Category Archives: fiction

5 Types of Real Magic for Your Story Beginnings

by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

Story openings are magical. 

There’s something that happens in that first line, on that first page.  Just words.  It seems simple.  One sentence after another.

But these opening words somehow, cleverly, shoehorn the reader into your story and the next umpteen pages. And they do not let them out.

once upon a time

It’s that last piece that’s key. 

Good openings trap them.  Holds them hostage to the story.  Convinces them to select your book over thousands of contenders.

It’s one thing to talk about that magic and examine an already-published passage.  But it’s another thing to come up with it on your own.

There is no magical shoehorn app.  I’ve looked. (Please develop one, someone.  You’ll be a writing badass and a hero to at least one.  Do it.)  For meeeeee.)

Until technology catches up with us, we’ll have to look at manual methods for creating Opening Magic.

Here are mine:

#1 Regret

There’s something about knowing a regret of some sort exists that creates a reader-compulsion to Find. Out. Why.

This seems useful.  The regrets are already in your story.  Trust me.  So, that might be a great way to start.

#2 Mystery, Lies, and Secrets

Again with the compulsions.  If there’s a mystery, I want to solve it.  It’s as if the universe is unbalanced until an equal and worthy solution is found for a named mystery.

And here’s the key.  Mysteries aren’t that emotionally interesting unless they are surrounded by lies and secrets.  Without these two elements, it’s more like “Hey, some frustrating facts are missing over here,” which is not the same as a true, story-worthy mystery.

Secrets and lies imply there is huge and dreadful meaning that matters to a human being or two.  These elements imply an active efforts to create the mystery, an opponent, a devious adversary who will counter every move made to set the universe right.

And that is conflict, baby.  That’s story.

#3 Danger in the Air

Love this one!

Things are, somehow, not right.  Out of balance.  Mis-matched. 

And it all starts with a recognition that something is worth noting.  Small parts of the universe are rubbing together and creating friction. Or even something big, if you want.

That something is Story barreling down on us.  The earth trembles.  The air quickens.  And soon the impact of Story will force the viewpoint character to adapt in order to survive.

It is the need to adapt that speaks directly to our biology of fear.  And fear is compelling story magic.

# 4 Haunting, Specific Imagery

It’s hard work getting  the story to mean something to the reader.

Creating a luminous picture in the reader’s mind, rooting the reader down into the story world, is an immediate bridge to meaning.  It’s as if each, carefully-selected, unique detail imparts an associated memory of time and place.

All you need is the unusual and the (misleadingly) simple detail… leading directly into the mystery of the story.

Suddenly, the reader and the viewpoint character are sharing the same experience.  Memory. Meaning. Ripples of time and place.

In the end, as humans that’s all we have.  So we connect to it all the more.

#5 Worry

Ah, the subtle awareness that things are not right. 

  • The exploration of the edge of normal. 
  • The expectation of normal and the heightened awareness of pseudo control over the outcome of anything.
  • The worry that leads to action.

In the case of beginnings, these can be more effective, sometimes, than The Big Bad stomping all over your characters, because with worry, there’s room to get to know your character and understand context.

As Chuck Wendig says, “Without depth of character and without context, an action scene is ultimately shallow and that’s how they often feel when leading off the first chapter.”

Tell me your Story Magic.  Let’s make this list long and fruitful!

clip_image001[4]Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone: (1)Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and (2) Marketing-Zone:Marketing Yourself and Your Writing.

Website Myth #5: Instant Credibility!

by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

Unprofessional

WEBSITE MYTH #5:  A website creates a professional image for you and your writing. 

REALITY:  Have you seen some of those writer-sites out there? 

They actually decrease the professional image of the author.  They are anti-advertising, the kryptonite of self-promotion.  They are a very fine example of shooting yourself in the foot.

Design badness.

Content badness.

Marketing badness.

As Jane over at DearAuthor says, in her article What Every Author’s Website Should Contain

Let me say that like the writing, the quality of the website/blog varies a great deal from very amateurish to very professional. I’ve seen very good websites for bad authors and very bad websites for good authors.

Thank Goodness!  A Disclaimer.

When writers are told to have a website for instant professional cred, there’s a whole disclaimer that is left out, and it is thus:

#1 Websites only increase you professional quotient if (A) the design and (B) the written content are….

  • well-done,
  • easy to use,
  • engaging,  and
  • focused specifically on meeting your specific visitor’s immediate needs and taking key action

#2  You’re probably not the best judge of any of this, even though you are a writer.

#3  Excelling at A and B, if the results mis-represent you or your writing, will do you no good at all.  (Especially if you’re misrepresenting quality.)

#4 Failing at A and/or B can generate negative word-of-mouth that starts with the voice inside the visitor’s head.  That negative feeling becomes your Brand.  Your reputation suddenly is dirt.  Don’t be dirt.  No one wants that.

So, do it right. That’s the message.

There’s a whole lot that goes into sites being well-done, easy to use, engaging, focused on meeting needs, and taking action.  In fact, there are whole fields of study, like usability, marketing, branding, engagement, authority-building, relationship creation, voice, etc.

And don’t forget the professional practices, standards of all that pesky the technology.  (And a special shout-out to making it all accessible.)

I Dare You…

To read something really helpful on the whole professional website thang, read Jim Yu’s 5 Pillars of a Successful Modern Web Design.

And what about marketing and writing content?  Try Skip Besthoff’s Improve Your Website Content’s Quality: 5 Ways to Drive High Performance.

TO BE CONTINUED.

clip_image001[4]Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone: (1)Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and (2) Marketing-Zone:Marketing Yourself and Your Writing.

Website Myth #4: If readers can’t find you….

by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

So far…

#1 Websites promote you! Smash.

#2 It’s the only way to find you! Smash.

#3  You’ll be open 24/7!  Smash

Here’s another myth that uses fear to make sure writers, specifically book writers, get that website.

MYTH:  If readers can’t find you, you won’t sell your book!

Really?  Is that because you’re the only one with directions to the bookstore?Last Bookstore

Your website is not the last bookstore on the planet.

Seriously.

In fact, I’m pretty sure your website is not a bookstore at all.

Let’s imagine a reader wants something to read.  She might go to the library, borrow a book from a friend, stop by a physical bookstore, browse an e-store, or stop by a review site.

But she’s not thinking, “Wow, I’ll search Google to see if I can find a random author website, where I can find out if the author has a book for sale that happens to be something I like and want to read.”

TRUTH:  Here’s how you REALLY won’t sell your book.  If you don’t have your book in any of the places readers actually go to shop. 

What about writers who sell only from their website?

Yeah.  Okay.  In that case, you have to have a website.  You win!

But all you other book authors, a site isn’t your answer to selling. Nope.  Then what is a website?

A website is your answer to “give me more.”

And this is a very powerful thing!  (Power is so much better than fear.  Repeat that a few times.  Kinda makes you want to say, “Hell Yes!” doesn’t it?)

Dear book authors, if a reader takes the time to look for your site, that’s an invitation to WOW her.  Dazzle her.  Pow.  Delight. Entertain.  Blow her mind.   And other good words.

You’ve just been handed the keys to the kingdom, baby.  Your reader’s mind has an OPEN sign. She’s willing to listen , create a relationship, and be influenced.  You have what marketers call permission, and this is a very valuable thing.

Up until now, she’s not been interested in hearing more.  But then she clicked onto your site and said, “You can tell me about your writing now.”

So just to be clear, before now, any selling you did to her was basically a cold call, pushing your message on her whether she wanted it or not.

But now?

You’re in a conversation with her.  She’s curious.  And you are the thing she’s curious about.  Your writing too.  You’re the center of her e-universe.

Woo her with your authentic self, your fabulously bound words, your ability to do that thing that you do so well.  She’s the fan you’ve been wanting.  You know all this because she just told you by showing up.

Click.

Yeah.  I can see you blush from here.  A fan.  You have a real live fan.

Good for you.

Now give her more.

CONTINUED.

clip_image001[4]Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone: (1)Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and (2) Marketing-Zone:Marketing Yourself and Your Writing.

Part 2 – Why Writers Don’t Need A Website

by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

This is the second of 10 Reasons Writers Don’t Need A Website, poking little holes of honesty into the reasons writers are urged to “go get a website.”

Heck, I’ll probably even tell you the real reasons you should have one, the reasons that really matter.

you_are_here

Reason #2. There really are other ways to find you.

There’s a scare tactic that says, “If you don’t have a website, no one can find you!”  Even fiction writers are told this.

Let’s turn this around.  Is it impossible for those writers who don’t have a website to be found?  Totally impossible?

What about…

  • Reviews of Their Writing
  • Guest Articles
  • Interviews
  • Services and Professional Directories
  • Amazon Author Pages
  • Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, etc.)
  • Yelp and Other Review Sites
  • Yellow Pages, Google Search and Google Business, and Other Online Directories
  • Freelance Writing Bureaus
  • Societies, Organizations, and Associations
  • Publisher Sites

TRUTH FOR FREELANCE WRITERS AND EDITORS:

If you offer writing services, YES, you need to be listed correctly online in the key lookup directories.  And YES, a website is a good idea, but if you have bad reviews on review sites, your website may not matter.  (They’ll never click on it.) 

Plus you have many ways to get the word out if you don’t have a site.

TRUTH FOR BOOK WRITERS:

If your book isn’t available where they’re looking, such as a bookstore, that’s a problem.  That’s where they hope to find you, first of all.  And if they search on your name or title, they should find you at any number of online retailers.

SO WHAT’S THE REAL REASON YOU NEED A WEBSITE?

Because many of the other places where they can find you give very little information.  It’s like a 10 second pitch.

If you have your own website…

  1. You can be generous with the information you provide.

  2. You can speak directly to unasked questions and create an atmosphere of trust.
  3. You have time (spent reading multiple pages) to develop a sense of relationship between you and your website reader.
  4. You have the opportunity to surprise and delight your website visitors with non-fragmented information (unlike much of social media)  that you’ve designed especially for her or him.  It could be writing excerpts and samples, free guides, contests, or anything under the sun.

That’s a lot more than just “finding you.” 

I’d love to see writers get websites because of they will wield the mighty website power, not because they feel threatened and motivated by fear.  I’m officially opposed to subliminal blackmail sales techniques.

Long live the sword of website greatness!

TO BE CONTINUED

clip_image001[4]Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone: (1) Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and (2) Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Writing.

What Is Your Fiction Writing Litmus Test?

 by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

Until You Have Standards, It’s Hard to Know If You Meet Them

Yesterday I watched a fan-flipping-tastic TED Talk (TED TALK: Colin Stokes: How movies teach manhood) that just might change the way you and I write fiction.  

ted

(*Ted Talks are a series of amazing presentations containing “Ideas Worth Sharing.)

First, scroll down for the talk, if you can watch right now.  I’ll wait.  Good.  Colin mentioned The Bechdel Test, used to quickly gauge women’s relevance in movies, but works for books, too.

The Bechdel Test

(1) It (a movie) has to have at least two women in it, (2) who talk to each other, (3) about something besides a man.

Wikipedia

(Megwrites developed an even better test here. But you just have to love the simplicity and humor of the original.)

An Interesting Thing….

A great many Romance novels, a genre that has its roots in the celebration of women’s stories) would fail this test, which I find interesting.

Why?  Because so many authors narrow their focus so that it’s the hero and heroine in the scene (and book) only.  And because… a dozen things.

Maybe it’s subconscious. 

Maybe if we authors knew about this test, we’d want to add a female character who can talk to the heroine about something other than That Darn Man.

(I come from the Romance Genre as a baby writer.  There are MANY books that do meet this test.  So don’t be thinking I’m dissing Romance.)

Here’s the point:

What Is Your Bechdel Test?

What is the most powerful value, theme, trait, or myth that you can communicate to future generations?

What do you find riveting about the type of fiction you write?

Why are you spending your life on this specific story?  Why not another one?

What content, ideas, message, or technique do you want to be known for?

Do you actually do it?

Your Assignment

Create your own 3-part test to ensure that you spend your writing-life passing the test.

* * *

Here’s Colin’s TED talk:

Storytelling is Mythmaking

TED TALK: Colin Stokes: How movies teach manhood

 

 

SUMMARY: When Colin Stokes’ 3-year-old son caught a glimpse of Star Wars, he was instantly obsessed. But what messages did he absorb from the sci-fi classic?

Stokes asks for more movies that send positive messages to boys: that cooperation is heroic, and respecting women is as manly as defeating the villain.

clip_image001[4]Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone: (1) Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and (2) Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Writing.

How To Edit Like James Bond

by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

(This one goes out to Simon, William Simon.)

It’s All About Attention to Detail

“He was a secret agent, and still alive thanks to his exact attention to the detail of his profession.”
– Ian Fleming, Casino Royale

What is our profession?  Writing.  That makes editing life or death.  Stay alive.  It’s the Bond thing to do.  Here’s how.

Bring on the charm.

Does Bond whine when faced with an onerous task like revision?  No, Bond is not a whiner.  What is he?  A charmer.  Even when face-to-face with Dr. (First Draft Oh-) No.

Bond Smile

What is Charm? Charm is 1 part breezy confidence, 1 part mischievous curiosity, and  1 part devious back-up options.

Frankly, charm is power.

Yet, many writers face editing, rewriting, and revising more like this:

Oh no not this

Dread.  And is it likely to help you create a clever revision?  Nope.  You don’t even believe you can, for Pete’s sake.

Will it help you see your writing in a fresh, exciting way? See your way to a better draft?  Not bloody likely.

And what about that closed door of mental reluctance called your brain?  Is it prepared to try Q’s latest Pen Gun?  The Verbal Jiu Jitsu Grenade?  The Stealth Metaphor?   Because devious back-up options are where the best fun is had.

In summary…

Bond does not do dread.  Dread is not charming.  Enough said.

ASSIGNMENT:

Try out some Bond Charm on the next big, hairy rewrite you’re dreading.

Take on that confident gleam.  Allow a twinkle to enter your eye. Know you’re the best at what you do. You’re a 00 Writer.

Words come to you, bend to your will. They are putty in your manicured hands. They just can’t help themselves.

There are a thousand tricks up your sleeve.  You can see a hundred possibilities no matter what’s thrown at you.  In fact, you know that trouble is often the best kind of fun.

And, James, you look damn fine in that suit.

Continued….

clip_image001[4]Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone: (1) Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and (2) Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Writing.