Write Despite

The write-20-minutes-a-day-for-365-days-come-hell-or-high-water challenge

Getting Close to Your Characters

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a fantastic workshop at the Writers in Progress studio in beautiful Florence, Massachusetts. Led by author Jacqueline Sheehan, the workshop was called “Getting Close to Your Characters.”

Anyone who’s struggled with bringing characters and their motivations (real and hidden) to life knows what we’re talking about. It ain’t easy.

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The studio described the challenge this way:

One of the main reasons why readers read is to slip inside the skin of another person. The most memorable characters are those we feel closest to: the ones whose feelings we feel and whose lives we experience…. But how do writers accomplish this intimacy while thinking about so many other things, like plot and pacing and character development?

Jacqueline keeps her workshops grounded in exercises and techniques that writers can immediately put to use. In fact, I went home and did exactly that in my novel draft.

We delved into point-of-view, motivation, physical setting, and verb tense as conduits to create intimacy between character and reader. I can’t put down all the good stuff I soaked up, but here are a few gems that REALLY struck me.

  • Characters need STRONG and CLEAR motivations in order to engage readers. Ratchet up the intensity of their desire. One common complaint among literary agents, Jacqueline says, is characters that are too PASSIVE.

So, the question becomes how we skillfully develop characters to SHOW the intensity of their motivation, and by extension, who they really are. Some techniques to get you there:

  • Engage the senses, make reading experiential. Sight, sound, and touch are of course important, but don’t forget the other sense. Smelling what a character smells, or tasting, gets the reader up personal and inside what the character is experiencing. Scent especially is a very primal sense, evoking memories and states of mind in an instant.
  • Let characters be vulnerable to pain. “Being stoic is not going to work,” as Jacqueline puts it. Show the reader how they react to fear, betrayal, abandonment, loss. “It’s very revealing how we respond to those hard things,” says Jacqueline, who, by the way, is also a psychologist. “Your core is revealed.” Help readers feel what your characters feel and they’ll go along for the ride.
  • Use powerful verbs! Brain imaging has shown that when you watch someone doing active things, the same part of your brain lights up as the person doing the action. So, if they leap, you take a mental leap. The same holds true for readers. So, don’t breathe heavily, pant or gasp or instead.
  • Use actions, not thoughts, to bring readers into a character’s mind. Watching someone throw a punch or flip the finger in traffic is a more telling display of their emotional state than saying their angry, even if they’re “quaking with angry.”

Character-motivation-quote-Kazuo-Ishiguro

  • A good tip—use verbs that are associated with sex; they’re already sensual and evocative!

–Karen

 

Tales of Triumph

—From Cathy

Triumph CoverA little gift came early for us here at Write Despite, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to announce it.

Karen is the first-place winner of an anthology released today, Triumph: Stories of Victories Great and Small. The ten short stories and essays in this collection deliver finely crafted, authentic accounts of courage, inspiration, and achievements, and I’m proud to have been one of the judges who helped select them (although I had no hand in choosing the actual winners).

I’m so grateful to all who contributed, as well as to publisher Meredith Maslich Eaton and Possibilities Publishing Company for bringing it to life.

If you’re still looking for a gift for that reader on your list (maybe it’s you!), or just know someone in need of encouragement, a good laugh, or even a well-earned cry, check it out. There’s truly something in here for everyone.

Big congrats, Karen! Happy Holidays, everyone!

 

Grateful for Guidance

Thanksgiving approaches. Like most of you, we’re looking back on what we’re grateful for this year. Too many things to list, of course, but here are some of the best writerly tips we’ve collected in 2018.

—From Cathy:

  1. puzzleAt a discussion at George Mason University’s Fall for the Book event this year, I was able to hear Elizabeth Strout speak about her incredible body of work, Olive Kitteridge and My Name is Lucy Barton, in particular, with mentions of her latest, Anything Is Possible as well. She admitted she doesn’t write any of her books sequentially. Imagine! She writes out scenes, prints them, then lays them out on this big table in her house and literally pieces them together like large, literary a puzzle. How freeing, to break out of the whole outline mode, or even just out of the guideline in your head, and simply write freeform that way. When I’m feeling stuck, I think this would be a great way to keep things moving forward, although I know it would likely have its drawbacks for me too:
    * I would no doubt wind up with an unstructured mess.
    * Someone would come along and turn a fan on, or spill a drink on all my papers.
    * My husband would stop by, pick something up and read it, then feel the need to critique. On the spot. While I’m watching Riverdale!
  2. These little gems from author Richard Bausch, my former writing professor and advisor:
When you feel dry, mime someone. Write in someone else’s voice; write Faulkner for a while, or Cheever, or Katherine Ann Porter, or anyone, to get the thing on paper. Then go through and take out the SOUND of those other voices, and be true to the event, or the occasion, and clear about it whatever it is, and what’s left is you. You learned by imitating; there’s no reason you can’t warm to it that way, too.
GatsbyCharacter is Fate. Character is action. Character is nature. Character is nurture. Character is the sound of a voice, a gesture, the color of the eyes, the hair, the texture of the skin. It is a matter of imagining, even when you are using a model, and it involves the marvelous reasonableness of the world’s fictional people—that is, we understand Jay Gatsby’s behavior, we are privy to his “romantic readiness” and we have full knowledge of what he felt standing at the end of his dock, his fantastic mansion behind him in the night, while he gazed, arms outstretched, across the sound, at Daisy’s green light. We know these people, therefore, better than we ever really know anyone in life.

3) This, from the latest issue of Writer’s Digest, on key book publishing paths. I love, love visual charts like this. They make everything so much clearer:

https://www.janefriedman.com/key-book-publishing-path/

—From Karen:

Here is some great writing advice I’ve received, simple but so important:

  1. Watch those verbs! If you’re using adverb to modify your verb, you might not be using the right verb. Is there a better, more accurate action word for what you’re trying to convey?Adverbs
  2. Choose your readers carefully. When you’ve got a work in progress, be careful whose criticism you solicit. Not all editors are equal for all works. You need someone who “gets” your work, and who, even more importantly, wants to enhance what YOU’VE done, not do it over according to their own visions or tastes. Good editing makes your work better. Bad editing just confuses you.
  3. KingWrite for yourself. It can’t be stated enough. Choose subjects and characters that compel and captivate you. It’s the only way you’ll be able to bring them to life and make readers care about them.
  4. Not everyone is going to like your work. Do you like everything you read? No, of course not. Get over it.
  5. When it comes to words, simple is almost always better.
  6. When it comes to length, shorter is almost always better. (There are of course exceptions.)

What advice are YOU grateful for? Whatever it is, embrace it, and pass it along.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

 

What are you reading this fall?

Hi All,

As we head into glorious autumn–my favorite season–there’s no shortage of great fiction to read. Cathy and I have been focusing on a couple of contemporary authors lately.

Cathy just finished these two by Elizabeth Strout, both of which she loved…

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…while I just finished Lydia Millet’s “Sweet Lamb of Heaven” (blew me away) and I’m now enjoying the stories in “Fight No More.” She’s just amazing.

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fight

 

Share the titles that you’re enjoying this fall? We always love to hear what our friends are reading.

And if you’re in the Fairfax, Virginia, area Oct. 10 to 13, check out the Fall for the Book Festival at George Mason University. There’s a great lineup of speakers, including Elizabeth Strout, and lots workshops and discussion panels. Keep an eye out for Cathy!

–Karen

From Paris with love, kinda

Friends —

Novelist Michelle Richmond is living the expat dream in Paris, where she has temporarily relocated with her husband and son. It’s a long way from Northern California to Paris, France, and Michelle is candidly–and humorously–sharing her daily trials and triumphs. You can follow her exploits in a “beautiful but challenging city” on her new blog, The Reluctant Parisian.

michelle in Paris

Michelle’s indie press, Fiction Attic Press, published my debut novel in 2014, and she remains a source of support and inspiration. I’m loving her post-a-day on Instagram.

And yes, Michelle’s books have been translated in French!

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Check back often and share Michelle’s journey!

–Karen

 

Happy Pub Day, Vanessa Hua!

Drum roll, please….. Our friend and contributor Vanessa Hua is celebrating a big one today: the publication of her debut novel, A River of Stars. Cathy and I offer our congratulations along with a super big high-five.

river of stars

Vanessa took a break in her busy promotion schedule to share a little about the creative inspiration for her novel–turns out that pregnancy is a great time for literary ideas to incubate!

From Vanessa:

While living in Southern California and pregnant with my twin sons, I began hearing about maternity hotels getting busted. What’s a maternity hotel? There’s an underground industry to house Chinese women coming to the U.S. to give birth, so that their children will receive U.S. citizenship. Neighbors were asking why there were so many pregnant Chinese women coming and going into suburban homes. It sounded like a brothel in reverse! What was it like, I wondered, to be so far from home and family at one of the most vulnerable times in your life?

When I was pregnant, I found that people treated me very generously, very kindly—offering me a place at the front of the line, or giving up their seat. They asked me when I was due, if I was having a boy or girl, and shared stories about their families. But when you have a dozen pregnant women under one roof, who gets the most sympathy and good wishes, who is the Queen Bee? It seemed like a situation ripe for drama—and ripe for comedy.

As I enter the final days before Pub Day, my brain feels so tired it feels cross-eyed inside my head! But I’m grateful for all the support and encouragement from family and friends, my publisher, agents, and editor, and am looking forward to sharing my book with the world.

 

Oprah Magazine lauds debut novel!

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With just one week left until pub day, Write Despite contributor Vanessa Hua’s  debut novel, A River of Stars, got a very nice call-out in the latest issue of Oprah Magazine.

Go, Vanessa! Can’t wait to read the novel.

–Karen

 

 

Dog Days of Inspiration…

Writing during these high days of summer can be a tough proposition. Who wants to write when sunny skies, sandy beaches, and watermelon beckon? Luckily for us, our friend Amy Sue Nathan at Women’s Fiction Writers launched the 31 Days of Inspiration series this month.

Amy will  be posting a bit of inspiration every day. As she puts, “I’m talking about what motivates me to write or nudges me to polish a scene or edges me closer to a good idea ON THAT PARTICULAR DAY.”

Sounds good to us! Amy’s new book deal was announced in Publisher’s Marketplace. We’re looking forward to her novel, “The Last Bathing Beauty.”

summer_18

–Karen

Anthology Seeks Tales of Triumph

A new season brings a new lineup of writing contests. We’d like to bring one to the attention of aspiring, and established, writers, because it’s being judged by none other than my Write Despite co-host Cathy Cruise.

Possibilities Publishing Company’s 2018 Anthology Contest is looking for stories–both fiction and nonfiction–that deal with the theme of triumph.In the publisher’s words, they’re seeking “those moments of triumph, of victory, of doing the things that seemed un-doable. It can be the types of triumphs that everyone relates to, or something that only mattered to one person. Victories that are earth shattering or just day brightening. We want them all.”

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Possibilities is the press that published Cathy’s book, and we all saw what a super nice job they did. They really crank the publicity machine for their authors. Just last week, Cathy found out her book has been named a finalist in the 2018 Indie Book Awards.

Cathy, and her co-judge Jennifer Crawford, will do a bang-up job, and they’re actively seeking submissions! So, get yours in pronto. Submission deadline is July 15.

Now, if you’re not fortunate enough at the moment to be telling stories of victory, there are plenty of other, diverse contests out there. Here’s just a small sample. Good luck!

–Karen

Midway Journal’s 1,000-Below Flash Prose and Poetry Contest
Entry fee: $10
Deadline: May 31, 2018
$500 + publication first prize, and other lesser prizes
Submit up to 1,000 words of flash, 40 words or poetry.
http://midwayjournal.com/contest/

American Fiction AwardsPost-Publication awards for full-length fiction book
Deadline: May 31, 2018
Entry fee: $69.00 per title/per category
Open to all books published between 2016 and 2018.
http://americanbookfest.com/americanfictionawards.html

Golden Walkman Magazine Contest
Entry fee: $10
Deadline: July 31, 2018
Winning manuscript published solely as an audiobook, and awarded a sum of money (to be determined by the success of the contest).
Submit no more than 30 pages of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, or hybrid.
https://www.goldwalkmag.com/audiochapbook-contest.html

Sequestrum New Writer Awards
Entry fee: $15
Deadline: October 15, 2018
$200 first prize, and other lesser prizes
Open to fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from new and emerging writers.
http://www.sequestrum.org/contests

 

 

 

 

 

You’ve Published! Now What?

—From Cathy

I attended a unique, inspiring, and all-around kick-ass writer’s conference on April 7. The first annual Possibilities Publishing Conference 2018: Transforming Writers into Authors brought together a whole host of experts to help writers focus mainly on…get this…

…what to do AFTER they’ve published.

IMG_9085Panelists gave attendees all the tools they need to create a brand, give great interviews, effectively launch a book, and market themselves on social media. It even featured a media lounge where authors could take head shots with a professional photographer and create a video focusing on themselves and their work.

Oh, and my favorite part? The Instagram Photo Booth that offered up a professional light box and a supply of backgrounds and props so you could take social media pictures of your book. As you can see, I had some fun with this one.IMG_9104

Why has no one come up with these grand ideas before?

Well, maybe they have, but not that I’ve heard of.

There were also a couple of sessions on getting published—tips on self-publishing, and advice from independent publishers on what they look for when considering a manuscript.IMG_9109

Just for fun, the Improv Imps led a group of introverted writers through an interactive workshop to help them loosen up in front of an audience.

And check this out: Penguin Bean Designs. Oh man, I love this company. They will reproduce, even create, pretty much any design you like on a t-shirt, hoodie, tote bag, wine sack, tea towel, pillowcase, you name it. I’m getting my book cover reproduced on a tote bag for a mere $25 (based on author Lindsay Barry’s cool tote here).

tote.jpgAll of it took place at the gorgeous Clark House in Falls Church, Virginia, and included a pancake breakfast, lunch, two snacks (we’re talking cookies fresh from the oven, you guys), and a “sip and swap” wine and cheese closeout reception where attendees could mingle and trade books.

Next year’s conference is sure to be bigger, better, and even more innovative. Keep an eye out for it by following Possibilities Publishing online. Until then, here are the best tips and quotes I collected while I was there:

On launching your book:

Create a book launch team. Strive to recruit at least 100 people who will support you in your launch by reading, reviewing, and promoting your book. This can take as little as 5 or 10 minutes a week, and in return they get advance copies of your book, return reviews for their book, etc. And the results? Session presenter Jen Hemphil, author of Her Money Matters, saw 1863 copies of her book downloaded and sold in her first month (compared to about 200 for most self-pubbed books.)

On branding:

Why do we connect with a brand? Brand strategist Rebecca Gunter says it’s largely trust, quality, an inviting feel. Why do we not connect? It doesn’t align with our values, it feels yucky or false. Branding is all about feelings. How do you want readers to feel when they see your brand?

On marketing:

Author and holistic healer Laura Di Franco suggests you write down five reasons you don’t promote your book. Then ask, if there were no one on earth to disappoint, how would you promote it? Give five endings to the statement “My story matters because ______.”

If you do nothing else, create a signature with your book info for use on Amazon, so that when you review things, others will see your book title pop up. (Well, duh. Why am I not doing this?)

On social media:

Jennifer Crawford is owner of Social Media Rescue and Write On Social, which cater specifically to the needs of indie authors. She coached us on how to use Facebook Live as a marketing tool to reach existing fans faster and interact with readers in real time. Nifty tip: Three times more people are watching Facebook Live videos and those that aren’t live.

Use Instagram Live too. These videos last only 24 hours and are great for time-sensitive promotions, sneak peaks, and book “secrets.” And since few people are using this feature for now, it’s a less crowded area that gives you tons of room to be creative with your author brand and narrative. Instagram users in general tend to be highly engaged!

Check out these other presenters and sponsors from the Possibilities Publishing Conference!

Vijal NathanWashington Post’s Date Lab writer, stand-up comedienne, interview coach

Ally Machate – book collaborator, editor, publishing consultant

Meredith Maslich – CEO of Possibilities Publishing Company, Thumbkin Prints, Eaton Press

Andrew Gifford – author, director of Santa Fe Writers Project publishing company

Sweet Chloroform photography

Aois21 Media

Little Camera Films

Ladybird Tea

The Writer’s Center

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