Last weekend, I spoke to a group of writers about the six plus one traits of writing and how to use these to improve their rough drafts and writing in general. The theme of the talk was basically everything they needed to know about writing they already learned in elementary school, or at least what we are teaching in elementary schools today--which is often the six traits. Anyway, one of the traits is voice--developing voice and writing with a distinct voice, and I was looking for a quote to kind of wrap up my talk and leave them with some inspiration as well as tie in something I talked about. And lo and behold, I found the quote below by the prolific romance writer, Jayne Ann Krentz.
"Believe in yourself and in your own voice, because there will be times in this business when you will be the only one who does. Take heart from the knowledge that an author with a strong voice will often have trouble at the start of his or her career because strong, distinctive voices sometimes make editors nervous. But in the end, only the strong survive."
- Jayne Ann Krentz
I just love this quote, and I thought it was a perfect way to end a writing workshop, where I was trying to inspire people to write and have faith in their work and their careers in the new year. It is so easy to get down as a writer: rejection letters, no time to write, bad reviews, blog posts with no comments, harsh critiques, poor sales, and so on. But the beginning of this quote is so true and what we have to do. WE HAVE TO--believe in ourselves! We have to have faith in our voice and in our work. We cannot give up. We have to get up the next morning and keep sending out manuscripts or write another blog post or send our book to another reviewer.
This business is so subjective--you'll realize that if you ever send a query letter out or a magazine submission to multiple editors. You can send out the same thing to twenty places--you'll get yeses, nos, and no response. It doesn't mean one editor is more right than another (although we want to think that!) ; there are many reasons for rejections and acceptances. But through it all, you have to believe in yourself and your work--because you are your best advocate! You are the one that sits down to the keyboard and types and creates. You are the only one with your voice. So keep writing--through the ups and downs, and you will survive!
When we invent characters, we need to know all about them, including where they grew up, childhood fears & dreams and more. Where does this information go? Where do you put all this backstory?
Two friends, writing vastly different stories, were struggling with backstory. One was adding backstory to enrich the story and the emotional lives of his characters. The other was writing a sequel and the whole previous novel was backstory to the new novel; she couldn’t be sure the reader had read the previous book, though, so she had to work in some of that story into this one.
Many of my thoughts about backstory are shaped by the needs of fantasy and science fiction writing (sff) where the writer creates a world, complete with complex sociological and political histories and magical norms. The challenge in this genre is to communicate this complex world and culture, without stopping for a history lesson. Orson Scott Card has an excellent chapter on handling exposition (and backstory) in his book, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Basically, new information is filtered through the main viewpoint character. Specific terminology, even if alien and unfamiliar, is helpful; what is named is no longer so confusing. Implication is essential. Often a phenomenon is named, but the explanation isn’t given immediately. Sff readers understand this as one of the conventions of the genre and don’t mind waiting and pondering the meaning until the right time comes for an explanation. My friend who writes middle-grade non-fiction chaffs under the sff conventions, because she feels that the explanation must come immediately and be placed right next to the unfamiliar term. But for fiction, terms can be understood partially in context and the sff reader waits for more.
So, I come from a reading background of understanding huge chunks of backstory through the techniques of implication, slow revealing of complexities, intrigue, and I’m comfortable with a certain degree of ambiguity, as long as I trust the author that the answers will come eventually. It’s part of the appeal of the genre (and why many dislike it!). So, before we even start the discussion of where to put backstory, I’m comfortable with delaying it a while, both as a reader and as a writer. I know that one of the cliches of contemporary stories is a first chapter with lots of immediate action and a second chapter of backstory. But I think stories are stronger if the backstory doesn’t stop the flow of action.
Disadvantages of Early Backstory
Pulls the reader out of the current time flow. “Ideally, all fiction should seem to be happening now.” Says Sol Stein in Stein on Writing.
“One of the most common ways that inexperienced and even practiced novelists bog down their openings is with unnecessary backstory.” Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook
Backstory tends to “tell” a story instead of show it.
“Again and again in manuscripts I find my eyes skimming over backstory passages in chapters one, two and even three. Backstory doesn’t engage me because it doesn’t tell a story. It does not have tension to it, usually, or complicate problems.” Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.
The use of flashbacks for backstory is often awkwardly handled. We will discuss this more in a minute.
Advantages of Backstory
Deepen inner conflict. Backstory can provide motivation for the conflict, deepen the emotional effects and let the reader empathize with even the villain.
Increase tension. Hinting at backstory, but not telling all makes readers long to know the “secrets,” too. We read on, to find out what secret is so terrible that it provides the motivation for this conflict.
Usually backstory, especially flashbacks, should be put at a point where it will enhance the tension and conflict of the story. You can think of a story of a collection of scenes, followed by characters reflecting upon the scene and deciding what to do next, which leads to the next scene. Scene, reflection, decision, scene. Often the backstory needs to come in that in-between stage where the character is reacting emotionally to the events of the scene that has just happened.
For example, Gloria slaps Joe. So what? What are the readers supposed to make of that? What does it mean? We don’t know, the author must interpret the action in some way. The scene could progress without the explanation until Joe turns around and makes a fast exit. Then, Gloria has the time to react emotionally. That’s the point for a flashback that explains that Joe once accused her of embezzling money and let her stand trial, even though it was Joe who had stolen the money.
Ah, now the backstory explains and deepens the tension. But an early chapter that goes into a long story of how Gloria and Joe worked together for many years and Joe was Gloria’s mentor and they even had a brief affair that Gloria’s husband still doesn’t know about—that’s boring stuff. It doesn’t help Gloria make a decision about what to do next. It doesn’t add to the present conflict, even if it does explain it somewhat.
Where do you put backstory?
Backstory is there for its emotional weight. The story’s current situation is emotional, but for some reason you want to up the stakes. By adding backstory, you can strengthen the motivations of the character and make events mean more. Backstory should add irony, poignancy, regret, hope, or other strong emotions.
That means you put backstory at the point where it most directly impacts the emotions of the characters and/or the reader.
Not specific enough for you? You still ask, where EXACTLY do you put backstory?
You put the backstory at the point where it impacts the emotional weight of the story. Exactly there. For example, can you interrupt a scene with backstory? Yes. But you’d better have a strong emotional reason to slow down the story at that point.
Some ways backstory can impact the story’s emotional weight.
Interpret actions/dialogue/events. Some scenes, such as action scene, are better left intact with any flashbacks or backstory coming later as the character reflects on the events. Then, the flashback helps the character interpret the scene’s importance or outcome.
Help make a decision. Sometimes, though, a scene leads up to a character making a decision. Flashbacks provide needed information and emotion to help the character make the best (or worst) decision.
Change relationships. If the backstory comes in dialogue, instead of as a flashback, it can change relationships.
Story twist. If your plot is too straight-line, a good bit of backstory can add an interesting twist on events.
Flashbacks Effective in Deepening Novel
Flashbacks, scenes or partial scenes of something that happened before this moment in the story timeline, are the best way to insert backstory. In other words, a flashback is a scene that is presented out of chronological order. The flashback relates to the current scene, deepens character motivations or otherwise illuminates the current action of the novel.
First, write the scene with the current action and make it as fully developed as possible. If you’re going to interrupt the on-going action of the novel to insert this back story then at least give the reader a full scene that will keep their interest.
Then, write the flashback as a fully developed scene. Again, if you are messing with the time line or chronology of the novel, it should be done in such a way to keep the reader’s interest. This doesn’t mean it has to take up pages; a paragraph of a mini-scene might be perfectly reasonable. On the other hand, the flashback might need to be several pages long in this particular novel. Do what works.
Now, integrate the two scenes. Figure out where exactly in the novel the reader needs this bit of back story in order to understand the story’s action, or to create a deeper emotional response. Put the flashback as close to that as you can. Then smooth out the transitions.
The trickiest part of a flashback is getting into in and out of it. Try to do it with a single sentence both times. One transition opening sentence should signal a time shift, and then go straight into past tense like you would in any scene of a novel.
I remember that cloudy evening, the night before the tornado. Dogs whined restlessly, cattle kicked over buckets of full milk, and chickens scratched endlessly at the dust, all warnings that something bad was coming.
Coming out of it, use a single transition sentence again.
I walked away without a scratch on the outside, but felt like a stray splinter of wood had stabbed my heart. Now, looking at Jeremiah, the coward of that night of horror, I couldn’t believe he was asking me to be brave.
This demonstrates that a flashback scene needs to be a high point or a low point in a character’s life, something worthy of a dedicated flashback. There also needed to be some emotional hook. Here, you can sense that the Jeremiah’s behavior during the tornado was cowardly and that affects the current scene.
Ways That Flashbacks Go Wrong
Too early. Too often, I see a flashback in the second paragraph of the opening scene. No! If you need that flashback in the second paragraph, you have started in the wrong place. Or, I may see one on the second page. No! Or the entire second chapter is a flashback. No! Only use a flashback at the point where it will directly impact the ongoing action.
Too much exposition. Flashbacks should give the reader a scene, not pages of compressed exposition. Work the facts the reader needs to know into the flashback portion of the scene just like you would into any scene.
Watch verb tenses. The conditional tense that uses the “would” construction is awkward and should be avoided in flashbacks. Sometimes, you want to indicate that, for example, watching fireflies in the evening was a habit of your family. You write something like this:
Every evening we would gather on the lawn and wait for dusk. We would slap at a few mosquitoes, would murmur quietly in the heat, and would sip ice tea. We would wait until the fireflies would start winking, and then the chase would begin.
That’s too awkward. Instead, use the one “would” construction and go straight into the past tense. Use a single “would” to come out of it.
Every evening we would gather on the lawn and wait for dusk. We slapped at a few mosquitoes, murmured quietly in the heat and sipped ice tea. We waited until the fireflies started winking and the chase would begin.
The flashback has no connection to the current time in the novel. Why include this flashback? It must up the stakes, provide motivation, increase the emotional tension; it must relate to the current novel in a vital way. If it doesn’t do this, if it’s just there to give us a history lesson, cut it.
Terri McGrath Bhatt, Runner Up Summer 2012 Flash Fiction Contest
Posted by Margo Dill at 12:30 AM
Born in New York, Terri McGrath Bhatt has always loved words and
believes in the power of a good story. That's why we are thrilled she placed as a runner up in our Summer 2012 Flash Fiction Contest with her story, "Evaporate," which you can read here.
Currently, Terri lives in Connecticut with
her husband, who is her greatest teacher; her 14-year-old daughter, who
reminds and inspires her to be true to her gifts; her beloved, clever
dog; and a spiteful, exasperating cat. She holds a BA in media communications with a concentration in writing and journalism from
Western CT State University. In addition to short stories, poetry, and
song lyrics, Terri is presently working on a screenplay.
WOW: Congratulations on your story, "Evaporate," being a runner up in the flash fiction contest. It's a sad tale, but very powerful! Where did you get the idea for your story?
Terri: Thank you so much! I have to say this character just kind of "showed up" for me. I had recently seen a group of children on a playground and noticed that a few of the more overweight children were struggling to keep up with their friends. They appeared to get winded easily and would simply quit running. One child gave up altogether and sat on a bench while the rest of the children continued to play without him. He didn't look particularly sad, and no one picked on him; but something about it broke my heart. I felt that the adults in his life owed him better. I was frustrated wondering what physical, emotional, and social issues he might one day face as a result of being so unhealthy at such a young age.
WOW: Thank you for sharing that with us. Was it hard to pack all that emotion, anxiety, and angst into 750 words or less?
Terri: With a 750-word requirement, I had to show a snapshot of this character's day that would tell the tale of her life beyond the school bus. While not everyone has experienced bullying or this degree of self-loathing, I think her feelings of self-consciousness, isolation, and of wanting human connection-- all while feeling invisible-- are pretty universal, especially for adolescents and teens.
WOW: How do you develop a well-rounded character for a short fiction piece--it's definitely easier in a novel--but just as important in a short story?
Terri: In a short story, I think characters have to reveal themselves rather quickly if the piece is to be compelling. I wanted to paint a character for whom the reader not only feels compassion, but empathy. She is in a predicament on the bus and has feelings that I think most of us can relate to, even if we aren't asthmatic, morbidly obese, teenaged girls.
WOW: I agree, especially in a flash fiction piece. You have a BA in media communications with an emphasis in writing and journalism. Has this degree helped you with your writing career? In what ways?
Terri: Well, my undergrad years feel like a lifetime ago, so I can't say with any certainty how well my degree has contributed to my writing ability at this point. I worked for a book publishing company for a number of years, strangely enough in a marketing capacity; but until recently, my writing has mostly been for me.
WOW: You are also working on a screenplay? What type of piece is this--action, adventure, chick flick, mystery?
Terri: The screenplay is a glimpse of New York City from the 1930s to the 1950s through the eyes and numerous incredible experiences of my father. It was a really colorful time in the city, and Dad had a fascinating life working for many of those years at Grand Central Station. When people have heard his stories, they would say, "That should be a movie." And it should. So, this is my labor of love, dedicated to him.
WOW: It sounds fascinating. Since it's the new year, what are your writing goals this year?
Terri: First and foremost, to become a working, paid writer! Also, to complete and successfully market my screenplay. It has been really exciting to go through the process of this contest and to have actually placed as a runner up was very gratifying. Thanks to my sister-in-law for encouraging me to do this and thanks to the WOW team! It has been a wonderful experience.
WOW: We are glad we could help in some way! Thank you, Terri, for your time and best of luck to you!
Photographer Clare Porterfield is adrift. Her husband has gone back to work, but she just doesn’t see the point. All she can think about is the death of their daughter.
Then she is asked to put together an exhibit in Galveston. Who better to do the job than a local girl made good in the world of photography? Clare makes her first trip back to the island since she left as a young teen.
There she settles into a guest room in her mother’s home. Galveston is languid in the heat and she eventually explores not only the historic photos that will form the exhibit but also the island itself.
Throughout The Drowning House (Nan A Talese/Doubleday, January 15, 2013), author Elizabeth Black vividly depicts the island. Her writing is poetic and stately.
As a writer reading this novel, I knew there had to be more to it. Yes, the novel is set in Galveston. Clearly that means that there will be time spent on description, but the space given to the setting told me that there was more to it than that. There had to be a larger reason.
And that reason is why fiction writers need to read The Drowning House.
In describing the sites, Black goes into Galveston's history—founded by pirates who preferred to be called privateers and nearly wiped out by a hurricane in 1900. Pre-hurricane, alcohol flowed freely and fed debauchery of all kinds. Post-hurricane, tourists often take part in behavior they would never admit to back home.
In this way, Galveston reflects the people who live there. The tourists aren’t the only ones in denial. There are things that go on in Galveston homes that no one talks about and, at one time, Galveston was Clare’s home. There she met Patrick, the love of her young life. Again roaming the streets and beaches of Galveston, Clare sees these as an adult that she hadn't noticed as a child.
This novel could be set nowhere other than Galveston. The setting reflects not only the themes of the story but also foreshadows what Clare discovers about her family and even herself.
As if this masterful use of setting isn’t enough, there are other reasons for writers to pick up The Drowning House. As I said before, Black’s descriptions are poetic. They are languid and elegant even when the meaning behind the item is terrible.
Black’s use of backstory and detail are also masterful. She feeds the reader bite sized bits of information. Here is something from Clare’s past. Here is a bit of Galveston history. These treats keep you reading as Clare unravels the mystery of her childhood.
I know I’ve been sketchy about the plot. With a book as suspenseful as The Drowning House, I refuse to reveal the deep dark secret. You will have to find out on your own.
Because, bit by bit, as you read, you will definitely learn about setting, about theme, about description and so much more.
Earlier this week, while I proofread a few chapters from my current WIP, a scary thought raced through my mind.
Translated, it's completely vanilla and filled with cream-colored references. Even the main female character is decked out in white in almost every scene. (And no, she is not a doctor, and trust me, she's no angel.)
Now, I'm not saying the writing is bad, it's just lacking color in these chapters.
Kind of disappointing coming from a writer with "Mango Crush" on her office walls.
But the revelation reminded me of an exercise I would use with freshman English students who struggled to bring color to their writing.
Perhaps I'd asked them to describe the sun, bring it to life through color. What would I get? Yellow. Plain ol' yellow.
I would ask them to describe the shade of yellow. Is it the color of butter? Of a buttercup along a country road? The yellow of a middle-of-July sunflower? Post-it note yellow?
"Just yellow," students would reply.
The next day, they would be in for a surprise. Paint samples littered a tabletop. (Thank you, locally-owned hardware store.)
"Show me what kind of yellow."
Once they saw the connection between a concrete example and word choice, their writing improved.
I don't want my writing to be 'just yellow' - or just plain ol' white - for that matter. I want vibrant words to run down the pages.
After a trip to the lumber yard, Eros Pink, Adriatic Sea, and Jargon Jade complete the scenes, along with a tinge of Crescent Moon White.
by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of LuAnn's work at her website.
Would your character walk alone on a beach on a foggy day? Or is your character one who needs to be surrounded by friends on a sunny day? Either communicates your character to your reader. Credit: Flickr | kke227
I had a strange and vivid dream the other night. I had been placed in an elaborate setting and filled with all sorts of intricate details. The dream repeated throughout the night--I remember three distinct times the actors (for lack of a better term) appeared and reappeared.
Alongside a cast of various colleagues, a deceased superstar also made his appearance.
To say the least, it was very strange and I relayed the dream to a friend who knows the players, minus the superstar.
I expressed to her how believable and realistic it was as I gave her a rundown of the music that was playing and named these actors. I described what some of the people were doing and we laughed about how characteristic it was for Craig to refuse to participate in the dance that was taking place. In my dream, Craig would physically turn away from the others. As he does in real life. Another friend, Sue, insisted on organizing the merry band of my dream actors. She would wave her arms, as if trying to circulate the air, in an attempt to motivate these people. Trudy sat waiting for directions from others and would only participate if coaxed by another. Trudy stared at her hands in her lap, rarely glancing at others. (The names of these friends have been changed. It's the least I can do when they end up in my dreams!)
Finally, I can explain why I feel this dream felt so important to my writing. Just as with writing, you want to bring depth to your characters. But you also want to signal to your reader--often through small actions, personality traits that have an impact on the other actors. Craig, Sue, and Trudy provided that. It is those actions (or something similar) I may use for one of my characters.
The specific actions or certain behaviors of these real folks had crystallized in my dream. The dream, even as extravagant as it was, seeped realism to me because these simple actions or reactions. I couldn't see all their movements or hear what they were saying, but they communicated a lot of their personality through these small, repeated actions. And this dream will probably inform my future writing. What about your dreams?
When you are writing your story, what small action details do you add and subtly repeat to communicate a larger picture to your reader? And, out of curiosity, have you ever had a celebrity appear in your dreams? If so, who?
Elizabeth King Humphrey writes and edits, when she is not having strange dreams. She lives in coastal North Carolina.
Friday Speak Out!: Labor of Literacy, guest post by Peggy Eserkaln
Posted by MP at 5:00 AM
Yesterday I tripped over my guilt, chewed an oversized bite, hung onto to that one remaining thread and acted as though I have life balanced. I’m subjected to these emotional olympics because I’m due to give birth to a book. Presently, it has been gestating for twenty-two months. Total gestation period is unknown.
Lately, I’ve begun to notice the signs of labor. Several times I’ve experienced Braxton Hicks, but alas each time the end result has been a prescription for rest and a rewrite. Fulfilling that prescription is tricky. Book is not an only child; I’m already raising Kid, Career and Personal Health ( P.H. for short), thus the daily acrobatics.
I don’t have a birth plan yet. Book might be born using a literary agent or in a publishing house. I’m leaving my options open for right now. I know I need one soon; my chapters are dilated and my denouement has dropped. Soon I expect there will be a bloody show... and what a show it might be. Am I ready? Is anyone ever really ready?
Just like so many others, I don’t really care whether I have a chapter book or middle grade novel. I just want a published finished product. I want for it what every writer wants for a book; a long shelf life, genre acceptance and readership. It would be dishonest for me to deny my hope for a second edition and maybe even some royalty monies... it’s not such a bad thing to wish to be taken care of in my later years, is it?
There will be a birth announcement. Watch for it.
* * *
Peggy Eserkaln is an award winning teacher with a unique background in education and improvisational theatre. She founded Educational Improvisation, Inc; a company that melds a love of learning and laughter. She's been writing her whole life, but is just now gutsy enough to admit it.
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!
Check out BlogNostics: Poetry, Art, Contests, and Amazing Opportunities
Posted by Margo Dill at 12:30 AM
Jessica Brant & daughter
If you haven't heard of the creative site, BlogNostics, for writers and artists yet, then you are in for a real treat today. BlogNostics is one of a kind, and we have Jessica Brant with us today to tell all about it, what you can do there, and the contests they are now offering. I won't waste any more of your time with a boring intro because Jessica has a lot to tell us!
WOW: Welcome, Jessica, to The Muffin. On the "About" page for BlogNostics, it states, "BlogNostics is for readers, writers, artists, and followers to get together, share, be supportive, and have some fun creating excellence." So, is this a membership site? Tell us a little more, including your role with BlogNostics.
Jessica: We want our readers, writers, and artists to feel like they are in a community, where they can socialize, making it feel like a growing art commune. As for membership--no, you don't have to have a membership, though it is best to sign up, otherwise it is like cheating yourself if you don't. What I mean by that is that you won't get the full exposure needed to get your work out there if that is what you so desire.
As for me, I am the mom of the house, supporting where I can to show off these amazing and talented people that arrive, attempting to help everyone grow with the site. I see so much unsung talent out there. Just like a proud mother, I want to see our artists create their dreams.
WOW: Okay, Mom (smiles), then let's learn more about how BlogNostics works. Once people create an account, what should they do next and how do they do it? (And is it free?)
Jessica:Creating an account on BlogNostics is completely free and fairly easy to do. I think the easiest, most effective and painless way is by signing up and then login in using one of the social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Linkedin. If you do not subscribe to signing up via social media, that's okay; it is just as easy to create your own account with your name, personal e-mail, username, and password.
There is a lot to do, see, and read on BlogNostics. Once you step into our little world of creativity, we have a vast array of contemporary artists and writers from around the world who contribute their works of passion to BlogNostics. We recently added a Poetry Corner, where Willow, our Poetry Aficionado, divulges how to write poetry and prose, in addition to lending guidance to writers that are new to poetry and just need some helpful hints or just a sounding board.
WOW: It sounds great--the free aspect and the support and creativity going on there! Another thing advertised on your home page is Lines Vol. 1. Tell us all about Lines!
Jessica:Lines is our first digital publication and truly a labor of love. We were kicking around the idea of getting into the digital publishing arena for a while but kept putting it on the back burner. We were catapulted into taking action after the sudden untimely death of one of our most beloved poets, Sancheeta Biswas, who passed away on April 6, 2012, leaving behind her young daughter Tua. As a hamlet of talented up and coming contemporary writers, BlogNostics made a call to action to some of our members. Our poets, Lisa Brandel, Neil Chatterton, Ron Reed, Willow, and my father Mickey Munday were saddened by Sancheeta's story and collectively decided to dedicate Lines to the loving memory of Sancheeta. Part of the proceeds from the sale of Lines is going into an educational fund for Sancheeta's daughter Tua (age 9).
We went on a frantic search to find a platform that would deliver more than just the run of the mill, static, black and white e-book. We found a platform that complemented our writers' words with the ascetics that BlogNostics is known for. Lines the publication is an interactive collection of twenty-five poems, stunning graphics from today's most talented photographers and digital artists. The majority of the poetry has been digitally recorded by the artists themselves. making Lines accessible to those who are visually impaired or for those who would simply like to sit back, relax, listen, and enjoy. We were lucky enough to have world renowned, Emmy award-winning producer Carlos Alverez help us with the audio production of Lines. We have included seven spoken-word videos, clickable links, and more. It is truly a revolutionary way to read, listen to, and watch today's most talented, modern day poets. It really is a stunning work of art for the digital world. For now, Lines is available on Amazon for the Kindle Fire as well as Android systems.
WOW: What a beautiful idea to honor a writer's life and her daughter. It sounds amazing! You are offering some contests, which writers can submit to before April 10. What are the categories that you are looking for in this contest? Do you need to be a member of the site to enter the contest?
Jessica: First off let me say, we are so excited to offer our first writing contest, and we are honored that we have an esteemed panel of enthusiastic judges.
We have four categories that writers can participate and they are in: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Prose.
Within the category of fiction, we seek the work to have: a strong character, authentic voice, originality, boldness of form, pushing the boundaries of contemporary fiction. The bn~Expressions in Fiction will be judged by Ray Garton who is the author of over sixty novels, novellas, short story collections, movie novelizations, and TV tie-ins. His work spans the genres of horror, crime, and suspense. Fiction has a limit of 10,000 words.
In Nonfiction, we seek from all works: an authentic voice, originality, boldness of form, pushing the boundaries of contemporary nonfiction, good story telling in things that sound authentic and speak to the human condition or the world. Judged by Lisa Brandel who is known best from her successful blog the WidowLady. She began telling her story only weeks after her husband died and had only posted three times before her father died. Through the pain of losing her father, and then aunt, paternal grandmother, another aunt, and finally her uncle to suicide, she has continued to write not only her story, but also ideas and philosophies about how to make life happen against the odds. She also has a daily inspiration on her “Widow Lady” Facebook page and is currently in the process of editing three books for publication, the first to be published is Every Day Inspiration expected to be released in mid-2013. She is making it her life’s work to inspire people through words and images. Nonfiction has a 9,000-word limit.
bn~LINES in Poetry, seeks from all works: an authentic voice, originality, boldness of form, pushing the boundaries of contemporary poetry. Judged by Lana Hechtman Ayer who works as a poetry manuscript consultant and writing workshop facilitator. She runs two chapbook presses, Concrete Wolf and MoonPath Press, and is an editorial consultant at the literary journal Crab Creek Reviews. Lana is the author of two chapbooks and three full-length poetry collections. Her most recent collection, A New Red (Pecan Grove Press), is a contemporary re-imagining of the Red Riding Hood fairy tale. Lana’s latest work “The Ugly Pregnant Woman,” which is currently in the California Quarterly, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Poetry has no word limit.
bn~LINES in Prose, judged by Pamela Rossow who is the co-author of Mind Over Body. Pamela writes for a variety of genres including, business, journalism, and higher education. She is an established blogger and is committed to integrity and excellence in her writing. Pamela’s poem, "Nothing Good About Good-Bye," was published in the 2010 issue of Coastlines Literary Magazine. The word limit for Prose is 3500-words.
To enter the contests, being a member of BlogNostics is not a requirement, but it is suggested. We would like for those who participate to register first with us on the site.
We are a community of artists and writers with a common goal in mind; becoming a member is a way to stay informed about up and coming events on BlogNostics. It is also required in order to have any works published on the site as well as in future publications.
WOW: The judges are wonderful. What a panel! Thanks for explaining the entire contest to us! What are a couple tips you can give writers to help them be successful in your contest?
Jessica:Whatever you write… be authentic to your own voice. Don't try to be anyone but you. I think the general feeling by the judges is they want strong characters and the ability to push the boundaries of contemporary literature.
WOW: Next let's discuss your various "rooms" and poetry events. It looks like you have a "room" for Beat Poets, Artists, Haiku, and Color Poetry. How does a writer visit and take part in a room?
Jessica: I'm smiling from ear to ear at the moment. Yes, we have "rooms," but we like to call them our bn~BeatRoom, bn~Lounges, and bn~Galleries. Let me start off by saying the General bn~BeatRoom, bn~Galleries, Haiku, and Colour Concatenation are completely free areas of creativity and by that I mean anyone who is registered on BlogNostics can submit their works to those individual "rooms," although we had to put a limit on the amount of submissions we accept to the General BeatRoom. We put a cap of three poems (prose, pieces) to be submitted for publication in the General BeatRoom. There are many reasons for this--the number one reason is that often times we have a single artist submitting four to six poetic pieces, and the General BeatRoom then tends to look as if it has been taken over by one person. We listened to our members who suggested we start individual areas for those writers wishing to submit more than three pieces; and so the Personalized BeatRooms were created for those writers dedicated to their love of writing, where they can shine as bright as they want and get just a bit more personalized attention that does not take away from the other writers. These personalized "rooms" also take a lot time for our "Elves" to design, making sure the writers' personal bio, website, social media information is on their personal page (room)--also frantically finding artwork for each poetic piece. As you can imagine, this is all very time consuming, so we find many of our Elves have coffee intravenously served, saves on washing up I suppose. Our editors also take time out to make sure each piece is up to par; and if it looks like the writer needs some assistance editing, our editors are there to help them out. Visiting the individual areas on the site is easy as a click of a button, and voila--you are there.
Now that we have these Personalized bn~BeatRooms, it has given a few of our poets an incentive to step beyond publishing a few of their works in our General BeatRoom and thereby have made the choice to upgrade to the personalized BeatRoom or Beat Lounges, where a vast collection of poetry and prose from some of today's most talented contemporary writers are housed. There is a small fee involved for those members who wish to have their own Personalized BeatRooms and Beat Lounges--as mentioned, the Elves need feeding. The bn~Arts Gallery is the same, where we showcase photographers, digital artists, and illustrators.
WOW: I just love this idea. How creative! I can't wait to go to BlogNostics and check out some of these rooms! What are Word Scrambles? How about Montages? Can anyone do these?
Jessica: We have fun impromptus to get writers and those of poetic aptitude to get their creative juices flowing. We were sitting around one day trying to figure out how to get people more engaged on BlogNostics, so we came up with the idea of doing a Word Scramble. It is where we at BlogNostics brain storm and choose twenty-three words of which you the writer has to make something poetically amazing for us to read. It really is just a quick, fun, little thing to get us as writers unstuck. Montages are the same, but done with images in which the writer again can create what he or she sees within the images and tell us a poetic story. It seems the Montage tends to be a bit more controversial than the Word Scramble because everyone sees something completely different within an image.
WOW: Sounds interesting. Yes, we try all sorts of things to get people more interactive on our Facebook page. Now, I'm brainstorming thanks to you! How does someone become the featured BN poet?
Jessica:Hummmm, Good question! We take a look at the body of work. It's not about the number of hits your poem gets, or how supportive you are towards other people on BlogNostics, it is simply based on the quality of work a poet has submitted. Does it capture the reader's attention? Does it evoke emotion? These are some of the questions we ask as we look for our featured poets.
WOW: Anything else you'd like to add about your site that we haven't covered?
Jessica:What we really want to be and where we see ourselves going in the future is seeing our members becoming the next generation of celebrated artists, the voices of their generation. It's a lofty goal; but with all the unknown talent we are gathering, I think it is ivery reasonable for Blognostics to obtain this goal.
It is refreshing to find such creative and supportive people all in one place, working for a common goal both individually as well as collectively as a community of artists.
The Creative Professionals' Guide to Drafting a Resume...Because Yes, You Do Need One
Posted by WOW! at 2:30 AM
by Kristen Fischer
Creative professionals may think they do not need a resume when they go solo. After all, you’re not job-hunting anymore. But you are on the hunt for clients.
I know many freelancers—including writers—that believe in this mindset. And they’re right in a way: You’re not a job-hunter anymore, so why have a resume?
The truth is that as a freelance writer, you are a client-hunter; that is, you are always on the lookout for clients, right? And since many of them are companies that follow the traditional hiring model, which includes resumes, there is really no reason not to have one.
While it may be more relevant for a copywriter securing corporate clients to have a resume, it can still be useful for journalists as well. Some writers maintain that they don’t need a resume, but what happens if someone is interested in your services and asks to see a resume? Is it worth it to miss out on what could be a cool opportunity simply because you’re “not corporate” or you’re “only indie” now?
So, how can you put a resume together that adheres to the latest standards and lets your individuality shine through? Here are a few tips for writing a winning resume.
Ditch the objective. Nowadays, these only are used for recent graduates with little experience. So instead of an objective, use a profile or overview of your skills. A profile is similar to the objective in that you target the specific role you have your eye on, but you talk about what you have to offer instead of what you want.
Get descriptive. In the profile, I start each sentence with an adjective. Take a peek at my resume for an example.
Innovative copywriter generating sales-boosting marketing collateral that enhances organizational image and cultivates sales. Articulate leader collaborating with clients to devise brochures, website content, sales letters, and newsletters. Detail-oriented editor with exceptional command of the English language; leveraging AMA, AP and Chicago styles to maintain editorial consistency. Esteemed creative professional advancing thriving profession as an author and journalist.
This gives you the breadth of my experience as a copywriter, author and journalist. It also shows examples of the types of work I do and the goals of those projects, which are to enhance the image of my clients and drive sales for them. Throughout the rest of the resume you would start each statement with a verb—and try not to repeat the same one. For example, many people use the word “create” a lot in the creative field. Instead, try other synonyms such as “originate,” “innovate,” “develop,” “conceptualize,” “generate,” “produce,” or “formulate.”
Use third-person. A resume should never be written in first-person tone…no matter how unique you are. Use the third-person tone—it sells you better and it’s the standard practice. You may be creative as they come, but a resume that starts with “I am…” shows that you do not understand the norms, and it has the potential to dissuade a corporate client that is looking for someone with a professional image as their outsourced writer.
Tell your story. Skills-based resumes that lump your experiences together based on your aptitudes are nice, but your profile already tells about your capabilities as they pertain to what you want to do. Let the professional experience tell a chronological story so a client or employer can see how you’ve evolved as a professional. Even if you’ve got some experience that doesn’t relate to your career as a writer, the aptitudes you have gained in previous roles can still position you to thrive as a creative professional. Let’s say you have tons of smaller projects to highlight or maybe some gaps in time—you can still present them under a title of your own business, and use bullets to talk about some of the jobs. Use bullets to break up some of the text; I use set apart achievements with bullet points instead of having job duties and bullet points in either a paragraph or a bulleted list.
Drop names. A lot of creatives I hear from say that throwing in names of clients makes them feel shallow, but it’s just good self-promotion—and you’re in business for yourself now, so you have to do everything you can to stay there. A Fortune 500 company may want to hire the writer that has worked with a fellow Fortune 500 business as compared to a writer that has only worked for local mom-and-pop stores or only focuses on publishing achievements. If the resume reader sees you’ve worked for a brand they know, they may be more impressed and maybe more likely to hire you.
Be authentic. Be professional and genuine at the same time. Your resume doesn’t have to be dripping with formal words, but it can still be professional. After all, your resume is a marketing document but it can still show your talents as a creative professional.
D.K. McCutchenMFA’d at UMass Amherst back in
the Pleistocene. Lack of poetic-DNA led to a creative nonfiction tale of low
adventure and high science in the South Pacific titled The
Whale Road, which earned a Pushcart nomination & listed as
Prize Notable Book. Other
literary thingies followed in Fourth Genre, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Identity Theory, Santa Fe Writers Project and
others, as well as several Fish International short story anthologies. Resorting to flash fiction for that
astonishing feeling of immediate gratification, her longer works-in-progress
include a gender-bender post-apocalyptic novel titled Jellyfish (finalist for a 2012 Massachusetts Cultural Council grant), and its prequel Ice. Meanwhile she keeps her day-job,
teaching writing to young science-heads from UMass' College of Natural Sciences,
where she is managing editor for CNS student writing at IRL: Points of View in the Natural Sciences.
She also cheers from her comfortable armchair for her family’s biocultural
diversity research expedition Berkshire
Sweet Gold Maple & Marine, which
she is quite sure will end up as grist for her story mill. Visit her blog at: D.K.McCutchen: BooksArticlesReviews. interview by Marcia Peterson
WOW: Congratulations on placing in the top ten in our Summer 2012 writing
contest! What prompted you to enter the contest?
D.K.: I teach writing full-time and am a parent of two young storytellers. I have noticed that I send out shorter and shorter stories and essays each year – I even published my first poem last year. I am finishing a novel -- and started another over last summer -- but the time to write is often found in smaller and smaller increments. In fall and winter, I compose in my head during my afternoon commute (never the morning commute, then I have to think about my class lesson plans). Then, when I do get a chance, I have something specific in mind, which is often begging to be written.
Flash fiction, in that context, is very satisfying. It is something I can keep in my head, mulling over, for years if I need to. That may sound odd, but some stories do hang around that long before they make it to the page – at least in a final draft.
I entered the contest because I want to be an active writer contributing to the body of published work (or contributing to the ethereal internet cloud), and because this was a form in which I could write quickly (albeit from an old, unwritten story), edit intensively, and be finished with before the semester started.
I chose Women on Writing because I am a feminist to the core and I liked the idea. It sounds so very Virginia Woolf.
WOW: We'll take that last part as a compliment! What inspired you to write this particular story?
D.K.: This was one of those old stories, one that has hung-about in my imagination since my undergrad days. When I want a Flash Fiction story, I often dig around in my oral-storytelling luggage and consider which tall-tales might be told briefly without losing their punch. Then I test one out on paper and see what happens. I think since I’d told this one verbally and since I’d been thinking about first impressions of old friends, it jumped to the forefront and – irritating as it may sound – pretty much wrote itself – with a little help from me.
WOW: You’ve written fiction and nonfiction in various forms and lengths. Do
you find one more challenging than the others? Are you drawn to one form
more than the others?
D.K.: Flash Fiction is just pure fun really. I enjoy it a lot – when it works. The ones that don’t come together can be a bit of a let-down of course. But then one can move on, or just keep editing. Poetry is something I struggle with, though I’ve written it since childhood. I write it, but the Yankee in me wants everything to have a purpose, and I never even thought of publishing my poems (except that once, and it was a festschrift to a respected professor) so perhaps the form lacks that motivational drive for me. The novel I just finished (provisionally, I’ll probably revise it again), was also just pure fun. It got so stuck in my imagination that it became my daydream material, so every zoned-out moment became a composition opportunity. My biggest challenge was that, since I was writing it in such brief moments, it has a kind of snap-shot quality (not unlike Flash Fiction), that I struggled to make organic to the story. My first published book, WHALE ROAD, was nonfiction, mostly written at sea in waterproof notebooks. The big challenge there was also in revision, pulling everything together, once I was in my comfortable armchair at home, without losing those horribly uncomfortable yet dynamic moments on the water.
At some point during my graduate studies editing became as creative a process as initial composition. That has probably helped a lot in shifting genres. I'm a big fan of creative nonfiction. Overall I may be most drawn to fiction while being a bit more facile with nonfiction, perhaps? Ask me again after I get the novel published!
WOW: Do come back and tell us when the novel is done. What are some of the challenges and highlights of writing flash
D.K.: Challenges … choosing the right story to fit the length, perhaps, and then editing so that every word counts. I spend an inordinate amount of time editing Flash Fiction. Far more than I can on any three paragraphs of my novel (so far). I have certainly written some FF (mostly about my kids) which fell flat for a general audience. They were just photos of moments that were memorable for me, and might have been appealing to other parents, but not really for a wider readership. Sometimes I try to edit-down a much longer story into a Flash Fiction format, and that can also lose enough cohesion that it just doesn’t work. In general, I think FF is best for me as a new epiphany about an oft-told story, written in one sitting, with the bulk of the time spent on editing -- but not trying to find the short story in the longer piece, if that makes sense.
WOW: With a full time job and other responsibilities, how do make time to
write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?
D.K.: “Productive procrastination” is my favorite. That means, when I have something I really have to do but don’t want to, like grading, I write instead. Don’t tell my students!
WOW: Writing does seem so much more appealing when there are other tasks that need attention. Thanks so much for chatting with us today, D.K.! Before you go, do you
have any advice for beginning flash fiction writers?
D.K.: WRITE! “Words words words,” as Hamlet said. Or, as numerous writers from Red Smith to Hemmingway have been quoted as saying: “There’s nothing to writing, you just open up a vein…” It’s your choice whether to visualize that vein as producing blood or gold.
Sola Olu, author of The Summer Called Angel, launches her blog tour!
Posted by WOW! at 2:30 AM
& giveaway contest!
How long could you have faith? Believe in the impossible? Rely on the strength of the smallest person you have ever met? In the memoir The Summer Called Angel, Sola Olu tells of her family’s refusal to accept the possibility that their premature daughter would not defeat the odds.
The Summer Called Angel is a memoir about survival: survival of a premature baby, survival of a brand new family, survival of love, and survival of faith. This memoir is both frightening and inspiring. You’ll find yourself cheering on this family fighting for the life they dreamed of and wondering where they find their strength. This book also includes a few welcome additions such as poems and resources for other families of premature infants.
The Summer Called Angel: A Story of Hope on the Journey through Prematurity, is available as a print and e-book at Amazon.com, as well as your local independent bookstore.
Book Giveaway Contest: To win a copy of The Summer Called Angel, please enter using the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of this post. The giveaway contest closes this Friday, January 25 at 12:00 AM EST. We will announce the winner the same day in the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!
About the Author:
Sola Olu was born and raised in Nigeria. As a child, she loved making up stories and as soon as she could write she started putting them down on paper. She holds degrees in English and Information Systems, Sola works in the retail industry and volunteers as a counselor to mothers of premature babies. Her writings include essays, poetry and children's stories. She loves to cook, travel and attend the theater. She lives in Illinois with her husband and two children.
Find out more about the author by visiting her online:
Sola: Just a lot of half projects on my computer, essays, unpublished romance manuscripts, children's stories, and a blog that I abandoned but have this year restarted: http://solamusings.blogspot.com/. The Summer Called Angel took me eight years to write because I was working, had two kids and took time to take care of myself.
WOW: It's good you took time to take care of yourself! It's something all of us need to do. So, do you have any memoir writers you enjoy?
How did The Summer Called Angel come into being? Did it begin as something written during your experience of dealing with your daughter's premature birth as a personal exercise . . . a journal, letters, a blog? Or was it something you wrote after the fact, looking back on your experiences?
Sola: A little bit of both. It began as a journal. During my daughter's hospital stay, it began as a "mummy was here today . . ." kind of journal entry, just to have something to remember that time; but as her hospital stay became longer, it became more difficult and I actually stopped for a long time until she came home. Of course, with her home and with all then therapies, I again stopped for a while, then wrote from recollection; and then I had my second child, and I'm like now the story takes a different turn. Eventually, I requested her medical notes to ensure that I had the right sequence of events and to add to how I felt as well as validate the medical issues we had to deal with.
WOW: I found your book incredibly emotional, as it brought back some of my own experiences with premature labor. Was it difficult reliving your family's experiences?
Sola: Oh sorry to hear about that. It was difficult. And it's funny you bring that up because I had a family member tell me to "move on." For a long time I was very emotional, even though she was fine; I would remember some painful episodes and tear up, but writing helped me through. I guess that was why there were so many stops—you have to be ready to write about what you went through, and then the healing comes with that. Ultimately, the story ends well. I decided to put everything out there because when I was going through those emotions of dealing with a sick child, I wondered if those feelings were valid or maybe I was just weak. But in speaking to other parents through the volunteer program I joined after my daughter came home, I realized other parents have those feelings too; and by putting it out there, I'm saying, "It's OK to cry. It's OK to heal in your own way."
And I also say I am in no way diminishing the fact that there are so many stories out there that don't have a happy ending and I can't imagine how people cope when they have to deal with that.
WOW: What made you decide to publish your experiences as a book?
Sola: It's funny—I have always dreamt of being an author. I wrote two young adult romance novels when I was a teenager. When my premature birth happened, I didn't think, Oh here's a book . . ., even though I started journaling. The first time I thought about it becoming a book was when we were coming home from hospital one day and I told my husband that we had missed summer—we didn't have a summer—and he replied that yes we did, we had a summer called Angel. My inner writer had flipped up and I thought, Hmmm that sounds like the title of a book, but at that time I didn't know what the ending would be.
So my dream of becoming an author came through with my memoir, and that has now given me the inspiration to dig up my old manuscripts and revamp.
WOW: That's a great story about your title. Can you tell us a bit about your path to publication? Did you look for an agent or traditional publisher or did you feel that self-publishing was the best choice for you?
Sola: I went for a writers conference in 2010 at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It was my first, and I plan to go again this year. While there, I learned so many things about the publishing industry and writing in general. Even though I "pitched" to agents and they seemed interested, I guess I felt overwhelmed by the whole traditional publishing route, and just came back, looked around, and selected self-publishing. I just felt I had written for 6 years at that point and I was ready. It would take another 2 years from that point though—to eventually revise, edit, and get the memoir published.
Would I choose that route again? I'm not sure—I hope not. I hope I'm able to find a publisher for my next work.
WOW: From your experience, what are the advantages (or disadvantages) of self-publishing?
Sola: The advantages of self-publishing are that you're in control of your own pace, you set your time frame and commit to it; you have editorial control of what goes in your publication; and if you have a more flexible contract, you can publish almost anywhere, especially the e-book format.
The disadvantages—especially if you're a novice like me—are that you sometimes don't have a clue what you're getting into. I learned the hard lesson that salesmen are all the same, and will sell to you to make a commission, so choose your packages very carefully. Almost every correction I made, I had to pay a fee, and it took 7-10 business days.
You also do all your own marketing. Most book stores will not carry print on demand, so you ultimately have to get your own ISBN if you want your book in stores.
WOW: What are you working on now?
Sola: A children's book for now and then back to my young adult manuscripts. I am very excited. Thank you.
WOW: Thank you, Sola, for chatting with us today! I admire you for putting yourself out there with The Summer Called Angel, and I look forward to your future projects.
Tuesday, January 22 @ The Book Cast
Have you ever wondered what determination sounds like? Listen to an audio interview with Sola Olu, author of The Summer Called Angel and you'll hear it in her voice. http://www.thebookcast.com
Wednesday, January 23 @ Thoughts in Progress
Sola Olu, author of The Summer Called Angel, stops by today with some thoughts about premature birth. http://www.masoncanyon.blogspot.com
Thursday, January 24 @ CMash Loves to Read
Stop by for an introduction to Sola Olu, memoirist, about her family's struggle and triumph over prematurity. http://www.cmashlovestoread.com
Monday, January 28 @ Read These Books and Use Them!
New mom Margo reviews The Summer Called Angel, a memoir about the challenges a new mom faced. http://margodill.com/blog
Wednesday, February 6 @ Words by Webb
Don't miss a review of a touching memoir of the survival of a brand new family: The Summer Called Angel. http://jodiwebb.com
Friday, February 8 @ Capability Mom
Don't miss a guest post by Sola Olu on the healing power of writing. http://capabilitymom.com
Monday, February 11 @ Tiffany Talks Books
Have you been thinking about love lately? Learn what true love is when you read the review of The Summer Called Angel by Sola Olu. Last chance to win a copy on the tour! http://tiffanytalksbooks.com
So you've had a couple weeks to firm up your 2013 writing goals. You have a handle on what you hope to accomplish, and if you’re the really industrious type, you've hit the page running. It’s all good, as my kids are fond of saying.
But I've noticed that whenever my kids say, “Calm down, Mom. It’s all good,” it’s invariably not all good. They've forgotten something (something that’s usually terribly important). And so I thought I’d ask: Have you remembered your writing budget?
Your writing budget is just as important as your writing goals, especially if your goals tend towards the general rather than the specific. For example, let’s say that your 2013 goal is to focus on children’s writing, and to that end, you've decided to write every day, and read more in the children’s genres you’re targeting. That’s terrific, and you will be a better writer by the end of the year.
But if you have a writing budget, you can rev up your goal. With less than a hundred dollars, you can join a professional organization like SCBWI and reap the benefits of membership. With less than two hundred dollars, you can take a class in the children’s writing field you enjoy. Or you can attend a conference, and connect with other writers in your area. You can skip the expensive coffee a couple times a month and use that money to enter a few children’s writing contests. Contests are wonderful motivators, particularly later in the year when your writing get-up-and-go is threatening to get up and leave.
So it doesn't take an accountant to see that a writing budget will pay dividends down the road in your writing career.
But maybe you’re not a fiction writer. Maybe you’re a freelancer, or a poet, or working on your memoir, and you can’t see any benefits in joining a professional organization or attending a conference. But you still want to take your writing to the next level. Yep, you’re going to need a budget.
For less than a hundred dollars, you can set up your own website and jumpstart your online presence. If you can find two hundred dollars, you can take classes on freelance writing, memoir writing, even poetry writing. You might want to join a freelance job opportunities site; these sites can range from free to forty dollars a month. You could research mentorship, wherein writers set their own fees for what will help you the most.
So before your 2013 resolve fades, get out the calculator and work those numbers. Figure out your writing budget and stick to it. Then you can tell me, “It’s all good, Cathy.” And I just might believe you.
This past week, Sue Bradford Edwards wrote a great post about why writers need to be readers, too. I've been thinking a lot about this lately anyway--actually wondering if what I read ever influences how I write or what I write. What I decided that I learn the most from other authors, and the thing I need the most help with myself, is structure. I find myself marveling at how some authors seem to structure their novels just right--to build suspense, to unveil layers of a character one peel at a time, or even to keep the reader guessing who is actually responsible for some crime or bad behavior in a novel. Even memoirs have different structures: some go in chronological order, while others start with the life-changing event and then explain how or why they got there.
After reading Holly Black's White Cat in her semi-new The Curse Workers series (YA), I realized my WIP, a YA novel, is structured all wrong. Holly's book is so engaging because the reader, and the narrator (Cassel) too, don't figure out until almost the end the truth about the main character's family and secrets. If Holly would have started off with revealing the secret to the reader, even if the main character didn't know, like I do in my YA "curse" book, then White Cat wouldn't have been as engaging or as page-turning. Sure, it would have probably still been good--it's an interesting story, and Holly is a good writer. But we care more about Cassel because of how Holly reveals him to us--readers discover him as he also discovers himself. Now I have to decide if I want to go back to the drawing board and re-write my YA novel once again. Thanks, Holly Black. (smiles)
The book I just read for my newspaper book review column, an adult historical fiction paranormal mystery (can you say that all in one breath?) is structured with a prologue! "WHAT? Someone wrote a prologue and got it published?" you say. YES! And the person is a very successful and well-revered author of both children's and adult fiction. The book I am talking about is The Greatcoat and the author is Helen Dunmore. The Greatcoat is set mostly in 1952 in Great Britain and deals with the effects of World War II on the war-torn country. But the prologue and some of the "paranormal" action is set in World War II--it's a very interesting way to structure a book.
In this case, I'm not sure if the prologue was needed, but I suppose Helen wanted readers to get a little insight into her paranormal figure before he started haunting our main character, who can't figure out what is going on. So back to my WIP--should I start with a prologue? Could I reveal a bit about my main character's family and the curse before I start in present time? It's something to consider from reading Helen's book, which I really enjoyed. Again, she didn't reveal the whole mystery until almost the end of the book--that's pretty common. If writers revealed everything at the beginning, then who would keep reading?
So, back to the drawing board, aka the revision process, for me--thanks to two books I've recently read and really enjoyed. How about you? Has a book influenced you so much that it made you either write something new or change the way you were already writing it? What was it about the book? The structure? The characters? The point of view? Let us know!
Margo Dill, author of middle-grade historical fiction novel Finding My Place, is teaching a children's and YA novel online writing workshop, starting on January 22. The class is for people beginning or in the middle of writing a novel for this age group. There will be critiques by Margo and classmates, discussions, and writing instruction. For more information, check out the WOW! classroom page.