5 Reasons Why Every Author Should Join a Book Club

Today we have a post on a topic that has never been discussed at Writers Helping Writers. Can you believe it? After 9 years, that’s almost impossible. So I was very excited to hear about Kelly Miller’s proposed post. It was also beyond awesome to get a guest post proposal from a writer who’s been walking the journey with us since our Bookshelf Muse days. Talk about dedication! So read on as we discuss book clubs and what they can offer writers.

Have you ever been a part of a book club? I’m not talking about a get together where you all drink wine and talk about everything but that month’s novel. I mean a bone-a-fide gathering where every member is armed with their club’s latest pick, questions they want to discuss, and an opinion on what they read.

As a writer, if you’re not a member of a book club, you’re missing out on an untapped avenue for not only invaluable research but a bevy of potential superfans. Here are 5 of the top reasons you should join a book club.

Learn How Readers Think

Face it, if we knew how readers thought, we’d have already written a New York Times bestselling novel instead of firmly treading water as a mid-lister. But there’s no better way to get into the mind of a reader than to sit and listen to a group of them discuss a book. True, they may not be discussing your book or even your genre, but there’s always something useful you can glean from their conversations.

In my book club meetings, I’ve learned what makes a reader stop reading within the first three chapters. And what makes a mentally-fractured protagonist someone you can empathize with rather than hate because of their whiny qualities. Researching and reading this kind of information online is possible, but until you have a front-row seat to hear the back and forth between book clubbers about why one person hated the main character and another was totally drawn in, you can’t truly absorb the information and shape it into something usable.

Fantastic Source for Research

While working on your latest novel, how many times have you wondered about the possible hiding places in a half-constructed building, or how it feels when a deathly allergic person is stung by a bee? Okay, maybe that’s just me, but I know from personal experience that sometimes internet research or a Facebook post to your friends isn’t enough. When you meet people in a book club, you discover information about their professions and hobbies that can be a priceless resource. The more connections you can make in the real word (a.k.a life that happens away from your computer), the better equipped you’ll be once you sit down to write.

That’s me in the middle of my book club—the one with the glasses holding a copy of my first mystery novel!

Potential Beta Readers

Book club members really know their books! Once you’re in a group for a while, you’ll come to know the members who are really good at articulating their opinion of what works in a story and what doesn’t. These are the people you want reading your WIP. Pull them aside after the meeting or message them and tell them that you’ve noticed their insights. Ask them if they’d be willing to provide feedback on one of your books in the future.

Great People Watching  

If you’re willing to sit back and listen—really listen—a group of book clubbers is a great way to find new material for future books. I know it’s tempting to talk as much as possible, because face it, writers are always stuck in front of the computer with only our pets to keep us company. But during the meeting, once the conversation about the book dissipates, the participants usually hang around and talk about their lives—everything from their demanding kids and jealous husbands to the office starlet and the hunky lawn guy. This is the best time to absorb the words and interactions between the members. You never know when you’ll come away with a nugget of inspiration which could lead to your next great protagonist.

The last book club meeting I was at, one of the ladies was talking about her young daughter who likes to climb into her bed at 2 am. The way she described her daughter hogging the bed and the need for her to be “all up in her womb” was hilarious. It’s moments like these where people can provide you with the best lines that will make a writer’s night.

Feedback on Your Novel

Don’t join a book club with the express purpose of trying to get members to pick one of your novels. Instead, participate in a few meetings before it even comes up that you’re an author. If you build the strong bonds first, it won’t look like a smarmy move when you mention your book. In fact, everyone will be so surprised that you write, they’ll be clamoring for you to choose one of your own books the month you’re picked as host.

If your book is read by the group, be sure to leave your ego at the door. Whether the feedback is good or bad, don’t let it give you a big head or, in turn, crush you. Instead, look at the meeting as a learning opportunity. When you’re creating a list of questions that everyone will discuss at book club, ask the ones that will help you understand your strong and weak points as an author. That way you can incorporate the lessons you’ve learned into the next book.

How to Find a Book Club

Unsure of how to find a book club? Check out the Reader’s Circle website. It’s an online community that matches book clubs with potential members. Just use the search function and enter your zip code. When I filled in mine, I found a great Mystery Book Club not too far from my house. Other resources are community bulletin boards with listings for local groups at a bookstore or library. Even meetup.com advertises groups. And if all else fails, start your own group!

I’d love to hear about any helpful experiences you’ve had as an author in a book club. Please share yours with us in the comments!

Kelly Miller is an award-winning mystery author with three books and two novelettes to her credit. Dead Like Me and Deadly Fantasies are the first two books in the Detective Kate Springer series. Splintered was named a 2015 Kindle Scout winner and garnered a publishing contract with Amazon’s Kindle Press. She’s also published two mystery novelettes in her My Nightmare Series, My Blue Nightmare (which is free to newsletter subscribers) and My Emerald Nightmare which just debuted April 2017. For more information about Kelly Miller visit www.kellymillerauthor.com.

 

Posted in Reader Feedback, Writing Groups | 8 Comments

Want To Grow As A Writer? Transform Your Critique Group

michael_haugeMy  mentor Art Arthur, a successful Hollywood screenwriter for five decades, once told me, “There are four kinds of Hollywood producers: the ones that say, ‘Here’s what I don’t like about your script,’ the ones that say, ‘Here’s what I don’t like, and here’s why,’ and the ones that say, ‘Here’s what I don’t like, here’s why, and here’s what I suggest you do instead.’ This third group is very rare, but those are the ones you most want to work with.

“But the worst of all,” he continued, “are those who skip over the what they don’t like and why, and just tell you what you should change.”

After hearing stories from countless writers about advice they’ve been given, critique groups seem also to fall into four basic categories: the “any excuse not to write” group (which at least gets you out of the house and among people, but has no effect on your writing one way over the other), the “just make you feel good” group (which will bolster your spirits and avoid hurting your feelings, but prevent you from doing the hard work of facing your weaknesses and improving your craft); and the “I don’t know much about story but I love to criticize” group (which is filled with people who want to stroke their own egos by giving lots of advice and suggesting all sorts of changes that are neither well founded nor consistent with your vision for your own story).

And finally, there’s the group that actually helps you make your writing better. Here is how the writers in those groups behave….

  1. Great critique groups ask questions.

It took me a long time to realize, but my best coaching always occurs when I listen. I used to simply do critiques for writers – lay out my comments and suggestions for how to make their novel or screenplay better. This wasn’t bad, because my advice was based on solid story principles exhibited by countless successful books and movies. But then I realized that the changes I suggested were always about making the story into what I thought it should be. It wasn’t based on my client’s vision for his or her project, because I never tried to find out exactly what that vision was.

 So before either slamming or praising a member’s writing, outstanding critique groups want to know how the writer sees her own story. “Tell us about this character,they’ll ask. “Do you like him? Would you want to hang out with him? Why does your heroine love him? Why is he her destiny? How do you want your hero to change in the course of the story? Why did you set the story in this particular time and place? How will it relate to the lives of your readers? And how is this story reflective of you and your own values or struggles or fears?”

  1. Great critique groups listen – carefully – to the writer’s answer.

After each question, the group will try to glean what might lie underneath the answer. They will press the writer to dig deeper into her subconscious to explain his choices.

  1. Great critique groups point out where the writer’s vision and what he’s written on the page don’t connect.

These might be instances where what the group read or heard in the writer’s selected pages seems inconsistent with what the writer is saying he tried to do. Or there might be elements in the writing that simply diminished the group’s own emotional involvement in the story. Perhaps one of the group members was confused, or disbelieving, or bored. Or maybe a member simply didn’t like or empathize with a character. But members of the group always make clear that they are saying, “This is how I felt when I read this, and here’s why.” This is where a deep understanding of story isn’t necessary for a group to be helpful. Because an emotional response to anything is always legitimate, whether the reader can explain it or not.

  1. Only THEN does a great critique group offer suggestions.

When the group has listened to the writer’s goals and vision, and pointed out their emotional reactions, they can now help the writer brainstorm possible ways of addressing these issues – always making certain that suggestions are simply that, and that other options might also improve the story and heighten its emotional impact. They might refer to past successful novels or films, and how those stories approached similar situations or characters. Or they might simply offer a “What if…?” and see where the group and the writer take that idea – keeping in mind that this is not a popularity contest, or a democracy. The best advice doesn’t win, because there is no “winning” – only a search for the idea that the writer feels is best for the story she wants to tell.

One more quality of a great critique group remains, but this one depends on you, when you’re on the receiving end of all this discussion:

  1. In a great critique group, the author of the work being discussed ALSO listens carefully and responds.

All the great advice in the world does you no good if your goal is simply to defend everything you’ve written. Trust that your critique group is there to help and support you – not to debate with you. Allow yourself to take in all that is said. Record it if you possibly can, and if not, ask someone else in the group to take copious notes for you. When you’re not clear about someone’s comment, ask that member to explain it. And if you think they missed something in your work, say, “I thought I was addressing that issue when I wrote _______ . Do you know why that didn’t work for you? Did anyone else in the group have the same reaction?”

Even though challenging every comment and suggestion is unproductive, neither should you meekly withdraw without any reactions at all. Clarify what you don’t understand, and then join in the brainstorming. And when you hear suggestions you don’t like, say “That change doesn’t really work for me because _______. But what if I try_______ instead?”

Even if you’re happy with your critique group, suggest some of these changes at your next meeting. If they don’t work, your group can always go back to what it did before. (Or if the members of your group are so rigid they won’t consider changing, and they’re not really making you a better writer anyway, find another group.)

Just be aware that the critique groups that follow these guidelines are the ones that get thanked profusely whenever a writer comes to a podium to accept an award.

~Michael Hauge

*** If you haven’t already, go to www.StoryMastery.com and sign up to be on my mailing list. When you do, we’ll send you a free list of Key Questions for Novelists or for Screenwriters. These can also be a good jumping off point for your critique group. And please let me know what happens when you trying implementing this process.

michaelhauge_framed1Michael has been one of Hollywood’s top script consultants, story experts, and speakers for more than 30 years, and is the author of Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds and Writing Screenplays That Sell. Find out more about Michael here, check into his articles and coaching packages at Story Mastery, and catch up with him on social media.

Facebook | Twitter

YOUR TURN:  What was your best critique group experience, and why? Alternatively, what was your worst experience? Let us know in the comments!

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Posted in Critique Groups, Critiquing & Critiques, Reader Feedback, Resident Writing Coach, Revision and Editing, Uncategorized, Writing Groups | 17 Comments

Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Overcoming Addiction

What does your character want? This is an important question to answer because it determines what your protagonist hopes to achieve by the story’s end. If the goal, or outer motivation, is written well, readers will identify fairly quickly what the overall story goal’s going to be and they’ll know what to root for. But how do you know what outer motivation to choose?

If you read enough books, you’ll see the same goals being used for different characters in new scenarios. Through this thesaurus, we’d like to explore these common outer motivations so you can see your options and what those goals might look like on a deeper level.

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Overcoming Addiction

Forms This Might Take: Addiction can be tricky to define because it’s similar in some ways to other kinds of compulsion disorders. For the purpose of this entry, behavioral addiction is defined as the overuse of a substance or practice that increases over time, continues despite negative consequences, and is incredibly difficult for the user to stop. While alcohol and illegal or prescription drugs are the most common things abused, others can also be addictive, such as nicotine, food, gaming, gambling, shopping, or sex.

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): esteem and recognition

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Taking a serious look at one’s addiction (tracking usage and financial expenditures, journaling about one’s feelings, examining the negative effects in various areas of one’s life, etc.)
  • Purging one’s home of the substances or items that make using easy or more tempting
  • Setting goals and coming up with a game plan
  • Exploring treatment options
  • Seeking therapy
  • Speaking to loved ones about one’s desire to kick the habit as a means of garnering support
  • Attending twelve-step meetings
  • Cutting ties with negative influencers
  • Seeking out new friends and contacts who are dedicated to sobriety
  • Identifying and avoiding triggers that will make it difficult for one to be successful
  • Reducing stressors in one’s life
  • Engaging in activities or hobbies that will keep one busy
  • Throwing oneself into work
  • Becoming more spiritual; clinging to one’s faith as a means of getting through the process
  • Adopting healthy mental practices, such as focusing on the positive, keeping a gratitude journal, or giving oneself plenty of time to find success
  • Finding others who have been successful and talking to them

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Experiencing grief over the loss of the activity or substance one has always enjoyed
  • Losing long-term friends or loved ones
  • Strained relationships with family members who doubt one’s ability to change (particularly if one has failed repeatedly in the past)
  • The stigma that occurs when other people become aware of one’s addiction
  • Losing one’s job due to attending an in-house, long-term treatment program
  • Having to give up one’s job or change careers in order to overcome one’s addiction
  • Financial difficulties due to the cost of treatment

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Stressors and triggers that make success difficult
  • Pressure from other addicts who don’t want one to change
  • Past wounds and negative emotions that become more pronounced once one stops medicating
  • Having no support system; having to go it alone
  • One’s addiction of choice being inadvertently replaced with another one
  • Lacking the necessary financial resources
  • Being surrounded by other addicts and being unable to get away from them
  • Not being able to get the time off work needed for therapy or proper treatment
  • Unrealistic expectations from others or from oneself
  • Not looking realistically at one’s addiction
  • Defeatist thinking patterns
  • Negative events (a death in the family, losing one’s job, being involved in a serious car accident, etc.) that occur when one is trying to stop, making it even more difficult
  • Having to stop treatment early (to care for a loved one, attend a funeral, travel for work, etc.)

Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This GoalEmpathyMultitaskingReading People, Talents that help one focus on something other than the addiction (BakingMusicalitySculpting, etc.)

Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:

  • Broken relationships
  • Loved ones following in one’s footsteps and being led astray
  • Long-term health issues
  • Depression and other mental illnesses
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts
  • Harming oneself or others while under the influence
  • Bankruptcy
  • Losing one’s job due to an inability to perform
  • Abandoning important passions and talents as one’s addiction becomes all-consuming
  • Being ruled by doubt and self-loathing
  • Being unable to succeed in other areas due to one’s lack of confidence in one’s abilities
  • An inability to face and overcome the pain from the past, resulting in one not being able to move forward into wholeness

Click here for a list of our current entries for this thesaurus, along with a master post containing information on the individual fields.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Angela’s Fantastic Finds for Writers

People who follow me in social spaces know I curate A LOT of content–enough to supply 3 twitter accounts, 3 facebook pages, one personal FB profile and then of course a massive database on Pinterest.

And…I find a lot of neat stuff.

I have a feature in our WHW newsletter called Angela’s Super Six where I share 6 very cool links, articles, or tools I’ve found. This is quite popular, so I thought I’d do a round up of some fantastic finds here.  Hopefully some of these tools and sites will help you as they have helped me!

OneLook Reverse Dictionary: Seriously, I love this one. Whenever I can’t think of the right word but I know the “theme” or “idea” I’m going for, I visit this site. It’s more than a synonym finder, because it looks at words related to the word or phrase you are looking up. This can be great too if you are looking for words that reinforce a certain emotion. (Try typing in Fear and see what you get.)

Word Frequency Counter: Worried that maybe you used the word look 9,007 times? Or maybe the color green appears everywhere? Dump your writing into this text box and it will find the words you use the most. If you are overdoing it on the smiles, grins, shrugs, or frowns, BOOM, you’ll know.

Hierarchy of Human Needs: After writing six books, most of which have deep roots in psychology, I can’t even begin to describe how awesome Maslow’s Human Needs pyramid is for writers. If you need a psych refresher from those blurry college years, have a peek at this post and maybe this post too. Trust me, you’ll be happy you did!

List of Literary Themes: Wondering what to write about? Not any more! Visit this list and you are sure to walk away with an idea or two.

Query Tracker: Full disclosure–it’s been a long time since I used Query Tracker to get an agent, but it is just a terrific site with a supportive community, and I want to highlight that here. If you’re on the hunt for that mystical literary unicorn, check this site out.

The Story Structure Database: A shout out to the brilliant K.M. Weiland for this one. This terrific database of movie structure will help you finally understand story structure no matter how much it might have baffled you in the past.

Weapons, Weapons, Weapons. Do I need to say it again? WEAPONS, people! Pictures, descriptions, terminology, oh yes, and how to fight. Massively good information here.

The Critique Circle: I admit, I have a super soft spot for this online critiquing site, because it’s where Becca and I met, and well, you know how that went. Seeing as I send someone here at least once a week, I figure let’s get all official and make it part of my list. CC works on a tit-for-tat system: you critique someone’s work and get points, and you use those points to submit your own work for critique. If you are ready to jump into the feedback pool, check it out.

Silk: Got a problem you are trying to noodle out? Writer’s block knocking at the door? Or do you just need a pick-me-up and want to let your creativity soar? Whatever the flavor, try this out. It’s fun, and you’ll make something beautiful, guaranteed.

#ontheporch: If you are on Twitter, look into this community if you are searching for a writing tribe. Lots of moral support, conversation, encouragement, and learning opportunities.

click to enlarge this tip sheet

Angela’s Writing Utopia on Pinterest: Are you a pinner? You should check out my Pinterest boards. I have them all broken down by writing topic or genre, so it’s easy to find the information you need. (And of course all your favorite Writers Helping Writers articles and One Stop For Writers Tip Sheets are there too.)

Blogs to Check Out

There are many, many, MANY terrific blogs out there for writers. If I created a list of all my favorites, well, we’d be here all day. So instead I’m going to list a few you may NOT know of that have excellent articles. You might want to go be friends with them, just saying.

Mythcreants: Great articles, many with a Fantasy bent, but applicable to all writers for the most part. The crew over there post topics you won’t find elsewhere that go deep, and you’ll definitely see your writing improve if you apply what you learn. Head over and subscribe.

Buffer: I’ve been using Buffer for some time now (all that content to curate, remember? It’s a terrific tool that you should check out.) and one thing I like about them is that they genuinely want to help people better connect with their audience. So, they posts some good articles on how to use social media, and have webinars for new strategies to try. Buffer is successful, and it’s my experience that people who excel with their customer base are ones to listen to when it comes to understanding how to better connect with and reach an audience.

Bang2Write: This blog is a screenwriter’s haven, but has a ton of great articles for novelists too. Lucy cuts it straight, and offers some really good advice, especially in the character creation department. When you have some time, swing by and go on a treasure hunt. This is what I did the first time I visited, and I have been back many times since. This site is uncensored, so be warned.

PsychWriter: This blog is newer, but it’s already a gem. Psychology. Writing. Do you see where I am going with this? Let’s just say that if you want to write complex characters who have real-world fears, needs, and desires, put this blog on your subscribe list.

Have you found anything new and incredibly helpful lately? Let me know in the comments!

And if you like the things I share, come find me online:

Twitter: @angelaackerman ~  @onestop4writers

Facebook: Angela’s Profile ~ Writers Helping Writers Page ~ One Stop For Writers Page

And go find Becca too, so you can hear her complain about me: ~

@beccapuglisi & Becca’s Facebook

 

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Posted in Agents, Basic Human Needs, Characters, Critiquing & Critiques, Marketing, One Stop For Writers, Social Networking, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons, Writing Resources | 32 Comments

Critiques 4 U!

This weekend was an absolute blast as I shared some character building tips with a fine bunch of romance writers in Dallas. I’ve been working on this presentation for a while, and now that it’s done, I’m looking forward to getting back to work on the front matter for our next thesaurus book on Emotional Wounds. (Angela’s already done with her half, the overachiever.) People have been asking when this book, which will feature over 100 traumatic events that can impact who your character is in your current story, will be available, and the answer is that we’re hoping to publish it sometime this fall.

If you’re curious about this next book of ours and would like to know when it becomes available, consider signing up for our New Publications newsletter, which we only activate in the months leading up to a new release. By signing up, you’ll receive just a few emails to keep you informed of when the next book will be published so you won’t miss out.

A sampling of the Emotional Wound entries available at One Stop For Writers

In addition, you can get a sneak peak by checking out our partial list of wound entries via the Emotional Wound Thesaurus at One Stop For Writers. (And snag a discount for 25% off your first invoice here.) Registered users can also access a handy tutorial on emotional wounds that explains these traumatic events, resulting flaws, false beliefs that may develop, and more.

I know, I know. Fall seems like too long to wait when you’re looking forward to something. But it’s ok, because you can enter TODAY to win another nifty prize—a critique of one of your first pages. That’s right! It’s time for

CRITIQUES 4 U!

CONTEST CLOSED!

If you’re working on a first page and would like some objective feedback, please leave a comment that includes: 

1) your email address. Some of you have expressed concern about making your email address public; if you’re sure that the email address associated with your WordPress account is correct, you don’t have to include it here. But if you do win and I’m unable to contact you through that email address, I’ll have to choose an alternate winner.

2) your story’s genre (no erotica, please)

Also, please be sure your first page is ready to go so I can critique it before next month’s contest rolls around. If it needs some work and you won’t be able to get it to me right away, I’d like to ask that you plan on entering the next contest, once any necessary tweaking has been taken care of. 🙂

~ONLY ENTRIES THAT FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS WILL BE CONSIDERED~

Three commenters’ names will be randomly drawn and posted tomorrow. If you win, you can email me your first page and I’ll offer my feedback. Best of luck!

Posted in Uncategorized | 36 Comments

Character Motivation Entry: Escaping Invaders

What does your character want? This is an important question to answer because it determines what your protagonist hopes to achieve by the story’s end. If the goal, or outer motivation, is written well, readers will identify fairly quickly what the overall story goal’s going to be and they’ll know what to root for. But how do you know what outer motivation to choose?

If you read enough books, you’ll see the same goals being used for different characters in new scenarios. Through this thesaurus, we’d like to explore these common outer motivations so you can see your options and what those goals might look like on a deeper level.

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Escape Invaders

Forms This Might Take:

  • A foreign army seeking to claim territory
  • A group or organization seeking to take one’s assets, property, and resources by force
  • An alien invasion
  • An intelligent species intent on domination
  • A supernatural enemy (demons, malevolent forces, etc.)
  • Artificial intelligence seeking to overthrow humanity
  • A group of people or animals being controlled in some way (a drug, an implant, mind control, a virus, etc.) who pose a immediate threat

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): safety and security,

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Scouting escape routes
  • Monitoring the enemy’s movements and patterns to determine the best opportunity to escape
  • Arranging for transport (pay, steal, or acquire what one needs)
  • Gathering money or other items for trade to use as bribes or to pay for assistance
  • Keeping close tabs on one’s family so one can leave when an opportunity presents itself
  • Acquiring Intel about one’s enemy (routines, plans, their base of operations)
  • Understanding the invader’s strengths (their methods for finding people and capturing them, their weapons, resources, etc.)
  • Arranging for safe passage at pinch points
  • Communicating with others who are also looking to escape and collaborating
  • Stockpiling supplies
  • Procuring weapons
  • Procuring any specialized clothing or equipment (signal jammers, cloaking technology, heat-resistant suits, etc.)
  • Having false documentation made
  • Purchasing black market credentials, access cards, or pass codes if needed
  • Capturing and questioning an invader to obtain valuable information one needs for the escape
  • Gathering survival gear and medical supplies

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Being injured
  • A family member being captured during the escape
  • Leaving behind one’s job, friends, and property
  • Having to leave a family member behind (who has been captured and is beyond rescue, who refuses to leave, etc.)
  • Giving up one’s old life for something uncertain
  • Losing all one’s wealth, status, and assets
  • Damaging one’s health during the escape (through exposure to chemicals, radiation, or another danger associated with the escape route)
  • Sacrificing one’s moral beliefs in “him or me” situations with others trying to survive
  • Emotional pain over any failures, guilt, or shame that results from fleeing
  • Having to live with the knowledge of what one did to survive (kill people, sacrifice others to live, fail to help others out of self-preservation, whatever fits)

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • One’s transportation being destroyed
  • A cave-in within a tunnel network one is using to escape, a bridge collapse, a train derailment, a capsized boat, a car breakdown
  • A checkpoint weakness being discovered and fortified
  • A traitor in one’s midst
  • Security being tightened, heavy patrols
  • A new weapon or technology being introduced to the mix that one cannot counteract
  • Someone in one’s party becoming injured or sick
  • A smuggler failing to show or being killed on route to the pick up
  • Running out of food and water
  • Not having anything worth bartering to secure safe passage or help
  • Having one’s equipment be destroyed or sabotaged in some way
  • Weather conditions that make safe passage impossible
  • A forest fire that cuts off one’s escape route
  • Pass codes or protocols at a checkpoint being changed without warning

Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:

Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:

  • Losing one’s home, property, and assets
  • Being captured and killed
  • Enslavement
  • Torture
  • Watching loved ones being captured and killed
  • Watching others be enslaved
  • Extinction of humanity

Click here for a list of our current entries for this thesaurus, along with a master post containing information on the individual fields.

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Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Want to Become a Successful Writer? Develop Your Intuition

There’s not a writer alive who doesn’t know what an Internal Editor is. He’s the guy in your head who sits back, half-loaded with gin, and snarks, “You’re not writing THAT are you?” and, “Wow…this character is your worst one yet!”

In other words, the guy is a total jerk-turd.

Left unchecked, an Internal Editor sends writers running for the delete key, and worse, into the “I’m not good enough/what was I thinking/time to lick stamps for a living” zone.

I hate it when people give in to the “you aren’t good enough” voice because a) great stories belong on the page, and b) the writer ends up licking stamps for the rest of his or her life. (And ever since I read a story about a woman who licked a stamp with cockroach eggs in the glue and a cut on her tongue turned it into a roach baby incubator (*screaming*), the whole licking-stamps-thing has seriously freaked me out.

So let’s all agree your future should involve writing, not roaches. Okay? Good. Now that we’re on the same page, it’s time to do something about that gin-soaked sot who likes to criticize everything you write. In other words…

Make friends with your Writer’s Intuition.

Writer’s intuition is the part of us that knows the story is there. It believes in us, and is utterly convinced (and rightly so) that this tale is OURS, and only WE can tell it properly.

When we first start to write, our Writer’s Intuition is on the quiet side. It’s kind of shy. But it ALWAYS has pompoms and is ready to supply us with encouragement whenever you-know-who gets rowdy and belligerent. But as low key as it might first appear, here’s a big secret about our gut instinct:

It can convert our Internal Editor into a powerful writing ally.

You see, our writer’s intuition is what the Internal Editor wants to be. If you strip away the insecurity of the IE, add a dash of patience, well, we have somebody who’s really trying to help us.

Once we’ve drafted our novel and are ready to revise the reality is, we NEED to know when we’ve slipped in a cliché, written a cardboard character, or if our pace is slower than wheelchair race at a retirement home.

We all need an Internal Editor…just not a toxic one.

So how do we develop our intuition and transform the Internal Editor from Foe to Friend?

1) Mute the Internal Editor during drafting. That is one time you should never, ever let IE nag you. Drafting is pure creation, so give yourself over to it. Allow yourself free rein to transcribe the essence of the story without worrying if the writing is brilliant or not. (Spoiler alert: it won’t be. And that’s okay!) Just write, and have fun.

2) Take the time to learn your craft. Books on writing can give you a huge leg up. Blog posts are bite-sized gems packed with advice. Join a writer’s group, get involved in forum discussions, and take a workshop for a spin. Dig for knowledge wherever it can be found because the more you know, the more you will come to trust your Writer’s Intuition. The resulting confidence puts YOU in charge, not the Internal Editor.

3) Give freely to others. There is no better way to tell good writing from bad than critiquing. When we focus on another person’s story, we can be more objective because it isn’t ours. This distance allows us to better recognize what works and what doesn’t, and these lessons stay with us and can be applied to our own writing.

4) Start LISTENING to your intuition…even when you don’t want to. You know, like when your gut says there’s a problem with a scene but you tell yourself the Agent or Editor will find the rest so dazzling they’ll not notice it. Yeah, THAT.

Look, we all feel the temptation to hit SEND rather than slog through another revision, but it’s important we don’t give in. If your instinct tells you there’s a problem, get some fresh opinions on your story and revise as needed. You only get one chance to impress, so always send out your best.

5) Pursue knowledge ALWAYS. As much as I would love to tell you that you will reach a magical point where your writing will be perfect, I can’t. None of us are experts, not even the most successful of authors. We can always strengthen our craft. Embrace learning and feed your passion to grow. Your writer’s intuition will grow with you!

Oh, and one more cool thing to note?

Well-honed writing intuition can free you from much of the emotional volatility you experience when someone is “dissecting your baby.”

A strong gut instinct for spotting good writing means you’re more confident. This allows you to disengage from negative emotions quicker because you can see the wisdom in the feedback you get (and sort good from bad). And because you’re in charge, the negative side of the Internal Editor fades, leaving you with a terrific partner that will help you create your best writing yet.

What do you do to improve your Writer’s Intuition? Let us know in the comments!

 

Image 1: Open Clipart-Vectors @ Pixabay
Image 2: My_Graphic_tablets @Pixabay
Image 3: Geralt @Pixabay

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Posted in Critique Groups, Critiquing & Critiques, Focus, Motivational, Publishing and Self Publishing, Rejection, Revision and Editing, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writing Craft, Writing Groups | 18 Comments

Why Do Readers Stop Reading?

Happy Saturday, everyone! I’m a little swamped right now, so instead of our usual thesaurus entry, I’m reposting an old favorite. It’s the first in a series of posts that explore different reasons why I stopped reading certain books. This is really helpful information for us to know as authors so we don’t make the same mistakes in our own books. 

I like keeping lists. And I like books. So I guess it makes sense that I have a lot of book lists. Books To Read, Books I’ve Finished, Books I Want to Buy, and possibly the most informative one: Books I Didn’t Finish. As a reader, it happens quite frequently that I’ll start a book, and for whatever reason, my attention wanes and I end up putting it down unfinished. As a writer, I want to know why this happens so I can avoid making the same mistakes in my own stories. The reasons behind a book’s failure to grab my attention are varied. Some of them I see often in books I read; some offenses I’m guilty of committing myself. Because of this, I figured I’d share what I’ve learned so we can all try not to replicate these errors in our stories.

For this first installment, I’m pulling from a book I was really looking forward to reading…well, let’s just call it Book A (I’m a positive person, and since this isn’t a review, the title doesn’t matter). Regardless, this book was historical fiction—one of my favorite genres that I find in short supply—and a retelling of an old myth. The cover was gorgeous and the back copy contained an accurate summary of the story. The writing itself was strong, the descriptions evocative. So what killed it for me?

Pixabay

In the first chapter of Book A, the heroine’s life had taken a dramatic turn which included a global move away from her family and friends to a place she’d never been. And when she got there, everything was great. Her new home was luxurious, her benefactor doting and accommodating. In this new place, she was actually better off than she’d been at home.

Zzzzzzzz…

I was underwhelmed at this point but continued on to chapter two, hoping things would pick up—and I did find a vague undercurrent of danger, the feeling that all wasn’t as it seemed. But it was too vague, too distant. The character wasn’t concerned, and she didn’t seem to be in any real danger, so I wasn’t worried about her. And I never made it to chapter three.

Clearly there was a lack of tension, but why? What was it about this story that put me to sleep? When I examined it further, I realized that I didn’t know the hero’s goal; she wasn’t thinking about what she wanted or discussing it or wishing for it. Because she never revealed her greatest desire, there were no stakes for her should she fail to achieve it. It didn’t seem to matter one way or the other if she got what she wanted, so I didn’t really care if she succeeded.

For readers to be involved in your story, your main character has to have a goal. Simply put, this is something she wants to accomplish by the end of the story. Goals come in many shapes and forms. A character may want to discover his own identity (The Bourne Identity), make a living and survive in 19th century Paris (Belle Epoque), or find his birth father (Elf). If you don’t know what your character wants, then the reader won’t know, either. Figuring out the hero’s goal is the first order of business.

The next important step is to reveal this goal to readers through the context of your current story—through dialogue, the character’s thoughts, through action, or a symbolic keepsake or memento, etc. And the sooner you do it, the better. In the movie The Bourne Identity, we’re all of eight minutes in when Bourne, who has clearly lost his memory, says with great emotion, “What if it doesn’t come back? We get in there tomorrow, I don’t even have a name.” With this simple bit of dialogue, viewers see exactly what Jason Bourne wants. We know what he’s going to spend the rest of the movie trying to accomplish, and we spend that time rooting for him to do just that.

Because I have a fear of overstating things, I tend to be too vague when it comes to my character’s goal. Through consistent feedback from my trusty critique partners (What’s she after in this scene? I don’t know what she wants, etc.), I’ve learned that it helps, in the drafting stage, to state the goal outright. Mention it more than once. Then, when revising, soften those references and turn them into examples of showing rather than telling. Maybe remove a few of them altogether. This has worked well for me to make sure readers know my character’s goal without smacking them over the head with it.

So, to summarize: 1) know your character’s overall story goal, and 2) reveal it at the start of the story so readers will know what needs to happen for the hero to succeed.

Hopefully this information will come in handy for you and will help you write stories that readers can’t put down. An understated goal is one big reason why books fall flat for me, but there are definitely others. I’ll be writing more posts in this series as those reasons become clear. Enjoy!

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Wanna check out the rest of the series ? Here are the installments:

#2: Characters Who Aren’t Endearing

#3: Too Much Going On

#4: Clichéd Characters

#5: Weak Writing

#6: Action Too Early

#7: Issues With Sequels

#8: Personal Preferences

#7: Issues with Sequels
#7: Issues with Sequels
Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments

Is a Writers’ Association Right For You?

I’m happy to welcome writer S.E. White to the blog today, who is taking a look at the value of writing associations. One of the best things about my job as a presenter is getting to work with the amazing organizers of different writing groups, and I see first hand how much good they can do for a writer needing some extra support. Please read on and see if an association might just be the tool you need for your writer’s toolbox!

Why Join a Writers’ Association?

Writing a book is hard. All of us on this website know it and have struggled with some aspect of our prose, pacing, or plotting. And once the work of writing, getting critiques, editing, and polishing is over, we find out that publishing is even harder.

As I encountered different obstacles on my path to becoming a published author, I started to feel the need for a support structure. I wanted help to turn my idea into a coherently structured story. Finding readers to look over my story and catch my mistakes was difficult (thanks for trying though, Mom!) and I had no idea how to get that finished work out in front of readers who would (hopefully) pay for it. Like raising a child, creating a career as an author takes a village…but where was I going to find my village? When I heard about writers’ associations I decided to join one in my genre and it has turned out to be a great decision for me.

A Writers’ Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping writers develop their writing, and then assist them as they work toward publication. Most have a fee to cover certain costs. Here are some of the most well known associations out there, and the cost to join:

Horror Writers Association (HWA): Active members $69 a year.

Mystery Writers of America (MWA): $115 per year.

Poets and Writers (PW): Free, although they do encourage a $35 donation.

Romance Writers of America (RWA): $124 a year.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. (SFWA): Associate members are $90$, Active members $100 a year.

Society of American Travel Writers (SATW): $100 new member fee, $155 a year after that.

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI): $95 your first year, $80 renewal fee thereafter.

Western Writers of America (WWA): Active members $75 a year, Sustaining members $150.

Wait, come back! I see you backing away slowly gripping your wallet. I know the costs might seem high for some, but these associations don’t just take your money and leave you stranded. In return for your membership fee they offer you many different types of support, depending on what you need. A breakdown:

Networking and Connection

Joining gives you access to local and online chapters of your association. You’ll be able to find mentors, critique partners, and reach out to other writers for brainstorming, moral support, and general advice. In addition to chapter meetings, some groups write and publish anthologies together, host their own contests, and hold writing classes. Could you find a group to give you all of this on your own?

Access to Workshops and Conferences

Most associations have their own big conventions (the tickets cost money, to warn you) where you can make friends, listen to keynote talks by agents, publishers, editors and best-selling authors, participate in pitch contests, advertise your work, and just generally immerse yourself in a world of writing. It’s a little like the Oscars for your genre.

People who might be just a byline on a website become people you know. In some cases they can become a friend, and a source of help in your own journey. You can also pitch to agents and editors at conferences, and gain great insider advice.

In fact, when you ask writers what they love best about their memberships, most say the friends and connections they’ve made through their writers’ association events.

Up-to-date Industry Information

One of the best parts of an association is the access to shifting trends and news, the lists of vetted publishers and agents in your genre, and staying current on best practices for publishing. There are usually online classes (or in-person ones) not only on the nuts and bolts of writing, but often also on querying, self-publishing, and marketing. Many associations have a database of places to go for reviews, resources, or to find help with specific legal things like contracts and copyright law.

Each association offers its own mix of information and you’ll want to research what yours can give you before you join, but they will likely have information for you that you may not be able to hunt down alone. Remember, it takes a village to get that book published.

Marketing and Visibility Help

Most associations have a newsletter that allows for contributions or advertising if you are published. This can be a way to get your name and book cover in front of potential readers. Also, there’s usually a section on their website full of marketing links, like lists of book bloggers, information on ads and book discounting, and tips on  how to get your work out there for people to read.

You could find this stuff out by searching it up online, but it would eat up a lot of time. One terrific aspect of a writers’ association is they stay on top of the ways to help their writers, and have their finger firmly on the pulse of the industry for you.

Final Thoughts

If you feel at this point in your writing career you might need a large community of fellow authors to support, inform, and advocate for you, joining a professional association is an investment that I consider worth it. If you have found your own village and are already well-invested in your career, you may not need to add an association.  If you are on the fence, reach out to current members and ask them if they are getting the help they need.  And for more information on  major writer’s organizations, check out this link from Writers and Editors.com.

S.E. White is an author writing from Carson City, Nevada with a few finished manuscripts looking for a home. She is a regular contributor to the site Books Rock My World, poking some fun at the romance genre she writes in, as well as a guest poster for various other websites.

A full time mom by day and a reader/writer at night, her three kids, husband and cat keep her running. Follow along as her query letters are rejected and find encouragement for your own author journey at www.sewhitebooks.wordpress.com

Do you belong to a writers’ association (or several)? Do you find you get strong value from it? Let us know in the comments!

 

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Posted in Agents, Critique Groups, Guest Post, Publishing and Self Publishing, The Business of Writing, Time Management, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writing Resources | 16 Comments

Planning the Perfect Love Triangle

roz-morris

It’s spring. The sap is rising. Let us talk of love triangles.

These are potent story devices, even if the triangle isn’t the story’s main concern. When I work with authors, one of the most common issues is underdeveloped plot situations, and love triangles definitely fall into this category. So here are some questions for you to think about, to make sure you don’t miss an angle.

For linguistic clarity, I’ll assume the simplest configuration: an established couple and one outsider – the lover. Of course, you might have several nested triangles, but the principles are still the same.

Why does it happen?

Consider why the lovers are attracted. For the cheating character, it’s usually something missing or unsatisfied. What does the lover add? It might be a dash of excitement or danger in a life that’s become too routine, but it might be the other way round. Perhaps the lover represents security and safety – like a gangster’s wife seeking refuge with a protection officer or a police investigator.

Is this the first time the cheating character has strayed, or do they make a habit of it? Again, what are they seeking?

They might be a philandering scumbag or a normally faithful innocent who let a situation get out of control. Whatever the details, there will be a push-pull between two opposing forces, and this might open a crack to the bottom of their soul. Will they be forced to make a difficult choice and confront their own duality?

And turn the telescope around – what is the lover looking for?

Will they try to resist?

Decide if your cheating character is going to fall in eagerly or if they’ll resist. Fans of the Hero’s Journey approach will refer to this as ‘refusal of the call’. Whether your character resists or not, what makes them want to continue? What makes them want to stop? How might this change over the course of the story?

What dilemmas does the affair present?

In most kinds of fiction (i.e., not erotica), the most gripping story situations are dilemmas. Look for all possible complications where the affair will present difficult choices, especially in other important areas of the plot. An affair isn’t just satin sheets and snatched embraces. It can upset the rest of the characters’ lives too.

Do all the characters care equally as much?

Most triangles are not equilateral. Are all three characters equally committed to their relationships? Does one character care far more, while for another it’s just a game?

Three’s a crowd

Pixabay

What jealousies could arise? Is the interloper jealous of the cheating character’s official partner? Does the cheating character have a reason to be jealous or suspicious of the lover? Lies beget lies. The need to deceive can become corrosive. And remember the fundamental dynamic of the situation: we have two people embroiled with a third. In this case we might consider that the shape is not a triangle, but an arrowhead.

Do they all know each other in other contexts?

Much delicious conflict can be gained if the interloping lover already has a close connection with the other member of the couple. They might be business partners, or king and adviser, or members of a band, or old school friends.

Who must never find out?

Secrets are great currency. Which other characters might find out about the affair and what trouble might that cause? Do any of the characters have children who could be affected? Are the lovers teenagers in school, and what would happen if everything came out?

And what might the principal characters have to do to keep the secret? Could somebody be blackmailed?

Dormant parts of the triangle

Are all members active in the triangle at once? One might be dormant – perhaps a former lover who is estranged but still harbours powerful feelings. Broken couples can make for poignant stories of sacrifice or self-understanding, or even tragedy or revenge. A former lover who is cast out might become a significant antagonist.

Is part of the triangle invisible?

This may be stretching the definition of triangle, but a character might have an admirer they’re not aware of. If this attachment is sufficiently strong or obsessive, it might cause the ‘lover’ to act in drastic or extreme ways. As a variation, two characters may be competing for a third, who might be completely unaware he or she is inspiring such feelings.

Who is in control, and might this change?

Perhaps at first, the person who is cheating is most in control. After all, they decide to bend the rules of their existing relationship and take a new lover. But stories are more interesting if the balance of power shifts. Look for ways to do this. Could the lover become more influential? What about the original partner?

Push-pull – who will win?

What should the end be? Story endings always depend on your genre, and love triangles are no exception. Triangles are intrinsically unfair to some characters, and involve betrayals and selfish behaviour. Does your genre have a particular moral climate? Will cheating on a partner be tolerable to your readers? Certain kinds of romance would definitely disapprove. Certain kinds of thriller or noir tale would say affairs are par for the course. Who will be left unhappy or disappointed?

Does your story world require a sense of punishment, a setting to rights? Or is the affair just part of the rich and warped tapestry of life?

The end of the affair

If the affair ends a long time before the final pages, it’s not necessarily the last word. If the original partners get back together, there will have been a change. If the affair was discovered, trust will have to be re-earned, or perhaps the faithful partner will be shaken into doing new things. If the affair is not discovered, it might be a time-bomb throughout the rest of the story.

Develop all three characters thoroughly

Because the love triangle situation challenges characters so fundamentally, all three participants must be developed as rounded people. You need to understand their inner workings, life hopes, world views, role models, and comfort zones. Questionnaires might be particularly useful because if you fill in the same questions for all three characters it will encourage you to compare them directly and discover new areas for them to bond or clash. (Psst: I’ve got questionnaires in my book Writing Characters Who’ll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel 2.)

roz-morris_framedRoz published nearly a dozen novels and achieved sales of more than 4 million copies – and nobody saw her name because she was a ghostwriter. A writing coach, editor, and mentor for more than 20 years with award-winning authors among her clients, she has a book series for writers, Nail Your Novel, a blog, and teaches creative writing masterclasses for The Guardian newspaper in London. Find out more about Roz here and catch up with her on social media.

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Posted in Characters, Romance, Uncategorized | 10 Comments