All About the Authors

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Transforming Your Thoughts Into a Published Work

By Dr. Patricia Fitzhugh

When my ex-husband initially uttered the words “the move” on our 19th wedding anniversary, I had no idea that the events in the days following would become a published memoir of my middle-aged marital experience. These are just a few notes about my first publishing experience.

What prompted me to start writing?

I started writing this book, The Move, Memoirs of a Mid-Life Marital Crisis, five years ago but I didn’t start off with the intention of publishing a book. I was journaling about my feelings of anger, sadness, depression and the swift changes that were occurring in my life at the time. I decided to capture my raw emotions and feelings on a daily basis. Most of my inspiration to write came from reading about other people who had similar experiences, their stories were the ones that helped me want to share mine and help someone else just as others had helped me.

What were some of the steps I took to transform my notes into a book?

  1. I kept journaling until I ran out of words. This process is sometimes referred to as emptying out. Once my mind and heart were empty, I knew that this particular book was finished.
  2.  It took over two years to complete the editing process. Some of the editing was grammatical while other edits were content related.  I sought guidance from other writers who encouraged me to consider the level and extent of the details from my personal journal that I wanted to include in the book. I had to ask myself questions like, “How much of my life did I want to expose to the world?” Some of the content in my journal was explicit and I had to consider how this information would affect my children in the present and future. I also had to be sure that the content in the book was intended to serve as a mechanism for helping others and not hurting the people who may have been portrayed negatively.
  3. I turned the manuscript over to the publisher once I completed my edits. My book was self-published, so most of the work done by the publishing company included editing, formatting, cover design, printing, filing paperwork for the copyright, obtaining the ISBN number, getting the book online with Amazon, designing marketing materials, and announcing the book release.

 How did I find a publisher?

Many years ago when I first starting hosting women’s conferences, one of the speakers we invited to participate in the conference had a publishing company. She had published books by some of the other speakers that attended the conference over the course of several years. She also facilitated workshops about transforming manuscripts into a book. While my schedule didn’t afford me the opportunity to attend these workshops, the publisher had videos and a publishing guide on her website about the process that included pricing and a choice of plans. I was able to read about the process and research the services she offered. I would recommend you ask questions of friends who have published one or more books about their experience — both pros and cons.

What happened once I released my book?

I released The Move in 2016 at my first Women’s Expo in Baltimore, Maryland. It was a great experience primarily because I came to the realization that I didn’t know anything about promoting and selling a book.

Here are some key questions to consider when you are ready to release your book:

  1. What set’s your book apart from others in the same genre?
  2. Why should someone buy your book?
  3. How are you going to engage a person in a conversation to peak interest about your book and close the sale?

Here I was at a huge expo with a box of books and no plan. I thought people would just want to buy my book because it was me, “Dr. Patty”. Well, that wasn’t the case. Let me share with you some of the things I learned during this very important experience.

  1.  If you are going to sell your book at an event you must know the demographic of those registered or attending the event. I thought my demographic was middle-aged women 35 to 55 years old. However, when I got to the event, I learned was that most of the women ages 45 to 55 were already past the stages within my book. My demographic was women ages 35 to 40.
  2. Don’t rush your release. When you rush to get your book released you may not maximize all of your marketing resources. A marketing plan is necessary so that you can be sure to position your product to get in front of the right people. You also want to consider a social media plan and a profit plan.

 Is there anything I would have done differently on the release of this project?

In the next phase of my book promotion, I have actually worked on developing a marketing plan, social media plan and determined how much revenue I want to generate from book sales for the existing year. These tools will help me to reposition my product, monetize my message and establish benchmarks.

I hope these tips help you with publishing your book!

 Dr. Patricia “Patty” Fitzhugh is a speaker, entrepreneur, author, leadership consultant, television and radio host, women’s advocate, and visionary. But first and foremost, she’s a humanitarian who is committed to helping others find hope and offering her voice for human rights. For nearly 25 years, Dr. Fitzhugh has used personal life experiences and overcome challenges to inspire many to do the same. She is CEO of It’s A New Day, LLC, an organization she founded in 2013 now based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  The company is the media and brand marketing organization for Dr. Patty CARES, Dr. Patty LIVE, and Dr. Patty SPEAKS and produces a weekly Internet television show and blog talk radio show, Managing Mid-Life and Morning Coffee with Dr. Patty. This is her first book.

Contact her at 443-924-MLRC or by email at info@drpattycares.com.

Why I Write by Peter Golden

Peter Golden is an award-winning journalist, historian, and novelist. His new book, Wherever There Is Light by Atria Books, delves into the little known history of the rescue of German Jews from the Nazis by traditionally African-American colleges. The book is described as a “love story that’s epic and truly felt”. Peter and nine critically acclaimed authors were featured at the Women’s National Book Association Charlotte’s 7th Annual “BIBLIOFEAST” Book & Author Dinner on Mon., Oct. 17.

golden  Time moves, and I find myself, frequently against my will, moving right along with it. I’m a different husband than I used to be, a different father, and a different writer. Where my family is concerned, I’m different because in so many ways, large and small, what your loved ones need from you changes with the passing years. Yet I’m a different writer because the reasons I write have shifted, leaving me to marvel at how naive I once was and, I’m happy to say, how dedicated I have remained to the craft.

As a young teenager, long before I began writing seriously, it occurred to me that I had only one life and writing would enable me to enter worlds that were closed off to me—from pitching in a World Series at Yankee Stadium to residing in eighteenth-century Williamsburg or serving as your newly elected president.

By the end of college, I was familiar with Henry David Thoreau’s observation that most people wind up mired in quiet desperation, and since I was philosophically opposed to sustained misery, I started writing on a daily schedule. Thanks to the enchanting gift the young possess for self-deception, I soon convinced myself that writing was an effective method for bending reality in my preferred direction. Absolutely ridiculous, I know. And in my case, absolutely true.

Less than ten years later, I was earning a living by writing, and I knew that I was lucky to go to an office in my own house and pay my bills by doing work I enjoyed. Still, money, like love, is usually something you think about only if you don’t have enough, and although by my thirties I felt relatively secure in my career, on occasion I asked myself why I got up every morning to face a blank page.

Honestly, I’m not sure I had a good answer to that question back then.

Now, after writing almost every day of my life for over thirty-five years, here is what I discovered: nothing, other than the joys of family and friends, gives me more pleasure than writing a sentence that informs me emotionally or intellectually. Of course, I hope others are touched or informed by that sentence. But if not, at least I tried.

And I wrote the sentence.

Peter Golden was born in Newark, New Jersey and grew up in the suburbs of South Orange and Maplewood, New Jersey, where he graduated from Columbia High School. He attended Ohio University for two years then transferred to SUNY Albany, graduating with a BA in Philosophy. He lives in Guilderland, New York, with his wife, a communication professor at University at Albany.

Want to write a guest post for All About the Authors? We welcome guest posts from authors and those who are experts in the book industry. What is your writing process? Where are you in your publishing journey and what advice do you have? Have you successfully marketed your book and do you have tips to share? All About the Authors wants to hear from you! If you’re interested in submitting a guest post to All About the Authors, please send your information and topic idea to priscillagoudreausantos@gmail.com with the subject line “Guest Post”.

 

From the Cupboard by Susan Crawford

This guest post is written by Susan Crawford, author of The Pocket Wife and The Other Widow by Morrow-Harper Collins. She and nine critically acclaimed authors will be featured at the Women’s National Book Association Charlotte’s 7th Annual “BIBLIOFEAST” Book & Author Dinner on Mon., Oct. 17.

susan-crawford-9780062362889_1_a0496Readers occasionally ask me where I get the ideas for my books. “Well,” I say, “there was this article in the newspaper equating homicides with mental illness,” or, “There’s so much more to PTSD than soldiers coming back from war,” or, “I thought it would be challenging to write a sympathetic ‘other woman.’” And these are reasons for writing what I write. They are, at least, the origins, the seeds. What sprouts from them though, the stories, the characters that populate the living rooms, the subways, the streets, and ultimately the pages of my books, are not as easy to explain. In a way, they’re far less rational.

They live inside my head. Like dreams or words I’ve overheard, they dance onto the page. I unlock a cupboard and the characters spill out. With a little nudge they grow and blossom. They invent themselves, become the people that will talk and love and die and kill for the next year of my life, the next three hundred pages. The voices of dead fathers whisper in their ears or turn their hearts to stone. A pinkish sky, a certain smell, a sound, can snatch them from their lives and set them down beside a beach decades before or underneath a blanket from the Andes in a winter room with dirty glass, a broken wall.

For me, the characters make the plot work. They should grab readers by the hand and spirit them away – to a party, down an icy street at midnight, to a lover’s rented room – toward a happy ending, toward redemption, hope, or straight into a wall. Whether they are sunny or demonic, honest or deceptive, they must entice the reader to be right there with them – missing phone calls, burning dinners, losing sleep – following with loyalty and expectation, waiting for motives to come to light, for actions to jar, to change events, to make a difference, to enlighten and inspire. The characters can be right or wrong, good or not so good, as long as they’re believable, as long as they can touch the reader in some way.

book-jacket-the-other-widowMaybe they’re composites, bits and pieces of people I’ve known, or seen or heard or been.  Or maybe they’re forgotten words or incidents I’ve tucked away to look at later, to sort through and analyze, to try to make sense of the world. Maybe that’s what we all are underneath, behind our flesh and tears and smiles – composites of our pasts, of those we loved, or touched, or couldn’t quite, of those we lost. Maybe we’re like antennae shifting through space, picking up frequencies, picking up stories, other places, other times, other rooms. Maybe I am really just a scribe.

I don’t write about real people. I write fiction. But I wonder sometimes if the two are all that different – if their fragments and details fall together in a certain way to make a character in fiction rather than my next-door neighbor or my friend from high school. I’ve read that there are only seven basic stories told in countless ways – the human condition, thrown down like cards to land in myriad configurations – Dorrie from The Other Widow, different from the woman in the book I’m writing now because she grew up in a different place, a different situation. Just as we are molded by circumstance and chance, by where we landed and began and where we go from there, the characters fall from their cupboards, brush themselves off, and march onto the page.

Susan grew up in Miami, Florida. She later moved to New York City and then to Boston before settling in Atlanta to raise three amazing daughters and to teach in various adult education settings. A member of The Atlanta Writers Club and The Village Writers, Susan works for the Department of Technical and Adult Education and is a member of her local planning commission. She now lives in Atlanta with her husband and a trio of rescue cats, where she enjoys reading books, writing books, rainy days, and spending time with the people she loves.

More about Susan:  wwwsusancrawfordnovelist.com, Twitter: crawfordsusanh, Facebook: Susan Crawford Author

Want to write a guest post for All About the Authors? We welcome guest posts from authors and those who are experts in the book industry. What is your writing process? Where are you in your publishing journey and what advice do you have? Have you successfully marketed your book and do you have tips to share? All About the Authors wants to hear from you! If you’re interested in submitting a guest post to All About the Authors, please send your information and topic idea to priscillagoudreausantos@gmail.com with the subject line “Guest Post”. 

 

The Perils of Too Much Self by Ashley Mace Havird

This guest post is written by Ashley Mace Havird, author of debut novel, Lightningstruck, by Mercer University Press. She and nine critically acclaimed authors will be featured at the Women’s National Book Association Charlotte’s 7th Annual “BIBLIOFEAST” Book & Author Dinner on Oct. 17.

head-shot-ashley-havirdI grew up on a South Carolina tobacco farm from the mid-1950s until the early 1970s. As the main character, eleven-year-old Etta, says in Lightningstruck: “The entire year seemed like a patchwork quilt whose pattern told the story of tobacco.” Growing tobacco was like a ballet, a symphony whose final movement reached a crescendo in the end-of-season market with its “toasty smells of cured tobacco, the taste of boiled peanuts, the singsong speed-talk of the auctioneer.” The economy of the area depended on farming, and tobacco was the cash crop. During the market days, in fact, people would joke that the entire town of Mullins, with its enormous warehouses, “smelled like money.” I took for granted, as all children do, that this world would last forever.

I left home for college and never returned for good, but I visited my family often—still do. With the demise of the domestic tobacco industry accelerating in the late 1970s and early ’80s, my father and brother, like so many other lifelong farmers, gradually gave it up. The landscape of the area, its wooden stick barns already having given way to aluminum “bulk” barns, and sophisticated machines having replaced much of the manual labor—this landscape changed even more dramatically. The vast fields of green leaf vanished, and the economies of rural communities collapsed. The landscape of my memory vanished and took its people with it.

Around fifteen years ago, I was a fiction-writer-turned-poet. But I wanted to recreate this lost world in a longer form than poems afforded. So, I jumped in with what I believed was a memoir. But in the end, my life was interesting only to me. The interest, I discovered after much fumbling, lay not so much in my personal story but in the fabric of the times, the radical changes occurring on so many levels. There was the good, the bad, and the ugly of the tobacco industry, with its hierarchy of wealthy and health-problem-denying industry leaders down to laborers who worked from “can’t see to can’t see.” There were the tensions of the Civil Rights Movement, which was finding its way even into our closed-in part of the South. The Vietnam War was ramping up. All of this occurring during a girl’s coming of age, which included painful discoveries about herself and family and society—troubles that, when purely my own, were not particularly interesting, although they could be if I could only exaggerate …These things drew me towards the novel, towards inventing. I began to see that this was the only way I could explore the larger truth I was after. Besides, my precious memoir was flat-out boring.

I had major problems to solve. What to do about self-indulgent scenes and a plot that was loose at best? The horse, which became the main source of tension in Lightningstruck, was a minor character. The story’s all-important “trouble” was vague, ill-defined.

Nothing to do, of course, but to begin the slaughter: I had to kill many darlings, nearly all of them, and create brand new ones. Without new characters, such as the eccentric civil rights activist, Miss Cass, and the young archaeologist, Dr. Raintree, the book would have been stuck like an insect in amber. I shifted the story into third person to further detach my Self from Etta, and I allowed Etta’s problems to become far more exciting than mine ever were. I was able to keep my central characters, unlocking them from their chains to actual people, and I “grew” the horse, Troy, until he haunted me and became for Etta the major antagonist he had to be.

The tearing down, rethinking, and rebuilding, added years to the novel’s progress. It was only the curiosity and passion I had for the world I was bringing back, the love for my characters, and my own stubbornness that made the final draft—once again in first person—possible. Would I have been able to complete the book if I hadn’t put myself through all these contortions? I have no idea. I’d certainly have saved myself grief and time if I’d identified the genre to begin with.

Still, there is no question but that the autobiographical elements enrich Lightningstruck. Beyond the story of Etta’s coming of age by way of a treasure-hunt with a lightning-scarred horse, the book is an elegy to a past world, an homage to people I knew and loved. It is a sort of archaeological exploration of what it means to dig for truth, beneath tobacco fields and down through layers into the past—a truth that, when found, is as much mine, and I hope the reader’s truth, as it is Etta’s.

Ashley Mace Havird grew up on a tobacco farm in South Carolina. She has published three collections of poems, including THE GARDEN OF THE FUGITIVES (2014), which won the 2013 X. J. Kennedy Prize. Her poems and stories have appeared in many journals, including Shenandoah, The Southern Review, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. Lightningstruck, winner of the 2015 Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction, is her first novel.

Want to write a guest post for All About the Authors? We welcome guest posts from authors and those who are experts in the book industry. What is your writing process? Where are you in your publishing journey and what advice do you have? Have you successfully marketed your book and do you have tips to share? All About the Authors wants to hear from you! If you’re interested in submitting a guest post to All About the Authors, please send your information and topic idea to priscillagoudreausantos@gmail.com with the subject line “Guest Post”. 

 

7 Essential Tech Tools That All Writers Need To Have

Laptop on deskIt’s now easier than ever for writers to take their work from an idea to a published manuscript. The advances in technology and rise of the Internet offer a platform for authors that’s creating a self-publishing revolution. Additionally, websites like www.AllAbouttheAuthors.com help guide you through the process.

There is also a vast array of wonderful apps and tech tools that support writers during all stages of their writing. These seven are essential for modern authors and will help you make your book into something that will take the world by storm.

Scrivener 

By far the most comprehensive tool on the market, Scrivener is a word processing app on steroids. It allows you to set up a personalized writing studio that includes a virtual cork board and summary tags. You can easily organize research, write documents, and edit them individually or as a group. 

The outliner tool allows you to create synopses and metadata for each piece of work so they can be easily navigated. This is perfect for those writing books because you can divide the manuscript into smaller sections while keeping a detailed overview of the whole project. It’s also great for freelancers who are working with multiple clients at once.

Wunderlist

Wunderlist is a fantastically useful online to-do list. Each point opens up an individual card where you can add additional comments, files, due dates and reminders. It also allows you to network with teams for collaborative projects and easily assign different tasks to members. 

Any author knows that the actual writing of your book is only a miniscule part of the process, so having a tool that can help you organize all of your marketing, liaising, planning and formatting as well is infinitely useful.

ExpressVPN

 For writers, your computer is the most precious piece of equipment you own. Due to this, keeping it safe and secure is an essential pursuit. One of the greatest dangers to a writer’s online security comes from the necessary evil of relying on public WiFi. Whether it’s having an intensive writing session in your local coffee shop or checking emails on the train, these notoriously insecure networks are hard to avoid.

Using a VPN such as ExpressVPN is a great way to secure yourself when out-and-about because it encrypts all of your data and allows you to browse without any risk. It also lets you bypass geo-blocking restrictions, which can be an added bonus when performing research.

 F.lux

 For authors, a large amount of the day is spent staring at a computer screen.  While this is when the magic happens, it also takes a nasty toll on your eyes. F.lux is a truly handy tool that, once installed, adjusts the tones and brightness of your screen based on time of day to help reduce the damaging affect.

It’s also great for those of us who find ourselves writing into the early hours of the morning. It does so by naturally dimming the lights. It encourages you to adhere to your circadian rhythms and sleep better. 

Hemingway

The Hemingway readability software is a wonderful tool that helps you clean up your manuscript after the first draft. Providing a user-friendly system that highlights words and phrases in different colors, you can get an objective view of how well your work reads.

Yellow highlights overly complex sentences. Red means it’s too long and meandering to understand. Other colors represent other areas of your writing that demand your attention. I’d never recommend you rely on this completely but it does provide a useful alternative perspective.

Cold Turkey

One of the greatest pitfalls for authors is distraction. We live in a world of constant connection to our friends, colleagues, and unlimited entertainment. This is why Cold Turkey is perhaps ones of the most useful tools in a writer’s arsenal.

Its bulletproof format allows you to schedule blocks on specific websites or even your work email. It is very difficult to stop, edit or uninstall the program once the timer has begun. This means you can easily get into an intensive writing session without anything drawing your attention away.

Writer’s App

 Creativity is something that can’t be scheduled; often you can find yourself in the most inconvenient situations when a moment of brilliance comes to you. Writer’s App is an easy-to-use planning software for novelists, which lets you jot down ideas for books in an organized and easily-navigable manner.

The user interface was presented as a work desk. Books are organized by title and, once opened, have sub-sections for plot, characters and others, or can be viewed by chapters. As simple as this app is, it truly is one of the most useful tools available for brainstorming ideas.

Do you know of any other tools that deserve a place on this list? Have you used any of the tools listed above and want to share your thoughts? Be sure to leave a comment below, as I’d love to hear your ideas!

About the Author: Caroline is an entertainment blogger for Culture Coverage. She’s written all throughout her life and is probably working on some project right now. She loves how technology has revolutionized the way we write!

Want to write a guest post for All About the Authors? We welcome guest posts from authors and those who are experts in the book industry. What is your writing process? Where are you in your publishing journey and what advice do you have? Have you successfully marketed your book and do you have tips to share? All About the Authors wants to hear from you! If you’re interested in submitting a guest post to All About the Authors, please send your information and topic idea to allabouttheauthors@gmail.com with the subject line “Guest Post” or comment here.

 

Nine Rules for Writing Dialogue

Writing dialogue can be tricky. Here are nine rules that can help you craft believable and natural-sounding dialogue that will propel your narrative forward:

  1. Use dialogue tags properly.speech bubbles

The first letter of the first word needs to be capitalized all of the time, and there must always be ending punctuation. If the dialogue tag is a lead-in, it must always have a comma such as: She said, “Yes.” Stick to “said” for at least 90% of your tags. You can also use “asked.” Avoid tags like “stated” and “replied” as they mean nothing more than “said.” “Said” eventually blends into the background and disappears (like “the” and “and”), but if you repeatedly pick alternate words, those stand out and pull attention away from the dialogue itself and to the dialogue tag instead. Words like “grinned” and “shrugged” are not verbs that indicate speaking. You can’t “grin” a sentence, so be sure you’re not using it as a dialogue tag.

  1. Mix action in so we know what the characters are doing while talking.

You need to add stage directions, to help your readers envision the scene. Think of it like a movie or play—tell readers what your character is physically doing, not just what she is saying and feeling.

  1. Don’t let your characters say each other’s names too often.

Real people don’t speak that way. In fact, they almost never say each other’s names unless they’re calling to someone in another room.

  1. Consistently format your interior dialogue.

It doesn’t matter if you use italics or quotation marks, but be consistent. If you do neither and just set interior dialogue off with commas, it can be confusing, particularly if the book is in third person and the thoughts are in first person.

  1. The dialogue should be particular to the characters.

Well-written dialogue cannot be exchanged between characters because it’s too unique to each character. Do your men sound like men and women like women and children like children? Do they use language appropriate to their generation? Their education? Their region?

  1. Absolutely do not tart up exposition as poor dialogue.

This is the kiss of death for most readers. You can never have two characters tell each other things they already know as a way to introduce backstory. You may have heard that introducing backstory through dialogue is preferable than through exposition, but if it’s done badly, it’s worse. Effective ways to do it are for two characters to argue about what happened, to ask each other if they remember a particular thing, and to acknowledge that the other character probably already knows this. But…. you still want to keep this to a minimum.

  1. Don’t bury the lede.

People don’t wait to tell each other something important or exciting. They lead off with that. If they are waiting for some reason (for when the time is right, to mentally prepare, for one person to leave the room), tell readers that reason.

  1. No long lectures.

Break up (and shorten) really large lectures. That’s not how actual conversations work—especially between women who give a lot of feedback to each other—instead, have characters ask questions and say things like “Yeah,” “I hear you,” and “That sucks.”

  1. Be careful if you’re using dialect or an accent.

Accents can be confusing, they are very difficult to keep consistent, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of sounding like a caricature or like you’re making fun of people from a particular region.

 

Questions to Ask For Developing Characters

Developing characters in important and tricky. Here are some questions to ask yourself while you’re fleshing out your story, to be sure you’re creating good, believable characters that readers will identify with.characters

  • Main character—is he/she three dimensional? Believable?
    • When did you start to care about him/her?
    • Was his/her problem important-seeming?
    • Are his/her details (looks, age, jobs) introduced early and in a natural way?
      • Do his/her details make sense? Does the job make sense given the personality? Do the personality traits go together?
    • Is his/her backstory integrated well? If revealed in dialogue, does it sound natural? Is too much backstory given?
    • Do his/her behaviors match the described personality?
      • If a character is described as outspoken or strong or brave, yet doesn’t speak up, lets other characters run roughshod over him, and doesn’t stand up for himself, that’s a major incongruity. Readers will believe the actions over the description, but just make sure they match in the first place.
    • Is the main character as strong as he/she needs to be to overcome the obstacles?
    • Does he/she have a goal?
  • Secondary characters—are they three dimensional? Believable? Distinguishable?
  • Tertiary characters—are there too many?
  • Do the characters have appropriate motivation to act on the conflict?
  • If there is an antagonist, is he/she cartoonishly evil or realistically bad?
    • Even bad guys have some good traits—does yours?
    • Why is your bad guy bad? What is his/her backstory?
  • Are there any characters that appear in just one scene? Could their dialogue/action be given to a different character?
  • Do you have any major characters introduced late in the book (past the first quarter)?
  • Do any major characters disappear before the end of the book?
    • Should they really be as major a character in their part of the book, if they’re not important enough to be in the full story?
    • If they really are major and important characters, shouldn’t they appear throughout?
  • Are any of the characters stereotypes? Could they be fleshed out with some shades of gray to make them more believable?
  • Do you have female characters who aren’t wives, girlfriends, or secretaries?
  • Are the names varied enough in syllables and first letters? Are any names conveniently typical (such as “Matt Stoner” for a hippie)?

8 Tips to Win a Fiction Writing Contest

winning-trophyIf you’re a writer, chances are you’ve wondered whether or not you should enter a writing contest. There are lots of good reasons you should: the confidence boost if you place, the practice of submitting your work, and the awards and/or publication information you can add to your writing résumé, which boosts your credibility with potential readers, agents, and publishers.

 

For the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of being an early reader for the Women’s National Book Association’s annual fiction writing contest. While many of the entries are good, there are some that stand out. What makes these entries different? I’ve compiled a list of things the best fiction entries have in common.

  1. The writers follow the submission guidelines. If the contest has a word limit, stick to it. If there’s a theme, include it in your story. And be sure your story fits the criteria—don’t send your science fiction piece to a historical fiction contest.
  2. The copy is clean. Most entries are going to have a typo or two. That’s understandable. But the more errors I see, the more likely I am to stop reading.
  3. What’s in a name? Winning entries have intriguing titles. Every word counts in a short story, including your title. Good titles make me want to read immediately. Reading a title like “Excerpt from ________,” on the other hand, sounds like a snoozefest. Even if the entry is an excerpt, give it a standalone title.
  4. The beginning is strong. I know you hear that your lead must grab the reader’s attention right away. And you’re probably sick of hearing this tidbit, but it’s true. A short story follows a traditional story arc, but everything’s compressed. You’ve got to pull the reader in immediately.
  5. There’s an ending, not a cliffhanger. This is a biggie for me. Endings are tough, I know. Ocliffften short stories leave readers with an open-ended interpretation. The writer wants the reader to ponder what happened. But open-ended conclusions are not the same thing as cliffhangers. A cliffhanger is a great way to end a chapter, not a short piece of fiction. Readers want closure.
  6. The main character is vivid. By vivid, I don’t mean that the writers spend many words describing what the character looks like. I mean this character is hit with conflict and responds. Everything about him is believable from his dialogue to his actions.
  7. There’s something unique about the plot. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that a third of the entries I read for this last contest centered on someone having an affair. Another third focused on death. If you’re going to write about such a common theme, you better tackle it in a new way. To prove that this is possible, my favorite entry (the one I hope wins the whole shebang) fell into the affair category. But by golly, the author put a spin on it like I’ve never seen.
  8. The story made me feel something. The best entries made me laugh out loud, filled me with disdain, or left me sniffling. If you can make a reader connect emotionally, you’ve got something worth pursuing.

It’s a brave move to enter a writing contest. Make sure you’re competitive. Good luck!

 

 

Passive Voice: Why It’s the Worst

Writers should avoid passive voice whenever reasonably possible, mostly because many agents and editors consider it a pet peeve. In case you don’t know, in brief, passive voice is when you use any version of the verb “to be” including are, am, being, was, is, be, become, etc. with a past participle.

passive: The sentences in the paper were all passive.

active: Kate rewrote her paper in an active voice.

active voiceSometimes passive construction is the only real option, but that’s the case a tiny fraction of the time. Generally writers need to be aware of it and get rid of it whenever possible. It’s boring and, well, passive.

  • It slows action down and you want action in your book. Sometimes it can even cause confusion such as: “Dave was slung back against the wall in a hard thud.” It sounds like this happened by magic—like the way Darth Vader can choke someone from across a room. The writer ought to have a person sling him, hence getting rid of the passive voice: “The intruder slung Dave back against the wall.”
  • In certain situations, such as in business when trying to explain to a customer that they did something wrong without placing blame, you’d use the passive voice: “The orders were transmitted with errors” instead of “You sent orders with errors.”

How to Fix It:

  • The easiest solution is to reverse the sentence. Instead of saying “The company was sued by John,” you’d say “John sued the company.” This happens a lot when the acted upon becomes the subject and the actor is the object. If the actor is the subject, then you’ll always have an active situation.
  • Change your verb tense. There’s no good reason to say, “Erin was standing,” when you can say, “Erin stood.”
  • Try to get rid of as many “That was” and “It was” phrasings as possible. (Often in this construction there is a second “that” which also needs deleting for the sentence to make sense.)

passive: That was the solution that presented itself.

active: The solution presented itself.

  • Even when it doesn’t feel like adding action to you—changing “is” to “seems” for example—it still unconsciously registers with readers as less passive. Go through and see how many passive voice constructions you have in your writing. The exercise will make you think more carefully about word choice.

But passive construction is also okay. It’s a part of life. I’ve used passive verbs fifteen times in this article, not including examples. You don’t want to use them when they’re not necessary, particularly if there are good alternatives. But don’t do acrobatics and make your sentence structures convoluted just to avoid them.

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