It's been a crazy work week and a busy weekend enjoying the company of family and friends. We had a lovely time celebrating Mother's Day and my mother's 87th birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom!
That said, this week I'm doing some promotion for one of my favorite authors. Here's a shout out to author Roxanne St. Claire. Her newest contemporary romance novel just released this week.
Barefoot in White is the first in St. Claire's Barefoot Brides series. A follow up to the delightful, romantic Barefoot Bay series.
The first four full-length books: Barefoot in the Sand, Barefoot in the Rain, Barefoot in the Sun,Barefoot by the Sea were then followed by three novellas: Secrets on the Sand, Seduction on theSand, and Scandal on the Sand.
All the Barefoot books take place in Florida on the white sandy beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. A perfect paradise to fall in love.
Roxanne St. Claire writes contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and young adult. You can find her at roxannestclaire.com
What is your favorite book? How about your favorite movie? TV show? Have you ever watched a movie or read a book on someone's else's rave review and come away disappointed?
As we all know, this happens.
Every story written, every book published is as unique as the individual writer. We each have our personal story to tell, our own voice, our own style. But as we maneuver through the arduous journey of learning the craft of writing, we all need help on occasion. A teacher, a critique partner, beta reader, a judge in a contest, -- another writer to offer their opinion, their perspective.
We may not always agree with the other writer's viewpoint, however it's important to keep an open mind.
Our stories are like our children. We create them, work on them, nurture them... help them grow into a solid piece of writing to share with the world.
Before we query agents and editors, before we submit to publishers -- small and large -- before we self-publish, we need to have a well-written, polished story to present.
I've had several critique partners over the years. I have been involved with critique groups -- face to face and online -- I have engaged in small one-time-only critique sessions at retreats and conferences, but I have never found that perfect fit. A critique partner or partners for the long term.
One reason is I am extraordinarily blessed to have been born into a family of writers. We love and support each other in our individual writing endeavors no matter what. My family will read and comment on anything I throw their way and vice versa.
However, this isn't quite the same as having a serious, personal critique partner. And not the same as having our work judged anonymously.
Entering writing contests is one way to receive valuable feedback on all elements of writing. Not all contests offer feedback but many include comments and suggestions.
I help judge and critique around four to five writing contests a year. The submitted entries are from unpublished manuscripts (anywhere from 10 pages up to 50 pages) although not all are from unpublished authors. Many of the contests are open to both unpublished and published writers.
Judging contests has taught me so much about my own writing -- what works, what doesn't. What can the writer do to enhance their writing? What would I do? And most important: how do I communicate any comments and suggestions I make in a positive way?
It doesn't help anyone to be mean and sarcastic. Be encouraging, helpful. Concentrate on what's great about the entry, not the negative. I do make suggestions when something just doesn't sound right, or seems incongruous with the conflict or characters.
Usually, I read through an entry and make comments as I go. Some are not as positive and encouraging as they could be, so later (usually several days later) I will go through the entry again. I will then score, make additional comments, and revise any of the harsher comments. It's taken me many years experience to be able to judge with confidence. And my own writing has improved immensely.
A critique partner works differently. There are several factors to consider in partnering with someone and sharing your writing. Having the same level of skill can be important. Also it would enhance the experience if both writers worked in the same genre. I would prefer someone who wrote and appreciated the romance genre, but they wouldn't necessarily have to write contemporary and/or suspense. If you write for YA or middle grade, I think it would be a better fit to have a partner who wrote the same. Remember with a critique partner you are sharing your work with them and they are doing the same with you.
Judging contests and working with a critique partner takes time away from my writing, but the skills learned have been invaluable.
And sometimes, not often, I receive feedback from a contestant. The following is an actual letter I received about three years ago:
I thank you very much for your honest and encouraging feedback on my first novel. I really needed it to continue writing. Some members of my critique group had broken down my confidence completely and I had stopped writing for a while. So your feedback gives me hope to continue. Thanks again. I will go through my work again and try to improve.
I'm a fiction writer -- a yet to be published fiction writer -- so my expertise in regards to writing contests is about submitting and judging in the unpublished categories. I have entered a few but have judged many. Judging can be a wonderful way to improve our own writing!
As a member of the Romance Writers of America I have access to a variety of information to do with the craft of writing, the art of self-publishing, small press publishing, e-pubs, agents, editors, and how to get our work in front of the traditional publishers.
One option available is through contests. Contests are a great way to get our work critiqued and judged by our fellow writers (anonymously) with the hope of making it to the final judges. The final judges are most always agents and editors in the industry. If one submits a polished piece of work (usually the first few pages to the first couple of chapters of their manuscript) they may have a chance of catching the eye of an agent or editor.
Although having a critique partner and perhaps a plotting partner is important to the writing process, a fresh perspective from an unknown writer can definitely be illuminating.
We writers need to learn to take the criticism along with the accolades. It's the name of the game.
Stay tuned for more information and options in regards to entering and judging fiction writing contests.
Last week I wrote about the importance of plot in a story. How writing a plotting outline can help to enhance the process and save the writer time in the long run. Keep in mind even with an outline, we careen off the beaten path... and that's okay. The characters and their journey evolve as we traverse the long and winding road to the end of our completed manuscript.
One question new writers (and not-so-new writers) often grapple with is: What is the difference between plot and conflict? Since they are so often mentioned and woven together it is sometimes difficult to recognize.
Looking at plot like a roadmap is one way I view the process.
Anytime I take a road trip I pull out my atlas and study the various paths I might take to reach my destination. Should I stay on the highway? Or venture off onto the smaller byways? Once my trip is outlined I pack my belongings and prepare to leave.
Like a plot in a book.
For our example, the plot is a road trip from point A to point B. Let's say from Truro, Massachusetts to New York City. We will add a layer and say our protagonist is going to NYC to meet a friend and attend a Broadway play. That is my plan, my outline for my story. Small town girl ventures to the big city. That's the concept, the idea. With the outline comes the step by step planning of how the trip should unfold. Time of departure, places to stop, tolls, etc.
The trip can go exactly as planned and the small town girl makes it to NYC, meets her friend, enjoys a Broadway play. Our basic plot. We can blend in some dialogue, a bit of narrative, and we create a story.
Okay, but where is the tension brought on by conflict?
Our small town girl ends up having car trouble and has to exit Route 95 South and have her car fixed at a service station in southern Rhode Island. She arrives in NYC an hour late but still meets her friend and makes it to the Broadway play on time.
Is this conflict? Ah, no.
How about some internal dialogue for our small town girl? We, the reader, learn our protagonist is going to NYC to meet an old college friend, however she's apprehensive about seeing the friend again because of a tragic incident that happened while they were in college. It turns out they have not seen each other for ten years. Not since the night of the incident.
Now we sense the tension of the story, we begin to feel the emotional turmoil of our main character...
Of course this is just a quick, simplistic example of plot and conflict. I will leave it to the real experts to help you learn and understand the craft of plotting.
Again, I recommend (strongly): Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
Also a fabulous book on all the elements of writing: Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
Another way to help you enhance your writing experience -- as mentioned before -- is to have a critique partner or partners.
Now I recommend adding a plotting partner as well. I know several multi-published, best-selling authors who have plotting partners.
I want one. What a brilliant way to take a kernel of an idea and pop it into a strong, believable, can-stop-reading story!
Plot: (in regards to writing) noun. -- Storyline. The plan, scheme, or main story of a literary or dramatic work, as a play, novel, or short story.
When someone asks, "What is your story about?"
How do you answer? What do you say? Do you fumble about, trying to articulate what your 100,000 word novel is really about?
When you begin writing your book, do you know what will happen? Do you know where the roadmap of your story will lead you and your characters?
One of the elements of writing that is most difficult for me is plotting.
I write long romantic suspense stories with two main protagonists and several secondary characters. I introduce conflicts that center around the romance along with the mystery/suspense of the story. And... I weave in a secondary romance as well.
This can lead to some diverse characterization and powerful conflict, however it can also make for some bumpy plotting if the author is not prepared.
When I begin a story I do some basic plotting but no serious outline. Up until now I have been more of a pantser than a plotter. I'm not certain who coined the phrase pantser, but it means writing by theseat of your pants. I do this way more than I should.
But I'm learning to change my ways. Especially now that I'm crafting a four book series. It's imperative for me to write an outline for my plot and keep careful track of my characters. I don't want to lose my story or momentum as I hurdle over a creative cliff half way through my manuscript. It happened to one of my works in progress. Very frustrating!
It's a story I love but not certain I can finish the book without a complete rewrite.
I won't give up my writing life as a pantser but now I'm a plotter too. Find a balance that works for you and your creative process.
Recommendations to help with plotting:
Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
Last week I wrote of the many elements needed to create a fabulous book. One element I forgot to mention, however, is one of the most important of all:
Without it you'll never finish your novel no matter how magnificent and talented you are at writing.
The art of perseverance comes in many forms and is tough to master. Most prevalent is the ever difficult never-give-up attitude no matter what obstacles block your way and knock you down. The motivation to set goals and keep them -- the ability to reset and reboot when you don't.
Another word for perseverance is grit. A wonderful word that brings to mind the hard, sweaty, pushing through a wall of dirt image. The grit to succeed.
...And the satisfaction of completing a novel!
One stepping stone to not only finish a manuscript but produce a well-crafted, can't-put-down story, is having a critique partner or partners. Also doing research, taking classes, attending workshops, conferences and retreats. And being involved with whatever group you can find that offers like-minded writers with the same professional focus as yourself.
Another option: Writing contests.
Contests are offered by nearly every genre and writing organization available. They are a great way to get your work (most often anonymously) judged and critiqued by fellow writers. Many offer the top scorers incentives including a read through -- and sometimes a critique -- by editors from publishing houses and notable literary agents.
Another way to hone your skills as a writer is to volunteer your services as a judge for contests. This is an excellent way to identify what works and what doesn't in a story. It helps us to read and evaluate the written word, to learn and grow as writers.
I know judging and critiquing contests has helped me immensely.
We all need a healthy dose of perseverance just to get through our daily lives. For a writer, working at the business of crafting a novel ... Supersize it!
** Look for future postings with more specific information about critique partners, writing organizations, conferences, and contests.
Welcome to my rejuvenated blog! Introducing a blog dedicated to the craft of fiction writing. Elements of writing for newbie writers, experienced writers, and multi-published authors.
Join in the conversation every Sunday for a fresh look at what elevates a story from conception to finished to fabulous.
When crafting a novel, a writer faces overwhelming challenges with the numerous elements necessary to create a riveting, can't-put-down, must-turn-the-page story.
Have you ever read a book and scratched your head because it just doesn't work for some reason? As a writer, when I'm bored with a book, I attempt to identify why the story doesn't work for me. I contemplate what I would do differently. What is missing from the story? What could be changed or enhanced for me to fall in love with the novel and keep reading?
Most readers don't take the time to wonder, they simply put the book down and reach for another.
Our job as writers, as crafters of stories, is to keep the reader engaged, enthralled -- enthusiastic to keep reading to the end. :)
Elements of Writing: Character, plot, conflict, pacing, style and setting...description, dialogue, narrative, tense and point of view.
Every Sunday I will offer up ideas, thoughts, comments, suggestions, on the many layers and nuances of each of these elements of writing. And I will feature guest posts from other writers as well.
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First up: Setting
Often times when a discussion centers around crafting a novel, setting is barely mentioned. Usually one asks "What is your story about? What happens in your story? Who is the main protagonist and what is his/her struggle?" All imperative to your story, of course.
I'm interested in asking, "Where does your story take place and why?"
Where in the world -- or other world -- does your favorite book take place?
Off the top of your head, what is your all time favorite novel, and what is the setting? Or settings?
How about your favorite movie? TV show?
Where is an unforgettable place you have visited? Or lived?
What is the setting of your latest WIP (work in progress).
Setting is location, but it encompasses so much more -- atmosphere, weather, lighting, architecture, history. The nose-tickling smell of a musty old building. The harsh sunlight beating down on an Arizona desert.
One of my books takes place during a frigid New England winter. Constant snowfalls and cold temperatures wreak havoc with my characters and their emotions.
Check back next Sunday for another installment of One Writer's Perspective with more on Setting.