Tag Archives: writing practice

Assessing Yourself as a Writer: Does Your Writing Make the Grade?

By Joyce Sweeney

Part of The Writer’s Life Series

JH: It’s not always clear to know what to focus on to improve our writing, but Joyce Sweeney has a formula to help writers grade their stories. Please give her a warm welcome.

Joyce Sweeney is the author of fourteen novels for young adults and two chapbooks of poetry. Her books have won many awards and honors. Joyce has recently switched to writing adult fiction and is represented by Nicole Resciniti of the Seymour agency.

Joyce has also been a writing teacher and coach for 25 years and offers online classes. In 2019, she, Jamie Morris and Tia Levings released Plotting Your Novel with The Plot Clock (Giantess Press). At this writing, 62 of Joyce’s students have successfully obtained traditional publishing contracts.

Joyce lives in Coral Springs with her husband, Jay and caffeine-addicted cat, Nitro.

Take it away Joyce…

Joyce Sweeney

Back when I was studying poetry, I discovered a formula for poetry assessment that caught my imagination. I may have it wrong now, but the idea was that you should assess a poem on four things: idea, music, story and structure. As a fiction teacher, my brain immediately went into overdrive wondering how this might translate and I came up with my similar list: concept, voice, plot and structure.

Then, of course, I asked myself how I measured up in these categories and I discovered something magical. I knew I was born with an A in structure and I knew I had a D in plotting. That discovery alone was gold to me on a personal level and it led to an intensive attempt to ‘raise my grade’ in plotting. Moreover, I knew that my concepts were 50-50 (as were my book sales from project to project) and that my voice was pretty bad on the first draft, but I could always polish it to a good level. In other words, my report card as a fiction writer was: Structure A, Voice B, Concept C, Plot D. And I knew just where and how to do my homework from that day forward.

Since I never have a problem with seeing one case as a scientific study, I decided maybe we were ALL like that. Born with one ‘free ticket’ and one ‘horror category’ with the other grades falling in between. I started assessing the manuscripts I edited on this basis and I realized it’s true. Which means identifying where we fall in these categories and working to ‘bring up our low grades’ was very possibly the Key to Everything in being ‘ready’ for publication. I continued to develop this idea into a workshop and also one of my online classes which is actually Lesson One in the upcoming Fiction Writing Essentials. I think it’s kind of a life-changing thing. So here it is in a very abbreviated version.

Let’s start with voice.

For a definition, voice is the whole way a writer uses language. So let’s say that’s the gift you are born with. In fact, I think a lot of people who choose writing have a fabulous voice and that is the easiest thing for teachers and friends to notice. I’ve discovered that people who have a real way with language, that is to say a beautiful voice, can become very frustrated, because they get standing ovations in their critique groups, they dazzle the crowd, and everyone tells them “you’re there!” when maybe they have not mastered the other elements listed above.

To my horror, I find these are people who might give up too soon. They feel, “I can’t make my writing any better so if it’s not good enough, I’ll quit.” They don’t realize they are polishing the wrong thing. Oddly, people who struggle with voice often succeed, even though they get the most picked on in critique group. Fixing voice is a slow process and these people often feel ‘behind’ the others. But they also stick around a long time, determined to crack the code, and if they are strong in plot and structure, they make it to an editor who will help them out.

Some of my voice tips are: use a narrative voice that works with your natural voice. A lot of MG writers have a YA voice and vice versa. Read poetry. It gives you voice by osmosis. And of course, study the elements of voice.

Plot.

That’s my D. I used to write poems and short stories. You don’t need a lot of plot for that. When I started writing novels, I felt if a character had some kind of epiphany near the end of the book, my work was done. Amazingly enough, I was strong enough in other ways to get published, but my sales were very up and down till I mastered plotting. I studied it so much, I’m now known more for plot writing and plot teaching then anything else.

If you’re weak in plot, you often make it beyond the pitch to a request. They may read beginning pages and keep requesting, because your voice is good. But when they get to the end of the manuscript it’s a no-sale. Plotting is easy to learn and easy to teach. Of all these skills, it’s the most mathematical and logical, so once you get the hang of it (unlike concept!) you’re in business. If you’re strong in plot, you may find that your agent, your editor and some critics are still finding flaws in your books, but they always tell you you gave them a darn good ride. That’s what a plot is. A darn good ride. Studying movies and plays is one great way to work on your plot grade.

So, if plot is the ride, structure is the type of vehicle that takes the ride.

It’s the hardest of these concepts to explain, but concretely, it plays out in things like point of view, length of scenes, story beats and swings. It’s an inner knowing of what the reader wants and needs at every turn of the story and delivering it. It’s often learned more by experience or trial and error and especially from feedback by others, so deliberate study doesn’t always work. If you read to a critique group and they say they didn’t understand something, the event went by too fast. If they’re bored, you went too slow.

Working with structure is like tasting and adjusting a recipe. Often writers who study their craft diligently find structure to be the last battle, the thing they work with agents on in R&R’s. Structure is vital because it delivers the emotion of the story. Like those lucky voice people, I was good at structure so even my first novel, which is VERY flawed, was emotionally powerful and that got me published, possibly too soon. If you’re poor in the category of structure, you hear ‘show don’t tell’ a lot and you very likely have more distant points of view than you should. You are a person who can actually benefit from taking colored markers to a powerful novel to see what the author did and when.

Then there’s concept.

Concept means your story has a clear hook, people can easily grasp ‘what it’s about’, and there’s almost always a visceral reaction when you pitch. People hear your concept and immediately want to read, or feel like that’s the story they’ve been waiting for. Your concept has interesting elements or a great twist on something classic. If you’re great at concept you usually have more ideas than time to write them, you excel at pitching but then find yourself frustrated because after you submit, you get rejected. It just means something else in your execution needs work, but the industry is driven by concept, so if you work hard, you will probably do well.

Now I really want to reach those of you who struggle with concept. Because I think this can really sideline you. Some people work on the same book for years, decades even, improving every element of that same book, but not realizing they are pouring energy into something that will never work. I find this heartbreaking. I know, often your first idea is so close to your heart (and maybe your life story or the story of someone you deeply love) but it just may not be the very best idea for launching into a competitive market.

Since I work with writers over the course of many years, I can tell you, the most successful are always starting a new book. Think about it. When you’re published, you’ll have to do that almost every year. And if you write many books, you eventually learn a lot about what makes a good concept. You refine and adjust so that the things that resonate with your heart also resonate with the collective heart. And then you can sell.

Problems with concept can be, it’s been done too many times before and you haven’t innovated enough, not enough drama or excitement, it’s so close to you, you can’t work with it (like a book that’s a tribute to someone you love). I am here to tell you. I won’t give numbers, but I’ve had some really great sales on some books and some really, well disappointing sales on others. The quality of my writing didn’t vary that much. I just sometimes picked concepts that didn’t excite readers. And this is another area where I’ve really tried to learn. I don’t want to waste all that work and energy anymore. If I shoot an arrow, I want to know there’s a target for it. If you have issues with concept, you may have heard the same criticism about your story many times but you keep saying, oh, that’s them. Or you get those rejections that praise you but say ultimately, they just can’t sell that. Do yourself a tremendous favor and move on.

So right now, just for fun, jot down your own scorecard.

I firmly believe that most writers start out with a clear A, B, C and D. And hopefully as they study craft, some of these grades start to rise. I also believe if you can get to an A in all four you can sell a book. Period. So it’s really worthwhile to look at this honestly, and if you find a category that is holding you back…well now you know just which courses to take and which books to read. Finding these categories and working with them honestly made a huge difference to me as a writer, as an editor and as a teacher. I hope they’ll be just as beneficial to you too!

Source: blog.janicehardy.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

The Myth of the Natural Writer

There’s a legendary joke about the writing life, often attributed to Margaret Atwood. It goes like this:

A brain surgeon and a writer meet at a party. The brain surgeon says to the writer, “How interesting, I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and in fact, when I retire, I’m going to be a writer.”

The writer replies, “Well, isn’t that a coincidence. When I retire, I’m going to be a brain surgeon.”

Countless young people want to pursue writing while still in school, but ultimately choose more stable careers (whether brain surgery or accounting or lawyering). Some think they’ll have time to write on the side, but it rarely turns out that way. So, as they near retirement—or when they have all the money or stability they need—then they write their first book. Often, it is unpublishable by traditional standards. Why? Not because they’re bad writers, but they’re emerging writers, despite their age and experience. For most of us, it takes more than instinct or desire to produce a skillful story.

In this month’s Glimmer Train bulletin, Erika Krouse discusses the myth of the natural writer—or the realization that few people (including herself) will be inspired, as if by magic, to produce a story that effortlessly works. She says:

I continued to write the same-but-different novel for seven more years, in seven completely different directions, with seven different middles-to-endings, all ludicrous. It felt like I was shooting one very slow bullet a year, hoping that if I closed my eyes and aimed at random, I’d hit the distant target I had only vaguely envisioned. How was I going to complete this idiot book?

Read her full essay: Plot Structure and the Myth of the Natural Writer (Also, Ducks)

By

Source: janefriedman.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Getting Somebody Else’s Town Right – Researching Settings for Your Writing

The old adage is “write what you know.” Most writers, though, have to step outside that comfort zone sooner or later.

If you are writing something set in the “real world,” you might set it in your hometown, or a town where you have lived for several years. However, you might also want to set your story somewhere else. One way, used by many, is to create a fictional town or city. DC Comics has Metropolis, Lovecraft has the infamous Arkham, and Agatha Christie has created wholly invented towns like Chipping Cleghorn.

Ah, but what if you really do want to use real-world locations? Maybe you want to set your book in San Francisco but have never been further west than Minneapolis. Or, you discover that Copenhagen is the Las Vegas of Europe and need to do a shotgun wedding.

This article has tools and techniques for writing in somebody else’s town without, hopefully, having a bunch of locals inform you that there is no such Metro station as “Cathedral Heights.”

So, how do you start researching settings for your writing?

Internet Research

Like everything else, writing in somebody else’s town takes research. For most of us these days, the first stop is the internet. Here are a few good sources you can start with:

  1. Wikipedia. People knock Wikipedia as a source, but it’s useful for basic facts about a place and as a starting point. You can usually trust it to give you such information as population and a few facts. Remember that Wikipedia is for things “everyone knows,” and may not always be accurate. I’ve found it to be useful, though.
  2. Historical weather sources. If you just want to know what the weather was like on June 21st, 1999 in London, Weather Underground is a good source (If you’re curious, it was in the 50s and not raining). If you’re just trying to find out what would be typical for London in June, though, you can literally just google “weather average for London” and it’ll give you averages by month. Another useful site is Holidayweather.com, although it only covers major tourist destinations. Which brings us to:
  3. TripAdvisor. You may laugh, but I use TripAdvisor all the time and not just to find restaurants while on vacation. Use it to look through restaurants in Helsinki to discover what Finnish people eat, to find historical sites that might end up being plot points. If you use it for travel and have an account, I recommend researching for settings in incognito mode, so it doesn’t spam your email on the assumption you are actually planning on going to Rome…
  4. The town’s own website. Most towns these days have a website, and it’s a good source of information for historical overviews, demographics, etc. Check out the chamber of commerce site too. Often, they have a list of stores and restaurants downtown (remember not to make a real business look bad in your story). These sites will also give information intended for residents. Do you need to know if trash day is Tuesday or Wednesday? Are you looking for a park to set a scene in?
  5. Real estate sites. Realtors often have useful neighborhood guides on their sites, which are aimed at people relocating. House prices can also tell you at a glance where the bad part of town is.

Google Maps and Google Street View

I have no idea how people wrote in other places without Google Maps and Street View. If you’re writing in a city you have never been to, or even one you are only somewhat familiar with, you can literally “travel” around the city virtually and move your characters from place to place. You can go down a specific street in a neighborhood and see what style the houses are. Trace your characters movements during the outline or the first draft. You can also use the directions function to work out travel time if it’s relevant.

On a related note, for big cities, do look at the transit map so you don’t make a Cathedral Heights level mistake. Unless, of course, you intend to. Check opening hours, too…

Libraries

Repeat after me, libraries are good. You might think that somebody else’s public library system is too far away to be any good. You would be surprised. More and more libraries will now give access to their electronic collections and research databases to people from out of town for a fee, which is usually $40-60 a year. This option is seldom available for people in another country. But access to a library’s digital resources can be priceless. (It might even be worth contacting the librarian and telling them you’re writing a book, they might be able to do something for you).

Local People

When the internet and library collections fail you, you may need to actually talk to real people. As a note, if you are setting your story more than five years in the past, you definitely need to find somebody who lived there at that time. Big cities, in particular, can change surprisingly rapidly. Was that park there when your characters were?

For novels, a targeted beta reader is a good idea. You can even find one by using the search phrase“sensitivity reader.” Although most sensitivity readers are concerned with demographics, location is important too. You might have to pay them, or you might be able to find another writer willing to do a trade on beta reading.

If you’re lucky, somebody who lives in the place you’re researching might be in your chain of social media friends. It’s always worth asking. Failing that, there are several sources for local experts:

  1. Librarians. Yes, we’re back to librarians, but helping with research is what they are there for.
  2. The local community college. If there’s a local community college, one of the teachers there might be willing to help you out. Or even one of the students, especially if you can send them a tip.
  3. Local government outreach. A lot of local government sites have an outreach section where you can send them a message with specific questions. You don’t have to be a resident, and the magic words “I’m writing a book” can get you a long way.

Trips: Researching Your Setting Firsthand

Needless to say, research trips can be completely out of reach for many writers. If you do have the cash, though, there is really no substitute for getting the feel of a place. Here are some tips to keep your trip within budget:

  1. Know how much time you need. Going back often costs more than staying an extra day.
  2. Go off-peak or offseason. Avoid school holidays, especially in Europe. British hotels, for example, are quite notorious for trebling rates when the kids are off school.
  3. If the town you’re researching is an expensive tourist trap, see if you can stay somewhere nearby. This may not always work.
  4. Consider using AirBnB or a similar solution rather than a hotel, especially if you’re planning a longer stay. Look for a place with a kitchen. You can learn a lot from local grocery stores.
  5. Get a VPN so you can work over hotel networks with more security.
  6. In Europe, take the train. Trust me, just take the train.
  7. Make it your family vacation anyway. In fact, you could even decide to set your book somewhere you really want to go… and use research as an excuse.

But if you can’t afford to go there, don’t be afraid to set your book (or short story, or few chapters of a book) in a city or town you have never personally visited. If you do your research, you can make it work without annoying the locals.

By Jennifer R. Povey

Source: refiction.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

10 Reasons Why You Should be Proud to be a Writer

Sometimes I compare my job as a writer to his and I wonder if I’m bringing enough value to the world and helping enough people.

Genevieve Parker-Hill

The above quote comes from a wonderful post called Write the Book, Save the World.

In the post Genevieve wonders why she should be proud to be a writer when her husband who works with a large nonprofit organization seems to be bringing so much more value to the world?

Here at WritetoDone we believe every single writer matters. As Genevieve says:

what if your work helped just one person? What if your work connected with one person and colored their life with joy for one moment? What if it gave just one person a powerful connective experience, a sense that they aren’t alone?

Below are 10 reasons why you should be proud to be a writer in the real world, because in the real world, writing, and writers, really matter.

proud-to-be-a-writer

Let me know in the comments below why YOU are proud to be a writer.

Source: writetodone.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Creating Believable Villains

What are the trademarks of a villain?

Do they have dark, piercing eyes, a snarly grin, crooked-yellowed teeth, knobby fingers, an evil laugh? Or is there more to it than that? The antagonist can be the hardest character to write but also the most fun. How can we be successful at it? Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way.

Make them appear human – nobody likes a pure evil villain. They need to be likable or they fall flat. Give them a redeeming quality. Maybe we even want to cheer for them. Think Hannibal Lector or the Blacklist’s Raymond Reddington. Yes, they are evil but still have amiable qualities. We find ourselves applauding them.

Give them a clear motivation for their actions – we need to know why they’re doing their evil deeds. Their motives need to feel fair and just in their minds. Start with the basic reasons for their crime. Passion, greed, jealousy, but give it an added kick. Let’s place ourselves in their shoes. What makes them tick? Why do they think the way the do? In one of my stories the antagonist has a daughter who needs constant medical care for her deadly condition, so he justifies his actions to get the money to provide her with the necessary attention. This gives the reader empathy for the antagonist.

Give them flaws – we can’t make the villain’s life too easy. They need to work hard at being bad. Keep them in constant conflict, making things more difficult for them as the plot unfolds. Maybe they’re OCD and that keeps them from getting their hands dirty at a crime scene. Perhaps they’re disabled and struggle with getting around. Whatever the flaw, make it realistic.

Hide them in plain sight – don’t make the villain a klutzy moron. That robs the reader and makes them angry. We want to keep them guessing and surprised at the end of the story. Also, we can’t make the antagonist a minor character. This is cheating and doesn’t satisfy the plot. Give subtle clues as to who the criminal is, but make them the boy next door or the female everyone likes. This will give our stories plausibility.

Give your villain backstory – I like to do a full character sketch on the antagonist just like I do for my protagonist. Don’t cheat them in the development stage of your story. Get to know them. Sit down with them for coffee and ask some poignant questions. What are their dislikes? Loves? What is their deepest fear? What were they doing at the age of fifteen? We need to know them inside and out in order to make them come alive.

Fit their behavior appropriately – plant seeds along the way so when they commit a crime it doesn’t come out in left field. For example, if your villain is about to strangle someone give him big hands. Perhaps he works out to pump up his muscles. Or if he’s building a bomb, give him a military background or one in science. Remember, it needs to be realistic.

Creating villains can be fun. Study your favorite and then design yours to be believable and one that will keep your reader turning the pages!

By Darlene L. Turner

Source: almostanauthor.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Sinking Into The Bog

In my last post (“Inspired to Emulation—or Preparing to Jump“), I talked about The Rule of No Rules, and how reading other writers you admire will provide the best writing advice you will ever receive.

Not long after the post went up, one of my favorite novelists, Adrian McKinty—who writes brilliantly about Northern Ireland during the Troubles from the perspective of a Catholic detective serving in the overwhelmingly Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary—posted the following letter on Twitter. He composed it to an aspiring author who had asked his advice on this whole writing business. This is what Adrian wrote in response (the recipient’s name has been removed for the sake of privacy ):

 

 

I’m tempted to end this blog post here, because I couldn’t possibly say anything as perfect, but that would be cheating, or lazy, or both. So instead, I’m going to talk a little about my writing process, and in so doing I ironically intend to prove that Adrian is absolutely right—there are no rules. (Incidentally — for more on Adrian and his truly wonderful books, visit his blog The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.)

I’m currently writing a new novel, and for the sake of this post have been taking note of my revision process, which otherwise would go largely unanalyzed. I make no assertions that my way is the right way—in fact, I would like to begin with a contrarian point, that my way actually is slow, laborious, and not suitable for “mainstream” writers obliged to crank out one or more books a year. I will leave guidance on that front to those entitled to provide it. My way is simply my way, and I hope by discussing it I might help you shed light on your own, for better and/or worse.

Searching for a phrase that might describe my way of revising, I first came up with “descending into the text,” but that seemed so utterly hokey, so sniffily pompous, I discarded it immediately.

Instead, deferring to my recent research on all-things-Ireland, and hoping for a bit of ironic wit to cut through the humbug, I settled on the title above. It’s suggestive of a process of discovering something already there on the page, buried beneath some obscuring element, waiting to be unearthed. Although that does indeed resonate with some of what I mean here, something very different is at play as well. Creation, not just discovery, figures in.

What I discover as I’m writing a given scene or chapter is that the first couple of drafts only descend so far into the emotional, dramatic, and experiential truth of the situation. I sometimes describe the precess as working out a preliminary sketch then gradually, slowly, layering on the color.

Or think of it this way: I get the furniture arranged, I invite everyone in, and listen to the first things that pop into their minds (and out of their mouths) given my initial sense of where things need to go.

This will usually occupy me for a day or two. Often I will tinker with this or that, tightening the prose, trimming away the excess, eliminating repetition, correcting mistakes. Fiddling. Mucking about. Getting acquainted with the material.

Then I descend a little further. I often need time off—overnight will do, usually—to let my unconscious prowl around the situation I’ve invented, to notice what my conscious writer self has overlooked due to being preoccupied with word choice, sentence structure, punctuation, and so on. (William James was referring to this back and forth between conscious and unconscious effort with his bon mot: “We learn to ski in the summer, and learn to swim in the winter.”)

I notice that my characters are, as yet, largely functional—they’re playing their roles, not acting like real people in the situation with quirks, tics, contradictions, dual agendas, bad habits, emotional blind spots, and so on. I need to liberate them from what I want them to do and simply let them behave.

Step one, I imagine their appearance and physical nature more specifically, and look for what I missed so far—the torn pocket on a shirt, mustard stain on a tie, worn heels on the shoes, hair dye, a hand tremor, cologne or perfume. This almost always brings me closer to the character’s emotional and psychological specficity as well.

Step Two, I remind myself of each character’s Objective, Obstacle, and Action: what she wants in the scene, what stands in her way, what she does to overcome the obstacle to achieve her goal. I clarify and intensify the tension, and make sure I’m revealing through conflict, not straight narration.

Due to Donald “Master Don” Maass’s expert advice, I now also ask myself how each character hopes to feel by the end of the scene, and what happens to that hope, that feeling, given what happens. This helps me not only understand each character better, but to distinguish among them—for example, if I have friends or siblings or co-workers in the scene, this is usually where I begin to separate them more clearly in my mind.

Once I have that in hand, if the scene still feels unfinished, I take each character’s perspective and run through the scene from their point of view, then do so with each of the other characters. I listen for what each character would really say given what just happened. each character’s distinct rhythms, their idiosyncratic word choice (more on that below)—most importantly, I imagine more deeply what they would feel and what they would do, letting the dialogue, if any, arise from that.

On the issue of word choice specific to each character: One of the greatest techniques I ever learned in this regard I gernered from Joshua Mohr, another wonderful writer. He suggested setting up a dialogue grid, with each character’s specific or idiosyncratic verbal expressions, from certain words they “hit” particular hard or often, to regional dialect, to favorite curse words, to syntactical peculiarities—e.g., the subjectless sentence (“Going to the dance tongiht?”), the serial interrogatory (“Mrs. Hornby? You know the report you wanted me to write? About Chaucer?”)

If I’m still feeling like I’m not quite there, I remind myself how this scene fits into each character’s general Yearning—their dream of life: the kind of person they want to be, the way of life they hope to live. This scene is a moment in that pursuit—where does that moment fit in the general outline provided by the story, and the story within their lives. If I’ve associated the Yearning with an image, a symbol, or a piece of music, how does that get reflected here?

Similarly, what is holding them back from fulfilling their Yearning—what wounds, weaknesses, limitations, moral flaws are undermining their pursuit of their dream of life. How is all that reflected here?

Sometimes this takes deliberate effort, other times it’s an intuitive plunge into the scene. It may take one day, it may take three—but if I’m not getting it right by then, it’s time to move on.

As I continue into the story, my unconscious will continue providing me little insights—a change in an action, a line of dialogue, a description—and I’ll jot them down and slip them in where they fit, or make notes to myself to return to the scene and write the change in.

This sort of revising-as-I-go is contrary to the advice of many writers, who save this sort of revision for a second pass after they “have the story down.” But I don’t feel I’ve truly got the story down until I do this sort of sinking into each scene. Until then I’m just skimming the surface of events—and is that really the story?

This deeper exploration of each scene often feels like discovery, as though I’m finding what was already there but wasn’t yet aware of. And yet it is also creation, obviously, because I am inventng new details, adding touches I come up with on the fly. The test of truth to any created bit, however, is if it serves the story, rather than feeling jammed in or slapped on for effect. So in truth it is more of a back and forth between creation and discovery, and the bog I’m sinking into is my imagination.

Regardless, this effort typically also prompts me to go to my outline and make changes in the overall story—usually to upcoming scenes, but on occasion for already written scenes as well.

I know this all sounds laborious, and as already noted, it’s time-consuming. I can’t say I recommend it, and I envy those who can work well more rapidly. I’ve tried just plowing ahead, however, hoping to get a “lousy first draft.” Sooner or later it just feels wrong, like I’ve taken a wrong step, or have sold short the real possibilities in the story. I’ve ultimately had to accept that this is simply my process, and as I often tell my students, one of the most important things you will learn as a writer is how you work and coming to trust that.

Now, of course, we all develop bad habits, and shouldn’t allow them to undermine our work in the name of “owning our process.” But in the inevitable calculation of what is the best use of your time, you need to gauge for yourself whether that time is better spent moving ahead with your current way of doing things or better spent breaking down those bad habits, learning new ones, and suffering the inevitable struggles any such change in methods will entail. (Those who have taken the plunge into Scrivener have no doubt insights to share on this trade-off.)

Regardless, we once again return to The Rule of No Rules. You have to find your own way into and out of the bog, as both Adrian and I have advised. Sadly, there are no guarantees—or, as Adrian advised his fledling writer, “It’s just the nature of the beast.” There are simply the stories only you can tell, and that will have to suffice, as it always has.

What parts of your writing process would you change if you knew how, or could risk the readjustment time required? What do you think of Adrian’s advice to his fledgling writer—do you agree? Disagree? Something in between?

By
Source: writerunboxed.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Why You Don’t Need To Put Everything In Your Book

One of the main reasons beginner writers don’t finish their books is because they try to put everything into the story.

If you want to write a novel, you need to follow some basic rules. You need to limit the number of your characters. You need to give them story goals. You need to limit the number of settings. You need to include necessary dialogue and leave out unimportant conversations.

If you don’t do this, you run the risk of overwhelming your readers. Readers who feel lost are likely to abandon your story and find another one where they feel more comfortable.

Too Many Characters

Readers read to live vicariously through a fictional character. You cannot expect them to fragment into 10 characters and empathise with everybody.

We follow the rule that you should concentrate on the four main characters, with special emphasis on your protagonist. Allow them to bond with this creation so that they can identify with them.

Suggested reading: The 4 Main Characters As Literary Devices

Too Many Settings

The same goes for settings. Readers like to feel that they know where the story takes place. They become comfortable with the world you’ve created. If you continuously add new settings, you will distract them and you will interrupt the flow of the story.

We follow the rule that you should introduce most of your settings within the first quarter of your book. You should also limit them to the worlds of the four main characters.

Suggested reading: 12 Crucial Things To Remember About Setting

Too Many Plots

Readers also don’t want to feel confused by too many story lines. Again, look at your protagonist’s story goal and use this to figure out your plot and sub-plot.

Readers are comfortable with one main plot and one or two sub-plots. Remember that this is not the only book you will write. Keep some of the plots you want to include for other novels – or maybe a sequel.

Suggested reading: 6 Sub-Plots That Add Style To Your Story

Keep It Simple

This does not mean that you are dumbing down your story, but you are following the rules of fiction writing. Choose your characters. Give them clear story goals. Write the book.

If you do this, you are more likely to be published. Editors are more likely to give you a chance. More importantly, readers are more likely to enjoy your book,

Good luck with your writing!

By Amanda Patterson

Source: writerswrite.co.za

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Keeping the Writing Love Alive

You are not alone.

This week is Valentine’s Day and, all over America, hearts and flowers are on many people’s minds. Perhaps you are worrying about your secret (or not so secret) love: your writing love. Have you lost that loving feeling? Do you find excuses to avoid your manuscript?

Cosmopolitan magazine is known for their articles on keeping love alive, right? So I looked up what they have to say.

Crazy Cosmo offers advice like “Flash Him,” “Do the dishes together,” and “Outlaw Grunge Wear.”

This is not helpful, even if we’re talking about a human. However, this gem made me smile:

Share a Secret Code
Pick a word that’s likely to come up occasionally in conversation (heat, midnight, bedroom, whipped cream…) and agree that every time someone uses it, you have to touch—anything from a kiss to a lingering thigh stroke under the table.

The Real Advice

Cosmo love expert, Esther Perel, had some real advice that can work for writers:

Forever used to mean “till death do us part.” These days, though, it seems many people interpret it as “until love dies.” It just takes work, self-awareness, and communication.

Here’s what long-haul couples [like you and your glorious manuscript] know:

1. They’re practical about what matters.

In other words, see your schedule as it is. Don’t try to shoehorn writing in without a plan. If there is literally not a single hour in your schedule, then don’t write that day…and plan for that. Or wake up an hour early. Give up your lunch break at work. But making a plan is better than feeling guilty over missing a vague goal.

2. They check in with each other…often.

Even if you don’t have an hour to sit down at your computer, do SOMETHING related to your manuscript every day.

  • Look up photos of your main characters and bookmark them.
  • Write down a description for something in your scene.
  • Do some research.
  • Write a snippet of conversation.

3. They take responsibility.

This is your dream. It is your responsibility to achieve it. To take the time and do the work. It’s hard. Some days it is wonderful and some days it sucks. But a dream is still important, and it is up to you to achieve it.

You can do this.

Ms. Perel made a point in her article that hit home with me. She recomends you work toward self-awareness to ensure that your relationship (in this case with your book) is successful.

In her book Loving Bravely, Alexandra H. Solomon writes about “relational self-awareness,” or recognizing how you act within your relationship. You know your vulnerabilities, strengths, and fears. If you want a long-term bond with the person you’re with, you’ll want to see evidence that they have self-awareness too.

4. They’re direct communicators.

I took a class once by Susan Squires where she talked about how to successfully talk back to your own brain. That you must ask yourself and your characters short, direct questions.

Not “so why does the hero fall in love with the heroine over coffee at her mother’s soda fountain?” Rather, you’d ask, “What most attracted the hero to the heroine in the first place?”

You can ask yourself a simple question, and your brain will actually work on it. Let your brain do the work it can do, instead of demanding a bunch of details. That’s how you get your characters to talk to you. Complaints and complexity never made anyone want to communicate better.

Perel says, “To get their needs met, lasting duos ask for what they want. They make requests instead of complaints. ”

5. They try not to feel entitled.

Relationships are not always easy, and if you think yours will be, then you are setting yourself up to be disappointed and resentful of your partner. You don’t want to resent your writing. You love your writing.

The article says, “You need to deal with your insecurities and find ways to feel good.” (Duh.)

6. They reinvent their relationships.

Instead of thinking of forever as being rooted in the same partnership until death, think of it as having two or three relationships with the same person throughout your lives.

This one is awesome. What I hear them saying here is:

It’s okay to change a process that isn’t working for you. Don’t cling to your old ways that aren’t working and do the whole “break up and get back together” dance.

Take the time to find out what work for you, so you can enjoy your writing time.

No article on writing love is complete without quotes, right?

Keep your writing passion (quotes)

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” — Louis L’Amour

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ― Sylvia Plath

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ― Anton Chekhov

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” — Stephen King

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” – Orson Scott Card

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ― Maya Angelou

“If the book is true, it will find an audience that is meant to read it.” — Wally Lamb

“I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.” — William Carlos Williams

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” — Anne Frank

and last but not least…

“I believe myself that a good writer doesn’t really need to be told anything except to keep at it.” — Chinua Achebe

So, I’ll leave you with that Achebe quote. The best way to keep your writing love alive is to NOT QUIT. Keep going, learning, doing, striving. At the end of that, you will have a book that you love.

I promise.

How do you keep your writing love alive? Do you have rituals or practices? Times of day when you write the best? Share them with us down in the comments!

By Jenny Hansen

Source: writersinthestormblog.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Barista

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Occupation: Barista

Overview: A barista is someone who makes coffee and espresso drinks (though some countries, the skill may also encompass knowledge of other beverages). In many commercial and chain shops, the job entails being able to work the necessary machinery and care for customers. A barista in a specialty or independent shop may be more knowledgeable about the different types of coffee, including where the beans come from, how the plants are cultivated, and the tastes and strengths of the different roasts. They may take ownership of more of the process, such as grinding the beans and making an extra effort in the presentation.

Wherever a barista works, they’ll need to also be able to interact with customers, keep items stocked, and maintain a clean environment for guests. Because this job is often seen as a stepping stone to other opportunities (rather than a permanent career), it can be a great choice for teenagers and people in transition.

Necessary Training: No formal education is required; most training will be received on the job.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: Charm, enhanced sense of smell, enhanced taste buds, good listening skills, hospitality, multitasking, promotion

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, calm, charming, cooperative, courteous, efficient, enthusiastic, honest, honorable, hospitable, kind, observant, passionate, responsible, sensible

Sources of Friction: Malfunctioning equipment, running out of supplies, employees calling in sick or not showing up with no warning, dishonest or lazy employees, micro-managing or absentee bosses, failing a health inspection, serving a customer with food allergies a drink containing an allergen, a customer slipping and falling, co-workers who don’t get along, having to work in a cramped space, demanding or difficult customers, bad PR, having a passion for coffee that the establishment doesn’t share or care about, developing an allergy or sensitivity that makes the coffeeshop a difficult place to work (e.g., becoming pregnant and not being able to stand the smell of coffee), discovering that something underhanded is going on (beans being gotten from unethical sources, etc.), pressure from one’s peers to give them free drinks

People They Might Interact With: other baristas and employees, a manager, a store owner, delivery people, customers, health inspectors

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: Someone with a passion for coffee may find their enthusiasm squashed if the management is only interested in doing the same old thing. This could lead a lack of fulfillment for the barista.
  • Esteem and Recognition: It’s likely that most people would view this opportunity as a short-term job. If someone is happy doing it and wants to make a career out of it, they may find their esteem lowering in the eyes of others.
  • Safety and Security: While most retail jobs are fairly safe, a barista’s security may be at stake in the event of a robbery or if the store is located in a high-crime area.

Common Work-Related Settings: Airport, bakery, big city street, bookstore, coffeehouse, cruise ship, grocery store, hospital (interior), shopping mall, ski resort, small town street

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype: 

  • This job is often a temporary one, but what might drive a character to pursue it as a long-term career?
  • To create some pizzazz for your barista, consider what you can change about the coffeeshop itself. Where would an interesting location be? What other businesses might be run out of or in conjunction with the shop (a bakery or stationary store)? What charity, like a pet rescue or mentoring program, might the owner be excited about that could be paired with the shop?

 

Source: /writershelpingwriters.net

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

8 Great Writing Tips for Kids

I’m 33 now (which feels very old!) but I’ve loved writing since I was a kid myself. The very first story I remember writing was about a mouse, when I was five or six. I spent a lot of time writing stories throughout my childhood, and I had a go at my first novel when I was thirteen.

Writing has always been one of my favourite things to do … and for the last ten years, it’s been what I’ve done for a living.

When I was at school, a lot of the writing I did was as part of my school work. At school, your teachers are probably keen for you to know lots of things about writing – like where to put commas, and what nouns and verbs are, and so on.

There are lots of great tips out there about how to get things like that right, and I’ll link to some of those for you in this post. I wanted to focus on some tips, though, about enjoying writing and having fun with it … and about becoming a better writer overall (not just a better speller)!

Here are my best tips on how to keep growing and improving as a writer, however young you are:

#1: Have a go at some writing exercises – you can find lots of these online, or you could have a go at them in workbooks or school books. Lots of adults find writing exercises helpful, too, so that they can get better at writing. You can find some great ones to try here.

#2: Read a lot. Almost every writer I know is also a keen reader. Try to read a wide range of different things – like classic story books as well as modern ones, non-fiction (factual) books, magazine or newspaper articles, and so on. You’ll come across lots of different ways to write, and you might learn some new words.

#3: Keep a little book of new words you learn. Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t understand a word the first time you read it. Sometimes you can guess from the rest of the sentence what it means, but if not, you can just look it up in a dictionary. You might want to ask an adult how to say the new word, too – you could write down how it sounds. For instance, “matron” is pronounced “may-tron” (with a long “a” sound) not “mah-tron” (with a short “a” sound), which is how I thought it was said when I first read it in an Enid Blyton story.

#4: Try writing stories for children younger than you, or stories that involve children younger than you. This is a great thing to do when you’re still quite young yourself, because you can remember what it’s like to be six or seven. (Adult writers find it hard to remember, and often they create young children characters who are too babyish for their age.) If you have a little brother or sister, or a younger cousin, you could read your stories out to them.

#5: Remember that even adults don’t get things right first time. Sometimes I get a spelling wrong, or I write a sentence that’s confusing for my reader. And I’m a professional writer! It’s fine to make mistakes, so don’t worry about getting everything perfect in your first draft. Just make sure you leave a bit of time to go back and edit afterwards (just like adult writers do) so that you can fix any mistakes.

#6: Have a go at different types of writing. When I was young, I like to make pretend magazines or newspapers. That’s something that children have enjoyed doing for a very long time – in one of my favourite classic children’s books, The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit, the children in the story make their own newspaper filled with things they’ve written. Maybe you could have a go at making a newspaper to share with your family and friends – or maybe you’d like to write poetry or a play script, or something else entirely.

#7: Keep a journal about your day to day life. There are lots of ways to do this – you could write a sentence or two each day, for instance, or you could write a longer piece once a week. You could write about what you’re learning at school, who your friends are, the games you’ve been playing … even what you had for lunch! Details that might seem boring now could be really interesting when you read your journal when you’re 20 or 30 or even 80!

#8: Ask for help if you get stuck. If there’s something you don’t understand in what you’re reading, or if you can’t work out if something you’ve written is quite right, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most adults will be very glad to give you a hand. You could try a teacher, or a librarian (either at your school library or your local library). If you get to meet any adult writers, perhaps through school or at an event, think up some good questions for them too!

I hope you have lots of fun with your writing. It can feel like there’s a lot to get right, but (outside of school time) the most important thing is that you enjoy writing. I hope the ideas above help you to get even more out of writing. If you’ve got any tips of your own, why not share them with us in the comments?

By Ali Hale

Source: dailywritingtips.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing