Category Archives: writing workshop

Riham El-Ashry: The Lost City

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Dimitis Vetsikas from Pixabay.

The Lost City

Riham El-Ashry

 

The face of a young girl screaming shined in the light of the descending sun. A massive wave covered her body and dragged her downward. Down. Down. She gasped desperately for air, but only water rushed into her lungs. Her eyes were terrified gazing upward, and her hand stretched asking for help, but in vain. A giant golden perch fish swam by, opened its mouth, and started to bite the girl’s arms…. 

———————————

Her screams awoke everyone in the house. Her mother dashed into the room, almost tripped over the carpet. And in a few seconds, she was beside the ten-year-old Amira, holding her tightly while reciting holy words. 

“Hush, my dear! What’s wrong? Is it the same dream? Is it that scary?” Mona ran her hand on Amira’s curly hair and patted her shoulder. 

“She was there. The same girl… holding out her hand and calling me.” Amira cupped her ears. “Her words echo in my ears.” 

The mother’s eyes moved between her child and her husband, helplessly asking for an explanation. The stepfather looked at the opposite wall and frowned. 

“You are only spoiling her. Don’t you realize why her nightmares disrupt our nights?? This is all fake. She’s making it up.” He turned his face away and was about to leave the room but stopped abruptly with eyes fixed on something on the floor. 

“What’s that there in the corner?” His voice which was trembling with anger now soothing roughly of surprise. 

“That olla? I don’t know. Maybe it is an old one. I don’t remember it,” Mona answered carelessly. 

Abbas was a pottery maker, well known for his talent and skill. His pots and vases were exhibited in rich bazaars and a favorite to tourists. He was a renowned pottery artist and everyone in Luxor and beyond knew or at least heard of him. 

When his beloved woman was forced to marry another, he felt the bitterness of being helpless and weak. Imagining his girl in the arms of another kept him awake for months. At first, he was lost, then he decided to be as rich and powerful as the man who stole his love. And he waited patiently for a chance. Seven years in hell made him determined to win her back after his rival’s death. 

Reaching what he long dreamt of was not now enough, his eternal love had a daughter who reminded him every second of his suffering and pain. The little girl represented her dead father in their life. And Abbas hated her, tried to annoy her and send her away. But this time, he didn’t mean to irritate the little girl. 

“What have you done this time?” The mother narrowed her eyes and examined him. 

Abbas, sitting on the colorful floor rug beside the strange piece. “Where did you find this beauty?”

———————————–

Merit waved to her mom who sat on the Hapy’s bank sorting the fish Merit and her stepfather were catching. The Ra was taking his marvelous fire life-giving disk down the sky. It was a successful fishing day for the small family. They packed almost all their belongings getting ready for the flood. It was only a week ahead and their hut on the bank would be destroyed soon. Addaya worked hard to collect as many fish as he could to secure food and trade for the coming weeks till the river became safe again for sailing. 

The mother started up a fire, she had some reeds to stick the fish onto. And she grilled two fish for dinner. Merit’s family loved to have dinner by Hapy and watch Ra blessing them through the golden rays of the sun. Searching in the woven basket, she found a decorative pot with some words inscribed on it. Among the words was her daughter’s name. Her eyes widened in dismay, it was an execration text on a drinking pot. 

“Who would curse my daughter?” She thought that it must have been done by Addaya who detested his former rival greatly. 

———————————

Abbas ran the tips of his fingers on the ancient vase. The blue ornaments and mysterious shapes took his breath away. Finally, he looked for a long time at Amira till she and her mother were perplexed. 

“No, you are not going to do this?” Mona stood between her husband and daughter. 

“I will. It is the chance I was waiting for, far too long. Finding an ancient treasure is my ultimate dream, not even you will compensate for that.” Abbas pushed his wife and grabbed Amira’s hand and dragged her out of the adobe room. 

Abbas’s house was built on a small hill on the bank of the Nile. It belonged to his family, and he inherited it. He lived there watching the great river and its west bank, imagining himself one day rich and maybe famous by a grand chance that his ancestors might bestow upon him. Often he gazed across the Nile and examined the Valley of the Kings and dreamt of the lost city, the Golden City, that archeologists searched for. Silently, he prayed this would be his chance. 

They descended the slope hastily. Abbas almost stumbled over a rock, while Amira was trying to pull herself backward and called her mother. The full moon lit up the whole area. When they reached the old boat, Amira pushed him and ran to the other side. 

“No, I won’t ride the boat. It’s.. It’s like the nightmare… The little girl drowned here.” She closed her eyes and suddenly became attentive as if listening to someone. “Do you hear that?” 

Abbas looked around and at Mona who reached the bank now, and said, “There is nothing, no sounds.” 

“Let’s go. I can guide you,” Amira uttered in a calm, assured voice completely opposite to her previous tone. 

“It’s the Pharaoh’s curse, don’t go, please,” the mother pleaded while Abbas and Amira sailed the boat to the west bank. 

Holding up a big lantern, Abbas followed Amira’s directions. They walked for a long distance towards the mountain. With every step, the silence intensified and the slope sharpened. The dust stirred around them as they went deeper into the valley. On a clear spot, Amira stood firmly, pointed ahead and said, “There. I found the pot there.” 

After a few weeks a marvelous discovery was announced, the Golden City was finally found. 

————————————

Final note: the Golden City of Aten was uncovered in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt early this month. All details in this short story are made up by the author. 

For reference: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-56686448

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Please visit Riham on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100010254645147

Writers Unite! Workshop: The Western (Part Two)

Writers Unite! Workshop

The Western

Part Two

The western genre is unique. The popularity of the western novel spawned many television shows and movies watched by legions of fans around the globe. That familiarity created a quandary for writers. With a set period, just after the civil war to the early 1900s, locations, transportation, and the people that populated the west are well-known to the reader and the viewers. Unlike a science fiction story, where you can create any world you like, you can’t recreate the old west.

The Western Character

The Good

Westerns can appear two-dimensional as the concept of good vs. evil is a popular central theme. The protagonist is often a loner, a knight-errant if you will. A wanderer, perhaps a gunslinger who reluctantly stays to help the townsfolk or the sheriff or the widowed rancher face the bad guys. The good guy could be the sheriff facing a threat from a gang or an evil cattle baron. A strong moral center is a common characteristic of the western hero, and a sense of right and wrong prevails over the reluctance to enter the fight.

The fallacy of the western is that, as stated above, they often appear two-dimensional. If you write your characters that way, reduce them to good or evil, your story will be flat. As with all characters, western-genre characters should be multi-dimensional.

  • Make your protagonist human. Give the hero a personality, a sense of humor, a fear of heights, a love of poker. Maybe they drink too much, are scarred emotionally or physically by past trauma. Give your reader a reason to become attached to them and cheer for them to prevail.
  • Create a backstory that makes their actions plausible. Bring that detail out as the story unfolds to add credibility to your hero’s behavior.
  • Give them a quest. Stories need conflict, and your hero needs a goal, a quest—set the stakes high. They and the reader need a goal to attain.
  • Give them supportive surrounding characters, even if they don’t want help. A writer should never think that only the protagonist or antagonist is worthy of development. The supporting characters need development as well.
  • Make that quest difficult. Give them setbacks along the way, obstacles to overcome to reach that final goal.
  • Allow them to fail and gain the resolve to push harder to attain their goal.

Whether you are writing a western or fantasy or any other genre, create a character that your reader will identify with and want to see win.

The Bad

The evil rancher preying on the widow’s land, the ruthless killer, the bank robber—all wonderfully delicious bad guys. Always give your hero a worthy opponent, even a stronger one, with more resources or power. Making your hero struggle is the role the antagonist takes, so let it happen. The more ruthless the antagonist is, the more your hero suffers. Here as well, you should make your villain human, a one-dimensional villain does not enhance your story.

For a strong antagonist:

  • Give your antagonist unpleasant goals.
  • Remember, your antagonist believes their goals are righteous. Give them the conviction of their beliefs.
  • Provide a credible backstory providing reasons for the evildoing.
  • Make your antagonist strong, seemingly invincible, throwing obstacles in the protagonist’s way.

The Rest

Unique supporting characters flavor the western. A secondary character serves as a sidekick, a mentor, a friend. Additional characters can be associates of the protagonist who join in the quest, or integral players appearing in a single scene that moves the plot forward.

The main secondary character can be a friend, lover, partner, or mentor, and plays a pivotal role in displaying the protagonist as human. This character serves to reveal the main character’s heroic attributes, kindness, compassion, humor, and flaws.

In any story, additional characters that come in contact with the protagonist should move the plot forward or demonstrate other facets of the main character. For example, the protagonist and sidekick enter a saloon. Barmaid approaches and says to the protagonist, “Hey, handsome, you’re the best-looking stranger that’s come in here in a long time.’ That statement replaces the need to describe the character in the narrative as handsome. The barmaid did that for you.

While the story and quest revolve around the protagonist, the action toward resolution of the quest moves forward through the supporting characters. One of the best examples of an ensemble cast in a western is the TV program “High Chaparral.” From the main character and his family to the hired hands, the cast exemplifies how the characters interact to create the story.

The Western World

Every writer does worldbuilding. Whether you are setting a modern-day story in a real location or a created location, you build a world. It is essential to create a setting that frames your story correctly. On his writing blog, terribleminds.com, Chuck Wendig offers this definition: “[worldbuilding] covers everything and anything inside that world.”

In contemporary settings, creating a world is not as difficult. We have a frame of reference in everyday items such as currency, transportation, shopping, housing, and all the other facets of our lives. We do have national and cultural differences to take into consideration, but if you set a story in a small town or a city, creating or referencing that world is not difficult.

Historical settings require more attention and research. Period pieces set in varied centuries or during wars need thorough and meticulous research. The western genre spans the period from after the American Civil War to the 1930s and is unique. Due to the popularity of western television shows and movies and the western novel, the public is quite familiar with the period. You may not have read a Zane Grey book, but you have likely seen “Gunsmoke” or “Bonanza.”

For the overall location, watching old movies or TV shows portray a somewhat accurate image of a western town or ranch. However, when writing, the nuances of the western world are imperative, and for avid readers of westerns, they will know if a single detail is wrong. Here are some critical areas to address when writing a western set in the Old West of the late 19th century:

  • Composition of the town. Most small western towns have a dry goods/general store, a smithy/stable, a jail, and a saloon (some with rooms to rent), and perhaps a post office or telegraph. Larger communities may have a train station, a stagecoach station, a hotel, a doctor, and a claims office.
  • Transportation. The horse is the primary mode of transportation. You should learn about horse sizes, how much can they carry, what breeds of horses are common, and the tack they use. They used several types of wagons to transport supplies and people as well as stagecoaches and trains.
  • Native Americans. If you include Native American characters, be aware of the tribes in the location of your story and their culture. Tribal cultures differ, and it is respectful to be accurate.*
  • Language. Research common language and slang for the era but be aware of slang words or words that do not fit the times. A reliable source for determining the first use of a word is the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
  • Food. If you are going to feed cowhands or eat in a hotel dining room in Virginia City, know what foods were common then.
  • Need a doctor? Modern medicine, as we know it, was just coming into being during this time. Look for how the doctors of the day treated gunshot wounds or fever, among other maladies.

The more accuracy you bring to your stories, the more credible your storytelling, and you will do justice to the Western.

There is one path a writer can take to vary the setting, and that is the neo-western subgenre, where the story is set in the contemporary west but maintains the characteristics of the old-west stories. A look at modern western towns, cities, and ranches will provide the accuracy needed.

And…don’t forget the cowboy hat!

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Resources:

Western World Building:

National Cowboy Museum

Legendary Towns of the Old West Then and Now

Hoofs-Wheels-Transportation West

Horse Tack

Western Wear

History of the Cowboy Hat

Medicine in the Wild West

Food Timeline 19th Century Foods

Merriam-Webster

Article:

25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuilding

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*Note: 

Accuracy is essential and telling the story from the viewpoint as it occurred is vital. While we have modern sensibilities when it comes to the treatment of Native Americans and other ethnic groups, historical accuracy is critical. When writing about events and how they occurred in the late 1800s, be truthful but respectful. Always avoid stereotyping, as it is never accurate.

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution.

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Announcing Writers Unite!’s sixth anthology volume.  We invite all writers of westerns or any writers interested in the western genre to submit a story to our Dimensions of The Wild West anthology.

If you are interested in submission, you must be a member of Writers Unite! on Facebook.  https://www.facebook.com/groups/145324212487752/
If you have questions, please email writersunite16@gmail.com

Link to Guidelines for the Dimensions of the Wild Westhttps://bit.ly/3fh7zgr

Writers Unite! Workshop: The Western (Part One)

Writers Unite! Workshop

The Western

Part One

Mention the word “western,” and images of cowboys and sheriffs, shootouts and posses, and a saloon, cattle drive, or stagecoach come to mind—nothing like the wild, wild west.

The western genre appeared during the late 19th Century when the exploits of citizens moving west into the American frontier became the subject of the ‘penny dreadfuls’ and dime novels that fictionalize tales of real people such as Billy the Kidd, Wyatt Earp, and Jessie James. Interest in western tales inspired by James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking novels and his best-known novel in the series, The Last of the Mohicans, grew to enormous popularity.

The success of the novel, The Virginian by Owen Wister, published in 1902, led to the rise of well-known authors Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, and Larry McMurtry. Present-day western authors such as Ace Atkins, Craig Johnson, and the late Tony Hillerman, whose daughter Anne continues the sagas of Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, and Sergeant Jim Cree are best-selling authors.

Definition of Western Genre: 

Westerns are stories usually set in western North America, most often west of the Mississippi River and during the latter half of the 19th century. Common themes include honor, justice, survival, revenge, and redemption. The main characters are cowboys, scouts, Indians, traders, pioneers, and lawmen, among others.

Classic Characteristics of a Western:

  • Wide-open spaces of the western United States
  • Cowboys
  • Lawmen: sheriffs, US. Marshals
  • Bad guys such as evil land barons, robbers, gunslingers
  • Native Americans
  • Settlers
  • Wagon trains, stagecoaches, trains
  • Mining
  • Cattle ranches and cattle drives
  • Saloons, barkeeps, saloon girls
  • Gambling
  • Shootouts, train and bank robberies
  • Period set between the American Civil War and early 1900s

Western Themes:

  • Morality — Good vs. Evil
  • Revenge
  • Coming of age
  • Love
  • Survival
  • Prejudice
  • Courage

Traditional Western Subgenres:

  • Australian – This sub-genre is a rare exception to the ‘time and place’ bounds of the genre and instead settles in Australia’s vast outback.
  • Black Cowboy (buffalo soldier) – These westerns feature a protagonist of color. Historians say the actual frontier was relatively colorblind.
  • Bounty Hunter – This sub-genre centers upon these morally ambiguous characters.
  • Civil War – Some battles during the war were fought as far west as New Mexico. After the war, the Blue/Gray bitterness throughout the frontier.
  • Cowpunk – A subgenre that derives its name (and irreverent tone) from science fiction’s ‘cyberpunk.’ (Wild, Wild West, anyone???)
  • Doctor and Preacher – Two types of protagonists in this subgenre. These lead characters are committed to peace and healing in an often violent environment.
  • Gunfighter – The iconic western subgenre. Often a ‘white hat’ protagonist reluctantly agrees to go up against a cruel ‘black hat’ villain (whether an outright criminal or a corrupt VIP) on behalf of oppressed settlers. 
  • Indian wars – This is a dominant subgenre. They are usually accurate, in a historical sense, and will also reflect the worldview of the author. 
  • Land Rush – Usually focused on Oklahoma or a few similar events in which vast tracts of land opened to homesteading – whether the resident Indians liked it or not.
  • Lawmen (Texas Rangers) – This subgenre centers around the honest lawmen who brought order and justice to the wild frontier. Often the protagonist is or is based upon an actual person.
  • Outlaw – Westerns that focus on the black hats, the colorful villains of that era.
  • Railroad – Stories center upon a titanic project: the bridging of the east and west coasts by the Central Pacific and Union Pacific lines.
  • Revenge – These westerns are a relatively dark subgenre. A determined protagonist, often a young survivor of some cruel massacre, goes after the perpetrators.
  • Romance – An overlapping subgenre, which features such a relationship, but in the format of a ‘western’ novel. 
  • Sheep – Range wars between cattle and sheep ranchers.
  • Town Tamer – A lone gunman, or sometimes a group of friends, take on the corrupt leadership of an isolated town, and risk their lives to bring freedom.
  • Wagon Train – These westerns are an archetypal subgenre. The Oregon Trail was the interstate highway of its era, with lumbering Conestoga wagons and hardships that were often extreme.
  • Women – Female protagonists lead this subgenre. Some tales idealize their courage and triumphs, as with the real-life Annie Oakley. Opposite this, Dorothy Scarborough’s 1925 novel The Wind is a harsh depiction of a young woman’s life in frontier west Texas. (So harsh that Texan leaders protested.)

Non-traditional Western Subgenres:

  • Fantasy – Combining magic and magical creatures in a western is not as prevalent in westerns but do exist. The level of magic may range from everyday use by citizens to strangers with magical powers.
  • Science-Fiction – While an unlikely combination, science fiction can combine with western themes. The film “Cowboys and Aliens” from 2011 merged the two genres well, with aliens in the Old West. The movie “Outland” from 1981 has been described as a space western which is a subgenre of the science fiction genre and uses the themes and tropes of the western genre.
  • Paranormal – Ghosts, angels and demons, vampires, werewolves, and the occasional Sasquatch appear in these stories.
  • Horror – The element of fear is what sets this genre aside and often combine the paranormal genre with horror in a western setting.
  • Mystery – Think Pinkerton,stagecoach, and bank robberies, stealing mine claims, along with good old-fashioned murder. Central characters are sheriffs, deputies, US. Marshals, government investigators, and detectives from Pinkerton, including a female detective.

Revisionist Western Subgenre: 

During the 1960s, westerns took on a different tone. They became dark and sinister, with more violence than a traditional western where morals such as good and evil were clear cut. A revisionist western often portrayed the hero as more of an anti-hero, and the division of good and evil blurred. Many movies, so-called “spaghetti westerns,” dealt with deeper issues and different values.

Neo-western Subgenre:

The neo-western is set in present day and carries the themes of a traditional western—a high moral code, good and evil are clear. Characters and settings are often the same, but modern sensibilities are applied to the story. Often, the hero feels out of place as some consider the code they live by as old-fashioned. The Longmire series by Craig Johnson is an excellent example of the genre.

Next:

Characters, Setting, and The Importance of Research

Resources:

Agnew, Jeremy. December 2, 2014. The Creation of the Cowboy Hero: Fiction, Film and Fact, p. 88, McFarland. ISBN 978-0786478392
Masterclass: Western Genre    https://bit.ly/3hIwMSA http://www.cuebon.com/ewriters/Wsubgenres.htmlhttp://bestfantasybooks.com/weird-west-fantasy.html
Brophy, Philip (1987). “Rewritten Westerns: Rewired Westerns”. Stuffing. No. 1. Melbourne. Retrieved 2014-09-01.

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution.

Announcing Writers Unite!’s sixth anthology volume.  We invite all writers of westerns or any writers interested in the western genre to submit a story to our Dimensions of The Wild West anthology.

If you are interested in submission, you must be a member of Writers Unite! on Facebook.  https://www.facebook.com/groups/145324212487752/
If you have questions, please email writersunite16@gmail.com

Link to Guidelines for the Dimensions of the Wild Westhttps://bit.ly/3fh7zgr

Writers Unite! Workshop: Writing Comics! POW!

Writing Comics! POW!

By David Noe

First off, there are a number of folks out there around my age who HATE that I POWed the title. There were literal decades of newspaper and book and TV articles that came out after the Batman TV phenom that used that cliché. We knew that comics were a legitimate art form. We knew they could be on par with “real” literature. It just took until the 80s to prove it to the world. Secondly, if you want to write comics, I mean if you actually want to make comics because you want to WRITE them, then you already know this.

There are certain things to keep in mind when scripting comics. Writing a comic book story and scripting it are two different animals. Scripting is different from prose or poetry but is related in key ways. You don’t count words; you count pages, and whether you have a single-page filler or an eight-page short story or a twenty-two-page comic or a hundred-plus-page graphic novel, you are a slave to the page count. You still MUST have a beginning, middle, and end no matter the length of the story. Even continued stories must have proper arcs. Even if hardly anybody will ever read it, you need to do it right. If you don’t take pride in your work, you shouldn’t even be doing it.

I’ll avoid the many other aspects of the business to focus on just the scripting, but you should keep these other things in your thoughts, especially if you are going the self-publishing route (if you are going the work-for-hire route, you have other problems to deal with). You need to organize talent, deadlines and schedules, money and lack thereof, intellectual property, copyright and registration, interpersonal squabbles, and a host of other tasks that make it like herding cats. Onward to the nuts and bolts.

The Script

Sci-Fighter is owned by David Noe and is used with permission.

Just exactly what IS a comic book script? Well, you take a movie script or a play… and you throw it out the window. There are actually NO galvanized accepted ways of scripting comics. This is actually a good thing in most cases. If you are a writer only, you need to find the best way to communicate with the artist the things you want on the page and the order you want them. Really, that’s it as far as the actual physical structure of a comic book script. Now, there are generally accepted ways to write a script, but they are general. You must choreograph every panel in a way that progresses the story, has the proper flow and visual impact. Keep in mind that you want to be able to have the artwork tell part of the story too. Don’t try to get all the info in the panels, but have the two merge together to make something that is better than the sum of its parts. Some writers produce reams of description. Some writers draw little sketches for their artist. Communication is the most important thing, communication with the artist and colorist and letterer and publisher, communication and clarity in the script, communication on the page and in the story. That being said, there is another method of comics writing called the Marvel method, that I will not get into here.

There are also things to avoid. As a writer, you are going to want to use ALL the words. Do not do that. Learn to let the pictures tell part of the story. No reader wants a text-heavy comic. There needs to be a balance, and finding that balance comes with time and experience and many hours of failure and also talent. Panels. So many panels. If you want your artist to hate you, try making a story full of nine or twelve-panel grids. It’ll look crowded and muddy. It can be done, but only if it is used deliberately and rarely. Talking heads are the same way. Depending on the genre, you need to be very careful with a lot of talking head panels. Again, this can be used artistically, but you need to be sure that’s why you’re doing it. Try to keep your panel count down to six or fewer, depending on what the story needs.

Coming up with ideas is the same as any creative endeavor. Try to be original or add your own spin to something. Do not despair! This may be the actual hardest part for some people. If you have that idea burning a hole in your brain, you need to do some basic homework. Always keep in mind that you have to get it exactly right on page count. Not only does the story have to rise and fall in the right places, but it has to end on the exact right page on the exact right panel. Work on your characters, their motivations, look, backstories, etc. It’s the same as any story writing. You need to know your character. You Pantsers out there may have a little more difficult time, if only because of the structure of the scripting. It’s hard to meander when you have to make it fit (but that’s what first drafts are for, right?).

My advice to script layout is to make a very clear delineation between your pages and panels. Use bold letters for panel description and regular letters for panel dialogue. Make your pagination larger so that it stands out on the scripted page. Always remember to put your name on the script. It’s also a good idea to put at the beginning how many pages long the story is, if you are dealing with a book that has different lengths of stories.

You will be surprised when you start to see the art. Sometimes the artist will get exactly what you were thinking and portray it perfectly… and it may stink. It might also be a remarkable, intense, elevating moment in your life when you get to see another creator examine and interpret your material, and then present it in another format than how you first created it. Other times, the artist may totally miss the mark or not obey your directives, or go off on his or her own tangent. How you react and what you do about it will have to be dealt with early. You will need to decide how you will handle this. It may ruin or enhance your story, but writers can be as wacky as any other type of creative individual. You have to remember that the artist is interpreting your words and is not inside your head. Make yourself very clear. Some artists need that and some artists resent that. Writers and artists both can sometimes have difficulty dealing with differing points of view or constructive criticism. However, you must remember that this is a collaboration between two different art forms. That’s what makes comics an art form, a POWerful art form.

David Noe is the cofounder of InDELLible Comics, publisher of full-color graphic novel anthologies (all available on Amazon). He also writes novels and other sundry books.

Visit InDELLible Comics:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/114254119027859/
Comics available on Amazon. com
Cover Artists:

PopCom1 by Steven Butler
PopCom2 by Marvin Mann
PopCom3 by Kevin Frear,
Tomb1 by Paul Rose,
Spades1 by Josh Deck

Enzo Stephens: Ghostwriting

Writers Unite!’s Featured Blog Series!

Writers Unite! is fortunate to have among its members, many bloggers, and essayists who write content about the writing process or their author’s journey or both. We will be posting their articles for your information and enjoyment. Please read and comment, visit the author’s website, blog, or Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram and share!

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Ghostwriting

By Enzo Stephens

“Hey, so what do you do to put bread on the table, Enzo?”

“Well Jake, I’m a professional writer.”

“Really?  I’ve always wanted to be a writer.”

Jake’s wife, Emily provides this further illumination to Jake’s aspiration.  “He has such good ideas…”

Now it’s my turn to act interested.  “Well, that’s tremendous, you guys. So what’s stopping you?  You guys could go in on it together; like a little family project.”

At this point, there comes an onslaught of excuses that, quite literally, feel like an overdose of Novocain being jammed in my carotid with the barrel of a recently-vacated ballpoint pen.

As in, OUCH.  Please stop and don’t say another word.  But of course, the good Jake and Emily continue their diatribe, and again, for the sake Being a Nice Guy, the Interested Face gets plastered on again while they blather on.

“Good question Enzo.  Writing is a huge time investment—”

“—And there’s all the stuff with the kids.”

“Right!  Lots going on, Enzo.”

“Do you think I’ve got ‘lots going on’, guys?”

“Uh, well…”

“I just bet you do!”  Emily can be inappropriately chipper.  Then, “So Enzo, are you published?”  

Nice uncomfortable-subject shuffle there, Emily.  “You mean, is my work published?”

“Hah!  Now THAT’s a writer for ya!”

“Yes, I’ve got some work out there.”

“Really?  In your name?”

“No.  I use a pen name.”

“Anyone we’d recognize?”

Now there’s just a whole array of snarky answers I could throw in here, but I walk a deeper strategy of snark when this topic comes up in party banter.  Here we go…

“Oh yeah, you would.”

“Clearly, Jake, Enzo isn’t comfortable sharing his pen name, are you Enzo?”

“Not really, Emily.  I mean, why use a pen name if you’re just gonna dole it out like Halloween candy?”

“Hah!  Good point, Enzo.  Maybe a better question is, can you recommend any titles for us.”

“Despite my reticence to share my pen name, Jake, I’ll contradict that stance, but only here and now with you fine folk, and that’s under the promise from you guys that you will keep it under your hat.  Hmmm, maybe I can get you to sign a Non-Disclosure—”

“Enzo, you’re too much.”

“Right Enzo, our word is gold.  You can bank on it.”

“Cool, Emily.  Okay, have you ever read ‘Cujo’?”

And now comes the obligatory moment of stunned silence as the realization rolls over their non-poker playing faces.  Then, “Jeez, that’s you?”

“You’re…” voice lowered to a whisper, “Stephen King?”

A quick wink in response, and then, “So let’s talk about your desire to write…”

“Well, Mister King, like I said, there’s just no time.”

“First, Jakey-poo, I am NOT Stephen King, so please drop that right away or this conversation is el-don-no.  Capisce?”

Sheepish looks.  “Sorry, mister K—”

“—Uh uh!”

“Oh right.  Enzo.”

“So really, guys, telling me you don’t have enough time to actually sit down to write is, well you know, an excuse.”  I held my forefinger up in front of their faces to halt their silly defensive protests while I pressed on.

“The truth of the matter is deeper than what you just told me.  For instance, everyone has kids. I know of a single mom with three little ones that can crank out a one-hundred-thousand word masterpiece in three months.  What do you think her time-suck is like?”

So now they’re looking away a bit and they look a little uncomfortable like they’ve just been scolded.  I sucked in a deep breath and climbed right up on my soapbox. “Writing can be a hobby, sure, and I suspect that’s where you’re at when you said that you always wanted to be a writer, Jake.  

“But if you want to put out really great material, well, like anything else, it requires a butt-load of work.  And even more practice! Do you feel me?”

Honestly, after all that I’m pretty surprised that the court that I’m holding is still populated with these two. They nod in unison, giving me license to press on.

“So let’s get real here, guys and explore this a bit.  Is it the work that’s stopping you from chasing this dream you have of being a writer?”

Jake hemmed and hawed a bit, glancing at his oddly small feet.  “Honestly, Enzo, it’s getting started that’s the problem for me, I think.”

“Okay, that’s good, Jake.  You’ve drilled down a bit.  Let’s go further. What’s stopping you from getting started?”

‘Uh… I suppose it’s just sitting down and, you know, actually doing it.”

I nodded, and I totally GOT Jakey.  We were on to something here. My nodding encouraged Jake to press on.  “It’s like I know what I want to write. But I don’t know how to start.”

“And he really does tell wonderful stories.”  Yeah, thanks for that, Emily.

“I’m sure Jake does.  But I’d like to share something with you guys to help you move forward with your dream.  Good?”

“Absolutely!”

“Try taking on some small side gigs that will actually pay you for your writing.  When you know that you’re going to get paid BEFORE you begin writing, well, that’s all the motivation you’ll need to hot-wire your head.”

My Old Fashioned suddenly became bone dry and that sucked, so it was time to move on, but before finding the nearest watering hole, I had one more tidbit to drop on these hopeful folk.  “Nothing teaches the craft of Writing like getting paid for your Writing. Each gig you take on teaches you… just phenomenal amounts of improvement! So if you want to get going here, go build an account on a side-hustle platform and start bidding on small jobs.

“I’ll tell you now, the pay will suck.  But you’re not doing it to earn a living; not yet anyway.  Think of it as On the Job Training; you’re getting paid to learn.

“One more thing; I have a pretty significant volume of published novels doing the Exact.  Same. Thing. It’s called ‘Ghost Writing’, and I cannot emphasize the benefits of doing this to new and younger writers enough!”

Mic Drop.  Time for a refill!

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Soon:  More Ghostwriting

Author Bio:

Enzo Stephens has a serious case of professional ADHD.  He’s a professional writer with over 60 novels ghosted and several under his own name.  He’s an active blogger and has fallen in love with knocking out short stories.

Enzo is a retired Marine and a martial arts instructor for longer than most people have been alive, and his cats, wife, and kids merely tolerate his nonsense.

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For more of Enzo’s writing visit him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Enzo.stephens.5011 or check out the monthly archives here on the WU! blog.

( Please note: the images used as prompts are free-use images and do not require attribution.)  

Writers Unite! Workshop: Song Lyrics

Writers Unite! Workshop

Song Lyrics

A note. A chord. A word. A phrase. A song transports us instantly to the moment we first heard it and often floods us with emotions that the memory invokes, joy, fun, passion, sadness, heartbreak. Music is life.

While melody and rhythm affect us, lyrics speak for us when we cannot speak for ourselves. As writing is an art form, writing lyrics is a specialized version of writing poetry.

Our Attraction to Music

Studies have shown that when listening to favorite music, dopamine, the chemical released when doing other pleasurable activities such as eating or sex, is released in various parts of the brain associated with the anticipation of pleasure and deep emotional responses.  If the tonal qualities of a piece of music evoke this reaction, adding words that have meaning to the listener will deepen the connection to the song and the emotional bond formed.

“Music affects deep emotional centers in the brain. A single sound tone is not really pleasurable in itself; but if these sounds are organized over time in some sort of arrangement, it’s amazingly powerful.”    

              — Valorie Salimpoor, neuroscientist McGill University

Lyricist vs. Songwriter

The difference between a lyricist and a songwriter is quite simple. Lyricists write the words to a song. A songwriter writes both words and music.


 “Lyricists are articulate and detail-oriented, with a keen eye for observing the world around them and the discipline to translate their observations and insights into the formal language of song.”  

                                                                                    — Berklee College of Music

Qualifications for a Lyricist

Formal education is not a requirement to be a lyricist. However, a degree in creative writing with an emphasis on poetry offers advantages in a competitive field. Focusing on an art or history education is also a plus as these subjects provide a strong overview of life. Courses on lyric writing are often part of the curriculum in college and university music departments.

While it is not necessary to play an instrument to write lyrics, it is a valuable skill to have. Understanding the importance of meter in music is as essential as it is when writing poetry, so familiarity with an instrument is helpful.

Writing Song Lyrics

Berklee School of Music offers five tips on how to start writing lyrics:

  • Record your thoughts:  in addition to formal education, journaling daily thoughts and emotions is a valuable way to accumulate ideas and underlying emotions for use when writing lyrics. Take the five senses into consideration, taste, smell, touch, sight, sound, as well as movement, as suggested by the article. These descriptors bring the listener to the exact emotion or visual that you need them to have to engage in your lyrics. Use the “small moment” of a particular sense, such as the waft of perfume or touch of a hand, to capture emotion.
  • Read the words, forget the music: Read lyrics written by others and not to the recorded song.By concentrating on the words and not the music, you will gain a better sense of the simplicity and structure of good lyrics. Pay attention to the hook the lyricist has used and the repetitive chorus that ties the song together. Consider the message you want to convey and use the “small moment” mentioned above to make your point.
  • Speak Naturally: Write as you speak in the language that you speak naturally. Don’t force a word or a rhyme, or you will lose the meaning. Berklee uses the word authentic to describe the language you use, and that word is powerful. As with writing a story, the words must be real to connect to your audience. Don’t forget to change tense as you do not have to always write in past tense but can also write in present and future tense to tell your story.
  • The K.I.S.S. Principle:  Keep it simple, stupid is a wise adage. Write in five to six lines of verse and create repetition in the chorus. Longer lyrics can become confusing and obscure the message.
  • Collaborate:  Reach out to lyricists and learn from them. Collaborate on writing lyrics, especially with lyricists who are also musicians writing their songs.

Other tips from sterostickman.com:

  • First Impressions:  The opening lines of a song matter. Use them to hook the listener and keep them listening until the chorus and the message of the song.

Short Sentences: “I lied / He cried / We were both / Terrified”

Specific Storytelling: “The laugh lines around her eyes / Told a story of loving compromise / But the clothes she always wore / End up screwed up on the floor”

Instructions: “Everybody, clap your hands / Get those feet moving, too / We’re about to get wild / No telling what we’re gonna do”

  • Experiment building on lines. Write a line, repeat it with another word, until you get to the meaning you wish to convey. This technique will keep your listener waiting for the next word.

“I really want you
I really want you to
I really want you to go
I really want you to go further

  • Become a techie. If you run into issues with selecting words or rhyming, a website like http://www.rhymezone.com can help by making suggestions for rhymes, near rhymes, and synonyms. Rhyming is certainly acceptable but remember not to rely on it when writing lyrics. However, as long as the lyrics are authentic, it can work.
  • Time Management. Working under deadlines and being able to manage time is essential for both the project and the content. Commercial compositionsare time-sensitive, airtime on radio stations, for instance, is crucial for the artist’s and publisher’s success. Being cognizant of how to manage writing a song that conveys a message in an acceptable time frame is necessary.

Career Expectations

At one time, professional lyricists were in high demand, but as more musicians are penning their lyrics that need has dwindled. That is not to say that this is not a viable profession. There are still opportunities as top-line songwriters within the recording industry if you have some musical ability and can write a catchy tune. Music publishers also hire staff writers, and a small percentage of dedicated lyricists work independently, promoting lyrics to music producers. Music producers recording rappers also hire staff writers to write lyrics for their artists.

There are also opportunities within the musical theater world to write lyrics with musical theater composers and book writers to produce musicals and adaptations. Opera companies need librettists who collaborate with a composer or work as playwrights creating the plot, characters, and structure of the opera.

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If you are interested in a career as a lyricist or are currently writing lyrics or songwriting and want to learn more, please check out this link. Berklee College of Music offers a free online handbook on lyric writing, which includes material from some of their courses.

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Author’s Note:  I am not a musician or a songwriter or lyricist. This workshop concerns the basics of writing lyrics. A considerable amount of the information included came from the Berklee College of Music website. Berklee is world-renowned for the exceptional training provided to music students.

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Resources:
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_we_love_music
https://www.berklee.edu/careers/roles/lyricist
https://online.berklee.edu/takenote/5-steps-to-start-writing-lyrics
https://stereostickman.com/how-to-write-song-lyrics
https://learn.org/articles/How_Can_I_Become_a_Lyricist.html

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution. Voice sheet music is from https://www.music-for-music-teachers.com/, a free-use sheet music site.

Enzo Stephens: Planning Vs. Pantsing, Part Dalawa

Writers Unite!’s Featured Blog Series!

Writers Unite! is fortunate to have among its members, many bloggers, and essayists who write content about the writing process or their author’s journey or both. We will be posting their articles for your information and enjoyment. Please read and comment, visit the author’s website, blog, or Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram and share!

Part “Isa” and Part “Dalawa” are Tagalog for 1 & 2 respectively.

Planning Vs. Pantsing, Part Isa

Planning Vs. Pantsing, Part Dalawa

By Enzo Stephens

When we go on vacation to some warm locale with swaying palm trees and soft, gentle ocean breezes and sand that likes to mysteriously work its way into surprising anatomical crevices, one of the first things I say — usually with a huge sigh, is “Ahhhh, how wonderful it is to not have to wear pants.”

Kind of crazy for a dude to say, but there it is.

The fact is that for a guy (and maybe for the ladies too), pants are binding.  We have to loosen our belts (that hold our pants up) after chowing down that four chili-cheese dogs (topped with fresh onions and cayenne pepper — do it right!), because those damned pants are like a noose around the waist.

So, do you feel me when I breathe that sigh of relief upon arrival at some tropical locale?

As my well-traveled friend would say, “You and your first-world problems.”

So all that said, in the writing community, the inverse of that diatribe is the truth; pantsing is liberating.

“Pantsing” is a term used to describe unplanned writing.  In short, the writer gets an idea or a scene in their mind and then they just… let it fly.

At one time this method used to bug the bejeebers out of me.  Why? Because every time I’d sit down with a fabulous idea and crank it out, it would pretty much just die on the vine.  Ten, fifteen pages of outstanding prose that just peters out.

To me, that was a fail in my quest to write the Great American Novel and supplant Mr. King as the Great American Novelist.  It slew my dream.

It’s a tenuous connection, but then my writing technique was pretty immature back then.  To me, it was all about causality, and if I was going to succeed in my writing career, I needed a different approach.

Ergo the planning method, and I totally embraced that method, and it was a huge success for me.  Again, causality. The more I crafted full-scale novels, the more I embraced planning.

But here’s the thing…

Writing stopped being fun.  It became a job.

And that just took the wind out of my sails, big-time.  I didn’t talk about these fantastic stories at parties anymore; I wasn’t driven by inspiration anymore.  

Over 60 books later and I was feeling pretty burnt out, although the process I’d developed for myself was a significant success, I was — dare I say, bored.  

For a fiction author to get bored?  Well, that just sucks.

Well, then the host of this blog site flashed a picture on Facebook that I saw for the first time last February, along with the words ‘Write The Story,’ and I thought, ‘well, that’s a cool idea.’  Three thousand words? I can do that in my sleep (which was truer than I care to admit).

So what’s the first thing I did?  I pulled out my planning tools.

UGH.

I wrote some ridiculous drivel about the wonders of paint or some such nonsense; read it and promptly threw it in the crapper.  Now, all of a sudden, this little exercise became difficult.

I kvetched about it to my closet confidant, and after she let me blather on for gawd-knows-how-long (and several gin & tonics), she kicked back in her chair and laughed at me.  That kind of got my dander up a bit, but then she ’splained…

“Remember all those times when I’d ask you to tell me a story to help me fall asleep?”

“Yeah, but they put you to sleep, so they must have sucked.”

“No, doofus!  You came up with that stuff on the fly!”

DING

My goodness, that is One.  Wise. Woman.

In other words, I was pantsing, even when I didn’t know the term.  And I dare say that all of us writers do it. It’s inspiration!

That said, I tackled that Write The Story exercise again with gusto and cranked out a strange, rambling dissertation on the possible sinister history of the room in the picture prompt, and I never looked back.

I have re-discovered the JOY in writing, and have since put together some really weird and fun short stories that have helped me to truly express myself; to build a level of depth and humanity in my characters that seemed to have disappeared over the years, and so on and so on.

Pantsing has helped my writing skills evolve to the Next Level (well, in my mind anyway).  I have no idea if I’ll ever supplant Mr. King as the next Great American Novelist, and frankly, I really don’t care.

Because writing is fun again!

Now I am able to combine the best of both and that’s where my path to creation of inspired novels lie, and I’m thrilled to share here that I’ve got a series well underway.  Yes, it’s well planned and meticulous using the tools I described in Part Isa, but the specific scenes, now that’s a different story.

Those scenes are ‘pantsed,’ and by Slocum, they have been an absolute blast to write!

Planning AND Pantsing.  Try them together, and watch your writing take off!

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Next: Ghostwriting.

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Author Bio:

Enzo Stephens has a serious case of professional ADHD.  He’s a professional writer with over 60 novels ghosted and several under his own name.  He’s an active blogger and has fallen in love with knocking out short stories.
Enzo is a retired Marine and a martial arts instructor for longer than most people have been alive, and his cats, wife and kids merely tolerate his nonsense.

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For more of Enzo’s writing visit him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Enzo.stephens.5011 or check out the monthly archives here on the WU! blog.

( Please note: the images used as prompts are free-use images and do not require attribution.)  

Enzo Stephens: Planning Vs. Pantsing, Part Isa

Writers Unite!’s Featured Blog Series!

Writers Unite! is fortunate to have among its members, many bloggers, and essayists who write content about the writing process or their author’s journey or both. We will be posting their articles for your information and enjoyment. Please read and comment, visit the author’s website, blog, or Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram and share!

Part “Isa” and Part “Dalawa” are Tagalog for 1 & 2 respectively.

Planning Vs. Pantsing, Part Isa

By Enzo Stephens

Those in the writing community know what these two topics are/mean, but for those of you who are not or who are considering dipping your toes in the water, these two topics — Planning and ‘Pantsing’ refer to a writer’s approach to their craft.

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to refrain from using the single-quotes on Pantsing. We all get it.

I think the way to approach this is to break each method of approach down; discuss pros and cons. By no means are my lists or dissertation intended to be comprehensive. I’m just not smart enough to be able to include everything, so if you can think of anything I miss, by all means, feel free to comment away.

It’s interesting to me how surprisingly adamant some writers are about which method they prefer. The reason why is because it seems situational to me. 

When I work on a full-length novel or even a series of novellas, I absolutely have to use the planning method.

But I’ve recently discovered that there is joy in the pantsing approach. 

Okay, permit me to share-eth my (somewhat colorful) thoughts on the planning approach and why it works for me.

Sucky Memory

I’m sure there are more eloquent ways to say that my memory sometimes feels like a black hole that originates from my frontal cortex, but that’s the truth of the matter, and I’m positive that I’m not the only one with this problem.

A plan is one way to compensate. Let me ’splain…

We’ve all read a GOOD novel, and I’m sure most of us can clearly state why the novel was good. Excellent plot, strong character development, great subplots, dialogue, and character interaction was outstanding, tremendous scene-setting, and so on.

I venture to say that what makes it GOOD is simply… pause for dramatic effect… continuity.

Plots and subplots need to make sense and they need to drive through to a reasonable conclusion. Same with characters. And, the entire work takes on its own pace, building to a crescendo that — if it’s really good, makes for a page-turner.

You know what I’m talking about. That’s what The Shining was for me. I could not get enough of that beast, and it’s the most re-read book in my entire collection.

Now, for as many GOOD novels read, I dare say we’ve read at least twice as many BAD novels.

What makes it a BAD novel?

Well, it’s the inverse of all the stuff I said that makes for a GOOD novel. A bad novel just crushes continuity and pace because it’s just so damned distracting.

Plot holes, total character missteps, aspects that just seem unreasonable / not thought out or not researched; you get the idea. 

My first works — way back when an IBM Selectric was my go-to, utterly sucked. Sure, I’d knock out a scene or two, but good Lord, what a mess they were.

Didn’t take me long to figure out that I ended up spending all my time going back and correcting/revising earlier work just to maintain continuity, and not enough time allowing my creativity freedom (my Muse is still swift-kicking me in the nuts over this I believe — demanding wench!).

Okay, time for a quickie backstory. Not only am I a crazed ex-Marine with over 50 years of hand-to-hand combat experience, but I also have over 30 years’ experience in Information Technology. Ergo, the tools that would help me to elevate my writing hove into view.

In short, planning tools.

All because my memory sucks and I can’t keep details straight. But only when I’m writing them, not reading them. Makes me feel hypocritical in some odd way. Like, what right do I have to criticize someone else’s writing when mine’s just as bad (if not worse)?

Data Flow Diagram

This is a good one for laying out the overreaching plot outline, and then subplot constructs and directions. There’s a definitive beginning and end, and critical milestones to get from one end to the other. 

This is typically one of my first tools that comes into play when creating a novel or a series (shorts, novellas or full-blown works).

There’s a lot of freebie versions of Data Flow Diagrams that can be found via standard Google search. 

Character Matrix

This is one of the most underrated and underused tools I’ve ever seen, but man-oh-man has it been a lifesaver in my writing. 

Mine is home-grown and it’s 9-10 pages of 8-point font extensive. It covers everything about a person that can be imagined — personal stats, usual likes and dislikes, background, jobs, churches, organizational affiliations, relationships past and present and desired. Religion, politics, positions of social issues; personality disorders; strengths and talents; special abilities… the list goes on and on. 

I use this when I’m creating my Main Character, and I use scaled-down versions for other characters; the less impact to the story, the less of a CM I use.

Again, there are variations of this via standard Google search if you’re so inclined to be tightly wound when applying your creative process. That’s a joke.

Decision Tree

So, what happens if Uncle Bob decides to hack his weenie off with a linoleum knife in a fit of pique over his recalcitrant kiddies because they’re such jerks? How does that crazy act impact the subplot, the overall plot, sub-finishes, and so on?

Out comes the Decision Tree

I love this because it really gives me the chance to explore actions and reactions of a character given a specific situation, and then really build on that. From some of the steps involved, I’m able to impart serious suspense when it’s time to write the scene, story, whatever. And when I’ve got a novel done — say 100k words, I’ve probably got 100 pages of decision trees. 

All that is cool, but here’s the neat side benefit of using decision trees: no longer fretting over word count. I have knocked out tens of thousands of words just rolling through one branch of a decision tree. This device is outstanding for me.

You won’t really need to go chase down some Decision Tree template; you can make your own quite well.

The Bottom Line

Okay, so it goes without saying (but I’m gonna say it anyway) that writing a book is a pretty significant undertaking. 

I consider it a project, much like the development and delivery of a suite of software to a client. There is a definitive start and end point. There is up-front work; development work; testing; then implementation. There are milestones and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Behind all of it is a Plan, and what drives the plan is its flexibility and the tools that make planning easier and more effective.

Pantsers, there’s a lot to be said for planning!

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Planning vs. Pantsing, Part Dalawa.
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Author Bio:

Enzo Stephens has a serious case of professional ADHD.  He’s a professional writer with over 60 novels ghosted and several under his own name.  He’s an active blogger and has fallen in love with knocking out short stories.
Enzo is a retired Marine and a martial arts instructor for longer than most people have been alive, and his cats, wife, and kids merely tolerate his nonsense.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is divider-2.png

For more of Enzo’s writing visit him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Enzo.stephens.5011 or check out the monthly archives here on the WU! blog.

( Please note: the images used as prompts are free-use images and do not require attribution.)  

Deborah Ratliff: The Better Beta

Recently, in the Writers Unite! Facebook group, a member asked a question about the process of finding a responsible beta to review their work. Another member commented that she was reluctant to be a beta reader for fear of being too harsh. This article addresses both of those issues and we hope brings some clarity to the beta reader process. It’s a valuable resource for a writer but needs to be effective.

The Better Beta

By Deborah Ratliff

“Who wants to beta my novel?”

How many times have you seen this question posted in an online writing group? Often, and with good reason, as beta readers provide a valuable service. They are the buffer between your best friend who loves your story and the editor who could tear it apart.

Along with finding a qualified beta, the question of determining the expectations of the relationship between author and beta is important. Confusion over the responsibilities often keeps both the writer from seeking a beta and a potential beta from offering their services.

A beta reader most often will be someone who either reads or writes in your genre or is willing to learn the nuances of the genre to provide proper feedback. They are usually unpaid participants who enjoy helping writers and usually not trained in editing or story development. They provide feedback on plot, characters, narrative, dialogue, and continuity. The beta is judging the readability and plausibility of the story for the general reader.

Choosing a beta or group of betas to read your manuscript can be daunting. As stated above, finding betas in your target audience is ideal, but someone with experience in offering feedback can be equally as effective. Most online writing groups on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and writing groups on the Internet, are ready sources for finding suitable betas. Websites such as Writing.com or Goodreads.com have beta-reader sites, and there are several Facebook groups including Writers Unite! and Beta Readers and Critiques that offer beta readers. If you are familiar with and trust these sites, you should start your search there. 

When you request a beta, the question posed at the beginning of the article should be more definitive. Ask, instead, would anyone be willing to beta my 84,000-word fantasy manuscript. By clarifying the genre and length upfront, you will receive responses more attuned to your needs.

Also, ask potential betas about their experience. Have they reviewed manuscripts before in this genre, and what do they like about it? What time frame do they usually take to provide feedback? Once you feel comfortable with one or more betas, provide them with an edited manuscript. The manuscript does not need to be perfect, but respect the beta by giving them a readable one.

One of the ways to achieve your goals of what you as a writer need to know about your manuscript is to send a list of questions to the beta pointing out the areas of interest you have.

Your questions can include the following:

  •  Did the opening of the book hold your attention? If not, why?
  • Was the main character relatable? Did you feel a connection to the character and his plight from the beginning?
  •  Were the characters believable? If not, what suggestions do you have to make them believable? Were there too many characters to keep track of while reading?
  • Were the setting of the story and the descriptions interesting and clear?
  • Was the narrative concise and understandable? Was there a good balance between narrative and dialog?
  • Did the dialog seem natural and appropriate for the genre and period?
  • Were there any confusing passages? If so, why were they confusing? Did the story lag at any point? Explain. Were there any consistencies in the storyline or timeframe?
  • Were the tension and conflict in the story, as well as the ending, satisfying?
  • Was the story a fit for the genre?
  •  Were there any obvious grammatical errors? Spelling, punctuation, or grammar. (Remember most betas do not check for these errors but will note what they find if you request it. Do not expect the beta to offer suggestions or corrections. That is the job of your editor.)

The beta reader also has responsibilities. A lot of the author’s time and soul has gone into the creation of the manuscript sent.

Beta readers should do the following:

  • There are several areas of review that a beta should follow when reviewing a manuscript. If the author supplies questions, address those, as well as any discrepancies found. (See link at the end of the article for a comprehensive list of beta reader duties.)
  • Be honest. Beta reviews are not the time to spew platitudes. If something is wrong, bring it to the author’s attention.
  • Be specific. Vague feedback is ineffective. Give a thorough explanation of what you felt was wrong.
  • Meet the deadline agreed to between the author and beta. If you cannot meet the author’s needs, do not accept the assignment.
  • Be respectful. Pointing out errors to an author can be difficult, but if you explain your reasons in a courteous and straightforward manner, the author will accept the feedback positively. Also, always mention the good things that you have found in the story, mentioning positives, followed by the negatives. We all make mistakes, but a little nice goes a long way.

When selecting betas for your manuscript, selecting a few readers is wise. You may write both short stories and novels and wish to have betas who may prefer one or the other. Also, if you are a prolific writer, you may want to rotate your betas.

One thing as a writer that you do need to remember is not to confuse yourself with too many opinions. It could take time to find the right beta who communicates well and understands your work. Sorting out the opinions of several people can complicate your corrections, especially if the betas differ in the things they like and don’t like about your work.

When people are offering their services for free, as most beta readers do, the outcomes are not always what you hope. The good thing is that the vast majority of beta readers are doing it for the pleasure of reading new stories and helping authors and are responsible.

Resources:

This beta reader checklist is from Goodreads Community Forum and is quite comprehensive. https://www.geads.com/topioodrc/show/18274464-beta-reader-checklist

Writers Unite! on Facebook: A list of WU! members willing to beta and the genres they prefer can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/145324212487752/permalink/1039706383049526/

WU! On Dr. Paul’s Family Talk

WU! On “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” Podcast!

If you missed Writers Unite! on “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” on Friday, here is the Podcast of the segment.

Join host Paul W. Reeves and WU! Admin Deborah Ratliff as they discuss the topic, “ Story Structure”.

Story Structure

If you would like to listen to the show in its entirety (and it’s a lot of fun), click on this Podcast link for Friday’s show!

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Dr. Paul’s Family Talk 11-15-19

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