To The Writer Who Dares To Dream…

Friends often ask me why I’m glued to my computer, always in the house working and not out having fun. My answer, “Because I have a dream.”

When I first started writing a book it was exciting, new, shiny. I wanted to tell everyone about this huge undertaking. By the time I finished writing 90K words half my world knew about it. It’s human nature to want to share a new venture with the people in our lives. So I filled everyone in about rewriting my first draft, tried to educate them a bit about the process. They politely smiled and nodded because they were sick of hearing about it by this time.

Then it came time to choose a publishing path. That was when everyone had an opinion, and most didn’t know enough about either option to properly list the pros and cons. Since I didn’t know any other writers I listened to my heart and chose traditional, and then sent out my “masterpiece” just knowing that some lucky agent would snatch it up and make me an over-night sensation. A star.

steinbeck

And then…

When that first rejection came in my dreams shattered into a million pieces. Some of you will quit at this point. Some of you, like me, will be too stubborn to admit defeat. I told myself things like, “Maybe it wasn’t the right agent. I just need someone who will appreciate my hard work.”

Again, I was fooling myself. I was still riding the high of dreaming about becoming a best seller. And you know what? That’s okay. I should dream. And dream big. That’s what drives us. That’s what keeps our rear-end in the chair and us working. It’s the kind of thinking that WILL turn us into stars one day. That’s what differentiates us from the ones who quit after four rejection letters.

But I also learned that it was important to set smaller goals along the way toward that dream. And I’ll tell you why. By conquering small hurdles I had something to be proud of, a reason to pat myself on the back, a reason to keep forging ahead.

Some small goals of mine were:

1. Finish writing the first draft.

2. Finish rewriting and editing the first draft until I could not make it any better.

3. Show my polished work to a beta-reader. At this point most probably won’t have a critique partner yet unless they have friends who are writers. At least for me this step took time. It took years for me to find good critique partners. Which is why I’d bind and gag them before I’d let them go. Just kidding… sort of.

4. Tackle the query letter. Don’t rush this step. I made this mistake too. This is your first impression and you can only make it once. Trust me on this.

Once I conquered one of these goals I rewarded myself in some small way. Had my favorite treat or gave myself an hour of free time to surf the net or chat with a neighbor. Each small goal drove me toward my dream. And I was building confidence along the way in an industry that can be crushing to one’s spirit.

Writing is hard. If you don’t agree with this you’re probably not doing it right. No one– and I mean no one– ever quickly jotted down a story and sent it off only to discover it soared to number one on the New York Times’ Best Sellers List. It just doesn’t work that way. Writing is work, it’s passion, it’s art. When you write you should pour your soul into your words. Feel the emotions you’re trying to portray. Robert Frost’s famous quote: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” It’s so true. If your words don’t move you, how do you expect them to move anyone else?

no tears

Then I had to face a hard truth that my first novel might never see the light of day unless I published it myself. Which, for me, wasn’t an option. For me, that would mean compromising my dream. And I wasn’t willing to do that. Not then, not now.

Here’s a little fact that will be a hard pill to swallow for most of you. I know it was for me. Most traditionally published authors wrote four to six novels before they ever got an agent. Honestly, I almost fell off my chair when I read that one. Now, does that mean you can’t rewrite that first novel over and over again? In my opinion, no. I don’t see that it would make a difference whether you rewrite one or write four new ones as long as you’re honing your craft.

Letting go of that first novel was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I lived with this book for years. It was my baby, my first-born. I’d held on to it longer than I should have because I’d poured my heart and soul into it, rewrote it so many times that I got sick of looking at it. My husband could practically recite the novel from memory. It’s called A Strangled Rose, and it will always be close to my heart, which is why I keep it listed on my website. Maybe someday I’ll rewrite it one more time and set it free. Never say never.

But it was a necessary step in order for me to grow as a writer. I needed to let go of my baby and create something new, fresh, have a new adventure. I needed to do this for me. Now, you may not need the same thing. You may be happy rewriting the same story 400+ times, because when you first start learning that’s about how many times you’ll need to do it before you hone your craft. Ask any writer out there. I bet they all tell you the same thing.

fail only if you quit

It all comes down to perseverance. How badly do you want it? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to get there? If you can’t imagine not fulfilling your dreams then you will succeed. It’s the writer who sacrifices, who writes when they don’t feel like it, who studies the craft when they’d rather be out with friends, who writes and writes and reads and reads who will rise above the others. I believe this with every inch of my being.

But it all depends on what your definition of success is. Some are happy to sell 100 copies of their book. Some shoot for 1000. Others say anything under 10K is failure. Whatever your idea of success is the most important thing you can do is never, ever give up on your dream. No matter how many times you fall, get back up and keep going.

Writing is not for everyone. Some write as a hobby, and that’s fine too. It’s the writer who dares to dream beyond that I’m really speaking to today. The writer who wants it all and won’t settle for less. The writer who won’t quit until they see their name at the top of the New York Times’ Best Sellers List. And even then, who will strive for not one book on that list but two, three, twenty. The writer who sees their books turned into television series and movies. That’s my dream. What’s yours?

 

Critiquing A Partner’s Work– Fiction Writing

How we treat one another is so important. If you believe as I do bad karma will come back to bite you. More specifically, how we critique another writer’s work.

Recently I saw someone post their first chapter in one of the writing communities on Google (can’t remember which one) and ask for feedback/critique. Normally when I see an extremely green writer post something I move on, because in order for me to help it would mean hours and hours of teaching them the craft. And I just don’t have that kind of time. Besides, I believe it’s better to learn on your own, make your own mistakes and grow as a writer over time. That’s how most of us do it, anyway.

But on this day, for some reason, I figured I’d give her a gentle nudge in the right direction.

zombies

Without going into detail, because I don’t believe in publicly bashing ANYONE’S work, let me give you a for instance… The story she posted was written in the present tense and she opened by telling the backstory, everything that preceded the story she would presumably tell. As you can already see I could have mentioned a million different things, but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings or destroy her passion for the craft, so I wrote, “Please know I am only trying to help you. I think you have wonderful creativity, but you seem to “telling” your story instead of “showing” your story as it unfolds. Do you know what I mean?”

Well, she wrote me a friggin’ book defending her first chapter and explaining why she was telling it instead of showing. Her answer was, she was telling the story to HER CHARACTER and once her character understood the backstory she would begin to show the reader the real story.

What the

Huh?

My jaw went slack, head cocked, brow furrowed. I should have stopped then. But no. Again, I tried to help with, “Have you considered showing this interesting backstory in a flashback, or by dropping in little details from the protagonist’s past a little at a time and let the reader figure it out along with your character?”

She stopped responding to me. So, there you go. Did I help her? Or just piss her off? I have no idea. But it stuck with me. Today on Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Twitterific links she listed a post about critiquing other writer’s work. In it, the author mentioned the narcissistic writer who doesn’t really want constructive feedback. They want you to tell them how great they are. And if you dare say anything otherwise you’ll be met with them defending their work and telling you why you’re wrong. Maybe I’m naive, but I had never even thought of this before. So I guess I came across a narcissist. Lucky me.

When I work with my critique partner we always try to be respectful but honest. If something just isn’t working we tell each other. And that’s what it’s really about. If you only hear how great you are and your CP is afraid to hurt your feelings than you are both wasting each other’s time. You might as well hang it up now, or find someone who will tell you the truth.

Susan and I (yes, we both have the same name) have worked on three different novels a piece, so by now it’s old hat (pardon the cliche). We each know where the other one’s coming from– that we want each other to succeed beyond our wildest dreams, want each other to write the best possible book we can. With that in mind we shred each other’s manuscripts– from missing words, commas, periods to getting rid of adverbs, too many adjectives, fixing pacing, format issues, story structure, etc. But we also help to rebuild. And that’s the key.

eat my heart out

Critiquing is never easy. Someone is trusting you with their hard work. It’s your job to take that seriously, not breeze over it. I’ve had to re-read a chapter sometimes three or four times to make sure I’m giving the best advice I can. When I send her chapters back to her– we usually do fifty page chunks at a time– I know I’ve put everything I had into my critique. And she does the same. Then we take the advice that resonates with us and leave the rest. It turns out we usually take every suggestion because we are very compatible. But that isn’t always true for most.

And that brings me to my next point. When working with a new critique partner only take the advice that sounds right to YOU. I’ve made this mistake before and paid dearly for it. (another cliche) It was your vision that made you write that specific story. If the critique isn’t about craft and instead is about personal taste only take the feedback that resonates with you. Those of us going traditional have heard it a million times: This is a very subjective business. It’s on almost every rejection letter. But it also happens to be true.

I’ve known authors who have had to fight to keep things in their manuscripts when working with a publisher in order to remain true to their story. Though I don’t recommend fighting with your publisher or any of their editors, I do believe in not caving when you believe the advice will change your entire vision. What I mean is, suppose your protagonist is a PI and the publisher doesn’t like that and instead wants them to be a lawyer. Obviously this would never happen but bear with me. You know your story won’t sound right if you change your protagonist’s profession, it goes against your vision for your story. On the other hand, be open to suggestions. Don’t be bull-headed and just say, “Nope, that’s not what I had in mind.” You never know when someone else’s suggestion could propel your story to the New York Times’ Bestseller list.

write every day

It’s a fine line we walk between staying true to our original story and knowing when a suggestion will make it all that much stronger. I’ll give you an example. In MARRED, there is a scene where Sage (my protagonist) hears something in the loft and sees a shadow flit across the room. I originally wrote that it was a red balloon– a creepy balloon that someone put there. My CP suggested having something– can’t tell you what– inside the balloon and having Sage pop it. When I heard her suggestion I got goosebumps. It was perfect! And I knew it instantly.

Now part of that is because we are very simpatico. The other part is that I was OPEN to suggestions. And my story is that much stronger because of it. See what I mean? Don’t be the narcissistic writer who only wants to hear good things. That won’t help you. Grow your thick skin even thicker and listen. Just listen. You never know when you’ll get a comment like my balloon.

What have your experiences been with a critique partner? Have you ever had a bad experience? Tell me in the comments below.

3 Tips To Strengthen Your Fictional Story

In a recent post, 3 Tips To Amp Up Your Writing, I spoke about narrative voice and how to use it. Today I have 3 more tips to strengthen your stories.

Tip #1:  Grounding your reader when switching POV

When you alternate POVs you need to ground your reader in the first sentence so there is no question who’s narrating. Keep in mind, you should limit your POV characters to three so you don’t confuse your readers.

How do we ground our readers? By making sure our first sentence uses the POV character’s name or “I” (for first person) to show who’s narrating. You can show what your character is looking at or what he/she is thinking/feeling as long as you show whose view it is.

Here are two examples below. The first is straight forward, the second a little trickier, but in both there is no question whose scene it is.

On his way to another crime scene Sheriff Niko Quintano listened to the radio as he drove down Bailey Road in Alexandria. 

Five months after the discovery of Ms. Lambert’s body Detective Manson retired, which made Niko question how hard he had worked the homicide, if he was just biding time or if this case was the reason he’d left the job.

If you want to set the scene by showing the milieu then you need to relate it to the POV character. Example…

A light shot out from a basement window, screamed across the hauntingly quiet forest floor, and Sage’s pulse quickened from the thought of who or what was in that basement.

Castle

Tip #2:  Grounding your reader in a flashback

Many new writers think by just saying, “She thought back to a time when…” that is enough to show the reader they are in a flashback. It isn’t. Which is why some readers hate flashbacks. By using this trick you will ensure your reader is never confused by what is a flashback and what is present time.

This little trick is so simple some of you will kick yourself for not knowing this.

When your POV character flashes back to an event add “had” to the first and last sentence of the flashback. That’s it. Just a tiny three-letter word makes your flashback perfectly clear.

Here’s an example so you can see what I mean:

Her mind spiraled back in time, to when she was seventeen years old and her mother had just told her her father was dead. Nikki felt her chest tighten, her mind buzzing with images of what could have transpired in the short few hours since he left the house. She sobbed, keening over her loss. A second later she quieted, noticing the look on her mother’s face. It wasn’t sadness she saw, or grief, Mom had a gleam in her eye as though she was happy about the news. Nikki stepped back, away from her mother, not recognizing the woman in front of her.

Her brother Todd burst through the door, his excitement palpable– and she wondered if she was living with a bunch of psychopaths. Nikki gave her mother a spiteful glare and then stomped up the stairs, slammed the door to her room and slid a wooden chair under the knob. Her legs went weak, backing away with short, jerky steps. Later that night, her head propped up on pillows, she had gazed out the window at the night sky and prayed she’d find a way to escape.

As you can see HAD is in my first and last sentence, showing when the reader enters the flashback and when they exit. This technique becomes even more crucial when your flashback continues for several paragraphs. But regardless of length if you use this trick your reader will never be confused.

becket

Tip #3:  Remember that your characters do not live in a bubble.

Life happens around us. Thus, the same applies for our fictional characters. Whether they are in places such as restaurants, cafes or busy shopping malls, or at home or alone in the car by utilizing outside stimuli you’re adding depth to your scene, thereby further drawing your reader into your story.

Let me show you what I mean. This excerpt is from MARRED, where Sage is alone in her SUV.

The sun drained from the afternoon sky and the area around me darkened. The slivered moon rose and offered a feeble attempt at brightening the area. Trees soughed on the hauntingly quiet back road and pebbles crunched under my tires’ thick treads. A low rumble sounded in the distance and became louder as it approached. A man on a Harley sped toward me, his long mustache flattened across his cheeks. When he sailed by my window he gave me a nod and revved his engine, his loud pipes saying hello. The twin engines roared as he gunned it up the dirt road. A puff of smoky gravel trailed behind him, and the ends of his bandana skullcap and gray ponytail flapped in the wake of his escape.

And then I was alone again.

Castle&Becket

As you can see if I had only mentioned her thoughts the scene would become static. Just because your character is alone in her/his vehicle does not mean the world around her/him disappears. Let your words do the work for you. By showing only one motorcycle speed by I’ve also showed the reader that the back road is deserted. Thus, creating an image in the reader’s mind and subtly foreshadowing that something creepy is about to happen.

In another example let’s say your character is unloading a dishwasher when her husband enters the kitchen. Break up your dialogue by showing her taking a glass from the top shelf of the dishwasher and setting in the cabinet, or wiping a soap spot off a wineglass, or uttering a complaint that one of the forks still has crusty food on it.

Remember: Just because someone else enters the room does not mean the action stops for your character. Take the dishwasher example. When a wife is unloading dishes she doesn’t stop to chat with her husband, she chats while she continues to unload the dishes. By showing the continuing action you make your scene more realistic.

If you’ve been following me for a while you know I am a huge fan of Karin Slaughter. She is a master at this technique. Her scenes are so rich with tiny details that you can’t help but be glued to the pages. She had me on the first book and I keep coming back for more. Why? Because I am living these books right along with her characters. I’m in the scenes. Her characters are as real to me as you are. That is great storytelling.

Before I let you go my family and I would like to wish you a happy holiday season… Enjoy!

dashing through the snow

If you have anything to add to one of these tips please do so in the comment section below.

If you enjoyed this post please share it on your favorite social media site. It’s only a click or two. And shares are greatly appreciated.

How To Romance Your Readers – And Sell More Stories

With us today is Dr. John Yeoman from Writers’ Village. He has an impressive resume, including being a successful commercial novelist for 42 years!  I’m honored to have him with us today, and to have his personal email in case I ever have a question.  Whoops, did I say that out loud?

Anyway, I’ve mentioned before that his blog is one of my favorites.  If you haven’t checked it out yet go here.  Just recently John created a new form of fiction.  At the end of this post I’ll give you a link that further explains what he did.

Take it away, John!

Thanks, Sue!

Here’s a fabulous tip for making sure our readers love your stories and want to read more. But first, let me ask you a question.

As fiction writers, do we always write about ourselves? Our character may be a mafia don, nun, pearl fisherman or – in a sci-fi novel – a thinking blob of mud but, however we camouflage ourselves, it’s us. Isn’t it?

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A Special Guest Who Interviewed James Patterson, Author Caleb Pirtle III

I have a special treat for you today. I’ve invited an incredible writer who has authored more than 55 books. Last count I believe the number was closer to 59! Caleb Pirtle III has an amazing career that’s spanned decades. Two years ago, as digital publishing was surging to the forefront, he and his wife, Linda, joined with attorney and author Stephen Woodfin to found and build Venture Galleries, working with authors across the country and helping them publish, promote, market, and sell their books. He even interviewed James Patterson, and today will share what he learned.

Let’s take a breath here a minute and just think about what it means to have authored 59 novels. Can you imagine the creativity and skill that takes? I am so honored to have him visit my little murder blog, and to call him a friend. Caleb is a kind, generous person and a fantastic storyteller. We can all learn from a hybrid author like Caleb. So grab your popcorn, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Take it away Caleb…

ConspiracyOfLies

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Another Thank You To My Prose & Cons Family

There are times when we all need help. Seeing our own work as others see it is extremely difficult.  We spent countless hours crafting our characters, plot lines and twist, shaping and reshaping our story until we’re happy with it.  We set it aside for weeks, sometimes months, in the hopes of coming back with clear eyes.  And sometimes when we come back we still can’t see our stories like someone would reading it for the first time.

I struggled with this very thing a couple of weeks ago.

mistress

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Tips To Correct The Pacing In Your Novel (part 2)

If you missed part one of this post series you can find it here. Today I’d like to talk about structure and show vs. tell vs. really showing. By structure I mean scene and sequel. If you are not familiar with the proper structure of scene and sequel go here, or to a earlier post called Showing Structure: scene, sequel, and MRUs in a novel, or click on the link.

To quickly refresh your memory the proper structure of a scene is:

GOAL: What your POV character wants.

CONFLICT: What prevents him/her from achieving that goal.

DISASTER/SETBACK: Something that makes it even harder to achieve the goal.

Sequel structure is:

REACTION: Your POV character’s reaction to the disaster.

DILEMMA: Another obstacle.

DECISION: Their decision. Which often is the same as or leads to a new goal.

Okay, now let’s see it action. To quicken the pace race through the steps. “Show” them but quickly. Here is an example from my novel, TIMBER POINT.

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