Tag Archives: fiction writing

How To Be a Weaver Bird – And Win a Story Contest

Yeo-HS-Right(1)by John Yeoman

Are you a peacock or a weaver bird? Some writers – peacocks – flaunt their lovely words and beg us to admire them. Others are weaver birds, patiently building a structure that’s serviceable but dull.

Some preen. Some delve.

Or so I’ve discovered from three years of judging the Writers’ Village story competition. Who wins the prizes? Peacocks or weaver birds? Neither. The cash goes to those who combine both colour and craft, preening and delving – with flair.

Here are three fast ways to blend colour and craft and write a best-selling story – or, at least, win a cash award in a story contest:

1. Welcome clichés

You have a plot idea, right? A few dramatic events? A snatch or two of dialogue? Scribble it all down as fast as you can. Don’t wait for the ‘right’ words to come to you. Clichés, stagy incidents, clumsy expressions? Welcome them. They’re fine. Just get the tale written!

Then throw it in a closet for a month. Pluck it out with a sniff, tone it down and tune each sentence so it sings. The job should now be easy.

‘She rolled her eyes to heaven. “Joe,” she spat. “You are a lying bastard!”’

That’s formulaic. Boring. What are you really trying to express?

‘Camilla toyed with her bread stick. She wouldn’t look at me. “Is there somebody else?” I tried to smile. “Of course, not.” I leaned back in my chair. “That’s what you said before.” The bread stick crumbled in her hand.’

Now the incident, underplayed but loaded with body language, has gained depth.

2. Knock out the ‘show off’ language

Peacocks love to display their metaphors, fine sensibilities and erudite tropes. Tropes?  ‘Tropes’ is itself an erudite term. They wouldn’t buy it at WalMart. Why didn’t I simply write ‘tricks of style’? Because I was showing off.

‘Show off’ writing stops the reader. It says: ‘forget the story. Look at me, the author!’ In commercial fiction, we are allowed to use just one show-off expression per thousand words. More than that and our name is Umberto Eco and the reader loses the plot.

‘Literary’ works are another matter. If our name is Umberto Eco we can strut our ego in every line. Alas, our name is not Eco.

3. Firm up the structure

A good story is a ‘globed compacted thing’ (Virginia Woolf). Every word, incident and exchange of speech should support the plot. Is your structure strong? Does your story cling close to the plot? Is your first paragraph arresting and the close emphatic and clear?

Does the reader finish your story and sigh? Like somebody who has just consumed a filet de bouef without a shred of gristle?

True, you can end with a mystery or question but the reader must feel: ‘nothing could have been added or taken away from this. The story works.’

Here’s a tip. Give your tale to a friend who has no cause to love you. Ask: ‘does it work? Can you spot my deliberate howler?’ Bless them when they frown and chortle and ask you: ‘What’s the point of all that silly chatter between Joe and Madge? Why does Joe dump her? Why doesn’t Madge protest? And what, exactly, is the wretched story all about?’

It’s music to your ears. We’re all too close to our own story to spot passages that do nothing or are obscure to the reader. Or, for that matter, stories that make no sense at all.

Just apply that three-step process. Add flair. And you’ll be points ahead of the average story contestant. Gulp, I might enjoy your story. I might love it so much that I read it three times. Worse, I may even have to pay you a cash prize!

Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, judges the Writers’ Village story competition and is a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. He has been a successful commercial author for 42 years. His free 14-part course in writing fiction for profit can be found at: http://www.writers-village.org/contest-success

Writing and Publishing Fiction: Victor David Giron on Curbside Splendor

Victor David Giron Curbside Splendor ChicagoVictor David Giron runs Curbside Splendor, an indie publisher based in Chicago. In part one of Joe Wallace’s interview with Giron he asked about writing fiction in general, his book Sophomoric Philosophy, and the struggle a new fiction writer faces when trying to find a voice. In the second part of our discussion, Giron explains his publishing work, and offers some sound advice to aspiring fiction writers.

FZ: Tell us about Curbside Splendor–you obviously see farther than publishing your own work, what’s the challenge of juggling your own PR and marketing with the needs and demands of putting out other people’s material, too.

Victor David Giron: I started Curbside Splendor originally just to publish Sophomoric Philosophy, when I realized one could do such a thing.

Being someone that likes business, I thought it would be neat challenge to try and understand the publishing process. During the process of working with the editor, the designer, a friend that did the artwork for it, I took a liking to publishing and decided to start publishing work by others on the Curbside site.

It also seemed that if publishing the book through Curbside Splendor was going to ever be marginally successfully, I needed to make Curbside a true publisher and not just my own vehicle. I now really enjoy reading submissions, finding ones that fit, and then making them look beautiful and presenting them to other readers. We’re now just releasing our first semi-annual print journal, a collection of short stories and poetry, and are preparing our next release, a chap book of poems by Chicago native Charles Bane Jr.

It’s a challenge, for sure, to juggle marketing the work of others with my own. But I now see myself as just one of many Curbside contributors, and am as, if not more, eager to promote the work of the other contributors, because I genuinely enjoy it. In this sense Curbside has grown much large than being my own project and I plan to continue making it be so.

You see both sides of the publishing world, so an aspiring writer is going to want to know–how does your publishing experience inform your work as an author in terms of making it as a professional fiction writer?

More than anything I’ve learned that you can’t commit to fiction writing unless you absolutely love it and are willing to do it without any guarantee of ever getting paid, let alone financially surviving from it. Even as a small publisher, you publish because it’s something you want to do, period. If you’re willing to do that, and are willing to engage in a collaborative community, there are huge rewards, though perhaps not so much in a monetary sense.

And you have to have a ton of patience, be able to accept rejection, after rejection, after rejection, and be willing to keep trying. That only comes after working on your writing to make it as honest and good as you can, and having confidence in it.

What’s the best advice you were ever given about writing and publishing? And what advice do you have to offer with the shoe on the other foot, so to speak?

When I was working with R.A. Miller on Sophomoric Philosophy, I asked him if I should be concerned with how autobiographical the novel was. I had even contemplated publishing it under a pseudonym. He told me “Dude, 95% of the stuff you read that’s called ‘fiction’ is based on someone’s real life. You either you accept that and move on, or you don’t move forward with the project.”

It then made me think of how so many of the books I’ve loved are autobiographical in nature as well, and it made me feel comfortable with getting behind the book and publishing it. So I guess I’d share that same advice with an aspiring author, to not be afraid and work with your own personal experiences to craft your work. We all have interesting stories to tell, and it’s only natural to hone them and present them in a way that other’s will relate to and enjoy reading.

Don’t force your voice into some genre just because you feel it’s necessary in order to be commercially successfully. Let your literary voice be your own.

Lightning Strikes for Fiction Writers

Freelance-Zone.com is pleased to welcome our newest regular contributor, Diane Holmes of Pitch University. She has some valuable insights for fiction writers and we’re happy to give fiction some more love on FZ by way of her work. She has already submitted several entries in a series on fiction, but now she joins us with a new ongoing column–please join us in a hearty welcome for Diane as she kicks off  Fiction-Zone:  Leaps in Fiction Mastery.

fiction writing adviceFiction is not a career where there is an entry-level position.  There is no internship. No junior associate.  No level 1 or part-time helper.  And certainly no training wheels.

You enter the career of fiction writing only after you’ve reached the skill and mastery of the published authors who have been writing for years.  To get a slot in a publisher’s schedule or win the hearts of readers, you have to be at least as good at the writers they already work with and read.  Those writers have already have built audiences and delighted fans.  You have to be *that* good.

Yes, I see your hand raised, yes you in the back row.  You want to know, “How do I get there? How to I go from newbie writer to master craftsman?  Or, more importantly, how do I go from “I’m really good but can’t sell,” to “I’m running with the Big Dogs.”  And over there…. Ah, speak up. You want to know “How do I know my novel is ready for me to self-publish?  How do I know it’s good enough to send to an agent?”

Usually you’re taught something step-by-step, but sometimes, magic happens, and you make a leap in understanding, flying over 10 or 20 steps in a single instant.   It’s like a flash of story inspiration, but for your craft of writing skills.  I call this Making the Leap.

Let’s do that.  Let’s make leaps together.

I’ll talk with some of my favorite writers, explore the missing pieces, and answer your questions in ways that catch you off guard.

There are 1,000 websites and blogs devoted to the craft of fiction.  (I’m I’m pretty sure I love them all.) But none of those sites are focused on the magic of Leap Making.

So, this is my challenge to you:  think of your writing friends, the one whose brains seems to catch fire when the explore craft, the one who light up when they learn something new. Lure them here with cookies and lattes. There’s something amazing that happens when like-minded writers come together, poised on the brink of learning.

Yes, Leap Mojo.

(Oh, this *so* deserves to be on a t-shirt.)

It’s a lightning strike for your writer’s brain.

Diane Holmes
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Guest Blogger Wanted: Fiction Writing and Editing

Fiction writers wantedFreelance-Zone.com needs a guest blog post or two from an experienced writer and/or editor of fiction. We’ve covered a wide range of topics here, but fiction is one of those areas that doesn’t get the love it deserves, so we’re looking to branch out a bit.

Specifically we’re looking for an experienced fiction writer and/or editor who can write confidently on a variety of a topics related to the business of writing fiction. Wisdom about how to write fiction abounds, so we don’t need to re-invent the wheel. Instead, tell us how you make money doing it and what it takes to get there.

We like our guest bloggers to plug their current projects, link back to their blogs or resume pages, etc. so this is a good opportunity to blow your own horn as well as give sage advice…

If you’re interested, please drop us a line to editor (at) freelance-zone.com and be sure to let us know a bit of background including where you’ve published and what you’re up to now. We look forward to hearing from you!

The Benefits of A Writer’s Getaway

hotel providence in Rhode Island

Transparency: The “And The Plot Thickens” novel-writing workshop at the Hotel Providence in Rhode Island is a Freelance-Zone sponsor. That said, we really think writers can get a lot out of this type of retreat, so we’re not hawking something here we don’t believe in. Travel broadens the mind!

A lot has been made about the profession of writing as a solitary endeavor. There’s a romantic image of the writer locked away in a room somewhere banging away on a keyboard safe from intrusions from the outside world…until the writer is in need of some inspiration, of course.

What happens when you get stuck and decide your book, article, or even a blog post needs something more than it’s got? That’s when the notion of the solitary writer goes right out the window. Writers NEED human interaction to get the job done, whether in the form of an interview, inspiration from overhearing a random conversation on the train or bus, even just looking up a literary reference is still going back to the well, so to speak, of the shared human experience.

I said all that to say the writer’s retreat, conference, or workshop is a pretty valuable thing. It’s easy to get married to that lone writer stereotype, but how do you know if your ideas are any good? How do you get confidence in your work?

You might think I’m telling people to go out in search of validation through the approval of people at these writing workshops—far from it. Rather than attending them looking for someone to affirm your basic genius, you should go to a writer’s retreat or conference looking for ways to overcome your shortfalls as a writer, to learn why your strengths work like they do and to undo bad habits that only come to light when you’re working under scrutiny.

You know the habits I mean—the ones you can’t help noticing when somebody else reads your material in front of you. “Wow, I DO have a set of crutch words!” It’s embarrassing at first, but realizing that every writer makes some of the same mistakes can actually help motivate you to be more vigilant.

A writer’s workshop like And The Plot Thickens is also helpful for another reason. Some writers don’t realize they’re toiling away at one type of writing when they could be more adept in a different area. Are you dreaming of shifting gears to a different sort of work?

If you’ve got a novel in you but don’t know how to get it out, this type of weekend workshop could be the way to unlock those particular doors. The same goes for any other type of writing—a novelist would do well to attend a blogger conference, a fiction writer could get a taste of straight journalism, etc. There’s also a lot to be said for getting away, spending a weekend at a place like the Hotel Providence in Rhode Island, and experiencing a complete change of scenery.

It’s never a bad thing to try something new, and those who have already committed to a novel, blog, or straight non-fiction format should give serious thought to spending time with colleagues and peers in environments like this. It’s good for you.

(For more information about the various “Discover Your Passion” workshops, visit the Hotel Providence on the web.)

–Joe Wallace

Image courtesy of Rhode Island Roads.

William Gibson’s Book Proposal for Spook Country

william-gibson.jpgWilliam Gibson is one of the world’s most renown science fiction authors. For all intents and purposes, Gibson has transcended sci-fi into a genre of his own creation much in the same way the late, great John D. MacDonald grew his own action market with his Travis McGee series. Gibson doesn’t use a central character to drive his novels the way MacDonald did with the McGee books, but the analogy still holds–both Gibson and MacDonald’s writing possess one-of-a-kind qualities often imitated, but never equalled

Gibson is a great example of how a writer survives–he’s branched out plenty with articles for Wired, spoken word appearances (including the amazing Technodon Live album by Yellow Magic Orchestra) and film screenplay credits for his work including 1995’s Johnny Mnemonic.

He’s basically a legend in his field, but even Gibson can’t just plop out a manuscript and ship it off to a publisher–he goes through the same motions other writers do, albeit with a LOT more clout. Would you be surprised to learn William Gibson submitted a proposal for his most recent book, Spook Country? It’s true.

In addition to a great interview with Gibson at Amazon.com, the same page also features this link to Gibson’s proposal for the book, fascinating reading if you’re curious to know just what it takes to capture the attention of an editor. Granted, there is no cover letter–not that Gibson needs one–and you know he’s got the editor’s attention from the second the envelope hits the desk. That said, the proposal makes for worthy reading if you can’t seem to picture what that proposal–the first introduction to the book for your editor–is all about.

If you haven’t read Spook Country yet, beware, there are some spoilers in the proposal. What is most interesting for those who know the book is how differently the proposal looks compared to the final product. Cheers to Gibson and Amazon for giving us a tiny glimpse behind the scenes.