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When Rules get you into Trouble

19 March 2015 | No Comments » | Jace Killan

The_Book_Cover_Of_The_RacketeerA great writer once told me that to be a good writer, I needed to learn all the literary rules and then forget them all.

I remember the first time I shared my craft with a crit group. I remember thinking how lucky they all were to discover my talent. The session didn’t quite go as I thought. They tore apart my writing for one fundamental flaw—Point of View. In the chapter of about fifteen hundred words I switched POV at least seven times. I wrote as if I were watching a movie, each POV a different camera angle. This of course is amateurish and makes for rough reading.

In another crit group, I shared a new piece, expecting agent referrals and publishing contracts. Instead I received fantastic feedback on the concept (new to me at the time) of Showing vs. Telling.

So I upped my game. I avoided any word ending in “ly” and the word “felt” so that I could show instead of tell. (There was a great post on adverbs earlier this month). I wrote much more dialogue and I put my main POV character deep in the scene. I thought that I needed to keep reminding the reader of where my POV character was, how his/her hands were positioned, and where he/she was looking.

Instead of writing, “I picked up the phone.” I might have written something like, “I picked up the phone with my right hand while using my left to shuffle through some papers.

I’d use filtering phrases like “I could see the light glistening through the window from the outside.”

Rather than “Light glistened through the window.”

This type of writing really messes with pacing. I had written a scene as follows:

“Lenny grabbed the back of the trailer with his right hand and while running along he reached as far as he could with his left hand grabbing another part of the trailer and jumped at the same time pulling himself up though he got stuck part way but soon pulled himself up and onto the trailer. “

Rather than, “With some effort, Lenny managed to pull himself into the trailer.”

Also, I failed to give any backstory in my novel for fear of telling rather than showing. So I would get it in by an incredibly long discussion that didn’t quite work. I left my readers with a bunch of questions, because I was too afraid to “tell.”

It seemed as if I swung on the pendulum of poor writing from inappropriate use of POV and too much telling, to the other side of overuse of POV and obscurity.

To address my problems I’ve read, a lot. I take notice of when authors use “ly” words and when they use filtering and why it works or maybe how it could be better. I’ve paid attention to how an author shows a story, how he/she sets it up and establishes setting while still revealing back story, and I think I’m getting it. Maybe those publishing contracts are right around the corner or maybe I’ll have another opportunity to learn and grow or both.

I’m learning that good writing is just one element to a good story. I’ll endure page after page of telling backstory in The Rackateer by John Grisham, because the story is intriguing. I’ll ignore Larry Correia’s overuse of adverbs in his work Monster Hunter International because his story is extremely exciting and funny. I’ll overlook Michael Chrichton’s abundance of point of view filtering in Prey because the story is full of nail-biting suspense. Hopefully someday I can have the privilege of someone critiquing my work after they’ve paid for it.

jace 1I think that it is very unlikely that a person just wakes up one day and realizes that he/she is a fantastic writer. Great authors learn how to write great stories well. It takes time and lots of practice.

I think maybe I’m starting to forget some rules.

 

 

 

I Would Do Anything for Love…

27 February 2015 | 1 Comment » | Kristin Luna

 

But I won’t do that. You know what I’m talkin’ about, Meatloaf.

 

Instead, we did all of this:

Victoria Morris Threaded the Tapestry

Gregory D. Little Subverted the Meet Cute

Ace Jordan did the Science of Love to Explain the Murky Middle

Mary reminded us that All You Need is Love

Joshua Essoe gave us advice about Writing Sex ScenesIn two posts!

Clancy showed us the Flip Side: Bad Girls and Anti-Heroes and Why the Guys Love them

Travis Heermann Examined and Bound

Kim May Pleasured us with Pain

Stephan McLeroy no longer Struggles to Define Love

Leigh Galbreath Drew us in with Dysfunctional Relations

Tracy Mangum gave us a master class in Love in Screenplays

Jace Killian showed us the Try and Fail in Love

Matt Jones made Ignorant Secret Troubled Love to us

Tracy Mangum followed up with Sex in Screenplays

Lisa Mangum reminded us that First Comes Like

Frank Morin pushed A Life of Passion

Colette advised us to Let Love Simmer

And RJ Terrell wrote On Love

 

Sure, this month is over, but we know you’ll be back. If you fall we will catch you, and we’ll be waiting. Time after time.

 

First Comes Like

23 February 2015 | 3 Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by Lisa Mangum.

Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix or shows that I’ve recorded on my DVR, which means that I’m not watching a lot of commercials (hooray!), but I caught one the other day for a dating site with the tagline: “First Comes Like.” As tags go, I thought it was pretty clever. Because before love comes along, there is like—in real life, and in fiction.

The idea of like was one of the sparks that I fanned into the story that became After Hello. I wanted to write a story that took place in one day and really focused on the 24-hours immediately after my two characters said “Hello.” How did they become friends? Why? At what point could that friendship turn into something more? Could I keep them together for a whole day without it being boring or weird? Those were intriguing questions to me, and then I thought about how much I loved the movie Before Sunrise, and I jumped right in.

And it was strange and awkward at first. But that was okay, because most first meetings between people are strange and awkward. Plus, I was getting to know Sam and Sara at the same time they were getting to know each other.

I realized pretty quickly that in order to pull off the story I had in mind, I needed to keep an eye on two things: what they SAID, and what they DID. Dialogue and action, those where going to be my two best tools to build the plot.

And really, isn’t that how most friendships start? We’re focused on learning more about the other person so we ask a lot of questions. We offer a lot of information. We make jokes; we tell stories. We talk for hours.

So that’s what I had Sam and Sara do. Spending the whole day together meant they were going to talk to each other—a lot. I worked on keeping the conversation natural but still interesting. Not only did they need to talk about PLOT stuff, but they needed to feel comfortable enough with each other so that they could talk about CHARACTER stuff.

I started their conversation with a blend of mystery and humor. Questions were asked, but answers were given in a roundabout way. Often Sam deflected. Sara sometimes made a joke, sometimes not. They had conversations with other people. I tried to parcel out the information in bits and pieces, not all at once. After all, even in real life, the best conversations feel organic, not an info-dump on page 1.

Real-life friendships also develop because of what the other person does. How do they behave in stressful situations? Are they nice to strangers? Do they lose their temper? I wanted to show Sam and Sara in a variety of situations so they could see each other in action.

When it comes to writing romance, remember one thing: first comes like. Your characters need to be likable so that we like them. That way when the characters fall in love, so will we.

Watch the After Hello book trailer:

About Lisa Mangum:
Author Photo Lisa Mangum FINALLisa Mangum attended the University of Utah, graduating with honors with a degree in English. A lifetime lover of books, she has worked in the publishing industry since 1997, editing works by several New York Times bestselling authors as well as debut novelists. She is currently the Managing Editor of Shadow Mountain Publishing.

Besides books, Lisa loves movies, sunsets, spending time with her family, and trips to Disneyland. She lives in Utah with her husband, Tracy. She is the author of four award-winning YA novels (The Hourglass Door trilogy and After Hello), a short story (“Sold Out”), and novella (“&”). She also edited One Horn to Rule Them All: A Purple Unicorn Anthology. 

You can find her on Twitter @LisaMangum or Facebook.com/lisamangum.

A Crash Course on the Best and Worst Elements of Writing

28 November 2014 | No Comments » | Ace Jordyn

What an enlightening month November has been! If you ever wanted a crash course in what makes writing the best or the worst, this was it.

There is so much to learn about writing craft and storytelling from the masters yet we can learn equally from writing that doesn’t engage us. Deciding on the ‘best’ means we need to understand why we like what we do and what constitutes the best for each of us (Kristin Luna). It also means not disregarding other forms of fiction because the best stories use elements of both literary and commercial fiction and knowing how each works makes us better skilled writers (Susan Forest).

Elements in the best writing includes:
precision of word choice, great imagery and detail plus an author who gets right into his character’s heads (Clancy); a grasp on multi-sensory prose which like a dream, makes the fantastical normal and lifts the reader to a place of wonder (Brenda Sawatsky); cliffhangers and when multiple story lines crash together in a maelstrom of calamity at the end of a book (Evan); well executed diverse fiction that helps the reader understand the world we live in and cultivates respect (Kim May); story matters and being a good storyteller with proper pacing and resolutions is key, but before telling the story, think about how much you can tell us by each word, each sentence, and the beauty you strive for in bringing them together (Colette); it’s not just about the protagonist against the antagonist but about how every character interacts with every other character (Jace Sanders); heroes aren’t heroes all the time. They are just humans with something about them that is extraordinary, and the more flawed a character is, the more human they seem (Leigh Galbreath); the best writing has characters who strive for themselves along with sentences that soar on their own (James Van Pelt); successful prologues convey information without being an info dump and they promise a story/writing style upon which they deliver (Ace Jordyn); a consistent background which functions almost as another character, widening the options for the protagonist’s conflict along with psychological realism where characters behave consistently (Al Onia); the key to the ‘best’ has less to do with perfect prose, and more to do with story impact when what we’re writing matters, emotions rise up, and the reader can feel it (Adria Laycraft).

What constitutes the worst writing includes:
meandering prose that loses the reader and is boring and there’s no beginning, middle or end and no characters to invest in (Clancy); it’s a bad idea to mislead readers about what kind of story you are telling readers for pick up books because they’re hoping for a certain type of experience. (Mary); when writers grab hold of a culture’s cool elements—Samurai swords, martial arts, ninjas—and throw the rest out the window because the history, philosophy, sociology, and traditions are so intertwined and influential on the cool elements that you can’t separate the two and do it justice. (Kim May); it’s not possible to root for a guy who seems like a walking pity party or if the main character lacks any sense of wonder (James Van Pelt); prologues don’t work if they create expectations that the book doesn’t meet either in story content or style, if they’re an info dump or if they are used to foreshadow or tease (Ace Jordyn); when writers betray the promises set in the beginning of the book and shatter the reader’s bond with the story (Frank).

So how can we judge how we each measure up at being the best? We can compare our work to those we admire and like to read or, as Nathan Barra observed, we can learn by comparing our earlier works to our current ones and being motivated by that.

In case you want to follow up on any of the excellent points I’ve summarized, here is a list of November’s blogs. Just click on the title and the link will get you there.

Happy reading and writing!

Lee Child vs the Boring Clancy
Not What I Signed Up For Mary
The Dreamer Brenda Sawatzky
In Loving Appreciation of the Story Swirl Evan Braun
The Emperor and the Impostor Kim May
Kneeling in the Silver Light Mary
The Importance of Word Choice Colette
Learning from the Masters Jace Sanders
A Tale of Two Readers; or, Everybody Wins Kristin Luna
The Not So likeable Hero Leigh Galbreath
Pluck, Pity Parties and Prose – What I Like Best and What Doesn’t Work James Van Pelt
SSWS Writing Scholarship: Should YOU Apply?  Colette
Clive Cussler, Guy Gavriel Kay and DJ McIntosh are Masters at … Ace Jordyn
Writing What I Like to Read Al Onia
Writing Stories that Matter Adria Laycraft
Looking for Progress in a Mirror Nathan Barra
Don’t Break Your Promises Frank
Using the Tools of Both Literary and Commercial Fiction Susan Forest

 

 

 

 

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