Category Archives: Unsolicited Writing Advice!

How did you get along without it?

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!

Advertisements

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.

Snowmageddon awaits

It was sunny and clear this afternoon in New Jersey, and unlike the photo to the left, snow-free. (Though that’s to change soon as a blizzard is barrelling up the coast) The wind was relatively calm, and from my window I could see all kinds of birds pecking at the feeder and except for the barren vegetation, it could have been almost be anytime of the year. But it isn’t, and I don’t need to step outside into the low-twenties chill to feel the hollowness of the season in my bones. After the choreographed optimism of the New Year fades into the mundane, what are we actually left with? Only the anti-climatic yawn of the Dead of Winter and the ennui that follows.

Maybe it’s just a sugar crash after all those Christmas cookies, but last fall’s good intentions and best laid plans now seem as sensible as earmuffs in August, and you’re left staring at a whole lot of letdowns. What happened to that get-up-and-go, those ideas that seemed so workable, those plans set to be implemented as soon as the everything got back to normal, post-holiday? Instead, you’re quickly finding out that things don’t really change, that everything goes comfortably back to the way it was, or more often than not, gets just a little bit worse.  You’re finding yourself just a little more broke, a touch fatter, a tad less cheerful and a whole lot lazier. A stretch on the sofa feels more natural that an extended stretch at laptop, and when you do find yourself in front of a screen, it’s more likely for Netflix than for fixing that severely flawed manuscript.

Not that you haven’t tried. To fix that manuscript, I mean. But everything you seem to write is crap. As it was the last time you looked at it just before Christmas. When you told yourself you’d make it better next month. When you had more time. When everything calmed down.  After the New Year. When all that holiday hoo-hah is behind you and you can finally think again. In January. Because in January the Universe presses the big RESET button and all wrongs get righted, everything gone down goes up, all promises are kept. When the Muse of Inspiration suddenly infuses us with glorious plot threads, miraculous turns-of-phrase and endings so sock-blowing that ever-elusive editor you queried back in the fall suddenly jumps from your proposal and screeches “MY GOD! THIS IS GONNA MAKE US MILLIONS!”

As if. So what to do?

Beats me. I’m depressed, remember? Deads of Winter tend to breed brain-deadness. Or at least that’s how it feels from here. All I can offer is this isn’t my first Dead of Winter, that I’ve made it through several, and there’s just something about January that breeds contempt. And invariably, things do pick up by February. Maybe it is all that holiday crap we ingested and like a six-year-old on Halloween night, we just need to sleep it off.

Here’s hoping. Back to work….

 

Great Expectations

Okay, I’m a big fan of Outlander. Not only the series on  Starz, but of the books, as I’ve been reading them since a few years after the first book (named Outlander, oddly enough) came out. I had met series author Diana Gabaldon years ago at a cocktail party at a New Jersey Romance Writers’ conference, where she was so kind to explain to me just how she wrote one of her more grisly scenes (the memory of it and how my stomach lurched, will be better left unwritten at this juncture thankyouverymuch). She was very charming and personable, and years later I had the chance to encounter her again in New York, this time at a Random House Author Breakfast. It was there she disclosed for the first time that just the night before, she had finalized the contract for the Starz Outlander series, to excited gasps from her rabid fan base sitting in the audience, thrilled that Jamie and Claire would finally come to life. But I wonder ever since that day how many of her readers have been disappointed? Because how much is really lost when characters–and storylines–jump from the page to the screen?

I read a romance once where the author stated in her forward that she based her two lead characters, a pirate and a spoiled and screeching noblewoman, on George Clooney and Nicole Kidman. Really? The debonair Clooney as a peg-legged arrrrgh -ing privateer? The elegant Aussie as a continual pain-in-the-ass? Didn’t help that all they did in the book was fight. Just didn’t wash for me, especially since I saw Clooney and Kidman as having zero chemistry. But that was beside the point. I resented the fact I was being directed to imagine a character in a certain way, rather than to let their deeds and actions unfold in my own mind as to what they really were about. When I read a book, it’s should be my interpretation of the writing, not that author’s. That’s why there are book discussion groups, as every reader has a different impression of the author’s vision. And in when a book jumps to a screen small or large, that vision is then ceded by the author to the screenwriters and ultimately, the director.

Every Monday morning I read the Outlander recap in The New York Times and invariably, there’s someone bitching about how much the show is missing/has changed/has been altered from book to series. There’s some changes I’ve liked, there’s some that I’ve questioned, there’s some that I outright hate. Comments say the book is so much better, and some, who’ve never read the books, suggest avenues the characters can take. Those who are like me, enjoy it for what it is. I can live with both because I’ve experienced both, and I see each for what they are. As a writer, I know when I put my work out there, my characters are bound to be altered by each person who reads my story, as each approach it with different life experiences and expectations.

But that’s the chance we take when we become writers, as it’s nearly impossible for our vision to be transferred unaltered into another person’s brain. The best we can hope for is it’s intact enough to remain enjoyable and worthy enough to read. And that enough people end up reading it to end up transferring it from a Kindle into a more widely-distributed screen. Or so we hope.

You don’t have to go just because I’m the Veep, you know…

Want to Write? Love to Read?

Mark Your Calendar for the 9th Annual Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference!

Saturday, March 24 thru Sunday, March 25, 2018
at the Renaissance Woodbridge Hotel in Iselin, NJ

Whether you’re indie published, traditionally published, not quite published, or simply love to read, we have something for you. Join us for this exciting, fun, and informative event!

The Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference features a line up of more then 20 authors and industry professionals who will share their expertise and experience. Located a in New Jersey, just a short train ride from New York City, we offer a weekend of education, networking, and fun in a relaxed setting.

Registration is now open. Go here for more information on workshops, editor/agent appointments, and guests.

 

NANOWRIMO is coming!

According to their website…

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. 

On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.

Mission Statement

National Novel Writing Month believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.

NaNo Prep

Ready to start planning your November novel? Our NaNo Prep resources are here for you.

During October,  they’ll provide resources to inspire, challenge, and prepare you to write that novel.

Look to their blogforumsFacebook, and Twitter for updates on new stuff.

Sign up and get ready to write!

No more boring characters. Please. Pretty please.

Without interesting characters, there would be no reason to pick up a novel, as humans are all basically voyeurs, and our most favorite pastime is observing each other. With a good read we can get inside an imaginary human’s head, see what makes them tick, understand their flaws and foibles. So beyond what physical descriptions can tell us about our characters, what can we do to make them alive and breathing, especially considering some modern schools of thought decry physical descriptions at all? Let’s take a look at this “Checklist on Creating Characters,” taken from David Starkey’s Creative Writing – Four Genres in Brief  (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009), a terrific textbook I’ve used in my Creative Writing classes:

  1. Do you know your main characters and their desires well? You should have a strong sense of who your characters are, where they live, where they’ve been, and the driving forces that make them act. They should know what they want and what they’re prepared to do to get it.
  2. Does your story show us only the essential aspect of your characters? While it’s important that you know your characters thoroughly, you will be revealing only a tiny sliver of that info on the page. Show your characters being themselves, only more so. Whatever conflict they are involved in should bring out a heightened sense of who they really are.
  3. Is your description of each character appropriate to, and necessary for, that character’s function in the story? You, the author, should always have a clear mental picture of your characters, but you should ask yourself if a complete physical, psychological, ethical, etc., description is really necessary for all characters. Unless some physical or emotional aspect of your character is necessary to the storyline, leave it out.
  4. Are the characters’ names appropriate? Do it reflect their personality? Their ethnicity? A physical characteristic? Try not to have too many Sams, Steves, Saras or Susans, as so many of the same letter can be confusing. And if that 1840s character from the remotest region of cloistered China is named O’Brien, you better have a reason why.
  5. Should that character be named at all? He’s a doorman the protagonist breezes past on the way out. Who cares. Unless, of course, later on he comes after him with a shotgun.
  6. Are your main characters different at the end of the story than they were in the beginning? The most convincing fictional characters are both consistent and surprising. Reread the opening and concluding sections of your story. Do you see a difference in how your protagonist began and how he or she ends up? If there’s no growth–or considerable decline–then you have a static character, and your readers will feel cheated.
  7. And at the end, will they leave your readers wanting more? Essential if you want to continue your story in a series. Like breadcrumbs through the woods, leave a trail of intriguing tidbits about the characters you’d like your readers to follow into the next book. And the next, and the next, and beyond.

New Agent On the Prowl

While I was perusing one of my favorite writing-related sites, Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity, I came across some brandy-new agents who are actively seeking clients and lo and behold–one of them is from the agency that represents moi! Her name is Meg LaTorre-Snyder of Corvisiero Literary, and here’s the skinny on who she is and what she’s looking for…

Meg LaTorre-Snyder is an editor and writer with a background in magazine publishing, journalism, medical writing, and website creation. With her background, she’s excited to have a hands-on editorial partnership with authors. She has written for digital and print publications on a variety of topics, including book publishing, writing how-tos, nutrition, healthy living, startup companies, and pharmaceuticals. In her free time, she enjoys working on her own adult fantasy manuscript, reading long novels, drinking tea by the bucket, running in competitive races, participating in musical productions, playing basketball, and reading nutrition textbooks (yep, textbooks). To learn more about Meg, visit her website, follow her on Twitter/Facebook, and subscribe to her YouTube channel, iWriterly.

What she is seeking: YA, NA, and adult:

Fantasy
Historical fiction
Romance (with magical elements)
Space opera
Steam punk
Thrillers (with magical elements)
She loves books written in third-person with multiple POVs, quirky, realistic characters, and rich descriptions.

Meg is not interested in nonfiction, picture books, contemporary stories (particularly those with no magical elements), erotica, horror, dystopian, screenplays, poetry, short stories, and novellas.

How to Submit: Send your query, first five pages, and 1-2 page synopsis in the body of an email (no attachments) to query@corvisieroagency.com with the following information in the subject line:

Query for Meg: [TITLE OF MANUSCRIPT IN ALL CAPS], [age group], [genre]

Getting ready to pitch? Read me first!

So you’re getting ready to pitch your book at your first writers conference because you think you’ve finished the ms. But have you? Here’s something few new writers realize: you haven’t. Then how do you know when you have finished? When you send back the publisher’s galleys. Galleys? What are galleys?

Oh boy, do you have some work to do.

So between now and then you need to go over your manuscript with a magnifying glass, looking for plot holes, continuity slips, characters inconsistencies, etc. This is also a good time to use a beta reader, a critique partner (highly recommended), or someone you trust to give it an honest, critical read, and not someone who’ll just say “It was great!” because they don’t want to damage your fledgling writer ego. (Look, I may as well hit you with it now–the World of Writing is a World of Hurt. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can dab off your cryin’ eyes and get back to work.) But here’s a caveat to all that critiquing–DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY! If your betas are worth it they’re not criticizing you, they’re critiquing the work. And it’s better hearing it from them first than having it rejected by an editor or agent because of some very fixable flaw. So do the work now and get it over with because you’re going to do it eventually anyway. Your work will need to be as perfect as possible, and that’s  the whole work, right to THE END.

One thing that is ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE is that you MUST have a FINISHED MANUSCRIPT before you start pitching it. Why? Let me tell you something about agents and editors: they are being bombarded by submissions. My agent alone gets up to 200 queries a week. If you get a submission request and you don’t send your manuscript within a month, trust me, she’ll forget all about you. Strike while the iron is  steaming and before you move out of her memory. But again, only after you polish that manuscript until it’s pink and screaming.

The Basics—Genre and Word Count.

You know what your manuscript is about, but how would you categorize it? And what is your word count?  A typical fiction novel is 75,000 to 100,000 words, though most check in around 80-85k. Round this number to the nearest thousand. The editor doesn’t have to know it’s 82,437 words. You also need to know your genre. This is key as this is how you’ll not only narrow your search for an agent, but once you’ve found one, it’s how she’ll target it to editors. Common Fiction genres are:

literary                 commercial          mystery                romance    

women’s fiction   humor/satire        historical              new adult

young adult          middle grade       children’s             picture book

espionage             thriller/suspense    gay/lesbian          military

horror           fantasy        sci-fi                graphic novel

paranormal           erotica

Or any combination of. Some of the popular genres, such as mystery and romance, also have sub-genres, ie, “cozy” mysteries, like Agatha Christie, or historical romance, or spec-sci-fi.

Common Non-Fiction genres are:

history                 sports                   biography            science

memoirs               narrative              pop culture          cultural/social sci

travel                   political                humor                  gift books

health/fitness       gardening            photography       self-help

true crime            art                        adventure            business

how-to                 journalism           religion                cookbooks

celebrity               current affairs

You need to be very familiar with your genre and word count, as you’ll need it for your presentation or query. It’ll be one of the first things the editor or agent will want to know.

Finding your Perfect Editor/Agent

The majority of publishers no longer accept unagented submissions. Some epublishers do, and so do some genre pubs, like romance and sci-fi but if you want to target one of the major houses without an agent, really the only way you’re going to get to them is through pitch sessions at writers conferences or the direct recommendation of one of their clients. Unless you’re lucky enough to know the latter, you’re going to have to do some legwork for the former.  Because there’s nothing worse than meeting with an editor or agent face-to-face and having them say, “Sorry, I don’t represent that genre.” From which the luminescent glow of your  crimson face will no doubt show the world what a minor league player you are. So do your homework.

  • Read other authors in the genre of what you write, and target those editors or agents. Look in the acknowledgement page and see who the author thanks. Look through the books you have already bought, or go haunt your local bookstore. Then when you’re querying the agent, or sitting down for a face-to-face, you can say your book is a cross between “this writer and that writer with a touch of another writer thrown in.”
  • Literary Marketplace (LMP). If you don’t know what it is, time to find out. Available in hard copy and database at most local libraries.
  • Manuscript Wish List , the websiteMSWL or the hashtag, #MSWL. Find editors and agents, and see what they’re looking for.
  • Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity. Love love love this blog. Too much publishing info to put down on this entry, so go there and see for yourself.
  • Go directly to the agent’s website, and see what authors they represent, and what books they’ve sold. This is even more important for an editor. Go directly to the publisher’s website. An editor or agent may say they LIKE something but if they’ve never SOLD it, they may not be a good fit. A SALE is always a more reliable indicator.

Targeting your Editor or Agent

Now that you know your genre, and how to research an agent, or an editor, you need to target which one will fit your style. Compare the list of visiting editors and agents to what you write and see if there’s a fit. If an editor only publishes literary fiction and you write sci-fi, chances are, no matter how well you write, they will not accept your submission. Same goes with agents. If an agent’s specialty is romance, and you write essays, you’re going to strike out. Too many times writers will submit to agents that don’t represent their type of writing, and then can’t understand why they get rejected. I can’t stress this enough: It’s better NOT to submit than to submit to the wrong editor and/or agent. Don’t think they’re just going to fall in love with your western and grab it anyway, when all they’ve previously sold is cookbooks. That happens VERY rarely in the real world. Save yourself a lot of needless rejection angst and just do your homework.

Now hop to it!