#amwriting: how to handle acceptance

Original_New_Yorker_coverA few weeks back I discussed the struggle we authors have with making our work visible to the world and the sometimes toxic professional relationships that can arise in the process. (Manners and Toxic Professional Relationships).

In that post I discussed the do’s and don’ts of navigating the shark infested waters of raising the visibility of professional Facebook pages and Twitter, and what not to do in those venues.

Manners are once again on my mind, this time the manners of acceptance: how an author should react when their work is accepted by a magazine or anthology, or a traditional publisher in general. If you have been wise, you’ll be able to promptly reply with a simple thank you, mentioning how pleased you are to be featured in their publication.

Now, despite the terrible temptation to do so,  the smart author has not submitted the piece simultaneously to competing publications. I keep a spreadsheet listing the date a piece was submitted, the website of who it was submitted to, and the status of that submission so that I never have simultaneous submissions. If it has been more than six months since you submitted a piece, and you can’t find any record of a response from them (check the junk mail of your email service), go to the publication’s website and look at their submissions page. They will usually have a paragraph detailing their normal response time and whether or not they respond to authors whose work they reject. Contests and anthologies with large numbers of entries may not issue rejection notices.

If by chance you did send it to two publications and it was accepted at both, you must promptly reply. Lynne Barrett, editor of The Florida Book Review, offers us this advice:

“If you have simultaneously submitted and already been accepted elsewhere and not notified the journal, you have not only wasted their time, but you may have caused someone else’s work to be bumped while they chose you. No, you cannot now write and say, “Oops, how about if I send you this other thing instead.” You have to apologize, say you screwed up, and if I were you I’d wait a little while before I sent there again, because they are likely to be sore. So this situation is to be avoided. Keep records, inform editors promptly.”

When you read the email/letter of acceptance you go through several stages of emotional reaction:

  • shocked disbelief
  • OMG
  • Woo Hoo!

Once you have calmed down, you re-read the email and promptly write a professional reply. Be sure to attach any information the editor/publisher may have requested:

  1. Your signed contract/or form granting them permission to publish. Use your legal name if you write under a pen name. Lynne Barret suggests you make copies and keep them on file. If they are paper, I scan them into my desktop computer and save them in my cloud storage. (I use Dropbox, but Google Drive or One Drive are both free and excellent.)
  2. Your contact information if requested:
  3. Mailing address
  4. Phone number
  5. Legal name (if you are using a pen name)
  6. Your press kit (only if requested):

If you don’t have a press kit, go to Brian Klems’ excellent post on how to put one together: How to Create a Professional Press Kit in 8 Easy Steps.

Epic Fails signSometimes authors freak out and immediately try to send revisions. Don’t do it. Your work was accepted as it was, so have faith that it was what the editor for that publication wanted.

If the editor wants changes, they will make clear what they want you to do. This may happen in an anthology. Remember, this editor knows what the readers of that publication want, and you want those readers to like your work. Put on your big-girl pants and make whatever changes they request. Never be less than gracious to the editor when you communicate with them.

Always be prompt in answering communications with the editors and publishers. Put whatever else you’re doing aside to answer emails from them. You want the editors to know you are easy to work with and willing to go the extra mile for them.

You have one final task in this process: You must make sure your followers know this piece is being published and where they can go to purchase that magazine/anthology. Tweet about it, add it to your bio page, tell the world to buy that publication.

And from me, I say congratulations! There is no better feeling than knowing someone you respect liked your work enough to publish it.


Attributions and Credits:

The Review Review: What Editors Want; A Must-Read for Writers Submitting to Literary Magazines by Lynne Barrett. http://www.thereviewreview.net/publishing-tips/what-editors-want-must-read-writers-submitti (accessed February 19, 2017)

The New Yorker, first issue’s cover with dandy Eustace Tilley, created by Rea Irvin © The New Yorker via Wikipedia. Wikipedia contributors, “The New Yorker,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_New_Yorker&oldid=766271356 (accessed February 19, 2017).

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#FlashFictionFriday: The Cat was a Bastard

I love rhyming poems especially those with a simple, traditional feeling meter. And, every now and then I get in a silly mood, a moment where a single line will stick in my head, a simple, off-the-wall sentence that becomes something upon which to hang a comic poem. When that happens, all bets are off and this sort of thing is the result.

In this case, it was the stray memory of a joke my late father frequently told (and my mother deplored), “Home is where you can spit on the floor and call the cat a bastard.” This inappropriate oneliner morphed in my head to: The Cat was a Bastard, an equally inappropriate poem, displaying my low origins and affection for gallows humor.


boss-cat-id-72054715-mariia-sigova-dreamstime

The Cat was a Bastard

 

Around the corner and down the lane

Hurtled my car through hard, driving rain.

And from the brush near the verge of the road

Came running a cat, now dead as a toad.

 

I stopped the car, to check on the corpse,

A cottage did see, the cat’s home of course.

And bearing the body through pouring down rain,

I pressed on the doorbell, and then pressed again.

 

A lady quite elderly, shriveled, and old,

Opened the door and eyed me, quite cold.

“Your cat, I presume?” I gravely inquired.

“He’s met his end, with the aid of my tire.”

 

Her gaze was quite steely, as coolly she said,

“And what’s it to me that the old wretch is dead?

“I always knew his would be a bad end,

“His tomcatting ways he never would mend.”

 

Mystified, I thought an error had been made

For she looked like a cat-lady, proper and staid.

“Are you speaking of this cat, Madame?” I said,

“This flat-headed cat, who surely is dead?”

 

“The cat was a bastard,” the woman replied.

“We’re glad to see the old lecher has died.

“An untidy end for the bastardly cat,

“The lazy old thing who ne’er caught a rat.”

 

Shocked, I just stared, then set down the corpse

And turned to depart, bewildered, of course.

Let this be a lesson to tomcats who stray,

Don’t cross the road on a cold, rainy day.

 


The Cat was a Bastard © Connie J. Jasperson 2017, All Rights Reserved

Stock Illustration:

Boss Cat ID 72054715 © Mariia Sigova | Dreamstime.com

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#amwriting: sorting out the sound-alike words

they're their there cupWriting the first draft of your novel can be difficult as word-wrangling is not for the faint of heart. Often I write and rewrite the same paragraph three or even ten times, and still hate it. There are times when getting your phrasing right is confusing.  Many frequently used words are “homonyms” or sound-alike words.

At times, only a homonym, a word that sounds very much like another, can be used in a sentence. That similarity makes it hard to know which word is the correct word in a given circumstance, and when you are spewing the first draft of a manuscript, autocorrect may “help you” by inserting the wrong instance of those words. If their meaning is similar but not exactly the same, negotiating the chicken yard of your manuscript in the second draft becomes quite tricky.

This is where the diligent author does a little research. We go to the internet and Google every possible spelling of the word and decide which of the sound-alike words is the one we want to use.

Consider whether or not you want to use the word “ensure.”

There are three words that could work, and they sound alike. They have similar but different meanings.  So I do my research:

Assure: promise, as in assure you the house is clean.

Ensure: confirm, as in Ensure that you have set the burglar alarm before going on a long trip.

Insure: protect with an insurance policy, as in Insure your home for your peace of mind.

Some other oft confused soundalikes are (these are borrowed directly from the Purdue Online Writing Lab)

  • advise = verb that means to recommend, suggest, or counsel:

advise you to be cautious.

  • advice = noun that means an opinion or recommendation about what could or should be done:

I’d like to ask for your advice on this matter.

Than, Then

Than used in comparison statements: He is richer than I.
used in statements of preference: I would rather dance than eat.
used to suggest quantities beyond a specified amount: Read more than the first paragraph.
Then a time other than now: He was younger then. She will start her new job then.
next in time, space, or order: First we must study; then we can play.
suggesting a logical conclusion: If you’ve studied hard, then the exam should be no problem.

Their, There, They’re

  • Their = possessive pronoun:

They got their books.

My house is over there.

(This is a place word, and so it contains the word here.)

They’re making dinner.

(Pronouns have apostrophes only when two words are being shortened into one.)

To, Too, Two

  • To = preposition, or first part of the infinitive form of a verb:

They went to the lake to swim.

  • Too = very, also:

I was too tired to continue. I was hungry, too.

  • Two = the number 2:

Two students scored below passing on the exam.

Twotwelve, and between are all words related to the number 2, and all contain the letters tw.

Too can also mean or can be an intensifier, and you might say that it contains an extra o (“one too many”)

One of my worst failings is the word “it.” If I am going to muck up my manuscript, this word will be a major culprit. I try to do a global search for every instance, and make sure the word is correctly used:

  • The texture of the wall —it’s rough. (It is rough.)
  • I scratched myself on its surface. (The wall’s surface.)

Its… it’s… which is what and when to use it?

The trouble here can be found in the apostrophe. In probably 99% of English words an apostrophe indicates possession, but once in awhile, it indicates a contraction.

  1. It’s is the contraction of “it is” and sometimes “it has.”
  2. Its denotes possession: It owns it

I highly recommend you go to the Purdue Online Writing Lab for a complete list of often used homonyms. Purdue OWL is an excellent resource for information crucial to the craft of writing. Much of what I know about the craft comes from there.

When you’re in the throes of a writing binge, these little no-no’s will pop up and confuse you the second draft. The problem is, you will see it as you intend it to be, not as it is written, so these are words you must pay attention to. Sometimes, doing a global search will locate these little inconveniences.

Some words stick out like sore thumbs:

they’re,

their,

there.

But some like

accept and

except

are so frequently confused and misused in our modern dialect that it is best to simply look it up to make sure you are using the right word for that context. If you search for these now, you will save your editor having to do this for you, and your edit will be much more productive.

Searching for these bloopers is what I like to think of as sorting the rattlesnakes out of the chicken yard, and is part of making your manuscript submission-ready.


Credits:

Spelling: Common Words that Sound Alike,” Purdue OWL, Contributors: Purdue OWL,  https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/660/01/  (accessed  February 14, 2017).

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#amwriting: What Editors Want

My Writing LifeToday we are discussing a particular kind of editor: the submissions editor. When I first began this journey, I didn’t understand how specifically you have to tailor your submissions when it comes to literary magazines, contests, and anthologies. Each publication has a specific market of readers, and their editors look for new works their target market will buy.

In the publishing world, there are several different kinds of editors:  line editors, structural editors, submissions editors, and so on. Each does a specific job within the industry. When you look at the annual salaries, you can see that none of these jobs pay well, so it’s clear that, while they like to eat and pay the mortgage as much as any other person, editors in all areas of publishing work in the industry because they love a good story.

I’m just going to lay it out there for you: it’s not worth a publisher’s time to teach you how to be a writer. You have to learn that on your own.

So, if they aren’t going to edit your work, what does the editor for that publisher do?

According to Lynne Barrett in her article for The Review Review: A magazine editor is a person who enjoys bringing new writing to the world in a publication that will be seen, read, appreciated, and talked about.

Editors for contests and large publishers of books do the same—they find and bring work they enjoyed to the public. If your work has made it into that first part of their process, they may ask you for revisions to enable the book to sell better, but they won’t offer you technical advice.

This is because they shouldn’t have to. You must have the technical skill down before you submit your work to an agent or submissions editor. But if the gatekeeper wants perfect work, how do you get your work inside the gate?

You must do the work of submitting a clean manuscript that is marketable to the readers of the publication you are courting.

I know! If we have to do all the work why bother? For the indie author, magazines, contests, and anthologies are the most logical places for getting their names out to the reading world.

Large publications have wide readerships. The more people who read and enjoy a short piece by you, the more potential readers you have for your novels. These people likely read novels and guess what? If you have done your work as an indie publisher well, your novels are available as both paper and ebooks through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other digital booksellers.

When you have a great story that you believe in, you must find the venue that might be interested in your sort of work. This means you must buy magazines, read them, and write to those standards. For those of us who are not able to buy magazines, you can go to websites like Literary Hub, and read excellent pieces culled from various literary magazines for free.This will give you an idea of what you want to achieve and where you want to submit your work.

Go to the publisher’s website and find out what their submission guidelines are and FOLLOW THEM. (Yes, they apply to EVERYONE, no matter how famous, even you.) If you skip this step, you can wait up to a year to hear that your manuscript has been rejected, and they most likely won’t tell you why.

Formatting your manuscript is crucial. If you are unsure how that works, see my blogpost of July 24, 2015,  How to Format Your Manuscript for Submission.

Lascaux 2015For an excellent article that explains the expectations magazine publishers AND authors have and our symbiotic relationship, I suggest you read What Editors Want; A Must-Read for Writers Submitting to Literary Magazines by Lynne Barrett. This article touches on every aspect of the relationship between authors and submissions editors for ALL sorts of magazines, anthologies, and publishers in general:

  • The Editor’s Job
  • Your Job
  • Submission
  • How to Receive a Rejection
  • How To Respond To A Minimally Encouraging Rejection
  • How To Respond To A Longer, More Personal Rejection
  • Acceptance: Dos and Don’ts
  • How To Greet The Issue Your Work Is In

As I’ve said before, I have enough rejections to wallpaper my house, but I have also had a few short pieces accepted.  Not everyone will love your work–you don’t love everything you read either.

You have to keep trying, keep improving as an author, and keep believing in yourself and in your work. Most importantly, you must never give up.

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#FlashFictionFriday: In February the House is Smaller

white-cat-470px-franz_marc_013

In February the house is smaller,

Shrinking to just my office, nearer the furnace.

The Room of Shame, decorated with

Files and dusty computers, books, and cat fur,

From Yum Yum the Cat, dead these seven years.

She was old, even in cat years, and

This was her domain.

 

Like Jacob Marley and Scrooge’s knocker,

Her ghost inhabits this room,

Lurking behind boxes filled with books

And lit by the glow of the computer’s screen.

Little tufts of white fur hiding in places

The vacuum can’t reach,

A dusty memory keeping me company as I

Write novels that may or may not be read.

 

Four inches of snow fell last night, wet and heavy with water

And then froze, solid.

An iceberg enshrouded my bungalow, overtook my mini-van,

And weighs heavily on the rosemary shrubs.

And I am safe and warm inside this much smaller house

With my books and my computer,

And the ghost of my feline, past.


Attributions:

In February the House is Smaller,  Copyright © 2017 Connie J Jasperson, All rights reserved

Cat on Yellow Pillow, Franz Marc 1912 [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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#amwriting: Pacing and the Story Arc

Pacing is a fundamental aspect of your story and is directly tied into the Story Arc.

But what, you ask, is “pacing” and how does it apply to the story I am writing?

Gerry Visco, for the Writers’ Store, describes pacing this way: “Pacing, as it applies to fiction, could be described as the manipulation of time. Though pacing is often overlooked and misunderstood by beginning writers, it is one of the key craft elements a writer must master to produce good fiction.”

As our narrative follows the arc of the story our characters experience action and reaction. The story has a certain life, almost as if it is breathing. It moves forward, then allows a brief moment where the reader and the protagonist process what just happened, and then it moves forward again. The speed with which these things occur is called “pacing.”

Depending on the type of story you are writing, this is more difficult to achieve than it sounds. When we’re in the throes of laying down our first draft, we usually manage to stick to the story arc we had envisioned, although sometimes it becomes more of a “story-wave.”  We have places where it moves along well, and then it bogs down.

The Story Arc copy

 

The website, Literary Devices, gives us some examples of pacing:

  • Action – An action scene dramatizes the significant events of the story and shows what happens in a story.
  • Cliffhanger – When the end of a chapter or scene is left hanging, naturally the pace picks up, because readers would turn the pages to see what happens next.
  • Dialogue – A rapid fire dialogue with lesser or irrelevant information is captivating, swift and invigorates scenes.
  • Word Choice – The language itself is a means of pacing, like using concrete words, active voice, and sensory information.

Action is a key element in genre fiction.

Conversation is also key, and in genre fiction it should pertain to and impart information the protagonist and the reader need to know, but only at the appropriate time. Writers Digest says, “The best dialogue for velocity is pared down, an abbreviated copy of real-life conversation that snaps and crackles with tension.”

In my opinion, this is true. In Literary Fiction, conversation and pacing can be more leisurely as the internal journey the protagonist is taking the reader on is the core of the story. For this reason, I disagree with the Literary Devices editors on this one point: even in slower-paced stories, irrelevant information doesn’t advance the story and will lose the reader.

If you are writing a murder mystery or a thriller, or sci fi or most kinds of fantasy, conversations have to show something important about the story or the characters at that moment and must move the story forward.

How fast do you want the events to unfold? Writers Digest points out three critical places in the Story Arc where a faster pace is optimal:

  • the opening,
  • middle,
  • and climax of your story.

They also say:

“Suspense and, by extension, forward movement are created when you prolong outcomes. While it may seem that prolonging an event would slow down a story, this technique actually increases the speed, because the reader wants to know if your character is rescued from the mountainside, if the vaccine will arrive before the outbreak decimates the village, or if the detective will solve the case before the killer strikes again.”

Book- onstruction-sign copyThat quote seems contradictory, but it isn’t. Consider the most popular genre: romance novels. These things fly off the shelves. Why? Because the path to love is never straightforward. Obstacles to the budding romance keep the reader involved and make them determined to see the happy ending even more.

In all stories, complications create tension, which is what keeps the reader reading.

The trick is to dole the action and reactions out in a smooth manner. Many instructors I have had taken seminars from have likened this to the way a skater skates: Push—glide—push—glide—push and so on, though the course of the novel.

Pacing is another area where screenwriters have something to offer us. Story, by Robert McKee, is an excellent reference manual.

Also, consider investing in The Sound on the Page, by Ben Yagoda. While it primarily deals with developing a unique style and voice, it has a lot to offer in terms of incidental information on the nuts and bolts of the craft. How you habitually pace your work is part of your style and voice.


For further reading on this subject, these are my sources for this post:

Gerry Visco, Pacing in Writing Techniques You Need to Know, Copyright © 1982 – 2017 The Writers Store ® Incorporated.

LiteraryDevices Editors. “Pacing” LiteraryDevices.net. 2013. http://literarydevices.net/pacing/      (accessed February 7, 2017)

Writers Digest 7 Tools For Pacing A Novel & Keeping Your Story Moving At The Right Pace By: Courtney Carpenter | April 24, 2012 (Accessed February 7, 2017)

 

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#amwriting: The External Eye

Quill_pen smallI’m in the depths of revisions on two manuscripts. Both are set in the same world. Both manuscripts had flaws that were caught by my friend Dave, who reads my work before I bother an editor with it. Addressing these flaws was not a problem, as I had someone to help me brainstorm it.

Dave has great ideas, but his mind doesn’t work the way mine does. While they are excellent, his fixes usually don’t fit what I envision my story to be. However, his suggestions fire my own inspiration and show me the way I need to go to quickly resolve these issues. Without his insight, I wouldn’t have thought of the right fix.

In the process of rewriting certain events to remove  fatal plot-holes, and then going through and altering later scenes to make them match, I found several places where I meant to change the wording of a scene, so it reflected what I wanted for my protagonist(s). I had noticed these places earlier but was sidetracked, and the intended alterations were never made. Thus, their motivations were murky and didn’t ring true.

Now I am also making these changes, and checking the manuscripts to make sure I have removed any inconsistencies.

My original view of my protagonist, Billy Ninefingers, was more callous, more of a pirate than he is today. His story was begun in 2010, but I ran out of steam on it, and nothing seemed to make sense. I decided to scrap it and move on to writing Huw the Bard, which was set in that world, with many of the same characters, but which was a more intriguing story to me at the time. (I’m still in love with Huw.) Billy appears toward the end, much as he is today. But, instead of going back to Billy, I wrote three more novels in the Tower of Bones series, and many short stories, both contemporary and fantasy.

In the back of my mind, I always intended to get back to Billy Ninefingers, but never really did until just this last year. Over the course of six years  I used him as a character in several other works set in his world, which set him and his circumstances more clearly in my mind. Through that process, my protagonist became less two-dimensional, less of a cartoon. Four years after writing the first draft of Billy’s story, a short story featuring him was published. It was written for a themed anthology, and adhering to that theme changed Billy and his motives for the better. The short story for the anthology fired me up, gave me ideas as to what had to happen to make the real story be what I knew it could be.

I went back and pulled the original manuscript out of storage and rediscovered a character I had always loved, but didn’t know well. With a new goal in mind, I began rewriting it.

Thus, some of what I had already written didn’t dovetail with the story as I now see it, and Dave pointed that out. Having a trusted reader who will tell me where I have gone off the rails is critical to my writing process.

In my experience, when I read my work after having written it, if there is something that doesn’t ring true, a reliable first reader will be able to identify it for me.

Every Tuesday morning I meet with a group of published authors, and we talk about everything, from what we are writing to how our children are coping with the slings and arrows of modern life. These authors give me support when I need it most. I regularly Google-chat about life, the universe, and writing with Dave, who lives in another state far from me. Dave and I have never met in person, but we’ve become close friends through the wonders of the internet.

Talking with fellow authors, both in my area and from around the world, is the most important thing I do for me—it’s a “spa treatment” for my writing craft.

Writing is a lonely craft. I recommend you go to Writers’ Conferences and Workshops. The networking is important, as are the workshops, but I have made lifelong friends through the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference, and also the Southwest Washington Writers Conference.

If you need feedback but don’t know where to turn, sit in on local critique groups to see if they might be a good fit for you. You don’t have to share anything until you feel you can trust them to be fair and honest with you. If the group you are visiting doesn’t seem like a good fit, you’re under no obligation to return, and you can move on to a different group. You can find these groups usually through the local newspaper, Google, or even find their public pages through Facebook by searching for your town’s name and adding the word “writers.”

My Coffee Cup © cjjasp 2013One of the surest ways to find these local groups is by joining NaNoWiMo, and searching out your local region. Look at the threads of conversation, or message your local Municipal Liaison to ask where these groups might be.

Having an external eye to help me see my work with a less jaundiced view is the most exhilarating part of writing. It never fails to rekindle the fire I have for a particular story. Right now, thanks to my friends, I wake up every morning, chafing to get started writing.


Attributions:

Quill Pen, PD|by its author, BWCNY at English Wikipedia.

My Favorite Cup, Author’s Own Photo

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#FlashFictionFriday: The Dog’s Tale

I used to spend a lot of time in the backyard, howling. What can I say? I was young and impulsive in those days.

However, Dave bought me this new collar, which, while it’s really nice to look at, has an inherent flaw. It becomes terribly uncomfortable when I howl or announce the arrival of that vandal who shoves trash through the slot in our door. He seems to be targeting our house. Since I can no longer yell at him to go away, I nip at his fingers through the slot. But he’s crafty now and doesn’t get close enough for me to do any damage.

I’m not complaining, though. I’m no different than any other girl. I’m quite partial to jewelry, and since Dave is my human, I always show my appreciation for his thoughtfulness, even though he has no idea what sort of collar I’d really like. It’s the thought that counts.

However, I hope he understands that the new cover he puts on the sofa when he leaves is not very comfy at all. It buzzes and zaps me when I step on it, so I have to sleep on the floor. At least he doesn’t put me in the kennel when he’s gone, the way some humans do. Bonzo, the dachshund from next door, spends all day in his kennel. I’m only forced to sleep in mine when Dave and that woman have a sleep-over.

It took a while, but I have Dave trained pretty well now. He’s a considerate man, and never forgets to feed me, and he has never once left me alone in the car on a hot day. It’s a good life.

I’m feeling sleepy now, so I’ll just go nap by the front door, and wait for the vandal. He shows up nearly every day just before noon. Today, if he’s careless, maybe I’ll finally draw blood, and he’ll stop throwing trash into our house.

pomeranian-tb2


The Dog’s Tale, © Connie J. Jasperson, 2017

This little bit of flash fiction was inspired by the above photo, found on Wikimedia Commons.

Image: Pomeranian, By Chunbin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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#amwriting: Too many characters?

my-books-cjjasp-own-workYou’re writing the first draft of your novel.  A beta reader has pointed out that you may have too many named characters to keep track of, and now you’re on a mission to whittle down your cast of thousands.

But who should go and who should stay? What is the optimal number of characters for a book? Some say only four, others fifteen, but I say introduce however many characters it takes to tell the story but use common sense. Put the reader first–they must be able to keep them straight without any effort.

When you introduce a named character, ask yourself if it is someone the reader should remember. Does he or she offer information the protagonist and reader must know? Some characters will give us clues to help our protagonist complete his/her quest.  Others show us something about the protagonist, give us a clue into their personality or past.

Does the person return later in the story or does he or she act as part of the setting, showing the scenery of, say, a coffee shop, or a store?

Only give names to characters who advance the plot.

In an excellent article on screenwriting, Christina Hamlett of the Writer’s Store writes:

In a screenplay, the rhythm you’re attempting to establish–along with the emotional investment you’re asking a reader to make–is disrupted whenever you devote more than two lines of introduction to a character who is simply there to take up space. In order to justify their existence, each player in your script should perform a unique function or deliver a specific line that:

  1. Advances the plot,
  2. Thwarts the hero’s objectives,
  3. Provides crucial background, and/or
  4. Contributes to the mood of the scene.

If you’ve included characters who don’t fulfill one or more of these jobs, they’re probably not critical to the storyline and can be deleted.

While she is speaking of screenplays, this is true of a novel or short story. A name implies a character is an important part of the story. Ask yourself if the character is an example of “Chekhov’s Gun.” Does this character serve a purpose the reader must know? If not, don’t give them a name.

One of my current works in progress has this passage, which takes place in an inn and involves a conversation overheard from a table adjacent to my protagonists:

The older merchant’s face darkened at the mention of the prince and his henchman. Quickly looking over his shoulder at the other guests in the common room, he hushed his son. “We’ll have no more mention of them at this table. If the wrong person overhears such talk, we’ll all end our days in our own beds with our throats slit!”

Culyn’s eyebrow rose, and he looked at Jack, who nodded.

Despite the fact the merchant and his sons give my protagonists information they needed, they are in this scene for only one purpose: to be overheard and don’t appear again. For this reason, only Jack and Culyn, and the three others of their party are named in the full transcript of this scene.

Novelists can learn a great deal about how to write a good, concise scene from screenwriters. An excellent book I have gained a lot of knowledge from is Story by Robert McKee. If you can get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend it.

We want the reader to stay focused on the protagonist(s) and their story. The second draft is where we make every effort to find the distractions we may have have inadvertently introduced in our rough draft, and extraneous named characters is an easy one to fix. Simply remove their name, and identify them in general terms. The reader will move on and forget about them.


Credit: Minor Characters Don’t Need Major Introductions, Christina Hamlett, Copyright © 1982 – 2017 The Writers Store ® Incorporated.

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Reblog: A Question of Quests, by Stephen Swartz #amwriting

My good friend, Stephen Swartz had an excellent blogpost on Sunday. (He usually does, but don’t tell him I said so.) Anyway, since I accidentally hit “publish” instead of “schedule,” thereby posting today’s post yesterday (DOH!) I offer for your reading pleasure:

A Question of Quests

by Stephen Swartz.

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swartz_efwd1_frontcvr6x9_bw_670_cs-3_thbA little more than a year ago, I set out on a quest, pushed by fellow writers who encouraged me to try my hand at writing an epic fantasy. Well, good folks, I did that. I typed every day of the year with a story firmly in mind. On good days in the summer I wrote for a full eight hours. I actually wrote a novel following a hero’s quest. Then I wrote a novella about a little princess in another part of the realm. Then I merged the two stories. The result is a 235,000 word tale of daring-do chocked full of all the epic wisdom I could stuff into it–which, I am learning, may be relevant in our heated political season.*

stephen-swartzBy “quest” I mean a journey of some kinda hero’s journey, in Joseph Campbell parlance. However, in writing an epic fantasy, a quest could be a hero going in search of something of value, or a hero simply trying to travel home from far away, perhaps from a place of tribulation. A quest could mean a bubbly travelogue, much like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Or, a quest could be a hero going to a particular place where he intends to do something important. This last option is the pattern I adopted for my epic fantasy. (e.g., A man with a plan, out getting a tan, and learning to pan the jokes of his sidekick Tam.) My model for a quest was Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, although I bent over backwards to avoid borrowing anything from it. Likewise, I started reading George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, but I deliberately avoided any dragon references which my readers might tease were similar to Martin’s use of dragons.

Then, much to my chagrin, I discovered a problem. A fatal flaw. An underlying faux pas. A fundamental error. So…what to do with a 235,000-word tale of rousing adventure that falls short of being an epic fantasy? Maybe call it epic sci-fi? That just might be crazy enough to work! You see, there are some rules….


For the rest of the story, continue on to A Question of Quests, Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire.

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