Writers, Do You Blog? Here’s the Ninja Way to Do It!


Alex J. Cavanaugh has been amazing blog-friend since April this year, when I met him as one of the hosts of the A To Z Challenge. Since then, I’ve admired his blog, and have stood in awe of his Ninja army–his loyal and ever-expanding band of followers (I’m one of them!), and his warm, friendly presence on the internet. So, today’s guest post is from him, telling us all writer-bloggers how he works his magic!

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Thank you for inviting me to do a guest spot here, Damyanti!

I’m not sure I’m the most qualified to offer tips to writers who blog. Anne R. Allen recently did a series for writers that’s even more in depth. I guess Damyanti figured that after two years and a thousand followers, I’ve learned something along the way. (Fooled you!) With her vote of confidence, here are some tips from blogging Ninja Captain Alex:

CassaStar by Alex J Cavanaugh

CassaStar by Alex J Cavanaugh

Find your angle and blogging groove. Not all writers need to give writing advice, so find what fits with your personality. What are your passions? (Can you blog about them without making readers blush?) If you write about the things that excite you, it will come through to your readers. Select your topic(s) and style and go for it.

Establish a blogging schedule. Set a pattern that you and your readers can follow.

Short posts work best, especially for those who post more than once a week. People are busy – if the post is long, many will simple skip or skim. Basically your post should resemble a pamphlet on famous Bulgarian NFL stars.

CassaFire cover

CassaFire cover

Controversy gets attention, but… you don’t want to scare off potential readers and fans. Or potential publishers. Unless your book is really controversial, go easy here. Or go whacky! Nothing like a good dumpster fire.

Don’t talk about your books all the time. You’re here to make friends, network, and learn, not advertise. That doesn’t mean you can’t promote your work when it’s released. Just don’t beat everyone over the head!

Follow and comment on other blogs. If you don’t follow and comment on other blogs, don’t expect anyone to follow or comment on yours. Find blogs and people who share some of your interests. (Such as famous Bulgarian NFL stars.)

Don’t just follow writers or those of your genre, though. Follow a variety.

Participate in blogfests. They are a great way to get to know other bloggers and direct new people to your blog.

Be generous. Celebrate the success of others. Support others and never give expecting to receive.

Invite others to do a guest post on your blog. Ask to contribute guest posts on other blogs. (Or beg – begging is good!)

Be yourself. Don’t imitate another blogger’s style. You’ll sound fake. You can apply all of these tips while remaining true to your nature.

You will get out of it what you put into it. 

This Ninja does pour time into blogging and I visit a hundred sites or more a day. I’ve made so many great friends online, and with one book already published, it has translated into sales. But just as valuable is the friendship and support. And that’s worth a million bucks!

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Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He is experienced in technical editing and worked with an adult literacy program for several years. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Currently the author lives in the Carolinas with his wife.

 

Available now-

CassaStar by Alex J. Cavanaugh

Science fiction – space opera/adventure

Print ISBN 978-0-9816210-6-7 $15.95

EBook ISBN 978-0-9827139-3-8 $2.99

Book trailer

Available February 28, 2012:

CassaFire by Alex J. Cavanaugh

Science fiction – space opera/adventure

Print ISBN 978-0-9827139-4-5 $15.95

EBook ISBN 978-0-9827139-6-9 $4.99

Book Trailer

Who Needs An MFA?


In the ongoing guest post series on Daily (W)rite, today we have writer Kelly Gamble holding forth on a topic that really interests me, to tell you the truth–this whole deal about an MFA.

So without further ado I’ll hand this over to Kelly:

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You don’t need an MFA to be a great writer—let’s get that out of the way, as it seems to be the biggest debate point in writer circles these days.  We all know this, we can all name at least twenty ‘great writers’ who had no training, blah, blah, blah. Okay, that’s done.  To MFA or not to MFA is not the question.

I want to talk to those who have decided, for whatever reason, that an MFA is the path they want to pursue and are actively looking into the various programs available.  Where is the first place you go when looking at programs? Their websites, of course, all of which are full of shiny things, and since we are writers, shiny things in general, distract us. They are all wonderful, but try to stay focused.

After you have been captivated by each programs residency locations, dazzled by their impressive list of faculty achievements and generally awed by their reported rankings and awards, you need to sit down and ask yourself a very basic question in order to evaluate which program is really right for you.

Why do you want an MFA?

1. I want to be a better writer: Of course, there is no guarantee that getting a graduate degree will make you a better writer.  There are a number of books you can buy that will help ‘make you a better writer’ so why an MFA?  Two of the most valuable aspects of being in an MFA program are the availability of workshops taught by the impressive faculty that dazzled you above and access to a community of writers, faculty and fellow students, who will be reading and critiquing your work.  What workshops are going to be available during your enrollment? Of course they will all be pertinent to writing, but are there enough offered that will suit your individual needs?  How selective is the program? (I think this is extremely important. Your fellow students will be critiquing your work, it would be nice to know that they have been selected based on their talent.)

2. I would additionally like to learn about literary theory: Some programs offer courses as part of their MFA that delve into literary theory. Is this something that you are wanting to learn more about?  Ask the questions.

3. I want to write fiction and poetry: Do you want to experiment with different types of writing? Screenwriting, plays, non-fiction, children’s fiction? Short stories, essays, a memoir? Or are you more focused on one thing, say writing a novel.  Are there opportunities to work in these other areas?

4.  I want to teach: An MFA is a terminal degree. If teaching is something you are interested in, what courses are offered in pedagogy? Are there opportunities to student teach after a certain number of hours have been awarded? Having coursework and experience when you graduate will be extremely important when you start looking for a teaching position.

5. I want to work in a publishing related field: Believe it or not, not everyone in an MFA program believes that the rest of their life will be spent writing books and waiting for the next book contract.  They are focusing on the ‘day job’ as well, and would like to do something in a related field.  As with the other areas above, inquiring about workshops and courses on publishing is a great idea, but also, add this one to your list of questions: Does the program offer any assistance placing you in an apprenticeship or similar program?

6. I want to publish: Some MFA programs offer access to agents.  This is a wonderful opportunity for you to pitch your work, if you are prepared.  Do you have a pitch? A query? A synopsis? Does the program offer help or training in preparing these valuable bits?

There are several MFA programs out there, and it is important for you to evaluate them based on what YOU want to get out of the program.  Make a list of questions not answered on their websites.  Send emails, make calls, get specific answers.  Talk to other students, past and present.  Then make your list of prospective programs based on your personal goals and submit your best work with your application.

And enjoy the journey….

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Kelly Stone Gamble is a freelance writer and author of Ragtown, a historical novel set during the building of the Hoover Dam.  She will graduate in January with an MFA in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University.  Stop by her blog at www.kellystonegamble.blogspot.com to say hello, or follow her on twitter @KellySGamble

Writers, Why Are Character Lists a Waste of Time?


Different writers have different takes on building characters.

Last week you read Melody Kaufmann’s take on Characterization, and this week we have writer Derek Flynn with his take.  Would love to hear what other writers think…tell us your take in the comments!

Handing over the blog to Derek….

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Characters, characters

Characters, characters

As aspiring writers, we all search out any and all advice on writing that we can find. When I started writing seriously, one of the pieces of advice that I saw a lot (when it came to creating characters) was to compile a list of your character’s traits, likes, dislikes, etc. Often, you would find huge lengthy lists which you were to fill in so as to get to “know” your character better. Having written for a number of years now, I can safely say these “character lists” are a complete waste of time. (In fact, they’re up there with the “Write what you know” rule. If we all only wrote what we know, there’d be no science-fiction, no fantasy, no horror, and so on. All we’d have is novels where people went to work every day, watched some TV at night, and went to the cinema at weekends. Exciting!)

Now, before I go any further, I’m not here to disabuse anyone of any techniques that work for them. Whatever floats your boat. This is just my two cents.

So why are “character lists” a waste of time?

In my time on Twitter, I’ve seen so many writers talk about a voice or a character entering their heads and how they just had to tell that character’s story.

This is very true. It happens to us all as writers; we’re inspired to write a character’s story. And we KNOW the character. We must do. They’ve inspired us enough to want to tell their story after all. We don’t know everything about them. We may not know what kind of car they drive, what they eat for breakfast or what TV shows they watch, but we know the kind of person they are. And that’s enough to begin with.

We can start the story there and as we write we will find out more about the character. Indeed, that’s the fun: watching the character grow organically as you tell the story, rather than requiring them to meet some preset list of traits. Surely, if we want to create believable characters – characters that readers will empathise with – they should react to the situations we place them in, rather than merely have them ticking off a checklist? (Drives a Porsche? Check. Eats muesli? Check. Watches True Blood? Check.)

Joseph Campbell famously outlined the journey of the “hero” character in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, describing a set of stages that is common to all myths and stories.

And while this may be the case – while there may only be a finite number of plots or character types – the fact is, every character is different. Every character should react in their own idiosyncratic way to whatever situation they find themselves in.

As author Neil Gaiman has said: “I think I got about half way through The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found myself thinking if this is true – I don’t want to know … I’d rather do it because it’s true and because I accidentally wind up creating something that falls into this pattern than be told what the pattern is.” And I have to say, I agree with him.

Am I wrong? (It’s very possible. It wouldn’t be the first time.) Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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Derek Flynn

Derek Flynn

Derek Flynn is an Irish writer and musician. He’s been published in a number of publications, including The Irish Times, and was First Runner-Up in the 2011 J. G. Farrell Award for Best Novel-In-Progress. His writing/music blog – ‘Rant, with Occasional Music’ – can be found here . You can also find him on  Twitter .

What D’n D Taught me About Characterization


As part of the continued guest post series, today we have writer Melody Kaufmann, a lovely blog-friend and twitter buddy!

I love the characterizations in her work, and invited her to talk about it in this post. Take it away Melody!

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D&D is a group of friends essentially “acting out” a story, not unlike a movie.  In any story, good characterization is essential. Good characterization, in a novel, avoids author intrusion, and provides the reader with what my oldest child calls “movies for the brain”. For this to occur the author needs to “build the characters” which is what each player does at the start of a D&D game. In both there is a challenge and reward to “artistically representing human character and motive” in a believable and engaging manner.  The purpose in both cases is to create a story that others will enjoy.

Everything I know about characterization I learned by playing D&D. Ok not everything… but many things I learned while role-playing influence the method I use to create my characters. Webster defines characterization as “the artistic representation (as in fiction or drama) of human character or motives”. Characteristics and motives are what the reader uses to identify each character as an individual. Any writer can become published but real success for a writer comes from being read. Characterization is a part of what determines whether or not a work will be read. Here are a few tips for making your characterization work:

1>    Don’t kill everyone – parents, siblings, extended family give a character, particularly a main character, depth. If they have nothing to lose & no one that matters to them then why do we care about them? Relationships forge a character’s personality. Would Dr. Yueh betray Duke Leto if he had no one he loved? The Pet Sematary is only a local legend if Dr. Creed is a single man with no family.  The ties that bind sway character actions, change the entire plot, provide a WHY, and make us laugh. Don’t cut them.

2>    All good / all evil = boring – Even Voldemort’s back-story is one that evokes a certain amount of pity.  Batman is more popular than Superman because he is a less-than-perfect Dark Knight unlike the Man of Steel. Humans are rarely flawlessly good or entirely evil. This is why there are so many different alignments in D&D. A character’s identity is built from education, race, religious beliefs, and cultural background. Who he/she is and how he/she thinks should flow from the logical impact of each of these elements.

3>    Individuality is important but so is commonality – Characters with commonalities in same education, race, religious beliefs, and cultural background will share similarities. This doesn’t mean that all characters of a certain race or religion will be identical. It doesn’t happen in life so it doesn’t make sense in writing (unless you are writing about clones).  The point is that you must balance logical commonality with character individuality.

4>    Give your character a voice – Writers must think carefully about how each character sounds and behaves.  Different speech patterns and personalities add flavor to a story but not if it flies in the face of logic.  Favored sayings, personality quirks, and speech patterns should make sense as the by-product of the character’s background.  A lot of what connects readers to one character over another exists in the form of facial expressions, movement, and personality traits. This is the meat of characterization– getting the reader intimately acquainted with the characters. Here is where the reader decides who they like and who they hope doesn’t make it.  Characterization is the writer’s tool for sculpting the reader’s opinion.

5>    Make a Question list – I have a list of 20 questions that is indispensable. The idea came from my amazing husband who did much DM’ing (Dungeon Mastering) over the years. Moving from basic things (place of birth, appearance) through personality details (their goal in life, would they sell out) brings each character alive. I have multiple versions for short stories, novels, and series. An abbreviated version is usually enough for supporting characters. The list reminds me what the reader wants to know. It gets me fully acquainted with my characters. Not every bit of it appears in my story but as a writer, intimate knowledge of a character is an utter necessity to maintain consistency.

Sample Characterization List

There are many other things I’ve learned and not all of them from role-playing. Characters can save or ruin a story.  Invest in them and your reader will become invested as well.

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Melody-Ann Kaufmann

Melody-Ann Kaufmann

Melody-Ann Kaufmann is a Systems Developer for University of Florida, wife of a techno genius, a student completing her MS in Information Security, mother of two autistic children, writer, geek, gamer, anime & manga consumer, avid reader of eclectic works, web comic connoisseur, and the owner of a horse-sized dog. She can be found on Twitter @Safireblade & FaceBook here. Her fledgling website can be found at Safireblade.com.