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Category Archives: Publishing

Performance Pressure and the Diamond in the Manuscript

20130125-172029.jpgHave you ever finished writing a manuscript, and after months of blood, sweat, and tears, you realize that even after all that work, your story doesn’t look at all like you imagined it in your head? In fact, after a second glance, you’re sure a toddler temporarily overtook your brain and scribbled 400 pages of crayon doodles? Of course you have…you’re a writer. You’ve probably felt that way about everything you’ve ever written…like I have.

Up until this point in my writing “career,” that hasn’t mattered much. Mostly my readers have been friends and writing groups. I post fiction online too but even in that venue, readers are generally pretty forgiving. Not so with publishing industry professionals. There is very little room for mistakes and if you make them, they better be small. Tiny. Miniscule. Talk about pressure.

Getting in the (Publishing) Game

Over the next couple of weeks I’m preparing for my first writing contest ever. I’m talking the big deal with two rounds, multiple judges, announcement of the finalists at the next conference, and the final round judged by editors of major publishing houses. Yeah…that kind of scary.

It’s an exciting adventure to be sure, a thrill to imagine where it could lead. The final judge for my category is an editor at Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Never before has every word, every period, and every character of my manuscript been under such scrutiny. Sometimes the anxiety to get it all right leaves me panic stricken. I only get one chance to put my best work in front of this woman who could potentially be my gateway into the holy land.

Previously, I’ve never had a reason to get this far into the process of editing. I guess I always imagined entering the chaos of the publishing world as something that would happen way down the road. Like, way down. I’ve taken my time, learning more about this, fiddling with that, but after five years of writing, getting critiqued, editing, and dreaming, it’s time to dive in, sink or swim. So despite my fear, I’m going through the first 20 pages of my manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. I’ve re-understood my characters, re-worked motivations, re-invented the details, and rewritten this novel so many times that I have more loose ends than the hem of grandma’s skirt.

Upping the Ante

Before I started this final-for-now edit, I had a long brainstorming session with my writing partners and nailed down what was working and what wasn’t, for better or worse. The time for flip-flopping has come and gone. And now, with that focus in mind, I’m sifting out the dirt and looking for the gems. And you know what? They are there. Actually, never before have they shined brighter. And I don’t think anything less than the pressure to perform at my best would have gotten me here.

I’m the ultimate perfectionist at heart, especially when it comes to my writing. I think every artist is that way. But putting myself in this position has taught me that I know more than I ever realized about who I am as a writer, what I want to bring to this ever expanding sea of literature, what my writing voice sounds like, what I can accomplish when I put my mind to it, and what process works best for me. The deadline and the stakes have forced me to stopped questioning myself and realize the truths that were already there, clouded by the uncertainty an unlimited time frame allows.

Get Out There

Do it. I know you’re scared. I know you don’t think you’re ready. Guess what–just like getting married and having kids–you’re never going to be ready. You learn as you go. Underneath all those scribbles is your story, and as soon as you trust yourself enough to find it, you will. Make the decision. Raise the stakes. And watch yourself rise to the occasion.

What’s holding you back from taking the next step? Or, what deadlines are you working toward? What steps have you taken that have forced you to grow as a writer?

Photo by Steve Jurvetson

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Why Character Archetypes Aren’t Just About Commercialism

What a coincidence that Heather brought up the subject of personality types when it is something that has been at the forefront of my mind recently. It is something that has become a part of how I approach every situation in my life and has helped me better understand myself and those I interact with on a frequent basis. Today, I would like to talk about the personality types of your characters, but if you haven’t taken a personality test yourself, either the DISC that Heather mentioned or the Myers-Briggs test that I’m more familiar with, I highly recommend it. I guarantee that it will change how you view people.

I’ve said it time and again but I’ll say it once more: I am a student of human nature. I’m sure, as writers, that’s something we all share. By ten years of age, I had already given up my seat at the kid’s table at family events to get involved in the gossip and philosophizing at the adult table. I soaked it all in, which is probably what drove me to write in the first place. My novels are a place for me to understand and pass on my observations about human reactions, relationships, and the reasons behind the choices we make. I love it.

Personality Types

I was first introduced to personality types a couple of years ago when I attended a personal growth seminar and since then I can’t help but try to place everyone I meet.
Also, knowing my own personality type has given me insight into how I best work and I have been able to use that to my advantage to be as productive as possible in the short period of time I have each day to focus on my writing.

When I came home from the seminar, I wanted to delve deeper and searching led me to the Myers-Briggs test, which looks at four different aspects of the personality. Once each person’s four traits are correctly identified, it is shockingly accurate. Looking at my personality profile again last week, almost two years since I took it the first time, I still nod the entire way through. But it isn’t just me. Everyone I have shared personality typing with has found their profile to be a very accurate description of them as well.

The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator is broken down into sixteen personality types that take into account your Attitude (introverted/extroverted), your Perceptions (sensing/intuition), how you Judge those perceptions (thinking/feeling), and then which of the two functions–Perceiving or Judging–you most often use when dealing with the outside world. This breaks the population up into 16 personality types that indicate how people interact with others, how they are in relationships, how they handle tasks, and what is important to them.

Creating Real Life Characters

After researching personality types to the point that I could identify all of my closest family and friends, I decided to extend it to my writing and identify my characters. Being that I’m nearly done with the second draft of this novel, I’ve spent a lot of time with them and was able to identify my main characters easily. I also labeled my secondary characters–especially the ones who are highly influential to my main character’s journey. In the profile of each type, it lists that personality’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as all the things I listed above.

Why am I in love with this?

  1. Understanding how characters react with each other makes scenes so easy to write. For instance, my main character is thought based as opposed to feelings based so when her mom gets emotional with her, I know my main character is going to be rational when talking her down. In the same vein, my main character responds better to people who approach her with facts, rather than opinions.
  2. It creates consistency. Have you ever read a book where the characters are all over the place from one minute to the next to the point that it doesn’t feel like you’re following the same person anymore? Knowing your character’s type will help you create a believable hero’s journey that develops smoothly and steadily and yet, is still true to their ideals and values.
  3. It makes your characters easy to relate to. My main character is the same personality type as my mom. My main character’s mom is the same personality type as my best friend. Using this knowledge helps me create characters that are true to life, and chances are, your readers will know people with the same type as your characters too.

Archetypes and Publishing

One thing that I have heard frequently is that character archetypes (as well as story structures–but that is a different post) are just another way of conforming our work to the industry standards. As artists, we want to be unique and we want to express ourselves without being reined in by rules, the publishing industry, or what is popular. I hope you’ll allow me to play the devil’s advocate today because my thought is that if real people can be identified by sixteen categories, why not our characters too? I would certainly never suggest that each character shouldn’t have his or her own backgrounds, culture, class, personal preferences, quirks, and conflicts–that’s what makes us all different. But at the core, we are all human beings, and we all want health, love, and happiness. It’s those similarities that connect us to each other and to the characters in the novels we love.

But don’t take my word for it. Your challenge, if you should accept, is to try the test yourself. It takes about ten minutes and you can find the online quiz at humanmetrics.com. Then, look up your personality on personalitypage.com. You might just be surprised by what you discover…but then again, maybe not. 😉

Have you ever used personality types to create your characters? What is your personality type? Can you guess mine?

Photo by Crystl

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2012 in Characters, Craft, Publishing, Writing

 

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Even if You’re not Doing NaNoWriMo: A Challenge

It’s almost November, and for many writers, the beginning of a month filled with too much caffeine, frozen pizza, and questionable hygiene. That’s right–NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. If you’ve never joined in the madness, you may want to look into it. But, just like everything else in life, it’s not for everyone, and that’s okay.

One thing I really love about NaNo is the sense of community and excitement. Those two things alone are so inspiring. And let’s face it, there’s something comforting about knowing there are other writers out there who are working toward the same immediate goal as you.

Some writers use the month of November to edit instead of draft. Some use it to finish a manuscript they’ve been holding on to for a long time, but have never gotten around to finishing. What I’m getting at is, even if you don’t want to participate in NaNo, I encourage you to use the 30 days to do something with your writing. Take advantage of the NaNo atmosphere and energy. Thousands of people do NaNo each year–make them your accountability partners for a month.

I have some hefty goals for the month of November. I plan on finishing my revisions on my YA horror novel and hopefully drafting another novel. We’ll see how much I get done, but I’m hopeful 🙂

What are your goals for the month of November?

 

Common Comma Issues

A lot of people seemed to like my post on how to use past perfect tense, so I wanted to continue today with another grammar rundown. I’m going to go through some common comma issues I see in manuscripts. I know we are getting into the weeds a little with grammar, but it’s amazing how some small tweaks to your manuscript will help sentence structure, story understanding, and an overall better reading experience for your reader. Misplacing or misusing a comma can alter the meaning of a sentence, so yeah, they’re pretty important.

Comma Splice: Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet). A comma splice is when a comma without a conjunction joins two separate sentences. A comma splice is incorrect. There are a few ways to correct a comma splice. One way is to use a semicolon to connect the two clauses without using a conjunction. You can also break the sentence into two separate sentences.

Examples that are all correct:

  • My favorite book releases soon, and I am so excited.
  • My favorite book releases soon; I am so excited.
  • My favorite book releases soon. I am so excited.

Serial Comma: Use commas to separate words and groups of words with a series of three or more.

Examples:

  • This book has awesome dialogue, plot, and characterization.
  • Sebastian, Biggie, and Loki are my four legged babies.

Using commas to separate two or more coordinate adjectives that describe the same noun: This is a big one all writers should pay attention to. Use a comma to separate two or more coordinate adjectives that describe the same noun. Be careful not to add a comma before the final adjective and the noun or between non-coordinate adjectives. Here’s a helpful hint: if the word and can be inserted between the two adjectives, use a comma. If you can swap the adjectives around and they still make sense, use a comma. A coordinate adjective separately modifies the noun that follows it. Cumulative adjectives do not modify the noun that directly follows it.

Examples:

  • This is a strong, funny manuscript.
  • He wrapped me in an amazing power hug.  *You do not use a comma here because they are non-coordinate, and you can’t say, “He wrapped me in an amazing and power hug.

Comma to separate essential phrases and clauses: An essential phrase or clause is used to modify the noun. It also adds critical information to the sentence. You do not set essential phrases or clauses off with commas.

Example:

  • The people who work in publishing are awesome.

A nonessential phrase or clause adds extra information to the sentence. The phrase or clause can be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence. You should always set nonessential phrases or clauses off with commas.

Example:

  • Hugs and Chocolate, an awesome blog, is a great community. *Hugs and Chocolate is named, so the description is nonessential.

I could go on and on. There is so much information out there, but this is a good start. Let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll answer them in the comments.

 

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Writing in Past Perfect Tense

Naturally occurring iron springs in Telluride, Colorado.

First off, look at the gorgeous picture. I took that a few weeks ago in Telluride, Colorado. It’s naturally occurring iron springs. Stunning.

Okay, now we get into the fun stuff.

Regardless if your book is written in present tense or past tense (also referred to as simple past), there are times in your story when you’ll probably refer to something that has already happened. Sometimes a flashback is necessary to the story. When going into a flashback, or describing something that has already happened in the past, you’ll want to use the past perfect tense.

Well, when/how do you use past perfect?

Believe it or not, there’s a formula for past perfect: (had + past participle = past perfect). I’m not sure about you, but I learn better when I have an example in front of me, so here we go. I’m going to start off in past tense, go into a past perfect to describe something that has already happened, and then transition back to simple past.

Sebastian meowed over and over, trying to get my attention. He either wanted food or love. (Notice this first sentence is in simple past. The reader knows it’s in past tense, all the events that are happening in the story are told in the past.) I’d just graduated from college when I’d made the decision to get my very own cat. I’d always wanted a pound kitty. (Going into a flashback, switch to past perfect. Make sure your reader knows you’re talking about something that has already happened.)

Sebastian picked me as much as I picked him. (Here’s where it gets fun. When you go into past perfect, once you establish that it’s in the past, you switch from past perfect to simple past tense, because the word “had” becomes quite cumbersome, even when used in a contraction. The thing to remember is, when we come out of the flashback, make sure the reader is aware by, and the transition to “now” is clear.) He was such an energetic kitten. He played with my roommate’s cat and loved sitting in my window seat. Now (I’m establishing that the flashback is over, making the transition from past perfect to simple past tense), he’s (notice this is in present tense. That’s because it’s an absolute. Sebastian is still alive and kicking, therefore we use the present tense. I’ll have to do another blog post on absolutes, if you’re interested) fat and lazy, but full of personality. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hopefully that wasn’t too painful, and yes, I do love my animals an absurd amount.

The key to using past perfect is transition. You have to clue your reader in on the timeline. Make sure it’s smooth. This will eliminate confusion, and it allows you to tell more aspects of your story by using things from a character’s past.

If you have any questions, ask away, and I’ll answer in the comments.

Useful links:

This is a great article about writing effective flashbacks.

Visit this page for more past perfect examples.

 

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It Takes a Village

Back when storytelling first began, it took a community to write a tale. One person started it and told it to another, to groups over a fire. It got passed on to friends and family members, generation after generation. Each time the story met new ears, the telling got smoother. Each person augmented it with their own knowledge, improved it with their own experiences. And now, those timeless stories are the flawless fairytales and legends we know today. The ones that still speak to our hearts, even after all this time.

Today, it seems we’re pulling away from that connection and group mentality. We hide our writing lives from our families, we’re cutting out editors and publishers, and getting critiques is such a blow to the ego. We’re holding so tightly to the idea that somehow, the art of writing will be compromised if we allow others to give their input. We fear being “commercialized.”

When I first started writing, I hoarded it. I chicken-pecked it out on my parent’s computer, which I think ran Windows 97, and saved it on a Floppy Disk so they wouldn’t find it on the hard drive. I was terrified that if they found it, they would think I was silly, writing these unbelievable love stories. They’d point out everything wrong with them and I’d never want to write again. But it didn’t matter. They were just for me and my girlfriend to giggle about in class. Nothing more.

As I became an adult and began to write more in-depth stories, I wanted them to reach more people. But when I started to share them with others, their comments quickly taught me that my reality was not the same as others’ reality. My experiences and views were completely valid, but if I wanted more people than my best friend (who grew up in the same neighborhood I did) to relate, I had to open myself up to understanding other people’s realities and experiences and knowledge. I had to embrace the fact that writing a great story–one that would last through the generations–wasn’t just about me and my own thoughts.

I joked with my critique partners a couple of weeks ago that I would have to put their names on the cover of my novel next to mine, and while I doubt they or my future publisher would feel it necessary, I did mean it. They add more to my story than they will ever know. Every week we get together and tear our stories apart. Yes, willingly. I love nothing more than seeing them as deep into it as I am. I’m filled with such hope for my novel when they have conversations about my characters that don’t even include me, and then tell me how they think it should end. I have an outline but I always take their thoughts into account and, more often than not, I do make changes based on their suggestions. Not because I’m not an artist that values her own work, but because I’m an artist that values her own work…all ego aside.

As our culture becomes more isolated by the decade, I think it’s even more important to have a community for your story. Not just people cheering you one to get it written, but people who believe in your story, people who put pieces of themselves into it. I think that’s what makes stories whole. What creates a writer is the desire to change someone’s mind with our words. Maybe even change the world. How else can we do that if we don’t understand the struggles of the people we’re talking to, or let them have a say?

I won’t lie and say I don’t feel nervous every Wednesday night when I send my work to my critique partners. Who knows where it might lead? But come Saturday morning, after we’ve spent time hashing it out, talking about everything we know to be true, agreeing, disagreeing, laughing, falling in love with each other’s characters, hating each other’s characters, and scaring the poor people that work at Starbucks…that’s when I feel like my story has finally come to life.

Because my story is my baby. And everyone who loves it, and challenges it, and helps it grow, is my village. It takes all of them.

Photo by McKay Savage

 

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Training Tools – Websites for Creativity

El grito de la gaviota – Seagull Scream by Dani_vr on Flickr

I’ve wanted to use that image since I first saw it. Not sure how it applies to today’s post, but hopefully it made you smile 🙂

I’m coming off my post-Olympic high. I miss coming home and watching elite athletes fulfill their dreams. I don’t know about you, but I found it inspiring. It gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling in my core. Those people worked hard, sacrificed, trained, and look where it got them. Writers aren’t that different. We have to go through a lot of the same things (but with more wine and chocolate and less laps and pushups).

Our minds are constantly being pushed, our imaginations stretched. We’re honing our craft. If you’re like me, you’ve pretty much given up sleep. Learning, we’re always learning. And what is this “free time” you speak of? Yet we do it because we love it. We have goals and dreams, and we won’t stop until we make it.

What does all this have to do with creativity? Well, as writers, creativity is kind of important to the whole process. I have a bookmarks folder titled, “Websites for Creativity,” and I thought I’d pass along some of my favorites. Think of them as training tools. (There, I totally tied this back to the Olympics 😉 Sneaky, right?)

Critters is a part of Critique.org but for horror (here’s looking at you, Brian), fantasy, and sci-fi writers. How awesome is that? It can be hard to find critique partners for genre fiction; thankfully critters helps writers connect.

Creativity Portal – If you want to read articles about creativity, and I do this sometimes to better understand the creativity process, then creativity portal is a good resource.

Easy Street Prompts – Like writing prompts? Check this one out.

Six Sentences – This website invites you to tell a story in six sentences. Kind of interesting.

Plot Scenario Generator – This is one of my new favorites. The whole website is really good.

Five Free College Level Writing & Lit Videos – Who says you have to pay to learn?

InkPageant – A collection of blog posts for writers.

80 Journal Writing Prompts – I’m a sucker for journaling and writing prompts. What more could I want?

That should be enough to keep you busy for a while. What about you? What are some of your go-to sites for creativity?

 

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