Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, February 14 & 15, 2013

The weekend is upon us—a 3-dayer here in the U.S., for “Presidents’ Day” on Monday—so you’ll have plenty of time for today’s posts. Enjoy!

PRE-ANNOUNCEMENT

Changes are coming to Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs and Critique Technique, starting Friday, March 1st. Watch for more news as we get closer to the big day.

CRAFT

Lisa Cron’s (@lisacron) 5 Reasons Why Readers Love Your Story is pretty dense, especially for a blog post. Not dense as in “stupid”—I wouldn’t be mentioning it here if that was the case—but dense as in giving you a lot to think about. Four of her five reasons get into the psychology of readers and reading—well, the fifth one, “you give readers hours of just plain flat-out fun,” is psychological too—so it’s all pretty deep insight. Not a light or quick read, by any means, but worth the time for a slow, thoughtful one. One other thing, though: don’t let it pressure you into thinking your every word has to be intensely personal and perceptive and meaningful and powerful. Remember that reason #5.

Amy Wilentz’s (@amywilentz) terrific How to Bring Subjects to Life in Your Nonfiction Writing is absolutely NOT just for nonfiction writers! Her discussion of how details about each character —and which details— not only tells but shows the power and value of the technique. If you, like me, have trouble building character descriptions in fiction (or nonfiction), this piece is for you. And while we’re on the topic of nonfiction, Alice Crider (@AliceCrider) offers a dozen or so questions to keep in mind (all reader-oriented) to help you with Powerful Non-Fiction Writing. Note that here too the questions can be reframed and applied to a fiction protagonist.

Okay, time to get your grammar geek on! Today we welcome Mignon Fogarty (a.k.a. the @GrammarGirl) to Great Stuff. Her post addresses parts of the question, Where Do I Use Commas? Part 1: The “Oxford comma” (the one before “and” at the end of a list). “It’s a style choice.” In other words, be consistent about how you use it. Part 2: NOT between a subject and its verb. Ever. Part 3: Pauses DO NOT equal pauses. (Harvey Stanbrough has discussed the relationships between punctuation marks in general and pauses in greater detail here.) Part 4: whether to use commas around appositives, those words or phrases (like this one) that name or rename the noun they follow. (Space doesn’t permit me to even summarize the answer here.)

BUSINESS

Michael Swanwick hasn’t weighed in much on business but this time he does, at length, with How Does a Writer Make a Living Today? His approach and view is much more measured, especially with regard to self-publishing, than say Joe Konrath, primarily because Swanwick still publishes primarily in print. But he ends with this point: every time someone has predicted that some change will mean that writers will no longer be able to make a living writing, we find a way.

TECHNOLOGY

Wow, where do I put this post? It could fit in Craft, or Business, maybe even Social Media. I’ve decided to put Harry Guinness’s (@harryguinness) Creative Penn guest post Why And How To Use MultiMedia To Enhance Your Ebooks here, because it’s about using technology to add additional dimensions, specifically photos and videos, to ebook storytelling. To be sure, this isn’t a new idea, but as Guinness notes, it’s becoming easier, cheaper, and more easily available every year. Will this technology change storytelling? Of course. How much? That’s very much still to be determined. For better or worse? That’ll be a matter of individual opinion. But check out what’s possible.

FUN

Haven’t had the chance to point to anything by Writer’s Digest editor Zachary Petit in a while but Bug-Out Bags for Writers is just too fun to pass up. The good news: none of the bags are very big. The bad news: well, you had to bug-out, after all. That’s bad enough. 😉 What would go in your bag?

Advertisements

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, February 12 & 13, 2013

Hope you’re not a triskaidekaphobe! Today’s double-13 day, and tells you it is: 2-13-13, or 13-2-13, if you prefer. Thirteen what to thirteen? Which reminds me of Albert the Alligator, a character from the old Pogo comic strip, for whom the 13th day of the month was always Friday the Thirteenth, even if it was a Wednesday.

What does that have to do with today’s post? Not a darn thing, as far as I can tell. In fact, you’re double-lucky to be finding out about today’s Great Stuff. Read on!

CRAFT

Here’s some really practical advice that we can all use: Writing Gender-Specific Dialogue from the Writer’s Digest There Are No Rules blog. Excerpted from a book by romance writer Leigh Michaels (@leighmichaels), the piece gives advice to women on how men think and act, and hence speak, and vice versa for men writing female characters. For example, women know and notice which colors go together and which don’t, while men generally don’t notice or care. That reminded me of a woman in my writer’s group who had a (straight) male character noticing that a woman’s eyes matched the color of her uniform. Um, sorry, no. We ad-dress-ed that. 😉 Have you run into this kind of thing? How did you address it?

Some writers like to have music playing in the background when they’re writing. Not me, it’s too distracting. But if you’re like Ann Aguirre (@MsAnnAguirre) and Let Music Set the Mood when you’re writing, you’ll definitely get her piece on Writer Unboxed today. But even if you’re not a writer/listener, there’s something for you here: a song may not set your mood, but it can set the story’s mood or reveal something about a character. In my first novel, one of my characters is a fan of rock music from the ‘60s to ‘80s and snippets from those songs will pop into her head from time to time, usually at high-stress moments. It tells you something about her and adds a new dimension to the scene. Do you do anything like this?

You might not expect to find advice on story-telling on ProBlogger, but that’s what Gregory Ciotti (@HelpScout) offers in The Science of Storytelling: 6 Ways to Write More Persuasive Stories. The piece is based on research by Dr. Philip Mazzocco and Melanie Green having to do with court arguments, but their six keys apply in fiction too. They are: audience, realism, delivery, imagery, structure, and context. Space doesn’t permit me to discuss them here, but slide on over and check out the article.

BUSINESS

So, we’ve all heard that the job’s not over when the writing’s done when it comes to books, right? Sure, but what exactly does that mean? Enter Boyd Morrison’s (@boydmorrison) What to Expect When You’re Expecting…to be Published,  a list of 31—that’s right, 31—things that you’ll do after you get that magical phone call saying your book has been accepted for traditional publication. Indie publishers: think the list doesn’t apply to you? Wrong-o, Kindle breath! Of course, some steps won’t, at least as written. But many will in one form or another, and often they’re entirely on you to do, rather than in response to a request from the publisher. A real reality check here.

Joel Friedlander (@JFBookman) has published many articles on e- and print book design, so Book Design Quick Tips for Self-Publishers doesn’t have anything really new, except for a hint at the end about something he’s going to be launching soon—a book layout service, maybe? But this pretty long but useful post lays out the basics in simple terms. This stuff isn’t cosmic or über-technical and you shouldn’t fear it. Take the time to study and absorb it and you’ll be ahead of the game.

Nancy J. Cohen (@nancyjcohen) is releasing a new novel and using the free option on KDP Select for a few days. More important for other writers planning to self-publish is the other information on where and how to get publicity and reviews she offers in the FREE on Kindle post. If this is something to do, check out the post.

Looking into what the future might hold for Nancy, J A Konrath (@JAKonrath) discusses his recent experiences with having some of his books sold via KDP Select in his post Amazon Numbers. Three lessons to learn: (1) despite what he says, being a “name” in the business helps. It’s not required but your sales numbers will be better when you’re known than when you’re still an unknown. (2) Giving the book away for free boosts for-cash sales. I’m reading Cory Doctorow’s The Problem Is Obscurity right now, and he makes the same point. (Beats you over the head with it, actually.) (3) The more titles you have for sale, the better. Konrath closes this long post with two other discussions. He doesn’t like Amazon’s demand for exclusive sales fights for 90 days if you sign up for KDP Select (no one but Amazon seems to), and self-publishing gives you control over your work, which is a good thing.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Writing advice from @NathanBransford in <141 characters. It’s better than you might expect. (27 characters left.)

THE WRITING LIFE

I could have put Keith Cronin’s (@KeithCronin) Write Like You Mean It up in the Craft section, but since it’s really about attitude—making the effort to make anything you write a piece of quality writing—it fits better here. Keith’s piece is pretty long but he uses that length to approach the basic thesis—if you want to be considered a professional writer, write like one whenever you write, even on Twitter or Facebook—from a variety of different angles with the intent that if one doesn’t resonate with you, another one will. What do you think? Is this your approach?

Critique Technique, Part 41—What Was That Again?

Confusion!

photo credit: Richard Scott 33 via photopin cc

Ever had one of those moments when you’re reading through a story or article and the author’s description of a place or event or person makes you stop and say to yourself, “Wait, did I miss something?” Sure you have. We all have.

It’s okay to confuse a reader if it’s done intentionally and in a way that makes them want—no, need—to read more. But confusing descriptions that stop the reader and in so doing, interrupt the flow of the story, are another matter.

When these kinds of problems show up, it’s a good bet the author either knew what they meant and didn’t realize it hadn’t come out that way on the page, or they had no idea what they were trying to express. As a reviewer, you’re likely to be the first person to pick them up, so it’s your job to identify the problems and help the author fix them.

Confusing descriptions can come in at least these four forms:

  • Vague or insufficient detail;
  • Contradictory or inconsistent information;
  • Inappropriate or irrelevant information; or
  • Details the narrator or POV character shouldn’t know.

Let’s look at each.

Vague or Insufficient Detail

I covered vague descriptions in Part 40. Insufficient detail is another matter. Here there’s simply not enough information for the reader to build a picture of the character, object, or setting of the current moment of the story. An easy example is when the writer doesn’t identify the time or place when a scene begins. Another might be when he places a scene in a hotel room but give no other sense of what kind of hotel it is: a Motel 6 or the Ritz Carlton. Or, to continue the image of the river valley from Part 40, it might be wide and shallow or narrow and deep, lush and verdant or barren and dry, but the author never tells the reader.

If these details are important to the story, whether they’re setting mood, placing the piece, or revealing something about a character, if there aren’t enough or clear enough details to do the job, they need to be added or fixed.

Contradictory or Inconsistent

These kinds of details can cause the reader to laugh when the author didn’t mean for her to. Contradictory details can be useful for revealing character—the muscular he-man who’s afraid of germs, for example—but if the contradiction shows up without a clear purpose, such as to signal some kind of change, that’s a problem.

What often happens is that one detail shows up in one place, and then the contradictory or inconsistent detail shows up some time, maybe even chapters, later. In my first novel, I had a character who in one chapter stood 5 feet 11 inches tall. Several chapters later, she was 6-foot-2, and no, she hadn’t put on heels. Oops!

These kinds of problems can be hard to catch, especially if you’re reading a work a chapter at a time with weeks in between chapters. There’s no easy fix for this. If you have the kind of mind that will retain those details, that helps but even that’s not a guarantee. Catch them if you can.

If the problem is a contradiction, and you catch it, make sure you discuss it with the author to determine whether it was intentional or not. If it was intentional, then he may need to make the purpose of the contradiction clearer.

Inappropriate or irrelevant

These kinds of confusing details show up when the author isn’t clear in her own mind what she’s trying to describe or what she means to do with these details. In this case, she may throw lots of things at the wall to see what sticks, or have no idea that what she’s doing isn’t working.

For example, a couple of weeks ago I read part of a first draft of a memoir from a member of my writers’ group. She spent several pages describing things she and a friend had done. Her intent was to illustrate aspects of this important character’s personality, but the collection of vignettes was a tangent at that moment in the story and that much of that kind of detail was out of place. Not entirely irrelevant but certainly inappropriate.

The good news is that these kinds of details do a great imitation of a sore thumb. As soon as you find yourself asking the author, “Why are you telling me this,” you’ve found something you need to flag. Be sure, though, that you also explain why the details in question aren’t appropriate or relevant and, if possible, suggest where he might use them instead.

Details the narrator or POV character shouldn’t know

These problem details can be very tricky. Let’s say the work you’re reading is a murder mystery and the character (who we’ll learn later is actually the killer) comes into a detective’s office, looking to hire her to “solve” the case. Let’s say the detective is also the narrator and reports noticing that the potential client had a hole in the sole of her left shoe. So far, so good, except that the client never stood, sat, or walked in a way that would have let the detective see that sole! Even if that’s the sole problem with the scene (ahem), it does put a hole in the author’s credibility.

Like some of the other problems I discussed above, these details are likely to show up when the author hasn’t thought through the scene well enough, or hasn’t realized what he’s done. He knows what he intended!

Let’s sum up, then, with a few questions to keep in mind as you’re reading:

  • Do I have enough information here to give me a clear mental image of the person, place, or thing I’m supposed to be sensing? (Remember, details aren’t just visual but can engage several senses.)
  • Do any of the details contradict each other in ways that confuse me rather than revealing something important?
  • Are any of the details here inconsistent with what I was told earlier in ways that are not meant to reveal a change?
  • Do the details I’m seeing here distract me from the main story?
  • Do I wonder why I’m being given this information now?
  • Is the narrator or POV character telling me something he shouldn’t be able to know at this moment in the story?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, identify the nature of the problem and what the author can do to fix it. Next time around, the writing should be much better.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, February 9-11, 2013

Decisions and dumps and getting it done. Being safe and effective at the same time while you’re on social media. That’s what’s on tap for you in today’s Great Stuff. C’mon in: the writing’s more than fine!

CRAFT

Part 10 of KM Weiland’s (@KMWeiland) series on scenes and sequels deals with your Options for Decisions in a Sequel. The decision the character makes about how to respond to his or her dilemma takes the character and reader from the end of this sequel into the beginning of the next scene and that scene’s goal. While the basic decision is to act or not act (cue Prince Hamlet) there are, of course, variations on how that decision will play out. For those details, click on over to Katie’s post.

Ah, the dreaded info dump. They’re the reader’s bane and the writer’s curse. And yet… you probably know a writer or two who falls into the dump from time to time, don’t you? Not that you, dear reader, would ever do such a thing, right? Of course not. 😉 So, to help your writer friends who find themselves down in the dumps, as it were, check out Leslie Ramey’s (@CompulsionReads) guest on The Bookshelf Muse on Dumping The Info Dumps, and you’ll—I mean, they’ll—go forth and dump no more.

SOCIAL MEDIA

You’ve gotten those strange messages on e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, or wherever, telling you your account’s been suspended and you need to send in your password to reactivate it, or a friend’s been arrested overseas and needs bail money, or the family member of some recently deceased African despot NEEDS to give you millions of dollars from his secret bank account, or whatever. You didn’t reply, did you? I sure hope not. I got stupid that way once and while I didn’t lose any money as a result, it was painful enough changing bank and credit card accounts, passwords, and all the rest to make sure that didn’t happen. That’s why Kristen Lamb’s (@KristenLambTX) Digital Sheep Get Slaughtered—Being Safe On Social Media is a must-read. As Kristen says, you need to be a social media sheepdog (or Tweepdog—love it!), not a sheep. Protect yourself and your real friends too. Thanks to Joel Friedlander for pointing this post out.

I know one of the complaints I hear about Twitter is, “how can you make sense out of following so many people?” (where “so many” can be anywhere from 10 to 10,000). Nina Badzin (@NinaBadzin) to the rescue! Or, as she puts it, Twitter Lists to the Rescue. Her very practical Writer Unboxed post walks you step-by-step (with pictures!) through the process of and rationale for setting up lists into which you plop the folks you’re following. Voilá! Instant—okay, pretty quick—organization! She even tells how to set up Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to make use of these lists. Very cool! Thanks, Nina.

THE WRITING LIFE

One thing I’ve sure seen in the time I’ve been reading other writers’ blogs is that no matter whether you’re (already or planning to be) traditionally published or indie published, it’s no longer enough to be working on just one thing at once. That luxury, if it ever existed, doesn’t today. That’s what makes James Scott Bell’s (@jamesscottbell) How to Work on More Than One Book at a Time so valuable. He provides a plan you can follow to keep the ideas coming and the words flowing. Keep in mind, this is a TECHNIQUE: you DON’T have to do it exactly his way. But if you’re looking for ways to up your productivity, check this out.

Along these same lines, you’ve heard this before: write every day. And you’ve heard this before (maybe you’ve said it): I don’t have the time!!!! So, are you serious about writing or not? Joanna Penn (@thecreativepenn) describes what she did to figure out How To Write More And Create A Daily Writing Habit. You don’t have to watch the embedded video because she includes the key points in the text of the post, but if you enjoy listening to someone speak with a British accent, hers is delightful, so that’s reason enough. The techniques she describes aren’t new or remarkable, but they work! Maybe they’ll work for you. Your word-count target may differ from hers (I’m committing to writing a scene a day, for example, rather than X number of words) but the key thing is, she committed to writing every day.

Do you write every day? How do you keep yourself going and on track? Do you use word-counts or some other goal?

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, February 7 & 8, 2013

Today’s post has to be one of the most value-packed I’ve had in quite a while, and that’s saying something. And for those of you in parts of the US who are bracing for some really rough weather this weekend, maybe this stuff will be what you need to carry you through—so long as you have electricity and the internet, anyway. Enjoy!

CRAFT

Jordan Dane (@JordanDane) is about to bring out the first book in a YA fantasy trilogy that is driven by, among other things, a love triangle. Because the story focuses on relationships, her 5 Key Steps to Adding Depth to Your Fictional Relationships post on The Kill Zone is worth a look, even if you have to get through the biographies of the characters first. The steps can be summarized this way: give the characters both internal-internal conflicts and internal-external conflicts to deal with.

Now this is ironic (and a little creepy): a post on The Kill Zone (above) about a love triangle and relationships, and a guest post by retired homicide detective Garry Rodgers (@GarryRodgers1) on The Creative Penn on How To Get Away With Murder—or fail to get away! All in the service of writing stories, of course, but still…. So if you’re interested—for art’s sake!—take a look. If you dare.

Denise Jaden (@denisejaden) covers a subject that I’ve rarely seen discussed: Writing Effective Grief in Fiction. It’s so easy for writers, especially new ones, to take a character’s grief and turn it into melodrama, and in so doing, drive the reader away. Jaden’s five practical tips for how to make that character’s emotions real, compelling, and yet not overwhelming (for the reader) will be valuable for anyone who’s writing about characters in fiction or memoir who are dealing with loss.

Let’s finish up this section with a terrific post by C. S. Lakin (@cslakin) on KM Weiland’s WORDplay blog: The Secret to Show, Don’t Tell. Everyone wants to know that, right? Okay, so I’ll spill the beans right now: every scene needs a “high moment,” the instant where the point of the scene (which every scene must have) is made. It can be big or subtle, but everything else in the scene builds toward that point and that moment and the movie camera of your writing is what follows the characters and the action to them. Take the reader on that journey to that moment and you can’t help but “show.”

BUSINESS

When Kristine Kathryn Rusch (@kriswrites) titles a piece What Writers Need to Know, you can bet that, well, it’s time to get another cuppa before you start to read it. Let me see if I can catch the basics here.

  • Whether you’re traditionally published or indie, you need to know a lot about writing, publishing, managing a business, design… and a lot more.
  • You’ll never know everything there is to know and you may not ever know much of it really well.
  • If you’re not continually learning more, you’re falling farther and farther behind. That said, don’t try to learn something all at once. Work on each topic in bite-size chunks.
  • Writing well is still your first and foremost obligation but your chances of having a sustained successful writing career are minimal at best if that’s all you learn and know.

This long as usual post rambles a bit—you can safely skip down to the first list and skim after it—but if you want a career, this is advice worth reviewing.

Along these same lines, Joe Konrath (@jakonrath) calls his latest post How To Sell Ebooks. Can’t get much clearer than that. The thing is—and this should be no surprise—there’s no silver bullet or secret password but instead ten different areas we each need to address in order to have a shot at success. Why should we listen to Konrath? Because he’s now sold over a million copies of his books.

It’s certainly not every day that I point you to a piece from Science News magazine, but today’s online post by Rachel Ehrenberg (@REhrenberg) is appropriate. Even though In Hollywood, buzz beats star power when it comes to predicting box office take is about movies and popular music, it tells how scientists have demonstrated that the most successful ones earn their success not from who the performers are but how much the work is being talked about after, but especially before, it is released, and how widespread the buzz is. This is what the marketing experts I occasionally cite here say about books, too: build your platform before you publish.

Rachelle Gardner’s (@RachelleGardner) answer to the question Are Self-Pub Books the New Slush Pile? is a qualified no. Her five reasons have mostly to do with marketing considerations; in fact she doesn’t say a word about the slushy quality of many self-pubbed books. That’s refreshing. It’s refreshing, too, that she’s open to the possibility that self-pub books could become more important over time. (Well, they already are.)

FUN

Yeah, after all that heavy information, a little fun is what we need to close off the day and head for the weekend, and you’ll find it here, in Carol Barnier’s (@Carol_Barnier) Pet Peeves and Grace on WordServe Water Cooler. You can guess what the “pet peeves” part is all about, but will you be byoosgusted by it? Actually, I think you will. 🙂

What was your favorite article today? Or the one that helped you most?

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, February 5 & 6, 2013

After a couple of big posts, today’s is much lighter. I imagine you might appreciate that. Some of today’s posts are practical—character and setting development, for example—others are thought-provoking. Feel free to disagree with them.

CRAFT

This writing technique definitely won’t be for everyone. It’s certainly “different.” But if it works for you, terrific! What I’m talking about is Cinthia Ritchie’s (@cinthiaritchie1) piece on the Guide to Literary Agents blog called Marathon Training to Finish Your Book. Cinthia models writing a novel on Hal Higdon’s plan for training for a marathon. It’s a very different way of approaching the “write every day” mantra because it varies how much time you’re to spend writing, with “long writing days” comparable to the long training runs marathoners do as they prepare for the big day. Check it out. Maybe it’ll fit with your life and schedule. Maybe it won’t. If it doesn’t, forget it.

Two pieces today on characters and characteristics. Donald Maass’s (@donmaass) The Man (or Woman) in the Mirror on Writer Unboxed and freelance editor Jodie Renner’s (@JodieRennerEd) Essential Characteristics of a Thriller Hero on The Kill Zone. You can tell from the title that Renner’s piece is more focused on certain kinds of characters while Maass’s offers questions to ask yourself about yourself with the intent of then making those answers—good or bad—part of your characters, especially your protagonist. This is classic Maass and for my money a far better set of tools than creating the simplistic list of traits (what does your character eat for breakfast?) that other authors (NOT Renner!) often suggest.

Try this quote on for size: “…readers really don’t mind setting description so long as it entertains them.” Say what? So saith KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) in How to Create a Surefire Awesome Setting (emphasis hers, by the way). While I think I’d use “engage” rather than “entertain,” the point of the short video is that setting description can add to, even enrich, a story when its presentation is one in proper balance with other parts of the story.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Here are two pieces of news I found both interesting and potentially important. According to Brian Clark (@copyblogger) in his post Get Over Yourself and Get On Google+:

  • Google+ has become the second largest social media platform, passing Twitter, and
  • Google+ isn’t a social network, it’s a topical network (emphasis his), meaning it is more “organized around content” rather than people per se.

Clark also suggests that this difference is important to authors and their platforms (he quotes former Google CEO Eric Schmidt for support) and that the difference is one thing that distinguishes Google+ from its major competitors. Disclaimer: I do not have a Google+ account. (Okay, okay, so maybe I should. All I need is a 25th hour in my 24-hour day.)

THE WRITING LIFE

Hmmm, I wonder if Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) was aiming Be the Gatekeeper of Your Mind at me—and you, dear reader. Why? She writes that she’s found she’s more creative if she reads fewer blogs, not more, and when she reads longer, more “immersive” work, like full-length books. Could it be she’s got a case of information overload? She seems to think so. What about you? Have you decided to pare back on your information input?

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, February 2-4, 2013

Wow! Busy weekend out there on the blogosphere, and Monday morning, too: rules and tools, emotions and responses, Star Wars attacks and attacks on Amazon. It’s all here, and more. No time to lose! Let’s get started.

CRAFT

CORRECTION! Gabriela Pereira’s (@DIYMFA) workshop is on Tuesday, February FIFTH,  (that’s tomorrow) at 1 PM Eastern. Sorry for the confusion!

Anyone who’s been at this business a while knows that there are almost no rules to writing, beyond maybe, “Get your butt in the chair! Now!” So when a post is titled The Rules of Writing, naturally that’s going to raise some concerns. Fortunately, French super-bestseller Marc Levy’s (@marc_levy) “rules” on Writer Unboxed aren’t rules so much as guidelines, and wise and practical ones at that. A couple examples to whet your appetite: “Stop trying so hard to find a subject” and “Don’t show too much, don’t tell too much.”

Along these same lines, Joanna Penn’s (@thecreativepenn) guest post on Write to Done on 5 Ways To Take Your Writing Further includes some techniques I’ve heard before but haven’t seen mentioned much recently, namely free-writing and physically copying the work of published authors you enjoy and respect. Not only are these effective techniques for expanding your writing, they’re terrific for overcoming writer’s block. (See the Brandon Yawa post below too.)

I think it was one of the great Russian writers who said, “If there is no emotion in the writer, there will be no emotion in the reader.” Anyone know who that was? In any case, James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) picks up on that theme with his post How To Get Emotional About Your Novel on The Kill Zone. “Emotion in the author,” he writes, “is literary electricity. It’s the X Factor, the game changer… Readers sense it.” Then he describes a couple of methods for finding it and bringing it out in your work. The last part of the post is a plug for his latest book but also serves as an example of how he was able to create genuine emotion in the story.

Speaking of emotion, KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) continues her excellent series on scenes and sequels with Pt. 9: Options for Dilemmas in a Sequel. What does this have to do with emotion? After the emotion of the reaction to the previous scene’s disaster, now the protagonist should face a dilemma in which he or she has to figure out what to do next. This can be an emotional reaction, too, or a rational one, but it needs to start with a review of what’s happened, an analysis of options, and a plan for moving forward, which will lead to a decision, the next scene and, of course, the next disaster… but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

Lessons Learned from the Original Star Wars Trilogy to Up Your Writing Game? Seriously? Yup. Lydia Sharp (@lydia_sharp) comes up with them on Writer Unboxed. Specifically, Episode IV (start in the middle), Episode V (destroy everything), Episode VI (expect the unexpected).  Hmmm. Y’know, that gives me an idea…. Thanks, Lydia!

BUSINESS

Joanna Penn’s piece on her own blog, How EBook Readers Shop And The Importance Of Sampling, is a terrific insight into both. Yes, if you own an e-reader, your shopping habits may be different, but if you’re looking to e-publish, even how just one reader shops can be revealing. So are Joanna’s and her commenters’ views on samples: how long they should be, how much time a reader will spend with them, how often they decide not to buy based on the sample, etc. Valuable info here!

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has started a monthly feature called Best Business Advice for Writers, and the January edition is full to overflowing with links to other posts and articles that are full to overflowing with information. The ol’ veritable plethora, right on your screen: GoodReads, cover design, self-publishing lessons-learned, WordPress plug-ins, Kickstarter, and more. Goodness. It’s a week’s worth of reading all by itself! Pick what most interests you.

Whoa, this is a tough one. Clare Langley-Hawthorne reports on The Kill Zone on a series of Concerted Amazon Attacks meant to discredit and kill the sales of a book. The book, an apparently non-sycophantic biography of Michael Jackson received so many 1-star reviews on Amazon (over 100), many of which were factually inaccurate, that despite Amazon’s selecting it as one of their best books of the year, sales were a small fraction of the number of books printed. So, whose free-speech rights prevail in a case like this: the authors’ or the reviewers’? Or is this an either/or decision at all? What do you think?

THE WRITING LIFE

It might be a bit of a surprise to see a post from ProBlogger here in the Writing Life section, but Brandon Yawa’s (@BrandonYawa) How Compassion Cures Writer’s Block fits. Interestingly, his idea is NOT compassion by the author for someone else, but compassion by the author for him- or herself. Self-forgiveness, in other words, when the words won’t come, plus a few non-writing techniques for getting that mental break that releases the block. Marc Levy (above) says not to fear writer’s block because it’s a natural thing. Without the fear, then, the forgiveness should come more easily. Hope so, anyway!

If you’ve ever been in a writers’/critique group, you’ve probably encountered people like those described in Donna Cooner’s (@donnacooner) Top 10 Worst Types of Critique Partners. If you haven’t, yes, you might well encounter people like these. But don’t assume as some writers and bloggers (NOT Donna) insist that all groups are like this. They’re not, and a good group is worth its weight in ink cartridges.

So, can you name that Russian writer? Have you run into any of those awful critique partners? How about great ones? Tell! Tell! (This is one time you don’t have to “show.”)