Tag Archives: writing tips

Awesome Audio

Lately I’m becoming more and more of an audiophile. Audiobooks were my gateway, and for a while my main listening material (aside from music). Then a friend convinced me to listen to a podcast, and a few weeks later I was asking her to recommend an app so I could subscribe to the ones I like and get every new episode in one place.

I posted a few weeks ago about podcasts for writers, but today I have a few more specific audio recommendations. First, this episode of Writing Excuses on setting and the environment blew my mind. L.E. Modessit, Jr., discusses how the environment affects many aspects of daily life in far more detail than I’ve thought about before. If you’re writing science fiction, fantasy, or historical fiction, I highly recommend listening to this. (And even if you write contemporary fiction, there’s some fascinating information here.)

Illuminae.My second recommendation is the audiobook of Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. The book is composed entirely of documents — chats, interview transcripts, military reports, etc. — so I didn’t think it would translate well to audio. It was on my list of books I should really read when I got through my current stack of print books. But then another writer recommended the audio version, and boy am I glad I listened! The production is great, and of course the story itself is fantastic. (And if you don’t want to take my word for it, Illuminae was also just nominated as a finalist for YALSA’s 2016 Teens’ Top Ten.)

Happy listening!

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Flash Fiction: Being Concise

stopwatch.

Photo by Flickr user Search Engine People Blog

I often joke that I write novels because I can’t tell a short story. Non-writers may assume that fewer words = easier to write, but I’ve never found that to be the case. I think it’s much harder to tell a whole story in just a few thousand — or hundred — words. Each word has to be perfect, and often pulls double or triple duty, conveying not only the basic meaning but also the tone, voice, and rhythm of the piece. That’s a lot of pressure on one word!

No matter what length you’re writing, the ability to be concise is a good skill to have. That’s why I’ve started writing flash fiction. Forcing myself to tell a whole story in 100 words has helped me hone my craft, and has made it easier for me to write queries and synopses. If you’re looking for a fun, low-pressure way to get into flash fiction, Janet Reid frequently hosts contests on her blog. The community there is really supportive, and even if your entries don’t make the long lists, it’s fun to read those that do. I’ve yet to be a finalist, but I’m learning so much from these exercises and from reading others’ entries.

Do you write flash fiction? What tips do you have for writing short pieces?

Getting the most out of contests and conferences

Professional networking.

Image by flickr user Ghozt Tramp

By the time you read this, I’ll have submitted my pitch and first chapter for Pitch Wars, a contest hosted by the fabulous Brenda Drake in which selected applicants are paired with mentors to polish their manuscripts and pitches, and then agents read the pitches and request anything that catches their eye. It’s a wonderful opportunity for mentees to learn from people who have been in their shoes, for mentors and mentees to connect with other writers, and for agents to find great books. But I’m going to echo some things I keep hearing from the mentors and past participants: first, being a Pitch Wars mentee will not guarantee that you’ll get an agent right away, nor will not being chosen for the contest mean you’ll never get an agent with that manuscript; and second, the agent round is the least important part of the contest. Pitch Wars is all about making connections and learning from each other. And you don’t have to be a mentee to benefit from the contest. Follow along on Twitter (#PitchWars), cheer the contestants on, and soak up all the advice the participants offer in their tweets and on their blogs. Join in the conversation, and you may just meet your next CP, or your next best friend (or both!).

I view conferences in a similar light. There are usually opportunities to pitch to agents, but I think the greatest value lies in making connections and learning from your fellow conference-goers — both faculty and attendees. If you go to a conference with the single goal of getting an agent, you’ll be disappointed if the agent(s) you pitch to don’t request your work, and you’ll miss out on a lot of opportunities to grow as a writer. I’ve mentioned this before, but I met all of my CPs (and some of my best friends) at Midwest Writers Workshop. That conference is where I first began looking at writing as a career, and where I was introduced to the business side of writing. I’ve pitched to agents there the past three years, but I actually got more out of spending time with them informally at meals and in the hotel lobby. Why? Because we got to know each other. We got to talk about the industry and books without the awkwardness of my pitch hovering between us. And I learned which agents I might enjoy working with, because I got a sense of their personalities and communication styles. Anyone I can discuss zombie apocalypses, the NFL, and the yin and yang of gay YA with is someone I’d be comfortable talking about my work and my career with. (And remember, you don’t want to just get an agent; you want to get the right agent for you. Your agent will be your business partner, so you want to make sure you’ll get along well.)

So, even if you don’t get picked for a contest, or the agent you thought would be perfect for you doesn’t request your full manuscript on the spot, you can still get a lot out of contests and conferences. Make as many meaningful connections as you can, and be open to learning from everyone you meet, no matter where they are in their careers.

What advice do you have for contest entrants and conference attendees?

Tips for writing unlikeable characters

Captain Jack Sparrow

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

At the Midwest Writers Workshop, ​I attended a session on how to write unlikeable characters without driving your readers away. This is tough to do, especially when you consider that different readers have different measures of what makes a character unlikeable, as well as different levels of unlikeable behavior that they’ll tolerate. For me, in order to enjoy a book with an unlikeable protagonist, that character has to be relatable. I have to understand and be able to empathize with this person. Or, at the very least, I have to be invested in the story and the way the narrator is telling it.

So, how do we do this?

1. Save the cat. Make the character do something kind (but still in-character!) in an early scene, and readers will be more likely stick with that character through later unsavory behaviors.

2. Give the character someone s/he loves. Readers will tolerate a lot more nastiness from someone who is fiercely protective of a friend or family member.

3. Allow the character’s bad traits to help him/her. A seasoned shoplifter may be able to put those skills to use when trying to sneak into or out of the villain’s lair.

4. Show off the character’s flaws with humor. Readers will put up with a lot more if you can make them laugh at the same time.

5. Exaggerate bad traits to a love-to-hate level. I’m sure we can all think of characters who are so awful they fit this description.

6. Give the reader someone to hate more. A carjacker doesn’t seem so bad when s/he’s chasing a serial killer.

7. Make the writing compelling. If the writing is good enough, readers will stick with the story for that.

8. Give the character a change to change or grow. This isn’t necessary, and won’t work for all stories, but sometimes the pirate who sets out to steal the city’s treasure may wind up saving the city and returning the gold later.

9. Make the character self-aware. Let your character own his/her dark qualities, recognize that they’re dark, but not care because xyz pushed him/her to that point.

Those are my tips and takeaways from the workshop. Is there anything you’d add to this list? What makes you stick with an unlikeable character?

Getting out of a writing rut

3-D printer.

3-D printer at the Muncie Public Library’s Connection Corner

I’ve blogged before about getting through those moments when you feel stuck on a project. But those tips assume you have a project that you’re working on, whether you’re revising or just getting started. What about when you’re between projects, and have no ideas (or too many ideas!) for the next one? Where do you start?

Sometimes, it helps me to take a break before diving into a new project. I’m excited about a story idea, but when I start to write, I just can’t get into it. My last project is too fresh in my mind. So instead of starting another novel right away, I’ll use prompts or writing exercises to hone my craft while I take the time to mentally prepare myself for another book. It’s nice to practice a skill on a scene level without having to think about how that scene will fit into a larger project, and it gives me a chance to really push myself without any pressure.

Another good way to cleanse your palate between projects is to read. Read books in your genre and books outside your genre. Read about things that interest you — both in fiction and in nonfiction. You never know when something will spark an idea for your own work.

TARDIS.

I made a miniature TARDIS with the MakerBot 3-D printer and a design from Thingiverse

Finally, find another creative outlet. If you like music, take a class, join a community band, or just sing to yourself in the shower. If you like to draw, pull out your sketchpad. I’ve been reading a lot about different maker activities in libraries, and finally had a chance to check out the 3-D printer, digital design equipment, and recording studio at a nearby library yesterday. I learned a lot, and left with ideas I can apply to both my library and writing careers.

How do you clear your mind between projects?

Are your characters struggling enough?

Rainbow Dash.

Image by xPesifeindx via Wikimedia Commons

Summer Reading is in full swing, and I’m hard at work planning superhero-themed fun. Between that and editing my own work, I don’t have a ton of blogging time this week. However, I did come across a great post about “Nice Writer Syndrome” on Janice Hardy’s Fiction University that I thought I’d share with you. This is a good follow-up to my post last week about not shying away from confrontation​.

So, do you suffer from Nice Writer Syndrome? How do you combat it?

Writing tip: don’t shy away from confrontation

Angry bull. All writers love their characters. We wouldn’t spend thousands of words and hours with them if we didn’t. So of course we don’t want anything bad to happen to them.

But if nothing bad happens to our characters, then we don’t have a story. No one wants to read a book where everything is perfect all the time. Without conflict, there’s no plot, no character goals, and no opportunities for characters to grow.

I recently read a novel that had heaps of conflict all the way up to the climax. It was a character-driven story that started with a falling out between the protagonist and her long-time best friend. Throughout the book we saw glimpses of their friendship over the years interspersed with the events leading up to their rift. I really cared about these characters, and understood why both of them acted the way they did. I was rooting for them to make up.

But then, the book ended with everything suddenly being fine between them. There was no big blow-out, no final confrontation, no fight about the hurtful things said or the protagonist’s ruined reputation. A tragic accident resulted in a near-death, and suddenly everyone was just happy no one died, and all the strained relationships between the main character and her family and friends were magically resolved.

I know this sometimes happens in real life, but in fiction, it feels like a cop-out. I wanted a final showdown, or at least a conversation. I’m guilty of this kind of thing in my own writing — I sometimes write four or five different endings before I get that final confrontation right. I’ll lead my characters into pits of despair and then when they finally get to the epic battle … well, I’ll avoid making it epic, or even much of a battle, without even realizing it. I think subconsciously I just don’t want to make my characters that miserable.

But that’s the job of a good storyteller. The bigger the conflict, and the higher the stakes, the more invested the reader will be. So don’t shy away from confrontation. Let your characters duke it out, whether they’re hurling spells across a battlefield or shouting insults across a locker room. Your story, and your characters, will be stronger for it.