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Showing posts from May, 2013

An Easy Way To Find A Winning Plot

What’s the easiest way to find a plot for a story or novel? Let it find you! Just today I read a newspaper article about the chief executive of a media company - already a millionaire - who had voted himself a multi-million dollar bonus for the fifth successive year. Then he had used dubious schemes to avoid paying tax on it. I was outraged. Was he worth such a reward? No. Did he invest his surplus wealth in Good Works? No. He was an icon of unmitigated greed. And a plot started to emerge... I drafted a story in less than an hour in a white heat of anger. I added conflict. I imagined that the tycoon had an underling, poorly paid. She faced a moral dilemma. Should she stay loyal to her boss, who had done her many personal favours, or blow the whistle on his illicit schemes? On reflection, I made the man a decent fellow, brought up in terrible poverty and driven by insecurity to accumulate vast wealth. Did he deserve to be ruined? Hm... At the end, there was no moral conclusi

Must We Really Be Dumb and Dumber?

A recent post by Susan Mary Malone bemoaned the dumbing down of books from an eighth grade reading level to a sixth grade level. After contributing a couple of off-the-cuff responses, I sat back and meditated on the long-term repercussions of such a reduction in standards and became even more concerned about the consequences of this thinking. Then I realized that the dumbing-down mentality is not new. Think the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, etc. Then, nearly 20 years ago, a movie titled Dumb and Dumber was a smash hit. I didn’t see it because the title turned me off. While I’m not an intellectual snob by any means, I do like the movies I pay to see (and the books I read) to have some redeeming value. Nor am I opposed to something being genuinely funny. Humor holds an honored place in entertainment and in writing. Laughing at a hilarious joke, an amusing story, a giggle-producing autobiography, or reruns of Carol Burnett’s sidekicks (Conway and Korman) or Dick Van Dyke’s antic

All in the Family

Nobody likes to read about cardboard characters, but how can an author bring a fictional person to life? One way is by including family members in a story. Here are a few ideas of how to insert them: 1. Part of backstory Weave in small hints, or include flashbacks, which in some way tie in the past actions of a family member with a main character's present behavior. A mother who gave up a child for adoption, a father who cheated on his wife, or a sibling who received too little or too much attention, are some examples. 2. Immediate family interaction  What's happening in the here and now can be compelling. Some examples are a loving husband and wife, or the opposite, an incompatible couple, maybe squabbling siblings, or those who'll go out on a limb to help each other .  One overused, yet still popular concept I often run into is the brother who gambles too much and the sibling who pays for the other's transgressions. 3. An important family event One way to p

Salute to Memorial Day

“The muffled drum's sad roll has beat  The soldier's last tattoo; No more on life's parade shall meet The brave and daring few. On Fame's eternal camping-ground Their silent tents are spread, And Glory guards with solemn round The bivouac of the dead.” – Bivouac Of The Dead, by Theodore O'Hara  Formerly known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day originated after the Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died. By the 20th century Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died in all wars. Many of us visit cemeteries and “decorate” graves on Memorial Day, and it is traditionally seen as the start of the summer season. As writers, many of us can find fodder for our craft in the history of our wars and our ancestors who fought in them. My own father was a veteran of WWII and met my mother, a German nurse, during the American occupation. Their love story is the basis of one of my upcoming novels. A friend of mine, J

A Writer's Audience

So, who do you write for?  Yourself?  Your readers?  A combination?  We all talk about this a lot. One side firmly states that you write for yourself. Of course, this has to be true, as you’re the one up in that sequestered (hopefully clean and well-lit, as Hemingway would suggest) place, toiling away. If you don’t like your people and story, odds are no one else will either. It’s funny, I see a lot of manuscripts where the villain is all villain, and all the evil gets pinned on his shoulders, which is not only unbelievable but belies that the writer hated him to the core. And that has the paradoxical effect of flattening out the character so that his effect is minimized. But that’s another discussion! The point being that the essence of writing, especially fiction, stems from your own inspiration and connection to your words. To your people. Your story. All of that has to be interesting enough so you keep stepping into that writing room.  The other side says, “Know your audience,”

Tips for Productivity

Terry Odell, Mark L. Lefevbre of Kobo, David Boop I had the great fortune of winning one of two Kobo scholarships to a local writing seminar that took place last week. I'm sharing tidbits I picked up—the conference was focused on the publishing business, and inspiring aspiring authors. (I'm sure there's an editorial term for that last phrase.) I'm also recapping more sessions at my blog , which will be ongoing. For me, the experience was especially eye-opening because although a writer is a writer, we're not running in the same circles, and there are different approaches. These seminars were organized by a group of Science Fiction and Fantasy authors (with one romance author as a speaker), and their roads to success take different paths than mystery and romance authors. We tend to measure our success by our Amazon rankings, or royalty checks, so meeting these "successful" people whom I'd never heard of (nor had they heard of me), was

World-Building 102: The Word-Smith's Craft

When I began writing fantasy, one of my goals was to present an imaginary world with depth enough to satisfy my own standards as a reader.  When my first novel The Burning Stone 1 was released in 1987, a  reviewer for Locus Magazine complimented me on creating "a lived-in world, and lively one". So what (besides geography and history) makes for a "lived-in, lively" fantasy world ? The definitive factor is what I like to call "deep structure".  Deep structure encompasses a range of background details which have created the situation your characters find themselves at the start of your story.  Contributing factors include customs, traditions, codes of behavior, technology, art, philosophy, and metaphysics (especially important with regard to how magic works in your world) Deep structure isn't meant to present itself as full-on exposition (the infamous info-dump).  Ideally, it should surface in the form of casual referencing. The technique of sel

Thank You to My Friends

In a recent blog post, Joe Konrath, a successful indie author, wrote a response to James Patterson's commentary about the death of traditional publishing being the death of literature. One of the points Patterson made in an ad he ran in the New York Times was that without traditional publishing there would be no quality control over what is published. Actually, he inferred that there might be no more books, quality or not. Konrath wrote that just because the publishing paradigm is shifting, the future of literature is quite safe. As to the issue of quality control, Konrath pointed out that there are good freelance editors - ahem, those of us here at The Blood Red Pencil among them - as well as critique groups and beta readers to help writers maintain a high standard of writing. You can read Konrath's entire post on his blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing.   When I read Konrath's article, I found it supportive of the post Terry Odell did here last month on the value

Saying Boo

Photo credit: Google Images Writers are often introverts. We dislike getting “out there.” Many of us are happiest (and feel safest) holed up in our snug workrooms, hunched over our laptops typing away. We are so much more impressive when we write than when we talk! This goes double for ghostwriters. After all, the whole point of being a ghost is that you are invisible. Once in a while you may rattle a chain or two, or emit a low howl in the dead of night, but that’s about it. Despite the popular conception of what a ghost does, you must never say Boo! – it gives away your presence. Of course, introversion is a poor marketing strategy. It doesn’t work for authors, and it won’t work for ghostwriters either. No matter how much you enjoy the background shadows, you have to get “out there” and let people look at and listen to you – and you must try to be informative, compelling, inspirational, or at the very least, nice. People simply won’t hire you otherwise. And they won’t r

How to Pitch a Self-Published Book to a Publisher - Part Two

In the first installment on Wednesday we ended the post with the following question and comment: What does a writer do who doesn’t want to hustle – just write? It’s a growing worry for many authors, and it will get worse. Now let’s fast forward to the year 2015. Let’s imagine self-publishing has matured. It’s accepted and respected in the publishing world. A lot of successful self-publishers have begun to ask themselves: what do I really want to do with the rest of my life? Become another J. A. Konrath and work 18/24 to boost my Kindle ratings? Or hype myself perpetually at Facebook, Google+ and Twitter? Or mount a thousand blog tours? Again, do I write or hustle? What happened to my dream of being an author, a person who writes fiction, not advertisements?  Maybe they thumb through that list of literary agents, long scorned. They decide that the traditional publishing route might have some merits after all. Goodbye to hard labour. Let the publisher do the hustling! A

Busted!—Nick Hornby Caught Using Prismatic POVs

In his novel A Long Way Down , Nick Hornby uses four different points of view to explore the ramifications of one shared incident. On New Year’s Eve, these characters encounter one another on the roof of the most famous suicide tower in London. Ultimately they talk one another off the ledge and into a pact that will delay the decision for six weeks, until the second most popular night for suicides—Valentine’s Day. If any of them still want to die that day, they will honor those wishes. Despite their huge differences, the characters spend a lot of time together. Check them out: Maureen is a conservative middle-aged woman who has had intercourse once in her life—with a fiancé who then left her—and that act produced Matty, a brain-damaged son who even as an adult cannot speak or interact with her in any way. Maureen has no life; all of her time is spent caring for her son. And once you have a child like Matty you can’t help but feel, That’s it! That’s all my bad luck, a whole life

How To Pitch A Self-Published Novel to A Publisher - Part One

News that self-publishing author James Oswald has gained a £150,000 ($240,000) advance this week from Penguin in a three-book deal will bring new hope to writers struggling to market their own novels. Oswald, a Scottish farmer, had self-published his crime mystery ebooks in a casual way for several years, but with limited success. The tragic death of his parents gave him a new determination to achieve stardom, as a tribute to their memory. He followed the now familiar route of offering his first novel Natural Causes on Amazon as a ‘loss leader’ without charge. Buyers were encouraged to pay £2.99 ($5) for the follow-up novel. He stumbled on the ‘funnel’ strategy now being used by many authors. Buyers went on an email list and were followed up. Repeat buyers were transferred to a ‘friends’ list. They got personalised attention, special offers, discounts, and lots of love. That’s how John Locke sold his first million ebooks and it worked for Oswald too. He had already sold or given

The Lighter Side of Editing

Every writer edits. Some edit as they go, some save it for later, some do it for a living . Whenever I head down that ol' editing highway, my writing sheep come along for the ride.  Sheep #1 : This is cheating. Sheep #2:  It is, you know. Writer:  Why is this cheating? I'm writing. Sheep #3:  But this is dialogue. You like writing dialogue. It comes easily for you. FOUL!!! Sheep #1:  You should be working on her prose. Sheep #2 : It does need work. Sheep #3:  And we're being kind. Writer:  I'm  aware work is needed. I've been searching and destroying her repetitive words. Sheep #1:  We know. We've named one of us 'Just' and another one 'That'. ( lifts front hoof and points to the left ) See that sheep over there? The one with the bland expression? Writer:  Aren't most sheep's expressions bland? Sheep #2:  That was uncalled for. Sheep #3:  W

Writing in 140: Using Story to Kill Clichés and Freshen Up Metaphors

a clean slate beat around the bush step up to the plate tall, dark, and handsome ace in the hole dark and stormy night Some readers will cringe if they pick up your book and read stale metaphors and clichés like the ones above. With your first draft, you want to get the story on the page, PERIOD. However, in revisions, you want to make a pass for these metaphors and clichés and delete and/or freshen them up. How to do this? A few tips: think about your story’s setting – where are we, what's in this world? Think about your characters – who are they, what do they do? Revising metaphors and sprucing up overly familiar language so that they connect with your story’s context will make them more organic . . . and unique to your story. ----- Writing in 140 is my attempt to say something somewhat relevant about writing in 140 words or less. Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both academically and creatively while

Lively Chair Yoga

To get that blood pumping! This video is fun! Getting moving, writers!

Excuse Me, Please, I Need a Diagram

After some revealing comments about parts of speech following a recent post, I pondered my early education and why it is that I rarely am stumped about the function of a word in a sentence. Answer: I learned sentence diagramming. When a sentence is deconstructed and then reconstructed within a framework of lines that clearly delineate word function, “many things are made clear that else lie hidden in darkness.” (Profound apologies to Longfellow and Evangeline for my repurposing this wonderful line.) It seems, however, that not all people (even in my age group) were taught this occasionally challenging but definitely enlightening sentence-structure tool. In the 1980s, when I spent several years working in the language arts departments of five elementary, middle, and high schools, I found even teachers seemed to have little understanding of its practicality in helping students to recognize parts of speech. This puzzled me. Is not a picture worth a thousand words? I decided to explore

Mentoring

How many of you have mentored a fellow writer? Editors, in many ways, could be considered mentors. They correct problems and work to make your story more "active" or to make the flow of the book smoother or faster. If you study the edits they make instead of just accepting all the edits, you learn how to not make the same mistakes. 'Course, they, in most cases, get paid. In this case, I’m talking about volunteering to mentor a new writer -- helping him or her with their manuscript. It can be anything from correcting spelling to plot development. It could even involve helping them write their query letter or synopsis, or searching for an agent. If this appeals to you, consider looking at the writing groups you belong to, such as Sisters in Crime (or a group that covers the genre you write) or your critique group. Is there someone there who has mentioned needing help in some areas? Someone who's struggling? Could you offer to read some pages for them and give your a

Marketing 101

The first installment of this two-part humor essay from our friend Slim Randles appeared on my blog, It's Not All Gravy, last week. It's not necessary to read that one first to appreciate this installment, but it does add a bit more context to the story about building a business. We always appreciate it when Slim shares his cowboy humor with us. Emily’s dilemma was obvious: how do you sell manure? Since she fell in love with Dewey Decker, she could think of nothing less than spending her life with him and embracing the fertilizer business whole hog, so to speak. Emily Stickles has never done anything halfway. In her job with the county, she has kept a vigilant eye on almost every business around, encouraged where she could, and crushing hard if she needed to stomp on violators. But Dewey’s business, scooping up cow manure and redistributing it to gardens all over the county, was a labor of love with her. This was her man’s business, and she would do what she could to he

What's Your Answer About Seasons

As the seasons change, so do readers' habits. People can get caught up in holidays, such as Christmas, and focus on little else. During the cold winter months, outdoor activities are limited, and reading becomes popular. Once the sun shines, the birds sing, and the flowers bloom, the great outdoors beckons. My questions today focus on seasons, and how authors can relate to them. As usual, I'll ask a few questions, and offer my answers. Then, it's your turn to respond with your answers in the comment section.  Here goes: 1. What's one way to work seasons to advantage?  Write books focusing on a particular season or holiday. Better yet, do a series spanning the seasons. Mona Risk's Holiday Babies Series is a great example. To date, she's written Christmas Babies ,  Valentine Babies , and her latest offering,  Mother's Day Babies . 2. What's another way?  Pay attention to seasonal changes, and how they affect nature, your activities, y

Grammar ABCs: V is for Verbs

Which sentence “shows” the action best? • Joe walked to the house. • Joe strode to the house. Verbs are action words and are key to showing rather than telling. Verbs themselves can be active or passive, as you can see from the examples above. Joe walked is pretty mundane. It’s not wrong, but you can show his state of mind by using a strong, active verb, such as strode, stomped, loped , or stumbled . You can also describe the character with a verb, such as Joe limped . Watch verb “helpers” , such as the “to be” form. Joe was walking . Again, it is not wrong, but it is more passive than even the simple Joe walked. The voice of a verb tells whether the subject of the sentence performs the action (active or strong) or is acted upon (passive or weak.) • Joe was praised by Glen. (passive) • Glen praised Joe. (active) The passive voice can be used when the actor is unknown or is less important than the object of the action. • Participants in the survey were asked about the

The Passion Key

On Monday, we posted a book review of this title and today we offer an excerpt from Making Your Creative Mark by Eric Maisel. Many creative people and most would-be creative people are interested in their artistic projects but not passionately interested in them. There is a huge difference here, and a big problem. Mere interest does not sustain motivational energy, and it isn’t a match for the obstacles that arise as you try to create. You need passionate interest in order to generate energy and to see you through the rigors of creating. Passion and its synonyms — love , curiosity , enthusiasm , excitement , and energy — are vital to the creative process. Though it is possible to create without passion, your art will suffer, and the likelihood of your continuing over the long haul is greatly reduced. Opt for passionate work. Lukewarm work will not really sustain you. If I had to tease out the key motivator that fuels the artist’s journey, it would be passion. Passion creates