Tag Archives: writer

List Your Way to a Better (Writing) You

My least favorite part of the process is…? Copyediting. Spelling has never been my strongpoint. I particularly have problems with homophones and compound words. Trying to catch all those little flubs is no fun at all.

But copyediting is important. It’s what elevates a manuscript from armature to pro. It makes the story clean and accessible.

So, today I made two lists–one for each of my problem areas. Neither is complete, and I assume that years from now I’ll still be adding to them. The most difficult thing about making the lists was realizing that there are homophones and compound words out there that I’ve used incorrectly because I had no idea a correct version existed. What do you mean there are two spellings of compliment (complement)? Supersensitive is a word (synonym of hypersensitive)?

Making these lists has reinforced for me the importance of continuous learning. I will always have weaknesses, which means I will always be able to improve. I can get better. I can level up.

I highly suggest doing the same for yourself. Maybe your weakness isn’t homophones, but incorrect word usage, or comma placement. Maybe it isn’t prose related–maybe you’ve had trouble with time management. Whatever it is, make yourself some kind of guide, something that shows you the correct or most effective way to overcome your weakness. Even if it’s just a start, it can be a great tool to add to your growing box of tricks.

Always strive to improve. Never give up. Never surrender.

What are your tips and tricks for improving problem areas? Let me know!

~Marina

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Short Story Sale!

I’ve just sold a sci-fi humor detective story to Galaxy’s Edge. My first story with this venue is set to appear in the September issue, so I’m very glad to have another one in the works.

Happy dance time.

~Marina

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The Quirks of the Slush Pile, P1

Ah, Wednesday. We meet again.

As you probably know, I’ve been a first-reader for Waylines Magazine for several months now. Long enough to see some negative patterns in the submissions. Today I’d like to cover one of those negative aspects, and though this might be a discussion that’s a little rough on the ego, I feel it’s an important one to have.

Disclaimer: These are my views alone based on my experience, and they do not reflect the opinions or official stance of Waylines or any other publishing venue.

So, what is the biggest problem I see in the slush? What do approximately 80-90% of the stories I vet have in common?

They’re boring.

Ok, well that’s subjective, you say. One story can’t be all things to all people, and I’ve read plenty of published stories that I thought were boring.

True enough. And I’ll be the first to admit that for the most part, the entire selection process is subjective. But thus is the way of any entertainment industry.

But, I bet (and hey, I could be wrong) that you don’t find 90% of the available stories boring. And I do have concrete reasons behind my boredom. I’ll list not only the causes, but also ways I feel a skilled author can counteract them.

Number one. The story’s premise is unoriginal. This is top reason I find the majority of manuscripts in the slush can’t hold my attention. When I open up a ghost story and it feels like the twelve other ghost stories I’ve recently vetted, there’s no help for it. I’m unengaged almost immediately. I see this especially in the genres of paranormal horror, epic fantasy and hard-er sci-fi. Why is it so hard to sell a zombie story or a vampire story? Because everybody writes them.

But wait! Why then are there so many published zombie stories and vamp stories? The TV show Heroes was essentially X-Men, but that didn’t seem to matter. And how is The Walking Dead different from any other zombie apocalypse?

I’ll tell you how: the people. The best way to counteract a run-of-the-mill premise is with deep, original, heart-felt characters. Why do viewers and readers keep consuming zombie stories if the premise by itself has been beaten to death? Because these stories offer characters in conflict in instantly digestible circumstances. A writer or filmmaker doesn’t have to spend a lot of time explaining the milieu–which signals their intent is not to interest you in this exciting new idea, but interest you in these intense, fascinating people.

This is not to say that original ideas don’t need to be paired with great characters–they do. But a great character can carry an audience through almost anything. Most often I see these unoriginal premises supplemented by equally unoriginal characters. Which brings me to my next point.

Number two. The story’s characters are cardboard (and/or bad characters doing bad things apparently just because they’re terrible individuals).

I’ve only ever read one author who could pull off the cardboard character, and that was Michael Crichton. Why? Because he thought of things like, what would happen if I mixed real dinosaurs and theme parks? And then produced an engrossing plot from the premise.

What makes a character cardboard (ie. two dimensional)? Typically such characters are some form of stereotype fitted with a few quirks that scream LOOK, REAL PEOPLE ARE QUIRKY. Atypically, they’re simply non-people that could be replaced with any other person in the universe and the events of the story would still take place in exactly the same fashion (in other words, they have no effect on the plot, they’re just vehicles for it). Cardboard characters don’t seem to have any thoughts that are particularly special to them, their emotionality is flat, and their motivations are equally as stereotypical or non-existent as their personalities.

I pair this with bad characters who have horrific behavior for no apparent reason–ie., their motive is that they’re eeeevil, mwahah. I see this more in the horror genre than any other, but these characters are just as uninspired as the good guy who is just good because he’s sooooo good, or Orphan X that is the same as all the other orphan characters, or Female X who is more a prop than anything else, or Snarky Cowboy X who…you get the picture.

Even in stories where the protagonists are well rounded, a stereotypical I’m evil just to be evil bad guy can really kill my interest.

The fix? Well, you’ve got to have one hell of a plot to have dull characters–and one hell of a setting, and fantastic prose. After all, it’s difficult to become emotionally invested in a story when the story’s characters don’t have genuine emotional stake in it themselves.

Number three. The story has low tension or no tension. This is created through a variety of ways. It can happen through a lack of conflict, where the character is doing something like the laundry/getting dressed/walking the dog as usual–which means both the character and the audience are waiting for something to happen. Don’t make your audience suffer through a waiting-room like experience.

It can also happen through uninspired or false conflict. False conflict often manifests as a woes-me character walking down the street (or riding in a train car, or lying in bed) doing absolutely nothing (or a load of inconsequential stuff) while describing the world and how dark and dreary it is. This is not conflict, this is whining. Uninspired conflict is something like, my friend was mean to me today–which turns out to be the long and short of it. Conflict, like people, needs depth.

Conversely, dropping the reader into the middle of a war zone when they’ve got no concept of who is fighting or why also creates low tension–which I’m sure seems counter intuitive. One fight scene is largely like any other fight scene and is utterly boring without a reason to care about the fighting (especially when approached with movie-like detail. In film, lots of things happening mechanically at once can be absorbed in an instant. Trying to describe the same action in prose draws it out and sucks it of any tension created by the one thing fight scenes have going for them: immediacy).

These problems can usually be solved through a healthy amount of chopping (and in some cases, adding). Get to the good stuff–and no, none of the above is the good stuff.

Number four, and my last point. The story is filled with loving, repetitive descriptions of everything. Going over every object, every expression, every flit of the wind in minute detail gets really old, really quick. Now I’m probably more inclined to have a hair trigger on this than other people. While my husband is glad to have someone’s wardrobe described every time they come on the literary stage, I am not. Especially when we’ve already had someone’s general sense of style explained, and the adjectives being applied to their wardrobe are the same every time, and the only thing different about the dress or shirt or shoes the character is wearing today vs. yesterday is that they are green (but the author can’t just stop at green, oh no).

This slows down the plot and character development for a bit of self-indulgent authorlyness, in my opinion. Some call it world building. But to me, once the world is built, you don’t then need to show me a scale model, and five more sketches, and some of the prototypes, and a few of the extra nuts and bolts you threw in. Give me a sense of the world, then move it along, please.

These repetitive descriptions are especially irritating, in my opinion, when paired with the dull premises I mentioned before.

This is a kill your darlings moment, I think. The way to solve this is to tabulate how many times you’ve described Queen Odessa’s hairdo, and, unless her hair is somehow important to the plot or her character development, scale back.

Everything on this list basically goes back to the idea that all aspects of your writing needs to sing. But I think everyone needs suggestions on how to counteract weak points because, let’s face it, we’ve all got ‘em. Boring just happens to be the issue I see most often. Hopefully this short list is helpful to you.

If you’ve got any other points on why a story might be perceived as boring, let me know!

~Marina

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

WotF Vol. 29 Cover

It’s a little after-the-fact, but the cover for Writers of the Future Vol. 29 has been released, and the book itself is available for pre-order!

WOF-29-Bookcover

Anybody else hear Elton John in their head singing “Rocket Maaaaan” when they look at the cover?  The illustration is by wonderful Stephen Youll.

You can pre-order a mass market paperback from Barns & Noble or Amazon.  The e-book version will be available in several formats for imediate download on April 14th.

~Marina

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Updates on Submitomancy and The Submissions Grinder

These are the two Duotrope alternatives I introduced a few weeks ago.  That post is here if you’d like to familiarize yourself with it.

Sadly, we’ve lost Submitomancy before its launch.  Its Indiegogo campaign was unsuccessful, meaning they did not receive the funding they needed to get off the ground.

Though Submitomancy frequently posted aesthetically pleasing screenshots of the possible site on both their Indiegogo page and their facebook page, I’m afraid not having a working model to sample hurt them.  When Duotrope closed to those who could not or were unwilling to pay their subscription fees, those who fled were ripe for the picking.  I believe the Submissions Grinder ran away with the bunch, since it launched in about a week after Duotrope’s pay model went into full effect.  Because there was already a free, functional alternative, and there was no working model of Submitomancy to test, I believe most people did not see a clear reason to donate to the cause.  Why pay for something that looks pretty but may not work at all?

Perhaps if its creators ever decided to take another shot, they might put up a basic, functional version to heighten their appeal to donators.

The Grinder, on the other hand, is in full swing.  It’s highly functional as a sub tracker and market database, and they’re adding new features all the time.  I have to say, I’ve never seen a nonprofit venue work so hard to accommodate every user.  If you’d like to see a function, just suggest it.  If it makes practical sense, it will go on a to-do list.  I really hope they can keep their customer service up, as it’s run by just two individuals (that I’m aware of) in their spare time.  Their mission statement declares that their users will never have to pay a mandatory fee for an account–but man are they earning their donations.

Two things really excite me about this site.  First, the one thing I’ve longed for in a sub tracker are graphs.  Bar graphs, line graphs, stem and leaf charts–anything to make the data more accessible to the visually-oriented.  I always meant to suggest it to Duotrope, but I could never find a suggestion box on their site (if they had one, it wasn’t very obvious).  Right now the Grinder has histograms that display response times on each individual market page.

The second thing I’m excited about is a feature not yet available.  In addition to submissions tracking, they also want to add sales tracking–which is brilliant.  Only tracking submissions means that tracking ends with either an acceptance or a rejection.  But that’s not helpful to those who actually sell their stories.  There’s a world of things to keep track of afterwards: edits, publication dates, payment, rights reversion, etc.  To the professional, having a system to track these things accurately and consistently is priceless.

So, if you do use the Grinder, I hope you’ll seriously consider donating.  They are working hard to make writers happy, and they know that not everyone can afford a subscription.  Here’s their link again, if you haven’t tried the site yet: The Submissions Grinder.

~Marina

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Being SMART With Your Goals

Ok, I might be a little late here.  A goal-oriented post usually belongs at the beginning of January, not at the end.  But…

I want to discuss setting real goals vs. setting non-goals.  You’d be amazed (or, perhaps not) at how many writers I’ve seen this month declare non-goals for 2013.  Non-goals don’t help anyone, least of all the person who sets them.

Non-goals are more easily defined as dreams–something you wish would happen, but don’t actually have any control over.

A real goal is entirely self contained and under your control.

Example of a non-goal: Qualify for SFWA.

Example of a real goal: Write ten short stories and submit them to SFWA qualifying venues.

See the difference?  Some people don’t.  At least, not right away.

There’s a well known model for goal setting that has circulated widely in the business world.  Which, naturally, means that writers are the last to hear about it  (I don’t know how many times I have to say it, but if you want to SELL something you’re in a BUSINESS, so we artsy types can all stop acting like ‘business’ is the eight-letter ‘b’ word).

This model is called SMART.  It’s an acronym that stands for Specific, Measureable, Actionable, Relevant and Time-bound (actual words may vary depending on who you’re talking to, but the system remains the same).

Specific.  This one’s easy.  It’s the What, Where, Why and Who portion.  What are the requirements and restrictions? Where do I have to go/send/be in order to accomplish this?  Why is it important that this goal be accomplished?  Who is involved in making this goal happen (hint: if the goal requires someone in addition to yourself they have to be working towards the exact same goal.  Most editors are not working towards the same goal as you are, neither are agents or publishers.  They do not count as goal partners)?

Measureable.  This means you must have a concrete way of assessing your progress towards the goal and the goal’s completion.   You are looking for quantitative, not qualitative criteria.  How questions prominently figure in here.  For example:  I must write X number of stories and submit them.  Not: I must write a bunch of good stories and submit them.

Actionable.  This means the goal can be implemented and attained through your direct action only.  Which means it must be within your power to attain.  It is not a goal so lofty that you cannot reach it.  Nor is it only attainable if outside forces or circumstances happen to aid you.

Relevant.  Is there a point to this goal?  Will your career suffer should you fail?  Will it be aided should you accomplish it?  If the answer is no, it’s not really a relevant or worthwhile goal.  Is the goal of stamping and addressing twenty envelopes in a row relevant to your career as a writer?  The action might be necessary at some point, but it should not be a focal point.

Time-bound.  This one is especially important, I think, to writers.  It’s all about When.  How many people do you know who say, “I’m going to write a novel one day”?  I’m guessing a lot.  Most likely those people will never write that novel (they might never even start it, let alone complete it), because they have not deemed it important enough to put a time frame on.  A worthwhile goal must be constrained by time.  I will write ten stories someday will most likely leave you feeling unaccomplished come 2014 when you’ve failed to meet that non-goal.  Whereas if you say, I will write ten stories by June first, you have given yourself a time limit, an area of temporal space in which to work, and most importantly, complete your task.

So, it might be time to reevaluate your most recent goals.  You’ve lived with them near a month by now, how far along are you?  How close are you to completion?  When will you finish?  What is there still to complete?  If you have no way of concretely answering such questions, you might want to scrap your non-goals and set some real ones.

Non-goals only leave you with heartache when they are left incomplete.  We all want to have real goals that pull our dreams down to Earth and help make them our reality.  Otherwise, what’s the point of setting them?

#

Was this post helpful?  Did you reexamine your goals?  Were your goals solid the first time around, or did you need to change a few things?  I’d love to know!  Leave me a comment.

~Marina

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers of the Future and Blog Comments

It has been brought to my attention that though I talk a lot about the Writers and Illustrators of the future contests, and link to related things, I don’t often (if ever) link directly to the contest. Which is not particularly helpful if you’re new to this stuff and don’t know where to enter. So, here you go:

http://www.writersofthefuture.com/

There you can find the rules for both contests, the submission addresses for both contests, and the electronic submission pages for both contests. Not to mention lots of info on the judges and the contests’ history.

I’ll go back an add the link to a few more of my previous WotF related posts as well.

Ok, on to the second topic at hand: the comments section of my blog.

Most spam is easy to recognize as such, and WordPress’ widgets do a great job of identifying most of it. But, occasionally, the system flags something that I’m not quite sure is spam. It could be, but it could not be. In those cases, I will un-flag the comment, but I will also remove any links connected to the comment or the user who posted. That way a voice gets heard that might otherwise have been squashed, but I also protect my visitors from nefarious posters.

So, if you’ve never commented on my blog before, please do your best to make sure your comment is somehow directly related to the post. That’s the easiest way for me to tell if you’re a real person, or a bot of some kind.

Thanks all! I’ll be taking another short hiatus here, just until after the New Year (though I might post on the 22nd or 23rd, just for kicks). Hope you all have a lovely holiday season!

~Marina

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Progress Tracking

The stats page on the NaNoWriMo website is a wonderful, addictive tool. It has unquestionably boosted my productivity, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Now I’m on the hunt for a similar progress tracking tool that I can use year round.

The points I find most attractive about the NaNoWriMo page include:

*The bar graph

*Words-a-day record

*Over-all goal and words-a-day goal, which both have progress bars

*Average words per-day bar

I’ve been pointed in the direction of a few tracking systems that utilize a couple of these things, but not one that includes them all in a user-friendly format, the way that the NaNo page does.

If you happen to stumble upon a similar app or on-line tool, I’d appreciate a shout. Also, if you have a tool that you like better than the NaNo stat page, let me know!

~Marina

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Of Profiles and Pitches

I open my email and find I have a new twitter follower. Cool. That’s a pretty rare event for me, seeing as I how I’m sitting at nobody status at the moment and I don’t go on following rampages looking for random hoards to follow me back.

I like to visit followers’ profiles to see if they’re fly-bys or people I’d actually like to network with. So, I go to this guy’s profile and read: “Can a man who throws his dates in a dungeon succeed romantically?”

And the first thing I think is, “Holy crap.” Followed by, “This guy probably thinks that’s a funny way to describe himself and has no idea how creepy it sounds.”

For the record, I know nothing about this individual. He seems nice enough, but his twitter profile gave me the wrong impression. I quickly got over that impression after I, you know, read past the first sentence in his profile, but it got me thinking — there are certain places you want to put things like loglines and summaries, and certain places you do not.

Yes, that is a logline for the humor novel he currently has out. In that context, it is funny. But I had no indication he was a writer until after the creepy first impression.

Profiles are bad places to put loglines, especially if you don’t preface them. When someone goes to an ‘about me’ page or a twitter profile, they expect to learn about the person, not be pitched a product. That expectation can color their impression of whatever they find there.

I was halfway to the block tab before I decided to go back and read the second sentence. I’ve gotten followed by random creepy people before (“Just looking for someone to spend hot, steamy, guilt-free nights with” — er, no thank you. Or ” #&$%ing bitches be hating.  You one of them?” — Take your chauvinism elsewhere), and wasn’t about to trade tweets with a guy who thinks joking about abusing the women he meets is funny.

When we promote our products we want to make sure we’re promoting what we think we’re promoting. We want to be sure that we’re reaching the right audience in the right way.

I might be his target audience.  I love humor novels.  But, if I’d done what I typically do when I get “that vibe” — run to block — I wouldn’t have even realized I’d passed over a writer’s profile.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with his approach, but it did make me do a double take. I’m not saying, “Don’t promote your book this way,” just, “Think about it for a while before you take this approach.” Make sure it’s getting you what you think it’s getting you.

Those of you with loglines that follow a more sinister vein might want to be extra cautious.

And, who knows, maybe his strategy did work. After all, I’m posting about it.

Ever run across a profile that made you do a double take? Tell me about it!

~Marina

Tagged , , , , ,
Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: