Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Dec 30, 2018 – Jan 5, 2019

It’s time to get your weekly dose of informal writerly earnings!

My latest column for DIY MFA came out on New Years Day! Why every writer needs a room of their own (even if it’s not a room).

Emily Wenstrom invites you to join the conversation on the digital platform of your choice. DIY MFA

Gabriela Pereira interviews David Morrell about crafting the Victorian novel for DIY MFA radio.

Chuck Wendig says, in 2019, you must persist, persist, persist! Terribleminds

Jenna Moreci compares the pros and cons of first person and third person narration.

 

Donald Maass: the inner/outer balance. Writer Unboxed

This year, Therese Walsh encourages you to pursue your contentment and your chaos. Writer Unboxed

Sophie Masson shares some book contract “red lines” from a recent presentation she gave on publishing contracts. Writer Unboxed

Annie Neugebauer: forest for the trees. Writer Unboxed

Jo Eberhardt says, follow your mountain. Writer Unboxed

Katrin Schumann says, your number one secret weapon is writing communities. Jane Friedman

Barbara Poelle answers another funny you should ask question for Writer’s Digest: why did my literary agent stop submitting my manuscript?

Bunny provides a field guide to six infectious YA clichés. Love the first image and caption. We see Bella (of Twilight), and the caption reads, what do you mean, I fit all six? LOL! Mythcreants

Jill Schlesinger: small bookstores are booming after nearly being wiped out. CBS

And so, this edition of tipsday comes to a close.

Be well until Thursday, when you can come back for a little thoughty 🙂

tipsday2016

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Crafting the contemporary genre novel with Jane Ann McLachlan

It’s been a busy weekend for Jane Ann.

After a reading and book signing in southern Ontario Friday night, Jane Ann drove up to Sudbury for a book signing at Chapters.

I went out to visit her, say hi, and meet her daughter, Amanda.

Attracting a new reader

Of course, I have to buy some books as well <chagrin face>.

Jane Ann did well signing and selling 11 copies of The Occasional Diamond Thief, and practicing her schmooze 🙂

Today, she delivered a workshop on crafting the contemporary genre novel.

She started off with some resources.

Her top five blogs for writers:

Her top five writing craft books:

Her top five pieces of advice for beginning writers:

  1. Try writing poetry as well as prose,
  2. Read across genres and analyse what you read (the same goes for movies),
  3. Learn grammar and spelling; these are the tools of your trade,
  4. Join a critique group, and
  5. Think beyond the cliché.

Then, she asked us to provide the top five elements of a good story:

  • Conflict
  • Character
  • Goals
  • Stakes
  • Difficult obstacles

Then, Jane Ann discussed the story idea, which must contain,

  1. a universal theme
  2. an inherent conflict
  3. a perennial premise, which you have twisted to make it unique to your story
  4. gut-level emotional appeal

It should be stated in the following form: What if (protagonist) in (setting/situation) had (problem)?

The discussion progressed to world building and the inevitable research that must take place to make the story world believable, even if the setting is contemporary.

The caveat is that, having done all this research, the writer must then resist the temptation to display all this knowledge in the text of the novel. It’s called info-dumping.

Every story has to have compelling characters who have strong, clear wants and desires. We did another writing exercise, in which we defined our protagonists. Jane Ann advised that this process should be repeated with each of the main characters in the novel, including the antagonist.

We then looked at point of view (POV) and tense, and the considerations writers need to take into account when deciding whether their stories should be told in first person, present tense, as many young adult novels are written, or in deep third person, past, as many adult novels are written.

There was another exercise in identifying lapses in POV that was quite interesting.

Finally, Jane Ann shared with us her outline for novel writing, as well as a couple of other templates that could be used. She confessed to being on the pantsing side of writing, but that she’s never started writing a novel unless she had a clear idea of what the main plot points were.

At the workshop

Then, there was a drawing for two bottles of The Occasional Diamond Thief wine, books were bought, and a brief Q&A ensued where other issues were discussed as time allowed.

Unfortunately, I was so wrapped up in the activities and making notes . . . I forgot to take more pictures 😦

Overall, it was a great afternoon, but I think Jane Ann will be happy to get home and put her feet up 🙂 She’s one busy writer, promoting the heck out of her novel.

My literary mothers and what they taught me

This post was inspired by a challenge that another friend participated in. That challenge was to write, in a short post, the influence of a single literary mother.

While I found the concept compelling, I also found it restrictive. I have many literary mothers. The gears have been working on this one for a few weeks now and this is the result.


Siobhhan Riddell

I was in grade three and I had just started to write. My first piece was a little essay about my new puppy.

Siobhan was in grade five. She was an artist and she illustrated a dragon slayer fairy tale.

The grade five class’s projects were presented to the grade three class. Siobhan’s drawings found their place in my imagination.Always Sail West

I submitted my first short story to CBC’s “Pencil Box” that year.

The next year, I wrote the Christmas play for my grade four class.

What was I reading at the time?

I was reading comics: Star Wars (for Princess Leia), Dazzler (Marvel), Huntress (DC). I was trying to find compelling female heroes. The writers and artists were men, however.

I also started reading C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, and I, again, was seeking women authors with whose stories I could connect. I tried Zilpha Keatley Snyder (The Headless Cupid, The Witches of Worm), Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (The Witch Saga), Joan Lowry Nixon (The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore), and Lois Duncan (Summer of Fear, Stranger with My Face, and, of course, I Know What You Did Last Summer). While Naylor came close to becoming a literary mother, her work didn’t stay with me.

At the time, across the street from my house, were a convenience store (comics) and a branch of the public library. They were an almost daily stop in my routine.

Critical criteria of a literary mother: Her influence has to stay with me. I have to have continued to read or re-read her books, or remember the impact she had on my life in a concrete way.

Madeleine L’Engle and Susan Cooper

It was Madeleine L’Engle’s (then) Time Trilogy that I first connected with. Something inside me said, “This is what I want to write.” She’s technically science fantasy, but it was the first science anything that I’d read to that point.

Susan Cooper came into my life a little later, but again, through the public library. I read her The Dark is Rising series and loved her take on Arthurian legend. This spoke to the fantasy side of my writing persona.

I bought both series when I had enough money to do so. I still have both.

What else was I reading? Elfquest by Wendy and Richard Pini. A friend was, and still is, very much a fan. The same friend introduced me to Robin McKinley (The Hero and the Crown, The Blue Sword). Both of these were strong influences, though not quite in the literary matriarchy.

There were a lot of other novels I was reading, most thanks to the above-mentioned friend, whose dad had a fabulous classic SFF collection and often encouraged her to offer her patronage to The World’s Biggest Bookstore in Toronto when she visited him 😀

Her dad even set us up with our first D&D books, after which, we spent entirely too much money on the game, but spent years in geeky bliss roleplaying.

R.A. MacAvoy, Susanna Kearsley, Ursula K. Le Guin, and O.R. Melling

When I went to university (Guelph, the first time), I met, through my roommate, her sister, Sue Reynolds, who wrote Strandia. This book was influential on me because it was one of the first ones that didn’t involve a romance in the happily ever after of its protagonist. There were romantic aspects to the plot, but the protagonist chose wholeness for herself rather than her beloved’s proposal in the end.

Also through my roommate, I was introduced to Welwyn Wilton Katz. I read just about everything Katz wrote for a few years and she was well on the way to becoming a literary mother, but I didn’t stick with her, or rather, her books didn’t stick with me as much.

I was drafting the story that would evolve into Initiate of Stone during those years. I started keeping a journal, and aside from my course reading, I was heavily influenced by Guy Gavriel Kay. Mary Brown was also a discovery during this period. I loved her ugly duckling retellings.

I left Guelph after two unremarkable years and got a job at the Coles store in Yorkdale mall. Part of me was in heaven and buying up books like mad with my staff discount. The other part of me was unhappy because, in all other respects, the job was an epic fail on my part.

One of my discoveries during this time was R.A. MacAvoy. I started with her Damiano series, progressed with her Black Dragon series, and fell in love with her quirky Lens of the World series. I read several of her standalone novels as well. She was the first author who reflected my ancestry in her characters (Sara the Fenwoman), and the first who wasn’t afraid to introduce cultural diversity in her characters.

I keep going back to Lens of the World periodically, because that series was also written in first person, present, point of view (POV). It was a challenging POV to use, and it’s still a learning tool for me. I haven’t felt brave enough to tackle anything so ambitious myself.

I also discovered O.R. Melling about this time, but I’ll come back to her in a little bit.

After a couple of years of living in and around Toronto, two other potential careers, a couple of failed relationships, and the realization that I needed to finish my degree if I was going to be able to progress as a writer, I returned to Sudbury to finish my BA at Laurentian University.

Susanna KearsleyIt was during this time that my SFF/D&D buddy, after helping me to connect with Mr. Science and both of us marrying our partners, moved away with her husband. She emailed me and said that Susanna Kearsley, author of Marianna, and recent winner of the Catherine Cookson Award, was giving a workshop for the local writer’s group.

Of course, I hopped down for a visit with my friend and took in the workshop. I read Marianna, Splendour Falls, and The Shadowy Horses.

A couple of years ago, I reconnected with her at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SiWC). Her influence on me has been to introduce me to a different genre. When I first met her, it was grouped under gothic, but Susanna’s stories are more paranormal in nature and while romance does feature, it’s not the main focus of her novels.

I took a creative writing course with Dr. John Riddell (Shiobhan’s father) and started to get my stories published.

I also took a course in science fiction and was introduced to Ursula K. Le Guin. The Dispossessed blew me away not only because it was SF written by a woman, but also because of its story structure. I’ve since read the Earthsea series, The Left Hand of Darkness, collections of her short fiction, other shorter novels (Rocannon’s World), some of her YA novels (The Beginning Place), and one of her books on writing craft (The Wave in the Mind).

I keep on picking up her work and reading it. The diversity of her work and the longevity of her career have been what inspire me most about Le Guin.

Finally, toward the end on my degree, I was working on my undergraduate thesis on the YA and MG novels of Welwyn Wilton Katz, Michael Bedard, and O.R. Melling.

I had discovered Melling when I was working at Coles, and kept picking up her books. Mostly, they dealt with magical time travel and Celtic legend. In the series that she had just started (at that time), Celtic legend blended with Native Canadian.

It was the first time I’d seen someone so effortlessly intertwining mythologies in this way. It made me think thoughts. It still does.

Sheri S. Tepper and Diana Gabaldon

I started reading Sheri S. Tepper during my Laurentian years as well. I now have most of her books, even some of the mysteries written under her pen names.

What fascinates me about Tepper’s work is the complexity of her plots and the strength of her protagonists. I never cease to be surprised or amazed at some point in her novels.

Her SF would be characterized as “soft” because of the sociological focus, but I still look to her body of work as an exemplar of what can be done within the genre.

She also writes from feminist and social justice perspectives. Tepper just rocks.Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon came a little later yet. I started reading her Outlander series after Voyager was published. I’m a little over the moon that her books have finally made it to the small screen.

I’ve now read all of her Outlander books and several of the off-series, but related, Lord John Grey books.

One thing I picked up from her was playing with POV. In a novel with several POV characters, I’ve used the same technique that she does, and I use first person, past, for my protagonist and close third person for everyone else.

It was Gabaldon’s genre mashing goodness that hooked me and the quality of her storytelling that has kept me. I was able to attend some of her sessions at SiWC and she is a lovely person as well as a great writer.


I’ve read and met many other women authors, several of them Canadian, and while I’ve enjoyed reading and learned from each of them, no one else has quite made it into the literary matriarchy yet.

I read a lot of male authors as well, but that’s not what I’m writing about here, now, is it 😉

The women I’ve listed in the section headings are the ones I consider to be my literary mothers. These are the women through whom I trace my development as a reader and as an author.

Who are your literary mothers?

Muse-inks

Why is shifting point of view (POV) problematic?

For the second time in as many weeks, a writer friend has suggested a post to me. This time, it was about POV. In a short story I recently critiqued, the POV (third person, past tense) shifted from a mother to her daughter. I recommended either sticking with one POV, or marking the change with more than just textual cues.

My writer friend indicated that she had a film background and asked if the omniscient POV wouldn’t allow her to shift her focus between characters in a scene.

What follows is my response.

A wee caveat: this is based on my own craft learning to date. I’m happy to lay the burden of expertise at the feet of others 🙂


 

First, you should check out CS Lakin’s blog: LiveWriteThrive

You may have to go fairly far back in her archives, but she did a series on writing based on film techniques last year. She turned this into a book, Shoot your novel, which you can find on Amazon.

This might appeal to your filmic aesthetic.

Now, having said that, film techniques aren’t the same as POV in writing. Parallels can be drawn, but really, they’re two different things.

POV in writing is about who’s telling the story. Whomever the story belongs to is generally the POV you use.

Why is a shifting POV problematic?
I’ll let you do a little research on this yourself. So many people have written about it. It’s called “head hopping.”

Here’s a starter from our friend Google: https://www.google.com/search?q=head+hopping&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

My recommendations? The Write Practice, Marcy Kennedy (she’s Canadian), the Editor’s Blog (Head-Hopping Gives Readers Whiplash), and The Write Editor (The Difference Between Omniscient POV and Head Hopping). Jami Gold and WriterUnboxed are awesome too.

Go ahead. Check them out. I’ll wait while you scan a few of the articles 🙂

In a visual medium, the POV is omniscient, or at most limited third simulated by a voice over. You can’t really “show” the inner thoughts and feelings of a character on screen. So in film, the POV is the camera’s and by extension, the director, producer, and/or editor may have a hand in influencing the final product.

There is such a thing as an omniscient POV in writing, and it used to be used, but it’s not really popular anymore. Further, it’s hard to do well.

In cinematic terms, omniscient translates to the page as a wide shot, interspersed with close ups on various characters, but it’s all external observation. Visually, you have the zoom or cut to give you a clue as to which character or characters are the focus of the scene.

In writing, you have to do something that simulates the zoom to cue the reader that the focus of the scene is now changing. Otherwise, you could end up confusing your reader (who’s talking now? why do I have to hear from this character? why is this important to the scene/story?).

Readers have changed over the last century. This is primarily due to movies and television (where a complete story is told in 30 minutes, an hour, or two hours), video games (complete action smorgasbord), and the internet (e.g. Twitter: describe your day in 140 characters anyone?). Flash fiction and micro fiction now have journals devoted to them. Books have been written in Tweets.

Readers like shorter forms of fiction because they can read a complete story in a limited period of time (think CommuterLit.com).

If the story isn’t short, then the author must continually hook the reader and keep them interested in the story. Part of this is engaging the reader in the story (what’s at stake?) and the character (why should I care?).

Omniscient POV requires readers to pay attention and do a little more work than they might otherwise be inclined to do. It’s not personal. You don’t stick with any one character long enough for the reader to become invested in that character and you’re observing like a camera, never delving into a character’s thoughts or feelings.

A limited third POV focuses intimately on one character: She ran to his side and thought, Is he dead? Oh, please, no.

Some writers, for example George R. R. Martin in Game of Thrones, shift between characters in the limited third POV, but you will find, generally, that an entire chapter will be from one character’s POV.

If an author changes POV characters in the middle of a chapter, the POV will change when the scene changes (therefore one POV per scene) and there will often be a visual cue such as an extra line between the paragraphs, or a symbol like # or * set off in the middle of its own line. Barbara Kyle, Canadian author of historical thrillers set in the Tudor era, uses this latter technique.

A lot of young adult fiction uses first person POV (I, me, my) because it sinks the reader immediately into the thoughts and feelings of the character. This can either cement the relationship (he’s just like me!) or alienate the reader (why won’t he stop whining?). Most first person narratives stick with one character through the entire story.

Then you have the experimental authors who will mix third and first person POVs. Deborah Harkness does this in A Discovery of Witches. Diana Gabaldon did it first, however, in her Outlander series. The protagonist is written in first person and all other POV characters are written in third.

Hardly anyone can write well in the second person POV (you look in the closet and find a boy huddling in the corner). It has been done, but it requires a deft hand and mind. If any form is going to use second person POV, it’s likely a short, flash, or micro fiction story.

This gets even more complicated when you add tenses to your POV. Past and present are the usual choices. I can’t think of a novel written in the future tense in any POV. Again shorter forms may take the pressure of future tense but it feels awkward to read no matter what.

For short fiction, I’d recommend figuring out whose story you’re telling and sticking with that character throughout. If you lose the reader, they’ll put your story down.

If that reader is an editor or a contest judge, your chances of publication may be shot.

I’m just saying 🙂


 

Was this post helpful to anyone else? Please let me know in the comments. Also, as I mentioned last week, if you have any burning writing questions, I’ll be happy to do my best to answer them. Or refer you to the experts who answer them better than I ever could 😀

And that’s a wrap for this weekend!

Muse-inks

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz June 8-14, 2014

Another fine crop of lovely stuff to share. I’m even curating the curators this week 😉

Ten ways to tell a story – all about point of view from Writers Write out of South Africa. Solid article with good examples.

Are shifts in point of view and head-hopping always bad? Roz Morris answers.

How to ‘stay lit’ from The New York Times. An article Roz brought to my attention.

Finishing the novel: the daily task of “getting it done.” Elissa Field shares her process.

Elissa’s also a fellow curator. Here’s her Friday links for writers.

Writing the flat character arc, part 1: the first act. K.M. Weiland’s next character arc series begins!

What kindergarten got (and still gets) really, really wrong. The continuation of Lisa Cron’s standardized testing adventure on Writer Unboxed.

Robin Lafevers discusses what writing as therapy means to her. Also from Writer Unboxed.

Agent Noah Lukeman shares fifteen tips to help sell your ebook series.

The Atlantic: No, The Fault in Our Stars is not young adult fiction’s saviour. A few weeks back, I posted an article that posited Greenlit (for John Green, author of the above named YA novel) was a thing. Is this article the other side of that coin? Read and find out.

Guy Bergstom’s Red Pen of Doom: The six horsemen of the writepocalypse.

Enjoy, my writerly peeps.

I’m heading down to CanWrite! tomorrow. While I’ll keep the blog fires burning, I might be a little scarce around the interwebz otherwise. Good news, though: I’ll have more panels and sessions to blog!

Whee!

Tipsday