Tag Archives: #amwriting

#amwriting: regaining the mojo

Events in my family during May, June, and most of this month have hampered my mojo, stalling my creative mind. Many projects and plans have fallen by the way and I don’t really mind. This year I will not have my books in the bookstore at the PNWA conference (which kicks off on Thursday), as I just had no time and no way of getting them to the right people by the due date. But that isn’t a big deal, really—I will go to the signing event and visit my friends’ tables and buy their books, so all will be well.

Now, with my son on the mend and back in his own home, I am somewhat at sea. For four weeks, I spent two hours every morning doing wound care on his injured hand, and the rest of the day cooking, cleaning, and entertaining a houseguest. That became my schedule, and writing took the back seat, limited to writing blog posts on the fly—writing if and when I had the time.

Now, I have no demands on my time, no rigid schedule to adhere to. In a way, it’s like suddenly finding myself retired again, only this time I’m not killing time by painting flowerpots. (The last time, it looked like a Mexican pottery stand exploded on our front steps.)

Things have settled back to normal here, and I am struggling to get back into the habit of creative writing. While I have been inspired to write technical posts on writing craft for this blog, and do revisions on my finished novel as my editors ask for them, the rough draft of my new work in progress has languished, receiving erratic, haphazard attention.

Once again, just as I did years ago when I first challenged myself to ‘win’ NaNoWriMo, I am forcing myself to sit down and write from 6:00 am until noon. For me this kind of self-discipline is critical—other people may work better with a less rigid schedule, but I need to keep office hours to be productive.

I work “back and forth” when writing, rather than writing in a linear fashion, although each manuscript starts out in linear way. Each section is written when I am inspired to work on that part of the tale. Like assembling a quilt, I write connecting scenes to ‘stitch’ the sections together when the draft is complete. This is why I make a detailed outline, so I won’t get lost. Now  am revisiting what I have already done on the first draft of this book, finding that I have written the framework for a pretty good story. My notes are all detailed, and the backstory is on file in a separate file so I can access it or update when I have questions. This ensures I will know why certain things are happening.

The maps are drawn, and cover art has been selected—all these things were done in May. The first 50,000 words are written; the book is at the ½ point. The story arc has pretty much followed the original outline with only a few major divergences. The stylesheet is up to date because each change to the originally outlined story was noted as the changes were made. This means I know exactly where I left off in May, and what must happen to these characters to complete this book.

I am itching to get back to it as I want this first draft finished before November, if possible.  I need to have it done by then because November is NaNoWriMo, a month of divine madness—each year I write a patchwork of short stories, novellas, and doggerel, all of which become fodder for the rest of the year.

As an author, I am self-employed. This means I succeed or fail by my own efforts. I choose to succeed, and for me, that means finishing each book to the best of my ability. I am inherently lazy, a self-confessed slacker who would rather read a book or play video games than work—thus I must enforce the puritan work ethic my ancestors brought to America and which somehow passed me by.

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#amwriting: lay, lie, laid

A few days ago, a discussion in an  author’s’ online chat room raised a question, “Is it lay, lie, or what?”

Thus, it’s time to revisit my post on one of the more misused verbs in the English language: the verb lay.’ In my own work, I often have to stop and make sure I am using it correctly. Do I mean to lay down or lie down? It boils down to a simple concept: is the object of the verb RECLINING  or was it PLACED THERE?

“Lay” is a verb meaning to put or place something somewhere. It has a direct object. Its principal parts are “lay,” “laid,” “laid,” and “laying.”

What the words refer to is the action: If you set it (object) there, it is laying there. Lay it there. Lay it on the pillow.

If it is resting or reclining, it is lying there. Lie down. Lying down. Lie down, Sally. (Clapton had it wrong? Say it isn’t so!)

The internet is your friend. Quote from the wonderful website Get it Write: The verbs to lie and to lay have very different meanings. Simply put, to lie means “to rest,” “to assume or be situated in a horizontal position,” and to lay means “to put or place.” (Of course, a second verb to lie, means “to deceive,” “to pass off false information as if it were the truth,” but here we are focusing on the meaning of to lie that gives writers the most grief.)

This is where things get tense: present, past, and future.

A ring lay on the pillow. 

But I needed to rest:

So what this all boils down to is:

 

But just to confuse things:

A living body lies down and rests as is needed.

A dead body is cleaned up and laid out by other people if said corpse was important to them. However, after having been laid out the corpse is lying in state to allow mourners to pay their respects.


Attributions and Credits:

This post first appeared on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on July 15, 2015, as Lay, Lie, Laid, © 2015-2017 by Connie J. Jasperson, all rights reserved.

Quote from: To Lie, or To Lay, Get it Write online, http://www.getitwriteonline.com/archive/051402lielay.htm, accessed July 11, 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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#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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#amwritng: The #NanoNovel: the mechanics of writing dialogue

jack-kerouac-quote-memeEveryone has read books that inspire them to become writers. But many authors just starting out don’t know how to write the kind of book they envision.

Consider writing conversations: it’s just people talking, right? No big deal.

Wrong. Many authors just starting out don’t know where the periods (full stops) and commas go, inside or outside the quotation marks. They are inconsistent where they put them throughout the manuscript because they are unsure of what way is right.

They send me things with the punctuation inside the quotation marks sometimes, outside sometimes, and with quote marks missing half the time. I always decline those editing jobs, as it would take a year of my time to get that work into shape. But I do tell them why I couldn’t accept it, and how to correct it so an editor could work with them.

Wrong: “dorothy flew over the rainbow in a house”. Said Toto. I went with her”.

Right: “Dorothy flew over the rainbow in a house,” said Toto. “I went with her.”

1. Always begin what is actually spoken (dialogue) with a capitalized word, no matter where in the sentence it begins.

  • Mary glanced over her shoulder and said, “I’m sorry. I can’t go with you.” 

However, interrupted dialogue, when it resumes, is not capped, although the rules of punctuation and quotation marks still apply.

  • “I’m sorry to tell you,” said Mary, “but I can’t go with you.”

2. Direct dialogue is someone speaking to you or someone else and requires quotation marks.

  • I’m sorry. I can’t go with you,” said Mary.

I’m a US author, so I used double quotes, also called closed quotes. The UK usage is different and often uses apostrophes, or what they call inverted commas.

Regardless of whether you are a UK or US author, be consistent and make sure ALL punctuation goes inside the quote marks.

Yes, I did say All punctuation.

3. How does one set off a quote from someone else within dialogue?

Set it apart with single quotes (apostrophes, inverted commas) and keep it inside the closed quotes. You can do this two ways:

George said, “When I asked her, Mary replied ‘I can’t go.’ But I’m sure she was lying.”

George said, “When I asked, Mary replied ‘I can’t go.'”

Note that in the second sentence 3 apostrophes are placed after the period (full stop): 1 apostrophe and 1 double (closed) quote mark. This is in keeping with the rule that all punctuation in dialogue goes inside the quotation marks.

4. Indirect dialogue is a recapping of dialogue that someone previously spoke.

  • When asked, George said Mary couldn’t go.

Note there are no quotes used in indirect dialogue. Also in the above sentence, the word that is implied between said and Mary.

Dialogue tags, or attributions (said, replied) can come before the dialogue, especially if you want the dialogue tag to be noticed. To make them less noticeable put them in the middle or at the end of sentences. In my own work, I want the dialogue and not the attribution to stand out. However, when more than two people are involved in a conversation, I move the dialogue tags further to the front, so the reader isn’t left wondering who is speaking.

5. You can skip using dialogue tags altogether for a back-and-forth or two, but

  • not if there are more than two speakers in the scene, and
  • not for more than a few exchanges.

Readers want to be able to track who is saying what.

Sometimes it’s okay to miss a few beats. Beats are what screen-writers call the little bits of physical action that is inserted into dialogue. Small actions showing the mood of a character are often best placed where there is a natural break in the dialogue, as they allow the reader to experience the same pause as the characters. They’re an effective tool and are essential to good dialogue, but don’t overdo it. If your characters are fluttering their eyelashes, gazing into the distance or opening their laptops between every second line of conversation, the scene becomes about the action and not the dialogue, and the impact is diluted or lost entirely.

This means that when we add gestures and actions to the conversation we want it to be meaningful,.  Otherwise, just use a simple dialogue tag, like said, or replied.

Please don’t make the mistake of getting rid of attributions entirely because the verbal exchanges become confusing and the action takes over, making the dialogue fade into the background noise of foot shuffling and paper rattling.

I’ve mentioned before that I prefer simple attributions such as said, replied, and answered because they are not as likely to stop the reader’s eye. Some things to consider:

6. People don’t

  • snort,
  • smirk,
  • smile,
  • or frown dialogue as it is physically impossible.

They can say it with a smile, but the smile is a facial expression and does not speak.

Avoid verbal tics like “hmmm…” and “ahhh…” as they just take up space and add fluff to your narrative. When people in real life preface all of their sentences with drawn-out ahs and hmms it can be aggravating to listen to them. Consider how irritating it would be to read it.

writing_conventions_meme_lirf20167. Sometimes we have two ideas in a sentence that we think are one, and we connect them with commas.  But closer examination shows they are not.

  • “Hello, sir, we bathed your dog,” she said.

The above dialogue contains a run-on sentence, despite its shortness. We may actually speak it in this fashion, words run together, but for a reader, punctuation clarifies ideas.

The dialogue contains two separate ideas. “Hello, sir,” is an acknowledgment and a greeting. “We bathed your dog,” indicates an action was taken regarding his dog. It should be:

  • “Hello, sir. We bathed your dog,” she said.
  • “Hello sir,” she said. “We bathed your dog.”

We can take some style and voice liberties with dialogue, and indeed, we should, but adhering to the accepted standard rules of punctuation makes your work readable by anyone who speaks or reads English.


Researched Source:

Section six, Punctuation, pages 306-310: The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition, University of Chicago Press, © 2010

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#amwriting: Thoughts on #NaNoWriMo2016

winners-certificateIt is the final day of NaNoWriMo for 2016. I wrote 96,603 words: ten short stories and fifteen chapters on my next novel set in the world of Neveyah. I had my winners certificate by the 23rd, but I write everyday and update my wordcount. More than sixty of the 265 participants in my region will also get their winner’s certificates, which is a very good year. Some years only thirty participants in our region make it to the finish line. On average, 7 out of ten entrants will fall by the way in any given year, because 50,000 words is a difficult goal to achieve in only 30 days, if you are not completely fired up by your novel.

Those who fall by the way are authors who discover that having an idea that would be a good book and writing that book are two radically different things. They are daunted by the amount of work that is involved.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a contest in the sense that if you write 50,000 words and have them validated through the national website you ‘win.’ But it is not a contest in any other way as there are no huge prizes or great amounts of acclaim for those winners, only a PDF winners certificate that you can fill out and print to hang on your wall.

It is simply a month that is solely dedicated to the act of writing a novel.

Now lets face it–a novel that is only 50,000 words long is not a very long novel. That falls more into the line of a long novella and is only half a novel, in my opinion. But a dedicated author can get the basic structure and story-line of a novel down in those thirty days simply by sitting down for an hour or two each day and writing a minimum of 1667 words per day.

That is not too hard. In this age of word processors, most authors can double or triple that.

As always, there is a downside to this free-for-all style of writing. Just because you can sit in front of a computer and spew words does not mean you have the ability to write a novel that others want to read.

Over the next few months many cheap or free eBooks will emerge testifying to this fundamental truth.

The good thing is, over the next few months many people will realize they enjoy the act of writing. They will find that for them this month of madness was not about getting a certain number of words written by a certain date, although that goal was important. For a very few, participating in NaNoWriMo has fired them with the knowledge that they are authors. For them it was about writing and completing a novel they had wanted to write for years, something that had been in the back of their minds for all their lives.

These are the people who will join writing groups and begin the long journey of learning the craft of writing. They may go back to school and get their MFA.

These authors will take the time and make the effort to learn writing conventions (practices). They will attend seminars, they will develop the skills needed to take a story and make it a novel with a proper beginning, a great middle and an incredible end.

They will properly polish and edit their work and run it past critique groups before they publish it.

These are books I will want to read.

It’s not easy. Sometimes what we hear back from our readers and editors is not what we wanted to hear. The smart authors haul themselves to a corner, lick their wounds, and rewrite it so it’s more readable. They will be successful, for a variety of reasons, all of them revolving around dedication and perseverance.

But when we write something that a reader loves–that is a feeling that can’t be described.

Authors must keep their day jobs, because success as an author these days can’t be measured in cash. It can only be measured in what satisfaction you as an author get out of your work. Traditionally published authors see a smaller percentage of their royalties than indies, but if they are among the lucky few, they can sell more books.

2016-placeholder-book-cover-smallThe fact your book has been picked up by a traditional publisher does not guarantee they will put a lot of effort into pushing a first novel by an unknown author. You will have to do all the social media footwork yourself. You may even have to arrange your own book signing events, just as if you were an indie.

Going indie or aiming for a traditional contract—it’s a conundrum many new authors will be considering in the new year.

However, if you don’t write that book, you aren’t an author, and you won’t have to worry about it. The concept of NaNoWriMo will jump-start many discussions about this very issue.

Today marks the end of NaNoWriMo 2016.  For many, it will be a mad scramble between now and midnight to get their 50,000 words and earn that certificate.

Some of us have completed our first draft, and some of us still have a ways to go. But we are all walking a path that is more rewarding than any high-paying job I’ve ever had.

nanowrimo_2016_webbanner_winner_congrats

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#amwriting: the truth about #NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo-General-FlyerEvery author knows that writing is about so much more than merely laying words down on a page.   Most people with a minimal education can do that, and can even whack out a creditable paragraph or two. However, sustaining the momentum and carrying that vision through an entire story is quite another thing.

Over the years, I’ve seen disparaging articles where people have expressed their scorn and disdain of authors who participate in Nation Novel Writing Month, mocking the notion of a “competition.”

But these naysayers are overlooking one important point: to write a novel one must begin a novel and then complete it.

If it takes a special month of writing and a group frenzy to get some people fired up about an idea they’ve had rolling around in their heads, who am I to complain?  I am a reader as much as I am an author, and I say the more, the merrier!

Take a look at some of the most well-known “NaNo Novels” of all time:

  1. Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. On the best-seller lists for over a year, turned into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, started as a NaNo novel.
  2. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. What eventually became The Night Circus began life in 2004, seven years before it was finally published, started as a NaNo novel.
  3. Wool, by Hugh Howey. Howey’s dystopian sci-fi novel is one of those credited with putting self-publishing on the map, started as a NaNo novel.

I’m not bothered by the “poo-poo on the contest” noise. Whatever gets a writer fired up and writing is fine by me, and we are all the better for the experience.

The real thing that causes angst among the elite is the notion that anyone with an idea can sit down and write the bare bones of a book in 30 days. Being an author is not being in a private club anymore, and it secretly bothers some of the stodgier “real” authors that a person of any background, religion, or ethnicity can dare to write meaningful or entertaining work, even people with minimal education.

Fear and Loathing, we call that. It’s irrational, but then no one ever accused authors of being rational! There will always be a need for more authors and more books, as once a book has been read, the dedicated reader wants a new book. It is the law of supply and demand, and publishing is a business.

The fact is, most people who begin a novel in November do not reach their goal of 50,000 words and never finish those novels. They do not have the discipline to sit down every day and dedicate a portion of their time to this project.

A great number of Nano Authors discover that doing NaNoWriMo is just like doing karaoke. They love to read, and they want to write the next Gone with the Wind, but their work reads like a tone-deaf drunk sounds when singing Wind Beneath my Wings.  They are not talented writers. But so what? The cream always rises to the top, my grandma used to say.

Because of NaNoWriMo, many truly talented people are now embarking on learning a craft, committing their time and resources to educating themselves about how to write a novel that others will want to read. Several years down the road, who knows what wonderful works of fiction will have emerged from this year’s madness?

NANO CrestI only know that I am always looking for a good book, and so I will be first in line, hoping to be blown away by a fresh, new work of art. This is why I volunteer as a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo. Every year we have new, young writers, with fresh, amazing ideas. But we also have many new older people who are writing their first novel, embarking on a dream they always had but never thought they could do.

Most who begin their novel this year will never write again. But every year a few writers  in each age group continue on after the month of madness is over. When I talk to them and hear how fired up and passionate they are, I am proud to have been a part of their writing life. They see the goal, and and are filled with the desire to finish what they started.

They have embarked on the quest to learn how to write well.

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#amwriting: Midpoint in the Character Driven Novel

LOTR advance poster 2Some novels are character-driven, others are event-driven.

ALL novels follow an arc.  For my personal reading pleasure, I prefer literary fantasy, which has a character-driven plot. Events happen, often in a fantasy setting, but the growth of the characters is the central theme, and the events are just the means to enable that growth.

You may have built a great world, created a plausible magic system or, conversely, you may have created an alien world with plausible technologies based on advanced scientific concepts. You may have all sorts of adventures and hiccups for your protagonist to deal with. All that detail may be perfect, but without great, compelling characters, setting and action is not reason enough for a reader to stick with your story.

Despite your amazing setting and the originality of your plot, if you skimp on character development, readers won’t care about your protagonist. You must give them a reason to stick with it.

In a character driven novel, the midpoint is the place where the already-high emotions really intensify, and the action does too. From this point on, the forces driving the plot are a train on a downhill run, picking up speed. There is no  turning back now. The characters continue to be put to the test, and the subplots kick into gear.

Of course, plotting and pacing of your entire story arc is critical, but it is especially so from midpoint to the third plot point.

As you approach midpoint of the story arc, the personal growth for the protagonist and his/her friends begins to drive the plot. These are the events that tear the hero down, break him emotionally and physically so that in the final fourth of the book he can be rebuilt, stronger, and ready to face the villain on equal terms.

How does the protagonist react to the events? What emotions drive him/her to continue toward the goal?

In a character -driven novel, this is the place where the protagonists suffer a loss of faith or have a crisis of conscience. It may be a time when the main character believes they have done something unfair or morally wrong, and they have to learn to live with it.

What personal revelations come out about the protagonist, or conversely what does he discover about himself?

This part of the novel is often difficult to write because the protagonist has been put through a personal death of sorts–his world has been destroyed or shaken to the foundations. You as the author are emotionally invested in the tale and are being put through the wringer as you lay it down on the paper.

What has happened? Remember, the protagonist has suffered a terrible personal loss or setback. Perhaps she no longer has faith in herself or the people she once looked up to.

  • How is she emotionally destroyed by the events?
  • How was her own personal weakness responsible for this turn of events?
  • How does this cause the protagonist to question everything she ever believed in?
  • What makes her pull herself together and just keep on going?
  • How is she different after this personal death and rebirth event

LOTR advance posterThe truth underlying the conflict now emerges. Also, the villain’s weaknesses become apparent. The hero must somehow overcome her own personal crisis and exploit her opponent’s flaws. It’s your task to convey the hard decisions she must make, and show that she truly does have the courage to do the job. The villain has had his/her day in the sun, and they could possibly win.

This low point is a crucial part of the hero’s journey, the place during which she is taken down to her component parts emotionally, and rebuilds herself to be more than she ever believed she could be.

At this point in the novel, if you have done it right, your reader will be sweating bullets, praying that Frodo and Sam can just hold it together long enough to make it to Mt. Doom.

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#amwriting: choosing an effective writing group

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As it is November, and I am attending a lot of write-ins with people just beginning their writing careers, I am frequently asked if I am a member of a writing group. I am, but it is not a traditonal group, by any means. We are all published authors and are more of an author-support beta-reading group. But what the new author is asking, is how to find a group that will be a good fit for them. To answer that question, I am revisiting a post from March of 2015, originally titled “Critique groups vs beta reading groups.”


Every writer needs honest, constructive feedback in order to grow in their craft. Many will join critique or beta reading groups. These groups come in all sorts and sizes, some specializing in general fiction and some in genres like mystery, science fiction, fantasy, or romance.

Most communities have clusters of authors—after all, nowadays everyone either is an author or has a couple in the family . In your community you will find groups for beginners, or some that cater to more advanced crowds. I guarantee there will be one to fit your needs.

We’ve all heard the horror stories regarding critique groups, and perhaps even experienced one. Making a poor choice in writing groups can be devastating—it can undermine a budding author’s confidence and destroy a person’s joy in the craft. The seas are rough out there but many writing groups are really good, supportive gatherings of authors who stay for years and welcome new authors into their group with open arms.

Other groups can be cliquish, unwelcoming, and daunting to new arrivals. Authors just beginning to explore this necessary part of the craft will not come back to one of these groups if they were given the cold-shoulder the first time.

I suggest that you sit in on a group in your area. Do not offer your work on the first time, but do take notes, paying special attention to these points:

  1. Do they treat the submitted work with respect, or do they nitpick it to shreds?
  2. Do they allow discussion of a critiqued work or is the author supposed to sit there and silently take the punishment?

hazing-definitionIf the latter is the case, that group is engaged in a subtle form of hazing, more than in critiquing. Thank them for allowing you to sit in, and walk away from them.

There is a difference in types of writing groups, too. Some are traditional critique groups, people who usually read a few pages aloud at their sessions and discuss it in detail in a round-table fashion. This sort of focus can be just right for some authors, especially those in the final stages of making their manuscript submission-ready.

Because traditional critique groups focus only on 3 or 4 pages at a time, they lack the context to be able to discern if your protagonist has developed sufficiently along his character arc by the first 1/4 of the tale. However, they can tell you if you have made editing errors, and discuss small points of technique within those few pages, which you can then apply to the overall manuscript.

This is an important aspect of the process, but is not always the kind of input an author is seeking.

The one flaw these sorts of groups have is they don’t have the ability to properly critique the larger picture—pacing, overall story arc, worldbuilding, character development, and on, and on–because these things can only be judged in larger context. So if, like me, that is the sort of input you are looking for, my advice is to find a beta reading group.

Critique groups cannot do what beta readers can.

But how do you select a group? Before you join a writing group, you have the right to know what that group focuses on.

A beta reading group will focus on these questions:

  1. Where did my chapter bog down?
  2. What did they think about my characters?
  3. Where did they get confused and what did they have to read twice?
  4. Did it become unbelievable or too convenient at any point?
  5. What do they think will happen to the characters now?

Then after you have sat in on one of their sessions and observed how they treat each others’ work, ask yourself, “What kind of vibes did I get from this group of people? Will I benefit from sharing my work with this group? Did the comments they made to each other sound helpful?” Hopefully, the answer to those questions will be a resounding “yes.”

If the answer is anything other than a resounding “yes,” run now. Run far, far away.

Red Flags to Watch For:

There are common negatives to watch out for in all writing groups: If you have stumbled into a group where the most visible member is a self-important, read-all-the-books-on-writing-so-I-know-it-all kind of a person, don’t bother joining or you’ll be subjected to many accounts of how their writing group in Minnesota was so much better than this pathetic group.

Another author you might watch out for is the ubiquitous Famous-Author-Name-Dropper, a person who must be important because she has been to a great many seminars and conventions with these famous people, and hung out in the bar with one of them once. If it turns out she is in your prospective group, it may not be the group you are looking for. Sometimes they are the same person, sometime not, but either one of these wannabe-famous authors are poison—in their eyes the group only exists to admire them, and they will casually cut your work to shreds, dismissing it as merely amateur in the face of their “professional” experience.

When you are considering joining a group, ask the leader/chairperson these questions:

  1. If the group is a beta reading group focused on first drafts, what do they consider a first draft? Do you have to hire an editor and have it thoroughly edited before you submit it to this group? I say this because a fully edited manuscript is not a first draft, and that group would be a waste of your time.
  2. Will you receive insights into your manuscript on points you hadn’t considered, or will the focus of the discussion centered on minor editing issues that you are already aware of?
  3. Ask the leader to define for you the specific areas that readers will be looking at:
  1. Character development,
  2. pacing the arc of the scene,
  3. pacing the arc of the conversation,
  4. worldbuilding,

So let’s say you have found a group who seems to a good bunch of people, and yes, they read and write in your genre. You trust them enough to submit your first piece to the group. After the session is over, ask yourself:

  1. Do I still feel positive about my work or do I feel like my work was treated as being less than important?
  2. Did I gain anything from the experience that would advance the plot or did I just hear a rehash of arm-chair editing from a wannabe guru?

that which does not kill meThe answers to these questions have to be that you feel good about your work, that you saw through their eyes the weaknesses, and that they can be fixed.

New authors join writing groups feeling a great deal of trepidation, filled with uncertainty and fear. They fear being belittled and told their work is crap, and sometimes that happens. At the end of the day, you have to feel as if you have gained something from the experience.

Hopefully you will be as fortunate as I have been, and find a group of beta readers you can mesh with, people who will support and nurture you in the same way that you will them.


This post was first published March 2, 2015, under the title “Critique groups vs beta reading groups” by Connie J. Jasperson

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