Reasons to Enter Writing Competitions
So I had a rough day today and did a crit for Unicorn Bell, and this was the result. I’m posting it here too, since it dovetails nicely into a topic I’m currently enjoying a lot: Genre Trends I Wish Would Die.
However, I would love if you were epically awesome and here instead. And please feel free to look around while you’re at it. It really is a worthwhile blog to visit for info on both indie and trade publishing and writing.
Okay. To the post….
Well that didn’t work out to plan. See the point here is for someone to send me something to critique, and if there was an interesting thing to point out, I focus on that, especially if I had to crit a chapter, since chapters plus my crit would probably run too long.
However, I just finished reading a short story someone sent me to critique and… well… there wasn’t much wrong. I had one suggestion to improve the big reveal (it’s a locked-room mystery), but then, even as it is now, the reveal has a surprising (although it makes perfect sense) twist that makes the reveal worth-while, even if it could have been a bit more of a surprise.
Would you like to read the chapter? Sure you do. Here’s the link.
Ooh. I actually do have an interesting point to raise coming from this crit. Plot twists and how they work. (Sorry if this is rambly. I had a 13 hour day thanks to a wedding where I have to arrange flowers. But I’ll try to remain lucid enough to get the point across.)
Right. So everyone loves plot twists. They make readers scream, squee, cry, laugh with glee…. They take readers from one emotional extreme to another, making the reading experience feel like a roller coaster the reader wants to take again.
The thing is, plot twists have been exploited so many times that they do lose some of their effect. Especially the “It’s a twist because you didn’t get to see the main character doing something incredibly important to the plot. Get it?”
No… No I don’t.
Mmm… I’m probably saying this because exhaustion lowers my inhibitions, but hey, it’s my opinion, so here it is:
Those aren’t plot twists. They’re cop-outs.
And they kept being used again and again. Oh sure, they do take the reader’s from extreme to extreme. But instead of: “OMG. OMG! OMG!! OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ah AWESOME!!!!!” or even better: “OMG. OMG! OMG!! OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OH SHIT!!!!!”
These “twists” are more of an: “OMG!!!………………. Oh.”
Horrid, horrid use of exclamations, I know. Guess they’re all escaping while my inner editor sleeps. Point is, taking readers to high stakes and massive tension and then dropping them on their asses is just lame. Really.
Sadly a lot of your run-of-the-mill bestselling thriller writers employ this tactic. I think people get dazed and dazzled by the adrenaline high followed by the crash after. Maybe it’s like eating candy. After a sugar crash you crave more sugar, don’t you?
Plot twists done correctly elevate stories to other realms entirely. It’s like 80% dark chocolate compared to a cheapy milk chocolate (I.E. fake twists).
Sadder than the fact that these fake twists get abused is the fact that with a tiny bit more effort, a much more effective twist could be achieved.
All it takes is leaving breadcrumbs of information, leading readers right where they think they’re headed, except you as the writer would be leading them somewhere else entirely.
Simply put, people are used to all sorts of information creeping into a story. So if you put all the building blocks to your big twist out for them to see, in a way that makes them seem unrelated or unimportant, the reader will only see the whole picture when you reveal the twist, which basically acts as a way to put all the pieces together. And if that twist has mind-blowing effects on the characters/story/stakes… even better.
And truly brilliant writers can do this without hiding anything from the reader. A plot twist should be a moment of clarity when the reader sees everything they missed before, and is shocked because 1) s/he missed the clues and 2) at the MASSIVE repercussions those clues actually have.
So yes, PJ, if you’re reading this: I called you a brilliant writer.
Hey there, new kid. You know that feeling when you’re about to start a new story?
That sense that you’re not prepared. That you’re never going to get the right story down and that the sentences will be all clunky and that your verbs will be weak and that there’s absolutely NO WAY that you’re going to make this story work.
Yeah. That feeling. The one that assails you the moment you face your first blank page.
Well… It never goes away. I’ve written for almost thirteen years now. I’ve finished… Two books to publishing standards, and five more rough drafts as well as four rewrites.
I’ve made all of those stories work except for one, and I’m working on it as soon as I put up this blog, because I now know what’s wrong with it.
But last night, I started working on my mystery project and… I spent about fourteen hours playing games, two watching t.v. one and a half sleeping… Yeah. You get the idea. The amount of time I actually spent writing was about an hour.
All because every time I wanted to start, that feeling hit me. And me, choosing terrible moments to be undyingly optimistic about my writing, assumed I could start when the feeling went away.
Needless to say, it didn’t. So by about 7 p.m. last night, I thought back to my previous drafts. With Doorways (the two publish quality books), I was all out terrified! I delayed starting by six months. SIX MONTHS. Because the thought of writing a story so epic and complex paralyzed me. ES, the book I’m writing yet again, has given me this feeling three times. Every time I tried to write it. With last year’s NaNo, I got such terrible cold feet on October 31st that I almost gave up before I started.
But you know what? Whether something takes me a day, a week, months or even years, I always start an idea I have. Because if I didn’t, nothing I ever wanted to write would get written, and my life would have been emptier for it.
So if you’re about to start a new story and that feeling hits you, just chill. But do work through it. Because the only way to make the feeling fade for long enough to finish a story is to actually start writing it. Any you know what? Most of the time, those fears are unfounded anyway.
What was the worst time you got hit by this feeling? How long did it take you to start writing?
By the way, I posted more details on my query, synopsis, first chapter critique at Unicorn Bell. So if you need a fresh pair of eyes, please do check it out. 🙂
Hey all! Today, I’m welcoming Elizabeth Seckman to my blog. She’s going to tell us what Kevin Bacon taught her about plotting.
Take it away, Elizabeth. 🙂
Thanks for having me over Misha! I feel a little like a kindergartener coming to the high school to share knowledge, but I will try to sound like I know what I’m talking about.
The most critical part of a good tale is the plot. The plot is the bones everything else in the story hangs on. No bones, no book.
And everything I learned about plotting, I got from Kevin Bacon.
|Applaud me, Kevin. I am brilliant.|
Yes, Kevin Bacon, the actor.
Ever heard of the game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?
Here’s the game, in a nutshell: Link any actor to Kevin Bacon within six connections.
Okay, so here is how it works. Let’s take Madonna. How is she connected to Kevin Bacon? She was married to Sean Penn, who starred with Kevin in Mystic River. So, that’s a quick two degree separation. And the legend is you can link almost anyone in Hollywood to Kevin within six degrees.
Yeah, yeah…fun little party game, but what’s it got to do with plotting?
I say plots MUST also be that tight. Let’s pretend the plot is Kevin Bacon. Everything that happens in that story must, within six degrees, have something to do with the main plot. No tangents. No meandering. No superfluous characters to bog down the reader’s memory. Every conversation and every action move the story along.
For example: let’s say it’s a romance. A single dad and his son. Dad needs a love interest. Now, pick the kid’s sub plot…let’s say he’s learning disabled. Voila! Dad dates the teacher. Need some more conflict? Bring on dad’s ex-wife. Now you have an antagonist who is bringing back story. See? Subplots + Plot are connected.
Keep it tight. Keep it moving. Kevin will applaud you too.
Fate Intended is the third book in the Coulter Men Series. Trip is the last of the Coulter sons to find
love. He’s a handsome man with all the skills a young spy needs to succeed. But when it comes to love, he misses the target. Jane is a sweet beauty who may or may not be wanted for murder. She’s hiding out as a cleaning lady when chance brings her and Trip together. It looks like a happily ever after is in the cross hairs until reality tries to destroy what fate has intended.
Recently, I’ve started to read a book. By all estimations, I should have loved it. The synopsis was awesome. The cover was beautiful. And I believe the person who wrote the book is talented.
A lot of people take time off from writing during the Christmas season. If they’re anything like me, it means that getting back into writing mode can be a bit tricky. So I thought I’d share some of the more efficient ways I use to get my writing groove back.
Reread what you’ve written.
Start off by writing something totally random.
I’ve recently returned to social media with a vengeance and you might have noticed, because lately I’ve been writing quite a few posts inspired by events on other social media.
Mainly, the reason for this was that… well… Blogging really helps me when I have a lot to say.
Today is another one of these posts. Although a lot less angry because it wasn’t sparked by someone being an idiot.
This time, it was sparked by a lot of first time writers who are being (naturally) lacking in confidence or even down-right insecure. It might be a bit more direct, though, in the interest in helping the new kids see the light faster.
One of them got annoyed because her every writing question got answered by: “Write it first”, “Just write”‘s cousin.
Others commented that they also got annoyed by that answer, because it was a cop out. Instead of a “real answer” we veterans just pat new kids on the heads and tell them to write.
Honestly, I can’t say I blame them. But I do think the phrase is misunderstood.
So here I am, explaining my take on “Write it first” and “Just write”, real answer style:
1. This doesn’t encourage people to jump into a story unprepared.
There are plotters, pantsers and hybrids out there, and my telling people in general to just write the damn story isn’t a way to tell them all to become pantsers. It does, however mean that once you’ve start, that you should try your absolute best to finish that story. There are reasons not to finish a story. But you’ll know them by the fact that you’ll have a reason to shelf it without having to ask anyone else.
2. Just write = Suck it up and keep going.
We writers have three serious enemies that always fight our attempts to get writing done: fear, inner critics and inner censors.
If you’ve written past that initial thrill of new inspiration, you’ll know them well. What if I don’t have what it takes to write this story? I can’t possibly let that happen to my characters. This isn’t good enough. I shouldn’t want to be a writer. Who was I kidding?
They never go away. And no amount of other people telling you you’re good enough and that your story will come out fine will make them leave. The only way to beat them is to keep on writing regardless of what those voices say.
You’re welcome to complain about your doubts and insecurities, but all your true writer friends will tell you to
suck it up, buttercup keep writing. This is, in fact, the strongest encouragement we have. We can’t promise you that you’ll get a million dollar book deal. Or that you’ll even get a deal. But we can promise that you can finish a story. And that in itself is a huge accomplishment.
3. Stop over-thinking.
This is actually what got me into writing today’s post. I spent the past few weeks writing answers to questions like:
When is it okay to end a chapter?
What are the pros and cons of writing in first person?
I have this awesome idea about writing about this war people don’t really know about it, but I’m changing it into a spec fic. But is it a good idea?
And my current personal favorite: How do I avoid info dumps? How do I discretely disperse information throughout the story?
Oh and: What should I write to manipulate the maximum amount of readers into reading my book?
New kids, I love you. I really do. I do my utmost to give you the tools you need to get those stories written. But you’re never going to get that book done if you’re constantly worrying about doing things just right so other people (who you don’t even know) will think you’re an awesome writer.
Write until you feel the chapter is done.
There are no pros and cons to writing a certain way. Only ways of writing that do or don’t suit you.
If you love a story idea, it’s a good idea. Now go turn it into a book.
Avoid info dumps by either not writing them, or by writing them and cutting them out later. And then you discretely disperse information throughout your story. COME ON. YOU ALREADY KNEW THIS!!!
And for the love of all that is holy. Stop worrying about manipulating millions into reading your book. Firstly, writers have no power over readers until they’ve already decided to buy and read your book. If you think that writing a certain story in a certain way will win you readers, you’re wrong. If you’re writing, thinking that it’s the easy track to fame (as brought to my attention by your desire to manipulate millions into reading your book), you’re wrong. Seriously wrong. Not only that, you’re writing for the wrong reasons and therefore doomed to fail unless you change your thinking.
There is no one recipe for writing success. Only this: If you focus on your story and actually write what you love, in the way you love to write it, you’ll find at least some measure of success. Eventually. But know that money probably won’t be it. Face it. Love it. Write without worrying about it. Takes off a lot of pressure and makes writing a lot more fun.
If you can think of a best seller in our time, odds are there are a lot of people who didn’t think it would do well. Those books’ authors wrote them anyway.
Go you and do the same.
Perfection comes from editing anyway.
Writing veterans: what does “Just write” and “Write it first” mean when you use it?
I recently figured that hey, I write about knights and cowboys. Maybe I should learn how to ride a horse myself.
It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. There’s something absolutely beautiful about seeing a horse and rider in harmony. Something almost mystical.
Learning how to ride, is another animal altogether. There was Calypso, who hates me. Really. I went up to him, trusting him and… well… He tried to head-butt me. And the riding went worse.
So given that Calypso was out to get me, my instructor introduced me to Juno. Now Juno and I hit it off. With Juno, I thought I’d be able to go all the way.
Except the second time I rode him (yes, I know it’s stupid to name a stallion for the Roman goddess of women and motherhood), he started to do things that made me less than comfortable. I mean, I’m new to this riding thing. So when I want the horse to stop, it’s nice to know the horse will stop. Still, I figured it’d be okay, since I’d grow better as I practiced more.
The lesson after that, though, I was asked to ride Quicksilver. Now Quicky is rather an ornery beast. He’s the one who puts all the horses on the farm in their places. And when he does, he kicks butt and takes names. He’s also the one who wants to be in front no matter what, so he’s faster than either of the other two. And he bites any horse who tries to take the lead from him.
The thing is… Quicky and I simply hit it off. Sure, he was fast, but never in a way that undermined the trust I had to put in him. In fact, riding him gave me the confidence to think I could actually learn other things. Most importantly, though, he loves me too. If there’s a group of people and he’s loose, he comes to me and lowers his head for me to pet him. Is he the horse I can trust? Possibly. He might change his mind later, but for now, we’re getting along perfectly, even if logic says I shouldn’t have liked him.
Incidentally, today, I had to ride Juno and my mom had to ride Quicky. Juno was actually scarier today than Calypso. And my mother felt the same way about Quicky.
Now, I bet you’re wondering how I’m bringing this to writing. Well.
When I started writing, there was a western. We got along okay, but when my mom took my computer and gave it to someone else, I stopped working on it for years. The spark just wasn’t there. (Juno.)
Later on, there was a fantasy. A quest, in fact. With a chosen one. But it was dark. Took me places I didn’t want to go. In fact, it was part of some stuff I was going through at the time that really really messed me up in ways that made my university issues look like kindergarten. In the end, I burnt it. Yep. Wiped it, and all the back-ups, and burnt all the plans and drawings I’d made for it. (Calypso)
I have a few other drafts that I could explain, but right now, there aren’t horses that match them.
Finally, in walked a character while I was re-reading Chronicles of Narnia. After all those failed attempts, I’d decided to give up on writing idea until I was certain that my idea was a good one. The character didn’t take no for an answer, and the story he revealed to me was so good that I knew I’d finish it. To put money where my mouth was, I even started this blog as My First Book. I planned it to be a blog of me finishing a book and getting it published.
Was it because the story was easy? No. In fact, my older bloggy friends might recall that I called it The Beast. The story was huge. It defied my every attempt at pre-planning. The characters were reticent. In fact I hated one of the main characters. But I couldn’t give up. I didn’t want to. (That story went on to become The Vanished Knight.)
Maybe it’s too soon to make this call, but that sounds a lot like Quicksilver. A bit of a bastard, but hey, it picked me and I love it for giving me that honor.
So in summary, the lesson I’ve learnt so far in writing and horse riding:
Just because you’re struggling to get into it doesn’t mean that you should give up. It could be that you just have the wrong horse for right now.
Anyone want to talk about the drafts before the one they finished?
I know I said I’d open up nominations today, but I decided this is a bit more important.
See there’s this little discussion going around on google plus about what makes someone a real writer.
Here’s the highlights of what people said that I’ve read before I decided to write this. And hey, maybe it’s completely unnecessary. I have no idea how many new writers come to my blog.
But I guess you all figured out that I have a heart for helping them. I love encouraging people to write. I love giving advice on stuff I’ve learnt that helps them to crack stuff that took me years. Because honestly, I know that the stuff I write on plot, structure, characterization etc. doesn’t really interest the veteran writers. They know all this already.
The thing is, being a writer, in its purest form, is dedication to writing.
It’s not about you writing like me. Or me writing like you.
It’s not about writing the perfect first draft.
It’s not about a deep knowledge of grammar. It’s not about having a huge and obscure vocabulary.
It’s about dedication to the craft. It’s about writing until you want to cry because you don’t think the story will end. And then, it’s about writing some more until you do get there. All that stuff about having a good manuscript, and fixing grammar, and picking the better word to say exactly what you mean, the way you mean it, come later.
All that stuff, even if you can write like Mark Twain or Ernest Hemingway or whoever, doesn’t make you a writer any more than putting icing over a brick turns it into a cake.
What makes you a writer, is wanting to write when you can’t. And writing whenever you can. Even if it means giving up t.v. time or sleeping an hour later.
Yes, there are some writers who are better than others. That is determined by the icing I mentioned. So I’m not saying that it’s wise to publish without editing. I am saying that you should learn how to build a story around a structure.
But don’t put off writing until after you’ve learnt. You’ll never learn the perfect amount of writing knowledge. There’s nothing that will qualify you as a writer.
Except. For. Writing.
Thanks for reading.