Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My Favorite Points of View--Guest Post by Bill Hopkins

by Bill Hopkins, @JudgeHopkins

Favorite Points of View:  


  • First person: This is a story that is usually narrated by the protagonist. If you use this, then your first sentence--or certainly your first paragraph--should make it clear. "Sally whirled around and slapped me in the face." You know that someone (the narrator) has incurred Sally's wrath and he's going to tell the reader about it.
  • Advantages: First person allows the narrator to develop a distinctive voice that no one else in the story has (or should have). The reader will learn to like or at least understand why the narrator acts the way he does. He can ramble on about relevant points inside his own head without anyone else but the reader knowing what he's thinking. The reader also witnesses the stress placed on the narrator and how that causes him to act in a certain way. The reader learns about the world of the narrator quickly.
  • Disadvantages: The narrator must be in every scene or he and the reader will be subjected to a lot of retelling by other characters what happened off-stage. But even that may be skillfully handled so that the narrator doesn't appear to be just a listening post where different folks come to tell their tales. Also, other characters and not the narrator must describe him or the narrator must slip in hints at his appearance. "Sally slapped me so hard that I thought my scrawny mustache had been knocked off my face." And, please, avoid the cliché of having the narrator look in a mirror and telling the reader what he sees. Finally, avoid as many "I's" as you can. "I went to the store. I bought some eggs. I took the eggs to Sally." That soon becomes boring.


  • Third Person: An unknown narrator is telling the story. Generally, the narrator is never identified. Writers and readers have an unspoken agreement that this is one of those "willing suspension of disbelief" that someone witnessed and is able to tell the story. There are different kinds of third person. What makes my favorite version of third person "close" (other people have different terms for it) is that the narrator is in only one character's head at a time. "Sally slapped him." That would be the first line of a book written in third person (close or otherwise). Further on in the story, the reader realizes that the narrator can see into only one person's mind. "He felt the stinging blow and didn't like the look on Sally's face." In fact, third person close is almost a first person viewpoint using different pronouns.
  • Advantages: You can describe your character in the narration. As a reader of fiction, I rarely remember what a person looks like while reading the story. As a writer, my descriptions of people tend to emphasize oddities of their appearance or perhaps one or two nods to a physical description. Another advantage that draws me to this point of view is that you can still show the direct thoughts of the person. "Sally slapped him. That's the second time she's done that to me!" or "Sally slapped him. That's the second time, he thought, that she's done that to me."
  • Disadvantages: You must be especially careful not to get into anyone else's head. You must show us what the other person is doing to determine his reaction to what is going on or, of course, have the other person say something that presents his state of mind. This sounds easy, but it's tricky. In one story, I had written about the protagonist and two companions doing something like "trudging dispiritedly" (it wasn't really that bad). My most heartless editor (my wife, Sharon Woods Hopkins) pointed out that I was expressing the thoughts of the other two people as well as the protagonist. Which, of course, I was.

Play around with different points of view. See what fits your protagonist the best. You'd be amazed how a character changes when you change that character's point of view!

For more information, read these two articles:

Fiction: Point of View (Writer's Digest)

Point of View in Fiction (Fiction Writers' Mentor)

Courting Murder by Bill Hopkins
A Judge Rosswell Carew Mystery
Available October 2012
ISBN 978-0-9830504-38
Southeast Missouri University Press
When Judge Rosswell Carew makes the gruesome discovery of two corpses on a riverbank in the Missouri Ozarks, he’s plunged into a storm of deadly secrets that threaten both him and his fiancée, Tina Parkmore. Unsatisfied with the way the authorities are conducting the investigation, Rosswell, who’s always nurtured a secret desire to be a detective, teams up with an ex-con, Ollie Groton, to solve the case before the killer can murder again. Rosswell uncovers a maze of crimes so tangled that he must fight his way to a solution or die trying.
Bill Hopkins is retired after beginning his legal career in 1971 and serving as a private attorney, prosecuting attorney, an administrative law judge, and a trial court judge, all in Missouri. His poems, short stories, and non-fiction have appeared in many different publications. He's had several short plays produced. A book of collected poetry, Moving Into Forever, is available on Amazon. Bill is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Dramatists Guild, Horror Writers Association, Missouri Writers Guild, and Sisters In Crime. Bill is also a photographer who has sold work in the United States, Canada, and Europe. He and his wife, Sharon (a mortgage banker who is also a published writer), live in Marble Hill, Missouri, with their dogs and cat. Besides writing, Bill and Sharon are involved in collecting and restoring Camaros. Courting Murder is his first mystery novel.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Getting the Hang of the Business End of Things

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

I’m not going to say that all writers are a little foggy when it comes to the business side of writing. But I will say that many writers are tentative when it comes to business.

I’m one of those writers. I read a lot (a lot) of articles on the business end of publishing. If there’s a post on taxes and writers, I’m reading it. A series on decoding contracts and royalty statements? I’m all over it.

Still…it’s tough. One reason it’s tough is because I have an agent that handles the business end. And that’s a poor excuse for me not to follow what’s going on, so I’ve been trying to bring myself up to speed.

Every few months, I’ve gotten notices from my agent about different things that have happened with editions of my books—last week I heard that one of my books was selected for a book-of-the month club. I hear about audio editions being made, about large-print editions, and foreign editions of some titles.

What do I have to do with any of these deals? Absolutely nothing. I did have to approve of the book-of-the-month club arrangement (not sure why my okay was needed). I wasn’t even aware these deals were in the works until they were all arranged.

Now I’m branching off and doing self-publishing as well as traditional, and I’m realizing I need to pay more attention. I started by asking myself some questions:

Why haven’t I arranged any print editions for my self-published books?

Why haven’t I checked into creating audio books?

Why do I have one of my books available solely on Nook and Kindle?

What can I do to broaden my exposure on Amazon UK and into other overseas markets? Why haven’t I addressed this so far?

The answer to most of the questions is: because I don’t have any time. :) This is compounded by the fact that I’m not sure what I’m doing—and it will take a little time to figure out how to approach these different areas.

I think if I put this stuff down on my to-do list, break it down into manageable steps, and lump it in with my promo time each day I can start branching out a little bit more.

And there are resources available to learn more. (And you can find many more by searching on the Writer’s Knowledge Base.)

Audio book info:

On “The Writing Bomb” blog: “Creating Audio Books is Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy”

On “Writer’s Fun Zone” : Making Audio Books From Your Novels

On “The Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing”: How Does Audio Book Narration Work?

Multiple Sources of Writing Income (Expanding our Markets)

Dean Wesley Smith’s blog: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: You Can’t Make Money Writing Fiction

The Tribal Writer blog: How a writer (or other creative) can develop multiple sources of revenue, part two

Print On Demand (Print Copies of Our Ebooks):

Dean Wesley Smith’s blog: The New World of Publishing: Reasons for a Trade Paper Edition

Bob Mayer’s blog: Why is Cool Gus Publishing switching from Lightning Source to CreateSpace?

Let’s Get Digital: Making Money From Paperbacks

Blood Red Pencil: Which is Right for You - Lightning Source, CreateSpace, or Both?

What’s on your to-do list that isn’t particularly creative or is completely business-related? How do you make time to knock them out?


Sunday, October 28, 2012


by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
Twitterific is a compilation of all the writing links I shared the previous week.
The links are fed into the Writer’s Knowledge Base search engine (developed by writer and software engineer Mike Fleming) which has over 18,000 free articles on writing-related topics. Sign up for our free newsletter for monthly writing tips and interviews with top contributors to the WKB or like us on Facebook.

Try “My WKB”--a way for you to list and sort articles, view your read articles, and see your search history. Read more about it here:
http://bit.ly/S9thqS. The free My WKB page is here: http://bit.ly/PV8Ueb.
Nook's entry into UK off to a bad start: http://bit.ly/T1BFmg @Porter_Anderson @eoinpurcell @mattwarman @philipdsjones

Would Hemingway Blog? http://bit.ly/S6jrn7 @kristenlambtx

Another Pitfall of Multi-POV Stories: http://bit.ly/T1Q5CL @KMWeiland

Unexpected murderers in crime fiction: http://bit.ly/RcObD7 @mkinberg

How to Avoid Distractions and Create a Career in Fiction: http://bit.ly/T1Q95B @joebunting

A Checklist for Self-Publishing: http://bit.ly/S6kt2q @susankayequinn

7 Steps To Writing An Author Business Plan: http://bit.ly/S6kFPc @SusanSpann

Social media--don't put all your eggs in one basket: http://bit.ly/T1QGo3 @StinaLL

Back To Smashwords After KDP Select: http://bit.ly/S6q8FJ @Derek_Haines

3 more Twitter hashtags for writers: http://bit.ly/QBsLy3 @writeangleblog

Are books the new business cards? E-publishing makes it easier than ever to buy credibility: http://bit.ly/T1TQIm @popcultini

Why sidekicks are useful: http://bit.ly/T1U2Y0 @juliettewade

Science Fiction Themes and Metal Music: http://bit.ly/RcY1F8 @mithrilwisdom @AlexJCavanaugh

Demystifying Science Fictional Terms: http://bit.ly/S6qNai @KirkusReviews @sfsignal

No More Excuses—Write That Novel: http://bit.ly/S6qVXa @noveleditor

On Being an Unpublished Writer: Enjoy it While You Can: http://bit.ly/S6t7hv @ava_jae

To NaNo or Not? NaNoWriMo Decoded: http://bit.ly/S6tusm @EdieMelson #nanoprep

Campbell, Vogler, the Hero's Journey, The Writer's Journey and Narrative Structure Cheat Sheet: http://bit.ly/T1VSYZ @AlexSokoloff #nanoprep

How much Worldbuilding before you write? (especially for NaNo folk): http://bit.ly/S6tSHf @juliettewade #nanoprep

Ready Or Not, Here It Comes: NaNoWriMo: http://bit.ly/T1W2zL @joebunting #nanoprep

Make Your Own NaNoWriMo Survival Kit: http://bit.ly/S6uddd @LauraHoward78 @WriteNowCoach

NaNoWriMo 2012: Choosing Your Story: http://bit.ly/T1Wxtv #nanoprep

A good scare for a good cause: http://bit.ly/U14lwR @joannelessner

NaNoWriMo: 5 Tips for Getting Ready: http://bit.ly/S6utbU @woodwardkaren #nanoprep

90+ Published Novels Began as NaNoWriMo Projects: http://bit.ly/S6uvRk @galleycat @jasonboog

How (Not) to Be a NaNoWriMo Champ: http://bit.ly/S6uD3c @ava_jae

Hold your fire: reporters sometimes overly-eager to bash Amazon: http://bit.ly/R1yxH2 @Porter_Anderson

Fear of NaNoWriMo: http://bit.ly/T1WDRT @cjtreggett #nanoprep

#Nanoprep: Novel Creation: http://bit.ly/T1WL3S @ivinviljoen

7 reasons to use writing prompts: http://bit.ly/Sc1x3p @DIYMFA

Nail NaNoWriMo –3 old hands share their tips: http://bit.ly/S6uZqr @dirtywhitecandy #nanoprep

4 Tips for Writing a Quick First Draft: http://bit.ly/S6v4ug @rachellegardner #nanoprep

NaNoWriMo – The Pitfalls and How to Deftly Avoid Them: http://bit.ly/T1WVIp @LisaCron

Nanowrimo Prep: What's Your Premise? http://bit.ly/T1WYE4 @alexsokoloff #nanoprep

NaNoWriMo Cometh: A Terribleminds Primer: http://bit.ly/T1X12N @chuckwendig #nanoprep

How to outline your story for National Novel-Writing Month – checklist: http://bit.ly/S6vsJ6 @dirtywhitecandy #nanoprep

Nanowrimo Prep: First, you need an idea: http://bit.ly/S6vuB0 @alexokoloff #nanoprep

Pre-Plot for NaNoWriMo: http://bit.ly/T1X9iG @plotwhisperer #nanoprep

Nanowrimo Prep: The Index Card Method and Structure Grid: http://bit.ly/S6vG31 @alexsokoloff #nanoprep

What's in your NaNo survival kit? http://bit.ly/T1XaTN #nanoprep

#NaNoWriMo Comic Archives: http://bit.ly/S6vO2z @inkyelbows

NaNoWriMo Prep: Story Elements Checklist: http://bit.ly/T1XcLF @alexsokoloff #nanoprep

How to Fake Confidence for Creatives: http://bit.ly/T1ZrhO @denisedesigns @EmilyWenstrom

Horror and Thriller: Walking the Fine Line Between Similar Genres: http://bit.ly/S6AwNK @YAHighway

Write Or Die: http://bit.ly/T1Zw56 @marcykennedy

What You, J.K. Rowling And George Lucas Have In Common: http://bit.ly/S6ADJ2 @fuelyourwriting

Tips N Tricks: Using HTML to Guest Post: http://bit.ly/S30kZp @susankayequinn

The Perils and Pitfalls of Writing with a Partner; http://bit.ly/SuvGZ7

Tips for self-pubbed writers--giveaways: http://bit.ly/S31hkr

The Art of the Content Edit: 10 Ways To Make Sure You're Doing It Right: http://bit.ly/OP9db0 @robwhart

How To Add Subtitles To Your Book Trailer On YouTube: http://bit.ly/S31vb4 @galleycat

Self-Publishing:--4 Writers Share Their Experiences: http://bit.ly/OP9AlX

"Strong Female" Fallacies: http://bit.ly/OP9Ilp @sjaejones

How Writers Can Reach Readers Without Self-Promotion: http://bit.ly/S380Lb

Self-Publishing And Marketing Tips: http://bit.ly/OPcUxp @cathryanhoward @thecreativepenn

Conflict and Suspense Belong in Every Kind of Novel: http://bit.ly/S38jp9 @jamesscottbell

Enough with "Us vs. Them": http://bit.ly/OPd5sC @AimeeLSalter

The Theology of Screenwriting: Hell: http://bit.ly/S38Ebz @gointothestory

Ax Your Cliches: Why and How: http://bit.ly/OPddIH @margielawson

How to Get the Most Out of a Writing Conference: http://bit.ly/QAF65s @writersdigest

Leaving an Agent and Choosing to Self-Publish: http://bit.ly/WXi1O2 @KendraHighley @goblinwriter

The Theology of Screenwriting: Redemption: http://bit.ly/QAFa5b @gointothestory

How to Mind Map in 3 Small Steps: http://bit.ly/WXinnK @lifehackorg

Your Memoir Is Too Much About You: http://bit.ly/QAFjFY @ethanfreak

Structure–Plot Problems: http://bit.ly/WXjsvO @kristenlambtx

2 common writing errors: http://bit.ly/QAHPvT @instntcheckmate @nickthacker

Is KDP Select a Long-Term Answer? http://bit.ly/ScH6lN

Prioritizing prepositions: http://bit.ly/QAK0iW @aliciarasley

Collective Nouns And Impracticality (Word Choice Matters): http://bit.ly/ScHfpv @BryanThomasS

10 of the Creepiest Ghosts in Literature: http://bit.ly/QAK4za @flavorpill

5 Best Practices for Fresh Freelancers: http://bit.ly/ScHhxH @elanalancer

Great Character: Alex DeLarge ("A Clockwork Orange"): http://bit.ly/QAKaa4 @gointothestory

Don't Create a Cliché: http://bit.ly/ScHpgw @ava_jae

35 Synonyms for "Look": http://bit.ly/QAKnKg @writing_tips

6 Clever Tricks for a Better To-Do List: http://bit.ly/RV8OV8 @JWhite

Starting Off With a Bang: Is This Opening Working? http://bit.ly/RV9QR4 @janice_hardy

Rebounding from Roadblocks: http://bit.ly/TKMj1M

Likable protagonists: http://bit.ly/RVabDc @wordforteens

Physical Attribute Thesaurus: Hands: http://bit.ly/QBuvHB @beccapuglisi @angelaackerman

Tips for more effective guest posting: http://bit.ly/QBuzHo @problogger

4 ways to never outgrow poetry: http://bit.ly/RcVhHS @Woozie_M

10 Inspirational Disabled Characters From Sci-Fi And Fantasy: http://bit.ly/QULF1C @sfxmagazine

Libraries and ebooks--do they own them or license them? http://bit.ly/PSWxRL @Porter_Anderson @naypinya @mmasnick

Characterization Tools: http://bit.ly/RcVr1Q

How Nonfiction Authors Can Build Niche Authority through Content Marketing: http://bit.ly/RcVydE @BookMarketer

Tips for long sentence wrangling: http://bit.ly/QBx4JA @theresastevens

Skip the Paris Cafés And Get a Good Pen: http://on.wsj.com/Tgr6Ag @wsj

7 Things That Make the Chronic Finisher Put Down a Book: http://bit.ly/SuwL2U @roniloren

5 reasons to consider audiobooks: http://bit.ly/Tgru1B @rachellegardner

Getting Agented in Multiple Categories: http://bit.ly/SuxDo9 @kid_lit

3 Reasons Why You Should Write When You're Tired: http://bit.ly/TgrzT5 @krissybrady

10 Queries in 10 Tweets recap: http://bit.ly/SuxT6B @literaticat

7 things 1 writer has learned so far: http://bit.ly/TgrMWc @writersdigest

Brainstorm Somebody Else's Problems: http://bit.ly/TgrQ8s @kaitnolan

6 mysteries that could be solved with time travel: http://bit.ly/SuyF3K @i09

The Importance Of Sympathetic Heroes: http://bit.ly/TgrZZn @woodwardkaren

The Role of Suspense in Stories and Music: http://bit.ly/SuyYvf @SamMcNerney

7 Effective Steps to Taking Action When You Don't Know What to Do: http://bit.ly/Tgs9QF @JWhite

Professional Resources for Writers: http://bit.ly/Suzk50 @KMWeiland

12 Signs Your Blog Is a Social Media Ghost Town (& Actionable Tips to Fix Them): http://bit.ly/SuzqK8 @heidicohen

Editors Support the Author's Voice: http://bit.ly/TgsoLx @IlieRuby

Why you shouldn't rush your writing: http://bit.ly/SuzSrP @juliettewade

How to Become a Writer: http://bit.ly/Tgswe3

How to create creepy characters: http://bit.ly/T9kVJU @p2p_editor

Essential Characteristics of a Thriller Hero: http://bit.ly/SuAKMS @JodieRennerEd

An editor's tips for writing horror: http://bit.ly/R0E3tM @aliciarasley

The 10 Most Mentioned Songs in Books: http://bit.ly/PRXpGl @publisherswkly

Tips for blogging more consistently: http://bit.ly/R0EkwO @michellerafter

A Proven Method That Helps Writers to Research Their Books: http://bit.ly/PRXB8K @bubblecow

17 tips for marketing your book online: http://bit.ly/R0EDHN @emergentpublish

Tips for self-pubbing your poetry: http://bit.ly/PRXFFw @karencv @magdalenaball

Writing Retreat Lessons: http://bit.ly/R0FaJX

The strength of female characterization: http://bit.ly/R0FiZX @Riduna

If the Muse is Late for Work, Start Without Her: http://bit.ly/R0Wxdo @AimeeLSalter

Rockin' That Steampunk: http://bit.ly/PS47fq @TheKJA @tordotcom

Genres are artificial distinctions: http://bit.ly/R0X4Mp @johnottinger

Things that Scare Writers: http://bit.ly/R0XkLD @rileymagnus

Stay motivated after rejection: http://bit.ly/PS4kze

Our characters shouldn't live in a void: http://bit.ly/R0XWkr @dirtywhitecandy

Why Writers Disappear: http://bit.ly/R0Y1Vc @kristinerusch

Cowardice, Laziness and Irony: How Science Fiction Lost the Future: http://bit.ly/R0Yre4 @RuthlessCult

3 Tests to Determine Readiness for Publication: http://bit.ly/PS4AhO @jodyhedlund

How to build your Sci-Fi world: http://bit.ly/R0YM0k @louise_wise

9 Easily Preventable Mistakes Writers Make with Dialogue: http://bit.ly/PS4GpR @aliventure @thecreativepenn

Your Book Publicity Timeline: http://bit.ly/PS4HKb @SarahPinneo

5 Obnoxious Marketing Techniques Writers Should Avoid: http://bit.ly/PS7O4Z @jodyhedlund

Is Marketing the Writer's Enemy? http://bit.ly/R18znd

Self-pubbing mistake--not understanding your target markets: http://bit.ly/PShvjQ @BookMarketer

Mad, Glad, Sad? Show, Don't Tell. http://bit.ly/R1v23E @angelaackerman @MarileeB

How Writing can Change the World: http://bit.ly/PShFYu

Non-Writing Spouses: http://bit.ly/PShIDE @kaitlin_ward

A writer's relationship to his publisher or agent is not a marriage: http://bit.ly/PShRHb @sarahahoyt

How To Compose A Steampunk Musical: http://bit.ly/R1vKxG @steampunkopera

Conquer the Synopsis Summit: http://bit.ly/R1vRJJ @juliemusil

Characters--it's the motivation that counts: http://bit.ly/PSifpa @AimeeLSalter

Do you fit the Profile of a Successful Self-Published Writer? http://bit.ly/R1wCm7 @bubblecow

Should publishers enhance ebooks? http://bit.ly/R1xffc @philipjones

Consider breaking complex sentences in two: http://bit.ly/PSiVuG @aliciarasley

Why Publishers Don't Like Working With Start-ups: http://bit.ly/R1xRBw @passivevoiceblg

Friday, October 26, 2012

7 Reasons to Use Writing Prompts--by Gabriela Pereira

by Gabriela Pereira, @DIYMFA

Some writers love doing prompts. They sit in writing classes, pencils poised to start writing the moment the teacher gives an assignment. And when time is up, they shoot their hands into the air, waving madly to get the teacher's attention so they can read aloud what they wrote.

Other writers--like me, for instance--would rather tap-dance on an alligator's nose.

Who needs prompts? They're the writing equivalent of eating your vegetables, not so much fun but good for you. They also get in the way. Just like the veggies that fill you up and leave no room for dessert, prompts take up time you could be using to write something that really matters, like your novel.

The truth is, writing prompts might be about as appealing to you as soggy brussels sprouts but they do serve a purpose. Seven, in fact. Here a few good reasons why you should use prompts in your writing.

1) Lower Stakes, Higher Output

When we work on a project that we care about, the stakes are high. We want to produce something worthy of this amazing idea so we put all sorts of pressure on ourselves. This kind of pressure can actually decrease our ability to write, sometimes leading to full-blown writer's block. Instead, if we warm up with an exercise, there's little pressure and mistakes are expected so we're less likely to get performance anxiety.

2) Boost Your Confidence

Most of the time when you write from a prompt, you go into it knowing that the writing will be awful. Then you reread what you wrote and discover a handful of gems buried in the garble. Suddenly your writing isn't quite as hopeless as you thought. If you go into a writing session expecting the result to be truly horrible, then it's a pleasant surprise when what you get is not so bad. Writing prompts can help you set those first-draft expectations extra-low.

3) Less Attachment, More Room for Improvement

Prompts are usually "throw-away" writing. You're just warming up, you're not writing for real. This means that whatever you produce is not going to be as dear to your heart as that turn of phrase in your work-in-progress that you agonized over for the last two hours. The more darling something is to you, the harder it will be for you to kill it. If, on the other hand, you're revising something you just tossed on the page during a ten-minute exercise, you'll be much more open to making broad, sweeping changes. Who cares if you have to rewrite it? It's just an exercise.

4) Learn to Think "On the Fly"

Want to learn how to write on demand? Here's a secret no one tells you: creativity has nothing to do with being a "creative person," it's all about practice. Forget being inspired by the muse, if you want to be creative you have to build discipline. The more you train your brain to produce ideas and throw them on the page, the better at it you will get. And the best way to practice is by doing prompts.

5) Hone Your Craft

Is there a particular writing technique that has you stumped? Rather than trying to learn it as you work on your novel, do a practice run (or two, or ten) using writing prompts. Is point of view confusing ? Write the same prompt using different points of view until you get it straight. Need practice writing dialogue? Choose a couple of prompts and write all of them with nothing but dialogue. Use a prompt as a low-pressure testing ground, where you can try out techniques without fear of failure.

6) Try Something Wild

Prompts are a great way to get the crazies out of your system. You can use prompts as a forum for trying ideas that might seem out of place in your work-in-progress. I've done this many times with my own characters, letting them go nuts in a writing prompt, then dialing it back and channeling that prompt into something I can actually use in my novel or short story. Use prompts to try ideas on for size or to let your characters do something that might seem wildly out-of-character.

Use prompts to write freely and see where it leads. In the end, you'll probably find something of value buried amid the crazy and you'll be able to extract it and mold it into something that you can use. This is a great way to test your characters' boundaries and see how far you can push them until they break, and it can be less intimidating to try something wild in the low-pressure environment of an exercise than to try it in your novel or story.

7) Think on Paper

The other day I was scribbling in my notebook when someone asked me what I was writing. I replied with: "I'm not writing, I'm thinking." Thinking on paper can be far more effective than thinking in your head. For starters, thinking on paper engages more senses: you see the words and doodles on the page, feel your hand holding the pen and forming the words, even hear the words in your mind as you write them.

Why is sensory input important? First, associating these sensory stimuli with writing will help you be more productive and make you better able to get creative on demand. Also the more senses you use to process your ideas, the more likely you will be to come up with creative new ideas or solutions. By engaging as many senses as possible in your creative process, you can increase your creative output. Thinking on paper is a great way to do this.

And guess what? Writing prompts are a great way to learn how to think on paper.

Build prompts into your writing routine.

Not sure where to find them? Don't worry, there's a app for that. Check out the Writer Igniter at DIY MFA for a nearly endless supply of story prompts and ideas.

Gabriela Pereira is the Creative Director at DIY MFA, the do-it-yourself alternative to a master's degree in writing. She develops tools and techniques for the serious writer, to help you get the knowledge without the college. With an MFA in creative writing, Gabriela is also a freelance writing teacher, and has led workshops throughout New York City via writing programs like: 826NYC, East Harlem Tutorial Program and Everybody Wins. When she's not working on DIY MFA, she loves writing middle grade and teen fiction, with a few short stories for "grown-ups" thrown in for good measure.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Good Scare for a Great Cause

Earlier this month, SerialSleuths, Volume 1: Haunted hit the Kindle shelves. The brainchild of Jen Blood, author of the Erin Solomon mysteries, this short story collection features five indie writers and their series detectives, myself included:

“Death of a Sad Face” by SusanRusso Anderson

Nineteenth-century Sicilian midwife Serafina Florio defies the local inspector by setting out to prove a connection between a missing orphan haunted by a hideous specter and the murder of an affluent family’s butler.

“Let Sleeping Dogs Lie” by DVBerkom

In northern Arizona’s Navajo country, on-the-run heroine Kate Jones lands in trouble once again when she stumbles into the world of mysterious sorcerers called Skinwalkers.

“The Stone House” by Jen Blood

Reporter Daniel Diggins finds himself stranded overnight with nineteen-year-old protégé Erin Solomon while investigating a two hundred-year-old mass murder in a haunted mansion in Maine.

“The Ghosts’ High Noon” by JoanneSydney Lessner

Enterprising actress Isobel Spice faces down a theater ghost to learn the truth behind an actor’s mysterious death during a performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s gothic operetta Ruddigore.

“Ode to Willie Joe” by Wayne Zurl

When multiple UFO sightings are reported around town, it’s up to wry and ever-reasonable Tennessee police chief Sam Jenkins to get to the bottom of the mystery.


Instead of battling a calculator to split the royalties five ways, Jen suggested we donate the proceeds from the $1.99 e-book to charity. We enthusiastically agreed and selected Doctors Without Borders as our beneficiary. On the eve of publication, I sat down (virtually) with my colleagues to discuss the genesis of our collaboration and its charitable bent.

What gave you the idea for the anthology?

Jen: I started thinking about all these authors out there with characters I love, and how much fun it would be to see those characters in a shorter form that might reach beyond the pure mystery/thriller structure. Once I started thinking about the possibilities—ghost stories, romance, holiday themes—I realized it could be something truly fun to play around with. I didn’t see anyone else doing anything like it, so I decided to make it happen myself.  

How did you solicit stories for Haunted?

Jen: I hand-picked the contributors for this one based on books I’d read by the authors and interviews I’d done with them on my website, BloodWrites. I’ve been so impressed with their professionalism, and this is a wonderful way to showcase their work in a new venue. To me, these short stories exemplify not only the tremendous writing talent of everyone involved, but also the fabulous characters who carry their respective series.

What did you find challenging, different, fun or tedious about working in a short form?

Wayne: The challenge for me came with the paranormal “haunted” theme. I’ve written fifteen Sam Jenkins mystery novelettes, so presenting a short police story is nothing new. But I spent a fair amount of time thinking about how I could take a problem generally referred to the police and give it an “otherworldly” tint. I’m not much of a sci-fi or horror guy, so I asked my wife for help. She gave me the basic idea for that potentially unexplained, spooky ingredient.

Susan: I try to limit the mystery to one murder, but also have my characters grow. Serafina’s got to grow along her trajectory, which is pretty easy because (don’t tell her I said this) she’s got issues, but the other characters need to grow, too. I had a plot in mind, a first and a last scene pretty well thought out, and the characters just worked mighty hard and wrote the in-between stuff for me: it was their growth that created the plot.

Joanne: I had to decide which of my secondary characters to include. Isobel is an office temp as well as an actress, but there’s no reason for James, her temp agent and my other POV character, to accompany her on a theater gig. Since she’s doing an operetta, it made the most sense for her tenor friend Sunil to go, so that’s who packed his suitcase.

DV: I love writing a series character (I must, since I'm deep into a second series J). Getting to know their foibles and strengths, knowing their personalities so well, their stories practically write themselves.

Jen: The hardest part was figuring out at which point in the series the story should take place to make it interesting for both the readers who know Erin’s story and those just being introduced to the characters. Initially, I wrote the short as having taken place after the second novel in the series, but realized that was just completely the wrong way to bring people into Erin’s life. The most fun part by far was exploring different facets of the characters’ relationship and playing with a new writing form. 

How did you get the idea for your story?

DV: A few years back while on a lone cross-country trip, I stopped on the side of the road in Monument Valley intending to sleep in my car so I could wake up before sunrise and shoot some photos (I was an itinerant photographer back then). I had an intense experience that night, involving what I learned later was a Skinwalker, and have never forgotten how frightening and deliciously intriguing the whole thing was.

Wayne: When you work as a cop for twenty years in an overcrowded and always busy area, you encounter plenty of weird people and strange incidents. I knew a real character like Willie Joe Ballantyne. And getting complaints that sounded like an episode of the Twilight Zone happened all the time. In this case, I coupled three real incidents together and added an element native to the Smoky Mountains—and voilà.

Jen: The story is based on a mass murder that happened in Maine in 1806, so a lot of the details are true: a father went after his family one night and murdered seven of his eight children and his wife, then killed himself with a straight razor. I know—gruesome. From there I looked at ways to make the story resonate more with Erin, who is still coming to terms with an alleged cult suicide. I altered the details of the true crime a bit and changed the setting to include Freeport Maine’s Stone House, a gorgeous estate where the University of Southern Maine holds its workshops and readings for their Creative Writing MFA. I love that place, so it was great fun imagining being back there in this very creepy situation.

Joanne: I was already planning to use the famous ghost scene in Ruddigore as a springboard for the fourth book in my series, but I couldn’t resist trotting it out when Jen asked. I’m not sure whether I’ll let it stand or spin out the idea into a novel—with a different ending, of course.

Susan: I had my characters in mind, especially Teo who is new to the series. He is haunted for many different reasons and needs to work out his pain. I happened to be thinking about Mahler, and how a circus sound runs through much of his music—I love the image of life as a circus.

Have you ever had a ghostly/paranormal experience?

Joanne: The experience Isobel has seeing a person sitting on the edge of the stage actually happened to me. I was singing a solo in a Sondheim revue Off Broadway at the Harold Clurman Theater, and there was a man watching me. I couldn’t bring myself to look at him head on, but I was really annoyed when I came offstage. There was no one there, of course, but later the theater manager asked, without my having mentioned it, “Was he wearing a brown plaid shirt?” When I said yes, he told me it was the ghost of a director who’d worked there a lot, who had been sighted by other actors before me. I just hope he liked my singing!

Jen: My family has a long history of close encounters, particularly at my grandparents’ old house. Rocking chairs would spontaneously start rocking in the night, household items would mysteriously migrate from one place to another, and occasionally you’d even see a shadowy figure holding a candle roaming the halls. Lots of creepiness.

Susan: I believe those who have gone before us walk the earth, and most of the time we’re just too stupid to see them. But there have been desolate moments in my life where they’ve reached out and revealed themselves, and it has been a phenomenally healing moment. One of my favorite places is New York’s Lower East Side. The streets and the tenements are totally haunted. I love to think of the people who lived there, the overcrowding, their general feeling of dislocation, but also their guts, all of them still giving to us with their striving and their energy and their wisdom.

DV: The aforementioned experience in Monument Valley. Totally freaky.

Wayne: I’ve met quite a few people who I thought might have come from outer space, but, no, not in the traditional sense.

What are your thoughts about donating the proceeds to charity?

Susan: To make a story and, in a sense, to give it to people so that it goes to work for them—it’s far more personal than just sending money.

DV: I've always been as much of a philanthropist as my pocketbook would allow. This is a fantastic way to draw attention to and support a valuable resource, with the added benefit of introducing new readers to my work and the work of the other authors. I think the idea is brilliant and may be a trend in indie publishing—thanks to Jen.

Wayne: I’m happy to let my ego reap the figurative proceeds by seeing another Sam Jenkins mystery in print and sending the cash to a good charity. After I had a few novelettes under my belt and before my first novel was published, I donated one quarter’s royalty check to The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund when they were building a monument in Washington DC to police officers and federal agents killed in the line of duty. I’ve got a few pension checks coming in each month; I can afford to give something to someone who needs a little help.

Joanne: I perform with an amazing theater group, the Blue Hill Troupe, which has an 89-year history of donating its net proceeds to New York City charities. We produce a musical and a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta every year, so for me, making art to make a difference is a happily familiar experience.

Jen: I love the fact that all of these authors have come together to donate to a good cause, and Doctors Without Borders is such an amazing organization that I’m thrilled to do whatever I can to chip in.

How has it been collaborating with other writers in your genre?

Jen: The collaboration aspect of this was such a lot of fun. Writing is generally such a solitary practice that it was nice to connect with these authors in a new way and make the process more of a group effort for a change.

Joanne: Everybody has been very generous and open, and really, there’s no better vote of confidence than being welcomed into a project by your peers.

DV: I enjoyed the process immensely and am looking forward to submitting work to be considered for the next anthology. It was great fun, and everyone's input helped make the project better.

Susan: It’s really wonderful, and working on a single theme is close to writing a story together. I think the amazing grace of social networking is the ability to meet my colleagues from all over the world. This project takes networking into new territory.

Wayne: I’m in the company of four beautiful women, what’s not to like? And they all write extremely well. So I’m looking forward to reading their contributions to this anthology. But since this is an e-book, I’d better get out there and buy a Kindle.

What's next for Serial Sleuths?

Jen: I’m already accepting submissions for the next volume, a collection of romantic shorts for the Valentine’s Day season due out in February. Right now I’m working to determine which non-profit will benefit from sales. 100% of net proceeds from every volume of Serial Sleuths will be donated to a different organization. Those interested in submitting a story can find guidelines at http://erinsolomon.com/serial-sleuths/. The deadline is December 15, 2012. 



Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Perils and Pitfalls of Writing with a Partner

By Peggy Williams & Mary Joy Johnson
Ever want to kill your partner? Life partner? Business partner? Bridge partner? 
Instead of wanting to kill each other, the writing partnership M. J. Williams regularly kills off other people--three last year, three more this year! We are mystery writing partners.
Mary Joy brought to the relationship years of teaching writing on the college level. She's written several long technical tomes, but this was her first attempt at novel writing. She's also an avid reader of mysteries.  Peggy's background includes freelance writing--everything from video scriptwriting to feature articles in magazines to online content.  She reads mysteries among other genres, but what she brings to partnership is her knowledge of story structure as developed through screenwriting.
Most writers, when we tell them we work as a team, are astonished.  They say they could never write with someone else, and they wouldn't want to.  We admit collaborative writing is not for everyone. There are some disadvantages, but there are advantages as well. And there are some things writing teams can do to keep the experience from turning into a murderous affair.
Advantages of Writing with a Partner
·         We build on one another's strengths.  
·         We bounce ideas off one another and brainstorm together.  
·         We help one another through blocks or slumps--that is, if one of us can't think of anything to write about a scene, the other usually can, and then the first develops and expands on that.
·         We push each other by assigning deadlines and holding each other accountable.
·         We share the marketing and utilize each other's strengths.  For instance Peggy enjoys working social media outlets.  Mary Joy prefers person-to-person selling.  When something is tough or onerous, such as approaching a bookstore to take books on consignment, we can ho and hum together and then finally go together to get the job done.
·         When we do book/author events, we have a traveling partner who gets what we're going through and how we are feeling (both positive and negative).
·         When one of us is feeling insecure, either writing the story or marketing, we can turn to the other to bolster us up.
·         We have someone to share bragging rights with, someone to turn to when our egos have been stomped on.
Disadvantages of Writing with a Partner
·         We have to defer to one another's vision for the story, characters, or details; this requires constant negotiating and compromise.
·         We have to work around another person's personal schedule (what do you mean she's too busy quilting this week to get her chapter done?).
·         The biggest disadvantage?  We have to share the royalties!
Tips for Successful Writing Partnerships
·         Be humble.  Sometimes that bit of prose you think was brilliant,  your partner hates--and she's probably right.
·         Communicate often, either meeting in person, on the phone, or by e-mail.
·         Outline the book thoroughly.  This will be the road map and the working agreement for the story. However, be flexible and be willing to change the outline as need dictates.
·         Establish deadlines for one another.
·         Revise lots because that's where your voices blend and become one.  Sit together, read the story chapter by chapter together, and negotiate changes to story, dialogue, and details.
·         Recognized individual strengths and utilize them.  Peggy always defers to Mary Joy when it comes to plotting a mystery; Mary Joy trusts Peggy's need for logic and sense of story pacing.  Peggy loves writing and shaping dialogue. Mary Joy loves describing people and settings (including home interiors!).
·         Laugh a lot! Have fun with the experience.
 Peggy Williams and Mary Joy Johnson write under the penname M. J. Williams. Their On the Road mystery series features Emily and Stan Remington who travel in a used RV and encounter murder and mayhem wherever they go.  Their first novel, On the Road to Death's Door, takes the couple to Wisconsin's Door County, a popular vacation spot surrounded on three sides by Lake Michigan.