The importance of critique partners

Welcome back! Today we have Alexa Bourne talking about how important it is for improving your craft to have good critique partners.

Here’s Alexa!

I signed my first writing contract back in December 2011 and I can honestly say I NEVER would have gotten there without my critique partner. Yes, having people tell you how great your story is and how awesome you are is very important, but a true writer needs the person (or people) who will tell her what’s wrong with a story.

My road to my perfect critique partner (CP, for short) wasn’t always easy. In fact, more often than not I had a BAD experience. I had a woman who told me what was wrong and how she would fix it (basically rewriting my story). I had good critiquers who stayed with me through one book but then realized they didn’t want to be writers anymore. I had another critique partner who worked with me during one book and then she and her family moved away and she didn’t want to keep critiquing by email. I had critique partners who didn’t really know how to write (and we didn’t stay partners for long). But I knew I needed someone to help me so I kept looking until I found my perfect critique partner.

Now some people could say they don’t need a critique partner. I’m here to tell you a CP can be crucial to success. Is it possible to get published without a critique partner? Of course, but I honestly believe a good CP is worth her weight in gold. A writer might not be able to step back far enough to view her work professionally or objectively. She could be submitting manuscript pages to friends to read and, while the friends may be willing to help, they may not understand the details included in becoming a professional writer. A good critique partner can be those eyes and that professional guidance.

Silent Surrender CoverWhat is a perfect critique partner? A perfect critique partner is the writer who is right for you at that specific time. It is a person who can give you guidance, who can point out what does and doesn’t work. It is someone you trust to be honest with you and someone you know who wants what is best for you and your work. It may seem simple, but we’re asking people to tell us what is wrong with our babies. We’re asking them to rip apart something we feel great pride and joy in. Hearing your baby is ugly isn’t easy, right? So we need to totally believe in the person giving us that difficult news.

It’s also important that you and your critique partner talk about what you both want in the relationship. The key, as is with most relationships, is communication. If you can’t ask for what you need then you won’t grow as a writer. Some partners only brainstorm with each other and read sections of manuscripts that aren’t making sense. Other partners want to meet or exchange work each week. It’s good to find a partner whose strengths as a writer are different than yours that way you can help each other even more. For example, pace is a main issue for me in my drafts. My CP is excellent at pinpointing where the story begins to drag and when I repeat myself too much. At the same time, I’m really great at catching grammar issues for her, and when the story just doesn’t gel I can usually help her figure out why.

Sometimes a CP can be helpful in another way. When I’ve had a rough writing day, a rejection or a bad review, I’ve sent her some work and asked her to just tell me everything that’s awesome about it. J Do I really believe there’s nothing wrong with that piece? Of course not, but sometimes we just need an ego boost. My relationship with my critique partner is solid enough that she’ll tell me all that’s right on that day and then save all that’s wrong for another round of critiquing.

The right critique partner is invaluable. You can help each other, grow together, and back each other up. It may take quite a while before you find the perfect critique partner for you, but keep looking. Remember how many toads I had to dance with before I found my perfect partner? I guarantee when you do find that perfect partner (or partners), your writing and your future readers will thank you for taking a chance on the partnership!

Be sure to visit Alexa:

Website: www.alexabourne.com

Cindy here again!

Thanks for being here, Alexa. So true about finding a critique partner. I don’t know what I would do without mine.

Happy writing!

 

Cindy

What sells scripts?

Thanks for stopping by the GWN blog. For something a little different, Ann Kimbrough is here to talk about scripts!

Here’s Ann!

It probably comes up wherever screenwriters gather, be it a coffee house or a top-secret bunker for testing high concepts. It’s the perennial screenwriting question – What Sells Scripts?

First, there’s the answer that we all hate: Good Writing. It’s right up there with “we know it when we see it.” I like an answer that actually tells you something you can take and use – even if it hurts. So, here are a few painful words that I’ve heard from producers. Some of these are more about what doesn’t sell scripts, but play along and see which will help you write a script that producers love.

 

NAGGING SCRIPTS. Don’t send out your screenplay if you have a nagging feeling about any part of the script. One Hollywood producer said, “If you know there’s a weakness in your script, you’ve gotta fix that weakness.” According to him, most writers don’t.

I know what he’s talking about. I’ve had that nagging feeling about a scene. And it’s never gonna be one of those easy to fix problems. No… it’ll be a page-one rewrite. Sigh. Why is good advice so hard to take? I hate good advice, but I run with it.

DERIVATIVE SCRIPTS. I believe this trend came about after everyone said to write screenplays that are like something successful, but with a twist. “You should rip out everything in your script that you’ve seen before,” said one producer. Everything? Hold onto your laptops, he wasn’t the only one. A veteran screenwriter/producer said, “Only the originals are successful. The copies – no. You gotta get there first.”

Holy McKee! Forget the page-one rewrite, now I’m reworking my concept. Of course, there’s a fine line in there somewhere. If you’re breaking into the world of working screenwriter, you will need to write scripts that honor produced films. The trick is being aware of how you are making it different, better. Derivative means same, boring. If you can answer how your script is interesting, you’re on the right track.

GO WITH THE FLOW. This is the advice from top Hollywood screenwriters and one drilled into my head by Hal Croasmun of ScreenwritingU. He believes that half of screenwriting is the writer’s ability to write a good script, and half — maybe more than half — is the ability to take notes, play the game and deal with human issues.

Wow. Doesn’t the industry know that I spend my days with a laptop, a copy of “Save the Cat” and a zillion mochachinos? I could be lacking a few social skills. But I have learned that if producers like you, they will want to work with you.

DEAL KILLERS. One producing team spelled it out very clearly. “Several things are real deal killers,” they said. “Poor story structure, poor characterization or a writer that is tone deaf to budget.”

That’s good news, even though slightly offensive to the hearing impaired. We can do this one. (We can do all of them, frankly.) Think fewer locations, fewer actors, fewer explosions.

Quick reference for budgets: $60mil and above is the stuff of tent poles and A-list screenwriters. $40mil to $60mil is a lonely area for most films, as it requires financing help. That means your script will need the go-ahead from a village of decision makers. $40mil down to micro-budget is a thriving market. Entry-level work can be found at the $5mil and below range, with the majority of scripts going directly to Netflix or similar. Some do earn a theatrical release. It’s a great area to find work, as the producers are accessible with multiple projects and they pay. At the very least, this is where you can get your first screen credit.

Some other semi-deal killers are scripts that start slow, backstory, voice-over, long third acts and cookie-cutter characters. “I invest in good parts,” one producer said. I’m sure good parts help him attract good actors.

GOOD TITLES SELL. In a world where everything is moving fast and no one has time to listen, this makes a lot of sense. Come up with a title like “Legally Blonde” and you’ll have instant impact. Give them something that is easy to remember, plus shows the story and it’s a pitch in a title. Hard to do? Definitely, but it is worth your time. No matter the budget level, it takes more than one person to make the decision to option your script. If the person you pitch can turn around and pitch a title that interests another decision maker, you’ve made their life easier. Easy makes you look good.

FIRST TEN PAGES. We’ve all heard that very few scripts are read from page one to the end. Sometimes they’ll give you 30 pages, but in reality you only have around ten. It seems rather harsh, but it’s a time issue thing. It’s like a scene from “The Godfather”: It’s not personal, it’s business. Don’t fight it, just embrace it. Your first ten pages need to deliver on your concept. Period. If a producer is reading your script based on a pitch, it’s because they like the concept. If they are reading your script because your mother dated their uncle, you might want to deliver on the concept in five pages or less.

Is your head spinning yet? I recommend a mochachino, and taking the time to filter all the above through your own creative process and elevate your screenplay. A market is out there waiting for you!

Visit Ann’s website: www.annkimbrough.com
Visit Ann’s Screenwriting blog: http://writeforthescreen.wordpress.com/
Follow Ann on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ScriptLife

Cindy here again!

Thanks for being here Ann.  Great advice. At least I know have the good title part down. For some of my scripts anyway. 🙂

Happy writing!

 

Cindy

Lunch break treat: Writing Short Ficiton

Welcome to a new week! Glad you could join us here at GWN. Today we have Vicki Batman talking about why she likes short reads.

Here’s Vicki!

Ick! I’ve heard people say. Short Fiction? I’d rather read a book.

Well, I would too if the pieces I’m talking about were like the ones I read in high school. My brain still shudders over memories about the one with the killer ants in South America. I don’t mean those kinds of stories.

I confess, I write short romantic comedy. I like to write funny. I like witty banter between the hero and heroine. I like to entertain and give readers something to laugh about. It just comes out of me. And I find it to be just as satisfying as a long book.

I don’t leave out the setting, I describe the characters. The hero and heroine have a problem and 5,000 to 13,000 words later, overcome it.

Frankly, some books should be this short.  🙂

Recently, short fiction has become popular with smart phones. People are reading on the bus, at lunch break, wherever. It’s nice and sweet and gratifying, all in one quick read.

I’ve written as short as 800 words for Woman’s World magazine. Those stories usually are called sweet meets. I’ve sold fourteen stories to the Trues–Love, Romance, and Confession–which are sometimes labeled the sin and repent stories. Only mine aren’t. And I’ve sold to other e-publishers.

So what about you? Are you thinking short fiction isn’t for me? Or maybe you might want to delve a little. Coffeetime Romance has a small piece of mine entitled “Bug Stuff.” Check it out here: http://www.coffeetimeromance.com/FreeReads/bugstuffbyvickibatman.html#.UbJX5-Io7cs

 

SANDIEGOorBUST200x300And if you like “Bug Stuff,” maybe you’ll like “San Diego or Bust,” available at: http://museituppublishing.com

Let’s hear what you think: Short? Long? Anything?

Find Vicki at:

Website: http://vickibatman.blogspot.com
Plotting Princesses: http://plottingprincesses.blogspot.com

Find San Diego or Bust at:

MuseItUp Publishing: http://museituppublishing.com/bookstore2/
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/San-Diego-or-Bust-ebook/dp/B00BXNNO2Y/
And B&N and Smashwords

Cindy here again!

I love writing shorts but I haven’t read many shorts. I will remedy that!

Happy writing.

 

Cindy

Think you have no time to write? You’re right.

Welcome to Friday on the GWN blog! Today we have Lynn Cahoon talking about finding the time to write.

Here’s Lynn!

The problem isn’t in your schedule. The problem is with your thinking. Now before I break into the story about The Little Engine That Could and your eyes glaze over, let’s start over.

You have time to write. You just have to take it.

I can hear the defensive walls being built already and we’re only three paragraphs in to the blog. But truly, the first thing you have to do if you want to find the time to write, is write.

I was one of those people.  You know the ones who come up to authors at signings and smugly say I’m going to write a book. Then they add the next word, and you know as the person walks away, it’s not going to happen. What’s the word? Someday.

Well, sometimes, someday never comes. I got slapped upside the head by fate in 2007. I had just moved across the country (to a flyover state as my son likes to call my new home). When I started a new job and became eligible for insurance, I scheduled my checkups. New dentist. New family doc. Mammogram. All checked off. I was feeling pretty healthy and pleased with myself. Then I was called back to do another mammogram and diagnosed with breast cancer.  And my someday became a question.

So now I write. And I train people in drilling their days down to the basics so they can find time to write as well.  Here’s a few of the tricks I use to get words on the page.

Set a consistent schedule. It doesn’t have to be every day. Except Stephen King writes every day. Just saying. Writing consistently keeps your story in your head, mulling, brewing. And 350 words a day is 10,000 words a month — 120,000 words a year or a full length novel in twelve months. Writing is a job. You need to train yourself to be able to create even when your muse has left the building. The magic comes in the work. Not before.

Just open the document. Sometimes I don’t want to write. I don’t know where the story is going.  Those days, I tell myself all I have to do is open the document. As I read over the last few pages, I’ll see an error or a sentence that needs massaging.  Before you know it, I’ve reached my daily word goal.

Set a weekly word count goal.  Give yourself a goal that’s a stretch, but doable in the time you have.  I like working a week at a time.  Why? If I miss a day, I have six other days to make word count.   Once you know what you can do in a week, you can plan out a schedule, so if you want to pitch a ‘complete’ manuscript at a conference, you’ll know when you have to start to have it finished in plenty of time to be confident in your pitch appointment.

Set an appointment with yourself. Look at your week, and figure out slots of time where you have time. It doesn’t have to be a two hours slot. Maybe it’s only thirty minutes. Or fifteen.  Now that I’ve been writing a while, I can draft 1000 words in an hour.  If you have no time now, you have to give up something else to make the time. Give up an hour of television a day for your dream. Get up thirty minute early to write.  Write on your lunch hour instead of going out with your friends.  What, you thought this would be easy?  Sorry, you have to sacrifice something if you really want to write.

Finally, be honest with yourself about what you want. It’s okay to dream about writing a book someday. But if you don’t prioritize that dream into a goal that’s specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable, and time based (SMART goal), it will always stay a dream.  How bad do you want it?

So what’s your plan to carve out time to work on your dreams?

BIO – Lynn Cahoon is a contemporary romance author with a love of hot, sexy men, real and imagined. Her alpha heroes range from rogue witch hunters, modern cowboys, or hot doctors, sexy in scrubs. And her heroines all have one thing in common, their strong need for independence. Or at least that’s what they think they want.  She blogs at her website www.lynncahoon.wordpress.com

Cindy here again.

Thanks so much for being here, Lynn. I needed this kick in the pants pep talk!

Happy writing.

 

Cindy

Excuse me – Where did you find that world?

Welcome to the GWN blog! Today we have David O Smith talking about one of my problem areas, world building.

Here’s David!

Fiction writers whose works take place in the here and now have it easy. They have a complete, ready-made world in which to set their stories. Those of us who write speculative fiction have extra problems. We not only have to write the story, we have to build a world in which to set it. A world that may be marginally different from the one we live in, or a world that might be totally removed from ours.

Simple, you say. Hie thee off to the nearest library and get yourself into some research. Find the nearest appropriate period in history and learn all about it. So, I’ve got Noggin Halfaxe bouncing around in my skull screaming “Write about me, write about me”. That name sounds like a Viking name so should I spend the next six months studying life in Viking times to give me some grounding for his world? Noggin’s gone off in a huff by then and will never get his story told. Not by me, at any rate.

And how much research can you do for something set in the future, or in somewhere totally different from this world? Anne McCaffery’s “Pern”, say, or Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”.

But you’ve still got to build that world. There will need to be a consistent, cohesive stage for Noggin to strut his stuff on. How do we do that? Ask questions of your characters, something all writers should be very good at. “Well, why the heck do they call you ‘Halfaxe’?”

We still have to answer those story questions, but there are others that we must ask, as well. Start from very basics – “What’s that axe made from, Noggin?”

Beware – world building can be addictive. Yes, another good excuse to do something other than writing – as if we needed one. It’s fascinating to settle down and draw up all the details of a world. I could spend a year or more, full time, creating the planet Noggin lives on, and masses of information about where it is in space, what its sun is like and so on. By that time, of course, poor Noggin has got fed up with waiting and stalked off to raid someone else’s brain, and my work’s wasted. If I put in that much detail most of it will be wasted anyway, because it’s not relevant to Noggin and his life.

Let me give you an example. In one novel I have in progress the world has two moons. One goes round the world in 10 days and the other in 40. It so happens that the world goes round its sun in 400 days (yes, all right, I chose figures to make it easy. You don’t have to make everything hard for yourself, you know). So their calendar divides the year into 10 circuits of one moon (which they call months – I wasn’t feeling very original that day) and that is subdivided into 4 periods of 10 days corresponding to the circuits of the other moon. They call these “Lights”. How long is a day you ask? Sunrise to sunset, and back again. That’s all you (and your characters) need to know.

See what I mean? Build those parts of the world that will affect the life of your characters, your story, but don’t waste time on things that don’t matter.

Noggin’s a sea raider. He spends part of his life sailing over the seas raiding other people’s homes. So the weather, ships and seafaring are going to be crucial things to know about in his world. For one quarter of his year the sun beats down from a cloudless sky, there is no wind and no rain. For another quarter there are violent storms, and the rain comes down in stair rods. For the other two quarters there are steady breezes, the sun is warm, but not blazing hot, and there is a certain amount of refreshing rain. So when will Noggin do his raiding? And how does he tell when the seasons are changing? Does he care if there’s a vast country on the other side of his world that is ruled by Amazons who make Ann Robinson look gentle, and polite, and have only one use for men? Not unless he gets blown there, at which point it becomes part of the story.

It needn’t all come from your brain, of course. If Noggin’s Gods are similar to those of the Vikings that were in this world then, yes, off to the library you go. Be prepared to do some tweaking. If it doesn’t fit, change it. After all, it’s your world. You are the great creator.

Don’t feel you have to do it all at once, tying young Noggin into a corner until you have his world all polished and sparkling new for him to go raiding. You can – but don’t be so drawn into creating his world that you never actually get round to his story. Or you can be like me, start telling the tale, and build the world around it as you go.

And above all – have fun!

Visit David’s Website:  www.davidosmith.co.uk
Follow David on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/BigBassDave

Cindy here again!

Great tips, David! Thanks for sharing your world building techniques with us.

Happy writing.

 

Cindy

What do you mean?

Welcome to the GWN blog and Happy Canada Day! Today is Canada’s 146th birthday.  We’ve got Lynda Kaye Frazier talking about writing communities.

Here’s Lynda!

What do you mean I don’t know how to write?

When I decided to write a book, I did just that. I sat and wrote a book. Easy, right? That’s what I thought.

I had written 137,000 words in two months, I was so excited to write the words ‘The end’ that I sent it right out to friends to read. I felt accomplished, but my balloon burst pretty quickly after a few eye opening critiques. It didn’t take me long to realize that those two little words really meant the beginning. I had no idea where to go but I knew what I needed, help, and lots of it.

I stared at my story and was so lost. I didn’t want to box it up, start over. I worked so hard and my readers said they loved the story line, just not my inability to write. I had no direction on where to get help so I asked my critique partners and after a few weeks I had a list of online writing groups. I quickly researched and realized that there were so many things I needed help with, but I didn’t have a big savings account set aside for my workshops, and some of those sites were expensive. I was heartsick but knew there had to be some groups that were for the struggling writer, eager to learn.  I polled a few of my yahoo groups and found Savvy Authors. It was the one that was recommended for a POV, grammar and punctuation class that quite a few of my critique partners said I needed. And yes, they were right. My grammar sucked.  : )

Savvy Authors 04 - 1.2 Colored SoloI went to their site and found an amazing amount of useful information. They had workshops, seminars, online chats and even pitches with editors. I felt like it was Christmas and I just opened my big gift. They had so many workshops that I wanted to take so I joined the group and started to sign up. I have to say I was in heaven. I took classes, met new friends and formed a bond with this group that has helped me battle through every obstacle that got in my way as I fixed all the mistakes in my book. And let me tell you there were quite a few. My 137,000 words are now 86,742. It took me six months but my book, Rescued from the Dark, is now a published novel and I owe a lot of my success to the help I received at Savvy Authors.

Now for a little humor. I never realized I had to know how to write before I could write a book. I had no idea what POV meant and didn’t know whether I was writing in first or third person.

Just a little example of how inexperienced I was:

Now don’t laugh

I watched the mist clear as the sun came up. Walking through the streets of Dayton was eerie in the morning for me. He moved up the street as the hooded figure moved closer.

I stopped at the corner and waited as he moved closer.  “What do you want?” His face was covered as he talked.

“I want you to stop interfering. Leave my family alone.” Because if you don’t leave us alone you will be the next to die.

I know, cringe, I did

I have mixed in first person, third person, head hopping, telling instead of showing. I could go on, but you get the idea. To think, I had 27 chapters written like this. And you wondered why it took me six months to fix what I did wrong. I commend my instructors for their patience.

So If I were to give any advice to someone who was thinking about writing a book I would tell them to make sure they knew how to write and send them to the Savvy Authors site. It has everything they will need to make their first story one that others will enjoy reading and not cringe after the first page.  : )

Bio: Lynda Kaye Frazier is an avid reader of romantic suspense and started her writing career with a dream. A cliche, but it’s true. She works full time at a Cardiology clinic, while writing her own novels at night. She grew up in Pennsylvania, but now lives in Arkansas where she enjoys the four seasons without a long, cold winter. She has five children and three grandchildren that she adores. Other than spending time with her family, her favorite things to do are writing, reading and listening to music, but her most favorite is going to the beach. Surf, sand and a good book, her stress relief.

Join the Savvy Authors admin and volunteers as we tour the blogosphere in anticipation of the launch of our improved and updated website. We are excited to share our love of Savvy, and all writing communities, with each of you during the summer months. Below is a list of stops we’ll be making – please feel free to stop by and say hello! (and definitely check out the new look of our site)

May 27th – Melinda B. Pierce on Author’s For Life http://authorsforlife.org/under-construction-by-melinda-pierce/

June 10th – Ella Gray on The Speculative Salon http://speculativesalon.blogspot.com/

June 12th – Elizabeth Gibson on Maggie’s Meanderings http://maggiemeandering.blogspot.com/

June 19th – Sharon Pickrel on Pen of the Dreamer http://calisarhose.com/chit-chat/

June 21st – Riley Darkes on Writing Secrets of Seven Scribes http://secretsof7scribes.wordpress.com/

June 25th – Leslie Dow on A Writer’s Musings http://constancephillips.com/blog/

June 24th – Angel on The World in My Hands http://angel-leigh.com/blog/

June 28th – Marilyn Muniz on http://www.marilynmuniz.com/

July 1st – Lynda K. Frazier on Guelph Write Now http://guelphwritenow.com/ <– You are here!!

Rescued From the Dark CoverRescued From the Dark

She has no memory of their love…

Kidnapped by terrorists and sent into a drug-induced coma, FBI intern Mercy Kingsley awakes with no memory of her ordeal—or the intimate interlude that got her pregnant. Convinced her child was fathered by her ex-fiancé, she walks away from the only man she has ever loved, determined to make things work with her ex, a man the FBI suspects is implicated in her abduction.

He knows the truth, but no one will listen…

FBI undercover Agent Jason Michaels remembers what Mercy can’t and those memories are breaking his heart. Forced to keep his distance from his lover and their unborn child, Jason risks his life to protect Mercy from a cell of international terrorists who want the secrets locked in her memory and have vowed to get them, no matter the cost. Can Jason convince Mercy to trust him until she remembers their past, or will he lose her to a man who’ll trap her in a nightmare world of darkness from which there is no escape?

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BFYANMK
B&N:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rescued-from-the-dark-lynda-kaye-frazier/1114500674?ean=2940016369129

Cindy here again!

Thanks so much for being here, Lynda! I’m afraid to go back and look at the first book I wrote. I know it’s horrible and needs a lot of work. But this convinced me I can fix it, even if it does take me six months.

Happy writing!

 

Cindy

Engaging your reader

It’s Friday! Welcome to the GWN blog. Today we have Mary Marvella talking about engaging your reader.

Here’s Mary!

I gave my first ever workshop to a group of writers early in June. I did my first ever PowerPoint presentation.  I do not play well with computers or other technical stuff, but I managed to create slides of participants’ beginnings with my comments and suggestions added.  Most of the writers made the same mistakes. They summarized.  They didn’t draw me in or make me care. When I explained they needed to create scenes so I could experience them with their characters, the writers seemed surprised.

When you have a story to tell you need to decide who is telling the story and how that character feels. Then you must show me how that character feels, hears, smells and tastes.

Example:

Billy was always in trouble.  Telling.

When Billy wasn’t tying his daddy’s shoes laces together while he slept, he tormented the cats by tying bells around their necks.  Showing some.

Billy crept up on his daddy sleeping in his recliner and snoring away. Daddy smells like cigarettes and sweat.  As carefully as he could, Billy tied the stained tennis shoe laces, glancing up to make sure no one was watching him. His stomach did a funny dance until he finished. Still silent but laughing inside, he slipped  around a corner and waited.

Do you want to know what happened?  Not telling.

Even memoirs needed scenes.

Stories and nonfiction books must have take aways to make me want to read.  If I can’t relate to the feelings of the characters or the author in some way, I will stop reading. I must feel there is a message for me somewhere in the pages, even with children’s stories, or especially in children’s stories.

As an editor, I need to feel something as I read. Let me into someone’s head or I’ll be bored.  Engage me and I’ll read all night!

Check out Mary’s website: www.MaryMarvella.com
Mary blogs here: www.pinkfuzzyslipperwriters.blogspot.com

Cindy here again! 

Thanks for being here, Mary! The third example was definitely more engaging.

Happy writing!

 

Cindy

Stories with spine

Welcome to the GWN blog! We’ve got a great post today from guest Jayne Barnard about stories with spine.

Here’s Jayne!

Any story, whether long or short, literary or genre, staged or sung or read aloud, has a plot. The plot, or the dramatic action, is composed not only of actual actions, but also the motives for those actions. Motives arise from inside characters; actions take place outside them, in locations. Organizing characters, actions, and motives into suitable locations, and then setting them in the highest-impact order, can seem confusing and overwhelming.

Think of the story as an animal: a hamster if it’s a flash fiction, a brontosaurus for a very long novel. What the shortest and longest of animals have in common is a spine, a series of vertebrae, through which the nerves flow as one continuous unit. In a story, the nerves are the through-lines: characters and questions that draw the reader along from beginning to end. The vertebrae are individual scenes in that longer story, protecting the through-lines while presenting the necessary actions and motivations to readers in a logical and entertaining order.

So what is a scene? At its most basic, a scene is action that takes place at one time, in one place, and moves the story along convincingly to the next plot element. It is, in effect, a single small story in a stream of small stories, each revealing an action, one or more motives, and something of the characters.

As a complete story in itself, a scene has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A vertebrae has a beginning (flanges), a middle (the smooth ring of thick bone), and an end (different flanges that interlock with the beginning of the next vertebrae). The story’s beginning flange is a reason for the characters to be at that place at that time. The action in a previous scene (or in off-page back story) brought these characters to this place at this time; the action in this scene will bring the same characters, or other ones, to a new place and/or time where a new scene will start.

In a beginning, some small action or line of dialogue raises a question in the reader’s mind, gives the characters a reason to interact with each other, and sets the scene rolling. The action might be as small as Character A ringing a doorbell. As over-used as this example is (much like answering the telephone or waking from sleep), it instantly raises two questions: what Character A is doing at this door, and who will answer the bell?

The middle of the scene advances and protects the core of the story. What grows the strong middle is conflict. Each character wants something, even if it is only to be left alone by another character. The conflict between their wants knits the scene together. Assume Character A wants answers to a question. Character B doesn’t want to give them. B evades or lies. A presses. B repeats or changes his earlier response. Sometimes one of them appears to be gaining, only to have a reversal occur that puts the other ahead.

The beauty and challenge of the middle is not to make it too easy, either for the characters or the reader. Keep the reader guessing. Entice them to use all they have learned about the characters and the core story up to this point, to try to figure out who will win this small struggle. The more the reader invests in an outcome, the stronger the middle will be.

The end is the payoff for the character’s – and the reader’s – efforts. Did A get his answer? Did the reader guess right, or wrong? Perhaps neither A nor B achieves their goal. That type of ending is the most frustrating for readers, but can be the most compelling. Use it too often, or too obviously, and the reader’s frustration will outweigh their engagement with the larger story. However it ends, there must be flanges to hook onto the next scene: new questions arising from the answers received, new places to go, new ideas to be incorporated or old ones eliminated.

At its simplest, a scene is action that takes place at one time, in one place, and moves the story along convincingly. At its most complex, a scene also sets a mood, reveals hidden aspects of character, delves deeper into the larger story’s central question, and has enough dramatic tension to draw the reader’s eyes forward almost without their conscious awareness. In theatre, the writer provides the dialogue and a few action cues; the rest is provided by actors, set designers, lighting and costume technicians. In prose, the writer provides all of the above. The intensity or apathy with which the point-of-view character notices his surroundings can incorporate all the work done by set and lighting on a stage; the clothing a character wears reveals much about them to the other characters and to the reader. Light, dark, sight, sound, scent, texture, and colour all help to evoke a mood, reveal a character, and enhance awareness of the central story question.

If you can build a single solid scene with a beginning, middle and end, you can write any length of story. Make each scene, each small story, as strong as it can possibly be, linking it to the one before and leading to the one following, and there is no limit to what you can achieve: flash fictions with a single strong vertebrae, short stories with four to ten, novellas and novels with as many as you need. They’re all built on the length and strength of the spine.

Photo credit:  Cliff Erasmus

Photo credit: Cliff Erasmus

Calgary author Jayne Barnard has been writing award-winning short fiction for more than twenty years. Recent stories, such as the Bony Pete-winning “Each Canadian Son,” focus on mystery and suspense, often with a historical setting. A BA in Theatre and three summers writing and acting for children gave her a deep appreciation for the power and beauty possible in a single scene. Stringing many scenes together gave rise to “When the Bow Breaks,” a novel-length crime manuscript that was shortlisted for the Unhanged Arthur in Canada and is now shortlisted for the Debut Dagger in the UK.  Like her Facebook page for a chance to win dagger-themed prizes.  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jayne-Barnard-Author/466822683406124

Cindy here again!

Thanks for being here, Jayne. Great post. I’m going to have to go take a look at my scenes again.

Happy writing!

 

Cindy

Never give up

Welcome back to the GWN blog! We’ve got poet Jo Anne Myers here today talking about not giving up on your artistic talent.

Here’s Jo Anne!

my photo apr 2011For as long as I can remember, I have had an artistic flare-whether that be for writing, painting, sewing or drawing. I recall as a child how much I enjoyed drawing. The writing came later. My seventh grade English teacher was Mrs. Henderson-a young mother and wife. She gave us a writing assignment and after gifting me with an A+ told me I should consider writing as a career. She meant as a journalist. I did not take her advice to become a journalist (one of my many misgivings). My mind went toward other things as many young girls dream of-a husband, home, and family of my own. I put my love for writing and painting on hold for years. I unfortunately married a man who like my mother never encouraged me to be artistic. It was not until my children were grown and I no longer had a husband, that I went back to my first love-art. I got a late start, but always encouraged my children and others to partake of artistic endeavors. I now have four books under contract with Melange Books, and three publishing houses vying for my biography true crime novel, “The Crime of the Century.” So my words to you all, is that no matter what road you choose, never forget your passion, and always keep it close to heart. Don’t let anyone or anything stop you from enjoying your natural talents. You might need to put art on a temporary hold, but don’t ever give up on it.

Poetry Cover
My newly released poetry collection, “Poems About Life, Love, and Everything in Between” is a poetry collection that provides a glimpse into the heart, mind and soul, of its author. It is a heartwarming read, written with love and respect for others. Some poems were written in times of sorrow, other poems were written in times of joyous celebration. Life if like that.

“Poems About Life, Love, and Everything in Between,” is available at

http://www.amazon.com/dp/147837022x

My upcoming novels from Melange Books are:
“WICKED INTENTIONS” a paranormal/mystery anthology
“LOVES’, MYTHS’ AND MONSTERS’,” a fantasy anthology
“FLAGITIOUS,” a crime and paranormal novella collection

Other books soon available:

“THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY,” a biography true-crime
“TWISTED LOVE,” a true-crime anthology
A poem from Jo Anne:

SOMETHING EVIL STIRS

Something evil stirs in my town.
A growing unrest.
A defiant unease, a growing anxiety.
Moving ever so softly, like whispers on the wind.

This thing comes swiftly.
No warning-as silent as breath.
Drenched in malice, it nears.
A friend to chaos, sloth and death.

So quick-a malignant mass.
Leaving behind the useless and morally dead.
So forceful, that many become chaff.
Consuming everything within my town.

It fed well-as always.
Until the next time-devouring all.
Slipping into homes, like fog on the bay.
Youthful disenchantment suffocates all.

Beware the beast is red as fire.
A mass of hate and poison.
Our dictators battle the war with little success,
for the King and his court, squabble like school boys.

Only harmony will sooth the beast.
A legion of unity, to succeed is needed.
Something evil stirs.
I am ready-standing tall and strong.

I draw strength from within.
Honor rules my mind.
Courage stirs my desire to win.
For the beast is-procrastination.

About Jo Anne: Jo Anne hails from the famous Hocking Hills region of southeastern Ohio. She has worked in the blue-collar industry most of her life. Besides having several novels under her belt, she also canvass paints.  When not busy with hobbies or working outside the home, she spends time with relatives, her dogs Jasmine and Scooter, and volunteers her time within the community. She is a member of the Hocking Hill’s Arts and Craftsmen Association, The Hocking County Historical Society and Museum, and the Hocking Hills Regional Welcome Center. She believes in family values and following your dreams.

Visit Jo Anne’s website: http://www.booksandpaintingsbyjoanne.com
Visit Jo Anne’s Blog: http://www.booksandpaintingsbyjoanne.com/page2

Cindy here again!

Great message, Jo Anne. It’s a reminder to me to get back to my painting as well. I miss it.

Happy writing!

 

 

Cindy

Writing convincing villains

Welcome back to the GWN blog! To end the week we’ve got Melanie Atkins here talking about creating convincing villains.

Here’s Melanie!

Melanie Atkins1Thanks for hosting me today. I really appreciate the opportunity to share with you about some of my favorite characters: Villains.

Villains are characters we all love to hate. They raise our blood pressure and keep us on the edges of our seats. They can also make or break a story. When I hear the word villain, I think of evil, followed closely by vicious and cunning, and I immediately picture Hannibal Lector, the king of all villains, and Ralph Fiennes’ creepy, convoluted character in Red Dragon, a man whose utter brutality puts Jack the Ripper to shame. To me, those two signify the epitome of evil; they are both sick, twisted men with an inherent drive to kill — and in Lector’s case, to taste his victims’ flesh.


Of course, all villains aren’t psychopathic serial killers. Many are mob bosses, drug lords, lunatics, dirty cops, evil co-workers, ghosts, or even demons (in paranormal mysteries or suspense) …whatever works for each particular story. No matter the nature of the villain, however, his or her character must be just as deep and well-developed as that of the hero and/or heroine.

Important points to consider:

  • All characters have a history. Why does a psychopath kill? Did the mob boss takeover the “family” by force, or did he inherit his position? What single event shaped the villain’s life? Does he despise his mother because she locked him out of the house night after night so she could spend time with an endless stream of men? Did he watch his sister die? Or did he find his brother’s body after he overdosed on crack cocaine? One must know the answers to these questions and more before starting to write. Making a villain shallow and lifeless or using a caricature in his place can kill a good book.
  • Do your research. If your villain is a psychopath, make him believable. I highly recommend reading Roy Hazelwood’s Dark Dreams and The Evil that Men Do and Mind Hunter by John Douglas. If your villain is a mob boss, learn about the Mafia — but don’t impart too much information. You want to make your story real, but dropping in too much detail will slow the pace and bog down the plot. Keep it simple.
  • Villains may be inherently evil, but they still possess good traits. The serial killer stocking shelves at the local drug store might love dogs or enjoy watching flowers grow. The mob boss intent on taking over the hero’s business may also love opera. Or the drug lord importing cocaine and funneling it into a major city might be doing so in order to allow his wife to travel once they retire. Don’t forget to make your villain a complete person…it will deepen them and make their character much more interesting to the reader.
  • Evil characters also have principles. The best villains draw a line and refuse to cross it. A serial rapist in one of my books attacks women, but also states that he doesn’t do children. Another villain feels sorry for his captive and gives her water when she’s thirsty. His empathy for her grows even deeper once he learns she’s a rape victim like his sister, and he’s tempted to let her go. Still another kills to uphold his family’s honor and breaks down when forced to shoot his own brother. Villains are people with emotions…just like you and me. Make them real, and reap the benefits.
  • Looks can be deceptive. Evil often wears a pretty face — think Ted Bundy. The handsome, cheerful boy-next-door who mows lawns for extra money might also be a knife-toting, anger-filled serial rapist who stalks women late at night when the moon is full. Or the assistant chief of police could be using his job as cover while importing heroin into the country to sell to the very people he’s sworn to serve and protect. Or the smiling, perky do-gooder in the office down the hall who secretly covets your hero’s job might do anything to get it, including falsifying records and setting your hero up as the bad guy. These scenarios are intriguing and make the villains seem real.

 

  • Even evil men need a goal. Give your villain something for which to fight, such as a strong desire for notoriety or admiration, a need to right a wrong, either real or perceived, or the urge to gain a feeling of self-worth. He may seem to only be after money, but his need for it must go deep. Give him a good reason to kill, steal, rape, haunt, or stalk.
  • Villains must engage the hero and heroine in a battle of wills. He must be a worthy opponent who grows more cunning as the book progresses. In order to ratchet up the suspense, one must put good vs. evil in an escalating battle that results in the ultimate climax. A shootout, a fight to the death using hand-to-hand combat, or maybe even a frightening car chase filled with chills, danger, and excitement. You and I both know that good will prevail, but it’s important to keep the reader guessing.
  • Romantic suspense requires a happy ending. Make sure that good prevails and that the villain pays for his crimes — maybe even with his life. Be sure to avoid melodrama and make his demise believable. If he doesn’t die, send him to prison or make him suffer in some other awful way. Don’t let him simply disappear. You want to give the reader closure. (Unless, of course, you plan to write a sequel and decide to allow your villain to escape, like in Silence of the Lambs).

Keeping the above list in mind, write to your strengths and do whatever is necessary to keep the action moving and to make your story believable. If your serial killer has no soft edges, so be it. Not every person can be redeemed. Your story is just that: Your story.

Develop your characters, do your research, and create villains worthy of fighting your heroes and heroines — and you’ll have stories people will clamor to read. Remember our friend Hannibal Lector, the villain everyone loves to hate? The man is pure evil. Yet he makes that book all the more believable because he is so real. He’ll never be forgotten, and neither will your villains — if you do your homework before sitting down to write.

I did my best to make the psychotic villain in my latest single title release, Blood Bound, as creepy and realistic as possible. He’s a serial murderer with serious issues, mainly thanks to his not-so-loving mother.

Blurb:

BloodBoundCoverArt72dpiFueled by grief after his fiancée is brutally murdered, Detective Sam Walker focuses on finding her killer — a calculating predator who binds books with human skin.  Dani Barrington, the newest member of NOPD’s Victim and Witness Assistance Unit and a survivor of another frightening attack, helps him discover the terrifying link between the monster’s known victims.  Despite his anguish, Sam is struck by Dani’s strength and determination, especially when her inquisitive  nature makes her the killer’s next target.  He must find a way to protect her or risk losing the one woman who can bring his dead heart back to life.

 

The book is available at the stores below and at many other online outlets:

 

Desert Breeze Publishing: http://bit.ly/YK0XZe
Amazon: http://amzn.to/11YpUFM
B & N: http://bit.ly/XuKnAj

Visit Melanie’s website: www.melanieatkins.com

Cindy here again!

Great tips, Melanie. The serial killer in my current WIP loves cats.

Happy writing!

Cindy

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