Tuesday, March 19, 2019

When Naming Your Characters, Use the Whole Alphabet


I recently read a book where eight significant characters (which was a good percentage of the significant characters) had names that began with the letter A.  To make matters more confusing, it was a fantasy book, so many of the names were not familiar to us.  The worst combo was Avem and Avarum.   I constantly had to stop and think about who was who. 

My mom was just telling me about a book where almost all the main characters had names four letters long, including Lena, Luna, and Lisa.

We, as writers, know our characters very well.  We know who they are and how they fit in and we would never confuse Avem with Avarum or Lena with Luna.  But our readers don't know our characters so well.  They may have only spent a few hours with them, not weeks and months and even years.   And trust me, some of our readers WILL confuse Zola and Zora or Fur'langye and F'galen. 

So, here's my challenge:

1)  Sit down with any short story or novel you're writing and make a list of all the significant characters.  Bonus points if you also list any minor character who appears more than once.

2)  Analyze the list.  Look for names that start with the same letter, names that rhyme, and other similar-sounding or similar-looking names.

3)  If you find two names that are too similar, change one.  "Wait!" you may protest, "I can't change their names.  That's like changing who they are!"  I know it's hard, but do it anyway.   You do NOT want your readers to have to stop and think about who is who every time a character comes into a scene.  You want them to stop and think about your mysteries or your characters' inner struggles or that particularly beautiful piece of writing they just read.  The sooner you change the name, the sooner you'll get used to the new one.  It sounds hard, but it'll be okay in the end.
 
4)  In your next novel or short story, use the list as you start naming your characters, so you don't have to go back and change anything later. 

So, when can you let similar names slide?

-If it's really important to the plot or characterization

-If the names are distinct enough.  For example, you might leave Dr. Turgenev and Tom alone, because they're quite different, but if you have Trent and Trevor or Carol and Cheryl, change one.


Melinda Brasher's fiction appears most recently in Leading Edge (Volume 73) and Deep Magic (Spring 2019).  Her newest non-fiction book, Hiking Alaska from Cruise Ports is available for pre-order on Amazon.    

She loves hiking and taking photographs of nature's small miracles.  

Visit her online at http://www.melindabrasher.com







Thursday, March 14, 2019

One Way to Build Your Freelance Writing Career

Many people think they'd love to write for major magazines.

The trouble is, most of these people never spend the time, energy, and even money learning HOW to break in with these markets.

Here are a few tips to help you write for magazines and build a lucrative freelance writing career:

• Learn how to write a winning query.

You may think you know how to write a great query, but if your queries are not landing you at least a few writing assignments, then you're definitely missing the mark somewhere.

A winning query does more than let the editor know your idea for an article.

You need to hook the editor with your query the same way you will hook his/her readers with your article.

• Learn how to study the magazine markets.

There is so much more to studying the markets than merely looking up the entry for a particular magazine in a current market guide.

Find out how to effectively study the markets.

• Provide editors with information and contacts they cannot easily find on their own.

This is not as difficult as it might seem, and it's one way to prove to an editor that YOU are the perfect writer for the particular piece you are offering.

• Be persistent.

Don't expect to break in with a major magazine on the first try.

It could happen.

But it probably won't.

Prove to the editor that you are serious about wanting to write for his/her magazine by being persistent.

Keep sending out queries to a particular publication until you begin to get some favorable and encouraging comments.

Note: This will start to happen once you learn the other tips here, even if you don't get an acceptance letter for one of your queries yet.

• Limit your queries to just a few specific publications.

It takes too much time and energy to carefully study more than just a few publications at a time.

Pick ONLY the ones you really, really wish to write for at first.

Study those publications and query those editors on a consistent basis.

• Don't try to sell your article ideas to just ANY publication.

Too often, beginning writers simply want to make a sale, so they query anyone and everyone.

Editors want to feel that you're trying to help them fill a need for their magazine, not merely make a sale.

Target your queries carefully.

Strive to help editors, and they will love you for it!

Writing for magazines isn't difficult once you know how to do it, and it's a great way to start building your freelance writing career.

Try it!

Before you get started, find out if writing for magazines is the perfect job for you!


Suzanne Lieurance is an author, freelance writer, certified professional life coach and writing coach, speaker and workshop presenter.

She has written over 35 published books and hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines, and other publications. She lives and writes by the sea in Jensen Beach, Florida.

Get your free subscription to her daily mailing, The Morning Nudge, at www.morningnudge.com.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Social Media SOS

Whether  you love social media - or you view it as a necessary evil to promote your business products and services - some times it takes on a life of its own. 

Take today, for example. Facebook and Instagram were down for most of the day. There was widespread panic on the social platforms. I do some work in social media, and have many friends in that realm, so I probably know more affected people than most. 

Here's the thing. Like any actual - or non-emergent - emergency, there are a few things you can do to stay calm and stay in touch with your clients and prospects in the event of a social media shutdown.

1. Don't panic. If social media management is your business, email or call your clients and let them know what's up. Being proactive - and reminding them that technology isn't always perfect and sometimes, there are glitches out of your control - is much better than ignoring the problem and hoping your clients don't notice. You may even want to remind them that it's likely everyone is affected - including their clients, prospects, readers - so you are all in this together. Treat yourself to a cup of coffee by facing the problem up front.

2. Be present on other social media networks. Seize this opportunity to step up your skills on other social media platforms. For instance, Facebook and Instagram may have had issues today, but Twitter and LinkedIn were doing just fine. A good social-media strategy is a well-balance social media strategy; that means utilizing multiple platforms. If you are not already posting on the main four, use this reminder to step up your game.

3. Unplug. Frustrated by social media? Walk away from it. The problem isn't going away quick enough, so move away from the problem. Here's an idea: Take the time away from social media to embrace being offline. Write an actual on-pen-and-paper thank you note to your clients, jot a note to an old friend. Use the time wisely and surprise someone with a thoughtful act of kindness.

For more on the power of social media platforms, check out the recap from my #GoalChat on this topic.

* * *

How do you balance your social media efforts? Please share in the comments.

* * *

Debra Eckerling is a writer, editor and project catalyst, as well as founder of The D*E*B Method: Goal Setting Simplified and Write On Online, a live and online writers’ support group. Like the Write On Online Facebook Page and join the Facebook Group.  She is author of Write On Blogging: 51 Tips to Create, Write & Promote Your Blog and Purple Pencil Adventures: Writing Prompts for Kids of All Ages, and host of the #GoalChat Twitter Chat. Debra is an editor at Social Media Examiner and a speaker/moderator on the subjects of writing, networking, goal-setting, and social media.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Learning to Love Passive Construction


By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers including the winningest in the series, The Frugal Editor

Writers of fiction are often told to avoid passive sentences. Nonfiction writers sometimes get the same advice.

The reasons for such admonitions are many. After all, they tend to tug on the forward momentum we are usually after. But passive construction can be used effectively, too. When we sense that there would probably be no passive constructions, we should listen. Our writing may improve if we force ourselves to accept passives regardless of their ugliness. We can utilize what they’re good at in our writing and—at the same time—recognize their flaws so we can avoid them when they are just plain ugly.

Luckily, good editors are here to help. Yours may help you avoid passive constructions by making suggestions to “activate” them. There are times, however, when you must do your own editing. Here are some examples to try your hand at.

1. "I was offended by the President's proclamation." (Some argue that this isn’t a true passive because the hidden subject is evident, but when you pick up the object of the preposition, “the President’s proclamation,” put it up front, and ditch the helping verb, you’ll see how the sentence comes alive.) Scroll down a bit to see the magic this makes!

2. "Catherine was being watched."
~Your edit:

3. "Catherine was being silly."
~Your edit:

Here is your cheat sheet:

For the first you would, of course, make it "The President's proclamation offended me."

For the second, you'll have to provide the intended subject. It might look like this:

"The fuzz watched Catherine."
(So, maybe you'd be more formal and call them "coppers!")

The third example might throw you a curve. That's because it isn't a passive sentence according to the strictest of definitions. Here's the thing. We tend to assume a construction is passive when we see helper verbs and "ing" words. But these are not always passive indicators. That's one more thing for you to figure out in addition to deciding whether you want to avoid a passive construction. You’ll find a complete discussion of the dreaded “ing” words in my The Frugal Editor.

You can still avoid the not-so-active sounding helper verb with a mini rewrite:
“Gracie thought Catherine was being silly.”

You might ask, “So, if these slowpoke constructions stall the forward motion of my prose, what are the good reasons for using them?”

Few, if any, etymologists argue that language usually doesn’t develop or change unless there is need. When we recognize what passive construction and its copycats can do for us, we may grow to love it. Here are reasons you might want to intentionally use passive verbs:

1.    You want to slow down the movement in a saga sent in the 19th century. I do some of that (very judiciously!) in myThis Land Divided now being shopped by my agent. That the first chapter of that book won WriterAdvice.com’s Scintillating Starts contest proves that passive is pretty—sometimes.

2.    You need to set one character’s dialogue apart from another to avoid overworked, fussy dialogue tags or because the tenor of that voice suits that character’s personality better than strong active verbs.

3.    You’re writing political copy and you want to avoid pointing a finger at, say, the FBI because you don’t want to get put on the dreaded US No-Fly list. So instead of saying “The FBI is watching Carolyn.” You say, “Carolyn is being watched.” It’s a device that lets you avoid pointing a blaming finger at the perpetrator.

4.    If you write copy for pharmaceutical TV ads, your career could depend on knowing how to use passive voice. I watch TV commercials carefully because I do some acting and the voiceovers behind all those happy, healthy faces make me cringe. The use of passive voice clearly avoids assigning any responsibility for all those side effects and deaths. One actually says, “Deaths have happened.”

We need to know how to make verbs active, when to leave them alone, and, yep. When to use them to our advantage. That way, we can take a red pen to them when they are likely to brand us as amateurs, occasionally put them to very good use, and even learn to love them. 


 -----

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is an award-winning novelist, poet, and author of the HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers. She taught editing and marketing classes at UCLA Extension’s world-renowned Writers’ Program for nearly a decade and carefully chooses one novel she believes in a year to edit. The Frugal Editor (bit.ly/FrugalEditor) award-winner as well as the winner of Reader View's Literary Award in the publishing category. She is the recipient of both the California Legislature's Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award and the coveted Irwin award. She appears in commercials for the likes of Blue Shield, Disney Cruises (Japan), and Time-Life CDs and is a popular speaker at writers’ conferences. Her website is www.HowToDoItFrugally.com


Friday, March 1, 2019

Don't Let Your Reader Get Disengaged

As an author it’s your job to create an engaging, compelling, suspenseful, intriguing, romantic, or other type of story content that will lure readers in and keep them turning the pages. But the key word for a successful story is ‘engaging.’

Engagement, according to Merriman-Webster.com, means to have an emotional involvement or commitment. Based on this, no matter what genre you write in the story must hold or engage the reader.

In an article in the Writer's Digest January 2011 issue, Steven James takes a look at aspects of “great storytelling.”

The first rule to a successful story is, according to James, “cause and effect.” In children’s writing this is the same as an obstacle and its solution - there must be a circumstance that leads the protagonist to an action in an effort to find a solution. I do like the wording James uses though, because it’s more in line with multiple writing genres.

In its simplest form, something happens (the cause) that creates or motivates an action or reaction (the effect).

James goes on to explain that along with cause and effect, the order in which an event unfolds or how it’s written will also make a difference between keeping a reader engaged and allowing for disengagement.

“As a fiction writer, you want your reader to always be emotionally present in the story,” explains James. If the sequence of an event causes the reader to stop and wonder why something is happening, even if just for a moment, you’ve left room for disengagement.

As an example, suppose you write:

She fell to her knees, dropped her head, and wept uncontrollably. Her husband was dead.

While in just eight words, the reader learns why the woman is crying, it could very well leave enough time for her to pause and wonder: Why did she fall to her knees?

This can lead to disengagement.

To create a cause and effect scenario that keeps the reader in the loop, you might write:

Her husband was dead; the words echoed through the room. She fell to her knees, dropped her head, and wept uncontrollably.

The second aspect of writing James touches upon is creating and maintaining a believable story. Even if writing a fantasy or science fiction, consistency is needed, along with believable actions, reactions, observations, conclusions, and so on within the boundaries of the story.

A basic example of this might be if you write about a character with brown eyes, then somewhere within the story you accidently mention the eyes are blue. This little slip creates a believability gap.

Any gap in the believability of the story or its characters has the potential to cause the reader to pause, question, and very possibly become disengaged.


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children's author and children’s ghostwriter as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move. You can find out more about writing for children and her services at: Karen Cioffi Writing for Children.

Check out the DIY Page!

And, get your copy of Walking Through Walls (a middle-grade fantasy adventure set in 16th century China. Honored with the Children’s Literary Classics Silver Award).

 MORE ON WRITING AND BOOK MARKETING

How to Write More, Sell More, and Make Money Writing

Writing Fun 101

Creating Character Names - Ol'Whatshisname!



Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Writing Tips from Author Chris Eboch

"If it's a good book, anyone will read it. I'm totally
unashamed about still reading things I loved in my childhood."
                                                     J.K. Rowling
Chris Eboch, author of over 60 books for children and author of novels of suspense and romance for adults, as Kris Bock, presented a workshop recently, "You Can Write for Children: Share your Stories with Young People." Chris’s books for children include, The Well of Sacrifice, Jesse Owens: Young Record Breaker (Childhood of Famous Americans), and The Eyes of Pharaoh. She is also the author of You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers.

Our New Mexico Regional chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, SCBWI, is fortunate that Chris stays active, currently leading monthly ShopTalk informational meetings, and shares her expertise in many other ways. Treat yourself for a look at www.chriseboch.com and Chris’s Amazon page.

Chris geared the workshop to people in our community who have thought about writing for children and would like to learn how to go about it. And though I’ve published articles for children, a handful of short stories, and have middle grade stories and novels in various stages of completion, I bought her book, You Can Write for Children; her book coupled with the workshop provided me with invaluable nuggets to help me in my work.

Want to Write for Children? Begin at the Beginning . . .

  • Think up a Catchy Title: The Genie’s Gift, Chris Eboch
  • The Dead Man’s Treasure, Kris Bock
  • Whispers in the Dark, Kris Bock

Make the Beginning Dramatic
  • Introduce the main character, MC, with a problem and a goal which your character wishes to achieve.
  • Grab your reader’s attention with action, dialogue, or a hint of drama to come.
  • Set the scene
  • Indicate the genre and tone (in fiction)
  • Each scene needs to have a goal; MC works toward achieving that goal.
  • Start in the middle of something happening.
  • Establish the time and place; hint of the “world” in your story early on.
  • Immediately establish the type of story: humorous, mystery, adventure . . .
  • The beginning reflects what the story is about.
Move Story Forward with a Solid Middle
  • The plot involves the MC working to solve the problem/reach the goal.
  • Builds to a climax—a do or die situation.
  • MC must change due to what he or she has learned; something they didn’t expect.
  • Theme becomes apparent, though it is not stated. As MC learns the lesson of the story, change comes from this. Trust your readers to discover the theme: example can be that your novel helped your reader to never give up.
Wrap up the Story with a Satisfying Ending
  • The ending can circle back to the beginning, not that it necessarily has to. 
Chris’s Tips that I’ve Found Most Helpful

  • GMC each chapter:
  •  Goal: What does your MC want or need?
  • Motivation: Why is it important?
  • Conflict: Why is it difficult?

Stories that begin with PLOT:

  • Come up with a challenge; a difficult situation for someone.
  • What kind of person would have the most trouble in that situation?
  • The problem must be difficult, as in The Genie’s Gift: A shy girl, not adventurous; has never left the family circle; wants to be strong; needs to learn how to deal with people; in the end, she doesn’t need the Genie’s gift, she found what she needed from her own journey.          

  Stories that begin with CHARACTER:

  • Write a brief character sketch: what your character likes, dislikes, fears, what                               would challenge them the most.
  • Chris’s brother has a fear of heights, but he went on a difficult hike.
  • Chris has a fear of suffocating because she has asthma.
  • Indiana Jones hates snakes, yet gets dumped into an underground chamber                                  filled with snakes.
  • What are you afraid of? Me? Speaking in front of people. Playing the piano in front of people.  What are the sensory details that happen to you physically when faced with                                your fears?

Write this on a Card and Prop it on your Desk
Chris's book, You Can Write for Children, offers a thorough explanation of her approach, much more than she could squeeze into a workshop. I highly recommend it. Here's an example:
  • In Chapter 11 on Dialogue and Thoughts, Chris mentions a suggested pattern, from Manuscript Makeover, by Elizabeth Lyon: stimulus (thing happens)--reaction/emotion (physical reaction)--thoughts (thought reaction)--action (what MC does next). This simple pattern has helped me flesh out areas that I found missing in my manuscripts.
While writing one of Chris’s HAUNTED series, The Ghost on the Stairs, The Riverboat Phantom, The Knight in the Shadows, and The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, Chris came up with the question: Why should MC help the ghost? What’s the penalty if she doesn’t help him? The MC’s sister had died. If she were to meet her ghost, she would want to help her. That gave her the desire to help the ghost in the story. And for Chris, while writing the book, that revelation made all the difference.

My experience is as an elementary teacher, and like so many of us, I fell in love with children’s literature while teaching. I’ve taken courses on writing for children and learned most of what I know from those courses. I found Chris’s approach on helping up-and-coming authors understand how to write for children refreshing and down-to-earth, and very helpful. She is a delight to know, and look out. She will make you fall in love with the spectacular sunsets, azure skies and diversity of people in New Mexico. To quote part of her bio on Amazon: “Her BFA in photography is used mainly to show Facebook friends how lovely the Southwest is.”
Image courtesty of: www.clipart-library.com

One of my writing buddies
loves to hear stories


Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 150 articles for adults and children, and several short stories for children. She has recently become editor of the New Mexico SCBWI chapter newsletter and is working on several projects for children. Follow Linda on Facebook.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Tips for Online Magazine Pub series #10



Last time we talked about tips for selling essays to magazines, including personal essays. (1.25.2019) If you are interested in more about personal essay writing, “Crafting the Personal Essay” by Dinty W. Moore might be one for your to-read stack. It is in mine.

Publishing in magazines, in print and online, is a great way to connect with your audience and grow your platform. In each article, be sure to include a short bio with your byline.

Today let’s talk about publishing online.
Opportunities for publishing online include:
•    Magazines in print with an online division have similar submittal requirements for both
•    Online only magazines often publish multiple times a month and may pay less
•    Blogs: Companies use blog post writers as part of their marketing strategy -- Best format = Tip lists or “listicles” are often key formats
•    Blogging entities open to contributing authors allow your byline and media links as your remuneration

Research the magazines and blogs that grab your interest, and choose with whom you want to associate, and then be willing to start without pay swapped for a byline and links to your website.

It takes time to find the right fit for publishing your topics and areas of importance. You might find a match in the categories I’ve noted above.

Useful Links:
The Write Life freelancing hints and leads:
https://thewritelife.com/category/freelancing/
https://thewritelife.com/find-freelance-writing-jobs/

Upwork matches the freelancer with those posting jobs:
https://www.upwork.com/i/how-it-works/freelancer/

Content Marketing - quality content always works:
https://www.copyblogger.com/



Deborah Lyn Stanley is an author of Creative Non-Fiction. She writes articles, essays and stories. She is passionate about caring for the mentally impaired through creative arts.
Visit her web-blog: Deborah Lyn Stanley : MyWriter's Life .

Write clear & concise, personable yet professional.
Know your reader.



When Naming Your Characters, Use the Whole Alphabet

I recently read a book where eight significant characters (which was a good percentage of the significant characters) had names that bega...