Category Archives: writing workshop

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.

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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.)  

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!

IMPACT RADIO USA strives to provide the best in news, talk, sports, and music 24 hours a day, 52 weeks per year. Our goal is to keep you as the most informed and entertained Internet Radio audience.

Dr. Paul’s Family Talk 11-15-19

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DRABBLE ME THIS! October Winners

DRABBLE ME THIS!

A Writers Unite! Workshop Project

In addition to our Write the Story! project, we thought it would be fun to do something that is one of the best exercises you can do to hone your writing skills. The Drabble.

A drabble is a piece of fiction that is exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is to tell a complete story within limited words which encourages word choice, conciseness, and editing skills.

Drabble Me This! is a monthly contest. Each Saturday of the month, we will post a single word prompt. Members will write a 100-word story. During the week, all members will have the opportunity to LIKE” an entry. The weekly contests will end on Friday nights, a tally taken, and the post removed. The next week’s post will go up the following Saturday morning. At the end of the month, we will post the winning Drabbles from each week plus an Admin choice on the WU! Blog and share the post across our platforms.


A quick history of the Drabble

The term itself comes from Monty Python’s 1971 Big Red Book, which declared the drabble a word game in which two to four players compete to be the first to write a novel, Drabbles emerged within the British Science Fiction Fandom in the 1980s, The Birmingham University SF society is credited as being the organization that set the length at 100 words. (From folklore.com)

October 2019 Drabble Me This Winners


Week One: 
Prompt “Mirror” 

Charles Stucker      

Twelve jurors sat around the table debating the case. John Smith summed it up, “The video clearly shows the murderer was left handed. The suspect is right handed. Despite all the evidence, I don’t see any way to convict.”

“I know how it was done,” Bob Jackson said. “Look at the room in the video. Everything in it is symmetric.”

“So what?” Kelly Myers asked.

“So the suspect arranged for it to be filmed using a mirror. Everything is reversed, but we don’t notice. The power cut off just after, so he had ample chance to change the angle afterward.”


Week Two: 
Prompt “Empty” 

Rylee Black 

Friday. Four-forty-five. Fifteen more minutes and it’s freedom from the drudgery of my nine-to-five. What I’m really looking forward to more than freedom is the package from Momma. Douglas called and told me it arrived. I’m stoked. A package from Momma means a tin of home-made chocolate chip cookies, my fav. Soft, chocolaty, and yummy. I can practically taste them now.

All the way home, visions of Momma’s cookies dance through my head. Come on traffic, move. Douglas isn’t anywhere around when I get inside. I know why when I pick up the tin – the cookies are gone – it’s empty.


Week Three 
Prompt “Letter” 


Calliope Njo

Your body deserved to be burned in the hottest of fires.

Would it hurt for you to offer a bit of warmth? Would it have bothered you to think of something I might have liked? Did you bother to think about me during the day? Of course not, you soulless bastard. I couldn’t express to you how I felt in life. Only after your death do I have the drive, the guts to tell how you deserved to die.

Signed, the Idiot.

I folded up the letter and stuffed it in an envelope to watch it burn in the fireplace.


Week Four
Prompt “Clock” 

Caroline Giammanco 

You twist me in circles, for days, months, and years. I check with you over and over to make sure I’m not off course or running too late or too early. Maybe I should take comfort in your consistency, but I feel myself slip farther away from being me because you rule my day. The alarms go off with a predictability that scares me. Sometimes I wait for the blows, the ringing in my ears that’s about to come. The ticking is the next bomb that will explode. The bruises you say I deserve. What will it be this time?


 Admin’s Choice

Week One
Prompt “Mirror” 

Rylee Black

I felt it as soon as I opened the door. Something was wrong. Energy, painful and unwelcome, danced along my skin. The lights I’d switched on, usually so bright and welcoming, had done little to dispel the darkness.

When my eyes adjusted, I saw them. Hundreds of forms of gossamer white. Angry and pulsing with rage and fear. Red eyes turned to me.

Why? From where? My blood ran cold. The mirror. From the sale. Samuel had declared it to be a portal for the damned. I hadn’t believed him.

I needed to get out. I knew I never would.

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Thanks to all who participated and who read and voted. This has been a fun project and we are looking forward to more drabbles!

If you would like to participate and are not a member of our WU! Facebook group, please join us!

Join Writers Unite!

Please note: The Writers Unite! Admins are selected on a rotating basis for the Admin Choice. The drabble selected is at the sole discretion of the admin. In those months containing five weeks, an Admin’s Choice selection will not be made.

WU! Workshop: The Short Story

WU! Workshop: The Short Story

By D. A. Ratliff

“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.”  ― Edgar Allan Poe

The short story evolved in the 19th Century as a result of the changing population in America. British novelists published chapters of their novels in serial form in newspapers and then published the entire novel. American novelists began to circulate their novels as serials as well until the population began to migrate from city to city. Serializing a novel for a paper that changes readership often was ineffective. Publishers who needed story content for their newspapers commissioned shorter complete stories, and the short story was born.

Commercialized at first, interest in these stories diminished with the advent of the motion picture. Short stories as we know them today are more literary and not as widely read. Fewer outlets for publishing exist, but the last few years have seen an increased interest in the format. Writing groups are publishing anthologies, and literary and national magazines offer short stories.

“A short story is a sprint, a novel is a marathon. Sprinters have seconds to get from here to there and then they are finished. Marathoners have to carefully pace themselves so that they don’t run out of energy (or in the case of the novelist — ideas) because they have so far to run. To mix the metaphor, writing a short story is like having a short, intense affair, whereas writing a novel is like a long rich marriage.”  ― Jonathan Carroll

The question often asked is, how does a short story differ from a novel?

The clever answer is that they are shorter, albeit a somewhat obvious answer. Writer’s Digest, a well-known magazine and online writing site, defines a short story as ranging from 1,500 to 30,000 words. However, there is a considerable discrepancy regarding short-story word count between ‘experts.’ If submitting to a publication or contest, always check the stated guidelines.

Length, however, is not the only variance. A short story is structured differently. To create an effective short story, you need to simplify and amplify.

Let’s look at the components of a short story.

The Character

Yes, the character. While you will have secondary characters in your story, the conflict, the goal, the action, and focus should be on one character. Keep all other characters to their specific roles to move the story along. Not to say that you cannot develop those secondary characters but do so only in the context of the plot.

You need to develop your main character quickly. It is imperative to establish a connection between your reader and character from the beginning as you would in a novel. Being as concise as possible, give as many traits, positive and negative, physical or personality, as needed to paint a believable image in the minds of your readers. You can still complete a story arc but with fewer steps.

The Opening

The goal of any writer is to gain the attention of your reader from the first word. That is not always an attainable goal but at least have their attention in the first paragraph or two. In a short story, the quicker you get to the action, the better. Open with movement, a vivid scene that puts your reader into the story immediately or something compelling about your main character.

The Plot

A short story should have one plot defined and focused on your main character. There is no room for sub-plots to be incorporated into a short story. You need to keep the conflict, action, and goal faced by your character at the center of attention.

The Theme

While you may have several themes that you wish to convey in a novel, love, friendship, pessimism, hopelessness or hope, or justice, among others, only include one theme in a short story. As with your characters, keep the structure simple and amplify your words. 

The Constraints and Pluses in Short Stories

  • The obvious constraint in a short story is the number of words available to tell your tale. There is little room for backstory or details that you have some leeway to include in a novel. This leads to a plus in that you are forced to be cognizant of finding the precise words to use, such as strong action verbs and the fewest number of words to convey a thought, giving you experience in word selection and editing.
  • Telling a story is not as effective as showing the action, and short stories provide an excellent experience for you to master the art of showing what is happening. Replacing dialog tags with action beats will save extraneous words and help create the show that you need.
  • Learning to craft a short story will help with structuring stronger chapters in a longer work.

Whether you are intending on publishing your short stories independently, in an anthology, through a publication, in a contest, or for your enjoyment, by following these tips, you will create a well-crafted story.

Resources

http://bookcritics.org/blog/archive/a-brief-history-of-the-short-story-in-america

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/short-storiesWU! Workshop:

 

Caroline Giammanco: Book Signing Basics

Caroline Giammanco at a recent Barnes and Noble book signing. Photo courtesy of the author.

Book Signing Basics

By Caroline Giammanco

We spend months or years struggling to complete our manuscripts, and the thrill of signing a publishing contract blinds us to the cold truth: our work isn’t over. Four years ago I hadn’t realized how difficult it would be to market and promote my first book. Few publishers, even large ones, promote authors, so we writers have to do what it takes to be successful. Book signings are a critical part of landing your book in the hands of readers. 

Not everyone is a born salesperson. I know I wasn’t, but I’ve picked up some strategies along the way that have helped me transition from determined writer to successful salesperson. Arranging an event and making it a success may seem difficult and overwhelming. Now that I’m on tour with my third book, with over forty Barnes and Noble signings under my belt, I’m offering tips to make your book signing a win for you, the store, and the readers.

First, let’s start at the beginning.

When you contact a bookstore, whether by phone, in person, or by email, have a game plan.  At Barnes and Noble stores, ask to speak to the CRM (Community Relations Manager). If contacting an independent store, ask to speak to the owner. Once you are connected to the right person, have confidence. Pitch your book and who you are. Be enthusiastic. Explain what your book is about, why it appeals to readers, and what you will do to promote an event. Include press releases, the use of social media, and any print or radio and tv interviews you may do around the time of the event.

Be persistent. Not every store will immediately agree to a book signing. Don’t take that as a definite no. Follow up on the conversation. Send an email including your book trailer, photos of you and your book cover, and a blurb about your book. If you have high ratings on Amazon, let them know. Your job is to convince the management it won’t be a wasted effort to have you in their store. While most bookstores are supportive of authors, sales are their bottom line. Let them know you will be able to bring buyers into their store. 

Be seen as good for business for that bookstore, and be proactive once an event is scheduled. Advertise and discuss the signing on social media. Facebook events are a great way to target people in the area. Use the resources you have available. If you can afford a Facebook or print ad, place one. Ask the local newspaper if they’d write an article. Ask radio stations about interviews they may be willing to have with you. Use Twitter and any other networking sites you belong to in order to spread the word. Word of mouth works.

Even with a full-fledged effort to get your friends and relatives into the store on the day of the signing, the truth is that most of the readers you encounter will be general foot traffic—people who just happened to come to the store on that day. In truth, you don’t want your target customers to be your friends and family. The only way you will be successful is to have complete strangers buy your book. We all hope our circle of friends and family will support us, but that will never get us to the bestseller category. It won’t even produce lukewarm royalties. You have to be willing to expand your comfort zone and reach out to total strangers for sales.

Many writers enjoy being introverts. There’s comfort found in being alone with our laptop and the stack of research we’ve compiled, but once a book signing is at hand, it’s time to come out of your shell. Be prepared to engage customers as soon as they walk near your table. There’s no need to be the heavy-handed used car salesman, but you must initiate the conversation.

At my first Barnes and Noble signing, I had an epiphany. I realized after the first hour that when I smiled and said hello most customers assumed I was a store employee. Yes, I had a big sign sitting next to me announcing my appearance as an author, but few paid attention to it. I adjusted and overcame. I adopted an approach that has worked well for me in stores across the country. As people enter my area I cheerfully say, “Hi, I’m having a book signing today. If you have a moment, I’d love to talk with you about my book.” Bingo! Now I have their attention and they are aware that I am an author with a book they may be interested in. Book sales only happen if readers are attracted to your product. It is your job to get their attention.

I’ve had multiple sold-out signings, and I’ve also seen authors who are doing all the wrong things. They placidly sit at their tables waiting for customers to come to them. Others only schedule an hour or two at a signing. Don’t do that! Devote time to meet as many readers as possible. If the store has been kind enough to give you space in their business, don’t make their efforts to order books, develop signs, etc. be wasted by a half-hearted effort on your part.

Be passionate about your book. If it was important enough to write, it should be important enough for you to promote. This is difficult for introverts. You must put on your performance mask, however, and engage, engage, engage! Keep in mind that many readers are also introverts and may not feel comfortable walking up to you unless you make yourself a welcoming presence. A book signing is no time to be shy. Also, don’t be discouraged. Not everyone you talk to will buy your book. That’s okay. 

Remember to have fun! Book signings aren’t an obligation or work. You are getting to talk about something you love. What better topic do you have to talk about than the book you created and are incredibly proud of? 

Marketing and personal appearances are important. Your fan base grows when you put yourself out into the public. Personal encounters with readers fuel sales and are a rewarding part of an otherwise private journey as a writer. Now get going!

All images are from free use sites unless otherwise noted.
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Caroline Giammanco’s latest book, Inside the Death Fences: Memoirs of a Whistleblower can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Caroline-Giammanco/e/B017KQZRU4/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009880805237

Website: http://www.booniehatbandit.com

Inside the Death Fences: Memoir of a Whistleblower by [Giammanco, Caroline]