Category Archives: On Writing

Prewriting: An Important Step You Shouldn’t Skip

For a very long time, I felt it was a waste of time to do anything other than sit down and write the story.  Writing time is precious.  We all know that.  So why bother with anything else?

Prewriting is pretty much just preparing yourself for the work you have ahead.  It doesn’t have to be painful when you realize that it will make the writing itself so much easier.  You don’t have to stop and decide where your characters are going to meet for lunch or wonder if you got the color of Billy’s car correct.  You won’t be interrupting your writing time by searching the internet for the perfect house for your main character.  So just how do you perform this miracle, anyway?

Character Profiles – If there’s anything I hate, it’s getting halfway through a story and forgetting what color a character’s eyes are.  Cue the character profile!  You can find templates for these all over the internet, but I often just make my own as I go.  You need to know what your character looks like, any quirks they might have, what they do for a living, or how they might act in certain situations.  Personally, I like to put a picture in my character profile so there’s never any question what they look like.

Plotting – This section is not for the pantsers out there!  I find great benefit in writing out my plot.  I like to know where I’m heading and how I’m going to get there.  That’s not to say that things never change as I’m writing.  My characters have been known to do what they want occasionally, but I don’t like to feel stuck partway through the story.

Settings – Where is your story taking place?  Is there a quaint café in a small town?  Or a biker bar with vintage beer signs?  Having a sense of setting is important to making a story seem real, and this can be even more important if you’re working in science fiction or fantasy.  Make drawings or look up pictures that ring true to the story you’re telling.  If the book takes place in the town you live in or grew up in, don’t just assume you know it the same way that someone who had never been there would.  Go out and find the little details that make the story real.

I know there are plenty of people out there who still aren’t interested in prewriting.  That’s okay, and you should do whatever works for you.  But I find that when I’ve done my homework, I can crank out 2,000 words in less than an hour.  That’s all the proof I need.  I never really understood the importance of prewriting until college, but I wish I had discovered it much sooner.

How do you write?  Let me know in the comments!

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

Interested in having your book reviewed?  Contact me.

 

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Quixotic Undertakings or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Write Nonfiction – Guest Post by Jennifer Kelly

by Jennifer Kelly

About five years ago, I was ready for a career change. I taught college writing classes, preparing students for both writing in college and for writing in the workplace, but, after more than a decade, though, I was ready to concentrate on my own writing career. That was when I decided to write my forthcoming book, my first attempt at nonfiction. After earning two degrees in English and years of teaching writing, I thought I had the right qualifications for that kind of project: I had conducted research, I had written many pages as both an instructor and a student, and I was a fan of the subject I had chosen. Surely, this would be easy, right?

Boy was I wrong!

Fiction vs. Nonfiction

At this point, outside of my academics, my writing had been focused on fiction. I had written a novel in middle school and had a long list of potential projects, but I needed something I could jumpstart this career with. The project that appeared to have the most potential was a book on America’s first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton. When I started in 2013, the 100th anniversary of his accomplishment was right around the corner – 2019 – so I had time to research and write, but I knew I could not take the whole six years to get it all done.

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Now, nearly five years later, the book is on schedule for a spring 2019 release from the University Press of Kentucky. With the manuscript done, I enter the final phase of the process where I contemplate revisions, marketing, and my future plans for both sides of my career, fiction and nonfiction. Here is what I learned about writing nonfiction after a lifetime of academic and fiction writing:

  • Academic background helps, but is not necessary – Though much of my academic writing technically was nonfiction, I did not have as much experience with the storytelling side of the genre. I was able to use my previous experience to conduct the research and to plan out the writing process for this type of book. However, you need not be an academic to learn and grow those skills. These can be picked up in other ways, such as writing for other publications in your field and researching the techniques of writing nonfiction.
  • You can be creative, just not in the same way – While all of the information I presented came from sources like newspaper articles and books, I still had leeway in how I wrote about the events in Sir Barton’s career. Nonfiction does not have to mean dry; while I must be objective, the language I use or the way I craft the timeline allows me to tell the story of this life in a way that is as engrossing as fiction can be.
  • Plan, plan, and plan – I know writers who use outlines in crafting their stories and others who might write in chunks they later weave together. For nonfiction, like the research papers you wrote as a student, you need a plan. Start with something simple and then layer in more information as necessary, but a plan is a must, especially if research is a big component of your project. Plan your research, your writing, and your search for an agent and a publisher.
  • Document your research and use tools to make citations easier – The two tasks that took the most time were not the actual writing, but the research and its accompanying documentation. Not only did I plan time to research, but I also kept tabs on the search terms, the libraries and other organizations I had searched, and the people I contacted. I also needed to be meticulous in keeping track of my sources; often, a paragraph might use five more sources and I needed to make sure that each one had its proper attribution. This can get unwieldy and complicated, especially as I had to create citations for each source.

One tool that can simplify that task is the citation generator that many word processors come with now. You can select your preferred citation style and then use the generator to create each citation; if you need to switch styles mid-project, your word processor can help you with that too. This tool can save so much time and grief! Even if you are using a limited number of sources, keep track of what you use to save you a step at the end.

  • Write a book proposal and query agents BEFORE you finish writing – I went to a writers’ workshop where I discovered that I need not finish the book before I started looking for an agent and a publisher. For that, I needed a book proposal and a list of possible agents. I crafted my book proposal and query letter and then searched for potential agents. By the time I finished my third draft, I had a publisher and a deadline in place.

Research your field. What companies publish books in your area of interest? What agents look for projects like yours? What should your book proposal include? Start querying while you are writing and you might find the right agent and publisher before you have typed that last word.

There you have it: a bit of what I learned writing my forthcoming book. If you want to hear more, I am happy to share my perspective on this process. My journey into writing Sir Barton’s story might have felt quixotic at times; nevertheless I found that I had the right stuff to finish it as time went on. Good luck on your writing journey!

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Jennifer Kelly’s first book Sir Barton: Conqueror of the Classics (tentative title) will be out in spring 2019 from the University Press of Kentucky. See more from Jennifer on the companion blog The Sir Barton Project (www.thesirbartonproject.com) and follow her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jenniferkellywrites/

Interested in writing a guest post for my blog?  Contact me!

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5 Things You Need to Do Before Hiring a Ghostwriter

So you’ve got a great story in mind, but maybe you aren’t much of a writer.  Or maybe you just don’t have the time to get it done.  For whatever reason, you’re considering hiring a ghostwriter.  Congratulations!

When I started freelancing full time, I never expected the vast majority of my work to be ghostwriting.  I’ve done many different kinds of work, but my calendar these days is chock-full of stories to write for others.  I love doing it, and I feel that it only enhances my craft, but along the way I’ve noticed a few things that would make things go a little more smoothly.  While there’s a lot you can do to prepare for the ghostwriting process, here are my top 5.

Know What You Want – If you know there are certain plot points or scenes that you want in your story, then you need to tell the ghostwriter up front.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to do a story, only to have the client come back and say, “Oh, but I wanted my character to do this.”  Sometimes it’s more difficult to go back and rework a scene than to just write it correctly in the first place.  You can’t expect Burger King to make your chicken sandwich with extra bacon if you don’t tell them that’s what you want.  Give yourself some time with your story so that you understand everything from the tone to the color of your main character’s shirt before you hire someone to write it.

Understand Stylistic Differences – The writing world is not an objective one.  While there are several standby rules that most people follow, everyone has different stylistic preferences.  Your ghostwriter might have a different style of writing than what you’re looking for, and you should ask for samples so you know what kind of work he or she does.  If possible, send over examples that show what you like.  This goes back to telling your writer what you want, but it’s something that spans the entire story.

Edits Aren’t Free – Well, they might be up to a certain point.  Establish a contract with your ghostwriter that outlines how many times they will go back over a given piece of work before charging more.  It takes time and effort to redo something, and you can’t expect a writer to do this for free simply because you’ve changed your mind.

Know What You’re Doing – Ok, I know this is turning into a bit of a rant.  The truth is that I’m very grateful for my ghostwriting clients, but this is one of my pet peeves.  If you don’t know how to construct sentences correctly or the proper way to use punctuation, then don’t criticize the way your writer does things.  I’ve had a client “edit” the work I sent in, only to add numerous comma splices and unnecessary phrasing.  It’s obnoxious.  Really.

Be Honest – If your ghostwriter is doing things that you genuinely don’t like, tell them as soon as possible!  Don’t slog along through an entire novel and wait until the end to ask them to change things.  With that in mind, I always think it’s a good idea to split a large piece into several sections so that you can provide feedback to your ghostwriter along the way.

The big idea here is to make sure you’re really ready and that you’ve thought about all aspects of your story before getting started.  Good luck!

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

Interested in having your book reviewed?  Contact me.

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Tiny Tips for Crushing Your Writing Goals

If you’re looking for writing tips, then you’ve probably heard all about having a dedicated space for writing and establishing a routine.  While there’s nothing wrong with these ideas (in fact, I’ve found them rather useful myself) I’ve realized over the years that there are some very small things I do that make a big difference.  These things are so small that they might not seem significant, but I’ve found that they’ve made a huge difference in my productivity.

Auto-Save Features:  I’ve always been a big fan of Microsoft, and I was thrilled when Office got an auto-save upgrade.  Every time I start typing, Word is backing me up.  I did a decent job of saving my work on a regular basis, but if you’ve ever lost an amazing paragraph that you could never make right again, then you know where I’m coming from.  This feature is becoming pretty common on word processors, so use it.  Automatic cloud-based backup is also essential.

Timers:  I used to sit down at my computer and feel as though I needed to force my way through several hours of writing before I deserved a break.  I could do it, but it left me feeling burnt out.  My body was stiff from sitting still so long, and I was constantly looking for reasons to avoid my work.

I’ve found, however, that it’s much more effective for me to get up and away from the computer regularly.  I set a timer on my computer for an hour (and I really try not to look at it), after which I get up and move around for ten minutes.  Do whatever works for you during those ten minutes:  clean the bathroom, take your bearded dragon for a walk, or see how many sit-ups you can do.  Just get away from your desk and move your body.  It’ll keep you from getting stiff and sore, and I find that it refreshes my mind and lets me come back to my work with more enthusiasm.

Time for walkies!

Good Health:  I know, it doesn’t seem like it should have much to do with writing.  And there’s no doubt that some great writing can come from going through very debilitating situations.  But overall, I’ve found that the better care I take of myself, the more energy I have.  That makes it easier to get the creative juices flowing without falling asleep at my keyboard.  Take your vitamins, eat right, and don’t OD on coffee just because you’re a writer.

Background Noise:  Something can be said for silence, but I really prefer to have some music going when I write.  Since I don’t like anything with lyrics, I go for soundtrack-style stuff.  On Pandora, I like the Blue Man Group and Audiomachine.  YouTube also has some great stuff, and you can check out my playlist here.  It’s even more effective with headphones to better drown out the chaos around you.

What little things do you do that help your writing?  I’d love to hear about them!

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

Interested in having your book reviewed?  Contact me.

 

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Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone – Guest Post by J.S. Frankel

by J.S. Frankel

It’s easy to write what you know. As a guy, white and cisgender straight, that’s what I started writing roughly six years ago because it was what I knew best. I wrote about white dudes and dudettes, introduced outlandish (at times) situations, had fight scenes and romances and it was all very good.

After all, I had to go with what I knew and pen a story about it. That’s what the experts say, and who are we to question them?

But is it the best way to improve? It depends. It’s my contention that a writer can improve within the genre they’ve chosen, working on narrative, dialogue, action, and so on, without having to switch to another genre.

At the same time, though, some writers can become complacent, coasting along on the formula that got them noticed in the first place. So, it depends.

In my case, not only did I want to improve my narrative technique, I also wanted to grow as a writer. For me, that meant stepping out of my comfort zone. It meant writing about the unfamiliar.

In the past, I’ve written lesfic as well as explored transgender issues. I did this because those two areas are unfamiliar to me, because there are people who are in the LGBT category, and because they have their own stories to tell, that is, the characters that I wanted to write.

If you are going to step outside your comfort zone, how you approach it is up to you, but this is what I’ve learned.

1. If you don’t know–ask. With the transgender crowd, I asked a few people to tell me their experiences. They were more than willing, and I incorporated their ideas.

2. Do your research. I cannot stress this enough. If you’re going to write about something unfamiliar to you, research it first and then research some more. Then ask if you are truly stumped. A wise person admits their ignorance; a fool does not, and thereby exposes everything.

3. Expect to be called on it. In fact, even if you’re writing about something you know, chances are at least one person will call you on it. When writing about a different orientation, the chances of messing up are doubly so, so expect criticism.

That’s what happened to me. Some of it was justified; much of it was not. It had nothing to do with the style or the narrative. Some people simply couldn’t accept a straight guy writing about lesbians. That’s how it goes.

4. Make the characters real. An excellent novel I read, Crimson Fire, had a black lesbian as the main character. The way the writer, Mirren Hogan, approached it, was nothing short of incredible, and yet it was so naturally and simply done, I had to keep reading.

Her main character said that she preferred women and that was that. No muss, no fuss, no much ado about anything; it was stated clearly and it is to Ms. Hogan’s credit that she not only created a very fine novel, it also showed her main character in a very positive light. The orientation of the character turned out to be unimportant. It was the character, what she did and how she conquered, that was the most compelling part of the story.

To me, that’s how you should portray someone who is different from the default, not dramatizing, but simply showing.

Even if you do everything right, see point #3. Sooner or later, someone will take offense at what you write. It doesn’t matter how good it is or how sympathetic the characters are or how well it’s written…at least one person will always find fault with what you do.

That’s the risk every writer must take. It is then up to the writer to either accept that criticism–if justified–or discard it. In any case, keep writing. That’s been my mantra from day one. To quote Captain Picard: “Make it so.”

J.S. Frankel was born in Toronto, Canada and grew up there, receiving his tertiary education from the University of Toronto and graduating with a double major in English Literature and Political Science.

After working at Gray Coach Lines for a grand total of three years, he came to Japan at the age of twenty-six and has been there ever since, teaching English to any and all students who enter his hallowed school of learning.

In 1997, he married Akiko Koike. He, his wife and his two children, Kai and Ray, currently reside in Osaka. His hobbies include weight training, watching movies when his writing schedule allows, and listening to various kinds of music.

His novels, all for the YA set, include Twisted, Lindsay Versus the Marauders and it’s sequels, Lindsay, Jo, and the Tree of Forever, and Lindsay, Jo and the Well of Nevermore, all courtesy of Regal Crest Enterprises. He has also written the Catnip series (five novels), Mr. Taxi, The Titans of Ardana and its sequel, The Titans of Ardana 2: Battlefield, along with Picture (Im)perfect and more novels, courtesy of DevineDestinies.com.

Future projects for Devine Destinies include the final novel in the Titans trilogy, the final novel in the Just Another Quiet… trilogy, The Undernet, the re-release of Star Maps, and more. He is also the author of The Menagerie and The Nightmare Crew trilogy, all courtesy of Finch Books.

You can find J.S. Frankel on Amazon and Twitter.

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Writing Update!

I’ve been working on the outline for the third book in the Dragon Keeping Chronicles, to follow up The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and Once a Wanderer.  

I’ve been wanting to write this book for two years.  The basic idea for it came when I was writing Once a Wanderer, but I just never seemed to have the time.  I’m a full-time freelance writer, and my clients have always come first.  I kept thinking I would take a few weeks off during the summer or write my books in the evenings, but it just wasn’t happening.

Finally, it is.  What seems to be working the best is to set aside the first hour of every work day for my own writing.  This means that I continually make progress on my work (even if it’s not quite as much as I would like) and that I always look forward to starting my work day.

But something else is happening, too.  It seems that the more time I take for my personal writing, the more I want to write!  I’ve outlined a completely unrelated story and jotted down basic story ideas for at least three more.  And while I’ve been working on my third dragon book, I realized that it’s quite possible there may be a fourth installment.  At the very least, I have some preliminary notes.

While I can’t say too much without giving things away, I’m just pleased to say that there are more stories in the works!  Make sure you find me on Facebook to stay updated!

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The Benefits of Paying Attention to Your Supporting Characters: Guest Post by J.E. Nice

by J. E. Nice

I love a good supporting character.  Not only do I personally tend to find them more interesting than the protagonist, but they can add so much to your stories, whether it’s adding to the plot, creating more scenes or to be used as a device for your main character.

Many writers may be tempted to overlook fully developing their supporting characters, because they’re putting all of their effort into their main cast. It’s understandable. Sometimes your main character just needs a best friend to lean on, and that’s all they’re there for.

But by not discovering who that best friend is, you could be missing a trick.

Let me give you an example.

Nearly ten years ago I started writing a fantasy novel. I had a vague idea for the plot but I had a definite protagonist, antagonist, and one supporting character who was going to help my heroine.

I wrote half of the book before I had to stop and acknowledge that something was missing. My main character and the bad guy were in two separate places, and I needed something extra there until they met towards the middle of the book.

I created two new characters for this purpose, a young maid and an old army veteran, and placed them in the vicinity of my antagonist.

What I wasn’t expecting was for the maid to be so curious about what was going on or quite so headstrong. Neither was I expecting the two to hit it off quite so well in the first scene I wrote with them alone together.

By the time I’d written the two into my existing manuscript, the maid had nearly completely taken over the plot.

What did this add to my novel? Well, it’s now the first in a trilogy. The whole story went from being one of a strong woman to three women all at different stages in their lives but all on the same path. By adding those two characters, the whole book became stronger and more fun to write.

If that hasn’t convinced you to pay more attention to your supporting characters (or to create some more), here are five benefits those characters could bring to your stories:

1. They will help to strengthen your plot.

No matter how much you plot and plan your stories (if you do at all), your characters will always surprise you as they develop and grow. It’s the sign of a well written character, a good story, and that you’re really getting into the writing. (Which is good; if you’re bored of writing, the reader will be bored reading it.)

By giving some focus to your supporting characters, you’re giving more scope for surprise from your cast. Who knows which supporting character could throw up a red herring for you or be the key to the whole mystery.

They may not take over the plot, but on the other hand…

2.  They may take over your plot.

If your supporting characters are particularly strong-willed, they may surprise you and this could include taking over the story, as mine did. If this happens, you can choose to embrace it and see where they lead you, embrace it but make sure they stay in line, or keep them quiet but take notes (see point five).

Your plot and story might change if you allow them to take over, but it could become so much better than you originally thought.

3.  Their stories will make the whole story more interesting.

By getting to know the backstories, motivations and personality traits of your supporting characters, you’ll be able to create subplots. Those little storylines that occur alongside, and potentially weave in and out of, your main plot. These subplots give your reader something else to focus on, especially when they need a break from the frantic drama and action of your main plot, or maybe when you want to create a little suspense. This can also include some comic relief and a bit of humanity, and could end up being integral to the climax of the overarching storyline.

4.  They’ll help to develop your protagonists.

If you create your supporting character with a full backstory and personality traits, then you’ll have someone complete for your protagonists to bounce off. By doing this, you might get to see a new side to your main characters. Maybe a supporting character will rub them the wrong way, or perhaps they’ll get on better than you had anticipated.

However your main characters react, it’ll give them a little more depth and something new for your reader to consider and potentially love about them.

5. You’ll find they give you more material.

If your supporting characters turn out to have a particularly interesting backstory, or if they’re trying to take over, they could give you new ideas and material for further stories and books.

A particular favourite supporting character in your novel could have a short story, novella or even their own novel. This can be great fun for you as a writer, but readers who loved the original story will be more than happy to have more of what could be their favourite characters.

If you’re building your author platform and business, a short story about a supporting character can be a great freebie for your growing readership. Or you can try submitting it to publications as a marketing tool for your novel.

So those supporting characters could not only make your plot better and give your main characters more depth, they can be great for sales, marketing and building a loyal readership.

Honestly, you have nothing to lose by devoting more attention to your supporting characters. So give them a chance to shine. They may surprise you.

Jenny Lewis is a fantasy writer, freelance marketing assistant and runs the fiction writer’s resources hub Write into the Woods. Her trilogy, The Last War, is available now and you can get the first book, mentioned in this post, Matter of Time, for free. Jenny lives in Bristol, UK, a city where it is downright encouraged to be weird, wonderful and every inch yourself, with her husband and Labrador puppy, Bucky.

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