Friday, December 30, 2011

Writing Resolutions and Goals

by Matt Sinclair

The calendar page will turn soon, and all of a sudden it will be 2012. Of course, it’s not a sudden change. The year has been moving inexorably toward 2012 for lo these 364 days. That’s one nice thing you can count on about time: It keeps moving.

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve wished it would move backward so I could change things, add accomplishments, and kiss that pretty girl from high school who I didn’t know liked me until it was too late. Of course, as fiction writers we can go back in time whenever we want, albeit with an unsatisfying lack of reality. But I learned long ago that one way to bridge the time/reality gap is to plan for the future.

Yes, folks, it’s resolution time! I know that not everyone makes resolutions, but I find them very helpful. I actually start drawing up mine in October, but that’s me. I also split them into personal, work/business, and writing-related. Truth is, there’s a fair amount of overlap these days. My writing-related goals include freelance targets (which are boorishly measured in dollar amounts—how unartistic of me!). And those targets help me achieve personal goals (and feed my family, for that matter).

I asked a few of my fellow Write Anglers whether they have writing-related resolutions. Some do, some don’t. I particularly liked what R.C. Lewis said: “One of the most important things I’ve found when setting these goals is to know myself, my schedule, and my capabilities. And not compare my goals to anyone else’s.” Sage words from a sage woman. She added, "To some people, writing three manuscripts in one year is a lot, to others it’s nothing. And that doesn’t matter."

Some people like having quarterly targets, others break them down to months, some simply plot an annual goal: I’ll write this book and edit that one, for example. At AgentQuery Connect, Mindy McGinnis oversees what she calls the “Writing Odometer,” which is a daily and monthly list of personal goals. There’s nothing mandatory about it, but it’s helpful for those of us—myself included—who like the added pressure of making our goals a bit more public. They seem more real that way. She added that it’s helpful to share your goals with your critique partners. (A good goal, by the way, is to join a critique group if you haven’t already.) Crit partners can help you write when you don’t think you can muster the energy.

Because writing is a Sisyphean task, it’s good to have someone cheering you on to push that rock up the hill.

Just imagine if you pledged to write 350,000 words in one year. It might sound impossible in January. But a daily kilo of words would get you over that hump easily. You could even skip your birthday, Thanksgiving, and your favorite winter holiday and still be done by mid-December.

But writers are never done. There’s always another scene to write, another query to craft, another synopsis to sum up, and characters to corral—or at least make the attempt.

Got any ideas for resolutions you care to share? Did you meet your goals for 2011?

Whether you articulate your goals or not, I hope you meet them. From all of us at From the Write Angle, have a wonderful New Year. We’ll see you again in 2012!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Happens to Your Manuscript in Hollywood? Part Three: Strategies

by R.S. Mellette

If I had all the answers about how to turn your work into a finished blockbuster movie, I wouldn't be writing this blog. Or maybe I would, but the sound outside my office window would be waves crashing on a Hawaiian beach, not cars on the 405 freeway.

In past installments (see Part One and Part Two) I wrote about what not to do. Don't send your work directly to a studio. Instead, you want to build a team of supporters.

What your team looks like will depend entirely on you. If you're not in Hollywood, I'd say look around locally. Most universities have film departments now, which means kids will be making movies. Talk to professors there, see if you can volunteer to help. Get in touch with the filmmaking teams in your area and work your way up. Six degrees of separation starts with your first crew credit.

But if you don't want to go that route, you can do the query thing. Query letters are not standard in the film business, so you'll have a hard time finding the data you need. Start with a current copy of the Hollywood Creative Directory and a subscription to IMDBpro. You're looking for a manager, not an agent.

Whole textbooks have been written on the differences between a manager and an agent. "Manager" has really become another word for producer. They will work to get the project of yours that they like produced. If they can stay on as a producer, then you don't have to pay them anything, which is nice. If not, they generally get 15-20% of your cut. These days, agents act more like lawyers. They really earn their money when it comes to collecting contract bonuses and participation money. In other words, stuff you don't need to worry about yet.

Managers come in all shapes and sizes, and they aren't governed by California state laws the way agents are, so you have to be careful who you deal with. They are also one of the few groups that will read your query letter.

One of the other groups is a production company, which basically does all the work you think a movie studio does in terms of making a movie. The bigger ones have deals with studios – like Imagine with Universal, Village Roadshow with Warner Bros. etc. A major production company can be as big and impersonal as a studio, so best to avoid those without an introduction by a manager or agent.

Small companies might be more approachable. This will take some research. For example, say you've got a nice little Christmas story. These things show up by the thousands on the Lifetime Network, Hallmark Channel, etc. So, research the titles, get on IMDBpro to find the production company, and send them a query.

Summing up. You need to build a team. Start small. Be patient. Keep at it.

Now it's time for me to take my own advice and get some of my own stuff sold!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Write Angle Holiday Wishes

Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Peaceful Solstice. Happy Holidays.

As the world gets smaller we find ourselves having clashes of culture. People on TV run around telling us what Christmas "should be" instead of what it is to them.

After all, isn't that what the Holiday is about? What your family did to celebrate as a kid. What you, as an adult, do with your family now. And how that makes you feel in your heart. If there is a Spirit of Christmas, isn't it really the best of the spirit inside each of us?

So, we here at From The Write Angle would like to share with you a bit about what the Holiday means to each of us, and we invite you to do the same, right here in the comments for this post.

And maybe when your spirit has run dry, when the Holidays are far away, you can come here again to drink from the well of the Winter Solstice—to warm your heart in the face of a world that can get cold.

R.S. Mellette

About 4 billion years ago, a giant rock smashed into the earth. This rock was so big that it nearly destroyed the planet. The part that broke off became our moon, and the earth has wobbled ever since. Because of this wobble, we have four distinct seasons: Summer, when the earth tilts toward the sun; Winter, when it tilts away, and the two seasons between, Fall and Spring.

Over the past 100,000 years, humans have developed holidays to mark the change in seasons. Fall brings Harvest/Celebration of the Dead as darkness encroaches. Spring: resurrection/fertility as life returns. Summer is full of hard work and bounty, and deadly heat, so there aren't as many universal celebrations.

Winter is the birth of a new year. Hope builds, as every day after the solstice gets a little longer. It has also become a time for the giving of gifts, and I say that's a good thing.

Charity is humiliating. There is an element of cruelty to it. Charity is a drop in the bucket of poverty and wont. It says to the receiver, "you have failed, and must rely on the kindness of strangers."

But strangers are kind. Helping others makes us feel good. So in the depths of Winter, when food and warmth are scarce, instead of giving charity to a few, we give gifts to all. Some are trinkets, toys offering the warmth of a smile. Some are sustenance, bare necessities to get a family through to spring. Given as gifts, none are charity. There is no stigma.

Now, as American society has become consumer-driven, the buying of gifts has become a gift itself. Target and Wal-Mart hire more people. Money moves from hand-to-hand, stopping along the way to feed a child, or pay for heat.

So the next time you hear Christmas music the day after Halloween, or see Santa before you eat your Thanksgiving Turkey, have a smile. Humans are doing what we have done since our time began. We are, without realizing it, helping each other.

Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Peaceful Solstice. Have fun Shopping.

Darke Conteur

As the holiday season quickly approaches, I feel blessed that I can celebrate both Christmas with my husband and his family, and Yule. There are so many similarities with traditions between the two, even though the meanings are completely different.

My main ritual is private and personal. I am not part of a coven so I do my rite on my own. I light candles, meditate, but I've merged most of what I do with my husband's celebrations, which means I start celebrating a few days before Yule, and finish the season with a New Year's Eve Cleansing Ritual, to help release the negative energy I'm accumulated over the year.

Christians and Pagans are not the only ones who celebrate this time of year. Many cultures around the world deem this time of year special. Buddhists have Dōngzhì Festival, Hebrew celebrate Hanukkah. There is Kwanzaa for African Americans and the Hindu festival of Makar Sankranti.

There is so much to celebrate and I wish each of you a Blessed and Happy Holidays, which ever path you follow.

Jemi Fraser

We have a recipe for Scottish toffee in our family. It’s a soft vanilla fudge that melts in your mouth. You really don’t even have to chew. Delicious stuff! From start to finish, it takes between 45 minutes and an hour of continuous stirring. You can’t leave it for even a few seconds or it’s ruined. It has to boil at just the right level for the perfect length of time. Too high or too long, and it’s hard. Too low, and it won’t hold its shape. Sadly, once it’s ruined, you have to toss it out and start again.

So, why do I bother?

It’s more than the incredible scent filling the house. We think I’m the 4th generation to make it. While I stir, I think of all of those who’ve made it before me. I remember meeting great Uncle Willie and taking my first taste. I remember being allowed to stir for the first time. My first solo effort. And the first batch I had to toss out.

Sweetness. Memories. Family. Laughter. Love. That’s what Christmas means to me.

Matt Sinclair

I was a bit of a brat as a kid. Among my earliest memories of Christmas is paging through the toy section of the Sears catalog (yes, I’m old enough to remember that) to see what I wanted Santa to get me. I also remember sneaking into my parents’ closet where I discovered (and played with) unwrapped presents. Who knew Santa’s workshop was in my parents’ bedroom! But as much as I enjoyed receiving gifts, I loved—and still love—being with family. Being held by my mother in the crowded church on Christmas Eve, the scent of fireplaces in the neighborhood, the rare snowflakes falling as we left my grandfather’s house: everything revolved around family and the home. I hope my daughters learn to love such moments, too. As writers, we draw on everything in our memories to shape the lives of our characters. I’m thankful I have goodness to give.

Cat Woods

I grew up on the wrong side of poor. Christmas for us was sparse in the present department, though not in love. Most of our gifts came in the form of frivolous necessities: earmuffs instead of stocking hats, or the coveted overalls of the early eighties instead of a simple pair of jeans.

My sister and I learned early on to make gifts for those we loved. Our favorite: emergency money kits. We would creatively package our odd change and write instructions that the money only be used in dire circumstances.

Our second favorite: gifts for Santa's Mouse, a tradition we learned as kindergarteners and still carry through with our children today. In the weeks preceeding Christmas, we wound tiny balls of yarn, broke toothpicks in half for knitting needles and wrapped our gifts for Santa to take back to Mrs. Mouse so she could knit warm sweaters for Mr. Mouse.

Every Christmas morning, we would wake at 4:00am to scour the tree for presents from Santa's Mouse. These were tiny gifts of whimsy tied with a yellow ribbon and completely devoid of necessity.

About five years ago, I learned that my paternal grandfather had been saved a few times by our little stashes of cash he carried in his glove compartment. It's nice to know that small things really do matter.

R.C. Lewis

In all my life (and I won't mention exactly how many years that is), I've never spent Christmas away from home. Thanksgiving, yes. My two years of graduate school put me two thousand miles away from my family. But both years, I managed to fly home for Christmas.

We don't have major traditions, but I've always enjoyed the small familiarities. How many of our nativity sets will we unpack to decorate with this year? (We have somewhere around fifty, I think.) Dad's coronary-inducing scrambled eggs Christmas morning. Eggnog mixed with ginger ale. Christmas Eve with my mother's side of the family, and Christmas night with my father's.

Gifts always fall much lower on the list. My sister-in-law recently asked what I wanted for Christmas, and it was hard to think of anything. I was already in town with my family, so what else could I want?

What thoughts, wishes, and memories are on your mind this holiday season? Please share. We'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Santa's Gift to Writers

by Calista Taylor

With the price of e-readers dropping under $100—$79 for the Kindle with advertisements—many have speculated that there will be a whole lot e-readers sitting pretty under the tree this holiday season. This means there's going to be a big jump in the number of people owning e-readers, and that's a whole lot of people buying eBooks.

If there was any doubt as to whether or not e-readers and eBooks were here to stay, it's likely those thoughts have been laid to rest. And as writers, we've never had more options open to us. If there was ever a time to consider the benefits of e-publishing, now would be it.

This doesn't mean you should stop pursuing a traditional publishing deal if that's your dream. However, there's nothing to say you can't pursue both avenues. In fact, e-publishing an eBook, especially when there's going to be a jump in those purchasing eBooks, could help you build a readership. Do you have some great short stories laying around? Or how about the wonderful manuscript you shelved because the market was doing something different when you queried it?

The best part is that it costs you nothing to e-publish a book on a site (I'm not saying that it will not cost to get a book professionally edited or a cover professionally made). And the royalty percentages are considerably higher than that of traditional publishing deals. This means you can price your book to your advantage, and still make out well because of the higher royalty rate.

Though there is currently a bit of a slush pile with eBooks, I still believe that a great book will rise to the top. I think more and more writers will soon be joining the eBook revolution, so now is a great time to stick a toe in the water, especially while that slush pile is still relatively small.

If you do decide to venture into the eBook waters, make sure you have a polished manuscript and a great cover. If you want to be successful in this venture, it will not happen with a poorly written and edited manuscript. As always, quality is a must if you're to rise to the top of the slush.

So, what do you think? Is publishing electronically something you've considered? Or have you already jumped in with both feet?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Getting to Know You...

by Jemi Fraser

... Getting to know all about you...

Okay, now I'm going to have that song stuck in my head for a while... (it's from The King & I for those of you who don't know :)) In the song, Anna is a teacher and she's talking about the joys of getting to know her new students.

As writers, we need to know our characters too. And we need to know them even better than we know our spouses, our best friends, our kids, and maybe even ourselves. We need to get right inside their heads and understand all of their wants, needs, hopes, dreams, fears, and everything else going through their hearts.

So, how do we do it?

There are many methods. It's important to find one that works for you. It's also fun to try out what other people do and see if you can use part or all of it yourself.

Character question sheet or a fact list. You can start with the easier stuff like physical attributes, then move into the internal items - what makes your character tick and get ticked off. Or you can make a list of all their favourite things. Or make a list of choices (coffee or tea, gun or knife, summer or fall) and decide which they'd prefer. There are all kinds of these question sheets floating around the web.

Character collage. Cruise around the internet or flip through magazines looking for photos that resemble your characters, their favourite places, outifts they would wear, ... Keep the images nearby for inspiration when you're writing.

Music playlist. Find songs your character would listen to, or songs that remind you of their personalities. Play these when you're writing to keep you in the right mood!

Sketches. You don't have to be an aritst to do this. But sketching what the characters look like can give you insights into their feelings & their personalities.

Backstory. Go ahead and write out some of that backstory and get to know your character. Write about the traumatic incidents in their past that affect who they are today. Write about those pivotal childhood moments that solidified their paths in life. None of it will probably ever make your final draft, but writing it out might make the characters more real.

So which of these do I use? Um... none. Instead I let the characters walk around in my head for a few days or weeks while I focus on anything but them. I let my subconscious take over. The story percolates in the background and the characters become three dimensional. By the time I sit down to write, my characters are real people - at least to me!

How do you make your characters real for you? Any tips to share?

Friday, December 16, 2011

What Happens to Your Manuscript in Hollywood? Part Two: Coverage

by R.S. Mellette

When last we left your intrepid novel's journey through Hollywood, it had just been logged into the tracking software and sent to the Story Department, where it sat patiently awaiting a reader.

Readers are people who basically write book reports for a living. They read whatever is submitted, from Steven Spielberg's next project to the janitor's best friend's niece's creative writing assignment that her parents know will be the next blockbuster.

The report they write for your submission is called "coverage."

Coverage is always 3 pages long. Page one has a header that includes: Type of Material (Screenplay, Manuscript, Novel, Article, etc.), Number of Pages, Publisher/Date, Submitted by (agent, manager, production company, author), Submitted to (that's the person who works for the Studio), Analyst (the Reader), Title, Author, Submission (Project, Speculative, Sample), Circa, Locations, Drama Category, Elements.

That last one is key. That's where any attachments will be listed. If that's left blank, and the submission is a spec—meaning a speculative script hoping to find a producer—the result will be a pass. At least on the studio level.

Below the header is the log line. This is one or two sentences written by the reader that sums up the whole story. Hopefully, this will read just like your elevator pitch. After that is a straight plot synopsis that runs about a page and a half. On the last page is the comment section where the reader writes a brief review.

Back on the top page, there will also be a little chart like this:

Excellent Good Fair Poor






Project: ____PASS____ Writer: ____Consider___

There is an unwritten rule that all submissions to a studio without talent attached will be given a PASS. No one in the corporate world wants to put their kid's college tuition on the line for a risky project.

For this reason, you should never submit anything directly to a studio.


Remember that tracking software? The coverage for your project never goes away, and your work won't be read twice—not without some major pull, and even then it's given "comparative coverage." That means the same reader reviews their old report, reads your new version, and writes new coverage that talks only about the changes. Both sets of coverage are then sent to the executive who requested it.

So, say on a whim you send in your unpublished novel to a studio. Since you've got no clout behind it, they automatically pass. The analyst makes sure to write in the coverage good reasons for the pass. Your review will not be a good one.

Then, your sell your manuscript. Two years later it's a minor best-seller and your agent submits it to the same studio.

The first step of logging in a submission, is to check to see if it hasn't already been read. If it has, the assistant will print a copy of the old coverage, clip it to the nice new hardcover of your book and put it in their boss's inbox, skipping the Story Department entirely.

In other words, you're screwed.

In Part Three, I'll discuss ways to avoid bad coverage.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Extend Your Shelf Life: Tackling the Library Market

by Cat Woods

Personally, I love libraries. I love the atmosphere, the sense of peace and the very smell of thousands of amassed books. I hope someday, my books will love the library as well. As a writer of juvenile literature, I fully realize the library market has the ability to make a title.

Young kids take weekly trips to the library from their classrooms. There, they are exposed to hundreds of books and authors they otherwise would never hear about. Think of libraries as television commercials for the elementary student. Students are captive audiences to the books on the shelves, and when they find one they like, they become instantly gratified. Books are checked out and drug home in back packs for use as bed time stories. In this scenario, both parents and children can fall in love with an author and look for new titles to grace their private collections at home.

In middle school and high school, books are often bought for classroom curriculum. If your title is picked, multiple copies are purchased to be read year after year. Not to mention, teens and preteens visit the library to check out the newest author-of-the-month. This age-group reads voraciously and will often latch onto a genre or two with such gusto that librarians struggle to keep titles on the shelves. This can lead to outside sales, as youth are notoriously impatient when it comes to waiting.

Each month, library boards wrack their brains to find presenters who will bring patrons into their facility. They adore authors who can offer a fun or exciting program to any age group. They use you to make their library a happening place to be. After all, their funding is impacted by their circulation. And more funding means more sales and more choices, which in turn feeds circulation. It's a win-win situation for all involved.

Yet, some writers I know shy away from the library market, pooh-poohing it as an unnecessary avenue in which to sell their books. After all, library books are free, no?

Well yes, to the public. But not really, because every book on library shelves has been purchased with real money. Often times at double or triple the cost of a book store edition. Thinking e-books? Many libraries have already weighed in on the great debate and are showing their support to both patrons and writers by connecting them through e-book subscriptions.

Check out Books and Such Literary Agency's blog for a low-down on how it all works and how this motivated agency is making inroads in the marketing world. With over 2,500 on the Library Locator—the nifty thing Books and Such is part of—this "free" market could help an author sell-through and earn back an advance.

So, is the library market an untapped avenue for you as a writer, or does this free service seem a bit too trifling to pursue? Which shelves would you like to see you work on and why?

Friday, December 9, 2011

What Happens to Your Manuscript in Hollywood? Part One: Solicitation

by R.S. Mellette

Since the late 1980s I've worked in just about every department at Universal Studios, including Motion Picture Development—which is where your manuscript would land if you were to submit it to a studio. I thought you guys might like to know what would happen to your novels, screenplays, treatments, stories, etc. after you've put them in the mail or hit send.

First and foremost, no unsolicited material will be read by a studio without a release. So many writers obsess over the release that they miss asking the question, "What does 'unsolicited' mean, and how do I get my script to be solicited?"

A project (which can be anything from an unpublished manuscript to an idea written on a bar napkin) is solicited when a production executive asks to see it. So, say you're riding in that mythic elevator with Ron Meyer who says, "You're a writer? What have you written?"

And you say, "A novel about an elephant that gets into the New York City Ballet Company."

"Really? I'd like to take a look at that, can you send me a copy?"

Your work is now solicited. You get to write in the cover letter, "Per your request..."

Anything else is unsolicited. Most of an agent's job is to get their client's work to be solicited, or at least sent in as a writing sample.

So let's say you know that your novel about the dancing elephant is exactly what Hollywood needs, and you only dreamed about the elevator ride. Still, you're going to send it right to a studio no matter what. When you do, it lands on the desk of an assistant who opens your package, looks at the cover letter and sends your manuscript back in your SASE with a form letter stating the Studio will not read unsolicited material without a signed release, which is enclosed. The release basically says, "There's a good chance we have a project in development that's exactly like what you're sending us, so if we read your work and pass, you have to promise not to sue us."

You sign the release and send the manuscript back, where the assistant eagerly awaits its arrival.

Said assistant will then log the submission into the studio's tracking software. When last I did this job, the standard was a program called Studio Systems from a company called Baseline. The program is huge, and each studio and executive has it tailored to their needs.

Once logged, your work will go to the Story Department. Here it will be assigned to a reader. Of course, since your novel has no one "attached," it will sit in a pile for a long, long time. Having someone attached means they have agreed to work on the project. This isn't always a good thing.

"Charlie Sheen has agreed to star in the film version..."

Attachments can be directors, production companies, stars, or to a lesser extent famous cinematographers or executives. If you're reading this for advice and want to cut to the chase, the rule is that you should never submit a project to a studio without major attachments.

What happens to your words in the Story Department and how do you better your chances in Hollywood?

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Writing Predators

by Darke Conteur

I recently joined what I thought would be a forum where I could connect with other writers. It looked promising—nice name and everything, and my first request for friendship came later that day from a small press. I thought, "Wow, great! Making friends already!" A small press publishing house wanted to be friends, so I checked them out.

Now I understand the desire to become a published author, and how easy it would be to jump at the first good offer, but please, fellow writers, take care and research any small press if they come knocking. With the swell of self-publishing, small press publishers are popping up all over the web, and while many are earnest, there are those who will ask for several hundred dollars to do the same thing you can do or pay someone to do for you. Here are a few of the hurdles new writers fear:

1. Formatting for eBooks.
Believe it or not, (and despite what I've blogged about in the past) this is relatively simple. Smashwords has a wonderful Style Guide that helps a novice put out an eBook that is comparable to any press. I'm noticing some places will try to fancy up the wording and call it 'Custom Interior Formatting'. Honestly, what the heck does that mean? If you don't want to do it yourself, fine, there are people out there who would gladly do it for you. Look around as their prices per word vary.

2. Getting your book into Major Markets.
Some places will offer to get your book listing On Kindle Direct or Barnes and Noble. I can do that myself. Wanna know how? Upload to Kindle direct and to Barnes and Noble. Done. They will make it sound like they can get you a premium spot where your book will be on display to the entire world. Be very careful. They're playing into a new writer's fear of their book becoming lost in a sea of new books.

3. Marketing. Press Releases. I'm sorry, what now? Every time I hear this phrase, I think of teletype machines going off in newsrooms all over the world, announcing the latest celebrity scandal. Unless you're a big time author, this will do nothing to help you sell your book. Don't buy into it.

4. Cover art. Again, like formatting, this is something that you can do yourself if you choose, but there are wonderful people out there who do excellent jobs at cover art. I'm not an artist and I have no problem paying someone to create a spectacular cover for me. I mean, have you seen the cover art for my book THE WATCHTOWER? *pokes Calista Taylor*

5. Content and proof editing. I can't stress enough how incredibly important this is for self-published authors. This is the key to keep you from looking like an amateur. Normally, a good beta will do the trick, but you may want to invest in a copyeditor.

When in doubt and things sound too good to be true, follow one of their authors. Check them out online. What does their cover art look like? Can you read a sample of their work? How does the editing stand up? Better yet, check out if they have a Goodreads profile or if the book has been reviewed there. I checked out two authors of the small press that contacted me, and I was not impressed. For the amount of work and publicity they offered, both authors should have had incredible feedback on their Amazon book sites, and you know what, neither did.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Life is Like Writing ... In the Fast Lane

by R.C. Lewis

I recently did a post on my blog about observations on writing related to all my time on the road. As soon as I posted it, a couple more writing parallels struck me during my daily commute.

It's all about getting on the freeway.

First, we have the on-ramp. When I was in driver's ed, they taught me that the reason we have on-ramps instead of making right turns onto the freeway is so we have a chance to get up to speed. Some drivers must have missed that day in class. You don't want to be going 20 mph slower (or faster) than everyone else when you get there.

Same thing in our stories. Are we pushing the action forward at the right rate? Increasing the tension and intrigue steadily? Or are we dragging things out? Rushing them too much? We need to hit the right pace at the right time.

Once we get to the end of the ramp, we have to merge. Other cars are already on the freeway, and we need to tuck ourselves in ahead of some and behind others. When I was a new driver, I realized that merging is an art form. You have to prepare for it way ahead of time, watching traffic, predicting where you'll fit in, adjusting your speed.

The same art applies to merging threads in our narratives, particularly if there are two parallel storylines that eventually converge. We can't just jam them together—we have to see the merge as we're approaching. Chapters in advance, we have to see how they're going to mesh and nudge them toward each other.

I know these are silly "life is like writing" metaphors, but I find when they occur to me, they make me think of a new angle to check in my manuscripts. Maybe it's my teaching background—when trying to help a student grasp a new concept, I relate it to something much more familiar to them.

Do you have any metaphors you like to use in analyzing your writing (silly or otherwise)? How do they help you get your story on-track?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Trust Your Betas, They Are Wise

by Mindy McGinnis

So I've got a monster under my bed. I shared a little bit about this monster on my personal blog, but today I want to extrapolate on the situation. The monster in question is a trunked ms. It's like an ex-boyfriend that you know has serious issues, but he's got a great voice so you keep taking his calls.

My goal last week was to give that monster ex-boyfriend an attitude adjustment, make him see his wrongdoings and wrangle him into good shape. In other words, he graduated from under the bed to in the bed. But don't misinterpret that last bit; it's where I do my writing.

This particular ms was suffering from some tense issues. Every now and then my 1st POV narrator wanted to slip into present tense while speaking about the past. I call it The Wonder Years Syndrome. In my head, it worked. But every one of my betas was like, "Dude, you've got a tense issue here." And I was like, "No, it's The Wonder Years Syndrome."

Yet that never seemed to be a sufficient explanation.

So I walked away from Monster Ex-Boyfriend and treated myself to a successful new relationship. But those bad apples are irresistible, and I ended up digging him out and applying that stern talking-to. And you know what? My friends were right. There is something not quite right about him, but I was too close to the situation to see it. I wanted to Wonder-Years-Syndrome explain away his issues, but after some time away they were glaring.

But I love the underdog. When I go to the pound I overlook the lost purebreds and take home a three-legged dog with asthma and leprosy. I applied a liberal dose of self-editing, and the ex is currently in the hands of a particularly ruthless beta, who will definitely let me know if there are any lingering problems.

And maybe this time, I'll listen.