Tag Archives: creative writing

#amwriting: creating a strong novella

A little over three years ago, I discovered that one of my works in progress was not really a novel after all.

The first draft was at 85,000 words, but it occurred to me that it was a novella. In the first half of the book, 4 chapters didn’t advance the protagonist’s story. When I finished weeding it out, the manuscript length was slightly over 50,000 words.  In YA and some romance 50,000 words is a novel-length book, but in fantasy, it is only half a book.

So, I  shelved that manuscript, as I had other, more pressing, work to get finished and had nothing of value to add to the tale. I said at the time that I would much rather be known for having written a strong novella than a weak novel.

Those four cut chapters totaled about 16,000 words. Added to that were the words I weeded out in the second draft. They totaled 8,000 to 10,000 more words.

But why did I do this?

  1. Besides the four chapters that didn’t belong there anymore, 3 more chapters were mostly background that didn’t need to be in the finished product. When I removed large chunks of exposition, I was able to condense those 3 chapters into 1 that actually moved the story forward.
  2. Also, in the rough draft we always find words we can cut or find alternatives for, words and phrases that weaken our narrative such as:
  • There was
  • To be

Also, we look for places where we can make contractions: ‘was not’ becomes ‘wasn’t,’ ‘has not’ becomes ‘hasn’t,’ etc.

Many times we can simply cut some words out, and find the prose is better without them. Most times, those words need no replacement.

I have mentioned the overuse of what I think of as “crutch” words. You can lower your word count when you look at each instance of these words. These words  fall out of our heads along with the good stuff as we are sailing along:

  • so,
  • very,
  • that,
  • just,
  • so,
  • literally
  • very

But back to the novella: why did I cut an 85,000 word MS down to 50,000 or so words?

A lot of what I had written was good work, but as I said, several long passages didn’t advance my protagonist’s tale. They pertained to a different character’s story set in that world–so they were a rabbit-trail to nowhere in the context of that story.

I didn’t discard those chapters, though. Those passages will come in handy later if I choose to write that character’s story, so I saved them in a separate file, under the character’s name.

The fact is, you must be willing to be ruthless. Yes, you may well have spent three days or even weeks writing that chapter. But sometimes, when you see it in the context of the overall story arc, you realize it bogs things down, and there is no fixing it.

Just because we wrote it does not mean we must keep it in that story.

At some point I will finish that novella, but the lesson I learned was this: no matter how much you like your prose, there are times when it must go.

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#amwriting: Drawing on Life Experience

Writers, even dedicated, passionate ones, have lives outside the confines of their craft, and while it frequently derails our ability to write, it is also where we find the realism we need to inject into our work. Life must come before writing because writing doesn’t pay the bills unless you are one of the fortunate few.

I have several family members with serious health issues. Sometimes, I must step away from the keyboard and be the wife, niece, mother, or grandmother they need and you know what? My writing is better for it.

I nursed my mother, with whom I had a complicated relationship, through the last year of her life. She had smoked until the age of 42, and was addicted to perfumes and air-fresheners. She was a self-described clothes-horse who loved expensive cologne and used it liberally.

Even after her death, after they had been laundered and dry cleaned, her clothes still smelled strongly of her brand of Estee Lauder’s cologne.  In her home, she had a Glade plug-in in every outlet, and the spray bottle of Febreze in her hand at all times.

She died of lung cancer.

During her last year, we spent four days a week at the cancer center, and the rest of our time with me caring for my frail mother as if she were my baby. It was difficult mostly because watching someone you love slowly die is the worst. My sanity during that difficult year was made possible because of writing. I wrote 260,000 words during that year, some of it good, some of it off the rails. Much of the experiences of that year are unconsciously referenced in my current writing. It is the part of me that goes into each tale.

It was a devastating year made more difficult by my brother’s mental illness and drug addiction. Yet, that same year was made richer by the strange friendship that developed between me and my mother. All the many things that had stood between us and which had seemed so important were set aside and never addressed. This was because, in the face of her final battle, the hurts of the past just did not seem that important to me. We began to enjoy being in each others’ company, enjoy the quiet of an afternoon, or the bustle of a Starbucks. The ‘F’ word that some of us find so hard to say, forgiveness, became such an easy thing, and when she died, I had lost a friend as well as a mother.

On this blog, I’ve discussed the way epilepsy has affected my two of my adult children, and how our lives are affected by witnessing their struggle. Many hours have been spent writing in hospitals, and this last weekend was no different. I am there when they need me, and when they are ready to stand on their own, I allow them the space they need to do just that.

I have also mentioned how having an eccentric father with battle related PTSD forged my need to escape into books and inspired my writing. Some of us have survived the alcoholic parents who did their best, but dealt with an addiction they denied having. Every writer deals with family issues and experiences, both good and bad, and we are a composite of all of them.

Every time our heart is broken, every time we feel that glorious rush of infatuation, and every time we stick our foot in our mouth or must eat humble pie—these moments should find their way into our work and emerge as characters with real emotions, people who live and breathe and feel real to the reader.

Life in all its glorious beauty and ugliness fuels my writing, and I am not alone. We authors take what we know and reformulate it into something we can live with. In some ways, hope drives my writing. The fact I have hope allows me to write about things that are painful. I find that the fullness of life and the occasional emptiness of despair are easier written about when I set them in an alternate universe, and wrap it in a story that embraces the emotions, even though the story doesn’t parallel my life directly.

I’m like the character in a long, brilliant and sometimes bad, novel. My life is a mix of great joy, romance, helpless sorrow, extreme anger, and faith in the future. I hope your life is balanced as well as mine is, with the good outweighing the bad. This maelstrom of life experience is the well we draw from when we are creating our characters.

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#amwriting: the first draft

Children are often full of fibs and fabulous tales. They crack me up with how obvious they are about it. But little white lies happen in adult life, too.  They are usually a gut-reaction, a sometimes irrational reflex that we justify with the comforting thought that “it doesn’t really matter, and this way we’ll avoid an argument.”

We’ve all done it at one time or another, and in much the same way as our toilet habits are, it’s not a subject we like to discuss in polite company.

But it makes an interesting plot development. In real life, white lies can escalate into big, complicated messes that can end marriages.  Love and white-lies are like the two sides of the family I grew up in – they don’t really mix well. In a good marriage, there are no white lies.  White lies happen when you don’t trust the other person to accept what you have either done or plan to do.

Trust is the key word here.

In the Tower of Bones series, I have one character whose life is one long string of white lies, and that made for the most pivotal plot development in the story. It was difficult to write his tale, and yet his penchant for avoiding the truth was the snowflake that caused the landslide, and it drove the plot. The repercussions of his white-lies in book two form the tension for the next books in that series.

In my opinion, the best stories take elements of life and that are sometime uncomfortable and give them that little twist, sending the protagonist down a path where the reader would never dare to go. We just have to do it in such a way that it feels organic and not forced.

In my current work, I am writing the first draft, trying to find out who these characters are. What are their personal strengths? What are their weaknesses? I will have to exploit their weaknesses to the max, but ultimately their strengths must win out.

Trust and the bonds of brotherhood are the core of this new series. Each book will feature a different protagonist, and the final book brings them all together in the finale.

When I first conceived my new series, the Aeoven Cycle, I had a vague idea of who these characters were. The main protagonist is a legendary hero, appearing in the time of Tower of Bones in children’s books as a superhero type of character. He is the Superman character, a mythical hero who always saved the day.

In Edwin’s time, history remembers Aelfrid as a hero, a mighty mage gifted with the ability to make his sword appear as if it were made of fire. His legacy was the Temple of Aeos and the College of Warcraft and Magic. He was that man, but who was he really?

As I get deeper into this first draft, I am discovering my protagonist, and finding out what his flaws and blind spots are. His real life had little to do with the amazing legends that grew up featuring him as a great hero, but he was heroic in the ways that matter. He is loyal, which is his great weakness, and which ultimately will force him down a path he doesn’t want to travel.

At this point my first draft sits on my desk, filled with repetitiousness and flat prose.  No matter how I grasp for words, a sword remains a sword, remains a sword… since to refer to it as a blade or weapon would require stretching my vocabulary and I’m struggling enough with trying to figure out the how and why of things.

It is, I keep reminding myself, only the first draft. Once I have the entire story down it will be come a four book cycle, with all the threads of the first three books coming together in the final book.

The important thing here is to get Alf’s story onto the paper. Once I have done that, I can tweak the prose and cut the fluff. It will take three drafts, and possibly two years, but I will eventually make this into something I would like to read, and hopefully, a story others will enjoy too.

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#amwriting: getting lost in translation

The question about using foreign languages in dialogue recently arose again, so it seemed appropriate to revisit a situation from one of last year’s posts.

The quote that started it all was posted in a writers forum: “I have a main character in a fantasy novel who speaks no English. She speaks several other languages, though. Should I put the translations for her dialogue in italics or in parentheses?”

The answer to both options is a resounding no. We write in our native language for people who read in that language.

We can add a slightly foreign flair, but translations should not be necessary at all. We don’t put the reader through that kind of torture, wading through a language they don’t understand, and then giving them the translation in italics. (Or large chunks of whatever in parentheses.)

The writer whose question had begun this was writing a fantasy novel, and there are certain conventions readers expect authors to adhere to in this genre. When writing genre fantasy it’s a generally accepted practice that thoughts are set off with italics, not parentheses (aka Virginia Woolf), and so brackets have no place in the fantasy narrative.

Too many brackets clutter up the narrative just as much as large blocks of italics. In fantasy, the em dash or ellipsis has the function of setting portions of the narrative aside or giving it emphasis.

Italics, parentheses, and foreign dialogue are like cayenne—a little goes a long way. It’s all right to include an occasional foreign word or phrase, as long as it is done in such a way that the reader who most likely does not speak that language is not completely thrown out of the book.

My next thought when I was told about this particular conversation was, does the writer speak the languages she is writing, or is she getting her Russian (or Spanish or German) from Google Translate?

If that is the case, this author has a hot mess on her hands and her readers aren’t likely to finish her book.

Original sentence in English: “It appears as if my dog may have fleas.”

Google translation in French: “Il semble que si mon chien peut avoir des puces.”

Re-run that French phrase through Google translator: “It seems as if my dog can have fleas.”

Note the slight change in the translation—one word has been shifted, “may” becomes “can.” While these words are sometimes interchangeable in English, they don’t always mean the same thing:

  • May sometimes means might or perhaps; or sometimes may gives permission.
  • Can gives permission or enables.

That slight switching out of the word “can” for “may” changes the meaning of the sentence. The first sentence with “may” suggests it is possible the dog has fleas. The second translation to French assumes the word “may” is permission and gives the dog permission to have fleas.

These are two entirely different concepts.

English originally developed from a set of Anglo-Frisian or North Sea Germanic dialects originally spoken by Germanic tribes traditionally known as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.  So, modern English is an offshoot of Frisian, as is Dutch. Basically, we speakers of English speak a version of Dutch.

I hear you now: “But I don’t understand Dutch!”

This is because even though we share the same roots, we have widely different syntax.  English is heavily influenced by Latin, thanks to the Roman Conquest of Britain. In linguistics, syntax is the set of rules, principles, and processes that govern the structure of sentences in a given language, specifically word order.

How do you know that the Google translator understands syntax? The answer is: it doesn’t.

Imagine this situation: Your character from Amsterdam has bent a spoke on his bicycle wheel. He speaks Dutch. Filtered through the translator, it goes like this:

English: “Oh no. My bicycle has a bent spoke. How can I fix it?”

1st Dutch translation: “Oh nee. Mijn fiets heeft een gebogen sprak. Hoe kan ik dat op?”

2nd English translation: “Oh no. My bike needs an bent. How can I fix it?”

Note the misplaced words: When we retranslate it back to  English, the second translation makes no sense.

Google Translate is an extremely useful tool, but it is not intended to be used to translate an entire book into a foreign language. You need to hire a translator for that.

So, now we know that texts translated via Google Translate often emerge slightly twisted and make no sense, which is not what we want. If you do use the occasional foreign word or phrase, it’s no big deal as long as it is used appropriately and in a context that will be understandable to readers who don’t speak that language. It lends a certain realism when done with a deft and sparing hand.

Just don’t rely on Google Translate to help you write your Russian spy novel’s love scene.

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#amwriting: Hyphens are the Devil

Book- onstruction-sign copyAs it is March and is that month known as National Novel Editing Month, or NaNoEdMo, I will be be revisiting some of my posts on the craft of writing. Today we are looking at that most abused morsel of punctuation, the Hyphen. In my own work I will be looking at each hyphen and deciding if it stays or if it goes. Much of the time, they must go. 


Most authors know that a compound word is a combination of two or more words that function as a single unit of meaning. Most of us even know that there are two types of compounds: those written as single words, with no hyphenation and which are called “closed compounds”– such as the word “bedspread,”  AND  the “hyphenated compounds,” such as “jack-in-the-box” and “self-worth.”

But there is a third group, and they are the bane of my life–those mysterious, ephemeral denizens of the deepest corner of writer’s hell, called open compounds. These seemingly innocent instruments of torture are written as separate words–the nouns “school bus” and “decision making,” for example.

But how do I tell if  it’s one word, two words or a hyphenated word?  

Do not use a hyphen unless it serves a purpose. If a compound adjective cannot be misread or, as with many psychological terms, its meaning is established, a hyphen is not necessary. For example:

  • covert learning techniques,
  • health care reform,
  • day treatment program,
  • sex role differences,
  • grade point average

Do use one in a temporary compound that is used as an adjective before a noun, use a hyphen if the term can be misread or if the term expresses a single thought:

For example:

“the children resided in two parent homes” means that two homes served as residences, whereas if the children resided in “two-parent homes,” they each would live in a household headed by two parents.  In that case, a properly placed hyphen helps the reader understand the intended meaning.

We also use hyphens for compound words that fall into these catagories:

  • the base word is capitalized: pro-African
  • numbers: post-1910, twenty-two
  • an abbreviation: pre-ABNA manuscript
  • more than one word: non-achievement-oriented students
  • All “self-” compounds whether they are adjectives or nouns such as self-report, self-esteem,  self-paced.

We hyphenate words that could be misunderstood if they’re unhyphenated:

  • re-pair (to pair again) as opposed to repair (to mend)
  • re-form  (to form again) as opposed to reform (to improve)

We hyphenate words in which the prefix ends and the base word begins with the same vowel:

  • metaanalysis, antiintellectual

But really, unless you are a technical writer, how often are we going to use these terms? Hence, the confusion when we DO use them.

Get It Write online dot com says, “One way to decide if a hyphen is necessary is to see if the phrase might be ambiguous without it. For example, “large-print paper” might be unclear written as “large print paper” because the reader might combine “print” and “paper” as a single idea rather than combining “large” and “print.” Another such example is “English-language learners.” Without the hyphen, a reader might think we are talking about English people who are learning any language rather than people who are learners of the English language.”

Write most words formed with prefixes and suffixes as one word with NO hyphen.

  • Prefixes: Afterglow, extracurricular, multiphase, socioeconomic
  • Suffixes: Arachnophobia, wavelike, angiogram

APPROACHING HELL © cjjasperson 2012 Lif In the Realm of FantasyHooray for Merriam-Webster! One can also look the word up in an online dictionary, to see the various different ways it can be combined. Just go to: http://www.merriam-webster.com

Now the real point of all this is that no matter how much I know when I am editing for another author, I always manage to screw up my own work amazingly well. It’s like my finger has a twitch that absolutely MUST add a hyphen. Thank god for good editors.


Credits:

Get It Write Online, Writing Tip Compound Words: When To Hyphenate © 2003, http://www.getitwriteonline.com/archive/042703compwdshyph.htm, accessed Feb 28, 2017

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#amwriting: educating yourself

my-books-cjjasp-own-workAuthors who are serious about the craft must learn how to write.

This means they must learn how to construct a sentence using accepted rules of grammar and learn how to construct a story, so it has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

This may sound like a “Well, duh!” moment, but consider the number of free or 99 cent books available out there that, when you read the opening pages in the “look inside” option, are nothing but a waste of electronic space.

I can forgive a certain amount of proofreading errors—of all the many steps involved in getting a book to market, proofreading is the most difficult to get perfect. But I do need a good story.

The opportunity to learn writing craft is out there on the internet, and it costs nothing. We all know education in America is under fire at all levels. The determined learner can still get that education simply by going to the library and asking questions. Start there and use the information you glean there to lead you to other places to learn writing craft via the internet.

This is why it is crucial for us to support the libraries in our towns, both financially if possible, and with our patronage. In places where the education system is broken, libraries are the last bastion of opportunity for both children and adults with limited funds and unlimited curiosity.

If you are fortunate enough to have a secondhand bookstore in your town, purchase secondhand books on writing craft, and invest in technical manuals detailing different aspects of writing.

For the financially strapped author wanting to increase their knowledge, an amazing resource is the website Writers’ Digest. They are also for profit, but they offer an incredible amount of information and assistance for free.

So here, in no particular order, are my favorite sources of Online Information about the craft of writing:

Harlequin has one of the best websites, for teaching authors how to develop professional work habits, which is critical to being productive. I highly recommend you go to websites that specialize in writing romance novels regardless of what genre you write in.

I say this because the romance publishers have it right: they want to sell books, and they want you to succeed:

  • They get down to the technical aspects of novel construction and offer many excellent tools for getting your work out the door in a timely fashion–something I need to work on.
  • They also offer tips on marketing your work.

Most importantly, authors must read widely and understand many different forms of literature. Reading widens your horizons and opens your mind to possibilities in your own work that you otherwise wouldn’t consider. You must lose the fear of being stuck reading works you don’t enjoy.

Part of your education involves being able to clearly identify what you don’t like about a given work. You become less inclined to making broad statements, such as “I don’t like sci-fi.” You become more able to identify what it is that you don’t like about a given novel rather than dismissing an entire genre.

Many authors make the effort to get their MFA—a degree in creative writing. These degrees can be earned through most universities and also in many excellent stand-alone programs. Either way, this level of education requires an intense level of commitment, both financially and in terms of sacrifice on a personal level—two years of your life, to be exact.

According to Cecelia Capuzzi Simon in her article for the N Y Times, Why Writers Love to Hate the M.F.A.,

Creative writing programs are designed as studio or academic models. Often, programs combine aspects of both. They typically offer fiction and poetry tracks, though “creative nonfiction” is gaining ground, as are screenwriting and playwriting.

Many talented authors don’t have the money or education to get into a program like that. They are working day jobs to support their families. Yet, they want to learn the craft of writing. If you have some funds to dedicate to learning the craft of writing you can take online classes or attend seminars in your local area.

Author and Writing Coach, Lindsay Schopfer, offers several affordable online courses: http://blog.lindsayschopfer.com/online-writing-course

Author and University of Washington instructor, Scott Driscoll offers workshops in the Seattle area: http://www.thewritersworkshop.net/classes/fiction-writing-classes/

Look at the calendar of your local library, and see if they are offering any FREE seminars on writing craft. My good friend, author Lee French, and I are scheduled to give four seminars on writing craft over the course of 2017 through the local library, and they will cost the attendee nothing.

IBM_SelectricWe discuss the nuts-and-bolts of various different aspects of creating a novel, offer handouts and advice in a congenial setting, and have met many wonderful local authors through this program.

If you check in your local area, you will be surprised just how many opportunities there are to learn about the craft of creative writing.


Credits/Attributions

Why Writers Love to Hate the M.F.A., Cecelia Capuzzi Simon, ©  NY Times Apr 9, 2015,  https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/education/edlife/12edl-12mfa.html?_r=0 accessed Feb 26, 2017

IBM Selectric, By Oliver Kurmis (Self-photographed) [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed Feb 26, 2017

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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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#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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#FlashFictionFriday: Astorica (Reprise)

Astorica is a flash-fiction, set in a version of Astoria that may exist in a parallel universe, just one or two shadows away from our own frequently odd universe. It was originally posted here in July of 2016.  Enjoy!


Chance Jensen approached The Duck Walk Inn, aiming for the front door. It was classier than most of Astorica’s cocktail lounges, and was the third place she’d looked that afternoon. She entered, peering around to see if Jack was there.

He was, and ignoring the worried glances from the few men who were present in the otherwise empty bar, she walked toward him.

Stella, the bartender, chatted with Chuck Moore, Astorica’s lone hooker. Chuck’s clientele was comprised mostly of lonely, blue-collar laborers, women who worked in the shipyard. Stella nodded at Chance, as she lit Chuck’s cigarette.

Chuck exhaled a cloud of smoke, and glared at Chance. “You’ve been neglecting him, Chance Jensen. Don’t take your husband for granted. You’re a lucky woman to have a man like Jack. He shouldn’t be sitting in a place like this.”

“I know. I’ll do better, I promise.” She did have to smile, getting advice on her marriage from the local whore. But, she supposed, Chuck had seen plenty of marriages fail.

“Good. I don’t want to have this conversation again.” With a flounce, Chuck turned back to Stella.

The nervous-looking men at the corner table had moved their handbags to hide their cocktails, obviously regretting their decision to be so daring as to go into a cocktail lounge unaccompanied.

Jack looked out of place at the bar, dressed in his usual proper, suburban, house-husband style. He glanced up from his iced-tea. “What do you want? I’m not going back unless you’ve changed your mind.”

800px-Ladies_safety_bicycles1889“Jack, we had a quarrel. I’m sorry I shouted. But, you can’t file for a divorce, as you don’t have grounds. I don’t beat you or cheat on you. You’re just angry because I can’t afford to buy you a bicycle like Loris did her husband.”

Jack straightened his sweater and crossed his trouser-clad legs. “You’re right, I am unhappy about that. I might not be able to get a divorce, but I don’t need one. I’m not interested in dating, so I have no desire to be single. But no law says I have to share your roof. If I got a job as a waiter or a housekeeper, I could support myself and buy my own bicycle. One with a good-sized basket for carrying things.”

Chance attempted to reason with him. “Jack, if you took a job outside our home what would people think? They’d think I can’t manage on my salary. I’m just starting out with this company. I don’t need that kind of image dogging me, holding me back, or I’ll never be promoted. They’re assigning me better routes now, so things will improve. I promise.”

He burst out, “I have needs too, you know. I want to go places, and do things. I’m tired of being cooped up, with nothing to do but slave away, making sure that when you come home, you find a clean house and a hot meal. Where’s the joy in that?” Jack wiped a tear, a sure sign he was really worked up. His voice, however, was calm. “It’s just, if we had a child, I would feel needed. I don’t have a purpose, Chance.” He met her eyes. “Give me a purpose, and I’ll stay.”

Chance sighed. It always came back to that. “I’d like a child too. I don’t know why we haven’t been blessed. We’re both healthy. There’s no reason we haven’t conceived.”

Jack looked around the room. “See? They’re the same as me. We’re bored stiff. Playing bridge on Tuesdays and going to Tupperware parties just doesn’t fill the void. It’s not just us. Fewer and fewer babies—something’s wrong with this world, and no one will admit it.” He stared down at his handbag. “It’s more than that. It’s everything. I get up at five to cook  breakfast and fix your lunch. The darkest corners in our house are so clean they glow in the dark! I do laundry. I wash windows. Every day, the same things.”

Chance started to agree, but Jack cut her off.

“At ten I get all dressed up and take the bus to the market, then I haul the groceries home and put them away. Once that’s done, I change and go out to work in the flower beds, because God forbid the neighbors should see an untidy yard! Once every bloody just-sprouting weed has been yanked, I prepare your dinner, and fifteen minutes before you get home I get all dolled up, just to look good while I serve you dinner. Then I have to clean the kitchen. The next day it starts all over again. My life revolves around cooking, cleaning, and what the damned neighbors might think of us.”

Hoping to calm him, Chance said,“I know it’s difficult for you, depending on public transportation. But I’m a truck driver. You knew that when you married me. Maybe I’m not as romantic or rich as the wives in your soap operas, but I do try. Don’t I give you a large enough allowance? I never ask how you spend it. I don’t care if you have lunch out with the boys, or have your hair done twice a week. I love you! I married you for keeps, and I respect the vows we took.”

“You could tell me you love me more often.” Jack sat  hunched in on himself.

“I know. I’m not good at saying how I feel.” Chance put her hand on his shoulder. “I’ll try to do better.”

Jack burst out, “I could learn to drive, but men aren’t allowed to. I could vote and help pass laws that would improve society, but no, men aren’t allowed to. We’re too emotional, too high strung to be allowed the same privileges as women.”

Desperate to head off the men’s emancipation argument, Chance said, “I know you’d be great at all those things, better than some women if I’m truthful. But it’s the way things are, and we have to live with it. And guess what—I got a raise, today.”

Jack’s eyes it up. “Really? That’s wonderful.”

Pressing her advantage, Chance said, “You know what that means? We can save up for your bicycle. If we’re careful, next month you can buy it.”

Picking up his handbag, Jack stood up. “Let’s go home. I’ll make a pie to celebrate your raise.”

Relief flooded Chance. Taking his elbow, she opened the door for Jack and guided him across the parking lot, reminding herself that men were the fairer sex, and required gentle handling. Chuck was right–she had been neglecting Jack’s emotional needs. She resolved to be more attentive.

She loved Jack , but he confused her. He had an overabundance of paternal instincts. It occurred to her that a puppy might take Jack’s mind off things. And, it just so happened Chance’s new boss, Carol, was trying to find homes for six dachshund puppies.

That was a brilliant idea. She’d gain favor with the boss and surprise Jack with a puppy, solving both problems in one swoop. Smiling, Chance opened the car door for her husband, helping him into the sedan.


“Astorica” © 2016-2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

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