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Patt O’Neil: The Submission Process For a Short Story or What I Wish Someone Had Taught Me (Part Two)

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Part Two: 

What are you looking for when you look at the publisher’s page?

Let’s stick with the children’s story theme, the publisher has a menu heading that says About which will tell you what type of magazine/journal they are and what type of story they are looking for. Unless you are already familiar with this publisher, you should read this over, as story submission takes time, so you want it to be a worthwhile investment of yours. The one you are looking at says their audience genre is YA or Young Adult, which usually means a high-school-aged audience. Don’t be discouraged, I’m sure your story, Conversations with Bingo, would be considered cute if the teen were babysitting a younger child, but I wouldn’t expect them to go out and purchase a copy for themselves.

Keep searching until you collect a list of publishers of stories for the appropriate audience. For example, you are given a list of twenty publishers, but only three meet your market type or criteria (let’s call them A1, B2, and C3). Let’s investigate those three: age appropriate, check; accepting submissions, check; genre appropriate, check; length, check. Okay, you have three possibilities, now what? This is where you dig deeper into their submission requirements/guidelines. Do they pay for stories they accept? What, you hadn’t thought about being paid for writing your story!? Don’t feel bad if that hadn’t crossed your mind OR if your intention is to make writing your sole career. Let’s work on the premise that you want to get paid for your work. Publisher A1 has a pay scale of $.06 per word (six cents) and B2’s pay scale is royalties only. Publisher C3 is a non-paying market type. Publisher A1 will pay you six cents a word for your 2,100-word story. Nice, that is a one-time upfront payment for the right to publish your story in their magazine/journal. Publisher B2 will pay you after their product has sold a few copies. This is usually an annual payment of an unspecified amount, paid equally to all the authors featured, typical of anthologies. Publishing with C3 will give you exposure but no monetary reward. This is not a bad thing–everybody has to start somewhere, and the chance to advertise that your work can be read in C3’s magazine/journal is a good thing, just not an immediately profitable one. For this example, you decide you want to be paid for your work, so good-bye C3.

Side note: Another thing to consider is the rights or ownership of the story. Some publishers will state their intention for the rights, others might wait until you are presented with a contract. I must admit I was uncomfortable at first, but this is a personal and important decision each writer must make. My advice is keep the rights, or make sure they return to you in the end.

Now what else does the publisher want? Electronic submissions, both A1 and B2 specify this mode only, but what does that mean? It means they do not want to receive a hard copy of your story. You send them anything through the postal service and they will just pitch it without even giving it a glance. There are several ways to submit a story electronically: cutting/pasting it into a box on their publisher’s website, attaching it to an electronic entry form through a submission service, or sending it as an attachment to a specified email address used just for that purpose. Some things to note about these methods: the first is the submission service. It is a good thing to register with this service, but use a passcode you can easily remember because it banks your information and saves time down the road with future submissions. Second, the cut/paste method. Be prepared to lose any formatting you might have had; spend the time to fix the paragraph spacing. Lastly, when it says an attachment to the email, be sure you present it as they specify: no PDF, .doc, .docx, or PDF. These can be deal breakers.

Already you are probably thinking this is just nit-picky stuff and you are right it is, but remember there are thousands, if not millions of writers out there competing for a spot in a publication that is only going to be accepting applications for a small amount of time, for a small amount of print space. So yes, they can afford to be picky–it weeds out many prospects, and the point of this exercise is to make you one of the select few who has a chance for consideration.

Other things the publishers will mention are Reprints, Multiple Submissions, and Simultaneous Submissions. Your eyes might be glossing over now, but don’t worry, here’s an explanation. Reprints means your work has been published elsewhere. A publisher can choose whether to accept a piece that has been featured elsewhere. You look at your work and think, “nope never been published.” But wait a minute, did you share it on a public Facebook writing page, or on a blog, or on a site like Wattpad? In the industry, these are considered previously published and therefore rejected. If you shared your story on your Facebook page under a private setting or in a closed group for review, it’s considered fresh and yet unpublished work. Multiple Submissions means you might/might not submit more than one story to this publisher during this submission period. Example would be if they are taking stories for the month of November but not again until January, then you may submit one in November but not another until January. Some say multiple submissions are accepted, but usually they will put a limit on how many. Simultaneous Submissions means you might not be able to submit your work elsewhere for consideration until it has been formally refused by this publisher. Most publishers will list how long to expect them to consider your story, and in fact, advise that you contact them if you think it has taken too long. The cons with not accepting simultaneous submissions is your story can be held captive by one publisher so long that you are missing other opportunities with others, and some have been known to take up to six months. That is your choice if you want to go that route. If a publisher does accept simultaneous submissions, it is not only polite, but standard practice to let a publisher know if it gets accepted elsewhere while under their consideration.

Side note: I set up a poll in a Facebook writing group asking if the members always adhered to this guideline; never adhered to this guideline; or did, but felt bad about it. They had only one choice to make. It was about 2:1 for adhering to the guideline and being true to one publisher at a time. Of those who responded, one-eighth admitted to having done it at least once.

So how does all this affect your decision to submit to A1 and B2 publishers? Well, this is your first, and only, work and other than your editor and friends, no one has read it. That takes care of reprints and multiple submissions, but what about simultaneous? Let’s go with A1 says yes, but B2 says no. What do you do? That will be up to you, but for this exercise, we will go with A1 from here on.

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Tomorrow:

Part Three:  How do you get story to the publisher and impress them to read it?

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(November 2017 All rights reserved)

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Patt O’Neil: The Submission Process For a Short Story or What I Wish Someone Had Taught Me (Part One)

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Part One:

Since the written word has been offered to others for profit, there have been those seeking their work included in these publications. We, my brothers and sisters, come under the heading of the Seekers—writers of novels, songs, poems, essays, plays, and short stories. All are similar in how to go about getting published, like the way dogs, cats, babies, and drunken girlfriends all like to curl up on laps, but that is where the similarity ends. Each has their own criteria, demands, and audience. I’m going to discuss the what I have learned with regards to having a short story published. Business buzzwords will be bolded.

I started my career as a writer by penning a novel—silly me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good story, just not anywhere near ready for publication. I needed to know more about not only what makes for a good story, but the process involved with the publication of that story. After switching over to short stories, I was encouraged by friends to seek publication of what I had written. Little did I know what that entailed, and I wished someone would have explained the process to me in depth. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they would have if I had asked the right questions. The purpose of this essay is to help explain the process.

Some generalizations about how written work gets published.

Anybody can set themselves up to become a publisher, all they need is a business plan, adequate capital, time, and connections. Anyone can also be a writer, you take an idea, put it to paper, and offer it to the publisher for their review and recompense. If the work is good–you will both win. If it’s great—they make money and you go on talk shows. To get your work before the publisher, many fields require an agent to act as a go-between the two parties. Agents are a valuable resource for a writer because they know which publisher is looking for work like yours, and for the publisher, because they act as a filter for all the manuscripts out there for consideration. There are some large market publishers that will accept non-agented submissions, but that is only during an advertised period (Harlequin usually open in the fall, like a goodwill gesture before the holidays).

Today’s electronic world has made self-publication an easy option. Skip the outside publisher and keep any profits earned for yourself. Unfortunately, this also means the writer also takes on all expenses the publisher, i.e. editing, formatting, printing, advertising, distribution … well, you get what I mean. Self-publishing is not at all a new concept, and the writer should not be discouraged by my description of the process. It is just not part of the process of having a short story published unless all the stories in the book belong to one writer, then it becomes a collection as opposed to an anthology. Notice I keep using the word writer instead of author. That is because the general concept is we are all writers, but we are not considered authors until we have had something published.

Practical steps prior to submission of a short story.

You’ve written a story and you think it special enough to want to share it with the world by having it published. You believe it is something of quality, something people are willing to spend their time, or even money, to read. Whether it is something that will make them laugh or cry, it needs to be well written.

First, you must know what the market genre or subject is. You don’t want to offer Erma Entices Eatonville to a publisher of children’s books, and vice versa. Know your audience. Have select members of that audience test read your work to see if the plot/message is being presented as you imagined. If this is done during while writing the story, they are known as Alpha readers. If they are reading it after you have finished writing the story, AND, reviewed it for errors (punctuation, spelling, etc.), they are called Beta readers. Take whatever comments these readers have to heart. You may not always agree with their remarks, but remember, the way they have processed your story will be how the publisher will as well. Make whatever changes, then submit it to an editor for another review.

You should never have to pay for an Alpha or a Beta reader. There are enough people around willing to read your work, just make sure they will comment without reservation. Your editor, on the other hand, is someone you should spend money on. Always send your editor the best version of your story, this person is a professional hired to bring your work up to industry and professional standards. There are line editors and content editors. Line editors will read your work, line by line, and correct any punctuation, grammatical, or continuity errors in your work. Think back to your English Composition class in high school and how your papers were returned with red ink notations by the teacher. This is what a line editor does. A content editor will do the same but also, with your permission, rewrite portions to give it more of an impact. They charge accordingly, the content charging more because they are being asked to do more work. You can find an editor just by asking, most authors have an editor they can recommend. It is appropriate to ask a potential editor what their rates are and their timeline for returning your work, do they give discounts if you have them take a second look, etc. Editors are your employees, your contract with them the same as you would a roofer or house painter, you wouldn’t take the first person who came along just because of convenience. Editor prices will vary, many of them charge less than a penny a word for work being asked. If they charge more, they had better provide more than just spilling red ink on your work.

Where can you submit a story for publication?

This varies from story to story, I know that sounds simplistic, but basically, that’s about it. If you write children’s stories, research who publishes children’s stories, magazines, journals, anthologies. Find out if they are accepting submissions. If it is a magazine, get an issue and look for the submission guidelines, if it not specific, send them an e-mail (I would say write but in this electronic age …) and ask, are you accepting and what are your guidelines. Better yet, go to their website and look for their submission guidelines there. Take note, those guidelines will be very specific and if not followed exactly can be the reason for rejection regardless of how good a story you have written.

If a publisher is accepting submissions, another consideration is whether your piece fits the size criteria, market type or length definition. Still working with the children’s magazine as an example, what if they are only accepting Flash Fiction pieces? Flash Fiction is any work 750-1,000 words or less. Count the total words of your story, minus the title and byline, for your word count. Is it less than that amount of words? If it is more, then it is a Short Story. Short stories measure up to 10,000 words, more than that it becomes a Novelette or Novella. A Novel is considered over 40,000 words. For the sake of example, yours measures 2,100 words which means you need to find somewhere else to submit it too.

If you don’t know where to look for open markets, try asking for recommendations or do some research to find out who has made a call for submissions. By reading this I know you belong to a Facebook writing group. Many of your fellow members will share information about who is accepting submissions. Another source is by subscribing to online resources like Duotrope of The (Submission) Grinder for referrals. These sites collect all the information I will mention here and periodically report what they know about these publishers. Another source is internet websites such as Writing Career, where like the two listed above, also list open markets and writing contests, both paid and unpaid. When you get one of these recommendations, go to that publisher’s website first to verify it is open, and second, to make sure your work fits within the parameters of their publication.

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Tomorrow:

Part Two: What are you looking for when looking at the publisher’s page?

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 (November 2017 All rights reserved)

Writers Unite! Tips on Writing: Story Foundation

Mystery Genre Workshop Part Four: Tips for Writing Mysteries

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The first three parts of the Mystery Genre Workshop covered plot, characters, and the importance of creating the story’s location. Let’s review a few tips you should keep in mind as you write.

Know Your Ending!  

This will help you focus as you write the story and not lose sight of your concept. You may take a detour or two along the way, but write to your ending.

Hook Your Reader!

Make that first line or paragraph attention-grabbing, intriguing. Open with an action scene, introducing either your sleuth or your villain.

Make Your Reader Empathetic!

The reader must identify and care about your hero and want the same goals the character does.

Plot Your Plan!

Carefully plan your story (outline or pantser—on paper or mentally). Knowing where to place strategic points and keep the action going is vital.

Pace, Pace, Pace!

Take your reader on an action-filled adventure, increasing the tension as the story builds to its final climax. You must also provide scenes with little action to provide a place for your reader to breathe. A great tool to build tension, pull it away, then create more tension increasingly until the story’s final climax.

 Perfect Characters!

Humans are not perfect in real life, do not create a perfect imaginary human. Give your character flaws, both physical and psychological. Keep them real, give them family issues, scars, phobias. We all have them!

 Plant Clues and Water Often!

As you plot your story, always remember you are engaging your reader in a puzzle to discover who committed the crime. Provide clues early, be subtle but truthful about the real clues, be matter-of-fact about certain things. Misdirect your readers’ attention with red herrings—false clues—but make certain they are plausible.

 Location, Location, Location!

Your setting, the world you build for your story should serve as another character to drive your plot. Whether a gritty, noir environment or a quaint, seaside village, use the location’s characteristics to frame your narrative.

Protagonist, Antagonist, and Minions!

The closer a character is to the realization of the Protagonist’s goal, the more developed they should be. Give them dialogue when appropriate, something that makes them unique—a hobby, an addiction, plays a sport on the weekend.

 Stay on Target!

Your goal is to take your Protagonist from desiring to achieving a goal. Keep the narrative focused on the target, and that is realizing their goal. Any extraneous scenes that creep in your writing need to be thrown out. The mystery and the clues to solve it are all you should be concerned about it.

 Have Fun!

As a mystery fan, diving into a “who done it” and trying to decipher the clues and guess the culprit is enjoyable. As a mystery writer, my pleasure is from writing those clues and hoping to stay ahead of the reader and shock them at the end.  How much fun is that? Enjoy the process and your reader will as well!

 (Also, don’t use exclamation points as I did here, no more than one per book.  They are fun though!)

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For Writers Who Love Worksheets: 

Some writers love worksheets for plotting, character development, and world building. I never do any of this, but in case you do, here are some representative worksheets for your use.

 

Plotting Your Story:

https://evernote.com/blog/12-creative-writing-templates/

 

Character Development:

https://thinkwritten.com/character-development-questions/

 

World Building:

https://nybookeditors.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/World-Building-Worksheet.pdf

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Mystery Genre Workshop Part Three: Scene of the Crime

 

The Importance of location

When fingertips touch the keyboard to write a story, a writer is beginning the process of building a new world. How mundane, ordinary, complex or exotic doesn’t matter, writers are world builders.

While the term usually conjures up alien civilizations or fantasy castles, the truth is when the screenwriters imagined Cabot Cove of Murder She Wrote or the author of Midsomer Murders borrowed the countryside of England near Oxford to use as the setting for her novel, they were building a world.

Designing a new world is complex. When writing a science fiction or fantasy story, you start with a blank slate, creating everything. If you choose a ‘ready-made’ location, much is already set in place, you only need to tweak locales to suit your plot needs.

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There are three types of world building. Let’s look at what is involved with each.

 The Created World

This the world most think about when hearing the term “world building.” The science fiction and fantasy genres where a writer’s imagination selects everything that exists.

  • Design the physical world: terrain (mountainous, desert, forest, coastal), atmosphere, location in the universe.
  • Create races of beings (keeping natural conditions in mind).
  • Culture including art, music, writing.
  • Government and military systems.
  • Infrastructure and city planning.
  • Education.
  • Agriculture.
  • Industry.
  • And everything else!

The Real World

This world is the one we know. Most stories are set in villages, towns or cities that we are familiar with or have a history to draw from. Historical fiction novels are set in a known past. All other genres, other than those of the created world, fall here.

Fictional locations can be written but do not deviate from what is known. A small town can be created for a cozy mystery novel, but it will have the same features as any small town.  The government, military, and the culture will be as we know it.

The Alternate Reality World

This is a world that we think we know, but it is not the same. The Alternate history genre tweaks the actual outcomes of significant events such as the ending of World War II and redirects history. The landscape and peoples may remain, but the government, military, culture, infrastructure, and perhaps agriculture may have been altered.

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The Mystery World

Mystery stories typically fall into the realm of the “Real World” although mysteries can be set in any imaginary world. There are some considerations to make as you develop your mystery world.

You must set a world conducive to a murder mystery. That is one where you do not reveal too much about the world where your detective or your killer resides. You must leave unanswered questions about the world.

Clues, both real and red herrings, must be set in the framework but again against a backdrop of mystery. If the murder happens in a room where there is a secret door, until the detective knows there is a secret door, the reader should not either. If the story is being told from the POV of the killer, then the door may be revealed to the reader but not the detective. Again, you have created your world, but you must keep it secret.

Someone must solve the crime. If you are writing crime fiction, a law enforcement officer will be your lead investigator. The agency the investigator works for, a local police department, the FBI or any other agency must be created.

Details should include:

  • Department structure: Who is in charge? What are your investigator’s rank and responsibilities?
  • Ancillary services: Is there a forensics department? A medical examiner? A video tech?

In a cozy fiction, the investigator is a civilian. It is essential to establish the plausibility that they can solve a crime.

Details should include:

  • Who is this amateur sleuth?
  • How did they become involved in the murder?
  • Who do they know? (family and friends)
  • What are the skills they possess that might assist them in solving a crime?
  • Do they know someone close to the official investigation that might have information to share? (police officer, medical examiner, prosecutor, reporter, etc.)

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Wait. Less World Building is Better?

There is a fallacy in the concept of world building. While crucial to the development of your story, it is the story that drives the world building, not the opposite.

Many authors, especially those who write science fiction and fantasy, revel in creating every minutia of the world they are writing about. That may be a satisfying exercise for the author but an unnecessary one. Despite the plethora of world building worksheets available, the process is considerably more straightforward than it appears.

The only world building you need is dictated by the story you write. Let’s assume that you are writing a science fiction story set on a spaceship. The most immediate world you should describe is the world your characters exist in, the spaceship. Description, origin, propulsion system, crew, food stores, destination, and reason for the mission are all crucial aspects of the world that need to be determined. A planet they stop on for only a short time requires less description, a planet where most of the action takes place needs more explanation.

Do not write your story around your world, but create the world around your story.

Sallie Moppert: To Outline, or Not To Outline, That is the Question

Just like each individual is unique, so is that individual’s writing style. Some people plot and outline every detail of their work while others prefer to wing it. It can sometimes feel like a tug-of-war between the two: am I plotting/outlining enough or too much? Which one of these methods is correct?

The answer is both. Whatever works for you is the correct one.

I have tried my hand at both styles and found a happy medium between the two extremes that works for me. I originally started making it up as I went along; I remember an occasion or two when I started a story and even I didn’t know who the killer was going to be in the story (a murder mystery with heavy emphasis on the mystery!). I also tried to completely outline my story from start to finish, dot-jotting all of the major events or details that were supposed to happen in a particular chapter for each and every chapter. Here’s what I’ve learned from my venture into the world of outlining and the world of flying by the seat of my pants and also the method that works best for me.

TO OUTLINE: Outlining can be very helpful for obvious reasons; with a blank page in front of you, figuring out what is supposed to happen when or what character is supposed to do something at a certain point in the story may seem like a daunting task. That’s where the outline comes in. Okay, chapter 1, I want to introduce this character and have him/her do this. I also want to introduce the conflict with this other character by some event happening. All right, now chapter 2…and so on and so forth. For some, having a definitive path to follow to get from page 1 to the final page is a must. With a clear cut start, middle and ending, the outline can help to reduce writer’s block. You already know what’s going to happen next. Granted, even though the next chapter’s details are already laid out for you, writer’s block still may occur when trying to get from point A to point B; don’t get discouraged! Then again, the writer’s block may be a good thing because it might be an indicator that there is a plot hole that needs to be fixed. Instead of trudging your way through hundreds of pages only to find a bottomless pit of a plot hole that could put the entire story in jeopardy, having an outline can highlight issues that might occur later in the story that will need to be remedied. Wait, this character can’t do that; it’s not in his nature! I have to go back and fix this. Or perhaps something like: why didn’t the antagonist just do this? It would have made this happen instead of that happening. I need an explanation for that reasoning/action.

NOT TO OUTLINE: Part of the fun of writing is the creativity that comes as a result of imagining characters, places and scenarios. A rigid outline could interfere with the natural flow of creativity. Oh, hey, that character would make a great addition to this scene! I’ll pencil him into this chapter and see what happens instead of shoot, this character can’t be in this scene, even though I know he/she’d have some great dialogue to add and/or would really help him/her in some way. Sometimes a character or a plot may need to change over the course of a story in a way that wasn’t even initially conceived of. My story Into the Fire was an instance of a character being brought into the story that wasn’t anything I had thought of doing when I started writing it. The piece itself was a side project I was doing, just having fun with different POVs and writing suspense, sort of like the movie Vantage Point (2008, with Dennis Quaid and Forest Whitaker); the different points of view all came together to tell a single story and the truth behind what happened. I got about five chapters in when an idea hit me: what if I made the cops called in to deal with the threat be Sam and Dahlia? I like the idea of putting Sam in more stories since he was a fun character to write and explore. Once that idea occurred to me, the pieces began to fall into place. The security guard became Sam’s mentor, Edwin. Sadly, though, Edwin’s fate in that story remained unchanged, even before Edwin Hill the security guard became Edwin Hill, retired cop/mentor/foster father of Samuel Marlowe. Because I wasn’t sticking to a rigid outline, I had the freedom to adjust the story accordingly.

THE HAPPY MEDIUM: I found that what works best for me is a flexible outline. I have an idea, whether it be a prompt or a scenario, that I plan to start writing. From there, I dot jot a couple of ideas that I want to happen in the story. Here are the notes I have for one of the stories in the next installment of Good Cop Bad Cop. This story is called (tentatively) ‘Paying a Debt.’

 

Gloria is going to the bank

Sam recognizes something is wrong and goes with her

He is off duty, so he has no weapon on him

Robbers show up

Turns into a hostage situation

Sam contacts [character name removed to avoid spoilers] for help

 

With these few lines, I have an idea of where the story is headed. The next step would be to create the characters, or, at least, get some names. With a flexible outline, I can add or remove characters as I need, so I usually just start off with a bunch of first and last names that I can refer to to create characters. Once I have some characters in place, I start writing. It’s fun to let the story develop on its own, with me, as the writer, merely along for the ride. I learned the value of this when writing a separate story a few years ago and the way the chapter was chugging along, I came to a confrontation between two characters that I didn’t plan on having in the rigid outline I’d created, but I loved the scene because it really fit the characters’ personalities to nearly duke it out until interrupted by a third character both were connected to.

The story is like a child and the writer, a parent. We spend days, months, years, working on a story, developing it and making it the best it can be. That story, though, can take on its own personality and traits or quirks that may not have otherwise developed if the writer hampered its natural procession.

Outline or don’t outline-whatever you feel works best for you but remember to let your muse and the story guide you at times. You never know where a story can go unless you let it take you there!

What do you prefer, outlining or winging it?

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Sallie Moppert Bio

A New York native, Sallie has a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice, with a Specialization in Forensic Science. A lifelong mystery fan, she has combined her love and passion for writing with her interests in criminal justice, law, and forensic science.

Sallie currently resides in New York with her family and two dogs, and works as a freelance writer/editor.

Good Cop Bad Cop is her debut novel, and is available everywhere books are sold in both paperback and ebook editions.

Deborah Ratliff: Rules. Rules. There Are Too Many Rules!

Have you seen them? The myriad of articles posted on the Internet explaining all the things you must do to write the perfect story. Perhaps, you have seen the equally extensive list of articles telling you what you should not do. The problem? Not every article agrees on what is the correct or incorrect way to write.

What is a writer to do? How do we decide?

After years of writing business-related manuals concerning policy and training, newsletters, and research papers, I decided to return to writing fiction. My story construction skills were rusty, as was my grammar. In the corporate world, I was fortunate to have an assistant who proofed my writing. I was not so lucky in the private world. I knew I needed to hone my craft, and what better tool to use than the internet. I fired up Google and began to search for everything I could find on writing, and well, it was overwhelming. No matter the topic — how to write an opening line, how to create memorable characters, when to use effect and affect — the results of my search returned more articles than I expected. Faced with so much information, I wondered how I would manage to wade through and find what I needed to write “the great American novel.”

I am not alone. A member of Writers Unite! posted the following after receiving conflicting advice on how to write:

“Help! I’m a new author and have been networking with writers and editors. I’ve become so confused by all the different pieces of advice, I’m struggling to write a simple sentence. In the recent past, I’ve been told so many rules that I can barely keep them straight.”

The member went on to list examples of the rules as they have been explained to her.

  • Do not use descriptions
  • Show versus tell
  • Never make any cultural references
  • Do not give backstory on characters
  • Vary sentence length
  • Do not use adverbs.

Let us examine these rules.

 

Do not use descriptions.

Descriptions are the soul of writing. Not limited to location or characters, descriptive writing should include the five senses. Written images of a room may not be as crucial as whether it was hot or cold, what aromas did the character smell, did light spill into the room, or was it dark and eerie. A writer can easily bore their reader by droning on about the wallpaper or the carpet fiber or the tea cozy, but there are times when it is imperative to set a mood. How a person lives or the environment around them can be very telling as to who the character is and provides a great deal of depth.

The key here is to not overdo. Pay attention to what your story needs and nothing else. If you do write descriptively, pare down those words to include only what you need.

Avoid a litany of characteristics. “She was young, her hair long and blond, athletic build…” Instead, weave those characteristics into the story, “Preparing for her run, she pulled her blond hair into a ponytail…” and be certain that her “run” was essential to the plot.

 

Show versus tell.

The bane of every writer’s existence is this rule. Writing “experts” pound this rule into us at every opportunity. The fact is, it is a great rule and one that I fully believe in following. Anton Chekhov’s famous quote is the quintessential example: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

This rule harkens back to being descriptive. Allow your reader to feel, taste, hear, smell, and see, so they become fully immersed in the world you have created for them.

Should you always show versus tell? Yes, however, there are times when it is acceptable to move your story along and tell the action, instead of showing it. Remember to keep those moments very rare. “Jack, his face reddened, hands clenched, spun and left the room, slamming the door behind him.” You have set up that Jack is angry, describing the sound of the door slamming is not necessary.

 

Never make any cultural references.

Ask someone writing historical fiction not to make a cultural reference, and they will laugh at you. This is a specific rule. If you are setting your story within an exact timeframe, then cultural references of the era are vitally important to the credibility of your work.

The obvious reason for this rule is a cultural reference will date your work. Again, you need to keep the context of your story in mind. There may be times when a cultural reference is integral to the plot. I think the mention of social media, cell phones, or Instagram, among other references is acceptable providing they remain general.

 

Do not give backstory on characters.

Really? Exactly how do we bring depth to our stories if we do not provide pertinent backstory? Once again, this rule harkens back to the use of descriptive prose and show vs. tell. Do not write copious paragraphs about your character’s backstory but show by intertwining the information within the events and dialogue.

 

Vary sentence length.

Again, I agree with this rule in general. You need to vary the length of sentences and paragraphs to keep your reader from being bored and to maintain the pace of the story.  Sentences that are too long can cause your reader to lose interest. Short sentences can make your work seem rushed and choppy.

However—and there is always a however—when writing a scene with high tension, short sentences convey that sensation to your reader. Short, powerful sentences describing fight scenes mimic the action. Longer sentences express your character’s thoughts and reflections and help slow the pace of the story when necessary. While this rule is one I believe writers should adhere to, it is also one to suspend when the story calls for it.

 

Do not use adverbs.

Short of a lesson on the use of adverbs, which could be extensive, let’s agree that too many adverbs are not a good thing. According to my go-to grammar guru, Grammar Girl, verb modifiers are often “redundant or awkwardly placed.” She quotes master writer Stephen King who complains about them in his book On Writing, saying, “’I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops,’ but he doesn’t shout it loudly. He likens adverbs to dandelions. When one unwanted weed sprouts up, more follow.”

Grammar Girl suggests that you use adverbs in dialogue if appropriate to how the character speaks. Otherwise, she proposes to “use them wisely and only occasionally.”

 

I return to the original question. What is a writer to do?

As I worked my way through the copious amounts of advice I came across, I began to focus on the advice of only a few “experts ” and to rely on grammar references like The Chicago Manual of Style and Grammar Girl for practical advice. Listening to too many voices will create chaos and fail to provide direction.

The reality is that these rules are guidelines. They can be bent or broken depending on the creative needs of the author. As you write, keep the “rules” in mind, they are designed to keep your work coherent and consistent but do not be afraid to go against the experts. Only you know what your story needs.

About the author:

Deborah Ratliff is Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A career in science and human resources provided the opportunity to write policies/procedures and training manuals, articles, and newsletters but her lifelong love of mystery novels beckoned. Deborah began writing mysteries and her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published shortly with a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. A few of her short stories appear in the Writers Unite! anthology Realm of Magic, published on August 1, 2018.

Deborah regularly contributes articles on writing to the blog, Writers Unite! and serves as an administrator on the Facebook writing group, Writers Unite! which has 42,000 + members from around the globe.

Sources:

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/16383-don-t-tell-me-the-moon-is-shining-show-me-the

https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/how-to-eliminate-adverbs

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html

Lynn Miclea: Success as an Author

Many new writers and authors often wonder what it takes to be considered a successful author. How many books do they need to sell before they are considered successful? How much money do they need to make in royalties before they can say they’ve really made it? How is success measured?

In our society, and for many of us, success is often defined as money, fame, and power. But I think we do ourselves a big disservice when we define it that way, or base it on specific numbers reached, whether it’s book sales or income.

What about an author who has only published a few books, but they are well-written, filled with heart, humor, and gut-wrenching honesty? What about a new author’s book that opens up unique and fascinating worlds to explore? Or an author’s story that shares the overcoming of a huge difficulty in life that can inspire and help others? Or a new author’s book that touches the lives of others in powerful and profound ways? Would you say they are not successful?

I used to think of success in terms of a huge number of books sold, a steady income from royalties, and being on the best-seller list. However, those goals may be fleeting, arbitrary, unrealistic, and self-defeating – using those as criteria for success can discourage or undermine talented writers, stop them from doing their best, or cause them to give up too soon. You can be successful without reaching those typically out-of-reach goals for most writers – so don’t sell yourself short. And don’t give up.

To me, success is measured in the fulfillment of publishing the ideas and stories within me. It is in producing well-written and memorable books, stories, and articles that I can be proud of. It is in touching the lives of others through my words. It is putting my creative thoughts and imagination into a cohesive and powerful story, and getting that on paper in a way that is touching, heart-felt, and powerful.

Success is not a destination – success is a living, breathing, shifting journey of discovery and creativity that you can choose to be part of.

If you have done your best with as much integrity as possible, are proud of your work, and are happy with who you are and where you are, then you are successful. That is the success we should strive for.  And that is in your hands, within your grasp.

Success is the expression of and explosion of creativity, heart, and imagination, all coming together in powerful and moving stories. It is exciting and fulfilling and continues to unfold in spectacular new ways and in glorious wonder.

Number of books sold? That doesn’t even come close.

Go for real success – the fulfillment of a dream. And that is something all of us can do.

Copyright © 2018 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.


LYNN MICLEA grew up in New York and moved to California while in her twenties. A certified hypnotherapist and Reiki master practitioner with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she spent many years working in the medical field and in various offices in an administrative capacity.

After retiring, Lynn discovered and developed a passion for writing, and she is now a successful author with many books published and more on the way. Her two memoirs, one of her family’s experience with ALS, and one of her own journey through open-heart surgery, have received numerous five-star reviews.

She also has published ten sweet, exciting, and fun children’s books, which are uplifting, loving, feel-good animal stories, filled with warm humor, and which are about kindness, compassion, helping others, seeing the best in others, and believing in yourself.

She hopes that through her writing, she can help empower others and add more joy and love to the world. She asks everyone to be kind to each other as we all share this journey through life together.

Lynn currently lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband and two dogs.

Learn more about Lynn at her amazon author page here.

And please visit her website at www.lynnmiclea.com for more information on her books.

Make Us Cry (How to Write a Love Story We’ll Never Forget)

With our second anthology in the making, I decided it would be a good idea to take a moment to discuss what constitutes a powerful story in our eyes. There have been so many great submissions already. I can say with certainty that our Romance anthology will be a strong and worthy sequel to our Fantasy Anthology, Realm of Magic, releasing August 1st.

Make Every Word Count-2

But if you’re not familiar with romance stories, or you’re not sure how to write your story to be a memorable favorite of the judges, let me explain the things that are gripping us so far.

We want passion. It’s romance, after all, and we are expecting to feel . . . a lot. Many have made us cry so far, some through happiness, some through sadness. Some have made us sit on the edges of our seats while we worried if the characters would find their way back to each other. These stories are powerful, and we won’t forget them any time soon.

I can’t help but consider a quote from one of the most passionate love stories I know. large

When it comes to romance, this about covers it. Take us on an adventure. Up the intensity. Add danger. Make us care about the characters. Make us feel the love between them. Let that love consume us. Make us cry.

It could be the rich history between two lovers, the intense connection they share after only moments together, or the numerous obstacles between them, but something has to pull us in and make us want to find out what happens next.

It could be the final moments between a couple as one says goodbye to his terminally ill lover.

Make those last words epic.

Or the shock and relief that floods over the protagonist as her husband walks through the doors of their home, proving he wasn’t in the fatal accident, after all.

Make their reunion put all other reunions to shame. Nothing past this moment matters to your characters. And the same should go for us.

Pick a heart-wrenching scenario, and play it to the hilt. Upping the stakes in this genre can be a lot of fun, but it’s also a useful tool in pulling your readers in and making them feel the intensity of the moment. If you don’t feel it, chances are neither will we, and neither will your future readers.

Is your story a happier one between two characters just starting to fall in love? That’s great. Intensify those feelings between them until we’re convinced they’re soul mates. If the love is real, your story will also be real.

Awesome job to the authors who have made us laugh, cry, panic, or smile. We can’t wait to read more, and we are excited to see this second anthology come to fruition.

Questions about our WU! Anthology and how to submit? Comment below.


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strong-willed—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

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Mr. Price’s Dinner Table – Deborah Ratliff

Location, location, location.

How many time have you heard that a business’s location is essential to its success? It is. The same is true for the site of your story. Choosing a small town, an urban environment, or an alien world instantly sets the mood, the culture, and the anticipation for your story. Choose wisely, and the location becomes another character in your writing, adding depth and complexity to your plot.

Why we choose a location varies from our own experiences to the genres that we write.  I set my stories in the world that I know best, the Southern United States and often in New Orleans. To explain how I decide, I need to take you on a journey to my childhood.

I am a Southerner and quite proud of my roots. Growing up in South Carolina I was fortunate to have parents who saw no color differences in their fellow man. People from all walks of life and cultures visited our home.

Memories of my childhood remain clear today. The mimosa tree that I played under in our yard. Houses where all doorways, windows, and chimneys were trimmed in blue to ward off evil spirits. The dime bags of boiled peanuts sold on the street. The ‘air-conditioned tree’ at the Herlong Orchard peach stand where the temperature was twenty degrees cooler in the shade and the water stored in a metal canteen was ice cold. While there was a horrible undercurrent of division and anger in this place I love so much, there was also a goodness of soul. Family, friends, food, and good times existed as well.

My father worked at the Savannah River Plant in Aiken, South Carolina where at the time hydrogen bombs were being made. With workers from all over the world employed there, as a child I met a variety of people. One of my father’s best friends was a bear of a man, a Navaho by the name of Jess Brown. His wife Athea, a small, plump woman who might have been a better cook than my grandmothers, was like an aunt to me. I am about one-sixteenth Cherokee and Jess, and Athea gave me a sense of what being Native American meant. Proud, hard-working, gentle people.

Another friend of my parents impacted my life more than I realized. Mr. Price. Honestly, I am not sure what his first name was, my parents never called him anything but Mr. Price. He was older, a slight man, regal in bearing, with snow-white hair and a thick Southern accent that held a lilt of his mother’s heritage. She was a Cajun from southwest Louisiana, and it was his reminisces about his mother’s upbringing that fueled my love of the Cajun culture.

Mr. Price was called a ‘bachelor.’ In the South in those days, an unmarried man of means, a patron of the arts was referred to in that manner. Anyone who has read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt will recognize who Mr. Price was. Polite society did not mention the word homosexual as that wouldn’t be gracious and respectful.

We often had Sunday dinner at Mr. Price’s home, a large two-story house near downtown Aiken. I remember the opulent crimson flocked wallpaper in the parlor, the glittering crystal chandelier in the dining room, and fresh flowers everywhere. While I loved to have dinner in the dining room,  if the weather cooperated, we would often eat on the back terrace surrounded by a formal garden.

Dinner? Not what you might expect for a South Carolina gentleman. While on occasion we might have shrimp and grits or barbecued chicken, we often feasted on shrimp etouffee or jambalaya, dishes Mr. Price’s mother made when he was small. At age ten, I had my first taste of that Cajun chicory coffee at his dinner table.

I was mesmerized as he would tell us of his parent’s home in Lake Charles, and his grandparents’ house in the country nearby. He would spin tales of fun in the bayou, and I was hooked for life. While I loved South Carolina, my heart drifted toward Cajun Louisiana. His memories stirred emotions in me that I have kept to this day.

When I began to write fiction again a few years ago, I knew I would set my stories in the South. While I have never sugar-coated the problems the area has, which are no different from any other part of the United States, there is an ambiance and tone about the South, the southern coast especially, that is alluring. When I began to write it was Louisiana that I set my first novel in, New Orleans specifically.

Having visited New Orleans a few times as an adult, I discovered that my writing muse was a resident of the French Quarter. New Orleans, the bayou, the jazz, the beignets, the sultry weather, all characters in themselves and ones I find creeping into my writing.

On a recent Sunday, I watched one of Anthony Bourdain’s final “Parts Unknown” episodes. We lost a unique individual with Bourdain’s death. A talented essayist on life and culture and how food is intrinsic to our existence, not only for sustenance but for our soul. This show centered on Cajun Mardi Gras as celebrated in Southwest Louisiana.

We know of Mardi Gras as a glitzy party of drunken revelry, resplendent with cheap shiny beads, gaudy costumes, and over the top parades, as well as – well – fun. Bourdain showed us a Mardi Gras few outsiders know,  celebrated away from the French Quarter. Equally as gaudy and drunken but steeped in tradition and meaning.

Despite the commercial decadence of the more popular party in the French Quarter or the more traditional decadence of Cajun Mardi Gras, the spirit of the Cajun people, their passion for life, food, and even voodoo fuel my imagination and my soul.

I realized how ingrained the Cajun world was to my writing when I recently started writing a short story for a romance anthology. I struggled with setting and story until my muse left the jazz bar in the Quarter and reminded me, I was a mystery writer. I knew where I belonged. My story is now a romance between a TV reporter and a detective brought together over a dead body.  The location you ask? The French Quarter.

There is something about the tenor and vibe New Orleans that touches me.  A city steeped in tradition and like Anthony Bourdain, unique.

After writing my first novel, Crescent City Lies, a mystery set in New Orleans, I realize that the Cajun culture remains embedded within me, sparked so many years ago at Mr. Price’s dinner table.

Location, location, location.

(photo from https://www.visitaikensc.com/groups)

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