Monday, October 13, 2014

5 Tips for Fleshing it Out

by Jemi Fraser

Last month, my post talked about 5 Tips to Trim Your Writing. This month, I'm tackling the opposite. With my current rewrite, I attempted to plot (kaboom!) and ended up with a shorter story than I expected (15k shorter).

So, now I'm focusing on how to flesh out a story without padding it. Some of the things I've discovered:

Fleshing it Out Tip #1 -- Emotions

This one I'm having a blast with. I write contemporary romance, so it's all about the emotion, but I think that's true for most stories. It's the emotions that pull me in and make me gobble up those pages, no matter what the genre is.

Delving into the character's emotions helps the reader connect and makes the writing much more interesting. For me, plot is obviously important, but it's how the characters respond to the plot that intrigues me. So, show that!

Fleshing it Out Tip #2 -- Show, Don't Tell

Another fun one, and very connected to #1. Telling removes the emotion. Wasn't it Mark Twain who said, "Don't tell me the old lady screamed, bring her on stage and let her scream"? Looking for those telling words/sentences in the draft helps me find places I can strengthen my story and make it longer/more compelling at the same time.

Fleshing it Out Tip #3 -- Dialogue

Connected to #2! I love dialogue and tend to include a lot of it in my writing naturally, but there are still places I find where I can have my characters really showing...by telling. Dialogue infuses the story with life and lets the readers hear your characters talking. It also gives the reader a visual--and mental--break from narration, thus increasing the pace of your story.

Fleshing it Out Tip #4 -- Description

Blech. I'm not an especially visual person or writer. My descriptions tend to be focused around the emotions of the characters. And I'm not a fan of reading paragraphs of description either, so I tread very, very carefully when I do this.

For people, I sprinkle in the description. A mention of hair colour by another character here, a comment about height there. Nothing obvious, certainly no looking in the mirror and offering up a self-evaluation. For example, rather than saying my character is short, I'll have her drag a chair over to reach something off a high shelf.

For places, I don't mind stringing a sentence or two together to anchor the reader in the setting, especially when it's a new place. I try to focus on what the character would notice, and only on what is relevant to the story.

I'd rather leave most description up to my readers, but I'm learning I need to include those anchors and let the readers fill in the rest.

Fleshing it Out Tip #5 -- Character Arcs

This one is more complex than the first four. Here, I'm looking for the pace of how my characters are growing. I want them to slowly learn to change, have strategically placed AHA! moments, and obstacles tossed in their paths to have them second guessing their realizations. This is another instance where I find Scrivener invaluable. I can colour code, or use the side bar, or make another file to put side by side in order to track the arcs. Then I can spot where the arc needs some help, tweak a scene here, add a scene there, throw in another obstacle, or three.

There are many more ways to flesh out a story (adding in a subplot and looking for plot holes to fill in come to mind), but these are the 5 I'm working with. Any tips to add? Do you like fleshing it out or do you prefer to trim?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014


by Paul Krueger


Last week, I hit SAVE on the last developmental draft of my book and sent it screaming for my editrix’s inbox like the literary cruise missile it is.  It was the third draft I’d completed this year, but that did nothing to diminish the thrill.



So right now, I’m still high on post-draft fumes.  I’ve dived into my Netflix to-do list with gusto, and I’ve begun re-establishing contact with my friends to remind them that I, in fact, exist.  But those fumes are about to run dry, and I’ll be left sitting here and wondering what the hell to do with my hands.


So before my end-of-The Graduate mood sets in, I’m going to take a moment to highlight the best way to keep yourself sane between projects.


Don’t Write Anything.


If you’re like me, your brain’s constantly overflowing with ideas you can’t wait to get on paper.  If we’re being honest, you probably won’t live long enough to use every idea you’ve got now, let alone the ones you’ll get down the line.  So now that this Athena has sprung from your head and onto your copy of Scrivener, you’re probably eager to get to the next one in line.


Yeah, don’t do that.


The fact is, you just ran a freaking marathon.  And you know what happened to the first person who ever ran a marathon?  He died right when he finished, using his last breath to christen a nascent sporting goods corporation.  You, presumably, have lived through your mental marathon, but you know what’s a great way to make yourself keel over and mentally die?  Attempting another, right away.  Don’t be afraid to take a breath.  Or two.  Or however many you take in the span of a month.

Ah, but then the anxiety starts to set in, doesn’t it?  You’ve had this parasite perched in your brainpan for the past however long, and all of a sudden you don’t remember quite how to function without it leeching away your idle thoughts.  You’re used to feeling productive, and every second you’re not making something, you feel a creeping sense of Puritanical guilt over it.  Or you’re busy resenting a stranger on the internet, because he seems to be making an awful lot of assumptions about how your mind works.


But on the off-chance you are, in fact, like me, I have a second piece of advice:


Do Literally Anything Else.


The first time I finished a novel, I took up carpentry.  Last time, I flew to Chicago and spent a weekend in my friend’s basement recording an album.  Right now I’m failing very hard at drawing, and loving every moment of it.  Next time, I might pick up a dead language.  I might get back into fencing.  I might take up traveling from one small town to another, solving mysteries and unmasking “ghosts” that were really just cover-ups of shady land deals.  The point is, I’m doing something other than the thing that just wrung my brain within an inch of its life.

But I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t counting down the days until I could dive back in.

Paul Krueger is the author of the NA urban fantasy The Devil's Water Dictionary (Quirk Books, 2015). His short fiction has appeared in the 2013 Sword & Laser Anthology, and also in his copy of Microsoft Word. You're most likely to find him on Twitter, where he's probably putting off something important.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Life of the Postpartum Author

by S. L. Duncan

I’m not here to name names. But if you ask any recently published debut author, perhaps plying them with an adult beverage, they might fess up. So far, everyone I’ve talked to has admitted to feeling the same way, or has experienced some level of the darkness that creeps in. To borrow from the medical world (and a fellow YA author), it’s simple postpartum depression. 

Yeah, I’m working through some stuff right now.

My book, THE REVELATION OF GABRIEL ADAM, released August 12th of this year. It’s been a whirlwind of all the things you’d expect from a book release. Interviews, industry reviews, book signings, release parties, giveaways, and even a book festival. The gauntlet. For me, it was a good two or three weeks of newborn book-related excitement.

And then, well, nothing really. Nothing after years of building up to a moment. After hitting the highs of getting the agent, getting the publisher, and getting the book onto a shelf, the drop-off of perceived excitement for your work after your book birthday is sudden and steep.

I shouldn’t say there’s nothing to do. There are reader reviews and the struggle to get reader reviews.  If you’re not big five (and sometimes even if you are), a lot of grabbing the world’s attention will fall on your shoulders. Learning to sell a book is like learning a foreign language. It’s daunting and unless you’ve got a guide or someone to teach you, it’s a series of mumbling, inarticulate gestures.

It’s a wonderful time for doubt to seep in. I’ve found myself to be surprisingly sensitive to this sort of thing. I once thought of myself as a rock, able to brush off criticism. I’m now second-guessing everyone and everybody. Mostly, though, I’m second-guessing myself and my ability. This came in tandem with the first bad review.

Worse than doubt, reality sets in. I’m saying reality, but what I mean is jealousy. Because the reality is, other authors that I consider peers are doing fantastic out there and they are doing it faster than I am. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited and thrilled for them. But a question keeps popping up in the back of my mind that calls into question my ability to tell a good story: Why not me? I'm fully and totally embarrassed to be admitting this. 

Very few authors hit escape velocity with their book and break into a place where public awareness and interest has an expanding upward trajectory. Movie deals. New York Times attention. Keynote appearances at book festivals. This is super, crazy rare. But starting out, in the back of our minds, even if we understand the near impossibility of hitting this mark, the potential of doing so is still on the board.

Until it isn’t.

For a good two weeks after my book release, I found myself in a dark place, creatively, consumed with how my book was doing. Hourly check-ins at Amazon’s Author Central. Looking at other debut's bestseller rank and comparing it to my own. Google searches. Constantly checking my Goodreads page. That's obsessive behavior. My reviews have been very good, but those readers that didn’t connect resonated louder than the ones that did. Having a mood that swings in direct relation to how the public embraces my work is not a healthy way to live.

Looming over all of this is a book deadline for the third book in the REVELATION SAGA. So, add to all of this, one heaping scoop of anxiety.

What’s weird is that all of this is happening during what, outside-looking-in, was joyous time. I got Published. Don’t think for one second that I’m not thankful for that, or that I take it for granted. Trust me, I don’t.

In the past few days, I’ve had – if you’ll excuse me – a bit of a revelation. (Mumbling, inarticulate marketing gesture – check!) I remembered why I ultimately write: for myself. I tell the stories I want to see told. All these other things? These doubts and distractions? They are on the peripheral of the art itself. Do I appreciate when someone likes my work? Sure. But I’ve realized that appreciation does not validate me as an author. Nor does criticism make my work less worthy.

To borrow a legal term, those things are not relevant.

Lawyers call their profession the practice of law. I like that. You’ve come to FTWA looking for advice and counsel on how to get published or how to better your writing. But all we can offer is what we’ve learned from our own victories and defeats.

In truth, we’re all still trying to figure it out. We’re practicing authors. My freshly squeezed advice is this: remember why you write and stay true to that.


Unless you are writing to get famous. In that case, you may be in for some disappointment.

S. L. Duncan writes young adult fiction, including his debut, The Revelation of Gabriel Adam, in bookstores everywhere. You can find him blogging on INKROCK.com and on Twitter.

Friday, September 19, 2014

On Genius and Perseverance

by Matt Sinclair

This week, the MacArthur Foundation announced its annual cohort of fellows who do amazing things, often in areas that are far afield from most people's day-to-day life. You probably know them as winners of the "MacArthur genius grants," and they probably know themselves as incredibly fortunate and I wouldn't be surprised if most of them think they are unworthy of such accolades. They're just doing what they love doing.

I have met at least one of these geniuses. I had no idea who the man was who stopped me on the sidewalk in Pittsburgh back in 2006 or '07. He'd either seen my name tag dangling from a string around my neck or just figured a guy in a suit was heading to the same conference center he was aiming for. Regardless, he asked if I was heading to the conference on philanthropy and I said yes.

We walked and talked together. He was a documentary film maker and he'd been invited to discuss some of his recent work, which had been funded by a foundation. To be honest, I don't remember most of what we discussed. He was simply an articulate, interesting person I met at a conference.

In September of that year, while editing a piece on the MacArthur Fellows, I happened to see his face among the previous winners. His name is Stanley Nelson, and he never mentioned the prize. Even now, I'm amazed to discover that I've seen and been impressed with his work after meeting him without remembering who he is and that our paths briefly intersected.

What does a chance meeting with a person I've not spoken to again have to do with writing? Probably nNothing in and of itself, but everything when you get down to how we write.

Originally, a person wasn't "a genius." Rather, it describes the guiding spirit who instills those leaps of insight that characterize certain individuals. A person has a genius -- at least that's how it used to be described centuries ago. Writers call it their muse. I suspect "agnostic" writers call it the product of their hard work. Call it what you will.

The most amazing people I've met have all had at least one thing in common: they had a vision of what they wanted to accomplish with their life and put their all into making that vision appear. Writers. Painters. Doctors. Lawyers. It really doesn't matter what they do for a living; who they are and what they do imbues nearly every aspect of their lives.

And what of the rest of us, those who have not yet caught the eye of the secret nominators of people with genius? Well, I for one will keep writing. I don't know how else to approach life any other way. How about you?



Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sudden Realizations and Other Misnomers

by Matt Sinclair

I recently attended a wake for a high school classmate who passed suddenly and way too young. As often happens, the wake became a bit of a reunion with other old friends and dredged up memories good, bad, and potentially litigious.

Later, I thought I could probably write up a short story inspired by the experience. So many scenes could be played: conversations with old classmates in the receiving line; meeting the widower and his sons; waiting for old friends outside the funeral home; drinks and storytelling afterward. Presumably, almost any adult could relate to the situation.

Of course, the universality of the situation has its appeal, but it also is a trap. It's too easy to retell the same story that everyone knows, to scrape the dirt off the same old bones, so to speak. Then again, perhaps you use the death of a friend as part of a novel in which the protagonist is propelled further to some epiphany. It might even be believable if written well.

But doesn't it all seem a bit too convenient? Not the death of my friend, of course. That's a family in the midst of real pain and sorrow. I imagine being the child whose parent died during the summer and starting high school without that rock you took for granted to keep you stable. What if the child's parents had been living apart and now the school year starts in a place with no established friends. What was the relationship between the parent and the child during the separation, and how has it changed?

As writers, we wade through story ideas most every day. Sometimes we pick a shiny one up right away, but more often they wash over us without our ever realizing it. Only later, usually when we're writing, do we net a few of their larvae in the shoals of our subconscious mind and help them germinate into a flash of inspiration. And we often never know who to thank for those ideas, those "sudden" glimpses of what is possible.

What inspires you? Do you memorialize your past, present, and future "yous" and those who've walked with you along the way?

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published Battery Brothers, a YA novel by Steven Carman about a pair of brothers playing high school baseball and about overcoming crippling adversity. In December, EBP will publish Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand by R.S. Mellette. Matt also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.


Monday, September 1, 2014

5 Tips to Trim your Writing

by Jemi Fraser

Many beginning writers end up with enormous word counts. (If you want to check out my story, it's over on my blog today).

Trimming Tip #1 -- Adjectives & Adverbs

Cut. Cut. Cut. Sure you need a few adjectives, and sometimes they enhance your prose, but be careful! I'm not an especially visual person or writer, but I was floored when I first learned this tip and realized how many adjectives I had in my draft. Nearly every sentence was sprinkled with writerly words that screamed AMATEUR!

Ditto the above advice for adverbs. It's a little easier to edit for these though. Use that handy-dandy Find tool (CTRL F) and search for 'ly'. We all know not all adverbs end in ly, but many do, and this tool makes it easy to spot them. It also takes you out of the flow of reading the story, which is very important when editing. Often replacing your verb/adverb combination with a stronger/more explicit verb makes your sentence stronger.

Trimming Tip #2 -- Cutting Scenes

Whole scenes. As you're editing, ask yourself about the purpose of the scene. If it's not moving the story along, not increasing the tension or the conflict or the stakes, bring out the sword and slash away. Painful, yes, but maybe you can keep some of them as bonus content for visitors to your website. (Make sure the quality is high, after all, there's a reason you're cutting in the first place!)

Trimming Tip #3 -- Filler Words

We all have them. Some of them are more obvious than others. Once I feel pretty good about a draft, I dump my story into Wordle and eliminate all the proper nouns (right click then delete). The bigger the word, the more times it appears. Then use that CTRL F tool to help you find and eliminate as many as you can.

Some words that often appear as fillers:

just, suddenly, again, eyes, look/looked/looks, seemed/seems, feels/felt, smiles/smiled, really, very, maybe, quite, started to...

Trimming Tip #4 -- Qualifiers

Eliminating words and phrases like 'a bit', 'a little', 'sort of', 'seemed to' 'felt like', can all make your writing stronger and, as an added bonus, make your characters less wishy-washy at the same time. If someone's mad, let him/her be all the way mad!

Trimming Tip #5 -- Echoes

This is my Achilles' heel. As the self-proclaimed Queen of Redundancies, I've literally cut thousands of words by eliminating phrases and sentences where I'm repeating information already provided. Trust your readers not to be idiots, they'll get it the first time. (<-- Which is a great example of a sentence including an echo!)

Trimming the fat out of that draft will do nothing but enhance your story. Don't be afraid of that delete key. If it helps, imagine Legolas or Aragorn at your side, sword in hand, as you slash your way to a stronger story!

Do you enjoy the Slash 'n' Burn rounds of editing?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.