The Grueling Process of Submission (Part three): Main Characters, Adverbs, and Adjectives
This is the final post in my series on this topic. If you missed the first two, you can find them here
Before I give my final tips, I want to reiterate that agents, editors, and contest judges are looking for reasons to reject your manuscript. This is completely different from readers, who are usually willing to give your first several chapters a chance, if you hook them in with an interesting character, great writing, or a plot they can't resist. Readers want to love every book they pick up. Agents and editors can't afford to do so, and they don't have the time. So the tips I've been giving you in this series are meant to help you AVOID giving these gatekeepers reasons, besides your plot or characters, to reject your manuscript.
So let's look at your characters. We all know we don't want stereotypical characters--no cute, snotty cheerleaders and jock football players who only want one thing; we all write unique and interesting beings. (I won't say human beings because they could be animals or aliens, right?) David Kirkland, author and editor with High Hill Press, whom I've told you gave me the idea for these blog posts, said this about the characters in the beginning pages of your novel, "Ask yourself: Does it [your manuscript] open with important characters? Sometimes the opening pages [I've read in submissions] have mostly been about minor characters. That
misleads the reader."
I couldn't agree more. I have read countless manuscripts, with and without prologues, where some character has hijacked the first several pages and then disappeared--and not because it is a murder mystery and this person was killed. If I haven't made the following point already, I will try to emphasize it well here. The two best ways to figure out how to open your novel is to 1. read books in your genre and study how other authors do it 2. get a critique group and let them focus on your beginning.
Present your main character in the first pages, and be clear (usually) by the end of chapter one what the main problem is in the novel--When is the moment life changed for this character and what is the journey this problem is sending him or her on? This is where you start and whom you start with.
Finally, let's look again at the writing craft--adverbs and adjectives to be specific. I have said on here many times that one of the best books on writing you can read is On Writing
by Stephen King, so I'm sorry if I sound like a broken record. You don't need my blog posts, if you have read this book. It's inspirational and instructional! Anyway, he harps on this point about adverbs (especially) and adjectives. You should use them sparingly. (Ha!) If you find yourself using a lot of adverbs and adjectives, ask yourself if you could replace these with more specific verbs, nouns, or figurative language that is not cliche.
One thing I've noticed is the overuse of color words. A writer will say something like: In her red crimson dress, Mrs. Adams glanced around the room, noticing the brown couch with its light gray sparkles, which did not match the shag green carpet.
When I read that sentence, I'm trying to picture all those colors, which I'm not even sure matter in this case, unless Mrs. Adams is an interior decorator, and that's what this book is about. Again, read your favorite published, successful authors and see what they choose to describe and how. Yes, you will notice adjectives, color words, and adverbs--they are not evil--but how do these authors handle description and specific nouns and verbs?
Best of luck to you. I wish all your writing and publishing dreams will come true. And hopefully this little three part series helped in some way with that dream.
Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, teacher, and published author, living in St. Louis, MO. She blogs on a regular basis about being a single mom and writing at http://www.margoldill.com, where you can also find a list of her children's books. She teaches novel writing for WOW!, and you can find her class here.
photo above by Guudmorning! on flickr.com
Labels: adjective usage, adverb usage, beginning pages, Characters
Market Spotlight: Boys' Life
As I have a Cub Scout and den leader in my house, copies of Boys’ Life
arrive in our mailbox without fail each month. Because I love magazines of all types, and am a freelance writer, I usually flip through them to get an idea of what kinds of stories they run. Here's a market overview of Boys' Life that will hopefully help you make some new sales soon.
is a general interest magazine that targets boys ages 6 to 17 years of age. Specifically, the guidelines suggest writers “write for a boy you know who is 12,” with punchy, crisp, and straightforward writing.
An Overview of Content:
A look at the Boys’ Life
issues over the past few months includes feature stories on how one troop in Atlanta, Ga. swam with whale sharks in the Georgia Aquarium after raising enough money to pay for their training, a troop’s backpacking trip through Arizona’s painted desert, and how another troop visited the Sea Scout Base in Galveston, Tx.
Besides features, the magazine is chock full of reader-submitted jokes (my son’s personal favorite section), columns on health, science, and nature topics, cartoons, puzzles, profiles of scouts and scout leaders, short stories, and a BL Workshop with regular building project.
What You Can Submit:
Nonfiction articles. Articles run 500-1,500 words and the pay is around $1 a word. Boys’ Life
editors state that a look at the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) list of 100 merit badge pamphlets is a good place to brainstorm topics. Query Managing Editor Paula Murphey.
Departments run up to 600 words and the pay is $100-$600. Each issue runs an average of seven departments that cover sports, aviation, entertainment, pets, health, science, etc. Query Associate Editor Clay Swartz.
The magazine also has monthly Readers’ Page where readers under the age of 18 can share their adventures related to scouting. This page pays $25 per submission.
Short stories are by assignment only, so Boys’ Life
is not accepting queries for fiction. Also, according to the most recent guidelines, the magazine only accepts submissions through snail mail to 1325 West Walnut Hill Lane, P.O. Box 152079, Irving, TX 75015-2079.
I encourage you to check out a few back issues if possible. I could see this also being a great market for educators who are looking to do some freelance work with the wide range of topics covered.
Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who has written hundreds of articles for parenting websites and magazines. Visit her website at FinishedPages.com.
Labels: Boy Scouts of America, Boys' Life magazine, Renee Roberson, submission tips, writer guidelines, writing advice
Interview with Flash Fiction Runner Up, Allison Walters Luther
After living in such varied places as Southern Indiana, England, Southwest Florida, and Southern California, Allison Walters currently wakes up each day in the Seattle area. With three children ages six and under, she spends her days doing laundry, pretending not to see the crackers all over the floor, and writing stories in her head.*
When she’s not busy rescuing the children from whatever mess they’ve gotten themselves into, Allison is an avid reader, NSFW cross-stitch enthusiast, and general science and pop-culture geek. With two children on the autism spectrum, she is passionate about autism advocacy, and, if given the chance, will also talk your ear off about women’s rights and English and Scottish history.
Her favorite writing genres include historical fiction, horror, and suspense/thriller. She recently finished the first draft of her first novel, Bad River, set in 1860s Dakota Territory, and is looking forward to working on the revision in the next few months. Currently, she is finishing up a couple of short story projects and, of course, NaNoWriMo is just around the corner!
You can read about her family’s journey with autism on her blog simondoesntsay.com
. She is also a frequent retweeter at @AllisonLuther.
* Her husband would like it to be known that he folds laundry better than Allison does.
interview by Marcia Peterson
WOW: Congratulations on placing in the top ten in our Spring 2016 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?
Thank you! The Spring 2016 contest was my third time entering. I first placed in the Top Ten in the Summer 2015 contest with “Swinging” and also received an Honorable Mention in the Winter 2016 contest with “Widow’s Walk”. I love the challenge of writing flash fiction, as it forces me to really consider the impact of every every word, every phrase.
WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your entry, "Best Wishes, Melinda Rissmann?"
After the end of a relationship, I think a lot of people have fantasies about running into their ex months or years later and you finally have a chance to get that last little bit of closure. Or is that just me? “Best Wishes, Melinda Rissmann” was an exploration of how a scene like that might play out.
WOW: Yes, I think many people imagine running into an ex, so you're not alone! As a busy mom to three young children, how do you find time to write? What works best for you?
It’s been a hard summer for getting anything done, but now that school has started, I’m hoping it’s going to be easier. I generally can find time to write at night after the kids are in bed. Twice a week, I’m able to sneak off to a coffee shop and work while my youngest son is in his therapy class. I also have a notebook next to my bed, AquaNotes in the shower, and a writing app on my phone, so I can jot down the ideas that come to me when I’m away from my laptop.
WOW: You also recently finished the first draft of your first novel. What did it take to accomplish that big goal? What did you learn along the way?
I started writing Bad River in December 2014 and I think I started over at least four or five times, once scrapping over 50K words. Yikes! I finally figured out that as much fun as writing backstory is, you need to start your story in the correct place. Also, just get the story down and worry about revising and editing later. Write now, fix later.
WOW: Sounds like you learned a lot from the process! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Allison. Before you go, can you share your favorite writing tip or advice with our readers?
If you have to force the story, it isn’t the right story.
Our Fall 2016 Flash Fiction Contest is NOW OPEN!
For information and entry, visit our contest page
Labels: Allison Walters Luther, Contestant interview, flash fiction runner up, novel writing process, Spring 2016 Flash Fiction Contest Winner, writing and parenting
Writing Connections: You Never Know
I just released another book in the Korean educational market, and so today, I’m sharing a bit about this news.
Well, mostly, I’m answering the questions people always ask when they hear about my Korean books.
No, I don’t speak a word of Korean. I write the books in English and they’re published in English. That model seems to work best for students to learn a foreign language. (But there are an awful
lot of notes in Korean! I have no idea what’s in those notes. I hope that they’re explanations of vocabulary words, cultural references, and biographical information. But they could say, “Cathy C. Hall is a poopyhead author.” If you’re ever in Korea and see my books, could you check into that for me?)
Yes, I am
a longtime member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
and this organization has helped me in countless ways. But SCBWI wasn’t the connection that brought me to writing Korean children’s books. That’s a whole ‘nother story that began right here, with WOW! Women-on-Writing.
I started my writing career as a freelancer and at one time, WOW! had a market resource known as Premium Green. It was a wonderful opportunity to share resources, of course, but more than that, it was invaluable as a “place” to share the ups and downs of this crazy business of writing. Many of the writers I met in this online group are still great friends of mine, and I’ve watched them go on to win prestigious awards, expand their careers, and become engaging authors. Which brings me to Suzanne Lilly
, a prolific author and teacher who contacted me one day with a writing opportunity: Darakwon,
a book publisher in Seoul, Korea, was looking for English-speaking writers who also have teaching backgrounds. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
When I tell this story, writers are almost always surprised and I’m not sure why. Because you’d think writers would get it; “it” being how crazy this old world works (as long as we don’t put too many coincidences in our novels, right?). The thing is, you never know where writing—or life—will lead you. Who knows where you’ll make your next connection, or who might offer you a wonderful opportunity?
And lastly, I’m sorry, but no, Darakwon has plenty of writers. Still, you never know when a writing connection may contact you with an interesting gig. So be prepared! Study your craft, develop good writing habits, give your imagination a daily workout. You want to be ready when opportunity comes knocking.
(Oh! There’s one more thing. Don’t forget to thank the writer who held that door open for you. Thanks, Suzanne!)
~Cathy C. Hall
Labels: Cathy C. Hall, children's books, Darakwon, Korea, SCBWI, Suzanne Lilly, writing opportunities
Creative Nonfiction: 5 Questions about Creative Nonfiction
Because I teach writing nonfiction for young readers, I end up answering a lot of questions about nonfiction writing. Here are the five I get most often.
What is creative nonfiction?
This term was first used by Lee Gutkind to describe narrative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction frequently uses elements associated with fiction writing. The writer builds scenes to help bring the story to life for the reader.
Did you say story?
You better believe it. Many pieces of creative nonfiction are written with a focus on story. For example, if I was going to write about Teddy Roosevelt, I could write about the story of his dinner with Booker T. Washington. Or I might focus on the story of his life as a Rough Rider. Whichever story I chose to tell, I would select only those facts that supported this story.
Isn’t that like hiding the truth?
No. Everything I would include in my nonfiction story would be true. But I would only include the information that fits my slant, the story that I’m telling. I wouldn’t write about Roosevelt’s daughter Alice although she would make a colorful character in her own right. It isn’t dishonest to leave her out. She didn’t play a part in either story. This is just a matter of focus. Especially when you write for young readers, you face a very limited word count. Reserve those words for information that is a good fit.
Okay, you’re not hiding the truth. But you called it CREATIVE nonfiction. What do you get to make up?
Nonfiction, even creative nonfiction is 100% factual. One hundred percent. That means that you have to find sources for all of the facts. When you describe the setting, you have to find sources. Your characters, the people in your story, are also factual and you have to have the sources to prove it. Absolutely everything has to be researched.
But what about the dialogue? I can make that up, can’t I? Or just say that it is what she was thinking?
No, no, no! Even dialogue has to be sourced. Listen to interviews or watch documentaries. Read or listen to speeches that the person gave. Look for published letters or diaries or even unpublished letters and diaries. In my mind, newspaper stories are second tier sources just because they aren’t as reliable. Too often reporters rush to get the story in first. But the point is that even dialogue needs to be researched.
Creative nonfiction is a fun and fascinating style of contemporary nonfiction. It isn’t anything like the nonfiction we had when I was in school. It is fast-paced. It pulls the reader in with a sense of voice and creative word play. But like all nonfiction before it, it is true and it is factual. After all, creative though it may be, it is still nonfiction.
To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.She also teaches our class, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins December 5, 2016.
Labels: creative nonfcition, Sue Bradford Edwards, writing nonfiction for kids
Journaling for Fiction Writers? Yay or Nay?
I hope you're all having a great weekend! It's a busy time here in my little corner of the cornfield. We are busy preparing for the months ahead. This means moving animals, bringing in crops, winterizing equipment, and enjoying our coffee hot for a change. This is my favorite time of year. I enjoy pulling on a bulky knit sweater and grabbing a steaming cup of coffee as I head out to feed calves in the morning and I'm feeling a little more joyful about baking and spending time in my kitchen.
Another highlight this fall was reading an advanced reader copy of the now released Fractured
by Cathering McKenzie. Part of the deal we made was she would provide me with an ARC and she would Skype in to our book club. I was giddy as she is one of my current favs. Our group had lots of questions for her as well as having some feedback and ideas of our own. At one point, I asked about journaling (in part because I'm an active journaler but in part because I'm having such fun helping promote Mari McCarthy's new book Journaling Power
). Catherine said she doesn't feel that journaling is helpful for fiction writers.
We talked about this after we were offline and came to the consensus that journaling may not be helpful for Catherine, but there are plenty of examples of how journaling could benefit a fiction writer as well as a non fiction writer or memoir writer. For example, I myself journal and have used my journal as the basis for many a short story. Personally, when something comes to me in a dream or is ripped out of the headlines and haunts my dreams, the best way for me to find peace is through journaling and then writing. A particular piece comes to mind - the headline was something about a family who found shoe-boxes filled with baby skeletons in a woman's garage or attic. I was incredibly haunted by this new piece. So much so that even my waking hours were filled with questions and possibilities to try and answer the how and how come. I journaled a few of my thoughts and then wrote a flash fiction piece that gave me enough closure to put the story out of my mind.
So often, our dreams don't have endings. Similarly, we don't always see the ending of a story in today's headlines. We read about a child left to die in a hot car, a baby left unattended in the bathtub, etc... and of course there are trials, jurors, sentences, and an aftermath, but those don't make there way back to the news or at least not to the front page. I find myself needing closure. I need to know more than my dreams give me and more than what the headlines provide. So, I use my journal to write an ending. Once the story has an ending I find I'm able to move forward.
Sorry for the long winded explanation of why journaling works for this particular fiction writer.
Now, for the real reason of this post. I want YOU to weigh in. Does journaling work for you? Why or why not? Are you a fiction writer? Do you know of fiction writers who have strong feelings about journaling and their craft?
Leave your comments - I'm super curious where everyone falls on this topic.
Thank you in advance for your readership and your sharing!
Crystal is a church musician, babywearing mama (aka crunchy mama), business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network
, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 9, Andre 8, Breccan 3, and Delphine 1), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.
You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff at:http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/
Labels: author interview, book club, catherine mckenzie, fiction writers, journal power, journaling, journaling power, Mari McCarthy, Skype
Friday Speak Out!: 7 Easy Ways to Cheer Yourself On
"Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success.”
How do you stoke the flames of excitement as you pursue your writing goals? The truth is, we usually need to be our own cheerleaders, doing what we can to inspire and encourage ourselves. Here are seven simple ways to help yourself stay passionate and productive:
1. Celebrate everything
. Whether you forced yourself to send out a query letter, finished a contest essay draft, or just got a decent blog post up, you can celebrate the accomplishment with some type of treat. Big achievements like finishing a book or a tough class may even deserve a party. "It's so common for us to quickly move from one project, goal, or task to the next without stopping to acknowledge what we've accomplished already," Cheryl Richardson points out in Life Makeovers
. "We all need acknowledgement and reward, and the very best person to fulfill this need is you."
2. Create visual motivators.
Inspire yourself by posting a meaningful writing quotation or affirmation in your work area, focusing on a different message every week or month. If you like to make collages or vision boards, do a writer-related page that you can look at from time to time. You can even make fake book covers, pretend resumes (for your eyes only), or an altered best-seller book list with your name inserted onto a real newspaper clipping. These fun techniques can move you toward making your dreams come true.
3. Tell people about your work
. Why not add more supportive voices to go along with your self-cheering efforts? Notify a favorite relative, a few close friends, or some writing buddies of your latest byline or accomplishment. Definitely tell your writing group what you're up to—they'll understand. The approval you receive will stimulate good feelings about your writing life.
4. Review your portfolio.
Every so often, pull out your list of writing credits and look it over. No matter how many completed works are on your list—three or three hundred—let yourself bask in the "Wow, I did that!" feeling. Reviewing what you've done reminds you of your capabilities, and makes you want to add even more items to the list.
5. Buy books and take classes.
Allow yourself whatever resources keep you excited about writing. Buying a fun how-to book is an indulgence that pays dividends, prodding you to be creative and try new techniques. Taking a writing class is another way to ramp up your enthusiasm level—and it often includes a built-in support system of helpful classmates.
6. Collect positive feedback.
Start gathering positive responses to your work, so that you have them available for future reading. For example, if you receive an appreciative e-mail from an editor or a writing instructor tells you that you did a good job, copy and paste the remarks into a Word document. You can even save complimentary blog comments from your readers. Whenever you take a look at the saved pages of kind words, you'll get a needed boost.
7. Write yourself a congratulatory letter.
As a private journaling exercise, or even on a note card that you will actually send to yourself, write a letter of congratulations and encouragement. Focus on what you've done so far, the challenges you've faced, and the steps you’re taking to make good things happen. Since no one's probably saying these words to you now, it's up to you to go ahead and do it for yourself. Write as if you are talking to a good friend, offering motivating words that will inspire further greatness.
Marcia Peterson is the editor of WOW! Women on Writing's blog, The Muffin. She lives in Northern California with her husband and two daughters.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
Labels: celebrate success, Friday Speak Out, Marcia Peterson, motivation for writers, staying positive