Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, October 30 and 31, 2012

Happy Halloween to those of you living where the holiday is celebrated! I hope that if you live in the northeastern US that Superstorm Sandy did not treat you badly—that you have a home and power and water and heat and that you and everyone you care about is safe. All that stuff comes first; writing comes second or even farther down the list.

But since this is a blog about writing and publishing, it’s time to get on to that. Not much for you today. Not sure it’s because of the storm or what. In any case, as usual we’ll start with

CRAFT

KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) challenges us with the question Are You Skimming Your Story’s Potential? on her WORDplay blog. Her point is that just because you’ve hit the expected points in a story for your genre, you haven’t made the story a hit if you haven’t gotten down to your characters’ (especially the protagonist’s and antagonist’s) emotional drives. If you haven’t dug deep for their motivations, the story will lack the depth it could have.

Tracy Hahn-Burkett (@THahnBurkett) explores something on Writer Unboxed that doesn’t usually get a lot of attention, The Epilogue. Like the prologue, she writes, an epilogue, if your story has one, needs “to add something of value to the book” (emphasis hers). She’s right on target and uses much of her post to show epilogues that worked or didn’t (Harry Potter!) and to discuss why in each case.

THE BUSINESS AND THE WRITER’S LIFE

As we move into the business posts, fair warning, some of these can be pretty depressing, but some offer ways to get past that feeling.

The traditional publishing world, especially the Big 6 publishers, are getting a lot of bad press on the blogosphere lately. Some of it appears to be deserved but some of it appears to be a function of writers’ unreasonable or naïve expectations. So it’s more than a little ironic that Laura Howard’s blog “Finding Bliss” would publish a piece titled Is Traditional Publishing a Happily Ever After? by Anthea Lawson (@AntheaLawson). Ironic because the answer is a resounding NO! But the reason for that answer is those unrealistic, or at least outdated, beliefs and expectations.

Still on the topic of unrealistic expectations, Kristin Nelson discusses some of the speculation regarding the pending Random House/Penguin merger, particularly regarding what might happen to writers’ advances in Because The First Thing That Comes To Mind Is The Size Of The Advance – Not on her Pub Rants blog. As an agent, Kristin’s got other concerns: fewer choices of major publishers to submit to, less competition among houses, narrowed market vision, and even more emphasis on blockbusters and even less on building authors, among others.

That, in turn, leads us to Rachelle Gardner’s (@RachelleGardner) 9 Reasons to Quit Writing. No punches pulled, here.

Oy, that’s a lot of bad news. OK, let’s dig out of that hole. We’ll start with Allison Winn Scotch (@aswinn) writing about The Waiting Game on Writer Unboxed. Writers, it seems, are always waiting on something, she writes, so we need to do something to keep our minds and fingers busy. With that in mind, she offers four suggestions: start something new, do something writing-related that interests you, be patient with the things you can’t control, and/or work on something else entirely. Seems to me like a little bit of each is a good plan, too.

Finally, let’s end on an up-note. Joanna Penn (@TheCreativePenn) guest posts on The Book Designer with ideas for how to turn your knowledge into multimedia products. OK, this sounds like something only for non-fiction writers, but Penn’s long list of suggestions includes things that even fiction writers can do to make their web sites more effective and provide products and services that even fiction readers will appreciate. That’s even stuff you can do while you’re waiting! J

Your turn! What Great Stuff have YOU found out there? Share it in the Comments.

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Critique Technique, Part 33—Contradictions

Contradictions are the stuff of conflict. Contradictions between:

  • characters’ words and actions,
  • what they say to different people and/or at different times,
  • what they do at different times or in different circumstances, or
  • the responses of different people to the same stimulus

all increase a reader’s tension and interest in the story.

At least so long as the contradictions are intentional on the author’s part.

If they’re not, that could be a problem. Or an unintended/unexpected opportunity. Your job as a reviewer is to not only spot the contradictions, but to evaluate them for effect and intent. Sound difficult? It doesn’t have to be. Here’s how to do it.

It’s easy to evaluate contradictions when the contrary words or acts are close together. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. In fact, more often than not, they’ll be pretty far apart. That’s when this kind of assessment can be difficult, especially if you’re not reading an entire piece at once.

Here’s an example. Let’s say that in chapter three Bob says he respects Alice. He’s impressed with her knowledge and determination. Now supposed Bob and Alice go their separate ways in chapters four to six, but in chapter seven, Bob calls Alice lazy and stupid. That’s a pretty sharp contrast, and if it seems to come out of the blue, you’re likely to remember Bob’s earlier statements and wonder what’s up now. But if Bob’s later comment is diffident, that Alice’s work is okay, will you catch the conflict? You should, but it’s harder to do.

In a later article, I’ll discuss how to remember details across large parts of a text or over long periods of time.

So let’s say you’ve spotted one of those kinds of contradictions. What’s next?

The first thing you want to look for is its effect: how it affect the characters involved. Does it:

  • Create new and interesting problems for one or more characters?
  • Does it make matters worse for them?
  • Do those problems change the direction of the story, especially in interesting and/or unexpected ways? And does the author follow up on that new direction?

Contradictory behavior in a character reveals something about her. This is good. Or at least, it can be.

Next, you want to assess whether the author prepared you for the contradiction. It’s important for the author to have set up the behavior before it happens. This is a place where a lot of writers fall down.

He can set up the contradiction in a number of ways:

  • Circumstances in the character’s life and environment can force a change that leads to the contradiction.
  • The character herself might have been evolving due to an accumulation of small changes.
  • What the character said or did originally may have been dishonest, misleading, or just incorrect. Or what he’s saying or doing now may be. What was or is his motivation? Could readers see that?
  • The character is responding to what another character says or does that she didn’t expect.
  • The character’s statement or action is unintentional, based on what he’s said and done before.

If the author set up the contradiction and its effect is clear, that’s great. But if she’s missed on either one, that’s a sign there’s a problem and you as the reviewer need to identify what went wrong.

The bullets above give you the guidance you need to assess the situation—with one caveat. It’s possible the author’s “failure” could be intentional: he might be withholding information from you as a way to increase your tension and need to know what happens next. That’s why it’s important to keep reading, as much as possible, to see if that was, in fact, the author’s intent. If you critique what appears to be a mistake too soon, you might have to go back and delete or revise that comment.

To summarize, then, when you’re evaluating something that a character in a piece has done or said that seems to contradict his earlier statements or behavior, check for the effect the contradiction has on the characters, the story, and you, and look to see if that contradiction was set up beforehand. Well-placed contradictions make stories more interesting and keep the reader engaged. Be sure to compliment the author when they do them well.

What do you look for and what do you consider when you run across a contradiction in a story?

 

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, October 28 and 29, 2012

Today’s round-up features a lot of business-related articles again, with a special focus on e-publishing. Important information here. But we’ll start with one piece on

CRAFT

Literary fiction in particular loves the ending that leaves the reader hanging. Other genres will accept it, too, but less often and less well. KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) lists 10 Stories with (Brilliant) Loose Ends on her WORDplay blog, and her summaries of each are worth studying. But more important, I think, are her two summary points on what’s needed to make such endings work: “create a sense of realism and verisimilitude,” and “engage the readers’ imaginations in filling in ‘the rest of the story.’” Good advice. Not easy to do!

OK, on to

BUSINESS

Chuck Sambuchino (@ChuckSambuchino) provides a self-described “definitive post” on Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books on the Guide to Literary Agents blog. Clear, concise, and simple.

Since we’re on the topic of numbers, Clare Langley-Hawthorne starts a conversation on The Kill Zone about what sales numbers an independently published author needs to hit in order to have a reasonable shot at attracting the attention of a traditional publisher in Low Down on the Numbers. She begins by citing a post by agent Janet Reid that 20,000 for one book is the magic number. What’s “right?” Good question.

Dean Wesley Smith (@DeanWesleySmith) discusses e-book sales—where they are and where they might be going—in The New World of Publishing: eBooks at 25% but his more important point may be about how the way royalties are calculated in e-publishing contracts from traditional publishers has changed and why the change is bad for writers.

James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) continues the discussion with a long Field Report from the E-Book Revolution #2 on The Kill Zone, which is long because it covers a lot of topics, ranging from the business cycle to “happiness” as the new currency.

But if e-publishing is still the way you want to go, Harvey Stanbrough (@h_stanbrough) offers Ten Tips for Emarketing because, after all, all of the job of marketing is likely to fall on your shoulders if you go this route, even if you hire someone to develop your marketing plan. It’s nice to have all of these techniques listed in one easy-to-reference place.

That’s all for today. Have you read something great—or at least interesting? Share it in the Comments below.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, October 25-27, 2012

Apologies for missing you yesterday: 3 hours on the road for a 2 hour meeting will chew up a big portion of a day. So we’ll catch up with a 3-day post today and Monday’s will cover just what’s left of today plus Sunday and early Monday.

Interestingly, the best posts of the last few days have either been about the business of writing, or just plain fun pieces. Nice contrast. Let’s get the work done first.

BUSINESS

We’ve all heard about (pun fully intended) audio books—they’ve been around a long time. Jordan Dane (@JordanDane) writes about her experiences in Self-Publishing in AUDIO on The Kill Zone. She worked with an organization called Audiobook Creation Exchange, so other sites and companies will be somewhat different. For Your Information.

James Watkins (@jameswatkinscom) provides seven reminders/warnings to follow to ensure you Don’t Sabotage Your Writing/Speaking Career on WordServe Water Cooler. Many of these cautions are against having “unprofessional” e-mail addresses, business cards, web presence, social media posts, and so on. Having a bad reputation is, of course, bad. And so is having taken advantage of “free” publishing opportunities in ways that brand you still an amateur. Remember: writing is, at the end of the day, a business.

Along that desperate-amateur line of thinking, Victoria Strauss (@VictoriaStrauss) has put up a couple posts on Writer Beware ® Blogs warning of Two More High-Entry Fee Book Awards and a dodgy America’s Next Author Contest. Strauss goes into detail on why each of these programs are ones you should stay away from. Far away. Desperation to be published is one of the worst reasons to give up your rights as an author. Don’t.

In that same vein, Kristine Kathryn Rusch (@kriswrites) discusses Rights Reversion in her weekly Business Rusch column. What is “rights reversion?” It’s getting back certain of the publication rights (part of your overall set of copyrights) from a publisher after a certain period of time has elapsed or certain conditions have been met. In this very long post, Kris discusses how publishers can play games with authors to keep rights from reverting, and how authors can unwisely sign away any chance of having the publication rights to a given work ever come back to them. This post IS long, but if you don’t read any other one, read this one.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) writes a long post discussing the question Do Publishers Need to Offer More Value to Authors? The key word here is “need” and the underlying question is who has the need. To summarize the piece, Jane says that while authors would like publishers, particularly the “Big 6” publishers, to provide more author-centered service, publishers do not yet see the need to do that, and until they do—and she believes they never will—they won’t. Depressing? Maybe. A case for more and more self- and e-publishing? Probably.

OK, enough depressing stuff. Let’s have some

FUN

Could you write your own memoir in just six words? That’s Rachelle Gardner’s (@RachelleGardner) challenge to her readers in Too Much Coffee? No Such Thing, which, by the way, is hers.

Bad reviews are depressing, right? But what about, in the scope of history, they also turn out to be wrong—really wrong? Enter Robert Bruce (@robertbruce76) of 101 Books, excerpting some such reviews from a longer list on Flavor Wire, in “Mr. Scott Fitzgerald deserves a good shaking.” It’s interesting to note how many of these reviews come from the New York “Literary” circles. Guaranteed to raise a smile.

And finally, John Vorhaus (@TrueFactBarFact) complains about (with tongue planted firmly in cheek—I think), then engages in Verbing the Nouns on Writer Unboxed. This is all about playing with words to create our unique writer’s voice, and while it’s laugh-out-loud funny, there’s also a serious point to it. (I know, I know: how disappointing. J)

What Great Stuff have you discovered? Let us know in the Comments.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, October 23 and 24, 2012

Business Tuesday continues into Business Wednesday with a lot of business-related posts today. But first, a couple on

CRAFT

You’ve probably heard about “morning pages” and we’ve ALL heard that the #1 rule of writing is “butt in the seat.” So how do you make that happen? Barbara O’Neal (@barbaraoneal) suggests a technique she calls The 20 Minute Win on Writer Unboxed. It’s really simple: she makes setting aside 20 minutes to write an early-in-the-day priority, then sets a timer, and writes about just about anything. How hard is that? Not so hard so long as you do that first thing.

So you’re in your 20 minute win window, and you’re writing that big conflict scene between the protagonist and antagonist. Whose POV should the scene be in? KM Weiland’s (@KMWeiland) post title on WORDplay should be a hint: When Not to Use Your Antagonist’s POV. Without giving too much away, here’s a clue: who should the reader care about most in that scene?

And now we can turn our attention to

BUSINESS

specifically marketing, to start with. Yes, marketing is about product, but it’s also and very importantly about the people who will buy the product (or not) and how you develop the ideas on how to do the marketing.

So, we’ll start with Joel Friedlander’s (@jfbookman) guide on The Book Designer: Authors, Gather Your Tribe on Twitter. I admit I’m still in the early stages of figuring this Twitter thing out, so Joel’s 8 tips are pretty much gold to me. Some I’m happy to say I’m using already, but others…? Got some work to do. If you’re like me, this one’s a keeper.

Gathering the tribe can help you with the next step, courtesy Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner), which is building a marketing team. While her How to Create Your Own Marketing Team focuses more on Google+ due to its video-conferencing feature, these 12 steps might do for your marketing what your (useful) critique group is doing for your writing. The theme underlying this post is: this is a business, so treat it like one.

All right: the tribe is built, the marketing team created and working, and there’s even a book to sell online. Blitz time! Jan Dunlap offers her TIP (Timing, Images, Preparation) technique in How to Stage an Online Blitz on WordServe Water Cooler. Timing involves time of day as well as time of year; images need to be relevant and frequently refreshed; preparation—well, you want this to be successful, don’t you? Check out the details by clicking on the link.

One more post before we leave the self-publishing world. This one comes from Mark Coker (@markcoker), the founder of Smashwords, the ebook distributor. “Amazon Is Playing Indie Authors Like Pawns” he writes on selfpublishingadvice.org (via Dean Wesley Smith’s blog). This isn’t an anti-Amazon rant, however (Coker knows and says he likes Amazon executives), but more of a plea for Amazon to get rid of the exclusivity demand in its KDP Select program and a warning for Kindle-published authors to avoid the program because of it. Hmm, I wonder if this might become a B2B (business-to-business) spat played out on the internet. Anyway, interesting reading for how businesses deal with each other.

And speaking of how businesses treat other businesses (read, we authors), especially if you haven’t published yet, be sure to read Kristin Nelson’s If You Remember One Thing, It Should Be This on her Pub Rants blog. What’s the “this?” NEVER sign an unnegotiated boilerplate publishing contract! This isn’t a new topic but it’s a critical one. Kristine Kathryn Rusch has written a “deal breakers” series recently (see this, this, and this for starters; WARNING: long posts!). Kristin (no-e) goes into specifics on the pitfalls of boilerplate (standardized text) contracts in much less space and with a lot less angst. Never the less, the problems she lists are big, they’re serious, and they will hurt you. Read and heed!

OK, now it’s your turn: what Great Stuff have you found out there? Share it in the Comme

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs Business Bonus Issue

As promised, here’s the Great Stuff on the business side of writing that appeared over the weekend.

Let’s start with something that might seem a bit controversial: Rachelle Gardner’s (@RachelleGardner) Should All Authors Blog? It might seem counterintuitive, or at least contrary to all the talk today about platform platform platform, but her answer is “no.” Her reasons are common sense: if it’s work, if you don’t know what you’re going to blog about, if you’re doing it only because you think you have to, etc., then maybe your time is better spent on other things. She also lists a half-dozen-plus reasons why blogging could be right for you. Well worth a look.

Chuck Sambuchino (@ChuckSambuchino) provides A Great Example of What a Pitch Should Not Look Like on the Guide to Literary Agents. What’s funny (and sad), he reveals, is that with a couple of minor tweaks to disguise the pitch’s original use, what he’s showing you was the plot summary for a big-time action movie and it’s chock-full of generalities and clichés. Goes to show you, I guess, what an established franchise can get away with versus what a new writer cannot.

So, OK, what’s the right way to pitch, then? Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) provides some answers on the new-look DIY MFA when Agents Share Conference Tips. These tips come from agents Gabriela spoke with who will be at the Backspace Agent-Author Seminar in New York next month. The points I found most helpful had to do with the difference between the written and spoken pitch. It should be obvious that these are two different things, and yet what should be obvious isn’t always so, is it? Here’s a quick test: got a pitch paragraph handy? Read it out loud. Yikes, huh? Too long, doesn’t sound natural, I’ll bet. Can’t be said in one breath (not that it should be, necessarily). That’s a great hint.

That’s all for today. Tomorrow we’ll be back to our regular format.

Meanwhile, I’m always interested in what Great Stuff you’ve found out there. Share it with all of us in the comments.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, October 18-22, 2012

Go on the road for a few days and the Great Stuff (and laundry) starts to pile up. So much that I’ve decided to put out a bonus Great Stuff post tomorrow. (The laundry’s already taken care of.) Today I’ll focus on articles on craft and the writer’s life. Tomorrow will be all business. Here we go.

CRAFT

I’ll confess right up front that I’m no fan of writing prompts and exercises—I’m BUSY, dammit!—so when Jane Friedman posted 3 Steps for Using Prompts to Writer Better & Get Published by Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA), I was a bit dubious. OK, more than a bit. But Gabriela’s approach is practical: use writing prompts to build writing stamina through practice, improve your skill at specific techniques, then apply what you’ve learned to a project. If you’re not sure about using writing prompts, give the post a look and the suggestions a try.

Characters’ emotions are at the heart of fiction, so David Farland’s (@davidfarland) Surprising Emotions: How Will Your Character React? on The Bookshelf Muse immediately grabbed my attention. Even better, his article offers three surprising (to the reader) ways of presenting emotion. The surprises are having the character: under-react, over-react, or react the “wrong” way. Used with care, these reactions will reveal something interesting or important about a character, and readers are always up for that.

James Scott Bell’s (@jamesscottbell) Baloney Advice Writers Should Ignore on The Kill Zone shouldn’t just raise a smile—or an out-loud laugh—it should clear away the fog of bad (or at least questionable) advice that gets handed out to new writers. Check out his five bad pieces of advice and the counterexamples that prove them wrong.

CRAFT AND LIFE

I decided to use that subhead because these next two pieces live on that boundary between a writer’s craft and his or her life.

Anna Elliott (@anna_elliott) gets us started by Exploding the Perfect Writer Myth on Writer Unboxed. We’ve all run into it, probably, particularly from non-writers: the belief that a writer’s words come out as perfect pearls perfectly strung the first time we put them down on paper or screen. HA! Worse, of course, is the new writer who believes that’s what he’s just done. That’s a painful critique group meeting! But the flip side, as Elliott points out, is that nagging, secret belief that we should produce those perfect pearls each time. That’s why, she says, it’s so important to love the revision process.

So you got the darn thing DONE and it’s out there in reader-land. KM Weiland’s (@KMWeiland) thoughts about How to Tell if Your Book Is a Success on WORDplay center around each writer’s personal definitions of success and failure. Her 14 questions just begin to scratch the surface of the topic, focused as they are on ratings and money, but they’re a place to start the conversation—one that’s good to have before that book comes out.

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Dr. Rita Hancock (@ritahancockmd) addresses preventing a problem that many writers have to deal with: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome on WordServe Water Cooler. She covers the symptoms, diagnostics (which don’t sound like any fun at all), treatments, and most important, how to prevent the condition in the first place. Hint: it has to do with sitting position, arm angles, and keyboard height. Sound complex? It’s not. Check it out.

Finally, Harvey Stanbrough (@h_stanbrough) suggests 12 Ways to Make Your Critique Group Effective. Twelve may sound like a lot but a few are one-time-only actions and the rest become automatic parts of how the group runs quickly. Practical and effective.

That’s all for today. What Great Stuff have you found? Share it in the comments below.