Tag: writing

Research ~ A Necessary Evil

Research ~ A Necessary Evil

Allison stepped onto the patio, enjoying the coolness of the desert southwest evening. Saguaro cacti were silhouetted against the sunset, and a roadrunner darted behind an agave plant. A cactus wren perched nearby. Allison walked further into the yard and stopped to stand beneath a giant magnolia tree…

Okay, I won’t say research is evil, but it hasn’t always been my favorite thing to do. When I first began writing fiction, I didn’t want to be bothered with research. All I wanted to do was to get the story out of my head and onto the computer screen.

“Write what you know.” I heard these words repeated over and over by several seasoned writers.

So I began with something that was comfortable to me. I loosely based the setting of my first novel on my hometown. However, the subject matter required research on my part to make part of the story believable.

My second novel, currently in draft state, necessitated me spending time on the Internet, looking for information about arsonists. (Suffice to say if someone looked at my browser history, and didn’t know I was a writer, they might want to report me to the nearest law enforcement agency.)

It’s easy to slip into a comfort zone. Therefore, the “write what you know” advice only goes so far. If an author continues to use the same setting or story line, readers will quickly become bored with their work and move on. Even though we might write in the same (or similar) genre, we want to generate stories that continue to please our readers and entice new ones.

Hence the need for research. We want our fiction to be believable. So what’s wrong with my opening paragraph?

Saguaro cacti, agave plants, roadrunners, and cactus wrens all fit within the scene. However, magnolia trees do not grow in the desert southwest. A simple mistake like that can cause readers to lose interest and damage our credibility as writers. Worse yet, they could leave a bad review, and we all know too many one and two-star reviews can make or break a book.

How do we go about gathering information? Fortunately, we live in an age where we have instant access to almost anything we want to know. Google and Bing can be a writer’s best friend.

A word of caution—just because something is on the Internet, doesn’t make it true. It’s best to check several sources and/or websites. Wikipedia, while popular, isn’t always the most accurate source because anyone can post anything.

In addition to the Internet, talk with experts. Law enforcement officers, physicians and nurses, fire investigators, military personnel, etc. Most times people are willing to answer specific questions you might have. When meeting with these people, go prepared. Have a list of specific questions so as not to waste their time or yours.

Travel to locations where you want to set your stories. Look around, observe, talk with locals, get a feel of the area, and make copious notes.

I’ve come a long way in regards to conducting research since I started writing fiction. In fact, I’ve probably spent more time gathering information for a current short story than I did with both novels.

The reason? It’s a setting and a story line that is totally beyond my scope of knowledge. Hopefully, my research has paid off. On a recent vacation, while touring a former aircraft carrier turned museum, my husband was impressed that I was able to identify two types of aircraft without looking at signs. I admit that I’ve learned a lot of interesting things from doing this project.

What about you? As a writer, do you enjoy research? What are some of your favorite methods?

 

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What’s a Writer to Do?

What’s a Writer to Do?

blogOne criterion publishers use to determine whether they should take a risk on a writer is the ubiquitous author platform.

I know. You’re rolling your eyes and sighing. Maybe getting a little queasy feeling in your stomach.

All authors—traditionally published, self-published, or hybrid—need a platform to market their work. There are several tools you can use to establish your platform, but one of the most popular and useful is the author blog.

The problem is, so many fiction writers don’t know what to write about.

Let me give you a piece of advice before we move forward.

Authors should not blog about the craft of writing. These posts attract other writers, but the goal is to attract readers.

So, what’s a writer to do? What can they blog about, if not their craft?

Here are some suggestions:

Their Work

  • cover reveals
  • story research
  • character dossiers/interviews
  • new releases
  • tour of the setting
  • blurbs/teasers/excerpts
  • spotlight on the villain (particularly if it’s a type of creature or a mental illness)
  • any lore or legend related to the story

Their Process

  • how they conduct research
  • where they prefer to work/what their workspace is like
  • what music (or ambient sounds) they listen to when writing
  • what they eat and drink while they work
  • where they get story ideas
  • where they get character names

Their Preferences

  • what genres they like to read
  • books on their shelf (or their ereader)
  • what novels/TV shows/movies inspire them
  • biographical notes that impacted their story

Their Silly Side

  • things they enjoy or hate (think top-10 lists)
  • ways for readers to get to know them (favorite foods, games, etc.)
  • stories about their pets or their families
  • original short fiction

Their Generosity

  • book reviews of other authors’ works
  • interviews with other authors
  • other author’s new releases

So, there you have it. Twenty-five topics for fiction writers to blog about. That’s roughly half a year at one post a week, assuming you choose each of these only once. And we all know these can be mixed, matched, and repeated as necessary. Hopefully there’s enough here to get you started on expanding your author platform.

Do you rely on any blogging topics that we didn’t mention here? Please share them with us in the comments.

Staci Troilo

Critique Groups

Critique Groups

Critique groups. Critique partners. For many writers, the idea of joining such a group or linking with another writer is scary. New writers, in particular, may be hesitant about sharing their work. Some might be afraid of what other members will say or think. Still, others may feel inferior to more seasoned writers in the group.

In my opinion, if you want to become a published writer, joining a critique group or having a critique partner is necessary.

I’ve been a part of a critique group for several years and can say my group is invaluable. We have experienced writers and beginning writers. We write in different genres. But we all have one thing in common—we are writers. People who want to want to improve their craft and, if not already, become published writers.

Here are three of the many reasons for joining a critique group:

A critique group provides helpful feedback. As writers, we are “too close” to our work. We know what we want to say, but will our readers understand? When you allow others to read and critique your writing, they can offer suggestions such as, “I believe if you worded it this way…” or “That sentence was a bump to me, it distracted from the main story…”

A critique group offers encouragement. Remember that critique groups are composed of writers. Like you, they love to write and have a deep appreciation for the craft. They want to encourage you, and they want and need encouragement.

I recall when I was working on my first novel. At that time, I hadn’t written a lot of fiction, and the draft needed a lot of work. And yes, there were times when I didn’t want to share it with anyone. The comments and encouragement I received encouraged me to keep going.

Now that I have more experience, I enjoy offering feedback and encouragement to newer writers.

In a critique group, you form bonds and friendships. The people in your group will be with you through thick and thin. Yes, some may come and go, but over time, a core group will form. Together, you celebrate successes and sympathize over rejections. The bonds of friendship are priceless.

I believe smaller groups are best. Too many members equal too many opinions. I think a group of 3-5 people is best. Some choose to have a single critique partner rather than join a group.

Are you part of a critique group or have a critique partner? Please share your experience in the comments.

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Writing Tips To Improve Your Work – Part 2

Writing Tips To Improve Your Work – Part 2

Last week we discussed a few tips to help you create a good manuscript.
This week we have more tips to keep you going.

Keep it Simple
Long words, complicated sentences, and off the cuff tags only distract the reader. Don’t force your audience to stop to look up words you’ve written. If you continue to do this, your readers will lose interest, stop reading, and most likely will not pick up another of your works. Your audience wants to be entertained, not feel like they are in school.

Read Your Work Aloud
I cannot stress this enough—reading aloud enables you to check the cadence of your work. If you stumble over the sentence, your readers will as well. If rhyming poetry is what you write, this will enable you to check the rhyme of the poem.

Show Don’t Tell
This is a big one. The one everyone tells you about. What your critique partners will point out.
Often we glaze over how important it is to show something rather than tell the readers and not give them anything to imagine.
Don’t tell us it’s raining hard. Show us instead. The rain pelted off the window and bounced off the sidewalk. It came down so hard and fast, water flooded the streets.

Beta Readers
If you ask for Beta Readers, listen to their advice. If they all have a problem with a sentence or a scene, then you need to change it. Often they will have ideas or suggestions that will make your piece better. Remember, as Staci pointed out, you can have a critique partner that isn’t a writer. Often a reader will notice things a writer will miss. I use a reader as one of my beta readers and as a critique partner.

Don’t Panic
Several times while working on my current WIP, I worried it was utter crap. I stared at the screen and saw nothing good—only additions to my word count.
If you’re like me, don’t panic. Not everything you write will make the final cut. Take a deep breath, save what you have done, and step away. Take a moment to get a drink and compose yourself. Then go back and pick up where you left off. Remember, you will eliminate the unnecessary “crap” in the editing process.

 

All authors experience writing distractions, need help, and go through periods of self-doubt. This is not uncommon. The key is to find a way to get past what distracts you and keeps you from crafting your masterpiece.

What tips do you use to stay focused and make your work the best it can possibly be. Share with us in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.

Writing Tips To Improve Your Work – Part 1

Writing Tips To Improve Your Work – Part 1

Every writer experiences it. Distractions. Anxiety. Doubt. It can come from anywhere. And it always come at the worst time.

Honestly, writing success boils down to hard work, imagination and passion—and more hard work.

Give yourself every chance possible to be successful. Use these tips as guide—or better yet, print a copy to put on your desk, or wherever you can see them so you can be constantly reminded.

Read
To become a better writer, you must read. Pick up a book and see what’s been done. Does the book flow? Is it interesting? Does it keep your attention? Learn from what you are reading. Use this as a guide to more effective writing.

Schedule writing time
Writing time should be uninterrupted and free from distraction. Make sure you give yourself time to write every day. Make a schedule and stick to it. Don’t take phone calls, watch TV, or play on the computer. Write. When your time is done, then go about the rest of your day.

Introduce your main characters and themes in the first third of your novel.
If you are writing a plot-driven genre novel make sure all your major themes/plot elements are introduced in the first third, which you can call the introduction. Develop your themes and characters in your second third, the development. Resolve your themes, mysteries and so on in the final third, the resolution.

Plan
Make an outline. Create your character sketches. If you are creating a new world, craft your towns. Create a good description. Do your homework. Research.

Be Prepared to Take Notes
You never know when inspiration will hit you. Have the means to write down notes. Carry a notebook, use your phone. Don’t think you will remember it later. You don’t want to lose a good idea because you had no way of recording it.

 

Remember, you are not alone. Every author at some point struggles with focus. Don’t put off your writing

Even famous authors sometimes have a tough time with writing; they also go through periods of self-doubt. Despite this, they always manage to come up with the goods. So take a lesson from them and stop putting off your writing plans and get started on your publishing journey today.

Have a tip you would like to share? We would love for you to share. Leave your tips for us in the comments below.

 

Proofreading Your Manuscript

Proofreading Your Manuscript

You’ve finished the first draft, edited, re-written, and maybe even edited some more. You’re satisfied with the results, and now it’s finally time to send your manuscript to a publisher. Or in the case of self-published writers, time to format and upload into various online retailers.

But before you do this, I think there is one final necessary step. Proofread. Yes, proofread—even though you may have already done this step with the first, second, or even a third draft.

I’ve learned from experience, proofreading using different methods will help flush out some of those missed typos and punctuation errors. Today, I’m going to share a few of the things I’ve used.

Print a copy of the entire manuscript. Yes, this can get expensive if you don’t have a laser printer. Ink cartridges aren’t long lasting, not to mention the cost of paper. Because I take pieces of my writing to a critique group, I decided to purchase an inexpensive laser printer. There are some good ones on the market for less than $200.00. If buying a printer isn’t an option, check with your local print shop for pricing. Spending a few dollars can be worth it for a cleaner manuscript.

Read the entire story aloud. I read sections each week at my writer’s group and often find that by reading aloud, I find errors that I didn’t catch when reading on the screen. No matter how careful I am, sometimes my brain reads what I want the words to say and not the ones I’ve written. Using text to speech software often helps to catch additional errors. There are a number of free apps available on the Internet, and newer versions of Microsoft Word have this feature.

Use online editing tools. My preference is Grammarly. It catches punctuation errors, passive voice, suggest alternative and overused words. It’s not perfect, but I find it to be better than Word’s spelling and grammar checker. Grammarly’s premium version also catches plagiarism.

If printing isn’t an option, try reading in a different format. I use Scrivener for writing, and it can format into ePub or Mobi files. Try reading the manuscript on your Kindle or Nook. You might be surprised at the errors you catch.

Have a trusted friend or critique partner read your draft. A second or even third set of eyes is helpful.

Even with all these methods, there are times when things slip through. After all, we are human. I’ve found typos in books published by one of the big name publishing companies. However, by taking the time to do a final check, we can eliminate many of these errors.

How about you? Do you have other proofreading methods you use? Please share in the comments.

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Ten Tips To A Better Manuscript – Part Two

Ten Tips To A Better Manuscript – Part Two

So last week we talked about ways to get a first draft into fighting shape as a manuscript. This week, we’re going to cover the last five tips about turning that manuscript into something worth submitting. Any manuscript in its final phase has been edited so many times the writer may want to pull their hair out. But it’s those steps that give the manuscript its extra edge, and its those little steps listed below that really round out the editing process leading up to submission.

6. Layout. 

This is where we want to make sure our draft is in order. Some people naturally write in order, from beginning to middle to end, and that’s fine. But not all of us do. Going back and ensuring the story is in the correct order seems like common sense, but it’s also incredibly important. And who knows? Perhaps the order of events can be rearranged to make the story better.

7. Cohesiveness. 

More active reading! Actively reading to make sure all of the plot points make sense is a crucial tip. Does the main plot resolve itself in the end? Do the side plots tie into the main plot, and also have a resolution? Think about what is most annoying about a book that doesn’t fit together properly, then make sure your book doesn’t have the same qualities. Fix any issues and move along to the next drafts.

8. A catchy first page. 

Something important to remember is that the first page is make or break. As authors, we only have so much space on the first page, and that page has to grab a reader’s attention. A good first page is invaluable, so readers and the person evaluating the manuscript for the publishing company wants to keep reading.

9. Grab a beta reader or three. Or four. 

It’s important that our eyes aren’t the only eyes reading our stories. After a few drafts, when the manuscript has been cleaned up and fleshed out, send it to trustworthy people. Make sure they’re a mixture of different types of people, from readers to writers, but ultimately, I can’t stress enough that it’s important these people are trustworthy. We want them to tell us the truth about their thoughts so we can make changes where it’s necessary. We also want to make sure they won’t steal our work or leak it somewhere. Take Stephanie Meyer’s trouble with her manuscript “Midnight Sun” – this is a great example of what could go wrong if we pick the wrong beta readers.

10. Edit and edit some more.

Lastly, after our notes and the notes of the beta readers have been compiled, it’s time to make that final draft. It may take one or two drafts, but that’s all right. Once that whole process is through – and it’s a lot of work – we deserve a pat on the back. Now, it’s time to submit the manuscript, and hopefully, without butterflies. Good luck authors!

 

 

Ten Tips to a Better Manuscript – Part One

Ten Tips to a Better Manuscript – Part One

We all get them. The butterflies that populate our stomachs before submitting a manuscript to a publishing company. The process is nerve-wracking enough without second guessing our submissions. It all starts with the first draft. The brainstorming, stream-of-consciousness, and outlines have all been converted into an organized draft that resembles a manuscript. Now what? With these ten tips, authors can feel more confident about turning their first draft into a full manuscript by using a solid editing process, and quell those butterflies.

 

 

1. Research

All good stories have some kind of research. Whether the story is set in a brand new world crafted from scratch, or in the world as we know it, research will help bring the world of a story to life. Writing about magic? Research other stories and see how they made it work and why. Writing about politics? Research different political systems and parties to make the story come to life. Even in fantasy, details grounded in realism can really help readers relate to the world and feel like they are part of it.

2. Supporting details.

Like doing research, supporting details go a long way to not only flesh out a story, but to draw the reader in. There is a fine line between telling instead of showing, but that’s why the editing process takes more than one draft.

3. Make notes. 

One of the things I personally prefer is to make notes rather than delete. Some things that I think were a good idea in one edit turn out to be a bad idea for the story over all. Not all things have to be changed, and that’s the key to a good edit. Take notes while actively reading, and making edits based on those notes. Save them, and save each draft separately so no work or writing is lost, because we never know what could be recycled!

4. Active reading.

Once the first draft is complete, the research is done, and the right kind of supporting details have been added, go back and read the book. I can’t stress enough how important it is to read actively instead of critically. There will be several edits based on your active reading during the overall editing process. Actively read for glaring plot holes, and cohesion. Edit to fix those. Then go back and read again, maybe searching for details that are out of place or no longer belong. Maybe cut a scene that worked in the first draft, but upon a second or third reading, just doesn’t fit into the next draft. Don’t forget to save those scenes, though, they might still be useful! Active reading helps to get us through the multiple draft process with a focus that enables us to read our work without criticizing our voice as an author.

5. Trimming.

While actively reading, it helps to read for things that just don’t need to be there. This is the excess fat that is trimmed from the story. Maybe there was a whole scene about a food fight in that draft. It may be fun to write, but if it doesn’t further the plot or add depth to the story, it doesn’t belong. Trim it out, but save it as a separate file. It may come in handy down the road.

 

Well authors, that’s it for this week. Hopefully, these tips will get the wheels greased and help to refine the beginning of the editing process. Tune in next week for the next five tips!

Can You Judge a Book by Its Cover?

Can You Judge a Book by Its Cover?

Years after I first read Where are The Children, I purchased a hardback classic edition copy.

Okay, confession time. As much as I love my Kindle and the opportunity to carry an entire library in my purse, I often miss making visits to a brick and mortar bookstore. There is something to be said about perusing the aisles filled with dozens of books.

And way back before the days of Internet shopping, online reviews, and social media, readers often had to rely on word of mouth when selecting books. Reading the back cover or the first page of a book was a factor for me before deciding if I wanted to check out a book from the library or make a purchase. Especially if the author was unfamiliar. But before I opened the book, before I turned it over to read the back, I first looked at the front. If I found the cover to be appealing, then I would move to the next step.

I’m a big fan of mystery and suspense novels. I still recall the first time I saw a book by the now famous author, Mary Higgins Clark. I was at a bookstore (in the fiction section, no less) when I saw the spine of Where Are The Children. The title got my interest, so I pulled a copy from the shelf and looked at the cover. I saw a house located beside a body of water. Tall brown grass indicated to me the story likely took place in the autumn.  But the thing that intrigued me most was the single red mitten in the foreground.

After reading the back cover, which further piqued my interest, I walked to the register, bought the book, took it home and began to read. Years later, I’ve read dozens of Mary’s books and have to say she is probably the author who most inspired me to write mystery and suspense stories.

And it all began with a book cover.

A few years ago, a friend of mine loaned me a book that was written (and self-published) by someone she knew. I kept it around the house for a few weeks, but I never opened it to look inside. Why? The cover looked amateurish. The back was plain white. No author information. No blurb. Nothing. I can’t even remember the title of the book or what was on the front, but I do know it was no more appealing that the back side. The content may have been high-quality writing and an interesting topic, but the writer lost me by not having a good cover.

To be honest, I have read (or attempted to read) some books in which I liked the covers but not the story itself. No matter how pleasing a cover looks, if your content isn’t good, readers won’t continue to purchase your books. But having a professionally designed cover is a must. It’s worth spending a few dollars to hire someone who is an expert at what they are doing. In the long run, you’ll be glad you did.

 

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First Draft or Stream of Consciousness?

First Draft or Stream of Consciousness?

It may be the first time you’re tackling a writing project or the thousandth time, but you’re not alone. We are all guilty of it at some point. “Stream of consciousness” writing. We sit down and start writing whatever comes to our minds first.

For a lot of authors, this is a great way to brainstorm or to get the beginnings of a scene or character outline mapped out. But for many who are just starting out, it’s difficult to tell the difference between the stream of consciousness writing that kick starts our creative juices and the “crappy first draft” (as many writers like to call their first cohesive draft of a project—if not an even more colorful name) that is the framework for a work-in-progress (WIP).

 

Identifying Stream of Consciousness Writing

One of the quickest ways to tell if your current WIP is in its first draft phase is to take a step back and read it. If it reads like a diary entry, going off on tangents and with ideas headed in all different directions, then your work-in-progress is actually just stream of consciousness writing. Many new authors mistake this as a first draft because it’s the first time they are getting their ideas down on paper. Unfortunately, writing is a little more complicated than that, and it requires a bit more leg work in its beginning stages.

 

Using Stream of Consciousness to Your Advantage

Something important to keep in mind, especially if you are a first time writer, is that stream of consciousness writing isn’t bad. It can be very useful, especially when you’re just trying to get words out onto the page. Any writer will tell you that some days, that’s a struggle! Some days, just writing a short, fifty-word exercise seems like a monumental achievement. And let’s face it, writer’s block is a real problem. Getting words down on the page can give you that small victory you need to keep plowing forward in your writing goals.

Another thing to keep in mind is that your stream of consciousness writing is not where your editing process should stop. While getting the words onto the page is important, it is still just the first step to envisioning your ideas. The first draft should always have some kind of structure and timeline to it, with a real framework to build off of. If you don’t have that, you’re still stuck in the stream.

 

Turning Stream of Consciousness into a First Draft

Experienced authors will tell you that even their first drafts have first drafts, and they aren’t joking. In order to reach the coveted “drafting” stage of writing, an author will go back over their brainstorming, research, and outlines with a fine-tooth comb looking for like concepts, timelines, and cohesion. Those stream of consciousness ideas that went off on random tangents or maybe that stemmed new concepts are reordered and organized into paragraphs and chapters that follow an ordered and structured chain of events. They become the framework for the first draft of a story.

 

Whether you’ve been writing for twenty years or twenty seconds, it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of getting your ideas from your head into tangible words on the page. Keep in mind that while this is exciting, those words still have a long way to go before they are ready for the final edits.

Always remember to keep writing, keep editing, and keep reading. Eventually, you will become a pro at converting your stream of consciousness into a completed work in progress.

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