Tips for Using Foreshadowing in Your Fiction

June 13, 2017

One tool fiction writers use is foreshadowing (hinting to the reader about something that’s coming). If you use foreshadowing, you’re setting up an expectation with your reader and you absolutely need to meet that expectation before the end of your novel.

Here are some tips to help you make sure you create a good relationship with your reader so he/she trusts you’ll deliver what you promise in your foreshadowing.

  1. Make sure you’re working from a detailed outline that lays out these things: each character’s role, how each character affects the overall plot, and how each character ends up at the end of the novel.
  2. Be aware that you may decide to change your story as you write (one mystery author I know told me that one time the character she expected to be the killer simply wouldn’t do it, so she had to change the story). If you do change directions in your story, make sure you map out the change in your original detailed outline so you can see if the change makes sense with the rest of the story.
  3. Create a series of questions about your novel so you can critique it once it’s completed. Feel free to use these questions as a starting point: (1) Did the characters meet their goals or explain their failures? (2) Which destinies of which characters were left unanswered (if any)? (3) Which plot activities were not completed (things like a love attraction, a crime committed, etc.)? (4) How clearly did the plot and any subplots merge by the end of the story? (5) How well did things like dialogue, actions, etc. move the plot along (you don’t want to lead your reader down blind alleys or dead ends, which will only frustrate your reader and cause him/her to distrust you as an author)?
  4. Find a few readers you trust to read your manuscript and offer you honest feedback. Encourage them to share questions with you that they may have thought about during the reading. You, as author, know what you mean, know what you think, and know what you intend. Your reader, however, only has your written story to go by, so you’ll do yourself a big favor by learning about any holes in your story before you try to get it published.

I’ve written both fiction and nonfiction, and I think fiction is much harder to write because you’re creating the entire world the story lives in. You make a promise to your reader that your novel will be entertaining and worth his/her time to read. I hope these tips help you keep that promise. Happy writing!

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Tips for Getting Interviews

May 25, 2017

Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, every good writer conducts research and one of the best research techniques is interviewing experts. But many experts are busy people, which often makes it hard to get interviews with them. Here are some tips to help.

  • Create a list of primary resources. No one person is the only expert on a given topic, so consider creating a list of experts instead of focusing on just one or two.
  • Create a list of secondary resources. Sometimes experts are reluctant to spend time with interviewers because the interviewer doesn’t appear to know much about the subject in the first place. Experts like to share, but don’t have time to offer in-depth education. Demonstrating you have background knowledge on the subject matter can go a long way in getting the interview.
  • Let the expert know how you intend to use information from the interview. If you’ve sold an article, let the expert know which publication the article is for. If you’re still looking for a sale, let the expert know you’re approaching several publications and will let him or her know which one is publishing it when that’s determined. If you’re writing a book, offer to keep the expert posted on your progress.
  • Show the expert your professionalism as a writer. Mention publications you’ve written for. Offer samples of your writing. Give references if asked. Experts don’t want to be misquoted. You can ease that concern by showing you’re a professional.
  • Make sure the expert knows you selected him or her for the interview and why. Most experts really care about their subject matter and want it treated with respect. Your job is to make sure it is.

Getting an interview can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding in many ways. I hope these tips help. Happy writing!


Are You Ready to Become a Writer Full Time?

March 28, 2017

As a writer, one of the toughest decisions you’ll have to make is whether to keep writing in your spare time or go into it full time. As tempting as it might be to go full time, be sure you make the effort to really analyze yourself and your situation before you do.

Here are some things to consider.

  • How much money will you need to earn in the next three years in order to do more than just survive? Can you make that much if you combine writing, teaching, speaking, etc.? Do you have income sources or savings to help you while you’re making the change to full time?
  • What is your worst-case financial scenario and can you live with it if you need to? If you can, for how long?
  • How large is the marketplace for the type of writing you do? How stable is that marketplace (example: there’s been a huge change in the newspaper market in recent years)?
  • How well do you handle rejection? Will you take it personally or will you understand it’s what you’re offering that’s being rejected? Are you persistent enough to keep trying after multiple rejections?
  • How many people do you know who are willing to help you understand the writing profession? To mentor you? To represent you (example: agent)?
  • How disciplined are you to work on your own? To do the things you need to do that aren’t so much fun (find markets, research, write query letters, meet deadlines, etc.)?
  • How well do you handle unmet expectations? Giving up perks (like benefits, regular hours, etc.)? Keeping business records (writing is business, after all)?
  • How flexible are you when asked to change something you’ve written? When adjusting your lifestyle to becoming self-employed? When expanding your circle of influence or researching projects or learning more about the publishing industry?
  • How supportive is your spouse or significant other in your decision? Your friends? Your family?
  • Finally, how do you really feel about not having a steady paycheck?

Only you can answer these questions, and I trust you’ll spend some time really thinking about them before you make your decision. Whether you decide to write full time or part time, remember that only you write what you write. No one else is you, so no one else can write what you do. Happy writing!


A New Use for an Old Tool

January 25, 2017

Storyboarding is an old tool used to arrange the flow of images in film. It involves time (what happens first, then second, then next, etc.) and provides an opportunity to imagine and evaluate ideas for the project.

How can you use storyboarding in your writing? Get some post-it notes or 3 x 5 index cards (whichever you prefer) and determine your working space. You can use a whiteboard or poster board for post-it notes or lay out index cards on any flat surface (floor, bed, table, etc.).

Jot one idea about your book per post-it or index card (example could be Jennie hears gunshot, peers out her window, and sees person look toward her). Write another idea on a different post-it or index card (example could be Jennie’s coworker asks her if she was home when the shooting occurred in her neighborhood). Write another idea on a different post-it or index card.

Don’t evaluate your ideas as you capture them. Wait until you’ve got a bunch of ideas  (let’s say, up to twenty), and then lay them out in sequence so you can begin to see your story unfold.

You’ll find gaps that need filling in. You’ll find scenes that need fleshing out. You’ll discover new things about your characters, and may even find some that don’t belong in your story at all. When you find things that don’t fit in this story,  save them to use in another one you’ll write.

As you work, you’ll get new ideas, which means you’ll create new post-its or index cards. As you do more research for your story, you’ll get even more new ideas to add to your story sequence. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with ideas, take another look at each idea and ask these two questions:

  1. Why does this belong in my book and why does it belong in this spot?
  2. Where else can I use this idea (think book series, short story, etc.)?

These two questions will help you decide what stays in your book and what will serve you better in a different story.

What do you do when you’re done with your storyboarding? Use the notes to help get you writing. For example, if you need an outline of what happens in each chapter, use your notes to help you create your outline. I caution you, however, to not spend so much time getting ready to write that you never actually get around to writing.

Consider this new use for an old tool and decide if you want to add it to your writing toolbox. Happy writing!

 


How to Turn One Book into More

December 30, 2016

As I write this, the holidays are almost behind us and it’s time to look get going on a new year of writing projects. One idea you might consider is writing a book that can form the foundation for developing other ideas.

One author who was genius at this is Stephen Covey. Starting with 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, readers still buy his books. His book titles are too massive to list here, but I’ll give you an idea. He wrote a personal workbook to go with his original 7 Habits book, a personal workbook for teens based on the 7 Habits, a 7 Habits book for families, a book on just Habit 2, and one on just Habit 8. Well, you get the idea.

Considering doing this yourself? Here are some tips to help you.

  • Create new editions of the book that are changed, updated, or both, and do this approximately every three years so readers know your new edition contains fresh material rather than being a simple rewrite.
  • Take an idea from the original book and develop that one idea further.
  • Explore other closely related topics your readers will be interested in.
  • Compile an anthology of what others write on your topic (articles, reports, etc.), and make sure you get permission to include them in your anthology before publishing.
  • Expand your original book into step-by-step workbooks to give your reader the opportunity to actually apply your insights.
  • Talk to people who have read your book about what other issues they want to deal with (each issue offers an opportunity for a new book).

The new year stretches out in front of you and offers you an excellent opportunity to expand your writing career. Happy writing!


Consider Using One-word Titles

November 15, 2016

The cliche about judging a book by its cover also points to judging a book by its title. As you think of a title for your book, consider using just one word to tempt your reader. For example, Stephen King’s books include Carrie, Firestarter, Cujo, Christine, Thinner, It, Misery, and Desperation–all one-word titles.

If you prefer nonfiction examples, you can look to Leadership by Tom Peters, Winning by Jack Welch, or Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

Here are some reasons to consider using one-word titles. They

  • Create visual impact on your book cover.
  • Are easy to remember.
  • Free you up to use a subtitle to describe your book.
  • Help the reader associate a common word with your book.
  • Can be easier to create than figuring out a multiple-word title that’s memorable and repeatable.

When searching for your one-word title, keep these tips in mind and decide which one fits your title’s purpose.

  • Create a powerful image in readers’ minds.
  • Encourage the reader to do something, to take action.
  • Offer a double meaning.
  • Describe a problem or controversy.
  • Appeal to a broad audience rather than a specific segment.

Here are some tips to help you find your one-word title.

  • Start with, “My book is about___________________.”
  • Do a Google search on your topic and see what words come up.
  • Test your one-word title with your writers group or any other group you trust to be honest with their feedback.

One-word titles are easy to remember and easy to repeat (which helps others in recommending your book). If you can write a book, you can find the right title for it. Happy writing!


Get Your Book Out of You

October 31, 2016

When I taught the “Writing for Fun and Profit” college class series, I urged students to do a mental inventory of the bookstores they frequent. Then I asked them to offer a guess on what percentage of books in bookstores is fiction and what percentage is nonfiction. The reality is most books in bookstores are nonfiction.

Why is that? That’s what sells and bookstores are in the business of selling books.

That doesn’t mean fiction writers should sigh and give up. Look at how many successful fiction writers there are. My point is whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you need to get your book out of you if you want people to read it. In other words, you need to write, not just think or dream of writing.

Here are some tips to get (or keep) you writing.

  • Figure out what you feel strongly about, are passionate about, and want to share with the world.
  • Have some idea what you’ll include in your book–plot line, chapter titles, that sort of thing.
  • Outline your book. You may want to use sticky notes that you can post to a wall or white board or poster board and can move around in case you change the order of things as you work on your book. The point is you’ll want to make your book visual so you see it every day.
  • Create a schedule and start with the deadline you want your book finished. (You get to decide whether finished means submitted to an agent or means self-published and the book in your hands.)
  • Work backwards from your deadline. You know nothing gets things done like a deadline. Look at Christmas shopping, Halloween costumes, school graduations, weddings, etc. Dates are set and people do whatever they have to do to achieve the goal by the date.
  • Figure out what you have to do each day to meet your deadline (be sure you include research, allow for interruptions/emergencies/etc., determine how many pages you need to write daily).
  • Start with the easiest part of your book (some mystery writers I know start at the end so they keep their writing focused on moving toward that end).
  • Remember that even though writing is a solitary activity, getting your book out of you and to your readers is not. You need people to read your writing and offer honest feedback (a writers group or others who will be honest in what they tell you about your book). You need a content editor (to help you with clarity) and a copy editor (to help you with basics like grammar, punctuation, capitalization, etc.). If you self-publish, you need a book designer (not  just a graphic designer). If your book is nonfiction, you need reviewer comments for the cover or inside pages.

The last step to getting your book out of you and to your reader is marketing, and you can find all sorts of ideas on that within in this blog and many others. Happy writing!