Writing emotion is one of the toughest things a writer can do, but done right, it elevates your work from a passably good story to a really great story.
The key to conveying emotion is to allow your reader to experience what your character is experiencing and to relate it, in some way, to their own experiences. We’ve all been angry, afraid, mournful, and happy. We need to draw out those emotions in the reader to really make that connection with our characters.
It doesn’t always take that many words to do this either. Think of a sad song. Listen to it and see how the writer chose the words and scenes to first make you feel a connection and then to introduce a tragic element. Chances are, that they did it in less than 300 words. Sure, the music adds to the overall feeling, but even in our Flash Fiction Fridays, you have another 700 words or so to paint the backdrop that the music represents. Make it appropriate.
Maybe you’ve felt loneliness at home. But, to convey that feeling to your reader, it might be better to place your character on a windswept, overcast coastline, or near some sheer peaks, or even in a seemingly endless desert. Any of these would amplify the loneliness.
Give your character a relatable trait or quirk. If loneliness is the emotion you are trying to convey, give them something recognizable and sympathetic. Maybe they have a lisp or a stutter. We all know that isn’t their fault and will immediately feel some sympathy. Then show (don’t tell) their isolation. You can do this with interactions with other characters (maybe your character is the wall-flower at the dance), or you can do it with inner dialog. If you use inner dialog, don’t make it too self-pitying or you’ll lose the reader’s sympathy.
Say that the emotion you are going for is joy. Build up to it. For example, show your bride-to-be’s growing excitement as she goes through the wedding planning. Hint at her nervousness to give her a challenge to overcome. Increase the tension with a ticking clock to the wedding date. Make sure she blushes as she walks down the aisle. Have her dig her fingernails into her palm as she hopes to remember her vows. Then show her happiness and relief when he kisses his bride.
Emotion isn’t an easy task for a writer, but the more you practice it, the easier it will be. Go back to some of your old, unsold pieces and try to figure out what emotion would make them stronger, then rewrite them to add it in. You might just find that they are, now, very marketable.
Truth. It's a seemingly simple concept and one that is important in our art. As fiction writers, we are not strictly bound by truth, yet it still plays a pivotal role in our art. We all have our own truth to tell. The fact that we tell it through the characters we create and their actions and reactions to the situations we place them in, does not diminish the truth that we tell. Moreover, if we deviate from that truth, we risk losing our audience, so we are constantly challenged to get it right.
If I am writing an historical piece, as I often do, it is essential that I get the smallest details of the time and place correct. I cannot have my character in 1870 zipping his trousers any more than I can have him wrapping his food in plastic wrap. I am prevented from placing a coastal mountain range setting in southern Louisiana simply by the fact that none exist, and my readers know it.
This applies equally to other genres. If you're going to write romance you had better understand, feel and be able to convey the range of emotions your story will involve. Your thriller or sci-fi story had better have plausible, and relatively understandable, technology and the details of it absolutely must align with current scientific understanding. Sure, you can go beyond what is now possible, but the laws of physics and your science must align.
All of these things require immense amounts of research and sometimes even what you think you know is wrong. In my first attempt at writing a novel, which is set in 1865-6, I equipped my main character with a pistol which wouldn't be invented until 1873. I also had a cattle war in this novel set in New Mexico, but Goodnight and Loving didn't take their first herd up the trail until 1866 and it was 1874 before John Chisum established the Jingle Bob Ranch with the first herd to actually be kept in the state. I had a major rewrite to do.
The recent election has pointed out another area where truth and research are important. No matter who you supported, there were hundreds of “fake news” stories, internet rumors and misleading sound bytes to choose from. To sort them out, even with the advantages of the internet and google, was nearly a full-time job. Yet, to cast an informed ballot, some attempt had to be made. It was a totally disheartening experience for me as I'm sure it was for most Americans.
The final area of research I want to discuss, and this is important to us as writers are our sources. How do we know where to place a comma, a semi-colon or an em-dash? Do you know how to find a qualified editor? If so, how? The answer is that someone, somewhere has told us the answers to these and infinitely more questions the novice or aspiring writer simply hasn't learned yet. How do we know that the answers we are being given are correct? That's right. Research.
We can always go to trusted resources like the Chicago Manual of Style for grammar questions, or the Merriam-Webster Dictionary for spelling and pronunciation, and we should. What do we do about those other questions? Those questions where we don't have a ready source or don't know where to find one are a bit trickier. For these questions, we are often compelled to rely on the sage advice of those who have gone before us. So, pull up your on-line writing group and post your question. In short order, you will have ten different answers, many of them conflicting. How do you know who is right?
Here's where your research comes in again. Who are these people who are being so helpful? How do they know the answers? There are some steps you can take to sort through this blizzard of chaff and find the valuable kernel of real grain.
Look closely at how they answer your question. Phrases like “I think...”, “What I do...” or “In my experience...” might be warning signs that the responder is someone trying their best to be helpful or they could just be trying, really hard, to let you know that the ultimate choice is yours and they don't want to be pushy. On the other hand, there will be some who come across with answers that seem carved in stone. This may be a case of “there really is only one right answer”, or it may be that they simply speak with the voice of a god and expect all before them to bow and worship. Run! The only writing gods are your muses and the immortals who are mostly gone.
Look at the background of the person giving the answer. What have they published? Was it traditional, or self-published? What do you know about the publisher? Don't be afraid to ask questions. Most people are more than willing to give you at least a taste of their background because they know that you need to evaluate the feedback you're getting. Go to Amazon and look them up. If they have only written short stories, where were they published? Yes, you should give more weight to something published in a major magazine like Missouri Review than to something published in the Lehigh High School Warrior. Before you give it that weight though, be sure it really was published. I know of one writer who stated that he had been published in Glimmer Train, a highly respected magazine and yet was obviously unaware that Glimmer Train maintains an up-to-date listing of ALL of their contributors going back to their very first issue and alphabetized for easy searching. You should give more credence to something published last year or the year before than to a statement that “I published my first piece twenty years ago.” A regular string of decent publication credits is a strong indicator of a professional who knows his or her business and is churning out solid work.
Should you give more credence to responses from editors as opposed to other writers? Yes and no. If the responder has editing credentials from a major publishing house, then absolutely. What about editors who are independent or who have only worked for small-presses? Here, it's a little trickier. Do they have a professional website? Do they have an impressive client list? Is it verifiable? Have you or your trusted friends had any work done by them? There are some really outstanding editors out there who have never worked for any publishing house, but you need to find a way to vet them to determine the value of their advice. This research may take some private messages, emails, phone calls or even some sample work. It's worth it in the end.
What about award winning or award nominated writers? Again, let caution be your guide. If someone says that they have won a major writing award, chances are that they have, but take the time and trouble to look it up. Nominations are an area where the lines grow even dimmer. Many really major writing awards are selected through a nominating process. Often this takes the form of any member of the sponsoring organization can nominate anyone whose work was published during the year the nominations are open for. To make it worse, some organizations publish a list of “nominees” which is in fact a short list for the award. So, when someone says that they were a nominee, does their name appear on the short-list, or was it merely a case of a fellow member sent their name in as a friendly gesture, a pat on the back, or worse a tit-for-tat arrangement. Nominees in the short-list category are generally published by the organization during or prior to the awards. A little research will tell you if the writer you are interested in is in the former or the latter category.
The bottom-line here is that a little research can help you to avoid some of the pit-falls and snares along your path to becoming a wildly successful author, or even one who is just competent in his/her craft. There are no short-cuts. Do your homework. Write your truth and be true to yourself.
I hope that you will find this helpful. Until next time…
Today’s post is a call for submissions. As most of you know by now, I’m an associate editor with Saddlebag Dispatches and Imprint Coordinator for Oghma Creative Media. We are looking for quality short stories, articles, poems and profiles which fit our western theme. This is part of the official Submission Guidelines:
“We are now taking submissions for our Spring/Summer, 2018 issue, due out in mid-June, 2018
“Deadline is February 1, 2018
“Galway Press is Oghma Creative Media’s western imprint, and Saddlebag Dispatches is our semi-annual flagship publication. We are looking for short stories, serial novels, poetry, and non-fiction articles about the west. These will have themes of open country, unforgiving nature, struggles to survive and settle the land, freedom from authority, cooperation with fellow adventurers, and other experiences that human beings encounter on the frontier. Traditional westerns are set left of the Mississippi River and between the end of the American Civil War and the turn of the twentieth century. But the western is not limited to that time. The essence, though, is openness and struggle. These are happening now as much as they were in the years gone by.”
I might add, that we would like to see more stories and articles with a modern rodeo theme.
You can find complete Writer’s Guidelines here: http://saddlebagdispatches.com/wanted/
Most of Oghma’s imprints are closed to submissions until May 1, 2018, but if you have a novel you consider ready for publication, please do keep us in mind. We will be looking for new talent in Western, Historical, Nonfiction, Romance, Women’s Fiction, Erotica, Children’s, Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller, Sci-Fi, Literary, Humor, and Mainstream.
Oghma Creative Media is a traditional publisher. Authors are never asked to pay to be published. We pay a non-traditional and generous royalty split. Agent represented works are welcome at any time.
If you have questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
It’s Time for New Year’s Resolutions
It’s that time again, a time to reflect on the past year and make resolutions about what we want to achieve in 2018. Perhaps you submitted for the first time this year and likely collected your first rejection slip. How are you going to turn that around in 2018? Maybe you were published for the first time this year. How are you going to up your game in the New Year?
I’ll go first. I had an achievable goal of writing 20 or more short stories in 2017. I fell a little short because of a switch in focus mid-year. So, I’m going to stick with a goal of writing and submitting at least 20 short stories in 2018. Additionally, I am making it a goal to have 10 short stories accepted for publication.
I found recently that I have bits and pieces of 15 novels in progress. Some are mere outlines, some have as many as 20,000 words written. It’s time I made a commitment to finishing at least one of these babies in the coming year.
In 2017, I edited over 750,000 words including 7 novels, a couple dozen short stories and 138 Flash Fiction stories. My goal for 2018 is to find more of a balance in my writing and editing efforts. I’m looking to edit 4 or more books through my free-lance business as well as keeping up with the books I edit for Oghma. I’d like to add about 6 more short-story or article authors as clients as well. I’m shooting for 1,000,000 words edited in 2018 for both my freelance clients and Oghma.
I’ll try to post updates on my progress toward these goals on my blog posts at www.dennisdotywebsite.com/blog.
Those are my goals for 2018. Tell us about yours.
#goals # resolutions #writing #editing #freelance
So, you’ve found a great idea for your next story. Your MC is a high-school student who is being bullied by her peers. You sit down at your keyboard and hammer it out. You send it to a couple of friends who just love it. So, you think you’re ready to submit to a publisher. You get on The Grinder and find the perfect YA market. You whip off a short cover letter extolling the virtues of your story, and send it off.
Here’s what happens next. A secretary at the Publisher, glances at your cover letter and begins shaking their head. Feeling generous, they take a look at your manuscript. The first thing they notice is that it’s not in proper Shunn format for submissions. Most of the time, this is where your story will hit the shredder, but as I said, this secretary is in a particularly good mood, so they forward it to a reader or junior editor for a look. Let’s assume that it is an editor.
The editor glances at it and, also notes that you have both an improper cover letter and your submission is not in the proper format. Almost certainly he/she will shred it and remind the secretary that she is the first line of defense against worthless submissions. But, let’s assume it is the day of the annual Christmas party and everyone is in a great mood.
He/she skims through your first paragraph looking for the hook. Hook? Yeah, you know, the part where you set the scene, introduce one or more characters, and an element of tension to get the reader to read the rest of page one. Nothing. Shredder. But wait! It is Christmas, so he/she plods on figuring that if the story is good enough, the hook can be fixed.
They read through a couple pages of so-so narrative about the miseries of being a high school student. There are a couple of interactions that are semi-interesting, but nothing jumps out at them and says, “Keep reading this manuscript”. Shredder. But wait. The item before your manuscript in his/her inbox was a Christmas bonus check. You’re in luck. He/she skips to the last page of your manuscript and begins looking for the denouement. That’s the part of the story where you tie up all the loose ends and show how your MC has evolved through the story. Instead they find a conversation between your protagonist and another character that goes like this:
MC: “What are you doing after school?”
Character: “I’ve got no plans.”
MC: “You want to go to Mickey D’s and grab a burger?”
The point of this post is that there are certain standards and procedures which must be followed if you are to have any hope of ever being published.
Your first draft of the story should never be shown to anyone. Write it. Let it sit in a quiet corner of your computer memory for a couple weeks until you are not so attached to it. When the proper time has passed, pull it out. Run through it with a single thought in mind. Emotion. Where does this story evoke emotions in you as a reader? Where can you add, or cut, to increase the emotional impact? Make those changes and read through again. Does it make you laugh, snort coffee through your nose or cry in your coffee cup? If not, run through it again and punch up the emotion. It may take one, three or ten read-throughs to polish this piece with emotional impact.
Now, run through it to be sure that it all makes sense and flows well. Do actions happen in a logical sequence? Are there any plot holes? Plot holes? Yeah, those sequences where she puts her books in her locker then picks them up off her desk, or refers to a character she hasn’t met yet. Plot holes. Pesky inconsistencies which make the reader stop and ask, “What?”
I mentioned flow. Do you vary your sentence lengths and structures? Or do you write in consistently short choppy sentences which sound vaguely like “Fun With Dick and Jane”? Short choppy sentences are great for conveying rapid action such as a fight scene, but not for the body of your work. The opposite end of the spectrum are long run-on sentences, especially those full of unnecessary details or backstory.
When you have finished filling the plot holes and checked the flow, read through it again with the idea of imagery. As you read, do you get a clear image in your mind of the settings and character. Is that image clearly conveyed in the writing? Here’s where it takes a deft touch. I really don’t want to read about her red Aeropostale jeans with the cut-outs on both legs, the “I Love Maroon 5” tee-shirt or her funky lime green sneakers. I want you to show me her character. Who is she as a person? How does she feel? How does she interact with others? If it doesn’t move the story forward or give the reader an insight into the character, CUT IT. Be ruthless.
Okay. You’ve taken the time and done the hard parts. Now it’s ready to submit, right? No. Now you run it through your Word spelling and grammar check and fix everything with red or blue lines below it. Maybe your run it through Grammarly. Now, it’s ready for a couple of beta readers. Not friends or family, but real beta readers. You might want to get opinions from one or two teens because they are your target market, but you also want hard, critical opinions by other writers who understand story structure. Writers who will tell you if your hook works, if your writing is strong or weak, if it needs more emotion, if you tense hopped or fell into passive voice. You take all this feedback and incorporate the parts that you can agree with and ignore the parts that you feel will harm the story you want to tell or honestly feel are not helpful.
When this part is done, you are ready for a professional edit. Here you might have to make a choice. If your story is 3,000 words or less and is not intended for a prestigious contest, then it is unlikely to generate more that $30-40 for first rights. You may have to rely on good betas here. You could try to find an editor you can trade services with or take a chance on a new editor trying to build a clientele. If the story is longer or especially for novel length works, you need to invest in an editor. Your betas should have indicated, even if only between the lines, if you need developmental editing or if you can get by with a good line edit. You will need the line edit even if you use a developmental editor. They do two completely different jobs.
Finally, you get your story back. You apply the editor’s changes making note especially of repeated corrections which indicate bad habits you need to work on. Now it’s ready to submit. You go to your chosen market listing and carefully read all the instructions including format and what to include in a cover letter. Following these instructions exactly, you prepare a cover letter that puts your best foot forward while not seeming pushy or egocentric. You thank them in advance for reading your submission and let them know that you look forward to hearing from them. You put your manuscript in the indicated format. If no format is indicated, then standard Shunn format is expected. Take the time to do it, then take more time to look it over and be sure that it is correct.
Now, you’re ready to submit. You do a little research and find the name and job title of the editor who handles your genre or is supervising this particular contest or submission period. You write a short email and attach both your cover letter and manuscript. If the publisher requests an author bio, attach that, too. You check over everything again making sure that you have followed the publisher’s guidelines, that you have attached the most recent version of your work and any other attachments required. NOW you hit send.
Congratulations. You have done everything in your power to insure your story is read and, hopefully, accepted. Now, it’s up to the strength of your writing.
That’s it for this blog post. Until next time, Happy Writing.
#writing #fiction #editing #submissions #publishing