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Virtual Conferences #amwriting

We are now entering the virtual convention season. PNWA (the Pacific Northwest Writers’  Association Conference) kicks off on Thursday the 24th. This will be the first year they’ve been virtual.

I will miss the people I usually see there and hope that next year we can meet in person.

However, while the in-person conference was a lot of fun, this is much gentler on the budget. I don’t have to rent a room for three nights, and I can prepare my own food as I normally do, which is not an easy thing for a vegan on the road.

I’m really looking forward to the awards night, as my good friend, author Johanna Flynn is up for the prestigious Nancy Pearl Award for her book, Hidden Pictures—and that is a big deal.

I was a reader in the short story category, and one of the stories I read is up for an award—this makes me happy. I love it when I come across a brilliant piece of writing, and some of the entries I read this year just shone.

The Nebulas were a virtual conference this last May, and I enjoyed how easy it was to navigate the whole thing. I wouldn’t have attended the Nebulas had it not been virtual, as the total cost for air-fare and rooms and dining would have been prohibitive. It was a real joy to be involved, even if only on a virtual level.

The reason I love conferences is simple. You meet people and make connections, and sometimes you forge friendships. If anything is missing from a virtual conference, it is that little touch of humanity.

However, much can be gained, even in these challenging times. This year, Brit Bennett, New York Times best-selling author of The Vanishing Half and The Mothers,  will be giving the keynote speech. I’m looking forward to an inspiring evening.

The master’s classes are included in the basic fee this year since it is a virtual conference. I’ve always enjoyed these classes when I had the extra money, but there were years when I couldn’t afford them. Many people have wanted to attend master’s classes but couldn’t find the extra money, so this year they will have that chance.

I am interested in writing craft seminars (of course). Still, I will be attending workshops on negotiating the rough waters of the business side of writing. Sunday will focus on screenwriting.

PNWA is offering both 20 minute and 1-hour seminars, which allows folks the chance to walk around and stretch their legs. I think a shorter meeting will encourage people to remain at their computers and engaged.

I hope to have a lot of new ideas for posts on craft and the business of writing in general. Some years I come home fired up about specific topics that were covered, in both craft and business. I hope to end this conference with new viewpoints on what sometimes feels like old dogmas.

I love learning. Discovering fresh ideas, seeing new ways of looking at things we take for granted—these are the reasons I attend writers’ conferences.

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Julian Lackland #new #amwriting

Tomorrow, September 22, 2020, would be my father’s 96th birthday. In honor of the man whose library of speculative fiction and classics inspired me to write, I chose that day for my new novel, Julian Lackland, to leave the nest.

Lackland began life in November of 2010, as my NaNoWriMo novel. Since then, he has been through many changes.

This is the original novel from which both Huw the Bard and Billy Ninefingers grew, and it was both my greatest joy and my worst mistake.

In 2010 I made my word count and became a firm believer in the principals behind NaNoWriMo—that if you sit down and write at least 1667 words every day, you will complete your novel.

What I didn’t know was that while that novel might be complete, it isn’t finished. The year that followed was filled with mistakes and struggles. There were some low points, a devastating falling out with my first publisher, and the grim realization that the book should be left in a drawer to rot.

When we formed Myrddin Publishing Group, our lead editor, Alison DeLuca, gave me great advice. Rather than abandon it, I should completely dismantle it and start over. It was a low point and seemed like a mountain. Alison’s courage in the face of disaster gave me the strength to put the publishing nightmare behind me and rebuild the novel from the ground up, writing it the way it should have been done in the first place.

I’ve been fortunate to have a village of brilliant editors along the way. My dear friend, sci-fi author Dave Cantrell, gave so much of himself to this project. Dave was the structural editor for Billy Ninefingers and The Wayward Son, and his eye for flow and logic influenced the first two drafts of this new manuscript.

Unfortunately, Dave was ill for most of 2019 and died this last summer. But a part of him lives on in the shape of this novel.

Once the new manuscript was in the final stages, Johanna Flynn was a kind but firm beta reader. I was fortunate to have Irene Roth Luvaul’s eye on the final draft, as the Texas Tornado is a brilliant line editor.

The support and advice from my writing posse has been and always will be invaluable. The international group of authors and editors at Myrddin Publishing are a well of knowledge, support, and advice.

Here in my local community, I am a member of a professional writer’s group, The Tuesday Morning Rebel Writers. The group is comprised of about nine novelists. Several are successful and award-winning authors, like Lee French, Ellen King Rice, and Johanna Flynn. The rest of us are in various stages of our writing careers.

I can’t thank these authors enough. Between them, Myrddin Publishing and the Rebel Writers dragged me gently to the finish line.

Julian’s story was born on November 1st, 2010. Two days before the start of the month, I had accepted a challenge to “do” something called “NaNoWriMo,” a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month. I’d never heard of it, but a challenge is a challenge.

I had written the storyline for an RPG and many short stories. A proto novel was rambling along at 250,000 words, so I thought, “How hard can it be to write 1667 words a day?”

I had the vague notion of writing a story about a rollicking band of mercenaries, so I began with no outline and no plot. In the way that NaNoWriMo novels often go, I got caught up in the character of Julian “Lackland” De Portiers, but also in several others.

I soon discovered that writing 1667 words a day is easy.

I also discovered that writing a coherent novel with no plot, no outline, and no maps is not my strong suit.

But there was a good story there, buried beneath the crap. I began by dividing out the stories that didn’t pertain to Julian, and that was how Billy Ninefingers came into existence.

Then I focused on the core of the story, and gradually I came to realize that the true adversary in this tale is Lackland’s naïve belief that good will always triumph.

Julian is the landless second son of a minor baron and relegated to the sidelines at court because he has no land. His own brother, jealous of his knightly skill and charisma, named him “Lackland” as a way to keep him in his place.

Lackland embraced the name, realizing that it meant he had the freedom to do as he wished and owed nothing to anyone but the king. King Henri just happens to be his second cousin on his mother’s side.

Julian leaves the court and joins the mercenary crew known as the Rowdies. He intends to do a little good in the world, and Billy Ninefingers wants more knights like him in his Rowdies. They have an arrangement where Julian will be available whenever his royal cousin needs him.

Highly skilled at arms and cursed with the ability to plan a war better than anyone, the king pulls Julian Lackland out of his toolkit whenever the job is impossible or too dirty for an ordinary knight to accomplish.

Lackland has a remarkable knack for finding trouble, but he meets good people along the way. Love is always a problem, but Julian Lackland just lives as well as he can.

Julian is and always will be my favorite character because he is so complicated, so conflicted, and so ethical. His story is that of perseverance in the face of catastrophe, but it is also the story of human frailty and resilience.

Originally, I wanted to write a epic fantasy novel that my father would read, one that I might have stolen from his nightstand.

I believe I have succeeded.


Julian Lackland by Connie J. Jasperson

Julian “Lackland” De Portiers is the last good knight in Waldeyn. Everyone knows he’s brilliant…

…Everyone knows he’s mad.

How does a Hero gracefully retire from the business of saving the world?

Once upon a time, Julian “Lackland” De Portiers had the strength to save what mattered most. Once he had companions and twice, he fell passionately in love.

One terrible night in the forest, everything changed.

Who will rescue the rescuer when darkness falls, and the voices begin?

Julian Lackland is an enduring tale of confusion, sorrow, and triumph set in an alternate medieval world.

Purchase Julian Lackland in eBook for $4.99 or paper for $12.99 at Amazon

Not a fan of Amazon? Purchase Julian Lackland from these fine eBook sellers for $4.99

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Character Building: Writing Subtly Positive Emotions #amwriting

Most writers find it easy to connect with the flamboyant emotions, such as hate, anger, desire, and adoration. However, emotions have “volume” ranging from soft to loud. Today we are looking at generally positive emotions, but at low volume.

The volume control is a crucial part of the overall pacing of your story. “Loud” deafens us and loses it’s power when it’s the only sound. However, like the opening movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, the entire range of volume can be effectively used to create a masterpiece.

These subtle emotions convey the mood of the piece.

As we said in the previous post, Writing Subtly  Negative Emotions, low-key shades of emotion can go almost unnoticed, but they lend solidity to the world. Under the surface, vibes, positive or negative, give us a rounded view of a character, making them less of a cardboard-Barbie and more of a real person.

We’re all aware of one positive emotion that can go bad—love. When love is reciprocated, it’s a positive feeling, and we all enjoy a good love story.

However, when love starts out with promise and then goes terribly wrong, you have the makings of a deep, dark story filled with possibilities.

But none of that—we’re focusing on the less intense, but still good, vibes today.

Another positive emotion with many nuances is Joy. The way we feel joy ranges from mild to overwhelming, from a slight smile to an experience so profound that tears spring to one’s eyes.

Subtle emotions don’t stand out and grab the reader.

They are there under the surface, tinting the reader’s opinions about the story and the characters. Small, quiet emotions linger, and if they are positive, they leave an impression we can’t describe, but we are happier for having experienced them.

These feelings are difficult for a writer to articulate. However, if you want to forge a connection between your reader and the characters in your narrative, you must include small indicators that individuals in the cast sometimes experience a sense of:

  • Competence
  • Confidence in their friends
  • Cooperation
  • Courage
  • Decisiveness
  • Discovery
  • Group ethics
  • Happiness
  • Individual moral courage
  • Purposefulness
  • Revelation
  • Satisfaction
  • Self-confidence
  • Serenity
  • Strength
  • Success
  • Sufficiency
  • Trust

These are good vibes that are rarely articulated, but they suffuse the scene and color the way in which the characters interact with each other.

Some positive emotions can be more intense, yet still not overpowering. Those moments can be shown by an immediate physical reaction, combined with internal dialogue or conversations. We  use the same 1 – 2 – 3  trick of word order when describing a mild experience as we do with louder emotions.

  1. Start with the visceral response. There will be an instant reaction. Good emotions are felt first in the chest, in varying degrees, from a feeling of warmth to the stronger, heart-pounding sensation. But we’re keeping it subdued, here.
  2. Follow up with a thought response. If it is a mild reaction, give it a moderate thought response. “Ah hah!” Whatever your style and word choices are, showing small moments of relatable happiness or pleasure makes our protagonist more sympathetic.
  3. Third, finish up with body language. That is how emotions hit us. We feel the shock then experience the mental reaction as we process the event. Our body language reflects these things.

What if you are writing a story where one of the antagonists will eventually become part of the protagonist’s inner circle? Including small positive thoughts early on in their narrative can foreshadow that this character may turn out to be the ally that turns the tide.

I’ve pointed out many times that conflict is what keeps the protagonist from achieving their goals. Large emotions are easy to write. But frequently, in real life, our smaller joys have a longer-lasting impact, and the memory of these can be the impetus that keeps the soldier fighting during the darkest hours.

Allowing ourselves and our characters to feel joy over small things, to experience a sense of accomplishment is a gift to the reader. The reader will experience those emotions as if they are theirs, and the book will be that much more meaningful to them.

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Character Building: Writing Subtly Negative Emotions #amwriting

Most writers find it easy to connect with the “loud” emotions, such as anger and hate. However, negative emotions have nuances the same way that positive emotions do.

Subtle shades of emotion give us a rounded view of a character, making them less of a cardboard-Barbie and more of a real person.

One negative aspect of our human character is a tendency for us to experience an uncharitable emotion known as schadenfreude. We are all familiar with it, as we experience it on a personal level every now and then. Some people take great joy in this, gaining a sense of superiority.

About schadenfreude, Via Wikipedia:

Schadenfreude is a complex emotion, where rather than feeling sympathy towards someone’s misfortune, schadenfreude evokes joyful feelings that take pleasure from watching someone fail. This emotion is displayed more in children than adults; however, adults also experience schadenfreude, though generally concealed.

In other words, we know it’s an unkind emotion, and we don’t like it in others. Like theft and lying, it is a fundamental aspect of our survival mechanisms that was hardwired into us before we came down from the trees. Primates in the wild have been observed exhibiting our most negative behaviors. 10 Facts About Chimpanzees That Hold A Dark Mirror To Humanity

For most of human history, popular humor has had an aspect of schadenfreude to it. Charlie Chaplin, The Three Stooges, and Jerry Lewis were all popular comedy acts of the 20th century who employed physical comedy that evoked a feeling of schadenfreude in the audience.

We don’t like admitting it, and we try to rise above it. This is one easily relatable emotion you can use to show that your protagonist or others in the cast are real.

Another negative emotion with many nuances is envy. Envy can take the form of wishing one had that lovely thing. Allowed to rage out of control, jealousy becomes the propellant fueling a violent takeover.

Subtle emotions are the kind that prey on you. These feelings are difficult for a writer to articulate. However, if you want to keep raising the tension in your narrative, you must include small indicators of:

  • Anguish
  • Anxiety
  • Defeat
  • Defensiveness
  • Depression
  • Indecision
  • Jealousy
  • Ethical Quandaries
  • Inadequacy
  • Paranoia
  • Powerlessness
  • Regret
  • Resistance
  • Temptation
  • Trust
  • Unease
  • Weakness

These are emotions that can be shown by an immediate physical reaction, combined with internal dialogue or conversations.

As with louder emotions, we want to create a sympathetic response in the reader. So, we use a simple 1 – 2 – 3  trick of word order when describing the character’s experience.

  1. Start with the visceral response. How does a “gut reaction” feel? Nausea, gut-punch, butterflies…how do you respond to internal surprises?
  2. Follow up with a thought response. If it is a mild reaction, it might be on the order of “Heck!” or “Oh dear….” Whatever your style and word choices are, showing their dismay makes them human.
  3. Third, finish up with body language. That is how emotions hit us. We feel the shock then experience the mental reaction as we process the event. Our body language reflects these things.

What if you are writing a story where the antagonist begins as part of the protagonist’s inner circle? Including small negatives like envy and schadenfreude in their narrative can foreshadow that this character may turn out to be the skunk in the laundry hamper.

Conflict is what keeps the protagonist from achieving their goals. Large conflicts and emotions are easy to write. But frequently, in real life, our smaller, more internal conflicts create greater roadblocks to success than any antagonist might present.

These tiny inner voices of self-destruction that hold us back are crucial to creating relatable characters.

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The Author Blog #amwriting

Sometimes, I find it difficult to pull my creative mind together long enough to write a coherent sentence. This is not an unusual thing. Actually, I do battle with it daily. However, I can always talk about writing craft here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy.

The “looming deadline” of my self-imposed  schedule keeps me focused. Blogging is an affordable way to connect with readers. It’s a platform where you can advertise your books and discuss your interests. See my 3-part series that posted on 30 May 2018, Creating Your Author Blog.

Today’s image is a picture  my husband, Greg, shot of me reeling in my little kite in 2018, during a time when we could still walk freely on the beach. I always suggest finding good photographs for your blog post, as images break up the wall of words and keep things interesting. However, it’s essential to keep it legal, so see my post of 08 January 2020, Using Pictures and Quotes.

Author Johanna Flynn is just building her website. She has an affinity for benches and their diverse settings, featuring various images of them on her website.

Ellen King Rice features mushrooms and other fungi on hers.

Both of these authors’ websites are eye candy.

I write two essays a week on the craft of writing. These articles help me clarify my thoughts on those points.

Friday is art day, my favorite day of the week. Exploring the brilliant art that emerged from the Netherlands in the early-to-late renaissance is something I can do despite not having a formal education, thanks to the internet and Wikimedia Commons.

At first, I was torn because whenever I do research in either field, I learn something new and I want to talk about it.

One day, I realized I could do both. After all, art and literature are inseparable, and where you find one you will find the other, along with music and dancing.

Regularly writing blogposts has made me a “planning” author, as well as a “pantser.” A good length for a blog post ranges from about 500 words to around 1,100, give or take. Limits require me to keep my area of discussion narrow, and not get sidetracked.

Blogging never fails to keep me humble. I use several tools to proofread my own work before I schedule it to publish. I make use of spellcheck, Grammarly, and rely heavily on the Read-Aloud function that MS WORD comes with.

Nothing bursts your bubble of self-importance like discovering gross errors and bloopers several days after you published the post.

Yet, it happens to me all too regularly.

For me, writing blog posts isn’t that difficult. I can knock one out in an hour if I’m fired up about the subject.

During the week, I make a note of any interesting topic that might make a good blog post. If there is a lot of research involved, I make footnotes with citations and sources as I come across the information. When that is the case, getting the week’s articles ready could take the whole day. Usually, writing the posts for the week only involves the morning.

If you are a blogger who only posts once a week to give potential fans an update of what you are doing, writing your essay should take less than an hour.

I always pre-schedule my posts. By using the tools each platform offers (be it WordPress or Blogger) to schedule in advance, they will post without my having to babysit them. Having that ability allows me the rest of the week to work on my real job, which is writing fiction.

Many of you have blogs that are languishing in limbo. You’ve lost interest because it’s challenging to gain readers when your website is new. It can be discouraging, but you must keep at it.

When we have a limited audience, we feel a little defeated in our efforts to gain readers. In the world of blogging, as in everything else, we start out small and gain readers as we go along. I began with four hits a day and celebrated the day I reached twenty.

The algorithms are such that those who keep the content updated regularly gain more views and readers. New content shows up at the top of the WordPress reader, so publishing regularly keeps your site in front of readers.

I use the WordPress Publicize options to automatically post my blog to Twitter, LinkedIn, and Tumblr.

On the left of your Blog title, under the words “My Sites,” click the dropdown menu. Scroll all the way to the bottom and open the WP ADMIN menu. This is the menu I use for posting everything on this website because it never changes and I don’t have to get used to a new dashboard every time the bored geniuses at WordPress decide to liven things up.

Step One: In that menu, scroll down to “Settings” and open that menu.

Step Two: In the Settings menu, open “sharing” and click on it. That will take you to the “Sharing Settings” page. Click on the button that says, “Publicize Settings.”

That opens a list of what I think of as blog warehouses, places that collect blogs and offer them to their regular readers. You want to activate as many of them as you can.

Because authors want to gain readers, we need to use every platform available to get the word out. Updating our website blogs twice a month offers us many opportunities to do just that and keeps us in touch with the people who count—our readers.

But most importantly, writing a 500-word blog post means that you wrote 500 words. For some of us, that is a huge accomplishment in these trying times.

If you are an author, you really should be blogging too, but you don’t have to post as frequently as I do.

Think about this: your website is your store, your voice, and your discoverable public presence. Readers will find you and your books there.

So, offer people a reason to stop by. Be nice, and don’t give your work the hard sell.


Credits and Attributions

The Pink Angelfish Kite, image by Greg Jasperson ©2018, All Rights Reserved

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Prepping for NaNoWriMo during the pandemic #amwriting

The first week of September is upon us already. This is when I will begin prepping for my tenth year of participating in November’s National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo, and my ninth as a municipal liaison.

The primary goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word (or more) novel in 30 days. Of course, the end result will require serious rewriting and editing, the same as any first draft. But having the bones of a novel finished, with a beginning, middle, and end is a huge accomplishment.

That month of merry madness forces me to become disciplined, to lose the bad writing habits I slip into during the rest of the year.

Most importantly, having to maintain daily word count output forces me to ignore the inner editor, that unpleasant little voice that slows my productivity down and squashes my creativity.

Also, for this one month of the year, nothing comes before writing. In past years flu season hit me hard despite having gotten my flu shots, and I was unable to attend write-ins for part of the time.

Nevertheless, I still wrote and got my word count. Trying to use my laptop while obeying orders to stay in bed gave me an impetus to get well quick.

This year will be very different. Due to the pandemic, NaNoWriMo headquarters has declared that there will be no sanctioned in-person write-ins. My co-liaison, author Lee French, and I agree whole-heartedly with this the sense behind the decision.

Instead, we will meet via a service called Discord, which we began using last year. We may do some through Zoom Video Conferencing or Google Meet. I also have MS Teams, which I personally think is the best of the bunch.

Coming together to write might seem like an awkwardly silent meeting. Still, these meetings help push word counts and get writers closer to their finished manuscript. Writing in a group situation, even in a virtual environment, enables participants to stay connected. It lessens the feeling of aloneness that writers have historically suffered from since long before Covid19 made everyone else feel isolated.

This sense of belonging keeps us on track and helps us to burn through the roughest spots, days when all we can think to write looks like so much “blah blah blah.”

Our Facebook page will be a place for staying connected, and in past years we’ve had many fun writing sprints and virtual write-ins there.

I’ve posted these before, but here are my rules for succeeding at writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days:

Write at least 1,670 words every day (three more than is required). This takes me about 2 hours because I’m not fast at this.

Write every day, no matter if you have an idea worth writing about or not. If you are really committed, you will do it even if you have to get up at 4:00 am to find the time. Don’t let anything derail you.

If you are stuck for what to write next, talk about how your day went and how you are feeling about things that are happening in your life, or write that grocery list. Use this time as a brainstorming session and just write about the direction you would like to take your story. This will loosen up your ideas, and you will be fired up all over again.

Don’t delete those ruminations, though. Every sentence you write counts toward your goal of 50,000 words. Passages you want to delete later can be highlighted, and the font turned to red or blue, so you can easily separate them out later.

Check-in on the national threads at http://www.NaNoWriMo.org and also your regional thread. You need to keep in contact with other writers, and the forums are fun to participate in.

Join a virtual write-in at NaNoWriMo on Facebook. This will keep you enthused about your project.

Remember, not every story is a novel. If your story comes to an end and you are only at 7,000 words, start a new story in the same manuscript. Use a different font or a different color of font, and you can always separate the sections later. That way, you won’t lose your word count.

Validate your word count every day on the national website. You will gain achievement badges for this, but more importantly, you will know if your word-processor counts the same way as the Validator App at NaNoWriMo. You don’t want to get an ugly surprise at midnight on November 30th!

As writers, we go through stages where we tend to focus too much on the quality of what we have already written and forget that output is important too. NaNoWriMo reminds us that if we don’t write new material every day, we stagnate. Nothing is worse than going over the same stale passages and wondering why you can’t move the story forward.

I write to a loose outline, but the pressure of having to get my word count means I don’t always follow it. The act of sitting down and just writing whatever comes into your mind is liberating.

Even if you don’t want the world to see what you write during the 30 days of NaNoWriMo, you have an outlet for your creative mind, a sounding board for your opinions and ideas. Rant about politics and religion to your heart’s content—no one will be offended if you are only writing for yourself.

If you are getting into genealogy through Ancestry, this is your golden opportunity to write about what you have learned, compiling the information for your own records.

Watching TV and playing video games all evening long doesn’t allow for creative thinking.  Your mind doesn’t get to rest from the daily grind.

Creative thinking—assembling puzzles, quilting, writing, painting, building Lego cities—these activities are far more relaxing than vegetating in front of the TV. Putting together jigsaw puzzles is a great way to organize your mind and sort out plot points.

Something I have found over the years is that by getting away from the TV for a while, your mind becomes sharper. By doing something different, you give your active mind a vacation. You rest better, and your whole body benefits from having done something positive and restful in your free time.

Over the next 60 days, I will be plotting several short stories and a novella, all of which I hope to write in November. They may all get written, or some may be shelved, but either way, I will finish November with new fodder for my short-story submission mill.

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Revisions: Transitions #amwriting

When we rewrite something, we are making revisions. I love the word revision.

re + vision = to envision again.

When I’m making revisions, I try to look carefully at my transitions. These are the small connections that are woven into the larger narrative.

When we begin revising our manuscript, we are looking at small passages of our work with new eyes and seeing how they might be changed to better fit the story. Most times, I can condense them, but sometimes these scenes get expanded.

If it takes more than a paragraph to make the transition, I must be vigilant in my revision. If I must give information, I look for and change all the passive “code words” to active prose. I’ve posted this list before, but if you didn’t copy it then, here is your opportunity.

  • This is an image. Feel free to right-click and save this list as a .png or .jpg for your private use.

    All forms of To be (see the graphic to the right)–>

  • basically
  • Too many emdashes
  • Exclamation points (usually not needed)
  • Finally
  • I think
  • -ing
  • Its / it’s
  • –ize –ization (global search)
  • just
  • Like
  • -ly (global search)
  • now
  • Okay
  • Only
  • Really
  • Said (decide if speech tags can be eliminated and shown by actions)
  • Seem
  • Still
  • Suddenly
  • That (often not needed)
  • The
  • Then (often not needed)
  • There was (a subjunctive)
  • –tion (global search)
  • Very (usually not needed)
  • Which (not a substitute for ‘that’)

For example, when I see the word “went,” I immediately know someone is on the move.

They went, but how did they go?” Went can be changed to any number of verbs:

  • they walked (to the next room, or down the street, or to Mordor.)
  • they drove (a car, a wagon, a spaceship.)
  • they rode (a horse, donkey, motorcycle, or dragon.)
  • they took a plane (bus, ferry, space shuttle, or sleeping pill.)
  • they teleported (vanished into the ether)

Regrouping after an encounter with the antagonist or some other roadblock to success makes a logical transition scene. I see these transitions as opportunities to move the plot forward through conversation or introspection.

When the characters are trying to survive amid chaos, there must be order in the layout and pacing of the narrative, or the reader will become lost. This is called pacing, and it is a key aspect of good transitions.

Pacing is the rise and fall of the action, drama and transition, the ebb and flow of conversations.

  • action,
  • processing the action,
  • action again,
  • another connecting/regrouping scene

Regrouping transitions allow the reader to process what just happened in “real-time,”  experiencing it as if they were the characters.

Transitions provide us with opportunities to ratchet up the tension. They are also where we justify the events and show motives, making them believable.

Unfortunately, these are also places where it is easy to accidentally jump into the headspace of a  different point-of-view character, also known as head-hopping.

For this reason, in the revision process, it’s important to pay attention to who is talking and make sure we are only in their head for the entire scene.

One useful kind of transition is introspection, usually shown with internal dialogue. When done right, internal dialogue offers an opportunity, a brief segue in which new information necessary to the story can emerge.

  1. Introspection also allows the reader to see who the characters think they are. This is critical if you want the reader to bond with them.
  2. Introspection shows that the characters are self-aware.

I do suggest you keep the scenes of internal dialogue brief, or they can meltdown into an info dump. Also, as I’ve said elsewhere if you use italics to set thoughts off, I suggest your characters don’t do too much “thinking.” A wall of italics is hard to read, and we want the reader to stay with the story.

The overuse of weak words can derail transitions. These are any kind of qualifier or quantifier: just, a little, a bit, somewhat—these are words that show indecision. Active prose should not be indecisive.

Also, weak words can be action-stopping words: started to, began to— these are word combinations that slow and stall the action. They are passive, so if you want to write active prose, go lightly with them. Your characters shouldn’t begin to move. Have them move and be done with it.

And never forget to look for and possibly remove words that end in the letters ly: probably, actually, sympathetically, magically … etc.

These are weak, telling words. I spend a lot of time thinking of how to show what I mean rather than telling it. I go to the Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms and find stronger words that more clearly show what I am trying to say.

Whether you are ending a chapter or connecting a series of shorter scenes, dramatic passages have universal commonalities:

  • All scenes have an arc to them: rising action, climax, reaction.
  • These arcs of action and reaction begin at transition point A and end at transition point B.
  • Each scene will end at a slightly higher point of the overall story arc.

In some ways, I find that transitioning from one scene to the next is the most challenging aspect of making revisions. We can choose to end the scene with a hard break and start a new chapter, or smoothly flow into the next scene.

Either way, I hope I’ve written the scenes in such a way that they blend smoothly into the one that follows. This sometimes takes several attempts before I get it right, so if you also struggle with this, you are not alone.

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Challenges in writing and selling short stories #amwriting

If you have been writing for any length of time, you have probably discovered that there is an art to both writing and selling short stories.

It is only when we begin reading widely, and in many different genres, that we discover a painful truth: great writing is not merely a matter of following rules.

As an editor and a voracious reader, I often find a special kind of life in a manuscript that has broken some of the rules.

However, poorly constructed work will be rejected by all publishers, and no reason will be given.

Grammar rules exist for a purpose, and haphazard breaking of them can destroy a reader’s enjoyment of a story. I guarantee you won’t find a publisher for that story.

If you want to sell your work, you must know the rules of grammar and have a basic understanding of mechanics. These rules exist for the comfort and convenience of the reader, so don’t think that they don’t matter.

The four fundamental laws of comma use are not open to interpretation, but are simple and easy to learn. Be consistent in their use.

1) Never insert commas “where you take a breath” because everyone breathes differently.

2) Do not insert commas where you think it should pause, because every reader sees the pauses differently.

3) Use commas to join two independent clauses when they are joined by a conjunction. The independent clause is a complete stand-alone sentence.

  • Edgar worships the ground I walk on, but his adoration bores me.

4) Don’t use a comma to join a dependent clause to an independent clause.

  • Edgar worships the ground I walk on and brings me my coffee.

If you understand those four concepts, you are probably ahead of the competition.

Unfortunately, it is easy to murder what began as a beautiful story. Consider those writers who spend years carefully combing every spark of accidental passion out of their work, creating textbook-perfect sentences that are flat, toneless.

Other authors randomly have characters swear, not consistently, but off and on, apparently for the shock value. Others might inject a little graphic violence or sex into the spots where they couldn’t think of what to do next.

When you do anything that breaks a rule, you must do it consistently and with purpose.

“Shock” for the sake of shock has no value to offer. However, a well-written manuscript may shock and challenge you.

When you understand how a story is constructed, you’re able to find creative ways to phrase things and still keep the story interesting.

When the way you write prose goes against the accepted practice, do it intentionally.

Be sure to tell your editor what rules you are choosing to ignore and why, and she will make sure you are consistent.

We all begin at the same place as writers, all of us mortals with flaws and our own way of doing things.

So now that we understand we all begin as novices, I must ask you this question:

Are you writing because you’re burning to tell a story? If you are not writing for the joy of writing, quit now. You’ll never sell a story you don’t believe in.

Otherwise, keep writing. Only by continued practice and attention to learning the craft will you develop the balance you know you need. Purchase the Chicago Guide to Grammar Usage and Punctuation, and learn how sentences and paragraphs are constructed. Then learn how to fit those sentences and paragraphs into a story arc.

That way, when you break a rule, you will be knowledgeable and do it with style.

The best way to gain a handle on all aspects of writing fiction is by writing short stories and essays.

With each short-story you write, you increase your ability to tell a story with minimal exposition and intentional prose. This is especially true if you limit yourself to writing the occasional practice story, telling the whole story in 1000 words or less. These practice shorts serve several purposes:

  • You have a finite amount of time to tell what happened, so only the most crucial of information will fit within that space.
  • You have a limited amount of space, so your characters will be restricted to just the important ones.
  • There is no room for anything that does not advance the plot or influence the outcome.
  • You will build a backlog of short stories and characters to draw on when you need a good story to submit to a contest.

For me, the most difficult challenge is to write flash fiction, where I have less than 1,000 words to tell a story. This means we only include the most essential elements of a story. All my stories are either shorter or longer than 1,000 words and require weeks of effort to get them to fit that parameter.

As a poet, I find it far easier to tell a story in 100 words than in 1,000. That 100-word story is called a drabble and is an art form in itself.

Many people have asked how to find places that are accepting submissions. That can be a challenge, but these are links to two groups on Facebook where publishers post open calls for short stories.

Open Submission Calls for Short Story Writers (All genres, including poetry)

Open Call: Science Fiction, Fantasy & Pulp Market (speculative fiction only)

You do have to apply to be accepted into these groups and answer specific questions to prove you are legitimately seeking places to submit your work. Once you are approved, certain rules must be followed for a happy coexistence.

Some open calls are for anthologies that are not paid, others pay royalties. I would carefully check out the unpaid ones to make sure there is a good reason why it is unpaid, and that the publisher is reputable.

Be sure any contracts limit the use to that volume only, and you retain all other rights.

Also, you should retain the right to republish that story after a finite amount of time has passed, usually 90 days after the anthology publication date.

SFWA has a wonderful list of predatory publishers that you should avoid doing business with. They also have useful information on things that might be found in predatory contracts. You don’t need to be a member to access these. https://www.sfwa.org/

You can find publications with open calls at Submittable. Unfortunately, that has lately become not as useful regarding speculative fiction as it was several years ago. Still, many poetry collections, literary anthologies, and contests use Submittable, so that is an option. https://www.submittable.com/

All in all, you have to kiss a lot of frogs, so to speak, before you find that prince of a publisher that is looking for your work. Don’t let one rejection stop you. Keep that submission mill running, and for the love of Isaac Asimov, keep track of who you sent what to, what day you sent it, and whether or not it was accepted.

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COVID Brain and the Writer #amwriting

The pandemic (and the politics surrounding it) has affected everyone differently, especially in how we go to work, or even if we have a job to go to. For those in my area of Washington State, we first became aware on February 29, 2020, when the first death from coronavirus in the U.S. was reported at Evergreen Health Medical Center in Kirkland, Washington. That was followed by two other confirmed cases in a nursing home in the same city.

Since that day, officials passed down a series of unprecedented orders. They closed down schools, businesses, and restaurants; only takeout and delivery were exempt.

Terrified, newly unemployed people made a run on grocery stores, buying everything they could lay their hands on and stockpiling it.

Stores quickly became large, empty warehouses. People who shopped as they normally did were unable to find such necessary items as soap or toilet paper.

Things have changed and restrictions have loosened a little, but life will never go back to the way it was. Residents are now trying to settle into what has become a new normal, following social distancing guidelines and staying at home as much as possible.

While shopping has returned to a new kind of normal and stores now have most of the basic necessities, life is not returning to what once was ordinary, nor will it ever. Wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing has become de rigueur. In my home state of Washington, these are mandatory.

No shoes, no shirt, no face-mask, no service.

Remote school was a struggle for many parents. Now, for many, their spouse is either laid off or working from home. During the spring, their kids were home-schooled, then summer happened. They ended up with a house full of bored kids and no place open to take them for entertainment.

For those who live in apartments, even most parks are closed. Going for an afternoon walk quickly loses its charm for the average four-year-old.

Unfortunately, in my state of Washington, schools will remain closed through the fall, and online classes will be the norm. This is a disaster for the poorest families, those without access to the internet. The schools provide your child with a Chromebook, but what do they connect it to? And in most really poor families, the parents have no idea how to hook up a computer or use one.

Even parents who are financially better off are trying to keep their children focused and entertained. This, while they attempt to work from home and are once again faced with also trying to educate them.

Zoom meetings are frequently interrupted by toddler tantrums and cats—the way business is done in our new world.

I know several prolific authors whose ability to write has gone out the window. Many people are only now getting back into some sort of schedule.

This is for a variety of reasons. First of all, if you are writing full time, you rely on those quiet hours of the day while the spouse is at work and kids are at school.

For those whose day jobs meant they scrambled to find time for writing, unemployment was a blessing as far as their writing went. They now had time to write and plenty of apocalyptic stories to tell.

However, we who write full time were thrown out of the normal routine and into a world where every day felt like Saturday, but no one would leave the house and just let you get on with your work.

We had what my Texas editor, Irene, calls “COVID Brain.”

If you are one of the many whose ability to think and write has been affected by the way our world has changed, you are not alone.

However, we are adaptable. All those hours of playing Stardew Valley when you should have been writing weren’t wasted. Your mind was resting, taking a break from the craziness.

I am so grateful for the tools that participating in National Novel Writing Month  (NaNoWriMo) every year has given me. If you are struggling to connect two sentences together, here are some thoughts for you:

Writing daily is easier once it becomes a behavioral habit. First, you must give yourself permission to write.

Your perception that it is selfish will be your biggest obstacle. Trust me, it is not asking too much of your family for you to have some time every day that is sacred and dedicated to writing.

You must decide what is more important, your dream of writing that novel, or watching a television show that is someone else’s dream.

Do you want to create, or do you want to be entertained?

Give up that 8:00 p.m. TV show. If you want to create, you must turn off the television or log out of your video game for a certain length of time every day because you’re not writing if you’re playing a game or watching a show.

Trust me about the six hours a day playing Stardew Valley thing.

But you don’t have to give up the things that keep you sane. Do this in baby steps.

You have the right to take an hour in the morning and the evening to use for your own creative outlet. Get up an hour early and write until the time you would usually get up. That will be the quietest time you will have all day.

Write for five minutes here and ten minutes there all day long if that is all you can do around the demands of educating your children and working from home.

Every word, every idea counts toward your finished manuscript. By writing in short bursts whenever you have the opportunity, you are redeveloping the discipline you once had.

Normal has changed. We have had to wrap our heads around this new way of life, but we are adaptable.

For those who are now faced with schooling their children at home, I offer you this YouTube video from Kathryn at Do it on a Dime, which has some useful tips for making their learning time productive and reducing your stress. Toward the end, Kathryn offers some excellent advice, words we all need to hear.

Remote Learning Made Easy

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The Pyramid of Conflict, Tension, and Pacing #amwriting

In any story, the crucial underpinnings of conflict, tension, and pacing are bound together. Go too heavily on one aspect of the triangle, and the story fails to engage the reader. Balance the three, and the story works even if the reader doesn’t care for the writer’s style or the way they write prose.

Scenes involving conflict are controlled chaos—controlled on the part of the author.

Stories that lack conflict are just character studies.

A story that opens with a teenager leaving her parents’ home, angry, then meeting a manager on a bus and being offered a gig as lead guitar player for a big-name band, and ending on that happy note lacks conflict. It is a case of authorly wish-fulfilment.

An angry, naïve teenager and a “successful manager” on a bus…what could possibly go wrong? The roadblocks and obstacles that happen between her leaving home and finally gaining success are conflict, and they are what makes a story more than just a character study.

First, if it is a violent confrontation, there must be a logical reason for the problem. Don’t insert a fight just because you can’t think of any other way to liven things up. Most people have to be pushed into angry confrontations. The emotional triggers that cause them to snap must make sense to a reader and be logical within the established storyline.

Long, drawn-out fight scenes bore me to tears. For that reason, I keep my violence concise and linear.

I’ve read books where the authors focused too firmly on the technical side of the fight. Too many words were spent on how they were dressed, who hit who with what weapon, in minute detail. Yes, these are necessary elements of the scene. Just remember that long paragraphs with too much detail can be confusing to the reader.

Conflict is not only fighting.

Conflict is what keeps the protagonist from achieving their goals. Overcoming the opposition is the reward for sticking with the story.

No one is going to stick with a novel where random, convoluted quarrels and roadblocks happen for no good reason. The most important consideration in plotting conflict is need.

What does the protagonist gain by overcoming it?

Why did it happen?

What is the purpose of injecting that conflict into the narrative?

Let’s look at Billy Ninefingers. Besides the obvious fact that he is seriously injured in the opening fight, which is the core plot point of the book, I had two other goals to accomplish with the inciting incident.

First, I knew one of the fundamental laws of writing; that plausible literary conflict is not random.

For Billy’s plight to be believable, the reader must see that the Bastard is jealous of his success and acts on any thought that passes through his alcohol-soaked mind. Because the conflict is not random, the reader must later be allowed to discover how the Bastard is manipulated, why he’s being used in this way, and by whom.

In the resolution of the initial scene, my intention was to demonstrate that Billy, even with his life in ruins, has a sense of fair-play.

Billy’s resilience, his creativity, and how he overcomes one roadblock after another despite his maimed hand is the story.

In other words, conflict drives and forces the momentum of the story. It must stir emotions in the reader. The reader must feel the sense of justification or sorrow or triumph that the protagonist experiences with each interaction.

Tension is experienced during the build-up to an incident. The resolution of one conflict leads to another, which is resolved and turns into another. In maintaining good tension, the author keeps the pressure on, raising the anxiety by always raising the stakes.

Pacing is the underpinning, the way the scenes are structured. As our narrative follows the arc of the story, our characters experience action and reaction. The story has a feeling of 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.”

Pacing allows the conflict to continue raising the tension yet gives both the reader and the protagonists a chance to rest between incidents.

One of the most challenging aspects of writing the first draft of any action scene is to ensure that each character remains a unique individual. A blurring of personalities is a problem that occurs when an author focuses too intently on the mechanics, the action and interaction of a scene, writing it as if they lived it.

For the author, acting out the action ensures that the moves are reasonable and make sense. But you aren’t done writing that scene just because the hacking, slashing, and gunshots are on paper.

Tension is heightened as scenes are connected to each other, and more deadlines and showdowns approach. This feeling of subtle anxiety is controlled by pacing.

Thus, the plot of any story is composed of a triangle formed by conflict and tension, set on a foundation of good pacing.

On the positive side, once we get the pacing right, it’s easier to use the conflict to ratchet up the tension.

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