Archive for the ‘The Writing Craft’ Category

Writing Effective Dialogue: Part 3, Realistic vs. Natural Dialogue

July 29th, 2014 | The Writing Craft, Uncategorized | 0 Comments

brick green no smile b:wToday, I’m continuing my ongoing conversation on dialogue and discussing the difference between realistic and natural dialogue and the way each can strengthen or sabotage a story.

Realistic dialogue is conversation that occurs exactly the way people talk in real life, complete with hems and haws, boring filler/minutiae, mundane back-and-forth, sound effects,  etc. The small talk and discussions over where to go for dinner that really do populate our everyday conversations usually serve next-to-no purpose in fiction, unless your purpose is to put your reader in “skim” mode for the rest of the book. I read all too many manuscripts where the author seems to have painstakingly transcribed real-life conversations directly onto the page in places where I have no need (or desire) to hear them. The pleasant small-talk at the beginning and end of a phone conversation, the back-and-forth between a husband and wife over breakfast, the dialogue with a waitress at a restaurant– these are all exchanges of dialogue that happen on a daily basis, but who wants to open a rom-com novel, get to the big date, and have to sit through the waitress listing the specials? Those exchanges don’t drive the story, and they usually slow it down. Unless an exchange like this reveals something important about a character– the main character’s date is incredibly rude to the waitress, or he orders four rare steaks and that’s when she first suspects he’s a werewolf, etc.– this sort of dialogue can be culled from a story and will never be missed.

Also falling into the realistic-dialogue category is dialogue punctuated with sound effects/hems and haws. The only thing more awkward than a character running into an ex while on a date with someone new is having to read their conversation in which every line starts with “uh” or “er.” You can communicate that a character is uncomfortable much more effectively (and cleanly) by telling the reader that he is fidgeting or won’t make eye contact, or that he keeps clearing his throat, or even by using one of those “said” alternatives like “stammered.” (Note: I said ONE! See my post on attribution. One is enough to set the tone for the whole exchange, especially when coupled with some description of the character’s physical demeanor. Don’t go crazy.) Don’t spend a lot of time trying to describe noises, either– while you may feel that it’s vitally important that your reader know that your main character said “Yeeeeek!” when she saw a spider, or that he hollered “RRRRGGGH” when he got shot in the leg, these “sound effects” generally come across as obnoxious and ineffective in actually conveying the fear or pain felt by these characters in those moments. Your story is better served by telling the reader that “a scream from the living room brought Ted running. Chrissy was standing on the coffee table pointing at the floor with a shaking finger,” or that “a growl of pain escaped from between his clenched teeth as she pried the bullet out of his leg”  than by including the scream or the growl as an actual line of dialogue. Let the reader’s imagination do the work of creating the sound effects rather than attempting “realistic” exclamations.

Once you’ve weeded the “realistic” dialogue from your manuscript, turn your efforts to writing natural dialogue instead. Natural dialogue has to do with a line of dialogue’s believability– are characters speaking in a way that’s believable for the time period, their age, their education, and their personalities? I’ve read a lot of dialogue supposedly spoken by modern teenagers which contained really archaic phrases or slang, and seen quite a few modern characters whose syntax was extremely formal; in both cases, the dialogue strikes me as unnatural because it isn’t believable that these characters would speak this way. If there’s a reason a character speaks a certain way– the teenage character is obsessed with 80s movies and that’s why he uses 80s slang, the main character has an IQ of 270 and his formal syntax is an illustration of how his extreme intelligence alienates him from his peers, etc.– make sure it’s clear to the reader, and keep in mind that even if you have a good reason for it, unnatural dialogue can still distance the reader from a story or character simply because the reader finds it distracting or difficult to connect with, so you may want to use it sparingly.

Natural dialogue also has to do with whether you’re allowing dialogue to occur in places and on topics where it makes sense or whether you’re forcing a conversation/monologue in order to divulge information to the reader. There’s a great scene in The Great Muppet Caper where Diana Rigg as Lady Holiday tells the receptionist (Miss Piggy) that she’ll be lunching with her brother Nicky. What could have been a single, naturally-occurring line about where she’ll be during the lunch hour segues into a monologue about how her brother is an “irresponsible parasite who squandered his half of the inheritance and has categorically no prospects– not that he’s grateful, he still gambles, incurs bad debts, uses my charge accounts, eats my food, and borrows my cars without asking permission. And certainly he’s not to be trusted– I wouldn’t even put it past him to try to steal my most valuable and largest jewel, the fabulous baseball diamond… Still and all, he is my brother.” Miss Piggy, the total stranger to whom Lady Holiday just poured all this out, understandably asks, “Why are you telling me all this?” To which Lady Holiday shrugs and replies, “It’s plot exposition. It has to go somewhere.” Don’t make your characters be Lady Holiday. If it doesn’t make sense for characters to be conversing about a certain topic, find another place for your plot exposition.

I’m getting to the end of my series on dialogue– if there are any problem areas or questions about writing effective dialogue you’d like to see discussed before I end the series, let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

On Writer’s Block (a guest post)

July 25th, 2014 | The Writing Craft | 10 Comments

There’s no such thing as writer’s block.

There! I’ve gone and said it.

Writer’s block is a condition belonging to those who can afford to indulge in it. Me? I’ve got deadlines. If the muses aren’t feeling up to snuff, so be it.  I’m still going to be sitting in that chair banging out words every day. If the muse isn’t cooperating, the words aren’t going to be fabulous, and they will have to be rewritten, or maybe even tossed in the trash can, but by gum those keys are clacking along in spite of any lack of enthusiasm. I tell myself, just write, even a measly paragraph can get the ideas started again. Or if I’m completely stymied, I’ll write something else. I’m always working on two books at once so I can alternate if needed. So what do some writers far more accomplished than I say about writer’s block?

Philip Pullman said, “Writer’s block… a lot of howling nonsense would be avoided if, in every sentence containing the word WRITER, that word was taken out and the word PLUMBER substituted; and the result examined for the sense it makes. Do plumbers get plumber’s block? What would you think of a plumber who used that as an excuse not to do any work that day?”

I think the best piece of wisdom on this subject comes from Barbara Kingsolver who advises, “I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done.”

So what about you? How do you push past a lack of inspiration in your work or home life?

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Dana Mentink is a romance and suspense writer, living in California with a fire fighter husband, two girls — Yogi and Boo Boo — and a dog with social anxiety problems. Her most recent title, Flood Zone, releases this month with Harlequin’s LI Suspense. You can find out more about Dana by visiting her website: www.danamentink.com 

Dana Mentink

Point of View (a guest blog)

July 18th, 2014 | The Writing Craft | 1 Comment

In the past few months, I have done developmental edits, line edits, or rewrites on over twenty novels, and assessed at least a dozen more for marketability. I’m now partially blind in one eye, and I occasionally twitch for no reason, but it’s been time well spent, working with some amazing storytellers.

If you are in the midst of writing your own novel, you might find it interesting that the most common editorial issue I encounter is the inconsistent use of point of view. I know it can be hard to maintain in longer manuscripts, which I view as a normal writing stumble — and job security. But I think sometimes newer authors are making pov mistakes repeatedly because they are not considering the flow of action and thought from the reader’s perspective, how illogical shifts can be disorienting.

“I tucked the gun in my pocket, walked in the office and shut the door, leaving Jim in the hallway. I noticed the raincoat on the floor beside the desk. Jim opened the secretary’s closet, moving old jackets and sweaters aside as he searched for the raincoat.”

This first person voice cannot see through walls or read minds (at least not in this story), so how does he know Jim is digging through the closet? He might know he TOLD Jim to dig through the closet, but Jim could just as easily have been distracted by a donut sitting on top of the waste basket. Of course, this also holds true if perspective shift happens in a third person narrative.

“Todd tucked the gun in his pocket, walked in to the office and shut the door, leaving Jim in the hallway. Jim opened the secretary’s closet, moving old jackets and sweaters aside as he searched for the one piece of evidence that might save his life.”

Yes, there is such a thing as distant, omniscient third person point of view where this last example might work, though I would still transition the reader from the office to the hallway, adding something like, “Jim frowned at the closed door. Not knowing Todd had found the coat, Jim walked across the hall to the secretary’s closet . . .”

However, in my humble opinion, the bulk of books being picked up by traditional publishers today are using first person point of view, or third person point of view told from the perspective of one character at a time. Shifts in view point are visually cued by extra space breaks, with or without something like this ********, or by starting a new chapter. Luckily for most authors, these two pov’s are the easiest to maintain.

“Todd tucked the gun in his pocket, walked in the office and shut the door, leaving Jim the hallway.

********

Jim frowned at the closed door. Not knowing Todd had found the coat, Jim walked across the hall to the secretary’s closet, moving old jackets and sweaters aside as he searched for the one piece of evidence that might save his life.”

New authors struggle with consistent pov more than the varsity players but no matter your level of expertise, if you’ve just kicked out a 300-page document, you might want to do a re-read with point of view in mind. Sometimes the shift is just in one paragraph, sometimes it’s a bigger chunk. If you are sticking with the distant third person pov, think about how the movement from character to character is being transitioned for your readers. For good examples, read classic authors who have used this perspective beautifully. You know, Dostoevsky. Marquez.

Of course, it’s not as if the occasional misstep with a viewpoint is the end of the world, not when you’ve got professional editors on stand-by via the amazing world of the internet. As an editor, I am certainly not discussing pov errors here because I’m trying to be smug or condescending, not when I’ve gone through the process myself. I like reading un-polished manuscripts. I like helping other authors with the finishing steps. I appreciate the behind the scenes, down in the mud, hard work that it takes for an author to produce a story, especially one of merit. I think most professional editors feel this way.

I wish you all the best of luck in your writing journey. Break a pen!

 

Published author Holly Lorincz is also the owner of a successful editing and publishing consultation business. See literaryconsulting.com. for more details.headshot-sepia-copy

8 Common Usage Errors, or: How to Make Me Judge You, part 2.

July 1st, 2014 | The Writing Craft | 18 Comments

brick green no smile b:wErin again, just trying to confuse you by posting my picture right next to Amanda’s name. Last week, I started to share some of the common mistakes I see in manuscripts and why such seemingly minor usage errors can incur such harsh and swift judgment on my part. (The short version is: agents are cranky. Usually because we’re hungry.) Several readers commented to add their own pet peeves, and as it turns out, agents aren’t the only ones who are judging you for your grammar and punctuation mistakes. Felicia and Rick are judging you for apostrophizing your plurals (here are your menu’s, the Smith’s live in this house, etc.), Ted can’t stand when you use “I” as an objective pronoun (she went to the park with Kim and I), and April, Brian, and Sally judged ME for not proofreading the blog I typed on a touchscreen the size of a postage stamp in the gol’ dang middle of the night after a 16-hour day at Disneyland, and are henceforth banned from this blog. (Okay, fine. This is an equal-opportunity judging zone. Consider yourselves unbanned.)

Several folks commented on it’s/its confusion, your/you’re transposition, and the there/they’re/their problem, and I thought it was worth mentioning that those are probably the three most common mistakes I see, but strangely, they don’t bother me as much as some of the other errors I cited, maybe because I’ve become desensitized to them from overexposure, or because I assume that, nine times out of ten, the offenders really could use each correctly if they were to think about it long enough and are just writing lazy. Laziness doesn’t bother me as much as ignorance, apparently. The mistakes I selected for my list (using a painstaking scientific ranking process in which I wrote down the first eight things that popped into my head) aren’t much more confusing or complicated than the more common problems, but I read manuscripts from a lot of people who just don’t seem to have a handle on the correct usage for many of these.

Now, I’m not pretending these two posts contain all the rules and scenarios for every use of every one of these words; this is simply a list of the words I most often see used incorrectly, and if my examples provide a little clarification on their general correct use, great. If you didn’t catch last week’s post, here’s the first half of the list again.

1. Should of/would of (never correct).

2. Lose/loose.

3. Hear/here.

4. Who’s/whose.

And the much anticipated conclusion of my list:

5. Than/then. Basically, “than” is used when making comparisons, and “then” is used when talking about time/sequence of events (or WHEN something happened– and “then” and “when” conveniently rhyme to help you remember this). So, you like one thing more THAN another (you’re comparing your preference), you would rather die THAN admit you listen to Justin Bieber (comparing one scenario to another), etc. Once Justin wins a Grammy, however, THEN you will proudly shout his praises from the rooftops (when one thing happens, then the next event in the sequence will take place). “Then” can often be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence, as above– “Once Justin wins a Grammy, you will proudly shout his praises” works just as well when the “then” is implied.

6. Affect/effect. This one can be a little more confusing because each word can be used as both a noun and  a verb, and both words have slightly more archaic/obscure uses in which they have the opposite function of their most common uses. The majority of the time, “affect” is used as a verb meaning “to influence” and “effect” as a noun meaning “result” or “consequence.” “The three cups of coffee affected him more than he let on” vs. “he felt the effect of the three cups of coffee when he tried to fall asleep that night.” However, “affect” can also (and much less commonly) be used as a verb which means “to put on or feign,” as in, “he affected an attitude of lethargy, but really, he was buzzed from all the caffeine.” “Effect” can also be used as a verb (again, less commonly) meaning “to bring about,” as in, “Our goal in putting a coffee machine in the break room is to effect a change in the energy level around here,” not to be confused with “our goal in putting a coffee machine in the break room is to AFFECT the energy level around here.” “Effect” in the first sentence is acting on “change” (bringing it about), while “affect” in the second sentence is acting directly on “energy level” (influencing it). And both those words are starting to look and sound like gibberish to me, so I’m going to stop there.

7. Breath/breathe. This one isn’t as common just because the words aren’t used as often as some of these others, but the prevailing opinion on these two words, if the manuscripts I receive are any indication, is that they are interchangeable, and they’re not. They’re pretty cut-and-dried, actually. “Breath” is a noun, rhymes with “death,” “breathe” is a verb, rhymes with “seethe.” You take a breath, but you breathe through your nose. I doubt any of the authors who misuse these in print would use the wrong word when speaking, which leads me to conclude that many people simply haven’t memorized which pronunciation corresponds to which spelling– they’re pronouncing “breathe” as “breath” when they read their writing, and vice versa. So, breath = death, breathe = seethe, and if you need a silly little mnemonic, you can remember that “breathe” pronounced “BREE-th” has two “e’s” in it (and yes, the apostrophe is correct when pluralizing a lowercase letter!), so even though they’re not sequential, you can remember that the “brEathE” with two e’s is pronounced like the two sequential e’s in “seethe.”

8. Were/we’re. While I don’t see a lot of people using “we’re” (contraction for “we are”) in place of the past tense verb “were,” I do see a lot of people use “were” when they mean “we’re,” and, as is the case with so many of these errors, spellcheck won’t catch that mistake because “were” is a correctly-spelled real word. I don’t know whether it’s my obsessive-compulsive tendencies or my long immersion in English and grammar or what, but literally EVERY time I write or proofread, I automatically separate each contraction into two words to confirm to myself that the use of the apostrophe is correct, which means I read a sentence like this one: “They’re going to make sure we’re doing everything we can to ensure that he’s comfortable” as “They (are) going to make sure we (are) doing everything we can to ensure that he (is) comfortable.” It’s annoying, but I can’t turn it off, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself misusing a “their” or an “it’s” with this method, which leads to the big takeaway for this post:

EVERYONE makes mistakes. I have no illusions regarding my own perfection as a writer or grammarian, and I know that none of the authors I represent are ever going to be perfect. Even if someone could claim to write perfectly by one set of standards or style manual, someone else could come along with a different style manual or different regional standards and argue otherwise. The point I want to make is that the correct way to use these words is not an unfathomable mystery, and that even a writer who’s not a grammar expert can spend some time learning the usage distinctions, paying attention to correct usage when reading quality writing, or having a couple semi-literate people proofread their manuscript. When I get a manuscript full of errors like these, my assumption then is not that you’re an idiot, but that you didn’t put the time and effort into learning your craft and/or perfecting your writing sample before sending it out, and nine times out of ten, that means you’re not ready to be published yet.

That’s it for my list; if I missed one that you struggle with and would like me to address in a future post, please let me know in the comments. I’ve already gotten some great requests and suggestions for future grammar posts, so you’ll see more of those in the future. Come back next week when I’ll take the discussion in a less grammar-y direction and talk about great dialog, which is basically just an excuse for me to talk about P. G. Wodehouse, so if you’re not familiar with him, your homework for this week is to read THE GIRL IN BLUE. Or anything he wrote, really. Class dismissed!

Editing: It Takes a Village (A guest blog)

May 30th, 2014 | The Writing Craft | 6 Comments

I recently had someone say to me, “My novel needs an edit — but I don’t have the strength to listen to someone bash it.”

Ack! An editor’s job is to help authors readjust, smooth and polish but never to be condescending. The edits are meant to help. And the majority of today’s successful writers use editors and rely on their feedback, grateful for another pair of eyes, an outside viewpoint. It’s important to take your ego, put it in a little box, and forget about it for awhile — especially if you are self-publishing or querying with a manuscript.

Easier said than done, I know. I understand the insecurities that come to light in this situation. I’ve birthed a few of my own book babies. I’ve suffered the angst of waiting for an editor to tell me if my kid is worthless drivel or not. But I early on came to the realization I am not always a clean writer . . . my babies can be messy. I know what I meant to say and that’s how my brain reads it. I’m a terrible self-editor in the long-form. I can spot a homonym or a typo or a repetitive phrase a mile away in anyone’s work but my own.

And, of course, there are the bigger developmental issues to consider. A handful of authors are able to craft a perfectly developed story, from plot to theme to character arc. But in a 360-page document, is it likely there are no sentences that can be worded more succinctly or a scene tweaked for more impact? No subplot that loses the thread? A character with weak motivation?

A book is a living creature, always capable of change . . . growth. It is never finished. Now, I do believe at some point an author must put down her pen and exclaim, “Welp, I’m done.” We’d go crazy if we were in the re-write phase forever. Instead, we need to send our baby out into the world. We’ve given birth and shaped the growth, created a being who can now stand on its own. But is it pretty? Is it smart? We are so close to the project, we can easily lose objectivity.

It takes a village to raise a child, or so the saying goes. As humans, we have human babies and we feed them, discipline them, love them. But when they get big enough, we have to send them into that village. They can’t thrive and flourish if we keep them trapped inside (i.e. Flowers in the Attic). So, suddenly, their development is influenced by a wide array of editors . . . er, I mean, teachers. For instance, Auggie is my eight year old son, but someone else is gonna’ have to teach him advanced algebra (after they’ve taught him basic algebra) and I’m okay with that. They’re still our babies — but others have helped to polish our creation. Granted, that can be difficult to take sometimes, especially when someone from the village tells us our baby has some flaws.

“Ms. Lorincz, I’m going to need you to come in tomorrow after school. Auggie is still telling jokes during quiet time.” So, the teacher doesn’t think my beautiful, smart boy is funny? He thinks my baby is distracting? Clearly that teacher needs to get a sense of humor and find ways to keep Auggie occupied. Because there is nothing wrong with my baby.

But then I have to face facts. My baby needs some help getting back on track. In the bigger picture, I’ve still created a magnificient being — but a being that needs a tweak from the outside, objective world sometimes.

Some writers don’t like outside views on their projects because they believe their work is perfect. If this is you, I’d again suggest you may be too close to your creation to be objective. It’s important to keep in mind you are writing for an audience who will not be reading with your eyes. Other writers (and this is probably most of us), know our creation probably has some weaknesses but we love it so much, and have worked so hard on it, we feel like criticism is akin to someone telling us he despises our kid. Cringe-worthy, gut-wrenching stuff. However, if we can get past our own ego, then we can find someone to give the kid a haircut, someone to give the kid some acne medicine, and someone to teach the kid algebra. That’s what editors are for, helping you to figure out what and where to clean up your snot nosed toddler.

If you are willing to allow others to teach and mold your human child, and listen to authorities when they tell you your human child needs help, why not do the same for your book baby?

Good luck!

Holly Lorincz, an award winning novelist, is the owner of Lorincz Literary Services, a very successful editing and publishing consultation business. Please check out her website at http://literaryconsulting.com.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

March 28th, 2014 | Deep Thoughts, Questions from Beginners, Quick Tips, Resources for Writing, The Writing Craft | 34 Comments

So it’s spring break for most people. You might be heading out of town, or driving to the beach, or trying to find a place to relax and dive into that new book you bought. I’m going the same thing — well… I live at the beach, so I’m not heading there, but I am trying to ditch the crowds find some quiet so I can read today. I have a long list of projects I want to get caught up on, so instead of doing emails and taking phone calls, I’m going to try and get away and just read for a while.

And that, of course, means I don’t think I’ll take the time to create a new blog post. Instead, I’ll let you YOU create it. One simple question: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

It might be something about craft, or a trick you learned, something about writing quickly or leaving writer’s block behind. It could be advice on creating characters, or raising the stakes, or leaving people with a memorable lesson. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you’ve no doubt heard (or read) some great bit of wisdom that you took to heart and you noticed it changed your work. Share it with us. Just click on the “comment” bar below and offer the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received. You’re welcome to give us context, and tell who said it and what the circumstances were, if you want to — but don’t feel you HAVE to. You’re welcome to just offer one sentence with the advice you’ve got.

I do this once each year or so, and I have gleaned some wonderful tips from people over the years. Would love to hear what you have to share with your fellow writers. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Thursdays with Amanda: Respecting Your Art

March 20th, 2014 | Marketing and Platforms, Self-Publishing, The Writing Craft | 13 Comments

Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

An old college friend was telling me a story about a potential client he was talking with. This friend of mine does freelance editing and proofing (he proofed my book, The Extroverted Writer), and so he is regularly courting new clients, trying to meet their expectations while also sharing with them the reality of the business.

This particular client of my friend’s was one of those type A, demanding, bull-headed types. You know who I’m talking about…a real-life Miranda Priestly or Bart Bass. Shrewd. Demanding. With no concept or concern for how much work it takes to produce a quality result.

The client had a 58,000-word manuscript that he wanted proofread, but the real kicker was that he wanted the project done in two days. When my friend pushed back and told him that, with a full-time job and other responsibilities on top of his freelancing gig, there was no way he could get it done and done well in that timeframe, the guy refused to accept such an answer. Said something about how it HAD to be ready for publication and how there was NO ROOM FOR AN EXTENSION.

My friend politely turned the project down.

I used to edit and proofread for a publishing company. They’d hand me a fiction manuscript, give me a week’s worth of time, and then a month later a check for a whopping $150 would hit my account. I had gotten the job after hearing that they needed someone to edit and proof for under $200 a pop. I had taken it, thinking it wouldn’t be that hard…I mean eight hours on a manuscript at $150/per is some decent money for someone just starting out.

But reality was much less rosy. The manuscripts I received were in shambles–the things should never have been published to begin with, and it was MY job to whip them into shape. To not only catch the numerous grammatical errors (specifically, an inability to punctuate dialogue) but to point out any glaring issues I had with the story (where to begin??). By the second manuscript, the magic had dissipated. The spell was broken. I was no longer enthusiastic about the job. I abhorred it.

If they were going to pay me for $150 worth of work, then $150 worth of work was exactly what they were going to get. You get what you pay for, eh?

So what’s my point in all this? Why bring up cheap-o publishers and pushy self-pubbing authors?

Because I am sick and tired of people disrespecting the craft.

Self-publishing has made it so easy to do this …”authors” these days shop around for the cheapest, quickest editors and designers and proofers. And when they don’t want to pay a dime, they do it themselves. Microsoft Paint book covers plague Amazon, and if you ever meet a self-published author, they can tell you story after story of how much they learned AFTER they uploaded their book. The typos and the plot holes and the inconsistencies–so many things that had to be fixed after the fact.

In some cases, they just didn’t know better. They were trying to be artists, but they’d just learned to paint.

But in other cases…I’ve seen respected authors disrespect their own work.

So this is my plea to you! I’m going to spend a few weeks talking about self publishing and hybrid publishing. And the deal is that as I go down this route, you must promise that if you end up trying your hand at this self-publishing thing, you will keep the art pure. You must promise to respect your books, respect the process, and respect the fact that just because you could self-publish, it doesn’t mean you should.

Capisci?

The Amazingly Easy Short Cut Guide To Becoming A Great Writer (Tongue-In-Cheek Advice for The Lazy)

January 27th, 2014 | Questions from Beginners, Quick Tips, The Writing Craft | 1 Comment

BY GUEST AUTHOR KATHARINE GRUBB

Some are born great writers, some aspire to being a great writer and some have writerly
greatness thrust upon them. Then, sometimes, neither of those three options apply to us and we have to bushwhack our own path to greatness.

Is it just me, or does that sound like a lot of work?

I’d like to suggest that our writerly ambitions can be accomplished with little or no effort. In fact, I have a list of ten things you can do (or not do) to accomplish this goal. (If accomplishing goals is your thing.) I would have come up with eleven, but I got tired.

1. Don’t Write. Your day is busy enough. In fact, spend your down time doing things like hurling birds into piles of thieving pigs. Tell yourself that this is brain work! Your writing future is dependent on whether or not you see Downton Abbey! Every time you have a nagging thought that tells, you that maybe you should do Nanowrimo or something like that, just watch an episode of Hoarders until the feeling goes away. Smugness, with lack of physical activity, can be just as comforting as that pesky sense of accomplishment that comes with dedication and commitment. Trust me.

2. Don’t read. This is obvious. Since really there aren’t any new plots, there isn’t any point in reading at all. If you need to know something, don’t go any deeper than a search on Wikipedia. If you want a story to entertain you, you’ve got Netflix, right? Besides fiction is made up stories, which are basically lies. Just don’t bother. In fact, if you are reading this blog, stop right now and turn on Pandora, the Shakira station.

3. Hang Out With Stupid People. This should be easy. If you want to avoid greatness, then spend a lot of time with those who are content to stay where they are. It’s way, way easier to avoid reading and writing if your BFFs are Neanderthals. The people who actually accomplish something in their lives would take the effort (and it is effort) to find smart, inspiring, intelligent and encouraging people to rub elbows with, learn from and be mentored by. Not only is keeping such company hard, it’s risky too. You might not be liked or appreciated, or you might be thought to be stupid. It’s better not to take a chance.

4. Expect the universe to bring you want you want. You know that old phrase, luck favors the prepared? Don’t listen to it, that’s something that personal trainers and high school coaches say. There are plenty of statistics, but I’ve not bothered to find them, that shows that these people have never won the lottery and they’re bitter about it. Not you. Your talent/desires/destinies are special enough that the universe will just trip one day and it will all spill in your lap. So go back to bed. We’ll call you when the universe shows up.

5. If you have to write, look for short cuts. Hard work and diligence are for those people not smart enough to beat the system. Hustle, if you don’t know already, is a dance move from the ’70s, not a verb for people who want to accomplish great things. So if you must send a query letter (but if you do, you’re missing the point of this post entirely) don’t worry about spelling and grammar. Real agents can spot talent without the rules bringing you down.

6. If you have to work, and you make a mistake, then quit as soon as possible. Life should be easy and if you make mistakes, then you’re doing it wrong. If you hang out with the right kind of people, they will tell you about all the big dreams that they once had and how they quit when the going got tough. These people may be called quitters in some circles, but in others, they are called realists. Oh, and if you’re on a reality show when you do decide to quit, make sure you make a big scene, spew profanity and throw something. You never know when a future employer might hire you because of your spirit.

7. Never Ask Questions. First of all, you’re so smart, you don’t need to ask questions and if you do ask, it will just make you look weak. Secondly, even if you do ask, it may mean that you will not like the answer. You may have to change your way of thinking or how you do something. You are waiting for the universe to drop your destiny in your life, you don’t have time to change! It’s far better just to nod and smile and make it look like you know what you’re doing.

8. Hold Your Head Up High. You should broadcast loudly how little you are doing to pursue your dreams. (Pursue is far too strong a verb here, go easy on yourself and use the word, ponder.) People will respect your brashness and individual spirit. They will, most assuredly, talk about you behind your back and say things like, “She is so smart and optimistic! I admire her commitment to her pondering!”

9. Call Yourself What You Are. Do you dream of being a published writer? Call yourself that! It doesn’t matter that you haven’t published anything. You know that advice that says, “Dress for the job that you want, not the one that you have”? Well, I say, call yourself the job you want, not the job that you have. The universe will take notice of this and bow to your wishes. Eventually. Believing in yourself is half the battle, right? If you have the right kind of friends and family, they will believe you even though you’ve never really written. But, I wouldn’t suggest mentioning that you are a CEO of a Fortune 500 company when you fill out a bank loan, unless you have the pay stubs to prove it.

10. Wait. This is the easiest step for anyone who wants to be great. Just wait. Kick back on the LaZ-Boy, fall asleep on the couch, turn in early. It will come eventually. You’ve done nothing to make it happen, so everything you want will come to you like a dream.

Katharine Grubb has been represented by MacGregor Literary since April 2013 as a result of a contract really falling in her lap. Her book , The Ten Minute Novel: How to Write A Novel in Ten Minute Increments, will be released in 2015 by Hodder & Stoughton. She’s also self-published two novels, Falling For Your Madness and The Truth About The Sky. Katherine homeschools her five children and lives in Massachusetts. She blogs at www.10minutewriter.com and hopes every reader of this article has a sense of humor.

A Workshop on Getting Published

January 7th, 2014 | Agents, Books, Career, Conferences, Marketing and Platforms, Proposals, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Resources for Writing, The Business of Writing, The Writing Craft | 0 Comments

BY CHIP MACGREGOR

 

A new writing conference is fast approaching — and you’re invited.

On Saturday, February 15, I will be speaking at the Dallas Writers’ University. It’s a one-day event, with a rather intensive agenda:

  • I’ll speak on “developing a book proposal that sells,” and the focus will be on giving practical, hands-on help to writers who want to create a proposal that will get noticed.
  • I’ll also be speaking on “creating your long-term publishing strategy,” with an emphasis on traditional publishing, niche publishing, self-publishing, and alternative strategies for writers to make a living.
  • Michelle Borquez, bestselling author and entrepreneur, will explore “building a platform around your concept.”
  • There will be a Q&A time, and everybody there will have a face to face meeting with me sometime during the day.
  • Finally, Michelle and I will be talking about the secret to success in contemporary publishing.

I’m really looking forward to this opportunity. I’ve largely taken time away from conferences the past couple years, but I love talking to authors about proposals and strategy. And you’re invited. Again, every participant gets face time with me, where we’ll be reviewing proposals and talking about next steps in a one-on-one setting. That means our space is limited to just 30 people.

Here’s the thing . . . there are a hundred conferences you can go to in order to get some basic information on writing. But if you really want to join a small group and find out how to create a book that will sell, make some money, and gain entry into the world of publishing by talking to some experienced people in the industry, I hope you’ll consider joining us. I don’t do many conferences anymore (and rarely do a writing conference), so I’m excited to be asked to be part of this one.

The event is going to be in the Dallas area, at a church in White Settlement. The cost is $225 and includes lunch – but if you mention this blog when you sign up, you can attend for $199. You can find out all you need to know by clicking here.

If you live anywhere in the area, I would love to have you come and introduce yourself to me.

Feel free to ask me questions — happy to be doing this!

FINDING YOUR VOICE

November 22nd, 2013 | Resources for Writing, The Writing Craft | 13 Comments

GUEST WRITER  ANE MULLIGAN

President of the award-winning literary site, Novel Rocket, Ane Mulligan writes Southern-fried fiction served with a tall, sweet iced tea. While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, she’s worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), business manager, drama director and writer. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). A three-time Genesis finalist, Ane is a published playwright and columnist. She resides in Suwanee, GA, with her artist husband and two very large dogs, and has just returned from the ACFW conference.

Finding Your Voice

Fiction writers are told to find their voice. Well, what is it, and for that matter, how do you find it?

I mastered the mechanics of good writing by learning and following the guidelines or … stay with me here … the rules. It’s kind of like staying between the lines in a coloring book before taking on a blank sheet of art paper. Then, I began to understand when and how to break those rules to turn my manuscript into a symphony of words.

About that same time, I started a new series, and when I sent my critique partners the first chapter, they told me I’d found my voice. Cool. I didn’t know I’d lost it. I mean, I didn’t have laryngitis or even a sore throat.

Okay, I’m being silly and probably not very funny, so you can stop rolling your eyes. In truth, I’d been working on voice. I read Les Edgerton’s book Finding Your Voice. I highly recommend it if you’re still looking for yours.

In Edgerton’s book, he said go back and look at letters you’d written when you were young or at least before you began to write. There was your voice.

As I thought about that, I remembered how our friends always told me they loved my Christmas letters. Mine were the ones they actually read and looked forward to. If I was late with it I received a few “Where is it?” emails. Instead of a travelogue or a report on the kiddos’ doings, I made up stories about the major events of the past year, poking fun at us and liberally adding embellishments.

I pulled out those past Christmas letters and studied them. I noticed the cadence, the style, and the sound of them. That’s what I wanted in my fiction. I then tried a new game of “Name that Author.”

First, I went to a multi-author blog—it doesn’t work on any other type. (NOTE: This needs to be a blog of authors well known to you.) I chose Girls Write Out. Then, before I looked at the signature or by-line, I tried to guess who wrote it. Between the post and their fiction, I could see the similarity in the “voice.” It was natural and organic to the author. While some may have similarities, especially if they write in the same genre, each author does have a unique voice.

If you’re still developing your writing voice, read … a lot. Don’t copy another writer, but rather study what they do and how they do it. Then look at something you wrote before you started perusing a writing career. Forget the mechanics for a moment. What did the writing sound like? That’s most likely your voice.

Try it for a while and see what happens.