Friday, August 25, 2017

Self-editing a short story by Sarah Wisseman

Self-editing is hard, no two ways about it. I remember a workshop led by Nancy Pickard years ago that I found especially useful. She called her method CASTS (Conflict, Action, Senses, Turn, and Surprise) and encouraged all of us to evaluate each scene or chapter using these five criteria. The trickiest for us to understand was the difference between "turn" and "surprise." If memory serves me, a "turn" could be a shift in mood for the protagonist/narrator, e.g. start the scene excited and end up hopeless. "Surprise" could be an "aha" moment for either the protagonist or the reader, as in, "I never thought of that!"

I recently sent in a short story for an anthology contest that required intense self-editing. As I accepted feedback from friends and colleagues, I had to sort out what to incorporate and what to discard (my rule is: if two or more critics say something needs fixing, pay attention).

Here are some of the guidelines I developed. All of these apply to novels too, but were especially helpful to me as I refined my short story and tried to make every word count.

What is the story logic? Does it work for readers? Review major plot points and how they unfold.
I made an outline and read it out loud to myself. Sometimes the logic is obvious to me, but not to my readers because I have left out some portion of my reasoning.

Where are the red herrings? Are they inserted in the best possible way?
I want some misdirection, but not too much. There’s less space in a short story, and you have to balance misdirection with keeping up the pace of the story.

Follow each character: How do you reveal character? Is each character distinct, and do they interact with others consistently?
 One of my characters was a bit wooden, so I fixed that by adding phrases or action words as dialogue tags.

Do you have the right balance between dialogue and description?
This was especially difficult for me since I discovered halfway through that I was writing my first police procedural, with crucial dialogue between two detectives!  I added a little more description.

Is there tension on each page? How is it revealed?
I made my characters argue with each other, disagreeing on how to proceed. I increased their physical discomfort as well.

Is there a twist at the end?
This is crucial, since most short stories want an “aha!” moment at the end.

I find critique groups immensely valuable; the members are readers as much as they are fellow writers. Although I attend one group that has 15-20 participants, I prefer a much smaller group so we can each read longer sections and receive more detailed feedback.

Finally, here's a great quote:

“A writer is, after all, only half his book. The other half is the reader and from the reader the writer learns."  (P.L. Travers, creator of the "Mary Poppins" series) 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Rituals & Creativity

We creative types often have little rituals we do in order to prepare ourselves for the muse. Early in my writing journey I would always light a candle and play soft instrumental music to get me into the writing "zone." Over time the rituals changed.

I went through several years of latte and bookstore noise. Then came the sunshine and noise of the wind in the trees. Lately, I've been in the "quiet" period with no candles or music, just me and my muse having a conversation about the story.

What are your favorite writing rituals? 

The latte is probably my personal favorite. Writing (or reading) and latte's just go together. 

But creativity can be fickle. And watch out for the inner critic. It'll stifle your creativity if it can. If possible do the rituals that allow your creative juices to flow and ignore the inner critic.  (They are only good for editing, in my personal opinion.)

When I was writing articles under deadline I sometimes I had to force the words to come. By the time I got through that first draft I was in a better place and able to mine the jewels from the garbage. Creativity doesn't always come on like a faucet. Sometimes we have to prime it, but don't wait for the muse to strike. It's more important to write badly than to not write at all.

If I'm really stuck and can't make the words appear on the page I'll take out my favorite pen and write in a notebook. When I transcribe it later onto the computer it blossoms and grows. Don't you love it when that happens? 

I used to paint pictures and I'd sketch for days until I got the layout I wanted. Now I paint with words. First drafts are our sketches. Whether on paper or canvas or computer we want the vision we see in our minds to be shared with others. How we get there is our own special journey. Never let anyone tell you "how to write." You will figure that out over time. Light insense or wear your favorite socks if that will help.

Just keep writing.
Amazon Author Page

Friday, August 11, 2017

Sex in Fiction: The Controversy Continues by Jacqueline Seewald

A recent New York Times opinion article was on a topic of interest to those of us who write novels, especially i YA.  The topic: “Want Teenage Boys to Read? Easy. Give Them Books About Sex”. The article was written by Daniel Handler. The author has a forthcoming novel “All the Dirty Parts.” He has written many children’s books under the pen name Lemony Snicket.

Handler states that his new novel has been classified as an adult book rather than a YA. He wrote it for teens and believes it should be classified this way. He has run into a common problem of censorship in YA fiction in regard to sex scenes. He asks why it is acceptable to allow books about teenagers slaughtering one another in a post-apocalyptic landscape” but not allow realism in regard to sex. He has a definite point.

Writing for teens has never been easy. Writers want to be honest. Yet sexual descriptions are frowned upon as unacceptable. It is often a questionable matter in adult novels as well. A lot depends on the classification of the book. That remains a matter of significance.

My own YA novels are “clean reads.” This is not to appease censors. It’s merely my personal preference. THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER and STACY’S SONG are classified as romances. However, they are also coming-of-age novels. They can be read by teenagers and their mothers alike without embarrassment. Adults can also enjoy these novels because they have depth. But they don’t require explicit sex scenes.

As to getting boys to read, I think many enjoy a good mystery or adventure story. Sex scenes are not a requirement. When my sons were teenagers, we wrote a mystery novel for teenage boys entitled WHERE IS ROBERT? It was based on a true story that happened to my older son, Andrew. The novel was well-received by teenage readers.

A few years ago, Andrew and I wrote a mystery entitled THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY published by Five Star/Cengage. It’s a crossover novel suited to both teen and adult readers. Again, no sex scenes, just a good story with realistic characters.

Black Opal will soon be publishing another of my YA novels—you guessed it--no explicit sex scenes, just a quality book for teen readers.

However, are sex scenes needed and appropriate in certain novels? Shouldn’t the author be allowed to express his or her artistic vision free from censorship?

Your thoughts and comments welcome here.



Friday, August 4, 2017

Waiting . . . by Susan Oleksiw

In January 2016 I wrote about the end of the Five Star Mystery Line from Gale, Cengage. I talked about the other experiences in my writing life that were keeping my morale up and my attitude positive. My fourth Anita Ray mystery, For the Love of Krishna, appeared as scheduled in August 2016, but without any support from Five Star. I’ve submitted the book to Harlequin for its mass market line, since they’ve already published the first three in the series. I’ve sold more short fiction, and rewritten the first book in a new series, which my agent is shopping around. And now I wait.

What do you do while waiting to hear from an editor? My instinct is to write something else, perhaps a sketch outline for the next book in the proposed series. When I told my agent I had a nearly complete draft of the second in the series, she expressed concern that I was spending too much time on a series that hadn’t sold yet. In response, I wrote another short story set in the same area as the new (hoped-for) series.

Telling a writer to not work on a current project while waiting is as bad as telling her not to breathe while walking past lilacs in bloom or a freshly mowed lawn. Once an idea gets into my head, I begin to imagine more stories linked to the original idea. And this new idea seems to be especially fertile. I have rough outlines for two more books. Good grief. I have four books already.

 But the break in working on this project has given me time to work on my garden, which is usually pathetic by this time of year, delve into boxes of old photographs that I cannot keep storing, polish another Anita Ray mystery and send it out to a Beta reader, and read more.

Have you figured out that waiting is hard? Every writer knows this, and we also know that once you finish one project, you begin another. None of this hanging around until you hear about the first ms before you go back to writing. So, I’m waiting, and using my bottled-up energy to read, write, complete odd tasks neglected for too long, and enjoy the summer. And I’m relearning patience, a skill I always thought I had but seemed to have neglected. Patience. Meditation. Letting go. And fingers crossed.

One of the odd tasks completed was a new website, which you can find here, with a list of books available.

Or, go here: