Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

Post Cards from a Heart-Centred Photographer

Debbie Flynn of DebbieFlynnPhotography.com. Click the photo to visit her website.

Why is your author photo so important for your book?

Isn’t the content the reason the reader is looking at your book? Yes, absolutely.

And what if there is another important aspect to your book? An aspect that is a visual process the reader actually uses to take in your book because we are highly visual creatures. So much so that ninety percent of the information we take in is visual.

Visually, when the reader comes to your book they are first going to see the cover and the next important visual will be your photo.

It goes even deeper. The reader is actually longing to connect with you through your photo even in that brief moment. They want to know you and what better way to do it visually than through a photo of you. All you have to consider is the impact social media has had because we are highly curious about one another. For writers Facebook even has an author Facebook page. The reader can connect with their favourite author and learn about upcoming projects and even what their day looks like. 

Which brings us back to your photo – the one that reflects your true essence and what you’re passionate about as a writer. Or does it? Wouldn’t you love to be portrayed this way?

I was out of town attending a workshop for healers. A woman I knew came up to me to ask if I could photograph her sometime during the weekend because she needed a photo right away for her forthcoming book and she wanted what I could offer. We found the time and her photography session was unlike any previous experience. During the session I encouraged her to remember her passion for what her book was about. The book was about her personal struggles and ultimate triumph. She was writing it to help other indigenous women. We created a safe environment for her to be able to do this in. It was an easy and playful session. She shared with me that the final photos lit her up every time she looked at them because they brought out her best and showed her passion. She was proud to use them.

So how do you have a session like this?

The following tips will help you to bring more passion and aliveness to your author photo.

1. Remember why you wrote your book and the passion you felt about writing it.

Journal. Make some notes to be able to refer to and re-ignite yourself regularly before the photo session.

2. Research photographers in your area.

Who do you feel good about and are drawn to use? It’s a personal decision and one that needs your heart’s attention. It is about being portrayed as who you truly are.

3. Interview the photographer.

Are they truly interested in you? Will you be yourself when you work with them? Is there space for the session such as time and an environment that allows you to be comfortable? Interviewing prospective photographers is worth it when you understand the benefits. Hire the photographer who is right for you.  

4. Prepare for the session inwardly before you go.

Remember why you wrote your book and refer to the notes you’ve been keeping. The photographer may not be able to help you express yourself from an inner place. It’s not how photographers are trained. Take time with your appearance to feel good about the way you look. This allows you to relax and to be comfortable enough to go inner.

5. During the session keep coming back to your passion for writing.

Give yourself permission to do this.

If you follow the tips above your photos will make you happy. They will act as an on-going witness of who you are and what you bring to the world.

And the first impression your photo has on readers will be authentic and compelling which will become the most lasting impression they have of you. 

The Flow of the Heart

A beautiful song arises only

when the singer forgets herself and the audience.

A deeply moving painting emerges only

when the artist forgets himself and everything 

else in the world. 

For your talents to be expressed in all their 

fullness and beauty,

the sense of otherness must disappear entirely –

or it will block the flow of your heart. 

~ Amma

ABOUT ME

After my marriage ended and I became a single mom I didn’t know where to turn.

Guidance came in the form of a photojournalist. She was photographing the kids at the family centre where my son and I were swimming. It was obvious how much she enjoyed her job working for a daily paper. We had a rich conversation about what she did. Her happiness, brightness and gratitude came through as we spoke.

She became my inspiration. She helped to revive my love of photography. That conversation inspired me to go back to school and major in photojournalism. I received a Journalism Certificate from the local college.

I mentored with a well-established wedding photographer before opening my business eight years ago. Working with hundreds of clients has taught me how to create an easy, enjoyable experience for them with images that light them up. Over the years my clients have ranged from families and their life events to executives, entrepreneurs and artists.

My nature photographs were published in a best-selling book called “Eco-yards.” It is one of a number of books and magazines who have published my photos. To see more of my landscape, nature and wildlife photography please go to DebbieFlynnPhotography.com.

For two years I exhibited my work at galleries as part of a professional women’s photography collective “femme foto” in Calgary, Alberta.

Professional organizations I have belonged to include: The PPOC (Professional Photographers of Canada) and PPOA (Professional Photographers of Alberta). I attend many photography conferences. To improve my publication skills I completed a multi-media computer certificate.

A Little More About Debbie

Well, as this was happening I started on a heart-centred spiritual path. From my studies I understood our lives have a purpose . . . a mission that we’re meant to do. My mission is to bring more love and beauty to the world through the people and nature I photograph. When I hike in the mountains and close to the ocean it reminds me of how important nature is for our well-being.

There have been obstacles along the way. Through heart-centred energy training I’ve learned how to transform obstacles into what my heart truly wants. The training skills included how to deeply listen, quick, easy tools to move through obstacles and specific work to bring more harmony to my inner world. As a healing practitioner I’ve brought these skills to help many people move through their own limitations into becoming more of who they want to be.

Now I bring this experience to photography clients in the form of encouragement and attentive listening as we talk about their passion. From this place they can express what they deeply care about. And I’m able and fortunate to be able to portray it.

You know what else I love doing – dancing. I will put on a favourite tune and get movin’ whether it’s in the living room in bare feet or having a dance in my chair in my office. Try having a little chair dance sometime it will make you feel good.

Who gets you dancing?

© Debbie Flynn 2017

DebbieFlynnPhotography.com

Character Development

Award-Winning Author Hank Quense

Building a main character in a story requires a bit of creativity and a lot of work.  Let’s talk about two topics on character development that don’t get much attention: limitations and biographies.

1. Limitations

As you build the characters, you may notice that limitations crop up.  Perhaps, a character can’t do what you want him to do because he is too old.  An elderly person, for instance, can’t do many things a younger person can do. You are becoming limited in what you, the author, can do and what your characters can do or can not do.  These limitations or restrictions will also occur with plotting and motivation.  The more the story design develops, the less freedom you and your characters have.  As an example, if you build a character’s physical aspects so that he has a serious limp, you can’t have him outrunning the bad guy.  Similarly, if your character dropped out of high school, he can’t use the laws of thermodynamics to develop the solution to the plot problem.  This is one huge advantage to building a complete biography; it gives you a better understanding of what the character is capable of doing.  The biography will expose the limitations the character will have to deal with.

2. Biographies

A biography for the character serves a dual purpose.  Besides providing background information, it allows the author to understand the character and that understanding is vital when dealing with the character in stressful situations.

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For a short-story character, I write a few paragraphs of bio material.  For the main character in a novel, the bio may run to more than a page.  Other novel characters will get less of a bio.  The less important the character, the smaller the bio I create.

The strange thing to many new story writers is this: most of the biographical material won’t show up in the story so why bother developing it?  The answer is that the bio allows the writer to understand the character and what makes him or her tick.  The better the writer knows and understands the character, the better the writer will be able to predict how the character will respond to situations and stimuli.

For instance, suppose someone walks up to your character and punches him in the mouth, or a beautiful woman unexpectedly kisses him.  How does your character react to the punch?  Does he punch back?  Does he walk away?  How does the character react to the kiss?  Does he get red in the face?  Does he kiss her back?  Does he develop a stammer?  Your detailed biography will guide you in writing the character’s response.  If you don’t have the bio material, the character’s response is really a guess.  In addition, the writer will have difficulty keeping the character’s response consistent when other situations occur.  Your second guess may be different from your first guess.  Believe me, the readers will pick up on it.

There are a number of biographical elements the writer should address.

Family: Are his parents alive?  Does the character have any siblings?  What is everyone’s age?  Are any siblings married?  Where did the character grow up?  Did the character have any unusual childhood experiences?  What were they?  Do these experiences affect the character?  Is the character’s family stable?  Or is it chaotic?  How does this affect him? 

Education:  Schools, degrees, favorite subject?

Career: Jobs, military experience?

Adult experiences: Married?  Divorced?  Children?

It’s the author’s job to come up with events that affected the character’s life and outlook. After that, the author must incorporate this information into the story.

This article is based on material in my book Creating Stories.

© Hank Quense 2017

Crowdfunding for Authors: How to Raise the Funds You Require to Publish Your Book

Joseph Sale, Author

The landscape of publishing has changed. And it’s still changing as we speak, metamorphosing into something entirely different. But, unlike other industries in which the ideology is changing along with the processes and practices, the publishing industry remains strangely religious in its observance of certain tenats which just plain and simple don’t work any more. Let’s be real here, the days of glorious £20,000 advance payments, 50% royalty deals and months of marketing and advertising are now over, except for a select few. Only the top names with proven sales records get that kind of attention. For the rest of us, the middle and light-weight writers, we have to make do with the odd pocket-money payout, zero marketing and next to nothing support. This is not the fault of the publishers. Nothing is ever entirely one person’s fault or another. Publishing houses are being squeezed harder than ever, giving greater and greater margins to distributors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and selling less and less books as we get more and more hooked on TV and visual stimuli. There’s nothing wrong with great television, of course. I admire the writers adapting Game of Thrones and Dirk Gently and all those top-quality HBO shows. I similarly do not begrudge video games their recent billion-dollar industry status. They deserve it, and interactive narrative is becoming a powerful tool for storytelling on an epic scale.

But where does that leave books? Are they dying and can they be saved?

The answers, I hope, are maybe and yes.

Our new technological age of corporatisation and automation has, in part, created the problem writers now face. Virtually anyone can write a novel with a cheap second-hand laptop and an internet connection. Virtually anyone can send in their manuscript to an email address on a website. Once, these manuscripts were handwritten/typed, laboriously edited, typed up again and again, then sent via post to agents who reviewed them, who then passed them on to publishers, who then mailed the writers direct. Only a handful of people had the skills, energy and patience to do this, but in our digital age, anyone can with relatively minimal effort. Of course, writing a good book is still hard, and one must never overlook the massive achievement of setting down 50,000 or more words, whether it’s publishable or not, but this process has been made easier and more accessible. This is good and bad. Good, because it’s allowed disadvantaged people a chance to get their words out there. Bad, because now there are millions of writers clamouring to be heard, and many voices are getting lost in that ocean. The competition is the highest it’s ever been.

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Even those that do get published professionally often find themselves disillusioned by the results when their books sell next to nothing (the average literary fiction novel published by a major publisher in 2016 sold 260 copies) and they make next to nothing from the pitiful royalty offering. Often publishers say it’s the best they can do, and in many cases they are telling the truth. So, the situation would appear to be pretty bleak.

However, as with all things, there’s two sides to the coin. Our technological explosion has also brought with it alternative solutions, including self-publishing and crowdfunding. Six or seven years ago, self-publishing was looked down on by the industry. Publishers would outright reject writers who had taken the self-publishing route. Now, as self-published writers generate ever greater sales, and reputable artists (across all mediums) increasingly turn away from big corporate productions in favour of doing more radical independent work with complete creative freedom, publishing houses and agents are coming around to the idea that writers can be self sufficient and there’s money to be had in letting them have control. Some publishers even use self publishing as a proving ground for writers. If you can sell 2,000 copies of your book off your own back, what could you do with a full team and financing behind you? Here’s two important pieces of information to further explore this reality. The legendary alternative rock/EDM band Radiohead and heavy metal alternative rock band Avenged Sevenfold both dropped their record labels in the last three years and released self-published albums, to massive sales and critical acclaim. They did this to throw off the shackles of studios and producers trying to make their sound more palatable and mass-market, and it’s achieved a starting result. In fact, they’ve become more successful, as their reputation and following loyalty deepens in appreciation of their true art. Similarly, many major writers now also self publish books alongside their main titles. In addition, the quality of production between pro-published books and self-published is negligible. In fact, many publishing companies use the same tools as self publishers, such as CreateSpace and Lulu, to print their books. So really, what’s the advantage of publishing, unless they are going to market you extensively?

My books are a mixture of professional and self-published work. My first novel, The Darkest Touch, was published in 2014 by Dark Hall Press, a professional horror publisher based in New York. I adore this little book, but ironically, it’s probably my lowest-quality title in terms of production value. My most spectacular book in terms of production quality is NEKYIA. NEKYIA is a 720 page epic multiverse horror novel in the vein of King’s The Dark Tower and told in a poetic style reminiscent of early 80s Lustbader (The Ninja, Black Heart). This book was produced via Lulu, and lovingly worked on over a period of five years. I wanted the physical print to match the scale, theme and vigour of the prose. It’s printed on parchment-quality paper, and has cover art I designed myself using imagery created by Grand Failure and modified in Paint.NET. As you can see, the effect it’s possible to achieve using simple (and free) tools, and putting the hours in, can equal and surpass what many pro-publishers can do. The fact is, when it came to releasing NEKYIA, I knew I wanted it to be a special book. Most publishers would have advised splitting it down and releasing it in parts (it’s 170,000 words long), but I knew the story would lose impact and people would see through this as a cheap money-grab tactic. So, I released the novel as one big tome, in the way of King’s The Stand. I don’t pretend it’s as great a novel as King’s biblical masterpiece, but I certainly wanted people to experience it in the same way.

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The other advantages of self publishing, quite apart from creative control, are greater monetary cuts and increased visibility. I get far more money from the books I’ve self published, sometimes £2.00 or £3.00 of the cover price (not always though), whereas with traditional publishing, I see barely 50p most of the time, and that’s only after the publisher has deducted their expenses. Similarly, I don’t have to wait for a report that is often out of date, or even incorrect, to know how many books I’ve sold and where and who too, I can merely log-in and look it up. This is a very powerful tool for understanding which of your books are making the biggest impact.

The other alternative is crowd-funding. Now, the two of these work very well together, and are really a crux upon which writers and small indie-publishers can build empires in our modern world. They call it “online democracy” and while this is technically untrue given the fact that those with more influence, money for advertising, or followers will probably get more backing, there is certainly more democracy to crowd-funding than winning over the whims of an individual editor or publishing house. So, what is crowd-funding for those who’re new? Crowd-funding is where a platform, such as Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, allow a creator to set up a page to obtain funding for their project, whether it be book, album or any other creative endeavour. People give money to these campaigns and in exchange are offered rewards. These could be as simple as a “thank you” in the acknowledgement of the book, or a printed and signed copy, or T-shirts, merch, you name it. People get very creative with their rewards, and that’s part of the fun and challenge, because creative rewards will generally draw more backers. Campaigns can run for various time periods but it’s generally 30 days. Kickstarter is “all or nothing funding” which means if you don’t make your target, no money is taken from anyone, and you are not funded. IndieGoGo offer both “all or nothing” and “flexible” funding, which allows you to keep whatever you raise.

I’ve used both Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. I used Kickstarter to crowd-fund my novel Across the Bitter Sea in 2015. I raised £520.00 (my goal was £500.00) and delivered 22 rewards. This was my first ever foray into crowd-funding, so I wanted it to be humble and achievable. Most people who backed were interested in the more outlandish rewards such as original artwork (ink illustrations done by me), T-shirts and limited edition hardback runs of the book. In early 2017, I raised a more ambitious Kickstarter for my publishing project, 13Dark, with the aim of raising £32,000 to publish 13 incredible writers of dark, supernatural fiction. This work would be accompanied by conceptual art by Grand Failure and the comicbook veteran Shawn Langley. We raised £4,500, which was an amazing achievement in itself, but sadly didn’t meet our goal. You might think that my ambition was over-reaching here, and perhaps it was, but the combined followings of all the writers and myself put together was over 60,000 people, so I thought we were in with a shot. Always remember, the percentage of people who will actually give money to your crowd-funding campaign is always less than you think. If you have 1,000 followers, probably only 50 of them (5%) will actually be willing to support you financially.

However, we didn’t give up with 13Dark, I was privileged to be working with writers who believed in me, even some of the big name authors who could well have bowed out at that point and found other homes for their work. We received an overwhelming influx of support. I spent time selling special book bundles and offering writing coaching, two of the rewards we offered on the original Kickstarter. After a while, we had enough funding to breathe some new life into the project. We ran an IndieGoGo campaign for a modest £700.00 just to Fund Issue #1 of 13Dark, which will publish the first 3 stories. We now find ourselves with £912.00 of backing as of writing this article. What’s more, we are now InDemand, which means our campaign is still going despite the time period being over, with people able to use our IndieGoGo page like a digital marketplace. We can add new rewards and edit old ones. It’s very exciting. Our latest goal is to raise £1,000.00 (we’re only £88.00 off) in order to add a fourth story to Issue #1 of 13Dark. Issue #1: Dead Voices features work by a host of new and talented writers, and is definitely worth checking out if you want to experience a new type of fiction.

Let’s take one more example. Most recently, STORGY magazine, a London-based publisher of quality short stories (Chuck Palahniuk said STORGY is “Keeping the short story alive”, what better  recommendation could you want?), ran a kickstarter to fund their epic EXIT EARTH anthology, a collection of 22 stories, including 4 works by the editors, 4 works by big names, and 14 stories by writers shortlisted in a story competition judged by Diane Cooke. I miraculously managed to win third prize in this competition with my story “When the Tide Comes In”. This kickstarter was a huge success, raising £8,000, whereas it only needed £6,000 to be backed. EXIT EARTH is now going to be taken to print and will be available in bookstores across the UK. Within 30 days, STORGY went from a popular online magazine to a fully fledged publishing house. Part of the reason STORGY were so successful, I believe, is their teamwork. Not just with each other, but with their writers, and with their community of readers.

Crowd-funding is, as you might gather from this brief story, A LOT of work. It requires you to be a marketing guru, artist, graphic designer, business director and writer all in one go. It’s easier if you have a team of people (and the bigger campaigns do). But mostly, it’ll be you on your own. The potential is tremendous and my campaigns are certainly at the lower end of the spectrum. The genre-defining board game Kingdom Death: Monster has currently made $12,393,139 on Kickstarter. Of course, not every idea is going to take off into the stratosphere and capture the imaginations of thousands like this game has (take one look at the design and ambition of it and you will see why even if you’re not a board game nerd like me). Not every creator has the time, energy and resources to commit to creating something as sprawling, and indeed, it can be hard to find your audience, people who are predisposed to this kind of content. Before going into a crowd-funding campaign, you have to carefully plan out what you can and are prepared to deliver. And throughout, you have to be honest about where you are at with the project. Give realistic time-frames and expectations and your audience will understand.

13Dark is only in its infancy despite going through two campaigns, but each time, we get stronger and stronger (and I get more knowledgeable too, which helps). We’re soon going to re-launching the campaign for our second issue, once the first has been delivered, and also potentially releasing some other unique creative projects via the InDemand page. I’d recommend crowd-funding to anyone who’s interested in taking their own destiny into their hands. If nothing else, you’ll get a sense of just how many people might be interested in your work and ideas. From there, you can start to build a fan-following. One of the best pieces of advice I could give is work with others. Don’t just run a campaign for your own book. Unless you’re Neil Gaiman, it’s unlikely to be successful. Do a collaborative project with other writers, or publish their short stories as a preface to your novel, or team up for a graphic novel production, or perhaps do a joint double-novel release with another writer, cross-polinating your fan-followings. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination, and the audience is there, even if they are getting harder and harder to find.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joseph Sale is a novelist, writing coach, editor, graphic designer, artist, critic and gamer. His first novel, The Darkest Touch, was published by Dark Hall Press in 2014. Since, he has authored Seven Dark Stars, Across the Bitter Sea, Orifice, The Meaning of the Dark, Nekyia and more. Under the pseudonym Alan Robson (his grandfather’s name), he won third place in Storgy’s Exit Earth anthology competition, judged by Diane Cook.

He is the creator of 3 Dark, a unique publishing project born in 2017 showcasing the work of 13 writers including Richard Thomas and Moira Katson; each story is accompanied by original concept art from Shawn Langley and with cover art by Grand Failure.

He contributes feature-pieces, film, TV, and book reviews. and fiction, to Storgy Magazine. He also writes for GameSpew, and has an enduring love of video-games.

His short fiction has appeared in Silver Blade, Fiction Vortex, Nonbinary Review, Edgar Allan Poet and Storgy Magazine, as well as in anthologies such as Dark Hall Press’s Technological Horror and Storgy’s Exit Earth. In 2014 he was nominated for the Sundress Award for Literary Excellence.

In his spare time he plays badminton, watches Two Best Friends Play and puts on his DM hat, concocting fiendish dungeons for his friends to battle through.

LINKS

themindflayer.com

@josephwordsmith

Discipline: Perseverance as a Skill in Writing

J.B.M. Patrick

Three years ago, and in the middle of December, I thought I’d failed in everything I’d set out to accomplish.

In 2014, I enlisted in the Armed Forces. I was already a Basic Emergency Medical Technician; I knew quite a bit on how to save lives, but I felt I didn’t know enough about how to protect them. I’d signed up to be of part of the Army’s Infantry and began a long, arduous journey that transformed my way of thinking and altered my perception of what it meant to lead a meaningful life. On that December, I participated in yet another test designed to rid our ranks of those incapable of meeting the physical standards.

I’ve always been a terrible runner. At that time, I was even worse. I remember sprinting through gusts of oppressively frigid winds in order to meet the finish line under the time limit. The standard was a measly two miles in under 15 minutes and fifty-four seconds. I’d taken this test once before and had failed it the first time at 16:36.

I passed the halfway mark, and, with only one mile left, I struggled as sweat ran into my eyes and seared my vision. I pressed my eyelids together, but the pain only increased. My whole body was aching, I could barely breathe, and I began to see the backs of more and more runners besting my pace. I was angry at myself. So angry, that I started to cry because I knew it was my fault for not pushing myself hard enough, for not having the necessary strength to carry out a victory. I cried; however, I did not stop. I kept running until the end, and when I hit the finish line, I heard a Drill Sergeant bellow the outcome:

15:30. I keeled over, fell into a coma, and my chain of command rushed me to the emergency room.

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Just kidding. I made it. And little did I know that this would be the easiest victory, as events would soon heat up and never relent in intensity for years after. It was hard when I beat my two-mile time at 13:57, it was hard when I beat the standard for my brigade’s four mile at 29:30, it was hard when I ruck marched twelve miles to graduate Air Assault School, and it was hard when I stood my ground against a much higher-ranking member on a controversial issue and won.

So, how does this relate to writing as a craft and as a profession?

Conquering Fear:

“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”
– Stephen King

However a reader/writer may feel about Stephen King, he is absolutely right in how he interprets the psyches of writers everywhere who often encounter the same issues. The clearest and strongest manifestations of fear take the form of “writer’s block.” I’ve always disliked this term, because once a writer has moved past it, writer’s block never returns. Writer’s block stems from the fear of Mental Conjugation.

Mental Conjugation:

Art, literary or otherwise, exists in fluidity. It only possesses the form an artist gives it. When an artist is too afraid to mold their vision into something tangible, they (“they” is being used for inclusivity’s sake) often create excuses that take root in the artist’s subconscious. Every time they sit down to create their vision, they’re assaulted either with feelings of incompetence or a lack of faith in themselves. They fall short of grasping how to mentally conjugate an idea, and this is often due to them feeling like that very first sentence or paragraph has to be perfect. It’s not because that person is inherently a crappy writer, but their hesitation is preventing them from realizing their full potential. With that in mind, anyone should be angry at themselves for erecting such an unnecessary but understandable barrier to progress. In spite of that, we should remember:

Conjugation is a Mechanical Process:

Writing is work. It’s very laborious in nature. I’ve gone from operating on an assembly line for twelve-hour shifts at a nonstop pace to adapting to constantly changing standards as a soldier. I’ve always had anxiety, so, in a way, everything is scary to an extent. But still, we must choose action over stagnation—fear over complacency, because that is how we evolve as writers.

That first sentence will not be perfect. In fact, it’ll most likely be trash; it’s normal. Every first draft is ugly, from Dostoyevsky’s to Bret Easton Ellis’. It’s going to feel “off,” it’s going to feel “dull” or “weak.” Regardless of how the writer labels their own work, it doesn’t matter. Developing the content matters. Conjugating ideas into tangible pieces of art matters. It is a mechanical process because it happens according to a style that’s already developed and will continue developing as the process continues. In order to ensure that this process works, there is one invaluable skill a writer must have at their disposable:

Discipline:

Advice on story elements, such as plot progression, character development, pacing, and word choice, is mostly canonical. Most established writers have come to agree with each other on what works, even if those elements themselves can often be sinned against for great effect depending on the artist’s talents. A potential writer can spend hours and days attempting to gather as much information about these elements. They can go on online forums for support in their efforts, they can log onto a social media account and find hundreds of others asking for the same advice, and then they usually complain about how they don’t write enough on those same platforms. Writing is not always fun; not every moment is beautiful or hits the right note. It takes discipline to put aside everything in a writer’s life and work for the sake of content while striving for the best level of quality on their first go. To write well, one must write and write and write. To edit well, one must edit and edit and edit. In conjunction, those two skills unite under discipline and support a writer’s efforts to produce something meaningful.

Set A Goal:

Shooting for the objective of making readers cry or feel significant emotions is lofty and can take time. It’s an overarching goal encompassing several much smaller goals, which are all equally important. For example, Stephen King claims to write 2,000 words a day. I’ve been following that goal myself and have already written eighty pages worth of content after a little over a week. I wrote 2,000 words this morning and am over 1,000 by this point.

In short, a writer should make it their imperative to keep going and to continue far beyond simple discouragement. It matters not how they feel and only makes a difference when they keep writing. Of course, beta readers and editors always follow once this process is complete; however, most never even start the process. Every time a writer completes their word count, their discipline develops just a little more. Remember to sustain rather than give in to trepidation.

Remember to look forward, to mentally conjugate art into a tangible form rather than focus on what’s behind you. Besides, looking back is an entirely different mechanical process; it’s called editing.

© Josh B. M. Patrick

Author Bio: 

J. B. M. Patrick (born 1994) is a former EMT, an Army Veteran, and the author of Angelos Odyssey: Volume One. Visit his Amazon page here for the extended (and very colorful!) version of his author bio: https://www.amazon.com/J.-B.-M.-Patrick/e/B0755RD3LV/

The Science of Revision: Words Are All We Have

Jack Strandburg, Freelance Editor at J. S. Editing Services

Revising fiction, whether in the form of a short story, novella, or novel, is more than spell and grammar check; every fiction writer knows that; otherwise there would be no need for editors, and having recently started a freelance editing business, I’m thankful for that fact.

I have edited more than thirty-five novels in various genres, and although different genres offer different challenges, and “what to look for,” the common goal among the genres is to capture the reader and throw him or her into your world.

A work of fiction, if written well, consists of three major components – Character, Plot, and Setting. The argument of whether one is more important than the other two can, and is, discussed in books and articles ad nauseam, and for that reason, is beyond the scope of this blog.

My intent is to provide a set of guidelines on how to approach editing in all three components to produce the best possible story.

You probably got enough sleep last night, so I won’t bore you with a lot of narrative; instead I’ll stick with examples, which I believe does a much better job emphasizing my point . . . you know –show v. tell.

I will spend a little time on the three major components, but want to focus more on a topic, that perhaps does not command as much attention, yet, in my mind, is as equally important as “the Big Three.”

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Character:

We want the reader to “see” our characters, so we strive to provide as vivid a physical description as possible. We accomplish this by using similes and comparisons.

“In the eyes, round beneath soft brows, the slender, finely shaped nose, and full lips, I saw both sensuousness and refinement.”

“His measured walk resembled a skilled countryman as distinct from the shamble of the general laborer.”

“Joe left Arizona to attend college in California,” tells the reader little about Joe, but “Joe said goodbye to his parents, left his rural home in Phoenix, and drove to California to study engineering in UCLA,” not only reveals much more about Joe, but perhaps raises the question, why did Joe drive rather than fly?’

Plot:

Ensure there is conflict and obstacles for the protagonist, the antagonist presents a challenge, and the flow of events is seamless.

Ensure the accuracy of factual information. For example, if a character travels from New York to Spain, he or she should not complain about the rental car’s lousy gas mileage.

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Setting:

Show v. tell when describing a place in your story, with heavy and frequent references to the five senses.

Word Power

When I edit, either for myself or for a client, I spend at least as much time, if not more, on word power. The goal should be to write each sentence in the least number of words as possible, provided, of course, it does not change the meaning or sacrifice what the writer wants to say.

Most writers know to avoid adverbs by either eliminating them, or substitute more powerful verbs.

Weak words and phrases, such as “that, had, have, would have been,” (the list is far too long for this blog) are, in the majority of cases, are unnecessary. They function only as a distraction to the reader. The same applies to overused words and phrases, such as, “the fact that, all of a sudden, at the very least, in spite of, and if nothing else.”

I see a lot of unnecessary words and phrases, and although not necessarily considered “bad writing,” and usually skipped over while reading, when such words and phrases are eliminated, their distraction is obvious.

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“He thought to himself to “he thought.” (who else would he think to?)

He nodded his head” to “he nodded.” (as opposed to nodding his shoulder?)

“He shook his head to indicate no.” to “he shook his head.” (Granted, he might shake his head for another reason, but the context would indicate whether he was responding to a question).

“He got up out of bed.” to “He got out of bed,” or even better, “he climbed out of bed,” which eliminates the unnecessary “up,” and also substitutes a more powerful verb.

Of course, we have the ever-popular phrase I read in books, newspapers, and hear in movies and TV shows.

“Past history or past experience.” All history and experience is “past.”

A number of verbs used to link a second verb are prevalent in fiction writing, most notably “take and took,” “made and “make.”

“He made a move,” to “he moved.”

“He took a shot,” to “he shot or he tried, or he attempted.”

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During the first revision of my first commercially published novel, the editor cited the elimination of two unnecessary words – that and had.

Of course, has and have can be included by default.

That can be eliminated in most (not all) cases unless the writer was referring to a specific person, place or thing. (that man, that chair, that city).

Before: “By the way, I just wondered if you think that this dress looks good on me.”

After: “Does this dress look good one me?”

Before: “Suddenly, I thought that perhaps she should go back over there and sit down on top of the fence.”

After: “She should go sit on the fence.”

Eliminate or substitute all forms of “some.” (someone, somebody, sometime, somewhere), by instead being specific in identifying the person, time frame, or place.

Minimize the occurrences of pronouns within the same sentence or paragraph.

Before: He got out of bed. He went to the bathroom. He washed his face and shaved. He took a shower. He dressed and went to the kitchen. He made breakfast. (6 sentences, 6 occurrences of “he”)

After: He climbed out of bed and went to the bathroom. After a shave and a shower, he dressed and went to the kitchen to make breakfast. (2 sentences, 2 occurrences of “he”)

By applying these concepts during your revisions, you will produce a much tighter,  much cleaner, and easier to read story.

© Jack Strandburg

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Adaptation: From Novel to Screenplay to Film

Judy Sandra – Writer, Director, Producer

These days it’s almost a given that a film will be based on a novel or book of non-fiction.  While I also write original screenplays, I decided to adapt a novel I wrote into a screenplay for a film that I will also direct. The following thoughts on adaptation come from my personal experience of adapting the novel The Metal Girl into the film project “Metal Girl.”

From Novel to Screenplay to Film

Novels and films are such different species that it can feel unnatural to marry them.  After the adaptation, the only thing they will share will be a story, the setting, and the characters. A novel is a completed art form.   One author writes the book, and one reader reads the book one at a time.  If it’s a successful book, many people, even millions of people will read that same book. While each reader will see the story through their own imagination and personal interpretation, the printed words will never change.

A screenplay is the blueprint for a film.  Very few people will ever read the original screenplay.  From the screenplay, the film will be created through the collaborative efforts of the director, cinematographer, actors, and all the creative professionals that contribute to the making of the movie.

The screenplay will evolve over the duration of the actual shooting of the film, with input and collaborations between the director and actors, and it will continue to evolve during the post-production process of the film—through the editing and finishing processes. The screenplay is a fluid and ever changing document.

I emphasize this to call attention to the fact that a screenplay is not a work of art. The film is the work. The screenplay is part of the work, a very significant part, but one that remains mostly invisible. The screenplay is the beginning of a process of the making of a film.

While this may seem an obvious point, it becomes a very important one when thinking about adapting a novel to the screen.  To me the screenwriter, the novel I have in front of me is a piece of writing that I am now going to bend to the medium of film.  The first thing to consider is adapting prose to dramatic writing and the limitations of the screenplay format.

From prose to screenplay format

To adapt the prose into a screenplay, I have to think about the story differently, as a series of scenes in three dimensions.  Also, to accommodate the average length of a film–one hour and forty-five minutes–most working screenplays are between approximately 90 and 105 pages. The narrative of an average 300-500 page novel simply won’t fit. Something—a lot—has to go.

How does one tell a novel length story in a 105 page script?

Efficiently, using the language of film.

What actually happens in an adaptation is that the story of the book gets retold in the language of film. In essence, you will be writing the original story again, but this time, it’s going to be a movie. That’s how it felt when I adapted The Metal Girl.  I was re-writing the novel, telling the same story in the same situations, but this time I was telling it using pictures, music, sound, and color. How would I tell that story, what would it look like, and how would those characters come to life on the screen?

Planning the adaptation: Structure

What elements of the story would stay and which could I cut out? Which characters, events, locations? What parts could I eliminate and what parts did I have to keep to portray the theme of the story and the main character’s journey?

What would change, and what would stay the same? This is not always evident at first. Through all the versions of the script, some events, situations, characters in the novel will be lost, but at the same time, other elements that were not in the original story might be added for dramatic effect. Further changes will occur over the course of the shooting and editing of the film.

The old adage of filmmaking is true: “There is the film you write, the film you shoot, and the film you edit”.  A film is an evolving creative process, but that’s one of the things that for me makes filmmaking so exciting: you never really know what a film will be or look like until the end.

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Beginning, Middle, End

The first consideration is the structure of the film story, which may have to differ from the structure of the novel. Deciding on the best timeline for the events of the story in the film is the first thing to adapt. In film one wants to build the narrative and keep the audience guessing. Surprise is an important element of screenwriting—the twists and turns of the plot—and one of the devices that holds the attention of the viewer.

A novel also has to move forward, but doesn’t have to build on emotion in the same way as a film.  A film takes the audience on an emotional journey. The film must hold you in your seat in rapt attention for one sitting of 90 to 105 minutes. So the screenplay must be structured in such a way as to build towards a dramatic, emotional climax that is resolved by the end. The words on the page don’t need to do that. The book can be of interest and engaging but we can put it down and come back to it later.

For example, in The Metal Girl, one very important event in the development of the main character Charlotte happened in the early part of the novel. But in the screenplay “Metal Girl”, for dramatic purposes, I put off that moment, building up to that point later in the story. When the moment occurs in the film, the audience is ready for Charlotte’s emotional response, and it becomes a turning point for the development of her character and the arc of the story.

Characters—Subtracting and Adding

In the same way that the narrative structure may have to change, in the screenplay you may have to make changes with characters in the story, especially if there are a lot or there are many incidental characters.  For the reasons of character development, the story arc, and the time constraints of a film, incidental characters need to be kept to a minimum.  Some characters in the novel fell away because I didn’t need them as they weren’t a crucial part of the story.  In the novel they may have added another color in the development of the main character or to the texture of the story, but in the film they were unnecessary extra details.

One reason that some new characters may appear in the script is to move the narrative forward, as the film will have a different story arc than the novel. Also, one might add characters and scenes that don’t appear in the novel in order to translate internal thoughts into dialogue. For example, the novel The Metal Girl is written in the first person.  In fact, in the novel, the narrator doesn’t even have a name. Because the entire story is coming from her mind and also describes her feelings about situations that occur, I sometimes chose to create a character that didn’t exist in the book for her to interact with in order to turn her thoughts into dialogue and her internal emotional state into her responses to other people.

Keeping what works 

In spite of what I said above, sometimes what is written in the novel works perfectly well on screen. After all the film is based on the novel and you want to keep as much of the flavor of the original story as possible. In “Metal Girl” some of the dialogue in the screenplay comes directly from the  novel. Parts of the first person narrative in the book were used as voiceover in the screenplay. In the beginning of the film, we hear the main character Charlotte telling us about what we are seeing on screen as we watch the opening scenes unfold before she actually speaks in the film. Other scenes in the film were lifted directly as they were written in the novel. If it works, use it.

The End

The process of making a film, from pre- to post-production, typically takes one to two years. During that time the story has been guided by the director, writer, and producer with the collaborative efforts of the cinematographer and the entire creative team. Shooting every day is magical: how things come together on camera, what the performances will be. Putting the film together in post production—the editing and finishing process—is the final adventure.

Filmmaking is an unpredictable controlled chaos of creativity. At the end of this exciting, creative, and arduous process, you will have a film. The adapted screenplay will not be a replica of the novel, but hopefully will become a  film that is as special as the novel that inspired it.

Judy Sandra – Bio:

Judy Sandra is a director, writer, producer, and author. The screenplay “Metal Girl” is an adaptation of her coming-of-age novel The Metal Girl.  Judy has received four best screenplay award nominations for “Metal Girl”, including being honored as one of the three screenwriting finalists at the 2016 Nottingham International Film Festival, Nottingham, UK.

In 2016, she made her directorial debut with the comedy/fantasy short film  ”Angelito in Your Eye”.  Judy has received six international film award nominations for the short from international awards festivals, including for Best Comedy Short Film, Best Genre Film, and Best Actor.

LINKS:

Judy Sandra – Writer, Director, Producer
website: http://judysandra.com

The Metal Girl on Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/Metal-Girl-Judy-Sandra/dp/0578038781/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264541453&sr=1-5

Follow Judy and on Social Media:

Facebook:
Judy Sandra Director: https://www.facebook.com/JudySandraDirector
Metal Girl – Movie: https://www.facebook.com/MetalGirlMovie
The Metal Girl – Novel: https://www.facebook.com/TheMetalGirl

Twitter:
@judy_sandra

Instagram:
@judysandra7

 

© Judy Sandra 2017

Creating Stories: The Uses Of Setting

Award-Winning Author Hank Quense

The story’s setting gives the readers a sense of time and location. This allows the readers to begin building images in their minds. The scene settings (which are subsets of the story setting) give additional image building information to the readers. But setting does much more than provide image building clues.
These uses are listed below.

1. The setting of the story should give an indication of the type of story the reader is about to encounter and this should be conveyed early to the reader, the earlier the better. Ideally, this should be the opening paragraph in a short story or the first few pages in a longer work. Is it a mystery set in Victorian London? Is it a story of survival set in war-torn Iraq? Are those vicious aliens on their way to Earth? The reader expects and has a right to know this stuff as early as possible. Don’t disappoint the readers. They may put the book down and never open it again.

2. There are two types of setting in a story. First, there is the overall story setting and second there is the settings used in scenes. The scene settings are subsets of the story setting. For instance, if the story setting is the Sahara Desert, then scenes can be set on sand dunes, at an oasis, in a sand storm or at a deserted fort.

3. Consider your characters acting out the story on a stage. Behind the characters, instead of the scenery typical with plays, there is nothing but white panels. The people who paid money to see the play would be dismayed by the lack of scenery, so too your readers will not like it if your story doesn’t have the appropriate setting to back up the characters.

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4. The setting used in your story has to be accurate. Don’t try to set a story in Manhattan’s Central Park if you haven’t been there. Likewise, the French Quarter in New Orleans is unique and shouldn’t be used by anyone who hasn’t walked the narrow streets.

5. On the other hand, if you develop an imaginary location, you can describe the area any way you want. If you use a backdrop of a historical period in the distant past, none of your readers will have been there, but you’ll still have to do research to get the setting accurate. You can’t use St. Paul’s Cathedral with its great dome in London right after William the Conquerer became king of England. St Paul’s wasn’t built yet.

6. An effect of establishing the setting is the placing of limitations on the author and the characters. For the author, a space ship means he shouldn’t have the characters using swords and landline phones since these artifacts are from bygone eras. Your characters are also limited. A character in the Old West can’t have knowledge of computers or smart phones, unless he’s a time-traveler.

As you can see, the setting can have a major impact on the reader, especially if it isn’t handled correctly.

This article is based on material in my book Creating Stories.

© Hank Quense 2017

How to Be Your Own Best Writer You Can Be

James Sale

When Kim Staflund, whose ‘How to Publish a Bestselling Book’ is a mini-masterpiece of useful information on the topic, invites you to do a blog for her pages, then you know you have a problem: what could you possibly write that could add to her readers’ knowledge or skill-set that is not already contained in her volume? There is so much she has done already; so perhaps my first piece of advice would be to go back and read her book! But the initial panic subsides when one realises that one isn’t trying to be Kim Staflund; on the contrary, everyone can become truly helpful to others when we just simply become authentic. What does that mean? It means in the first instance we need to address our own experience, and not try to come up with all the regular solutions that everyone else does. On that basis, then, I’d like to share with you some of my publishing experiences over a 35-year period, and to see whether this of use to you, dear reader.

First, so what are my publishing credentials for speaking at all on this matter? I am pleased to tell you that I have been both self-published, and also published by minor and major publishing houses. All my poetry collections (as opposed to individual poems, which have appeared in many magazines in the UK and the USA) have been self-published (check my The Lyre Speaks True: http://amzn.to/2t5L7iy), as have some management booklets, which have been done for marketing purposes within my core consultancy business (www.motivationalmaps.com). But alongside these, going back to 1984 when a 3-volume educational series of books were published by Macmillans, I have had over 30 books published by the likes of Nelson, Hodder and Stoughton, Longmans Folens, Stanley Thornes, Pearson, Courseware Publications, Gower and most latterly, Routledge. My book, York Notes: Macbeth (Pearson: http://amzn.to/2sdZQvu ) has been (and still is, though currently when I looked, ranked #2) an ongoing bestseller, and I have written 4 versions of the book over a 20-year span. Currently, following the sales success of my Mapping Motivation book for Gower (http://amzn.to/2s7iL6H ), I am under contract to Routledge to write 6 more book on aspects of motivation. So it is true to say that, whilst I am not a full-time professional writer, like many readers here perhaps aspire to be, I am a serious writer with a track record to match.

So what can I advise people? How can I help you become a better, more effective writer? I think the first thing I would say, and which is counter-intuitive to what many readers want, and even reasons for reading Kim’s magisterial work, is this: be really clear about why you are writing! This may sound obvious, but in my experience it is not. The trouble is, I think, that people see writing as an easy way to make money, or worse: simply they do it for money. And that – with many honourable exceptions – leads to dire writing; disposable writing; writing that is here today and gone tomorrow, even when it succeeds in its objective of making money.

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You see, once you get on the treadmill of I need to make money writing, then the marketing takes over the writing process; the writing for the market becomes more important than discovering yourself; the ‘it’s good enough’ attitude supplants the desire to – in that wonderful Eagles’ phrase – ‘take it to the limit’. What I am saying is, of course, very difficult in today’s world where the market dominates everything. But for me, writing is a special calling, and in two special ways.

The first is that writing is a process of discovery, self-discovery. We may intend to write a book about a particular topic, but true writing always reveals more than we thought we knew. In fact, it could truly be said that we don’t know what we think until we come to write it down. Second, the content and the writing itself are both forms of expertise – and becoming expert in both is what is critical. In this expertise there is a deep joy – one, in the element of words, is like a prime dolphin in the element of water, how wonderful to experience that mastery!

And here – as a seasoned consultant and business person – I can bring in my first true marketing point to help you. Namely, what the great American marketer Jay Abraham called the principle of ‘Pre-eminence’. I don’t write to make money; I write to become pre-eminent in the disciplines that I know and exercise. I want to be in the top 4% of poets, in the top 4% of management and motivation writers; these are my playing fields, and these are my objectives. So to establish this is not about simply how many copies of a book can I sell, and what percentage of the turnover do I keep (typically 100% in self-publication and 10% with major publishers); it is much more about my reputation and the collateral benefits that book writing provides. These collateral benefits are considerable; and have always been there in my life: ranging from giving me the edge in job interviews (in ye olden days before self-employment), attracting invitations to speak as prestigious events, facilitating consultancy assignments and etc. To give an example, only last week I was at Regents University in London at a conference called ‘5 Great Minds’, organised by The Chartered Institute of Marketing; it was a day conference (https://www.cim.co.uk/event/83890/ ) with – guess what? – 5 speakers, all ‘great minds’ speaking, and I was one of them. Hype aside, that – THAT – is what is so valuable to my business and career, and writing enables it. And to be clear, I am all for making money – it’s just that writing books can lead to it indirectly (as well as directly), which is why clarity of purpose is so important.

Thus, given the above context, what do I recommend you do to develop your own writing business? What things have I done that have helped boost my reputation as a writer?

First, let’s deal with getting a publishing deal with a major publisher. What is my number one piece of advice? You need to go and find a way to meet the editor personally. That’s it. Like you, I have had hundreds of rejections from submitted manuscripts and proposals. But I have found that when I get out and go for it, and meet the relevant person at some event, and I don’t try to ‘sell’, but simply have a great chat and find out their interests and what they are doing, then – THEN – there is every chance the magic sentence can almost casually come out: “You know, I think I have something you might like’.  Boom! And they say, “Send me it – I can’t promise, but –”

Can you do that? Can you get out and meet that someone? And keep in mind, when you meet them, meeting per se is not enough. For the transaction to take place they need to: know you (hence you turn up), like you (are they going to, or are you going to be a pain?), and trust you (do you listen to them carefully, and are you going to follow through and do what you say?). My key books with Macmillan, Pearson, Gower and Routledge all occurred because I went out to meet the key decision maker, enjoyed their company, and as they liked me, so good books were born.

The question you might ask is: well, how do I meet them? Where will they be? The answer to that question is not as opaque as it might seem. In ye olden days of the ‘80s, things were trickier, but now you find on Twitter especially, but also Facebook and Linkedin, editors going on about conferences, book signings, writers events that they are going to attend all the time. They, too, remember, are in the market.

This leads on to my third point: developing expertise. In Kim’s wonderful book she has a great tip on overcoming writer’s block, but actually the tip is much more important than just writer’s block. She says, “The writers who spend even as little as half an hour per day reading another author’s work often find they are more creative …” Yes, and often more expert too. We need to find not only authors who inspire us, but also what I call ‘home-bases’ – people or sites who share your values, who are aligned with what you do (Kim’s website is just such a place for writers generally) at the ‘field’ level. Learning and expertise through this can become so much deeper.

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What does this mean? It means that being a writer can be a lonely business and we need deep encouragement from others, and others who can support us on the way. Take my own ‘field’ of poetry for example. This is an extremely fragmented and disputatious field. One could never get published if one kept sending one’s work to ideologically-opposed magazine editors. So I identify ‘home bases’ where people are in sync with me, where I share values, and this is like a watering hole (one brilliant home for me is The Society of Classical Poets: http://classicalpoets.org. This is a place that values, especially, form and beauty; it doesn’t want poetry that says the world is a hellhole, there’s no hope, no form, and – hey, subtext coming up – aren’t I a clever little monster for observing all this rubbish; where’s my Pulizter?) So the question for you becomes: where are the value-friendly and vision-aligned publications where you can expect – if they know, like and trust you – to find a receptive audience? Go to work and project there!

My fourth point would be the importance of those two twins: reviewing and blogging. In between writing your actual books, and sometimes mining them for articles as ‘sneak peaks’ or ‘tasty teaser’ copy, there is the importance of contributing back. I really cannot emphasise this enough. Indeed, a subsidiary point arises: namely, it is better to engage in 2 or 3 marketing activities that you really understand and enjoy and ‘work’, rather than trying to deploy 25 techniques and tools from a dozen different marketing experts promising outstanding success if you just only do this … No, really getting behind one or two great ideas is where the meat is; or is the 80/20 Rule in action.

Reviewing is so important because you learn from the books you review, you alert others to them, and critically you demonstrate your expertise. Finally, reviewing can also lead to your making invaluable and prestigious contacts. This is so important. I myself through this process have only just this week been contacted by a leading academic at a top-notch New York university about a project. This is someone I could not have accessed, probably, through any other mechanism, but now it’s happening. And remember, when you support others, they are much more likely to support you; and if they don’t, no matter, move on, and be a moving target. So where are you reviewing? And there’s the thing; it’s rather like publication – think of the self-publication where anyone can start, and also think of the more prestigious magazines where one might gain a foothold. So, to use myself as an example, I regularly review on spiritual and healing matters for the Quaker print magazine, Towards Wholeness (http://bit.ly/2t6busx) and also have now become an official poetry reviewer for The Society of Classical Poets. On top of this I am an active re-purposer! My management blogs I present first on my Linkedin page (http://bit.ly/2t6busx) but then I re-use them on my personal blogging site on Typepad (http://bit.ly/2t6jGZA), so that they can appear fresh a week or a month later; also, I have spent a long time building up credibility on ezine.com, so that now I am a ‘Diamond’ author for them and get top priority with my posts (http://bit.ly/2s6vBC4). There are so many outlets out there, and here’s the thing; they really are desperate for high quality content because – why? – there is so much low quality content around! This is either because the writer cannot really write, or because they are simply peddling clichés and jargon, the sort of stuff you can find anywhere. But if you are a real writer, if you have followed Kim Staflund’s advice, if you are adopting the strategy of ‘pre-eminence’ as I mentioned earlier, then you are exactly the kind of person that editors are looking for: your writing can be a game changer for so many other people, and in the end quality counts. So to return to my earlier point, it’s counting the quality first, and then the money follows, rather than trying to count the money, never mind the quality.

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So what is true of reviews is true of blog and blogging: you demonstrate what you know. And here again is another important principle in action that needs to be fully grasped, embraced even. Namely, the key point of blogging is to give away free and significant information – note, to give away. This means, then, what not to do: not to act like some consultant who has key information regarding a solution to a pressing problem, but only hints that they have the solution, and that you will have to contact them – and pay – to get the full works. People hate this niggardly sort of transaction; and not only that it always reveals, in my view, that the author has a very limited set of ideas, which is why they are so parsimoniously doling them out. When you are a deep-knowledge worker/writer you can give away a 100, a 1000 ideas for free, why? Because you really do have the abundance mentality; you understand that in the world of ideas, everything is limitless – there are 10,000 more and that the human mind the more expert it becomes, the more it realises the more there is to comprehend, and the more driven it is to encompass just such further knowledge. Thus, there will always be more! As the Dalai Lama said: “Generosity gives rise to a creative mind”. You are fueling yourself when you give to others: awesome or what?

These, then, are some core ideas that have emerged for me as I have pursued my writing career and am now a senior in the digital age! But I don’t yearn for the good old days. Yes, they were good, but I think things are even better now precisely because of the ability of writers to determine more of their own destinies; we can produce, we can distribute, we can market, much more easily; and we can keep the rewards of our labours. But that doesn’t mean self-publication is the only choice. As I said at the beginning, be clear about what you want to achieve from your writing. Be open, then, and be flexible; look for opportunities, especially in the form of good contacts. Give to others and commit to the work. There is a deep joy and calling in being a writer, so now seize that moment and get your stuff out there! I hope some of you may let me know how successful you have been following some of these ideas.

MAPPING MOTIVATION  by James Sale for Routledge on Amazon

The Lyre Speaks True by James Sale

www.jamessale.co.uk

www.motivationalmaps.com

James Sale on Linkedin

© James Sale 2017

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

Michael LaRocca of MichaelEdits.com

There are no rules to assure great writing, but there are ways to avoid bad writing.

That’s from the introduction to The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. It’s also the focus of the book.

Lukeman presents examples of what not to do. If you see something in them that reminds you of something you’ve written, then you know what you need to fix.

I feel like adding that you should be grateful to have something written and fixable. The empty page is the worst.

Anybody who’s been in this business a while has seen thousands of manuscripts from all over the world. Remarkably, writers everywhere are doing the same things wrong. If you read tweets and blogs from most editors, you see a whole lot of snark about it. But Lukeman decided to group these mistakes into categories, set forth definite criteria for rejecting manuscripts, and write one of the most helpful books I’ve ever laid my hands on. Hence this review.

Lukeman also acknowledges something I’ve been saying for years. We don’t always need five pages. We might shoot down a manuscript within the first five paragraphs. Does that sound cruel? Well…

Agents and editors don’t read manuscripts to enjoy them; they read solely with the goal of getting through the pile, solely with an eye to dismiss a manuscript — and believe me, they’ll look for any reason they can, down to the last letter.

I do this. By starting his introduction this way, he hooked me. Absolutely. I was reading to figure out why my work in progress wasn’t going so well. But once I found the answer, I didn’t put this book down. I enjoyed learning from all of it.

I could list his criteria, but that’d be kinda like stealing. Read the man’s book. I got mine at the library. If you can’t do that, Amazon comes to mind. So does my favorite, Better World Books.

People send me manuscripts, wanting me to evaluate them. I’ve told more than one author to go read The First Five Pages and then get back to me. Yeah, I’m turning work away, but that’s because some manuscripts require too much of it. Lukeman will teach you how to do that work yourself, if you’re willing to learn. If you’re a real author, you’ll enjoy learning. If not, that’s a valuable lesson too.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to return to my regularly scheduled snarking.

Technical editing since 1991. Business editing since 2006. MichaelEdits.com

© Michael LaRocca 2017

The Ins and Outs of Outlines: Plotters Versus Pantsers [PART II: PANTSERS]

Jennifer D. Foster, freelance writer, editor, and content strategist

What an honour it is to be able to share this article from
Jennifer D. Foster that was originally published in 2016 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published. There is so much information here that I’ve split the article into two separate guest posts. This second one deals with what Jennifer describes as “pansters.” Enjoy the read!

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Behind every successful novel or short story is an outline, right? Maybe. Some authors swear by a detailed plan (they’re known as “plotters”), while others, namely those fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants  writers  (known as “pantsers” or “SOPs”), despise outlines. New York Times best-selling author Joseph Finder, for example, believes that “writing without an outline is like doing a high-wire act without a net. Some people can do it, but wouldn’t you really rather have a net? I would.” New York Times best-selling author J.A. Jance, however, says she “met outlining in Mrs. Watkin’s sixth-grade geography class in Bisbee, Arizona. I hated outlining then; I hate it now. I do not outline.”

What exactly causes this great divide?

By examining this question of process via authors who do and don’t outline—and why—and via key insights from a selection of those working directly in the world of publishing, including authors, agents, writing instructors, editors, and publishers, we’ll get front-row seats to this age-old debate. For those looking for practical how-tos, tips on creating an effective outline will help send you on your writerly way.

PLOTTERS VERSUS PANTSERS: THE GREAT DEBATE

Pantsers: The Cons of Outlines

For those who love to hate outlines, the writing process is viewed as more organic and free-flowing. Weiland believes many authors are “so talented and so able to hold the entire novel in their heads. They simply don’t need the tools that help the rest of us achieve that same end product.” Key West, Florida-based Meg Cabot, a number one New York Times best-selling author, is one such writer. “Because writing a book, to me, is like taking a trip. I know in my head where I want to go. I just don’t write out an elaborately detailed itinerary. Because the fun part—to me—is figuring out how I’m going to get there, and checking out the interesting sites I see along the way.” Author Harlan Coben is another New York Times best-selling writer with a similar mind-set. “I don’t outline. I usually know the ending before I start. I know very little about what happens in between. It’s like driving from New Jersey to California. I may go Route 80, I may go via the Straits of Magellan, or stop over in Tokyo … but I’ll end up in California,” he says. In an interview for the U.K.’s The Telegraph, he clarifies further: “E.L. Doctorow has a wonderful quote on writing where he says that it is like driving at night in the fog with your headlights on. You can only see a little bit ahead of you, but you can make the whole journey that way. I concur, except that I know, in the end, where I’m going.” And, interestingly enough, for Coben, “there is no ‘why’ I don’t [outline]—you just do what works for you as a writer.” Sims believes that memory plays a role in why some writers, like Coben, don’t outline—they can hold seemingly endless amounts of material in their heads before turning it into a book. But she muses on the impact time may have. “I sure wouldn’t tell him to change, but I wonder how that method will work as he gets older and the brain cells get a little less efficient!”

Pronovost looks at it this way: “Instinctive writers sometimes hold a book’s architecture in their mind—essentially, the outline for them is something private, maybe even sacred, and speaking it out loud or commit- ting it to paper can feel counterintuitive or even rigid.” Deborah Grabien, author and editor at Plus One Press in San Francisco, California, is in full agreement. “As  both a writer (eighteen published novels and music journalism) and an editor of other peoples’ work (two anthologies of short fiction), I loathe outlines. I find working with an outline the functional equivalent of trying to dance in a straitjacket or having sex while wearing a suit of armor. My mantra is, ‘A writer writes, period; just tell the damned story.’ An outline is rigid and, for me, unworkable.”

Embracing the Serendipity

Many writers simply love the serendipity and unpredictability of writing that comes without an outline. They don’t like what Finder calls being “constricted by the steel girdle of an outline.” Hiyate agrees. “The biggest flaw is, you can write yourself into a corner, and the characters are fighting where you want to go with them. Or, because you’ve planned too much, some of the spontaneity—and suspense—might be lost.” Cabot concedes: “Story ideas don’t come along often, and when they do, you have to treat them with care. Outlining them too thoroughly—even talking about them too much over coffee with a friend—can actually ruin them, because it can make you feel as if the story is already told. And when that happens, if you’re like me, you’re dead.”

MacKinnon explains it this way: “Some authors might be less inspired to start writing if they think they have the story all figured out. They find the story as they write it. Maybe they need the excitement of finding the characters’ motivations and the plot as it unfolds to them as well.” J.A. Jance is such an author. “I start with someone dead or dying and spend the rest of the book trying to find out who did it and how come. Knowing what the end will be would make it impossible for me to write the middle,” she says. “I think if I knew what the ending would be, my motivation to write would disappear, as would the sense of discovery. I write for the same reason people read—to find out what happens—and I have never read the end of a book first.” Her reasoning? “This way, I discover the answers at the same time the characters do. This morning, at 60 percent of a book, I just found out that a character I thought was dead isn’t. If I had written an outline, would that even have happened?” Finder, a big fan of outlines, agrees in this case: “That’s just the kind of unpredictable twist you want, because if you didn’t expect it, your reader won’t either.” And that’s exactly why, says Cooper, the biggest hazard of outlining comes to those who refuse to deviate from their meticulously plotted course. The story may have decreased energy or mystery or sense of surprise—for the reader and for the writer. Writing without an outline or with only a loose outline ideally allows the story to unfold like a movie as it’s being written.”

Sims, who has worked on both sides of the outlining fence, can relate to Jance, Finder, and Cooper. With her Rita Farmer mystery series, she’s had to put together a very detailed outline for each book for her agent. But, she says, “the more detailed I got while outlining, the more frustrating the process, because my natural inclination is to figure out a lot along the way. Things come to me, answers to difficult plot questions appear as I write chapter after chapter. And, of course, as I develop characters, I get to know them better and better, and they themselves suggest action, plot points, resolutions, and so on.”

Remaining Surprised

For Black, despite her attempt, outlines do not work. While she’s not against them and “envies” people for whom they do work, for her “they are a little deadening,” and here’s why: “With the first novel I wrote—one I wrote, sold, and then withdrew because I saw its failings all too well—I used a pretty detailed outline. But I found that my ‘knowing’ what was going to happen took out some element of something like a romantic, if rocky, relationship with the book. I wasn’t intrigued by it. The process was a bit like paint-by-numbers for me, and finally I realized that the product was a bit that way as well.” So for Black, spontaneity and what she calls “openness” are imperative. “One of the great benefits of winging it—or making it up as I go along—is that I feel fluid not only about such things as what is going to happen but also about the deeper meaning of the story. I like being a little stupid about my own work as it’s in process, so I don’t fight too hard against its natural process of evolution.”

Green, a creative writing professor at Western University, cautions against outlines in terms of their relationship to the organic processes of change and revelation inherent in writing. “If one is a micromanager in terms of adhering to the outline, the pleasure of discovering that your character is going to do something that you didn’t know he or she was going to do (like a real human being, your character is unpredictable) seldom happens, and formula fiction often rears its head this way. If writing is discovery (and often self-discovery), the fully outlined and adhered-to story can become a ‘product’—albeit a professional one.” When it comes to writing, Green has “found it more valuable to keep a charted summary of each segment or chapter after it’s completed than to try to chart it in advance (like a journal of the novel; Steinbeck did this).” The purpose? The summary “lets me review it each morning and see clearly what has gone before and what I should be addressing next. Then comes the actual writing that day, and often (in best case) the sense of wonder at what has been created at day’s end. And repeat the next day. And the next. In that sense, it’s a kind of reverse outlining and progression, tied into what has come before.” 

In her book Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True, Chicago, Illinois-based, New York Times best-selling, and award-winning author Elizabeth Berg says, “there are two kinds of writers: those who start with a plot and those who end up with one. I am one of the latter.” Berg says the few times she tried to plot a novel, “it was as though the book rebelled—it went another way entirely, and then all those notes I’d taken to follow the ever-so-neat sequence of events I’d planned were in vain.” Like Jance, Black, Sims, and Green, for Berg “part of the joy in writing fiction is the surprise of it, the discovery of things I hadn’t known were in me or that I wanted to say, or, more likely, the way those things chose to be said.” Berg starts her novels only with a strong feeling of something she wants to say and/or understand, and the novel helps her do it. “I find almost nothing more enjoyable than to be working on a novel and wake up not having any idea what’s going to happen that day. It keeps me interested. It keeps me excited. If I had to write what the plot told me was ‘up’ next, I’d be bored—it would feel too much like homework.” Like other pantsers, for Berg “the magic in writing fiction comes from taking that free fall into the unknown and, rather than making things happen, letting them.”

Mockler, who outlines depending on the project, shares Berg’s overall sentiments: “I’m not a fan of obsessively outlining every scene because, for me, it kills my desire to write the story. Writing is a process of discovery, and you can miss great nuggets and details if everything is pre-planned. Too much focus on the structure and not enough on the characters and details and themes can make the writing seem formulaic and flat.”

FINAL FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The reasons why some writers outline and some don’t are as vast and varied as the creators themselves. Bottom line? Use whatever structure, or lack thereof, works best for you, without judgment. “Explore and experiment, and figure out what best unleashes your creativity,” says Weiland. Writing is a highly individual and personal process, a journey of finding balance and what works best. And the tools and techniques that work best for each writer are always based on “personalities, backgrounds, and circumstances,” emphasizes Weiland. If you choose to go the outline route, then remember, she says, that outlines are “about discovering your story and organizing it, so you will then have an accurate road map to follow when writing your first draft.” But, stresses Wiese Sneyd, remember not to become too attached to your outline. “Outlines need not be written in stone, but in sand. And don’t buy into the idea that an outline is essential to writing. It’s not,” she stresses. “I know many writers who sit down every day and write into the dark, so to speak. They allow the story and the characters to carry them rather than relying on an outline to do so.”

Regardless of your path to the finished product, keep this quote in mind, from Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, for inspiration: “Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”

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Watch for Jennifer’s feature in the upcoming 2018 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market in mid-September 2017.

Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto, Canada-based freelance writer, editor, and content strategist. She’s been in the writing and editing business for two decades, and her company is Planet Word. Jennifer’s clients are from the book and custom publishing, magazine, and marketing and communications fields and include The Globe and Mail, Art Gallery of Ontario, D. F. Plett Historical Research Foundation, Greystone Books, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Canadian Children’s Book News, Dundurn Press, Ontario Dental Association, and Firefly Books. When she’s not busy spilling ink for her first novel, walking her greyhound, Aquaman, or reading, Jennifer enjoys travelling, antiquing, gardening, camping, and yoga. She’s a long-time mentor to novice editors via Editors Canada and novice writers via the Professional Writers Association of Canada. Jennifer is chair of Editors Toronto and administrative director of the Rowers Reading Series. Find her online at lifeonplanetword.wordpress.com.

© Jennifer D. Foster 2017