Tag Archives: writingtips

Writers Unite! on “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk”: Why Do We Write?

Please enjoy the podcast of Writers Unite!‘s first segment on “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” which aired Friday, August 16th. Host Paul W. Reeves and WU! Admin Deborah Ratliff discuss “Why Do We Write?”

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Writers Unite! has the pleasure of being featured every Friday on “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” program on Impact Radio USA!

Host Paul W. Reeves, an educator, author, editor, musician, and composer, is familiar with all aspects of the writing process. He supports authors by providing them a platform to talk about themselves and their work to his large listening audience.

In a quest to bring the creative writing process to all, Paul has graciously asked Writers Unite! admin Deborah Ratliff to join him on Fridays to discuss the writing process.

Upcoming segments will address such topics as:

  • Being professional
  • Securing an agent or publisher
  • Independent publishing
  • Grammar
  • Writing that first novel
  • Marketing a book and an author
  • Business plan

We hope you will listen and that the information given will help you in your writing career or in taking that first step to writing a novel, short story, or a better letter to the editor.

The Writers Unite! segment airs on Fridays at 11:00 am EDT.

Go to: https://www.impactradiousa.com/ Click on Listen Now.

“Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” airs LIVE on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11:00 am Eastern time.

Join Paul and his sidekick Arrogant Al for more than writing. There is news, sports, music, contests, and a lot of fun on each show!

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The podcasts of WU!‘s appearances on “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” will be accessible for your convenience on a blog page entitled WU! On”Dr. Paul’s Family Talk”.

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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:

 

Adam J. Johnson: Train Your Brain

Welcome back! Last time we talked about why mindset matters. A positive mindset causes action and confidence, but a negative mindset results in a lack of both. We also talked about the insecurities that cause a negative mindset. Now, everyone’s journey is different so your areas of focus will be different from others, but only you can truly validate what those areas are. We often just live with these issues and try to succeed despite them and actually, you can! However, if you don’t deal with these issues, you will never reach your full potential. There will always be a battle between your insecurities and your goals, so why not just address them? Be brutally honest with yourself, face your insecurities, and tell them that you will not be their prisoner any longer. So let’s hop right in and get to resetting that mindset!

We’ll start with developing a positive state of mind. Ultimately it’s the positive mindset that will help us attack our projects with more confidence. So, first thing we should start with is retraining our thought processes. Negative thoughts are natural, so don’t feel ashamed to have them, just identify them for what they are—a product of our experiences. Start with simply identifying when you have a negative thought. When that ugly thought surfaces, stop and make note of it. Say to yourself, “That was negative.” Once you’ve trained yourself to be constantly aware of the negative thoughts entering your brain, then we can start taking action against it! When a negative thought enters your mind and you’ve identified it, think at least three positive thoughts to follow. This may not come easily to all of us as some of us have become comfortable with negative thoughts. Some of us even glorify them and think that a cynical view of the world is smart and will keep you safe from being burned. This may be true to a small extent, but will ultimately hold you back from achieving your goals.

So, you are flooded with negative thoughts and are cynical in your view. Thinking positive thoughts can seem corny, right? That is simply a personal quirk that you have developed based on your life experiences and your need to feel comfortable. Even if it seems corny, convince yourself to follow up every negative thought with at least three positive thoughts for at least a week! After all, you can do anything new for a week, right?  I suggest keeping a journal of your thoughts and mood throughout the week and reflect on it after the week is up. I guarantee you that by the end of the week, your mood will be elevated, even if only slightly. What if you’re bad at thinking positively? Then it will take longer for you to reset your mindset, but it’s even more important that you do. Positivity exists everywhere and it’s up to each individual to see it. If you’re bad at it, then find three things that you do see positively. When a negative thought crosses your mind, repeat those three positive thoughts to yourself. Once you start to expand your outlook, start swapping out the three thoughts with new ones that you’ve discovered along the way until you can randomly pull three positive thoughts with every negative one.

Once you see it’s working, it should be no trouble to keep doing it moving forward. After one to two months, you will see a huge difference in your outlook and default mood. This may seem like a long time to sustain a practice, but think about it. We’re writers—we spend months or years on a single project and are usually content to do so. We make the investment in our work, so be courageous enough to make an investment in yourself. When you do, you will be more confident in your work and will be more aggressive in getting it out there.

Why do you think that is? It’s simple, really. The more confidence we have in ourselves directly translates to the confidence that we have in our work. If we are more confident in our work, then we will not be afraid to share it with the world! So, let’s recap.

  1. Identify negative thoughts.
  2. Train yourself to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
  3. Build confidence in your writing.
  4. Share with the world!

Now that we’ve established how to get the ball rolling on changing to a positive mindset, you are truly equipped to start beating insecurities!! I truly hope this has helped in any way and if you have questions, feel free to reach out!

Happy writing,

Adam J. Johnson

Writers Unite! Tips on Writing: Grammar

WT- Improve Grammar

Live Limitless

There is always a path from the place you are to the place you want to be. Never stop building the bridge to your dreams. Work hard, be persistent and you will create the reality you dream of.

We are used to creating new worlds for our characters and we work tirelessly to build full, exciting worlds for our readers. The truth is, we can do the same for ourselves and the key to that ideal world lies in each of us. We determine our mindset and outlook and that determines our world. Build well and build often. 

#livelimitless

 

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Writers Unite! Tips on Writing

WT - Editing

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

 

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Part Three:

How do you get your story to the publisher and impress them to read it?

Yes, the question said, impress them. Shouldn’t your story alone be the deciding factor? Well, yes, that is the deciding factor for whether it should be included in their publication, but, they are receiving so many submissions, you must impress them to take their time to read yours over someone else’s. That can be done several ways with the submission letter, an author bio (biography), or just by properly jumping through all the submission hoops established by the publisher. This last could possibly include a restriction of who may submit: first-time, female authors from Canada with red hair. Yeah, that last part is an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

Submission letters are probably the most important part of the process; remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Publishing, on any level, is first and foremost a business, and the personnel involved in content selection should be respected as professional business men/women. Your letter (email) should be business like, date at the top, name, business, address, and who it is being sent to above the Dear XXX. Yes, I know we are doing this electronically, so this information will already be on the email heading, BUT making the extra effort will catch the eye of the reader and give you a better chance of moving on in the process. If you don’t know who will be reading this in order to put their name or exactly where this internet site originates, no problem. Using our example you want:

Date

 

Editor

A1 Publication

Dear Madam/Sir:

 

Notice it says “Madam/Sir”; this is politically correct as well as professional and when in doubt, alphabetize.

The first sentence of your first paragraph should NOT be a question; no What if or Did you ever… Your first sentence must be a strong statement about your story that will entice the reader to continue reading to see if you validate your point. Example:

The relationships we have when we are children are meaningful and help to shape the adults we will become. None of these is more meaningful than the relationship we have with our beloved pets.

The reader cannot argue with this statement and in fact, if he/she wants to find out why you feel this way, he/she needs to keep reading your letter. This is a good place to practice your elevator pitch. The elevator pitch is a synopsis of your story that you have prepared to present just in case you ever find yourself on an elevator with the person who can make the decision about your story. You can either ride up in silence or you can make conversation with a captive audience. Your pitch must be short and to the point, while remaining interesting, because you only have the time between the doors closing and opening to speak.

Continue your letter by telling how your original story, (insert name), goes on to explain/explore/entertain (whatever) your first statement. Be sure to include the word count, rounded up to the next fiftieth; this is usually a requirement of the publisher that it be mentioned in the body of the letter, and/or maybe in the subject line of the email itself. If your work has been published before, be sure to mention it here and cite the publication. Notice in the example below that I have also included a comment about a pen name. This is not necessary if you submit it under your regular name, but should be mentioned if you don’t.

Attached is Conversations with Bingo, an original short story written under my pen name, Somebody Else. It is about 2,100 words long. The story tells of the ten-year relationship between a boy and his beloved dog. Throughout good times and bad, his faithful companion was always there as his sounding wall to hear comments about his hopes and dreams, fears and delights, and disappointments and joys.

If the publisher has requested any special requirements for submission, like the ones mentioned above, now would be a good time to list them.

I am currently an unpublished author, but I believe my story would fit well with your publication. I have resided in Toronto for six years, and am a member of the Women of Fire Hair Club (yeah, cheesy, but you get the idea).

If you have received writing awards of note, or have had work published elsewhere, make note of that, being sure to cite where your work can be found so they can look you up for comparison if need be. If in their submission guidelines they ask for a head shot, it should be mentioned here that it has been attached to the email. If they ask for an author’s bio, you can mention that it is either attached as well or may be found below the signature line on this email.

Author head shots are used by the publisher for identification and promotion purposes. You do not have to run to a professional photographer for just one photograph—yet. This picture should be clear, sharp, and a good representation of your personality. It should be submitted in JPEG format for ease of duplication. Eventually you may want to get that studio shot for the back cover of your novel, but that is way down the road. If the publisher does not require a head shot in their submission guide, you can always just mention that one is available upon request in the body of the letter.

Your author’s bio should be written in third-person narrative. It can be difficult to speak of yourself as someone else, but think of what you would want a trusted friend to write. It should be no more than 100 words as a courtesy to the publisher. It can speak about your background, your family, your interest in writing, and maybe address something about your personality. If you are an established author, here is where you mention that and any awards you might have received. This blurb, like the head shots, will be used by the publisher as well, and should constantly be refined as your career advances and you evolve as a writer. Your first version may seem awkward when compared to your tenth, but eventually you will find the words to best represent your professional persona.

Finally, your letter should thank them for this opportunity and close with a comment about how you look forward to hearing from them and a positive comment about how they will enjoy your story. Sign it “Sincerely” (or something similar), with the name you want to be on your contract, along with all your contact information (address, phone, email, website, etc.). Let me state that again–the name you want to be on your contract! If you have a pen-name, then that should be mentioned in the body of the letter, the author’s bio, the title of the head shot JPEG file, and under your real name as:

Sincerely,

 

My Real Name

(writing as Somebody Else)

If you want the contract to be issued to you under your pen-name, then that is how you should sign the letter and skip mentioning it in the body.

I am a writer

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Part Four:  Okay, am I ready to send this story to the publisher?

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(November 2017 All rights reserved)

Deborah Ratliff: We Just Click, Dude!

How a deep connection between characters engages your reader.

 
“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”    ― Aristotle

A writer recently posted a question in a group discussion. What causes a reader to return to subsequent novels by an author? He wondered if the author and their writing style was the reason.

I have heard this question many times, and I think that while an author’s style is important to a reader, what brings a reader back repeatedly is how the author crafts characters.

Once at a meeting of a writing group, we were discussing the merits of writing a novel series and what would cause readers to continue to follow the books. A local playwright listened to this discussion before pounding the table. He declared that there was only one reason a reader came back: the characters. Provide a character that a reader can identify with, care about, connect to, and they will respond and read everything you write about that character.

This is true for me personally. The first author and character I became enamored with were John D. McDonald and the infamous Travis McGee. Everything about his books drew me in. The main setting, the coast of South Florida, remains a favorite to this day. Every detail, the ancient Rolls Royce McGee converted into a pick-up truck, the houseboat he won in a poker game, the marina where the boat docked, all characters within the novels. But that alone did not bring me back.

Travis McGee was larger than life. A man of honor with a strong moral center who, while he would bend the rules to accomplish his goals, never lost sight of the truth and what was right. He was reliable, counted on to help people when they had exhausted all other possibilities to undo a wrong. I think we all want that level of stability and strength in our lives.

McDonald didn’t stop with his main character. He created a world of characters that existed from novel to novel. McGee’s best friend, the economist Meyer, was unique, along with a cast of colorful and eccentric characters. From Chookie, who danced at a local club, to The Alabama Tiger, who held a constant floating party on his boat, these characters became old friends. The last Travis McGee novel may have been the saddest book I have ever read. My friends were gone. There would be no new adventures.

However, that instant connection I had with McGee and company will never leave. I read those books over often and feel nostalgia and peace simultaneously. Once you have felt that connection whether in real life or in your imaginary life that feeling will never leave.

The question then becomes this. How do writers craft characters that readers can connect with at the desired level? Let us examine what makes a character memorable.

 

Who is this person?

You must establish your main character as likable and relatable. They do not have to be perfect but do need to have characteristics the reader can identify with, or there will be no connection.

An important consideration is not to stereotype your character. Perfection is not the goal here, realism is. The reader wants to see someone who is strong and heroic but with flaws that they have themselves. Then they can project themselves into the action. Remember, Indiana Jones was afraid of snakes.

Construct your character through show and tell, don’t provide a litany of characteristics. If your character is short (which I identify with) frame the description as “she stretched to reach the top shelf” not she was five-one. The reader will have experienced the reaching or watched someone who did and identify without an exact reference to the character’s height and create an image in their imagination.

Above all, reveal your character’s flaws. Are they afraid of new love because of hurt in the past? Are they devastated or angry because of a tragedy? Did they lose everything and have to start over? Show the fears they feel, the pain and anger. You should also give them a reason for hope—a faith that they will survive and reach their goal. Give them humor and confidence, even if you shake it from time to time. Let them laugh, cry, rant, and fight for what they want. Your reader should be cheering for your character to succeed with every word.

 

What are they seeking?

Establish your MC’s goal as soon as possible. What do they want? Once you have established the task before them, throw obstacles in their way. Create the need for the reader to become engaged in their quest. We have all wanted something we seemingly can’t have, and as problem after problem piles on, we think we will never reach our goal. Let the reader feel that frustration, fear, anger as they fight through the issues keeping them from their goals.

 

Who are their companions?

As with the Travis McGee series, secondary characters are significant to how your reader identifies with your main character and invests in the story. They need to be memorable as well.

I wrote a story where I introduced a character, a bartender in the New Orleans French Quarter, who was meant to be a vehicle for my protagonist to run into her former lover. Within two paragraphs, I had fallen for the bartender, and he morphed into a cousin and best friend of the former lover and became an integral part of the plot. The story became more vibrant with more depth because I added a character who had a vested interest in the outcome.

Create the friend, the mentor, the grandmother, the housekeeper, whatever character you need to help you present your MC’s human side. Someone who recognizes their flaws and is not afraid to tell them. Someone they can confess their thoughts to, someone they trust. With each interaction between these characters, the reader will become more attached to the main character.

 

What does this effort give you, the author?

Going back to our original question, why do readers return to a writer, they come back because they like the characters.

They “just click” with them. Standalone stories with great characters will bring readers back to an author. A series of novels with the same character succeeds because, while writing style may have allowed them to enjoy the first novel, readers will want to read the second and third and so on because you gave them a character who reflects their desires and one they can identify with time and again.

Never forget how it felt to instantly connect to someone important in your life. A good author will give that incredible emotion to their readers. Those readers will be back for more.

 

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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. Deborah regularly contributes articles on writing to the blog, Writers Unite! and serves as an administrator on the Facebook writing site, Writers Unite! which has 43,000 + members from around the globe.

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Resources:

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/18077-what-is-a-friend-a-single-soul-dwelling-in-two

https://www.goodreads.com/series/52264-travis-mcgee

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082971/

Writers Unite! Tips on Writing

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Writers Unite! Tips on Writing!

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