Monday, February 24, 2020

Emotional Truths, Insights, And Emotions Are Key To A Great Novel

Please welcome Cheryl Rainfield an international award-winning author with some great ideas about creating un-put-downable stories. 
If you ask readers why they read, you’ll hear a lot of different answers—but if a story doesn’t have some hard-won emotional truths in it as well as being entertaining, readers will likely put it down. And if your character doesn’t struggle to gain their goal, and they don’t have an internal or worldview change as a result, your story won’t be satisfying. We all struggle, and are all trying to figure out how to be happier, how to get what we want and need in life—how to gain greater insights. Story is one way to help us do that.
Readers respond to emotional truths in story. One of the reasons we read is to give us a roadmap for the pain and problems we’re going through, to know that not only can we survive them, but we can also heal from them, maybe even come away from them stronger or with a new purpose. Stories help us see how other people have coped with the same problems we have, and help give us new ways of coping, or new insights or perspectives on our journey.
Stories also help us know we’re not alone in our specific struggle and pain. Being alone or seen as “other” centuries ago would have meant we were an outcast, and we might not have survived. Even today, being seen as “other” can mean we are ostracized, bullied, or mistreated. Finding others who understand what we’re going through—even in fictional characters—can lessen that pain and help us cope better. 
Another reason we read story is to figure out how we would deal with a problem that we haven’t yet experienced. Stories allow us to vicariously experience painful situations that we haven’t had in a safe way, and help us figure out how we’d not only survive them, but also how we’d heal from them or make our life better. We absorb the main character’s insights, if they resonate in a way that feels true, and they can help us be or feel more prepared to cope with those problems if we have them in the future, or help us to better understand and support someone we love when they’re going through that tough time.
Another reason we read is to help us understand ourselves—and other people—better. Why do people act and react the way they do? How can we avoid having negative interactions with others, and navigate through life more safely or happily? How can we help someone we care about who’s going through a hard experience that we haven’t? A good book can help us really get inside someone else’s experiences in a way other mediums can’t, and help us understand ourselves and others better—through the emotionally true actions, reactions, and insights in the story. And it can also help us gain greater compassion, empathy, and insight for others as well as for ourselves. 
Emotion, insights, and emotional truths help make a novel more compelling and un-putdownable for the reader, and much more satisfying. So draw on your own experiences, especially meaningful ones, include your insights and emotions, then infuse your character or stories with them. As long as there is that thread of emotional truth in your fiction, readers will respond.
The opposite is true, too; readers can sense when the author isn’t being entirely honest or writing from the heart. This is true not just in realistic fiction, but also in fantasy. So be as creative and as imaginative in your story as you want, but make sure there’s a thread of emotional truth if you really want to engage and keep your readers. How little or how much of your truth you put into the story is up to you, but write some in. You don’t have to write from your traumatic experiences, the way I do, but writing some level of your emotional truth will give your story more meaning.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
A good story helps us feel along with the character, so writing with the emotion your character feels helps. Writing emotion in your manuscript isn’t just limited to what you show the main character feeling through body language and dialogue. You can also show their emotion through how you write the setting, weather, and symbolism, through how the character perceives their interactions with others, how others react to them, and through how the character’s past affects their present viewpoint, actions, and reactions. Someone who is angry will view and react to their surroundings and the people in it very differently than someone who is afraid, and again very differently from someone who is content or tired. Different things will stand out for your character than for the other people around them depending on how they feel and how their past has affected them. 
Emotional truths, insights, and emotion can help hook your reader, engage them, and make them keep reading. Of course, it’s also important to learn all the other parts of story craft, but writing emotional truths is important if you want to write stories that readers won’t put down.
To read more about this in depth and to really make your stories come alive, read Story Genius and Wired For Story by Lisa Cron; Emotion, Conflict and Back Story by Mary Buckham; and The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. I also highly recommend writing courses by Mary Buckham; Margie Lawson (especially her Empowering Characters’ Emotions and Writing Body Language and Dialogue, which she also has as lecture packets); and CS Laskin’s Emotional Mastery For Fiction Writers course. You can also consult The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi for jumping off points in writing emotion through body language and how the body reacts to emotion. 
Cheryl Rainfield, 2020 
International award-winning author Cheryl Rainfield has been a leading force in YA literature for diversity for more than a decade. Her YA fiction has been hailed by top literary magazines and prestigious educational associations for the outstanding writing style and the gritty realism that she brings to her characters. Rainfield’s goal is always to write the stories that she wished she could have read when she was a teen, to help teens now. Hundreds of teens, teachers, and librarians have sent her notes over the years about how her novels about marginalized LGBTQIA and abused teens resonate with readers. Teens have shared that her well-drawn characters make them feel less alone. Cheryl draws on her own trauma and abuse experience to write vivid, emotional fiction; Cheryl’s own arm, a symbol of self-harm, is on the cover of SCARS. Cheryl Rainfield is an incest and torture survivor, queer, feminist, and an avid reader and writer. She lives in Toronto with her little dog Petal.

Cheryl Rainfield has been said to write with “great empathy and compassion” (VOYA) and to write stories that “can, perhaps, save a life.” (CM Magazine)  SLJ said of her work: “[readers] will be on the edge of their seats.”

Get a free 38-page SCARS story that picks up where SCARS left off by signing up for Cheryl’s author newsletter

You can find Cheryl on her website Also Twitter; FaceBook fan page and author page; Instagram; and YouTube. Follow her on BookBub for book recommendations.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Peering at the Mud of Muddy Middles

Sorry, it isn't a pretty picture. It's mud. My shoe. Tire tread marks from a delivery truck.
And, a hoof-print on the right side of my foot - look carefully. 

Have you experienced Muddy Middles?

It’s that part in the plot map where characters take an unexpected side turn, run down a rabbit trail, and flounder in a muddy pit.

Often, when I'm in the muddle middle moment of a novel, I discover a ripple which leads me to the plot's edgiest moment and back to the center again. It helps me re-focus the entire novel, gives me a boost of energy, and sends me roaring to the finish line - or at least to the next muddy middle crossroad.

Muddy middles aren't all that bad, when they are in the rear-view mirror.

But when we're stuck in them? Muddy middles are awful. Every bit of dialogue leaves a gritty taste in the mouth. The descriptions all feel dribbly. The fog descends and it isn't even a mysterious fog, or a romantic fog, or a fog where you can imagine dragons or zombies (dragon zombies?).

So, how do we pull ourselves out of the sucking mud threatening to tear off our waders and get to the more exciting walk through the mansion of mystery, or the dappled romantic meadows, or the fire-breathing dragon zombie horde-filled desolate plains?

I know, you’re waiting with bated breath (who made up that saying? Shakespeare – Merchant of Venice) for the ultimate secrets to life, muddy middles, and writing expertise … (cue really loud drum roll).

Well. I can’t give you a secret recipe, boom-it’s-all-fixed answer.

But I can peer into my rear-view mirror at past success.

And, I see a weird acronym forming: R-RACE.

 Rest. Yep. I wrote a four-letter word. Rest. That bad boy does actually help if it isn’t a wallowing sort of rest that lasts way too long.

Rejuvenation through something new, crazy, or just plain different than anything done before. In my own muddy middle right now, I’m turning a prose project into a graphic novel and attempting some song-writing. I signed up for volunteering at a poetry slam for youth in my area.

Affirmation. Write down what motivates you as a writer. Just write: I am a Writer. Say it out loud. Affirm it.

Community. The IWSG is a great place online for community. Check out all of our options: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Goodreads, a Blog Hop, the Newsletter. Plus, I recommend RL community even if it’s a bit scary to meet other authors. Some of us are nice. Go to a writing meet up. Volunteer somewhere. It may take a bit to find your tribe, but you can.

Expect the finish line. Know you are going to reach it. Write down exactly what the finish line is for you – describe what it feels like. Envision it. Expect it.

Now, go, pull your feet out of that mud!

This post is brought to you from the Pacific Northwest, nearish Seattle, where we experienced more than 90+ days of gray cloud cover from November through early February. If you find the sun, take a photo of it for me and tag me on Instagram, please. I need to remember what it looks like so I'm not frightened of that glowing alien orb when it appears in the sky.

Monday, February 10, 2020

A Marketing Roadmap for Writers

Many things about the writing and publishing process stand to make a writer insecure, but none more so than marketing. A lot of writers can’t stand the term or its connotations. We are making art, and marketing is all about selling (ugh) a product (yuck). It feels sleazy and snake-oil-y and self-promotional in a way that leaves many creatives uncomfortable. 
But it’s also necessary. Because nobody’s going to do it for you before you’re published … and many authors find that the marketing funnel doesn’t exactly “click on” magically after their books come out, either. Even if a publisher is hands-on, the real burden falls to the creator to sell that book! Seasoned authors know this all too well. They have learned, maybe the hard way, that if their book didn’t “perform” to expectations, their future prospects and advances could be affected. Indie authors already know the necessity of marketing. Long gone is the era of “If you build it (or put it up on Kindle), they will come.” Self-published authors have to lead them, sometimes with paid tactics, if they hope to make a sale.

So how do we square art and commerce? The age-old question. Here are four marketing tips you can use now—no matter where you are in your journey—to start making headway with the necessary evil of book and self-promotion. 

Build your platform: You’re probably sick of hearing that you need to have a platform. Especially if you’re not published yet. What does an unpublished writer’s platform even look like? The bare minimum is a welcoming, clean, and simple website. A main page, an About Me page, a Contact page, and one for your projects (already released or in progress). Make sure you have a way to collect email addresses from fans (more on this later). As for what else you need? Some people will say that you’ll want to register with each platform (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, etc.), oh, and start blogging. As if we all have unlimited time! I say, yes, you may want to investigate these platform-building social networks … eventually. For now, pick one that you can really dive into. Does Facebook make you nauseous, but you’re a highly visual person? Instagram and Pinterest are your friends. Post semi-frequently—to avoid burnout—and follow marketing best practices: share mostly content that your audience will find interesting, instead of megaphoning about yourself and your work.

Play the expert card: We live in a 24/7 news cycle, and the outlets looking for fresh content multiply seemingly every day. All of those websites, blogs, news outlets, and social media feed need stuff. (You know this well, as you try to fill your own feeds.) And they’d ideally like stuff from experts. Well, hang out your shingle. What’s your book about? If it’s nonfiction, this is a no-brainer. But if it’s fiction, is it set in a place? During a historical event? Is your protagonist working in a type of industry that you’ve researched. Well, why not call yourself an expert in that thing, event, place, or whatever? Do yourself a favor and sign up for HARO (Help a Reporter Out). Three times a day, you’ll receive a list of call-outs for sources from reporters working on stories. It’s a mixed bag. Some days, you will find absolutely nothing. Other days, you will find a reporter looking to speak to an expert in your field, and they will want to talk to you. This is a great way to attach some very legitimate media to your name and topic.

Give it away: Readers love free stuff. And I know that your words come to you painfully and are very valuable but … as you establish yourself, you’ll need to give some of them away. Readers will want to get to know you, your voice, your style, so write a special short story or clip the first few chapters of your book, throw this little teaser into a PDF and give it away. You may want to give it a nice cover and formatting, but otherwise, your investment in this piece of marketing will be low. All you want from your potential readers in return? Their email address. It’s very easy to send digital downloads as a response to someone signing up for your newsletter. A lot of powerful email marketing tools like Mailchimp are free or cheap for small lists. So reward people who want to know more about you by giving some of your writing away. You may win a reader for life, who will pay next time. This technique, or strategically making your ebook free on the Kindle store surrounding your next release, is called the “reader magnet” and is a powerful way of attracting readers. If you have ARCs or physical copies of your book available, run a giveaway on your social media channel of choice. You can stipulate that entrants need to share the giveaway or follow all of your social handles to be eligible.

Don’t toil alone: Some writers look around them in their Amazon genre or category, or on the indie bookstore shelves, and see competition. Instead, see opportunity. All of those writers are clearly doing something right, and all of them are working their own marketing. Team up. Not just for the social support of sharing tips or learning via others’ mistakes, but for strategic connections. If you write romance, my guess is that you’re targeting romance writers. And that the people around you on the shelves have the same readership. So run a joint giveaway. Promote one another’s releases. Ask to run interviews or guest posts in their email newsletters, and offer them the same in return. Writing is solitary. Stressing out about your social media platform is often done in isolation. But not all marketing efforts have to happen solo.

My goal here is to give you a few actionable tips for your own marketing. And I also hope I’ve done something a bit sneakier—inspired a mindset reset of sorts. Everyone has to market. Yes, your art should be good enough that it stands on its own … but even great art needs a boost. If you think of marketing as a supportive, holistic part of your writing career, maybe it becomes less intimidating or overwhelming or dirty. It’ll never become less important, so dive in. After all, as they say: “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”

Leave your marketing questions and strategies in the comments!

Connect with Mary Kole: Good Story Company: (writing and publishing children's books) (editorial and consulting services)

Facebook | Twitter | Submit a testimonial about my work to my website and my Facebook page!

WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction 
for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers 
from Writer's Digest Books! Amazon | Goodreads

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Whilst You Wait on the Muse...

On IWSG blog hop days*, I read a lot of posts by writers suffering writer's block. Not being able to get into the word-count groove causes stress and breeds doubt and insecurity. My advice to blocked-up writers is usually to power through. To flip on the computer, open the file, and write. Even if they think every word they write is crap. It's still good, because crap makes excellent fertilizer and eventually, the good stuff will grow from it.

But there are times when even crap won't come. No matter how long a writer stares at the screen, there's nothing. I've hit that same wall and I have a couple more solutions:

Walk Away. 

There is probably some non-writing related project that is needing attention. Pick the most boring job and tackle it. Clean out a closet, scrub a something (anything) that is both dreadful and non-writing related.

Eventually, your brain will get bored and stories will start nagging you.
The problem with walking away for too long is writing/publishing is also about gaining momentum and a prolonged stop could mean starting over.

So, there is a second option- one that doesn't halt the momentum....

Get Busy!
Writing is a multi-faceted cornucopia of work. A writer could be busy twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and there would still be work left undone. On the days that the words won't come, here's a list of other things a writer can do whilst whiling away the hours between paragraphs:


Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, etc. There are plenty of platforms to join to interact with readers. Post, tweet, share...begin a dialogue and keep it going. This is important to me because as a READER nothing annoys me more than ONLY hearing from a writer when they want me to buy a book.That is probably odd considering I grew up in a time when writers were mostly faceless entities who lived in towers and sent out new stories via carrier pigeon or maybe magic. But those days are over, even Nora Roberts's Instagram account is active between calls to buy her books. Sure, it's most likely manned by her staff, but still, she's making contact and making it personal. 

No book to sell? Perfect time to build a following and be launch ready when the time comes.

Blog. A blog offers the opportunity to write in small, manageable chunks which can get the juices flowing. And even though blogging may not be as popular as it once was, it remains the home of some of my most loyal support in the writing world. The insecure Writers Support Group monthly blog hop is a great place to start making connections.

Network. Writer's groups (both online, like the IWSG, or the In Real Life variety), blogging, and attending writer events are a great use of time. Meeting other writers and sharing information and support are great ways to make connections and friendships. Any time I meet someone who has paid thousands of dollars to publish a book through a vanity press, I feel sad for them because I know they probably don't have many (if any) writer friends.

Study. Authors, editors, agents, publishers...almost anyone in the business has some advice to offer. There is an endless supply of free help on the internet. Check out blog posts, interviews, podcasts, and videos for useful information on every topic from craft to marketing.

Read!! Nothing is a better balm to the writer's soul than reading. Beta reads, pleasure reads, educational reads. If you can't be writing, be reading. Good books, bad books, all books! There are millions of them out there for your consumption- take advantage of them!


*The Insecure Writers Support Group offers a monthly blog hop where members can vent, share, and encourage one another in this intrepid adventure we call writing. If you're not already participating, join us!