Meet Writers! Editors and Agents in the Flesh! And there’s a bar, too!


Tips from the MFA pit – Part One

Readers of this blog may have noted I teach in an MFA in Creative writing program. From day one students work on what will eventually become their thesis, as well as study the history of their chosen genre, their work process, and a few other writing subjects. Along the way, I dispense advice on all of the above, and dang it! if now and then I’m just chock full ‘o wisdom. I’d like to share a few of those pearls, and what follows is ACTUAL ADVICE FROM A REAL-LIVE MFA MENTOR! To a real-live student (who shall remain nameless lest anyone find out she’s actually listening to me…) Today’s entry is on craft, starting with a lesson on those pesky Voice Tags, and ending with what’s commonly referred to as “Info Dumps…”

You say you hate using voice tags. Well, I don’t know of anyone who loves using them! The thing is it’s not the voice tag itself, as much as indicating in some way who’s doing the speaking. You can also do this by including an action or a reaction by the speaker. For example:
Lana fell back against the bed. “I can’t believe how tired I am.”
“There’s no place to go, so I may as well go home.” Then she closed the door behind her.
Or in a conversation…
Jane knew better than to argue with her sister. Amy, as the eldest,
always believed she was right. But when Amy said she’d rather stay home, Jane took it as the last straw.
Jane stared at her. “You can’t be serious.”
“You better believe I am.”
“But what about the kids?”
Amy shrugged. “They’ll have more fun without me.”
When you have a back-and-forth dialogue, it’s understood that each character takes a new line. You introduce the first character (Jane), then it’s understood, from a previous line of prose (Jane knew better…) that this would be a two way conversation. You just can’t let it go on too long without indicating the speaker, as the readers lose track and it becomes confusing.
Actually, you can write a whole book without using a voice tag doing the above. But sometimes you just have to use them. Especially in action scenes when you want your writing to be more immediate. Too much description can slow the story down. With action, you use short, clipped sentence to show immediacy, and strong voice tags add to the mood or action.
“Shut up,” he snapped, slapping her.
“Yes I’ll marry you!” she cried.
“I’ve never met anymore like you,” he whispered, his voice hot against her ear.
If you find yourself thinking hard and long about which voice tag to use, then you’re using too many variations of them. Use “said” for a statement, and “asked” for a question. Too many variations become clunky, and they draw attention to themselves. After a while, “said” and “asked” become invisible, and that’s what you want. In essence, only use them it its absolutely necessary for clarity.
As I noted before, you want your reader to ride along for the discovery of your plot, and if you “tell” it instead of “show” it, you’ll have your reader bored by page two. This is absolutely essential: you need to grab your reader on the first page. Even better than that – in the first paragraph. The first line. You can’t expect your reader—or an editor or an agent—to wait until Chapter Six for your story to take off. Because what you’re asking is for them to have all this background information in their head that they need to remember BEFORE they could follow your plot. It’s like asking them to learn how to read all the manuals on how to fly a plane before they could ride in one. Divulge your information on a need-to-know basis. Reveal the information as the characters live it. Don’t rob your readers of the delight of discovering it for themselves.

Six of one and a half dozen of the other

Fabulous fiction writing (you know, like the kind I do), just doesn’t magically appear on the page. It’s built around a frame of six major elements, each one essential to the over all narrative. Want to know what they are? I thought you’s never ask!

The Six Major Elements of Fiction

  1. Character — A figure in a literary work (personality, gender, age, etc). E. M. Forester makes a distinction between flat and round characters. Flat characters are types or caricatures defined by a single idea of quality, whereas round characters have the three-dimensional complexity of real people..
  2. Plot – the major events that move the action in a narrative. It is the sequence of major events in a story, usually in a cause-effect relation.

Conflict –  Plot usually involves one or more conflicts, which are problems that need to be solved. The “movement” towards a solution is what drives the narrative forward, and is what occupies most of the protagonist’s time. The more rewarding plots are often built around mental, emotional and moral conflicts.  Plots involving physical conflict, war, exploration, escapes often contain the most excitement and suspense.  Here are the major types of conflict:

  1. Man’s struggle against nature
  2. Man against man
  3. Man against society
  4. Man against himself (i.e. a portrayal of an inner struggle)

The first three types are said to be external conflicts, while the last one is internal.

  1. Point of View — the vantage point from which a narrative is told. A narrative is typically told from a first-person or third-person point of view. In a narrative told from a first-person perspective, the author tells the story through a character who refers to himself or herself as “I.” Third –person narratives come in two types: omniscient and limited. An author taking an omniscient point of view assumes the vantage point of an all-knowing narrator able not only to recount the action thoroughly and reliably but also to enter the mind of any character in the work or any time in order to reveal his or her thoughts, feelings, and beliefs directly to the reader. An author using the limited point of view recounts the story through the eyes of a single character (or occasionally more than one, but not all or the narrator would be an omniscient narrator).
  2. Setting –- That combination of place, historical time, and social milieu that provides the general background for the characters and plot of a literary work. The general setting of a work may differ from the specific setting of an individual scene or event.
  3. Style — The author’s type of diction (choice of words), syntax (arrangement of words), and other linguistic features of a work.
  4. Theme(s) — The central and dominating idea (or ideas) in a literary work. The term also indicates a message or moral implicit in any work of art.

Got it? Now get writing!

Editors and Agents! Live and In Person!

Being a member of Liberty State Fiction Writers affords me the opportunity to go to a great writers conference each year (ours), and to also meet up with editors and agents. Although I’m fortunate to already have a literary agent, there’s always the chance to meet up with editors and other industry professionals, and this affords a lot of opportunities. Like finding out who is buying what, current market trends, new authors and hot titles, and too many perks to mention here. I must say that going to a writers conference that offers chances to sit down with editors or agents, gives you an edge in scoring one if you already don’t have one, or even if you do, and are looking for alternate routes to sell. This year’s LSFW conference on March 24-25 has a great line-up of industry professionals, affording writers a chance to pitch in person. And take it from someone who sold a series of books this way: nothing is better than meeting up in person, so an editor or agent can connect a face to a project. Here’s the line up so far coming to this year’s Liberty States Conference:

Attending Editors

  • Elle Keck – Assistant Editor, Avon Romance
  • Yelena Casale – Executive Editor, City Owl Press
  • Tina Moss – Executive Editor, City Owl Press
  • Jennie Conway – Editorial Assistant, St. Martin’s Press
  • Tiffany Shelton- Swerve/St. Martin
  • Alexandra Hess – Assistant Editor, Skyhorse Publishing

Attending Agents

  • Marisa Corvisiero – Corvisiero Literary Agency
  • Michelle Grajkowski- 3 Seas Literary Agency
  • Lauren Galit – LKG Agency
  • Caitlen Rubino-Bradway – LKG Agency
  • Stephanie Hansen- Metamorphasis Agency
  • Annie Bomke, Annie Bomke Literary Agency
  • Eva Scalzo, Speilburg Literary

Appointments will take place on Saturday, March 24, 2018. You must be registered for the conference writers track to be eligible for an appointment. They are assigned on a first come first serve basis, so be sure to register early. Don’t miss your chance to pitch your book to one of our exciting collection of industry professionals. See Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference page for more info.

Once and awhile I get out in the open

Just a few snaps from the “First Line, First Para, First Page” writers’ workshop Linda J. Parisi and I gave at Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe in Greenwood Lake, NY, this past Sunday, January 21.  Great turnout and great press, with a radio spot on WTBQ, Orange County Radio on Thursday,  January 18, and in their local Times Herald-Record, a great local newspaper, a paper that’s the way local newspapers used to and should be still. Anyway, it was fun, the attendees packed the shop, and they want us to come back in the spring. They’re just asking for it, I suppose. Many thanks to store manager Maria Stasolla for hosting us!

The side of Gwen Jones’ head next to Linda J. Parisi, fellow speaker and workshop-giver.
Attendees intently listening and asking questions.
And me, intently listening to Linda and attendee Tiffany.
“What did you say?”
Linda, captivating the crowd.

Appearing Live! In Greenwood Lake, NY

WHO: Gwen Jones and Linda Parisi

WHAT: “First Line, First Para, First Page” Writers’ Workshop.

WHEN: Sunday, 21 January, 2018, from 1:00 – 3:00 PM.

WHERE: Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe, Greenwood Lake, NY

WHY: Learn how to create a catchy opening page to capture attention of editors and agents. Bring first page of work-in-progress. Please RSVP, space is limited.

HOW: By showing up. What are you, some kinda smart guy?

Book signing and author mingle to follow. Accolades shamelessly accepted. Click here for more information.

Seriously Snark

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