3 Things Writers Can Learn From Authors' Bad Behavior

Maybe you haven’t heard the story, but there’s a lot to learn. Earlier this week, a blogger posted a review of an author’s self-published ebook. The review was positive, for the most part, but included a few nicely worded criticisms.

The story really started when the book’s author began posting comments, asking the blogger to remove the review, and later calling him a liar, among other things. It didn’t take long for the blog to go viral on Twitter, and soon hundreds of blog readers took the author to task for her behavior.

Sadly, the author’s name will be connected to poor behavior for a long time.

While I decided not to post a link to the melee, I thought the educational value was something useful to the writing community in general. In the coming years, many more of us will choose the self-publishing route over traditional publishing (which many now call “legacy” publishing). How new authors handle the inevitable criticism and bad reviews will raise them head and shoulders above the sea of others.

Here’s a couple things I’ve learned from the issue:

1.    Begin now to grow a thick skin. No one will ever write a perfect book that everyone likes. Including me. So now is the time to get accustomed to hearing what’s not working in my manuscript, even if I don’t agree. That’s why I’ve joined critique groups, why I enter contests, and why I let others read my writing.
2.    Determine to act like a professional. I need to ensure that my online communication, and the way I deal with people is respectful, polite, and shows I’m conscious of the fact that others have valid opinions. I hope to never respond in anger, or verbally abuse an individual just because I disagree.
3.    Realize the value of a reader. My future readers will include critique partners, beta readers, agents, editors, reviewers, and the buying public. Most of them will not get paid to read my book—in fact, some will be spending their own money, plus their own time. That is something not to be taken lightly.

There’s lots more to learn about developing a writer’s rhino skin. What would you add to the list?

Book Review: Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks

Writers who have not come across Larry Brooks' StoryFix website have been missing out. The creator of the six core competencies for writers teaches his concepts in a conversational, easy-to-understand style. Readers of his blog have received quite an education. But for those who don't have the time to browse through the archives, there's his new book, Story Engineering.

Brooks explains the "architecture of storytelling". It's broken into the engineering and design of a novel. The six core competencies are:
Story Structure
Scene Execution
Writing Voice

Once a writer learns and applies these aspects of storytelling, their craft improves exponentially. In the book's fifty chapters, each of these building blocks are explained, but with a nod to writers' individual style. Brooks even includes a section for "seat-of-the-pants" writers, so they can apply story architecture to their books in a painless way.

Read the opening pages on the StoryFix site.

Two extras for you:
A great article by Brooks defining what "concept" is. If the concept of "concept" seems fuzzy, Brooks explains what it's not, and what it is.

And best of all, here's a free .pdf file, where Brooks lists the six competencies covered in the book, along with a checklist to see if your manuscript is up to the task.

Looking for more book reviews? Check them out right here.

Need Help Researching Your Book? It's Time to Bring in the Experts

Wouldn't it be nice to have an expert on speed-dial? Someone to call when the realization hits that you don't know everything?

With the magic of the internet, an expert is just a click away. Say you're writing a novel where the characters head out on an African safari, and you're stuck in New Jersey. An expert can help with that.

If it's a science fiction novel, you may be fuzzy on string theory or interplanetary travel. There are scientists who'd like to help.

Even freelance writers can benefit. Maybe that article on separation anxiety needs a sound byte from a professional. All you have to do is ask.

I've collected some links to sites that will help answer all those questions and more. 

This site was started by a journalist who was blessed with lots of contacts. The downside was that so many people contacted him to ask for referrals to experts, it became too time consuming. He started the site to connect writers with experts. You can ask for expert advice, or even become one of the more than 100,000 experts. Top media outlets use this free service.

This website is a collection of professional communicators, from researchers to analysts to government officials. Users can search over 30,000 professional profiles to find the expert they want to contact.

Another site, boasting thousands of experts on a wide range of topics. Need someone well-versed in geography, decorating, or cartooning? They're here.

Here, you'll find as series of links to other sites with professionals of all varieties. Did you know you could ask your word questions directly to the Oxford dictionary folks?

This site is similar to Library Spot, but with different links. Check out connections to attorneys, musicians, even specialists in etiquette.

These sites are just a start--the internet is a huge place. Do you have any go-to resources for research?
 For this last day of spring break, I'm still writing steadily. Out of nearly 50 weekly Agent Friday posts, this is the one that still gets the most hits.

Our blogging agent of the week is Betsy Lerner of the Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Agency, which happens to be the agency that represents Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. Lerner spent sixteen years working as an editor before moving into agenting, and from what I've read about her, she was legendary as an editor.

Thankfully, Betsy Lerner passes on a huge amount of information through her blog, and in her book The Forest for the Trees. In the book, Lerner shares the perspective of editors in the publication process, and gives tips on making your queries and submissions stronger.

She also offers advice on handling rejection, dealing with ediors, and what to do if you experience writer's block. The book was published ten years ago, but Lerner is working on revising the information for the current world of publishing, and the new version will be released in fall 2010.

Lerner's blog is a humorous peek into the life of a literary agent, with its associated victories and travails. Her irreverent blog sometimes reads like a memoir, but because of that, it's fascinating. A selection of blog posts I like:


The website of the Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Agency.

Any ideas why Lerner is so popular?

Plot Your Novel With a Rubik's Cube

During this week's spring break, I'm writing furiously. This post is an earlier--and very popular--one that many new readers may have missed.
So, perhaps you've decided to participate in Nanowrimo. Or you've just been struck with a new story idea, and you'd like to see if it has what it takes to become a novel. Maybe you've got a story partly or completely written, and you wonder if you've left out something important.

I've got the perfect thing.

This plotting method has been discussed widely over at Verla Kay's Message Board. If you have not been there, you absolutely need to check it out. It is not clear who came up with it first.

Sometimes it's called the 9 Steps for Plotting Fiction, or the Plotting Matrix. Since this plotting method starts with nine squares, and since this year is the 30th birthday of the Rubik's Cube, I'll just call it Rubik's Cube Plotting.

To start this process, take a sheet of paper and draw nine boxes, like one side of a Rubik's Cube. Number the boxes starting at the top left (1,2,3). The second row will be 4,5,6 (left to right), and the bottom row will be 7,8,9. (Scroll to the bottom of the post for a link to a great printable sheet with all the info)

The following descriptions of the contents of each box comes from this page on Verla Kay's site.

1 Triggering event

First thing's first. What happens? Why have you bothered to write a book, and more importantly, why should a reader invest time flipping through its pages. Your triggering event is the answer to those
questions, so make it a good one. Also, don't make the reader wait very long for it. First page, first paragraph, first sentence. These are good spots for a triggering event.

2 Characterization

Generally, books succeed or fail on the strength of their characters more so than on the strength of their plots. The second box is where you explore what makes your protagonist tick. No, this isn't an excuse for drawn out exposition, history, or back story. If your triggering event is captivating, the reader will discover enough about the protagonist in Box Two simply by reading how he or she reacts to the event.

3 First major turning point

By now, your plot is picking up steam, and because of Box Two, the reader is invested in the ride. Time to throw a curve ball. This turning point can be either a positive event for your protagonist, or a negative one, but it should lay the groundwork for the negative turning point in the sixth square. There is a reason these boxes are touching one another; they interrelate. For example, Box Three may introduce the motivation of the antagonist, which then justifies the events in the sixth square.

4 Exposition

You've earned some time to fill the reader in on important data. Since this box touches the first square, here's where you shed some light on that triggering event. Since it also touches Box Seven, you get to foreshadow your protagonist's darkest hour. Box Four often reveals a relationship, character flaw, or personal history that contributes to the dark times in ahead.

5 Connect the dots

Here is where many plots fall apart. Box Five represents the trickiest part of fiction and since Box Five is the center of the book it must connect to all the squares around it. Kind of like the nucleus at the center of a bomb, Box Five should tick systematically upon elements introduced in Box Two and Four. And like the calm before the storm, the fifth square should give the false impression of resolution before heading like a freight train to Box Six. Most importantly, it needs to provide foreshadowing for the protagonist's revelation in Box Eight. That's a lot for a little box to do, but focus on efficient prose to get it right. Your plot depends upon it.

6 Negative turning point

Here's where that bomb explodes and all (word censored) breaks loose. Good thing you laid the groundwork in Box Three. Good thing, too, that Box Nine will deliver some just desserts.

7 Antagonist wins

The protagonist is defeated here, and the antagonist apparently wins. How the protagonist deals with the darkest hour of defeat depend upon the traits and/or story developed in Box Four, which leads to his or her revelation in the next square.

8 Revelation

Of course! The protagonist's revelation turns the tide. Here is where the protagonist connects the dots and overcomes the obstacles of Boxes Six and Seven via the device introduced in Box Five.

9 Protagonist wins

The negative turning point in Box Six is rectified while the character's resolve from Box Eight is brought into full bloom. Congratulations! Another great tale told greatly.

Amazing, isn't it? Your whole story in nine little boxes. A great visual of the entire plot, and how each part relates to the others. If, like me, you'd like to see this in a diagram, there's a great one here (note: this is a .pdf file), made by one of the members of Verla Kay's site. I highly recommend this download. It's only one sheet, but the writer includes arrows showing the relationship of one box to another, and incorporates the Hero's Journey and the three-act structure.

This method helped me discover some holes in my plot, and made me realize I needed to deepen some character motivation. Give it a look. I'd love to know what you think.

Free Resources from the New York Public Library: Get Them No Matter Where You Are

During this week's spring break, I'm writing furiously. This post is an earlier one--and probably the most popular--that many new readers may have missed.

 We all know that libraries are undervalued. But did you ever consider that you might be missing out on what's available on your library's website? Turns out, similar to the dusty research section few of us frequent, there are huge amounts of undiscovered, free information just waiting for writers looking for inspiration.

And it's free.

The best part, is that you can browse a library website located thousands of miles away, taking advantage of the information they offer. Occasionally, you'll find some access restricted to local library members (meaning you'd have to type in your library card number), but if you really need that information, some libraries don't mind giving library cards to non-locals. Or your local library might be able to obtain access for you. Just ask.

I grew up in New York City. But it wasn't until last year that I actually set foot in the New York Public Library. Back in January 2010, I had a wonderful time wandering the halls of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. You know, the building where they filmed Ghostbusters. The soaring painted ceilings, carved woodwork, and sheer size of the place were breathtaking.

So I figured their website had to be amazing.

It was. This blog post almost didn't get written. I got so absorbed in the wonderful collections at the NYPL, that time got away from me. Happily, I ended up with a few dozen historical images that will be instrumental in finishing my manuscript.

The home page of the NYPL is deceptive, with only a few links to click on. I'll give you the highlights to save you some time.

If you click Find Books, Dvds & More, you'll get to choose from Articles and Databasesebooks, digital Images & More, Collections, and Recommendations.

I spent a little time in Articles & Databases. I did a search for English and American Literature. One of the great sites that came up is a database called the Jane Austen Info Page. On it you can find links to all her novels, plus her minor works. Another intriguing site that I found is the Victorian Women Writers ProjectThis is a site where Victorian women authors' work is transcribed onto the internet.

You can also search journal articles, browse the special collections and archival materials, check on their ebooks, audio books and digital images, and fill out an interlibrary loan form if there's something you must see in person.

Not sure where to begin? Try clicking on Places to Start Your Research. 

The Digital Gallery alone has three-quarters of a million images, from illuminated maps to vintage posters. I could spend a few days in that collection alone. Historical research, anyone?

I didn't have much time left to explore Blogs, Videos and Publications. The library hosts its own blog, prints numerous publications, and has a surprising number of audio, video and digital projects. 

If you have a specific question, or need help with research, there are specialized librarians waiting to assist you. Go to Ask NYPL.

I'm sure I barely scratched the surface of what's available. But I'm glad I took some time to virtually browse on a rainy afternoon. I'm curious. What's did you uncover?

Need Help Finishing Your Novel? Check Out This Free Course

During this week's spring break, I'm writing furiously. This post is an earlier--and popular--one that many new readers may have missed.
Thousands upon thousands of people begin novels. Only a tiny fraction of those actually finish, and from these, publishers choose the ones we see in bookstores. Why do so few complete their novels? Because it's hard work. Really, really hard work.

I know. I'm trying to finish my second novel, and it's just as difficult as the first. I'm over the excitement of a new idea. I've lived with my characters so long that I'm no longer infatuated with them. And frankly, reading the same story over and over gets old. As a writer, I begin to wonder if anyone out there would even like this story.

Fortunately for me (and you, too), I discovered author Timothy Hallinan's website last week. I couldn't wait to write this post. I even sent his link via Facebook to my writing friends so they wouldn't have to wait until this post came out.

Why? Because Timothy Hallinan is another one of those authors who gives back. He has posted a free course called Finish Your Novel, which is not only entertaining and practical, but humorous, too.

Hallinan's belief is that finishing a book is what made him a writer, not just working on something. Once he figured out how to successfully finish novel after novel, he came up with 30 steps, separated into five categories. Each of the short sections takes only a few minutes to read. You might even want to bookmark his  page so you'll remember to read once step each day of the month.

Most of us have at least one manuscript that we've begun and then set aside for one reason or another. Listen to Hallinan's take on this:

"The sad fact is that much of the time, the book they abandon is better than the one they set out to write. It's like a prospector who goes out looking for iron pyrites, finds gold, and throws it away."

Hallinan also blogs about writing at The Blog Cabin. On Wednesdays he has an interesting series where he interviews published authors about whether they write with an outline or not, in Plotting vs. Pantsing.

So, I've begun working through Hallinan's course. It's not hard. It's like getting a little pep talk every morning before I start typing. And who couldn't use one of those?

Where are you in finishing your novel?

Researching Your Novel With Maps

During this week's spring break, I'm writing furiously. This post is an earlier--and popular--one that many new readers may have missed.

Some of us write historical fiction, while others, like myself, write fantasy set in historical places. Still others write contemporary fiction, or stories set in the near future. No matter where your story is set (unless it's in a completely fabricated place, current or historical maps can mean a great deal in how well you describe the storyworld for your reader.

By strange circumstances, I decided to set my current novel in medieval Croatia--an unbelievably beautiful place that I must visit before I die. In order to learn more about the area in which I'm setting my story, I've used a few different tools.

Google Earth was my first stop. If you've never tried it, this software visually flies you around the world to the place you've selected. You can then zoom in fairly closely, depending on the satellite photos available for the area. Try your own address for a bird's-eye view of your neighborhood. Check here for my post on the cool tools in the latest version of Google Earth.

Google Maps will give you a layout of the area you're researching. Click on the little man icon on the zoom bar, and you can place him on any street. If photos have been taken on street-level, you'll be able to "walk" along the street, looking around like any other pedestrian. This is a great tool to use if you have a novel set in say, San Francisco, but you don't have the money to actually visit.

For historical maps, I've discovered an excellent site, The David Rumsey Map Collection . Here, you can view over 21,000 historical maps from around the world. Due to the sophisticated scanning technology used, you can blow them up and drag them around to view them in great detail. The maps of your choice can be purchased, as well, but there is no charge for viewing these incredible documents.

Many universities and other organizations have online map collections. Here are a few I've found:

Though I'd love to travel to a hundred of these places, I'm content for now, to let my fingers do the clicking. Where is your story set?

Agent Friday: Laurie McLean

 For the second week, we have an agent with publicity and marketing experience. Laurie McLean ran a public relations company for twenty years, before she became an agent with the Larsen Pomada Literary Agency. And with the digital publishing revolution, she decided to begin a company specializing in digital marketing consulting called Agent Savant Inc.

As an agent, McLean specializes in genre fiction, which includes romance, fantasy, science fiction, horror, westerns, mystery, suspense, and thrillers. She also represents children's middle grade and young adult books. Because she is an author herself, she understands the ups and downs of the writing life.

McLean maintains a blog called Agent Savant. I've found a number of posts that will interest writers of many genres--including those considering the self-publishing route.

Are you confused about the term "genre fiction"? McLean comes to the rescue. Her post on genre fiction will explain whether this is what you write--or not.

If you're planning to ride the ebook wave, McLean, a publicity professional has some advice for you. You need to have what she calls a Digital Marketing Plan. No one is going to tout your book besides you (at the start), and you'll want to take note of her four important steps for digital marketing.

Another post on the topic is The Ebook Unbound. An excellent education on the changes happening as we speak.

I love her post, 15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone. The translations of his words are though-provoking.

If you're writing supernatural fantasy, you won't want to miss this post that gives a great definition of the genre.

And the Larsen Pomada agency has a wonderful list of amazing resources for writers. Check it out.

Want more Agent Friday? Click here.

Get Ready for ScriptFrenzy

There are some serious connections between good movies and good fiction. That's why so many novels get made into films. Screenplay writers cultivate the ability to pull the best and most visual elements from a story and translate them into 100 pages of script. 

If you're a novelist, learning to write a screenplay is important for two reasons. One, the skills you learn will help you write a better book. The second, though less likely is this. If your book is published, and gets optioned for film, you may have the opportunity to write the screenplay yourself.

The month of April is the perfect time for a screenplay education. The same folks that bring you NaNoWriMo every November also offer ScriptFrenzy each April.

The goal is to write a script of 100 pages during the month of April. Besides screenplays, writers are welcome to work on stage plays, TV shows, short films, and graphic novels. Also included are novel adaptations and radio scripts. Sign up is free.

Like NaNoWriMo, the ScriptFrenzy site offers tons of support. You'll set up a profile, and can message back and forth with those you meet. There's an active forum, where participants can discuss the particular genre of script they're working on, get questions answered, and find help when they're stuck.

The best part of the free site, which can be accessed even if you don't sign up, is the Writer's Resource page. Once you scroll through the long list of resources, you'll be as impressed as I was. Even if you never write a screenplay, the resources can help you in outlining, figuring plot twists, and creating realistic dialogue, just to name a few. Jump over there and at least bookmark the page. It's full of invaluable tools for writers of any type. And if you've never written a screenplay before and want to learn, all the info is in the resource section.

Though I'm not planning to write a script in April, I'm still considering a personal challenge to write 100 more pages on my manuscript. Three pages a day doesn't sound like much, but it would bring me to the end of my current novel. Anyone else up for the challenge?

Feeling Helpless About Tsunami Victims? Here's an Easy Way Writers Can Make a Difference

I can't look away. When I see one of the tsunami videos and I watch houses and cars sucked away, all I can imagine is the people trapped inside. One image that stays with me is a white mini-van, nose tipped down as it's pulled into the swirling waters of a river, its rear wiper waving ineffectually.

The rear wiper won't operate unless someone is in the car.

 Here on the other side of the world, life seems unnaturally normal. It feels unfair, when in Japan, whole towns have been washed away, and the anticipation of any kind of normal is years, even decades away.

Thanks to fellow blogger, Stacy S. Jensen, I've discovered a site specifically for writers to donate to disaster victims. It's called Writers for the Red Cross. When you donate through the site, writers receive a variety of goodies, like books and tote bags.

On the site, writers can bid on auctions for critiques, phone consults with authors and agents, and even marketing tools. Each week brings a new batch of bidding items. At the top of the page, you'll find links to view all the donated items from each week. There are three weeks worth of donated items left.

Things like:
-a critique or book basket from agent Jennifer Laughran (more about her here)
-a professional blog design
-for self-publishing authors, an interior design and layout of your book, or a book cover design
-manuscript, query letter, and proposal critiques by published authors, agents, and editors
-phone consultations with publicity and marketing professionals

If you'd rather not participate in an auction, for every $25 you donate, you can pick a free book from a huge list, both fiction and nonfiction. Or, if there are some books you've planned to buy anyway, click on the Bookstore Link to go to your favorite online store, and 5% of your purchase price will go to the Red Cross.

Head over to the Writers for the Red Cross right now.

What could be better? Helping others and more books?

New Beginnings: Encouraging Words for Those Embarking on the Writing Journey

I'm speaking to a group of writers this morning. Everyday people who are exploring how writing could be part of their lives. They're not necessarily writers now.

But they can be.

My talk today will not be tips on point of view or plotting. It won't include advice on query letters or agent searches. And it will not focus on researching, editing or marketing.

You probably have these conversations from time to time. After mentioning you're a writer, someone replies, "I've always wanted to write a book." 

What do you tell them? 

You don't want to discourage them by listing the 87 reasons the writing life is hard. You don't want to overwhelm them with all they have to learn about the craft. You want to encourage them to explore the ways writing can enrich their lives.

So here's what I'm planning to say today.

1. If you write, you are a writer. Don't believe for one second that finishing a book, or getting an article published is "being a writer". You are a writer now--no matter if anyone else is even aware that you write.

2. The more you write, the better you'll get. For a long time I believed that "real writers" were born that way. That writing was only a hobby for me, since I knew my writing had weaknesses. But the truth is, anyone can go from nothing to amazing with some hard work. And each word you write, pushes you farther along that path. You can learn to be a better writer. Really.

3.Your writing is like a time capsule--for you and for future generations. No one has the unique set of life experience that you have, filtered through the exact lenses you use to view and interpret the world. Each story or event you write has a piece of you as an integral part. You're leaving a legacy.

I'm sure there's more, so I'd like to ask: What would you say?

People Watching 101: Make Your Characters Leap Off the Page

I grew up in New York City. Rode the subway to and from high school. I was a huge reader, and aspiring writer, so these train rides gave me time for both.

And a huge opportunity to observe people.

When you're locked within a sardine can inside a tunnel beneath the city, you have the luxury of people watching. No one is going anywhere, and most are reading, sleeping or daydreaming--giving you the perfect chance to stare. Unobtrusively, of course.

Here are a few things to take note of when opportunity strikes:

1. Features & Description. When you're sitting alone at the computer, it can be difficult to conjure up a new character. Sure, you can scroll through internet photos, but a real, live person is much easier to describe. You're seeing the whole individual, not just a head shot.

Compare their height and build to those around them. Note the style and fit of their clothes. What their hairstyle (or lack thereof) seems to say about them. How exactly would you describe the tip of that man's nose, that nearly touches his upper lip? Or the elegant line of that woman's neck?

2. Facial Expression. There's nothing like watching a smile "live". Noting how the eyes crinkle up. Whether they allow their teeth to be seen or not. And if they're scowling, they say it takes more muscles to frown than to smile. That means there's a lot more going on in someone's expression than just the shape of their mouth. Forehead, cheeks, eyebrows, eyelids, chin--they all play a part in revealing an individual's mood.

Spend time in a public place, watching facial expressions, and try to gauge the mood of different people. What is it exactly that gives you the impression someone is worried? How did you guess that man is full of pent-up anger? These are the nuances to note and transfer to your manuscript.

For much more on this, check out the links on my facial expression article, one of my most popular posts.

3. Body Language. Like facial expression, this is best observed "live". Some people used their physicality to intimidate. Others pull within themselves so as not to be noticed.

When watching people at a distance, try to identify the gestures and postures that tell you what you can't hear. How do you know those women are disagreeing? What makes you believe that woman is flirting? What are the details that made you guess those businessmen don't like each other?

Be alert for inconsistencies, as well. Someone smiling as they talk, but with a white-knuckled grip on their briefcase, for instance. A couple holding hands, while the woman looks longingly at someone's baby. There are stories everywhere you look.

For much more on this, check out the links on my body language article.

Exercise: Take some time this week to observe people. You might be in waiting rooms, watching other drivers at traffic lights, waiting in airports, or attending large meetings or church gatherings. Have a notebook available to record your impressions.

Get in the habit of being a close observer of people every day. What you actually see will be far more varied and compelling on the page, than what you make up.

Willing to give it a try?

Agent Friday: Kae Tienstra

Take a public relations professional who loves books. Blend with an English Literature major with a masters in Library Science. Throw in a desire to assist writers on the road to publication, and what do you have? KT Public Relations and Literary Services.

Kae Tienstra and her partner Jon, have been agenting since 2006, and have run the public relations arm since 1993. They represent a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction at their Pennsylvania-based agency. They've been blogging for several years. Here are some highlights you won't want to miss.

Have you been tempted to try one of those querying services? You pay a company to write, send, and keep track of your query letters. Bowker's Manuscript Submissions is one such group. Tienstra gives her take on Bowker, and other query services from an agent's point of view.

One of the big questions writers have is whether they can be successful if they choose to self-publish. Tienstra has an interesting answer, having been involved in publicity for independent authors for years.

Tienstra shares opinions on several different genres, like science fiction, cozy mystery, and romance. Believe it or not, writers can learn a lot from Nora Roberts' work ethic.

You might wonder about what else literary agents do, besides selling your book. Tienstra also answers the question of how an agent/publicist keeps track of which hat they wear.

And finally, Tienstra asks the question, "For whom do you write?" Is it really just for you? Or are you ready to share it with the world?

Looking for more Agent Friday posts? Check them out here.

Time to Write Your Novel? Free Resources to Help You Get It Done

We all have to start somewhere. And tackling a novel is not a project for the squeamish. Avoiding the pitfalls of many writers is a tangible goal, with the help of the internet. Fortunately, there are plenty of writers who take the time to share what they've learned on the journey.

Two of those are Sue Viders and Becky Martinez. Viders is also one of the authors of The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes & Heroines, which I reviewed last week.

These authors have set up a site, Write That Novel, that gives all the information new writers need. Each section contains concise explanations and exercises for practicing what is learned.

There are pages on beginning, basics, plotting, and character. From there, writers can learn about setting, dialogue, pacing, and editing. Once the work of writing is complete, there are pages teaching about getting published; covering the search for agents and editors. There's even a page of helpful forms, like character charts, and printable pages to help keep track of who you've submitted to. And a tutorial on marketing your book.

Of course, if you've written a novel, it's not enough to edit it yourself. It's important to find a critique group, whether in-person or online, who can help you see what you've overlooked. Viders and Martinez have begun a blog, called The Critique Corner, that will cover what critiquing is all about.

Sure, these hard-working writers could just focus on their own work. No one would blame them. But they've taken the time to virtually mentor any writers that discover their site. 

Do you know some generous writers?

Book Review: Writing the Paranormal Novel: Techniques and Exercises for Weaving Supernatural Elements Into Your Story, by Steven Harper

The paranormal genre is not going away. Why? Because there are so many permutations of vampires, werewolves, demons, angels, fairies, ghosts, and witches. Don't forget about the zombies, shape-shifters, time-benders, and gods. All these characters can be placed into romances, thrillers, mysteries, and science fiction.

Maybe you've felt the need to get on the paranormal bandwagon, but you're not sure if you'd be a success. The first place to start is to hone the craft of writing itself. A great writer will write great paranormal novels. Books that will rise to the top of the ever-expanding heap of novels in the genre.

In the book's fifteen chapters, Harper gives the definition of how paranormal differs from a "normal" novel. He breaks down the elements needed, and explains why just adding a vampire or ghost to your completed novel will not make it a paranormal.

Harper helps writers craft three-dimensional paranormal characters, and spends time on the nuances of the paranormal plot and pacing. With great humor, he offers examples from published books, and exercises for the writer, like how to create a unique supernatural object that will be a central focus of your book. 

Writing the Paranormal Novel can give writers the tools they need to step into this ever-expanding genre with confidence. Check out Harper's blog and website, too.

Note: I found a few more resources from this author. Check out his downloadable forms for creating vampires, new cultures, and ordinary people that will inhabit your paranormal story. And this page has his excellent article on Interviewing Techniques for Researching Your Novel.

Big Name Advice: Writing Tips From Famous Writers

I wish I had a mentor. A published writer willing to walk alongside me in my journey to publication. Someone to answer my questions. Generous enough to share advice and steer me around pitfalls. It is my hope to be that kind of mentor one day.

In the meantime, I'm mentored by the novels I read, the books on craft I consume, and the workshops I attend. And thanks to the internet, there are even more writers I can learn from. Writers no longer alive, and writers I'll likely never meet.

Let me introduce you.

George Orwell. The author of Animal Farm shares six questions writers should ask themselves, and six rules writers should follow.

Ernest Hemingway. Check out this iconic author's five tips on writing well. Succinct and helpful.

Steven King. If you haven't read his book, On Writing, it needs to go on your list. In the meantime, here are seven tips for becoming a better writer from the book.

If you could ask a famous author a question, what would it be?

Fuel for the Fire: Take a Class to Ignite Your Writing

It wasn't writer's block. I wasn't stuck. I wasn't out of ideas. I had just lost the energy to write. Rehashing the same chapters over and over, trying to discover that spark to make them come alive, had sapped the creativity I needed to move forward.

Have you been there?

Since it's my birthday this month, I gave myself the present of taking a writing class. I longed to take a class from Margie Lawson, a trained psychologist who uses her decades of knowledge to teach writers how to pull readers into their stories. 

Lawson's lectures and assignments have lit a fuse that is igniting my passion to not only finish my novel, but to make what I've written far better than it was. Do you need a little inspiration?

From Lawson's website: 

"I am fascinated with the emotive power of words. When a scene grabs me, I analyze it, dissect it, figure out what the author did that worked.
How can writers 'up' the emotive power of their work?  By tuning in to the nuances of their characters’ nonverbal communication.  By writing visceral emotion and body language to strengthen subconscious connections with the reader.  By editing deep.  By writing fresh.

Writers work to capture the perfect balance of dialogue, visceral emotion, body language, action, setting, internalizations, and tension for each scene.  The goal is to entrance the reader, lead them into your fictional world, and make them beg to stay."

 Lawson's expertise will have you writing stronger, analyzing for weaknesses, and developing the ability to hook readers with the emotional intensity of your writing.

While Lawson's classes are not free, they are so reasonably priced, you'll be surprised. I'm taking Empowering Character Emotions, a month-long class that will net me over 300 pages of notes from Lawson, including individual critique of my assignments. In the first three days of class, I felt I had already got my $30 worth. For writers who can't invest the time in an online class, Lawson sells the complete lecture packets for any class for $22.

I've been learning from Lawson for years. In her free newsletter, she shares her analysis of current writers, and I learn something every time. Lawson's blog features "how-to" interviews with successful authors. And if you'd like to see the effects of the "deep editing" techniques she teaches, check out her deep editing analyses. Just reading her comments will get you thinking about your own writing.

Would you like to win a one-hour deep-editing consultation with Lawson? You have an opportunity to enter her Dare Devil Dachshund contest each month. The prize includes a pile of goodies and a one-hour Skype chat with Lawson about 15 pages of your manuscript.

I don't receive anything from letting you know about Lawson. I just believe that writers want to know about resources that can make them better writers.

Have you been in a place where you've lost your spark? What helped ignite your desire to write?

Agent Friday: Natalie M. Fischer

If you're prepublished and looking for an agent, sometimes the best strategy can be to query agents just starting out in the business. Natalie Fischer has been agenting for a couple of years, and just recently moved from the Djikstra Agency to The Bradford Literary Agency, both of which are in California.

Fischer's emphasis is on commercial fiction, with a great interest in children's literature. While she is not taking queries during this time of transition, you can read more about her particular interests in fiction and non-fiction.

What's impressive is that though she's just beginning to build her list, she still takes the time to educate writers about the agenting business, and offers tips on making the search for representation a better one.

Here are some posts I think you'll be glad she wrote:

Top Questions Answered, regarding querying, how agents work with clients, trends in the business, and whether blogging helps fiction writers.

Pitching an Agent. What to do, and what not to do.

Common Manuscript Mistakes, and How to Avoid Them. The top three reasons Fischer says "no", and how to keep from making those mistakes. I really like her tips for avoiding horrible pacing. 

How to know if you and your agent should part ways. Great tips to help you discover whether you can work through the issues. 

I'm looking forward to reading more from this energetic agent. I learned a few things today. How about you?

Want to Accomplish Some Writing Goals This Month? Try Some March Madness

I know NaNoWriMo seems so far away. And spring fever might have you itching to close the laptop and spend some quality time outside. Pity your poor manuscript that needs to be finished. I've found the perfect motivational tool, and you might even win some prizes in the process.

My family competes every year to see who can get the most basketball picks correct for March Madness. I lose every year, since I'm not a big sports fan.

But I've found a better contest to join.

A group of five bloggers has teamed up to host March Madness. You get to decide your goal for the month--and it doesn't have to be huge like NaNoWriMo. Maybe you want to edit your manuscript, or finish a certain number of chapters. Perhaps you're brainstorming a new novel, or catching up on reading books in a particular genre. 
The way you win prizes is based upon being accountable. You'll check in by commenting on one of the five blogs each weekday, letting the group know how you're working toward your goal. Your name is entered in the drawing each time you comment.

Each blogger will share a short, but encouraging post on the days they host the contest. It's a great, low-pressure way to increase your output this month.

Here are the blogs to visit:

Anyone ready to give it a try?

Book Review: The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes

  Last week's review covered Archetype Cards, and maybe that got you thinking you'd like to know more about archetypes. I've got the perfect book.

The three authors, Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders, are members of a critique group who researched archetypes to help each others characters come alive. They cover sixteen "master" archetypes in depth in The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes & Heroines.

You may be skeptical of the value of a book like this. Only sixteen archetypes? The authors explain that within each of these designations are many facets of a particular type. For example, Cowden states in an interview with Margie Lawson, "Even those characters within a pattern could be very different from each other, yet there were also strong connections that made them instantly recognizable as belonging in the same group. A good example – Encyclopedia Brown, Mr. Spock and Sherlock Holmes – all members of the same archetypal family (Professor), yet hardly so similar as to be stereotypes."

Sections one and two detail the hero and heroine archetypes, explaining each one's positives and negatives. The authors point out the styles the particular archetype presents in, and notes the occupations these characters gravitate to. Each archetype includes examples of characters from books or movies.

The book gets even better in section three. This is where the authors teach how to take a particular archetype and create a character. They explain the difference between core archetypes, evolving archetypes, and layered archetypes. This is where richly-imagined characters begin.

Section four is a big chunk of the book--Archetype Interactions. It takes each of the sixteen archetypes and examines how they relate, conflict, or get along with the other types. This is great for figuring out the best characters to increase the tension in your story. The authors even discuss which types tend to "pair up" well.

This is a great book for creating characters for your story. But it will also be helpful if you're getting mixed feedback on your manuscript. By examining your characters in the light of this book's information, you might just be able to modify them enough to make your book sing.

If your critique group wrote a writing book, what would the topic be?

Love at First Sight: Finding the Agent Match That's Perfect for You

Just like couples who are attracted by outward, physical traits, you don't want to pick an agent just for their glamor (or who they represent), but dig deep to see if this is a relationship that can last. On a dating site, you wouldn't go out with someone just because they have a profile on the site. You'll check to see if your interests are compatible, and get to know more about them first. 

In the same way, don't query an agent just because they're an agent. This is a long-term relationship, and you want it to last. But lacking a "dating site" for agents, how do you narrow down your search? There are thousands of agents to choose from.

Be aware of your genre. You don't want to send an agent a manuscript that's not right for their interests. And within your genre, figure out what themes you tend to bring out. Are you humorous, or dark? Do your characters tend to be feminists or orphans? The better you know what ideas lurk within, the more targeted will be your agent search. 

Read, read, read. Check out sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing for recommendations of books in your genre. When you read them, take note of the acknowledgments section. Authors usually make mention of their agent. Search the internet for interviews with these agents. They often make note of the kinds of books they're drawn to, even if those authors are not their clients. Find more ideas for this at the Falling Leaflets blog. Highly recommended.

Ask for a recommendation. If you've gathered the names of some agents, but you want to find out more about how they interact with authors, try emailing a few of their clients. Honor their time constraints by being brief, and ask a couple of questions. The benefit of this approach is that you might begin a relationship with an author.

Of course, it goes without saying that you must have a finished and polished manuscript. And a killer query letter. And a plan for which agents to query first

If all this seems daunting, remember it's like joining the army. Boot camp toughens up new soldiers so they're ready for the battles ahead. Think of the query process as your "boot camp" for becoming an author. Down the road, you'll be thankful for your rhino skin, your work ethic, and your professionalism. Ready to march?


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