Checklist to Publication

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

I started writing in one form or another over 30 years ago. It included book reviews, magazine articles covering professional audio and video and operational and tech manuals. As marketing director for an international manufacturer, I was required to generate corporate reports and business plans. Some have said that my first venture into fiction were my business plans.

In addition, I reviewed fiction for 3 newspapers in Florida. I constantly read action-adventure novels (Cussler, Clancy, Fleming) and fantasy (Peake, Tolkien, Brooks). The reason I eventually tried my hand at fiction was because I got tired of waiting for the next Clancy or Brooks novel to come out so I attempted to write stories that would fill in the gaps between their books. If you read any of my novels you’ll see elements of all these authors peek out from between the words.

One of my motivations in blogging at TKZ is to share what I’ve learned with other writers, especially those that are just starting out. I try to cover the stuff no one told me way back when. If I can reveal the answer to a point of confusion or suggest a tip to a writer that’s just starting out, maybe I can save him or her valuable time and even possible rejection.

So my writing 101 series continues today with a checklist to publication.checklist_cleaned

Your manuscript is finished. You’re ready to find an agent/publisher or to indie publish.

First, you need to define your audience. It’s important that you know what type of person or group will go out of their way to find and pay to read your book. What are the characteristics of your target reader such as their age, gender, education, ethnic, etc? Is there a common theme, topic or category that ties them together? And even more important, what is the size of your target audience?

For instance, if your book is a paranormal romance set in the future in which the main characters are all teenagers, is there a group that buys lots of your type of book? If not, you might need to adjust the content to appeal to a broader audience. Change the age of the characters or shift the story to present day or another time period. If your research proves that a large number of readers buy books that fall into that category, making the adjustment now could save you a great deal of frustration later.

Next, you need to define your competition. Who are you going up against? If your book falls into a specialized sub-genre dominated by a few other writers, you might have a hard time convincing a publisher that the world needs one more writer in that niche.

The opposite problem may occur if your genre is a really broad one such as cozy mysteries or romance. You’re going to have to put a unique, special spin on your book to break it out of the pack. Or accept the fact that the genre and your competition is a wide river of writers, and you only hope to jump in and go with the current. Either way, make the decision now, not later.

The next issue to consider is what makes your book different from all the others in your genre. Do your homework to determine what the characteristics are of books that your potential audience loves. This can be done online in the dozens of Internet writer and reader forums. And you can also do the research by discussing the question with librarians and books sellers. Once you know the answers, improve on what your target audience loves and avoid what they don’t. In the early stages of your writing career, don’t be shy in seeking advice. There’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Just keep in mind that you can’t time the market, meaning that what’s really hot right now might have cooled off by the time your book hits the shelves. The moment you sign a publishing contract, you’re still as much as 12-18 months behind what’s on the new release table right now. Indie publishing can help, but there’s a motto in the business that applies to publishing: First to market wins.

Another detail to consider in advance is deciding how you’ll market and promote your book. Sadly, this burden has fallen almost totally on the shoulders of the author and has virtually disappeared from the responsibilities of the publisher. Obviously with indie publishing, it’s all on the author’s shoulders. Start forming an action plan including setting up a presence on the Internet in the form of a website and/or blog, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. Also, is there a way to tie in your theme to a particular industry? How can you promote directly to your audience? For instance, if your romance novel revolves around a sleuth who solves crimes while on tour as a golf pro, would it be advantageous to have a book promotion booth at golf industry tradeshows? If your protagonist is a computer nerd, should you be doing signings at electronics shows? How about setting up a signing at a Best Buy or CompUSA? Follow the obvious tie-ins to find your target audience.

Writing is hard work. So is determining your target audience and then promoting and marketing to them. Like a manufacturing company, you are manufacturing a product. Doing your homework first will help avoid needless detours on the way to publication.

Any other “I wish I’d know that” advice?

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Action vs. Suspense

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

BREAKING NEWS: On the 15th of March, 44 B.C., a group of Roman Senators approached Julius Caesar while he sat on his golden throne, produced daggers and assassinated the emperor by stabbing him 23 times. His death paved the way for the Roman Empire and made his name a household word. Even now, Beware the Ides of March still carries a dark warning. Hopefully, everyone made it through the Ides of March unscathed.

A similar event occurred on the Ides of March, 2016. Yesterday, Barnes & Noble put the final kibosh on the future of the NOOK by giving customers a week to salvage their purchase content. NOOK sales decreased 33% for the quarter. Digital content sales were down 23%. Device and accessory sales down 44%. Online sales declined 12.5%. Kindle is now and always was the undisputed Lord Of The E-readers. And one Amazon to rule them all.

And now this.

I’ve found that one of the mistakes beginning writers often make is confusing action with suspense; they assume a thriller must be filled with it to create suspense. They load up their stories with endless gun battles, car chases, and daredevil stunts as the heroes are being chased across continents with a relentless batch of baddies hot in pursuit. The result can begin to look like the Perils of Pauline; jumping from one fire to another. What many beginning thriller writers don’t realize is that heavy-handed action usually produces boredom, not thrills.

When there’s too much action, you can wind up with a story that lacks tension and suspense. The reader becomes bored and never really cares about who lives or who wins. If they actually finish the book, it’s probably because they’re trapped on a coast-to-coast flight or inside a vacation hotel room while it’s pouring down rain outside.

Too much action becomes even more apparent in the movies. The James Bond film “Quantum Of Solace” is an example. The story was so buried in action that by the end, I simply didn’t care. All I wanted to happen was for it to be over. Don’t get me wrong, the action sequences were visually amazing, but special effects and outlandish stunts can only thrill for a short time. They can’t take the place of strong character development, crisp dialogue and clever plotting.

As far as thrillers are concerned, I’ve found that most action scenes just get in the way of the story. What I enjoy is the anticipation of action and danger, and the threat of something that has not happened yet. When it does happen, the action scene becomes the release valve.

I believe that writing an action scene can be fairly easy. What’s difficult is writing a suspenseful story without having to rely on tons of action. Doing so takes skill. Anyone can write a chase sequence or describe a shoot-out. The trick is not to confuse action with suspense. Guns, fast cars and rollercoaster-like chase scenes are fun, but do they really get the reader’s heart pumping. Or is it the lead-up to the chase, the anticipation of the kill, the breathless suspense of knowing that danger is waiting just around the corner?

Do you like the anticipation of action more than the action itself?

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Plot Elements Matter

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

When you write a story, whether it’s short fiction or a novel-length manuscript, there are always two major components to deal with: characters and plot. Combined, they make up the “body” of the story. And of the two, the plot can be thought of as the skeleton, the structure on which the story is built. Plot can be defined as the series of events that move the story forward; the network of highways the characters follow to reach their goals.

When it comes to building your plot, nothing should be random or by accident. It may appear random to the reader but every turn of the plot should be significant and move the story to its final conclusion. Every plot element, whether it deals with a character’s inner or outer being should contribute to furthering the story.

In order to determine the significance of each plot element, always ask why. Why does he look or dress that way? Why did she say or react in that manner? Why does the action take place in this particular location as opposed to another? If you ask why, and don’t get a convincing answer, delete or change the plot element. Every word, every sentence, every detail must matter. If they don’t, and there’s a chance they could confuse the reader or get in the way of the story, change or delete.

Your plot should grow out of the obstructions placed in the character’s path. What is causing the protagonist to stand up for his beliefs? What is motivating her to fight for survival? That’s what makes up the critical points of the plot—those obstacles placed in the path of your characters.

Be careful of overreaction; a character acting or reacting beyond the belief model you’ve built in your reader’s mind. There’s nothing wrong with placing an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation—that’s what great stories are made from. But you must build your character in such a manner that his actions and reactions to each plot element are plausible. Push the character, but keep them in the realm of reality. A man who has never been in an airplane cannot be expected to fly a passenger plane. But a private pilot who has flown small planes could be able to fly a large passenger plane and possibly land it. The actions and the obstacles can be thrilling, but they must be believable.

Avoid melodrama in your plot—the actions of a character without believable motivation. Action for the sake of action is empty and two-dimensional. Each character should have a pressing agenda from which the plot unfolds. That agenda is what motivates their actions. The reader should care about the individual’s agenda, but what’s more important is that the reader believes the characters care about their own agendas. And as each character pursues his or her agenda, they should periodically face roadblocks and never quite get everything they want. The protagonist should always stand in the way of the antagonist, and vice versa.

Another plot tripwire to avoid is deus ex machina (god from the machine) whereby a previously unsolvable problem is suddenly overcome by a contrived element: the sudden introduction of a new character or device. Doing so is cheap writing and you run the risk of losing your reader. Instead, use foreshadowing to place elements into the plot that, if added up, will present a believable solution to the problem. The character may have to work hard at it, but in the end, the reader will accept it as plausible.

Always consider your plot as a series of opportunities for your character to reveal his or her true self. The plot should offer the character a chance to be better (or worse in the case of the antagonist) than they were in the beginning. The opportunities manifest themselves in the form of obstacles, roadblocks and detours. If the path were straight and level with smooth sailing, the plot would be dull and boring. Give your characters a chance to shine. Let them grow and develop by building a strong skeleton on which to flesh out their true selves.

When you begin working on a new story, do you develop your plot or characters first? Do you believe that a book can be primarily “plot driven” or “character driven”?

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My Top 12 Most Common Writing Obstacles a Writer Faces

Jordan Dane 
@JordanDane 

squirrel

Every author has their own personal list of obstacles they have faced or are still confronting. Obstacles do not go away, no matter on what success level you are. These are mine, but I would like your input. Share your thoughts on my list or add to my list with experiences of your own.

1.) Perfectionism – Every one wants their work to be perfect. Perfection simply does not exist. Give yourself permission to write poorly. That’s the only way you will see improvement. Don’t judge your success by others or be envious of another writer’s success.That’s a waste of energy and can add stress. Find the internal motivation to improve and strive to be the best writer YOU can be.

2.) Lack of Productivity – Life gets in the way. Spouses, work commitments, children’s needs, etc. If writing is important, an aspiring author will squeeze out time for it. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar (RIP) motivated me when he said he wrote his non-fiction book doing it a page a day. If you keep to a schedule like that, you will make progress and theoretically get to the end. Make it happen.

3.) Lack of Confidence – It’s hard to be driven with passion to write and yet not know if you can actually do it. It can feel impossible to write something and expose yourself to criticism by showing your work to someone else or to a fellow writers’ group, but the more you do it, and the more you study your craft, you will see improvement. Any confidence you have must come from within. Nurture it. It’s there. Make it grow.

4.) Listening to Naysayers – Everyone has advice on a topic they have no experience with. It’s rare that people who say “I’ve always wanted to write a novel” have actually even started one, much less finished one. Yet that doesn’t stop them from shelling our advice. Some advice I got was: write what you know, write a shorter story because it’s easier, write for a house that lists what they’re looking for in great detail (ie category romance) so you don’t have to think too hard. Surround yourself with positive people and those who support your writing endeavors.

5.) Putting Too Much Into Writing Contest Feedback – Generally I found contests to be a good experience. They got me noticed and looked good on my writer resume, but you have to take them with a grain of salt.

As I studied the craft of writing, I entered various national writing competitions to see how my work stacked up. These were mainly through the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and their many opportunities to compete. There was a rush when I received word that my entries were named a finalist. Even my first entry had some success and the first time I entered the Golden Heart contest for aspiring authors in the RWA, I was a finalist. These things can go to your head and you have to stay focused on your objectives. Good feedback and negative feedback can have an effect on you, just as good or negative reviews can. Keep things in perspective.

In contests you get lots of judges’ comments and editor/agent comments when you final, but you have to take whatever works for you and disregard the rest. You must develop a sense of your voice as a writer and not chase every suggestion, otherwise you will lose your instincts by constantly needing reassurance you’re on the right track.

6.) Taking Advice from Other Authors – We offer our views on TKZ, basically our opinions and what has worked for us about craft, for example. Some authors overly stress the importance of their opinion, especially at the local writer chapter level. I’ve attended local writer groups where someone who has never published, or even submitted a proposal, is giving out strict advice and members listen as if it’s gospel. Every author’s journey to publication is different. Success may not be totally involve skill, it might also be about LUCK. Be wary of people who give hard and fast advice, without being open-minded to alternatives.

7.) The “Rules of Writing” – This tags onto #6. Usually the authors who are biggest on hard and fast advice, they typically use words like “always” and “never” and speak in absolutes. The creative process is fluid and ever changing. Be daring and take risks with your writing. That’s how an author will stand out in the slush pile. You could have the idea for the next big thing. Go for it and believe and nurture your instincts.

8.) Agents & Editors – Rejection can sting

Editors – I’ve been blessed to have worked with some wonderful editors, those in the big publishing houses and those who work with indy authors to self-publish. But keep in mind, they are people who have no better crystal ball than you do about where this crazy publishing industry is going. They rely on authors to bring them ideas. If an editor sends you a rejection, it’s for the book you submitted and not a rejection of YOU as a person. Don’t take their rejection feedback personally, but keep an open mind about their criticism. When an industry professional gives you free advice, if you’re lucky enough to get a “good rejection letter” with feedback, respect their experience and consider it. In the end it is your decision to heed the advice or not.

Agents – Literary reps dole out similar advice, but they generally are looking for authors they feel will have a career and not just one project sold. They might be more critical for this reason. I submitted to my first agent 3-4 times and got rejected each time. When she finally saw something in my writing, it was because another of her clients recommended me. Don’t get discouraged. Again, rejection isn’t personal. It’s business.

9.) Chasing Writing Trends Can Be Distracting – In the course of my career, I’ve seen many authors who never finish a book because they are constantly entering contests for the first 25 pages or they are chasing trends to see what someone might like. Some of these authors had 40-50 started manuscripts. Crazy. FINISH THE BOOK. Believe in your project and see it through to the end. You’ll be like that dog in the animated movie, UP, that gets distracted with “Squirrel!” If you are an avid reader and a buyer of books, YOU are the market. Write what you want to read and believe in it. You could be the next big trend. As I said before, no one has a crystal ball on where this industry is headed. Push the envelope.

10.) Writing Different Genres Can Spread an Author Too Thin – I’ve tried writing different genres and I love doing this. The first step is to read a lot of books in the genre you want to tackle, but people will tell you, “Don’t write that. Why don’t you stick with romance, it’s what I read.” Whatever. I write cross genre stories or I attempt completely new genres to keep myself challenged. I don’t regret any of my decisions and thoroughly enjoy the challenge. One thing I will say, that I’ve learned from hard experiences, is that if you branch out from adult books into YA (Young Adult) books, you may struggle with branding and promo in a new arena with different readers. Joe Moore had an excellent post on Thurs for “What’s Your Brand?”

11.) Self-Publishing – Should I or Shouldn’t I? – This can be an obstacle for authors on whether they want to step out with either their back list books or their first novel. It takes work to self-publish – from developing the story, formatting the book for digital and print, developing a cover, writing your own book jacket synopsis, generating a marketing strategy and implementing it, etc. But I will say that the industry today is wide open with possibility because of self-publishing. I straddle the line between submitting to traditional houses and self-publishing so I do both, but the fact that we have options is a good thing.

12.) The Time Sucks of Promotion & Social Media – I love writing, but the business end of our industry is not my favorite thing. I struggle with doing it and am happiest when I’m writing, period. Promo and social media is a necessary evil and something every author must do, even if said author is pubbed by a big house. But I find it an ongoing obstacle. Plus all the online time, working on social media is a distraction from writing – a time suck. TKZ’s Clare Langley-Hawthorne had an excellent post on this topic called “Have You got Focus?”  Everything in moderation, people.

For Discussion:
This is my list of the top obstacles I have experienced. What about you? Care to comment on my list or add your own challenges? Fire away!

HotTarget (3)

My upcoming release is launching this month on Feb 18Hot Target – the first of three novellas in the new Omega Team series with Amazon Kindle Worlds and priced at a bargain of $1.99 ebook.

When Rafael reaches out to his sister for a job, Athena Matero—a founding member of the private security agency, the Omega Team—can’t help but be protective of her younger half brother. After a tragic hostage rescue and its aftermath, Rafael Matero turned into a solitary loner, only surfacing to fulfill his duties as team leader for an elite SWAT sniper unit with the Chicago Police. Athena decides to fast track his application by vetting him on the job—a mission to Havana Cuba to investigate a cold case murder.

But when the old murder is linked to the shadowy death of a powerful drug cartel leader, Rafael is burdened by a terrible secret from his past—and an unrelenting death wish—that puts him at dangerous odds with Athena and her team. He believes he’s beyond saving, but that doesn’t stop Jacquie Lyles from trying.

Jacquie sees something in Athena’s mysterious brother that touches her heart. Chivalrous and brave, Rafael is as rare as a unicorn in her life as techno computer geek and white hat hacker for the Omega Team. After she joins the team on its mission to Cuba, she uncovers Rafael’s shocking burden and it breaks her heart.

Rafael stands in the crosshairs of a vicious drug cartel—powerless to stop his fate—and his secret could put Athena and her team in the middle of a drug war.

5+

Every Professional Was First An Amateur

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

Welcome back to TKZ after our winder break. I hope all of you had a wonderful time off with your families and friends. So, now it’s time to get back to work.

When I graduated from college, I was making a living doing two jobs: a night gig playing in a rock band (that’s me on the right), and a day job working in a music store. On the marquee in front of the store, was the message: Every Professional Was First An FatCatAmateur. Since I was making decent dollars rocking out eight days a week, I considered myself and my band mates professionals. But that statement out on the store marquee stuck with me. Many decades later, when I took to writing fiction, that saying haunted me. Especially as I piled up an impressive stack of rejection letters. I used to brag that I had been rejected by some of the biggest names in the business. When I finally got an agent and had a novel published, I looked back at the trail of dead manuscripts left in my wake and realizes how true it was.

I believed that my first manuscript was so great, it was supposed to make me into the next Clive Cussler. As you can guess, things didn’t turn out as planned. The closest I ever got to Cussler’s success was having dinner with him while I served as ITW co-president.

I’ve had the opportunity to mentor new writers through the MWA mentoring program and held countless writing workshops. What I’ve noticed is that all beginning writers commit the same sins. And what I wind up telling them is that there’s good news and bad. The good news is, they’ve accomplished something that only a small percentage of the population ever will. Most just dream about it. Few really sit down and write a book.

Now for the bad news: Their first book is not publishable. The response usually goes like this.

What? Joe, are you crazy? Everyone says my book is great. My mom loves it. My neighbors and the girl that cuts my hair said it was a potential bestseller—as good as King and Patterson. I’ve even been told by my uncle who watches lots of movies that it would make a blockbuster feature film. JJ Abrams would snap it up in a heartbeat. So how can you say that about a book when you’ve only read a few pages?

The reason I can say it with confidence is that I’ve found first novels to all be the same—not in subject matter of course, but in common, predictable flaws. And if by some miraculous stroke of luck the literary gods smiled down and their first book is publishable as written, then I would suggest they run to the nearest convenience store and buy a lottery ticket. There’s a good chance they’re on a roll.

I’ve made a list of the most common flaws of first novels. Keep in mind that having one or even a couple of these present in your book will not render the manuscript DOA. But I guarantee you’ll find just about all of them in the typical first attempt at writing a novel. Here they are in no particular order of importance.

You often use adverbs at the end of dialog tags to “tell” the reader what emotion the character feels. Example: “I’m mad as hell,” he said angrily. “I love you,” she said adoringly.

You rarely utilize any of the 5 senses to draw the reader into the scene.

You resolve conflict with coincidence or luck.

Your manuscript is filled with back-stories that don’t relate to the plot or develop the characters.

You head-hop within a scene between multiple POVs.

You tell the story rather than show it.

You have a “unique” approach to the use of the English language, and the mechanics and structure of writing in English. Note: I mean this in a bad way.

Each page is filled with an abundance of adjectives that if deleted would not change anything other than make the writing cleaner.

You recently discovered the exclamation point and want your readers to share in your excitement.

You love ellipsis . . .

You have a pet word or phrase that you feel compelled to repeat often in hopes that it will become a favorite of your reader.

You beat your readers over the head with repeated facts just in case they didn’t get it the first dozen times.

You often rely on the lazy technique of imparting information to the reader by having a character tell another something they already know.

Your text is riddled with more clichés than you could shake a stick at.

You use profanity for no other reason than shock.

Your dialog sounds as natural as a first grade primer.

Your characters continually use the name of the person to whom they’re speaking.

You overuse flashbacks and/or start the story with one.

Act II sags like a piece of pulled taffy.

Your story wanders.

Your story starts in the wrong place.

You’re not sure how to create suspense, so you commit “author intrusion” even though you have no idea what the term means.

You confuse the reader.

Your facts are incorrect. Example: The assassin attached the silencer to the revolver so no one would hear the shots.

You slip from past tense to present in narration.

You describe every movement, every second, every detail and every breath of your characters actions for no apparent reason.

You don’t know when to end a scene.

Your plot is a rehash of The Perils of Pauline—your protagonist jumps from one terrible situation to the next equally terrible situation with no dynamics or variation in terribleness.

You either have no subplots or enough for 10 books.

All your characters sound the same when they speak.

Your characters have no flaws.

You rely on stereotypes. The men are all handsome with chiseled faces and athletic bodies. The women are beautiful fashion models. And the bad guys are ugly, disgusting monsters. Note: This is OK if your antagonist is actually an ugly, disgusting monster.

Your story is melodramatic.

Your target audience doesn’t exist.

You manuscript is infested with misspellings, the wrong use of words, grammatical errors, and missing or incorrect punctuation.

You believe that placing the word “very” or “really” in front of an adjective increases the descriptive value of the adjective.

And the one that I see most often: You find it impossible to tell someone what your book is about without rambling on for 10 minutes.

Everyone’s first book contains just about all of the above. Mine did, and I’ll bet yours did, too. But that’s OK. That’s part of the learning process on the road to becoming a published novelist. Every professional was first an amateur. Every bestselling author wrote a first novel that should never see the light of day. Chances are it was just as full of these flaws as yours and mine.

The secret to this whole novel-writing thing is to keep writing. Few first novels are accepted by an agent much less bought by a publisher. Published first novels are the exception to the rule. For everyone else, you’ve got to write that second book. And the third. And the fourth. That’s how you refine the craft. And with each manuscript, you learn to use less clichés, eliminate “very” from your vocabulary, delete needless “ly” words, make your characters more human, find your writer’s voice, and all the other thousands of parts to crafting a well-written story.

So, Zoners, did I miss any beginner failings?

7+

Plotting Tips

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

This will be my last post for 2015. Since 2008, TKZ has traditionally taken a 2-week Winter Hiatus, so I’ll return on January 6 after celebrating the Holidays with my family and friends. I’d like to take this opportunity to wish my blog mates and blog friends the very best for this holiday season and the coming year. Now on to Plotting Tips.

When you write a story, whether it’s short fiction or a novel-length manuscript, there are always two major components to deal with: characters and plot. Combined, they make up the “body” of the story. And of the two, the plot can be thought of as the skeleton while the characters are the meat and muscle.

When it comes to building your plot, nothing should be random or by accident. It may appear random to the reader but every twist and turn of the plot should be significant and move the story to its final conclusion. Every element, whether it deals with a character’s inner or outer being should contribute to furthering the story.

In order to determine the significance of each element, always ask why. Why does he look or dress that way? Why did she say or react in that manner? Why does the action take place in this particular location as opposed to that setting? If you ask why, and don’t get a convincing answer, delete or change the element. Every word, every sentence, every detail must matter. If they don’t, and there’s a chance they could confuse the reader or get in the way of the story, change or delete.

Your plot should grow out of the obstructions placed in the character’s path. What is causing the protagonist to stand up for his beliefs? What is motivating her to fight for survival? That’s what makes up the critical points of the plot—those obstacles placed in the path of your characters.

Be careful of overreaction; a character acting or reacting beyond the belief model you’ve built in your reader’s mind. There’s nothing wrong with placing an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation—that’s the formula from which great stories are made. But you must build your character in such a manner that his actions and reactions to each plot point are plausible. Push the character, but keep them in the realm of reality. A man who has never been in an airplane cannot be expected to fly a passenger jet. But a private pilot who has flown small planes could be able to fly a large passenger plane and possibly land it under the right conditions. The actions and the obstacles can be thrilling, but they must be believable.

Avoid melodrama in your plot—the actions of a character without believable motivation. Action for the sake of action is empty and two-dimensional. Each character should have a pressing agenda from which the plot unfolds. That agenda is what motivates their actions. The reader should care about the individual’s agenda, but what’s more important is that the reader believes the characters care about their own agendas. And as each character pursues his or her agenda, they should periodically face roadblocks and never quite get everything they want. The protagonist should always stand in the way of the antagonist, and vice versa.

Another plot tripwire to avoid is deus ex machina (god from the machine) whereby a previously unsolvable problem is suddenly overcome by a contrived element: the sudden introduction of a new character or device. Doing so is cheap writing and you run the risk of losing your reader. Instead, use foreshadowing to place elements into the plot that, if added up, will present a believable solution to the problem. The character may have to work hard at it, but in the end, the reader will accept it as plausible.

Always consider your plot as a series of opportunities for your character to reveal his or her true self. The plot should offer the character a chance to be better (or worse in the case of the antagonist) than they were in the beginning. The opportunities manifest themselves in the form of obstacles, roadblocks and detours. If the path was straight and level with smooth sailing, the story would be dull and boring. Give your characters a chance to shine. Let them grow and develop by building a strong skeleton on which to flesh out their true selves.

10+

Free Advice for Writers

by Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

By the time you read this I’ll be in the air and won’t be able to respond to any comments. So instead, I have gathered together quotes from notable authors filled with free advice to anyone crazy enough to get into this writing business. Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” — George Orwell

“Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.” — David Ogilvy

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” ― W. Somerset Maugham

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” – Dorothy Parker

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King

“Notice how many of the Olympic athletes effusively thanked their mothers for their success? “She drove me to my practice at four in the morning,” etc. Writing is not figure skating or skiing. Your mother will not make you a writer. My advice to any young person who wants to write is: leave home.” — Paul Theroux

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” — Mark Twain

“The first draft of everything is shit.” — Ernest Hemingway

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” — Harper Lee

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” ― Jack London

“If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do.” — William Zinsser

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or it doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” — Neil Gaiman

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” ― Ray Bradbury

“Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.” — Anne Enright

“If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do. – William Zinsser19. Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” – Oscar Wilde

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” — Kurt Vonnegut

“Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.” — Ernest Hemingway

“Write drunk, edit sober.” — Ernest Hemingway

“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you.” ― Neil Gaiman

“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” – Oscar Wilde

“Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously.” – Lev Grossman

Have I missed any of your favorite free advice?

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Back In a Flashback

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

Flashback is a writing technique that allows the author to convey backstory (events from the past) while remaining in the present. It usually involves a situation in which something in a current scene causes a character to reminisce or ponder a previous event. The reason to create a flashback is to build character or advance the plot, or both. The secret to successfully employing this technique is to construct a smooth transition into and out of the flashback so as not to confuse the reader.

One of the easiest ways to enter a flashback is with the word “had”.

As Jim walked through his old neighborhood, a distant dog barking reminded him of the day he and his friends had skipped school to . . .

In addition, you want to shift the time progression from simple past tense (As Jim walked) to the past perfect tense (his friends had decided). Once you’ve entered the flashback and established the “past”, you can then revert back to simple past tense. At the conclusion of the flashback, use “had” again to transition back to current time.

Jim climbed the steps of his childhood home knowing those summer days with his friends had been the best times of his life.

In addition to transitions in and out of the flashback, it’s also important that the timeframe in which the flashback covers somewhat matches the real-time in which it’s experienced by the character. For instance, a flashback that covers the highs and lows of a woman’s previous marriage cannot be experienced during her stroll from the kitchen to the bedroom. But it would be an acceptable timeframe if she poured a glass of wine, strolled out onto her back porch and experienced it while sitting and watching the sun set and night fall. The reader must accept that the past and present timeframes are not unreasonably out of sync.

One final thought about flashbacks: it’s not a good idea to use one in the first couple of chapters. They can be quite confusing if thrown at the reader too soon. Wait until your reader has established at least a basic relationship with a character before taking them on a leap into the past. Flashbacks should be used sparingly. Better yet, use other techniques to relay backstory and avoid flashbacks altogether if possible.

Any additional advice on using or not using flashbacks?

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How to write your first novel

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

It seems like every time I meet someone and they learn that I’m a writer, they always comment that they had often thought of writing a book, too. Sometimes I think the prospect of being a published author may be the number one goal or dream of everyone who has ever been excited by a good novel. It’s natural to think, “I could do that.” And in reality, they can. But most don’t or won’t. Why? Because the dream far exceeds the labor. Like most specialized occupations, the average would-be author will remain in the dreaming stage. Few proceed to the next step: actually sitting down and writing a publishable, contemporary work of fiction.

But for those that really want to take the next step, here are a few tips on getting that novel “inside us all” onto the page.

First, become an avid reader with the eyes of a writer. Read as many novels as you can get your hands on. But try to read from a writer’s viewpoint. Read for technique and style and voice. Keep asking questions like: Why did the author use that particular verb? Why is the writer using short, choppy sentences? Or long, thick description? As you choose new books to read, cross over genre lines. The genre you wind up writing might not be the one you first imagined. Reading other’s work can also be inspiring. It is a source of ideas and helps to get the creative juices flowing.

Next, know the marketplace and write for it. The end product must be sellable. This goes back to being familiar with your chosen genre. You may love westerns, for instance, but they can be way down the sells chart and not a good choice for a debut author. Having said that, any story in any genre can be a hit if it’s built on strong characters. Always remember that your characters make your story, not the plot. Stay on top of sub-genres and if your work falls into them. Example: Do you what upmarket fiction is?* How about YA crossover?* Middle grade fiction?* Many agents are looking for these right now.

A third tip is to be true to yourself. Don’t try to push against what you feel in your heart and soul when it comes to your story. This may sound like the opposite of the previous tip, but that one deals with the business side of writing; this one the emotional. Beyond understanding the market, realize that if your heart is not in the words, the reader will know it. You can’t hide your lack of love for your writing.

Another tip is to have proper training. Being a devoted reader is only a portion of the task. I’ve had the opportunity (or drudgery) of reading many first-time writer’s work. It’s astounding how many people simply don’t know how to write. I’m not talking about style or content. Forget coming up with a cool plot or unique cast of characters. I’m talking about constructing a sentence with proper use of grammar and punctuation.

If you’re still in school, make sure you give your writing classes as much attention as possible. After all, they teach you the tools of your future trade. If you’re out of school or later in life, consider taking an adult course in basic English and perhaps in creative writing. They won’t teach you how to write a bestseller but can help you get your thoughts down on paper properly. Consider it a refresher course. Some colleges and universities offer degrees in writing. This is by no means a requirement to writing a novel, but it’s always a direction to go if you feel the need. And don’t forget attending writer’s workshops, conferences and joining a local critique group. Workshops are usually taught by pros; conferences have lectures and topic panels dedicated to strengthening your skills; and critique groups offer a new, fresh set of eyes to help improve your work.

Finally, once you’ve finished the first pass through your manuscript, the real work begins: rewriting, editing, polishing, and finishing. There’s nothing that will turn off an agent or editor quicker than an unpolished manuscript. There are tons of books available out there on how to self-edit your work including outstanding books by James Scott Bell, Larry Brook and TKZ emeritus Jodie Renner. And getting others to take a look at it will help to reveal possible problems you missed. Edit, revise, edit, revise, repeat.

There’s a saying that everyone has at least one book inside them. But writing a book is hard. It takes firm commitment and dedication. Let your story out, but do it by following these logical steps. Skipping one of them usually results in frustration, disappointment and a half-finished manuscript collecting dust in the bottom of a drawer.

So what about you guys? How did you managed to finish your first book? Were you able to skip a step and jump right to a publishing contract and advance check? Any other tips to pass along to first-time authors?

* Upmarket fiction blends the line between commercial and literary. YA crossover targets adults but are likely to be of interest/suitable for teens. Middle grade fiction targets ages 8-12 and has content restrictions such as no profanity, graphic violence or sexuality other than crushes.

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It’s All An Illusion

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

Many years ago, I took my son to see David Copperfield, one of the world’s greatest illusionists. During the over two hours of magic, Copperfield performed a number of mind-copperfield_cleanedbending feats that astounded the audience including walking through a solid wall. Remember, this is the guy who made the Statue of Liberty disappear, so he kept us on the edge of our seats with every trick.

One trick in particular was not as spectacular as making a jet plane vanish, but it made a lasting impression on me that I refer to often as I talk about writing thrillers. It involved Copperfield standing solo at center stage performing some entertaining but basic card and slide-of-hand tricks. It was sort of a breather from the “big” illusions. A few minutes into his routine, someone started heckling him from the back of the theater. A man shouted that the tricks were easy and took no talent. At first, Copperfield tried to dismiss him with a remark that he was glad the stranger was interested in magic. He then went on with the card trick. The heckler called out again, this time louder, saying that Copperfield was a third-rate magician with no real talent, and that anyone could do the famous illusionist’s act.

At this point, the audience started to turn to see who this disrespectful, loudmouth was. What we all saw was a man in a heavy trench coat, pulled down fedora, and a thick beard moving slowly down the aisle toward the stage. I surmised that this was obviously part of the show, but to what end I had no idea.

The comments coming from the heckler grew louder and more boisterous as he claimed that he could do anything Copperfield could. The exchange grew edgy between the magician and the heckler until Copperfield seemed to become so frustrated that he challenged the man to come up on stage and perform a trick that would astound the audience. He then turned and left the stage, giving it over to the bearded man in the trench coat.

As my son and I watched in breathless anticipation of what would happen next, the heckler took center stage and declared that he was about to perform an illusion worthy of David Copperfield. In an instant, he ripped off the fake beard, tossed the hat away, and slipped out of the trench coat. The audience gasped as we all realized the mystery man was in fact, David Copperfield.

I consider that trick the basis for writing thrillers. Because, isn’t every writer of this genre a magician? All great magicians know how to deal with pacing, timing and danger. They know how to pivot from one direction to another and the art of misdirection. They keep you guessing where they will go next, and when you think you know the answer, you wind up being wrong. They make you want one thing, then give you another. They prey upon your fears, your dreams, and your nightmares. They are illusionists. They create magic.

As you write, think of yourself as a magician performing illusions. Know where your reader thinks you’re taking them, then take them somewhere unexpected. For writing, like magic, is all an illusion.

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