Why Your Novel Sucks and 4 Steps That Can Help Fix it


Continuing the succession of guest posts by fiction authors sharing writing advice, Shannon Mayer is at Daily (w)rite today, telling it like it is. Take it away, Shannon!

——————-

Okay, if you know me, you know that I don’t pull punches. In fact, my writers group has nicknamed me Blunt.  I don’t like it when people tell me I look nice when I know it looks as though I just crawled out of a sewer pipe. I hate it when people say that my writing is “Just great!” with that falsetto high pitch we all know means they are trying not to offend. It doesn’t help us improve ourselves when people placate us about how we look, or how we write.

So how do you figure out if your novel sucks and how can you fix it? Here are a few pointers I’ve picked up the hard, expensive way. Now pay attention, I’m only going to say this once!

-You have 90% narration, 5% flashbacks and 5% dialogue.  Okay, let’s be honest, it takes a freaking MASTER to keep the attention of a reader with this kind of breakdown. MASTER, not NEWBIE. And if you’re reading this, even if you’ve got several books out, you’re a NEWBIE, just like me.

Up your dialogue people! Every time you step into narration and flashbacks, you SLOW your reader down. Way down. Might even put the book down. So try, really, really hard to “up” your dialogue. Turn that narration into a CONVERSATION.

-Your Characters all get along and float through life. Okay, conflict is #1 in a story. Who the hell cares if their lives are perfect? Mine isn’t, I sure don’t want to read about someone who has a better life than me. Readers want a story to show them just how BAD life can get and how the hero deals with it. Look at every chapter, if there isn’t some sort of conflict, put something new in. Maybe the evil stepmother we all thought was dead comes back to life as a zombie. Or maybe the husband who ran off with the sister was really poisoned and now needs to be rescued! The possibilities are endless regardless of the genre, so make your characters SUFFER!

- You are getting complaints in your reviews of TYPOS! Please, please, please get at least one editor to go over your book! If you can’t afford an editor, there are ALWAYS options. Beg another author, do a swap with them and give them an “edit” on their book while they do the same for yours. But dang, there is a reason you can’t get reviews, or that the reviews you do get are 3 stars at best (not including family and friends in this of course because we all make them give us 5 stars ;p).

Typos, dropping plot threads (e.g. A character shows  up in chapter 1 but then never again and yet they seemed important, that is a dropped thread), and general issues with your “baby” (that I won’t go into here for sake of space) can be VASTLY improved by having someone in the industry do a pass. Not just your mom or your best friend. Someone who will tell you the truth, even if it makes you CRY!

-Last and final way to improve your book.  Learn your strengths and play to them. I write FAST PACED, high octane books that always center on the power of relationships between loved ones. That is MY strength. I can’t write police procedurals, I’ve tried. I can’t write children’s books, the kids get nightmares.  Figure out what your STRONG points are. Maybe you have a knack for building tension in scenes to the point of making people grip their books/Kindles in a white knuckle grasp. Build on that. Write emotional scenes so strong you bring tears to people’s eyes? Go for it! Full force on your strengths will make your book stand out from the crowd. Don’t try to be something you aren’t.

In conclusion, in this shifting world of self publishing going head to head with the traditional publishers, we HAVE to stand out from the rest.  And not because we are the best at sucking.

—————————-

After a 2 year period waiting on her agent to actually do something, Ms. Mayer dropped the agent, and  self published her first trilogy, A Zombie-ish Apocalypse which includes Sundered, Bound and Dauntless.  Her latest book, Dark Waters: Celtic Legacy Book 1 centers on the bonds of sisters while delving into the world of nightmares and magic. For more info on Shannon Mayer and her writing go to http://shannonmayer.blogspot.com or follow her on Twitter @TheShannonMayer

17 Stories That Failed and Why


Ciara Ballintyne is a Twitter and Blog friend I have known for some time. Not only is she an engaging writer, she is serious about her craft, and willing to share her insights. Today she shares : Lessons Learned from ‘Nascence: 17 Stories That Failed and Why’ by Tobias S Buckell.

It is a long-ish post, but there are lessons for writers all the way to the end. Take it away, Ciara!

———–

Tobias Buckell

Tobias Buckell

You could look at this book as an attempt by Buckell to make money out of short stories that he failed to sell. However, I find it an interesting look at the early work of a published author that we rarely get. I don’t know that I’d be so inclined to bare to the world how bad I once was if I was a published author!

There are lessons in here for a writer who might be struggling, as well as tips on Buckell’s own writing process that might help you. For example, Buckell says he wrote short stories for a long time because he considered it a faster way to learn how to write a story from start to finish, fail, and try again, than writing novels. He’s probably right. I did it the novel way, not being a short-story writer much, and it’s taken me 20 years to get here! And wherever ‘here’ is, it’s not the same ‘here’ as Buckell.

There is commentary from Buckell on the reasons for each story’s failure, but here is my own analysis as an objective reader and writer.

  1. The Arbiter – This story does manage to move my emotions if in an incomplete way. In that respect it’s more successful than many other stories in this book.
  2. Airtown – I completely failed to connect with the protagonist and the story felt like an opening scene or excerpt, incomplete of itself;
  3. Abrupt Salvage – a step backwards from The Arbiter. Buckell attempts to engage our emotions but his characterisation and building of relationships is incomplete. The climax lacks impact. I was surprised when the story ended and was left expecting more. Buckell notes that many of his stories read like a chapter instead of a stand-alone story. I agree.
  4. It Is Bitter… The first protagonist I really identify with. He’s got drive and motivation and it’s red-hot emotional! It pushes me to read but the ending is unsatisfying. This was an experiment with voice using present tense, and setting, wold-building and plot suffer as a result. Compare to the earlier stories to see how Buckell helps us identify with the protagonist. Continue reading

On Days When I Don’t Want to Listen…


….I write quite a bit, because:

Writing to Shut You Up

Writing to Shut You Up

This is true. When I keep writing, I don’t really have to listen to anyone other than me and the characters in my head, and that is a blessing for those times when listening to real people in real life becomes tiresome.

Do you ever write to shut out the noise?

Writers, Has Microsoft Word Changed Your Writing?


Writing on Microsoft Word

Writing on Microsoft Word

John Naughton at Guardian asked recently: Has Microsoft Word affected the way we work?

“—has word processing changed the way we write? There have been lots of inconclusive or unconvincing studies of how the technology has affected, say, the quality of student essays – how it facilitates plagiarism. The most interesting academic study I looked at found that writers using computers “spent more time on a first draft and less on finalising a text, pursued a more fragmentary writing process, tended to revise more extensively at the beginning of the writing process, attended more to lower linguistic levels [letter, word] and formal properties of the text, and did not normally undertake any systematic revision of their work before finishing”.

My hunch is that using a word processor makes writing more like sculpting in clay. Because it’s so easy to revise, one begins by hacking out a rough draft which is then iteratively reshaped – cutting bits out here, adding bits there, gradually licking the thing into some kind of shape.

I never learned to type on a typewriter, I began writing on Word. But I do draft my fiction on pen and paper–it is a kind of more visceral, organic experience.

I like Word, make no mistake, it Is Very convenient—but a keyboard is less sensory for me than the pen scribbling on paper. Besides, I like using various colored pens, and notebooks of different sizes, with papers of different texture. Besides, it is easier to unhook myself from the internet, and focus on writing, if a notebook and pen is all I’m carrying.

Recently I started writing pen and paper letters to writer-friends, and that is a whole different ballgame– I like it, and have stuck to it for a few months now.

I don’t know if Word has influenced my writing in any way– I continue to write by hand almost everyday–but I’m aware I’m in the minority. I use Word for my work writing and for revising my fiction, and that is all there is to it.

Has any of you written on typewriters? Do you write with pen and paper? How is it different from writing on Word? Has Microsoft Word affected Your writing?

When Was the Last Time You Spent a Day at the Library?


At the Library

At the Library

Some of the best times in my life have been spent at a library. It was the one place I could find silence, the freedom to take out umpteen books, and leave them on the table after skimming through a few pages, forget about the world outside and the state of my life in it.

I still run to libraries when I need my space—and yesterday I did just that. After a work-related meeting I decided to spend the entire afternoon and evening at the Singapore National library, at its big central division, which is home to one of the most diverse collections I’ve seen in a library so far.

I felt a little guilty, sitting at the reference section (I needed to look through one book, but nothing serious), working on my fiction while intermittently browsing through random books—maybe I was taking up the space that someone doing genuine research needed. I sat there long enough–till the time I realized all other seats were taken up, and then vacated mine—hoping an eager research scholar would take it up!

I walked out for a meal, came back, and headed to the lending section…deciding that some of the blocks in the story I was writing came from a lack of research. I needed to know a few facts before I could get on with my narration. I love the that this library lets you search its catalog on your phone—the catalog is on a free library wi-fi network. Having picked up the books I needed I went in search of a chair and found one at the far end, surrounded by about 20 other chairs in different clusters.

To say that the first book I picked up was an absorbing read would be to insult it–it talks about a hugely successful individual coping with multiple personality disorder–each of the 13 individual personalities inside him has a chapter in his/her voice. I finished it in the 8 hours I sat at the library, without much movement, and only the occasional glance around me.

It is this morning, when I look back on the evening that I remember what I saw in those glances, but did not register at the time: an old man sleeping, open-mouthed, behind a newspaper, a middle-aged-gap-toothed woman in a cheong-sam sitting with a book on feng-shui while fitting her small body cross-legged on a chair—apparently meditating,  a young man in office attire with a laptop bag and headphones, dozing behind a book titled Sex after Fifty, a pair of schoolkids snogging behind one of the bookshelves (I thought the library had cameras and frowned on such activity, but apparently not), a woman of indeterminate age in heavy make-up sitting with a shoe magazine, periodically receiving low-beeping calls and repeating/ writing down dates and times in a breathy falsetto, while a hearing impaired young couple to my right kept up a sprightly conversation full of excited gesturing.

With all those images returning to me, I feel less guilty about hogging a seat I didn’t really need. Not because other people did it too, with lot less serious preoccupations than mine—but because watching this pantomime of unabashed humanity in a country known for its lifestyle governed by rules, that too at a strait-laced place like a library, was not only a treat for a writer like me, but could also be safely termed ‘research’.

When was the last time you spent a day at the library? How much of that time did you spend people-watching?

 

 

Dear Writer, Would You Kill to be a New York Bestselling Author?


Would you murder to write a bestseller?

Would you murder to write a bestseller?

Maybe not a NY Times bestseller.  Maybe you dream of Pulitzers, Man Bookers, a Nobel in literature.  Whatever you consider writer-Nirvana.

Would you kill for it?

That deadly blank page demands courage.  Hard work, sacrifices.  But—murder?

You’ve heard it repeated ad infinitum: write from your own experience.  Write what you know.

If you’re a city dweller, the local zoo the only wildlife you’ve seen, the jungle you create in a story probably won’t pull the reader into its humid and slightly rotting smell as powerfully as, say, one described by someone that grew up in southern India.  And this mythical author would never recreate the vibrant diversity of a teeming metropolis like you would.

We write best what we know best.

But—to make a murder scene in your book jump off the page, you—the author—needs to be a murderer?

Yes.  That’s exactly what I’m saying.

Put down the knife and come back here.  You thought you’d go stick it in someone?  Bet you already had someone in mind.  That’s so sick.  And illegal.

Here.  Satisfy your twisted bloodlust instead by brutally annihilating your preconceived notions of—well, anything.  Water-board your biases.  Hack your limitations to pieces.  Use yourself as a guinea pig.

No, really.

My MCs got into a fight.  I’ve never been in one.  I’m a wuss girl.  I had no clue, and the characters knew it.  “We’re not girls,” they said, “or wusses.  Get it right or we go somewhere else.”

Desperate measures. 

I changed into old jeans, found a paint-spattered t-shirt, lured Rusty, my forty-pound Rottweiler, out to the yard.

After an hour I did look like I’d been in a fight.  Rusty, panting like a rabid predator, hadn’t had that much fun ever.

I aced the fight scene, growls and all.

Do I recommend an unsupervised tussle with a forty-pound dog?  Uh, no.  Unless you need an irrefutable excuse to jump in the shower.  But I do recommend this: do the unexpected.  Become an adventure junkie.  Expand yourself.  Become all eyes, all ears.  Let the world be your teacher.

When your head is suffused with experience from the flesh, when the pain you charge your words with is real, that potent muscle you call imagination has a solid foundation to make magic.

That’s the kind of writing that makes people pay attention.  Including Pulitzer people.

~ * ~

This was a guest post by Guilie Castillo-Oriard, who is a 38-year-old Mexican writer currently exiled in the island of Curacao.  She misses Mexican food and Mexican “amabilidad”, but the “laissez-faire” attitude and the beauty of the Caribbean is a fair exchange.  Plus, the bounty of cultural diversity on the island inspires great culture-clash-based topics that her talent is seldom good enough to bring to fruition.

 

Guilie is currently in the final revision process of her first novel, Restoring Experience, and working on another spawned during NaNoWriMo 2011.  She blogs at Quiet Laughter, and her short stories have appeared in Fiction365 and the newly published Lady Ink Magazine, as well as a few blogs, including an honorable mention in Clarity of Night’s contest this past July, which is when I made her acquaintance. We have been great blog buddies and twitter friends ever since. This is Guilie’s first guest post.

4th Anniversary- Daily (w)rite Turns 4!


Book of Short Fiction

Book of Short Fiction

I started writing fiction nearly four years ago, in April 2008, and that was the year I also started this blog, as a place where I would post something every day—ah,well, as often as possible.

I was going through my old anniversary posts and here’s what I said over the years:

2011,  I said: It IS nice to go back and read my old posts, and comments by readers, and I hope I can carry this blog another year!

2010, I said: There would be light and shade, and at least 20 posts a month! (sigh…tall order) And there would be travel posts, mixed up with writing posts, depending on where I go, and what I do. So, hopefully, I’ll have a third anniversary post, eh, and other anniversaries afterwards? :D

2009, I said: I want to keep up this blog for as long as I can; and I want to watch myself grow, become a little smarter, a little wiser, more intuitive, with each day, each month, each year, each post.

So here I am, and this is how the blog did last year.

This year I made more of an effort, wrote a fair bit of fiction on the blog as well.

I took part in the A to Z Blogging challenge, which means I blogged 26 days in April. That adventure, surprisingly enough, led to the book: A to Z Stories of Life and Death, which, to my utter amazement, continues to sell to this day, without much promotion, if any.

2011 was a long year, personally, and an average year, writing wise.

But I’ve stuck to fiction, written bunches, published some.

And just like I did three years ago, I find myself eager to ‘watch myself grow, become a little smarter, a little wiser, more intuitive, with each day, each month, each year, each post.’

Amen.

How To Adapt A Well Known Story For Fiction


Life has gotten in the way of blogging this last month. But a new year is here, and I’m making a new beginning. All the writing-related guest posts that got derailed (due to my blog and life problems) will now appear in January. First up is the excellent post by author Bryan Schmidt, where he talks about adapting a well known story for fiction. Take it away Bryan!!

———————–

It’s been done. All too many times, if you listen to some. The story is world famous, well known. Many know its details by heart. Yet it’s compelling and you have an idea you know is different—one no one’s done before. So how do you keep it fresh? Adapting a well-known story for fiction has many challenges, but above them all is the issue of freshness, avoiding predictability.

There are some techniques which work well to invigorate the retelling:

1)      Use the original story as character history/backstory so the parallels are interesting but you don’t have to follow it to the letter—In The Worker Prince, my debut novel, because my characters are colonists to space from Earth and Protestants, they share the religious history of Christianity so the Moses story, which inspired mine, is prehistory. Some parallels from that story occur, when a prince discovers he was born a slave and helps the slaves fight for freedom, for example. But having established that as prehistory, I was able to depart quite a bit from biblical elements like the plagues, miracles, and parting of the Red Sea to tell a different, although familiar story. The inspiration remains the same but the story takes new and interesting twists.

2)      Change the timeline (order)– What if the events are the same but they don’t happen in the same order? Sometimes the order of events is not vital to the story and you can make new twists and turns just be changing the order of events and, thus, how those various events affect each other. It can lead to new conflicts and new undercurrents which didn’t exist in the original story and make it more interesting for those familiar with the story on which yours is based.
3)      Identify the core elements and throw away less important ones—In The Worker Prince I did exactly this: keeping the idea of one people enslaving another under a ruthless dictator, a prince secretly adopted from slaves, ideological conflict, and injustice but dumping things like the Red Sea, years of exile in a desert, plagues, etc. It kept the story familiar and grounded in the tropes of the original while allowing me to take it in totally different and surprising directions. Some scenes and events are vital for the story to remain familiar. The same can be said of key characters. Others can be thrown away or reinvented to keep things original and unique in your telling.

4)      Reverse roles, species or genders of characters—What if your hero in the original story was male but in your story becomes female? What if a human character becomes alien or animal? What about a robot? What about other characters? Can your sidekick become the love interest? What if your antagonist becomes a relative instead of  a social acquaintance? What if the characters take on bigger roles and multiple functions they didn’t have in the original? The differences between genders, species, etc. can then be exploited for new aspects of your story and new twists and turns different from the original in fun ways.

5)      Change the setting—Setting your story in a culture and context far removed from the original can provide interesting opportunities. I set The Worker Prince in distant space far from Earth with different aliens and plant species, etc. It allowed me to have technology and related problems totally foreign to the original Moses story and made for a more fun and interesting telling for me as storyteller and for readers. The same can be true of resetting the story in a different decade or era from the one in which it originally occurred. Imagine, if you will, a steampunk Cinderella or Sherlock Holmes in the 24th Century. All kinds of possibilities present themselves.

All of these suggestions are about making the story your own. If you can find ways to do that, you can create a fresh experience and telling while utilizing powerful elements of the familiarity and themes of the original story. Grounding your story in a well-known tale, definitely has advantages.  But a little creative rethinking can make it even more powerful and draw in an audience of people it might not otherwise appeal to. It’s fun to work from a familiar foundation and structure. Especially if you love the story, it can stimulate the imagination. But if everyone knows the twists and turns and outcome of your story, why should they want to read it? I hope these suggestions give you ideas how the old can become  new and fresh in the retelling.

Bryan Schmidt

Bryan Schmidt

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

‎3 5-star & 8 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.