The Rules of Story
Guest Writer Lisa Cron
We all know that grammar is utterly necessary. Try to read a book with all the punctuation removed and you won’t make it past the first page. But grammar, like language, is a living breathing entity. That’s what makes it so intoxicating, interesting and at times, maddening. It changes as the culture changes.
Which is why writers may understandably assume that the same concept applies to the rules of story, leaving you free to experiment with which elements of story to use, which to ignore, and perhaps to even make up new elements as the spirit moves you.
22 Story Basics
Written by Emma Coats with a few notes by editor B. Lynn Goodwin
8 Great Writing Tools to Keep You Motivated to Write
Posted on May 26, 2014 and published in Writing for Life
An Interview with Robert Temes, PhD by B. Lynn Goodwin
Can You Write a Memoir in 30 Days?
We all know that grammar is utterly necessary. Try to read a book with all the punctuation removed and you won’t make it past the first page. But
grammar, like language, is a living breathing entity. That’s what makes it so intoxicating, interesting and at times, maddening. It changes as the
Which is why writers may understandably assume that the same concept applies to the rules of story, leaving you free to experiment with which
elements of story to use, which to ignore, and perhaps to even make up new elements as the spirit moves you.
Some of these might be review for you. Some might be old ideas stated in new ways. It’s useful to look at the advice of a knowledgeable artist working
in a different genre. Take a look at what Ms. Coats offers. Use what works and store the rest away. You never know what new problems may come up
as your novel, memoir, short story, novella, or mixed genre piece grows.
1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th - get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on - it’ll come back around to be useful later.
18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How’d you rearrange them into what you DO like?
21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
Emma Coats is a freelance director of films, boarder of story, and sometime a public speaker.
Today’s guest post is from Robert Morris:
There isn’t a writer who has never experienced a motivational block. Sometimes your mood prevents you from writing brilliantly, no matter how much you want to complete the piece you are working on. Your motivation can be drained away by a difficult rejection, procrastination, or constant distractions you cannot get away from.
If you found yourself in such situation, then it’s the right time to start exploring some innovative tools that will keep you focused and enhance your motivation to write faster and better. Check these tools out, and you can come back to thank me later.
I’ve been thinking about writing a memoir about getting married for the first time at age 62. Most days I don’t make it a
priority, though, so when I received a copy of How to Write A Memoir in 30 Days, written by Roberta Temes, PhD and
published by Reader’s Digest, I was eager to try the exercises before I reviewed
By Nadia Chaudhury
1. Keep Writing
The chronic revising syndrome may easily create a blockage and cause you to forget all awesome ideas you had. If you can’t help yourself from going back into the text you’ve written before you complete the whole piece, then this is the right tool for you. Keep Writing will help you focus your energy on the word count and stay away from recurrent revising.
2. Focus Writer
Oh, the torture those alluring desktop icons are causing! You cannot help yourself from opening more and more tabs and checking what’s new on the social networks on every five minutes, can you? Focus Writer can help you by hiding all distractions from your computer screen and keeping your mind centered on the content you are writing.
3. Ninja Essays
Editing is a really disturbing task, isn’t it? Not all writers can have a personal editor to watch their backs, but we can all use professional editing services for an affordable price and get our materials in perfect shape before publication. Ninja Essays is the right editing and proofreading site to use if you can’t stand correcting your own work.
4. Written? Kitten!
This is a fun but effective tool that will add some excitement to your writing. It enables you to set a number of words (you can choose 500, 1000, or even 100 if you really love kittens), and you will see a picture of the cutest kitten whenever you reach that goal.
Oh, you don’t like kittens? Then you surely like bacon, so you can use the “Written? Bacon!” tool.
Do you love ordinary handwriting but hate the process of retyping the words in a digital form? Penzu will bring your computer screen as close to a notebook as it gets. The familiar paper-like feel will keep you happy and motivated.
6. 750 Words
Are you too busy to complete 750 words a day but still want to stay committed to that cause? This tool will help you reach your aim by challenging you to complete this daily word limit and motivating you with a fun point-based system.
7. Cold Turkey
This tool will keep you away from Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Gmail, and all other distractions while writing. With Cold Turkey, all interferences will be temporarily blocked, so you will be forced to use the time you have for actual writing.
8. Write or Die
This tool enables you to set a target word count and the time you give yourself to achieve that goal. If you don’t manage to cope with the challenge, the content will unwrite itself. You can choose the Kamikaze or Startle mode and have fun if you manage to tame the paranoid thought of losing everything you’ve written in the given time.
There Is a Solution to Every Motivational Crisis
Keeping yourself motivated is crucial if you intend to finish the book/paper/article/research project any time soon. Instead of complaining about the pressuring deadlines, you can start using the right tool and get to business. The above-listed tools and websites will spare you from conducting a thorough online research, so you can use that time to do some serious writing.
Robert Morris is a digital thinker, believes that his greatest assets are his insatiable curiosity and his ceaseless love for learning. His love of start-ups and all things tech began at NYU, where he studied literature and psychology. Circle Robert on Google+!
Stories are complex. Rules for making them work don’t have to be.
These rules were originally tweeted by Emma Coats, Pixar’s Story Artist. Number 9 on the list - When you’re stuck, make a list of what wouldn’t happen
next - is a great tip and can apply to writers in all genres.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to the authors who shared these tips, Nadia Chaudhury, who compiled them, and Time Out New York, which shared them online. Think of this as a share or retweeting of important information.
Reza Aslan (rezaaslan.com)
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House, $27)
“The best advice I can give an aspiring writer is the one I received years ago: Nobody cares about you or your work like you do. Your agent, your publisher and your publicist are all wonderful people who work their hardest for you to succeed. But in the end, your success as a writer depends almost wholly upon your own tireless efforts to promote your book and make sure it gets the attention it deserves.”
The Rules of Story
Guest Writer Lisa Cron
Author Lessons to Learn 1. - Agents suffer along with us -- truly they do, even when they don't show it. It's their job not to show it. So taking some
time out when your book comes out to let your agent know you appreciate all his/her hard work is a good idea. It's so easy for us to focus on all that's
not going right with our book launch when we look around and see the "it" books getting all the juice. We need to remember every book launch is still a
Author Lessons to Learn 2. - It won't hurt to write your editor/publisher/publishing team on pub day to thank them for their efforts bringing your book
to life. Even if they don't write you first -- or at all -- people doing their job are happiest when appreciated!
Author Lessons to Learn 3. - Buy books in every bookstore where you do events. If you don't want to go home with a bag of books, buy one of your
own books and give it to the bookstore owner to raffle off or for him/her to give to a reader who might be a great big mouth. Give more than you take.
Author Lessons to Learn 4. (And publishers.) - Booksellers really really read Shelf-Awareness, EVEN the ads. This week a bookseller shared that my
event happened because she read my ads in Shelf-Awareness, and I also found out that Seduction will be included in a terrific newspaper's summer
reading list because the editor saw the ad in... yes... Shelf-Awareness.
Author Lessons to Learn 5. - Buy other authors' books when you go to their events. Even if you aren't going to read it. Even if you are going to give it
away. Even if you aren't interested. Not just for the author but for the bookstore. It's karma and just plain good manners.
Author Lessons to Learn 6. - If you are doing blog talk radio shows -- listen to one episode before you accept. Some are amazing -- Cyrus Webb, I'm
talking to you -- but some are poor excuses for the host to get you on the show so he/she can draw readers to listen to him/her talk about his/her own
book and you are just the patsy.
Author Lessons to Learn 7. - Find out if your radio interviewer has read your book or you are going to have to do that part of the job on air. It's okay if
they haven't but its always better to be prepared for what's coming.
Author Lessons to Learn 8. - Ask your editor or ask your agent to find out what the house's goals are for your book before it comes out. Get some
sense of expectations so you are prepared.
Author Lessons to Learn 9. - Put everyone you hire for your book in touch with each other, or at least share the plans!! As "marketing" I bought ads
for a clients while at the same time the person she hired to do "social media" was actually buying ads for her too but not calling them ads. So the client
didn't realize she was getting twice as many ads at that site as she needed.
Author Lessons to Learn 10. - Save yourself some grief. Check with the publicist you hire to see what other books he/she has coming out at the same
time as yours. Since I do marketing -- and we can handle any number of books at the same time -- it never occurred to me to tell authors about this --
but PR and marketing are different. If the publicist can only torture the editor of a magazine about one author, will it be yours or the one he/she's had for
10 years who is 10 times as big as you?
Author Lessons to Learn 11.- Please post reviews, ratings at Goodreads, Amazon, BN.com etc of the books you read and liked. They matter for
algorithms, they matter to publishers, but most of all they warm an author's heart and stoke his or her soul.
M.J. Rose is the author of 13 novels including THE BOOK OF LOST FRAGRANCES and SEDUCTION - her most recent novel of suspense. She's also co-
authored three nonfiction books on marketing including WHAT TO DO BEFORE YOUR BOOK LAUNCH with Randy Susan Meyers. Rose was one of the
founding board members International Thriller Writers and her work has appeared in Oprah, Poets & Writers, and many anthologies. She runs the blogs
Buzz, Balls & Hype, and created the first marketing service for authors, AuthorBuzz.com.
2. “What’s terrible is to pretend that second-rate is first-rate. To pretend that you don’t need love when you do; or you like your work when you know
quite well you’re capable of better.” - from The Golden Notebook
3. “There is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth.” - from Under My Skin
4. “[T]he book, the story dictates how I’m going to have to do it. The story dictates the means of telling it…” - from a telephone interview with the
Editor-in-Chief of Nobelprize.org following the announcement of the 2007 Nobel Prize, October 11, 2007
5. “I tend to speak my mind, which is not necessarily a good idea.” - from a Time Magazine interview
6. “When I was bringing up a child I taught myself to write in very short concentrated bursts. If I had a weekend, or a week, I’d do unbelievable amounts
of work. Now those habits tend to be ingrained … I think I write much better if I’m flowing. You start something off, and at first it’s a bit jagged, awkward,
but then there’s a point where there’s a click and you suddenly become quite fluent. That’s when I think I’m writing well. I don’t write well when I’m sitting
there sweating about every single phrase.” - from a Paris Review interview
7. “It’s amazing what you find out about yourself when you write in the first person about someone very different from you.” - from a Paris Review
8. “I think a writer’s job is to provoke questions. I like to think that if someone’s read a book of mine, they’ve had-I don’t know what-the literary
equivalent of a shower. Something that would start them thinking in a slightly different way perhaps. That’s what I think writers are for.” - from a Paris
9. “Whether literature accomplishes anything or not, we do keep going.” - from a interview
10. “There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them
when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag-and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a
movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty-and vise versa.
Don’t read a book out of its right time for you.” - from the 1971 introduction to The Golden Notebook and my favorite, although I have not yet found the
source of it:
“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.”
Meg Waite Clayton is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of four novels, including The Wednesday Sisters and The Wednesday
Daughters. She’s written for The Los Angeles Times, Writer's Digest, Runner's World and public radio, and for The New York Times and Forbes online. This
piece originally appeared on her blog, 1st Books www.megwaiteclayton.com
11 Bits of Wisdom from Doris Lessing,
On Reading, Writing, and Life
Posted in the Huffington Post on November 17, 2013 by Meg Waite Clayton
After I read in the New York Times that The Golden Notebook author Doris Lessing, who won the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature, passed away this
morning, I turned to rereading some of her writings and interviews. I hope you’ll enjoy these little wisdoms I’ve collected:
1. “You should write, first of all, to please yourself. You shouldn’t care a damn about anybody else at all. But writing cant be a way of life, the important
part of writing is living. You have to live in such a way that your writing emerges from it.” - from A Small, Personal Voice
T.C. Boyle (tcboyle.com)
T.C. Boyle Stories II: The Collected Stories of T. Coraghessan Boyle, Volume II (Viking, $45, out Oct 3)
“My standard advice for aspiring writers is to come from a wealthy family.”
Mike Burns (@DadBoner)
Power Moves: Livin’ the American Dream, USA Style (It Books, $15.99)
“I believe you should be emotionally bonded to the people you write about, whether they be real or fictional. Feel sad for their hardships and happy for their triumphs. If you aren’t truly attached to your subjects, chances are the reader won’t be either. Music is very important to my writing process. I’m fascinated by the idea of using letters as a way to transform sound into images and colors in another person’s brain like some sort of sensory alchemy. Just like great films, great writing needs a great score, even if it can’t be heard.”
Edwidge Danticat (facebook.com/edwidgedanticat)
Claire of the Sea Light (Knopf, $25.95)
“It might sound corny but listen to your heart. Let that inner voice guide you, the one closest to your truest self. The story you are most afraid to tell might be your truest one, your deepest one. Don’t let neither success nor failure deter you. Remember the excitement of those first days, those first words, those first sentences-and keep going.”
Ben Dolnick (bendolnick.com)
At the Bottom of Everything (Pantheon, $24.95)
“Get a kitchen timer. Writers are ingenious at redefining what qualifies as doing work (‘If I just spend this morning cleaning my desk…’). A kitchen timer tolerates no such nonsense. Set yourself a daily writing quota (as little as a half hour is fine at first), set the clock and get to work.”
Stephen Elliott (@S___Elliott, stephenelliott.com)
The Adderall Diaries (Graywolf Press, $14); founding editor, The Rumpus (therumpus.net)
“You still have to make something really, really good. That’s the nut of it all. And the more time you spend ‘cultivating relationships,’ the less time you spend creating meaningful art. One of those things will do more for you than the other.”
Joe Garden (@joegarden)
Writer/producer for AdultSwim.com, former features editor at The Onion (theonion.com)
“Work shitty jobs that you loathe, but there’s that one bright spot that makes it momentarily bearable. Work shitty jobs that imbue in you the desire to do something different, something tolerable-and I don’t mean law school. Work shitty jobs, but don’t treat it like research or you’ll be sniffed out as a condescending prick. Work shitty jobs that you can forget the moment you go home so you can work on something you love.”
Drew Magary (@drewmagary, drewmagary.com)
Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of 21st-Century Parenthood (Gotham, $25)
“If you’re going to reference something, assume the reader knows the source. If you say, ‘This is just like that time on The Simpsons when Kent Brockman welcomed our new insect overlords,’ you suck. Just say the line and let the reader figure out where it came from.”
Anthony Marra (@anthonyfmarra)
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Hogarth, $26)
“Read widely. Write for three hours a day, six days a week. Throw out the red pens and retype your work. When the frustrations accumulate and you want to give up, keep in mind that your solitary struggles to shape language into meaning will become the most profound moments of your creative life. Enjoy yourself.”
James McBride (jamesmcbride.com)
The Good Lord Bird (Riverhead, $27.95)
“Rewrite everything. Even letters.”
Stuart Nadler (stuartnadler.net)
Wise Men (Reagan Arthur Books, $25.99)
“A fact: You will always feel like your work isn’t good enough. As a salve, or simply as a way to stay sane, be in the world. Ride the train. Listen to strangers. Occasionally, if you’re brave, speak to them. Walk in the city you live. Pay attention. Don’t bother with taking notes, or buying fancy notepads. Try to remember as much as you can. Have just enough confidence in yourself to not be an asshole. Then, get up and go to work and try again.”
Rob Sheffield (@robsheff, robsheffield.com)
Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love and Karaoke (It Books, $25.99)
“Don’t read the comments, obviously. ‘’Tis of no importance what bats and oxen think,’ as Ralph Waldo Emerson said. You can’t control who reads your work or how they respond. What you can control is how much your writing means to you-if you write about things that fire up your passions, things that stimulate your neurons, writing will probably make your life better, whether anyone else reads it or not. That’s not the only reason to write, but it’s a good reason.”
Choire Sicha (@Choire, choiresicha.com)
Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City (Harper, $24.99)
“Don’t ever show anyone who isn’t your editor your writing before publication. That’s for goths and drama queens and dramatic goths. Either you’re a narcissist and you shouldn’t be writing, or you’re showing people drafts as an excuse to not rewrite. In any event, most of the time, they’ll send you the wrong way, and then you’re just a dramatic lazy goth with a bad piece of writing. But you didn’t have to be! You could have been an awesome goth, if you’d just holed up in your room one more night tweezing wrong words and rotten sentences!”
Julieanne Smolinski (@BoobsRadley)
Freelance writer; GQ, New York Magazine, Jezebel
“Don’t pick at it.”
Adelle Waldman (@adellewaldman, adellewaldman.com)
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. (Henry Holt and Co., $25)
“The best advice I can give has little to do with actual writing; it has to do with thinking about people. I recommend that you practice creating fictional characters by trying to describe, privately, the people in your life. See if you can describe their characters without being so general that they could be anyone. Then check back in a few months. If your description has radically changed, you have a ways to go. You aren’t yet seeing other people as fully fleshed out others, but are mired in your own relationships with them. When you can describe people in ways that are both meaningful and consistent and survive the vicissitudes of your moods, then you know you’re getting somewhere.”
it. For the first nineteen days I thoroughly enjoyed the writing exercises and prompts. They helped me look at old issues and brought new energy to the
project. But I wondered how my childhood memories would help me with a memoir about a current relationship that had only begun three years earlier. The
exercises brought up the past and my prospective memoir focuses on the present.
When I got to Day 20, I read, “Today is the day you will gather all you have written and organize your writing to create what is called a narrative arc….
Please print out everything you have written since Day 1 and then add any blog or personal journal entries you may have written that are relevant to the
memoir.” I could not imagine doing this in one day. I wanted to ask the author several things, and I’m sharing her answers in the Q & A below.
“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There
will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that - but you are the only you.” ― Neil Gaiman
“I have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write,
you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think
about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great
writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour - write, write, write.” ―
“I am always chilled and astonished by the would-be writers who ask me for advice and admit, quite blithely, that they “don’t have time to read.” This is
like a guy starting up Mount Everest saying that he didn’t have time to buy any rope or pitons.” ― Stephen King
“Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth,
you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have
painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.” ― Anne Lamott
“Advice to young writers who want to get ahead without any annoying delays: don’t write about Man, write about a man.” ― E.B. White
Joyce Carol Oates
“Be daring, take on anything. Don’t labor over little cameo works in which every word is to be perfect. Technique holds a reader from sentence to
sentence, but only content will stay in his mind.” ― Joyce Carol Oates
“You either have to write or you shouldn’t be writing. That’s all.” ― Joss Whedon
“Advice to young writers? Always the same advice: learn to trust our own judgment, learn inner independence, learn to trust that time will sort the good
from the bad - including your own bad.” ― Doris Lessing
“Whenever I’m asked what advice I have for young writers, I always say that the first thing is to read, and to read a lot. The second thing is to write. And
the third thing, which I think is absolutely vital, is to tell stories and listen closely to the stories you’re being told.” ― John Green
“Write. Start writing today. Start writing right now. Don’t write it right, just write it -and then make it right later. Give yourself the mental freedom to
enjoy the process, because the process of writing is a long one. Be wary of “writing rules” and advice. Do it your way.” ― Tara Moss
Tell me which one you like best and why. I’d be interested in your opinion. Thanks for considering it.
by Joan Reinhardt Reiss
by Chandra Moira Beal
by Stephen Bakalyar
by Victoria Zackheim
by Francine Garson
You look good. Did you lose weight?
Did you lose weight? You look good.
by Ray Gustini Jun 02, 2011
by Chris Baty
by Reed Farrel Coleman, Author of Hurt Machine
by Brittany Behrman
by Arlene Mandell
by Laura Brennan
There are many methodologies and techniques for writing
a novel. Perhaps one of the most respected and
potentially useful is Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake
A sidewalk café is not a waste of time. Sit, see, absorb-and don’t tweet! Turn off all the
machines and just listen to the earth breathe.
Travel writers must be more specific now than ever. Facts! Facts! Facts! What side of the
street should you walk down if you’ve never seen Notre Dame?
Observe during the days. Write your notes at night.
Always carry a corkscrew; never pass up a bathroom.
Focus on the wonder of the place, not the gripes.
Develop a passion for language
Look for the larger connection that makes your story universal.
A guidebook is something you depart from.
Look for the hidden gems when you travel. “First thing off the plane, I go to the fire
department. They know all the best places. And I always talk to the hotel maids.”
Always write for yourself. That’s when you get engaged emotionally. The story must be important to you or it won’t be important to readers.
Adding personal details about your experience lends depth to the story. But the “I” shouldn’t dominate. Write about others, too.
Enrich your writing with sensory details; transport the reader to the place you’re writing about.
Great travel writing helps both the reader-and the writer-understand life.
By Ellen Cassedy
By Anne Sigmon
by Debra Finerman
Author of Mademoiselle Victorine
There are many methodologies and techniques for writing a novel. Perhaps one of the most respected
and potentially useful is Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method.
From Georgia Hesse, doyenne of Bay Area travel writers, and founding editor of the San Francisco Examiner travel section:
From conference founder Don George:
by Jeffrey Small
Author of The Breath of God
National Novel Writing Month's Secret Weapon
From Peter Greenburg, travel editor for CBS News:
Whether you’re a travel writer or a memoirist, you’re sharing your life and helping others to understand their own. Here’s some advice from
two strong writers who share their life and experience with others.
by Katie M. Flynn
by Allison Burnett
Every August, travel writers from around the country-and from far corners of the globe-converge on the Bay Area for the Book Passage Travel Writers
and Photographers Conference, called by The Huffington Post the finest travel writing conference in the world. The annual four-day event, sponsored
by Book Passage Bookstore in Corte Madera, California, offers writing and photography workshops, talks, panels, and one-on-one discussions with the
Tips From the Travel Writing Pros
by Arlene Mandell
Twelve Rules of Screenwriting
See How Easily You Can Write A Novel Using The Snowflake Method
Who Cares About Your Family Story?
Ten Tips to Ensure Readers Will Care
Every Day Should Count
A Chemist Gets Creative
I'll Take a Community With That Book, Please!
by Douglas Crago
You Gotta Have Friends
The Art of the Follow-Up
Talking for Writers
How To Improve Your Writing Without Writing a Word
Writing Tips From A Pro
5 Ways to Get Noticed and Earn a Full-Time Writing Job
Follow the Energy: Writing Aikido
One Nap at a Time: A New Mom's Musings on the Writing Life
Checking for Plot Holes
Here Are 15 Excellent Tips for Writing a Book
The 2013 conference will be held August 8-11 in Corte Madera. Registration information is available on the Book Passages website.
“This conference is no private party for the travel-writing elite or some secret society of travelerati,” says Lavinia Spalding, editor of the Best Women’s Travel Writing series from
Travelers Tales. “It open to anyone and hands down the most exciting writing event I've ever attended. Consider this: there's no application process, no previous publishing credits
required. No judgment, ego, or cliques, and absolutely no limit to the connections you can make.”
Anne Sigmon writes about her adventures-and misadventures-as a stroke survivor and autoimmune patient who still tromps through the wild: to Burmese jungles, Syrian deserts,
backpacking with llamas in the Utah wilderness.
Spud Hilton, San Francisco Chronicle travel editor, calls it “summer camp for travel writers,” a place to learn, make contacts, meet friends and, sometimes,
“Every year peoples' lives are changed utterly by conference,” legendary travel writer and editor Don George has said. “Every year I get a dozen emails
from people who say their careers have taken off, or they've been inspired to travel around the world, or they've gotten a photo or a story published, or
they've landed a magazine assignment or a book contract because of something they learned, someone they met, some connection they made, at Book
I try to go every year. The sessions are jam-packed with insight, inspiration, and writing tips. Here are a few of my favorite tips gleaned from the 2012
From Larry Habegger, executive editor of the Travelers’ Tales anthology series:
I love books based on family stories - especially those that provide me with a perch, a home, an intimate place from which to experience a larger culture
or a bygone era.
For me, the vibration between the ordinariness of everyday life and the sweep of history is not only a pleasure but also a political and a moral matter.
Observing what happens from the point of view of unfamous people, we learn that human history is made not only by generals and kings but by each one
That said, who cares about your family story, or mine? Here are ten ways I’ve discovered to keep readers engaged with the story that engages you.
1. Step back.
When my book first began to take shape, what was foremost in my mind were my own feelings. On my family roots trip to Lithuania, the land of my Jewish
forebears, shivers went down my spine in the old Jewish cemetery, and tears overtook me in the now-empty market square.
I was writing about what I cared about. But that - simply that - was not a story, and certainly not a book.
Paradoxically, what enabled me to shape my raw experiences into a narrative was detachment.
When I stepped back, I was able to place my family story within the broader context of a nation’s encounter with its “family secrets,” its Jewish past.
My particular family story came to illuminate something larger. And that’s what made it a book.
I came to be motivated by my responsibilities to my readers - which leads to the next point.
2. Take care of the reader.
Telling a true story, rather than inventing one, can make it harder to see what you know that your reader doesn’t. Put yourself in her shoes.
As my journey progressed, I kept a diary, writing down everything I was seeing, learning, and thinking day by day. That way, even when my journey was
over, when I knew how the story would end, I could look back and see what my readers would be wondering at any given point along the way.
3. Give the reader a home, or homes.
In the difficult moral and historical terrain into which I led my readers, I realized my readers would need places to catch their breath - familiar touchstones
to hold onto, places to rest.
The classroom at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, with its rows of battered wooden desks, became one such place, and my kitchen table in Vilnius, with its
knobby cucumbers and its loaf of black bread, became another.
These recurring images gave my narrative a rhythm, like the refrain of a song.
4. Create vivid characters.
With a first-person narrative, you must create yourself as a character. Ellen Cassedy, the reader’s trusty guide, has to be as vivid as Uncle Will with his
grizzled chin and his secret past, or Ruta, the passionate young woman who drives a Holocaust exhibit around the country in her pickup truck.
5. Create vivid scenes.
Just like a work of fiction or a play, a memoir needs places where the narrative slows down and draws the reader in close.
In addition to jotting down in my diary everything I could see, hear, and smell, I took pictures with my camera.
Later, at my desk, when I was conjuring up, say, the old man who wanted to speak to a Jew before he died, I could see his green cap, his aluminum cane,
and the blood-red gladioli that framed his front door.
In writing a story from life, I found I was less a builder than a sculptor, carving away everything not needed.
My side visit to Poland had to go. The amazing yoga class in Vilnius had to go. Even my discovery of my great-grandfather’s grave had to go. Deeply
moving though it was, it didn’t advance what had become the real story.
7. Create suspense.
In my first draft, I revealed Uncle Will’s fearsome secret on page 3. Now I make the reader wait till page 51 for even the first clues.
8. Blend the personal and the historical.
Break up what Ursula LeGuin calls “the lumps in the oatmeal.” Instead of requiring the reader to swallow background information in big chunks, find ways
to stir them in. Make them go down easy.
9. Be honest.
It’s been said that “writing begins with taking notice.” That means noticing what’s going on inside you as well as outside.
In writing my book, I trained a microscope on the minutest details of how I was beginning to let go of the cross-cultural hatreds I’d been taught as a
10. Pay attention to every word.
It goes without saying that I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote. Because I cared - and I wanted my readers to care.
“The Book Group”… From Question to Setting to Story
Holding a job that distracts you from cultivating your true talents is a frustration for anyone. Fortunately for those who possess a passion for writing, it’s
possible to refine your writing skills while earning a living doing so.
Showing potential employers your value as a writer is paramount to getting ahead of the competition. Because it’s not always simple to craft a job-winning
portfolio, I’ve compiled a list of the five ways that I successfully built my resume and satisfied my calling to write for a living.
I appreciate the chance to share these tips with the readers of Writer Advice; I hope that they will help you in advancing your skills while supporting
yourself through your writing!
Read the tips here: https://www.ecollegefinder.org/pdfs/ecf_5wayswritingjob.pdf
For years after Brittany Behrman earned her degree in 2009, she spent her time searching for work. In her job hunt, she perfected these tips and used
I remember going to hear Joyce Carol Oates read when I was in college. I wanted desperately to be a writer, and I hung on her every word. When she
mentioned that she wrote by a window, I noted write by a window. When she said she drank tea, I wrote tea. Whenever I met a real writer, I asked them
where they wrote, how they wrote, and when. I wanted to know the rules, how to organize my life in order to succeed.
I know now that every writer makes his or her own rules. The advice I give to beginning writers is to have faith, love the process, and to value writing, to
put it in the center of their lives.
Having faith is hard as rejection letters and bills come regularly in the mail. But of my friends and colleagues who studied fiction writing with me at the
University of Montana a decade ago, the only ones who have not published yet are the ones who gave up. The rest of us make a living now by writing. (Or
writing and teaching.)
Valuing writing is the fun part. Set aside a desk for writing, set aside a day. Spend some money on your favorite tea, an important pen, a book you want to
read. Play music, and feel proud when you’ve written a page. Take a walk if you need to. Get a sitter. Surround yourself with objects that inspire you. The
rest of the writing life is difficult, and can be heartbreaking. This is what you get: a solitary morning, a cup of coffee, the luxury of bringing words into the
world, the joy of a perfect sentence.
Putting writing in the center of your life is also challenging, when so many other important things beckon. Oprah and everyone else tells me I can make time
for an exercise routine, but I can’t seem to do it. But living as a writer doesn’t always mean being alone. You can take care of children, or a job, or a
spouse while you think about writing. When you see a movie, ask yourself why it is working or not. If you lose interest in a friend’s story, ask yourself what
she could have done to hold you. What magazines are you reading, and why? What could be going on with the bank teller and her strange expression?
Living your life as a writer is a way of participating fully, but also taking notes as an observer. It’s something that takes practice, but I have found it to be
essential. I have been completely stuck in a novel, left it for the day, and then found my answer on the playground or at the library. I am always thinking
about my novels.
And, thanks to Joyce Carol Oates, I always sit by the window.
Amanda Eyre Ward is the award-winning author of How to Be Lost and Sleep Toward Heaven. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her family.
Ideas for stories come to me from a variety of sources-from something observed, from a dream, from a personal experience, from something read. There's no
real magic involved; it's primarily a matter of remaining open to the flow of ideas and being mindful of when they materialize. I keep a journal of story ideas,
and I make an entry in it as soon as an idea comes to me.
The central idea for "The Trip to Goodbye" came to me one evening quite unexpectedly. I was going through a rough time and was thinking about getting
away to the mountains for a few days. I've
always found that nature has a restorative and consoling effect on me, and many of my best writing ideas come to me when I'm out in the country. As I
thought about the trip and how I was feeling, the image of Christopher sitting in the truck, which I describe in the discovery scene of the story, suddenly
appeared in my mind. I found it provocative and compelling. A trip to goodbye, I thought, seeing him there behind the wheel, the truck loaded with gear.
Once I had that in my head, I knew that I had the beginning of a good story.
A few months passed before I sat down to write the story. I wasn't sure which direction to take, so I concentrated on getting to the place inside of me
where the idea began, and to connect with the strong emotions surrounding it. The first scene that I developed was the ending. It came to me right away-
the story would end in silence, the truck's motor choking to a stop, the quiet evening closing in around them. I then began working out the rest of the
story. I was having difficulty developing a typical storyline, so I wrote a series of scenes with the intention of connecting them later. As the writing
progressed, I realized that it would be more effective to leave them separated, the threads of the story unfolding side-by-side. I set the main series of
scenes, those that follow the actions of the main character, in normal font, and the parallel, complimentary scenes in italics. This structure allowed me to
convey the parallel nature of the events in a natural way, play the scenes off one another within the context of the main character's journey, and then
bring everything together in the scene at the river, setting off the ending to great effect.
After I completed a rough draft, I made several editing passes through the story, revising it into a first draft. I then passed it to my editor, and she and I
repeated this process until we both felt that the story was finished and ready to submit to prospective publishers. I like this method because it allows me to
open up and write freely at the time I'm developing a story, and then focus on perfecting the prose and other elements during the editing phase, finalizing it
in collaboration with my editor.
There are many paths to a great story. I hope that my description of how this little story came about will be helpful to you in some way. Whatever the
case, I believe that a writer must find the story that is relevant to him, and then write it from his heart, for that is where all great stories come from, in the
Douglas Crago writes short stories, poetry and music. To read his award winning story, "The Trip to Goodbye," click http://www.writermag.com/The%
I accidentally founded National Novel Writing Month back in 1999. Since then, I've watched, amazed, as the event has grown from 21 overcaffeinated
friends into a literary block party with over 200,000 participants every year.
So what's the secret?
I think it really comes down to that 30-day deadline. Month-long deadlines, whatever the goal, are very powerful beasts. There's a reason why so many
self-help books are built around a 30-day schedule-it's really the biggest chunk of time that I think human brains can effectively plan around. To me, the
power of a 30-day deadline for novelists comes down to three factors:
1) A month gives you enough time to get a draft done, but not so much time that you start procrastinating. Procrastination will kill creative projects the
same way rust eventually locks up gears on an abandoned bicycle. Isaac Newton was absolutely right when he said that objects at rest will stay at rest.
Which is why people who give themselves a month to write a novel draft are-strangely enough-more likely to finish it than people who give themselves a
year. The thirty-day deadline gets those gears moving immediately, and forces you to come up with a realistic schedule that breaks the daunting task of
writing a first draft into a series of manageable, daily writing goals.
2) A month-long deadline forces you to abandon perfection and shoot for completion. This is exactly where you want to be on a first draft. Because if you
give yourself enough time to analyze every word you write, nothing is going to be good enough. You'll spend so much time beating yourself up about the
quality of your sentences that you'll never around to getting a story down on paper. When it comes to first drafts, the best thing you can do is turn off
your inner editor and just commit to getting a beginning, a middle, and an end down on paper. Was that page the worst thing you've ever written? Good!
Now go write another lousy page. Then another. And another. Hundreds of thousands of writers have edited a bad first draft into a great novel. But no one
has ever edited a blank page into anything but a blank page.
3) A month-long deadline brings out the cheerleaders. Imagine a marathon without supporters or spectators. Just solitary runners moving silently through
empty city streets. If they drop out of the race, no one notices. If they cross the finish line, no one cares. This, essentially, is the state in which we write
our books. Most people don't know our writing project exists, and those who do tend to stop asking about it after a couple months. The manuscript
becomes something we grapple with alone, usually at the times of day when we're most exhausted. Is it any wonder so many book projects get abandoned?
When you're writing a book on a month-long deadline, people get excited. They want to help. There's something about the folly of the endeavor that brings
out cheerleaders, and you'll find everyone from your local barista to your normally grumpy boss eagerly wanting updates on your progress. Significant others
also have an easier time embracing the month-long novel, and will swap childcare or chore duties for one month so you have more time to write. That
encouragement (and increased writing time) is priceless, but the real gift you get from your cheerleaders is commitment. I guarantee that there will come a
point in the month when your manuscript looks like a total disaster and all you want to do is quit. The only thing keeping you going will be the fact that you
don't want to disappoint all those people who believe in you. So you grudgingly keep at it, logging your daily word count while cursing the whole concept.
And a few thousand words later, you stumble on some great twist or character and you're in love with our book again, and you're so thankful you didn't give
Chris Baty is the Founder of NaNoWriMo, and the author of No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days.
1. Write a one-sentence summary of your novel.
2. Expand the sentence to a paragraph describing the story narrative, any major events and the ending.
3. Now consider the main character and write a one page summary for each, considering the following points:
A one-sentence summary of the character’s storyline.
The character’s motivation (what does he/she want abstractly?).
The character’s goal (what does he/she want concretely?).
The character’s conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?).
The character’s epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?.
A one-paragraph summary of the character’s storyline.
4. Go back to the summary you wrote in 2 and expand each sentence into a paragraph. Randy’s advice here is:
“Take several hours and expand each sentence of your summary paragraph into a full paragraph. All but the last paragraph should end in a disaster. The
5. Write a one-page description for each major character, which tells the story from their point of view.
6. Expand your one page plot synopsis into a four-page plot synopsis.
7. Expand your character descriptions from 3 into full ‘character charts’.
8. Using the expanded synopsis, make a list of every scene you will need to write to complete the novel.
9. Using the scene list, write a multi-paragraph narrative description of each scene.
10. Write your first draft.
This post is a summary of Ingermanson’s thinking and ideas. I strongly suggest that if you wish to apply the Snowflake Method that you go to
EDITOR’S NOTE: Writing memoir instead of fiction? The same method should work and should help you write the whole story as opposed to a one-sided
Longtime Wired writer Steve Silberman, is about to start work on his first book, a piece of non-fiction based on an article he wrote in 2001 about Asperger's
syndrome, and he's solicited advice from 22 authors about the process of bookwriting. The responses run the gamut from practical advice about how to get
organized to ruminations on the art of writing long. These 15 struck us particularly useful, and applicable to both fiction and non-fiction.
Use Scrivener to write your book. Awesome organizing tool as well as word processor. -- Mark Frauenfelder (The Mad Professor)
"The first tip is that readers expect books to be exhaustive on their subjects. That doesn’t mean they want the books to be long - it means that
they expect that you will cover all the basic ground that needs to be covered to understand the subject, even if they know some of it already. This piece
of advice may or may not be relevant to your subject. In my case, with a very idiosyncratic book on viral culture, it led to people asking me at readings
why I hadn’t included an analysis of X or Y viral phenomenon in my book. “Because you already know about it,” the magazine guy in me always wanted to
respond. But in the book world, people want to see you mention the stuff they already know, at least in passing (or to knock it down)- otherwise, how can
it claim to be a book on the subject? It’s worth taking that point of view seriously." -- Bill Wasick (And Then There's This)
"I tried, not always successfully, to start each day with some discrete goal I wanted to accomplish: write 200 words, or get through a certain
amount of research, or conduct two interviews, or whatever. If I set out to spend a day “writing,” that would be so overwhelming I’d end up just farting
around online all day instead of starting the climb the mountain." -- Seth Mnookin (The Panic Virus)
"Planning. Planning. Planning. It’s a campaign. I used some project management tools in the end to put some order into the vastness. That’s the thing
about the bigger scale. It requires more management to support the creativity. Cultivate a good relationship with your editor from the beginning. He/she is
going to be your task master at some point. That’s going to go so much better if he/she is also your friend, colleague, supporter, and fan. The campaign of
writing a book can get so lonely sometimes, you need a good attaboy just to remind yourself of why you’re doing it and that you’re not the crazy loser who
needs to get out more." -- Barry Boyce (The Mindfulness Revolution)
"When I’m writing a book I only read other books that somehow inform my book. If it doesn’t serve my process - no matter how much I want to read
it - I don’t. I suspect there are a lot of people who will give the opposite opinion (take a break from reading about your subject matter, etc.), but I’m not
one of them. This is your time to be completely and justifiably obsessed. So go ahead - bask in the madness." -- Peter Conners (Growing Up Dead)
"Do as much research as possible away from the Internet - with living people, in real places." -- Carl Zimmer (The Tangled Bank)
"Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my
first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first
third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly." -- Josh Shenk (Lincoln's Melancholy)
"Write when the book sucks and it isn’t going anywhere. Just keep writing. It doesn’t suck. Your conscious is having a panic attack because it
doesn’t believe your subconscious knows what it’s doing." -- Cory Doctorow (Makers)
"I do not write from the beginning to the end. I write in the order that particular parts take form in my mind and I enjoy mulling them over… I mull and
mull and imagine I am explaining them to someone and then I write them down. I have the order in mind, so I write whatever part is bubbling energetically in
my mind, print it out (always) and begin a stack on THE BOOK on a corner of my desk into which I can add pieces (in their proper order) as they get written
and so I have a visible proof at all times that something is happening." -- Sylvia Boorstein (It's Easier Than You Think)
"Develop a very serious plan for dealing with internet distractions. I use an app called Self-Control on my Mac." -- Ben Casnocha (My Start-Up Life)
"Get feedback - oodles of it. Along the way, show pieces of your book to lots of people - different types of people. Ply them with wine and beg them
for candor. Find out what’s missing, what’s being misinterpreted, what isn’t convincing, what’s falling flat. This doesn’t mean you take every suggestion or
write the book by committee. But this process will allow to marry your necessarily-precious vision with how people will actually react. I find that invaluable."
-- David Shenk (The Forgetting)
"I find it helpful sometimes - and still to my surprise - trying to explain to someone what it is I’m trying to write about, usually someone bright but in a
different intellectual zone, and not a writer. Or, likewise, in a letter or email to such a person." -- August Kleinzahler ( Cutty, One Rock)
"The process of lining the book up, giving it a bedside manner, asking 'Is this what it is about? But what is it really about' was a plunge. I had to
explain the work to myself in more and more elementary language. I came to enjoy doing this. It helped when I realized that the discovery process was part
of the writing and I didn’t have to be through it already." -- John Tarrant (Life Inside the Dark)
"Advice from a Newsweek editor I worked with in the ’80s, Nancy Cooper. Roughly my age, but so much smarter and more worldly and sophisticated. I
was worried about writing the opening story of the nation section. And she sent me a note that read: ”You just start working and you keep working til it’s
done. That’s all there is to it; no mystery.” -- John Schwartz (Tall)
What is it like to be writing and publishing after age 85? I hope the story of how this happened will give encouragement to writers of any age.
After collecting a pile of rejections, I decided to self-publish Without Warning as a Christmas present for family and friends. The praise was so genuine that I
took a deep breath and entered the St. Martin’s Press Malice Domestic contest for first unpublished mysteries. Months went by. One morning I opened my
email, and there was a message from renowned editor Ruth Cavin. The book was too international for the contest, but would I accept a contract for two
books? After nearly thirty non-published years, I levitated out of my chair. Suddenly I was a pro again, no longer the wannabe with nose pressed against
the glass. I could write Author on forms. Ma’s “hobby” commanded respect. Without Warning was published in 2007, Overkill in 2009.
Why such a publishing gap? I was a late starter. For years, I darted around like a hummingbird, tasting different genres. In my forties, I became a freelance
reporter for local papers. Great training, but then came the nagging question: Instead of 300 words, why not 300 pages? The first book was trash. The
second, a historical/suspense novel, The Ancestors Cry Out, was published by Doubleday and Ballantine in 1979. In hindsight, it might have been more
productive to stick with that genre. Instead, I spent years of research on a heavy historical. And when that didn’t sell, I decided to try mysteries.
Easier said than done. There are rules. Mystery readers expect sly red herrings. Judiciously scattered clues. Surprise endings. For me, there is something
satisfying about a genre that deals with the great absolutes: Death, retribution, punishment. The villain is always caught.
Motivation? I have an on-going compulsion to try to give readers total immersion into another world-in these chaotic times, I believe that the need for
escape reads is greater than ever. My characters tend to be strong people who are working their way through disasters with a certain amount of
sophistication, all set in interesting backgrounds. By now I’ve come to know my protagonist Emma Streat as well, maybe better, than my own daughters. I
really love her, which is just as well as I’m about to be spending a lot of time with her as she survives a complicated love life and more looming disasters.
What about process? My plots aren’t set in concrete, but I like to sit in bed eating breakfast and planning the next few pages. Once in a while there’s a
logjam. At that point I write What If at the top of a blank page, followed by the situation, followed by possible solutions. It usually works.
There’s no getting around the fact that it takes time to evolve a voice. I’ve learned, the hard way, to keep in mind that as writers we are entering a
relationship with our readers. Clarity is key. For mysteries, I’ve whittled my style down to a minimum of adjectives and adverbs. I use a lot of short
sentences and action verbs-all aimed at compelling the reader to turn the page.
It’s fair to say that writing at any age requires a major dedication of time. To be young means there’s the luxury of experimenting. When the numbers are
heading towards ninety, there can be a slowing down, as well as an awareness that every day should count; slip on the ice and in a nanosecond life
On the other hand, science has given the “wrinklies” some useful tools: the computer, affordable self-publishing, internet access to information and
promotion. Above all, it’s a great blessing to wake up in the morning with the urge to create-and it can happen just sitting at a table.
If you want to get published, you must practice the art of the follow-up. Let’s say you’ve sent out 23 poems, 11 short stories and five essays in the year
2011. Some were rejected with a polite note. Others disappeared into the Internet ether, perhaps with the publication itself. There’s a lot of that going
around. A few pieces were accepted.
You should have an Excel spread sheet or simple yellow pad where you keep track of your submissions, rejections and acceptances. And now you wait . . .
and wait. .
Don’t be too impatient, as most editors are paid little or nothing and have to earn a living doing something else. Six months go by. Three poems and a short
story that were supposed to be published do not appear.
If you’re the laid back type, you might wait longer. But eventually you should find out if and when your carefully crafted work has been/will be/will not
appear in print or on line.
You may want to add another rhinestone in your tiara, or to send your excellent work somewhere else.
Do not call, even if you have their phone number. They won’t remember you. Instead, write a polite email to the editor. Attach another copy, in case the
original has been misplaced.
If the piece was to be in an anthology, you may want to contact the publisher. Nine months or a year can elapse between the time the anthology’s editor
submits the manuscript and the actual publication appears.
I really do practice what I preach. On a recent rainy morning I spent an hour on follow-up activities and learned:
Marco Polo Quarterly has a new website. My short story would appear in mid-September. The editor thought he had emailed everyone.
The editor of Hudson View had mailed the Spring 2011 issue with “Jacques & Allegra,” a poem about ballet dancers, but it never arrived. She sent
An anthology, Israeli/Palestinian Poets Respond, which accepted a poem in 2010, had experienced delays when some of the Palestinians pulled their
work out (!) It is now scheduled for publication in February 2012.
Several well-respected writing coaches in Sonoma County, CA, call me the “most-published writer.” This doesn’t mean I am or will become either rich or
famous, but it does mean that at 71 years old, I take my avocation seriously. Are you taking yours seriously as well?
Arlene L. Mandell, a retired English professor, at last count has published 505 works a total of 686 times, including 17 anthologies with three more in the
works. This does not include anything that appeared during her years as a newspaper reporter or writer for Good Housekeeping magazine.
EDITOR’S NOTE: When I notified Arlene that we were using her article in this issue, she said, “For the ultimate follow up, four years ago I had a memoir
segment, "Everybody Loves Saturday Night," accepted in a publication with music-related themes. The editor was busy with other things, but we keep in
touch sporadically. Two days ago he e-mailed that he's getting ready to publish another edition and my piece is included. Four years later!”
1) Every page should be more interesting than the one before.
2) Take your time revealing who your characters are. Disclose their secrets carefully, for maximum effect. Reveals can be just as powerful as plot points.
3) Movies need movie stars, so always write a great role for a movie star. Two roles for two movie stars is even better.
4) Every speaking role, no matter how large or small, should leap off the page.
5) Begin each scene just before it starts to get interesting and cut away before it starts to bore.
6) Never reveal or even imply what is going to happen next. Keep the reader off balance. If a man asks a woman to dinner, don’t show her saying yes; just
cut to the date.
7) Narration should be a last resort. If you must use it, make sure that the narrator never tells us anything that we already know or can see with our eyes.
8) Human beings in conversation rarely call each other by their names, so why should characters? Cut every name, unless absolutely necessary. They are
9) Make scene descriptions terse, visual, and filmable. This is your chance to write good prose. Refrain from smart aleck asides. Never do anything to
interrupt the dream.
10) Never suggest specific songs for specific moments. It’s amateurish. It’s not your job.
11) Structure is everything. Structure is logic.
12) Write and write until you discover your own rules.
Allison Burnett is a screenwriter and novelist living in Los Angeles. His novel Undiscovered Gyrl was published by Vintage in fall of 2009. Read about him at
After six years of writing, rejections, rewriting, more rejections, getting a big agent, even more rejections, losing my agent, and rewriting again, my first
novel, The Breath of God, hits bookstore shelves in March.
Publishing The Breath of God has been the most difficult project I've ever tackled. For all of you aspiring novelists, I thought that I would share some of the
lessons that I wish I'd better understood when I embarked on this journey of heartache, of three hundred pages of discarded prose, and of elation at seeing
my book in print.
1. Write one page at a time.
The thought of writing 400 pages of a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end that has all sorts of twists and turns is intimidating to point of being
paralyzing. Novels, however, are not written in one fell swoop. Each day, I had to sit down and begin by starting with a single page, just as twelve step
programs encourage their members to take one day at a time. Rather than focus on the end product, or even the challenges that might face me in the next
chapter, I set a modest goal for myself: 1000 words a day, about four or five days a week. But I always starting with that first single page. Day by day, the
pages began to add up.
2. Turn off your self-critic.
Okay, you've completed your research; you've taken notes on your characters; and you've outlined your plot; now it's time to start writing that initial draft.
For me, the most difficult part each day was beginning. Getting those first words out was torture. My favorite method of procrastination was to read over my
previous day's work. Doing so would then lead to the temptation to edit my writing. I could rationalize that by editing I was still working. Although a number
of successful authors edit as they go along, I discovered that it was too easy to get lost in trying to perfect my earlier prose, a endless process, and thus
risk never finishing the book. Once I gave myself permission to write badly, to accept that my first draft would suck, then it became easier to start writing
something. I had plenty of time when the first draft was finished to fix it.
3. A frustrated protagonist is a happy reader.
When I began The Breath of God, I understood the basic requirement in fiction that conflict is good: bad things must happen to your protagonist. I had lots
of conflict: unusual murders, chases in exotic and dangerous settings, unhinged characters. My problem was that I tended to resolve these conflicts too
early and too easily. Because my characters lived in the imaginary world inside my head, the conflict they experienced made me uncomfortable, and I wanted
to relieve them of this discomfort. Tension and frustration, however, keeps readers turning pages. As I rewrote, I began making the conflicts more difficult to
resolve. I also employed the common technique of introducing a new conflict as soon as an earlier one was conquered. And, yes, I ended each chapter with
an open conflict or question.
4. The antagonist must oppose the central aim of the protagonist.
I'm not quite sure how I screwed up this simple bit of structure in my first draft. I had lots of conflict, my protagonist was often frustrated, and I had an
antagonist who was colorful and frightening. But as I dove into the story, I realized that the antagonist was often pitted against secondary characters or the
situation in general, rather than specifically out to thwart the objective of my protagonist. As I looked even deeper, I had to admit that for the first half of
the book my protagonist did not even have a clear central aim. These realizations caused me to completely rewrite both my protagonist and antagonist
5. The purpose of fiction is to entertain not to educate.
If you want to educate, write nonfiction. This lesson was the most difficult for me to handle. An early editor who read my novel told me that I had written
two books in one: a suspense novel and a non-fiction book on comparative religion. I'd always loved the thriller/suspense genre, but I wanted to write one
that made people think. I grew up a Tom Clancy fan. I loved how he interwove the technical details of military strategy, espionage, and cool hardware into
his thrillers. I wanted to do the same with the topic of religion. The danger with such an approach is that the non-fiction elements can take precedence over
the fictional ones. The book can become preachy or, worse, boring. People read fiction to be entertained. It took me many drafts to strike the right balance:
a balance that puts primacy on story and character.
© 2011 Jeffrey Small, author of The Breath of God
Jeffrey Small, author of The Breath of God, graduated summa cum laude from Yale University and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. He holds a
master's degree in the study of religions from Oxford University. Jeffrey is an acclaimed speaker on the topics of rethinking religion in the twenty-first
century and the common spiritual themes in the world's religions. Jeffrey also writes for Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeffrey-small
About the book: The Breath of God, by Jeffrey Small follows grad student Grant Matthews on a journey through the Himalayas as he pursues an ancient
legend that promises to tie the world's religions together. Facing a murder at the Taj Mahal, a kidnapping in a sacred city, and a desperate chase through a
cliffside monastery, Grant confronts a conspiracy of zealots who will stop at nothing to suppress the truth. A truth that his university colleagues believe is
mere myth. A truth that will change his life forever -- if he survives. -- Find The Breath of God on Amazon.
Every so often, I’m asked to speak about pitching to a group of writers. This is easy for me because I love pitching and I love writers. I also love making
people cry, and that happens, I am not kidding, about sixty percent of the time. Not everyone, of course - it’s not like I force them to sit through Terms of
Endearment. But one person in the room, one person with a story she believes to be unpitchable, oh, yeah. Pass the Kleenex.
Why? Why is it so amazing to hear your story pitched? I do think there’s a certain amount of relief in realizing that it can be done. But I also think we are
all desperate to be heard. When a pitch is right, it conveys exactly what you want the world to understand about the heart of your story. You get heard.
That’s very powerful.
So how do you get to that? How do you pitch your story? Here are the steps:
1) Be accurate. Do not worry about what the elusive “they” want to hear. Be honest. No one likes a bait-and-switch.
2) Set up their listening. What I mean by this is, prepare them for what they are about to hear. Is it a book, a webseries, a feature, a play? If the form is
understood - if you’re at a mystery book convention, for instance - let them know the subgenre: thriller, cosy, procedural, paranormal. If they don’t know
what to expect, they won’t be able to connect to your story. I once found myself performing in a gruesome, dark, emotionally-exhausting scene in what the
judges expected to be a comedy competition. Funny only in retrospect, trust me.
3) Take the time to tell your story. There is a difference between a logline and a pitch. A logline is usually a sentence long and its only job is to get them
to say, “Tell me more.” Your pitch is what you say after that, and its job is to get them to request the script or book proposal or manuscript. Don’t rush,
don’t skimp. You’re a storyteller; you’re already good at this part.
4) Only tell the essence of your story. This is the tricky bit. Figure out what the heart of your story is and convey that, and only that. The details, even
the character names - they don’t matter as much as you think they do. Take whatever time you need, but don’t squander their good will by being
5) Don’t be afraid to insert your own passion and your connection to the material into the pitch. What drew you to tell this story in this way? That’s
fascinating and engaging. Share.
Speaking of sharing, that’s how you’ll know if your pitch works. Share it with friends and family. Watch their eyes. Notice when they start to glaze over.
Rework those bits. Also, say it out loud to yourself. If you get goosebumps, you’re on the right track.
Laura Brennan is a writer, producer and pitch consultant. Learn about the help she offers at http://www.pitchingperfectly.com/about.html.
When my friend Lynn asked how I incorporate the principles of Aikido into my writing practice, I was surprised and dumbfounded-surprised by the delightful
question and dumbfounded because I've been practicing Aikido for fifteen years and teaching and writing about Aikido almost as long, but I'd never considered
how my Aikido and writing practices might be connected.
Aikido-The Way of Blending with Energy-is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba in the early 20th century. It employs no blocks or
counterpunches. The goal: to disarm without harming. The method: blending and redirecting.
The student of Aikido learns to "catch" the attack energy, to blend with it and redirect it to a safe conclusion. In order to blend, we move off the line of
attack; we get out of the way. We step back, slide sideways, or move into an opening created by the attack, then contain the attacker with a pin or throw.
Consequently, the person delivering the attack usually ends up on the floor. And learning to fall safely becomes a key skill and indispensable option-another
way to catch or receive energy. Aikido represents a new way to engage, to blend with whatever comes, and to transform resistance into connection.
You may already see the link between Aikido and writing. Like Aikido, writing is both an art and a practice. When I practice either with intention and
regularity, technique improves and eventually becomes invisible.
Like Aikido, when I'm writing well, I'm in a flow state. I acknowledge and blend with all that is going on in mind, body and spirit. When I feel stuck, for
example, I ask: Why is this hard? What am I resisting? Or, What am I really trying to say here? I pay attention to what wants to emerge, and I connect with
the stuck energy until it begins to flow.
In both Aikido and writing, the goal is alignment. Instead of pushing back on an idea or forcing it, I listen to where it wants to go. Instead of seeking the
perfect word, phrase, or preposition, I let words flow, even if ungrammatical or nonsensical, in order to let the energy of the moment, the thought, flow
freely. I get out of the way. Later I look and see what I've got. Sometimes it's useless, and sometimes I don't change a thing. But the "letting it flow" part is
really fun. Catching the energy.
These are not new ideas. But the physical sensation of using energy on the mat helps me to find it off the mat. O'Sensei said: "Always practice the Art of
Peace in a vibrant and joyful manner." When writing feels hard, I remember and return to the joy-a practice that works in Aikido and in writing.
Judy Ringer is the author of Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict and two CDs, Managing Conflict in the Workplace: An Aiki Approach,
and Simple Gifts: Making the Most of Life's Ki Moments, as well as the award-winning newsletter, Ki Moments. A black belt instructor in the martial art Aikido,
Judy provides conflict, communication, and presentations skills training throughout North America using its principles. Visit her website at www.judyringer.com.
Ingermanson has constructed a 10-step process, which I have summarized below. This process is based around the idea that a writer begins with a simplistic
Deep Theme and then, over time, develops and adds complexity. This makes the formation of the novel a conscious process, rather then a random creative
I am not saying that this is the ‘best’ method to write a novel. In fact, I feel many writers will be horrified at such detailed levels of planning. However, some
writers will find an affinity with the Snowflake Method. If you are a writer that plans, this post might just change your writing life!
With all the emphasis today on “friending” people through social media, you’d think the message has sunk in: Friends are an invaluable commodity. However, writing is a solitary
business, and writers are typically introverts who often prefer solitude to crowds. Many would-be authors hesitate to join professional groups. They feel they can’t justify the expense
of dues. They shy away from on attending conferences, because they see the time and money as costs, not investments.
That’s shortsighted. Professional groups and conferences are two of the best places for an author to meet other authors, and in this topsy turvy publishing environment, friends are
critical to your success. While we can sustain relationships through social media, face-to-face interaction still trumps cyber-connections. There’s something honest and real about
meeting a person in the flesh. No matter how good your computer interface is, it can never replace the bond that comes from sharing a cup of coffee or feeling a kindly pat on your
Friends-people you can rely on and who, in turn, rely on you-are indispensible to any author’s success.
Here are just a few reasons why:
1. They keep you going. Several years ago, a friend posted on her personal blog that she considered herself a failure because her first series couldn’t get any traction. I fired off an
email to her. I’d always considered her a success, and I encouraged her to hang in there. Today she’s a New York Times bestselling author. I think of our exchange often; it’s a
constant reminder to me to never give up.
2. They brainstorm with you. Last summer my good pal Shirley Damsgaard and I spent hours and hours working on new proposals. As a result, Shirley put the finishing touches on
a query for Die Standing, which will be published by Avon. I know I benefited from our discussions as well. Only another author can understand how fragile the process of sifting
through ideas can be!
3. They make you look smart. My agent called with an opportunity for me. She didn’t have long to chat. She expected me to take the information and run. But I still had a few
questions. I called a friend who’d recently tackled a similar assignment, and she kindly answered my questions. As a result, I looked good because I could take the ball and run with
4. Friends tell you the inside scoop. How does co-op work? What is sell-through? What’s the best way to get on a panel? Where can you get bookmarks printed? There’s a
shadowy world, a place where questions and insecurity hold hands. Your friends will lead you through the darkness. They’ll shine a light of understanding so you don’t trip, fall, and
lose your way.
It can be tough to tear yourself away from your comfy office, to change out of sweatpants and into presentable clothes. It can be hard to brave the elements, to take time out of your
day to sit in traffic, or to justify the cost of a cup of Starbucks when you could brewed java at home. But over the long haul, the investment you “spend” in making friends will come
back to you many times over. You just can’t put a value on friends, as a commodity they’re precious--especially if you’re in this business for the long haul.
Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of eleven non-fiction books as well as the Agatha Award nominee for Best First Novel-Paper, Scissors, Death, which was the first book in the
Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series. The third book in the series-Photo, Snap, Shot-will be released in May 2010 by Midnight Ink. Visit Joanna at www.JoannaSlan.com or at the blog
There’s a famous story that illustrates how even masterful storytellers can end up with glaring holes in their plots. It concerns Raymond Chandler’s classic
detective novel The Big Sleep in which the killing of a chauffeur helps launch a series of complex mysteries involving drugs, pornography, blackmail, and
murder that Chandler’s hero, Phillip Marlowe, must solve. When the novel was later made into an equally classic film starring Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe --
with a screenplay by William Faulkner -- the crew realized during production that there was one last question to resolve: Who killed the chauffeur? As the
story goes, director Howard Hawks first called Faulkner wanting to know, who had no idea, so Hawks wired Chandler, the source, and asked him who killed the
chauffeur. Chandler’s response, as he later recalled, was to-the-point: "Dammit, I didn’t know either."
To make sure your plot is as solid as it can be -- before some legendary film director discovers a plot hole while trying to adapt your work -- consider the
following questions and see that you have them answered in your novel.
Have all subplots and supporting character arcs been concluded? You might want to go back through the novel and mark those moments with subplot
and supporting cast that seem to demand revisiting later . . . and make sure you did revisit and conclude them in some satisfying way.
Do you find any of your characters indulging in excessive monologue toward the finale? Late-novel monologues often indicate that certain information
should have been introduced earlier but wasn’t -- and now your character is trying to catch the reader up on that omitted information in one big breath.
These one-breath wonders suggest a hole in the plot that the character is now trying to plug, poorly. Be aware of any such information dumps you come
across, and consider how you might plug the hole yourself earlier in the text.
Do the events in your novel follow the rules of the story as you’ve set them out? We already discussed rule breaking in terms of the "twist" ending, but
the same applies to every turn your story takes. If your protagonist is launched on his adventure when he saves a young woman from drowning, but then at
Plot Point 1 he lets the antagonist get away because he’s not a very strong swimmer, that’s obviously a problem, and everything that comes after that point
will be looked on with suspicion by the reader (if he's still reading at all).
Do the events in your novel follow, and account for, the rules of logic? If it's revealed at the end of your novel that your time-traveling hero has fallen
in love with his own grandmother and is now his own grandfather, your reader will likely either scratch his head or kick your novel across the room, depending
on what kind of day he's having. It's absolutely true that, as an author, you control the powers of time and space in your book -- see the section on pacing
on page 147 -- but even so you're still bound by the general rules of logic; what you do has to make sense. Thus anything that doesn't seem possible, or at
least believable, is a problem you'll need to fix.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the momentum of our story, in the fun of telling it, that we forget to properly account for, explain, or excise
inconsistencies along the way; even Raymond Chandler can let a dead chauffeur slip past him. But the smallest plot hole might still be big enough for your
reader to fall straight through, so be mindful that your plot be as solid as it can be. And if there's anything in the story you can't reconcile, you may want to
consider what the offending element is doing there in the first place.
The above is an excerpt from the book The Nighttime Novelist: Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time by Joseph Bates. The above excerpt is a digitally
scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to
the finished book for accuracy.
Copyright © 2010 Joseph Bates, author of The Nighttime Novelist: Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time.
Author Bio Joseph Bates's fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The South Carolina Review, Identity Theory, Lunch Hour Stories, The Cincinnati Review,
Shenandoah, and Novel & Short Story Writer's Market. He holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature and fiction writing from the University of Cincinnati and
teaches in the creative writing program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
For more information please visit www.nighttimenovelist.com and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.
For the past five years, I’ve taught a summer class in writing-How To Write Genre Fiction or How To Write A Novel-at Hofstra University on Long Island. It’s
a three-credit class open to regular students, graduate students, and continuing education students as well. Furthermore, it’s an accelerated class in that I
must teach a full term’s worth of material in two consecutive weeks-four hours a day, ten days in a row. In order to accomplish this I had to learn how to
reduce lessons down to their most impactful, economical forms.
Then, two years ago, Larry Light, the current Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America-a position I once held-came to me and asked me to
lead an effort to develop an idea called MWA University. This was to be a program where Mystery Writers of America would offer six hours of college level
writing instruction on a single day as a member benefit. Six hours sounds like a lot of time, but in reality it is very little to teach the basics of fiction writing.
Again, I was forced to concentrate my lesson plans even further. Here are just some of the bits of writing advice I give to my students that I have
developed along the way.
Narrative: New writers are often flummoxed by this concept. Here's an exercise: Download the late Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" or "Taxi" or "W-O-L-
D". In these songs, all about five minutes in length, Chapin perfectly exemplifies a complete narrative. There is a beginning, middle, and end with deep
characterization, and emotional story arcs. If he can tell stories this complete in five minutes, imagine what you can do in three hundred pages.
First or Third Person: First person allows for an intimacy between the narrator (usually the protagonist) of the story and the reader that is unachievable
through third person. However, first person can be very limiting because all the information to the reader must be delivered through the
narrator/protagonist's experiences. The reader can never know what is going on in another character's life when that character is not with the protagonist.
It also means the protagonist must be constantly "on screen". Third person allows for broader experience in that the reader can have a greater sense of the
complete picture. It may even allow the reader to know what is going on in the lives and minds of several characters even within a single scene. The price a
writer pays for writing in third is lack of intimacy and potential confusion.
To Outline or Not To Outline: Fiction writing is an odd combination of comfort and discomfort. I, for one, never outline because it robs the spontaneity of
the writing experience. I feel once I've done an outline, I've already written the book and I have no desire to write it twice with no surprises. On the other
hand, many successful authors do rigorous outlining. They feel they cannot enjoy the writing process if they haven't gotten the heavy lifting of plot out of
the way. Just as with routine, experiment. Find out what works best for you and stick with it.
Rule of Three: A difficult issue for new writers to make sense of is how to handle critiques and criticism. On the one hand, you can't change a manuscript
to suit every individual bit of criticism you receive. On the other, as I mentioned earlier, you can't remain stubbornly wedded to your manuscript as if it was
biblical scripture. When seeking feedback or when you begin the search for an agent or publisher, follow the rule of three. If three people mention one
specific weakness in your manuscript -- The protagonist wasn't likeable. The plot was confusing. Your antagonist was one dimensional. -- you might want to
© 2011 Reed Farrel Coleman, author of Hurt Machine
Author BioReed Farrel Coleman, author of Hurt Machine, is the former executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America. He has published twelve
novels -- two under his pen name Tony Spinsosa -- in three series, and one stand-alone with award-winning Irish author Ken Bruen. His books have been
translated into seven languages.
Reed is a three-time winner of the Shamus Award for Best Detective Novel of the Year. He has also received the Macavity, Barry, and Anthony Awards, and
has been twice nominated for the Edgar® Award. He was the editor of the anthology Hard Boiled Brooklyn, and his short fiction and essays have appeared in
Wall Street Noir, The Darker Mask, These Guns For Hire, Brooklyn Noir 3, Damn Near Dead, and other publications.
Reed is an adjunct professor at Hofstra University, teaching writing classes in mystery fiction and the novel. He lives with his family on Long Island.
Five Editing Myths Waiting To Trip Up Your Campaign to Market Your Work
We’ve said it. We’ve heard it. We’ve thought it. But is weight loss, moderate weight loss that is, always a good thing? I wanted to turn that question upside
down, look beyond the obvious answer, and challenge some common assumptions. Thus, “The Book Group” was born. Or rather, the ending of “The Book
Group” was born. My job would be to write toward it.
My first task was to envision a setting. I imagined a group of women with a connection but not a close friendship, who met regularly but not daily, and who
shared interests but not secrets, in other words, a book group. (And yes, it is easier to write what you know). Perhaps the most important part of building
the setting was the selection and creation of the small details that would bring the reader into the scene. The limited word count of this particular contest
forced me to restrict those details to only those that I thought would anchor the reader as efficiently as possible…homemade brownies, a fistful of spoons, a
pile of coats on the couch. I thought that in the end this process of paring my writing down to its essentials did make for a stronger story.
The casual, chatty dialogue also became an integral part of the setting as well as a way to move the story forward. I did, however, struggle with the number
of characters in this piece. I thought that a book group with fewer than six members might have seemed unrealistic. Yet the flash fiction format didn’t allow
for any real character development beyond that of Lisa. Still, I was convinced that this particular story could best be told in a flash. My solution was to allow
each of the individual characters to remain sketchily drawn. In a sense, the entire book group (minus Lisa) became a single character whose purpose was to
form a believable backdrop against which Lisa’s experience, feelings, and secret could emerge.
I hoped that Lisa’s growing sense of discomfort with the conversation would provide the subtle clues and create the tension that would make the disturbing
end unexpected, yet emotionally true, and that the story would “continue beyond the page.” (Jayne Anne Phillips said that, but I wish I did)!
And then, I left the reader…to question, to think, and to feel.
A former college administrator, Francine Garson has published a short memoir on worklifegroup.com. Her fiction has received recognition from several
contests, including Writer Advice's Fifth Annual Flash Prose Contest. Read her story here.
Francine lives in New Jersey with an even-tempered husband and a moody cat. Her almost grown children occasionally return home for food and clean
by Gabrielle Hovendon,
First Place Winner of Writer Advice’s Flash Prose Contest
Writing "The Trip to Goodbye"
by Fauzia Burke
Universal Call: How to Create a Winning Anthology
by Eugenia West
Five Things to Avoid for a Pristine Query Letter
by Judy Ringer
How Do You Become a Writer?
A New Job Requirement for Authors
A Sudden, Brilliant Burst:
Making Flash Fiction Work
Who knew that one needed to be so thoroughly tech-savvy to be an author?
I’m not just talking about knowing how to create chapter headers in Word (I don’t but I fake it well enough) or being able to change your printer cartridge.
Nowadays, you have to know how to blog-vlog-flickr-twitter-facebook-wordpress-upload-youtube-blip.tv
in order to be an author, that is, if you have some hopes of being a successful commercial author. It helps if you have nice friends who know how to do all
this stuff (I have a Jeff, a Mary and an Anthony) but there are only so many times you can sweetly plead for their help and certainly a limit on the number the
exclamation points you can put after “Thank you!!!!!!” in your emails. (Six seems reasonable; seven is just desperate.)
I’ve logged several hours, possibly equaling days at this point, uploading my book-related videos to the various viral distribution sites, creating the first of
what is sure to be many photo albums on Flickr.com, adding a fan page on Facebook-and boy is my laptop tired! And I still have a “Book To Do” list two pages
Believe me, as a former cable TV marketer for Bravo and Oxygen, I am very grateful to be publishing my novel at a time when all of these free marketing tools
are available-especially since I don’t have the same (read: any) budgets to spend on paid marketing placements like I did when I was employed by someone
else. Short of walking around Manhattan with a LoveHampton sandwich board strapped over my shoulders, sitting in front of my laptop waiting patiently for my
uploads to be complete seems like a far lesser evil.
But I’m fairly certain that once I’ve mastered the twitter-blip and the blog-vlog, there will be yet another technology for me to beg a tech-savvy friend to
teach me how to do. (Note: In addition to multiple exclamation points, treating your advisors to a nice meal or an expensive bottle of champagne are good
ways to show them your appreciation.)
5 Tips for Promoting Your Book Online Without Spending One Penny of Your Tax Rebate (Or, At Least, Not All of It)
1. Think “Multimedia”: No matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction, you can bring your book to life through video and photos-you’d be surprised how
many different ways you can use such assets online. These days, more authors are making trailers, spoof music videos, how-to’s, mini-documentaries
(especially good for memoirs and history), or like I did, video book excerpts. Plus, if you produce these pieces early enough, your publisher could show them at
their sales conferences and/or the sales reps can use them when they meet with the big distributors and major chain accounts. Your publicist could even use
them to help pitch you for electronic press.
If you’ve got an HD video camera (which I bought especially for this purpose) and an Apple computer, iMovie and iPhoto makes all of this immeasurably easier
(or so I’m told; I’ve got a PC). Although, as is the case with writing, there is an art to this, so you might want to consider hiring someone with an expertise in
this area to help you, like I did (the Mary mentioned above).
Video Don’t: Do not sit in front of a stationary camera, read from your book for ten minutes and call it a “video book excerpt.” Use the bandwidth-and your
creativity-toward something that will not only help you sell books but enhance your readers’ experience.
2. Distribute your video content widely so it will do the promotion work for you-even while you sleep. Once you’ve created some killer videos, post
them on all the free video-sharing community sites (YouTube and Blip.TV), social-networking sites that allow for video posts (Facebook-see below, MySpace,
Twitter), as well as on your own web site (you’re getting one made, that’s a given) or blog, and your publisher’s site. Add relevant tags so the videos come up
in searches. YouTube and Blip.TV are especially useful because they a) make sharing your videos across the web easy for you as well as for your fans using
“embed codes” and b) offer free applications that can be used on third-party sites. Also, Google loves videos. The more places your name and your book’s
title appear across the web, the better for you and your book sales.
3. Become an active member on at least one social networking site: This is by far one of the most time-consuming plays but could have the biggest
payoff because you’ll be preaching to the choir, aka your friends and friends of friends. Since MySpace is kind of over unless you’re a musician, Facebook has
taken its place as the social networking addiction du jour and has become my preferred digital diversion. (Some of my friends like Twitter but I don’t get it;
business networking types prefer LinkedIn.) In addition to being able to create your own personal profile and start “friending” people you know, you can create
a Fan page for your book for free. Anyone can become a fan of your book page without you having to know or approve them. There’s a whole viral component
because all your activities are published via your News Feed, so be sure to play a lot on your Fan page (e.g. add your blog feed; post photos of all your
Facebook friends-and i.d. them). I could write an entire book on marketing through Facebook, but I’ve got a second novel to finish…so my last word on this is:
pick one social networking site and become active on it long before your book’s publication date. Nobody becomes a social networking star overnight unless
you’re, uh, already a star.
4. Make Amazon your new BFF: Amazon has added some cool tools for authors to enhance their book pages, much of which can be done ahead of your
publication date. Customize your book page through their Amazon Connect program (your publisher will need to verify you as the author). Create a profile
specific to your book (I suggest creating one separate from your existing personal account, otherwise all your purchases and other community activities will
be logged on your book page) and add your photo, favorite books, movies and anything available on Amazon, and even create a feed from your existing blog
to automatically update to your profile page. If you don’t have a blog, you can write discreet entries instead.
5. Flickr is Not a Dirty Word: Flickr is a community-driven photo-sharing site with a super easy interface (take their tour to see how it works). You can
create themed photo albums and allow public access to them as well as invite people to add their own albums under your given theme. There are countless
ways to tie photographs into your book regardless of whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. To get more mileage out of your efforts, cross-post your Flickr albums
on your own site or blog or use their applications to share your albums on Facebook.
Check out Sherri Rifkin’s tech-savviness at:
Sherri Rifkin, a former TV marketing executive, lives in New York City, where she writes for a variety of entertainment and media clients, including Bravo, USA
Network and the Style Network. Her first novel, LoveHampton, has just been published by St. Martin’s Griffin.
Nothing could be further from the truth. While the rules of grammar continually evolve, the rules of story do not. They’re fixed, because they stem
from the way our brain has evolved. They’re hardwired into the architecture of our very humanness.
And here’s something surprising: the rules of story are often the opposite of what writers think they are. Which is no doubt what prompted
Flannery O’Connor to note, “I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.”
After all, our brain responds to a story like a duck to water-we instinctively know a good story when we hear one. Why? Recent breakthroughs in
neuroscience reveal that our brain is wired to respond to story because story is necessary to our survival-it’s how we make sense of the world.
A story is a simulation. It allows us to envision the future, and so plan for it. Thus our brain gives us a reward for paying attention to stories: that
delicious dollop of dopamine that fuels our desire to know what happens next.
But when it comes to creating a story, we often believe that what matters most is the writing-luscious language, intriguing dialogue, vivid
descriptions, compelling characters. It’s not. Those things are great, but they’re gravy. What matters most is that they’re harnessed to a story
that meets the brain’s hardwired expectations.
So, what are the brain’s hardwired expectations when it comes to story?
Here are seven immutable rules:
1. All stories make a point, beginning on page one. A story is designed, from beginning to end, to answer a single overarching question, which
complicates as the story progresses. After all, a story is a simulation-it captures our attention because it allows us to vicariously experience what
it would be like to navigate a challenging situation.
We need to have an idea of what that situation is from the get-go. It’s like when your friend is rambling on about something that happened
yesterday, and you nod and smile politely while a little voice in your head screams, “Okay, okay, but what’s your point?” Same with a story. Think
of your story’s point as the context that allows the reader to gauge what things are adding up to.
2. Story is about how someone solves a problem, which is another way of saying story is about change. But here’s the fine print: change results
only from unavoidable conflict. Because no one - you, me, or the guy next door-changes unless we’re forced to. Think about it. We swear we’re
definitely going to start looking a new job-tomorrow. Which is code for about a week from never. Until one day we show up for work and the door
is padlocked, the factory closed, and guess what? It’s tomorrow!
In other words, a story’s job is to shove protagonists into the fray, where they find out what they’re really made of. It’s like that great JFK story.
When asked what made him a war hero, he replied, “I didn’t have a choice. They sank my boat.”
3. All story is emotion based. Neuroscience has proven that, as Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert says, “Feelings don’t just matter. They
are what mattering means.” In life, if we’re not feeling, we’re not conscious. In a story, if we’re not feeling, we’re not reading. The question is
What are we feeling? The answer is The reader feels what the protagonist feels.
The protagonist is our surrogate-our avatar-in the world in which the story unfolds. Can you see the fine print in this one? It means that the
protagonist had better be affected by everything that happens and react in a way the reader can see.
4. Story is not about the plot; it’s about how the plot affects the protagonist. This means that everything in a story gets its meaning and
emotional weight based on how it affects the protagonist in pursuit of his or her quest. You can have a dramatic event in a story, and we’re
talking birth, death, or the fall of the Roman Empire, but if it doesn’t affect the protagonist-if it doesn’t matter to her-then it doesn’t matter to
the reader, either. Drama for its own sake means nothing.
5. Story is about an internal journey, not an external one. In other words, a story isn’t about the external events that unfold, it’s about the
internal changes the protagonist must make, given those events, in order to achieve his or her goal. At the end of the day, what your reader is
aching to know is What would it cost someone emotionally to do that? What would it gain them?
6. Everything in a story must be there solely on a need-to-know basis. When your brain focuses on something, it filters out all unnecessary
information, the better to concentrate on the task at hand. And since about 11,000,000 pieces of information bombard your five senses every
second, your brain does a pretty good job of it. In a story, that’s your job as writer. Because as far as readers are concerned, there’s a story-
reason for everything you tell them, or you wouldn’t waste their time mentioning it.
The problem is that the brain is wired to read meaning into everything, so if you throw in something that might be beautifully written, but that
doesn’t have an effect story-wise, readers will try to read meaning into it anyway. And when that doesn’t work? The rush of dopamine that kept
them riveted dries up, and they decide to see what’s on TV.
7. In a story, everything that can go wrong, must go wrong-and then some. It helps to think of a story as that annoying schoolyard bully who
always taunted, “Oh yeah? Prove it!”
The purpose of a story is to allow your reader to learn from experience-namely, your protagonist’s. Which means that as writers, it helps to be a
little bit of a sadist. Because your protagonist has to earn her victory, nimbly snatching it from the jaws of defeat. And the only way she can do
that, is if you construct a plot that forces her to face things she’s probably spent her whole life trying to avoid.
This is what the reader comes for - to find out what it would really feel like to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, you know, just
And lest it sound as if I’m speaking metaphorically when I talk about the reader “feeling” what the protagonist feels, here’s something to think
about. Recent brain imaging studies show that when we’re lost in a good story, the same areas of our brain light up when we read about
something happening to the protagonist, as light up when we actually experience it ourselves.
Story is the world’s first virtual reality, and as neuroscience reveals, we have the hardwiring to prove it. Of course, it also helps immensely to get
the punctuation right.
Lisa Cron is the author of the new book Wired for Story, which is overflowing with practical information. Get it or find out more at