Category Archives: writing

Writing a novel in 90 days or less

That is the goal. Actually, I’d like to have the first draft done in ninety days or less. My real goal is to have polished and edited my novel until it’s squeaky clean, waxed and finished so I can bring it to the next writer’s conference in NY.

I’m not sure when the 2012 Writer’s Digest conference is, but that’s my goal. 2011’s was in January, so it’ll probably be around the same time. I guess Christmas is as good a time as any to have this done by. I’ve already outlined my plot via crossbreeding Lazette Gifford’s Phase Outlining and Holly Lisle’s Fast Plotting methods. I really liked both but writing out scenes on the notecards was harder for me than writing out little phrases. I have less (a lot less) phrases than Ms. Gifford has, but I have more phrases than I do scenes and I group them together by scene. This way, the magic of writing isn’t ruined by writing out my scenes and I don’t feel restricted to an outline, but I have certain things that I want to put in and work toward them, letting my imagination just fill in the words between my phrase-scenes, or my scene-phrases.

So I’m curious if anyone reading uses an outline and, if so, why? Or are you the type who can’t stand outlines?

Well, I’m off to write more words! I’ve still got a few pages left to write today and have procrastinated enough here.

-EW

EDIT: I have just gotten an e-mail saying there is a Writer’s Digest Conference in September? Anyone know what information is correct when I could have sworn their website still says January 2011…?

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The Don’ts of Querying…

I was reading this blog written by a guy who e-mailed 100 agents on the biggest mistakes writer’s make when querying. Over 50 of them responded. You should read it. Even if you don’t, I found the video one agent sent him to be pretty awesome. (read: hilarious). Well, I laughed a lot. Others might think it ‘educational,’ but I already knew all this stuff from years of researching agents (and still haven’t gotten one yet).

By the way, sorry I’ve been MIA lately, been working on another novel!

Here is a link to the video all aspiring authors should watch:
Click and watch!

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Everything you say can and will be used against you!

Oops Gesture

One of the biggest rookie mistakes of new authors is commenting on posts meant to stir up controversy or trouble.  It’s usually best to be a lurker not a commenter unless you are prepared for the consequences.  There are places on the web that I know because I’m not a best-selling print author I won’t be welcome.  I avoid certain forums and very negative blogs and websites because I have a very positive attitude about starting out in this business and I don’t feel the need to apologize for my work or give an accounting of my profits to the penny to strangers.  Ironically, there are writers who waste valuable writing time getting into the business of others.  Personally, I look to sites like Predator and Editors for my Intel on a publisher and ignore cesspools of negative energy and hateful rhetoric.

Another thing that new authors should be aware of is that reviewers both “professional” and reader have the right not to like your work.  If you decide to reply to a negative review, it should only be to THANK the reviewer for their time and assure them you’ve learned from their words or just leave it at a thank you.  Yes, if you can thank a reviewer it shows you to be both professional and mature, even if it hurts a little.  One bad review won’t make or break your book, but drawing attention to how unfair the reviewer was will only make you look bad and give the negative comments many readers.  If you get a negative review on a place like Goodreads, you can post the good reviews to balance things out, make sure to include the link so people can go the review site and see that it’s a real review.  However, at times you might get an unfair review, even these need to be ignored or thanked.  I very rarely have given a negative review because I genuinely love books.  Self-published or not, I’ve never found a book I didn’t love…honestly!  I’d never be able to be a professional reviewer for that reason.  It takes time and effort to write reviews and I think the reviewers who find both positive and negative things about a book are the most helpful.  If they say I didn’t like book “X” because…and give a valid reason I respect that.  If they don’t write anything but it sucked as a reader I’m smart enough to ignore the review.  Give your readers credit they aren’t dumb if they read reviews to buy books they know how to spot a genuine review and how to interpret it.

Everything you post on the internet is there forever and can be used against you.  Remember this when you Facebook or Tweet too.  Even if the person you bash isn’t a friend of follower it takes one copy and paste for them read every word—even if it’s taken completely out of context so if you wouldn’t say it to their face don’t post about it.  Don’t assume that everyone wants to see you succeed and guard your words as precious.  Assume everything you say is open for controversy, even the most positive and innocent comment can be treated with distain and drama.  You don’t want to be what everyone is talking about unless it’s because your book is a runaway best seller!  Even if you think you are among friends be careful because you might find out that you aren’t and then it’s too late.  I’ve recently learned this about group chats that even a private chat might not be only for the eyes that you posted your words for reading.

Be very careful because no one is looking out for you except you.  Don’t assume that because you’re new no one is watching you’d be surprised just how many people might be paying attention.  I try to be very positive and upbeat so writing such a cautionary post is hard for me, but I really feel that it’s important.  The internet is a lot like virtual high school, so for those of us long out of that scene it can really be tangled web to navigate.  ***wink**

~Ashlynn Monroe

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SEO Keyword Tips for Creating Great Blog Titles

by Alyssa Ast

An essential aspect of creating a great blog post involves creating a great blog post title. A great blog post title not only captures your reader’s attention, but can also increase your traffic when search engine optimization (SEO) is used. Most online writers understand the importance of creating correctly optimized web content to increase traffic, but many forget the title is equally as important.

By incorporating keywords or phrases within your blog post title correctly, just as you do within content, you increase the likeliness that your blog post will receive a steady flow of traffic. Plus, correctly optimized blog titles will allow a search engine to index your blog post quickly and accurately. A few simple SEO keyword tips will produce a great benefit for your blog traffic.

Choosing Great Keywords

When you create a blog title, keep in mind your competition. Choose keywords and phrases that are relevant to your blog topic but also have a low hits number, which will decrease your competition. The keywords and phrases you choose for your blog title should also capture your reader’s attention, enticing them to read your blog post. There are certain words and phrases that have shown to provoke an emotional response for readers, which entice a reader to read a piece of content over others. Some of these attention provoking words include:

  • Free
  • Improved
  • Exclusive
  • Danger

When choosing your keywords and phrases, you want to choose a primary and secondary keyword or simply choose one keyword phrase. By ensuring your title contains the proper keywords or phrase, that are both engaging and great for optimization, you’re sure to receive a steady flow of traffic.

How to Do It

If you’ve decided to only use a key phrase, then your task is simple. Just combine your phrase with your attention grabbing word. Include the phrase and the attention grabbing word at least once within your blog post and include it in the “tags” or “labels” section of the blog post as well.

If you’ve decided to use 2 keywords, the task becomes slightly harder. You never want to place your keywords next to each other in a title. Instead, separate each keyword by at least a couple of words, but avoid making your title lengthy. Lengthy titles often confuse the readers and cause them to pick other blog posts over yours. Plus, search engines have a harder time indexing lengthy titles.

Here’s an example of a great blog title using 2 keywords:

Keyword 1: Writing

Keyword 2: Succeed

“Best Writing Tips to Succeed in Contests”

 

Again, make sure your keywords and attention grabbing word are included in the blog post and tags or labels section.

What to Avoid

When creating great blog titles, it’s best to create short and simple titles for increased traffic. Lengthy or “fluffy” titles make it much more difficult for a search engine to index your post and readers are often detoured to another post simply because the title is so long.

Never create duplicate titles. If you create identical titles for more than one blog post, you will be competing with yourself, which will lower traffic to all the content with the same title.

To learn more about search engine optimization, check out Alyssa Ast’s book, The Fundamentals of SEO for the Average Joe.

More about Alyssa Ast

Alyssa Ast is a freelance writer, journalist, and the author of The Fundamentals of SEO for the Average Joe. Alyssa is also the co-founder of the WM Network, which she partners with Angela Atkinson and Pam Houghton. The WM Network currently consists of 4 sites, including the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

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Conflict and Theme

For me, when I was just looking this stuff up I blinked a few times at the words “Confilct and Theme” and said “Huh? What’s the difference?”

I got the following definitions from Literary Vocabulary.

CONFLICT: The opposition between two characters (such as a protagonist and an antagonist), between two large groups of people, or between the protagonist and a larger problem such as forces of nature, ideas, public mores, and so on. Conflict may also be completely internal, such as the protagonist struggling with his psychological tendencies (drug addiction, self-destructive behavior, and so on); William Faulkner famously claimed that the most important literature deals with the subject of “the human heart in conflict with itself.” Conflict is the engine that drives a plot. Examples of narratives driven mainly by conflicts between the protagonist and nature include Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” (in which the Californian struggles to save himself from freezing to death in Alaska) and Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” (in which shipwrecked men in a lifeboat struggle to stay alive and get to shore). Examples of narratives driven by conflicts between a protagonist and an antagonist include Mallory’s Le Morte D’arthur, in which King Arthur faces off against his evil son Mordred, each representing civilization and barbarism respectively. Examples of narratives driven by internal struggles include Daniel Scott Keyes’ “Flowers for Algernon,” in which the hero struggles with the loss of his own intelligence to congenital mental retardation, and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” in which the protagonist ends up struggling with his own guilt after committing a murder. In complex works of literature, multiple conflicts may occur at once. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Othello, one level of conflict is the unseen struggle between Othello and the machinations of Iago, who seeks to destroy him. Another level of conflict is Othello’s struggle with his own jealous insecurities and his suspicions that Desdemona is cheating on him.

THEME: A central idea or statement that unifies and controls an entire literary work. The theme can take the form of a brief and meaningful insight or a comprehensive vision of life; it may be a single idea such as “progress” (in many Victorian works), “order and duty” (in many early Roman works), “seize-the-day” (in many late Roman works), or “jealousy” (in Shakespeare’s Othello). The theme may also be a more complicated doctrine, such as Milton’s theme in Paradise Lost, “to justify the ways of God to men,” or “Socialism is the only sane reaction to the labor abuses in Chicago meat-packing plants” (Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle). A theme is the author’s way of communicating and sharing ideas, perceptions, and feelings with readers, and it may be directly stated in the book, or it may only be implied.

So what does that mean for your novel? You have to have each of those three components.

If your novel were a car, Conflict would be your engine…so you won’t really get very without that, huh? There are three types of conflict: Internal, Interpersonal and External.

Internal: Shane really wants something, but he’s going to have trouble getting it.
This brings up two questions. What does Shane want (maybe it’s a who)? Why will he have trouble getting it? Maybe he really wants to be a teacher but has been told countless times he’s worthless, doesn’t have patience and must go into the family business of pottery. So Shane’s biggest obstacle to achieving his goal is himself.

Your turn: Write down at least three things your character wants and the reasons s/he stands in their own way of getting them.

Interpersonal: Problems with the people in Shane’s life, the people around him.

His father: Is dead-set on Shane going into the family business and so proud that so far, Shane’s worked there every summer. He’s so happy his son is going to follow in his footsteps in the vast world of pottery in which he has established a name for himself. Or maybe he’s the second or third generation, which puts even more pressure on Shane…

His girlfriend: She wants Shane to have a secure job and knows his family business is stable.

His best friend: Maybe he’s jealous of Shane and tells him things like ‘you’d never have the patience’ or ‘stick with what you’re good at.’ His own dreams of playing video games for a living have long since expired and he dropped out of college after the first year. Maybe he’s working at a local restaurant as a waiter and if Shane becomes a teacher fears they won’t get to spend as much time together.

Maybe his dad will refuse to help him with money for college if Shane really wants to go for a teaching degree. Maybe his girlfriend will bitch and moan, maybe even say she’s pregnant (maybe get pregnant on purpose with him or cheat on him with someone else). And perhaps the best friend will call him to hang out the night before his big interview…

Your turn: Write down at least three people who stand in your character’s way and why.

External: Outside forces.

Maybe Shane can’t get financial aid because his family is well-off? Maybe there is some big tornado or earth-quake or zombie attack. Or maybe Shane is given some bedamned quest by a God to go and save the world!

Your turn: Write at least one major ‘getting hit on the head with a sack full of bricks’ external conflict that changes your character’s entire world!

The literary world is full of potential conflicts. And now, grasshopper, you have conflict.

Okay, themes. Going with the car analogy, maybe Theme is the transmission. Yeah, works for me.

I suggest reading this article by Holly Lisle. Themes are about finding what your book is really about; it’s about looking for answers to unasnwered/unanswerable questions! Like, a clichéd example, what is the meaning of life? (And don’t say 42.)

Alright, go forth and put what you’ve learned to use!

Happy writing,
EW

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Character Creation/Development

You need a character, huh? When creating characters, I’m going to suggest not picking the name first. With names come a lot of pre-existing concepts and ideas of what that person will be like. Every character should be at least mostly thought out if not completely.

So first, you should pick a gender (hopefully this will be easy for you). If age is necessary for the novel, pick that now. if not…then you should eave it until later. If you need to call them something, their temporary name can be Character.

Think about your novel, and the character.*

  • Where does Character live? Has s/he always lived there? If not, where is s/he from?
  • What is Character’s full-time job? Is s/he employed full-time, a student? Whatever it is, does Character like it? Does s/he work two jobs?
  • What activities does Character like to do for fun? Has s/he got any hobbies? Why hasn’t s/he decided that this passion isn’t what s/he wound up doing for a living?
  • Ah, romance. Does Character have a significant other? What about in their past, any heart-breaks or tragic affairs? If not, why not?
  • How about pets? Is the pet special to Characters, or does s/he hate it? Has it ever saved Character’s life?
  • Who are Character’s closest friends? Any old friends that have grown distant? Regrets? How about enemies? Who is Character’s main enemy in the story? You should think about the people that effect Character’s life, and how.
  • How about family? Who raised Character, has s/he got any siblings, cousins, or anyone they consider family?
  • Why does the enemy hate Character?
  • What are Character’s fears?
  • What are Character’s innermost desires?
  • What is the one thing in the world your character would do anything to avoid? Why? What has he already done to avoid this? What do you see him doing in the future to avoid it?
  • How about sacrifice? What is the one thing in the world your character would do anything in the world to have? Why? What has he already done to try to obtain it? What does he hope to try in the future?
  • Name at least five of Character’s biggest flaws/weaknesses.
  • Name at least five of Character’s strengths.
  • Any medical conditions? Any physical or mental disabilities?
  • If you haven’t already, what is Character’s age?
  • Describe what Character looks like. Any distinguishing features? ie: tattoos, piercings, scarring…
  • Finally, you should give Character a proper name. Does s/he even have a middle name?
  • You should now have enough to go on to write a decent biography about Character’s life so far. You should do that, and make sure you write everything you know about Character.

    *I took a lot of questions from Holly Lisle’s website, and added a lot of my own.

    I hope this was a helpful guide (:

    Happy writing!
    EW

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World Building

Don’t be afraid to be god. Technically, even if you have other deities in your novels, you are still a higher god who dictates what they do and how everything works. Everything from where the people go or who they meet along the way, and in some cases even the rules that govern their very existence and bind them to their precious faith or lack their of.

I like The Sims. I get to be God, and I won’t lie: it’s made very good practice for telling my character what to do (and even allowing them to sometimes do what they want to do). Yes, I’m one of those people who usually turn off the Free Will option. Hell, Sims are actually easier to control than my characters, sometimes. But still, there are some things that they just want to do that you can’t control and must give in to them…let them have their way.

I’ve never created a world in The Sims that I created for a novel, or vice versa, but the idea does appeal to me. I will admit to making some of my untried and untested character ideas into Sims to mixed results. In the case of one stubborn vampire, it went very well, but for the most part I’ve personally had minimal success with this. But that doesn’t mean it might not work for you!

However, that is not the sole purpose of this post and I have spent more than enough time talking about The Sims.

When creating a novel, you have to start somewhere. For J.K. Rowling, it was a person. For other authors, like Holly Lisle, they need a map first. If you write in the fantasy genre, and are making your own world from scratch (or perhaps cafeteria style), then you will need a map no matter what, even if it’s only for your own personal use and knowledge. I cannot tell you how much this grueling, fun, tedious process will help you in the long run, at least from my experience.

Before I go into a more in depth how-to about creating your world using maps, I’ll define cafeteria-style as Jaqueline Carey stated in an interview: “Research, research, research! Writing alternate historical fantasy, I’m not held to a standard of unrelenting accuracy, but there is a high standard of plausibility. I may be picking and choosing among different cultures, nations and histories – cafeteria-style world-building, one of my readers dubbed it – but I have to weave all of it together into a plausible whole that aficionados of history will enjoy rather than disparage. On the upside, it means there’s a wealth of great material out there for me to draw on to find the perfect details to bring my world to life.”

In other words, using the world as it is to create a new one.

If you don’t find that idea appealing, then by all means…create something from scratch! I’ve done it several times, although admittedly am still writing away and always, always editing in the hopes one day my novels will get published. (I haven’t tried to query yet, I know the novel isn’t polished enough yet).

Okay, so you want to endeavor in the creation process of a new world. I’m going to tell you the process I found most useful, which I found on Holly Lisle’s website. The quotes I have used in this blog are all from her site, unless otherwise noted like Jaqueline’s above.

Holly suggests using graphing paper and drafting markers; or a pen, and I agree with her, at least for the first few maps. That way you won’t be tempted to edit. If you don’t have graphing paper, plain white paper should suffice.

Before you begin, if you’re wary of your drawing skills, this doesn’t have to be pretty. This map is meant to be a tool for you to use when writing. If you make mistakes, leave them, they will prove useful later. The drawing does not need to be perfect. Actually, no matter how good it is, your publisher will insist on getting a professional illustrator to re-do your map anyway, so don’t worry too much.

So you have your paper and pen (or that’s how I started because I was too lazy/cheap to go out and buy graphing paper and markers lol). You’re going to draw a continent, you may start with the outer shape but I find that restricting, personally.

You may either follow these instructions as you read, or read them all first as Holly suggests and draw them after.

Draw three dots no the page, anywhere. Feel free to space them out. You may want to draw more later, but for now stick with three. “Draw some upside-down V’s in a line (but not necessarily a straight line). These are your mountain range. Name the range. You can have more than one. You can make it thick or thin. If you leave any gaps between the V’s, these can become passes.” The upside down V’s should look like carrots: ^^^

“Draw some snaky lines from the mountain range outward in a couple of directions. Name each snaky line “Something” River. (Do not be a smart-aleck and take this literally).”

Okay, remember those three dots you drew? Well, draw some dotted or dashed lines between them to separate them. Is this continent all one country? Are the lines separating counties, states or countries from each other? Only you can decide that. By the way, those lines can officially be called borders now (: Go back to those dots and name them, they are major cities.

Now for adding the things you’re fond of: maybe a forest or a lake, or maybe a shoreline with some islands a little distance away. Or maybe you want some desert or plains on your continent! Or, perhaps, you want it all. That’s okay, too, just make sure you’re not overcrowding it or putting things next to each other don’t make sense in your world. What does that mean? Well, normally a forest won’t give way to a desert without a reason, but maybe there is a magical reason in your world that this can happen! Remember: you are god, this is your world.

Draw some more dots and name them. More towns and villages, and maybe even draw a square representing ruins from some old civilization that lived hundreds of years before your character was born.

Okay, when your map is to your satisfaction, you should go back to those mistakes.

” Find the places where you wanted to erase. You drew a line someplace where it didn’t belong, (you right-angled off a river, maybe). That’s okay. That right-angled thing was designed by engineers. Really it was. It’s an aqueduct, or a canal, or a wall. You have a road that goes nowhere? That’s cool—somebody made it, and it used to go somewhere, and now all you have to do is figure out who made it, and where it used to go, and why it doesn’t go there anymore. You have a ruin-box in what accidentally became a lake, or an ocean? No problem. Once upon a time that ruin was above ground. Or maybe it wasn’t, and once upon a time there was a civilization that lived under the water.

See what I mean about mistakes? They’re a treasure-trove of story ideas waiting to happen.”

Okay, your continent is done. Now you go to the computer, or grab a sheet of looseleaf and your handy pen once more.

Okay, this next section was all important enough that I’m copying and pasting all of it.

“Answer the following questions, taking as much space as you need for each answer.

Why are the borders there? By this I mean, why do these people have borders in the first place? A border always implies that conditions, people, philosophies, governments, or something else is different on each side.

What goes up and down the rivers? (People, contraband, products?) How does it get there? Who takes it?

How are the people on one side of the border different from the people on the other side? (Religion, government, race, species … go into detail. Really take some time working out what these differences are, and put some effort into figuring out why they were important enough to necessitate the creation of that border.)

What lives in the mountains? (Animals, people, big scary things, all of the above?)

How does the weather endanger the lives of the people who live in your world? (Along with weather—stuff like tornadoes, droughts, hurricanes, snowstorms, avalanches, and so on, you should include things like areas where you’ll have earthquakes and volcanoes. Don’t be afraid to be generous in heaping out troubles. You’ll find plenty of use for them.)

What else endangers the people on your continent? (Plagues, barbarians, people from the other side of the world, monsters from the oceans or beneath the earth … Again, take some time on this. And be generous.)

Do a quick timeline in hundred year increments, for maybe two thousand years. Write down one really big thing that happened in each of those hundred-year periods. It can be geological, political, religious, magical, whatever. But it needs to be big. (Example: Invasion of the Sheromene headhunters into the country of Dormica, and subsequent decimation of the native population and establishment of the Sheromenes in the southern half of that country.)

Write whatever else you can think of right now. See where you’re starting to get the feel for a novel? A big novel? Good. Keep moving back and forth, from your map to your notes. Add stuff to the map as it occurs to you. Add stuff to the notes until something inside your brain goes “ding” and lets you know that you have a book idea that you’re genuinely excited about.

You can follow this same process with a single city. (You should have seen the map I did of Ariss—it was so cool. I started out with a compass, and drew something like ten concentric circles, called them walls, and filled in the spaces between with roads and buildings. And divided the city right in half. The first book I ever sold was born from those circles with the line right down the middle. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.)”

So, let me know if any of this works out for you!

Happy writing,
EW

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