Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Monday, January 30, 2012
I'm excited to have her guesting today on The Writer's Alley with her usual blend of charm, humor and wisdom. Here is Erica....
|A Bride's Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas|
Saturday, January 28, 2012
The votes are cast.
The numbers tallied and checked.
And we have a WINNER of the pitch contest. But you didn't think I would tell you right now, did you?
Of course not. ;-) Keep reading...
Erica Vetsch will be our guest here on the Alley on Monday! Talking about the ever-changing swings in the industry.
The lovely Miss Sherrinda is your hostess on Tuesday.
Enter the amazing world of descriptions on Wednesday with Mary.
Nix that passive in your writing with Casey on Thursday.
It's Critique Partners Part II with Krista on Friday. Catch up on Part I here.
We had a tremendous number of pitches to enter the contest for Rachel Hauck to perform My Book Therapy on the first 1,000 words of your story. But it finally came down to this pitch and the judges (who will remain nameless to protect the innocent) chose...
When a confirmed bachelor inherits his sister's four kids, he knows he can't do it all on his own.
But he can't mail order a bride - can he find one on Craigslist?
If this is your pitch, email your first 1,000 words only to the Writer's Alley email: thewritersalleys(@)gmail(.)com. Once it has been critiqued by Rachel it'll be posted HERE on the Alley--a great learning experience for all of us. ;-)
Thanks all and happy weekend!!
Friday, January 27, 2012
Maybe you're not a television fan, or at least not reality television, and that's just fine. Because you have ME to tell you writers out there just what it is about reality TV that keeps the fans coming back for more. Or even better, what YOU can take away from reality television and use in your own writing.
Relatable (or Unrelatable) Characters
Yeah, so sometimes I can't really relate to someone who is trying to wow Mr. Bachelor with her stellar flirting skills. But what we weekly watchers can relate to is that these women, or men, on these shows are real people. They're vulnerable. Like when they give you the back story on American Idol and you exclaim, "Oh, man, now I really want Monique to win!" And even we we don't exactly like they way certain people play the game or portray themselves on national television, we still have some sort of emotion toward them. They have feelings, they have aspirations and dreams, and we all know what that's like!
Conflict (or Drama!)
Reality TV is full of drama. Sometimes that's precisely why people DON'T like it. But one thing that's for sure, that's what keeps the ratings up. There's always something in every episode. A family emergency, a new character stepping onto the scene, the past rearing its ugly head in someone's life. Or someone simply showing their vulnerability, having a bit of a break down, and changing the course of the show. We want these things for our stories. We want conflict!
This is also what we want for our books! Reality TV has the penchant to catch us off balance, and that's not a bad thing - particularly not for writing books. There are plenty of times you have no idea what's going to happen and that's a characteristic of a good book. We don't want cliche storylines or settings (which is why I'm seriously going to try hard with my new WIP to NOT write even ONE scene in a coffee shop).
This kind of goes along with the unknown. This is all about characters. On these reality shows, people have bigger than life personalities, they act in ways we don't expect. Yes, we want our readers to relate to our characters, but we also have to give them insistent personalities. Characters that aren't going to just let life happen to them, but are going to make things happen.
Cliffhangers and Hooks
Oh yeah. Leaving us hanging is a reality (or even regular TV) shows greatest tool. They hook us before commercials and hook us at the end of the show. As someone who isn't fabulous with hooks, I could learn a lot here. Ending chapters or scenes at just the right time, with something for the reader to hang onto, will help keep up pacing and give your readers (like reality television watchers) something to tune in for.
So if you're not a fan of The Bachelor, is this making you want to try it? It's okay if it isn't. We're writers, after all, and we're supposed to be focusing on writing, not TV. After this season is over, however, I'll probably get a LOT more writing done.
What about all you writers out there? Have you learned anything about writing from television, and which tip is easiest or hardest for you in your writing?
***photo courtesy of ABC
Cindy is a Colorado native, living near the mountains with her husband and three beautiful daughters. She writes contemporary Christian romance, seeking to enrich lives with her stories of faith, love, and a touch of humor.
To learn more about Cindy, visit her at her personal blog, www.cindyrwilson.blogspot.com
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Oh the emails that flew!
And when Ashley Clark was suggested...it as if gold was struck. Angie's critique partner, Pepper's friend and known by several other Alley Cats, we were delighted when she accepted our invitation.
We think you'll love her as much as we already to. It is with great excitement that we share Ashley's debut post on the Alley and hope you give her a rousing welcome! She's going to be a great addition. :-))
|Pepper and Ashley at ACFW 2011|
Welcome to the Writer's Alley, Ashley, we are so thrilled to have you join us and share with us what you have learned on this writing journey!
If you would like to know more about Ashley visit the "Shopkeepers" page at the top of the Alley blog page or check out her blog at http://ashleyclarkwrites.blogspot.com. And you might also know Ashley is listed under the link in the sidebar of Alley agents, because...Karen Solem is her agent. Congratulations! :-)
If you watch the short video below, you'll also see Ashley (and our dear Pepper).
It'll be exciting to see what God does in the coming months and years here on the Alley!!
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Two weeks ago, I shared blogging tips that will help us determine the right blog schedule and content. Today I'd like to dive into more nitty-gritty tips. These are things we can incorporate into our posts to draw in even more readers and to make their experience more enjoyable.
Now before I start, I want to clarify that these are not "must-do's". You can pick and choose from these tips based on your personality and blog style and use what fits.
1) Use pictures. Did you notice how we use a lot of pictures on the Alley? Some people may gloss right over them, but for visual people, they can help create a warm and inviting environment. Not to mention they can hone in on the concept you're trying to convey.
2) Use checklists. Case in point in this post. :) Especially for instructional posts, checklists help make the content easier to read and remember.
3) Highlight or bold important sentences or points. Not only does this drive the concept home, but it's also great for readers who are short on time. If they need to skim, they can easily see the key points and respond.
4) Keep your paragraphs short. Blogs read much different than books, so we have to learn to write them differently. Keeping plenty of white space on the screen makes it easier on the eyes. And it also makes it quicker to read.
5) Keep your post short. There may be the occasional long-winded post that makes perfect sense. But in general, blog readers are very busy people. And they're more likely to return to your blog when they know you'll respect their time and get right to the point.
7) Give a sneak peek to your next post. If you plan your posts ahead, this can be a great way to whet your readers' appetites. It also shows that you're thinking intentionally about what you post and gives them a roadmap of what to expect.
8) Above all else, be genuine! I mentioned this in my last post, but it's so important I'm mentioning it again. People can sense phonies from a mile away, and they can also sense when you're blogging for your own purposes. Be genuine in your blogging relationships and show others you care. There's no substitute for it!
So let's get the dialogue going, shall we? :) Do you use any of these tricks on your blog? What other blogging tips have been successful for you?
*Social media photo by jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
**Question photo by Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Voice can easily take a good book and make it memorable.
Or lack of attention to voice can make a well-plotted novel seem humdrum.
I recently listened to Kaye Dacus' workshop on Voice from ACFW's 2010 conference. Dacus lamented the fact that much of CBA fiction is beginning to sound the same. Sure, we've followed all the rules to a tee. But perhaps the cost has been too high, as in some cases we are losing our voice, our very distinctiveness. It is an excellent CD I can highly recommend.
(Oh and by the way, if you haven't done so, be sure to read Kaye's Writing Series Index. Its chock-full of great writing advice on nearly every topic imaginable).
I had recently finished a book that had disappointed me. The writer had seemed to follow many of the rules we have learned about through countless writing books. Keep it fast-paced. Avoid passive voice. No adverbs. Show, don't tell.
I talked to my husband and finally found out what was troubling me. There was nothing that made this book unique. This book could have been written by anyone in my mind.
Recently I read another book by an author, Chris Fabry, who I think of as an armchair author for me. After reading several of his books I feel like I'm getting to know his voice as a writer and there's a comfort in that.
Another author I have recently read is Ginger Garrett. Her genre and style of writing are quite different from Chris', but she has a distinctive voice of her own that I love reading. Garrett is a storyteller who serves as a familiar travelogue on journeys through biblical lands, or early American history. She immediately captures my attention.
Another favorite of mine for voice is Laura Frantz. She is one of the rare historical fiction authors who has mastered the voice of the time period she writes in. Her beautiful prose is old-fashioned in a way that uniquely distinguishes her.
A common MFA in Creative Writing exercise I'm told is to imitate your favorite authors' styles. While I have no doubt there is value in this exercise...let's remember we're not called to be the next Willa Cather, L.M. Montgomery, or whoever else it is we admire.
Let's not forget that we can offer what no one else can...our voice.
Who are your favorite authors when it comes to voice? How would you describe their voice? Or how would you describe your own voice?
Monday, January 23, 2012
Yes, yes, it sounds like torture, but if you step back and think about it, this is a GREAT exercise. A one page synopsis makes you sit down and hash out your story, understand your character arc, and weed out the unnecessaries. Actually, if you do the synopsis before you have completed your manuscript, you might just tighten your plot and find yourself able to write the rest of the story with clearer vision.
After a couple of years of struggling with these babies, I've had some awesome critiques and advice from fellow writers that I'd like to share.
Tip #1: Only include major plot points that move the main character(s)/plot line forward. Your plot may have some great twists and turns, and the use of secondary characters to move the plot forward, but be sure to only focus on the significant things that get your character from point A to point B.
Here's an example from my own synopsis (keep in mind that Yana and Andres are the main characters):
NOTE: Think of the synopsis from the perspective of your main character, and what it does to move the plot forward in their perspective.
Tip #2: Cut out unnecessary words as much as possible. Who loves flowery speech?? I do! I do! But one page is the limit:
My example (although, as I write this, I see even more ways I can cut this down!):
To the point:
Tip #3: Use an active voice. This is something I have struggled with in my writing also...it's so easy to slip into passive voice (the dreaded “tell vs. show”). If you use the active voice, you have a better chance at keeping your word count down also.
Tip #4: Let your voice sing! What judge, agent, or editor wants to read a monotone play-by-play? Be sure to weave your voice in the presentation of your synopsis. Say it like you would write it in your book. Maybe even use some lines in your book if you can make them fit with the flow of the synopsis. Make it unique, make it YOURS!
What are your biggest concerns with a one-page synopsis? Do you have any tips you'd like to share?
Cami Tang offers her EXCELLENT professional advice on the one page synopsis! Check it out here.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Time's almost up, you only have until Tuesday to get your pitches submitted!
It's exciting to also announced our newest Alley Cat this week! Check out the schedule to see who we will be welcoming to the blog. :-)
Coming up next week...
It's the perfect time of year for help with that one page synopsis and Angie has tips on Monday.
Julia is your hostess on Tuesday.
Part 1 of Better Blogger tips is already up. Be sure and read these great tips before Sarah's part 2 on Wednesday.
What can you learn from reality TV? Cindy has a list for writers on Friday.
Sidewalk Talk/ Random News Stand
Sarah has the fabulous Dense Hunter on her blog on Monday with her signature hilarious interviews and a great book giveaway!
What's up the new up and coming fiction featured this week? Check out Casey's blog for a new novel to add to your TBR pile.
The Frasier writing contest opens TODAY! Have you planned to enter yet?
Friday, January 20, 2012
Am I ready for a critique partner?
There is no right or wrong answer.
In fact, for some writers, the answer is NO, and they'll never get or need one. They are a pretty secluded group though.
A few questions to ask yourself:
Have I completed a book? Some might disagree, but personally, I don't think you should get a critique partner until after you've at least finished your first draft of your first book.
Have I taken steps to learn the craft of writing? Have you read books on the craft? Gone to writing conferences? Studied other books in your genre? Not only does this help your own work in progress, but it develops skills that will make you valuable to a critique partner.
Is my book the BEST I can get it? Not only do you need to complete your book, but you should edit it as well. It is a waste of a critiquers time if they spend it all correcting things you could have easily fixed yourself.
Do I have the time? Not only are you devoting time to your own writing, taking on a crit partner also means you'll need to make time to edit THEIR material. It's a two-way street. Count the time costs and engage appropriately !
So... if you've decided that yes, it's time to make the crit partner leap, where do you go from there? Stay tuned for my next post in two weeks titled Critique Partners: How the heck do you find one?
If you've decided that nah, not to that point yet, good for you! Keep working toward that goal! You can do it!
Discussion: Do you have a crit partner/group relationship? Have you had one in the past? Share your experiences! If you haven't... why not?Are you just not ready or having trouble finding one?
Thursday, January 19, 2012
That's right, you read it correctly.
But of course we have details. You didn't think it was going to be that easy did you? ;-)
Because we are a writing blog, we want to help you take your craft to the next level and we are very excited to have our guest, Rachel, do that, not just for one of you, but for all of us!
Now before Rachel hyperventilates at the nightmare of us all flooding her inbox with our 1,000 word excerpts, let me explain just a bit more.
The winner will send 1,000 words (and no more) of their story (a choice of a work in progress that you have) to Rachel, who will do therapy to the section. Once her magic is complete, Rachel will send it back to me...to then be posted here on the blog for all of us to learn from.
(side note: if you are the winner and don't wish to have your name on the section to be posted live on our blog, then please notify me when I email you the winner's details.)
This option does NOT come around very often. In fact, you really don't see this period, so I suggest you take advantage of this amazing opportunity!
**~The contest details~**
An example of a pitch would be: All Jenna Hutch wants is a chance at normal newlywed bliss. But a haunting past and the secret of an unborn child threaten to unravel the fragile hope she has placed in tomorrow.
This was the pitch/ log line for my first contemporary novel , Releasing Yesterday.
We're looking for 1-2 sentences that sums up your story. Good things to include is: main character, story question and the main conflict
Since Rachel is a fiction author, we are going to default to fiction being the stories to be pitched in this contest.
Your pitch will be judged by the Alley Cats and may the best pitch win. :-)
This contest will be open until NEXT TUESDAY, January 24th with the winner announced in that Saturday's weekend edition, so you do have a *little* bit of time to perfect your pitch and get it submitted.
Woo-hoooo! It's an Alley first and we're super excited to have this opportunity to share it with you!
Inspire greatness and let's make this a slam-dunk success!!
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
I love to write.
I'm close to keying the words "The End" on the first manuscript that has potential, thanks to great mentors, classes, books, crit partners, writing friends, blogs...**News flash--as of the night before this post hit your computer--I finished!!
The question of the day is, will my beginning hook readers into turning pages?
Actually, depending on a reader's mood, the time of day, current crisis and joys, and a thousand other components like brand of chocolate, hooking a reader into our story can be a complex issue.
But, maybe today, you will gleam a helpful tool to smooth the complex into simple.
1. Start your story with the most intriguing situation.
For example: Say you wanted to write a story about a young woman's struggles.
The story begins: A young woman left work and is enroute to a restaurant where she plans to spend the last night with her fiancee before he is deployed. She discovers she is out of gas. She zooms into the gas station to put in a few gallons to hold her over until tomorrow.
Time to play the "what if game"
What if this story started instead with a teaser. A teen, pulls into the gas station. She hopes there is money left in her account. Jena reaches into the car to get her debit card, and suddenly feels strong labor pains. The baby wasn't due for three more weeks. Her sister and mother would arrive the next day. She had no social supports to call in the area and the only person at the gas station was the attendant who had headphones on. Jena is frightened, has no money, and doesn't know what to do.
In this case, we could start with the teen's plight, just enough to stir the reader's curiosity. Briefly build the scene with Jena's emotional conflict then break away to the woman's point of view.
For example: Angie leaves work, is caught in rush hour and notices the gas tank is on empty (she forgot to fill it that morning). Her fiancee received a call for deployment to Afghanistan. Since he would leave late that night he made reservations at the best restaurant for dinner. She stops at a gas station.
Inside the car at the pump in front of her is a female screaming. She goes to car and finds a distraught 19-year old woman. The woman shouts, "My baby is coming! Please help me." The only other person at the station is the gas attendant. I could call an ambulance and still have plenty of time to get to the restaurant. But she remembers the night her baby suddenly came, that horrible night several years ago when she was all alone ....
Now the two are brought together and the story can move forward, building conflict, growing characters, thickening subplots and deepening the overarching plot.
Igniting the perfect hook is like braiding hair or weaving yarn. It takes many pieces woven together to give a strong beginning and hold the story together. The chosen first piece rests on the bottom--not the top, it provides the underlying strength. It cannot stand alone. When the viewer sees the product the chosen first doesn't stand out. However, without the chosen first, there would not have been a hook, or a good product.
Camy Tang once mentored me with these words: "You need to start your story at __________ instead." Wow! Once I followed her instructions, my hook sounded good.
My next post, in two weeks, will continue this topic.
Have you found the perfect place to start your story?
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Dictionary.com defines theme as: a unifying or dominant idea.
Every story has a theme or idea that moves the story forward. A good way to flesh out a theme is by the story premise...the "what if" question that drives the plot through to the end. Let's take a look at some examples and see if you can guess the movie.
1) What if a man falls in love with the woman who is carrying his beloved dead wife's heart?
2) What if a woman gets engaged, but must first get her husband, who she hasn't seen in 10 years, to sign divorce papers?
3) What if a child was left at home during Christmas and had to defend the house against burglars?
4) What if the rightful king was imprisoned behind a mask for most of his life?
5) What if a group of maids got together and wrote a book about their experiences - no matter the cost?
Okay, let's see how you did. The answers are:
1) Return to Me - unending love and second chances
2) Sweet Home Alabama - forgiveness and second chances
3) Home Alone - finding meaning in survival and understanding real love in family
4) Behind the Iron Mask - honor and integrity wins over lies and betrayal
5) The Help - the truth shall set you free
So you see, there is not much to a theme or story premise, but they are an oh-so-important aspect of your writing and your story.
Tell me...what is your story's theme and story premise? If you are not a writer, what is your favorite movie or book's theme and story premise?
This post is brought to you by
Sherrinda is wife to "Pastor John" and mother to three giant sons and one gorgeous daughter. A born and bred Texan, she writes historical romance filled with fun, faith, and forever love.
Monday, January 16, 2012
We lose our groove.
Writing-wise, I mean. I don’t think I’ve ever found my groove for dancing. I can play a mean conga drum, but dancing? Nah! It’s one of those moments when my children cower in total humiliation – or for the younger ones, abject confusion :-)
The status of my writing groove has been questionable since the end of NaNoWriMo. After devoting every second to writing – and working it around my horribly busy schedule, I was exhausted. The craziness (and wonderful-ness) of Christmas came and went. THEN I started up my new university semester this month. My groove got lost somewhere along the way.
I truly believe that each writer has a typical way to ‘feed’ his/her groove, and many times, if we don’t pay attention to the type of creativity God birthed within us it can squelch our desire.
Some writers are “Plan first, Write Later”. They collect all of their research, data, character sketches, plotting charts, and scene by scene synopsis until the shape of the story is set, and THEN they write.
Other writers are “Tackle-Plan Writers”. They may be Pantsters who start their story and stop at various points along the way to gather research, reshape the novel, and solidify what they have.
Then there are people like me. I refer to my writing style as the “Doug-Writer”. Ever seen the moving “Up”. The dog on the movie up, named Doug, is constantly distracted by a ‘squirrel’. Well, that’s kind of like me. I am at my writing BEST when I can swing between two (or sometimes three) novels. Here’s why. I can write on one until I hit a wall, then switch and feel those wonderful creative juices flowing…until I hit a wall, then switch back. It REALLY suits my innate writing needs. (This type can also be referred to as Writer-ADHD)
Along the way I’ve also discovered some practical ways to get my writing groove back. Here are a few:
1. Pray (duh…I wish I could say I always go to this one first.)
2. Read FABULOUS books from FABULOUS authors like….Julie Lessman, Mary Connealy, Liz Curtis Higgs, Siri Mitchell, Laura Frantz, Denise Hunter, Julie Klassen, Janice Hanna Thompson, or Susan May Warren.
3. Daydream – I have a very vivid imagination. When left to its own devices, it’s one of the things that gets me into trouble with too many stories But it is always a way to reignite those creative sparks. Daydreaming about my wip can jumpstart my writing.
4. Watch an inspiring movie. I usually like to stick to a movie genre that is somehow related to my wip. Gleaning inspiration from other stories is a MUST for any writer, I believe.
Do you have some more writing styles to add to the list?
What do you do to get your writing groove back?
pictures courtesy of http://www.fanpop.com/spots/penguins-of-madagascar/images/21932618/title/king-julien-screencap
Saturday, January 14, 2012
In fact, fiction should be a tax write off, shouldn't it? I mean, we learn from the fiction we read which makes our craft better. So it should be a tool we use in our writing.
I could go with that. ;-)
ALSO be on the lookout for a super contest to hit the blog on Thursday. You aren't going to want to miss this one!
Up the street for next week...
Pepper will give you tips on on getting your writing groove back first thing on Monday (always good after a weekend, right? ;-)
Gotta hook? The kind for readers, not the pirate kind. Either way, Mary is impaling the topic on Wednesday.
Thursday holds an Alley First (!!) when we welcome Rachel Hauck, My Book Therapist and best-selling author. Rachel will be giving away a thousand word critique. Don't miss this post. At all!
We will be welcoming our newest team member next week and spend a day letting her introduce herself to you. We think you'll like her. ;-)
Have a question for the Alley Cats? We have fun plans for your questions, so don't be shy! You can email them to: thewritersalleys(@)gmail(.)com
What was the best book you read in 2011?
Friday, January 13, 2012
Just like your overall plot, scenes need to have a beginning, middle, and end. Here are some elements to incorporate into a scene.
Here's our chance to draw the reader into the story or scene with one simple line or paragraph.
This doesn't have to be extensive, but it's essential to each scene to develop a sense of time and place.
New Revelation, Character and Plot
This is done through revealing new aspects about a character or useful information that helps reveal the plot. As a rule, I try to include one of these (at least one revelation about a character or the plot) in each scene or chapter otherwise I have to evaluate whether or not the scene is necessary to the story as a whole.
It's our goal as the writer to make our plots fluid and keep up a good sense of pace. Like above, we can do this by revealing information to the reader and make sure that each scene we use is to keep the plot moving for the reader.
As with the beginning hook, the ending hook is our chance to make the reader want to turn the page and keep reading the next scene or chapter.
Sure, a magical scene has more depth than those basics above. There's dialogue and a good story and that something special that makes you fall in love with the character, but you can't create a full and useful scene without attending to the basic elements.
When you break your story down into scenes, are there specific elements you try to include to make sure that specific scene is useful to your story?
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
So today, I'm sharing a few things I've learned (sometimes the hard way) that have helped me build a stronger blogging platform.
1) Figure out the right pace for you. Whether it's once a week or five days a week, don't worry about what your fellow bloggers are doing. Understand your schedule and do what's reasonable. (Most blogging experts recommend a minimum of once a week.)
When I first started blogging, I jumped right in to five days a week. And learned very quickly it was too much. Before I landed my agent, I had scaled back to one day a week, listening to the advice of publishing professionals who say a fiction writer should focus on polishing their book more than their blog. In the current stage of my writing career, I've now gone up to three times a week and it works for me. But when circumstances demand it, I'll probably tweak again.
It doesn't matter if you have to tweak your schedule, as long as you communicate and stay consistent.
2) Don't be afraid to change your blog content over time. Study your site stats and figure out which posts are resonating with readers. And especially think about the topics that most fuel your passion.
Kristen Lamb, a social media expert for writers, says most writers should avoid blogging about writing. It's different advice than what we'd expect, isn't it? I found that once I freed myself from that trap, the blogging became fun. I now post about things I'm passionate about outside of writing, and it has drawn in dialogue with people other than fellow writers, which I love.
The more important thing here: Be yourself!
4) Build relationships with other bloggers. This is the most time-consuming part, but the most worthwhile! Reach out to other blogging friends and comment on their blogs. Consistently. Cultivate these online relationships as genuine friendships because that's what they are!
I try to view blogging as I would an in-person friendship. If someone talks to me, I respond. If someone invites me to their house for dinner, I accept the invitation. Now I'll be the first to admit that I can't always visit everyone who ever visits my blog. I have two kids under the age of five who tend to usurp my time when I least expect it. But the key is to do your best and make an effort to reach out.
So let's talk...What stage of the blogging journey are you in? How do you handle your blogging schedule and content? Do you have any examples of friendships that have grown from your blogging journey?
*Blog photo by digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
**Dialogue photo by Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net