Showing posts with label about writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label about writing. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 20

10 Reasons Why Stories Get Rejected

why stories get rejected

It's always nice to learn why a story was rejected and, although it hurts, the greater the detail the better. David Farland's latest article gives 10 reasons why he rejects stories. I'm just going to summarize them (well, that was my plan), so I recommend you read his article for the details.

1) The story is unintelligible.

2) The story is unbelievable.

3) Too many adverbs and adjectives.
I hadn't meant to comment on these, but I can't resist. The first time I heard someone say that, as a general rule, a writer should avoid using adverbs, especially those that ended in -ly, I thought they were daft. (And yes, I'm painfully aware of the -ly adverb I just used, but I think it adds something to the sentence that goes toward my point so I'm keeping it. Isn't irony grand?) It took reading Stephen King's book, On Writing, for me to see the wisdom in this.

If it helps, think of it this way: Instead of using -ly adverbs, use strong verbs. Rather than making a word more interesting, or more meaningful, by modifying it with another word, try making the word itself everything you need.

For instance, rather than writing,

a) "I won the lottery," she said happily.


b) Waving her lottery ticket above her head, she jumped up in the air and screamed, "I won the lottery!"

I think that the advice to steer clear of -ly adverbs goes hand-in-hand with the advice to show rather than tell. I don't think the above example is very good, but hopefully it is enough to give you the sense of what I mean. For the purposes of the example, I should have used one strong verb rather than the adverb ("happily"), but perhaps you can suggest something better in the comments.

Also, there is a change in tone between (a) and (b). I think that (b) hints at the speaker being an extravert and fond of screaming, especially at concerts.

In any case, moving along.

4)   Nothing happens.
Make something happen and make it happen earlier rather than later. Try to grab the reader with your first sentence and don't let them go until the last one. I'm sure there are many names for this quality of can't-put-it-down-edness but I think of it as narrative drive.

5) Don't confuse your readers.
You may know the story takes place on the 5th moon of Dovan, but your readers won't unless you tell them. After a while folks are going to stop guessing, get irritated, and find something else to do.

6) Remove the boring bits.
I can't remember who said this first, but it's true. If it doesn't absolutely have to be in your story toss it. Ask yourself: does this further the story? If yes, fine. If no, lose it.

As David Farland says, this also applies to writing sentences like, "They shook on it," rather than, "They shook hands on it." If it's clear from the context that what they're shaking are hands (rather than, say, flippers), then you don't have to include that information. If, on the other hand, the "they" in question are squid-like personages living on the dark side of our moon then you might want to specify which appendages they used.

7) Have a story and tell it.
If a piece of writing is, say, 2,500 words long and has a title that doesn't mean it's a story.

Although there are no rules for what makes a story a story--including the rule that says there are no rules--people who judge story contests generally appreciate it if there is a beginning and an end. You get bonus points if there are characters things happen to and if these events put your hero in danger of not reaching their goal. I've written a bit about story telling here.

8) Don't cheat
I'm not talking about plagiarism (but don't plagiarise), I'm talking about including something like violence or sex when it has nothing whatsoever to do with the story. To be clear, I'm not saying anything for or against using sex or violence in your stories, but everything in your story, everything, has to be there for a reason and if that reason is simply to shock or titillate then your story will be weaker for it.

8b) Understand your market
Let's say you're writing a paranormal romance. Including a scene in which a character has something done to them worthy of the movie Saw means you run the risk of alienating the editor who will make the decision whether to buy your work.

9) Non-formed stories.
See point 7, above: Have a story and tell it.

10) Don't irritate your readers
This is in the same vein as 5, above: Don't confuse your readers. For instance, although I don't believe there are hard-and-fast rules about how many points of view your story should be told from, if you have 5 in 2,500 words you'll confuse your readers.

Dave Farland gives the following example: "John raced out the door, after brushing his teeth." After I read this sentence I parsed it as, "After brushing his teeth, john raced out the door." If a story was filled with sentences like that I would become irritated.

To read the rest of David Farland's awesome article (alliteration can, occasionally, be tolerated ;) click here: Ten Reasons Why I'll Quickly Reject Your Story.

This ends the list of 10 things which will will send your story to the proverbial dust bin of obscurity, but of course (and unfortunately), there are far more than ten. But take heart, Mr. Farland has just published the next article in this series: Why Editors Reject Your Story. In that post he discusses what separates stories which receive honorable mention from stories that win.


Related reading:
- The Starburst Method: How to write a story, from one-liner to first draft
- Jim Butcher: How To Write A Story
- How to build a Villain, by Jim Butcher

Photo credit: A Writer's Journey

"10 Reasons Why Stories Get Rejected," copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward.

Sunday, June 3

Quotes From The Master of Horror, Stephen King

Here's my favorite:
People want to know why I do this, why I write such gross stuff. I like to tell them I have the heart of a small boy... and I keep it in a jar on my desk.
 Some more quotes from the King of horror:
Fiction is the truth inside the lie.

Talent in cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.

Get busy living, or get busy dying.
Read more quotations here: Stephen King Quotes

Another great source for King Quotes is his book On Writing.

Related reading:
- Neil Gaiman Interviews Stephen King, King talks about Dr. Sleep
- No Ebook Version For Stephen King's Next Book
- Stephen King: 15 tips on how to become a better writer

Friday, June 1

How To Show Rather Than Tell

Creative daydreaming

Here are mystery Writer Elizabeth S. Craig's tips on how to show rather than tell:
I’m not a fan of reading info dumps.  An author could describe a character with well-written, vivid details and I’ll going to skim it.  I’m usually more interested in picking up on little details that point to qualities the character has. Or a slipped-in description—a character whose shoulders are stooped from listening to shorter people around him. Or the character with lots of smile lines and raven’s feet….sort of a double-duty description.  Cheerful and wrinkly!
With indirect characterization, you let the reader draw their own conclusions: based on character dialogue, internal musings shared with the reader, and other characters’ observations about a character. Then the readers can pick up the hints and feel clever about their deductions.

For instance, we can show one character’s demeanor when dealing with the protagonist—and add dialogue clues to hint at character traits and the characters’ relationship with each other. 

You could have a character that you want to portray as someone who talks too much. This could easily be expressed by interruptions from a second character or their signs of impatience. Or of them putting off a phone call with the character. Much better than pages and pages of chatty dialogue to prove the point. 

Since I’m a mystery writer, I’m also interested in planting the wrong impression of a character. I might  mislead the reader. (Other novelists might want to do the same thing, for different reasons.) Maybe the character is unnaturally chatty because they’re nervous. Maybe the second character is just an impatient person who interrupts—maybe they’re not making a point about the character’s loquaciousness at all.
To read the rest of Elizabeth's excellent article, go here: Showing Character.

I love getting writing tips from established professionals like Elizabeth, especially when accompanied by reading recommendations! I won't spoil the surprise though, it's all in her article. Cheers!

Sunday, May 27

How Many Books A Year Should I Write?

Author Elizabeth S. Craig talks about how many books a year she writes (3 or 4), why she writes at that pace, and what her schedule is like.
I just don’t think we can make a living off a book a year if we’re midlist authors. (Actually…I know we can’t. Unless your book deals are a whole lot better than mine are.)
Elizabeth's article is fascinating on its own, but especially when read in the light of what Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith have been saying for years, that in order to make a living as a writer one needs to write more than one book a year, a lot more. But, practically, what's that like?
I wanted to let you know that writing several books a year doesn’t take that long. As I mentioned in this post, if you can write 3 1/2 pages a day, you can write three or four books a year. Even if it takes you a long time, thoughtfully considering each word and making each word resonate with meaning, you can probably manage a least two if you stay focused during your writing time.
Good to know!
So what’s it like to write that many books a year? I can let you know what it’s like for me. This is the first time I’ve really analyzed it, so it’s interesting to break it all down (for the record, since the start of 2012, I’ve written one full book and I’m now passing the halfway mark of the second. I do edit quickly and I do have either my publisher’s editors or freelance editors go over my work after I edit it.)
Elizabeth even gives us a list of pros and cons:
Good things
*You write every day and you don’t lose any story continuity.

*You don’t forget or stumble with your character’s individual voices.

*You think about your story more during the day. Plot ideas, small scenes, even just words occur to you during the day in reference to the story.

*You don’t ever get bored with what you’re writing.

*You just jump right into the story every single day. No wondering where you left off. No feeling like you’ve lost the story thread.

*Frequently you’ll get story ideas for the next book in the series while writing the book.

*Readers don’t have to wait very long between books.

*Obviously, your income is higher.
For her lists of not so good things and downright lousy things, read the rest of her article, here: What Happens After Writing 3 or 4 Books a Year

Related reading:
The Business Rusch: The “Brutal” 2000-Word Day

Monday, April 30

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 8: The Rough Draft & Narrative Drive

In the final installment of the Starburst Writing Method we're going to take the scenes we created in the last two installments and use them to write our rough draft. We want to be true to the characterization and plot we have so lovingly developed over the past few weeks, while being careful to maintain and develop narrative drive.

So, first things first. Let's discuss narrative drive.

Narrative Drive
What is narrative drive? Larry Beinhard in How To Write A Mystery says it best:
Narrative Drive is what sells books: To agents, publishers, readers. We all know near-illiterate, insultingly dumb books that (a) have made the bestseller list to our incredulous envy; and (b) have had us reading them even as we say to ourselves, "My God, why I am reading this brain-damaged idiocy?"

What is narrative drive? The best way to discover narrative drive is to read material that you can't put down, but you don't know why. It should not have literary merit (whatever that is) or have real and fascinating characters or be informative about subjects that interest you.
I think of narrative drive as that indefinable something that grabs you by the throat and pulls you -- at times kicking and screaming -- through a book. For me Stephen King's Misery is a prime example of this. Please don't misunderstand, I think King is a fabulous writer and Misery was probably one of his best works. It's just that I hate the particular kind of psychological terror he portrayed in the book and yet I couldn't stop reading. It was the last horror story I read for a good long while.

Now we know what Narrative Drive is, let's move on to the important bit: How do we infuse our stories with that quasi-magical quality that will keep good folks up far past their bed-times?

I don't think there's any recipe for imparting narrative drive to ones story, but one of my writing instructors had this to say:
Begin and end each scene with a question that the reader will be compelled to answer and they will be hard pressed to put your book down.
 An Example
Here's the opening sentence of J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone:
Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
For me that sentence raises the questions: Who is it that Mr and Mrs Dursley are comparing themselves to? Who is it that isn't normal and what is it about them that makes them this way?

Here's the last sentence of that same chapter:
He [Harry Potter] couldn't know that at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: 'To Harry Potter -- the boy who lived!' 
 I'm left wondering why people need to meet in secret, what happened to Harry Potter and why he is so important to so many people.

Not a bad way to start a book!

Wrapping Up
By now, if you've been following along, you should have a rough draft of a story and I find that's often the hardest part. The next hardest part is finishing the darn thing!

I think the real trick of being a professional writer is simply finishing what we start. We all feel at a certain point that what we're writing is complete drivel but the professional writer battles through the feeling, revises, rewrites and ends up with something they're proud of where the rest of us (and I'm too often in this camp!) become discouraged and  bury our effort in the bottom drawer of a desk drawer, or under our bed, where it will languish for the next few decades.

This series of articles on the Starburst Method has been a rough draft for a book I'm putting together. The book will include more material -- for instance, I'd like to have said something about pacing.

 The Starburst Method, Part 1: A one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 2: Developing our one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 3: Creating a five paragraph summary
The Starburst Method, Part 4: Developing characters
The Starburst Method, Part 5: Creating a five page summary
The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing scenes
The Starburst Method, Part 7: The character grid
The Starburst Method, Part 8: The rough draft

Further Reading:
Writers Despair
Writers: Don't Despair

"Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 8: The Rough Draft & Narrative Drive" copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward.

Monday, April 23

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 7: The Character Grid

Welcome to part 7 of the Starburst Method! We're almost finished this series. I had planned to wrap things up this week, but when I sat down to write the last installment I realized we hadn't covered character grids.

Before we get started I should mention that this article is part of a series and, in case you'd like to look at the previous articles, I've put links to them at the bottom.

Diagramming Scenes
I love Kim Harrision's blog -- she writes urban fantasy (Dead Witch Walking was the first book in her Hollows Series) -- one day I noticed she had written a few blog posts about her writing process. I love learning how other authors write. I think I've learnt more that way than from all the conferences I've attended!

That was the first time I had seen anyone use a character grid. I think of a character grid as a visual representation of a plot. It was great! At a glance, I could see which characters were in which scenes and determine, among other things, whether one character was being over or under used. I don't know about you, but once I've written a few chapters it's easy to forget which characters were in each scene.

An Example
Rather than me rattle on about this, let me show you the character grid template I work from:
character grid for how to write series

If you compare my template with Kim Harrison's you'll find they are similar, but I like to put the archetype I think the character most exemplifies on the far right. Sometimes it's hard to get everything to fit and I have to use two pages, or go to legal size paper. Do whatever works for you, with the office supplies you have at hand.

In my character grid template character names occupy the far left column, a description of the scenes runs along the bottom and the place the scene takes place runs along the top. Instead of "day 1", "day 2", and so on, you'll put the dates your story takes place. I love Kim's practice of having each chapter take place on the same day. That way it's easy to remember when your scenes are taking place and if there's ever a question of the appropriateness of something -- like lilacs blooming in August! -- you can just glance at the date the scene takes place and look it up.

A good character grid can save you a lot of frustration. The only thing is: you need to keep it current, and that can be frustrating, but I think it's well worth the effort.

I hope something in here will be of use to you! Next week we will wrap up this series by talking about your rough draft. Till then, happy writing!

The Starburst Method, Part 1: A one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 1: Creating a one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 2: Developing our one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 3: Creating a five paragraph summary
The Starburst Method, Part 4: Developing characters
The Starburst Method, Part 5: Creating a five page summary
The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing scenes
The Starburst Method, Part 7: The character grid
The Starburst Method, Part 8: The rough draft and narrative drive

"The Starburst Method, Part 7: The Character Grid," copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward.

Photo credit: Funny Pet Wallpapers

Kim Harrison's character grid
Kim Harrison's post about her character grid

Monday, April 9

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 5: The Expanded Synopsis


In part five of my Starburst Series we are going to expand our synopsis. Now that you know your characters better, go back to the 5 paragraph plot synopsis you created in Step 3 and expand each point into a page.

This part of the Starburst Method builds on the other parts of the series, which can be found here:

The Starburst Method, Part 1: Creating a one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 2: Developing our one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 3: Creating a five paragraph summary
The Starburst Method, Part 4: Developing characters
The Starburst Method, Part 5: Creating a five page summary
The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing scenes
The Starburst Method, Part 7: The character grid
The Starburst Method, Part 8: The rough draft and narrative drive

The first thing I noticed as I started to develop my characters last week was that they had changed, sometimes drastically. Granted, I didn't have a very clear idea of who many of them were when in Part 1 -- my killer especially -- but even the foggy ideas I did have, in many cases, turned out to be drastically different from what I ended up with.

But that's good! Change, honing your ideas, that's all part of building a first draft.

I like it when writers provide examples, so I'll expand the first part of the five part expanded summary I completed in Part 3.
Mr. Henry Winthrop, passionate architectural historian and the creator of a new TV series, American Stories: The mansions of the 1800, dies of a heart attack after entering The Mohan Mansion. The Mohan Mansion, in addition to being the best preserved mansion of its considerable age, also has a rich and colorful history. The townsfolk swear it is cursed: They believe anyone foolish enough to step inside will die an untimely death. Mr. Winthrop dismisses the stories of a curse and steps boldly across the threshold. Moments later he clutches his chest and falls to the floor, dead.

While Mr. Winthrop's untimely demise causes quite a stir amongst the townsfolk, no one involved with the TV show seems to take talk of a curse seriously. Mr. Winthrop was elderly and, despite repeated claims he didn't believe in curses, he had been in a state of high excitement before he entered the mansion. Not the best thing for a man with a bad heart.

After a day or two life in town begins to return to normal and the producers of American Stories decide to resume filming. The next day Mr. Kevin Reid, one of the men who accompanied Mr. Winthrop into the mansion, as well as the money behind the project, takes ill and dies. Once again, the cause of death is, apparently, natural – a bad case of food poisoning complicated by an allergy to protein. Despite this, many of the townspeople believe the curse is ultimately responsible for the deaths. Mr. Winthrop's widow, on the other hand, is a skeptic. She believes that the cause of the two deaths is all too natural.

But why would anyone have wanted to kill Mr. Winthrop? He was universally liked and his TV series was bringing desperately needed revenue into the town, not to mention setting it up as a future tourist destination. The financier, Mr. Kevin Reid, was less well known, but he didn't seem to have any enemies. Who, after all, would want to sabotage the TV series?

Who indeed. In the next section these questions, and more, will be asked of our supremely intelligent, resourceful and prodigiously immodest detective: Mr. Damien Lane.
Okay, that was about 360 words and since there's around 250 to a double-spaced, single-sided page, we've met and exceeded our word count. Yea!

Now I have to finish expanding the other four parts of my summary, making sure that each part ends in a bit of a cliffhanger, something to raise the tension-level in the story until, at the end, the villain is unmasked. Ah ha!

Well, good luck to all of you who are following me through this series--not that you'll need it! I'll see you in a week for Part Six of the Starburst Method when we go through our expanded summary and begin to develop our scenes.

See you then!

"Karen Woodward: The Starburst Method, Part 5" copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward.