Everything You Wanted to Know About Agents

31 Jul

Lately I’ve been trying to find an agent, and, man, it’s hard! There are so many things to think about, so many things to research. I’ve been doing a TON of work to figure this out, and I want to make things easier for you.

That’s why I’m going to be writing a series of posts all about helping you find an agent.

So, I want to know where you’re at. What questions do you have that you’re dying to have answered? Do me this favor, and make it easier for me to help you!

Tell me which of the questions below you most need answered.

 

Please, comment below if you have any other questions or suggestions. Thanks for your help, everyone!

Why Life-or-Death isn’t the Best Character Conflict – and What Is

24 Jul Life-or-Death Character Conflict

Characters Need Conflict

We torture them, make them fall off cliffs – it’s all part of an exciting plot. So wouldn’t it seem like your character running for their life would be the best conflict you can get? Nope!

Life-or-death is not the type of struggle that will resonate most with your readers. It is not the struggle that will keep them turning pages. This comes as a surprise to many authors, but it’s true.

Here’s the reason why – there is nothing in a life-or-death struggle that actually ties to the character. Anyone can be facing a life threatening situation. It has nothing to do with the character’s inner self, and there’s no growth that comes of it. The character leaves from the fire, they barely survive. It’s exciting, but the character hasn’t changed.

What is the Most Important Conflict?

For a struggle to be truly riveting, to be emotionally powerful to your readers, it has to impact the character’s inner self. Readers want to be caught up in your characters. They want to relate to them, to feel like they’re real people. The best way to do this is to give your character an internal struggle. Everyone goes through inner turmoil, so when a character does, we relate.

You see the difference between that and a character who just fights for their life?

When your character struggles to overcome their flaws or something from their past that’s holding them back, that is the most important struggle they can have. Whenever your character’s goals are inhibited by something within themselves that the character has to overcome, that is when your readers will cheer.

An Example

Let’s look at an example of this in The Hunger Games. The life or death situation is an integral part of the plot. But Katniss’ struggle in being able to love Peeta – that is what kept us reading. The question of whether she will be able to put aside all of her inhibitions to pretend to love Peeta, when he really does love her, is the struggle that we were most interested in. That was the struggle that added complexity to her character and made her feel real.

So, yes, life-and-death struggles are important for your plot, but character struggles are what will make your book stand out.

What are your ideas? What struggles do you make your characters face? Let us know in the comments!

Also, pop on over to aliventures.com to read my guest post – “Four Ways to Fall in Love with Writing (Again)”.

3 Surprising Story Killers – and How to Avoid Them

17 Jul

Man, I just finished reading a book that looked like it would be good – but it was awful. The basic plot was interesting, so I was trying to figure out what had killed it. There were three main things I came up with that we all need to watch out for.

Fake Dialogue

Many things the characters said did not feel real at all. They used big words and strange expressions, things that people don’t really say. I’ll admit, dialogue is a hard thing to nail, and it takes a lot of practice, but it’s worth getting down.

Compare these two sentences:

  • “When it rains outside, I do not wish to go out. However, sometimes I need to.”
  • “Rain sucks! I wish I didn’t have to go out in it, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.”

You see the difference? Dialogue also depends on your character’s voice and age. Maybe your character really does talk like the first sentence! But probably they don’t.

If you’re thinking that dialogue is something you need to brush up on, listen to people talk. It’s okay to steal words from them. Another great thing to do is read your dialogue out loud. You’ll be able to catch things that don’t sound real.

Unrealistic Situations

Here’s the second thing that really bothered me – many things that happened to the characters weren’t realistic. The situations the characters got into didn’t feel like they would really happen under the rules the author had set up.

Let me give you an example all of us know pretty well. The plot’s moving along, you’re caught up in the mystery, wondering what’s going on. Then you find out – it’s aliens.

The author uses a copout ending to explain everything! The reason it’s annoying is because nothing the writer did set this up to be a satisfying ending.

Watch for this in your novel, because it can be hard to detect. The easiest way to make sure that your audience swallows everything you’ve written is to foreshadow, foreshadow, foreshadow. Yes, you don’t want to make every plot turn obvious, but you don’t want to make them totally random either.

Bad Motivations

In this novel, the characters were motivated by things I didn’t connect with at all. I didn’t understand where the characters were coming from or why they were doing but they were doing.

It was especially a problem with the side characters and antagonists. It’s not too difficult to give your main character something realistic that they want – freedom, a better life, love. These all work well. But when an antagonist’s only goal is world domination… That’s a warning sign. We are all motivated by deeper things, even bad guys.

The easiest way to see how you’re doing here is to have someone who will give you honest feedback read over your story, looking for this in particular.

Do you see the connection between these three? They all kicked the reader out of the story, all made it seem less real. Don’t do that your readers.

How to Make the Most of Your Writing Group, and How it Can Ruin Your Story

10 Jul

Last week we talked about how to find a writing group. Now it’s time to look at how to make the most of that writing group and some issues to watch out for.

When You’re Critiquing

Be descriptive rather than prescriptive. Describe how you’re feeling in different scenes. Point out problems where you see them, but don’t try to solve them. Only the author knows where the story is going.

Try to view things in the context of the book, from the target audience’s point of view. Try to see where the writer is coming from. If they write young adult and you write adult, don’t tell them that their book isn’t long enough and that their voice is juvenile. Try to read the book like you were its target audience, keeping in mind that not every story is for every reader. Even if you hate it, it might still be good stuff.

Don’t forget to say good things as well as bad. If someone just told you everything they hated about your book, you’d feel like a rotten writer. And it’s important to know what’s working as well as what’s not.

When You’re Being Critiqued

If you’re in a group that meets in person, don’t interrupt anyone critiquing you. Don’t try to defend yourself, don’t try to explain. If they don’t understand things the way you thought they would, take that as an opportunity to try again. If you explain what you meant, you ruin the chance to see if you could write things in a different way that they would understand.

Be sure to write down everything. Even if you think they’re wrong, write it down. Look over things later and decide what advice you agree with.

What to Watch Out For

Writing groups are bad at judging pacing. Most likely, you’re in a writing group that will read your novel chunks at a time. They won’t be able to help you much where pacing is concerned, though they might try. Don’t put too much weight on their opinions.

Know that in writers groups it’s common for the members to pick up on a certain aspect of your writing and harp on it. Someone will comment that your prose is too flowery one week, and then another person will see that and comment on it the next week. The problem can seem bigger than it really is.

Some people will get caught up in the vision of your story and try to tell you where it should go. Listen to their ideas and write them down. Heck, they might even be good, but don’t incorporate anything into your story unless you’ve thought long and hard on it. If you added in every suggestion, you’d end up with a draft that went all over the place! So, smile and nod and write down everyone’s ideas, but then maybe ignore them.

Anyone else had problems like these in their critique group? How did you get around them?

How to Find a Writing Critique Group

3 Jul

“Finding friends to read through an entire novel might be tricky…” That was a comment from Pinar Tarhan on How to Ruin Your Novel. And it’s so true! But writers are terrible at judging their own work. Even if your friends and family do read your novel, chances are that they aren’t writers. They won’t be able to give you the best feedback.

If you have a critique group, you will be in much better shape. They will be more willing to read your stuff if you’re willing to do the same thing for them, and they will read your novel with a writer’s eyes.

So if you aren’t part of a critique group, what are the best ways to find one?

Take a Writing Class

Spend the money to take a class from your local community college. Most likely, your teacher will put you into critique groups, and you will get to know the people in your class, their writing style, and the ones you work well with. If things mesh, you can continue that writing group even after the class is over.

Attend Local Writing Conferences

Writing conferences are where lots of writers, agents, and editors, gather to attend writing workshops and classes. They hold these nationally, but the local ones will be better for finding a critique group. You’ll have a chance to meet other writers that live in your area. Here is a great website where you can search by region for local writing conferences.

Join an Online Critique Group

Though I recommend meeting in person, sometimes that’s just not an option. And online critique groups can be way helpful! You can post your work, a whole chunk or a piece at a time, and other online users will give you feedback. Don’t worry! Most of these sites will allow you to keep your copyright so that you can publish your work somewhere else.

Here are a few online critique groups I’ve found to be helpful:

  • Internet Writing Workshop: Here you have to do a minimum amount of submissions and critiques of other people’s work per month to stay a member. People will always have motivation to critique your work! You’ll have to critique other people’s work, too, but that in itself can be really useful. Looking at new author’s writing and finding their mistakes can help you improve your own writing.
  • Critique Circle: This is similar to the Internet writing workshop, but you don’t have to do a minimum number of submissions and critiques. So, if you want to critique and be critiqued only every once in a while, this is the way to go.
  • If neither of these work for you, here’s a great thing to do. Go to Yahoo, click on groups, and search writing critique groups. This comes up with a huge list. Here’s a link to the search that I did.

Critique groups can be so helpful, but they’re hard to find. I hope that one of the above options works for you!

One last thing! Last week I guest posted on Storyfix.com, one of my favorite story help websites ever. Check it out to read “What to Do if You Hate Your Novel”.

How to Ruin Your Novel

26 Jun

Don’t Have a Plan

If you’re in the business of ruining your novel and you have a plan, scrap it. Start from scratch. Write whatever comes to your mind, as it comes to your mind. If you like to write this way anyway, be sure to never think ahead. DO NOT figure out how your novel is going to end before you get there.

No plans. Got it?

If you are a writer who will die without an outline, no worries, you can still ruin your novel. Just use the first outline that pops into your head. Don’t revise it. Don’t optimize it.

Don’t Get Feedback

If you’re trying to ruin your story, feedback is the last thing you want. Once you finish your novel, don’t send it out to friends and family. Don’t join a critique group. Just read through it once and send it off to agents.

If they happen to give you some feedback, don’t listen to it.

Do Write With Flowery Prose

Short, concise writing will be good for your novel. You should fill your sentences and paragraphs with fluff. Put in as many adjectives (better yet, adverbs) as you can manage. The more, the better.

Flowery, fat prose will do many things to ruin your novel. It will slow your pacing to a crawl. The more random junk your characters say, the less real they will sound. Your novel will be waaaay longer than it should be. Fluffy prose only has benefits as far as we’re concerned.

Do Take Long Breaks

Yeah, every writer needs breaks, but yours should be super long. I’m talking months or years. This way, when you come back to your novel, you won’t really remember what you’ve been writing, and your work will turn out disjointed. Perfect.

Writing is hard, after all. Taking long breaks will be better for your health.

Working hard on your novel only leads to publication. If you want to ruin your novel, take breaks often and make them as long as you can.

If you happen to be one of those crazy people who actually want to write a best-selling novel, just do the opposite of everything above. It’ll work.

Can you think of any other ways to ruin your novel? I’m always looking for ideas.

Michael Jordan’s Guide to Writing a Book

19 Jun

Okay, MJ wasn’t a writer, but he was an expert at what he did. And, surprisingly, a closer look at his basketball skills can teach you a lot about writing a good book.

It’s Okay to Fail

Did you know that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team?

I know, huge surprise! But he got passed it. He moved on, learned from his mistakes, and kept trying. Even when he was in the NBA, he still had failures. Twice he played a game where he only scored two points!

Did you know that JK Rowling collected eleven rejections before Harry Potter was published? That Kathryn Stockett received over forty before The Help was accepted? Getting rejections is part of writing.

And it’s totally okay. Getting rejected doesn’t mean you’re not a good writer.

Don’t ever stop trying, and you will publish.

Get the Basics Down First

Michael Jordan didn’t start off by doing crazy dunks and alley oops. He practiced dribbling. Then shooting.

Writing is just like this. You can’t begin by trying to nail the intricacies of subplot and prose unless you have a solid foundation of plot, setting, and character. Make sure you have hammered solid your understanding of the basics before you begin working on the flourishes.

Learn the Nuance of Your Craft

I know I just said to make sure you have the basics, but every player in the NBA knows how to make a basket. Being strong in the details, that was what made Jordan truly great.

So, once you have the basics down, be sure to learn the nuances of writing. Soak in all the advice you can. Every bit of information you gain and integrate into your work will get you closer to publishing. And when you are published, it’s the deeper craft of your story that will set you apart.

Anyone can write a story. (Just how many boy-goes-to-wizard-school novels are out there?) It’s how you write it that will make you great.

So, any MJ fans?

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