Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Opusculus: How to Write a Short Story

Short story writing is much different from writing a full length novel for a variety of different reasons. The most obvious is of course that it is abbreviated, giving you less time in which to bring your plot to a resolution. In order to write a short story that will grab an editor's interest, there are a few key points that you will need to remember.
First, it is vital to plan out your entire story from start to finish. Work on your plot arcs and your character arcs ahead of time. In many cases, you will have only a few thousand words to tell your story. Short story writing is in many ways more difficult than writing a novel. You have to be able to tell an entire story in a short period of time and make it believable. By taking the time to plot out both arcs ahead of time, your task will be much easier.
Second, you need to find the focus of your short story. Is it character or plot driven? Are you covering one main event in the story or does it have a broader theme? Instead of getting overly ambitious with your story, focus on the little things and telling the story as briefly as possible. Avoid going into too much detail, or having your story drift into areas that are not important to the plot's resolution.
Lastly, if you have a story that keeps getting larger and larger, until you are unable to contain it in short story form, consider breaking up the plot into episodes. Demand is high for continuing sagas and sometimes short stories go beyond their original bounds. A short story can be a day in the life, or it can be a hundred years condensed into a few pages. The key is making it believable and making it compelling.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Odd Man Out: Third Person Point of View

The vast majority of books, both fiction and non fiction, are written in the third person point of view. This style can also be termed the "omniscient viewpoint." It puts the reader in the place of observing the characters and what they are thinking and saying. It has become popular due to the fact that this style is the easiest to read, allows writers to effectively broadcast the inner thoughts of characters and is considered to be more reader friendly than first person.
If you are just starting out in writing, it can be easy to get your point of view messed up. To use an example, when writing in the third person, it should also refer to a character as "he" or "she" never "I." Some writers have difficulty with dialogue in this point of view, but the general rule of thumb that you can follow is to write as though you are listening to your characters speak, not as though you are the person speaking. That trick will help you remain in the third person successfully.
The third person in this point of view is actually the reader. They are observing the story unfold before them. It works well across many different genres and is a style that most readers are comfortable with. Recently, more novels are being published that are written in the first person style, but reviews have been mixed.
For those just getting started in their writing career it is best to stick with tried and true methods, especially for a debut book. If you can write capably in the first person and tell a story that is not jarring to the reader, give it a try. However, for most of us, the third person point of view is definitely the best one to use.

Monday, March 29, 2010

What Did You Just Call Me? Selecting a Best-Selling Book Title

Years ago, “Steal This Book” was the actual title of a book. People stole it. People also bought it. Many of them did so simply on the basis of the cleverness of the title. Titles, like book covers, should not be the criteria on which the merits of a book are judged. In reality, however, they are. Give careful thought to selecting a book title that moves people to buy.
The book title is often one of the first things a writer will think about. This is not always the best of ideas. While having a title in the beginning may help form the early thinking of a book, it will likely be a hindrance later on, as books evolve throughout the writing process. Titles that fit in the beginning do not necessarily fit by the time the book is finished.
Start with a working title, but don’t exchange marital vows with it.
It is difficult to accurately detail what makes one book title more appealing than another. Many of the most successful titles are simply a play on words, sometimes they are meant to be provocative (Steal This Book), often they simply cause the reader to think. There are some general guidelines. Contemporary catch phrases are good for topical books, but not for books that are meant to be read for years to come. The use of subheads is common in non-fiction and less so in fiction.
Write down ten possible titles for your book and “market test” those titles with friends, coworkers, neighbors. We call this a “Title Storm” at Yorkshire Publishing. Pay attention to their responses. Which titles do they seem to like the most, which seem to elicit the most curiosity, which make them giggle or think?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It's Your Fault: Writing the Book’s Dedication

From the dedication in a recently published non-fiction book: “A lot of authors say that they could not have written books were it not for the help of this person or that person. I’d like to say that this was the case with my book, but nothing could be further from the truth. I got no help from anyone.”
Ok, so this might be a bit…pointed…for a dedication, but it serves to underscore the intent behind a book dedication. Most books require a tremendous amount of work, and much of that work is done in solitude. For first- time authors, all that solitary work is also usually being done without any kind of guarantee that the work will ever see the light of day. And so, for those who are helpful to the author along the way, even if it’s just in the form of encouragement, the gratitude is often deeply felt. And the desire to express that on the part of the author is strong.
Truth is, for as solitary an act as writing a book can be, the path from idea to book shelf is never a solitary one. Many people are involved in successfully bringing a book to market.
But of course, not all dedications are made to those who played a direct role in getting the work finished. Many authors, when writing the book’s dedication, are more inclined to think about the spouses who went without them to dinner and parties, or who suffered through months or years of angst or writers block. They think about their children, their parents, friends and teachers.
Writing the dedication, then, just becomes an act of ensuring that the contribution made by all those people is acknowledged within the book itself. Or, in the case of the author mentioned above, not.
Who will you dedicate your book to?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lying About People: Developing Fictional Characters

Character development is one of the main keys to writing a successful novel. If your characters are not believable and well rounded, your readers will not be able to keep their interest in your story. This is true whether your story is plot or character driven. It is vitally important for character driven stories.
There are many ways to create a believable character that your readers will either love, or love to hate. Likeability is an important part of character development, as well as motivation. If you can combine the two, you will be able to create characters that are real and three dimensional. That is the secret to success as a novelist.
First, create a backstory for every character in your book, no matter how insignificant they may be to the story. This will help you develop their motivation or why they do what they do and why they are the way that they are. Everyone has a story, and it is important to take the time to develop each character's personal story.
Next, you can develop a personality profile for your characters. How do they react under pressure? What little things do they do that make them real? One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is creating two dimension characters that have no personality quirks. While you do not want to go overboard with this, it is important to make each character an individual in their own right.
Your characters are people – real people – even if their lives are confined to the pages of your book. By looking at it in this way you will be able to create a story that is compelling, believable, and most importantly, highly readable. By going into your story with this mindset, you will be creating a book that will be read and this is the best goal a novelist can have.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cemetery Gates: Developing a Plot

Plot development is an area that many first time writers ignore. They have a story inside them that needs to come out and it is all too easy to make this the focus, instead of creating a plot that has a firm beginning, middle and end. Your readers will only be as passionate about your book as you are if you can create a thread that will capture them in the beginning and hold them to the very end.

The first step of plot development is to outline the general nature of your story. It is very helpful to create a chapter by chapter outline of what you are planning to focus on for your book. This may change once you get into the story, but it is very helpful to have this outline at the beginning. You may also want to create a treatment that is a condensed version of your story. This can assist you in finding plot points that may be weak before they become a problem.
The next step is believability. Readers are savvy and suspension of disbelief will only go so far. It is necessary to create a plot that is believable and one that readers can relate to, no matter what genre you are writing in. Mapping out your plot arc can help you create a believable story.
Last but not least, character development is also central to a good plot. Your characters need to grow throughout the book, not become stagnant. Even in a plot driven novel you have to remember what drives the plot – the characters.
Take the time to plan your novel and your characters. Work out the trouble spots ahead of time and you will be able to create a compelling story that will be published.

Monday, March 22, 2010

In the Big Inning: Writing an Introduction for Your Book

Writing the introduction to a book is sometimes the best part. For this reason, it is also often enough the only part of a book that gets written. For this, and other important reasons, it is a good idea to save it for last. Writing the introduction after the book is complete is good not just to keep you from losing interest after writing the fun part, but it also keeps the content of the intro consistent with the intent of an intro.
Introductions are generally used to provide an overview of the book, and the overview to a book is typically most efficiently done by waiting until the book is actually completed.
Introductions are also places where some authors will take the time to tell the reader what they think, in a way, or to a degree they have not done in the book itself. This is a common practice in non-fiction books written by journalists, for example. Journalists tend to write books that aim to be objective, and so the introduction becomes the place where they can write their opinion.
Introductions, though, more than anything else, should give the reader an idea of what they are in for. Some introductions provide a chapter- by- chapter or section- by -section review, covering the highlights and perhaps a key detail or two.
A book introduction is not unlike an introduction of friends (though the book introduction is certainly longer). The key is to convey a sense of the content, and the manner in which the content is being handled.
Some introductions are used to establish a running metaphor which is used throughout the book, or to introduce key contextual information that is needed to fully understand the material in the book. Whatever the case, relish the writing of the introduction, because it is the fun part, but hold off until the rest of the book is finished so that you can give full and complete overview of the book you are putting in front of your audience.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Where Do the Days Go? - Creating a Writing Calendar

To paraphrase a famous management expert, “that which gets planned, gets done.” Writing of any appreciable length or complexity will have many different parts. Some will be dependent on other parts. Others can be completed on a more or less stand alone basis. The complexity can sometimes seem overwhelming. Many writers break down the project into its component pieces.
Once broken down into manageable chunks, writers will create a structured writing calendar. This helps them to take one piece at a time and create a set of deadlines around completing given parts of the book writing process.
Books that are being written, backed by publishing agreements, are aided by this process because missing a deadline with a publisher can have serious consequences. It is difficult to determine at the outset how long things will take. This is the nature of creative process. A calendar tells you how long you have. For this reason, a calendar can also be a constraint on the creative process. It is important to find the right balance between the need for completion and the need for creative excellence.
For example, a non-fiction writer often engages in significant research activity. In fact, as any writer/researcher can tell you, there will always be more to research. Setting a deadline around when research will end often helps writers to have a cutoff point, after which they will turn their attention to the writing so they can complete the work.
The point of a calendar is not to be a dictator, but to be an aid in helping the writer manage the competing priorities involved in completing the work.
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