Friday, April 20, 2018

How I Got My Agent--An Interview with Debut Author Kathleen West

Kathleen West came to several of my online classes in the early days of writing her first novel.  She got structuring help and good feedback, and later we worked together privately to help her develop the character arcs for the multiple points of view in her woven narrative. After four months, she felt ready to finish revising on her own and start querying agents.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Imagine Finishing Your Book! A Three-Part Exercise for Encouragement

When the book journey feels way too long and the end is nowhere in sight, I use this short but encouraging exercise to help me vision my way to finishing my book.  You may not need it now, if you're rocking along.  But there may be a time when it's useful.  It has been for many of my clients who get stuck in the doldrums of are-we-there-yet?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Chapterettes, Prologues, Introductions, and Other Spare Parts--What Purpose Can They Serve in a Book?

I happen to love small pieces of books:  prologues, introductions, forewords, even epilogues, and epigraphs (those quotes or small things planted before each chapter).  Such add-ons often get derided in writing classes, but they still serve a unique purpose. 

I fought one of my MFA advisers who hated the idea of a prologue in my young-adult novel, and won--it got published to good reviews.  
No one complained about the prologue, which ran two pages at most. 

So why so many warnings and controversies?  What do these small elements contribute to a book and why would a writer be wary of them? 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Too Much Reflection? How to Make Sure Your Story Doesn't Stall Out


One of my blog readers sent me a wonderful question last week.  It's a question that many writers struggle to answer.  It had come to mind when she read my post a few weeks ago about creating enough pauses for meaning within the flurry of events in your story.

But what about the opposite? she wondered.  If you're not an event writer, and maybe you write in too many pauses, how do you work with that tendency? 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Building the "Why" of Your Story--Inner and Outer Purpose for Characters Is the Key

Characters are it, in both fiction and memoir, if you want to publish.  Of course you have to have a good plot, something happening.  And your characters have to be externalized enough that we readers feel they're believable, interesting, intriguing.  But characters drive a story, and no more than in today's publishing market.

Several of my clients have had happy news these past weeks--agents or book contracts--and almost all of them have emailed me about their agent or editor loving the characters.  Those who get rejections know that this is also the most common complaint:  I just didn't fall in love with your characters.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Finding the Best "Triggering Event" for Your Book--How to Launch Your Story

In two weeks, on Friday, March 30, I'll be teaching an all-day workshop at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.  We'll examine book structure:  what makes a book successful, in terms of its structure, and how can you choose the pivotal moments in your story wisely?  Many books are beautifully written but poorly structured, and many writers haven't a clue as to how to fix that. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Can First Chapters Ever Be TOO Dramatic?

Writing teachers and writing classes-- if you've worked with either, if you've shared your writing for feedback, you've probably heard the golden rule of first chapters.  They need to have something happen.  Preferably something outwardly dramatic.


It's called a triggering event, and it literally triggers your story.  Here are some classic examples:

Friday, March 2, 2018

Creating Pause in Your Action--When and How to Let the Reader Linger without Losing Momentum

A blog reader sent in this fascinating question:
How can "event writers" develop stationary moments in their narrative and sections in their books where the main characters reflect on the meaning of what happens?  What's the purpose of this, and what's is benefit to the story?

This is a question about pacing, but it also hints at our natural preferences as writers, to write certain kinds of scenes. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Winding Up for the Pitch--How to Craft a Winning Query Letter

Several of my private clients are completing their manuscripts this month, getting ready to pitch to agents at one of the large writing conferences happening in April:  The Loft Literary Center's Pitch Conference, April 20-21, in Minneapolis, and Grub Street's The Muse and the Marketplace, April 6-8, in Boston.

Writers can meet with agents and "pitch" their book--or give a short description designed to spark an agent's interest.  Some pitch sessions permit a written query letter and sample of your writing, others just allow you to pitch verbally. 
 
Most writers agree that crafting a winning query letter is all important.  Even if your pitch is verbal, the query can help you figure out how best to describe your book in a unique, interesting way.  Agents often receive hundreds of these a week.  How do you make sure that yours stands out?

Friday, February 16, 2018

How to Choose Good Writing Partners--Making the Process Less Trial-and-Error

They say it takes a lot of support to write a book--the process is long, hard, and personal for most writers.  We need encouraging words and people who believe in what we're doing, so we can keep doing it when the journey feels useless.  I know most writers who complete books gather a team of supporters by the end.  Supporters like writing groups, writing partners, or hired editors/coaches. I don't know many who get published without this kind of backup.