You’re never too young

September 15, 2009 at 6:36 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

Nancy Yi Fan is only 16 years old, yet she’s written two books, Swordbird and Swordquest, which have been published. Inspired by the events surrounding 9-11 Fan wrote of a hero, Swordbird saying “In real life, we don’t have a Swordbird.  All we have is each other and I think it’s important for us to create that Swordbird by our understanding and friendship.” Fan spoke to a group of teenagers and encouraged them to write about what excites them. “From my research, I realized if you have the experience doing something — suppose you’re very good at a sport — when you write about it, it flows more naturally to you.” It’s never too late (or too early) to write.

Just Write!

Philosophy to Fantasy

September 11, 2009 at 1:53 am | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment

I have a certain image in my mind when I think of a professor of philosophy who has published articles and written various academic, philosophical works.  He is wearing a corduroy blazer with leather elbow patches.   He doesn’t pay attention to trends, whether in fashion or politics, preferring what is tried and true to whimsy.   He is pale from hours spent pouring through dusty tomes, with watery, pale blue eyes and round spectacles perched on the end of his nose.

Phil Smith is breaking out of the stuffy professor mold, delivering a fantasy adventure set in the medieval world. S  mith says he has always had an interest in fiction and fantasy stories and in 2003 he began writing “The Heart of the Sea.”  Encouraged by his wife to continue, he finished the first draft in 2005 and the novel will be published as an ebook this summer. How does a professor of philosophy find time to write? Smith worked on his book during school breaks and advises “It’s a matter of sticking to it; coming back to it… characters kind of come alive on you.”

How to Write a Fantasy Story

Writer’s Toolbox

June 14, 2009 at 11:08 pm | Posted in Tool Box | Leave a comment
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toolbox

Writers rely on the tools of their trade, just as an electrician or plumber will rely on theirs.  A writer’s tool box contains imagination, language and style, each applied at various times. 

Writers hone their tools through experience.  You can’t learn to write simply by reading how to articles, rather you must apply the techniques to your writing. 

Imagination

Every muscle can be built and strengthened through repetition application.  You can build your imagination by exploring various genres and mediums and practicing creative writing exercises.

Freewriting is the practice of writing without censure.  Silence your inner critic and allow the words to flow.  If you don’t know where to begin write nonsense. The objective isn’t to write usable material, but rather to discover your voice and to unleash your imagination. 

Clustering is a creative writing activity that generates ideas, images and feelings around a stimulus word. Write a word or phrase, such as “elephant,” the brainstorm all words related to elephant, such as “gray” and “memory,” then work outwards from “memory” to “brain” to “surgery,” and so on.   

Language

Great writers make writing seem effortless. Don’t be fooled by appearances: great writing requires a thorough knowledge of vocabulary, punctuation and grammar.   The rules of language can be learned.  However, within the rules a writer can arrange words in many ways:

The loose sentence begins with the main point (an independent clause), followed by one or more subordinate clauses.
The periodic sentence places the main point in the middle or at the end of the sentence.
The balanced sentence is characterized by parallel structure: two or more parts of the sentence have the same form, emphasizing similarities or differences. (1)

Style

The application of language requires artistic finesse.  Choose a paragraph from something you consider well written and emulate the writing style in your own story. Writing style reveals the writer’s personality and is the result of the choices made in structures, diction, and expression.   

Style is subjective, though some styles are more readily accepted than others.  Passive voice or active voice; wordy or simplistic; formal or casual; these are all decisions a writer makes and no choice is right or wrong. 

Once you recognize the choices you make, you will have more control in your writing. 

When you hide the actor by putting it somewhere after the action (not in the usual subject part of the sentence) and add a “to be” verb, you are using passive voice. If you typically write in a passive voice, change to an active voice and judge the results. Locate passive voice by circling every “to be” verb (am, is, are, was, were, be, been, being). If the “to be” verb is sitting next to another verb, especially one that ends in “ed,” (“was lost”, “was wrecked”) then you may be using passive voice. (2)

If your writing tends to be wordy, with filler words and phrases that delay delivery of your message, scale back for lean writing

Wordy constructions such as cliches, qualifiers, and redundant pairs are easy to fix once you recognize your tendency to use them. (2) 

Clichés stand in for more precise descriptions of something. Slow down and write exactly, precisely what you mean. If you get stuck, ask yourself “why? or “how?”

Some qualifiers are necessary, but you should use them carefully and thoughtfully.  Eliminate most of the qualifiers (very, often, hopefully, practically, basically, really, mostly) and you will have a stronger, more direct point.

Overuse of prepositional phrases (prepositions are little words such as in, over, of, for, at, etc.) Locate this problem by circling all of the prepositional phrases in your paper. A few are okay, but several in a sentence obscure your point.  (2)

Like other fine craftsmen, you must strive to improve constantly:  everything you’ve written or will write, could be better.  You must learn to write it better.     

1. Writing Style: Wikipedia, June 14, 2009

2. Style: University of North Carolina, June 14, 2009

Writers – Fake it to Make it

August 24, 2008 at 4:58 am | Posted in Writers Write | 1 Comment
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Writing is a tough gig. I can certainly understand a writer being tempted to elaborate their resume or exaggerate their experience. However, some authors have done irreparable damage to their reputations and careers by misrepresenting themselves and their work.


Oprah Winfrey has been caught in the middle of two media messes. In 2006 James Frey’s bestselling “A Million Little Pieces” was found to have fictionalized elements and Random House agreed to refund readers over $2 million. Clearly the publisher bears partial responsibility for the misrepresentation, but I wonder how much.

Do writers succumb to pressure from editors or do editors rush through promising manuscripts without due diligence?

According to Samuel Freedman, a professor at Columbia University Journalism School, “Editing is more than just line editing,” he says. “It also requires the editor to ask the writer, ‘Where’s the corroborating evidence? Where are the other documentary sources for this?’”

After the scandal and Oprah’s wrath, you would think other memoirist would stick to truth. And yet…

Misha Defonseca, author of “Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years” confessed that it is “nothing but pure fiction.” How did a story of living with a pack of wolves to escape the Nazis and trekking 1900 miles across Europe not raise a few eyebrows?

Or Laura Albert, who posed as Jeremiah “Terminator” LeRoy. She created a backstory of prostitution, drug addiction and vagrancy, prior to the publication of his first novel in 1999. Albert went so far as to dress for the part to attend press conferences and book readings.

Nasdijj, the Navajo author of “The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams,” a father’s story of his son’s death due to fetal alcohol syndrome; was actually Tim Barrus. In this case, both the author and the child were fictional.

Margaret B. Jones is another author to fool with Mother Oprah. Her memoir, ‘Love and Consequences’ tells the story of a half white, half native American orphan living with a black foster family in South Central LA. Come to find out, Ms Jones was a fictional character created by Margaret B. Selzer; who grew up in Sherman Oaks and graduated from an exclusive private school in the San Fernando Valley.

It was Selzer’s sister who called the publisher, Riverhead, with the truth and the promising book, released to rave reviews was recalled. According to a statement from the publisher, “Prior to publication the author provided a great deal of evidence to support her story: photographs, letters; parts of Peggy’s (i.e., Seltzer’s) life story in another published book; Peggy’s story had been supported by one of her former professors; Peggy even introduced the agent to people who misrepresented themselves as her foster siblings.”

She had to know the truth would come out with publicity. We can only wonder why a talented writer would gamble on a no win situation.

How to Write a Detective Story

August 17, 2008 at 4:58 am | Posted in Writers Write | 1 Comment
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If you want to write a detective story, you’ll have to begin with a little investigation of your own. There are several different sub genres in this category of mysteries; from hard boiled detectives to amateur sleuths.   Your detective could be anyone, a little old lady, a cynical ex marine, a teen girl with a knack for mischief, a chef, even a couple of cats.

The first detectives of popular fiction were amateurs who solved murders like a parlor game outwitting the incompetent police.  Dashiell Hammett, a former Pinkerton detective, took a more realistic approach to crime solving, with classic detective novels like “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Thin Man.”  Raymond Chandler once said “He (Hammett) put these people down on paper as they were, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.”

Chandler’s Philip Marlowe epitomizes the hard boiled private investigator, a incorruptible, hard drinking, tough guy.  Chandler created a feeling of believability with his characters and stories.

Amateur sleuths are usually not held to the same standards. It can be tricky justifying the presence of your  protagonist especially if you intend to serialize the character.  Remember the Angela Lansbury character from Murder She Wrote?  Every where she went a murder was committed.  I would seriousily reconsider a friendship with this type of sleuth.  Your detective has to have a legitimate reason to be involved and something personal at stake.  They may have been accused of a crime or the victim of a crime, they may be protecting someone else or they may have a professional interest in the truth, such as: journalists, lawyers or writers.

Once you’ve decided the type of detective story you wish to write, focus on the crime and facts of the case.   More than any other type of story, I believe the detective story will benefit from a detailed outline before you start writing.  There are certain rules you must follow to meet your readers’ expectations

1.  Introduce the crime early on, preferably within the first three chapters. It is the crime and subsequent clues that hook your reader.  The crime should be significant enough that your reader feels invested in the outcome.  Most detective stories involve a murder or kidnapping.

2. Introduce the detective and culprit early on.  You’re not playing fair if you don’t include the antagonist in the line up of suspects.

3.  Provide clues along the way so it is possible, though highly unlikely, that your reader could solve the case themselves.

4.  Don’t provide enough clues along the way so your reader solves the case before your detective.  A detective story is a race between your protagonist and your reader.  If the reader wins, the victory will be bitter sweet.  Your readers want to be challenged, but in the end, they want to be outsmarted.

5.  Wrap up all the loose ends.  Readers will remember every red herring you threw in their direction.  If a clue wasn’t relevant, make sure you provide a reason why it was included.    Each plot point must be plausible, and  the action even paced, without getting bogged down in back stories or subplots.

6.  Your detective must solve the case using logic or scientific means.  CK Chesterton wrote the following oath for all writers of detective stories: “Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow on them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?”

Of course, the best way to learn how to write a detective story is to read detective stories.  Pay attention to how clues are revealed, when key characters are introduced and when revelations are made.  Detective stories are fun to read and fun to write, but if you don’t play by the rules, you won’t stay in the game.

How to Write Articles

July 25, 2008 at 7:17 pm | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment
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If you want to earn money online, you’ll need to generate traffic to your site.  It’s just that simple.  How do you generate traffic?  Well, that’s where it gets a little more complicated.  When a customer is searching for a specific item, they’ll type in certain key words or a phrase to find that item.  Search engines such as: Yahoo, MSN and Google, use complex algorithms to rank pages according to their relevance.

 

The key to being relevant is to research various terms and then write content targeting these terms.

 

Begin with an article on your site and use the key word or phrase in your title.  You will then build links pointing back to that article from other sites. You build links with supplemental articles and link with the key word or phrase.

 

For example, don’t include a link that says yoursite.com.  Instead, link to your site from the key words, ie: How to Write. 

 

Publish these articles at sites like Peoplefuel, Expurt or WordPress. All of these sites will host your articles or blog for free.  Peoplefuel and Expurt also offer revenue sharing.

 

Here are a few tips on how to write articles

 

1. The more articles you write the better.  Keep them brief and to the point.  You want to provide good information but there’s no need to cause eye strain.  500-600 word count is ideal. 

 

2. Each article should contain relevant, original content.  It is a bit of challenge to write 3 or 4 articles on the same topic and maintain originality but it’s absolutely necessary. Google filters out duplicate content from their search results so it’s a waste of energy to post it.  This is another reason to keep your posts brief – to have something left to say.

 

3. Lists work well.  People who like to get to the bottom line quickly know exactly where to go when they see a numbered list.  The internet is crammed full of information and most of it isn’t worth reading, which is why people skim content. If they can’t find value at a glance, they’ll move on with little time wasted. 

 

4.  Write to your mother.   Keep your language simple and conversational.  You don’t need to be perfectly polished  to post.  Only my 8th grade English teacher cares about perfect punctuation and dangling participles.   Keep your content rated G to PG when you’re writing articles to market your site.  There are obvious exceptions, but for most business ventures slang or foul language just seems unprofessional.

 

5. Always leave them wanting more.  I will follow my own advice and keep this post brief.  Sure, I can think of more tips, but I have 3 or 4 more articles to write on the same subject.  If you want to learn more on how to write articles you’ll have to follow me down the rabbit hole.

Get Paid to Write

July 24, 2008 at 10:04 pm | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment
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When you decided to be a writer, did you think you were going to write a novel or screenplay?  Did you imagine yourself as the next Stephen King or Hollywood “It” Kid schmoozing with celebrities and getting comfy on Oprah’s couch?  I imagined writing terrific mysteries, releasing a new best seller every year and living comfortably doing something I love. 

 

I do get paid to write, but it’s not quite the vision I had years ago. While you wait for that publishing contract and big advance, you might find yourself hustling for freelance jobs.  I’ve written articles for others to post on a wide variety of topics.  I might not be passionate about solar energy or knitting, but I am passionate about writing. While the topics don’t nourish my writer’s soul, it does put food on the table.

 

I’ve heard my fellow writers complain about the dismally low pay scale for writing articles.  It does not pay as well as print because site owners need to update content daily, not weekly or monthly.  They need quality content but they also need quantity content.  The budget only stretches so far and many of my customers are small business owners.  If you can’t stomach the idea of earning only $20-$30 an hour, there are other options

 

1.  Write for your own site.  This is appealing because you can write about the topic of your choice (such as writing) and you will reap all the rewards. Just be prepared for the three W’s…

 

Hard Work

Lots of Writing and

A long Wait

 

As you build content on your site, you also want to build links. You can do this by writing supplemental articles, NOT duplicate articles, and placing them on sites like WordPress or Peoplefuel.  These sites will host your articles or blog for free and Peoplefuel also allows revenue sharing. This makes the article doubly beneficial because it provides a link to your site plus displays ads to collect extra income.

 

If you decide to write for your own site you should consider how you will make money once you’ve generated traffic and established yourself as an authority.  This brings me to…

 

2. Write an e-book.  The hottest products for online entrepenuers are e-books.  Consumers are ravenous for information and e-books are ideal for satisfying their appetite.  E-books are inexpensive to publish and distribute and they will keep generating revenue long after they’re written.  Non fiction or How To e-books have been accepted by the online audience but fiction e-books still struggle to find a readership.  I don’t know why one genre is more successful than another, but it’s something to consider when planning your e-book. 

 

3.  Ghost write – similar to writing articles for others there is demand for ghost writers to write e-books for others.  There are sites that connect writers and clients with jobs ranging from resumes, essays to e-books and novels.  I haven’t done any business with these companies, so I’m not endorsing them, just letting you know they’re services are available.  The best endorsement for a potential client is an example of your work. Most of my contacts have come from the articles I have posted.  Did I mention that when I write an article for others I ask to include a link to one of my sites?  The best way to get work writing is to write. 

 

4. Pay per post – You can also earn money if you write a review or article about a specific product and post it on your site.  You can pay $10.00 a year for a domain name and find hosting for free.

 

You can get paid to write. It might not be quite what you envisioned, but it is possible. The opportunity is there, you just have to take it.

 

 

Get Paid To Write

Get Paid To Write

How to Write a Story

May 13, 2008 at 4:31 am | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment
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I think all writers should look to their favorite authors for guidance.  If you’re wondering how to write a story, study the work of writers you enjoy reading. How do they convey mood, describe a setting or build characters?  I’ve read authors who describe a character’s wardrobe, down to the color of socks. Stephen King paints an extravagant landscape with his words; describing an eerie labyrinth or deserted towns.  He sculpts characters through their past experiences and preferences. Once you’ve identified the techniques in use,  practice applying them in your own work. 

 

Write short stories or flash fiction to explore different styles, perspectives or genres. The elements of plot, setting and character development still apply but you must be more disciplined in the execution.  Every word counts, so plan ahead with a plot outline.

 

Beginning – Start with action, a change in the status quo and a character in turmoil.  You need to grab your reader immediately.

 

Introduce Conflict – This is the question to be answered or problem to be solved. Without conflict there is no point in telling a story.  You need to challenge your character so they are transformed by the end of the story.

 

Obstacles – Your protagonist takes action to resolve his or her conflict, but it shouldn’t be too easy. Be sure to throw a few obstacles in his way to build the tension and urgency.

 

Confrontation – Occurs when your character meets his nemesis, the conflict head on.  

 

Resolution – This is when you reveal the result of the conflict. Did the character succeed or fail? 

 

End – Take your time to develop a solid ending. Don’t rush to close the story or leave loose ends.  If you plan ahead you’ll know exactly where you’re going and what to do when you get there.

 

Individual style, pace and voice set writers apart and imitation, while the greatest form of compliment, is a hallow substitute.   The most important tip for how to write a story is to be willing to be yourself.   There are only a few stories and millions of aspiring writers, the best way to distinguish yourself is by honoring your unique perspective of the world. This is all we writers offer.  

Shifting Your Viewpoint

March 26, 2008 at 12:16 am | Posted in Tool Box | Leave a comment
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I have two teenage daughters and I find myself playing referee whenever there is an argument. No matter what the dispute, I hear two sides of the same story and they’re usually wildly different. 

 

“She took my CD.”

“No I didn’t, she let me borrow it.”

 “And now it’s scratched.”

“I never even took it out of the case.”

“She owes me a new one.”

“No I don’t because you’re lying.”

“You’re the liar.”

 

I use my mighty mom senses to discern the truth, finding it somewhere in the middle.

Every situation has many truths, each told from a different viewpoint.  Shifting your perspective can shed a whole new light onto a situation. The same is true with your story.  Most stories are told from the point of view of the main character, the protagonist who moves the action along.  That’s perfectly acceptable, but don’t choose it without considering your options.

 

The Sidekick – Dear Dr. Watson comes to mind: the sidekick who chronicled the amazing powers of observation demonstrated by Sherlock Holmes.  Sherlock wouldn’t be nearly as engaging if he bragged about his great detecting to anyone willing to listen.  Instead, Sherlock enthralled us, but never acknowledged he had an audience, other than Dr Watson that is.

 

The Antagonist – Hey everyone needs a little love. Why not turn a story on its head and tell it from the opposing point of view.  Wicked:  The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire is a brilliant example.  It is the story of Oz, told from the Wicked Witch’s perspective. Bad guys are usually more fun to write because they are bold, outrageous and a bit demented. Telling the story from this viewpoint would be a challenge, but it would be considered bold, outrageous and perhaps, a bit demented too. 

 

The Pet – Tell the story from an animal’s perspective and you’ve got a whole new view of the world.  You book doesn’t need to include singing chipmunks or dancing hippos to incorporate an animal’s point of view.  Trixie Koontz (Dean’s beloved Golden Retriever) gave us Life is Good; Lessons in Joyful Living and George Orwell offered a darker version in Animal Farm.

 

Just remember that every perspective is a valid one. The story will change according to who is telling it.  If you haven’t considered using an alternative perspective, write a scene to see how it plays out. You might just find a better view.    

Writers – Before you mail your manuscript

March 18, 2008 at 8:31 pm | Posted in Writers Write | 1 Comment
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You want to be a writer.  You’ve devoted months, perhaps years to writing your novel.  Now is the time to take a little extra care and prepare it for submission.  It will be well worth your effort to make a positive first impression.

 I highly recommend you seek the services of a professional editor.   No matter how many times you have read your manuscript; searching for misspelled words or grammatical errors; scouring for passive voice, dangling participles and mismatched adjectives; it will benefit from professional services. Sometimes we are just too close to see what is right before our eyes.  An editor will offer a new perspective, unbiased and sincere.

While you wait for feedback, research your market.  Find a list of publishers for your genre.  You can either look at books by your favorite authors; usually the publisher is noted on the first or second page before the Title Page.  Sometimes an author will include acknowledgements, and thank their editors and agents.  There are also several resource books available, with current contact and address information.  Consider the following: 2008 Writer’s Market, Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2008 or Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents 2008, which include details regarding specific agents or publishers who are seeking submissions. 

Only when your manuscript is perfectly polished and you’ve done sufficient research on your market, will you be ready to submit your book for consideration.   Most agents / publishers will request a query before asking for the entire manuscript, followed by a cover letter, chapter synopsis, story synopsis and author resume are the second.  Enclose a self addressed stamped envelope (SASE) for a reply.   Once asked, and only when asked, you may submit your complete manuscript.  The first page is a Title Page.  Include your name, address, phone number and email address.  In the upper right corner add word count. Vertically and horizontally center the Book’s Title, double space, Author’s Name.  Your book will begin on Page Two.  Include a header with your last name / book title and footer with page number.  Each page should have at least 1” margin, lines double spaced, font Times New Roman or Arial.  Use good quality paper and print on one side only. 

Pay attention to the spelling (especially your contact’s name!), content and appearance of these “selling” documents.  You are not only selling your manuscript, you are also selling yourself. You need to present yourself in a professional manner. Writing is art and books are business.  Agents and publishers are in business and they will be looking for professional partners to sell books.  If you appear needy, demanding, difficult or unprofessional you’ll lessen your chances of securing a contract.   

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