Thursday, September 22, 2016

Reviewing a How-To: Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern

by
Jessica Nelson

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a creative writing major at a liberal arts college. This is my third year, and I’m just now getting around to my fiction writing class, but so far things have been fun.

To get us started, our professor has been giving us exercises out of Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern. This craft book takes you through the basic elements of good fiction writing using short chapters that include examples of the element and a prompt to help you begin.

From the back cover:

“Here is a book about the craft of writing fiction that is thoroughly useful whether for beginners, seasoned writers, or teachers of writing. You will see how a work takes form and shape once you grasp the principles of momentum, tension, and immediacy. ‘Tension,’ Stern says, ‘is the mother of fiction. When tension and immediacy combine, the story begins.’

“Dialogue and action, beginnings and endings, the true meaning of ‘write what you know,’ and memorable listing of don’ts for fiction writers are all covered. A special section features an Alphabet for Writers: entries range from Accuracy to Zigzag, with enlightening comments about such matters as Cliffhangers, Point of View, Irony, and Transitions.”

As someone who is working their way through the book, I can say his prompts are great jumping off points if your inspiration is lagging. The chapters and Alphabet for Writers are helpful if you don’t quite understand a concept.

I recently did the “Juggling” exercise (second chapter). “Juggling” makes you think about the way you take your reader through a character’s physical action, into their thoughts/background, and back into action. The idea is to weave action and internal thoughts seamlessly. Here’s a snippet from my attempt at “Juggling” to give you an idea:

Suzanne swerved around a dump truck. 8:52. If she glided through the next few stop signs and accelerated through a few yellow lights, she could make it to the meeting by the skin of her teeth. She could see it now: rushing into the conference room, breathless, all of her stuff still hanging from her arms. But she could do it. They always spent the first five minutes summarizing what happened at last week’s staff meeting. And she was actually at last week’s meeting, so it wasn’t like she needed to be there for the summary.

She zoomed up a turning lane. The green light twenty feet away turned yellow. She could make this. Pressing down on the accelerator, Suzanne whipped around the turn, centrifugal force throwing her against the driver’s side door.



I recommend Making Shapely Fiction because it’s a fun, useful guide that can spark your creativity and/or help you understand elements of fiction writing that maybe no one formally taught you. Often, writers write on instinct. We follow blindly where the Muse drags us and we thank her for the trip.

Sometimes there’s something happening in our story that’s not quite right but we’re not sure what, because it’s one of those things no high school English teacher taught us. Have no fear. Jerome Stern is going to teach you. And if you need more help, we at Inspiration for Writers are at your service!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Some Editors’ Accoutrements of War

by
Charlotte Firbank-King
 

Editors are there to guide and help writers hone their skills and write the best story they can. But is there such a thing as over-editing or bad editing? I think there might be. It’s possible to buckle under the weight of rules and lose heart. This is often how it goes:
First shot fired across the bows—show, don’t tell.

Really? How are newbies supposed to know that and then still grasp the concept? This is followed by a barrage of cannon fire that leaves the newbie’s sweat and blood, ah manuscript, littered with bullet holes—ah, comments and deletions, much like this list:

      These are misplaced modifiers.

      Hey! Put the comma in a compound sentence.

      Use emotions, actions, be creative—don’t constantly use, he said/she said.

      Slow the pace.

      Keep the pace going.

      No shopping lists.

      Watch that POV breach.

      This is a gawking narrator.

      Add more atmosphere.

      Stop with telling the reader every last detail from the sand on a pair of shoes to each painting on
a wall.

      Too many adjectives and adverbs, cut ‘em out or at least down to one, maybe two.

      The scenes aren’t rich enough—Flesh them out.

      No passive sentences allowed.

      Stop with all the gerunds.

      Enough already with the clichés.

      Oi! Watch those intensifiers.

      Stop with the redundancies.


The list is long and daunting. It’s like putting running shoes on a baby after their first step, then shoving them on a track and hollering, “Now show me what ya got!” Or a kid writes their first word at school. Time to throw the thesaurus at them. “Right, now sharpen up your prose!”

And the broadside shot, most loved by some editors—toe the line if you want to be published or be a bestseller, usually couched in polite, but veiled threatening terms. It may be a terse: fine, if that’s how you want to write. I’m only here to guide you. But it really means—you will never succeed if you don’t follow the rules!
None of this is bad advice—well, except this last salvo. In fact, rules need to be pointed out (not fired like a volley of bullets) or it wouldn’t be editing.

After the battle, the newbie is a crippled, gibbering wreck, ready to wave the white flag, and their characters are collateral damage in this war to forge a newbie into a James Patterson. The newbie is ready to give up dreams of becoming a writer, never mind the next NY Times bestseller. Has the editor crushed the newbie's fresh, albeit naïve prose? Maybe. But hell, the editor is pleased to see nice crisp writing with not an error in sight and every word, every sentence perfect—or soulless? Maybe even a clone of the editor’s style.

It would behoove editors to remember when they first started writing. I know I was lousy. But like all newbies, my eyes sparkled with enthusiasm and my fingers itched to write one of the million stories churning about in my creative head. The only thing I had was a love of words, but I went forth to conquer with blind gusto.

Then I crashed and burned. Maybe I was delusional and couldn’t write at all. My manuscript was littered with red and comments and deletions crawled over themselves like worms in a can.

Copious tears and rants later—the dog, cat, and parrot have all fled to safety—I pick myself up, dust myself off, wipe my bloodied nose, and forge ahead with grit and determination—I will learn—I will succeed! Despite the editor beating up on me.

First rejection letter. Second and on to the twentieth and then some more rejection letters.

Crash and burn again. This writing gig really hurts.

I think editors often edit their own work into a blubber heap of perfect writing without a pulse.

My own personal rule: write as it comes—usually badly, then cut out the glaring tumors and breathe life into it. I know many editors approach their work like this. They should look at newbies in the same way, and avoid killing the newbie's naïve approach to their story. I mean, it will need major surgery and a full face lift or ten for sure, but take care the story doesn’t morph into the cat-lady with excessive surgery—ah, editing.

On the flipside, I understand the frustrations and obsessive desire to whip a newbie into shape, but stop!

The art of writing well doesn’t happen in a day or even a year—it takes thousand and tens of thousands of words and years, and editors know this.

Maybe it’s time to cut ourselves and the newbies some slack.

Does this mean one shouldn't hire an editor? No! It means a writer should hire a good editor who is sensitive to the writer's voice and doesn't trample on it, and who doesn't overwhelm a new writer with a barrage of rules without giving examples. A good editor will build a relationship with writers, new and seasoned, and they’ll encourage when one is too despondent to continue.

Think Mount Everest and the Sherpas that guide one to the summit. That is what you need in an editor—a Sherpa. Inspiration for Writers will help you find your Sherpa to get you to the top of your Mount Everest. Just give us a call.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

GUEST POST: From Diction to Rhetoric to Writing

by
Kirk Hazen

In early January 1999, an aide to the mayor of Washington D.C. used the word “niggardly” in reference to city funds while speaking with two employees. Ten days after this usage, the aide, David Howard, resigned. The term “niggardly” means “in a stingy manner,” appropriate for a budget, so how did the use of this word lead to his resignation? Context and audience conspired to create misinterpretations of Howard’s utterance: his immediate audience was offended because they thought he had said the N-word. Once those rumors began about racial animosity, especially in a city office already divided by racial tension, they were unstoppable.

Diction is an important skill and one that gets better with practice, but choosing the right word is only one step in the process of crafting the best writing. Unless you are only writing for yourself, you must get into other people’s minds and assess how they view the world. On the large scale, this would require writers to be both sociologists and psychologists; in practice, walking a few feet in other people’s shoes is easier today than it has ever been.

Several modern word tools can benefit writers, and I use all of these tools in my own writing. These tools include electronic dictionaries, Ngrams, and corpora. Although there are several high-quality paper-based dictionaries (I recommend the American Heritage Dictionary), the benefits of an electronic dictionary are sizeable. Most importantly, these dictionaries save time with easy searching. Even the dictionary on my computer allows me to easily switch between dictionary and thesaurus so that I can fully flesh out a word’s etymology (its word history) and its regular ambience (the kind of context it normally occurs in). With these qualities you can better discern how others will understand the word. Keep in mind that all modern dictionaries (and there are hundreds of them for different specialties) are surveys of usage. That distilled usage is what the writers need to understand to be fully conscious of their writing.

Ngrams are another tool for understanding how words are used and what they might mean for different audiences. The Ngram viewer (https://books.google.com/ngrams) is a tool developed on Google Books that calculates and plots the frequency of words and phrases. There is a simple set of instructions (https://books.google.com/ngrams/info) that will allow you to search billions of words between 1800 and 2000. For any phrase or word comparison an author is deciding upon, the frequency and contexts for usage are quickly findable over the last 200 years.  

If authors need a more in-depth and nuanced assessment of the words in question, then searchable corpora are the answer. A corpus (plural, corpora) is a body of writings. Searchable corpora have been parsed so that most words are tagged with part of speech markers to allow for highly specialized searches (e.g. what adjectives come before woman/man?). At BYU, the http://corpus.byu.edu/ website can connect authors to searches through hundreds of billions of words in American and British English as well as 45 billion words in Spanish. Perhaps the two most useful corpora for writers are the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA). For example, COCA can be searched by genre: spoken, fiction, popular magazines, newspapers, and academic texts, so, for example, researching authors can see that over the last century, the word “mauve” is most frequently used in fiction and magazines, but rarely comes up in speech or academic contexts. What writers do with such information is a rhetorical choice.

Consider the HBO miniseries Lewis and Clark, where modern writers needed to develop a script about the early 1800s but one which speaks to modern audiences. Pitfalls abound in such writing. If a word like “golden boy” sounds old fashioned to us, that might work for modern audiences, but it was not available until 1937, much too late for Lewis and Clark. If these former military men are going to curse on their dangerous cross-country expedition, should they sound more like Yosemite Sam or Deadpool? Cursing around 1800 sounded more like Yosemite Sam (“Tarnation!”) than any modern cursing, and the sexualized swearing of modern writing did not arise until the early 1900s. Such choices are artistically rhetorical choices where writers balance between historical accuracy and audience impact.

The interpretation of words changes over time, and those changes are outside of authors’ control. Consider the case of one of my English department colleague’s tale of a suspect phrase: In reading Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now (1875) the European heroine (who speaks English, French, and German) tells her American suitor that she will not marry him until she sees his big house in San Francisco, saying “I like you very well, but I’m not going to take a leap in the dark, and I’m not going to marry a pig in a poke.” My colleague and I were both surprised that Trollope would have a character use the phrase “pig in a poke.” For both of us, the phrase is rural and colloquial and certainly American. But a bit of research shows that its usage in the mid-1800s was higher in England than in the US:

 

(To enlarge the photo, click on it. To see the original image click here.)
 
For modern writers to reach beyond themselves to other contexts and other voices, choices about what words mean for particular audiences loom large. Thankfully, modern tools allow authors to make informed rhetorical choices more quickly than ever before.



Biography:

Kirk Hazen is Professor of Linguistics in the Department of English at WVU and winner of the 2014-2015 Benedum Distinguished Scholar Award in the Humanities. Hazen has been the founding director of the West Virginia Dialect Project since 1998, and he has been writing professionally since 1993. His most recent book is An Introduction to Language (Wiley 2015), and he can be found on Twitter @DrDialect

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Writing When You Don't Feel Like Writing

by
Stacy Tritt


Hello, blog readers. It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me. I apologize for my long absence. But, I can explain, I swear. You see, I’ve had this excuse.

To begin, I want to give a disclaimer that I am not really writing a how-to blog so much as telling a story of what has worked for me recently to reclaim my creative writing when I haven’t felt like writing. By sharing my story, I hope you might find something that will work for you as well.

I said I had an excuse, and believe me, I’m full of excuses for not writing. There is one excuse that stands above all the rest, however, and I am sure some of you have used this excuse as well. I wouldn’t really call it writer’s block so much as creative straight-jacket syndrome.

It all started back in 2011 during my junior year of college. I was taking quite a few classes that required me to do this thing called “academic writing.” And night after night, I was reading and analyzing, writing essays and citing documents. One page after another. Then, when I would sit down to write something for myself, I found myself staring at a blank Word document. I might get a paragraph or two in, but all that by-the-books, almost-scientific approach to writing had dried up my creative juices and replaced them with analytical word vomit that saturated my sponge of a brain.

Fast forward a few years. I now work full time as a hotel manager. I write reports constantly. Add the massive number of hours I usually work, and, well, my same old excuse is still valid. My creative brain has been left out in the elements, going unnourished for so long that I feared it was dead. And the prolifically creative person I had once been had been replaced by a corporate American robot. If my middle-school self knew what I had become, she would scream, cry, and threaten to run away from home.

Being creative, writing, drawing, and dancing—things I once loved—had become an increasingly difficult chore. And it hurt. But still, I was unwilling to give up. I had to find a way to bring the joy of writing back into my life. So, I started journaling—something I hadn’t done regularly in about ten years. It was hard at first. At the end of a long day, I would sit down and write something short and boring:

“Long day at work today. Had to prep for the owner’s visit. Two extra reports due, and had to inspect rooms. Pretty tired. Splurged on some Starbucks, though, so that’s cool.”

There were nights when the last thing I felt like doing was sitting down to write about my day, but I made myself do it. I could not go to bed until I had written at least one sentence. After some time passed, it became easier. My entries gained some flair, and creative ideas started to come to mind while I wrote, and I started jotting down plot lines and character backstories—as well as doodling in the margins. My entries became much less tidy, much less about just me, and more about the creative being inside of me that was slowly coming back to life.

“Today was my day off. I walked around the front lawn with bare feet, the grass over-long because it has been raining so much that Rob hasn’t been able to cut it. The ground was so soft, and the grass so gentle against my heels, it felt like walking on a giant, fluffy marshmallow.”

Now, I’m not claiming any of my entries are writing gold, but they allowed me to start exercising my creative brain again. The simple act of writing just for me culminated into an ability to sit down and write again.

Creativity doesn’t always just happen. It’s something that must be practiced. And writing when you don’t feel like you have anything good to say is hard. Yet, journaling is fairly easy. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t feel the overwhelming need to go back and edit and reedit what you’ve just written before moving on to the next thought. Which is very liberating for me. So, now as I sit down to write, I’ve been trying to do it like a journal entry—get it all out, and then go back later to edit—something I have always struggled with. Without the practice of journaling, I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that. It’s a simple way to keep your creative mind fed and alive while you wade through mundane daily life. And keeping your creative mind alive and well is the difference between a week-long writer’s block dry spell, and a lifetime of thinking you’ve lost your creative voice.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that I don’t know where you are in your creative journey or on your career path. But perhaps the two don’t have to be at such odds. What I hope my experience might teach you is not to give up hope. Your creativity won’t lie dormant forever—not if you begin to feed it, and nurse it, and spend time with it. It might not be easy, but it will be worth it. Keep trying. Keep writing. And support each other. That is the biggest gift we as writers can give one another—our support. Whether a novice or expert, we all need a little encouragement now and again. Journaling is my way of encouraging myself as a writer, and something I hope I don’t forget soon, because supporting ourselves is maybe even more important than supporting each other.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The PLAIN ENGLISH Writer's Workbook

by
Sandy Tritt


It’s here! All 174 wire-bound 8.5” x 11” pages! You don’t need a PhD to understand this book. The PLAIN ENGLISH Writer’s Workbook explains writing concepts in understandable terms. EVERY WRITER NEEDS THIS BOOK.

The PLAIN ENGLISH Writer’s Workbook has been a work-in-process since 1998—the year Sandy began to edit professionally and founded Inspiration for Writers. At that time, there were few editing companies on the Web, and most were rather unfriendly. Sandy wanted Inspiration for Writers to be different—to be an editing company that truly cared about its clients and took the time to chat with them, discover their goals, and be there to answer questions for as long as they desired. That philosophy of nurturing and treating our clients as we would want to be treated may be the reason we’re still in business and most of our competitors from those days are not.

From the beginning, instead of simply correcting poor writing techniques, we explained why the correction was needed so the writer could learn from the edit and apply that knowledge to future endeavors. Since we ended up repeating instructions to address common writing issues, we created a set of tip sheets written in PLAIN ENGLISH so even novice writers could master the techniques without needing a dictionary to understand the terminology. As Sandy taught creative writing classes and workshops, the worksheets were created to help organize the writing process. Eventually, many of these tip sheets and worksheets ended up on our website and in the first incarnation of this book, The Inspiration for Writers Tips and Techniques Workbook. Over the years, many things have changed, especially in the publishing industry. Inspiration for Writers also grew and incorporated, adding quality editors and writers. We continued to add more tip sheets and worksheets, which meant we needed an updated book. So here it is.

The purpose of The PLAIN ENGLISH Writer’s Workbook is to assist you during every step of your writing career. Jam-packed full of writing tips, techniques, exercises, and worksheets, this workbook includes six sections.

Section 1, Getting Ready to Write, gives advice to beginning writers, including ways to find time to write, find a place to write, and to find a mentor to help you through the process. The remainder of the book is applicable to writers of all experience.

Section 2, The Basics, discusses the core components of a novel or memoir, including plot, setting, characterization, point of view, dialogue, gawking characters, and more. Some of the most difficult concepts to learn are covered in detail, such as how to create emotionally-mature characters, how to keep your narrator in line, and how to choose—and maintain—the perfect point of view for your needs.

Section 3, Advanced Techniques, explains ways to write more powerful prose. Included in this section is advice on handling flashbacks and foreshadowing, how to control pacing, and how to cut the flab while building the muscle of your prose.

Section 4, Self-Editing, draws attention to common writing problems and how to solve them. This section includes the steps professional editors take to make sure characters remain consistent, gives grammar and punctuation tips, and even tells you how to find beta readers. 

Section 5, The Next Step, discusses publishing options, including the detailed information needed to either query a traditional publisher or literary agent, or steps needed to self-publish. Included in this section are Rhonda White’s article on Tax Breaks for Writers, as well as a sanity-saving guide on how to write a book proposal.

Section 6, Reproducible Worksheets, provides 9 worksheets with detailed instructions on how to use them. The instruction sheets give tips on how to select a name for a character, how to find a story’s focus, and much more. These worksheets are reproducible, but we will provide a PDF or MS Word copy of the worksheets upon request.

Bonus tips are sprinkled throughout, as are exercises (with solutions!) to practice concepts presented.

Order your copy today in either the wire-bound (for easy copying of pages) hard-copy format for just $35 (includes priority mail shipping within the US) or $10 for the ebook version. Just go to http://inspirationforwriters.com/wp/writing-merchandise/ and select the version you want. After you’ve paid through Paypal, click on “return to the Inspiration for Writers website” to receive your download.

If you have any questions, email us at IFWeditors@gmail.com.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Writing Perfectionist Problems

by
Jessica Nelson
 

Everything I’ve read—every writer’s guide, every website geared toward writers—says the most important part of writing is to get it on paper. Don’t worry how sloppy it is. Don’t worry if it’s barely comprehensible. Just get it on paper. You can’t edit and polish if you have nothing to work with, right?

But what if you can’t get it on the paper?

Many of our IFW editors proclaim there is no such thing as writer’s block. (I’m looking at you, Rhonda Browning White.) But the little kid in me wants to throw a temper tantrum and scream, Yes, there is such a thing as writer’s block! There is, there is, there is! as if it can somehow excuse all the months I go without writing a word.

But I don’t think writer’s block is the real problem—at least not for people like me.

Let me tell you why. I had an English teacher in high school who, for his doctoral dissertation, studied the processes and styles of young writers. He told me something that I didn’t know about myself: I do the writing, editing, and polishing stages all at the same time. Meaning, that I write, edit, then polish what I want to say all in my mind before a single word ever appears on paper.

So when I open my Word document and can’t get the words from my brain to the page, it isn’t writer’s block, per se. Rather, it’s that I can’t find the perfect way to say what I want to say. And if I can’t say it perfectly at that moment, I can’t say it at all.

It’s not lack of inspiration or writer’s block. It’s that my perfectionism—the ingrained desire for my writing to be perfect on the first try—stops my fingers from flying and my story from being told.

It’s a struggle for me to just write down words for the sake of getting them on paper. It’s like someone telling my five-foot, un-athletic, chocoholic self that I have to jump over a twenty-foot tall wall to get to the brownies on the other side. I’d rather deny myself the brownies than fail in the attempt to get them.

My other writing flaw is that I have to write in chronological order. Translation: I have to write scenes (or in essay writing, the elements of the argument) in the order in which they occur in the story. I can’t skip around and come back to it later. I just can’t. It’s not the way my brain works.

So sometimes I have to cheat. Trick my brain into letting me get past these little idiosyncrasies of mine.

When I can’t say it perfectly at that moment, when I just can’t write it out, I write a note in that spot instead. Sometimes it’s a sentence in parentheses that says “Characters have a heart-to-heart here” or “This is where his big secret is revealed” or “Transition here.” Sometimes it’s a more detailed summary made in the margin with Microsoft Word’s comment function. But this method allows me to remember what I was going to write so I can come back to it later when I finally have the perfect words.

This same method sometimes helps when I have to work out of chronological order. In a way, it tricks my brain into thinking we’ve covered that section. Then my brain might let me move on to the part I am ready to write.

Every mind is unique. Even—perhaps especially—among writers. Sometimes the typical techniques and strategies don’t work for all of us. So we have to find our own shortcuts, our own techniques and strategies to work around our writing roadblocks.

What writing idiosyncrasies do you have? What different or strange technique works for you?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Creating Your Character: Astrological Signs

by
Sandy Tritt


Sometimes, especially when initially creating a character, it’s difficult to get a good feel for the person this character represents. Sometimes, if you just toss the character into the plot and start writing, the character will begin asserting himself. Other times, not so much. If a character remains flat, it may be time to cheat. One of my favorite ways to add layers of dimension to a character (and to help me understand my character better) is to use a book of the Zodiac that includes both sun and moon signs. I decide which astrological sign best fits my character, then I research that sign to add some dimension.

The sidebar contains the supposed characteristics of people born between certain dates. Notice that only the three or four adjectives that are strongest for the sign are listed. Within a book of the Zodiac, you will find many more characteristics, including a breakdown of how this sign behaves in romance, in the office, and at play.

Using the range of dates listed for the selected sign, I then use a “birthday” book that lists characteristics and traits by birthday, and page through the selected astrological dates until I find the personality that truly fits this character. This often creates an “aha!” moment and is quite fun to do. The birthday books give enough of a character profile that we can feel like we truly know this character. It’s amazing how quickly a flat character can come to life.

Zodiac and birthday characteristic books can often be found in the bargain bin of your favorite book retailer. The “accuracy” of such books is not important—they are simply a tool that can be used to add depth to a character.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Scenes: What They Are and What They Need

by
Sandy Tritt



I'm not sure about the rest of you, but ever since I started writing, I threw around words like "scene" and "scene break" with the understanding that these terms identified essential elements of story writing. But for years I lacked the fundamental understanding of what a scene actually was. So for everyone out there who was like me, here's a breakdown of what a scene is and what it needs.

(The following is adapted from the newest IFW tips and techniques workbook, The PLAIN ENGLISH Writer's Workbook, available soon.)

                                                                                           ~Jessica Nelson


Plot is accomplished through a series of scenes. A scene is the dramatization of one snapshot in time—what happens at one specific place and time. Of course, the action may unwind over a period of several minutes or longer, but once the action is transferred to a different setting or to a different character, that scene ends and another scene begins. However, we do not require a scene break if the viewpoint character himself is moving, say walking down the street from one house to another, or if the omniscient point of view is used.

Every scene in a novel must further the plot or develop a character (preferably both at the same time); otherwise, it’s an extraneous scene and should be cut. Every scene should also have a feeling of completeness about it. This is accomplished by ending the scene with an action, thought, or dialogue by the viewpoint character, hopefully resolving or reviewing whatever “mini-crisis” the scene presented.

(Tip: Make a scene feel complete by ending it with the focus on the viewpoint character.)

When a new scene begins, you, the writer, have a huge new responsibility. Have you ever thought about what happens to an unsuspecting reader when a scene changes? He’s been comfortable, hanging around and experiencing your story, aware of where he is, when he is, and through whose eyes he’s seeing/hearing/feeling things, when all of a sudden one scene ends and another begins. Your poor reader is snatched out of his comfort zone, zoomed through time and space, and is plunged into a new scene. God—er, um, you—only knows where he is now. He may crash into the same physical space he’s just vacated—or he may end up across the globe or even in a new galaxy. Five seconds may have passed—or ten days or a dozen centuries. Even more jolting, he could now be seeing and hearing and smelling through a different character.

It’s an extremely unsettling experience. That is, unless you, the creator of this world the reader is visiting, are experienced enough and thoughtful enough to guide him through the trauma. Oh, my! Did you even know you had this humongous responsibility? Well, you do.
Within the first few sentences of a new scene, your reader needs to know several things, including: 
  • Whose eyes he’s now seeing things through. (If you employ a single viewpoint character throughout the manuscript, this is not necessary.)
  • Which characters are present in the scene.
  • How much time has passed since the last scene ended.
  • Where he is in general—such as the city, state, country. If this general location has not been visited previously, we may need more information, such as if it’s rural, big city, etc. 
  • Location, specific: if inside, where we are, such as in a living room or inside a diner. If outside, if we’re in a vehicle, hiking, etc.
  • Time period: the decade we’re in. (If this does not change throughout the manuscript, you do not need to re-establish this.) 
  • Time of year: spring, summer, fall, winter—or actual month.
  • General time of day: morning, afternoon, evening, night.
  • Weather, if it affects the story in any way (and it usually does).
Additionally, the reader may need to know the date or the day of week, as well as any historically relevant happenings on that day. For example, if this scene occurs on September 11, 2001, and no mention is made of the collapse of the twin towers, your reader is going to question your integrity. We call providing this information grounding your reader, as it allows your reader to simply relax and become a part of the story instead of floating around in space, desperately trying to figure out where and when he is and through whose eyes he’s seeing.
 
(Tip: Research does more than add authenticity—it often opens the door to subplots and additional scenes.)
 
If it were not for the First Commandment of Writing—Thou Must Show, Not Tell—we’d just open each scene with a recitation of all the necessary facts. But, instead, we must be artistic about it. We must not just give all the information, but we must sprinkle it around and create amazing prose with conflict and suspense while doing so. The goal is to create a picture the reader can imagine in his mind. He must be able to envision where the action is happening, who is present, and what is going on. This balancing act of feeding information to your reader while maintaining interest is not easy. But it must be done.
 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Copyright--or Wrong?

by
Sandy Tritt


A copyright gives a writer “ownership” of a literary work. This means the copyright owner has the right to make copies, sell copies, and distribute copies of the work, as well as the right to license others to do these things. It also gives the copyright owner legal recourse should someone else make copies, sell copies, or distribute copies—in all or in part—of the copyrighted material. Once granted, a copyright protects the work for 50 years after the death of the copyright holder.

Now, for the good news: regardless of whether the work has been registered with the US Copyright Office, the writer of a work automatically owns the copyright. The only exception to this is if the work is completed under “works for hire” provisions, which means someone else commissioned the writer to do the work. An example of this exception would be work created under a ghostwriting contract (unless the contract states otherwise, of course).

However, should your copyright ever come into question, either because an unauthorized person has copied your work or because someone claims to have created the work first, it will be up to you to prove you are the author of this work. There are various ways you can offer this proof, such as by keeping various work-in-process versions of the work, by sending your work to a trusted friend via email, or by mailing a copy of the work to yourself (have the postal clerk hand-stamp the postmark, make sure the date appears clearly, and have the clerk seal the package—and then don’t open the package). Even though you may be able to prove your ownership, you still won’t have the public record of a copyright claim, nor can you file an infringement lawsuit until your work is officially registered. 

So, if you plan to publish your work and offer it publicly, you should register your work with the US Copyright Office.


When should you file for a copyright? You should not file for a copyright until your work is fully complete, edited, proofed, and ready to be published. Second, you should not file for a copyright if you plan to publish traditionally or, in some cases, with a full-service self-publisher. In these cases, your publisher will very likely make changes to your work to follow in-house style guides, and once your work is ready to go to print, your publisher will file your copyright for you. There is no need to copyright your work before it is published—and doing so may create a great deal of added work and expense.

Even if you have not yet filed for your copyright—or, if you have filed and have not yet received confirmation (it takes 8 to 13 months for the US Copyright Office to process your request for copyright), you may still use the copyright symbol and a copyright notice on your work. This notice is not required for your work to be covered by copyright, but including a notice of copyright could be beneficial, since it gives a reminder that your work is under copyright protection, it identifies to whom the copyright belongs to, and it gives the year the work was first published.

The copyright notice should be placed on the back of your title page. (You should not add a watermark to every page screaming “COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL.” This serves only to identify you as an amateur.)  The copyright symbol ( © ) can be created in Microsoft Word by typing a left parenthesis, the letter “C,” and a right parenthesis, with no spaces. MS Word will convert this automatically to the copyright symbol. Alternately, you can spell out the word “copyright.” The copyright symbol or word should be followed by the year the manuscript was first published (or requested to be published) and the owner of the copyright (your name or company). It should also include the statement “All rights reserved.” Here’s an example of how this should look: “© 2002 Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved.”

Other statements may follow the copyright notice. There are several formats that can be used, so you may want to examine the title page of several books and novels to see the type of material that may be included here. Here is a simple example:

                  Copyright © 2016 by Your Name. All Rights Reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher.

                  This Is My Book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

                  PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

You may register your copyright either online or by snail mail. The application to register a copyright includes three requirements: completing the application form, paying a filing fee (currently $35), and submitting a non-returnable copy (or two, if you submit by snail mail) of your work. As of this printing, the wait time for an online application is 8 months, and the wait time for a snail-mailed application is 13 months, so it is more expedient to apply online.

To file online, go to the Copyright Office website at http://www.copyright.gov/eco/. Be sure to read the tutorial on how to apply, and be aware that you’ll need to file Form TX. When you apply online, you can upload the final, proofed copy of your manuscript as it will appear when published. Also, be aware that a $35 fee (as of this printing) is required when you submit the request.

If you prefer to register by snail mail, you must first get an application from the Copyright Office website (www.loc.gov/copyright) or by calling the Forms and Publications Hotline at 202-707-9100 (You will want Form TX). Once you’ve completely filled out the application, you can send it with a $35 filing fee and two copies of your book to:

                Library of Congress
                Copyright Office
                101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
                Washington, D.C. 20559-6000

You will not receive your material back from the Copyright Office.

One final word of warning: there are many scams associated with filing a copyright, so, as in all things, tread carefully. There are many companies who are willing to file your copyright for you—for a small fee. There is no reason to do this, as you will still need to fill out the forms, pay the copyright fee, and submit a copy of your book. It saves you no time and only costs you more money. There are also companies who claim they can “bypass” the wait or have special ways to deal with the bureaucracy. RUN! There is no way to speed up the process. Some scams claim they have an “alternate” copyright that is easier and faster. THERE IS NO SUCH THING. And, finally, some companies will access the Library of Congress listings and send you an email or letter stating that they have seen your work and want to publish your work. This is another scam by so-called “subsidy” publishers to separate you from your money.

So be careful out there. Learn to copyright—not wrong.

Monday, June 20, 2016

5 Reasons to Go to a Writers Conference

by
Jessica Nelson


I just got back from the three-day West Virginia Writers Conference in Ripley, WV. It’s one of the best gatherings of writers in the tri-state area. For the past five years, I’ve attended the weekend conference. I always have fun, and I always learn more about writing. And I always come back inspired to dive back into my various projects. So in honor of conference season, I’m giving you five great reasons to go to a conference.

1. You’ll learn something new. Writers conferences are a great place to learn new tips, techniques, shortcuts, and methods to improve your writing. Most conferences offer a variety of workshops in a variety of genres; you can learn more about your chosen genre, or you can branch out and try something you haven’t written before. If you go to a workshop on a genre you don’t usually write, you can learn something new that will help you with your current projects. A poetry workshop will teach you the importance of the perfect word and how to hear the musicality of your lines. A workshop on fantasy or sci-fi will teach you world-building, while a workshop on thrillers will teach you how to build suspense.

2. You’ll have fun. Writers conferences can be a blast! Workshops are filled with laughter as you learn and share stories. Meals are spent swapping stories with new friends and old. Free time is spent chatting with strangers or browsing books. And at the West Virginia Writers conference, nights are spent either around the bonfire with s’mores or hanging out on the back porch with music and adult beverages. Or, if you’re me, nights are spent in the room with your roommates, alternately kicking butt and getting your butt kicked at cards and listening to the Hamilton soundtrack.

3. You can build a network. Having a network of authors, agents, editors, and publishers can be super helpful later down the road. And conferences are a great place to build that network! Many writers conferences will bring in a publisher or an agent or some other kind of book-industry representative. Go talk to them. Say hi. Get their business card. Pitch your novel. Make a friend. These are the kinds of people you will want to help you when it’s time for you to get your novel out into the world.

4. You might be able to go for free or at a reduced cost. I’m not sure about all conferences, but West Virginia Writers allows high school and college students to attend the conference for free in exchange for working as interns. Which is fine by this college student, because it means I do everything I normally would anyway, plus I get to help in workshops and get close to the presenters. This year, WV Writers offered conference scholarships in the name of Terry W. McNemar, a former WV Writers president who recently passed away. Do some research on your local conferences. They might offer scholarship or reduced rates. But you’ll never know if you don’t look.

5. You’ll make new friends. One of my favorite parts of conference is seeing the two dozen or so friends that I only get to see once a year. Sure, I keep up with them on social media, but it’s nice to catch up in person. And every year I make new friends. All I have to do is sit down next to someone and ask an opening question: Where are you from? or What do you write? Then I let the conversation flow. It’s great to listen to fellow writers animatedly talk about their current projects or favorite books. Let’s be frank: it’s just awesome to be surrounded by people whose weird matches your weird. Because those people, my friends, become your tribe.