Thursday, January 19, 2017
I've been getting some lovely feedback recently regarding my Writing Academy. People seem to love it, which pleases me greatly.
There's so far almost one thousand students enjoying twenty live courses, two of them free, with eleven more writing courses due up over the next couple of months.
After that I'll be making a course about creating a course of your own! (What's the point of learning how to do things unless you can teach others to do the same?)
Anyway, a new mini course is out today, This one is specifically about Character Creation for fiction.
And it's only $7, down from $97. Go here for that.
Your Success is my Concern
Thursday, January 12, 2017
Did you get the free course on writing your own autobiography? It's here:
Today's article is about how to make your writing more professional-looking.
Your Success is My Concern
You probably won't be surprised to learn I read a lot of unpublished manuscripts. I also read a lot of published work. Are there some glaring differences between the two? You betcha.
The fact is most beginning writers write too much. That's okay for the first draft but when it comes to editing, you need to give that delete key a thorough work out!
Good writing is about pacing, about taking the reader on a journey and keeping in step with them along the way.
If you get the pacing wrong, the reader will stumble and begin to lose interest because it will seem you are more interested in writing the words than telling the story or relaying the information.
Here are some tips on how to cut down on unnecessary verbiage!
The Art of Description
With the advent of global communication and visual media, we all know what most things and even most places look like. It's no longer necessary to spend more than a couple of sentences establishing what things are, where scenes are set, and what the weather is like, if that's important for mood.
Many readers nowadays will actually skip descriptive passages because they find them dull and interrupt the flow of the text. So don't beat yourself up over getting all the details across - that's what the reader's imagination is for!
Sometimes we write scenes etc., we're not sure the reader will understand - so we add extra words to explain ourselves, resulting in more confusion than clarity. For instance, look at this:
"With the divorce weighing on his mind, and his fears about losing his job, John was having difficulty deciding what to do with himself. Could he face going out, knowing that Pete would probably spend the evening ribbing him over his inability to get along with his boss and his problems with his estranged wife?"
Clearly this is clumsy and confusing to read. Much better to remove the qualifiers and simplify:
"The divorce was weighing on his mind. Did he want to go out? John wasn't sure. Pete would probably just want to rib him."
In the above version, even though the propositions are only loosely defined, the reader still gets it. You don't always need to explain every little nuance to get a point or two across. Quite the opposite in fact.
Room to Breathe?
When you write you make a contract with your reader, whom you must regard as your equal. Not someone who is slow to understand and needs to be carefully led, shown everything, and generally talked down to.
It's perfectly okay to leave out obvious - and therefore redundant - details. You don't always have to explain exactly who said what, what happened where, why, and for how long it happened.
Too many writers clog up their stories with unnecessary backstory, linking scenes, plot justifications and long, complicated explanations of issues the reader already regards as clear.
If you write with honesty and intelligence, your reader knows what you mean. When you over explain, you insult the reader. Don't do it.
Quite often writing suffers because the reader doesn't know where you're going. They wonder why you're focusing on certain characters and details - especially when you haven't first hinted at the 'point' of your story.
When you open a piece, you need a big 'sign' that tells the reader you're going THIS WAY, so that the reader knows what to expect along the way. You need to define your objectives - your purpose - in some way on the first page.
For instance, if you're writing a murder mystery, don't spend the first chapter following the protagonist around doing her laundry. Get on with the story and as soon as you can, show us the body!
Play By The Rules
Especially in genre fiction, you have to adhere to certain rules, because that's what the reader wants. Horror stories need to be at least a little horrific, right from the start. Romance requires that you have lovers at odds with each other by page two. Science fiction and fantasy require the elements of their genres too.
Publishers often say that, though many writers are good, they often write themselves outside of any given genre in their desire to be different or original - thereby, alas, disqualifying themselves from publication!
Of course it's important to be original - but if you can do that within the confines your reader expects, your chances of success skyrocket.
What you're looking for is sharp writing that relays the facts. When you go back and edit for sense, go for simplicity rather than exposition. If you waffle on about the intricacies of conflicting thought processes or meander through long descriptions of the countryside, you lose all sense of tension.
Pick up any popular novel. The best ones have no words that are about writing. They're all about story.
Okay. Speech tags - you know: all the he said, she cried, they exclaimed blah de blah. I'll keep this advice simple and precise. Unless you're writing children's fiction, lose them. As many as you can. It's the way of the modern writer.
The way to do this is to use other, more subtle ways of suggesting who is saying what. It's easily done, it just requires a little thought.
You can refer to character's actions just before or after dialogue, or use different styles to suggest different people.
Just as an experiment, try editing out all of the speech tags from your next MS. I think you'll be surprised and... master this technique and readers will love you for it!
Yep - we all know we're not supposed to use them, especially after a speech tag. They really are mostly redundant and add little to the story. Repeat to yourself three times before bedtime: I will edit out every word that ends in 'ly'! (I just noticed there are three in this paragraph - oops!)
Well, I could go on like this for hours - 'do this, do that, don't do that' etc., - I take writing very seriously, as I'm sure you've guessed. I hope these few tips will help you the next time you edit your final draft.
The general rule, by the way, is that at least 20% of your MS is probably surplus to requirements! And that goes for all of us!
Thursday, January 5, 2017
I get asked this question all the time.
Writers everywhere want to know what's popular, what they should focus on for maximum profit, what sells, what will sell, now, and in the future.
They think there might be some great oracle out there who can answer this question - or that maybe publishers and agents on the inside might know this information and are somehow keeping it to themselves.
Would that this were true!
Think about it. Five years ago, could you have predicted what you are doing now?
Most of us don't know where we're going to be living in five years time - and even if we think we do, events conspire to change our plans.
Life is organic, some might say unreliable.
Even two years ago, is there any way you could have foreseen today's news?
Could you have known which celebrities or politicians were going to be in the spotlight?
Or which ones had faded from view?
Of course not.
It doesn't work that way.
The bestselling books and movies that are with us today were conceived and written AT LEAST two years ago - many much more than that.
Sometimes an artist, writer, or director may have been working on an idea for decades before the final product reaches the public.
What's hot now may have seemed a completely dumb idea five years ago - but the idea was pursued until it was fully formed and ready for the public.
Writers have a responsibility to write what's important to them - without forever casting nervous eyes at the marketplace and wondering if they're misguided or somehow missing the boat.
Because it's the writer's vision, dedication, and enthusiasm for his or her chosen subject that will eventually resonate with the public.
It's simple really.
People like good ideas that are well expressed, no matter which genre or subject matter is currently trendy.
Think about the books, movies, writers, and the artists you like.
They have a timeless quality, right?
Being a slave to the market doesn't make a creative person better or more successful.
We see many people who try to jump on bandwagons - but do we respect them for that?
Do they last?
It's a person's work or their personality, their uniqueness, that we respect, relate to, and ultimately cherish.
Your personal integrity is important.
It's your love of a subject and faith in your unique vision that will carry you forward.
It's these same qualities that will inspire publishers and readers to believe in you.
There's no point in thinking, Oh, JK Rowling and Dan Brown were successful, therefore I should do something like that - because that's precisely what publishers and readers DO NOT want writers to do.
You have to think in terms of YOU.
Your own creativity - and what you are drawn to - is what is important.
Not, is there room for another ---------- ? (insert author's name here), but there is room for --------- (Insert your name here!)
It's being passionate about your work that will, if you're serious, willing to work hard and okay, get lucky too, that will make YOU the next big thing, YOU that hot new trend that other writers will no doubt aspire to emulate.
Life's too short to be forever trying to predict trends.
If it were at all possible to know the future, we'd all have won the lottery by now - or we wouldn't have wasted time with all those nasty people we wished we hadn't met!
The best we can do is write from the heart, and keep on writing to the best of our ability.
Accept rejection as positive criticism. Learn from failure.
Rewrite and rework ideas until they're strong and incontrovertible - until they shine with an inner light that can't be doused or ignored.
Most of all, believe in yourself and your work.
Do that, and the rest will follow.
Your Success is My Concern
The Writing Academy
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