Archive for March, 2010
Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 by Bob Mayer
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(excerpted from Warrior Writer: From Writer To Published Author)
It’s the difference between ordinary and elite. Elite is a word that has a bad rap. It simply means a group of people considered to be the best. To get published, you’ve got to be the best in that slush pile. Ordinary doesn’t cut it in publishing.
Success is a struggle. I recently read a book by Barbara Ehrenreich titled: Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Yes, I am not a fan of ‘The Secret’. You have to do more than just think your way into success. You must take action. However, the first step of change is thinking differently. But by itself, that is not change.
The ‘enemy’ is closer than we think. It is I. I have always been my own worst enemy. No one else writes my books. I do. I can complain as much as I want about agents, publishers, editors, the reading public, but I own my writing, my book and my career. The only one who can stop me, is me.
Do things the ‘right’ way or the brave way? To be successful you are going to have to break rules. We used to say in Special Forces: If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying. I’ll discuss the paradoxical three rules of rule breaking in a later post.
Going from being a craftsman to an artist. You have to master the craft in order to become the artist. You have to learn the rules before you start breaking them.
It causes you to focus, to ask why. When I critique, I always ask “Why did you do that?” Because there are no strict rules of writing. You can do anything. But you should consciously know WHY you are doing it and have a good reason.
It takes you out of crisis management into management. Successful people act, not react. One thing I learned in my writing career was that I was reacting too much: once you have a multiple book contract, you’re reacting to that contract. That’s okay, but don’t stay in that mode forever. To break out, you have to act.
I’ve used, taught, and lived this. From West Point, through the Infantry, Special Forces A-Team leader, teacher at the JFK Center at Ft. Bragg, my writing and teaching career, my consulting business, my publishing company —this is pulling it all together.
IT WORKS. Special Forces are the most elite soldiers in the world. A lot of what I’m presenting is what they learned from centuries of ‘blood’ lessons. Also, I’m presenting things I’ve learned from successful authors such as Susan Wiggs, Elizabeth George, Terry Brooks, Jenny Crusie, and many others.
“I am always doing that which I cannot do in order to learn how to do it.” Pablo Picasso.
A successful writer is a confident writer. Look at the differences between a confident person and one with low confidence:
LOW CONFIDENCE HIGH CONFIDENCE _______
Hiding/Ignoring mistakes Admitting mistakes & learning from them
Doing what others think you should Doing what you know is right
Letting fear dictate you actions Using courage to overcome fear
Staying in status quo (misery) Taking risks & changing, despite difficulty
Letting others take charge Taking charge
Letting each day happen Having goals, plan, and on a path every day
Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by Joe Nassise
I’m deep into revising my second Jeremiah Hunt novel based on the notes from my editor. Next to me as I work is a checklist I found on Darcy Patterson’s Fiction Notes blog several weeks ago which I’ve found to be useful tool in helping me stay focused on getting the most out of each of my scenes.
For those who haven’t seen it, I thought I’d share some of it here and you can hop over to Darcy’s blog (see above) to catch the rest.
I’d also be interested in hearing what you might add to the list from your own revision sessions…
Ten Point Checklist for Scenes
- Where/When. (Setting) Did you orient the reader at the beginning of the scene? Does the reader know where this takes place: room in house, city, state, country, etc? Does the reader know when this takes place: time of day, season of year, place within chronology of story? If the answer to where or when is no, do you have a firm reason for leaving the reader disoriented?
- Stakes. Are the stakes of the scene goal clear? If the protagonist fails, do we understand the consequences? Are the consequences substantial? Can you put more at stake, or make it matter in some way?
- Structure. Is the structure clear, with a beginning, middle, pivot point and ending? Is the chronology of the scene clear (did you use transitions such as then, later, before, after, etc.)?
- Actions. Are the actions of the scene interesting, and told with active verbs and great clarity?
- Emotions. Are the emotions clearly stated or implied? Can the reader empathize with the characters? Does the reader weep or laugh, even when the character can’t or won’t?
… you can find the rest at Fiction Notes
Monday, March 29th, 2010 by Carrie Vaughn
Wow, I really didn’t expect last week’s post on leaving my publisher to go quite as viral as it did. I think people responded to the topic because it’s a concrete example of an issue that we often talk about in the abstract. Lots of writers, conference panels, and articles on the business side of writing discuss contracts, what to look out for in some of the more obscure clauses, and why careful consideration and negotiation is so important. My example with the non-compete clause is how that sort of thing can play out in the real world.
At any rate, thank you to everyone who commented on the thread and linked to it through various venues.
A couple of clarifications:
- Grand Central Publishing used to be Warner Books. When parent company Time Warner sold its book division to French publisher Hachette, it required that the company stop using “Warner” in its name.
- Most contracts have a non-competition clause to some extent. Especially if you’re writing a series or a set of books with the same characters, the publisher will want the exclusive right to publish books in that series or with that character. This is one of those clauses that most publishers will try to make as broad as possible, and it’s up to you and/or your agent to negotiate as narrow a definition as possible. Ideally, you’ll get this clause struck entirely, but you’ll probably have to compromise. It depends on the situation.
A couple of other things I was going to write about before last week’s post exploded:
- Freelancers often play a game called, “I just got paid — what home repair am I going to do now?” It’s that whole cash flow issue. Well, I just got paid (the delivery/acceptance payment for Kitty Goes to War), and I bought new appliances to replace the 35 year old avocado ones I’ve been living with since I moved into my condo. This has been a looooong time coming. It’s so exciting! And that right there is an example of the glamorous life of the working writer.
- Fantasy author Jim C. Hines has run an informal poll regarding first novel sales and what it takes to sell a first novel. The information he generated is quite interesting. Statistics of particular note: 116 of 246 respondents sold their first novel without having any short story sales first; the average number of books respondents had written before selling a novel was 3-4; 58 of respondents sold the first novel they wrote; and more than half of the respondents made their first sale without any prior connection with either the editor or agent.
Saturday, March 27th, 2010 by Sasha White
HelenKay Dimon is an award-winning author of more than a dozen novels and novellas. Her first single title, Your Mouth Drives Me Crazy, was excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine in August ’07 and spotlighted at E! Online. She made Cosmopolitan a second time in December 2009 with her novella “It’s Hotter At Christmas” from the Kissing Santa Claus anthology….and she’s here today!
PPLease welcome Guest Blogger HelenKay, and make her feel at home!!
Time To Retire TSTL
I am asking – begging, really – that we retire the term TSTL. We use the “too stupid to live” description to signal our distaste for a heroine’s actions. It’s a shortcut for saying the heroine did something so ridiculous that involuntary eye rolling immediately commenced. We throw the term around all the time.
We use TSTL when we don’t like a heroine’s actions or decisions. We use it when a heroine does something we wouldn’t do. We use it to say a heroine has been irresponsible or guided by something other than her obvious intellect. We use it when it has nothing to do with a heroine being stupid. In other words, we use it all the time and most of those instances it really doesn’t fit. It’s gotten to the point where TSTL doesn’t have any real meaning except that, maybe, we’re all a little too tough on heroines.
Here’s the problem: women are flawed, sometimes irresponsible and often make mistakes. Some are broken, lost or sad. If real-life women are complex, why can’t our fictional ones be the same way? It is okay for a heroine to be unlikeable or make questionable choices. No, really. It is. The question really isn’t about where the heroine is when the book starts. The important thing is where she is at the end. She needs to grow and change in some way. If she doesn’t she’s not TSTL, she’s just not well written.
I have two March releases. The heroines are very different. In one, UNDER THE GUN (Harlequin Intrigue), the heroine dumped the hero years before and married someone else instead. Now, she’s been framed for this other guy’s murder. In the other, LEAVE ME BREATHLESS (Kensington Brava), the heroine blew her career at the FBI and is now unemployed and a bit financially desperate. She ends up taking a job as the hero judge’s bodyguard. These are two imperfect ladies. Neither is TSTL. That doesn’t mean they always move forward in the best way. Quite the opposite is true. They make emotional decisions and act against their interest. In other words, they act like people.
I see the TSTL tag put on fictional heroines at the time. I read the same books and usually don’t get the TSTL issue. Often times I see heroines who make mistakes and lumber along…just like the rest of us. That’s realistic. The one exception? When the killer is chasing the victim heroine through the house and she runs upstairs instead of going out the front door standing right in front of her. But even then there might be a plausible reason. You just never know.
So, please, let’s find a new term.
About HelenKay Dimon.
After twelve years as a divorce lawyer specializing in unhappy endings, HelenKay now writes romance for a living. The sudden career change resulted from her husband getting one of those “can’t turn it down” job offers. With only a few months’ notice, his work took the family from Maryland to their current home in California. So, instead of days filled with court, clients and a great deal of whining and complaining, HelenKay now writes for a living. She thinks of herself as a “recovering lawyer” and is grateful every day for the ability to write full time.
Check out her latest release from Brava.. Leave Me Breathless.
Friday, March 26th, 2010 by Rosemary
Have I ever told you guys about my creative writing teacher in college? On the first day of class, the professor explained that that this class was not for “genre” writers. Literary fiction only. I was a voracious reader, but I had to ask: “What is ‘genre’ fiction?”
Professor Suedepatches, with a lip-curl in his voice: “Romance novels, science fiction and other unrealistic nonsense.”
Me: “So, basically, books that make money.”
Professor Suedepatches: <hairy eyeball>
Wisely, I decided to drop the class.*
Now, I don’t think that “literary” has to mean “boring” any more than I believe that “popular” and “well crafted” are mutually exclusive. In fact, the genre/mainstream/literary lines are so blurred now, I think it would be hard for Professor Suedepatches to make that distinction. What would he say about Time Traveler’s Wife or The Yiddish Policeman’s Union?
Good writing is good writing. In many ways, it’s the audience and their expectations that define a genre. A reader of literary fiction expects the writing to illuminate the human condition, some aspect of our world and our role in it. A reader of genre fiction likes that, too, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the story.
In his book Save the Cat (which I talked about in my blog yesterday, too, I guess because it’s open on my desk right now), Blake Snyder talks about coming up with a story that you could pitch to a caveman. I can just see Professor Suedepatches rolling his eyes at that. But it doesn’t mean a selling idea–a blockbuster idea–is a stupid or even a simple one, but that the stakes are clear and primal. (He talks about primal stakes a lot.)
Vital stakes that are easy to picture and identify with: survival (physical or emotional), vengeance, justice… We have to convince the reader of the importance of those stakes, and the worthiness of the hero to achieve his ends. Everything in the novel has to move the protagonist toward that goal.
Not even Professor Suedepatches could argue with that.
Question of the day: What primal goal is at stake for your protagonist?
*I realize this was not the universal opinion about books then or now. But it was MY second encounter with someone who told me I wasn’t good enough to write books. The first was with my guidance counselor, who said my spelling was too bad to be a writer. ‘Cause stone tablets didn’t have spell check back in her day. SO maybe this real point of this post is: don’t listen to anyone who says you can’t do something you dream of doing.
Thursday, March 25th, 2010 by Candace Havens
I taught a class on my Write Workshop loop last year and the discussion came up about over used words. People began listing theirs and I tried to keep a list. I’m curious about this again as I go through the final draft of the new YA I’m working on. I find myself using the same action tags and many of the same words to describe things. Boring. That’s okay for a first draft when you’re trying to get the words down, but never for a final draft.
That’s the most time consuming part of me, and I have to thank my Thesaurus for most of the help. Many times the words below are an easy out and keep us from giving real detail, even if it’s one word, in our story. I’m horrible about saying, “THING.” It’s driven every editor I had crazy, and my professors at school. So I’m working on my THING problem. I also use “felt,” which doesn’t express anything at all. It’s a “telling” word.
There are many people who contributed to the following list, including my friends Rosemary Clement Moore and Nikki Duncan, as well as members of the Write Workshop loop. I hope you’ll add some of yours, and if you have any ideas for action tags that don’t include the the words, glance or look, please share. I can use all the help I can get.
DISCLAIMER: I’M NOT SAYING YOU SHOULD NEVER USE THE WORDS BELOW. I’M SAYING THESE ARE WORDS WE SOMETIMES USE TOO MUCH. THAT IS ALL. THANK YOU.
the fact that
Smile /smiles /smiled
turn into questions:
Absolutely no colons whatsoever.
Watch excessive name use, especially for POV characters.
All but eliminate direct address.
Eliminate waves of “some feeling.”
No grimaces. Ever.
OK should be okay.
There may be some dupes, because I compiled them from different people. But that should get us started. Oops, I think that’s one of those words.
Wednesday, March 24th, 2010 by Bob Mayer
(excerpted from Warrior Writer: From Writer To Published Author)
Early in the movie Walk The Line, Johnny Cash and his two band-mates go for an audition. I recommend watching the movie and focusing on that scene. Here is the dialogue, with my comments in parentheses:
Johnny Cash singing a cover of an old gospel song—within 15 seconds he is halted:
Producer (read agent): Hold on. Hold on. I hate to interrupt… but do you guys got something else? I ‘m sorry. I can’t market gospel (read generic vampire novel, clichéd thriller, whatever). No more.
Johnny Cash: So that’s it?
Producer: I don’t record material (rep a book) that doesn’t sell, Mr. Cash… and gospel (a book like that) like that doesn’t sell.
Johnny Cash: Was it the gospel or the way I sing it? (was it the book or the writing?)
Johnny Cash: Well, what’s wrong with the way I sing it?
Producer: I don’t believe you.
Johnny Cash: You saying I don’t believe in God?
Bandmate: J.R., come on, let’s go.
Johnny Cash: No. I want to understand. I mean, we come down here, we play for a minute… and he tells me I don’t believe in God.
Producer: We’ve already heard that song a hundred times… just like that, just like how you sang it.
Johnny Cash: Well, you didn’t let us bring it home. (you didn’t get to my hook, climactic scene, whatever)
Producer: Bring… bring it home? All right, let’s bring it home. If you was hit by a truck and you were lying out in that gutter dying… and you had time to sing one song (write one book), huh, one song… people would remember before you’re dirt… one song that would let God know what you felt about your time here on earth… one song that would sum you up… you telling me that’s the song you’d sing? That same Jimmie Davis tune we hear on the radio all day? About your peace within and how it’s real and how you’re gonna shout it? Or would you sing something different? Something real, something you felt? Because I’m telling you right now… that’s the kind of song people want to hear. That’s the kind of song that truly saves people. It ain’t got nothing to do with believing in God, Mr. Cash. It has to do with believing in yourself.
Johnny Cash: Well, I’ve got a couple songs I wrote in the Air Force. You got anything against the Air Force?
Johnny Cash: I do.
Bandmate: J.R., whatever you’re about to play… we ain’t never heard it.
Within fifteen seconds of singing the song he wrote, the producer knows he is looking at a star.
What did Johnny Cash Do?
He tried even though the odds of rejection were high. We hear the scary statistics all the time about the slush pile. You can’t let that stop you. There are people who won’t query because they’re afraid of rejection. In essence, they’ve just rejected themselves. I heard a very weird statistic: 90% of people who have a one-on-one with an agent at a conference and are requested to send in their material, never do. There are many reasons for this, but the #1 barrier is fear. Why even do the one-on-one if you are never going to follow through?
Johnny Cash walked in the door even though he was afraid. We’re going to discuss fear a lot in this book. We’re also going to discuss ways you can overcome fears.
He went even though his wife didn’t think he had it. There is a scene earlier where he and his band-mates are on the porch playing and Cash’s wife storms off and locks herself in the bathroom. She tells him he’s wasting his time and he needs to get a ‘real job’. Some of us have heard the same thing, haven’t we?
He stayed after being rejected. Most people think rejection is the end. It’s actually a beginning. Use rejection as motivation. Rejection is an inevitable part of a writer’s life. I just got a rejection last week from a publisher with whom I’ve sold over a million books.
He stayed. He got hit with a double rejection: not only was the song not good, his singing wasn’t good. How would you feel if someone told you not only was the book not good, your writing wasn’t either?
Even though he was angry, he was respectful. I just sent the editor who rejected me a polite thank you email for taking her time to look at the material.
He asked questions. I watch people pitch agents at conferences and many rarely ask questions. They’re so focused on pitching, they aren’t using the time as a valuable learning experience. When Cash asked what was wrong, he got a response that allowed him to focus. In that email, I not only thanked the editor for her time, I asked a couple of questions that might give me a way to try a different approach.
He listened. Earlier this year I got some other rejections on a different manuscript. Looking back, I remember my agent making a comment when I was first talking about the idea. I didn’t listen carefully enough to what she was really saying, because in retrospect, what every editor said in the rejection letter was what she had said two years ago. We’re going to cover communication in Force Seven. Listening for the real message is a key skill successful people have.
He used his PLATFORM and tried again. We’re always hearing the buzzword Platform. A lot of people feel they don’t have one. You do. If you watch the movie, note the look on Cash’s face when he’s singing the gospel song about his “Peace Within”. He’s not peaceful. He’s angry. That’s his character arc in the movie: finding peace within. So when he finally sings the song he wrote, he’s singing an angry song. Because his platform right then is anger: over the death of his brother; the fact his father blamed him for it; and he hated his time in the Air Force, being away from his girlfriend (and losing her). Basically, he used his real self and mined his emotions. That’s your platform.
He conquered his FEAR. He not only walked in, he stayed, he succeeded.
He CHANGED. He walked in with one plan, but when it didn’t work, he quickly changed that plan.