Writing

Writing to Market

Love or MoneyBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Writing to market isn’t a new concept, but recently it’s become one of the hot topic issues within the writing world, largely thanks to Chris Fox’s 21 Day Novel Challenge.

On one side of the divide over writing to market are authors who say that writing to market is the way to earn a good living off your work. On the other side are writers who say that writing to market makes you a mercenary and will lead to a short career where you burn out and hate to write.

This month, in my regular guest post at Fiction University, I’m explaining what writing to market means, taking a look at some of the pros and cons, and asking whether we really have to choose between writing for love or writing for money. Is it possible to find the spot where what we love to write and what we can make money writing overlap?

I hope you’ll join me for “Writing to Market – What Is It and Should You Try It?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description Showing and Telling in Fiction, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

Image Credit: Cameron H/freeimages.com

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Dissecting Books: Reading as a Writer Part 3

Read Like a Writer Part 3By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Welcome back to my series on how to dissect books to understand how and why they work. In other words, how to “read as a writer.” (Here’s where to find Part 1 and Part 2.)

Last time we looked at plot. This week we’re going to think about characters and theme.

I’d suggest sticking with the same three books we selected last time. Just as a reminder, they were three of your favorites in your chosen genre, and they were recently written, highly rated, first in series or standalone books.

(1) How does the writer make you care about what happens to the main character?

Notice I didn’t say like the main character. Likeable main characters are easier to sell, but successful fiction has been written with unlikeable main characters.

So look at the techniques the writer uses to make you sympathize with or like the main character. Look at what makes the main character interesting or compelling. Think carefully about why you’re willing to keep reading about this character.

Does the writer use the character’s actions to gain your sympathy? Do they use hints of backstory? Do they use dialogue by other characters or other character’s internal perceptions of the character?

Create a practical list of techniques that you can use in your stories. This should be a list of techniques, not a list of things to copy.

So if the main character in the story you’re analyzing gains your sympathy by helping an old lady cross the street, that doesn’t mean you need to have your character help someone across the street. It means you write down “show the main character doing something nice for someone else.” You want to deduce general principles from specific examples.

(2) How did the writer show the importance of the story goal to the main character?

If the main character cares about the goal and has a strong motivation for pursuing it, the reader will also care. Study how the writer brought out the main character’s goals and motivations in each scene as well as in terms of the overall plot.

How did they show the importance of the goal? Did they use physical symbols? Did they use conversations with other characters? Did they use internal dialogue? How much of each did they use?

In other words, how did they make you care about the story goal?

(3) Does the character grow over the course of the book?

Not every story will have a character that grows and changes over the course of the book, and this can be genre-specific at times. For example, James Bond is basically the same in every book.

Take note of how the writer shows the character’s internal state at the beginning. If the main character is afraid of a committed relationship, for example, how has the writer shown that?

How has the writer woven that internal growth in with the external conflict? Look at the ways that each major external challenge also forced internal change. 

(4) If the book had a theme (and most books do), what helped you see that theme?

Themes in fiction can be broad—for example, justice will prevail. They can also be narrower—for example, being a parent is worth the cost.

Could you identify the theme in the book? If so, how did the author make it clear to you? Themes aren’t usually stated explicitly. They’re generally woven in through action and through the growth of the character.

If you want a copy of this series that you can download, sign up for my newsletter. I’ll be making it available to my newsletter subscribers as a PDF in the near future.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Showing and Telling in Fiction, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

Image Credit: Lynn Lopez/freeimages.com

Is KDP Select Right for You?

Janice Hardy Fiction University

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Because I was away teaching at a writer’s conference last week, I didn’t manage to share my regular monthly guest post with all of you. I didn’t want you to miss it, so I’m sharing it a little late. This month, I’m going over the pros and cons of KDP Select.

One of the choices we need to make when we publish our book is whether we’re going to distribute wide or go exclusive. Up until this point, I’ve always gone wide, but with a new series scheduled for release in November, the idea of going exclusive has been on my mind a lot lately.

Distributing wide means that we’ll offer our book for sale at all the major retailers—Amazon, Barnes & Noble, AppleiBooks, and Kobo at least.

Going exclusive, at this point, means we’re putting our ebook into Amazon’s KDP Select program. Amazon’s terms of service for the KDP Select program state that we can’t sell or give away the enrolled ebooks anywhere else. You agree to this exclusivity for 90 days at a time, and then you can either continue in the program for another 90 days or opt out. In exchange, they offer you some perks they don’t offer to books that aren’t enrolled.

I hope you’ll join me at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University for the rest of this post!

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Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Showing and Telling in Fiction, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

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Is It Important for Writers to Also Be Readers?

Writers Should ReadBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

As an editor and writing instructor, I have the privilege of talking to a lot of writers, at a lot of different career stages. So it’s not unusual for patterns to crop up—ideas, trends, challenges, and myths.

Today I want to debunk one of the myths I’ve heard frequently of late.

Here it is:

You don’t need to read novels if you want to write novels. You can learn how to write from movies and TV shows.

That thunk you just heard? That was my head smacking into my table in frustration.

I’ll explain why this myth is dangerous for writers, especially writers who want to create novels.

Yes, we can learn some things from movies and from TV shows.

We can learn how to create interesting characters that the audience will love, hate, and talk about.

We can learn about hooks. TV shows are especially good at the art of the hook because the writers know how easy it is for the audience to wander off during a commercial. They want to make sure the audience sticks around. (Movies, on the other hand, can’t teach you about hooks.)

We can learn about dialogue (though, even there, you’ll find some differences). Almost anything Joss Whedon worked on would be a great self-study for authors struggling with dialogue.  

No, we can’t learn everything from movies and from TV shows.

In fact, some of the most important elements of fiction writing can’t be learned from a visual medium. The written format brings with it special challenges that we can’t learn how to conquer by watching, only by reading.

We can’t learn internal dialogue. In fact, we can’t learn anything about how to convey the internal life of the character—their thoughts, visceral reactions, or unspoken motivations.

We can’t learn description. In movies and TV shows, the audience sees what’s happening around the characters and they see what each character looks like. As writers, we have to build everything we want the reader to imagine with our words.

We can’t learn proper written story structure. Some elements of structure are the same between movies and novels…and some aren’t. For example, movies have the freedom to start more slowly than books do because, once you’ve bought your ticket and you’re settled in with your popcorn, the movie would have to be pretty bad before you’d walk out. If the start of a book is slow, you’ll never buy it in the first place.

We can’t learn how to balance description, action, dialogue, and internalizations. As I mentioned just a second ago, there isn’t any internalization in movies and TV shows (voice overs don’t count). The description is automatically taken care of. The actors fill in the action. So we can’t see how to weave them together on the page to avoid spots that either drag or leave the reader feeling disconnected from the character or the world.

We can’t learn how to maintain a consistent point of view. Point-of-view errors are non-existent in a movie or TV show. In a book, maintaining a consistent point of view is integral to keeping a strong connection between the reader and the viewpoint character.

We can’t learn how to actually put words into tight, interesting, clear sentences. Just because someone wants to write a book doesn’t mean they were born with this skill. Most of us have to learn it.

I could keep going on the differences, but here’s the bottom line.

For novel writers, movies and TV shows can be good supplements, just like vitamins supplement our regular diet. They’re not a fitting replacement for the regular meals of reading novels.

Writers write. Writers also need to read.

What do you think? Is it essential that someone who wants to write a book also read books?

I’d love to hear your opinion even if you disagree with me. (I welcome discussion here as long as opinions are expressed in a respectful, logical manner. Trolls will be deleted.)

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

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The Power of Contrast in Description

Description: A Busy Writer's GuideBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Readers need description to help them imagine the story world and to keep them grounded in the story, but often it’s considered the slow, boring part.

It doesn’t have to be.

Done right, description keeps the pace moving and brings out our point-of-view character’s emotions, backstory, and conflicts. It can also add subtext, foreshadow, and build on the theme.

One of my favorite ways to bring description to life and make sure it serves a bigger purpose in the story is to use contrast. I’m excited Jami Gold has welcomed me back to her blog today to share how to make this work.

I hope you’ll join me there to find out about the power of contrast in description.

Want to know more about writing description? Description: A Busy Writer’s Guide is available from Amazon, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. You can grab a copy in print or as an ebook.

Tools to Help Bring Your Setting to Life

A tool that I regularly recommend is The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Rebecca Puglisi. The Emotion Thesaurus helps writers with building character emotions and showing rather than telling. So I’m very excited that these two ladies have come out with a pair of books that will now help writers with describing their setting. (And you know how important I think description is to fiction.)

Today, as part of their launch, I’ve allowed Angela to “hijack” my blog as part of the festivities they have planned. 

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As we storytellers sit before the keyboard to craft our magic, we’re usually laser-focused on the two titans of fiction: plot and character. Yet, there’s a third element that impacts almost every aspect of the tale, one we really need to home in on as well: the setting.

The setting is so much more than a painted backdrop, more than a stage for our characters to tromp across during the scene. Used to its full advantage, the setting can characterize the story’s cast, supply mood, steer the plot, provide challenges and conflict, trigger emotions, help us deliver those necessary snippets of backstory…and that’s just scratching the surface. So the question is this: how do we unleash the full power of the setting within our stories?

Well, there’s some good news on that front. Two new books have released this week that may change the description game for writers. The Urban Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to City Spaces and The Rural Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Personal and Natural Spaces look at the sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds a character might experience within 225 different contemporary settings. And this is only the start of what these books offer writers.

In fact, swing by and check out this hidden entry from the Rural Setting Thesaurus: Ancient Ruins.

And there’s one more thing you might want to know more about….

Rock_The_Vault_WHW1

Becca and Angela, authors of The Emotion Thesaurus, are celebrating their double release with a fun event going on from June 13-20th called ROCK THE VAULT. At the heart of the Writers Helping Writers site is a tremendous vault, and these two ladies have been hoarding prizes of epic writerly proportions.

A safe full of prizes, ripe for the taking…if the writing community can work together to unlock it, of course.

Ready to do your part? Stop by Writers Helping Writers to find out more!

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Description in Fiction Shouldn’t Be Boring

Description: A Busy Writer's GuideBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Description is often the unloved step-child of the writing craft. It’s undervalued and almost feared because writers tend to believe that things like dialogue and action are inherently better. We start to believe this because we associate dialogue and action with being active and interesting and we associate description with being static and boring.

Those are false dichotomies.

As a freelance fiction editor, I’ve more often seen people whose books lacked depth and emotion because they were dialogue heavy than I’ve seen people whose books were too slow due to excess description.

Dialogue doesn’t necessarily make our stories better. Good dialogue does. Bad dialogue makes our writing slow and boring.

Now here’s the fact we need to understand—the exact same thing is true about description. (And about every other element of the fiction writing craft.)

Good description is vibrant, interesting, and active. Bad description is slow and boring. Bad description is what readers skip over.

So what makes for boring description?

(1) A Flat Laundry List

Description should never be a simple list of objective facts. As long as we’re writing in first-person point of view or in a limited third-person point of view, description should be subjective, colored by our viewpoint character’s history, personality, and emotions.

(2) Description Whose Sole Reason to Exist Is to Show the Setting

Every passage of description should do two or more of the following things:

  • ground the reader in the setting (time, place, and/or culture) so that they know when and where they are
  • symbolize or foreshadow something important to the story
  • enhance the theme
  • add subtext
  • show something about the viewpoint character’s personality
  • show the viewpoint character’s emotions
  • add conflict or complications
  • hint at backstory

When we make our description serve multiple purposes, it becomes valuable to the story as a whole. If readers skip it, they’ll be missing something important.

(3) Purple Prose

Purple prose is writing that’s too self-aware. It uses fancy words when a simple one would do, it’s filled with flowery phrases, it’s laden with cliches and clumsy figures of speech, and it relies on adverbs and adjectives when a strong verb or noun would be better.

Purple prose can also be writing that’s there because the writer likes the sound of their own voice rather than because it serves one of the purposes I mentioned above.

(4) Description That’s in the Wrong Place

Description should happen only when the viewpoint character would naturally notice those things.

So, for example, if our character is running through the woods to escape a gunman, he’s not going to notice the nest of baby birds or the squirrels hopping from tree to tree. He’s only going to notice things that could either help him hide or help him take down his pursuer.

Much of the time, the feeling that prose is overwritten or boring comes from the writer describing things in detail that don’t need to be described at this particular point in time or which should have been described differently based on the situation.

Context matters.

(5) Description That’s Generic or Tells Rather than Shows

Showing is essential to strong description because it helps us be specific and bring the experience to life on the page.

I’ll give you a quick example.

Telling: He was ugly and deformed.

Showing: The skin on the right side of his face seemed to melt down like candle wax, and as he limped toward her, one leg dragged behind.

Just remember that telling isn’t always a bad thing. It’s a tool like showing and we need to know how to use it strategically. Description, though, usually isn’t the place for it.

Description: A Busy Writer’s Guide is now available!

Are you looking for a way to add new depth and re-readability to your writing?

Are you tired of description being “the boring part that people skip”?

Are you a writer who’s struggled with making their story world feel believable and three-dimensional?

Description in fiction shouldn’t be boring for the reader or for the writer.

Description: A Busy Writer’s Guide will help you take your writing to the next level by exchanging ho-hum description for description that’s compelling and will bring your story to life, regardless of the genre you write.

In Description: A Busy Writer’s Guide, you will

  • find the answer to the age-old question of how much description is too much;
  • learn how to use point of view to keep description fresh;
  • recognize the red flags for boring description in fiction;
  • explore how to use all five senses to bring your descriptions to life for the reader;
  • discover the ways metaphors and similes can add power to your descriptive writing;
  • gain the tools needed to describe setting, characters, and action in engaging ways;
  • learn how descriptions can add conflict, enhance the theme, and amp up emotion; and
  • much more!

Grab a copy of Description: A Busy Writer’s Guide at Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo, or Barnes & Noble. It’s available in print and ebook versions.

Creating Promotional Material That Works: Swag

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Janice Hardy Fiction UniversityOver the last two months during my guest posts at Fiction University, we’ve looked at writing a tag line for our books and writing our book description that goes up on retailers and on the back of our book.

This month we’re going to talk swag. Swag is physical items related to our book/series. It could be bookmarks and postcards, mugs or magnets with our book cover on it, or even jewelry based on something worn by our characters.

I decided to poll a group of authors for this post (thank you to the WANA group on Facebook!) because I suspected that experiences with swag might vary.

Please join me for “Creating Promotional Material that Works: Swag” where I’ll share what I learned about how to use swag to your best advantage and where to buy some of the fun items authors are using.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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5 Times Katniss Nailed Deep Point of View

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I’m guest posting today for Christine Frazier of the Better Novel Project. I hope you’ll join me because I’m talking about one of my favorite subjects–deep POV–and how we can learn about it from Katniss and The Hunger Games.

Join me to find out 5 Times Katniss Nailed Deep Point of View.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

Dissecting Books: Reading as a Writer Part 2

Reading as a Writer PArt 2By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Welcome back to my mini-series on how to dissect books to understand how and why they work. In other words, how to “read as a writer.”

I started this series because the advice “writers should read” isn’t explained often enough. Writers can spend hours and hours reading without learning anything about how to write if we don’t know what to look for.

Last time we looked at openings. This week we’re looking at plot.

Like last time, I have a few requirements for you for the books you pick.

I want you to pick out three of your favorite books in your genre. While there are skills we can learn from books outside our chosen genre, if we’re trying to learn to excel within our genre, then we need to be reading what we want to write.

The books you pick for this week should be ones you’ve already read. You won’t be as likely to be distracted by the story if you’ve already read the book, and this exercise works best if you already have a general idea of the overall plot.

They should be books written within approximately the last five years. Learning how to write from a book that was popular 15, 20, or 100 years ago isn’t necessarily going to help us with writing today. Conventions change and writing has evolved a lot over the years, in part because readers have more distractions competing for their attention.

Try to stick to the first book in a series or a standalone book again. I mentioned this last time, but books that happen later in a series can be a bit different. You’ll need to look at those separately (which is a good exercise as well).

Pick books with a high rating on Amazon and a large number of reviews. Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know. Trying to select books that many other people are loving gives us a better measuring pole to make sure this book is really as good as we think it is.

Now for each book, take a look at the following things:

(1) How far in does the “key event” hit?

I’m calling it a “key event” here so that this doesn’t devolve into a debate over terminology. Basically you’re trying to find the event that people reading your genre will expect and want to see early on.

For example:

  • If you’re writing a mystery, when does the first body drop?
  • If you’re writing a romance, when do the hero and heroine meet?
  • If you’re writing a fantasy, when and how does the writer cue the reader in to the fact that this world is different somehow?

Calculate this as a percentage based on the page where it happens compared to the length of the book. This will give you a “truer” result than if you just look at the page or chapter number.

You’ll likely find a range. For example, in a cozy mystery, the first body usually drops somewhere between 8-11% in the first book in a series.

Now compare it to your book. If you’ve ever gotten feedback that someone “couldn’t get into” your book or that your book “felt rushed,” it might be because you didn’t meet their expectation for where they subconsciously thought the key event should happen.

(2) Compare what happens in each book at around 20-25%, 50%, and 75%.

These are your major plot points. I call them the Commitment Point (20-25%), the Flip Point (50%), and the All Is Lost (75%). (The percentages are approximate.)

This isn’t a post about plot, so I won’t go into a ton of detail here (later this year my book Plot and Structure should be available), but I’ll give you a quick overview.

The Commitment Point is the spot where your protagonist commits to pursuing their goal and can’t turn back without serious consequences. James Scott Bell calls this the first Doorway of No Return.

The Flip Point is where the stakes or the protagonist’s perspective on what’s happening in the story changes. (It “flips.”)

A lot happens around the All Is Lost, but the main element that I named it after is the fact that usually at this point it seems like the protagonist cannot possibly achieve their goal.

That’s a general overview, but how these plot points look in each genre is different.

Let’s quickly compare a cozy mystery to a contemporary romance just as an example.

Commitment Point:

In a cozy, our amateur sleuth makes the decision to investigate the crime. Her story goal is to find the killer.

In a romance, the hero and heroine often start the relationship.

Flip Point:

In a cozy, the stakes are usually raised through a threat to her “life.”

In a romance, the stakes are often raised through the first “I love you,” the first kiss, or the first time the characters have sex with each other.

All Is Lost:

In a cozy, there’s often a false resolution of the crime. The murder seems solved, but it isn’t really. The true killer is still at large.

In a romance, it appears that there’s no way the hero and heroine can possibly end up together.

Within each genre, there’s still a lot of room for creativity and developing a surprising, interesting plot, but we need to be building plot points that fit with what readers in our genre crave.

(Jami Gold recently wrote a post about genre expectations that I highly recommend you read as well.)

(3) How does the writer hook you from one chapter to the next? Why do these hooks work?

That why question is back again.

Chapters are the natural place for readers to stop, put the book down, and possibly never pick it up again.

Look at the last sentence/paragraph of each chapter. How did this particular writer make us want to keep reading regardless of how late it was or what other responsibilities we had?

Now look at the end of each of your chapters. It’s hard to be objective, but does each chapter end with an irresistible hook? If it doesn’t, you should be able to find a better place to stop your chapter or come up with a stronger hook based on what you saw in the books you analyzed. If you can’t, it’s time to question whether you might have a bigger problem with your plot. (But that’s another post for another time.)

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

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