Posts Tagged With: Story Editor

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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How to Outline a Novel (Even If You Hate Outlines)

how to outline a novel

Outlining a novel is kind of like building a wall — one brick at a time. Flying monkeys optional.

Getting overwhelmed at the prospect of starting (or finishing) your novel? Feeling the pressure of hundreds of blank pages staring at you, waiting to be filled?

No sweat. Planning out a story is like building a wall:

You just do it one block at a time.

Just like a towering brick wall is made up of individual bricks, your manuscript is made up of individual parts.

You just have to break it down into small, easy-to-handle chunks, and then build it up from there. Here’s how.

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Kill Your Laptop: Extreme Ways to Finish Your Novel

I get a lot of emails from writers who think they’re suffering from writer’s block. But are they? See if this sounds familiar to you:

“I keep going back to fix things.”

“Sometimes, I hate the words I just wrote.”

“When I watch what I’m typing, I write much cleaner sentences with less typos, but I feel like I’m never going to finish my novel.”

Ring any bells? Continue reading

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Don’t Make This Legal Mistake in Your Novel

Q: Is it legal to write a novel based on a true story, and use the real names of the people involved?

A: Yes, but it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth. Since I’m not a lawyer, none of this is legal advice of any kind, FYI. But here’s what you’re up against:

Writing about a living person who is not a public figure may put you at risk of libel allegations. For that reason, journalists have to keep painstaking notes so that they can prove everything they put in print.

For example, I can write “Joe Lefty is a one-armed man” if I can back that up with a photo of Mr. Lefty sans limb. But if I want to write “Joe Lefty is a one-armed hit-man,” then I’d better have proof that he was convicted in some kind of murder-for-hire scheme, or I could be hearing from Lefty’s lawyers: Dewey, Cheetam & Howe.

On the other hand (sorry), you might have more leeway if Lefty is a public figure, like a politician, since the court might consider him to have given up a right to total privacy.  Still, you need to be careful. Writing about a real living person is fraught with legal issues, so if you’re serious about it, check with a lawyer first.

But wait. Before you give up completely, remember that you’re a fiction writer. A novel is a fictitious work, meaning that you can write whatever you want, as long as you don’t present it as fact. Even if your story is a thinly-veiled version of the truth, you can still change the names, insist that it’s a work of fiction, and get away with… well, I don’t know about murder, but you can get away with a lot.

Hope that helps. Have fun writing!

Do you have a question about writing a novel? Ask it here.

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The #1 Writing Secret Every Writer Should Know

Q: Hi! I’m currently writing a book, and I want to get it published, but I’m in high school and that makes things a lot harder. Could you please explain the basic process of how it would get published?

A: I’m so glad you enjoy writing! I started writing short stories when I was 16, and I wasn’t sure of the next step: send it to an editor, try to find a publisher, or what? For me, reading Writer’s Digest magazine every month made a big difference, so I’d recommend starting there. Also, here are some great books about writing that you can find at your library or bookstore (or in the sidebar at left):

  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack Bickham
  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

(That last one is about writing movie screenplays, but much of what he says about storytelling applies to novels as well.)

When it comes to getting published, writers have more options now than ever before: ebooks, print-on-demand and traditional publishers. The world of publishing is complicated, but basically you have two paths:

1) The traditional route. This means finding a reputable literary agent who loves your work and can sell it to a publisher. My agent’s blog has a ton of good advice: http://pubrants.blogspot.com

2) Self-publish an ebook. This means doing all of the work yourself: the cover art, the editing, the promotion, and all of that. For some people, it works out great (just search online for Amanda Hocking), but probably 99% of self-published authors sell very few ebooks, if any.

But don’t worry about that yet. Long before you think about getting published, focus on the number-one writing secret every writer needs to know:

Before you do anything else, you need to finish writing your book.

You’ll learn so much just by doing it that by the time you get to the last page, you’ll be a much better writer than when you started. I know this from experience, and so does every author who ever finished a book. Writing your first book is an education in itself.

Don’t be tempted to go back and “fix” your old chapters as you go. Keep pushing ahead. Write one page after another until you reach “The End”. That’s an accomplishment you can really be proud of.

And above all, have fun writing!

Do you have a question about writing a novel? Ask it here.

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

How to Write Foreign Languages in Your Novel

Let’s face it, foreign words are cool. They can make your characters sound smarter, make exotic settings feel more authentic and even increase the dramatic tension in a scene. But before you start sprinkling a certain je ne sais quoi into your prose, take these steps to make sure your reader doesn’t get lost in translation. Here’s how to handle a foreign language in your novel:

Option 1: Write it in English.
By far the easiest way to handle a foreign language is just to keep everything in English, like this:

“I will never leave you,” he whispered in French.

Of course, this only works if your point-of-view character actually speaks French and can understand what’s being said. If not, things get a little more complicated.
(More on that in a moment.)

Option 2: Use English, with a sprinkling of foreign words.

“Give me the gun, mi sobrino,” his uncle said. “Very slow, now.”

This is tricky, because many of your readers won’t know what the word or phrase means. (“Mi sobrino” means “my nephew.” Now you know.) If you can cut the foreign word out of the sentence without hurting anything, you’re probably okay. But if the meaning of the foreign word is key to understanding the sentence, rework it. Your reader wants to live the story, not go searching in Google Translate.

Bonus tip: If English isn’t the speaker’s first language, you can mess up the dialogue’s grammar just a tad. But be careful, because the more you mangle the English, and the more foreign words you include, the more you risk losing your reader. Use a deft touch, and tone it down in the rewrite.

Option 3: Use narrative summary.
Narrative summary is a pretty heavy-handed form of author intrusion that sounds something like this:

The men argued in Russian, pointing fingers at each other and shaking their fists.

It gets the point across quickly, but the danger here is that you’re breaking from the on-screen action to take the reader aside and tell them what’s happening. (Ever hear the rule about “show, don’t tell”? This is telling.) But sometimes this is the most economical way to keep the story going, especially if your character doesn’t speak the language. What you lose in style you’ll gain in pace.

Option 4: Write it all in one long block of foreign language.

Don’t do this. Ever. Under any circumstances. I can’t emphasize this enough, mi amigo. If your reader runs into a solid block of indecipherable words, you’re toast. At the very least, your reader will be jolted out of the story long enough to skim past the wall of foreign text. But it might be so annoying that the reader just closes your book and never comes back. Let’s avoid that, shall we?

Quick recap: Foreign Language in Fiction
  

  • If your point-of-view character can understand the language, just write it in English. At the end, add ‘she said in Russian.’ Or whatever.
  • If you want to drop in the occasional foreign word, make sure the meaning of the dialogue is still crystal clear.
  • If the viewpoint character doesn’t understand the language, the easiest way to keep the story moving is to work around it with a narrative summary: She fired off an angry retort in German.

Try writing your scene a few different ways and see which method works best for your story. Remember, learning how to write a novel is a lifelong process, so look at this as a chance to learn a new skill. And who knows, you might pick up a few words too, verstehen?

Do you have a writing question? Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel? Just ask! And if you try this idea and like it, let me know!

Categories: For Writers, how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

5 Mistakes First-Time Writers Make

This past month I’ve gotten inspiring emails from all sorts of new writers, from high school students to retirees. One thing is clear: you’re never too old (or too young) to write a novel. If you’ve been thinking about writing a book — and who hasn’t? — remind yourself that the best day to start is today.

I’ve fielded a few writing questions lately about some crucial writing basics, like manuscript format and chapter length. If you have a lingering question, don’t make the mistake of guessing at the answer. Find out for sure. Who knows? You might be surprised!

Q: Hello there, I was just about to start my own novel and wanted to know if I double space everything or no?

A: Yes, in your final manuscript, you want to double-space everything except your contact information. It’s easy; just go up to your paragraph spacing and choose 2.0. (Or if you’re using a typewriter, just click the little spacing lever.) Also, remember to give yourself one-inch margins all around.

Q: What size of font do publishers use?

A: Your finished manuscript should be in 12 point Courier New or Times New Roman. Courier used to be the only acceptable font; now, more and more agents are requesting Times. When you’re finally ready to submit your novel, check the submission guidelines of the places you’re sending your manuscript. For your drafts, just use whatever font is comfortable.

Q: How long is a novel?

A: The exact range depends on your genre. In most cases, a novel should be more than 50,000 words and usually less that 120,000. It needs to tell the story of your main character setting out to achieve a specific goal, and then show how that character achieves it (or fails).

Q: Do I decide where a chapter ends? Or does that come later with an editor?

A: You decide on the length of your chapters. In fact, your chapters are one of the best ways to control the pacing of your novel. Take a careful look at published books like the one you want to write: How long are those chapters? How do they end? How do they begin? A little studying goes a long way.

Bonus tip: you can make your chapters as long or as short as you want; Dostoyevsky wrote chapters that went on forever; Kurt Vonnegut’s chapters were sometimes only one word. The key is to make each chapter change something in your story and move it one step closer to the end.

Q: I’m just starting my first novel. Can you recommend a good book of writing tips?

A: I highly recommend the book The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack M. Bickham. You can find it your library or on Amazon for a buck. It’s priceless.

Got a writing question? Don’t see the answer here? Just ask me. And in the meantime, have fun writing!

Categories: For Writers, how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Lorem Ipsum: The Extremes of Good and Evil

Have you ever seen the phrase “Lorem Ipsum” and wondered where it comes from?  I have, ever since ye dayes of olde when I did typesetting with rub-transfer Letraset sheets.  For obvious reasons, we always ran out of the letter “E” in ye goode olde tymes.

But seriously, ever since the 16th century, printers have used the phrase beginning with “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet” as dummy text to showcase the layout of a piece.  That way, your eyes can take in the design of the typesetting without getting distracted by reading the actual words.  (Unless you happen to read Latin, but we’ll get to that in a moment.)  There’s a rumor that the whole Lorem Ipsum thing is a bunch of random text that lacks any real meaning.  Turns out it does, in fact, have meaning.

The Extremes of Good and Evil

I’m going to digress for a moment to talk about extreme characters.  As we all know, interesting characters are neither chock full of lily-pure goodness nor mustachio-twirling villains with a “Nyahahah!” laugh.  But that doesn’t mean they need to be plain-Jane vanilla, either.

I’ve read any number of unpublished manuscripts where the characters are “ordinary” folk — regular, everyday people that don’t leave much of an impression on the reader.  The late, great Blake Snyder (author of the inimitable Save the Cat books) says you should give your characters a hook and an eyepatch.  Conjures up quite an image, doesn’t it?  And that’s why you should do it.  You don’t have to actually accessorize your hero with pirate paraphanelia, but you should make him an extreme example of the human condition. 

How to Create a Character No One Will Ever Forget

Don’t make your main character assertive — make her bold, brave, even foolhardy.  Make her so focused on getting her way or doing the “right thing” that she steamrollers over her friends, creating conflict and dramatic tension everywhere she goes.

Don’t just make your antagonist deceptive, make him an outright liar.  Give him the gall and cold-blooded calculation to leverage lies to his advantage at every turn, destroying careers and entire families, gaining power for himself and spinning a web of intrigue that will threaten your heroine’s very existence.

See where I’m going with this?  Don’t take the middle ground with your characters.  Go to extremes.  Make these people bigger than life, more intense than the “average” person in every way.  Do that, and you’ll have a story on your hands before you know it.

The Secret of Lorem Ipsum

Believe it or not, the Lorem Ipsum mystery was solved way back in 1914.  Although the exact wording had been scrambled over time by careless typesetters, a Latin professor by the name of Richard McClintock cracked the code.  He traced a fragment of the passage back through history to a treatise on the theory of ethics written by Cicero in 45 BC.  It’s called “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum,” which roughly means “The Extremes of Good and Evil.”  Here’s an excerpt:

“…occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure.”

Sounds like he might’ve been trying to write a novel.  A crafty fellow, that rascally Cicero.

Do you have a writing question? Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel? Just ask! And if you try this idea and like it, let me know!

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

How to Get Published in Any Economy

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally
The recession might officially be over, but it’s still harder than ever to get published.  If you’re struggling to write a novel, you might find yourself wondering if the odds are stacked against you. What are the chances of ever getting published? Are literary agents and editors just itching for a chance to reject your novel? Or are you on your way to scoring that elusive book contract after all?
Even in this tough economy, success stories do happen.  Here to tell you about it is the unstoppable Miranda Kenneally, who is winning hearts everywhere with CATCHING JORDAN, a contemporary YA novel about football, femininity, and hot high school romance.  Miranda took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to talk about writer’s block, the truth about storytelling and how inspiration can strike in the most unlikely places.
Laurence MacNaughton: For those who haven’t heard about Catching Jordan yet, how would you describe it? 

Miranda Kenneally: CATCHING JORDAN is about a girl who’s the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. Jordan’s always been one of the guys and that’s just fine, but now there’s a new quarterback in town who wants her position. And Jordan, who has always worried that the guys won’t take her seriously if they realize she’s a girl, starts to fall for the new guy. 

LM: Where did you get the idea for Catching Jordan? 

MK: It’s weird. One day I had jury duty and I was bored, so I started free-writing in Jordan’s voice. I had no idea where it came from, but the plot just popped out. 

LM: So do you make it all up as you go, or do you work out an outline before you write? 

MK: 99% of the time I make it up as I go! But then I always have to go back and change the beginning of the book to match what the book has become. Generally I rewrite a book many, many times. 

LM: Do your characters ever surprise you — do they become real to you as the story goes on? 

MK: Oh yes! No matter what book I seem to write, the love interest just pops up, kind of like in real life. Even if when starting a book, I think, “This guy is the love interest” undoubtedly some other random dude will show up and steal my main character’s heart (and my heart, for that matter). 

LM: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? 

MK: Oh sure. To get rid of it, I wait it out. I’ll free-write in my main character’s voice or in another character’s voice, or I’ll read a bunch of books. I try not to force it, if I can. 

LM: What’s the best piece of advice you ever got about writing? 

MK: “Your truth isn’t everyone else’s truth.” This means that just because I believe something to be true, or I have a certain viewpoint, this doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same way I do. In that regard, I always have to make sure that readers understand where my characters are coming from and why they feel the way they feel. Especially if the characters and/or plot are sorta “out there.” 

LM: So how did Catching Jordan ultimately get published? 

MK: I finished writing the book and spent about, I dunno, 3 months revising it? Then I sent out 17 query letters. I had an offer within a couple weeks, and so I went back out to all the other agents who had requested fulls. The offer from my #1 choice agent Sara Megibow came pretty soon after that. :)  I was a happy, happy girl. Sara asked me to do some small revisions on the book and then we went out on submission. 

LM: And now, Catching Jordan is in bookstores everywhere.  So what are you working on next? 

MK: Right now I’m working on a companion book to CATCHING JORDAN. The book, which I’m calling MANAGING PARKER, is about baseball and takes place at the same school. I also recently finished up a futuristic government book that I’m quite pleased with, and I hope something happens with it! 

LM: Fingers crossed.  Miranda, thank you so much for your time! 

MK: Thank you!

YA author Miranda Kenneally

CATCHING JORDAN is on sale now, smack dab in the middle of football season.  You can find the book here:


IndieBound
Barnes and Noble
Amazon
Borders

Miranda Kenneallyis the author of CATCHING JORDAN, a contemporary YA novel about football, femininity, and hot boys, available from Sourcebooks Fire. She enjoys reading and writing young adult literature, and loves Star Trek, music, sports, Mexican food, Twitter, coffee, and her husband. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook. Miranda is represented by Sara Megibow at Nelson Literary Agency.


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

Get Readers Talking with the Hey Mabel Effect

Your book can live or die in seconds.  Years ago, I used to be among the people who chose its fate on a daily basis, and by doing just one single thing, I could make someone 60% more likely to buy your book.  In a moment, I’ll tell you what that one thing is — and how you can use it to your advantage when selling your novel.

But first, I want to talk about the Hey Mabel Effect.  It’s an old journalism term, referring to a catchy concept that was so buzzworthy that it would prompt some anonymous reader to look up from the morning paper and call out, “Hey, Mabel!  Guess what?”

My little lede about the life-and-death struggle of your book is not a Hey Mabel.  It’s just a hook.  Notice that it catches your attention by making you ask a question and then holding back the answer.  A hook is all about suspense.  Suspense is good (it’s necessary, even), but it only lasts so long.  For maximum impact in your writing, you need a Hey Mabel concept that will roll around inside the reader’s head until she just has to share it with someone.

And Here’s Today’s Hey Mabel:

A customer is about 60% more likely to buy a book if you put it in their hands.

Go ahead, try not to spill that little factoid to some struggling writer you know.  Betcha can’t keep it to yourself.

There’s a ton of scientific research out there that shows the positive effects that tactile sensations have on the decision to buy.  And I can second that with real-world experience.  Back when I used to run a bookstore, the holiday shopping season was a proving ground for new titles.  People would ask me for recommendations, and I’d pick something (based on my supposedly deep knowledge of every single title in the bookstore), pull it off the shelf and hand it to them.  You would not believe how many books I sold that way.  Hundreds.  Maybe even thousands.

People love to touch stuff.  And when they touch it, they want to keep it.  It’s the reason sock manufacturers put a little scrap of paper inside their new socks, to give the package a crinkly feeling.  It’s the reason plastic clamshell packages sometimes have a little cutout so you can fondle the fuzzy product inside.  There’s even an old car sales axiom: “The feel of the wheel seals the deal.”  Let ‘em sit in the driver’s seat and they’re a lot more likely to drive that bad boy home.  Scientists have studied this “endowment effect” with monkeys for decades.  Let a monkey hold onto a nut, and he suddenly values it more than any nut in the world.  Weird, yes — but hey, it’s a monkey.

Back to My Original Point About the Hey Mabel

A hook makes your reader ask a question.  (How do I sell more books?  Does the Tattered Cover carry “Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying”?  Who shot J.R.?)  Once the question is answered, the reader is satisfied.  The attention is short-lived.

A Hey Mabel, on the other hand, gives your reader something to think about.  Here’s how to create one of your very own:

1) Look through your story for unusual places or facts.  It can be anything that the average person doesn’t know much about.  A historic location.  A scientific discovery.  An odd bit of trivia.

2) Do a little research on your fact until you unearth something surprising.  Does your historic location have any connection to an important figure: Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, or maybe Elvis?  Does your scientific fact change the way we look at a household item?

3) Plant the Hey Mabel quickly in dialogue or use it to enhance a character or scene.  Don’t dwell on it.  Just plant it and move on.

If you sprinkle a few nuggets of surprising information throughout your novel, you’ll give your readers something to think about.  And more importantly, something to talk about, which might get other people interested in reading your book.  And maybe, if they ask nicely, somebody will hand it to them.

Do you have a writing question? Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel? Just ask! And if you try this idea and like it, let me know!

Categories: For Writers, how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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