Monday, September 24, 2018

Rules, Guidelines, and Just Plain Bad Advice by Lynda Dietz, Editor

My (now-adult) kids think I’m a rule follower. And to some extent, I am. But oh, back in the day, I was a rule breaker all the way. I think part of my problem with rules was that I needed to understand the “why” of them to know whether it was worth my time to follow them or not.

In the writing world, there is always someone pointing to this rule or that one, telling us to ALWAYS do this or NEVER do that. Even among editors, you can get fifty different opinions from forty different people—statistically impossible? Never say never—on how to properly edit a passage.

That alone is a prime example of why it’s important to know the real rules (yes, there are some) and the guidelines that are misinterpreted as unbreakable commandments. What makes people stifle their creativity based on a misunderstanding?

The writing world is made up, for the most part, of people who want to be successful, whether that means becoming obnoxiously rich and famous, typing “THE END” after working on a story for years, selling enough books each month to afford extra things, or quitting their day job because they can earn enough to live on, even if they’re not famous.

Those who want to write a good story and perhaps be commercially successful tend to look at what other successful people have done, and use that as a guideline. Guidelines are great. I love guidelines! They give a big-picture sense of what can be achieved if certain other conditions are met. Good advice is known as good advice for a reason, right?

The problem comes in when the good advice is repeated often enough out of context that it becomes known as a rule, or a set of rules. Perhaps even unbreakable, never-do-this-or-you’re-not-a-real-author kind of rules. And those are just plain bad.

Enter the Worst Writing Advice, usually stated with a note of disdain or accompanied by a wagging finger and severe eyebrows. The Worst Writing Advice is never asked for and rarely researched for validity. It’s stated firmly and the conversation is not two-sided. No one questions why, and no one asks for clarification. And yet—

The recipient often takes that WWA and repeats it to someone else. Before you know it, all kinds of people are quoting a rule that isn’t a rule, and they’re ready to arm-wrestle anyone who dares to call them out on it. Such a violent sport sometimes, being a writer.

Think about these bits of writing advice you may have heard, masquerading as hard & fast rules:
  1. Get rid of all your adverbs
  2. Never end a sentence with a preposition
  3. Always write in complete sentences
  4. Never use contractions
  5. Never use semicolons in fiction
  6. Always remove the passive voice
  7. “Said” is boring and you need to spice things up

The above examples are valid advice sometimes. But they shouldn’t be confused with actual rules, and nobody should be made to feel bad about themselves if they don’t follow that advice. Here are some reasons why it may be given:
  1. Adverbs can be overused as a crutch by some who haven’t yet gotten the hang of showing v. telling. Let’s assume those forty editors mentioned earlier have forty writer friends. Write “he spoke angrily” and ask what they picture when they read those words. Some may picture shouting; some may envision speaking through gritted teeth; some may hear a voice getting more shrill with each word. If you show those actions, the reader gets the clear idea that the speaker is angry, the type of anger that’s happening, and the adverb “angrily” is unnecessary. But guess what? Adverbs are real words and sometimes they’re the exact word you’re looking for, so go ahead and use it. Just find that balance between “overuse” and “completely forbidden.”
  2. Terminal prepositions. This not-a-rule goes back centuries to a talented but overblown poet who gave an opinion once, and everyone taught it as a commandment from that point forward. It’s fine if you end with them, and it’s fine if you don’t. Just don’t try to wrangle your words into a mess of a sentence to avoid it.
  3. Pfft. That’s my opinion of this one. Always writing in complete sentences is for schoolchildren who are learning the structure of the sentence. It’s not always practical in real life, and it kills any impact a writer may be trying to make, whether for shock value or merely for emphasis. She opened the door to the kitchen and gasped. Blood. No—cherry pie, everywhere. The floor. The cabinets. The walls. And . . . the curtains? The black Lab puppy sat in silence, facing the corner, head down. Complete sentences would make this sound like a children’s book. They’re not bad, and most of your sentences will be unfragmented, independent clauses. But don’t stress the ones that aren’t, if you’ve done it on purpose.

The list goes on. Knowledge is different from wisdom. Knowing the rules so you can break them for effect is great. Knowing when your rule isn’t even a rule at all is even better.

I’m a copyeditor who has worked with authors in a variety of genres, both in fiction and nonfiction. I live with my husband and kids in the northernmost tip of western Pennsylvania—right on Lake Erie in wine country, so my backyard smells like grapes in the fall. (We can’t smell anything in the winter because our noses are frozen shut.) I’ve kept an editing blog for over five years and love the writing community I’ve gotten to know. I can hardly believe I get paid to do two things I love: editing and singing . . . though I don’t do them simultaneously.
Find Lynda here:
Instagram - @easyreaderediting
Twitter - @LyndaDietz4

Monday, September 17, 2018

Diversifying as an Author

Many write to produce a book (or many) that others will enjoy. That and maybe a little extra money is often reward enough. But what if you want to make it a career and quit your day job? What if you want to reach a lot more people?

Authors who have made it big or at least made enough to write full time started where every author begins - with that first book. But they didn’t launch ahead with great sales alone. They realized they needed to expand and give their fans more than just books.

There’s a saying - don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. You want many baskets. You want an arsenal of weapons at your disposal to conquer success. Think of it as planting many seeds and a variety of them.

How do you plant different seeds or acquire many baskets? You diversify yourself and what you offer.

How do you do that?

Write different genres:
Step outside your normal genre with or without a pen name

Offer more formats:
Serials in magazines
Foreign translations
Audio books
Games - card game, board game, video game, game app for tablet
Audio/visual - stage, radio, TV, or movie

As an author about your book or the publishing process - book clubs, writing groups, writing or book conferences
As an expert on a topic - conferences & conventions or seminars
Teach a subject - seminars, workshops, conferences, teleseminars, or online programs

Offer tie-ins:
Products or swag that connects with your book, the characters, or the setting. The possibilities are endless - pens, jewelry, mugs, bags, artwork, clothing, figures, etc.

Offer non tie-ins:
Other products you create, collect/sell. Again, the possibilities are endless - crafts, jewelry, knitted or sewn items, stock photos, artwork, candles, figures, comics, etc.

Authors and writers are creative people. Take that creativity and look beyond your first book. Offering more will give your author platform a firmer foundation and a better chance for success.

In what ways could you diversify?

Monday, September 10, 2018

7 Tips for Writing Compelling YA

This from REEDSY.
Just in time for the next IWSG Anthology Contest

For many authors, Young Adult fiction (or YA), is one of the most fulfilling genres to write in as it allows young readers to connect deeply with characters and narratives that reflect their own “coming of age” stories.

The million-dollar question then is: how to write compelling YA??

This post will take you through some tips for evoking the interest of your readers, and hopefully making your book impossible to put down...

1. Give it some perspective

Deciding on the right point of view for your YA novel is a crucial first step, as POV plays a key role in how the action and events of the story will be perceived by readers. Writing as an adult reflecting on their childhood is unlikely to resonate with readers who are aged around 16-18.

If you’re using first-person narration, consider combining it with the use of present tense. Especially if your book is action-packed, writing as if the events of the book are happening “right now” will add immediacy, pace, and tension.

The countless turns, changes, and opportunities for conflict in a teenager’s life lend themselves perfectly to this first person/present tense perspective, which compels the reader to keep going.

Example: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver is the first-person narrative of a teenage girl forced to relive the day of her death every day for a week. The emotional drive behind being right there with her as she tries to work out what is happening to her, and why, is only added to by the uncertainty about what will come next.

2. Don’t shy away from sensitive subject matter

Whilst it’s worth keeping in mind the age-appropriateness of what you’re writing, the reality is that whatever you’re thinking might be ‘too dark’ for YA fiction is probably something that teenagers experience in real life. Even if they are not going through something directly, it might be around them, and it’s important to remember that these books are targeted toward young adults, not kids.

All things considered, you’re writing for your reader, not your publisher or whoever you’re concerned might take issue with what you’re writing — and your reader will appreciate your honesty about serious, sometimes dark, subject matter.

Example: One of the most popular YA novel of recent years, The Fault in Our Stars, has the whole works when it comes to what a lot of people would think of as sensitive content. The story centering around two terminally ill teenage cancer patients has been no barrier to critical and commercial success, and is part of the novel’s emotional power.

3. The majority of your characters should be teens

Readers and publishers alike will thank you for keeping the characters of your YA novel between the age range of 14-18.

YA novels aren’t just aimed at teens; their central character should also be a teen who will face obstacles and plot points consistent with a teenage experience (such as school, family, relationships, coming of age, and anything around gaining independence.) Luckily, as you’re probably going to be using the present tense, you should already be in the right mindset to write from this teenage perspective.

Example: In the Gone series by Michael Grant, everyone above the age of 15 literally disappears at the beginning of the first novel. If every YA writer were to adopt this approach, readers might smell a rat, but in this series it drives the plot, and also allows the remaining novels to chart characters’ progress through their most formative years.

4. Be careful not to preach

Look at the world of your novel through your main character’s eyes, not your own. In other words, focus on their narrative rather than trying to teach your audience a lesson.

Avoid moralising events in your novel, or pointing out painfully obviously why something bad has happened, for example.

Example: E K Johnston’s novel Exit, Pursued By a Bear received incredible amounts of critical acclaim. Its story centres around a sexual assault that occurs during the main character Hermione’s summer cheerleading camp. This is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, the reviews of which consistently bring up how well Johnston ‘doesn’t focus on victimhood’ and is not moralising in tone in its treatment of sexual violence.

5. Don’t be afraid of tropes

Surprise superpowers, dystopian settings, the teenager who is solely responsible for saving the world — we’ve all seen these tropes before. And if we’re being totally honest, we kind of love them — when they are given extra layers of dimension and complexity to make them fresh and exciting again. If you ensure you’re writing fully formed characters, feel free to have fun with your tropes and to let them contribute to your plot lines and conflicts.

Interesting back stories, unexpected dark secrets, and compelling relationships are all ways to ensure any archetypes you use don’t feel cliche.

Example: Harry Potter is your typical “chosen one” trope, with the added bonus points of being an orphaned hero. The combination of these two, however, and the subsequent emphasis on friendship and family (not to mention the whole wizard thing) is is part of what makes him a unique character that we all root for.

6. Watch your language

This tip isn’t about swearing in your book (though maybe give that some thought also,) but more about making sure your language is appropriate for the age range you’re writing for. Pay special attention to the vocabulary and speech your characters use to make sure it feels authentic.

You won’t get away with just sticking the odd LOL or ‘like’ in with reckless abandon. As with any type of character, you need to put yourself in their mind to truly write from their perspective. Remember to think about not only how the age range you’re writing for speaks, but also whether readers of the same age will be able to easily understand and follow the dialogue and inner thoughts of your character.

Also, if you’re writing a series, consider how your characters’ voice and language will change as they grow up — there’s only a few years between a 13 year-old and 19 year-old, for example, but they’re going to have very different vocabularies and attitudes.

Example: Holly Black’s YA novel The Coldest Girl in Coldtown captures ‘teen-speak’ in a way that is modern, but not so modern that it is now, five years after publication, outdated. Well-written dialogue is a crucial tenet of any novel, but with quips like ‘If she was going to die, she might as well die sarcastic,’ Black perfectly slots this novel into the YA category.

7. Focus on voice

Your character’s personality should come through on the page, and whilst this is a frustratingly vague notion to point out, it also makes a huge difference to whether readers (and publishers) are going to be interested in turning the page. How your character’s motivations and goals are communicated to the reader, and how they might change across the course of the novel, are going to be a big part of crafting this voice.

In YA we like to be able to root for and relate to the voice of the characters, and the protagonist in particular. Since your protagonist and immediate surrounding characters are at an age where there is going to be a huge amount of personal growth, there is plenty of room for genuine and moving character progression, which will be reflected primarily in the voice of your narrator — your main character.

Example: Jenny’s Han’s novel To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before was so successful after being published in 2014 that it recently got its own Netflix series. The first person voice allows Lara Jean’s personality to come off the page and engage the reader in all the twists, turns, dramas, and embarrassments that fall out of a number of love letters that she writes to her crushes throughout her teenage years.

YA allows you to tackle almost any genre through the perspective of a younger character. Exploring this freedom with a focus on authentically portraying the emotional experience of a teen makes writing YA fiction no easy feat, but it does make it incredibly enjoyable and rewarding.

Hopefully, this post has got some cogs whirring in your brain, and will give you the opportunity to take the plunge into this successful and exciting category of fiction.

Thanks to Reedsy for this informative article! 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The IWSG Annual Anthology Contest is Now Open!

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 the September 5 posting of the IWSG are Toi Thomas, T. Powell Coltrin, M.J. Fifield, and Tara Tyler!

Are you following us on Instagram?
Here are the prompts for September:

The 2018 Annual IWSG Anthology Contest is now open for submissions!

Guidelines and rules:

Word count: 3500-6000

Genre: Young Adult Romance

A Masquerade can be a false show or pretense, someone pretending to be someone they aren't. It can be a ball, a fancy dress party, it can be a mask. Open to interpretation.

Submissions accepted: September 5 - November 4, 2018

How to enter: Send your polished, formatted (Double spaced, no page numbers), previously unpublished story to admin @ before the deadline passes. Please include your contact details, your social links, and if you are part of the Blogging, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter IWSG group.

Judging: The IWSG admins will create a shortlist of the best stories. The shortlist will then be sent to our official judges. This year, we are honored to have seven incredible judges:

Elizabeth S. Craig, author
Elizabeth is the bestselling cozy mystery author of the Southern Quilting mysteries, Memphis Barbeque mysteries, and Myrtle Clover Cozy Mysteries for Penguin Random House, Midnight Ink, and independently.

Elana Johnson, author
USA Today bestseller Elana Johnson writes young adult and adult contemporary romance. She is an inspirational adult romance author under the pen name of Liz Isaacson, and her work includes the young adult dystopian romance series Possession, published by Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster). Learn more at Elana Johnson.

S.A. Larsen, author
S.A. Larsen is the international award-winning author of the middle grade fantasy-adventure MOTLEY EDUCATION and the young adult contemporary-fantasy romance MARKED BEAUTY. When she’s not chasing her characters around a graveyard or antagonizing them with young love, she can be found in Maine with her husband and four children. Visit her cyber home at S.A. Larsen Books.

DL Hammons, Write Club founder
When DL isn’t running the online writing contest WRiTE CLUB on his blog, he splits his time crafting YA and adult Mysteries, with a little bit of Paranormal/Sci-Fi on the side.

Gwen Gardner, author and previous IWSG anthology winner
Gwen Gardner writes lighthearted, cozy mysteries with a few ghosties thrown in to “liven” things up. Since ghosts feature prominently in her stories, she has a secret desire to meet one face to face—but will run screaming for the hills if she ever does.

Kelly Van Sant
Kelly Van Sant has nearly a decade of experience in the publishing industry and is a literary agent with the Red Sofa Literary Agency. She is a teaching artist at the Loft Literary Center and blogs about writing and the publishing industry at Pub(lishing) Crawl and co-hosts the their weekly podcast.

Kristin Smith, author
Kristin Smith is the best-selling young adult author of the Deception Game series and a former Pitch Wars mentor. When she’s not writing, you can find her dreaming about the beach, beating her boys at Just Dance, or belting out karaoke (from the comfort of her own home). She currently resides in the middle-of-nowhere North Carolina with her husband and sons.

Prizes: The winning stories will be edited and published by Freedom Fox Press next year in the IWSG anthology. Authors will receive royalties on books sold, both print and eBook. The top story will have the honor of giving the anthology its title.

Our previous IWSG anthologies:
Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime
Hero Lost: The Mysteries of Death and Life
Parallels: Felix Was Here

Gwen Gardner, Jen Chandler, and LG Keltner know what it’s like to have the winning story.

Yours could be next!

Any questions regarding the contest? Are you going to enter? Can’t win if you don’t enter!