Posts Tagged With: aspiring writers

The Simple Secret to Fixing Ugly Story Problems

how to write: retroactive continuity

When you’re in the middle of writing, don’t stop. Except for coffee.

It happens to every writer: you’re writing along when suddenly you need to go back and change some fact or detail.

Because if you don’t fix it, the story won’t make sense. Should you stop writing at that moment to go fix it?

Nope. That could kill your momentum.

Here’s a better idea. It’s called a retcon, and comic book writers have been using it for decades.

Retcon is short for “retroactive continuity” and it means that you’re stating a new fact that changes what’s come before.

In other words, you’re changing the past.

This is a term I first encountered in the massively entertaining and informative book Writing for Comics with Peter David. (Mr. David, by the way, has an impressive list of comic writing credits, including Spider-Man, Wolverine, Supergirl, Hulk, Star Trek, and tons of others. He knows what he’s talking about.)

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6 Secrets of Successful Critique Groups

Critique groups: don't get bitten!

Are you hearing the Jaws theme in your head? I am. And now you are, too. :)

Critique groups: best thing ever for writers? Or soul-crushing pits of despair?

Here are my 6 secrets for spotting a top-notch critique group — or assembling your own.

Connect with other writers and get the feedback you need to finish your book, publish it, and write the next one.

Everything you need to know from Yours Truly is right here on author Patricia Stoltey’s blog:

Click here: http://patriciastolteybooks.com/2016/01/6-secrets-of-successful-critique-groups-by-laurence-macnaughton/

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The Short, Sad Saga of Mississippi Jones

Don't eat me!

Scary. Freakin’. Fish. That is all. Move along.

Some names stick with us.

Bridget Jones, Holden Caulfield, Nero Wolfe — these names are all indelibly stamped into our literary consciousness.

Those names are evocative. Memorable. Unique.

Some writers are incredibly good at coming up with names.

I am not one of them.

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Categories: For Writers, how to write a book, how to write a novel, Uncategorized, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 3 Questions of Aspiring Writers

Thriller Author Interview

with Yours Truly

I’m always happy to answer questions from aspiring authors. This week, I got some tricky ones:

Q: How do you know when to end one chapter and start the next chapter?

A: You end a chapter as soon as the lead character either achieves their goal or fails.

The best place to end a chapter is immediately after you raise a new question in the reader’s mind. The desire to answer that question will make them turn the page. Continue reading

Categories: For Writers, how to write a book, how to write a novel, Uncategorized, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why You Should NEVER Carry a Notebook

Levenger Index Card Holder Pocket Briefcase

Don’t carry a notebook in your pocket. Instead, carry index cards!

For many years, I carried a writing notebook with me everywhere I went. That’s what all serious writers do, I’ve always heard. But in truth, it’s a terrible idea.

Here’s why.

  • First, when you write in a notebook, your notes are locked in rigid sequential order. If you tend to think of things randomly (and who doesn’t?), you’ll spend a lot of time flipping back and forth through your pages to find something.
  • Second, it’s difficult and time-consuming to transcribe your notes from your notebook into the files for each project. I suppose if you’re the sort of person who only works on one story, ever, then this isn’t such a big deal. But I’m always working on a huge list of projects.
  • Third, notebooks get gnarly quickly. They get creased, folded, bent, ink-stained… It’s not pretty.

The Un-Notebook Solution

The secret is deceptively simple:

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Categories: book business, For Writers, how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Become a Pro Writer — One Hour at a Time!

The more you write, the better you get.  That should go without saying, but discouragement can dim our perceptions, so I’m coming right out and saying it:

Every hour you spend writing makes you a better writer.
 
I talk a lot about the learning curve of your first novel.  If you’re like most people, as you work your way through your first book, you’ll look back every so often and shudder at your earlier chapters.  It’s tempting to go back and try to polish your old writing up to your current level of proficiency.  Don’t do it!  Believe it or not, you can write a novel from beginning to end without stopping in the middle to go back and fix it.  In fact, I recommend you don’t stop.

Make notes instead.  Scrawl in the margins.  Use up a whole pad of yellow sticky notes if you must.  But don’t spend time “fixing” your old pages until you finish the entire book.  Why?  Because by the time you reach the end, you’ll be a better writer than you are now.  So save the “fixing” for later and do it all at once, rather than trying to constantly improve everything all the time.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s number-one bestselling book Outliers, he says that you need to spend 10,000 hours at something to become an expert.  You’d have to do something 20 hours a week for a decade to hit that.  But you know what?  That’s doable, even with a full time day job — if you want it badly enough.

One of his examples is the Beatles, who performed live more than 1,200 times before they made it big.  Bill Gates started programming when he was 13.  Was he a child prodigy — or did he just get an early start and put in massive effort before he became an expert?

Ten thousand hours — as a writer, that works out to a LOT of pages.  You won’t be an expert writer until after you’ve finished several books, so cut yourself some slack.  In the meantime, you can focus on learning the craft of writing.  Every day, you’re getting better.  Remember: you can write a novel — and you will — one hour at a time!

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Help Fight Diabetes and Win a Critique!

That’s right, folks.  You already know you can write a novel — and now’s your chance to prove it.  Thanks to the heroic efforts of Brenda Novak and her elite team of auction experts, you have a chance to help a great cause AND win a personal manuscript critique from Yours Truly. 

And of course, there are plenty of other great prizes to be won, too!  Especially in the section conspicuously called Kristin Nelson Literary Agency Presents.  Who could pass up a 30-page read from veteran agent Kristin Nelson?  Or a 30-page evaluation from literary agent Sara Megibow?  These are top-notch opportunities, my friend.  Don’t miss out!

You could even win a personalized love scene written by author Tiffany Reisz!  And yes, it’s just what you think it is: a ten to fifteen page personalized fantasy love scene between you and the celebrity (or two) of your choice.  If that doesn’t give you an incentive to help out a good cause, I don’t know what will!

So do yourself a favor and check out Brenda Novak’s 2011 Online Auction to Benefit Diabetes Research.  You can help a much-needed cause, get a chance to score incredible prizes and maybe even give your writing a boost.  No matter what, you come out a winner!

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Win Literary Prizes and Help Fight Diabetes

Just a quick reminder that bidding starts Sunday for the Brenda Novak Diabetes Fundraiser.  This year, aspiring writers get a chance to win some incredible prizes.  Seriously, some mind-blowing stuff!  Like lunch with agents, editors and other Very Important People.  Or a chance to get your polished manuscript into the hot little hands of people who can actually get it published!

Also, this year, I’ve offered up my own humble donation:

Get your opening chapter into shape!

Get a critique of the first 25 pages of your novel manuscript, including personalized suggestions on how to polish this crucial part of your book.  (Submission must be made by November 1, 2011.)

Laurence MacNaughton is a writing coach and contributor to Writers’ Journal.  He teaches fiction writing at You Can Write A Novel .com.

Check out all the details:

http://brendanovak.auctionanything.com/Home.taf?_start=1

Remember: you can write a novel — and you can help a good cause!

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Aspiring Writers, Take Notes!

You can write a novel that seems absolutely perfect to you: the dialogue is tight, the characters are richly layered and the plot crackles with energy.  But you’ll still get notes, I guarantee it.  And that’s a good thing.

Notes, by the way, are the comments you get from decision-makers (mostly literary agents and editors) about things that they want you to change in your writing.  They can be about anything.  Description (“Where’s Joe standing, exactly, when the frozen turkey falls on him?”).  Continuity (“I thought Joe suffered a concussion in the last scene.  How can he sing the Star Spangled Banner?”).  Characters (“I don’t like Joe as a short-order cook.  How about we call him Bob and make him a rodeo clown instead?”)

Some notes are pure genius, and following them will improve your story in ways you never imagined.  Then there are those rare notes that seem like they’re from outer space.  One of the most memorable notes I’ve ever heard was to an animation writer: “When the monkey takes off his underwear, please make sure he’s wearing another pair beneath them.”
Because the alternative, I suppose, is just too horrible to contemplate.  The truth is, every note is a creative challenge.  It’s an obstacle that you need to find a way to overcome.  And that, I think, is the best way to look at notes: not as criticism, but challenges.
It’s not that much different from the sorts of story challenges you face while you’re writing a novel.  How do I show this character’s true nature?  How do I plant this information without being too obvious?  How do I make this scene scarier?  Or funnier?  An editor once gave me this note: “Sorry, this just isn’t funny.”  Yowtch!

But after I was done pouting, I sat down and brainstormed a dozen or so new jokes for that part of the story, and guess what?  I came up with something better.  In the end, I was proud of the job I did, the editor was satisfied, and I’d long forgotten the tiny sting of that note by the time the piece got published.

Notes force us to grow — or at least to think fast on our feet.  They’re not exactly fun.  Not even if your best friend in the whole world tells you as gently as possible while handing you a giant plate full of chocolate cake.  But it does give you an opportunity to tackle a new challenge, think of a way to satisfy the note-giver while being true to your story, and come out a winner.

 And then, by golly, you deserve that cake!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Behind the Bestseller: Robert Buettner (Part 3)

Meet bestselling author Robert Buettner, a man who’s not afraid to do his research firsthand — even when it involves a real-life main battle tank!  In this segment on You Can Write A Novel, Buettner talks about how ebooks have changed the publishing business, how it feels to read your own reviews and the secret to beating writer’s block.

Plus, as you can see, no book signing is complete without a visit from a ninja ape-man.  Naturally.

Laurence MacNaughton:  By my count, Overkill is your sixth novel. How is your career (and/or the publishing business) different now than when you started? Does the writing get any easier, or do you face a new set of challenges now?

Robert Buettner:  The book biz, like the world in which it operates, has been changing at an ever-accelerating rate. Based on my royalty statements, in the last year “mobile device” proliferation has finally caused e-book unit sales to take off like a firewalled F-16.

Book promotion now appears to be a matter of accumulating Facebook friends, but I remain a social media Luddite. A writing day bares my creative cupboard. I lack the wit surplus to fire off a dozen clever tweets to my followers. I still visit brick-and-mortar stores and autograph their stock. Maybe that’s the authorial equivalent of the last tyrannosaur chasing the last triceratops.

Mechanically, writing’s easier. My word processor manages a lot more proofing and backtracking even compared to what it could even a few years ago, when I started. I research via Google rather than organizing a library safari. I can’t imagine how the great novels were composed longhand, or on a typewriter. I still proof a physical print copy of my manuscripts before I turn them in, but I turn them in electronically now, which is faster, cheaper, and environmentally friendlier.


LM:
Do you ever read your own reviews?

RB:  Every word. It’s probably easier for me than for some authors because my reviews have, so far, fingers crossed, been overwhelmingly positive.

The decline of newspaper and similar print review sources has removed a useful filter from opinion, and that’s a little scary. Today any anonymous source who hasn’t even read the book can say absolutely anything about the book, and that “review” may pop up on Google ahead of more thoughtful commentaries. But so far I’ve rarely been victimized that way.

LM: If you had to pick just one personal quality that separates the would-be writers from the published professionals, what would it be?

RB:  Persistence in the face of rejection. If I could pick a second, it would be willingness to reinvent and relearn one’s craft, sometimes abbreviated “humility.”

LM:  Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? And if so, how do you beat it?

RB:  Barbara Hambly and I were guesting at an SF Con a couple of years ago. Barbara answered that question as well as I’ve heard it answered. Barbara said real “writer’s block” is an exceedingly rare clinical phenomenon.

What most writers call “block” is just a subconscious warning we give ourselves that, “hey, this chapter, this paragraph, this plot line isn’t working.” So we just sit there, dithering.

The fix is simple. Walk back the dog through your work until you encounter the last point where you’re confident that the story was working. Begin again from there. With luck, that point is just a page back. Maybe you lose a whole chapter. Maybe you have to go back to page one. But at least you’re unstuck.

The secret to efficient “block” beating is, I suppose, recognizing it before you’ve sleepwalked ahead through too many worthless pages. It works for me.

LM: Is there any truth to the rumor of an Orphanage movie? 

RB:  Well, the most interesting recent project I’ve been connected with lately is the film adaptation of Orphanage by Olatunde Osunsanmi, the rising director and screenwriter (The Fourth Kind, forthcoming Dark Moon) for Davis Entertainment (Predator, I Robot, Eragon). Thousands of books are optioned for film, but never get to a “treatment,” much less to the director-plus-adapted-screenplay stage where Orphange is already. However, Hollywood is notably longer on dreams than on reality, so Orphanage the Movie remains light years away. Therefore, I hadn’t mentioned it much. But the news popped out in the Hollywood press last October.

It’s totally Tunde’s screenplay. My input has been minimal, and that’s a gross overstatement. But I was flattered that he chose to lift more of the writing direct from the book than is usual in an adapted screenplay.

LM: We’ll have to keep our eyes peeled for that!  What else are you working on? 

RB:  Amazon’s Audible.com is releasing the new series as audio books. Overkill’s already available. I’m looking forward to working again with the reader who Audible chooses for Undercurrents. MacLeod Andrews, the young (everybody’s young to me) actor who read Overkill was terrific.

I’m finishing an original short story for the forthcoming John Joseph Adams anthology “Armored.” That story will be loosely set within the Orphanage-Overkill universe.

At the moment, I’m judging the short story finalists in the National Space Society’s Jim Baen Memorial Writing contest. I’m filling in for the venerable David Weber, and following in the footsteps of such notable authors as Mike Resnick and Eric Flint, so that’s pretty cool.

Beyond that, of course, Undercurrents, the sequel to Overkill, is set for release July 5, 2011, and there will be a third book in that series.

Robert Buettner’s ‘blog

Robert Buettner’s website

Baen’s webscription page for Overkill

Amazon’s Overkill page

Amazon’s Undercurrents page

Amazon’s Orphanage page

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