The One About Pantsing

Welcome back to the blog. Today I have Nancy Raven Smith talking about her pantsing method of writing her stories.

Here’s Nancy!

Hi Cindy. I appreciate visiting today on your Guelph Write Now Blog. I thought I‘d talk a bit about how I’m a pantser – sort of.

If a writer writes on tight deadlines, or needs projects pre-approved before writing them, outlines are definitely a must. This discussion probably won’t be of interest to people who outline except to see how the other side thinks.

I’m an admitted pantser. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s used to describe a writer who doesn’t outline their projects before beginning writing. They write by the seat of their pants. A writer who is a pantser lets the characters and/or the situations reveal themselves as they write.

Of course, this kind of writing leads to a lot of hair pulling and dead ends, followed by bad language and massive rewriting. But what it does do is lead the story into lots of interesting things that the writer hadn’t thought of when creating the outline. Hopefully things that are unique and intrinsic and make the story different from others.

For me, an outline feels too rigid, and I get bored trying to follow one. And if I’m bored as the writer, you can imagine how bored a reader will be with my work. Also, in a true outline, all the twists, turns, and events – plus all the decisions have been made beforehand. With all the decisions made, I lose interest in a story.

I originally studied and wrote as a screenwriter. Screenplays are much shorter than novels. They generally run from ninety to a hundred and twenty pages. For screenplay students, the three act structure is critical. The late Syd Fields, a screenwriting guru, opined that it’s actually a four act structure if you count the story’s mid point as an act break. That’s an opinion that I agree with as the midpoint is also a turning point. Here’s how that works. A one hundred-twenty page screenplay structure would be roughly pages 1-30 = act 1, 31-60 = first half of act 2 ending at the midpoint, 61- 90 = the second half of act 2, and pages 91-120 = act 3. Bear in mind that any act could have more or less pages. But at the end of each act comes a major turning point for the story.

Multiply that out for a novel of 300 pages you’d have pages 1-75 = act 1, 76-150 = the first half of the second act ending at the midpoint, 151-225 = the second half of act 2, and 226-300 = act 3. In between those act breaks, you’ll have smaller twists, turns, and surprises. Lots of room to explore.

As I admitted, I’m a pantser, but here’s the ‘sort of.’ When I write a novel, I have a general sense of the ending and I make a guess at the act breaks (including the midpoint) before I start. I may or may not have an idea of the major theme. Of course there will be lots of those twists and turns between the act breaks that I haven’t discovered yet, but I use the major turning points of the story as a ‘candle in the window’ to aim for as I explore. I also leave myself a lot of flexibility. If I discover something which will make a better act break, I’ll replace the original one.

Using this method has given me the freedom to explore while writing and to still head my story in a forward direction. At the end of the first draft, I still say bad words, bang my head against the wall, and then start the rewrite process to tighten the writing, the acts, and to heighten any themes which have emerged.

This process isn’t for everyone, but I wanted to share it in case it includes things that might help another pantser.

Blurb

LSToPrintA fall from grace costs Lexi a position at a top New York financial institution. She ends up in a job at a small private bank in Beverly Hills. But that’s okay, she still gets to work in her favorite field – catching white collar crooks. At least that’s what she tells herself. But when Karista, the daughter of one of the bank’s principal investors, runs into danger while traveling in Indonesia, Lexi’s job comes to depend on her ability to save her. Even worse, Lexi will have to baby sit Steve, her boss’ well-meaning but spoiled son, while going undercover to reach the heiress. Lexi’s unwanted tropical assignment soon spirals into chaos as she has to outrun fashion-forward Batak natives, outwit an arrogant FBI agent, help Steve find his stolen Air Yeezy sneakers, and figure out why her ardent former lover and debonair gentleman thief, Andre, has arrived at the same jungle resort. Lexi will have to be very good or very lucky to survive it all.

To learn more about or purchase Land Sharks – A Swindle in Sumatra, go to
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B017O27SJM

Bio

Headshot-NancyRavenSmithNANCY RAVEN SMITH grew up in Virginia where she ran horse sport events. On her farm, she rescued horses, dogs and cats and is an advocate for animal rescue. Later in California, she traded her event experience for film work. Her screenplays have won numerous major awards. Raven Smith decided to write one idea as a novel and discovered a passion for writing mysteries. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Women in Film, and Romance Writers of America.

To find more information about Nancy Raven Smith and her writing – www.NancyRavenSmith.com
www.Facebook.com/NancyRavenSmithWriter
www.TheReluctantFarmerofWhimseyHill.com

Cindy here again.

Thanks for the post, Nancy! I’m more plotter now than pantser but I used to be a pantser. I think I fall somewhere in the middle now.

Happy writing!

Story or Character – Which Came First?

Welcome to the blog! Thanks for stopping by. Today I have Trevann Rogers talking about how some of her characters came to be.

Here’s Trevann!

I’m often asked if I come up with the story or the characters first. That’s an easy one–it’s always the characters.

My process is interesting and substantially out of my control. Something will catch my attention–usually a song or music video–and someone pops into my head. Naturally he or she is not yet three dimensional, just a kernel of some emotion that has snared my heart. Yes, I said heart. I fall in love with all my heroes and heroines.

I remember once I watched a video by an artist who wasn’t usually my style, but the song hooked me–Time Waits for No One. It’s the tale of a woman telling her man that she wasn’t going to wait for him forever.

Wow.

At the end of the video, it cuts to a street musician, standing on a dark city street in the light of one lone lamp post, playing a soulful, wailing guitar. I know it sounds simple but trust me, it was one of the most compelling– and one of the sexiest– images I’d ever seen. I wondered, was he waiting for someone? Was he lonely? Did he have anywhere to call home? Did anyone appreciate how talented he was, or how beautiful? I played the clip many times as his story revealed itself to me.

He was a street musician, making his way on his incredible talent, musical and otherwise, while he waited for his life to happen. Late one night, he nodded to two pretty young women as they walked by his spot under the street light. They smiled at him…and none of their lives were ever the same.

This bit of fantasy turned into a sexy short story, then a part of the backstory for my incubus rock star wannabe Cheyenne and the two vampires who inadvertently change his life forever.

And these characters changed mine. As for their stories, HOUSE OF THE RISING SON is the first, but there are more–they’re still unfolding. Stay tuned.

HouseOfTheRisingSon72smHouse of the Rising Son
Living After Midnight, Book 1

Cheyenne is a half-human incubus whose star is on the rise in the Unakite City rock scene. His father, the leader of the supernatural races, would prefer he keep a “low profile”, but screw that. Cheyenne has as much music in his veins as royal incubi blood.

Alexander’s future is all set—finish law school, join the family firm, and marry someone who’d be good for business. Not that he has a say in any of it. He’s barely met the woman his father expects him to marry.

As Cheyenne’s musical career takes off, his carefully constructed life begins to unravel, exacerbated by an ex-lover who can’t let go, a crotchety barkeeper with a dirty mind and a pure heart, a drag queen who moonlights as a nanny, and Alexander—who’s not sure if he’s falling for the incubus or the rocker.

Cheyenne denies who he is, while Alexander hides what he wants. Together, they learn that getting what they truly want means being who they truly are.

~~
You can find House of the Rising Son on:
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/House-Rising-Living-After-Midnight-ebook/dp/B014SIHRBO/

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/house-of-the-rising-son-trevann-rogers/1122604899?ean=9781619231238

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/house-of-the-rising-son/id1036093537?mt=11

All Romance: https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-houseoftherisingson-1881766-145.html

Samhain Publishing: https://www.samhainpublishing.com/book/5575/house-of-the-rising-son

Trevann Rogers writes urban fantasy and LGBT paranormal romances. Her stories incorporate an unquenchable addition to music and her love for vampires, Weres, incubi and rock stars. Like these elusive creatures, Trevann learned long ago that sometimes being yourself means Living After Midnight.

You can find Trevann online at:
www.trevannrogers.com
www.facebook.com/trevannr
www.pinterest.com/trevannr
Twitter: @TrevannRogers

Cindy here again!

Thanks for guesting, Trevann. Music helps me come up with stories too. I usually have the story first though, then the characters.

Happy writing!

How to Develop a Gripping Character

Welcome back to the blog! Today I have Laurel S. Peterson talking about creating characters.

Here’s Laurel!

Copyright Ute-Christin Cowan www.utechristinphotography.com

Copyright Ute-Christin Cowan www.utechristinphotography.com

Many ways exist to develop a good character, and I imagine each of you has your own favorite way. I like to start with an exercise I got from Elizabeth Eslami, the author of the short story collection Hibernate and the novel Bone Worship. Liz suggests writing for twenty minutes, beginning with All s/he wanted was….

This opens up an initial character desire—chocolate ice cream, maybe, or a new Porsche, or a trip to the Seychelles. Then, Liz says to write for an additional twenty minutes to figure out where that desire originates. Did chocolate ice cream remind the character of the last day he spent with his mother before she died, when they watched the ducks and he bought her a chocolate ice cream that dripped down the front of her blouse? Or maybe the new Porsche would finally make him a viable candidate for marriage in the eyes of his socialite girlfriend.

Everything in the story can connect to that desire. Desire propels us to action; if he wants a Porsche to get the girl, then he needs a good job. What skills or evil manipulation should he employ to get that job? Who stands in his way? Why doesn’t that person, maybe the son of his employer, want him to have the girl, the job, the car? Does he want the job for himself, so he can become company president? Does he also want the girlfriend—because she is beautiful? Because she is perfectly placed in society to advance his own plans for… a house in the Seychelles? Because what he really wants is to sell this company and retire early to play professional tennis?

This set of conflicting desires leads to theme. Does greed drive both these men? If so, how can the writer develop that theme? Maybe the girlfriend is also driven by greed, but greed for attention or beauty products or a personal shopper at Bloomingdale’s. Can the writer portray the setting—Wall Street, Montana oil country, Hollywood—in such a way that the reader sees greed everywhere: in the contrast between chauffeur-driven cars and guys with pedi-cabs, between women buying farmer’s market vegetables and men diving for food in dumpsters. All elements of a story can be used to reinforce a character’s internal state.

My protagonist Clara Montague, from my new book Shadow Notes, is driven by her need to understand the origins of her psychic gift. To do that, she needs to understand her mother, a mother who has always shut Clara out. But now, there’s been a murder, and if Clara can’t get her mother to talk to her, they may both end up dead. Greed definitely informs my book; prying into someone else’s griefs and past can be greedy, and Clara’s determination to own that information about her mother is mirrored in other’s characters’ greed for power and information.

We are driven by needs and desires. Why are so many of us sitting in front of our computers writing novels? What do we want that to bring us? Is it money? friends? a sense of competence or success? We can’t always name those motivations clearly for ourselves, but when it comes to our characters, the better we know what’s going on under the surface, the more we can employ those motivations to make our characters come alive on the page. What tools do you use to bring your characters’ motivations to life?

I’d love to hear from you, and good luck!

Shadow Notes will be released by Barking Rain Press on May 17!

Find her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laurel.peterson.33
Check out her website: www.laurelpeterson.com

Cindy here again!

Thanks for this suggestion. I like the exercise and will try it with my next story.

Happy writing!

SWEET AND SPICY – EATING/READING-WRITING

Welcome back to the blog. Today I’ve got author Kimbra Kasch talking about how reading/writing is a lot like cooking.

Here’s Kimbra!

Maybe you’ve never thought about it before but reading is a lot like cooking. Sometimes we want something sweet like a slice of cake or a piece of pie.

CakeDecorated

And there are days when all we want is something savory or spicy – like Cajun rubbed Pork chops with salsa

CajunRubbedPorkChops

or chicken or thyme roasted chicken.

ChickenAndThyme

And there are days when all we want is a quick little beach read like Dewey the Small Town Library Cat but there are other days when we want to get immersed in a mystery…like Gone Girl.

But whether we are baking or reading or even writing we need to consider a few important things:

  1. The Ingredients.

When we’re talking food, we’re talking about the appropriate spices and articles to make sure we have on hand, like thyme, chicken, lemon, limes, etc.

And when we’re talking about reading or writing, we want to make sure we have the characters who can provide enough sweetness to whet our appetites for more. We have to have a reason to care about the characters we’re reading about, or we’ll be tempted to go back out into the kitchen for that second piece of cake or another slice of sweet juicy pie.

But then, we also need the character to have something he/she is fighting for, whether it’s survival or that first loving kiss. And it has to be savory enough to leave us feeling satisfied at the end of the chapter or we won’t want to turn the page to find out what happens next.

  1. Instructions: Baking Time.

When we are cooking, we have to know how long we have to bake the pie or cook that chicken and it’s the same with reading or writing. We don’t want to have everything finished too soon or we will close the book before we even finish the story…maybe even the first chapter. The writer has to leave the reader wanting to go on…

  1. Optional Seasonings.

A chef or even a good home cook knows how much seasoning to add to the pot of soup or to rub on the roasted chicken. Too much salt can ruin a good stew. And it’s just the same with a good book. If there isn’t a good balance of sweet to spicy we can feel overwhelmed with syrupy sugar or we can be searching the table for a cold glass of milk to quench the hot spice burning our mouths. Cooks often ask others to “take a taste. And this is where critique partners come into play. A good writer always has a couple “readers” take a “taste” of the story and give their opinion whether it is sweet enough or spicy enough to hold their interest.

  1. Proper Serving.

It is often said that we taste first with our eyes…so with a book is that the cover? 😀

Well, the truth is, it usually isn’t difficult to find people willing to take a beautiful piece of pie off your hands but it isn’t always so easy to find readers willing to take a chance with an unknown author. This is where marketing comes into play…but that’s an entirely different post. . .

I hope I’ve whet your appetite for another post on marketing and perhaps Mouthwatering Mussels or should that be muscles . . . ?

Mussels

 

THE CATS OF CULLABY CREEK

BLURB:

CatsOfCullabyCreekCoverWhen Savannah meets Kyle, its love at first sight. And why wouldn’t it be? He’s perfect, as far as she can tell. But when she starts finding dead animals in her yard and hears something scratching at her window at night, she starts to worry. What’s worse? Kyle appears whenever things go wrong. Maybe he isn’t everything she thought he was. It’s a complete mystery until she discovers the water in Cullaby Creek is being bottled and sold as vitamin “infused” water. Mistic Water promises the impossible. And then, like a magical elixir, it delivers. People who drink it feel younger, smarter, faster…healthier. But it doesn’t take long before side effects hit. Everyone begins to change or “tate”. Some are becoming dangerous animals. Literally. And the secret to what they are tating into has to be in the water…or is it something more?

 

 

KIM’S AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE

http://www.amazon.com/Kim-Kasch/e/B00ZOAUKMO/

GOODREADS

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/15278287-kimbra-kasch

YOU CAN BUY KIM’S BOOKS HERE:

AMAZON

iBOOK

SOCIAL MEDIA SITES:

And join me on Twitter or stop by and see what I’m pinning on  Pinterest and, if you’ve read one of my books and have a question or simply want to share a comment, please feel free to send me an email. I love connecting with readers.

Find Kimbra on Facebook

Check out Kimbra’s  Website

Cindy here again

I’ve never looked at it this way. Very interesting.

Happy writing!

Life and loving in remote Vietnam

Hi everyone. Welcome back to the blog. Dusting things off around here I see it’s been a while since my last post. I’m going to fix that with regular (I hope) Wednesday guest posts. First up we have author Adam Mann talking about writing romance.

Here’s Adam:

Hi, my name’s Adam Mann and I live and write in a mountainous area in the north of Viet Nam.

Why Viet Nam, I hear you ask?

I came to work here in 1997, and I’ve been here ever since apart from some short inputs in Cambodia and Malaysia. Before that I had worked in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa for more years than I care to record. My work was always with low income families in villages in remote areas, and basically I had to try to develop some sort of sustainability within their livelihoods, so that they didn’t always have to live from hand to mouth.

I retired four years ago and started to write romance novels.

Why romance novels, you frowned at me.

Well I’ve always enjoyed my family life, in spite of dislocations and difficulties. As you can imagine working in remote areas, with limited electric power, and very limited communications is not for everybody, especially wives and families. The result was I’ve been married four times – the first ended with three children and unfortunately I became a widow; the next produced another child but the remoteness ended that in a divorce. The third was quite humorous; I met a devastatingly beautiful lady from the Gujarat. We found we liked one another, and that like became love and marriage until one day her first husband turned up! Really not joking! She told me that she thought she was divorced, but her family explained to me that a divorce from an arranged marriage is very complicated, and that marriage had to be dissolved.

In Viet Nam I tried to learn the language! I employed a young lady as a teacher, and she complained to me that I never had a social life outside my work. She started to introduce me to her friends, and I’m a sucker for drop dead gorgeous, especially dark haired beautiful widows, so she brought with her three teenage children, and now between us we have seven adult children, and four grandchildren.

Now you ask again why romance novels? After four wives, not to mention the ladies in between that I can’t mention, I think that I do know a thing or two about love, passion and marriage, in detail.

Most of the time I dream up stories whilst I am supposed to be sleeping, and I get up and write down the outline of the plot often in the middle of the night. When I start writing in the morning the actual details may change a bit, and sometimes that is decided by my characters in the story! I have to keep a careful track of my characters’ names, and I try not to duplicate them.

Now my books, I know you’ve been dying to ask me.

I only write Happy Ever After endings, but of course with some complications and problems in the story, but I find that I couldn’t write sloppy sex; it just wasn’t real – it takes more than a kiss to cement a relationship.

What I don’t like is four letter words, and my reason for that is a bit strange, but many of those four letter words actually mean something quite different in another language, and I know because I’ve worked there. I’m not a prude, and I do use these words when I get attacked by a rose bush or a bee, or I drop something heavy on my toe!

Please have a look at my website: www.adammannauthor.com and you can also find me on Twitter @adammannauthor and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/adammannauthor

The Showers by Adam Mann
Published by Global Publications Group LLC.

BLURB:

The Showers Front CoverBill Harrison meets Helen Roberts, a lovely farmer’s ex-wife at a farmhouse in the West Yorkshire Dales, as he guides a group of guests on a pony trekking holiday.

Helen decides to take the lead and actually joins James in the shower! He soon finds himself helping out on more than a holiday romance, but also some of the guests looking for ancestors in a local church registry; a young student couple running into their own romantic problems; and Amanda, her teenage daughter, who wants to learn to drive.

In the midst of all this the wife’s belligerent former husband, Harry, turns up who had abandoned her and her unborn child nearly twenty years earlier. Harry Townsend is being pursued by the local constabulary on a murder enquiry, and might have been looking for a place to hide out, and reluctantly accepts a small cash handout from Bill.

Then Helen finds that some elements of local society have a memory longer than the twenty years since she divorced her first husband for desertion, and the most spiteful can still remember his name.

The police catch Harry; they overcome local spite and gossip, and Bill and Helen live happily ever after.

This book is sexually explicit and is designed for adults and the over 18’s.

Adam Mann’s Bio:

Adam 200Adam Mann has written twenty-four romance books all based in parts of the world where he has lived and worked. As a result five are in sub-Saharan Africa, eleven are in South or East Asia, and only seven based in the UK. One based in war torn Eastern Sri Lanka is still in draft form.

Adam has been married four times. His first wife died, the second divorced him, the third marriage was annulled as that wife had forgotten to get divorced, and the fourth wife is fit and well. They have between them seven children and four grandchildren. As a result Adam thinks he knows a bit about life and loving.

Adam has lived and worked in Vietnam since 1997, where he lives in a provincial city with his wife, and has a constant stream of visitors from the families of their seven adult children.

Cindy here again.

Thanks for stopping by. Be sure to check in every Wednesday to see what talented author we have talking about writing.

Keep writing

Zoology and writing

ZWelcome back to the blog! Can you believe this is the last day of the A to Z Blogging challenge? I can’t believe I made it! Today on the blog I’ve got Zrinka Jelic talking about zoology.

Here’s Zrinka.

Zoology, or animal biology, is the branch of biology that relates to the animal kingdom, including the structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and distribution of all animals, both living and extinct, and how they interact with their ecosystems.

All veterinary students are required to write a dissertation on this topic. But, today I’ll talk about creative writing and zoology.

Those authors who write children’s stories and use animals for their character, whether they mingle with humans or all characters in the book are animals, and other authors who use animals in their writing, e.g. a paranormal shape shifters most popular werewolf.

No matter what genre we are writing in, if we use animals in our stories, whether they assume animal shape at will, or are animals from the beginning to the end of the book, we need to describe them as such. From their movements, sounds, hunting habits, fur or scales or even feathers, these characters must be authentic to their species. Of course anything goes in paranormal, the werewolves can walk on their hind legs and half human-ish  characteristics or once they shift into wolves they are wolves, who may still think as humans, but are unable to articulate their thoughts. That is why we study animal behaviour, maybe even pick up a few clues from our fur-babies.

The way the dog licks his nuzzle, staring at you while you’re eating that juicy steak. Or a cat pops its head into your plate to see if there’s anything yummy on there. Then there are sounds, like a low whine or a loud meow, alerting you “hey, have you forgotten about me?”

The way they greet you (or not) at the door: tails wagging, pink tongues lolling, loud panting and circling you, and let’s not forget sniffling to make sure you still smell like you. Or perhaps to check that you didn’t pick up smells from some other clan.

So when writing about animals or as I like to call it in general, zoology, research is of essence. Years ago, unless you grew up on the farm or were a veterinarian, you wouldn’t know much about farm animals. Similarly, unless you go on a safari, you wouldn’t see a lion in its natural habitat. Thankfully, today information is at our fingertips and we can watch shows at our leisure from our own sofas and as often as we need to, to capture an animal’s character just right and pass those characteristics onto our heroes and heroines in the books. It’s fine to say that a wolf howled, but if that wolf is your main character, it’s important to know why wolves howl. Usually, to communicate with the wolves from the neighboring territories. Their howl can carry up to 50 kilometres. So if in your story wolves are used instead of human characters, but your animals act so but think and have human’s problems, the way they communicate across the distances must be true to their species. They can’t very well text each other.

Well, that’s it from me on this topic. Hope it gave you a glimpse into much larger theme which is characterization. Only in zoology, we take an animal’s characteristics and apply them to our characters.

RoseofCrimson_MEDMy 5th novel is titled Rose of Crimson and it was released by Secret Cravings Publishing on December 23rd, 2014. This is a prequel to Bonded by Crimson which was published on January 15th, 2012. I’ve started working on the prequel the day I was offered a publishing contract for Bonded by Crimson. Then it got pushed to the back burner while I worked on other projects. Since then I’ve written and published Treasured Chest, a pirate romance, Love Remains, a time travel romance and Deck the Halls, a Christmas novella.

 

KATE ROKOV‘s grades are plummeting. She needs to get the voice out of her head or she will flunk her finals.

MATTHIAS ZRIN, a three centuries old immortal, born into an aristocratic family as Miles Rušinić, is enthralled with Kate. It is his voice preventing Kate from sleeping and her ignorance is testing his limits. He wants her to write down his story to settle his wife’s earthbound spirit. His tragic love story has become Kate’s obsession since fifth grade during her summer trip to Rušinić castle.

Their coming together settles the old spirit and breaks an ancient curse, and in doing so, a flame spanning over three centuries reignites and burns with wild desire. In this tale of two life times and desire versus emotional need, both know some dreams will have to wait for the right time, but the magic between them is impossible to withstand.

You can pick up a copy for your
Kindle
Kobo
Nook
iPad

Find Zrinka on: Amazon  Facebook   Twitter
Visit her  Blog

Cindy here again.

Interesting topic. I want to start a shifter series and will think more in depth now about how they act in human and wolf form.

Keep writing.

 

York has a festival

YWelcome back to the blog! We’re so close to the end. Today I have Amos Cassidy talking about the Festival of York.

Here’s Amos.

Hi, we’re Richard Amos and Debbie Cassidy and we write as Amos Cassidy, and we love being indie authors. The best thing about Indie is the control over what you write, how you package it, where you sell it and when you release it. Being Indie is great, however, last year we began to think that it would be nice to have our fingers in the traditional publishing pie, so we signed up to attend the huge Festival of Writing event in York last September.  So what happened? Well we made some fab author friends, got to ask a bunch of burning questions to people who worked in the industry and attended a load of workshops that opened our eyes to several errors we were making – not only in our writing, but in our approach to traditional publishing.

We had our one-to-one sessions with agents and received some very positive feedback. By the end of the stay we had received four requests for full manuscripts.

We have since learned that an agent requesting a full manuscript does not guarantee an offer of representation. Having done some research, we found that on average an agent could request 100 – 200 full manuscripts a year. Out of this number maybe 5-10 will be selected for representation. Smaller agencies will have smaller numbers. So, as you can imagine, any manuscript would have to not only be exceptionally written, but also excite the agent on a personal level.

We have yet to receive that call. Until then, we continue to write; both for the self publishing market and other projects aimed more at traditional publishing.  We have learned so much over the past 6 months and we would like to share a few tips that may help if you decide to poke a finger in the traditional publishing pie.

 

  1. Don’t just write for the market– The market is ever changing; even the publishers don’t know what will be hot next. You need to write what excites you. If you struggle to get into the story then how do you expect your readers to feel?
  2. Do not underestimate the importance of a solid covering letter – This is your first impression. If you are sloppy here then the agent will assume that your submission is sloppy. A lot of submissions are simply rejected because of a sloppy or untidy covering letter. Agents get hundreds of submissions; make sure you follow the guidelines so you don’t get added to the trash. Remember to address your letter to the agent personally and tell them why you have chosen them. Don’t go on and on about yourself unless the information is relevant to what you have written. For example, if you have written a Psychological Suspense and are a psychiatrist or have a MA in Psychology then by all means let them know. Otherwise, there is no need to go into detail. At this stage the agent simply wants to know about your novel and any writing history – publication in journals, magazines etc…
  3. Make your manuscript sparkle– Ideally you should stick your first draft in a drawer for a few weeks and come back to it. Go over it with a critical eye, self-editing it as you go. If you are unsure about grammar and punctuation there are loads of books and online tools on how to get to grips with it. Also, you can get it professionally edited. Otherwise, you can get it proof-read. Beta readers are always a good idea, they will look for plot holes and inconsistencies. A great resource of information is the ‘Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook Guide to Getting Published by Harry Bingham’
  4. Do your research– Agents are people too, they have likes and dislikes, they are not generic representation machines. What excites one agent may put another to sleep. Read their bio’s, do a little Twitter stalking and check out Writer’s Digest online. All invaluable in helping you make the decision about which agents to approach. Remember that an agent-author relationship is just that, a relationship, and it won’t work if you don’t have anything in common.
  5. Do make multiple submissions– You can submit to more than one agency at a time, but check their submission requirements as some like to be informed if you are doing this.
  6. Be patient– It can take on average up to 8 weeks to get a response to a submission, and if they request a full manuscript then there is another wait, anything from 1 month to 3. Every agency has their own guidelines as to times and acknowledgements, which is why submitting to more than one agent is a good idea.
  7. Never give up – Keep going. If you want to write then write and keep on doing it. We know what it’s like to feel down at times, but we can’t stop. Writing is in our blood. Never try and shut down that feeling of the love of telling a story as it will never go away. Embrace it and soldier on!

 

There are plenty of online resources with tips on how to formulate that perfect covering letter and how to format your completed manuscript. You are not alone. Having done a ton of research ourselves, we are happy to answer any questions you may have on the subject.

Writing Festivals and workshops are fantastic for making connections with like-minded people, picking up tips and expanding your mind. If you are serious about traditional publishing, and can afford to go, then we would highly recommend attending one.

Cindy here again.

This makes me want to go to a writing festival. Good thing they have one around here every year.

Keep writing.

Xenogenesis: On the art of creation

XWelcome back to the blog! For the A to Z Blogging challenge today I’ve got Amber Butler talking about Xenogenesis.

Here’s Amber.

Xenogenesis is the laboratory creation of an organism that is completely different from either of its parents.

This, I feel, is fantastically relevant to writing.

Our books and stories are organisms. We breathe life into them and birth them and let them wander our world like toddling children, and they may be the class clown or the class bully or the kid who sits under the window and eats paint and they may make friends or they may make enemies but they are alive and apart from us and once we have sent them into the world they grow without us tending them.

Our stories are sometimes created organically, from the fusion of multiple ideas. You may wake up one morning and find a character has walked through your dreams and whispered his story to you and you are merely the caretaker and must tend to the story and feed it and nurture it and kiss its knee when it falls off its bike and eventually let it go.

And these stories are good. They are necessary and cherished but are not what this blog post is about. This post is about the willful creation of things unlike other things. This post is about taking your writing down new and previously unforged paths.

It is, in short, how to intentionally design your stories to be organisms completely different from the things you’ve done before.

 

  1. Read outside your genre

This age-old bit of wisdom never rings truer than when you are trying to create something unique. Go to your local bookstore and wander into a corner you’ve never wandered into before. Pick up a book that looks like something that wouldn’t interest you if the apocalypse had destroyed all other books and this was your last hope for any reading material until the end of time. Reading outside your genre will stretch you as an author in ways that will lend remarkable authenticity to your story. Only write YA dystopian? Read a (good) romance novel. Even if your main character only has one scene where his/her heart pounds after the boy/girl in gym class, that wisdom you’ve stored up from extragenre reading will make your readers’ hearts pound, too. Only write romance novels? Read a good mystery. You get the idea.

 

  1. Write outside your genre.

I don’t mean whole novels. If you asked me to write a romance novel I’d put the characters in a spaceship fleeing a ravaged post-World War III earth and make a love triangle with an alien, a robot, and a sentient, formless being made of light. I’m a scifi/fantasy geek at heart and you can’t remove that part of me. However, short stories and flash fictions are the way to practice your writing chops in areas where you don’t have any. There are tons of places to find writing prompts (the sub-Reddits “Writing Prompts” and “Prompt of the Day” happen to be my favorites) and make yourself write in a genre you wouldn’t normally write in. For instance, I found a prompt that was an image of a storm in a sky and immediately wrote a story about a woman who collected weather patterns and kept them in mason jars in her closet. If I were practicing extragenre discourse, I would have written about wandering a well-worn path pining for a lost love, or combing the beaches to find pieces of a missing body, or fighting the battle of Gettysburg under a dark sky.

  1. Write a sentence. Erase it. Write the opposite.

Sometimes sentences and characters and plots are born from that organic merging of other sentences and characters and plots and are beautiful in their own right. But when you are trying to create something that is genuinely unique, you may have to go against the instincts of your own brain, which tends toward the familiar in almost all things.

“So, how’s the weather?”

I grimaced. I hate making small talk. Small talk and people and weather are tedious and boring and make me want to drink a cup of coffee still steaming, make me want to throw that coffee in other people’s faces.

I grinned. I love making small talk. Small talk and people and weather are fascinating and infinite and make me want to share a steaming cup of coffee with them, find out how many creamers they take, listen to every story they have to tell.

I watched her. She would never pay attention to me, the weird boy with the cartoon hair and the lisp. I watched the way her blond curls bounced when she jumped and the way her lips opened too wide on the right when she laughed and the way she wiped the mud from playing in the creek bed off on her pants.

I watched him. He would never pay attention to me, the weird boy with the cartoon hair and the lisp. I watched the way his blond curls bounced when he jumped and the way his lips opened too wide on the right when he laughed and the way he wiped the mud from playing in the creek bed off on his pants.

Notice there is nothing wrong with the crossed out version. It is simply what came to my mind first. I erased it, then wrote something else. In this way you can create characters that are different from the characters your brain is used to reading and writing. Your stories will have a surprising bit of nuance and depth and take you places you never thought you could go.

 

  1. Make a Random Character Chart

As you are creating your characters and deciding on their motivations and loves and hates and how they act in the plot, this idea may help if your creativity seems to be stuck. Make a character list, but don’t name your characters or define them in any way other than their emotional and mental attributes. Your list may look something like this:

Character 1                                Character 2

Abandoned at birth                  Abandoned at birth

Grew up in orphanage             Best friends with Character 1

Kind hearted and generous     Kind but selfish

Loyal                                           Wants what is best for Character 2

In love with Character 2          In love with Character 3

Then make several lists defining characteristics such as physical appearance and sexual orientation.

Tall/Short/Average Height/Etc

Chiseled Jaw/Pock-faced/Beard/Etc

Fat/Thin/Muscular/Athletic/Etc

White/Black/Asian/Middle Eastern/Etc

Gay/Straight/Transsexual/Etc

Clumsy/Gymnast/Athlete/Disabled/Etc

Boy/Girl/Etc

You get the idea.

Next, get the dice.

You see where this is going.

Roll dice to match each character with their traits. Obviously you are the artist and can veto whatever you want, but this will help put a large distance between you and the awkward-but-adorably-clumsy teenage girl who is different because she likes to read books, the ruggedly-handsome-but-ultimately-wild-and-dangerous boy she is in love with, and the nerdy-and-goofy-but-equally-adorable boy she is also in love with.

  1. Read the Greats

You probably have this one covered, but in case you don’t, do it. A good rule of thumb: If anyone ever says, “Your book reminded me of ____,” read that book.

If you write mystery or horror, read King. If you write fantasy, read Gaiman. If you write speculative or dystopian fiction, read Atwood. If you write sci fi satire, read Pratchett and Adams. If you write YA lit, read Green. Is this an exhaustive list? Obviously not, but you get the idea.

11167433_10106473932933384_763294257_oRead them slowly. Don’t rush. Savor the words, like a warm, juicy, red steak, let the prose dissolve on your tongue and trickle down your throat and fill up your stomach and you will find your own words and worlds enhanced. There is nothing wrong with reading authors who are not considered “great” or who are not well known–in fact, I highly recommend it as there are some breathtaking hidden gems out there. But too frequently authors don’t read the ones who others consider to be the peak of their genre, sometimes out of moral repugnancy (“I refuse to bow to the whims of publishing companies!”) sometimes out of ignorance (“Levithan who?”) but it never bodes well and almost always ends in subpar prose and rehashed plot lines and stale characters and awkward dialogue. Read much, and read often, and always, always, read the greats.

Bio: A K Butler publishes a blog where you can read her short stories and flash fictions for free. She has written a YA science fiction novel, The Burning of Cherry Hill, which is available on Amazon. She is frequently found on Twitter fangirling over books she loves, Firefly, and Doctor Who. You can also find her on Facebook.

Cindy here again.

Great tips. I do try to read outside my favourite genres and I challenge myself to write things I wouldn’t normally write.

Keep writing.

W is for writer

WWelcome back to the blog! We’re in the home stretch for the A to Z Challenge. Today I have Joanne Guidoccio talking about being a writer.

Here’s Joanne.

W is For Writer Or…

Fellow GWIN member Lisa Ivaldi asked, “Do you want me to add Writer or Author to your profile?

My heart beat faster as I considered the implications of both titles.

According to the dictionary, a writer “expresses ideas in writing” or “is engaged in literary work” while an author is an “originator or creator of written work.”

The definitions appear similar, but there is a definite difference, one clearly articulated by many English teachers: “You become an author when your books are published, but if your writings never publish, you remain a writer.”

Best-selling author  Dean Wesley Smith  has a different take on it.

He strongly believes that “a writer is a person who writes; an author is a person who has written.” According to Smith, writers focus on the process of writing and as soon as they publish one book they’re onto the next. On the other hand, authors devote their energies to promoting their book instead of writing the next one.

Having written more than 100 novels and 200 short stories, it is no surprise that Smith considers himself a writer. And his final advice is sound: “Authors are missing the best promotion tool there is for their old books. Their next book.”

While I agree with Smith’s advice, I tend to gravitate toward the more traditional definition of an author. The word has a more professional ring to it, declaring a writer is finally taking her craft seriously.

A fact that wasn’t so apparent when I first launched my second act as a writer.

For three years, I dabbled. Travel writing. Business articles. Blogging, Poetry. Cozy mysteries. Angel stories. Memoirs.  Fantasy. Depending on which online course or workshop I attended, I immediately embraced the new genre and tried my hand at it.

I met with modest success and enjoyed seeing my articles, book reviews and short stories appear in newspapers, magazines and online. Interestingly enough, most editors included the following short bio: “Joanne Guidoccio is a Guelph writer.”

But with three novels—Between Land and Sea, A Season for Killing Blondes, The Coming of Arabella— completed and contracted, I feel confident and ready to call myself an Author.

Guidoccio 001Bio:

In high school, Joanne dabbled in poetry, but it would be over three decades before she entertained the idea of writing as a career. She listened to her practical Italian side and earned degrees in mathematics and education. She experienced many fulfilling moments as she watched her students develop an appreciation (and sometimes, love) of mathematics. Later, she obtained a post-graduate diploma as a career development practitioner and put that skill set to use in the co-operative education classroom. She welcomed this opportunity to help her students experience personal growth and acquire career direction through their placements.

In 2008, she took advantage of early retirement and decided to launch a second career that would tap into her creative side and utilize her well-honed organizational skills. Slowly, a writing practice emerged. Her articles and book reviews were published in newspapers, magazines, and online. When she tried her hand at fiction, she made reinvention a recurring theme in her novels and short stories. A member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, and Romance Writers of America, Joanne writes paranormal romance, cozy mysteries, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.

Links

Website:   http://joanneguidoccio.com/
Twitter:   https://twitter.com/joanneguidoccio
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/authorjoanneguidoccio
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanneguidoccio
Pinterest:   http://pinterest.com/jguidoccio/
Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7277706.Joanne_Guidoccio
Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Between-Land-Sea-Joanne-Guidoccio-ebook/dp/B00F9U5Q50

Cindy here again.

Interesting thoughts on the writer versus author question.

Keep writing.

Kris Bock on Voice

VWelcome back to the blog! Today for the A to Z Blogging Challenge I’ve got Kris Bock talking about voice. A strong voice is something writers are told they need but a lot of them have no idea what it is.

Here’s Kris.

There’s nothing like having your own “slush pile” to give insight into what editors see. I’ve judged or critiqued several writing contests and critiqued conference manuscripts. Some of the entries were fairly advanced, but only a couple were publishable. I saw many of the same problems over and over.

The better novels had an interesting character and plot (at least so far as I could judge based on the 10-20 pages I had). The weakness was typically in the voice. Voice can be one of those hard-to-define, “I’ll know it when I see it” things. It’s also often viewed as something instinctive, almost magical. Perhaps for those reasons, many people don’t try to learn voice.

But “voice” really just means style, and of course there are many techniques you can learn to improve your style. Some are simple, some more complex and harder to master. That’s a good thing, as we can keep learning, step-by-step.

Steps in Dialogue

For example, dialogue attributions must, at a minimum, be clear, so the reader is never confused about who is speaking. But even clear attributions can make the dialogue either flow smoothly or sound clunky. For strong dialogue, first you might learn to use “said” rather than fancy alternatives that call attention to themselves and look amateurish, such as demanded, inquired, responded, suggested, etc.

Next you might learn that you don’t have to identify the speaker with every line, if the speaker is clear from the conversational pattern. You can start cutting a few of those repetitive saids.

Then you might learn that you can often identify the speaker with an action or gesture, and cut the dialogue attribution altogether. (Ironically, now you’re removing nearly all of those saids that you included in the first step.) Not only does this make the dialogue smoother, but it helps keep readers grounded in the scene because they can picture the characters as they move, gesture, and change expression.

Other areas where voice comes into play are pacing, close point of view, and showing rather than telling. I don’t have time to explore all that here, but once again those are areas where you can make small steps toward ultimately strong writing.

Is a strong voice the key to writing success? Not necessarily. Some published works get by with weak voice because of a marketable hook, a dramatic plot, or the author’s fame. And voice alone won’t interest editors or readers unless you have the concept, character, and plot to support the voice. But improving your writing style bit by bit can make the difference between almost-there and success.

So how do you learn these lessons? Fortunately, you have lots of options!

Keep Learning

  • Courses through correspondence schools, or local classes, workshops and conferences with a craft focus.

 

  • Books on the craft of writing. My book Advanced Plotting covers pacing, with articles on how to build a scene and writing cliffhanger chapter endings. I like Scene and Sequence, by Jack Bickham, Manuscript Makeover, by Elizabeth Lyon, and my favorite for style, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. I’ve been hearing good things about The Emotion Thesaurus

 

  • Blogs are a great not only because they are free, but because you can learn a little bit every week or every day. Besides this one, check out Fiction Universityby Janice Hardy, and Jodie Renner Editing. And you’ll find my blog, with lots of information on showing versus telling, pacing, and more, at Write like a Pro! Scroll down to the labels on the right to see past topics.

 

  • Critique groups and other beta readers are also a big help. If you don’t have experienced critique partners, cultivate some. Some regional writing groups help match up critique partners. Listserves or discussion boards are another way to connect with people.

 

  • Finally, unless your critique partners are all professional writers and editors, chances are eventually you will go as far as you can with their help. Then it may be time to hire a professional editor, or at least get a critique at a conference. Many well-published writers and writing teachers can be hired for private critiques (myself included; see rates and recommendations on my blog). You can even hire some well-known former editors from traditional publishing houses. In addition, some agents and editors occasionally give free critique feedback on their blogs, typically of query letters or first pages.

 

It’s easy to feel impatient and want publication now. It’s tempting to believe that since you took one course or read a couple of books on writing, you’re ready to submit your work. But learning to write well is a long, ongoing process. I’ve been writing for over 20 years and teaching for 10. I have about 30 traditionally published children’s books as well as self published novels for children (written as Chris Eboch) and adults (written as Kris Bock). And I keep learning. The market is harder than ever, so give yourself every advantage. Who doesn’t want a few new tools in their bag of tricks?

Besides, the journey is half the fun! We can’t control the end result, so we might as well enjoy and grow from the process.

Happy writing,

Chris

Kris Bock writes romantic adventures involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. The Mad Monk’s Treasure and The Dead Man’s Treasure follow treasure hunts in the New Mexico desert; Whispers in the Dark involves archaeology and intrigue among ancient ruins; and in Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. Visit www.krisbock.com or sign up for Kris Bock newsletter. http://eepurl.com/5Dd_f

Kris writes for children under the name Chris Eboch. Her novels for ages nine and up include Bandits Peak, a survival thriller; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy, The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

Cindy here again.

Great tips about voice. I will have to check out some of those books.

Keep writing.

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