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1. When are 420 One-Star Book Reviews NOT a Bad Thing?


MERRY CHRISTMAS!

PB&J: Picture Books and All That Jazz: A Highlights Foundation Workshop

Join Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison in Honesdale PA for a spring workshop, April 23-26, 2015. It's a great Christmas present to yourself or a writer friend! Full info here.
COMMENTS FROM THE 2014 WORKSHOP:
  • "This conference was great! A perfect mix of learning and practicing our craft."Peggy Campbell-Rush, 2014 attendee, Washington, NJ
  • "Darcy and Leslie were extremely accessible for advice, critique and casual conversation."Perri Hogan, 2014 attendee, Syracuse,NY


As I’ve watched the growth of children’s independent publishing this year, it’s clear that there’s a major problem: an inflated number of reviews.

In the independent world, a review on Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing, etc. is gold. Many of the publicity possibilities open to self-published folks depend on gaining a certain number of reviews on your book.

The biggest and most influential promotion service, Bookbub.com, is a subscription service that sends email to millions of readers about eBook specials. After its launch in 2012, it grew rapidly, found big investors last year and now commands a huge audience. Originally supported by independent authors and publishers, it currently reserves 25-50% of its ads for traditional publishers. In the independent world, it’s considered crucial to your book’s success to “get a Bookbub.” During the days your book is listed at FREE or reduced rates of $0.99 or $1.99, the book may download thousands of copies.

One local friend said his first Bookbub, he had 12,000 downloads of his free title. He’s typical of many indie authors because he has a series of books. Of the 12,000 who downloaded Book 1 for free, a couple thousand bought Book 2, 3 and 4. The sales of the other books in the series paid for the BookBub ad, and left him capital to do another book in the series.

A year ago, you wouldn’t be considered for a Bookbub with fewer than 25 reviews on your title. These day, I’ve heard more like 75-100 reviews are needed. When you apply for a BookBub ad, you’re told that they accept less than 20% of the applications.

What’s an author to do? Reviews on Amazon are GOLD! Reviews on Amazon might get you a BookBub Ad–which might get you thousands and thousands of downloads. Which might mean you have a chance of selling other books.

Yes, reviews on Amazon are GOLD! When an author asks you to review a book on Amazon, it’s crucial.

Social Proof. Reviews on online stores is considered proof that others like a certain product, or social proof. Even negative reviews are good because they are proof that the product hasn’t received reviews from only friends and family.

Comparison of Reviews of Two Books

I am going to compare the reviews of two books in a neutral manner. That is, I’ll set aside my personal evaluations of the quality of the titles. One is a hugely popular, free, independent title, while the other is the winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Young People Literature. From that alone, you might suspect that one is better than the other, and on that, I’ll make no statement because it’s not the point here. You may also suspect that the NBA Award winner would have far and away more reviews. Wrong.

LilyLemonblossombrowngirldreaming


This may not be the fairest comparison: picture books and novels may not receive the same amount of reviews. It’s just that these two books came to my attention at about the same time and I was struck by the difference in the number and quality of the reviews for each book.

Comparison of books: picture book v. novel; self-published v. traditionally published; ebook only v. available in many formats.

Comparison of the Amazon Reviews

As of today, Lily Lemon Blossom’s Welcome, by Barbara Miller has 3569 reviews with an average rating of 4.0 out of 5.0 stars.
5 Stars: 1932
4 Stars: 627
3 Stars: 389
2 Stars: 201
1 Stars: 420

As of today, Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson has 50 reviews with an average rating of 4. 8 out of 5.0.
5 Stars: 42
4 Stars: 7
3 Stars: 0
2 Stars: 0
1 Stars: 1

How is it that an eBook-only picture-book has 3569 reviews? It’s easy, if she’s done multiple Bookbub ads. With 12,000 people downloading a typical FREE eBook advertised in Bookbub, a clever author puts prominent links asking for reviews at the back of the ebook. The ASK is important because it tells people of the need for reviews. Again, it’s one of the popular techniques of today’s independent author, a method that successfully gets multiple reviews on books.

Or is it that easy? In the face of such overwhelming numbers, it’s easy to be suspicious that the reviews are inflated somehow. No one can provide evidence to prove or disprove it–yet the suspicions remain. It’s certainly possible for all those reviews to be bonafide, given the surprising power of a Bookbub. Are book reviews artificially inflated somehow just for the possibilities of promotions like BookBub? Or does BookBub allow for for the inflated number of reviews?

Does it mean that one or the other sells better or makes more money? There’s no way to know unless the authors were to speak out on their incomes. It’s easy to say that both are selling well and making money.

Is this just the difference in a “popular” book and a “literary” book? Possibly. Do popular books may get more discussion surrounding them than literary books? Or do authors of popular books just emphasize reviews more than authors of literary books?

When is 420 One-Star Reviews NOT a Bad Thing?

When it is countered by 1932 5-star reviews?

The thing about reviews is that people tend to artificially inflate their opinion of a book. Many people will say, “I don’t like to trash a book. I only want to give good reviews.” It may actually be a good thing that 420 people felt honest enough to give Lily Lemon Blossom a very bad review.

In the end, the 420 matter less than the total of 3569 overall reviews. The fact that so many chose to leave ANY kind of review helps sell the book and the rest of the books in its series. It’s a book that many people are talking about, so there must be something to it, right? People download the free introductory book to find out what the discussion is about.

Get Thee a Goodly Number of Reviews!

In the midst of all of this, I am an a hybrid author who would love to see 3569 reviews on my traditionally and independently published books. Don’t you want overwhelming reviews on YOUR book?

But it’s daunting. To get that many reviews, I need a Bookbub; to get a BookBub, I need 75-100 reviews minimum and then a lot so luck; the Bookbub might then be a springboard to even more views and possibly a best-seller! But it’s a Catch-22. How do you get the 100 reviews in the first place, so that you can get the Bookbub to get lots of reviews and sales?

Online reviews as social proof may have been a good idea five years ago, but today, I wonder about their usefulness. But the other conclusion you must draw is that Bookbub.com has become a player in the book world in a huge way: if a BookBub ad has the power to make or break the career of an Indie author, it’s an interesting world indeed. Will it soon make or break the career of ANY writer? Already, indie authors who built up BookBub are muscled out by slots reserved for the better-paying traditional publishers; will it ever become limited to ONLY traditional published books?

The case of the inflated number of book reviews says much about the current state of the industry.

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2. Christmas Eavesdropping


MERRY CHRISTMAS!

PB&J: Picture Books and All That Jazz: A Highlights Foundation Workshop

Join Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison in Honesdale PA for a spring workshop, April 23-26, 2015. It's a great Christmas present to yourself or a writer friend! Full info here.
COMMENTS FROM THE 2014 WORKSHOP:
  • "This conference was great! A perfect mix of learning and practicing our craft."Peggy Campbell-Rush, 2014 attendee, Washington, NJ
  • "Darcy and Leslie were extremely accessible for advice, critique and casual conversation."Perri Hogan, 2014 attendee, Syracuse,NY


Notes from the Field

During the holidays, it’s hard to concentrate on a story. But it’s not hard to BE a writer. As you go to gatherings of friends and families, one thing you can do is EAVESDROP!

In your story, you want dialogue to sound natural. One way to study dialogue is to just listen and record. At holiday gatherings, you may hear undercurrents of sibling rivalry, jealousy, reconciliation, or love. Usually, these things aren’t said on the surface, so much as in the subtext, or what is understood beneath the surface.

Try this: Take a pad of paper and a pencil/pen with you. Sit off to a side or in a corner, and furiously write everything you hear said in a specific conversation for ten minutes. Later when there’s time, look it over and see what you’ve learned about dialogue. OR, if your family is generous and agrees, find an app to record an hour of conversation! Thanks, fam!

So, here are my notes from the field for a couple hours, recording exactly what I said–just my side of a conversation. Notice how MUCH you can tell about the events and what others are saying just by the snippets of dialogue. (Names and phone numbers XXX-out to protect the innocent.)

Getting daughter out of bed

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dani_vazquez/10479425133

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dani_vazquez/10479425133



I don’t have time to be gentle.
That helps.
No, you can’t consistently count on it. It’s not your car.

Before and During Breakfast

He’s not up yet.

I’ve been in there once or twice.

I need to eat.
I’ve messed around too long.
Could you clean up the kitchen, do the things you haven/t done in two days.
Where? What?
It would be easier with a comb.
Too late now.
We gotta remember to take the trash out.
Nothing.
Oh, man!
Mine.
Both of you stop.
It’s not just her. It’s you, too.
Stop! XXX, don’t take that in your room, please!
Ok.
No. No. It’s a mess.
Whose spoon is this?
Just ‘sec.
Tell MMM she has e-mail.
Five?
What is it, oh, a Pokemon?
ZZZ, work on that kitchen now.
It used to be a road.
What?
Wow. How much?
$15 isn?t bad at all. Who’s sponsoring it?
Cool. It’s not bad.
I’m gonna shower.
I’m gonna shower.
Fix–transmission?
Huh? I’m totally lost.
Oh, OK.
OH, well.
Gimme kiss.
Yes. To school?
No. Gimme kiss.
Lots more than that. I’ll be in the library today. At noon. XXX has to stay ?’til 4. So we?ll just stay.
You might as well read.
Good.
Yep.
Have a good day.

Taking truck to shop

Last night, we lost 3rd and 4th gears. You can put it in gear but you have to hold the stick. 1st, 2nd & 5th are OK.
OK.
Oh, and he said to change the oil and a nut on the valve cover is missing.
Pattison. I-s-o-n. Not e-r.
We also have a Sienna van so we should be in the computer.
Let me give you his number. XXX-XXXX.
OK.
A second number XXX-XXXX. But I’ll be gone a lot, so try him first.
And give us an estimate. Just give us an idea of how long would help.
He’s coming to get me, so I?ll just go in the waiting room.
Don’t change the oil first. Let us know how much on the transmission first.
Is that all you need?

Driving to work with DH

She said she’d call you with an estimate. It’ll probably take over night.
Where’s my glasses?
My headache is coming back.
No, on the other side.
Yep.
Yeah.
Uh huh.
Uh huh.
So, which do you like?
What is all that?
Huh?
Yep. That’s the one you said I could have? I could put it on my business cards?
That’s weird.
Strange. I gotta call XXXXXX. About YYY.
Where’s the check book? I need one for this doctor’s visit.
Bad time for a vacation with all the other guys messed up.
Wow. Must be nice.
Yeah. He’s the best marketer.
Which one?
That’s good.
By who?
I should be able to make it to the doctor by nine. I was hoping I could go be the house and eat, though. I need to go by and see XXX and then–I need to buy crickets. (Note: to feed the lizards.) And I?ll bring you the car just before 12.
Okay. I know.
Helicopter.
Where?
Yeah.
Kinda misty on the river today.

Yeah, I know.
It was weird yesterday.
Yeah. Like what?
I haven’t heard of him.
What are they building over there?
Boy, that looks terrible. It’s big. Well–it’s just big. Wow. That’s amazing.
I have my keys. I need a check.
Was it on the table?
That’s right. Love you.

Saying Hi to Neighbor

Good morning.
Pretty good.
Already in a rush.

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3. Merry Christmas from Gillett


MERRY CHRISTMAS!

PB&J: Picture Books and All That Jazz: A Highlights Foundation Workshop

Join Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison in Honesdale PA for a spring workshop, April 23-26, 2015. It's a great Christmas present to yourself or a writer friend! Full info here.
COMMENTS FROM THE 2014 WORKSHOP:
  • "This conference was great! A perfect mix of learning and practicing our craft."Peggy Campbell-Rush, 2014 attendee, Washington, NJ
  • "Darcy and Leslie were extremely accessible for advice, critique and casual conversation."Perri Hogan, 2014 attendee, Syracuse,NY


GiletteCard001


I visited Gilett Elementary School last month and look at the great Christmas card the kids just sent me! What a thrill to get a card like this! Merry Christmas!

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4. Scholastic Report: Write Funny, Imaginative Stories


MERRY CHRISTMAS!

PB&J: Picture Books and All That Jazz: A Highlights Foundation Workshop

Join Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison in Honesdale PA for a spring workshop, April 23-26, 2015. It's a great Christmas present to yourself or a writer friend! Full info here.
COMMENTS FROM THE 2014 WORKSHOP:
  • "This conference was great! A perfect mix of learning and practicing our craft."Peggy Campbell-Rush, 2014 attendee, Washington, NJ
  • "Darcy and Leslie were extremely accessible for advice, critique and casual conversation."Perri Hogan, 2014 attendee, Syracuse,NY


It’s often hard to predict what books kids, from first grade through Young Adult novels, will like to read. Scholastic will release in January a research report that clearly expresses a kid’s point-of-view. They’ve released this infographic to advertise the report.

Click image to see full size.

Click image to see full size.

This research has lots of implications for those writing children’s books.

Write funny. Kids develop a sense of humor slowly and in stages. Here are 3 ways to write funny, 5 ways to add more humor, and tips on running gags.

Use imagination. Kids like to be transported to a different time and place. When you create stories, think about interesting settings, historical time periods, or made-up worlds. Create these in enough detail that the kids will understand the actions, but leave room for their imaginations.

How else will this research affect your writing and the focus of your next story?

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5. Tone: Is your Romance Sensual or Intellectual?


MERRY CHRISTMAS!

PB&J: Picture Books and All That Jazz: A Highlights Foundation Workshop

Join Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison in Honesdale PA for a spring workshop, April 23-26, 2015. It's a great Christmas present to yourself or a writer friend! Full info here.
COMMENTS FROM THE 2014 WORKSHOP:
  • "This conference was great! A perfect mix of learning and practicing our craft."Peggy Campbell-Rush, 2014 attendee, Washington, NJ
  • "Darcy and Leslie were extremely accessible for advice, critique and casual conversation."Perri Hogan, 2014 attendee, Syracuse,NY


Eleanor&ParkI am currently reading Eleanor and Park, a YA romance; one of the interesting things about this story is the author’s choice to create a sensual tone. It’s not sexy or intellectual. The choice of tone is interesting because often a romance can devolve into physical stuff of sex.

Instead, Rowell walks a fine line between the two extremes. It’s sensual because there are physical details. For example, Eleanor notices Park’s hands:

Park’s hands were perfectly still in his lap. And perfectly perfect. Honey colored with clean, pink fingernails. Everything about him was strong and slender. Every time he moved, he had a reason.

Or Park, describing holding Eleanor’s hand:

Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.

Creating the Right Tone

The question is, of course, what tone do I want for my story?
That’s what a writer does as they read great stories from other writers: you think about what they are doing that is working so well, and how to translate that into your own stories.

Do I want a romance that is intellectual, sensual, sexy, titillating, mysterious, or something else? How do I achieve that?

First, I pay attention to the tone of my drafts. While I’m writing, I work hard to characterize, to plot, to evoke a setting. But I’m also paying attention to the word selection and how that affects tone. Sentence structure can affect tone, as can the rhythm patterns created by a combination of words and sentences.

First drafts are about approximating: you want to get close to the target of a great story. As I revise, I am refining so many things, but one of those is the right tone.

It may also mean that I do a couple trial drafts. How does a sexy tone fit with the rest of the story? How does an intellectual romance mesh with the action plot? Experimenting with different tones is sometimes essential. I know that my story should have a lot of action, and I’m comfortable with the tone I’ve created for that part of the story. But integrating that with the romance subplot is trickier this time. The goal is an integrated story, a whole story.

Tools to Create Tone

Writers have only a few tools: words, sentences, paragraphs. That’s it.

Words. Think about the connotations of each word/phrase you choose.
Sentences. While short sentences can speed up an action, long sentences can languish and slow down a story.
Paragraphs. And overarching is how the words, sentences, meaning, and connotations blend to create the right rhythms.

Most of all, don’t leave tone to chance. Decide what tone works for your story, and then work to make it happen.

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6. 3 Reasons I Failed NaNoWriMo – and Why It’s OK


30 Days to a Stronger Novel Online Video Course: ON DEMAND



I am a failure.
I signed up for NaNoWriMo–again. And again–I failed to make 50,000 words.

But I have good reasons.

World Building. I did massive work this month on world building. Since I’m writing a science fiction novel, I needed to invent technology, figure out where to locate installations, design the installations to meet the needs of my sff characters and the needs of the story, create scientifically accurate details throughout, along with the usual backstory.

I used Google Earth to investigate Mt. Rainier and the surrounding area, worked on backstory and characterization, and dug into the details of scenes. Many scenes that are still to be written have been written about; that is, I’ve written notes about who, what, when, where, why and with what emotion. When I do sit down to write the scene, it should go quickly.

November is Hard. I’ve never understood the decision to make November the NaNoWriMo month; it’s one of the busiest months for me. Arkansas has a major reading conference, besides the Thanksgiving holiday. All together there were 7-8 days I simply could not write because I was busy all day with other activities. For me, burning the midnight oil does no good, but at that hour, all I can write is crap. Still, I wrote steadily on the days that I could and made progress.

Writing Style. Fashion swings wildly. Many editors believe that writing should take a long, long time. The fad in the Indie world these days is very rapid writing. In the end–I write as fast as I can and still turn out something that pleases me. I must please myself, not an editor or a contest like NaNoWriMo or anyone else. I can only write as fast as I can write.

My Speed is OK

BlueOKIt’s really OK that I didn’t write 50,000 words this month.

  • I had a great time at the Arkansas Reading Association conference.
  • I had a great time with my family.
  • I wrote about 32,500 words, which is 32,500 words more than I started the month with. More than that, I know my characters better and know that it was a very good month of work.

That’s all I can say.

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7. Never Visited a Place? You Can Still Writing About It – Here’s the Secret!


NOW AVAILABLE! 30 Days to a Stronger Novel Online Video Course



Two years ago, I wanted to write a story set in Campinas, Sao Paolo, Brazil.
I had never been there.
I only knew the name of two people who lived there.

Yet, I could convincingly write about the setting. Here’s the secret.

Google Earth

The free app, Google Earth, is immensely helpful to writers. I use the free, desktop version.

View satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3D buildings, galaxies far in space, and the deepest depths of the ocean.

In 2011, Google Earth added the street view. They send out cars that drive along a certain road and take a 360 view of the landscape. That means you can put Google’s orange man on the street and look around. Today, the street view is available on all seven continents. See more on the background, scope and how to use Street View.

WhereisTheGoogleCar.com asks people to take a photo of the Google car when they see it and post the picture. It’s a “social experiment” to track the location of the car(s) on any given day.

Thank You, Google Earth, for Helping Me Write!

GPS Coordinates: Context.
When I wrote Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma, about a mother puma who died in a chicken coop trap near Campinas, Brazil, I was lucky enough to have an incident report that included GPS (Global Positioning System) coordinates. Google Earth immediately zoomed me into the right position, so that I was visually hovering right above the chicken coop. The context of the coop was crucial: Brazil has increased sugar cane production for use in making ethanol for automobile fuel, and the coop was nestled amidst the sugar cane fields. Pulling out some, though, it was also apparent that the sugar cane plantations were very close to large urban areas. This wasn’t a remote rural area. Instead, the pumas lived within sight of skyscrapers. How did I know this?

Abayomi was recently named a 2015 National Science Teacher's Association Outstanding Science Trade Book.

Abayomi was recently named a 2015 National Science Teacher’s Association Outstanding Science Trade Book.

Google Photos: Visual Details.
Google allows users to upload photographs that are marked with GPS information. On the maps, these are shown as tiny rectangles that when clicked open up the photos. Very near the chicken coop was such a photo that showed a skyline of skyscrapers of the city of Campinas.

Google Street Man and Maps: Topography
Google Earth also allows you to see the topography, or the terrain, of a setting. Is it hilly, flat, or somewhere in between? You can use the Street Man or simply fly around. We have a friend from India who flew us–through the miracle of Google Earth–over his parent’s house in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Distances: Measuring the Earth
I love the extra tools of Google Earth,too. For example, you can use the ruler to measure distances in kilometers or miles. I learned, for example, that a drone in a story would have to fly about 5 miles–as the crow flies. Very valuable information! I can then answer so many questions:

  • Is that within a drone’s range? Yes.
  • How long would the flight take, figuring 50 mph? 6 minutes.

That gives my hero a very narrow time window to locate the villain and disable the drone.

Other Options
Google Earth has in impressive area of other specialities: historical maps, Mars, the Moon, 3-D buildings, favorite places, maps about climate change and much more. See the range of services at their showcase.

I’m researching Mt. Rainier for a story: through Google Earth, I’ve gotten context, followed trails, found fantastic photos, and almost feel like I’ve been there. No, I haven’t felt the wind on my face or heard the chatter of birds. I’m adding to the Google Earth info such things as the flora/fauna of the region. I’ve hiked other areas in the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve hiked in mountainous areas. I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to recreate this landscape for a reader. It won’t hurt to have a beta reader from the area vet it for me, but I think it will be close. For me, Google Earth is the next best thing to being on-site myself. Add to that Flickr Photos that are Creative Commons licensed, and my story take on an added weight of reality.


(Click the photos to go to the original flckr.com sites.)
MtRainier1


MtRainier2


MtRainier3


MtRainier4

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8. What is Really Necessary to Do Online? Authors You Have Surprising Freedom!


NOW AVAILABLE! 30 Days to a Stronger Novel Online Video Course



I’m doing a survey of your burning questions for 2015 about writing and publishing. I’ll be answering some of the questions over the next few months.

If you haven’t taken the survey yet, it’s a simple 3-question survey.
Answers are anonymous. Takes just a couple minutes. Please take the survey now!

Today’s online world for authors is confusing!
I’ve written about setting up an Author Website.
I’ve blogged consistently here for about seven years.
Please follow me on Pinterest.
Come and check out my Facebook Fan Page.
I have a Linked-In account.
Watch me on YouTube.

What do I think is the most important thing for you to do?

Write.

A writer is a person who writes.
A published writer is a person who consistently submits what they’ve written.

That’s it.
The rest of it? Sure, if you’re a mid-lister, and if you have time to spend, it can help your writing to sell better to be online. Sure, if you network with writers, editors, illustrators, marketing people, and others in the publishing industry, it’s easier to submit and find that right fit for your work.

However, that’s not your main job. Your job is to work on your writing. Period.

What do you LIKE to do?

SocialMediaMonopoly


After you’ve got the writing and submitting down, you can look around the online world to see if you want to join those who create content.

You could just participate by consuming content.

  • Repin or Comment on Pinterest
  • ReTweet or Like on Twitter
  • Like, Share, or Comment on Facebook
  • Do the comparable on the platform of your choice

But most prefer to find a home base where they create content that goes along with what they are getting published.

First, evaluate yourself. Do you like to write short, write long, take/edit photos, produce audio, or produce video? Those are the only options you have, regardless of the platform. Think about which form of communication you are good at, and can consistently produce.

I’d suggest you consider two things when looking for an online home base:

  • What Kind of Content Can you Consistently Produce? The most important thing on ANY platform is that you show up. Consistent posting of content is crucial. Without it, you won’t develop an audience!
  • Where Does Your Audience Hang Out? This is a very different question from, “Where do your friends hang out?”
    If you want your writing to connect with an audience, then you need to FIND your audience. Develop relationships, listen to questions, answer questions, become a part of the community. If they most do Slideshares, go there. If they prefer Instagram, go there. I have a young friend who introduced me to WeChat, an app that lets you keep track of friends and family. It’s her favorite app. Now, when I need to talk with her, I jump on WeChat, and almost instantly, we’re connected. This sure beats leaving her voice mails that never get answered! Go where your audience hangs out.

Your goal is to find that sweet spot between the ways you like to communicate and the ways in which your audience communicates. That’s the only logical way to operate online. Don’t let anyone tell you that you MUST do this or that online. Build your writing career by writing your own work, by submitting your own work for publication (or self-publishing it), and finally, by finding your audience.

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9. How to Choreograph a Great Action Scene


NOW AVAILABLE! 30 Days to a Stronger Novel Online Video Course



I recently found a gem of a writing book. For my NaNoWriMo challenge, my current love/hate WIP, I decided I wanted to include more action scenes, pushing it more toward YA and more toward a true action book. OK. Action. That should be easy. Um. No.

ActionNewLHPUntil I read this book. Ian Thomas Healy breaks down action into manageable chunks in his book, Action! Writing Better Action Using Cinematic Techniques.

The title appealed to me right away because I do like action/thriller movies, and I recognize that writing action means you must fully evoke the visual, auditory and kinesthetic senses, like a movie would be able to do. Healy delivers.

Action Scenes = Violence

The first shocking thing to realize is that action means violence, says Healy. It’s not just movement, but conflict made concrete. Movement across a scene without a purpose is just the beat of a scene and action implies much more.

Healy breaks down action scenes into three levels: stunts, sequences and engagements.

1) On the simplest level, a STUNT is a single brief action. Carver pulls a gun and fires.
2) ENGAGEMENTS moves up a level by combining multiple stunts as a character moves across a setting. Now, you’re talking more choreography and relating the characters to the setting. Actions are physical, not mental, and thus, they require a setting. How the characters move across the setting while doing stunts is an Engagement. They end with the resolution of a plot point, or they transition into another Engagement, perhaps going from a chase to a fight.
3) A SEQUENCE is a combination of Engagements related in some way. Maybe they are about the same character, setting or conflict.

What actions are possible in this setting? What violence is possible here?

What actions are possible in this setting? What violence is possible here?

This is immensely helpful and practical! When I approach an action scene, first I make sure I understand the setting. What is present in the scene physically and how will that affect the story I can tell. Is there a river? Then some possible stunts would be diving into the river, wading, falling in, slipping on a muddy bank, fist-fight in the water, crossing the river, swimming, fist-fight while in water, and so on. I’m not just trying to create stunts on the fly, but the setting itself suggest what is possible. What if I want the character to fly away? Then the setting must be a unicorn stable, or an airstrip. Can I get the characters to the right place for this scene?

After listing what’s possible in this scene, I can start to map out the action. Often, this is just a mental map, but I can also fall back on a paper/pencil map when needed. Draw out the setting. Put an X where the characters are standing. Then Write #1, 2, 3 and so on for where they move to across the landscape to create an Engagement. Physically point–put your finger on the spot where the actions starts. Move your finger to the next spot where a stunt occurs. Sounds mechanical? Yes! But it works, and that’s the point. As I get better at this, maybe I’ll be able to do it all mentally. But for now, this is working great.

Finally, combining the Engagements into Sequences is simple.

There’s so much more in Healy’s book to recommend. Consider this provocative statement: “One of the most useful things you can do with an Engagement is use it to strengthen character relationships.”

If you’re writing or considering writing a book with lots of action, this is a great tutorial. On his website, Healy critiques some action scenes–interesting to see what he focuses on in the critiques!

One last thing. Yesterday, I was trying to write an action scene set in Mt. Rainier’s National Park and nothing was working. Then, I realized that was because I didn’t know the setting well enough! Of course, if action scenes move across the landscape, then I needed to know my landscape better. I spent the day studying Google Earth, watching You-Tube videos, scanning lists of flora/fauna, and hunting for autumn photos of the stunning vine maple. Before you can write about a physical space, you must know something about it!

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10. Online Video Course: 30 DAYS TO A STRONGER NOVEL


NOW AVAILABLE! 30 Days to a Stronger Novel Online Video Course



The course is now live on Udemy.com!

Each day includes:

  • A quote that inspires
  • Short, practical instruction from Darcy on a specific topic
  • A simple “Walk the Talk” action to take

9781629440408-Perfect.inddOver the course of the month, you’ll receive the entire text of Darcy’s book, 30 Days to a Stronger Novel (November, 2014 release).
We can’t guarantee that you’ll end the month with a publishable novel; but we can guarantee it will be a STRONGER novel.


We can't guarantee a publishable novel; but we can guarantee a STRONGER NOVEL!

We can’t guarantee a publishable novel; but we can guarantee a STRONGER NOVEL!




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VIDEO COURSE TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Watership Down with Armadillos: Titles
  • Search Me: Subtitles
  • Defeat Interruptions: Chapter Divisions
  • Scarlett or Pansy: The Right Character Name
  • My Wound is Geography: Stronger Settings
  • Horse Manure: Stronger Setting Details
  • Weaklings: Every Character Must Matter
  • Take Your Character’s Pulse
  • Yin-Yang: Connecting Emotional and Narrative Arcs
  • Owls and Foreigners: Unique Character Dialogue
  • Sneaky Shoes: Inner and Outer Character Qualities
  • Friends or Enemies: Consistent Character Relationships
  • Set Up the Ending: Begin at the Beginning
  • Bang, Bang! Ouch! Scene Cuts
  • Go Away! Take a Break
  • Power Abs for Novels
  • White Rocks Lead Me Home: Epiphanies
  • The Final Showdown
  • One Year Later: Tie up Loose Ends
  • Great Deeds: Find Your Theme
  • The Wide, Bright Lands: Theme Affects Setting
  • Raccoons, Owls, and Billy Goats: Theme Affects Characters
  • Side Trips: Choosing Subplots
  • Of Parties, Solos, and Friendships: Knitting Subplots Together
  • Feedback: Types of Critiquers
  • Feedback: What You Need from Readers
  • Stay the Course
  • Please Yourself First
  • The Best Job I Know to Do
  • Live. Read. Write.

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11. The Power of One


NOW AVAILABLE! 30 Days to a Stronger Novel Online Video Course



photo 2

I did a school visit on Friday in the tiny town–only about 700 population–of Gillett, Arkansas. The Elementary School and Early Childhood Center are still located in Gillett, but the district was merged with DeWitt, Arkansas, and all middle school and high schools are located in Dewitt, about twenty miles away.
DarcyatGillett

I came at the request of Joli, the PTA President.
Young, beautiful, and full of passion for her community, Joli Holzhauer is a living testament of the Power of One.

The city’s claim to fame is the annual Coon Supper, an event that no politician in Arkansas will miss. Bill Clinton attended the event for many years and brought with him the major political forces; this year, almost every candidate for major offices in Arkansas attended. The event often gets CNN or FoxNews coverage.
photo 5


Wikipedia adds: “The largest alligator ever killed in Arkansas was harpooned near Gillett on September 19, 2010. The thirteen-foot one-inch reptile weighed 680 pounds.”

Joli met her husband, the current mayor of Gillett, at Mississippi State University, when he was planning a far different career; instead, he came home to farm. The area has cotton, soybeans, rice, corn and other crops which grow in this fertile, flat delta area. She says it was different at first from what she was used to, but she dug in and started working to support her community.

Rachel Mitchell, the principal of Gillett Elementary said that Joli comes in to chat and asks, “What do you need? What do you want?”
And then, Joli makes it happen. The PTA sold chocolate bars. Now, in a community of only 700 people (that includes children), how many chocolate bars can you sell? $3000 worth. Whatever the school needs or wants, one person is making a difference.

photo 3

Intelligent, smart, committed. Small communities and their school survive because of people like Joli. I salute you!

photo 4

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12. 6 Questions to Sharpen Your Story Beats and Make Your Plot Sing


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The book is now available for Pre-Order! It officially goes on sale on November 14.

When you’re writing or plotting a story, one way to approach it is to write out the story beats. A beat is a small action; a collection of beats makes up a scene. It’s sort of like choreographing a dance; you must make character move around, interact and do things. You can write story beats on the fly if you like, but I like doing some planning ahead so the actual writing is easier. If you, too, write story beats ahead, here are some things you should keep in mind.

  1. Where are the characters in space? Because beats represent physical actions of a scene, you must always keep in mind where the characters are in space. In a dining room, is mother on the other side of the table from her daughter or on the same side. If she’s on the other side, then she can’t reach out and touch her daughter. She must physically walk around the table to do that. You must always be aware of EXACTLY where each character is. Draw it out or act it out if necessary.
  2. Where are we? The story's setting determines the types of action possible. Moving around a marina is very different than running through a wooded area. Photo by Darcy Pattison.

    Where are we? The story’s setting determines the types of action possible. Moving around a marina is very different than running through a wooded area. Photo by Darcy Pattison.

  3. What is the moment before? When a scene opens, don’t have a character move out of empty space. For example, if you write, “Mom walked over to Lucy,” then I want to know where Mom started that walk. Where was she the moment before this started. Place her somewhere and give the reader enough context for the action to make sense.
  4. Can you name and transform an emotion? To help me write a scene, sometimes I need to actually name the emotional back and forth. Then, I work to push the emotion into the dialogue, the beats (actions) or the body language. If mother wants to appeal to her daughter for understanding, perhaps she pulls out a chair and sits, which puts her in a lower position than the daughter. If she holds up her hands, mother becomes a supplicant before the daughter and the beats/body language reinforce that mother is asking for understanding. Then, you don’t have to say it, because you’ve shown it. But naming it helps me keep the emotional tensions as tight as possible.
  5. Can you escalate the tension? Mother grabs the daughter’s arm. That’s definitely conflict. But when Mom squeezes harder, the tension escalates. Within a scene you want a mini conflict that rises to a small climax and you should be using the beats to help you escalate and build that tension. What beat did you list? How can you escalate that action in some way? Mom squeezes harder; mom’s face gets in daughter’s face; one of them shoves the other; and so on.
  6. What body Language would help express the beats? While you are writing out the beats, or the actions that characters take, it could be subtle changes of body language. One character leans closer to hear better. Another crosses arms over her chest to fend off a verbal attack. Avoid the clichés: looking away, spun away, tears rolled down her cheeks. Instead, look for fresh beats and fresh ways to use body language.
  7. Is the action clear? Above all, you must strive for clarity. Readers must never be confused about what is happening in a scene. Try to look at it with fresh eyes and see it as a first-time reader would see it. Clarity trumps pretty language every time.

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13. Authors as Speakers: Inspiration from TED


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Do you speak for organization as a way to advertise your books? Maybe you do school visits, or talk to a Kiwanis club, or even do Keynote Speeches for various organizations as a way to supplement your writing income.

If so, I’ve got a great book for you.

TED Talks

I am inspired by the TED Talks. TED, or Technology, Entertainment and Design, a nonprofit organization, invites people to give “the speech of their lives” in 18 minutes or less. Each speech should focus on one “idea worth sharing.”

The video archive includes some of the best public speaking you’ll ever see.
If you want to give better speeches, it makes sense to study the TED talks.

TedAnd that’s exactly what Jeremey Donovan has done in his book, HOW TO DELIVER A TED TALK: SECRETS OF THE WORLD’S MOST INSPIRING PRESENTATIONS. As you read this post on October 27, 2014, I’ll be at a Reading Recovery conference speaking about my work. The last time I went out, I bombed.

Now, I do a lot of speaking and it comes pretty easy for me. But last time, I really wasn’t prepared the way I should’ve been, and it showed. I vowed THAT would never happen again. In fact, that failure has spurred me to aspire to do better than ever before. Whatever level I was before, I’d like to up the game and improve.

Focus. When I taught freshman composition, the hardest thing was to get students to focus on something important enough, but manageable within the five pages of the assignment. Focus is difficult because we have so much we want to say. But not everything needs to go into THIS speech. TED talks ask you to find that one “idea worth spreading.”

It took me a long time to focus this speech! In some ways, the question is a philosophical one: what do you care about passionately? That’s what will connect with people.

Structure. Like any good writer or speechwriter, Donovan spends a lot of time on organization. There’s nothing particularly new or innovative in this section; however, his analysis of speech after speech is helpful, because you’ll see exactly how other TED talks were organized. He covers both inductive and deductive reasoning in detail.

Storytelling. The use of stories to enliven a speech is a time-tested technique. But Donovan explains the WHY and WHICH ONE. For me, the emphasis on a personal story was important. I am an ambivert, able to be extroverted when necessary, but in my everyday life, I’m an introvert. I don’t like sharing personal stories. And yet, for others to connect with you, it’s necessary. My new speech includes several new personal stories.

Powerpoint. Donovan says that about 60% of TED talks have no Powerpoint. Hurrah! It’s not my favorite method of giving information to a crowd. However–this time, I realized that I needed to do one. My normal approach would be to blow it off till the last minute–but that didn’t work last time and I was determined to do it right this time. I created a 55 slide pack.

Practice. Really? You want me to practice this 70 minute presentation? Yes. If I was doing a TED talk–with all the prestige of that organization, you can bet I would practice. I’m planning to do a run through a couple times this weekend. Realistically–one really good run-through is likely, but that’s better than the last time!

The benefits of taking the time to focus on the speech should be great. I know that I’ll relax more because I’m prepared. The connection with the audience should be much better than last time when I truly bombed. And who knows where it will go from there.

Slideshare From Jeremey Donovan

You should watch a 100 of these videos before you go out to do your next presentation! Here are some TED Talk Playlists to get you started.

As you read this, I’ll be about to speak. So send me the traditional on-stage blessing: Break a Leg!

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14. Why I LOVE Cliches and Tropes


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I confess: I love a good cliche or trope.

A cliche is a phrase or expression that has been used so often that it is no longer original or interesting.
A trope is a common or overused theme or device, as in the usual horror movie tropes.

I’m in the middle of plotting a massive 3-book story and I need all the help I can get. Here’s the problem: what happens next?

No, let me rephrase: what could possibly happen next?

Sometimes, I just need to know possibilities, or what a story typically does at a particular stage. What are the possibilities? Is this a place for a murder, a confession, a love scene, or a time to gather information?

Literary folk say that there are only a limited number of stories in the world. Depending on who you talk with, there might be just two stories: a character leaves town, or a stranger comes to town. Others say there are up to 32 plots. I’ve written about 29 plot templates before. And it helps immensely to narrow down the choices.

But that’s on the level of an outline. Now that I’m deep into deciding on scenes, my imagination comes up short.

Enter tropes. A trope is a common theme, something that’s been done before. That doesn’t scare me away, because it’s the same as the variety of themes. Every story is a cliche, trope or template in many ways. It’s all in how you TELL that story. The beauty is in the particulars.

Romantic Subplot

Kiss Romantic Trope


My story needs a romantic subplot. I know the basics.
Act 1: Boy Meets Girl/Girl Meets Boy
Act 2: Boy and Girl Fight or are otherwise kept apart.
Act 3: Boy and Girl get together.

But what else? What is possible at each stage?

I turned to TVTROPES.org for help. Their site is a wiki that list all sorts of tropes. The Romantic Arc Tropes list was helpful because it listed typical things that happen at every stage of a romantic relationship.

For example, a story might start with this trope/subtropes:
Love Before First Sight

  • Because Destiny Says So
  • Childhood Marriage Promise
  • Red String of Fate
  • Girl of My Dreams
  • New Old Flame

Each of the tropes listed has its own wiki page, which explains the trope in detail. Particularly valuable are the examples drawn from traditional literature, manga, comic books, fanfics, films, live-action TV, professional wrestling, table top games, theater, video games, webcomics, western animation, real life and more. It’s a treasure trove of examples of the POSSIBILITIES of a particular stage of a relationship.

In fact, I used this romance arc by choosing one trope from each stage of a relationship and slotting that into my story.

Place Holders

Are you afraid that my story will be trite and boring? I’m not. I know that this is a trope and therefore, I must transform it in the storytelling phase of the project. Right now, though, this trope acts as a place holder, something that indicates approximately what will happen in this spot of the story, but not exactly. The nuances that make it fresh await the actual writing.

Using tropes to hold a place with something reasonable makes the plotting easier. I’m loving this help in plotting.

Here are some Arcs to get you started. Be warned: this is a massive wiki and it’s easy to get lost in it. Know what you are looking for and get it/get out.

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15. 10 Writer Quotes to Keep you Working on Your Novel


30 Days to a Stronger Novel Online Video Course

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30 Days to a Stronger Novel Online Video course

30DaysUdemy-960x540-150
Writing teacher Darcy Pattison teachers an online video course, 30 Days to a Stronger Novel. Each day includes an inspirational quote, and tips and techniques for revising your novel. Here are the 10 of the inspirational quotes.

LEARN MORE: ONLINE VIDEO COURSE.

Or sign up for more information on the availability of this course and other courses.

Pattison
The titles below are the first ten entries of the Table of Contents for the Online Video Class. Sign up now for the Early Bird list. You’ll be notified when the course goes live.

Mims: Online Video Course

Sign up for information on online video courses with Darcy Pattison. Discounts, deadlines, and more.

  1. The Wide, Bright Lands: Theme Affects Setting

    21-Morrell

  2. Raccoons, Owls, and Billy Goats: Theme Affects Characters

    22-singer

  3. Side Trips: Choosing Subplots

    23-morrell

  4. Of Parties, Solos, and Friendships: Knitting Subplots Together

    24-lengle

  5. Feedback: Types of Critiquers

    25-goldberg

  6. Feedback: What You Need from Readers

    26-king

  7. Stay the Course

    27-Parker

  8. Please Yourself First

    28-dillard

  9. The Best Job I Know to Do

    29-allen

  10. Live. Read. Write.

    30-Bratslav

Click Here to See 22 More Quotes for Writers

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16. 3 Ways to Know If Your YA Fiction Is Really New Adult Fiction


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In the immortal words of Charlotte in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”

I was privileged to have Deborah Halverson edit my Harcourt picture book, Searching for Oliver K. Woodman. When we met at a retreat, it was instant friendship, and anytime we talk, it feels like we’ve been friends forever. That’s why I am so excited about this new book. Well, I’m excited because it’s Deborah’s book, but also because it’s the first book I’ve seen to explain the latest fiction genre, New Adult. In Deborah’s capable hands, the topic comes alive and I’ve already got tons of ideas for stories. Here, she answers a basic question; but if you want more, you’ve got to buy her book!


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Guest post by Deborah Halverson

YA writers often ask me to explain the difference between Young Adult fiction and New Adult fiction when the story’s main character is 18 or 19 years old. Some of those writers are curious about this new fiction category that brushes up against their own, but others are trying to noodle out whether that upper YA story they’re working on is really NA. “Tell me what NA is, Deborah, and then I’ll know what I’ve got.” Happy to help! Here are three ways to determine if you’re writing a story about a young adult or a new adult.

DearEditor.com Deborah Halverson is doing a special giveaway for the blog tour for the kickoff of this book. Enter to win “One Free Full Manuscript Edit!

Pin Down Your Protagonist’s Mind-set

How does your character process the world and her place in it? Teens are typically starting to look outward as they try to find their places in the world and realize that their actions have consequences in the grander scheme of life, and they yearn to live unfettered by the rules, structure, and identities that have defined their lives until now. New adults finally get to live that free life they dreamed of—for better or worse. They move forward with the self-exploration they began in their adolescence, going big on personal exploration and experimentation and expanding their worldview. They get to build identities that reflect who they’ve become rather than who they grew up with, and they get to try things out before settling into a final Life Plan. All of this can be overwhelming even when it goes well—after all, even good change is stressful, and “change” is new adulthood in a nutshell. For some, though, the instability is a total freak-out. The clash of ideal vs. reality can shock their system. They’re gaining experience and wisdom hand over fist, but yikes. Luckily, new adults tend to brim with personal optimism, and their explorations and experimentations—both dangerous and beneficial—are endearingly earnest.

If this sounds like your protagonist and her circle of friends, you might have an NA on your hands. You can use this knowledge to give your story a solidly NA sensibility by exposing your character’s inexperience in her decision-making, by imbuing the narrative with a sense of defiance, by conveying stress, by conveying self-focus (not selfishness), by lacing the exposition with personal optimism, and by showing the character’s awareness of her growing maturity. YA characters who are overly analytical about themselves and others risk sounding too mature, but NA character journeys ooze with self-assessment no matter the individual details of their journeys.

Assess Your Circumstances

New Adult v. Young AdultIn fiction, the plot exists to push the protagonist through some kind of personal growth. Thus, our character’s mind-set and the plot are interdependent. Whether your character is a young adult or new adult, the circumstances of your story—the events, problems, places, and roles—should sync with that character. New adults tackle their problems with their new adult filters in place, whether the story is a contemporary one set in college, or a historical one, or a fantastical one. Self-actualization is an essential growth process whether you’re at a college kegger or battling evil overlords.

Once you’ve pinpointed whether your protagonist’s mindset feels YA or NA, consider if your plot events and the circumstances of your protagonist’s life jive with her concerns, fears, coping skills, maturity, and wisdom level. NA story lines tend to remove structure and accountability, tweak the characters’ stress levels by playing musical careers and homes, make money an issue, force the characters to establish new social circles at play and at work, show characters exhibiting ambivalence to adult responsibilities, show characters divorcing from teenhood, show characters striving to “move on from trauma” rather than to “survive trauma”, deny the characters the “ideal” NA life of carefree self-indulgence, put characters in situations that clash their high expectations for independent life against a harsh reality, and show the process of evaluation, of trial-and-error, of weighing exploration and experimentation against consequences, at least by the end of the story.

Deal with the “Sexed-Up YA” Thing

Romance is part of almost any older YA story, and certainly all NA. As it should be—romance is one of the three main areas of identity exploration after puberty, along with career and worldview (think politics, faith, and personal well-being and outlook). The difference is that teens are very solidly in the “what is love, what does it feel like?” realm, whereas new adults are generally working on who they want to be in a relationship, what they want from their partner, what they want from the relationship in general. That doesn’t mean they’re actively searching for Mr./Mrs. Right—there’s plenty of time for that!—but it does mean they want a satisfying, meaningful relationship. Where is your character on that romance spectrum?

Of course, romance isn’t really what people focus on when comparing YA and NA relationships, is it? Nope: it’s sex. So let’s talk about sex. In its early days, NA was accused of being “sexed-up YA”, but after reviewing numbers 1 and 2 above, you’ll see that the differences between YA and NA are more substantial than simply how explicitly you describe two bodies connecting sans clothing. Ask yourself your goal with the romance, and what level of sexual detail is necessary for that goal. Then consider your audience: NA readers are mostly adults of the same 20- to 44-year-old “crossover reader” demographic that shot YA into the publishing stratosphere. (A Digital Book World study reported 2013’s dominant YA crossover readership as being 20- to 29-year-olds; compare that to the 18- to 25-year-old age range of new adulthood). Those grownups can handle—and often flat-out want—explicit sex scenes. Some teens will read NA, but mostly they’re not into that mind-set yet so the stories don’t resonate with them, making them plenty happy to stick with the many great YA stories out there that reflect their current time in life.

Perhaps you determine that your character’s mind-set and story circumstances are solidly YA but you want/need to include some sex scenes in your story because the theme or plot of the story calls for it. In that case, maybe you have a solid YA that requires a “Mature YA” categorization to let readers know that there’s sexual content between those covers. Those scenes will be tamer than the full-on explicitness of NA—your are writing/positioning this story primarily for and about young readers after all, and there are gatekeepers involved—but the sexual content is there and readers are warned. Weigh your goals with your romance, your story’s scene needs, and your audience’s expectations and sensibilities as you make the NA/YA determination on this aspect of your WIP.

So there you have it. Three ways to know if that story you’re writing is Young Adult fiction or New Adult fiction. Good luck with your WIP, and with all your publishing endeavors.


Authorphoto_Halverson_8x8_small3Deborah Halverson is a veteran editor and the award-winning author of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies. Her latest book, Writing New Adult Fiction, teaches techniques and strategies for crafting the new adult mindset and experience into riveting NA fiction. Deborah was an editor at Harcourt Children’s Books for ten years and is now a freelance editor, the founder of the popular writers’ advice website DearEditor.com, and the author of numerous books for young readers, including the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth with Delacorte/Random House. For more about Deborah, visit DeborahHalverson.com or DearEditor.com.

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17. Subplots Fight Writer’s Block


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photo by John GoodridgeSubplots are a connected sequence of events, just like any other plot; the difference is that this is a minor plot with fewer developments. It should affect the main plot in some important way–or else you should delete it–but it doesn’t need the same development of a main plot.

I am still plotting my trilogy, and I’m taking a different strategy this time. I am working on the plot line for the entire trilogy before I start writing. Each book focuses on a different aspect of the overall story problem, so in some respects, each book is a subplot. Yet, overall, the story needs a throughline, or a question that overshadows everything.

In my sff trilogy, the overriding question is will the Risonian planet blow up, killing all Risonians? Or, will they find a new home and refuge?

The subplots will focus on different characters in the story and how they answer different parts of the overall problem. There are three romance subplots, various political subplots, and a couple survival subplots. Characters are motivated by revenge, by a quest of power, or by a sense of desperation.

That’s all good! In a long story–such as a series or even just a trilogy–the story needs to have some depth and breadth, and subplots have the potential to help.

As I say in START YOUR NOVEL, it helps to look over 29 different plot templates and decide on the overall plot for your story. Clearly, my story is about survival, and I can echo that with other smaller stories or subplots of survival. I can also contrast with someone who is out for revenge and cares nothing for survival; revenge at all costs makes for desperate–and potentially compelling–drama. Romance plots: OK, these should be a given in most stories, even if it’s just a love story between a boy and his dog.

What Happens Next?

It often happens that I am trying to work out the main plot but get stumped. What happens next? I’ve no idea.

Then, it’s time to turn to the subplot that has been patiently awaiting notice. What happens next in the subplot? Part of getting stuck is the fear that if I make a major decision about the trajectory of the story, I’m stuck with it. If it’s wrong, it will mean a major revision. Subplots, though, are small and contain fewer scenes. Make a mistake there and it’s much easier to revise later. By focusing on a smaller problem, you put less at risk.

Sometimes I have to go down the list and answer the “What next?” question for each subplot before I get inspiration for a better setting, more compelling emotions, or a larger conflict.

Often, figuring out the next logical step for a minor plot shakes loose a detail that will make everything connect better. Oh! So, she’s the main character’ sister, and that’s why she wants revenge.

The new revelation sends me back to the main plot with a new twist on the action.

When I’m really stuck, I repeat this process with every subplot from action to romance. For example, a romance subplot implies that tension and conflict permeates the man-woman relationship. How does the betrayal, the attraction, the hate, the love, and the self-sacrifice relate to and affect the main plot?

Progress is slow on this huge plot. Thanks to subplots, though, it is progressing! What happens next? My story gets plotted!

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18. Do You Write for the Market? Or Yourself? Or Both?


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Do you write for the market? Or do you just write novels, picture books and articles for yourself?

You’ll hear the advice both ways:
Write what you want to write so you can write the truest book you can write.

Write with the market in mind.

It depends on your writing goals.
If your writing is self-expression and you have other means of monetary support, then please yourself!
If your goal is a career as a writer, and becoming a writer who makes a living wage, then the answer is more nuanced. It’s not just write for the market; you must write what you want to write. But you must also find your audience.

Writers who have a long career seldom start off with a bang. (I once went to a conference where every speaker had sold his/her first book to the first editor who saw it. I went home and cried.) Instead, it’s a slow build of an audience who comes to your work one at a time. This means your writing is improving while your audience is growing.

However, this doesn’t give you the pass on considering the market and your audience.

Consider Your Audience

What is your audience reading? What is popular? That’s often the question that writers ask themselves and it’s a valuable one. Knowing the current market is vital. But you must go deeper and ask, “Why is my audience reading this type of book?”

For YA literature, for example, dystopian literature has been wildly popular for the last five years or so. Why? Because in times of upheaval, people reexamine their identity and challenge the very foundations of civilization–which is exactly the task every generation faces as they come to adulthood. Who are they? What will their life be like?

Are dystopian novels dead? This is an interesting take on how the genre is overrun with cliches.

Are dystopian novels dead? Click on the image for an interesting take on how the genre is overrun with cliches from uzerfriendly.com


Perhaps a simplistic reason, but the idea here is to look under the surface of what is popular to find the reason for the popularity. Once you know the deeper reason, then address THAT in your next book. And do it in a new, fresh, exciting way.

When I approach an editor’s revision letter, I do the same thing. I don’t do every thing the editor asks for. Instead, I look for the deeper, perhaps unspoken concerns, and address those. Editors don’t need to be right; they just need to provoke you to move from your stubborn position and do something even more wonderful than they ever imagined. That’s what I’m asking you to do here. Look at trends in the marketplace–and transcend them. Find a way to answer the deeper concerns in a way that only YOU could do.

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19. KDP Kids: Kindle Kids Book Creator


eBook Sale: August 26-31 only $0.99/regular $5.99

Available at these eBook stores Mims House eBookStore Nook Kindle Kobo iBookstore

AUDIO BOOK (Unabridged): Now Available!

Available at these Audio Book stores iTunes Store Amazon Audible

Amazon’s Kindle publishing program has just announced some new features that will affect children’s books and publishing.

Kindle Kids Book Creator

KDP has a new program designed to handle fixed layout ebooks with large full-page illustrations. In other words, children’s picture books.

I downloaded the program and had a look around. It appears to be an adaptation or repurposing of another Kindle program, the Comic Book Creator. Both deal with large images and a fixed layout. Aaron Shepard first used the Comic Book Creator in April, 2013, with some success.

I created this ebook with the Kindle Comic Book creator program.

I created this ebook with the Kindle Comic Book creator program.


One addition to the Kids Book Creator is the capability of adding pop-up text. The KBC has a base text, either embedded in the image or added within the creator. On top of the base text, though, you can add a pop-up text. This will add some interesting variations and possibilities to children’s ebooks.

The program is simple to use. You start with a pdf file or images. Since the standard file for print production is a pdf file, that makes it easy. Just do your pdf in InDesign, or if you want the poor-man’s layout, do it with MSWord (at your own risk!). From InDesign, you save the file as a high-resolution pdf; from MSWord, you print to an AdobePDF. Using either program, you can add the needed text and control the layout easily.

Upload the pdf and it converts to the correct formatting for a Kindle ebook. You have the option to add/subtract pages, edit text and more.Then, Save for Publication and the program outputs a .mobi file, which is the standard Kindle file.

Advantages
The Kid’s Book Creator has a couple advantages. First, it’s easy. Upload a pdf and you get a .mobi.

Second, you have access to the original html and CSS files, if you have the skills to do that. That means you have some nice control over the layout.

Disadvantages
However, there are a couple major disadvantages. First, you only get a .mobi file. This is, after all, a Kindle program. It means that you can only upload the file to KDP. You must have an epub file for Apple iBook, Kobo, Nook, Smashwords or other platforms. You’ll put lots of effort into a file that is only useful on one platform.

Second, you must be very careful about the file that is output. On the KDP platform, you must choose either a 35% or 70% royalty schedule. If you choose 35%, there are no associated delivery charges. However, if you select the 70% royalty schedule, delivery charges in the U.S. are $0.15/MB. See the KDP chart here for charges in other countries. When I tested the Kids Book Creator, it gave me similar results as the Comic Book Creator program, files that were quite large.

I started with a usual 32-page picture book, formatted for print at 300 dpi. I uploaded the pdf to the Kid’s Book Creator and converted–without adding any pop-up text to add extra size. The resulting .mobi file was 8.2MB; that file would incur a delivery fee of $1.23. This severely limits the ability to price the book at the lower end of the spectrum, unless you opt for the 35% royalty. If an ebook is priced at $1.99, here’s the math:

$1.99 – $1.23 delivery charge = $0.76 x 70% royalty = $0.532 profit/book.
$1.99 x 35% royalty = $0.72 profit/book.

The key, of course, is to begin with a smaller pdf at the outset. To do it right, you should go back to the original images, reduce those and go on from there. Which almost defeats the ease of use for the program.

My preference will probably be to stick with InDesign to create the print files and save as pdf. I’ll probably do a high-resolution version and a low-resolution version. InDesign exports as an epub for all platforms except Kindle. Using the low-resolution pdf, I’ll try this new program for the needed .mobi files.

This Kindle ebook was created with InDesign and then converted to .mobi with the Comic Book Creator. The Kids Book Creator should work just as easily.

This Kindle ebook was created with InDesign and then converted to .mobi with the Comic Book Creator. The Kids Book Creator should work just as easily.

Updated Metadata

KDP has finally joined the other ebook platforms by adding metadata to indicate the age range and grade range for the book. It’s a welcome addition, if a bit late. The support for this is underwhelming, too. KDP calls it an “Age and Grade” Tools, but it’s a simple table with five age levels from babies to young adult. And of course, these are only suggested levels, you are still free to list your book as you wish.

Compared with iBook Creator

Enhancing ebooks with pop-ups, music, video or other multi-media isn’t new. And in some ways, the Kids Book Creator doesn’t add much to the range of ebooks. Apple’s iBook Creator has allowed introduction of video and much more for several years. Kindle’s new program adds only pop-ups. I’m intrigued with the possibilities here, but I doubt that the interactivity will make much difference for most books.

Education v. Trade Books

In a wider context, it’s interesting that KDP is jumping on the bandwagon for children’s ebooks at this point. As the School Library Journal reported in September, 2013, schools–or the education market for ebooks–have many options. Most of the ebooks available to school libraries are device-neutral by displaying books through a browser. According to an SLJ survey, 67% of school librarians buy ebooks from Follett, which uses a browser-neutral platform. For schools, the battle has been lost by Nook, Kindle, and Apple because few schools wants to put all their budget into a device that must be updated often and requires too much consensus across the district. All tablets and many ebook devices have browsers; a browser-based ebook makes sense.

Now KDP has turned its attention to children’s ebooks. Is it too little, too late? Or, will this merely deepen the divide between trade children’s ebooks and education-market children’s ebooks?

If you want to play around with the new Kids Book Creator, you can download it here.

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20. Momentum: Keep the Writing Coming


eBook Sale: August 26-31 only $0.99/regular $5.99

Available at these eBook stores Mims House eBookStore Nook Kindle Kobo iBookstore

AUDIO BOOK (Unabridged): Now Available!

Available at these Audio Book stores iTunes Store Amazon Audible

You’ve started! Hurrah!
Now, how do you keep going, especially when LIFE happens? As it invariably will!

Stop in the Middle

One strategy to keep momentum going is to stop in the middle of a sentence, paragraph, or scene. Those who recommend this suggest that you stop at an exciting moment, at a place that will be easy and apparent on how to proceed when you come back to it.

This makes sense. Creative people stop working on their craft at a very specific moment: they fail to start again. It’s rare for an artist/writer to stop working on a project. Of course, we all have drawers full of half-finished manuscripts. But the fact that they are half-finished might even be encouraging. No, instead, a writer may accomplish a big goal, say publication of the novel of their dreams. And then–nothing. Once that goal is accomplished, they fail to start again.

Leaving a work in the middle of something interesting means that you have a chance of coming back to it and actually picking it up again.

Keep Score

I am motivated by numbers. Give me a running tally of something and it motivates me to see that number increase. Writing is especially suited to keeping score: keep track of how many words you write each day and a running total for the project. You can do this manually, or with programs such as Scrivener. Some writers like to do this in public with a widget on their website or by posting on Facebook.
Momentum

Know Where You Are Going

Whether you are a panster or outliner, it helps to keep in mind something about the coming story. For pansters, maybe it’s a vague idea of the ending of the story. For outliners, it’s the next chapter or scene. Either way, I find that looking forward helps me come back to the work fresh and ready to move on.

Dealing with Life

Your job, in the midst of everything that life throws at you, is to find a way to move forward. When I taught freshman composition, one semester, I had a student who had major life challenges. His wife was six months pregnant and on total bed rest or she might lose the baby. His daughter was autistic and each night he sat with her doing homework to keep her from literally banging her head against the wall. He worked full time. I suggested that maybe he should drop out a semester until life was calmer. But he said that his employment was contingent on him being in school and working toward a degree. He couldn’t quit school or he had no job.

“How do I find time to write an essay?” he asked.

The simple answer is, “I don’t know.”

All I could say to him was that I had great sympathy for his situation and would encourage him as much as I could. But in the end, if he didn’t turn in an essay, I couldn’t give him a grade.

And in the end, we all stand before the complications of Life and must find a way to deal with those Life issues and still do the work that we are given to do.

How do you find the time to write?
I don’t know. I have great sympathy for you and I’m cheering for you and hoping that you make the effort because the world needs to hear your voice.
But in the end, you must find the solution to your own Life issues.
When you do, send me your good news!

P.S. My student DID turn in essays and wound up with a B for the semester.

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21. General to Specific: From One Sentence to a Plot


eBook Sale: August 26-31 only $0.99/regular $5.99

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AUDIO BOOK (Unabridged): Now Available!

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So, I have a general outline of my story but the writing still isn’t flowing. I realized that I need to break down major events into smaller sections, so I will know what to write.

I’ve gone through two stages of plotting or outlining, each one getting more specific. Here’s an example:

1. First, I stared with major plot points:
A volcano threatens to blow up, so Jake gets alien Rison technology to make it stop.

2. Second, I start to layout possible scenes.
At one point, he realizes he needs the alien technology, so he makes arrangements to get it. I wrote this: Later, at home, Jake contacts Mom, who gives him a contact on Rison who can ship him some technology and he orders what he needs to counter-attack the technology Cy used. Keeping up his volunteer work, Jake goes kayaking with Bobbie Fleming.

At this level, a scene may be summarized in a single sentence. However, it’s more helpful to break down both sentences further.

3. On the third pass, I’m looking to split up the action into several scenes, or at least flesh out the one scene a bit better.

Later, at home, Jake contacts Mom, who gives him a contact on Rison who can ship him some technology and he orders what he needs to counter-attack the technology Cy used. Conflict with Mom because he really wants to try swim team and she’s distracted b/c negotiations going so badly.
Keeping up his volunteer work, Jake goes kayaking with Bobbie Fleming. Bobbie Fleming, a harbor seal upsets Jake’s kayak. Of course, he has no problem with righting the canoe and getting back in and getting back to shore. But something nags at him, the waters feel more like home than the Gulf waters did. Something about being IN Puget Sound—there was something THERE. He had to find out what?

Plot is a way of examining story to see its underlying structure. Starting with a general idea and subdividing toward a specific plot often gives a writer the direction needed for the story to work.

Plot is a way of examining story to see its underlying structure. Starting with a general idea and subdividing toward a specific plot often gives a writer the direction needed for the story to work.

Snowflakes and Phases

Need a more structured approach to something similar? The Snowflake Method, by Randy Ingermanson is a very structured approach that starts with a single sentence, and then splits that into two sentences, the two into four sentences, etc. until the story takes shape. It’s a structured outlining process with built-in steps for developing characters. Randy has a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, and his structured thinking shows in this method, which he’s turned into a software program and various books. If you need a very structured program, you may like the help you’ll get from the Snowflake Method.

Another option for approaching plot in a structured way is Lazette Gifford’s Phases system. You should read her original article about Phases here. She suggests that you write a numbered list of “phases” or short summaries of action. These can be scenes, transitions, thinking about what just happened and so on.

What I like here is the reference to the overall novel. Gifford suggests that you use MSWord’s auto-numbering feature to write phases for your novel.

For example, if you want to write 50,000 words, Gifford, in her free ebook, Nano for the New and Insane, breaks the 50,000 word length into phases:

  • 60 Phases in the outline — 834 words per phase — 2 phase sections per day
  • 120 Phases in the outline — 417 words
    per phase — 4 phase sections per day
  • 150 Phases in the outline — 334 words per
    phase — 5 phase sections per day
  • 300 Phases in the outline — 167 words
    per phase — 10 phase sections per day

In other words, I can start with 60 phases and in that space, I should have a synopsis of the the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Or, if you’d rather, think of it as Acts 1, 2, and 3. Act 1 and 3 get about 15 phases each, which leaves 30 for Act 2.

That is comforting to me. I ONLY have to decide on 15 scenes (or discrete units) for Act 1. Act 1 looms HUGE for me, but 15 scenes sounds easy.

Phases allows me to do an easy, early check on the plot, too. Each phases needs moments of high arousal: excitement, inspiration, awe, anger, humor, action, disgust or outrage. Across the phases, I can easily check on how a subplot fits into the overall structure and how the subplot progresses.

Sixty phases is something that’s easy to see and understand. Once those are set, I may try to increase to 120 words, breaking down the plot into more specific actions.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, this also makes the task of 50,000 words in one day much easier.

Another thing I like about the Phase method is that it’s easy to see progress. I’m all about numbers and keeping score. On 9/5, I started with 23 phases; today, I’m up to 49 phases. My goal is 60 phases by the end of the week. Then I’ll look at it further to see if I want to go for 120 or if the 60 will be good enough to write from.

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22. Short Story Anthology: Fiction River Universe Between


Read on Wattpad - Serialized Novel

From September 11, 2014 - October 30, 2014.
Read one chapter/day. Click on cover to read the first five chapters.

I am excited to report that I have my first science fiction, adult-audience, short story published!

Last year, I attended a retreat in Oregon with Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch as the main instructors. They own WMG Publishing, and one on-going project is a monthly short-story anthology. I was invited to submit, it was accepted and is not in a bookstore near you! Fiction River #8: The Universe Between collects original stories by a wide range of authors. My favorite is the first story by Lee Allred, who writes scripts for DC, Marvel, and Image Comics, among other credits. “Slow Answer” is about an alien race who takes over Earth, providing a near utopia for humans; the twist is WHY they’d taken over Earth, and the answer is why you should read this anthology.

My own story, “Are We Alone in the Universe?”, is also a science fiction story about first contact with an alien race. I wrote it as back story for the trilogy that I’m working on right now. The story is about the parents of my main character: how they met, how they fell in love, and the fallout of a forbidden love. I was thrilled when the story was accepted because it’s my first short story ever published, my first adult-audience story ever published, and my first science fiction story ever published. That triple-whammy makes it exciting.

FR8UniverseBetween

The Fiction River Anthology is available as an ebook, paperback, or Audible audiobook.

Support the Fiction River Anthology

Even more exciting today, though, is the Fiction River Kickstarter Project. To keep alive a short story collection publication, WMG Publishing established a Kickstarter, or crowd-funding, project. With 17/30 days left, they have already met their $5000 goal, AND their 10,000 Stretch Goal, and are going for gold.

Like many of the other Fiction River authors, I donated books for the Kickstarter project. I urge you to look over the project and think about contributing; even small contributions of $10 are welcome and helpful. However, if you’re really interested in helping, some of the rewards that involve my books are still available:

  • Pledge $60 or more
    E-UNIVERSE BETWEEN AUTHORS PACKAGE: Receive a one-year electronic subscription to Fiction River, plus an electronic edition of Fiction River: Universe Between. You’ll also get electronic copies of books by some of the contributing authors of Universe Between. You’ll receive The Unjust, Dust, and Hope by Rob Vagle; The Haunted Bones by Phaedra Weldon; Body Check by D.H. Hendrickson; Kell, the Alien (a children’s book) by Darcy Pattison; and Love, Venusian Style by Richard Alan Dickson. Plus, your name printed in the acknowledgements section of each Fiction River volume for a year and on the Fiction River website with a special thank you for your kind support. Limited (1 of 1 remaining)
  • Pledge $125 or more
    PRINT UNIVERSE BETWEEN AUTHORS PACKAGE: Receive a one-year print subscription to Fiction River, plus a print edition of Fiction River: Universe Between. You’ll also receive SIGNED print copies of books by some of the contributing authors to Universe Between. You’ll get Body Check by D.H. Hendrickson; Kell, the Alien (a children’s book) by Darcy Pattison; The Unjust, Dust, and Hope by Rob Vagle; and Love, Venusian Style by Richard Alan Dickson. Plus, your name printed in the acknowledgements section of each Fiction River volume for a year and on the Fiction River website with a special thank you for your kind support. Limited (1 of 1 remaining)
  • Pledge $500 or more
    PAPER BANG FOR YOUR BUCK PACKAGE: All the print volumes of Fiction River from Volume 1 through the end of year three! But wait, there’s more! In addition, you will receive a SIGNED print copy of a book from each of the following authors who have contributed a print book to this Kickstarter: Mary Jo Putney, Marcelle Dube´, JC Andrijeski, Laura Resnick, Annie Reed, Kris Nelscott, Leah Cutter, Dean Wesley Smith, M.L. Buchman, Juliet Nordeen, Michele Lang, Melissa Yi, Ryan M. Williams, Sharon Joss, Brian Herbert and Jan Herbert, Jeffrey A. Ballard, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Darcy Pattison, Lisa Silverthorne, Richard Alan Dickson, Brigid Collins, Karen L. Abrahamson, Thomas K. Carpenter, D.H. Hendrickson, Travis Heermann, Scott William Carter, Stephanie Writt, Joe Cron, Barton Grover Howe, Rebecca S.W. Bates, Richard Bowes, Louise Marley, Brendan DuBois, Ray Vukcevich, Carole Nelson Douglas, Julie Hyzy, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Kara Legend, John Helfers, Kerrie L. Hughes, Rob Vagle, Laura Ware, Patrick O’Sullivan, Dayle A. Dermatis, Kevin J. Anderson and David Farland. Plus, your name printed in the acknowledgements section of each Fiction River volume for a year and on the Fiction River website with a special thank you for your kind support. Limited (1 of 1 remaining)

Don’t think that big donations are the only way to go. Every level of support–even $1–is appreciated, and it’s helpful! Read more about the Fiction River Kickstarter Project.
READ the Fiction River Anthology — including my short story!

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23. Serializing Fiction: Wattpad


Read on Wattpad - Serialized Novel

From September 11, 2014 - October 30, 2014.
Read one chapter/day. Click on cover to read the first five chapters.

I am going to be serializing my novel, VAGABONDS: An American Fantasy, on Wattpad for the next 50 days.

Why Wattpad

Wattpad is a social media platform for readers and writers. Writers post stories and readers comment.
That’s almost enough reason right there to be on Wattpad:it’s a place where readers and writers connect.

The latest statistics say that 16.9 million readers find time to read at least 30 minutes/visit on Wattpad. These are not casual, glance at your website and five seconds later, they click off. When a reader finds a story that interests them, they read. They engage. They comment and vote up. Some call this the “YouTube of Writing.” Popular titles can have over 10M reads and more than 10,000 comments. WOW!

Science fiction, YA, and Fantasy. Over 20 genres are represented on Wattpad, but the most popular categories are science fiction, YA, and fantasy. VAGABONDS definitely fits the popular genre of fantasy, and should have appeal to teen readers. I describe it as a “Watership Down with armadillos.”

The platform provides statistics on how many people read each chapter. In other words, if you have a 50 chapter book and you lose readers after chapter 23–you have valuable feedback on when and where you went askew in your story.

2014 has been a year of experimentation for me. I’ve tried multiple ways to connect my books with the right readers and this seems like a reasonable thing to try. I’ll report in November how the month went. In the meantime–go to Wattpad and read the six chapters. Vote it up!

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24. Don’t Plot Like I Do!


Read on Wattpad - Serialized Novel

From September 11, 2014 - October 30, 2014.
Read one chapter/day. Click on cover to read the first five chapters.

I’m warning you! Don’t plot like I do.

I’ve been working on the plot of a new novel for about six weeks and I’m still stumbling around. I’ll describe the messy process here and hope that you manage to shortcut your own process.

It started last year with an idea and a short story that gave backstory on the longer story. I’ve wanted to write a sf for a while and this idea has been germinating for a long time. Besides the problem of other projects, there’s the question of audience. I had to grapple with taking creative risks.

Take Creative Risks

One creative risk was the type of story I would tell. Would it be a character story or an action/adventure story?

I plotted out something, but my left brain kicked in and compared the plot to the 29 Plot Templates Regardless of which plot structure I looked at, there were so many holes in the story.

I got advice from Optimus Prime. Hey, I take help where I find it and Optimus was obviously handing out advice on plotting.

By now, though, I was getting bogged down. What was the purpose of all this plotting? I had to remind myself that I was telling a story.

The next disappointment was the worry about how slowly the work progressed.

Listen. I know a lot about novel structure, characterization, plotting, setting and many other topics about novels. I teach this stuff. But when I write, I struggle through the writing process. One of my strengths, though, is that I am open to switching strategies. It’s also my weakness, but while I’m in the throes of plotting, I feel like I am jumping from this method, to that paradigm, to yet another novel structure. In reality, I’m just checking out my story from multiple POVs.
Impossible

A Sixth Grade Aside

When my daughter was in sixth grade, she wrote an essay. The teacher asked my daughter to write an evaluation essay about writing the essay. Write down the process you went through to write this essay, the teacher advised.

And I shook my head in despair.

No, there isn’t just ONE path through the writing process. It’s cyclical, curving back on itself to ask you to repeat this task or that task. Or perhaps describing it as a maze is a better metaphor. I follow false trails until they dead end. I get lost in the middle and can’t fight my way out. I start at the beginning one time and the next time, I start at the end. Somehow, though, the writing gets done. There are strategies, ways of approaching a draft, working habits, and so on. But for any given piece of writing, the process will vary and vary widely.

Messy Writing Process

This time, I’m doing well with trying to go from general to specific.

That got me to an eight-page outline. But the 29 Plot Templates revealed major holes. I realized that I needed to concentrate on sub-plots and figure those out before I returned to the main plot. I focused on the villain as the hero of his own story: why did he want revenge? I re-read articles about writing a revenge story and one comment struck me: “Killing him would be too easy.”

Of course! Revenge isn’t just about hurting or killing the person; it’s about making them suffer as the victim has suffered. I asked myself, “What would make my character hurt/suffer the most?” Of course, that is what I MUST make happen. Voila! A new plot twist grabbed me and I was off and running with the complications from that twist.

10 page outline. But still lots of plot holes.

Over the next few days, I’ll be looking at other subplots and milking them for all the conflict that I can. Will there be a romantic subplot? After an initial attraction, there needs to be deep reasons why they must stay apart. What reason is sitting there in my story already, just waiting for me to exploit it? It’s there. I just need an Aha! Moment to recognize it. I’m jumping all around, reading odd articles, re-reading the 10-page outline and looking for the right way to approach this.

I feel like I am being asked to carve a huge statue with a bobby pin.

I have at least three more subplots to work through and slot into the main plot. I’m sure there will still be plot holes then, but I expect there will be fewer.

Should I copy this process the next time I plot? No!
Each time, the writing process creates it’s own maze and demands a different path to story. I’m just trusting that the process will eventually spit out a viable story. I know that I’ll have to decide something about the audience and tone, and spend a while on characters and their back story. I know that some personal issues are likely to complicate the timing of the writing. I know I’ll make multiple starts before I really get going.

Don’t follow my writing process. It’s messy and ugly. Besides—it wouldn’t work for you. You must find your own way through the maze of words to find the story that only you can tell.

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25. 30 Days to a Stronger Novel: Online Video Course


Read on Wattpad - Serialized Novel

From September 11, 2014 - October 30, 2014.
Read one chapter/day. Click on cover to read the first five chapters.

Online Video Classes by Darcy Pattison

Writing teacher and author Darcy Pattison.

Writing teacher and author Darcy Pattison.

Starting in November, 2014, Darcy Pattison will offer online video writing courses through Udemy.com’s platform. See more about Darcy here, or download her bio here.

  • Writing Teacher, Darcy Pattison will explain writing concepts, tips, strategies. Since 1999, Darcy has taught the Novel Revision Retreat nationwide, and many alumni have seen their first publication as a result.
  • The on-demand format allows you to fit the courses into your busy schedule. You access the videos any time day or night. Start the series anytime you need it. No need to wait for the start of the next month.
  • Group discounts available: your critique group can take the class together. Focus your group’s accountability, discussions, and output for a month.

Mims House Book and Online Course Updates

* indicates required

Online Video Courses


If this form isn’t working, click here to sign up.

NOVEMBER 1: 30 Days to a STRONGER Novel: $59


30DaysUdemy-960x540-150

INTRODUCTORY PRICING: One of the most popular series on Darcy Pattison’s Fiction Notes blog has been her 30-day series on improving a novel. Now updated, the series offers 30 days of sage advice on strengthening your novel, for less than $2/day.

Each day includes:

  • A quote that inspires
  • Short, practical instruction from Darcy on a specific topic
  • A simple “Walk the Talk” action to take

9781629440408-Perfect.inddOver the course of the month, you’ll receive the entire text of Darcy’s book, 30 Days to a Stronger Novel (November, 2014 release).
We can’t guarantee that you’ll end the month with a publishable novel; but we can guarantee it will be a STRONGER novel.

VIDEO COURSE TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Watership Down with Armadillos: Titles
  • Search Me: Subtitles
  • Defeat Interruptions: Chapter Divisions
  • Scarlett or Pansy: The Right Character Name
  • My Wound is Geography: Stronger Settings
  • Horse Manure: Stronger Setting Details
  • Weaklings: Every Character Must Matter
  • Take Your Character’s Pulse
  • Yin-Yang: Connecting Emotional and Narrative Arcs
  • Owls and Foreigners: Unique Character Dialogue
  • Sneaky Shoes: Inner and Outer Character Qualities
  • Friends or Enemies: Consistent Character Relationships
  • Set Up the Ending: Begin at the Beginning
  • Bang, Bang! Ouch! Scene Cuts
  • Go Away! Take a Break
  • Power Abs for Novels
  • White Rocks Lead Me Home: Epiphanies
  • The Final Showdown
  • One Year Later: Tie up Loose Ends
  • Great Deeds: Find Your Theme
  • The Wide, Bright Lands: Theme Affects Setting
  • Raccoons, Owls, and Billy Goats: Theme Affects Characters
  • Side Trips: Choosing Subplots
  • Of Parties, Solos, and Friendships: Knitting Subplots Together
  • Feedback: Types of Critiquers
  • Feedback: What You Need from Readers
  • Stay the Course
  • Please Yourself First
  • The Best Job I Know to Do
  • Live. Read. Write.

EARLY BIRD SIGNUP: Great Extras!

When you sign up for the Early Bird list, you are eligible for some great offers. When the course is live, we’ll send out an email to the EARLY BIRD list.

3 Written Critiques

The first three people to sign up for the course will receive the opportunity to submit ten pages to Darcy for a written critique.

5 Group Coaching Sessions

The first five critique groups who sign up for the course will receive the opportunity for a group Skype call where each person gets to ask Darcy a question about their manuscript.

1 Private Coaching Session:

All names will be entered in a drawing for a 15-minute private coaching session (Skype call) with Darcy to discuss your novel.

EARLY BIRD SIGNUP: Great Discounts!

At $59, the 30 Days to a Stronger Novel online video course is a steal: that’s less than $2/day, less than a cup of coffee for coaching by acclaimed writing teacher Darcy Pattison.
If you sign up for the Early Bird list, though, you’ll receive a special discount:

  • 30% discount on regular price
  • 40% discount for groups of 3 or more – sign up with your critique group for the best pricing!
  • For groups of 25 or more, contact Darcy for discount rates.

To be eligible for Early Bird Extras and Early Bird Discounts,
you MUST be on this Early Bird List

Mims House Book and Online Course Updates

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Online Video Courses


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