest question you need to answer, preferably before you even write a word.

Source: janefriedman.com

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Nonfiction Writers: Beware the Curse of Knowledge

Today’s guest post is excerpted from Writing to Be Understood by Anne Janzer (@AnneJanzer) a professional writer who has worked with more than one hundred technology companies, writing in the voice of countless brands and corporate executives.

Few of your readers care about what you know, no matter how many years you have spent accumulating that wisdom. They care about what they need or want to understand.

You share much in common with your readers: you both live a world with numerous, competing demands on your attention, limited time for “deep reading,” and perhaps a longing for simplicity and clarity.

How do you provide the right amount of information without either oversimplifying the subject or overloading the reader? You’ll have to decide what to include and what to leave out. The more you love your subject, the harder this decision can be.

Beware the curse of knowledge

Think of a well-known, familiar song, like “Happy Birthday” or “Jingle Bells.” Sing it to yourself in your head. Then, find a friend and ask them to guess the song as you tap out its rhythm.

You won’t expect them to get it right away, but you might be surprised and frustrated by how long it takes them to correctly guess the tune rattling around in your head. At least, that’s what psychologist Elizabeth Newton found when she tested this very thing.

In 1990, Newton was a graduate student in psychology at Stanford University. She conducted an experiment in which half of the participants (the tappers) were asked to tap out the rhythms of common songs, while the other half (the listeners) guessed the songs. The tappers estimated how long it would take the listeners to name the right tune.

The people tapping were inevitably surprised by the listeners’ inability to hear the tune that matched the rhythm. It seemed obvious to the tappers. This study illustrates a phenomenon known as the curse of knowledge, or the challenge of getting out of our own heads.

Once we know something, it’s difficult to remember not knowing it. We take our knowledge for granted.

We can spot other people suffering from the curse of knowledge pretty easily. We’ve all seen it:

  • The physician who speaks in medical terms you don’t know
  • The academic author who writes a paper, intended for a general audience, filled with terms that only a graduate student would understand

These people aren’t trying to hoodwink or confuse you. They simply forget that you don’t know what they know. 
It’s much harder to detect symptoms of this tendency in our own behavior. When smart, caring people write incomprehensible stuff, the curse of knowledge is usually to blame. It plagues experts who write for the layperson, or the industry insider addressing an outsider. 
Of course, a few knowledgeable and expert communicators avoid the curse of knowledge with apparent ease, but let’s consider them outliers and confess that the rest of us struggle with it. The greater your knowledge, the stronger the curse.

Nonfiction writers confront this problem in many phases of the work. For example, we cannot proofread our own work effectively because we already “know” what’s on the page. We use terminology that readers don’t know because it is habitual to us. 
You can defeat the curse of knowledge during later phases of the work by enlisting others for editing and proofreading. But you must avoid the curse earlier still, when deciding what to cover and how to approach it. Get outside your own head.

Go wide or go deep

Before you write a single word, you face a fundamental decision about exactly what you want and need to cover. Answer these three questions.

  1. Breadth: Will you cover a single issue or a wide range of topics?
  2. Depth: Should you dive into details? How many are necessary?
  3. Background: How much does the reader already know, and how much will you need to backfill?

These decisions depend almost entirely on your readers. For a distinct, well-defined audience, you may be able to cover a wider range of concepts related to your topic. When addressing a general audience, you may choose to focus on the most important things, and avoid excessive detail.

The final form also matters. A book gives you more room to roam; readers expect a greater breadth or depth of coverage.

If you are expert in a topic, you may choose to cover it in great detail. For example, masterful biographers like Doris Kearns Goodwin and Walter Isaacson do deep dives into their subjects’ lives, creating works that span several hundred pages. If that’s your approach, you will need to dedicate time and effort to maintaining the reader’s interest. The depth of a treatment can narrow the potential audience of readers.

For some books, breadth is part of the essential value, as in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. As the title promises, it describes a massive topic in a slim volume. Tyson went wide, not deep. Writing about complex topics effectively at this level is a rare skill. Tyson deploys analogies with care, frames the content in a human context, and shares his personal enthusiasm and sense of wonder to guide the reader through the universe. The book is a masterful example of writing about a complex and abstract topic.

There’s no easy answer to the question of how broad or deep your treatment should be. It depends on your purposes and the needs of your audience.

Self-indulgent writers include everything they feel like covering. Thoughtful writers who seek to be understood focus on fit and purpose. Sometimes you have to let things go or put them aside for another project. Focus on serving your reader.

Simplicity vs. oversimplification

Designers, businesspeople, and others often refer to of the KISS principle, which is an acronym for Keep It Simple, Stupid.

As a design philosophy, Keep It Simple, Stupid makes sense. Don’t create systems that are more complex than necessary. However, people mistakenly apply the KISS mantra as a filter in other fields, including political messaging, sales materials, and descriptions of technology.

Simplicity isn’t always the answer. The KISS mantra can become a convenient excuse for hiding complexity that you would rather people not see, such as:

  • Removing transparency from investments, because investors don’t need to know the possible risks
  • Not disclosing details of policies because voters won’t bother with the fine print
  • Not communicating to patients the complete range of treatment options available or the potential risks of a recommended course of action, for fear of delaying the preferred course of treatment.

Taken to the extreme, the KISS mantra shields us from the complexity that we should understand. 
Certain readers crave simplistic explanations or easy answers that spare them the cognitive work of understanding things that don’t hold their interest. Others, however, may suspect that you’re hiding important details or talking down to them.

When explaining complicated topics, beware of the boundary between simplicity and oversimplification. 
We want to believe that the world is simple enough for us to understand. We like to think that we don’t need layers of experts arbitrating between reality and ourselves, but when we ignore the true complexity of situations, we can inadvertently mislead readers.

Sabine Hossenfelder has heard some pretty wild theories about physics—hypotheses that she believes arise from the oversimplification of scientific topics for the general public. Hossenfelder is a theoretical physicist at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, and writes about physics for publications like Forbes and Scientific American. She is also author of the book Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray.

Her insight into the dangers of oversimplification, however, arises from years spent running a “Talk to a Scientist” consulting service, which she started as a graduate student and still maintains today on her blog, BackReaction. For a small fee, members of the public can pose questions about physics, neuroscience, geology, and other topics, or submit their own ideas about physics. Those theories are creative, interesting, and often not grounded in scientific reality.

She blames this, in part, on the tendency of journalists covering the field to simplify the message so much that they mislead readers.

In describing the experience of running the physics help line, she reports, “The most important lesson I’ve learned is that journalists are so successful at making physics seem not so complicated that many readers come away with the impression that they can easily do it themselves. How can we blame them for not knowing what it takes if we never tell them?”

Deciding what to include

Deciding what to cover and what to leave out challenges everyone. Writers, speaking coaches, and others share their advice about striking the right balance.

When you’re an insider in an industry, seek advice from those who are outsiders. Just make sure you find the right people to ask.

Linda Popky could be considered a Silicon Valley insider. She was named a Top 100 Women of Influence by the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal, and works with tech companies as the founder and president of Leverage2Market Associates. She’s also the author of the book Marketing Above the Noise: Achieve Strategic Advantage with Marketing That Matters.

When writing about topics in which she has expertise, Popky takes care to counteract her insider status. “There are two dangers to knowing your subject matter well. First, you think everyone else knows it already, and as a result, no one understands what you write. Or, you think that nobody knows this stuff, and you go into excruciating detail.”

She handles the situation by finding other people to give her an outsider’s perspective. The key, says Popky, is getting feedback from the right individuals. “You need people who understand the audience and provide the right level of feedback at the right time. Find individuals who can express themselves and identify when something doesn’t work for them. They need the honesty to say if something is confusing.”

Source: janefriedman.com

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How to Talk About Policing In Crime Fiction

A few weeks back, I was drinking with some buddies at a writers’ convention when I felt a tap on the shoulder.

“I want to introduce you to a fan,” someone said.

Like any dignified author at this stage of my career, I whipped around so fast that the Brooklyn Lager bottle nearly flew out of my hand. A man in his sixties stood before me with his hand out—square-jawed, clear-eyed and firm of grip, in a well-tailored suit. He looked like exactly the kind of well-respected man who smiles and says “I don’t read novels” when I meet him in other circumstances. Exactly the kind of reader I’ve been trying to win over for most of my career. A prosecutor, I was told. Even better! Someone who had been in the trenches and would appreciate the nuances and shades of gray I tried to bring out in my novels.

“I just want to see you people get it right,” he said, shaking my hand.

“Thank you.” You people?

“Every week, I never miss the show.”

“Oh, that’s terrific.” I nodded. “Glad you like it. I’ll tell my friends who work on it.”

Of course, he was talking about one of the broadcast network television series I’ve written for. The ones in which justice usually wins out in the end, and the police and prosecutors are unmistakably the heroes.

We exchanged a few more pleasantries and then went back to our conversations. And quietly, I laughed at myself. Of course, he was talking about one of the broadcast network television series I’ve written for. The ones in which justice usually wins out in the end, and the police and prosecutors are unmistakably the heroes.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-cop by any means. In fact, I wanted to be a police officer for most of my childhood. And I don’t even think it’s enough to say, as many leftists like myself grudgingly do, “the police have a tough job.” There are parts of police culture that I don’t just respect, I envy. The hard work, the diligence, the ability to knock on doors day and night and talk to literarily anyone. And the humor. For Christ’s sakes, no one tells darker jokes or can make you laugh harder than an honest cop after a few drinks.

I have more than a few good friends who I revere in various police departments, and truth be told there have many years when I would have had a very hard time doing my job without them. Their stories need to be told, and I’m proud to have been among the people telling them, and grateful to have had the opportunity.

But those aren’t the only stories.

***

About a month after the writers’ convention, I had lunch with a guy I know named Sundhe Moses. We met at Junior’s, on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, near the housing project where he grew up. Sundhe spent 18 years in prison for allegedly shooting and killing a four-year-old girl as she roller-skated past a building in Brownsville. Earlier this year, Sundhe’s conviction was overturned and his name was cleared. In the decision, the judge cited the involvement of one Detective Louis Scarcella, who Sundhe said had coerced him into making a false confession by beating him and choking him. Scarcella denied doing any such thing, but it’s worth noting that twelve other convictions have been overturned so far in cases where the same detective is said to have abused defendants, fabricated confessions, and—this is true—used the same crack addict-prostitute as a key witness in six separate investigations.

“That’s thirteen people’s lives,” Sundhe told me over his sandwich. “People talk about police corruption. But if you take it out of that context, it’s almost more like the story of a serial killer.”

“That’s thirteen people’s lives,” Sundhe told me over his sandwich. “People talk about police corruption. But if you take it out of that context, it’s almost more like the story of a serial killer.”

Now it just so happens that I’m about to publish a novel about a cop who may be a serial killer. Such a thing is possible. A former California police officer named Joseph DeAngelo now stands accused of being the Golden State Killer, responsible for at least a dozen murders and more than fifty rapes over a forty-year period. And there are other cases around the world, including the infamous 10 Rillington Place killer John Christie, a War Reserve police officer who raped and strangled seven women in the 1950s.

But my novel, Sunrise Highway, isn’t really about that kind of individual pathology. It’s about how the rest of us could allow it to happen, in smaller ways, by being complacent, self-satisfied, or comfortable with the status quo. Making the decision not to ask the wrong questions at the wrong time, because it would unsettle the system and make our lives more complicated.

I wanted to tell a story about the pathology of a system that would not only permit a criminal to survive within it, but to rise up and get promoted as a leader (obviously, that couldn’t happen in, say, politics or corporate life). Yes, there have been books, a few movies, and a couple of TV shows like The Shield about individual dirty cops, but those are the exceptions. Most audiences want the lines between good and evil to be drawn clearly, and they want the heroes to trail no shadows in their wake. I wanted to write a book that asked some tougher questions about the world we’re living in.

“It’s not just the Scarcellas doing it on their own,” Sundhe told me. “A lot of other people have to be involved when there’s an injustice like this.”

I think it’s no accident that there’s never been a long-running TV show (at least none that I can think of) about a lawyer or a cop who defends the innocent and gets them out of jail. People want familiar stories after a long day at work and they certainly don’t want to be lectured. And I don’t blame them. I’m not in the business of lecturing anybody or showing them the light anyway. What I do want to do is give you something you’re not expecting, a suspenseful story from an angle that you might not have considered. And if you’re alive these days and halfway sentient, you have to admit the good guys aren’t always good. And getting down to the reality of that can be as riveting and scary as Silence of the Lambs.

If you’re alive these days and halfway sentient, you have to admit the good guys aren’t always good.

At the end of our meal, Sundhe, who is writing a book about his experiences, started talking about the difference between real life and what you see on the screen.

“You know what’s funny?” he said as the waitress dropped the check next to the pickles and cole slaw. “The other night I was watching a horror movie with my girlfriend. Can’t think of the name but there was all this tension in it because the killer was stalking this woman and her daughter.”

“Yeah?” I shrugged and picked up my water, thinking it could be one of a thousand films.

“And then at the end, just when you think they’re going to escape, he kills them both.”

“Ha.” I put down my glass. “Didn’t see that coming.”

“No.” Sundhe nodded. “And my girlfriend hated it. Because she didn’t think that’s how it was going to be. But sometimes life is like that. You don’t always get the ending you want.”

Source: crimereads.com

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Fiction Writing Exercises: Narrative Arcs

Today’s fiction writing exercise is an excerpt from my book, Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises. This one focuses on story structure and examines narrative arcs within stories and across multiple scenes and installments of a story. Enjoy!
Narrative Arcs

An arc has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The events within an arc result in some kind of change for the story world, characters, or direction of the plot.

In serial or episodic storytelling, a story arc is an ongoing story line that spans multiple installments. An arc might last through several episodes of a television show or several issues of a comic book. In literature, an arc might stretch across multiple books in a series.

A narrative arc (or dramatic arc) is similar to a story arc, except it doesn’t have to occur across multiple installments of episodic storytelling. A narrative arc is any arc within a story, including the central plot and any subplots. Narrative arcs can occur within a single scene or span across a sequence of scenes.

Characters also experience arcs when they undergo a progression of transformation.

That’s a lot of different types of arcs. To make matters more confusing, the terms for story arcs, narrative arcs, and dramatic arcs are often used interchangeably.

Study:

You can use any type of story for this exercise: books, comics, TV shows, or films. Find a series that you’ve enjoyed, and examine a small sample of installments. For example, you can look at five episodes from a TV show or three novels from a series. Make sure you’re using serials, which use ongoing stories across multiple installments, rather than episodic installments, which are separate but loosely connected.

Make a list of three to five story arcs found across the installments you examined. Do the arcs intertwine? Are they occurring simultaneously, or are they consecutive? How does each arc relate to the central plot?
Practice:

Create a set of three story arcs that would span multiple novels in a series. If you’re already working on a series, feel free to create arcs within your project.

For example, start by writing quick summaries of at least five novels in a series (about one paragraph each, highlighting the central plot of each installment). Then come up with the three arcs, each of which would span multiple novels.

As an alternative, you can develop ideas for a television or comic book series.
Questions:

What is the difference between a story arc and a dramatic arc? Why are story arcs effective in serial storytelling? How is a character arc different from a narrative arc? What types of arcs are most important in storytelling?

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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Write Fictional Characters as Complex and Realistic as You Are—The MBTI for Writers Series

What’s the secret to writing fictional characters readers fall in love with? What makes us reread our favorite novels, revisiting the same characters through the years like old friends?

Some writers are naturals at it. Lifelong people watchers, they seem to “get” how other people work without trying. So of course their fictional characters are complex and realistic. Of course their characters leap off the page.

But not every writer is an expert in people.

That doesn’t mean your characters are doomed to be cardboard cutouts. There’s hope for the writers who have something to say but aren’t sure yet how to create characters realistic enough to say it.

If you struggle to create characters who are complex and distinct. If you find yourself scratching your head at every plot turn, unsure of what your character would say or do or think next—then you know the struggle.

You know what it’s like to want your character to become so real, she takes over the story—but every word you write just reminds you she’s still a stranger.

So how do you flesh out a character who falls flat? How do you fix cliched, unlikable characters? How do you define characters who are too predictable or distinguish the ones who act just like every other character in the story?

There’s a tool for that.

It’s called MBTI. And it’s your new secret weapon for creating fictional characters as complex and realistic as you are.

This is The MBTI for Writers series.

Fictional Characters Made Easy: What We Cover in MBTI for Writers

  • What exactly MBTI is (the quick and dirty version for writers)
  • A simple overview of the 16 MBTI personality types (i.e. what’s really going on inside the heads of each personality type)
  • Quick tips for getting into each type’s head so you can see the story through their eyes—even when the character is NOTHING LIKE YOU (Because what better way to know how they would act and respond to the plot than to see the world how they see it?)
  • How to use each of the 16 MBTI types as a character mold to build out an endless cast of truly unique, surprising, and ultra-realistic fictional characters your readers will love (and love to hate)
  • What so many people get wrong about MBTI and how writers can use it to their advantage
  • Ways to build out each personality type so each one is new and unique—no matter how many times you’ve reused the mold

Series Contents

Out Now:

Coming Up:

  • See Through Your Character’s Eyes: How to ‘Experience’ the 8 MBTI Functions Like Your Fictional Characters Do
  • How to Make Each Character Type Unique—Even If You’ve Used That Type Before
  • 11 Smart Reasons to Create Your Next Fictional Character Using MBTI
  • Do You Really Understand Your Character? Cheatsheets for Writing Each of the 16 MBTI Types
    • ENTJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • INTJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ENTP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • INTP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ENFJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • INFJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ENFP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • INFP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ESTJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ISTJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ESTP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ISTP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ESFJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ISFJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ESFP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ISFP Character Design Cheatsheet
  • Common Arguments against MBTI (And Why They’re Dumb)

Source: mandywallace.com

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Creative Nonfiction Is Not All About Make-Believe

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Posted on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at 4:46 PM at Editors Only

A publication that offers lessons about writing and process and depth of coverage.

By Peter P. Jacobi

“The time I remember is when I’m about 8 years old,” writes Victoria Blake in a recent issue of Creative Nonfiction. “My mother is serving pork chops 1950s style — bone in, with a little bit of applesauce. In my family, I’m known as a ‘picky eater.’ For example, I eat only the very outside of the meat because the bone terrifies me. There’s a chalky spot in the center which — I know now but didn’t know then — is marrow.

“The bone is unyielding and hard,” Blake continues, “under the tines of my fork — a hardness that, in an instant, conjures the image of a whole skeleton, then an animal walking, an animal eating, an animal living. And that’s when my mother says it: “You should know where your food comes from, Tory. If you don’t eat it, you won’t get any dessert.”

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