Thursday, August 30, 2007
To me, book promotion feels like pushing a stubborn boulder up a hill...so if something works, I want to know about it and to share it! ~Suzanne Woods Fisher
A Novel Approach: A Writer Finds her Audience
Copper Star, a critically acclaimed World War II love story from local author Suzanne Woods Fisher, is the surprise summer hit of the season, climbing on the Publisher's Bestseller List the day it released. "The copies are flying off the shelf faster than the author can sign them," said Dawn Carrington, editor-in-chief of VR Publishing. A major motion picture studio is considering the film rights to Copper Star, and its sequel, Copper Fire, has already been contracted, set to release in early 2008. Lauren Duensing, owner of Sage Terrace, said that she was surprised how many copies of Copper Star flew out of her store. "Actually, they continue to fly out," she added. "But considering that I could not put down this wonderful summer `star' of a book, I understand its selling success. It's a great read.
"Getting published in today's competitive market is an achievement in itself, but most hopeful authors are unaware that an even bigger mountain to climb lies behind it: book promotion. "People assume that there is a large marketing budget available to support an author," Fisher explained, "but that's not true, unless your last name rhymes with `bowling'."
So how did Fisher break through?
After reading books on promotion, Fisher borrowed the concept of a `Street Team.' She sent letters out to friends across the country to help spread the word. She provided ten ideas, most of which took less than a minute. For example, Fisher offered postcards and postage for friends to mail to their friends. "It created a ripple effect across the country," she noted.
Fisher targeted book clubs by including a discussion guide at the back of Copper Star. To date, twenty-six book clubs have her book on their fall schedule. She booked speaking engagements with another author, such as a recent standing room-only event as at the Walnut Creek Barnes & Noble Bookstore on the topic: So…You Want to Be a Writer? "I think the key to its success was having a topic that many could relate to," explained Fisher.
She found that positive reviews posted on Amazon impacted sales. "Many people use those reviews—both editorial ones and customer reviews—as the deciding factor for a purchase." Another problem Fisher faced was industry bias against a small press. "I had trouble getting reviews from well known review sites," she said. "There was an inaccurate assumption that a small publisher meant it was a subsidy or vanity press."
Fortunately, the reviews Fisher did receive raved over Copper Star. Librus Lover Book Reviewer Carol Cushman wrote, "Suzanne Woods Fisher's first novel, Copper Star, is a shining example of today's fresh new emerging authors. She links different worlds in the unusual setting of an Arizona copper mining town while allowing us a glimpse into the world of a deaf child and the challenges that presents." Fisher offered parting advice for newly published novelists: "Try to complete at least five promotion tasks per day. Consider it part of your job. But only part! Don't let it take over your writing. You have to keep writing."
Suzanne is a contributing editor for Christian Parenting Today. Her work has appeared in Today's Christian Woman, Marriage Partnership, Worldwide Challenge, ParentLife, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Children with Special Needs and many others. Married with four children, Fisher lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She raises puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Copper Star is available through all major booksellers. Suggested retail price: $14.89
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Monday, August 27, 2007
This is the meaning of the well-known expression "Write what you know."
Thursday, August 23, 2007
I rarely get cranky ... I'm a pretty easy going person. But there are a few things that bug me.
Being late. I hate it.
Paperwork. Just shoot me.
My weaknesses. I understand when others mess up. I just don't want to!
People who complain. Which makes me laugh reading the above list!
Yesterday included all of the above. It started when I woke up in a funk and kicked off when my puppy chewed up a ant poison stake. (I learned from my vet to make your dog puke just give him a teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide. It works!)
The call to the vet and the puking made us late for my grandma and son's eye appointments, which made everyone complain. And guess what was waiting when I got home? Edits and paperwork.
(Oh, yes, and the dog is fine!)
Being a writer would be easy if there weren't dogs and people and problems, but I need to remember life isn't about writing. Life is about LIFE.
Here are some quotes from Brennan Manning that reminded me of that:
Openness serves as a bridge to the world of others. It enables us to get involved with others, to understand the thoughts of others, to feel what others are feeling. In other words, if we’re open, we’re able to enter the existential world of others even if at times we can’t identify with someone’s particular world. ~Brennan Manning, The Wisdom of Tenderness, p. 113
We’re not in favor of life simply because we’re warding off death. We’re for life because we are for Abba, the essence of all life. And we mature in the wisdom of accepted tenderness to the extent that we stand up for the less fortunate; to the extent that no human flesh is a stranger to us; to the extent that we can touch the hand of another in love; to the extent that for us there truly are no “others.” ~Brennan Manning, The Wisdom of Tenderness, p. 111
Writing, for me, is a closed world. My thoughts. My time. My computer.
But if I'm not involved with others ... what good are my words?
Today, my prayer is that I'm open to the world around me ... not just the one in my head. And that I may touch the hand of another in love ... not only with words.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Here are the first lines of those:
Rosalie Matthew's thumb played with the ring on her finger, still not used to its feel.
--Rosie the Riveter, WWII historical novel (co-written with my friend Ocieanna)
Every afternoon an air of expectancy filled the city as Londoners awaited the arrival of their heroes from bombing raids. Like knights of old, the strongest steeds arrived first.
--A Secret Courage, WWII historical novel
And here is the first line for my next novel that’s due, just started:
The beep-beep-beep of the hand-held video game in Chris’s hands joined with the sound of bacon frying in the pan and the energetic tune from the radio in Emily’s room.
--Sweet September, contemporary novel
Friday, August 17, 2007
#28: Put the reader in the action. Seriously. Let the reader experience the emotions and the journey. It's another way of saying show, don't tell.
#29: Walking, talking, coffee drinking are boring. Don't bore the reader. Dramatic events would be nice. No, not just nice. They are essential. Always think events--real time, real space, real action.
#30: Never let the tension drop! Tension and excitement on every page is more than a nice bonus. It's essential. A person shouldn't be able to skip even one page, let alone 4 or 5 or heaven forbid, skim through the book looking for something that moves the story forward.
#31: Research is good but only if it somehow impacts the characters or adds colorful detail.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
How to Write a Novel: The Snowflake Method
Writing a novel is easy. Writing a good novel is hard. That's just life. If it were easy, we'd all be writing best-selling, prize-winning fiction.
Frankly, there are a thousand different people out there who can tell you how to write a novel. There are a thousand different methods. The best one for you is the one that works for you.
In this article, I'd like to share with you what works for me. I've published six novels and won about a dozen awards for my writing. I teach the craft of writing fiction at writing conferences all the time. One of my most popular lectures is this one: How to write a novel using what I call the "Snowflake Method."
This page is the most popular one on my web site, and gets hundreds of page views per day, so you can guess that a lot of people find it useful. But you may not, and that's fine by me. Look it over, decide what might work for you, and ignore the rest! If it makes you puke, I won't be insulted. Different writers are different. If my methods get you rolling, I'll be happy. I'll make the best case I can for my way of organizing things, but you are the final judge of what works best for you. Have fun . . . write your novel!
The Importance of Design
Good fiction doesn't just happen, it is designed. You can do the design work before or after you write your novel. I've done it both ways and I strongly believe that doing it first is quicker and leads to a better result. Design is hard work, so it's important to find a guiding principle early on. This article will give you a powerful metaphor to guide your design.
Our fundamental question is this: How do you design a novel?
For a number of years, I was a software architect designing large software projects. I write novels the same way I write software, using the "snowflake metaphor". OK, what's the snowflake metaphor? Before you go further, take a look at this cool web site.
At the top of the page, you'll see a cute pattern known as a snowflake fractal. Don't tell anyone, but this is an important mathematical object that's been widely studied. For our purposes, it's just a cool sketch of a snowflake. If you scroll down that same web page a little, you'll see a box with a large triangle in it and arrows underneath. If you press the right-arrow button repeatedly, you'll see the steps used to create the snowflake. It doesn't look much like a snowflake at first, but after a few steps, it starts looking more and more like one, until it's done.
If you're like most people, you spend a long time thinking about your novel before you ever start writing. You may do some research. You daydream about how the story's going to work. You brainstorm. You start hearing the voices of different characters. You think about what the book's about -- the Deep Theme. This is an essential part of every book which I call "composting". It's an informal process and every writer does it differently. I'm going to assume that you know how to compost your story ideas and that you have already got a novel well-composted in your mind and that you're ready to sit down and start writing that novel.
The Ten Steps of Design
But before you start writing, you need to get organized. You need to put all those wonderful ideas down on paper in a form you can use. Why? Because your memory is fallible, and your creativity has probably left a lot of holes in your story -- holes you need to fill in before you start writing your novel. You need a design document. And you need to produce it using a process that doesn't kill your desire to actually write the story.
Here is my ten-step process for writing a design document. I use this process for writing my novels, and I hope it will help you.
Step 1) Take an hour and write a one-sentence summary of your novel. Something like this: "A rogue physicist travels back in time to kill the apostle Paul." (This is the summary for my first novel, Transgression.) The sentence will serve you forever as a ten-second selling tool. This is the big picture, the analog of that big starting triangle in the snowflake picture.
When you later write your book proposal, this sentence should appear very early in the proposal. It's the hook that will sell your book to your editor, to your committee, to the sales force, to bookstore owners, and ultimately to readers. So make the best one you can!
Some hints on what makes a good sentence:
Shorter is better. Try for fewer than 15 words.
No character names, please! Better to say "a handicapped trapeze artist" than "Jane Doe".
Tie together the big picture and the personal picture. Which character has the most to lose in this story? Now tell me what he or she wants to win.
Read the one-line blurbs on the New York Times Bestseller list to learn how to do this. Writing a one-sentence description is an art form.
Step 2) Take another hour and expand that sentence to a full paragraph describing the story setup, major disasters, and ending of the novel. This is the analog of the second stage of the snowflake. I like to structure a story as "three disasters plus an ending". Each of the disasters takes a quarter of the book to develop and the ending takes the final quarter. I don't know if this is the ideal structure, it's just my personal taste.
If you believe in the Three-Act structure, then the first disaster corresponds to the end of Act 1. The second disaster is the mid-point of Act 2. The third disaster is the end of Act 2, and forces Act 3 which wraps things up. It is OK to have the first disaster be caused by external circumstances, but I think that the second and third disasters should be caused by the protagonists's attempts to "fix things". Things just get worse and worse.
You can also use this paragraph in your proposal. Ideally, your paragraph will have about five sentences. One sentence to give me the backdrop and story setup. Then one sentence each for your three disasters. Then one more sentence to tell the ending. If this sounds suspiciously like back-cover copy, it's because . . . that's what it is and that's where it's going to appear someday.
Step 3) The above gives you a high-level view of your novel. Now you need something similar for the storylines of each of your characters. Characters are the most important part of any novel, and the time you invest in designing them up front will pay off ten-fold when you start writing. For each of your major characters, take an hour and write a one-page summary sheet that tells:
The character's name
A one-sentence summary of the character's storyline
The character's motivation (what does he/she want abstractly?)
The character's goal (what does he/she want concretely?)
The character's conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?)
The character's epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?
A one-paragraph summary of the character's storyline
An important point: You may find that you need to go back and revise your one-sentence summary and/or your one-paragraph summary. Go ahead! This is good--it means your characters are teaching you things about your story. It's always okay at any stage of the design process to go back and revise earlier stages. In fact, it's not just okay--it's inevitable. And it's good. Any revisions you make now are revisions you won't need to make later on to a clunky 400 page manuscript.
Another important point: It doesn't have to be perfect. The purpose of each step in the design process is to advance you to the next step. Keep your forward momentum! You can always come back later and fix it when you understand the story better. You will do this too, unless you're a lot smarter than I am.
Step 4) By this stage, you should have a good idea of the large-scale structure of your novel, and you have only spent a day or two. Well, truthfully, you may have spent as much as a week, but it doesn't matter. If the story is broken, you know it now, rather than after investing 500 hours in a rambling first draft. So now just keep growing the story. Take several hours and expand each sentence of your summary paragraph into a full paragraph. All but the last paragraph should end in a disaster. The final paragraph should tell how the book ends.
This is a lot of fun, and at the end of the exercise, you have a pretty decent one-page skeleton of your novel. It's okay if you can't get it all onto one single-spaced page. What matters is that you are growing the ideas that will go into your story. You are expanding the conflict. You should now have a synopsis suitable for a proposal, although there is a better alternative for proposals . . .
Step 5) Take a day or two and write up a one-page description of each major character and a half-page description of the other important characters. These "character synopses" should tell the story from the point of view of each character. As always, feel free to cycle back to the earlier steps and make revisions as you learn cool stuff about your characters. I usually enjoy this step the most and lately, I have been putting the resulting "character synopses" into my proposals instead of a plot-based synopsis. Editors love character synopses, because editors love character-based fiction.
Step 6) By now, you have a solid story and several story-threads, one for each character. Now take a week and expand the one-page plot synopsis of the novel to a four-page synopsis. Basically, you will again be expanding each paragraph from step (4) into a full page. This is a lot of fun, because you are figuring out the high-level logic of the story and making strategic decisions. Here, you will definitely want to cycle back and fix things in the earlier steps as you gain insight into the story and new ideas whack you in the face.
Step 7) Take another week and expand your character descriptions into full-fledged character charts detailing everything there is to know about each character. The standard stuff such as birthdate, description, history, motivation, goal, etc. Most importantly, how will this character change by the end of the novel? This is an expansion of your work in step (3), and it will teach you a lot about your characters. You will probably go back and revise steps (1-6) as your characters become "real" to you and begin making petulant demands on the story. This is good -- great fiction is character-driven. Take as much time as you need to do this, because you're just saving time downstream. When you have finished this process, (and it may take a full month of solid effort to get here), you are ready to write a proposal and sell this novel. Do so.
Step 8) You may or may not take a hiatus here, waiting for the book to sell. At some point, you've got to actually write the novel. Before you do that, there are a couple of things you can do to make that traumatic first draft easier. The first thing to do is to take that four-page synopsis and make a list of all the scenes that you'll need to turn the story into a novel. And the easiest way to make that list is . . . with a spreadsheet.
For some reason, this is scary to a lot of writers. Oh the horror. Deal with it. You learned to use a word-processor. Spreadsheets are easier. You need to make a list of scenes, and spreadsheets were invented for making lists. If you need some tutoring, buy a book. There are a thousand out there, and one of them will work for you. It should take you less than a day to learn the itty bit you need. It'll be the most valuable day you ever spent. Do it.
Make a spreadsheet detailing the scenes that emerge from your four-page plot outline. Make just one line for each scene. In one column, list the POV character. In another (wide) column, tell what happens. If you want to get fancy, add more columns that tell you how many pages you expect to write for the scene. A spreadsheet is ideal, because you can see the whole storyline at a glance, and it's easy to move scenes around to reorder things.
My spreadsheets usually wind up being over 100 lines long, one line for each scene of the novel. As I develop the story, I make new versions of my story spreadsheet. This is incredibly valuable for analyzing a story. It can take a week to make a good spreadsheet. When you are done, you can add a new column for chapter numbers and assign a chapter to each scene.
Step 9) (Optional. I don't do this step anymore.) Switch back to your word processor and begin writing a narrative description of the story. Take each line of the spreadsheet and expand it to a multi-paragraph description of the scene. Put in any cool lines of dialogue you think of, and sketch out the essential conflict of that scene. If there's no conflict, you'll know it here and you should either add conflict or scrub the scene.
I used to write either one or two pages per chapter, and I started each chapter on a new page. Then I just printed it all out and put it in a loose-leaf notebook, so I could easily swap chapters around later or revise chapters without messing up the others. This process usually took me a week and the end result was a massive 50-page printed document that I would revise in red ink as I wrote the first draft. All my good ideas when I wake up in the morning got hand-written in the margins of this document. This, by the way, is a rather painless way of writing that dreaded detailed synopsis that all writers seem to hate. But it's actually fun to develop, if you have done steps (1) through (8) first. When I did this step, I never showed this synopsis to anyone, least of all to an editor -- it was for me alone. I liked to think of it as the prototype first draft. Imagine writing a first draft in a week! Yes, you can do it and it's well worth the time. But I'll be honest, I don't feel like I need this step anymore, so I don't do it now.
Step 10) At this point, just sit down and start pounding out the real first draft of the novel. You will be astounded at how fast the story flies out of your fingers at this stage. I have seen writers triple their writing speed overnight, while producing better quality first drafts than they usually produce on a third draft.
You might think that all the creativity is chewed out of the story by this time. Well, no, not unless you overdid your analysis when you wrote your Snowflake. This is supposed to be the fun part, because there are many small-scale logic problems to work out here. How does Hero get out of that tree surrounded by alligators and rescue Heroine who's in the burning rowboat? This is the time to figure it out! But it's fun because you already know that the large-scale structure of the novel works. So you only have to solve a limited set of problems, and so you can write relatively fast.
This stage is incredibly fun and exciting. I have heard many writers complain about how hard the first draft is. Invariably, they are seat-of-the-pants writers who have no clue what's coming next. Good grief! Life is too short to write like that! There is no reason to spend 500 hours writing a wandering first draft of your novel when you can write a solid one in 150. Counting the 100 hours it takes to do the design documents, you come out way ahead in time.
(I'll note that many seat-of-the-pants writers shriek at the thought of doing a Snowflake document. That's fine. Different people are different. I suspect you know already whether the Snowflake is something that's going to work for you or not. Even if it does work for you, I'd encourage you to improvise on it. May a thousand different Snowflake methods bloom!) There is not just one solution to the problem of how to write a novel, there are many. Use the one that works for you.
About midway through a first draft, I usually take a breather and fix all the broken parts of my design documents. Yes, the design documents are not perfect! That's okay! The design documents are not fixed in concrete, they are a living set of documents that grows as you develop your novel. If you are doing your job right, at the end of the first draft you will laugh at what an amateurish piece of junk your design documents were. And you'll be thrilled at how deep your story has become.
That's All! That's the Snowflake Method. It works for me and for many of my writer friends who have tried it. I've lost track of how many people around the world who have emailed me to say that the Snowflake helped them get their novel on track. So it works for a lot of people. I hope it works for you.
Ways To Use The Snowflake
Are you struggling right now with a horrible first draft of your novel that just seems hopeless? Take an hour and summarize your story in one sentence. Does that clarify things? You've just completed step (1) of the Snowflake, and it only took an hour. Why not try the next few steps of the Snowflake and see if your story doesn't suddenly start coming to life? What have you got to lose, except a horrible first draft that you already hate?
Are you a seat-of-the-pants writer who finally finished your novel, but now you're staring at an enormous pile of manuscript that desperately needs rewriting? Take heart! Your novel's done, isn't it? You've done something many writers only dream about. Now imagine a big-shot editor bumps into you in the elevator and asks what your novel's about. In fifteen words or less, what would you say? Take your time! This is a thought game. What would you say? If you can come up with an answer in the next hour . . . you've just completed Step 1 of the Snowflake! Do you think some of the other steps might help you put some order into that manuscript? Give it a shot. What have you got to lose?
Have you just got a nightmarishly long letter from your editor detailing all the things that are wrong with your novel? Are you wondering how you can possibly make all the changes before your impossible deadline? It's never too late to do the Snowflake. How about if you take a week and drill through all the steps right now? It'll clarify things wonderfully, and then you'll have a plan for executing all those revisions. I bet you'll get it done in record time. And I bet the book will come out better than you imagined.
If the Snowflake Method works for you, I'd like to hear from you. You can reach me through the contact page on my web-site.
Acknowledgments: I thank my many friends on the Chi Libris list and especially Janelle Schneider for a large number of discussions on the Snowflake and much else.
For more great articles and helpful "hints" visit Randy's website!
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
And don't start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.
~William Safire, "Great Rules of Writing"
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
We're talking about my novels (anything you care to know :-)), and books I'm reading.
Currently,we're chatting about Camy Tang's Sushi for One.
I'd love for you to join us!http://www.shelfari.com/groups/11674/discussions
Monday, August 13, 2007
Thursday, August 9, 2007
I thought this applied to everything we write, from novels, to essays, to simple blog posts!
Put Yourself in Your Reader’s Shoes
Ask yourself the kind of questions that will help you extend your awareness to your reader.
- What wins you over?
- How and why do you respond?
- What makes you feel well served?
Be an attentive reader, asking yourself questions such as
- Is this style too complex to be readable? Too plain? Just right—and why?
- What is the writer’s tone and how does he achieve it? Do I like it or don’t I?
- Do I like this two-sentence paragraph? Why does he use a semicolon here instead of a period?
Reading attentively will not only improve your effectiveness, but your attitude toward your writing as well. You will see the challenge in serving your reader before yourself. Your reader’s needs, not your own, will dominate your thinking.
You will start asking yourself questions such as
- How can I identify with my readers?
- How can I empathize with them?
- What are their needs?
- What is convenient for them?
- How can my writing help them know and love God more?
As you become more effective in your writing, you will develop a sense of joy, as you give God glory by serving and loving other people.
“To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mk 12:33)
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
(Tricia and Robin Jones Gunn, at our joint booksigning.)
Last week, I was going through my bookshelf, looking for a new journal (I'd filled up my old one), when I found one dating back to 1998. The beginning of the notebook had notes from the Mount Hermon writing conference. I was amazing how the notes I took then still ring true to me today.
One set of workshop notes came from my dear friend and mentor, Robin Jones Gunn. I'd signed up to take her class hoping for some ideas on how to write better fiction. Robin helped do that by first pointing us to our own hearts.
"All great books come from the heart of the author and from the essence of the author's life experiences" said Robin. Though there are part of our lives in which there are spaces of silences, there is also "rough stuff" we must draw from in our writing.
Robin encouraged us to see writing as not just "all about us." But to instead see where God has been working in our lives. Two questions she encouraged us to ask were:
What purpose has He given me?
What is His desire?
The next thing Robin had us do, in class, was to write our personal story, starting from our birth to present day--hitting the high and low points. After that was done, she asked us to highlight certain areas with different colored markers. These points were:
This was a life-transforming activity, and these themes could clearly be seen:
Unwed pregnancy (both me and my mom)
Love of books and reading
Intimacy and Heartache
Longings for love
Teen in the 80s (media influences)
God's liberation and transformation
Raising a godly family
Heart-connections with people in my past
Above is my expanded list--it has grown since 1998--but major themes continue to resurface, especially themes of liberation and restoration.
Looking back on the time between now and 1998, it was amazing to realize I've had ten books published since then, and ALL OF THESE BOOKS deal with one of these themes. Even my fiction novels include children born out of wedlock, women abandoned by men they loved, and liberation--both internal and external. (External being WWII/Spanish Civil War.)
I've written many other book proposals, of course, but none of those have been accepted. Maybe even the publishers were able to tell those book that came from my heart--because my heart was touched by the issue in some way?
So what about you? Where major events have touched your life? Where can you see God at work? As David Crowder sings, "Wherever you've been, He's been there."
I would highly recommend you try this activity. After all, the message God speaks in your life are often the same ones He desires to speak through your words.
Monday, August 6, 2007
Friday, August 3, 2007
and 15 -19 here and 20-23 here
#24: Keep a Character's Dialogue and Actions in the Same Paragraph I haven't done a purely formatting tip since Tip #2 so I thought it was time, especially after all that marketplace talk.
Beginning novelists don't always understand that there are real rules when it comes to formatting dialogue in fiction. They also don't always realize that the reader has come to understand that certain formatting cues imply certain things to the reader. But these must be understood and mastered in order to be sure the reader is not confused.
I won't go much into formatting dialogue except to say that the punctuation should almost always go inside the quotation marks and that you often use a comma where normally you would use a period. Here's an example.
Wrong: "That's a wonderful sentence." he said.
Wrong: "That's a wonderful sentence", he said.
Right: "That's a wonderful sentence," he said.
Note that the period should've been a comma in the first example and the comma outside the quotation mark should've been inside it in the second.
This pattern holds true even if the spoken sentence continues.
"That's a wonderful sentence," he said, "but shouldn't you stop talking now?"
"That's a wonderful sentence," he said. "But shouldn't you stop talking now?"
Keeping Dialogue and Action Together
Tell me who is speaking here:
Jennifer moved to the window.
"You don't really mean that, do you?"
"Of course I do."
"What does it mean?"
"It means we're no longer the 'it' couple."
He drained his beer.
On the mantle the clock chimed eleven.
"I hate you."
Now, besides the obvious literary grandeur of that exchange, what did you notice that was odd about it?
Hopefully you noticed that it was very difficult to detect who was talking. What if I told you that it was Jennifer who said, "It means we're no longer the 'it' couple" and it was Larry who said "I hate you"? Is that what you got out of it? Well, maybe that's what the author meant.
The point is you don't know because you can't tell. The author separated the character's spoken words from his or her actions.
It doesn't sound like a big error, I know, but it's very confusing to the reader. I see it all the time in the unpublished manuscripts I work with. The good news is that it can be easily fixed.
Now read the scene again and see if you can follow along better.
Jennifer moved to the window. "You don't really mean that, do you?"
"Of course I do." Larry belched.
"What does it mean?"
"It means we're no longer the 'it' couple." He drained his beer.
Jennifer sobbed. On the mantle the clock chimed eleven. "I hate you."
Note that it could've been parsed differently, and thus interpreted differently, by attaching different spoken lines to different action beats."
The reader needs you to attach the action to the spoken words in order to maintain a fix on who is speaking. For the sake of clarity, keep a character's dialogue together in the same paragraph with that character's actions.
What you're doing is using the character's actions in three ways: 1) as a speech attribution (see Tip #14), 2) as a beat to manage pacing, and 3) as a tie-down to the setting. Plus you're keeping your reader oriented as to what's happening.
Simple little technique. Big payoff. Go thou and do likewise.
#25: Have a clearly definable conflict in your story—not a negative one either. Not a passive one—resisting change. A negative goal makes it difficult to keep your characters together. Not—they don't want to be together because he reminds her of something bad. But— she must convince him to admit his paternity to his daughter before it's too late for the child to have the needed surgery.
#26: In my book on writing for a living, QUIT YOUR DAY JOB, I say that writing is "a holy calling." I certainly do feel called to write. But the fact that God has called you doesn't mean you don't have to suffer painful indignities and work like a dog before your calling is fulfilled.
Joseph in Genesis had a calling from God. He was called to save his family from famine, but God took him through all kinds of injustice, suffering, betrayal, slavery, and wrongful imprisonment before his calling was fulfilled. He spent seventeen years in slavery and prison—the PRIME years of his twenties and early thirties—before God elevated him and brought him into his calling.
Everything worth doing demands perseverance. If writing was easy, everybody would do it. It's hard and it takes a lot of persistence, and that's why those who can legitimately call themselves writers are few. Every writer goes through rejection. Sorry, no exceptions. It's the nature of the business. I've been writing fulltime since 1989, and I still receive an average of one or two rejections a month. It's not something you whine and moan about. It's just part of the business. Ray Bradbury talked of getting rejection letters forty years into his career.
Dr. Seuss's first book was rejected 23 times before it was picked up—then it sold 6 million copies. Madeleine L'Engle's A WRINKLE IN TIME: more than 30 rejections.
Richard Hooker's M*A*S*H: 21 rejections.
Richard Bach's JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL: 18 rejections.
Frank Herbert's DUNE: 13 rejections.
Mystery writer Donald Westlake actually papered the wall of his apartment with rejection slips; he had collected 204 rejection slips by the time he sold his first story.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Of course, my dedication to writing isn't all bad. When I first wrote, I did it while my kids were napping or after they went to bed. It was “my time” away from the cooking, cleaning, and diapers.
Once the kids got older they had to learn that “mom had work too.” I wasn’t always there to entertain them. This actually turned out to be a good thing. As the kids got older, they knew how to entertain themselves. And since all three of them were home together every day, they were always busy creating forts or producing skits. They became best pals!
Having kids who know how to keep themselves occupied is huge. I have a lot of friends whose kids need to be entertained. They have to have mom there, providing them with things to do or shuffling them from one activity to another. So in the end, my writing time has become a great benefit to my family.
I also feel it's beneficial for my kids to see Mom doing big things. It gives them confidence in their own interests. If mom can think up an idea, work hard, and produce a book . . . why can't they follow their dreams?
My writing also expands my kids' vision. For instance, my kids hear me talk about my travels and/or the people I interview. Expanding our horizons and connecting with others become common place.
Then again, there is another person effected by my writing. My husband John has always been my biggest cheerleader. He believed in me long before anyone else. Even today he listens to my ideas and gives me great feedback. He’s put up with my trips (to writing conferences, speaking events, book conventions), and he understands when I sometimes get too carried away at the bookstore ($$$!). Also, as I grow as a writer, I also grow in all areas of my life. I honestly feel I'm a better wife due to the lessons I've learned on this writing path.
And personally, I feel I'm also a stronger person because of my path to publication. Writing has opened new doors for me, and it has helped me become more confident. Writing makes me happy . . . and a happy wife is a good wife and mom.
Also, I feel this career is in line with the Proverbs 31 woman. (Who can forget her?) Whether she was reality, or a mere symbol, who this woman was in Christ made the difference in all areas of her life. The Proverbs 31 woman not only focused on her family, she also used her creative talents for God’s glory . . . and her husband and children rose to call her blessed!
Also, as children of God, we NEED to feel like what we do fulfills our God-given dreams. These dreams matter. In my opinion, too many women pour so much into their families that they no longer feel there is any of “them” left. Even taking one small step, followed by another, helps us to feel like we're making progress in following God's dreams.
Of course, balance is everything. I’ve really had to learn when to stop for the day. I usually keep my writing to afternoons. My kids get my mornings (through homeschool) and my husband and family get my evenings. Once my husband’s home for the day, I’m around. I cook dinner and spend time in the evenings with him. I’m sure I could get a lot more accomplishing (writing-wise) if I turned everything over to him and ran upstairs for free writing time, but my marriage is too important for that.
I've also had to come up with "management tips" for life.
1. I plan all my errands for one or two days. Running to the store, post office, etc. everyday would be a BIG time killer.
2. I’ve trained my kids to take part in household chores. My oldest son does all the floors and trash removal. My youngest son sets and clears the table and puts the food away. He also cares for our pets and gathers all the dirty laundry. My daughter does all the dishes and keeps the kitchen clean. It’s great training and a big help for mom!
3. I hire someone to come in a clean for four or five hours every few weeks. It’s been so worth the cost—both for writing time and my peace of mind.
Balancing family and writing is never easy, but I try to keep my priorities straight. They old saying goes, “You’ll never get to the end of your life and say, I wish I would have worked more.”
Finally, my writing benefits from these priorities too. When it comes to putting words on the page, I just do it. Since I have kids I have to sit down and produce. There’s no letting my mind wander, no playing around on the computer. And I actually think that because of this I get a lot more done than others I know who have all day to write.
My family is also my inspiration. They have shown me how to love, how to cry, how to rejoice. My writing would be flat and lifeless without those I love most.