I just heard back from The Writer magazine’s 2020 Summer Flash Contest, and as much as I hoped my entry was going to get published, no dice this time.
Now keep in mind they did let me know, it was a submission fee well spent, and the rejection was possibly the nicest of the bunch.
Now I know what you’re all wondering. Does this mean I’m a crappy writer? Perhaps, does this mean I should quit trying for the Never After Anthology? HECK NO! This means I should keep on submitting and keep trying. Look this is the reality for an unknown, unpublished, writer. I have one novel that’s dead, twenty three rejections and now one contest submission rejection.
Do you know what this means? I’m now a career writer.
Not an author just yet but I’m getting there. All it takes is one yes.
So I hope that you are submitting too, and if you’ve found success please share your story. Or if you want to commiserate, you know the old saying, Misery loves company. The good news is I’ve got whine to share. Ha ha- see what I did- oh forget it. See you in the comments.
Do you have a Middle grade, picture book or YA that’s needs a little guidance? Do you feel like maybe it’s missing something?
Then you should try and apply to writers who are accepting submissions for write mentor.
But just what is this? Sadly only books aimed at the younger side of the market need apply. However if you have an idea, you’ve written it down, a mentor would be invaluable. I’ve posted a link down below to their page. You can also find them by the twitter handle.
Let me know in the comments below if you’ve submitted before, or are thinking of submitting.
I’m so doing this. Time to get my creative mojo going. We’ve moved, we’re in the new house and our money pinch will no longer be a problem come the 25th! Time to get a move on and get back in the game.
Except I’m usually the type of person to believe in ever after. This time it’s all about the never after and how some people like the burn. And it’s across the genres! I can write steam punk, I can write Science Fiction, I can do Fantasy! Or I can dig deep and pull a character out of the past and finally give her the spot light to shine.
Anyone else want to join me? I’m so excited when people start talking competition. Wish me luck!
I honestly didn’t want to touch this subject with a ten foot pole as I am a straight white woman and the only adversity I’ve ever faced is poverty before my prince charming whisked me off in a rented Enterprise van and moved me into his home after I graduated my latest round of college. I have been well looked after, well cared for and never denied anything based on sex, religion, skin color and gender. However I have seen blatant pandering to a certain demographic and it does rub me the wrong way.
This whole article kicks off with a twitter exchange that got me thinking.
In a nut shell pandering is presenting a character with a trait, then making the character be just that and nothing else. Let’s take an example from my current work in progress The Party, the main character is Chinese. Now if I made the horrible mistake to bring up her Chinese heritage every bloody second I would be pandering to Chinese readers who might be interested in the book (and ultimately turn them off).
Let me try another example. Bill Potts from Dr. Who.
Bill was a breath of fresh air for someone who loathed Clara with every fiber of my being. She was funny, she was brave, she was a person of color and gay. However there was a big problem with Bill and I noticed it a lot over time. Anytime we got to spend time with Bill it sort of became “hey this is Bill did you know she was a lesbian? Because she’s gay! Like look at how gay Bill is! Hey this is Bill- totally into women.”
Bill’s introduction to the series had this amazing tragic romance with a woman that ultimately led to a sweet goodbye when she exited the series. Being a lesbian was a part of her character but it seemed like the earlier episodes of her season run were dedicated to hammering that in. And that’s when I started to see a little bit of pandering. Let me be frank, I did not want Bill to be straight. She was a gay character but I didn’t care for the fact they announced it over and over when we knew by the the first episode what her sexual preference was. There was no ambiguity to clear up. Also I would like to point out, it would still be pandering if she was straight and they kept going on how damn straight she was. She will be remembered for this instead of being the first rumored Cyberwoman. Feel free to disagree with me. Please know this is not a criticism of Bill. I liked her a hell of a lot more then some of the Doctor’s companions.
Anyhoo, there are a whole whack of examples I could use but I think I got the picture across. Whether purple skinned, gay, straight, bi, alien or human, allow your characters to be more then just one thing. Let them be many things as we are human and fallible, able to do and create wondrous things. Not just be the people we date or the skin color we wear.
Now as a white woman who is straight, I would like to hear from other people who thing they were watching a pandering character, in litature or on screen, that you think “wow is there anything more to this person?” Let me know in the comments.
Oh my god we’re buying a house- this is not a drill! We signed all the paper work and we will be moving in the next couple of weeks. I won’t be back to viewing my favorite blogs anytime soon but once we’re settled life can go back to normal- and be better then ever! Best thing my office is across the hall from my son, giving us ample space at night for me to write without waking him up. And boy have I ever been digging in and writing.
Anyway on with the blog.
So this ties into the previous section of show, don’t tell, and keeping the reader in the action. This is an editing part, never do this when drafting. Get that story out and keep going! Only go back during the review process to find the passive voice.
So what is the passive voice?
Don’t make the mistake of confusing passive voice with author voice. That’s another article altogether. Instead passive voice talks in the past, as if the events have already happened. Let’s make a quick example:
June loved jogging, she had been jogging for twenty three years off and on.
Nothing really wrong with this statement, despite some really bad grammar. (I’m buying a house give me a break!) This example gives us some background information on June. But it is passive. She had been jogging for twenty three years.
Alice was a striking actress, she crawled her way up to the top by modeling, rehearsing, and getting all the right plastic surgery she could get her hands on.
Again nothing really wrong with this but it’s all in the past. Modeling, rehearsing, getting, she’s never in the present.
Active voice helps this problem (like showing instead of telling) by bringing the reader into the present. Let’s take example 1: June and bring her into the present.
June loved jogging, her feet pounded off the pavement, heart beating against her chest, sweat on her brow. Twenty three years later she’s still hitting concrete like a mad woman and getting all the natural excitement out of her blood.
Now the reader is on the street with June as she’s running. No has been, or would have, should or could. We are right there in the action.
Again this is just personal opinion. I had three pages of god damn passive voice where all these events went on in the background before we got to the real start of the chapter. My stories I post on rainy days are pretty much all passive voice in some extent because I’m banging out a quick short story. Everyone does this but in publication every tick on the box helps to get that contract.
Again this is personal opinion. I’m not saying a story should be just active. Passive voice authors have contracts.
One of my favorite romance authors from my teenage years (before I ran into some rather cringe truths about her writing and the romance genre in general- but that’s another post) Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, loves living in the past. There are paragraphs dedicated to background history, exposition out the rear end in every chapter and nearly nothing has happened. I’m 125 pages in the book and literally nothing of note has happened because of the passive voice and events.
And yet she’s published well over twenty novels and I don’t have one to my name. So there’s something to be said about my perception of passive or active voice.
Anyway what do you think about passive voice? Do you think it interrupts author voice? Do you look for it in the writing or care? Let me know in the comments I would love to hear what you think.
Also I’m not dragging Woodiwiss, you can enjoy her books, reader interpretation is a big thing. I’m just pointing out a lot of her writing is past events and that’s the truth.
Quick update before we start on this little article. We sold the house! Hip hurray. I’m been elbow deep in details which is why I haven’t written much. Or was able to follow the blog posts of people I’ve come to enjoy. After work stops trying to kill me and when we get back into the groove, I will catch up. The most I do these days is post a quick tweet and sometimes get to post here. I started a new WIP. I’ve updated current projects if you’re keen to see what’s going on. I won’t bore you here with details.
Anyway on with the show.
In a moment of despair, when I was over worked and stressed I actually came up with a fun, kind of cool story idea I wanted to write. After chasing the brass ring with a 130K dark fantasy I needed to step back and reevaluate myself. Joining the writing group would give me important feedback but at the cost of my self confidence as a writer when a chapter got completely obliterated.
Now was the time to try again with a contemporary romance. Heck yeah I busted out 130K over 6 months I can handle this! The story takes place over three days with an epilogue and a prologue thrown in so maybe 20K to 50K at most. I listed my goals on Twitter hoping to inspire myself.
I even set it as my background so whenever I log in to my computer I see it. BOOYAH! Time to get this WIP on paper! All right! Here we go! And this is what happened after six or seven pages
Yeah. I started to doubt and then I erased and then I tried again but the voice was lost, then it just started to crumble apart again. But I’m not giving up on this story. It’s cute, it’s sweet, it’s entertaining and funny. I can do this but the thought of presenting my work to an agent again just brings up all the other people who have been ‘meh’ about my writing, or just out to point out the flaws without acknowledging the good parts.
I started to be plagued with self doubt. If I submitted to a beta would they care? Or would it be another situation where I’m just not good enough. We are our own worst critics. As writers we need to be kinder to ourselves. It’s one thing for me to say “ppphhssst forget em!” it’s another to actually try to silence your critics. The worst one lives in your head.
Like I said on twitter, it’s December 27, 2020, and I’ve already fallen behind on goal number 1 of the my 2021 year.
The good news is it’s only December 27, 2020. The new year hasn’t started yet. I have time to properly jump start the story again and go for it. So shut up voice in my head! I can write and I will write. I’m happy when I’m writing and miserable when I haven’t done it in a while. So I will get there. I just have to have faith. I also have four more days before 2021 hits.
So if you need a kind word, or a cheerleader, or your frustrated, throw me a comment. I will be more then happy to remind you- you can write and you should.
Before we start, just wanted to give a quick update. This Monday we find out if we have offers on the house. I’m so nervous but I’m hopeful. Anyway on with the show.
Today’s tip comes from personal experience. Every writer does this. Even the greats. It’s just who we are. However exposition can run on for a very long time and instead of keeping the reader in the here and now, we have past events unfold like a laundry list.
Take example 1:
Lily walked down the muddy path, the sun was shining through the tree tops. She remembered the summer days she spent with Rosy, her best friend from third grade. They were friends for such a long time, spending the weekends in the forest, building forts, playing cops and robbers. It was a shame that Rosy died in a car crash three days ago.
And YAWN. The information here is 1. Lily is mourning but you wouldn’t know it. 2. Rosy was her best friend since they were little girls and they played in the forest. And then 3. BAM Rosy died and Lily is rather nonchalant about losing her best friend. (Perhaps she’s the one that helped that car accident along)
Sorry- couldn’t help myself.
Anyway there’s no emotion from this passage. It’s not technically wrong but if an agent was reading this passive series of events, odds are (unless the writer had a strong voice) they would pass this over. It’s not easy getting the point across. How do we convey the same information? How do we show Lily’s grief, her memories, Rosy or any of it without dipping into exposition and tell the audience.
We have to use our five senses, we have to use dialogue, and personal interactions.
Let’s take a crack at this with Example 2:
Lily trudged along the muddy, well worn, path in the forest. Sunlight streamed through the tree canopy above her head. Despite this cheery scene Lily walked with her head down and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Deeper into the forest she stopped by a crumbling Tipi made of sticks. Her mouth twisted as fresh tears lined her eyes. A memory, long laid dormant, sprung to life. Two little girls collected sticks around the tree before laying them against the trunk giggling. In a flash they were gone. Lily felt her throat constrict and the heavy blanket of sorrow hunched her shoulders. Her phone went off.
“Hello- yes it’s me… What time is the funeral? 11:00 am….I can do a reading, it will be hard but I could do it for her….I don’t need anything but thank you.”
She folded up the phone and with a final glance at the tree, started back home.
Sorry, it’s really been a long week.
Anyway, we still have the same information as before but it unfolds organically. We know that Lily is upset by the way she hangs her head and wipes her eyes. Instead of being told Rosy is her best friend and they grew up playing in the forest we see evidence of it with the stick Tipi. Now we don’t get to Rosy’s name, but that will come when Lily picks up a remembrance card at the funeral home and we find out how she died. Characters will also refer to how close the girls were adding interpersonal actions and showing the reader Lily and Rosy were best friends. The sequence of events are slowed down but they unfold in interesting ways leaving the audience intrigued. Why is the MC crying? Who died and how do they effect the MC? Why does the memory make her sad? Whose funeral is she going too?
Between the two the second one brings the audience into the story making them a part of the journey. I’m not saying exposition is the devil, but it can make a harder sell. If someone is uncomfortable do they shift from foot to foot, avoid gazes, fumble with objections. If someone is upset do they hug themselves, cry, hunch into themselves? If someone is enamored do they smile around their love interest, relax their shoulders, or find themselves feeling happier.
It’s really hard to show everything. Some things are going to be told rather then show to move the plot along. This is not a concrete example, it’s just my personal interpretation. Please feel free to discuss or tweak my examples to make them clearer in the comments below. Or refer to books that you found exposition works better then showing. Let me know what you think.
When writers talk about the rising tension in novels, they are talking about bringing the conflict to the boiling point. The better the tension, the more satisfying the climax.
But how do we build upon tension introduced by the conflict? How do we interest the reader and keep them interested?
Ok let me break down a famous rising tension example. Bear with me but I loved the rising tension in the Lord of the Rings. Don’t give me that look it was so well done! Before you click away let me explain. *Spoilers for one of the most popular film trilogies ever*
We have the set up: hobbit goes off to Rivendell. Then we we get the conflict- delivering the ring to Mordor to destroy it. Simple enough? Right Elijah Woods? But it’s how everything comes about that makes it brilliant in my eyes.
After the big meeting in Rivendell, Frodo and Co. head off to the wide yonder of Middle Earth. Frodo, the ring bearer, has the support of everyone, he has guidance in the form of Gandalf the Grey, hell even an Elf Prince is prancing along this quest. It’s gonna be fine Frodo my boy:
Spoiler alert it was not. This story did everything and anything to make Frodo the basket case he was at the end. Here’s the rising tension:
-Gandalf dies at the beginning of the quest.
-Peeps go crazy and try to take the ring from Frodo, driven mad by the rings dark power. Someone even ends up dead. The fellowship, the people that were going to deliver him to Mordor can’t get him there without falling to the rings power. The fellowship breaks.
-In the end Frodo runs off with Sam to complete the quest alone.
-Having stumbled across Gollum previously, said crazy catches up with them and promptly tries to off Frodo for the ring. Instead of killing him, Frodo offers Gollum some kindness and Gollum offers his services (with the intent of still killing Frodo and making off with his precious as soon as possible). Gollum swears he can get them VIP access into the fiery pits of Mount Doom, and since they know jack on how to get there, this seems like the only way.
-Sam’s weary, Frodo’s desperate and they agree to watch Gollum closely while following his lead. Somehow they manage to make it through ghostly swamps, nearly spotted by a massive army on the way to completely annihilate Gondor, and get Hobbitnapped by Boromir’s brother during a skirmish, who drags them back miles before they convince him to let them go. And then have to trudge all the way back to where they were Hobbitnapped and keep going.
-All the while the ring is slowly eating away at Frodo’s soul and good nature.
-Then there’s the tension between Sam who calls Gollum on his BS and Gollum who hates the fat one. There’s also tension between the two best friends when Gollum manipulates the trust between them by planting doubt in Frodo. This coupled with the rings poisonous nature leads to a blow out of epic proportions between Sam and Frodo. Frodo goes on with Gollum alone, sending Sam home.
-Which lands him in a position where he’s tightly bound like a Hobbit sized shish kabob for Shelob to snack on later.
-But we all know what happens next. Sam discovers proof Gollum lied and he rages up the cliffs to rescue Frodo who looks, in all fairness, pretty damn dead. It’s only after he hears a conversation between two goblins, saying Frodo’s just paralyzed Sam saves his best friend. By this point Frodo’s nearly mad and starved but he won’t let Sam take the ring. Sam decides “screw it”, carries Frodo up the mountain side to finally put an end to that freakishly glowing piece of jewelry.
-Thus we come to the boiling point where Frodo finally falls to the ring’s dark powers and it’s only through Gollum biting it off and falling into a pool of lava, do we really reach the end of this depressing slog of misery.
I’m not even going to delve into what happened to the rest of the broken fellowship. Let’s say Aragon probably went on a long, much needed, holiday with Arwen when Gondor wasn’t a flaming wreck- for a month.
If Frodo had the fellowship all the way through, if his faith in Sam never wavered, if he remained untouched by something so darkly powerful, the story would be boring and unbelievable. By adding Gandalf’s death, the fellowship breaking, Gollum, the rings constant presence of evil and Sam’s “betrayal” to the list, we had cause to fear for Frodo. We were all waiting for the breaking point and hoping nothing else bad would happen to this nice little Hobbit who was just a good dude- only for the next awful thing to happen almost immediately.
Conflict is all well and good but the driving force has to be tension. How the MC overcomes the obstacles by sheer force of determination and will gives the story the ooomph for the big finale. Give your MC more then they can handle, humble them, teach them lessons, make them persevere when all is lost and the reader will be right there with you cheering them on.
Now you know my main complaints about the Sword of Truth series and how it went on far too long. All the novels had rising tension and then that tension was completed either within the span of a book or at least two or three. Here’s the thing, the MC can only go through so much before the audience is exhausted by how much danger surrounds the MC. Frodo wasn’t in danger every five minutes (although it sure as hell felt like it) the danger built up around him. Yes before he got to Rivendell he was in danger, there was tension, but it really started to ramp up when the quest to destroy the One Ring kicked off. The moment he made that promise Tolkien did his best to screw with his head, his environment, his deep lasting bond with Sam, his physical health, damn well everything, to test Frodo’s resolve. And your heart broke when his mind finally did.
So my question to you writers, how do you build tension, slowly and methodically, or do you go balls to the wall and keep at it until the ending? Let me know in the comments.