Monday, August 25, 2014

Seeking Validation As A Writer

 In her book Letters to a Young Artist: Straight-up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts for Actors, Performers, Writers, and Artists of Every Kind (public library) Anna Deavere Smith writes:

"The life of an artist is not a state of "being". It even sounds pretentious, sometimes, to call oneself blanketly "an artist". It's not up to you or me to give ourselves that title. A doctor becomes a doctor because he or she is formally given an MD. A scholar in the university is formally given a PhD, a counselor an LLD, a hairstylist a license, and so forth.

We are on the fringe, and we don’t get such licenses. There are prizes and rewards, popularity and good or bad press. But you have to be your own judge. That, in and of itself, takes discipline, and clarity, and objectivity. Given the fact that we are not “credentialed” by any institution that even pretends to be objective, it is harder to make our guild. True, some schools and universities give a degree for a course of study. But that’s a business transaction and ultimately not enough to make you an artist.” 

So these words made me think. All artists seek validation. But who provides the validation? Who decides whether a writer has "made it" or when a writer has "made it"? Where does your sense of worth as a writer come from?

Being an artist isn’t valued the way it should be in our society. And it seems that writers are THE most insecure bunch. Why are writers so hesitant to claim the title of writer? Have you ever met a dancer, singer or actor who waits for permission to be declared a dancer, singer or actor? No. But writers seem to wait for permission. We cannot run away from the fact that there is a tendency to invalidate creators on a regular basis.

They say that those who are insecure about their work possess the most potential and have a powerful tool in their hands. How do you explain this? Well it's something along these lines: those who know the least speak the loudest, those who are the most qualified keep quiet because they question themselves and the world; the more we learn about life, or our various pursuits, the more the wisest among us realize how little we actually know. This in turn leads to insecurity in life.

The concept of validation is different for each person. Some writers are validated by their contracts and others by seeing their books in print. Some are validated by reviews, while others are validated by peer recognition. 

For me, the validation that is most important, is that my writing connects with readers. What about you?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Deepen Conflict By Forcing Your Hero To Embrace The Grey of Morality by Angela Ackerman

When we sit down to brainstorm a character, we think about possible qualities, flaws, quirks, habits, likes and dislikes that they might have. Then to dig deeper, we assemble their backstory, plotting out who influenced them, what experiences shaped them (both good and bad) and which emotional wounds pulse beneath the surface. All of these things help us gain a clearer sense of who our characters are, what motivates them, and ultimately, how they will behave in the story.

But how often do we think about a character’s morality? Especially when dealing with a hero, it’s easy to just make the assumption that he’s good and leave it at that. And for the most part, the protagonist is good--that’s why he’s the star of the show. His moral code dictates which positive traits are the most prominent (attributes like loyalty, kindness, tolerance, being honorable or honest, to name a few) and how these will in turn influence his every action and decision. 

In real life, most people want to believe they know right from wrong, and that when push comes to shove, they’ll make the correct (moral) choice. People are generally good, and unless you’re a sociopath, no one wants to go through life hurting people. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, but most try to add, not take away, from their interactions and relationships.  

To feel fully fleshed, our characters should mimic real life, meaning they too have strong beliefs, and like us, think their moral code is unshakable. But while it might seem it, morality is not black and white. It exists in the mists of grey.

In the movie Prisoners, Hugh Jackman’s plays Keller, a law-abiding, respectful man and loving father. But when his daughter is abducted and police are ineffective at questioning the person he believes to be responsible, he is forced into a moral struggle. Keller needs answers, but to obtain them, he must be willing to do things he never believed himself capable of.  Finally, to gain his daughter’s freedom, he kidnaps the suspect and tortures him repeatedly. In each session, Keller battles with his own humanity, but his belief that this man knows where his daughter is outweighs his disgust for what he must do. It is not only Keller’s actions that makes the movie compelling, it is the constant moral war within the grey that glues us to the screen.

Extreme circumstances can cause morals to shift. What would it take for your “moral” hero to make an immoral choice?

Is your character deeply honest? What might push her to lie about something important?

Is your character honorable? What would force him to act dishonorably?

Is your character kind? How could life break her so that she does something maliciously hurtful?

When your hero is forced to enter the grey and question what is right and wrong...this is where delicious and compelling conflict blooms!

YOUR TURN: Have you built in situations that force the hero to evaluate his morality? If not, what can you do within the scope of your story to push him into the grey where he must wrestle with his beliefs? What event might send him to the edge of himself, of who he is, and possibly force him to step across the line dividing right and wrong?

Tools to help you understand your character better:

The Reverse Backstory Tool: Hit all the highlights on your hero’s backstory reel, including his Emotional Wound & The Lie He Believes About Himself

The Character Target Tool: Set the path of your hero’s positive traits, spiraling out from Moral based attributes

The Character Pyramid Tool: Plot your character’s flaws that stem from a Wounding Event &visualize how these flaws present as behaviors & thoughts

(& More tools HERE)

Angela Ackerman is a co-author of the bestselling resource, The Emotion Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, as well as the bestselling duo, The Positive Trait Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes and The Negative Trait Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws. A proud indie author, her books are sourced by US universities and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors and psychologists around the world. Angela is also the co-creator of the popular site, Writers Helping Writers, which specializes in building innovative tools for writers that cannot be found elsewhere.

Monday, August 18, 2014

High Concept Defined

If you've made the decision to query and agent or editor or decided to pitch your novel in person at a writers' conference, you may have heard the term, 'high concept.' If you check out an agent or editor 'wanted' list, many of them will say their desire high concept fiction. They might specify such as high concept romance or science fiction. What does that mean?

High concept fiction is a novel that can be captured with a brief description that immediately attracts attention. It's a hook or title captured in a single sentence. That sentence is what's fun in your story. It's the book in a single image. It's the very essence of the novel's premise. It is the entertainment value of the piece.

The story has to have an original and unique premise that grabs attention before even reading a word of the actual book.

High concept fiction appeals to a mass audience and hopefully garners the attention of cross-over fans from other genres. Perhaps a thriller with a love subplot that appeals to romance readers.

Strong emotions are raised by high concept fiction. Emotions that linger such as fear, joy, love, hate and rage.

High concepts inspire the mind to paint a picture, conjuring images of what the story is about. The idea involves the visual part of the brain to get involved in the excitement of the story.

And after hearing a high concept pitch, you'll ask 'what if?' What if Thor is real and looking down on us?

Often you can find that one sentence pitch for high concept fiction on the front cover of a book or at the top of the inside flap of a hard-back book. By reading some of these in your novel's genre, you can get ideas how to create you own one sentence pitch. Let me give some examples.

It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, and another to be born. The Passage by Justin Cronin (combination thriller, horror and science fiction novel)
New York, 1891. A new breed of cop for a new breed of killer. Letters from a Murderer by John Matthews (thriller combined with historical)

Can you put the premise of your novel in one sentence that catches the imagination and interest of anyone who hears it? If you can perhaps you write high concept fiction.

Do you have more suggestions for writers about the definition of high concept fiction? Have you tried to put your pitch into one sentence? Have you heard other terms that meant the same thing as high concept? Do you know your hook before you even start writing a novel?

If you want to read more about the definitions of high concept fiction, read what Writer's Digest has to say it is.  Still confused? Here Rachelle Gardner, literary agent, gives her definition.

Susan Gourley is published in epic fantasy. As Susan Kelley she is published in science fiction and fantasy romance. You can find her at:
Susan Says

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Trend in Indie Publishing - It’s Taking Over the Industry

A recent article from Digital Thinking covered 10 trends that are driving the book publishing industry. This list comes from Smashwords founder, Mark Coker, and given as a talk at the Edinburgh Publishing Conference this summer.

Many of the trends had to do with eBooks and self-publishing. The last one really caught my eye though:

"Indie authors are beginning to outsell traditionally published authors
The New York Times bestseller list now has self-published authors on that it every single week. One year ago, that was very rare. Mark believes that within the next three years you will see a tipping point where more authors are self-published than take the traditional route. Indeed, if you look at iBookstore in the US today, six of the top ten today are self-published. Today’s top-selling ebook in the world is a Smashwords book."

Seeing a self-published book on those lists used to be a novelty. Now the self-publishers and taking over.

Publishers Weekly recently opened BookLife, a site geared toward self-publishing and with an open invitation to self-published authors to send in their books for review by Publishers Weekly. (This is itself a big step since none of the big reviewers accepted self-published titles until now.)

The site also had an article about the sales of self-published books, Surprising Self-Publishing Statistics:

"The Author Earnings report takes its data from 7,000 top selling digital genre titles on Amazon's category bestseller lists. It found that:
• The Big Five traditional publishers now account for only 16% of the e-books on Amazon’s bestseller lists.
• DRM (digital rights management) “harms e-book sales at any price point.”
• Self-published books now represent 31% of e-book sales on Amazon’s Kindle Store.
• Indie authors are earning nearly 40% of the e-book dollars going to authors.
• Self-published authors are “dominating traditionally published authors” in sci-fi/fantasy, mystery/thriller, and romance genres but -- and here is the surprise -- they are also taking “significant market share in all genres.”

What does this tell us? Indie publishing is not only here to stay - it’s taking over!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Insecure Writer's Support Group Post Day and Upcoming Anniversary Surprise!

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

The awesome co-hosts for today are Sarah Foster, Joylene Nowell Butler, Lily Eva, and Rhonda Albom!

September 3 marks the three year anniversary of the IWSG monthly posting. (And October 1 will mark the one year anniversary of this site and the Facebook group.)

It’s incredible to think that a simple idea (of mine, no less!) could expand into something so amazing. I couldn’t have foreseen the monthly postings catching on like they did, nor did I envision a website. (Or a Facebook group of over 1200 members – I’m not even on Facebook!) The support and encouragement you show one another is heartwarming. It motivates and encourages me!

So in celebration of the anniversaries and YOU, we have a surprise and opportunity for everyone next month. Be sure to check back on September 3!

Anyone else surprised we're coming up one three years of posting?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Ten 'Must Knows' for Indie Writers

In Jamaica, we celebrate August 1 and August 6 as Emancipation and Independence Day respectively. Considering the changes in the publishing world, I thought this would be a fitting time for me to talk about being an indie writer

It is not always easy to find our niche, or readers who will become rabid fans, but since making the transition from writing for small publishers to going indie, I've put together a list of the ten important things I've learned on my journey.
  • Hone language skills. Anybody can write a book, but attempting to do this without a good grasp of the English Language is setting ourselves up for failure.
  • Learn the craft of writing. This is the biggest favour we can do ourselves. A period of apprenticeship is necessary no matter how we slice it.
  • Don't get in a hurry to publish. Just as traditional publishers take time to prepare a book for publication, so should we. Virtual bookshelves mean our books will be available for a lot longer than a 3-month sales window. I've set unrealistic deadlines that resulted in mistakes I could have avoided. 
  •  Treat writing as a business. While some of us may never make a living exclusively from writing, it is necessary to set goals and make plans. As the adage says, those who fail to plan, plan to fail.
  • Never stop learning. It is important to stay current on publishing trends, as well as book marketing and promotion. Frustration with going back and forth forced me to learn how to format eBooks. Continue reading craft articles and books on writing.
  •  A manuscript is never complete. We'll never cross every t’ and dot every ‘i’, but we should submit the best possible manuscript every time. Smart writers know how to let go and move on to the next book.
  •  Develop meaningful relationships. Most of my online friendships have come through writing networks, hops, challenges and visiting other people’s blogs. These friendships extend to email exchanges off the blog and even Skype calls.
  • Never be afraid to ask for help. Writers are open and giving. I've never put out a cry for help and not received it.
  • Practice the principle of Paying it Forward. The blogging world has taught me the value of helping other writers. Unexpected benefits come through the kindness of other bloggers.
Relax and enjoy the ride. While it's important to be disciplined, remember there is life outside of what we do to earn a living.  Creativity is a funny thing. Writing loses its attractiveness for me when it starts to feel like work—even though I’m handling my writing as a business. The point is to find your rhythm and make it work for you.

What things have you discovered on your journey?

This is a quick reminder that that Wednesday is post day for the group. If you haven't signed up, please do so here.