The Last Man
is sleeping on the C drive a couple months so it'll wake up fresh for the next revision.
This leaves me with nothing to do except write, finish and edit short stories. What am I doing intead?Revising The Antichrist Show.
A novel about a forger-prophet, a single mom who can't avoid miracles, and a man who is accused of being the Antichrist. I finished a couple drafts of the book a couple years ago. You'd think that's long enough to look at it with fresh eyes. With mine, all I can see is the *awful* opening. I floundered on revising it back then. It's happening now. Everybody knows the first sentence and paragraph and page and blah, blah, blah are important. I know all the "rules." Your main character should be there. Tension or conflict. A question or intrigue. Add the elusive Voice publishing people talk about. Fine. I know it. With my brain. When I sit down to rewrite the open, it's not a matter of tweaking an earlier draft. I am overhauling over and over again. My head hurts. I'm about to go outside in the sunshine. But first, I'll link to some great sites that list opening sentences from published books. Reading them has only given me a bigger headache than I had before. But they might help you. Enjoy.Huffington Post's favorites. Begins with "It was a pleasure to burn." from Fahrenheit 451, one of my favorite first lines.Brian Reinhart's funny take on openings.
Darcy Patterson's nuggets at Fiction Notes.
Advice from Pimp My Novel. More advice from Fuel Your Writing.
Tons of first sentences
. Editor Jodie Renner's favorite openers.
I've tried lots of outlines, including the kind that looks like scrawled code on a single sheet of paper. I'm not the best planner in the world, so I need to kick myself to keep things organized. I outline a little before I start a draft, then outline as I go along. It's a changing document. At the end of every draft, the outline reflects what's on paper, and I can use it for the next revision.
But what does my outline look like? It could look like anything. There's no right or wrong way to outline. For the third big rewrite of my novel, I picked a table form with two main columns for the two point of views (Jakob and Clara) in the book. I put a mark on lines where both characters are in the same scene so I know whose point of view it's in. I plan a more complete outline with scene numbers and timing/story dates in the next round of revision. For now, my outline looks like this:*
Outline January 2012
Jakob external book goal-- Internal book goal--
Clara external book goal -- Internal book goal --
Finds mine and guard Willy, prisoner.
War never ended. Court martial.
Sold by Liliental to Fenshsaw, steel locker.
Escape from locker, Nikolai
*It's simple, but works for me!
The less time I have, the more I appreciate them. Short stories can be swallowed in one gulp even if you're like me, a mom with a hundred things to do all the time. I'm writing a novel, but I don't often finish novels I'm reading, or it takes me months to do it.
No problem with short stories. A half hour after I open a short story anthology or fire one up on my Kindle, I can look up with that feeling of accomplishment. I finished a story. And if it was a great story, I get that "wow" feeling you can get at the end of a good novel. Short stories aren't just for literary mags. E-zines are all over, some with great stuff, some with genre (sci fi, fantasy, thriller, mystery) that didn't have a place in the lit mags attached to universities. There's a lot of junky short stories on the web too. The good thing is, you can be as selective as you want. On the web, you're not paying. But it'd be great if you did every once in a while. The next time somebody has a birthday, buy them a short story anthology. Maybe they'll look at you strange, but once they dig into it, they'll see what delicious literary tidbits are right there in front of them, in bit-sized pieces
. Anthologies like the Best American Short Stories come out every year. Some authors have their own, maybe your favorite novelist.
The classic anthologies and collections can re-introduce you to stuff you haven't read since school. Now you're old enough to realize just how good it was. Here's a LibraryThing list of the classics.
If you think about it, native English-speaking freelancers have it good. Our mother tongue is the world language. Whatever our other credentials, we can top non-native speakers in one point -- we work in the language we were born and raised in.
This doesn't matter to you if you're sitting in Kansas writing only for American media. But you don't have to do that. You can write for a magazine in Singapore. A newspaper in Moscow. A website out of Sweden. Global corporations with headquarters in places you may never visit or even locate on a map need writers for material in English. You could call this the good side of globalisation.
I'm an American living in Europe, so I have to think globally. It's surprisingly easy. I've written for publications and companies on two continents, and have gotten paid in US dollars, euros, British pounds and Canadian dollars. The internet and especially Skype make it easy to connect with clients and sources around the world. Whether you do this or not depends on what you have to offer, and your state of mind.
So if you have an idea you think Lufthansa Airlines might like, go ahead and contact them. Nobody cares if you live in Kansas City and Lufthansa is in Frankfurt. If it's the right idea at the right time, maybe you'll open up a whole new world of freelancing.
Were at least some of your Christmas photos taken with an eye to publication? If so, you're on your way to selling magazine or web articles and shorts related to the holidays in 2012.
For holiday pieces, think ahead. A year in advance, if necessary. For magazines especially, articles related to the holidays will be bought long before the tinsel hits the tree. The deadline for articles and photos may be in the middle of summer. Where do you get your Christmas photos in July? You don't. You take them now, and stow them away till you need them.
This goes for any holiday you might want to write about. If you always take a few good photos that aren't obviously personal to you, and store them in a well-labeled file, you'll have a selection of art to offer for any holiday article opportunity that comes your way.
Happy New Year, and much luck in writing for 2012!
Had a relaxing few days since Christmas? Great!
If you love to travel and write, you probably want to make some money out of it. My first freelance articles were travel pieces, my favorite featuring a grinning Tunisian camel named Otto. But how do you get started in travel writing? Awhile back, I wrote a couple how to articles for Eurotrip.com (backpacking crowd) and Escape From America magazine
(older crowd into real estate and retirment opportunities abroad, but also young and quirky readers). If you need inspiration and practical advice on turning your travels into money, check out the links below:Travel Writing 101
from Eurotrip.comBirth of a Freelance Travel Writer Abroad from Escape from America magazine
I got a a very nice email the other day from an editor of a magazine I had written for once, and wanted to write for again after a long break. I'd sent him a query e-mail the day before, listing three story ideas.
He agreed to commission all three. His email mentioned my ideas coming at just the right time; he was working on his editorial schedule as we speak.
Was that just luck on my part? Yes and no.
One of the first things a freelancer, especially a beginner, needs to do is think in terms of story ideas, not of full stories. Through queries, you sell an idea for an article, sometimes long before you get down to researching and writing it. A query takes a lot less time than the full article. You need to research just enough to know what angle you'll give to the story, and how you can get access to the sources you'll need. Then you make the sale.
Here's basically how I went from idea to sale:
* I read some issues of the magazine. I was familiar with it because I'd written for it years ago, but I made sure it still was what it used to be.
* Reading an issue sparked ideas for what I could write. I made a keyword list in my notebook.
* The magazine's website listed all of its past articles in an archive. I copied the past five years and pasted it into my own Word doc. Then I could comfortably keyword search to be sure my story ideas hadn't been done recently.
*I checked the editor's contact information and how he liked to receive queries (for instance, he prefers e-mails with multiple ideas). I got this information from Writers Market.com. I could've also called his office or emailed based on the website contact information.
* Once I knew the editor liked queries with several ideas at once, I narrowed my list down to the three strongest story ideas. I did some basic research so I could write a 2-paragraph summary of each article. I also made sure I knew what length the magazine preferred for each type of story.
* I wrote the query in a clear, straightforward way. No fancy-schmancy stuff. Just who I am, and my story summaries in a clear list. I signed off with a link to my website, and how I looked forward to hearing from the editor.
* I cut and pasted the query into my email program. Because there were bulleted points that might mess up the format, I emailed the query to myself twice - at two different email programs - to test how it looked, and would possibly look to the editor. I did some formatting adjustments.
* I pressed SEND.
That was it. A lot of work, actually. But the articles themselves were far from being researched or written. It's unusual to get a sale so fast after a query. But if you don't get the query out there, you won't know if yours is an idea that hits the editor's desk at just the right moment.
Beginners especially have an extra plus when they sell the idea before they research. They can approach a source with the authority of the magazine behind them. "I'm a freelance writer..." is usually enough, but "I'm a freelancer writing an article for XYZ Magazine" is even better.
I don't normally write literary fiction. I think you can have just as much quality in genre stories, and it's my goal to get as good as I can at thrillers and mysteries. But short stories give me a small space for experiments. Awhile back, I thought up a story that was clearly different from my other work. It was literary, and I didn't know what I was doing. One of the keys to
getting from that first idea to a polished story was a list of revision questions and topics I drew up from various sources. One of them is the old, classic book on writing literary fiction The Art of Fiction
by John Gardner. After the first draft or two of the story was written, I sat down to answer the following list of questions. They helped me dig deeper into the story. Even the simple questions, looked at calmly with revision in mind, yielded surprising themes and details I added to the final draft.By the way, the list works for any kind of fiction. A few of the topics may be less important depending on what kind of story you're writing.What are the forces at work? This is initially just a short list. It could be the main characters in the story, an object, a place, a natural disaster. The forces should stand opposite each other. Here is where you clearly state the external conflict, what the story seems to be about.Who are they? Each force is described in more detail. Keep in mind the character or object's crucial role in the story.Point of view
Here's where you can think about what point of view choice you made in the last draft, and whether the story would be better in a different point of view. In my story, the point of view character was a 15-year-old boy, but the story hovered above him sometimes so that I could explore some ideas he wasn't capable of expressing.Dialogue
Any thoughts on refining the dialogue to fit the characters' voice, background, personality etc.Expectations of the reader Given the story situation, what does your reader think will happen? Can you twist it? Thwarting expectations is a powerful storytelling tool.
But you also have to be sure the story stays plausible.What information does the reader have to know to understand the story? Short fiction has to be even more efficient than novels. That means cutting anything that isn't absolutely necessary, while still going for richness and depth.
This is one of the hardest things for me. Concentrating on this question helped me break down the story into its crucial components. I saw more clearly what I needed, and what was colorful but unnecessary fluff. In what way is the main character's heart in conflict with itself?
This refers to the inner struggle a character has to have for a deeper, satisfying story. In my story, the boy wants to prove he's a man by being domineering and brutal, although he's gentle by nature. At what moment does the main character change?We as the writers should know the exact sentence -- even exact word -- in the story that signals the character transforming into something new. T
he seeds of character change have to be planted throughout the story. If you identify exactly where the change happens - usually at the climax - you can work backwards in the story to be sure you've laid the groundwork for the inner transformation.What is the story's sequence? A short outline made up of the Open, Mini-climax
es, Climax and Denoument. Another way to think of it is the initial conflict, then small clashes that build up to the main clash (climax). The denoument is the pay off in the story, where the reader sees the result of the climax and how the characters have changed. Once I outlined my story's draft in this basic way, I cut action that didn't add to the build up. That gave the story more forward movement and a much stronger pulse. I hope this revision list helps you too!
I've been writing fiction for years, most of that time in secret. People knew generally that I wrote stuff, but I had a great excuse for being vague about it. I'm a journalist. Of course I write stuff.
When I'm out and about with my novelist hat on, things change. The other day I made my first visit to the city of Essen's spanking new historical archive. My novel is set in 1946-47, and I've exhausted just about all resources I can get the usual ways. I needed more primary documents. I needed the archive.
The friendly archivist named Cordula sat me down in a side room for a little conference. What was my project? What did I need?
"Well, I'm a journalist," I began. There I was again, trying to put some official blanket over what I was there for. Journalism is (almost? sometimes?) respectable. Writing a novel is a hobby. At least to the dabblers out there who rush their work into print via self-publishing, the web or whatnot. My novel isn't a hobby. I work at it as hard as anything else, if not harder. And I do it for free. But only for now. I intend to see it published well. That's why I was at the archive. I want to get my facts right in my fiction.
My journalist notebook on the table, my pen tapping the pages, I finally said it. "I'm writing a novel set in Essen during the famine winter of 1946. . ." I didn't tell Cordula the plot or who the characters are. I didn't say a word about that cool scene I wrote the other night when I sat back, finished, and thought, "Wow, you outdid yourself, cookie." I stuck to the facts and topics I was looking for, the little details that populate a good historical novel.
Cordula had a handful of great sources up her sleeve. The longer we talked about them, the more I realized something. She treated my requests the same as if I'd walked in asking for sources for a newspaper article or a TV documentary. My novel is just as important. The whole project, done in secret for so long, felt more real.
It felt good. But I'm not going to start telling the postman or my neighbor's dog that I'm writing a novel. Just a few people need to know. Close family and friends. And the people who can help directly with the book -- the people I talk to who lived through Germany's famine winter, and the archivist who can help me bring the time period to life.
I don't know why I was so shy about it.
When people find out I write fiction and nonfiction, they often ask me which one is harder. They think it has to be nonfiction because everything has to be researched and true. Making up stuff is easy.
I say: No way. Fiction is harder. Much harder.
When you write for a magazine or newspaper or many websites, there are usually guides for how to do it. For style, length, topic. You're writing to a formula, more or less. You learn what the publication wants and deliver exactly that. A lot of standard nonfic is just advanced and hopefully more entertaining versions of stuff you learned in school. How to organize your thoughts and main points, how to access and interpret sources, and explain complex issues in a way other people understand.
Great journalism and nonfiction is a lot more than this. It has high stakes and emotion. It uses fiction techniques to draw you into the story and keep you riveted. These are stories that can shake the world and bring down tyrants. Daily nonfic often doesn't go beyond the formula. It doesn't need to.
Fiction has its formulas too, or you wouldn't see some authors pumping out book-a-year series. But there's no cookie cutter for fiction, no template that's going to take you from idea to bestseller without a long, hard apprenticeship that never ends. Aside from a creative writing unit in school here and there, you probably didn't learn fiction writing skills in any organized way. You have to do it on your own.
That's the challenge.
There's a huge market for how-to books and materials in fiction. You can drown in the how-to blogs. Like any other business, it seems you can make more money telling people how to write a good novel than by actually writing one.
In the end, the fiction writer is on her own. There's no substitute for the butt in the chair. Try out techniques, make the big gaffs over and over till you learn to see what's wrong and try to get it right. Over the years, I've turned down every blind alley there is. I figure I've written a million PAGES (12pt, single space!) just to get to where I am now.
Where am I now?
I'm still learning. I'm still learning nonfiction too, but those assignments are heavily influenced by the publication who asks me for work. My fiction is mine. I have to answer to myself. With an eye on what agents and publishers want, yes. But right now, while I write a novel and short stories, I'm student, teacher, editor and critic.
It's hard. And I love it.