Category Archives: Life Philosophies

Sloshing through the Slush Pile ““ Beginner Concerns

You wrote a story and submitted it. Good for you! Pat on the back! It takes courage to not only write but to submit! But, your story wasn’t chosen? That makes me sad, especially after all that effort. So, how do you get your story through the first reading also known as the slush pile? It’s no great mystery. I’ve been a slush pile reader and have judged the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association (IFWA) short story contest and I’m here to share some of the common writing mistakes made by beginning writers.

Actions speak louder than words
There is the saying that actions speak louder than words. For the writer the saying should be reworded to: a character’s actions and reactions, based on his value system, are more revealing than a mere listing of movements and setting. Feelings, actions and reactions, what’s worth fighting for, our successes and failures in that fight and how they affect us – those are the things which move your reader and create your story.

Damn, I hate lectures …
Information dumps are bad any time – back story, setting, telling me what the character is thinking. When I hear the “professor’ lecturing me on what it’s like in space when I want to know how the character will solve a problem, I’m gone ……. and please, stay away from omniscient musings on the human condition!

The sleep inducing setting
Starting a story with a list of items the character sees isn’t exciting. Not even in real life do we note all the details in a room when we enter it. But we do notice things which affect how we feel or cause us to react like a dead body on the floor or the missing captain and the view screen showing the planet’s surface growing larger.

Setting not only sets the time and place for your story but more importantly is used to stimulate the senses; to evoke a feeling for the situation and to provide a context in which your character will react. Yes, some novels start with awesome descriptions of setting. So what makes that work? Setting is used as a character – it evokes a feeling. It’s no mistake that in Twilight, for example, the climate is cold, rainy and generally depressing. Similar, is it not, to how Belle feels about herself?

Writing in first person
Many a good idea was killed by this Point of View. Writing in first person doesn’t mean it’s a free license to explore your grey cells to produce copious ponderings. Writing in first person is difficult because there is only one point of view through which to reveal a world, create drama and to incorporate a story line which is interesting. It can be done. The trick is not to tell, but to show the person actively assessing and responding to his situation. Through his eyes and actions, he must reveal information about the people he interacts with, his surroundings and how he feels. First person can be a great way to get deeply into someone’s psyche, the trick is not to get bogged down in the thinking process. All the rules for a good story arc still apply.

Stories need to be dynamic
Whether they’re dynamic emotionally or action oriented, I don’t care. Have some tension, carry it through to the climax and ending. Actions need reaction. Reactions produce more actions. Show, don’t tell. Don’t list events, or actions, or use empty words like “pondered “which evoke nothing except that the writer didn’t really know how the character felt or how he should react. A story needs a plot and increasing tension with a climax. Writing a descriptive scene isn’t a story.

Proof reading and feedback
Truly, most of us cannot be a good judge of what we write, certainly not in the beginning of our careers. The act of writing is a solitary event insofar as we need to write our story. After that, it’s a collaborative process requiring feedback and revisions. Your manuscript is easily rejected because of poor grammar, spelling and punctuation, clunky dialogue or extensive monologues. Plot problems or character concerns such as inconsistency or believability are things proofreaders can catch.

Keep on writing!
Cheers!

Don’t forget the Bliss

It is said that everyone has a book in them. Not only is it ingrained in the human psyche to tell stories, but also for most of us, there’s something inside that just can’t stop telling a tale. It’s a passion that keeps us coming back, day after day, to the blank page — a hunger to fill the white spaces.

And like most of people with a passion, we dream of the day when that passion pays off and we can quit our mundane lives to devote all our time and effort into a job that we truly and absolutely love. Like the high school girl who heads off to Hollywood to become the next big movie star or the college kid who quits law school to become a rockstar, we who are called to the written word dream of being the next Bestseller. The only problem is that, unlike movie and rockstars, the bestselling author rarely gets the glamour or the big paycheck that sets them up for life.

We all know this, right? Writing will not make most of us rich.

And yet, we strive and shell out hard earned cash for workshops and seminars and books on craft so that we improve and can one day write that stunning masterpiece that will put us on the map. As we become more and more devoted to that dream, we put more time and effort into learning the business, pushing ourselves out of our solitary writerly existences to learn things like web design and marketing and promotion. All in the quest for becoming a published author. To be quite honest, I don’t so much feel that the “business” side of the writing business is outside my comfort zone as much as, when I do that stuff, I feel like someone is shoving bamboo rods under my fingernails.

I really hate doing that stuff. So much so, that I avoid it as much as possible. For I’ve come to realize that if I pay too much attention to that part of things, I start to forget why I liked writing in the first place. In hearing over and over how much work is demanded to building a name before a publishing house will touch you, or singling yourself out from the e-mob on Amazon, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with writing. It’s easy to forget the bliss.

In the end, it’s not fame and fortune that really drives us to write — that’s what record producers, TV networks, and movie studios are for. It’s not the ease of the work — writing is just plain hard most the time if you’re doing it right. It’s not the collaboration — even when working with other writers, most the time you’re still working alone.

It’s the passion. The bliss. It’s the drive that won’t let you think of doing anything else, because you just can’t kick the addiction to the written word.

So, strive, make your goals, work hard on that dream to become the next Big Thing in books. But don’t let the work make you forget why you dreamed the dream in the first place. Don’t ever forget the bliss.

Creative Discipline

Creative discipline – that’s an oxymoron for every writer! Creativity conjures images of free flowing thoughts; unfettered imagination spilling effortlessly onto pages and pages. The brilliance of remembered grade school grammar coupled with the adult’s ability to focus childhood imagination – that is every writer’s ability. Turn the tap on when you need it. Shut it off when life interferes. Always the stories will get written.

Or so my family and friends think.

Creativity requires time, space and yes, discipline. My writing got its kick start when I went back to university in my thirties for a degree in Food Science. That coupled with the first degree in English, I can spot an error in any recipe or food safety plan for slaughtering chickens! But, it was those nasty chemistry classes with all their formulas, all those reactions, which gave me the big Aha! and allowed me to write.

Observe. Note. Analyse. Explain. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Isn’t that what most articles on writing ask us to do? What is the character’s reaction to a given situation or action? If they act, what is everyone else’s reaction? What is the character’s ensuing reaction? Like in chemistry class, writers ask the question, What happens when I mix this with that? Explosions? That’s a good thing. A fizzle? Need better chemistry.

What if? is the magical question that blows worlds apart, creating compelling scenarios, challenging protagonists and readers to explore beyond their comfort zones. What if I as a writer don’t answer the phone or check emails regularly? What if I ignore the house work? Put off the laundry? Make a quick something instead of a feast for dinner? Just as for my protagonist, What If? also throws me out of my comfort zone. Yet, I’ve discovered that when I play by What If’s rules, I don’t starve. The laundry eventually gets done. People rarely need an immediate response. And, most importantly, my characters and worlds flourish because my discipline affords them the time to.

So yes, I’ve discovered that creativity needs discipline to flourish. Disciplined blocks of time and discipline to brainstorm What If? Turn the creative tap on and let it stay on. Otherwise, thoughts get lost, diluted or stale. Thoughts need discipline to be created and to appear on the page.

Now when you’re revising or editing, that’s a different discipline and a different blog!

Just remember, we write because words are our air, the page our playground, and our imagination feeds our spirit.

The Lonely Writer …

There is a misconception that writing is a solitary activity. Insofar as the first steps of the process are concerned, it is. The initial draft and the rewrites can only be done by the writer. But check out the thank you or acknowledgement pages of any published book. It lists writing groups, friends, family, editors, research contacts, mentors – in short, it’s a community of support and resources which helped the author create a publishable book.

Support systems are integral to our success. They inspire us. They challenge us to perfection. They nourish our thirst for knowledge on craft and genre. They help us understand the business of writing – how to get the first contract, who to approach and how. And it’s a blessing when that support system is found within your writing group.

Every good writing group has members who help each other, by giving advice on craft and genre. But, most importantly, we need to be with like-minded people – those who understand the writing life – the joys and successes or the struggles and crazy times. These are the people who celebrate with us when the first draft is complete. They share our angst as we rewrite and perfect our work. They commiserate with us through the rejections. They party with us when the manuscript is sold and finds a home in bookstores.

I love the writing groups I belong to. One is this group which founded The Fictorian Era. Although we span three countries, we set weekly goals, support each other through highs and lows, beta read for one another and discuss issues for emerging authors. A local group, Mystery Writers Ink, provides awesome speakers and resources on matters of crime and craft. And, the third group, Imaginative Fictions Writers, is a critiquing and professional development group many of whose members have spearheaded the When Words Collide, a multi genre popular fiction conference for readers and writers.

The support we receive, we must give back. That is the nature of the writing life. We are there for each other. So, look at the writing group you belong to. Does it feed you? Does it inspire you? Then, ask yourself, how can I give back to it? Writing groups function because of dedicated volunteers. But, those volunteers can only do so much without jeopardising their own writing. The old adage, many hands make light work, seems trite, but it’s true. If we all do a little, we all get a lot back.

Just remember, successful authors have a community of support around them ….

Check out:

http://www.whenwordscollide.org/

http://www.mysterywritersink.com/

http://www.writtenword.org/ifwa/