Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, January 29 & 30, 2013

 

For a while this morning I thought I was going to have to write, “Nothing Great out there today. Sorry.” Fortunately, that turned out not to be the case, although the final list is short. That’s okay: quantity isn’t quality.

CRAFT

Harvey Stanbrough (@h_stanbrough) continues his series on writing mistakes with The Next Five (Okay, Six) Most-Common Mistakes Writers Make. If you missed his first installment, you can find it here. This piece deals with assigning human traits to body parts, where to put descriptive narrative relative to dialogue, describing characters speaking to themselves, unnecessary “reaching” verbs, and others. Valuable basic craft stuff here, especially for new writers.

BUSINESS

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) interviews New York Times and USA Today bestselling author CJ Lyons (@cjlyonswriter) today about Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing: Enjoy the Best of Both Worlds. To be honest, there’s really nothing new in what Ms. Lyons says in this long piece, at least not if you’ve been reading this blog or any others for any length of time, but if you need to hear it from a big-name success, this is the piece you want to read.

THE WRITING LIFE

Now here’s a piece that’s the kind of thing writers need from time to time: Angela Ackerman’s (@AngelaAckerman) Success: Is It Happening To You, Only You Don’t Realize It? on The Bookshelf Muse. The subtitle, 7 Signs of Emerging Success, is the key here, or rather, the signs themselves are. They’re a terrific set of sanity checks against the crazy-making hunt for that 100,000th sale or the spot on the big-name bestseller list. None of us are likely to get there unless we had at least a few of these seven first.

I admit I’m always a bit leery of whoever’s the guru-du-jour—I’ve lived long enough to see too many of them come and go—so for that reason I’m not on the Seth Godin (@ThisIsSethsBlog) bandwagon. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have good ideas or clever insights, I’m just not going to worship at his feet. That said, his interview with Kelton Reid (@KeltonReid) on Copyblogger, Here’s How Seth Godin Writes, is worth a look if nothing else than for the short and snarky answers to some of Reid’s questions. Example: Q: Do you write every day? A: Do you talk every day? Hmmm. I wonder if Godin’s getting interview fatigue. Or did Reid get the answers he deserved?

What do you think? Is Stanbrough right? What about Godin? Let us know in the Comments.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, January 26-28, 2013

Good Monday, everyone! The story of scene and sequel continues today, along with more ideas on how to support your author-friends, writing for money and searching for success, and more. Don’t wait a second longer! Dive right in.

CRAFT

KM Weiland’s (@KMWeiland) part 8 of her series on scene and sequel dives into the Options for Reactions in a Sequel. As she points out, the purpose of the sequel is to present the character’s reaction to the scene-ending disaster they’ve just experienced and set them up for the next scene. Sequels can be chapters long or as short as a single sentence, but they will always contain an emotional reaction, an intellectual dilemma, and a decision leading to action. This excellent series is especially valuable for new writers.

BUSINESS

To be, or not to be (a participant in Amazon’s KDP Select program, that is). It’s a question lots of self-published authors ask. Thanks to Joel Friedlander’s (@JFBookman) monthly Carnival of the Indies post, M. Louisa Locke (@mlouisalocke) lists 7 Things joining KDP Select Can and Can’t do for you [capitalization hers]—4 can’ts, 3 cans. Good information here but I was a bit surprised by the idea of putting a book into KDP Select after it had already been on sale with Amazon (and other sales platforms) for a while. Seems like putting all of one’s eggs in one basket. A BIG basket, sure, but hardly the only one.

On Friday I mentioned Rachelle Gardner’s piece on how you can help support an author. Now along comes Chuck Sambuchino (@ChuckSambuchino) with 11 more ideas on Writer Unboxed on How to Support an Author’s New Book. At first it looked like the ideas were going to be only for traditionally published books but that’s not true: at least some of these ideas apply to every kind of book, e-, POD, or trad. What I especially like about this post is that Chuck suggests things you can say to your friends, and that they can say to their friends, that will give them even more reason to be interested in helping.

Focus on the word “returned” in the title of Joanna Penn’s latest post and 9-minute video, Self Publishing In Print: Why I Have Returned To Printing My Books. She made the new-author mistake of paying lots of money to have her early works printed, and then was stuck with copies that weren’t selling. In the video, she talks about that decision and why now, with three books selling well in eBook format, she thinks she’s ready to get back into (print-on-demand) print. Very practical discussion, if you don’t mind the repeated flashing of the newly-printed book.

THE WRITING LIFE

Dean Wesley Smith (@deanwesleysmith) points us at a recent post by John Scalzi (@Scalzi) called A Moment of Financial Clarification, in which Scalzi admits (gasp!) that he not only writes for money, he has done so with the (achieved) objective of getting rich. There will be some who find this objectionable: writing is art after all, isn’t it? Yeah, some of it is, but there are lots of artists in other fields (painting, music, and so on) that have gotten pretty darn rich an no one seems to mind that. If I have a beef with this piece is that Scalzi doesn’t mention how long it can take to become that overnight success. Otherwise, this moment of brutal honesty is refreshing.

If you’ve been reading blogs on writing for any time at all, you’ve run across the message, “to learn how to write, keep writing! To be an ‘overnight’ success, write lots.” Boyd Morrison’s (@boydmorrison) But I Want Success Now! on The Kill Zone repeats that message, but with plenty of examples of how many novels now-big-name authors wrote before the one that made them big-name authors. The numbers might be scary but the truth is what it is.

What do you think? Are you willing to work and wait for success or do you want it yesterday or not at all?

Critique Technique, Part 40—The Gray Haze

Fog over village

Photo by Dan via freedigitalphotos.net

Painters have a lot of different tools at their disposal to create an image: oils, water colors, acrylics, computer graphics. Photographers have light, angle, framing, the capabilities of their camera and film or electronics, and of course Photoshop® and its cousins. Sculptors have stone, wood, found objects, metal, even sand.

We writers have words—hundreds of thousands of them in the English language alone—so there should never be a problem with creating a clear image, right?

Alas, we know that’s not true. It’s not how many or how few tools we have at our disposal, it’s how we use them that matters. The next five posts are going to deal with how writers use words poorly to describe what they want the reader to see, hear, feel (emotionally and physically), smell, taste, sense psychologically, and so on, and how critiquers can help them do it better.

When we talk about vague or inadequate descriptions, there’s a tendency to ask how much description is the right amount. That’s the wrong question, for at least a couple of reasons. First, every genre has its own standards. Literary fiction often spends a great deal of time and effort on description in order to place the reader fully in the physical and/or psychological setting of the story. So can other genres.

For another thing, the descriptive needs of a work—fiction or non-fiction—change from moment to moment. For example, let’s say the characters in a story take several drives through a river valley. It might be appropriate in one scene to spend a lot of time describing the valley but say almost nothing about the car. Yet in another scene, the car will be more important than the valley and so should get more attention.

So one of the causes of inadequate or vague description is the author not knowing what she wants the reader to focus on or why. When this happens, the author’s mental senses will skim so lightly across the sensory field that she picks up little or nothing and as a result, describes little or nothing. The characters of the example are now driving through a valley on a hazy day:

  • They can see the fields and trees and river around them but the sights and the haze have no meaning or import;
  • Maybe they can hear the engine, the air rushing around the car, or the tires rolling over the pavement, maybe they can’t, or maybe those sounds don’t matter;
  • If there are any scents coming off the fields, no one knows;
  • The road must be straight, smooth, and flat because there’s no sensation of movement; and so on.

The result is that the scene is bland at best and maybe even unnecessary.

Another cause of poor description is the author knowing he needs to describe things, but not knowing how. This can show up as anything from excessive description to none at all, or descriptions of things that don’t matter. Perhaps the most common error here is simply using bland, generic, or uninformative terms. In a work I’m reviewing right now, the author describes a character’s voice as “upper-tier baritone.” Okay, baritone I get but what does “upper-tier” mean? As it turns out, this adjective is unnecessary because he shows what he means through the way the character speaks.

So how can you help a writer clear away the gray haze and give the reader a meaningful sensory experience? The first step is to know the general conventions of the genre, even the sub-genre, of the piece you’re reviewing.

The second is to determine, if possible, whether the author intended to work within those conventions or outside of them.

With this background information in place, you can get to the words themselves. The next step is to determine what’s necessary and appropriate to the story. The writer doesn’t want or need to engage all of the reader’s senses in every scene, but certain ones, especially beyond sight and sound, will draw the reader into it. Identify those. Don’t forget, this includes things like mood too, which may or may not be described in physical terms. Tell the writer which senses you believe should be engaged, or engaged better, why, and how the story or scene would be stronger if she did so.

Now determine which objects, sensations, impressions, etc., need to be described in special detail. In one story, a glass on a window sill may be a minor object; in another it could be key. The first glass needs little more than a mention; for the second one, whether it’s clean or dirty, full, half-full, or empty, what is in it, how it looks in the light, etc., may matter for many different reasons. As a reviewer, you can help the author home in on those characteristics.

The last key is to pick the most evocative descriptive terms—like Mark Twain’s lightning versus lightning bug. In one story, it will be the lightning; in another, the bug. You’re looking for the right word, the one that reveals something important, that puts the reader inside the scene with the characters, rather than watching it from the outside. The right word sharpens the image; the vague and generic one, or the mass of adjectives or adverbs, dims or diminishes it.

Unintended vague description is a writer’s bane. It’s a particular problem for the new writer. As a reviewer, you can help him pick what needs to be described, come up with the best words to clear away the haze, and make his story sparkle.

How have you helped writers overcome vague descriptions?

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, January 22 & 23, 2013

 

What do you know? A Great Stuff post without anything on craft! But that’s OK, there’s still Great Stuff out there: a convenient submission tracking form, yet another way to connect using social media and other ways to get support, acting like a writer, and a post like nothing you’ve ever seen—at least not recently.

BUSINESS

A couple weeks ago, Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) published a post called Navigating the Guest Post Process on DIY MFA, which included a PDF guest post submission log form. Today she announced on Twitter a new and improved version that you can fill out using Adobe Reader. (Full disclosure: Gabriela designed the form, I suggested and created the capability to fill it in with Reader. Thanks for letting me contribute, Gabriela!) The form is good for other submissions besides guest posts, too: opinion pieces, even full-scale non-fiction articles for print or online publication. You can find the form by clicking on the link above or get it directly here.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Google+ continues to come up with its own takes on things other social media sites are already doing. Now Joel Friedlander (@JFBookman) introduces us to the latest with Google+ Communities Create New Networks for Authors and Publishers. I won’t make any snarky comments about this being another way to spend time we should be spending writing: we know that already. What jumped out at me was this: there are four general types of groups: public, public moderated, private, and private hidden. That’s fine. But once the community’s been created, you can’t change the type, from public moderated to private, say? Really? If Joel’s not wrong, Google certainly is. That’s poor design.

THE WRITING LIFE

No doubt Becca Puglisi (@beccapuglisi) chose the title Got Any Wise People in Your Village? Or Just Idiots? with the intention of getting our attention. And she succeeded. But the village she’s referring to is the group of writing-related people around us—the people who should be our support group. Are they wise or, um, not so helpful? Her key points are: (1) you need them; (2) you decide who to keep close and who not to.

Having that village around you will only help so much, however, if you’re not willing to help yourself. Carleen Brice (@carleenbrice) answers the question Can Acting As If You’re a Writer Make You a Writer? with a qualified yes. Yes if you use acting-as-if to get started or keep yourself motivated to keep going. There’s even scientific evidence now to show this works. But it’s the doing that matters in the end, not the pretending.

FUN

Oh, man, this is just too much fun to pass up. John Vorhaus’s (@TrueFactBarFact) Simile Fever Spreads Like Wildfire on Writer Unboxed is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Good thing you’re done with this post. You can stop what you’re doing an go read it—now!—without guilt.

Then share the laughs with all your writer friends.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, January 19-21, 2013

Happy Monday, everyone! It’s a grumpy Monday around here and I’m not sure why. Maybe it was that hard-sell video lying in wait in my inbox this morning. Grrrr. But enough of that: there’s Great Stuff ahead!

CRAFT

Porter Anderson’s (@Porter_Anderson) Writing on the Ether posts have always been frustrating for me. On the one hand, they often have useful or at least interesting information in them. On the other hand, they’re so freakin’ long. I mean, 5,078 words this time? Seriously? Which is a shame, because buried in all those words are two useful sections. One is on a study by Teresa Frohock (@TeresaFrohock) on whether readers can tell the difference between male and female authors when they don’t know who wrote a particular piece. The short answer is no. You can find the full report here. If you want to read the full Ether discussion, including a diversion into whether boys or girls are reading more, and two tangential tweet copies, click here.

So it’s ironic that the next piece here is Joe Bunting’s (@write_practice) 3 Ways to Compress Your Story Like Les Misérables on Writer Unboxed. Compress like les Mis, eh? Turns out, Bunting’s referring to the compression of the original novel into the play and the recent movie musical, which he says requires these steps: choose the right moments; combine characters; and write a good story, then cut. Good advice, all, though tough to do. Be sure to check out the supporting quotes.

Let’s stay with the practical tips and visit Harvey Stanbrough’s (@h_stanbrough) Top Five Mistakes Writers Make. Clear, simple, practical advice that I’m much more conscious of since he pinged me on most of them when he edited my WIP. D’oh!

KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) has pretty much finished teaching us how to structure our scenes, so now it’s time for the sequel, which would be… sequels. And in Pt. 7: The Three Building Blocks Of The Sequel, she does just that. To give you a preview, those blocks are Reaction, Dilemma, and Decision, which every sequel, no matter how brief, should include.

BUSINESS

Anderson also includes a section on author Cory Doctorow’s (@doctorow) take on writing, publishing, and visibility in another section of the same Ether post titled Beyond DBW: More Conferences. What that has to do with what Doctorow says isn’t clear. Here’s the key quote, though (emphasis Doctorow’s): “Here’s the thing about fame: although it’s hard to turn fame into money in the arts, it’s impossible to turn obscurity into money in the arts. It doesn’t matter how you plan on making your money — selling books or downloads, selling ads, getting sponsorship, getting crowdfunded, getting commissions, licensing to someone else who’s figured out how to make money — you won’t get the chance unless people have heard of your stuff.”

THE WRITING LIFE

Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) summarizes the key points from the Stockdale Paradox and applies them to the writing life (courtesy Jim Collins, author of Good to Great) in 3 Ways to Change Your Thinking Today. “Stockdale” refers to 8-year Vietnam Prisoner of War Jim Stockdale and the philosophy he used to survive that ordeal. In short, for writers, the 3 points are: decide that you will find success; embrace your current challenges; and face your situation realistically, being willing to work as hard as necessary to overcome your challenges. Easier to say than to do, but necessary.

I hope this sets you up for a great week.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, January 17 & 18, 2013

A full weekend’s worth of Great Stuff reading for you! We open with opening lines, pass through structure, find information and the right (or wrong) readers, gain Facebook fans, writing tools (including a quick-ish way to publish a Word document to the Kindle), and close with a little help from our friends. Should be something for just about everybody.

CRAFT

This is the best piece to start out with: Zachary Petit’s Famous First Lines Reveal How to Start a Novel. Lists of great or terrible opening lines are a dime a dozen, but Petit turns the post over to Jacob Appel, who suggests seven ways to start, and we’re still talking here about the very first sentence or two. These tips are excerpted from a longer Writer’s Digest article (which the link in the post DOES NOT lead you to) but they stand well on their own.

Anna Elliott (@anna_elliott) discusses the differences and connections of Plot vs Story on Writer Unboxed, including what’s more compelling (story) and how to craft that story, whether you’re a full-out outliner or, like Anna, someone who starts from character.

You might think, then, that J E Fishman’s (@JEFISHMAN) 5 Elements of Story Structure on KM Weiland’s WORDplay blog would present a contrary view to Anna’s, but it’s complementary. Element 4 is character development (after establishing and disrupting normalcy and creating turning points, and before restoring order), so it’s just a different way of approaching the bigger problem of creating the story.

BUSINESS

Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s (@kriswrites) Found Information has several items worth reading—on how book cover design is so important to branding (identifying the genre and series, if appropriate) of your novel, whether in print or e-book format; kids (and adults) are reading more than before, in print and e- formats, despite all the hand-wringing you hear; and the story of how persistence finally paid off for Eleanor Burford Hibbert (a.k.a. Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy, and Philippa Carr, plus 6 other pen names). Unfortunately, you have to get past two sections of self-satisfied I-told-you-so chest-puffing first. Fortunately, you can drag your scroll bar down to that third boldfaced header.

OK, let’s assume you’ve accepted the idea that you have to market your work. And you’re trying. And nothing seems to be happening. Or not enough. Gary Korisko (@RebootAuthentic) wonders, Are You Targeting the Wrong Readers? and then offers 7 tips to fix the problem. To some extent he’s channeling Seth Godin’s “tribes” and Kevin Kelly’s “1000 true fans,” but that’s not bad at all.

SOCIAL MEDIA

So you’ve got a Facebook fan page, or think you should have one? If so, then Gillian Marchenko’s (@GillianMarchenko) 3 Top Tips to Gain Facebook Fans on your Author Page on WordServe Water Cooler could be very helpful. That tip about Facebook’s rule against advertising on your cover photo could be a page-saver, all by itself!

TECHNOLOGY

At first I thought Michael Hyatt’s (@MichaelHyatt) My Top 10 Favorite iPad Apps and How I Use Them wasn’t going to have much value to me (and maybe you) because I don’t have an iPad (does that make me some kind of criminal?). But it turns out many of the apps have non-iPad versions as well and I can vouch for their value: Google Calendar, Dropbox, Google Reader, Kindle’s emulator versions, and Hootsuite.

When I saw the title to Ed Ditto’s (@BooksByEd) post on The Book Designer, How to Publish Your eBook from Word to Kindle in Under Ten Minutes, I thought, Cool! I need to know that. Then I read his process: use Scrivener. Gaaah! Well, sure, that’s certainly a way to do it. And since Scrivener is famous for its format conversion capabilities, it makes sense. So, OK, let’s read through the rest of the post. The good news is that Ed’s done a nice job with step-by-step instructions and plenty of screen-shot illustrations (Mac-based, but the PC steps are similar if not identical) that really take advantage of Scrivener’s tools. If you can read and carefully follow these instructions, you can do it. “Under ten minutes?” Maybe not but that’s OK. And $40 or $45 for a copy of Scrivener and the time to climb the learning curve is A LOT cheaper than spending hundreds of bucks to have someone do this for you. I’m bookmarking this one.

THE WRITING LIFE

Jan Dunlap’s piece, The Joy of NOT Going Solo on WordServe Water Cooler isn’t about team writing, as I thought it would be, but about the benefits writers get from joining a writers’ group that’s right for them. That last phrase is key: the wrong group can be harmful but the right group can be amazing.

Don’t be afraid the share the Great Stuff. That’s what friends are for, eh? Have a great weekend.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, January 15 & 16, 2013

Lots of business stuff today—promotion, covers, and publishing in general—but there’s also conflict and woe… and Gary Busey on hobbits.

CRAFT

KM Weiland’s (@KMWeiland) video blog this week is on what she considers The Most Annoying Type of Story Conflict, which, not to keep a secret, is false conflict: little conflicts that get blown up all out of proportion. Don’t do it, Katie says: your readers will catch on and then they’ll be mad at you. Put in conflicts that are real, legitimate for the characters, and advance the story.

BUSINESS

Joanna Penn’s (@thecreativepenn) How To Publish A Book 101 is chock full of useful and practical information. The post could have been a mile long but instead she’s filled it with links so you can easily jump right to the information you need. A top-notch collection. Definitely worth a bookmark so you can refer back to it.

P. J. Parrish’s You CAN tell an eBook by its cover on The Kill Zone goes in the other direction where length is concerned but it too is full of excellent information, lavishly illustrated with examples of each point she makes. (And yes, do follow the link to lousybookcovers.tumblr.com, or go directly to the cover of “Lumberjack in Love” on page 4.)

Matthew Turner (@turndog_million) continues his pre-release blog tour with Using a Short Story To Rock My Novel on The Bookshelf Muse. This is NOT a bad thing! Matthew describes how he used a free prequel short story to (a) introduce readers to the characters of his romance novel Beyond Parallel, (b) hoping to turn them into buyers of said novel, while (c) learning the ropes of self-publishing. And now he’s offering us, again for free, what he learned. (Be sure to check out the list of over 50 free sites where you can promote your ebook on the web site he found: ebookbooster.com.) Cool!

THE WRITING LIFE

Lesley Leyland Fields’ (@SpiritofFood) All the World’s a Page: The 9 Woes of the Writing Life on WordServe Water Cooler is certainly a challenging message, particularly for the new writer. Some on her list don’t seem to be woes, at least not to me: “You will gradually be divested of your most cherished stereotypes and grudges.” This is a bad thing? The process might be painful but the result should be worth it. Is there no woe (or are there no woes on this list) without reward? Challenge yourself with this post.

FUN

OK, so we can thank (?) Robert Bruce @robertbruce76) of 101 Books for coming up with this one: Gary Busey Reflects On Hobbits. Fun? Um, well…

OK, your turn: what great stuff has crossed your screen lately?

Critique Technique, Part 39—Pace: Speed It Up, Whoa It Up, or Change It Up

photo credit: dawvon via photopin cc

photo credit: dawvon via photopin cc

Last time we identified the general questions critiquers want to ask about scene and story pace—does it vary, is it appropriate, and if not, what needs to change—and eight factors that affect pace: sentence and paragraph length, active or passive voice, dialog versus narrative, tone, language, description, complexity, and what’s happening.

Now let’s apply the factors to the questions.

Does the pace vary? As I noted last time, even the shortest piece may have a varying pace but once you get beyond the flash-fiction story or filler article, it has to change. Readers need changes of pace to keep their interest. If the pace doesn’t change in a piece, either nothing’s happening or the author doesn’t know how to present the changes that are happening.

Changing pace is one way the author tells the reader something different is happening in the story, something is changing. For example:

  • A scene of frenetic action, written in short, simple, highly active, and dialog-free sentences wraps up. It is followed by a scene of quiet conversation that uses tone, language, and longer sentences to slow the pace down while keeping the tension up.
  • A languid description of an apparently idyllic river valley (long narrative sentences, quiet tone, lots of descriptive details) suddenly shifts when a space ship screams down to a landing and disgorges a company of storm troopers (short sentences, active language, dialog among the troopers, different and fewer descriptive details).

Is the pace appropriate to this moment in the story? While it’s possible to create a scene that would normally be presented slowly, let’s say, at the opposite pace, it isn’t easy. At least not intentionally. Musicians sometimes mix music in a minor key, which usually indicates a sad emotion, with an up-beat tempo, creating a cognitive dissonance.

While a skilled writer may be able to do something similar, you more likely will find a dragging scene that would be better at a faster pace or one that goes too fast and needs to be slowed down.

When a scene drags, it’s a good bet the author is providing too much information, has selected an inappropriate tone or style, or has let the scene go on longer than necessary to achieve its goals.

On the other hand, if a scene goes by too fast, the author probably hasn’t developed the elements of the scene enough: it skips from one incident to the next without taking any time for character reaction, setting or plot development, etc.

Is the pace appropriate for the entire piece? This question is a much harder one to answer, particularly if the work is book length, because you may not see the entire piece at once. The more time that passes between chapter reviews, the harder it will be to make a judgment.

If you can see the entire story, you need to have a sense of what message the author was trying to convey. Pace and tone will be closely connected here.

The author’s going to have a lot of work to do if a long work’s pace isn’t appropriate for its topic or message but don’t let that keep you from giving him or her that feedback—in fact, it may be essential for the work to succeed.

What needs to change, and how? This will be much easier to deal with at the scene level. Here are questions you can ask as you review a piece:

  • If sentences and/or paragraphs are too long, how can the author shorten them to pick up the pace? If they’re too short, what can she do to slow things down?
  • If sentences are written by the author in the passive voice (as this clause is), how could he convert them to active voice (like that)? There will be very few situations where you’ll want him to convert an active sentence to passive voice. An example might be a brief burst of bureaucratic writing to show an organization blocking the protagonist.
  • Is the author using narrative to describe what a character is feeling, rather than having her show her feelings by saying something? Conversely, is she having a character explain something where a one-sentence summary in narrative would be more effective?
  • Are the author and his characters using language that’s appropriate to their personalities and to the situation they find themselves in? If not, suggest more apt words.
  • Tone is more likely to be not quite right than completely wrong. So, would  a slight change in tone change the scene’s pace enough to fit better? Talk with the author to get a sense of what she intended before you make your recommendations.
  • Every descriptive detail should matter to the story. Do they, or are they bogging the story down? In this case, suggest what he could cut and explain why.
  • Conversely, is the reader having trouble creating an image of the scene and setting because there’s too little description, or it’s unhelpful? If so, ask the author to describe the scene to you out loud so she can capture the important details.
  • Is the author presenting so much information—not just setting or other details, but linguistic asides, secondary plot lines or activities, unnecessary characters and conversations—that the pace grinds to a halt? Then, as with descriptive details, suggest what could move or be deleted to refocus the scene on its central elements.
  • Are a scene’s events essential to its goal and purpose? Show the author how he can remove unnecessary actions to move the scene along. On the other hand, if the scene is too sketchy, show him how he could expand the scene to both slow it down and deepen it.

As you’ve seen, pace is a complex thing to evaluate and critique, with many subtle and interrelated parts. How do you help an author adjust the pacing of his or her work to make it more effective?

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/dawvon/6991298758/”>dawvon</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, January 12-14, 2013

We’ve got everything from variations on a scene to guest posting to number crunching (or not) to scams to friends to plot holes. Quite a smorgasbord of Great Stuff!

CRAFT

KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) continues her series on scenes with Pt. 6: Variations on the Scene. Said variations can apply to:

  • The scene goal: discovered after the scene begins; is implied instead of stated
  • The scene conflict: opens with conflict, not goal; is understated
  • The scene disaster: ends before the disaster, or
  • The scene as a whole: is skipped, implied, or summarized; is interrupted by a new scene; or switches POV.

Lots of great information here, especially for the intermediate writer.

Despite the title, Boyd Morrison’s (@boydmorrison) Have Gun? Won’t Travel on The Kill Zone isn’t about guns, per se, and it’s certainly not about the “debate” over “gun control” going on in the country now. It’s about plot holes, those practical, logistical, or logical impossibilities that movie-makers often get away with that writers can’t (or at least shouldn’t) and what you might do to keep yourself from leaving them in your own work. A long post, but worth a look.

BUSINESS

At first, Michael Swanwick’s Free Me! post was pretty much what I expected: an announcement of a free e-book from Tor.com that includes one of his stories. But then Michael went on to join the Kris Rusch bandwagon and remind authors to start recording their bibliography as soon as their first story is published. Why? Not just to have the record for your eventual estate, but to motivate you to get another story written and published so the first one won’t look so lonely. And then the first two won’t be lonely. And then….

Dean Wesley Smith (@DeanWesleySmith) continues his New World of Publishing with a not-as-long-as-it-looks post titled Counting Numbers. This piece is going to be a bracing reality check on what realistic expectations for sales numbers and income look like, especially for many new, stars-in-their-eyes writers, but that’s okay. Perhaps his most important point is to think like a publisher: over a 10 year span, not month-to-month.

James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) wades once again into the quantity-now-versus-quality-soon debate that’s been bubbling around the blogosphere lately, with participants like DW Smith, Jane Friedman, and Porter Anderson with his Kill Zone post Publishing and Marketing Your Crap. It takes him a while to get to this point but it’s sure where my thinking is: “If readers don’t like the first book of yours they try, they’re most unlikely to buy any of the other 37.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) begins a series on Why Writers Should Write Guest Posts. This fairly long article covers five strategies for why someone would want to do this: to promote a blog or web site, to reach a new audience, to promote a new book, to help a new blogger build a readership, and to stretch your “writing muscle.” Future posts will cover the who, what, and how of guest postings. Should be a good series.

The second post, in fact, is pretty good, too. Gabriela discusses Navigating the Guest Post Process, including deciding specifically what to write about and for whom, how to pitch the idea (including a format for a pitch e-mail—very good idea!), things NOT to do in the pitch, and what to do when the post is published. All terrific stuff. She also provides a downloadable PDF form that you could use to track your submissions. Unfortunately, you can’t fill it in electronically but Gabriela’s accepted my offer to make it fillable. Check back tomorrow for news.

THE WRITING LIFE

Scams, alas, are a part of e-life, and Victoria Strauss (@VictoriaStrauss) relays a report of one that’s been making the rounds in the UK in Alert: UK Speaker Scam Targets Writers (and Others) on Writer Beware® Blogs. In essence, the scam comes as an e-mail that says the recipient’s been selected to be a guest speaker at a university-sponsored conference but (there’s always a but) there are government fees that need to be paid up-front. You can figure out the rest. This scam isn’t unique to the UK; it’s a variation on a theme whose purpose is always to separate the naïve or unthinking from their money. Writer: beware!

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) points us over to the Glimmer Train Bulletin for an article by Kate Gale, the Managing Editor of Red Hen Press in which she advises, Find Someone Who Is a Stakeholder in Your Writing Life. She suggests three sources—family, spouse/lover, and other (published) writers—and a total of five people, or so, who will believe in you and support you. Contrary to the opinion of some writers, this is where a writers’ group can—not necessarily will, but can—provide that kind of support. Food for thought.

Don’t forget, you can always share Great Stuff with your friends. At no cost! 😉