First Page Critique: Where to Start the Story – Secrets of the Home Wood

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

twilight forest moon


Below if the first 400 words of an anonymous submission from a follower here at The Kill Zone. My feedback is on the flip side, but please share your constructive criticism. Let’s discuss this submission.


Secrets of the Home Wood: The Escape
Why didn’t he just stay by the creek? It was quiet and peaceful there. The trees that hung their heads together over the creek, were enormous in girth and mossed with age. He used to like sitting with his back against a willow on the creekside, but lately that just led to staring through the swaying branches to the path on the other side of the creek. And then his thoughts would turn bitter as they circled for the hundredth time. How could they go back without me? Dang summer cold. He was better now. Maybe he could just go through and surprise them. Yeah, that would go over well.


Why didn’t he just stay by the creek? He had flung a stone into the creek and as he watched it ricochet off the rocks and sink beneath the water, he was reminded of the battle. He had looked forward to going back with his parents to help set up the King’s library and the school. He earned the right. Tugg told him he had become a warrior…well, a furless warrior were the exact words, but that didn’t change what he’d done. He felt different over there. He felt he could do things and be what he couldn’t at home. He had saved his friend Pugg’s life and then held his head while he died. He had fought in a battle to save a kingdom and on this side of the portal he had to go back to being ordinary Jon. A kid with responsibilities on the family farm and a best friend he could no longer share everything with. And now look where that had gotten him!


“Jon! What is the matter with you?”


Marly stood with one hand on his arm and the other fisted on her hip. They each stood astride their bikes on the gravelled shoulder of the Concession Two road. Her green eyes sparked with hurt. A cool, late summer breeze trickled between the mature trees that lined the road and lifted the red curls on her forehead. Something boiled in his gut when her next words were borrowed straight from his mother. “Have you lost your marbles?”


Jonathon jerked his arm out of his best friend’s grasp.


“What’s it to you?” He said rudely. He regretted his unfair words immediately when her bow-shaped mouth dropped into an “O”. Too late to take it back. He rode it out. “Look. I’ve got to go. Gramp’s waiting for me.”


Before he could say something else he’d be sorry for, Jonathon leaped onto the seat of his bike and pedalled furiously away. He gave himself a mental boot. How could he talk to his best friend like that? What was the matter with him? He should turn right around and apologize. No. He couldn’t. If he did that, he might break down and tell her the secret. He had thought that coming to see her would distract him from the misery of his thoughts but he didn’t take into account how well she knew him. She knew something was up with him. Marly had been bugging him more and more lately saying he had changed in the last couple of months, was different, holding something back. He couldn’t go back to her just yet.  He’d call her later after he had gathered his thoughts as his Mom would say.


The thought of his mother made him pedal even faster. They were all supposed to go back together. How could they go back without him? She and Dad had been gone two weeks. The burn of resentment flicked around his heart, again. He was supposed to go, too, dang it. And to make it worse, he couldn’t even let off steam to Marly about it. “Let off steam.” Worst. Now he was channelling his grandfather. 


Feedback:
The start of any story can be challenging for any author. We focus on the first 400 words in our TKZ review process, because industry professionals, who are inundated with countless submissions, can usually determine whether they will want to read more or reject the work that quickly.


In an excellent TKZ post, The Great Backstory Debate, by our own James Scott Bell, Jim talks about starting with a character in motion or a disturbance happening in the character’s world that jumpstarts the story at a key spot that should intrigue a reader. New writers may begin a story that way, but they often add back story dumps or too much introspection that “tells” the reader what is happening, to catch them up with events that have already happened. That’s what is taking place in this story.


The first two paragraphs are back story, until a voice calls out to Jon (a disturbance), saying, “Jon! What is the matter with you?” The author might have a better beginning at that point, but there is also “the secret” mentioned in the second to last paragraph. Depending on what the author has in mind, I could see Jon and Marly having a tense talk to lessen his internal monologue, where Jon is obviously holding back before he pedals away, with more of a hint as to the secret. 

NO EXPLANATION OR BACKSTORY. The author should have patience to reveal whatever the secret is in due time. The main thing is to STICK WITH THE ACTION and get the reader caught up in the MYSTERY ELEMENTS of what Jon is keeping from Marly and why his family might have left him behind because of it.


DIALOGUE can lessen the introspection and minimize the author’s tendency to add what Jon knows from his past. Force Jon to stay in the moment with Marley and only allow the reader to glimpse his reticence to talk, so the reader might wonder why. Or have him wanting to race off to stop his family from leaving him behind, if that is part of the story. SHOW DON’T TELL what is truly happening and wait to reveal the mystery later.


ADVERBS –  During my edit process, I look for adverbs, generally words that end in LY. If a sentence is worded correctly, to convey the author’s intent, an adverb is redundant and unnecessary. Here’s an example from the submission: “What’s it to you?” He said rudely. He regretted his unfair words immediately… In this example, the word ‘rudely’ is redundant because the snappy remark from Jon is indeed rude, plus he regrets saying it immediately. Overuse of adverbs can be seen as weak writing in the eyes of industry professionals.



HOUSEKEEPING – There are typos in this short intro. I’ve highlighted the misspellings in yellow. My Word software caught the errors and underlined them in red. Authors should use the benefits of this type of software application. Submissions to industry professional should be error free. Don’t give them an easy reason to say no. I also wasn’t sure if the names TUGG and PUGG were the same character, yet with a misspelling. Reading the work aloud could help catch errors like this.


That’s my overview of the submission from this brave author. Please share your thoughts to help with ideas on how to improve this introduction.

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Seasons Greetings

AWREATH3It’s Winter break here at the Kill Zone. During our 2-week hiatus, we’ll be spending time with our families and friends, and celebrating all the traditions that make this time of year so wonderful. We sincerely thank you for visiting our blog and commenting on our rants and raves. We wish you a truly blessed Holiday Season and a prosperous 2015. From Clare, Jodie, Kathryn, Kris, Joe M., Nancy, Jordan, Elaine, Joe H., Mark, and James to all our friends and visitors, Seasons Greeting from the Kill Zone. See you back here on Monday, January 5. Until then, check out our TKZ Resource Library partway down the sidebar, for listings of posts on The Kill Zone, categorized by topics.

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The Thrill Is On

Robert Benchley, the famous wit and charter member of the Algonquin Round Table, attended a Broadway premiere in 1926. The play was The Squall and took place in the South Seas. But the dialogue, especially the island dialect, was abysmal. At one point during the first act a native girl ran onstage and threw herself at the feet of a man, and cried, “Me Nubi. Nubi good girl. Me stay.”
Benchley could take no more. He stood up and said aloud, “Me Bobby. Bobby bad boy. Me go.” And he left the theater.
Which brings me to the thriller. What is the secret? It’s writing something that gets the exact opposite reaction as Mr. Benchley’s. It is a full-on, grab-you-by-the-shirt experience that doesn’t let up until the end.
Not an easy thing to do. Not always an easy thing to find.
But what if you could find 8 of them? In one place? For less than a buck?
It’s my great pleasure to announce this astounding deal for thriller fans. Thrill Ride: 8 Pulse-Pounding Novels is a “boxed set” of reading pleasure from tested veterans of the thrill.
And yes, for only 99¢ you get the following full-length thrillers:
Blind Justice  by James Scott Bell
Sidetracked by Brandilyn Collins
Double Vision by Randy Ingermanson
The Blade by Lynn Sholes and Joe Moore
The Roswell Conspiracy by Boyd Morrison
The Killing Rain by P.J. Parrish
Desecration by J. F. Penn
The Call by Kat Covelle
New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry wrote the introduction. It begins, “There’s a maxim in this business: a thriller must thrill. The story must make the pulse quicken, the eyes widen, the fingers continually turning pages. At the end of each chapter the only thought the reader should have is ‘I need to read just a little more.’ “
That’s the kind of book you’re going to find in this collection.
Some of you may already own one or two of these titles. Well, it’s still a great deal, wouldn’t you say? And that’s the point: all of the authors here are into giving you, the reader, a great set at an amazing price.
It’s a venture in cooperative marketing. That’s what’s so amazing about the ebook boom. We can do things like this, and it’s the consumer who reaps the benefits. I’m on record as saying it’s the best time on earth to be a writer. Well, let’s add to that: it’s the best time on earth to be a reader, too.
About the authors:
Joe, P.J. and I camp out right here on TKZ. Lynn, of course, is Joe’s partner in thrills.
Boyd and Kat (pen name of Kathleen Pickering) are TKZ alums.

J. F. Penn is one of indie publishing’s mega-stars.
Brandilyn and Randy are good friends of mine, award-winning writers who have proven their thriller bona fides over and over.
And now here we all are, together, for you––the fans of thrilling fiction.
I hope you’ll pop over and buy a copy today. And let us hear from you, especially if we’ve kept you from sleeping…
Here are the links:


From all of the Thrill Ride authors, thank you for your wonderful support!
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Give it Up or Suck It Up

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane




This anonymous question was submitted to our blog. I thought I would attempt an answer and would love it if everyone could share their own answer.
“When you were at your lowest point and about to give up writing fiction, what pulled you through?”

I distinctly remember this low point. Ironically it came after a huge high. Go figure. I’d been working full time in the energy industry, doing a demanding job with travel, and had been writing for 3-4 hours every night (much longer on weekends). I did this grueling schedule for 3 years and it felt as if I worked two full time jobs at the same time.

I had joined a writer’s group, attended conferences & craft workshops, entered national writing contests, and submitted proposals to agents and editors with countless rejections. Mind you, I’d been named winner or finalist in half the contests I entered and I’d been receiving “good” rejections. The ones with handwritten notes or encouragement to resubmit from editors and agents, and I had 7 full requests out at the time. This kind of feedback requires risk. A writer has to dare to put their work out there for public scrutiny and rejection in order to learn and open your mind. Here’s an excellent post from TKZ’s James Scott Bell on the importance of Rhino Skin.

With every one of these aspiring author stories, there often comes tantalizing peaks along with devastating emotional valleys. I had entered (for the first time) the Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) Golden Heart contest for aspiring authors and had been named a finalist. This is like the Oscars for RWA. This was the Mt Everest high I’d talked about.

A good friend of mine, who had also been a finalist that year, gave me good advice. She told me to simply focus on my writing (a new project) and not get caught up in all the hoopla of the event, like what formal dress I would wear, or my shoes, or hair. From her experience, she knew it was too easy to get distracted and that if I didn’t sell from this, I would have to find a way to carry on and keep going. As high as I’d been from the contest, I felt my hopes dashed when I didn’t sell by the time the event came around. (Often, expectations are the proverbial albatross.) My friend had been right. I had to focus on what was important.

What got me through the crashing low after such a Rocky Mountain High was one question. I asked something that would change how I looked at my writing from there forward. “Would I still write if I never sold?” When I answered with an enthusiastic “YES,” I knew why I wrote. I wrote for the passion of the process and the love of storytelling, my way. I had tapped into a form of self-expression, creating something from nothing, that I hadn’t experienced any other way. The love of writing and reading had been with me since I was a child. It would always be a part of me.

Writing has elevated my quality of life. It’s changed me forever and in that moment, the burden of expectation (something I had no control over) was lifted. After I’d let go of the Must Sell mentality, it wasn’t long after that I sold big. My first sale story is here at this LINK. Yes, I sacrificed a body part to sell. But after I finished “No One Heard Her Scream,” I knew it would sell. Don’t ask me how I knew. I just did. Who needed pain killers when the euphoria of writing had me walking on clouds?

In that stage of my writing journey–after I’d rediscovered the joy–I focused on the craft of writing and forgot about what was popular or what some publishers were wanting in their detailed submission guidelines. I never was one to worry over or chase trends. I had my day job. I treated my writing as something I did because I loved it. Writing still brings joy to my life and I continue to write the stories I want to read.

I’d love to hear from others in our TKZ family. What gets you through the slumps? What keeps you going?

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Seasons Greetings!

It’s Winter break here at the Kill Zone. During oAWREATH3_thumb[1]ur 2-week hiatus, we’ll be spending time with our families and friends, and celebrating all the traditions that make this time of year so wonderful. We sincerely thank you for visiting our blog and commenting on our rants and raves. We wish you a truly blessed Holiday Season and a prosperous 2014. From Clare, Jodie, Kathryn, Kris, Joe M., Nancy, Jordan, Elaine, Joe H., Mark, and James to all our friends and visitors, Seasons Greeting from the Kill Zone. See you back here on Monday, January 6. Until then, check out our TKZ Resource Library partway down the sidebar, for listings of posts on The Kill Zone, categorized by topics.

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A Kill Zone Exclusive – The Show & Tell Book – Guest Photographer William Greiner

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I am so happy to have photographer William Greiner as my guest today. I am one of the lucky authors who had an opportunity to contribute to his book – Show & Tell – a beautiful hardbound book that combines his photographs with short stories from authors with names you will recognize. The book comes from UL Press (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press) and is available now at this LINK

Below is the page image of the photo I wrote about in my story – On Her Special Day. I wanted you to see the fine quality of this book. I’ve ordered some for Christmas gifts and can’t wait to read what the other authors wrote. Welcome, William!

Show & Tell-show and tell, show & tell, william greiner
Cover – Show & Tell
photo (2)
On Her Special Day by Jordan Dane

So why is a book titled SHOW & TELL being blogged about on The Kill Zone?

First, the premise was to give a group of fiction writers (In this case 28 in total, including 6 TKZ writers), a photograph without any information about the image and ask each to make up a story about that image. The resulting stories are fascinating, entertaining and thrilling.

John Ramsey Miller, John Gilstrap, Joe Moore, Jordan Dane, Joe Hartlaub and James Scott Bell, amongst others, apply their writing skills to bring a story to every image.

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“A Blur of Motion” by John Ramsey Miller

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“The Touch” by John Gilstrap

The idea for this book came to me many years ago after doing a print trade with another photographer. In conversation, it somehow became apparent that this other photographer had a complete different take and understanding of my photograph than what it meant to me. It made me realize we all bring our own notions, expectations and experiences to what we view.

To see what your favorite TKZ author sees & tells, order SHOW & TELL from UL Press, hardbound, 28 photographs accompanied by 28 stories, 183 pages, $35. To order: click this LINK.


William Greiner is a photographer and artist, living in Baton Rouge , LA. For more on our guest, click HERE.

For Discussion: Have you ever seen a photograph that inspired you to write about it? Tell us about it.

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Do You Know What You Want to Say?

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell


“If you want to send a message, try Western Union.” – Samuel Goldwyn
Do you send a message in your fiction? Nothing wrong with that. You can’t read Atlas Shruggedor On The Road or To Kill A Mockingbird without picking up that the writers had something on their minds that drove them in the writing. And each of those books still sell tens of thousands of copies per year.
But good old Sam Goldwyn knew that if you get too didactic, the story suffers. You have to let the characters live and breathe and act like real people in response to the story elements. You don’t want to manipulate them so much that the reader thinks you’ve moved from storytelling to sermonizing.
Still, at the end of any book or story, an author will have left something for the reader to think about. It can’t be helped. That’s the nature of story.
Which bring us to Theme.  Theme (or as I call it, Meaning) is the “big idea.” It is what emerges once the central conflict is resolved. The famous writing teacher William Foster-Harris believed that all great stories could be explained in a “moral formula,” the struggle between sets of values:
Value 1 vs. Value 2 => Outcome.
You plug in your values thus:
            Love vs. Ambition => Love.
In other words, the value of love overcomes in the struggle against ambition. If one were writing a tragedy, the outcome would be the opposite, with ambition winning, but at the cost of lost love.
Writing teacher Lajos Egri posed a similar idea in The Art of Dramatic Writing. He called it the “Premise.” It is expressed in a moral formula as well, as in Justice overcomes deceit.
The question today, writer, is whether you are being intentional about your theme.
Not all writers know their theme when they start writing. They have characters and a plot idea, and they let the writing unfold as it will. They may not think about theme at all. They may simply write about characters involved in the struggle of the plot, knowing that struggle will eventually end. Most of the time that’s how I approach it in my own writing. But I do, at some point, identify what it is my emerging story is trying to say—because, of course, it’s really mein there somewhere.
But even writers who say they never think about theme end up saying something. It can’t be helped. All stories have meaning, whether the author is purposeful about it or not. Why? Because readers are wired for it. We are always looking for meaning, trying to make sense of the world. Indeed, one of the reasons we have storytellers is to help our fellow creatures through the mythical dark forest, otherwise known as life.
Perhaps, then, it would be wise to be a little more conscious of your theme. Whether you start out with one or find it along the way, try to identify the unifying message. Then you can go back in the revision process and weave symbols, metaphors and thematic dialogue into the tale.
It also helps to know your theme in case you get questions. I wrote a short story that stoked some controversy among a section of my reader base. I got a few emails, and one consternated face-to-face query, asking why I wrote such a disturbing and eerie tale.  
I responded that I was actually trying to write a profoundly moral tale. One that had a very clear meaning (to me, at least). I shaped the plot precisely to be disturbing (think Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents)  because the theme would not be as powerfully presented otherwise.
I would be very interested in seeing if you find the meaning I intended. That’s why I’ve made the story, “Autumnal,” free on Kindle today through Wednesday. I’d love it if you got it, read it, and told me via Twitter what you think the meaning is. Use #Autumnal for the discussion.
As for you, dear author, talk about this in the comments: Do you know what you want to say when you start a story? Are you a “theme-first” kind of writer? Or do you prefer to let the characters duke it out and leave it at that?

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Key Book Production Costs for Self-Published Authors

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane




After James Scott Bell’s excellent post “We Are All Long Tail Marketers Now”, several side discussions took place in the comments regarding my self-published novel – BLOOD SCORE now available through the Amazon Kindle Select Program (my first time using this program). I’ll have the book discounted until August 1. (I love how the TKZ community gets involved with each post. Thank you.) Questions came up about my editing and production experiences with this novel since it is outside my traditionally published works.

As I mentioned in my comments on Jim’s post, the business end has always been a drain for me. Self-pubbing involves more than promo. It’s production of the actual book and the promo is ongoing (as it is for me with traditional publishers too), but with indie I’m in control of my production schedule, retail pricing and subrights decisions, and can capitalize on promo ops when I want to. Being a hybrid author, straddling traditional and indie publishing, gives me more options and many “irons in the fire.” I have many more points mentioned in another post I did on the subject. On my group YA blog ADR3NALIN3, I did a post on the “Ten Reasons Why I Am Self-Publishing.” 

I wanted to dip my toe into the waters of indie with a non-fiction book as well as a short story anthology so I would know what was involved in production and to build up my contacts for service providers. My upcoming full-length novel project will be more about learning promotion. I’ve got loads of personal bookmarks for service providers, but the marketing side of the business needed work on my part. I’ve created a Self-Pub Resource tab on my YA blog-Fringe Dweller. I hope to update it as I go along. For now it encompasses review sites for digital books. That resource tab will be a work in progress as I go.

Basically, here are the indie production costs as I see them:

1.) Edits: $500-$1800+ – This is a tough one to estimate, but important. I’ve seen this cost higher, depending on if you need a book doctor or not. It depends on how much work needs to be done and who you use as editor. A good editor is worth their weight in sales, so shop wisely. Beta readers will only get you so far. Having said that, I’ve had some good and terrible copy editors on my traditionally published books. Being traditionally pubbed does NOT guarantee you will get a good one. At least with indie books, you can make the decision on who to use on current and future projects. 

For this project I used authors/editors Alicia Dean and Kathy Wheeler. They helped with formatting and editing and made that effort painless and fun.
 

2.) Cover $150-400 – This range depends if you are doing a version for print or just digital. The print design costs more because it involves the design of a spine and back cover. You can do a cheaper cover by merely paying for one digital image from iStock or some other provider and add font and do it yourself graphically (not recommended), but a cover needs to look good on a thumbnail and a bad design can kill sales. On BLOOD SCORE, I used Croco Designs and love Frauke Spanuth, the designer. I’ve used her for blog header designs and bookmarks and now covers. She’s a German designer who works for publishers too. Her costs are reasonable on all fronts and she’s easy to work with and fast, but there are many cover designers out there now. Look through portfolios to find one you like.

3.) Formatting $100-150 – You can do this yourself, but I’ve never tried it. There are software programs, but haven’t tried that either

4.) Promotion $50-Whatever – This is totally up to you. There are many free sites that promo ebooks now (that are focused on ereaders), but there are also bundlers who will charge you $50 or so to post promo to 45 sites, etc. I’m hoping to try this with BLOOD SCORE.

5.) ISBN #s – this is an investment for future books. I bought 10 numbers, which keeps the cost down. I think the individual book price is higher to retain your own ISBN#, or you can use the one that Amazon or others assign you for free, but I prefer to have control of my own ISBNs. So this ISBN cost can cost you nothing, unless you decide you want control like I did. So spread $250 across ten books if you retain your own ISBNs.

So all in, you might pay $800 – $2400 (excluding ISBN costs), but you can manage your price to earn 35% – 70% royalty with a better monthly cash flow where you can control the price and promo ops. Using a price of $0.99 you’d earn 35%, but $2.99 or better and your royalty would be 70%. For a novel length book, I might discount it to $.99 for a certain period on release, but then move it up to $4.99. Hard to say what breakeven would be without real sales figures behind it, but you can play with the math. 

$4.99 at 70% royalty, you’d have to sell 229 – 687 books to clear the cost range I mentioned. Mind you, this does NOT take into account any promo ad costs and assumes only one price at the higher royalty rate. If you were to move that price point to $2.99 at 70% royalty, your sales would have to be 382 – 1148 to breakeven.


A writer friend of mine shot me some real numbers. (I’m also on an indie writers loop where I hear lots of good info.) It takes having a number of good books to build up your “virtual shelf” of offerings and build your readership. Again, I repeat. Good books. But my crime fiction author acquaintance is seeing $7,000 – $10,000 per month for 8 novels or so, and this will grow as new material gets added. This author crafts a solid book and writes full time. 

For me, I like having traditional contracts to fill, but I want the more immediate cash flow too, rather than waiting for royalty statements every 9 months (by the time they reach you). (Antiquated accounting methods and reporting systems for traditional publishers, in a digital age when sales are more immediate through Amazon and other online retailers, are more things that I hope will change.)


The last thing I’d like to talk about is the value of “a la carte” subrights (ie foreign rights, audio, print vs digital). In many deals, these rights are lumped in and assumed to be part of the deal, but should this continue as advances drop? Or if advances drop, shouldn’t the royalty percentage increase to offset the lower upfront money? Subrights have value to the indie author. (Here’s a LINK to a post I did on self-publishing in audio, for example.) If an author gets an offer, but the advance is marginal or too low to tie up copyrights for years (something I am presently experiencing on my back list), do you have options? 


You can certainly turn the deal down. That’s one option. I did this with BLOOD SCORE when I got an offer to buy it from a big house. After my experiences, the offer wasn’t good enough to deal with the aftermath of a rights tie up into infinity. 

Even if an advance is $10,000-15,000/book, that might not be enough if the terms of the contract are onerous over the long haul. Successful thriller Barry Eisler turned down a deal from a traditional house for $500,000+. That boggled my brain, but no one knows the terms of that deal that made Barry change his mind. He’s a real marketing guru and has a solid readership. Deals are subjective.


These days this is a personal decision each author has to make, but if publishers would negotiate on terms, a marginal advance deal might work if the number of years for digital rights can be limited before they would automatically revert back to the author (ie 2-3 yrs only) or if UK rights were granted but digital rights in the US are retained. Some successful indie authors have retained digital rights, but sold print rights (ie John Locke to Simon and Schuster). With “out of the box” thinking and a little negotiating, some of these marginal deals can be done if the parties agree on specific terms, but I’m not sure traditional houses are open to such change yet.

Food for thought and discussion at TKZ:

1.) If an advance is too low to tie up copy rights, what terms do you think can be negotiated to make the deal happen? Do you think the publishing industry is changing in this regard?

2.) If you’re an aspiring author, would you sign a contract at ANY advance to be published, or do certain contractual terms matter to you?

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What Advice Would You Give to Young Writers?

By Jordan Dane
@JordanDane



Today I am presenting a workshop to the Creative Writing students at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). This is a free offering of like-minded authors getting together to share their thoughts on the publishing industry and the craft of writing. I plan on sharing my thoughts on the latest trends in publishing with a focus on the Young Adult and New Adult markets. I will also spend more time talking about author craft and the epiphanies I have learned through the books I’ve written. Each book teaches you something different, right? Writing is the best way to learn those things, mostly through trial and error when you learn best from your mistakes.

I also want to spend time talking about the writer’s life and the discipline to accomplish daily goals. Usually life, the day job, and other obligations can force you to set aside your passion to write, but if it’s important to you, I say make time for it, even if that’s only a page a day.

The hardest thing I will broach is the crazy things happening in the publishing industry with regard to the changing contractual terms and what it means to self-publish or navigate the ebook services being offered by large publishers and agents, etc. But I find it hard to stop the long list of warnings that I would want them to be aware of so they don’t sign their copyrights away for the life of their book, simply to get published. It’s a scary world out there in this interim phase while the industry is sorting things out. But I don’t want to scare them off either. So I am limiting my warnings to only the most treacherous ones that dangle like gems stones and look all polished and pretty, but have complications. Things like royalty value for digital books, the ala carte subrights menu, rights reversions, and what agents and publishers are offering that could be troublesome. When the goal is to get them to incorporate writing into their daily life, or to nurture something that could become a passion later in life, I don’t want to discourage them from the start.

When I talk to young writers, I want to simply encourage them to write and recognize that if they have the drive and passion for writing, they should write whether they get published or not. I remember how important reading and writing was for me in school and how it stayed with me for my whole life. But first comes the desire and getting hooked on it. It’s a quality of life thing. I usually encourage them to keep a journal of their thoughts or characters they want to develop, or keep a file of ideas for future books. I will share James Scott Bell’s wonderful TKZ post on how to write a short story or share one of my favorite Joe Moore posts on editing your work in Writing is Rewriting. There are so many posts that I’ve found useful at TKZ that I’m still pinching myself that I am a member here.

But my question to all of you is – what advice would you give to a young writer? Someone who is in college or high school and has the writing bug? Everyone here at TKZ would have something to offer young writers. What would you tell them?

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Put Your Stamp On Everything You Write

James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

We had some great comments on my post about Lee Marvin and writing your truth. I just finished watching Cat Ballou again, and I have to say Marvin’s Best Actor Oscar was well deserved. Remember, he wasn’t up against some powder puffs. His competition that year was Richard Burton, Laurence Olivier, Rod Steiger and Oskar Werner.
But Marvin deserved the gold statuette because, as the old actor Edmund Kean said on his deathbed: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”
Marvin’s portrayal of the drunken gunfighter Kid Shelleen required just the right touch, and boy did he have it. Then I watched The Killers, a 1964 crime pic with Marvin playing a hit man (targeting one Ronald Reagan in his last movie role). In what could have been a standard-issue performance, Marvin put unique spin on the role and gave another great performance.
Whatever you write, you must put your particular stamp on it. Do that, and you can write great stories.
I mean it. Your category romance can be great for its genre. Or your police procedural. Or your vampire novel. Anything. But it requires more than giving us what we’ve seen before. 

Stamp is another word for voice. It’s that indefinable something that readers (unconsciously) and agents/editors (consciously) look for in a writer. 
How do you find it? Let me suggest the following (with apologies to Sue Grafton):
S is for Self – Look within before you start writing anything. Have an emotional connection to the material. Your own wiring creates the hum in your voice. Don’t ever write only to “sell.” Readers can sense that a mile away. 
T is for Training – It takes skill to put yourself on the page in a way that communicates. That’s why I call structure “translation software for your imagination.” Without it, you frustrate rather than capture readers.  Craft comes from practice and study. Produce the words! But also have a systematic program set up for yourself to keep learning how to make your words more effective.
A is for Audacity – Don’t be afraid of pushing yourself. Take risks in your writing. Go where the fear (or at least, the uncertainty) is. See what happens in the dark corners. Make life unbearably hard on your characters. You can always revise later, but playing it safe up front leaves potential gold in the ground. 
M is for Moments – Great fiction is about great moments. Clarice Starling’s first encounter with Hannibal Lecter. Katniss Everdeen singing a lullaby to the dying Rue. That carriage ride in Madame Bovary. Get to the big moments in your story and overwritethem. Don’t hold anything back emotionally. When you revise, that’s when you shape the moment by trimming or nuancing.
P is for Passion – Care about what your story is really about. You might not be able to sense it at first, but it’s there (we call this theme or premise). Look deep into your characters’ motives and yearnings. Including the bad guys. Justify everyone’s position as they fight it out. The emotional cross-currents you create will enchant your readers. 
Which brings me to my new release: FORCE OF HABIT 2: AND THEN THERE WERE NUNS.

This is the second novelette in my series. What is my stamp on this? Why am I writing about a nun who kicks butt?
For me, it started with the concept, which delighted my writing Self. Delight is a good thing to have when you write. Especially when your aim is entertainment. 

Training: A novelette is short form (about 15k words) and I’ve been studying that form as the e-book revolution has taken off. All writers now should be producing short form work in addition to full length novels. 

It was Audacious. Risk was involved. I did not know enough about nuns when I started. But I found a couple of experts (i.e., nuns who were willing to talk to me) for research. I wanted to be respectful and not devolve into a cartoon. And writing from the POV of a thirty-year-old former child star who went into the devoted life was a cool challenge.

The Moments I wanted to write were, first, the fight scenes. Also, there’s a wonderful moment in FORCE 2 that came out of the blue for me, so I just wrote it to see what would happen. Then beta readers told me they loved it. Thus, the wonderful alchemy of “the boys in the basement” worked again. (Hint: a celebrity is involved).  

And Passion. I’ve always been interested in things philosophical and theological—the big questions of life. And in these stories I stumbled upon an issue: the use of violence to stop evil. Talk about something that is on a lot of minds these days! In the Catholic tradition there is a long-standing debate over the “just war.” Well, I brought that down to the personal: what if a nun could stop someone from doing evil by laying them out cold? And found out she was good at it? Indeed, what if part of her enjoyed it, while the other part wondered if she was entirely normal?
So that’s my stamp. When I write anything, from the fun of FORCE OF HABIT to the suspense of DON’T LEAVE ME, I try to make this connection to the material.
So what about you? What does your writing stamp look like? Do you think about it before you write? Or do you find it as you go along? 

And: are you taking enough risks?
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FORCE OF HABIT and FORCE OF HABIT 2 are both priced at 99¢. Enjoy!

FORCE OF HABIT Kindle

FORCE OF HABIT Nook
FORCE OF HABIT 2: AND THEN THERE WERE NUNS Kindle
FORCE OF HABIT 2: AND THEN THERE WERE NUNS Nook

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