Categories
Writing Advice

How Reading Makes Us Better Writers

Things have been a bit weird lately. Part of it is just that I’m terrible at managing my time, so things pile up until I get overwhelmed. However, I’m also dealing with health challenges and the possibility of some big changes in my personal life, and having that looming over me is stressing me out. As Bilbo Baggins would say, I feel a bit like butter that’s been scraped over too much bread.

Much like my novel, my life is a work in progress. Reading too much into things makes me anxious, and I’m trying to teach myself not to overthink every little aspect of life. So I made a chore list that I’ll probably lose by next week. I tackled a project that’s been languishing for close to a month. Then I decided to take a step back from worrying about the rest and went to the library.

Writers need to read

We’ve got to keep up with what’s trending in our genres, what new tropes are out there, and what hot bestsellers might be comparable to our own work. Comps are a big part of pitching, and it’s been a while since I’ve done a deep dive into new fantasy titles. I’m way behind and I really need to get back into reading.

I didn’t pick up anything that looked like a comp on my recent library visit, though. Instead, I was looking for books to help me reconnect with myself. YA is my jam when I’m feeling lost because the characters are often searching for meaning in their own lives, so I headed for the teen shelves.

Look for the lessons

There’s almost always a lesson in a book. Sometimes it’s an overt bit of knowledge that the author planted for you to find. Other times, it’s more subtle. It might even be something the author didn’t realize they were sharing.

For writers, the lessons aren’t just whatever bits of information the author wanted to share. They’re also the way the author uses language to communicate with readers. You can consider anything from how the plot played out all the way down to the author’s word choices.

If you’re looking for a writing lesson in a book, here are some questions you can ask either as you’re reading or after you finish.

Was it more plot driven or more character driven?

In other words, did the story’s environment force the characters onto a certain path? Or did the characters’ choices determine the twists and turns in the plot? I think you usually get a little bit of both, but some books definitely lean more one way or the other.

Do you think the author made the right choice? What would you have done differently? I generally prefer books that are more character driven. Protagonists can start to feel a little weak if all of the major events in the story are triggered by external forces rather than a character’s decisions. It doesn’t sit right with me.

How did the main characters change from who they were at the beginning of the book?

If they didn’t change, what did they learn about themselves? And what did you, as a reader, learn about your own self? Good characters tend to be relatable. Great characters stay with us for a long time after we close the book.

How did the book make you feel?

Did you get a strong emotional connection to the characters or the story while you were reading? Did the book feel like an escape from reality?

If you can say yes to either of these questions, try to pin down what the author did that helped you feel this way. Engagement is one of the most important parts of writing. Analyzing stories that give you strong feelings can help you learn how to create a book that resonates with others.

If you didn’t feel anything, did you like the book at all, or did it feel like it was missing something? What did you like about it? What felt off?

Were there any passages that stood out to you?

In this case, it could be an entire scene or just a single word. Whatever it was, try to think about why it stood out. Did a character have to make a difficult choice? Was a paragraph exceptionally worded? Did it have great economy of language or a variety of descriptive appeals? Whether it’s large or small, when something grabs our attention, there’s usually a reason for that. If you can get to the heart of it, you’ll probably learn something.

Finally, how would you do it?

The last question you should always ask yourself is whether you’d do anything differently if you were the one writing a particular story. And if the answer is yes, why?

Books are full of secrets

I feel like this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things we can learn from books, but it’s probably enough for one day. Have you ever learned anything unexpected while reading? Please share in the comments if you have. I’d love to know what it was!

Categories
Writing Advice

How to write a believable family

More likely than not, your character has a family. They may have a found family rather than a biological family, but I think it’s safe to say that most fictional characters have some kind of family ties. Today I want to talk a little about how to make those relationships and bonds feel real to your readers.

This is important because even if family members aren’t major characters, they contribute to your main character’s development. Seeing how your character forms bonds with other characters will help your reader form a bond with your character.

Keep it real

Remember, elements in a fiction book don’t have to feel real in the sense of the real world. Instead, they need to feel realistic to the world and culture you’ve created for your story. In other words, you don’t want to jolt your reader out of their suspended disbelief.

Personalities

Each family member should have their own personality and interests. However, the family as a whole might also seem to have sort of a group personality. Like, they might be doing their own thing as individuals on a normal, day-to-day basis, but they come together as a group in a time of crisis. Every person takes on an unspoken role, sometimes without even stepping on anyone else’s feet, and they just get through whatever conflict they’re facing.

Some families also seem to have the group personality thing going on all the time. A group of siblings I knew from school were definitely peas in a pod. They dressed alike, looked alike, had similar interests, and were almost copies of each other. Even if you hadn’t met one of their other siblings (I attended school with 4 of the 10 of them), you’d recognize them as a member of the family on sight.

Traditions

Holidays are probably the first thing that come to mind when many people think of family traditions, but there are definitely other things to consider. A summer vacation activity or a special meal reserved for birthdays or celebrations might also be traditions. Maybe not every family observes holidays, or takes summer vacations, but I suspect most families have traditions they try to pass from one generation to the next.

Culture

This sort of ties in to tradition, but I thought I’d separate it. Culture plays a huge role in family life. Like, in some cultures the children are expected to move out and establish themselves ASAP once they reach adulthood. In other cultures, they might live with their parents until they’re married or even stay with the household after that and help take care of their elders. Marriage and child-rearing can vary a lot from one culture to another. Sometimes expectations are different for older children vs their younger siblings. You have a whole lot to work with here. When you’re establishing the setting for your story, look at how family dynamics play out in different cultures.

Conflict

When you live with other people 24/7, there’s bound to be conflict sooner or later. Family conflict is interesting because family members tend to know how to push each other’s buttons. Also, it’s hard to escape or avoid a conflict if you live with someone or see them regularly. Conflict with a household member can be a good way to add some tension to a story if you’re dealing with a bit of a lull.

Household habits

Every household is a little different, and each member typically has a role to play. Think about what the household routine might be, and what events might shake it up a little. A routine might cause conflict, for example if one person tries to dump a chore on someone else. Or it might be a source of comfort after a long, hard day. This seems simple, but there’s actually a lot you can do with it.

Unfortunately, some families just suck

There are plenty of unhealthy family dynamics out there, too. I could probably write many, many blog posts on possible abusive traits, or ways your character’s family could make them suffer.

For better or for worse, a bad family life can be a major plot point for your character. I’m sure you can think of a dozen titles, at least, that involve a main character with a crummy family. Lately, I’ve been leaning more toward trying to write stories where the characters have healthy relationships–or mostly healthy relationships, anyway. I just feel like there are so many bad family stories in fiction, and it’s time to turn that trend around. Reading about happy people was an escape for me when I was a child. It was one of the things that taught me how to build good relationships with people.

Try to keep your character’s family from turning into paper dolls

Your character’s family can be a way for readers to connect with them. Most readers probably know what kooky relatives are like. They understand routine, and what can happen if, say, one parent is late getting home from work. Some readers know what it’s like to have a family that isn’t supportive, and might even be abusive. Those shared understandings can help create a bond between your reader and your story. If you need some inspiration, try looking up family tropes, found family tropes, or sibling tropes and see what comes up.

Do you spend a lot of time developing families for your characters when you write? Please let me know in the comments. Feel free to share your traditions, too, if you want. Those can be really fun sometimes.

Categories
My Novel Updates

July Update: It’s summer!

How’s your summer going? I’ve been really busy–honestly this whole year has been one massive upheaval after another–and it’s starting to take a toll. Let’s talk about how things are going!

I’ve been a little hands-off with the blog this summer

The last part of June was wild thanks to a busy personal schedule and a chronic illness flare up that took me off my feet for a bit. My doctor is stumped. He’s trying to refer me to someone else, but they’re not returning calls. It’s a big mess. With all of that going on, I just didn’t have the time or energy for blogging. However, I try to stay a month ahead, so June’s posts went up without any effort on my part. I’m still really happy about the Golden Bloggerz Award, which was a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t up to writing anything new for July, so I’m winging it this month. That’s kind of the story of my life, though, so it should be okay. I hope. I do have some doctor visits scheduled, and I’m waiting on a different referral for a general surgeon, so we’ll see how it all comes together.

Let’s talk about short stories, shall we?

I wasn’t expecting results from Writer’s of the Future until July, so it was a nice surprise to see an email from them on June 25. I got a silver honorable mention. I’m not complaining, but I have mixed feelings about it this time.

Rather than write something new for Q2, I revised and resubmitted my very first contest entry piece. It got a SHM the first time, too. On the one hand, I’m glad it didn’t drop in the rankings, but I am a little disappointed the revision didn’t push it higher up. I made some big changes to the end of the story.

Still. Dwelling on problems doesn’t solve them. Writing is highly subjective, and I suspect this story wasn’t quite right for WotF’s target audience anyway. I’m going to toss it up on Critique Circle soon, because I don’t think I did that before I submitted it, and then send it to Diabolical Plots when they open for submissions in August. Publishing can be a bit of a numbers game. Even if a story wasn’t quite right for one editor, someone else might love it. You never know.

Quarter 3 is in, but…

Due to my health flare-up, I didn’t have it in me to put a lot of effort into critiques and revision. I won’t be surprised if it gets a flat-out rejection later this summer or early in the fall. I’ll probably revise and resubmit later, but I don’t know if I’ll do it for Quarter 4 or if I’ll wait for next year. I don’t plan on writing anything new for the contest for a while, because I want to focus on my novel, but I am going to give this last story my best effort. Even if it takes some time to get it to that point.

Finally, how about that novel?

I’m taking my time with the second draft. I want to try and get it structurally sound, so to speak, before I move on to line edits and all the small details that, in my opinion, really make a story.

I floundered around for a while before I decided to make an outline of the whole thing to help me target a few major issues I’ve been having with the plot. I’m still in the middle of that. I don’t like outlining, and it’s hard to get motivated to do it for a piece this long, so progress is slow but somewhat steady.

And that’s it for June. Enjoy your summer!

My biggest focus right now is my health–both physical and mental–but I’m trying to keep up with things around here, too. I really want to get this draft of the novel finished so I can move on to the next phase of this whole process.

Please feel free to talk about any of your fun summer activities in the comments. My favorite thing has been watching my cat yell at fireflies. My least favorite has been this whole flare up deal. I’m doing what I can to fix that, though.

Categories
Writing Advice

Using description to appeal to a reader’s senses

I’ve been doing a lot of critiques lately, and that always makes me think of new things to share with you all. I hope people don’t think I’m hating on them when I write a post like this one, because that’s not the case. I get inspired when I notice writers repeat similar patterns in their work. It helps me grow, and it gives me an opportunity to share that growth and knowledge with others. Today I want to talk about how you can use your descriptions to appeal to your readers’ senses.

First, let’s talk about the senses

Okay, so you all learned about the five senses at some point, right? In case you didn’t, I’m talking about touch, taste, hearing, sight, and smell. When you’re writing descriptions, you can also add movement (which I’ll refer to as kinetic appeals) and emotion to that list.

Why do sensory appeals matter?

There’s been a lot of research on how reading affects people’s brains. Some studies have shown that reading a lot can even change the physical structure of the brain. But the theory I want to touch on today is called embodied semantics. It seems like a lot of the data is more correlation than causation at this point, but still it’s interesting to consider.

Basically, embodied semantics theorizes that there are specialized hubs within the brain where the meaning of a word is tied to a sensory processing unit. In layman’s terms, that means reading (or hearing) certain words can affect different parts of a reader’s brain and trigger a physical response. So if you’re writing about your character running from a villain, your reader’s muscles might tense up as well. Maybe their breathing will get a little short. When characters are talking, readers might imagine hearing their voices. Or if you describe something your character can see, your reader might be able to picture it, too. And so on.

When you’re able to trigger one response after another, or multiple responses at once, readers (or listeners) theoretically become more and more engaged in the story because you’re accessing more parts of their brain.

If you keep that in mind, you can write scenes that feel very powerful to your readers. The unfortunate part of this lesson is that it’s hard to unlearn. Once you get it down, you’re going to notice when writers don’t use a variety of appeals.

Next, let’s look at some different kinds of appeals

I think it might be easier to show you what I’m talking about, and then I’ll discuss some things you can do to identify and remedy any problems you might have.

The last time I gave examples, I was pretty obvious about which one was “good” and which one was “bad.” I’m going to try to be a little more subtle this time.

Example 1

Faith looked like her mother. She was small-boned and short with long hair that she kept tied back in a simple braid. Faith and Serena even shared the same fashion sense. Faith’s uniform was a riot of color thanks to the pins and patches she’d stuck all over it. Flecks of glitter shimmered in her hair and on her skin, and her nails were a shimmering rainbow. The color of her hair and eyes might have come from Gabriel, but everything else was Serena.

Visual appeals make up most of this example. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you’re describing a character’s appearance, but you might have a bigger impact on your readers if you mix things up a little.

Example 2

Faith favored her mother. Sure, she had Gabriel’s hair and eyes, but that was where their resemblance ended. The way she tipped her head to one side when she asked a question was all Serena. Her voice was low, like Gabriel’s, but the warmth in it was not. Neither was the smile that came out to play in the corners of her mouth when she thought no one was looking. Gabriel wasn’t sure he even remembered how to smile. It didn’t look natural on him anyway. Faith was the best thing Gabriel had ever been a part of, and he was so thankful she hadn’t turned out like him.

I tried to use a broader selection of appeals in this example. Faith tipping her head is a crossover appeal–it’s visual because you can picture it in your mind, but it’s also kinetic because it’ll make some people think about the action of tipping their heads. Referring to a low voice is an audio appeal. Finally, Gabriel’s reflections are emotional appeals.

The way a character views another character can tell readers a lot about who they are and how they think. This goes back to economy of language–that is, getting as much out of your words as you possibly can. In this case, we learned something about Faith, and the way we learned it taught us something about Gabriel as well. He loves his daughter, but he does not think highly of himself, does he?

Visual appeals are the most common

I’ve done several critiques recently where the writers mainly focused on visual descriptions and very little else, like I did in the first example up above. You do need to give your readers a good idea of what things look like, so you can avoid white room syndrome, but a story that only uses visual appeals gets boring after a while.

Audio (aka hearing) appeals are probably the second most common. I’ve heard that some writers out there favor audio over visual, but I’ve yet to come across a story written that way. I have seen one writer who favored kinetic appeals. That was unusual. I really had to stop and think about what felt off about their work before I figured it out.

So what’s the best way to determine which appeals to use?

As always, this is going to vary a bit from one writer to another. I don’t plan much in advance when I write, so a lot of my descriptive passages get refined during the editing process. I’ll take my story a paragraph at a time, look at the types of appeals in each sentence, and make sure I don’t have the same kind of appeal more than twice in a row. It’s a pain sometimes, but I think it’s worth it.

If you are more of a planner, you might consider creating some kind of pattern, or a series of patterns, for your appeals. That way you don’t accidentally get stuck repeating the same type of description over and over. I know it seems like that might also become repetitive over time, but it’ll be so subtle that most readers probably won’t notice.

You do have to let the scene and the characters guide you a little, though. Like, you probably won’t have many visual appeals if a character is in a dark place or if something is blocking their vision. In that case, think about what your character can hear, touch, or smell, as well as what they’re doing and how they feel about their situation, and use that to appeal to your readers’ other senses. Also, think about your character’s personality and interests. If they’re a painter or photographer, they might have very visual thought processes. Maybe they’ll notice colors and other visual details that other characters miss. A musician might pick up on audio cues, like a tremor in someone’s voice. How might your characters use their special something to appeal to your readers?

I think that’s enough for today

I feel like this might be one of those topics I revisit, maybe broken down into posts that focus on each type of appeal, but I hope I’ve at least given you an idea of how this works. Give it a try in your own writing and see how it goes. If you’re still feeling a little lost, try analyzing some of your favorite books. Look at how other authors use appeals. Feel free to contact me or leave a comment below if you have any questions.

Categories
Writing Advice

How to use outlines as part of your editing process

Anybody who’s followed this page for a while probably knows that I’m a total pantser when it comes to my rough drafts. I don’t make outlines for my stories or plan them out in advance because I can’t seem to stick to a plan. Ever. That’s not limited to writing, it’s just my chaotic life.

Anyway.

Even though I don’t plan my stories in advance, I do sometimes create outlines as part of the editing process. Let’s talk about that today.

Outlines are macro edits

Macro, or developmental, edits apply to large chunks of the story. When you’re doing a macro edit, you’re looking at things like your plot as a whole. Or a character’s development from the beginning of the story to the end. Because you’re working with so much material at once, it helps to find a way to break that down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Outlines can help with that.

My recent outline experience

I had a hard time with the plot of my latest Writers of the Future entry. The characters and settings were all fine, but there was something wrong with the sequence of events. Even though it was a fairly short story, I couldn’t keep some of the details together in my mind well enough to see the full picture. So I sat down and created an outline. It took five minutes and really helped me figure out what was missing from the story.

Due to contest rules, I can’t share that outline with you. I’ll share some screenshots from a different one with you instead, though, so you have some clear examples to follow if you decide to try this on your own.

Step 1: Make a list of acts

The first part of making outlines is pretty simple. Go through the story and make a list of each act. I don’t bother with summaries or anything fancy at this point. I just try to think of one or two key words that describe the most important events or time periods in the story.

Because this story took place over a large part of one character’s life, I decided to use the protagonist’s age as keywords to describe my acts.

outline step 1--acts

Scrivener has an outline function, but I haven’t actually sat down and figured it out yet. I just used Docs for this.

Step 2: Which characters are involved?

Under each act, write down which characters have major roles. Just the names are enough for this step. I’ll fill in the rest in a moment.

Since this is a short story, I thought it would be easier to go with characters for this step. If you’re doing a novel outline, it might be better to add another subheading for each chapter or scene, and then put the characters under their respective scenes.

outline step 2--insert characters

Step 3: What’s happening?

Write a brief summary of what the characters are doing, or what they’re involved in if they’ve been swept up into something. Try to limit it to just a sentence or two. I know that can be hard, but think of it as practice for the day you’ll have to write a blurb or a pitch.

outline step 3--insert summaries

Step 4: Analyze

Once I have everything in front of me, I try to think about how characters and events connect to one another, and look for some of the following things:

  • How are characters connected to each other? Examine the ties between characters. If their relationship is supposed to build over the course of the story, make sure readers have enough clues that it doesn’t seem like it’s coming out of nowhere. If there’s conflict between characters, make sure readers know why.
  • How are characters connected to events? Again, this is mainly to make sure big events don’t feel like they’re coming out of nowhere. I’m all for a plot twist, but it’s got to feel believable and true to the story.
  • Have the characters failed? Ideally, the protagonist will have at least one major failure over the course of the story. Two or three would be even better.
  • Is the climax actually climactic? This is the story’s big moment. I can’t wimp out now.
  • Does the conclusion tie up loose ends appropriately? This can vary from one story to another. Sometimes the protagonist doesn’t get what they wanted, and that’s fine. But plot events and characters’ decisions have to line up in such a way that the ending is believable.

So what was wrong with my story?

Lily’s story lacked tension and conflict, and the thing with her dad felt rushed. Plus I suspect most people who would read this kind of a story would want Lily to get with Seb in the end and she didn’t. I’m honestly still at a crossroads with this one because even though it reads well, the underlying structure feels weak.

In the Writers of the Future submission, the ending came about as a sort of deux ex machina. I catch myself doing that a lot because usually there’s more stuff in my head than I get into the computer in early drafts, so major events can sometimes feel like they were resolved too easily. Luckily this time it was an easy fix, and I was able to tweak one character’s plot so the ending felt more natural. I feel good about it, and I got good feedback in my critiques, so now it’s just a matter of waiting to see what the judges think.

Don’t feel bad if outlines don’t help you

Everybody writes a little differently, and what works for one person may be completely useless for someone else. My outlining skills are kind of hodgepodge anyway, so you might do better if you look into someone else’s technique. The Snowflake method gets thrown around a lot if you need an example.

It’s also very hard to analyze your own writing, especially when you’re just starting out. I’m a pretty good editor, but I miss things in my own work all the time. I’m so grateful for the folks on Critique Circle who help me figure out where I’ve gone wrong. A good critique is worth its weight in gold, y’all.

Have you ever tried creating an outline to guide you through the editing process? What do you do? Feel free to let us know in the comments! If you thought this post was helpful, please use those social media buttons down below to share it with your writer friends. Thanks!

Categories
Bad Writing Rules

How often should you use exclamation points?

How long has it been since we’ve done a bad writing rule? I’ve got another one for you today. Maybe you’ve heard of it: Limit your use of exclamation points to 1 per story.

I’m sorry, what?

This seems so arbitrary. I could maybe understand this rule if it’s aimed at exposition in third person omniscient narration, though. The narrator is outside of the story in that case. They don’t have a stake in what’s going on, so why are they getting excited?

However, it seems like omniscient third has fallen out of vogue for the moment. Most of the books I’ve read recently were either in first person or limited (usually deep) third person, and I think the occasional exclamation point could fit that style of narration depending on what’s happening in the story. Keep the narrator’s personality in mind. If an exclamation mark feels true to them, don’t be afraid to use it.

Anything goes in dialogue

Well. Almost anything. I’d think long and hard about giving a character a really thick accent, and I try to limit filler words, but other than that I tend to treat dialogue as a free for all. Characters are going to yell or get excited sometimes, and that’s what exclamation marks are for.

Just don’t follow one up with a dialogue tag that says “(character) exclaimed.” It’s redundant. You don’t need it.

Consider your audience as well

I’d expect to see more exclamation points in a children’s book than a book targeted at adults. Kids seem to thrive on excitement and wonder. Adults aren’t quite as excitable, though. Something that’s OMG super exciting(!!!) to a child might seem cringeworthy to a teen or adult reader, so keep that in mind while you write.

What do you think?

Do you limit your use of exclamation points, or do you write what feels appropriate for your characters and scene? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!

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Image credit: Steve Harvey

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Uncategorized

Golden Bloggerz Award

Today’s post is a little unusual. For once, I’m not talking about writing! Someone on Twitter nominated me for the Golden Bloggerz Award, and I want to acknowledge her kindness.

Golden Bloggerz Award logo

First off, let’s have a look at the rules:

  1. Place the award logo on your blog
  2. Mention the rules.
  3. Thank whoever nominated you and place a link to their website
  4. Mention the award’s creator & provide a link too.
  5. Tell your audience 3 things about you
  6. Nominate 10 – 20 people who deserve this award
  7. Let your nominees know by messaging/commenting on their Social Media or their blog
  8. Ask your nominees any 5 questions you want.
  9. Share 2-3 links to your best posts

Thank you, Anissa!

Anissa, from The Quiet Girl Blog, kindly nominated me for the Golden Bloggerz Award on Twitter. Thank you, Anissa! Logging on to Twitter and seeing your nomination in my notifications really made my day.

Golden Bloggerz

Chris Kosto from Golden Bloggerz created this award to motivate and reward bloggers who do their best to help their readers solve problems and reach their goals. I had not heard about Golden Bloggerz prior to my nomination, and it looks like they have a lot of great resources for bloggers. For example, their post about LSI keywords has some pretty useful information. I’m trying to learn more about SEO, and I hadn’t even heard of LSI keywords before.

Three things about me

Writing is not 100% of my personality

Because this is a niche blog, sometimes I’m afraid that’s all people see of me. However, I have other hobbies–I like bird watching and I play the guitar–they’re just not very topical, you know?

I used to be quite athletic

Dance, running, and martial arts kept me busy and healthy once upon a time. Hiking and camping were great, too. I’d like to get that back, but I don’t know if it’ll ever happen thanks to a chronic condition I’ve been dealing with for close to a decade now.

If I didn’t blog about writing, I’d probably write about mental health or food

Probably mental health, honestly. I love cooking, but there are already so many great food blogs out there. I’m not sure I could compete.

Questions from The Quiet Girl Blog

How did you start blogging?

I started this blog as a way of keeping myself accountable to my writing projects. It’s easy for me to get bored or stressed over a project and quit, so I thought it would be good for me to have something like this to help keep me motivated.

What are you most proud of?

As far as writing goes, probably the silver honorable mention I received from Writers of the Future. If we’re looking at life achievements, probably my degree. Blogging is as close as I’ve come to using my degree, but just having one gave me a leg up on other candidates the last time I had a real job.

What can brighten your day up?

A nice surprise. It can be anything from a new comment on the blog to coming home and discovering someone has done my chores or cooked dinner ahead of time.

What’s your worst pet peeve?

Haha, this is embarrassing. My worst pet peeve is probably when people stand around in the aisle at the grocery store and I can’t get to what I want to buy.

What’s your favorite thing to do for self-care?

Get away from screens for a while because I spend entirely too much time staring at one device or another. A break from that really helps clear my head. It really doesn’t matter how I get away–I can spend time with my pets, go for a drive, take a shower, practice my guitar…It’s all good.

My Nominees

There are so many great creators and wonderful folks out there who deserve to be acknowledged. This list is not in any particular order, nor is it limited to any one genre, but I invite you to visit the following websites and enjoy the authors’ creativity and kindness.

Unwanted Life

The Gray Matters Blog

Sionna Trenz

The Grumpy Olive

Lifestyle Prism

The Dating Bitch

Tangela Williams-Spann

Twirling Sleepy Book Princess

Ruthiee Loves Glamour

Lynn Mumbing Mejia

My Questions

  1. What’s your favorite work of art?
  2. What’s something you’re looking forward to?
  3. What is your favorite treat?
  4. Where would you most like to travel, assuming finances are not an issue?
  5. How do you like to unwind after a long day?

Three of my best posts

I have no idea how to decide what makes a post the best. The posts that get the most traffic are not the ones that get the most comments or social shares. I guess let’s go with one of each?

Most traffic

Why I no longer use Scribophile –Ouch. Sorry, Scribophile.

Most comments

Three Simple Ways to Improve Your Economy of Language –I’m really proud of my economy of language posts. It means a lot to me that so many people took the time to leave a comment on this one. Thanks so much to everyone who did!

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NaNoWriMo –I’m not sure why this one took off like it did, but thanks to everyone who shared it.

Thank you again, Anissa!

I’ve met so many kind and wonderful people on this blogging journey. I’m so grateful to everyone who visits my blog, and I really can’t thank you all enough.

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My Novel Updates

June Check-in

How is 2021 almost halfway over? I feel like I’ve barely done anything, and time is just blowing past me. I’m glad I do a monthly check-in, if only because it helps me keep track of what I’ve accomplished.

How ’bout that blog?

May was a good month for My Novel Year. Traffic is higher than it’s ever been, and I think a lot of that is due to Twitter. I’m trying to promote myself more through Pinterest, but that’s a slow burn. I don’t expect results overnight.

I’m also looking into guest blogging. My first guest blog on Critique Circle went up yesterday. I’m thinking about branching out to Medium, too.

The economy of language posts seem like they’re really resonating with people, but I have lighter things planned for the website this month. There are some other projects I need to tackle, like maintenance on my house now that the weather’s getting nicer, and I just don’t have the time or energy to write big posts alongside all of that. July…may or may not be better. We’ll see.

Short stories

The Writers of the Future deadline for Quarter 3 is June 30, but my personal deadline is June 19 due to some other commitments. The story is finished, but I’m waiting on critiques so I can do some last minute revision. Quarter 2 results will probably turn up either sometime late this month or (more likely) in July. I’ll update you on that when I hear something. After this, I’m taking a break from short stories so I can focus on my novel.

Speaking of the novel…

I’m working my way through character arcs and trying to figure out if there’s anything I can trim. It feels like there’s too much going on, and I need to simplify things somehow. Developmental editing is a slow process for me. Sometimes I have to take a break from the work so I can look at things with fresh eyes, or try to see them from different angles.

I think that’s all for now

I have a lot of things going on in June, especially toward the end of the month, so you may not see me around on social media as much as usual. If you’re worried about missing a post, please subscribe to the mailing list. I send an email with a link to the newest post every Wednesday. I hope you enjoyed this month’s check-in! Thanks for supporting me.

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Publishing

Is Vella Right for You?

Serial publishing–that is, publishing a novel chapter by chapter, often in magazines or other periodicals–has been around for a long time. Charles Dickens was known for it. Now Amazon is getting in on the serial game with a new service called Vella.

I’ve talked about various outlets for self-publishing in the past, including Amazon’s KDP and Kindle Unlimited, so of course I had to look into Vella. I’d guess they created it to compete with services like Webnovel and Dreame, and I’d honestly put more trust into Amazon than those two.

The Details

The Vella store isn’t actually open yet. At the moment, Amazon is encouraging authors to have anywhere from 1-5 chapters (called episodes) ready to roll so they’ll have material available for readers when Vella launches. Honestly, the program sounds a bit like Webtoon, but for books instead of comics. Readers buy tokens to unlock story episodes, and writers earn royalties when readers spend tokens on their stories. The first few episodes of every story are free so readers get a sample before they have to spend money.

Publishing on Vella is a little different than publishing a complete novel through KDP. The content guidelines are available here, but I’ll give you a few highlights:

  • Existing content guidelines for eBooks apply to serials published through Vella, so make sure you’re up to date on those.
  • Vella doesn’t accept anything that’s been previously published in long form. So you can’t break up your existing eBook into a serial format and push it through Vella.
  • They don’t want anything that’s been published online for free–so the story you’ve been posting on your blog is a no-go.
  • No links to outside material in your author’s notes. They don’t want you encouraging readers to navigate away from Vella.

Pricing and Royalties

Royalties are currently 50% of whatever the reader spent on tokens. Your episode’s word count determines how many tokens a reader will pay to unlock it. I’m not comfortable crunching the numbers, but you can read more about that here.

I’ve seen authors in Facebook groups complain about the pay rate, but I couldn’t tell you from personal experience if it’s good or bad compared to non-serial publishing. Obviously it will add up if you attract a lot of readers. Brush up on those marketing skills now, so you’ll be ready to promote your work when Vella launches.

So is Vella worth it?

I honestly couldn’t say. It sounds a bit gimmicky, but the truth is that serialized novels have been popular for a long time. Like, The Pickwick Papers long. They’re not exactly novels, but Webtoon makes a killing off of some of their series. A few of those have even been adapted for other forms of media. God of High School and Tower of God have been made into animated series. Jim Henson Studio is producing a Netflix adaptation of Lore Olympus, and there’s already a ton of merch at stores like Hot Topic and BoxLunch. If Vella takes off, authors who got in on the ground floor might do very well.

Tokens add up though. Readers might end up paying more for a serialized book than they would have paid for an eBook of the same length. If that stays the same, I’m not sure how long Vella will be able to sustain itself. People will eventually get tired of shelling out to read a book one episode at a time when they could just buy a complete novel and be done with it.

I still have questions, too.

What happens when you reach the end of your serial on Vella? According to the current guidelines, you would have to unpublish all episodes if you wanted to publish it as a longform novel rather than a serialized novel. You also can’t sell it in other markets while it’s on Vella, so publishing wide isn’t an option.

I’m also concerned that Vella might go the way of Kindle Worlds, and disappear with little to no notice.

I do like the idea. I just want a little more information before I jump in.

I’ve had good luck with serials before. Years ago, I posted fanfiction online in serial form. At its peak, one of my stories got well over 10,000 visitors per month and it was in a dead fandom. I didn’t get any money from it, obviously, but I did get lots of comments and messages from readers and the attention was fun. Publishing in a serial format could work out pretty well for me. I just want a finalized idea of how earnings would work, and the best way to transition a finished novel off of Vella and into a more typical novel format.

What do you think about Vella? Is it something you would use?

I would consider it, under the right circumstances. Of course, I don’t have anything ready to publish right now, but I’m working on that. What about you? Feel free to share your thoughts in a comment below.

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Style

EoL 3: Identifying descriptions you don’t need

It’s time for another crash course in economy of language! This sort of touches on vagueness, which we talked about last time, but I made it a separate post just to break things up a bit. Let’s talk about how you can be more economical with your descriptions.

The problem with puffy descriptions

When a writer crams too much information into a paragraph, it can be hard for readers to figure out which details are important. This makes the paragraph seem vague because there’s no focal point. It also makes your story harder to read because it’s more difficult to keep track of what’s going on.

You might need a critique partner

Sometimes it takes a second pair of eyes to spot unnecessary material in your book, so don’t feel bad if you read over a scene and can’t find anything to cut. It happens to us all.

However, you can learn to analyze your writing, and that might help you eliminate vague or repetitive descriptions. I don’t think I can show you how to do that in a single blog post, but this is one part of the process. It’s another aspect of micro editing, and I hope it helps you learn how to structure your descriptions in a way that adds substance to your story.

Here’s a rough scene:

Victoria was walking to the company store. She needed to buy salt pork, beans, eggs, lard, and flour. She also needed milk for her daughter and some potatoes for dinner. The sky was blue and birds were singing overhead. Cicadas were buzzing in the trees. Horses were clip-clopping down the dusty street. A pair of men stumbled out of the saloon, laughing and leaning on one another as they staggered off into the distance. Victoria sighed in relief when they didn’t seem to notice her at all. She didn’t have time to deal with men.

Victoria noticed that the boarding house was buzzing with people getting ready for shift change. She saw women who were wrangling children and laundry. She also saw men who were walking toward the mines, some tired, some with purpose. No one was waiting at the train station; the next train wasn’t due until morning. When Victoria came around the corner, she saw a crowd gathered on one side of the street.

Word count: 166

This is just a bunch of sentences grouped together. Although the writer is trying to set a scene, there’s no emotional tone, no real direction, and no clear narrative voice. A lot happens in the paragraph, but the writing isn’t economical because it doesn’t go anywhere or give the reader anything to care about. If we want to get really picky, the sentences are choppy and there are too many passive phrases. Let’s concentrate on how to make this little scene more economical first. We can fix the minor details later if there are any left after we revise.

Think about what needs to happen in the scene, and try to keep that goal in mind while you rewrite.

In this case, Victoria does have a purpose: she’s getting groceries. There’s also a hint that someone might be blocking her from getting to the store. I can use that to give this paragraph some direction. I’ll ease off on information we don’t need–like the individual items on Victoria’s shopping list, the weather, and the sounds of nature–so it’s easier for readers to follow the story. Finally, I’ll do what I can to insert a bit of tension to help draw readers deeper into the story.

Example 2:

Victoria’s shoes stirred up puffs of dust on the plank sidewalk as she hurried to the company store, her shopping list clutched in her fist. The saloon doors creaked open into her path and a pair of men stepped out, flushed and laughing, their faces still bright and clear of the black dust that would eventually settle deep into every crease and pore.

Victoria ducked her head, hiding under her bonnet, and prayed neither of them noticed her. She couldn’t afford the time it would take to talk her way out of an awkward situation. Luckily, the men stumbled into the street, heading toward Mrs. Smith’s boarding house. Victoria pressed on. Amelia will be so frightened if I don’t get home before she wakes up from her nap, she thought, rushing around the corner.

Coal-blackened miners in coveralls and hard hats blocked the entrance of the company store. Victoria stopped short in the middle of the sidewalk. Another protest. Her shoulders drooped.

Word Count: 162

Let’s analyze the descriptions in Example 2

This isn’t much shorter than the original example. However, it feels more like a story, doesn’t it? Instead of random descriptions of the weather and the birds and everything Victoria wants from the store, we get something that feels more like a journey.

First off, Victoria has a goal. She wants to finish her shopping quickly and get home to her daughter. I won’t have to do much more to make readers start wanting that for her. I didn’t include many setting details because I’m imagining Victoria is so focused on her goal that she didn’t notice the weather or birds. The details I did use, like the plank sidewalk, will hopefully help readers imagine a 19th century coal town.

Second, we get a little bit of Victoria’s personality. She seems shy, or maybe a little anxious, right? It’s possible she’s had some experiences with drunks coming out of the saloon before and is concerned about what might happen. She’s also worried about her daughter.

Finally, there’s conflict. Victoria’s a woman on a mission and someone–in this case a whole crowd–is in her way. Not only that, but it sounds like these protests are part of an ongoing problem. It’s a personal conflict in this particular scene, but it’s also an indicator of a larger conflict that will draw more characters in before the story reaches its climax. The two men coming out of the tavern are also indicative of a possible problem–they’re newcomers, which you can see because their skin isn’t totally embedded with coal dust, and could be scabs or actors who were brought in to break up a union. (Or possibly minions of some Eldritch terror imprisoned deep within the earth, but I’m getting ahead of myself).

Even though it’s longer, example 2 is more economical because it has more substance.

If I had kept up with the same writing style I used in the first example, how long would it have taken before the story felt like it was moving? How long before we got a good feel for Victoria’s character? Before tension and conflict started to build? Probably a while, right? We did lose a few small details in the second example, but we gained some real substance.

As strange as it might sound, economy of language doesn’t always mean writing shorter. It means getting the most out of every word you use, and avoiding anything that doesn’t contribute to the scene you’re building. In this case, I’m still setting up the story. Introductions and early world building scenes tend to run a little long, but you can ease back on some of those descriptions once you’ve established your setting.

You also have to keep conflict and tension in mind when you write descriptions

It’s hard to create good tension in a story when you’re using vague language and empty descriptions. You’ve got to give your readers expectations. They have to want things to happen, and you have to make it seem like maybe those things won’t happen, in order to have tension in your story. Using specific language and descriptions that make meaningful contributions to your scene will help create those expectations in your readers.

Which example do you prefer?

I’ve said it often enough that I should probably get t-shirts printed: Writing is subjective. Everyone has different tastes. Not only that, but some readers just don’t notice subtle details in writing. Even though economy of language is important to me, it doesn’t matter at all to other people out there. So don’t stress too much if you’re having trouble grasping the concept. Do the best you can and write what makes you happy.

If you have any questions about writing descriptions, or anything you’d like to add, feel free to leave a comment below. I do have more economy of language posts planned, as well as a whole host of other things, so please subscribe if you’d like to receive weekly updates when new things get published to the blog.