Category Archive: fiction

Jan 28 2015

Most Important Advice for Fiction Writers

ink pen

After writing a short story and handing it over to my seventh grade Literature teacher for grading, she returned it with one sentence of advice written over the black text in big cursive red ink:
Make your reader like your characters before killing them!

 

This piece of advice stuck with me through all my fifteen-plus years of writing fiction. In other words, I needed to make my readers care about my characters enough to worry about their wellbeing.

That’s the stuff of fiction, isn’t it?

If readers don’t like your characters, can’t relate to or empathize with them, or refuse to find justification in their motives, traits, or behaviors, the reader wouldn’t care what happens to them.

And the common denominator in great fiction is great characters. Yes, even the unlikable antagonist can be a great character. The trick is to make your main characters three-dimensional, believable, and have a plausible motive.

  • Three-dimensional: Develop their background, a list of fears, wishes, flaws, and successes. Determine why they are the way they are by asking what special event in their life influenced them.
  • Believable: Build their character and have them stay true to it. When changes occur to their character, which they should over time, those changes should make sense and be influenced by the complications they encounter throughout the story.
  • Plausible motive: Give them a good reason for doing what they do, even if what they do is bad. Even the bad guy has “good” intentions.

 

If the reader does not care about your characters, they will not continue the story. If you lose your reader’s interest, you run the risk of losing that reader for good.

I admit, it’s hard to remember almost anything from my seventh grade Math class, but my Literature teacher’s valuable advice about good storytelling will forever stay with me.

What’s the most important piece of writing advice you received as a fiction writer? Tell me in the comments.


[Image credit: Dinuraj K]

Jul 03 2013

How to Be a Great Guest Blogger

keyboardtypeIn the writing industry, authors often guest blog on an independent book blogger’s blog to promote their latest book release. In the freelancing industry, writers are propositioned or paid as freelance writers to share their expertise on a blog. No matter which tier you fall under, it’s always best to leave a good first impression. It doesn’t matter why you guest blog, but by applying these courteous and memorable steps, you increase your chances of getting invited back to the blog and making a good first and last impression.

1. Thank the host.

Remember, a simple “thank you” is still a universal courtesy of appreciation. Any chance you get, in the initial email, the comments of the blog, or even in the post itself, thank your host for inviting you to their blog, or for featuring you and your post that day, etc. Being sincere can get you far, however, thank your host even if you just want to turn on the charm.

2. Encourage comments, feedback and engagement.

Don’t just sell, sell, sell, and blah, blah, blah. Welcome feedback. At the end of your post, ask your audience questions. Show your personality. Ask them to share your post with their friends and followers. And join the comment discussions, which bring us to…

3. Reply to comments.

This is a big one. How rude is it to have your guest post go live and you’re nowhere to be found when the comments start rolling in? If you did a good job you should expect comments. Naturally, commenters expect a reply. They’re talking to you, about you or your work, so show your gratitude for their time and their comments by responding to them.

4. Share the blog post. Spread the word:

You’ve asked your audience to spread the word, so jump on that bandwagon and share too. Bring in more readers for your host as she brings in more awareness of you, your product, or whatever else you have to offer. Plus, the more people who know of your post, the more exposure, right? So don’t forget this important step.

5. Research. Familiarize yourself with the host’s blog.

• Become a regular reader.
• Engage with the blog by sharing posts, leaving comments, and signing up to the newsletter.
• Know the subject matter, the mission, the average post lengths, and the personality of the blog.

6. Research. Know your target audience.

No matter if you’re blogging to promote your latest book or as a paid gig, you must always be aware of who you are speaking to. Know your audience. Hopefully you’ve done your research before arranging a guest post spot. Questions I’ve asked myself about this blogs: Are you speaking to professionals or amateurs? Published or unpublished authors? Indie published or traditionally published? Fiction writers or non-fiction writers?

Now ask yourself, does the blog target a specific group, age-range or education level? You’re more successful at reaching your goal if you know who you’re talking to and how best to get them to listen to your message, by doing your research.

7. Make being a guest easy for your host.

• Hit or beat deadlines.
• Provide all information, links, images, etc., your host needs.
• Have questions? Ask them sooner rather than later.
• Give your host the time she needs to respond to your emails and to handle any concerns.
• Send reminders if need be.

8. Smile for the camera.

Registar a Gravitar (a Globally Recognized Avatar) with an updated bio pic for Gravitar enabled website, such as WordPress, for comments, and/or supply the host with an updated pic of yourself to incorporate into the blog post. People want to see the person behind the post. They want to see who’s “speaking” and who they’re speaking to when commenting.

9. Learn the general rules of blogging and the rules of the blog.

• Learn and follow the host’s rules and guidelines.
• Learn the proper way to reply to commenters, how to engage with your audience, and write for your audience.
• Learn how to format posts, how to write engaging headlines, etc.

10. Be yourself and have fun.

Most importantly, yep, be yourself. Show your personality and go into it with positive thinking. If you think of guest blogging as a chore, guess what, it becomes a pain. This can result in you slacking off on one or more of the above tips and not having a good experience or results.
If you have a chance to guest blog go into it with excitement. This is your chance to get the word out about what you have to offer. Apply the tips above and don’t be surprised when your host welcomes you back with open arms. Do you find this information helpful? Please leave a comment and tell me so. And feel free to share.

 

Image credit:espensorvik

May 07 2013

Readers Hate Realism in Fiction

pagesOne thing I’ve learned after writing over a dozen stories is … readers despise reality or anything that reminds them how life really is. Yet, they want to feel like everything that happens in a story is true to life. A contradiction? Not necessarily.

Readers like to suspend disbelief in certain situations and genres like in Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Paranormal fiction. I mean, we all know were-creatures and fairies don’t exist. But if the writer has done her job and created rules for her world, as long as her characters follow the rules, the readers have no issues.

It’s with things like characters, their motives, their desires, struggles and actual characteristics that need to feel … real.

 

Likable Characters, Redeemable Characteristics

Readers think they want realistic, but what they really want is happily ever afters, scorching hot men, talented and successful characters, nice guys or bad boys with redeemable qualities, and characters that do not possess any unfavorable qualities … in other words, people who don’t really exist.

It irks readers when you give them whinny, lying, foul-mouthed, bitchy, odd, arrogant, lazy, two-faced, characters because the point in reading, for many, is to escape those kinds of people and situations.

But if you want to truly be realistic, these are the types of people we live with, work with, associate with, and encounter every day, even when we look in the mirror. No wonder we don’t want to deal with them in Fiction Land.

True realistic characters in fiction, the characters we deal with on a day-to-day basis, can warrant the author unfavorable reviews, can cost the author potential readers, and result in low sales. Read reviews. Almost every reviewer mentions what they felt about the characters. It’s that big a deal.

I’ve read that a character should reflect the reader. I disagree. Readers want to be the character in a sense of relating to the character and their struggles and then experiencing that happy ending. Readers do not want the character to be a reflection of themselves and their unflattering traits. That’s too realistic for comfort in most cases. Those are the characters we don’t relate to, the ones we don’t like, the ones who are forgettable, etc.

 

Fairytales and Happily Ever Afters

Essentially, we like fairytales. The princess always gets the prince at the end. No main character dies or suffers too long or too much, not without finally getting what they were striving for throughout their entire journey. Bad people get what they deserve. Good people get what they deserve. By the end of the book, life is grand!

This is apparently what helps makes good fiction. It’s very formulaic, believe it or not. We authors are all telling the exact same story just with different characters, situations and delivery.

 

The Fiction Formula and what it says about Human Beings

Every genre has a set of rules that the writer must adhere to. In the Romance genre, some of the rules are:

  1. Happily ever after or happily for now. This is an absolute must! This is what readers expect out of the genre.
  2. A physically, mentally or emotionally attractive main character. Yes, they can have issues and physical flaws (have a limp, a scar, swear too much, etc.), but they have to possess a trait that makes them very attractive, unique or engaging as well.
  3. They have to have good intentions. No matter what, deep inside they are good people.

Readers aren’t interested in characters who wakes up to have it all, unless they lose it all and prove that they deserved it in the first place, or if they sacrifice it all for a greater good. Characters have to struggle, otherwise their tale is boring. They can’t just get everything they want, they have to work for it. They just can’t have anyone they want either, they have to work for that too. Everyone gets their just desserts by the end.

This is the rule of fiction.

Says a lot about how we feel about ourselves and others, right? Haven’t you noticed that we tend to be envious of those who seem to have it all and acquire it without much effort? We feel that way because we compare ourselves to them. We tend to despise people who seem not to work as hard, or suffer as much as we do, but seem to have more than us and are happier. We hate these types of characters too. That’s why a great character in fiction has to suffer like no other, inside and out before they can have their happy ending.

When the characters don’t suffer enough, you leave readers unsatisfied.

 

How Fiction Differs from Real Life

Well, in the real world:

  1. Good people often have crappy things happen to them.
  2. Bad people don’t always get punished.
  3. And most of the time, we never have all our wishes come true or …
  4. End up with the dangerously scorching hot hunk at the end of our suffering.
  5. Many times, there is no end to our sufferings.
  6. We don’t have perfect relationships. We don’t have funny, selfless and spunky friends, neighbors, relatives, pets, bosses, etc.
  7. We don’t have great jobs.
  8. We’re weak, fat, miserable, and insecure.
  9. Sometimes, life just sucks!

So it’s not that readers despise reality or anything that reminds them how life really is. It’s that, readers despise reality or anything that reminds them how “sucky” life really is.

Keep that in mind when creating fictional characters.

 

What did you think of this post? Speak your mind in the comments below.

Mar 28 2013

Writing Scenes, Settings & Descriptions Using the Film Director Method

director2I like to invent crazy methods for writing, and the film director method of writing descriptions is one of them. I’m assuming no one has claimed this method before, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone had. Anyway, it’s easy to apply a method for crafting, especially if it works. Methods are an easy way to remember how to do something and do it well.

So, what is the film director method of writing scenes, settings and overall descriptions? And how can it help you write great descriptions?

What is the Film Director Method?

 

First, it is exactly how it sounds. We all dreamt of seeing our book played out on a movie screen, and this method involves doing exactly that.

According to Wikipedia, a film director is the person who “visualizes” the script while guiding the technical crew and actors in the fulfillment of that vision. In this case the “actors” are your characters and the “crew” is your writing skills. So in other words, a film director sees the film played out in their heads or on storyboards, etc., before they align actors (characters) and crew (writing skill) in order to portray that visual onscreen. This is exactly what you should do when writing your story so readers can visualize your scenes in their minds. A lot of the time, writers tend to see the story played out in their heads but fail to portray that vision onto paper. We tend to forget that the reader needs a lot of information, given in the right way in order to stimulate their senses and make them feel like they’re a part of the story. I’m going to show you how the “author” becomes the “director” with this method.

 

How to implement the method (the right way to stimulate senses):

 

When writing descriptions of settings, scenery, or even character description:

  1. Remember which character’s point of view (POV) you’re writing in and use their own words to describe what they see. This way it would feel true to life and true to that character.
  2. Use descriptive wording or verbs that match the tone and mood of the story. For example, the metaphor, “the boulder dropped out of nowhere like an anvil from a Looney Tune’s episode,” may be considered too cartoonish for a post-disaster tale.
  3. Use all of your senses. Putting the reader in the story is not just about describing what the characters see but also what they hear, smell, feel, and taste. This way you create an experience for the reader and not just telling a story.

Use the 5 senses: Showing vs. Telling. The film director method

 

If you’re wondering the difference between showing or telling, imagine “showing” is similar to using a camera to show the moment onscreen like a director, and imagine “telling” as the actual script telling how the moment should be portrayed onscreen. Readers want to “see the film” not “read the script.”

Show = Camera. Tell = Script. With that in mind, here’s how to use the five senses to describe settings, scenes and characters in your story.

  • What do you see? Not just a concrete floor or a small room. Show your readers by thinking like a film director. Imagine holding the camera yourself as you capture the scene. What color is the concrete floor? Does it look smooth or rough? What makes it look smooth or rough? The cracks and chips flaking off the surface? The way the character’s feet slide effortlessly across as she walks? Show what the camera is picking up. Is it zooming in on a particular spot of the floor? Where and why? The floor in the corner of the room stole your character’s attention because of the puddle of water that has collected there.
  • What do you smell? Is the water leaking from sewer pipes that give off a foul stench? Is it stagnant water from the previous evening’s rain? Or by the smell of it, is it something else entirely, gasoline, urine, oil?
  • What do you feel? Heat? Cold? Moisture? Static or tension in the atmosphere? A breeze? Motionless air?
  • What do you hear? Trickles of water, paint chips from the walls as they fall to the concrete floor, an uneasy silence?
  • What do you taste? Can you taste the bitterness in the air from the smoke coming from the burning pile of hay outside the barn?

Remember, everything that happens in the story including the things the characters sense must be important to the story. Even if the purpose is to show how dirty a place and its residence are, or poorly a place has been taken care of, or how maintained, etc. Everything in fiction happens for a reason and have to make sense in the overall scheme of things.

Using all the senses in description is how to get comments from readers about how they were immersed in the story and felt like they were in the book right alongside your characters. By simply envisioning yourself in the director chair and by writing down the words which describes exactly how you see your story unfolding on a big screen is how to get one step closer to providing that immersion experience for your readers.

Do you have a method you want to share? What do you think of my method?

Mar 20 2012

Inside the Mind of a Self-Doubting Writer

  1. Wow. What a great idea! I can’t wait to start on this story. But, wait. How can I make it original without making it suck?

  2. I know! I’ll write a cast of diverse characters, no cookie cutter stereotypes. Plus, my voice and style of writing would lend to the story’s uniqueness.

  3. Wow, I impressed myself. Gotta tell my honey how many words I wrote today and update my Twitter and Facebook pages with the news.

  4. Gosh, I’m tearing through this story. I’ve written so many chapters and even added a few good twists. This is gonna be brilliant! Progress is going great! I can’t wait to share this story with the world. People are gonna love this.

  5. But what if they don’t? What if they don’t like the direction I took the main character? Gosh, maybe I should go back and further clarify why the character made that decision.

  6. While I’m rewriting the scene where the main character makes an important decision, I might as well reread the entire thing to make sure the story’s unfolding the way I envisioned.

  7. Okay, now I’ll continue writing where I left off … but later this evening, after I make dinner and put the kids to sleep.

  8. The kids are fed, full and asleep but I woke up pretty early today. I’ll go to sleep now so I can get up early and write more of the story tomorrow before work.

  9. I got about an hour before I get the kids off to school this morning. Might as well check my emails and see what I missed on Facebook and Twitter before I start on the story.

  10. Darn! Where did the time go? I’ll finish writing the chapter of my story by tonight, no excuses.

  11. Well, now it’s a little late but I have the time to look over the last few chapters I wrote to remember where I left off.

  12. Ugh! I wrote that?! I must’ve been tired or something. This is not going the way I thought it would. It’s nothing but chapters and chapters of crap. No one’s gonna want to read this mess! Why am I wasting my time? The characters are obviously stereotypes and my voice and style seem too sophomoric.

  13. Ooh. I got another cool idea. But this idea will be great as a different book with different characters.

  14. Now how can I put my twist on it and make it truly my own? Well, before I get into this new story maybe I should finish writing the other story first.

  15. *opens story and stare blankly at the screen*

  16. I’ll start the new story now and work on the other story tomorrow. *closes story and opens blank document*

  17. But what if no one likes the premise of the new story? The characters seem kind of blah, the setting is overused … this will never work.

  18. Oh, wait! Honey read over the few chapters of my other story and liked it. Maybe I should put all my attention into that story again. But Honey isn’t familiar with book publishing or the market. What if Honey was just being nice and the story really sucks?

  19. I’ll have one of my author friends look over it and give me their feedback. They understand the book world and will be honest with me.

  20. They liked it and even gave me some useful feedback on how to make it even better. I can’t wait to start working on this story again. This is brilliant! People are gonna love it!

Mar 05 2012

Paypal Prohibits "Obscene" Content

No, I don’t write erotica with themes of incest, pseudo-incest, rape for titillation, underage sex or bestiality. However, even though erotic fiction with those themes does not appeal to me, there is a market for it. A huge market for it. And just like other readers, if the content of the story does not amuse me, I don’t read it. Simple as that.


But now, PayPal is cracking down on publishers and websites that publishes and sales said books. Paypal warns if publisher continue to sale those books with “obscene content,” Paypal will deactivate publisher’s account. You may wonder why a company would threaten to deactivate so many publisher accounts like Smashwords.

“Paypal doesn’t want to have to pay Visa and MC for carrying “high risk” accounts on their books.” Erotica writer Selena Kitt writes on her blog. And what’s considered high risk for Paypal? Erotic books that contain the themes listed above. “Sites that carry high-risk material have to pay the high-risk costs of doing business. If you’re going through Paypal, you don’t have to pay that. Until Paypal catches you. And then they insist you take down your high-risk content or lose your account.”

So it’s the major credit card companies behind it all.

As a writer of erotica and erotic romance what I take form this is the major credit card companies saying… “We’re not supporting your icky imagination and if you force me to associate my name with your obscene fiction, then we can’t be friends anymore.” … That’s how I read it If it’s really about the money or not.

No matter my personal views on erotic books with those “questionable” themes (incest, pseudo-incest, rape for titillation, underage sex or bestiality), they’re still legal to write about. I am not a person to condone the suppression of published material. We’re adults. We should be able to write, read, and buy the kind of fiction we desire without someone or some group making it difficult due to their tastes.
Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords, had this to say about Paypal’s crackdown. “PayPal is asking us to censor legal fiction. Regardless of how one views topics of rape, bestiality and incest, these topics are pervasive in mainstream fiction. We believe this crackdown is really targeting erotica writers. This is unfair, and it marks a slippery slope. We don’t want credit card companies or financial institutions telling our authors what they can write and what readers can read. Fiction is fantasy. It’s not real. It’s legal.”

It concerns me. What will they target next in erotica?

Gay sex? Threesomes? Sex out of wedlock? Erotica in general?

What do you think about the crackdown?