Thursday, 19 April 2018

How to Send a Manuscript in a way that gets you Read by R.A. Black

The dreaded query letter. A hated, but essential, part of getting a novel published. Agents receive huge numbers of submissions every week, so they need a quick way to sift through. While some may also ask for a sample of writing, many will reject purely on the query, so it’s important to get it right.
Given that pressure, it’s easy to get bogged down in query hell, but if you strip things back, there’s a template that covers most situations. Queries fall naturally into a three paragraph format, like this:

First paragraph: Introduces main character, setting, situation and goals.

Second paragraph: Turning point, conflict, rising tension, antagonist.

Third paragraph: Stakes and consequences. What happens if the character fails, and will they face any cost if they win?

If you start with these guidelines, you’ll have a template to hang the unique parts of your story.

What else to remember?

Always start your query letter with Dear and the agent’s name. Never use a generic greeting like Dear Agents, and double check spelling and pronouns. This is a business letter, and you don’t want to start with a bad impression.

Finish your query with a line or two that includes your word count, genre, and age category. If you know a couple of similar books, you can mention this here, so the agent has an idea of where you think your book sits, and that you know the market. Finally, if there’s anything that makes you stand out as the author, for example if your book is a cyber thriller and you work in information security, or if the book focuses on a particular culture you belong to, include it here.

Personalise your query

What you have so far is your base query. Each one you actually send is likely to be slightly different. Before sending, make sure you read the agent’s submission guide on their website. They may want a synopsis or a first chapter included. They may want things like a log line or a bio that other agents aren’t bothered by. Some want the housekeeping information (word count, genre etc) at the top rather than the bottom.

It’s also a good idea to track down interviews with agents, as they often go into more detail about their personal preference, such as whether they like a line of why they were selected, or whether such things get in the way and they’d prefer to get straight down to it.

Things to make sure you do

Always start with a blank email. That makes sure you don’t do things like forget to change the agent name. Trust me, it’s embarrassing.

Send a copy of your first email to another email account, or a friend. That way you can check your formatting doesn’t change, and there aren’t any strange backgrounds or similar.

Make a checklist so you don’t forget to include any of the extras an agent might ask for.
Send your queries out in small batches. That way if you find it isn’t getting the expected response, you can amend it before it gets in front of any more agents.

Read your query out loud, either yourself or use a text to speech device. It’s often easier to hear mistakes than see them.

Keep it short. Queries should be between around 200 to 350 words. Fantasy and sci-fi queries will often end up at the larger end, romance at the shorter.

Read as many queries as you can, particularly successful ones, to get an idea of what works. There are several archives on the internet, with Query Shark being one of the best.

Follow hashtags on Twitter like #tenqueries to get an idea of how agents think.

Remember rejection isn’t personal. And it isn’t always a reflection of the writing. Many submissions are rejected for utterly subjective reasons, like not liking sad endings, or because the agent already has several books like this on their list.

Things to Avoid

Don’t write your query from your character’s perspective. The only part that should be in the first person is the bio.

Don’t forget to show, not tell. Don’t list themes and moods, let them come out in your word choice.

Don’t write a synopsis. The query shouldn’t just be a list of things that happen, and generally only focuses on things in the first third of the book.

Similarly, don’t try and cram too much in. Don’t worry about getting all the details of your world-building in. Just enough to show how your setting is different.

Make sure you label your query correctly. A suspense novel is different to a thriller; women’s fiction is not romance.

Don’t pitch more than one project at a time. If your book is part of a series, mention this, but don’t go into details about the sequels.

Don’t be vague. Phrases like ‘dark secrets’, ‘unknown events’, ‘mysterious stranger’ are not enticing, because they’ve seen them all before. They want to know the things that make your story unique. Equally, avoid rhetorical questions.

Don’t talk down other books or genres. You and everyone you know might hate a book, and think yours is much better. But you don’t know the agent’s opinion on it. You won’t put yourself in a good light by slating something they enjoy. Keep your query professional at all times.

Don’t neglect to think about word choice. The query should show off your writing ability as much as the manuscript. Flat writing in a query will get you rejected, even if your manuscript is beautiful.

Don’t attach anything not requested. It will often get your email deleted. Equally, if they do request something, don’t forget it.

Queries can be fun

You’re selling your manuscript, so the query is the time to remember how much you love it. Think about all its strengths, how your betas have said they couldn’t put it down. You’re distilling that awesomeness down to grab an agent’s attention. If you focus on your love for your work, it will shine though in the query.

Some useful links

R.A. Black

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Liar Liar Pants on Fire by Kathryn Hewitt

Lots of authors claim to be professional liars. Fiction isn’t real, so a writer must be good at lying. This always worried me as I am totally useless at telling lies. Okay, decades ago my English teacher once let me off for handing in an uncompleted essay, saying that my dog had eaten half of it, but I’m not sure she actually believed me. Does that mean my writing is doomed to failure?

I may have become a little more accomplished at lying since having a child. “No, you can’t have that toy- it’s for over five-year-olds and you’re only four,” or,  “No, there aren’t any biscuits left.” However, I still find it hard to tell a bare-faced lie. I can’t seem to find plausible alternatives to lies, and I’m certain I look shifty when I tell them.

I haven’t been published yet,  but I like to think it isn’t that bad. If my lies are terribly unconvincing why isn’t my fiction? Maybe because I don’t see fiction as lying. Okay, it isn’t strictly speaking ‘real’, but that doesn’t make it a lie. JK Rowling was asked when a fan’s Hogwarts letter was coming. Her reply was “All these people saying they never got their Hogwarts letter: you got the letter. You went to Hogwarts. We were all there together.” That sums it up for me. Fiction is real in your mind. You live through it, you believe it. That makes it real.

Our mind filters all reality. Whatever we experience goes through our mind and its preconceptions. When walking in the rain do you see it as a slog in the mud, or refreshing exercise with sparkly raindrops shining on branches? Which is real? Of course, it can be both. How you define something can depend on your mood, whether you have other things on your mind, your upbringing, your physical limitations, and so much more.

Good writing should make you feel you are in the world of the novel; seeing what the main character does, feeling the same emotions. It also communicates bigger truths. Themes such as finding your place in life and doing the right thing, resonate outside the plot of a book. They are meaningful and therefore real to a reader. As Ursula Le Guin said of writers telling metaphorical truths: “When they are done writing down this pack of lies, they say, ‘There! That's the truth’!” I enjoy reading fantasy, but the characters experience the same emotions, the same difficulties in life as anyone, regardless of the setting. Fantasy is as real as contemporary fiction. Those deeper undercurrents in writing are what makes it true.

When I was a child I liked to read boarding school books (I still do, actually), but to me they were as fantastical as Narnia. I was as likely to meet the ice queen as go to Switzerland to school. But both genres spoke to me about what really mattered-  fairness, helping other people, and growing up. Fiction should have truth at its heart.

Lies to me are nasty little things designed to deceive people or to cover up something you’re ashamed of. Writing doesn’t do that – at least, not by the end of the book –  it throws light on people and the things they do. It uncovers people’s characters and their motives for action. What could be more true?

Kathryn Hewitt

Kathryn is writing a fantasy involving a coal mine protest and lots of magic. She is hard-of-hearing like her main character. Luckily she had no esoteric powers to misuse, unlike her characters, and had to rely on traditional protesting to help prevent an opencast coal mine planned nearby her own home in Northumberland. She's now working on book two of her trilogy as well as writing a standalone Young Adult fantasy.

How to find Kathryn

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Author Interview: Minusfractions

Today I'm joined by a writer who goes by the name Minusfractions. Here's their 'all things writing related' interview:

What inspires you to write?

In short, I grew up in a family of giant nerds. I was always exposed to fantasy and sci-fi worlds that caught my imagination and always had my nose stuck in a book. I think it was pretty much inevitable that one day I would turn to writing and put worlds of my own down on paper. It gave me more freedom than ever to explore the kinds of worlds I enjoyed and it’s a hobby I’ve gotten lost in over the years. Now that I’ve started down the rabbit hole of different potential plots and characters, I’m not sure I’ll ever stop. It’s great stress relief, good fun, and, at this point in my life, I’m not sure what I’d do with my time if I wasn’t writing.

What is your favourite genre to read?

I think I’d have to say that my favourite genre is mystery, because it’s the common denominator of all of my favourite books (though the books themselves are fantasy/sci-fi). I really enjoy speculating what might happen and trying to piece together the clues myself. I don’t mind guessing it correctly, but I love when things catch me off-guard. There’s nothing wrong with stories where you know exactly what you’re going to get, but I do love being taken for a ride.

What genre do you write? Why?

Mostly sci-fi, sometimes fantasy, always with a bit of mystery. This is largely because this is what I love to read and so it’s what I end up daydreaming about, but it’s also because I love the opportunities that come with those genres. There are endless things you can do with them and in a million different ways, and that freedom makes me endlessly excited and inspired.

What are your writing goals (big or small)?

Like so many authors, I would love to be published, but I know that because of how busy my life is and the work it would involve that it is a long-term goal for me.

In the meantime, I just want to write, and enjoy writing. I’m in the last few years of a busy non-writing degree so I’m happy with any progress I make. I don’t want it to be buried by my studies and be difficult to pick back up later, and I also don’t want to feel like writing is a chore. So far, writing is something that has always been there for me as a little escape, and I don’t want that to change.

What is your biggest writing achievement so far?

I’d break it down into two things: the sheer amount I’ve written, and the fact I’ve stuck with it. I’m endlessly proud of the number of novels and short stories I’ve written and published online, even the very old ones from my teen years. It’s a hobby I’m really glad I’ve stuck with through the hard times of receiving feedback online, trying to promote myself and general teenage self-consciousness. I’m glad of it now, more than ever, since I can look back and see how far I’ve come. I spent a long time reflecting on my writing and myself as an author over the summer, and more than anything, I came to be really proud of what I’ve achieved.

What is the best comment you've received about your writing?

I love it when people get invested in the worlds that I build. Good worldbuilding is something that I, as a reader, really look for in a book and I think that’s part of the reason why I’m always really glad to hear that people like mine. Not to mention the fact that worldbuilding is a lot of work, and it’s always nice to have that acknowledged.

What are you working on at the moment?

I have three main things I’m working on through 2018:

A new sci-fi novel, called “Isolation” that is a kind of space-opera mystery. It’s about halfway through the first draft, I think, so forgive me for not having many details to share beyond that. There will be more details put out on my various profiles when it’s closer to coming online.

I have a list of short stories I’d like to finish before the year ends, I’m halfway through that, as well, though I’ve yet to edit and post any of the ones I’ve finished so far, so I need to pick that up.

I started a blog in January, and I’m continuing to work on that. Non-fiction writing was something I first gave a try at the end of last year and was something I began to enjoy very quickly, so I’m currently experimenting with that.

Do you tend to write in the morning, afternoon, or evening?

I’m a morning person, so during holidays and at weekends when I have time, I write in the morning. I’m very productive early in the morning and when I’m relaxed I’m pretty inspired, too. However, the logistics of life mean that evenings, particularly evening train journeys home, are the main time I write during term time and despite me usually being tired, these can be very productive too. I always manage to write more than I think I will.

What is your writing strength?

My strengths lie in world-building. It’s always been the most important part of books, games and movies to me, and it’s a part I really enjoy. Now I’ve learned and practised avoiding info-dumping, readers say it’s the strongest part of my stories, and I agree.

How do you feel about the Oxford comma?

It’s a must to avoid confusion in pieces of writing, and if you don’t believe it, google “funny examples without Oxford comma” and you’ll see why.

Quickfire round

- Pace or prose?
Prose. Good plots/worlds are more important than speed.

- Brilliant characters or a shocking twist?
Characters. Twists only work once or twice, but good characters are forever.

- First person or third person?
Third.

- Multiple POVs or single POV?
Not fussy – both have their pros and cons for a story.

- Present tense or past tense?
Past tense.

- Romance or thriller?
Thriller.

- Fantasy or Sci-fi?
Sci-fi, but only just.

- Heroes or villains?
Either, so long as they’re good!
Lastly, please provide any links which you'd like me to add to your wattpad story, personal blog, site, twitter etc.

Where to find Minusfractions

Wattpad: (@minusfractions) https://www.wattpad.com/user/minusfractions
Wordpress: (@minusfractions) https://mushwritesblog.wordpress.com
Instagram: (@minusfractions)  https://www.instagram.com/minusfractions

Friday, 13 April 2018

Open Critique: Obscurity

Tapa Tasneem has bravely offered up their chapter for me to sink my teeth into. I enjoyed reviewing this opening and could see how a lot of small tweaks in the writing style could really bring out the best in it.

Here’s my line review:

Hans Hayder was never told no by anyone.

His heart pulsed against his chest as he felt the cigarette climb to his mouth and exhaled with an aura of tranquillity. [A nice striking image with lots of emotion! There are tricks to making this sound instantly stronger (see below)] His being [Isn’t ‘his being’ just himself, so you could just say ‘he’?] felt lighter and for just the smallest amount of time, he forgot who and where he was. His feet left the ground, and he was soaring like the hawk that his mother had imitated to him as a child [This really makes me wonder what the hawk means to him and why his mother imitating one sticks in his mind - maybe explore this intriguing idea. Perhaps split the sentence in two to improve the flow, and then expand on the idea.]. The sky was illuminated as he passed villages surrounded by forests and cities with shining neon lights. [Nice detail, but I can’t tell whether the soaring is a metaphor or literal. Either way, more sensory detail would be great.]

Unexpectedly, reality was a heavy shove[The passive voice here makes it hard to understand this phrase (see below)], and he was pushed back into the world that he had now been accustomed to: the world where he was a grown man with no mother to cook for him and no wife to sing for him. [Poor guy. I like the slither of detail here – it’s the right amount to intrigue without info dumping.]

The dim lights of the delicatessen were disheartening [How so?] as he was dropped to the ground from the tallest of skies[In what way?]. There were a few men standing [This makes me realise I don’t know where they are – perhaps a line to describe the setting? He might have blocked out where he is, but I want to know so I understand the context and can picture the scene] with stronger dosages of drugs that Hans couldn't stand to smell himself. He passed the cigarette to Maj Ali, a friend since their successful births [This seems strange phrasing]. Maj dropped the cigarette to the ground and crushed it beneath his heel, imagining his sister's tan face against his foot [We’ve jumped POV here – I think it would be best to stay over the shoulder of Hans, but that will depend on the rest of the story].

Hans walked towards the outline of his navy [The description of Hans’ motorcycle is a good way to show his personality, but 'navy' doesn’t really say much. Maybe pick one word or a short description that gives off personality more. Is it an old rusty bike, or shiny and new? Or does it have skulls or flowers or a hawk painted on the side? Each of those things hints at who Hans could be.] motorcycle slowly, his head bowed down just so slightly that it was nearly unnoticeable and his heart beating a bit more calmly than it had just a few minutes previously. Suddenly, he heard the hum of a motorcycle, and as he looked up, he saw the headlights of his motorcycle blare like neon lights in the darkness. After quite some time, his eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness as he squinted against the light. [I think there's a fair bit of repetition about the light. It might feel more sudden with shorter sentences and without the mention of time passing e.g. The hum of a motorcycle closed in on him and light drenched him from the headlights. He squinted, raising his arm to adjust to the sight.]

Hans realised that it was the hum of the engine of his motorcycle, and something clicked in his mind then: Someone was stealing his prized possession that he had worked for years to get. [Great line! It’s good that there’s action right at the start of the book.]

What I’d recommend

The story seems to start in a good place, with (hopefully) a plot-related incident ready to happen in the next few paragraphs - that's a great start. There are some tricks to instantly strengthen a sentence which I think could really help here. Once you know them, you can instantly make your writing feel stronger with minimal changes.

Oh, and my examples are very rough - take the idesa from them, not the exact words.

Filtering 

This means describing the scene through the character when it would be much stronger to go directly into the description. As we already know the POV is Hans, the reader will assume that anything described is because Hans sees, smells, feels, hears, or tastes it. 

Examples:
His being felt lighter - The smoke filled his lungs and spread through him like helium


Take a step back and work out what that feeling means.

Passive voice

You’ll want as much of your writing to be in active voice (see here for more details). The easiest way to spot passive voice is through the verb ‘to be’.

Examples
was soaring – soared
was a heavy shove – He shoved his focus back to reality
was dropped from the sky – He dropped from the sky to the cold cobblestones
the sky was illuminated – The streetlamp illuminated the sky

In the last three examples, the passive voice creates a vague image. It’s not clear what’s illuminating the sky, or how he was dropped, or who is shoving what, which in turn makes it hard for the reader to picture.

Indirect language

Sometimes it’s better to boycott surplus words and get to the meat of the sentence or description. Often, you can spot these cases with ‘felt’ and ‘was’, as avoiding passive voice and filtering is a good way to strengthen your prose. Other times it just takes working out what you really want to say in a wordy situation.

Examples
his being felt – he felt
There were a few men standing  - A young group hung / A man stood
his head bowed down just so slightly that it was nearly unnoticeable – his head bowed to hide his features

The last line is a bit different, but it’s doing two things. It’s removing colloquial words like ‘down’, ‘just’, ‘so’, ‘slightly’, and ‘nearly’ which are easy to overuse as they’re very flexible. Writing around them can strengthen a sentence. Also, ‘down’ in particular is a good word to delete as usually the word before will imply ‘down’ without you having to expend another word. A lot of the time, less is more.

Show don't tell

This phrase gets thrown around a lot in different situations, but in this case it’s for the specific phrasing of the descriptions. I can tell you’ve got a strong image in your head, and you want to build the emotion into the scene, but if you find yourself giving emotions to inanimate objects then take a moment to work out why. What about that object inspires that emotion?

Examples:
Aura of tranquillity
Lights were […] disheartening

These descriptions make me ask ‘How so?’ How is the aura tranquil? Why are the delicatessen lights disheartening? These phrases are the impressions you want to give the reader, but its much stronger if you leave it unsaid and let the descriptions imply these things instead. Describe a tranquil setting or a gloomy one, but leave these words aside.

Hope that’s helpful in some way!

As always, my advise and suggestions are my opinion and not hard fact. Feel free to ignore anything I say, especially if it doesn't sit right in your stomach. Sometimes my examples might sound terrible - they're just there to illustrate the idea, but you have to write it in your own way. Extra research/other opinions are always good to get if you're unsure. There's often many ways to sharpen a sentence - that's just how I'd go about editing it.

I hope it helps in the writing process, Tapa, and thanks so much for sharing!

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Combating Sadness with Creativity by N.M. Mac Arthur

Having struggled with depression for most of my life, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to not only find inspiration, but also hold onto inspiration long enough to channel it into something creative. I always seem to stumble upon ideas whilst I am at work or right before I go to sleep—in other words, at times when I am literally incapable of creating anything. I am sure most of you reading this have found yourself in similar situations and know all too well how frustrating that can be.  The trick is making time for that inspiration when it does come, even if it is not as soon as the urge hits you.

I am guilty of putting off my more time-consuming hobbies like writing and sewing in flavor of watching TV or playing video games for hours on end after a long day of work. As silly as it sounds, sometimes you need to give yourself a good hard push in the direction of the things you love in order to get the inspiration train rolling again. If ideas for new projects strike me at an inconvenient time during the day, I make sure to make some time to write or work on a sewing project later on in the day. Evidently, your creative pursuits are calling to you, you merely have to pursue them.

Being a creative person, one that is way too hard on herself at times, I can feel very guilty going months without creating something. It makes me feel like I have given up on the very few things that make me unique (even if this is not necessarily the case). And that, in turn, can make my depression and anxiety flare up. For me and people like me, it is so important to make time for writing—to nurture it so that it may flourish and grow. It is too easy to put off creating in favour of more mind-numbing activities, especially when you are down. But pushing yourself to write, draw, paint, sculpt, read, sew, or whatever it is that you are passionate about can greatly improve your outlook, even if you have to give yourself a little nudge to start again.

When life has you down, it seems all too easy to give up on the things you love in favour of wallowing. I know, because I have been there. The most important thing is knowing how to stand up, dust yourself off, and get back to doing what you love, no matter what that may be. Doing what I am passionate about creates a sense of purpose and contentment for me that nothing else in the entire world can duplicate. Writing and sewing is a huge part of what makes me me. Those two things have greatly helped me combat negativity in my life, no matter what forms it has taken.

Thus, I encourage you to do what you love, even if you have to force yourself back into it. If the inspiration strikes at an inconvenient time, don't let it go. Hold on to that inspiration and utilise it when you have some free time. If you are down, don't let yourself wallow in it by vegging on the couch and watching TV—create something! If you are a creative person like me, perhaps doing this will help get you out of your funk and back on the road to happy.  I know it is not always easy to do this, to push yourself when you don't want to move, but I have found that some of the most difficult obstacles in life can be the most rewarding to overcome.

N.M. Mac Arthur

Where to find N.M. Mac Arthur

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Author Interview: Ryan Eric

Today I have an interview with aspiring author Ryan Eric on all things writing. I hope you enjoy!

What inspires you to write?

I guess I just have a big imagination. A lot stories feel like they are trapped and I need to get them out on paper, as crazy as that might sound. I write more to free the stories in my head as opposed to any other reason.

What is your favourite genre to read?

Probably something like romance. I think it’s exciting to see the rise of plot and action among the attraction between two people. Many romance stories that I’ve read often have much more to tell an audience anyway, such as coming-of-age or Bildungsroman stories. In these cases I’m referring to, the romance is more of a medium to tell how people grow up and deal or rationalize with the society around them.

What genre do you write? Why?

I enjoy writing fantasy. I don’t know why, but I just can’t stay away from writing some sort of twist on society. Even if it’s about social media and technology, I’d want it to be futuristic- Such as Sci-Fi novels.

Who was your favourite author of your childhood?

I enjoyed Heather Brewer, who wrote The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod. I kept up with it throughout all of my years in middle-school. I’ve also been trying to get back into James Patterson- I read Daniel X when I was in the earlier parts of high-school, at around the same time everybody had the hots for the Maximum Ride series.

Who is your favourite author now?

I read a lot more Manga than I do western books, and I’d say my favorite writer of Manga would have to be Takaya Kagami, who presides over the story for one of my favorites, Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign.

Which author do you think your writing is most like?

I actually had no intent for this, really, but a year back I was close friends with someone who read a series called The Mortal Instruments by a woman named Cassandra Claire. At the time I’d been writing stories about faeries and hunters, and as such I found myself put in a kind of line with Shadow Hunters. I read a chapter of her book, Clockwork Angel, the other day and I really was hooked right away. I think substance-wise, we write very similar things. I need to read her more.

What are your writing goals (however big or small is up to you!)?

I wouldn’t say I have any egoistic or totally ambitious plans, I guess, for writing. I do, however, like to set up some objectives or metrics while writing a story. I find it helps me get focused and hunkered down into my chair, when I make an attempt to write 400-3000 words for each chapter of a story I’d be working on.

What is your biggest writing achievement so far?

Well, I find that kind of hard to say. I’ve actually published, as in produced hard copies, an old trilogy I had set aside for the longest time. But most recently I’ve gotten 1,000+ views on a story on Wattpad, which I find to be especially rewarding because it was an original story of mine and thus I couldn’t really play off of pre-existing advertisements and collective images like people do when they write fanfiction. I hope that makes sense.

What is the best comment you've received about your writing?

I don’t think I’ve received one - I’ve received a few. I’d say it’s balanced feedback. Whenever people leave a comment on my stories that highlights the pros and cons of a chapter of mine, I absolutely find it so supportive.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment, I have a few projects with my writing. And I’ll probably always be in the predicament where I have “a few projects”, because I like to hop between tasks a lot. I’m currently writing three stories- Cardinal Order, Riveters, and N-Sequence: Tell. Cardinal Order is about a genetically modified human specifically tailored to fight faeries, Riveters is a scandalous romance and erotica story about a teacher who falls in love with their student (please note that the student is of legal age, at 18 years), and N-Sequence: Tell is about a school designed for students with special powers called ‘Sequences’ and how the school pits them against each other- You can compare it to The Hunger Games if you’d like!

Quick fire round!

- Pace or prose?
Prose

- Brilliant characters or a shocking twist?
Shocking twist

- Happy ending or bittersweet?
Happy ending

- First person or third person?
Third person

- Multiple POVs or single POV?
Multiple POVs

- Romance or thriller?
Thriller

- Fantasy or Sci-fi?
Sci-Fi

- Heroes or villains?
Villains

Where to find  Ryan Eric
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ryan_cier/
Writing site: https://www.wattpad.com/user/CierRyland
Steam: http://steamcommunity.com/id/mysterycrystal

*Note: Also, don't forget to enter this giveaway, or this one!*

Friday, 6 April 2018

How not to Murder your Writing Partner by John Gunningham

*Note: Don't forget to enter this giveaway, or this one! *


Collaborative Writing Support Group: How not to Murder your Writing Partner


Writing a story with another person is a risky undertaking; you may not fully understand the peril you’re putting yourself in by agreeing to such an endeavor. At first, everything may seem fine- your writing partner may seem eager and intelligent, teeming with good humor, great ideas and praise for your own inputs. This can be a trap, a false front. The moment may come when there is a difference of opinion about a plot point or a certain character and this is where you must be on your guard.

Understand that your writing partner is a creative force of nature, a vector that will not naturally be focused in the same direction as yourself. The first impulse of such a creature to any obstacle deviating from their vision of the story, no matter how small, can be a reason for wrath. Watch for tightness in their words and a lack of praise for all your efforts. Shortness in their comments and longer moments of silence can all be indicators of a sinister plot taking form. If these disagreements start to accumulate, beware! Your writing partner may try to kill you, gaining for themselves full creative control of your collaborative project.

The above, of course, is an embellishment, but it proves to drive home the importance of being able to resolve disagreements in a collaborative project. There will be disagreements, you can’t do anything about that. There will be moments that leave you wondering why your writing partner is dead set on destroying the beautiful thing you’ve created or why they’ve suddenly changed from an insightful, intelligent source of wisdom into a deranged lunatic whose ravings should be confined to an asylum!

*Ahem*

How you deal with moments of disagreement will make or break your story. The story can be stronger for them, or it can die, then and there, as an unfinished wreck while you contemplate the murder of the alleged cause of this disaster: your writing partner No one is immune. So, before you try to strangle anyone through a monitor, take a step back and think. Conflict while writing is like tempering steel, so long as it doesn’t end the project. No one wants this, obviously, but a story can falter and collapse if you don’t take steps to prevent project ending arguments. The one thing you don’t want to do is murder your story.

Choose wisely. Before you get started, ask the question: “Can I work with this person?” Remember high school group projects where two people did most of the work and the third person sort of came along for the ride? That won’t cut it. Decide what everyone will be doing up front and commit to things like deadlines and workloads. Be realistic. If you’re a single mother of three holding down two jobs but you think you can manage ten thousand words a week when previously you’ve been able to write five hundred at best, then perhaps you need a more realistic goal. By all means stretch yourself! But don’t over commit and under deliver; that’s a sure way to let a prospective partnership down. Really question if everyone in the collaboration is a close match for voice, style and quality. You won’t find a perfect pairing, but you should be close. Having collaborators that have similar writing styles will eliminate many arguments about point of view, style and voice before they start.

Plan together. Writing a step sheet is an important first step for any project but it’s critical for a collaboration. Make a summary, plan your chapters, and agree on how you want the big events of the story to unfold. I don’t know how many times I asked “Okay, what’s next?” only to have my writing partner respond with “Well, according to the step sheet we both agreed on…” Right. I once had a friend tell me that contracts save friendships. Real, written contracts, not the verbal kind. Consider a step sheet the contract that can save your writing project. You and your partner can’t argue about things you’ve already agreed on, plus it is way easier to agree on and fix issues in a chapter summary than it is to fix a partially completed novel.

Communicate. This might seem like a given, but it’s worth saying. A step sheet can only go so far in setting up events and story elements. Stories evolve as they’re written, characters develop in unforeseen ways and inspiration can strike when you least expect it. When you get an idea that diverts from the plan make sure you let your writing partner know ahead of time, don’t let them find out when you’re deep into editing. Writing is a lonely profession because, really, who can you talk to about the deep personal entanglements of your favorite character? Even other writers will stumble at the task since it’s not their story. Well, it is your partner’s story. In a collaboration, you have the unique opportunity to discuss your story with another human being and have them understand everything completely. With our collaboration we still wrote alone, but discussed at length any problems or snags we found. Having a sounding board who knows exactly what you’re talking about is the most gratifying part of team writing. Use it.

Know your weakness. The real power of the collaboration is to combine your strengths to counter your weaknesses. For this to work, you need to fess up. Acknowledge that you are not an all-knowing writer, perfect in every nuance of the craft. Point at your weakness, wave and say hello, then ask for help in that area. It’s not easy, human beings don’t like admitting they’re not good at an aspect of their craft, but it is necessary to get the most out of the partnership. Letting your partner write the scenes where you’re weak has a two-fold benefit: the story becomes stronger and you can learn from someone who is strong in that area. Don’t feel like you’re letting the collaboration down, chances are, if you’ve chosen wisely, your partner will be asking to write a few scenes and be learning from you. The story becomes stronger and you both grow as writers. What could be better than that?

Check your ego at the door. If you’re a serious writer, you won’t need it. Ever. I recently read the ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield and one quote resonated with me: “The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her.” Any criticism received from your writing partner is not a personal attack, it’s an honest attempt to make the story better. They are not insulting your skill as a writer, they are pointing out something that you might have missed or giving a different perspective on the same scene or character. Isn’t that why we collaborate in the first place? Once you remove your ego from the equation, all that’s left is the work set out before you. It is work, and it is not an easy task. Anything you can do to get to the serious act of writing is what you should do. Letting pettiness get in the way is a project destroyer.

I’ll never say that writing is easy. It’s not. It’s a job and you need to treat it as such. Usually it’s lonely work as well, toiling away at a keyboard or paper at any hour that works. With a collaboration, you have the unique opportunity to share this work with another person who is as passionate about the project as you are. You will never, ever get the same response to a new idea, or a great line as you will from your collaborative partner. There is potential for disaster, there is potential for a murderous rage to grip you as you get the latest tracked changes back from your partner, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The potential for a fantastic story is far greater as long as the collaborative effort finds a way to harmonize their skills and learns to resolve problems reasonably. As the saying goes, one stick alone can be broken, but a bundle is much stronger. If you get the chance to collaborate, I sincerely hope you take the chance; if you can get it to work it is spectacular.

John Gunningham

John Gunningham lives in the flatlands of Saskatchewan with his wife, two kids and two pure bred shelties. He writes spec fiction and the odd poem when he’s not forced into life’s necessities of family, day jobs and sleep. He’s currently working on several short and novel length projects with an eye towards self-publishing. The collaborative effort “The Captain of The Monte Cristo” with fellow Canadian Sarah K. L. Wilson is available on Amazon now.

Where to find John
Website: johngunningham.com
Buy his book: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B073SQ8165
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