Monday, September 12, 2022

6 Ways to Refresh Your Speculative Fiction

 



At The Novelry, we have a deep reverence for speculative fiction. It’s an imaginative and all-encompassing genre, which manages to turn the serious playful and vice versa. Take The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series; these are just a couple of examples of serious literature written not-so-seriously.

Plus, most of mankind’s biggest and most popular – and enduring – stories are speculative, from as early as the Epic of Gilgamesh. Two of the top three individual books which have sold the most copies since records began are both fantasy novels (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and The Little Prince), while nine of the ten top-grossing films are also fantastical in some way.

It’s hardly surprising: SFF’s fecundity offers limitless possibilities and endless fascination. Science fiction, fantasy and horror can provide frameworks for any story you can dream up, allowing writers to play unrestricted. 

 

The challenges of SFF  

Of course, all of this malleability and creativity can make the quest to write SFF seem overwhelming. And – almost counterintuitively – some SFF has become predictable and, purposely or not, often veering into the stereotypical. 

Challenges and pitfalls can arise when we’re playing with metaphors and allegories, tropes and archetypes, world-building and epic battles. But we have some guidance that might help SFF writers keep things fresh and exciting. 

 

6 tips for fresh SFF

  1. Don’t fear – or exploit – stereotypes and tropes
  2. Reconsider your setting 
  3. Give your characters a makeover 
  4. Consider including facts in your fiction
  5. Think about the practicalities of your world
  6. Use all your favourite things




1. Don’t fear – or exploit – stereotypes and tropes

As writers, we often shy away from stereotypes or tropes. Having a reader accuse our writing of such sacrilege can be quite chilling. 

But tropes can make for fantastic stories. More than that, they already have been made into fantastic stories: that’s why they’re tropes.

Not everything you write has to be brand new. That’s as impossible as imagining a new colour. The stories we dream up can only ever be the sum of what we’ve been exposed to, usually refined into a similar shape to the stories we enjoy reading. In fact, readers actively seek out more of what they like, and have expectations in any given genre. Some familiarity works in your favour. 

Like with everything, tropes are tools. It’s all about how you use them. 

Before writing any trope or stereotype into your story, be honest with yourself. Are you choosing it purposefully, or is it the easiest option – a shorthand for something you don’t want to parse out? Consider, too, whether the portrayal you’re leaning towards feels constrictive.

You’ll also want to think about what you’ve read before. If you’re thinking about including, say, elves in your story, cast your mind over the representations of elves you’ve seen. Aren’t they often long-lived, highly educated and condescending? Or enthralled by nature, art, music and all the other wondrous things the world contains – and suitably good-natured and open to amusement and curiosity? 

Well then, you need to think about what else your elves could be, and how it can tie into your plot and themes. What if you had an elf who’s damaged and struggling with addiction in the aftermath of the destruction of their forest home by some exploitative resource extraction? (As a side note, do avoid portraying all the elves that way, lest you create your own internal stereotype).

Being a writer is a careful balancing act, requiring us to know how to lean into a trope and give readers what they want, while still taking our stories in new directions. Don’t shy away from tropes and stereotypes, but don’t use them as a crutch or a shorthand either. 

 



 2. Be open-minded about your setting 

As with other tropes, worldbuilding tropes aren’t inherently negative. Sometimes they’re necessary for the basic story to function – like a horror story needing its haunted house. These familiar settings can also help readers settle into the plot quickly.  

Approaching the era you set your story in with an open mind is a really fun and relatively quick way to shake up your setting. 

Think carefully before you reach for a medieval English or European setting; it’s safe to say we’ve seen it before. In fact, the whole world has thanks to the tremendous works of writers like J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin. Follow in their footsteps and you’re creating unnecessary difficulties for yourself as you struggle to find a way to add something fresh to such a well-established time and place.

This doesn’t mean you need to abandon your original idea altogether. But take some time to think about what you can twist or change. Shifting how you think about your setting can help a lot. For example, 'medieval' is tightly linked to a specific time and place in European history. Instead, try thinking about your world as 'pre-industrial' and you'll find a whole range of possibilities.

Perhaps you can think about your setting in a new way, in the vein of the Grimdark subgenre. It subverted the classic trope of a magical, green land populated by happy(ish) peasants, instead exploring the reality of life in such worlds: grim, brutal and bloody. Could you do something similar?

Or take us somewhere entirely different! Is there somewhere you have experience of, a connection with, or a deep understanding of the culture? You might find it inspires a new fantasy analogue.

And if you want to take inspiration from publishing trends, here’s a top tip: there is a demand for pirate stories, and readers are especially keen to watch female leads on the high seas. So give over exploring new lands altogether, and take to the ocean!

 

 3. Give your characters a makeover

If you’ve tinkered with how you depict your setting (or decided you don’t want to), you might also play with your characters. Switch up their biological sex and/or gender identity, their age, their stature and physicality. 

Then think about internal factors: their personality traits, mental health, core values, fatal flaws, overarching motivations, deepest fears. You could think about their sexual orientation too. Heather Walter did this to great effect in Malice, which gives a fresh, radical slant to the surge in fairy tale retellings, and a chance to see how LGBTQ+ representation is coming through in this genre louder than ever.

After redesigning your characters, move outwards and consider their personal history. What’s shaped them? Who do they care about? Where did they learn their beliefs and skills? 

This is your time to let loose and experiment, so enjoy it! You’re bound to hit upon ways to throw a spanner in the works and subvert what we’re used to seeing.

 4. Consider including facts in your fiction

This, too, might sound somewhat counterintuitive, but drawing from reality can make your speculative fiction all the more arresting. 

It was good enough for Margaret Atwood and her global bestselling novel-cum-television phenomenon The Handmaid’s Tale. Famously, Atwood chose not to invent any of the plot’s events: they all happened somewhere, at some point in time. 

Grounding your story in real events and/or current concerns and then pushing it into fiction is powerful. It floods your prose with plausibility and relatability, and makes topics we’ve considered before feel brand new. And that can be even more refreshing than something we’ve never seen before. 

It also allows for exploration of salvation and solution, which can be extremely impactful. Factually grounded speculative fiction offers a chance to imagine what characters can do in seemingly insurmountable circumstances that may materialise in the future, or exist already. 

Readers are forced to ask themselves what they would, could or should do, even who they might become. It opens up a world of possibilities within and beyond the reader and is bound to keep them on the tenterhooks.



5. Think about the practicalities of your world

If you want to cast a new light on well-trodden tropes, it can be helpful to think about the intricacies of your world. It might make you invent (or uncover!) aspects you and your readers hadn’t thought of, which could become integral to your plot. 

Put yourself in the shoes of a tough editor, or a vigilant reader/reviewer. Ask the tricky questions. How (and/or what) do your characters feed all their dragons? How can an entire magical race that has existed for millennia have one language and a monoculture? How do your characters see where they’re going when they surpass the speed of light? Why do they all call it The City? Is there only one city? Why?

By pulling these strings, you might find an unexplored thread that takes you in exciting new directions! 

 

6. Use all your favourite things

Our final point perhaps brings all of this together for you. It’s about indulging your writerly and readerly pleasures. What kind of speculative fiction do you like to read and/or write? Why? Which stories have stayed with you, and which elements gripped you? 

Don’t constrain yourself with one single genre or subgenre. Instead, take the parts of each that you find compelling, and try fitting them together in different ways. It’s a surefire way to avoid your stories becoming formulaic or predictable. 

It worked for Tricia Levenseller, who decided to do away with frameworks and bring together all her favourite things in her first published novel: Daughter of the Pirate King, a pirate book with fantasy elements, romance, action, adventure and humour.

 

Your story doesn’t need to be unique to be fresh

While there are definitely ways to liven up your story and stray from the status quo, it’s important to reiterate the initial point: don't tie yourself into knots seeking originality and uniqueness.

Not only will it have you chasing your tail and throwing away brilliant ideas, but if you want to get published, it’s going to make things tricky. Remember that publishers are risk-averse and like proof of concept! 

Instead of unique, strive for unexpected. Set up reader expectations (using those wonderful trope tools we spoke of), then take them in a different direction. Put them together in new ways. Look at them from a different angle. 

There are all kinds of ways to write dazzling and daring SFF. These are just six of our favourites. Try them out, play with your prose and see what gets you excited. It’s bound to do the same for your readers!

 

Writing SFF with a published author

Almost all published authors learn to write by taking a creative writing program or courses. At The Novelry, our online creative writing courses offer writer coaching and specialist professional editorial support for those writing science fiction and fantasy novels. With our famous Book in a Year ® plans, we will take you from coming up with an exciting idea through world-building with the Classic Course, to writing your novel, and editing it to publishing standard for submission to literary agents who are actively seeking SFF novels from debut authors.

If you’d like to work with a team of authors published in the SFF genre and editors with experience publishing the famous names of science fiction like VE Schwab and Ursula K. Le Guin, join us at The Novelry for the very best advice and step-by-step guidance all the way to seeing your book on the bookshelves.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Insecure Writer’s Support Group – IWSG Anthology Release, IWSG Goodreads, #IWSGPit Date, Writing Groups, and Swag


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 7 posting of the IWSG are Kim Lajevardi, Cathrina Constantine, Natalie Aguirre, Olga Godim, Michelle Wallace, and Louise - Fundy Blue!

September 7 question - What genre would be the worst one for you to tackle and why?

The next IWSG Anthology is now available!


First Love: The Art of Making Doughnuts
An Insecure Writer’s Support Group Anthology


The sweetness of first love…
Could a fiercely independent cop’s heart be stolen by the guy who makes her favorite doughnuts? Will a maid who used deceit to snare a mail-order husband get a dose of her own medicine? Can her handsome neighbor rescue a modern-day “princess” from a tenacious ex-boyfriend? Can two strangers in a rideshare be honest enough to fall in love for real? Can you remember your first love? How about your second? Third? Fourth?
Featuring the talents of Linda Budzinski, Melissa Maygrove, Michael Di Gesu, Sylvia Ney, Katie Klein, Kim Elliott, Templeton Moss, S.E. White, Denise Covey, and Sammi Spizziri. Hand-picked by a panel of agents and authors, these ten tales will touch your heart and rekindle lost feelings. Prepare to return to that first love…

Print ISBN – 9781939844880, $14.95
eBook ISBN – 9781939844897, $4.99
Romance - Clean & Wholesome / Contemporary / Historical
186 pages, Freedom Fox Press, an imprint of Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C.

Find First Love on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Scribed, and Goodreads

A special thanks to our official judges:

Author Nancy Gideon
Nancy Gideon is the award-winning bestseller of over 70 romances ranging from historical, Regency, and series contemporary suspense to dark paranormal and horror, with a couple of produced screenplays and non-fiction writing books tossed into the mix. She’s also written under the pseudonyms Dana Ransom, Rosalyn West, and Lauren Giddings.

Agent Caitlin Blasdell, Liza Dawson Associates
Caitlin Blasdell has been a literary agent with Liza Dawson Associates since 2002 with a focus on commercial fiction. Before becoming an agent, she was a senior editor at HarperCollins Publishers.

Author Susan Gourley
Susan Gourley is traditionally published in fantasy and science fiction romance using the name Susan Kelley. She is currently serving as the President of the Pennwriters writing group renowned for the annual conference.

Author Jennifer Lane
Jennifer Lane writes sports romance and romantic suspense with a psychological twist. She has published nine novels and two short stories, including Behind the Catcher’s Mask as part of the IWSG Masquerade Anthology.

Author Meka James
Meka James is a writer of adult contemporary and erotic romance. A born and raised Georgia Peach, she still resides in the southern state with her hubby of 16 years and counting. Mom to four kids of the two legged variety, she also has four fur-babies of the canine variety. When not writing or reading, Meka can be found playing The Sims 3, sometimes Sims 4, and making up fun stories to go with the pixelated people whose world she controls.

Author Loni Townsend
By day, she writes code. By predawn darkness, she writes fantasies. All other times, she writes in her head. People call her peculiar with a twisted sense of fashion, but don't let those understatements fool you. Her behavior is perfectly normal for a squirrel disguised as a human.




Here are the book selections with the IWSG Goodreads Book Club for September:

Hero Lost: Mysteries of Death and Life IWSG Anthology

Story Genius by Lisa Cron





The next IWSG Twitter Pitch will be January 25, 2023!

Check out details on our #IWSGPit page.

There have been so many success stories over the years – your manuscript might be next. Start polishing those stories and pitches now.




Don’t forget we now host in-person writing groups.

For details, visit our IWSG In-Person Writing Groups page.

We are continuing to work on and add some of the benefits and bonuses for groups. Join us!




And finally, don’t forget we have IWSG swag – pens, erasers, notebooks, etc..

All of us here are volunteers and the domain name costs money. The little extra from swag purchases goes to that domain.

And it’s your chance to show the world you are insecure and proud!

Visit the IWSG Swag page today!


What genre is the worst for you? Picking up First Love? Participating in the Goodreads Book Club? Ready to tackle #IWSGPit or an in-person group? And who’s up for some swag?

Monday, August 29, 2022

Cross That Bridge When You See It Coming!

 


What if this or what if that. Questions that can tend to bog down the mind, spirit, and life. But what if you just stopped with the what ifs until the what if actually is seen coming?

When you can see through the fog that a bridge is on its way concerning your what if then start thinking about the what if and preparing for it. Otherwise, is it really an effective use of your time? Maybe if you are waging a war on the neighborhood or something you'd need to know the ins and outs of all the what ifs, but does it benefit otherwise?


Here you are. You shine a light on all corners of the what ifs. You let your mind go to every imaginable thing that might occur. No matter how outlandish. You focus on them. You let them fester. You keep shining that light and get nothing done.

Guess what? No what ifs came true because you did nothing. I guess that is one way to prevent the what ifs. Another way is to realize the likelihood of most of those coming true is the same odds as aliens probing you.

The mind goes to many a place. You want to protect yourself whether it is just a defense mechanism or fear or both. But what's to protect if nothing gets done?


So you throw away the what ifs and start. You get things done. But here comes the bridge. You can see it more clearly. The what ifs are there. You were right. You now have to deal with something you thought up or should have thought up. It is so bad. You have to deal with an edit.

Is that bridge really scary? So you have to edit again. Is it worth going on and on in your own head about it? Which actually takes more time? Which is actually a waste of time?


Maybe you need to cross the bridge and round the corner and find the what if wasn't even a what if. Maybe it was just part of the process that you worried about for little to no reason. 


Maybe the bridge is crystal clear and you can cross with ease. Maybe it's just a bridge everyone crosses and nothing to worry about. Maybe we should stop thinking about the maybes and just go to it as well. One foot or word or edit or release after the other. 

And then...what if...maybe...you finish. You save time. You learn. You grow. You stumble. You get back up. You go again. 


You find the other side of the bridge isn't so bad. You find your what ifs aren't as bad as what you thought and dwelled on. You find you accomplish a lot. You find you can prepare for the what ifs that do happen when you see them coming and not waste time before. You may also find your sanity doesn't take a hit.

But what if I get a bad review? What if no one likes it? What if I suck? What if...

So what if you do? What's the worst that will happen? 

If you get a bad review do you think the reviewer will hunt you down and go all Misery on you because you wasted their time? Or do you think they move on, you move on, and you realize you can't please everyone no matter who you are or what you put out? Which is more plausible? And thinking of it, does it really seem that bad? Not so world ending when thinking of it realistically. 

Worrying about the what ifs won't get the job done. Carry on and deal with the bridges when you see them coming. Don't deal with the 50,000 bridges before you even begin that will probably never happen. 

Do you put obstacles in your way? Do you worry about things you'll never control? How many what ifs did you think up on your first book? Your latest book?

Wait. What if no one likes this post? What if no one comments? What if...I'll live.

Enjoy life. Forget the strife.

Monday, August 22, 2022

How to Find the Motivation to Write Your Book by Alyssa Hitaka

Writing is hard. It’s thrilling, invigorating, and rewarding, sure—it’s definitely worth doing—but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s easy. Once you’ve come up with a great idea you’re excited about, it can be difficult to put pen to paper and bring your lovingly crafted story to life. Today, we’re presenting a few key tips that can help you find the motivation to write when you’re feeling lackluster.


Remember Your Why

Why do you love your story? Why does it deserve to be told? Why do you want to write? Why are you putting yourself through all this? Amid all the toil of writing, it can be easy to forget why you’re doing it in the first place. So if you find yourself succumbing to the allure of procrastination, take a moment to remember why you embarked on this journey in the first place. Rediscovering your motivation can give you renewed energy to tell your story.

Break Down Your To-Do List
Writing a novel takes a lot of effort. It’s not something you’re going to finish in an afternoon. When you think about everything that must go into your story, it can easily become overwhelming. That’s why it’s best not to think about it that way.
Any task—even the biggest, most intimidating projects you might undertake—can be broken into numerous smaller tasks. You might not be able to finish a chapter today, but you can finish a page. If you’re overwhelmed by the tasks at hand, keep breaking them down until they’re doable, and work from that level. And it’s okay if you have to break your tasks down to a very basic level. Any progress is progress, and it’ll build up over time—so it doesn’t matter how little it is on a daily basis.


Plan Carefully Before Diving In

There are probably certain sections and scenes in your story that you can’t wait to just dive into and start writing. But this impulsive style isn’t usually the best way to tell your story. A novel requires require a well-developed plot with relatable characters and realistic turns of events, and until you carefully flesh out an intensive outline of your plot, even you don’t know all the finer details of your story.
So, before starting to breathe life into your characters, take the time to develop a careful outline of your story. Covering all the major (and even minor) plot developments allows you to view the flow of your story from a distance and make necessary tweaks before you start writing. It also gives you an opportunity to think deeply about each major section of your story, which can help you identify plot holes and other insufficiencies that would be much more difficult to rectify after you’ve already written your manuscript. Once you have a well-thought-out plot outline to guide you, you’ll have much more confidence when you start writing, boosting your motivation.

Abandon Perfectionism
One of the factors that frequently keeps writers away from the keyboard is the fear that their story will be less than perfect. Well, of course your story won’t be perfect—that’s impossible. Even the most beloved, world-famous authors can’t pull that off. Abandon the idea of perfectionism by reminding yourself that your story deserves to be told, even if not “perfectly.”
When writing your first draft, you don’t need to be concerned with “perfection” at all. At this stage, all you should be focused on is converting your story into words on the page. It can be clunky and full of grammatical mistakes. That’s fine, because this isn’t what you’re publishing. Reminding yourself that you’ll revise your story through various drafts frees you from the paralysis of “perfection” and allows you to move forward with your writing.


Reframe Your Fears

Sometimes you may put off writing under the fear that you won’t be able to do justice to your beloved storyline, failing the characters you now love so much. We’re not going to pretend that that thought isn’t scary. But you know what’s even scarier? Never writing your story at all.
If you’re feeling unmotivated, spare a thought for your future self. Think about how accomplished you’ll feel having written your book, how rewarding it will feel to know people are reading and loving your story, and how you might build up a fanbase for future stories. Sure, that’s motivating. But what’s even more important to think about is an alternate future where you didn’t write your book. Think about the regret you’ll feel, the potential you knowingly wasted. The way to save yourself is to write your book. There may be no motivation stronger than that.

Get Help
You don’t need to be alone on this journey. Whether it’s friends who can encourage you, beta readers who can offer valuable feedback, editors who can polish your manuscript, or professionals who can help compose a killer query letter to pitch your manuscript to agents, the world is full of people who can aid you in your novel-writing mission. We at QueryLetter.com are passionate about great books and helping the authors behind the titles. As agents, publishers, and authors ourselves, we’re in the ideal position to guide and encourage up-and-coming authors.

- Alyssa Hitaka, QueryLetter.com

Monday, August 15, 2022

A LOOK AT WORLD BUILDING AND THE READER EXPERIENCE

 

Pixabay.com Willgard

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”  
Ernest Hemingway, The Wild Years

WORLD BUILDING: Where do I start?

I learned to read before I started kindergarten.  Stories have carried me around the world and to worlds unknown. I fell in love a million times, fought battles in history and in space.  I have ridden dragons, horses, interacted with monsters, aliens, and the paranormal.  I have gone on great quests, archeological digs, infiltrated secret societies, solved murders, and laughed my ass off. I’ve had superpowers and welded magic. That is the joy of reading.  

I love fiction. My joy in reading translates into writing my own stories and worlds.  I have a knack for world building.  I am asked all the time, how do you worldbuild?  The answer: I start with character. 

NARROW FOCUS

World Build from the inside outward. Get inside your character's head, stand in their shoes.  Let them tell you about the world they live in.  Show the world through your character's eyes, emotion, and perception, along with all their flaws, fears, and angst. 

This method of world building from the inside out narrows your focus.  It can help stop you from overbuilding or getting lost in the creation of worlds. It keeps you focused on the character arc relationship to their world.  

How all this affects the storyline determines the things I build into my worlds, and the systems I create.  I admit for me character is king in drawing me into a story, so it is a big focus in my worldbuilding. 

Do you need to think about government, magic systems, modern, medieval, futuristic, the mechanics of a functioning world, or systems in place for the way of life? 

Yes, but think about what all those things mean to your character, their perceptions, and the restrictions the world places on them.  There is more to world building than just the world, without people/character it is just an empty shell.  People are the story of a living, breathing world.

THE READER EXPERIENCE

Don’t dump all the cool details of your world on the reader.  They don’t care about that. They only care about what the character cares about. 

Let the reader experience your world with the immediacy of living it through your character’s discovery and interactions with the world.  Rule of thumb for world building details, is similar to advice about backstory. 

Dribble, dribble, dribble–sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle.

Only show what is necessary to move the story forward and for the reader to understand the world and current scene, no more.  

WHY?

Readers seek the experience of the world through character emotion and consciousness.  What we remember about books and movies is the way they made us feel/experience, which is why we crave another story-hit, more, more, more.   

As much as we (the author) love all the neat things about our worlds, the reader doesn’t really care, unless the character cares which makes their savoir faire engaged, immediate and immersive

Just like living in the real world affects us, shapes and molds us, so will the world of your character shape and affect them.   

Let’s face it, if your goal is to publish, we write for the reader as much as we write for ourselves, because you need an audience. We want readers to read and love it, so reader experience is important. 

Use your character’s emotional attachment to places, things, and feeling of home–longing, or contentment, or discontentment.  World building is an external and internal journey with the character.

World building includes using all the senses, to create atmosphere, texture, and attachment:  Sight, Smell, Touch, Hearing, Taste, and 6th sense. 

STORY EXAMPLE:

Anne of Green Gables L. M. Montgomery uses the senses and emotions in such a way that her world is a character in itself.  Read the free Project Gutenberg ebook.

Chapter 1: First paragraph:

“MRS. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.”

  • You will notice MRS is all capitalized.  Immediately we know she is important to the story. She relates the character to us via the world building (setting).  

  • Simile and metaphor are the vehicle of setting that create visually and emotionally strong images in our minds. She uses the setting to tell the reader about the character's attitude, disposition and temperament. The further you read the more she builds on this and strengthens the scene paragraph after paragraph. 

  • Montgomery particularly uses the river to describe and create a parallel impression of the road, specifically the people passing by MRS. Rachel Lynde’s home.  MRS. is a busy body cataloging details while sitting at her window.  

  • Through the use of a ferret, as a comparison tool, she demonstrates the trait of persistence for MRS. following every crumb in pursuit of other people’s business.    

If you think about it, the senses are triggered in that paragraph even though sound is not mentioned exactly.  The sound of flowing water-a river, the sound of people passing by on the road, the sound of children–it's implied, I don’t know about you but I heard it.

READING TO LEARN 

Take time to go deeper when you read. Pay attention to the way writers use their worlds to convey details about character, setting, and reveal story information.  It will enhance your own writing.  

Here are links to books I’ve enjoyed with authors creatively using their world building intertwined with character to reveal story and world in a variety of styles. 

Ask Yourself: How does the author use each scene to show the world through active word choices and imagery?

Showing and telling both play a part in storytelling:  How do they allow the reader to experience the world rather than telling them OR if they tell–how much do they reveal their character and world with the telling?


Bonus: How Actors can use 50 Senses to enhance and create better characters. Just like actors can use this so can writers to make their characters and worlds pop–vivid. (Link Augmented Actor on YouTube)

I love this article. Hope you enjoy it too. How To World Build On The Page GoldenMay.com

More about Juneta here. 



Monday, August 8, 2022

Journalist to YA Author

By Mary Ford

It’s really hard to become an author if you’re a full-time reporter. Why? Because finding the time to write outside of the job means taking on even more hours.

For me as the reporter, then editor, of two community newspapers, all I wanted to do at the end of the week was get some wine and unwind. My eyes and brain needed to recharge.

As journalists, we are used to having a tactile result of our work efforts. At the end of the day or week, we’ve written something—maybe a lot of somethings—and they’ve been published. It’s a touchable result. We can sit back and say “I did that!” It’s satisfying. We yearn for that affirmation.


If you can squirrel away a few hours, or pick up the “author” pen after hanging up your journalism hat, then writing a novel or short story can be equally fulfilling.

I had a novel rolling around in my head for decades. When I stepped away from my newspaper career four years ago, I dove into starting my book. But the words didn’t spill out the way they were supposed to.

Leaving the newswoman inside me behind was a bigger challenge than I realized. But the good news was—once I made the switch from reporter to author in my writing style—I was freed up.

Journalists are good listeners; they have to be. They cover government meetings and conduct interviews. But our job is to present the facts in a concise manner. We’re not supposed to “show” but “tell.”

The best thing I did was sign up for creative writing classes and join writing groups that critique your work in exchange for your critiquing theirs. That’s where I learned to let my writing flow without having to check my notebook or digital recorder for the exact quote and correct attribution. That’s where I learned how to do less “telling” and more “showing.”

But what is the same in both mediums is the importance of the story. New judgement is something that journalists develop. The same needs to be true for writing a book: a good story is paramount.

A great story fell in my lap when I met my future husband some fifty years ago and learned about his adventures as a young teen runaway. I knew someday I’d have to write it.

The result is a coming-of-age story that is a good read for young adults on up. My local libraries have two copies: one for the YA section and one for the regular fiction shelves.

My husband, who is the fifteenth of sixteen children, grew up in East Tennessee. He ran away at thirteen and hitchhiked through the south ending up in New Orleans selling hotdogs. The underlying theme of the story is the conflict between father and son and how he was also able to turn his life around after making some bad decisions.

Unlike news writing, crafting a novel takes a lot more time. But with the plethora of self-publishing avenues today, a journalist-turned-author doesn’t have to wait in hopes of connecting with a literary agent to get published.



Mary Ford, an award-winning journalist, is the author of “Boy at the Crossroads: From Teenage Runway to Class President” a classic coming-of-age story set in the 1950s. For more about Mary Ford and her novel, visit: maryfordedit.com. She and her husband, Conley, live in a small town south of Boston, with their dog, George. “Boy at the Crossroads” is available online wherever books are sold.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Happy First Wednesday in August!


Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the August 3 posting of the IWSG are Tara Tyler, Lisa Buie Collard, Loni Townsend, and Lee Lowery!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG posts. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience, or a story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 


Remember, the question is optional!


When you set out to write a story, do you try to be more original or do you try to give readers what they want?

The best answer to this question for me is that I write a story that either haunts me, intrigues me, or delights me. I'm really telling myself a story, so I'm not focused on whether or not I'm trying to be original, and I hope that if I like the story others will too. 

Is that self-centered? 

Yes, but if I tried to write what I "guessed" others would be interested in reading, but I had no passion for the topic or the characters, I don't think I could write at all. 

This question really asks if we want to be author-centric or audience focused and research the current  market trend so we can churn out what's hot right now. It is pretty common to see copycats come after huge successes. Take something like the Harry Potter series. After those books were bestsellers, hundreds of wizardry tales appeared. Or Twilight. Good heavens! How many vampire books can a bookstore shelve?

There's nothing wrong with jumping onto a winning train and taking advantage of the ride, but for me, all that I said at the beginning of my answer still applies. If I weren't engaged in what I was writing, I'd be a total fail in coming up with anything worth printing let alone reading. Now, if I just happened to love writing what everyone clicking through Amazon was searching for, hey, that would be a win-win.

Just in case you have a hankering to try your hand at giving the readers what they want, I found this book that's a guide, and it's appropriately called Write to Market. In it, the author promises to teach you  “how to analyze the market, and to use that information to write a book that readers want.” 

What's your take on this question? Be sure to check out what the others have to say. There are always interesting answers from our members.



Monday, July 25, 2022

Author Harassment Survey Results

Bookangel harassment survey



Over Christmas the topic of author safety came up. When one writer mentioned disturbing experiences with safety issues and personal data, several others then joined in. Some of the stories were harrowing, and while most fans are not a problem, some of the group had come close to reliving Misery in their own lives.

To find out exactly how widespread the issue was, from 1st February 2022 to 30th April 2022, the Bookangel Club ran a survey on Author Safety Issues: harassment, stalking, privacy and more (for  further details on the origins of the survey, click here). 

979 authors had their say, and we would like to thank:

  • the Insecure Writers’ Support Group 
  • the Crime Writers’ Association 
  • Alliance of Independent Authors 
  • and over forty small writers groups for their help. 

The basic results were disturbing.

65% of respondents thought that less than one quarter of authors were harassed.
72% of respondents had actually been harassed.
28% of all respondents had suffered serious safety issues, including physical threats and criminal action due to writing.

41% of respondents had received threats of death or physical harm. The 28% were those who had experienced significant problems, including arson attacks, kidnapping attempts, assault or theft at signings, and going after author’s families in their day to day lives. Identity theft and credit card fraud were also reported.


Demographics

As the survey was anonymous we did not capture any demographics on the age or gender of the writer, instead focusing on how long they had been writing for, what they wrote and, if appropriate, what genre they wrote in.

The anonymity issue cut both ways: while it made it harder to validate individual responses, we had a number of respondents say that they would not have replied to this survey on Google or responded to a less anonymous survey because of a harassment risk we highlighted on the survey: software linking accounts.



Number of Works the author has available:
Works included anything from short stories to media articles, to novels and white papers.


  • 0.5% – Not Stated
  • 25.6% – 1-5 works
  • 47.6% – 6-10 works
  • 26.3% – 11+ works



How long have they been writing for? 

  • 0.4% – Not Stated,
  • 3.9% – Less than 1 year
  • 22.2% – 1 to 5 years
  • 42.2% – 5 to 10 years
  • 20.0% – 10 to 20 years
  • 11.3% – 20 years or longer


Genre written in
When it came to genre, the majority of writers write in more than one. We had over a hundred respondents in each of our categories of Crime or Mystery, Romance or Erotica, Suspense or Thrillers, Non Fiction, Speculative Fiction, and Humour or Comedy. 


Summary
With 979 authors across a wide range of genres and experience levels, this gives, we think, a good overview of writers across all stages of their careers. This should make the harassment figures as representative as we could find them.


Causes of Harassment

The survey was specifically exploring harassment due to writing and we asked respondents to exclude harassment for other reasons, such as their personal life or behaviour on social media (e.g. comments on Twitter). This resulted in certain authors contacting us separately to expand on what had happened, and prove it was because of their writing and nothing else. This data has been securely disposed of, due to the anonymity requirements.

For the 72% of respondents who had been harassed, we asked what they thought triggered the problems. The percentages below are not exclusionary: many authors were harassed for more than one reason, or the harassment spilled over from one cause into another.

The Genre the author wrote in was a common cause. The triggers of fan harassment reported at over 1% included:

  • authors writing a pairing the fan did not like (often romance), 
  • killing off a character, 
  • featuring the ‘wrong type of’ LGBT+ pairing, 
  • stopping writing a series or having it cancelled, 
  • writing content the fan found disturbing or obscene (often horror authors) 

3% of authors reported they were harassed due to their perceived characteristics. We say perceived characteristics as authors with multiple pen-names reported varying degrees of harassment depending on how the pen-names were perceived. Of those perceived characteristics, Gender (56%) was followed by Sexual Orientation (41%) and then the Culture of the author(40%) as reasons. 


More concerning is the small sub-group of authors reporting being harassed by other authors, usually believed to be for monetary or readership reasons.

When it comes to harassment due to writing, the cause does seems to lie with the harasser, and not the author’s actions. This is important due to the amount of victim-blaming, something we will go onto later.


Perceptions of harassment

Overall, more respondents suffered serious safety issues than most authors thought were being harassed in total. 65.3% of authors thought that only 25% or fewer of authors would ever encounter any form of harassment. As we have seen from the figures above, 28% of authors will experience serious safety issues.

  • 12.6% – Rare
  • 52.7% – Occasional
  • 22.7% – Common 
  • 7.1% – Frequent
  • 4.8% – Almost every writer



We did not investigate the reasons for the difference between how common harassment is and how common it is believed to be, as we did not know the gap between the two existed (or was this wide) until these results came in. However while many authors’ groups we contacted did not respond, some declined with reasons, most notably: “this is not the view of writing we want for our audience”. 

If that is true for other groups, then it means that this is simply not being talked about among groups of writers. When those writers become one of the 72%, they think it is an outlier and may simply not discuss it or think it is their fault. This also means it is hard for them to find help.

Another common perception among the minority of authors who have not been harassed is the belief that “it won’t happen to me”, leading to people who suffered through this being blamed for not taking precautions. From several comments it seems to be part of a “just world” fallacy – the belief that bad things only happen to people that deserve it.

There is also an element of victim-blaming. Several writers who had not been harassed expressed the view that authors should “toughen up” or that “stop writing and kill yourself” is a funny comment. That was beautifully put down by an earlier respondent saying they thought it was funny until someone posted it through their letter box. (Permission to quote this was asked for and received).


Online Harassment

Most online harassment happened on platforms that were not anonymous. Social media that required some form of identification to sign up to, e.g. Facebook or Amazon, (39.5% of cases), and those the required phone verification (39.5%) were well ahead of the truly anonymous platforms at 19.7%. However one platform was specifically mentioned in comments as a problem: Goodreads. Despite not being on the survey itself, 2% of authors specifically mentioned behaviour on the platform and the platform’s response as an issue.

  • 26.1% – Pseudonymous social media
  • 19.7% – Anonymous media
  • 13.4% – Pseudonymous platforms 
  • 27.5% – Identifiable social media
  • 12.0% – User Identifiable Platforms 


Online harassment generally took the form of unpleasant comments, bad reviews left across all an author’s work, or similar. 

However many reports came in of more serious or even criminal activities including extortion or blackmail attempts. One specific scam that kept coming up was leaving multiple bad reviews and then sending the author a demand that they pay for them to be removed. There was also identity theft and fiscal crime: having obtained an author’s details, the harasser went after them financially. 

In each case the common thread was that when reported to the platform or the authorities, the response from them was ineffective. This included platforms refusing to take action over problems ranging from threats to extortion, to the police stating they could not get involved because it was ‘just online’ or that the person should have been ‘nicer’ to their stalker. That last issue affected both male and female respondents.

Another concern was DMCA requiring authors to disclose real names and addresses to people who had already committed plagiarism or copyright violations, and were often using false identities themselves.


Serious Safety Issues

The 28% of authors who reported more severe harassment had experienced (at over 1% of respondents):

  • Arson attempts 
  • Theft 
  • Threats delivered to homes or places of work. 
  • Family members being approached 
  • Attempted Kidnap 
  • Physical assault 
  • Identity theft 
  • Attack on credit rating 
  • Active attempt on life using third parties 
  • Romantic obsession including forced marriage and elopement reported by both male and female authors 

Please note that these had all occurred to multiple authors, so they cannot be identified. Attempted kidnap and physical or verbal assault were rarer, but still sufficient that they cannot be tracked back to one respondent.

These generally occurred offline, at locations such as the author’s home address or at public locations such as book signings. The attack on credit ratings e.g. fraudulently applying for credit cards, is a notable exception.

Many of the affected authors reported involving the authorities, but that this was not always effective in protecting them or resolving the situation. Some were driven to move houses or change addresses to try to protect themselves.


Who are the harassers?

Of the authors who were being harassed, 8% did not know who was responsible. Although it was not one of the options in the question, 1% of authors clarified that they had been harassed by other authors.

The overall percentages were:

  • 8% – Don’t Know
  • 27% – Isolated Individuals
  • 16% – An Organisation 
  • 38% – A group of Individuals
  • 1% – Other Authors 


Note: some authors were harassed by more than one of the choices given.


Precautions and Privacy

Despite so many respondents thinking it was rare, many of whom were being harassed while thinking they were one of the few, 60% of authors took precautions. The fact 73% were harassed shows both that these precautions were needed and, that for up to 40% of authors, these precautions were ineffective.

The most common precaution was to separate writing and personal identity, and leave social media. However several reported harassment on platforms that they were not on, by people using those platforms to organise campaigns or start rumours that they had no way to reply to.

26% of authors had problems with sites linking accounts, breaching privacy. There were also stories of agents, publishers, and platforms revealing authors’ real names publicly despite the use of pseudonyms and business identities. 15% of authors stated the use of real names for contracts was their major concern. 

Regulatory issues also proved to be a major privacy concern: 31% of respondents had issues with Paypal, or did not use it due to reports of this, and it was repeatedly stated that harassers used Paypal invoices to trace authors’ real identities behind business accounts. 

This appears to be a conflict between Know Your Customer regulations and online safety: we also had authors report readers had clawed back donations or sales because the invoice name did not match their penname. This is a problem in the UK because of the differences between DBA (Doing Business As) rules in the US where Paypal is based, and small company regulation in the UK where real names are required.


Career Impact

Financially this has a huge effect: 15% of authors have turned down or not applied for grants due to this issue. 5% of authors have turned down publishing deals. Another 15% have stated that their major privacy concern is the use of real names for contracts: borne out by the stories from other respondents of publishers, agents, and publishing platforms, revealing authors’ real names publicly despite the use of pseudonyms and business identities. 

The majority of privacy issues apply when an author tries to make money from their work. Banking regulation exposes real identities to prevent crime, but also exposes real identities to the people who want to commit crimes. It is a catch-22 situation.

It was not possible to quantify how much financial loss authors had suffered, and this was not something we investigated within the scope of this survey. We would strongly suggest a larger organisation with more resources should investigate this issue.

Social Media Exposure

At the current time, reducing social media seems to be one of the ways to reduce harassment, but it cannot prevent it as a significant amount of harassment occurs on the platforms where books are sold and published. 

Separating social media and real life, or simply not having social media, is not sufficient protection. We had authors who did not use social media say that it was used to co-ordinate harassment against them. Authors had used pen-names and other means to obscure their identity but in many cases the harassers had cut through this by using government records such as corporation requested owners, platforms disclosing real names despite pen-names and imprints being used to publish or by disclosure from their publisher or agent. 


What changes do authors suggest?


Protection for Pen Names

Authors suggested protection for pen-names and identities in a number of ways:

  • Allow contracts to be signed by pen-names 
  • Restrict who has access to pen-names and real identities inside publishers ( e.g. making disclosure a crime under GDPR). We had reports that such disclosures were defended for the purpose of marketing despite being a breach of confidentiality. 
  • Legal recognition of pen-names, restricting who can access the identity behind them. This is because currently DMCA and other legislation requires revealing real names to people who have already committed plagiarism and are often using fake identities themselves. Third Party, publishing contracts or royalty checks used to open bank accounts on behalf of, or governed by an organisation such as The Society of Authors. These records would have to be held offline due to the major concerns about linked accounts and hacks. 


Better Responses from Platforms
Almost all affected authors were unhappy with the way Platforms responded to this. Suggestions ranged from voluntary codes of conduct to regulation enforcing a response with fines if they fail.


Better legal response
Authors reported being told either that it was a civil matter, or that it was “online” so not serious when dealing with issues like identity theft, credit card fraud and extortion.


Being heard
The general consensus from authors was that they thought this was a rare problem, or that they did not know anyone who had been harassed. As these figures show, it is quite likely they do, but it simply has not been talked about. This is for reasons including personal privacy, fear they would be disbelieved and having to reveal their identity. Given these figures, one of the most useful things authors can do if harassment is mentioned is believe the victim. 


Conclusions

In conclusion, this survey shows there is a deep-seated problem with safety and privacy in writing that only gets worse as people try to move into publishing their work professionally. Increasing regulation and the trend to tie all data to one online identity is making it far easier to harass people than it was twenty years ago. 

There is a lack of awareness of how severe the issue is, driven by both denial, and difficulty discussing it. A reluctance to acknowledge the issue by many writers and writing organisations limited our sample size, specifically: 

Authors are being told to live with it.

We didn’t hear from the ones that didn’t.

We heard from precisely two people who quit writing because of these problems, but we suspect the number who did is far larger, and we had no way to reach them.

The other single most important thing an author can do is believe another author when they say this has happened because from these results, this is far more about the fan who chooses to harass than their target than anything the victim has done wrong.


Final Note

If you are currently dealing with this issue, some author groups are offering advice or support:
The Society of Authors (UK): “Online abuse, Harrassment and Bullying”
PenAmerica’s Online Harrassment Field Manual

This survey has thrown up some disturbing issues, and we would very much hope that larger groups with further resources can take this further, e.g. to investigate the problem, push for improvements in the way this cases are handled, or create guidelines for protection for author privacy.

We would like to thank all the groups that took part and everyone who had their say. It is not a perfect survey – we are a bookclub, not a statistics group – but if it gets people talking about harassment, the figures show that it is a discussion that needs to be had.

Full details of the survey results are available on the Bookangel UK website here: Author Safety Survey – Final Results

For anyone who did not take the survey and is curious, they can view it here. Author Safety Survey. We are not processing further results, but will store them under the anonymous terms as before.

If there are any other figures you would be interested in seeing, which we have not extracted, please contact us.