These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things :-)

imagesJO883V0VWhat are your favorite reference books on writing? We all have them. I learned following my first very rough draft,  that I didn’t know a thing about writing a publishable novel. I thought I did, but the rejections and the one agent who responded set me straight.

Like many of you, I learn from my mistakes, but I am totally hoping I can keep some wannabees from making the same ones that I made.

If you follow me, you know I’ve said many times, ” You don’t know what you don’t know.” So needless to say, I began to research various sites and successful authors. I had to learn how to write a novel.

This led me to three of my favorite resource books.

  1. The Elements Of Style                              William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
  2.  How To Write Best Selling Fiction       Dean R. Koontz
  3.  Eats, Shoots & Leaves                              Lynne Truss

I found The Elements Of Style and Eats, Shoots & Leaves at a library book sale. They cost me a dollar. Unfortunately, the Koontz book is highly recommended but nowhere to be found. I purchased mine from a dealer on eBay for $65.00. I do believe it was worth the price, but you can find all of the information contained in the book on the web.

I didn’t include the Dictionary or Thesaurus. I think they are a given.

These are a few of my favorite things. Yes, I do like Mary Poppins 🙂

-Jan R

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things :-)

What’s Your Biggest Obstacle-Revisited

signsmall_thumbWriting can be both rewarding and frustrating. I’ve been around the block a few times and have had my share of rejections. Don’t judge me, get used to it. If you are out to write that best selling blockbuster, and I’m cheering for you, you’re going to have to develop some tough skin.

I’ve stated in previous blogs, that there are a lot of reasons why your manuscript was passed over, and many have nothing to do with the manuscript itself, but I thought it would be nice to hear it from an agent.

You just submitted a query for an awesome piece of work. You’ve had several agents request full manuscripts and one even gave you a call, but just like that it was over. What happened?

You may have submitted an amazing piece of work, but the submission before yours hit the ball out of the park, and the one after yours did likewise. Those two works raised the bar and affected the impact you novel had on the agent.

Maybe you presented a very well written novel, but the market is saturated with the genre you are offering. Agents may have manuscripts for the particular genre you submitted on hold for the next few seasons.

You made it to the personal phone call. Where did you go wrong? Maybe you were missing the synopsis or logline for your next novel. Agents don’t want to just sell a book, they want to represent a career. Another guess would be that you were resistant to editorial thoughts presented by the agent.

The biggest obstacle one can have in getting a novel published is quitting. If you’re going to do a little bit right, have that little bit be the fact that you don’t quit. – Barbara Poelle, agent

Something to think about.

-Jan R

What’s Your Biggest Obstacle-Revisited

Speculative, Upmarket, Dystopian?

huhI’ve been reading literary agent biographies and blogs in an attempt to narrow my search and find a few I think would be a good fit for my novel.

While researching, I found myself going on-line and doing searches for words and abbreviations that were totally foreign to me: MG, Dystopian, MS, Upmarket, and so on. I guess I still have a lot to learn.

At any rate, I thought I could save you some time by sharing a list of not so common words and abbreviations that I found during my research.

  • MS:  Abbreviation for manuscript (the plural being MSS).
  • MG:  Middle grade-ages 8-12.
  • YA:  Young adult-ages 12-18.
  • NA:  New adult: features a protagonist 18-25 and focuses on the first struggles of adulthood.
  • Speculative Fiction:  Fiction that encompasses supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements.
  • Upmarket:  Fiction with a commercial appeal (book clubs) particularly women’s fiction.
  • Dystopian:  A futuristic, imagined universe, in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technical, moral, or totalitarian control.
  • Literary Fiction: Serious fiction, style and technique are often as important as the subject matter.
  • Commercial Fiction:  Written with the purpose of attracting as wide an audience as possible. It includes westerns, romance, mysteries, and horror genres.

I’m sure I missed a few. Who knew there were so many different categories?

I guess I’m old school. In my day it was westerns, romance, mysteries, comedies, and horror. Oh yeah, you can throw children books and youth in there as well.

-Jan R

Speculative, Upmarket, Dystopian?

Are You Providing That Emotional Experience? (Revisited)

forbetterforworseimageI can’t count how many times I’ve heard the phrase, ‘show don’t tell’. We all know you’re suppose to show and not tell. Why? You want the reader to experience the scene as if they are one of the characters walking through the story with the hero/heroine.

If you’re like me, you know what you’re supposed to do, but you don’t really understand what to do to make it happen. How do I show and not tell? It’s a lot harder than it sounds. Once you start writing that novel, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

There are 5 tools for showing:

  • Dialogue
  • Action
  • Interior dialogue
  • Interior emotion
  • Description-Sensory

If you’re doing anything that’s not one of these 5 things, you’re not showing.

Why is it so important to show versus tell? Showing provides your reader with a powerful emotional experience. If you want to be a best selling author, that’s what you have to do.

It doesn’t matter how great you do everything else in that novel if you’re missing that emotional experience, you lose. If everything you do is bad, but you have a great emotional experience, you may still win.

It all comes down to the takeaway. Every great novelist will tell you, you have to give your reader that powerful emotional experience or they won’t be coming back.

Something to think about 🙂

-Jan R

Are You Providing That Emotional Experience? (Revisited)

Writers Live The Life – Right? (Revisited)

read on beachMost people think writers live the life. Writers lay around in pajamas writing stories and making millions of dollars. They control their schedule, and of course, travel to exotic places all over the world.

I can picture it now. I’m sitting on a lounge chair, drinking a cold glass of lemonade, and looking out as the waves roll in before I turn my attention back to my computer and start typing my flawless manuscript. I can’t believe I got it perfect the first time 🙂

Only a handful of writers live out even part of that scenario, and that’s because they have become so successful they can afford to visit or live at those exotic places, and of course, sip their drink of choice while laying on the beach typing their next bestseller.

For the rest of us, reality is very different.  If you want to become a writer, it’s a tough road.  I wanted to take a few minutes to give you a reality check.  I have listed a few things a writer has to do other than writing.

  • Writers are continuously reading books in their genre and how-to books/tips on writing. We analyze what works and what doesn’t work. How can we use this information to improve our own writing?
  • Writers have to plan. What other books are we going to write? What’s next? We develop a strategy and create outlines for our books.
  • Writers have to do research, especially if the storyline takes place in a different time period or location that we are unfamiliar with.
  • Writers have to network. Someone’s eyes, other than our own, must read our work. This is accomplished through participation in critique groups and attending conferences.
  • Writers edit, analyze, eliminate redundancies, and then edit some more before they even send work out to critique groups.
  • Writers have to market and promote their work. Another reason to attend conferences. You will also find writers on Facebook, Twitter, and keeping up with an active Website.
  • Writers have to learn to accept rejection. Unfortunately, it’s a major part of the business. Writers receive many more rejections than acceptances.
  • Also just like everybody else, Writers live. They have families and many have full-time jobs.

So if you’re thinking writers live the life, think again. Writing has to be your passion. It’s the motivator that will get you through and ensure your success.

-Jan R

Writers Live The Life – Right? (Revisited)

Don’t Let Your Characters Steal The Show!

imagesJO883V0VI know that title sounds crazy, but it can actually happen. Once you start writing that best-seller, you’re going to have some characters that arise and try to take you in a direction you hadn’t planned on going. Your novel and characters take on a life of there own.

If you are to have any chance as a writer, you must embrace the plot.  Consider your plot as the skeleton of the novel. It’s the bare bones that keep everything from collapsing.

You must maintain control. Don’t give your plot over to a character who would gladly pick it up and carry it into directions you never intended to go.

Fictional characters can become so vivid, so alive, that you find yourself altering the plot to accommodate their growth and the direction they want to go.

I got caught up in the excitement of following one of my characters through a storyline that I didn’t write. It was as if the novel was writing itself. The problem was, it was veering from my original intent and messing up my plot.

Most authors will tell you that allowing your characters that much freedom is disastrous. That doesn’t mean you can’t allow some revisions to your plot to accommodate growth. It does mean you don’t alter your entire storyline at the urging of a character that has no idea where you are going with your story.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Don’t Let Your Characters Steal The Show!

Prologues – The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly!

imagesI have a prologue in one of my works in progress, but I have questioned if I should keep it or not, and at one time deleted it. Why, because like many of you, I ‘ve heard that prologues are out. Most agents hate them.

I’m still contemplating if I should keep the prologue in my story or not. It raises questions, conveys some sense of mystery, and launches the reader into the story in a compelling way. I think it adds to the story and provides need-to-know information.

Prologues aren’t all bad. They can help or hinder your book, according to Ryan G. Van Cleave,  Writer’s Digest.

Good Prologues

  • Raise questions, convey some sense of mystery, launch us into the story in a compelling way.
  • Operate like blurry first memories of childhood that are also deep with stain.
  • Foreshadow
  • A well-wrought prologue paired with a thoughtful epilogue gives a nice bookend feel to your novel.

Bad Prologues

  • Are used for info-dumps
  • Mislead the reader. They give the reader a false impression of how the story will go.
  • Rely on the prologue to set the mood.
  • Too long
  • Not starting off Strong.

So what’s the answer? Do we or do we not use Prologues? There isn’t a one size fits all to this question. The choice must be made on an individual basis using the best sense of what makes your story work. With that in mind, most professionals would say leave it out.

Maybe the best solution, and the one I’m working on, is to incorporate my prologue into the story by making it Chapter One.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

 

Prologues – The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly!

Settings Are More Than A Place (Revisited)

4f7a9b905a1bc2d6c97e5c8f0157ee9d_fullWhen you hear the word setting, you think of a time period and place, but settings do so much more than that.

With sci-fi and historical novels, the setting becomes an important part of the story. The setting doesn’t have to be real but it does have to be believable.

Writing historical novels, do your research and throw in some things that you would expect to see during the time period.

Writing Sci-Fi, you’re creating a world. Your setting needs to be detailed. Help your reader to visualize it. Draw them in.

Settings should be visceral and vivid and allow us to experience the world the author is building as if we are one of the characters within the narrative.

Settings evoke a mood. In horror stories, your description of a haunted house should evoke fear in your readers.  In a mystery, your setting should evoke suspense and curiosity. In a comedy, your setting should evoke laughter or an anticipated thrill.

Settings provide information about your characters. How does their home look? Is it messy, neat, compulsively organized? Do they surround themselves with darkness or light?

Settings can also be used to evoke the passage of time and movement. The saplings we had planted in our youth towered above the two-story house. This was home, at least the house that I remembered.

Who knew there was so much to writing. I hope this evoked thought and helped you better understand the use of settings in your novel.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Settings Are More Than A Place (Revisited)

Rushing To Get Published?

resumewritingoverusedwordsIf you’re new to the process, you’re going to make mistakes. I’ve made them all. Well, I haven’t tried to self-publish so maybe that was an over-exaggeration, but not by much:-)

Everybody wants to get published. Once my story was written, I didn’t hesitate to send it out. I knew it had a few grammatical errors. There’s no way you can catch them all. That’s what an editor is for – right? My story was so good, or so I thought, an agent would jump on it and make sure mistakes were corrected and it was ready for publication.

Well, that wasn’t exactly what happened. I’ve written numerous posts outlining the errors I made in that first very rough draft. When you begin your writing career, odds are you don’t know what you don’t know.

I received a rejection letter from every agent I submitted to with the exception of one, who I like to think saw a promising new author in that mess somewhere. She rejected my work as well, but praised what was right and pointed out what was wrong.

Her list was long and I was more than a little shocked once I realized how rough that first draft was. She used words like head-hopping, writtenese, and dragging dialogue. That didn’t even count the grammatical and structural errors. You know, the ones the editor was going to correct 🙂

Do your homework and remember, that the first draft is the first draft. Get it done, then get it good.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Rushing To Get Published?

Love, Joy, and Peace – Sounds Good, Reads Bad – Revisited

conflictI pray often for my home to be blessed with love, joy, and peace. For those who are wondering, it is. Who wouldn’t want a peaceful stress-free home environment, especially after a crazy day at the office?

However, I don’t want love, joy, and peace, in the novels I read. I want action, adventure, and adversity. Who wants to read a humdrum book about a couple meeting, falling in love, and getting married? That’s sweet, but it’s a little too sweet.

Without conflict, your story is going to be rejected. We all want the happily ever after ending. So make sure you have it, but it’s the conflicts and challenges your couple faces along the way that keeps your reader turning the page.

Keep in mind, conflict shouldn’t be something that shows up at the climax of your novel, you are going to lose your readers before they get that far.

Conflict should be evident in every scene and practically every page. It’s the engine that propels your story forward and keeps your reader engaged.

Most novels have one major conflict, but then each character will have one or two of their own conflicts. All of these conflicts go hand in hand to create an even bigger problem.

When you do introduce conflict,  it has to be a natural extension of your plot or your character. The conflict has to be something that prevents your hero or heroine from achieving their goals. It can’t be something you just magically pull out of the air.

It’s okay to have a flat tire or an unforeseen traffic jam that prevents your character from making that all-important meeting. Just remember, too many coincidences like these are not directly related to your character or plot and can sound contrived.

One flat tire is acceptable, but if you are going to have more, then you had better find a way to make it a part of your story. Maybe someone is purposely flattening the tires of the main character to prevent them from meeting their goal.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Love, Joy, and Peace – Sounds Good, Reads Bad – Revisited