Write A Novel: You Must Start It, and End It

Write A Novel: You Must Start It, and End It

If you want to write a novel, the novel’s beginning and ending are equally important. As the old saying goes, your novel’s beginning sells your book. The ending sells your next book.

I’ve been working with a group of new novelists, and each one has a complete novel. Sort of. I say “sort of” because their novels are buried amongst a lot of stuff which isn’t needed.

Each student’s novel is like a little treasure chest, buried in a pond. It’s up to the novelist to haul up the treasure chest, refurbish it, and polish up the jewels within.

Of course, these new novelists have lots of reasons they need the pond, but your readers aren’t interested in a pond. They want the treasure.

In other words, they want a story, with a beginning, a page-turning, suspenseful middle, and a good ending.

“This is the story of…”

If you’re currently writing a novel, or have just finished a novel, sum up the story in ONE sentence. Begin your sentence: “This is the story of…”

Just for a giggle, here’s Gone With the Wind in a sentence: Money-hungry Southern belle falls in and out of love; should’ve tried therapy.

Here’s the IMDB on Gone With the Wind: “A manipulative Southern belle carries on a turbulent affair with a blockade runner during the American Civil War.”

Can you sum up your story in a sentence? Of course you can. Write your sentence. If you can’t write a sentence, it’s just about 100 per cent certain that you don’t have a novel.

You may have a case of: this happens, then that happens, then something else happens, and something else happens…

That summed up the situation with my students. A lot of STUFF happened, most of that stuff wasn’t needed. They needed the treasure chest.

Got your sentence? Excellent.

Your Novel Begins When…

You have your story, in one sentence. Now think about when the story begins.

I’m currently rereading, for about the fourth time, Carla Kelly’s The Summer Campaign. The novel begins with a proposal, which the heroine, Onyx, accepts.

Where you start your novel is up to you. Don’t start it too early. I love The Summer Campaign, but it started a little too early. Carla Kelly could have lost the entire beginning, and started it when the highwaymen attacked Onyx’s coach. The proposal was a lot of yada yada; we see what a horrible person the vicar is later in the book. He isn’t a main character, there wasn’t any reason to introduce him at the beginning. Onyx’s relatives aren’t that important, either. They appear and then vanish. The book would have been stronger without them cluttering up the first few pages.

However, it’s up to YOU where you start. As we’ve said, don’t start your novel too early. Start when the main action of the story starts.

Your Novel Ends When…

Your novel’s ending is always in the beginning. This is why I said: start when the main action of the story starts. It’s great if your ending refers back to the beginning, in some way: by location, by an event, or by something that someone says.

You can start your novel in any way you choose, but your novel’s ending ALWAYS meets the expectations of your genre. So, if you’re writing a romance, it’s a forgone conclusion that it ends with a Happily Ever After (HEA.) If it doesn’t your readers won’t forgive you. If you’re writing a mystery, your novel ends when your sleuth solves the mystery.

When you’ve got an ending, and a beginning, you’ve got your treasure chest. Now you can polish the jewels, and paint and lacquer the chest.

When you’re writing your first novel, you’re learning a lot about yourself, and about your writing. Find your treasure chest by writing a one-sentence summary. Then decide where your novel starts, and where it ends.

Want to write commercial fiction?

Commercial fiction now makes money. You can write under a number of pen names – this is advisable if you’re writing erotica for example – and your ebooks will go on selling for years. As you build your publishing catalog, and gain readers, you will sell more ebooks with every new story you write. Learn more.

, on Twitter: @angee, and find Angela on Pinterest, too.

Get coaching, and build your skills at Angela’s online store.

Write and Sell Ebooks: This is How You Do It

Wondering how you write and sell ebooks? This is how. Thanks to Lindsay Buroker for the long, and informative post:

Pen Name Launch: First Month Earnings $3043 (what worked and didn’t for marketing)

Lindsay is beyond generous in sharing her experience. Read the article, and make notes, if you want to write and sell.

This stood out for me:

Even though having Book 1 free definitely helped me sell Book 2, I should point out that it wasn’t as effective as I think it would have been if Book 1 had left some things unresolved and 2 had picked up with the same characters. I am writing in a series, but all of the books stand alone and feature different main characters.

So, if you’re writing in series, leave some open loops for readers who want to see how to story continues. There are endless ways you can do this.

, on Twitter: @angee, and find Angela on Pinterest, too.

Get coaching, and build your skills at Angela’s online store.

Write Kindle Short Stories and Ditch These 3 Myths

Write Kindle Short Stories and Ditch These 3 Myths

You want to write Kindle short stories. There are many reasons this is an excellent plan. However, information abounds on the Web, and everyone has an opinion. If you pay too much attention to opinions, you can be led down some strange pathways. Over the past week, I’ve been working with some students who’ve managed to latch onto some odd ideas. They’re myths.

Here they are:

  • Short stories don’t sell. Readers want novels;
  • You need a super-duper cover illustration for your short story, and if you’re going to pay big money for a cover, you might as well write a novel;
  • You need to pay for editing on a short story.

Let’s dispel these myths.

1. Short Stories Don’t Sell. Readers Want Novels

Short stories sell in many genres: romance (especially erotica), mysteries, science fiction. These are the genres which spring to mind. I’m sure there are more. Readers enjoy short stories because they’re short. They can read a story on the train, before bed, and anytime they have a few minutes to spare.

That said, you need to let people know what they’re buying. If someone’s bought your short story, and expects a novel, they’ll be miffed. Add the words “a short story” to your title. Add it to your description as well. AND add it to the front matter, so that when a reader samples your ebook, they’ll see “a short story” there as well.

Pay Attention, This Is IMPORTANT: You Need Volume. One Short Story Won’t Make You Rich and Famous

When you ask someone who proclaims that “short stories don’t sell” how many short stories they’ve published, the answer is usually two, or three. I haven’t done a study on it, but anecdotally, you need at least 30 short stories before you’ll see significant sales. It goes without saying that you’ve written the best short stories of which you’re capable.

2. You Need a Super-Duper Cover Illustration for Your Short Story

Cover-mania’s a pet peeve of mine. What sells is the BOOK, not the cover. As David Ogilvy, the master of advertising said; “What really decides consumers to buy or not to buy is the content of your advertising, not its form.” Extrapolating that to books, what counts is what’s in the book. In other words, if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig. A $1,000 cover won’t help a book if the content isn’t worth reading.

I often work with big publishers. If a book doesn’t sell, no publisher says: “Oh no, we need another cover.” They say: “The author’s a dud, that’s the last time we publish one of his books.”

I’ve no idea why “most people” think the cover is all-important. That said, if the cover is totally hopeless, it won’t help. So use Kindle Cover Creator for your short stories. It’s free, and it does the job.

My own theory about why people carry on about covers is this — it’s easy. If someone’s complaining that their story’s not selling it’s just easier to tell someone that they need a better cover, especially if you haven’t read their novel or short story.

3. You Need to Pay for Editing on a Short Story

The first time someone told me this, I said: “You’re kidding, right?” My own rule of thumb is: if I can read it in under 30 minutes, I do the editing myself.

Professional editing is vital for a novel. You’re too close to it. You think you’ve closed open loops, and that your characters are acting logically, but… You need others to read your novel, and help you to shape the story.

If you want to pay for editing on a short story, go ahead. You can and should do it yourself, however. Here’s why you should: you need the experience. It will make you a better writer. By all means, get some beta readers, but professional editing for a short story? Only if you’re going to compile a bunch of them into a book.

So, there you have it. Three myths around Kindle short stories. I’m sure there are more, these are just the most common.

Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Can Be Your Personal Goldmine

Kindle Magic

In Kindle Magic, Self-publishing Mastery, we cover what you need to know to publish both fiction and nonfiction successfully. We also look at ways you can leverage your ebooks to help your writing career.

Enjoy. It’s my earnest hope that it helps you to overcome your blocks, and win the success you deserve.

, on Twitter: @angee, and find Angela on Pinterest, too.

Get coaching, and build your skills at Angela’s online store.

Writing A Novel and Finishing It

Writing A Novel and Finishing It

You’re writing a novel. Perhaps it’s the novel of your heart, the novel you’ve always wanted to write. Or perhaps you got all enthusiastic and wanted to join friends doing NaNoWriMo.

That first flush of enthusiasm — I’m writing a novel! — has long gone. It’s dawning on you that finishing a novel is a challenge. Anyone can start a novel. Finishing it is something else altogether, and it’s hard.

Get a Strategy: Sit and Stay

Leo Babauta at zenhabits has some excellent advice, because all writers face the same problem. They want to run away:

Whether I’m writing an article or a book chapter, creating something new is not easy. I open up a new document, and instantly want to go answer some emails or clean my kitchen or read that long article on magician Ricky Jay.

Don’t run. The feeling doesn’t mean anything — we all get it. You need a strategy to deal with it. Leo gives you some good advice.

Here’s what I do. I sit. That’s all. It’s what Leo advises too: “Sit there, and look inside yourself.” I sit, and just breathe for a few moments. Slowly, I get back to myself. I can hear birds outside my window. Maybe a car drives past. I get in touch with my hands, my feet. My breathing deepens.

Maybe an idea for the novel floats into my brain. If it does, I’m good. I start writing. Maybe no idea appears. If this happens, I reread the last two or three thousand words I wrote.

Then, right in the novel itself, I create an entry in a character journal. It can be a major character’s journal, or a minor one, it doesn’t matter. You may or may not use the journal entry in your novel.

Here’s how it helps. Dropping right into the middle of your story gives you perspective. You’re writing about real people (real to you, and your readers), and they have problems. You should feel your enthusiasm rekindling, and you’ll write easily for the rest of your writing session.

If you don’t want to write a character journal, try…

1. Getting Clear on What’s on Your Mind

Maybe you had a fight with your partner. Maybe your child has problems. Just grab a pencil and paper — or open a new computer file — and start writing. Start with these words: “here’s what’s on my mind. How do I write anyway?”

2. Killing Off a Character (or Characters)

This often works, because when you’re writing the first few chapters of your novel, you create characters with abandon. They seem necessary, at the time. However, these bit-players clutter up your novel, and you lose focus. Your subconscious mind is well aware of this. Your resistance is the early-warning siren.

Let’s say you’re writing a mystery. You’ve got a crime, and a sleuth. You created the sleuth’s family. He has a wife, and three teenagers. The wife has problems, the kids have problems. Before you know it, the crime’s left center stage, and you’re writing a family drama.

Make a note to yourself that you’ll trim his family down to size, and get back to the point of your novel — the sleuth solving the crime. You can delete scenes later, for now, keep writing. Refocus.

3. Writing a Later Scene You Really Want to Write

If you’ve been writing chronologically, look at your outline. If a scene jumps out at you, write that. There’s no rule which says you have to write a novel from beginning to end. You can jump around as much as you like.

I often do this, because it works. It’s always easier to write what you really want write. Trust yourself. Your subconscious mind is wise. You may find that once you’ve written what you want to write, the answers to the scenes you’re struggling with magically appear.

So, there you have it — some idea to ensure that you keep writing, when you want to run away. Remember: sit, and stay. Don’t run. :-)

, on Twitter: @angee, and find Angela on Pinterest, too.

Get coaching, and build your skills at Angela’s online store.

Basic Short Story Template: Keep It Simple!

Basic Short Story Template: Keep It Simple!

Readers asked for a basic short story template. On Fab Freelance Writing Blog, we’ve been talking about writing and self-publishing short fiction.

Writing short stories is an excellent strategy for any writer. Let’s look at some reasons:

  1. Money — you can sell your short fiction on the Kindle bookstore;
  2. Confidence. You can build your confidence that as a writer that you can finish and PUBLISH what you write;
  3. Promotion: you can publish short fiction as a lead-in to your novels, and build a fan-base;
  4. Fun. If your writing feels stale, writing a quick story can often rekindle your inspiration.

Plotting a Short Story: Keep It Simple

Fiction is about CHANGE. Change is uncomfortable, which is excellent. You want to knock your characters out of their comfort zone, and see what happens.

This basic template is from Fiction Fiesta: Write Short Kindle Fiction For Fun and Profit — WORKBOOK.

Basic Story Plot Template: Someone Wants Something, Overcomes Obstacles, and Gets It (or Not)

Here’s an easy step by step template for writing short fiction.

1. Someone — Your Main Character — Wants Something.

He wants to achieve a specific goal. He also has a hidden need. For example, your character, Fred, an accountant, might want a promotion at work. His hidden need is to build his confidence.

Write a page or two so that the reader gets to know and like the character. Are you familiar with the Hero’s Journey (HJ)? You can use various aspects of the Hero’s Journey for your short stories. The Hero is an archetype; using an archetype makes your story powerful, because unconsciously, your reader recognizes himself. We’re all on the Hero’s journey.

Here’s an outline of the HJ. Step #1 is your character’s Ordinary World.

2. Your Story Starts When Something Changes in Your Character’s Ordinary World.

This change is drastic: it results in changes in your character. In the HJ, this is The Call to Adventure.

In our example, Fred might make a mistake on a big client account. Not only isn’t he getting a promotion — he gets fired. This increases the pressure of his hidden need: it deflates the confidence he has, rather than building confidence.

3. Complications. In the HJ, This Is the Tests, and the Ordeal.

Fred goes through three complications. In a novel, he’d go through many obstacles and complications. In a short story, three are enough. Each complication makes your character’s situation worse, until the final complication, which is the Ordeal in HJ terms.

Brainstorm complications. Write down some “what ifs.”

In Fred’s story, complications could be:

  • His landlord tells him to vacate his apartment, because it’s being sold;
  • His girlfriend betrays and dumps him;
  • His mother comes to visit.

4. The Resurrection.

After the final big complication, your character wins through, just when it seems as if things couldn’t get any worse. Fred not only finds a new girlfriend, he also gets a better job than he had before — and he’s now building real confidence in himself.

Fred also “sees the light”: he understands himself better than he did before. This is the “ephipany” — your character, and by extension the reader — learns something about himself. If you can develop an ephipany, your short story will be very satisfying for the reader.

Want More: Get Fiction Fiesta Before It’s Withdrawn

Write short storiesAs the title suggests, Fiction Fiesta: Write Short Kindle Fiction For Fun and Profit — WORKBOOK is a workbook.

It has four step by step lessons. You’ll learn how to write and sell short fiction — and you’ll have fun doing it. :-)

It’s available until November 8, when it will be withdrawn. (We have new programs coming.)

, on Twitter: @angee, and find Angela on Pinterest, too.

Get coaching, and build your skills at Angela’s online store.

Giggle of the Day: Publishing Professionals

The publishing industry’s changing. And change is uncomfortable. Unfortunately for those people who liked publishing the way it was, there’s no going back.

I usually post my Giggle of the Day on Google+. But I’m posting it here because I want to keep it handy.

Joe Konrath’s wonderful when he eviscerates specious arguments. I laughed aloud when I read this:

The self-publishing movement, by definition, disintermediates many publishing professionals, including agents who aren’t savvy enough to keep up, and editors at legacy publishing houses. Naturally, this can seem threatening. If you own a dairy farm, and all the cows decide they can sell their own milk and no longer need you (and they’re treated better to boot), you’re in deep trouble.

Self-publishers: we’re not part of anyone’s herd

I’ve only got one quibble with Joe calling self-publishers “cows”. Generally speaking, self-publishers either were never part of the herd, or they broke free of the herd, and went their own way.

Lovely analogy though, between authors and cows. We sell our own milk, and we’re proud of it. :-)

, on Twitter: @angee, and find Angela on Pinterest, too.

Get coaching, and build your skills at Angela’s online store.

Write a Novel With 8-Hour Wins

Write a Novel With 8-Hour WinsYou want to write a novel, or you’re already writing a novel… Either way, you want to complete your novel. Not only do you want to complete it, you want to write a sizzling page-turner which has readers jumping onto Amazon to leave you 5-star reviews. (Yes I know… unlikely. But you can dream. :-))

You can do it in eight hour sessions, as we describe in 8-Hour Wins:

You want to write your novel as an 8-Hour Win. That’s impossible, isn’t it? Maybe not. Here’s all you need to do, if you can write 1,000 words in an hour — serialize your novel. Then write each episode as you would an 8-Hour Win.

In this case your 8 hours would become 10 or 20 hours or more, but that’s OK. “8-Hour Wins” is a framework you can use to write anything you choose — just create the project, and keep track of your time.

Does This Mean You Need to Sit Down for 8 Hours at a Time?

No. Here’s how 8-Hour Wins works:

  • Hour 1: get your idea
  • Hours 2 to 6: create!
  • Hour 7: edit your creation
  • Hour 8: sell it!

The framework exists so that you have a process, and a limit on your time. If you read my writing journal, you’ll notice that I schedule everything. And reschedule, because: Murphy’s Law.

Everything takes longer than you expect, and things go wrong. All the time. That’s perfectly OK. You just go to your schedule, and reschedule stuff. And yes, some nights I do end up working late because I have things I need to keep on track, but it’s all doable, as long as you have a framework.

Let’s say that you have just 30 minutes each work day to complete your novel. That’s 2.5 hours over the work week. If you can manage eight hours in week on your novel, you’d need to make up the 5.5 hours on the weekend. Let’s say that you manage three hours on Saturday, and 2.5 hours on Sunday… done. If you’re writing a novel, you’ll extend that process over several weeks.

Estimate how long it will take you. Writing and editing will take you longest. Getting an idea will take you no time at all – try using the story-starter concept here.

Can you use 8-Hour Wins to complete NaNoWriMo?

This year’s NaNoWriMo is almost upon us. Yes, you can use the process to get your novel written in a month. Keep the serial publication idea in mind. We talked about serial fiction strategies here, and said:

Each Episode Needs to Give Value: Create a Plot Arc, With Climax (Cliffhanger.)

Your challenge with serial fiction is to make each episode in the story satisfying. Yes, you want readers to read the whole thing. However, each episode has to deliver entertainment and value. So each episode has a throughline, with a setup, action, and climax.

The Magic Is You!

One student said the eight hour process was “magic.” There’s no magic. Just you, and a framework in which to work on your novel. As you start writing with the process, you’ll imagine that you have more time. Realistically, you don’t. But when you use the process, you feel as if you do.

Try it. More on 8-Hour Wins here.

, and on Twitter: @angee.

You can find Angela on Pinterest, and on YouTube, too.

Writing Fiction: Fast-Start for Stories

Writing Fiction: Fast-Start for Stories

Writing fiction is huge fun. Getting started on a story however can be a challenge. You want your story to be wonderful, and your story’s beginning to be irresistible. This means that you put huge pressure on yourself.

Take the pressure off. Look at it this way: it doesn’t matter where you start, you can always change it later. You almost certainly will change it later, so don’t sweat your story beginnings.

The easiest way ever to start your stories

Here’s the easiest way to start your stories, whether you’re starting a short story, or a novel.

Write a sentence. Kick the story off in any way you like. As I’ve mentioned in my writing journal, I’m writing an ebook of 25 Christmas stories. I want to experiment with several different genres, a few of which I’ve never written in before.

I’m writing the stories in my “spare” time, so I don’t have time to mess around, dithering about HOW I will begin the story.

I just start, without any goal in mind, or an idea in my head. I write a sentence, or two.


Her first Christmas alone. Totally alone.

Devon hated her father.

Sheryl had no choice.

I wrote the above sentences off the top of my head, without thinking at all. The sentences have something in common; they arouse the reader’s curiosity, and my own. I have no idea where I’m headed, so I just keep going, accepting whatever pops into my head.

Story-starter exercise

Set a time for five minutes. Here’s a simple online timer. Write a list of story-starter sentences, as above. Just write your sentences down the page, one after the other. Write as many as you can in five minutes.

Now choose one sentence. Set your timer again, this time for 25 minutes. Close your eyes for a minute or two, with your story-starter in mind. Can you see an image? Whether you  can or not, start the timer. Now start writing, and keep writing. Don’t take your fingers from the keyboard.

Turn Your Story-Starter Into a Novel, or a Short Story

How did you do? You’ve now got at least one character. Maybe you have three or more. It’s time to use the fiction writer’s favorite tool – “what if.”

Warning: you can keep writing if you don’t want to play “what if”, right this minute. If you’re writing a novel, keep going for 5,000 words. If you’re writing a short story, keep going for 1,000 words. NO MORE THAN THAT.

Here’s why you don’t just keep writing: you can end up with a horrible mess. This happens with pantsers who do NaNoWriMo. They tend to end up with messes – convoluted “novels” which are parts of novels, rather than a coherent story.

So, as soon as you can, play “what if”. Here’s a “what if” I could play with the Devon hated her father story starter.

  • What if Devon’s father is a ghost?
  • What if Devon lives in 1350, and her village is about to be engulfed by the plague?
  • What if Devon is an orphan?

Remember to carry on with your story-starter for 25 minutes or so, so that you have enough material to play what-if.

Here’s Neil Gaiman on what-if:

You get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions. The most important of the questions is just, What if…?

When you ask yourself questions, you can start to build your story people into real people, and you can slowly develop a plot.

You Can Use Story-Starters Whenever You Like

You ca use story-starters anytime you like. Just write a sentence, and keep going for 25 minutes.

Let’s say your story is rolling right along. And then your inspiration fizzles. You’re tempted to tell yourself that you’re “not in the mood” to write, right now. STOP! Load up your timer, and write a story-starter. Keep going for 25 minutes.

Now ask yourself some “what if” questions.

Just like magic, you’ll find that you’re inspired again, and are keen to keep writing.

Writing fiction is fun. Story-starters are a wonderful tool. Try a story-starter session today.

, and on Twitter: @angee.

You can find Angela on Pinterest, and on YouTube, too.

Fast Fiction Secrets: Outline for Emotion

Fast Fiction Secrets: Outline for Emotion

I’ve had some questions about how to write fast fiction: that is, how to write a novel or short story quickly, without ending up with a horrible mess. The answer: outline for emotion. If your story has emotional coherence, readers will forgive you almost anything because you’ve given them a wonderful experience.

The writers who’ve asked about this are doing NaNoWriMo in November, so I thought I’d share my response here. I talked about it a little in my writing journal entries.

Let’s say you’ve got an idea for a novel. Your heroine is an ordinary woman with an ordinary life. She wakes up one day to a complete nightmare. The house is empty, except for her personal possessions, her clothes, and her bed. Where’s her husband, and where are her children? This idea has hints of the movie Double Jeopardy, but whatever. :-)

Important: Think in Scenes

I like to write in scenes. I do a lot of ghostwriting of both fiction and nonfiction. Over the years, I’ve found that when I think and write in scenes, I can write well, and just get it done. :-)

So, once you’ve got your basic idea, start making a list of scenes. I use the cork board in Scrivener. A spreadsheet also works.

Outlining Your Scenes Helps You to Write Faster

It’s easy to shape an idea if you think in scenes. Fiction is all about emotions, for the writer, and the reader. Consider the emotions you want your reader to feel. Keep reminding yourself of the emotions as you write – this will soon become automatic. I’ve found that if I’m getting bored as I write, it’s always because I’ve lost the emotional thread. Throw in more conflict. Make your characters fight for what they want.

Tell yourself your story in a paragraph or two, then map the turning points. Your story will have several turning points, so you outline from point to point:

  • First turning point: after the setup (around chapter four, or scene four if you’re writing a shorter piece)
  • The midpoint
  • Three quarter point: you’re setting up the dark moment
  • The climax: the story’s final battle

Write quickly. Don’t think about it too much; you don’t know your characters yet. You’re just getting the bones of a story down. Think of this scene list as preliminary sketches. Nothing is set in stone.

Next, create character sketches of your primary two or three characters, with their emotional arcs. Each character starts off at point A. He ends his emotional journey at point J.

For example, in our story idea above, we’ve got our heroine, Madeline. At the beginning of the story she’s at emotional point A, the ordinary world if you’re using the Hero’s Journey. She loves her life with her family. She’s a little worried about her husband, Jack. He’s working long hours. In each scene, Madeline’s emotional arc develops a little more, as lies are exposed. Madeline’s lies to herself are exposed too.

When you’re creating character sketches, consider which events in a character’s backstory get him to emotional point A, and help him to build towards emotional point J.

Tip: forget creating character bios. No one cares if Madeline likes pizza. Focus on your character’s strengths and weaknesses. You need to know what they are, so you can build your scenes.

All Done? Outline a Scene Just Before You Start Writing

After you’ve developed some basic scenes and the turning points, it’s time to start writing. I outline each scene just before I write it. I decide what I want to have happen in the scene, and what I want the reader to feel — what emotions. (Write this down – making notes will help you later, in revision and editing.)

Then I write the first couple of sentences in the scene, and the final sentences. I zoom through the scene, writing as fast as I can. This usually means writing dialogue. Then I go back to the beginning and “paint” the scene. I build the scene up, adding as much or as little as I want to, in this draft.

Each scene will change your character’s emotions. Keep asking yourself what your character’s feeling, and then show the feeling. If a character surprises you with his reactions, that’s wonderful.

So, there we have it. You can write fast, and will create excellent fiction, when you outline for emotion.

, and on Twitter: @angee.

You can find Angela on Pinterest, and on YouTube, too.

photo credit: Olivander via photopin cc

Fiction Tips: Kill Your Backstory

Fiction Tips: Kill Your Backstory

NaNoWriMo is coming up, so over the next few weeks, until November 1, let’s look at some fiction tips which will help you to write a successful novel.

Not ready for NaNoWriMo? Writing fiction is huge fun, especially since you don’t need to write novels to sell. You can write novellas and short stories. When you get around to writing novels, and enter NaNoWriMo next year or the year after, you’ll have a much better understanding of craft.

Info dumping of backstory is a challenge for new authors, and some established authors too. There’s a solution. Kill it. You’ll write a better novel.

Kill Your Backstory

“Backstory” is everything that happens before your story starts. Let’s say you’re writing a “woman in jeopardy” mystery. Your heroine wakes up in the trunk of a car, bound and gagged.

Good going: it’s exciting, you’ve started in media res, so your readers will keep reading…. if you don’t mess it up.

Resist the Impulse to Explain

New writers start off great. They get the woman in the trunk of the car (or create some other hot action which starts things off.) Then they feel they need to explain who the woman is, and how she landed in the trunk of a car. They go on for pages and pages. RESIST! Please do not do this.

For one thing, your readers don’t care. They’re in your story, because you’ve done a good job getting them to empathize with your heroine’s plight. They want to know what happens next.

So tell them. Her captors lift her out of the trunk and dump her on the ground. They’re in the middle of nowhere. It’s dark. What does she see? What does she feel, when her captors start arguing about her?

Your explanations are backstory. You need to know the backstory, but your reader doesn’t. You may have heard that you should start slotting backstory into your novel after the setup, somewhere after the first few chapters. This can work, but honestly? It still bogs down the story. You want readers to keep reading, so only tell them what they need to know, when they need to know it.

Her captors slice through the cable ties on your heroine’s ankles. They’re still arguing. One guy punches the other. Your heroine takes off into the woods…

Do your readers need to know anything else at this stage? Maybe your heroine realizes who wants her dead, from what her captors said. Maybe she doesn’t. Either way, there’s no need to go into backstory at all.

At this stage, my students usually say something like: “Yes, but…” because they feel uncomfortable. Primarily, it’s because they haven’t prepared.

Here’s how to prepare. Write out your backstory, in a few pages. Summarize it. If you’ve been happily creating character bios, and other junk, stop it. Who cares what flavor of ice cream your main character prefers?

Remember, YOU need to know the backstory, but your reader doesn’t. He’ll pick it up as he reads. Avoid the temptation to dump information.

I like Jami Gold’s post on info dumps and how to eliminate them:

Move the Plot Along: Make the info dump relevant to the current scene and the characters in the scene—that way it’s not there only for the reader’s benefit.

Show two characters arguing about a point of information, a character realizing how some issue will affect them, etc.

Keep Telling Your Story: Move It Forward

So, our heroine’s running through the woods. She runs into a tree and knocks herself silly. Although her hands are tied, she manages to get up. She sees torchlight, and hears her captors blundering towards her. She knows she has to get away, or she’s dead.

Consider your reader. Has he stopped reading? Not a chance.

Moving it along: our heroine stumbles onward. She sees headlights, and reaches a road. She steps into the headlights of a car.

Keep moving it along: she’s rescued by _________ (fill in the blank), who takes her to ________ (fill in another blank.)

Keep it moving. If you want to explain something, don’t.

Read: How Do Other Authors Insert Backstory?

You are reading, aren’t you? If you’re writing, you need to read. Pay attention to how authors manage backstory in your genre. In some genres, like fantasy, you need to set up your world, so that readers know where they are, and what the rules are of this fantasy you’ve created.

However, don’t dump this stuff in. Show what the rules are, in action, and in conversation.

Here are the benefits of killing backstory:

  • Your readers keep reading, because they want to know what happens next;
  • You won’t get sidetracked writing material which bogs down your story;
  • You’ll write a better, more engaging novel (or short story).

Watch for more fiction tips to help you to get ready for NaNoWriMo.

, and on Twitter: @angee.

You can find Angela on Pinterest, and on YouTube, too.

Giggle: Funniest Novel Critique Ever

I’m glad I wasn’t drinking coffee when I start reading this blog post; it’s the funniest critique I’ve ever read.

Dear Dwight: A Critique Letter

“Your working title, All the President’s Beyotches: The Untold Story of Watergate, is intriguing and I know you’re very attached to it. Before you totally commit, I would suggest that you really hone in on who your audience is. I’m still struggling a bit with that. In your cover letter, you mentioned that you were targeting fans of historical fiction, fantasy, erotica, and fisherman. I wonder if you might be casting slightly too wide a net (no pun). Just food for thought.”

Love it. :-)


Book Plagiarism Pests: Be Aware, Be Safe

Book Plagiarism Pests: Be Aware, Be Safe

Book plagiarism… You’ve heard about it, but you never think it will happen to you. You’ve worked long and hard on your book. It’s published on Amazon, and the other book retailers. It’s available on the Kindle. Then someone tells you that your book’s been plagiarized.

It happened to Aubrey Rose:

Well, somebody stole my book. A kind fan pointed out that Clarissa Black’s book City Girl, Mountain Bear was similar to my novella City Girl, Country Wolf. Too similarThis “author” has taken my storyline and rewritten my book scene for scene, changing just enough to be able to get through Amazon’s plagiarism filters. Not a single sentence is the same, but the story is exactly the same. Check it out…

Thanks to The Passive Voice, for the link.

Rachel Ann Nunes’ book was plagiarized too. Rachel’s story is truly bizarre… When you read her entire blog post, you feel as if you’re in an alternate universe of the weird and insane. Kudos to Rachel for taking legal action — she’s running a GoFundMe campaign to help defray some of her legal expenses.

As Rachel says:

Plagiarizers know it costs authors time and money to defend their work, and they bet on us not having the resources needed to prosecute. So when David Farland (author of The Runelords series), approached me about creating a GoFundMe campaign to help with costs, I accepted his advice. Several other authors are also teaming up to spread the word.

Plagiarists rely on two things:

  • “The author will never know I stole his book” — huh. Readers are very, very perceptive, and they inform authors very quickly; and
  • “The author can’t do anything to me” — huh, again. You’d be surprised what an angry and determined author can do, especially with the help and support of others.

 Why do plagiarists plagiarize?

Simple answer: because they can, and because there’s money to be made. We live in a cut and paste world. It’s very easy to rip off people’s intellectual property, and make money doing it.

I visit outsourcing sites often, and you’d be amazed at the projects posted, asking for writers to “reword” something or other. This is what’s happened to Aubrey Rose. Someone’s reworded her book. Of course it’s plagiarism. I’ve no idea why the outsourcing sites allow such projects to be posted, and even less of an idea why writers demean themselves by taking on such gigs.

That said, it all comes down to money in the end.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Firstly, be aware that plagiarism happens. If it happens to you, don’t panic, and try not to be too upset. It’s challenging to keep your emotions in check, yes, but worthwhile. Try to be at least as cold, calculating and unemotional as the plagiarist.

Document EVERYTHING… it’s vital

Next, document everything. Save tweets, email messages, and everything you do from the moment you suspect plagiarism onwards. Create a folder on your computer. Take screenshots — use Jing, it’s free and very good.

Do you have a support network of other authors? Contact your network. No network? Do a search on Writers’ Cafe for authors who’ve been in a similar situation. Ask for advice. You’ll need to contact Amazon, and other book retailers where the plagiarist’s book is selling, so you can get it taken down.

Relax, relax, and relax some more. :-) You’re not the first author to be plagiarized, and you won’t be the last.

Again, to repeat: document everything you see online. This means where the plagiarist is selling his book, and anything you can discover about his identity. Take screen captures of everything, with the URLs. Stuff can vanish offline in a blink. So keep everything you find.

Start a log. Think ship’s log, with dates and times of action you take. To repeat once more… document everything.

Keep a cool head, and realize that other authors will help you. We all hate plagiarism. And if plagiarists become aware that they’re in for a world of problems when they plagiarize, they just might think twice.

Keep writing!

While you’re documenting, and kicking the plagiarist where it hurts, keep writing.

Focus on your current book. The big danger with stressful events is that you’ll stop writing. Keep working on your projects, as much as you can. Get lots of rest. This too will pass… Annoying as this event is, you’ll laugh about it a year or two from now, so try not to take it too seriously. Writing a book is what you do. You’ll write another book and another — don’t let the plagiarist take more from you.

, and on Twitter: @angee.

You can find Angela on Pinterest, and on YouTube, too.

Editing Fiction with Scrivener

Editing Fiction with Scrivener Editing fiction? I wrote about my editing process with Scrivener in my writing journal today.

Since I’ve also received questions about it, I’ll post the info here. I’m editing a novella. Unfortunately I got carried away, and wrote several thousand words more than I need. The novella’s rapidly rushing into novel territory. Not to worry.

By the way, this is my process, so if you’re new to Scrivener, please don’t think it’s the only way to edit. Scrivener’s endlessly fluid. You can use as many, or as few of the tools as you please. So if talk about Collections or Snapshots puts you off, don’t worry about it. You don’t have to use them.

Edit with Scrivener

1. Compile and read the project

Your project’s done. It’s time to take it out of Scrivener, to see what you have. I like to compile projects for MOBI (Amazon Kindle format) for a first read, but you can compile into PDF, or other formats. Your choice.

Why compile? So you can read without distractions, and can get a sense of the project as a whole. Stuff that needs to be cut will stand out.

2. Back to Scrivener: slash and prune

You’ve done your read-through. Now it’s time to clear away the undergrowth and prune. What needs to go? Go through it your novel or short story and slash everything you don’t need. Remember to take a Snapshot of each document before you wade in. You can take as many Snaphots as you like. Scrivener guru Gwen Hernandez on Snapshots:

A snapshot (Documents—>Snapshot—>Take Snapshot) is a record of the document as it is right now, that gets saved as part of the document’s meta-data. It’s a great way to keep track of different versions of a scene or section without muddying up your binder with versions. I rarely go back to an old version, but I like knowing I can find my original words, if necessary.

3. Oh, how sad… it’s a mess :-)

You’ll have a messy manuscript now. :-) Go through and add material as needed.  At this stage, don’t worry about spelling or grammar errors, or any fine tuning.

Fix holes in character development, and in your plot. Remember that you can split documents, to make it easier. I like to both split documents, and add new documents, so that I can add them to Collections.

I have a Collection for each main character, and for the plot. Here’s an article on Collections.

With Collections, you can focus on specific elements. You can create “automatic” Collections with searches, as well as your own Collections. Done deleting and adding? Check your character and plot arcs, in their Collections. You’ll need to add more material.

4. You’ve patched it all together

Final pass. Smooth out sentences, paragraphs and scenes.

If you’re sending your novel off to an editor, give it a final read-through. At this stage, fix egregious errors in grammar, but don’t go over-board.

There’s no need to get clever with word choices and phrasing — you may yet need to slash entire scenes, if not chapters.

You may not have an editor. If you don’t, and you’re doing the editing, go through the process above AGAIN.

This will be your second draft. Remember to take lots of Snapshots.

Whether you have an outside editor, or do all the editing yourself, you’ll know when the novel’s ready for your beta readers.

Forget about the novel for now — it’s time to start on your next novel, or write a short story.

, and on Twitter: @angee. You can find Angela on Pinterest, and on YouTube, too.

photo credit: Rakka via photopin cc

Write a Novel, or a Short Story?

Write a Novel, or a Short Story?

It’s been decades since writers could make money writing short stories. Even then in stories’ heyday it wasn’t especially lucrative. Writers writing for pulp magazines had to be prolific to survive. Several writers have asked me: “Should I write a novel, or a short story?”

I wrote about writing and selling short stories here, on the freelance writing blog.

“Should I write a novel, or a short story?”

Short answer: write a short story. You can always turn it into a novel later:

I recently completed a short story that I could easily turn into a novel. The story has three main characters. We meet another couple of characters, and we hear about several other characters.

Without bending my brain too much, I could easily expand the short story. I’d just need to give the main characters more scenes with each other, and with the minor characters too. Everyone has an agenda, so the all the characters’ conflicts could be developed.

I’d need to add many scenes. We looked at the number of scenes in short stories, novellas and novels. Currently my short story has seven scenes.

Kindle Unlimited — a “market” for your short stories

I’m publishing my writing journal each day, and wrote about Kindle short stories this morning. I mentioned Kindle Unlimited: “Readers can download ten ebooks at a time. Why not download a short story? They can finish a story quickly.”

Kindle Unlimited is very new. No one knows what the ramifications will be for authors. However, it may well be that short stories become more popular.

As I said in Short Stories Sell, no short story you write is ever wasted.

Use short stories to gauge the market: consider a story market research

I’m not taking on any new fiction ghostwriting projects. I’m completing the projects I’ve agreed to do. Next year, I’ll be focusing on fiction — short stories, and novels.

Before I write a novel, I’ll test the market with a short story. If the short story gains NO interest, that’s useful to know. It’s never been possible for authors to figure out what will sell before they invest weeks and months in novels.

An example. I’ve been thinking about a series of historical mysteries. Before I start the first novel in the series, I’ll publish a long short story on Amazon. If the story sells, then it’s worth writing the novel.

Ideas are easy. Writing a short story is easy, when you compare it with writing a novel.

So, to sum up: should you write a novel or a short story? Write a story first. Publish it, and see what happens. You can always turn it into novel later, or my preference — write a novel set in that world, if the short story sells.

You can never guarantee the success or otherwise of any project. Short stories can give you a hint of what might be successful.

And also…

Stuck on a novel? Publish it as a short story

One of my students hit the wall in her novel. That often happens. However, she was totally dispirited. I looked at what she had, and suggested that she could turn her unfinished novel into a short story. All she had to do was insert a scene at her current midpoint, and write the ending. She did. It’s selling. :-)

, and on Twitter: @angee.

You can find Angela on Pinterest, and on YouTube, too.

Writing Short Stories for Money: Series, Sales and Reviews

Writing Short Stories for Money: Series, Sales and Reviews


Thinking about writing short stories?

A new author asked me about writing short stories and self publishing on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. We had a long chat; it was fun. I hope it helped. Some questions came up which writers often ask, so let’s look at them.

1. “I Started a Series, I’m Bored. Do I Have to Continue It?”

No! Start something else. You need to be able to write with some pleasure, otherwise you won’t do it. You may get fresh inspiration within a month or two for your series, after you’ve written other material. Or you may not get back to the series for years.

Nothing you write is ever wasted. I grabbed a short story I got bored with a couple of years ago, and used much of it for another project. You’ll use the material sooner or later, if you keep writing.

Get excited about what you’re writing. Then it won’t seem like work.

This kind of question often relates to erotica, which some writers can write brilliantly. Others can’t. Or they can, but they can’t write in “edgy” sub-genres, which make the most money. Erotica abounds in sub-genres which skate close to the line. “Monster” erotica used to sell well, then Amazon and other retailers lowered the boom on it.

If you’re pushing yourself to write something risky, and are blocking because you’re wondering whether Amazon will look at your ebook and send it back to draft, or whatever, start something new.

Keep writing. Write every day. I’m publishing my writing journal, so you can see that I just keep going.

Boredom is a warning. If your stories are boring you, they’ll bore readers too. :-)

2. “Help! My Stories Aren’t Selling.”

Firstly, how many stories have you written? If you’ve written fewer than 30, keep going.

Next, read. Authors publish their ebooks as freebies. Download them, and read. Here’s Amazon’s Top 100 Free in Paranormal Romance, for example. Read widely.

You’re not reading to copy anyone. You’re reading to improve your writing, overall, by enhancing your command of language and by absorbing story structure. The best novelists and short story writers understand people too, so read the THE 50 BEST SHORT STORIES OF ALL TIME. You’ll find the stories in short story collections in your library. Older stories are available at Project Gutenberg – here’s Chekhov, for example. I regularly reread his: The Lady With the Dog, it’s wonderful.

Lastly, make some of your stories free. Christmas is coming up, so start writing some Christmas-themed stories now. Write as many as you like. Make at least one permanently free. Your freebie should help to sell your other stories.

3. “A Reviewer Said…”

Don’t read reviews, if you worry about what people say about your material. I recently coached a writer who panics over reviews. I suggested that he ask his wife to screen his reviews. She can then pass on anything she thinks will help him in his writing. We worked a little on his confidence too. :-)

If you want opinions on your work, get some beta readers for your stories; make sure they’re people who read in your genre. Pay attention to what they say, because it will be useful.

Onward. Writing short stories is amazing for one simple reason: you can make money writing short stories. That hasn’t been possible for decades. If you love to write, write on. :-)

Write Commercial Fiction

If you’re struggling with your writing, trading your hours for dollars, maybe it’s time you considered something different: write commercial fiction. Once written, your ebooks will sell for years…

Write Commercial Fiction

, and on Twitter: @angee.

You can find Angela on Pinterest, and on YouTube, too.