Category Archives: writing helps

What is an Epilogue?

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This article was written by Jerry Jenkins and sent to me today. I thought I would pass it on. Enjoy.

Full disclosure: I’m not a huge fan of Epilogues. That’s not to say they’re all bad.

In fact, I’ve ended several of my novels with Epilogues.

Done right, they can be a powerful way to leave your reader satisfied.

But beware! Approach your Epilogue wrong and you can ruin the end of your story.

So, let’s talk about what they are, whether you need one, and, if so, how to write one.

What Is an Epilogue?

As you might imagine, an Epilogue is the opposite of a Prologue, so it comes at the end of your novel as opposed to the beginning.

The word comes from the Greek epilogos, or “concluding word.”

It’s intended to provide closure and resolution, and it’s often set in the future to explainwhat becomes of your principal characters.

The questions are whether or why a novel needs an Epilogue. 

I agree with many editors who insist that a story with a strong ending shouldn’t need an Epilogue. 

Still, as I’ve said, not all Epilogues are bad. Done properly — and under the right circumstances — they complete your story and tie up loose ends.

So how do you determine whether your novel needs an Epilogue?

First, don’t mistake an Epilogue for an Afterword.

  • An Epilogue ties up loose ends from the story.
  • An Afterword focuses on how your novel came to be — largely to promote you and any of your other books. 

The most important aspect of a good Epilogueis its purpose.

It should either show the reader what happens to your main character after the story ends (for instance, jumping ahead a few years and showing your character with a spouse and a child) or it should pave the way for a sequel or even a series.

One thing an Epilogue should never do is reiterate your theme or remind your reader the moral of your story.

If you didn’t accomplish that in the story itself, an Epilogue will not fix it.

Most importantly, after reading your Epilogue, your reader should leave satisfied, never confused. 

What an Epilogue Should Never Do

  • Leave the reader wondering what it meant.
  • Compensate for a weak ending. 
  • Be long or complicated. 
  • Serve as a cliffhanger. You can hint at a sequel, but a cliffhanger will only frustrate your reader.

When To Use an Epilogue (and when not to)

As celebrated editor Allister Thompson puts it, “If there’s nothing else to say, don’t be tempted to say it!”

Effective Epilogues 

Look up these Epilogues online and compare them. 

1: Moby Dick by Herman Melville

This Epilogue shows how you can use one to release tension. Moby Dick closes at such a frenetic pace, the Epilogue serves to reassure the reader that Ishmael survives the shipwreck and is rescued.

2: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

This Epilogue is set 200 years after the story and focuses on a historian who reveals he found Offred’s story and transcribed the tapes.

3: Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

This Epilogue provides a glimpse of Harry and his friends 19-years in the future. 

4: Animal Farm by George Orwell

This Epilogue covers Manor Farm many years into the future. It tells the fates of the main characters.

How To Write an Epilogue in 3 Steps

What Is an Epilogue

Step 1: Set Your Epilogue in The Future

Provide space between the end of your novel and the Epilogue. 

How long depends on your story. It may be a few days or hundreds of years into the future. The key is what you want readers to know about what’s become of your characters.

Step 2: Set Up a Future Narrative

An Epilogue can set the scene for a sequel. Tell just enough to make clear that more is coming.

Step 3: Don’t Forget Your Hero

If you’ve written a great protagonist, your readers will want to know what happens to him next.

Epilogue FAQs

1: How do I start an Epilogue?

The best place to start is the future:

  • What’s become of your main character?
  • Answer any other questions your reader might have

2: How long is an Epilogue?

As long as it needs to be, but the shorter the better.

Get to the point and wrap it up.

So Should You Write an Epilogue?

Most books DO NOT need an Epilogue.

Write a strong ending and you shouldn’t need one. But as I’ve said, at times an Epilogue can work. It’s your call, and that’s part of what makes you an author.

18 Common Word To Leave Out of Your Writing

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18 Common Word To Leave Out of Your Writing

It’s a familiar scene: you’re slumped over your keyboard or notebook, obsessing over your character. While we tend to agonize over everything from structure to backstory, it’s important to weigh how you write something too. A perfectly constructed world is flat on the page if you use feeble, common words. When you’re finished constructing your perfectly balanced world, do your writing a favor and take another pass to weed out these 18 haggard words.

Good

High on any list of most used English words is “good.” While this word may appear to be the perfect adjective for nearly anything, that is precisely what makes it so vague. Try getting more specific. If something’s going well, try “superb,” “outstanding” or “exceptional.”

New

Another of the common words in English is “new.” “New” is an adjective that doesn’t always set off alarm bells, so it can be easy to forget about. Give your writing more punch by ditching “new” and using something like “latest” or “recent” instead.

Long

Much like “new,” “long” is spent, yet it doesn’t always register as such while you’re writing. Instead of this cliché phrase, try describing exactly how long it is: “extended,” “lingering” or “endless,” for example.

Old

“Old” is certainly one of those common words that means more to readers if you’re specific about how old a subject is. Is it “ancient,” “fossilized,” “decaying” or “decrepit”?

Right

“Right” is also among the common words that tends to slip through our writer filters. If somebody is correct, you could also say “exact” or “precise.” Don’t let habit words like “right” dampen your writing.

Different

Here’s another adjective that falls a bit flat for readers, but can also easily be improved by getting more specific. Saying something is “odd” or “uncommon” is very different than saying it is “exotic” or “striking.”

Small

“Small” is another adjective that is too generic for writing as good as yours. Use “microscopic,” “miniature” or “tiny” instead. Even using “cramped” or “compact” is more descriptive for your audience.

Large

Just like relying too much on “small,” we tend to describe large things as, well, “large.” Specificity is a big help with this one too: could your subject be “substantial,” “immense,” “enormous” or “massive”?

Next

Whenever we describe something coming “next,” we run the risk of losing our readers. Good options to make your reading more powerful include “upcoming,” “following” or “closer.”

Young

Another case of being too generic is what makes “young” a problematic adjective. If you want your writing to be more captivating, try switching “young” out for “youthful,” “naive” or “budding.”

Never

“Never” is also among common words to use sparingly. Not only is it a common, stale descriptor, it’s also usually incorrect. For something to never happen, even one instance makes this word inaccurate. Try “rarely,” “scarcely” or “occasionally” instead.

Things

“Things” is another repeat offender when it comes to worn out words. Another word where specificity is the key, try replacing “things” with “belongings,” “property” or “tools.”

All

Just like “never,” “all” is an encompassing, absolute term. Not only is “all” unoriginal, it’s not usually factual. Try using “each” and “copious” instead.

Feel

“Feel” is also in the company of common English words. Try using “sense,” or “discern” instead. You can also move your sentence into a more active tense: “I feel hungry” could become “I’m famished,” for example.

Seem

“Seem” is bad habit word we are all guilty of using. Regardless of how well you think your sentence is constructed, try switching “seem” out for “shows signs of.” “Comes across as” is another good option to give your writing more power.

Almost

Another easy adjective to let slip by, “almost” is a wasted opportunity to engage your readers. “Almost” is more interesting if you say “practically,” “nearly” or “verging on” instead.

Just

“Just making” it or “just barely” affording something isn’t very descriptive. To truly grab a reader, we must do better. Try “narrowly,” “simply” or “hardly” to give your phrasing more weight.

Went

Last but not least, avoid using the common word “went” to describe your subject. “Went” is a word that lacks traction. Try using “chose,” “decided on” or “rambled” to truly grab your readers.

7 Story Structures

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I took a writing class under Dean Koontz and this writing was for the class. I may have shared it sometime ago but it’s always worth rereading. Have a blessed day. Shirley

1. Dean Koontz’s Classic Story Structure

This is the structure that changed the path of my career as a writer.

It catapulted me from a mid-list genre novelist to a 21-Time New York Times bestselling author.

I’m a Pantser, not an Outliner, but even I need some basic structure to know where I’m going, I love that Koontz’s structure is so simple. It consists only of these four steps:

1. Plunge your main character into terrible trouble as soon as possible. Naturally that trouble depends on your genre, but in short, it’s the worst possible dilemma you can think of for your main character. For a thriller, it might be a life or death situation. In a romance novel, it could mean a young woman must decide between two equally qualified suitors—and then her choice is revealed a disaster.

And again, this trouble must bear stakes dire high enough to carry the entire novel.

One caveat: whatever the dilemma, it will mean little to readers if they don’t first find reasons to care about your character.

2. Everything your character does to get out of the terrible trouble makes things only worse.  Avoid the temptation to make life easy for your protagonist. Every complication must proceed logically from the one before it, and things must grow progressively worse until….

3. The situation appears hopeless. Novelist Angela Hunt refers to this as The Bleakest Moment. Even you should wonder how you’re ever going to write your character out of this.

Your predicament is so hopeless that your lead must use every new muscle and technique gained from facing a book full of obstacles to become heroic and prove that things only appeared beyond repair.

4. Finally, your hero succeeds (or fails*) against all odds. Reward readers with the payoff they expected by keeping your hero on stage, taking action.

*Occasionally sad endings resonate with readers.

2. In Medias Res

This is Latin for “in the midst of things,” in other words, start with something happening. It doesn’t have to be slam-bang action, unless that fits your genre. The important thing is that the reader gets the sense he’s in the middle of something.

That means not wasting two or three pages on backstory or setting or description. These can all be layered in as the story progresses. Beginning a novel In Medias Res means cutting the fluff and jumping straight into the story.

Toni Morrison’s 1997 novel Paradise begins “They shoot the white girl first.”—the epitome of starting in medias res.

What makes In Medias Res work?

It’s all in the hook.

In Medias Res should invest your reader in your story from the get-go, virtually forcing him to keep reading.

The rest of the In Media Res structure consists of:

Rising Action

Explanation (backstory)

Climax

Falling Action

Resolution

3. The Hero’s Journey

Made famous by educator and widely published author Joseph Campbell, it’s often used to structure fantasy, science fiction, and horror novels.

J.R.R. Tolkien used The Hero’s Journey structure for The Hobbit.

Step 1: Bilbo Baggins leaves his ordinary world

Baggins is happy with his life in the Shire and initially refuses a call to adventure, preferring to stay home.

The wizard Gandalf (soon to be his mentor) pushes him to accept the call.

Baggins leaves the comfort of his Hobbit life and embarks on a perilous quest across Middle Earth, getting into all kinds of trouble along the way.

Step 2: Baggins experiences various trials and challenges

Bilbo builds a team, pairing with dwarves and elves to defeat enemies like dragons and orcs.

Along the way he faces a series of tests that push his courage and abilities beyond what he thought possible.

Eventually, against all odds, Bilbo reaches the inmost cave, the lair of the fearsome dragon, Smaug where the ultimate goal of his quest is located. Bilbo needs to steal the dwarves’ treasure back from Smaug.

Bilbo soon finds he needs to push past his greatest fear to survive.

Step 3: Bilbo tries to returns to his life in The Shire

Smaug may have been defeated, but the dwarves face another battle against others and an orc army.

Near the end of the novel, Bilbo is hit on the head during the final battle and presumed dead.

But he lives and gets to return to the Shire, no longer the same Hobbit who hated adventure.

4. The 7-Point Story Structure

Advocates of this approach advise starting with your resolution and working backwards.

This ensures a dramatic character arc for your hero.

J.K. Rowling used the 7-Point Structure for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

The Seven Points

Hook: your protagonist’s starting point

In Philosopher’s Stone, this is when we meet Harry living under the stairs.

Plot turn 1: introduces the conflict that moves the story to its midpoint.

Harry finds out he is a wizard.

Pinch point 1: applies pressure to your protagonist in the process of achieving his goal, usually facing an antagonist.

When the troll’s attacks, Harry and his friends realize they are the only ones who can save the day.

Midpoint: your character responds to conflict with action.

Harry and his friends learn of the Philosopher’s Stone and determine to find it before Voldemort does.

Pinch point 2: More pressure makes it harder for your character to achieve his goal.

Harry has to face the villain alone after losing Ron and Hermione during their quest to find the stone.

Plot turn 2: Moves the story from the midpoint to the resolution. Your protagonist has everything he needs to achieve the goal.

When the mirror reveals Harry Potter’s intentions are pure, he is given the Philosopher’s Stone.

Resolution: The climax. Everything in your story leads to this moment, a direct contrast to how your character began his journey.

Harry defeats Voldemort.

5. Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method

If you like outlining your story, you’ll love The Snowflake Method.

But if you’re a Panster like me (someone who prefers to write by process of discovery), a story structure like Dean Koontz’s Classic Story Structure or In Medias Res might feel more natural.

The 10-step Snowflake Method

Start with one central idea and systematically add more ideas to create your plot.

Write a one-sentence summary of your novel (1 hour)

Expand this into a full paragraph summary, detailing major events (1 hour)

Write a one-page summary for each character (1 hour each)

Expand each sentence in #2 into a paragraph summary (several hours)

Write a one-page account of the story from the perspective of each major character (1-2 days)

Expand each paragraph you wrote for #4 into a full-page synopsis (1 week)

Expand your character descriptions into full character charts (1 week)

Using the summary from #6, list every scene you’ll need to finish the novel

Write a multi-paragraph description for each scene

Write your first draft

6. The Three-Act Structure

This formula was used by ancient Greeks, and it’s one of Hollywood’s favorite ways to tell a story.

It’s about as simple as you can get.

Act I: The Set-Up

Introduce your main characters and establish the setting.

Brandon Sanderson, a popular fantasy writer, calls this the “inciting incident”—  a problem that yanks the protagonist out of his comfort zone and establishes the direction of the story.

Act II: The Confrontation

Create a problem that appears small on the surface but becomes more complex. The more your protagonist tries to get what he wants, the more impossible it seems to solve the problem.

Act III: The Resolution

A good ending has:

High stakes: your reader must feel that one more mistake will result in disaster for the protagonist.

Challenges and growth: By the end, the protagonist needs to have grown as a person by overcoming myriad obstacles.

A solution: All the trials and lessons your character has endured help him solve the problem.

Suzanne Collins’s bestselling young adult trilogy, The Hunger Games, uses the three-act structure.

7. James Scott Bell’s A Disturbance and Two Doorways

In his popular book Plot and Structure, Bell introduces this concept.

A Disturbance early in the story upsets the status quo—anything that threatens the protagonist’s ordinary life.

Doorway 1 propels your character to the middle of the story. Once he goes through this door, there’s no turning back.

Doorway 2 leads to the final battle. It’s another door of no return but usually leads to disaster.

The Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way uses this story structure.

Upon hearing that their adoptive father has passed away (the disturbance), six siblings return to their childhood home.

Here they learn the world will end in a few days (Doorway 1). While the siblings try everything in their power to stop the potential global apocalypse, they unwittingly create another threat amongst themselves.

This leads to a final battle (Doorway 2).

Do You Enjoy Revision?

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It’s now the new year and this is the first blog I’ve written. Shame on me, but I am full of very good excuses. Happy New Year, my friends. I have just the cliche also, “Better Late than Never,” The nice thing is my well wishes comes straight from the heart.

Now on to the main point of this blog. You were asked if you enjoyed the revision of the books that you wrote or are writing. I can’t say I enjoy it much. I would never make a good editor in my mind. When I’m writing I depend heavily on my writing group at FanStory.com. I can read over a page and I do not see any of the mistakes they find for me. My mind put it down on the paper and it doesn’t let me see everything it should.

There is a article in this months The Writer magazine on Revision. The author, Bernard Malamud believes “Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing”. He also pointed out specific steps to take to help you get through the revision process. Here are his tips, but if you get the chance do read the entire article. It gives you lots of information.

  1. Wait until the first draft is complete before you edit. If you try to edit as you go it could cause problems with your imagination, momentum or maybe your creativity. This is controversial as other writers feel you aren’t writing if you don’t edit as you go. I split it I guess. I revise my chapters as I finish them. It seems to me there are always changes that can be made at anytime. You have to be careful not to get in a long long editing cycle. For some it is hard to be satisfied with their work.
  2. Revise all at once or element by element. That is a decision the writer must make. The way I revise I tend to do element by element. I have to admit that sometimes it can feel as if the job is to big to handle. At those times I get me a cup of tea and sit back from the computer. I have to admit I talk to myself in my head, (Isn’t it called thinking?) about anything other than my book. I might even get up and play with my dogs for a few minutes. Anything to get my mind away from the book.
  3. Revise the whole novel, or section by section. I know this sounds a lot like #2 but in this one he is considering sections as chapter by chapter or dividing the novel into sections. If you edit by this method you have a big opportunity to make a mistake in my view. What if you change an outcome in Chapter 2 that affects the character throughout the book. If the changes aren’t make in every section then confusion can rule.
  4. Fine-tuning versus revising. “Revision is generally distinguished from fine tuning with revision dealing with fiction elements such as character, plot and structure, and even style, and fine tuning dealing with rather minor mechanical issues.
  5. Each of us have our little rules to follow that sometimes can cause problems. When I went to school over 50 years ago we were taught very specific rules on how to write, sentence structure, correct word placement, and on and on. That can lead to rounds and rounds of revision. This is where you need that writing group or a brutally honest friend who can read your work and tell you what you need to do to make it better.

I think Bernard wrapped it up very nicely. “Put simply you write with your heart, and you edit with your head.” Happy editing. Shirley

7 Tips To Make You Write Better & Faster

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Improvement

Hello, I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving or day if you don’t celebrate the holiday. Now we are officially working on the Christmas season. It will be here before we know it.

Below is an article was written by Alicia Prince. It’s always a timely article to help improve our writing. I hope you find within it, the information you can use.


No matter how hard you try, it can sometimes be a battle to finish a piece of writing. Whether you’re writing a paper, article, novel or email, it can be a struggle to express your ideas quickly and clearly. Just like anything else, however, a little practice goes a long way towards fast, quality writing. With seven simple techniques, you can greatly minimize the time you waste not writing, and increase the speed you do write. Plus, the more you do them, the easier these great writing habits get.

You Could Write Your Introduction Last

“My advice is to finish the book, then scrap the first chapter altogether and write it again without looking at the original.” — Dr. Kim Wilkins

One way to write quicker is to write your introduction or first paragraph after writing everything else. If you have the majority of your writing planned out, it’s often faster to jump right in with what you’re planning on saying. This way, you won’t need to agonize over your content fitting the tone of the introduction. And writing the introduction last means you know what you need to summarize, as it’s already on the page. Finally, writing your introduction last lets you avoid staring at a blank page, wondering where to begin. Once you have things down, it can be much easier to put together an intro, saving you time.

You Could Be Flexible On Wording

Another way to waste time when you’re trying to write is to agonize over every word. Like staring at a blank page, searching endless thesaurus definitions will knock you off track and interrupt your flow. Especially on the first draft, don’t worry if your wording isn’t right. Go through your document after finishing your draft, looking specifically for words you could improve. Better yet, highlight or change the text color of words you know you want to come back to. This way, you can keep your train of thought moving without your work suffering.

You Could Do All Your Research First

Nothing is a bigger distraction than needing to do research in your writing. Research can be time-consuming, plus it will likely make you forget the point you are trying to make. Do as much research as you can before you write. This lets you focus all your energy on writing, without interrupting your thoughts.

You Could Outlaw Distractions

“It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” — Jonathan Franzen

Especially when you’re writing on a computer or device, it’s easy to get distracted. To save time, treat every trip away from your writing document as dangerous. The best way to avoid getting distracted is to leave your document little. Try keeping all your research and sources in the top portion of a document, then do your writing in the bottom portion of the document. Keep it organized with a slash or image between the two halves. This way, you won’t risk getting caught in surfing the web or answering emails every time you need to check your information.

You Could Relax On Your First Draft

“The first draft of everything is sh**.” ― Ernest Hemingway

Similar to rewording sentences as you write, nitpicking too much the first time around will slow you down. Most experts agree that your first draft will always need work. This means that no matter how long you take to make everything perfect, you will still need revisions. It’s much faster to keep your momentum going than it is to get back on track several times a paragraph. Save yourself time as you write by powering through your first draft, then doing all your revisions at once.

You Could Set A Writing Timer

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” ― Jack London

Another way to increase how fast you write is to set a time, then force yourself to keep writing until it goes off. Not only will this force you away from distractions, if you’re struggling to come up with material, but free flow writing can also help you come up with ideas. Setting a timer and writing free form is also useful as a warm-up exercise to get you in the zone.

You Could Easily Outthink Cliches

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov

When your struggling to find writing that grabs a reader, a quick way to burst through cliches is to be specific. Overgeneralizing descriptions can be too vague to garnish attention. For example, rather than having a character exclaim they’re freezing, have them say that the threads of their mittens are freezing to their fingers. By taking vague descriptions or phrases and being highly specific, you can quickly revise your writing, while improving your writing’s impact.

 

4 Tips for Creating A Fantasy Series Character

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HarryPotterHello everyone, I thought today I would share an article on creating fantasy characters. I love reading and writing fantasy. It literally will let my mind go to this creation of fantastic times, people, and creatures.

I’ve written one fantasy book, Princess Adele’s Dragon, which is a medieval adventure story, but I couldn’t count how many books I’ve read in the fantasy category. I love to read those three to five book series that continue to lead you down those wild and wonderful paths. I have to admit I have read all of Harry Potter and the Outlander series which are far more than three to five books.

You have thought of a subject for a new fantasy book. The first thing you have to do is ask yourself if your protagonist is better suited to a series or a stand-alone novel. In Princess Adele’s Dragon, I have two protagonists, Princess Adele, and Prince Anthony. This book could very easily be made into a series because of the storyline I used. The main conflict is resolved but other conflicts have been brought up that can be carried forward.

Secondly, figure out what kind of story arc you want for your series.  Do you want to focus on one problem or mystery per book, along with overarching character development? which means that the characters have more to tell. When you are writing book one you really don’t know how many books will be in the series.

Third, Carry character traits and quirks consistently from book to book. This is true of both your protagonist as well as the support characters in the story. If you can keep all your character details in your head, that is wonderful, but if you can’t make a cheat sheet.  Your readers will catch the mistakes you make.

Fourthly, write characters and books that you enjoy.  Just as readers love characters they can get to know and see, again and again, so do authors. My favorite books have characters that I can either identify with or would like to have a drink with.  All accept Hairy Potter, of course, he is too young.  I just want him to teach me magic. Write about what you like to read.

If you would like a free ebook of Princess Adele’s Dragon, just let me know along with your email and I will send you a gift code from Amazon.  http://amzn.to/25lUOYM

I hope you have a great week ahead. Blessings to all.   Shirley

Princess Adeles Dragon2

Character Change Vs. Character Growth

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Hello everyone, I do hope you are having a great day.  To catch you up on my activities since my last blog write. I’ve sent Thomas Gomel Learns About Bullying to the publisher for approval.  I also did an upgrade on Princess Adele’s Dragon and had it republished in ebook form. I’ve kept myself busy writing and entering contests on Fanstory. After the article below I will be posting a short story called The Lake. I do hope you enjoy this week’s blog.  Until next time have a blessed week.    Shirley

PS. By the way, you can possibly win a copy of Princess Adele’s Dragon by following the link, especially if you like medieval dragons, kings, queens, and knights.

Link: https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/065f308c42ab7cba

 

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Main characters don’t have to change to grow.  They can grow in their resolve.

It is a common misconception among authors that the main character in a story must change in order to grow.  Certainly, that is one kind of story,  as in A Christmas Carol where Scrooge alters his way of looking at the world and his role in it.  But other stories are about characters overcoming pressures put upon them to change their viewpoint and holding on to their beliefs, such as in Field of Dreams where main character Ray Kinsella builds a baseball stadium in his cornfield believing the old time players (and eventually even his father) will come to play.  In the end, he is not dissuaded from what appears to be a quixotic plan of a misguided mind, and his steadfastness results in the achievement of his dreams.

It is essential in any novel or movie for the readers/audience to understand whether or not the main character ultimately changes to adopt a new point of view or holds on to his beliefs.  Only then can the story provide a message that a particular point of view is (in the author’s opinion) the right or wrong way of thinking to achieve success and personal fulfillment.

But not all stories have happy endings.  Sometimes, the main character changes when he should have stuck with his guns in regard to his beliefs and becomes corrupted or diminished or fails to achieve his goals  A good example of this is in the movie The Mist(based on a Stephen King novel) in which the main character finally decides to give up on trying to find safety from monsters and shoots his son and surrogate family to save them from a horrible death only to have rescuers show up a moment later.

Other times, holding onto a belief system leads to tragic endings as well, as in Moby Dickin which the main character, Captain Ahab (Ishmael is the narrator), holds onto his quest for revenge until it leads to the death of himself and the destruction of his ship and the death of all his crew, save Ismael who lived to tell the tale.

Though writing is an organic endeavor, when you make specific decisions such as whether your main character will change or remain steadfast and what outcome that will bring about, you strengthen your message and provide a clear purpose to your storytelling that results in a strong spine in your novel or screenplay.

Melanie Anne Phillips


 

 

The Lake

lake2The last time I saw Charlie, he laughed as we drove into Crystal Springs Lake. I knew we would have hell to pay for sneaking out, but I never imagined how this fun evening would end.

Charlie and I were friends from the first grade. We were neighbors, and as adventurous boys, we spent every second together we could manage. We were as different as two people could be. I’m quiet and shy, and Charlie was the fellow that drew people to him like June bugs to a light. Maybe it was his good looks with his coal black hair and that cleft in his chin. He was muscular, athletic and all the girls flirted with him every chance they got. He didn’t care. The only thing he wanted besides our friendship was the full football scholarship at Harvard.

We had a good time throughout school. As this was our last year at Grady High School there was a lot of pressure on Charlie to perform. He actually did it to himself, but if I tried to talk to him, he wouldn’t listen. “Charlie, you have to lighten up a bit. You can’t go on at the pace you’re going. It’s been weeks since we’ve done anything together. You study and practice football. Take time to relax. Quit worrying about that entrance exam. You have it aced.”

“Sure, I do, but it doesn’t feel like it. I feel like everything inside of me is about to explode. I have to keep pushing myself to keep the pressure down, but I’m ready for something different. I’ll listen to you just because you’re my best friend and I love you like a brother. What do you want to do?” Charlie asked.

I had to think of something we would enjoy together and take the pressure off of him. “I’ve got an idea. Let’s go to the lake after dark and go skinny dipping. We haven’t done that in a long time.”

“Are you crazy?” Charlie asked. “We haven’t been skinny dipping since we were twelve years old.”

“Yeah, I know, and it’ll be fun. Just like old times.  What do you say?”

We were both laughing, and Charlie said “Let’s do it. I want to be twelve again and forget all about school and football. I’ll be at your house at 7:00 and you can drive.”

“Sounds good to me. I don’t mind driving at all, and I’ll even bring us snacks and cold drinks. See you then.”

I left his room and went back to my house. I got everything ready and packed it in my car. Since my mom and dad weren’t home, I left them a note so they wouldn’t worry about me. Charlie was at my door promptly at 7:00.

It was a great drive out to the lake. We had the windows down and the radio up. We were laughing, singing and shouting at the top of our lungs as we drove to our spot. We were trying our best to be twelve-year-olds again.

It was dark when we arrived, but we didn’t care. We unloaded the car and set up our blanket right at the edge of the lake. It wasn’t the first time we had swum in the dark. I brought two flashlights, but we didn’t turn them on. We were happy. We liked this spot because we could dive into the lake. It was easy in and out of the water. We got rid of our clothes quickly and then laughed at each other as we stood there as naked as the day we were born.

Charlie slapped me on the back. “Are you ready? I am.” He backed up three steps and ran and dove into the lake. I jumped in feet first, as always. The water was cold and sent a shiver over my body. I didn’t hear Charlie laughing, so I looked around.  I didn’t see him. The lake was smooth as glass. I called his name. He never answered, so I climbed out of the lake slipped on my pants and got the lights. My hands shook so hard I had trouble turning on the lights. I shined the beams over the water, and I still couldn’t see him. I knew something was wrong.  I got my cell phone and called 911. I had a terrible time as I tried to get the words out to report Charlie missing.

I tried to sit but couldn’t stay still. I walked back towards the main road thinking I would meet the authorities. That was silly, it wouldn’t make them arrive any faster. I turned back towards the lake moving the beam of one of the flashlights around. What was that? I brought the light back to what looked like a sign. When the beam of light hit it, I got sick to my stomach. The sign read: No swimming until further notice. Alligator sighting today.

Five Rules to Write By

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writing instructionHello everyone, I do hope all have had a great writing experience since my last blog. Today I am going to give you advice by Monte Schultz who taught at the Santa Barbara Writing Conference a few years ago. So here goes:

1. Use the English Language?  Earnest Hemmingway’s relative minimalism is not the last word on style. Some writers may preach that less is more, but that’s simply personal preference.  Elmore Leonard is not a better writer or stylist than James Lee Burke, nor is Hemingway better than Faulkner.  There just different.

2.  If you’re writing literary fiction, make something happen.  Interior conflict only goes so far in carrying a story forward.  On the other hand, genre writers ought to avoid characters that behave like robots.  Plot-driven fiction does not preclude interior reflection or character development.

3. Avoid characters who converse in a white space with nothing but their voices on the page.  Setting matters.  Don’t go overboard, but let your reader see where your characters are interacting.

4. Find first readers who care about your work and understand what you’re trying to accomplish.  Fewer readers are better than many.  If possible, have people read for different reasons.  For instance, I’ve always tried to find readers specifically interested in story, style, grammar or pacing.  Workshops can be helpful if you trust the readers, but beware of “art by committee.” The blizzard of comments and suggestions can be confusing and counterproductive, so trust in your own opinion best of all.

5.  make writing your life, not just a passing fancy.  Don’t imagine that publishing a novel will make you rich and famous.  Maybe it will, but probably it won’t. Don’t see writing as a career change.  Don’t give yourself six months, a year or two years to make it as a writer.  Think instead that once you put words on a page, you are a writer, and this is something that will fascinate, frustrate and fulfill you for the rest of your life.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

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Different Strokes for Different Folks

Hello, everyone. I hope all of you experienced a great week. Today I’m giving you a blog that discusses how you can broaden your story and your readership from an article by Bharti Kirchner. This was originally published in the Writer magazine.

Why venture into unaccustomed territory when it comes to characters? In a globalized world, re regularly meet people.e very different from us in race, class, ethnicity, religion, politics or ideology.  Modern novels and memoirs, as mirrors of a society, increasingly depict this heterogeneity.

In addition to expanding our readership, a diverse character, whether the protagonist or a secondary character brings a broader voice to a story. In the case of the novel Tulip Season, protagonist Mitra meets a mysterious German man, and the contrast between the two adds an element of tension.  With dissimilar actions, attitudes and world views, backgrounds and upbringings, their interactions spark a great exploration of Mitra’s world.

Creating Authenticity: How do you get started writing about a person foreign to you? By immersing yourself in that particular culture of community through direct contact and by building relationships.  Armchair travel can also help, as can books, videos, movies, art, and the Web. Remember, in the end, it’s your story and it’s fiction.  You’re facing challenges no matter what.  “If you’re going to write fiction, you’re going to write about people who aren’t you,” says David Guterson, author of 10 books, including Snow Falling on Cedars.  “You should feel some healthy trepidation about that.”

Respect, openness, and empathy are keys to depicting an unfamiliar culture or perspective.  Here are additional tips and techniques.

First Impressions: What a reader first notices is how the character looks, dresses, sounds and behaves.  Bring the character alive with physical descriptions, but not too much and not all at once.  Allow readers to use their imagination to fill in the blanks.  Pay special attention to the rhythm of the spoken language.  A foreign born person might speak with an accent and fall back on native words as necessary.

A Character from Inside Out: You’re writing about individuals, and the methods you usually employ to develop a character of any kind still applies. Remember that all cultures have hopes, fears, and dreams, and it’s your job to portray that.

Does a diverse character have to be sympathetic?  Peter Mountford, the author of two novels, including A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, says no.  “Actually, I’m not sure he is very sympathetic because of the choices he makes,” Mountford says of Gabriel do Boys, the 26-year-old, biracial protagonist in his novel.  “He builds a lucrative career instead of abandoning it for love.  I feel for him, definitely, but a lot of readers struggle with him, and I suppose that is the key to writing “the other,” for me.”

Beliefs and Conflicts: Every culture or community holds common beliefs about marriage, family, money, status and friendship.  A character is likely to suffer moth internal and external conflicts when going against these beliefs and sometimes even when conforming to them.

Showing Universality: By wrestling with choices and obstacles, a diverse character, like any other, grows and changes.  In the process, he or she displays common human characteristics as fear, anger, joy and love.  Although I’m different, I’d feel much the same in the same situation, the reader realizes, and perhaps gets more involved in the book.

You can make a character accessible in other ways.  Show how he or she relates to friends.  Let him or her grapple with everyday issues like traffic.  An element of humor can also help.  We gravitate toward people who lighten our days with a joke or a funny situation.  It is in those moments that we let go of our differences and embrace our common humanity.

 

I hope this article helps to make your writing this week easier. The more knowledge we have the better writers we are.  Blessings to all.

Eight Steps to Become Noticed

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Hello everyone, I have been away from my blog for what seems like forever and I have missed it and my online friends.  Today I want to share with you an article I read by Pete Croatto, on how to get noticed by the editors. If you want an editor it will take some work to get noticed.

  1.  Take Initiative:  In an ideal world, our talent would be a siren song for editors far and wide.  In a world of tight budgets and staff meetings, editors need story ideas and good ones.  That means writing a pitch letter that shows you know the publication and what it wants. “What gets me to notice someone is I can notice immediately if they have a familiarity with the magazine,” says Mark Rotella, senior editor at Publishers Weekly.  “They might have mentioned an article they had read or a review that they read.  Usually, people are pretty specific about what section of the magazine they want to write for.  Basically, if they’re pitching me about the magazine, I want to see that they’ve read it.”
  2. Make the job Easier:  Sara Benincasa, author of Real Artists Have Day Jobs ( And Other Awesome Things They Don’t Teach You in School), says it’s key to do as much work for the editor as possible without overstepping.  “Don’t expect that your editor has a comprehensive knowledge of the television show or trend or book or political issue that you would like to discuss in your writing,” she says.  “Provide links, easy explanations.  Provide assistance without the legwork to show your editor that your pitch is for a story that will bring in views, and readers attention in a positive way.”
  3.  Follow Up:  This isn’t tennis.  The ball keeps moving only if you keep hitting it.  If you haven’t heard back after a week or two, politely inquire so you can either start writing or send your idea elsewhere.  Rotella, who has written for the New York Times and American Heritage, says the delay worked or the pitch came at the wrong time.
  4. Try, Try Again: An editor’s disinterest or silence should not be taken as an affront.  That even applies to repeat clients. “I follow up and pitch more stuff without being annoying and contacting the editor too much,” Benincasa says.  “If they liked my work the first time, they will respond.  If they did not like my work they will not respond.  I do a pitch, I follow up once and if I don’t hear anything, I move on.”  In other words, our confidence in your idea should drive you.
  5. Look Beyond Big Names:  Chances are you’re not going to make it into The New Yorker and not every profile will land in GQ. (But don’t be afraid to try.) Get published, get paid and use the clips as a down payment for more desirable venues.  Write Always.  That’s the only way you get better and pay your bills.
  6. Proofread A Lot:  Once you get an assignment, it’s easy to get noticed for the wrong reasons.  Rotella has an aversion to writers who can’t meet deadlines or follow directions, but says, “Nothing is worse, for me than if I have to spend too much time editing because of sloppiness.  That is a real discouragement.” Be professional. Proofread, fact-check and make yourself available to address any concerns your editor has.
  7. Play Nice with Others:  Veteran freelance journalist Jen A. Miller got a big assignment from a new publication when a fact-checker there remembered Miller’s work at another publication.  “Sometimes that can be an incredibly tedious process,” she says. “You’re already done with a story, you don’t want to deal with it anymore, you don’t want to deal with the fact-checker, but you don’t know where that fact-checker is going to end up.”
  8. Finally, Be Easy to Find:  That comes courtesy Miller, author of Running: A Love Story and a regular contributor to The New York times and Runner’s World.  She believes every writer must have a website. “It sets you up as a professional,” she says.

I do hope this article was helpful and it gave you some incite on what you need to do to snag that elusive editor.  Have a blessed week.