Tag Archives: Clancy Metzger

A Crash Course on the Best and Worst Elements of Writing

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





Forming the Fictorians

The first Superstars of Writing Seminar
The first Superstars of Writing Seminar

When I went to the first Superstars Writing Seminar in Pasadena back in March of 2010, I thought I was going to get some sound business advice from successful writers – and I did. In spades. I had many expectations which were all exceeded by lengths of football fields. I also thought I’d meet people and make some nice acquaintances – wrong. So very wrong. I made friends. Lifelong friends and writing peers and a writing family we now call The Fictorians.

I remember clearly one night in Pasadena, we were walking back to the hotel after a night of food and beer at a local pub. I was talking with Kevin J. Anderson and I was saying that the group of him, Rebecca Moesta, Dave Farland/Wolverton, Brandon Sanderson and Eric Flint reminded me of the Oxford group that met regularly to talk writing which included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. I asked how a group like that formed because it seemed to enhance everyone’s writing and careers.

Kevin said, “Look around.”

I did and what I saw were all the people who I’d been hanging with at every break and meal. The ones who’d gravitated together and felt a connection. I saw people I liked, respected and thought had awesome ideas they were working on in their writing. I saw people like me. People who wanted to be writers, took their writing seriously and were taking steps to succeed in this cool and difficult profession.

When I looked back at him, he said (and I paraphrase), “You’re doing it. Right now. With these people. This is how groups like that are formed.”

We left that seminar, with emails in hand and a goal to stay connected. We live all over the world. We write in different genres. Some of us have met in person again in Las Vegas for one of ours to renew her vows to her lovely husband. We’ve seen each other at other Superstar Seminars since the first one. We have conference calls and stay connected via email and social media. We have areas of expertise that the others can tap into with a simple request. We’re friends and peers.

I have one other writing group that I feel this way about, and I value those friends as well.

So, when someone asks me what is a moment that makes me love being a writer, I think of my friends and fellow writers. The people who support me and keep me motivated. Who inspire me. Who share a dream with me. These are people who keep me going when times are hard.

Because I’m a romance writer, I use the ‘L’ word a lot and I’m going to use it now. These are people I love for all they give me and pull out of me and share with me.

It’s four years later, and Kevin was right. We’ve become one of those groups. We’ve been through bumps and growing pains. People leave the core but remain on the peripheral, some return, some never left, but we’re still together, doing what we love and supporting each other. We are the Fictorians. And I think we’re Fictorious!

Learning to Say No

Yes No Maybe We’ve heard it before and we’ll hear it again because it’s a truth. We can’t do it all and sometimes we just need to say No.

I was reminded of this when a writer friend sent a link to this blog and the last line of what Seth Godin says is “No is the foundation that we can build our yes on.” I think that’s brilliant.

And a reminder I obviously need tattooed on my forehead.  No matter how many times I remember this, it’s usually after I’ve over committed myself – again – and I’m stressed out about having too much to do. Like right now.

We all have families, friends, organizations, careers, and so on that we need to do things for on the occasion. The trick is balancing it, prioritizing it, and keeping what’s important always in mind. And sadly, sometimes that means we just can’t do it all and stay sane. I know I feel crazy more often than I should.

For me, it’s a circular snowball effect. Let me explain the cycle:  I feel good, so I say Yes to too many things. When I don’t have enough time to get all of said commitments done, I start to stress. Stress impacts my depression. My depression makes it harder to be productive for even the important stuff so now everything is harder. I realize I’m a dope and try to wrap up or shed the commitments I can as soon as possible so I can focus on the ones that are super important. I push through and say No to a lot of things. Commitments ease up so I can be productive where I need. I feel better. I feel good….. and it begins again. Hence the tattooed reminder.

The friend who sent out the link was one of the people I asked to guest blog for this month. When I did a follow-up to see if she was going to or not, she said, “You know, at this point, I’m going to have to say no. Does that screw you over? I don’t want to screw you over.” And I thought, Smart Woman! I told her I completely understood. And I do.

It isn’t even just the special projects we should be saying No to… like the class I’m teaching that I haven’t written yet, or the motorcycle riding class I’m taking over four days, or the offer to help an elderly friend run errands. It’s the daily grind stuff that keeps my calendar looking like a multi-headed hydra on steroids has planned a host of events for each damn head for each damn day of the week. Ridiculous. And I have no one to blame but myself!

Who else is suffering from the dreaded Yes-itis Over-committus disease?  Raise your hands. Now commit with me to this instead – I will say No. Repeat it with me, now. I WILL SAY NO.

When asked to XXX, I will say No.

We can find a cure together, people. I believe this. 🙂

I read a book recently, “18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done” by Peter Bregman. One of the things he says to do is come up with a list of the five most important goals for your year, like spend time with family, focus on career, and so forth. And then whenever a request is made, assess whether that request falls squarely inside one of your target goals or whether it is a distraction away from it. Say yes or no accordingly.

I’m trying to do that…. And as I say ‘try’ I hear Yoda in the back of my brain, saying, “Try not. Do, or do not.”

I know what I need to do.

Summer Sanity

Lost Yet This month, we’re looking at ways to meet goals, manage time and distractions, stay on task and stay sane during the crazy summer months. With school out and vacations luring us away from work, it’s easy to set our goals aside and find our way off the path. Or maybe we set goals in January and need to assess whether we’re still on course.

No matter the specifics, we should be reassessing where we’re at more often than once a year, so here’s to June and accomplishing that task.

Grab cool drink, a cool head, and dive on into some self-assessment. The water’s fine!