Posts Tagged ‘writing from the peak’

Want to Write a Children’s Book?

By: Trista Baughman

So, you want to write a children’s book? Easy-peasy, right?

It can be easy, but it isn’t always. A lot of work goes into writing even a short book. I don’t say this to discourage you. The hard work is worth it. I have written fun rhyming books in a few minutes and picture books that took a few months. I am working on a chapter book I started years ago. Life happens.

Approaches to Writing

Before starting on a project, let’s learn a little about the different approaches to writing.

Pantser, Plotter or Plantser: You can take the pantser approach (butt in your chair and write as your muse guides you with little to no planning) or the plotter approach (make outlines, character sketches, etc., for your story, then connect the dots). Or my favorite, the planster approach (a combination of the other two.) Sometimes an idea springs to mind and I write the story all at once. Sometimes I make a brief outline before letting my creative juices flow. Other times, I plan out every detail before writing the first word. It just depends on my mood.

Tidbits to Keep in Mind

Here are some helpful tidbits to keep in mind, whichever approach you choose.

Start with an idea.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. How will I begin my story? (You want to reel the reader in.)
  1. What will happen in the middle? (This is the climactic part that keeps the reader going.)
  1. How will it end? (This is the resolution, a satisfying ending that solves (most of) the problems. No cliffhangers, please.)
  1. What will the theme be?

You don’t have to answer in great detail; flesh these out later.

You may already have an idea. If you don’t, it’s no biggie. Book idea generators are a thing. (Who knew?)

If that doesn’t work, think about books from your childhood that you liked or disliked. How could you use those?

You can browse the public domain to take and tweak (Public Domain Books – List of Public Domain Books (libgen.onl)).

Tidbits Specific to Children’s Books

Rhyme and repetition.  Will your story be told in poetry or prose?  Rhyme can help children to experience rhythm in language and teach them essential skills in reading. Repetition can help make a book more memorable.

Do a bit of research. Visit your local library or bookstore and browse through your competition. Google and Good Reads can help you discover some of the best sellers in your genre, check out some of the lesser-known books and authors, too. You don’t want to copy these (that would be plagiarism). 😉 But it’s important to know your market.

Think like a child. You are writing books for kids, so you need to think like one. Consider problems kids face, things they find humorous, comforting, or scary. What personal experiences could you draw from?

Know your audience. Your audience is kids. But what age group? Knowing will help you choose your vocabulary and content for your book. It will determine the word count and type of book (e.g. picture book, early reader, chapter book, middle-grade book, young adult novel).

Know your purpose. Why are you writing this particular children’s book?  Are you writing to entertain or to convey an important message? Knowing can keep you going and help determine if your book has the effect you desire once you’ve completed your first draft.

Choose a voice. This is where you will think about your narrator and POV. Who is telling your story? Which point of view will work best?  Make sure you stick to whichever POV you choose. Will you tell your story in the past or present tense?

Know your characters. You want your characters to go through a bit of change in your story, but your character will have their distinct behaviors and dialect that set them apart. Your readers will notice if your character does or says something uncharacteristic.

The Writing Part

Begin your story “in medias res”.  Start where the action is; grab your readers’ attention. Younger kids won’t care for genealogy or ten-paragraph description of the setting or character appearance.

Motivate your characters– your MC (main character) needs a clear goal. Give them a goal they want more than anything else in the world.

Conflict– No conflict = no story. Conflict keeps MC from their goal. Have two or three minor additional conflicts for your character to overcome.

Setting– Start with places that are familiar to children. These areas won’t need as much detail, allowing more focus on plot.

Plot– Your plot consists of the significant events in your story with important consequences. It’s what your characters do, think, feel, or say that affects what comes next.

Dialogue– You want your dialogue to sound natural and help progress the story. Your characters will speak differently depending on their personalities and geographical origin. Remember to identify your speakers, especially when more than two converse.

Show, Don’t tell.  You’ve heard this your whole writing life. Show action rather than stating something has happened. Scenes should advance the plot and establish your characters. Keep passive voice to a minimum.

Denouement– the closing scenes of your story. They will tie up most loose ends and fulfill your promises to your readers. If you plan to have a sequel or series, leave a few ends untied so your readers can wonder what’s next.

Ready, Set, WRITE!

Revise. Rewrite. Edit. Repeat. Congratulations on finishing your book! Now the work begins. You will want to read several times, looking for different things each time.

  • Read through your story for content. Look for plot holes, inconsistencies, typos, that sort of thing. Is your plot and manuscript length appropriate for the age group? Has your main character grown throughout the story? Are your characters and setting consistent?
  • Next, omit unnecessary words. Concise, clear sentences are the way to go.
  • Now, focus on punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Bring out your thesaurus, dictionary, and style manual.
  • Utilize beta readers to give you feedback. Read your story to a kid. They are your audience; take notes of their reactions.
  • Do a final read-through to see if you’ve missed anything. At this point, you’re likely sick to death of reading your own story. Hang in there.
  • When your story is complete, you’ll want to find an illustrator or illustrate it yourself.

Publish Your Book

If you choose to self-publish, Amazon and Barnes & Noble Press are both worth your research. Keep in mind along with self-publishing usually comes self-formatting and self-marketing.

If you choose traditional publishing, Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market has you covered with lists of Children’s book agents, illustrators, publishers, and more. Also, check out the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), a great resource and networking system for children’s writers, etc.

Keep all this in mind and you’ll be off to a great start on getting your children’s book out there. I’ve attempted to give some insight into the process of writing a children’s book as well as some helpful tips, but I couldn’t fit everything into a single blog post. Luckily, there are tons of great books and courses on the subject, which I encourage you to pursue. I’ll include a short list of helpful books that I’ve used throughout the process.  Happy writing!

 

Helpful Books:

  1. The Everything Guide to Writing Children’s Books
  2. Writing Children’s Books for Dummies
  3. By Cunning and Craft
  4. Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market 33rd Edition
  5. Self-Publishing with Amazon Ads: The Author’s Guide to Lower Costs, Higher Royalties, and Greater Peace of Mind
  6. Social Media Marketing for Dummies

 


Trista Herring Baughman

Trista Herring Baughman is a proud military wife and a homeschool mama.  She isthe author of The Magic Telescope. Her second book, Zombiesaurs, will be available soon at Barnes & Noble Press. You can find out more about her books on her website, or catch up to Trista on Facebook.

Tone Down the Drama – Please!

By: Donna Schlachter

Last month we talked about not having too much harmony in our story, and I shared ways to make sure the harmony we do have isn’t boring. Also, I shared about making sure the characters, the storyline, the plot, and the theme need to align so nothing and nobody is out of place. Readers sense that, even if they don’t know exactly what the problem is.

This month we’ll talk about having too much conflict, or tension, and not enough harmony, or downtime. Readers need a break once in a while. And we should give it to them. Not long enough for them to lose interest, yawn, and turn out the light, of course. Just enough to let them think we’re finally going to give the character a break.

Amp it Up!

And then we amp it up again.

But this isn’t about story arc, black moments, or crises. Or is it?

Every element of our story should play into and work on the story arc, the character’s journey, and all the elements of a good book. But too much of a good thing can detract from the reader’s enjoyment of the story, leading to confusion and a desire to never read another of our books.

Conflict, as we know, is at the heart of every story. Even a simple romance needs conflict to keep the love interests apart until the end of the book.

That said, depending on which theory you subscribe to, there are five or six kinds of story conflict possible in any book. I’ll list the six below:

  • Person against person – the most common type of conflict; can be relational, romantic, emotional, theological, issue-related, political, or a host of other options. Both persons should be strong enough to overcome the other, with the hero/heroine possessing some trait that helps them win in the end.
  • Person against nature – often the character is on their own and has to find a way to overcome the situation; if in a group, the sum total of the character’s skills should be able to overcome the natural force, so long as they work together.
  • Person against self – could be a fear, an addiction, a difficult past, or a tendency to choose wrong relationships. There must be a desire to overcome their situation, and often a mentor or romantic interest comes alongside to help in the journey.
  • Person vs society – the hero/heroine comes to the aid of a victim of a real or perceived injustice
  • Person vs technology – we often see this in science-based fiction or world-building fiction; can be real (existing) technology, or futuristic; steam punk is often found in this conflict
  • Person vs supernatural – can include imagined supernatural such as shape-shifters, or it could include ghosts, demons, gods, goddesses, aliens, and the like.

Chicken Wings

I know there are some of you saying, “But I hate conflict, and I don’t like to write it.” I get it. When I think of conflict, I envision prima donas, shouting matches, snippy comebacks, and the like. Seinfeld on steroid.

However, conflict in books doesn’t have to be like that. You can write about conflict between characters while staying true to your character, which is actually very important.

I’ll use an example. We recently went to Lambert’s Café in Sikeston, Missouri. I wanted fried chicken wings, so I asked the server what constituted a heaping platter, as the menu advertised. She said four wings. I said that wasn’t a heaping platter where I come from (thinking ten or twelve wings. I was hungry.) She said she figured I’d be full because of the two sides and the pass arounds. I said I’d be the judge of that, thinking she was trying to fill me up with non-chicken wing things. Well, when the plate came, it had four wings not much smaller than my hand in length. Four full wings, eight pieces. And yes, I took home food that night.

All that to say, there’s chicken wings – which I discovered when I went to a buffet a few days later, and they were obviously substituting sparrow’s wings for chicken wings – and there’s Chicken Wings. Conflict doesn’t have to be a knock-em-down-drag-it-out fight. Conflict isn’t always a fight to the death. Sometimes, you can simply foreshadow that something bad might happen.

Or, you can have a character be really indecisive about a direction they need to take. That creates conflict for the reader as they worry through the choices along with the character. How they deal with this says something about them.

You can use setting (as in people vs. nature) to create tension by placing your character in a dangerous situation, and how they work out of that pickle helps them grow as a person.

End a scene or chapter with a question. That creates tension for your reader and your character. This keeps the reader reading and the character moving forward. If your main character isn’t motivated to solve a problem, you’re going to have a difficult time writing a book about nothing.

Not Too Much Conflict

BUT – and there’s always one, isn’t there?—too much conflict will keep your character reacting instead of responding. Too much conflict will wear down your readers because they never get a chance to sit back and draw a breath, which, as we know, is the perfect place to then put them in more peril. Too much conflict makes the story something it isn’t, perhaps. Yes, thrillers and high concept books have lots of action, but it isn’t always conflict. It might lead to the next tense scene, and readers of these books expect that, but even those stories have moments where the characters settle down, have a meal, reminisce, or make a plan for the next big thing.

For example, while a shootout between the sheriff and the outlaws makes for good conflict, readers don’t want to stick in that scene for the entire book. Something must happen that leads the characters and the story on their arcs to the ultimate conclusion.

There is a difference between internal and external conflict, and each type impacts the main character(s) in different ways. We don’t only want our characters to grow in their skills, we want to see them grow as people. For the scoffer to find something to believe in. For the deadbeat to finally find a cause. For the sceptic to understand the meaning of whatever they’re seeking. For the cynic to find true love. For the loner to find family.

When it comes to internal and external conflict, remember that internal conflict changes the person, while external conflict changes the story world. We need both in our stories, because if there is only internal conflict, you’re making it emotionally harder for the character to resolve the story arc. Don’t focus on the internal conflict except as to how it keeps the character from overcoming the external conflict and achieving the external goal.

Next month, we’ll talk more about character arc and character change, particularly as it relates to Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.

Resources:
6 Story Conflicts Possible in Your Book
Writing Conflict in Stories When You Hate Conflict


Donna Schlachter, Headshot

A hybrid author, Donna Schlachter writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 50 times in books; is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both. She humbly admits she doesn’t always get the number of characters perfect, so she often spends a lot of time re-writing.

Stay connected so you learn about new releases, preorders, and presales, as well as check out featured authors, book reviews, and a little corner of peace. Plus: Receive a free ebook simply for signing up for our free newsletter!

www.DonnaSchlachter.com
www.DonnaSchlachter.com/blog

Consistency vs. Routine

By: Bowen Gillings

Routines are death. When I was in the Army, I learned routines are literally death. It’s called operational security (OPSEC). Having a routine, a regular schedule to daily operations, let the enemy know your wheres and whens, and before you knew it, kablooey! Having a routine in daily life can make your creativity and productivity go kablooey. Consistency, on the other hand, is what publishers demand, readers want, and writers need.

Allow me to clarify the terms. Routine is patterned behavior. It’s the realm of day planners and iPhone Reminders. It’s multi-colored calendar entries that follow the same Roy G. Biv arrangement week-in and week-out. Consistency is meeting deadlines. Consistency is regular, high-quality production on time and on target. Consistency is the goal. Routine is the crutch.

Routine is patterns. Consistency is production.

“But wait!” I hear you cry. “My routine is how I consistently produce.” Many can’t imagine finishing a manuscript without the structure of routine to lean on. You guard your daily writing time like Cerberus at the gates of Hades. You find comfort in knowing what the morning will bring or solace in seeing your word count at the day’s end. Routine works for you. It’s comfy and nice and would never hurt you the way Cindy did in high school. I gave you my heart, Cindy!

So, what happens when your routine gets violated? How do you feel when you don’t get the day’s writing (or anything else in the routine) done? Do you beat yourself up? Chastise yourself for “not making writing the priority?” How do you cope and correct? And where do new experiences fit into your routine?

Say you need to learn something new before your character can do it in your story. I don’t know, skydiving perhaps. Where do you fit that into your routine? My bet is that you add skydiving lessons to your iPhone calendar in the color designated for research then mentally flagellate yourself for how it messes with your routine.

I challenge you to ease off your routine fetish and focus on consistency. Consistency is bigger, broader, and allows more wiggle room for life to go freestyle.

Say you want to produce a book per year. You do your research. You pick a release date (give or take a week). That gives you a rough idea about cover reveals and pre-orders and promotions. You know your genre and the word count you’re shooting for.

And so, you write.

You write mornings. You write when everyone’s in bed. You write at coffee shops. You dictate while driving. You write. You edit. You meet your deadlines. You get your book out when you planned.

Along the way you hiked three fourteeners, drove cross-country with a high-school friend, enrolled in a new martial arts school, and learned to play the ukulele alongside your spouse. You also got your kid to the ER when they woke up at two-thirty with a massive bloody nose, you replaced the bathroom flooring after the toilet went tango-uniform, and you dropped everything for a month when your grandparent died.

And you never regretted violating a routine.

Consistency equals freedom.

Freeing oneself from the handcuffs of routine and embracing the true goal of consistency is the path to creative freedom (damn, that sounded evangelical). Like routine, consistency takes discipline and commitment. Unlike routine, consistency gives you the freedom to live without checking the planner first.

Consistency is a life spent open to possibilities while keeping eyes on the prize. It’s okay with stretches of no writing. It embraces those days when five thousand words get added to the work in progress as well as the days when a friend invites you to coffee and you’re only three paragraphs in. Consistency is a mindset of “I will write” versus routine’s rigid dogma of “I must write right now.”

Focusing on consistent production (big picture) provides for a healthier writing life. Routines stagnate or worse, trap you in their familiar, comfortable clutches. Break the shackles of routine. Free yourself from your patterned behavior before your writing life goes kablooey.


Bowen Gillings holding Fresh Starts

A Night to Remember, by: Bowen Gillings

Bowen Gillings is an award-winning author featured in PPW’s first anthology, Fresh Starts, Allegory e-zine, and the Stories Live!, Voices and Views, and Rocky Mountain Writers podcasts. He is an active member and former president of Pikes Peak Writers and a member of both Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and The League of Utah Writers. Bowen loves travel, cooking, martial-arts, and a fine adult beverage. He lives in Colorado with his wife and daughter. Learn more about him and his fun, quirky writing at storiesbybowen.com and be sure to follow the author on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Avoiding Conference Burnout

By Catherine Dilts

If you’ve just attended your first writers conference, you may still be walking on a cloud. You’re inspired and motivated. If you did things right, you’re also a little overwhelmed and exhausted, yet eager to attend again next year.

But if this was your tenth, or you’re attending several conferences a year, the whole experience may be turning a little sour for you.

I had attended PPWC off and on for nearly twenty years. Once I became published, other authors insisted participating in conferences was essential. You had to keep your name out there. Visibility, baby. Be seen.

So I signed up for another in-state conference, Colorado Gold. Because I write mystery, I went to Malice Domestic, Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, and Killer Nashville. Each was different, drawing either hundreds or thousands of attendees, with emphasis on craft and business, or geared toward fans.

You’ve got to work that conference. Schmooze. Mingle. You know – those things introverts just love to do. Not. So I tried. I got on panels, as a participant or moderator. I signed books. I networked in my own feeble, socially awkward way. And I left conferences drained.

My problem was allowing other peoples’ goals to be my own. You can avoid burn out with advanced planning. Before registering, consider what you hope to gain from the experience.

Goals that may disappoint:

  • Land a contract with a dream agent or publishing house. Sure, it has been done. You should definitely try. None of my “send it” conquests came to fruition, although they did motivate me to continue writing. Pinning the entire point of attending on making a sale may cause you to miss out on learning experiences that will result in future publication.
  • Who wouldn’t want to be fawned over by a public who recognizes your genius? One PPWC, I saw a nearly empty table at dinner. I hurried over, glad to have snagged a seat near the podium. The lone occupant was one of the best-seller keynote speakers. A few other people joined us before the evening program began, but that was a good lesson that even big names can be overlooked at conferences. Another time, I repeated this tactic and sat next to a local author who had made a big sale to a major publisher, only to be virtually ignored by peers at the conference. This author was incredibly grateful I sat at that table, to spare the embarrassment of sitting alone.
  • Sell books. At conferences, everyone is pushing their books. The reality is that few people sell enough books to pay their bar tab, much less their conference attendance. At big conferences, publishers may be giving away books. Bags of free books may cause attendees to question shelling out bucks for your books.

Running yourself ragged promoting yourself can suck the enjoyment right out of a conference. Yes, conferences are a business opportunity. But I can guarantee you’ll get a case of burn out if you don’t have some fun.

Increasingly post-conference, I felt my time would have been better spent actually working on a novel or short story. When I volunteered behind the scenes, appeared on panels, and moderated talks, I spent a ton of time in preparation. It felt too much like work.

Then COVID hit. Conferences abruptly cancelled due to the pandemic. I discovered something about myself during the lockdowns. I am an extreme introvert. While other folks were in a state of panic and depression being socially isolated, I was deliriously happy. For a while.

I still believe conferences are personally and professional beneficial. I plan to jump back in. Before I go, I want to know I won’t leave feeling I wasted my time. I’ll have specific goals.

Goals to avoid conference burn-out:

  • Know your purpose. Why are you attending this particular conference? Proximity to home? Workshops on topics of interest? Is it specific to your genre? Your writing buddies are going? It’s okay if your main purpose is social. Writing is a solitary endeavor. A weekend surrounded by creative people can be invigorating.
  • Set achievable professional goals. Everyone wants to be the next amazing conference success story. Hopefully that happens for you. Until that golden moment though, how about achieving a “send me” from an agent? Learn something about the art and craft of writing that breaks your writer’s block? Receive news about the current state of publishing from actual publishers?
  • Research people in advance. You might run into them in an elevator. Know who the keynote speakers are. Who is teaching the class you’re most interested in attending? Are there agents or editors you want to meet? Put this info in your pre-conference notes. Don’t reach the last hour of the last day in the realization that you failed to meet someone important to you.
  • One of the best ways to network is to help out behind the scenes. Shuttle speakers from the airport. Moderate a panel. Clerk in the conference bookstore. Attend pre-conference planning meetings. But don’t overcommit. Know your time and energy limits.
  • Make it matter. You spent your valuable time and money to attend. Post-conference, review your notes. Follow up on advice or new knowledge gained. Make those contacts, join that critique group, apply new wisdom to your work-in-progress.

I’ve talked it over with my old conference running buddies. We are all in for a return visit to PPWC 2023. You’ll probably find us at the lounge, reminiscing about conferences past.

Conferences mentioned in article:

Multi-genre Conferences- 

Mystery Writers Conferences-


 

Catherine Dilts headshotCATHERINE DILTS prefers writing cozy mysteries and short stories surrounded by flowers on her sunny deck, but any day – and anywhere – spent writing is a good day. Author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, and the stand-alone Survive Or Die with Encircle Publications, Catherine also writes for Annie’s Publishing, contributing three books for the Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library and two for the new Annie’s Museum of Mysteries series. Her short story HazMat Holiday appears in the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine January/February 2022 issue.

https://www.catherinedilts.com/

 

Harmony and Conflict – Different Sides of the Same Coin

By Donna Schlachter

Boy finds girl.
Boy falls in love with girl.
Boy marries girl.
The end.

Boring!

Anybody who’s ever told a joke knows that to keep the listener or reader interested, there has to be a problem, a question, or a problem raised so that the twist/conclusion/punch line offers a solution. In a joke, there is usually an unexpected outcome, which is what makes that short story version humorous. In a novel, while the reader wants a good ending, or at least one that’s unexpected given the circumstances, there has to be something that keeps the boy from getting the girl the first time. Or the second. Or even the third.

Harmony is what happens when we get our happily-ever-after (and yes, HEAs are not limited to romance stories. Readers want an HEA or at least the promise of one in every story where a romance exists. Unless, of course, your story is literary fiction or a tragedy.)

Conflict is what keeps the reader reading and the listener listening. Conflict doesn’t have to appear as bickering or even out-and-out street brawling. Conflict happens when one of the main characters isn’t getting what they want—or what they think they want.

Introduce Conflict and Harmony

We can introduce conflict and harmony into our stories in various ways. Here are a few:

  • Through spoken dialogue, where each character expresses their wants and desires which should be contrary to what the other person wants. Think back to your last discussion with your spouse or friend about where you wanted to eat that night. One wants Indian, the other wants pasta. Conflict. Harmony appears when you reach a compromise: a buffet. Or a salad bar.
  • Through internal dialogue, where you show us what the characters are thinking. The best conflict comes when their spoken dialogue and internal thoughts are contrary to each other. For example, if you say you want to eat pizza, but the other person says curry, you might say, “Okay. Curry is fine with me.” You always get your way. But I’m tired of fighting about it.
  • Through narrative, you can use the setting or surroundings to impact your point of view character. For example, ‘It was a dark and dreary night” could be perfect for a scene where your character planned to go for a walk, and now can’t because the weather isn’t cooperating. Downpouring rain could prevent your hero from rescuing your heroine, building conflict in himself. And in her, when she wonders why he won’t brave a few raindrops to save her. A bright sunny day could build conflict in a character whose mother is being buried today. Or harmony in a woman whose abusive husband is being buried today.
  • Through occupations or skill sets, you can have characters who solve problems (create harmony) using what they know. For example, if your hero is a race car driver, he could get the heroine away from bad guys by outdriving them. And if your heroine is a doctor, she could fix up the hero when he gets shot. But if your story is about finding lost gold in a hidden mine, none of their skills would help out. Which could create conflict. So then they invite somebody else in to help, who turns out to be a bad guy who shoots the hero and leaves them for dead. Now their skills can come in handy again. So you went from harmony to conflict to harmony again.

Don’t get me wrong—harmony and conflict belong in the same story—even in the same scene. You might even treat a scene like a mini-story – harmony (current world) to conflict (inciting incident) to new harmony (resolution). However, while you don’t want to write every scene like that, these mini-breaks from the conflict are a place where readers will exhale, relax, and continue reading. That’s a great place to slap them in the face again with another problem, question, or serious choice to be made.

Readers want to be satisfied with the ending, yet surprised. Like a punchline in a joke, they like to look at the world differently because of your story. Keep them reading by employing some of these harmony and conflict techniques, and they’ll come back for more.

Resources:

Conflict is the Driving Force of a Good Story

Character and Background: Harmony and Conflict


Donna Schlachter, Headshot

About Donna:

A hybrid author, Donna writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 50 times in books; is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both.

www.DonnaSchlachter.com Stay connected so you learn about new releases, preorders, and presales, as well as check out featured authors, book reviews, and a little corner of peace. Plus: Receive a free ebook simply for signing up for our free newsletter!
www.DonnaSchlachter.com/blog
Check out previous blog posts at www.HiStoryThruTheAges.wordpress.com and www.AllBettsAreOff.wordpress.com
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Helping Author Friends

By: Trista Herring Baughman

Occasionally, I witness a rallying call to support local businesses. It’s a nice gesture, one I’d like to see more often. I prefer to shop local when I can: farmers’ markets, locally-owned specialty stores, mom-and-pop restaurants, etc.

I don’t think authors generally come to mind when we speak of local small businesses, but they should. Indie authors, especially. Their books are their business. Writing, formatting, marketing, and publishing are all their responsibility.

When you write a book, it’s a part of you that you’re setting out into the world.  It isn’t as much about the money as it is impacting your readers. But money pays the bills and allows you to continue your writing passion, so there’s that.

It’s a common misconception that authors make tons of money. Well-known authors such as J.K. Rowling and R.L. Stine probably do. The majority of authors aren’t there, just yet. I don’t know many authors that earn enough to write books for a living.

Most self-publishing authors make more per book in royalties, but typically sell less.

Let’s say you self-publish a full-color, 32-page book on KDP and sell it for $7.99 (The minimum price is $6.08). $3.65 goes to printing. Estimated royalties are $1.14 per book; the rest goes to KDP.

You’ll have to sell many copies to get a decent paycheck. To sell many copies, you need a marketing plan, which, you guessed it, takes more money.

As you can see, your author friends could really use your help.

Whether your friends are traditional or indie authors, here’s a few simple ways to be supportive.

  1. Buy their books. This one seems obvious. When I released my first book, I was so excited. I shared it on social media and told all my friends. I even booked a few signings around my local area. I gave out a few complimentary copies to select friends and family who congratulated me and were excited for me. But only a handful of those actually bought a copy, shared my posts, or came to events. Less than a handful reviewed my book. You may be thinking, “Well, maybe your book sucks.” Don’t think I didn’t wonder that myself. But it doesn’t suck. I came to find out that other authors (amazing authors) had this exact same problem. I think family and friends simply don’t realize all the different ways they can help. So, if your author friend has a book, buy it for yourself or as a gift for someone you know. Books make great gifts for all occasions! You could even grab a copy for your local little free library!
  2. Share their website. Like, follow, and share their pages and posts on social media: Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, Instagram, etc. This will boost their visibility on these platforms and increase the chances of reaching more potential readers. Follow their blog, visit their website for updates. Leave a comment. All of these small things are huge to your author friends.
  3. Review and star their books. Did you like their book? Let someone know! Word of mouth is a great way to get more readers. Sites like GoodReads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble are great places to star and share reviews. It will only take up a little bit of time, even if you do all three! (No reason why you can’t copy and paste the same review). Five star reviews will help their book pop up in more search results. Think of it as a gift that keeps on giving.
  4. Add their books to your “reading” or “want to read” shelves on GoodReads. The more shelves their books are on, the more newsfeed they get into.
  5. Tell them personally what you like (or dislike) about their book. Authors need honest feedback! They will appreciate your praise or constructive criticism.
  6. Volunteer to be a beta reader. Beta readers read the book before anyone else and offer feedback. This may be notes on grammar errors or plot holes, or it could just be your overall opinion of the book. Before you offer to be a beta reader, get the details. How long is the book? Will you need to read the whole book or only part of it? When is the deadline? If you have the time, set a reminder on your phone so you won’t leave them hanging. If you think you won’t have the time, respectfully decline. Saying you will when you won’t is the opposite of helpful.
  7. Send some good old-fashioned snail mail. You can make an author’s day by writing to say what you thought of their book.
  8. Request a copy of their book at your local library and bookstore. If they already carry it, ask anyway! It may inspire the librarian or sales person to read the book themselves or recommend it to others. If enough people request a title, bookstores may order a few for their shelves.
  9. Go to their events. Show your support by stopping by with your copy of their book to book signings or festivals. There is nothing sadder than a book signing where no one shows up.

Whether you’re a writer yourself or not, you can do these things for your author friends. But there’s even more you can do if you are a writer, too.

Writers Helping Writers can…

  1. Interview your author friends for your blog.
  2. Review their books on your blog.
  3. Invite them to your writer’s group or start one with them.
  4. Carpool to a writer’s conference. This is a good way to network and learn valuable trade skills. It’s always nice to have a friend when learning.
  5. Host workshops to lend your expertise to fellow writers. Invite your writer friends.
  6. Mentor a new/struggling writer.

These are just a few ways to help your author friends. They are an excellent place to start. I think you will find that helping others will make you feel great, too!


Trista Herring Baughman

Trista Herring Baughman is a proud military wife and a homeschool mama.  She isthe author of The Magic Telescope. Her second book, Zombiesaurs, will be available soon at Barnes & Noble Press. You can find out more about her books on her website, or catch up to Trista on Facebook.

 

Injecting Humor into Your Novel and Characters

By: Georgiana Hall (G.G. Hall)

Let’s face it. After 2 years of Covid-related lockdowns, sadness, restrictions, and whatever else, we all need a good laugh. So, as I was working on that fifth revision of the tenth book in my series about dwarf two-headed red aliens who landed in Nashville to overtake Tastee Freeze, I decided it was time to consider putting a little humor into my work. As writers with endless amounts of talent, we all know this is easy. Of course it is, right? Well sort of. So how can you tickle your readers’ funny bones without going off the deep end?

Back away from your keyboard for a few minutes and ask yourself- who are my characters? Why are they unique? Is there something about one of them that just maybe would make someone laugh? Suppose for a moment that one of your characters is a tall, exceptionally beautiful blonde woman. She has striking pale blue eyes that match the color of the Colorado sky on a clear day. We have a vivid image of this woman in our heads but what happens when she walks?

Giving this character a name just for fun, let “Alice” be the beautiful woman who looks fabulous in an evening gown but cannot walk three feet in high heels. Instead of letting Alice fall and get injured why not describe her “trials and tribulations” of ambulating in 3-inch spike heels in the snow. Will her heels get stuck? Will she curse her way to the door? Or will she kick off her heels, hold up her head and tiptoe barefoot in the freezing cold flakes of powdery snow? Somewhere in describing all of this, we realize that despite Alice’s elegance, she has just enough clumsiness in her gait to make this a funny scene. By focusing on one small physical flaw or mistake we have now captured our readers’ hearts and tickled their funny bones.

Once again, take a step away from your computer screen and look out the window this time. Where does your novel take place? In a house? A forest? A castle? What is one thing in that setting that you could turn into a “humorous moment?” I remember a scene in a movie one time where the staircase had a wobbly banister pole at the top of the stairs. It drove the main character nuts. One day out of the blue, he decided to fix this nagging pole by suddenly firing up a chain saw and cutting the wobbly part off. As he yelled out “Pole is fixed,” the entire audience burst out laughing.

Is there something in your setting that is broken down? Makes noise? Take that stair or door or window and mock its problem. Is it a creak or a crack or a wobble? Sometimes just the slightest noise can be tremendously funny when the author focuses on it and attempts to describe or fix it in an unusual way.

What about an object in your scene that is just absolutely ugly? A chair? A wall? A car? I remember once trying my best to describe a pink kitchen. But “pink” is such a boring word. So I asked myself, “What reminds me of pink?” And the light went on in my head. Pepto-Bismol.

Yes, that’s quite pink and certainly is probably an image that most readers will never forget. And guess what? It probably made you snicker as you read it. So in describing the color of an object (or even a character’s hair!) get creative. Instead of saying “deep forest green” try something like “it was greener than the stinkiest swamp in Louisiana.” I would be willing to bet that it will make your reader giggle and remember the color of that hideous chair in the corner.

I hope this has given you a few ideas and maybe they will invoke a tiny bit of light-hearted laughter from a reader.  So, the next time I am sitting in the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport waiting for my twice-delayed flight, I look forward to laughing out loud as I read your next novel. And don’t worry about the aliens, all they wanted at Tastee Freeze was frozen custard.


Georgiana Hall (GG Hall)

Georgiana Hall (“G.G. Hall”) is the author of the novel Hershey- A Tale of a Curious House Rabbit and the sequel, Trouble in the Attic. A retired physics and astronomy professor, she has written numerous editorials which have appeared in USA Today, the Miami Herald and others. She and her rabbit novels were featured in an article by pet columnist Sharon Peters in a USA Today article in January 2011.

She and husband Oren, also a retired professor, share their Colorado springs home with 2 cats, a rabbit and 3 birds. Currently, G.G. is  working on a third Hershey novel as well as several other young adult novels.

 

Building Believable Characters, Part 4

Determining the Perfect Number of Characters

By: Donna Schlachter

Now that you have your cast of characters, you’ll want to be sure they’re all necessary. And that they won’t overwhelm the reader. Or bog down the plot lines.

There are several other reasons not to have too many characters. Too large a cast, and you won’t have enough words per character to round them out and develop their personal arc, which can leave the reader feeling unfulfilled. Another reason to cut or consolidate characters is because your word count is too high. On average, each character other than the hero and heroine will add another ten thousand words to your manuscript.

Distill the Numbers

So before discussing how to consolidate your cast, let’s look at how the act of distilling the numbers will strengthen your stories.

  1. You can simplify your story by reusing story elements, keeping your story elements closely linked, and maintains familiar tropes and plots so your readers don’t have to learn anything new.
  2. Fewer characters usually means your story is more efficient when it comes to writing your story and staying on track.
  3. Limiting or reducing the number of characters will mean you spend more time on each character.
  4. Oftentimes, cutting the cast will keep the players in the same place, limiting the number of settings a reader has to recall.
  5. Using fewer characters also means reducing the number of points-of-view, so readers feel like they get to know characters better and there’s less hopping from scene to scene. Don’t overwhelm readers by introducing all the characters in the first few pages.
  6. With fewer characters, you can have characters involved in scenes more often, so readers don’t forget who is who.

So how can you know when you have the perfect number of characters? When you can put any two individuals in a situation and still hold the reader’s interest. That’s right. All of the characters should be so connected that it won’t be a huge leap to pick two from a hat and write a scene that makes perfect sense.

Some argue that seven characters is the best number, while others insist on fewer. However, if each of your seven characters fulfills a particular role, then that might be a number to aim for. While they might be labeled differently depending on the genre, here is a list of typical characters to choose from. Please note: you don’t need two of any of these as main or secondary characters, except if there are a hero and a heroine.

  1. The hero/heroine – the character the story is most about and who has the most to lose if they don’t achieve their goal
  2. The lancer – shares goal with hero/heroine, but proceeds in a different way.
  3. The Big One – often physically impressive and doesn’t mind throwing his/her weight around. But they aren’t long term overcomers. Minor victories are theirs; they don’t have the skills to win.
  4. The Smart One – foil to the Big One. Uses brain to overcome, not brawn. Skills are specialties and used only in that sense.
  5. The Old One – wealth of experience, but damaged as a result. Can come close to winning, but not quite by themselves.
  6. The Young One – has a lot to learn; makes everyone else look good. Good reason for another character to explain the jargon a reader might not catch first time around.
  7. The Funny One – manipulates the mood of the reader and other characters. Relieves tension after a scary scene.
  8. The Spiritual One – a peacemaker, sometimes with a unique outlook to diffuse tension or educate the other characters. Often is formed from a conglomeration of The Funny One and the Old One. But sometimes is just plain weird.

One thing to keep in mind is that it doesn’t matter what each character does individually, but how they work together.  That process starts with the hero/heroine. When you define them skillfully, contrasting them to other characters, you will see ways to up the ante between the characters. Defining other characters through the hero/heroine also provides areas where they’re in agreement, and highlights places where they disagree. This tension is important to keep the story moving, make sure characters are changing along their story arc, and also to give you opportunities to set up those danger points that will ultimately lead to the Black Moment.

Sometimes authors conjure up a character they absolutely love. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as the character serves a purpose. Giving them a point of view doesn’t give them purpose. Every character must help or hinder the hero/heroine in reaching (or not) their goal. When we love that character, we write them into more scenes. Sometimes, without realizing it, that secondary (non-main) character ends up having more scenes than the main character(s). This leads to a loss of focus, too many plot tangents, and an unfulfilling story.

How Many Characters Do We Need?

That depends on the story. But here’s a check list:

  • Word count – shorter stories need one or two main characters, and one antagonist. Along with a main plot and perhaps one small subplot, there’s a 30,000-50,000 story. For a sweeping epic drama, of course, you’ll need more secondary characters and subplots.
  • Genre – mystery readers expect the sleuth, the antagonist/villain, a victim, and several suspects as secondary characters. One or two related subplots along with their own secondary characters will bring the book to 65,00-85,000 words. Historical books often have the hero/heroine, antagonist/villain, perhaps a handful of secondary characters, and a host of walk-on characters with minor roles. Other genres have their own rules. Read books in the genre you want to write in and take notes.
  • Style – romance and cozy mysteries like to create a sense of intimacy, which requires a smaller-scale cast, while a fantasy or international thriller requires more characters to create that sweeping or far-reaching mood.

How Many Point of View Characters?

Of course, your hero/heroine will always have a point of view in your—their—story. Choosing whether the antagonist/villain has a point of view depends on the genre. In romance, usually not. In mystery and thriller – yes.

Eliminate any viewpoint characters who don’t have anything to do with each other. Make the characters serve multiple purposes.

Make sure each point of view characters has a unique voice so the reader knows who is talking without having to attribute. Having too many might leave you struggling to differentiate between them.

Kill Your Darlings

So you’ve done your best, but you have too many characters. What to do?

Ask yourself:

  • is this character necessary to the story?
  • Am I telling the story from the proper point of view?
  • Is this character more important than the lead?

If the answer to any of these questions is Yes, you need to cut the character. Or you could combine them with another character and serve two purposes. For example, the Lancer could also be the firefighter with the karate skills needed to help the hero escape the locked room.

Conclusion

Sometimes you’ll just know when you have the right number of characters. And sometimes you’ll need to cut or consolidate the secondary characters so each one has the proper amount of time on the page; doesn’t overtake the hero/heroine; and contributes to the hero/heroine’s story arc.

Donna Schlachter, Headshot

About Donna:

A hybrid author, Donna Schlachter writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 50 times in books; is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both. She humbly admits she doesn’t always get the number of characters perfect, so she often spends a lot of time re-writing.

Stay connected so you learn about new releases, preorders, and presales, as well as check out featured authors, book reviews, and a little corner of peace. Plus: Receive a free ebook simply for signing up for our free newsletter!

www.DonnaSchlachter.com

www.DonnaSchlachter.com/blog

Resources:

Is TikTok for Authors?

By: Jenny Kate

Well, TikTok absolutely exploded in 2021. And it will continue that trajectory into 2022.

Does that mean you should be on it?

If you’ve followed me long enough, you’ll know my answer to that would be “it depends.”

  • Do you have your books written yet? If not, then write your books.
  • If you do, then do you have the time to learn a new social media platform? If you don’t, then don’t.
  • I’m not a fan of chasing the latest social craze. Especially when you’ve probably got another one down already and need to keep producing product to sell (re: books).
  • But if you have the books, the time and the inclination, then yes. Consider TikTok.

For a 100 million reasons, TikTok is worth considering for book marketing.

TikTok has almost 100 million users in the United States, and 86% of those are between the ages of sixteen and forty-four.

Nielsen did a study in 2021 and asked more than 8,000 TikTok users what they liked about the app.

The top answers included features users appreciated about the authenticity of the app over curated, ultra-unfiltered experiences on other social sites, and the app simply makes them happy.

In a world where the headlines are more often than not awful, TikTok a nice place to escape to.

Even more useful answers to the Nielsen study were:

  • Nearly 60% agreed TikTok is a place with a sense of community,
  • 84% agreed there is always content they can relate to, and finally,
  • almost 80% actually read the comments on posts and videos.

All of this is reason enough for you to consider TikTok as your social media platform of choice, or at least dabble with it.

It’s the Wild West right now. It’s about the only place on the internet where organic growth still means something.

Organically you can grow a following simply by posting every day or a couple of times a day or a couple of times a week.

Ultra-marketer Neil Patel gives TikTok until 2023 before TikTok becomes more like other platforms and we’ll start having to pay for growth, so if you’re interested, now is the time to jump in.

A couple of other features to consider about TikTok.

This platform is designed for the Every Person. Content is created by everyday folks, which makes it easier to go viral on TikTok. It’s all about relatability, and TikTok offers it in spades.

And the app isn’t complicated. It is rather easy to use. If you can use any social media outlet out there, then you can use TikTok.

If you’re an author, then following and using #BookTok is a must. Writers and readers both flock to this hashtag.

So, is TikTok for authors? Yes. The answer is an emphatic yes.

The best tips to get started are:

Follow Booktokkers to gather ideas.

  • Develop your own brand.
  • Use trends that other Tiktokkers are already using.
  • Just get started.
  • It’s a fun place to be.

I’ve seen history professors give history lessons (yes, in less than a minute); writers talk about their books, marketers give tips, and stylists provide how-to vids.

For more information on TikTok, check out these podcasts:

TikTok Storytelling: How to Stand Out from the Crowd

TikTok Strategy: A Proven Growth Plan with Jackson Zaccaria

How to Sell More Books Using TikTok


 

Jenny Kate

Jenny Kate is the founder of Writer Nation, an online space dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 19 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity. You can find her on her WebsiteFacebook, and  Instagram

Fragmentary Thoughts

By: Deborah Brewer

There is quite a bit of debate about the use of sentence fragments, or incomplete sentences, in prose fiction to create a voice that is frank, casual, and immediate. These sentence fragments are missing a subject (noun) or a predicate (verb). Some say fragments should never be used, because they are ungrammatical, communicate poorly, and make their writer look incompetent. Writers mistakenly believe fragments to be more invisible than good grammar when in actuality the fragments draw awkward attention to themselves.

Some counter, however, that genre fiction doesn’t need to adhere to the stuffy grammar of academics. Sentence fragments done well, are well and good, as evidenced by the fact that both genre and literary writers regularly take such poetic license.

What’s a writer to do?

Narrative voice punched up with sentence fragments is something we are seeing more and more in popular fiction. But as these casual, forthright sentences, are in essence, incomplete thoughts, we must ask whether they serve our readers well. When it becomes a question of style over function, I’ve had to ask myself, is “dysfunctional” a style I want to own?

Here’s what we know about George.

George was a tangle of emotions. Anger. Frustration. Shame.

The above sentence and fragments sound powerful on account of their rhythm, but do they communicate better than these complete sentences below?

George banged his fist on the desk. “Blast it all.” Bankruptcy was certain if he lost the Peterson account. He had to win it. To see his wife Margaret’s years of sacrifice come to naught would be unbearable.

One might argue that if the example were written in first person rather than third, the contributions of the fragments to a casual, frank voice would add weight to their inclusion. I contend. Swap George out for I, his for my, and the effectiveness of either set of lines remains unchanged.

I was a tangle of emotions. Anger. Frustration. Shame.

I banged my fist on the desk. “Blast it all.” Bankruptcy was certain if I lost the Peterson account. I had to win it. To see my wife Margaret’s years of sacrifice come to naught would be unbearable.

The Downside to Fragments

The main downside to fragments is that they leave a lot of meaning to be filled in by readers. Readers already must bring a great deal of imagination to a written story in order to manifest a three-dimensional world in their minds. I don’t want to make them struggle to decipher what I mean to say. I don’t want them to put my work down because my meaning is uncommunicative. I want them to relax and engage with my story.

The Upside

Despite the aforementioned negatives, sentence fragments can and do contribute to dialogue and first-person narrative in several positive ways. Many questions and responses require only fragments to effectively communicate. Fragments can be used in those instances in which words might not come readily to a character’s tongue, such as when they are reticent, hurried, confused, desperate, mentally impaired, or under physical stress. Fragments are also commonly used for emphasis.

This fragmented line without a speech tag, below, has an immediacy and a bite. It feels like it comes straight from the heart.

“So, what do you want me to do?” he asked.
“Nothing.” She rolled over and pulled her pillow over her head.

The following example demonstrates a character’s confusion.

They could hear someone breathing on the other side of the partition. “Bob? Joe?”

We don’t need them to say, “Bob, is that you? Joe, is that you?” to understand their meaning; because we all use truncated queries like these in our everyday conversations. The implied verb in this simple sentence construction is understood.

In this good example, a character is dying. You can almost hear him gasping.

He took a last desperate breath and spoke the words that, for her, would change everything. “Gold… Under the staircase.”

The character of a college professor might seem inauthentically stupid with lines like these.

The professor rolled his eyes. “The importance of grammar. A thing, generally. Except when not.”

A sentence fragment can make dialogue more emphatic, as in this example.

“I. Want. Ice. Cream.”

Be wary, however, of emphasizing a relatively meaningless word. This construction puts an undue emphasis on the word A, a relatively meaningless article.

“I want ice cream. A spoon, too.”

These lines, below, might work if they follow a running joke about the absence of spoons. Hopefully, the joke would have a strong enough setup to justify the awkward fragment at the end.

            “I want ice cream. And a spoon.”

This next example with an adverb works better, as the word emphasized with a capital letter carries enough meaning to earn its exceptional, fragmented place.

I want ice cream. Now.”

Don’t be Seduced by Sentence Fragments

Sentence fragments are seductive, so be forewarned, using countless fragments is a bit like using ALL CAPS AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! in an email message. Both are great for emphasis, but as all emphasis, all the time, results in no emphasis at all, even using fragments often lessens their emphatic value. It’s best to save them, like exclamation points, for those few words you truly want to make stand out.

I asked a published author about sentence fragments. He said, unequivocally, that publishers are okay with fragments these days.
In every paragraph?
His answer was emphatically no.

For writing that shines with clarity and polish, consider using sentence fragments sparingly.

To eliminate excess fragments—

  • First, try to make a complete sentence with a strong verb.
  • Second, try to link the fragment up to the sentence before or after it, or both, with a comma(s), a colon, or a semi-colon.
  • Third, occasionally link the fragment to the sentence before or after it with an M-dash.
  • Fourth, on rare occasions, keep the fragment for characterization or emphasis.

Further Reading

Follow these links for further discussion.

Semicolons vs. Colons vs. Dashes

What is a Sentence Fragment?

Sentence Fragments: Use for Conversational Tone


Deborah Brewer

Deborah L. Brewer joined Pikes Peak Writers a decade ago, seeking help with a cozy mystery. When the novel was completed, she stayed for the camaraderie. Now she’s writing short stories. An editor for the PPW 2022 anthology,  Dream, Deborah contributes to Writing from the Peak to help fellow PPW members write better with more enjoyment, and ultimately, achieve their writing dreams.