Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Resources for Writers: Write for Kids and Writing Blueprints

Write for Kids

I first learned about Write for Kids at a writing conference in Northern Colorado. The talented agent, editor, and teacher Laura Backes and her partner husband Jon have worked diligently to offer multiple ways for an aspiring writer of children’s books to learn and to succeed.

By visiting the Write for Kids website and becoming part of the Write for Kids and Children’s Book Insider networks, a beginner can find answers to all those questions that often discourage an aspiring author from even starting a project. From the Write for Kids site, you’ll find a link to the free Dream Launcher Pack for Beginners that includes a recent copy of Children’s Book Insider. The website notes this is a limited time offer, so if you’re ready to start writing a book for kids, you might want to check out this free introduction right away.

I’ve been especially interested in this resource because I hope to write children’s or middle-grade stories one of these days. You all know about “one of these days,” but hopefully I’ll stop procrastinating as soon as I finish this adult novel I’m revising now.

Writing Blueprints

Speaking of revisions, I have a special reason for mentioning this next extensive educational offering. Never satisfied to rest on one accomplishment, Backes and her husband have expanded learning opportunities, including help for more experienced writers. I was able to preview part of the Manuscript Magic Power Bundle. With worksheets and detailed explanations, freelance writer and editor Bonnie Johnston teaches us how to take the dreaded first draft (or second or third) and Checkup, Diagnose, and Fix problems to make the manuscript ready for submission to agents or editors.

I followed the tutorial and printed the worksheets to use with my current revision project. Considering I have a mess of chapters out of order and a few contradictions in facts and timeline, I need all the help I can get. Thanks to this blueprint (and my outstanding critique group), I’m making great progress. The bundle contains five other instruction tools with various instructors at a discounted price.

Writer and teacher Teresa Funke is another instructor of blueprints, including Dialogue Made Easy and The Courage to Write Your Own Experience.

Teresa has been a guest on my personal blog with posts about How to Pick the Right Publishing Path for You and How to Write Outside Your Experience.

One of Jon Bard’s courses is one I’m interested in taking soon: Social Media Catchup. The opportunities and pitfalls associated with social media are constantly changing. If we don’t want to be left behind, it’s a good idea to regularly review what’s available and get help evaluating the pros and cons of each site. We can’t do it all, so we need to be wise in selecting those places to build an audience.

Most of the early blueprints available are aimed at the writer (or aspiring writer) of children’s books. Newer blueprints include helpful instruction for more advanced writers struggling with a specific element of the craft. To see everything that’s available so far, visit the Writing Blueprints website. Start here at the About Us page to meet Laura and her family and learn more about the blueprint process.

You can find Children's Book Insider and Writing Blueprints on Facebook.

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast that you can find at the RMFW website.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Taking the Mystery out of Murder Mystery Events

Q: What are you sharing on the blog today?

A: How I write murder mystery events.

Q: Why?

A: People seem curious as to what’s involved.

Q: In writing one?

A. Yes. Not in attending one. Geesh.

Q: Don’t be snippy. How will you describe the writing process?

A: That it’s an odd mixture of writing a detailed book synopsis and a play.

Q: Why do you describe it as a detailed book synopsis?

A: Because you need a very detailed plot and setting. The characters/suspects must ring true as each of them has to have a believable motive for murder.

Q: Why do you describe it as a play?

A: Because I write all the questions and the answers. Each suspect has to answer the question in a voice which is different to all the others employing a different rhythm with a different vocabulary. However, unlike a play, I have no idea which answer is going to follow which. So setting up jokes can be tricky. I have to make the jokes in the one suspect’s speech…or over a number of speeches. Hurrah for the rule of three.

Q: Do you follow any general guidelines?

A: Yes, I do. The murder has always already happened. The suspects' names are usually groan worthy. For example: in a recent event, I created a lawyer named Lou Pohl. There is always only one guilty party. When I reveal the solution (I act as the detective/facilitator), it makes sense because all the necessary clues were there…either said or handed out.

Q: What do you mean by ‘handed out’?

A: Not every clue is answered in the questions and answers. I hand out copies of ‘Crime Reports’ and other such pieces of evidence. Plane e-tickets. Texts.

Q: Do you follow any non-general guidelines?

A: I’ve been doing these murder mystery events for a long time. People get better at them…and then I write trickier plots. Muahaha.

Q: Do people solve the mystery?

A: Yes, usually one table is close. I’ve never written one that went unsolved. Luckily, I’ve also never written one that more than two tables got the correct solution to.

Q: How long have you written murder mystery events?

A: Many, many years. More than 15. Let's leave the actual number a mystery.

Q: How long do they take to write?

A: That depends on the number of suspects and the complexity of the plot. At least 2 weeks usually though it could be longer.

Q: Is writing a murder mystery event the same as writing a murder mystery game?

A: Similar, but not the same. Same church, different pew.

Q: Do you plan to continue to write these events?

A: I’ll write them as long as there’s a demand for them. Luckily, the demand doesn’t seem to be going away. And hey, out there in Internet Land. I can write one for YOUR group. Get in touch.

Elspeth Futcher is a bestselling author of murder mystery games and playwright. She has been the top selling author at host-party.com since 2011. Her British games are published by Red Herring Games in the UK. Her latest game is "Which Guide Lied?" Elspeth's 'writing sheep' have appeared in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

From Column to Book

Have you thought about compiling columns, or blog pieces, which are really columns if you think about it, into a book? I've done two so far, and learned a lot about the process. It isn't a matter of simply plopping the columns into a book. A great deal of thought and work are involved.

The first book that I read that was a compilation of weekly columns was Home Country, by Slim Randles. He has been a frequent guest here at BRP with some of his humorous essays that apply to writing, and he is also a regular guest on my blog, It's Not All Gravy.

I first met Slim when I was Managing Editor for WinnsboroToday.com, an online community magazine that ran for close to ten years. Slim contacted me to see if I would be interested in his columns for my publication, and I said sure. They were free. We had no budget for paying freelancers. The columns were, and continue to be, quite good. And my readership boosted his overall readership. It was a good arrangement for both of us.

When Slim's book, Home Country, came out, I was eager to read it. First because I am a fan of his work, but I also wanted to see how he took his weekly columns and organized them into a book. That was something I was idly considering doing with the humor columns I'd written for many years for a Dallas suburban newspaper, and I knew some kind of organization would be needed.

The first thing I learned was that the columns could not just be put into a book in chronological order by the date they were written. There had to be something that would stir the reader's interest in a chapter heading, so arranging by topic was better than arranging by date. A reader won't care if a piece was written on July 10, 2014, but they will definitely read a chapter titled The Great Lasagna Caper. (Which is the title of one of the chapters in my book. Slim organized his chapters into seasons of the year.)

I also learned that some thought has to be put into considering which columns to include and which you should not. As most of us who have been writing for many moons know, not all words are like gold. Some of them can go away and nothing is lost.

While I did not put those tidbits of wisdom to work on my own book right away, I did use them when I worked with the Winnsboro Historian, Bill Jones, on his book, Reflections of Winnsboro. We had worked together to write Images of America: Winnsboro for Arcadia Publishing, and after that book came out, folks started telling me that it would be great if the columns Bill wrote for the local newspaper could be put into a book. I agreed. Bill has been writing for the Winnsboro News, as well as other regional publications, for a lot of years, and there is a wealth of historical information that should not be lost.

What is especially neat about Bill's writing, and Slim's, is that they both involve stories. Slim tells stories about a fictional place and fictional people who hang out at the Mule Barn Truck Stop, but those fictional people represent real people who gather regularly at a small town diner to share news and fellowship.

Over a period of six months, I met with Bill on a weekly basis as he gave me columns to consider including in the book, and we talked about organization. We had a basic outline from the Arcadia book and decided to follow that, chronicling the history of the area from the earliest years of Native American occupants to the present. Then it was my job to sift through the hundreds of columns, arrange them according to our outline, and start reading the ones that should be in the book into my computer for editing.

After that, I went through and, in some places, wrote transitions from one column to another. That was something else I'd noted in Slim's book. Since I was so familiar with his weekly column, I could see where he smoothed the transitions from one to the other in the book.

Working with Bill was a privilege and a joy, and I was honored when he said my name should be on the book because of the work I'd put into it.

Bill and I are working together again, along with Sue Craddock-Hamm, on a book, Down the Webster Road, which tells the story of the oldest settlement in that area of East Texas that encompasses Wood Country. Sue lives on property that has been in her family for 150 years, so there are lots of stories that land has to tell.

While waiting for material to come to me from Bill and Sue, I went back to finishing my humorous memoir, A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck, and it is now available for Kindle and paperback. I was so glad that I had what I'd learned from studying Slim's book and working on Bill's, to use as guidelines for my book. While it didn't eliminate the work of organizing and sifting and editing, I wasn't lost in a sea of confusion as I tackled it.

Do you blog? Are you going to try to put the blog pieces into a book?

Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. She won her first writing award at age twelve with a short story in the Detroit News Scholastic Writing Awards Contest and continues to garner recognition for her short stories, books, and screenplays. You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Pageread her  Blog,  and follow her on Facebook and Twitter

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Wishing Caswell Dead by Pat Stoltey – A Review

"You sure he's dead?" asked Jeremiah Frost, owner of the general store.

"Ah, oui," Henri de Montagne answered, his accent even more pronounced than usual. "Sans doubt. His t'roat is…"

So begins the prologue in this fascinating story that begins in 1834. Then we take a short trip backward to July 1833 to meet its young protagonist, Jo Mae Proud.

As a writer and editor, I noted the story is told both in first person and in third person. Initially, that seemed a brave undertaking for author Pat Stoltey, one I would never have considered employing. Yet, she has executed it smoothly and without a glitch. By using both persons effectively, she allows readers greater insight and a more complete overview of the important characters. She also offers an intimate closeup of Jo Mae, a fly-on-the-wall view we grow to appreciate more and more as we cheer on this plucky girl who grows up hard but faces the world on her own terms.

Although bouncing back and forth between the protagonist and other characters, the flawless flow creates a natural transition that is never distracting. Distinctly drawn characters step off the page to invite the reader in, and 13-year-old Jo Mae is particularly poignant in her personal invitation. Having years before left behind the trappings of childhood, she exhibits a maturity far beyond her chronological age. The reader smiles with her, cries with her, and marvels at her ability to endure conditions most of us would find beyond repugnant.

While Caswell certainly qualifies as historical fiction, its application seems in some striking ways almost modern. Update the background, and with some minor changes it could be today. Yet, it clearly reflects life in the era in which it is set.

The conclusion is the so-called icing on the cake. While it may surprise some, it is a natural outgrowth of all that has come before and perfectly fits the character Jo Mae. In fact, it is my favorite part of this occasionally harsh but very engaging story.

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and romance. You can contact her at websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Conflicts in Communication

Conflict occurs between characters when there is a breakdown in communication. You don’t need a broken cell phone or a disabled internet to create problems for your characters. When someone’s life or emotional welfare is at stake, breakdowns in communication are treacherous.

Use communication failures to raise the tension and create obstacles that are resolved in future scenes.

1. Mental block

If Jane or Sally offers an important bit of information, Dick may dismiss it outright because it doesn’t fit within his belief system. They can talk all day. It won’t matter. Use this to point Dick in the wrong direction. Later, when he is more willing to listen, their information could save the day.

2. Different meanings

Terms such as coward/courageous, allowed/ forbidden, acceptable/unacceptable, relationship/friendship, good/bad, could have entirely different meanings for Dick, Sally, and Jane. Misunderstandings in this realm create hurt feelings, perhaps the desire for retaliation. Use this misunderstanding to turn a friend into an enemy or a helper into a hinderer. When you want to turn the story around, resolve it.

3. Too much information

Sometimes less really is more. The more options and information thrown at Dick, the harder it can be for him to decide or act. He can’t possibly keep it all straight. Also, when someone goes on and on, you tend to tune them out. Friends and foes can later supply Dick with information he overlooked or details he forgot. The reader may remember and be anxious for Dick to remember. Plant the seed in the first act, sprout it in the third act. It results in exchanges like this:

"I told you this."
"Ages ago."
"I don't remember that."
"Because you never listen."

4. Distraction

Dick may not listen when his mind is on something else, missing the fact that Sally or Jane offered him an important piece of the puzzle. They can later remind him of it when it is crucial, with or without the “I told you so.”

5. Time crunch

If Dick is in a rush, he might forget to say the right thing, tell the correct people, or leave out important facts.  His terse delivery may chafe. This can infuriate and confuse Sally or Jane. It could leave them unwilling to help him or create negative backlash in a future scene.

6. Emotion Commotion

If Sally or Jane approaches Dick in a heightened state of emotion — be it anger, passion, exhaustion, sadness, or drunkenness — Dick may dismiss the content as irrational. In a later scene, you can make Dick wish he had listened.

Communication breakdowns create interpersonal conflict at scene and overall story level and believable tension between characters. Have fun with it.

Read more about using dialogue in fiction.

The Importance of Mystery in Dialogue

Creating Real Characters Through Dialogue

Yakking: Conversation or Dialogue?

For more on crafting conflict, check out Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict in print and ebook.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Trending or Enduring

Once upon a time—it was a dark and stormy night—Elmer Gantry was drunk.

The above three beginnings are indelibly written in literary history. The first one has been hugely overused; the second one from Bulwer-Lytton's novel Paul Clifford was dubbed by Writer's Digest as "the literary poster child for bad story starters"; the third is the opening of Sinclair Lewis' sacrilegious novel Elmer Gantry, written in 1926 and turned into a film starring Burt Lancaster in 1960.

Openings are important because they hook readers, but what follows is equally important because it keeps those readers hooked. Content makes a book enduring (surviving the test of time) or trending (focusing on trends that change from generation to generation and fall out of favor).

Many of us have read—or at least heard of—William Shakespeare, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts, and the list of enduring authors goes on and on.

While some may argue that Ms. Steel and Ms. Roberts (also writing as J. D. Robb) are in exceptional company, considering their recent entry into the literary field, their books have sold many millions of copies, and both are still going strong. By virtue of their sales numbers alone, we can reasonably say their stories are enduring.

Let's take a closer look at one of those modern, enduring examples, Danielle Steel. What has earned her a place among the literary giants of the past? Sales. She has sold more than an estimated 800 million books, making her the fourth bestselling novelist of all time. Will her books continue to sell a hundred years from now? Only time will tell, but they've certainly endured so far.

Why has she been so successful? She was in the right place at the right time with the right content. Her readers became fans and, because she is a very prolific writer who has fed them a constant flow of stories that endeared her to them, they multiplied significantly. She's written more than 160 volumes to date.

The publishing industry has changed. Still, authors are making a living in the halls of modern literature. With new publishing methods such as digital delivery systems, which can take books to places where hard copies might never go, we can reach readers in ways not available to writers of the past. Self-publishing has thrown open the doors of opportunity and overtaken the large publishing houses of the past. While the number of avid readers has dwindled, the number of published volumes has exploded into the stratosphere. Still, we can learn from authors whose works have passed the test of time (even recent times). One commonality that threads through all their books is content: readers relate to their characters and their issues. Stories that address the unchanging human condition are enduring, timeless. Regardless of genre, there's no trending here.

How do you feel about the evolving world of publishing? What have you gleaned from past authors as well as modern ones such as Danielle Steel, whose works are enduring despite all the changes?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and suspense. You can contact her through her websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Weeds - Writing Prompt

Weeds dance rain or sun
They don’t care that you hate them
They dance anyway
~ Drawing and haiku by Kim Pearson ~

Writing Prompt: Think about "weeds" metaphorically in your own story. Do you have a character who delights in being loathed by others? Who feels power in being annoying? Or perhaps one who rises above petty gossip or misunderstandings and refuses to care what others think?