Summer Writing Series: When is it enough?

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Today’s guest author is my friend and author, Tara Fox Hall. She is the author of the Promise Me series and many other novels! Besides being a busy writer, she has been a great mentor to me. If you’re lucky, you may find someone like her to help you through the ups and downs of writing and promotion.

JUST SHORT ENOUGH

The term “word count” is familiar to any author, no matter if they write long novels or micro fiction. But the term is probably most important to those who write shorter stories, like flash fiction.

Most flash fiction is 1000 words or less, though some websites define it as 500 words, maximum. But no matter how you define it, one thing is cut and dry: word count is everything. It defines the story arc, giving the action precise limits, demanding that each word be essential to the action, or face the chopping block. When you have that few words, you can’t afford to waste one that doesn’t convey plot, mood, or meaning.

My first experience with word count was a 24-hr contest I entered. The topic was given in a paragraph. The limit was 900 words, firm. I wrote the story I wanted to write, and then checked the word count. It was 1200 words. Panicked, I began paring down, then checked again. Still too long by over a hundred words. I pared down to the absolute max, then checked again. Still too long.

That day, I wrote and rewrote the story, checking the word count again and again. Each time, I was either under and the story was choppy, or the story was complete and I was over the limit. Frustrated and tense as a spring, I pushed myself to keep reworking, to make the deadline with an engaging story. Hours later, I finished with 2 words to spare, at 898 words. It had been arduous, but I’d done it. Excited and relieved, I sent it off, sure I would place, if not win the prize.

I didn’t win the contest. I didn’t even get an honorable mention. But the experience gave me the skills to convey my story arc in the least number of words possible. I could write an interesting story in a set number of words, if I just worked at it. Further, I was sure that I could do it for stories from my own imagination. I’d learned something valuable and I couldn’t wait to put it to use.

I went on to place many horror stories, and then longer works, most recently Just Shadows, my anthology of horror stories from Bradley Publishing. And my story that failed to win? I sold it a year later to the Halloween Alliance, where it still resides online for all to enjoy.

You can find Tara’s books here:

Melange Books

and more about Tara here:

Website: www.tarafoxhall.com      PM9DarkSolace-FINAL

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Summer Writing Series: World Building

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Today Joy V. Smith joins us. She has another take on writing Science Fiction. Compare her to John Steiner’s techniques from a few weeks back. We all create differently!

Straight on Until a New Planet
by Joy V. Smith

       I love SF, and some of my favorite stories are about other worlds, including Andre Norton’s adventure-filled books, Christopher Anvil’s Pandora’s Planet, Gordon R. Dickson’s The Outposter, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, Robert A. Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars, and Keith Laumer’s Retief series.

Usually I start out with a story and then fit in the background–planet and culture, though some of my stories are set completely on Earth.  While my main characters are usually Americans in stories set on Earth, elsewhere I often give them backgrounds of other countries and cultures to make them more interesting.

Some planets are simple, with little description of wildlife, moon(s), etc. (I don’t want to worry about tides and how things evolved). I’ve spent more time inventing planets like Snakebite in Hidebound, which also included the hero’s planet (one even nastier than Snakebite so that the humanoids evolved physical protection making them rather like supermen and women.  (The men were very wary of women…).  I made this planet interdicted.   And then there’s the colonized planet in Velvet of Swords (more nasty flora and fauna as the result of genetic engineering).  It was colonized by humans and aliens, with the humans indulging themselves in old Terran cultures.
Other interesting planets are found in What Price a Friendly Freep to explain the aliens, and Pretty Pink Planet, which was began, as I recall, as an experiment in writing a series story with similar titles, as with some popular mystery series.  Time portals from Terra to other planets or time machines to other times are fun too.

There are books and websites on world-building; I haven’t spent much time there, but I’ve discussed various ideas on some of the AOL writing boards, where a writer can ask for input when trying to solve a story problem.  I recently asked about missiles and subs in the Zap Gun folder (SF/Fantasy board), where we also discussed Keith Laumer’s Bolo (super tanks) series.

For some stories, I’ve had to create maps to keep track of where my characters are running amuck.  I have to keep track of directions and distances.  If you’re writing a story about Mars or the moon, however, you can use NASA maps, available in books, on websites, or even as posters.  There are also Mars and moon globes.  Nowadays, there is less invention in stories set there.

So, you can find the blocks for building your world in the far corners of the universe of the mind, but for decorating and landscaping, you may want to research other planets and other cultures (I think the Celtic culture is way over-used, though that’s mostly in fantasy), found in fiction and non-fiction books and stories; then you can put your own twist on a planet, an animal, or an intelligent being.  And don’t hesitate to use an alien with tentacles.  They’re not passé if you can add something new.

Find Joy here:              joyvsmith

Melange Books

 

 

Summer Writing Series: Change is Good

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Today my guest is Donna Driver, a Fire and Ice young adult author. I’m sure every writer can agree that we hope for someone to quote us or think our writing stands out from the rest! Thank goodness for editors and authors who listen to them. Kudos to Donna! As writers we have to be open to suggestions, revisions and anything else that will make our writing better. I really enjoyed this post. Hope you do, too.

A Great 1st Line (For Chapter Two) – by D. G. Driver

“No good calls ever came at two o’clock in the morning. Only ones that wipe out any hope of having a normal day. On this particular morning, it wiped out hope of anything ever being “normal” again.”

This was supposed to be the opening line of my novel Cry of the Sea. I was so proud of it. So proud! Yes, I envisioned its brilliance being quoted as one of the great opening lines of YA literature at many a writer’s conference for years to come. I loved it so much that no matter what I felt about the rest of the chapter, I was determined to keep that first line.

Why was I so sure? Or stubborn? I have attended so many writing workshops and read so many books and articles about the craft of writing novels. Several things have been drummed into my head. “Have a great opening line.” “Hook your reader from the first moment.” “Start where the action is.” “Start your novel where the protagonist’s life changes from its normal routine.” “Start on the day that is different.” And my favorite? “Get to the main point of the plot before page 30.”

So, I had this idea for a story about a girl who discovers mermaids caught in an oil spill. Based on everything I’ve learned, that meant she had to find the mermaids before page thirty. I also felt strongly that the story needed to start in the moments just before finding those mermaids. How best to do this? I thought it would be exciting to have her wake up to the alarming news of the oil spill and have her rushing out the door with her environmentalist father to get to the beach.

There were some problems with my idea. I had to somehow very quickly introduce my main character and her father, their relationship, and the reason they were going to an oil spill. There was a lot of information to share to have the story make any sense. I thought I’d be clever and get some of that out with a little flashback to the night before in order to explain a few things. Only, that flashback grew from a few paragraphs to a dozen pages before coming back to the big rush to the beach. More important writing advice haunted me: “Don’t have a big flashback in the opening chapter.”  “Don’t info dump.” “Show don’t tell.”

Oh, poo on all of that.  I had an awesome opening line!  It had to stay this way.

Well… I sent my first chapter to a few agents and editors. No one sent me back praise for my glorious first line. No one requested more pages either. I grew frustrated. Yet, I didn’t revise. I’d already revised the book over and over, and I didn’t know how to do it again. Not without ruining my opening line. The writing advice I knew conflicted in my brain.

Bless the team at Fire and Ice, though. They stumbled past my opening chapter and read on to find the story that followed it.  They offered to publish the book and sent Megan Orsini, my editor, to help me out. Her very first note to me:

“I think the flashback in the opening chapter is too long. I forgot it was a flashback. Why don’t you make that the opening chapter and put the phone call and oil spill scene in chapter two.”

But… but… That would put my opening line in chapter two.  Do you hear me whining?

I knew Megan was right, and I followed her advice. I wound up completely rewriting the whole opening to my book. With her guidance, I actually revised the opening chapter six times and the first page an additional two after that. Now my opening line is: “You ready to see how the next big change in your life is going to look?” as asked by June’s father. No, this won’t put me in any lists of great opening lines, but it works. The book works better too.  And guess what? We still meet mermaids on page 22.  Yay!

So, friends, what I’ve learned: don’t marry your words and do trust your editor. With a sly wink, however, I’m happy to announce that a woman who recently reviewed Cry of the Sea on her blog included a quote from my book. Which of my words did she use?  My opening line – of Chapter Two.

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Find Donna here:

Fire and Ice YA

Website: www.dgdriver.com

 

 

 

Summer Writing Series – A Giant Step

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My guest today is the author of one of my favorite books, The Winemaker. I’d like to introduce you to my author friend, Charmaine Pauls. She has sent along some invaluable writing tips on how to get published. Charmaine is part of the Melange family and is branching out into new genres as you will see below. Enjoy!

10 Steps in getting published 

  1. Invest in a course 

I highly recommend kicking off your writing career, or boosting it if you’ve been writing for a while, with a course in novel writing. Besides giving you the know-how of technicalities and practicalities of plot, dialogue, pace and writing the perfect beginning, middle and end, it should also cover areas such as writing query letters and blurbs. If a course proves too challenging in terms of time or funds, try some of the excellent books available on the subject. One of my favorites is The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Novel Writing (from the editors of Writer’s Digest), but there are literally hundreds to choose from.

  1. Join a writers’ network

No man is an island. Even the most solitary of writers need to connect with like-minded people. The fact that writing requires long hours of isolated work often poses a challenge to avoid working in a bubble. The most I’ve learned about writing and improving my skill is from my writers’ group. Being part of a dedicated and professional group can be an extremely helpful tool in growing, exercising and fine-tuning your talent, as your work is critiqued in a loving and caring environment. Not only will it push you to achieving a higher work standard, but the inspiration and support you’ll get from fellow-writers are invaluable. It often also leads to meeting a mentor or someone who relates to your work and who becomes a soundboard for plots and problems. Membership presents exposure to courses and competitions, as well as invitations to submit work for publishing. Ask at local associations or universities for a list of groups or clubs. Many writers’ groups run websites or blogs. A couple of minutes on the internet can turn up just the right group for you.

  1. Research your genre

Read, read, read. Read everything you can get your hands on in your genre. Borrow books from friends. Start or join a book exchange program. Visit second-hand bookstores. Check for special and free deals on eBooks. Ask for a membership discount at your local bookshop. Get a library card. If you’re not sure in which direction your writing is going to go, don’t harp on it too much. It may take writing a few books before you discover your niche, and it often shows up in your writing if you follow your heart and write what you’re passionate about. When asked why I write romance, I always answer because that’s what I like to read most. It makes my heart beat faster. Read the best of the best in your field of interest. It inspires, teaches by example and refuels creativity. It’s an indispensable investment.

  1. Be disciplined

Creativity doesn’t come to life with the push of the computer’s start-up button, but write every day nevertheless. Set a schedule for yourself and stick to it. I’ve spoken to many aspiring novelists who claim that they have several unfinished manuscripts in a drawer, but never advance to actually completing anything. Tackle a task and finish it. Write over the dip in creativity and fix it later. Keep at it. Respect your timetable and ask others to respect it too. Unplug the phone or write away from home if you must. Find a corner in a Starbucks if distractions at home or the constant ring of the doorbell interfere with your concentration. Write when your creativity is at its peak. My best time for writing is early morning. I book four hours every day from 9 am to 1 pm and everyone knows that I’m only to be disturbed in case of an emergency. In the evening when my creative performance experiences a slump, I edit or do my review reading for two hours. Afternoons are reserved for after-school activities with the kids, chores and exercise. Weekends are family time, unless I’m in my editing cave. Maintain a healthy balance in your schedule. You know what they say about all work and no play!

  1. Present the best work you can

Have an excellent product to sell. Write with passion. Write what comes from the heart and what makes you tick. Use your unique voice and style. Once your manuscript is complete, save it away in a file (and don’t forget to make a back-up!) and let it cool for a couple of months. When you go back to it, it’ll read fresh and obvious errors and necessary improvements will jump at you from the screen. I prefer to edit my manuscripts at least three times before I put the final full stop. Then give it to a friend (or even better – two or three) to read to ensure it’s free of typos and grammatical errors. You’re a serious and professional writer, and your work should reflect this.

  1. Employ an editor

If you can afford to, employ the services of a good editor. There are several private editors advertising their services (always ask for referrals), or you could invest in an editing package from companies such as Amazon’s CreateSpace that is tailored to self-publishing authors’ needs. This is an invaluable experience, especially for your first novel, that can help you improve greatly and avoid the common pitfalls. If a paid service is not an option, try to negotiate an exchange of services with an editor. You could, for example, offer a writing service in exchange for editing. (I often write articles for magazines in exchange for a free ad of my books.) Or, you could make a deal with a fellow-author to edit each other’s books. This is where writers’ groups can help greatly.

  1. Research your chosen publishers

Instead of shooting an arrow into the dark by blindly submitting your manuscript to hundreds of publishers, research each carefully. Publishers almost always list exactly what they are looking for in a story and what not in their submission guidelines. Read their requirements carefully. There’s no point in submitting a mystery to a publisher who only specializes in romance, or a sci-fi to a publisher who is closed for submissions in this genre. You’ll soon get a feel for each publishing house and its style. Be sure to submit your manuscript to the right publisher for your work. If they state ‘no memoirs’ in their guidelines, they mean it. A well-written memoir won’t slip through because of its craft. This is all about marketing and selling a product, so stick to the rules. It helps to do a search of the publishers who are actually calling for submissions in your genre. This way you know that you are providing work for which there is a need, and your chances at receiving a contract are considerably higher. The research initially takes time, but it saves time and frustration in the end.

  1. Follow the guidelines

You have a great product and you’ve found the right publisher for your style of writing who is open to submissions. Read the submission guidelines carefully. This is non-negotiable. A font type and size, line spacing and indent will be specified, as well as the acceptable electronic file formats. While most publishers these days prefer to receive electronic submissions, some may still require a typed manuscript by snail mail. When they state that submissions not complying with the requirements won’t be considered, they are serious. Each publisher has their own requirements in terms of how much they initially want to see of your work. Some may ask for only a query letter including a short synopsis, while others may ask for a three to four page synopsis, or/and the first three chapters of your book. Some publishers demand attachments while others want the required text to be part of the body of the email. They may also have a specific manner in which to name your files, or a required subject header for your email submission. Make sure that you get it right before sending off your work.

  1. Don’t give up

You wait in anticipation, anything from between two or three weeks to six months, and the answer is no, sorry, but your story is not what we want right now. Hang in there. If you’re lucky enough to have received feedback from the editor, use it to improve your manuscript. You may wish to submit the same manuscript after improvements to the same or other publishers, or to start on a new one altogether. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Even best selling authors have rejected manuscripts behind their names. Talent will bring you far, but passion and determination are what’s going to land that hard-earned contract in your lap.

  1. Write several books

Practice makes perfect. World-famous golfer Gary Player said luck comes with plenty of practice. It takes several books to become an accomplished author, with the exception of a few who made it from book number one. Even if you just write for yourself, write numerous manuscripts. Your style and skill will develop over time, always pushing your limits. Like with any exercise, if you want to be a top performer, you need to stay fit.  It’s a time-consuming and energy drenching quest, but if it’s in your blood, it’s a calling that won’t let you go. Enjoy the journey!

Charmaine can be found here:  Charmaine 009

Melange Books

www.charmainepauls.com

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